Mainer TPM Reader AF follows up with some important detail and correction about my note on Susan Collins and her statement. I stand by the point I made last night. But it was an – I hope – uncharacteristic imprecision to call it a “promise”. As AF states, it’s definitely not. If Collins thinks it is in her interest I definitely think she will vote to confirm before the election. And I think it’s highly likely she’ll do so, win or lose, during the lame duck session after the election. But my same point holds, she’s judged it is strongly against her interest to vote at all before the election. It’s Democrats’ challenge to press her on this purported commitment and her history of breaking such commitments for the next six weeks. TPM Reader AF …
Susan Collins’ statement is punditry, without any promised actions.
Collins said a vote on a nomination should wait until after the election. She didn’t say a word about what she would do or not do.
Take a closer look at Collins’ statement. She says Trump has the right to make a nomination. She says she has “no objection to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s beginning the process of reviewing his nominee’s credentials.” After that she says there shouldn’t be a vote before the election.
In the last 24 hours, we’ve seen two former Trump administration officials take significant steps to speak out against President Trump and Vice President Pence, flinging their White House secrets-laced weight behind Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
We are now back in one of those recurrent waves of bad publicity for Facebook. It deserves every bit of it. Facebook is the prime online, global incubator of racist, quasi-fascist propaganda, conspiracy theories, state-run psyops and agit-prop operations, even in at least one case actual state-backed programs of population transfer and arguable genocide. But to really understand the problem with Facebook we need to understand the structural roots of that problem, how much of it is baked into the core architecture of the site and its very business model. Indeed much of it is inherent in the core strategies of the post-2000, second wave Internet tech companies that now dominate our information space and economy.
Facebook is an ingenious engine for information and ideational manipulation. Good old fashioned advertising does that to a degree. But Facebook is much more powerful, adaptive and efficient. That’s what all the algorithms do. That’s why it makes so much money. This is the error with people who say the fact that people do bad things with Facebook is no different from people doing bad things with phones. Facebook isn’t just a ‘dumb’ communications system. It’s not really a platform in the original sense of the word. (The analogy for that is web hosting.) Facebook is designed to do specific things. It’s an engine to understand people’s minds and then manipulate their thinking. Those tools are refined for revenue making but can be used for many other purposes. That makes it ripe for misuse and bad acting.
The core of all second wave Internet commerce operations was finding network models where costs grow mathematically and revenues grow exponentially. The network and its dominance is the product and once it takes hold the cost inputs remained constrained while the revenues grow almost without limit. With the possible exception of Apple, which is still driven mostly by the production of physical products, that’s the core feature of all the big tech Goliaths.
We covered news this morning of White House chief of staff Mark Meadows attempts to distance President Trump’s own CDC director from the vaccine development process in order to adhere to Trump’s own political narrative surrounding its creation.
Before more time goes by a brief follow up on yesterday’s post about the Trumpian build up for a violent showdown after the election. In his late afternoon press conference yesterday President Trump again found an opportunity to declare his readiness to put down election night “riots” or “protests” by force using the US military. He quickly joined this to a conversation about purported voter fraud and election rigging using mail in ballots.
Michael Caputo, the longtime Trump hype man and HHS official, is taking a leave of absence from the Department of Health and Human Services.
This follows a tumultuous few days in which reports surfaced showing Caputo and one of his close aides at HHS were involved in a scheme to pressure the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into cooking the books on COVID-19 reporting data to more closely adhere to President Trump’s rosy rhetoric on the pandemic.
I often find it a clarifying exercise to do the following. In six months we will know the outcome of the 2020 election. We will likely look back to September 2020 and see the eventual outcome as far more known, predictable than it actually appears to us today. This is in the nature of thinking historically. We have lived experience but the people of the future know more than us. My exercise is this: tell the version of me six months in the future how clear or unclear things look right now.
Taking this approach the weight of evidence points to Joe Biden winning a clear if not overwhelming victory over Donald Trump and a good likelihood that Democrats will control both houses of Congress. Looking not emotionally, not with the uncertainty that is so deep-rooted in the Trump Era and not with the weight of all that is at stake, the biggest fact of this election cycle has been the persistence and consistency of Biden’s lead. For all the drama, look at those trend lines. They barely budge.
Looking at all the available evidence, that is the most likely outcome. And I suspect in retrospect it will look even more clear, more likely. After the fact we’ll have only the evidence, the bundle of factual data and not the doubt, uncertainty and the specter of the unknown.
But of course there are other possibilities. The most likely bad outcome is simply that Donald Trump loses the popular vote by three or four percentage points but squeaks out an electoral college win with narrow victories in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Arizona and lucky breaks in maybe Pennsylvania or other states.
But I want to note another storyline being anticipated and demanded by many of Trump’s most ardent supporters. As usual with people in the Trump world, it surfaces either as ‘jokes’ or things his opponents purportedly want to do or start. In his on-going public meltdown, acting HHS comms chief Michael Caputo predicted that Joe Biden and his followers will try to overthrow the government with violence after not accepting Trump’s victory. Trump will have to put them down by force. He warns Trump’s supporters to stock up on fire arms and ammunition for the coming clash, which the Democrats will force on Trump.
We learned this morning that DOJ prosecutors are investigating the publication of former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s new tell-all memoir about his time in the White House, a twist in the increasingly unsurprising narrative that President Trump’s been loudly building since he appointed Bill Barr his attorney general.
I’m not sure it counts as South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg’s third story about running over a pedestrian two nights ago. Because it’s the first version of the story we’ve heard at length directly from him. But there are significant changes and additions from the revised story from yesterday. (Story one appeared to be that he was involved in a car accident in which someone died; story two was he ran someone over but thought the person was a deer.) You can read the full statement here.
The gist is as follows.
We reported on the news this weekend after Politico published a piece based on emails it had obtained from the Department of Health and Human Services. Essentially, for weeks, HHS public affairs chief Michael Caputo (and former member of the 2016 Trump campaign), along with his scientific adviser, pressured the CDC to change its reports on COVID-19 spread and case data from across the U.S.
I just started reading this Buzzfeed article about Facebook board member and Trump backer Peter Thiel’s relationship with racist fringe groups. Thiel seems like an outlier in Silicon Valley because of his high profile support for Trump. But he is actually part of a rising tide of neo-authoritarian thought in the tech world which argues that democracy has failed and must be replaced. This reminded me of something I’ve been coming back to again and again with greater clarity and understanding its greater significance as the years have gone by.
At some point in 2015 I was sitting at my desk in TPM’s New York office’s talking with a good friend who worked at Gawker. The Hulk Hogan lawsuit had been on the horizon for a long time before it actually came to trial. In preparation Gawker founder and owner Nick Denton had recently cut some deal with a Russian oligarch to give Gawker deep enough pockets to withstand an adverse judgment which they anticipated and hoped could be reversed on appeal. My friend was walking me through all of these developments. He was very much preaching the Hulk Hogan lawsuit gospel. The future of freedom of the press, he told me, was on the line with Gawker’s fate.
I nodded in agreement with each point. As a publisher and strong supporter of press freedom, I supported Gawker’s position publicly and privately. And yet tucked away in my head part of me was saying, “C’mon. You published a sex tape.” Publishers see every libel suit and think there but for the grace of God. In this case, I knew to a certainty that this particular libel situation was not one TPM ever would have found itself in.
Michael Caputo is a career Republican political operative with no medical expertise beyond an annual physical. He is best known as being an associate of convicted felon Roger Stone, with his own lengthy history working in Russia and as a suspect in the Russia probe. Trump installed Caputo as the acting director of communications for the Department of Health and Human Services in April. We learned yesterday that he demanded and received the right to review and amend the CDC’s weekly mortality and morbidity reports, which are among the canonical public health and scientific reports of the US government, in order to make sure they don’t depart from President Trump’s COVID messaging.
Tragedy is tragedy. And while the invisible crisis our country is currently facing looks and feels and hurts differently than this day 19 years ago, the parallels of massive loss of life and the infiltration of a society-altering fear are clear.
It’s the 20th most important thing about the book or the interviews. But everything that comes out about these Trump-Woodward interviews, details and news notwithstanding, communicates an almost limitless personal insecurity and need for validation and acceptance. See here. It’s hardly surprising. It’s the flip side of his grievance politics. I certainly don’t feel sorry for Donald Trump – he deserves every bad thing that comes to him. But I don’t think it would be any fun being Donald Trump.
The former Republican presidential candidate and longtime Christian Broadcasting Network host’s ire is not aimed at President Trump ghastly admission that he intentionally downplayed the severity of COVID-19 even though he was aware of it’s deadliness. He’s upset he offered up his iniquities freely to the press. Specifically, to the famous Bob Woodward.
And there it is yet again. The President’s personal lawyer and apparent bag man Rudy Giuliani has been exposed as an active participant in yet another Russian intelligence operation aimed at supporting President Trump’s reelection campaign. The details of the story — and Giuliani’s work with Andrii Derkach — have been something of an open secret, especially if you’ve been reading Josh’s on-going reporting. But Derkach has now been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department as an “active Russian agent for over a decade, maintaining close connections with the Russian Intelligence Services.”
President Trump is reportedly banking on a fever swamp perception of former Vice President Joe Biden’s mental acuity — which has been the subject of baseless rumors perpetuated not only by the right, but also, apparently, by Russian propaganda — to guide him through the debates in coming weeks.
I failed. I was fooled. He pulled one over on me. I admit it and hang my head in shame. Last week I noted the demonstrable reality that Michael Cohen squeezed the Falwells for Jerry Falwell’s critical January 2016 endorsement of Donald Trump because he and Trump had photographs and documents that revealed that the ultimate power couple of rightwing evangelical Christianity were committed swingers and part of the so-called ‘cuckold lifestyle’. But Cohen continued to deny it, even with a soon to launch “tell all” memoir. I said he was likely still holding out because of continuing criminal liability for blackmail and extortion.
But I had it totally wrong.
Cohen was lying. But not to stay ahead of the law. He was lying in the interests of book promotion. He wasn’t going to wrongfoot his book roll out. I’m not sure whether this is more virtuous or proper. But it’s definitely more on brand. So I salute him.
TPM reporter Kate Riga has been following all of Congress’ failed attempts to pass any type of COVID-19 relief bill for the last several weeks. But even with the Senate back in session, there doesn’t appear to be a clear end in sight.
Bloomberg News this morning floats the doubly absurd idea that President Trump is weighing the possibility of putting $100 million of his own money into his campaign. On its face this seems absurd. Trump had to be dragged kicking and screaming to put half that amount into his campaign in 2016 when the campaign’s need for money was far, far greater. (We don’t even know if Trump has that scale of liquid assets available.) But the bigger question is, why does his campaign even need him to pump in his own money?
This article in the Post talks to a number of epidemiologists who say we’re on the cusp of what may be the worst of the COVID-19 epidemic.
The article is based in significant measure on a new model from the IHME modelers at the University of Washington. They don’t have a perfect record. So I don’t think we should see this as consensus opinion or what “the science” says. But it’s worth taking note of as at least one quite dire outlook.