Category Archives: Weekly summaries

Each week, a short post that links to the other posts of the week.


This trial arises from President Donald J. Trump’s incitement of insurrection against the Republic he swore to protect.

House impeachment manager’s pre-trial brief

This week’s featured post is “Why You Can’t Understand Conservative Rhetoric“.

This week everybody was talking about the impeachment trial

Which starts tomorrow. Both the prosecution and the defense have filed briefs outlining their positions. The prosecution (technically the “impeachment managers from the House”, but I think that’s a needless mouthful of words) requested that Trump himself testify, and he has refused.

He could be subpoenaed, but that would undoubtedly set off a long litigation that Democrats would rather avoid. Instead, I believe the purpose of asking for Trump’s testimony was to make it clear that it’s his choice not to speak under oath, where his lies could result in perjury charges. Whenever the ex-President’s lawyers make some claim about what he was thinking or what he intended, prosecutors can point out that this is hearsay, and that they wanted to get direct testimony but were rebuffed.

If he did testify, this cartoon from his first impeachment would be relevant again.

CNN explains why both sides want a speedy trial: Democrats don’t want the Senate distracted from approving Biden’s nominees for too long, and Republicans want the country to stop thinking about the January 6 insurrection.

It looks like the lawyers have prevailed on Trump not to use the impeachment trial to repeat lies about his “landslide” victory over Biden, and how it was stolen from him. Instead, they’ll claim (falsely) that it’s unconstitutional to hold an impeachment trial for an ex-president. That allows Republican senators to acquit for procedural reasons, without supporting or justifying the insurrection Trump incited.

BTW: Every statement coming out of the Trump camp refers to him as the “45th President”. He is not allowing his people to call him the “ex-president” or “former president”, presumably because he still does not acknowledge that Biden (or anyone else) is the 46th president.

However, his lawyer’s claim that the proceedings are unconstitutional rests on the fact that he is no longer president. One reason he doesn’t want to testify, in my opinion, is that he could be asked questions like “Is Joe Biden the President of the United States?” or “Did Dominion voting machines send results overseas to computers that flipped your votes to Biden?”, where his answers would mark him as either delusional or a liar.

and the Covid relief bill

It’s good to see Biden avoiding the bipartisan trap Obama fell into in 2009. The point of “unity” is to give Republicans a bill they could support, and that many of their voters do support, but Biden can’t control whether any Republicans will vote for it. Biden knows the public will hold him responsible for the results, so his first priority is passing the bill the country needs. That’s why he hasn’t backed off of his $1.9 trillion proposal.

It seems likely the House will pass it with few changes. The question is whether it gets through the Senate, which it will if all 50 Democrats vote for it and Vice President Harris provides the tie-breaking vote. Friday, the Senate passed a budget resolution on party lines. That is a procedural prerequisite for invoking the filibuster-proof reconciliation process to pass Covid relief.

Republicans are complaining about this tactic, which they used to pass the Trump tax bill, claiming that it shows a lack of commitment to bipartisanship. But in reality, the only hope of getting Republican support is to have a Plan B if they won’t get on board.

In general, I think Democrats should compromise in only two situations:

  • What Republicans are asking for is actually a good idea.
  • The changes Republicans want don’t make the bill significantly worse, and they will vote for the bill if it is changed.

Too often, the Obama administration compromised with Republicans, got none of their votes anyway, and then were blamed by the public for the less-effective bill.

The big question is whether the Senate Democrats can hold together. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is the most likely defector, but so far he is staying on board. He is insisting on a “bipartisan process”, but says that means “Democrats and Republicans will have amendments”, not that the bill will be held hostage until it can get Republican votes. It helps that West Virginia’s Republican governor has come out in favor of a big relief package.

and the Covid statistics turn

Fewer Americans are now hospitalized with Covid than at any time since the Thanksgiving wave started. New cases are down sharply, to 107K Saturday from 318K on January 8. Deaths are edging lower, but not by nearly as much: The average number of daily deaths for the past week is 2800, down from several days above 3300 in mid-January. Deaths are always the last statistic to turn. In a week or two the daily average should be well under 2000.

Those are all numbers we would have considered horrifying in October. But at least they’re headed in the right direction now.

Everyone is complaining about the vaccine distribution process, but it is happening. By yesterday, 31.6 million Americans had gotten at least one dose, and 9.1 million were fully vaccinated.

The interesting question is how demand will hold up. Right now, many more people want to be vaccinated than can get appointments. But at some point, all the people who describe themselves as “eager” to be vaccinated (like me) will have had their shots. Then the burden will shift to coaxing reluctant people to be vaccinated. Nobody is sure when that shift will happen.

Johnson & Johnson has applied for approval of its vaccine, which is simpler but somewhat less effective. It is one shot instead of two, and can be stored in an ordinary refrigerator. The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is nearly ready to apply for approval as well. It is a two-dose vaccine, but can be stored in a refrigerator.

HuffPost posted the article “It’s Not Just You. A Lot of Us Are Hitting a Pandemic Wall Right Now.” I realize that’s supposed to be reassuring: There’s nothing wrong with you; it’s perfectly normal to want to run naked through the streets with an AR-15.

Somehow, though, I’m not comforted by the thought that everybody else in the world is just as close to the end of their rope as I am.

and the QAnon lady* in Congress

[* I’ve heard MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace refer to her that way, and I kind of like it.]

As I pointed out last week, freshman Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has promoted a lot of truly horrific ideas over the last few years, both orally and on social media. Wednesday, the House Republican caucus decided she is not a problem, and no disciplinary action is needed.

Democrats were not having that, so Thursday evening the full House voted to kick her off of the committees the GOP had assigned her to: Education and Budget. Only 11 Republicans voted for that resolution; the rest support her.

In the debate over that resolution, Greene gave a self-justifying speech; some Republicans have said it was similar to the speech she gave to the Republican caucus before it decided not to punish her. I link to the full text so that you can judge it in context, without relying on me (or anybody else) to interpret it correctly.

Having provided that backstop, here’s what I see in her speech.

  • She avoided taking responsibility. “The problem with that is though is I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true and I would ask questions about them and talk about them.” Who “allowed” her to repeat all those crazy things? What does that even mean?
  • She falsely claimed that her objectionable statements are all from years ago, and all from social media. “If it weren’t for the Facebook posts and comments that I liked in 2018, I wouldn’t be standing here today and you couldn’t point a finger and accuse me of anything wrong.” Actually, things she has said and done in person are just as disturbing, and she was defending QAnon as recently as December 11: “Asked by @ryanobles on Pelosi saying GOP has ‘QAnon in [their] caucus,’ Marjorie Taylor Greene said ‘I don’t think there’s anything wrong w/ people looking things up & not believing things in the news…it’s unfair to criticize regular Americans looking things up on the internet’.” On December 4, she praised a pro-Q news article.
  • She falsely claimed that her words have been taken out of context. “Big media companies can take teeny tiny pieces of words that I’ve said, that you have said, any of us and can portray us and to someone that we’re not, and that is wrong.” The full context of her statements usually makes them worse, not better. Last week I called your attention to a completely unhinged 40-minute video she uploaded to YouTube in 2018. Even if she had completely repudiated all the claims she made then, people’s habits of thinking don’t turn over that quickly (at least not without some kind of medication). The lunatic in that video should not be making decisions for our country.
  • She equated QAnon with the mainstream media, and in particular equated believing that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to the conspiracy theories of QAnon. “I started seeing things in the news that didn’t make sense to me like Russian collusion, which are conspiracy theories also, and have been proven so … Will we allow the media that is just as guilty as QAnon of presenting truth and lies to divide us?” Reports from both the Mueller investigation and the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that Russia intended to help Trump get elected, that Trump knew they were helping, and that (at least in some instances) his campaign welcomed that help. That doesn’t sound like Jewish space lasers to me.
  • She vaguely alluded to changes in her views, but did not specifically deny any previous claim. For example, she said “School shootings are absolutely real. … 9/11 absolutely happened.” But she did not say that the Parkland school shooting (the one she badgered survivor David Hogg about in 2019) really happened, or that a plane really did strike the Pentagon on 9/11. While saying in general that she had “stopped believing” parts of QAnon, describing it as “a mixture of truth and lies”, she never said which parts she denies and which she still thinks are true. Does she, for example, still believe that top Democrats are pedophiles who drink children’s blood? (On January 31 she tweeted: “What would the list of the anti-Trump pedos and associates look like? It would likely contain all of the people currently frothing with MTG hate.”) At a bare minimum, I think Greene should submit to questioning about such things. I’d start with: “Is David Hogg a crisis actor, or was he present at a real event where his classmates were murdered?”
  • She did not acknowledge that she advocated violence against other members of the House, apologize for advocating violence, or disavow violence going forward. CNN’s KFile claims to have seen videos Greene has since deleted from her Facebook page, which she said that Nancy Pelosi was guilty of treason, which was “punishable by death”. She liked comments that talked about executing Pelosi and other Democrats by hanging or firing squad.

Weirdly, in a tweet the day after the Capitol Insurrection, Greene accused numerous Democrats of being “accomplices” to “Antifa/BLM terrorism”, and added: “Those who stoke insurrection & spread conspiracies have blood on their hands. They must be expelled.”

Josh Marshall makes a good point:

Q is not a “conspiracy theory”. The faked moon landing was a conspiracy theory. Perhaps birtherism was a conspiracy theory, though one with similarities to QAnon because of its strong ideological valence. But Q is not a conspiracy theory. It’s a fascistic political movement which predicts and advocates mass violence against liberals (and everyone else outside its definition of true Americans) in an imminent apocalyptic political reckoning. What we call the ‘conspiracy theories’ are simply the storylines and claims that justify that outcome. They could easily be replaced by others which serve the same purpose.

In other words – and this is still a very basic confusion – the Q phenomenon is not a factual misunderstanding that more credible news sources or prevalent fact-check columns would deflate and tame.

In the big picture, it’s not all that important whether or not Greene believes that the Clintons sabotaged JFK Jr.’s airplane or George Soros started a California wildfire with a space laser. But whether she is still part of “a fascistic political movement which predicts and advocates mass violence against liberals” matters a great deal.

and protests against Putin

Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader Putin had poisoned, returned to Russia on January 17 after recuperating in Germany, and was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for violating his probation on an embezzlement charge that he claims was trumped-up to discredit him. Since returning, he has been a symbol of opposition to Putin, inspiring protests around the country.

The center of the protests is not Navalny’s personal popularity, but the failures of the Putin regime, which is corrupt, has let economic inequality get worse, and has not handled the pandemic well.

But economic inequality is the reason that people are most unhappy with Putin, according to research by Moscow-based independent pollster, the Levada-center. Some 45% of respondents faulted Putin for “failing to ensure an equitable distribution of income in the interests of ordinary people” in 2018, up from 39% in 2015. In Russia, the top 10% own 83% of the country’s wealth, making it the most unequal of the world’s largest economies followed by the U.S. and China, according to Credit Suisse Research Institute in 2019.

and you also might be interested in …

A memo from new Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin:

We will not tolerate actions that go against the fundamental principles of the oath we share, including actions associated with extremist or dissident ideologies. Service members, DoD civilian employees, and all those who support our mission, deserve an environment free of discrimination, hate, and harassment. … I am directing commanding officers and supervisors at all levels to select a date within the next 60 days to conduct a one-day ” stand-down” on this issue with their personnel. Leaders have the discretion to tailor discussions with their personnel as appropriate, but such discussions should include the importance of our oath of office; a description of impermissible behaviors; and procedures for reporting suspected, or actual, extremist behaviors in accordance with the DoDI. You should use this opportunity to listen as well to the concerns, experiences, and possible solutions that the men and women of the workforce may proffer in these stand-down sessions.

A number of former and active-duty military people were involved in the Capitol Insurrection, and there are other signs that the military has a problem with white supremacist groups recruiting in the ranks.

Biden is taking steps to get ICE under some kind of control.

“They’ve abolished ICE without abolishing ICE,” said one distraught official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because that person was not authorized to speak to the media.

I suspect the distraught official is exaggerating, but I wouldn’t be sorry if he weren’t. Trump’s ICE was a rogue agency that knew nobody above them cared about the people they could detain.

I find it weird that lawsuits by corporations are the most effective ways to strike back at political disinformation.

A voting technology company swept up in baseless conspiracy theories about the 2020 election filed a monster $2.7 billion lawsuit on Thursday against Fox News, some of the network’s star hosts, and pro-Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, alleging the parties worked in concert to wage a “disinformation campaign” that has jeopardized its very survival.

I can’t vouch for how they figure the $2.7 billion, but the basic idea of this suit makes a lot of sense: A group of people knowingly spread lies about Smartmatic, and those lies had dire financial consequences for the company. Another lied-about voting-tech company, Dominion, has already sued.

Within days, Fox News had axed Lou Dobbs, who helped spread many of Trump’s election-fraud conspiracy theories on the air.

Suits like Smartmatic’s are rare, because they’re hard to win — unless the person who smeared you does it really blatantly. Josh Marshall explains:

The Supreme Court rightly put a very high bar on success in libel suits for public people and entities. You have to be wrong. And you have to have known you were wrong or have had a malicious indifference to whether you were right or wrong. It’s very hard to [meet] that standard. …

The Smartmatic/Dominion cases are the first case at scale that seems almost to try out the Sullivan standard. Fox and various other pro-Trump entities made numerous, repeated and HIGHLY damaging claims which certainly in the cases of the institutions and almost certainly with the individuals (with Lindell he may simply be crazy) they [knew] were false.

The Texas Republican Party has endorsed legislation that would ask the voters whether they want the state to secede. I wonder what they would do if they didn’t love America so much.


The U.S. trade deficit over the four years of President Donald Trump’s presidency soared to its highest level since 2008, despite his tough tariff tactics intended to bring it down, a new Commerce Department report showed on Friday.

The combined U.S. goods and services trade deficit increased to $679 billion in 2020, compared to $481 billion in 2016, the year before Trump took office. The trade deficit in goods alone hit $916 billion, a record high and an increase of about 21 percent from 2016.

Like most of what he did, Trump’s trade policy was mainly a reality show. It was always more about creating the appearance of action than achieving results.

President Biden has decided that Trump should not get intelligence briefings, which former presidents usually have access to. While he was president, Trump occasionally let some valuable piece of intelligence slip, but Biden refused to speculate about what he might do now. What Biden did say was revealing:

I just think that there is no need for him to have the — the intelligence briefings. What value is giving him an intelligence briefing? What impact does he have at all, other than the fact he might slip and say something?

The main reason former officials of all sorts are given access to intelligence is that current officials might want to consult them about ongoing situations that have roots in the former official’s tenure. When he says there’s “no need”, Biden is really saying that he can’t imagine a situation where he’d want Trump’s advice. It’s a subtle but devastating barb.

and let’s close with something unexpected

Who knew that a two-cello mash-up of Beethoven’s Fifth and Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” would work?

Tell the Story

Probably the story of our time in politics is that the Republican Party is radicalizing around an explicitly anti-democratic violent white nationalist ideology, and that most of elite establishment media is uninterested or editorially incapable of accurately telling that story

Brian Murphy

This week’s featured posts are “The Biden Blitz” and “The Republican Party Chooses Not to Change“.

This week everybody was talking about the Biden administration

One featured post goes through the flurry of executive orders that Biden has already issued. For the most part they are important orders that turn the country in the right direction. But to really be successful, Biden has to get legislation through Congress. The first item on his agenda is his Covid relief plan. It provides economic relief to individuals, sends money to states to use distributing vaccines, funds the changes necessary to reopen schools, and institutes a national testing-and-contact-tracing plan.

Ten Republican senators — exactly the number needed to overcome a filibuster — have approached Biden with a much smaller effort: $618 billion rather than $1.9 trillion. I’m not sure exactly what the differences are. Biden is meeting with the senators today.

Biden has three avenues open: Pass something small with bipartisan support (assuming all ten of these senators stay on board, which I regard as a large assumption); pass something large through the reconciliation process with only (or almost entirely) Democratic votes; or pass a small bipartisan bill now and then come back with a larger Democratic bill later. (This would give Republicans cover: They voted for something and opposed something.)

I’ve been pleased that so far Biden has been unwilling to close off his options without getting any concessions back. If he had pledged, say, not to use reconciliation, then I doubt Republicans would be making a counter-proposal.

Chuck Schumer did something similar with the filibuster.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about why the Senate should abolish the filibuster. (My argument transcended any particular legislation that might get filibustered: If a tiny slice of the electorate — say, small majorities in the 21 smallest states — can block what most of the country wants, the American people are going to lose faith in democracy.)

Well, this week Mitch McConnell essentially filibustered to save the filibuster: He blocked the organizing resolution that would allow the Democratic majority to replace the Republican committee chairs, holding out for a stipulation that the Senate would not alter the filibuster during these next two years. Chuck Schumer held out for the agreement Tom Daschle and Trent Lott worked out the last time there was a 50-50 Senate, which made no such promises.

Schumer held his ground and McConnell yielded. What McConnell got instead of an amended resolution was that two Democrats, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, repeated filibuster-supporting promises they each made when they were elected in 2018.

It’s important to understand that this all about appearances: Whatever the organizing resolution says, and whatever individual senators might pledge, Democrats can end the filibuster any time they want — if they are unanimous. The question is how the politics would shake out: Will Manchin and Sinema look bad to their voters if they change their minds? Would the entire Democratic Senate majority look bad if they had passed a resolution defending the filibuster and then later reversed themselves?

And the answer to those questions is entirely situational: What will McConnell use the filibuster to block? That partly depends on how clever Democrats are in using the filibuster-avoiding maneuver known as reconciliation (which is how Republicans passed the Trump tax cut and nearly repealed ObamaCare).

If some very important, very popular legislation gets filibustered, that creates an opportunity for Manchin and Sinema to say “When I supported the filibuster, I never imagined Republicans would misuse it like this.” (Both say they’re not open to changing their minds, but who knows if they will? Neither comes up for reelection until 2024, and by then the filibuster could be ancient history.) Or maybe Schumer will come up with some trick for negating the filibuster in that particular case without getting rid of it completely, giving Manchin and Sinema some cover.

In short, this is not the best time fight this battle, and Schumer wouldn’t have the votes to win right now even if he wanted to fight it. That explains why the party’s progressive wing isn’t pushing too hard for it right now. At the moment, it’s an abstract battle about Senate procedure. Soon the terrain will shift to something voters care about, and then the situation will change.

Having the option of eliminating the filibuster pushes the Republicans to negotiate in good faith. Democrats should not give that up without getting something back.

and impeachment, which is all about where the Republican Party is going

Most of what I had to say about this is in one of the featured posts. But a few odds and ends didn’t fit.

The trial starts a week from tomorrow. But Trump is having a hard time finding lawyers willing to defend him.

Former President Donald J. Trump has abruptly parted ways with five lawyers handling his impeachment defense, just over a week before the Senate trial is set to begin, people familiar with the situation said on Saturday. … Mr. Trump had pushed for his defense team to focus on his baseless claim that the election was stolen from him, one person familiar with the situation said.

And that’s a problem because, unlike the Republican Party, the legal profession has standards.

Any defense attorney holds a broad obligation to represent his or her client zealously. That’s a crucial part of our adversarial justice system. But there are limits on what a defense attorney can argue. For example, per the American Bar Association, it would be unethical for any attorney to raise an argument “that he knows to be false.” The “rigged election” narrative certainly fits that description.

According to the NYT, something similar happened as early as November 12: Trump’s lawyers told him there was no fraud on a scale sufficient to flip the election in his favor, so they parted ways and Rudy Giuliani took over.

Thursday the 12th was the day Mr. Trump’s flimsy, long-shot legal effort to reverse his loss turned into something else entirely — an extralegal campaign to subvert the election, rooted in a lie so convincing to some of his most devoted followers that it made the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol almost inevitable.

Conservatives sometimes try to divert attention from Majorie Taylor Greene with the “What about left-wing radicals in Congress?” ploy. But Democrats are responding with a bring-it-on attitude. And they should: AOC, like Bernie Sanders, is more liberal than some Democrats want to be, but I think everybody understands that she lives in the real world. Progressives want the US to be more like Denmark, not Camelot. Denmark is a real place that is doing fine.

Greene, on the other hand, does not live in the real world.

Another typical whataboutist move diverts discussion of the Capitol Insurrection by bringing up the violence associated with the George Floyd protests (most of which were peaceful). The best description of the difference between those two incidents comes from Tom Robinson on Quora:

One of these things was protesting murder while the other was protesting Democracy.

Typically, an American political party that loses the presidency by seven million votes asks how it can appeal to a larger slice of the electorate. The GOP is asking how it can stop Democrats from voting.

An MTG-endorsed conspiracy theory (about how Jewish-funded space lasers caused a California wildfire) makes this Mel Brooks clip timely again.

and Christianity has some introspecting to do

An Atlantic article on impeachment-supporting Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger focuses more on his criticism of his church than of his party.

The problems that led to the January 6 insurrection are not just political. They’re cultural. Roughly half of Protestant pastors said they regularly hear people promote conspiracy theories in their churches, a recent survey by the Southern Baptist firm LifeWay Research found. “I believe there is a huge burden now on Christian leaders, especially those who entertained the conspiracies, to lead the flock back into the truth,” Kinzinger tweeted on January 12.

I think conservative Christians won’t solve this problem until they realize how deep it goes. The original “fundamentalists” in the early 20th century were reacting against two developments in modern thought: Darwinian evolution and the “higher criticism” of the Bible, which applied to scripture the techniques of interpretation scholars had invented to understand ancient texts like the Homeric epics. The fundamentalist response was to avoid these challenges by encouraging the development of bad thinking habits among Christians. Any kind of denial or logical fallacy was fine if it came to the right conclusions.

Well, a century later, those bad thinking habits have been exploited by purveyors of all kinds of nonsense: climate-change denial, Covid denial, QAnon, “Stop the Steal”. The conservative Christian mind is now like a poorly designed software application; it has back doors that allow hackers to circumvent the usual protocols and make the app serve purposes unrelated to its designers’ intent. That’s how we arrive at the situation Kinzinger diagnoses so clearly:

There are many people that have made America their god, that have made the economy their god, that have made Donald Trump their god, and that have made their political identity their god.

Christianity in general is not going to fix this problem until until it goes back to the source: It needs to figure out how to deal with the reality of evolution, and with the uncanny resemblance of the Bible’s oldest sections to many other texts from the same eras. A few of the more liberal sects did this work a long time ago, but the bulk of the movement would rather build a fortress around its errors than change.

and you also might be interested in …

What if an electric car could recharge in five minutes?

Ever since the Inauguration, the Bernie meme has been everywhere. This is my favorite. collected some other Bernie-in-space images. He’s also been in famous paintings, at historic events, and in classic movie scenes.

Several writers have tried to explain what this phenomenon “means”. Like, why is it happening? Why Bernie? Why this particular image? I think it’s not hard to understand: The original Bernie-at-the-Inauguration photo captured a truth we all recognized: Wherever Bernie goes, he’s still Bernie. The historic grandeur of an inauguration doesn’t change him, so why would anything else?

Biden had a phone conversation with Putin.

In his first phone call with Vladimir Putin since taking office, President Biden pressed his Russian counterpart on the detention of a leading Kremlin-critic, the mass arrest of protesters, and Russia’s suspected involvement in a massive cyber breach in the United States.

In short: we’re an independent country again. Our president is no longer under the thumb of the Russian president.

Hakeem Jefferson on this weekend’s snowstorm:

DC’s so white today the GOP might vote to grant it statehood.

and let’s close with something musical

I can’t decide between a good-bye-Trump or a hello-Biden song, so I’ll post one of each. On the last day of the Trump administration, James Corden did this wonderful send-up of “One Day More” from Les Miserables.

And after President Biden suggested that Janet Yellin — the first female Treasury Secretary — should get a musical just like the first male Treasury Secretary did, Marketplace got Dessa, a member of the hip-hop collective Doomtree and one of the artists who contributed to “The Hamilton Mixtape” working on it. That led to “Who’s Yellin Now?

The Path to Unity

No Sift next week. The next new posts will appear on February 1.

All Donald Trump has to say to calm tensions down is one sentence: “The election was not stolen.

Rep. Ted Lieu

This week’s featured posts are “The Orwellian Misuse of ‘Orwellian’” and “To Save Democracy, End the Filibuster“.

This week everybody was talking about impeachment

The Economist sums up pretty well why Trump must be convicted by the Senate:

Stand back, for a moment, and consider the enormity of his actions. As president, he tried to cling to power by overturning an election that he had unambiguously lost. First, he spread a big lie in a months-long campaign to convince his voters that the election was a fraud and that the media, the courts and the politicians who clung to the truth were in fact part of a wicked conspiracy to seize power. Then, having failed to force state officials to override the vote, he and his henchmen whipped up a violent mob and sent them to intimidate Congress into giving him what he wanted. And last, as that mob ransacked the Capitol and threatened to hang the vice-president, Mike Pence, for his treachery, Mr Trump looked on, for hours ignoring lawmakers’ desperate pleas for him to come to their aid.

… The proper place to defend the constitution is the venue the constitution itself provides: Congress. That is why the House was right to vote to impeach Mr Trump and why the Senate should move fast to convict him.

… His supporters argue that impeachment is divisive just when America needs to become united. That is self-serving and wrong. Nobody has sown discord as recklessly as Mr Trump and his party. You do not overcome division by pretending that nothing is wrong, but by facing it. Were Mr Trump to be convicted, the healing might genuinely begin.

Here’s an example of what can happen when a democracy fails to defend itself against an authoritarian threat.

In 1924, after his first attempt to take power by force, Hitler served only eight months of an already lenient five-year sentence for treason. (He used the down-time to write Mein Kampf.) When he was released, The New York Times printed “Hitler Tamed By Prison“. It opined that the “demi-god of the reactionary extremists” had learned his lesson.

He looked a much sadder and wiser man today … It is believed he will retire from public life and return to Austria, the country of his birth.

The root of the fascist claim to power is that democracy is too weak and corruptible to defend das Volk — in America, straight white Christians — from domination by a sinister Other (Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, blood-drinking pedophiles …). When fascists fail to overthrow democracy and are treated leniently, that very lenience is seen as evidence in favor of their claim: Democracy cannot even defend itself, much less the People.

If the insurrectionists — from Trump on down to the buffalo-horn guy — walk away unscathed, they will be back, and will strike harder next time.

Watching the business community pull away from Trump and his supporters, I am reminded of Mafia history. American organized crime has long understood that it is a parasite on the larger society, and so needs to stay in its niche, lest it either kill its host or provoke an immune response. From time to time, then, the bosses turn on one of their own who is getting out of hand. Such overreach, they say, is “bad for business”.

Two examples: In 1935, Dutch Schultz was under pressure from Tom Dewey, a special prosecutor who had been appointed to crack down on organized crime in New York City. (On the strength of his crime-fighting reputation, Dewey would later become governor and eventually the Republican nominee for president in 1944 and 1948.) When Schultz started plotting to have Dewey killed, New York’s other crime bosses decided he was going too far, and had him killed instead. They had no love for Dewey either, but killing him would only have incited a larger anti-crime campaign.

Ironically, the mobster who told the bosses about Schultz’s planned assassination of Dewey eventually became a second example: Albert Anastasia, head of the legendary Murder Incorporated. By 1950, he was killing people unrelated to organized crime, more or less on a whim. When he killed Arnold Schuster, who tipped the police on how to find escaped bank robber Willie Sutton (an independent operator with no Mafia connection), the other bosses decided the attention Anastasia was drawing was bad for business. So he also was killed.

Anyway, that’s my interpretation of, say, Charles Koch and other big conservative donors pulling away from the Republicans who backed Trump’s effort to overturn the election. It’s not that they’ve suddenly seen the light about democracy. Charles and his brother David (before his death in 2019) were major backers of the GOP’s push for minority rule through gerrymandering, voter suppression, and taking advantage of the undemocratic nature of the Senate and the Supreme Court. But sending a mob to attack the Capitol is bad for business.

Wondering if there are 17 Republican senators willing do to their duty and convict Trump, I feel like Abraham hoping there might be ten righteous people in Sodom.

Ben Sasse might be one of them. In the Atlantic, he at least says the right things: The problem isn’t just one man or one event, but a series of bad decisions that started some while ago.

Until last week, many party leaders and consultants thought they could preach the Constitution while winking at QAnon. They can’t. The GOP must reject conspiracy theories or be consumed by them. Now is the time to decide what this party is about.

Trump has been blowing up our norms of government for four years. Former Deputy Director of National Intelligence Susan Gordon suggests a norm Biden should blow up: allowing his predecessor access to intelligence briefings.

and just how bad the Capitol invasion was

The best article on the topic is Luke Mogelson’s “Among the Insurrectionists” in The New Yorker. The video he shot with his phone became public yesterday, and it is mind-boggling. One thing becomes clear from Mogelson’s reporting: We may never know exactly what percentage of Trump voters were motivated by racism, but the folks willing to take up arms to keep Trump in office after he lost the election are overwhelmingly white supremacists. BuzzFeed agrees.

Probably some of the invaders just got swept up in the moment, and may not have gone to Trump’s rally with any clear intention of what they would do next. But others may have intended to capture or kill members of Congress and/or Vice President Pence. (Sources disagree about this.) At times the mob was only a short distance away from people they intended to harm.

In addition to whatever action is taken against Trump, Congress has to investigate whether its own members were involved in the insurrection. New Jersey Democrat Mikie Sherrill claims that some of her Republican colleagues were giving “reconnaissance tours” to insurrectionists the day before.

Some evangelicals see how far astray their movement went in backing Trump. And some don’t.

Slate verifies something I noticed whenever I channel-scanned through Fox News this week: They just aren’t talking about the riot at the Capitol. On Fox, the lead news story was how horrible it is that Twitter decided to stop helping Trump incite violence.

and what Biden wants to do about Covid

Using FEMA and the National Guard to set up more vaccination sites, invoking the Defense Production Act to knock down any bottlenecks in the production process, a new round of stimulus, money to help schools reopen safely, expanded testing to find not just asymptomatic carriers but new strains of the virus, a national contact-tracing effort, … what amazes Ezra Klein is not that it’s so brilliant, but that it’s so obvious. “Most elements of the plan are surprising only because they are not already happening.”

but you should pay more attention to Trumpist attempts to change the language

That’s the topic of the featured post “The Orwellian Misuse of ‘Orwellian’“.

and you also might be interested in …

The NRA filed for bankruptcy Friday. Like Trump’s many bankruptcies, this seems to be a move to stiff creditors and evade oversight, rather than organizational death. The NRA is incorporated in New York, and faces a lawsuit from the New York attorney general alleging management fraud and self-dealing. It plans to dissolve in New York and reincorporate in Texas. Whether the same management will continue to scam NRA members in the same ways remains to be seen.

In August, I used that lawsuit’s charges to illustrate the industry of grifters set up to fleece the gullible conservative faithful in “The NRA and the Long Con“.

I admit, it’s petty to focus on stuff like this. But Ivanka and Jared not letting the Secret Service use any of their half-dozen bathrooms, and the $100K the government has spent to rent agents a nearby room of their own, is so in tune with my general impression of what it means to be a Trump.

It has taken more than six years, but former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is finally facing some kind of accountability for his role in the Flint water crisis, in which 12 people died of Legionnaire’s Disease and 6,000-12,000 Flint children were exposed to high levels of lead.

Snyder has been charged with willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of one year in prison.

Ordinarily, we think of police shootings when we hear the phrase “Black lives matter”, but it also refers to situations like this, where officials are slow to notice harm done to communities that are predominantly Black, and slow to respond after they do notice. A report from the Michigan Civil Rights Commission

says one theme was common in the hearings where the public spoke. People said predominantly white cities like Ann Arbor or Birmingham, near Detroit, would have been treated differently by the state. The report quotes a resident who said: “If this was in a white area, in a rich area, there would have been something done. I mean, let’s get real here. We know the truth.”

and let’s close with something absurd

The Yes classic “Roundabout”, performed by the characters from Peanuts.

Post and Pre

Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place.

– Timothy Snyder “The American Abyss

This week’s featured posts are “Sedition and Free Speech” and “The Capitol Invasion is Both an End and a Beginning“.

This week everybody was talking about the Trump insurrection

Most of what I have to say on this topic is in one of the featured posts. But I only briefly touched on the friendly reception the insurrectionists got from some of the police, and didn’t mention the racial angle at all.

Joy Reid nailed that point, contrasting her own experience in Black Lives Matter protests with the untroubled demeanor of the Capitol invaders:

The reason these people were so unafraid of the cops … the reason they could so easily and casually, with their cameras on, film themselves throwing things through the walls of our Capitol, our property, going inside the Capitol, sitting in Speaker Pelosi’s office, casually take pictures of themselves, have that played on Fox News — they know that they are not in jeopardy. Because the cops are taking selfies with them, walking them down the steps to make sure they’re not hurt, taking care with their bodies — not like they treated Freddie Gray’s body.

White Americans aren’t afraid of the cops. White Americans are never afraid of the cops, even when they’re committing insurrection. Even when they’re engaged in trying to occupy our Capitol to steal the votes of people who look like me. Because in their minds, they own this country. They own that Capitol. They own the cops; the cops work for them. And people like me have no damn right to try to elect a president. Because we don’t get to pick the president, they get to pick the president. They own the president. They own the White House. They own this country.

So when you think you own it, when you own the place, you aren’t afraid of the police, because the police are you. And the police reflect back to them: “We’re with you. You’re good. We’re not going to hurt you, ’cause you’re not them.” I guarantee you if that was a Blacks Lives Matter protest in D.C. there would already be people shackled, arrested, or dead.

As soon as they realized the attack on the Capitol — which everyone in the world saw coming — was a public-relations disaster, Trumpists began blaming it on Antifa, inventing the ridiculous story that antifascists impersonated Trumpists and committed all the actual crimes. The Washington Post traced the provenance of this conspiracy theory.

The genesis for the assertion appears to be an article published by the right-wing Washington Times that claimed that a “retired military officer” had provided information from a firm called XRVision that used facial recognition software to identify several people who invaded the Capitol — and that two of them were linked to antifa. A third was “someone who shows up at climate and Black Lives Matter protests in the West.”

XRVision spokesperson Yaacov Apelbaum corrected the story:

“XRVision didn’t generate any composites or detection imagery for the Washington Times nor for a ‘retired military officer,’ ” Apelbaum said, “and did not authorize them to make any such representations.”

What happened, Apelbaum explained, was that the firm “performed an analysis on the footage” and, in doing so, was able to identify three people. “We concluded that two of individuals … were affiliated with the Maryland Skinheads and the National Socialist Movements,” the firm determined. “These two are known Nazi organizations, they are not Antifa. The third individual identified … was an actor with some QAnon promotion history. Again, no Antifa identification was made for him either.”

XRVision did create graphics comparing people who had been at the Capitol with other photographs, Apelbaum said, which “were distributed to a handful of individuals for their private consumption and not for publication.”

One of the graphics includes a photograph of two people that can also be found on the website Philly Antifa. As noted by Twitter user Respectable Lawyer, though, the reason the photo of those people is on the website isn’t that they are antifa, but that they were believed to be fascists.

So: the people identified were fascists, not anti-fascists.

and removing Trump

My post on the Capitol invasion ends with the idea that democracy needs to defend itself vigorously against fascism. We can’t even appear to give in to the attitude Joy Reid posits: that the fascists “own this country”.

That idea has two pieces: The identifiable people involved in the attack need to be charged and sent to jail, and there has to be some kind of consequence for Trump inciting that riot. The first piece got off to a bad start, when rioters were allowed to mingle in front of the Capitol for hours and then head for home on their own, rather than being arrested. But law enforcement and the social-media hive mind are identifying a bunch of these people now, and some are being arrested. We’ll see if they get what’s coming to them.

As for Trump, Democrats are insisting that he not be allowed to leave office honorably: He needs to resign or be removed by Pence using the 25th Amendment, or get impeached again. Republicans want to just let his term run out, and are trying to play the “unity” card. Keven McCarthy tweets:

Impeaching the President with just 12 days left will only divide our country more. I’ve reached out to President-elect Biden today & plan to speak to him about how we must work together to lower the temperature & unite the country to solve America’s challenges.

This spirit of unity was nowhere to be found when McCarthy voted to disenfranchise millions of Democrats Wednesday, even after Trump had incited a violent insurrection. Any Republican who puts forward such an idea needs to be challenged: What are you going to do to promote unity? What concessions is your side offering to make peace?

You want to lower the temperature, Kevin? Get Trump to resign. That would save a lot of grief all around. In the meantime, Democrats should continue with impeachment. McConnell will no doubt drag his feet to delay a vote past January 20 and then claim the case is moot. But that’s on him. Democrats should at least try to do the right thing.

Some conservative voices are joining the chorus. American Enterprise Institute Fellow Matthew Continetti writes in National Review:

There will be time to sort through the wreckage of the conservative movement and the Republican Party. There is not as much time — a little less than 14 days — to constrain the president before he plunges the nation’s capital into havoc again. Incitement to trespass, harassment, and destruction cannot go unanswered. The Constitution offers remedies. Pursue them — for no other reason than to deter the president from escalation. There must be a cost for reckless endangerment of the United States government. Trump must pay.

and the post-Christmas Covid surge arrived

Friday, new cases topped 300K for the first time, coming in at 315K. The previous day, deaths topped 4K for the first time, coming in at 4027. The 7-day average on deaths is now 3200, and still going up. In general, deaths lag cases by a week or two, and track at about 1.5% or so. So the 300K cases is consistent with 4,500 daily deaths before the end of the month.

I have hopes that the cases and deaths will start to drop sharply before long. I base this not on the vaccine, which continues to roll out slowly, but on my bargain-with-God theory. I think a lot of people knew they were taking irresponsible risks over Christmas, but offered God a deal: “Just let me get through the holidays, and I’ll be good.” I think masking, staying-at-home, and social distance compliance is probably picking up now.

and free speech (and its consequences)

The other featured post discusses the implications of Twitter banning Trump, and Josh Hawley losing his book deal.

and oh, by the way, the Democrats captured control of the Senate

Wednesday was a busy day. I woke up to find that Raphael Warnock had won his race against Kelly Loeffler, and Jon Ossoff was ahead of David Perdue. Later that day Ossoff’s race was called, producing a 50-50 Senate that VP Harris will tilt to the Democrats. The late vote-count increased the margins in both races, with Ossoff ahead now by 1.2% and Warnock’s margin over 2%, big enough that a recount is not necessary. Georgia law allows Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger until January 22 to certify the results, after which both new senators should be sworn in.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a nice ring to it.

and you also might be interested in …

The editor of Forbes calls for “a truth reckoning”, which requires consequences for Trump’s hired liars. Ordinarily, a White House press secretary stands to make millions after rejoining the private sector. Trump’s should not.

Let it be known to the business world: Hire any of Trump’s fellow fabulists above [Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Stephanie Grisham, Kayleigh McEnany] and Forbes will assume that everything your company or firm talks about is a lie. We’re going to scrutinize, double-check, investigate with the same skepticism we’d approach a Trump tweet. Want to ensure the world’s biggest business media brand approaches you as a potential funnel of disinformation? Then hire away.

This has got to hurt: The Professional Golfers Association doesn’t want Trump’s baggage.

“The PGA of America Board of Directors voted tonight to exercise the right to terminate the agreement to play the 2022 PGA Championship at Trump Bedminster,” said Jim Richerson, PGA of America president, in a statement. Holding the tournament at Trump Bedminster, Richerson said, would be “detrimental” to the PGA of America’s brand and put the organization’s ability to function “at risk.”

As if to bookend the images of white domestic terrorists freely roaming the Capitol, Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced that the officer who shot Jacob Blake seven times would not be charged with any crime.

Watching Graveley’s statement to the press as it happened, I was not in a position to immediately confirm or refute the points he was making. But I was struck by the tone: He was speaking as a defense attorney for the cops, trying to persuade the public rather than inform it.

The great NYT reporter Neil Sheehan died this week, freeing The Times to publish the full story of how he got The Pentagon Papers from Daniel Ellsberg.

and let’s close with the best new thing of 2020

Rachel Maddow used to close her show with an upbeat segment called “The Best New Thing in the World”. The new things were usually off-beat and not terribly momentous, but just made you feel good to think about them. I have such a new thing here: In March of 2020, the South Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher had its photo published for the first time in the 130 years since the species had been described. “It has eluded scientists for over a hundred years because of its behavior. It is difficult to see as it perches quietly and darts invisibly from perch to perch.”

Against the Nation

Right now, the most serious attempt to overthrow our democracy in the history of our of country is underway. Those who are pushing to make Donald Trump President, no matter the outcome of the election, are engaged in a treachery against their nation. You cannot, at the same time, love America and hate democracy.

Senator Chris Murphy

This week’s featured post is “The Increasingly Desperate Attack on Democracy“.

This week, everybody was talking about the Republican attempt to steal the election for Trump

As I explained in this morning’s Teaser, I resent that Trump is continuing to make me pay attention to him. The world and the country face real issues that have nothing to do with him, his ego, and his prospects of going to jail. I would like to start focusing on them. But his attempt to intimidate Georgia’s secretary of state into throwing the election, and his supporters’ effort to block (or at least de-legitimize) Biden’s victory, can’t go unnoticed.

This attempt to establish an American autocracy should be a black mark that all these people wear for the rest of their lives. I agree with Jennifer Rubin:

These spurious challenges to an election should remind us that the GOP has become an authoritarian, unprincipled party whose only purpose is to retain power by whatever means possible. It should permanently disqualify these Republicans from holding office.

I discuss the details in the featured post.

and about vaccine distribution

Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, writes bluntly in the Washington Post: “Vaccination is going slowly because nobody is in charge.”

Let’s start with a quick recap: As recently as early October, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said we’d have 100 million doses of vaccine by the end of 2020. One month later, that was reduced to 40 million doses. As recently as Dec. 21, Vice President Pence, the head of the White House coronavirus task force, said that we were on track to vaccinate 20 million Americans by Dec. 31. Unfortunately, 20 million doses haven’t even gotten to the states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that we have vaccinated about 2.6 million people. Assuming the reporting lags by a few days, we might be at 3 or 4 million total. …

How did we get from 100 million promised doses to just a few million people vaccinated? It is a lesson in misunderstanding American federalism and a failure of national leadership. The federal government and Operation Warp Speed saw their role as getting vaccines to the states, without considering what supports states would need to get vaccines to the people.

State public health departments are already worn down by pandemic, and the money appropriated in the CARES Act last spring is long gone. The Covid relief package just passed by Congress has new funding for states to spend on vaccination programs, but the new money, plus a plan for what to do with it “should have happened in October and November”.

In the face of this unforced error, Trump is doing what he always does: blame somebody else. The slow delivery of the vaccine is the states’ fault, he claims. (In a remarkable coincidence, all 50 of them are failing in exactly the same way.) In a tweet, Trump makes this systemic failure sound like his personal success.

The vaccines are being delivered to the states by the Federal Government far faster than they can be administered!

One of the most frustrating thoughts I have about the whole botched pandemic response, beginning to end, is that this is precisely the kind of thing Hillary Clinton would have been good at: a difficult organizational problem with a lot of details, requiring an understanding of how the various parts of government work and how they fit together.

The pandemic seems to have leveled off at a horrifying plateau, as we wait to see the size of the post-Christmas surge. We’re currently averaging about 220K new cases per day and 2600 daily deaths, and have been for more than two weeks. The total number of American deaths has passed 350K.

and the Georgia senate runoffs

I haven’t posted much about this because I don’t know what to say. I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen.

The election is tomorrow. After November, I’m not trusting small margins in polls, but 538’s polling average has both Democrats narrowly ahead, with neither polling over 50%. For what it’s worth, polls in Georgia did pretty well in November. 538 had Biden winning by .9%; he actually won by .2%.

Two Senate seats will be decided. If Democrats win both of them, they will control a 50-50 Senate by virtue of Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. Otherwise, Mitch McConnell continues to be majority leader.

Even if both Democrats win, it’s a mistake to expect much out of the Senate. The filibuster is still in place, and to get rid of it Schumer would need all 50 Democratic votes — something that’s unlikely to happen. The main advantage that would come from controlling the Senate would be deciding what comes to a vote. For the last two years, Pelosi’s House majority has been passing legislation about voting rights, Covid relief, DC statehood, and all sorts of other worthy causes. The Senate should have to vote on these things. If it does, some watered-down version might even pass.

Also, a Republican Senate will spend most of its time launching spurious investigations into whatever Biden conspiracy theory they can come up with.

But the idea that a 50-Democrat Senate will enable some kind of “socialist agenda” is just Republican propaganda.

and you also might be interested in …

Nancy Pelosi gets another term as speaker.

Congress overrode Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act. Efforts to up the $600 payments in last week’s Covid relief bill to $2000 went nowhere in the Senate.

Patrick Cage knew about Q-Anon before most of the rest of us did, because he makes regular bets on PredictIt, the political stock market. Back in 2018 he started noticing anomalies in the prediction markets: People were willing to bet money on prospective events that nothing in the news pointed to: say, that Hillary Clinton or Jim Comey or Barack Obama would be indicted by a certain date. After he won a few bets against these positions, he started studying the comments sections for explanations of what the bettors were thinking. And that’s how he discovered Q.

The followers of Q, it turns out, don’t just trade theories on social media. Some of them think they have real inside knowledge that they can use to make money. Cage has become a student of Q-Anon theories so that he can bet against them. He claims he hasn’t lost an anti-Q bet yet.

If you have Q-Anon friends, you might want to show them this article. One of the best ways to dissuade them, I suspect, would be to get them testing their theories on prediction markets. You can explain away things you said on the internet. But you can’t explain away a steady loss of money. If Q is so smart, why can’t the people who listen to him get rich?

I’ve been resisting the recent trend of paying for subscriptions to individual writers — sorry, Matt Yglesias — but this week I made an exception for David Roberts’ new blog Volts.

Roberts has been writing about environmental issues and their philosophical underpinnings for years. I started reading his stuff when he wrote for Grist, then followed him to Vox. I’ve quoted posts like “The question of what Donald Trump ‘really believes’ has no answer“, and his discussion of “tribal epistemology“. His 2012 exchange with Wen Stephenson about how the mainstream media covers climate change is just as relevant now as it was then.

An example of the kind of thinking I have appreciated from Roberts is his recent Volts post “Why I Am a Progressive“, which includes a critique of philosophy’s famous Trolley Problem (which you may have seen on “The Good Place”). The thought experiment is misguided, he claims, because it implies that the important thing in ethics is to find the right abstract rules, as if the height of ethical achievement is to become the perfect decision-making automaton.

As the Trolley Problem is structured, you, the moral agent, have an utter paucity of knowledge about the situation. You don’t know why you’re there, any of the people involved, any history, any detail. All you know is, one life or five lives. The problem is designed to make the agent (the decider) invisible, to isolate the decision itself away from embedded, embodied experience.  …

All we have are the perceptual and analytic tools available to us, so we should focus on improving them. If you want trolley-style decisions made better in the real world, in real societies, you’re much better off focusing on agents than on any set of final principles. … [W]hat we’d want operating in a real-world case of the Trolley Problem is not the perfect set of principles, but the perfect moral agent — the best possible decision-maker.

By contrast, the world we have now is determined by “harried people making thoughtless decisions based on crude heuristics and mental models”. The surest path to a more moral world, then, is to improve that situation.

And so he winds around to the question he is supposed to be answering: why he’s progressive. People make better decisions, he says, when they have the slack to take a step back and think things through, and they make worse decisions when they’re hungry or afraid or worried about losing their place in the world. They also make better decisions when they have access to high-quality information. So, of course, you educate people about how to think clearly, and you make it easy for them to find good information. And then you create a society where as few people as possible live in fear or under stress.

I finally got around to reading Dan Kaufman’s book The Fall of Wisconsin, which came out in 2018. It tells the story of how Scott Walker and an extreme form of conservatism took over the state where Bob La Follette invented the progressive movement a century ago. The short version is:

  • Walker’s conservatives were backed by limitless amounts of money, which they used not only to overwhelm Democrats during election campaigns, but also to create a permanent infrastructure of organizing groups like Americans for Prosperity. Liberals organized issue by issue, election by election, and candidate by candidate, and so were always a step behind.
  • They had a long-term strategic plan and carried it out, systematically crippling centers of Democratic strength like the unions.
  • They were ruthless about changing the rules in their favor, instituting a voter-ID law that disenfranchised tens of thousands, gerrymandering legislative districts so extremely that repeated Democratic voting majorities can’t dislodge the Republican leadership, and transferring power from the governor to the legislature after Walker was voted out.

But it’s not just a story of diabolical Republican brilliance. The dysfunction of Democrats and progressives in general is a second theme. By taking a short-term non-strategic perspective, Walker’s opposition allowed itself to be picked apart piece by piece. Walker succeeded in turning private-sector unions against public-sector unions, and non-unionized workers against unionized workers. Liberal whites in the small towns often failed to stand up for blacks in Milwaukee or Native Americans protecting the environment near their reservations, and those groups returned the favor. The thought “They’ll be coming for me next” never seemed to register.

The Democratic Party in general showed a similar lack of solidarity, and worried more about losing the news cycle nationally than about supporting grassroot movements that channeled local energy. So in 2011 when Walker was taking collective-bargaining rights away from teachers and other public-sector unions, and tens of thousands of grassroot protesters occupied the state capitol building, President Obama was looking ahead to his 2012 reelection campaign and stayed away.

The lesson I learn from this book is that to be successful, the Democratic Party has to be strong locally, and has to stand for themes that manifest in issues people can see in their lives. Republicans have become the party of fantasy, focused on bizarre conspiracy theories (like Q-Anon), just-so stories (like rich people creating jobs with their tax cuts), meaningless pejorative labels (“socialists!”) and fears disconnected from reality (like transgender acceptance allowing pedophiles to lurk in girls’ bathrooms). Democrats can’t win on that turf.

Democrats have to be the party of real people talking about what’s going on in their lives: my groundwater is polluted, I can’t pay my medical bills or my student debt, you can’t live on minimum wage in this city, and so on. And if those stories sound foreign at first, because in some way we’re different from the people telling them, trusted national figures have to encourage us to stretch our empathy, and explain how we may need others to be there for us someday. National figures need to invest their political capital in local issues, rather than pull back because those stories are not immediately popular.

and let’s close with something restful

In Utah, a wildlife bridge allows for transit over Interstate 80. Back in November, the state Division of Wildlife Resources posted a video of the “traffic”, which includes several deer, as well as coyotes, bears, and a bobcat who snares a mouse.

The Long December

It’s been a long December
And there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last.

Counting Crows

This week’s featured posts are my end-of-the-year summaries: “The Yearly Sift 2020: State of the Sift” and “The Yearly Sift 2020: Themes of the Year“.

But it’s 2020, so the news didn’t slow down for the holiday week. Here’s what’s been happening.

This week everybody was talking about vetoes

Trump threatened to veto the $2.3 trillion package that includes $900 billion of Covid relief and money to keep the government open past today. Then he did nothing for several days. Then yesterday he finally signed it. The enhanced unemployment benefits included in the CARES Act ended Saturday, so his delay means that states won’t be able to restart the benefits until the first week of January.

The announcement that he had signed the bill was quickly followed by a bizarre statement that makes the signing sound like something other than a capitulation. Trump’s statement invoked the Impoundment Control Act of 1974, as if he believes this law does the opposite of what it really does.

Congress passed the ICA in response to President Nixon’s executive overreach – his Administration refused to release Congressionally appropriated funds for certain programs he opposed. While the U.S. Constitution broadly grants Congress the power of the purse, the President – through the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and executive agencies – is responsible for the actual spending of funds. The ICA created a process the President must follow if he or she seeks to delay or cancel funding that Congress has provided.

The process is for the President to make a list of the desired cuts and then send it back to Congress, which can just ignore the criticism — as it certainly will in this case. The President then must spend the money appropriated in the original bill. So the list of rescissions Trump announced (which may or may not ever appear; remember all the times he has said that a health care plan was coming) is just symbolic. Even Fox News says

with only a few days left in this Congress, such a request is nearly out of the question

In addition to “demanding” and “insisting on” changes in the bill he signed, Trump’s statement falsely claims Congress has agreed to change Section 230 of Communications Decency Act of 1996, which protects social media companies from certain lawsuits. (Trump would like to sue Twitter for continuing to flag his lying tweets about the election as “disputed”.) Congress has also, the statement falsely asserts, “agreed to focus strongly on the very substantial voter fraud which took place in the November 3 Presidential election”.

It is unclear whether Trump issued this toothless statement to fool his supporters, or if his staff fooled him into thinking the statement somehow continues the fight. It does not. He surrendered.

On Wednesday, he did veto the National Defense Authorization Act, which is one of those must-pass bills that allows the government to do things like buy weapons and pay the troops. A vote to override is scheduled for this afternoon in the House, though Senate procedures may delay their vote until Sunday. The ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee sent out a carefully phrased note to his colleagues.

Your decision should be based on what is actually in the bill rather than distortions or misrepresentations. … Your decision should be based upon the oath we all took, which was to the Constitution rather than any person or organization

You mean, some “person” is demanding loyalty to himself rather than to the Constitution, and is spreading “distortions or misrepresentations” about the contents of the NDAA? Whoever could that be?

Trump’s stated objections to the bill are tangential, to say the least.

Trump vetoed the bill after Democrats and Republicans refused to include his last-minute demand to repeal legal protections for social media companies [Section 230 again], which is unrelated to the defense legislation. He also objected to provisions that would remove the names of Confederate leaders from Army bases and place limits on his plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Europe.

Trump describes the bill as “a gift to Beijing”, which might be one of the “misrepresentations” Rep. Thornberry had in mind. The bill also funds a new cybersecurity effort, which probably is not going down well with Trump’s handler in Moscow.

Amanda Marcotte has an interesting theory: Trump’s vetoes and veto threats are intended to pressure Mitch McConnell into helping him steal the election.

To be clear, this isn’t 11th level chess. It’s actually Trump employing junior high school bully logic: McConnell wants a thing (this paltry coronavirus relief bill), and so Trump is threatening to take it away unless Trump gets what he wants (a successful coup). Trump, being very dumb, has not considered the possibility that McConnell couldn’t give in to the extortion if he tried because there’s actually no secret file in McConnell’s office labeled “How To Steal Any Election.”

and pardons

Three weeks ago in “Pardons and Their Limits” I talked in general about the issues involved in the pardons Trump might issue. Now we have some actual pardons to discuss.

The Washington Post sums up what’s wrong with them:

Larry Kupers, the former acting head of the Justice Department Office of the Pardon Attorney, who served in the Trump administration until he left in mid-2019, said in an interview that the president has been abusive in failing to go through the normal channels to review requests for clemency.

Normally, such requests go through his former office and recommendations are eventually sent to the White House. Most of Trump’s actions have been made on requests that did not go through the office. “It is abusive in the sense that very few of his grants, commutations or pardons really went to any legitimate purpose,” Kupers said.

“The purpose of the pardon power set out by Alexander Hamilton — that is mercy and reconciliation and I would add to that forgiveness. I can’t think about any of his grants that come under those categories. They are all grants to cronies or are partisan in the sense that he wants to excite and please his base.”

One striking thing that you might miss or misunderstand: Writers trying to be fair to Trump are sure to mention the dubious pardons of previous presidents — Ford pardoned Nixon; Clinton pardoned Marc Rich; Bush the First pardoned the Iran-Contra conspirators; and so on. What’s important to notice is that the worst examples from America’s past are the run of the mill now. Just about all of Trump’s pardons are self-serving, corrupt, or otherwise damaging to America.

The latest batch included the pardon everyone expected: Paul Manafort, who gets his reward for keeping quiet about the collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. His pardon ties a nice bow on Trump’s obstruction of the Mueller investigation.

Among the partisan pardons are three corrupt Republican congressmen: Duncan Hunter, who was convicted of stealing campaign funds for personal use; Chris Collins (insider trading); and Steve Stockman (charity fraud). All three were clearly guilty of money crimes that served no political purpose; they were just greedy, and grabbed the money because they could. They all deserved their punishment, and could be poster boys for the swamp that Trump promised to drain. It is impossible to imagine a corrupt Democratic congressman — or even a never-Trump Republican — getting a similar pardon. The message this sends to corrupt Republican politicians everywhere is: Go for it. Even if you’re caught, eventually a Republican president will pardon you.

But probably the least deserving beneficiaries of Trump’s largesse are the four Blackwater mercenaries convicted of the Nisour Square Massacre. They killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including two children. There is no doubt they are guilty, or that their crime is heinous. I reconstruct Trump’s thinking like this: They’re Americans and they killed non-white foreigners, so who cares?

This is reminiscent of Trump’s pardon in 2019 of convicted murderer Major Matt Golsteyn, of whom Trump tweeted:

We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!

It is hard to overstate how much damage these pardons (and Trump’s overall attitude towards murderers in uniform) do to the reputation of the United States and the morale of our armed forces. What must our soldiers think, when they hear their Commander in Chief call them “killing machines”? Former head of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey tweeted in response to the first talk of such pardons:

Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US servicemembers accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the Law of Armed Conflict seriously. Bad message. Bad precedent. Abdication of moral responsibility. Risk to us.

The Blackwater pardons go beyond simple corruption. They are evil for evil’s sake.

Josh Marshall’s take on the pardons as obstruction is interesting: He doesn’t think they matter that much. More important than sending people to jail is figuring out what happened, and he expects that to come out of the documents that will be available to the Biden administration.

A new President not invested in the cover up changes the equation dramatically. Everything that has been bottled up at the DOJ, in the intelligence services, in the President’s tax returns, in the voluminous records of the US government have been bottled up because of the President’s slow-rolling, mostly spurious claims of executive privilege or simple non-compliance. All that power disappears on January 20th and translates into the hands of Joe Biden. An ex-President has no privileges to claim whatsoever. In the past, incumbent Presidents have deferred to former President’s on claims of privilege. But that is purely a courtesy. All of these documents and records are the property of the United States government and they are under the control of the incumbent President, who will be Joe Biden in 26 days.

What Biden will do with this power, I can’t tell you. But it will be up to him. And there is quite a lot that remained hidden during Trump’s presidency that can now be uncovered.

In general, I’m against a tit-for-tat view of democratic norms. We believe in democracy and Republicans don’t, so we have a different obligation to maintain its norms. It’s frustrating, but necessary.

In this case, though, I think a exception is called for: Trump has violated so many norms that I think his claims of privilege deserve no deference from his successor. Give him his legal rights and nothing more.

and the Nashville bombing

A car-bomb rocked Nashville at around 6:30 on Christmas morning. It was placed in a touristy area of downtown, but at a time when tourists wouldn’t be there. Police have identified the bomber and believe he died in the bombing, possibly intentionally. Officials are being careful not to assign motives before they have clear evidence. The bomber seems to have been a loner who purchased and assembled the bomb components himself.

The bomber clearly was trying to destroy property rather than kill people. Gunfire apparently was intended to draw police to the area, but the bomb-carrying RV warned people away by blaring a recorded warning that counted down to the explosion. He has been described as “a hermit”, and there are reports that he had been giving away major possessions, as if he expected to die soon.

The bomb was next to an AT&T hub and knocked out some services, but no one knows yet whether that was the purpose. Unconfirmed speculation says that the bomber was paranoid about 5G. You may have seen a photo purporting to be the bomber wearing a Trump hat, but International Business Times claims the photo is a hoax. A scraggly beard makes the Trump-hat photo hard to compare to the clean-shaven photo released by police.

Trump spent the weekend golfing, with no comment on any of the news. Bryan Tyler Cohen makes a sage observation:

Just so we’re clear, Trump is staying silent on Nashville until he finds out whether the person responsible supports him or not.

His concern with “terrorism” and “law and order” never includes violent acts by his supporters.

and you also might be interested in …

Brexit finally got done, more or less.

WaPo’s editorial board reviews the state of Trump’s wall as he leaves office: $15 billion spent, environmental damage, and no benefit to speak of. Oh, and Mexico never paid a dime.

Here’s the New Hampshire I remember:

In Concord on Monday December 21st of 2020 at ten a.m., a group of over one hundred people from across New Hampshire gathered at the now-closed state house steps to invoke their Right of Revolution as specified in Article Ten of the Bill of Rights of the NH Constitution.

The maskless gathering seemed to be motivated by the fairly meager emergency orders of Republican Governor Chris Sununu, who was described as “hiding in his home on Christmas Eve” like that was a strange thing to do.

The Trump claims of electoral fraud all fall apart when looked at in any detail. They rely on their bulk, not on their quality. Here, WaPo’s Phillip Bump focuses on one. And Sidney Powell’s secret “expert” witness isn’t particularly expert.

and let’s close with something judgmental

On bad days, I agree with Eileen McGann’s “I Think We’re Just Too Stupid for Democracy“. Unfortunately, as she observes, “All of the alternatives are worse.”

Keeping Faith

Nothing good can come of the confrontation between good faith and bad faith engagement.Indeed, pursuing good faith engagement with bad faith actors only enables and fuels this corrosive, anti-civic behavior.

Josh Marshall

This week’s featured post is “Beware of Bad Faith“. Next week I’ll resume the tradition of the Yearly Sift and announce a theme of the year.

This week everybody was talking about the Russian hack

Ars Technica describes the hack like this:

SolarWinds is the maker of a nearly ubiquitous network management tool called Orion. A surprisingly large percentage of the world’s enterprise networks run it. Hackers backed by a nation-state—two US senators who received private briefings say it was Russia—managed to take over SolarWinds’ software build system and push a security update infused with a backdoor. SolarWinds said about 18,000 users downloaded the malicious update.

So basically, major corporations and government agencies were hacked via an organization that they trusted to keep them safe from hackers. Wired summed up:

Any customer that installed an Orion patch released between March and June inadvertently planted a Russian backdoor on their own network.

So, ironically, IT departments that fell months behind on installing patches — a lot of them, according to Wired — escaped. Not all of the 18K users who installed the back door were the targets, though. Ars Technica:

the tiniest of slivers—possibly as small as 0.2 percent—received a follow-on hack that used the backdoor to install a second-stage payload. The largest populations receiving stage two were, in order, tech companies, government agencies, and think tanks/NGOs. The vast majority—80 percent—of these 40 chosen ones were located in the US.

Again, Wired puts this in simple terms:

This means there are really three subgroups within the potential victims of these attacks: Orion users who installed the backdoor but were never otherwise exploited; victims who had some malicious activity on their networks, but who ultimately weren’t appealing targets for attackers; and victims who were actually deeply compromised because they held valuable data.

“If they didn’t exfiltrate data, it’s because they didn’t want it,” says Jake Williams, a former NSA hacker and founder of the security firm Rendition Infosec.

So the obvious question is: What did they want?

Identifying exactly what was taken is challenging and time consuming. For example, some reports have indicated that hackers breached critical systems of the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, which is responsible for the US nuclear weapons arsenal. But DOE spokesperson Shaylyn Hynes said in a statement late Thursday that while attackers did access DOE “business networks,” they did not breach “the mission-essential national security functions of the Department.”

Let me make a layman’s guess about what that means: They didn’t steal our nuclear secrets, but they got a lot personal information about people who could steal our nuclear secrets.

One thing the hackers wanted was an opportunity to hide their malware inside of other software companies’ products. Josephine Wolff writes in Slate:

Even more worrisome is the fact that the attackers apparently made use of their initial access to targeted organizations, such as FireEye and Microsoft, to steal tools and code that would then enable them to compromise even more targets. After Microsoft realized it was breached via the SolarWinds compromise, it then discovered its own products were then used “to further the attacks on others,” according to Reuters.

This means that the set of potential victims is not just (just!) the 18,000 SolarWinds customers who may have downloaded the compromised updates, but also all of those 18,000 organizations’ customers, and potentially the clients of those second-order organizations as well—and so on. So when I say the SolarWinds cyberespionage campaign will last years, I don’t just mean, as I usually do, that figuring out liability and settling costs and carrying out investigations will take years (though that is certainly true here). The actual, active theft of information from protected networks due to this breach will last years.

Ominously, the government’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) warns that we might not know the full extent of the attack yet.

CISA has evidence that there are initial access vectors other than the SolarWinds Orion platform. … CISA will update this Alert as new information becomes available.

As for who did it, anonymous sources of The Washington Post blame the hack on:

Russian hackers, known by the nicknames APT29 or Cozy Bear, are part of that nation’s foreign intelligence service, the SVR

Predictably, Trump downplayed the hack and said that we don’t know it was Russia. In other words, he once again said exactly what Putin wants him to say. Incidents like this are why so many people believe Putin has something on Trump. There may or may not be a pee tape, but there’s clearly something. Ben Rhodes comments:

Trump stands down on hacking, says nothing about Navalny poisoning, downsizes US military presence in Germany, embraces Russian conspiracy theory about Ukraine and 2016 election, and debases US democracy into a corrupt grift for cronies. Those are Putin’s returns just this year.

Trump also incorporated the hack into a new conspiracy theory to deny that he lost the election by seven million votes: Maybe it was China. Maybe they also hit the voting machines.

An aside: On social media, I am now refusing to get into the details of Trump’s election conspiracy theories. Instead I simply say this: “There are numerous legitimate venues in which Trump made or could have made his claims: state and local election boards, secretaries of state, state and federal courts. In every case, those officials and judges — including Republican officials and Trump-appointed judges — found no reason to challenge Biden’s win. It’s time for Trump and his followers to accept the reality that he lost legitimately and by a wide margin.”

In a discussion of what Microsoft has discovered about the attack, Microsoft President Brad Smith made a oblique criticism of Trump’s “America First” foreign policy.

The new year creates an opportunity to turn a page on recent American unilateralism and focus on the collective action that is indispensable to cybersecurity protection.

Mike Pompeo, in contrast to his boss, said this:

This was a very significant effort, and I think it’s the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity.

In the middle of all this, the Pentagon has shut down transition briefings for Biden’s people. Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller claimed it was a mutually agreed upon holiday break, but Biden transition director Yohannes Abraham denies that.

and the transition

The effort to keep Trump in power in spite of the voters gets more and more radical as its more legitimate efforts fail. Recounts didn’t work. There was no evidence of massive fraud to show to election boards or state or federal courts. Republican legislatures in swing states couldn’t be persuaded to back a Trump power grab. So what does that leave? Violence.

The latest buzz in MAGAland is that Trump should invoke the Insurrection Act to take over the swing states by military force and hold new elections. (In other words: to start an insurrection rather than put one down.) Two criminal allies who benefited from Trump’s pardon power, Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, have both suggested this.

It’s not going to happen. The military doesn’t want that job, and I don’t think our generals have some deep personal loyalty to Trump that they’re looking for a way to express.

“When you’re talking about a group of conspiracy theorists, and others who lack any kind of legal knowledge, they’ll just pull that arrow out of their quiver when the rest don’t work,” said Brian Levin, executive director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

Once you eliminate military violence, the remaining option is yahoos with guns.

“What is the heart of the Second Amendment, pro-militia, anti-government patriot movement? It’s the insurrectionist theory of the Second Amendment,” [Levin] said. “It says people can rise up against a tyrannical government. To me, this looks like the last exit on the Jersey Turnpike before we get to that spot.”

We’re still waiting on what might be Biden’s most important appointment: attorney general. That person is going to have to decide which of the Trump-era corruption cases is worth pursing and how to pursue them. What’s in the national interest? What can states like New York handle on their own? Stuff like that.

It’s getting lost in this Trump-centered moment, but the new AG is also going to be in the middle of efforts to redefine and reform American policing. There is going to be another George Floyd somewhere, and when there is, will the local community believe in the Biden Justice Department or not? Violence happens when the non-violent avenues for seeking justice seem closed.

and the virus

A second vaccine, this one from Moderna, has been OK’d for use.

We’ve already hit a glitch in distribution of the Pfizer vaccine. States suddenly heard from the federal government, without explanation, that their expected allocation of doses would drop by 1/3 or more. It seems to be a bureaucratic issue and not a manufacturing problem.

The UK is reporting a new strain of Covid-19 that spreads even faster. It doesn’t seem to be any deadlier, though, and so far the belief is that the same vaccines will work.

It looks like a $900 billion Covid relief package will pass soon. I thank the voters of Georgia for forcing the two Senate runoffs on January 5. Mitch McConnell wants to sabotage the country as Biden takes office, but he needs to be able to argue that his Senate is not completely dysfunctional. So we’ll get a too-small package rather than none at all.

As we passed 300,000 deaths this week, the US continues to set records for cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. The Thanksgiving holiday gatherings proved to be every bit as dangerous as public-health officials predicted, and Christmas is shaping up to be even worse.

My best guess: The pandemic will peak in mid-January, and then fall off fairly quickly as spring arrives and the vaccines start to take hold. Some really horrible stuff will happen between then and now, though, because many communities’ hospital systems won’t be able to handle the strain. In the spring, when the outbreak was centered in New York City, help could be pulled in from elsewhere. This time, there is no “elsewhere”.

Whatever stories you have of bad behavior by covidiots, Texas wedding photographers can top you.

and you also might be interested in …

Believe it or not, Brexit is still a thing. Britain’s exit from the EU became official back in January, but there were still details to work out. Those details are still not worked out, and bad things start happening January 1 if they’re not.

New reasons to doubt trickle-down economics:

[A] new paper, by David Hope of the London School of Economics and Julian Limberg of King’s College London, examines 18 developed countries — from Australia to the United States — over a 50-year period from 1965 to 2015. The study compared countries that passed tax cuts in a specific year, such as the U.S. in 1982 when President Ronald Reagan slashed taxes on the wealthy, with those that didn’t, and then examined their economic outcomes.

The conclusion: The tax cuts had virtually no effect on economic growth, but they did increase the incomes of the rich.

An announcement from the United States Space Force:

Today, after a yearlong process that produced hundreds of submissions and research involving space professionals and members of the general public, we can finally share with you the name by which we will be known: Guardians.

Three words sum up everything that needs to be said about our space-faring guardians: I am Groot.

Benjamin Wittes’ look back on the Flynn pardon is worth reading. He puts the whole affair in context, notes the judge’s skepticism about the government’s actions since Barr became attorney general, and concludes:

I doubt, for reasons I won’t detail here, that it could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt to be an obstruction of justice. But I also have little doubt that it was one—that the whole story, taken together, describes a protracted pattern of conduct by the president that was specifically intended to influence the interactions of a key witness with both prosecutors and the courts. …

He notes Flynn’s subsequent airing of the notion that Trump could declare martial law in swing states so that the military could re-do the election, and comments:

The president, in other words, bought not merely Flynn’s non-cooperation with prosecutors. He appears to have bought as well the former intelligence officer’s vociferous and public support for his attempts to undermine the election he lost.

As we look toward the next rounds of pardons, this latter trade may be the fundamental one Trump is seeking to replicate.

I talked about the Dr. Jill controversy in the featured post, but I didn’t get around to mentioning this speculation: I’m sure that if she continues teaching English in a community college, it is only a matter of time before Project Veritas puts a student/provocatuer in her class to tape lectures that they can deceptively edit into something scandalous.

Trump’s takeover of conservative Christianity has not been completely unopposed. In this post, Pentacostals and Charismatics for Peace and Justice collect 12 Trump-Christian leaders prophesying that Trump would win the election and serve a second term. These were not humble prayers that God might aid their favorite candidate, but proclamations that God had showed them the future.

Since Trump did not win the election and will not serve a second term, it’s worth considering the possibilities here.

  • God tricked them. Believing this would challenge standard Christian beliefs about God’s character and God’s relationship with humanity.
  • They fooled themselves. Maybe they interpreted their own wishful thinking as the voice of God, although the theory that some demon pretended to be God and told them what they wanted to hear is also consistent with many branches of Christian theology. Either way, followers should be leery of any future pronouncements these 12 might make.
  • They lied. In my opinion, this is the most likely option. But I’m cynical.

Most likely, though, these pastors’ sheep will not hold them accountable for their error in any way. The preachers will go on speaking in God’s name, the gullible will believe them, and the money will keep rolling in. Later, the followers of these charlatans will complain that people like me treat them like they’re stupid.

and let’s close with something adorable

As we deal with the pandemic and wait for the end of the Trump administration, it’s impossible to have too much cuteness in our lives. With that in mind, I offer a new species of greater gliders, who are related to koalas. They live in the Australian bush.

I think that if the new greater gliders handle their marketing rights wisely, they should never lack for eucalyptus again.


All of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this.

Gabriel Sterling, calling out his fellow Republicans
about threats of violence against Georgia election officials

This week’s featured posts are “Republicans Start Reaping the Whirlwind” and “Pardons and Their Limits“.

This week everybody was talking about the virus and the vaccines

We’re at a significant point here. On the one hand, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are higher than they’ve ever been. The Thanksgiving holiday almost certainly spread the virus further, but that shouldn’t fully show up in the numbers until next week. Winter is just getting started, a significant portion of the population is as resistant to good sense as ever, and Christmas is coming. So over the next month or two, things look pretty grim.

Personally, I’m noticing the pandemic hitting closer to home. For a long time, I knew people who knew people who had the virus, but my inner circle was largely unaffected. Just in this last week, though, I’ve heard about infections in two households connected only by the fact that I know them.

On the sunny side of the street, there are at least two viable vaccines, one of which is already approved in the UK. Both should start getting distributed here fairly soon.

The NYT posted a gadget to estimate where you stand in the line to get vaccinated. I thought being 64 would give me some advantages, but lacking any complicating morbidities or an essential job, I fall pretty close to the middle of the pack: About 185.6 Americans are in line ahead of me. My wild guess is that I’ll be able to emerge from my hole sometime this summer.

Presidential adviser Scott Atlas has resigned. I have little to add to what Dick Polman wrote in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star:

Atlas, the White House pandemic adviser, was the ultimate MAGA appointee: ill-qualified for the job he got, woefully over his head while doing it, and people died because he did it.

He will not be missed.

and conspiracy theories about the election

Trump’s increasingly desperate lawsuits continue to get tossed out of court, often by Republican judges, and sometimes even by Trump appointees. Conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote:

At stake, in some measure, is faith in our system of free and fair elections, a feature central to the enduring strength of our constitutional republic. It can be easy to blithely move on to the next case with a petition so obviously lacking, but this is sobering. The relief being sought by the petitioners is the most dramatic invocation of judicial power I have ever seen. Judicial acquiescence to such entreaties built on so flimsy a foundation would do indelible damage to every future election. Once the door is opened to judicial invalidation of presidential election results, it will be awfully hard to close that door again. This is a dangerous path we are being asked to tread. The loss of public trust in our constitutional order resulting from the exercise of this kind of judicial power would be incalculable.

I mentioned Gabriel Sterling’s rant in one of the featured posts. But if you haven’t seen it, you really should.

The straw that broke Sterling’s back was a video circulating among QAnon supporters. Claiming to be a “smoking gun” demonstrating manipulation of vote totals, it shows Sterling’s 20-something tech “using a computer and thumb drive”.

The video is one of several that is going around on social media and being promoted by people like Rudy Giuliani as “evidence” that Biden stole the election from Trump. It’s a great example of the advantage lies have over truth. By the time you debunk one such claim, five others have sprung up. And as soon as you deal with them, somebody will repeat the first one again.

One rule of thumb eliminates a large number of such claims: If Trump’s lawyers haven’t been willing to repeat the claim in one of their 40-some lawsuits, they don’t believe it either. Anybody can rent a function room in a hotel and hold a “hearing”.

If you’re wondering why Trump is doing this when his effort has so little chance of success, all you have to do is follow the money. Trump has raised more than $200 million to “stop the steal” — money that is mostly going into a leadership PAC he can spend however he likes. The actual cost of his lawsuits is only a fraction of that.

The longer he can keep this show going, the more money he can shake out of his followers. It’s that simple.

While the rest of America debates whether to call Trump’s attempt to overrule the electorate a coup, Trumpist groups are eliminating all doubt about what they want: An Ohio group called We the People Convention took out a full-page ad in the Washington Times (a flagship conservative newspaper) asking President Trump

to immediately declare a limited form of Martial Law, and temporarily suspend the Constitution and civilian control of these federal elections, for the sole purpose of having the military oversee a national re-vote.

OK, any crazy group can publish an ad in any paper that will take their money. But recently pardoned felon Michael Flynn retweeted the ad with the comment “Freedom never kneels except for God.” If Flynn were still on active duty, he would be subject to Article 92 of the Military Code, which states that any service member who

with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of lawful civil authority, creates, in concert with any other person, revolt, violence, or other disturbance against that authority is guilty of sedition

and pardons

Trump won’t admit he’s on his way out the door, but he’s preparing pardons that wouldn’t be necessary if he thought he would maintain his control over the Justice Department. The possibilities being discussed raise a lot of constitutional issues, which I discussed in one of the featured posts.

and Trump’s future

Depending on who you listen to, on January 21 Trump becomes (1) the presumptive 2024 Republican nominee, or (2) just another crackpot on the internet. I’m leaning towards (2), though his decline may take a few months to become clear.

Here’s my thinking: For the last four years, ambitious Republicans hitched their wagons to Trump, figuring that one way or the other he’d be out of the picture by 2024, and his personality cult would need a new leader. Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley, Tucker Carlson, Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley, and rest — they all saw their Trump loyalty as a path to greater things.

But if Trump isn’t going to get out of the way, or if he hopes to hand the GOP off to Don Jr. when he does finally leave, all those people have to recalculate. Maybe they don’t want to be seen as disloyal, but they also don’t want Trump to stay at the top of the Party. So they’re going to be looking for subtle ways to undermine him or upstage him.

Even for his personality cult, the shine might begin to fade. Trump’s primary virtue, from his base’s point of view, was that he could strike terror into the hearts of the liberals that MAGA-hatters think look down on them. In that sense, the ultimate source of his power has always been people like me (and probably you). But come January 21, I might still be appalled at what Trump is saying, but I’m unlikely to worry too much about him. People looking to “own the libs” will need find somebody more fearsome than a has-been we’ve already beaten by 7 million votes.

Amanda Marcotte makes a similar observation regarding Trump’s pathetic 46-minute Facebook monologue, which he billed as “the most important speech I’ve ever made“.

Trump’s self-pitying rant registered as pitiful instead of frightening. The speech barely touched the top headlines at most major news sites. … The tone of most media coverage was more condescending than fearful. Outrage is quickly being eclipsed by annoyance at Trump for being a pest who doesn’t know when to pack it up and go home.

Until now, identifying with Trump has made his cultists feel powerful. But not for much longer. Soon, he will make them feel even more like losers than they already do.

and the economy

Congress seems to be converging on a Covid relief package that is less than $1 trillion. Or maybe it will do nothing.

Meanwhile, the country is in a very bifurcated state: If you can work from home, or if you live off your investments, you’re doing quite well. In fact, you’re probably building up savings because there is so little to spend your money on.

But if you run or work at a small business that relies on face-to-face interactions with customers, you’re hurting.

Nearly 12 million renters will owe an average of $5,850 in back rent and utilities by January, Moody’s Analytics warns.

Friday’s jobs report was sobering. The pattern since the beginning of the pandemic has looked like this: Tens of millions of jobs went away in March and April, and they have been coming back since at a rate that would be phenomenal in any other circumstance.

That quick comeback seems to be over, and it ended well before the economy got back to where it was in February.

and you also might be interested in …

Maybe democracy is making a comeback.

After years of passively watching nationalist governments in Hungary and Poland undermine democratic rule, the European Union finally drew the line this year and declared that disbursements from the E.U. budget and a special coronavirus relief fund would be contingent on each member’s adherence to the rule of law.

What is Bob Dylan’s catalog of song rights worth? The exact answer is blowing in the wind, but it might be $300 million. I’m sure his financial people looked at the offer and advised him not to think twice.

According to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, student debt forgiveness is “the truly insidious notion of government gift giving”. Free college for lower-income Americans amounts to “a socialist takeover of higher education”.

Sadly, we will no longer reap the benefits of such billionaire sagacity after January 20. Living your whole life without ever wondering how you’re going to pay for something gives you a deeper wisdom that the rest of us can’t fathom.

Further fallout from Brexit: Scottish independence has “never been so certain”, says First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

and let’s close with something unintelligible

Back in the 70s, Italian singer Adriano Celentano noted how Italians loved American pop music, even when they couldn’t understand the words. So he wrote the catchy song “Prisencolinensinainciusol“, which is gibberish that sounds like American-accented English.

The weirdest thing is that his song doesn’t just sound like American English to Italians, it sounds like American English to me too. It’s gibberish, but it’s clearly an American flavor of gibberish. I would love to hear a linguistics expert explain how that works.

Lost Villages

No Sift next week. The next new articles will appear on December 7.

I spent all weekend triple checking that there is *not* a lost, enchanted village in Pennsylvania with 90,000 Trump voters that we forgot to count.

Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman

This week’s featured post is “Can I Get Over Donald Trump?

This week everybody was still talking about the loser of the presidential election

Today we’ll get a reading on how long it’s going to take to quell the Trump coup. Michigan’s four member election board meets today to certify the election results saying that Biden won. One of the two Republican members says he’ll vote against certification until an audit is done, and if the other Republican agrees, the courts will have to step in.

The problem with [the board member’s] request, which mirrors that of the RNC and the Michigan Republican Party in their recent letter to the board, is an audit or investigation into election results cannot be done until election results are certified. On top of that, asking for an audit is outside the purview of the board, whose only role is to canvass and certify election results.

So we’re waiting to find out if a second board member will use authority the board doesn’t have to attempt to overturn an election Biden won by 154,000 votes, without evidence of any wrongdoing whatsoever.

Trump’s lawsuits continue to get thrown out of court. This ruling by a federal court in Pennsylvania is about as amusing as judicial rulings ever get. It reads like the comments that a very patient professor writes on a first-year law student’s essay that he has given a D.

Again and again, the judge goes back to basic legal definitions (what is “standing”, for example), and explains why the Trump complaint falls apart. There is no need to have a hearing on evidence, because the Trump campaign has not stated a case that evidence could prove.

Even Chris Christie is calling Trump’s legal team “a national embarrassment”. Trump ought to be ashamed of stuff like this, but of course he never is.

The Republican solidarity behind Trump’s coup attempt is starting to erode. But the extent to which it still holds together is frightening. We used to have two parties that both supported American democracy. Now we just have one.

How much longer do we have to keep this up?

Jimmy Fallon’s people put together a Trump concession speech.

Chris Hayes points to the longer game Trump might be playing:

Apropos of nothing, the Confederacy’s refusal to actually accept defeat and instead embrace a Lost Cause narrative of betrayal was a key aspect of its successful efforts to wrench back one-party totalitarian control of the South, which it did both through violence and propaganda.

and the virus

Covid-19 continues to spread out of control, with new records being set just about every day. Two weeks ago I wrote:

It’s a reasonable guess that by next month we’ll be hitting 2,000 deaths in a day.

That happened Thursday. This week we’ll probably see our first 200,000-new-case day.

At The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal and Whet Moser look at the relatively inflexible relationship between cases and deaths: At first, improvements in treatment lowered the percentage of infected people who died, but that progress has just about stopped.

The U.S. health-care system has not reduced the deadliness of the coronavirus since July, according to a new estimate by a prominent COVID-19 researcher, which accounts for the lags in public reporting of cases and deaths. Instead, the virus has, with ruthless regularity, killed at least 1.5 percent of all Americans diagnosed with COVID-19 over the past four months. …

Because the case-fatality rate has stayed fixed for so long and there are now so many reported cases, predicting the virus’s death toll in the near term has become a matter of brutal arithmetic: 150,000 cases a day, times 1.5 percent, will lead to 2,250 daily deaths. In the spring, the seven-day average of daily deaths rose to its highest point ever on April 21, when it reached 2,116 deaths. With cases rising as fast as they are, the U.S. could cross the threshold of 2,000 daily deaths within a month. Without a miraculous improvement in care, the United States is about to face the darkest period of the pandemic so far.

The researcher estimates the lag between case numbers and death numbers to be about 22 days. So even if cases leveled off today, we can expect deaths to continue going up for at least the next 22 days.

Beating this surge is not rocket science, it’s a question of political will. CNN reports:

The [United States] is now in the same situation that France, Belgium and the Czech Republic were last month, when rapidly rising infections put their health care systems within weeks of failure. But these countries have managed to avert, for now, the worst-case scenario, in which people die because hospitals are full and they can’t access the care they need to survive. They slowed down the epidemics by imposing lockdowns and strict mask mandates. Despite the clear evidence from Europe, the White House is still opposing new restrictions.

It’s easy to believe that Covid can be conquered by authoritarian governments like China. But Stephanie Nolen reports from the not-so-distant, not-so-exotic city of Halifax.

This morning, my children went to school — school, in an old brick building, where they lined up to go in the scuffed front doors. I went to work out at the gym, the real gym, where I huffed and puffed in a sweaty group class. And a few days ago, my partner and I hosted a dinner party, gathering eight friends around the dining room table for a boisterous night that went too late. Remember those?

Where I’m living, we gather without fear. Life is unfolding much as it did a year ago. This magical, virus-free world is just one long day’s drive away from the Empire State Building — in a parallel dimension called Nova Scotia.

How did they manage that?

Our coronavirus lockdown began swiftly in March and was all-encompassing. The provincial borders were slammed shut. In Nova Scotia, even public hiking trails were closed, a big deal for a population used to the freedom to head into the wilderness at will. …

Public health officials, not politicians, set the policy here about what opens. And people (mostly) follow the rules on closures and gatherings and masks. “The message has been that we need to do it to keep each other safe,” [Nova Scotia’s public health chief Robert Strang] told me. “I think there’s something about our culture, our collective ethic, if you will, that means people accept that.”

Collective ethic? Keeping each other safe? It’s that damn socialism!

It’s also maintaining a long-term view: By accepting some harsh restrictions early, the Nova Scotians achieved far more freedom than we have now.

From the other side of the socialist/capitalist divide, Sarah Jones writes about her grandfather’s Covid death.

Sick, in and out of hospitals, and possessed of limited means, my grandfather belonged to a sacrificial category of person in America. This category has always existed, but the pandemic has exposed it and expanded its borders. It has become so difficult to pretend that American free-market capitalism is anything but brutal that conservatives have largely given up trying. … Some conservatives, including Trump, may consider this an acceptable sacrifice to make on behalf of the economy. But I don’t believe anyone benefits from mass death and suffering, or that the elderly and infirm should be made to feel like detritus while they are still alive, as my grandfather was.

and Thanksgiving

This has gotten truly crazy. I’m used to conservatives refusing to take the virus seriously and responding like spoiled children to any suggestion that they shouldn’t do whatever they want. But now the idea is out there that liberals are against Thanksgiving, and you have to “save” Thanksgiving by having as big an indoor, maskless get-together as you can manage.

The “liberals” in question are mainly at the CDC, which is urging Americans to stay home for the holiday.

The White House, meanwhile, is referring to such Thanksgiving advice as “Orwellian”. Scott Atlas, the unqualified doctor who somehow has gotten control of the Coronavirus Task Force,

mocked the idea that older relatives would be put at risk over the holiday weekend, although there is ample medical evidence that seniors are much more likely to become ill if they are exposed to the virus and to die if they become sick.

“This kind of isolation is one of the unspoken tragedies of the elderly, who are now being told, ‘Don’t see your family at Thanksgiving,’” Dr. Atlas said. “For many people, this is their final Thanksgiving, believe it or not.”

Of course, if we do all have big Thanksgiving get-togethers, it will be the final Thanksgiving for a lot more people.

The White House itself announced plans for large in-person Christmas and Hanukkah events.

But the most over-the-top message came from conservative podcaster Charlie Kirk:

The Left has always hated Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving can be interpreted as a religious holiday, if you believe in giving thanks to a Creator. But they hate Thanksgiving because they believe there is nothing you should be thankful for in America. This is an awful place. It is cancerous, rotten to the core. Tear it all down. Burn it from within. And why would you be thankful?

To be fair, there is a discussion among people with a sense of history and justice — does that necessarily make them liberals? — about whether the fundamental dishonesty of the “First Thanksgiving” myth (in view of the ensuing Native American genocide) poisons the whole holiday. But I’ve never heard anybody of any political persuasion find fault with the idea of encouraging gratitude. Whether you believe in a Creator or not, it seems healthy to take a day to reflect on the good things in our lives and acknowledge that we didn’t make all of them ourselves.

In fact, the person who I think would be most likely to object to such a holiday is the Great Orange Menace: Why should a Creator get any of the credit for the marvelous life he has built for himself?

which got me thinking about Covid Carols

The thought of Thanksgiving at home without visitors, followed by Christmas at home without visitors, filled me with a resentment that had to be let out somehow. I have Facebook friends who apparently feel the same way, so we’ve been collaborating on Covid Carols. The group is getting real close to a presentable version of “The 12 Days of Covid”.

Sadly, caroling in the ICU will not be possible this year. Maybe we can do one of those Zoom-choir things.

Having worked on a carol, I had to google the idea. It turns out we’re not the first the think of it. And while the Center for Congregational Song’s completed carols are more polished than the ones we’re developing, there’s something very satisfying about writing your own, especially in long-distance collaboration. The impropriety of it is a giant fuck-you to the whole situation.

So anyway, I happened to notice that the traditional carol “Do You Hear What I Hear?” traces the spread of information from one person the next. That makes it an ideal vehicle for a Covid carol. Like this:

Have You Caught What I’ve Caught?

Said the tourist to the Uber man:
“Have you caught what I’ve caught?
(Have you caught what I’ve caught?)
In a distant land, Uber man.
Have you caught what I’ve caught?
A wheeze, a sneeze,
symptoms of disease,
And I don’t know quite what it is.
I still don’t know quite what it is.”

Said the Uber man to the CEO:
“Have you caught what I’ve caught?
(Have you caught what I’ve caught?)
I’ve begun to sweat, CEO.
Have you caught what I’ve caught?
I ache, I bake,
no matter what I take.
And I really should head for home.
Yes, I really should be at home.”

Said the CEO to a vendor’s rep:
“Have you caught what I’ve caught?
(Have you caught what I’ve caught?)
Sniff this coffee for me, vendor’s rep.
Have you caught what I’ve caught?
A taste, a smell,
I really cannot tell.
It is all just the same to me.
The whole world smells the same to me.”

Said the vendor’s rep to his mother dear:
“You can’t catch what I’ve caught.
(Cannot catch what I’ve caught.)
I feel just fine, mother dear.
Worry not what I’ve caught.
A test, a test,
says I’m not my best.
But I know that it’s a mistake.
I am sure it’s all a mistake.”

Rasped the old woman in the ICU:
“Please don’t catch what I’ve caught.
(Please don’t catch what I’ve caught.)
Cinch your masks tighter, wear your gloves.
Please don’t catch what I’ve caught.
You serve, you give,
so I want you to live.
And I pray this all ends with me.
Let us pray this all ends with me.

and you also might be interested in …

This week’s discovery: the cartoons of @twisteddoodles.

Josh Marshall describes this as “a harmonic convergence of half the bad things in our society”.

Va. AG Mark Herring announces he will fight a lawsuit seeking an exemption to covid-19 restrictions so an indoor gun show with as many as 25,000 attendees can go forward at Dulles Expo Center this weekend. Group claims restrictions violate right to bear arms in Va.

The Atlantic examines the waning of America’s global influence and prestige, which Biden will have a hard time reversing.

During a week that Trump spent tweeting election conspiracy theories, 15 Asia-Pacific countries signed on to a regional trade deal spearheaded by China. Not so very long ago, the Obama administration proposed the creation of a U.S.-led transpacific trade partnership that would have bound the region to a different vision. When Trump trashed that agreement, the door was left open for Beijing.

My annual dose of humility: The NYT’s 100 notable books of the year. Given how little hanging out at bookstores I got to do this year, my totals are below even my usual anemic standards. I’ve read only one of the books, the completion of Hillary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy, The Mirror and the Light. I’m in the middle of Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste, and I’ll almost certainly read Barack Obama’s A Promised Land and Rick Perlstein’s Reaganland eventually.

As for the rest, well, I’m imagining singing “96 Notable Books on the Shelf” to the tune of “99 Bottles of Beer”.

and let’s close with something racy

Sofa Heroes

Our sofa was our front and our patience was our weapon. … This is how we became heroes, back then, during that coronavirus winter of 2020.

– translated from a German Covid ad

This week’s featured post is “The Electoral College, the Trump Coup Attempt, the Georgia Run-offs, and Other Post-Election Reflections“.

This week everybody was still reacting the election

I combined all my election reflections into the featured post. It’s not the well-organized essay I usually intend to write, but is more like a weekly summary devoted to a single topic.

Now that Trump will be leaving office, be sure to plan your virtual visit to the Donald J. Trump Library. Visit the Covid Memorial. Examine the Wall of Criminality (the only wall Mexico paid for).

Somebody put an enormous amount of work into this project, and it shows.

and talking about the exploding virus

Way back in the spring, doctors warned us that there could be another coronavirus wave in the fall. Well, here it is. Three weeks ago we were horrified that daily new-case numbers were reaching the previous records of around 75,000. Friday, we had more than double that number: 177,246. The trend line is still racing upwards, with no signs of a peak.

Hospitalizations are also at record levels. Hospitalizations tend to lag a week or so behind new cases, and they don’t depend on the number of tests, which is the usual denialist excuse for why new-case numbers are surging. in general, you get hospitalized because at-home care can’t stabilize your fever and/or blood-oxygen levels. It’s a serious thing, far from the “sniffles” Trump talks about.

Deaths, which lag about a week behind hospitalizations, are rising more slowly. The current daily average is around 1,200. (That’s like four or five major airline crashes every day.) The last two weeks’ surge in the new-case numbers wouldn’t have shown up in death totals yet. So we’re probably on our way to 2,000 deaths per day.

And Thanksgiving is coming. Large numbers of people will travel, spend hours indoors with friends and relatives, and then travel again. If you wanted to spread the virus, you could hardly design something better. By the time we get into the Christmas season, we might be seeing 3 or 4 thousand deaths every day.

Don’t do it.

Health officials are warning people to be careful this Thanksgiving, and for the most part that just means DON’T. Don’t do whatever it is you usually do.

The archetypal Thanksgiving — smiling faces packed tightly around a table in a warm and cozy dining room, with the family patriarch and matriarch at the center of attention and grandchildren arriving from every corner of the country — is exactly what you shouldn’t do if you want everybody to survive until next Thanksgiving.

The responsible thing is to cancel your plans. My wife and I just told the friends we have spent Christmas with for decades that we can’t make the 1,500-mile drive this year. It was hard and depressing, but it was necessary.

and credit/blame for the election outcome

Democratic centrists and progressives are arguing about how to split the credit and/or blame for the election results. This seems to me to be a particularly unproductive way to spend our time.

Here’s what I observed myself: Being a Michigan State alum, I spent many hours of the election’s final weeks watching Big 10 football on the conference’s BTN network. In spite of BTN having national reach, the ads were often aimed at local races in the states whose teams were playing. So I saw a lot of the GOP’s closing arguments in states like Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

Those ads did indeed target the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and tried to associate moderate Democratic candidates like Iowa’s Theresa Greenfield and Michigan’s Gary Peters with progressive leaders like AOC and progressive policies like defunding the police and Medicare for All. (I don’t remember what they called MfA; probably a more pejorative name.) Clearly, Republicans believed that it was good for them (and not for Greenfield or Peters) if voters associated all Democrats with AOC and the progressive agenda.

So I get where moderates like Conor Lamb are coming from when they say that the outspokenness of progressives made their races harder.

And yet …

Imagine for a moment that AOC, Bernie Sanders, and the Squad never existed. No one ever said “Defund the Police” or “Ban Fracking” or proposed any trillion-dollar programs. Do I believe that in such a world, Republican attack ads would have nothing to say? They wouldn’t dream up some other policies they believed to be unpopular and claim Greenfield and Peters and Lamb supported them? They wouldn’t find some other public figure to demonize and hang around moderate Democrats’ necks in purple districts? (The ads I saw, in fact, did demonize Nancy Pelosi. I think she’s more progressive than many on the left give her credit for, but she’s no AOC.)

Lamb et al seem to be assuming that if other Democrats only behaved “better”, Republicans would have no way to distort their views. I doubt that.

and the Biden administration

Politico makes its best guesses about a Biden cabinet. It’s a distinguished cast, and lacks any of the I-play-an-expert-on-TV types Trump was fond of.

The question is whether Mitch McConnell’s Senate (assuming Republicans win at least one of the Georgia run-offs) will let Biden have a cabinet. If I were Biden, I’d be tempted to stretch the Overton window by making one or two nominations Republicans will absolutely hate — say, Hillary Clinton as attorney general or Al Gore as head of the EPA. McConnell could lead a charge against them and do a victory dance when their nominations didn’t reach the floor, but Biden’s other nominees would seem tame by comparison and might slide through.

The NYT draws attention to a looming problem: Just as career government officials in the State Department, Justice, the EPA, and several other agencies — the so-called “Deep State” — stood against Trump and sometimes frustrated his initiatives, Joe Biden may face resistance from Homeland Security.

To the extent that it’s more than just a conspiracy theory, the Deep State consists of career government workers who are more loyal to the mission of their agency (as they understand it) than to their ultimate boss in the White House. So, no matter what orders they get, generals at the Pentagon will drag their feet if they believe those orders endanger national security, public health officials like Dr. Fauci will resist policies that promote disease, NOAA won’t lie about the path of a hurricane, and so on.

Well, the Trump Homeland Security Department has accumulated people who believe the southern border is out of control. Many are hostile to asylum-seekers, and for four years their cruelty has been given free rein. That genie is going to be hard to get back into its bottle.

and “religious liberty”

Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito gave a virtual address to a Federalist Society meeting. Most of the media coverage of the speech centered on his statements about the Covid lockdowns, like: “The pandemic has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty.” I think people who lived through rationing, blackouts, and the Japanese internment during World War II might debate that. So might Black people who remember Jim Crow and sundown towns. Or Native Americans who had their children taken away to Indian Residential Schools. But historical myopia and white self-centeredness are not what I want to talk about.

Alito also used Covid restrictions as examples of our problematic emergency laws, and yet somehow managed to ignore the most egregious recent abuse of emergency law: Trump’s fake southern-border emergency that allowed him to seize money to build his wall. But that’s not what I want to talk about either.

No, Alito spent a big chunk of his speech talking about an entirely phony issue: the threat to “religious liberty” in America. This is something I wrote about in 2013: “‘Religious Freedom’ means Christian Passive-Agressive Domination“.

I expect to come back to this issue sometime soon, but let me just say this: All of the cases he mentions — Little Sisters of the Poor, Ralph’s Pharmacy, Masterpiece Cakeshop — are examples of Christian passive aggression; there was no threat to actual religious liberty.

Passive aggression is when someone exaggerates a weakness or sensitivity in order to manipulate others and gain power over their choices and actions. Again and again in recent years, conservative Christians have constructed a greatly exaggerated notion of purity, and have used it to insist on an ever-greater distance between themselves and anyone who is doing something they don’t like. And the inconvenience this exaggerated purity causes should fall not on the Christian, but on whoever they object to.

Take Masterpiece Cakeshop, for example. There is no tradition in America in which a wedding cake has the slightest religious significance. A baker who refuses to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple is not in any way practicing his Christian religion. He is just acting out his bigotry. Alito complains:

For many today, religious liberty is not a cherished freedom. It’s often just an excuse for bigotry.

But in what way is that opinion wrong? Isn’t “religious liberty” the primary excuse for bigotry today?

and you also might be interested in …

Artist Robin French offers this response to the question: “What have you achieved in 2020?”

Michelle Goldberg is less than optimistic about Trump’s post-presidency prospects, and outlines the legal troubles he might face.

This week I discovered Blaire Erskine, who has done a series of hilarious wife-of-somebody-famous videos. In this one, she is the wife of Corey Lewandowski, reacting to him getting a Covid infection. A few months ago, she was the daughter of Jerry Falwell Jr., reacting to her parents’ sex scandal.

If you repost one, make sure to emphasize that she isn’t really who she’s claiming to be, because the Lewandowski one is so funny your friends will want to believe it’s genuine.

and let’s close with a message from the future

An elderly German man recalls how in his younger days, he became one of the heroes of 2020 by staying home and doing nothing.