Monday, November 23, 2020

Lost Villages

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

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

- Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman

This week's featured post is "Can I Get Over Donald Trump?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the virus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did they manage that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

which got me thinking about Covid Carols

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

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

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

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

Have You Caught What I’ve Caught?

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let's close with something racy

Monday, November 16, 2020

Sofa Heroes

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

- translated from a German Covid ad

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

This week everybody was still reacting the election

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

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

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

and talking about the exploding virus

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

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

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

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

Don't do it.

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

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

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

and credit/blame for the election outcome

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

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

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

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

And yet ...

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

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

and the Biden administration

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

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

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

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

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

and "religious liberty"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But in what way is that opinion wrong? Isn't "religious liberty" the primary excuse for bigotry today?

and you also might be interested in ...

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

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

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

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

and let's close with a message from the future

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

Monday, November 9, 2020

Hard Looks

I think Biden will win. I also think the problem in this election is not the polling industry getting it wrong, it's the fact that this many Americans took a hard look at Trump and determined "yeah, I want four more years of that"

- Ben Rhodes, 8:30 a.m. Wednesday

This week's featured post is "Sitting With the Weirdness".

This week everybody was talking about the election

Most of what I have to say about the election is in the featured post: This was a genuinely weird election that doesn't fit anybody's model. I think if we force-fit it into our prior beliefs, we'll miss a chance to learn something.

While I am relieved that Trump will be out in January (and he will be), I'm disappointed to learn that 70 million Americans would be happy to keep marching towards fascism. Paul Waldman made that point at more length:

If Biden becomes president, as it looks like he will, we can let out a sigh of relief. At least the daily horrors emanating from the Trump administration will cease, and at least we won’t have to care what Trump himself is thinking and tweeting from hour to hour.

But if you believed Biden when he so often responded to some new misdeed by pleading, “This is not who we are. We’re better than this,” you were wrong. This is who we are. We are not better than this. And we won’t be for a long time to come, if ever.

To no one's surprise, Trump is not going gracefully. Rather than conceding, he has launched a barrage of baseless lawsuits, for the purpose of creating enough delay and fog to allow Republican legislatures in states like Pennsylvania to award him their electoral votes in defiance of the electorate.

Again and again, for example, Trump has been claiming that Republicans were not allowed to observe vote counting. This is just false.

There have been no reports of systematic irregularities with poll watchers anywhere in the US. There is no evidence supporting the President's claims that GOP poll watchers were shut out of the process, and Trump's campaign still hasn't backed up this broad claim in court.

CNN has reporters across the country following developments at polling places on Election Day and the ongoing vote-counting process, and saw nothing resembling Trump's allegations.

Ezra Klein points out that if this were happening in a third-world country, we'd have no trouble calling it an attempted coup.

That this coup probably will not work — that it is being carried out farcically, erratically, ineffectively — does not mean it is not happening, or that it will not have consequences. ... This is, to borrow Hungarian sociologist Bálint Magyar’s framework, “an autocratic attempt.” That’s the stage in the transition toward autocracy in which the would-be autocrat is trying to sever his power from electoral check. If he’s successful, autocratic breakthrough follows, and then autocratic consolidation occurs. In this case, the would-be autocrat stands little chance of being successful. But he will not entirely fail, either. What Trump is trying to form is something akin to an autocracy-in-exile, an alternative America in which he is the rightful leader, and he — and the public he claims to represent — has been robbed of power by corrupt elites.

He will not keep Biden from taking office. But he will make it much harder for Republicans to cooperate with the new administration. To do so, they will have to leave the Trump alternate reality, and so be seen as disloyal by the Trump base.

So far, thank God, none of Trump's inflammatory lies have led to violence.

Fox News has had a split personality this week: The daytime journalists are playing it fairly straight, reporting Trump's accusations of vote-counting fraud while clearly stating they have seen no evidence to support those claims. Meanwhile, the nightshift propagandists have been all but called for an uprising.

Trump's shenanigans are already monkey-wrenching the transition.

This week, all eyes are on the Trump-appointed General Services Administration administrator, Emily W. Murphy, to recognize Joe Biden as the president-elect and release funds to the Biden transition team through a process called ascertainment. This would mark the first formal acknowledgment from the Trump administration that Biden has in fact won the election, and would unlock access to national security tools to streamline background checks and additional funds to pay for training and incoming staff.But nearly 48 hours after the race was called by numerous news organizations, Murphy has not yet signed off. A GSA spokesperson declined to provide a specific timeline for when ascertainment would take place, a clear signal the agency won't get ahead of the President.

Best meme I've seen:

and the virus is truly out of control now

Remember how everybody was going to quit talking about "Covid, Covid, Covid" after the election? I don't think so.

Cases had been rising since a mid-September low of around 25K new infections per day. But this week showed an abrupt rise: We've now had five consecutive days over 100K. Deaths always lag cases by about a month, but we also had five consecutive days over 1,000 deaths, after getting down to about 700 per day in mid-October. It's a reasonable guess that by next month we'll be hitting 2,000 deaths in a day.

But there is good news on the vaccine front: Pfizer reports that its vaccine is 90% effective -- far higher than previously expected. That's from an interim analysis of its Phase 3 trials, which are not finished. The company plans to ask the FDA for emergency use authorization in about two weeks.

That doesn't mean you can get vaccinated by Thanksgiving. Production and distribution is still a huge logistical problem. But it is good news.

The Onion captures the absurdity of anti-mask protests: "Anti-Jacketers Rally Outside Burlington Coat Factory To Protest Liberal Cold Weather Conspiracy".

and we have to think about what happens next

One big decision that has to happen in the next few months: Should federal prosecutors enforce the laws that Trump and his minions have been violating? Or should the new administration declare bygones in hopes of bringing the country together?

I'm firmly in the enforce-the-law camp. It's still debatable whether President Ford's decision to pardon Nixon was correct, but that was a very different situation: Nixon had resigned after Republican senators told him they could no longer defend him. In other words, he was in disgrace and would never make a comeback. Also, he was seen as an anomaly. Post-pardon, we could implement reforms to keep his abuses from happening again, and otherwise stop thinking about him.

But Trump still has his party behind him and has admitted nothing. If the facts against him are never presented to a court, he will claim that all the accusations against him were political. And he'll be back in 2024.

I'm also hearing a lot of talk about dialog with the 70 million Trump voters, to find out who they are and what they want. I'm not very optimistic about that dialog, though, because I don't see any indication that they want to talk to or understand us.

After 2016, there was a small industry of books about rural whites and Southern Evangelicals. News organizations sent a steady stream of reporters to hang out in diners in Ohio and Indiana to find out how the locals viewed the world.

Does anybody expect Fox or NewsMax reporters to start hanging with black women in Atlanta? Is Barrio Elegy going to rise up the bestseller lists? Will Liberty University researchers study the folks who frequent public libraries and science museums? I don't think so. They don't want a dialog, and until they do, I don't see much hope for one.

and you also might be interested in ...

Puerto Rico passed a referendum in favor of statehood. There is no precedent in American history for governing this many people as a territory for this long. Statehood would be a no-brainer but for two considerations: Republicans don't want to admit a state that will probably vote Democratic, and white supremacists don't want a state full of brown people who speak Spanish.

If these were English-speaking white people with Republican sensibilities, they'd have been a state a long time ago.

With a Democrat in the White House, the budget deficit will be back on center stage. For four years, it was like the debt never existed, but now it will become an existential threat to the nation again.

and let's close with something delightfully nasty

I usually keep politics out of the closings, but this one is hilarious. (And yes, I know they misspelled Führer.) A clip from the last-days-of-Hitler movie Downfall has had its German subtitles replaced by Trump-loses-the-election lines. I've seen this clip labeled Donfall.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Civic Faith

This is in fact the most powerful message to remember amid the worst year of my lifetime. It doesn’t have to be this way. Better things are possible. ... That's really what it's about. We are masters of our own fate. We control our destiny collectively as a democracy and we can make things better than they are. And that's the civic faith we all have to keep.

- Chris Hayes,
"It Doesn't Have To Be This Way"

If Democrats win the fight to make America a democracy, the Republican Party will have to transform itself into a party capable of winning majorities in a country that is becoming more diverse and more secular. ... But if Democrats lose the next few elections, they may lose democracy itself to a conservative Supreme Court and an anti-democratic Republican Party.

- Ezra Klein,
"The Fight is for Democracy"

This week's featured post is "What Happens Tomorrow?".

This week everybody was talking about the election

Most of what I have to say about that is in the featured post.

I wonder how many people share the glitch I noticed in my intuition about probability: Improbable events seem more likely if I break them up into pieces. So a whole long series of things needs to happen if Trump is going to win the election. If I think about them individually, they're not that unlikely -- like Trump winning Florida or Arizona or Texas. So I start to imagine that the whole series happening together isn't that unlikely.

It's like thinking that 1-1-1 is easier to roll if you throw the dice one at a time.

Mainly, I just want this to be over. I wish it were like a too-tense football game, where I can tape the rest and not watch until I know who won.

I've done a bad job keeping track of the ballot initiatives around the country. But I voted for Ranked Choice Voting here in Massachusetts.

meanwhile the Trump corruption stories keep coming

In spite of right-wing-media's attempt to gin up some kind of something about the Biden family, this week there really were impressive new corruption stories -- about the Trump administration.

Wednesday, The New York Times had yet another Trump-corruption expose, the kind of story that would have been the #1 scandal in just about any previous administration: the bizarre story of the Justice Department's treatment of the corrupt Turkish bank Halkbank.

That's a long article, but Steve Benen summarizes it for people with short attention spans:

a foreign dictator asked Donald Trump to corrupt his own country's justice system, and the Republican president gladly said yes.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan made similar requests of the Obama administration, and was turned down. I have to wonder if the difference is Trump Tower Istanbul and the millions of dollars Trump has made in Turkey. Or maybe it's the hundreds of thousands Turkey paid in lobbying fees to Michael Flynn and Rudy Giuliani.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was on the board of a Chinese/American joint venture until 2019, two years after he became Commerce Secretary and began overseeing Trump's trade war with China. Ross claims he resigned from the position in 2017, in a letter to his US company WL Ross.

But Chinese corporate law experts consulted by Foreign Policy say that under Chinese law, writing a private letter to a U.S. parent company does not remove one from Chinese corporate boards.

Did he know that, or not? That's one of many questions it would be interesting to hear him answer under oath to Congress.

Ross has had a number of ethics violations during his term.

Ross only sold his shares in Invesco in December 2017—nearly a year into his tenure as commerce secretary. He was supposed to sell his shares, valued between $10 million and $50 million, before the end of May 2017. But the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity found that, because Invesco’s stock rose in the meantime, the delay netted Ross between $1.2 million and $6 million.

The attempt to smear Hunter Biden continues to be a comedy of errors. Thursday NBC revealed that a 64-page anti-Hunter document widely distributed on right-wing social media, including by "close associates of President Donald Trump" was written by a fake intelligence firm and was authored by a non-existent Swiss security researcher.

The author of the document, a self-identified Swiss security analyst named Martin Aspen, is a fabricated identity, according to analysis by disinformation researchers, who also concluded that Aspen's profile picture was created with an artificial intelligence face generator. The intelligence firm that Aspen lists as his previous employer said that no one by that name had ever worked for the company and that no one by that name lives in Switzerland, according to public records and social media searches.

Try to imagine something similar happening to Democrats: discovering, say, that Christopher Steele never existed and was never employed by MI-6.

The Economist sums up the problem with the Hunter Biden conspiracy theories:

To work, dumps of hacked email need a juicy target and credulous institutions. This one had neither.

and the virus

Another week, another new record for Covid-19 cases. Different media outlets collect data differently, but everyone seems to agree that we got over 90K cases in a day last week. There's no sign this is slowing down, so we'll almost certainly top 100K later this week.

The numbers out of the Dakotas are becoming astronomical. Nationally, we are averaging about 20-21 new cases per day, which is bad enough. But North Dakota is up to 139 and South Dakota 134.

I've previously estimated (using Canada as a control country) that the Trump administration's bungling of the government response to Covid is responsible for about 130K American deaths. But what about the deaths Trump is personally responsible for?

Researchers looked at 18 Trump rallies held between June 20 and Sept. 22 and analyzed Covid-19 data the weeks following each event. They compared the counties where the events were held to other counties that had a similar trajectory of confirmed Covid-19 cases prior to the rally date. Out of the 18 rallies analyzed, only three were indoors, according to the research.

The researchers found that the rallies ultimately resulted in more than 30,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19. They also concluded that the rallies likely led to more than 700 deaths, though not necessarily among attendees.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released a report on the "significant investments, accomplishments, policies and other actions undertaken by President Trump to advance science and technology". The associated press release quotes WHOSTP Director Dr. Kevin Droegemaier:

The highlights in this report represent just a fraction of the achievements made by the Trump administration on behalf of the American people. We have achieved a proud record of results, and under President Trump's leadership, science and technology will continue to inspire us, unite us, and guide us to ever greater progress.

"What achievements?" you might ask. Well, the first highlight the press release mentions is "Ending the COVID-19 Pandemic". Of course you didn't know about that, because the fake news media continues to hide the fact that the pandemic has ended, pretending instead that nearly 100,000 Americans get infected in a single day, and often more than 1,000 die.

Every "highlight" gets a paragraph in the press release, and each one contains the word "Trump". It's like the old Soviet research journals, where even the driest most technical article would begin by explaining that none of this would be possible without the historic insights of Marx and Lenin.

and disenfranchising Americans

For years, Republicans have been doing their best to make it hard to vote. We see the evidence in every election, in those long lines that voters (usually Black voters, for some strange reason) have to endure if they want to cast a ballot. (In the mostly white neighborhoods where I've lived, voting seldom takes more than a few minutes.)

This year, the pandemic has made voting more dangerous, especially for seniors and younger people with complicating conditions like diabetes or asthma. Across the country, Democrats have put forward ways to make voting easier and safer, which Republicans have blocked wherever they hold power.

When they haven't been able to block easier voting methods through the political process, Republicans have gone to court, taking advantage of the huge number of judges Trump and McConnell have managed to install in the last four years.

With election day approaching, the Republican legal strategy has shifted from making voting harder to disqualifying ballots already legally cast. Here are the most outrageous cases so far.

  • In Texas, conservative activists are suing to throw out 127,000 ballots cast in drive-through polling places in Houston. The Texas Supreme Court threw the suit out, but a federal court is considering it today.
  • In Minnesota, a federal appellate court ruled that mail-in ballots received after election day must be sequestered, in case they have to be declared invalid later. Instructions mailed with the ballots say they will be counted as long as they are postmarked by election day, in accordance with a consent decree issued in state court.

Imagine, just for a moment, an America where both parties believe that voting is a good thing, and that every ballot cast in good faith should be counted. Idyllic, isn't it?

and what's up with that dystopian version of the American flag?

Right about the time that NASCAR and a bunch of other organizations banned Confederate flags, the popularity of a new flag started growing in the just-this-side-of-fascist segment of the citizenry: the thin-blue-line flag. Below, we see a Trump rally where it has essentially replaced the American flag.

I'm reminded of the color-shifted Superman costume in the dystopian graphic novel Kingdom Come; black replaced brighter colors.

This flag is supposed to be pro-police, building on the image that the police are the "thin blue line" between civilization and anarchy. It's sometimes referred to as the Back the Blue or Blue Lives Matter or anti-Black-Lives-Matter flag.

In practice, and especially now that it has merged into Trump's vision of "law and order", the flag now stands for what Jeff Sharlet calls "police nationalism" and defines as "identity founded on fetishization of an explicitly brutal & implicitly racist idea of policing."

Implicit in the slogan "Back the Blue" when used by police nationalists is the fantasy of a coming conflict (which aligns neatly with QAnon's idea of a "storm") in which "backing the Blue" will mean choosing a side in a civil war not so much feared as anticipated.

It would be one thing if Back the Blue was a spontaneous expression of support for public servants in a dangerous and difficult profession. But coming at this particular moment, as Blue Lives Matter, making support for police a response to Black Lives Matter, sends another message entirely: "Go ahead and kill all the Black people you want, officers. We've got your back."

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Remember when a hurricane striking Louisiana would have dominated the news for a week or more?

If the election goes well, I'm going to start focusing on ideas for fixing American democracy, which has come way too close to self-destructing.

The most interesting ideas, because they might actually happen, are the ones that don't require changing the Constitution. Here's one I never thought of before: Change the number of representatives in Congress. We got to 435 via the Reapportionment Act of 1929, but there's nothing sacred about that number.

One proposal I find intesting: The state with the least population (currently Wyoming at around 579K) gets one representative, and then every other state would get representatives based on how many Wyomings they have, instead of making one representative for every 759K, as you'd have to in order to keep the House down to 435.

The effect is to take disproportionate power away from small states, both in Congress and in the Electoral College. The more representatives, the more electoral votes -- which devalues the two the each state gets from its senators.

Poland has imposed one of the world's most draconian abortion bans. This weekend a few people decided to protest.

It's striking that the first thing Amy Coney Barrett did after being confirmed to the Supreme Court was to let Trump turn her swearing-in ceremony into a campaign event at the White House.

Compare this extravaganza with Sonia Sotomayor's swearing-in, which happened in a private ceremony at the Supreme Court.

Only the chief justice, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Justice Sotomayor’s immediate family, Judge Robert Katzmann of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, members of the chief justice’s staff and a court photographer attended this ceremony. Her mother, Celina Sotomayor, held a Bible for the ritual.

Similarly, only a "small gathering of Elena Kagan’s family and friends" witnessed her swearing-in. In each case, President Obama recognized that his role in the process had ended, and the new justice was now independent of his administration. Whether Barrett retains her independence, or even wants to, remains to be seen.

and let's close with something astounding

What better way to Rocky the Vote than to get Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and a number of other notables to make cameo appearances in a "Time Warp" video?

Monday, October 26, 2020

Full Responsibility

I take full responsibility. It's not my fault.

- Donald Trump, during this week's debate

This week's featured post is "I Want To Believe".

This week everybody was talking about the election

The featured post discusses my hopes and fears for Election Night.

There was a debate Thursday (transcript), which I once again was unable to make myself watch. The upshot seems to be that not much changed: Polls say Biden did better, but by a margin not much bigger than he gets in polls about how people will vote. Mostly, people liked the performance of the candidate they're voting for anyway.

I did not see this coming: The Manchester Union Leader endorsed Biden. Maybe you have to have lived in New Hampshire to know what this means, but for decades the Union Leader WAS conservatism. It's still a conservative paper, but I think it recognizes that its worldview has no place in a world where conservatism means Trump.

Our policy disagreements with Joe Biden are significant. Despite our endorsement of his candidacy, we expect to spend a significant portion of the next four years disagreeing with the Biden administration on our editorial pages.

But the Union Leader has bigger fish to fry than the Green New Deal.

President Trump is not always 100 percent wrong, but he is 100 percent wrong for America.

They fault him for:

  • His pre-pandemic deficit spending, which added 3 trillion to the debt. "The layman would expect that the best economy in history would be a time to get the fiscal house in order, pay down debt and prepare for a rainy day (or perhaps a worldwide pandemic)."
  • His failure to deal with Covid-19. "Mr. Trump rightly points out that the COVID-19 crisis isn’t his fault, but a true leader must own any situation that happens on their watch. We may be turning a corner with this virus, but the corner we turned is down a dark alley of record infections and deaths."
  • He can only cause division at a time when the country needs unity. "America faces many challenges and needs a president to build this country up. This appears to be outside of Mr. Trump’s skill set. Building this country up sits squarely within the skill set of Joseph Biden."

and the virus

The daily new-case numbers hit a new high Friday. The exact numbers vary depending on things like when you change over to a new day, but The Washington Post claimed 82,920 cases Friday, while The New York Times recorded 85,085. In both systems, Thursday had just missed setting the record established in July, and Saturday's total was either just above (WaPo) or just below (NYT) Friday's.

Here's what the WaPo graph currently looks like:

It's worth noting that the first hump is probably understated, because tests were much harder to get in March/April. The weekly death totals have never again reached the April levels of around 15K. The second wave peaked in August at around 8K. Deaths tend to lag cases by about a month, and are now running a little over 6K per week. (That's the tiny kernel of truth behind Rudy Giuliani's outrageous statement that “People don’t die of this disease anymore.” Ignoring six thousand corpses is easier than ignoring 15 thousand corpses.)

But in addition to that time lag, it does look like fewer cases are leading to death now, as treatments gradually improve. There is still no cure, and the strategy is still to keep people alive until their own immune systems can win the battle, but doctors are getting better at it.

Meanwhile, there's another White House outbreak, this time among Mike Pence's staff.

and the new justice

Amy Coney Barrett will be voted on by the Senate tonight. Republicans have the votes to confirm her, and President Trump expects to have a ceremony swearing her in almost immediately.

Within days, she may start voting on cases that influence the election: Pennsylvania Republicans are still trying to get the state not to count mail-in votes that are postmarked by Election Day, but arrive later.

The Court will start hearing arguments about invalidating ObamaCare on November 10.

Senator Angus King of Maine and Heather Cox Richardson combine on an explanation of why Barrett's "originalism" philosophy doesn't make sense.

[T]his idea sounds simple and sensible: In determining what the Constitution permits, a judge must first look to the plain meaning of the text, and if that isn’t clear, then apply what was in the minds of the 55 men who wrote it in 1787. Period. Anything else is “judicial lawmaking.”

In some cases, interpreting the Constitution with an originalist lens is pretty easy; for example, the Constitution says that the president must be at least 35 years old (“35” means, well, 35), that each state has two senators (not three and not one), and that Congress is authorized to establish and support an Army and a Navy. But wait a minute. What about the Air Force? Is it mentioned in the text? Nope. Is there any ambiguity in the text? Again, no. It doesn’t say “armed forces”; it explicitly says “Army” and “Navy.” Did the Framers have in mind the Air Force 115 years before the Wright brothers? Not likely.

So is the Air Force unconstitutional, even though it clearly fails both prongs of the “originalist” test?

I gave another example -- the impossibility of applying any originalist interpretation of the Second Amendment -- last year.

They go on to explain what's really going on with this nonsensical theory, which of course will never be applied to the Air Force or corporate free speech or any other non-original notion that serves the purposes of conservatives.

Originalism is an intellectual cloak drummed up (somewhat recently) to dignify a profoundly retrogressive view of the Constitution as a straitjacket on the ability of the federal government to act on behalf of the public. Its real purpose is to justify a return to the legal environment of the early 1930s, when the Court routinely struck down essential elements of the New Deal. Business regulation, Social Security, and Medicare? Not so fast. The Affordable Care Act, environmental protections, a woman’s right to choose? Forget it.

but the Court is just one of the things that will need to be fixed

Assume for a moment that the polls are right and Biden wins the presidency. (Then go back to whatever level of uncertainty causes you to put the most effort into influencing the outcome.) American democracy will have dodged a bullet, narrowly avoiding the fate of failed or failing democracies like Russia, Turkey, Hungary, and Poland.

But in some ways we'll be like a middle-aged heart-attack survivor: There's no reason we can't go on to have a robust life, but we'll also have to make changes if we don't want the same thing to happen again. Trump has pointed out just how fragile our system is, and how much it has depended on all the players operating with a certain amount of good faith and good will.

For example: We have emergency laws so that the country can respond to crises that play out too quickly for Congress to act. We all took for granted that no president would declare a phony emergency just to circumvent the will of Congress, as Trump did to fund his border wall.

And the institutional structure of our government -- what Trump derides as "the Deep State" -- has resisted many of his worst impulses. But like a levee holding back a flooding river, it eroded, sometimes very badly. The Justice Department may have withstood pressure to arrest Trump's political opponents, but it also distorted the findings of the Mueller Report and corruptly favored the President's criminal friends. The CDC continues to battle Covid-19, but has lost the faith not just of the public, but of some states as well. The Director of National Intelligence has often sounded like someone who works for the Trump campaign, not the United States government.

The recent executive order extending the President's power over government professionals (explained below) will only make this worse.

Electing Biden may stop the flood, but we will also need to repair the levees -- and not just to their previous strength. This is one important area where we need to "build back better". The next would-be autocrat might be cleverer and less buffoonish than Trump. We need a democracy that can survive that challenge too.

things like the media

One levee that badly needs repair is the press. For that issue, I recommend Vox' recent interview with Jay Rosen. Rosen and interviewer Sean Illing discuss a propaganda tactic the Russians call the "firehose of falsehood" and Steve Bannon described as "flooding the zone with shit": You say so many false and outrageous things that the media's attempt to fact-check you drives the news cycle. Opposing views are pushed out of the conversation, and the argument becomes You vs. the Media.

The first Trump/Biden debate is a perfect example: No one remembers anything Biden tried to say. The whole post-debate conversation was about Trump's outrageousness and the moderator's inability to control him.

Trump is the first major politician to bring this tactic to the US.

[Previous presidents] would change the [fact-checked] claim to make it kind-of sort-of factual, or they would take it out of the stump speech, because they didn’t want to suffer the penalty of being described as untruthful. And this was true across parties.

Illing asks how a news outlet like The New York Times can deal with this tactic without being "seen as inherently biased by a lot of people", and Rosen acknowledges this is impossible.

What’s actually achievable, however, is a newsroom that serves everyone in the country — Democrats and Republican — who shares with Times journalists a certain baseline reality and evidentiary standard. That’s all you can get. ... If the perception of critics can shape rule-making in his newsroom, then [NYT editor Dean] Baquet has surrendered power to enemies of the Times, who will always perceive bias because it is basic to their interests to do so.

Rosen wants election coverage to become voter-centered rather than candidate-centered: What's important isn't the campaigns' strategies and messages, it's "the voters struggling to get their concerns addressed by the system".

In the citizens agenda model, you “win” when you gain an accurate sense of what people want the campaign to be about, and when you successfully pressure the candidates to address those things people told you they want the campaign to be about.

He also wants the media to confront openly the difference between the parties, which are no longer mirror-images of each other, if they ever were.

The Republican Party has become a counter-majoritarian party. It can only win elections by making it harder to vote, and by making it harder to understand what the party is all about. The conflict with honest journalism is structural, not just a matter of broken practices or bad actors. And I believe the people who report on politics in the United States are going to have to confront that reality, whether Trump wins or loses.

If our journalists continue in the assumption that we have a normal system where there is a contest for power between roughly similar parties with different philosophies, then every day of operation they will be distorting the picture more and more.

Another example of how the political game has changed: The Atlantic's Anne Applebaum 's article "You're Not Supposed to Understand the Rumors About Biden".

There is apparently a new cache of "Hunter Biden emails", with yet another dodgy story about where they came from and what they supposedly prove.

This is a different cache, one that is even more tangential to the U.S. presidential campaign and even harder to understand. In order to even make sense of the messages’ content, the reader must learn the backstories of a whole new cast of characters, not just Cooney but two other convicted fraudsters named Devon Archer and Jason Galanis; the wife of the former mayor of Moscow, Yelena Baturina; and Chris Heinz, John Kerry’s stepson, who broke away from the group; as well as their relationships, their jokes (they refer to Baturina as the “USSR woman’s shot put champion”), and the rules of the ugly world they inhabit. In order to link them to Joe Biden, you have to turn somersaults, do triple flips, and squint very hard.

... In releasing the 26,000 emails, Tyrmand and his collaborator, the Breitbart News contributor Peter Schweizer, are not bringing forth any evidence of actual lawbreaking, or an actual security threat, by either Hunter or Joe Biden. They are instead creating a miasma, an atmosphere, a foggy world in which misdeeds might have taken place, and in which corruption might have happened. They are also providing the raw material from which more elaborate stories can be constructed. The otherwise incomprehensible reference in last night’s debate to “the mayor of Moscow’s wife,” from whom Joe Biden somehow got rich, was an excellent example of how this works. A name surfaces in a large collection of data; it is detached from its context; it is then used to make an insinuation or accusation that cannot be proved; it is then forgotten, unless it gains some traction, in which case it is repeated again.

If this all sounds vaguely like a replay of the 2016 attacks on Hillary Clinton, that's because it is.

Those messages contained no actual scandals either—only the miasma of scandal. And that was all that mattered. But her emails was an effective phrase precisely because it was so amorphous. It was an allusion to a whole world of unnamed, unknown, and, as it turned out, fictional horrors.

I got a small chance to be part of the solution this week. Lately I've been working as a volunteer on The Bedford Citizen, the local online newspaper of my small Boston suburb. This part of Massachusetts is heavily Democratic, to the point that the Republicans don't field candidates for all the important offices. This year, both our state representative and our state senator are running unopposed.

One complaint I share with Jay Rosen is that the press covers politics as if it were a horse race, with all its attention directed to the back-and-forth of the campaigns, virtually ignoring the race's impact on how the community will be governed.

Well, that kind of coverage isn't possible for our local legislative races, because there is no horse race to cover. What to do? Here's how I answered that question. My article is still candidate-centered, but is more about governing than politicking.

and the environment

The town of Greensburg, Kansas was all but wiped out by a tornado in 2007. Its rebuilding plan "put the green in Greensburg", and now the town has energy-conserving buildings and a wind farm that produces more electricity than the town uses. A farmer and local businessman comments: "People assume you’re a community of hippies or some nonsense. No, it’s the responsible way to build now."

Could the new all-electric Hummer be good for the environment? Well, no, not really. It's a 3-ton behemoth that takes gobs of energy to manufacture and operate, no matter where that energy comes from. But Grist does its best to see the bright side.

All that said, the Hummer EV may do something kind of useful: make all-electric driving appeal to people who aren’t that into the environment. ... Even if early Hummer EV owners are only those who can afford to shell out $112,000 on a massive “supertruck,” the purchase of these metal monstrosities could increase the push to install chargers, and provoke even more EV ownership down the line in decidedly non-hipster, non-environmentalist markets. ... [B]uying a Hummer might be some people’s first step into an eco-friendly lifestyle. Cutting carbon emissions is, after all, kind of a choose-your-own-adventure situation. Decide to have one fewer child to fight climate change? Good on you. Avoiding all plastic to save the ocean? Go for it! Buying an electric Hummer instead of a similarly giant gas-guzzling SUV? Uh, sure.

Tropical storm Zeta makes it official: 2020 ties 2005's record for named storms. And hurricane season has another month to run.

Grist sums up the Trump administration's climate-change record in an eight-minute video.

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Wednesday President Trump issued an executive order that could finally bring the "Deep State" to heel. The order is fairly technical and hard to make interesting to the general public, but in essence it makes vast numbers of civil servants fireable by the President.

Any civil servants in "positions of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character" would be reclassified into a new Schedule F in order to guarantee that "the President have appropriate management oversight regarding this select cadre of professionals".

The purpose of establishing the civil service was to avoid the corrupt machine politics of the 19th-century spoils system, where the federal bureaucracy turned over every time there was a new administration. This executive order undermines civil service protections, and creates vast new opportunities for corruption and autocracy.

At stake are the career professionals who have stayed loyal to the missions of their departments rather than the whims of the President -- like the scientists at the CDC and FDA who have been trying to maintain the safety standards for vaccines, even though the President wants them to approve one before the election.

Voters in Georgia and Tennessee have been challenged at the polls and told their Black Lives Matter t-shirts violated local laws against "electioneering" at a polling place.

During the primary in September, poll-watchers in Exeter, NH stopped a 60-something woman because her t-shirt was too political for a polling place. So she took it off and voted topless.

and I have a question for you

I used to have a "This Week's Challenge" feature to encourage comments, but I haven't done that in a long time. Well, here's a challenge.

A computer-security researcher in the Netherlands says he hacked Trump's Twitter account by guessing the password "maga2020!". He reported the security problem, and if he did any mischief at all, it was subtle. That shows way more discipline than I would have had.

So that's this week's challenge: If you had control of Trump's Twitter, and figured you would probably only get one tweet out before they shut you down, what would it be?

and let's close with something old and stale

It turns out that nothing lasts forever, not even Twinkies.