Friday, July 30, 2021


Do you remember when Sean Hannity was urging his viewers to get vaccinated? When Sarah Huckabee Sanders wrote a pro-vaccine op-ed? When Mitch McConnell announced a plan to use campaign funds for pro-vaccine radio ads? Cast your mind back to those long-ago days!

Oh, wait -- that was all in the past two weeks. But that brief moment of GOP concern for public health is over now. Here are some highlights from the front page of the Fox News website.

It's possible that the pro-vaccine talk was a feint in the direction of public health because Republicans knew calls for more masking were coming (in response to some legitimately disturbing data about the transmissibility of the Delta variant), and they wanted to establish a minimal level of concern before reverting to their usual oppositional defiant disorder. (I think the explanation for the brief flurry of concern was that some rich donors were watching the post-pandemic economic boom slip away and wanted the Republicans they underwrite to do something about it.)

Whatever was happening for that brief moment, it's over now -- as, apparently, is the critical race theory panic, which barely shows up on the Fox front page.

Also lost to the memory hole: the testimony of the Capitol Police officers who survived the January 6 riot. They had a momentary impact, and some appeared on television the day after their testimony, but that's not enough to implant what they said in the public consciousness.

But, of course, American politics always has to revert to its equilibrium point, which is that the world is full of terrible problems, all of which are the liberals' fault. So we have Matt Taibbi writing a New York Post op-ed that blames right-wing vaccine refusal on "smug" liberals.
If you want to convince people to get a vaccine, pretty much the worst way to go about it is a massive blame campaign, delivered by sneering bluenoses who have a richly deserved credibility problem with large chunks of the population....
Never mind the fact that much of the pro-vaccine campaign has consisted of pleading and begging, and never mind the fact that the right was dug in on vaccine refusal long before most liberals were aware of it, because vaccine refusal was the natural extension of mask refusal and rejection of the earliest lockdowns.

And there's Nate Silver:

There was a brief moment when it was kind of okay to agree with liberals on public health. But we're wrong about everything again.

Thursday, July 29, 2021


Last night, when I wrote about Christopher Caldwell's New York Times op-ed, I didn't quite realize that one of Caldwell's assertions -- that the January 6 Capitol riot was unpleasant but not a serious problem because the insurrectionists had no real plan for seizing control of the government -- is the right's new (poll-tested?) talking point, intended to be widely distributed to serious-minded, well-informed citizens who presumably aren't buying talk of bamboo in the ballots and satellite vote switching from Italy.

Caldwell's argument shows up in nearly identical form in a Wall Street Journal editorial today. The editorial attempts to lull well-informed readers by conceding that the 2020 election was fair and the 1/6 unrest was violent:
The House inquiry on the events of Jan. 6 held its opening hearing Tuesday, and it showed why no Republican should try to brush aside the ugliness of the Capitol riot. The perpetrators who assaulted police that day weren’t overenthusiastic tourists, and the mob was not all a “loving crowd,” as Donald Trump characterized the audience for his pre-melee speech.

... President Trump urged his supporters to stop the supposed steal. On Jan. 6 some of them took his words seriously, literally, or both, and Mr. Trump dallied instead of rushing to Congress’s defense. The GOP would be better off ceding weak ground by admitting that the election wasn’t stolen and Mr. Trump was wrong.
But insurrection? Don't be silly!
The falseness in the Democratic story line is the idea that America’s constitutional order was hanging by a lone thread. The chairman of the Jan. 6 committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, claimed in his opening remarks Tuesday that “the rioters came dangerously close to succeeding” in their effort to “upend American democracy.” This is in service of Mrs. Pelosi’s political narrative that Mr. Trump conspired with a mob to stage a coup d’état. She wants to run against Mr. Trump again in 2022.

This gives the mob far too much credit. Rioters believed Mr. Trump’s falsehoods about a stolen election, and some of them apparently thought they might stop Congress’s certification of the electoral votes. But that was an impossible fantasy. The Electoral College had already voted. Vice President Mike Pence had concluded, correctly and bravely, that he had no authority to reject the results. The rioters had no apparent leader and no coherent plan.
If there was no chance that the coup could succeed, why say that Pence "bravely" rejected it? A reader might conclude from that word that Pence and the rule of law were both at risk.
Even if they’d managed to steal or destroy the official Electoral College certificates, do Democrats think some knucklehead in face paint and a fur hat could have simply declared the election void? The public and the courts wouldn’t have stood for a rabble overturning the 2020 result. Mr. Trump didn’t have the military on his side, or even most of his own Administration.
What if the mob had succeeded in hanging Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi? What if, after that, they'd taken hostages? What if this inspired other wingnuts to march on D.C. in support of the hostage-takers?

No biggie! It would be business as usual, wouldn't it? Surely there'd be a peaceful transition of power two weeks later with no hiccups, right? That seems to be what the Journal ed board is telling us.

But does it matter how close the coup came to succeeding? Left-wing radicals in the 1960s and 1970s had dreams of bringing down the government with a few bank robberies and bombings, on the assumption that The People would rise up in response. Right-wing terrorists in subsequent decades have had similar thoughts. Should we have shrugged these people off because their revolutions were unlikely?

Conservatives used to harrumph that America was becoming dangerously lax in its tolerance of bad conduct. We were lowering our standards for what was considered pathological, they said -- in Daniel Patrick Moynihan's phrase, we were "defining deviancy down."

Now right-wingers are urging us to do just that.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021


A dozen years ago, Christopher Caldwell got respectful attention while endorsing what was essentially a European Great Replacement Theory. Dwight Garner of The New York Times summed up some of the assertions in Caldwell's 2009 book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West.
Through decades of mass immigration to Europe's hospitable cities and because of a strong disinclination to assimilate, Muslims are changing the face of Europe, perhaps decisively. These Muslim immigrants are not so much enhancing European culture as they are supplanting it. The products of an adversarial culture, these immigrants and their religion, Islam, are "patiently conquering Europe's cities, street by street."
Garner was not appalled by this. He wrote:
Mr. Caldwell, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard and a columnist for The Financial Times, compiles his arguments patiently, twig by twig, and mostly with lucidity and intellectual grace and even wit....

Mr. Caldwell's book is well researched, fervently argued and morally serious.
Today, an op-ed by Caldwell appears in the Times, where he's a contributing opinion writer. In it, we're told that it was no big deal for the January 6 insurrectionists to assault the Capitol in the hope of overturning the results of a democratic election, because, heck, it's not as if they were going to succeed or anything.

Caldwell writes:
Were we really that close to a coup? ...

On the one hand, it is hard to think of a more serious assault on democracy than a violent entry into a nation’s capitol to reverse the election of its chief executive. Five people died. Chanting protesters urged the hanging of Vice President Mike Pence, who had refused Mr. Trump’s call that he reject certain electoral votes cast for Joe Biden.

On the other hand, Jan. 6 was something familiar: a political protest that got out of control. Contesting the fairness of an election, rightly or wrongly, is not absurd grounds for a public assembly. For a newly defeated president to call an election a “steal” is certainly irresponsible. But for a group of citizens to use the term was merely hyperbolic, perhaps no more so than calling suboptimal employment and health laws a “war on women.” ...

The stability of the republic never truly seemed at risk. As Michael Wolff writes of Mr. Trump in his new book, “Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency,” “Beyond his immediate desires and pronouncements, there was no ability — or structure, or chain of command, or procedures, or expertise, or actual person to call — to make anything happen.”
So the vice president and speaker of the House might have been assassinated -- Caldwell concedes that we got our hair mussed! But that's not like real insurrection!

Besides, the folks with the gallows had a point, according to Caldwell:
Republicans had — and still have — legitimate grievances about how the last election was run. Pandemic conditions produced an electoral system more favorable to Democrats. Without the Covid-era advantage of expanded mail-in voting, Democrats might well have lost more elections at every level, including the presidential.
The changes made in response to the pandemic were available to everybody; they were advantageous to Democrats only because Republicans didn't care about the risks of congregating in a pandemic. If Republicans had taken advantage of expanded mail-in voting, or if they had offered drive-through balloting in red precincts, no Democrat would have objected. More voting is good! One party believes that; the other doesn't.
Nor was it just luck; it was an advantage that, in certain places, Democrats manipulated the system to obtain. The majority-Democratic Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled in favor of a Democratic Party lawsuit to extend the date for accepting mail-in ballots beyond Election Day.
Yup, and the majority-Republican U.S. Supreme Court rejected all challenges to the extension of that deadline.

A dozen years ago, Caldwell wrote a "morally serious" book in which he made arguments about immigration in Europe that Tucker Carlson currently makes about immigration in America. Now Caldwell argues that the 2020 pre3sidential election kinda-sorta was rigged. And yet he's still regarded as respectable.


Is Donald Trump losing his grip on the GOP?
Voters in North Texas delivered an upset Tuesday, picking GOP state Rep. Jake Ellzey to fill a vacant House seat over a candidate endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

Ellzey beat fellow Republican Susan Wright, the widow of former Rep. Ron Wright, 53 percent to 47 percent, when the Associated Press called the low-turnout, Republican-vs.-Republican runoff. Though Ellzey was better funded, Wright leaned heavily on her backing from the former president, who often plays kingmaker in Republican primaries.

Trump crashed into the race during the first round of voting in May, tapping Wright out of a crowded all-party primary and turning the contest into an early test of his post-presidency clout. He held two tele-town halls for her and taped a robocall for her, making the loss more painful.
So is it possible that Trump won't be able to take down Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Brian Kemp, and other Republicans who opposed his efforts to steal the 2020 election? Is it possible that Mike Pence could beat Trump in the 2024 primaries?

I wouldn't go that far. Trump endorsed Susan Wright in this race, but he didn't hate Jake Ellzey. He didn't give Ellzey a demeaning nickname. He didn't accuse Ellzey of betraying Our Great Country (i.e., himself). He didn't inspire his followers to hate Ellzey, either.

I don't know why Trump's people encouraged him to issue endorsements in elections that he doesn't care about and that aren't relevant to any of his grievances. I guess the point was to show that he remains politically relevant. But a loss like this just make him look weak.

He isn't weak -- or at least he won't appear to be weak when he's on the campaign trail bashing Cheney and Kinzinger and the others who ratified the real election results in 2020. That recent poll of Republicans that shows Cheney with a disapproval rating 43 points higher than her approval rating is all the proof you need that Republican voters still hate the people Trump hates. So is Fox News's portrayal of the Capitol Police officers who testified at yesterday's January 6 committee hearing as whining crybabies.

When Trump returns to his sweet spot -- rage -- he'll be able decide elections again, or at least he'll be able to determine who loses them. Races like this Texas special election aren't good for his brand.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021


Trumpist America's widespread, deep-seated hostility toward the coronavirus vaccines is undeniable, and it's clear now that it's causing a new surge in infections. Conservative pundits could own this, either arguing that the refuseniks have good reason to put the lives of themselves and others at risk or acknowledging that people on their side have made an extremely unwise choice.

But it's so much easier for them to gaslight us.

The lead article at National Review's website right now is "Fact-Checkers Rewrite the History of Democrats’ Vaccine Skepticism" by David Harsanyi. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that the rewriting is actually being done by Harsanyi himself.

He tells us:
Vaccines do not organically appear from the ether. They are made. And both [Joe] Biden and [Kamala] Harris worked to discredit those charged with creating them.
Harsanyi offers no evidence that Biden and Harris tried to discredit vaccine creators because there is no such evidence. He muddles the distinction between scientists working in labs and Donald Trump working the levers of government as president. Harsanyi writes:
Harris claimed, for example, that even public-health experts who vouched for the vaccine shouldn’t be believed, because they “will be muzzled, they will be suppressed, they will be sidelined, because he’s looking at an election coming up in less than 60 days, and he’s grasping for whatever he can get to pretend that he has been a leader on this issue, when he has not.” Or, in other words, any vaccine produced during the Trump presidency should be seen as unreliable.
That's a context-free distortion of what Harris actually said to CNN's Dana Bash on September 6, 2020.
BASH: But do you trust that, in the situation where we're in now, that the public health experts and the scientists will get the last word on the efficacy of a vaccine?

HARRIS: If past is prologue, that they will not, that will be muzzled, they will be suppressed, they will be sidelined, because he's looking at an election coming up in less than 60 days, and he's grasping for whatever he can get to pretend that he has been a leader on this issue, when he has not.
Harris was predicting that government scientists wouldn't be allowed to offer a true assessment of the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines. The conversation continued.
BASH: So, let's just say there is a vaccine that is approved and even distributed before the election. Would you get it?

HARRIS: Well, I think that's going to be an issue for all of us.

I will say that I would not trust Donald Trump. And it would have to be a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he's talking about.
Asked whether she'd trust Dr. Anthony Fauci if he said a vaccine was safe and effective, Harris replied:
I think Dr. Fauci has proven, for anyone who's been watching him for years and years, to put the public health of the American people as the highest priority in terms of his work and his reputation and his priority.

Yes, I trust Dr. Fauci.
So she didn't claim that "public-health experts who vouched for the vaccine shouldn’t be believed."

Harsanyi continues:
Biden was no better, ... arguing that [potential vaccines] were “not likely to go through all the tests that need to be done and the trials that are needed to be done.”
Here's a fuller version of that Biden quote, From August 6, 2020:
The way he (Trump) talks about the vaccine is not particularly rational. He’s talking about it being ready, he’s going to talk about moving it quicker than the scientists think it should be moved.... People don’t believe that he’s telling the truth, therefore they’re not at all certain they’re going to take the vaccine. And one more thing: If and when the vaccine comes, it’s not likely to go through all the tests that need to be done, and the trials that are needed to be done.
Harsanyi writes as if this is disinformation totally divorced from reality.
Indeed, neither Harris nor Biden offered a shred of evidence that Moncef Slaoui, who was heading up Operation Warp Speed — or anyone else, for that matter — was being pressured by the administration to deliver an untested vaccine before Election Day....
But they didn't need to offer evidence because the evidence was widely reported on. Here's a New York Times story from October 5, 2020:
Top White House officials are blocking strict new federal guidelines for the emergency release of a coronavirus vaccine, objecting to a provision that would almost certainly guarantee that no vaccine could be authorized before the election on Nov. 3, according to people familiar with the approval process.

Facing a White House blockade, the Food and Drug Administration is seeking other avenues to ensure that vaccines meet the guidelines. That includes sharing the standards — perhaps as soon as this week — with an outside advisory committee of experts that is supposed to meet publicly before any vaccine is authorized for emergency use. The hope is that the committee will enforce the guidelines, regardless of the White House’s reaction....

The vaccine guidelines carry special significance: By refusing to allow the Food and Drug Administration to release them, the White House is undercutting the government’s effort to reassure the public that any vaccine will be safe and effective, health experts fear.
The next day, AP reported:
The Food and Drug Administration released updated safety standards Tuesday for makers of COVID-19 vaccines despite efforts by the White House to block them, clearing the way for requirements that are widely expected to prevent the introduction of a vaccine before Election Day.

In the new guidelines posted on its website, the FDA said vaccine makers should follow trial participants for at least two months to rule out any major side effects before seeking emergency approval. That standard had been a sticking point between the FDA and White House officials....
And it's not as if Trump was making any secret of wanting a vaccine October Surprise. From his Twitter:

And on October 7:
President Donald Trump said in a video posted Wednesday that “no president’s ever pushed” the Food and Drug Administration like he has as concerns mount that the administration is pressuring the agency to quickly authorize a vaccine for the coronavirus....

“We’re going to have a great vaccine very, very shortly. I think we should have it before the election, but frankly the politics gets involved and that’s OK. They want to play their games,” Trump said in a video posted on Twitter. “The FDA has acted as quickly as they’ve ever acted in history. ... No president’s ever pushed them like I’ve pushed them either, to be honest with you.”
Harsanyi writes:
Harris, incidentally, was given numerous opportunities to walk back or temper her claim that the process could be so easily corrupted. She doubled down, promising that: “If Donald Trump tells us to take it, I’m not taking it.”
She said that during the vice presidential debate, which took place on October 7 -- the day Trump, in a Twitter video, boasted about how much he was pressuring the FDA to approve a vaccine before the election. Harsanyi is wrong when he suggests that Biden and Harris's suspicions were unfounded -- and, of course, he truncates the Harris quote to make her seem categorically opposed to a vaccine produced during the Trump presidency. Here's what she said:
“If Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it. Absolutely,” Harris said. “But if Donald Trump tells us to take it, I’m not taking it.”
Harris's meaning is obvious. But because bad-faith arguments are all Republicans have, Harsanyi wants you to believe Harris and Biden rejected vaccines that they went on to get as soon as they were eligible, accepting the jabs with cameras rolling, unlike Trump, whom Harsanyi apparently holds blameless. These people lie about everything.


Yes, Gavin Newsom might be recalled.
Californians who say they expect to vote in the September recall election are almost evenly divided over whether to remove Gov. Gavin Newsom from office, evidence of how pivotal voter turnout will be in deciding the governor’s political fate, according to a new UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times....

The poll found that 47% of likely California voters supported recalling the Democratic governor, compared with 50% who opposed removing Newsom from office — a difference just shy of the survey’s margin of error.
The recall is failing badly -- 36% to 51% -- among registered voters. But a disproportionate share of likely voters are just who you think they'd be: members of the always-engaged party of permanent grievance, the GOP.
Though Republicans account for only about a quarter of all registered voters in California, the poll found that they account for 33% of those most likely to cast ballots in the recall election. Democrats make up 46% of the state’s 22 million voters and “no party preference” voters 24%, but their share of the likely recall voters drops to 42% and 18% respectively, DiCamillo said.
This poll could be an outlier -- most polls show the recall failing by double digits. However, it's not the only recent poll showing a tight contest -- an Emerson College poll for Inside California Politics has the recall trailing by only 5.

I suspect that Newsom will survive by a single-digit margin. But this shouldn't be close. Newsom won the 2018 ele3ction 62%-38%. Joe Biden won the state last year by 29 points.

But Democrats really might take their eye off the ball, partly because it's an off-cycle election, and partly because, to many non-Republican voters, electoral politics just doesn't seem to be an emergency anymore.

Republicans rarely feel that way. They'll turn out. And they'll turn out in the midterms. I'm not sure Democrats will. Trump's gone, right? So what's the big deal?

For decades, the right-wing media has found a way to keep conservative-leaning voters permanently engaged, by turning every political story in America into a wrestling match with a hero and a heel. Democrats energized their base against Trump and, before that, against George W. Bush. But the engagement lags when there isn't a high-profile villain.

What do we do to reverse this tendency? I'm stumped.

Monday, July 26, 2021


This is today's news:
Democrats are seeking to elevate the role of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) on the committee examining the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, scheduling her to deliver one of the two opening statements at the panel’s first public hearing Tuesday, according to two people familiar with the decision.

The move is intended to present the committee as a bipartisan effort following Republican leadership’s decision not to participate in the panel after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week rejected two of Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s picks for the panel.
Yesterday, there was this:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Sunday she has appointed GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger to the House select committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, bolstering the Republican presence on the panel after GOP leadership pulled its appointees last week.
And a few days ago, there was this:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats are considering ... asking a former GOP congressman to serve on committee staff amid a standoff with House GOP leaders over their picks for the panel....

Former Virginia GOP Rep. Denver Riggleman, a former intelligence officer who lost his primary last year, has been a forceful critic of other Republicans over election-related disinformation and QAnon conspiracy theories, and could join the committee staff in an advisory capacity, according to sources briefed on the discussions.
Adding Cheney and Kinzinger might have the intended effect: persuading middle-of-the-road voters that the committee is a bipartisan effort to get to the truth. Or perhaps the endless braying of Republicans will dominate the discussion:
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), recently elevated to the House GOP leadership because of her devotion to Trump and the lie of widespread election fraud, released a statement saying “the Pelosi partisan January 6th commission was never about investigating the facts, it was only ever about Pelosi’s radical politics and the Left’s endless obsession with crushing any discussion or debate.”
Led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Republicans are referring to Cheney and Kinzinger as "Pelosi Republicans," as if that's all you need to know about their fitness to serve.

But maybe the Democrats' strategy will work. That will be a good thing -- but it shouldn't be necessary.

If we lived in a country where Democrats in Congress were presumed to be genuine Americans and patriots, and, further, if we lived in a country where the attempt to overturn the results of a legitimate election did the damage to the GOP that it should have done, Pelosi wouldn't have been worried about the possible perception that her party was acting in a partisan way, any more than Republicans worried when they conducted endless flagrantly partisan investigations of Benghazi (which did no harm to Republicans and a great deal of political harm to Hillary Clinton).

There's one treasonous major party in America, and there's one party that white middle American voters believe is a treasonous major party -- and they're not the same party. For decades, Democrats have allowed themselves to be demonized and slandered by GOP politicians and right-wing media figures, and have never mounted an effort to improve their party's image. At the same time, they've never done the work necessary to persuade the American people that the GOP is as extreme and unpatriotic as it actually is.

If the white heartland Americans who decide our elections had an accurate understanding of Republican extremism and contempt for democracy, they wouldn't care whether members of the party were represented on the 1/6 commission. In fact, they'd regard any Republicans on the committee, even the ones who accept the election results, with suspicion, just because they're Republicans.

But because heartland whites regard all Democrats rather than all Republicans as suspect unless proven otherwise, Pelosi needs to include members of the GOP on the committee.

Democrats are doing what they need to do under the circumstances. But what they're doing should be necessary.


I don't care that Arkansas governor-to-be Sarah Huckabee Sanders refers to "the Trump vaccine" in her recent op-ed, in which she urges readers to get inoculated against COVID. And I'm not surprised that she lies in this passage:
When the Trump administration initiated Operation Warp Speed in May 2020, the president stated that a vaccine would become available by December of that year at the very latest. From the moment he made his announcement, the "expert" class tried to undermine those statements with baseless fear-mongering.

The New York Times ran an opinion piece claiming that whatever the Trump administration released would likely be a dangerous political stunt. CNN did the same. But no one did more to undercut public confidence in the vaccine than Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Biden doubted that the vaccine would be "real," while Harris said in a nationally-televised debate that she would not take any vaccine the Trump administration had a hand in creating.
In fact, Biden and Harris merely expressed doubts about a vaccine approved before the election, and said they wouldn't trust a vaccine unless it had the imprimatur of the scientific community. Harris said:
If the public health professionals, if Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it. Absolutely. But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I’m not taking it.
Biden said:
And the question of whether it’s real, when it’s there, that requires enormous transparency. You’ve got to make all of it available to other experts across the nation, so they can look and see, so there’s consensus this is a safe vaccine.
The Times op-ed Sanders cites, by Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel and Dr. Paul A. Offit, made a similar argument:
Given how this president has behaved, this incredibly dangerous scenario is not far-fetched. In a desperate search for a political boost, he could release a coronavirus vaccine before it had been thoroughly tested and shown to be safe and effective.
I haven't found the CNN piece Sanders cites, but I'm sure it makes a similar argument.

Of course Sanders lies. Her intended Republican audience is so used to lies from its politicians that it probably wouldn't respond to rhetoric that's truthful.

What's striking about the Sanders op-ed is her conclusion: that as a result of all these denunciations of the Trump vaccine program by evil liberals, the vaccine is now being widely rejected ... by Trump fans. It's not being rejected by liberals -- people who voted for Biden and Harris, who read The New York Times, and who watch CNN. Biden, Harris, CNN, and the Times persuaded only right-wingers to be wary of the vaccines. In fact, right-wingers are so wary of the vaccines that they won't even listen to the man they believe is still the real president.

According to right-wingers, Biden and Harris didn't persuade enough people to vote for them to legitimately win the election. According to right-wingers, CNN and The New York Times are dying "legacy media" institutions that no one takes seriously. But right-wingers also believe that Biden, Harris, and these media voices are more persuasive on vaccines than The Greatest President Ever -- except in the case of their own backers. Strange how that works.


I'm back. Thank you, Tom and Yas, for elevating the level of discourse while I was away. I'm not sure I can maintain the high standards, but I'll try.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

It's Complicated, Ross


Monsignor Ross Douthat, apostolic nuncio to 42nd Street, has a new complaint, or meta-complaint, above and beyond the usual ones that liberals are too permissive about sex (1960s hippie edition) or not permissive enough (2010s feminism)—that we can't make up our minds between the two at all ("Can the Left Regulate Sex?"):

in its retreat from the Polanski era, its concession that sometimes it’s OK to forbid, cultural progressivism entered into a long internal struggle over what its goal ought to be — to maximize permissiveness with some minimalist taboos (no rape, no sex with children) or to devise a broader set of sexual regulations that would reflect egalitarian and feminist values rather than religious ones.

This tension is visible all over recent history. The mood in which liberals defended Bill Clinton’s philandering was an example of the more permissive option. The mood of the #MeToo era, which condemned cads as well as rapists, is an example of the more regulatory approach.

Taken for granted that "we" literally have to "regulate sex", because

I don’t know how long the current period of progressive cultural power can last. But so long as it does, these debates will continue, because the regulation of sex is an inescapable obligation of power.

Calling Professor Foucault! Is this true? What I think Professor Foucault says in the first place is, "Thanks for proving my point, Ross!" 

Since the burden of the book, at least the first volume, was to show that 17th-century absolutists of church and state generally created the concept of "sexuality" as a discrete and separate "discursive object" in order to dominate the sexual behavior of the subjects, beginning with the Roman Catholic church at the time of the Counter-Reformation, with its elaborate confessional routine asking sinners to work out an inordinately detailed and structured account of their sexual sins. They claimed that "obligation" as an excuse for exerting control over the whole population.

Little did Foucault realize, I guess, how badly the Church had been able to police its own enforcers—it was in 1985, just a year after his death, that the clerical sex abuse scandal in the US originally broke out in a big way, with the guilty plea of ex-Father Gilbert Gaulthe on his molestations of hundreds of boys in the course of performing his duties as a priest in New Iberia and Vermilion Parish between 1974 and 1983, the first in a long series of horrible revelations of rape and abuse on the part of (some, obviously very far from all) Catholic parish priests and their bishops' failure to curb the practices, fighting the authority of the state to interfere as it handled abuse complaints too often by transferring the accused priest to a different location where he continued his criminal behavior on fresh victims.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Stupid Economist Tricks: Sex, Lies, and Deficit Terror

Tom Toles did not cite a source for that 97% figure. Then again, unlike Michael Strain, he is paid to be a cartoonist.

Actually, no, no sex, just Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute, warning readers of The New York Times that

Biden Is Asking for $4 Trillion. Congress Shouldn’t Give It to Him.

He seems to like this headline format. Last time I had reason to deal with him, in 2015, it was with reference to a WaPo piece recommending the repeal of the Affordable Care Act:

End Obamacare, and people could die. That's okay.

Spoiler: my commentary concluded that it was not okay. And the GOP Congress, failing to end Obamacare, sort of agreed! I mean not exactly, but we won.

Anyway, the reason Strain would like Congress to refuse Biden the money, or at least the $3.5 trillion of it to be appropriated through the budget reconciliation process without requiring any Republican votes, is ostensibly the raging inflation he (Michael Strain) sees and expects to see continuing through next year even without this extra spending, and which would surely be aggravated by the increased demand for stuff (where "demand" means, as it usually does in this style of economics, "ability to pay for things you really need that you couldn't afford before") that the spending on the expanded child tax credit in particular will bring on by yanking people out of their God-appointed poverty, while the Biden administration makes no plans for increasing the supply of stuff, other than by PROVIDING THE UNIVERSAL FREE PRE-K EDUCATION that recipients of the child tax credit are most likely to be spending it on, but you can't expect Strain to make that connection.

So in the course of his argument he gives a lot of attention to an analysis of the Biden program by Moody's, in which for some reason he doesn't offer a link to it:

The $3.5 trillion plan [as opposed to the half-trillion or so designated for bridges and tunnels and roads] is another story. Though the details of this package are still being debated, Moody’s Analytics calculates that the plan would contain more than $500 billion in tax credits from 2022 to 2026 for low- and middle-income households. Such payments would increase consumer demand for goods and services, pushing up their prices.

For that five-year period, Moody’s also expects more than $400 billion of spending on social programs like nutrition and housing assistance, child care and education. Much of this would add to inflationary pressures.

Overall, even though taxes would go up under the Democrats’ plan, it would add nearly $1 trillion to the deficit over the five years beginning in 2022, according to Moody’s. Given the composition of much of this deficit spending, this would be another big boost to the demand side of the economy.

Again, he fails or refuses to notice that the spending on nutrition (subsidies to agriculture), housing (subsidies to builders and landlords) and child care and education (subsidies to providers) are designed to increase supply. He also fails or refuses to notice the effect $2.5 trillion or so devoted to other things, particularly healthcare and combating global warming, will have on increasing supply of health services and things like renewable energy and electric vehicles, but let that pass. He also pulls a fast one by talking in five-year terms to make "$1 trillion" added to the deficit sound like a lot when it's in fact $200 billion a year and a drop in the bucket by today's standards. But the thing that gets to me most is the way he glosses over the tax increase for personal incomes over $400,000 and corporations as "taxes would go up" with no numbers attached.

And why didn't he link to a source for Moody's analysis? I just happen to have Moody's right here with me, via CNN, and:

In Which Jim Banks Accidentally Has an Almost Good Idea

The other day Kevin Kruse gave Greg Sargent the perfect analogy for appointing Jordan and Banks to the January 6 committee: it was like “appointing Strom Thurmond to the Kerner Commission.” Kruse expanded on this point on Twitter: It seems like an obvious point (too obvious for people like Chris Cillizza, apparently), but it has to be made: you don't appoint people to a project who oppose the project itself.

Banks signaled his opposition to the January 6 investigation with a statement to the effect that the committee should join OJ on a hunt for the real killers:
If Democrats were serious about investigating political violence, this committee would be studying not only the January 6 riot at the Capitol, but also the hundreds of violent political riots last summer when many more innocent Americans and law-enforcement officers were attacked.
This has become a standard talking point for Republicans opposed to any January 6 investigation, and part of a broader campaign to bothsides January 6. (See also today's Washington Examiner, reporting on a Rasmussen poll sponsored by a pro-cop organization.)

The crazy thing about this is that on its own merits, a committee to investigate last year's unrest--entirely separate from the January 6 investigation--isn't a bad idea. In an ideal world, a Kerner Commission style inquiry into the George Floyd protests (with, one hopes, better follow-through) would be a valuable exercise.

Let's look into the underlying causes--not just the precipitating events but the longstanding systemic abuses that got people into the streets.

Let's look at the overall record, and hear testimony from witnesses at the peaceful marches--the overwhelming majority--to provide context for the sensationalized depictions in right-wing media.

Let's look at the violence that did occur, and examine who committed it and why. Provide a full accounting of every single case of bodily harm, regardless of the responsible parties.

Let's look at the police response to these protests. Investigate the instances where police overreaction turned peaceful demonstrations violent, or where police inaction may have abetted the actions of provocateurs.

And let's not stop at the end of the summer. Let's look at how officials reacted. Let's examine legislation that criminalizes the right to peaceable assembly, or encourages violence against people exercising that right.

None of this is going to happen, of course, because this isn't an ideal world. It isn't even the less-than-ideal '60s, for that matter.

But as long as the right insists on its distorted narrative of burning cities and leftist mayhem, it would be worthwhile for our leaders to try to get at the real story--with whatever tools and whatever processes are possible--and push back against the lies.

[Updated to add link I had missed]

Snowflake Syndrome

I don't have the stomach to respond to the latest idiotic be-nice-to-Trump-voters horseshit, but happily Greg Sargent has more intestinal fortitude than I do. Intro:
To hear some pundits and Republicans tell it, millions of people across the country who voted for Donald Trump are suffering from an affliction that you might call “Snowflake Syndrome.”

On numerous fronts in our politics — from voting rights to covid-19 to the legacy of Jan. 6 — we’re being told these voters are afflicted with a deeply fragile belief system that must be carefully ministered to and humored to an extraordinary degree.

We must pass voting restrictions everywhere to assuage these voters’ “belief” that the 2020 election was highly dubious or fraudulent. We must not argue too aggressively for coronavirus vaccines, lest they feel shamed and retreat into their anti-vax epistemological shells.

And we must allow Republicans to appoint some of the most deranged promoters of the stolen election myth to a committee examining the insurrection so they’ll feel like its findings are credible.
Read, as they say, the whole thing.