Back to School

When schools began closing in March, everyone said it was just for a few weeks. The logic was simple: The virus’ incubation time was two weeks or so; if we all just stayed home through one incubation cycle, everyone already infected would show symptoms, they’d go into quarantine, and the rest of us could get back to our normal lives. When things didn’t go that way, schools were closed for a little longer, and then for the rest of the year. Still, few imagined that it wouldn’t be safe to go back in the fall.

Now it’s mid-July, time (or maybe past time) to start making commitments for the 2020-2021 school year. The virus’ widely anticipated summer lull never arrived. And although the world’s well-governed countries have been getting their epidemics under control, the United States has not been well governed for some while. The experts at the CDC established sensible standards for restarting normal life in stages, but our president pushed the states to ignore them, encouraging lawsuits and even armed protests against governors who tried to follow them. As a result, Covid-19 is still spreading like wildfire in all but a handful of states.

So what do we do with schools in the fall? Several fundamental facts about schools, children, and the virus point in different directions.

  • As a group, compared to the general population, children are less vulnerable to the most serious consequences of Covid-19. The odds that your child will die from catching it at school may not be zero, but they are very low. At the same time, the long-term consequences of a “mild” case are still not well understood.
  • Leaving schools closed also has risks and costs, especially for children whose home life is stressed in some way. Some children live in homes with large indoor and outdoor play spaces, robust internet connections, and extensive book collections; their parents may also work at home and may be well equipped to supervise online learning. Some other children not only lack those advantages, but live in dangerous or abusive homes; before Covid, school was the safest part of their day.
  • Traditional classrooms share a feature that has made meat-processing plants and prisons such fertile ground for Covid-19 to spread: “prolonged close proximity to other[s]”. Worse, strict protocols of masking and social distancing will be hard to enforce in schools; violating them provides an easy way for difficult students to disrupt the classroom.
  • Schools link households that would otherwise have little contact. With schools open, the community becomes a denser network that is easier for the virus to traverse. (For some reason, elementary schools have not been implicated in major outbreaks, but schools for older children have.)
  • Children are not the only ones in the classroom. Many teachers are near retirement age, or have other Covid-19 risk factors. Is it age discrimination, or a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, to require teachers in high-risk categories to either endanger themselves or quit? Will teachers unions agree to open schools under conditions that are unsafe for many of their members?

And we are once again going through the familiar pattern: The CDC has established guidelines for opening schools safely, but the president and his education secretary are pushing communities not to follow them, to the point of threatening their federal funding. [1]

we’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools, to get them open. And it’s very important. It’s very important for our country. It’s very important for the well-being of the student and the parents. So we’re going to be putting a lot of pressure on: Open your schools in the fall.

The CDC’s advice includes closing schools for extended periods if there is “substantial community transmission” of the virus, and making major adjustments (no field trips, desks six feet apart, students wear masks, staggered scheduling, …) when there is “minimal to moderate community transmission”. The President has pronounced those measures “impractical“, but has offered no alternative plan beyond just opening the school doors and letting the epidemic run its course.

Worse, he has turned school reopening into a test of loyalty. If you’re on his side, you support his alternate reality, where the virus surge is just an artifact of overtesting, 99% of cases are “totally harmless“, and there’s no reason not to fully open all parts of the economy, including the schools — unless, of course, you’re a Democrat trying to hurt his re-election chances.

Corrupt Joe Biden and the Democrats don’t want to open schools in the Fall for political reasons, not for health reasons! They think it will help them in November. Wrong, the people get it! [2]

New York City. A number of school districts have already announced their own plans for the fall. New York City, for example, intends to have students physically present only two or three days a week, cutting the number present on any given day in half. The school-system chancellor said:

We know that we cannot maintain proper physical distancing and have 100% of our students in school buildings five days a week. It’s just geographically, physically not possible. Health and safety requires us to have fewer students in the building at the same time.

This is not nearly good enough for the Trump administration, which wants five full days a week. NYT columnist Michelle Goldberg offers a liberal parent’s view: She agrees, up to a point.

I want schools to open full-time at least as much as Trump does. On Wednesday, New York City announced its plan to send kids back to school part time, and it is a calamity. To accommodate C.D.C. guidelines calling for six feet of distance between desks, students will be able to go to school only one to three days a week. It is not yet clear if schools will be able to ensure that siblings will attend on the same days. Working parents could end up needing full-time child care indefinitely, and there are, as yet, no plans to provide it publicly. …

So far, the results of so-called “remote learning” — a term I dislike, since it presumes that learning is happening — have been terrible for students, especially disadvantaged ones. The fallout for many parents’ financial prospects and mental health is catastrophic. And part-time schooling is likely to significantly amplify educational inequalities that are already enormous. As those who can afford it hire private teachers and tutors, we are rapidly heading toward a system of neo-governesses in which basic schooling becomes a luxury good unattainable for many people outside the 1 percent.

But she also recognizes that Trump’s politicization of the argument has made any rational discussion of reopening plans much harder:

Trump’s interference means that now no departure from the current C.D.C. guidelines will be seen as credible outside of MAGAland. “The recklessness has made people distrust anything that they say because they have downplayed the virus from the beginning,” said [American Federation of Teachers President Randi] Weingarten. … This is a president with negative credibility. The more Trump demands that schools open, the more people who’ve paid close attention to him will fear they all must remain closed.

Florida. As if to prove the point that we should do the opposite of whatever Trump urges, there’s Florida. New York was once the worst-hit state in the nation, but has been doing comparatively well lately. Florida is one of the states currently experiencing the worst outbreaks, but Education Commissioner Richard Corcora is insisting on a full reopening of the state’s schools.

Under the emergency order, all public schools will be required to reopen in August for at least five days a week and to provide the full array of services required by law, including in-person instruction and services for students with special needs.

Governor Ron DeSantis, who got the state into its current mess by following Trump’s advice on early reopening of businesses and bars, compares schools to big box stores.

I’m confident if you can do Home Depot, if you can do Walmart, if you can do these things, we absolutely can do the schools.

This silly pronouncement has received the widespread disrespect it so richly deserves. California Congressman Ted Lieu’s response was one of many:

Did I somehow miss the true Home Depot experience? I didn’t realize Home Depot packed 35 people together in a room for 6 hours a day.

Similarly silly was this Trump tweet:

In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS. The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!

Yes, let’s compare Florida and Denmark. Florida has a little less than four times the population of Denmark. But in Covid-19’s entire history, Denmark has had 13,000 cases. Florida found 15,000 new cases yesterday. Denmark had 159 new cases in the last week; Florida over 69,000. Safely opening schools in Denmark is a completely different problem than opening them in Florida.

It is absolutely insane for Florida schools to be planning to open five days a week. If this hadn’t become a Trump-loyalty issue, no one would support doing it.

What at least one teacher thinks. If there’s one blog you ought to be reading right now that you’re probably not, I’d say it’s Teacher Life, written by Mrs. Teacher Life. Start with “Nobody Asked Me: A Teacher’s Opinion on School Reopening“, where you’ll find this kind of insight:

Let’s discuss hand washing. If an average class size of kindergartners is 25, then it would take 8.3 minutes for them each to wash their hands for 20 seconds- not too bad you might think. That’s doable- let’s reopen! Unfortunately that does not account for transition time between students at the sink, the student who plays in the bubbles, or splashes another student, or cuts in line, or has to be provided moral support to flush the toilet, because they are scared. It doesn’t account for the fact that only a few students will be allowed in the bathroom at a time and the teacher must monitor whose turn it is to enter and exit the bathroom, and control the hallway behavior, and send the student who just coughed to the “quarantine room” that doesn’t exist BECAUSE THERE ARE NO EXTRA ROOMS. Where are the students in hallway waiting? In line? All together? Six feet apart? No wait, three feet is okay now. Either way, 25 children standing three feet apart is a line over 75 feet long. Who is monitoring this line? Keeping them quiet, reminding them to keep their hands to themselves?

When you take a classroom-level view, you start to see a strange disconnect: Getting schools open is somehow both a top priority and barely an afterthought. On the one hand, it’s absolutely essential, because the economy can’t get back to normal (and the President can’t get re-elected) until parents can go back to work without leaving unsupervised children at home. But on the other hand, if it were actually that important, you’d think some roomful of geniuses would have been convened long ago to work out

  • exactly what conditions need to hold in our communities for it to be safe to reopen schools
  • how we’re going to achieve those conditions (i.e., do we really need to re-open the bars?)
  • how schools are going to function when they do reopen
  • what additional resources they need to function that way.

So, for example, what about that quarantine room Mrs. Teacher Life doesn’t have? Or the bigger classrooms that allow socially distanced desks? Or the extra assistants who supervise those 75-foot lines at the bathroom? Or new desks to replace the tables where children can no longer sit together? Or the extra crayons and scissors and whatnot, now that it’s unsafe for kids to share? Who is going to sub for all the teachers who are quarantined, or who ordinarily would come to work even when they feel sick, but shouldn’t do that now?

If we do find a sub- what germs are they bringing in? Where have they been? If they test positive do all schools they have been subbing at have to quarantine?

If school reopening were really a priority, there would be a plan and there would be money to implement that plan. There isn’t. That’s got to tell you something.

[1] For what it’s worth: I would not take these threats seriously. Trump does not understand how the government works, so he often makes threats he has no idea how to carry out. In this case, attempts to redirect funding approved by Congress would be blocked by the courts, at least until the next presidential term begins in January. If we can vote Trump out, those cuts will never happen.

What he and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seem to be hinting at is turning federal aid into a voucher that students can use for private schools in areas where public schools are not physically open. (This is what DeVos wanted to do even before the pandemic.) But neither DeVos nor the White House press secretary have been able to explain what legal authority would allow them to do this.

And I know it’s petty, but comparisons between DeVos and Harry Potter’s Delores Umbridge never get old.

[2] I think Trump is the one who doesn’t get it here, probably because he doesn’t understand people who live for others. Parents will accept risks to themselves — going to an unsafe job, for example — if the family needs it. But they have a far lower tolerance for risks to their children. Statistics don’t help here. Once you’ve told parents that their child could die, they’re not going to pay much attention to the exact probabilities.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Back in March, when Ohio was the first state to cancel school, I don’t think a lot of people expected schools around the country to close for the rest of the year. And surely by fall we would have this whole coronavirus thing figured out, as the world’s well-governed countries more-or-less do. Well, now it’s time to make decisions about the next school year, and it’s not at all obvious what to do. And the process is made that much harder, because it can’t just be about the kids now. Trump has made reopening schools a loyalty issue for his cult, so it has to be about him too.

That’s the topic of this week’s featured post “Back to School”, which should be out around 9 EDT or so.

That’s far from all that happened this week. There were also some major new moves in the Trump Crime Family’s assault on the rule of law. Roger Stone got his payoff for not ratting out the Boss, and Consiglieri Bill Barr put out a hit on the Eastern District of New York, where Trump-related investigations might have been brewing, but now presumably are sleeping with the fishes. Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, who violated omerta during the impeachment hearings, has been forced out of the military. The Family’s allies on the Supreme Court showed mixed loyalties: They rejected Trump’s claim to be completely above the law, but still his taxes and business records will remain hidden until after the election. Complete victory over the law will have to be a second-term project.

Meanwhile, coronavirus continues to rage out of control. By some counts, the number of new cases surged over 70,000 on Friday, up from 20,000 a few weeks ago. And the months-long decline in deaths ended, as experts had been predicting. The official word in MAGAland is that there is nothing to see here: More testing is turning up more cases, and everyone should go back to normal life as fast as possible.

I feel an obligation to report some good news too: The Washington Redskins are finally changing their name, hopefully to something not racist this time.

Anyway, that’s all in the weekly summary, which should come out around noon or so.

BTW, I don’t know what to predict about next week. My wife is having surgery on Thursday. I could imagine either being completely absorbed in that, or sitting around the hospital with an internet connection and nothing to do but wait and watch her sleep. So the Sift might or might not happen at all next week, and if it does, I can’t guess how much effort will go into it.

The Rich Inheritance

The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.

– Frederick Douglass “What, to the slave, is the 4th of July?

This week’s featured post is “In the Land of ‘No We Can’t’“.

This week everybody was talking about the virus

The number of new Covid-19 infections surged to new heights this week, going over 57,000 on Friday. Deaths continued on a flat-to-downward path, running between 500-600 a day, but deaths lag infections, so it’s hard to see how that continues.

Tens of thousands of Americans are dead because of Trump’s denial and incompetence. I laid this out in some detail last week, but James Fallows has done it even better in The Atlantic. In addition to being a top-notch journalist and writer, Fallows is an amateur pilot. (The book Our Towns describes his and his wife Deborah’s tour of the kinds of American cities that are hard to get to by commercial flights.)

As an amateur pilot, I can’t help associating the words catastrophic failure with an accident report. The fact is, confronting a pandemic has surprising parallels with the careful coordination and organization that have saved large numbers of lives in air travel.

So he reviews the government’s handling of Covid-19 the way that the National Transportation Safety Board would review an airliner crash: starting way back at the beginning, with how the system was designed, and then looking at how those plans were implemented and what went wrong.

Making a long article short: The Bush administration left a sound pandemic plan after the H5N1 flu of 2005, and the Obama administration updated it after the Ebola outbreak. The early-detection system they put in place worked, but nobody in the Trump administration could be bothered to notice.

By at least late December, signs were beginning to show something seriously amiss—despite foot-dragging, lies, and apparent cover-up on the Chinese side. A different kind of Chinese government might have done a different job, calling for help from the rest of the world and increasing the chances that the coronavirus remained a regional rather than global threat. But other U.S. leaders had dealt with foreign cover-ups, including by China in the early stages of the SARS outbreak in 2002. Washington knew enough, soon enough, in this case to act while there still was time.

… During the Obama administration, the U.S. had negotiated to have its observers stationed in many cities across China, through a program called Predict. But the Trump administration did not fill those positions, including in Wuhan. This meant that no one was on site to learn about, for instance, the unexplained closure on January 1 of the city’s main downtown Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, a so-called wet market where wild animals, live or already killed, were on sale along with fish and domesticated animals.

When the early warnings started, CDC tried to get observers in.

“CDC asked for access, and was denied it [by the Chinese government],” Ron Klain, who coordinated efforts against the Ebola pandemic during the Obama administration, told me. “In normal circumstances, that request would have gone up the chain, and you would have had senior-level people in the NSC pressing at senior levels. My guess is that it wasn’t pressed in this case because the senior people were Mnuchin and Kudlow, and they had other priorities. … The question isn’t what leverage we had. The point is that we gave up leverage with China to get the trade deal done. That meant that we didn’t put leverage on China’s government. We took their explanations at face value.”

Obama had left a plan, but Trump ignored it.

The Obama playbook, like the Bush report, is chillingly prescient. Its emphasis is on the step-by-step “how to” of the government’s response.

The worldwide pandemic response system was set up to rely on American logistics. But Trump never mobilized it.

When the new coronavirus threat suddenly materialized, American engagement was the signal all other participants were waiting for. But this time it did not come. It was as if air traffic controllers walked away from their stations and said, “The rest of you just work it out for yourselves.”

… The system was primed to act, but the person at the top of the system had to say “Go.” And that person was Donald Trump.

“Here is the way I would put it,” a person who has been involved with the President’s Daily Brief process told me, referring to Trump. “The person behind the desk is the same person you see on TV”—emotional, opinionated, fixed on his own few hobbyhorses and distorted views of reality, unwilling or unable to absorb new information. “In a normal administration, the president would have seen the warnings unfolding from January onward. But this president hadn’t absorbed any of it.” … In a resigned way, the people I spoke with summed up the situation this way: You have a head of government who doesn’t know anything, and doesn’t read anything, and is at the mercy of what he sees on TV.

… The United States still possesses the strongest economy in the world, its military is by far the most powerful, its culture is diverse, and, confronted with the vicissitudes of history, the country has proved resilient. But a veteran of the intelligence world emphasized that the coronavirus era has revealed a sobering reality. “Our system has a single point of failure: an irrational president.” At least in an airplane cockpit, the first officer can grab the controls from a captain who is steering the aircraft toward doom.

So Fallows imagines the conclusion of the NTSB report like this:

There was a flight plan. There was accurate information about what lay ahead. The controllers were ready. The checklists were complete. The aircraft was sound. But the person at the controls was tweeting. Even if the person at the controls had been able to give effective orders, he had laid off people who would carry them out. This was a preventable catastrophe.

Because they were hit hard early in the pandemic, a few EU countries — Belgium, Spain, Italy, Sweden, and France — still have more Covid deaths per capita than the US. (We’re gaining on them, though, and will probably pass France in another month or so.) But most of them — Germany and the other countries on the Baltic Sea stand out — have been doing far better from the beginning. The most valid comparison is the EU as a whole, so I decided to use the Worldometer numbers to do an EU spreadsheet of my own on Saturday morning. Totaling up across all 27 EU countries, they had almost exactly the same number of deaths we do: 133,651 to our 132,112. We’ll probably pass them sometime today, with only about 3/4 of their population.

Not all EU countries report their number of active cases — infected people who have neither died nor recovered — but my guess from the available numbers is that the US has 7 or 8 times as many.

The EU added insult to injury on Wednesday: It started admitting non-essential travelers from many countries, but not Americans. Because we have let the virus get so out of control, Europeans consider Americans to be disease vectors, lumping us in with other virus-ridden countries like Russia and Brazil.

One reason I don’t think Trump will stage a comeback in the polls is that every day it gets harder and harder to deny how totally he has botched the federal response to the pandemic. The well-governed countries are getting through this, while the poorly-governed ones are still floundering. Under Trump, the United States is poorly governed.

Imagine that things go as well as is reasonably possible for Trump between now and the election: The death rate doesn’t shoot up to match the case rate, so we get to November with “only” 200,000 or so dead. Vaccine research goes well, so that we have a viable formula ready, though it won’t go into mass production and wide distribution until spring. We avoided a second lockdown, so the unemployment rate is only 10% or so.

Even in that rosy scenario, it will be undeniable that the rest of the world’s governments handled this much better. So even if by November you think the end of this crisis is in sight, is this really the guy you want in charge for the NEXT crisis?

Controls on the southern border are tightening up — on the Mexican side.

As cases have increased in Southern California, Arizona and Texas, Mexican border states have increasingly come to see the outbreak in the United States as their biggest threat in controlling the epidemic.

Citing no evidence, President Trump has said that the border wall would keep infections from entering the United States from Mexico. But given the soaring U.S. caseload, it is Mexico that has more reason to fear the virus coming across the border.

Conservatives would like to blame the George Floyd protests for the surge in infections, but the data seems not to support that. Reason: Even as the protesters may have been infecting each other, they were also discouraging other people from going out. The net result looks like a wash.

Whether and how to open schools in the fall is a huge topic this summer. Many parents won’t return to work if they have nowhere to send their school-age children. (An NYT opinion piece argues that opening schools should have been the primary goal of every state’s reopening plan. Leaving bars and restaurants closed longer would have been a small price to pay, if the payoff was beating the virus back to a level that allowed schools to open.)

College students and their families may not be willing to take on massive debts for the sake of online classes, and colleges without big endowments may go under for good if they close for a semester. So there’s lots of motivation to open schools at all levels, even without a good plan for doing it safely.

One fly in the ointment: college professors. Many of them are in the endangered over-50 age group, so sending them into classrooms with undergraduates or expecting them to meet individual students in their small offices is a bad idea. They’re smart enough to know that, and they have more power within the system than your average kindergarten teacher.

Expecting college students to follow strict protocols in their dorms, or to stay out of crowded local bars, is foolish. Young adults feel invulnerable anyway, and in this case many of them are.

This week, Iowa health authorities reported case spikes among young adults in its two largest college towns, Ames and Iowa City, after the governor allowed bars to reopen. And on campuses across the country, attempts to bring back football teams for preseason practice have resulted in outbreaks.

More than 130 coronavirus cases have been linked to athletic departments at 28 Division I universities. At Clemson, at least 23 football players and two coaches have been infected. At Arkansas State University, seven athletes across three teams tested positive. And at the University of Houston, the athletic department stopped off-season workouts after an outbreak was discovered.

I know I’m repeating a link from last week, but it really fits here: “A Message from Your University’s Vice President for Magical Thinking“.

And Randy Rainbow has another great video.

and the bounties

The official response to reports that the Russians paid bounties to Taliban fighters for killing Americans is somewhere between “I don’t believe it” and “Nobody told me.” In any case, Trump isn’t going to do anything about it.

Neither explanation holds water. “Nobody told me” is particularly weak, given that Trump oversees the people who didn’t tell him. His excuse for being incompetent as a commander-in-chief is that he’s incompetent as a manager.

“I don’t believe it” is another example of taking Putin’s word for it. We saw this in Helsinki, and we’re seeing it again.

and jobs

The June jobs report came out, and the top line number was good: 4.8 million new jobs, and the unemployment rate dropping to 11.1%. However,  I agree with Slate:

The most important thing to keep in mind about Thursday’s monster jobs report is that it’s a backward-looking window into the moment right before much of the country’s reopening plans went completely to hell.

Probably this is the last piece of good news about the job market we’ll see for some while.

and Trump’s bizarre 4th of July

Because somebody has to keep an eye on them, I get the Trump campaign emails. Saturday this showed up:

We’ll get right to the point – Democrats HATE America.

The Democrats Tweet: Trump has disrespected Native communities time and again. He's attempted to limit their voting rights and blocked critical pandemic relief. Now he's holding a rally glorifying white supremacy at Mount Rushmore – a region once sacred to tribal communities.

They’re attacking President Trump for wanting to celebrate Independence Day at Mount Rushmore – an ICONIC monument that features George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln – as a symbol of white supremacy.

Can you believe it? They truly hate EVERYTHING our great Nation stands for.

I think they misjudged this one, and it’s typical of the way they’re misjudging the electorate in general. The Democrats’ tweet — and the Native American protesters the tweet supports — makes a good point.

What’s more, I think a large majority of Americans would agree that Mount Rushmore isn’t an appropriate spot for a partisan event, and that it’s an abuse of power for the President to order the Navy’s Blue Angels to be the warm-up act for his campaign speech. The mountain and the Navy belong to the nation, not to the President. An iconic national monument is not the place for aggressively divisive political rhetoric like this:

In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished. It’s not going to happen to us. (Applause.)

Make no mistake: this left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution. In so doing, they would destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress.

To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage.

It’s Trump’s right to smear his enemies this way, if that’s what he wants to do, but at least when Hillary gave her “deplorables” speech, her campaign paid for it. And Obama didn’t order the Blue Angels to perform overhead.

It’s weird that Trump complains about being “censored” — giving no examples, because there are none — when he has very recently tried to prevent John Bolton from publishing his book, and is still trying to stop Mary Trump’s book.

Catherine Rampell itemizes all the ways Trump has tried to censor, bully, and otherwise control people who criticize him.

and the Supreme Court

Last week the decision throwing out the Louisiana abortion law had just come out, and I had no time to look at it. I read it this weekend.

It’s kind of a strange read all around: the plurality opinion of the four liberal justices, the concurrence by Chief Justice Roberts, and the various dissents by the other four conservatives. Everybody is dancing around the fact that everybody knows, but the Court doesn’t want to state openly: Louisiana passed this law in bad faith. The stated reason (protecting women’s health) was totally distinct from the real reason (harassing abortion clinics into closing).

So the question was whether the Court would let that go. The four liberal justices come up with reasons not to, without actually accusing the Louisiana legislature of bad faith. The four conservative justices come up with arguments that give the legislature cover — basically, that it’s too soon to make this decision; the Court should wait until the clinics actually close, and then look at things. And John Roberts says that the Louisiana law is identical to a Texas law the Court threw out four years ago (but then it waited for clinics to close), so the law needs to be applied the same way.

I can’t remember who was making this point, but I think it’s a good one: Roberts’ decision here resembles his decision against the citizenship question on the census: He’s willing to bend the law in a conservative direction, but he hates to look blatantly political and corrupt. So he needs conservatives to show him the respect of sending him better cases.

The Court, in my opinion, is ready to reverse Roe v Wade, or at least to chip it away to nothing. But they need a better excuse than this.

I speculated last week that Roberts had scheduled the more liberal decisions to come out first, to give cover to something outrageous later on. The first political decision came this week: the House won’t get access to documents from the Mueller grand jury.

We’re still waiting for a ruling on Trump’s tax returns.

and Biden’s VP choices

People are making a case for Kamala Harris, Stacy Abrams, Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Duckworth, Val Demings, Susan Rice, Keisha Lance Bottoms, and Michelle Lujan Grisham.

I’m not going to either make a prediction or pick a favorite from that list. Mainly, I’m struck by what a strong list it is.

Biden has said he’ll pick a woman, and there are many reasons for him to lean towards a woman of color. (The only white woman on the list, Elizabeth Warren, is there because she could raise enthusiasm among progressive Democrats who didn’t support Biden in the primaries.) Ordinarily, people worry that such prior restrictions limit the talent pool. But I don’t think that’s a valid complaint here.

Biden has described himself as “a transition candidate“, raising the possibility that he might only want a single term. In that scenario, his VP would be well positioned for a 2024 presidential run.

BTW, lately I’ve been responding to Facebook posts about Biden and the Democrats leading us into “socialism” by quoting Voodoo Pork:

You know how your parents used to call every console a “Nintendo”? That’s how conservatives use the word “socialist” to describe everything to the left of hunting the homeless for sport.

and you also might be interested in …

Caroline Randall Williams writes a powerful statement on the monuments of the Old South: “My Body is a Confederate Monument“.

It is an extraordinary truth of my life that I am biologically more than half white, and yet I have no white people in my genealogy in living memory. No. Voluntary. Whiteness. I am more than half white, and none of it was consensual. White Southern men — my ancestors — took what they wanted from women they did not love, over whom they had extraordinary power, and then failed to claim their children.

Among her white Confederate ancestors are Edmund Pettis, the general and KKK grand dragon whose name adorns the bridge where John Lewis and other civil rights demonstrators were beaten by police on Bloody Sunday in 1965.

You cannot dismiss me as someone who doesn’t understand. You cannot say it wasn’t my family members who fought and died. …

Among the apologists for the Southern cause and for its monuments, there are those who dismiss the hardships of the past. They imagine a world of benevolent masters, and speak with misty eyes of gentility and honor and the land. They deny plantation rape, or explain it away, or question the degree of frequency with which it occurred.

To those people it is my privilege to say, I am proof.

SharpieGate is far from the most serious scandal of the Trump administration, but the very triviality of it speaks volumes.

When Hurricane Dorian was approaching Florida last September, Trump erroneously tweeted that the storm would hit Alabama “harder than anticipated”. In fact, it was not headed to Alabama at all, according to National Weather Service projections, which turned out to be right. The NWS, worried that Alabamans might panic unnecessarily, corrected Trump’s tweet within minutes:

Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama.

That’s not a scandal; it’s just a mistake. (And who hasn’t gotten confused by a map or named the wrong state sometime?) But Trump lacks the strength of character to admit even trivial mistakes, and he could not let this subject drop. Ultimately he  “proved” he was right by showing reporters an NWS map that had been crudely doctored with a Sharpie.

That’s petty to an almost clinical degree, but still not a scandal. The true low point of SharpieGate, though, came when NOAA issued a false statement undercutting its own people and supporting the president.

The Birmingham National Weather Service’s Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.

How did that happen? The White House put pressure on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who reportedly threatened to fire people at NOAA if they didn’t support the president’s false claim. (Ross has denied this.)

So why bring it up now? Well, the Commerce Department inspector general looked into this incident and has written a report. That report has been awaiting release since June 26, when the Commerce Department had 48 hours to mark it up.  But Wednesday, a memo to Secretary Ross from the IG complained that something else is happening:

The final publication of our evaluation has been delayed, thwarted, and effectively estopped by the Department’s refusal to identify specific areas of privilege. Additionally, your staff has refused to engage in any meaningful discussion to identify proposed privilege redactions, indicating that such discussions would not be fruitful. To allow the Department’s all-encompassing and opaque assertion of privilege to stand is to effectively grant the Department a pocket veto over the completion and issuance of final OIG work, which is clearly contrary to the IG Act, OIG independence, and good government.

All this, because Trump couldn’t simply thank the alert people at the NWS for catching his mistake before any harm came of it, as any responsible adult would do.

China has imposed more draconian laws against protest in Hong Kong, and the protesters haven’t figured out how to adjust yet.

A company hand-picked by Trump to build a $1.3 billion chunk of his border wall also built a 3-mile segment on private land as a demonstration project. That segment was built too close to the Rio Grande and only 2.5 feet deep. ProPublica and the Texas Tribune report:

But his showcase piece is showing signs of runoff erosion and, if it’s not fixed, could be in danger of falling into the Rio Grande, according to engineers and hydrologists who reviewed photos of the wall for ProPublica and The Texas Tribune. It never should have been built so close to the river, they say.

Just months after going up, they said, photos reveal a series of gashes and gullies at various points along the structure where rainwater runoff has scoured the sandy loam beneath the foundation.

“When the river rises, it will likely attack those areas where the foundation is exposed, further weakening support of the fence and potentially causing portions … to fall into the Rio Grande,” said Alex Mayer, a civil engineer professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who has done research in the Rio Grande basin.

It’s like the old proverb: A thing that is not worth doing at all is not worth doing well.

I don’t know if this is true, but I hope it is.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is requiring everyone in Texas to wear a face covering. It’s illegal to carry a gun while wearing a face covering. Texas just unintentionally banned concealed and open carry.

and let’s close with a blast from the past

Recently lots of people have been making fun of Karen, and in particular her sense of entitlement and white privilege. But not many people remember that when she was a teen-ager she used to have her own TV show, and the Beach Boys sang her intro. Back then, she was an alarming, quite disarming, and a really somewhat charming modern girl. Maybe it was obvious then how she would grow up, but I didn’t see it coming.

In the Land of “No We Can’t”

The Trump administration’s surrender to Covid-19 is just a symptom of a larger dysfunction. Whenever a problem calls for collective action, whether that problem is a disease, mass shootings, climate change, economic inequality, out-of-control police, chaotic elections, or systemic racism, Republicans tell us nothing can be done; we just have to live with it. And until we can banish them from positions of power, we do.

In 2008, a young black senator with an odd-sounding name, facing a well-known and well-financed rival with the full backing of his party’s establishment, won the Democratic nomination for president. He went on to a landslide victory in the fall, with large majorities in both houses of Congress riding on his coattails. The slogan he ran on was “Yes We Can”.

Like most effective political slogans — “Make America Great Again” has the same quality — “Yes We Can” meant different things to different people. Most obviously, African Americans heard it as: “Yes we can elect one of our own. We don’t have to pick our leader from a list of white men drawn up by other white men.” But depending on what you were listening for, “Yes We Can” could also mean: “Yes we can reform our healthcare system” or “Yes we can rebuild our infrastructure” or “Yes we can overcome inequality” or “Yes we can do something about climate change” or “Yes we can offer all our children a 21st-century education” or “Yes we can create enough jobs for everybody” or “Yes we can get our troops out of Iraq”.

In all of its interpretations, “Yes We Can” meant that we weren’t stuck. We aren’t doomed to watch our country (or planet) decay — perhaps retaining the freedom to complain about it, but not the power to choose a new course. Instead, we can band together, elect a government that represents our real interests, and focus the power of America on shaping the future we want.

Obama himself put it like this:

When the American people are determined that something is going to happen, then it happens. And if they are disaffected and cynical and fearful, and told that it can’t be done, then it doesn’t. I’m running for president because I want to tell them: Yes We Can.

Yes vs. No. Opposing “Yes We Can” is the Republican belief that government is never the solution, it can only make problems worse. And so, if some nationwide problem keeps you up at night, all you can do is change your individual behavior or circumstances — assuming you can afford to.

If your town’s public schools are poorly funded and badly run, you can move somewhere richer with better schools, or find the money to send your kids to a private school, or quit your job and homeschool. Ditto for infrastructure and public services: If your town can’t afford to fix its potholes or keep the parks open, move somewhere that can. If you don’t want to die in some country you don’t care about, stay out of the Army. If climate change worries you, buy a Prius and recycle. If you can’t find a job, start your own business. Search out better health insurance and pay what it costs. Buy a gun to defend your family, and if you can’t stop imagining a mass shooting at your child’s school, pray.

It’s all up to you. You’re on your own. If you can’t solve it, don’t look at us, because No We Can’t.

Around the world. The dirty secret of “No We Can’t” is that lots of other countries do take collective action, and so they already enjoy the nice things Americans can’t have. Every other first-world country has universal health care; if you get sick, you get the care you need and your family doesn’t go bankrupt. And they provide that health security by spending less of their national wealth on it.

Thursday’s New York Times included a number of compelling graphs showing America’s unique dysfunction. Only in America does increased GDP not lead to increased life expectancy. A smaller share of our economy goes to worker pay. We imprison more people. Our “free market” system provides the most expensive cellphone service in the world.

Just about all the countries of Western Europe and Scandanavia have free college. Little Costa Rica can run itself on sustainable energy for months at a time. China, Japan, and Europe have extensive bullet-train networks. China is building enormous public-infrastructure projects. Finland is beating homelessness and has the best schools in the world. Fourteen other countries offer their residents faster internet than the US does; average download speed in Taiwan or Singapore is more than double ours.

And while we watch our public infrastructure and services decay, other countries give their citizens beautiful presents like the Hovenring bicycle interchange in the Netherlands,

or the Oodi Library in Helsinki, whose library director describes it as “book heaven”.

Imagine proposing marvelous things like that in an American city.

Covid. The most obvious current example of “No We Can’t” is the Trump administration’s surrender to Covid-19, which now we are told we just have to “live with” — unless we get unlucky and die of it. I often criticized George W. Bush’s response to 9-11, but at least he never told us we just had to live with mass terrorist attacks.

Public health is the original us problem. Throughout history, no matter how rich or powerful you might have been, you were in trouble if the people who prepared your feasts or changed your bed linens got the plague. At the margins, there were things you could do individually to try to save yourself, but ultimately the solutions had to come from the public sector: sanitation, pure water sources, untainted food supply chains, quarantines, and other treatment plans that contained diseases before they spread.

No matter how much medical technology advances, that aspect of it hasn’t changed: Public health is a public problem. Nothing you can do on your own is going to find a Covid-19 cure or vaccine. And you can try to be careful, but nobody is completely self-sufficient, so eventually you’re going to deal with other people. If they’re infected, you’ve got a problem. We’re all in this together.

Public-health problems are solved by government action, or they’re not solved at all. Early in the pandemic, we heard stories of governments that got ahead of the spread and took effective action to protect their populations. South Korea has gotten a lot of attention, partly because its first verified case of Covid-19 appeared on the same day ours did: January 20. The Koreans used the full public-health playbook: aggressive testing, quarantining, contact tracing, and public-information campaigns to encourage good hygiene.

It worked, and despite occasional flare-ups, it continues to work. As of yesterday, South Korea had 13,030 total cases of Covid-19 and 283 deaths. Adjusting for population, that would be like the US having around 85,000 cases and 1,800 deaths. Actually, we’ve had 2.9 million cases and 132,000 deaths.

Americans more-or-less sloughed that comparison off. Whatever the Koreans did couldn’t possibly have worked here, because No We Can’t. Through March and April, we ignored South Korea (and Taiwan and New Zealand and even Germany) and instead focused on what was happening in Italy and Spain. Looking down rather than up reassured us. We had it bad, but so did a lot of other places. We weren’t some special loser country.

But now we are.

Europe locked down harder than we did, and its people whined about it less. European political leaders united behind their public health officials, so basic hygiene measures like mask-wearing didn’t become political issues. It shows: Even including Italy and Spain, the EU as a whole, with about a third more people (446 million) than the US, now averages less than 4,000 new cases a day. This week, Arizona (population 7.5 million) has been averaging around 3,600 new cases each day, hitting a peak of 4,877 on Wednesday. The US as a whole hit 50,000 new cases for the first time on July 1, and stayed above that level for four days. (Yesterday was “down” to 43K, but I wonder how much of that was due to fewer tests being done over the holiday weekend.)

In the face of that horrifying comparison, the Trump administration has just decided to move on. His televised daily briefings ended in April, not long after his inject-bleach embarrassment. Since then Trump has talked about the virus only to minimize it, mock Joe Biden for wearing a mask, urge states to ignore the recommendations of his own CDC, and assemble his own supporters In rallies that have all the earmarks of super-spreader events. In highly promoted speeches on Friday and Saturday, Trump neither acknowledged our national failure to contain the virus, nor proposed any plan for the future beyond waiting for a vaccine — which we can’t even be sure is coming at all.

Other nations can beat this virus, but No We Can’t.

The post-policy GOP. The Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell noticed the pattern, and connected its dots like this:

Much as they gave up on coronavirus containment, U.S. political leaders previously gave up on solving our epidemic of gun violence. And on our high numbers of police-perpetrated killings. Also our high rates of child poverty, uninsurance and carbon emissions. On these and other metrics, the United States fares worse than most if not all other industrialized countries. Yet U.S. officials — from one party in particular — treat these crises as imaginary or unsolvable.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman had a similar epiphany:

Covid-19 is like climate change: It isn’t the kind of menace the [Republican] party wants to acknowledge.

It’s not that the right is averse to fearmongering. But it doesn’t want you to fear impersonal threats that require an effective policy response, not to mention inconveniences like wearing face masks; it wants you to be afraid of people you can hate — people of a different race or supercilious liberals.

So instead of dealing with Covid-19, Republican leaders and right-wing media figures have tried to make the pandemic into the kind of threat they want to talk about. It’s “kung flu,” foisted on us by villainous Chinese. Or it’s a hoax perpetrated by the “medical deep state,” which is just looking for a way to hurt Trump.

Steve Benen, who writes the companion blog to the Rachel Maddow Show, elaborated on this theme at book length in The Imposters: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics. Benen coined the label “post-policy party” to describe the current GOP. His book goes issue by issue, and shows how Republicans have systematically ditched their policy-making apparatus in favor of marketing, with the result that they have plenty of good one-liners, but no programs they’re ready to implement once they take power.

The most obvious example is health care. Republicans have been running against ObamaCare since Obama proposed it in 2009, and Trump has been claiming since 2015 that ObamaCare “can be replaced with something much better for everybody. Let it be for everybody. But much better and much less expensive for people and for the government.” What would that “much better” replacement look like? We still have no idea. “Repeal and Replace” was a nice slogan, but once you’ve heard the slogan, you’ve heard all they have.

That’s true across the board. There are no Republican policies, just slogans.

You can see that in Congress, where the Democratic House passes bills that the Republican Senate never debates. Nothing comes back in the other direction. If the Democratic solutions seemed to liberal to Mitch McConnell, his Senate could amend those bills with Republican solutions and send them back. But there are no Republican solutions, so the bills just sit in Mitch’s in-box.

You can see it in the presidential campaign. Ordinarily, candidates for president are dying to tell you what they want to do in office. (For comparison, here’s the Biden policy page.) But here’s how Trump answered Sean Hannity’s question about the “top priority items” for his second term.

One of the things that will be really great — the word experience is still good, I always say talent is more important than experience, I’ve always said that — but the word experience is a very important word, a very important meaning.

I never did this before, never slept over in Washington. I was in Washington maybe 17 times and all of a sudden I’m the president of the United States, you know the story, riding down Pennsylvania Avenue with our first lady and I say this is great but I didn’t know very many people in Washington, it wasn’t my thing. I was from Manhattan, from New York, and now I know everybody. And I have great people in the administration. You make some mistakes, like an idiot like Bolton, you don’t have to drop bombs on everybody.

What American problems does he hope to address in the second term? None. He’ll grapple with imaginary enemies like Antifa, and “far-left fascism“. He’ll protect our endangered statues of Confederate generals, but not our soldiers in the field. He’ll continue tweeting and preening in front of crowds and playing at being president. But he won’t actually lead us in accomplishing anything, because No We Can’t.

The Republican Party must be removed from all positions of power. Much ink has been spilled lamenting the loss of bipartisanship, and waxing nostalgic about the deals cooked up by Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton, or Tip O’Neil and Ronald Reagan. Usually this is presented in a pox-on-both-houses tone, as if the two sides were equally intransigent.

Here’s the point that is often lost: You can’t compromise with people who aren’t trying to do anything. If you and I both recognize a problem and each have our own approaches to solving it, chances are good we can work something out. But if I care about climate change and systemic racism but you claim both are hoaxes, or if I want universal health care and you don’t care about healthcare at all, or if you fake concern for the budget deficit when my party is in power, then forget about it the moment you take office, or if I want DACA dreamers to have a path to citizenship, and you won’t say what you want for them … where can we go from there? What can I offer you in exchange for your help with my agenda?

Steven Benen is right: Our two-party system only works when we have two governing parties, two parties that have directions they want to go and policies they think will take us there, two parties that have plans for dealing with the nation’s problems. At the moment we only have one such party, the Democrats. Our political system will be broken until Republicans get serious about governing again.

And they won’t until the electorate forces them to. That means voting them out, up and down the ballot. You don’t have to believe that the Democratic direction is ideal, just recognize that they have a direction. You may wish they would go much farther or faster, but at least they want to move. If we enter 2021 with Biden as president and two Democratic houses of Congress, we can at least try to address our national problems.

But if Republicans are left holding any lever of power at all, we’ll be stuck in the Land of No We Can’t.

The Monday Morning Teaser

So this week the US started finding 50,000 new cases of Covid-19 a day, and on Wednesday Arizona had more new cases than the entire European Union. Meanwhile, our President responded to this deepening crisis by using our tax dollars and military bands to put on two big campaign rallies — one at Mouth Rushmore and the other at the White House. Reading those speeches, I learned that I (and probably most of my readers) are “far-left fascists” who are trying to “overthrow the American Revolution”. And here I thought I was just trying to finally make good on the Declaration of Independence’s unfulfilled promises of equality and government based on the consent of the governed.

I stand corrected. But I still don’t see why I had to pay for him to insult me. I mean, when Hillary gave her “deplorables” speech, at least her campaign rented the space and Obama didn’t order the Blue Angels to fly overhead.

Anyway, this week the featured post will be “In the Land of No We Can’t”. It puts Trump’s surrender to the virus in the larger context of Republican fatalism, which holds that nothing can be done about school shootings, climate change, economic inequality, systemic racism, or most of the other problems Americans face. Either we’re supposed to deny the problems exist, cope with them through our individual actions, or just live with them, because collective action to solve them is off the table.

No we can’t.

That should be out between 10 and 11 EDT.

The weekly summary has the virus surge to cover. Also: the jobs report, Biden’s VP options, Trump’s bizarre 4th of July celebrations, the Supreme Court, a new chapter of SharpieGate, and a number of other things, before ending with a bit of nostalgia about Karen when she was just a girl.

Running Behind

At every crucial moment, American officials were weeks or months behind the reality of the outbreak. Those delays likely cost tens of thousands of lives.

– “How the Virus Won
The New York Times (6-25-2020)


The president thinks so much about what he’s doing in terms of the show he’s putting on that there’s been very little attention paid to how the government is functioning. … What does the dog do when it catches the car? Turns out the dog just keeps running and barking. I had this thought in the Lafayette Square madness. Trump puts on this show. And then he gets there and has nothing to do. He’s just standing there. His whole presidency is like that.

Yuval Levin

This week’s featured post is “Back to Square One“. The reason there was no Sift last week was that I was virtually talking to churches in Illinois and Wisconsin (which answers the Firesign Theater question: “How can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?”). The topic was “Hope and Realism in Difficult Times”. You can read the text and watch my dress rehearsal.

This week everybody was talking about the virus breaking loose again

That’s the topic of the featured post. Here are some extras that didn’t make it into that post.

A reporter at Oklahoma Watch tested positive for Covid-19 after covering Trump’s Tulsa rally. Ever the objective observer, the reporter says, “I can’t say definitively that I got it at the rally.”

McSweeney’s provides “A Message from Your University’s Vice President for Magical Thinking“.

Our university will proceed as if everything will be okay because we really, really want it to be.

It goes on from there.

Wednesday night was an interesting lesson in the divergence of American news bubbles. If you watched any of the major evening news shows on CNN or MSNBC, the main story was that the number of new Covid-19 cases in the United States had hit a new high that day, with new state records in the biggest states: California, Florida, and Texas. The second major story was that whistleblowers had testified to the House Judiciary Committee about political interference in Bill Barr’s Justice Department. (See below.) Those two stories dominated the conversation.

Throughout the evening, though, I would occasionally jump over to Fox News to see what stories Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham thought were most important. I didn’t watch any of those shows end-to-end, so I can’t definitely say they never mentioned the two stories that were dominating the other news networks. But I never caught them talking about either one. Instead, they wanted to talk about the excesses of the protests that were still going on in many major cities: statues being pulled down, the CHOP autonomous zone in Seattle, and so on. These were presented as very scary developments; our cities are dissolving into chaos.

To see if I was hearing this right, I bopped over to And yes, there was a story about the rising coronavirus case numbers — down in the third level of headlines. The impression I got was that, if you really must know about the spread of the virus, they would tell you; but they weren’t going to insist that you pay attention.

The image below was Thursday morning. There are no stories about either the virus-case spikes or the Justice Department whistleblowers in the top two rows of headlines, or near the top of the two sidebars. The sidebar headlines you can’t make out are “Iraq War vet on destroying statues: ‘We don’t solve problems via mob rule'”, “Trump touts powerful alliance and relationship with Poland”, “Dr. Nesheiwat: ‘Exciting’ experimental COVID vaccine proved ‘robust immunity'”, and “Ari Fleischer: ‘We’re having the summer of violence’, you’re seeing one-sided lawlessness”.

In the main column, you had to go down to the 13th headline to find “L.A. mayor reveals ‘troubling trend’ after uptick in coronavirus cases“. (I’ve noticed this since: If Fox does talk about the rising case numbers, it focuses on blue California rather than red Texas or purple Florida.) And your reward for going that far was a 2fer in the 14th story. You could vicariously indulge both your virus-denial and your racism by reading: “Arizona councilman chants ‘I can’t breathe’ before ripping off face mask“. Thursday morning

and Russia offering bounties to kill American troops

The New York Times broke the story Friday:

American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter. …

Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.

The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.

Several other news organizations have independently corroborated parts of this scoop. CNN was told a similar story by “a European intelligence official”. ABC got it from “a military official”, The Wall Street Journal from “people familiar with” a “classified American intelligence assessment”, The Washington Post from “officials”, and so on. So nobody is willing to identify a source, but it’s pretty clear the NYT didn’t just make this up; other news organizations looked for a source and found one.

The Post added this important detail: actual American deaths.

Russian bounties offered to Taliban-linked militants to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan are believed to have resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members, according to intelligence gleaned from U.S. military interrogations of captured militants in recent months.

Trump and various other top officials spent the weekend using a Sergeant Schultz I-know-nothing defense. Sunday morning — what took him so long? — Trump tweeted:

Nobody briefed or told me, @VP Pence, or Chief of Staff @Mark Meadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported by an “anonymous source” by the fake-news @nytimes. Everybody is denying it and there have not been many attacks on us.

Marcy Wheeler points out that Mark Meadows wasn’t Chief of Staff at the time, which “makes it clear that whoever wrote this tweet didn’t actually refer to any records.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe tweeted:

I have confirmed that neither the President nor the Vice President were ever briefed on any intelligence alleged by the New York Times in its reporting yesterday.

Ratcliffe himself was took office at the end of May.

The Times insisted otherwise on Saturday:

But one American official had told The Times that the intelligence finding that the Russians had offered and paid bounties to Afghan militants and criminals had been briefed at the highest levels of the White House. Another said it was included in the President’s Daily Brief.

John Bolton happened to be on Jake Tapper’s Sunday show anyway to promote his book, so he got to comment:

The fact that the President feels compelled to tweet about the news story here shows that what his fundamental focus is, is not the security of our forces, but whether he looks like he wasn’t paying attention. So he’s saying well nobody told me therefore you can’t blame me

CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd described this as “gross incompetence any way you cut it”.

It would be disastrous not to get to the bottom of this. Either someone sat on this intelligence, or the President didn’t pay attention, or he decided to do nothing about it. Worse than doing nothing, Trump has continued to carry water for Putin internationally: At the beginning of this month, Trump was still pushing to get Russia invited to the G7 meetings. And regardless of who knew what when, Trump has heard about it now. Is he going to once again take Putin’s word over US intelligence and say it’s not true? Is he going to do anything about it?

and Justice Department corruption

An appeals court ruled 2-1 that the judge must accept the Justice Department’s decision to drop the Michael Flynn case, in spite of all the reasons to think that undue political influence was at work. So: obstruction of justice works.

In addition, Attorney General Barr got rid of the US attorney heading SDNY, which has been investigating several Trump-related cases. Rudy Giuliani is rumored to be under investigation, and the trial of his former friends Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman  is supposed to begin in February. Barr had previously gotten rid of the US attorney in DC, which is how Roger Stone’s sentencing memorandum got rewritten.

Congress heard testimony from two Justice Department whistleblowers. Prosecutor  Aaron Zelinsky testified that “What I saw was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from every other defendant. … This leniency was happening because of Stone’s relationship with the president.” And John Elias alleged political interference in antitrust cases.

and Biden’s huge lead

Biden has held a lead over Trump in head-to-head national polls more-or-less from the beginning of this race, but those leads almost always came with two caveats:

  • It’s way too early to take polls seriously.
  • Even if he wins the national popular vote by as much as 5%, he might still lose in the Electoral College.

But in recent weeks Biden’s lead has extended to 9.4% in 538’s polling average and 9.2% in Real Clear Politics’ differently weighted average. The most recent NYT/Siena poll has him ahead of Trump 50%-36%. That’s enough to put the Electoral College out of reach. 538’s state-by-state analysis now has Florida as the “tipping point”, the state that puts Biden over the top. He leads there by 7.4%.

In addition to the polls, there are anecdotes, like 2016 Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina supporting Biden over Trump.

Democrats are constantly reminding each other not to be complacent, so I’ve been seeing references to Mike Dukakis’ 17-point lead over George Bush in July of 1988, a race Bush ultimately won by nearly 8%. That’s not a compelling parallel, though: Dukakis was relatively unknown compared to Biden, so his public image was easier to tar with negative ads. Also, Bush’s approval had been near 90% during the First Gulf War, so most voters could at least remember a time when they thought he was a good president. Trump, conversely, has never had majority approval.

The real reason to maintain focus, though, is that Trump bound to try to cheat. His claim that mail-in ballots are inherently unreliable is false, but it justifies his followers in whatever shenanigans they can come up with. The bigger Biden’s margin is, the harder it will be for fraud to take it away.

The failure of Trump’s Tulsa rally made me think of the entertainment term “jump the shark”. Trump is trying to run his old playbook in a different world, and when confronted with that fact he just tries to push it harder.

In 2016, the country was facing no immediate crises, so culture-war messaging and identity politics could carry the day for Trump. But in 2020, the world looks grim, and the public wants to know that the next president has some idea what to do about it. Trump clearly does not. Witness the word salad Sean Hannity evoked by asking the softball question: “What are your top priorities for a second term?”

As Yuval Levin put it in the quote at the top: Trump is the dog who caught the car, and all he knows to do now is keep running and barking.

and abortion

Just this morning, the Supreme Court blocked a Louisiana law that would have had the effect of closing every abortion clinic in the state. John Roberts crossed over to vote with the Court’s four liberals.

Legally, the case should have been a slam-dunk, because a nearly identical Texas law was thrown out four years ago. The only thing that has changed since then is the composition of the Court, particularly Justice Kavanaugh replacing Justice Kennedy. So this should have been a 9-0 decision: Quote the precedent and move on.

This is the third recent victory for the Court’s liberals, joining the LGBTQ-rights case and the DACA case.

This may sound paranoid, but I have the feeling John Roberts is setting up something awful in the remaining big case concerning Trump’s taxes. Roberts has some control over the order in which decisions come out, and it would fit his pattern to buffer the pain of a horrible decision by releasing more popular decisions first.

Meanwhile an appeals court held that Trump’s emergency seizure of otherwise allocated funds to build his border wall is invalid.

The panel held that the Executive Branch lacked independent constitutional authority to authorize the transfer of funds. The panel noted that the Appropriations Clause of the U.S. Constitution exclusively grants the power of the purse to Congress. The panel held that the transfer of funds violated the Appropriations Clause, and, therefore, was unlawful.

… The Federal Defendants cite drug trafficking statistics, but fail to address how the construction of additional physical barriers would further the interdiction of drugs. The Executive Branch’s failure to show, in concrete terms, that the public interest favors a border wall is particularly significant given that Congress determined fencing to be a lower budgetary priority and the Department of Justice’s own data points to a contrary conclusion.

and Trump’s push to invalidate ObamaCare

The Justice Department has filed a brief in a case about ObamaCare that the Supreme Court will decide in its next term. It argues that the whole law is unconstitutional, and would have the immediate effect of throwing tens of millions of people off of their health insurance, as well as making tens of millions of other people worry about their pre-existing conditions.

Naturally, Trump claims these horrible outcomes would never really come to pass, because once ObamaCare has been tossed aside he will finally reveal the magic replacement plan he has been talking about for five years without revealing any details.

In his entire first term, we have seen no sign of the “beautiful” health plan that Trump promised would replace ObamaCare, the one that would “cover everybody” and leave nobody worse off financially.

By now it should be obvious that Trump never had a plan; he was just stringing words together. Republicans in general have no plan. That became obvious when they tried to “repeal and replace” ObamaCare in 2017. “Replace” was just a word that polled well; it meant nothing.

If Trump gets his wish and the Supreme Court invalidates ObamaCare, no fairy godmother will tap a pumpkin and turn it into a Republican healthcare plan. ObamaCare will just be gone and nothing will replace it until Democrats get back in power.

BTW: If you’re a young person who has recovered from Covid-19, or who imagines that recovering from it would be no big deal: Decades from now, you would still have a pre-existing condition. Your insurance company might point to any subtle scarring on your lungs or other long-term organ damage as a reason not to cover whatever health problem you might have then.

Biden responded to Trump’s attack on ObamaCare with a good speech on health care.

and DC statehood

The House voted to make Washington D. C. a state. The bill is expected to go nowhere in the Senate and Trump has promised to veto it.

This is a voter suppression issue. The District of Columbia has a population over 700K, which makes it bigger than Wyoming or Vermont, and not far behind Alaska and North Dakota. But DC is 49% black and only 44% white. It would be a reliably blue state with two Democratic senators and a congressperson. (Let’s not even get into Puerto Rico, which would be the 31st-largest state, between Utah and Iowa. But, I mean, they’re Puerto Ricans! Can’t give them a say in how the national government is run.)

It doesn’t take much interpretation to see that the Republican opponents are saying those people shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Here’s Mitch McConnell:

They plan to make the District of Columbia a state—that’d give them two new Democratic senators—Puerto Rico a state, that would give them two more new Democratic senators. […] So this is full bore socialism on the march in the House. And yeah, as long as I’m the majority leader of the Senate, none of that stuff is going anywhere.

Socialism on the march … yeah, it must have been Karl Marx who described governments as “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed“.

And Tom Cotton:

Yes, Wyoming is smaller than Washington by population, but it has three times as many workers in mining, logging and construction, and ten times as many workers in manufacturing. In other words, Wyoming is a well-rounded working-class state.

So people in Wyoming work for a living, unlike all those bureaucrats and welfare mothers in DC. The WaPo’s Karen Tumulty responds.

Wyoming is an interesting example. Nearly half of Wyoming’s territory is federal acreage — a much higher proportion than in the District (less than one-third). And among states, Wyoming ranks top in the nation when it comes to the percentage of its workforce employed by federal or local governments.

Which makes you wonder what, precisely, is the senator’s criterion for deeming a group of people “well-rounded.”

Cotton also raised the argument that the kind of people who live in DC are just not ready for self-government.

Would you trust Mayor Bowser to keep Washington safe if she were given the powers of a governor? Would you trust Marion Barry?

Why not just go ahead and use the N-word, Tom? You know you want to.

you also might be interested in …

The New York Times does a great job of annotating video to show how police over-reaction in Seattle turned a peaceful demonstration into a violent encounter.

It looks like Mississippi is going to remove the Confederate stars-and-bars from the state flag.

#ByeIvanka is a bit harsh, but you have to wonder at the administration’s decision to make her the face of skills-based hiring. The implication seems clear: The federal government is doing away with “outdated career or licensure requirements” so that it can hire more relatives of well-connected people.

I’ve written before about defunding the police: It makes sense to divert some large portion of local police-department budgets to fund other kinds of first-responders, who can answer 911 calls that don’t require guns or handcuffs, like marital disputes or mental health problems. Those incidents might get handled better, and fewer people will wind up dead.

However, we need to watch out for a trap: The Covid-19 crisis and the ensuing economic collapse have made a shambles of local budgets; expenses are up and revenues are down. There’s going to be pressure to cut across the board, including laying off teachers and not fixing potholes.

In this environment, the path of least resistance is to substantially cut the police budget, as protesters have been demanding, but not to fund any alternative first-responders. That scenario looks like the nightmare painted by right-wing critics of police defunding — you call 911 and no one answers. When that turns out badly, as is bound to happen somewhere, it will be easy to convince the public that the defund-the-police approach has been tried and discredited.

and let’s close with a marching tune

March, March” from the trio formerly known as The Dixie Chicks. Here are the lyrics.

Back to Square One

This week the number of new Covid-19 infections spiked up to even higher levels than before the shutdown. Other governments have avoided this scenario, but ours has no plan for dealing with it.

What if we have a crisis? In one of the less-noticed parts of John Bolton’s new book, Chief of Staff John Kelly complains that he is frustrated to the point of quitting. “What if we have a real crisis like 9/11,” Kelly asks Bolton, “with the way he makes decisions?”

As Bolton — like so many other former Trump insiders before him — demonstrates with numerous examples, “the way he makes decisions” is to start from a place of complete ignorance. (Prior to his ill-fated Helsinki meeting with Putin, he asked aides whether Finland was part of Russia. He also seemed not to know that the United Kingdom has nuclear weapons.) Then he ignores the briefings that come from the intelligence community or other government experts, and doesn’t ask for any studies or position papers from people the government employs to do research like that. Instead, he spends hours each day talking to friends on the phone and listening to the pundits on Fox News. If he hears something he likes, maybe that becomes government policy immediately, or maybe it turns into a line he uses at rallies. If the rally-goers cheer, then that’s what the world’s greatest superpower will do.

If you think there ought to be a more rigorous process than that, you must be part of the Deep State.

This is how we got the border wall project. No one who studies border security for a living ever concluded that a wall between the US and Mexico was the most efficient way to accomplish some desirable goal. But Trump’s 2016 campaign advisers decided he needed a “mnemonic device” to get him to focus on immigration. Any realistic plan to deal with unwanted border-crossings is full of the kind of legal, diplomatic, environmental, and other details Trump hates, but “Build a Wall” was simple enough to hold in his head, and the crowds loved it — especially when he added the fantasy that Mexico would pay for it.

Those cheering crowds are why some adviser’s mnemonic device is turning into a physical wall that takes years to build, costs billions of dollars, and doesn’t solve any identifiable problems. We just lucked out that Trump wasn’t still holding rallies when the inject-yourself-with-bleach idea got into his head.

Own-goal crises. The reason Bolton and Kelly were having a what-if conversation rather than recalling an actual disaster is that until that point the United States had been having an extraordinary run of good luck. You may remember these last three-plus years as a high-wire state of constant national anxiety, but in fact the real world was unusually tame. Barack Obama had handed Trump a country in pretty good shape, particularly compared to the one Obama had received from George W. Bush. All the major economic trends were in the right direction, Obama’s light-footprint strategy to defeat the ISIS caliphate was working, and so on. Obama did leave behind a number of worrisome long-term challenges, like climate change, the ascension of China, nuclear proliferation, the decades-long decline of America’s middle class, and so on. But no one really expected Trump to make progress on any of that, and on any given day all those problems have been pretty easy to ignore.

Instead, what made the pre-Covid Trump years feel so tense were the crises Trump created himself: He ratcheted up his “fire and fury” rhetoric against North Korea to the point that war seemed inevitable, and then arranged a marvelous reality-show resolution when he “fell in love” with Kim Jong Un, a performance so compelling that Trump wanted a Nobel Peace Prize for it. Of course, nothing was actually accomplished by the whole up-and-down cycle (other than some great propaganda for the Kim regime), but didn’t it look grand on TV?

The low points in his approval rating were similarly self-inflicted: when he described the neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville as “fine people” or sided with Putin against the US intelligence agencies or couldn’t let go of a spat with a military widow. His China trade war spooked the markets and slowed the economy, but that was also something he brought on himself, so he could create good news whenever he wanted by tweeting about “progress” in the negotiations or delaying some tariff he had threatened to impose unilaterally.

Since those were all holes he dug himself, he could just stop digging, divert the public’s attention elsewhere, and wait for it all to blow over. Easy-peasy.

And then there was the ever-rising budget deficit, which would have been framed as an existential crisis for Obama, but became acceptable once a Republican was in the White House.

Before Covid, Trump only had to face two truly external problems: impeachment and his complete botch of the federal response to the Puerto Rican hurricane. Impeachment was never a big worry for two reasons: First, no matter how guilty he was, the Republican Senate was never going to convict him. (In the end, they decided that the House’s evidence wasn’t good enough to remove a president chosen by 46% of the people, and that if there was better evidence, they didn’t want to see it.) And second, the underlying offense (the extortion of Ukraine) didn’t really matter to Trump’s base. As for the Puerto Rican hurricane, well, that mainly affected Spanish-speaking people of color that the Trump base also didn’t care about. (Yeah, thousands of them are dead, but it’s not like they were ever “real Americans”, right?)

The virus is real. But Covid is different. There’s a real virus out there killing people. It can’t be intimidated by tweets or derogatory nicknames like “Wuhan virus” or “kung flu”. Even though it has been killing people of color at a rate disproportionate to their numbers, it kills white people too. And now it’s even spreading in red states (Texas) or purple states (Florida) that Trump needs to carry if he wants to be re-elected.

Trump has no plan to defeat the virus, but that’s par for the course. He doesn’t have a plan to deal with any of America’s problems. For example, he’s still promising a “FAR BETTER AND MUCH LESS EXPENSIVE ALTERNATIVE” to ObamaCare, and to “ALWAYS PROTECT PEOPLE WITH PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS,ALWAYS!!!” But in the five years since he came down the escalator, he has not produced so much as a back-of-the-envelope sketch of a program to deliver on such promises. I’m sure the words in those capitalized phrases sound good to him and his fans, but as soon as the sound waves fade out the air is empty again.

Like his bromance with the North Korean dictator, Trump’s coronavirus briefings also made good TV for a while, but eventually they became embarrassing and he got bored with them. So he applied his usual crisis-control tactic: He congratulated himself for defeating the virus, which is “dying out“; flattered or browbeat Republican governors to reopen their states too early; stopped talking about the whole crisis, even as additional thousands of Americans continued to die each week; tried to divert our attention elsewhere; and waited for it all to blow over.

But here’s the thing: Reality doesn’t blow over. Covid-19 isn’t a PR flap or a misstep he can back away from, it’s a pandemic. For a short time, he may be able to get large segments of the public to “ignore that pile of dead bodies over in the corner” (as Bill Gates put it), but people keep dying even when everyone’s looking the other way, and eventually we start to notice again.

Comparisons. Covid-19 started out in China in December, and from there spread around the world, taking different courses in different countries. Some small countries with good leadership and a strong public spirit — New Zealand, Iceland, and South Korea pop to mind — reacted quickly, got the epidemic under control, and continue to hold it in check through a combination of testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and public cooperation in preventive measures like mask-wearing, hand-washing, and social distancing.

A number of EU countries, beginning with Italy, had really bad outbreaks, but then shut down just about all activities other than food distribution and medical care, using their national wealth and strong social-welfare systems to keep individual and family budgets above water. After a month or two of extreme sacrifice, the number of new infections began to collapse, to the point that they can now make use of the tactics that the fast-reacting countries used.

And then there’s the United States, where Covid-19 became the kind of crisis Kelly had been worrying about. Here’s how our daily reported new infections compared with the EU and South Korea as of Saturday.

South Korea’s infections stayed down. The EU’s went up and came down. But in the United States infections went up, started to creep down a little, and then shot back up.

What did we do wrong? A lot of things. Thursday The New York Times presented an illuminating series of graphics describing about how the virus spread in the US.

At every crucial moment, American officials were weeks or months behind the reality of the outbreak. Those delays likely cost tens of thousands of lives.

A short list of early failings:

  • The CDC’s initial set of test kits were faulty, and tests were not imported to fill the gap, resulting in what the NYT described as “the lost month“. This was both a CDC failure and a White House failure, because it’s the role of the White House to keep tabs on the workings of the government and intervene when something important is falling through the cracks in the system.
  • As a result, the initial spread of the virus was grossly underestimated. The NYT article suggests that in mid-February, when the US had 15 known cases (that Trump said “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero“) there were actually around 2,000 cases spread across ten major cities.
  • Unlike other countries, the US did not use its lead time to build its stockpile of masks and gowns for medical personnel, as detailed by HHS whistleblower Dr. Rick Bright.
  • The federal government did not prepare the public for the sacrifices that would eventually be asked of it. Instead, officials from President Trump on down consistently reassured the public that the virus was “totally under control” and “the risk is low”.
  • Trump began politicizing the virus response early, charging on March 9 that “The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant.”

By mid-March, states began to respond, with Republican Governor Mike DeWine shutting down schools in Ohio, Democrat Andrew Cuomo closing businesses in New York, and local health officials in six San Francisco Bay counties issuing a shelter-in-place order. A national campaign to “flatten the curve” began. Even Trump got on board for a month or so, rewriting history to claim: “I’ve always known this is a real, this is a pandemic. I’ve felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

Undermining the national will. The number of new cases reached an initial peak of 33,000-a-day in early-to-mid April and then began to slope downward. But unlike Europe, the United States lacked the national will to finish the job.

That failure came from the top. As soon as it was clear a peak had been reached, Trump began pressuring states to relax restrictions and reopen their economies without waiting to achieve the milestones listed in his administration’s own guidelines.

Trump encouraged armed demonstrators to intimidate state governments. When protesters with rifles came to the Michigan statehouse carrying signs saying “Tyrants get the rope”, Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”. He also encouraged “liberators” in Virginia and Minnesota. Without once calling for the protesters to disarm, he tweeted:

The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.

Michigan more-or-less held firm, but Republican governors in red states knew they could not survive a Trump tweet storm and could benefit from White House photo ops. Georgia, Florida, Texas, and Arizona began to open their economies without achieving the statistical milestones laid out by the CDC. When the Republican members of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court invalidated the Governor Ever’s stay-at-home order and plunged the state’s gradual-reopening plan into chaos, Trump was jubilant.

The Great State of Wisconsin, home to Tom Tiffany’s big Congressional Victory on Tuesday, was just given another win. Its Democrat Governor was forced by the courts to let the State Open. The people want to get on with their lives. The place is bustling!

Meanwhile, he was campaigning against wearing masks, which nearly all public health officials recommend when people are unable to maintain social distance. He mocked Joe Biden for wearing a mask in public, and for “cowering in the basement” rather than holding face-to-face events. Trump refused to wear a mask while touring a mask factory in Arizona, even as “Live and Let Die” played on the sound system.

Long after it had become clear that the reopenings were premature and cases were spiking, Trump pushed to hold dangerous large-crowd events in Tulsa and Phoenix. (Fortunately for the nation, the crowd in Tulsa was not nearly so large as he had expected.) In Tulsa, he discounted the rising case numbers, arguing (falsely) that they just reflect increased testing, and offering a 10-year-old with “sniffles” as an example of a case. He said he had asked his administration to “slow down the testing”, and later contradicted aides who tried to downplay that suggestion as a joke. “I don’t kid,” he told reporters.

This anti-social leadership has had its effect: Around the country outraged people, many sporting MAGA hats or Trump shirts, are refusing to abide by rules that mandate mask-wearing or social distancing. Michelle Goldberg summarizes:

This is what American exceptionalism looks like under Donald Trump. It’s not just that the United States has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths of any country in the world. Republican political dysfunction has made a coherent campaign to fight the pandemic impossible.

The viral resurgence. New infections have been rising sharply in precisely the southern and western states that have reopened quickly, refuting the theory (which Trump had long promoted) that the pandemic would fade in warm weather. Nationally, cases had flattened out at less than 20,000 per day in late May and early June. But they have been above 38,000 each of the last five days.

On the state level, the best measure for comparison is the 7-day-weighted-average of new cases per day per 100K people. Here are the most seriously affected states:

Arizona 44

Florida 30

South Carolina 25

Mississippi 23

Arkansas 20

Louisiana 20

Nevada 19

Texas 19

California also has an large number of cases, due partially to its size. Its daily-new-case-per-100K number is 12. New York, which was the center of the epidemic in April, is down to 3.

And as for Trump’s attempt to discount those numbers, 10-year-olds with “sniffles” don’t show up in the ICU. Hospitals are reportedly close to capacity in Arizona, Florida, and Texas, and perhaps other states getting less national attention.

The Washington Post assesses what went wrong in Arizona:

At critical junctures, blunders by top officials undermined faith in the data purportedly driving decision-making, according to experts monitoring Arizona’s response. And when forbearance was most required, as the state began to reopen despite continued community transmission, an abrupt and uniform approach — without transparent benchmarks or latitude for stricken areas to hold back — led large parts of the public to believe the pandemic was over.

And now, Arizona is facing more per capita cases than recorded by any country in Europe or even by hard-hit Brazil. Among states with at least 20 people hospitalized for covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, no state has seen its rate of hospitalizations increase more rapidly since Memorial Day.

And Republican governors or not, Texas, Florida, and Arizona have all had to retreat on their reopening timetables.

Deaths haven’t turned back up yet, but they will. The one saving grace is that nationally, deaths are still declining. For weeks I’ve been commenting on the mystery of how the death rate could continue downward while the new-case rate flattened and then turned upward.

Med school Professor Florian Krammer points to the same three explanations I’ve given: more testing has raised the new-case rate (or more accurately, made it better match the actual spread of the infection); better care is keeping people alive; but most of all, that the age-distribution of the infected population is shifting to younger people who are more likely to survive.

But he then goes one step further: Something similar happened in Iran in May. The new-case curve had been dropping, but started going up again around May 1.

But deaths did not go up. People explained to me, that now mostly young people are getting infected so nothing bad would happen.

Deaths started going up May 25.

What happened? First, it takes time to die of COVID-19. Second, cases probably really built up in younger people. But they diffuse into older populations. And then the deaths rose.

Each state has its own version of the pandemic, and death rates might already have started upward in some of them, like Arkansas and Texas. (The curves are jittery enough that it’s hard to be sure.) But nationwide, the new-case curve started rising around June 10. That would suggest deaths will begin rising about July 4.

Similar ideas (with a similar timeline) show up on the COVID Tracking Project Blog.

New daily positive cases only began to exceed the plateau of the previous two weeks around June 18-19, which means that an increase in deaths as a result of the rise in new cases would not be expected to show up until July.

So where are we? In some ways, we’re back where we were in April, and in some ways we’re worse off. Except in the northeast, whatever we gained through the sacrifices of the shutdown has been frittered away by bad leadership.

So now John Kelly knows: What happens if we have a real crisis “with the way he makes decisions”? This.

What is needed at this point is another wave of restrictions, and every state that thinks it is about to reopen its bars or arenas needs to think again. The American people can’t be trusted in bars; that is now a proven fact, at least until we have a vaccine. But a second wave of stay-at-home orders is hard to feature given that most of the country has nothing to show for the first wave.

We also need the kind of public spirit we had in the early days of “flatten the curve”: We need to encourage each other to wear masks, avoid crowds, keep our distance, and in general use common sense. Unfortunately, this is very unlikely to happen now that flouting common sense is necessary to establish your identity as a Trump conservative.

As best I can tell, this hasn’t happened in any other country (except maybe Brazil, which is also in very bad shape). Things got bad in Italy and Spain, but taking stupid risks never became a political identity.

And that reminds me of another famous question, this one raised by Trump himself in the 2016 campaign. “What the hell do you have to lose?

Now we know.

The Monday Morning Teaser

So I was off for a week. Did I miss anything?

Two weeks ago, the rise in Covid-19 cases nationally was still debatable, and even the outbreaks in states like Arizona, Florida, and Texas could be optimistically interpreted as blips that happened to coincide, but didn’t necessarily add up to a trend. Now it’s clear we’re back in the soup nationally, and it’s the Northeast, where cases are still flat or declining, that looks like the anomaly.

In some ways, we’re worse off now, because the President is AWOL, the federal government has no plan, and common-sense measures the public needs to take — like mask-wearing and avoiding crowds — have turned into culture-war issues. Instead of leading a patriotic response to the virus, the President is out there promoting anti-social anti-public-health activities like large-scale political rallies. All the expense and sacrifice of the lockdown seems to have been wasted, except in the Northeast and a few counties near San Francisco.

Lots of other stuff has been happening, but that’s the most serious development, which I’ll discuss in “Back to Square One”, which might not be out until 11 EDT. The weekly summary then somehow has to cover the revelation that Putin offered bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan (and Trump has done nothing about it), the ongoing story of the corruption of the Justice Department, the huge lead Joe Biden is building in the polls, Trump’s push to get the Supreme Court to invalidate ObamaCare, and DC statehood. I’ll try to find space to mention Mississippi changing its flag and an appeals court ruling against Trump’s border-wall emergency, which might have been lead stories in more normal times. And then I’ll close with a new video by The [formerly known as Dixie] Chicks.

Let’s predict that to appear around 1.

Causes and Effects

No Sift next week. The next new articles will appear on June 29.

Hate and ignorance have not driven the history of racist ideas in America. Racist policies have driven the history of racist ideas in America.  … Ignorance/hate → racist ideas → discrimination: this causal relationship is largely ahistorical. It has actually been the inverse relationship — racial discrimination led to racist ideas which led to ignorance and hate.

– Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning

This week’s featured post is “What’s in a Slogan?

This week everybody was still talking about policing

The featured post discusses the “Abolish the Police” slogan.

With the George Floyd protests still continuing, there’s been a new police killing:

Rayshard Brooks, 27, was shot dead on Friday night after police were called to [a Wendy’s in Atlanta] over reports that he had fallen asleep in the drive-through lane.

Apparently Brooks failed a sobriety test and struggled with police. He grabbed a police taser and was running away with it when a policeman opened fire. The NYT reconstructs the incident in detail from video.

In addition to the question of why it was necessary to shoot a man who was running away, the case illustrates some of the issues that abolish-the-police activists have been raising: Yes, falling asleep in a drive-through lane is a violation of public order. But why is sending people with guns the right response?

Demonstrations in the US have inspired anti-racism demonstrations overseas. Thousands of Germans formed a ribbon-connected “socially distant human chain” in Berlin on Sunday. And here’s a quote that brings me shame: A German politician says the demonstrators have it wrong. “Germany is not the USA. We don’t have a racism problem in the police.” We’re the nation other nations don’t want to be compared to.

Charles Blow reviews the positive imagery we have seen since the death of George Floyd, images in which people of all colors and ethnicities seem united in their response to police brutality and racial injustice. But the police are not the cause of injustice, racial or otherwise. They are the enforcers of systemic injustices that continue.

This country has established a system of supreme inequity, with racial inequity being a primary form, and used the police to protect the wealth that the system generated for some and to control the outrages and outbursts of those opposed to it and oppressed by it.

It has used the police to make the hostile tranquil, to erase and remove from free society those who expressed sickness coming from a society which poisoned them with persecutions. …

But just remember: These are not necessarily rogue officers. They are instruments of the system and manifestations of society.

They are violent to black people because America is violent to black people. They oppress because America oppresses.

The police didn’t give birth to American violence and inhumanity. America’s violence and inhumanity gave birth to them.

The point of books like The New Jim Crow and Slavery by Another Name is that systems for controlling black people and expropriating the value of their labor don’t just morph from era to era, they morph cleverly. In Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi argues that new racist ideas don’t bubble up from the ignorant masses, they are constructed by some of the most brilliant and educated minds of the time.

Any system of inequality requires justification and enforcement. If you have more than someone else or enjoy privileges they are denied, you crave an explanation that exonerates you from their resentment and protects your advantages. Some intelligent person will soon satisfy that craving with the justification and enforcement mechanism required. Like junkies determined to kick our current habit, we must be careful not to just shift to a new drug.

and the virus

Death totals continue to decline, while the number of new cases is at best flat and possibly increasing. The total number of US deaths is up to 117.9K, up from 112.6 last week.

The contrast between cases and deaths is even more pronounced in certain states. Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, and a few other states now have more proven new cases each day than ever before — more than double in Arizona — but they had more deaths per day in early May.

I can think of a few possible explanations:

  • Even though there’s still no sure-fire treatment for Covid-19, doctors are getting better at keeping people alive long enough for their immune systems to beat the virus.
  • Maybe we’re getting better at protecting the most vulnerable. Perhaps the new cases are mostly young otherwise-healthy people, so they’re dying at a lower rate.
  • Because there was less testing in early May, maybe there were more infections then than anyone realized.

In any case, unless there’s some breakthrough in treatment, this pattern can’t go on forever. If cases keep increasing, eventually deaths will start increasing too.

In case you’re wondering how to stay safe when your office reopens, Mike Pence has provided us with a great don’t-do-this photo.

Thanks to Trump campaign staffers in Virginia, we can see all the major no-nos in one picture: enclosed spaces, large numbers of people in one room, and standing close to people not wearing masks.

Trump intends to give us another bad example: A big indoor rally in Tulsa on Saturday. Originally the rally was scheduled for Friday, which is Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the end of slavery. Tulsa would be a particularly bad place to mark Juneteenth, given the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, where whites burned a prosperous black neighborhood to the ground and killed hundreds of African Americans.

Eventually, Trump backed off of the Juneteenth date. Instead, the rally will happen on Saturday, with crowds packed together indoors and probably very few masks. But the Trump campaign has thought about this and taken precautions to protect itself:

“By clicking register below, you are acknowledging that an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present,” the disclaimer reads at the bottom of the ticket page on the Trump website. “By attending the Rally, you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.; BOK Center; ASM Global; or any of their affiliates, directors, officers, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers liable for any illness or injury.”

and the Supreme Court

I haven’t had time to read the decision or even digest the news stories, but CNN is reporting this:

Federal civil rights law protects gay, lesbian and transgender workers, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The landmark ruling will extend protections to millions of workers nationwide and is a defeat for the Trump administration, which argued that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that bars discrimination based on sex did not extend to claims of gender identity and sexual orientation.

The 6-3 opinion was written by Justice Neil Gorsuch and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s four liberal justices.

Gorsuch is the shocker here. I don’t know what to think.

and symbols of the Confederacy

160 years ago, the white aristocracy of 11 states led them into revolt to preserve their mastery over millions of enslaved Africans. That revolt led to a war in which more than 600,000 soldiers died. Today, those wealthy traitors are honored in numerous ways, such as flying their flag, honoring their statues, and immortalizing their names by attaching them to military bases, schools, and other civic institutions. Descendants of the enslaved people are constantly reminded of the slavers who expropriated their ancestors’ labor, and of the continuing legacy of white supremacy.

You’d think that changing all this would be uncontroversial, but you’d be wrong. Still, one result of the wave of protests that followed George Floyd’s murder has been a further erosion of the honors devoted to the Confederacy.

  • Protesters in Richmond toppled a statue of Jefferson Davis. Governor Northam announced that a statue of Robert E. Lee owned by the state will also be removed.
  • The mayor of Birmingham pledged to finish removing a statue of Confederate sailor Charles Linn that protesters attacked. Birmingham has tried to remove Confederate statues in the past, but the state legislature passed a law blocking the city. The mayor is daring the state to enforce its law.
  • NASCAR announced: “The display of the confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.” The policy came in response to a request from the racing circuit’s only African American full-time driver, Bubba Wallace. NASCAR has requested that fans not bring Confederate flags since 2015, but some have continued to do so.
  • Wednesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved Elizabeth Warren’s amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The amendment would give the Defense Department three years to rename the military bases that currently are named after Confederate officers. “The language, adopted by voice vote as President Donald Trump preemptively threatened to veto any defense bill that did just that, affects massive bases like Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Benning in Georgia. But it also goes further and includes everything from ships to streets on Defense Department property.”
  • Democrats in Congress have introduced a bill to remove statues of 11 Confederate generals and officials from the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes the bill because the choice of statues belongs to the states. (Each state gets two.) Apparently no Georgian in history is a more appropriate choice than Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the Confederate Vice President who gave the famous Cornerstone speech: “Stephens said the Confederacy was founded ‘upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition’.”

I’m sure I missed some recent developments. The pro-Confederate (i.e., Republican) responses to these proposals has generally been that liberals are trying to “take away our history“, or that next we will have to remove monuments to all slave-owning or otherwise objectionable figures.

My answer to the “rewrite history” objection is that there’s a difference between marking history and making heroes out of the defenders of slavery. If “history” is the point of monuments, then there ought to be a gigantic monument to General Sherman in Atlanta: He was one of the Civil War’s greatest generals, and his victory in Atlanta was a decisive moment in the war. There isn’t such a monument because Atlanta’s white population hates Sherman for his role in burning the city. And yet, the South’s black population is supposed to tolerate monuments to men who fought to keep their ancestors enslaved.

Andrew Egger answers the next-they’ll-come-for-George-Washington objection.

There’s a world of difference between purging monuments to anyone with a complicated history (FDR, Wilson, Jefferson) and purging monuments to those who are *only deemed historical* for acts we now correctly deem shameful. What did Nathan Bedford Forrest ever do for America?

If, say, Robert E. Lee had never fought to preserve slavery, would anyone remember him today? Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. George Washington led the revolutionary forces and was a key figure in establishing a government that followed its constitution. But what accomplishment of Jefferson Davis is unrelated to slavery?

Vote Vets has this to say about military bases like Fort Bragg.


and Antifa

We’re getting a lesson in just how far Trumpists are willing to go to justify his paranoid rants. The local news site Columbus Alive tells the wild story of how a busload of traveling street performers got “outed” by Columbus Police as Antifa provocateurs.

The police reported finding knives (kitchen knives), a hatchet (for the wood stove), and clubs (juggling clubs). The police social media post — with a picture of the decorated bus — got shared thousands of times, and the performers are now constantly being hassled by Trumpists who think they’ve found Antifa.

Another set of paranoid rants concerns the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (formerly the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone) in Seattle. It’s a six-block area that has been taken over by protesters, and which state and local officials have decided to tolerate. Thursday, Trump tweeted this threat:

Radical Left Governor @JayInslee and the Mayor of Seattle are being taunted and played at a level that our great Country has never seen before. Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game. These ugly Anarchists must be stooped IMMEDIATELY. MOVE FAST!

Trump’s propagandists have been working hard to demonize the CHOP ever since. The Seattle Times explains:

Fox News published digitally altered and misleading photos on stories about Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) in what photojournalism experts called a clear violation of ethical standards for news organizations.

In one photo of a gateway to the CHOP, Fox digitally inserted an image of a guard armed with a military-style weapon. After the Times called them on it, Fox took down the faked image.

In addition, Fox’s site for a time on Friday ran a frightening image of a burning city, above a package of stories about Seattle’s protests, headlined “CRAZY TOWN.” The photo actually showed a scene from St. Paul, Minnesota, on May 30. That image also was later removed.

After Trump promoted the notion that the elderly man assaulted by Buffalo police was actually an Antifa provocateur, the Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri assembled the warning signs that your grandparent is a secret Antifa agent. The most telling:

She belongs to a decentralized group with no leadership structure that claims to be discussing a “book,” but no one ever reads the book and all they seem to do is drink wine.

Is always talking on the phone with an “aunt” you have never actually met in person. Aunt TIFA????

Always walking into rooms and claiming not to know why he walked into the room. Likely.

Suddenly, for no reason, will appear or pretend to be asleep.

Remembers things from the past in incredible, exhausting detail, but recent ones only sporadically? Cover of some kind.

Antifa is everywhere and nowhere. (Well, mostly nowhere, but never mind.) We can’t be too careful.

but we should pay more attention to the International Criminal Court

The US has long had a problem with the International Criminal Court in The Hague. US officials don’t want to give the ICC jurisdiction to prosecute incidents that it might see as US war crimes in places like Afghanistan or Iraq.

The Trump administration has just escalated that conflict considerably.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Thursday sanctioning members of the International Criminal Court, the global judicial body investigating American troops for possible war crimes during the Afghanistan war.

The provocative move targets court staff involved in the probe, as well as their families, blocking them from accessing assets held in US financial institutions and from visiting America. Top members of the Trump administration — including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper — made the announcement with surprisingly forceful language to make their point.

“We cannot allow ICC officials and their families to come to the United States to shop, travel, and otherwise enjoy American freedoms as these same officials seek to prosecute the defenders of those very freedoms,” Pompeo, a former Army officer, told reporters without taking questions.

and the Flynn case

Remember where we are and how we got here: Trump’s then-National-Security-Adviser, Michael Flynn, lied to the FBI about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador during the transition period. He pleaded guilty to that crime, but his sentencing was delayed until he had assisted the government in other cases.

Somewhere along the line, he stopped cooperating and moved to withdraw his guilty plea. Then the Justice Department tried to drop the indictment — after the prosecutors who had been on the case from the beginning withdrew.

The Justice Department has total discretion about who it decides to prosecute, but once a case goes to court, withdrawing the indictment requires “consent of the court”, i.e., of the judge. The judge in this case wasn’t inclined to rubber-stamp either the Justice Department’s motion or Flynn’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea. (It is highly unusual to withdraw a guilty plea after the sentencing process has started.) So Judge Emmet Sullivan appointed a retired judge, John Gleeson, to argue why the charges should not be dismissed. That report is now in, and it is truly damning.

Gleeson argues that the Justice Department’s explanations for wanting to dismiss the charges are just pretexts that are not credible. (For example, the Department now claims it doubts it can prove a charge that Flynn has already confessed to under oath.)

The reasons offered by the Government are so irregular, and so obviously pretextual, that they are deficient. Moreover, the facts surrounding the filing of the Government’s motion constitute clear evidence of gross prosecutorial abuse. They reveal an unconvincing effort to disguise as legitimate a decision to dismiss that is based solely on the fact that Flynn is a political ally of President Trump. …

The Executive Branch had the unreviewable discretion to never charge Flynn with a crime because he is a friend and political ally of President Trump. President Trump today has the unreviewable authority to issue a pardon, thus ensuring that Flynn is no longer prosecuted and never punished for his crimes because he is a friend and political ally. But the instant the Executive Branch filed a criminal charge against Flynn, it forfeited the right to implicate this Court in the dismissal of that charge simply because Flynn is a friend and political ally of the President. Avoiding precisely that unseemly outcome is why Rule 48(a) requires “leave of court.”

Flynn and the Justice Department have tried to get an appeals court to intervene and prevent Judge Sullivan from looking into the Justice Department’s motives. So far, it looks like the appeals court wants to see the lower-court process conclude before weighing in.

Flynn, meanwhile, published a head-scratching op-ed in The Western Journal on Thursday. His opening line says America is at a “seminal moment” that will “test every fiber of our nation’s soul”. He then has several paragraphs about God and prayer and freedom, and denounces the “tyranny and treachery” that are “in our midst”. But through it all he never says anything specific enough to allow me to figure out what he’s talking about. Then he concludes:

As long as we accept God in the lifeblood of our nation, we will be OK. If we don’t, we will face a hellish existence. I vote we accept God.

Digby pronounces it “batshit crazy“, and I can’t really argue. If you can make any sense out of it, leave a comment.

and you also might be interested in …

Trump gave his West Point graduation speech. It was a boiler-plate graduation speech: You’re great; your school’s great; your parents and teachers have done a great job; you’ll go on to do great things. Why this had to happen in person during a pandemic is still mysterious.

A couple of odd motions during his West Point appearance started speculation about Trump’s health.

The Atlantic’s David Graham reports on how much money — campaign money and tax money alike — is being spent just to make Trump feel better about his situation. For example, the campaign has been running ads on cable news shows in the D.C. area. This makes no political sense, since D. C. and Maryland are not swing states, and the northern suburbs of Virginia (which probably isn’t a swing state any more either) aren’t where Trump needs to turn out his voters. Obviously, the campaign is running those ads so that Trump himself will see them, and feel like his campaign is out there defending him.

If, like me, you’ve lost track of all the places the US has troops, it turns out that the President is supposed to keep Congress informed about that. Here’s the latest letter, sent Tuesday.

and let’s close with a Confederate general worth commemorating

The founder of Dogpatch: Jubilation T. Cornpone. If you want to know his legend, listen to this number from the 1959 musical Li’l Abner.

What’s in a Slogan?

Democrats may reach consensus about the future of policing more easily than they reach consensus about what to call that vision.

If the demonstrations set off by the murder of George Floyd (and now possibly extended by the killing of Rayshard Brooks) are going to be more than just a way to blow off steam, they have to lead to substantive change in the ways America enforces its laws. As I laid out last week, some reforms are already happening. Cities and states across the nation are banning chokeholds, instituting new procedures for reporting incidents of excessive force, and making it easier to identify and prosecute police officers who step over the line.

Is that enough? While those reforms are welcome and overdue, it’s hard to be confident that they will solve the problem, which goes to the heart of how police function in America: They are heavily armed, are inclined to escalate conflicts rather than de-escalate them, and reflexively cover for each other when rules are broken. Making more rules may not help, as long as police are motivated to help other police get away with breaking those rules. The pseudonymous author Officer A. Cab of “Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop” testifies:

“All cops are bastards.” Even your uncle, even your cousin, even your mom, even your brother, even your best friend, even your spouse, even me. Because even if they wouldn’t Do The Thing themselves, they will almost never rat out another officer who Does The Thing, much less stop it from happening.

… I really want to hammer this home: every cop in your neighborhood is damaged by their training, emboldened by their immunity, and they have a gun and the ability to take your life with near-impunity. This does not make you safer, even if you’re white.

Police also cost a huge amount of money. Bloomberg estimates:

Over the past four decades, the cost of policing in the U.S. has almost tripled, from $42.3 billion in 1977 to $114.5 billion in 2017

The number of violent crimes peaked in 1993 and is down by more than 1/3 since then, but police budgets have continued to eat up about 3.7% of all state and local spending. That figure does not include the estimated $81 billion spent on prisons or the $29 billion spent processing people through the criminal courts. Some large cities spend considerably more than 3.7%: New York City budgets about $5.9 billion, which is more than 6% of its total spending.

Given all that, a surprisingly wide range of people are proposing a very simple idea: What if we just had fewer police?

The predictable backlash. That suggestion is easy to exaggerate and demonize.

Here’s an obvious attack ad to run against any politician who endorses it: Some white woman reenacts her totally true story of hiding in the closet with her toddler and calling 911 while strange men ravage her home. The invaders run away when they hear sirens approaching, and she and her boy emerge unharmed. She expresses her perfectly genuine gratitude to the helpful and reassuring officers who arrive on her doorstep. (I’d make one of the cops black, just to insulate against charges of race-baiting.)

Then a male narrator says: “Julie and Luke escaped their harrowing experience without a scratch, and the damage to their home was soon repaired. But if Senator Liberal Democrat had his way, no one would have answered her desperate call.” [A busy signal gets louder and louder as the camera slowly zooms in on the window the invaders broke to enter.] “Far-left politicians like Senator Democrat want to fire Officers Good and Noble, and slash the budgets of their departments. Let’s fire Senator Democrat instead, before the call that goes unanswered is yours.” [visual fade to the sound of an annoyingly loud busy signal]

It’s no wonder that people planning to have their names on ballots in the fall — people like Joe Biden and Jim Clyburn — have been running away from the “Abolish the Police” or “Defund the Police” slogans. A recent YouGov poll (scroll down to page 58) says that only 16% of the public favor cutting police budgets, while 65% oppose such cuts. So it’s also no wonder the Trump campaign is already running this ad:


But think about it. The fewer-police proposal isn’t just that we get rid of police and do nothing else. The point is that interrupting crimes in progress and arresting dangerous suspects is a very small part of what police do. If we let them concentrate on stuff like that, and didn’t load them down with every public problem that their cities don’t have covered some other way, we wouldn’t need nearly so many of them. Minneapolis Councilman Steve Fletcher explained the council’s pledge to “dismantle” the MPD.

What we’re trying to change is how we answer 911. So many of the calls that we currently send police officers with guns would actually be better served by mental health professionals, by social workers, by outreach workers, by conflict resolution specialists.

This already happens in certain cases: If you call 911 and say your house is on fire, they don’t send police, they send a fire engine. If you say somebody is having a heart attack, they send an ambulance with EMTs. If a bear is rummaging through your garbage or a rabid raccoon is in your driveway, you might get connected to an animal-control department. There’s no reason cities couldn’t also have specialized emergency responders for many situations they currently handle by dispatching police: drug overdoses, domestic arguments, loud parties, homeless people camping out someplace they shouldn’t, and so on.

Friday night’s shooting of Rayshard Brooks is a case in point: The original problem was that he fell asleep while his car was parked, partially blocking a Wendy’s drive-through. Did someone with a gun need to handle that? If someone without a gun had been sent — the kind of plan San Francisco is rolling out, and a few smaller cities are already trying — Brooks would probably still be alive.

Even most criminal investigation doesn’t really need a policeman, or at least not an armed one. Typically, police show up in the aftermath of a crime: Your car has been stolen, or you came home to find your house had been burglarized. The perpetrators are long gone. Armed police come, but what the situation really calls for is someone with the skills of an insurance adjuster — someone who can take your statement, shoot some photos, collect some evidence, and write a report. Guns shouldn’t be necessary until it’s time to make an arrest, and maybe not even then.

The Washington Post assembled this graphic summary of what police do in a major American city:

In short, the fewer-police proposal is also a more-people-to-handle-stuff-the-police-should-never-have-been-asked-to-do proposal. And police departments’ funding gets cut, not to punish them, but because the money for those other specialists has to come from somewhere.

Some of that work would be preventive rather than responsive. For example, if a city put real resources behind finding each homeless person a home (like they do in Finland), police (or whoever) wouldn’t have to answer so many calls about them. (The homeless are probably a large chunk of that “suspicious person” block in the graphic.)

And one final point from Georgetown law professor Christy Lopez:

Once we begin to undertake this inquiry [of rethinking public safety], we quickly see that there are some things that police are doing that nobody should be doing, such as enforcing laws that criminalize poverty and addiction, arresting people instead of issuing citations, writing tickets to raise revenue rather than protect the public, and using armored vehicles to evict women and children from a home they have occupied to protest homelessness.

Political activism vs. electoral politics. “Abolish the Police” is probably a great slogan if you want to raise energy for a protest, but across most of the country it would be a suicidal slogan for a political campaign.

A good issue-activist slogan is provocative in much the same way that online clickbait is. It draws your attention, maybe shocks you a little, and pulls you into the discussion if only to argue against it. Once drawn in, you may consider ideas you had never thought of before, and the activists may elaborate their proposals in ways that make them more reasonable than they originally sounded.

To a large extent, that’s working. I have lost count of the number of articles I’ve read explaining that “Abolish the Police” and “Defund the Police” don’t really mean “abolish the police” or “cut their funding to zero”: Somebody would still answer 911 calls, and if the needed response was for armed warriors to show up — say, in an active shooter situation — the city would still have some on the payroll. As Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing told NPR:

I’m certainly not talking about any kind of scenario where tomorrow someone just flips a switch and there are no police.

(Then again, some people really do mean “Abolish the Police”.)

Would I have read those articles and considered those ideas if they had just been labeled “police reform” or something equally bland? Maybe not.

But while it makes sense for an issue activist to shock you with a slogan and then explain the nuances later, that’s an insane strategy for a politician trying to get elected. Ronald Reagan was right: If you’re explaining, you’re losing.

Issue-oriented activists tend to underestimate the importance of low-information voters in electoral politics. But those voters are why every campaign works hard to oversimplify its opponents’ positions to the point of absurdity, and then to get those simple absurdities into the minds of voters who can’t be bothered to consider the complicated details.

In 1988, for example, Mike Dukakis had a huge lead in the polls after the Democratic Convention. But George H. W. Bush caught up and won handily on the strength of two “issues”: Mike Dukakis hates the Pledge of Allegiance, and Mike Dukakis will let big black dudes rape your wife. Both were nonsense, but explaining why they were nonsense derailed Dukakis’ whole message. He had to keep explaining, and so he lost. Bush’s 53% of the vote is more than any presidential candidate has gotten since.

Trump and Biden. You can already see Trump pushing a similar oversimplification on immigration policy: Democrats want “open borders“. None of the Democrats running for president in this cycle endorsed “open borders”, and I can’t think of a single Democrat in Congress who has even said the phrase. But nonetheless it’s a staple of Trump rhetoric: If Democrats take over, the Mexican border will be left completely unmanned and unprotected.

He has been helped in this effort by liberal activists who pushed the slogan “Abolish ICE”. Now, “Abolish ICE” doesn’t mean “leave the border unprotected”, but it sounds like it does. If you tell low-information voters that Democrats want open borders, and illustrate with demonstrators waving “Abolish ICE” signs, they’ll be convinced.

Similarly here, “Abolish the Police” or “Defund the Police” doesn’t mean “You’re on your own if a criminal attacks you.” But it sounds like it does. If I tell a low-information voter that Joe Biden won’t protect him from criminals, and then cut to a video of Biden saying “Abolish the police”, he’ll be convinced.

And that’s why Biden will never say, “Abolish the police.”

Rep. Jim Clyburn elaborates:

If you’re talking about reallocating resources, say that. If you mean reimagining policing, say that. If you’re going to reform policing, say that. Don’t tell me you’re going to use a term that you know is charged — and tell me that it doesn’t mean what it says.

California Governor Gavin Newsom explored the limits of how far a mainstream politician can go:

California Governor Gavin Newsom [said] Wednesday that while he’s not interested in “eliminating police,” he’s open to considering how a police officer’s role in a community could change.

“If you’re talking about reimagining and taking the opportunity to look at the responsibility and role that we place on law enforcement to be social workers, mental health workers, get involved in disputes where a badge and a gun are unnecessary, then I think absolutely this is an opportunity to look at all of the above.”

Is there any good electoral slogan here? Personally, I’m frustrated that no simple English verb expresses the idea I want. No everyday verb means “Expand other things so that one particular thing gets crowded out.” I can’t even think of a good metaphor to express that notion.

I agree with the abolition supporters that “reform” is too tepid. We’ve been reforming police for a long time now, and yet we still have George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks. I can’t claim that nothing has changed, because Floyd’s killer is charged with murder when so many killer officers have previously gone uncharged. The Brooks incident has already pushed the Atlanta police chief to resign, and charges against the officer are expected soon. Stuff like that didn’t used to happen. But the unnecessary deaths continue, and (even assuming the reforms currently on the table become law) I can’t say when they’ll stop.

What is stronger than “reform”, but doesn’t have the unfortunate implications of “abolish”? I don’t have a good candidate. Some people are saying “dismantle”. “Reconstitute” might work. I’m tempted to steal a word from the business world, and talk about “downsizing” the police.

Another option might be to talk about “the police state” rather than just “the police”. Americans have ambivalent feelings about police, but nobody likes a police state. (Trump loves to defend the police, but defending the police state would be a gift to his enemies.) “Police state” would capture the idea that black neighborhoods are over-policed, and would also tie in to the idea of mass incarceration. It points to the observation that we currently deal with all kinds of social problems (like homelessness or addiction) through the police rather than through more appropriate institutions.

Downsize the police? Dismantle the police state? End policing as we know it? None of them strikes me as an election-winning slogan, but they’re the best I can do.

Do activists and politicians need to say the same words? Another way to look at this is to let activists advance issues and let politicians win elections. Activists could keep saying “Abolish the police”, and no electoral harm would be done as long as they understood that no national figure could say it with them. The redefinition of police and of public safety is going to have to happen locally anyway. Maybe the best thing the federal government can do is stay out of the way.

Maybe it could be enough for Biden and other major Democrats in the fall election to say things activists could interpret positively, while still holding back from “Abolish the police”, as Governor Newsom did. Maybe it would be enough if Biden could say something like “The beauty of our federal system is that cities and states are free to experiment and try new things. If some of them want to find creative ways to deliver public services, and if they want to develop a new vision of how to ensure public safety, then a Biden administration will try to work with them.”

But maybe it wouldn’t be enough. Trump won in 2016 by pounding two wedges: a “corruption” wedge between Hillary Clinton and the center-right, and a Bernie-was-robbed wedge between Clinton and left. He’s going to try the same thing again. “Abolish the Police” works for him either way: If Biden agrees with the slogan, that becomes a wedge separating him from the center. If he doesn’t, it’s a wedge separating him from the left.

So that’s the question activists will be left with: Is it enough for Biden to indicate a general sympathy with their movement (when Trump is steadfastly against it), or does he have to repeat their words?