Be Careful What You Joke About, Joe

We knew he wasn’t the smoothest talker in the party. But let’s be frank about the disasterous interview of Joe Biden by Breakfast Club radio host Charlamagne tha God. Jonathan Capehart argues, sincerly, that Biden was joking when he said “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” I listened to that snip of the interview, and Biden sounded angry, or at least peeved, to me. But if you see this clip of the interview … yeah, maybe he was joking.

“It don’t have nothing to do with Trump, it has to do with the fact — I want something for my community,” Charlamagne tha God said. This is a question Biden needs to be prepared to answer, with specifics. This is a question all Democrats need to answer, with specifics. They also need to be able to say what specifically they will do for labor unions and for poor single mothers and for Native Americans and a lot of other people. The “establishment” Democrats need to realize they can’t coast on being the party that’s not as bad as the other party forever. I’d say their time ran out on that shtick in 2016.

The “you aint black” gaffe was not the only disappointing part of the interview. Julia Craven writes for Slate:

It was pretty typical, if loud, political interview banter to that point. But things got trickier when Charlamagne asked Biden about the 1994 crime bill and the subsequent spike in America’s prison population. Now, it’s generally acknowledged as fact that the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act played a role in bolstering “tough on crime” policies and accelerating incarceration—which disproportionately landed Black and brown Americans in prison. But in Biden’s world, this is not the case.

“[The] crime bill didn’t increase mass incarceration,” he said. “Other things increased mass incarceration.”

That’s just not true, and it isn’t worth dedicating any more energy explaining why. It is, however, worth noting that Biden pointed to the fact that there was Black support for the bill at the time, without delving into any particulars. In the ’90s, Black folks, particularly those in law enforcement, were a part of calls for law and order out of a desire for anything that would help reduce the impact of crime on their communities. People who hold a different outlook on the criminal justice system’s role today were, at one point, loudly advocating for tougher prosecution in hopes of quelling drug influx and violence in Black communities.

When Charlamagne asked about Democrats taking the Black vote for granted, Biden admitted that was a concern before going into another monologue about how he’s consistently won over Black voters—“more than Barack” even! Biden continued to point to his bona fides: his time as a civil rights attorney and his subsequent work in Black communities. Still, we have to remember that even this history has been shadowed by Biden’s infamous verbal mishaps. Perhaps most prominently, in the mid-1970s Biden said he “didn’t buy” that Black people needed a head start in order to equate hundreds of years of systemic racism and policy oppression.

Throughout the interview and his career, Biden has displayed an unwillingness to accept his role in mass incarceration and the creation of policies that have been destructive to Black communities. He opted instead to point to his Black friends and the Black people who have supported him before saying if Black people don’t do what he wants them to do—and which happens to be in his favor— then they aren’t Black.

It may be that there’s a white politician somewhere who could get away with jesting about who is and isn’t black, but Biden is not that politician, and he needs to accept that and reflect on it.

And I also think Biden had better choose a woman of color as his running mate. There are at least four good choices — Stacey Abrams, Rep. Val Demings, Sen. Kamala Harris, Susan Rice. He may favor Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota or Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan to help him with those upper midwestern swing states, but Klobuchar especially would be a huge mistake. Biden ought to be able to win Minnesota without Klobuchar; Clinton won the state in 2016. And I don’t think Klobuchar helps him anywhere else. She’d be like the new Tim Kaine, a “safe,” lame choice that doesn’t broaden the appeal of the ticket. And Klobuchar has her own problems with America’s African-American community. I know less about Whitmer. She might be a fine choice, but especially after this “you ain’t black” episode a white veep candidate would be a huge mistake, IMO.

I don’t think Biden is a bad guy. I think he tries to be fair. But like a lot of white men of his generaton — well, of many generations — he is oblivious to the advantages he was handed in life and the barriers others contend with. I also agree with Jamil Smith, writing for Rolling Stone

I realize that he prides himself on his intimate relationship with black voters, and how, as one voter described it to the AP in December, “I know Joe’s heart.” He even told Charlamagne, who said he’d been critical of Biden, that “I know you have. You don’t know me.” Knowing Joe, in this calculus, is all that seems to be required.

I cautioned against this attitude back in August when I wrote about the need for him to re-introduce himself to black electorates throughout the country, especially to deal with issues in his record on which many African Americans would challenge him. (When asked about my column in a later interview, he brusquely said, “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”) It may have required this episode for him to understand what I was talking about.

If this episode teaches him something, it may be just as well it happened. And we can count on the Trumpers to seize the gaffe as an opportunity to be the bigger assholes. The Trump campaign is already selling a “you ain’t black” T-shirt for $30. Yes, it will only take a few white, racist meatballs showing up to rally for Trump wearing those T-shirts to make Biden look a lot better. But do brace yourselves for the Trump campaign’s $1 million “you ain’t black” ad blitz.

Biden has issued an apology for the remark, btw.

I haven’t said anything about the Tara Reade allegations on this blog, initially because I was waiting for other women to come forward with similar allegations before I formed an opinion. None have, and Reade’s story has pretty much fallen apart. So I’m not too concerned about it now. Moving on …

On the plus side, Biden appears to have the old lady vote sewn up.

President Trump’s declining support among older voters since the coronavirus took hold is well documented, but new data offers a clearer understanding of why that’s happening — and how it could impact the November election.

The big picture: Among the 65+ crowd, it’s women driving the exodus. Joe Biden’s appeal with senior men climbed during his surprise comeback to be the presumed Democratic nominee, but not necessarily at Trump’s expense — and new polling suggests it may be ebbing in any case.

The coronavirus matters, but so does health care policy overall.

By the numbers: A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday shows Biden leading Trump by 22 points among female voters 65+, while Trump leads Biden by 11 points among older men. That’s what gets Biden to a 10-point overall lead over the president among seniors.

“There is a big gender gap among seniors in the matchup, just as there is among all registered voters,” says poll director Doug Schwartz. “Older women really like Joe Biden, and they really don’t like Donald Trump.”

Since February, Quinnipiac data also shows Biden has increased his lead over Trump with independent 65+ voters, from seven to 20 points.

This is a big reversal from 2016, when Trump led Clinton among seniors 53% to 44%.

Another interesting bit of data from the same article — among voters who say they don’t like either candidate, Biden is 40 points ahead. In 2016, the “pox on both their houses” voters ended up favoring Trump over Clinton by 17 percentage points.

More Stuff to Read

Greg Sargent, Shocking new economic data confirms it: The swing states are getting hammered

NY Times, With Unemployment Expected to Reach 20%, Senators Take a Vacation

Nicole Lafond, Talking Points Memo, Where Things Stand: The Defiance Strategy

Weaponizing Jesus

Trump’s newest campaign tactic is to demand that state governors allow unrestricted religious services. “The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now. For this weekend. If they don’t do it, I will override the governors,” he said.


President Donald Trump on Friday commanded America’s governors to immediately reopen churches and other places of worship shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic, threatening to “override” the state leaders if they refused to follow his directive.

Speaking at a previously unannounced news briefing at the White House, the president revealed that officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were “issuing guidance for communities of faith,” and declared “houses of worship, churches, synagogues and mosques” to be “essential places that provide essential services.”

“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship,” Trump told reporters. “It’s not right. So, I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”

Trump emphasized he was calling upon governors to allow places of worship to resume operations “right now,” and warned that “if there’s any question, they’re going to have to call me — but they are not going to be successful in that call.”  …

… The president had previewed his announcement in recent days, telling reporters outside the White House on Thursday that churches “are not being treated with respect by a lot of the Democrat governors,” and that his administration was “going to take a very strong position on that very soon.”

Of course, Trump doesn’t have the constitutional authority to override state governors on matters of public health. We’ve been through this already. But I’m sure he’s hoping some Democratic governors stand up to him and declare the churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques must stay closed, and then Trump will stand up and cast himself as the Defender of the Faith who wants to fill those pews this Sunday.

I suspect the governors are smart enough to understand that, and I suspect they will just ignore him.

However, a lot of the less responsible clergy and faith leaders are going to take Trump’s words as permission to hold in-person services this Sunday, in spite of what the state (or city, or county) government says. Trump is trying to weaponize worship, in other words. But I question whether this will earn him any points with people who aren’t already part of his base. With many well publicized exceptions, my impression is that most clergy and religious organizations don’t want their followers to die of infection and prefer to be cautious. But a whole lot of them will open up anyway.

But why is this so important to Trump?

Other Politico — Behind Trump’s demand to reopen churches: Slipping poll numbers and alarm inside his campaign:

A sudden shift in support for Donald Trump among religious conservatives is triggering alarm bells inside his reelection campaign, where top aides have long banked on expanding the president’s evangelical base as a key part of their strategy for victory this November.

The anxiety over Trump’s standing with the Christian right surfaced after a pair of surveys by reputable outfits earlier this month found waning confidence in the administration’s coronavirus response among key religious groups, with a staggering decline in the president’s favorability among white evangelicals and white Catholics. Both are crucial constituencies that supported Trump by wide margins in 2016 and could sink his reelection prospects if their turnout shrinks this fall.

The polls paint a bleak picture for Trump, who has counted on broadening his religious support by at least a few percentage points to compensate for weakened appeal with women and suburban populations. One GOP official said the dip in the president’s evangelical support also appeared in internal party polling, but disputed the notion that it had caused panic. Another person close to the campaign described an April survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, which showed a double-digit decline in Trump’s favorability among white evangelicals (-11), white Catholics (-12) and white mainline protestants (-18) from the previous month, as “pretty concerning.”

To safeguard his relationship with religious conservatives, Trump on Friday demanded that America‘s governors permit houses of worship to immediately reopen, and threatened to “override“ state leaders who decline to obey his directive. The announcement — which came days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention omitted religious institutions in new guidance about industry reopenings — featured clear appeals to white evangelicals, many of whom have long supported Trump’s socially conservative agenda.

Of course.

In other news — a “signature” White House initiative I hadn’t heard of before is crashing before it got going. Apparently the idea was to direct farm surplus to needy families. This is a grand idea. But the Trumpers can’t pull it off.

The Trump administration withdrew one of the largest contracts in its signature effort to use farm surplus to feed hungry Americans, capping a chaotic process that industry experts say relied too heavily on companies with little demonstrated experience in farming, food chains or food banks.

Contracts totaling more than $107 million went to a San Antonio event planner, an avocado mail-order company, a health-and-wellness airport kiosk company and a trade finance corporation, according to the Agriculture Department’s announcement of contract awards.

But the USDA bypassed the country’s three largest food distribution companies, as well as nonprofit organizations with long histories of feeding the poor on a large scale, according to Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association (UFPA).

A San Antonio event planner? An avocado mail-order company? A health and wellness airport kiosk company? A trade finance organization? The USDA is run by the utterly worthless Sonny Purdue, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Jared and Ivanka were in on it. Anyway, it was the avocado company that lost the contract. Nobody knows exactly why them and not the other contractors.

The UFPA, a trade association for the produce supply chain, has raised concerns about the awards, saying in a letter to the USDA that some of the companies have no record of similar work, do not have truckers or delivery systems, do not operate in the region where they are supposed to provide services or were awarded contracts larger than their annual revenue.

“We know of several upstanding companies that are current government contractors to USDA and the [Defense Department’s] Fresh program who were seemingly denied on mistaken grounds,” Stenzel wrote in the letter to the USDA. He has asked the USDA to clarify the process for companies that did not get contracts to dispute the rationale provided by the USDA.

Anything Trump is even remotely connected to will be screwed up. It’s a law of nature, like gravity.

A Test for Representative Democracy

Nancy LeTourneau writes about Mitch McConnell, who says he feels no “urgency” to enact another stimulus measure to address the economic fallout of the pandemic:

I have no idea what it would take for McConnell to feel a sense of urgency, but on a national level, the U.S. is fast approaching the marker of 100,000 people dead from COVID-19, with over 30 million people unemployed. Closer to McConnell’s home, a recent White House report named Central City, KY as one of the nation’s new hot spots, with a 650 percent increase in the number of coronavirus cases. …

… He refuses to take up the bill passed by the House that, among other things, would authorize another stimulus check for workers and extend the expanded unemployment insurance. McConnell dismissed provisions like that as nothing more than a grab bag of “pet priorities.” Apparently the only thing McConnell views as urgent is his desire to grant immunity protections to businesses that are reopening.

A few days ago I wrote about Kentucky and its economic vulnerabilities. Kentucky is among the poorest and least educated states in the Union. It’s also about 88 percent white. It shouldn’t surprise you that Trump is currently running 16 points ahead of Biden in the most recent polling of Kentucky. Poor, ignorant, and white = Trump voter, more often than not. I have found no current polling for the Kentucky Senate race, alas.

Kentucky’s unemployment rate for April was 15.4 percent. I understand that Kentucky is running out of unemployment benefit funds, in spite of the fact that tens of thousands of Kentuckians are still trying to get benefits they applied for in March and April. And 47,000 new unemployment claims were filed in Kentucky last week. The Associated Press reported on May 13:

 Kentucky has enough in its unemployment insurance trust fund until summer to meet the unprecedented demand for benefits but will eventually need a cash infusion, Gov. Andy Beshear said Wednesday in urging another round of federal assistance to states …

…The state’s unemployment trust fund has gone through massive amounts of money as record numbers of Kentuckians request jobless assistance during the pandemic.

Mitch McConnell has been a United States Senator from Kentucky since bleeping 1985. It’s not clear to me that he still remembers where Kentucky is, although one assumes he shows up to campaign there occasionally. I guess he thinks that if the state runs out of money Kentucky can just declare bankruptcy, although I don’t know how that’s going to get the unemployment benefits paid this summer.

A Democratic U.S. Senator for Hawaii tweeted:

It seems to me that the upcoming senatorial election in Kentucky is a real test of representative democracy. If Kentuckians re-elect McConnell in spite of the fact that he hasn’t represented their interests in decades, does representative democracy even work in the U.S. any more? Or have we evolved into little more than a nation of primitive warring tribes, albeit with better technology?

Not all Republicans are quite that oblivious. Fox News reports that several Republican senators are pushing Mitch into enacting more stimulus measures no later than June. Two senators featured prominently in this reporting are Susan Collins of Maine and Cory Gardner of Colorado, both currently in danger of losing their Senate seats in November.

Paul Waldman:

The latest weekly employment figures, released Thursday, show the magnitude of this economic catastrophe: Another 2.4 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total to 38.6 million over nine weeks. Analysts are now predicting that the unemployment rate will soon top 30 percent. The highest it reached during the Great Depression was 25.6 percent.

And what’s on the minds of the Republican leadership? They’re worried that we’re coddling the unemployed:

At issue is the enhanced unemployment aid Congress approved in late March, which includes an extra $600 in weekly payments to out-of-work Americans. On Tuesday, President Trump articulated his reluctance to extend those benefits during a closed-door lunch with Senate Republicans, many of whom share his concern that the expanded federal payments deter people from returning to work. The enhanced benefits expire in July. …

… But the problem right now is that there aren’t any jobs. It’s not like millions of businesses can’t operate because no one’s answering their help wanted ads. That extra money is keeping people afloat, and is quickly recirculated into the economy, multiplying its beneficial impact.

So this is the position of the president and the Republican leadership in Congress: What we really have to worry about now is that Americans are being lazy, and what we need to get them out there reviving the economy is some good old-fashioned deprivation.

Yep; that’s the Republican Party, representing the lords instead of the serfs.

Yet at the same time, there are cracks showing in the GOP’s resistance to further economic rescue. With the election only 5½ months away, some in the party are questioning whether having Democrats demand that the government take action to help struggling Americans while Republicans say no is a brilliant strategy.

Even so, Waldman writes, even the Republicans who want to enact more stimulus bills in June are resistant to sending money directly to people, either as unemployment benefits or cash payments. Someone might explain to them that Steve Mnuchin is sitting on nearly a half a trillion dollars in funds allocated for businesses last March that he hasn’t gotten around to disbursing yet. And maybe actually spending that money would do some good, even if it’s not going directly to people who need it most.

But I think that if people continue to be denied unemployment benefits when there are no jobs, and if small businesses continue to be denied relief money because big businesses gobbled it all up, ordinary people will notice. Mitch McConnell might not, but regular folks will.

Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump together have been able to consolidate power in Washington so that nothing much happens without their approval. But Trump is a profoundly stupid man whose only bright idea is just to ignore the pandemic and make everyone go back to work. Mitch is not that stupid, and it’s hard to know exactly what his issue is. He is either so lost in the world of money and power that he wouldn’t recognize a regular voter if he tripped over one; or, he has decided Trump is going to lose, so we might as well totally wreck the economy so that Democrats can be blamed for the depression to come. Mitch is thinking ahead to the 2022 midterms, in other words.

Are you paying attention, Kentucky?

What’s Happening Now

Trump is terrified of losing in November, for good reason. The crew at FiveThirtyEight say, with lots of caveats and cautions, that 2020 could be a “blue wave” election year. That’s not a prediction, mind you; it’s just their reading of the state of things at the moment. Opinions can change. Voter suppression can tip elections. But see also Martin Longman, How Is the Democrats’ Race to Take Back the Senate Looking? (The answer: Pretty good, but don’t get complacent.)

Speaking of voter suppression, Trump is so certain that vote-by-mail will work against him that he’s threatening states that are preparing to implement it.

And I “think” that’s what got him impeached already. He doesn’t have the constitutional authority to not disburse funds already allocated by Congress, whether the funds are for Ukraine or Nevada. Or Michigan.

Those were applications, not actual ballots. Of course, there’s nothing “illegal” about vote by mail. It’s just absentee voting without having to declare a reason one can’t go to the polls. States can make decisions about who qualifies to vote absentee without getting permission from the feds. There is no evidence vote-by-mail enables fraud. There’s not even any evidence it favors Democrats over Republicans.

Regarding Trump’s threat, Greg Sargent writes,

During the impeachment of President Trump, an expert witness called by Democrats floated a theoretical scenario involving the president threatening a state hammered by a natural disaster, to illustrate the corruption of Trump’s shakedown of Ukraine.

What would we think if Trump dangled federal disaster aid as leverage to force a governor to do his political biddingasked Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan, adding: “Wouldn’t you know in your gut that the president had abused his office? That he betrayed the national interest?”

Trump has now done something very close to this. And the answer to Karlan’s question is: Yes, Trump is abusing his office and betraying the national interest.

Trump probably will need Michigan in November if he’s going to pull off another Electoral College win. In 2016 he won Michigan and its 16 EC votes in a squeaker, 47.6 percent to 47.3 percent. A Fox News poll taken in mid-April has Trump 8 percentage points behind Joe Biden in Michigan. Michiganders also prefer their own governor, Gretchen Whitmer, to Trump, the same poll says. I’m not sure that threatening to withhold federal funds from the state is a smart campaign tactic, though.

As a threshold matter, what Trump is threatening is illegal, according to Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

“The federal government does not have the power to withhold funding from states because the president disagrees with something the states are doing,” Vladeck told me. “There’s no legal mechanism by which he can do that.”

Theoretically, Trump might try to do this. Under the Cares Act, which recently passed Congress, states get allotted aid money from the Treasury Department, and then subsequently certify that they used it all on coronavirus-related purposes, a spokesperson for the House Appropriations Committee tells me.

So Trump could try to instruct the Treasury Department not to dole out that money. Note that Trump actually cc’d the Treasury Department in his tweet-threat, an act that becomes a lot more disgusting when you understand that this is how the mechanism actually does work.

Yesterday two dam breaks in central Michigan caused about 10,000 people to be evacuated. Trump’s tweet:

“Governor must now ‘set you free’ to help”? What the bleep does that mean? Well, stay strong, Michigan.

Elsewhere — You probably heard the story about how Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) got the Trump Administration to declassify an email from Susan Rice that was supposed to blow the lid off Obamagate! Finally, here was the proof that President Obama targeted Michael Flynn with investigations to damage Donald Trump, or whatever the theory is. However, the email did no such thing. It describes an Oval Office meeting in which Obama administration officials were asking if they should be concerned about Flynn’s contacts with Russians. No conclusions were reached; no investigations were ordered. There was just a concern.  You can read the email here. The facts of the email haven’t stopped right-wing media from framing it as somehow scandalous, of course.

In spite of Breitbart’s best efforts to keep flogging the Susan Rice email as a scandal, Senate Republicans appear to be falling back on investigating Hunter Biden. See also Declassified Susan Rice email reveals FBI concern about Flynn, further debunks Trump’s ‘Obamagate’ accusations at the New York Daily News.

Other stuff:

The Daily Beast reports that Trump Fans Gobble Up His Favorite, Unproven COVID Drug—Some Are Even Trying To Cook It Themselves. Let’s encourage them, I say.

Nice investigation by Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones: Jared Kushner Had One Job: Solve America’s Supply Crisis. He Helped Private Companies Instead.

More “gate” commentary: Nancy LeTourneau, The Glaring Inconsistency Behind the Russiagate Conspiracy Theory

Is Mike Pompeo in trouble? See Pompeo’s elite taxpayer-funded dinners raise new concerns at MSNBC.

Thanks to Trump, We Have No Good Options

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve chair Jerome H. Powell are testifying to the Senate Banking Committee today.

Mnuchin warned that there would be “risk of permanent damage” to the economy if businesses do not re-open right away. This is the same guy who has been sitting on billions of dollars in stimulus funds since March, but he hasn’t gotten around to disbursing most of it. This was a major point of concern for some senators.

The Fed is in the process of rolling out a series of emergency lending programs to keep credit flowing into the economy.

More recently, it has announced five new or revamped programs that will be backed by $195 billion in funding, focused on large corporations, the municipal bond market, midsize businesses and asset-backed securities, which are essentially bundles of loans built on students loans, credit cards and other types of debt.

Of those programs, only a portion of one of the corporate credit facilities is up and running. The various facilities have taken time to design, because they are legally complex and have never before been attempted.

Lawmakers repeatedly urged Mr. Mnuchin and Mr. Powell to get the midsize business “Main Street” facility up quickly. Mr. Powell faced questions over why the corporate programs were helping shakier large companies.

“You’ve pointed out that most of the people being hurt are those earning less than $40,000 a year,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat. “It’s not clear to me how putting money into junk bonds is helping Main Street.”

There were also concerns about the safety of workers.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) pressed Mnuchin on the White House’s push to rapidly reopen parts of the economy even as health care advisers have urged more caution.

“How many workers should give their lives to increase our [gross domestic product] by half a percent?” Brown asked Mnuchin.

For the record, Mnuchin didn’t think it was a fair question. But this is the question of the moment — the economy versus lives. Which do we prioritize? Yes, the nation is taking a terrible economic hit, and the longer the restrictions continue, the worse the damage will be. And yes, this is causing terrible stress and harm to millions of individuals who are suddenly without a paycheck. Hey, I’ve been there; I know what being suddenly laid off feels like. It’s a real punch in the gut.

On the other hand, the science guys tell us that if we move to reopen too soon, a lot of people will die who didn’t have to die. The virus is still out there, folks. And because we still don’t have adequate testing, we’re stumbling around in the dark. Maybe if we had better testing, we could be making informed decisions about how much economic activity can be restarted safely. But as it is, we’re all guessing.

The bottom line, as I see it, is that we have no good options. There is no visible course of action that will bring the jobs back in the next few weeks without risking lives. And we’re in this mess because we have no national leadership. The pandemic “response” has been grossly mismanaged from the very beginning and never got better. And that’s why we have no good options. People can argue economy versus lives until they turn purple. No matter what we do, we’ll be stumbling around between deprivation and death for the next several months. That’s just how it is. Do your best and stay safe.

There is no way we’re going to avoid a world of hurt for a lot more people. That would be true even if a miracle happened and we suddenly had a competent federal government going forward. But, unfortunately, Donald Trump is still POTUS. Corrupt wastes of space like Mnuchin are managing what policy Congress creates. Republicans who are opposed to spending that benefits workers — they think spending should only flow to their big-buck donors and themselves — still control the Senate. So it’s not going to get any better.

If we had shut down a lot sooner, if we had tested a lot more, if we could be throwing much more federal money at the states and cities and small businesses and the unemployed to decrease the damage, it wouldn’t be nearly so bad. But Trump is president and Mitch McConnell runs the Senate. So it’s a mess.

See also Max Boot, If Trump had been in charge during World War II, this column would be in German.

And then there are the governors. We’re getting clues that at least some of them are suppressing covid-19 data so that people don’t know how bad it is. Today we learned that the scientist in charge of providing covid-19 data for Florida was fired for refusing to manipulate the data. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on similar shenanigans in Georgia. Georgia’s coronavirus numbers looked good because officials misrepresented the data. See also Georgia’s coronavirus data made reopening look safe. The numbers were a lie.

I’ve written about little else but the pandemic, and Trump’s non-response to it, for the past several weeks. I believe this is truly the biggest failure of leadership in U.S. history.  I’m glad to see at least one pundit who has come around to my view of why Trump has been such a disaster — that he is too bleeping stupid to have any idea what is going on.

Why did Trump keep offering estimates so unrealistically low that they were overtaken by events mere weeks later, exposing him to mockery and providing fodder for attack ads? Lies are typically self-serving. Those statements were not. If he was trying to lowball death estimates so that Americans would reelect him, he needed to pick a number that wouldn’t be exceeded until after Election Day. Whether he intended to lie or attempted to tell the truth, he showed an inability to think just weeks ahead in an emergency that could last months or years.

Similarly, why did Trump declare that the virus would disappear when its spread was imminent? Why did he say we’re close to a vaccine when Americans are unlikely to get one before Election Day? Why did he suggest that injecting a disinfectant into the body might cure COVID-19? I used to worry that Trump’s serial mendacity might harm the nation. Now I worry even more that he isn’t lying, but rather lacks the capacity to see errors in the most obvious falsehoods. He appears to be so impulsive and attuned to the time horizon of an individual tweet, television appearance, or news cycle that he cannot strategize over a longer period.

If I believed in an anthropomorphic God, I’d be arguing that God sent the coronavirus to reveal Trump’s spectacular ineptitude so that he wouldn’t be elected again.

“Is it — does it remind you of something? Reminds you of this. Right? Ones a swab, ones a Q-tip. It’s actually different. It’s very sophisticated actually but it’s a little bit like — so this is the swab and we’ve ordered a lot of them.” Actual Trump quote from April 19 press briefing.

What Ought to Scare You Right Now

Item One: You’ve probably heard that State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, who was fired Friday night, was terminated at the request of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It was also widely reported that Linick was looking into allegations that Pompeo is using State Department staff to run personal errands — walk his dog, pick up his dry cleaning, that sort of thing.

But it gets worse. Greg Sargent:

House Democrats have discovered that the fired IG had mostly completed an investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s widely criticized decision to skirt Congress with an emergency declaration to approve billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia last year, aides on the Foreign Affairs Committee tell me.

“I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick’s firing,” Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement sent to me. “His office was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia.”

Committee Democrats have also learned that the State Department was recently briefed on the IG’s conclusions in that investigation, aides say. They do not know what role this investigation — and its conclusions — played in Linick’s removal, if any.

Zachary Cohen, CNN:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to sit for an interview with the State Department inspector general’s office as part of its probe into the administration’s move to bypass Congress and expedite last year’s $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia by declaring an emergency, a congressional aide told CNN Monday. …

…Last May, the Trump administration declared an emergency to bypass Congress and expedite billions of dollars in arms sales to various countries — including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — citing the need to deter what it called “the malign influence” of Iran throughout the Middle East.

“These sales will support our allies, enhance Middle East stability, and help these nations to deter and defend themselves from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo said in a statement at the time, which put the value of the sales at $8.1 billion.

But the move drew bipartisan condemnation, with lawmakers decrying the precedent it sets, questioning the administration’s claims of an emergency and raising the issue of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Bloomberg News:

While the White House has offered no public details about what may have been behind the firing, Pompeo told the Washington Post that Linick wasn’t helping make the State Department “better.”

“I went to the president and made clear to him that Inspector General Linick wasn’t performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to,” Pompeo said in the interview.

I have no doubt Linick wasn’t performing as Pompeo wanted him to. I’m sure Trump agreed. And it stinks out loud. See also Jennifer Rubin, Mike Pompeo’s scandals big and small erode his dwindling credibility.

Item Two: Republicans are organizing their voter suppression efforts. Michael Wines, The New York Times:

Six months before a presidential election in which turnout could matter more than persuasion, the Republican Party, the Trump campaign and conservative activists are mounting an aggressive national effort to shape who gets to vote in November — and whose ballots are counted.

Its premise is that a Republican victory in November is imperiled by widespread voter fraud, a baseless charge embraced by President Trump but repeatedly debunked by research. Democrats and voting rights advocates say the driving factor is politics, not fraud — especially since Mr. Trump’s narrow win in 2016 underscored the potentially crucial value of depressing turnout by Democrats, particularly minorities.

The Republican program, which has gained steam in recent weeks, envisions recruiting up to 50,000 volunteers in 15 key states to monitor polling places and challenge ballots and voters deemed suspicious. That is part of a $20 million plan that also allots millions to challenge lawsuits by Democrats and voting-rights advocates seeking to loosen state restrictions on balloting. The party and its allies also intend to use advertising, the internet and Mr. Trump’s command of the airwaves to cast Democrats as agents of election theft.

You should read the whole article, and also read Charles Pierce’s commentary on the article.

Item Three: This one might not scare you, but it’s worth a WTF? Remember the half trillion Treasury slush fund the “administration” planned to hand out with minimal oversight? The Washington Post reports that most of that fund, created in March, is still sitting around at the Treasury Department, unused.

A $500 billion Treasury Department fund created by the Cares Act in March to help stabilize the economy has lent barely any money, according to an initial report issued by a Congressional Oversight Commission created by the law….

… The report describes the lending facilities the Treasury Department has created to operate through the Federal Reserve, and says that only one of them has received funding. It is called the Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility and is supposed to purchase corporate debt. It has received $37.5 billion.

The $500 billion Treasury fund also set aside $46 billion to make loans and loan guarantees to the airline industry. None of that money has been disbursed.

The Treasury has announced more programs in the works to disburse more of the money, including a Main Street Lending Program that is supposed to help small and medium-size businesses. But Treasury is still piddling around trying to decide what the qualifications and parameters for the program will be. Meanwhile, small and medium-size businesses are failing by the minute. No rush or anything, guys.

The Congressional Oversight Commission that wrote the report still doesn’t have a chair, btw.

From Hoovervilles to Trumpvilles?

Herbert Hoover / Donald Trump

A lot of people are remembering FDR’s New Deal these days. But Kevin McDermott, a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, looks back a bit further at Herbert Hoover: Facing another Great Depression, conservative thought is stuck in 1929.

When, for example, Congress sent Hoover a $2.3 billion plan that included public works programs and loans to small businesses and individuals, he derided it as “pork” and vetoed it. “Economic depression cannot be cured by legislative action,” he once declared.

Hoover opposed direct government aid to individuals, leaning instead on tax cuts, import tariffs (which backfired, prompting devastating retaliatory tariffs from America’s trading partners) and repeated assurances to the nation that, as he put it in 1930, “The worst is behind us.”

Is any of this sounding familiar?

For decades conservative propagandists have insisted the New Deal did not work at all, and that the Great Depression was ended by World War II; the New Deal, they say, had nothing to do with it. The truth is that the economy did grow after FDR became president in 1933 —

The time series of real GDP during the period 1929 through 1940. HERSH SHEFRIN

It’s believed that dip in 1938 happened because FDR scaled back New Deal programs and spending in 1937. When the economy sagged, the spending was cranked up again. See Paul Krugman, New Deal economics, who explains the New Deal better than I can.

And conservatives don’t ask themselves how it is a war ended a depression. The answer is, the military build up necessitated by World War II was the New Deal on steroids — massive government spending that created jobs and put a lot of money in the hands of ordinary people, who then went out and bought new stuff. Again, Paul Krugman explains this better than I can. The problem with the New Deal, Krugman argues, is that it didn’t go big enough until pushed into more spending to take on the Axis Powers.

Back to Kevin McDermott:

Congressional Democrats last week unveiled a $3 trillion proposal that goes beyond bandages. It addresses the havoc individual Americans face in areas like health care, rent and mortgage payments and student loan debt, while providing almost $1 trillion to state and local governments to prevent additional waves of layoffs. Other big ideas are out there as well, some from within the GOP. Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley’s proposal to mostly cover small-business payrolls for sheltered workers could be a far better use of federal dollars than waiting until those workers are unemployed.

Mitch McConnell is having none of it. “We have not yet felt the urgency of acting immediately,” the Republican Senate majority leader told reporters last week. “That time could develop, but I don’t think it has yet.”

What is he waiting for? Pearl Harbor?

The recently passed House bill is the HEROES Act.

The 1,800-page HEROES Act is an opening offer of Democratic priorities, starting with nearly $1 trillion in direct aid to state and local governments dealing with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. It would also include another round of $1,200 stimulus checks for eligible Americans (those making less than $75,000 per year). The HEROES Act provides $75 billion in mortgage relief, $100 billion for rental assistance, and $75 billion for coronavirus testing. In addition to expanding unemployment insurance, it would also forgive some student loan debt and provide more pay to essential workers.

The bill has been criticized from the Left for not being generous enough, and from the Right for containing provisions that aren’t directly related to the pandemic. However, I’ve yet to see a list of what those provisions are.

For all his cheerleading to open up the economy again, I haven’t found a quote attibuted to Trump himself expressing an opinion on the HEROES bill. However, “the White House” says that if passed, the bill would be vetoed. In this, Trump truly is reinacting Herbert Hoover. Ironically, back in 2018 Mike Allen wrote at Axios that Trump feared being turned into Herbert Hoover by the inaction of Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell. Powell, you might remember, has an aversion to lowering interest rates to goose the economy when the economy doesn’t need goosing. But now Trump is doing a grand job of turning himself into Hoover without Powell’s help.

The shutdown is doing huge economic damage. Hale Stewart explains the damage here. Paul Krugman has been arguing that as bad as the damage is, to re-open and then experience a second wave would be even worse. Healing the economy depends on addressing the pandemic, which means testing and tracing, which Trump doesn’t want to do because too much testing makes him look bad. And we really could be looking at an all-out depression. So there we are. Screwed.

A Hooverville in New York City

Stuff to Read About Inspectors General

Just some links today; more tomorrow.

Aaron Blake, Trump’s slow-motion Friday night massacre of inspectors general

WaPo Reporters, Trump ramps up retaliatory purge with firing of State Department inspector general

Charlotte Klein, “Dangerous Pattern of Retaliation”: Trump Escalates War on Government Oversight With Late-Night Purge

Peter Wade, Watchdog Fired by Trump Was Investigating Pompeo, House Foreign Affairs Chair Says

Nathalie Baptiste, Trump Fires State Department Watchdog Who Provided Ukraine Documents to Congress

A Guide to Obamagate-gate

This exchange made news a few days ago.

Whatever Obamagate is, it’s still a big deal on Trump’s Twitter feed. This is from today.

So, what the bleep is he talking about? What is Obamagate? Fortunately, the definitive guide to Obamagate was written for the Washington Post by Alexandra Petri, and you should go there and read her column to fully appreciate what we’re talking about. Then come back.

Back now? Good. Now that we’re all clear about what Obamagate is, we need to consider what it represents to Donald J. Trump. Because he clearly is very worked up about it. David Graham at The Atlantic explains how it all began:

On May 9, CNN reported that Obama had labeled Trump’s pandemic response “an absolute chaotic disaster” the day before, on a call with alumni of his administration. Early the next morning, as part of a long string of Mother’s Day tweets—as these rants exceed themselves, it’s become more and more difficult to find superlatives to adequately describe them—Trump retweeted a user who had mentioned “Obamagate.” The term has quickly become part of Trump’s vernacular, with 13 subsequent uses, including two yesterday.

Precisely what Trump is alleging against Obama is obscure, and probably beside the point. Trump isn’t really interested in alleging any particular crime. The point of “Obamagate” is to try to recapture the force that propelled Trump to political prominence—questioning the legitimacy of the first black president—as he heads toward a difficult reelection campaign in the midst of a global crisis.

Graham calls Obamagate an extension of birtherism. Just as actual proof, including newspaper birth announcements and a long-form birth certificate, could not quell the belief that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and not Hawaii, Obamagate needs no support except the desperate belief that it must be true, whatever it is.

As near as any of us not living in the Trump universe can tell, Obamagate may have started out having something to do with the much-debunked (see also) claim that President Obama personally ordered a wiretap on Trump Tower. But now it is appears to be mostly tied in to the Michael Flynn prosecution and the “unmasking” of Michael Flynn in intelligence reports back in the late days of the Obama Administration. That Obama Administration officials did not know the identity of the person they wanted “unmasked” — the point of the “unmasking” was to see who was being talked about in the reports — kind of eludes the Trumpers. And such “unmasking” is a legal and even routine thing to do when intelligence agencies report hinky activity. But Trump has twisted this around into a conspiracy against him.

Susan Glasser in the New Yorker tells us that Obamagate makes perfect sense, to some:

To outside observers, the charges—like Trump’s original political sin, lying about the easily provable fact of Obama’s birth in the United States—seem so absurd as to be the mere caricature of a conspiracy, as sketched by a con man who couldn’t even bother to offer convincing details. The point, though, is not to convince those who aren’t already in the know. “Obamagate” is niche programming for the Trump superfan audience. If you don’t get it, that doesn’t matter; you’re not supposed to. It’s a slogan, a rallying cry. Details are all but irrelevant. At 8:57 p.m. on Wednesday, Trump sent out an all-caps tweet. The message consisted solely of the word “OBAMAGATE” followed by an exclamation point. To those not following Trump as a daily soap opera, it might seem like a desperate diversionary tactic from a floundering President. To his supporters, it made perfect sense. Which is why, when Trump followed up on Thursday morning with an equally angry and cryptic demand that Obama be called to testify before the Senate—about what was entirely unclear—news organizations mostly ignored him in favor of the morning’s testimony by the recently fired head of vaccines at the Department of Health and Human Services, or, as the Drudge Report called Richard Bright, the “whistleblower of doom.” Except for Fox News, that is, which obliged the President with a banner headline.

The lack of details is a feature, not a bug. If no facts are claimed, no facts can be disproved. David Frum:

The “Obamagate” that Trump tweets about—like the comic-book universes on which it seems to be modeled—is a tangle of backstories. The main characters do things for reasons that make no objective sense, things that can be decoded only by obsessive superfans on long Reddit threads.

So you’re saying that the deep state set up this whole elaborate plot to entrap Trump, but instead of using any of that material, it instead sabotaged Hillary Clinton 10 days before the election?

No, no, you don’t get it. You’ve gotta go back to the Benghazi episode four seasons back. Well, really to Troopergate, but that’s only available on DVD …

Now, you might wonder what good it does Trump to promote a scandal that only one’s superfans believe, when the majority of voters are not superfans. Throughout his “presidency,” Trump has shown total disinterest in expanding his base. Those other people don’t count. He may not understand that his base alone can’t re-elect him.

It has to be said that promoting baseless conspiracy theories worked for him before. Birtherism built his political base, and “but her emails” won for him in 2016. However, the endless congressional investigations and news coverage of the damn emails probably hurt Clinton more than anything Trump said. And it’s possible James Comey, not Trump, cost Clinton the election.

On the other hand, some elements of the press don’t seem to have learned the lessons of 2016. Greg Sargent:

The latest developments in the Michael Flynn case should prompt us to revisit one of the most glaring failures in political journalism, one that lends credibility to baseless narratives pushed for purely instrumental purposes, perversely rewarding bad-faith actors in the process.

News accounts constantly claim with no basis that new information “boosts” or “lends ammunition” to a particular political attack, or “raises new questions” about its target. These journalistic conventions are so all-pervasive that we barely notice them. …

…For instance, the Associated Press ran this headline: “Flynn case boosts Trump’s bid to undo Russia probe narrative.” Axios told us:

Biden’s presence on the list could turn it into an election year issue, though the document itself does not show any evidence of wrongdoing.

CNN informed us that this is “the latest salvo to discredit the FBI’s Russia investigation and accuse the previous administration of wrongdoing.”

But here’s the problem: These formulations do not constitute a neutral transmission of information, even though they are supposed to come across that way.

The new information actually does not “boost” Trump’s claims about the Russia investigation or “discredit” it. And if there is “no evidence of wrongdoing,” then it cannot legitimately be “turned into an election issue.”

There will be no House investigations, since Democrats control the House. But Trump has a corrupt Bill Barr and a compromised Justice Department at his disposal to at least engage in investigation theater. And, of course, Republicans still have the Senate. At least Miz Lindsey shot down Trump’s call to have President Obama testify before Congress.

In the end, we may have to hope that the American people will understand that Trump is just trying to change the subject from his pandemic failures. In 2016, Trump dominated election coverage. Now he has to share the stage with a virus.

Bleepity Bleep Microsoft

My PC was treated to one of those automatic updates first thing this morning, and I spent the rest of the morning and a chunk of the afternoon trying to make it work again. It’s back to normal now, and I need a nap.

Dr. Rick Bright testified to the House Health subcommittee today. Bright used to be head of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. He says he was demoted because he criticized the administration’s “response” to the pandemic. Among other things he pointed out that the administration has no plan, as I said yesterday. Trump doesn’t do plans.

Here’s another analysis by Mona Charen that’s worth reading — All He Does Is Fight. Charen writes that Republicans decided to support Trump because he was such a dogged fighter. But it turns out that fight is all he does.

Since January, we have witnessed a vivid lesson in the limits of fighting. There were ample reasons before now to recoil from Trump’s style of combat. It is so consistently cruel, witless, below-the-belt, and unhinged (e.g. his recent tweets implying that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough is guilty of murder), that it tainted by association any reasonable arguments that might be advanced for conservative ideas. But in his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve witnessed that even when a dire emergency calls for traits other than bellicosity, fighting is all he knows how to do. This is proving to be a catastrophe for the nation, and also for Trump’s own self-interest.

He honestly doesn’t know how to address a problem to solve it. All he does is react in self-defense.

While the situation cried out for competent coordination and planning, for calm briefings with experts, he looked only for foils. He fought with Democrats, exclaiming on February 28 that “this is their new hoax.” He tangled with insufficiently “grateful” governors who asked for supplies. “I say . . . don’t call the governor of Washington. Don’t call the woman from Michigan.” He disparaged frontline medical professionals, wondering on March 29 whether they were stealing masks (“Are they going out the back door?”). He had a spat with congressional leadership in late February when they proposed an initial coronavirus package more than three times the size of Trump’s request (“Pelosi’s incompetent.” He’s “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer”). He reversed his previous gushing praise and began to blame China for the virus, encouraging the use of nicknames like “Wuhan virus.” He picked a fight with the Postal Service, poured out tweetstorms about his predecessor, whom he accused of dark crimes, and above all, from before dawn till after dark every single day, he battled the press.

In other news — Michigan closed down its capitol building today and canceled a legislative session rather than risk a confrontation with more armed protesters. Seriously, this has got to stop. It’s nothing but terrorism.

At The Atlantic Adam Serwer has a historical retrospective on birtherism that’s fascinating and relevant.

See also Jonathan Last and The Curious Case of the People Who Want to “Reopen” America—But Not Wear Masks. The people opposed to pandemic restrictions harbor a collection of wildly contradictory conspiracy theories.

You might think that these disparate factions would be at war with one another as much as they are against Anthony Fauci. After all, if the coronavirus is a bioweapon that has been unleashed on America by the ChiComs, then some batty old lady claiming that it’s the inevitable consequence of giving kids MMR shots is part of the coverup.

And, conversely, if you’re an anti-vaxxer, then the bioweapon story is also part of a coverup: Anyone who believes it is trying to alibi Big Pharma just as surely as Fauci is.

Yet in vivo, these groups all seem to be holding hands.

Which suggests that not one of these people actually believes what they’re selling.

The one thing they all have in common is that they don’t blame Donald Trump for the mess we’re in. That probably tells you all you need to know.