Monday, September 7, 2020

Weekend Roundup

Nearly everything here was complete late Sunday night, but I was having trouble framing the comics, and felt the need to write a bit of introduction, so I decided to sleep on it. Found the Trump tweet and the Carter quote after I got up. Added a couple links while wrapping up, but all articles that date from Sunday or earlier. I managed to find a few pieces on the late David Graeber, but none yet on Kevin Zeese, a lawyer and (like Graeber) another prominent Occupy figure, who died suddenly on Sunday. Music Week will probably be delayed a day this week. These delays weren't planned, but happy Labor Day.

Here are a pair of New Yorker cartoons that go a long ways toward illustrating and explaining the cognitive disconnect between Republicans and Democrats these days. The third was posted by Mary Anne Trump (her caption), and picked up from a friendly Facebook feed:

"It's days like this that make me wonder if I should be tweeting more or golfing more. . . ."
"Wow, for a lawless hellscape that Joe Biden is somehow responsible for, it seems like a nice day!"
Downtown Portland in smoldering ruins. Notice the fear on everyone's face as they await the arrival of antifa.

Having family and friends in the Portland area, I've seen numerous contrasting pictures like this, which makes the news media fixation on fires and looting seem all the more anomalous. I wrote a comment under the latter picture:

What terrifies Republicans isn't chaos, which they think they can bludgeon into submission, but the prospect of diverse people living together and enjoying richer and more rewarding lives as a result. Why they find this threatening has never been clear to me. In my experience, and I come from a long line of farmers and small town folk, when given a welcoming opportunity, most actually enjoy themselves.

I suppose I may sound condescending or patronizing, but I started narrow-minded and provincial and made my own way into and around the cosmopolitan world, often finding open doors and welcoming faces -- a tendency toward kindness which my old world actually prided itself on. I won't deny that cosmopolitans have their own prejudices, which may appear as hostile but more often sympathetic. It's as easy to find liberals who accept the idea that their opposites are clinging to a way of life threatened by the modern world. I don't think that is true. At any rate, I don't see the gap as unbridgeable, although one needs to reject the political incentives that drive us apart. And while both sides have attempted to make hay by appealing to the prejudices of their bases, as we see above, it's the Republicans who have most gravely distorted reality.

One more clause I wish to draw your attention to is "they think they can bludgeon into submission." It doesn't work like that. The world we live in is so complex and interconnected that the only way we can manage it is through massive cooperation, which depends on good faith and respect, which depends on justice for all. No people submits forever, but all people can join together in an order which is universally viewed as fair and just. Might doesn't make right, and the more brutally and viciously it is employed, the more resistance it generates, the more harm it winds up doing to all concerned. I could cite hundreds of examples. I doubt I could find an exception. Even seemingly complete domination either perpetuates indefinitely (e.g., Israel over Palestine) or ends with integration (America and the Indians, albeit imperfectly).

I'll add one more related point to this: there has been much talk recently about democracy ending in America, but note that such an end would not ensure that the immediate victors will stay in power and enjoy their privileges indefinitely. It merely means that change can only occur through violence, at great collateral cost. As I recall, Winston Churchill used to say "democracy is the worst possible form of government, except for all the rest." What he meant was that while he didn't like having to submit to the will of the people, he preferred that to losing his head (the pre-democratic method of disposing of unwanted monarchs). The British people regularly grew tired of Churchill and voted him out, only to vote him in again as their memories faded. Democracy in America has worn thin and ragged over recent decades, with most of the blame due to the influx of money -- something both parties bear responsibility for, but only the Republicans defend the practice as a class prerogative, and Republicans have made the most conspicuous efforts to tilt the table in their favor, exploiting the unequal representation locked into the Constitution, and using their legislative clout to further gerrymander districts. And this year, Trump has created doubts about the integrity of the voting process, such that neither side is likely to believe the count, no matter what it is.

One thing you won't see much of below is reports on polls and other voting irregularities. Partly because there is a lot of wild-eyed speculation going on, but mostly because I have little faith that anything we say now will have any predictive significance for November. One thing that was interesting was that the contested Massachusetts Democratic primary brought out an unprecedented huge vote for a primary. That is one data point suggesting that the November vote won't be significantly suppressed by the pandemic.

Got up this morning and first thing I read was this paragraph from Zachary D Carter: The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes, which does a nice job of framing what I wrote above:

Keynes had crafted an innovative philosophical cocktail. Like Burke, he feared revolution and social upheaval. Like Karl Marx, he envisioned a great crisis on the horizons for capitalism. And like Lenin, he believed that the imperialist world order had reached its final limits. But alone among these thinkers, Keynes believed all that was needed to solve the crisis was a little goodwill and cooperation. The calamity he foresaw in 1919 was not something inevitable, hardwired into the fundamental logic of economics, capitalism, or humanity. It was merely a political failure, one that could be overcome with the right leadership. Whereas Marx had called for revolution against a broken, irrational capitalist order, Keynes was content to denounce the leaders at Versailles and called for treaty revisions. As with Burke, it was revolution itself that Keynes hoped to avert. But he was optimistic, blaming capitalist instability and inequality as the fuel for social upheaval rather than democracy.

I took a shine to Marxism back in the late 1960s, but gave up on it by the mid-1970s, not because I changed my mind but because the insights I had gained there had become second nature, while I lost anything more than a passing commitment to the political program. I moved from opposition to one specific war (Vietnam) to a general pacifism, and I increasingly appreciated the value of incremental reforms versus sharp breaks. I became more tolerant, which is not to say uncritical, of liberals, and I found much that I actually liked in Keynes. (Robert Skidelsky's 2009 book, Keynes: The Return of the Master, offered a good introduction.) He sought to resolve conflicts by arguing ideas, and he retained a radical understanding of the good life which has eluded most economists -- so much so that they refer to their trade as "the dismal science." The quote above was in the section discussing his book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919). Reading Keynes on the arrogant, ignorant, and pompous politicians of the day sheds comparable light on Trump today. Looking forward to discussion of Keynes' view of the future of work, which somehow still remains in our future, assuming we get that far.

Some scattered links this week:

Kate Aronoff: Elon Musk thinks his treatment of workers is a "trade secret".

Dean Baker: Trump's 'America First' vaccine agenda may leave us last: "By using the usual patent monopoly framework rather than international open-source collaboration, the coronavirus vaccine may prove both elusive and more costly for Americans."

Peter Baker/Maggie Haberman: Trump fans strife as unrest roils the US.

BBC: International Criminal Court officials sanctioned by US. "The Hague-based ICC is currently investigating whether US forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan."

Zack Beauchamp: Donald Trump is inciting violence. "His audience is tens of millions of people. Only a tiny percentage need to act to severely disrupt this country's politics."

Riley Beggin:

  • Trump eliminates federal antiracism training, calling it "a sickness": "A White House memo directing an end to the programs said the trainings are 'anti-American propaganda' and must stop." Trump means to stamp out "critical race theory," or more generally anything that impugns white people as ever having been racist, as benefiting from racism, or that just hurts their feelings. On the other hand:

    Trump has said the Black Lives Matter movement is a "symbol of hate" and has called those protesting police brutality "thugs." He's threatened to end protests by sending US troops into American cities, saying ongoing antiracism protests amount to "domestic terror."

    Throughout his presidency, Trump has vehemently opposed protesters' and officials' efforts to take down Confederate statues and has begun to promote a "law and order" campaign message that has included a racist dog whistle pledge to protect "suburban housewives" from "inner city" crime.

    And the president has consistently declined to condemn brazenly racist comments or actions. For instance, when a supporter in a retirement community was filmed shouting "white power" while driving a golf cart bedecked with Trump memorabilia in June, he retweeted it.

  • Jacob Blake speaks about being shot by a police officer: "It's nothing but pain".

  • The fight over defunding Stars and Stripes, explained. I've seen articles both blaming Trump for shutting down the Pentagon's house propaganda organ and crediting Trump for saving it.

Jake Bittle: This is what Trumpism after Trump looks like: Profile of Laura Loomer, "proud Islamophobe," QAnon supporter, Republican nominee for Congress.

Bob Brigham:

Rosa Brooks: What's the worst that could happen? This is rather ridiculous: war gaming various election scenarios, under the aegis of a group that calls itself the Transition Integrity Project, hiring "players" like Bill Kristol and John Podesta to simulate how R and D strategists would react to the various scenarios.

John Cassidy: Donald Trump's incitements to violence have crossed an alarming threshold.

Fabiola Cineas/Sean Collins/Anna North: The police shooting of Jacob Blake, explained: "Blake's shooting has inspired intense protests, a professional sports strike, and fiery rhetoric from President Trump."

Patrick Cockburn: Trump at the RNC: Echoes of Saddam.

Aaron Ross Coleman:

Summer Concepcion: Ex-staffers at DeJoy's former business say he reimbursed them for donations to GOPers.

Chris D'Angelo: Trump is trying to greenwash his appalling environmental record before the election.

Jason Ditz:

  • Pentagon accuses China of massing anti-satellite weapons:

    This is the latest in a series of Pentagon reports on what China "probably" intends, which are all policies which would justify the various US military programs associated with them. In this case, the formation of Space Force was done with an eye toward China threatening US satellites.

    Problem is that while Space Force could destroy Chinese satellites, it is not capable of protecting US ones, and the US has many more, and depends on them for offensive weapons systems like the "precision bombs" it employed in Iraq. As Chalmers Johnson noted over a decade ago, all China (or any other nation) would have to do to wipe out all US satellite resources would be to "launch a dumptruck full of gravel" into space. The only "defense" the US has against such threats is not to provoke the Chinese (or others) into feeling the need to level the playing field against an obvious US military advantage. For another US China scare report, see Pentagon: China could pull ahead of US military by 2049. Hard to say which is the more ridiculous presupposition: that "pulling ahead" of the US military is something that has any practical import, or that with Donald Trump president now we seriously need to worry about things that might happen as far away as 2049. For another one of these, see Alex Ward below, on China possibly doubling its nuclear arsenal in ten years.

  • Pompeo: Whole world uniting against China.

  • Israel attacks airport in Syria's central city of Homs.

  • Pompeo tells Venezuela opposition to boycott election.

Adam Eichen: The GOP remains loyal to corporations and lobbying groups over Americans. Covid hasn't changed that.

Paul Farrell: David Graeber dead: Anthropologist & anti-capitalist thinker behind 'we are the 99%' slogan dies at 59.

Also worth linking to some of David Graeber's work (also see the listing at The Anarchist Library):

Matt Ford: The Republicans' absurd quest to turn Biden into Trump: "The president's reelection campaign is now an obsessive exercise in psychological projection." Another way to look at this: has there ever in history been a better time for someone like Trump to run against an incumbent president like Biden? Only one problem with that scenario.

Andrew Freedman/Diana Leonard: Heat 'rarely ever seen' is forecast to roast West by the weekend, with wildfires still burning. Freedman followed this up with: California faces record-setting 'kiln-like' heat as fires rage, causing injuries.

Susan B Glasser: The 2020 election, a race in which everything happens and nothing matters: "If a pandemic that has killed nearly two hundred thousand Americans can't significantly hurt Trump's support, can anything?"

Hallie Golden/Mike Baker/Adam Goldman: Suspect in fatal Portland shooting is killed by officers during arrest. Of course, unlike, Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot three and killed two BLM protesters in Kenosha, but was taken into custody live. Michael Forest Reinoehl, "antifa supporter," now unable to testify what happened in the shooting he is accused of. Article quotes Attorney General William Barr: "the streets of our cities are safer." Isn't that what they always say after the police kills a "suspect"?

Elizabeth A Harris/Alexandra Alter: Trump books keep coming, and readers can't stop buying. Picture collects 19 book covers. I haven't read any of those, although I have read a dozen others (see below). The article notes that "in the last four years, there have been more than 1,200 unique titles about Mr. Trump, compared to around 500 books about former President Barack Obama and his administration during Mr. Obama's first term." I tried to publish a fairly exhaustive list of Trump books on May 16, including a few advance notices on books that were scheduled up through October, but my list ran out at 294. Some they mentioned that I missed:

  • Michael Cohen: Disloyal: (2020, Skyhorse)
  • Edward Klein: All Out War: The Plot to Destroy Trump (2017, Regnery)
  • Carlos Lozado: What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era (2020, Simon & Schuster)
  • Lee Smith: The Permanent Coup: How Enemies Foreign and Domestic Targeted the American President (2020, Center Street)
  • Mary L Trump: Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man (2020, Simon & Schuster)
  • Stephanie Winston Wolkoff: Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship With the First Lady (2020, Gallery)
  • Bob Woodward: Rage (2020, Simon & Schuster)

Most of those are recent releases (Woodward's is due Sept. 15, Lozado's Oct. 6), but Klein's screed simply slipped my net. I should do another books post. Not sure what more there is to net, but there is: John W Dean: Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers, and (of course) Donald Trump Jr: Liberal Privilege: Joe Biden and the Democrats' Defense of the Indefensible. For whatever it's worth, here are a few books I did read (on Trump, his administration, and/or the 2016 election, as well as a few less Trump-centric but still topical tracts, most recent first):

  • Thomas Frank: The People, NO: The War on Populism and the Fight for Democracy (2020, Metropolitan Books)
  • Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Economic Inequality (2020, Liveright)
  • David Bromwich: American Breakdown: The Trump Years and How They Befell Us (2019, Verso Books)
  • Sarah Kendzior: Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America (2020, Flatiron Books)
  • Joan C Williams: White Working Class: |Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America (2020, Harvard Business Review Press)
  • Ezra Klein: Why We're Polarized (2020, Simon & Schuster)
  • Stanley B Greenberg: R.I.P. G.O.P.: How the New America Is Dooming the Republicans (2019, Thomas Dunne Books)
  • James Poniewozik: Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America (2019, Liveright) -- the most insightful book on Trump per sé.
  • Tim Alberta: American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump (2019, Harper)
  • Alexander Nazaryan: The Best People: Trump's Cabinet and the Siege on Washington (2019, Hachette Books)
  • Michael Tomasky: If We Can Keep It: How the Republic Collapsed and How It Might Be Saved (2019, Liveright)
  • Michael Lewis: The Fifth Risk (2018, WW Norton) -- a brief and understated exposé of what Trump has done to the ability of government to function.
  • Ben Fountain: Beautiful Country Burn Again: Democracy, Rebellion, and Revolution (2018, Harper Collins)
  • Timothy Snyder: The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America (2018, Tim Duggan Books)
  • Katy Tur: Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History (2017, Dey Street Books)
  • Allen Frances: Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump (2017, William Morrow)
  • David Frum: Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic (2018, Harper)
  • Jonathan Allen/Amie Parnes: Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign (2017, Crown)
  • Mark Lilla: The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics (2017, Harper Collins)
  • Mark Singer: Trump and Me (2016, Duggan Books)
  • Matt Taibbi: Insane Clown President: Dispatches From the 2016 Circus (2016, Spiegel & Grau)

More pieces on Trump books:

Benjamin Hart: Black man died of asphyxiation after officers placed hood on him: "Rochester police put a 'spit hood' over Daniel Prude's head, then pinned him to the ground for two minutes. Seven officers have now been suspended."

Eoin Higgins: The Bush rehabilitation trap: "Democrats' insistence on redeeming pre-Trump Republicans will corrupt the party's agenda and spoil the chance for real social reform." Another excuse to link to: Will Ferrell returns to SNL as George W Bush, with a reminder: "I was really bad." Maybe I'd start cutting Bush some slack if he goes on air and admits as much. Still, such contrition wouldn't erase his actual record -- especially the warmongering, which is the one trait of his presidency he can't fob the blame off on the far-right Republicans Cheney staffed his administration with. Still, even his efforts to work with Democrats to solve common problems, like No Child Left Behind and Medicare D, have proven disastrous. Laura mentioned an article about Obama's "biggest mistake," and I immediately thought of several, most importantly his reluctance to repeatedly blame the damaged conditions he inherited on Bush. Not doing so gave Republicans a pass, allowing them to paint the fruits of their failed ideology as somehow being Obama's fault. That doomed Democrats in the 2010 elections, and all the Republicans had to do from then on was to obstruct -- which he also failed to clearly pin responsibility for. Obama's second biggest mistake was proclaiming Afghanistan "the right war," and wasting his first term trying to get it on track. Third was failing to repeal the Bush tax cuts in 2009 when he had the votes to do so. He spent the rest of his terms fighting debt fear and austerity pressures that would have been greatly relieved if he had restored those taxes. But the "biggest mistake" the article pointed to was the bombing of Libya -- see Stephen Kinzer: Obama's 'Biggest Mistake' is still wreaking havoc. The quotes actually come from Obama, but all he meant was "his failure to anticipate the after-effects," not the bombing itself. In failing to appreciate that belligerent acts have logical consequences, Obama proved to be as ignorant and reckless as his predecessor.

Michael Hudson: How an "act of God" pandemic is destroying the West: The US is saving the financial sector, not the economy. In fact, now that the financial sector appears safe from its March panic, the Republicans seem to be done with everyone else.

Harmeet Kaur: Covid-19 has killed more law enforcement officers this year than all other causes combined. "At least 101 officers have died from Covid-19, while at least 82 have died by other means, as of Thursday, according to ODMP. . . . Gunfire is the second-highest cause of death, which has killed at least 31 officers this year." Meanwhile, the number of people killed by police: 679 so far this year, 1,013 in the past year.

Sunil Khilnani: Isabel Wilkerson's world-historical theory of race and caste: Review of Wilkerson's new book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, where a central argument is that India's long-established caste system -- outlawed in the Indian Constitution of 1950 -- provides insights into racism in America (and, what the hell, Nazi Germany).

Ezra Klein:

  • Can anything change Americans' minds about Donald Trump?: "The eerie stability of Trump's approval rating, explained."

    On August 27, 2019, President Donald Trump held a 41.3 percent approval rating and a 54.2 percent disapproval rating, according to FiveThirtyEight's poll tracker. During the 365 days that followed, Trump became the third president impeached by the House of Representatives; America assassinated Iranian general Qassem Soleimani; more than 200,000 Americans died from the disease caused by the novel coronavirus; the unemployment rate rose from 3.7 percent to 10.2 percent; the US banned incoming travel from Europe, China, and Brazil; an estimated 12 million people lost health insurance coverage; Trump pardoned Roger Stone, who was facing jail time for dirty tricks on the president's behalf; and George Floyd's murder sparked a nationwide movement protesting for racial justice -- to which officials responded by tear-gassing demonstrators in Lafayette Park in Washington, DC, so Trump could pose for a photograph holding a Bible.

    That is, of course, a bitterly incomplete list of a grimly consequential year in American history. But you'd never know it simply by following Trump's poll numbers. On August 27, 2020 -- one year later, and the day Trump used the White House as a backdrop for his convention speech -- FiveThirtyEight had Trump at 42.2 percent approval and 54.3 percent disapproval. Everything had happened, and politically, nothing had mattered. Or, at the least, not much had changed.

    "It's really remarkable," says Jennifer Victor, a political scientist at George Mason University. "The stability of Trump's numbers are almost unbelievable."

    Trump's approval ratings have ranged a mere 14 points (35-49%), compared to a range of 27 for Obama (40-67%), 65 for Bush II (25-90%), 36 for Clinton (37-73%), 52 for Bush I (29-81%), 33 for Reagan (35-68%). The Bush high marks were inflated by war, and deflated by recession. Reagan, Clinton, and Obama each started in recession, and presided over sustained recoveries. Trump was the first president not to get a "good will" bump after taking office, largely because of the way he campaigned and won. He was, instead, met with unprecedented demonstrations and vows of resistance, the first "women's march" overshadowing his poorly-attended inauguration. That may have helped to lock in his supporters, who viewed his regime as embattled from day one, and have since stubbornly resisted news of disasters that many of us considered inevitable consequences of his election.

  • What the Iraq disaster can teach us about Trump. Interview with Robert Draper, author of To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq.

Natasha Korecki/Christopher Cadelago: With a hand from Trump, the right makes Rittenhouse a cause célèbre.

Paul Krugman:

Robert Kuttner: The Biden do not reappoint list: "A third succession of Wall Street Democrats would be a disaster. Here are the names to look out for." Larry Summers, Peter Orszag, Mike Froman, Steve Rattner, Jeff Zients, Bruce Reed, plus a list of big names like Mike Bloomberg and Jamie Dimon and another of "lesser names." Since this piece was published, Zients was added as "co-chair" to Biden's transition team. See: Alex Thompson: Biden transition team shapes up with Obama-Biden alum hires.

Nancy LeTourneau: Trump's attack on Booker would be laughable if it wasn't so racist.

Eric Lipton: How Trump draws on campaign funds to pay his legal bills.

Martin Longman:

Michael Luo: American Christianity's white-supremacy problem: "History, theology, and culture all contribute to the racist attitudes embedded in the white church." There's plenty of this to go around, but Christian churches were incubators for abolitionism in the 19th century, and committed clergy and laity have been prominent in every antiwar and civil rights movement since.

David J Lynch/Carol D Leonnig/Jeff Stein/Josh Dawsey: Tactics of fiery White House trade adviser draw new scrutiny as some of his pandemic moves unravel. Fiery? Some new euphemism for "full of shit"?

Bill McKibben: How fast is the climate changing?: It's a new world, each and every day: Is McKibben's flair for hyperbole really helping? He has a knack for taking an isolated insight and blowing it up into a gross generalization, effectively obliterating his insight. Something a reasonable person could argue: practically every day we discover some new incident that helps reveal the greater depths of climate change. That's not the same as saying the world is changing every day. For most of us, most of the time, that's simply untrue, or at least untrue in terms that register with our senses. McKibben got into this habit with the title of his first book on climate change, The End of Nature. His argument there was that we can never know nature because we've changed the climate. In some sense he was onto something, but that's because humans have used technology to alter and dominate nature in many ways -- releasing greenhouse gases to raise air temperature was merely one of many ways, if anything, one of the least conscious of the many changes. On the other hand, he totally loses track of one of nature's most significant characteristics, which is its ability to evolve in response to changes, ranging from astronomical to human. Of course, he isn't the only environmentalist to have such anthropocentric conceits about the world. The very phrase "save the Earth" has all sorts of hidden assumptions about what kind of Earth it is one wants to "save." Surely you know that the Earth is almost all rock, and totally oblivious to changes on its surface. Surely you realize that life didn't need human beings for nearly four billion years, and could carry on happily should humans disappear.

Ian Millhiser:

Max Moran: Mick Mulvaney: A frustrated wrecking ball: "The former top Trump official is seething that civil servants want to do their jobs well."

Mick Mulvaney's career reached its logical endpoint last week when he announced he'd started a new hedge fund focused on exploiting deep knowledge of regulatory trends in the financial services sector. "I can't think of anyone better to read the tea leaves, if you will, of what is going to come next from Congress or any one of the slew of federal regulators out there," said Mulvaney's new business partner Andrew Wessel, lending high praise to what amounts to official corruption.

There are few public sycophants quite as shameless as Mulvaney when it comes to doing the bidding of financial loan sharks. Thanks to his slavish devotion to the cult of personality around a president he once called "a terrible human being," Mulvaney has gone from being the payday-loan industry's favorite congressman to Trump's director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's internal destructor, the acting White House chief of staff, and finally, the prestigious and rarefied job of Special Envoy for Northern Ireland.

Yet Mulvaney seems to be leaving public service unsatisfied. You see, despite his best efforts, financial regulation still, well, exists. And annoyingly, it seems there are hardworking people who still want it to, you know, exist.

I would have edited that last line to say "work" instead of repeating "exist." Also:

For too long, we've denigrated civil servants as lazy, wasteful, and parasitic -- terms and frames which are wrongheaded and highly racialized. The resulting anti-government fervor gave us the catastrophes of the Bush and Trump presidencies. It's an important point that bears repeating: People who hate government tend not to be very good at it.

If Biden wants to prove that he won't be like Trump or Mulvaney, if he wants to prove that his government will indeed restore dignity in America, there's a simple and powerful step he can take: Trust in government, and commit to appointing career civil servants to top jobs running the agencies they understand. If nothing else, it will severely piss off Mick Mulvaney.

Nicole Narea: How Trump made it that much harder to become a US citizen.

Ella Nilsen: Joe Biden makes the case Donald Trump has already made America more dangerous.

Timothy Noah: Wall Street's greedy indifference to human misery: "The disparity between the soaring stock market and struggling Americans perfectly epitomizes the country's grotesque inequality."

JC Pan: Rotting produce, vacant luxury apartments, and fake scarcity in a pandemic: "Leaving essentials like food and shelter to the whims of the market produces an extreme kind of disorganization." At the very least, this shows that markets don't respond very quickly or aptly to unpredicted events.

James Pasley: Trump frequently accuses the far-left of inciting violence, yet right-wing extremists have killed 329 victims in the last 25 years, while antifa members haven't killed any, according to a new study. I suppose the killing of a Trump militia man in Portland might be the first, if not self-defense, which will be hard to prove after police killed the alleged shooter.

Kevin Peraino: When America's Cold War strategy turned corrupt: Pretty much from its inception. After all, the point was to defend and promote business around the world, not least against its foes in labor. Review of Scott Anderson: The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War -- a Tragedy in Three Acts. Covers the years 1944-56; the spies are Michael Burke, Edward Lansdale, Peter Sichel, and Frank Wisner.

Cameron Peters:

Daniel Politi: Trump took art from ambassador's home in Paris, but pieces were fakes and replicas.

Andrew Prokop: The debate over whether unrest will help Trump win, explained.

John Quiggin: The economic consequences of the pandemic: Title for a book he's working on, which has recently spawned two articles: Have we just stumbled on the biggest productivity increase of the century?, on shifting work from office to home, and The end of the goods economy. Two more recent notes by Quiggin: What's with the stock market?, and Intangibles = monopoly.

Emily Rauhala/Yasmeen Abutaleb: US says it won't join WHO-linked effort to develop, distribute coronavirus vaccine.

Kate Riga: In first interview since FBI firing, Strzok frets about Trump-Russia unknowns; and Eric Tucker: Strzok calls attacks from Trump 'outrageous' and 'cruel'. Fired FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok starts to flog his Sept. 8 book: Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J Trump. More:

David Roberts: Big Oil's hopes are pinned on plastics. It won't end well. "The industry's only real source of growth probably won't grow much." Related:

Aaron Rupar:

Giovanni Russonello: Jazz has always been protest music. Can it meet this moment? Related: Alan Scherstuhl: Jazz is built for protests. Jon Batiste is taking it to the streets.

Michael J Sandel: Disdain for the less educated is the last acceptable prejudice: He's talking about among Democrats. As Donald Trump and many more attest, prejudices are rampant within the Republican Party -- maybe more against the highly educated but against the less educated as well, even as Republicans occasionally flatter the latter in order to con them. Sandel wrote The Tyranny of Merit: What's Become of the Common Good, the latest of a series of books that debunk the idea that we should be ruled by "the best and the brightest" (as David Halberstam dubbed the Kennedy meritocrats) -- Chris Hayes' Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy is the one I read and recommend, but Daniel Markovits: The Meritocracy Trap: How America's Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite adds to the critique. One thing Sandel notes is that Joe Biden "is the first Democratic nominee in 36 years without a degree from an Ivy League university." Still, he seems to be confusing education with "credentialism" -- his word, an interesting choice given how Jane Jacobs took the shift in focus from education to credentials to be a sure sign of Dark Ages Ahead. While many Democrats have made the mistake of seeing education as the key to advancement and therefore a painless answer to inequality -- Robert Reich was a pioneer in this regard -- but what makes that a mistake is ignoring all other factors. For instance, it's safe to say that the dearth of blue collar workers in Congress has more to do with lack of money and connections than prejudice. At least most Democrats see education as a universal desire and opportunity, and knowledge and science as general virtues -- unlike many Republicans, who find free thinking suspiciously dangerous. Also see:

Greg Sargent: These old quotes from Trump make his attacks on Biden look even more pathetic: "Violence on a president's watch is only his fault when that president is Barack Obama."

Walter Shapiro: America is not reliving 1968: "Sure, Donald Trump is harnessing Richard Nixon's law and order rhetoric, but that doesn't mean it will work."

Alex Shephard: The media is falling for Trump's law and order con.

Matt Shuham: With itchy trigger fingers, some right wingers predict the next civil war has finally arrived.

Timothy Snyder: What ails America: Specifically, a diary of botched medical care.

Roger Sollenberger: Ted Cruz seeks abortion pill ban, claims pregnancy is not "life-threatening".

Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: Sometimes they choke: Usual grabbag of points and asides, but I was struck by the chart (from 538) which argues that Biden has to win the popular vote by more than 3 points to reach a 50% chance of winning the electoral college. Next item shows the gerrymandered map of a "suburban Houston" House district. Then after some Markey-Kennedy points, he notes that the Postal Servie paid $14M to XPO Logistics, a company USPS head Louis DeJoy has a significant stake in, over the last 10 weeks. Also, I wanted to quote this:

MAGA loves America. MAGA hates the government. MAGA loves the man who runs the government they hate. MAGA loves history. MAGA hates the State. MAGA loves the statues of the historical figures who built the State they hate.

Other notes include that the US trade deficit reached its highest level in 12 years, and that "peak oil" is back, with US production on the decline again, after reaching its second peak (the first was in 1969).

Margaret Sullivan:

Emily VanDerWerff: One good thing: Stephen Colbert is looser, funnier, and angrier in quarantine.

Alex Ward:

Libby Watson: Covid patients are receiving eye-popping bills. It's not all Trump's fault. "His plan to help with hospital charges is poorly designed. But even a well-crafted plan would have been no match for our inept health care system."

Peter Wehner: Why Trump supporters can't admit who he really is:

During last week's Republican National Convention, speaker after speaker insisted that life under a Biden presidency would be dystopian. . . . "They're not satisfied with spreading the chaos and violence into our communities. They want to abolish the suburbs altogether," a St. Louis couple who had brandished weapons against demonstrators outside their home, told viewers. "Make no mistake, no matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats' America."

One does not have to be a champion of the Democratic Party to know this chthonic portrait is absurd. But it is also essential, because it allows Trump and his followers to tolerate and justify pretty much anything in order to win. And "anything" turns out to be quite a lot.

Michael Patrick Welch: Lake Charles was destroyed by Hurricane Laura. America has already moved on. "Like Katrina before it, Hurricane Laura has exposed disturbing inequalities -- and the rest of the nation's fundamental indifference."

Ben White: Trump's rebound story meets mounting bankruptcies: "Local business site Yelp found that 55 percent of the firms that closed during the worst of the pandemic beginning in March are now permanently shuttered."

Jill Wine-Banks: Don't forget about the Steve Bannon indictment. Seems like there may be more to come.

Matthew Yglesias: Donald Trump is the president: "Whose America is it, explained." After noting that while campaigning in 2016, Trump said: "the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20, 2017, safety will be restored." Trump never explained how he would work his magic, but he didn't. "Murder is on the rise again after ticking down for a few years, and acts of looting and vandalism are occurring in cities across the country." Subheds:

  • Trump is defunding the police
  • Trump encourages bad policing
  • Trump leaves no way out


But what does Trump have on tap beyond angry tweets and absurd posturing? He's been the president for years, and he's flailing even with the issues he does want to talk about. Vice President Mike Pence ended his speech last week by asking the American people to let him and Trump "Make America great again, again." In context, it was essentially a request for a mulligan on Covid-19, which is absurd. But it's exactly what Trump is pushing on crime as well -- that we should just ignore the parts of the presidency where his ideas don't work and his administration fails on its own terms.

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