Monday, August 10, 2020

Behind Our Masks

Today I find the mask useful

along with sunglasses

to hide my tear streaked face,

not wanting to scare the barista

who has enough to deal with

behind his own mask.


- "Transitions" by Tammi Truax,
poet laureate of Portsmouth, NH

This week's featured posts are "The NRA and the Long Con" and "Those Executive Orders".

This week everybody was talking about executive orders

Saturday, Trump responded to the impasse in negotiations to extend provisions of the CARES Act by signing an executive order and three memoranda. He claimed they provide all sorts of relief to people economically stressed by the Covid-19 epidemic, especially the unemployed and those facing eviction. However, as one featured post points out, what the orders actually accomplish is much less than Trump claims, and yet they still threaten the constitutional order.

and the NRA

The other featured post discusses the legal problems of the National Rifle Association, which is threatened with dissolution by the New York Attorney General's lawsuit. (The article uses that example to segue into a discussion of the conservative vulnerability to scams and con artists.) Basically, the NYAG claims that the NRA has become more about Wayne LaPierre's luxurious lifestyle than about the Second Amendment, and that the corruption enabling this abuse is so pervasive and so top-to-bottom that no solution is possible that leaves the NRA intact.

The Washington Post satirist Alexandra Petri takes that first point and runs with it, suggesting a fund-raising letter for people who have never given to the NRA before.

We bet that what’s been holding you back all this time is the belief that if you donated to the NRA, it would help put more guns in more places and that such a goal, in your opinion, would make the United States a more dangerous place. Well, we urge you to take a second look and ask: Is that really what the NRA is doing?

A misconception that a lot of people have about the NRA is that we are some sort of gun lobby, trying to put guns into and keep them in the (cold, dead) hands of as many people as possible. But as allegations in a recent lawsuit demonstrate, the NRA is about so much more than that. We are also about subsidizing the personal travel of CEO Wayne LaPierre, his family members and a few trusted affiliates! We’re not just a gun lobby whose annual convention did not take place this year and which seems as though it hasn’t been very active around the coming election. We also believe in the power of travel, and the need to support America’s small-ship owners, or large-yacht owners, depending on your perspective.

An obvious question I didn't get around to answering in the featured post  is why these are civil lawsuits rather than criminal indictments. The answer has to do with jurisdiction. In the Daily Beast, former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade (who appears fairly ofteny on Rachel Maddow's show) wrote:

this easily could have been framed as a criminal case. Filing false registration and disclosure documents as part of a scheme to defraud can serve as the basis for federal mail or wire fraud, and often does in public corruption cases.

Her article strongly implies that criminal jurisdiction here belongs to Bill Barr's Justice Department, which has no interest in prosecuting Trump's friends. The NYAG is using a civil suit because that's the tool at hand. However, the NYT quotes James:

It’s an ongoing investigation. If we uncover any criminal activity, we will refer it to the Manhattan district attorney. At this point in time we’re moving forward, again, with civil enforcement.

and the virus

Deaths seem to be peaking, which makes sense given that cases peaked 2-3 weeks ago. In the US, we're up to about 165,000 dead, a number still rising at the rate of about 1,100 a day.

I worry that we are once again just seeing a transition. As the center of the virus moved from the Northeast to the South, there was an in-between period where the national numbers dropped. Now it is shifting again from the South to the Midwest, and staging a bit of a comeback in the Northeast. The national numbers may drop for a while now, but it remains to be seen if we're really turning the corner as a nation.

Trump's pro-mask conversion didn't last very long.

An 8th-grade teacher from central Iowa lists nine ways that the current discussions about schools are off-base. If you picture real kids having the kinds of classroom experiences they'll actually have if their schools reopen, the conversation changes.

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Another executive order this week bans "transactions" with Chinese companies ByteDance and WeChat, beginning in 45 days. ByteDance owns TikTok, a popular social media platform that I know literally nothing about. (I also own a small amount of stock in the Chinese company TenCent, which owns WeChat, another app I have never used.)

A good summary of the possible security threats posed by a Chinese social-media app that has been downloaded onto millions of American phones is at LawFare. (A sequel discussing the current executive orders is here.) As I read that post, the risks posed by TikTok and WeChat are more-or-less the same as the ones posed by Facebook or Twitter or any other social media app, compounded by the possibility that the Chinese government might get hold of the data it collects and use it for nefarious purposes.

I'm reminded of an old Travels With Farley comic strip where Farley talks to the strip's military character, Major Mishap. Mishap explains that it's his job to keep nuclear weapons from falling into the wrong hands. And Farley asks, "Does that mean you think they're in the right hands now?"

If the Chinese angle on TikTok gets everyone to take seriously what a nefarious actor could do with Google's data trove (and why we're so convinced that Google isn't already that nefarious actor), that would be great. But I worry that this is just Trump acting out against a social-media universe populated by people who don't like him, like Sarah Cooper.

If at the beginning of the year you'd asked me to list the threats to democracy, I don't think I'd have come up with "a purge at the Post Office".

Pulitzer-prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson's new book Caste: the origins of our discontents has her out doing interviews. Here's an amazing anecdote she recounted during her appearance on NPR's Fresh Air, beginning around the 29 minute mark:

I had this experience in Chicago years ago when I was reporting a story that was fairly routine. I had made arrangements to interview all these people. I made the arrangements over the phone to interview a number of people for this story, and all the interviews had gone well, until I got to the last one. It was the last interview of the day. I was very much looking forward to it.

The person that I was speaking with, or going to speak with, had been very excited to talk with me over the phone. But when I got there, he happened not to have been there at the time, and the place where I went -- it was a retail establishment -- happened not to have other people in it, so I was waiting for him to get there. The door opens and this man comes in. He was vary harried, and he's got this overcoat on. He's very late for an appointment, ultimately, with me. But he's harried, he's frazzled, he's anxious, and the clerk who had helped me earlier told me to go up to this man, that this was the man I was there to interview.

And I went up to him and he said, "Oh no, no, no, no. I can't talk with you right now." And I was flummoxed by that. I mean, we're here for the interview, why are you saying you don't have time to talk? And he said, "No, I can't talk with you right now, I'm getting ready for a very, very important interview. I cannot talk with you right now." And I said, "Well, I think I'm the person interviewing you. I'm Isabel Wilkerson with The New York Times."

And he said, "Well, how would I know that? How do I know that you're Isabel Wilkerson?"  And I said, "I am here. This is the time. It's 4:30. You were here for the interview." And he said, "Do you have a business card?" And I said, I actually happened not to have had any, because it was the end of the day and I'd been interviewing people all day and this was the last interview, which I was very much looking forward to. And I said, "I'm sorry, I'm out of business cards right now." And he said, "Well, do you have something that ... do you have some ID? Could I see some ID?"

And I said, "I shouldn't have to show you ID. We're already into the time where we were supposed to have the interview. We should be talking right now." He said, "Well, I need to see some ID." And so I pulled out my driver's license to show it to him, and he said, "You don't have anything with The New York Times on it?" And he said, "I'm sorry, I'm going to have to ask you to leave, because I have a very important interview coming. She'll be here any minute. I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

So I was actually accused of impersonating myself, because I was not perceived as being the person, I was not perceived as being someone who should have been in the position of a New York Times national correspondent there to interview him.

She's goes on to explain that when something like that happens, you don't tell your editors, for fear that they'll lose faith in your ability to do the job. You just figure out some other way to get the story.

Recently released police body-cam video from Phoenix proves that cops kill white people too. An upstairs neighbor complained about noise from a video game Ryan Whitaker was playing with his girlfriend, and so the police showed up. AZ Central reports:

As they approach the apartment, no sounds of fighting or loud noises are heard coming from the unit.

Moments later, [Officer John] Ferragamo knocks on the door, identifying himself as Phoenix police. The officers stand to either side of the door, making it impossible for anyone looking out of the peephole to see who was there.

Whitaker opens the door, with the gun in hand and rapidly takes a couple of steps out of the apartment as Ferragamo flashes a light in his face. Ferragamo greets Whitaker and then repeatedly yells, "Hands," according to the footage.

Whitaker is seen in the video starting to get on his knees, putting his left hand up and putting the gun behind his back when [Officer Jeff] Cooke fires into Whitaker's back.

In the video, Whitaker appears to realize that these people are cops and start putting the gun down just before he was killed.

In addition to its influence on the national police-are-out-of-control discussion, this video also points out the problem created by the ubiquity of guns. Whitaker's gun pushes Cook into a snap decision, which he makes badly. The number of guns in the US raises the possibility of deadly force in way too many situations, and limits people's time to think.

After Trump pronounced Yosemite as "Yo Semite", I joked on Facebook that soon Fox News would claim that was the actual pronunciation, and before long conservatives would all be saying "Yo Semite" just to prove they were on the right side. (The National Museum of American Jewish History is now selling "Yo Semite" t-shirts.)

Turns out it's no joke. Two days later, Trump mispronounced Thailand as Thighland (and hilarity ensued). Conservative author (and Trump pardon recipient) Dinesh D'Souza tweeted in all seriousness:

This is actually the correct pronunciation. Most Americans say it wrong. Thailand is pronounced phonetically. It’s “Thighland,” not “Tai-land.”

When everyone laughed at him, D'Souza doubled down.

Let me clarify. I’m not saying “Thighland” is how it is said in the Thai language. The French say “Paree” but that’s not how it is pronounced in English. “Thighland,” not “Tai-land,” is how English speakers around the world say it.

That's how it is in TrumpWorld. If the Great Leader says something out of step with reality, reality needs to change. He doesn't speak Truth, he defines Truth. I can hardly wait for the Exalted One's tour of Thighland to take him to Fuck It (Phuket).

Kathleen Parker's "Covid-19 isn't going anywhere. So schools must reopen." isn't wrong so much as it's just clueless. Everyone want schools to be able to open safely, and businesses to be able to open safely, and voting to be safe, and on and on and on. The question is, "What do we do when it's not safe?" Parker has no answers for that.

I wanted to have watched Trump's Axios interview. I really did. But even the prospect of the interviewer pushing back couldn't sustain me through Trump's endless bullshit. I include the link for those of you with more endurance.

and let's close with something electric

like Toto played on Tesla coils. That much electrical discharge is likely to bring the rains down in Africa.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Conquest and Ruin

The election was a necessity. We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us.

- Abraham Lincoln, 11-10-1864, two days after his re-election

This week's featured post is "The Election: Worry or Don't Worry?".

This week everybody was talking about Trump's threat to the election

At 8:30 Thursday morning, the Bureau of Economic Analysis released its 2nd quarter GDP report, showing the economy contracting at a record pace. Sixteen minutes later, Trump tweeted:

With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???

Coincidence? Of course not. Again and again, Trump has shown that he would rather have us talking about some outrageous thing he said than about his failures in the real world.

And notice, of course, that Trump presents no plan for making things better. No plan for controlling the virus so that in-person voting will be safer, no safeguards to make mail-in voting more secure. No suggestion of when or how people could "properly, securely, and safely vote". The tweet is just pure disruption: undermine faith in what is going to happen, without offering any viable alternative.

Republicans in Congress tried to stay clear of this authoritarian overreach, but for the most part they didn't condemn it either. "I think delaying the election probably wouldn’t be a good idea," Lindsey Graham said. And Mitch McConnell commented:

Never in the history of the Congress, through wars, depressions and the Civil War have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time, and we’ll find a way to do that again this Nov. 3.

To me, their message to Trump sounded more like "If you want to disrupt the election, leave me out of it" than "Don't you dare." I would have liked an elected Republican to react more like Federalist Society founder Steven Calabresi:

I am frankly appalled by the president’s recent tweet seeking to postpone the November election. Until recently, I had taken as political hyperbole the Democrats’ assertion that President Trump is a fascist. But this latest tweet is fascistic and is itself grounds for the president’s immediate impeachment again by the House of Representatives and his removal from office by the Senate. ... President Trump needs to be told by every Republican in Congress that he cannot postpone the federal election. Doing so would be illegal, unconstitutional and without precedent in American history. Anyone who says otherwise should never be elected to Congress again.

and the yuge GDP drop

OK, back to the GDP. The BEA report began:

Real gross domestic product (GDP) decreased at an annual rate of 32.9 percent in the second quarter of 2020

That 32.9% number was all over the media coverage of the report, but it's a crazy way to look at it. Nothing real fell by 32.9% in the 2nd quarter. NPR explains:

GDP swings are typically reported at an annual rate — as if they were to continue for a full year — which can be misleading in a volatile period like this. The overall economy in the second quarter was 9.5% smaller than during the same period a year ago.

To bring this idea home, imagine that you buy a $20,000 car today. So today you are spending at an annual rate of $7.3 million. But nothing in your box of receipts will ever add up to $7.3 million, because you're not going to buy a $20,000 car every day for a year.

All the same, though, what really happened is bad enough: In the 2nd quarter the economy was 9.5% smaller than it was the year before. In the whole history of quarterly GDP reports, there has never been one this bad. What this proves is that we're not having the "V-shaped recovery" that Trump has been predicting. People are still hurting, and jobs are hard to find. When Republicans in Congress went along with Democrats on the CARES Act in March, most of them were imagining that we'd be over the hump by now and well on our way back to normal.

Well, we're not. And Republicans have no idea what to do about it.

The White House’s strategy in the negotiations has shifted multiple times in the past few weeks. Democrats passed a $3 trillion package in May that included an extension of unemployment benefits, new stimulus checks, aid for states and localities, and various other programs. The White House expressed opposition to that bill but did not begin negotiations with Democrats until recently. It also took the White House much longer than expected to broker a unified Republican proposal with the Senate GOP after blowback on several of the White House’s ideas.

One special crisis: The federal eviction ban has lapsed, and estimates say Americans owe $21.5 billion in back rent. "In July alone, 21% of renters paid no rent, according to research firm Apartment List." Expect a wave of evictions, followed by an increase in homelessness. It's got to be much harder to protect yourself against Covid-19 if you're homeless, so this will directly affect the spread of the virus.

Trump and McConnell have been acting like they have all the time they want to figure this out. They don't. Bad stuff is already happening, and more is going to happen every day they delay.

Renters are just the first domino. If they can't pay, then landlords won't be able to pay their mortgages. And then banks will be insolvent, and we'll be in a credit crunch.

One odd wrinkle in the politics of this is that it's not clear who McConnell speaks for. Lindsey Graham has claimed that "Half the Republicans are going to vote no on any Phase 4 package." And Ron Johnson says: "I don't want to see any new authorization of money."

On the surface this looks weird, because the economic disaster these Republicans are courting is going to hurt Trump's re-election campaign.

What's going on here is that senators who aren't running this year are looking down the road, and already assuming a Trump loss in the fall. After the George W. Bush administration ended in disaster, Republicans quickly disavowed Bush and claimed that he was never really a conservative. The Tea Party movement of 2009 took aim at all the Republicans who went along with Bush on the $700 billion TARP bail-out bill in October of 2008.

Senators like Johnson and Ben Sasse are foreseeing a similar rebranding trick after Trump is gone. And they sense that Republicans who vote for a new stimulus now will be vulnerable once Biden is president and deficits become anathema again.

Michael Strain of the conservative American Enterprise Institute makes a good point about statistics: The bad 2nd-quarter numbers set the stage for 3rd-quarter numbers that will sound good, even if they're not.

Economists at JPMorgan Chase & Co. estimate that the June GDP is over five percentage points larger than the average in April, May, and June. So even if the economy does not grow at all in July, August and September, the third quarter is already set to outperform the second by a wide margin.

When a trillion dollars is going out the door, Trump just can't resist wetting his beak a little. His proposed plan includes money to remodel the FBI building near the Trump International Hotel in D.C. The original plan had the FBI headquarters moving to cheaper quarters in the suburbs, but then the D.C. site might be available for some competing hotel. Trump really doesn't want that to happen.

His plan also includes a bigger tax break for business restaurant spending -- another boost for Trump properties.

and the virus

The death rate continues to rise. The current  7-day moving average is 1,226 deaths a day.

The news continues to be bad for anyone hoping schools will reopen safely.

Central Junior High in Greenfield, Indiana couldn't get through its first day without an incident.

Just hours into the first day of classes on Thursday, a call from the county health department notified Greenfield Central Junior High School in Indiana that a student who had walked the halls and sat in various classrooms had tested positive for the coronavirus. Administrators began an emergency protocol, isolating the student and ordering everyone who had come into close contact with the person, including other students, to quarantine for 14 days.

... A New York Times analysis found that in many districts in the Sun Belt, at least 10 people infected with the coronavirus would be expected to arrive at a school of about 500 students and staff members during the first week if it reopened today.

A major outbreak happened at a Georgia YMCA camp.

A CDC report released Friday reveals that hundreds of campers at a north Georgia YMCA camp were infected with coronavirus in just days before the camp was shut down. ... According to the report, of the 597 residents who attended the camp, 344 were tested and 260 tested positive for the virus. The camp was only open for four days before being shut down because of the virus, and officials followed all recommended safety protocols. ...

The CDC said that what happened at High Harbor shows that earlier thinking that children might not be as susceptible to COVID-19 is wrong. According to the report, the age group with the most positive coronavirus tests was 6 - 10 years old.

Former presidential candidate Herman Cain died Thursday of complications from Covid-19. For a brief time in the 2012 cycle, as the slice of the Republican Party that would eventually become the Trump personality cult struggled against Mitt Romney, Cain was the front-runner for the Republican nomination.

With the virus being so ubiquitous, it's impossible to be confident in any contact-tracing. But Cain went to Trump's June 20 rally in Tulsa, where (like just about everybody else) he didn't wear a mask. He tested positive on June 29. (I haven't been able to determine whether that was when the test was given or the result reported.) He was hospitalized on July 1, and died July 30.

Trump began his July 30 briefing by blaming Cain's death on "the China virus". As usual, he takes no responsibility.

Here's the ad Trump should run

and John Lewis' funeral

The funeral was held Thursday.

The presidential eulogies -- delivered by every living president but the one who couldn't be bothered to show up -- were not to be missed: Barack Obama (text, video), Bill Clinton, and even George W. Bush. Bush was never known for his eloquence, or for his camaraderie with the civil rights movement, but his speech embodied a basic decency that is has not been seen in the White House since the current president arrived.

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The federal storm troopers left Portland, and the situation calmed down almost immediately. It's almost like the feds never intended to preserve peace and order.

One of the demonstrators described the evolution of the protests like this:

We came out here in t-shirts and with hula-hoops and stuff, and they started gassing us. So we came back with respirators, and they started shooting us. So we came back with vests, and they started aiming for the head. So we started wearing helmets. And now they call us terrorists. Who’s escalating this? It’s not us.

The retail bankruptcies continue: Lord and Taylor, Men's Wearhouse.

Fascinating tweet-storm in which an ER doctor talks about a surgery patient who was refusing a Covid-19 test, and so couldn't be operated on. It's a story of the kind of compassionate interaction we all wish we could receive or were capable of giving others. The doctor listened, reassured, provided factual context, and got the patient's consent.

In a Fox News interview on July 19, Trump told Chris Wallace:

We’re signing a health-care plan within two weeks, a full and complete health-care plan.

Two weeks was up yesterday, and guess what? Nothing.

Trump usually expects nobody to be paying attention after two weeks, so "in two weeks" usually means "never". (Remember the news conference where Melania was going to produce all her citizenship documentation, proving that "She came in totally legally."? During the 2016 campaign he said that would happen "in a few weeks". It still hasn't.) But the Washington Post kept track this time, and published an article about all the other times Trump has promised a health-care plan.

In June 2019, Trump said in an interview with ABC News that he would announce a “phenomenal” new health-care plan “in about two months, maybe less.”

Two months later, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters that the president was preparing to introduce an elaborate plan to redesign the nation’s health-care system in a speech the following month. “We’re working every single day here,” Conway said last August. “I’ve already been in meetings this morning on the president’s health-care plan. It’s pretty impressive.”

No speech or plan came.

and let's close with some great video-editing

Nike ... well, they're a big corporation, and they've got some problems. But credit where it's due: If you want to make the case that people are people and sport is sport, you can't do a lot better than this video. I wonder how much tape they had to watch to find images that fit together this well.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Waiting for the Light

I am sleeping on a time bomb,
And I am waiting for the light to come.

- Vertical Horizon "We Are"

This week's featured post is "The Cancel Culture Debate".

This week everybody was talking about Portland's resistance to Trump's secret police

It's hard to be sure until we get actual polls on the subject, but I don't think Trump's invasion of Portland is turning into the vote-getting stunt he'd hoped for. The plan was to create riveting scenes of heroic police clashing with "violent anarchists" from Black Lives Matter, crush the protests and restore "law and order" to a city whose Democratic officials were too weak-willed to handle these America-haters.

Instead Trump got the Wall of Moms, Dads with leaf-blowers, a wall of veterans, and another one of nurses. Portland grandmothers have adopted the hashtag #Grantifa and joined the protests. The goons from Homeland Security have man-handled all comers.

Paramilitary thugs dragging away terrified women who resemble somebody's Mom from across the street -- maybe that's not the best optics for a federal police action. (Many of the Moms are annoyingly white, which wasn't in the script at all.) So Trump has been driven to his ultimate defense against reality: declaring it all to be Fake News.

The “protesters” are actually anarchists who hate our Country. The line of innocent “mothers” were a scam that Lamestream refuses to acknowledge, just like they don’t report the violence of these demonstrations!

Reporters on the ground -- those from The Oregonian/OregonLive, for example -- tell a different story.

Thousands of Portland moms have come together over the past week to join nightly demonstrations in downtown.

They stand arm-in-arm at protests, placing themselves between federal officers and younger protesters in an act of protection. As the number of moms turning out in Portland grew with each protest, mom protest groups began to spring up across the nation in places like New York City, St. Louis and Philadelphia.

I'm a little skeptical of the "thousands" claim, but I have friends here in the suburbs who are searching their closets for yellow t-shirts (the Wall of Moms' uniform of choice) in case Boston is next on Trump's list. They're real moms, and I don't recall any of them ever mentioning their hatred of America.

The Guardian's take:

If Trump’s intent was to calm things down, he has failed. But if, as some suspect, the president wanted to ratchet up confrontation for political gain, then it is not clear that it has been a success either.

“It’s a power play by Trump. He thinks he’s going to get his base all riled up by pitting the forces of law and order against the anarchists,” said Josh O’Brien, who travelled from Seattle to join the protests. “But he’s fucked it up like he fucks everything up. Look who’s here with us. Grandmothers. Doctors. Because like most Americans they don’t think people should be abducted from the streets by the president’s secret police.”

Acting Deputy DHS Secretary Ken Cuccinelli tried to push the violent-anarchists narrative by tweeting a picture with this comment:

Here is a shield and a couple of gas masks from a rioter arrested in Portland. Not a sign with a slogan that someone expressing their first amendment rights might carry, but preparations for violence. Peaceful protester? I don’t think so.

Cooch clearly didn't think this out (or is trying to appeal to people who don't think clearly): You carry a shield and gas mask when you expect to be a victim of violence, not a perpetrator.

Former Celebrity Apprentice staffer turned stand-up comedian Noel Casler paints a different picture:

If you’re dressed up like a soldier and you’re tear-gassing a mom wearing a bicycle helmet to protect her from your batons, you are not an American soldier or a Patriot. You are the kind of person American soldiers killed to protect us from. Stop it now @DHS_Wolf.

If you wonder what the Portland attack is for, Trump campaign advisor Boris Epshteyn gives a hint: It's for scary campaign messages aimed at voters far away from Portland. He tweeted video of a violent clash between police and demonstrators with the message "This would be @JoeBiden’s America. It’s a very scary place."

As many other tweeters pointed out, the video is quite literally Donald Trump's America. His three years of presidential race-baiting exacerbated the racial tensions that exploded in the George Floyd protests, and the brutality of his secret police increased the violence in Portland.

And if you don't find all that disturbing enough here's Thomas Friedman's take:

when I heard Trump suggest, as he did in the Oval Office on Monday, that he was going to send federal forces into U.S. cities, where the local mayors have not invited him, the first word that popped into my head was “Syria.”

and what might happen in other cities

Over the weekend, protests broke out in several other cities, some of which had been quiet for weeks.

It's hard to know whether provoking those protests was part of Trump's plan or not. Certainly, he has talked about sending his DHS police to other cities. More than 200 federal agents have already been in Kansas City long enough for Attorney General Barr to lie about their accomplishments.

Barr said Wednesday that Operation Legend had netted 200 arrests in two weeks as the Department of Justice announced plans to deploy additional federal law enforcement agents in Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

So far, federal authorities have announced one arrest — a 20-year-old KCMO man wanted for warrants and allegedly spotted in a stolen vehicle, where two stolen handguns were found — though it has not been connected to a homicide or shooting investigation.

Similar numbers of agents are supposed to be heading to Chicago, Albuquerque, Cleveland, and possibly Philadelphia and Baltimore, but what they'll do there is not at all clear. What problem are the agents trying to solve, and what will they do about that problem that local police aren't already doing?

Operation Legend is named for LeGend Taliferro, a 4-year-old boy shot and killed in his bed in Kansas City on June 29. How exactly federal agents would prevent similar crimes has never been spelled out.

Of all those cities, Chicago is the one that I know best, so I'll focus there.

It's worth remembering that policing was a serious issue in the 2019 Chicago mayoral campaign. So if the federal government changes the way Chicago is policed, or stops Chicago from making its own changes, that raises a democracy issue: Do the people of Chicago get to decide how their city will be policed, or is that up to Trump?

Channel 5 asked all the candidates for mayor the same seven questions; the second one was about policing and the consent decree the city had recently negotiated with the State of Illinois to reform the Chicago Police Department. Lori Lightfoot answered:

I am the only candidate in this race that has a broad depth of experience in dealing with issues related to police excessive force and abuse, accountability and reform. My perspective on these issues stems from my roles as a federal prosecutor and the head of the former Office of Professional Standards, in which I made countless recommendations to terminate police officers who failed to properly perform their duties, including in police-involved shootings. More recently, I led the Police Accountability Task Force (PATF), whose report served as the underpinnings for both the Obama DOJ report and recommendations on the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and the consent decree. There would be no consent decree without the PATF. I also served as the president of Chicago Police Board, where I held officers accountable for misconduct. Before resigning from the police board to run for mayor, I significantly increased the number of officers that were terminated for serious misconduct or received lengthy suspensions.

In the first round of the multi-candidate race, Lightfoot was the leader with 17.5% of the vote. In the runoff between the top two candidates, she got 73.7%. I think it's fair to say that the voters of Chicago want a policing approach like Lightfoot's, and not a tear-gassing baton-swinging approach like Trump's goons have implemented in Portland.

It's not clear how Lightfoot's approach will affect the frequency of violent crime in Chicago over the long term. But doesn't the city have a right to find out?

Really American describes itself by "We believe it is our duty as patriotic Americans to stand up against fascism in all of its forms." They've been making some really biting anti-Trump videos. Like this one.

A number of voices are expressing disappointment that the militia-Right or libertarian-Right, after decades of warning us about the threat of government tyranny, has so totally failed to notice the rise of real authoritarianism, and at times has even applauded it. But if you've been paying attention, you shouldn't be surprised. Anti-government rhetoric has long been applied only in very particular ways: If the government is using its power to counter either white supremacy or the dominance of the super-rich, that's tyranny. But if it's using its power to keep the lower orders in their places, that's OK.

Jonathan Korman has altered the Gadsden flag to capture what it really means these days.

and the next stimulus package

Back in May, Democrats foresaw that the virus would not be gone by summer, and that the economy would not have a V-shaped recovery. So they passed the next stimulus bill, the $3 trillion HEROES Act. Mitch McConnell reacted by denouncing it as a "liberal wish list". He predicted that if more stimulus was needed "the President and Senate Republicans are going to be in the same place. We'll let you know when we think the time is right to begin to move again."

But as so often happens in this post-policy era of the Republican Party, the time has come and the President and Senate Republicans are not in the same place. That's the problem when a party focuses on marketing to the exclusion of policy. When they do realize they need to do something, it's hard to figure out specifically what, because up until that moment they have only been thinking about how to spin an issue, not how to resolve it. The White House in particular has been completely focused on the spin of the V-shaped recovery. (On June 5, Trump responded to a positive jobs report by saying that the economy is "not on a V-shaped recovery, it's a rocket ship.")

But there is no V-shaped recovery. Like so many Trump policies, reopening the country produced only a short-term effect. He got his good jobs report in June, but the subsequent surge in Covid-19 cases has states shutting down again, and layoffs are rising. So we're back to the same problem as in March and April: People need to eat and pay the rent, but there are few jobs, and no jobs at all that many people with Covid risk factors can do safely.

The extra $600 per week of unemployment insurance, which was part of the previous Covid-response package, the CARES Act, expires Friday. In practice, that means that many people have already gotten their last increased unemployment check. This extra money has been key, not just to keeping those 20 million households afloat, but the entire economy. For example, August rent or mortgage payments might be hard to scrape together for many families -- a problem that will cascade to real estate companies and banks.

McConnell is still predicting a new bill, but now says it will take "weeks", and began his statement with "hopefully". He wants a $1 trillion bill, with maybe $200 a week in additional unemployment, rather than $600.

and the rising Covid-19 death rate

After not having a thousand-death day since June 4, the US had four this week, not counting the 993 on Saturday. By WorldoMeter's count, which runs a little higher than some others, the US had its 150,000th death today. Other counts are lower, but in all versions of the stats we'll probably pass 150,000 this week.

If you squint at the graph just right, it looks like the US Covid-19 case count might have peaked this week. I wouldn't count on that, but that's the appearance at the moment.

Trump's cancellation of the Republican Convention's events in Jacksonville led to a series of sarcastic " ... but it's safe to send your kids to school" social media posts. In addition to the convention,

  • Barron Trump's school won't be fully opening, and won't decide whether to offer any in-person classes at all until August 10, but you should be planning to send your kids to school five days a week.
  • Florida Senator Rick Scott's grandchildren will be "focused on distance learning right now" to "make sure they're safe", but schools should be open for your kids, especially if you're poor and looking to cash in on "a subsidized meal".

and AOC

I had been resisting paying attention the the AOC/Ted Yoho flap, because it looked like one of those somebody-said-a-bad-word kerfuffles that get people upset but never go anywhere.

But it eventually got my attention, because AOC gave a truly epic speech on the floor of the House. The provocation was not just Yoho arguing with her rudely on the steps of the House, and then walking away saying "fucking bitch" (as overheard by a reporter). But when his remark came out in the press, Yoho took to the floor of the House to offer one of those I'm-didn't-really-do-anything-but apologies. His was particularly self-righteous, concluding that "I cannot apologize for ... loving my God", as if the Ancient of Days Himself had whispered "fucking bitch" into Yoho's ear.

AOC's response was masterful. She avoided all the usual ways such complaints are type-cast and pushed aside: It wasn't that Yoho said a bad word or that her feelings were hurt. She spoke not with the attitude of someone pleading helplessly for justice, but as a person wielding moral authority. The question is not what Yoho's judgment has done to her, but what hers does to him.

Mr. Yoho mentioned that he has a wife and two daughters. I am two years younger than Mr. Yoho's youngest daughter. I am someone's daughter too. ... What I am here to say is that this harm that Mr. Yoho levied, tried to levy against me, was not just an incident directed at me, but when you do that to any woman, what Mr. Yoho did was give permission to other men to do that to his daughters.

He -- in using that language, in front of the press, he gave permission to use that language against his wife, his daughters, women in his community, and I am here to stand up to say that is not acceptable.

... What I believe is that having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man. And when a decent man messes up, as we all are bound to do, he tries his best and does apologize. Not to save face, not to win a vote. He apologizes genuinely to repair and acknowledge the harm done so that we can all move on.

Lastly, what I want to express to Mr. Yoho is gratitude. I want to thank him for showing the world that you can be a powerful man and accost women. You can have daughters and accost women without remorse. You can be married and accost women. You can take photos and project an image to the world of being a family man and accost women without remorse and with a sense of impunity. It happens every day in this country. It happened here on the steps of our nation’s Capitol. It happens when individuals who hold the highest offices in this land admit, admit to hurting women, and using this language against all of us.

More and more I'm coming to believe that AOC is a once-in-a-generation political talent. Whether you agree with her positions on particular issues or not, her abilities are on a par with Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. Whether she'll achieve what they did is still up in the air at this point in her life. But she has the talent.

and you also might be interested in ...

It can't be complete week without a Trump corruption story. Tuesday, the NYT reported:

The American ambassador to Britain, Robert Wood Johnson IV, told multiple colleagues in February 2018 that President Trump had asked him to see if the British government could help steer the world-famous and lucrative British Open golf tournament to the Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland, according to three people with knowledge of the episode.

NPR adds:

Lewis Lukens, the embassy's former second-in-command, confirmed in a text to NPR that Johnson told him about the president's request. "I advised him that doing so would violate federal ethics rules and be generally inappropriate," Lukens wrote.

But Johnson apparently went ahead and raised the matter with David Mundell, then secretary of state for Scotland, according to a person familiar with the conversation.

The State Department inspector general -- presumably the one Trump fired in May -- investigated and wrote a report, which has not been released.

538 has a fascinating breakdown of why Florida was a bellwether in 2008, 2012, and 2016, but resisted the blue wave in 2018. Some factors that helped Republicans in 2018 won't be there this year. Meanwhile, CNN observes that Trump hasn't led in a Florida poll since March. The RCP polling average has Biden up in Florida by 7.8%.

The best explanation of defund-the-police I've seen so far:

The baseball season launched (finally) on Thursday, with the Yankees beating the Nationals 4-1 in a stadium with no fans. An interesting compromise: Both teams knelt on the field prior to the national anthem, but no one knelt during the anthem.

It's a 60-game season. If anybody is going to hit .400 in our lifetimes, this is the year to do it. And then we can all argue about whether it should count.

The Miami Marlins have postponed their home opener because 11 players and two coaches have tested positive for coronavirus. That this has happened already raises doubts about the plans for the whole season.

and let's close with something realistic

People are having fun with photo-realism software.

Dutch photographer and digital artist Bas Uterwijk shines a light on what iconic figures from history might have looked like in real life. By using various digital manipulation tools, he is able to create photorealistic portraits of famous artists, leaders, mummies, philosophical thinkers, and even the models of paintings.

I'm not sure exactly what he bases this on, but this is his Jesus of Nazareth:

Doesn't he look like he would forgive your sins?

And somebody else has used Roman statues to reproduce photorealistic images of the Roman emperors.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Rising Up

Listen, I don't mean to be partisan and all,
but I think that unidentifiable federal agents yanking people off the streets
and throwing them into unmarked vans is bad.

- Jared Holt, Right Wing Watch

“Our whole reason for lobbying for looser gun laws and amassing huge personal arsenals of weapons these past years was so that we could ensure the security of a free state and protect the people from an oppressive government. And then it actually happened, and the whole rising up against a tyrannical government thing just totally slipped our minds, which is a little embarrassing,” a sheepish NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said.

- "NRA Accidentally Forgets to Rise Up Against Tyrannical Government"
The Shovel (a satire site)

This week's featured post is "Who Are Those Guys?"

This week everybody was talking about Trump's secret police

Unidentifiable federal agents working for no agency in particular have been jumping out of unmarked vans and abducting people off the streets in Portland. I've gotten used to a lot of things since Trump became president, but this seems like a big deal to me.

I'm fairly proud of the featured post. It's way long, but it tells the complete story, from the Pentagon's reluctance to suppress protesters in DC in early June through the creation of federal law enforcement units that are willing to do just that. And for those of you who worry about Trump refusing to leave office after he loses in November, this is a key component of that scenario: I don't believe the Army would support a coup, but what about these Little Green Men?

and the virus

Things keep getting worse. Last week it was debatable whether or not we had 70,000 new cases in a single day. This week we did it more than once. Deaths continue to rise, peaking at 963 on Friday. I will be surprised if we don't break 1,000 deaths in a day this week, something that hasn't happened since June 4.

One model has us hitting 224K deaths by November 1.

When you sort the world coronavirus data by "deaths per million population" the US is currently #10 at 433. We'll probably eventually pass most of the European countries ahead of us (France, Sweden, Italy Spain, United Kingdom, Belgium), all of whom have done a much better job controlling the virus recently after initially being overwhelmed by it. But Latin American countries behind us (Peru, Brazil, Mexico, Ecuador, Panama) are gaining, and Chile is already #9. So even as things get worse for us, we could move down the list.

A big study from South Korea has answered a number of questions about children's role in the potential spread of Covid-19. Children under 10 are less likely than adults to spread the virus, but they do spread it. And older children may be even more likely to spread the virus than adults.

Both results should make communities think twice about reopening schools. If you're somewhere with very few cases -- Vermont, say -- it might make sense to open schools full-time (with some new rules), test frequently, and see what happens. But in a hotspot like Florida or Texas, it's crazy.

Meanwhile, Kellyanne Conway dodged a question about whether 14-year-old Baron Trump will attend classes in the fall. "That's a personal decision," she said.

Apparently Trump really wasn't kidding when he said he wanted to "slow the testing down". As the next stimulus bill is being written in the Senate (the House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act back in May, but Mitch McConnell has been sitting on it), the White House is objecting to $25 billion to help the states do more testing, as well as an additional $10 billion for the CDC. Trump isn't fighting with the Democrats here, he's fighting with Republican senators.

The two political parties are far apart on a number of contentious issues, such as unemployment insurance, but the conflict between Trump administration officials and Senate Republicans on money for testing and other priorities is creating a major complication even before bipartisan negotiations get under way.

Trump's attacks on testing -- which every public-health expert says is basic to controlling the virus -- have been getting more and more demented in recent weeks. A week ago he told a reporter: "When you test, you create cases. So we've created cases." He has refused to acknowledge that the leap in the national case-count (from 20,000 a day in early June to 76,403 on Friday) means that the virus is spreading.

In addition to impeding testing, the administration is also seizing control of the data. The Department the Health and Human services sent a memo to hospitals and acute care facilities on July 10:

As of July 15, 2020, hospitals should no longer report the Covid-19 information in this document to the National Healthcare Safety Network site. Please select one of the above methods to use instead.

NHSN is run by the CDC. The replacement methods go directly to HHS. Various critics have claimed that NHSN needs to be improved, but it's hard to come up with a motive for moving it to HHS, other than to sideline the "Deep State" civil servants at CDC and allow political appointees at HHS to play games with the data. The NYT:

Public health experts have long expressed concerns that the Trump administration is politicizing science and undermining its health experts, in particular the C.D.C.; four of the agency’s former directors, spanning both Republican and Democratic administrations, said as much in an opinion piece published Tuesday in The Washington Post. The data collection shift reinforced those fears.

MSNBC's Nicole Wallace observed that it is "quite a coincidence" that Trump is trying to control the data at a moment when the data is publicly demonstrating his failure.

Josh Marshall provides a sobering graph: If you look at the daily new cases of Covid-19 in the 49 states other than New York, the curve flattens at about 20,000 per day from early April to mid-June, and then takes off. Without New York, national case-counts never did start going down.

Hundreds of people rallied at the Ohio statehouse Saturday to protest against mask mandates. Ohio doesn't even have a statewide mandate, but some counties do.

and the economic consequences of the virus

The extended benefits in the CARES Act (that passed in March) will expire at the end of July, less that two weeks from now. Unless Congress acts, some people will lose benefits completely, while others will lose the extra $600 per week the CARES Act provided.

The House passed the next stimulus bill, the HEROES Act, back in May. But Republicans in the Senate have held on to the fantasy that the virus would go away and the economy would have a V-shaped recovery. By the end of July, they imagined, jobs would be plentiful and that extra $600 would just encourage lazy people to stay unemployed.

Now it's getting down to the wire, and Mitch McConnell still has a lot to negotiate with his own caucus and the White House before he can start dealing with Nancy Pelosi. Paul Krugman comments:

My sense is that Republicans have a delusional view of their own bargaining position. They don’t seem to realize that they, not the Democrats, will be blamed if millions are plunged into penury because relief is delayed; to the extent that they’re willing to act at all, they still imagine that they can extract concessions like a blanket exemption of businesses from pandemic liability.

Maybe the prospect of catastrophe will concentrate Republican minds, but it seems more likely that we’re heading for weeks if not months of extreme financial distress for millions of Americans, distress that will hobble the economy as a whole. This disaster didn’t need to happen; but you can say the same thing about most of what has gone wrong in this country lately.

and John Lewis

Lewis died Friday at the age of 80. He had announced in December that he was suffering from pancreatic cancer. His NYT obituary is a good summary of his long career in the civil rights movement and in Congress.

Testimonials have poured in from all directions. Barack Obama's ended like this:

It’s fitting that the last time John and I shared a public forum was at a virtual town hall with a gathering of young activists who were helping to lead this summer’s demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Afterwards, I spoke to him privately, and he could not have been prouder of their efforts — of a new generation standing up for freedom and equality, a new generation intent on voting and protecting the right to vote, a new generation running for political office. I told him that all those young people — of every race, from every background and gender and sexual orientation — they were his children. They had learned from his example, even if they didn’t know it. They had understood through him what American citizenship requires, even if they had heard of his courage only through history books.

Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did. And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders — to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise.

The most embarrassing testimonial came from Marco Rubio, who posted a picture of himself with Elijah Cummings. I guess old bald black guys all look alike to Marco. The tweet was taken down, but not before Rubio was roundly pilloried.

Truthfully, I'm not sure I could have correctly identified pictures of Lewis and Cummings. But I never met either man, and if I were going to post a photo of myself with one or the other, I'd stop and think about when that photo was taken and what we might have been talking about. Rubio clearly did not, and neither did his staff -- which testifies to a certain sloppiness in thought and action.

Follow-up: Apparently Alaska's Senator Dan Sullivan made the same mistake.

CNN lays out what happens next in South Carolina's 5th congressional district: Lewis had already won renomination, but the Democratic Party can replace his name on the ballot. It has to be done quickly or not at all, so there's no time for a convention or primary. The state Democratic Party's executive committee is meeting at noon today to pick a nominee. The district is solidly Democratic, so whomever they pick will probably go to Congress.

As for the remainder of Lewis' current term, Republican Governor Kemp would have to declare a special election. That may or may not happen in time for Lewis' replacement to be sworn in before the term ends.

and you also might be interested in ...

The  home of a Latina federal judge in Newark was attacked yesterday afternoon. Her 20-year-old son was killed and her husband wounded, but Judge Esther Salas was not hurt. The shooter hasn't been caught, and no one knows if Salas was the target or if so, why. But I have to wonder if the right-wing diatribes against "liberal judges" will eventually lead to more of this.

Mary Trump telling Rachel Maddow that she has heard Trump use the n-word and anti-semitic slurs got way more attention than I would have given it. It would be more amazing to me if she hadn't heard him use that kind of language in private settings. I mean, we know he has referred to African nations and Haiti as "shit-hole countries" in front of members of Congress. And we know he has a long history of racism, which he appears to have inherited from his father.

Meanwhile, Tucker Carlson (a man sometimes pitched as the next leader of the Trumpist movement) took a previously unannounced fishing vacation after his top writer, Blake Neff, was caught making racist and sexist social-media posts under a pseudonym. (Apparently he'd been doing it for years.) Neff was the guy who wrote Carlson's scripts, which Carlson only edited. I have to wonder how much input Neff had into rants like the one where Carlson claimed white supremacy is "not a real problem in America" and "a hoax".

Carlson's show, like a lot of Trump's speeches, specializes in walking the line between deniable racism and undeniable racism. He has become the primary voice of white grievance on television, and white supremacist groups are among his biggest fans. That the guy writing Tucker's scripts would take his bigotry off the leash anonymously on social media is about as shocking as Trump saying the n-word in private.

After they were exposed, Carlson acknowledged that Neff's posts were "wrong". The Bleeding Cool blog then assesses the rest of his statement:

Now for those of you who think Carlson then went on to further criticize Neff, followed by acknowledging that FOX News really wasn't news and that his show profits from creating and stoking division along racial, ethnic, religious, gender, and sexual orientation lines? Either check your respective prescriptions to make sure you're taking the right dose or the back of your neck to make sure you're not an alien pod person. Oh no, the brunt of Carlson's attempt at "righteous anger" was aimed at this who (wait for it)… would actually take joy in someone who posts racist, sexist, and other offensive messages having to resign from a news program that has heavy, cult-like influence over others. Shocking, right? ...

"We should also point out to the ghouls that are beating their chest in triumph at the destruction of a young man that self-righteousness also has its costs," said Carlson, who clearly sees anyone who has issues with someone who posts racist, sexist, and other offensive messages as being "self-righteous."

Like a lot of cancel-culture "victims", Neff hasn't been "destroyed". He just lost a job he never should have had in the first place. Now that his name is out there as a white-racist martyr, I'm sure he has a big future on openly racist sites like VDare or American Renaissance.

Trump's lie that "Biden wants to defund the police" was too much for Fox News' Chris Wallace to let go by. Wallace in fact caught Trump in a number of lies.

The Trump campaign is a big moneymaker for Donald Trump personally. David Fahrenthold reports:

In just two days, @realdonaldtrump’s campaign pumped $380K into Trump’s private business, in 43 separate payments. Trump Org says this was for a weeklong “donor retreat,” held in early March at Mar-a-Lago. Campaign donations turned into private revenue for POTUS

The Open Secrets web site says that overall $4.1 million has been paid to the Trump Organization by Trump-related political committees, the Republican Party, and the campaigns and PACs of other Republican candidates.

and let's close with something encouraging

Let's take a moment to entertain an idea suggested by The Muppets and James Corden. Maybe, even during this pandemic, we really can get by with a little help from our friends.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Suspicious Manners

I conceive that the President ought not to have the power of pardoning, because he may frequently pardon crimes which were advised by himself. It may happen, at some future day, that he will establish a monarchy, and destroy the republic.

- George Mason, at the Virginia Ratifying Convention of 1788

There is one security in this case to which gentlemen may not have adverted: if the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds to believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty.

- James Madison, responding to Mason

This week's featured post is "Back to School". I have an unpredictable week ahead of me, so I'm not sure whether there will be a Sift next week or not.

This week everybody was talking about the Trump Crime Family

I decided not to do a featured post on this, because all the points I would make are already being widely discussed. In all of American history, I can't come up with a presidential action as blatantly corrupt as Trump commuting Roger Stone's sentence. (Leave a comment if you want to suggest a rival.) It's like he's saying: "Sure, I'm obstructing justice. What are you going to do about it?"

Benjamin Wittes lays it out:

Roger Stone isn’t just Trump’s confidante or friend. According to newly unsealed material in the Mueller Report, he’s also a person who had the power to reveal to investigators that Trump likely lied to Mueller—and to whom Trump publicly dangled rewards if Stone refused to provide Mueller with that information. Now, it seems, the president is making good on that promise.

As Judge Amy Berman put it when she sentenced Stone:

He was not prosecuted, as some have complained, for standing up for the President. He was prosecuted for covering up for the President.

Stone hasn't exactly been subtle. He talked to Howard Fineman Friday, and Fineman recounted the conversation in Saturday's New York Times:

“I had 29 or 30 conversations with Trump during the campaign period,” he reminded me. “He knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t. They wanted me to play Judas. I refused.”

And so, in the fullness of time — which is to say, about an hour later — the White House made official what Stone already knew: Trump was commuting Stone’s felony convictions for lying to Congress and tampering with witnesses. At 67, Stone would not have to report to a federal pen to serve his allotted 40 months.

Stone's statement is not hard to interpret: He can testify to something Trump did that a prosecutor would make a deal to learn about -- crimes, in other words. Stone deserves his commutation because he didn't rat out his criminal boss.

Recall the larger plot Stone was part of: Russia hacked Democratic emails, and then sent them to WikiLeaks to be released in a fashion designed to hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign and help Trump's. Stone was the connection between WikiLeaks and Trump -- not just the Trump campaign, Trump himself. In written testimony to the Mueller investigation, Trump claimed to remember no conversations with Stone about WikiLeaks. If Stone had testified, the President could have been charged with perjury. That's when Trump began tweeting about how "brave" Stone was and raising speculation about a pardon.

Wittes again:

[T]he commutation means that the story Mueller tells about potential obstruction vis a vis Stone did not end with the activity described by the Mueller Report. It is a continuing pattern of conduct up until the present day.

That's not all that happened this week on the ending-the-rule-of-law front. On the same day (Friday, of course) that Trump was giving Stone his pay-off for respecting the Trump Family omerta, Consigliere Bill Barr was shutting down another possible source of legal jeopardy: He replaced the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

This is the third time Barr has pulled this trick: He previously installed a lackey at the US Attorney's office in the District of Columbia (who promptly rewrote the Roger Stone sentencing memo and is trying to walk away from the conviction of Mike Flynn), and tried to do the same thing at SDNY. Each time, he started by making the incumbent US attorneys offers they couldn't refuse: some cushy job elsewhere in the Trump administration. SDNY's Berman did refuse, and got fired (but did manage to get his deputy to replace him rather than a Barr-bot).

EDNY is not as famous as its neighboring district SDNY, but it does have its finger in the Trump-corruption pie as well. Newsday reports:

Why Barr has been busily ousting U.S. Attorneys in New York City has been a subject of intense debate and speculation. Several criminal probes and prosecutions in Manhattan have rankled as a thorn in the side of the Trump administration, from the campaign-finance crimes of the president’s former fixer Michael Cohen to the impeachment-related allegations against Rudy Giuliani’s former associate Lev Parnas.

As Trump’s Senate trial played out in February, Politico reported that Donoghue had been in charge of vetting and managing all Ukraine-related efforts. His district reportedly had been heading an investigation into Tom Barrack, a Trump confidant who headed the president’s inauguration committee and whose fundraising for that event allegedly caught the scrutiny of federal prosecutors.

Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman violated omerta by testifying during the impeachment hearings in February. He and his twin brother (who had no connection to the impeachment hearings) were then fired from their jobs at the National Security Council. Wednesday, Vindman announced he is retiring from the military after 21 years, due to what his lawyer called "a campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation" by President Trump.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court gave Trump a split decision on his tax cases: They rejected his argument that he was completely beyond the reach of the law, but allowed him to run out the clock. It's extremely unlikely that anyone will get to see his tax returns or other business records until after the election.

Last week I mentioned the Commerce Department's attempt to delay its inspector general's report on SharpieGate. Now it's out, and it makes infuriating reading. To make a long story short: Trump couldn't admit even a trivial mistake, so Mulvaney pressured Ross who pressured NOAA to put out a statement rebuking National Weather Service forecasters for being right and doing their jobs. The process of putting out that cowardly statement consumed NOAA management's attention while a actual hurricane was still raging.

Ross delegated the problem to Commerce Dept. Chief of Staff Mike Walsh, who denies he ever told anybody at NOAA their jobs were on the line. However, some of the phone conversations with him happened at 2:30 in the morning, so you might understand how the NOAA folks got that impression.

Reading the report, I kept wishing somebody would defend the NWS forecasters and tell the sycophants in the White House to go fuck themselves. (You want to fire me? If you think this looks bad in the media now, wait until you start firing people over it.) But it never happened.

It's a small incident, but it explains so much about how the last three years have gone: Defending the President's fragile ego absorbs so much of the government's attention that there's not much left to devote to governing. And precious few people (like Colonel Vindman) are willing to risk their careers to stop it.

and schools

It's time to decide what school-age children are going to do in the fall. It would be nice if communities could make those decisions based on local conditions, using the best scientific insight available, but this is the Trump Era. If you're for him, you want schools 100% back to normal, and if you don't, it must be because you hate him. More in the featured post.

Colleges and universities are a different subject, which I didn't get to this week. I noticed some developments in the college-sports world, though.

The Ivy League won't have a football season this year. No Harvard vs. Yale game. A University of Indiana sports blogger thinks this won't start a trend.

The Big Ten and the others will do everything in their power to play football this season, simply because there is so much money involved. They can do what the Ivy League can't — play games without fans and still make a ton of money because of their television contracts — so that will happen if it's at all possible.

The Big Ten subsequently announced that it will play only conference games, and has not yet committed even to them.

By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic.

The main problem right now is getting the teams together for practice when players keep testing positive for Covid-19. Makes you wonder what's going to happen when all the students show up for fall term.

and the virus surge

Since the surge in Covid-19 cases began around June 8 or so, we've experienced the mystery of how cases could surge while deaths kept going down. Two obvious explanations were (1) The newly infected people are younger and so less likely to suffer dire consequences. (2) Hospital treatments, particularly of the most serious cases, are getting better.

Those are probably both factors, but there was a third explanation: the time lag between infection and death. As I heard Chris Hayes put it: "We're between the lightning and the thunder."

This week the thunder arrived. The low point in deaths appears to have been 217 on July 5. Two weeks ago I predicted:

[N]ationwide, the new-case curve started rising around June 10. That would suggest deaths will begin rising about July 4.

There have been 4980 deaths in the last seven days, compared to 3334 the seven days before that.

The surge in cases is continuing. Depending on when you start the clock on a day, we either did or didn't break the 70,000-new-case mark on Friday. That number was around 20,000-per-day in early June.

The Trump administration is now treating Dr. Fauci as if he were a political rival. Anonymous sources at the White House distributed a list of supposedly inaccurate statements Fauci has made, "laid out in the style of a campaign’s opposition research document". CBS' Face the Nation has been trying to interview Fauci for three months, but the White House has refused permission for that as well as many other interviews. He no longer briefs Trump or appears in White House briefings for the public.

Fauci has committed the unforgivable sin of refusing to let Trump dictate reality. He has directly contradicted Trump's ridiculous claim that the recent spike in cases is simply a reflection of more testing, and told 538 "As a country, when you compare us to other countries, I don't think you can say we're doing great. I mean, we're just not."

Fauci is a civil servant rather than a political appointee, so firing him would be difficult. He could quit, but people close to him say he wants to keep overseeing vaccine development.

There has been a virus outbreak in the Mississippi legislature, leading this embarrassing result:

Gov. Tate Reeves is warning the public to get tested for coronavirus if they have been in contact with a state lawmaker.

Here in Massachusetts, we're currently doing well, but I worry about complacency. I think the Northeast in general is imagining that we had our outbreak, so the area is immune now. We've opened restaurants for indoor dining, which has to be a mistake.

Pittsburgh is a cautionary tale. Allegheny County had zero new cases on June 17, but was back over 200 by July 2.

An economic consequence of the surge is that it has stalled the recovery of the economy. Jobs will come back much more slowly, unemployment is running out, and so far Republicans in Congress are resisting any further stimulus. One expert projects that 20 to 28 million Americans face eviction by September.

and the Supreme Court's contraception decision

As usual, there was a flurry of end-of-term decisions. In addition to the Trump tax cases mentioned above, the Court issued a 7-2 opinion upholding the Trump administration's reworking of the religious exemption to ObamaCare contraception mandate. An exemption that the Obama administration originally crafted so that religious organizations that object to birth control wouldn't have to provide it to their employees has now been stretched to cover any organization -- even publicly traded corporations -- that claim either a religious or moral objection. What's more, the Obama administration had a work-around so that the employees would continue to get their birth control covered. The Trump people have thrown that out, with the result that some number of women will now not have contraceptive coverage.

This was just one more step down a wrong path, so I have a hard time criticizing the liberal justices (Kagan and Breyer) who sided with the conservatives. Like Roberts in the Louisiana abortion case last week, Kagan and Breyer had precedents to consider.

The case goes back to a lower court, so it's still possible that the Trump rule will be thrown out ultimately. But it will be allowed to take effect in the meantime.

Longtime readers know that I am deeply skeptical of all these "conscience" provisions. I think employer-supported health insurance should be like a paycheck: What the employee does with it is none of the employer's business. Whether somebody works for Little Sisters of the Poor or the Taliban or whoever, their health insurance should cover contraception, and the employer's moral or religious beliefs should have no bearing on the subject. Again, it's like a paycheck. If a woman can use her paycheck to buy contraceptives, she should be able to use her health insurance just as freely.

Once you let the employer's religious or moral values into the picture, though, you'll never find a place to draw the line. That's why these cases keep going to the Supreme Court: There's no clean rule that lower courts can apply unambiguously.

and cancel culture

A large number of well-known people signed "A Letter on Justice and Open Debate" that will appear in Harper's. Some of the names are quite famous, like Margaret Atwood, Noam Chomsky, and Salman Rushdie, while others are people you will frequently see me quoting in this blog, like Slate's Dahlia Lithwick and Vox's Matt Yglesias.

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.

While I continue to respect a lot of the signers, I have to say I don't get it. Maybe I'm just not in plugged into the academic community and don't appreciate the pressures on campus today. But none of the cases I hear about impress me. For example, NYT opinion-page editor James Bennett resigned (presumably under pressure) after the outcry surrounding his publication of Senator Tom Cotton's call to use the military to suppress the rioting/protesting after George Floyd's murder. That seemed like a serious act of bad judgment to me, and was one of a series. (See David Roberts' article.)

Ta-Nehisi Coates, I think, offers some appropriate perspective:

any sober assessment of this history must conclude that the present objections to cancel culture are not so much concerned with the weapon, as the kind of people who now seek to wield it.

Until recently, cancellation flowed exclusively downward, from the powerful to the powerless. But now, in this era of fallen gatekeepers, where anyone with a Twitter handle or Facebook account can be a publisher, banishment has been ostensibly democratized.

He reminds us of the more serious cancellations that are just part of business-as-usual: Colin Kaepernick got drummed out of the NFL for his views; Christian Blasey Ford got death threats for telling her story. It would be nice to live in a more forgiving world, Coates says, but we would need to construct it from scratch. Just going back to the day when the powerful could be forgiven for whatever they say or do, but the powerless could not, is not that world.

and you also might be interested in ...

At long last, the Washington Redskins are going to change their name. The new name hasn't been announced yet. I'm hoping they pick a name unrelated to Native Americans, rather than just dialing back to something like Warriors or Braves and keeping a Redskin-like logo.

It's funny what does and doesn't fly as an athletic team name. Only certain breeds of dogs work (bulldogs or wolves). Insects are OK if they sting (hornets or yellowjackets, but not ants or crickets). The Washington Spies would have an appropriate local flavor, but violates some sort of taboo I can't put my finger on. The Washington Generals ordinarily would work, but that's the name of the hapless team the Harlem Globetrotters have been beating up on for decades. I could go for Agents or G-Men. If it were up to me, though, I'd play off the Capitol area's neo-classical architecture and name the team the Centurions.

Peter Wehner of The Atlantic talks to an unnamed Christian minister about the price Christians have paid for supporting Trump:

“Yes, Hollywood and the media created a decidedly unattractive stereotype of Christians. And Donald Trump fits it perfectly. Made it all seem true. And sadly, I now realize that stereotype is more true than I ever knew. It breaks my heart. In volleyball terms, Hollywood did the set, but Trump was the spike that drove the ball home. He’s everything I’ve been trying to say isn’t what the church is all about. But sadly, maybe it is.”

The only thing worth mentioning about Tucker Carlson's claim that Tammy Duckworth "hates America" is Duckworth's response:

They’re doing it because they’re desperate for America’s attention to be on anything other than Donald Trump’s failure to lead our nation, and because they think that Mr. Trump’s electoral prospects will be better if they can turn us against one another. Their goal isn’t to make — or keep — America great. It’s to keep Mr. Trump in power, whatever the cost.

It’s better for Mr. Trump to have you focused on whether an Asian-American woman is sufficiently American than to have you mourning the 130,000 Americans killed by a virus he claimed would disappear in February. It’s better for his campaign to distract Americans with whether a combat veteran is sufficiently patriotic than for people to recall that this failed commander in chief has still apparently done nothing about reports of Russia putting bounties on the heads of American troops in Afghanistan.

The Lincoln Project doesn't mess around.

When my nephew gave me the insider's tour of the Tennessee State Capitol a few years ago, we had to pass a bust of KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest to get into one of the two chambers of the legislature. It looks like that bust is finally leaving the capitol. The war criminal behind the Fort Pillow massacre will no longer guard that chamber, warning African American legislators that Tennessee will never really be their state.

If you want to understand why the fact-checking model doesn't work any more, consider this Reuters fact-check: "Metal Strip in Medical Masks is Not a 5G Antenna".

Fact-checking is based on the idea that the information environment is basically clean, so when there's a disinformation spill, we can go clean it up. But now the insanity has gotten too dense. There's no way to play whack-a-mole with this stuff any more.

and let's close with something violent

Jan Hakon Erichsen destroys things on YouTube. Mostly he destroys silly inanimate things, like balloons or pasta, and does it in ways that are either creative or stupid, depending on your mood at the time you watch. But on days when the world has pissed you off and something needs to pay, an Erichsen video may be just the thing.