Editors’ Blog

A New Name for Fort Benning

TPM Reader RS has a good idea about a new name for Fort Benning …

It was a pleasure to re-read the essay you wrote on Grant and his memoirs.

And it reminded me of another great American general who doesn’t get the credit he deserves: George C. Marshall. Starting at Fort Benning in the late 1920’s, Marshall literally created the modern US Army that won every major battle it fought in WWII, save the Rapido River crossing in central Italy.*

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Path of Destruction

You should take a few moments today to read this report in the Times about the photo op stunt in Lafayette Park going on two weeks ago. It’s consistent with other recent reports about the background maneuvering between the Pentagon and the White House. But it adds significant new layers and nuance to the story.

The gist is that Pentagon leaders pushed harsh and aggressive tactics, damaging the Guard and the military generally, in an effort to head off a direct order from the President to unleash combat troops against US civilians. In other words, they pushed aggressive and violent tactics to show that regular army combat troops weren’t necessary. The National Guard could knock heads fine on their own.

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Where Things Stand: This Will Be Rich
This is your TPM early-afternoon briefing.

President Trump is heading to Dallas, Texas today to participate in some friendly roundtable discussions on reopening the country and to attend a fundraising dinner at a private residence.

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Thanks!

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Reconstructing the Past
Photograph of Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) shown wearing a military uniform and posing for a portrait. He served in the U.S. Civil War at various levels of military command. Grant was promoted to lieutenant general in 1864 and given command of all Union armies. He was eighteenth president of the United States, elected in 1868 and reelected in 1872.

As Confederate monuments appear to be facing what may be a final reckoning, consider the other side of that coin. The United States has few if any monuments or statues dedicated to the horrors of slavery, to abolition or to the heroes of Reconstruction. Monuments mark a society’s civic values and embraced identity. By this measure, it is not simply the ubiquity of Confederate memorials but the non-existence of the others which speaks volumes.

In 2018 I wrote this post about Ulysses Grant and his Memoirs, which is one of the great works of American literature, likely the greatest written by any public figure. (It’s one of my favorites from the last few years.) Grant was a white General and President. He is no stand-in for the kind of largely non-existent monuments I describe above. But I note him here because Grant’s own historical reputation is part of the same story.

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A Bit More on the Mask Question

Let me add a few more points on the masking question. This continues to be a highly contentious debate. For some background, here’s what I wrote about this on May 21st.

Back on the 21st, I shared an article by scientists at CIDRAP in Minnesota. It was dated April 1st, so very early in the epidemic. But it was very skeptical of any directives for the general public to wear masks. The Director of CIDRAP, Michael Osterholm, is a highly respected infectious disease expert and he remains highly skeptical of masking. A number of readers forwarded me a link to his latest podcast which he devotes entirely to this issue. If you’re interested in this topic, I recommend it. Because it’s the best statement of this view. You can read a transcript here.

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Where Things Stand: This Alleged ‘Double Standard’
This is your TPM early-afternoon briefing.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stood on the Senate floor this morning, nobly calling out the “double standard” he thinks is being applied to protests amid COVID-19.

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A Note from Our Past

From TPM Reader SG

It was the Lott/Thurmond brouhaha that caused me to discover TPM almost 20 years ago! And this Southern Partisan interview obviously predated that matter by almost 20 years. I hadn’t read it since you first linked to it. Very interesting to reread now, given the links to key elements of Trumpism. At least two dog-whistle references to Civil War as “unrest between the states” and “war of northern aggression.” Mocking Ferraro’s Catholic (“ethnic”?) name (which I guess Bannon wouldn’t do, but there you have it). Deep state-like references to State Department and Justice career officials. Pretty incredible.

A Small Data Point about Masks

I’ve been talking about the question of the effectiveness of masking for many weeks now. So I wanted to share one very small data point that I found noteworthy. All the caveats: small sample size, not a controlled tests in any way. Still I found it notable.

A few weeks ago right after Missouri relaxed its COVID restrictions two hair stylists at a salon in Springfield, Missouri came down with COVID. Contact tracing revealed they had potentially exposed about 140 clients and six coworkers. The key data point is that all staff and customers at the salon were wearing masks during the period in question.
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Militarized Policing and Bringing the War Home

Police abuse of minority communities in the United States is a story stretching back decades and centuries. The militarization of American policing is a much more recent phenomenon though the two phenomena have overlapped and compounded each other. Much of this debate over militarization has focused on the Pentagon’s 1033 Program which charges the Secretary of Defense with donating surplus military hardware to the nation’s thousands of police departments. (The photo above is of an MRAP, a vehicle designed to withstand IEDs and guerrilla ambushes. Numerous US police departments have them.) But there is another dimension of the story that has only partly made its way into the national conversation about policing and violence. The United States has been in a constant state of war since the end of 2001 and in many ways since the Gulf Crisis of 1990. Through numerous channels this has led to a broad militarization of life in the United States. Policing and military hardware is only the most obvious manifestation.

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Where Things Stand: Media Mistakes Embolden Another Trumpian
This is your TPM early-afternoon briefing.

Regardless of who-pitched-who, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) clearly knew what he was doing — and what he was getting away with — with his New York Times op-ed pushing the use of military force against protesters demonstrating against police brutality and the death of George Floyd.

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Schlock And Awe

The Washington Post has produced a new in-depth video analysis of the violent effort to clear the way for President Trump’s infamous photo op at St. John’s church one week ago this evening:

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Where Things Stand: New Zealand Gets It Right
This is your TPM early-afternoon briefing.

After imposing a strict lockdown across the country early-on in the coronavirus outbreak, New Zealand seems to be the first country around the globe to fully eradicate COVID-19.

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For the First Time Trump Faces Crises Not of His Own Making

There is now if not a consensus at least an emerging question whether President Trump has reached a turning point in his Presidency from which he cannot recover. It is sobering to consider the unfolding gyre of crises. We are in the midst of an historic epidemic which has killed more than 100,000 Americans. We are in the midst of an historic economic crisis. We have witnessed two weeks of unprecedented demonstrations across the country. And if we think back to the calm old days before all this started less than four months ago, that was when the President was impeached after being exposed in an extortion plot aimed at gaming the November election.

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Protests, Police and Putin

Last night a flurry of reports from CBS, The New Yorker, the AP, NBC news and others presented a new version of what happened a week ago Monday outside the Episcopal Church in front of the White House, what now seems clearly to have been a turning point, at least in the recent weeks of drama and perhaps in the history of the Trump administration itself.

The less important part of the story – and one which merits the most skepticism – is that Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Michael Milley reportedly weren’t aware of what was happening when they agreed to walk with the President to St. John’s Episcopal Church after a mix of federal police and national guard troops forcibly cleared Lafayette Park of protestors.

The more interesting part comes earlier in the day.

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A Protest Miscellany

*** Attorney General Bill Barr has apparently now thought better of his high profile role in the clearing of Lafayette Park on Monday. It’s not clear to me that he ever publicly took credit for ordering the operation. But the White House said he did and that seems to have been the message coming out of the Department of Justice. Now he tells the AP it wasn’t him, even though he agreed with the decision. He says Park Police were already in the process of clearing the area when he arrived.

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Trump’s Plaything

“Watching what Trump has been able to do to our city just in the last few days makes me truly terrified about what the next six months could bring. We know how he reacts when he feels disrespected and powerless; will the District bear the brunt of his rage and need for dominance?” TPM Reader AL checks in from the District of Columbia …
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Trump Casts George Floyd Smiling From Heaven Because of Trump Recovery

There’s been some dispute about whether Trump cast murdered African-American civilian George Floyd as applauding from heaven about today’s job report or Trump’s success dominating cities and guaranteeing rights. He was riffing enough that both interpretations are possible. But I think Trump’s noting that today was a “great day” that Floyd was happy about was clearly a reference to the jobs report which was the subject of Trump’s appearance today.

Where Things Stand: Why Is Rand Paul Opposing An Anti-Lynching Bill?
This is your TPM early-afternoon briefing.
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 12: U.S. Senator Rand Paul L (R-KY) listens to testimony during the Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing to examine COVID-19 and Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

There’s a lot to keep up with today, but I want to point you to this Politico writeup about the anti-lynching bill that was debated on the Senate floor yesterday.

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On Troop Movements in DC And the Rush for Trump Loyalty

Before we get too far into the day I want to review information that has come out about the situation in Washington, DC and the President’s attempt to militarize the city in response to protests near the White House. As I noted last night, all the National Guard troops in the city or en route appear to be from states with Republican governors: They come from Utah, South Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri and Florida. What we learned yesterday is that the administration had been refused troops by governors in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia.
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Community Goes Full Feral With Anti-Antifa Hysteria

We should have more on this shortly. But it seems we have another case where anti-Antifa hysteria led members of one community in Washington state to go full feral and create a harrowing Deliverance type situation for a multi-racial family from Spokane who was looking to go camping. While stopping off to purchase camping supplies at Forks Outfitters in Forks, Washington, the family was confronted by “seven or eight carloads” of people demanding to know if they were with Antifa. This appears to have been in response to widespread rumors fanned in right wing media that “antifa” was sending formations into suburbs to loot subdivisions and rural homes. After the family decided to flee, they were then pursued by two of the vehicles with passengers apparently carrying automatic weapons. Camping that night the family heard gunfire and power saws down the road from there campsite and decided to leave. But soon they found that that self-styled anti-Antifa warriors had trapped them by cutting down trees to block the only road they could leave by. Local Facebook pages were lit up with reports about the success against Antifa. A group of high schoolers rescued the family by clearing the trees and the local Sheriffs department is now investigating.

Late Update: Here’s Kate Riga’s full report.

Big Jobs News

Very unexpected jobs news this morning. According to the BLS report out this morning, the economy added 2.5 million jobs in May and the unemployment rate actually ticked down slightly to 13.3%. That’s of course mind-boggling high by any normal standard. But I don’t think anyone expected it to be falling. It’s hard to say what the consensus was but many were expecting that unemployment would at least briefly be over 20%.

Ominous Troop Movements

There’s a lot of troubling but clarifying information coming out tonight about the military deployments in Washington, DC. Reporting from the Times suggests what has seemed apparent by inference, which is that the White House and the Pentagon have spent recent days in a tug of war over the deployment of regular Army combat forces into DC. The Pentagon has resisted but President Trump has insisted, apparently wanting to keep them at least just outside the city as an ongoing sign of strength. This afternoon he appeared to finally relent and agree to allow them to return to their home bases.

There’s another dynamic I’ve noticed that has gotten little explicit attention.

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What Went Wrong?

TPM Reader TC chimes in from the world of medical research …

I’m a health researcher and deeply involved in similar work- aggregating data from large electronic health record databases. Many large medical centers care for ~1M patients per year, but even with all the COVID cases, one needs to aggregate ‘like with like’ data across multiple databases. There are standard informatics and statistical reasons to do this. So the overall methods are actually similar to several large national projects currently being stood up by NIH, CDC and PCORI, among others.

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Major, Major Scandal In Clinical Research

A few days ago I flagged that that big hydroxychloroquine study published in The Lancet was becoming a major and substantive controversy. The questions raised about it went well beyond critical questions of interpretation or how one structures a proper study or review to questions verging on accusations of fraud.

Today The Lancet officially retracted the study. This was followed a short time later by The New England Journal of Medicine retracting a separate study that was not about hydroxychloroquine but relied on data from the same company, Surgisphere.

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A.G. Sulzberger’s No Good, Very Bad Explanation For Tom Cotton’s Belligerent Op-Ed
speaks onstage during the 2018 New York Times Dealbook on November 1, 2018 in New York City.

Yesterday, amidst global protests about police brutality, the venerable New York Times published an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) titled “Tom Cotton: Send In the Troops.”

“The nation must restore order,” the sub-headline read. “The military stands ready.”

This piece was met with visceral anger. The union representing New York Times staff, the NewsGuild, issued a statement that Cotton’s message “undermines the journalistic integrity of our members, puts Black staff members in danger, promotes hate, and is likely to encourage further violence.” Countless journalists tweeted “Running this puts Black @nytimes staff in danger.”  Read More

Heightening the Trumpian Contradictions

One of the essential features of Trump and Trumpism is the way he has – both in his person and his movement ideology – managed to bring all the contradictions and controversies in our society furiously to a head. In a matter of days not weeks we have managed to skip from the intricacies of a public health crisis to racism and police violence to the state cornerstone of civilian-military relations and the rather essential question of whether the President is threatening some sort of distended military rule.

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Where Things Stand: McConnell’s Weak Jab
This is your TPM early-afternoon briefing.

The Senate majority leader rarely straightens his spine to break with President Trump. And when he does, you can always expect push back about as stiff as a wet noodle.

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Big News, Bad News

Trump and Barr are patrolling DC with federal prison guards from the units trained to deal with prison riots and emergency situations in federal prisons. These appear to be at least some of the federal police who have been refusing to identify themselves on the streets of DC.

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