Monday, May 10, 2021


The Republican Party is engaging in a high-profile bad act -- it's about to make Liz Cheney an unperson -- so, naturally, some in the "liberal media" are thinking: How can we blame this on both sides? Obviously, the purge of Cheney by the Republicans must be partially the Republicans' fault, but there's no way it can be entirely their fault! Right?

According to Hayes Brown, writing for NBC News. the rest of the blame goes to Twitter, for kicking Donald Trump off the platform. What's the connection between that and Cheney's upcoming show trial? I've read Brown's explanation more than once, and I barely understand it. Hayes writes:
I would say Trump is actually in a precarious position. Even as he holds court at Mar-a-Lago for a stream of GOP luminaries seeking to kiss the ring, it's still unclear exactly how much juice Trump the person holds inside the party versus Trump the brand....

... Trump's vision for tearing down the walls against autocracy has found a home in the Republican Party. And without his particular attention-grabbing self-aggrandizement, two things are happening.

First, it's allowing the work to proceed unhindered. Without Trump's constant interjections to sway priorities, Republicans are basically working on autopilot, like a computer in a post-apocalyptic world still running protocols based on the last commands put into its mainframe. It's the kind of plodding, relatively long-term strategic thinking — even if it's in the interest of short-term goals like winning elections — that's impossible with Trump looming over you, dropping new tweets into his feed every few hours that upend whatever you've been working on.
If I understand this correctly, Brown is saying that Trump himself has lost a lot of clout, but Trump's ideas, particularly about elections, have become GOP dogma. I'd say that means he hasn't lost any clout in the GOP at all, but Hayes is a professional pundit and I'm not, so he must be much smarter than I am.

Brown goes on to say that Trump's absence from Twitter makes it impossible for him to dominate everyone's attention. But Brown also says that Republicans are following his orders anyway. So what difference does it make whether he's on Twitter or not? Well, according to Brown, if Trump were on Twitter, he'd be contradicting himself several times a day, and Republicans wouldn't be quite so relentless about their pursuit of his agenda because the agenda itself would keep changing.

But why would it be changing now? What's motivating Trump is personal vengeance. Trump changes his mind about some things, but one thing he never changes his mind about is wanting to destroy anyone who's displeased him. Brown says Trump couldn't maintain focus when he was on Twitter, but if that's the case, he did a remarkable job of faking it between Election Day and his post-January 6 ban. We had a surge of COVID cases, we had vaccines to distribute, we had a presidential transition that needed to be conducted in an orderly fashion, and we had a country desperate for an additional round of pandemic relief -- and yet all Trump could focus on was the alleged election "steal." He's perfectly capable of concentrating on one subject if the subject is directly connected to his ego.

So Brown is wrong -- Trump's election agenda and the purge of Cheney would actually be a more urgent priority for the GOP if Trump were still on Twitter, because Trump would be tweeting about nothing else. What else does Brown say?
And second, it's allowing Republicans to work in the relative shadows. Yes, my fellow columnists and I have been raising the alarm about the GOP's attempts to infuse Trump's lies into state election laws for months. But it's also true that without Trump commanding the microphone, it has become easier to tune out these warnings. Even in March, just two months into the Biden era, audience numbers were falling across the news industry compared to when Trump was in office.
But when Trump was on Twitter -- and was in the White House -- he tried to steal the election in plain sight, using every means at his disposal, and many Republicans were right there with him. He was stopped, but not because we were paying attention. He was stopped because he didn't hire competent lawyers and never found actual evidence of election theft, and because, fortunately, there were enough officials in both parties who didn't want the legitimate election results overturned.

Removing Trump from Twitter hasn't made it easier for Republicans to pass new vote suppression laws and purge Liz Cheney. They passed vote suppression laws with great ease during Trump's presidency, and before it. They purged anti-Trump legislators like Jeff Flake and Justin Amash while Trump was in office.

But the media loves shifting blame from Republicans, doesn't it?


CNN's Harry Enten thinks politicians won't be able to increase our vaccination rate.
A look at the data reveals that the vaccine hesitant group, however, are not big Trump lovers. They’re actually likely not to be Republican. Instead, many of them are people who are detached from the political process and didn’t vote for either major candidate in 2020.
Enten is distinguishing between the vaccine hesitant -- the people saying that they'll wait and see before getting vaccinated -- and the vaccine resistant -- those who simply don't want it or who'll get it only if compelled to. The resisters are mostly Republican. The hesitators aren't.
The most recent Kaiser poll helps illustrate that the vaccine hesitant group doesn’t really lean Republican. Just 20% of the group called themselves Republican with an additional 19% being independents who leaned Republican. The clear majority (61%) were not Republicans (41% said they were Democrats or Democratic leaning independents and 20% were either pure independents or undesignated).

This is very much unlike the vaccine resistant group, of whom 55% are Republican or Republican leaning independents. Just 21% of that group are Democrats or Democratic leaning independents.
A large percentage of the hesitators aren't voters at all.
People who are not registered to vote are among the most likely to say they’re in the wait-and-see camp. In a Monmouth University poll last month, 34% of adults who were not registered to vote said they wanted to “see how it goes” (i.e. wait-and-see) before getting a vaccine. That was significantly higher than the 10% of registered voters who said the same.
So how do we reach them? I'm hoping the numbers change once the vaccines reach full approval -- not just because full approval might persuade a few holdouts that the shots are safe, but because, for once, capitalism might act on behalf of the public good, even if that's not the primary intention. Here's a detail from last week's vaccine news:
Pfizer and BioNTech have begun the process of applying for full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of its coronavirus vaccine, the companies announced Friday morning....

If the vaccine is fully approved, it sets the stage for Pfizer and BioNTech to begin advertising the shots directly to consumers....
America is one of only two countries on Earth that allow direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising. (New Zealand is the other.) This combined with the drug industry's relentless marketing of pricey new products to doctors is one reason our healthcare costs are so high.

However, Big Pharma is good at selling us drugs we didn't know we wanted. The drug industry knows how to make us want to walk into our doctors' offices and ask for a new drug we've seen on TV or in Web ads.

So maybe consumer advertising will succeed where earnest entreaties haven't. And if not, there's always free beer.

Sunday, May 09, 2021


I'm back. Thank you, Yas, for some great work while I was away.

I just spotted this in my neighborhood:

This isn't unprecedented -- Charlie Kirk's Turning Point USA and other right-wing groups like to sneak around and make their presence felt this way on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, after which they delude themselves into believing that they've successfully redpilled the libs. (They haven't -- Donald Trump got 12.3% of the Manhattan vote in 2020.)

But consider the slogan "Socialism Sucks." This is meant to convey the notion that liberalism (which is what right-wingers mean when they say "socialism") plunges its helpless subjects into a well of inescapable misery.

But what's really upsetting to the right about "socialism" is that, for ordinary people who've struggled through the pandemic, it doesn't suck enough:
An unexpected slowdown in hiring nationwide has prompted some Republican governors to start slashing jobless benefits in their states, hoping that the loss of generous federal aid might force more people to try to return to work.

The new GOP cuts chiefly target the extra $300 in weekly payments that millions of Americans have received for months in addition to their usual unemployment checks. Arkansas on Friday became the latest to announce plans to cancel the extra benefits, joining Montana and South Carolina earlier in the week, in a move that signals a new effort on the part of Republicans to try to combat what they see as a national worker shortage....

“More states are expected to follow,” predicted Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), the top Republican on the tax-focused House Ways and Means Committee in a statement Friday....
Or maybe the real point is that "socialism" is good, but for the wrong people. Despite all the pundit chatter about the Republican Party becoming the new home of the working class, this is old-school Republicanism -- exactly what Michelle Malkin meant in 2012 when she praised Mitt Romney, the party's presidential candidate at the time, in this sneering way on Fox News:
Romney types, of course, are the ones who sign the front of the paycheck, and the Obama types are the one who have spent their entire lives signing the back of them.
In economic matters, Republicans always regard the capitalists as the good guys. Workers are always the bad guys. Republicans may grumble about "woke capitalism" and piously proclaim that they'll no longer take corporate PAC money, but they still side with the owners any time the working class asks for (or actually gets) a break.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Maybe she's just smarter than Kevin


Illustration by hotlittlepotato via Wired.

An interesting claim in this WaPo story: Liz Cheney seems to think there is evidence she has the politics right, and party management seems to be trying to hide the evidence from members:

When staff from the National Republican Congressional Committee [at an April retreat] rose to explain the party’s latest polling in core battleground districts, they left out a key finding about Trump’s weakness, declining to divulge the information even when directly questioned about Trump’s support by a member of Congress, according to two people familiar with what transpired.

Trump’s unfavorable ratings were 15 points higher than his favorable ones in the core districts, according to the full polling results, which were later obtained by The Washington Post. Nearly twice as many voters had a strongly unfavorable view of the former president as had a strongly favorable one.

Cheney was alarmed, she later told others, in part because Republican campaign officials had also left out bad Trump polling news at a March retreat for ranking committee chairs. Both instances, she concluded, demonstrated that party leadership was willing to hide information from their own members to avoid the truth about Trump and the possible damage he could do to Republican House members, even though the NRCC denied any such agenda.

The districts in question aren't identified, but they would be the ones that came out particularly close in 2020, or that Republicans flipped, in Minnesota and Michigan and Iowa, Arizona and California, New York and New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and others, maybe even in Texas and Florida, enough of them to give one party or the other a more decisive control over the House than the Democrats have now. Not only is Trump hated in these places, but President Biden is very popular, with an overall favorability rating of 54%, compared to Trump's 41%; Vice President Kamala Harris is also more popular than Trump, and so are the two big initiatives Biden is trying to pass.

Cheney's calculation is apparently that the party doesn't have a chance of winning the House unless individual members are allowed to detach themselves from Trump to some extent, while the safe Republican seats will remain safe for the party regardless; nobody's forcing those candidates to de-Trumpify anyway, on the contrary primary threats are making them double down, and even if they didn't Republicans would win anyway—who else are those voters going to vote for? Kevin McCarthy, in contrast, is basically thinking only of the damage Republicans can do, in primaries against incumbents seen as insufficiently loyal to the retired emperor, and maybe worried especially about his own status, as a prisoner like Boehner and Ryan before him of the crazies who could get him deposed at any time.

It's reassuring to be able to think of Cheney not as some kind of unexpectedly noble martyr to Truth who would rather die than lie, but merely smarter than McCarthy, which takes no stretches of the imagination at all. On the other hand I wouldn't be concerned about the party recognizing its mistake and taking her advice, either; fear rules among Republicans, McCarthy especially, and probably some kind of PTSD (Post-Trumpatic Stress Disorder) from which it will take them time to recover. She may be right, technically, but it's not going to do her much good (sour Glenn Greenwald said she'd probably end up a host on MSNBC, which would be funny if he'd meant it as a joke) and it's not going to do her party any good at all for the time being. It's ended up making me a little more hopeful for 2022 than I otherwise might have been, so I thought I'd share that.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Distrust Doom Loop

Doom Loop: Richmond Mural Project 2014, by Onur and Wes21, photo by Brandon Bartoszek, 2019.

Breaking: On further consideration, Brooks ("Our Pathetic Herd Immunity Failure") thinks the New Deal may have been OK:

The New Deal was an act of social solidarity that created the national cohesion we needed to win World War II. I am not in the habit of supporting massive federal spending proposals. But in this specific context — in the midst of a distrust doom loop — this is our best shot of reversing the decline.

Not, to be sure, because it rescued millions of Americans from hunger, homelessness, and despair, but because it created "cohesion". Which prepared us for the Second World War. And probably would have prepared us for the Covid-19 pandemic too, if we'd only had a good Great Depression beforehand for an excuse. You don't want a New Deal every day, because that's awfully expensive, but it's just the thing to get you out of a Distrust Doom Loop (the phrase sounds a little like Tom Friedman in a panic attack, but is Brooks's own, premiered in an article in The Atlantic last October).

Maybe if Trump had offered people a little New Deal in 2019, he'd have saved us from the Distrust Doom Loop of 2020.

And if something had given David Brooks more of a social cohesion feeling he would have handled it better himself, almost exactly a year ago, as our friend reminds us:

Distrust Doom Loops are a hell of a thing. 

Of course on the other hand you don't know you're in a Distrust Doom Loop until the Doom shows up. It's amazing that Roosevelt and his Brain Trust seem to have realized that a war was around the corner and buckled down to work right away, creating social trust by the ton, in plenty of time to win the war when it showed up.

That hardly ever happens. The Obama administration, for example, may have made elaborate preparations for a pandemic, but did absolutely nothing to create social trust, other than trying to get the entire population access to affordable health care, in spite of David F. Brooks's frequent pleas to them to think more about the social trust issue and stop trying to solve everybody's problems with complicated and expensive government programs.

Or maybe, hear me out here, maybe Roosevelt and the Brain Trust weren't thinking about the coming war at all. Maybe they were actually thinking about rescuing millions of Americans from hunger, homelessness, and despair just because they thought that was their job. Maybe the trust in government that largely lasted for the next 40 or 50 years had to do with the fact that the government installed in 1933 actually was trustworthy

And maybe instead of deploying just enough New Deal to get you through the specific context of that Distrust Doom Loop you could use moderately massive government spending (the kind of thing the Lincoln administration meant by suggesting that the people should be governed by the people on behalf of the people and then proceeding to a massive expansion of public education and transportation infrastructure in the middle of a civil war) all the time, even when it seems inconvenient, with the idea that if the government was trustworthy all the time those unpredictable Distrust Doom Loops would never arise. Just a thought.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Literary Corner: The Committed Woke

In memory of the great Merle Haggard, who may not have smoked marijuana in Muskogee, but certainly did in every other town on the circuit:

We don't get up early in Biloxi
We don't set our radio alarms
We don't ever wear a mask on Main Street
Or brag on vaccinations in our arms

We don't go for wokie in Muskogee
Or Tupelo or old Sault Saint-Marie
We don't buzz on coffee in Kentucky
Cause dead asleep is where we want to be

I"m proud to be unwoke in Oklahoma
I'm proud to be asleep in Tennessee
I"m proud to linger in my bed in Texas
Cause I love livin right and sleepin free

We don't allow no racism in Tulsa
We drove it out a hundred years ago
We had to drive our black folks all out with it
But nothing in this life comes free, you know

We don't take to critical race theory
We like lettin well enough alone
Criticize your forebears if you want to
I"ll be here just sleepin like a stone

I"m proud to be unwoke in Oklahoma
I'm proud to be asleep in Tennessee
I"m proud to linger in my bed in Texas
Cause I love livin right and sleepin free

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Another Steele Dossier?

Updated 5 May

This is kind of interesting, reported in England by The Telegraph (paywall) and picked up by the Sydney Morning Herald: It seems Christopher Steele compiled a second dossier on Donald Trump, this one directly for the FBI, after Trump took office:

The second dossier contains raw intelligence that makes further claims of Russian meddling in the US election and also references claims regarding the existence of further sex tapes. The second dossier is reliant on separate sources to those who supplied information for the first reports.

The fact the FBI continued to receive intelligence from Steele, who ran MI6’s Russia desk from 2006 to 2009 before setting up Orbis, is potentially significant because it shows his work was apparently still being taken seriously after Trump took hold of the reins of power.

It was, was it? We'd been given to believe FBI broke off relations with Steele in November 2016, after David Corn revealed the existence of the original dossier in a Halloween article in Mother Jones—not that at that point that they didn't trust his research, but that they couldn't trust him to stay away from the press, which is understandable (I can also understand Steele's point of view, that the FBI didn't seem to be doing anything with the material he'd showed them, even as they publicly reopened an obviously bogus investigation into Hillary Clinton, and someone who appeared to be a tool of the Russian government was dangerously close to getting elected president of the United States, and he and Glenn Simpson felt morally obliged to do something).

But it's not exactly true that the FBI broke off with Steele. DOJ's Bruce Ohr kept talking to Steele, and the FBI was aware, and opinions on it in the Bureau differed:

(Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian active measures, vol. 5, p. 851)

And of course in September 2017 FBI agents working on Robert Mueller's investigation team interviewed Steele, over a two-day period, at a hotel near Steele's office in London, as we know from the DOJ Inspector General report on the origins of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, in which it provided a lot of the material for IG Horowitz's discussion of the unreliability of the original dossier, or at least the bits that were used to support the surveillance orders on Carter Page. 

I had thought, based on the way Horowitz (and eventually the Senate Intelligence Committee) presented it, that this interview was a kind of hostile interrogation meant to challenge the veracity of the original dossier, but the Telegraph story mentions it in reference to this second dossier, as discussing the research that went into it—

Monday, May 03, 2021

Joe did what? He didn't—yet


Republican Chuck Hagel and Democrat Joe Lieberman in 2008, when they were both being considered for cross-the-aisle vice presidential candidacies. Remember who won the vice presidency? Via Politico.

Really interesting tidbit from Anita Kumar/Politico, passing on what look to me like some pretty carefully orchestrated hints from the White House as to what's likely to happen to the Biden agenda this summer, after he's finished with the essential task of looking hopeful for Republican cooperation:

But Biden aides also are hinting that there are time limits to how long that engagement will last. They say the president hopes to make progress on both spending bills — either as a pair or individually — by Memorial Day and sign them into law this summer. And the calendar creates some urgency: By the end of his first year, members of Congress will be consumed by the midterms and then the next presidential race. The White House also knows how a drag-on legislative process can consume a presidency and party.

“Biden and the people around him understand you have to get as much done this year as possible,” said Republican Chuck Hagel, who served with Biden in the Senate and later served as Defense secretary in the Obama administration. “At what point then — if you’re not making any progress on any front and you've been willing to compromise on some things — do you have to go it alone. That’s a decision they’re going to have to make. You don’t have a lot of time.”

Namely, that (just as Minority Leader McConnell announced that there will be zero Republican votes for any Democratic infrastructure bill) the White House knows nothing is going to happen with Republicans on the Jobs Plan and Families Plan, and is now preparing us for the next phase, after the negotiations on whether to have negotiations break down irretrievably sometime around the end of the month or early June, when they will begin issuing the final outlines of the legislation to consist—I always wanted to be the Dr. Bill Kristol of the left, so I'll make this a formal prediction—of two budget reconciliation packages, one devoted to the whole $4-trillion tax proposal and the physical infrastructure of the Jobs Plan and the "social infrastructure" of the Families plan, and later on one devoted to raising the debt ceiling.

Raising the debt ceiling? What? Yes, kids, that's something I just happened to land on the other day; it seems the debt ceiling, memorable for the way Senate Republicans used it to torture President Obama, has been basically suspended since 2015—the suspension expires every so often but they always renew it in time, most recently in August 2019, and it's due to be renewed again on 1 August, but Republicans have been threatening to start up with the debt ceiling battles again, most recently and loudly on 21 April:

Senate Republicans on Wednesday signaled they might oppose any future increase to the debt ceiling unless Congress also couples it with comparable federal spending cuts, raising the specter of a political showdown between GOP leaders and the White House this summer.

Republican lawmakers staked their position after a private gathering to consider the conference’s operating rules this session, issuing what GOP leaders described later as an important yet symbolic statement in response to the large-scale spending increases proposed by President Biden in recent months.

“I think that is a step in the right direction in terms of reining in out-of-control spending,” Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) told reporters after the meeting.

But it's just remotely possible that Ted doesn't remember what I happen to remember, and what President Joe Biden unquestionably knows very well, which is that the Senate Parliamentarian has ruled (you may have read about it here) that Congress is entitled to as many as three more reconciliation bills this year, one each devoted devoted to tax, spending, and the debt ceiling. So Democrats will be able to raise the debt ceiling before 1 August without any Republican votes, and without submitting to any Republican extortion attempts. 

So that, I think, is pretty much how they're going to manage it. (And just in case you think I really am Bill Kristol, please recall that I did this 25 January for the American Rescue Plan, passed with no Republican votes on 11 March.)

And that's what old Chuck Hagel and Kumar's anonymi are signaling in this report, for anybody who needs to know: there's a time limit within which the Republicans have to decide whether to shit or get off the pot, it's only two or three months away, and they're expected to be unable to do it, whether because they're too divided or because they're not divided enough. 

It's very cool that Hagel was chosen to deliver the message, a good old relic of the Senate of bygone days of friendship and comity who wasn't too proud to cross the aisle and be a Democrat's defense secretary. That alone should make Manchin feel warm all over. 

No, I don't know that Manchin himself will be able to live up to the opportunity, so those bills could still fail to pass—I do tend to think, because his explanation of what he wants is so incoherent (he wants spending of $3 or $4 trillion, he wants it all paid for out of revenues, but he doesn't want too many taxes), that he's really holding out for something specific. In 2009 Joe Lieberman held out for ditching the public option from the Affordable Care Act, because that's what Connecticut's insurance companies paid him to do; Manchin doesn't have something like that, surely, but he wants something. If he manages to make up his mind to go with the program, it will be a good thing, and not necessarily the end of Biden's, and our, run of good luck—that's when it will be time to go back to talking about getting rid of the filibuster, and either Manchin or the Republicans may find themselves interested in taking a more helpful attitude. I hope it's both, but that is not something I'd bet on.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Unparliamentary Language

Erskine May, 1st Baron Farnborough, KCB, Under Clerk of the Parliaments from 1871 to 1886. Via Wikipedia.

Lovely buried lede in this Guardian story about Prime Minister Boris Johnson's inveterate lying, which is becoming increasingly hard for Britain to live with:

On Tuesday an exasperated cross-party group of MPs went to see [Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay] Hoyle. Their message: the parliamentary protocols drawn up in Victorian times no longer work. “We need new rules for this Trumpian era of British politics,” Green MP Caroline Lucas told the Radio 4 Today programme. The MPs want to be able to call him out – and the charge sheet against him is long.

Under the ministerial code, an MP who makes a false statement to the Commons is supposed to correct the record. Johnson has repeatedly ignored this obligation, making a litany of inaccurate claims which he subsequently fails to fix. Seemingly, Erskine May, the sideburned baron who established parliamentary procedure, did not envisage a PM like Johnson.

Basically, they're asking permission to use unparliamentary language and call Johnson a liar, preferably to his face at Question Time.

“I can’t possibly call the PM a liar in this house,” [SNP House leader Ian] Blackford said, beaming in remotely from Scotland. “But … are you a liar, prime minister?”

There was an awkward silence. It was as if Johnson – facing off at the dispatch box against the Labour leader, Keir Starmer – was genuinely mulling an answer.

Johnson is really an extraordinary liar, and has been one from the beginning of his first career as a journalist, when he was fired from The Times of London over a fabricated quote attributed to his own godfather, the historian Colin Lucas, in a front-page piece on the discovery of the Rose Palace of the sodomitical king Edward II.

“The trouble was that somewhere in my copy I managed to attribute to Colin the view that Edward II and Piers Gaveston would have been cavorting together in the Rose Palace,” he claimed.

Alas, Gaveston was executed 13 years before the palace was built. “It was very nasty,” Mr Johnson added, before attempting to downplay it as nothing more than a schoolboy blunder.

More significant were the falsehoods about the European Union he used to send his next employer, The Daily Telegraph, as their Brussels correspondent from 1989 to 1994:

His articles, like those in several other Eurosceptic newspapers, contained many of the claims widely described as “Euromyths”, including plans to introduce same-size “eurocoffins”, establish a “banana police force” to regulate the shape of the curved yellow fruit, and ban prawn cocktail crisps.

When questioned about them in parliament, he denied suggestions they were a figment of his imagination.

“There is a great deal of effort being made to deprecate those who think we should leave the EU and everything we say is somehow mythical”, he replied.

That doubling down in the face of the evidence that he was lying is pretty Trumpy, in spite of the fustian Oxford diction, and it had a real effect, 30 years later, in creating the anti-Europe culture in Britain that propelled him through Brexit, with the ridiculous claim that leaving the EU would save Britain £350 million per week that the country was sending to Brussels and could be applied to funding the National Health Service. Lying about their devotion to the beloved NHS has been a Conservative specialty for a long time, of course: