Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Why resign?

Several White House aides and policymakers have resigned in the past 24 hours.  Frankly, I don’t get it. 

First, it’s way too late to salvage your reputation.  Second, at this point you can (arguably) do more to protect your reputation by saying that you are staying to prevent Trump from doing something crazy in the final days of his presidency.

Coronavirus dashboard for January 6, 2021: new infections vastly outpacing vaccinations

Coronavirus dashboard for January 6, 2021: new infections vastly outpacing vaccinations

Total confirmed COVID-19 infections: 21,046,195*

Infections last 7 days average: 219,253


Total deaths: 357,258

Deaths last 7 days average: 2,670

Total vaccinations: 4,836,489

*A study just released, based on random blood samples, suggests that as many as 50,000,000 Americans may have already been infected. Because some of the positive tests may be based on exposure to other coronaviruses, I do not think the number is that high. But my own guess is that the “true” number might be about 30,000,000, or 1 in every 11 Americans.


Today I want to focus on comparing this winter’s breakout with last spring’s and summer’s, by comparing the top and bottom 25 States with the “poster children” for each of the past breakouts.


Seven day average of new infectionsBottom 25

Top 25

Not only do *all* of the top 25 now exceed the infection rate of the 2 poster children for the previous breakouts, but many of the bottom 25 are in the same ballpark as well. Among the 50 States, only Vermont and Hawaii have some semblance of control.

The events at the Capitol

The events at the capitol today are horrifying, and to many of us seem like the natural outcome of Trumpism and the morally degenerate enabling of the Republican party.  But the events today may well end up strengthening our democracy.

I suspect that Trump has badly overplayed his hand.  The images of thugs running loose through the capital will horrify a significant part of Trump’s law and order base.  In the court of public opinion, this will be worse than Charlottesville.  His appeal for peace emphasizing his election grievances will not help much; it was the least he could have done, another Trump hostage video.  

Trump will also lose at least some support from Republican pols.  This was bound to happen anyway, but today’s events will accelerate the process.  It will be interesting to see how Cruz and Hawley react.  I think it is possible, though perhaps not likely, that some Republicans will drop their objections to Biden’s electors.  In any event, this may haunt Trump’s enablers for years.  Let’s hope.

The police preparations were shockingly bad. 

Yes, there is clearly a double standard, with people peacefully protesting police brutality getting treated far more harshly than illegally armed rightwing thugs threatening the peaceful transfer of democratic power.  But at the end of the day, a harsh police response today would have diverted attention and condemnation from Trump and his extremist supporters.

Those – including Biden – who have emphasized that the words of politicians matter have new evidence to support their position.  Trump supporters do not believe the election was rigged because they have independent evidence of vote fraud; they believe it because Trump tells them it was rigged.  They showed up in DC and stormed the capitol at his urging.  McConnell gave a good speech defending democratic procedures tonight, but only after weeks of refusing to challenge Trump’s false election fraud claims.  It is as if he told an energetic, poorly behaved toddler that people can fly by waving their arms, brought the toddler to the top of a tall cliff with no fencing, and then sternly advised the poor child to stay clear of the edge.  Those playing footsie with Trump for short term political advantage need to rethink their priorities and the way they assess probabilities.  In fact, the all-too-common willingness of establishment politicians to accommodate authoritarian outsiders – a main theme in How Democracies Die – may partly reflect the general human inability to think clearly about uncertain events, such as the risk of a democratic collapse.

Thoughts on the Invasion of the US Capitol

Thoughts on the Invasion of the US Capitol

 It’s all happening as I write, but here are a few reactions:

1. Fortunately we see Q-Anonics, Loud Boys and other right wing crazies invading the Capitol Building and not Black Lives Matter or the Left.  Think how many lives would have been lost if it had been the other way around.

2. It will be interesting to see how deeply investigators will delve into the lax security preparations for today’s senate meeting.

3. In the end, it all comes down to one question: where do the loyalties of the police and armed forces lie?  That is always the bottom line, but we can go for decades without confronting it directly.  When the left challenges state authority the issue is never in doubt, at least in the U.S.  When the challenge comes from the right we have to hold our breath.  There were video images a few moments ago of police gently escorting Trumpists out the door and down the stairs with no apparent thought to arresting them.  This indicates at least some softness toward the cause on their part.  On the other hand, I don’t expect there will be military or police resistance to the eventual securing of the building.  If the folks in uniforms were to go over to the other side, that would be the end of the political order.

The Wealth of a Nation

One of Sandwichman’s good questions prompted my revisiting an earlier writing of mine on wealth (circa 2000?). Extensively revised to the extent that it is hardly recognizable; here is, a, second, best effort.

Herein, the terms wealth and capital are thought of as being interchangeable.

For thousands of years, humans lived off the bounty of nature. Some societies still do, but, today, and for centuries now, most societies have lived off that bounty much abetted by their own endeavors, and the endeavors of others.

A society’s wealth includes all of its resources. Those resources include the individual and collective knowledge, skills, creativity, talents, and energy, of the society’s members; i.e., all aspects of its innovative and productive capacity. Those resources also include the society’s repositories of knowledge, such as: universities, libraries, museums, laboratories, government agencies, cultural centers, commercial entities, and the management of all. These resources also include a society’s infrastructure such as: housing, education facilities, transportation facilities, utilities, production facilities, medical facilities, entertainment facilities, government facilities, commercial facilities, and the management of all. The natural resources: the land, atmosphere, and environment within a society’s domain are, and most importantly so, among a society’s resources. The well-being of a society’s people is, in and of itself, a societal resource.

Huge!

The wins in Georgia are huge. Now, if Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina can just come up with their own Stacy Abrams, we could see a snowball effect that would change American politics forever. Well, at least, for a long time.

Some might think that this outcome along with its portents can solve the electoral college problem. It doesn’t. Doesn’t solve the problem of someone as unfit as Mitch McConnell tyrannizing the nation. The few Republican Senators of any account need to rise up and demand that he step down from all leadership roles. Because? Because he is an unfit human.

As anyone who has been known to have written more that few programs knows, the bugs will out. The next two years would be an opportune time to begin the debugging.

Zooming in on the Defects of PowerPoint

Zooming in on the Defects of PowerPoint

 I’ve just finished several days of staring, hour after hour, at the year’s economics meetings via Zoom.  What really struck me, beyond the content of the talks, was the way Zoom exacerbates “death by bullet point”.

PowerPoint’s capabilities encourage speakers to load up their slides with lots of text and graphics, which then leads the audience to glue their eyeballs to the slides and not the speaker.  This defeats the core purpose of public speaking in the post-Gutenberg era, which is to use the audience’s engagement with the speaker as a vehicle for communicating thoughts and feelings that the written word, even accompanied by pictures, can’t express.  The worst scenario, which all of us have experienced way too often, is when a speaker crams lots of text in tiny fonts into each slide and then reads it word for word.

The End Of The Embargo Against Qatar

The End Of The Embargo Against Qatar

 Yesterday Saudi Arabia announced that it is ending the embargo/boycott of Qatar, and though reportedly the UAE leadership is not entirely happy with this, they are going along with this as are the other nations involved in this, Bahrain and Egypt. This had begun in June 2017, reportedly with the encouragement and initial support by Trump and Jared Kushner, with them buying into it as part of an anti-Iran alliance, given that Qatar was accused of having dealings with Iran, with which it shares a major natural gas pool in the Persian Gulf. It took Trump and Kushner a few months to realize that the very important al-Ubeid airbase used by the US was there, so they shifted to trying to end the boycott, which involved a set of 13 demands that Qatar was not remotely going to follow, including shutting down Al-Jazeera. It looked for a while that the quartet, or some of its members, might invade Qatar, but then Turkey sent a bunch of troops to Qatar and in various ways began supporting it.  Probably the greatest cost to Qatar of this whole mess was not being able to use the airspace of these nations.

If Only Trump Had Not Tweeted!

Meet Brad Raffensperger. Take a moment and listen to all three clips. The first is at Crooks and Liars.

In an interview with 11Alive reporter Brendan Keefe, the reporter asked Raffensperger directly:

“If the president hadn’t tweeted, and tweeted something that was false, would we have ever heard that call recording?”

Brad: “No, it was a private conversation as far as I was concerned. He broke privacy when he put out a tweet, but then his tweet was false,”

Oh. So being threatened by Trump to throw the election — TO COMMIT A FEDERAL CRIME — would have been “just between us boys” if Trump hadn’t tweeted his usual lies? Was this about feeling dissed?

If President Trump hadn’t tweeted out anything and would’ve stayed silent, we would’ve stayed silent as well. And that would’ve just been a conversation between him and I, man to man, and that would’ve been just fine with us. But he’s the one that had to put it out on Twitter.”

I Wouldn’t Have Released The Call If Trump Hadn’t Lied, Crooks and Liars, Susie Madrak

Click on the link above to see a brief clip of Brad discussing the release of his 1 hour conversation with Trump. Here he says they released the clip.