Sunday, July 12, 2020

Weekend Roundup

Today's headline: Florida shatters single-day infection record with 15,300 new cases. I don't generally like linking to video, but here's Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis bragging about how safe Florida is (video seems to be from May 20), and how the alarmists have been disproven.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Zeeshan Aleem: The Goya Foods free speech controversy, explained: "Goya Foods' CEO says his speech is being suppressed by a boycott. It's not." I don't care much one way or the other, but when corporate spokespeople make inflammatory political comments, which is their right if not evidence of good sense, others have a right to get upset and withhold their business. For past examples, look at what right-wing pundits had to say about Nike. While I don't care much, I did include this link because I wanted to add this tweet from Charles M Blow:

    Once more: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS CANCEL CULTURE. There is free speech. You can say and do as you pls, and others can choose never to deal this you, your company or your products EVER again. The rich and powerful are just upset that the masses can now organize their dissent.

  • Jay Ambrose: Slavery is not all that America is about: Another right-wing pundit, can't find much about him but he started appearing in the Wichita Eagle recently, sandwiched between Cal Thomas and Marc Thiessen. This piece is especially wretched. It starts:

    The New York Times last year came up with a project to debase America, to say this country is about nothing but slavery, that the institution has determined everything we are, that it instructs us to this day on the maltreatment of Black people. The Revolutionary War was fought to keep it going, and the pretenses of liberty and equality have been just that, pretenses. Slavery even fashioned a capitalism that maintains its evils and built our economy, we learn.

    Black Americans are the real purveyors of the ideas of liberty and equality, not racist whites, we are also instructed in the so-called 1619 Project that started with a bunch of essays in The Times Sunday magazine. . . .

    The really scary thing is The Times has so arranged things that a book of the project's contents will be taught in public high schools. That will help to further dislodge future generations from any understanding of how our values fought slavery instead of bowing to it, that many have understood that slavery and Jim Crow are our vilest faults without saying we have no virtues.

    It is certainly important to recognize our faults but also to acknowledge, as Black American pundit Thomas Sowell has pointed out, that Black Americans were making far more progress on their own initiative before some liberal politicians in the 1960s entered in to do misconceived things for votes and guilt atonement.

    The key word here is "debase": Ambrose thinks the only reason for writing about slavery is to make America look bad. He further surmises that if schoolchildren were exposed to this history, they'd -- well, I'm just guessing here -- grow up with some kind of guilt complex about being American. And why would that be such a bad thing? Well -- another guess, but less of a leap -- they might doubt their conservative leaders about how virtuous America has always been. Maybe 1619 Project tilts a bit too hard the other way, but their view hasn't been given much airing, and it uncovered a lot of forgotten (or ignored) history. The last part of the quote is even more scurrilous. It's true that blacks were making progress before the 1964 Civil Rights Act: that's why the Act was passed, to secure as well as to advance that progress. And if some whites voted for it for "guilt atonement," they often did have much to feel guilty about. But one should also mention that many felt anger about the extremely public violence segregationists used to deny Americans rights we supposedly all cherish. The implication that the Civil Rights Act ended that progress is ludicrous. Progress since then has been erratic and sometimes glacial, but the obstacles have always come from conservatives like Ambrose, who feel my guilt and take no responsibility for their ancestors or, indeed, their racist selves.

    Ambrose's one attempt to argue with the 1619 historiography is his citation of Gordon Wood ("who says there is not a single quote anywhere to be found of a colonist saying the war could save slavery"). Wood is my "go to" historian of the Revolution and the early republic (at least since Richard B. Morris passed), so I respect his criticism of the 1619 Project, but find that he invalidates very little of its historical contribution. See: An interview with historian Gordon Wood on the New York Times' 1619 Project.

  • Dean Baker: Is it impossible to envision a world without patent monopolies? Elisabeth Rosenthal, at the New York Times, thinks not.

    While her points are all well-taken, the amazing part is that she never considers the simplest solution, just don't give the companies patent monopolies in the first place. The story here is the government is paying for most of the research upfront. While it has to pay for it a second time by giving the companies patent monopolies.

    There is no reason that the government can't simply make it a condition of the funding that all research findings are fully open and that any patents will be in the public domain so that any vaccines will be available as a cheap generic from the day it comes on the market. Not only does this ensure that a vaccine will be affordable, it will likely mean more rapid progress since all researchers will be able to immediately learn from the success or failures of other researchers.

    I'd go further and add that even when government does not fund the research, prospective patents are not necessary to encourage research and development and are often counterproductive. Moreover, the efficiencies within any given country from publicly funding research and publishing findings others can freely build upon would be multiplied many times over if adopted everywhere. One more point is that ending patents would significantly change the dynamics of "free trade" pacts, which often are more preoccupied with forcing adherence to an international tribute system to owners of "intellectual property," even at the expense of free trade.

  • Zack Beauchamp: What the police really believe: "Inside the distinctive, largely unknown ideology of American policing -- and how it justifies racist violence."

  • Jamelle Bouie: Maybe this isn't such a good time to prosecute a culture war

  • Ronald Brownstein: Trump's America is slipping away: "He's trying to assemble a winning coalition with a dwindling number of sympathetic white voters." Nixon, with Kevin Phillips crunching the numbers, figured that if he could add Southern whites and Northern ethnics (mostly Catholics) to the Republican core he'd have a coalition capable of winning for decades. He came up with the basic pitch in 1972, and Reagan clinched the deal in the 1980s before, well, they proved basically incompetent at running the government. Since then they've mastered the mechanics of tilting elections their way, and they've repeatedly doubled down on the demagoguery, recovering quickly from the inevitable setbacks when their record came into focus. Trump is still using the Nixon/Reagan coalition plan. He won in 2016 by hitting it hard, while facing a uniquely compromised opponent running on a lacklustre record of indifference to average Americans. And no, he has no new ideas on coalition-building, even though (as the article points out) the numbers have shifted significantly away from his favor.

  • Kate Conger/Jack Healy/Lucy Tompkins: Churches were eager to reopen. Now they are confronting coronavirus cases.

  • David Dayen: Just one week to stop a calamity. Technically, two weeks until the federal "stimulus" payments expire, but the Senate is adjourned for another week, so no discussion until then.

  • Matt Ford: Fear of a Forever-Trump administration: "There doesn't seem to be much faith in the peaceful transition of power, if the burgeoning canon of postelection pulp horror is any guide." I think we've gotten carried away with projecting Trump's authoritarian tastes and temperament into a threat to end democracy. While Trump himself may be so inclined, and while his personality cult gives him some leeway to act out, I don't see any ideological or institutional support for such a change. What I do see is a Republican Party dedicated to bending the rules, trying to tailor the electorate to its taste and scheming to grab pockets of power that will allow them to survive momentary lapses. I also see many people who are willing to follow any crackpot who flatters them and promises them dominance over myriad threats. Least of all is Trump's personal cult, which while substantial is still a minority taste, and more generally an embarrassment even to his sponsors. If fascism does come to America, they'll pick a more agreeable (and more competent) front man than Trump.

  • Masha Gessen: A theme park of Donald Trump's dreams: Trump's executive order to establish a National Garden of American Heroes. It includes an initial list of people to be represented in stone. It's a peculiar list, with a judicious selection of women (Susan B Anthony, Clara Barton, Amelia Earhart, Dolley Madison, Christa McAuliffe, Betsy Ross, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman) and blacks (Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr, Jackie Robinson, Tubman, Booker T Washington), without any Confederate leaders or ideologues, but the only 20th century president is Ronald Reagan, and the only Supreme Court Justice is Antonin Scalia. As Gessen notes, the only writer is Stowe, and there are no artists or scientists. Also, no Indians (but also no Andrew Jackson or George Armstrong Custer, although Davy Crockett made the list). I'll add that there are no major business figures, and the only inventors are the Wright Brothers. Also, one name I had to look up: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (a governor of Maine). Other relative obscurities are McAuliffe (the much touted teacher-astronaut blown up by NASA) and Audie Murphy (a WWII soldier who capitalized on his Medal of Honor to become a minor Hollywood actor). As Gessen sums up: "a skeletal, heroic history, with a lot of shooting, a lot of flying, and very little government."

  • Brittany Gibson: One billionaire vs. the mail: "A new report details Charles Koch's 50-year war on the US Postal Service."

  • David A Graham: Donald Trump's lost cause.

  • Stanley B Greenberg: The Tea Party's last stand. "The right wing's current pathetic defense of President Trump contrasts sharply with the Tea Party revolt against the election and re-election of President Barack Obama." The Tea Party only worked as an attack vehicle. They never had any program to advance. They simply meant to oppose whatever it was Democrats wanted, starting with recovery from the recession. Even today, Trump appeals to them not for any program but because Trump is the embodiment of their nihilistic worldview. Greenberg writes: "President Trump is trapped by a pandemic and protests that only magnify his insecurity and weak hold on his own party -- and by his need to provoke a Tea Party to make its last stand." But the Tea Party can't save Trump, because they can't turn their intensity into votes. On the other hand, Trump's demise won't be their end. They will find even more to hate in the next wave of Democrats. The open question is whether the media will take them seriously next time around, allowing them to magnify their impact. A big part of the reason they were able to pull that off in 2009 was Obama's efforts to "reach across the aisle" and "heal the divide" -- by their very existence they proved Obama wrong. Better to dismiss them as the whiny dead-enders they are.

  • Glenn Greenwald: How the House Armed Services Committee, in the middle of a pandemic, approved a huge military budget and more war in Afghanistan.

  • Jonathan Guyer: How Biden's foreign-policy team got rich: "Strategic consultants will define Biden's relationship to the world."

  • Jack Healy/Adam Liptak: Landmark Supreme Court ruling affirms Native American rights in Oklahoma.

  • Sean Illing: Is evangelical support for Trump a contradiction?: "A religious historian explains why Trump wasn't a trade-off for American evangelicals." Interview with Kristen Kobes Du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.

    According to Du Mez, evangelical leaders have spent decades using the tools of pop culture -- films, music, television, and the internet -- to grow the movement. The result, she says, is a Christianity that mirrors that culture. Instead of modeling their lives on Christ, evangelicals have made heroes of people like John Wayne and Mel Gibson, people who project a more militant and more nationalist image. In that sense, Trump's strongman shtick is a near-perfect expression of their values.

    That doesn't even sound like values to me, but I've long noted a division among Christians between those who care for and seek to help their neighbors and those who wish to consign them to hell. The prevalence of revenge fantasies in American culture certainly feeds that tendency.

  • Umair Irfan: Why extreme heat is so alarming for the fight against Covid-19. Interesting that the focus here isn't about global warming, even though the impetus is a 120F forecast for Phoenix, which would be a record high (tying the third highest temperature ever in Phoenix, the highest being 122F). On the other hand, Arizona is the worst Covid-19 hotspot in the nation, and probably the world. Remember how Trump was talking about the virus vanishing when it warms up?

  • Jen Kirby:

  • Ezra Klein: Masha Gessen on the frightening fragility of America's political institutions: Interview, based on Gessen's new book Autocracy: Rules for Survival.

  • Bonnie Kristian: The real story about Russian bounties on US troops isn't whether Trump knew about it,

  • Robert Kuttner:

    • Biden's new economic nationalism: Better than you may think: "And some of it seems to have been inspired by Elizabeth Warren." Also:

    • Privatizing our public water supply.

      The House Democrats have made a good start with HR2, the Invest in America Act -- but with one weird exception: A provision slipped into the bill by the water privatization industry and its Congressional allies would create incentives to privatize America's water supply systems, one of the few essential services that are still mostly public thanks to the heroic struggles of our Progressive Era forebears, who worked to assure clean and affordable water via public systems. . . .

      Privatized systems are typically less reliable, far more expensive, and prone to corrupt deal-making. The average community with privatized water paid 59 percent more than those with government supplied water. In New Jersey, which has more private water than most, private systems charged 79 percent more. In Illinois, they charged 95 percent more. Private water corporations have also been implicated in environmental disasters. The French multinational, Veolia, issued a report in 2015 certifying that Flint, Michigan's water system met EPA standards, but neglected to mention high lead concentrations.

  • Dave Lindorff: Why the high dudgeon over alleged Russian bounties for Taliban slaying of US troops: This was my second thought on hearing of the story, but I've been waiting for someone else to quote: "Paying for scalps has a venerable tradition in the US. Ask any Native American." My first thought was that the US did something damn similar when the Russians occupied Afghanistan. Maybe not bounties per sé, but the CIA certainly pressed its client mujahideen to focus on inflicting blood losses on Russia.

  • Martin Longman: The spiraling downward trend of Donald Trump's political life: "My best guess is that for the rest of the campaign, every day is going to be worse for Trump than the last. And that means every day will technically be the worst day of Trump's political life."

  • Annie Lowrey: The pandemic proved that cash payments work: "An extra $600 a week buys freedom from fear."

  • Farhad Manjoo: I've seen a future without cars, and it's amazing. When I was growing up, cars meant everything. Even now, when our car use as atrophied to the point I've only filled it up once since March, I can't imagine doing the things we need to do without one. On the other hand, when I was growing up, I had an aunt who didn't drive, and today I have a nephew who doesn't drive, and both managed to deal with the trade-offs. Before I could drive, I was able to get around most of Wichita on bike. And I've had a couple of stretches without a car: two years at college in St. Louis, and three years living in Manhattan. Manjoo's article actually limits itself to Manhattan, where the cost/benefit ratio of having a car is higher than anywhere else in America, and the externalities of others' cars are even greater. His idea is freshly illustrated, but I'd like to point out that it isn't new: Paul and Percival Goodman wrote it up c. 1950, and included it in Paul Goodman's Utopian Essays & Practical Proposals (1962). Even now, Manjoo concedes: "With a population that is already quite used to getting along without cars, the island is just about the only place in the country where you could even consider calling for the banishment of cars."

  • Dylan Matthews: Congress's Covid-19 rescue plan was bigger than the New Deal. It's about to end.

  • Terrence McCoy: They lost the Civil War and fled to Brazil. Their descendants refuse to take down the Confederate flag. "It's one of history's lesser-known episodes. After the Civil War, thousands of defeated Southerners came to Brazil to self-exile in a country that still practiced slavery." Somehow I missed this story, although I did know about the "loyalists" who left America for Canada during/after the Revolution, "fundamentalist" Mormons to settled in Mexico, and Nazis who made their way to Paraguay and other South American countries. I'd guess some Confederates landed in Cuba as well, given that Cuba was the last place in the America to abolish slavery, and that slaveholders in the 1850s were so anxious to annex it as a slave state.

  • John Merrick: Mike Davis tried to warn us about a virus-induced apocalypse. He did so in a book called The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu (2005). Now he returns with a "substantially expanded edition," The Monster Enters: Covid-19, Avian Flu and the Plagues of Capitalism. By the way, that last bit didn't come from nowhere. That was the subject of his 2001 book Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World.

  • Ian Millhiser:

  • Lee Moran: GOP state lawmaker: 'I want to see more people' get coronavirus.

  • Sean Murphy: Health official: Trump rally 'likely' source of virus surge.

  • Ellen Nakashima: Trump confirms cyberattack on Russian trolls to deter them during 2018 midterms.

  • Nicole Narea:

  • Ella Nilsen: How Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders joined forces to craft a bold, progressive agenda.

  • Osita Nwanevu:

  • Ashley Parker/Philip Rucker/Josh Dawsey: Trump the victim: President complains in private about the pandemic hurting him.

    Callers on President Trump in recent weeks have come to expect what several allies and advisers describe as a "woe-is-me" preamble.

    The president rants about the deadly coronavirus destroying "the greatest economy," one he claims to have personally built. He laments the unfair "fake news" media, which he vents never gives him any credit. And he bemoans the "sick, twisted" police officers in Minneapolis, whose killing of an unarmed black man in their custody provoked the nationwide racial justice protests that have confounded the president.

    Gone, say these advisers and confidants, many speaking on the condition of anonymity to detail private conversations, are the usual pleasantries and greetings.

    Instead, Trump often launches into a monologue placing himself at the center of the nation's turmoil. The president has cast himself in the starring role of the blameless victim -- of a deadly pandemic, of a stalled economy, of deep-seated racial unrest, all of which happened to him rather than the country.

  • Andrew Prokop: The past 24 hours in Trump legal issues and controversies, explained: "Supreme Court decisions, closed-door testimony, and developments for Michael Flynn and Michael Cohen."

  • Nathan Robinson: Trump's Mount Rushmore speech was a grim preview of his re-election strategy.

  • Jeffrey Sachs: Keynes and the good life. Review of two recent books: Zachary D Carter: The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes, and James Crotty: Keynes Against Capitalism: His Economic Case for Liberal Socialism.

  • Dylan Scott: Covid-19 cases are rising, but deaths are falling. What's going on?

  • Alex Shephard: Mary Trump diagnoses the president: "A dark new family history from Donald Trump's niece may be the most intimate psychological portrait of him yet." Her book is Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man. She also happens to be a clinical psychologist, so sure she goes there. After considering the pathetic demise of Trump's older brother (Fred Trump Jr., Mary's father):

    Donald was the one Trump child who lived up to Fred Sr.'s expectations (he would also be the only one Fred Sr. would remember when suffering, late in life, from dementia). While the other Trump children gained little from their extremely wealthy father for most of his life (Maryanne, who became a federal judge, at one point was reduced to begging her mother for spare change), Donald was endlessly rewarded for his mendacity and aggression in the rough-and-tumble world of New York real estate. Fred Sr. showered his son with money, allowing him to create the illusion that he was self-made, a brilliant dealmaker. This phony personal brand would be the foundation of Donald's successful presidential campaign.

    Seems like I've heard that story before: sounds a lot like spree killer Andrew Cunanan in The Assassination of Gianni Versace, although Trump's money saved him from taking such a murderous turn. The review continues:

    But Donald, in Mary's telling, was the most wounded of the Trump children. He was also the most pathetic. He became profoundly needy as a result of childhood neglect but lacked the means of processing his emotions. He got stuck in an endless feedback loop of self-aggrandizement and self-loathing, seeking out sycophants to assure him that he really was great -- even though, deep down, he knew he was unloved and incapable of executing even the most basic tasks.

    This too is a familiar story: the basis of the recurring Seth Meyers features of exclusive access to the tiny voice in the back of Trump's head.

  • David Sirota: Trump's Labor Secretary is reaching cartoonish levels of supervillainry. Eugene Scalia.

  • Bhaskar Sunkara: Stop trying to fight racism with corporate diversity consultants: "Inclusivity seminars and books like White Fragility protect power; they don't challenge it. We're being hustled."

  • Margaret Talbot: The study that debunks most anti-abortion arguments.

  • Jeffrey Toobin: Why the Mueller investigation failed: "President Trump's obstructions of justice were broader than those of Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton, and the special counsel's investigation proved it. How come the report didn't say so?" This is a substantial article covering the Mueller investigation and Attorney General William Barr's handling of the report. Presumably it's related to Toobin's new book, True Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Investigation of Donald Trump, out August 4.

    According to the Administration, Mueller and his team displayed an unseemly eagerness to uncover crimes that never existed. In fact, the opposite is true. Mueller had an abundance of legitimate targets to investigate, and his failures emerged from an excess of caution, not of zeal. Especially when it came to Trump, Mueller avoided confrontations that he should have welcomed. He never issued a grand-jury subpoena for the President's testimony, and even though his office built a compelling case for Trump's having committed obstruction of justice, Mueller came up with reasons not to say so in his report. In light of this, Trump shouldn't be denouncing Mueller -- he should be thanking him.

  • David Wallace-Wells: America is refusing to learn how to fight the coronavirus.

  • Laura Weiss: How America exports police violence around the world.

  • Philip Weiss:

  • Conor P Williams: To DeVos, the virus is an excuse to strip public money from public schools: "The policy is in line with conservative goals of converting public dollars into private K-12 scholarships." More on DeVos:

  • Robin Wright: Trump's impeachment revenge: Alexander Vindman is bullied into retiring.

  • Matthew Yglesias:

There's also this: A letter on justice and open debate. It appeared in Harper's, and was signed by 152 people, mostly authors, between a third and a half names I readily recognize. Unfortunately, half of those I recognize mostly for their support of American (and often Israeli) military ventures abroad and/or their propensity to attack the left (often including Sanders supporters within the Democratic Party). This adds an air of disingenuity to what otherwise appears to be an innocuous (albeit deliberately vague) defense of free speech. The middle paragraph could offer some clues if you could map the unnamed censorious forces seeking to punish the unnamed actors for their unspecified offenses: although Trump is the only named threat, I wouldn't be surprised to find many more worried by what the left might provoke than by what the right actually does, and some may even fear winding up on the wrong side of justice. Take Yascha Mounk's tweet, for example:

If the crazy attempts to shame and fire people for signing this reasonably anodyne letter don't convince you that our current intellectual atmosphere is deeply unhealthy, then you're more invested in parroting the propagandistic line of the moment than in acknowledging the truth.

Tom Scocca replied:

The use of "shame and fire" here is the whole damn game. Treating them as interchangeable is, in fact, a cynical attack on free discourse.

Osita Nwanevu's piece on "reactionary liberalism" (see above) fits in here, without actually making the connection. Many of the signatories fit that mold, and they're the main reason people like myself have taken exception to the letter. I actually share a wariness about overly harsh and arbitrary punishments.

Also relevant here is Alex Shephard: The problem with Yascha Mounk's Persuasion, which does discuss the Harper's letter.

Persuasion has the feel of a club of no-longer-coddled elites, banded together in an attempt to maintain their status in a rapidly changing world. At this point, it doesn't seem to be about changing minds. It may be dressed up as a new institution for promoting a free society, but so far its cause célèbre is the process by which op-eds are published. Liberalism deserves better.

Ask a question, or send a comment.