Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Joe Did What? Ideology Edition

Via Unwanted.

Let me try from a different direction:

There is something better happening at the moment than in the Clinton (certainly) or Obama (probably) presidencies. Though Biden is officially to the "right" of Obama (certainly) or Clinton (possibly—way to the right of Hillary Clinton, anyhow), he seems to find himself leaping into things that are "left". Why would that be?

One possibility is that there's some kind of disconnect between the "left"-ness of the president's personal identity and the "left"-ness of the things she or he does. Is that possible?

Monday, March 1, 2021

Joe Did What? Labor Edition

In "Joe Did What?" news, President Biden posted a video reaction to the upcoming vote of the 6,000 workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama as to whether they should become the first workers in Amazon history to be represented by a union (the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union):

“Workers in Alabama, and all across America, are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace,” Mr. Biden said in a direct-to-camera address posted on the White House Twitter page, after a recent pressure campaign by pro-union groups pushing him to weigh in on the drive.

“Let me be really clear: It’s not up to me to decide whether anyone should join a union,” he said. “But let me be even more clear: It’s not up to an employer to decide that either.”

Yes, sir, the second sentence was more clear than the first. Thank you.

Amazon's inveterate opposition to unions is well known (that's what torpedoed their plan for a Long Island City headquarters, more than anything else, making it impossible for Mayor de Blasio to keep supporting the deal), and the company has been willing to descend to a near–Roger Stone level of dirty trickery to stop them, as in this Alabama case, as Sarah Jones reports at New York:

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Literary Corner: Party of Country Clubs

Country club crowd lining up for a Biden speech in Detroit, 9 March 2020. Photo by Jeff Kowalski, AFP/Getty, via Wall Street Journal.

I Hear America Kvetching

by Senator Rafael Edward Cruz, Esquire, BA (Princeton), JD (Harvard)

They look at Donald Trump and the millions of people who went to battle
fighting alongside him and they’re terrified.
They want him to go away. Let me tell you this right now:
Donald J. Trump ain’t going anywhere,
The Republican Party is not the party of the country clubs,
it’s the party of steel workers and construction workers and taxi drivers and
cops and firefighters and waitresses. That is our party!
these deplorables are here to stay!
Every one of you has a platform.
Every one of you has a voice.
The corporate media wants to silence these voices.

Friday, February 26, 2021

"Market Egalitarianism". No, Really.

David Brooks outraged by the decadence of the times, in which the career advice you got from Econ 101 isn't even true ("How to Get Really Rich!"):

My main message is that if you want to get rich, don’t invent a new and useful product, start a company and try to sell it. That seems risky. Put the effort into entering a clubby line of work in which legislators and professional associations are working to make you rich. It’s easier!

Instead of becoming a risk-taking entrepreneur, you should take the soft option of going to med school so you'll never have to worry about competition—

Or, as Driftglass hints, maybe you should become a columnist for The New York Times! According to Jonathan Rothwell's A Republic of Equals: A Manifesto For a Just Society (2019), "writers and authors" come 11th on the list of the 20 professions dominating the 1%, as measured by their home values.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Rectification of Names: Socialism


I know I shouldn't bother at a time like this, but no. None of these things should be called "socialism". This probably came from a kind-hearted and justice-loving person, but it uses a worthless, nonsensical rightwing pollution of the word "socialism", according to which the word means or probably means "giving cash for nothing to people who probably don't deserve it". That is not what it is supposed to mean.

At its narrowest, in the definition you probably learned in middle school, socialism is the name of a concept in political economy, of a kind of developmental midpoint between ideals of "capitalism" and "communism", 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Joe Did What? Carrizo Springs


Carrizo Springs after the Trump administration set it up for children in October 2019—nobody explains why they closed it after a month, perhaps it's because they'd succeeded in making all the children "Remain in Mexico" by that point. Via NBC News

There's a lot of frothing going on on the aspirational left over today's report by Sylvia Foster-Frau/Washington Post of the reopening of a facility for unaccompanied teenage asylum seekers at Carrizo Springs, TX, the first such place to be opened under the Biden administration, being regarded by everybody from Mehdi Hasan to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as the return of the cages, which it isn't, let alone the return of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III and his concentration camps.

It's in fact a pretty good thing, and a sign of much better to come: a serious effort to not get overwhelmed the way the Obama administration did in 2014 by a surge in the number of kids struggling without their parents through Mexico to the border, and make sure that every kid gets as quickly as possible to the sponsors awaiting them, mostly family members already established in the US, and that their cases get heard while they're in a safe place.

Monday, February 22, 2021

For the Record: The Preemptive Whatabout

Via The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

Much respect and warm feelings toward attorney general nominee Merrick Garland, but I also enjoyed what looked to me like subtweeting skill in the written version of his opening statement for today's confirmation hearing:

Ted Cruz may have thought so too, because in his "questioning" at the hearing he brought in what you might call an argument by Preemptive Whatabout, where you don't wait for your opponent to give you a name before you respond with your whatabout, but rather trot it out in advance—in this case forestalling the Barr with a dig at Obama's first attorney general, Eric Holder.

We don't all love Holder a hundred percent, I realize. I personally think it's a divided legacy, with very good work in the civil rights area (including, I'll say this to the end, in his handling of the 2014-15 unaccompanied minor migrant crisis, "cages" and all, as comes clear when you compare it with Sessions and his crimes against humanity in 2017) and his very inadequate response to the crimes committed by bankers and insurers in the 2007-08 financial crisis. And I'm fond of the idea of Holder as Obama's anti-racism translator, if you know what I mean, expressing thoughts Obama didn't feel he could afford to express for himself.

But Cruz's remarks pushed me into one of those rants:

For the Record: Miscellany


Called a "Tomahawk" because it can be used as a weapon. No longer on the menu at Trump's BLT Prime in Washington, where the largest steak is now the 36-ounce Porterhouse at $102 and advertised as shareable.

Then there was the Times gangbang salute on the passing of Rush Limbaugh, inspiring double-edged idiocy from Frank Bruni and Ben Shapiro:

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Joe Did What? Obamacare

Claes Corneliszoon Moeyaert, “Hippocrates Visiting Democritus” (1636), via Eidolon.

I knew big things were intended to happen with our miserable health care provision system in the Biden presidency, and saluted the executive order of 28 January declaring a special open enrollment period for individual-market "Obamacare" policies from the site, which started on Monday and goes on through mid-April, for people who have lost employer-based policies along with their jobs to the pandemic, that's maybe 7.7 million workers plus 7 million dependents, and perhaps some additional number who have been paying through the nose for COBRA extension of the employer policy they lost.

Now we're getting some information about further developments in the improvement of the Affordable Care Act through the gigantic Covid relief–and–budget reconciliation bill currently making its way through Congress, from a story this morning in Business Insider and their link to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which gives you some of the wonkery you may crave without making it more than I want to handle. I probably shouldn't include it under the "Joe Did What?" rubric, I think it comes from the House Ways and Means committee chaired by Rep. Richie Neal, but it's got some of that delightful surprise element—surprising to me, anyway, and possibly to you guys as well.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Longer™ David Brooks: To a Young Republican


Do you have a future in the new multiracial party of the working class?

Opinion Columnist

Handmade in organic cotton sateen by Bridgetown Bow Ties, $30, via Etsy.

I know what you're thinking, but there's no reason I shouldnʼt be getting a note from a nonfictional young Republican whoʼs spent the last ten years, ever since he got out of his college Young Republicans unit, in Washington, fighting the fight, and feeling disillusioned. I live in Washington myself, and meet lots of young people. Perhaps I spoke at his commencement at Stanford or Hillsdale, or lectured him on Machiavelli in the the Yale Grand Strategy program during my service there from 2012 to 2018 , which would be a little less than ten years ago. Or he could be a relative, you know, or a parishioner at one of the groovy churches I attend, or one of my wife's school friends, or or even my wife herself! The possibilities are practically infinite.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Joe Did What? Work as Punishment

Poster by Shephard Fairey, 2017.


One of the executive orders in that first extraordinary rush—is it three weeks ago now?—was to commission a review of the various Trump-era programs in various states for putting work requirements on Medicaid benefits, as if they thought not having a job in the cash economy was a kind of crime, and cutting off your access to a doctor was an appropriate punishment. Good thing! It was a terrible policy idea, not merely pointlessly cruel (these programs are meant to help out people who need help, not reward them for being virtuous) but also especially stupid, in that it's harmful to public health: one of the basic reasons for providing healthcare to those who can't afford it is to reduce the amount of disease to which everybody, rich and poor, is exposed.

The work requirements, a longstanding conservative goal, were a policy priority for Seema Verma, who ran the federal Medicaid program under President Trump. This was an about-face from the position of the Obama administration, which steadfastly opposed the idea of tethering public health benefits to work — something that had never happened in Medicaid’s nearly 60-year history. Obama administration officials repeatedly rejected states’ waiver requests, stating concerns that they “could undermine access” and that they did “not support the objectives of the Medicaid program.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Lectiones: Democratic Mojo



Speaking of abolishing ICE without abolishing ICE, Ian Milhiser at Vox offers a repertory of techniques for abolishing the filibuster without abolishing the filibuster, by scraping away at it bit by bit until it's small enough to, you know, drown in the bathtub:

  • Make fewer bills subject to the filibuster: The Senate can create carveouts and exempt certain matters from the filibuster altogether, as it does with bills subject to the reconciliation process.
  • Reduce the power of individual rogue senators: The Senate could make it harder to initiate a filibuster. Right now, unanimous consent is required to hold a vote without invoking the time-consuming cloture process. But the rules could be changed to allow an immediate vote unless a larger bloc of senators — perhaps two or five or 10 — objected to such a vote, instead of just one.
  • Make it easier to break a filibuster: The Senate could reduce the number of votes necessary to invoke cloture. This could be done as an across-the-board reform, like the 1975 change to the filibuster rule that reduced the cloture threshold from 67 to 60. Or it could be done by creating a carveout for certain matters, such as the 2013 and 2017 reforms that allowed presidential nominees to be confirmed by a simple majority vote.
  • Reduce or eliminate the time it takes to invoke cloture: The Senate could reduce the amount of time necessary to invoke cloture and conduct a final vote. This could be done by allowing a swifter vote on a cloture petition, by reducing or eliminating the time devoted to post-closure debate, or both.

The Senate changes the rules all the time, by simple majority vote—that's how they made it possible for Obama to nominate a bunch of judges and about 170 executive-branch officers—and it would be so much easier to carry on with it that way, giving Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema cover to vote for it (in 2011, Manchin voted for a great reform idea, that of forcing anybody who wanted to stop the cloture vote to give a good old-fashioned Mr. Smith Goes to Washington talking filibuster, but it didn't get past McConnell) without breaking their promises.

Monday, February 15, 2021

For the Record: Weak

Little Marco. Photo by Greg Nash/Getty via David Frum's impeachment piece from Wednesday in The Atlantic.

One of the things really striking me in the course of the impeachment proceedings was the appalling personal weakness of those tough-guy pro-Liberty Republican senators, which we often don't see because they have so much ability—I won't call it "power"—to make everything worse. It may sound like a paradox, but it's an ability born of failure, and impotence, and inability to rise to an occasion, and it got me ranting:  

And then there was Mitch McConnell, explaining how he knows Trump is guilty but doesn't think it's proper for him to do anything about it. Of course we know (I think Steve was the first to clarify this for me) what he really means, which is that his political position requires him to say both that Trump is guilty (for the suburbans) and that he's not guilty (for the rustics) and so by God he'll say both regardless of the contradiction, but the logic he used in his remarks showed what a loser he really is, and got me going:

Sunday, February 14, 2021

If It's Really the End of Trump

Uncredited image from CityWatch Los Angeles, July 2020.

Commenter BradleyKSherman writes re the end of the impeachment drama:

On 8 September 1974, Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon. That was the anticlimax to two years of built up tension. My hate was pure but my rage had no outlet. So I was prepared for this exact denouement. That was no more the end of the GOP than is this. It was the end of Nixon and I think this is the end of Trump.

Some thoughts from me:

That's at least half of a pretty happy thought IMO, but if it really is the end of Trump (of which I'm more hopeful than a lot of really smart people), I'm having a little trouble putting together the other half.

Getting rid of Nixon had two very important political consequences:
  1. it created the space for big reforms in the system, to prevent the Nixonian abuses from happening again, which didn't in the long run work too well, either in stopping (GOP) presidents from manipulating CIA and FBI and DOJ for political ends or in curbing (mainly GOP) corruption through campaign money, and 
  2.  it created the space for the GOP to be taken over by movement conservatives, which worked out all too well for them, creating this whole neoliberal era and the end of postwar social democratic prosperity.
The consequences of the end of Trump ought to have a similar shape, and I can imagine them being very positive indeed, though I don't quite know how to bring them about.

Schrödinger's Poker


Tubalcain Alhanbra, via Shine.

The Senate impeachment trial was suddenly thrown into some kind of turmoil by the surfacing of some sort of new detail on the 6 January siege, from Rep. Jaime Lynn Herrera Beutler (R-WA and one of the ten Republicans who voted to impeach in the House), on the story Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told her of his call that afternoon to Trump to beg him to call off his thugs and stop the assault.

It wasn't going to change the outcome of the trial, though it probably should have, but it could have prolonged it beyond bearing: the House managers wanted to call her and, I thought, McCarthy as witnesses, and Trump's lawyer Michael Van der Veen threatened to come back with a call for 100 depositions, just for starters—effectively, to turn the impeachment into Benghazi hearings. 

In the end they made a deal: Herrera Beutler's story will be added to the record, but suppressed from the closing statements, and won't be part of the case on which the senators vote. 

I'd like to spend some time on it all the same. The story also does offer some important clarification for our understanding of what happened, alongside the reporting of Tommy Tuberville's conversation with Trump of around the same time, in which Trump had been urging him to do something to delay the certification of the election results after Pence's announcement that they would be certified in spite of Trump's complaints. In the call Tuberville is said to have told Trump he had to go because the Capitol police were evacuating the Senate chamber as the Senate's president, Mike Pence, was being whisked out of the room.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Which Side Are We On?


As the tweeps were quick to note, McDaniel's Brooksian assumption that Lincoln must have been talking about "bringing our badly divided country together" is stupid. Lincoln's speech, with which he accepted the Republican Party's nomination to run against Senator Stephen Douglas in the 1858 election, was a radical which-side-are-you-on moment of reaction to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 (allowing the residents, meaning the white male residents, of each of the newly organized western territories to decide whether or not slavery would be legal) and the Dred Scott decision of 1857, which held that somebody who was a slave in a slave state remained a slave in a state where slavery was illegal, without a right to defend himself against the demands of his "owner".

The Republic, Lincoln maintained, was one decision away from making slavery legal in all states, regardless of the desires of the citizens:

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Literary Corner: The Defense Rests

Jean Arthur and Jack Holt in Lambert Hillyer's The Defense Rests (1934).

Rampant in January

by Counselor Bruce Castor

Article one, section three says,
“Judgements in cases of impeachment
shall not extend further than
to removal from office, and
disqualification to hold any
office of honor, trust, profit
under the United States: but
the party convicted shall
nevertheless be liable and subject,
to indictment, trial, judgment,
and punishment according to the law.”

So this idea of a January amnesty is
nonsense. If my colleagues on this side
of the chamber actually think that President
Trump committed a criminal offense, and
let’s understand, a high crime is a felony,
and a misdemeanor is a misdemeanor. The
words haven’t changed that much over time.
After he’s out of office, you go and arrest him.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Joe Did What? Abolishing ICE

All respect to Atkins, but as I say keep saying I don't think we should be that surprised. It's the mistake of taking the ideological spectrum, left to right, as a literally existing phenomenon with an unambiguous place for every politician to inhabit, and then trying to predict what Biden is going to do on the basis of his place—as measured, say, by his DW-Nominate score as a senator, which put him well to the right of Senator Obama, who was well to the right of Senator Clinton, who was well to the right of Senator Warren, who is to the right of almost nobody—and it just isn't a smart way to look at Biden, because it's so distant, I believe, from the way he thinks.

As illustrated perhaps in one of my favorites so far in those "Joe did what?" moments, the rules he's imposing on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), requiring them to stop hounding basically harmless members of the undocumented community

Monday, February 8, 2021

First Amendment Follies


Drawing by Patrick Chappatte, New York Times, February 2017.

If you're confused about the First Amendment argument, that poor Donald can't be punished for exercising his free speech rights, don't be. Rand Paul's argument

Paul also noted that Trump was within his First Amendment rights when he addressed a crowd of supporters before the attack on the Capitol that led to the deaths of five people, including a Capitol Police officer.

“People are going to have to judge for themselves … are we going to potentially prosecute people for political speech?” Paul ​questioned​.

H​e said if that becomes the case and speech is criminalized, then Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, could be impeached over ​their fiery rhetoric against Trump​, his allies, as well as the lawmakers who stirred up protesters last summer.

in addition to showing some remarkable ignorance (he's been in the Senate how many years and he still doesn't know that impeaching a senator isn't a thing that the Constitution allows for?), is a pure red herring, and it's starting to smell, because in the first place the president doesn't have free speech rights. No government employee does, if they are speaking in their official capacity: 

Note on Yemen: Joe Did What?

Old City of Sanaa, 2019, screenshot by France 24.

I'm enjoying the same sense of relief as everybody else at waking up not asking myself what Trump has done today, but at the same time excitement, anticipating what the new guy may have come up with, and lovely surprises every damn day, like the announcement on Thursday that the US is withdrawing support from the Saudi war of attrition on the civilians of Yemen, not only canceling the $478-million sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia that the State Department approved last December over Congressional objections, which was expected, but also halting the US direct assistance to the Saudis with targeting data and logistical support, which goes back to 2015 and the Obama administration (I referred to it in October 2016 as "the worst single failure of Obama foreign policy"). 

Not that this is going to end the war! But it puts the US in a far better position to help with this terrible catastrophe (still the world's worst humanitarian disaster after six years) it we detach ourselves from the party that has the airplanes:

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Dream Piece


Photo via Hilgersom Landscaping.

Woke up before 5:00 with this ridiculously bloggy dream, giving me unusual time to structure it in my mind before the alarm rang. It features a character I actually don't know at all except online, the blogger known as Thers (of the the very funny old Whiskey Fire, defunct two or three years ago, but still a welcome presence on Twitter, and, this may be relevant, an English lit instructor in the CUNY system with a specialty in Irish writers); but I'm somehow at his house, in an improbably ritzy suburb, socially distanced in a driveway lined with a flagstone wall and a little round lantern faintly glowing on the pavement. There are women around, but in the background.

I'm there to show him a thing I've written, in a magazine that he's holding, but neither of us has a clear sense of why I'm doing it—I 'm under the impression he invited me for some reason, but he's confused and asking, very courteously, what I'm expecting him to do. A sudden inspiration: what I want is for him to submit something, a "critical essay", I suggest, to the magazine, which I'm apparently the editor of. He smiles.

I'm looking at the lantern, and it's the head of the newscaster Dan Rather, with a green growth on the top like a Chia pet. I'm perturbed by the apparent violence of this, but reassured when Rather himself looks completely comfortable, and he's smiling too. And then that's about it, I'm awake.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Legislative Dada


Jean Tinguely, Ballet des Pauvres, 1961, via WikiArt.

Now that the budget reconciliation process is pretty much inevitable for the passing of the Covid relief plan, and the Senate's version of the bill has passed the Senate (at about 5:30 this morning), it's time to stop whipping up enthusiasm for this blow against Republican obstruction and start thinking about how disappointing and dispiriting it's going to be in actual practice, or, as Ezra Klein tells us from his new perch at The Times ("The Senate Has Become a Dadaist Nightmare")

The modern use of budget reconciliation is a kludge. The institution has become paralyzed by the filibuster and rather than rewriting its rules to solve that problem, senators have instead patched it through budget reconciliation. The Senate gets just enough done that no one can say it is actually impossible to pass big bills through the body. But budget reconciliation narrows the range of problems Congress can solve, the number of bills it can pass and the policy mechanisms it can use. No one would ever design a legislative body that worked this way, but this is how the Senate has come to work, one kludge on top of another. “For any particular problem we have arrived at the most Gerry-rigged, opaque and complicated response,” [Steven] Teles wrote. That is both an apt description of today’s Senate and of the kind of policy budget reconciliation produces.

In fact it's the king of kludges. The only other time the word "kludge" has ever been used as something other than a joke (a 1993 Russell Baker joke) in The Times was by Paul Krugman, in 2013 columns about the greatest of all reconciliation maneuvers, the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and a reference to the same Steven Teles paper:

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

It's Complicated

Liberty Tree, corner of Essex and Washington Streets, Boston, undated, via

I've been wanting to go back to the piece on historiography last week, and to correct something misleading I said, that led Redhand to comment

At this point in my life, I really am beginning to wonder what the hell the American Revolution was about, to begin with. "No taxation without representation," or as Yas suggests, no taxation at all, at least if you're part of the American meritocracy (or is it, actually, aristocracy?) Or, more darkly, (pun intended) was the revolution intended to enshrine under the banner of "freedom" the privileges of those "urban and urbane" white elites who were happy to see "the embattled farmers" do the real fighting at Lexington and Concord?

I didn't mean to try to substitute one categorical statement (the liberal postwar consensus view of the Revolution as a movement of pure idealistic principle) with another one (a strawman picture of the revolutionaries as purely selfish and self-interested actors). What I really wanted to praise in the older, cynical history of the early 20th century and by implication in the critical history of now is the possibility of not insisting on categorical judgments at all, of not requiring a decision on who was the good guy and who was the bad guy, of recognizing that it's complicated.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Look For the Union Libel


That's where David F. Brooks was yesterday, too, though he didn't sound quite as much like QAnon as the Senate Republicans do, but with the same child sacrifice theme, in his Times column ("Children Need to Be Back In School Tomorrow"—don't know if he was aware tomorrow was Saturday). In fact, his tack is to explain that the AFT is exactly like QAnon, anti-intellectual:

There’s a wave of anti-intellectualism sweeping America. There are people across the country who deny evidence, invent their own facts and live in their own fantasyland. We saw it in the Republicans who denied the reality of the Biden election victory and we see it now in the teachers unions that are shutting down schools and marring children’s lives.

Which is really kind of libelous, I think, especially if he means that progressive present verb ("are shutting") the way it's usually used in English, and is complaining specifically about approximately one local, the Chicago Teachers Union, which is not currently shutting down anything but rather fighting against Mayor Lightfoot's plan to reopen K-8 schools that were closed 10 months ago by order of Governor Pritzker, and not with the intention of marring children's lives, which I believe most people who have devoted their lives to the not very remunerative occupation of elementary and middle school teaching would not want to do, but in the interest of making the environment safe for themselves, with a more satisfactory testing regime, PPE supplies, adequate ventilation of school buildings, and priority for vaccination for teachers and support staff, much of which the city says it's now ready to do (Lightfoot won't bend on the vaccination, at least outside the hardest-hit zip codes), but that's a genuine matter of dispute:

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Why I Hate The New York Times Redux

Via Mrs. Kilburn's Kiddos.

That said, this drivel from the Times Editorial Board

Ease Up on the Executive Actions, Joe

President Biden is right to not let his agenda be held hostage, but legislating through Congress is a better path.

is hard to take, you know. As if Biden's flurry of executive actions were in opposition to some legislative work that he and the congressional Democrats are unaccountably refusing to do.

That's just not the case. Congressional Democrats are working on a lot of important stuff, including the Covid relief bill which it is hoped will be passed through reconciliation, possibly within the next couple of weeks, to spectacular effect (again, permanent things the public is eager to see like the minimum wage hike and the paid leave), and the huge pieces of democracy reform, the For the People Act (HR1) and John Lewis Voting Rights Act (it's hard to see these getting the needed 60 votes in the Senate but at least the provisions of the first are hugely popular, including among Republican voters, so it's worth forcing them to vote on it). The executive actions are, rather, making up for things that Congress can't do for one reason and another, which is why Biden's been promising to do them for months:

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Why I Love The New York Times

10 February 1897, via Cincinnati Enquirer.


The most important thing I had to say about The Times the other day wasn't said by me, but the editor who was so rudely dismissed:

This is a feeling I've been kind of working on for a couple of years, especially in Twitter conversations with our old pal formerly known as Thornton, who has his own thesis on the subject of the US press with a foundation I don't totally disagree with—that the solution to the problem of papers that are terrified of looking partisan is to have them be partisan, for which we have contemporary models from The New York Post (bad!) to The Guardian's US edition (good!) as well as the whole history of North American journalism going back to the 18th century until after World War II, when this concept of rigorous institutional objectivity arose along with the concept of special professional qualifications for journalists, who mostly hadn't even gone to college before and now tend to be from Ivy schools and are expected to get advanced degrees from J-school and in some cases getting paid correspondingly, in six- and even seven-figure incomes, and are so abstracted from the world the rest of us live in that they often seem to have no sense of what is and isn't important.

But we need newspapers even if they're bad, and there's something about The Times in particular that is different, for me, not that the critiques don't apply—they do!—but that my relationship to it is different. I don't think of it as a company of which I'm a customer, but like Lauren Wolfe as a kind of community of which I'm a citizen.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Lectiones: American Historiography


Stamp Act riots, Boston, 1765. Can't find a decent credit, but I think it's from Britain.

Reading a truly remarkable essay in The New Republic by William Hogeland, "Against the Consensus Approach to History" taking on the lofty historians after World War II who developed the myth of the revolutionary founding of the United States as a unified product of the Enlightenment and the belief in innate rights; in particular Edmund Morgan:

Throwing out elder historians’ prevailing focus on the founding generation’s self-interest (Clarence Alvord had said that George Washington became a patriot to defend speculations in Indian land) and on its class conflicts (Carl Becker had said that the Revolution was not only over British rule but also over the rule of elite Americans), Morgan sought to identify the grand principles that the revolutionary generation agreed on. “What the colonists had to say about Parliamentary power and about their own rights deserved to be taken seriously,” he explained later.

As the U.S. began to exercise new power around the world, Morgan set out to show that the protests in the 1760s and ’70s against the Stamp Act and other British policies offered slam-dunk evidence of a founding American consensus on principles of rights. Inherent to the American character, that consensus unified the colonists, he said, inspired the Revolution, and brought about the United States. In the larger context of his work, and the work of similarly minded colleagues, the lesson was that the founding American commitment to rights persisted in postwar U.S. commitments to modern liberal democracy.

I.e., something that sounds as if it had been designed by the CIA, in contrast to the more cynical and materialistic views, whether leftist or conservative, of the period from the Progressive Era to the New Deal (and views, I would add, that also recognize the diversity of the North American colonials, not quite the way we'd want to do it today with a focus on oppression and intersectional identity, but more compatible with that than the postwar picture).

Monday, January 25, 2021

Reconciliation is Real

Peter Paul Rubens, The Reconciliation of Henri III and Henri of Navarre, 1628, via Wikimedia Commons.

Ezra Klein's dour Times piece last week ("Democrats, Here's How to Lose in 2022: And Deserve It") put it in pretty distressing terms, though he didn't seem quite aware of what he was saying: he knows how Democrats can hold onto the Senate in 2022, by quickly passing some legislation that makes a difference in people's lives, which has already been basically written—

The good news is that Democrats have learned many of these lessons, at least in theory. The $1.9 trillion rescue plan Biden proposed is packed with ideas that would make an undeniable difference in people’s lives, from $1,400 checks to paid leave to the construction of a national coronavirus testing infrastructure that will allow some semblance of normal life to resume.

—and doubling of the federal minimum wage to $15, that's pretty popular too. All they need is to abolish the Senate filibuster, which is unfortunately not going to happen:

Sunday, January 24, 2021

For the Record: Why I Hate The New York Times

Photo by Money Sharma/Getty Images via Wired.

But first, Pompeo's farewell. Only a few short years ago I thought it would be safe to say there would never be a worse secretary of state than Rex Tillerson, and I was wrong. But in his departure, he really transcended himself:

Literary Corner: Everything on the Field

Piet Mondrian, Dune Landscape, 1909, via

By unpopular demand, the versification of some of President Trump's valedictory address at Joint Base Andrews on 20 January:

The History of Sitting Presidents

by Donald J. Trump


You're going to see, you're going
to see incredible numbers start
coming in, if everything is sort of
left alone. Be careful, very complex,
be careful, but you're going to see
some incredible things happening.

And remember us when you see these
things happening, if you would,
remember us because I'm looking at--
I'm looking at elements of our economy
that are said to be a rocket ship up.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Literary Corner: Noir

Photo by Mark Coggins/flickr.

Do not underestimate how many congressional Republicans would like to send checks to their people. Recently, I was on a call with the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus and a similar group of senators. I was struck by how passionately these Republicans and Democrats are committed to one another across party lines, how deftly they used the evenly divided Congress to restart the Covid-19 relief effort in December, how fervently they want to break the partisan logjam.

If this doesn’t work and Republicans go into full obstruction mode, Democrats should absolutely kill the filibuster. (David F. Brooks, "The Case For Biden Optimism", 21 January 2021)

The phone rang, a familiar number. I let it ring, long enough to take a shluk from the bottle of Waldweben Peach Schnapps and shove it back in the upper left desk drawer, then picked up. "Brooks here."

"Hello, David. How's married life?"

"Suits me. What can I do for you, outside of something I can't do for you?"

"You can do us a favor."

"Where have I heard that line before?"

"It's just a little thing."

I sighed, probably audibly, and tried to gather my wits. "I'm out of the game, pal. I don't do it any more. I just have to do one column a week, I have a gig at Aspen. I have a nice new wife, she doesn't like politics, she likes religion, go figure. I like religion too. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside."

Friday, January 22, 2021

Radio Yerevan on Blue-Collar Ted


Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it true that today's Democratic party represents rich, angry Hollywood celebrities like Seth Rogen better than it does blue-collar union workers in the energy and manufacturing sectors like Senator Ted Cruz?

Answer: Yes, but...

First of all, Rogen is a union member (Screen Actors Guild) in an industry that is arguably a kind of manufacturing in structure, and certainly supports 2.6 million jobs including 927,000 in direct production and distribution and consists of 93,000 businesses in all 50 states, 87% of which employ fewer than ten workers, and generates $17.2 billion in exports with a trade surplus of $10.3 billion, four percent of the total U.S. trade surplus in services; and three other unions, according to him, which I have no reason to doubt. Which Cruz is not, having spent his entire working life, after a couple of years at a private law firm (1997-98) and a stint with George W. Bush's successful first presidential campaign (1999-2000), in government jobs. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021



Candle stand, 1830s, from the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing ("Shakers") of Mount Lebanon, New York, collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

I take the same general feeling from the inauguration festivities, watching TV all day, as so many of us, of immense relief and consolation, of reassurance that we have a working government again, with kind and caring and reasonably truthful people at its head, which doesn't mean they're going to fix everything but that we're back in a place from which it's possible to navigate. We all found ourselves in unexpected tears at one point or another, and for me one of the oddest points was that first normal press briefing in four years from Jen Psaki, State Department spox under Obama and now Biden's press secretary.

There's a concept from the British ordinary language philosopher Paul Grice of the four "conversational maxims" that make discourse possible: you must assume that your interlocutor will try to be informative, truthful, pertinent, and clear. These are things that you don't get from arguing with Gish-galloping conservative trolls, and we didn't get them from the communications of Trump or his official representatives, of course, and the freshness of Psaki, just being well-prepared, level-headed, on point, freely admitting to not knowing what she didn't know, and having no reason to lie about anything, seemed miraculous and somehow out of the nowhere, and it really did fill my eyes with tears. I think it's a kind of PTSD: like Londoners in the Blitz, we've been living disoriented and fearful from the constant bombardment of gaslighting language, and as welcome as the silence is it's filled with our own emotions, the ones we haven't been able to listen to for such a long time.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Literary Corner: My Favorite Crimes

To the tune by Rodgers and Hammerstein:

Bribing, extortion, insurance and bank fraud,
Jobs for your family down to your Aunt Maud,
Skim from your charity, multiple times,
These are a few of Trump's favorite crimes!
Scheming with foreigners for your election,
Paying off chicks who have seen your erection,
Propping your business on taxpayers' dimes,
These are a few of Trump's favorite crimes!
Bribe for pardon!
Wrecked Rose Garden!
When he's feeling low,
Trump pardons some crook
Who reminds him of him,
And then he is gooooood to go!

Cheating at golf and delinquent in taxes,
Fooling the people with alternate factses,
Pelting your betters with slanderous slimes,
These are a few of Trump's favorite crimes!
Claiming a right to whatever he pleases,
Caging up kids and ignoring diseases,
Pumping his shares as the stock market climbs,
These are a few of Trump's favorite crimes!
Constant lying!
People dying!
When it gets him down,
Trump pardons some crook
Who reminds him of him,
And then he gets ouuuuuuuut of town!

The kid is Indonesian pianist Joey Alexander (b. 2003), in a recording from 2015.

Monday, January 18, 2021

For the Record: The Arc of Impeachment is Long

Edmund Burke in the House of Commons. Photo12/Universal Images Group, via New York Times (and a Bret Stephens column of last August, "Why Edmund Burke Still Matters").

Why, yes. Yes, you are totally wrong.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Pardons Я Us


Brother Johann Tetzel on the ass, right, dispensing indulgences to the wealthy in a German broadside poster, $32.83 from Amazon (the poster, not the indulgence). 

In the couple of months after the 2000 election, some scandal emerged over the flurry of last-minute pardons issued by outgoing president Bill Clinton, starting with the news that Democratic superdonor and Friend of Bill Ron Burkle had been agitating for a pardon for the junk-bond fraudster Mike Milken, and climaxing with the one given to the tax cheat and sanctions-violating commodities trader Marc Rich, who'd been evading justice living in Switzerland for the previous 17 years, in which the deputy attorney general—a guy you may have heard of called Eric Holder—and the president himself had shown extremely poor judgment at best (Rich's ex-wife Denise was a big-time donor to the Clinton Presidential Library, for one thing, and there's a 200-year-old rule that it's improper to pardon fugitives), allowing themselves to be manipulated by the lobbying of Rich's lawyers including Jack Quinn, who, having been White House counsel from 1995 to 1997, wasn't allowed to lobby for anybody at all until 2002. Also, Clinton issued some 31 pardons and commutations that hadn't gone through the normal processing, because the applications had arrived so late, and First Brothers Hugh Rodham and Roger Clinton had been taking some serious money to lobby the president themselves. Nevertheless Milken didn't get his pardon, and the applications the First Brothers had worked on weren't successful either, and Clinton went on to a very successful post-presidency, Holder eventually became attorney general, and even Quinn (whose Wikipedia bio doesn't even mention Rich) is now a legal analyst at CNN.

All of which seems extremely different from today's news reported by Michael Schmidt and Kenneth Vogel in The Times that there's a regular pardons market in the outgoing Trump administration: