Editors’ Blog

Jefferson and Hemings In the Light of History Prime Badge

Last week we did our second Inside briefing since we came back from our COVID briefing hiatus. I spoke to Annette Gordon-Reed, one of the country’s preeminent Jefferson scholars and the author of two books about the Jefferson-Hemings family and the historical controversies surrounding it. Gordon-Reed is a professor at Harvard Law School and has a joint appointment in the History Department. Her 1997 book Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy was the first major scholarly work to take the existence of Jefferson’s mixed race family seriously. It came out only about a year before the matter was settled conclusively by DNA evidence. Before then it wasn’t universally rejected by historians but was treated as either unknowable or unlikely, an ancient calumny that played little part in the Jefferson biographical tradition. I was eager to discuss this until-recently hidden or denied part of America’s past with Gordon-Reed and get her perspective on how we should see Jefferson in this era of iconoclasm that has accelerated in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

We’re publishing the discussion in its entirety for members. Watch after the jump.

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Understanding What We Don’t Know About COVID Prime Badge

I’ve mentioned a number of times that we really don’t know the precise mix of factors that are making some states and countries disasters and allowing others to keep it in check. A critical component in all cases is where communities and governments are taking mitigation and containment seriously. But in New York, are we just doing a great job or is the initial outbreak – in which at least 20% of the city population was apparently infected – giving us some extra ability to keep case rates down?

New York City isn’t close to herd immunity by traditional definitions. But ‘herd immunity’ isn’t a binary thing – you don’t have it and then suddenly you do. It’s more like a friction that builds up incrementally in the process of community spread as more people cease to be capable of being vectors because they have immunity to the disease. The more people become infected the more friction there is until at one point the virus can’t effectually reproduce itself and fizzles out.

Clearly this factor is helping New York keep cases very low. But how much – whether it is a minor assist or a major factor – we don’t know.

That’s where a very interesting article from David Wallace-Wells comes in.

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Where Things Stand: This Could Get Really Dark Prime Badge
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It appears President Trump is attempting to take his war against immigrants to a new level, and he’s using COVID-19 as an excuse to do it.

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More On Schools Prime Badge

Since it’s what I know most about and it’s the largest school district in the country, I’ve been focusing a lot on the school reopening issue in New York City. I want to encourage you to let me know what is happening in your communities whether you’re a parent, a teacher or just a concerned observer. I found this letter from a New York City school principal very enlightening. This person corrects some misunderstandings I had about the level of flexibility the city Department of Education is giving individual schools. They also make an interesting and compelling point about why many educators are eager to have at least some in-person instruction at the beginning of the year.

Here’s TPM Reader ANON … (and remember, let me know what is happening in your community.)

At last, a topic I can claim some expertise on, since I’m the principal of an NYC public school (you can google it and me, but I’d rather remain anonymous, since the DoE is know for retaliating against publicly critical statements, and a few are coming).

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More Than 200,000

It’s been months – ghastly months – since we made excess mortality data a central aspect of our coverage of the COVID Crisis. To review, this is epidemiologists’ and population statisticians’ way of looking at the total number of fatalities for all causes across society and comparing it to baseline trends in recent years. Josh Kovensky is back with a new report based on CDC-collected data which shows that the US has seen more than 200,000 fatalities normal so far this year.

Where Things Stand: VP Watch Prime Badge
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WILMINGTON, DE - JULY 28:  Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee former Vice President Joe Biden delivers a speech at the William “Hicks” Anderson Community Center, on July 28, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. Biden addressed the fourth component of his “Build Back Better” economic recovery plan for working families, how his plan will address systemic racism and advance racial economic equity in the United States.  (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

The former VP has kept us waiting for some time. We’re expecting to know sometime this week who his vice president will be.

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Some Thoughts on Schools Prime Badge

We’re in line for a rash of morality tales emerging out of school re-openings around the country. That high school in Georgia that had the viral photo of kids crowded into a hallway between classes has now reported at least 9 new cases – students and teachers – and is at least temporarily moving to remote instruction.

These stories also provide new evidence of how little emerging science is figuring into decisions on the school reopening question. North Paulding High School is moving to remote instruction today and tomorrow during which time the facility will be closed for cleaning and disinfection. The problem is that most of what we’ve learned over the last eight months tells us that this sort of cleaning addresses what is likely only a minor or even trivial source of infection. COVID virus can persist on surfaces for significant periods of time, at least in laboratory settings. But surfaces contaminated hours or days earlier appear to account for very little disease transmission.

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Gold. Pure Gold.

President Trump’s COVID relief decrees are poor policy (setting aside legality) on their own, inasmuch as they only go to people who have jobs. The COVID era is rough for everyone but obviously it’s much less rough for people who haven’t lost their jobs. But what I find remarkable is a part of this plan that Trump managed to avoid getting in the headlines. If you get COVID “relief” in the form of a payroll tax holiday, you still have to pay it back! After the election!

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Read This Prime Badge

This is an incredibly important oped. You should take a moment to read it. It’s by Michael T. Osterholm, a respected epidemiologist who runs a major center in Minneapolis and Neel Kashkari, now President of the Minneapolis Fed but earlier a key player in the Bush portion of 2008 financial crisis response and a Republican candidate for Governor of California. Their argument is simple: we need another lockdown.

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An Illuminating Graph Prime Badge

Here is an example of where visualizing data can be very illuminating even if you’ve been steeped in the data in numerical terms. As I mentioned earlier, here is a graph of per capita COVID fatalities to date in the US and the other peer nation states around the globe.

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Where Things Stand: Shortened Dem Convention Makes For Tough Decisions On Who Gets To Speak Prime Badge
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We already knew that GOPer and ex-Ohio governor John Kasich would have a speaking role at the Democratic National Convention in a few short weeks.

But a new report out of Politico this morning takes a look at some of the behind-the-scenes about how Democrats will cast their convention, and provides details on who a few more high profile convention speakers might be — the Obamas, the Clintons, Jill Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). But it may be who ends up left out of the coveted speaking gigs that’s more intriguing.

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Putting the Toll in Perspective Prime Badge

We now have a new projection of 300,000 US COVID fatalities by December. I’ve wanted over recent days to put together a chart showing just how much worse the death toll already is in the US compared to almost any other peer country – ‘peers’ here meaning countries with comparable affluence, state capacity, etc.

The US is now well over 150,000 fatalities. Japan has had just over one thousand. Germany is approaching 10,000 fatalities. These countries have small populations of course. If Germany had the same population as the US that number would be about 40,000. Japan would be about 3,000. But the magnitude of the difference speaks for itself. How many of these 150,000 and counting US fatalities are the product of negligence and policy abdication? 100,000? 75,000? The number is staggering.

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“You Can’t Lose Twice.” Prime Badge

Yesterday I sat down with Senior Editor David Taintor and Reporter Kate Riga to discuss this week’s news. We talked COVID, COVID relief negotiations and the 2020 elections. If you’re a member watch our conversation right here.

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Where Things Stand: Americans Are OK With SCOTUS, Despite What Pence Says Prime Badge
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CAPITOL HILL, WASHINGTON DC, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, UNITED STATES - 2013/06/01: Supreme Court Building, eastern facade. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Vice President Mike Pence was speaking directly to the audience he knows best when he went after Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts yesterday.

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The Law Is Coming Prime Badge

As I’ve tried to make clear repeatedly, I think an audit of the executive branch after Trump leaves office (whenever that is), is absolutely essential. Equally so, disclosure – a full airing of everything that happened during this corrupt, transgressive era – is a higher priority than punishment or criminal investigations.

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Keeping Count

1403 COVID deaths were reported in the United States yesterday. That’s roughly 10 times the number of fatalities reported so far in that cataclysmic blast in Beirut and almost four hundred more COVID fatalities than Japan has recorded since January 2020.

Where Things Stand: They’re Not Even Trying To Hide It These Days Prime Badge
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While President Trump himself is exempt from the rules of the Hatch Act, it would appear he’s not even trying to adhere to precedent as he vies for a second term.

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Some Small Good News on COVID Prime Badge

Let’s be honest: good news on the COVID front is very hard to come by. So let’s note some very limited but still real good news. The post-“reopening” outbreak in the United States – almost entirely a self-inflicted harm – appears to have peaked and is possibly beginning to subside.

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Where Things Stand: Eyes On Kansas Prime Badge
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There’s a primary election in Kansas today that Republicans are warning could have broad implications on the GOP’s ability to hold the Senate in November.

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Trump’s Criminal Conspiracy Against the 2020 Election

As I’ve mentioned a few times, we are so locked in the house with Trump, so surrounded by his predation, that the nature and scope of much of his abuse and wrongdoing are only partly visible to us. We all see the constant attacks on vote by mail, the incessant claims that the election will be rigged, that he’ll have to decide at the time whether he’ll accept the verdict of the election. But taken together he is actually depriving the whole nation of the ability to conduct a free and fair election. He is hanging over us as we do the normal work of campaigning and election-ing the possibility he’ll disrupt the process, won’t accept the result or most directly that the whole process won’t end up mattering at all. This in itself is a grave crime against the constitution and the republic.

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Where Things Stand: A Sign Of The Times Prime Badge
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As Nieman Lab and a few other local publications have pointed out, at the end of this month, Wyoming will become the first state in the union that doesn’t have a true, daily print newspaper.

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My Conversation with Tom Nichols Prime Badge

This week I (virtually) sat down for a fascinating conversation with Tom Nichols, a professor of national security affairs at the US Navy War College but likely more known to many of you as a leading anti-Trump conservative voice on Twitter and the cable networks. He’s also an advisor to The Lincoln Project, that outfit of defrocked and lapsed Republican activists and consultants producing slashing ads against not only President Trump but almost every Republican Senator up for reelection in 2020. We talked about everything from US nuclear policy to President Trump to why he believes the current institutional Republican party needs to be burned to the ground before a responsible center-right party of government can possible emerge in its place. You can watch our conversation after the jump if you’re a member.

After a lockdown hiatus we have restarted our TPM Inside Briefings and we’re going to be experimenting with ways to bring the best of them to all our members. In this case we are making available the entire interview.

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Where Things Stand: Without Batting An Eye, WH Condemns Hong Kong For Election Delay Prime Badge
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There are layers of complexity to Hong Kong’s election delay that are not parallel to what President Trump suggested should happen in the U.S. via Twitter yesterday.

But the fantastic failure to acknowledge the irony makes it worth flagging.

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Don’t Cower

There’s a strong temptation, maybe a reflex, to be frightened and outraged by the President’s floating the idea of delaying the November election. But the only appropriate response is mockery and ridicule of the President’s weakness and corruption. As a factual and procedural matter, none of this is in the President’s control. In practice, no one can change the date of the election. In theory, Congress could do it. But good luck getting Nancy Pelosi to sign on to that. Even beyond this, it is a case where the ramshackle and decentralized process of American elections works in the favor of democracy. There is no national election. States hold elections. Nothing and no one can stop California, New York, Illinois and Virginia from holding their elections and rendering electors to the electoral college meeting in December.

But the bigger issue, the deeper issue here isn’t factual. It’s characterological.

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Where Things Stand: Just Another 2020 Morning News Dump Prime Badge
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There was a lot going on this morning.

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A New Publication on Hate Groups and Extremism

This is a kind of post I seldom do. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever done one. I have a special 20% discount offer for TPM Readers to subscribe to a new niche publication on hate groups and extremism called The Informant, created and edited by TPM Alum Nick Martin. To start with, the publication has no financial relationship to TPM. I’m not being paid to write this. Neither is TPM. I’m sharing this with you because a) I think The Informant is an important project which I really want to see succeed and b) I think many of you will be interested in becoming readers and subscribers.

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Trapped with the Abuser Prime Badge

I mentioned yesterday that many Americans have difficulty grasping the full measure of our national failure to combat COVID. People think we’re behind without realizing we’re orders of magnitude behind. People come to think catastrophe feels normal without grasping that in most other countries with a similar set of tools to the United States things really are close to normal. In a similar way even the President’s most ardent opponents are unable to see the extremity of the behavior, the bizarreness, the consistent revolt against the demands of the office, the aggressive betrayals.

Much as abuse victims don’t fully grasp the extent of their victimization before escaping their abusers, there are aspects of this dark era we’ll only see clearly in retrospect.

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Where Things Stand: Droplets On Capitol Hill Prime Badge
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The virus is obviously invisible — increasingly, we’re learning that it spreads through tiny particles in the air, the now-infamous “droplets.”

But it’s wild to think that we may have watched as some of those droplets made their way into the halls of Congress yesterday.

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Follow the Data Prime Badge

You’ve likely seen reports of new flare-ups or surges or outbreaks of COVID around the world in countries that appeared to have been ‘doing well’ – Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, et al. These are real outbreaks and the countries are, unsurprisingly, reacting swiftly to stamp them out. But how these stories are received in the United States painfully illustrates our collective inability to grasp the sheer magnitude of our failure with COVID.

Let me give you one example.

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Where Things Stand: ‘Spying!’ Prime Badge
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House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-OH) listens before a hearing on ÒOversight of the Department of Justice: Political Interference and Threats to Prosecutorial IndependenceÓ on Capitol Hill in Washington DC on June 24th, 2020.

We’re already seeing several themes emerging from the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing with Attorney General Bill Barr that began this morning.

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