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“I don’t know about the two gentlemen you mentioned.”

“I don’t know about the two gentlemen you mentioned.”

Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon join a long list of people Donald Trump doesn’t know about.

Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas

“I don’t know those gentleman. Now, it’s possible I have a picture with them because I have a picture with everybody. I don’t know them, I don’t know about them, I don’t know what they do.”

Jeffrey Epstein

“I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him, I was not a fan of his, that I can tell you.”

Michael Flynn

“It now seems the General Flynn was under investigation long before was common knowledge, It would have been impossible for me to know this.”

Roger Stone

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“The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe, 1842

“The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe, 1842

The red death had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal — the madness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress, and termination of the disease were incidents of half an hour.

But Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his crenelated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince’s own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts.

They resolved to leave means neither of ingress nor egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions, the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the “Red Death.”

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Ponzi Finance II: quid pro quo

The real story revealed by the New York Times Trump tax returns bombshell is not that Donald Trump paid no taxes in 10 out of 15 years or that he paid $750 in 2016 and 2017. The real story is that he doesn’t have net income to service his debt. There is nothing inherently illegal about that. He did it before in the 1980s and when real estate prices stopped rising in 1990, his creditors were left holding the bag.

Hyman Minsky wrote about Donald Trump’s investment strategy in a 1990 talk, “The Bubble in the Price of Baseball Cards.”

One of the puzzles of the 1980s was the rapid rise in the financial wealth of Donald Trump, author of The Art of the Deal, and what else. Trump’s fortune was made in real estate. Many large fortunes have been made in real estate, since real estate is highly leveraged. Two factors made Trump somewhat unique — one was the he developed a fortune in the period of high real interest rates, and the second was that the cash flows on most of Trump’s properties were negative.

Trump’s wealth surged because the market value of his properties — or at least the appraised value — was increasing faster than the interest rate. Trump obtained the funds to pay the interest on his outstanding loans by increasing the draw under what in effect was a home equity credit line. The efficiency with which Trump managed these properties was more or less irrelevant — hence Trump could acquire the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City without much concern about the impacts on the profits of the two casinos he already owned. Trump was golden — he had a magic touch — as long as property prices were increasing at a more rapid rate than the interest rate on the borrowed funds.

The puzzle is that the lenders failed to recognize that the arithmetic of his cash flows was virtually identical with that of the developing countries; in effect Trump was Brazil in drag. In the short run Trump could make his interest payments with funds from new loans — but when the increase in property prices declined to a value below the interest rate, Trump would become short of the cash necessary to pay the interest on the outstanding loans.

The increase in U.S. real estate prices in the 1980s was regional, and concentrated in the Northeast and in coastal California; for the country as a whole, real estate did not increase relative to the price level. The regional dispersion in the movement in real estate prices more or less paralleled the changes in personal income. Real estate prices dipped in the oil patch, climbed modestly in the rust belt, and surged in those areas that benefitted from the rapid increases in incomes in banking and financial services — sort of a derived demand from the financial success of Drexel Burnham. In effect, those individuals with high incomes in financial services — and with the prospect of sharp increase in incomes — set the pace for increases in real estate prices

 

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“Constitutionalism”

Democratic Despotism:

“We find latent in their conception of law— and some have been publicly preaching this view— that law emanates solely from the will of the majority of the people, and can, therefore, be modified at any time to meet majority wishes. This doctrine is absolutely totalitarian, and is contrary to our basic conceptions of the source of law. We have seen that our political system is predicated on the doctrine that there are some immutable laws of nature and certain other divinely sanctioned rights, which the Constitution and our tradition recognized as being above and beyond the power of the majority, or of any other group of individuals or officials of the Government. There are, also, other rights, which because of man’s historic experience, that are specifically protected by the Constitution, and which can only be modified under the prescribed method set forth in the Constitution; and, consequently the majority- will is not free to modify them as it pleases, but only in the circumscribed manner prescribed by the Constitution. That is why our system has been characterized as a government of laws, not of men. That is the distinction between impersonal law and personal law. Americanism is the system of government by impersonal law: totalitarianism is the system of government by personal law.” (emphasis added) — Raoul E. Desvernine, vice-president of the American Liberty League, Democratic Despotism. 1936 (cited in “Business Organized as Powerr: The New Imperium in Imperio” see also “Constitutionalism: Political Defense of the Business Community during the New Deal Period.”)

“Business Organized as Power”:

“As stated in its constitution, the [American Liberty] League’s purposes were, among others,  “to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States,” “to teach the necessity of respect for rights of persons and property,” “to encourage and protect individual and group initiative and enterprise, to foster the right to work, earn, save and acquire property, and to preserve the ownership and lawful use of property when acquired.” To win these goals the League went further than any previous liberty-loving, liberty-saving organization in our history. Crucial to its functioning was the National Lawyer’s Committee, a group of some 58  prominent attorneys, which issued reports or opinions in advance of Supreme Court decisions, opinions setting aside with solemnity and erudition one after another of the entire New Deal legislative mélange. The League went still further: this private court having, for example, formally declared the Wagner Labor Relations Act unconstitutional, openly advised employers to ignore its provisions.”

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What is Looting?

“Looting is a natural response to the unnatural and inhuman society of commodity abundance.” — Guy Debord, “The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy.”

The photograph used in Andy Warhol’s 1964 print, “Race Riot” was taken by Charles Moore and was published in LIFE magazine in May of 1963. Warhol used it without permission and Moore sued. Eventually there was an out-of-court settlement. The scene depicted was not a “Race Riot” as Warhol’s presumably ironic title claimed. It was a police attack ordered by Police Commissioner “Bull” Connor on a nonviolent demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama.

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From the archives: The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties

 With a minimum of editing or preface, I am reposting this one from February 2009. Next year will be the bicentennial of the publication this astonishing but undeservedly obscure pamphlet. One “event” that I am conducting to celebrate the anniversary is posting of around 65 questions that I have mined from the text. I hope that there will be others but that sort of depends on gathering a critical mass of audience.

How is it that notwithstanding the unbounded extent of our capital, the progressive improvement and wonderful perfection of our machinery, our canals, roads, and of all other things that can, either facilitate labour, or increase its produce; our labourer, instead of having his labours abridged, toils infinitely more, more hours, more laboriously…?

Published anonymously in 1821, The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties, Deduced from Principles of Political Economy in a Letter to Lord John Russell was, according to Frederick Engels, “saved from falling into oblivion,” by Karl Marx, who, in published writings up to the time of Engel’s remark, had scarcely mentioned the pamphlet in a cryptic footnote in Volume I of Capital. Engels acclaimed the pamphlet as “but the farthest outpost of an entire literature which in the twenties turned the Ricardian theory of value and surplus value against capitalist production in the interest of the proletariat.”

For his part, Marx declared in his unpublished notebooks that the pamphlet was an advance beyond Adam Smith and David Ricardo in its conscious and consistent distinction between the general form of surplus value or surplus labour and its particular manifestations in the form of land rent, interest of money or profit of enterprise. In commenting on the pamphlet, Marx returned several times to what he upheld as the “fine statement”: “a nation is really rich if no interest is paid for the use of capital, if the working day is only 6 hours rather than 12. WEALTH IS DISPOSABLE TIME, AND NOTHING MORE.” Marx noted that Ricardo had also identified disposable time as the true wealth with the difference for Ricardo, however, that it was disposable time for the capitalist that constituted such wealth, thus the ideal should be to maximize surplus value relative to total output.

One of those citations occurs in Marx’s Grundrisse, immediately after the following characteristically revolutionary proposition: “Forces of production and social relations — two different sides of the development of the social individual — appear to capital as mere means for it to produce on its limited foundation. In fact, however, they are the material condition to blow this foundation sky-high.” Indeed, in his reinterpretation of Marx’s critical theory, Time, Labor and Social Domination, Moishe Postone placed the issue of disposable time at the “essential core” of Marx’s analysis in Capital. Although Postone didn’t emphasize the pamphlet itself, he highlighted a passage from the same paragraph in the Grundrisse that concludes with the pamphlet’s “fine statement.”
Just how successful Marx was in saving the 1821 pamphlet from oblivion remains to be seen. Obviously, the pamphlet was spared from total oblivion or I wouldn’t be writing this. A copy of it was included in the microfilm Goldsmiths-Kress Library of Economic Literature. Routledge republished it in 2005 as part of a ten-volume collection of Owenite Socialism : Pamphlets and Correspondence edited by Gregory Claeys. Aside from the few references by Marx and Engels, there have been scattered mentions of the pamphlet but, to my knowledge, no sustained consideration, which seems odd considering the importance that Engels — and in his manuscripts, Marx — assigned to it.

Perhaps one of the difficulties has been the anonymity of its authorship. That problem would appear to have been resolved by a disclosure in the biography of the 19th century editor and literary critic, Charles Wentworth Dilke, Papers of a Critic, written by his grandson, Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke. The younger Dilke reported having found an annotated copy of the pamphlet, acknowledging authorship, among his grandfather’s papers. Subsequent authorities on Dilke and on the literary journal he edited for [30?] years, The Athaeneum, appear satisfied with the plausibility of this attribution, given Dilke’s writing style, his proclivity for anonymous and pseudonymous publication, his political inclinations and his subsequent career. There doesn’t appear to have been any concerted effort to either definitively establish or to refute Dilke’s authorship. So Dilke qualifies as the leading and, so far, only candidate for authorship.

If Dilke was indeed the author, this presents at least two rather significant bits of context to the pamphlet as well as several minor but intriguing ones. First, Dilke was an ardent disciple of William Godwin. The poet, John Keats, who was a close friend and next-door neighbor referred to him as a “Godwin perfectability man”. He was said to have retained this political inclination throughout his life. Second, in his career as editor of the Athaeneum, Dilke campaigned famously against journalistic “puffery” — the practice of publishers placing in literary journals, for a fee, promotional material for their books under the guise of independent reviews.

Both of these contextual items could be significant for an interpretation of The Source and Remedy precisely because the pamphlet lends itself comfortably to a reading as a Godwinist tract (rather than a pre-Marxist one) but also to a reading as a polemic against yet another brand of puffery — political economic puffery. As for “turning the Ricardian theory of value against capitalist production,” such an intention would hardly seem to fit an essay that on its closing page counts among the great advantages of the measures proposed therein that “their adoption would leave the country at liberty to pursue such a wise and politic system of financial legislation as would leave trade and commerce unrestricted [emphasis in original].”

The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties appears to have had something to say somewhat distinct from the message Marx took away from it. In his various notes on the pamphlet, Marx seems to have paid closest attention to the first six pages of the 40-page pamphlet and to have glossed over the rest somewhat disparagingly or with an eye to the arresting quote. In his discussion of the pamphlet in Theories of Surplus Value, for example, the reader may wonder if Marx is actually still talking about the pamphlet after a few pages or has gone off on a tangent inspired by the pamphleteer having overlooked the impact of unemployment on wages. It has to be cautioned, though, that Marx’s extended comments on the pamphlet appeared in manuscript notes that were published posthumously. They are not polished, fully thought out positions directly intended for publication.

Although the first six pages are indeed interesting, in the context of the pamphlet as a whole their function is to set the stage for the crucial pair of questions that appear on page seven. That is, after deducing from principles of political economy that capital, left to its natural course, would soon do away with further accumulation, the author asks why that seemingly inevitable result has never happened and how it is that with all the presumably labor-saving wonders of modern industry, workers work longer hours and more laboriously than ever before.

Dilke’s answer was that government and legislation act ceaselessly to destroy the produce of labor and interfere with the natural development of capital. They do this indirectly by, on the one hand, maintaining “unproductive classes” at a constant proportion to productive laborers and on the other by enabling the immense expansion of “fictitious capital,” based ultimately on protectionism and government finance. Government does these things so that it may raise an enormous level of revenues that it couldn’t through direct taxation of the laboring population, because “it would have been gross, open, shameless, and consequently impossible.” Instead, it makes the holders of this fictitious capital “particeps criminis” in a stratagem to exact a much-enlarged revenue. As partner in crime, the capitalist lays claim to a generous portion of the booty. Not surprisingly, war is a “powerful cooperator” in this relentless process of destroying the produce of labor and expanding the claims of fictitious capital.

As for the “natural” claims of surplus value exacted by the capitalist, Dilke viewed it as causing the laborer “no real grievance to complain of,” a position at least apparently at odds with Marx’s views of exploitation and almost certainly incompatible with Engels’ assertion that the pamphlet turned Ricardian theory “against capitalist production.” Not only was Dilke not opposed to capitalist production, he described it as leading to a Utopian condition of freedom if only it was left to unfold according to its nature. In his note, Marx objected that the pamphleteer had overlooked two things in coming to such a sanguine conclusion about the trajectory of capitalist accumulation. One was unemployment; the other Marx never got around to specifying.

Dilke’s reasoning, although thought provoking, is far from airtight. He confesses in his closing pages that his argument “is not so consecutive, that the proofs do not follow the principles laid down so immediately as I could have wished. The reasoning is too desultory, too loose in its texture.” Whether such regrets are heartfelt or simply an obligatory rhetorical gesture of modesty is hard to say. The subject matter itself is elusive and no treatment of it could be exempt some flaws. But, nevertheless, the case he presents is an original and important one that has as far as I know been overlooked by Marx and his intellectual heirs.

The part of the argument that Marx appropriated to his own analysis — the author’s consistent reference to surplus value as the general form underlying profit, rent and interest was ultimately incidental to Dilke’s main points that nature places a limit on accumulation and that the surpassing of those natural limits occurs only as a result of government intervention, which, in effect mandates excess exploitation of labor.

There is a problem that arises from Marx appropriating the (for Marx) correct premise of the pamphlet without first having systematically refuted the author’s own deductions from it. What if Dilke’s deductions were either equally or more plausible than Marx’s? Rather than being a focal point of class struggle, might not surplus value then be “no real grievance to complain of?” Rather than underpinning a contradiction fated to blow the foundation of capital sky-high, might not the tension between “things superfluous” and disposable time have the potential to be adjusted like wing flaps to help bring capital in for a soft landing?

By things superfluous, I refer, first, to the unholy trinity of fictitious capital, unproductive labor and inconvertible paper money and second, to their commodified expression as luxury goods. What I am suggesting is that for Dilke it seems that the primary contradictions of capitalism (to use Marx’s expression) lay not so much between capital and labor as between real and fictitious capital, productive and unproductive labor, convertible and inconvertible money, necessities and luxury goods. This internalizing of the contradictions recalls Solzhenitsyn’s observation in the Gulag Archipelago that, “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.” Might we not ask if it’s not only the line between good and evil that passes through every human heart but also the line between labor and capital, proletariat and bourgeoisie?

From the standpoint of the arguments presented in The Source and Remedy, a proletarian revolution would be entirely unnecessary. Ironically, the non-necessity of the revolution would arrive precisely at the moment in which such a revolution would have become possible.

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Stephen Miller’s Racist Fix for Race Relations, Part II

In the immigration handbook he wrote for then Alabama Senator Sessions, Stephen Miller cited U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner, Peter Kirsanow, who subsequently was considered by Trump during the transition as a potential nominee for Secretary of Labor. In Kirsanow’s June 4 feature for National Review, Flames from False Narratives, he claimed that Black men are not disproportionately the targets of police violence and that the perception they are is a fabrication perpetrated by Hollywood, the media, academics and politicians.

To show that systemic police racism is a myth, Kirsanow presented a list of statistics compiled “from the 2018 National Crime Victimization Survey, Census data, FBI Uniform Crime Reports, and other sources” and cited his dissenting statement 2018 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Report for further discussion. The first thing to note is that Kirsanow’s statement was a dissent. He disagreed with the findings of the report adopted by the majority. One of those findings had to do with the inadequacy of data collection dealing with police violence. The report found that:

The public continues to hear competing narratives by law enforcement and community members, and the hard reality is that available national and local data is flawed and inadequate.

A central contributing factor is the absence of mandatory federal reporting and standardized reporting guidelines.

Former Director of the FBI James Comey characterized the data as “incomplete and therefore, in the aggregate, unreliable.” I know, I know, Comey is a deep-state enemy of Donald Trump and therefore anything he said back in February of 2015 was simply a baseless attempt to discredit the President. The FBI publishes a honking huge disclaimer warning against the improper use of UCR data. None of that seems to matter to Kirsanow’s high school debate deployment of selected, clumsily massaged statistics.

Of course, there is no way to challenge Kirsanow’s numbers with better numbers because “the hard reality is that available national and local data is flawed and inadequate.” It is a hard reality that Kirsanow would presumably prefer to retain, given his dissent from the Civil Rights Commission’s report. Kirsanow is a lawyer, not a statistician, so it is probably unfair to challenge the logic of his claim that “[i]n 2015, a cop was 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male was likely to be killed by a cop.”

Say what? Almost 20 times as many cops killed by Black men as unarmed Black men killed by cops? Well, no. Kirsanow arrived at his imagin-scary 18.5 times ratio by way of a per capita calculation that is not only preposterous but also wrong in Kirsanow’s own terms, even setting aside the not inconsiderable fact that according to the Civil Rights Commission report only about half of police killings of civilians are reported to the FBI.

What Kirsanow did to arrive at his seemingly astonishing ratio is compare cops killed by Black men per 100.000 cops to unarmed Black males killed by cops per 100,000 Black males. The preposterous part of the per capita comparison is that the population of cops is not comparable to a population of African-American males. For example, there are no (or very few) individuals under the age of 20 something or over the age of 60 something in a population of cops. I could go on but the point is that “sworn officers” are not a demographic, they’re an occupational category.

O.K. that’s just the preposterous part. Now for the part where Kirsanow’s calculation fails on its own terms. He compares unarmed Black males killed by cops to cops killed by Black males, where presumably both cops and their killers were armed. This shows conclusively that not all Black males are unarmed at all times yet both unarmed and armed Black males are included in the population Kirsanow used to calculate his per capita comparison. How silly. This may sound like nit-picking but it’s the kind of thing that just kind of slips in when you are trying to lie with statistics but don’t really understand descriptive statistics.

Yeah, but what about — gasp! — BLACK-ON-BLACK violent crime?!? If one actually read the criminology literature one would learn that violent crime is multi-factored, that most violent crime occurs within a given community and higher crime rates are associated with poverty. The analysis is nuanced and doesn’t identify any single factor as decisive but here is an intriguing anecdote: white people living in poverty have a higher rate of violent crime than Black people living in poverty.

Black people are more than twice as likely as white people to live in poverty (22% to 9%). Now those two populations are not strictly comparable but then neither are the white and Black general populations that Kirsanow compares with abandon. But if we adjust for poverty using those percentages, the crime discrepancy vanishes! We can’t do that because it makes inappropriate assumptions about non-comparable populations. But the reason I brought it up is to point out that the populations Kirsanow compares so blithely are also not comparable. One has a 22% poverty rate and the other has a 9% poverty rate. One of these things is not like the other.

Expect to hear Peter Kirsanow’s name a lot in the coming days and possibly see his mangled numbers in Trump’s speech on race relations written by Miller. He’s African-American. He’s a U.S. Civil Rights Commission commissioner. He’s conservative. He ticks all the boxes.

Oh, and he’s statistical illiterate who uses numbers to score high school debating points.

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Stephen Miller’s Racist Fix for Race Relations

Word is circulating that Stephen Miller is writing Donald Trump’s speech on race relations. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Trump’s “solution” to the current malaise in the U.S. will involve extending a ban on immigration and expanding enforcement and expulsion of undocumented individuals. This seems like a safe bet to me because Miller really is a one-trick pony and Trump relishes rehashing his greatest hits. Maybe Miller will toss in some “enterprise zones” or other ornamental trivia but the meat will be anti-immigration.

They playbook for this will be Miller’s Immigration Handbook for a New Republican Majority that he wrote for Jeff Sessions in 2015. Footnote 21 of that handbook states that, “Amnesty and uncontrolled immigration disproportionately harms African-American workers, and has been
described by U.S. Civil Rights Commission member Peter Kirsanow as a ‘disaster.'” The handbook also cites a poll commissioned by Kellyanne \Conway, one finding of which was that “86% of black voters and 71% of Hispanic voters said companies should raise wages and improve working conditions instead of increasing immigration.”

Two years ago, I posted a couple of pieces discussing Miller’s handbook in more detail: The Lump That Begot Trump and Goebbels or Gompers?: A Closer Look at Stephen Miller’s Immigration Manifesto. I hope these pieces provide some insight into just how dangerous and effective Miller’s and Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric can be, especially given the hypocrisy of neo-liberal promotion of immigration as exemplified by Tony Blair’s and Gerhard Schroeder’s “Third Way” advocating “a new supply-side agenda for the left“. To put it bluntly, “Third Way” immigration policy was intended to create jobs by keeping wages low through an abundant supply of labor. The transfer of income from the working class to the wealthy would provide ample funds for “investment.”

In short, Miller’s and Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric is dangerous and effective because Blair and Schroeder (and Clinton and Obama) enacted right-wing, supply-side economic policies in the name of “the [‘responsible’] left.”

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Looking Down Right Now

“Ryan is looking down right now, and you know that, and he is very happy, because I think he just broke a record.”

“Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country,”

Trump’s cynical invoking of George Floyd yesterday has a history that explains what he imagined he was doing. In the first week after his inauguration, Trump approved a Navy Seal raid on suspected positions of al Queda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the village of Yakla in Yemen. His National Security Adviser, General Flynn had portrayed the proposed raid as a “game changer” that would contrast Trump’s toughness with Obama’s supposed indecisiveness.

The raid was a fiasco. AQAP had somehow learned of the impending raid and fortified their positions. Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens was mortally wounded and at least five other American personnel were also wounded. Dozens of civilians were killed. Owens’s father called the mission “a screw-up from the start that ended badly.”

Characteristically, Trump deflected responsibility for the raid to the generals and the previous administration while incongruously insisting that it had been a tremendous success. A month later, though, came his opportunity to seize the narrative. At his first address to a joint session of Congress, Trump read from the teleprompter a glowing tribute to Officer Owens. He performed the encomium with gusto. When he finished, senators, representatives and guests stood in a sustained ovation while Owens’s tearful widow, a guest of Ivanka Trump, gazed upward.

Trump then ad-libbed his remark about Ryan looking down. The quip was well received with gentle chuckling. It nicely broke the tension of the dramatic spectacle.

Now one might dismiss the episode as a cynical, and sinister, exploitation of a pointless death — not to mention the “collateral damage” — and a widow’s grief. But that isn’t the way CNN panelist and ex-Obama aide Van Jones saw it. Jones lauded the performance as “one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics.” It was, in Jones’s view, the moment Trump “became president of the United States”:

That was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period, and he did something extraordinary. And for people who have been hoping that he would become unifying, hoping that he might find some way to become presidential, they should be happy with that moment. For people who have been hoping that maybe he would remain a divisive cartoon, which he often finds a way to do, they should begin to become a little bit worried tonight, because that thing you just saw him do—if he finds a way to do that over and over again, he’s going to be there for eight years. Now, there was a lot that he said in that speech that was counterfactual, that was not right, that I oppose and will oppose. But he did something tonight that you cannot take away from him. He became president of the United States.

Undoubtedly Trump would have been shown Jones’s effusive commentary and would have basked in its obsequious glow. Yesterday, when he pulled his “looking down right now” stunt for the second time, he probably expected it to resonate as a unifying moment, thinking he was finding “a way to do that over and over again” without quite understanding what “that” had been. George Floyd was not a Navy Seal killed in action. He was an African-American man murdered by cops. The protesters are not sycophantic trained seals like the senators and representatives (of both parties). And, of course, Princess Ivanka had neglected to bring a grieving widow in tow to the “press conference.” There was nothing “presidential” about Trump’s ghoulish sequel of his “most extraordinary moment.”

If the prior performance illuminates the latter one, the opposite is also true. Trump’s tribute to Ryan Owens was no less cynical than his clumsy attempt to enlist George Floyd as a posthumous protagonist of the allegedly “great thing that’s happening for our country.”

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Four Days On, Ten Days Off

A very interesting paper (not peer-reviewed) by a team of Israeli scholars proposes that a more manageable exit from pandemic lockdown might be achieved by implementing a scheme in which employees go in to work for four days and then return to isolation for ten days before repeating the cycle. A variation on the proposal would have two staggered relays of workers cycling through the 14 day routine.

The research has been popularized in a New York Times op-ed and a Fast Company feature, so I would bother to discuss it here in detail. Not being an epidemiologist, I can’t vouch for the authors’ assumptions about average infectiousness. Obviously, implementing such a scheme out of the blue would present formidable challenges even assuming competent political leadership.

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