Tuesday, October 27, 2020


So what inspired this tweet?

A story in the New York Post inspired it:
The Post’s exposés on Hunter Biden appear to have helped spark a rush of early voters seeing if they can change their minds....

More than 58.5 million have already cast their ballots, and searches for “Can I change my vote” started trending over the last few days — linked to searches for “Hunter Biden,” according to Google Trends data.
Here's a graph of the Google Trends data that definitely looks like a completely spontaneous reaction to the Hunter Biden stories, and totally doesn't look like a coordinated pro-Trump effort to get this search trending starting at 4:00 this morning:

Remember, the Hunter Biden stories started appearing in the New York Post on October 14. Why would they lead to a tiny ripple of interest in this subject starting ten days later, followed by a sudden burst of interest today?

The only people stupid enough to believe that this is spontaneous are people living in the Murdoch media bubble, plus the president of the United States. Oh, wait, that's redundant.

The Post story correctly notes that there are some states where you do have the opportunity, up to a point, to change an early vote. So will Republicans try to throw attempts at vote-switching into the mix in order to create the confusion and bamboozlement they need to try to steal the election after November 3? And will the Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court help them?

Monday, October 26, 2020


I keep thinking about this chart, from the Upshot at The New York Times:

I keep staring at the column labeled "If Polls Are as Wrong as They Were in ... 2016." I don't think they will be as wrong -- most pollsters now know that they need to weight their polls for education, so I don't think we'll have as many uncounted Trump voters. But who knows?

If we do, notice how the election turns out. Joe Biden wins the popular vote by 6 points. Let's eliminate third-party candidates and say that's a 53%-47% victory. It would be the second-largest popular-vote win this century, behind only Barack Obama's 7-point win in 2008.

But Obama won the Electoral College by more than two to one. He got 365 electoral votes. John McCain got 173.

According to the chart above, in this scenario, Joe Biden won't win Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas (where a new Times poll out today says Biden is trailing), or Maine's second district. He'll win Minnesota and Pennsylvania, but barely.

The electoral vote under these circumstances? Biden 280, Trump 258. A squeaker.

This may happen despite a popular-vote margin of something like 9 million. That's what 53%-47% looks like if -- as some observers predict -- we have turnout of 150 million voters.

And it seems to me that if the polls are off the same way they were in 2016 but slightly more so, that could give Biden a 5-point popular-vote win -- a win by 7,500,000 votes -- while Trump wins Pennsylvania and Minnesota, and is thus reelected with 288 electoral votes. (Yes, Trump could win more electoral votes with a 5-point popular-vote loss than Biden would with a 6-point popular vote win.)

Even if this doesn't happen, it's outrageous that it could happen. This is not democracy. It's insanity.


President Trump thinks the pandemic is nearly over.
“We are coming around, we’re rounding the turn, we have the vaccines, we have everything,” Trump said at a rally in Londonderry, N.H., on Sunday. “Even without the vaccines, we’re rounding the turn. It’s going to be over.”
He says this amid a surge of infections in the U.S. and an outbreak in his vice president's office. None of this has changed his message. His own infection didn't change his message: The virus isn't so bad. It doesn't cause serious consequences for most people. It will disappear soon on its own. Vaccines will be here in weeks. We have a cure. And besides, it doesn't cause serious consequences for most people.

Could anything make him change the way he talks about the virus?

Oh, sure, one thing could: a Joe Biden victory.

I don't know what Trump will do about the pandemic in the lame-duck period if Biden wins. It's easy to imagine that he'd want to stop funneling money to drug companies for treatments and vaccines, just because he wouldn't want vaccines or treatments to arrive on Biden's watch, and he'd want to punish the drug companies for failing to deliver a vaccine before Election Day.

But if he loses, I think he'll spend most of the lame-duck period trying to overturn the results of the election. That will completely distract him. So I suspect that the federal government's inadequate response to the virus will be largely unchanged.

But as soon as Biden is sworn in, Trump will discover the seriousness of the crisis. I assume he'll start doing a weekly Fox & Friends appearance again, and he'll probably holding regular MAGA rallies. (I believe he'll hold one during Biden's inauguration, to announce his 2024 presidential candidacy.) Also, he'll have more time than ever to tweet.

America won't turn a corner instantly. Even if there's a vaccine soon, it will take time to roll out, and it might not be very effective. Case numbers will probably be high all winter.

So Trump -- and Fox News, and the MAGA base, and congressional Republicans -- will suddenly notice that the coronavirus is bad and we're in a national crisis. The crisis, of course, will be all the fault of Joe Biden and the Democrats. We'll hear a lot of talk about how many people died in New York State nursing homes in the early days of the crisis, under a "Democrat governor." High case numbers in "Democrat cities" will be cherry-picked. Biden's failure to instantly get case numbers down will be endlessly analyzed. Even if he does get case numbers down, a decrease in fatalities will persist for a few weeks after the case numbers start to decline. That will be Biden's fault, too.

We all assumed that nothing could get Republicans to take the pandemic seriously. We're probably about to learn that that wasn't true. It will become real to them as soon as they can blame all of it on Democrats.

Sunday, October 25, 2020


A New York Times editorial blames the degraded state of the Republican Party on Donald Trump.
Of all the things President Trump has destroyed, the Republican Party is among the most dismaying.
The editorial acknowledges that the party had problems before Trump came along.
“Destroyed” is perhaps too simplistic, though. It would be more precise to say that Mr. Trump accelerated his party’s demise, exposing the rot that has been eating at its core for decades and leaving it a hollowed-out shell devoid of ideas, values or integrity, committed solely to preserving its own power even at the expense of democratic norms, institutions and ideals.
But the editorial ultimately concludes that Trump is the problem.
Today’s G.O.P. ... has ... allowed itself to be co-opted and radicalized by Trumpism. Its ideology has been reduced to a slurry of paranoia, white grievance and authoritarian populism. Its governing vision is reactionary, a cross between obstructionism and owning the libs....

With his dark gospel, the president has enthralled the Republican base, rendering other party leaders too afraid to stand up to him.
But the party was headed here with or without Trump. Keep in mind who's peddling some of the vilest opposition research against Joe Biden -- not just Rudy Giuliani, a prominent figure in the party since the 1980s, but Steve Bannon, who's been a right-wing propagandist since the mid-2000s:
Multiple videos and images purportedly showing Hunter Biden engaging in sexual acts with several women and using drugs were uploaded on a Chinese digital video platform Saturday evening.

The videos and images appear to be uploaded by a single user on GTV, with many of the photos seemingly from a third-party laptop. GTV, a subsidiary of GTV Media Group, was founded in April 2020 by Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui and Steve Bannon, a former senior adviser to President Trump....

The Washington Examiner confirmed earlier this week that Bannon had access to the contents of the hard drive believed to have belonged previously to Hunter Biden.
But remarkably, this Hunter Biden leak isn't the vilest piece of anti-Democratic oppo out there right now. That honor goes to a "scoop" from a new site called National File:
National File has obtained what a whistleblower has identified as a copy of the complete diary of Ashley Blazer Biden, the 39-year-old daughter of Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden, dating from during the 2020 presidential campaign. National File also knows the reported precise location of the physical diary, and has been told by a whistleblower that there exists an audio recording of Ashley Biden admitting this is her diary.

In the diary, which our source says belongs to the former vice president’s daughter, the author writes of her struggle with drug abuse. Ashley Biden’s struggle with drugs was widely publicized in 2009.

According to our source, the diary also details Ashley Biden’s unhealthy relationship with sex....
What follow are excerpts from a diary -- real? fake? -- that are extraordinarily intimate, and that none of us were entitled to see. I'll spare you the details, but even if these excerpts are genuine, they don't come close to making the case the story's author is trying to make: that Joe Biden engaged in inappropriate sexualized behavior, with his daughter as victim. If the diaries are genuine, their publication is a repulsive violation of Ashley Biden, and if they're fake, they're libelous.

And who wrote this story? Patrick Howley, who was a gutter-dweller years before 2016. Here's Howley two years earlier:
Daily Caller Editor-in-Chief Tucker Carlson has apologized for reporter Patrick Howley's sexist and inappropriate comments about Buzzfeed's Rosie Gray....

On March 19, Howley sparked backlash for tweeting “Not to make an obvious point, but who the Hell would want to pump Rosie Gray?” and "'Pumping' @RosieGray must be the most traumatic experience since Somalia," in response to a blog post which had pushed the sexist and crude suggestion that Gray got her Buzzfeed stories through a sexual relationship with another reporter.
Howley was notorious by then for sexism and racism:
... a Howley-authored piece under the headline “GOP to Howley: Stop masturbating to lesbian Ellen Page” was removed by The Daily Caller after the actress came out of the closet.

In January, Howley ridiculed “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels for doing “his duty to progressive America” and hiring “an unfunny black woman.” Clearly well-versed in the world of comedy, Howley repeatedly called the new cast member, Sasheer Zamata, “unfunny.”
More recently, he's specialized in oppo, some of it based in fact:
In 2019, Howley broke the story of a blackface and KKK costume photograph in Virginia governor Ralph Northam's medical school yearbook after receiving a tip from a "concerned citizen".... Howley's website also broke the news of sexual assault allegations against Virginia lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax, which it posted without doing fact-checking....

In 2020, writing for NationalFile.com, Howley broke the story of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham exchanging sexually suggestive texts with a woman who was not his wife.
Then, a few days ago, there was this:
Four of his Merchant Marine Academy classmates say Mark Kelly, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, was falsely accused of dressing up for Halloween decades ago as Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.

National File, a conservative news site, published images Friday asserting the image was Kelly, along with images from a yearbook reportedly dating to the mid-1980s. The site did not quote anyone verifying the images were of Kelly....

Mark Baden, Kelly's roommate at the Merchant Marine Academy, also said the images are not of Kelly.

"I was the First Rotation Regimental Commander," Baden said. "These photos are absolutely not Mark Kelly, and anyone saying that is lying.” ...

Another classmate said through a statement by Kelly's campaign that the images are not of Kelly, a former Navy combat pilot and NASA astronaut.

"I attended the Merchant Marine Academy with Mark," Ed McDonald said. "I attended this event as well and am in this photo. This is a group from 2nd Company. Mark was not in 2nd Company, and that is not him in these photos."
Patrick Howley, the National File reporter, stood by his story.
And waho else is involved in this smear?
One classmate, Peter Lindsey, said in a statement through the campaign that he got a message via LinkedIn from someone who said he was working on a research project about Kelly and sought to verify the identity of the man wearing the costume.

Lindsey said the person shared the costume images through LinkedIn "and asked if the person in the costume was Mark Kelly. I told them no, and want to say again, Mark is not in those photos. I have spoken to numerous classmates about this this evening, and they concur that he is not in any of these pictures. The people spreading these lies should stop."

The person who reached out to Lindsey was identified by the campaign as a paid consultant for a super political action committee aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-K.Y., that is spending millions of dollars to help defeat Kelly.
So the smear merchant who chose to publish extremely sensitive excerpts from a diary purportedly written by Joe Biden's daughter is peddling a false accusation on behalf of a Mitch McConnell super PAC.

Donald Trump didn't drag the Republican Party into the sewer. It was already there.

Saturday, October 24, 2020


We know the reasons for the various Hunter Biden stories: They're intended to turn the election around at the last minute, or, failing that, they're intended to keep Joe Biden under a cloud of suspicion (at least among Fox News watchers and their friends and relatives) for as long as he's president. But Anne Appelbaum, writing for The Atlantic, hints at a third use for the stories:
By talking about Hunter Biden, the Trump family, especially the Trump children, also hopes to deflect attention from their own greatest weakness, namely the amoral, kleptocratic nepotism that they embody like no family ever before in American history. Their use of this tactic is not remotely subtle. Last summer, Donald Trump Jr. was in Indonesia to promote two Trump-branded properties; Eric Trump has traveled to Uruguay; Donald Trump himself has stayed at his own properties more than 500 times as president, using his presence as a form of advertising. And yet, days after authorities approved plans for a new Trump golf course in Scotland, Eric Trump took to Twitter to declare that “when my father became president we stepped out of all international business.”
I don't believe anyone in the Trump family will ever go to jail -- Trump is a billionaire (yes, really), and America rarely incarcerates billionaires or their relatives -- but I do believe that he and his family will spend quite a bit of time in court after he leaves office.

I think the Trumps are hoping that the Hunter Biden story will still be in the air when their trials take place so they can say, Corrupt? Us? I'll tell you who's corrupt -- the Biden family is corrupt! We're innocent compared to the Bidens!

Will it work on a jury? Will it work on a New York jury?

Hard to say, but the Trumps undoubtedly believe it's worth a shot.

Friday, October 23, 2020


Here's a debate fact check from NBC News:
Trump, defending his administration's pandemic response, claimed Thursday that "2.2 million people — modeled out — were expected to die" from the coronavirus.

Trump has made this claim previously — that original projections for coronavirus deaths in America said the country would lose 2.2 million people to the virus.

This is misleading. Trump is referring to a model published on March 17 by Imperial College London, which did predict that 2.2 million people in America could die from the virus, but only if no mitigation efforts whatsoever were in place.

In late March, White House Coronavirus Task Force response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx told NBC's "Today" that the projection of 1.6 million to 2.2 million deaths referred to what could happen if America did "nothing" to stop the spread of the virus.

"If we do things together, well, almost perfectly, we could get in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities," Birx said at the time.

As of Thursday evening, there have been 223,262 deaths attributed to the virus in America, according to NBC News data.
This talking point also made its way into Trump's interview with Lesley Stahl:
And we closed it up and I saved millions of lives. Millions of lives we saved.
It's good that NBC is pointing out that Trump is comparing America's pandemic response to a complete non-response. And NBC isn't alone -- Daniel Dale made the same point last night on CNN.

But the problem here isn't just that Trump is holding himself to the wrong standard. It's that he's taking all the credit for what millions of us have done.

We've quarantined. We wear masks. We practice social distancing. We avoid gatherings. We avoid visits to elderly relatives. We avoid visits to non-elderly relatives. We avoid indoor time with people we're close to.

Many of us have employers that have told us to work from home. And governments all over the country, to varying degrees, have mandated measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Medical personnel and emergency workers have done heroic work. They've saved many lives, at great personal risk to themselves.

And yes, the Trump administration has done some worthwhile things.

But Trump is giving himself all the credit for the difference between 220,000 deaths and 2.2 million deaths. That's an insult to first responders, and to everyone else who's done something to make up for his administration's inadequate response.

I assume Trump isn't trying to deceive us. I assume he actually believes that the difference between our current death toll and the worst-case scenario is all due to him.

He should be called on this. He's insulting everyone who -- unlike him -- cares about saving lives.


I watched the debate last night and felt Joe Biden acquitted himself well -- he made it clear that his mind is sharp, his ideas are good, and he's fundamentally a decent man who wants to heal the country. Unlike last time, Donald Trump mostly waited his turn to speak, and his attacks were pointed and well delivered -- but as the night wore on he was the increasingly obnoxious, wearying rage monster America got tired of years ago, a guy who won't stop arguing even after he's ruined everyone's mood and cleared the room. The country still believes, wrongly, that he's been a good steward for the economy, and he might have eked out a win based on that if the pandemic and George Floyd's murder hadn't intervened. But he's been underwater in approval polls since his inaugural, and he's trailed Biden badly since last year, so there's a very good chance he'd be losing. He has a new riff -- heard in the Lesley Stahl interview and also in the debate -- suggesting that his poll numbers were rising early this year and people who hadn't liked him were coming around to him. That may be true, though it's more likely that he was getting a poll bounce from being impeached and then acquitted, as Bill Clinton did, and he would have gone right back to his baseline as soon as that faded. (And his baseline was far lower than second-term Clinton's baseline.)

My point is: Most Americans don't like Donald Trump. They don't want every issue turned into an anger junkie's battle against a demonized enemy, especially when they don't agree that the enemy -- immigrant children and the parents from whom they've been separated, people who wear masks -- is an enemy. Beyond the issues, they're tired of the style. It's emotionally demanding when most people have enough problems of their own. It's infantile.

(A significant percentage of the country does like Trump, and finds his style bracing and energizing. But while a majority of white men in America might feel this way, a majority of Americans overall don't.)

So I went to bed last night reading debate reactions like this:

And woke up to a lot of reactions like this:

Translation: Last night wasn't a very good night for Biden, but it wasn't that bad.

Joe Biden did a better job in the final debate on Thursday, according to a CNN Instant Poll of debate watchers. Overall, 53% of voters who watched the debate said that Biden won the matchup, while 39% said that President Donald Trump did....

All told, ... the debate did not do much to move impressions of either candidate. Favorable views of Biden before the debate stood at 55%, and they held steady at 56% in post-debate interviews. Likewise, Trump's numbers held steady, with 42% saying they had a favorable view of the President in interviews conducted before Thursday's debate and 41% saying the same afterward.

More debate watchers, though, said Trump's performance raised concerns about how he would handle the presidency (55%) than did Biden's (41%).
This won't surprise you:
Women were more likely than men to say that Biden did the better job in the debate (60% of women said Biden won, 35% Trump, while among men, 47% said Biden won, 44% said Trump did).
And in a CNN undecided voter panel in North Carolina:
CNN’s Gary Tuchman was running the panel, gathered outside in socially-distanced chairs outside on the Davidson College campus....

“I want to ask you now, this is what our viewers have been waiting for, and that is this question about who you think won this particular debate,” said Tuchman, asking the voters to raise their hands to show who they thought won.

“Who thinks Donald Trump won this debate?” asked Tuchman. “I don’t see any hands. That’s a zero.”

Nine of the voters thought Biden won, and two said they thought it was a draw.
There'll be other responses, but Biden last night seemed ready to govern like a thoughtful adult, while Trump still appears to be looking for a bar fight. Biden won last night.

Thursday, October 22, 2020


So here's President Trump's Lesley Stahl interview, if you want to subject yourself to it.

Right-wingers think it's awesome, while Democrats believe Trump hurt himself by acknowledging that he hopes the Supreme Court overturns Obamacare. My impression -- although I haven't watched the whole thing -- is that Trump alternates self-pity and abuse. He comes off as an abusive spouse, treating Stahl with no respect.

Having said that, I'll add that Stahl doesn't do a great job. Trump speaks mostly in well-worn talking points -- I don't think he says anything that he hasn't said a dozen times before -- but Stahl doesn't challenge him on the facts, doesn't follow up, and wanders from subject to subject.

Some examples from the rough transcript at Factba.se:
Lesley Stahl: Let me ask you what you think your um, the biggest domestic priority is for you right now.

Donald Trump: Um, well, ultimately, let, let me, and I'll tell you, it was happening. We created the greatest economy in the history of our country. And the other side was trying --

Lesley Stahl: You know -- you know that's not true.

Donald Trump: It is totally true.

Lesley Stahl: No.

Donald Trump :Best unemployment numbers, best employment numbers. 106 million people working. Highest stock market price. You wouldn't say that to Biden, what you just said to me if he had it, if he had it, you would never say that to Biden. We had the best stock market price ever. And we're getting close to that price again. We had the best, everything was the best. Our companies were doing better than they've ever done before. You cannot even think about talking about that.

Lesley Stahl: Well, I don't, I'm not gonna fact check you. You know, I'm not gonna do that.
Did they have an agreement? No real-time fact-checking? It sure seems that way.
Donald Trump: I think we've done a great job with COVID. And we've hired --

Lesley Stahl: Yeah, but the numbers are going up.

Donald Trump: Excuse me, 11.4 million people. Why, because the last report was a little bit, just a little bit off. And this is for that?

Lesley Stahl: No, sir. Excuse me, cases are up in about 40 states.

Donald Trump: Okay. You know why cases are up also? Because we do more testing. If we didn't do testing, cases would be way down.

Lesley Stahl: Yeah, but why are you saying they're not up? You know well, pe -- You're saying things that people [Crosstalk]

Donald Trump: Uh, no, no. What I'm saying to you, Lesley is the following. We do more testing than any country in the world by far. Second is India with 1.5 billion people. We do more testing. If we did half the testing, we'd have half the cases. If we did no testing, like many countries, we would have very few cases. Because we do such much testing, the fake news media loves to say cases are up. The fact is we've done a very, very good job.

Lesley Stahl: Cases are [Crosstalk]

Donald Trump: We have done -- That's right, because we're doing so much testing.

Lesley Stahl: But cases -- Will you at least say cases are up?

Donald Trump: Yes, cases are up because we are doing tremendous testing. And we're finding where there's a problem. Testing is a good thing, but it's also very misleading.
At this point I'm screaming at the monitor, "Ask him why hospitalizations are up! And can't a person who has the virus but hasn't been tested give it to other people? Is that what he wants? More people walking around who don't know they're infectious?"

Eventually Trump says:
Donald Trump: We have turned a corner. We understand the disease. We understand the elderly, and we're taking of them at a level like nobody's ever taken care of the elderly, especially the elderly with diabetes problems, heart problems. We are taking care of them like nobody's ever taken care of 'em. We also understand youth. 99.9% -- As an example, Baron had it. And it was gone in no time. It was just [Inaudible] he had it. It was gone, hardly even knew he even had it. So, we are taking care of our people. But uh, we've done a great job with the ventilators, with the equipment, with stocking governors that were not stocked. We've made a lot of governors look very good that shouldn't look good. And that's okay with me.
Stahl gives up:
Lesley Stahl: Okay. Let me, let me ask you something about suburban women.
And we're off on that tangent.

It's all like this. In Stahl's defense, she may be planning in her final piece to edit in the facts that rebut what Trump is saying here. So maybe this is interview is intended just to get Trump on the record, not to challenge him.

But if she lets him hold forth in the final edit with all these excuses, then the piece will be a failure. It doesn't look very strong in raw form.


We know that President Trump actually believes it's possible to initiate an investigation into Joe Biden that will lead to an indictment between now and the election.
President Trump on Tuesday called on Attorney General William Barr to “appoint somebody” to launch an investigation into his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter before Election Day, now just two weeks away.

“We’ve got to get the attorney general to act,” Trump said in a telephone interview with “Fox & Friends” when asked whether a special prosecutor should be appointed to probe unverified allegations against the Bidens. “He’s got to act. And he’s got to act fast. He’s got to appoint somebody. This is major corruption, and this has to be known about before the election.”
But since we're not quite far enough down the road to totalitarianism for that to happen, it appears that Trump will settle for the next-best thing.
President Trump and his advisers have repeatedly discussed whether to fire FBI Director Christopher A. Wray after Election Day — a scenario that also could imperil the tenure of Attorney General William P. Barr as the president grows increasingly frustrated that federal law enforcement has not delivered his campaign the kind of last-minute boost that the FBI provided in 2016, according to people familiar with the matter.

The conversations among the president and senior aides stem in part from their disappointment that Wray in particular but Barr as well have not done what Trump had hoped — indicate that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden or other Biden associates are under investigation, these people say.
I assume Trump is saying this because he genuinely believes he'll win the election. But if he doesn't -- if Biden wins unambiguously -- I wonder if Trump will try a last-ditch gambit to save his presidency.

Even of Biden wins by a large Electoral College and popular vote margin, he won't officially be the president-elect until states certify the vote totals, electors vote in the individual states, the electors' vote tallies are transmitted to Congress, and Congress ratifies the Electoral College results. The voting takes place on December 14; congressional ratification happens on January 6.

If Trump doesn't win, and loses so badly he can't plausibly contest the outcome, he might still spend the rest of his presidency demanding that the FBI and Justice Department indict Biden before the Electoral College vote, in the hope that he can persuade Biden electors to abandon him. Maybe he'll hold out hope until January -- sure, he'll think, the Electoral College voted for Biden, but Congress can't possibly certify him if he's been indicted, right?

Trump won't get what he wants. But I think he'll continue demanding it, because demanding that people satisfy his whims and cravings is what he usually does all day, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 21, 2020


I guess someone at Fox has been looking at the channel's own polling data:

I say this because there appears to be a sense of panic at Fox. Here's what's front and center on the homepage as I write this:

It looks as if people at Fox aretrying to do an intervention. They're begging Trump not to continue blowing this election.

The lead story quotes Karl Rove:
With less than two weeks left before the 2020 presidential election, former White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove said it would be more “effective” for the Trump campaign to focus on the economy as opposed to the Hunter Biden “scandal.”...

Rove pointed to a Washington Post op-ed written by former White House chief speechwriter Marc Thiessen in which Thiessen argued that President Trump “needs to stop talking about Hunter Biden” and “start winning over reluctant voters.”

“He argues the focus ought to be on the economy and the big contrast between the policy prescriptions of President Trump and those of Joe Biden and frankly I’m in agreement with him,” Rove, a Fox News contributor, said.
There's also this story:
President Trump is making a "mistake" if he focuses on the Hunter Biden laptop story on the campaign trail and at the next presidential debate, Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee said on Wednesday.

"Yeah, it is a mistake because the average person doesn't understand it, it is too complicated, and, frankly, it doesn't matter to them," Huckabee said in response to "Fox & Friends" host Brian Kilmeade, who asked whether Trump should emphasize the story in the campaign's closing days.

"They care about their health care costs, they care about their taxes, they care about safety and their neighborhood on their block and in their yard. Focus on that and he wins the election by a landslide," Huckabee suggested.
Which is a follow-up to this from a couple of days ago:
During a preview segment for the final debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, scheduled for this Thursday, Steve Doocy [of Fox & Friends] explicitly warned the president not to talk about Hunter.

“So you gotta figure the president’s gonna try to bring up Hunter Biden in some manner,” Doocy said....

“And the base loves to hear that stuff,” Doocy continued. “But what the consultants are telling the president is, in the race to the final 15 days, do as much about the economy as you possibly can.”

Spelling out the “best message” for the president, the Fox host added: “President Trump built a great economy, then COVID screwed things up, and President Trump is better at rebuilding than Joe Biden. That’s the message they would like to see.”
Hey, folks at Fox: Do you really want Trump to stop talking about Hunter Biden?

Then maybe you should talk to your prime-time stars and tell them to stop running segments like this:

And this:

And this:

Trump doesn't just watch these shows -- he injects them into his veins. So if cooler heads at Fox think Trump is about to blow the election and take Mitch McConnell down with him, they should have a talk with their own prime-time stars. Get them to stop talking about Hunter Biden, and maybe then they can persuade Trump.


At FoxNews.com, Tom Del Baccaro offers "10 tea leaves" allegedly pointing to a Donald Trump victory. Among them:
1. Pennsylvania Voter Registration

... In 2016, ... [President Trump] won Pennsylvania by a slim 44,292 votes out of nearly 6 million. That November, the Democrats had nearly a 900,000 voter registration advantage over the Republicans. That number is now down to a 700,000 registration advantage and has narrowed by 100,000 in the last year....

2. Florida, too.

In 2008, Democrats held nearly a 700,000 voter registration advantage and Barack Obama carried the state by 236,148 votes. By 2012 that advantage slipped to 558,272 registrations and Obama won there by 74,309 votes.

In 2016, Democrats had a 327,483 registration advantage and Trump carried the state by 112,991 votes.

Now the Democrats' voter registration advantage is down nearly 200,000 to just a 134,242 lead, which Politico called a “historic low.”

Obviously, the movement towards Republicans bodes well for the president.
But FiveThirtyEight's Geoffrey Skelley says that surges in GOP voter registration might not mean what they appear to mean. One key point:
In recent years, a growing number of voters don’t want to be associated with either of the two major parties, and instead register as independent. After hovering in the low- to high-30s from the late 1980s to the late 2000s, the share of Americans who identify as politically independent has now reached or even topped 40 percent in recent years, according to Gallup.

... The reality, of course, is that most independents lean toward one party, but their preferences are still masked at the voter registration level. This is especially tricky in battleground states such as Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania that have seen major upticks in the share of voters who have registered with no party affiliation.

... younger voters are more likely to identify as independent than older voters. And importantly, younger voters of color are also more likely to register as independents, as Florida’s registration figures have shown. Both of these groups tend to lean Democratic which means that even if many of these voters don’t openly identify as Democrats, they’re more likely to vote for Democrats than not. More broadly, polls show Biden ahead of Trump among voters who identify as independent. That means even if Republicans are winning the registration battle in some key states, it might not be enough to offset the number of registered Democrats and independents who may back Biden in the end.
According to the polls, Biden has a large and durable lead -- a lead much larger than Hillary Clinton's. (At Real Clear Politics, Biden's lead is 8.5; at the comparable point in the race, Hillary Clinton's lead was 5.4.) It really looks as if he'll win.

But if he does win -- possibly by a wide margin -- he's doing so in a country that's not enthusiastic about his party. He's winning thanks to people who aren't Democrats.

We shouldn't be surprised. As I regularly say here, Democrats never tell the public that the Democratic Party is simply better than the Republican Party. They never say that the Republican Party is bad for America. (Republicans say that every day about Democrats.) And this year, much of Biden's message has been Hey, you can vote for me safely -- I'm okay! Republicans say so!

So this election could be a win -- even a big win -- but Democrats have a lot of work to do as a party. They've done nothing to build the Democratic brand -- in fact, they're hurting it by suggesting that Democrats need a Republican imprimatur to deserve victory.

I think those independents will come through for Biden. But for the future, we need to turn them into Democrats.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020


I'm told there's a chilling climate of censorship and "cancel culture" that prevents all messages that aren't left of center from getting a proper hearing in America.

Forgive me if I'm skeptical.
Facebook and Twitter's frantic attempts to stop the spread of the New York Post's Hunter Biden story didn't prevent the article from becoming the top story about the election on those platforms last week, according to data from NewsWhip....

The Post's story generated 2.59m interactions (likes, comments, shares) on Facebook and Twitter last week — more than double the next biggest story about Trump or Biden.

5 of the 10 biggest stories were about the Hunter Biden story, the fallout, or how Facebook and Twitter reacted.

It was the 6th-most engaged article this month....
See also this piece in The Atlantic about QAnon, by Renée DiResta of the Stanford Internet Observatory.
By the time Q’s first post appeared on 4chan in 2017, conspiracy theories of all sorts were multiplying and thriving on social media, as their adherents formed dedicated Facebook groups and YouTube channels. Algorithmic recommendation engines accelerated their growth and cross-pollinated their beliefs. Over time, these engines nudged anti-vaxxers and flat-earthers to join QAnon groups and pushed QAnon videos to far-right political communities.... The recommendations worked: People who followed other conspiracy theories often were receptive to QAnon, primarily because of a shared distrust of government and authority....

Positioned between internet message boards and mass outlets such as Fox News is a kind of demi-media—hyperpartisan outlets, such as Gateway Pundit and One America News, that have a significant following on social platforms, high engagement from audiences, and a history of boosting narratives that bubble up from internet users....

In recent months, Facebook and YouTube have moved aggressively to interrupt the flow of disinformation, in part by banning QAnon groups and channels.... But the moves against QAnon come too late. Even as the platforms have begun to take steps to limit the algorithmic amplification of content tied to QAnon-specific groups, already-converted true believers continue to act as pollinators themselves, pushing the QAnon view of current events into unrelated communities—Star Trek fans, essential-oil moms, the “reopen” groups campaigning against shutdowns imposed during the coronavirus pandemic. And in the right-wing demi-media, any actions by Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube against the QAnon groups are covered as further evidence of tech censorship run amok, and an ominous harbinger of the end of free speech.
When you read a complaint by Ross Douthat, Bret Stephens, Bari Weiss, or Andrew Sullivan about our censorious culture, remember that what they're talking about is what's going on in media outlets favored by the well-educated and urbane. But that's not the media ecosystem in most of America. Right-wing messages have ample opportunity to reach the public via many channels that are ignored or mocked by well-educated coast-dwellers. In addition, complaints about censorship are opportunities for the right to get its messaging into the mix (or further into the mix). So the right's messages spread via media outlets we disregard, then spread again when right-wingers complain about the relatively few outlets that are putting up resistance to the spread. And so the spread increases.


The topics for the upcoming presidential debate have been announced, and the Trump campaign is unhappy.
The president’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, ... claimed that the commission had “promised” that the debate on Thursday would be about foreign policy and asked for it to discard the six subjects announced last week by the moderator, Ms. Welker. (The topics are the coronavirus, climate change, national security, leadership, “American families” and “race in America.”)

In fact, the debate organizers did not announce such a plan to focus on foreign policy, saying that the third debate would mirror the format of the first, with six subjects selected by the moderator. (It is true that in some campaign years, the third presidential debate has focused on foreign policy.)
But focusing on foreign policy in the final debate is a "custom"!
Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien penned a letter to the commission Monday raising objections with the topics announced by moderator and NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker last week, saying the commission should observe “long-standing custom” by making foreign policy the central focus of Thursday’s debate....

“As is the long-standing custom, and as has been promised by the Commission on Presidential Debates, we had expected that foreign policy would be the central focus of the October 22 debate. We urge you to recalibrate the topics and return to subjects which had already been confirmed,” Stepien wrote.
Does anyone else think it's hilarious that people representing Donald Trump (a man notorious for stiffing employees and contractors) and the Republican Party (which has trashed every norm in Washington that it found inconvenient, including some that are codified in law) are begging the debate commission to respect "customs" and make good on (alleged, undocumented) promises?

Maybe the whining appeals to the base, which regards Trump as the toughest of tough guys while agreeing wholeheartedly every time the big guy says something that's happening to him is "very unfair." But it's laughable to the rest of us. Stop sniveling and debate, Donnie.

Monday, October 19, 2020


Sarah Longwell, a prominent Never Trump Republican, regularly conducts focus groups of voters who chose Donald Trump in 2016. In The Atlantic, she writes:
In 2020, I narrowed my research primarily to white women in swing states who give him the lowest performance grade.

These women generally loathe Trump. When I ask why they rate him as doing a bad job, they rarely pull their punches. He’s a “narcissist,” “bully,” and “racist”; he’s “unprofessional” and “embarrassing” as well. They are dismayed by the chaos, the tweeting, his general nastiness and divisiveness.
Many of these Trump-loathing women won't vote for him again. But some will.
Even in the past six months, some participants have continued to say they’ll back Trump.
They don’t think Trump is doing great, but how could he? He’s constantly contending with obstructionist Democrats, a biased media, and a bunch of Never Trump Republicans in Name Only.

Some meaningful number of voters who are clear-eyed about Trump and his manifest failures—even those who think he is plainly doing a bad job—will stick with the president because they believe Democrats are worse and the media aren’t to be trusted.
Sounds as if they're parroting what they hear from the right-wing media. But Longwell says that's not exactly the case.
And these aren’t voters who are glued to Fox News and reading Breitbart News. Often they don’t think about politics at all—and they certainly don’t follow the daily machinations of Washington. They’re typically not on Twitter. Instead they swim in a cultural soup of Trumpism, surrounded by friends, family, and social-media acquaintances who do live more exclusively in a right-wing-media ecosystem.
I regularly write about the fact that Republicans maintain a 24/7/365 operation to demonize Democrats, liberals, and all groups that can be even remotely linked to them (Hollywood celebrities, academics, and so on). This work is full of distortions -- left-centrists are regularly described as "far left radicals," and people who have little common ground (Joe Biden and antifa) are portrayed as comrades in arms.

But it works. If Longwell is right, it works even on susceptible people who don't directly pay attention to it. Imagine how well it's working on people who do pay attention to it. It's possible that the cult of Donald Trump has little or nothing to do with Trump's policies and everything to do with the fact that he's the loud, angry embodiment of this negative partisanship.

Democrats continue to do nothing comparable. They don't even seem inclined to say, Our party has the right ideas. Republicans have the wrong ideas. In fact, they've run this election predominantly on the message See? Even some Republicans like us. That means you can trust us.

In the 1990s, James Carville wrote a book with a simple title: We're Right, They're Wrong. I can't remember the last time a nationally prominent Democrat made a similar assertion.


The press is full of stories about Democratic anxiety right now. The Washington Post:
Democrats went to the polls last time certain they would elect the first woman ever to become president, and were punched in the face with a Trump upset. This time they feel the punch coming from a thousand miles away. The worry is visceral and widespread, unassuaged by Biden’s lead in the polls....

On the Biden side, the creeping sense of deja vu has become a dominant feeling....

Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon has been telling donors, activists and voters to assume that the current polling leads will not last.... She has said Biden does not have a double-digit lead.
Democrats, of course, are terrified that Biden could still lose. The buzz in numbers-obsessed circles is about party registration gaps and early vote spikes among white, non-college voters; the word from the Biden campaign is not to put stock in public polling and to expect a nasty finish.
... Democrats are scrambling to account for the hidden variables that could still sink their nominee — or what you might call the known unknowns....

There is uncertainty about the accuracy of polling in certain swing states, the efficacy of GOP voter suppression efforts and even the number of mail-in ballots that for one reason or another will be disqualified.

... Democrats are poring over early vote totals, circulating anxiety-ridden campaign memos and bracing for a long two weeks.
All of these stories note that Joe Biden has a big lead and appears to be the overwhelming favorite to win, but that Democrats are still concered.

And in the midst of all this, there's a debate coming up on Thursday. Axios tells us that the president is being urged not to be obnoxious.
President Trump's team is telling him ahead of Thursday's final debate: Stop interrupting Joe Biden. And try to be more likable.

What to watch: Trump will tell more jokes and try, if he can stay on message, to strike a softer tone.

... Trump's team thinks that if he'd just yield the stage to Biden while the moderator is asking questions, Biden would wander rhetorically, "look doddering" and "step on himself."

... Trump’s team went back to his third debate against Hillary Clinton in 2016 for inspiration. “All Trump has to do is give people permission to vote for him," one source close to the campaign tells Axios.
So is the press preparing to set the bar very low for Trump and write a "Trump comeback?" story if he's even moderately civil?

There are two reason this might not happen. Axios has one of them:
The big question: Will debate prep matter? "It was clear Trump didn’t study his debate document for round one," one campaign source said.
Right -- is Trump even capable of a debate performance that isn't obnoxious? He's done a couple of town halls in which he didn't interrupt the questioners or moderators, but he was snappish and testy in both of them.

The press might stick with the narrative in this AP story:
The president’s attempts to recycle attacks he used on Hillary Clinton that year have so far failed to effectively damage Democrat Joe Biden....

Oftentimes, it feels as though Trump is simply recycling old material.

... some Trump allies and aides believe the campaign’s inability to define Biden, while just resuscitating old talking points, is a failure....
One reason the press might want to stick with this narrative is that it makes the press look better. Many of us have criticized the media for giving Trump billions of dollars' worth of free media coverage -- all those rallies broadcast unedited -- and for pushing an Evil Hillary narrative. But if the media doesn't bite this year, journalists can tell themselves: This time is different. Biden is less corrupt. And the Trump act was fresh in 2016, but it's stale now, so we were right to obsess over it then and we're right to portray it as tired this year.

Unless Joe Biden has an unusually bad debate on Thursday, I think the Trump campaign will continue to be portrayed as struggling. There's a risk that the press will want to go with a comeback narrative, but I don't think there's much risk that Trump will come off as even moderately presidential or likable.

Sunday, October 18, 2020


Last week, Ross Douthat assured us that Donald Trump doesn't have it in him to be a full-blown authoritarian, even if he manages to win (or steal) a second term. In response, I expressed skepticism, as did Jonathan Chait. This week, is Douthat is back to tell us again that we shouldn't fear a totalitarian Trump, but but it might be reasonable to fear a totalitarian Facebook and Twitter.
Let me try to elaborate on what [the] right is seeing. The initial promise of the internet era was radical decentralization, but instead over the last 20 years, America’s major cultural institutions have become consolidated, with more influence in the hands of fewer institutions. The decline of newsprint has made a few national newspapers ever more influential, the most-trafficked portions of the internet have fallen under the effective control of a small group of giant tech companies, and the patterns of meritocracy have ensured that the people staffing these institutions are drawn from the same self-reproducing professional class....

Over the same period, in reaction to social atomization, economic disappointment and conspicuous elite failure, the younger members of the liberal upper class have become radicalized, embracing a new progressive orthodoxy that’s hard to distill but easy to recognize and that really is deployed to threaten careers when the unconvinced step out of line.

And then finally, Trump’s mendacious presidency and the spread of online conspiracy theories has encouraged liberals in a belief that the only way to safeguard democracy is for this consolidated establishment to become more aggressive in its attempts at cultural control....
According to Douthat, "the most-trafficked portions of the internet have fallen under the effective control of a small group of giant tech companies," and when you combine that with rampant left-wing radicalization and cancel culture, the potential for a complete silencing of right-wing thought is very real -- never mind the fact that Mark Zuckerberg, who runs the most influential tech giant, regularly dines with right-wing influencers such as Ben Shapiro, whose site, the Daily Wire, has extraordinarily high engagement numbers on Facebook by a couple of different measures, as do a number of other sites on the right. Never mind the fact that the Murdoch media empire continues to have vast influence over America's political dialogue, with the result that the New York Post stories about Hunter Biden that Facebook and Twitter tried to downplay this week were widely discussed. And never mind the fact that somehow approximately 42% of America is still in thrall to Trumpism, as well as old-fashioned Fox/talk radio/corporatist/evangelical/NRA conservatism -- these folks are getting their ideas from somewhere. Douthat clearly confuses the effect social media giants and media consolidation have on elite political conversation with the effect they have on political conservation in America as a whole.

Douthat acknowledges that conservative fears are probably exaggerated -- after all, Republicans might lose the White House and the Senate this year, but they could well win them back soon. Still, he writes:
But having offered these doubts about the diagnosis, let me stress that the mix of elite consolidation and radicalization that conservatives fear is entirely real — and its reality is one reason among many to recognize that no, even in a second term a hapless bully like Trump will not become a dictator and the Republican Party will not establish permanent one-party rule.
What is he saying? That if the 2020 election goes Trump and Mitch McConnell's way, or is steerd to them by a 6-3 Supreme Court, they'll be prevented from disenfranchising more Democratic voters, tossing more laws and norms into the garbage, and arresting and jailing political opponents because radical-left Facebook and Twitter will block a few posts and tweets?

I agree with Douthat that Trump might not have the brains or the focus to become America's Viktor Orban. But I don't feel as sanguine about McConnell or the Federalist Society judges he and Trump have installed. And I'm struggling to understand how a few Twitter and Facebook bans are going to prevent the raw exercise of government power.

Saturday, October 17, 2020


And now Breitbart gets in on the act.
Newly obtained emails from a Hunter Biden business partner lay out in detail how the Vice President’s son and his colleagues used their access to the Obama-Biden administration to arrange private meetings for potential foreign clients and investors at the highest levels in the White House. These never-before-revealed emails outline how a delegation of Chinese investors and Communist Party officials managed to secure a private, off-the-books meeting with then-Vice President Joe Biden.
Omigod! Who are these sinister people?
... on November 5, 2011, one of [Hunter Biden partner Devon] Archer’s business contacts forwarded him an email teasing an opportunity to gain “potentially outstanding new clients” by helping to arrange White House meetings for a group of Chinese executives and government officials. The group was the China Entrepreneur Club (CEC) and the delegation included Chinese billionaires, Chinese Communist Party loyalists, and at least one “respected diplomat” from Beijing....

The Obama-Biden Administration archives reveal that this Chinese delegation did indeed visit the White House on November 14, 2011, and enjoyed high-level access.
Yes, this meeting was so shameful that it was placed in the public record for posterity.

The Breitbart story claims that Joe Biden personally met with the delegation, although White House records don't say so. However:
In an obscure document listing the CEC members’ biographies, CEC Secretary General Maggie Cheng alleges that she facilitated the CEC delegation meetings in Washington in 2011 and boasts of the Washington establishment figures that CEC met with. The first name she dropped was that of Vice President Joe Biden.
The document does say that. It also says that members of the China Entrepreneurs Club met with then-British prime minister David Cameron (which is true, and there was a press release announcing the meeting, as well as then-French president Francois Hollande -- and here's Hollande addressing the group in 2015.

Also, here's Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau, at the China Entrepreneurs Club World Forum in 2016:

The man seated next to Trudeau in that photo is the chairman of the China Entrepreneur Club -- Jack Ma, one of China's richest men, the co-founder of the e-commerce giant Alibaba.

And who's taking a meeting with Ma in the clip below? A clip filmed just days before the inauguration of Donald Trump in January 2017? Is it someone plotting with Ma to undermine the Trump presidency before it even began?

No, it's Donald Trump himself:

Did Hunter Biden facilitate a meeting with father for members of this group? It's not clear. But if Joe Biden met with them, it's not a scandal.

Friday, October 16, 2020


Well, so much for that October surprise.
The chief executive of Pfizer said on Friday that the company would not apply for emergency authorization of its coronavirus vaccine before the third week of November, ruling out President Trump’s assertion that a vaccine would be ready before Election Day on Nov. 3.

In a statement posted to the company website, the chief executive, Dr. Albert Bourla, said that although Pfizer could have preliminary numbers by the end of October about whether the vaccine works, it would still need to collect safety and manufacturing data that will stretch the timeline to at least the third week of November.
So there won't be a U.S.-approved vaccine before the election.
The company is the only frontrunner in the vaccine race that has said it could have proof its vaccine works by Nov. 3.
So it seems as if we might have a vaccine just after the election -- an election President Trump is likely to lose. His base is certain to link the two events, and conclude that the vaccine that emerges was deliberately delayed in order to damage Trump's reelection prospects.

That's obviously not true -- Pfizer and other companies in the race are clearly working as fast as they can to demonstrate that their vaccines are safe and effective. But MAGA Nation won't believe that.

They're already pandemic skeptics, and many of them are vaccine skeptics. But I think many of them would have gotten the vaccine if it had emerged before the election, because they would have regarded its development as a triumph on the part of their God Emperor. I think most of them will get the vaccine if he wins.

But they won't get it if he loses. The sequence of events will reinforce all their most paranoid suspicions.

Once there's a safe, effective vaccine, nations in the rest of the developed world will have very high vaccination rates. We won't. This will be an important reason why.


This is true, more or less:

The foreign-op aspect of this isn't quite the story of the day, but it's true the right had most of us talking about Hunter Biden, and then we weren't so much talking about Hunter Biden as we were talking about what Twitter and Facebook did in response to the New York Post's Hunter Biden stories.

Right-wingers are usually very good at driving America's political conversation, but this time they got sidetracked.

There's a reason for that.

Right-wingers are used to arguing among themselves that "the left" -- which, to them, includes leftists, liberals, Democrats, Hollywood, the non-right-wing media, and academia (and occasionally big business and pro sports) -- is one giant, unified octopus, a single evil being with multiple tentacles, operated by one brain.

So when they got distracted by Twitter and Facebook, they seemed to forget that they were no longer trying to communicate with like-minded wingnuts who think Hunter Biden's work in Ukraine and China and social media giants' occasional efforts to mute irresponsible right-wing messages are all the work of the same many-tentacled left-wing monster.

They forgot they were trying to reach people who don't see the world that way. They forgot that the few remaining undecided voters in America don't automatically hear a denunciation of social media companies and think, I hate the Democrats -- the way right-wingers do.

They should have tried to keep the focus on Hunter Biden. But they didn't quite realize that they'd lost focus, because to them, it's all one Antichrist.


We know that President Hillary Clinton would have handled the coronavirus pandemic much better than President Trump, although she would have struggled with Republican accusations that she was a mass murderer because of a death toll many times smaller than the one we've had under Trump.

But I believe that even another Republican would have done a better job than Trump. Here's Chris Christie, just out of the hospital:
Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor who was recently battling a coronavirus infection, said on Thursday that he was “wrong” not to wear a mask at an event honoring Judge Amy Coney Barrett and in his debate preparation sessions with President Trump, and that people should take the threat of the virus seriously.
Christie, who says he didn't wear a mask at the White House because he thought it was a safe zone where everyone was frequently tested, issued a statement that seems like a perspective on what a less neurotic Republican than Trump would have said and done in the pandemic.
“I hope that my experience shows my fellow citizens that you should follow C.D.C. guidelines in public no matter where you are and wear a mask to protect yourself and others,” he said.

... Mr. Christie said that the virus is “something to take very seriously. The ramifications are wildly random and potentially deadly.”
However, Christie combines this with demands for reopening, even now, as case number are rising again and hospital ICUs are filling up:
... as a former public official, I believe we have not treated Americans as adults, who understand truth, sacrifice and responsibility that I know them to be. I have also concluded that like much else in 2020, that the virus is governed by our two dominant political and media extremes: those who believe there is nothing to this virus and those alarmists who would continue to close down our country and not trust the common sense of the American people. Both are wrong. This is not an either/or proposition. The public health consequences of ignoring the virus and the responsible safeguards that we need to take will be additional illness and death caused by COVID-19. The public policy consequences of continuing to shut down or re-shut down our country will be further economic devastation to families, even more loss of education by our students and the continuing loss of life through the drug abuse, suicide and depression caused by taking away people’s ability to support their families. There is another way.

Every public official, regardless of party or position, should advocate for every American to wear a mask in public, appropriately socially distance and to wash your hands frequently every day. At the same time, we should be reopening in every corner of this nation under these guidelines. Reopen all those places which have taken the brunt of these shutdowns and allow our country to get back to a life where citizens can support their families using common sense. Even during a contentious election year, we must trust the American people with the truth. I believe that these two steps can bring our country together while our pharmaceutical companies invent the therapeutics and vaccines which will rid us of this virus.
Of course, Christie was infected because he's a friend and ally to a man who regularly tells "those who believe there is nothing to this virus" that they're absolutlely right, a man who, even after his own infection and near-death experience, expresses contempt for masks and the people who wear them.

But this is what we would have been told in a different Republican presidency: Mask up and get back to work. Fewer people would have died if "Follow CDC guidelines" had been the message from the start, but we would have reopened sooner and more recklessly than we should have.

We are where we are not because having "extremists on both sides" is the natural course of events, but because Trump made anti-science extremism the official approach of the U.S. government, while encouraging citizens to scoff at science. It wouldn't have been as bad under another Republican. Rejection of masks and social distancing wouldn't have been the right-wing line in the sand. But we would have rushed to normalize, just as right-wing plutocrats want us to do. Christie's statement sounds like the presidential address we would have heard. Too many people would have died as a result -- but not as many as are dying now.

Thursday, October 15, 2020


On the op-ed page of The New York Times, John Fabian Witt, a law professor at Yale, writes about the way Republican-leaning justices are rejecting hundreds of years of U.S. jurisprudence on the subject of public health.
For centuries, American constitutional law granted state governments broad public health powers. “Salus populi suprema lex,” the old saying went: The health of the people is the supreme law. Such authority went back to the beginning of the Republic. In the famous 1824 case of Gibbons v. Ogden, Chief Justice John Marshall defended the “acknowledged power of a State to provide for the health of its citizens.” States, he explained, were empowered to enact “inspection laws, quarantine laws” and “health laws of every description.”

Lemuel Shaw of Massachusetts, who was arguably the most respected state judge of the 19th century, supported vast public health powers and described states’ authority to control epidemics as central to the sovereign power of government. The Alabama Supreme Court agreed, citing the old dictum of salus populi, and courts in states like Georgia and Louisiana followed. In New York, the state’s highest court upheld disruptive health regulations like a ban on burials in urban church cemeteries.
And so on -- until now:
Today, however, the tradition of salus populi is in collapse. In state and federal courts alike, Republican-appointed and Republican-elected judges are upsetting the long-established consensus.

This month, a bare majority of four Republican-appointed justices on the Michigan Supreme Court struck down the state’s 75-year-old emergency powers law as an “unlawful delegation of legislative power to the executive.” ...

Last month, a federal district judge in Pennsylvania appointed by President Trump struck down the state’s business closure rules and its limits on gatherings....

And back in the spring, four justices connected to the Republican Party on the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned their state’s common-sense emergency Covid-19 rules over the dissents of three colleagues.

The U.S. Supreme Court threatens to get into the action, too. In May, four conservative justices (Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh) dissented from an order in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom allowing California’s Covid-19-related restrictions to remain in place for gatherings at places of worship. Then, in Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Sisolak, decided at the end of July, those same justices dissented from a similar order leaving Nevada’s restrictions intact.
Professor Witt sees racism at work.
In the past, when epidemics have threatened white Americans and those with political clout, courts found ways to uphold broad state powers. Now a new generation of judges, propelled by partisan energies, look to deprive states of the power to fight for the sick and dying in a pandemic in which the victims are disproportionately Black and brown.
I believe race is a factor -- but I think these judges are corporatists more than racists, and, as soldiers in the right's ideological war against lockdowns, they're perfectly willing to sacrifice the lives of (non-elite) white people. Note, for instance, that this is happening in Wisconsin, which is 87% white. While it's true that the pandemic has disproportionately affected non-whites in the state, 72.5% of the infected and 76.8% of those who've lost their lives to COVID-19 are white. And the GOP justices on the state Supreme Court don't care.

They don't care because the decades-long conservative assault on our judiciary is the work of the Koch brothers and similar ideologues. They believe in business over all other considerations; they want the economy to keep running no matter how many people die, and they want as little government spending as possible directed to ordinary Americans.

Many of our corporate overlords are known to believe that if damaging the health of the public is profitable, they should continue to do it until they're caught, and in the meantime they should lobby to ensure that any fines for such behavior won't be a serious drag on profits. This is sociopathy as best practice. The political party these plutocrats favor agrees with this approach -- and so do the judges that party chooses. During a deadly pandemic, Kochite Republicanism kills.


Politico's John Harris is worried about President Trump's emotional well-being.
Just consider what Trump is facing in his life right now:

— He was just hospitalized with trouble breathing from a disease that has killed many people his age. How could he not have experienced some intimation of mortality?

— A person who has made an obsession of “winning” is facing the possibility, and even the probability, of an electoral repudiation.

— In either scenario, but especially if he loses, he is facing fearsome legal and financial challenges.
Okay, I'll grant that Trump is probably concerned about all of these things. We know from Olivia Nuzzi's reporting in New York magazine that at the height of his illness he said to someone on the phone, “I could be one of the diers.” And we know he's obsessed with winning this election (although he'll believe he really won even if Joe Biden beats him by double digits) and with staying solvent and out of prison (though he's has a lifelong run of luck on both counts, so there's no reason to believe that -- in a country that gives the wealthy endless do-overs -- his luck will run out in his post-presidency).

But here's where Harris loses me:
— He is the public-health equivalent of a wartime president. Even if he genuinely believes that he has done a superb job battling the coronavirus pandemic, he lives with the knowledge that words he says and actions in balancing health and economic imperatives will have life-and-death consequences. These are not abstractions but actual individuals with names and addresses.

Who would not be carrying an awesome psychological burden under these circumstances?
Donald Trump? A guy who stiffed contractors his entire life? Who defrauded veterans and pensioners with a scam "university"? Who's so self-absorbed he calls his adolescent son by his full name?

I'm not sure Trump needs to be excessively narcissistic to regard 210,000 COVID-19 dead as mere statistics -- he just has to be a CEO. Much of the plutocrat community has always felt utter indifference about individual lives. Corporation chieftains kill people all the time, whether in sub-Saharan Africa or Cancer Alley in Louisiana, and then experience untroubled sleep. Trump is a CEO and a clinical narcissist. He doesn't care about "actual individuals with names and addresses" who should have survived this year and didn't.

Harris continues:
Consider some other questions. Given how thoroughly Trump has merged his personal life with the Trump brand, with his own children working for Trump Inc., is there even one person in his life who would say, “You know, no matter what happens, I love you for the person you are—not because you are rich or you are president”? Does he have one friend close to him who would have the nerve to say: “Man, I’m worried about all the stress you are under. How about I come up to Camp David, we shoot the breeze and maybe go for a stroll, and the only rule will be we don’t talk politics or business”?
First, this supposes that Trump's idea of relaxation is to avoid talking politics or business. We know his idea of fun -- besides golf, it's watching endless hours of Fox News and tweeting about politics and his enemies, often hundreds of times a day.

And he regularly golfs with people who are unlikely to treat the outings as work. Tiger Woods. Kid Rock. Brett Favre. I'm supposed to feel sorry for a guy with a lot of famous friends?

Should I really be concerned that Trump might lose all these friends if he's no longer president, struggling with debt, and being regularly hauled into court? I'm not. The New York swells welcomed Jeffrey Epstein back after prison. I don't worry at all that the Mar-a-Lago swells will reject Trump if he faces a few disappointments. Many of them watch Fox News, too -- they'll believe he's the target of the Deep State and voter fraud. Thery'll believe he's still the rightful president. They'll never abandon him.

Trump continues to have a nice life, even if the rest of us don't. He probably always will.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020


So what's the big crime Joe Biden is said to have committed in this New York Post story? Kyle Cheney and Natasha Bertrand of Politico write:
Top Biden advisers who staffed him during his vice presidency, citing their own recollections as well as a review of Biden’s official schedules, sharply rejected the Post’s suggestion that Biden met with a representative of Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings in 2015....

The story, which ran on the front page of the New York tabloid under the banner headline “Biden Secret E-mails,” accused the then-vice president of meeting Vadym Pozharskyi, a top adviser to Burisma, whose board Biden’s son had joined at the time.
If Joe Biden met with Pozharskyi -- which appears not to be the case -- is that horrifying? Cheney and Bertrand note:
Burisma’s website lists at least some of Pozharskyi’s meetings with U.S. officials, including a meeting in November 2017 with then-ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and a series of meetings with members of Congress, though the company lists only Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) by name. It lists no meetings with Joe Biden....

And a schedule of meetings Pozharskyi held in the United States in March and April 2016, appended to a recent report issued by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), indicates he met with Hunter Biden, addressed a conference on the U.S.-Ukraine energy relationship and met with staff to three lawmakers: Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio).
Oh, and by the way:
Pozharskyi also reportedly met in 2018 with Kurt Volker, who was then the Trump administration’s envoy to the peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.
In fact -- as Talking Points Memo noted at the time -- there's no "reportedly" about it.
Awkward: Trump Admin Official Met With Rep For Company At Center Of Biden Smears

In an ironic twist, President Donald Trump’s recently ousted special envoy to Ukraine met last year with a top official at Burisma Group, the Ukrainian energy firm that Trump and his allies have used as a political cudgel against Joe Biden’s presidential run.

Kurt Volker was the administration’s special representative for Ukraine negotiations until Friday, when he resigned.

But in September 2018, the Associated Press reported Wednesday, he met with Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to Burisma’s board, on the sidelines of an event organized by the Atlantic Council....

Volker’s meeting with Pozharskyi was captured in a photograph on Burisma’s website and confirmed to the AP by several attendees.

In fact, the picture of Volker and Pozharskyi meeting is still visible on a Burisma blog post commemorating the event at the time.

The main allegation -- that Biden met with Pozharskyi and then pressured Ukraine to fire a prosecutor investigating Burisma -- is wrong and has been wrong since the pro-Trump disinformationists started alleging it.
Government officials and Ukrainian anticorruption advocates said Shokin had hampered the investigation into Burisma long before Joe Biden even stepped into the picture, The Wall Street Journal reported.

In other words, Biden was doing the opposite of what Trump and Giuliani have implied: He was trying to oust a prosecutor who was slow-walking the investigation into Burisma, rather than actively targeting the company.

Western diplomats have also said Shokin effectively shut down one such investigation into Burisma's founder in the UK by refusing to cooperate with authorities. And Bloomberg reported that the Burisma investigation was largely dormant when Biden called for Shokin to be fired.

Most important, Biden represented the US's official position on the matter, one that was shared by many other Western governments and anticorruption activists in Ukraine, The Associated Press reported.
But if Pozharskyi is tainted, why did Trump's envoy meet with him? Maybe Rudy Giuliani can explain sometime.