Category: Uncategorized

Closing the Deal


So, first his ex-campaign manager was arrested by a SWAT team. Then, last Saturday he officiated over a super-spreading event to celebrate the shotgun installation of a far-right Dominionist on the Supreme Court, Sunday he was exposed as a serial bankrupt and tax cheat, Friday he went to the hospital with Covid after infecting half his team and a bunch of supporters, Sunday he forced Secret Service Agents to breathe his droplets during a drive-by campaign stunt, and Monday he returned to the White House, maskless and triumphant, having conquered the virus without the benefit of even hydroxochloroquine. And this morning, down in the polls by double digits, he gave us his closing argument: write off the last four years and give me four more because Obama investigated his campaign’s collusion with the Russians and kept it secret until after he was elected.

How can he lose? But he can still steal the election and he just might if Barr stays healthy.

More diary

6/17 I’m about halfway through Susan Faludi’s THE TERROR DREAM, about the post-911 media narrative, and I’m startled by 1) How transparent the myth-making was, 2) How many pundits who are still prominent participated in it (and not just right wing jerks like Rush Limbaugh, David Brooks, and Peggy Noonan, but more progressive and supposedly thoughtful people like Jonathan Alter). Last night, I read an amazing excerpt from an article by the pre-Mondoweiss Philip Weiss, in which he described how he and his soft creative class friends couldn’t stop talking about the glories of torture and vengeance. What a difference a few years would make in his politics!

If you don’t remember (and I certainly didn’t), there was a huge push to make 9/11 feminism’s Waterloo–the moment when America’s masculinity was restored. Women professionals were quitting their high-powered jobs to marry strong, silent, blue collar protector types and have babies, the story went. Sensitive brainy Alan Alda types and geeky Silicon Valley nerds were being supplanted by Jack Bauer and John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards as symbols of national prowess. Sewing machines were flying off the shelves; there was a colossal baby boom. None of it was true–to the extent that women were leaving their jobs, it was because of the recession, there was no baby boom, and those first responders didn’t actually “save” the twin towers or the city–they were victims too. People were stanning (though the word didn’t exist yet) over Rumsfeld and Giuliani’s sexiness; George W. was Shane and Laura Bush the national mother. Some of it reminds me of Andrew Cuomo and Anthony Fauci’s brief reigns as sex symbols (people really do have this need for saviors and a lot of women seemingly do want to marry their fathers, and the media and smart politicians exploit it).

But almost none of that archetypal myth-making has been shaped around Trump during our current crisis, and I think I know why–because Trump was already the defining figure going into it: there were no hard women and soft men left to disown and dethrone. If there was a national longing for comic book righteousness back then, nowadays there’s just a lot of anger. No one but a Trump cultist believes that Trump is a super-hero and they’re stoked on their angry delusions already. The rest of us are mad at him. Back then, we as a nation were trying to displace our fears of impotence. Today, we’re mostly just pissed.

6/15 Not out to shame anybody, just observing and opining. The demonstrations in Brooklyn are big and a little scary if you are in your 60s and have some of those preexisting conditions, but nearly everyone wears masks and people tend to be good about not crowding too close together. Walking around Flatbush, Prospect Heights, and Park Slope on my daily walks, I see something like 80 to 90 percent mask compliance.

I just got stuck in traffic in Williamsburg, though, and was amazed–the sidewalks were mobbed as always, and I didn’t see a single Satmar wearing a mask. Not one. It’s as if masks have been declared tref or something, because they’re not part of the 18th century costume. That’s somewhat less the case with the Lubavitchers in Crown Heights, closer to where I live. My guess is that the Satmars believe they’re social distancing already by living as separately from gentiles and non-frum Jews as they do. I don’t think they realize that they can carry and share the germs among each other–which I suspect is why people in general have been so vulnerable to plagues throughout history, because putting distance between yourself and your friends and family feels so unnatural while blaming and punishing outsiders is instinctive and emotionally satisfying. If I were an anthropologist, I’d do an ethnographic study, comparing MAGAs and Satmars. They might have more in common than they realize.

Who was that Masked Man?


So now I completely understand why he doesn’t want to be photographed in a mask. It does make him look weak. The presidential seal is an ironic touch.

There were a lot of stories yesterday about Trump’s praise of Henry Ford’s “bloodline,” and how that signals his endorsement of eugenics. Ford’s antisemitism was animated by conspiracism rather than racism (though of course he was racist too). In his telling, innocent Jews were just as much the victims of the wicked bankers who pulled the strings of the world and the evil Jewish songwriters like Irving Berlin who injected Negroid jazz, sex, and big city cynicism into the Protestant veins of wholesome rustic America as those wholesome rustic regular folk.

Trump’s obsession with his own good genes doesn’t rise to the level of a theory–he doesn’t give a damn about anyone else’s genes but his own. His pandering to white nationalists is just pandering–he would sell them out in a second, if it served his purposes. Tragically, it doesn’t.

The Future of Remote Work

I have been ghosting/editing op eds and think pieces about the pandemic, including some about the implications of remote work.

My wife is a non-profit executive and I hear her remote working downstairs all day long–chairing long Zoom meetings, managing her reports on the phone. Sometimes people bring things to our house that require her physical signature.

I’ve been a home worker since 2003, so the pandemic hasn’t really changed my way of working at all, except I no longer have to travel for occasional meetings. But it occurs to me that there is a problem with a lot of the “big” thinking about home work, which is that it that it takes a fairly privileged subset of idea workers and turns them into the norm. Some of that, I think, is narcissistic–it reflects the circumstances of the writers like me who are turning out those stories rather than a real inflection.

Big companies may or may not end up reducing their physical footprints going forward, because if they are growing, they are likely spreading out anyway, continually outgrowing their spaces, and if they are shrinking, their business is likely suffering, which is a much bigger problem for them than where they put their people.

In two or three years, the pandemic will be much less of a present threat than it is today. And two or three years is the blink of an eye, considering how long most commercial leases run, and how long it takes to prepare new space for occupancy. When Twitter got its tax break and moved to San Francisco nearly ten years ago, there were all these stories heralding tech’s urban turn (I ghosted some of them). Now that Twitter’s tax break has expired, Dorsey is talking about spreading his workforce throughout more locations and having more of them work remotely. But he isn’t giving up the building in San Francisco, either. Home work hasn’t changed the fact that engineering teams have to work together, that managers need to have a personal connection to their staffs, that off-siting infrastructure functions creates problems that will likely turn out to be bigger than the one they are meant to solve (assuming that COVID-19 becomes less of a threat in a few years). We have a lot of historical data on human organizational behavior (organizations benefit from physical clustering) and a lot of historical data on pandemics (they tend to burn out after a few years), and people aren’t putting the two datasets together.

Ten years ago, maybe 7 to 10 percent of the workforce worked at home. Today it’s closer to 50 percent (or maybe more, since 20 percent of the workforce is either furloughed, unemployed, or about to be). Tomorrow? Most likely it will be a lot more than it was 10 years ago and a lot less than it is today. I suspect that history will remember 2020 as the year that the Second Great Depression began and democracy died in America rather than the year that everyone started working at home.

Hurricane Maria only killed 64 people in Puerto Rico

When Trump did his paper towel toss in Puerto Rico, he marveled at how low the official death toll was (just 16 at the time), comparing it to a “real” tragedy like Katrina (whose numbers he also understated). Many thought it was an obscenity at the time. Certainly, it is the template for what is happening now.

The reality of this pandemic in NY and certainly in the rest of the US is that the recorded death rate (ie, the percentage of cases that result in a fatality) is too high, because most people being tested are sick enough to be in the hospital. On the other hand, the numbers of reported deaths are likely many orders of magnitude low. Add all the infected people who have pneumonia or heart attacks on their death certificates and the number skyrockets. Add all the people in the hot spots who can’t or won’t go to the ER and who are postponing other vital medical procedures, and you get a Puerto Rico-sized adjustment (about 700 percent, according to the Harvard study).

Since the sole aim of the Trump administration is to play down the depth of the crisis while exonerating Trump himself of any responsibility for it, expect to hear the exact opposite message from him and his minions over the next terrible weeks–that most of the people who are dying of COVID-19 were about to die of something else anyway. In other words, that while Trump’s efforts have been heroic, Herculean, and altogether successful, the disease isn’t such a big deal.

Not sure they’ll be able to sustain that when MAGA people are dying at scale, but we’ll see.

My new theory

My new theory is that Trump is Satan, unknowingly carrying out one of God’s obscure plans (it will all become clear in retrospect in the Revised Gospels that will be carved onto stones a few centuries after the nuclear dust settles and the survivors emerge, blinking, from their caves), and that Avenatti is an angel that the Almighty deputized to torture him, just to keep things amusing.

Why Donald Trump Will Win the Republican Nomination (and very likely the presidency)

I’m not a prophet, but I wanted to get my thinking on the record before the first votes come in tomorrow. I’m not even a pundit–hardly anyone reads this page, it’s mostly just a way for me to keep track of my thoughts as they evolve and change with circumstances.

Anything could happen tomorrow to change the race. If Santorum wins Iowa again, for example, that would knock Trump out of the headlines for a while. If Hillary wins New Hampshire next week, that would do the same to Bernie Sanders. And anything can happen between next week and next November–ten months are a relative eternity. Just ask John McCain, who pretty much lost everything on one day (September 24, 2008), when he suspended his campaign so he could return to the Senate to fix the US economy (or maybe it was September 15, when he said “the fundamentals of our economy are strong”).  The point is, he made it clear that he had been blindsided by a catastrophe that he didn’t and couldn’t understand.

Some people say that McCain lost it at the Republican convention, when he nominated Sarah Palin as his running mate, but in retrospect, it seems more to me like he was laying the groundwork for Donald Trump’s ascendancy. Sarah Palin showed the world that a right wing candidate for public office could pretty much say and do whatever they felt like (and their families could too), so long as they pandered to the resentments of the right identity group.

So yeah, I do think that Trump is going to finish the job that Sarah Palin was too greedy and too much of a quitter to finish herself.

The funny thing is that it’s still all about the economic meltdown of 2008, though no one in the establishment seems to recognize that because the stock market’s recovery was so strong. Despite its occasional ups and downs (like the one that’s going on right now), their portfolios are as sound as John McCain said the US economy as a whole was back then. No, to understand Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’ appeals on a gut level, you have to punch a clock–or more to the point, not punch a clock, and not have many prospects of doing so any time soon.

If it feels like the center isn’t holding, it’s because it’s not. If it feels like the ground is crumbling beneath our feet, it’s because it is. We are living through what a Marxist would call a contradiction.

Any economic system that delivers almost all of its rewards to a small minority will be fundamentally incompatible with a political system that vests its power in the hands of the majority.

For neo-liberal Republicans, the Laffer Curve was supposed to be the magic formula that would resolve the contradiction; for neo-Liberal Democrats, the rising tide of global capitalism was supposed to lift all boats. Unfortunately for the neo-Liberals of both parties, neither solution did what it was supposed to. Unfortunately for the rest of us, it took the destruction of the welfare state and much of our infrastructure to make this clear. This is why the establishments of both parties are having such a hard time selling themselves–and this is why we are as vulnerable to Fascism as we’ve been since the 1930s. If the cognitive dissonance wasn’t so painful, maybe they would understand the quandary they’re in.

But as students of cognitive dissonance know, what’s more likely is that the GOP establishment will convince itself and a big enough chunk of middle America that Trump is just the shot in the arm that this nation needs. That’s how most people resolve cognitive dissonance–by angry denial and wishful thinking.

Crossing the Rubicon

Yesterday, citing a poll from Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy that purported to show that 51% of US Muslims would prefer to live under Shariah law rather than the Constitution and that 20% believe that violence is justified to make Shariah the law of the land, Donald J. Trump, the front runner for the Republican nomination for president of the United States, called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” until our “representatives can figure out what is going on.”


Frank Gaffney was a deputy secretary of defense under Reagan; he’s also the guy, lest you forget, who says that Americans for Tax Reform leader Grover Norquist is a sleeper agent for the Muslim Brotherhood (you can hear him telling Glenn Beck the whole story above). I’ve written a lot about him, here and in The New Hate. 


In the introduction of The New Hate, I noted that Gaffney had endorsed a “semiotic interpretation of the US Missile Defense Agency’s newly-minted logo as a conscious morphing of the Islamic crescent and star with the Obama campaign logo–stunning evidence, as Gaffney put it, of ‘various, ominous and far more clear-cut acts of submission to Shariah by President Obama and his team'” (when it came out that the redesign was executed and approved during George W. Bush’s administration, Gaffney retracted his claims).

But if you’ll bear with me, I want to quote a much longer Gaffney-inspired passage from The New Hate, because I could have written it yesterday:

There are a host of “aspects  of Shariah that are now beginning to be adopted or accommodated in our country,” Frank Gaffney had told Fox News as far back as 2008. “We think far from being frivolous or innocuous or innocent, these represent a form of, what I think [is] best described as stealth Jihad.” In the fall of 2010, Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy issued a massive report titled Shariah: The Threat to America. “The results of months of analysis, discussion and drafting by a group of top security policy experts,” the report was intended to provide “a comprehensive and articulate ‘second opinion'” on “the preeminent totalitarian threat of our time: the legal-political-military doctrine known within Islam as ‘shariah.'” For the report’s purposes, Shariah was defined not simply as the body of Islamic law but as an all-out effort to create a worldwide caliphate by any means possible.

“If shariah is thus viewed as an alien legal system hostile to and in      contravention of the U.S. Constitution, and as one which dictates both violent and non-violent means to a capable audience ready to act imminently, then logically, those who seek to establish shariah in America–whether by violent means or by stealth–can be said to be engaged in criminal sedition, not the protected practice of a religion.”

So long as Muslims see the West as “an obstacle to be overcome, not a culture and civilization to be embraced or at least tolerated,” they should be treated as either enemy soldiers or subversive spies. Back in the 1920s, Henry Ford was as horrified by the presence of rabbinical courts in New York State as the anti-Shariah forces are today by the prospect of Muslim law worming its way into state, local, and federal statutes. “There is a Jewish court sitting in a public building in the city of New York every week, and other courts, for the sole advantage and use of this people whose spokesmen deny that they are a ‘separate people,’ are in formation everywhere,” he wrote. “Wherever Jewish tendencies are permitted to work unhindered, the result is not ‘Americanization,’ or ‘Anglicization’ nor any other distinctive nationalism, but a strong and ruling reversion back to essential Judaization.'”

The authors of the Shariah report acknowledge that some of the world’s Muslims–maybe even most of them–are not overt extremists. But they don’t vest much credit in them either. Just as the Devil quotes Scripture when it suits his purposes, stealth jihadists will pay lip service to liberal values while secretly working to undermine them. If Catholics are defined as soldiers in the service of the pope who are determined to destroy representative government in whatever country they live in, then there can be no innocent Catholics; if Communists are understood to be slaves of Moscow, then they can only be subversive. So it is with Islam. Moderate-seeming Muslims may be the most suspect of all, since they would be the most ideally positioned to become sleepers.

Some of the anti-Shariah hysteria can be attributed to Christian chauvinism; some to an instinctive, defensive nativism, inflamed by an uncertain economy and the lingering shock of 9/11. Some of it has been fomented by Christian cultural conservatives, some of it by right-wing Jews who regard Israel’s traditional enemies with the same indiscriminate loathing that Hitler’s Nazis did their ancestors (when Osama bin Laden’s killing was announced on May 1, 2011, Debbie Schlussel blogged, “One down, 1.8 billion to go…many of ’em inside U.S. borders, with the U.S. government at all levels kissing their asses”). Anders Behring Breivik’s 1500 page manifesto, “2008: A European Declaration of Independence,” which explains why the forces for Politically Correct Multiculturalism, Marxism, and Shariah compelled him to murder 77 of his fellow Norwegians, contains a generous selection of their writings, much to some of its unwitting contributors’ embarrassment…

Much of what has been playing out in the political scene over the past few years is displaced Obama hatred, and many of his political rivals have been leveraging it for all it’s worth. Obama is a Marxist revolutionary whose middle name is the same as the ex-dictator of Iraq’s. He’s not white, he’s probably not American, and he might not even be a Christian. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in August 2010 found that nearly one in five Americans and more than one in three self-described conservative Republicans believed that Obama is a Muslim.

As the Reverend Gerald Burton Winrod wrote of Franklin Delano Roosevelt three-quarters of a century ago, he is “not one of us.”