Saturday, February 29, 2020


Right-wingers regularly assert that critics of President Trump "want him to fail." I'll admit that I sometimes wish a mild recession would hit now (there'll be one eventually, and it would be better if it drove Trump from office). But when it comes to the coronavirus epidemic, I hope Trump avoids accountability for his mismanagement.

He's compelling the federal government to focus primarily on downplaying whatever might embarrass him. He's minimizing the risks. There are reports that patients at risk aren't being tested:
One man has locked himself in his Brooklyn apartment, trying to get by with a hacking cough and a fever - and a real concern he is infected with the novel coronavirus....

The man, who will go by 'John' by anonymity, recently spent five days in Tokyo on business. When he returned home this week, he just knew he had a problem.

At NYU Brooklyn [hospital], they put him in isolation, and ran a battery of tests for other things - all negative. Then, per protocol, they called the CDC, because NYU Suspect COVID-19, but the CDC said no.

The CDC says they thought he wasn't sick enough - even though public health experts say most coronavirus cases are more minor, and it flies in the face of what the CDC said on a press call on Friday.
Trump wants you to believe that everything's under control, and that America will largely avoid outbreaks. He's crossing his fingers and hoping the virus's spread will abate in the spring.

But I hope he's right. I want him to get away with this because the damage a botched epidemic could do to his poll numbers isn't worth the risk to Americans' health and the profound disruption they'll experience in their lives. As Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times makes clear, if we have a full-blown epidemic here, many Americans won't be able to take care of themselves or their loved ones:
A huge proportion of American workers simply don’t have the economic power to stay home, whether to care for family members or even to give themselves a chance to recover from a viral infection in solitude, or the legal right to take off from work without losing their jobs or pay....

About two-thirds of all workers have access to health benefits at work, but that’s overstating things. Because the cost of premiums can be more than they can afford, only about half of eligible workers actually sign up for coverage. And when they do, many still face daunting deductibles or co-pays that keep them from seeking care.

... health coverage [is] unattainable for low-income workers. That’s the case for Amparo Ramirez, 48, who works in the cold food facility of the airline catering service LSG Sky Chefs at LAX, where she earns the minimum wage of $15.25 an hour, preparing meals for airline passengers. Ramirez says she can’t afford premiums for the company’s health plan to cover herself and her two daughters.

“Even my co-workers who have the coverage say they have to use half their paychecks to get care,” she told me. Instead, she sometimes drives to Tijuana to obtain low-cost treatment or medicines....

Ramirez says she’s been working although she has been suffering from a form of bronchitis for three months. Her employer would grant her up to two days of sick leave, but after that she would need to produce a doctor’s note — something she can’t get because she can’t afford to see a doctor.
And as The New York Times reports:
Around the nation, school officials and parents were flummoxed by the sudden warning that if a coronavirus epidemic hit the United States, school buildings could be shut down for long periods of time, leaving children sequestered at home....

The obstacles to teaching remotely were evident: American children have uneven access to home computers and broadband internet. Schools have limited expertise in providing instruction online on a large scale. And parents would be forced to juggle their own work responsibilities with what could amount to “a vast unplanned experiment in mass home-schooling,” said Kevin Carey, vice president for education policy at New America, a think tank....

Dennis Kosuth, a nurse for Chicago Public Schools, said his district’s ability to handle an outbreak could be compromised by circumstances like families who could not afford child care costs to keep sick children at home. Nursing shortages are a concern, too, he said. Mr. Kosuth said he was responsible for nursing care at four schools.

Some Chicago schools also lack rooms dedicated to health needs, Mr. Kosuth said. In one school where many students and staff members became ill with an ordinary infection last semester, “Patient Zero was sitting in the main office coughing and sneezing all over the place” as the sick child waited to be picked up, he said.
I want Trump gone, but I hope defeating him doesn't require this.

Friday, February 28, 2020


What was it that Bernie Sanders said in the Las Vegas debate last week?
We are living in many ways in a socialist society right now. The problem is, as Dr. Martin Luther King reminded us, we have socialism for the very rich, rugged individualism for the poor.

... When Donald Trump gets $800 million in tax breaks and subsidies to build luxury condominiums, that's socialism for the rich.

... When Walmart -- we have to subsidize Walmart's workers who are on Medicaid and food stamps because the wealthiest family in America pays starvation wages, that's socialism for the rich.


I believe in democratic socialism for working people, not billionaires, health care for all, educational opportunities for all.
Maybe you don't agree with this. Maybe you agree with it but think it's a message that will turn off moderate voters.

What's undeniable is that President Trump is determined to prove Sanders's point.
Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told the crowd that Trump wants to slash the corporate tax rate again, down to 20%.... “We need to do the second part of the tax bill—we really do, Tax Cuts 2.0,” Mulvaney said when asked what Trump’s second-term priorities would entail. “He never liked the fact the corporate tax is 21%—he always wanted it to be 20. ‘Mick, 20 is a better number than 21,’” Mulvaney added, doing an impression of the president.

... In addition, Mulvaney said that a proposal to adjust capital gains taxes for inflation, which would almost exclusively benefit the super rich, is on the table. Currently, when an asset like a stock or real estate is sold, the amount of tax paid on the appreciation is tied to inflation, so at present corporate stock with dividends held for 10 years would be subject to an effective tax rate of roughly 24.3%. Under the proposed plan, the same holding would be subject to a rate of just 21.4%. According to a 2018 estimate by the Penn Wharton Budget model, the top 1% would receive a whopping 86% of the benefit.

... the president is currently trying to kick millions of people off of food stamps. He’s also recently confirmed that Medicare would likely be on the chopping block in a second term and proposed taking heat from the poor to help fund the coronavirus response.
That's for the second term. Trump is also weighing immediate tax cuts of an unspecified nature, according to The Washington Post, because coronavirus has the stock market dropping and we can't allow that to happen, ever.

Many people say that the message of Bernie Sanders is overly simplistic. But maybe it's simplistic because pro-plutocrat policies are simplistic, especially when Republicans are in power.


Here are the lead paragraphs of the latest David Brooks column:
A few months ago, I wrote a column saying I would vote for Elizabeth Warren over Donald Trump. I may not agree with some of her policies, but culture is more important than politics. She does not spread moral rot the way Trump does.

Now I have to decide if I’d support Bernie Sanders over Trump.
We know Brooks's answer because his headline is "No, Not Sanders, Not Ever."

But Brooks doesn't provide a link to his earlier column on Warren. (That column is here.) Why? Why doesn't he want you to compare and contrast what he's written?

It's because -- surprise! -- he's moving the goalposts in order to denounce Sanders.

Why is Sanders unacceptable to Brooks? Here's what he says in the current column:
I’ve just watched populism destroy traditional conservatism in the G.O.P. I’m here to tell you that Bernie Sanders is not a liberal Democrat. He’s what replaces liberal Democrats.

Traditional liberalism ... believes in gaining power the traditional way: building coalitions, working within the constitutional system and crafting the sort of compromises you need in a complex, pluralistic society.

This is why liberals like Hubert Humphrey, Ted Kennedy and Elizabeth Warren were and are such effective senators. They worked within the system, negotiated and practiced the art of politics.

... Sanders ... believes in revolutionary mass mobilization and, once an election has been won, rule by majoritarian domination. This is how populists of left and right are ruling all over the world, and it is exactly what our founders feared most and tried hard to prevent.

Liberalism celebrates certain values: reasonableness, conversation, compassion, tolerance, intellectual humility and optimism. Liberalism is horrified by cruelty. Sanders’s leadership style embodies the populist values, which are different: rage, bitter and relentless polarization, a demand for ideological purity among your friends and incessant hatred for your supposed foes.
So Brooks believes that Warren has been an effective senator, and values reasonableness, tolerance, and conversation? You'd never know it from that earlier column, written in October, in which -- before reluctantly acknowledging that he'd vote for Warren over Trump -- he wrote:
If the general election campaign turns out to be Trump vs. Warren, what the heck are we supposed to do?

The first thing we could do, of course, is pray for a miracle. Maybe the Democrats will nominate one of the five B’s or the K: Biden, Buttigieg, Booker, Bennet, Bullock or Klobuchar.

These candidates are pluralists, not purists. They make many voters who disagree with them feel heard and respected. They practice the craft of politics, building majority coalitions to get things done.
So back then, Warren wasn't a "pluralist," she was a "purist." She apparently didn't celebrate reasonableness, tolerance, and so on.

Warren, in that column, sounded a lot like the unacceptable Sanders in the current column:
... a Warren presidency would be deeply polarizing and probably unsuccessful. Warren’s policy ideas would make any progressive-moderate coalition impossible. She’d try to govern with her 40 percent partisan base, just as Trump has, which is no way to pass big legislation.
"And yet," Brooks wrote back then,
if it comes to Trump vs. Warren in a general election, the only plausible choice is to support Warren. Over the past month Donald Trump has given us fresh reminders of the unique and exceptional ways he corrupts American life. You’re either part of removing that corruption or you are not. When your nation’s political system is in danger, staying home and not voting is not a responsible option....

Last week, Trump all but greenlighted the ethnic cleansing of Kurds without an ounce of remorse. He normalizes dishonesty and valorizes cruelty. His letter to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reminds us yet again that we have a president whose professional competence is at kindergarten level. Once a nation has lost its heart, mind and soul, it is very hard to get these things back.

Furthermore, Trump is an unprecedented threat to democratic institutions.... especially over the past month, Trump has worked overtime to validate those fears and to raise the horrifying specter of what he’ll be like if he is given a second term and is vindicated, unhinged and unwell.

In their book “How Democracies Die,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt argue that authoritarians undermine democracy in several ways. They reject the democratic rules of the game, the unwritten norms we rely upon to make the political system work. They deny the legitimacy of their political opponents, using extreme language to deny them standing as co-citizens. They tolerate or even encourage violence, threatening to take legal action against critics in rival parties.

Trump has been guilty of all three sins, and given a second term he will feel free to stomp where up until now he has merely trod.

This election is about whether we can hold together as a functioning nation, across our economic, racial, geographic and ideological divides. In such circumstances, a bad option is better than a suicidal one.
Everything Brooks wrote about Trump back then is true now. There are still "unique and exceptional ways" Trump "corrupts American life." Trump still "normalizes dishonesty and valorizes cruelty." Trump is still "an unprecedented threat to democratic institutions ... and given a second term he will feel free to stomp where up until now he has merely trod."

So, according to Brooks, the possibility of a second Trump term is an existential crisis for America -- unless his opponent is Sanders. In that case he'll take the murderer of democracy over a guy who's spent decades in Congress working within democratic rules and norms. He'll take the sociopath over the crank.


What will Democratic voters want the party to do if no candidate has a majority of the delegates going into the convention? I've been assuming that they'll want the front-runner nominated, assuming that candidate has a significant lead.

But Democratic voter might disagree. There's a new Fox poll that addresses this question -- and while you might believe that we should dismiss anything Fox produces, Fox polls seem serious and are generally in sync with other polls, and might even have a slight Democratic lean. (In this one, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Mike Bloomberg all beat President Trump decisively head to head in a general election, while Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar have smaller leads. FiveThirtyEight gives the pollster an A minus rating.)

One question in the poll, directed at Democratic voters, is:
Which of the following comes closer to your view of how the Democratic Party’s nominee should be picked at the convention?

1. The nomination should automatically go to the candidate who wins the most delegates in primaries and caucuses, even if that candidate doesn’t have a majority 2. The Democratic Party should have the flexibility to nominate someone else if no candidate has a majority 3. (Don't know)
The response: Only 38% said that the nomination should go to the candidate with the most delegates, while 50% said the party should have the flexibility to nominate someone else. (The rest had no opinion.)

This is the opposite of what Republicans told the same pollsters years ago. In a poll conducted in December 2015, 53% of Republican respondents said that the party should pick the candidate with the most delegates, while 39% were open to dealmaking. In a subsequent poll in March -- when Donald Trump was the clear delegate leader, but it wasn't certain that he could win a majority -- 59% wanted the nomination to go to the front-runner, while 35% were open to a deal.

You might think this is because most Democratic voters don't like Bernie Sanders. However, he's leading in the nomination polling with 31%, 13 points ahead of second-place Joe Biden, and he's the candidate Democratic voters think is most likely to beat Trump (65% think he can; Mike Bloomberg and Joe Biden are at 57% and 56%, respectively, with Warren and Buttigieg further behind).

So Democrats are more open to litigating this at the convention than Republicans were, yet there's a sizable percentage who aren't (and it's more than just Sanders supporters). This suggests to me that a deal could be acceptable -- but would be controversial.

Thursday, February 27, 2020


This New York Times story is being widely discussed:
Dozens of interviews with Democratic establishment leaders this week show that they are not just worried about [Bernie] Sanders’s candidacy, but are also willing to risk intraparty damage to stop his nomination at the national convention in July if they get the chance. Since Mr. Sanders’s victory in Nevada’s caucuses on Saturday, The Times has interviewed 93 party officials — all of them superdelegates, who could have a say on the nominee at the convention — and found overwhelming opposition to handing the Vermont senator the nomination if he arrived with the most delegates but fell short of a majority.

... the party leaders say they worry that Mr. Sanders ... will lose to President Trump, and drag down moderate House and Senate candidates in swing states....
Some of these superdelegates seem intent on denying Sanders the nomination even if he has a large lead and is close to 50%. Ohio senator Sherrod Brown is suggested as a compromise choice at the convention, even though he chose not to run in the primaries. Michelle Obama is mentioned as a possible unity running mate.

Okay, a few thoughts.

I agree with those who say that Sanders with a near-majority and a large lead would be hard to deny, but that it's valid to question whether Sanders should be handed the nomination if he has, say, a third of the delegates and a small delegate lead.

Beyond that, I think polls will influence how this is resolved. Sanders skeptics think he can't win the general election and will struggle in swing states. Today, however, we have new polls of Pennsylvania and New Hampshire in which Sanders does better than supposedly safe moderates Joe Biden and Mike Bloomberg. A couple of days ago, we had a poll of Virginia in which Sanders did the best against Trump.

But will this hold up? What about that Vox story demonstrating that polls showing Sanders in the lead are presuming an increase in youth turnout the likes of which we didn't see even in 2008? And besides, isn't Sanders winning only because he's been shielded up to this point from the massive can of whoop-ass the GOP intends to open up on him as soon as he has the nomination locked up?

Fine, then. We're still in a primary. Moderate candidates should open the can themselves.

I know there are those who believe that Al Gore brought down Mike Dukakis in 1988 when he raised the question of furloughs for convicted murderers in a debate. Republicans took note, and then right-wing operatives hammered Dukakis on the issue in the general election. A George Bush campaign aide said the issue "totally fell into our lap."

But nothing about Sanders will escape the attention of GOP operatives this year. They've had four years to research him. Besides:

So get it out there. Put "socialism" clips in ads for Super Tuesday and beyond. Plant stories about the odd 1970s newspaper columns. Aim ads at Pennsylvania voters talking about Sanders's vow to ban fracking. Insinuate that there's something shady about the way Jane Sanders manages money.

If the public shrugs it all off and he's still winning general-election matchups, then, when he arrives at the convention, it will be hard to deny him the nomination. But if he's hurt by all this, that undercuts the #BernieBeatsTrump message.

Anything short of 100% deference to Sanders will tick off his core supporters, so you might as well tick them off by stress-testing his appeal before the Republicans do.


Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Miami Herald is distressed by the behavior of some of the most rabid supporters of Bernie Sanders:
You’d have thought she had thrown Bernie Sanders to his death from a tower of million-dollar bills.

Actually, what film director Ava DuVernay tweeted on Saturday was just a mild rebuke: “I’m undecided. But I know this isn’t what I want.” She was responding to a Sanders tweet warning the Democratic and Republican establishments that, “They can’t stop us.”

In response to her response, a digital mob numbering in the thousands descended upon DuVernay. Many contented themselves with noting how “surprised” and “disappointed” they were at her failure to appreciate the senator’s wonderfulness. Others went below and beyond, calling her “bitch” and, more insulting, “right winger.” There were isolated death threats.
Here's some of what Pitts is citing:

Pitts continues:
... it’s hard not to believe that Sanders could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any supporters....
Is that true?

If Sanders shot someone on Fifth Avenue, I believe there are quite a few supporters he wouldn't lose. I can imagine waves of tweeters quoting Mao Zedong's "A revolution is not a dinner party" in support of him.

But I'm also looking at the numbers. In this year's New Hampshire Democratic primary, half of voters decided in the last few days, according to exit polls -- and of those, 17% chose Sanders. So more than 8% of the primary electorate consisted of Sanders voters who weren't committed to the candidate until shortly before the vote.

The Real Clear Politics national average now says that Sanders has the support of 29.2% of Democratic voters -- but the number was 19.1% on January 1, and 16.3% on December 1.

I think rival candidates made a mistake in assuming that it's impossible to dissuade Sanders supporters. They're not all Bernie bros. They're not all diehards. I believe that, especially among the young, Sanders is the Beatles or Elvis -- a cultural phenomenon everyone embraces. But he clearly has soft support.

I believe that most Trump voters would assume that if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue, he had a good reason. I believe that about fewer Sanders supporters. There is a Sanders cult, but his support now transcends that cult. And when I think of the many people I know who backed Sanders in 2016 and now back Elizabeth Warren, I know that Sanders has won a lot of voters who aren't hero-woshippers. Sandezrs cultists make a lot of noise, but murder would drive his non-cultish supporters away.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020


Remember when President George W. Bush sent swarms of Americans to reestablish Iraqi civil society? As The Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran noted at the time, they didn't do a very good job, for obvious reasons.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But they had to get past Jim O’Beirne’s Pentagon office before going to Baghdad.

To pass muster with O’Beirne, a political appointee, applicants didn’t need to be experts in the Middle East or in postconflict reconstruction. They did need, however, to be a member of the Republican Party.

O’Beirne’s staff posed blunt questions about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade.

Many of those chosen to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which ran Iraq’s government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience. A 24-year-old who never had worked in finance was sent to reopen Baghdad’s stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq’s $13 billion budget, even though the former had no accounting background and the latter lacked experience managing finances of a large organization..

The decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest now is regarded by many people involved in the 3½-year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration’s gravest errors. Many selected because of their political fidelity spent their time trying to impose a conservative agenda on the postwar occupation that sidetracked more important efforts and squandered good will among Iraqis.
Chandrasekaran went on to write a book based on his reporting of this story. As the publisher of the book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, noted, the frequently young and inexperienced ideologues of the Coalition Provisional Authority "spent the crucial first year of occupation pursuing goals that had little to do with the immediate needs of a postwar nation: flat taxes instead of electricity and deregulated health care instead of emergency medical supplies."

That's what came to mind when I read this story today:
The White House has hired a college senior to be one of the top officials in its powerful Presidential Personnel Office, according to three administration officials familiar with the matter.

James Bacon, 23, is acting as one of the right-hand men to new PPO director John McEntee, according to the officials. Bacon, a senior at George Washington University pursuing a bachelor’s degree, comes from the Department of Transportation, where he briefly worked in the policy shop. Prior to that role, while still taking classes, he worked at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he was a White House liaison, according to two other officials. At HUD, he distinguished himself as Secretary Ben Carson’s confidential assistant, according to two other administration officials....

Bacon will be PPO’s director of operations overseeing paperwork and will assist on vetting....

McEntee, 29, held a meeting in a conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building last Thursday with White House liaisons of Cabinet departments where he asked officials to find Trump appointees who may be anti-Trump, according to an administration official familiar with the meeting. McEntee also told them that PPO was going to take a look at all appointees at some point and re-vet them to see if they’ve been disloyal in any way.
President Trump doesn't really care about flat taxes or other right-wing litmus tests. (He likes deregulation, of course, because he and his plutocrat pals benefit from it.) What matters most to Trump, needless to say, is loyalty to himself. It's also important that employees have had no prior involvement in the administration of history's greatest monster, Barack Obama.

So these will be the employment litmus tests going forward. We're running the U.S. government the way we ran Iraq's a generation ago. Hey, what could go wrong?


Salon's Amanda Marcotte believes that debates probably don't matter.

I think debates can have some impact, although it dissipates quickly. Amy Klobuchar's strong performance in the debate just before the New Hampshire primary helped propel her to a third-place finish, with 20% of the vote. It's likely that she took votes away from Pete Buttigieg, who might otherwise have overcome the one-point gap separating him and Bernie Sanders. If Buttigieg had beaten Sanders in New Hampshire after tying him in Iowa, we'd be having very different discussions about this race. So I think that debate mattered.

The problem for Warren is that debates matter only if the Great Mentioners in the media continue to speak of your candidacy as viable. The pundits can't make a hopeless cause plausible -- for quite a while, they tried to tell us that Marianne Williamson was a legitimate candidate, and the voters weren't buying it -- but after Warren's autumn poll surge, they decided that it was time for her to be canceled, and they haven't changed their minds about that. They're now saying that they'll consider un-canceling her if she'll put a sustained hit on Bernie Sanders, whom they despise, but if she won't do that, they won't judge her debate performances (or the rest of her campaign for that matter) on the merits. The response is: Wow, nice debate, Liz. Now dance the way we want you to dance. Otherwise, nothing you say or do matters.

These folks have been rooting for every moderate to have a surge, so before the New Hampshire primary they were eager to amplify the message that Klobuchar had a good night. With Warren, they don't care about strong debates, unless she'll do what they want.

Warren took one shot at Sanders last night, but it wasn't enough. You can have all the good debates you want, but the gatekeepers have to decide that you're the right person to have a good debate, and that you had the right kind. Regrettably, they'll never say that about Warren.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020


As I noted in my last post, President Trump is trying to persuade America that the coronavirus outbreak poses no threat to our country. He's now being seconded by National Economic Council head Larry Kudlow. (“We have contained this. I won’t say [it’s] airtight, but it’s pretty close to airtight.”)

But Tucker Carlson knows it's time for the right to seize the initiative and do what right-wingers always do when something bad happens: blame it on liberals.
... Tucker Carlson believes he has found the reason for the spread of the virus; 'wokeness.'

The outspoken US conservative highlighted articles from several news outlets that warned against people resorting to xenophobia when warning others about the virus.

He said:
For weeks the media told you it was wrong to worry about the coronavirus, a mysterious, highly communicable lethal disease spreading rapidly around the world.

If that concerns you in any way, if you think maybe we ought to take some steps to protect ourselves from it, then you're a bigot.

Countless publications wagged their fingers in the face of readers, and told them it was irrational, probably immoral in fact to worry about the coronavirus than the annual flu.

Identity politics trumped public health and not for the first time. Wokeness is a cult. They would let you die before they admitted that diversity is not our strength.

Rush Limbaugh also seized the moment -- and leveled the exact opposite charge at liberals, or at least at the "liberal media": They're being overly alarmist.
RUSH LIMBAUGH (HOST): Folks, this coronavirus thing, I want to try to put this in perspective for you. It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump. Now, I want to tell you the truth about the coronavirus. You think I’m wrong about this? You think I’m missing it by saying that’s -- Yeah, I’m dead right on this. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.

The drive-by media hype of this thing as a pandemic, as the Andromeda strain, as, “Oh, my God. If you get it, you’re dead,” do you know what the — I think the survival rate is 98%. Ninety-eight percent of people who get the coronavirus survive. It’s a respiratory system virus....

I believe the way it’s being weaponized is by virtue of the media, and I think that it is an effort to bring down Trump, and one of the ways it’s being used to do this is to scare the investors, to scare people in business.
Will conservatives eventually settle on one line of coronavirus demagoguery? Or will they let a hundred demagogic flowers bloom?

They might reconcile these two messages and deploy both. If there are outbreaks in America -- some government officials think they're inevitable, as do the experts quoted in this smart and chilling Atlantic article -- it seems likely that they'll take place in population centers rather than suburbs, exurbs, or rural communities. Either that or they'll turn up in unexpected locations because someone traveled overseas.

Most Americans never travel. Trumpism is popular among the untraveled; they're suspicious of people who gad about the planet rather than settling into a small town or gated retirement village. They'll regard this as a disease of rootless cosmopolitanism -- or, rather, as a disease rootless cosmopolitans have spread to simple, decent, travel-averse Volk. If the disease bypasses their own communities, they might agree with Carlson on the reasons for the virus's spread and echo Limbaugh on how dangerous it is. (Heck, they don't know anyone who's got it!) It will be like city crime -- something they're obsessed with and that they blame us for, even though they never personally experience it.

I think some of us expect that this will be the crisis that exposes the Trump administration's weaknesses. I worry that if right-wingers have someone to scapegoat, they won't care how bad things get, epidemiologically or financially. They'll cling to a president who seems to distrust foreigners as much as they do, and he'll soon learn how to demagogue the illness from his favorite TV hosts. Let's not assume that this will be Trump's Katrina. It could be Trump's 9/11 -- a preparation failure with disastrous consequences that he manages to turn to his political advantage.


What worries me about President Trump's response to the coronavirus outbreak is that it reeks of Norman Vincent Peale and the Power of Positive Thinking.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday predicted the coronavirus is "going to go away" despite warnings from Democrats that his White House is asleep amid cresting fears in Washington that the outbreak could spark a pandemic.

The President maintained his sunny optimism about the virus that is showing signs of spreading around the world from its Chinese epicenter and is already having a huge impact on global commerce....

The President ticked though administration efforts to contain the virus, claiming the US had "essentially closed the borders."

"We're watching very carefully," Trump said. "We're fortunate so far and we think it's going to remain that way."

We haven't "essentially closed the borders." We're not "close" to a vaccine. And the stock market isn't looking "very good."

We know that both Trump and his father were great believers in Norman Vincent Peale, whose ideas clearly had a profound influence on Trump:
“Stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding,” Peale urged his millions of followers. “Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade.”
What's peculiar about Trump's response to this crisis is that he's not boasting very much -- none of his usual litany of the greatest! the finest! the largest! -- and he's not using the crisis as an excuse to attack enemies. Those are his go-to reactions to nearly every other situation he faces. The response to the virus outbreak is marked by something different: fear rather than swagger. It's as if Trump just wants to wish this crisis away. Remember when he insisted that it would just vanish in the spring?
Trump, Feb. 10: Now, the virus that we’re talking about having to do — you know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat — as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April. We’re in great shape though. We have 12 cases — 11 cases, and many of them are in good shape now.
(There's actually no reason to believe that this will happen.)

The Trump who's responding to this crisis isn't Trump the braggart or Trump the bully. It's Trump the germaphobe. Yes, I'm a Trump-basher, but I feel free to call Trump a germaphobe because Trump calls himself one. There's plenty of evidence.

This was reported yesterday:
The administration is already taking additional steps — to protect Trump. Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was scheduled to accompany Trump to India, but at the last minute he was told to stay home, CNN reported, because he had a cold and “White House doctors advised against having him travel in such proximity to the president.”
I'm not saying that Trump would react competently to this crisis if he weren't a germaphobe. But we could at least predict that his response would be driven by the usual Trump motivators, ego and rage. This is different. He's afraid. It's hard to predict what he'll do.

Monday, February 24, 2020


MSNBC'S Chris Matthews recently compared the victory of Bernie Sanders in the Nevada caucuses to "the fall of France in the summer of 1940" -- an analogy to which the Jewish candidate and his team strenuously objected.

And what do you know -- as Vanity Fair's Joe Pompeo reports, working the refs can achieve results for people who aren't Republicans:
After Matthews’s comments on Saturday night, Griffin’s phone blew up with an angry reaction from the campaign. Griffin quickly discussed the matter with Matthews, who then interviewed campaign cochair Nina Turner on air minutes later. Sources also noted that MSNBC took Sanders’s El Paso and San Antonio rallies live on Saturday, and that Sanders people like campaign manager Faiz Shakir and former campaign manager Jeff Weaver both received airtime on Monday. “The Sanders team is in contact with our senior management,” one source said, “and they are heard. Phil is doing his best to give Bernie his due.”

Now, with Sanders looking more and more like the presumptive nominee, MSNBC’s coverage will have to shift to reflect that. “Will they bring in more contributors that are pro-Sanders? That’s where the chatter is,” another insider told me. “As a matter of news, you have to. Management is sensitive to it, that he is now very possibly gonna be the nominee. He’s winning.” I ran that notion past a network executive. “Yes, the race has changed over the last couple of weeks, and we are going to reflect that and make adjustments,” he said. “One easy way to do that is to seek out more smart, pro-Sanders voices from people who can make our coverage more insightful.”
Sanders and his team were complaining about MSNBC's coverage even before the Matthews incident. You may argue that they were demanding special treatment from MSNBC that they're not entitled to. But it doesn't matter -- they complained, and it worked. MSNBC is changing its approach to Sanders -- just the way any major news organization would change its approach in response to complaints from Republicans.

One criticism I hear often from the Sanders-averse is "He's not even a Democrat." Well, I don't know of a single Democrat who's successfully worked the media refs in my adult lifetime, and I'm nearly old enough for Medicare.

Democrats, take note: The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Complain. Act self-righteously angry. Fake it if necessary. As Republicans know, and as Bernie Sanders just demonstrated, it works.


We have low unemployment and a rising stock market, so I can't imagine why so many people are so grumpy...
A Miami man who flew to China worried he might have coronavirus. He may owe thousands

After returning to Miami last month from a work trip in China, Osmel Martinez Azcue found himself in a frightening position: he was developing flu-like symptoms, just as coronavirus was ravaging the country he had visited.

... Azcue felt it was his responsibility to his family and his community to get tested for novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19.

He went to Jackson Memorial Hospital.... Azcue said he asked for a flu test first.

“This will be out of my pocket,” Azcue, who has a very limited insurance plan, recalled saying. “Let’s start with the blood test, and if I test positive, just discharge me.”

Fortunately, that’s exactly what happened....

But two weeks later, Azcue got unwelcome news in the form of a notice from his insurance company about a claim for $3,270....
A better name for Azcue's "very limited insurance plan" is "junk plan." The plan might pay about 43% of the bill -- but there's a catch:
In 2018, President Donald Trump’s administration rolled back Affordable Care Act regulations and allowed so-called “junk plans” in the market. Consumers mistakenly assume that the plans with lower monthly costs will be better than no insurance at all in case of a medical catastrophe, but often the plans aren’t very different from going without insurance altogether.

Hospital officials at Jackson told the Miami Herald that, based on his insurance, Azcue would only be responsible for $1,400 of that bill, but Azcue said he heard from his insurer that he would also have to provide additional documentation: three years of medical records to prove that the flu he got didn’t relate to a pre-existing condition.
He has to provide proof that the flu isn't related to a preexisting condition? Seriously?

And why does Azcue have this plan?
Azcue said he earns about $55,000 a year working for a medical device company that does not offer health insurance....
He doesn't get medical insurance from his employer, a medical device company. You can't make this stuff up.

Oh, and:
Jackson Health officials say that there are more bills for Azcue on the way, but it’s unclear what those will total, as they are going to be issued by the University of Miami Health System, or UHealth, for treatment provided by their staff physicians who work at Jackson.
Of course. I have good insurance, but I can't remember the last time I got one bill for a doctor visit. If I get one bill, I always get another, and maybe another one after that. They're not huge. I can afford them. But I'm glad I'm healthy, and I still expect not to be as lucky as I was a number of years ago when a medical assistant in my gastroenterologist's office made a $4000 anesthesiologist's charge go away after a colonoscopy. (The doctor was in network. So was the hospital. Who knew the anesthesiologist wasn't?)

I'm reading this story at the same time I'm reading that this coronavirus has begun to show up in disturbingly large numbers in countries far from China -- Italy and Iran, to name two. If the U.S. has a serious outbreak, could we contain it?

I think we'd be hamstrung by the fact that millions of Americans are uninsured or underinsured, and by the fact that many of us don't dare to take time off to seek medical care because we don't have paid days off (in one stratum of the workforce), while even among comfortable middle-class workers with paid time off and good insurance, there's so much pressure to perform that showing up for work sick is the rule rather than the exception.

Let's hope we dodge this bullet. Meanwhile, I'm thinking about that video in which British people react to America's huge out-of-pocket healthcare costs.

I'd like to see a follow-up in which the interviewer just reads Brits this news story.


The right-wing site BizPac Review reports:
... there was an ” Epstein didn’t kill himself” float in New Orleans.

The float depicts an “Epstein” character in an orange jumpsuit, while a woman behind him resembling Hillary Clinton holds something around his neck.

The persistent linkage of Bill Clinton -- but not another pal, Donald Trump -- to Jeffrey Epstein is the result of what Matthew Yglesias calls "the hack gap": right-wing media outlets "simply abjure anything resembling journalism in favor of propaganda," while there's nothing comparable taking place at mainstream or even lefty news organizations (and, in fact, the mainstream press often echoes right-wing propaganda).

No high-profile mainstream or lefty media outlet obsesses over the Epstein-Trump connection. Yet here's just a sampling of stories from Fox over the past few months: "Investigative journalist: Why is Bill Clinton escaping scrutiny in Jeffrey Epstein case?"; "ABC News' spiking of Epstein story draws scrutiny toward Clinton ally George Stephanopoulos"; "Bill Clinton 'knows nothing' about financier Jeffrey Epstein's 'terrible crimes,' former president's spokesman says"; "Chelsea Clinton denies close ties to Jeffrey Epstein’s ex"; "Bill Clinton 'not telling the truth' about Jeffrey Epstein, says investigative journalist who first revealed allegations in 2010"; "Maureen Callahan: Why is Bill Clinton escaping scrutiny in Jeffrey Epstein case?"; and on and on.

And, of course, now there's this guy, who can be considered a top voice in the right-wing media:
President Trump added fuel to the conspiracy theories surrounding multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein's apparent suicide on Saturday when he retweeted a post that implied former President Bill Clinton was linked to Epstein's death.

The tweet came from self-described comedian Terrence K. Williams who echoed many on social media in suggesting a connection between the Clintons and Epstein, who previously was an acquaintance of the former president.

"Died of SUICIDE on 24/7 SUICIDE WATCH ? Yeah right! How does that happen," the tweet read, alongside a photo of Epstein and one of the Clintons. "#JefferyEpstein had information on Bill Clinton & now he’s dead I see #TrumpBodyCount trending but we know who did this! RT if you’re not Surprised."
There was, briefly, a trending #TrumpBodyCount Twitter topic, but the hack gap has made suspicion of Clinton involvement in Epstein's death much more widespread than suspicion of Trump.

We're seeing this again in reports about Russian attempts to interfere in the 2020 election. These stories, of course, are reporting facts, not conspiracies. The intelligence community says that the Russians want Trump reelected, but also want to sow chaos, and they believe the nomination of Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side will help accomplish that goal.

What's clearly emerging on the right -- and in Trump's Twitter feed -- is an effort to portray the reports of Russian interest in a Trump win as fake news, while the reports about Sanders are treated as gospel. If Sanders is the nominee, there's an excellent chance that Republican propaganda efforts will make him and not Trump seem like the Russians' choice.

We have a four-year head start, but the Republicans are better at this than we are. Can they make memories of Trump's Putinphilia go away, while persuading the public that Sanders is the Kremlin's real preference?

I wouldn't rule that out. They have the hacks to do it.

Sunday, February 23, 2020


As Ryan Lizza says, nearly everything you thought you knew about the limitation of Bernie Sanders's popular appeal is wrong:
On Saturday in Nevada, Bernie Sanders laid waste not just to his five main rivals but also to every shard of conventional wisdom about the Democratic presidential primaries....

Sanders wasn’t supposed to be able to break through with black and brown voters.... (Sanders won 27% of African Americans and 53% of Hispanics across the state.) The Sanders movement is supposed to be limited to those crazy college kids who don’t remember socialist as a slur.... (Sanders won every age category in the state except Nevadans over 65, which he ceded to Joe Biden.)

... He was said to have a ceiling of 30% or so. Remarkably, against a much larger field of candidates Sanders is poised to come close to the same level of support as he did in 2016 in a one-on-one race against Hillary Clinton, to whom he lost 47%-53%. (He was at 46% with a quarter of precincts reporting as of this writing.) He was said to be unable to attract anyone outside his core base. But he held his own with moderate voters (22%) and won across every issue area except voters who cared most about foreign policy, who went with Biden.
Many Democratic voters don't see Sanders as electable -- they may be right -- but in Nevada, as The Washington Post noted, they were predictably divided, according to entrance polls:

By a nearly 2 to 1 margin, early entrance polling found more Nevada caucus-goers said they would prefer a candidate who can beat Trump over someone who agrees with them on major issues. But electability-focused voters were deeply divided in their initial support heading into caucus locations, with just under one-quarter supporting Sanders and Biden; about 1 in 6 caucus-goers supporting former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg; and Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren in the low teens of support.

That is a stark contrast to the one-third of voters who preferred a candidate that agrees with them on major issues; a small majority of this group supported Sanders, while other candidates at most barely broke double digits with this group.
It looks as if Sanders is unstoppable, but if he can be stopped, it will be by one candidate, not three or four splitting the anti-Sanders vote. Maybe Amy Klobuchar (who's at 4.5% right now) will have the good sense to drop out. Pete Buttigieg probably won't -- he was at 15.4%, in third place -- but while he seems to have enough support to be a strong runner-up in several states, he doesn't have enough support to, y'know, win.

And as for Joe Biden, Lizza writes:
Biden did better, though a second place finish twenty points behind Sanders isn’t much to crow about for a former vice president. Still, being on the upswing, however gradual it is, going into South Carolina is essential for Biden. If he is the first candidate to definitively defeat Sanders in a contest, it could resurrect his campaign.
Well, maybe. But he's looked weak in the first three contests. He can't dominate any contest, the way Sanders dominated Nevada, unless Buttigieg and Klobuchar drop out (and maybe not even then). And after South Carolina, there'll be Mike Bloomberg.

That's why it may actually be helpful to the anti-Sanders cause if South Carolina Republicans are successful in their scheme to turn out Republican voters for Sanders in the state's open Democratic primary. Biden's remaining justification for staying in the race is that he can win some states. For months he's been expected to win South Carolina, where the Democratic electorate is largely black, though in one recent poll he was tied with Sanders.

Biden will stay in the race if he wins South Carolina, and then he and Bloomberg (and possibly Buttigieg and Klobuchar) will split the anti-Sanders vote on Super Tuesday. But if GOP ratfuckers help Sanders win South Carolina, maybe Biden will have the good sense to drop out. Maybe Buttigieg and Klobuchar will be gone as well. If that happens, it'll be Sanders vs. Bloomberg, one on one.

Otherwise, it's Sanders all the way, and you'd better get used to it.

Saturday, February 22, 2020


Yastreblyansky seems to agree:
There's a lot of talk right now about Sanders inevitably winning the nomination because he seems to have a plurality of the support, somewhere around 30% overall and 15 or 20 points or more over all the other contenders, and I continue to be unclear how that's supposed to work: it looks there's a ceiling around there and a pretty large majority of Democrats would seriously prefer not to vote for him, if they could unite or "gather" around some other figure, which is not looking too good at the moment. Still, there's a similar percentage, maybe not so big, of people who seriously don't want to vote for Biden, and a bigger one of those who would rather not vote for Buttigieg. But hardly anybody is saying they won't vote for Elizabeth Warren. If we had ranked choice voting in the primary, I think she'd very likely win. She's sort of like the inverse of Yogi Berra's comment on the place where nobody ever goes because it's too crowded; everybody loves her but they won't vote for her because she's too unpopular.
Does Sanders really have a ceiling? Would he lose if he weren't facing a divided opposition? One poll says no.

But who would win if voters could choose candidates on ranked-choice ballots, which would allow Sanders haters to rank him last and to upvote candidates other than their favorites (and would allow haters of the other candidates to do the same)? Would Warren really be the first, second, or third choice of most voters, and possibly finish first in a ranked-choice system?

Pollsters should be asking this now.

As FiveThirtyEight notes, the most likely outcome right now is that no candidate will have a majority of pledged delegates going into the convention. I think if Sanders (or another candidate) has a solid lead, most voters will want the nomination to go to the leader. Team Sanders seems to believe that Sanders should win if he has any lead and any percentage of total delegates, even if the percentage is well under 40%. There's really no one outside the current candidate field who could unite most of the factions, except maybe Michelle Obama or Oprah Winfrey, and they don't want to run.

So let's do some ranked-choice polling -- not just asking first and second choices in caucus-state polling, but asking for a full ranking of the candidates from every respondent. And because future candidate fields will probably be large more often than not, and there are likely to be strong ideological disagreements within the party for the foreseeable future, let's seriously consider ranked-choice voting for future primaries. It's not perfect, but we'll have a clearer sense of who can unite the party.


Every news story about the vetting process for John Bolton's book implies that the vetting is being done by career professionals according to long-established standards. I don't believe it. I believe the career pros may be trying to uphold standards -- but is it even possible that they're not feeling intimidated? Is it conceivable that this president will allow them to exercise independent judgment, even if they conclude that the book is publishable before November?
President Trump has directly weighed in on the White House review of a forthcoming book by his former national security adviser, telling his staff that he views John Bolton as “a traitor,” that everything he uttered to the departed aide about national security is classified and that he will seek to block the book’s publication, according to two people familiar with the conversations.

The president’s private arguments stand in contrast to the point-by-point process used to classify and protect sensitive secrets and appears to differ from the White House’s public posture toward Bolton’s much-anticipated memoir. The National Security Council warned Bolton last month that his draft “appears to contain significant amounts of classified information,” some of it top secret, but pledged to help him revise the manuscript and “move forward as expeditiously as possible.”

“We will do our best to work with you to ensure your client’s ability to tell his story in a manner that protects U.S. national security,” Ellen Knight, senior director of the council’s records office, wrote in a Jan. 23 letter to Bolton’s attorney.

But the president has insisted to aides that Bolton’s account of his work in Trump’s White House, “The Room Where It Happened,” should not see the light of day before the November election....

Trump told national television anchors on Feb. 4 during an off-the-record lunch that material in the book was “highly classified,” according to notes from one participant in the luncheon. He then called him a “traitor.”

“We’re going to try and block the publication of the book,” Trump said, according to the notes. “After I leave office, he can do this. But not in the White House.”
If Trump wins again, that book will never see the light of day, and neither will this one:
Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted from her post as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine after a smear campaign by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, has signed a book deal, it was announced Friday.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said it had acquired a memoir by Yovanovich....

The book ... is scheduled to be published in the spring of 2021....
If they want the book out, Bolton and his publisher, Simon & Schuster, might have to consider publishing without clearance. It's risky, though. When this has been done in the past, the government responded by seizing the profits and threatening criminal prosecution.
A former Navy SEAL wrote a 2012 book about his role in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, triggering a Justice Department criminal investigation into allegations he published classified details of his work and training as a special operator.

In a 2016 settlement, Matt Bissonnette, who wrote “No Easy Day” under the pen name Mark Owen, agreed to turn over to the government all the profits and future royalties stemming from his book — which amounted to at least $6.6 million at the time. As part of the deal, Bissonnette acknowledged he failed to get his manuscript properly cleared by the Pentagon. In exchange, the Justice Department agreed to dismiss any other claims and drop any plans to prosecute him for the release of classified information.
I'm guessing Bolton doesn't need the money, though he wouldn't want to give it up. I'm also guessing that the Trumpers would be more than happy to take his money and prosecute him, while Trump would made Twitter threats (at least) against Simon & Schuster's parent company, ViacomCBS.

If the prospect of Trump going after Bolton this way has you rooting for injuries, imagine how this would go in the case of Yovanovitch, who has less money and fewer powerful friends, and a smaller and thus more vulnerable publisher.

So if you ever want to read either of these books, work hard to elect Sanders/Bloomberg/Biden/Warren, because it won't be possible otherwise.

Friday, February 21, 2020


Over the past few decades, right-wing propagandists have done an excellent job of bamboozling the public by portraying cultural "elitists" as the real overlords in American society, thus permitting actual elitists -- you know, people with money and power -- to escape accountability. If you drive a Prius, shop at Whole Foods, or listen to NPR, if you're supportive of your LGBTQ child, if you'd heard of Parasite before the Oscars (or, Lord help us, had actually seen it), you're an elitist as far as the right is concerned. Billionaires? They're just rugged risk-takers. The real elitists are those snooty liberals with their noses in the air, the ones who look down on real working people -- or did, at least, until those rugged folks got their revenge on Election Day 2016.

But in fact, our side's politicians actually want to improve the lot of working people. Many of our voters are blue-collar workers or far-from-elite white-collar workers. Our inclination to judge people by cultural markers has been greatly exaggerated.

Except now we have Mike Bloomberg in the presidential race -- a guy who really might be called an elitist liberal if he were actually a liberal, and who's now mocking Donald Trump (allegedly a "blue-collar billionaire") for the déclassé way he likes his meat:

Mike Bloomberg is looking beyond the war being waged against him by the Democratic primary field toward general election opponent President Trump, trolling him with billboards where the president himself is campaigning in the West this week.

... the billboards are going up in Phoenix and Las Vegas, where Mr. Trump will be campaigning Friday. The billboards are appearing in high visibility areas near a Trump hotel property on the Vegas Strip, and also along potential motorcade routes where the president may see them as he drives by.

Should Mr. Trump look out the window of the presidential limousine, he could see billboards blaring, "Donald Trump cheats at golf," and "Donald Trump eats burnt steak."
Why bring up the burnt steak? It's just a reminder that some people think there's a "right" way to eat and you, ordinary voter, might not know what it is.

And cheating at golf? Who cares?

Other ads in the series are better. I like the first two below, at least:

Mock the wall because it's his signature policy, and it's a failure. Mock the popular-vote loss because Trump clearly hasn't gotten over it.

It should be easy to mock Trump's failures in business, although no one managed it in 2016. (It's hard to make Trump look like a failure when network television made him look like the ultimate rich guy for fourteen years, an image that's clearly indelible for many Americans.)

It comes off as Bloomberg flaunting his own wealth in a haughty way (as opposed to Trump's phony-populist way). Trump has conned his voters into believing that he's their rich guy, someone who uses his wealth and (alleged) business acumen on their behalf, while Bloomberg is coming off as someone who's more interested in competing with Trump for alpha status than helping ordinary citizens.

So Bloomberg should lose the billboards, or at least stick to the ones that sidestep issues of wealth and taste.


I wrote a post in December titled "No, Trump Won't Skip the Debates," and I stand by every word of it. Trump will debate his Democratic opponent this fall -- I'm certain of it. This New York Times story about Trump's rally last night in Colorado includes several indications of his intent to debate.
“I don’t know if anybody watched last night’s debate,” Mr. Trump said shortly after he took the stage. “It got very big ratings, and you know what? Mini Mike didn’t do very well last night. I was going to send him a note saying, ‘It’s not easy doing what I do, is it?’”
It’s not easy doing what I do -- Bloomberg debated poorly, and that was Trump's comment. This tells me that Trump will debate for the most obvious reason: He thinks he's really good at it.
Mr. Trump spent a substantial amount of time regaling the crowd with stories of his 2016 campaign, calling Dan Scavino — his social media manager and “the most powerful man in politics,” the president said — up to the stage to hand him a stack of news clippings. The president read aloud from them individually, insulting journalists who had declared he had done poorly on the debate stage against Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent that year....

“I did great in the debates,” Mr. Trump said. “I became president because of the debates.”
That's not the reason Trump became president, but why would a guy who believes he won as a result of his debate performances refuse to debate this year?
Donald Trump Jr., Mr. Trump’s eldest son and a campaign surrogate who watched the debate aboard Air Force One with his father, said that Mr. Bloomberg’s performance amounted to a “great night” for his father.

“Bloomberg was the victim of a political homicide and was clearly not prepared for the onslaught coming his way at the debate,” Donald Trump Jr. said in remarks relayed through a spokesman. “If he can’t handle Grandpa Joe or Pocahontas on the debate stage, what makes anyone think he can handle Trump?”
If the president doesn't intend to debate, why is a spokesman for his namesake son -- who's the most politically attuned of the Trump children -- asserting that Bloomberg would lose to Trump in a debate?

And there's this:

REINCE PRIEBUS: I went back and looked at that second debate, the second general debate against Hillary Clinton, the one that turned around the entire 2016 candidacy for Donald Trump. Almost every one of the best lines from that debate President Trump came up with on his own. They weren't actually prepped, even though he was ready for the debate. So debates matter. You have to have natural talent, and Bloomberg doesn't. He doesn't have the talent to stand up against President Trump on a debate stage.
Why would a former Trump staffer, speaking to the most important pro-Trump propaganda organization, say this if Trump is planning to evade debates in the fall?

I know what you'll say. Adderall. Dementia. Scared to debate against [pick your favorite Democratic candidate].

Meanwhile, Trump is now doing lengthy impromptu rallies back-to-back -- last night's rally in Colorado will be followed by another one in Las Vegas tonight. If Trump is afraid to appear in a public forum where he has to speak off the cuff, he's doing a hell of a job of concealing that fear.

Yes, he'll debate. Take that to the bank.

Thursday, February 20, 2020


I don't listen to Rush Limbaugh, but I read the occasional transcript on his website. The headline of this transcribed segment from today's radio show caught my eye.
The Rare Heart and Character of the Donald Trump I Know
"Rare heart and character"? Do tell, Rush.

Limbaugh teased his listeners for a while:
... what is ironic about it is that people who only have formed an opinion of Trump based on criticism he gets in the media, when you tell them he has depth of character and heart, you lose ’em. They think the last thing Trump has is character. They think he’s totally devoid. They think he’s brusque and he’s an ogre.
Gosh, I can't imagine how anyone would come to that conclusion.
But when you get to know him personally, and I mean really get to know him, and you encounter the can-do, will-do, there’s no way we can be stopped personality, then you realize how rare it is. If there’s any self-doubt in Donald Trump, he will never portray it, unless he’s joking about something. And even when he’s joking, he’s serious. He is somebody that doesn’t take “no” for an answer, but never manipulates you and never commands and never demands.

You end up doing what he wants even when you think you can’t. But not because you have been intimidated or made afraid. It’s hard to describe....

But I’m still not — I haven’t zeroed in on it, and it would be easy if I could give you some details that I don’t have permission to share yet about that day. But if I were able, you would not have any questions about what I’m talking about. So do your best to believe what I’m telling you here.
"That day" is the day Limbaugh got the Presidential Medal of Freedom on live TV during the State of the Union address. He tells his listeners that he can't reveal the real inside skinny -- but he does go on to recount some of what happened that day:
... Trump is just can-do. He’s positive. He exudes confidence and leadership, has no self-doubt, does not let you have any self-doubt, will not tolerate you thinking you can’t do something if he wants you to do it. I’ll just give you one example, and this is sort of out of context, and it’s not gonna be fully explanatory. But on that day, we had no business being able to make it to Washington on the day of the State of the Union. We didn’t have any clothes.

My transportation was not available. Doctors... I had a crucial surgical procedure at 5 p.m. that day. There was no way. There no way under the sun I had any business being in Washington that night. I tried to tell the president this, and he agreed with me. “Oh, yeah, your health comes first. There’s no question. Look, I’ve cleared you into Reagan National. My guys are gonna meet you. They’re gonna bring you right here to the White House.

“If you need a tailor to fix the jacket, we got somebody here. Don’t worry about it! I understand your health has to come first.” What do you say to that? “I’ve cleared you into Reagan National. My guys are gonna bring you here to the White House. If you need somebody to fix the jacket, no problem. I understand your health comes first. Can’t you just tell the doctors to do part of it, like, right now, and then let you go later this afternoon?”

“Well, it’s not quite that easy.”

“Well, what’s his name?”

“Um...” (chuckling) And I knew nothing about the medal at this time. I knew nothing about it, and it’s one of the reasons he was so insistent. But the point is, in his world, there was no way it wasn’t happening. No matter what was standing in the way, it was going to happen. No matter what the objection was. No matter how sensible the objection was. No matter how sincere it was. No matter what.
So that's Trump's character -- he wants an acquaintance and important political ally to be given a medal on live TV because he believes in feeding his base endless quantities of red meat, as if they won't vote for him again unless they're allowed to consume triple and quadruple portions every day between now and November. This ally has stage-four cancer, for which he's undergoing treatments I'm sure are extremely debilitating. But Trump wants the acquaintance to be a human prop, and he has both government power and personal wealth to make sure that his sick, weakened man complies.

And the acquaintance thinks that's a good thing. He thinks being used as a prop during what is likely to be his final illness is just swell, because he believes in The Cause and he knows this advances it, and also because, being a right-winger, he believes that some people are Masters of the Universe and others are expected to serve them.

So he tells himself that Trump made him choose to do this in the midst of his cancer treatment.
But it ends up happening because you want to do it. (laughing) It’s not because you’ve been demanded. It’s not because you have been ordered.

It’s not because you’ve been intimidated or manipulated to show up. It’s hard to describe. All I can tell you is, there are so few people. I understand he’s got the power of the presidency, but even without that he’s this kind of guy, and it’s rare.
Trump pushes Limbaugh around when he's weak, and Limbaugh likes it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is character, according to Limbaugh.


Late in the debate, after Alberta posted this, Warren did take Bernie Sanders on briefly, but in a debate that will be best remembered for her strong performance, she and others mostly left Sanders alone.

I don't know why the rest of the field (with the occasional exception of Mike Bloomberg) gave Sanders a pass. Do they think all of his supporters are unbudgeable cultists? Exit polls in New Hampshire do show that most Sanders voters chose him well before Primary Day, but 17% of voters who decided on a candidate in the last week voted for him. That was 4% of the primary electorate (25% of voters were late deciders). Not every Sanders voter is a diehard.

It would have been tactically wiser for Warren to attack Sanders, but I think she was operating last night on principle -- she'd decided beforehand that she was going to try to dominate the debate, but her specific line of attack, a critique of Bloomberg's sexism and use of wealth to avoid consequences, seemed heartfelt. (Where's the word "authentic" when you need it?) Bloomberg's sexism and use of financial power to insulate himself from accountability seems to infuriate Warren -- and Joe Biden's follow-up about Bloomberg's option of releasing complainants against his company from non-disclosure agreements suggests that, for all Biden's touchy-feely behavior, he also genuinely cares about mistreatment of women.

I don't agree with this. To save his campaign, Biden needed to dominate last night. He was better than usual, but Warren was the strongest debater by far. If Biden could cut into Sanders's front-runner status in Nevada, it would create an opening for Warren as well. Maybe moderate voters came away from the debate believing that Biden is a better bet than those two squabbling kids, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, but Biden still operated in Warren's shadow last night. (Maybe we can hope that the moderates will give Warren a second look.)

Did Warren destroy Bloomberg's candidacy?

Nahhh. He's not dead. Sad to say, but Matt Flegenheimer of The New York Times is probably right:
But it is not clear how, or even if, his performance might affect his prospects. Mr. Bloomberg is offering audiences an unsentimental bargain, in some ways, pitched less at the heart than the gut. These are extraordinary times, the argument goes, requiring extraordinary interventions — up to and including an ultrarich, party-switching Manhattanite hard-wired to replace another.

Voters do not need to fall in love, Mr. Bloomberg’s allies say. They need only to fall on the right side of the question underpinning his campaign: Can anyone else really be trusted to take down the president? And if not, then why not default to the man with the biggest budget for political weaponry?

“Mike Will Get It Done,” read the signs at his events. The means are generally left unsaid.
How long do memories of debate performances last? Amy Klobuchar seemed to benefit from a strong performance just before the New Hampshire primary -- but is she sustaining the momentum? Bloomberg had a terrible debate last night, but he's not on the ballot in Nevada or South Carolina, and he'll spend tens of millions of dollars on ads between now and Super Tuesday (March 3), when he'll actually be on ballots for the first time. There won't be another debate until March 15.* So I expect him to survive (and do a lot more debate prep).

And yes, I wish Democrats had directed more attacks at Trump last night. If the parties were reversed, that's what Republicans would have done. But it's easier if you're a Republican -- there isn't a wide range of opinions on the right, so GOP debaters are free to attack Democrats. The Democratic Party represents an electorate with a broader range of opinions. It tries to speak to moderates, liberals, and Sandersite progressives. There was intraparty fighting last night because Democrats genuinely disagree on stuff, and they care about those disagreements.

Warren didn't fight with Sanders because she agrees with him on many issues. She fought with Bloomberg because his sexism and cavalier use of wealth galls her. Maybe Democrats' biggest problem right now is sincerity.

*UPDATE: sorry, I was wrong -- there'll be a debate in South Carolina on Tuesday. I wonder if Bloomberg will show up.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020


The president likes to make fun of Mike Bloomberg's height.

It appears he's gotten into Bloomberg's head.

I'm a short guy, and this isn't how I would have handled Trump's insults. I would have sent out a spokesperson to say, "In fact, Mayor Bloomberg will be standing on a box -- a box containing every document Donald Trump has personally read since becoming president. We all know what a great reader the president is."

At which point, my spokesperson would produce a box approximately this size.

The spokesperson would add, "We printed the documents in large type so we could fill the box."

That's how I'd handle this.