Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Lincoln Lincoln I've Been Thinkin


Southern Punch 1863, via Sher Watts Spooner/Daily Kos, 2016.

Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, asks ("The Revolt of the Republican Strategists") a kind of interesting question about the Lincoln Project Republicans, former party functionaries who have abandoned the GOP over Trump, and the new book from another one, Romney strategist Stuart Stevens, It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump, who takes it full Driftglass, as you might say, acknowledging Trump as symptom, not cause, of the terrible thing that has happened to the GOP, and that it started happening quite a while back. In the first place, whether the movement wants to move into the Democrats or remain Republican—what does it have in mind? And then why, if the Republicans are so depraved, were they ever Republicans anyhow? What was the Republican thing that held them, until Trump wrecked it, or wrecked their perception that it had ever existed?

But Stevens is so determined to emphasize his party’s total depravity that his only answer to the hard question of why Republicans swung from Romney’s technocratic decency to Trump’s know-nothing flamboyance is that Trumpism was the beating heart of conservatism all along....

There is another way of reading this history, though, that’s suggested by a passage where Stevens is emphasizing the fundamental emptiness of G.O.P. rhetoric on deficits and taxes. “But still the Republican Party continues to push tax cuts the same way the Roman Catholic Church uses incense for High Mass,” he writes, “as a comforting symbolism for believers that reminds them of their identity.” And then, pushing the analogy further: “Being against ‘out-of-control federal spending,’ a phrase I must have used in a hundred ads, is a catechism of the Republican faith. But no one really believes in it any more than communicants believe they are actually eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ.”

Except that in point of fact, many communicants at a Catholic Mass do believe that they are actually eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ. And this is particularly true among the conservative Catholics whose votes were essential to the Republican politicians Stuart Stevens tried to get elected president.

I guess Stevens just doesn't understand that conservative conservatives, as opposed to this cynical breed of party operatives, truly believe in the sacramental character of tax cuts and the Real Presence of out-of-control spending. These hypocritical strategists mistake the depth of faith in the party faithful and suppose that just because massive federal tax cuts and control over federal spending sound as if they contradict each other only the foolish would demand them both, simultaneously. The sacrosanct certainty of our fathers from Reagan through Bush to Trump that cutting taxes will reduce the federal deficit is why we're all worshiping together, isn't it?

Tuesday, August 11, 2020


Don't know about you but I have no intention of trying to #resist this. I'm all the way in.

Harris's undergrad degree is from Howard, which Republicans will probably complain is inside the Beltway, and JD from the University of California at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco—Biden, of course, went to the University of Delaware and got his law degree at Syracuse. So not merely no Ivy degrees but two state school degrees between them. Somehow this is the most moving for me.

Also, Harris is the first Asian American and the first Caribbean American and the first first-generation child of immigrants on both sides nominee, and the first one with a Jewish spouse, making her a veritable feast of intersectionality. And like everybody else I can't wait to see her use those debate chops we've seen at Senate Judiciary hearings on poor Michael Pence.

This was certainly the best choice Biden had, probably inevitable but certainly pleasing. Rose Twitter calling her a cop and the Trump machine calling her a radical leftist who has captured poor Joe in her bloody claws more or less cancel each other out. Her own ideas have advanced since she was a DA—she's the second-most leftist member of the Senate, according to the DW-Nominate system, which TBH doesn't give you the results Chuck Todd or Rose Twitter might offer, which got me into a hilarious Twitter war the other day:

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Huge News II

Where it all started, on a Dominican beach. Maybe not this one. Via CNN Travel.

The primary subject of the Yates hearing, of course, was dear old General Flynn, and his panicky series of phone calls when he was on vacation in the Dominican Republic at the end of December 2016, after President Obama decreed a new set of Russia sanctions to punish Russian interference in that year's presidential campaign, in which he advised Ambassador Kislyak on how the Russian government should respond, or rather not respond, to facilitate the Trump decision to make sure the Russians wouldn't be punished after Trump entered office; and, as Yates said,

these were not conversations that were just off the top of his head. But rather, he had been coordinating all of this with his Deputy National Security Advisor [K.T. McFarland], who was at Mar-a-Lago with other transition team members. And it was a very deliberate planned set of conversations with the Russian Ambassador to essentially tell them, “Don’t worry about it. Things are going to change what’s... in place.”

Following which, whoever knew about the calls (and it's still not clear who that was, beyond Flynn and McFarland) decided to keep their content a secret from those who didn't (starting, perhaps, with Mike Pence and Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer and going on to everybody else), to the extent of lying about it to the general public and to the FBI, the latter of which is illegal.

I want to talk about how Republicans have tried to turn this story into the story of a crime committed by the FBI against General Flynn, as represented in the rhetorical gyrations of Lindsey Graham's questioning of Sally Yates last week, but first it's a good idea to work through the known facts, of which I keep getting a better idea.

Huge News

I really don't get how they're so bad at this: announcing that he's planning to issue an order advising that something that has been the law for the past 10 years is, in fact, the law (though Trump's Justice Department will be arguing sometime in November, against Trump's Health and Human Services Department, that the law including the pre-existing conditions coverage part of it is unconstitutional, and urging the Supreme Court to strike it down), and expecting I don't know what kind of acclaim.

But the most abysmal example of the week in that unspeakable phony cornpone Senator John Kennedy (R-LA), with his flabby eunuch's face and Grand Ole Opry hair, quizzing the former acting attorney general in the Senate Judiciary hearing on the Russia Hoax, or origins of the deadly FBI conspiracy to take advantage of the pesky Russian effort to install Donald Trump as president as an excuse for uninstalling him:

Senator Kennedy: (02:18:20)
You don’t like Donald Trump, do you?

Sally Yates: (02:18:24)
I don’t respect the manner in which he has carried out the Presidency.

Senator Kennedy: (02:18:28)
Okay. You despise Donald Trump, don’t you?

Sally Yates: (02:18:31)
No, I don’t despise anyone, Senator.

Senator Kennedy: (02:18:34)
Okay. Isn’t it true that there were a handful of people at the FBI that despised Donald Trump and wanted to do everything they could do to keep him from being president?

Sally Yates: (02:18:51)
I can’t speak as to what other people despised Donald Trump.

Senator Kennedy: (02:18:56)
Were you part of that group?

Sally Yates: (02:18:59)
No, Senator I was not.

Senator Kennedy: (02:19:01)
Isn’t it true that there were a handful of people at the Department of Justice during the Obama administration that despised Donald Trump and did everything in their power to keep him from being president?

Sally Yates: (02:19:14)
I’m not aware of anyone at the Department of Justice doing anything to try to keep Donald Trump from becoming President. That would be have been inconsistent-

Senator Kennedy: (02:19:21)
Were you part of that group? I’m sorry, were you a part of that group?

His interrogation technique is basically: on no account listen to anything the witness says, it will only confuse you.

Kennedy also seems to think the deputy attorney general is obliged to personally duplicate all the FBI's investigative work before signing off on a FISA application, 

Senator Kennedy: 02:21:12
Go ahead. My question was, isn’t it a fact that the Steele dossier’s junk?

Sally Yates: (02:21:17)
I think that there is certainly evidence now, but there was not at the time, that calls into question the reliability of many portions of the Steele dossier. I have [inaudible 00:13:27]-

Senator Kennedy: (02:21:26)
Okay. Did you check to see if it was junk before you signed off on the FISA application?

Sally Yates: (02:21:34)
Senator, the affidavit that was provided by the FBI sets forth the factual basis. We rely upon the FBI to be the fact finders in the FISA process-

Senator Kennedy: (02:21:45)
[crosstalk 02:21:45] So, you didn’t independently check?

Sally Yates: (02:21:48)
No, sir. I did not independently fact check, and I’m not exactly sure how I would go about doing individual-

Senator Kennedy: (02:21:53)
Let me be sure I understand. You signed off on two of the applications. You’re asking for permission to surveil somebody who is close to a candidacy for the President of the United States in one instance, and in the second instance actually was the President of the United States. You took no independent steps to see if the Steele dossier was accurate? Is that your testimony?

Sally Yates: (02:22:35)
Senator, I’m sorry. I’m not following your question when you talk about who was the subject of the FISA application.

Senator Kennedy: (02:22:40)
Let me try to be clearer. The Steele dossiers was critical to at least several of the FISA applications, one of which you signed off on. You said that to get the … Let me finish my question. You said that the Steele dossier, with hindsight, may not have been completely accurate. You’re investigating a President of the United States and you didn’t check to see if it was accurate?

and to labor under the mistaken belief that the FBI took out FISA orders not only on Carter Page, PhD, but also on Donald Trump, and to believe that this happened after Trump was already president, which means he is so far behind the curve that he really should have stayed home. It's nice how Yates takes her turn to pretend she doesn't hear ("I'm not following your question"), but Kennedy just doubles down. Yates tells him very carefully that Trump was not the object of any surveillance order, only "an individual... who was not a current member of the campaign", i.e. Page, and goes through the Woods process in which every fact in the affidavit is documented by the FBI and the DOJ's National Security Division (all the mistakes in the Page application involved information that had been left out, not information that had been put in), and Kennedy replies

Senator Kennedy: (02:26:21)
Could you just tell me every step you took to verify that the accuracy of the Steele dossier?

Sally Yates: (02:26:2102:26:09) I relied upon the FBI as the fact-finders here, and the lawyers in the National Security Division to vet the accuracy of the FI’s application. My job-

Senator Kennedy: (02:26:21) All of whom hated Trump, right?

I can't even.

There's lots more to say about the Yates hearing, but I'm taking a break.

To be continued. Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Post-Trump Conservatism: A Marxist Approach. By David F. Brooks

Pablo Picasso, Girl With Mandolin (1910), via

Today's Brooks ("Where Do Republicans Go From Here?") is fooling everybody like that, because it starts out looking like a column he's written 15 or 16 times in the last couple of years and you think you know how it ends, but you're wrong. Actually he ends up with the Bernie Sanders theory of how to fix the post-Trump Republican Party—"deracialize", and move on to class struggle!

working-class emphasis is the only way out of the demographic doom loop. If the party sticks with its old white high school-educated base, it will die. They just aren’t making enough old white men. To have any shot of surviving as a major party, the G.O.P. has to build a cross-racial alliance among working-class whites [non-old high school–educated?], working-class Hispanics and some working-class Blacks.

None of this works unless Republicans can deracialize their appeal — by which I mean they must stop pandering to the racists in the party and stop presenting themselves and seeing themselves as the party of white people — and wage a class struggle between diverse workers in their coalition and the highly educated coastal manager and professional class in the Democratic coalition.

Pile those coastals into the tumbrils! It's the political revolution! All you need is "some working-class Blacks!"—not all of them, just some as-yet-undefined critical mass—and that sniveling manager and professional class won't know what hit it.

That is, I mean, there may be a flaw in this plan, but you can't say it lacks boldness.

The rest of the column gets a little more interesting when you try to reconstruct how his usual point of departure, the History of Conservative Thought, led him through a Hegelian dialectical model of thesis/antithesis/synthesis to this radical conclusion.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Reading Comprehension: It Is What It Is

Trump: “Well what’s your definition of control? Under the circumstances, right now, I think it’s under control.”
Swan: “How? A thousand Americans are dying a day.”
Trump: “They are dying, that’s true. And it is what it is. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it. This is a horrible plague that beset us.” (via

We know that the death rate is not "under control as much as you can control it" in the United States, because it's been up above 3 per million population (which adds up to upwards of a thousand per day) and mostly rising here since the end of June, while it's been around zero per million in South Korea, France, Italy, and Germany, and around 1 (less than a third the rate in US) and declining in UK.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Literary Corner: If You Look at Children

Welcome Cowpokes From Mike's Round-Up! Thanks, Jon!

2020 is the "Desperate Housewives" of years, with writers so addicted to over-the-top melodrama for its own sake that they'll sacrifice any kind of meaning for a momentary effect, and you keep dissolving into giggles at the moment when you ought to be taking it the most seriously. Hurricanes in Manhattan isn't crazy enough, it's been done before, so they have to have a tornado watch in Manhattan instead. Give me a break.

In any case, it passed, having done little in my neighborhood other than to knock down a lot of tree branches, showing a particular hostility to the locust trees, seen above, in a post-hurricane dappling of late-afternoon sun (and a very pleasant post-hurricane breeze).


Like Things Go Away
by Donald J. Trump

My view is the schools 
should open. This thing’s 
going away. It will go away 
like things go away 
and my view is schools 
should be open. 

If you look at children, 
children are almost — 
and I would almost say 
definitely, but almost — 
immune from this disease.

I don’t know how you feel 
about it but they have much 
stronger immune systems
than we do somehow for this.

(Fox & Friends, 5 August 2020, via The Wrap.)

OK, so as you know, children are not immune from Covid-19. They are less likely to get infected than adults, and much less likely to suffer from severe symptoms (though 10% of infected babies become critically ill, and children who have been infected are in danger of ending up with a multisystem inflammatory syndrome resembling Kawasaki disease, which is pretty scary), but those who do get infected seem to carry a lot of virus ("children younger than age 5 may host up to 100 times as much of the virus in the upper respiratory tract as adults"), and they can infect others, like adults, including their teachers, and their kindly, beloved grandfathers like PRESIDENT TRUMP:
Children under 10 were roughly half as likely as adults to spread the virus to others, consistent with other studies. That may be because children generally exhale less air — and therefore less virus-laden air — or because they exhale that air closer to the ground, making it less likely that adults would breathe it in.... And those between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults do.
Also, I don't know how you feel about it but it DOESN'T MATTER HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT IT. Facts don't care about President Trump's feelings, as the guy says. And "like things go away" covers a pretty broad range of outcomes. The Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble—they're only made of clay—but viruses really hang around, though their virulence seems to decline at different rates and evolves back and forth. "Virulent" (from the Latin virulentus meaning "full of virus" or poison, which is what virus meant in pre-microscope days) is a terrific word, I'm glad it showed up. 

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Pre-operational postscript

And I would have gotten away with it too, if not for those meddling scientists. Via.

Or putting it another way (from Jonathan Swan's Axios interview of Trump, to which I'll be returning, as transcribed in
Trump: “Many of those tests are now obsolete, because you know, it’s called science, and all of a sudden something’s better. But because we tested so many people, 55-60 million people, very soon, we get cases. You test, some kid has even just a little runny nose, it’s a case. And then you report many cases. So we look like we have more cases than massive countries, like China – which by the way, doesn’t report, as you know.”
The test makes it a Covid-19 case, as Trump sees it. Sure the kid has the sniffles, but it's not "a case" unless some meddling functionary goes and tests for it, so it shouldn't count. It's not fair to count it, not fair to Trump.

That is, in the White House it's OK to test everybody that might come in the president's breathing range, because that's important stuff involving the president's health. But out there in the world, it's not about a virus that a kid with a runny nose might communicate to teachers or grandparents, possibly killing them the way Mrs. Miller or Robert O'Brien or one of those Secret Service guys could have killed the president (and Trump never shows any awareness that asymptomatic cases exist as well), it's about keeping score of the administration in his competition with the other Leaders. Not that he's trying to say it isn't really Covid, but how's he supposed to win if our own refs are so nitpicky all the time, calling a foul when the virus hardly even brushed against the guy?

It's not just that he has a different standard for events outside his own body, it's that he doesn't accord the same reality to things happening outside his body, and he sincerely expects his audience (all projections of the only mind whose full existence he can recognize, his own) to accept that.

And in that way it's perhaps not so much that he hasn't reached the concrete operational stage at all as that he can't make the required effort to extend it beyond his immediate purview into the bodies he doesn't occupy. And not so much, as I was trying to say, that testing magically creates Covid infections as that the infections couldn't happen without the malignant forces arrayed against him, which are somehow connected to testing, though he's not going to (can't) inquire too closely into how it works.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Hi It's Stupid: Preoperational

Illustration by Andrew Couts via Daily Dot.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Fuq the Blues, They Don't Vote For Us

Illumination ca, 1413-15 by the Boucicault Master, Paris, depicting the Roman emperor Galerius "on his deathbed, suffering from a horrendous malady that reportedly caused his entrails to decay inside his body and worms to come out of his mouth, ears, and nose... as two servants cover their mouths from the stench of his rotting flesh." J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

In March 1992, Ed Koch, the former New York City mayor, wrote that Baker had dismissed concern about Jewish anger [over G.H.W. Bush administration demands that Israel join Madrid peace process], saying “F*** the Jews, they don’t vote for us.” Baker adamantly denied it.

Fred Zeidman, a Houston-area businessman and Republican fundraiser who is friendly with the Bush family and with Baker, said the remark has long been misunderstood. Baker was aiming his ire at another Cabinet member, Zeidman said, and intended it as a joke. (JTA, December 2018)

Meaning, of course, Baker really did say it, and providing evidence that calling your racism a "joke" is an old Republican habit, but let that pass. Nowadays Republican politicians demand lockstep fealty to the Israeli government, but most American Jews don't agree, and so they still don't vote for them. So it goes.

Meanwhile, the latest outrage is the revelation, in a terrific piece by Katherine Eban for Vanity Fair ("How Jared Kushner's Secret Testing Plan 'Went Poof Into Thin Air'"), that the coronavirus response team of business bros convened at the White House by Jared Kushner had managed by early April to put together a plausible proposal for a national Covid testing plan to coordinate distribution of test kits and contact tracing, beef up antibody testing, and report all test data directly to a national repository as well as state and local authorities, but ditched it under the impression that only Democrats were really suffering from the disease so it wasn't worth the trouble, because it really looked like a lot of work, and besides the virus might just disappear (according to models pushed by Dr. Birx), and