How Hard Will Dems, Finally, Fight?

Mike Allen, Axios:

Furious Democrats are considering total war — profound changes to two branches of government, and even adding stars to the flag — if Republicans jam through a Supreme Court nominee then lose control of the Senate.

On the table: Adding Supreme Court justices … eliminating the Senate’s 60-vote threshold to end filibusters … and statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico. “If he holds a vote in 2020, we pack the court in 2021,” Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) tweeted.

Of course, Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) won’t be in the House next year, since he lost the gamble of challenging Ed Markey for his Senate seat. But I don’t believe there is any chance the Democrats won’t keep the majority in the House.

In response to Mike Allen, Josh Marshall grumbled,

Set aside the absurd reference to “even adding stars to the flag” – adding new states is a prescribed and orderly process under the constitution. (If anything keeping geographical communities perpetually stateless runs against the assumptions of the constitution.) The most flagrant GOP lawlessness and rules breaking is **expected**. Democrats even suggesting responding something like in kind is “total war.”

So much commentary could be profitably assigned to this basic difference in perception and description. But it shapes the entire dialogue about American politics.

Certainly, Nancy Pelosi is talking tough.

“We have our options. We have arrows in our quiver that I’m not about to discuss right now but the fact is we have a big challenge in our country. This president has threatened to not even accept the results of the election,” Pelosi told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos. “Our main goal would be to protect the integrity of the election as we protect the people from the coronavirus.”

As I wrote yesterday, Republicans are holding most of the cards right now. It’s very unlikely that they won’t be able to confirm some right-wing wackjob to the court before the inauguration, if not before the election. However, an acrimonious fight over a nominee who is revealed to be an extremist — and we can count on the nominee being an extremist — could help Democrats take the Senate, I believe. It could tip the balance against some Republican incumbents in purple states And even the infamously squishy Ruth Marcus is reconciled to court packing.

Under ordinary circumstances I would consider such court-packing unwise. Under the circumstances of two stolen seats, I would be hard-pressed to argue against it, and against the court-expanding arms race that would unleash.

There might not be an arms race if Dems institute some voting rights reforms and make political gerrymandering illegal. Republicans would be hard-pressed to take back any part of Congress until the party undergoes some significant reforms. Like stop being nuts.

I am hoping the Trump-McConnell-Bill Barr etc. administration has finally lit a fuse under the Democrats so that they stop bringing knives to gunfights, so to speak. The current Republican Party has to be crushed if the nation is to regain anything resembling constitutional, republican government, never mind democracy, and respect among other nations.

See also Kara Voght at Mother Jones, Democrats Really Might Try to Pack the Courts.


More Death by Stupid

There’s a massive motorcycle rally going on at Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, right now.

The event started Wednesday and was expected to grow in size through the weekend. By Thursday, bikers packed into bars and restaurants along the Bagnel Dam Strip in Lake Ozark.

Hundreds of bikes were parked in the center turn lane of the town’s main drag. Only a handful of the tourists that crammed into town were spotted wearing masks. There are no limits on mass gatherings in this part of the state. And though larger cities like Kansas City and St. Louis have mandatory mask orders, few places around the lake have such measures.

Bikefest attracted 125,000 bikers last year, which is not nearly as many as the 500,000 who attended the infamous Sturgis, South Dakota rally last month. Researchers are arguing over how much of a spike Sturgis actually caused, but there is widespread agreement that that “the Sturgis event led to a spike in COVID-19 cases in the county that hosted the rally as well as in surrounding areas.”

Lake of the Ozarks is a few counties away from me, but I’m sure some local bikers are there now. And St. Francois County is now number 1! The county’s 465 new cases over the past seven days gives us a cases-per-100,000 population rate of 692, which is the highest rate of the state. In comparison, St. Louis County had 1,213 new cases over the past seven days, but their cases-per-100,000 rate is just 122.

The Lake of the Ozarks region stretches across three counties with cases-per-100,000 rates ranging from 224 go 320. We’ll see how that changes.

I wrote a couple of days ago that the county had instituted a mask mandate, to begin Monday. Today the local paper is reporting that the county has been pressured to back off. The mandate is still supposed to start on Monday, but apparently it’s not going to be enforced.

I don’t go anywhere.

Mask protesters in front of the St. Francois County courthouse on September 18. Daily Journal photo.

What Now?

What a punch in the gut, huh? So what happens next?

We all know that Trump and McConnell will attempt to put a SCOTUS nomination in front of the Senate before the end of the month — maybe before the end of next week — and odds are the Senate will approve the nomination. Is there even a faint hope that won’t happen?

David Frum writes that McConnell’s position may not be as strong as it appears. For one thing, Frum questions whether McConnell will have a majority vote. “McConnell cannot afford more than three defections in the face of what will certainly be united Democratic opposition to any last-minute Trump nominee,” Frum writes.

For a few Republican senators in tight elections, approving some right-wing nutjob to the Court now might ensure the end of their Senate careers. It’s possible Mitch would get his SCOTUS win at the cost of his majority. Frum continues,

The polls do not favor Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, or Thom Tillis—senators from Maine, Colorado, and North Carolina up for reelection this cycle. Yet these competitors may not be ready to attend their own funerals. They may regard voting against McConnell’s Court grab as a heaven-sent chance to prove their independence from an unpopular president—and to thereby save their own seats.

Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has also made skeptical noises, and even Lindsey Graham of South Carolina may flinch. He faces an unexpectedly tough race this year, and he is extra-emphatically on the record vowing not to support a Supreme Court confirmation vote in the later part of a presidential year.

See Lindsey Graham promising to not try to confirm a Supreme Court nominee during an election, below. However, Lindsey Graham has already gone back on his word, arguing that Merrick Garland’s nomination was different.

Michelle Goldberg thinks it is unlikely four current senators would vote against Trump’s nominee. If the confirmation vote isn’t taken until after the election, however, it’s possible that Mark Kelly — should he beat Martha McSally in Arizona — could be sworn in immediately, since McSally was appointed and not elected to the Senate. Note that it usually takes about 50 days for a Supreme Court nominee to be chosen and confirmed, which are fewer days that we have until the election.

Frum also says it might not be that easy to find a candidate willing to put herself in the eye of a political storm of the ages.

Any last-minute Trump nominee will face a gantlet of opposition in the Senate, a firestorm of opposition in the country, and probably a lifetime of suspicion from the majority of the country.

Can McConnell and Trump find an appointee willing to risk all that for the chance—but not the guarantee—of a Supreme Court seat? Specifically, can they find a woman willing to do it? The optics of replacing Ginsburg with a man may be too ugly even for the Trump administration. And if they can find a woman, can they find a woman sufficiently moderate-seeming to provide cover to anxious senators? The task may prove harder than immediately assumed.

See also Mark Joseph Stern, The Top Contender for RBG’s Seat Has a Fundamentally Cruel Vision of the Law.

Another argument from Frum seems farfetched to me. Frum thinks Trump may balk at shoving forward a nominee before the election if he sees that McConnell’s overreach is mobilizing Democrats and hurting his own election chances. I don’t think Trump is smart enough to see that. Edward-Isaac Dovere writes at The Atlantic, 

The prospect of a conservative-heavy Court persuaded many Trump-wary conservatives to support him in 2016. This election, Ginsburg’s death will likely energize Biden-wary Democrats—millions of dollars have been raised online since news of her death broke last night—but Trump will also hope for an enthusiasm boost. He’ll aim to shift the conversation away from his mismanagement of the pandemic toward an ideological battle for the future of abortion rights and other contentious issues in American culture.

I honestly don’t think that will help Trump, because I don’t see culture wars winning over any voters who weren’t already in his pocket. But again, I don’t think he’s smart enough to see that.

The next option on the table will be possible only if Joe Biden wins the White House and the Dems take the Senate majority: Court packing. Michelle Goldberg:

And if Republicans do give Ginsburg’s seat to some Federalist Society fanatic, Democrats must, if they win back the presidency and the Senate, abolish the filibuster and expand the court, adding two seats to account for both Garland and Ginsburg.

This goes against Joe Biden’s instincts toward bipartisanship and national reconciliation. But if Republicans continue to ruthlessly bend the rules to establish the domination of the minority over the majority, only hardball tactics can restore democratic equilibrium. Republicans will shriek, but their brazen hypocrisy should justify such dramatic moves in the eyes of the public. They’ll be the ones who’ve annihilated whatever legitimacy the court has left.

David Atkins:

The most immediate steps Democrats must take are killing the filibuster, adding states to the union and expanding the courts. …

… A federal court system in which the majority are appointees of popular-vote-losing presidents who then proceed to stymie all popular legislation enacted by a duly elected majority of legislators is both immoral and untenable. The balance must be rectified. There is nothing in the Constitution outlining the number of judges on any given court. Indeed, the Supreme Court has been expanded before.

Would this potentially create an arms race in which each unitarian majority government proceeded to expand the courts to govern however they please? Perhaps. But the danger to democracy and, frankly, to the country and the planet from allowing minority-rule theft of power to prevent any significant action on the country’s pressing problems would be far greater.

Will Joe Biden have the balls to do this? I do not know. He may need a lot of shoving. But it will have to be done.

 See  also: Honoring a ‘superhero’ outside the Supreme Court.

Some of Us Need Some Educating

In his newest attempt to make his administration sound like a bad dystopian novel, if not the Third Reich, Trump is calling for education to be patriotic. He said this the other day:

Our mission is to defend the legacy of America’s founding, the virtue of America’s heroes, and the nobility of the American character. We must clear away the twisted web of lies in our schools and classrooms, and teach our children the magnificent truth about our country. We want our sons and daughters to know that they are the citizens of the most exceptional nation in the history of the world. (Applause.) …

…As many of you testified today, the left-wing rioting and mayhem are the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools. It’s gone on far too long. Our children are instructed from propaganda tracts, like those of Howard Zinn, that try to make students ashamed of their own history.

The left has warped, distorted, and defiled the American story with deceptions, falsehoods, and lies. There is no better example than the New York Times’ totally discredited 1619 Project. This project rewrites American history to teach our children that we were founded on the principle of oppression, not freedom.

The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative of the New York Times. It attempts to place the story of slavery, its consequences and its accomplishments, “at the very center of our national narrative.” Here’s an about page that explains it at more length. I know there will be well-meaning people who quibble at placing slavery at the “very center” of U.S. history, but I support the project. The story of slavery and its aftermath is not a sidebar, or some auxiliary narrative, but really is at the core of how our country developed as it did, politically, socially, and culturally. And today racism is the number one factor corrupting our politics.

Conservatives have been whining about how American history is taught since the 1960s. But the terrible irony is that all us white babies born in the early years of the Boom — late 1940s, early 1950s — got exactly the education that Trump is calling for. American history was centered on the white experience. White men did everything important (Betsy Ross got a sidebar). The founders were all wise and brilliant. The Civil War was some kind of misunderstanding. And everything the United States ever did was noble and beneficent, and today we are Number One at everything. I remember learning in middle school that the United Kingdom had a bigger merchant marine than the U.S., and it terrified me. We’re supposed to be Number One! God said so! What happened?! 

And, of course, all of this educating was within a Cold War context that perpetually extolled the innate superiority of the U.S. and capitalism vis à vis the sinister,  communist Soviet Union, Red China, etc. I remember seeing pictures in Sunday School lessons showing Jesus blessing America while the Devil stood with Nikita Khrushchev. Not subtle at all. So if any generation of people should have been a pack of knee-jerk, rah-rah patriots, it was us Boomers.

But then we got older, our parents started the War in Vietnam, and the boys got drafted. And some of us felt betrayed and grew our hair and smoked dope and tried to levitate the Pentagon. But I think that feeling of betrayal was critical to the counterculture and Students for a Democratic Society and the New Left and all the rest of it. We could see the Big Lie. Yes, there was much about U.S. history to admire, but there was much that stank out loud. We weren’t always the good guys. We had to do a lot of processing.

Conservatives in the 1960s blamed our discontent on the way we had been educated, but the truth is we were educated exactly as they thought we should have been. We were educated to believe in American exceptionalism and capitalism and freedom, rah rah rah. And, of course, only the stuff white men did was really important.

I can’t speak from experience to the prodigious amount of processing that Black Americans my age must have done. Brown v. Board of Education was decided in 1954, a couple of years before I began Kindergarten in 1956. In 1957, the governor of Arkansas called out 10,000 National Guard troops to stop nine Black teenagers from enrolling in the all-white Little Rock public high school. And then President Eisenhower  sent members of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to take charge and escort the Little Rock Nine into the school building. Black Americans my age spent their entire public school years during the white riots over desegregation that broke out all over the country.

But this is not ancient history for us. I believe strongly that most of our political dysfunctions today had their origins in racism and the fight to end Jim Crow and segregation. We’re not going to set things right until we fully face this and atone for it. Trump, of course, wants to go back to 1950s-style history education that was all about white men. No critical race theory for us!  I doubt Trump could define critical race theory, even though he called it out in his talk and called it “child abuse.”

“The left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution,” Trump said. On the contrary; since the 1960s most of us have wanted the founding values of political and civil liberty to be real. Not propaganda, not meaningless words. We want them to be real. And we want them to be applied equally to everybody.

We don’t want to overthrow the American Revolution. We want to take it up again and complete it. We are all created equal. So, let’s act like it.

Lucy Diavolo, whom I believe to be a lot younger than I am, wrote in Teen Vogue, “Anyone who’s read a public school history textbook in the last 20 years knows that it’s not full of left-wing indoctrination.” She points out that because of state textbook adoptions, state adoption committees (usually appointed by governors) can dictate a lot of what goes into the textbooks in that state’s school. Let’s just say these people do not tend to be Marxists.

But of course, what Trump is really calling for is white supremacist education. Paul Waldman:

We’re discussing the legacy and persistence of racism more now than in decades. And Trump understands that all this talk about institutional racism and White privilege makes many White people feel attacked and defensive, as though they’re being personally accused of sins they feel they haven’t committed.

So in response he gives them permission to stop feeling bad. Not only will I protect Confederate statues and banish talk of racism from schools, he claims, I’ll convince everyone that the real thing we need to eradicate isn’t racism itself but talking about racism.

Call it the White Innocence Project.

The White Innocence Project has been going on for, um, centuries now. It ain’t workin’.

The guys in this picture were a varied lot. They weren’t saints. Like any group of humans, they manifested both admirable qualities and dark impulses. They were conditioned by their times and cultures and blind to many things, as we are. It does no good to worship them, but we can take the work they began and make it better.

Death by Stupid

I’ve made a start on reading the new Bob Woodward book, and once again I marvel at what a clunky writer Woodward is. Mary Trump is a much better writer; her book is enjoyable to read. Michael Wolff, often identified as a hack journalist, is also a much better writer. When I read Bob Woodward, I am reminded how I felt when my third grade teacher assigned long division homework. It’s a slog.

Anyway, I’ve barely made a start, and so far I haven’t run into anything that hasn’t been discussed in the news. If you are reading it also and can recommend some juicy bits, do speak up. I anticipate skimming through a lot of this. Still, I appreciate that he conducted the interviews. And I don’t believe for a minute that it would have made any difference if he had released his “downplayed” tape when it was new.

Here in Trumpland, the covid cases keep going up. Missouri is one of the worst states to be in right now, and St. Francois County (where I’m living) is the worst county. Bollinger County, south of here, has a higher cases-per-100,000 population rate, but there are maybe three people living in Bollinger County.

So the country administration met and voted for a mask mandate, to begin Monday. Naturally there were sign-waving, maskless jerks at the meeting arguing loudly against it. Since then, county administrators who voted for the mandate have been getting death threats. People are writing letters to the local paper warning of communist mask conspiracies. A petition drive is being organized. It’s a bleeping piece of cloth, people. What’s the deal? 

So I don’t go anywhere. Not that I’d been going anywhere since last March. Things won’t get better until a lot more people get sick, I fear.

And so much for Trump’s argument that our covid rates would be better if we ignored the blue states. In fact, from what I see, they’d be better if we ignored the red states. This says the top ten states for covid rates are Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Nevada, and Iowa. Texas is #11. New York has dropped to #13.

Trump, of course, is still promising a vaccine by election day or shortly thereafter.

Trump’s optimistic promises have left him in a battle with the realities of time, the deadline of the election, and the increasing skepticism of the stock market that he frequently cites as a barometer of his success. On Thursday, stocks continued a two-day slide, underscoring the skepticism on Wall Street that a vaccine is near.

On Tuesday, Trump said at an event hosted by ABC that it “could be three, four weeks, but we think we have it.”

On Wednesday, Trump said that vaccine distribution could start sometime in October. “That’ll be from mid-October on. It may be a little bit later than that, but we’ll be all set,” he said.

And on Thursday morning, Trump said a vaccine will be ready “either before or just shortly after” election day on Nov. 3. Taken together, Trump is promising a vaccine for some part of the American public between Oct. 6 and early November.

But Trump’s health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and CDC director Robert Redfield, are saying that’s not going to happen. There may be a vaccine approved by the end of the year, but even then it will take several months to get doses manufactured and distributed. Redfield told Congress — yesterday, I believe — that a vaccine will be available to the public by summer or early fall of next year. About a year from now, in other words.

Trump insisted that Redfield was “confused.” The vaccine is almost here! Any second now! Just like Trump’s great health care plan that he’s been promising since 2016! Just another week or two!!!!!

Today, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told the Fox and Friends crew that Redfield just didn’t have his facts straight.

“I think that we’ll at least have some results in October,” the White House senior official said. “And as we start to look at those results, I can tell you the President is pushing very hard to make sure that we’re delivering a vaccine before the end of the year.”

“So I’m not sure where Dr. Redfield got his particular timetable, but it’s not based on those that are closest to the process,” he added.

I’d like to know who is “closest to the process” if not the CDC director. Jared and Ivanka, maybe?

Nobody who knows anything about vaccines thinks this is possible. See also Greg Sargent, Trump Is Losing Control of His Own Propaganda.

At the Atlantic, Deborah Pearlstein writes about all the ways our government has become less and less competent over the past fifty years. Reforms are proposed. I’m going to skip to the last paragraph:

A final step works across the whole of constitutional democracy, as Americans’ all-time ignorance of the fundamental structure of government has become visible in recent surveys revealing, for example, that nearly 75 percent could not name the three branches of the federal government at all. As long as ours is a representative government, this staggering degree of basic incapacity will be represented among our elected officials and their staff. Part of the correction here will require improved civic education in elementary and secondary schools; one in five states, for example, currently has no civics requirement for graduation at all. But another part can be implemented more quickly, as soon as a new administration takes office. Just as congressional and government ethics offices have traditionally trained all new federal employees and even transition teams in the rules of ethical compliance (financial-disclosure requirements and more), it is easy to imagine requiring new hires to receive a refresher in constitutional civics. Among the essential topics: the duties of Congress, the president, and the courts, and the purposes of separating powers in the first place. Because core among those purposes was promoting the Hamiltonian value of good government from both reflection and choice.

And better science education would help, too. See also Matt Yglesias, America Needs a Democratic Revolution.

Trump Can’t Help Being Trump

This should cheer you up — Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report writes that Trump’s ceiling is too low for him to be re-elected. Cook is reluctant to make a clear prediction, but he doesn’t believe there is enough time left for Trump to turn his campaign around and pull ahead of Biden. See also Trump Has Lost His Edge In TV Advertising at FiveThirtyEight.

There are 48 days until the election. What could Trump do now to pull up his numbers? Derek Thompson writes at The Atlantic,

President Donald Trump faces an array of obstacles on his path to reelection. But he could do one thing, right away, that would, in all likelihood, immediately improve his odds with almost no downside risk: Call for Congress to open the cash spigot and buoy the lackluster economy on a wave of stimulus.

All he has to do is announce his intention to sign a second major economic relief bill—a CARES Act II, essentially—and count on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to muddle through. Such a law would almost certainly improve the financial state of countless families at a time of mass desperation, and just weeks before the election.

That probably would make a huge difference. But Trump has expressed no interest in doing such a thing, and Mitch McConnell — well, is still Mitch McConnell. Paul Krugman wrote about this yesterday, in The G.O.P. Plot to Sabotage 2021. It’s as if Republicans are deliberately trying to screw the country up as badly as it can be screwed up. It’s “as if Republicans don’t expect to win, and they figure that if they do, they’ll deal with the mess somehow,” Krugman wrote.

But, clearly, Trump expects to win and desperately wants to win. So why isn’t he doing something to help people? Derek Thompson believes that Trump is lost in a haze of magical thinking.

On the campaign trail and in his television ads, Trump proclaims that a great and historic economic recovery is afoot. The notion that the economy is sick enough to require a trillion-dollar booster shot is in direct tension with the claim that it’s thriving. So, the theory goes, Trump is unwilling to advocate for stimulus, because he doesn’t want to acknowledge that the economy is broken in the first place.

Trump’s approach to the enfeebled pandemic economy resembles that of a certain cartoon dog sipping coffee in a burning room. It’s the “This Is Fine” style of American politics. Surrounded by evidence of a crisis, Trump seems content to make up promises about a fictionalized economy rather than take action to fix the real thing.

I missed the ABC town hall Trump did last night. I don’t think I would have watched it had I known it was on. I see from the transcript that he actually said, “The fact is, we created the greatest economy in the history of the world.” Uh, not really. The economy in Trump’s first three years as POTUS was okay, by many measures, although it was way more okay for the wealthy than for everyone else. But it was okay because it was okay when he was inaugurated, and he managed not to screw it up all that much. See Dante Chinni, Data show Trump didn’t ‘build’ a great economy. He inherited it and BBC News Reality Check Team, US economy under Trump: Is it the greatest in history?

Glenn Kessler:

By just about any important measure, the economy under Trump did not do as well as it did under Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson or Bill Clinton. The gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 2.3 percent in 2019, slipping from 2.9 percent in 2018 and 2.4 percent in 2017. But in 1997, 1998 and 1999, GDP grew 4.5 percent, 4.5 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively. Yet even that period paled in comparison against the 1950s and 1960s. Growth between 1962 and 1966 ranged from 4.4 percent to 6.6 percent. In postwar 1950 and 1951, it was 8.7 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate reached a low of 3.5 percent under Trump, but it dipped as low as 2.5 percent in 1953.

Trump didn’t do anything for the bleeping economy. His tax cuts just helped the rich. His trade wars made the economy worse. The stock market continues to climb mostly because of the technology sector, I understand. Trump coasted on the trajectories begun by President Obama’s policies until the pandemic brought the economy crashing down. And last night he was making promises, based on nothing but wishful thinking, about a strong first quarter.

Since Trump doesn’t actually understand the economy or what makes it good or bad, it’s understandable that he has no clue how to make it better now. But he still believes in his own magic power to make it great again. This is from the town hall (the original questioner is from the audience):

SCHWEITZER: I worry about a second or third wave of unemployment. Employers that weathered the first six months of COVID-19 are now seeing their businesses dramatically impacted due to the effect of this virus on our economy.

What, as the president, is your plan to aid these workers who may not lose their jobs today but in the months to come?

TRUMP: Well, as you know, we did paycheck, but we’re doing a lot of other things. But what I want to do is see some additional stimulus. And we’re trying to get it, and we may. I mean, we just…just before I came here, we had some pretty good talks with the Democrats. We’ll see. But they’ve been very difficult.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why not call the speaker down to your office? Hammer it out in the Oval Office?

TRUMP: Because they know exactly where I stand. At the right time, I’ll do right, but they know exactly where I stand.

What they want is a bailout of Democrat-run states that are doing poorly, and, you know, I don’t think this is the right.

And from here Trump went off on the “Democrat states” that, he says, are badly managed and just want a handout. But this is how worthless and pathetic the man is. The Democrats are standing ready to do a big stimulus. It’s Trump’s own party that’s saying no. If Trump really did call Mitch McConnell into his office and demand that the Republicans pass a big stimulus, would McConnell say no? I don’t think so. But Trump doesn’t do it, and he won’t do it. So there we are.

Of course, it’s also the case that reality doesn’t seem to permeate long-standing political positions. “As a general rule, Americans pick sides first; the thinking comes second,” Derek Thompson writes. A whopping majority of Republicans think the economy is already great; a whopping majority of Democrats disagree. Again, there we are.

The Town Hall

Trump’s performance in the town hall appears to have been such a disaster that Laura Ingraham called it an “ambush.” If it hadn’t been an unmitigated disaster, she would have declared he’d owned the libs. So it must have been awful.

A lot of people zeroed in on this part:

STEPHANOPOULOS: So do you think it’s OK to be dishonest?

TRUMP: I’m not looking to be dishonest. I don’t want people to panic. And we are going to be OK. We’re going to be OK, and it is going away. And it’s probably going to go away now a lot faster because of the vaccines.

It would go away without the vaccine, George, but it’s going to go away a lot faster with it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It would go away without the vaccine?

TRUMP: Sure, over a period of time. Sure, with time it goes away.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And many deaths.

TRUMP: And you’ll develop — you’ll develop herd — like a herd mentality. It’s going to be — it’s going to be herd-developed, and that’s going to happen. That will all happen.

But with a vaccine, I think it will go away very quickly.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We’ve got to take a quick break.

Yep, that herd mentality will save us every time.

‘I love herd mentality, don’t you?’

Greg Sargent: ABC town hall shows Trump faces great peril outside Fox News bubble

Cristina Cabrera, Talking Points Memo: ‘Just A Firehose Of Lying’: Trump’s Town Hall Widely Roasted As A Train Wreck

Margin Longman: Trump Tries the Town Hall Format and It Doesn’t Go Well


Vote As If Your Life Depends on It, Because It Does

I’m sure many of you saw this video of Trump dismissing science yesterday:

Joe Biden responded:

I believe several nightly news programs juxtaposed these very videos.

Joe Biden got off to a slow start on climate change plans during the primary season, but since then he’s pumped it up quite a bit, and I feel a lot better about his climate proposals now. See Biden’s climate plan won praise from progressives at CNN and this article with a misleading headline at the Sydney Morning Herald. I take it Biden has been listening to some smart people about what needs to be done, which is a good thing.

On the issue of climate change alone, there cannot be a more stark and extreme contrast between these candidates. Which brings me to David Sirota. I’ve linked to a lot of Sirota’s reporting over the years and subscribed to his newsletter. But lately, Sirota has been in Bash Joe Biden mode, all day, every day. This morning’s Sirota newsletter complained that Biden is “suppressing” the progressive vote and is in danger of throwing the election to Trump because progressives just aren’t enthusiastic enough about Biden.

I unsubscribed. This is getting ridiculous. Especially on a day when the western U.S. is burning up and the southern Gulf coastal states are flooding, don’t talk to me about enthusiasm. If your hair isn’t on fire, so to speak, what’s wrong with you?

See also Scientific American Endorses Joe Biden.

The next issue is that between Trump and Mitch McConnell, President Biden is going to have a historic mess on his hands. Paul Krugman writes that Republicans are governing as if there will be no next year. “And this means that if Biden does win, he will have to govern in the face of what amounts to nonstop policy sabotage from his political opponents,” Krugman says.

… the most striking demonstration of Republican refusal to think ahead is the fact that nothing has been done to alleviate either the suffering of unemployed Americans — who lost much of the benefits that were sustaining them at the end of July — or the looming fiscal crisis of state and local governments.

Chances are that by January we’ll still be dealing with both an out-of-control pandemic and an economy that at best will be tottering on the brink of a major depression, if not fallen into it. And the climate will still be warming.  Krugman continues,

Traditionally, departing administrations try to smooth the path for their successors. If you think that’s going to happen this time, I have miles of new border wall, paid for by Mexico, that you might want to buy.

What’s actually going to happen, at best, is nothing: no actions to limit the spread of the coronavirus, no financial relief for families and local governments in crisis. And does anyone want to bet against the possibility of deliberate actions to make things worse?

So if Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20, he’ll be the second Democratic president in a row to inherit a nation in crisis, but this time one much worse than the one facing Barack Obama.

And the troubles won’t end on Inauguration Day. If Republicans still hold the Senate, they’ll do everything they can to sabotage the new Biden administration.

That last part terrifies me. There’s no time left to undo Trump’s dismantling of environmental policies and put genuinely robust policies into place to save the planet. There’s no time left for debate or to wait for another election cycle to get the obstructionists out. We are out of time. It has to be now.

We’re also likely to see an upsurge in right-wing terrorism in this country after Trump loses. 2021 is likely to be a mess, at best. And I’m sure we’re all exhausted already; I know I am.

Joe Biden, obviously, is working to put together a big-tent coalition to counter Trump’s rabidly wackjob base, because the truth is that there aren’t enough progressives in the U.S. to elect a president. That’s safe to assume, given that there weren’t enough progressive voters to win primaries. Progressives need to appreciate that they are part of a coalition, and coalitions only work when they actually coalesce.

On the plus side, the extreme problems we will be facing in January should put an end to Clintonian complacency. Anyone arguing for tweaks and baby steps and incrementalism must be hooted out of the stadium. But if we don’t dump Trump and re-take the Senate, I fear all is lost. Including our planet.


One of Us Is Crazy

Yesterday I wrote about Michael Caputo, the Republican operative with no science background who has been editing CDC reports to make Trump look better. Well, there’s more.

Michael Caputo, 58, the assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, said without evidence that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was harboring a “resistance unit” determined to undermine President Trump.

Mr. Caputo, who has faced criticism for leading efforts to warp C.D.C. weekly bulletins to fit Mr. Trump’s pandemic narrative, suggested that he personally could be in danger.

“You understand that they’re going to have to kill me, and unfortunately, I think that’s where this is going,” Mr. Caputo, a Trump loyalist installed by the White House in April, told followers in a video he hosted live on his personal Facebook page. Mr. Caputo has 5,000 Facebook friends, and the video has been viewed more than 850 times. It has been shared by 44 followers.

This attack of paranoia appears to have been brought on by the news reports of Caputo’s political editing of the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports.

Those reports, deemed “the holiest of the holy” by one former top health official for their international respect and importance, have traditionally been so shielded from political interference that political appointees see them only just before they are published.

Mr. Caputo on Sunday complained on Facebook that he was under siege by the media and said that his physical health was in question and his “mental health has definitely failed.”

I can’t argue with that last part.

“I don’t like being alone in Washington,” he said, describing “shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long.” He then ran through a series of conspiracy theories, culminating in a prediction that Mr. Trump will win re-election but his Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., will refuse to concede.

“And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin,” he said. “The drills that you’ve seen are nothing.” He added: “If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get.”

Funny; most people I know are worried that when Biden loses Trump won’t leave the White House, and caravans of armed white guys wearing MAGA hats will be doing the shooting. So which side is crazy?

But do keep in mind, this is the guy who is controlling what we learn from the CDC.

Greg Sargent:

Everyone is understandably aghast at all this. But how far afield is it from what we hear regularly from that guy who happens to be the president of the United States?

In an important respect, Caputo’s rantings are just a more lurid version of what President Trump himself says constantly — that the political opposition to Trump is at its core fundamentally illegitimate and, indeed, that there is no legitimate way for Trump to be removed from power.

Mary Pappenfuss at Huffpost dug up some more background on Caputo.

Caputo, who lived in Russia for six years, was an adviser to Boris Yeltsin from 1995 to 1999 and helped him get elected as president. He also served as an adviser to a subsidiary of the state-owned energy company Gazprom, and reportedly helped shore up Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reputation.

Caputo’s Kremlin ties were so concerning that he became a target of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He was questioned but was not charged with any offenses. He also testified before the House Intelligence Committee that he had no contact with Russians while serving on the Trump campaign.

Caputo has attempted to scrub his links to Russia in his Wikipedia bio — and insisted in an interview that his work doesn’t make him a “Putin stooge.” He told his hometown newspaper, The Buffalo News, that “at the time, Putin wasn’t such a bad guy.

Caputo also has many ties to Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, Pappenfuss writes. Did I mention that Caputo is controlling information about the covid pandemic coming out of the CDC?

The Biden team is getting ready.

series of high profile, former Obama administration officials and two former solicitors general have joined the Biden campaign to work on his “special litigation” unit, essentially a task force designed to protect the election. The move comes as President Trump increasingly signals he not only won’t accept election results that don’t keep him in the White House, but also fans baseless voter fraud flames as vote-by-mail is expanded to protect Americans from COVID-19 spread. The news comes just as Trump over the weekend had a tweet flagged for misinformation when he tweeted encouraging voters to vote twice — both via mail and in-person — which is illegal.

Oh, legal shmegal. We’re talking about Trump, who recently held an illegal indoor rally in Nevada, in front of a tightly packed and mostly maskless crowd, where he boasted of his support for law and order and his deft handling of the pandemic. Interfacing with reality ain’t Trump’s strong suit, either.

Stuff to Read

Philip Bump, WaPo, The egregious gaslighting around Trump’s handling of the pandemic

Greg Sargent,  7 ways Trump and his cabal are using government to corrupt the election

Fred Kaplan, Slate, Trump’s Rage Is Worse Than You Heard

We’re Hurtling Toward … Something

The awfulness is coming faster, and it seems there is more of it.

Let’s just start with Trump officials interfered with CDC reports on Covid-19 by Dan Diamond at Politico. It begins:

The health department’s politically appointed communications aides have demanded the right to review and seek changes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly scientific reports charting the progress of the coronavirus pandemic, in what officials characterized as an attempt to intimidate the reports’ authors and water down their communications to health professionals.

In some cases, emails from communications aides to CDC Director Robert Redfield and other senior officials openly complained that the agency’s reports would undermine President Donald Trump’s optimistic messages about the outbreak, according to emails reviewed by POLITICO and three people familiar with the situation.

This has been going on all summer, it says. The chief culprit is a fellow named Michael Caputo. Josh Marshall:

Michael Caputo is a career Republican political operative with no medical expertise beyond an annual physical. He is best known as being an associate of convicted felon Roger Stone, with his own lengthy history working in Russia and as a suspect in the Russia probe. Trump installed Caputo as the acting director of communications for the Department of Health and Human Services in April. We learned yesterday that he demanded and received the right to review and amend the CDC’s weekly mortality and morbidity reports, which are among the canonical public health and scientific reports of the US government, in order to make sure they don’t depart from President Trump’s COVID messaging.

Caputo has also attempted to keep some CDC reports from going public, such as one on the use of hydroxychloroquine. Caputo and his team held the report back for a month while they investigated the author’s political leanings.

Back to Politico:

In one clash, an aide to Caputo berated CDC scientists for attempting to use the reports to “hurt the President” in an Aug. 8 email sent to CDC Director Robert Redfield and other officials that was widely circulated inside the department and obtained by POLITICO.

“CDC to me appears to be writing hit pieces on the administration,” appointee Paul Alexander wrote, calling on Redfield to modify two already published reports that Alexander claimed wrongly inflated the risks of coronavirus to children and undermined Trump’s push to reopen schools. “CDC tried to report as if once kids get together, there will be spread and this will impact school re-opening . . . Very misleading by CDC and shame on them. Their aim is clear.”

This is ghastly, like something out of a dystopian George Orwell novel.

Alexander also called on Redfield to halt all future MMWR [Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports] reports until the agency modified its years-old publication process so he could personally review the entire report prior to publication, rather than a brief synopsis. Alexander, an assistant professor of health research at McMaster University near Toronto whom Caputo recruited this spring to be his scientific adviser, added that CDC needed to allow him to make line edits — and demanded an “immediate stop” to the reports in the meantime.

Politico says that the scentists fought back at first but are increasingly accepting the political editing of their reports, probably because they figure they don’t have a choice.

In other Orwellian news, this happened:

Federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy, a top aide to U.S. Attorney John H. Durham in his Russia investigation, has quietly resigned — at least partly out of concern that the investigative team is being pressed for political reasons to produce a report before its work is done, colleagues said.

If you aren’t doing any better at keeping up with this stuff than I am — John Durham is a long-time U.S. Attorney who is leading an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Bill Barr got this going in 2019.

Dannehy is a career prosecutor who worked closely with Durham before leaving the U.S. Attorney’s office about a decade ago for a corporate position in the defense industry. Durham persuaded her to return to the justice department and, within weeks, join his team in Washington in the spring of 2019.

Colleagues said Dannehy is not a supporter of President Trump and has been concerned in recent weeks by what she believed was pressure from Barr, who appointed Durham, to produce results before the election. They said she has been considering resigning for weeks, conflicted by loyalty to Durham and concern about politics.

Here’s one possible source of the pressure. This is from July 5:

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley on Monday said it was “SAD” that Attorney General William Barr might wait until after Election Day to initiate prosecutions related to U.S. Attorney John Durham’s ongoing probe into FBI and CIA misconduct.

Barr told Fox News last month that Americans be able to recognize “some” of the names under investigation in Durham’s probe, and that he is “very troubled” by “what has been called to” his attention so far. Among other issues, Durham is reviewing whether federal agencies abused their surveillance powers to pursue figures associated with the Trump campaign.

@realDonaldTrump #CommonSense IF NO PROSECUTIONS TIL AFTER ELECTIONS SAD SAD //just think Flynn Mueller Impeachment/ The deep state is so deep that ppl get away w political crimes/Durham shld be producing some fruit of his labor [sic],” Grassley tweeted.

So, yeah, Trump, Barr, and the rest of the toadies are corrupting all parts of government to get Trump re-elected.

After being nearly silent for weeks about the wildfires in the West, Trump is flying to California tomorrow for a briefing.

The announcement of the visit, which was added to a three-day campaign swing through Nevada and Arizona, came after Mr. Trump tweeted Friday night thanking the firefighters and emergency medical workers. It was the president’s first acknowledgment in almost a month of a wildfire season that has claimed at least 20 lives and destroyed millions of acres of land in California, Oregon and Washington….

…The wildfires — which have created apocalyptic images of orange-hued skies, and served as a reminder of the consequences of climate change — have not come up in any of his public remarks in weeks.

In one of the last times he mentioned the fires, he blamed the state of California for its forest management. “I said you’ve got to clean your floors, you got to clean your forests,” he said at a Pennsylvania rally in August. He added, “Maybe we’re just going to have to make them pay for it because they don’t listen to us.”

I believe this map is current —

Accuweather map posted 9/13

Somebody should tell Trump that the fires have spread to states he might win in November. Then he might take an interest. See also:

The blazes that raced across western Oregon this week could be the most unexpected element in a fire season that’s full of surprises: Not just more wildfires, but wildfires in places that don’t usually burn.

The forests between Eugene and Portland haven’t experienced fires this severe in decades, experts say. What’s different this time is that exceptionally dry conditions, combined with unusually strong and hot east winds, have caused wildfires to spiral out of control, threatening neighborhoods that didn’t seem vulnerable until now.

“We’re seeing fires in places that we don’t normally see fires,” said Crystal A. Kolden, a professor of fire science at the University of California, Merced. “Normally it’s far too wet to burn.”

The fires in Oregon, which have led to the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people and are approaching the Portland suburbs, stand out from what has already been an extraordinary fire season in the West, where global warming, land-use changes and fire management practices have combined to create a hellish mix of smoldering forests, charred homes and choking air.

There appears to be no doubt among climate scientists that climate change is making western wildfires bigger and more intense. This is a seriously bad thing.

Oh, and hurricane conditions are expected tomorrow along the northern Gulf Coast, from Louisiana to the Florida pandandle. Just thought I’d mention that.

Stuff to Read

Quint Forgey, Politico, ‘We’ll put them down very quickly’: Trump threatens to quash election night riots

Benjamin Fearnow, Newsweek, Fox News Poll Shows Americans Saying Biden Is More Mentally Sound Than Trump to Serve as President

Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, How Did the ‘Best-Prepared Country’ Become a Horror Story?