Saturday, October 24, 2020

For the Record: Why the Affordable Care Act Will Survive

Photo by CQ Roll Call via Forbes.


 A heavy Twitter day, sorry. Some more arguments with friends:

Friday, October 23, 2020

For the Record: Debate Takes


The Debate (2017), by the Filipino painter Gerry Joquico, via ArtAnton.

Earlier in the evening, I had a kind of kerfuffle with our dear friend Bos over the framing of our attack on Trump's China business, where I think the prevailing rhetoric emphasizes the points that aren't important at all for the sake of a sound bite that really doesn't end up meaning anything:

I had a Singapore checking account for a couple of years after I came back to the States, and I really didn't mean any harm.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Flooding the Zone


Via ZDNet.

I'm going to be really skeptical in all directions about the report on Iranian interference in the election from our notoriously unqualified Director of National Intelligence, ex-Congressman John Ratcliffe, who got Trump's attention in 2017-18 alongside Devin Nunes as the two of them worked to turn the House Intelligence Committee into an adjunct of the Trump campaign, was criticized for not coming close to meeting the statutory requirements for the job

50 US Code § 3023, “Any individual nominated for appointment as Director of National Intelligence shall have extensive national security expertise.”

and lying about it in the most ridiculous way

Tuesday, October 20, 2020



The original Zoom debate, from the Democratic primary campaign in New York's 14th congressional district, 20 May 2020, screenshot by Mashable.

No, I'm not going to waste my time on a virtual debate. That's not what debating's all about. You sit behind a computer and do a debate is ridiculous. And they cut you off whenever they want.

Donald J. Trump, 8 October, rejecting the format proposed by the Commission on Presidential Debates for the scheduled 15 October town hall–style debate in Miami, after Trump's Covid-19 infection raised safety concerns. I can't find out anything about the role computers were supposed to play in the proceedings—the CPD's statement didn't mention this—but it must have been discussed in the course of the CPD negotiations with the two campaigns, and that's where Trump got it.

My idea is that it was really going to be a Zoom debate, as suggested originally by Mashable and later backed up by Fox BusinessVice, Catholic University's The Tower, and I don't know who else—Fox was the most authoritative, citing Mitch McConnell and the Trump campaign's Mica Mosbacher—and Trump was thrown into a panic, not by the thought that the moderator was going to have a mute button (he's accepted that, at least for part of the time, for Thursday's debate), but because he might have to operate one himself; that he might be required to touch a key or click a mouse, hands at the console and face at the camera, and he was certain he would screw it up.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Malarkey Factory


I may be finding this Matt Viser/Washington Post story a little more reassuring than I should, but I'm glad to learn the Biden campaign has a multimillion-dollar "Malarkey Factory" combating disinformation, and very glad to get an explanation of what kinds of disinformation they decide to combat:

Swiss Miss

Via CEFA Aviation.

This is a couple of weeks old already, but I just heard about it on the radio, a Covid piece by Dr. Jonathan Schiffer ("Against Covid-19, Imperfect Measures Do the Most Good"), and it's a bit cheering: 

Schiffer, an associate professor in the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, discusses the benefits of some effective, although far from flawless, tools in the battle against COVID-19. It’s an approach that reminds him of swiss cheese, he says, because “each of these strategies has holes but, if you apply all of them, fewer infections break through.”

The Swiss cheese is a reference to a kind of biz school model of risk assessment, envisaging safeguards against harm as an array of cheese slices, each of which blocks the oncoming threat except where it has holes; if each slice comes from a different part of the cheese, its holes are in different places, so if you have enough of them you can block just about everything (see illustration).

So if all our tools are flawed, all of them—the washing of hands and wiping down of surfaces, the masks, the distancing, the testing and tracing, the quarantine, the temperature check, eventually the vaccine that may be as little as 50% effective—have flaws in different places. I was inclined to feel despair at the thought of a vaccine that's only 50% effective, and I still see 70% would be a lot better, but the point is that trying to get where you need to go with the perfect method, the one that doesn't have any flaws at all, is a mistake—it's really better to have imperfect techniques, if you have a bunch of them.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Literary Corner: There Are Some Very Fine Anti-Pedophiles

Via Encyclopedia of Alabama,

I Know Nothing
by Donald J. Trump
(Let me ask you about QAnon.
It is this theory that Democrats
are a satanic pedophile ring
and that you are the savior, of that.
Now can you just, once and for all,
state that that is completely not true, and—)
I know very little.
You told me, but what you tell me
doesn't necessarily make it fact.
I hate to say that.
I know nothing about it.
I do know they are very much against pedophilia.
They fight it very hard.
But I know nothing about it.

If you’d like me to study the subject,
I’ll tell you what I do know about.
I know about Antifa,
and I know about the radical left,
and I know how violent they are
and how vicious they are.
And I know how they are burning down
cities run by Democrats,
not run by Republicans.

Friday, October 16, 2020

For a pronominal consideration

Georg Baselitz, "Portrait of Elke I", 1969. Via.

David F. Brooks, "How to Actually Make America Great":

The frequency of the word “I” in American books, according to Putnam and Garrett, doubled between 1965 and 2008. The authors are careful not to put it into moralistic terms, but I’d say that, starting in the late 1960s, there was left wing self-centeredness in the social and lifestyle sphere and right wing self-centeredness in the economic sphere, with a lack of support for common-good public policies. But it was socially celebrated self-centeredness all the way across. It was based on a fallacy: If we all do our own thing, everything will work out well for everybody.

Robert Putnam, "with" Shaylyn Romney Garrett, in The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again, are careful not to put it into moralistic terms, but David Brooks will happily fix that. 

His own use of "I" in his column has diminished by a good 70% since 24 September ("How Faith Shapes My Politics"), when he used it 19 times, to today, when there are only six (excluding four cases of "'I'" in quotes, which is technically not using the word, to refer to himself, but mentioning it, as a word people use). But I digress.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Horse Race Junk: Wave Multipliers

Image from Hotel News Resource. Fight me.

Trying to count the different kinds of waves. There's this geographical one signaled by southerner Ed Kilgore as "Jimmy Carter's revenge", where a multiracial progressive Democratic coalition is making really shocking inroads from Virginia and North Carolina through Florida to Georgia, and now extraordinarily looking powerful in Texas and South Carolina of all places:

Like Georgia, Texas is a state where Democrats made startling urban and suburban gains in 2018 and seem to be approaching a demographic tipping point. They flipped two House seats despite a heavily gerrymandered district map and improved their vote share almost everywhere, while Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke broke fundraising records and threw a serious scare into Ted Cruz. And that midterm election built on the gains of 2016, when Hillary Clinton reduced Barack Obama’s 15-point margin of defeat in 2012 to less than nine points.

Even in South Carolina, where the South’s conservative Republican revolution really began when the segregationist senator Strom Thurmond joined the GOP in 1964, the same coalition of Black and upscale white suburban voters is beginning to make serious inroads into Republican rule. This year, Democrat Jaime Harrison, one of the most prodigious fundraisers in U.S. political history, is running even in the polls with veteran Republican senator Lindsey Graham. No Democrat has won a Senate or gubernatorial race in the Palmetto State since 1998.

And the astonishing turn of older voters toward Biden in the wake of Trump's crazy mishandling of a murderous plague bringing Florida and Arizona within reach:

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

One step back, two steps forward

There was a big and humiliatingly stupid error in my Saturday post on DNI John Ratcliffe's attempts to use selective declassification of classified material to make it look as if Hillary Clinton had engaged in some kind of collusion with Russian intelligence agencies: when I said the meeting at which CIA director John Brennan took the handwritten notes released by Ratcliffe took place on 28 July 2016.

I think I must have gotten it, appropriately enough, from hack attorney Jonathan Turley, who said so in his post of last Wednesday:

Brennan’s handwritten notes would seem extremely serious on their face. It certainly indicates that Brennan considered the issue sufficiently serious to brief the President of the United States on July 28th. The notes state

“We’re getting additional insight into Russian activities from [REDACTED]. . . CITE [summarizing] alleged approved by Hillary Clinton a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security service.”

But it also could have come from Dan Friedman at Mother Jones:

Acting on orders from Trump, Ratcliffe on Tuesday declassified notes from former CIA Director John Brennan indicating that on July 28, 2016, Brennan had told President Barack Obama about US intelligence findings related to Russia. These finding included information suggesting that Russian intelligence analysis said that Hillary Clinton had approved “a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security service.” This same intelligence was apparently the basis of documents declassified by Ratcliffe last week that describe Russian claims that Clinton’s campaign wanted to highlight Trump’s Russian ties as “a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server.”
Both probably got the idea from some bad editing at the Fox News website's version of the story, according to which

Monday, October 12, 2020

Literary Corner: Have You Herd?


Protective Glow

by Donald J. Trump


It seems like I’m immune,
so I can go way out of a basement,
which I would have done anyway.
The president is in very good shape
to fight the battles.
I beat this crazy horrible China virus…
I passed the highest test,
the highest standards,
and I’m in great shape.
And I have to tell you I feel fantastically.
I really feel good.
Maybe a long time, maybe a short time.
It could be a lifetime.
Nobody really knows, but I’m immune.
I even feel good by the fact that, you know,
the word ‘immunity’ means something.
Having really a protective glow means something.
I think it’s very important to have that.
To have that is a very important thing.

Maybe a long time, maybe a short time.
It could be a lifetime.
Nobody really knows, but I’m immune.

I too feel good by the fact that "immunity" means something. I've always been attached to the idea of words having meaning. But "protective glow" may be taking it a little too far.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

For the Record: Tenth Justice


Stephen Johnson Field of California, the last 10th Justice. Via Wikipedia.

By the way, y'all know who succeeded in packing the Supreme Court? Did you know that it actually happened?

But replacing Thomas or Alito, if that turned out to be possible (those guys are always spreading the story that they'd like to retire, but they never go through with it) with somebody more fun, and maybe reverting to nine justices when the crisis is over, as happened in the 1860s. In any case I really wish it would happen, and your sacred historical authority is right here, for your reading pleasure. They did this thing, and it didn't destroy the Republic. It didn't even change it as much as one might like.

Negative Thereness

In Everybody's Autobiography (1937) Gertrude Stein complained about her native Oakland “...what was the use of my having come from Oakland it was not natural to have come from there yes write about it if I like or anything if I like but not there, there is no there there.” But somebody finally supplied one—photo by Joe Sciarillo.

I need to make a confession: I'm the one who started the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. I mean, alongside Paul Krugman, Josh Marshall, CIA director John O. Brennan, and our handlers in Russian intelligence and, frankly, a whole lot of other people, most of whom aren't even aware that we had Russian handlers. If current Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe knows what he's talking about. 

I don't know what he's talking about, but just saying: Krugman's New York Times column ("Donald Trump, the Siberian Candidate") of 22 July 2016, Josh Marshall's blogpost ("Trump & Putin: Yes, It's Really a Thing") of the following day—

Trump appears to have a deep financial dependence on Russian money from persons close to Putin. And this is matched to a conspicuous solicitousness to Russian foreign policy interests where they come into conflict with US policies which go back decades through administrations of both parties. There is also something between a non-trivial and a substantial amount of evidence suggesting Putin-backed financial support for Trump or a non-tacit alliance between the two men.

—and my own post on the 24th ("As a Notorious Billionaire Once Said, Just What in the Hell Is Going On") 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

The Reality


Illustration by Todd St. John from The New Yorker (Jane Mayer's prescient piece of October 2017 on the prospect of a President Pence).


Vice President Pence, more than 210,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 since February. The US death toll as a percentage of our population is higher than that of almost every other wealthy nation on Earth. For instance, our death rate is two and a half times that of Canada, next door. You head the administration's Coronavirus Task Force. Why is the U.S. death toll, as a percentage of our population, higher than that of almost every other wealthy country? 


I want the American people to know that from the very first day, President Donald Trump has put the health of Americans first. Before there were more than five cases in the United States, all people who had returned from China, President Donald Trump did what no other American president had ever done. And that was he suspended all travel from China, the second largest economy in the world. Now, Senator Joe Biden, Biden opposed that decision. He said it was xenophobic and hysterical, but I can tell you, having led the White House Coronavirus Task Force, that that decision alone by President Trump bought us invaluable time to stand up the greatest national mobilization since World War II.

Not only did Pence completely ignore the question, but as everybody ought to know by now, Biden was right to call the Trump travel restriction on travelers from China only (admitting US citizens and permanent residents and not imposing any quarantine on them) "hysterical" and "xenophobic", given the way it focused on a single Yellow Peril population (after 5 cases had been confirmed in the US and more in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, France, Italy...), too late and too restricted to be effective at stopping the coronavirus, which was already spreading in New York; spreading, in fact, through travelers from Europe, but hidden for weeks because of the Trump administration's failure to develop adequate testing, rejecting the advice of the WHO (consistent with Trump's xenophobic hatred of international organizations in general). 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

A billion tiny October surprises

Image via INKinc.

A week or ten days ago this thing caught my attention: from Fox News's Maria Bartiromo, a story on the counter-counterintelligence investigation being conducted by John Durham at the behest of William Barr to look at the "origins" of the FBI's Crossfire Hurricane probe of the relations between Russian operations in the 2016 election and a select group of Trump associates:

"It is unlikely that we will get a John Durham interim report or any indictments before the election. Now, just 37 days away, a debate has begun within the Department of Justice, as the timing of John Durham's criminal investigation conclusions. I'm being told by sources it is now too close to the election and could be seen as politically motivated," Bartiromo said on "Sunday Morning Futures."

This despite Barr's assurances, going back as far as July, that it would not be politically motivated

“I will be very careful. I know what Justice Department policy is,” Barr said during a long-awaited appearance before the House Judiciary Committee. “Any report will be, in my judgment, not one that is covered by the policy and would disrupt the election.”

My first thought was, well, that's the end of that; Durham can't get what Trump and Barr want him to get (indictments against McCabe, Strzok, and Ohr, and in their steamier fantasies Comey and Mueller, and in Trump's wet dreams Obama and Brennan), and he's throwing in the towel: another October surprise bites the dust:


Illustration via

BBC radio ran a little human interest story about wild honey cultivation in the Ajara region of western Georgia, where farmers entice the local bees to nest in hollow logs which they hoist up into trees, to protect them from bears. As the reporter followed her guide into the forest, sort of cooing with delight all the way from just being there to dipping a finger into a piece of freshly harvested honeycomb and tasting, I felt indescribably refreshed by getting a little news that didn't leave me horrorstruck.


Monday, October 5, 2020

For the Record: Mid-Autumn


Mooncakes, pastry stuffed with a sweet filling (these are lotus paste) and an optional salted duck egg yolk representing the full moon of the 8th Month in the east Asian lunar calendar (this year last Thursday), said to be the biggest and brightest of the year; the holiday is ideally spent in a garden, where you eat pastries, drink tea (or something stronger), and contemplate the moon while the youngsters dash around with decorated lanterns, making it the most literati-Chinese thing there is. In the Year of the Virus, cloud cover completely hid the moon and you couldn't find mooncakes downtown at all until two days later, how 2020 is that? Photo via.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Literary Corner: They Look Like They Are Miracles


So obviously the explanation that he is "working" in these pictures is the usual exaggeration, although I suppose you could say Trump is a professional model and posing for pictures is a central part what he does for a living. They shot the picture on the left in this bizarre boardroom at 8:25 (the timestamp on the metadata is from Seattle, which is where Ostrower accessed it, as he explains in a later tweet), gave him a jacket and moved him with the folders to the room with the white cabinets to shoot the video in its single four-minute take, and shot the picture on the right at 8:35. The whole thing is really by way of being a hostage video (which is what Emptywheel called it) which should have been sent with a note: "Your grandfather is in a safe place and in good health. Please transfer $5 million in Bitcoin to..."

The video statement, emitted in the affectless tone he uses when he is reading, but much more fluent, even more fluent than his normal rally improv (where he always breaks, applauding himself, to collect the scattered ideas), suggests some kind of psychoactive drug,  and the logical structure is really wacky, especially at the end, where he seems to be trying to convince us that he decided to go to the hospital because in the White House he would be "locked up in a room upstairs and totally safe" instead of "confronting problems". That's not why you go to the hospital.

I Feel Much Better Now

by Donald J. Trump

I feel much better now. We are working hard to get me
all the way back.a I have to be back. We still have to make
America great again.b We've done an awfully good job with that.

We still have steps to go. We have to finish that job.c
I will be back. I think I will be back soon. I look forward
to finishing up the campaign the way it was started, the
way we've been doing. The numbers we've been doing.
We've been so proud of it. Thisd was something that
happened. It has happened to millions of people
all over the world. I'm fighting for them, not just
in the U.S., I'm fighting for them all over the world.

Thinking Bigger


Dumpling truck, via New York Street Food.

Cheered and even kind of pumped by a radio appearance from Matty Glesias (as I like to think of him—it's how it looks on his Twitter handle) promoting a book, One Billion Americans: The Case For Thinking Bigger, offering some pretty big thinking indeed: that if you really wanted to make America great again, you'd want to do it with a greater population, say tripling it to a billion by the year 2100, through a combination of policies: not just making immigration much easier rather than much harder as the Trump administration has done, but also making it much easier for existing Americans to raise kids, and generally working the infrastructure to support a bigger population, because

the United States is not “full.” Many of its iconic cities—including not just famous cases of collapse like Detroit but also Philadelphia and Chicago and dozens of smaller cities like Rochester and Erie—actually have fewer residents than they had decades ago. And virtually all of our thriving cities easily have room to grow and accommodate more people.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Accentuate the Positive

"I am certain that your energy, optimism and sense of humor will help you to defeat the illness...I sincerely wish you fast and complete recovery." V.V. Putin

As do we all.

To the tune of:

(Laura Michelle Kelly in the 2009 London staging)

In medical emergencies
You may be troubled by disease
But is that really something we should fear?
For me the only way to live
Is just keep thinking positive
And then
Will simply disappear—

For a spoonful of Clorox
Helps the chloroquine go down,
The chloroquine go dow-own, chloroquine go down,
Just a spoonful of Clorox helps the chloroquine go down
And kicks the Covid out the door!

And for the noble and the great
Who manage our affairs of state
A similar encouragement applies:
If things just now look bad to you,
Perhaps you're merely feeling blue;
Do you
me, or your lying eyes?

For a spoonful of Clorox
Helps the chloroquine go down,
The chloroquine go dow-own, chloroquine go down,
Just a spoonful of Clorox helps the chloroquine go down
And kicks the Covid out the door!

So keep on never saying die
And holding that umbrella high,
And don't be vanquished by a little rain.
For though it may be wet today
Those eighteen greens won't go away;
For now,
It's snowing pure cocaine!

For a spoonful of cocaine
Helps anxiety go down
Anxiety go down, an-xiety go down,
Yes, a spoonful of Clorox helps the chloroquine go down
And that's what we were aiming for!

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Begone, before somebody drops a house on you, too

There are basically two ways of overthrowing a reasonably established government: through violence or the threat of violence—the continuum from coup d'état to revolution in which one power is overwhelmed and replaced by another; and through the Machtübergreifung, as Hitler called it, the "snatching over" of the existing power apparatus and then transforming it according to existing forms. I don't think it gets sufficiently recognized that Hitler, or Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, didn't exactly break any laws in their accessions to absolute power (except to the extent that they used law-breaking ascribed to their enemies, the Reichstag fire that provided Hitler with his excuse to declare an entirely legal emergency, the apparent terrorism of the apartment-house bombings crisis that Putin was charged by Yeltsin with managing, which made the otherwise unknown vice president a national figure who could win an election). Hitler's brownshirt thugs didn't play a role in pushing him into the chancellery; that was the conservative aristocrat politicians, Field Marshal von Hindenburg and Erbsälzer Franz von Papen (the title, "hereditary salt maker", dates to the 13th century, when the Papens were one of 48 families of Werl in the Westphalian Basin entrusted with the monopoly on mining the local salt), who found him more sympatisch than the Social Democrats. Putin spent 12 years shoring up his position by legal means before he began having the proper authorities rewrite the law to give him a vehicle for exercising permanent power.

And why did Putin have Paul Klebnikov and Anna Politkovskaya murdered in 2004 and 2006? And what were Hitler's brownshirts for? To make them look like strongmen as they achieved their aims in a less risky way, as Teri Kanefield writes:

Because being overestimated is how strongmen and wannabe strongmen appear invincible. It makes them feared and respected. It elevates their stature, which gives them power.

The revolutionary and the coup artist seize power, directly, because they have power. The Machtübergreifer bashes his way into the power that is there by being a conman, convincing you he has the power, bluffing and shouting, with more lawyers than thugs, asserting the legality of what he's doing. How many times, indeed, have you heard Trump or his agents explaining some action by claiming that he's "allowed" to do whatever it is, evading the question of what he's hoping to accomplish?

Trump loves you to see the kind of shit he can get away with, but he's pretty careful, in fact, to wrap it in legalisms, often bogus, but enough to keep him looking as if he cared. From the first day in office, when he showed us how he could force his press secretary to tell a ridiculous lie about how many people were on the Mall, he was also getting some henchman of his to get somebody in the GSA to reverse the ruling that Trump was not entitled to hold the lease on the Old Post Office building he was operating as a hotel, in the interregnum between administrators.

And when he and Sessions and Miller decided to contravene US and international law by refusing to hear asylum claims from Central American migrants, they didn't simply do it: they created an entirely new interpretation of the law (section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act), which criminalizes crossing the US border at an undesignated location, applying it to asylum seekers for the first time, allowing the Border Patrol to throw them into criminal detention and herd their children into concentration camps.

When courts stopped Trump from doing the things he wanted to do—banning Muslims from entering the country, building the border wall on the Pentagon's dime, eliminating the DACA program, and so on—he obeyed the judges, but sent his people back to the drawing board to come up with another way of doing it, or allow him to claim he'd done it. The final version of the Muslim ban wasn't a Muslim ban at all, just a pointless difficulty imposed on an almost random selection of people from "shithole" countries, but it looked to supporters and opponents as if he'd shown he had the power to get his way regardless. They're still trying to curtail the census, they're still trying to cripple the Postal Service, but they don't just march in and bash a few heads; they always deploy the lawyers, and try to wear their enemies down. 

Which is why I can't quit insisting that he can't overturn the election, meaning, precisely, that he doesn't have the power—unless we give it to him.

I might add it would be nice to remember how ceaselessly Trump has insulted those people, and how ceaselessly he's mocked their power. If you want to foment a real coup, of course, you don't alienate the military or the premier national law enforcement agency, but even if it's just a bogus coup you shouldn't think you can count on them just because they love their hierarchy. The Pentagon publicly rejected Trump's idea of deploying active duty servicemen in quelling the George Floyd protests in Lafayette Square and elsewhere, a national guardsman denounced the propaganda version of how the Lafayette Square event was handled, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff felt compelled to apologize for putting himself in a position where it looked as if he was taking Trump's political side; and the brass have been sending out signals just this week that they're not prepared to be used in the election:

Several Pentagon officials said there could be resignations among many of Mr. Trump’s senior generals, starting at the top with General Milley, should troops be ordered into the streets at the time of the election.

The Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Charles Q. Brown, the officials said, would also be unlikely to carry out those orders. In the days after the killing of Mr. Floyd in police custody, General Brown released an extraordinary video in which he spoke in starkly personal terms about his experience as a Black man in America, his unequal treatment in the armed forces and the protests that gripped the country.

That's the main thing. His army of pudgy incels and superannuated bikers and DHS goons can't stop us from counting the votes, and I don't think when it comes down to it the Supreme Court can either. We have to say, "Rubbish, you have no power over me!"