Monday, October 18, 2021

Nostalgia

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

- Charlie Sykes

This week's featured post is "Reading While Texan".

This week everybody was talking about Manchin and Sinema

https://twitter.com/mluckovichajc/status/1448011993114361859

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and subpoenas

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

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

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

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

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

Bannon has zero justification for not testifying:

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

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

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

https://www.ajc.com/opinion/mike-luckovich-blog/1017-mike-luckovich/CQ6C2PAXZRDHVFX4VE7GLTQOWA/

and the economy

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

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

Atlantic's Derek Thompson continues:

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

Paul Krugman weighs in:

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

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

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


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

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

More about inflation in this Washington Post article.

and John Gruden

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Chris Hayes discusses these issues with a former WFT cheerleader.


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

and you also might be interested in ...

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


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


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


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

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


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


Media Matters reports:

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

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

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

and let's close with something reassuring

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

Monday, October 11, 2021

Insidious Undermining

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

- The Washington Post Editorial Board
"The Pandora Papers gave us rare transparency: Is there hope for more?"
(10-8-2021)

This week's featured post is "What to Make of the Pandora Papers?"

This week everybody was talking about Congress

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

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

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


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

and the Trump coup

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

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

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

Josh Marshall makes an analogy:

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


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

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

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

and Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the Texas abortion law

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the pandemic

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

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

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


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


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


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

and you also might be interested in ...

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

and let's close with something sexy

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

Monday, October 4, 2021

Who Benefits?

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

- Gerard Ryle,
Director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

This week's featured post is "Pandemics Are Beaten By Communities, Not Individuals".

This week everybody was talking about Congress

https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/end-filibuster-toomfoolery/

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

https://www.startribune.com/sack-cartoon-in-case-of-emergency/600100189/

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

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

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

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

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


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

and the pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

This is weird because:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the Pandora Papers

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

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

but I want to tell you about a book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in ...

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


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

Senator Whitehouse parodies Alito's argument:

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

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

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

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


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

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/aug/09/sketches-from-a-trying-year-10-cartoonists-reflect-on-2020

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


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

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

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

https://theweek.com/political-satire/1005517/youre-out

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

and let's close with something musical

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

Monday, September 27, 2021

Burdens and Duties

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

- Senator Mitt Romney (1-6-2021)

This week's featured post is "The Big Lie Refuses to Die".

This week everybody was talking about the $3.5 trillion question

https://www.ajc.com/opinion/mike-luckovich-blog/924-mike-luckovich-tricky/UGKGYTXTUBFENOQKQMQ4HW6ZTI/

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

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

It's all speculation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

and the Arizona election audit

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

and Haitian immigrants

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

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

and Peril

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

you also might be interested in ...

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

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


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


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


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

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

and let's close with something musical

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

Monday, September 20, 2021

Faith and Credit

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

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

This week's featured post is "Seven Days in January".

This week everybody was talking about General Milley

He's the subject of the featured post.

and the California recall election

https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/california-dreaming/

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


CNN correspondent Josh Campbell:

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

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

and the pandemic

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

and a dress

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

and here's a concept more people should know about

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the Durham investigation finally produced an indictment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in ...

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


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

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


The Emmys were announced last night.


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

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


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


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

A difficult but worthwhile read is "The Other Afghan Women" by The New Yorker's Anand Gopal.

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

and let's close with something adventurous

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