Quick hits (part II)

1) Really interesting piece from Seth Masket comparing Covid to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927:

The flood was the product of several freak storms in the winter and spring of 1927. The flood surge destroyed the homes of roughly 700,000 people as it worked its way down the Mississippi River, killing 500 people and flooding 27,000 square miles of land (an area larger than West Virginia). Damages in today’s currency would likely exceed a trillion dollars. It remains the most destructive river flood in American history. 

Here’s the part that really echoes: as the flood surge approached New Orleans, city leaders there made a fateful decision to dynamite the levees that were protecting the poorer regions of St. Bernard Parish and Plaquemines Parish, saving the city’s wealthier neighborhoods. 

Now, the specific details of the flood aren’t that much like the COVID-19 virus, obviously. But the similarities lie in what the flood revealed about the society it tore apart.

As Barry argues, a powerful popular belief at the time was the idea of noblesse oblige, the idea that the wealthy and powerful would look after everyone else because it was their obligation to do so. Of course there was rampant economic and racial inequality in the 1920s and well prior to that, but it wasn’t so bad because the people on top would take care of everyone else when the chips were down. 

That philosophy died hard when New Orleans city leaders blew the levees. Now, I need to be clear what “city leaders” here means. As Barry describes it, the leaders were not so much elected officials as they were the city elders, leaders of prominent families, and especially the elite clubs known as krewes who held the real power in town. (Krewes today have much more pleasant tasks like creating Mardi Gras floats — back then they more or less ran the city.)

The flood, and the calloused and self-dealing manner in which city elites responded to its threat, undermined their rule and the ideology of noblesse oblige that had propped them up for so long. Poorer citizens would no longer trust elites to do the right thing in a crisis. The flood’s aftermath created an environment for populist politicians like Huey Long to rise to power by running against the elite families. Herbert Hoover, then the US Secretary of Commerce, organized a massive federal relief effort in the region, setting a precedent for federal remedies for local and regional catastrophes (and also bolstering his 1928 presidential run). 

Importantly, when the Great Depression hit a few years later, there was little expectation that local elites or wealthy patrons would remedy the problems. The federal government was expected to fix it.

We may be seeing something like this at work today, although we are still only at the beginning stages of the Coronavirus pandemic. President Trump, while seeking efforts to shore up the economy, has largely resisted using governing tools like the Defense Production Act to respond to demands for masks and ventilators and virus tests, instead insisting that governors and private industry should be doing more. 

2) Be suspicious of a wine bar that starts selling gourmet pizza during a pandemic, “A restaurant in South Carolina has been accused of reselling Costco pizzas at a 700% markup as ‘gourmet Roman-style thin crust pizza'”

3) If Hillary Clinton had been president we probably would have not closed the border as quickly, but we would have done virtually everything else so much better.  Max Boot.

4) Meanwhile the fundamental rule of law in our court system continues to be undermined.  Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern:

Nowhere is the problem of asymmetrical rhetorical warfare more apparent than in the federal judiciary. For the past several years, federal judges, notably those appointed by Donald J. Trump, have felt unmoored from any standard judicial conventions of circumspection and restraint, penning screeds about the evils of “big government” and rants against Planned Parenthood. Most of the judicial branch, though, has declined to engage in this kind of rhetoric. There are norms, after all, and conventions, standards, and protocols. There seems to also be an agreement that conservative judges demonstrate deeply felt passion when they delve into such issues, while everyone else just demonstrates “bias” if they decide to weigh in. So when Justice Clarence Thomas just last year used a dissent to attack the integrity of a sitting federal judge in the census case, it was mere clever wordsmithing. But when Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggests, as she did recently, that the conservative wing of the high court seems to be privileging the Trump administration’s emergency petitions, she is labeled—by the president himself—unfit to judge. It’s such a long-standing trick, and it’s so well supported by the conservative outrage machine, that it’s easy to believe that critiques of fellow judges by conservative judges are legitimate, while such critiques from liberal judges are an affront to the legitimacy of the entire federal judiciary…

A startling number of Trump judges appear to believe that, like Ho, their job is mainly to own the libs in print. Neomi Rao, a Trump judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has created a cottage industry out of writing preposterous Trump-friendly polemics. On the same morning that South Texas College of Law Houston professor Josh Blackman expressed his outrage at Adelman’s article, Rao issued yet another dissent that would protect Trump, this time by denying the House of Representatives access to the unredacted Mueller report. Rao’s position is so extreme that Thomas Griffith, a conservative George W. Bush appointee, penned a separate concurrence just to shred it. It is impossible to ignore the fact that Rao keeps running interference for the Trump administration, making arguments that are promptly shunned. And it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that her lengthy, contorted dissents begin with the proposition that Trump must triumph and work backward from there.

5) NPR, “Why Germany’s Coronavirus Death Rate Is Far Lower Than In Other Countries”  Testing.

6) Enjoyed this little history of toilet paper.  Also, glad my wife went out and bought one big jumbo pack at the beginning of the craziness so we didn’t have to worry.

7) I really wish more people understood how fundamentally white Christian evangelicalism in America is tied to white supremacy in the South.  (MB will definitely want to read this whole link).

I grew up in a rural Indiana town surrounded by symbols of American exceptionalism. Despite our size, we maintained one of the biggest Fourth of July parades in the state. Bright red, white, and blue flags and bunting decorated our houses and businesses year-round, including our plethora of churches. At the time, I had no idea that I was being raised in a nationalist, white-identity, Neo-Confederate cult that worshipped power, white supremacy, and hypercapitalism. I’ve come to call this massive and dangerous sect the Cult of the Shining City.

The America I knew—the America that so many of us grew up believing in—was not simply true, it was the only truth. The history we were taught in school focused on the United States of America as the one certain hope in a world of danger and evil. That message was echoed in our preachers’ sermons every Sunday morning as figures like Jesus Christ and George Washington were treated with similar reverence. What those history lessons and sermons didn’t teach us was the means by which evangelical Christianity had come to merge with the secular worship of wealth and power, creating a nationalist, racist faith.

8) Fixing the economy, Nordic style:

In Denmark, political parties from across the ideological spectrum joined with labor unions and employers associations this month to unite behind a plan that has the government covering 75 to 90 percent of all worker salaries over the next three months, provided that companies refrain from layoffs.

The Danish government also agreed to cover costs like rent for companies that suffer a shortfall in revenues. These two elements are collectively estimated to cost 42.6 billion Danish kroner (about $6.27 billion), after factoring in the savings on the unemployment insurance system.

The Netherlands produced a similar scheme, with the government stepping in to cover 90 percent of wages for firms that show losses of at least 20 percent of their revenue. The British government pledged to cover 80 percent of wages, and on Thursday extended those protections to the self-employed.

The aim of this approach is to prevent the wrenching experience of mass unemployment, while allowing businesses to retain their people rather than firing and then hiring them again. Once normalcy returned, companies would be in position to quickly resume operations, restoring economic growth.

“There was quickly an understanding that we were in an exceptional situation where it was necessary to very quickly produce exceptional initiatives,” said Carl-Johan Dalgaard, an economist at the University of Copenhagen and chair of the Danish Economic Council, which advises policymakers. “If you can tide firms over and thereby reduce the severity of bankruptcies and firings, you can expedite the return to normal.”

The primary reason that this sort of approach appears unthinkable in the United States is the same one that limits options to expanding health care and lowering the cost of university education: Wealthy Americans have proved adept at shielding themselves from taxation.

“You don’t have a comprehensive welfare state in the United States, because it implies a politically unacceptable level of redistribution,” said Jacob F. Kierkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “As long as you’re not willing to tax wealthy people and give some of the money to people who are not wealthy, these sorts of options are not on the menu.”

9) OMG Thomas Massie really is the worst and I love the way that Dana Milbank points out that he’s very much a creation of the perverse dysfunction that is the modern Republican Party (also, he apparently went to MIT, just more proof that you can have high IQ and be a moron):

Massie, a believer in the “deep state” conspiracy, is a product of the tea party, a protege of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and a collaborator with outgoing Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who is becoming Trump’s chief of staff, when they tried to oust then-Speaker John Boehner. “I’m ready to be unpopular,” Massie said after his 2012 election, and he has opposed even anti-lynching and human rights legislation — and celebrated when he uses “the process” so that “things die.”

He is emblematic of the newer Republicans who congressional scholars Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann say have turned the GOP into an “insurgent outlier,” rewarding bomb-throwers and making compromise with Democrats all but impossible.

“Newt Gingrich gave them the theme that the best thing they can do is discredit government and blow up all of government,” Ornstein told me Friday as Massie perpetrated his shenanigans. Massie, he said, “is a monster created by their deliberate attempt to get people to have contempt for government and institutions that are part of government.” That contempt gave rise to Trump, but it also remade the Republican caucus in Congress.

10) Peter Wehner on how astonishingly unsuited Trump is for this moment:

The thing to understand about Donald Trump is that putting others before self is not something he can do, even temporarily. His attempts to convey facts that don’t serve his perceived self-interest or to express empathy are forced, scripted, and always short-lived, since such reactions are alien to him.

This president does not have the capacity to listen to, synthesize, and internalize information that does not immediately serve his greatest needs: praise, fealty, adoration. “He finds it intolerable when those things are missing,” a clinical psychologist told me. “Praise, applause, and accolades seem to calm him and boost his confidence. There’s no room for that now, and so he’s growing irritable and needing to create some way to get some positive attention.”

Adam Serwer: Trump is inciting a coronavirus culture war to save himself

She added that the pandemic and its economic fallout “overwhelm Trump’s capacity to understand, are outside of his ability to internalize and process, and [are] beyond his frustration tolerance. He is neither curious nor interested; facts are tossed aside when inconvenient or [when they] contradict his parallel reality, and people are disposable unless they serve him in some way.”

It’s useful here to recall that Trump’s success as a politician has been built on his ability to impose his will and narrative on others, to use his experience on a reality-television show and his skill as a con man to shape public impressions in his favor, even—or perhaps, especially—if those impressions are at odds with reality. He convinced a good chunk of the country that he is a wildly successful businessman and knows more about campaign finance, the Islamic State, the courts, the visa system, trade, taxes, the debt, renewable energy, infrastructure, borders, and drones than anyone else.

Read: How the pandemic will end

But in this instance, Trump isn’t facing a political problem he can easily spin his way out of. He’s facing a lethal virus. It doesn’t give a damn what Donald Trump thinks of it or tweets about it. Spin and lies about COVID-19, including that it will soon magically disappear, as Trump claimed it would, don’t work. In fact, they have the opposite effect. Misinformation will cause the virus to increase its deadly spread.

So as the crisis deepens—as the body count increases, hospitals are overwhelmed, and the economy contracts, perhaps dramatically—it’s reasonable to assume that the president will reach for the tools he has used throughout his life: duplicity and denial. He will not allow facts that are at odds with his narrative to pierce his magnetic field of deception.

11) Love this idea from Jay Rosen:

What: A daily briefing on where we are in fighting the Covid-19 virus. 

When: Every day for the forseeable future, 4 to 5 pm ET. 

Where: On the internet. Streaming video and audio always. Broadast whenever a particpating channel or station decides to pick it up. All guests appear remotely. All questions asked remotely. 

Why: For the same reason there needs to be a daily briefing at the White House, but this one is independent from the White House. It provides a stream of factual and relevant information from experts who can speak with authority, and people on the front lines who are in a position to know. 

Who: Originated by the “network pool,” a consortium of ABC, CBS, NBC, FNC and CNN that already collaborates on big occasions like the State of the Union, plus a few other events like this. Any other media company can join for free, submit questions live, and carry the video or audio, which are also available on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and as a podcast. 

How: Features 4-5 guests a day who have advanced knowledge or a vital perspective: public health experts, epidemiologists, scientists, hospital officials, governors. Journalists who are part the AMDB can submit questions live. Anyone on the internet can submit questions in advance. 

12) This is great from Parker Molloy, “By reframing Trump’s incoherent inaccurate ramblings as bland political copy, journalists are carrying water for the president.”  Lots of great examples at the link.

13) Farhad Manjoo, “How the World’s Richest Country Ran Out of a 75-Cent Face Mask: A very American story about capitalism consuming our national preparedness and resiliency.”

14) You are probably not getting things wet enough or leaving the moisture long enough with your disinfecting wipes for them to actually do the job.  I’ve just been wiping lots of stuff down of late with straight-up rubbing alcohol.  

15) It is utterly amazing to watch people trash their reputation to give the president the most ridiculous and literally incredible praise (here’s looking at you, Dr. Birx.  But my friend, Michael Cobb, raises the good point that we should not put scientific experts in the position where they feel they have to do this to save their job.  

16) I’ve been telling people I’m really glad I live in a state with a Democratic governor.  Now, some empirical backing:

 

Quick hits (part I)

The world is falling apart and here I am writing a blog post edition.  Also, taking time out of my 6 hours a day of obsessively reading about Covid-19 to write a post.

1) Julia Belluz wrote this two years ago, “Trump vs. “disease X”
The administration is setting up the US to botch a pandemic response.”

2) Michael Tesler, “3 ways the coronavirus could end Trump’s presidency.”  The economy, the incompetence, the focus on health care.  I suspect all three will play a role.

3) Really good discussion on closing schools and public health.  The balance of evidence suggests its the right call.  But there are some reasonable dissenting voices.  Meanwhile, my school system which has been known to shut down (on multiple occassions) for 30mph wind is choosing not to.  Surprising.  Interesting explanation (their take is that unless you are willing to commit to 8 weeks–yikes!!– it’s not worth doing).

4) Jedidiah Purdy on social solidarity:

pandemic makes the slogan of solidarity literal: an injury to one is an injury to all. That’s why a pandemic also heightens the frantic wish to withdraw oneself from the web of interdependence and ride it out alone.

The new coronavirus makes vivid the logic of a world that combines a material reality of intense interdependence with moral and political systems that leave people to look out for themselves. Because we are linked — at work, on the bus and subway, at school, at the grocery store, with the Fresh Direct delivery system — we are contagious, and vulnerable. Because we are morally isolated, told to look out for ourselves and our own, we are becoming survivalists house by house, apartment by apartment, stocking enough that’s canned and frozen, grabbing enough cold meds and disinfectant, to cut ties and go out on our own.

The scramble reveals a class system in which a mark of relative status is the power to withdraw. If you have wealth or a salary from an institution that values you, and enough space at home, you might be able to pull off the essentially absurd trick of isolating yourself for a few months by drawing down the global web of commodities on display at Costco and Trader Joe’s. But for the 50 percent of the country that has no savings and lives paycheck to paycheck, or in small apartments with little food storage, or has to hustle every day to find work, this is simply impossible. People will be out every day, on the subways, at the gas stations, choosing between epidemiological prudence and economic survival, because they have no choice but to make that choice.

And as long as this is true — as long as many of us are out there every day, mixing it up to get by — there is reason to think very few of us will be safe. Extrapolating from the little we know about the virus, the number of carriers will continue to grow. As long as our moral and political isolation drives us back into the marketplace, our material interdependence makes nearly everyone vulnerable.

“Wash your hands” is good advice but also a poignant reminder that this is not the sort of problem that personal responsibility can solve. Epidemiology is a political problem. It’s not hard to sketch the steps that would ease our cruel situation: a work stoppage, massive income support (unemployment payments with some universal basic income in the mix), a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures and evictions. Treatment for coronavirus and potentially related symptoms should be free and comprehensive, no questions asked (about immigration status, for instance), so that no one goes untreated because of fear or poverty. This is all, in the most straightforward sense, good for everyone. It is also how people look out for one another’s vulnerability and need when they see one another’s problems as their own.

5) Georgia’s oh-so-wrong efforts to remove eligible voters from their rolls.  I’m sure this was not at all intended for partisan political gain ;-).

6) Josh Barro with a succinct, yet comprehensive look at how the pandemic in America is likely to get worse.

7) Good and important stuff from Catherine Rampell, “Officials have spent the last few years dismantling anti-recession measures”

8) And, oh yeah, there’s still regular electoral politics.  David Leonhardt,

The biggest lesson is simply this: The American left doesn’t care enough about winning.

It’s an old problem, one that has long undermined left-wing movements in this country. They have often prioritized purity over victory. They wouldn’t necessarily put it these terms, but they have chosen to lose on their terms rather than win with compromise.

You can see this pattern today in the ways that many progressive activists misread public opinion. Their answer to almost every question of political strategy is to insist that Americans are a profoundly progressive people who haven’t yet been inspired to vote the way they think. The way to win, these progressives claim, is to go left, always.

Immigration? Most Americans want more of it. Abortion? This is a pro-choice country. Fracking? People now understand its downsides. Strict gun control? Affirmative action? A wealth tax? Free college? Medicare for all? Widely available marijuana? Americans want it all, activists claim.

This belief helps explain why so many 2020 candidates hoping to win the progressive vote — including Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris — embraced ideas like a ban on fracking and the decriminalization of the border. The left persuaded itself that those policies were both morally righteous and politically savvy. To reject any one of them was to risk being labeled a neoliberal sellout.

The thing is, progressive activists are right about public opinion on some of these issues. Most Americans do favor higher taxes on the rich, marijuana legalization and additional gun control. But too many progressives aren’t doing an honest analysis of the politics. They are instead committing what the journalist Matthew Yglesias has called “the pundit fallacy.” They are conflating their own opinions with smart political advice. They are choosing to believe what they want to believe.

They often do so by pointing to polls with favorably worded, intricate questions — and by ignoring evidence to the contrary. Affirmative action, for example, typically loses ballot initiatives. Polls show that most Americans favor some abortion restrictions and oppose the elimination of private health insurance.

By designing campaign strategies for the America they want, rather than the one that exists, progressives have done a favor to their political opponents. They have refused to make tactical retreats, which is why they keep losing.

9) I loved this cartoon.  That is all.Image may contain Advertisement Poster Brochure Paper and Flyer

10) Even after researching it, it still seems crazy to me that, even in a pandemic, we have to wait a year for a vaccine.  I get that testing is important, and time-consuming, but can’t it be expedited more during a crisis?  Do people actually suffer serious harm from ineffective vaccines?

11) So loved the final season of Bojack Horseman.  Really liked this take that doesn’t give away too much.

How do you end a series like BoJack Horseman? You stay true to your core cast of characters, treating them like flesh-and-blood (horse)people who just happened to live in a heightened world. You follow their stories so far to their logical conclusions, with no more hyperbole than can be found in the real world and without giving into either sympathetic schmaltz or nihilistic cynicism. You find a middle ground, a milestone that ties off the story and acts as a pause before it carries itself forward on its own momentum somewhere off the screen. That is the only way BoJack Horseman–perhaps the greatest animated drama series ever created–could have ended, and that’s exactly the way it does.

12) “GPS Tracking Shows How Much Wolf Packs Avoid Each Other’s Range” (thanks EMG)

wolf pack ranges

13) Well, this may be my last sports link for a while 😦  Very cool analytical analysis of what it takes to score goals at the highest level of soccer.  (Probably not a lot of lessons for my 9-year old girls Rec team).  “Be Quick, Press High, Cut Back: How to Score in the Champions League”

14) Seems that “stand your ground” laws are designed for white men to shoot non-white guys.  Okay, that’s probably not quite fair.  But for women suffering abuse– maybe not so much.  Really disturbing story in the New Yorker earlier this year.  And the follow-up is not encouraging.

And the 20 seconds on central NC television version of my commentary

Here.

Many of the precincts that went for Sanders are clustered around college campuses, such as North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

“My students tend to love Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, which are easily the most popular with the younger voters. [There are] very, very few fans of Joe Biden,” said Steve Greene, a political science professor at N.C. State. “So, my students are not happy with the direction of this race.”

Young voters did turn out – to the extent they could be expected to – in support of Sanders, Greene said, but the sudden consolidation of moderate Democrats behind Biden tipped the scales in his favor in North Carolina and nine other “Super Tuesday” states.

Both Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar threw their support behind Biden on Monday after dropping out of the race.

Biden captured North Carolina by a 43 to 24 percent margin over Sanders. Warren finished a distant fourth, at 10 percent, with Mike Bloomberg in third at 13 percent.

Sanders still has more delegates than Biden – and more than half of the states haven’t yet held their primaries – but Greene said that, if Biden winds up winning the Democratic nomination, he may have trouble getting young voters to the polls in the November election unless he makes a strategic choice for vice president.

“Say I get [nominated], I’m going to pick somebody who has that support from younger Americans, from people more to the left of me, so that, you know, you can trust me and come out to vote for me,” Greene said.

And check this out– I actually live in a Sanders precinct (and we’re not a bunch of NC State students here in Cary).

How the system works is so not how our campaign finance system should work

Assuming NC State not over-reacting to 1-3″ snowmageddon today, I’m be teaching campaign finance in my Political Parties class.  One clear conclusion… BCRA/McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform was a pretty big failure.  One thing I really like about it, though, is that required transparency in advertising, e.g., “I’m Donald Trump and I approved this message.”  Transparency is one of the key principles of the post-1974 FECA campaign finance regime.

Alas, transparency means nothing when you can just create an unaccountable group with a meaningless name that doesn’t have to disclose it’s donors.  And that’s our world in post Citizens United America.  I always half-joke with my students about ads being run by “Americans for America.”  Of course, most actual SuperPAC names provide as much actual information.  And these “independent” expenditures by SuperPAC’s are permissible so long as there is not direct coordination with a candidate and there tend to be plenty of indirect coordiniation.

Thing is, though, almost always Republican groups spend money to elect Republicans and hurt Democrats in general elections.  And vice versa.  It strikes me as a new level of political insidiousness and perversity to try to influence the results of the other party’s primary through these shadowy means.  Alas, that’s what I’ve been seeing on my TV every night as of late in the NC Senate race:

Democrats are growing alarmed about Republican attempts to prop up an insurgent liberal candidate in North Carolina — fearful that GOP meddling will undercut the party’s prospects in a key Senate contest.

What seems like a generic campaign ad pitching Erica Smith, a North Carolina state senator, as “the only proven progressive” in the state’s high-profile Senate race is actually part of a multimillion dollar investment from a mysterious super PAC — the innocuously named Faith and Power PAC — with apparent ties to Republicans…

Smith, whose low-budget campaign has otherwise posed little threat to Cunningham, has denounced the intervention. But the episode threatens Democrats’ hopes of getting the better-funded, more moderate Cunningham through the primary unscathed…

“It’scertainly made it more challenging to have over $2 million dumped into an ad buy against Cal Cunningham and what looks to be an attempt by Republicans to sway the primary,” said MaryBe McMillan, president of the North Carolina AFL-CIO, which endorsed Cunningham. “I still feel confident about his chances in the primary. It’s just unfortunate that it’s going to mean spending more resources.”

Faith and Power PAC’s ads were placed bya media buyer used by a number of conservative organizations, and the PAC uses Chain Bridge Bank, which has deep ties to Republicans. Faith and Power PAC did not respond to emails. A spokesperson for the GOP super PAC Senate Leadership Fund, which also uses Chain Bridge Bank,did not respond to requests for comment. [emphasis mine]

This is really ridiculous.  For starters, we don’t know that this is a Republican group because there’s no transparency; we have to rely on detective work.  Imagine if this ad for Smith ended by saying “paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.”  Safe to say, Democratic viewers would largely ignore it; and quite appropriately so.  But, many of the same donors who give to the NRSC probably give to “Faith and Power PAC” but we don’t even get to know who they are.

Money is not quite the unalloyed evil in politics that many make it out to be, but, damn, it may not be “evil” for a party to surreptitiously spend heavily to influence the other party’s primary, but it’s damn sure just not right.

Quick hits

1) Okay, nothing particularly new here, but George Conway on Trump is always so good:

As rare as impeachments may be, today’s impeachment of Donald Trump, president of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors was pretty much inevitable.

It was inevitable because of Trump himself, his very character, whose essential nature many who now support him have long understood. As Senator Ted Cruz put it in May 2016, Trump is a “narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen.” Just this year, Senator Lindsey Graham tried to excuse Trump’s racist, vitriolic attacks on congresswomen of color as “more narcissism than anything else.” “That’s just the way he is,” Graham said.

In essence, Trump thinks everything should be about him, for him, for his benefit and glorification—and he can’t comprehend, and doesn’t care about, anything that isn’t. The American diplomat David Holmes testified that Ambassador Gordon Sondland explained to him that “the president only cares about ‘big stuff’”—clarifying, according to Holmes, that this meant “big stuff that benefits the president.”

And that’s why Trump can’t comply with his duties to the nation, and why he now stands as the third president ever to have been impeached. His own stated view of his constitutional authority can only be described as narcissistic: “I have an Article II, where I have to the right to do whatever I want as president.” But as the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment report rightly explains, “Impeachment is aimed at Presidents who believe they are above the law, and who believe their own interests transcend those of the country and Constitution.” Or, as then-Representative Mike Pence put it in 2008: “This business of high crimes and misdemeanors goes to the question of whether the person serving as President of the United States put their own interests, their personal interests, ahead of public service.” It was inevitable that, given his boundlessly self-centered bent, this president would do precisely that.

2) Hans Noel on impeachment and Trump’s populism:

It is populist in the specific sense in which Cas Mudde and Cristobal Rovira Kaltwasser defined it in their Populism: A Very Short Introduction. For them, populist appeals invoke a conflict between “the people” and “the elites.”…

In this framework, the role of the populist leader is to champion the people against the elites. The leader may be rich themselves, but they are on the side of the people and represent the will of the people. The leader loses elections only because the elites thwart this will, and when they win elections, the populist leader embodies the popular will. Small-r republican checks on the power of the leader are simply attempts to subvert the popular will.

This is the argument that dominated Trump’s 2016 campaign and his rallies since election. It also will dominate his 2020 campaign.

And being impeached is perfect fodder for this campaign…

In this framework, the role of the populist leader is to champion the people against the elites. The leader may be rich themselves, but they are on the side of the people and represent the will of the people. The leader loses elections only because the elites thwart this will, and when they win elections, the populist leader embodies the popular will. Small-r republican checks on the power of the leader are simply attempts to subvert the popular will.

This is the argument that dominated Trump’s 2016 campaign and his rallies since election. It also will dominate his 2020 campaign.

And being impeached is perfect fodder for this campaign.

3) Rick Hasen on ten years of Citizens United

In 2010, the largest reported individual contributors to federal campaigns in American politics were Robert and Doylene Perry, owners of Perry Homes, who donated about $7.5 million to support Republican and conservative candidates. In 2018, the largest reported contributors were casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who contributed about $122 million in outside money to support such candidates, representing a 16-fold increase over the Perrys’ 2010 contributions, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. What explains this dramatic shift in American elections, where the wealthiest Americans get to have even greater influence over who is elected and what policies elected officials pursue? The Supreme Court’s 2010 opinion, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

In 2010, Citizens United held that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend sums independently to support or oppose candidates for office. Looking at the amount of direct corporate spending in elections over the past decade, one might think that Citizens United was a bust. Few for-profit corporations spend money in their own names boosting or dissing candidates. But this casehelped to usher in a sea change in American elections, and its influence on the decade that followed is hard to overstate. We’ve seen an explosion of outside, often-undisclosed money in elections, candidates skirting campaign finance rules by having shadow “super PACs,” and dangerous foreign interference in our elections. And that pivotal opinion contains all the tools the Supreme Court needs to get rid of remaining campaign contribution limits.

4) Christianity Today shows some actual Christianity and comes out against Trump:

The evangelical magazine founded by the late Rev. Billy Graham published a surprising editorial Thursday calling for President Trump’s removal and describing him as “a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”

“Whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election—that is a matter of prudential judgment,” said the piece, written by editor in chief Mark Galli. “That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.”

Galli, who will retire from the magazine Jan. 3, wrote that the facts leading to Wednesday’s impeachment of Trump are unambiguous.

“The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents,” Galli wrote. “That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.”

But the editorial didn’t just call out Trump. It called out his devout Christian supporters.

“To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve,” Galli wrote. “Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior.”

Trump lashed out at the magazine in a pair of early-morning tweets Friday, calling Christianity Today a “far left magazine … which has been doing poorly.”

5) Not that you really need it, but Conor Friedersdorf eviscerates the Republican defenses of Trump on impeachment.

6) But, hey, really, who’s to know who’s right here?  CJR on the “both sides”! problem:

Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU, listed 12 more snippets from the article as evidence of the Times’s inability to handle what he calls “asymmetrical polarization.” They included “the different impeachment realities that the two parties are living in,” “both sides engaged in a kind of mutually assured destruction,” and “the two parties could not even agree on a basic set of facts in front of them.”

Rosen is right that this sort of language is inadequate: Democrats, for the most part, are engaging with the factual record; Republicans, for the most part, are not. These positions are manifestly not equivalent. Treating them as such does not serve any useful concept of fairness; instead, it rebounds clearly to the advantage of the one side (Republicans) for whom nonsense being taken seriously is a victory in itself. The Times is far from the only culprit. The structure of some TV news shows, in particular, has bothsidesism hardwired into it: a Democrat and a Republican are given equal time to make their unequal impeachment cases, and both face hard questions, to contrive a sense of balance. The questions lobbed at Democrats are often fair, but often pale into triviality when a Republican follows them on and starts sowing conspiracy theories

The media’s job, done properly, is multidirectional: it holds power to account, and communicates matters of public interest to news consumers. On impeachment, too much coverage seems to have got stuck in a feedback loop: we’re telling the public that politicians aren’t budging from their partisan siloes, and vice versa, with the facts of what Trump actually did getting lost somewhere in the cycle. The cult of “both sides” is integral to this dynamic, and it’s serving the impeachment story poorly. Now, more than ever, our top duty should be to fight for the truth.

7) Former FBI and CIA director William Webster in the NYT, “I Headed the F.B.I. and C.I.A. There’s a Dire Threat to the Country I Love. The rule of law is the principle that protects every American from the abuse of monarchs, despots and tyrants.”

8) Kevin Drum with a massive piece on what we should do about climate change.  And here’s his nickel summary:

In my climate piece today I make a detailed case for massive investment in R&D. I want to outline my argument here in the simplest possible terms:

  1. I am all in favor of building out green energy infrastructure on a huge scale. This means primarily solar, wind, nuclear, grid upgrades, and massive electrification of the economy.
  2. However, this is a big political lift and isn’t likely to happen. More to the point, it only barely matters anyway. Electrification can probably solve only about half our global greenhouse gas problem by 2050, and even if the United States (and Europe) cut their carbon emissions to zero today it would barely be a bump in the road to ever increasing global warming.
  3. This is the key: global warming is globalAny serious plan has to include a plausible way to reduce carbon emissions in China, India, southeast Asia, and other non-Western countries, which is where virtually all of the increase in carbon emissions is coming from. However, they have shown no inclination to sacrifice their economic growth by radically reducing their carbon emissions. I know this is a conservative talking point designed to allow them to shrug away any action, but it happens to be true anyway.
  4. There’s really only one way to get all these developing countries to cut carbon emissions: massive R&D that develops new, cheaper ways of providing energy. This has to include not just electric generation, but also things like cement, airplane travel, land use, chemical production, and other things that electrification won’t solve. Importantly, it also has to include some way of removing carbon from the atmosphere, since no matter how much we reduce emissions we’re still going to end up with too much carbon in the atmosphere by 2050.
  5. Then we give away all our new technology for free to everyone.

That’s basically it. Naturally you want some evidence that I’m right about all this stuff, and for that you have to read my full piece in the current issue of the magazine. Click here for all the grim and gritty details.

9) Interesting piece arguing that John Roberts will have far more say in the conduct of the impeachment trial than we realize.  And, certainly, better him than McConnell.

10) Now this is cool science, “What a 5,700-Year-Old Wad of Chewed Gum Reveals About Ancient People and Their Bacteria”

When hunter-gatherers living in what is now southern Denmark broke down pieces of birch bark into sticky, black tar about 5,700 years ago, they almost certainly didn’t realize that they were leaving future scientists their entire DNA.

Ancient people used the gooey birch pitch to fix arrowheads onto arrows and to repair a variety of stone tools. When it started to solidify, they rolled the pitch in their mouths and chewed on it, like some sort of primitive bubble gum. Chewing on birch pitch would have made it pliable again for using on tools.

It might have also relieved toothaches because of the antiseptic oils in the gum. It’s possible that children also used it recreationally, much like modern humans do today. When they spat the gum out, the same antiseptic properties helped preserve the DNA in their saliva.

The ancient DNA, described in a paper published Tuesday in Nature Communications, is especially valuable because few human bones from the Mesolithic and Neolithic Stone Ages have been found in Scandinavia. DNA from the chewed-up gum provides clues about the people who settled in the area, the kind of food they ate and even the type of bacteria they carried on their teeth.

11) In light of UNC’s absurd Board of Governor’s settlement with Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Daily Tarheel takes a really interesting look at internal conflict within the organization (which, in many ways is basically a biker gang!)

The members who spoke with the DTH alleged financial improprieties among SCV leadership, referenced intermingling with gangs and hate groups, and described threats and slurs that have been issued toward members who raise questions.

One member said he joined the SCV within the last decade after learning about his family tree and gaining a newfound appreciation for his Confederate ancestors. But he described an increasingly “scary” presence within the group in the time since.

“I do not like Nazis,” he said. “My uncle and my great grandpa went over there to kill Nazis. I don’t like none of that crap, and some of these guys, for some reason, that draws them to something.”

Stone revealed to SCV members in a Nov. 27 email that months of secret dealings with members of the UNC System Board of Governors had preceded a settlement he “never dreamed we could accomplish… and all at the expense of the University itself.”

Disgruntled members are expressing desires to squash the deal and give the money back. A common fear they shared is that the current deal will empower what they see as the SCV’s most problematic wing: the mechanized cavalry, a nationwide special interest group of motorcycle-riding members which Stone has helmed for around 10 years.

The Silent Sam settlement could lead to UNC System money funding a new headquarters and museum that one member predicts will have “racist overtones” and further enable a nefarious transition.

“Kevin Stone is no more interested in Silent Sam and what it stands for than the man on the moon,” the member said. “He sees this money as a pot of gold to build himself and his biker gang a massive headquarters.”

Stone did not respond to a request for comment.

12) NYT on the “fake meat” versus “real meat” wars.  We recently started purchasing the “fresh” version of Beyond Beef.  OMG, it is so good.  Now, this stuff really is revolutionary.  Compared to their frozen crumbles, which are adequate, but leave me craving the real stuff, this is the real deal.  Put this stuff everywhere and I’d happily be a vegetarian.  And, no, of course it’s not health food.  But the animals saved and the carbon not emitted doesn’t really care about that.

The meat industry has a warning for consumers: Beware of plant-based meat.

That is the message behind a marketing campaign by the Center for Consumer Freedom, a public relations firm whose financial supporters have included meat producers and others in the food industry. In recent weeks the group has placed full-page ads in The New York Times and other newspapers raising health concerns about plant-based meat substitutes like the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger, which are designed to look, taste and even appear to bleed like real meat.

The ads call them “ultra-processed imitations” with numerous ingredients. “What’s hiding in your plant-based meat?” asks one ad featuring a sad face made of two patties and sausage. Another directs readers to a site that compares plant-based burgers to dog food. In November, the group’s managing director, Will Coggin, wrote an opinion piece in USA Today that labeled fake meats as ultra-processed foods that can spur weight gain, although the research on processed foods has not included plant-based meats. A few days later, the center’s executive director, Rick Berman, wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal criticizing plant-based meats as highly processed and no healthier than meat. Its headline: “‘Plant-Based Meat’ Is All Hat and No Cattle.”

Bloomberg changes everything!

Kidding.  Of course he doesn’t.

Apparently part of his massive effort to light his money on fire rather than spending it in ways that would actually help defeat Trump will include a big ad buy in NC.  So, I got to talk about it on the local news.  I pulled no punches on this one; no “on the other hand…” when it comes to Bloomberg’s chances.  My only regret is that they couldn’t use my quote about Jeb “exclamation point” and his failed 2016 effort despite all his money.

Also, wasn’t sure how the shirt I was randomly wearing when the reporter emailed me would work on TV, but I feel pretty good about it.

“To put not too fine a point on it, I think he’s lighting his money on fire,” Steve Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University, said Friday. “I think he has virtually no chance.”

Greene said Bloomberg isn’t adding anything new to the Democratic slate aside from his almost bottomless pockets.

“You just cannot buy yourself an election, especially in primaries,” he said.

Bloomberg appears to be skipping the early primary states entirely, Greene says, hoping that a money bomb in Super Tuesday states could net him enough Democratic delegates – 40 percent of total delegates are up for grabs in 14 primaries from Maine to California – to make him a serious contender.

But that strategy historically doesn’t work, Greene said, adding that Democrats don’t seem excited about Bloomberg’s late entry anyway.

“I’ve seen no signs of support of the grassroots, and without that kind of support, the media’s not going to be paying any attention to him, no matter how much money he spends,” he said.

“The state of the race in North Carolina on March 3 is going to be different based on what happens in Iowa, based on what happens in New Hampshire,” he added. “The idea that you can kind of ignore things that come before and just say, ‘OK, I’m going to spend a lot of money’ just really flies in the face of reality and history.”

 

It’s Trump’s party in ways big and small

Phil Berger, our NC State Senate president and easily the most powerful figure in the state after the governor, may have been illegally using campaign funds to pay for his mortagage.  He seems to have a good defense about the elections board signing off, but campaign funds used to pay his mortgage does not look good.  Even if Berger is totally above-board here, an investigation seems reasonable and not frivolous.

What stood out to me was the response from the NC GOP:

But Dylan Watts, the Senate Republicans’ political director at the NC GOP, said Wednesday morning that Hall’s claims are baseless because Berger already got the state elections board’s approval.

Watts said Berger got that approval once while the elections board was led by Kim Strach during Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s term, and again under the leader appointed under Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, Karen Brinson Bell.

This is just another example of Bob Hall being a bottom-feeder and a scumbag,” Watts said.[emphasis mine]

Now that’s the party of Donald Trump.  I know Bob Hall just a bit, but suffice it to say he’s a long-time champion of good government and, most definitely, not a “scumbag.”  I get Watt’s role, but how about “another baseless allegation from Bob Hall who has proved himself to be nothing more than a partisan hack.”  Okay, not true either.  But “scumbag” in a statement tot the press?  Really?  Alas, this is Donald Trump’s party in every way.

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