Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Where We’re Headed

No Sift next week. The next new articles will appear on December 6.

There’s still plenty of reason to fear where we are currently headed, but at the same time, there’s no reason to think that five years from now, at the next major Paris “stocktake,” we’ll still be headed there.

– David Roberts, “Don’t get too bummed out about COP26

This week’s featured post is “Does the Red Pill have an antidote?

This week everybody was talking about the Rittenhouse verdict

The 18-year-old vigilante was found not guilty on all counts.

I worry about the lessons people are learning from this verdict. As for Rittenhouse himself, I can’t guess. It’s possible that he was genuinely horrified to see people die at his own hand. Many stories tell of young men who were excited to go to war, and yet were traumatized to learn up close what it means to kill another human being. We can hope Rittenhouse responds similarly, and that even as he walks free, he is determined to avoid violence in the future.

On the other hand, he may have learned that killing makes you a hero, and has lasting negative consequences only for the people who die. If that’s the case, he will likely kill again.

As for the violent conservative movement that has lionized Rittenhouse, I have little doubt that they have been emboldened. Killing protesters is a widespread and longstanding fantasy on the Right. Until now, hitting them with a car has been the preferred method. But the Rittenhouse case established that you can walk up to protesters with a gun, and if they worry that you might be a mass shooter and try to disarm you, you can kill them in “self defense”. I’m sure we’ll see more of that. No doubt at this very moment, militia groups are holding training sessions on the loopholes in self-defense laws.

David French:

Most of the right-wing leaders voicing their admiration for Rittenhouse are simply adopting a pose. On Twitter, talk radio, and Fox News, hosts and right-wing personalities express admiration for Rittenhouse but know he was being foolish. They would never hand a rifle to their own children and tell them to walk into a riot. They would never do it themselves.

But these public poses still matter. When you turn a foolish young man into a hero, you’ll see more foolish young men try to emulate his example. And although the state should not permit rioters to run rampant in America’s streets, random groups of armed Americans are utterly incapable of imposing order themselves, and any effort to do so can lead to greater death and carnage.

In fact, that’s exactly what happened in Rittenhouse’s case. He didn’t impose order. He didn’t stop a riot. He left a trail of bodies on the ground, and two of the people he shot were acting on the belief that Rittenhouse himself was an active shooter. He had, after all, just killed a man.

Farhad Manjoo amplifies that last point, noting that the Rittenhouse shootings “unravel some of the foundational tenets of gun advocacy”.

That guns are effective and necessary weapons of self-defense. That without them, lawlessness and tyranny would prevail. And that in the right hands — in the hands of the “good guys” — guns promote public safety rather than destroy it.

In the Rittenhouse case, none of that was true. At every turn that night, Rittenhouse’s AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle made things worse, ratcheting up danger rather than quelling it. The gun transformed situations that might have ended in black eyes and broken bones into ones that ended with corpses in the street. And Rittenhouse’s gun was not just a danger to rival protesters. According to his own defense, the gun posed a grave threat to Rittenhouse himself — he said he feared being overpowered and then shot with his own weapon.

This is self-defense as circular reasoning: Rittenhouse says he carried a rifle in order to guarantee his safety during a violent protest. He was forced to shoot at four people when his life and the lives of other people were threatened, he says. What was he protecting everyone from? The gun strapped to his own body, the one he’d brought to keep everyone safe.

I am struck by the fact that the only people who died in the Kenosha riots were the ones Rittenhouse killed. He was the primary danger.

The legal wrangling over this case is likely not over. A civil lawsuit for wrongful death is a possibility, though Jonathan Turley warns against it. There’s also a disagreement over the vast sums of money raised for Rittenhouse’s defense. The state will return his $2 million bail, but to whom? Rittenhouse himself? His lawyers? The fund-raisers?

Turley is also skeptical that Rittenhouse can win a defamation lawsuit for all the negative things people have said about him.

and Paul Gosar

who was censured by the House and expelled from his committees on Wednesday.

The vote was close to splitting on party lines: Among Republicans, only established anti-MAGA representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger voted for the censure.

Republicans like Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy complained that by taking away Gosar’s committee assignments the censure resolution went too far. But (as so often happens) they offered no counter-proposal. I can find no suggestion that Republicans other than Cheney and Kinzinger were willing to reprimand Gosar in any way. Speaker Pelosi waited ten days for the GOP caucus to discipline its own member, and acted only when it was clear they would not.

I think AOC summed it up pretty well:

What is so hard about saying this is wrong? This is not about me. This is not about Rep. Gosar. This is about what we are willing to accept. … If you believe that this behavior should not be accepted, then vote yes.

As many people have pointed out, no other workplace would tolerate this. If you posted a video depicting yourself killing a colleague you frequently disagreed with, you’d be fired.

Gosar defended himself by saying that it’s just a cartoon. But if what Gosar did wasn’t over the line, where is the line? What if he had superimposed his own and AOC’s heads on a rape cartoon? What if the cartoon had been more realistic?

As we saw again and again during the Trump years, Republicans don’t want to answer such questions. Democrats were always “overreacting” to Trump, but Republicans would not react at all, and would never speculate on how far they might let him go in the future. Ultimately, they saw him unleash a mob on Congress itself, and still did nothing.

The same moral cowardice is on display here: Kevin McCarthy knows the MAGA faction will eventually cross any line he might draw, and he won’t want to respond then either. So he says nothing.

For his part, Gosar remained defiant. “I explained to [the Republican House caucus] what was happening. I did not apologize. I said this video didn’t have anything to do with harming anybody.” After the censure, he reposted the offending video and then took it down again.

Gosar also suggests that Kyle Rittenhouse get a Congressional Medal of Honor “for selflessly protecting the lives and property of the people from an armed mob of arsonists and criminals”. [I see the link no longer works, presumably because the tweet has been taken down. I had verified the tweet myself before trying to link to it.]

Bottom line: Like much of the far right, Gosar is pro-violence — as long as people he likes are attacking people he doesn’t like.

One reason McCarthy is such a pushover for the MAGA faction is that he fears he won’t be named speaker if Republicans get the majority back in 2022. Former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows appeared Thursday on Rep. Matt Gaetz’ podcast and suggested that a new Republican House majority should bypass McCarthy and name Trump as speaker. (Only tradition says that the Speaker has to be a member of the House.)

Since Trump has no legislative agenda, I can only see two purposes in making him Speaker:

  • As Speaker, he could sabotage the country by blocking bills to fund the government or raise the debt ceiling.
  • Being Speaker would put him in the presidential line of succession, in case his violent followers could somehow get Biden and Harris out of the way. I’m sure Trump himself would never suggest such a thing, unless maybe he were “joking”.

and Build Back Better

A version of the bill passed the House. What happens in the Senate is anybody’s guess. Here’s CNBC’s speculation:

Multiple senators will push for changes to the bill’s provisions including paid leave and taxes along the way. Any tweaks will require another vote in the House, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can afford three defections (only one Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, voted against the bill Friday). …

[Senator Joe] Manchin, who has not publicly endorsed the package as he expresses concerns about spending and inflation, will seek at least one overhaul. He has signaled he will push to scrap a House provision offering four weeks of paid leave to most Americans.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., is another Democrats who could seek to influence the bill in the Senate. She already shot down her party’s efforts to hike tax rates on the biggest businesses and wealthiest individuals, forcing lawmakers to opt for more complicated policies such as a minimum tax on corporations.

The open question in my mind is whether Manchin’s and Sinema’s votes are really available. If they are, some compromise will pass the Senate and go back to the House. But I can also imagine that at least one of them is just stringing out the process and will never get on board.

Kevin McCarthy delayed the House vote by unleashing a record-breaking eight hour and 32 minute speech. Unsurprisingly, much of what he said wasn’t true.

and the pandemic

The recent surge in cases accelerated this week: the 7-day average of new cases per day is up to 93K from a recent low of 71K November 4. Hospitalizations have turned up as well: +6% in the last two weeks. Deaths are still falling, but not sharply: down 9%.

I speculated last week that vaccines and better treatment might keep the rise in cases from leading to a rise in deaths, but that’s still uncertain. Typically there’s a time lag between when cases start rising and when deaths start rising. The rise in hospitalizations is worrisome.

No, Anthony Fauci had nothing to do with a beagle experiment in Tunisia. Lots of people aren’t even trying to tell the truth any more.

White Coat Waste spokesman Justin Goodman … defended the decision to capitalize on the anti-Fauci fervor that has been brewing for more than a year and a half. “When you have such a high-profile person to point the finger at for funding animal experiments, it would be malpractice for us not to do that,” he said.

and climate change

David Roberts isn’t as bummed about the COP26 meetings in Glasgow as many environmentalists seem to be. First, he says, you need to appreciate what these meetings are and aren’t. They aren’t legislatures.

[A] COP agreement can’t make a country do anything. … The utility of the Paris process is that every few years it provides the equivalent of a giant camera flash, revealing where everyone stands. That is useful. International transparency and peer pressure can sometimes move national governments. But it is a mistake to invest any particular hopes for change in the UNFCCC process — it can’t really do anything. It can only illuminate what is being done.

What is being done currently isn’t enough, but we’re also not at the end of the story.

The good news is, we’re making progress. A decade ago, we were on track for 4° to 6° Celsius average warming by the end of the century, which would have been species-threatening.

As this report from Climate Action Tracker shows, thanks to actions taken by national governments since then, we have “bent the curve” on climate change, as it were, and brought the average expected warming down to 2.7°C.

That would still be devastating. But we’re not going to stop there. Progress is only accelerating. … There’s still plenty of reason to fear where we are currently headed, but at the same time, there’s no reason to think that five years from now, at the next major Paris “stocktake,” we’ll still be headed there.

In parallel with a COP meeting, there’s always “climate festival-cum-trade-show, featuring governments, nonprofits, and private-sector actors announcing all kinds of new campaigns and initiatives alongside the UNFCCC process”. Roberts found this part of the meeting encouraging.

[N]ational governments are often going to be in the caboose of this train — civic groups, the private sector, and subnational governments are leading the way. That’s distributed all over the world, less easy to see and sum up, but it shows that the caution and intransigence of national governments are not the whole story.

A long article in yesterday’s NYT examined how China got control of the vast cobalt supplies of the Congo, giving it a huge advantage in the battery technology needed by the electric cars that are the best hope for cutting CO2 emissions.

During the Cold War, US policy focused on keeping the Soviet Union from controlling Congo’s natural resources. But after the Soviet government collapsed, interest in those resources waned under multiple administrations. In 2016, when a US company, Freeport-McMoRan, made bad investments in fossil fuels and needed to sell assets to pay down debt, only Chinese companies made bids. A second sale to China Molybdenum closed in 2020.

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The Pollo Tropical restaurant chain in Florida came up with an ingenious solution to its labor shortage: It paid workers more.

[Parent company CEO Richard] Stockinger said Pollo Tropical had also offered hiring incentives and improved its benefits package by adding childcare leave, company-paid educational programs, and more affordable medical plans. These measures would help its restaurants “remain competitive in these challenging market conditions,” he said.

The chain will compensate by raising prices.

Adam Smith would have predicted this supply-and-demand result, but it’s funny how such stuff gets discussed in most of the media: When the fluctuations of the labor market go against workers, that’s just how life is. But when they benefit workers, it’s some kind of crisis.

Self-described socialist Fredrik deBoer makes some of the same observations I’ve been making for a while:

What too many young socialists and progressive Democrats don’t seem to realize is that it’s perfectly possible that the Democratic Party is biased against our beliefs and that our beliefs simply aren’t very popular.

Looking at the 2016 and 2020 Democratic primary races, he observes that (whatever else might be said about the fairness of the process) Bernie Sanders didn’t get as many votes as the candidates he lost to.

Whatever else we may want to say about the system, we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that the voters of the liberal party in American politics twice had the opportunity to nominate Mr. Sanders as their candidate for president and twice declined to do so. If we don’t allow this to inform our understanding of the popularity of our politics, we’ll never move forward and start winning elections to gain more power in our system.

This may be seen as a betrayal of the socialist principles I stand for, which are at heart an insistence on the absolute moral equality of every person and a fierce commitment to fighting for the worst-off with whatever social and governmental means are necessary. But I am writing this precisely because I believe so deeply in those principles. I want socialism to win, and to do that, socialists must be ruthless with ourselves. … Socialist victory will require taking a long, hard road to spread our message, to convince a skeptical public that socialist policies and values are good for them and the country.

Beau of the Fifth Column addresses a practical problem: how to convince your parents to get vaccinated. He suggests two arguments: First, find out whether they are afraid of some specific ingredient they think the vaccines contain. Probably that chemical isn’t there at all. Second, point out that even if you believe the most exaggerated estimates of people who have vaccine side-effects, taking the vaccine is still safer than getting Covid.

The best-of-2021 lists have started appearing. The WaPo’s best ten books is, as usual, humbling. I haven’t read any of them.

Trump’s mail-slowing postmaster general may finally be on his way out.

Department of I-can’t-believe-somebody-had-to-prove-that-but-I-guess-they-did: The new book Homelessness is a Housing Problem looks at regional variations in the rate of homelessness, and concludes that the problem is high rents. Not drug abuse or mental illness or unemployment or any of the other frequently cited explanations.

If your community has a lot of homeless people, it should build more housing they can afford. It’s really that simple.

Matt Yglesias points out a problem with the focus on social-justice language: A group like the AMA might adopt language changes and leave its inequality-producing policies in place.

[B]ecause doctors are perennially in such short supply in the United States, they can afford to be extremely choosy about their assignments. You never have a down-on-his-luck doctor looking for work and realizing that there’s demand for medical care in poor neighborhoods or rural communities. Even more subtly, because doctors are scarce, they can afford to treat their patients relatively poorly. …

There are lots of ways to increase medical abundance, but unfortunately, the AMA is normally standing in the way — blocking increased scope of practice for nurses, making it hard for foreign-trained doctors to practice in the United States, and historically pushing to train too few doctors here at home.

I took this screenshot while browsing the NYT on Tuesday. In the view of the NYT opinion-page editors, four articles prophesying doom for the Democrats constitutes a “debate”.

Speaking of the Democrats, they face two separate problems in 2022:

  • Getting people to vote for them.
  • Overcoming gerrymandering that could give Republicans a majority even if most voters choose Democrats.

Gerrymandering is getting worse, but recent Supreme Court decisions have closed off most avenues for challenging gerrymandered maps in court.

The Staples Center in LA is about to become the Arena. I am nostalgic for the era when the Lakers played in the Forum, the 76ers in the Spectrum, and the Celtics in the Boston Garden. As far as I know, Madison Square Garden in New York is the NBA’s lone survivor of those simpler times. Now the New Orleans Pelicans play in the Smoothy King Center.

In his 1996 novel Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace parodied the naming-rights-for-money trend with the notion of subsidized time. Events take place during the Year of Glad and the Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment.

For decades, fans have been struggling to turn the ever-changing corporate names into something as charming as the traditional ones (like referring to the former Verizon Center in DC — now the Capital One Arena — as “the Phone Booth”). I hear is likely to be nicknamed “The Crypt”, which doesn’t bode well for the teams that will play there. Personally, I’d prefer to pretend it’s named for Krypto the Superdog, and refer to it as the Dog House.

and let’s close with something visual

As even amateur photographers know, it’s hard to get the Moon to pose just the way you want.

from the Wikimedia Commons

Word and Deed

Since my first day in office, I have promised Justice Department employees that together we would show the American people by word and deed that the department adheres to the rule of law, follows the facts and the law and pursues equal justice under the law. Today’s charges reflect the department’s steadfast commitment to these principles.

– Merrick Garland
Stephen K. Bannon Indicted for Contempt of Congress

This week’s featured posts is “Does America Need an Anti-Cancel Culture University?

This week everybody was talking about Steve Bannon’s indictment

Steve Bannon, a former adviser to a former president, was indicted Friday on two counts of contempt of Congress, each of which could lead to one year in prison. He surrendered today (frustrating my fantasy of a you’ll-never-take-me-alive shootout).

The two counts stem from a subpoena issued by the January 6 Select Committee, and are for (1) failing to produce subpoenaed documents, and (2) failing to appear for a deposition. For the documents, there is at least an argument to make: Trump has claimed executive privilege on other coup-related documents, and while that claim is probably baseless, it is still wending its way through the courts. So Bannon’s refusal is tenuously connected to someone else’s meritless claim.

The failure to appear, though, has no conceivable justification. If he did testify, Bannon might credibly use executive privilege to justify refusing to answer specific questions about his conversations with Trump. But he also has his own behavior to answer for, as well as possible conversations with conspirators other than the defeated president. Simply knowing a former president does not immunize Bannon against any possible questioning by Congress, so his behavior is quite literally contemptuous.

Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has also refused to appear for questioning. His case is somewhat stronger, in that he was at least employed by the president at the time under investigation. But similarly, his proper course of action is to show up and invoke executive privilege on a question-by-question basis. (The model here is the way Mafia bosses invoked the Fifth Amendment at the 1951 Kefauver hearings. Chicago capo Tony Accardo pleaded the Fifth 170 times.) It can’t possibly be true that everything he knows is privileged. Meadows undoubtedly had conversations with coup-friendly members of Congress, and allegedly met with organizers of the January 6 protests. There’s no reason he shouldn’t have to answer questions about those meetings.

The committee has not yet decided whether to recommend an indictment of Meadows, but I predict it will.

A related question is whether the Bannon indictment will make other subpoenaed witnesses more cooperative. We’ll see.

An appeals court has delayed the January 6 Committee’s access to Trump administration documents held in the National Archives, pending a hearing. Last week, a lower-court judge dismissed his executive privilege claim with a forceful statement that “presidents are not kings“. Trump’s lawyers argued his case as a separation-of-powers dispute between the executive and legislative branches of government, but the judge rejected that framing: President Biden represents the executive branch, and he agrees that Congress should get the documents. So the dispute is between the US government and a private citizen who was once president.

The hearing on Trump’s appeal will start November 30.

Today’s fun fact: I already knew NFL stars Nick and Joey Bosa are brothers, but until this week I didn’t know they’re Tony Accardo’s great-grandsons. I’m sure the Big Tuna would be proud.

and race-related murder trials

Closing arguments in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial begin today. The judge dismissed the one charge that Rittenhouse had no defense against: a misdemeanor charge for possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18.

I haven’t been watching this trial, largely because following it at a distance is upsetting enough. I find it impossible to imagine anyone taking his defense seriously if he were liberal and Black. Picture, say, a Black liberal taking an AR-15 to the January 6 riot, then shooting a few people when he started to feel threatened. I can’t imagine that anyone would take his self-defense claim seriously.

In the Rittenhouse case, there are two different issues: Whether Rittenhouse is guilty of a major crime, and what it says about the state of the law if he isn’t. Josh Marshall takes on the second question:

the basic argument here is that Rittenhouse wasn’t doing anything wrong by just carrying around an AR-15. Wisconsin’s an open carry state. The inherent aggression and menace of carrying around high caliber weapons, which we’re told is only a problem for squeamish libs, becomes a path for the person carrying the fire arm to themselves feel threatened and decide they need to use the gun.

The aggression carries the seeds of justification within it. You show up looking for trouble on yet another of these right wing murder safaris like Rittenhouse, with his mother chaperoning, was taking part in. You’re looking for trouble and when you find it that’s your justification for taking the next step. That’s not how self-defense is supposed to work. But we can see in this case how the interplay of open carry and permissive self-defense statutes do just that.

Simultaneously, the three White gunmen who killed unarmed Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery are on trial in Georgia. They make an even more unbelievable self-defense claim: Believing (for reasons not entirely clear) that Arbery was responsible for a local burglary, the three men chased him down in their trucks to make a citizen’s arrest. When Arbery began to struggle — as I might were I faced with armed strangers coming after me in trucks — they felt threatened and killed him. If upheld, this seems to be a model of how to commit murder and get away with it.

and Glasgow

The Glasgow Climate Conference has ended. The consensus seems to be that the agreements reached are significant but inadequate. The Guardian annotates the text of the joint statement.

and Republicans’ growing acceptance of political violence

Friday, the NYT published “Menace Enters the Republican Mainstream“, an article which summarizes the growing normalization of right-wing violence and fantasies of violence. It quotes Pomona College political scientist Omar Wasow:

What’s different about almost all those other [violent eras in American history] is that now, there’s a partisan divide around the legitimacy of our political system. The elite endorsement of political violence from factions of the Republican Party is distinct for me from what we saw in the 1960s. Then, you didn’t have — from a president on down — politicians calling citizens to engage in violent resistance.

By comparison very few Republican leaders have spoken out against violence and violent rhetoric in their party.

This week, we found out that former President Trump responded to a question about his supporters chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” by criticizing Pence and excusing the people who wanted to hang him.

Well, the people were very angry. … Because it’s common sense, Jon. It’s common sense that you’re supposed to protect. How can you — if you know a vote is fraudulent, right? — how can you pass on a fraudulent vote to Congress?

Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona posted a video (now unavailable) in which his image was photoshopped into an anime video where he killed a photoshopped AOC and threatened Joe Biden with swords. A small portion was played by Anderson Cooper, who raised the question:

What do you suppose would happen if you went into work one day after you posted a video depicting yourself murdering a coworker and brandishing a sword at the company’s CEO? Most of us know the answer: We’d be fired.

Not only is Gosar not being removed from Congress, but Republican House leaders are not even criticizing him. Violent fantasy is just something elected Republicans do these days.

Contrast this incident with when comedian Kathy Griffin — who held no public office and represents only herself — posed with a representation of Donald Trump’s severed head. She was roundly condemned by Democrats as well as Republicans.

Admittedly, the image of Gosar as an anime warrior is so absurd that it’s hard to view the video as a serious threat. But every time people play with ideas like this, they get closer to manifestation. Bullies often “joke” about hurting or raping someone in order to test the waters. If another bully comes back with a more explicit “joke”, eventually it becomes a plan.

The Shriekback song “Every Force Evolves a Form” warns that words can “make tracks that your feet just have to follow”. Thoughts of violence

float above us like a cloud.
And no one knows where the rain will end up falling.

A code word to watch for is rowdy, which the Right is using to make their violent extremists sound like boys who shoot spitwads at the teacher’s back or football fans who get a little too excited after a big win. Tucker Carlson, for example, talked about Trump voters who “got rowdy on January 6”.

Last week I mentioned the right-wing framing in a skewed poll by Mark Penn’s Harris Group. One of the questions asked: “Do you think the attorney general was right or wrong to say the FBI will treat rowdy parents at school board meetings as potential domestic terrorists?” Unsurprisingly, 64% thought it was wrong — because if such a thing had ever happened, it would be wrong. But Merrick Garland’s actual memo said nothing about rowdiness. Instead he talked about

a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation’s public schools. While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.

Parents who are merely being “rowdy” — refusing to stay seated, say, or speaking out of turn — have nothing to fear from the FBI. It’s only when they try to achieve their political aims through violence or intimidation — the definition of terrorism — that they might run into trouble.

Whenever conservatives describe their allies as “rowdy”, they should be challenged to describe the actual behavior they are talking about.

and the pandemic

The post-Halloween upward trend accelerated this week. Daily new cases are above 80K again for the first time since October 18. Hospitalizations (down 8%) and deaths (down 16%) continue a slow decline. It’s not clear yet whether that’s due to vaccination, improved treatments, or just the time lag since cases turned upward.

The Southeast, which was hit hardest in the late-summer wave, is the only part of the country where conditions are improving.

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For once, a senator Trump has targeted is going to stand up and make a race of it. Lisa Murkowski will run in 2022, despite facing a Trump-supported primary challenge.

When Republicans accepted Trump’s grab-’em-by-the-pussy comment in 2016, and ignored the dozens of women who accused him of abuse, they opened a door that has never closed. Trump is helping candidates for Congress go through that door, despite credible claims of abuse made against them.

The most outrageous example is Max Miller, who is running to replace impeachment-supporting Rep. Anthony Gonzalez in Ohio’s 16th district. His accuser is not some random woman Trump might imagine was recruited by Democrats. It’s his own former communications director Stephanie Grisham, Miller’s former girl friend, who told Jake Tapper “It was like a gut punch when I saw that [Trump] endorsed [Miller], knowing what happened.”

Not all people who vote Republican are sexists, but abuse of women is not a deal-breaker for them.

Democrats’ and Independents’ assessment of crime in their local area changes slowly. But Republican assessments of crime shift suddenly depending on whether their party controls the White House. Republicans’ fear of crime in their neighborhoods dropped when Bush replaced Clinton in 2001, shot up again when Obama replaced Bush, plummeted when Trump replaced Obama, and skyrocketed again this year.

Crime, like the deficit, is only a problem when a Democrat is president.

A lot of people have been linking to this 26-second clip of Mike Flynn saying that America needs “one religion”. That sounds really bad (and probably is), but it’s a short clip and nobody seemed to know any context, other than he said it as part of the Reawaken America Tour that he’s on with other right-wing yahoos like Mike Lindell and Alex Jones.

I went looking for a longer clip and couldn’t find one until this morning. It seems clear from the longer clip that Flynn envisions all religions coming together voluntarily rather than by force, but his vision should still feel threatening to anyone who isn’t a Christian, or isn’t a type of Christian Flynn would recognize.

While failing to find that context yesterday, I skimmed over this 11-hour video (now gone) of a day’s worth of Reawaken America. Flynn appears for about 20 minutes beginning at the 37-minute mark, but that clip doesn’t include the one-religion bit. It’s also not in Flynn’s segment from the previous day (another 11 hours), which starts around the 9:50 mark. Flynn’s schtick seems to be a Q&A format, and we still don’t know what he was asked that led to the one-religion answer.

While scanning that longer video to find Flynn, I happened across the presentation by anti-vax Dr. Sherri Tenpenny (an osteopath). (It starts around the 6:20 mark.) From her slides I learned that the vaccine contains nanobots, and that the “mNRA breaks the DNA sulfide bonds and inserts AI; this intentionally removes God — YHVH — from your genes.”

That’s the level of indoctrination people are getting on that tour.

Josh Marshall snarks well. An LA Times tweet promoted an article:

Tasha Adams devoted her life to supporting her husband. She was an exotic dancer to pay for his college, took care of him when he accidentally shot himself in the face, and when he was looking for direction in life, she helped him start the Oath Keepers.

And Marshall replied:

who among us has not accidentally shot ourselves in the face during the directionless period before we started a fascist militia group?

Catherine Nichols’ article “The good guy/bad guy myth” is almost four years old, so it’s not directly tied to any current news story. But in some sense it’s tied to all of them: Our popular culture drenches us with stories in which good guys battle bad guys, with the fate of the world in the balance. But if you take a step back, you realize that traditional folk tales didn’t do this.

Stories from an oral tradition never have anything like a modern good guy or bad guy in them, despite their reputation for being moralising. In stories such as Jack and the Beanstalk or Sleeping Beauty, just who is the good guy? Jack is the protagonist we’re meant to root for, yet he has no ethical justification for stealing the giant’s things. Does Sleeping Beauty care about goodness? Does anyone fight crime?

Nor do folktales present a consistent set of values. Some heroes win through honesty, others through trickery. That’s true even in the Bible. Jacob, for example, tricks his father Isaac into giving him the blessing intended for his brother Esau. The Norse trickster god Loki is ambiguous — villainous when he fools Hodr into slaying Baldur, but heroic when his deceptions help Thor reclaim his hammer from a frost giant. He didn’t change from one to the other; he was always both.

Nichols argues that the good/bad motif in popular narrative doesn’t become dominant until the rise of nation-states, and the corresponding rise of the idea that a nation’s folklore represents or defines some kind of national character with positive national values.

Once the idea of national values entered our storytelling, the peculiar moral physics underlying the phenomenon of good guys versus bad guys has been remarkably consistent. One telling feature is that characters frequently change sides in conflicts: if a character’s identity resides in his values, then when he changes his mind about a moral question, he is essentially swapping sides, or defecting.

Comic book villains often flip to become heroes (and are welcomed). Darth Vader turns against the Emperor and is redeemed in death. But no matter how angry Achilles got with Agamemnon, he never considered defecting to Troy; it just wouldn’t have made any sense.

I have to wonder how different our politics would be today if we still had narrative options other than good against evil.

Back in 1972, Big Bird encouraged kids to get their measles vaccine without incident, but when BB and several other Sesame Street muppets joined CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta to answer kids’ questions in “The ABCs of Covid Vaccination” and Big Bird tweeted about getting vaccinated, it was too much for Senator Ted Cruz and other anti-public-health conservatives.

“Government propaganda … for your 5-year-old,” Cruz tweeted back, as if encouraging children to learn to count and read isn’t government propaganda.

The replies to Cruz have been hilarious. Steven Colbert said his response was “brought to you by the letters F and U”. A Big Bird parody is running for Senate against Cruz, promising not to “fly away to Cancun when Texas is in trouble”. And SNL did a Ted Cruz Street opening, claiming that the senator’s show airs on Newsmax Kids right before “White Power Rangers”.

and let’s close with something in this world

Some Icelanders made a tourism video that parodies Mark Zuckerberg’s promotion of the metaverse.


In the days and hours leading up to the counting of the electoral votes in Congress, a cadre of outside lawyers to the President spun a web of lies and disinformation, to him and to the public, for the purpose of pressuring the Vice President to betray his oath to uphold our laws and the Constitution of the United States. … There is no room in the legal profession for Grima Wormtongues who counsel their clients with half-truths and deceptive presentations made in pursuit of a personal agenda.

Greg Jacob
Chief Counsel to Vice President Mike Pence
January, 2021

This week’s featured post is “Freedom Isn’t What It Used To Be“.

This week everybody was talking about the state of the Democrats’ negotiations

Thursday, President Biden announced a slimmed-down version of his Build Back Better plan: $1.75 trillion versus the previous $3.5 trillion. Senators Manchin and Sinema have not endorsed the plan, but they also haven’t rejected it. Josh Marshall observes that “The number of outstanding issues has dropped precipitously.”

So maybe we’re almost there. Vox has a summary of what Biden’s framework (it’s still not a bill) contains, but I’m trying not to get too excited one way or another until we know that it’s really going to happen.

and the Virginia governor’s race

Tomorrow is election day in Virginia. It comes at a bad time for the Democrat, Terry McAuliffe. The Democrats’ struggle to pass some version of Biden’s agenda makes them look ineffective right now, even if it might result in significant action soon. The latest Covid surge is fading, but the back-to-normal promise of last spring is still unfulfilled. Inflation and supply-chain issues are global, but Biden is being blamed for them.

In addition, Republicans are trying out their 2022 strategy. Biden beat Trump by more than seven million votes in 2020 for two main reasons:

  • Huge Black turnout.
  • Previously Republican suburban voters, especially educated women, turned against Trump.

Maybe in some parallel universe Republicans are responding to that resounding rejection by toning down the racism and sexism of the Trump years. But in our world, they’re passing laws to make voting harder for Black people, while hyping a phony issue (critical race theory in the public schools) to scare White parents away from Democrats.

Voter suppression is hard to do in Virginia, which currently has a Democratic governor and legislature. But the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Glenn Youngkin, is all-in for the phony issue. Paul Waldman puts it like this:

Imagine it’s January 2023, and Gov. Youngkin gathers his staff for a meeting to celebrate the end of his first year in office. “I want to congratulate all of you,” he says. “We’ve done just what we said we would: For the last year, all of you have worked tirelessly, day in and day out, to make sure no critical race theory is taught in any school in the state.”

That scene is preposterous to the point of parody. The idea that what Youngkin would do as governor has even a remote relationship to what he is running on is absurd.

Recent polls are close, but show Youngkin with a very small lead and momentum. If he wins, Republicans will feel their 2022 strategy is good to go nationally.

and the climate summit

World leaders are currently meeting in Glasgow to attempt to hammer out a successor to the Paris Agreement of 2015, which Trump withdrew the United States from.

President Biden would like to be a leader in forging a significant agreement, but his position has been undercut by the changes Senator Manchin of coal-mining West Virginia has forced on his Build Back Better plan.

If Mr. Biden lacks a reliable plan for the United States to significantly cut its emissions this decade, it would “send a signal” to other major emitters that America is still not serious, [Lia Nicholson, a senior adviser to the Alliance of Small Island States] said. And it would be difficult for Mr. Biden to urge other countries to take more meaningful steps away from fossil fuels, others said.

Biden went to Glasgow from the G-20 meeting in Rome, which endorsed a 15% minimum corporate tax. Up to now, corporations have been able to play countries off against one another, creating a race to the bottom on corporate tax rates. If the G-20 nations follow through, that race would stop.

and the pandemic

Tuesday, an advisory committee for the FDA recommended approving Covid vaccinations for children ages 5-11. Vaccines are already approved for everyone 12 and up. The vaccines for younger children are still not available and there’s considerable disagreement about how many families will want them.

Case numbers are not falling as fast as in recent weeks. The US is averaging about 73K new cases per day, which is about the same as last week. Deaths are down to an average of 1346 a day, down from over 1400 last week. The NYT is reporting that unvaccinated people are dying at about 12 times the rate of fully vaccinated people.

The Supreme Court refused to block Maine’s vaccine mandate. The case was brought by healthcare workers who were up against the Friday deadline.

This is a shadow docket case asking for emergency relief, so no majority opinion was published. Justice Gorsuch did write a dissent, which Justices Alito and Thomas signed on to. Justices Barrett and Kavanaugh published a one-paragraph concurrence on largely technical grounds: The shadow docket shouldn’t be used to force the court to rule on a case that otherwise was unlikely to reach them.

Briefly, the reason for Gorsuch’s dissent is that healthcare workers can get an exemption for medical reasons, but not for religious reasons. His argument builds on previous ridiculous opinions from 2020-21 that elevate the most tenuous religious claims to the highest level — if they’re based on popular Christian (especially Catholic) beliefs. Gorsuch also quotes the 2018 Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which similarly granted conservative Christian beliefs about marriage a level of consideration no non-Christian belief will ever get from this Court.

The plaintiffs’ religious objection in this case is

that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine required the use of abortion-related materials in its production, and that Moderna and Pfizer relied on aborted fetal cell lines to develop their vaccines.

Note how far we have gotten, both in time and in the causal chain, from any actual abortion. I’m not sure what the J&J issue is, but for Pfizer and Moderna we’re talking about a cell line developed from an abortion in 1973, with no suggestion that the research value of the cells played any role in the abortion decision. This is the kind of thing I was talking about in 2013 when I described conservative “religious freedom” as passive aggression. People are arbitrarily extending their moral concerns for the purpose of tripping up other people.

If a policy Gorsuch liked were at stake, would he give similar weight to a Hindu whose scruple is based on a sacred cow killed in 1973, none of whose original cells are present? What if someone’s religious objection had a similarly long causal chain related to climate change? (The implementation of just about any policy involves fossil fuels at some point.)

Those cases would be laughed out of court. But three justices want to approve this one, because Gorsuch et al grant special rights to people who share their religious beliefs.

Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto tested positive for Covid, which is a big deal for a guy whose lungs were involved in a previous bout with cancer. He believes that being vaccinated has saved his life, and said so on the air, while urging his viewers to get vaccinated. “Then came the death threats,” NPR reports.

I’m not going to repost the graph (because it has tiny print and displays really badly), but you should look at Duke sociology Professor Kieran Healy’s “The Polarization of Death“. He groups US counties into deciles, based on Trump’s percentage of the 2020 vote, and then plots the cumulative Covid death rates per 100K people through time. This results in “an ecological picture of the relationship between deaths and political polarization”.

The bluest decile starts out with the most deaths. (Recall how the first wave hammered New York City, the Northeast, and big cities in general.) But last year’s Thanksgiving-to-New-Years holiday surge primarily targeted the reddest counties, and by now the deciles are in almost-perfect order, from the 90-100% Trump counties averaging over 300 deaths per 100K to the 10-20% counties a hair above 200. (The 0-10% counties are slightly higher than the 10-20% counties. That’s the only out-of-sequence result.)

You can imagine a lot of explanations for this, including that Trump counties tend to have more old people than Biden counties. But the Trumpist resistance to public health measures of all sorts has to play an important role.

and Halloween

which was yesterday. For some reason, what caught my attention this year was the funny stuff rather than the creepy or scary stuff.

You don’t see a lot of telescope jokes.

And candy corn had enough PR problems before someone noticed its resemblance to a former president.

I loved this tweet from (currently suspended) @leahtriss:

I’m going as a Former Gifted Kid for Hallowe’en. The whole costume is just going to be people asking “What are you supposed to be?” and me saying, “I was supposed to be a lot of things.”

And finally: Ruth Vader Ginsburg wielding her light gavel.

and the Trump coup

This week we found out about an article Mike Pence’s chief counsel Greg Jacobs drafted but decided not to publish after January 6. The most striking quote is at the top of this page.

Emails exchanged during the riot between Jacobs and John Eastman, the architect of the Pence-can-undo-the-election theory, also came out. Jacobs blamed the siege of the Capitol on Eastman’s “bullshit legal advice”. Eastman replied that

The ‘siege’ is because YOU and your boss did not do what was necessary to allow this to be aired in a public way so that the American people can see for themselves what happened

Rolling Stone has a long article about Trump officials and Republican members of Congress who helped plan the January 6 demonstrations. To me, the key point is whether the people at those planning sessions knew or should have known that the event would turn violent. If January 6 had just been a Trump rally, followed by a march to surround the Capitol and yell a lot, that would have been a legitimate use of the right to assemble. If I were somebody involved in January 6 planning, I’d claim the violence was a complete surprise to me.

and more book restrictions in Texas

Following up on “Reading While Texan” from two weeks ago: The Texas Tribune reports that a Republican state representative (who is running for attorney general) is opening an official legislative “inquiry into Texas school district content”. So far that mainly means that he has sent a list of 850 books to the districts, asking them how many copies they have of each, where they shelve them, and how much they spent acquiring them.

The accompanying letter asks for information on additional

books or content … that address or contain the following topics: human sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), sexually explicit images, graphic presentations of sexual behavior that is in violation of the law, or contain material that might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.

By focusing on how content “might make students feel”, the inquiry liberates itself from any objective criteria. (Ever notice how fuck-your-feelings conservatives turn into bleeding hearts as soon as White people are upset?) It also risks misidentifying the root cause of those feelings. Being well informed is not always comfortable. (“The more knowledge, the more grief,” says Ecclesiastes.) So if reading Me and White Supremacy causes “discomfort”, maybe the problem is white supremacy, not the book.

The legislator’s list includes highly regarded titles like The New Jim Crow, Caste, Between the World and Me, and just about any other book you can think of that suggests America might have a race problem. (New Kid, which I talked about two weeks ago, is on the list.) It includes novels, graphic novels, memoirs, history books, and books about the physical changes teens might be noticing in their bodies. Oddly, the graphic novel version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is on the list, but the original is not. And I’m not totally sure why V For Vendetta is listed.

It’s not a censorship list (yet), but the fact that these books are the subject of an “inquiry” is bound to have the kind of chilling effect on teachers and librarians that I talked about two weeks ago.

A counterpoint is Maia Kobabe’s op-ed in the Washington Post about the banning (in multiple school districts) of her graphic (in the words-plus-drawings sense) book Gender Queer: a memoir.

Queer youth are often forced to look outside their own homes, and outside the education system, to find information on who they are. Removing or restricting queer books in libraries and schools is like cutting a lifeline for queer youth, who might not yet even know what terms to ask Google to find out more about their own identities, bodies and health.

and you also might be interested in …

Paul Krugman on the current inflation/supply-chain problems:

The most important point, however, may be not to overreact to current events. The fact that shortages and inflation are happening around the world is actually an indication that national policies aren’t the main cause of the problems. They are, instead, largely inevitable as economies try to restart after the epic disruptions caused by Covid-19. It will take time to sort things out — more time than most people, myself included, expected. But a frantic attempt to restore the status quo on inflation would do more harm than good.

The migrant families who had their children stolen away by the Trump administration may get compensation from the Biden administration.

A case that initially seemed to validate the conservative dark fantasy about trans people and bathrooms turns out not to be as it first appeared.

Contrary to opinions I’ve been linking to in recent weeks, a University of Virginia professor claims Trump can claim executive privilege.

Kyle Rittenhouse, the teen-ager who killed two people during anti-police demonstrations in Racine, and who has become a hero on the Right, seems to have lucked into a biased judge. The defense can refer to the people he killed as “looters” and “rioters”, but the prosecution is not allowed to call them “victims”.

When liberals complain about the growing violence of the Right, the usual response is to point to the sporadic clashes between liberal demonstrators and police during the George Floyd protests. The Rittenhouse-is-a-hero phenomenon, though, has no parallel on the Left. Ditto for Ashley-Babbitt-is-a-martyr.

You’ll never guess who’s been getting the biggest paychecks in the NFL: the commissioner, Roger Goodell. He was paid $128 million over the last two years. The highest-paid player, Patrick Mahommes, makes a measly $45 million a year.

That comparison of executive and athlete salaries reminds me of what Babe Ruth is supposed to have said during the Depression, when somebody pointed out that his $80,000 salary was more than President Hoover was making: “I had a better year than he did.”

Slate posted an article “Historians Are Fighting” about the within-the-profession battles touched off by The 1619 Project, which posits the preservation of slavery as a major motivation for the American Revolution. It seems to me that there’s room for a middle ground about the Founders: We can celebrate their revolution as a generally positive step in the global march towards democracy and human rights, while correcting past scholarship that air-brushed their failings and made them into gods. Liberty-for-White-Christian-males was a glass-partly-full in a world of mostly empty glasses.

Vulture’s Roxana Hadadi looks at what she calls the “desert problem” of Dune, both in the new movie and in Frank Herbert’s original book. One thing that has changed since the novel’s debut in 1968 is the attention we pay to cultural appropriation, or what Edward Said labeled “orientalism” in his 1978 book.

Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) is being investigated by the SEC for insider trading. Burr sold $1.6 million in stocks in January and February of 2020, shortly before the market reacted to the Covid pandemic by dropping sharply. Burr’s brother-in-law also unloaded stock around the same time, shortly after a phone conversation with Burr.

Burr was cleared by the Trump Justice Department (which more and more looks like it bore the same resemblance to justice that Trump University did to universities) on Trump’s last day in office, but the SEC has continued to investigate.

Rand Paul reported — 16 months past the legal deadline — that his wife bought stock in Gilead Sciences, the maker of anti-Covid drug remdesivir, on February 26, 2020. That would be after a committee Paul sits on had been briefed about the approaching global pandemic, but before the danger was appreciated by the general public.

There are a couple of reasons why this isn’t the torches-and-pitchforks scandal that Burr’s might be: Gilead stock in fact didn’t take off. (The article says Paul’s wife is slightly underwater on the investment.) And the investment was less than $15K.

Still, I think Chris Hayes has the right take on this:

Let’s imagine how @RandPaul would react to this news if it were about Fauci.

To me, all the questions about whether congresspeople were trading on inside information raises a more basic question: Why are they allowed to trade stocks at all? They’re paid a nice salary, have a good pension plan, and usually have good job prospects if they leave or lose their seats without disgracing themselves. Would it be such a hardship to lock their investments in an index fund while they’re in office?

University of Florida has ordered three of its professors not to testify as expert witnesses against the state’s voter suppression law. The university characterized the expert-witness gig as “outside paid work that is adverse to the university’s interests as a state of Florida institution”.

Actually, though, the lawsuit the wants the professors’ testimony is just adverse to the De Santis administration and the Republican Party, not the state of Florida. If UF has been threatened with repercussions if its professors testify, that’s a significant violation of American political traditions, and probably the law. Josh Marshall comments:

One of the features of American democracy is a fairly sharp line between political activity, the electoral activity of parties and the functions of the state. A state governor has budgets and powers to run the state. But he or she can’t use them to run for reelection. Ignoring these distinctions was one of the most defining features of Trump’s presidency. I am the state, as it were. We can see now that that approach increasingly suffuses the whole GOP.

and let’s close with something brilliant

Financial Times identifies twenty of the most “brilliant” bookstores in the world. Several are in the US, but none of the American shops look quite as awesome as the Dujiangyan Zhongshuge Bookstore in Sichuan, China, which was profiled in more detail in Architectural Digest. I’m not sure how you get to all those shelves, though.


Are some people now truly above the law, beholden to nothing and no one, free to ignore the law and without consequence?”

Rep. Adam Schiff

This week’s featured post is “What Conservatives Tell Themselves About Critical Race Theory“.

This week everybody was talking about Build Back Better

The negotiations over Biden’s Build Back Better plan seem to be inching towards a finish line, though we won’t really know until there’s a complete agreement. It sounds like the top-line figure will be in the $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion range, in addition to the $1-1.2 trillion in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. There are still probably a billion details to work out, but I think Democrats realize they can’t go into 2022 without more legislative accomplishments than they have now.

Once there’s an actual agreement, with a list of what’s in and what’s out, I’m going to try hard to look at it fresh, without comparing it to what I thought or hoped might be in it at some earlier stage. I think the right comparison is: What was I expecting on January 5, right after Ossoff and Warnock won the Georgia run-offs and gave Democrats their zero-vote majority?

The political style here is the opposite of what Obama did with the ACA. Then, Obama didn’t indulge much blank-slate dreaming. Single-payer was out from Day 1, and the variations of the bill debated were in a fairly narrow range. Biden has allowed a much wider range of visions to flourish, while knowing that most of them would fail to manifest. It’ll be interesting to see how those strategies contrast after Democrats have run the 2022 campaign.

and January 6

I was glad to see the House take the January 6 Committee’s job seriously and recommend Steve Bannon be prosecuted for blowing off a subpoena. The case is now in Merrick Garland’s in-box. Garland has to realize that if he doesn’t prosecute, congressional oversight of the executive branch is pretty much over.

On November 4, a federal court is due to consider Trump’s suit to stop the National Archives from turning documents from his administration over to the January 6 Committee. It’s not clear the judge’s ruling will even matter, since the point of the suit is to run the clock out.

John Eastman, the lawyer whose memo laid out the plan for Trump to overturn the 2020 election results, now claims the point of his plan was to stop Trump from doing something worse. Trump wanted Vice President Pence to simply declare him the winner on January 6. But under Eastman’s plan, Pence would give states with Republican legislatures more time to replace their Biden electors with Trump electors.

Either way, the point was for Trump to stay in power after losing the election. If Eastman’s plan had worked, American democracy would have ended by now.

and the pandemic

Cases per day in the US continue to drop at the rate of about 20-25% every two weeks, which works out to falling in half about every 5-6 weeks. The current daily average is 72,644, down 25% in the last two weeks. That’s about half what it was on September 18, five weeks and two days ago. Five weeks from now is just after Thanksgiving, which last year was the beginning of a holiday surge that continued through New Years.

The frustrating thing to me personally is that cases are falling just about everywhere but here in the Northeast. The region where I live had the lowest new-case rates in the country during the late-summer surge, but now our trends are flat while the rest of the country is improving to meet us.

The daily-new-cases-per-100K rate in my county (Middlesex, Massachusetts) has been stuck in the 14-18 range for months. Meanwhile, a county I watch because friends live there (Manatee, Florida) had bounced up over 120, but has now fallen below 10. I’m not wishing anything bad for the rest of America, I just want to share in the improvement.

The Atlantic published a disturbing article written by James Heathers, a “forensic peer reviewer” of scientific research. He’s begins by talking about ivermectin as a Covid treatment (which it isn’t), and finds that the problem isn’t entirely with YouTube videos and gullible retweeters: Enough published scientific studies said positive things about ivermectin that

it might seem perfectly rational to join the fervent supporters of ivermectin. It might even strike you as reasonable to suggest, as one physician and congressional witness did recently, that “people are dying because they don’t know about this medicine.”

The problem is that a bunch of those studies are really low quality, or even fraudulent.

In our opinion, a bare minimum of five ivermectin papers are either misconceived, inaccurate, or otherwise based on studies that cannot exist as described. One study has already been withdrawn on the basis of our work; the other four very much should be. …

Most problematic, the studies we are certain are unreliable happen to be the same ones that show ivermectin as most effective. In general, we’ve found that many of the inconclusive trials appear to have been adequately conducted. Those of reasonable size with spectacular results, implying the miraculous effects that have garnered so much public attention and digital notoriety, have not.

Worse, the sorry state of ivermectin/Covid research may not be that unusual. In Heathers’ opinion, a lot of unreliable medical research gets published. In normal times, doctors ignore it

because it either looks “off” or is published in the wrong place. A huge gray literature exists in parallel to reliable clinical research, including work published in low-quality or outright predatory journals that will publish almost anything for money.

[This reminds me of when my wife (who is still doing fine, thank you for wondering) was taking a new drug to combat an unusual variety of cancer. Occasionally the oncologist would answer one of my questions by saying that a paper pointed in such-and-such direction, but he didn’t trust it yet. I remember one disparaging comment about “Italian journals”, which I never followed up on.]

But during a pandemic, apparent “cures” from the gray literature can slip past the skepticism of the medical community and go straight to a more responsive public.

In a pandemic, when the stakes are highest, the somewhat porous boundary between these publication worlds has all but disappeared. There is no gray literature now: Everything is a magnet for immediate attention and misunderstanding. An unbelievable, inaccurate study no longer has to linger in obscurity; it may bubble over into the public consciousness as soon as it appears online, and get passed around the internet like a lost kitten in a preschool.

[An aside: I wish I’d written that lost-kitten metaphor.]

and you also might be interested in …

Ross Douthat’s column “How I Became a Sick Person” is a reminder that underneath our divergent politics, we’re all human. Douthat describes a series of scary symptoms that his doctors couldn’t explain, culminating in a controlled but chronic illness. Feel better, Ross. I’ll be rooting for you.

So the choice has become clear: Democrats can’t preserve both the filibuster and voting rights.

The last time a voting rights bill came up, Joe Manchin claimed that it was too sweeping, and that a more targeted plan could get the ten Republican votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Manchin worked on crafting a narrower bill, which Republicans filibustered Wednesday. No Republicans at all voted to overcome the filibuster. I haven’t even heard one of them make a counterproposal. Up and down the line, Republicans are against any attempt to protect voting rights.

In light of the vote, key Democrats said they would regroup and try again to persuade Mr. Manchin and other Senate Democrats reluctant to undermine the filibuster that an overhaul of the chamber’s signature procedural tactic was the only way to protect ballot access around the country.

I’m not optimistic, but I also can’t guess how Manchin will justify himself now.

Two Republicans, former state treasurer Josh Mandel and J. D. (Hillbilly Elegy) Vance, have turned their Ohio Senate primary race into a who’s-the-craziest contest. Mandel is currently winning with tweets like this:

Maximize family time and keep working hard. Keep the freezer stocked and firearms at the ready. Buy #bitcoin and avoid debt. We will outlast these monsters and we will thrive for generations to come after God brings them down.

Vance will have to counter somehow, or risk surrendering the key doomsday-prepper voting bloc to Mandel.

On the Democratic side, Congressman Tim Ryan is also hoping to replace retiring Senator Rob Portman. His campaign website says:

Tim will fight to raise wages, make healthcare more affordable, invest in education, rebuild our public infrastructure, and revitalize manufacturing so we can make things in Ohio again. 

Sure, Tim, but what about the issues Ohio voters really care about? What are you going to do about the monsters? What role do you see yourself playing when God starts bringing them down?

We can only hope that some significant segment of former Republican voters will be disturbed by the absolute insanity that Trump has unleashed in their party. (See previous note.) But if they’re not, maybe they’ll notice the insanity Trump has unleashed in something they care more about: their churches.

Peter Wehner has just published “The Evangelical Church is Breaking Apart” in The Atlantic. He talks to 15 Evangelical pastors who either have left the ministry or are thinking hard about it because of the right-wing political zealotry that is tearing up their congregations.

The root of the discord lies in the fact that many Christians have embraced the worst aspects of our culture and our politics. When the Christian faith is politicized, churches become repositories not of grace but of grievances, places where tribal identities are reinforced, where fears are nurtured, and where aggression and nastiness are sacralized. The result is not only wounding the nation; it’s having a devastating impact on the Christian faith.

The problem is not just that Trump’s deranged rants have replaced the Sermon on the Mount as the center of many Evangelicals’ religion. It’s also that Trump’s anything-goes truth-be-damned style has corrupted how Evangelicals handle disagreements with each other.

[McLean Bible Church pastor David] Platt said church members had been misled, having been told, among other things, that the three individuals nominated to be elders would advocate selling the church building to Muslims, who would convert it into a mosque. In a second vote on July 18, all three nominees cleared the threshold [for election]. But that hardly resolved the conflict. Members of the church filed a lawsuit, claiming that the conduct of the election violated the church’s constitution.

Platt, who is theologically conservative, had been accused in the months before the vote by a small but zealous group within his church of “wokeness” and being “left of center,” of pushing a “social justice” agenda and promoting critical race theory, and of attempting to “purge conservative members.” A Facebook page and a right-wing website have targeted Platt and his leadership. For his part, Platt, speaking to his congregation, described an email that was circulated claiming, “MBC is no longer McLean Bible Church, that it’s now Melanin Bible Church.”

BTW, clicking that right-wing website link, and then other links from there, is eye-opening. You’ll find yourself in a scary mirror world where a diabolical “woke” politics is taking over everything, including Evangelical institutions. And notice in the quote above how “social justice” has become a bad thing, something you don’t want to be accused of.

Speaking of insanity, check out Joy Pullmann’s “For Christians, Dying From Covid (or Anything Else) Is a Good Thing” over at The Federalist. Her main point is that churches should hold services and the faithful should attend them, independent of anything we know about how diseases spread.

Christians believe that life and death belong entirely to God. There is nothing we can do to make our days on earth one second longer or shorter: “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,” says the Psalmist.

I have to wonder if this is her position in general, or an ad hoc view she takes purely with respect to Covid. For example, does she stop her children when they start to wander into traffic? If she does, what does she think she’s accomplishing?

On the other hand, maybe her article isn’t insanity. Maybe it’s just bullshit.

Trump has a new scam: his own social network. And it’s off to such a good start.

Back in November, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick announced a reward for evidence leading to convictions for voter fraud in the 2020 election: He had $1 million of campaign money to offer, and would give a minimum of $25K to each whistleblower.

He was, of course, trying to put meat on the bones of Trump’s bogus claims of fraud. But that isn’t how it has worked out: He awarded his first $25K to a Pennsylvania poll worker who caught a Republican trying to vote twice for Trump. This guy is one of five voter fraud cases being prosecuted in Pennsylvania, four against Republicans.

Nevada also charged a Republican with voter fraud this week: A guy appears to have mailed in his dead wife’s ballot in addition to his own. Four people have been charged in Wisconsin, though we don’t know who they were trying to vote for. (At least one of them seems to have made an honest mistake: He was a felon who was out of jail but hadn’t finished his probation yet. He apparently thought he could vote legally.)


  • Nationwide, very few cases of 2020 voter fraud have been found.
  • The handful of fraudsters who have been identified by party are mostly Republicans.

Neither of those results should surprise anybody. In spite of the claims Republicans keep making, study after study has shown that voter fraud is extremely rare. But Republicans like Dan Patrick have convinced their supporters that millions of Democrats get away with voting fraudulently every year — so it must be easy! Of course a few are going to try to “get even” by voting fraudulently themselves.

Oh, and what about dead voters? Pretty much the same story: Either the claim is false or the case involved people trying to scrounge an extra vote for Trump.

NYT columnist Michelle Goldberg reflects on Angela Merkel’s decision to let a million refugees from Syria and Africa settle in Germany in 2015.

But six years later, the catastrophes predicted by Merkel’s critics haven’t come to pass.

In the recent German election, refugees were barely an issue, and the [anti-immigrant party Alliance for Germany] lost ground. “The sense is that there has been comparatively little Islamic extremism or extremist crime resulting from this immigration, and that on the whole, the largest number of these immigrants have been successfully integrated into the German work force and into German society overall,” said Constanze Stelzenmüller, an expert on Germany and trans-Atlantic relations at the Brookings Institution.

“With the passage of time,” Marton told me, Merkel “turned out to have chosen the absolutely right course for not only Germany but for the world.”

and let’s close with something tasty

Lately I’ve been cooking more, which Facebook somehow knows. So I’m being shown more videos about food. I was fascinated by this account of really authentic parmesan cheese.


I am actually old enough … I mean, I know that Republicans in Texas have been conservative for a long time, but there was a time when conservative Republicans in Texas were not absolutely batshit crazy.

Charlie Sykes

This week’s featured post is “Reading While Texan“.

This week everybody was talking about Manchin and Sinema

For weeks we’ve been wondering what price they would demand for getting on board with the Build Back Better reconciliation bill. We’re starting to see that price, and it’s steep.

Manchin is against the Clean Electricity Payment Program, which subsidizes the shift away from fossil fuels for generating electricity.

The $150 billion program — officially known as the Clean Electricity Performance Program, or CEPP — would reward energy suppliers who switch from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas to clean power sources like solar, wind, and nuclear power, which already make up about 40 percent of the industry, and fine those who do not.

Manchin claims the program isn’t necessary, because the shift is happening anyway. (The change he cites is over a 20 years period, and mainly shows a shift from coal to natural gas, a somewhat cleaner fossil fuel.) But it makes a huge difference how fast the shift happens. Remember: The most direct plan for cutting carbon emissions is just two steps long:

He also wants means tests on a number of programs, including the child tax credit, and possibly also a work requirement for parents who get the credit.

Sinema says she won’t vote for Build Back Better until the House passes the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Since it’s almost certain the House will eventually vote for the bill, this plan only makes sense if she wants to back out of whatever commitments she makes in the negotiations to pass both bills.

She also opposes the tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy that pay for the bill in its current form. I’m not sure whether she wants a smaller increase or no increase. Democrats are discussing a carbon tax to fill the fiscal hole, though I’m not sure what Manchin would think of that.

and subpoenas

With Trump’s encouragement, a number of his administration’s former officials and unofficial advisers are defying subpoenas from the House January 6 Committee. The committee will vote tomorrow on whether to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress.

“This potential criminal contempt referral — or will-be criminal contempt referral for Steve Bannon — is the first shot over the bow,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who serves on the committee, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on State of the Union Sunday. “It’s very real, but it says to anybody else coming in front of the committee, ‘Don’t think that you’re gonna be able to just kind of walk away and we’re gonna forget about you. We’re not.’”

It’s important not to lose sight of just how far the country has gone down this rabbit hole. We’ve gotten used to the idea that Trump obstructs justice. He obstructed the Mueller investigation, the Ukraine investigation of his first impeachment, and the January 6 investigation of his second impeachment. We’ve gotten used to the idea that he makes laughable claims in lawsuits, purely for the purpose of using the courts to delay the release of potentially damaging information.

But Trump’s intransigence is not just politics, it’s new territory in American politics — recall Hillary Clinton testifying to the Benghazi Committee for 11 hours — and it threatens the rule of law. We once believed that politicians would avoid this kind of behavior out of shame, because of course the voters would ask “What is he hiding?” But Trump hides everything, so it’s just what he does. We once believed that no president would pardon his co-conspirators, or that Congress would of course respond to such an outrage by removing him from office. But Trump has done precisely that, and Republican senators let him.

“This potential criminal contempt referral — or will-be criminal contempt referral for Steve Bannon — is the first shot over the bow,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who serves on the committee, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on State of the Union Sunday. “It’s very real, but it says to anybody else coming in front of the committee, ‘Don’t think that you’re gonna be able to just kind of walk away and we’re gonna forget about you. We’re not.’”

Bannon has zero justification for not testifying:

  • He was not a government official during the lead-up to January 6.
  • Former presidents have no claim on executive privilege unless the current president grants it, and Biden has not.
  • Executive privilege allows a witness not to answer specific questions. It doesn’t justify refusing to testify.

But the law is not the point: Trump wants to run out the clock on this investigation the way he did on all the others. If his party can get the House back in 2022, presumably Kevin McCarthy will get the investigation stopped, and the public will never know what crimes Trump (or Bannon or any of the others) committed.

What’s most appalling is not that Trump and his cronies would try this. It’s that Republicans support his obstruction up and down the line (with rare exceptions like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger), and he loses no support among his followers.

and the economy

As the economy comes back from the pandemic recession, workers are quitting their jobs in unprecedented numbers. Economists are calling it “The Great Resignation“.

“Quits,” as the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls them, are rising in almost every industry. For those in leisure and hospitality, especially, the workplace must feel like one giant revolving door. Nearly 7 percent of employees in the “accommodations and food services” sector left their job in August. That means one in 14 hotel clerks, restaurant servers, and barbacks said sayonara in a single month. Thanks to several pandemic-relief checks, a rent moratorium, and student-loan forgiveness, everybody, particularly if they are young and have a low income, has more freedom to quit jobs they hate and hop to something else.

Atlantic’s Derek Thompson continues:

As a general rule, crises leave an unpredictable mark on history. It didn’t seem obvious that the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 would lead to a revolution in architecture, and yet, it without a doubt contributed directly to the invention of the skyscraper in Chicago. You might be equally surprised that one of the most important scientific legacies of World War II had nothing to do with bombs, weapons, or manufacturing; the conflict also accelerated the development of penicillin and flu vaccines. If you asked me to predict the most salutary long-term effects of the pandemic last year, I might have muttered something about urban redesign and office filtration. But we may instead look back to the pandemic as a crucial inflection point in something more fundamental: Americans’ attitudes toward work. Since early last year, many workers have had to reconsider the boundaries between boss and worker, family time and work time, home and office.

Paul Krugman weighs in:

Until recently conservatives blamed expanded jobless benefits, claiming that these benefits were reducing the incentive to accept jobs. But states that canceled those benefits early saw no increase in employment compared with those that didn’t, and the nationwide end of enhanced benefits last month doesn’t seem to have made much difference to the job situation.

What seems to be happening instead is that the pandemic led many U.S. workers to rethink their lives and ask whether it was worth staying in the lousy jobs too many of them had.

For America is a rich country that treats many of its workers remarkably badly. Wages are often low; adjusted for inflation, the typical male worker earned virtually no more in 2019 than his counterpart did 40 years earlier. Hours are long: America is a “no-vacation nation,” offering far less time off than other advanced countries. Work is also unstable, with many low-wage workers — and nonwhite workers in particular — subject to unpredictable fluctuations in working hours that can wreak havoc on family life.

All along, economists figured that when the economy started to recover, there would be a blip of inflation. Production would have trouble ramping up as fast as spending, as many Americans would have money in their pockets due to a combination of government programs and their inability to spend normally during the pandemic. (Being retired, I don’t want to think about all the driving vacations my wife and I would have taken, which probably would have pushed us to buy a new car by now.)

The question was whether inflation would just blip up briefly, or whether a new inflationary cycle would start that would require some policy intervention (i.e., higher interest rates) to get under control. Paul Krugman has been on what he calls “Team Transitory”, but now he’s not sure; the data he would ordinarily use to tell the difference between the two scenarios is (as he puts it) “weird”. In other words, the current covid/post-covid economy is unique in ways that make it hard to read. He still argues against raising interest rates, because he sees cutting off the recovery as a bigger risk than letting inflation run for a while.

More about inflation in this Washington Post article.

and John Gruden

John Gruden, head coach of the Los Vegas Raiders NFL football team, resigned last Monday, after emails leaked out where he made racist, sexist, and homophobic comments. The emails were part of a trove of 650K emails related to the Washington Football Team (then called the Redskins), which the NFL was investigating because of reports of the toxic and abusive work environment for the team cheerleaders, and possibly other female employees. Presumably somebody at the NFL is responsible for the leak.

The Gruden emails were sent between 2010 and 2018, and though Gruden was not connected with the WFT at the time, he was corresponding with WFT President Bruce Allen, whose emails were being examined. The Gruden emails leaked out of the NFL’s investigation without being formally released.

There’s a lot not to like about this scandal. The comments themselves are reprehensible, and it makes perfect sense that Gruden should leave the Raiders now that they are public. Like every other team in the NFL, the Raiders have a large number of black players, as well as the NFL’s only openly gay player, who came out in June. Knowing that your coach uses slurs against people like you has got to disrupt your relationship with the team. So the players deserve a new coach.

In general, though, I dislike scandals based on people’s private conversations becoming public years later. If I had to be judged by the worst thing I ever said to someone I trusted not to repeat it, I doubt I could pass muster. My guess is that few Americans could. In particular, I wonder how many other NFL coaches could be taken down if their private emails were published.

So yes, Gruden is racist, sexist, homophobic, … but he’s also unlucky, in that he wandered into a investigation aimed at somebody else. And whoever leaked the emails seems to have intentionally targeted him. (First one email came out, and when it started to look like he might weather that storm, more appeared.) By condemning Gruden, we may be inadvertently carrying out somebody’s vendetta.

But any sympathy I might have had for Gruden vanished when he responded by saying that there was “not a blade of racism” in him. I don’t know why people say clueless crap like that, especially right after evidence surfaces that they do have those blades. American culture is a toxic stew of prejudices of all sorts, and we’ve all been soaking in it. Why can’t we just acknowledge that, and then affirm that we’re trying our best to overcome it? (Here’s an example of me practicing what I’m preaching.) It would be refreshing to hear someone respond to past evidence of racism with “I’ve learned a lot since then.” rather than “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.

The other thing not to like about the Gruden story is that he may not be the worst person in it. Reportedly, the Gruden emails also “featured photos of topless Washington Football Team cheerleaders”. It’s not clear whether Gruden was sending or receiving the images, but Allen was the WFT insider. Was he sharing illicit photos of his female employees?

And that raises a bigger question: The NFL launched this investigation in response to media reports that the Washington Football Team owner and executives harassed women, circulated surreptitiously obtained photos and videos of team cheerleaders, and put the women in “what they considered unsafe situations” with high-rolling season-ticket holders. Why is this the only thing that leaks out? Why is Gruden the only one to lose his job?

The report from that investigation is still secret, though we know that the team was fined $10 million dollars. And while that sounds like a lot, it really isn’t for a team valued at more than $4 billion. And remember: Whenever some law or rule or standard is only enforced by a fine, that means you can break it if you’re rich enough.

Chris Hayes discusses these issues with a former WFT cheerleader.

Friday, the NYT reported on the cozy relationship between Allen and the NFL general counsel who supervises investigations like the one into Allen’s team.

and you also might be interested in …

The downward trend in the Covid numbers continues: New cases are down 22% in the last two weeks, deaths down 19%.

One of those deaths was Colin Powell, who died at 84. He was vaccinated, but was fighting a cancer that compromised his immune system.

As Angela Merkel leaves the chancellorship of Germany, Thom Hartman notes all the ways that her position on the German center-right was considerably to the left of Bernie Sanders in the US.

Democrats are trying to pass an anti-gerrymandering law at the federal level, while simultaneously trying to gerrymander blue states like New York and Illinois more aggressively. At a simplistic level, this looks like hypocrisy, but I think this two-pronged approach is the only way we’ll get rid of gerrymandering. As long as it’s a one-sided advantage for Republicans, they’ll be unified in protecting it.

I believe in the Designated Hitter Principle: You may think that the designated hitter is a terrible idea that mars the purity of baseball. But if you play in a league where DHs are in the rules, you put a DH in your lineup.

Remember Andy McCabe, the guy who became acting head of the FBI after James Comey was fired, and then was fired himself just days before his scheduled retirement, so that his pension wouldn’t vest? He filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department, which is now under new management. This week DoJ settled with McCabe, not admitting any wrongdoing, but giving him back his retirement benefits. “Plaintiff will be deemed to have retired from the FBI on March 19, 2018.” DoJ also pays McCabe’s attorney’s fees.

Media Matters reports:

Nearly a dozen of the Fox News guests the network has presented as concerned parents or educators who oppose the teaching of so-called “critical race theory” in schools also have day jobs as Republican strategists, conservative think-tankers, or right-wing media personalities

The article lists 11 by name, including “concerned parent” Ian Prior, who has appeared 14 times on Fox to denounce CRT, without mentioning his professional work doing communications for the RNC, Jeff Sessions, Karl Rove, and other Republicans.

Fox has been particularly focused on fanning the critical race theory pseudo-issue in Virginia, where Pears and several other astroturf voices are from, and which (coincidentally) is electing a governor in a few weeks.

and let’s close with something reassuring

You may think your expressions in photos look odd, but your face does nothing like what dogs’ faces do when they’re trying to pluck a treat out of the air.

Insidious Undermining

Corruption and cronyism can undermine political stability and legitimacy as surely as violence can, albeit more insidiously.

– The Washington Post Editorial Board
The Pandora Papers gave us rare transparency: Is there hope for more?

This week’s featured post is “What to Make of the Pandora Papers?

This week everybody was talking about Congress

Still no reconciliation infrastructure bill, but at least we won’t pointlessly wreck the world economy by hitting the debt ceiling, at least not until December.

I know I keep repeating this, but it needs saying: There is no reason to have a debt ceiling. Other countries don’t. The time to worry about the debt is during the regular budget process, when Congress is appropriating money and setting tax rates, not when the country is borrowing to cover money already committed. In practice, the debt ceiling functions as a self-destruct button that irresponsible legislators can threaten to push.

Mitch McConnell is facing criticism in his caucus for backing down on pushing the self-destruct button, and is pledging to be more irresponsible when it comes up again in December.

It continues to be hard to tell where the reconciliation-bill negotiations are, or to predict where (or when) they will wind up. I’m having trouble even finding a good article about where things stand. We’ll know when we know.

and the Trump coup

The Senate Judiciary Committee issued a 400-page report outlining what we know about Trump’s subversion of the Justice Department in service to his attempt to overturn the 2020 election. The story suffers from the problems of any slowly evolving narrative: We sort of knew all that already, but we didn’t know it in this detail or with this degree of certainty.

For example, stories that the NYT or WaPo published based on anonymous sources are repeated here, but based on testimony under oath. That’s actually new, but it doesn’t feel new.

The Republican minority’s defense of Trump is basically that he didn’t succeed this time. When DoJ officials threatened to resign en masse if he installed Jeffrey Clark as attorney general so he could push the Big Lie, for example, Trump backed down. So no harm, no foul.

Josh Marshall makes an analogy:

You’re in the bank, alarm goes off, cops surround the bank: then you say, okay, I’m not feeling it. I’m calling this off.

A number of Trump’s associates are defying subpoenas from the House January 6 Committee. Trump himself is urging this defiance, and justifying it based on a completely bogus interpretation of executive privilege.

Executive privilege belongs to the office of the presidency, not to the individual who holds that office. And it is exercised by the current president, not the one whose past actions are being investigated. Often presidents will protect past administrations, particularly when the information sought continues to have security implications. But Biden is not going to help Trump cover up his attempt to steal the election from Biden.

This is a point Trump has missed all along: He always treated his power as personal power, and not as the power of his office.

and Facebook

Former Facebook insider Frances Haugen testified to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection Tuesday, following an appearance on 60 Minutes last week.

Her basic message is that Facebook’s profit motive conflicts with the public good — which is pretty much the definition of when regulation is necessary. In general, Facebook benefits by promoting engagement, and that usually means taking advantage of weaknesses. If you’re obsessed with something, Facebook gives you more of it. If something angers you to the point that you just have to respond, Facebook benefits.

That tendency is most obviously destructive and wrong when it comes to minors — teen girls, say. Haugen told 60 Minutes:

What’s super tragic, is Facebook’s own research says, as these young women begin to consume this eating disorder content, they get more and more depressed, and it actually makes them use the app more

Bad as Facebook (and its subsidiary Instagram) are, I hope they don’t become scapegoats for an entire industry that responds to the same market dynamics. As Shoshana Zuboff described in her book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, all the social-media companies have the same model: Provide a free service, learn things about people by watching them use the service, and then use that knowledge to manipulate their behavior.

It’s not that Facebook is uniquely evil. But this is a setting where the market rewards evil. Facebook is the current market leader, but the next market leader would be just as bad.

and the Texas abortion law

Now it’s blocked, and now it isn’t, as federal court rulings ping-ponged back and forth this week.

The state law, SB 8, which effectively eliminates abortions after six weeks of pregnancy by allowing private citizens to sue people (other than the pregnant woman herself) who are involved in an abortion after the presence of electrical activity that presages a fetal heartbeat after a heart eventually develops, took effect September 1 after the Supreme Court refused to block it.

The federal Justice Department filed suit against Texas on September 9. Wednesday, a federal judge granted DoJ’s request for an injunction to block enforcement of the law, denouncing the State of Texas for contriving an “unprecedented and transparent statutory scheme” to deprive citizens of their “right under the Constitution to choose to obtain an abortion prior to fetal viability”.

Friday, a federal appeals court put a temporary stay on that injunction, pending its consideration of a more permanent ruling.

Even if the injunction is eventually upheld, abortions in Texas may still be limited by the slippery nature of SB 8. The injunction prevented Texas courts from processing lawsuits filed under SB 8, but can’t eliminate abortion providers’ liability if the law is eventually upheld, which could take years to determine. (SB 8 allows lawsuits to be filed up to four years after the abortion.)

I continue to wish that a blue state would concoct some similar civil-lawsuit scheme to ban gun sales — not in order to ban gun sales, but to see how fast the partisan Supreme Court would act to defend a constitutional right that Republican voters care about.

and the pandemic

Average new cases per day in the US have gone back below 100K, down from 175K in mid-September. Deaths have declined less sharply, from over 2000 per day to around 1750. But we’re still well above the mid-June lows, when new cases fell to around 12K per day, with daily deaths in the 200s.

In general, regional differences are evening out, with a few high-risk areas in Alaska, Appalachia, and counties along the northern border.

I’ll make a wild guess and predict that cases and deaths will continue to drop at least until Thanksgiving.

Merck has filed for FDA emergency use authorization of its new anti-Covid pill.

Right-wing politician and commentator Allen West, who is challenging Gov. Greg Abbott in the Republican primary, took hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin rather than get vaccinated. He’s going into the hospital with low oxygen levels after catching Covid.

Chris Hayes won’t let up on the Fox News hosts who challenge every vaccine mandate except the one that actually applies to them at Fox News. I think he’s enjoying himself.

and you also might be interested in …

Climate change destroyed 14% of the world’s coral reefs between 2009 and 2018. The root problem is that the increased carbon in the atmosphere gets absorbed into the ocean, making it more acidic.

September’s jobs report was positive, but still fell well short of economists’ expectations as the economy added 194K jobs rather than the predicted 500K. The unemployment rate dropped to 4.8%, indicating that the weakness was due more to people staying out of the job market than to a lack of jobs for them to find.

The theory that extended unemployment benefits were keeping people from looking for jobs — and so they would flood back into the market when those benefits ended in early September — failed, just as it failed when most red states cut benefits inJuly.

“Many people had Sept. 1 marked on their calendars as the day when things would go back to normal — when they would return to their offices, their kids would return to school and they’d head back to their favorite bars. But instead, the recovery sputtered,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist with hiring site ZipRecruiter.

As has been true all along, the economic problem is the pandemic itself (which surged in September, but now is receding again) not government responses to it. Workers (particularly women) are reluctant to go back to high-risk, low-pay, public-facing jobs, or to return their unvaccinated small children to group daycare centers (which are having trouble staffing up anyway). And as far as “favorite bars”, I’m still only going to restaurants with outdoor seating. Apparently it’s not just me:

the recent surge in covid cases, which is slowly abating, spooked many diners who earlier this summer had embraced going to restaurants in record levels. Restaurant attendance has been inching down in August and September, according to the reservation app Open Table.

The overall number of restaurants has fallen 13% since the spring of 2020 and restaurant employment is about a million jobs short of pre-pandemic levels.

Speaking of childcare, and the portion of Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill that tries to improve it (and make us more like other first-world countries), the NYT describes the situation faced by a couple in Greensboro, North Carolina:

Until their elder son started kindergarten this fall, Jessica and Matt Lolley paid almost $2,000 a month for their two boys’ care — roughly a third of their income and far more than their payments on their three-bedroom house. But one of the teachers who watched the boys earns so little — $10 an hour — that she spends half her time working at Starbucks, where the pay is 50 percent higher and includes health insurance.

… The huge social policy bill being pushed by President Biden would cap families’ child care expenses at 7 percent of their income, offer large subsidies to child care centers, and require the centers to raise wages in hopes of improving teacher quality. A version before the House would cost $250 billion over a decade and raise annual spending fivefold or more within a few years. An additional $200 billion would provide universal prekindergarten.

One aspect of the child-care problem that doesn’t get enough attention is that it’s yet another poverty trap: If child care costs more than a couple’s second paycheck, the short-term economic incentive is for the lower-earning parent to stay home. But parents who can afford to stay in the job market anyway might improve their career prospects in ways that make long-term economic sense. This poverty-trapping effect hits even harder when one parent is investing in a career, either by going to school or working an internship, rather than earning an immediate paycheck.

Saturday, the NYT’s top-of-the-web-page article examined China’s potential military threat to Taiwan, and whether either the Taiwanese or the Americans are adequately prepared for it.

The article makes me wish I could trust the Pentagon (and the Times’ relationship to the Pentagon) more than I do. Maybe the concerns expressed there are completely legit and as worrisome as they sound. Or the article could be defense-budget propaganda: Maybe the Chinese military threat has to be emphasized now that the American people have lost interest in Afghanistan and the Islamic threat more generally.

A New Yorker article from August raised that point in response to a different China hawk:

A smart liberal’s reply to Colby might be: Is this for real? Americans have spent much of the past two decades trying to find some way through the disastrous interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan that political hawks urged on them. Now that the full depth of the latter debacle has become so impossible to deny that the V.A. is issuing suicide-awareness bulletins for former soldiers suffering from “moral distress,” the hawks want to urge another generation-defining conflict on Americans?

A bunch of thoughts complicate my layman’s analysis (which is all you’re left with when you don’t trust the experts): As the article points out, the US already spends three times as much on defense as China does. However, given the inefficiencies and pork-barrel spending built into our defense budget, plus the fact that things are just cheaper in China, we probably don’t have a 3-to-1 advantage in real military resources.

And then there’s the fact that China hasn’t fought a war in a very long time. From generals down to privates, just about everybody involved in a hypothetical Taiwan invasion would be seeing their first combat. Would President Xi really trust the results of his war games that much?

And finally, if I were running China, I would see many long-term global trends running in my favor, and be worried about screwing them up. (This WaPo columnist disagrees: What if pro-China trends are about to turn, as its economy becomes more government-centered and its politics more tyrannical?) War is always a throw of the dice. So I hope Xi knows the story of King Croesus of Lydia and the Oracle of Delphi. “If Croesus attacks Persia,” the Oracle pronounced, “he will destroy a great empire.”

He did attack, and the empire he destroyed was his own.

Mike Pence is laying the groundwork for a 2024 presidential campaign. He truly does not seem to understand that January 6 ended his political career. He didn’t do everything he could to steal the election for Trump, so diehard Trumpists will always see him as disloyal. But at the same time, he will never be able to separate himself from his four years of enabling and defending Trump.

When it comes to replacing democracy with a fascist personality cult, you can’t be half committed.

Trump and his followers are rallying behind Max Miller’s primary campaign against Ohio Republican Congressman Anthony Gonzalez, who committed the unforgivable sin of voting for Trump’s second impeachment. The domestic violence charges made by Miller’s former girlfriend, Trump’s former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, don’t seem to be regarded as a big deal by comparison.

This kind of thing was inevitable once Republicans decided to ignore the Access Hollywood tape (where Trump bragged about a pattern of sexual assaults), as well as the corroborating testimony from dozens of his victims. In Republican circles, assaulting women is now just something that manly men do, and that women are understood to routinely lie about.

Here’s what one guy learned from working in a California gun shop.

Guns in America require a fix that isn’t written into law. It’s something deeper, something in society that causes men to turn to weapons as their last vestiges of manhood.

and let’s close with something sexy

If you think it’s hard to attract a human mate, watch what this puffer fish has to do.

Who Benefits?

The Pandora Papers … mostly demonstrates that the people that could end the secrecy of off-shore, end what’s going on, are themselves benefiting from it.

Gerard Ryle,
Director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

This week’s featured post is “Pandemics Are Beaten By Communities, Not Individuals“.

This week everybody was talking about Congress

Some important stuff got done this week and other important stuff got delayed, but at least complete disaster was avoided for now.

in general, we’re still in the same situation I talked about last week: The public can see what has gotten done and what hasn’t gotten done. But the negotiations over the stuff that still needs doing are private, so we don’t really know what’s going to happen.

We’re talking about trillions of dollars and very important decisions, though, so everybody wants to know what’s going to happen. Consequently, commentators are speculating like mad. And that’s fine, as long as we all understand that none of us really know anything.

So I want to caution everybody not to get too spun up about Manchin and Sinema, or the Congressional Progressive Caucus, or the Democratic leadership, or President Biden, or whoever you plan to blame for whatever bad things you think are going to happen. Wait and see how it all comes out.

What got done was keeping the government running until December 3. The new fiscal year began Friday, and the government did not shut down. That seems like a relatively low hurdle, but with one of the major parties committed to sabotage, it was an accomplishment.

Beyond that, stay tuned. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warns that she will run out of wiggle room later this month if the debt ceiling isn’t raised.

The new estimate from Yellen raises the risk that the United States could default on its debt in a matter of weeks if Washington fails to act. A default would likely be catastrophic, tanking markets and the economy, and delaying payments to millions of Americans.

A bill to raise the debt ceiling passed the House but was filibustered by Republicans in the Senate last Monday. Mitch McConnell insisted that “Republicans are not rooting for … a debt limit breach.” They’re just not willing to vote to prevent one as long as a Democrat is president. Democrats did not act this way during the recent Republican administration.

And then there are the two infrastructure bills: the $1 trillion bipartisan one (which everyone is calling the BIF) that passed the Senate, and the $3.5 trillion one that Democrats want to pass via the filibuster-avoiding reconciliation process, but that Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (and a few Democrats in the House) are still not supporting.

[Note: All these numbers are over ten years, so they’re not as big as they look. We’re currently spending over $700 billion a year on defense, but we appropriate it year-by-year, so we never end up talking about a $7 trillion defense bill.]

The Manchin/Sinema faction (which isn’t very big, but doesn’t need to be with voting majorities this small) was hoping to pass the BIF first, then talk about the larger bill. So far, House progressives (with President Biden’s support) have blocked that path. (Josh Marshall points out how strangely negative the NYT’s coverage of this has been.)

Manchin wants a smaller price tag, and wants programs (free community college, for example) to be means-tested rather than general entitlements. What Sinema wants is unclear.

While I admit to not knowing any more than the other speculating commentators, I remain optimistic. All Democrats must know that they face disaster in 2022 if they can’t point to meaningful accomplishments. And whether you’re progressive or moderate, and whether you face a re-election campaign or not, you have to understand that being in the minority sucks. (If Mitch McConnell gets control of the Senate again, no one will care what Joe Manchin thinks.) So I believe they will make something happen, though I can’t predict what it will be.

Unsurprisingly, Kevin McCarthy is lying about the infrastructure bills raising middle-class taxes.

and the pandemic

This week brought a sad milestone — the 700,000th American death — but also good news: a pill that can help you get well after you’ve been infected.

Friday, Merck announced molnupiravir. (Where do they get these names? If I’d seen that word without an explanation, I’d have guessed it was a Norse weapon like Thor’s hammer.) It’s new and hasn’t been approved yet, but the results from the trials look good.

The study tracked 775 adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who were considered high risk for severe disease because of health problems such as obesity, diabetes or heart disease. The results have not been reviewed by outside experts, the usual procedure for vetting new medical research.

Among patients taking molnupiravir, 7.3% were either hospitalized or died at the end of 30 days, compared with 14.1% of those getting the dummy pill. After that time period, there were no deaths among those who received the drug, compared with eight in the placebo group, according to Merck.

The breakthrough is that it’s a pill people can take at home.

All other COVID-19 treatments now authorized in the U.S. require an IV or injection. A pill taken at home, by contrast, would ease pressure on hospitals and could also help curb outbreaks in poorer and more remote corners of the world that don’t have access to the more expensive infusion therapies.

“This would allow us to treat many more people much more quickly and, we trust, much less expensively,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University who was not involved in the research.

Experts emphasize that the best way forward is still vaccination: Prevention is better than treatment.

And like every other way to fight Covid, Merck’s pill isn’t a guarantee: 7.3% of the people who took it in the trial wound up either in the hospital or dead. (Remember: They were chosen to be a high-risk group. Your odds might be better.) So it’s best to think of molnupiravir as part of a defense-in-depth strategy: Get vaccinated. Avoid high-risk situations (like packed-in indoor crowds). Take Merck’s pill if you get sick. And if you still have to go the hospital, get monoclonal antibodies or some other IV therapy.

The other good news is that the Delta surge really does seem to have passed its peak. In spite of hitting the 700K total, deaths per day have finally started to decline. After being above 2000 per day for two weeks, they’ve now fallen to 1878 per day. New cases are averaging 106K per day, down 28% in the last two weeks.

Strangely, the states where cases are still rising are nearly all on the Canadian border: Alaska is the worst, up 54% in two weeks, but cases are also rising in North Dakota, Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Idaho, and (just slightly) in New Hampshire.

This is weird because:

  • Canada isn’t seeing a big outbreak. (Cases are down 3% in two weeks.)
  • There’s not a lot of transit back and forth among our northern states. The Maine-to-Idaho region is not a thing.

New York City’s vaccine mandate is working. In spite of scary stories about thousands and thousands of teachers who would lose their jobs rather than get vaccinated, large numbers are getting vaccinated at the last minute.

If you’re old enough to remember the Tea Party anti-ObamaCare protests of 2009, the current anti-mask and anti-mandate protests should look familiar: School board meetings around the country are being disrupted now, the way that congressional town-hall meetings were then, by loud people who seem to represent a upswelling of grass-roots anger. The disinformation, the over-the-top accusations of tyranny, the air of menace — it’s all pretty similar.

Coincidentally, the same people turn out to be funding and organizing it on a national level. Once again, they’re providing the disinformation and the tactics that allow a relatively small number of folks to look like a national movement.

The letter sounds passionate and personal. … But the heartfelt appeal is not the product of a grass roots groundswell. Rather, it is a template drafted and circulated this week within a conservative network built on the scaffolding of the Koch fortune and the largesse of other GOP megadonors.

The template is being distributed by the Independent Women’s Forum. But who are they, exactly?

As a nonprofit, Independent Women’s Forum is exempt from disclosing its donors and paying federal income taxes. But the group, which reported revenue of nearly $3.8 million in 2019, has drawn financial and institutional support from organizations endowed by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch and his late brother, David, according to private promotional materials as well as tax records and other public statements.

Tributes to sponsors prepared for recent galas — and reviewed by The Post — recognize the Charles Koch Institute as a major benefactor. Other backers include Facebook; Dick DeVos, heir to the Amway fortune and the husband of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos; and the Walton Family Foundation, a philanthropy controlled by the family that founded Walmart.

Another similarity to the Obama era: Patrician conservatives don’t care if their plebian followers die. Back then, Koch organizations campaigned to get people to refuse ObamaCare, even if they couldn’t afford health insurance without it. That campaign undoubtedly killed people, just like this one is killing people.

and the Pandora Papers

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has a new treasure trove of leaked documents outlining how the rich and powerful hide their money. You can think of this YouTube video as a trailer for the more detailed revelations that started showing up today on the ICIJ’s web site and in newspapers like The Washington Post.

I have a friend who’s been working on this project, but he’s been taking confidentiality seriously, so as of this morning I didn’t know any details.

but I want to tell you about a book

This week I read Forget the Alamo, which I found enormously entertaining.

The short version is that everything you think you know about the Alamo is wrong. The Texas Revolution wasn’t about escaping Mexican tyranny, it was about preserving slavery. Sam Houston’s army was seeded with American military “deserters”, who mostly went unpunished after they returned to their units. (That kind of resembles what Putin has been doing in eastern Ukraine.) The Alamo wasn’t a strategically significant battle where brave Texans voluntarily sacrificed their lives; William Travis just didn’t take Santa Anna’s advance seriously until it was too late to retreat. Davy Crockett didn’t go down swinging his rifle after he ran out of ammunition, as he does in the movies, but most likely surrendered and was executed. And so on.

In addition to the pure satisfaction of dispelling historical myths, the authors manage to take history seriously while still writing in an engaging style. Take this passage for example:

[Davy Crockett’s] arrival at the Alamo is one of history’s great juxtapositional flukes, as if Teddy Roosevelt or Mark Twain had darted onto the Titanic at the last minute.

In the early 1830s, Texas was where an American Southerner went after screwing up so badly that he had to disappear from somewhere else. So the backstories of all the major characters are fascinating.

After the battle, there’s the progress of the myth, which had an open field because there were no survivors to contradict tall tales. (“Ahem,” say Mexican soldiers.) What developed was what the authors call the Heroic Anglo Narrative, which served to terrorize generations of Hispanic Texan seventh-graders. (One Tejano compares “The Mexicans killed Davy Crockett” to “The Jews killed Jesus.”)

In addition to the historical detail, the book is a running meditation on the stories we tell each other, why we believe them, and what they say about us.

and you also might be interested in …

On my religious blog, I explained why “Male and female he created them” in Genesis shouldn’t be read as a divine establishment of binary gender.

The partisan hacks at the Supreme Court continue to be deeply offended that so many people think they’re partisan hacks. Samuel Alito, who continues to be my least favorite justice even after Trump’s three appointments, is the latest one to object.

Senator Whitehouse parodies Alito’s argument:

“Nope, just random that we churned out 80 partisan 5-4 decisions for Republican donors, opened dark money floodgates, crippled Voting Rights Act, unleashed partisan bulk gerrymandering, and protected corporations from court. Pure coincidence.”

Alito makes the bottom of my list due to his consistency. Other justices (Thomas, say) may at times have more bizarre opinions. But they also have ideological quirks that make them at least a little unpredictable. If you want to know where Alito will stand, though, you just need to ask three questions:

  • Which side of a case increases Republican political power?
  • Which side increases big business’ power over workers and consumers?
  • Which side lines up best with Catholic dogma?

Unless those answers point in different directions — and they almost never do — you know what Alito’s position is.

Here in the US, we’re running into a few supply chain problems, but it’s nothing compared to what’s going on in the UK, where there is plenty of gasoline at refineries and terminals, but very little getting into people’s cars. The bottleneck seems to have something to do with all the truck drivers from various EU countries who went home after Brexit took effect.

Germany had a close election last week, and everybody is just moving on without lawsuits or riots or anything. Weird, isn’t it?

Bright red Idaho is the latest state to refute Trump’s Big Lie. A document circulated by My-Pillow-guy Mike Lindell alleged votes were switched electronically from Trump to Biden in all 44 of Idaho’s counties, and listed county-by-county what the vote totals should have been. (Why anyone would bother to perpetrate this fraud remains a mystery, since it didn’t come close to flipping the state.)

Idaho officials immediately noticed that 7 of their counties don’t have electronic vote-counting at any stage in their process, describing this as “a huge red flag” in Lindell’s claim. So they recounted the two smallest counties by hand, and found exactly the same number of Biden votes as the original count. (Trump lost a few.)

When confronted with this complete refutation of his claim, Lindell did the same thing the Cyber Ninjas did in Arizona: moved the goalposts to say that the problem was with the ballots, not the counting. “The ballots themselves are not real people.”

In spite of his somewhat snide tone, Ross Douthat makes an interesting point. From a 20-year perspective, liberals have been quite successful: Bush-style military interventionism is no longer popular, the push to limit and privatize programs like Social Security was turned back and reversed, and alternatives to one-man-one-woman sexuality are now widely accepted.

Conservative rhetoric seems to be timeless. I ran across this quote in the book Freedom: an unruly history by Annelien de Dijn (which I will say more about after I finish it). Cato the Elder, speaking in 195 BC in favor of an anti-luxury law that the women of Rome wanted to see repealed (because it specially targeted women’s jewelry), warned against allowing women to have a voice in government:

The moment they begin to be your equals, they will be your superiors.

We still hear that point today from every overprivileged class, directed at every underprivileged class. Whether the subject is women, people of color, non-Christians, gays and lesbians, non-English speakers, transfolk, or what have you, the message is the same: There’s no such thing as equality. So if men, Whites, Christians et al. stop being the masters, they’ll become the slaves.

In spite of Cato’s efforts, the Lex Oppia was repealed. But Rome never did become a matriarchy. In more than two thousand years of testing, Cato’s they’ll-take-over theory has never proved out. And yet we still hear it.

Alex Jones has lost two lawsuits filed by parents of children who died in the Sandy Hook massacre. Jones repeatedly charged on his popular InfoWars radio/YouTube show that the massacre was a “false flag operation”, and that the parents were “crisis actors” whose children did not die. In addition to causing the families emotional distress, Jones’ charges led some of his listeners to verbally abuse the parents or make threats against them.

Jones lost the lawsuits by default when he refused to cooperate with the court’s discovery process by providing documents, an action the judge described as “flagrant bad faith”. A jury will now determine the damages he owes the parents.

and let’s close with something musical

A commenter pointed out that last week’s closing wasn’t “recent” at all. The Helsinki complaint chorus video was posted in 2006, which I should have noticed. This week’s closing, “The Sounds of Starbucks” sounds like the result of a pandemic depression, but was posted in 2018.

Burdens and Duties

For any who remain insistent on an audit in order to satisfy the many people who believe that the election was stolen, I’d offer this perspective: No congressional audit is ever going to convince these voters — particularly when the President will continue to say that the election was stolen. The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth. That’s the burden, that’s the duty of leadership. The truth is that President-elect Biden won the election. President Trump lost.

– Senator Mitt Romney (1-6-2021)

This week’s featured post is “The Big Lie Refuses to Die“.

This week everybody was talking about the $3.5 trillion question

I’ve been resisting writing about the Democrats’ intra-party negotiations over the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that is supposed to supplement the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate in August.

While the issue is definitely important enough to deserve attention, the root of my resistance is that nobody really knows anything, and yet there is massive amounts of speculation about what might be happening. Maybe Joe Manchin is torpedoing the whole Biden agenda. Or maybe progressives are. Or maybe one side or the other is about to cave in. Maybe Biden is a legislative wizard who has it all under control, or maybe he’s an addled senior citizen in over his head.

It’s all speculation.

Here’s what little we know: The bipartisan bill passed the Senate in regular order, with enough Republican votes to overcome a filibuster. In terms of policy, the Democrats in the House agree that it ought to pass. But it leaves out a large number of progressive (and Biden) priorities. (The one that is most important to me is climate change.) So progressives in the House threaten not to pass the bipartisan bill if the Senate won’t pass the larger bill. No Senate Republicans support the larger bill, so it will have to pass through reconciliation (if at all), and all 50 Democrats are needed.

Democratic Senators Manchin and Sinema have objected to the size of that bill, but so far have not made a counteroffer. Democratic moderates in the House had previously gotten Speaker Pelosi to commit to a vote on the bipartisan bill today, but that vote has been postponed to Thursday.

Midnight Thursday is the end of the federal government’s fiscal year, the annual witching hour when any shit not yet dealt with reaches the fan. So the government could shut down Friday, and the country might hit its debt limit shortly thereafter. In other words: a completely self-inflicted disaster of global significance.

For what it’s worth, I don’t believe any of that will happen. I think Democrats will get something together, and two sizeable infrastructure bills will pass, with most of what all sides want included. The government will not shut down, and the debt limit will be pushed back to set up some future apocalypse. (We can’t just get rid of it, because …)

I believe this because I don’t think any Democrat in Congress benefits from sabotaging the whole Biden agenda and setting the party up for a massive 2022 defeat. I also don’t believe any of the Democrats — Manchin and Sinema included — are the kinds of loose cannons Republican leaders sometimes have to deal with. I’m also not afraid of Republicans getting some advantage out of the debt-limit battle. In the 2022 campaign, I don’t believe anybody will remember or care that this time around it was the Democrats who pushed back the limit without Republican help. (I also don’t believe voters will punish Republicans for their irresponsibility, although they should.)

As I said previously, though, I don’t know. Maybe I’m too optimistic. But I’m heartened by the account in Peril of the passage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in March. Manchin also had problems with that, and negotiations went down to the wire. But he ultimately voted for it. The picture Woodward and Costa paint is that Manchin has to maintain his moderate image in West Virginia and separate himself from liberals like Bernie Sanders and AOC, but that he also doesn’t want to be the guy who causes Biden’s presidency to fail.

I’m not counting on Biden to be an LBJ-style wheeler-dealer, but I think he will keep all the Democrats calm enough to recognize that failure benefits none of them.

Josh Marshall points out a piece of journalistic malpractice: Progressives and moderates are often presented as rival-but-equivalent factions fighting for their rival-but-equivalent proposals, when actually Democrats are pretty much united except for Manchin, Sinema, and a handful of folks in the House.

What Manchin et al are having trouble swallowing isn’t Bernie Sanders’ bill. (Sanders, if you remember, wanted a $6 trillion package.) It’s President Biden’s bill.

and the Arizona election audit

That’s the subject of the featured post. Short version of the report written by Trumpist Cyber Ninjas: The ballots were counted accurately. But Biden won, so there must be something wrong with the ballots themselves.

and Haitian immigrants

The images of men on horseback chasing down dark-skinned people, and of 14,000 immigrants camped under the Del Rio Bridge in Texas have sparked intense reactions from both the pro- and anti-immigration factions.

The current wave was started by a major earthquake in August, but Haitians have been trying to enter the US for one reason or another for a long time. And one US administration after another has been trying to keep them out. Vox has a worthwhile article about the unique aspects of our Haitian immigration policies.

and Peril

The book Peril (that last week’s post “Seven Days in January” was indirectly based on) came out Tuesday, and I rushed to read it. I didn’t find any major surprises: The incidents discussed in the pre-publication articles are pretty much the way they’ve been described.

Woodward and Costa leave readers to guess who the source is for each scene. In general, if the book tells us what somebody was thinking at the time, you have to assume that person is the source for the whole incident (though possibly various other people were also consulted). If the book follows one character through a series of scenes, I assume that person is the source. (In the case of somebody like Mike Pence, I suppose it’s possible that a right-hand-man is the source. But even then, I doubt that person would talk in such detail without the approval of his former boss.) If one person seems reasonable and everyone else in the room is crazy, probably we’re hearing the account of the reasonable person. (I know I describe a lot of my experiences that way.)

General Milley is pretty obviously the source for the incidents that involve him. Senators Mike Lee and Lindsey Graham are clearly sources. Pence’s national security advisor Keith Kellogg was a source, and probably Pence himself. (Kellogg apparently roamed the White House pretty freely.) A bunch of people in the Biden campaign. And so on.

The closer you get to Trump himself, the fuzzier the sourcing gets, as if sources asked for more protection. Ivanka and Jared? Mark Meadows? Hard to say. Unless you believe that Woodward and Costa made stuff up out of nothing (and I don’t), it’s clear somebody talked.

A phone conversation that Milley had with Speaker Pelosi after January 6 occurs early in the book and got a lot of press. When you read it in the full context of the book, the striking thing isn’t that Milley and Pelosi both think Trump is crazy. The striking thing is how they talk about his instability. You could imagine people around Trump coming to the shocking insight that the President is dangerously unmoored. But this conversation is nothing like that. It’s more like: We always knew he was crazy, but we had hoped he was manageable.

As the book goes on, it’s appalling how many people had such conversations. I’m left with the impression that no one with a chance to view Trump close up was actually surprised that he would start raving about imaginary election-stealing conspiracies, or that he would try to bring down American democracy rather than give up power. They had hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but they weren’t actually surprised.

Lots of Republicans appear to have known, earlier or later in the process, that the election-fraud claims were bogus. Their silence is stunning. Even the ones who spoke up at one time or another have mostly shut up about it.

The lack of concern for the country is horrifying. Mitch McConnell had two chances to get rid of Trump through impeachment, and protected him both times. To this day, Republicans who know what he really is are going along with him.

and the pandemic

Once again, new-case numbers seem to be topping out, but the turn-around is slow. The seven-day average is 120K per day, down from a recent peak of 175K on September 13. Hospitalizations have also turned around nationally, though they’re still surging in some areas. Deaths are holding steady at just over 2000 per day.

Hospitals in Idaho and Alaska have instituted “crisis standards of care“, which is a fancy way of saying that they’re so swamped they can’t get to everybody.

Alaska this past week joined Idaho in adopting statewide crisis standards of care that provide guidance to health care providers making difficult decisions on how to allocate limited resources. Several hospitals in Montana have either activated crisis standards of care or are considering it as the state is pummeled by COVID-19.

Under the guidelines, providers can prioritize treating patients based on their chances of recovery, impacting anyone seeking emergency care, not just those with COVID-19. …

Typically, crisis standards of care involve a scoring system to determine the patient’s survivability, sometimes including their estimated “life years” and how well their organs are working.

Back in 2009, Republicans fighting ObamaCare warned about “death panels” that might decide old people weren’t worth saving. That didn’t happen then, but vaccine resistance is causing it to happen now.

Vaccine mandates are being tested this week, as deadlines are looming in New York and some other states. Thousands of health-care and nursing-home workers are pushing to the limit: New York says they have until midnight tonight to get vaccinated, or they’ll lose their jobs. If they hold out and are let go, care might suffer in some places. But if they remain unvaccinated and keep their jobs, care suffers in a different way.

you also might be interested in …

Germany’s 16-year Angela Merkel era ended yesterday with a federal election in which she was not a candidate. The Social Democrats appear to have won the most seats in the Bundestag, surpassing Merkel’s Christian Democrats. No party has a majority, though, so a coalition will have to be negotiated.

Among the minor parties, the Greens gained seats and the right-wing nationalist Alliance for Germany lost some.

More dramatic stories about infrastructure and debt-ceiling negotiations have drawn attention away from the collapse of negotiations over police reform. The House has already passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, but police reform is yet another casualty of the filibuster in the Senate.

Right-wing Congresswoman Lauren Boebert used campaign funds to pay rent and utilities, a violation of the law. Will something be done? It’s not clear yet.

A former Washington Post arts editor returned to her roots in rural Illinois, and moved into what she remembers as her grandmother’s house in Kinderhook. It’s been challenging to live in Trump country, where only 23% are vaccinated.

My family might go back four generations here, but we are outsiders. We are the “them.”

and let’s close with something musical

A recent trend on YouTube is for choirs around the world to set local complaints to music. Here is the Helsinki Complaints Choir.

Faith and Credit

At a time when American families, communities, and businesses are still suffering from the effects of the ongoing global pandemic, it would be particularly irresponsible to put the full faith and credit of the United States at risk.

– Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen,
urging Congress to raise the debt ceiling before October

This week’s featured post is “Seven Days in January“.

This week everybody was talking about General Milley

He’s the subject of the featured post.

and the California recall election

It was not close. With 84% of the expected vote counted (a lot is still in the mail, I imagine), only 37% voted to recall Governor Gavin Newsom, and 63% voted not to recall him. That’s similar to the margin Joe Biden had over Donald Trump in California in 2020 (63%-34%), and Newsom’s original margin in 2018 (62%-38%).

The original theory of the recall was that anti-Newsom Republicans would be motivated to vote, while Newsom-supporting Democrats would be apathetic. Republicans also hoped for a popular rejection of Newsom’s aggressive approach to fighting Covid (vaccine mandates for state employees and health-care workers). Neither of these ideas panned out. In particular, exit polls showed 47% saying Newsom’s coronavirus policies were “about right”, with another 18% saying “not strict enough”.

Bizarrely, both Trump and leading GOP replacement candidate Larry Elder claimed that the results were fraudulent before there were any results. The day before the election, Elder’s web site said

statistical analyses used to detect fraud in elections held in 3rd-world nations (such as Russia, Venezuela, and Iran) have detected fraud in California resulting in Governor Gavin Newsom being reinstated as governor.

as if the recall’s failure — and its vote-patterns — had already been known before any votes were counted. Former state GOP chair Ron Nehring called the statement “grossly irresponsible” and speculated that Elder’s claim may have discouraged Republicans from voting. (Why vote if the election has already been decided by fraud?)

The election threw a spotlight on California’s strange recall process, which can allow a replacement candidate to squeak into office with a tiny slice of the vote. For example, if we count all the No votes on recall as votes for Newsom, then Newsom has 6.8 million votes counted, while top replacement vote-getter Elder has only 2.8 million. It is not hard to construct a scenario in which a sitting governor has the support of 49% of the electorate, but gets replaced by someone with 25% support or less.

BTW, Elder’s total is being reported as 47%, but that’s only 47% of the people who voted for a replacement candidate. His 2.8 million votes is only 26% of the 10.6 million ballots cast.

The recall is an extreme example of the GOP’s nationwide election strategy: Rather than look for a 2022 candidate moderate enough to compete for a majority of votes in a California governor’s race, Republicans opted to manipulate a process that could allow an extreme conservative to gain power without a majority.

CNN correspondent Josh Campbell:

It was interesting how many California voters I spoke with at the polls said the Texas abortion ban motivated them to come out and vote against the recall of their governor.

Democrats are also counting on the abortion issue to work in their favor in Virginia, which has a gubernatorial election in November.

and the pandemic

Nationwide, the surge seems to be turning around, but the more specific story is that it’s shifting. The current wave started in the Ozark region of Missouri/Arkansas, moved south to the Gulf coast, and now has shifted northeast into the Appalachian region. The most dangerous part of the country right now is Kentucky/Tennessee/West Virginia, where new cases per 100K people are in the vicinity of 100, compared to 45 nationwide.

As a Northeasterner, I worry that the surge is still coming my way: The next likely destination for the wave is central Pennsylvania, where vaccination rates are still below 30% in some counties.

New-infection numbers are also high in rural counties in the mountain West and in Alaska, though their populations are too small to have much influence on the national totals.

Death totals, which tend to lag behind infections, continue to rise nationwide. That average is now over 2000 deaths per day. The peak death totals were around 3300 per day in mid-January, when hardly anyone was vaccinated yet. When you consider how many people are vaccinated now (54% of the total population, including 83% of the most vulnerable over-65 age group), and how effectively the vaccines have prevented death (New Hampshire reported this week that only 24 of its 413 deaths since January 20 have been fully vaccinated people.), it is scary to imagine how many deaths we’d be having if the Delta variant had hit before we had vaccines.

Previously, the Biden administration had been proposing that all recipients of the Pfizer Covid vaccine (like me) get a third booster shot at some point. Friday, a CDC advisory panel endorsed that idea only for people over 65 (me in another month) and those at special risk.

“It’s likely beneficial, in my opinion, for the elderly, and may eventually be indicated for the general population. I just don’t think we’re there yet in terms of the data,” said Dr. Ofer Levy, a vaccine and infectious disease specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Boosters for the other vaccines are under consideration, but the data hasn’t been analyzed yet.

A poll by Fox News (of all people) shows the public getting behind anti-Covid measures like vaccine and mask mandates in ever-increasing numbers.

and a dress

Sometimes I agree with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and sometimes I don’t, but I am consistently in awe of her political talent. If you’re looking for traditional skills, she can give a speech or grill a witness with the best of them. But she can also tweet and troll and manipulate public attention in all the 21st-century ways.

The dress she wore to the Met Gala (an annual high-priced fund-raiser for the New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art) was one of the great political stunts. Ordinarily, the Met Gala is a contest in which celebrities dress up to compete for a fairly small amount of attention. (I don’t remember what anybody wore to previous Met Galas. Do you?) AOC didn’t just win that contest this year, she blew past the usual bounds of the event, so that people who ordinarily pay no attention to the Gala are talking about her. And she connected that attention to a popular political slogan: Tax the Rich.

You might be thinking: OMG, she walked into conservative criticism for hypocrisy. (I mean, what’s a socialist doing at a $35,000-a-ticket event anyway?) If so, you don’t understand the current political culture: In order to really command attention, you need to bait your enemies into attacking you in over-the-top ways that force your allies to defend you. That back-and-forth seizes center stage in a way that an unimpeachable statement never could. Trump pioneered the technique in 2016, and so reduced Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio to playing minor roles in his drama. Marjorie Taylor Greene has learned from the master, catapulting herself from obscurity to national prominence.

Among Democrats, only AOC seems to understand how this works. The Tucker Carlsons and Laura Ingrahams can’t get her out of their heads, so she can never be out of the spotlight for long.

BTW, she has good answers to the various questions that have been raised: Like other New York political leaders, she was invited to the gala and did not pay $35K to get in. The dress was borrowed from the designer, a woman of color, who also got significant positive attention from AOC’s stunt.

Finally, given all the attention paid to what women in politics wear, I appreciated seeing AOC turn that attention to her advantage. All those people who were going to stare at her butt anyway could stare at “Tax the Rich”.

An aside: Remember back in 2008 how Republicans went on and on about how hot Sarah Palin was?

and here’s a concept more people should know about

Disney Princess theology. This comes from Erna Kim Hackett’s essay “Why I Stopped Talking About Racial Reconciliation and Started Talking About White Supremacy”.

White Christianity suffers from a bad case of Disney Princess theology. As each individual reads Scripture, they see themselves as the princess in every story. They are Esther, never Xerxes or Haman. They are Peter, but never Judas. They are the woman anointing Jesus, never the Pharisees. They are the Jews escaping slavery, never Egypt.

For citizens of the most powerful country in the world, who enslaved both Native and Black people, to see itself as Israel and not Egypt when studying Scripture is a perfect example of Disney princess theology. And it means that as people in power, they have no lens for locating themselves rightly in Scripture or society — and it has made them blind and utterly ill-equipped to engage issues of power and injustice. It is some very weak Bible work.

I am reminded of something a religious educator at my church once told me: Lots of articles tell you what you should do if your kid is being bullied at school. But hardly any articles address the possibility that your kid is the bully.

You can see a lot of Disney Princess thinking in the way some Christian churches have responded to Covid: Everything is a plot to oppress them, because they are the center of the Universe. Shutting churches wasn’t a byproduct of a reasonable effort to limit crowds, shutting churches was the point! If the government can send people door-to-door to promote vaccines, it can send them door-to-door to confiscate Bibles!

Why should American Christians imagine that anybody wants to confiscate their Bibles? (I have literally never heard anybody propose confiscating Bibles. Even the atheist equivalent of “locker room talk” doesn’t go there.) Because telling the story that way makes them the damsels in distress, when actually they are the villains preventing America from beating this virus.

The Christian anti-vaxxers aren’t the faithful Israelites, they’re the Israelites who complained about manna.

and the Durham investigation finally produced an indictment

Thursday Special Counsel John Durham indicted Michael Sussman, a cybersecurity attorney for the Perkins Coie law firm. The indictment revolves around internet traffic that appeared to imply some back-channel between the 2016 Trump campaign and Putin-connected Alfa Bank. Sussman told the FBI about the traffic and its possible implications, which never panned out. (The Mueller Report, for example, doesn’t mention Alfa Bank.)

During his meeting with the FBI, the indictment says, Sussman claimed not to be representing a client, but simply providing the information as a good citizen concerned about national security. But Perkins Coie represented the Clinton campaign, and Sussman had billed time spent investigating Trump’s Russia connection. The indictment says Sussman lied to the FBI, and was in fact representing Clinton at the time, in an attempt to get the FBI investigating Trump. Sussman has pleaded not guilty; he denies that he said he was not working for a client, and claims he was actually representing a different client at the FBI meeting.

Major editorial pages split on how significant this indictment is. The Wall Street Journal says Durham has “cracked the Russia case” and “delivered on RussiaGate“. The Washington Post disagrees:

This, to put it mildly, is not the confirmation of some broad 2016 deep-state conspiracy against Mr. Trump that the former president apparently desired.

After all, Trump often said Durham’s counter-investigation of the Trump/Russia investigation would uncover “the greatest political crimes in the history of our country” and lead to indictments of Obama and Biden, not to mention high-level co-conspirators like James Comey. There’s no sign of any of that in this indictment.

Reading the indictment itself, I can’t decide whether Durham’s case is weak or he is just a bad writer. The indictment paints a picture of Sussman working with a tech-company executive and various others to research cyber-connections between Trump and Russia. It is clear that the people involved were doing opposition research against Trump. Some worked for the Clinton campaign, while others were acting out of partisan sentiment, without any professional interest. What’s missing is anything sinister: The researchers do not appear to have invented the Alfa Bank data, for example. The larger importance of what they did is also iffy: They gave the FBI a lead that didn’t go anywhere.

From Trump’s point of view, the ultimate goal of the Durham investigation was to show that the Trump/Russia investigation was a hoax from the beginning. This indictment does not do that.

What’s more, nothing Durham turns up could possibly do that, because Trump did in fact collude with Russia. His campaign manager (Paul Manafort) was passing confidential campaign information to a Russian agent. Manafort himself was a longtime contractor for Putin-connected oligarchs, to the tune of many millions of dollars. Roger Stone was involved somehow in WikiLeaks’ release of the Russian-hacked Clinton campaign emails. Don Jr. met with Russians to solicit Russian “dirt” on Clinton.

And the reason we don’t know more about these Trump/Russian channels is that Trump obstructed Mueller’s investigation of them, not the least by signalling to Manafort and Stone that they could count on pardons, which they ultimately received.

and you also might be interested in …

The demonstration in support of the January 6 insurrectionists fizzled Saturday. CNN’s Ana Navarro-Cárdenas quipped: “More people showed up to my last garage sale.”

Russia had parliamentary elections Friday to Sunday, and Putin’s United Russia Party appears to have won. The opposition to Putin operated under severe constraints, with many opposition leaders in jail, the media effectively under control of the government, and numerous fake candidates running to split the anti-Putin vote.

The opposition compiled a list of the most viable challengers in every district, but of course the government did its best to prevent distribution. The saddest and most reprehensible part of this story is that Apple and Google gave in to Putin and removed an opposition app from their app stores.

The Emmys were announced last night.

We might be headed towards another debt ceiling crisis. Democrats don’t want to push a debt-ceiling increase through on their own, and Mitch McConnell is refusing to cooperate. Something has to happen before the end of October.

As I’ve said many times, having a debt ceiling separate from the ordinary appropriation process is ridiculous. If Congress approves a budget with a deficit, the Treasury should automatically be authorized to borrow the money to cover it. Allowing Congress the option to vote for a deficit but refuse to authorize borrowing, is like installing a big self-destruct button on the government.

America’s top gymnasts testified to the Senate about the FBI’s handling of their sexual abuse complaints against USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. Nassar was eventually removed and went to prison, but only after a long delay, during which he continued sexually abusing female gymnasts.

General Kenneth McKenzie of the US Central Command admitted that a drone strike strike in Kabul on August 29 was a mistake, and that the ten people killed were not terrorists. It is a sadly appropriate ending to the US intervention in Afghanistan, given how many such mistakes we have made in the last 20 years.

A difficult but worthwhile read is “The Other Afghan Women” by The New Yorker’s Anand Gopal.

[T]he U.S. did not attempt to settle … divides and build durable, inclusive institutions; instead, it intervened in a civil war, supporting one side against the other. As a result, like the Soviets, the Americans effectively created two Afghanistans: one mired in endless conflict, the other prosperous and hopeful. It is the hopeful Afghanistan that’s now under threat.

Gopal introduces us to the Afghanistan of the countryside, rather than the cities.

Ohio Congressman Anthony Gonzalez, one of the ten Republican congresspeople to vote for Trump’s second impeachment, will not run for re-election.

His district, OH-16, is a convoluted construction southwest of Cleveland. It is reliably Republican, having been represented by a Democrat only two years out of the last 70. Trump got 56% of the vote there in both 2016 and 2020. Gonzalez himself got 63% of the vote in 2020.

I wish one of these Trump-resisting Republicans would stand and fight for his or her vision of the Party. Every time a Jeff Flake or a Bob Corker surrenders without resistance, Trump’s aura of invincibility within the Republican Party gets stronger. Every time somebody refuses to fight, it feeds the narrative that you can’t fight.

Words I never thought I’d write: Hang in there, Liz Cheney.

Every few days brings a new story of some anti-vax activist dying of Covid. I don’t think it’s healthy to focus on them or take too much satisfaction from them. But it’s useful to keep one in your back pocket in case you find yourself in a social-media argument with someone who thinks all the statistics are fake.

The web site is a long series of such stories. I find it very creepy, and I would not advise hanging out there for long.

This week’s stereotype validation: Three Texas women attacked the hostess at a New York City restaurant when she asked to see proof of vaccination before letting them enter, as the current NYC rules require. They’ve been charged with misdemeanor assault.

In honor of the late comedian Norm MacDonald, who died Tuesday, here’s the moth joke, and the story behind it.

and let’s close with something adventurous

The Instagram page “On Adventure With Dad” chronicles the activities of a Photoshop wizard and his two small children. If you’re not on Instagram, the portfolio is here.

Real Liberty

The defendant insists that his liberty is invaded when the State subjects him to fine or imprisonment for neglecting or refusing to submit to vaccination … But the liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States to every person within its jurisdiction does not import an absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint. … Real liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own, whether in respect of his person or his property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others.

– Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan,
Jacobson v Massachusetts (1905)

This week’s featured post is “On Doing Your Own Research“.

This week everybody was talking about Biden’s vaccine “mandate”

Which is not even actually a mandate; a company that isn’t a government contractor can avoid penalties by instituting weekly testing for its unvaccinated workers. Anyway, here’s what President Biden announced in his speech Thursday.

  • Federal employees and contractors have to get vaccinated to keep their jobs and contracts. “If you want to do business with the federal government, vaccinate your workforce.”
  • Workers at health-care facilities have to get vaccinated if the facilities receive government funds (i.e., Medicare or Medicaid). “If you’re seeking care at a health-care facility, you should be able to know that the people treating you are vaccinated.”
  • Even companies that don’t do business with the federal government (if they have more than 100 employees) have to mandate vaccines for their workers. Workers can claim a religious or health exemption, but if they do, they have to be tested for Covid weekly.

In all, about 100 million Americans will be affected by the order. If we assume that they’re typical of the total American adult population (about 75% vaccinated already), that would mean that 25 million unvaccinated Americans are now facing the options of (1) get vaccinated (and maybe save your own life); (2) get tested every week; or (3) look for a job at a smaller company.

Republicans, who in general have fought any effort to control the virus, were quick to denounce Biden’s move.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, for example, said the mandate was “tyranny” and “unconstitutional”. He charged that Biden was only doing it to distract attention from Afghanistan. (Because why else would an American president respond to a plague that had killed 677,000 Americans and was adding to that total at the rate of 3K every two days?)

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey called it “dictatorial” and predicted “This will never stand up in court.” South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem was one of several GOP governors pledging to challenge the rule in court. When asked about these threatened lawsuits, Biden said, “Have at it.

Assuming that the Supreme Court will uphold the laws and long-established precedents — always a dangerous assumption with this highly political court — Biden is on pretty firm ground.

The authority for the mandate comes from the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 (which was signed by that flaming liberal Richard Nixon). OSHA has never been used to mandate a vaccine before, but gives the government broad powers to enforce workplace safety.

As to whether individuals have an inherent right to refuse vaccination, that was decided back in 1905, when Massachusetts (among other states) mandated a smallpox vaccine. Supreme Court Justice John Harlan (the greatest justice you’ve probably never heard of; among other claims to fame, he was the lone dissenter in both Plessy v Ferguson and in the Civil Rights Cases that opened the door for Jim Crow) reasoned that a community’s power to protect itself against an epidemic would violate an individual’s 14th Amendment rights only if it went “far beyond what was reasonably required for the safety of the public”.

In order to prevail, then, a challenge would have to argue on fairly narrow grounds. Either:

  • Individuals have more extensive rights to resist a federal mandate than a state mandate.
  • OSHA’s sweeping grant of power to regulate workplace safety has an invisible vaccine exception.
  • Increasing vaccinations does not increase workplace safety, and is not a reasonable measure to protect the public from Covid.
  • OSHA itself is unconstitutional.

CNN reports that corporate America is actually pretty pleased with this government interference: Companies want a vaccinated workforce, but don’t want to appear heavy-handed. So they’re happy to demand vaccination and blame Biden for it. That’s why groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, who are knee-jerk opponents of all other government regulation, are on board.

This Texas Dad creatively lampoons the masks-violate-my-freedom crowd by stripping down during a school board meeting. Who’s free now?

With characteristic cruelty, anti-maskers laugh at a teen as he talks about his grandmother dying of Covid.

Last week I was uncertain whether the new-case numbers were peaking, or if Ida had disrupted the statistics. This week confirms the peak. New cases are down 7% over the last two weeks, though deaths (which usually run two weeks behind new cases) are still increasing. New cases are averaging 145K per day in the US, and deaths are averaging 1648 per day. The total American death total since the start of the pandemic is up to 677,988.

I continue to be amazed at the reactions of people who resist vaccines and masking and anything else that might mitigate the spread. 677K Americans are dead, with three thousand more every two days. You’d think that kind of impact would justify a little inconvenience. But no.

and the 20th anniversary of 9-11

The anniversary was Saturday. I noticed two main trends in the commentary. First, acknowledging again the human impact: the losses people suffered on that day, the long-term suffering of people exposed to whatever got into the air, and the heroism of people who tried to help others at great risk to themselves.

The second major trend was to take a step back and recognize just how badly we screwed up our national response. After 9-11, the public was united in a way it hadn’t been since World War II. The country wanted to do something, and even people who believed that George W. Bush hadn’t legitimately been elected the previous November recognized that he was the only leader available to rally behind. For the next year or two, President Bush could have done just about anything he wanted, if he could claim it had some reasonable connection to 9-11.

What he did, largely under the influence of Vice President Cheney, was to start two wars that were unwinnable because they lacked reasonable goals. American military power could topple the the Taliban and Saddam governments fairly quickly, but Bush and Cheney had no clear notion of how to replace them, or what they wanted out of the new governments.

Many of the prisoners from those wars wound up in a lawless zone in Guantanamo, where they were tortured in violation of both our treaty agreements and longstanding American values. Once introduced, torture spread to other US facilities. In addition, the US government claimed enormous new powers to spy on its own citizens, and even to whisk them into military brigs indefinitely by declaring them “enemy combatants”. Internationally, America claimed the right to launch attacks on the soil of any country where we believed terrorists were hiding.

Subsequent administrations could have reversed these policies, but didn’t (unless forced to by the Supreme Court). They could have leveled with the American people about how little we were accomplishing in Iraq and Afghanistan, but didn’t.

The mainstream media was largely complicit in these efforts, and remains complicit today — as we saw recently when it savaged President Biden for ending the Afghan War. Twenty years of wasting money and misusing power never aroused a fraction of the ire that was unleashed when a president reversed that foolish course.

And while our troops are no longer fighting in Afghanistan, and President Biden claims the combat mission of our remaining 2500 troops in Iraq will end this year, the internal spying powers remain, and 39 prisoners are still at Guantanamo. The Biden administration may have tightened up control over drone strikes, but, like all post-911 administrations, it claims the right to attack anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice.

Every surviving president but Carter appeared at ceremonies to mark 9-11. Biden, Obama, and Clinton were all in New York, and Biden and Bush were at the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Carter’s absence is understandable. He’s 96 and has a variety of health problems. Also, his presidency ended two decades before 9-11, so he neither caused nor responded to it.

Trump took heat for not attending, and for marking 9-11 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Florida, where he was a guest commentator for a boxing match. He did, however, address by video a Day of Prayer event on the National Mall organized by the Let Us Worship organization. Trump never tried to be the president of all the people, so it’s not surprising that he acts as ex-president only for crowds of his supporters.

In The Guardian, Harvard Professor Linda Bilmes examines where the $5 trillion spent on Afghanistan and Iraq went: mostly to military contractors.

Ross Douthat owns up to being part of a misguided post-911 consensus, and now sees the War on Terror as a 20-year distraction from our real foreign-policy challenge: the rise of China.

Kurt Andersen notes that the 20th anniversary of Pearl Harbor was not a big deal.

Paul Krugman recalls how willing Republicans were to exploit 9-11 to push an unrelated political agenda (“Nothing is more important in a time of war than cutting taxes,” said Tom DeLay), and how this foreshadowed the party-over-country trend that has characterized the GOP ever since.

and the Texas abortion law

After a week of speculation about how the Biden administration would respond to the law, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a lawsuit. (The text of the suit is here.) The approach AG Garland chose was to sue the State of Texas in federal court, seeking “an order preliminarily and permanently enjoining the State of Texas, including its officers, employees, and agents, including private parties who would bring suit under the law, from implementing or enforcing S.B. 8.”

Because SB8 specifically does what Supreme Court precedents say laws cannot do (substantially burden a woman’s right to choose an abortion before a fetus is viable), the suit says SB8 is “in open defiance of the Constitution”.

The United States therefore may sue a State to vindicate the rights of individuals when a state infringes on rights protected by the Constitution. … The United States has the authority and responsibility to ensure that Texas cannot evade its obligations under the Constitution and deprive individuals of their constitutional rights by adopting a statutory scheme designed specifically to evade traditional mechanisms of federal judicial review.

The suit notes that while Texas executive-branch officials may not be involved in enforcing the law, Texas judges are.

while Texas has gone to unprecedented lengths to cloak its attack on constitutionally protected rights behind a nominally private cause of action, it nonetheless has compelled its judicial branch to serve an enforcer’s role.

And when private individuals file suit to enforce the law, they also become agents of the state “and thus are bound by the Constitution”. (One indication of their state-actor status is that the people who sue under SB8 can collect a payment even though they have not personally suffered damages. Clearly they are not suing in their private capacity.)

The suit also notes an impact on the federal government: Whenever a government program requires it to cover someone’s health care, the government might wind up paying for an abortion — and thus itself being liable for damages under SB8. (Job Corps, Refugee Resettlement, Bureau of Prisons, Office of Personnel Management, Medicaid, and Department of Defense are examples.)

AP reports that yesterday Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett “spoke at length about her desire for others to see the Supreme Court as nonpartisan”.

Maybe she should worry first about what she is, and then worry about how she appears.

Texas Governor Abbott was asked about forcing women to have their rapists’ babies, and he responded in ways that make it clear he doesn’t take the problem seriously: First, he claimed the law gives women “six weeks” to get an abortion, when most women will not know they are pregnant by then, and most pregnancy tests are unreliable until after a missed period. And then he went to Fantasyland:

Rape is a crime and Texas will work tirelessly that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets.

So: Nothing to worry about, because there aren’t going to be any more rapes in Texas. Sadly, though, Texas had nearly 15,000 reported rapes in 2019 (the most recent numbers I could find), and some unknown number of unreported rapes. Abbott did not reveal his magic plan to eliminate rape, or explain why he has not implemented it during the six years he has been governor. And what will he do when accused rapist Donald Trump comes back to the state?

And so Abbott joins the long list of Republican politicians who have said stupid and/or heartless things about rape.

and Lee’s statue

A giant Robert E. Lee statue came down in Richmond Wednesday, provoking all kinds of discussion of Lee’s place in history.

Probably no American historical figure has been as thoroughly mythologized as Lee, who in Southern hindsight became the great saint of the Lost Cause. The glorification of Lee was so extreme that in 1996 a biography was titled Lee, Considered because it claimed that the Southern general had never been realistically evaluated by historians. So “considered”, not “reconsidered”.

The two main points of contention are (1) Lee’s relationship to slavery, and (2) how good a general he really was. The first was discussed by Gillian Brockwell in the Washington Post. As for the second, Lee, Considered makes a convincing case that Lee was a brilliant tactician, but not much of a strategist.

As Rhett Butler explained in Gone With the Wind, the South went into the war over-matched in manufacturing capacity and potential manpower. So there were basically only two ways the South could have defeated the North:

  • A “bloody nose” strategy, where a quick Southern strike would convince the North that it didn’t really want to pursue this war.
  • A Fabian strategy that would avoid pitched battles, drag out the war, and frustrate the North’s desire for a decisive victory until its electorate lost patience.

But no matter how clever its generals were from battle to battle, the South couldn’t possibly win the kind of war Lee got them into: a multi-year war of attrition. Bad strategy. The strategy by which Grant ultimately defeated Lee was to stop worrying about his own casualties and focus instead on inflicting as many as possible. Grant understood that he could replenish his forces, but Lee couldn’t.

How the South ultimately did win (in 1877) was through an endless terrorist campaign, not a second try at Gettysburg.

Connecting this note with the 9-11 retrospective: If Americans understood our own history, we would never have tried to remake Afghanistan. Even after the victories of Sherman and Grant, and a decade of military occupation, the North was never able to remake the South in its own image. Like the Taliban, the White supremacist aristocracy reestablished itself as soon as the Union troops left.

and you also might be interested in …

Tuesday is election day for the California recall. Polls on recalling Newsom were tight a month ago, but Keep now has a wide lead over Remove. Consequently, Republicans are already preparing to accuse Governor Gavin Newsom of fraud, because no elections they lose can possibly be legit.

Someday I want to hear their theory on how Newsom managed to coordinate this election fraud with all the polling operations.

Nate Silver does a quick analysis of the decline in President Biden’s approval rating. It corresponds to two events: the Afghanistan withdrawal and the rise in Delta variant cases. Like Nate, I think the Afghan situation will either fade from public attention or look better in hindsight. If this Covid wave is also peaking, Biden might bounce back, though Nate isn’t sold on that as a likelihood.

The negotiations over the Democrats’ reconciliation infrastructure package is getting serious, with Bernie Sanders on one side and Joe Manchin on the other.

James Fallows describes efforts to rethink college rating systems. The traditional US News approach measures inputs: how accomplished students are when they enter college. It would be better to measure what students gain while they’re there.

In line with this week’s historical themes, an actual historian debunks the Molon Labe slogan favored by gun-rights extremists. After all, according to the story, the Persians did come and take the Spartan weapons, after killing the Spartan king and all his warriors. Persian casualties were likely larger, but Thermopylae was merely “a speed bump under the wheels of the Persian war machine”, which went on to burn Athens before losing the naval battle of Salamis.

Probably, though, the whole Thermopylae myth was Greek propaganda intended to spin a disastrous defeat as a moral victory. (The Alamo myth serves a similar purpose.) It persists today for a different reason:

[The pro-gun] right-wing fringe favors Molon Labe, and by extension the larger toxic myth of Spartan badassery, primarily because it dovetails with other ideas they favor—namely, the advancement of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim causes. … In the film version, a hunky 36-year-old Gerard Butler (the real Leonidas was 60 at the time of this battle) led a tiny, beleaguered force composed entirely of musclebound white men to defend the gates of Europe against a brown-skinned tide of decadent foreigners. This wildly false take on Thermopylae, and by extension Sparta, has become a constant reference point for right-wing fringe groups in slogan after poster after stump speech.

and let’s close with something wild

Back in 2015, Paul Joynson-Hicks and Tom Sullam started the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards. Last year’s winner was “Terry the Turtle flipping the bird“.

This year’s finalists are now posted. The whole gallery is worth a look, but my favorite is this undersea choir.