How Are We Doing?

I’ve felt overwhelmed by the events of the week. No justice, no peace, indeed.

James Fallows compares 2020 to 1968 and asks which year was worse. I don’t entirely agree with all of his points, but perhaps it’s a useful comparison. I remember that in 1968 the riots — so many riots — were met by the very white establishment with universal condemnation. I was in high school then and remember all the digust expressed in the newspapers and by the adults around me when angry crowds poured into streets.

If you look at public unrest that broke out after Martin Luther King was murdered, it’s clear that the worst of the violence happened where the establishment response was pure law-and-order force. In Chicago, Mayor Richard J. Daley gave police the authority to “shoot to kill” arsonists and “shoot to maim” looters. More than 10,000 Chicago police, 6,700 Illinois National Guard were deployed to stop the violence, and 5,000 regular Army soldiers from the 1st Armored and 5th Infantry Divisions were ordered into the city by President Johnson. Here’s a Chicago Tribune retrospective article about that time. 

Something similar happened in Baltimore. Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew called out thousands of National Guard and state police to restore order, and President Johnson sent federal troops. Six people died, 700 were injured.

On the other hand — New York Mayor John Lindsay was in a theater audience when he was handed a note about the MLK assasination. He left, went to his residence, and began calling neighborhood leaders. And then he went to Harlem in an unmarked black Plymouth. He went to the center of Harlem, to 8th Avenue and 125th Street, where hundreds of angry, anxious people had gathered, and the mayor got out of the car and addressed the people.

“That’s the mayor,” said one kid. What’s the latest on King? they asked. How could this happen? Others complained about the heavy police presence, despite the absence of any real violence. Why was there a barricade on 125th? someone asked. Lindsay turned to a nearby officer. “Better keep them moving, don’t you think, officer?” And so the barriers came down. Lindsay told the crowd how much he regretted King’s death. He told them how important it was for the city to now make real progress in alleviating poverty and discrimination. “He had no written speech. No prepared remarks. He just held up his hand and said, ‘this is a terrible thing.’ He just calmed people,” recalled Garth. “And then this gigantic wave started marching down 125th Street, and somehow Lindsay was leading it.”

There was some injury and property damage, but nothing like what happened in Baltimore and Chicago.

Note that Mayor Lindsey was a Republican, while Mayor Daley was a Democrat. Times have changed. But maybe not enough. I found this letter-to-the-editor in the New York Times archives.

One would think that after so much goodwill was apparent between white leaders and the black movement for human and civil rights in Atlanta at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. there would at least be some attempt to understand and eventually to correct the problems of which riots are only symptomatic.

Mayor Richard J. Daley’s order to shoot and kill arsonists and looters, and the support which the white community has expressed, only reconfirm the black man’s distrust in America’s white racist power structure.

Instead of moving to correct what even the President’s commission pointed out, white America seems more willing to institute fascistic and represssive measures which may ultimately be recorded as black progroms. When white Americans who reacted with guilt and shame over the murder of Dr. King express a desire to help, they can only be effective by re-evaluating their own deep-set attitudes and beliefs and by acting against such measures as Mayor Daley’s.

Thomasina Reed
New York, April 16, 1968

It’s been 52 bleeping years. How have we done with re-evaluating our own deep-set values and beliefs? How are we acting now against such measures as Mayor Daley’s?

I am watching from a distance, but it seems to me that our current unrest has been met with grotesque police over-reaction, which in turn escalated the violence. See Images of police using violence against peaceful protesters are going viral by Catherine Kim at Vox.

Video footage is going viral of police officers responding to protests Saturday night with excessive force, including battering and pepper-spraying peaceful demonstrators.

Most of the nationwide anti-police brutality protests started peacefully Saturday afternoon, but many took a more volatile turn on Saturday night. Some images show protesters vandalizing property, including setting fire to police cars and businesses.

But other videos show officers aggravating lawful participants with batons and, in one case, driving a police SUV into a crowd.

See also Nancy LeTourneau, In Minneapolis, a Police Union Gone Rogue. Just read the whole thing. I just want to point to this part.

So the mayor banned the use of this “warrior-style” training, with concurrence from the city’s police chief. But the union defied the ban and subsidized the training for officers anyway. It is also the police union that has defended Officer Derek Chauvin, the one who kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck for over seven minutes, when he was the target of 18 prior complaints.

I am sympathetic to those who claim that officers like Chauvin are the “bad apples” in departments where honorable men and women serve. I’ve personally known police officers who earned the title of being peace officers. But as they say, “the fish rots from the head,” and it is clear that the police union in Minneapolis went rogue a long time ago.

It is also worth noting that there is a political angle to all of this. Not only did Trump tweet that Mayor Frey is “very weak,” he went on to blast out the threat of “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” I suspect that the president remembers what happened when he came to Minneapolis last fall.

Last fall, when Trump demanded the use of a Minneapolis venue for a rally without bothering to pay for the city’s expenses, Mayor Frey told Trump to stay home. But the police union showed up in force wearing “cops for Trump” T-shirts.

And let us be clear — the issue at hand is police violence. See Police Erupt in Violence Nationwide by Matthew Dessem at Slate.  But it’s also true that In Some Cities, Police Officers Joined Protesters Marching Against Brutality, writes Lisette Voytko at Forbes. That didn’t happen in 1968.

There also have been many reports of right-wing agitators infiltrating the protests and causing chaos. It may take a while before we sort out who was really present and doing what. The Trump administration blames far-left agitators. The mainstream media is dutifully reporting that the agitators are from both political extremes. We’ll see.

Trump’s latest tweetstorm has been all about sending in National Guard and putting down “ANTIFA led anarchists,” even though I’ve seen nothing about the presence of antifa at any of these protests. Anarchists, probably; “black bloc” types, definitely.  But those are not the same groups.

Trump is the new, and worse, Mayor Daley. The old Mayor Daley is gone; the current mayor of Chicago is a black woman, Lori Lightfoot, who today called on Illinois Govenor Pritzger to send National Guard to Chicago. One wonders if the situation would have escalated this far if we had anything approximating competent national leadership. Instead we’ve got Trump pouring gasoline on the fire and his poodle, Bill Barr, insisting that all the violence is being led by antifa.

And on top of everything else, there are huge concerns the protests will turn into coronavirus hotspots. It’s heartbreaking.

Martin Luther King insisted on nonviolent resistence; he was assassinated anyway. Today, the pundits are debating whether street violence will help Trump politically. I would like to think it wouldn’t, but there’s a chance it will. It depends on how far we’ve come in these past 52 years.

How to Act Like a President, or Not

First, the bare facts: Shortly before noon today fired police officer Derek Chauvin was arrested in Minneapolis by agents of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd. The Hennepin County Attorney said he anticipates charges against the other officers involved in Floyd’s death.

An attorney for Floyd’s family is calling for a first-degree murder charge. So am I, especially after we learned that Derek Chauvin and George Floyd very likely knew each other.

Here is a statement from our last real President on the death of George Floyd.

Last night, Democratic presidential nominee presumptive Joe Biden also spoke about George Floyd.

“We can’t ignore that we are in a country with an open wound right now — a wound far older and deeper than…George Floyd’s killing — and his brutal, brutal death captured on film. His final words, pleading for breathe. ‘Let me breathe, I can’t breathe.’ It’s ripped open anew this—this ugly underbelly of our society,” Biden said during a virtual campaign fundraiser on Thursday. …

… “People all across this country are enraged and rightly so,” Biden said on Thursday evening and added, “Every day African-Americans go about their lives with [the] constant anxiety and trauma of wondering ‘Will I be next?’ Sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s not. These tragedies, these injustices cut at the very heart of our most sacred of beliefs — that all Americans, equal in rights and in dignity, are part of an ingrained systemic cycle of racism and oppression that throughout every part of our society.”

“If we’re not committed as a nation, with every ounce of purpose in our beings — not just to binding up this wound in hope that somehow the scab once again will cover things over — but to treat the underlying injury, we’re never going to eventually heal,” Biden said.


Biden released more remarks today, in which he revealed he had spoken to George Floyd’s family.

There is a transcript of Biden’s remarks here.

So, the previous POTUS and, we hope, the next POTUS did the job a POTUS is supposed to do to address the nation’s pain. And what did our current so-called POTUS do? He was tweeting stuff like this …

Of course. What more did you expect?

Twitter: Nyah, nyah, nyah. A warning label was added to the tweet.


Twitter officials appended Mr. Trump’s “shooting starts” tweet with a note saying the remark was “glorifying violence.” That provoked another tweet from the president accusing Twitter of having targeted “Republicans, Conservatives & the President of the United States” and prompting his aides to repost his original tweets on the official White House Twitter account. It was also flagged by Twitter.

Trump was thoroughly slammed for the “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” line, which has been traced back to George Wallace ca. 1967. So Trump tweeted this today:

Yeah, MAGA heads, tell us all about how Trump means what he says. I’m waiting.

Desperate to change the subject, Trump announced the U.S. would be terminating its relationship with the World Health Organization because of Trump’s petty grievances and personal failures. Yes, I added that last part.

However, it’s not clear that the POTUS can order a withdrawal from WHO without permission from Congress, any more than he can change liability law with an executive order. Maybe we need a law that requires presidential candidates to pass a Constitution test.

More Stuff to Read:

Christianity Today, George Floyd Left a Gospel Legacy in Houston

Paul Krugman, On the Economics of Not Dying

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Of Course There Are Protests. The State Is Failing Black People.

Journalists Must Report the Crazy, Not Normalize It

David Atkins wrote last week:

One of the challenges in analyzing modern American politics is accurately describing the Republican Party without seeming unserious and hyperbolic. Major publications are understandably in the habit of presenting both sides of the partisan divide as being inherently worthy of respect and equal consideration, both as a way of shielding themselves from accusations of bias and as a way of maintaining their own sense of journalistic integrity.

Unfortunately, the modern Republican Party’s abdication of seriousness, good faith and reality-based communications or policy-making has stretched even the most open-minded analyst’s capacity for forced balance. Donald Trump’s own inability to string together coherent or consistent thoughts has led to a bizarre normalization of his statements in the traditional media, as journalists unconsciously try to fit his rambling, spontaneous utterances into a conventional framework. This has come at the cost of Americans seeing the full truth of the crisis of leadership in the Oval Office for what it is.

This trend has been developing for decades, of course. Especially since the Nixon era, U.S. news media companies have striven mightily to avoid the label of bias at all costs. Of course, also since the Nixon era “bias” has been mostly defined by the political Right. But it’s been twenty years since Paul Krugman complained about news media’s, um, uncritical coverage of presidential candidate George W. Bush’s nonsensical economic proposals.

Partly this is a matter of marketing — insider gossip makes better TV than budget arithmetic. But there has also been a political aspect: the mainstream media are fanatically determined to seem evenhanded. One of the great jokes of American politics is the insistence by conservatives that the media have a liberal bias. The truth is that reporters have failed to call Mr. Bush to account on even the most outrageous misstatements, presumably for fear that they might be accused of partisanship. If a presidential candidate were to declare that the earth is flat, you would be sure to see a news analysis under the headline ”Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.”

It would take an encyclopedia to document all the ways journalists have under-reported damaging information about Trump while “normalizing” his bizarre behavior. I’ll pick just one example; see Aaron Rupar, Vox, NPR’s sanitizing of Trump’s Milwaukee rally shows how he’s broken the media from January 15, 2020. Rupar points to NPR’s coverage of a rally in which Trump went on one of his signature incoherent tirades.

Describing Trump as he really is can make it seem as if a report is “anti-Trump” and that the reporter is trying to make the president look foolish.

But for media outlets that view themselves as above taking sides, attempts to provide a sober, “balanced” look at presidential speeches often end up normalizing things that are decidedly not normal.

A brief report about Trump’s Milwaukee speech that aired Wednesday morning on NPR illustrates this phenomenon. The anchor’s intro framed Trump’s at times disjointed ramblings as a normal political speech that “ranged widely,” …

…On Twitter, Georgetown University public affairs professor Don Moynihan noted that NPR’s report about the rally “mentioned specific topics like Iran and impeachment but carefully omit the insane stuff. This is one way the media strives to present Trump as a normal president.”

NPR is far from alone in struggling to cover Trump.

As I wrote following a previous Trump rally in Wisconsin last April, outlets including CBS, USA Today, the Associated Press, and the Hill failed to so much as mention in their reporting that Trump pushed dozens of lies and incendiary smears during his speech.

The irony is that the media is one of Trump’s foremost targets of abuse. He calls the press the “enemy of the people,” yet the very outlets he demeans regularly bend over backward to cover him in the most favorable possible light.

Of course, it’s also the case that if now news media uniformly began to describe Trump as he really is, many people would not believe them.  But it has to be done, or we are lost.

Dan Froomkin, after AG Bill Barr asked for the Michael Flynn charges to be dropped:

Autocrats don’t announce it publicly when they’re taking a step toward greater authoritarianism.

As long as there’s a free press, it’s up to journalists to call them out.

But even as Donald Trump and members of his administration have asserted greater and more unilateral executive power, our top news organizations have tended to interpret those moves narrowly and naively – giving too much credit to cover stories, marginalizing criticism as just so much partisan squabbling, and leaving the accurate, alarming description of what’s really going on to opinion writers.

Yesterday, Jay Rosen described a distinction between journalism that is political and journalism that is politicized. He argues that good journalists should not avoid taking political stands in service of the truth.

When the president is using you as a hate object in order to discredit the entire mainstream press in the eyes of his supporters so that your reporting and the reporting of all the people you compete with arrives pre-rejected, what good is “our job is to observe, not participate?” You are part of that system whether you like it or not. You either think your way out of it, or get incorporated into it.

The hard work is deciding where the properly political part of journalism ends, and its undue, unfair, unwise and risky politicization begins. But we don’t have a discussion like that. Instead we have media bias wielded like a baseball bat, and journalists who think they can serve the electorate better if they remove themselves from it.

Now we are met on an ugly and brutal battlefield: the 2020 campaign for president. How should American journalists approach it?

This is a good post, as is Froomkin’s, as is Rupar’s, and I suggest reading all of them to get the full gist of what they are saying.

David Atkins argues that it isn’t just Trump; it’s the entire Republican Party that no longer deserves to be “normalized.”

Being a Republican now requires believing in a jaw-dropping series of claims that, if true, would almost necessitate anti-democratic revanchism. One has to believe that a cabal of evil scientists is making up climate science in exchange for grant money; that there is rampant, widescale voter impersonation fraud carried out by thousands of elections officials nationwide; that the “Deep State” concocted a scheme to frame Trump for Russian collusion but chose not to use it before the 2016 election; that shadowy forces are driving migrant caravans and diseases across American borders in the service of destroying white Republican America; that the entire news media is engaged in a conspiracy against the Republican Party; that grieving victims of gun violence and their families all across America want to take away guns as a pretext for stomping the boot of “liberal fascism” on conservative faces; and so on. That and much more is just the vanilla Republican belief system at this point (not even touching less explosive academic fictions like “tax cuts pay for themselves” or “the poor will work harder to better themselves if you cut the safety net.”)

Atkins goes on to describe the QANON cult and the widespread belief that Bill Gates is spreading COVID-19 so that he can microchip everyone.These things possibly didn’t originate with the Republican Party, but the party encourages and feeds on this nonsense as a way to keep true believing voters in the fold. Atkins continues,

It’s long past time for even the venerable pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post to start calling this what it is, and stop normalizing it as standard partisanship. It is deeply dangerous in a democracy whose constitution functionally guarantees a two-party system, for one of those two parties to become a conspiracy cult.

But that is exactly what has happened. And the first step to fixing it is to call it what it is, no matter how uncomfortable that might be for institutions and journalism professionals who find that sort of language loaded with unprofessional bias. The truth is what it is, even if it requires rethinking the role of a responsible press in an era of white anxiety and mass social-media-fueled disinformation.

Just over the past few hours:

Trump, enraged because Twitter dared fact-check one of his tweets, this afternoon signed an executive order to punish social media companies:

The executive order targets companies granted liability protections through Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Without congressional action, however, there are limits to what Trump can do with the executive order. The president said Thursday that he would indeed pursue legislation in addition to the order.

Attorney General William Barr, who also attended the signing, said the Justice Department would also seek to sue social media companies, saying the statute “has been stretched way beyond its original intention.”

Trump wants to sic lawsuits on companies that displease him. Ironically, Trump’s tweets about Joe Scarborough and Lori Klausutis may have left him vulnerable to civil suits. See also Greg Sargent, Trump’s assault on truth takes an ugly new turn.

Meanwhile, Trump retweeted a video that includes the line “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.”

A Pulitzer-winning cartoonist put the original copy of an anti-Trump cartoon up for sale on an online retail site. The Trump campaign bullied the retail site, Redbubble, into removing the cartoon. So much for free speech.

Heavily armed white nationalist “boogaloo” militia members have embedded themselves in the Minneapolis protests of the killing of George Floyd.

And, of course, in the midst of a deadly pandemic Trump has been pushing misinformation, suppressing safety guidelines, and discouraging by example the wearing of masks.

I have the impression that a lot of people who are not politics or media nerds genuinely believe that all news media are misreporting facts — generating “fake news” — in the service of their political agendas. Among long-established major media news outlets, that’s actually rare. The real fake news is happening because news media companies are afraid of telling the awful truth. But they have to start.

Update: Charles Pierce on today’s executive order —

Before discussing some of the eight gozillion ways this executive order is insane, let me state for the record to all Republican operatives and their clients: if you ever played the media-bias card for political advantage, openly or covertly, this is what you invited into our politics. Revolving on a spit in hell, Spiro Agnew knows this. It was always nonsense. It was always a bully’s tactic. And here we are now. …

… It should be noted that, as he was signing this, the president* was on Twitter attacking a specific employee of Twitter, throwing his name out to his pack of MAGA hyenas. It should be noted that this came after a month in which the president* used the electric Twitter machine to repeatedly imply that Joe Scarborough may have committed murder.

A Reckless Cruelty Too Far?

Right-wing media have suddenly noticed that Trump is a jerk and a bully, after Trump dredged up the nearly-two-decades-old conspiracy theory about the death of Lori Klausutis in 2001. Klausutis was an aide to then-U.S. Representative Joe Scarborough, and there was widespread speculation Scarborough was involved in the death. But Scarborough was 800 miles away at the time, and police rules the death an accident. And that was the end of it, until recently.

Trump flew in to a rage about Scarborough over something — Trump seems to be in a perpetual rage these days — and began to tweet about Klausutis.

The president’s charge amplified a series of Twitter messages in recent days that have drawn almost no rebukes from fellow Republicans eager to look the other way but have anguished the family of Lori Klausutis, who died when she suffered a heart condition that caused her to fall and hit her head on a desk. Mr. Trump doubled down on the false accusation even after Timothy Klausutis pleaded unsuccessfully with Twitter to take down the posts about his late wife because they were causing her family such deep pain.

“A lot of people suggest that and hopefully someday people are going to find out,” the president said when asked by reporters about his tweets suggesting that Mr. Scarborough had committed murder perhaps because of an affair with Ms. Klausutis. “It’s certainly a very suspicious situation. Very sad, very sad and very suspicious.”

Republicans may have initially looked the other way, but today there are a surprising number of critical commentaries in right-wing media telling Trump to STFU about Lori Klausutis. See, for example, the Washington Examiner, the New York Post, and even, praise be, Townhall. (Gateway Pundit is silent on the issue, however, and Breitbart blames Democrats. Some things don’t change.) See ‘Ugly Even for Him’: Trump’s Media Allies Recoil at His Smear of MSNBC Host.

The Townhall writer gets to the real point of these comments — “What the president is doing is not only wrong, gross, and plumbing the depths of public discourse; it is also harming his re-election chances.” If it were helping his re-election chances, one suspects Townhall would take a different view.  Some of these people might also remember all the years in which Scarborough was a reliable water-carrier for the Right. Doing the same thing to, say, Hillary Clinton would be okay with them, I’m sure. See also Steve M .

Martin Longman writes,

This is all happening at the same time that fresh compelling evidence is piling up that Trump is headed for defeat and that he’s going to drag the Republican Party down with him. A Firehouse Strategies-0ptimus poll out on Wednesday has Joe Biden leading nationally 54-43 percent, and state polling looks just as bad. Another survey says Trump is trailing in Arizona, while a Tuesday poll showed him leading by a spare three points in Utah. The congressional preference shows the Democrats up by eight points, which is higher than their 2018 midterm advantage and leads Nathan Gonzales of Roll Call to write, “Democrats at this point in the cycle look more likely to gain seats than to lose their majority.” …

… We’ve arrived at the 100,000 victim threshold in the the COVID-19 pandemic, and while blue areas are trending down, the South is trending up. If that trend continues, Trump’s push to quickly reopen the country will look like a lethal mistake even in his political strongholds.

In a normal political cycle, we’d now be in a climate where Republicans are too concerned about November to give any ammunition to the Democrats by questioning their leader. Instead, the exact opposite seems to be happening, with some of Trump’s most dependable defenders suddenly challenging him. His unsubstantiated murder accusations against a MSNBC morning host are not the explanation or last straw, but this is happening at a time that definitely looks like an inflection point in the president’s fortunes.

See also Peter Wehner at The Atlantic, who quotes a letter written by Timothy Klausutis, the widower of Lori Klausutis, to Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter. Klausutis asked Dorsey to delete Trump’s tweets about his wife. Dorsey declined.

“I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him—the memory of my dead wife—and perverted it for perceived political gain.”

There may be a more damning thing that’s been said about an American president, but none immediately comes to mind.

‘There’s plenty of evidence, including the 2018 midterm elections, that Trump’s dehumanizing tactics erode his support, especially among white suburban women,” Wehner writes. This is not some strategic genuis tacitc; it’s Trump unable to control himself.

Speaking of Twitter, you probably heard that Trump threatened to punish Twitter because they fact-checked his tweets about vote by mail. Greg Sargent:

Twitter’s action prompted Trump to accuse the company of “interfering” in the upcoming presidential election.

“They are saying my statement on Mail-In Ballots, which will lead to massive corruption and fraud, is incorrect, based on fact-checking by Fake News CNN and the Amazon Washington Post,” the president tweeted on Tuesday night.

“Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!”

The First Amendment protecting free speech prohibits government from censoring the speech of private citizens. Needless to say, it does not give POTUS the authority to shut down media companies that say things that piss him off. The plain meaning of the First Amendment might not restrain Bill Barr from taking action against Twitter, however. Trump tweeted this (irony noted) earlier today:

These threats are themselves an abuse of power, as Greg Sargent says; you know, the thing even Republican senators admitted he was guilty of even as they refused to remove him from office. And his irrational crusade against vote by mail — there is no data showing it favors Democrats — is bearing some fruit. “Some GOP legislators in key swing states actually are taking cues from Trump and opposing these measures, even as Trump/GOP opposition is blocking any federal action that would help states implement them,” Sargent writes.

Trump is not going to get any less destructive between now and the November election. I can predict that because being an asshole and a bully is his entire shtick. It’s all he knows how to do. He’s no politician. He’s not really a businessman in the normal sense of the word, even though he has owned businesses. The Trump Company is a family business Trump has run like a mob boss; he has no personal experience with normal corporate structures or has even held a real job in his life. His position in life came from two things: inheriting a boatload of money from his daddy and being a cheating, abusive asshole. All he knows how to do is fight.

Unfortunately, we won’t have a cathartic Joseph Welch moment in which his supporters suddenly see him for what he is. They love him because he’s a cheating, abusive asshole. But (see the transcript) even as Joe McCarthy didn’t have the sense to back off and shut up after Welch’s “Have you no sense of decency?” line, neither will Trump be able to stop being an abusive asshole even as his own behavior turns off every voter in America who isn’t in his cult. He is what he is.

What We Can Learn From the Meat Packing Fiasco

Yes, this is a great time to consider vegetarianism. But this story isn’t just about meat. The implications are bigger. From Politico:

The Department of Justice is looking at the four largest U.S. meatpackers — Tyson Foods, JBS, National Beef and Cargill — which collectively control about 85 percent of the U.S. market for the slaughter and packaging of beef, according to a person with knowledge of the probe. The USDA is also investigating the beef price fluctuations, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has confirmed.

Meatpackers say beef prices have spiked during the pandemic because plants are running at lower capacity as workers fall ill, so less meat is making its way to shelves. The four companies didn’t respond to requests for comment about the probes.

But the coronavirus crisis is highlighting how the American system of getting meat to the table favors a handful of giant companies despite a century of government efforts to decentralize it. And it’s sparking new calls for changes in meatpacking.

Meatpacking workers are still getting sick. The Washington Post reported yesterday that “the number of Tyson employees with the coronavirus has exploded from less than 1,600 a month ago to more than 7,000 today, according to a Washington Post analysis of news reports and public records.”

Trump ordering meatpacking plants to open doesn’t mean they can be opened, or even that they can be operated at standard capacity. Trump ordering the economy to be opened doesn’t mean that’s going to happen, either, as long as the coronavirus is still out there and spreading.

Consider what is happening in Sweden. Sweden famously chose to not close its economy and trust herd immunity and its healthy population to deal with the coronavirus. So how did that turn out?

Sweden has more than 3,300 excess deaths—a figure calculated comparing the number of deaths during the same time frame last year—Denmark had 300, while Norway and Finland had fewer than 100 each, according to the New York Times. Iceland’s death toll after its lockdown has been an impressive 11 times lower than the current figures in Sweden. …

… But for the steep cost in human lives, did Sweden at least save its economy? Nope. Its Central Bank projects a GDP downturn of 10 percent, about the same rate as its European counterparts.

Apparently large numbers of Swedes are not suicidal and are staying at home and social distancing as much as they can. And the economy slowed. This is what a lot of economists said would happen. To save the economy, you first have to deal with the virus, they said.

And when your workforce keeps coming down with a deadly virus, it’s hard to operate at 100 percent capacity. But Republicans have a handy-dandy solution to the problem of keeping a business open and spreading a virus to employees and customers. Paul Waldman explains:

“Our human capital stock is ready to get back to work,” said White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett on Sunday. Republicans, particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have a plan. …

… It’s called “liability protection,” the new incarnation of the old conservative goal of “tort reform,” the euphemism for chaining the courthouse door to prevent people from suing when they get harmed. Not only is it morally indefensible, right now it’s also the worst possible way to help the American economy get back on its feet.

McConnell calls it a “red line” for the passage of any new rescue measure, essentially telling Democrats that if they want to do any of the things that would actually help the economy, the price will be sweeping immunity for businesses from any accountability during the pandemic.

McConnell’s effort is supported by business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers and by conservative think tanks and pundits. Republicans at the state level are trying to pass similar measures.

I like the part about “human capital stock.” It’s like the robber barons realize they have to have employees, but they let’s not think of them as people. Anyway, the stock must be forced back to work, and the customers will eventually have to come out of their houses to buy stuff. And if anybody gets stick, the company isn’t liable. So what’s the problem? Paul Waldman continues,

To get to a point where economic activity is what it was before the pandemic hit, we need two basic things. First, we need to have control of the spread of the virus. Second, we need people — not some people, not a dozen commando cosplayers protesting at state houses, not a few hundred idiots crowding a pool in Missouri on Memorial Day, but all of us — to have confidence that we can go to work and shop and eat without the risk of being infected.

Liability protection undermines both those goals. It will almost inevitably lead to more infections as some businesses ignore best practices and force their employees to work in unsafe conditions. And it will send a message to everyone else that businesses are being excused from safety requirements.

As Sweden learned, you can keep stores open, but you can’t force people to shop in them.

Another lesson to be learned from the price of beef is the whole problem with current American business. Too much of it is like a dinosaur — too big and unable to evolve fast enough to changing circumstances.

We’re hearing that millions of animals raised for food are being euthanized and buried because of processing plant bottlenecks. As I understand it, one reason hogs are being euthanized is that the meat packing process has become so efficiently specialized that the plants only handle animals that are within a specific weight range. If they aren’t sent off to slaughter just in time, they are likely to get too big for the plants. And the farmers have no use for surplus hogs, so the animals are euthanized and buried even as there isn’t enough meat to stock grocery stores and meet demand. Other livestock cost money to keep alive, so cash-strapped farmers are choosing euthanasia for them also.

The current farm-to-consumer food supply system evolved into its current form to produce the most food for the least cost, and any reforms will likely raise food prices. But this is screwy. Both the human and animal stock deserve better than this.


Stuff to Read on Memorial Day

First, something to watch — tonight the History Channel begins a three-part series on Ulysses Grant, co-produced by biographer Ron Chernow (who also wrote “Hamilton”) and Leonardo DiCaprio. Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the commenters. I’m looking forward to this.

Paul Waldman, Can we stop pretending Trump is fit to be president?

If you gave many Republicans in Washington truth serum, they’d say, “Of course he’s unfit to be president. Of course he’s corrupt, of course he’s incompetent, of course he’s the most dishonest person ever to step into the Oval Office. But I can live with that, because him being reelected means Republicans keep power, we get more conservative judges and we get all the policies we favor.”

That is the choice they’re making. We all know it, even if they’ll never say it out loud.

Josh Marshall, Hydroxychloroquine Isn’t a Joke It’s a Scandal

I want to flag your attention to this new study published in The Lancet, which has dire findings about the impact of hydroxychloroquine and the hydroxychloroquine in combination with the class of antibiotics the President has repeatedly endorsed. Here’s the study and here’s a write-up of the study in The Washington Post. Let me start with an arresting quote: “for those receiving hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic — the cocktail endorsed by Trump — there was a 45 percent increased risk of death … ”

Washington Post, Migrant children are still confined and vulnerable. It’s a gratuitous act of cruelty.

As the pandemic gathered speed In March, a federal judge called the government’s immigrant detention centers “hotbeds of contagion” and ordered that migrant children be released from them without delay. Some have been. But the Trump administration has dragged its feet in freeing many migrant children detained with their families, offering parents the formal “option” of letting their children go — to be separated from their mothers and fathers.

That Hobson’s choice was presented in mid-May to several hundred asylum-seeking parents at the three migrant family detention centers, in Texas and Pennsylvania, run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Many Americans may have assumed that the administration, scalded by its last experiment with separating migrant children from their families, would not again broach that subject. But it did.

Kate Riga, TPM, Protesters Hang Beshear In Effigy Outside Governor’s Mansion. But they’re such fine people, Trump says …

Todd S. Purdum, The Price of Trump Loyalty

“The party is now more a cult than a party,” says Norman Ornstein, a veteran congressional scholar at the American Enterprise institute and an Atlantic contributor. “The imperative not to be shunned or excommunicated is overwhelming—and it’s not just fear of Trump or Fox News. All their friends would treat them like apostates too.” GOP incumbents face a pragmatic choice, Ornstein told me: lose their base or risk losing swing voters. “They have all decided to double down on the base, and in Colorado that is an especially problematic choice, given the sizable number of suburban, college-educated voters repelled by Trump.”

Anne Kim, Trump Sabotaged America’s Recovery Even Before COVID-19 Began

Thanks to his administration’s early and ongoing failures to address the coronavirus outbreak, much of the nation still lacks the testing and contact tracing infrastructure necessary to control the virus’s inevitable resurgence. Mixed messaging from federal and state officials and patchwork guidance from location to location have also heightened the anxiety for Americans, most of whom remain reluctant to leave their homes.

Another handicap will be the fragility of the American economy, brought upon by the Trump’s pre-pandemic fiscal recklessness. When the president assumed office in an emerging recovery from the Great Recession, he had a golden opportunity to shore up the nation’s fiscal reserves and invest in its economic resilience. Instead, he pushed through one of the largest corporate tax cuts in history, padding the bank balances of billionaires while miring the rest of the nation in eye-watering levels of debt. As a consequence, America entered the Covid-19 pandemic already financially crippled. Now, in the face of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, it is ill-positioned to aid its citizens, let alone rebuild for the future.

Enjoy your socially distanced cookout, folks. Stay safe.

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.