Hi. I'm still alive. I'll have an extensive update about some recent changes for this weekend.
The candidacies of people like Michael Bloomberg and Deval Patrick (potentially) at the last moments of the pre-primary season are answers to questions nobody – and I mean nobody – was asking.
Bloomberg is a Republican billionaire trying the same thing that several other generic Rich White Guy candidates have already done, albeit with a slightly more recognizable surname. The idea that there was something the Howard Schultz or Tom Steyer campaigns couldn't do that Bloomberg somehow can is…well, it's the kind of thing that appeals to pundits desperate to apply their 2005-era Democratic Wisdom to the 2020 race (The path to victory is right down the middle!) Like Schultz, the most likely impetus behind the campaign is that Bloomberg talked to whatever Politics People he knows – fellow clueless elites, no doubt – and they realized they could milk some free money out of him if they told him it's a good idea. He has consultants who are flat-out making things up to encourage him to run, things no professional would say with a straight face and without being very handsomely paid in advance. Things like "Well, you're gonna skip the first four primaries and then win all the rest, because that's a thing that could happen."
This isn't a campaign, it's a handout to the campaign professionals with the least integrity and the best poker faces. I wonder how many election cycles it is going to take before these ultra wealthy egotists who end up getting 2% before dropping out realize that paid staffers have an incentive to tell the candidate who is paying them to continue running.
As for Patrick, the Bain Capital bigwig and former Basically a Republican Governor of Massachusetts, that anyone within the Democratic Party may have encouraged him to run is a sign of desperation. It is possible that he cooked up the idea on his own without anyone in a position of leadership or influence in The Party suggesting this, but he adds little that other candidates do not offer – candidates who are doing pretty badly, overall. He's a nicer Booker (is Booker not sufficiently Nice?) who's going to repeat the "Big business is our friend and better things aren't possible" message already being delivered by Biden, Pete, and Klobuchar.
If Patrick does have some powerful people encouraging him to do this, it's a clear sign that some people in the Democratic Party still believe that message works and they just need to find the right messenger. Imagine being two months away from 2020, being conscious for any point in the last 20 years, and believing that a guy who works for Mitt Romney's venture capital firm is the magic bullet.
I'm moving. In an effort to move the fewest boxes possible, I invite you to purchase my remaining inventory of Gin and Tacos flag/tacos t-shirts at a reduced price and with the added bonus of $1 shipping. I'd rather you enjoy them than to pack them up and drive them across the country.
These are six color crew-necks (unisex/men's as well as women's) from Canvas (Bella/Canvas women's). As many of you have noted, the women's Bella/Canvas run small so order up a size if you're unsure. Women's L is roughly the size of Men's M so it's not your imagination, they really are running small. Limited sizes available (see pull-down menu below).
Domestic/US only due to the $1 shipping. Given international shipping rates I'd be paying you to take these otherwise!
(the "2" in the url suggests that this is the second post I've entitled "Normalization of Deviance" which I find amusing and alarming in equal measures).
It's clear, as I have written elsewhere, that Trump senses he has screwed up harder and gotten himself in bigger trouble with this Ukraine thing than at any previous point in his presidency. It very well may work out the same as before – that is to say, with no consequences – but the sheer number of excuses they've floated trial balloons for is noteworthy. "Rick Perry told me to do it" and "I'm being set up by the CIA" are not excuses one trots out when things seem like they're going well. Someone's worried, and it stands to reason that indicates that even worse things will be revealed before long (as always).
The strategy, big picture, is the same strategy Trump has fallen back on repeatedly over the past few years, and we saw it when he answered reporters' questions by openly asking foreign governments to "investigate" Biden. He's already admitted he did it, and mountains of evidence will tumble forth confirming that he did it, so his only play is to talk about it openly to make it seem like the most normal thing in the world. "Everyone does it" and "This is just a normal part of my job" are narratives intended to normalize what he did to the point that he can bank on everyone shrugging at it like speeding or being illegally parked – it's against the law but nobody thinks it's a big deal.
That's the goal. Whether it will work is not yet clear. It has worked before, so it could work again. But there is a real reluctance on the part of a lot of Republicans to get drawn into this one so far. That might change. Right now, though, some of them appear smart enough to realize that every time Trump gets himself into these situations, the information that comes out starts with a trickle of bad news and turns into a river. If they are thinking, hell this sounds pretty bad and it's probably even worse than this, the next couple weeks could be crucial.
There's no confidence that Trump will ever face any consequences – now or ever – as he has spent his whole life avoiding them. It's not your imagination, though. This situation is different, at least in how worried it has the people who are once again going to have to defend and make excuses for this guy. If they get the sense that he won't survive this, the stampede for the exits will be on.
I've largely stayed out of discussing the many candidates vying for the Democratic nomination because, frankly, most of them are so indistinguishable that it legitimately does not matter to me which one of them comes out ahead. Mayor Pete vs. Kamala Harris vs. a cup of tap water? Who cares, you'll get the same outcome from any of them. Harris's sole saving grace as a candidate is that it would be fun to watch her yell at Trump in a debate. Her presidency would make Obama look like Trotsky, though. So I can't bring myself to care.
Warren is the one candidate I've expressed support for in the past, and the rash of Thinkpieces about her more recently just haven't been interesting. Mainstream Democrat calls her the Messiah; Leftist criticizes her for not being as Left as some people once thought she might be. It's boring.
With the understand that Biden is terrible and will be an unmitigated disaster should he win the nomination, here is my take on the other two parts of the Three Leading Candidates right now.
I like Sanders' ideas, and while I don't expect him to win anything I think he is crucially important to the Party that he hates and that hates him. Do you think every candidate is talking about Medicare for All today because of, what, Hillary Clinton? Rahm Emanuel? Sanders pulls the discourse away from the center, which is important because it has been drifting toward the center for nearly 30 years. Someone needs to remind these people that the Democratic Party used to stand for some things it no longer stands for, and that it has lost voters because of that. Now they want those voters back, but they are reluctant to listen to the guy who seems to get *how* to do that.
Warren is, in my view, at the most leftward part of the mainstream Democratic Party. She's not a Socialist, she's not some bomb-throwing would-be Independent. She's a pretty liberal Democrat, given a Democratic Party that frankly isn't very liberal at all anymore. She is, again in my opinion, about as far left as any candidate can be without having no chance to win. That's less a compliment to her than an indictment of the Democratic Party.
She has some obvious flaws, namely that harebrained DNA test thing. The best way to deal with that – here is advice she absolutely will not take – is to ignore it. Say "I responded to that back in January and I do not have anything more to add to what I said." Instead she'll probably apologize and explain endlessly, which will cause the media to press her on it repeatedly because getting a response out of a candidate makes them feel powerful.
On the plus side, she seems to have broad appeal to voters who don't care much about policy (they think she's sassy, or whatever, which is great; whatever people need to get motivated to vote I guess). She also will convert more Bernard Brothers than any other candidate. For the 10,000th time, most of them came around in 2016 and (grudgingly) voted for HRC despite what people in Facebook comment sections insist. Are you going to get all of them? Of course not. But compared to, say, Biden, she has a better chance to get them to – again, maybe grudgingly – vote for her.
Grudging doesn't matter if you're a candidate. Voters being thrilled about voting for you doesn't help. Still counts as one vote.
Warren seems like the only one of these candidates smart enough to not completely, explicitly alienate the Left by replicating the 2016 strategy of screaming at disgruntled primary voters that they were obligated to vote for the Most Qualified Candidate Ever. HRC 2016 wasn't really about anything, policy-wise. The campaign was about how bad Trump is and how great HRC is. Warren seems more likely to throw some policy bone at voters she knows she needs. Like, give them one thing you can default to when making the case; "You like _____ don't you? She's gonna do it!" may not be the best argument ever posited but it beats the hell out of "You are a racist sexist Bro, you suck and you HAVE TO vote for her." Objectively it's a better argument.
Hardly a ringing "endorsement," obviously. I've simply repeatedly lowered my expectations about politics to the point at which I recognize the gap between what I like and what is likely to happen. At least a Warren presidency would result in some low-visibility bureaucratic stuff that would be positive (reviving CFPB?) if nothing else. Won't get that out of any of the others, who all seem poised to piss away four hypothetical years on playing nice with Mitch McConnell.
Remember the instrumental nature of voting that I've talked about on my podcast a lot – this isn't an act that belongs at the top of Maslow's hierarchy. This isn't your heart and soul. It's not self-actualization. It's just a process, one in which you make the best decision you can. If you want to vote for (insert candidate), vote for him or her. Whatever. At the end of the day, though, I struggle to see any of these other candidates as someone who will do anything, anything at all, beyond keeping the seat warm and wasting four years. Maybe that's enough for you, but my rapidly plummeting expectations haven't gotten that low yet.
Those of us who remember the interval between 9/11 and the War in Iraq – and knew in real time that it was all based on bullshit – have to marvel at how much things have changed for neocons since then. The made-up case for Iraq was carefully crafted with just enough remotely plausible elements that Serious People (a demographic predisposed to like a good war now and then) could support it and later claim that they made an honest boo-boo.
With this Iran thing, the maneuvering is being done in plain sight by a group of people whose plotting skills strongly recall the Three Stooges. After John Bolton took his shot and blew it with "They shot down our drone!" as a rousing cry to war, there are now a bunch of people linked to the Saudi government just sitting around and openly musing, "Hey let's come up with some kind of way to justify attacking Iran. Doesn't even have to be good."
The Saudi line is now "This is our 9/11" because…some technologically obsolete drones hit some oil refining equipment and caused zero fatalities. Mind you, it's still not even clear exactly what happened; accepting that it was a drone attack of foreign origin requires us to take the word of some extremely unreliable and highly motivated narrators here. For all we know, the Saudis did it themselves. Or Yemeni rebel groups did it. Or Iran did it. Or Iranians in southern Iraq did it. It's kind of a grab bag of potential explanations right now.
Outside of the Beltway, there is zero support for war with Iran. None. None whatsoever. Even the most red-necked racist MAGA dude is like, wait what? Oh, they used a Radio Shack robot to bomb…an oil refinery, huh? In Saudi Arabia?
Not exactly a compelling narrative, to say the least. No opportunities for jingoism, no bloody shirt to wave, not even any plausible connection to the United States. This is, in so many ways, just the dumbest concept ever. And it seems like everyone involved in trying to plan it realizes that, and they're all just kind of openly brainstorming rationales that are so stupid that nobody outside of Congress and the offices of major Pentagon contractors could repeat it with a straight face. "How about we say this is 9/11 for Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia is the same as America" appears to be the best they can come up with. If another pointless war is to be avoided, the saving grace will be that these people are so dumb they can't even con the gullible.
Writing a book has been slow going for me for a variety of reasons, but none is more prominent than the lack of access to a university library at the moment.
You think – we think – Google Books has digitized a vast amount of written material. And certainly they have. I'm sure the stats on what they have done would be staggering. When you need access to books that are outside of the most obvious 1% of written work, though, it goes dry very quickly. Academic work, older mainstream press books, less successful nonfiction books, books published in non-US publishing houses…it all becomes nearly impossible to find without having access to someone who can hand you a hard copy of it.
It mirrors most of the other functions of the internet in the way that it does an incredible job of providing the most commonly sought-after stuff for 99% of the population very well. You know, if you want the current top 40 songs every streaming service will gladly be like, ok here they are, but with ads. If you're looking for some album from 1951 though, or the latest non-mainstream releases, you're going to walk away frustrated.
Don't give up on libraries and hard copies just yet, folks.
I have a new long-read in the print edition of Baffler #47 on the fundamental problems of left foreign policy. I think it is worth your time.
It is very easy for the left to point and laugh at mainstream liberal foreign policy, which often differs from the neocon position only on style points (we want to bomb Iraq too, but we want like, smarter and cooler people to do it!). What is proving harder is coming up with a viable alternative, because hooooooo boy is this Horseshoe Theory "Actually the white supremacists are right about this" nonsense peddled by people like Greenwald and Tulsi not it.
It's out there. It hasn't been discovered yet. But I am confident that someone out there can use their brainpower to come up with a foreign policy that reinforces leftist values without falling for the cartoonishly stupid premise that as soon as America stops being bad, the world will be a place of stability and harmony.
The Epstein thing is fascinating, as perhaps the only current example of an issue where nobody will trust or accept the official view of events irrespective of political beliefs.
People want the world to be more interesting than it is. People want life to be like the movies. That is the basic appeal of conspiracy theories. Plus, speculating is fun. No, seriously. It is. I get it. In this case and as usual, it requires people to assert with a high degree of confidence that they know how something works without really having any idea what they're talking about.
Obviously Epstein's death is extremely suspicious at best. However, a few things need clarifying before we can jump with any reasonable certainty to "omg murder."
First of all, the idea that an aged pedophile would kill himself in prison is plausible and given more credence by Epstein's previous suicide attempt (or maybe attempts). In a vacuum, it isn't hard to believe at all that he would commit suicide.
The question on which every suggestion that he was murdered (or was somehow the victim of foul play) hinges is: what does "suicide watch" mean in the context of the facility where he was held? This is where everyone's rampant speculation has really blossomed. Suddenly the world is full of experts who know what a Federal correctional facility's suicide watch is like.
If "suicide watch" means that someone walks past the cells every 3-5 minutes to check on the occupants, then it is entirely plausible that a person could commit suicide under those conditions.
If "suicide watch" means that the person is under nonstop observation (presumably by camera) then it becomes considerably less plausible. It would be very difficult, in fact, to believe that someone watching Epstein hang himself would neither notice what was happening nor have time to intervene.
Yet even under the latter conditions, it's not impossible that this really was suicide. Have you ever met a prison guard? They're like cops, but lazier. It's also not impossible that someone tasked with staring at a bank of monitors for hours on end could let their attention wander. Maybe the people responsible for watching him are just bad at their job. That's not hard to imagine.
With all that said, the idea of a high profile inmate on suicide watch committing suicide without intervention is highly suspicious. It makes perfect sense that ears would perk up and that everyone would reflexively question that version of events. I cannot imagine what kind of investigation could be done that would produce a result that would NOT be rejected by a large part of the population, but I hope a more complete version of events emerges. Whatever happened, conspiracy theories about this event will persist until long after this presidency ends.
Ten days ago Question Cathy and I were driving to Pierogi Festival in lovely (not lovely) Whiting, Indiana. It is the kind of thing one does when 1) Whiting, IN is not far, 2) the weather is good, 3) it's as good as any option for a random summer Friday, and 4) pierogi are good.
I am not a huge fan of big crowds, of events like music festivals or parades where masses of sweaty people I very much would not like were I to know them are shoved ass-to-nuts against one another. I don't like being massively sweaty, being touched and pushed and jostled by strangers, and generally having to deal firsthand with idiots behaving like idiots. But, pierogi.
Instinctively, the first thing I did when we arrived on the one main street along which Pierogi Fest is set up was check that the street was blocked off properly at its beginning and end points. By "properly" I mean with something large and heavy enough to deter a vehicle-ramming attack, because that's just a thing that happens regularly now.
Then I did a 360 scan for cops (so they could engage the mass shooter after he only managed to get off maybe 50 rounds) and alleys or side streets we could use to quickly get off the crowded street. There were none. The lack of entry and exit points from the street, once we were swallowed up by the crowd, made me nervous.
This is just what we have to do now, I guess. The pierogi were good. But on the ride home, Question Cathy admitted that although she felt silly, she had been hesitant about the event because of the potential that someone would show up and start shooting for no reason. I allowed that I felt exactly the same, and we both enjoyed the amusing idea that anything as tame as a festival to celebrate Polish ravioli would ever, in a million years, be a terrorist target.
The next morning we woke up to find that someone shot and killed three people at Garlic Festival in Gilroy, CA, known worldwide for its garlic ice cream and a guy dressed up as a giant garlic mascot.
This is how we live now, I guess. We have to calculate the risk of being killed at small-town food festivals before leaving the house.