Missing the point on purpose

More evidence, as if any were needed, that Donald Trump has given up trying to expand his appeal and has gone all-in on white grievance politics:

Here’s the thing: for once he’s not completely wrong. In the United States, on average, more officer-involved shootings take the lives of white people than African-Americans.

But there are also far more white Americans than black Americans, and the raw numbers show that more white lives than black lives are taken by police, African-Americans disproportionately bear the brunt of the problem. And that’s why people are protesting.

Trump either knows this and doesn’t care, or he legitimately doesn’t understand the math. I leave it to you to decide which would be more depressing.

In the meantime, an infuriating case from Alabama illustrates, once again, that police shootings are not the only problem:

The Alabama Cannabis Industry Association on Monday released a statement critical of the decision by an Alabama court to imprison an Arizona man for five years after his probation for a 2016 marijuana arrest was revoked in April.

Sean Worsley was an Iraq War vet who legally uses marijuana for post-traumatic stress disorder, and for back and shoulder pain stemming from being wounded in an IED attack in Iraq.

He and his wife were arrested in Gordo, in Pickens County, in August 2016 after a police officer found the marijuana while questioning the Worsleys about the volume of their music when they stopped to get gas.

That Worsley had a valid medical cannabis card in Arizona — one of 33 states where that is legal — was no defense for the authorities in Pickens County. Worsley missed a court date in Pickens County after the VA rejected his application for a substance abuse program, so Pickens County issued a fugitive arrest warrant.

When Arizona arrested Worsley for letting his medical cannabis card expire, he was extradited back to Alabama. He is currently detained in Pickens County awaiting a spot to become available in an Alabama Department of Corrections facility.

Worsley could spend the next 60 months as a guest of Alabama taxpayers.

Police shootings and tactics get most of the attention, but ending drug prohibition is probably the best thing American lawmakers could do to show that Black Lives – and, indeed, “All Lives” – matter.

The Chairman of Alabama’s Senate Judiciary Committee (who, to his credit, appears to be a criminal justice reformer) has spoken out against the prosecution, and Worsley’s family has started a GoFundMe campaign to appeal the decision. Everyone with a “support the troops” bumper sticker or T-shirt should donate.

If it’s close in Texas…

The FiveThirtyEight polling average for the Lone Star State has Joe Biden ahead of Donald Trump by the slightest of margins – literally, one-tenth of a percentage point – and one new survey gives Biden an even bigger lead:

Former Vice President Joe Biden has built a five-point lead over President Donald Trump in Texas as unease over Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic mounts, a new Dallas Morning News/University of Texas at Tyler poll has found.

Biden had 46% support to Trump’s 41%. If the general election were held today, the outcome could depend on the 14% of voters who were undecided or named someone else.

Biden’s lead, which comes after he and Trump were tied 43%-43% in The News and UT-Tyler’s April survey, is significant, if barely: The poll, conducted June 29 through July 7, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.24 percentage points.

The story behind Biden’s slight bulge is the softening of the Republican incumbent’s support among independents and “weak partisans,” said Kenneth Bryant Jr., a UT-Tyler political scientist who helped design the poll.

“While President Trump has and still enjoys near universal approval from Republicans, and overwhelming disfavor from Democrats, he has lost considerable ground among the folks in the middle, who may ultimately decide who wins Texas in November,” Bryant said.

For years, Democrats have been counting on demographic change to flip this deeply red state, so these results must be absolutely mouth-watering. But is Joe Biden really going to beat Donald Trump in Texas this fall?

Meh, probably not. Every year seems to be the year Texas votes Democratic, but it never happens. (Remember Beto O’Rourke? No? He was a big deal once, I swear.)

The thing is, Biden doesn’t need Texas to win the election. He just needs it to be close. Donald Trump, by contrast, cannot win re-election without holding Texas.

Trump’s fluke win – and for all the talk about what it means about the American character, I still say it was very much a fluke – came about because he pulled out razor-thin victories in Rust Belt states Hillary Clinton thought she had in the bag, like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Trump needs to win them again, and the polling is looking extremely bad for him in 2020.

The point is, Trump needs to throw everything he has at these states. But if he has divert desperately resources to Texas – not to mention other traditionally red states like Georgia and Arizona, where Biden is competitive – that hurts him in the swing states. It’s the political equivalent of Hitler sending troops to bail out Mussolini in he Balkans while he was planning his invasion of the USSR, and we know how that turned out.

(To be fair, Biden could make the same miscalculation and divert his scarce resources to states he’s unlikely to win, but my hope is that he learned from Clinton’s mistakes in 2016.)

As long as Biden keeps the pressure on in Texas, it throws the Trump campaign into further turmoil. And it could be a moot point anyway, with Trump also needing the state hardest hit by COVID-19 to win.

Meanwhile, he’s retweeting game show hosts who insist that the virus is a big hoax. That ought to play well in the Sunshine State. (“The virus that killed your grandparents is a scam. I’m Donald Trump and I approved this message.”)

Don’t panic about American travelers

A new poll says a staggering 81% of Canadians want to keep the Canada-US border closure renewed at the end of the month.

I can’t imagine why.

This chart should be used in every Joe Biden campaign ad.

We Canadians have flattened the COVID-19 curve, while infections south of the border are skyrocketing. This CNN report explains some of the reasons why:

Until the Americans get their act together, I agree wholeheartedly that the border should remain restricted to entry. That said, I’m detecting a hint of moral panic in the air about Americans who have entered the country.

On social media I’m seeing people call for locking down the border entirely, reporting American licence plates to the police, and many, many variations on an apocryphal story about American tourists visiting a restaurant and gloating to their waitress about how easy it was to lie their way across the border. Some drivers with American (or even out-of-province) licence plates are being harassed.

To be sure, here in Atlantic Canada, a small resurgence of cases have been linked to an American visitor who didn’t self-isolate. Some travelers from Minnesota to Ontario have been charged for not following quarantine rules. Needless to say, anyone coming here who doesn’t follow our rules should be punished for it.

But if there’s a massive surge of Americans coming here and blatantly flouting our rules, it isn’t yet reflected in our case numbers. Maybe next week will be different and we’ll start seeing COVID-19 cases in Canada take off, but so far it looks like most Americans coming here have been following the rules. Or, there just aren’t nearly as many coming here as social media would have you believe.

Part of the reason cases have exploded in Florida is because of complacency. The virus initially didn’t hit the state as hard as people expected, so Floridians let their guard down. (See this blog post, which aged like fine milk. If our cases do skyrocket in the coming months, and the outbreak is linked to Americans, we’ll know for sure that the Damian Penny curse is very real.)

I’m concerned that the same thing is happening here in Nova Scotia. Whenever I go out to stores or the gym, hardly anyone is wearing a mask. If you’re really worried about a new outbreak, covering your face is much more effective than looking for foreign licence plates.

The panic over “COVID parties”

Look, it’s possible that teenagers are having parties where they try to give each other COVID-19 and then bet money on who contracts it first. My kid has shown me what teenagers do on TikTok, so all bets are off.

“China imposes security law on Hong Kong, Page A13”

Wired magazine is extremely skeptical that this is actually happening – and points out that, ironically, stories like this get the Trump Administration and State governments off the hook for their disastrous mishandling of the pandemic:

This is not the first reporting on the spread of Covid parties, which are, in fact, neither happening nor spreading. Back in March, Kentucky governor Andy Beshear announced during a daily public-health update that one case in the state had been tied to a “coronavirus party.” “We ought to be much better than that,” he said. “We should forgive that person, but no more of these—anywhere, statewide, ever, for any reason.” His one-sentence anecdote, presented without any further detail, was dutifully passed along as news by CNNNPRThe Washington Post, and other outlets.

Then in April, The New York Times ran an op-ed from epidemiologist Greta Bauer, offering “seven reasons your ‘coronavirus party’ is a bad idea.” She’d heard “rumblings” that these events were going on, the piece explains, because some people think they would be better off with antibodies.

Rumblings had developed into rumors by the start of May, when a public health official in Walla Walla, Washington, claimed to have discovered, via careful contact tracing, that at least two patients had indeed attended “Covid parties” so as to “get it over with.” The local police chief told reporters that he wouldn’t rule out criminal charges for any other such events, but assured them that “we’re not going to overreact.” Two days later, the same public health official admitted she’d been wrong: “We have discovered that there were not intentional Covid parties,” she said. “Just innocent endeavors.”

The latest version of the tale, from Alabama, follows the same pattern as the others. It appears to be the product of a weird game of telephone mixed with loose talk from public officials and disgracefully sloppy journalism. On Tuesday, Tuscaloosa fire chief Randy Smith told the city council that his department had heard about parties “where students or kids would come in with known positives.” It sounded like just a rumor, Smith said, but “not only did the doctors’ offices help confirm it, but the state also confirmed they had the same information.”

You’ll notice immediately that Smith didn’t say anything about people trying to get sick, let alone betting on who could do it first. So why is everyone saying that’s what happened? The notion seems to have originated with McKinstry, who shared it with ABC News after the meeting. It’s not clear whether McKinstry had a source for this idea, and she did not reply to WIRED’s request for comment. The Alabama Department of Health responded with a statement that it “has not been able to verify such parties have taken place.” It’s not even clear that the fire chief had it right about kids going to parties while knowing they were sick. (The Tuscaloosa Fire Department did not reply to a request for comment, either.) But that didn’t stop the dogpile of national media outlets repeating and amplifying the Covid betting-pot story as if it were fact.

The University of Alabama has investigated and found no evidence that “COVID parties are happening. Neither has the state Department of Public Health, according to Birmingham’s WBRC television.

But the toothpaste is out of the tube now. Next, news outlets may get their teenager moral panics mixed up and start reporting that the COVID partiers are also performing Satanic rituals and listening to back-masked messages on Judas Priest albums telling them to commit suicide.

Who needs Facebook and Twitter to spread viral misinformation when “mainstream” media outlets are doing the same thing?

“Unsolved Mysteries” in name only

The best thing about the reboot of Unsolved Mysteries, which debuted on Netflix yesterday, is the updated version of the iconic theme song. As the title appears on the screen, you can even see a shadowy outline of the late, great Robert Stack, who hosted the original program for several seasons on NBC.

After that, it’s basically just another crime documentary. A well-made crime documentary, but it’s just not the same as the series that captivated us during the eighties. Admittedly it’s hard to imagine a suitable replacement for Stack, but a host and narrator would make the stories move faster. (Dennis Farina, who hosted a short-lived revival, is sadly also no longer with us.)

The biggest problem is that each episode deals with only one case at a time. The disappearance and questionable “suicide” of Baltimore resident Rey Rivera, covered in episode one, is undeniably interesting. (Try watching it and tell me you don’t think his best friend/business partner has something to hide.)

But the original series treated us to three or four cases – usually an unsolved murder, a disappearance, and for dessert, an “unexplained” segment about UFOs or hauntings – per hour. If one story didn’t grab you, at least there was a good chance something more interesting was on its way. Considering how TV has ruined our attention spans just like it ruined our ability to…um, uh, oh well, it’s a bit surprising they didn’t stick to the old formula, with more mysteries packed into the show’s running time.

This IndieWire review gets it pretty much exactly right:

…This new version of “Unsolved Mysteries” certainly tries to pay tribute to the original series, starting with a shadow of Stack accompanying the opening credits. But there’s something off about this one, akin to when you go to visit your favorite restaurant now under new management. The food and decor is the same, but the fundamental reason for its existence — the memories — have been washed away.

The 12-episode series has each 45-50 minute episode focus on one individual mystery. Almost immediately, this is frustrating because numerous shows, like “Forensic Files” and this new series’ closest competitor, “Dateline,” already do this. This isn’t to say the stories aren’t interesting; they are just as compelling as the original series, particularly the story of missing man/alleged murderer Xavier DuPont de Ligonnes or the disappearance of Liehnia Chapin. But of the six episodes provided for review, all but one focus on a missing or murdered person, the lone hold-out being an examination of a series of UFO sightings in the Berkshires in 1969. This can easily cause burnout to set in, with what feels like the same story being told in slightly different ways.

What made “Unsolved” so unique from “America’s Most Wanted” or “Dateline” was that everything unexplained was up for grabs. Elongating episodes only works if there is a story worth fitting into nearly an hour, and of course murder and missing persons cases often can. But it will be hard to see the series tackle something like lost loves to fit in an hour. Conversely, some cases suffer from filler, with the camera capturing moody shots of centipedes walking through a wooded floor or, in the pilot episode focused on the death of Rey Rivera, taking two minutes to detail the unrelated significance of the location he died in. There’s a greater sense of tightness and cohesion — as well as being able to pack in more stories — with a shorter runtime.

The lack of a host also leads to a feeling of repetition. Stack and Farina’s narration not only kept things moving, but were able to fill in blanks that didn’t need to be prodded from the subjects. Here, the emphasis is on having the family members lay out the story in its entirety, and what isn’t verbally explicated is presented in on-screen timelines. This become laughable at times because a subject will say a person has been missing X amount of days, only for the timeline to spell out that same number of days. (The use of a host also negates the need for excess graphics that aren’t accessible to blind viewers.)

I’m still glad they brought it back, and I will certainly check out all six episodes. But if there’s a season two, here’s hoping the producers (including Stranger Things‘ Shawn Levy) hear out fans of the original to go back to what worked so well.

Privatize the statues

In an age where there is no consensus on which historical figures should be honored by public monuments – except maybe Dolly Parton, and I’m sure someone will find a reason to cancel even her before long – J.D. Tucille of Reason says the state should get out of the statue business altogether and leave it to private organizations to honour whomever they wish:

What all of these statues had in common is that they offended members of the public at a time when everything is up for grabs and Americans agree on exactly nothing, including the proper balance of virtues and flaws in fallible human beings. The majority of statues torn down were erected at taxpayers’ expense, maintained on land paid for with money extracted from everybody’s pockets, and offended (rightly or wrongly) people who resent being represented by them.

Less controversial has been the decision by the American Museum of Natural History to remove a statue of Teddy Roosevelt from its front entrance. While the statue is officially on public land, it clearly is intended as part of the museum and is seen as such. The museum is a private entity and is no longer comfortable with the way the statue represents the organization—a decision it has the right to make.

Much the same is true of the statue in Seattle of Vladimir Lenin, the communist dictator of the Soviet Union. While Lenin was a totalitarian and a thug, the statue is located (hilariously, given the subject’s militant socialism) on private property, leaving its fate in the hands of its owners.

And that, in an age in which there are few shared values or heroes, is the best way to deal with monuments. We no longer agree—if we ever did—on which qualities should be celebrated and what failings should be overlooked. We’re increasingly vocal about such disagreements, to the point that people are willing to tear down statues that offend them, and any future images are bound to cause more offense.

A statue on private property, erected with funds only from supporters, dragoons no unwilling parties into the message it expresses. Nobody need feel that they’re being forced to share in the celebration of people or ideals they oppose. A private construction can be left up as long as it pleases the owners or pulled down at their whim. And anybody who damages or destroys the monument without permission is an obvious vandal, subject to appropriate punishment.

[…]

If the confinement of monument construction to a private activity sounds like we’re giving up on the idea that we have much in common to celebrate, that’s probably true. But agreements of the past were overstated anyway. African-Americans didn’t just recently start resenting paying for statues of Nathan Bedford Forrest—they’ve had reason to loathe him from the beginning.

Now, the old disagreements are just more visible than ever and new ones set us ever-further at odds.

To give us less reason to fight, make all statues private projects, to be erected and maintained at the expense of the willing. Private funding of monuments won’t eliminate our disagreements, but it should help keep the resulting conflicts out of the streets.

I think this idea actually has a lot of merit, if you assume people are willing to respect your right to keep what you want on your private property.

If.

Biden’s brilliant campaign

The other day I responded to an anti-anti-Trump Facebook friend by pointing out that pretty much every criticism of Joe Biden – he mangles his words, he seems like he’s not all there sometimes, he’s a bit handsy with women, he’s in thrall to the most radical elements of his political party – apply at least double to Donald Trump.

As Jonathan Last and Sarah Longwell put in on The Bulwark Secret Podcast (which is absolutely worth sending a few bucks to The Bulwark to access it): every Trumpy criticism of Biden works only if you assume Biden’s opponent is not Donald Trump.

And right on cue, here’s the top story on Mediaite this morning:

Jonathan Chait says that contrary to popular belief, “Sleepy Joe” is actually running the perfect campaign for 2020:

It would obviously be a fallacy to attribute Biden’s current lead entirely, or even mostly, to his campaign strategy. The polls primarily reflect a massive public repudiation of Donald Trump’s presidency. But Biden is also doing some things right.

For all the derision that has surrounded Biden’s generally low profile, it is the broadly correct move. Trump is and always has been deeply unpopular. He managed to overcome this handicap in 2016 because Hillary Clinton was also deeply unpopular, though somewhat less so, and turning the election into a choice allowed anti-Clinton sentiment to overpower anti-Trump sentiment. The fact that Biden has attracted less attention than Trump is not (as many Democrats have fretted) a failure. It is a strategic choice, and a broadly correct one.

Second, Biden’s isn’t just hiding out. He is doing some things. He has delivered speeches, given interviews, and met with protesters. These forums have tended to display his more attractive qualities, especially his empathy. Only one of them (his Breakfast Club interview) yielded a major gaffe.

And third, Biden has managed to communicate a coherent campaign theme. This is often a challenge for Democrats, who usually want to change a whole bunch of policies (health care! environment! progressive taxation!) that resist a simple unifying slogan. But Biden has been able to carry forward the message he used to start his campaign, which he built around Trump’s shocking embrace of racist supporters at Charlottesville, into a promise of healing racist divisions.

[…]

…Biden has also done an effective job of using the most popular parts of the protesters’ message while distancing himself from its unpopular elements. Biden speaks for the transracial majority that supports systematic police reform and opposes defunding the cops. Trump is left to represent the minority that sees Floyd’s death as an outlier requiring no serious changes.

Electability was a subject of bitter contention during the Democratic primary. Many progressive critics argued either that electability is inherently unknowable, or that the key electability dynamic was the ability to motivate left-wingers who might otherwise not vote. Instead, Biden’s campaign seems to be vindicating a more conventional theory of the case. He has appealed to progressives by adopting some of the most popular pieces of their program, while steering clear of its controversial aspects. And he is winning in the very conventional way: by stealing voters in the middle who are conflicted.

2016 was a choice between two deeply unpopular candidates. In the end, Democrats nominated the only person who could lose the election to Donald Trump, and Republicans nominated the only person who could lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.

In 2020 it’s between an incumbent Republican President who is still widely hated, and a Democrat whom no one (outside of the far-right and far-left fringe) really seems to mind all that much. And as long as Biden can keep this election campaign a referendum on Trump, he was win bigly.

I still have post-2016 stress disorder, so I won’t take anything for granted until Joe Biden is taking the oath of office. But if the election were held today, Trump would be struggling to hang on to Texas and Georgia, much less the rust belt seats in which he narrowly beat Clinton.

Biden’s opponents are making the same mistake the PC Party made while campaigning against Jean Chretien in 1993: they assumed he was yesterday’s man, out of step with the times and easy to beat.

That’s far from the only reason the once-mighty Progressive Conservative Party of Canada was routed – the PC vote was split badly by the emergence of the Bloc and Reform Parties, and the party was being led by a hopelessly incompetent future Twitter troll – but the fact is, Chretien didn’t last so long in politics without learning how to play the game skillfully. The same applies to Joe Biden in 2020.

Trump’s strongest allies

If Hans Christian Heg didn’t want people tearing down his statue, he shouldn’t have engaged in shameful behavior like (checks notes) giving his life in the fight against the institution of slavery:

Fury exploded outside the Wisconsin State Capitol on Tuesday night as protesters smashed windows at the statehouse, attacked a state senator, and tore down two iconic statues — including one of an abolitionist who died trying to end slavery during the Civil War.

The unrest began earlier Tuesday following the arrest of a Black man who was arrested after bringing a megaphone and a baseball bat into a Capitol square restaurant. It followed weeks of mostly peaceful protests of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a white police officer.

[…]

In Madison, statues of Wisconsin’s motto “Forward” and of Col. Hans Christian Heg were dragged away from their spots guarding the statehouse.

Heg was an anti-slavery activist who fought and died for the Union during the U.S. Civil War. His nearly 100-year-old sculpture was decapitated and thrown into a Madison lake by protesters. 

The mob also attacked a Democratic state senator for the unforgivable crime of filming activity in a public place. Because, by and large, they’re neither Democrats nor democrats.

They reject electoral politics on principle and are at best indifferent to what happens this fall. On some level they probably prefer Trump to a moderate Democrat, because they think he is hastening the demise of the system. “After Hitler, our turn.”

Megan McArdle, no Trump supporter, says the President called it after Charlottesville:

…most of us have slowly forgotten about what else Trump said, although it was almost as controversial at the time: “So this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

This came in for much derision. In The Post, Princeton historian David Bell declared that the distinction between slavery-defending Vice President John C. Calhoun and George Washington “is not difficult to make.” Jim Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, called the attempt to equate Confederates with Founding Fathers “absurd” and “unacceptable for the president of the United States,” while Douglas Blackmon of the University of Virginia said, “The most kind explanation of that can only be ignorance, and I don’t say that to insult the president.”

Three years later . . . can it be? Trump looks prescient, and his critics perhaps a touch naive. The iconoclasts, having largely defeated the rebel army, are turning on the Founding Fathers. It was supposed to be trivially easy to articulate those distinctions, yet I have not seen a flurry of commentary from historians eager to educate the protesters as they schooled Trump.

Even George Washington University, whose very name constitutes an endorsement of our first president, seems to have quietly removed a bust of Washington for safekeeping after it was toppled from its pedestal, rather than loudly condemn an attack on the father of our country.

[…]

What Trump understood, and his critics perhaps didn’t, was that you cannot credibly declare that some revolution in social affairs has a natural stopping point unless you personally commit to stopping it when it goes too far. It’s not enough to say that very clear distinctions can be drawn between allowing gays to marry and forcing people to cater weddings that conflict with their religious beliefs; between the father of our country and the traitor who led a rebel army in defense of slavocracy. When the moment arrives, you have to actually draw them.

If you don’t, you will cede issue after issue to the radicals. And if uou make those tacit concessions again and again and again, then however privately you may rue it, you will nonetheless end up with something very different from your idealistic vision. Something that looks like . . . well, like the Republicans who quietly ceded their party and their conscience to Trump, one outrage at a time.

Trump may be too far behind Biden to win this fall. (The latest New York Times poll has him at 36%, approximately Alf Landon’s percentage of the vote running against FDR in 1936.) But a lot can happen in 144 days, and Trump’s only real chance is if he has this kind of culture-war red meat to throw to his fanatical supporters.

If Joe Biden hasn’t loudly spoken out against this, he needs to get in front it immediately.

“Nineteen Eighty-Four” in Twenty-Twenty

A passage from George Orwell’s haunting masterpiece, when an imprisoned Winston Smith runs into an old comrade:

Why did that passage come back to me? Oh, no reason…

UBC has announced that former Board of Governors (BoG) Chair Michael Korenberg has resigned after he came under fire for liking tweets criticizing anti-fascist and Black Lives Matter protests.

The June 20 email from BoG Vice-Chair Sandra Cawley said that Korenberg’s resignation is effective immediately. Cawley will be assuming the role as interim chair.

“The Board of Governors and Mr. Korenberg would like to recognize that this has been deeply hurtful to members of our community and that UBC has zero tolerance for racism and recognizes that real harm is created from both overt and structural racism,” Cawley wrote.

After student group Students Against Bigotry tweeted screenshots of Korenberg’s liked tweets from Republican and American right-wing figures, faculty and community members were quick to criticize him on Twitter.

[…]

Korenberg said in an interview with The Ubyssey on June 19 that he liked the tweets to save them to look at later. He has since unliked all the offending tweets.

In a media statement sent to The Ubyssey on June 20, Korenberg acknowledged that the tweets he liked “supported regressive voices and took aim at thousands of brave individuals who are standing up against racism, discrimination and hatred.”

“While I do not support violence of any kind, I understand how my actions created questions about who I am and what I believe in. To be clear, I support Black Lives Matter and I support the de-racialization of our educational institutions and our country,” he wrote.

“But I accept that, in liking these social media posts, I damaged what I support and that I hurt people. I wholeheartedly apologize to them, particularly to the students, faculty and staff of UBC.”

Imagine how much easier Joe McCarthy’s job would have been, if he could have just found suspected Communists “liking” tweets from @JoeStalin1878.