• Coronavirus Growth in Western Countries: July 21 Update

    Here’s the coronavirus death toll through July 21. Sweden can’t quite seem to get below one death per million. The US is continuing its inexorable upward trajectory. It’s gonna be a long summer.

    The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here. The Public Health Agency of Sweden is here.

  • Why Did Trump Wish Ghislaine Maxwell Well?

    Bryan Smith/ZUMA

    Ghislaine Maxwell is the alleged accomplice of Jeffrey Epstein, the alleged billionaire sex trafficker who allegedly died by suicide in jail last year. Maxwell herself is now in jail charged with conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, transportation and conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and two counts of perjury. In other words, being the “madam” for Epstein’s sex ring. So what does Donald Trump think of Maxwell?

    This seems inexplicable. Why would Trump “wish her well” on national TV?

    Answer: because he can’t help himself. One of Trump’s iron personal laws is that if you are nice to him, he is nice to you. If you attack him, he attacks you. It’s the transactional deal he makes with everyone in the world. In Maxwell’s case, she has been nice to Trump and has never attacked him, so Trump has no choice but to be nice in return. It’s practically built into his DNA. It’s really as simple as that. Political considerations just don’t enter into it.

  • The Portland Moms Are Giving Trump a Headache

    Former FBI Director James Comey writes today that while it might be legal for federal agents to invade Portland, it’s also really stupid. After spelling out exactly how stupid it is, he asks a question:

    So it’s dumb and self-defeating on many levels for the feds to engage the way they have in Portland. No sensible law enforcement leader would approach it this way. Which begs a question: Is televised conflict the goal?

    What is there to say except “duh”? Of course that’s the goal. This whole thing is purely a campaign contrivance. Trump is trying to run on the idea that our (Democratic) cities are in flames and only a (Republican) president can save them. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough violence to keep that notion alive, so he decided to manufacture some.

    Of course, it’s turning out to bite him in the ass thanks to the genuinely brilliant strategy of the “Portland moms.” The video that most people are seeing shows a bunch of scary-looking Trump thugs on the one hand and crowds of middle-class moms singing lullabyes on the other (skip to 1:18 in the video below):

    Trump is now threatening to send federal agents into Chicago, but if the folks in Chicago are smart enough to adopt the same strategy, Trump is going to get nothing for his efforts.

  • Biden Announces National Caregiving Plan

    Joe Biden plans to announce today a new caregiving program, part three of his four-part “Build Back Better” plan:

    The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s plan includes measures to expand care for children, the elderly and the disabled. Some of the boldest proposals — such as providing free universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds and creating tax credits to help pay for child care — come as the needs of parents struggling to balance caring for their children while working have been thrown into sharp relief by the COVID-19 pandemic and as many schools are opting against in-person instruction in the fall.

    ….Biden would pay for ongoing costs in the overall package in part by rolling back some of President Trump’s tax cuts for corporations and by raising taxes on the wealthy. The cost of the expanded caregiving — $775 billion over a decade — would be paid by rolling back tax loopholes on real estate investors with incomes over $400,000 and making the wealthy pay all the taxes they owe, according to the campaign. A senior Biden campaign advisor said the efforts to make sure the wealthy comply with tax laws alone could raise “hundreds of billions of dollars.”

    Making the wealthy “pay all the taxes they owe” is usually similar to “waste, fraud, and abuse” in the annals of smoke and mirrors, but these days I’m willing to think more highly of it. Republicans have diligently cut back on IRS enforcement of the rich for so many years that there really is some low-hanging fruit to be had simply by beefing up the auditing of high-income taxpayers:

    Larry Summers estimates that simply by returning to the state of affairs in 2011, the IRS could raise an additional $50 billion per year from the rich. Tighten things even further and perhaps that could go as high as $75 or $100 billion.

    I read a lot about how “COVID-19 is changing everything,” and I’m skeptical of most of it. Once we get a handle on the virus, I suspect that we will almost all go back to our old habits. Still, there are clearly some things that COVID-19 has shined a very bright spotlight on, and childcare is one of them. It’s been a problem for a long time, but COVID-19 has made it a problem for a lot more people—and, crucially, that includes middle-class suburbanites, not just the poor. Biden’s plan is a good chance to see if people are more willing to support a national caregiving plan after a year of living with the virus and having their kids home from school.

  • EU Starts Long Trek Toward Coronavirus Bailout

    The EU has finally agreed on a financial rescue plan that involves rich countries raising money to help out poor countries:

    Leaders ultimately agreed on a €750 billion recovery plan. Of that, €390 billion will be offered in grants and the rest will come in the form of loans. That is down from €500 billion recently proposed by Brussels.

    Don’t get too excited yet, though. The real fireworks are yet to come as this deal starts going through the approval process at the national level. Some countries will approve it quickly but there are bound to be a few holdouts—and it seems likely that at least one of the holdouts will take things to the very last second and then either approve or disapprove by a tiny margin. That’s the EU for you.

  • We Are Officially Living in Crazytown

    Daniel Mears/Detroit News/TNS via ZUMA Wire

    Let’s round up a few recent headlines, shall we?

    • Trump threatens to deploy federal agents to Chicago and other U.S. cities led by Democrats
    • Trader Joe’s removing ‘racist packaging’ after online petition
    • Georgia Governor Brian Kemp Sues to Block Atlanta’s Face Mask Ordinance While Virus Cases Rise
    • Why is President Trump so proud of passing a test only those with dementia fail?
    • Trump consults Bush torture lawyer on how to skirt law and rule by decree
    • Deep South supermarket Winn-Dixie takes a stand: No masks required
    • Deep South supermarket Winn-Dixie will require face masks after all
    • A Veteran Had a Question for the Feds in Portland. They Beat Him in Response.
    • GOP relief bill to include payroll tax cut, tie school funds to reopenings
    • Kanye West misses deadline to qualify for South Carolina ballot
    • Feds Gas Moms Forming Human Shield In Front Of Portland Protesters
    • Trump’s health officials are trying to speed up testing. Here’s why their plan won’t work
    • Trump, Citing TV Ratings, Says Daily Coronavirus Briefings Will Resume
    • Trump not sure about election results if he loses
    • Here’s why COVID-19 has made arts education so problematic
    • Disney World bans eating and drinking while walking after guests break face mask rules

    Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you the greatest nation on earth.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    Did I go out over the weekend to see the comet? Of course I did! My brother and I went out Friday night to a dark spot near Palomar Mountain, and we were lucky that the sky was exceptionally clear and still. A little after 9:00 we stopped to get our bearings and to check on whether we could see anything—and we could, though only barely. Here’s a full-frame picture that’s pretty close to what you can see with your naked eye. Neowise is at the bottom center:

    I amped up the contrast a little bit to make Neowise more visible in the picture. In real life, I could make it out if I turned by head left and right slowly, but if I just looked straight at it I couldn’t really see anything. My brother brought a pair of binoculars, and those made Neowise clearly visible.

    Having done that, I kept driving into darker territory and took a better picture at about a quarter to ten:

    July 18, 2020 — On Highway 79 near Warner Springs, California

    This is cropped, and with a longer exposure time than the first picture. I also fiddled with the contrast in Photoshop a bit more. In any case, Neowise is very clearly visible, and you can get a sense of its size by comparing it to the telephone poles.

    So that’s that. I’ve now seen a comet and I can cross it off my bucket list.