• Yates: Obama Had Nothing to Do With Flynn Investigation

    Brian Cahn/ZUMA

    I don’t suppose anyone who’s still sane needs to hear this, but just for the record:

    Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates told lawmakers Wednesday that neither President Barack Obama nor Vice President Joe Biden attempted to influence the FBI’s investigation of incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn during a January 2017 Oval Office meeting with top national security officials.

    “During the meeting, the president, the vice president, the national security adviser did not attempt to any way to direct or influence any investigation,” Yates said during sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

    And for those of you who aren’t sane, the president of the United States is still on your side:

    Roger that.

  • Coronavirus Growth in Western Countries: August 4 Update

    Here’s the coronavirus death toll through August 4. The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here.

  • Coronavirus Rescue Bill Set for Friday

    Michael Brochstein/ZUMA

    This is good news, or as close as we get to it these days:

    The White House and Democratic leaders agreed to try to finalize a deal to address lapsed unemployment benefits and eviction restrictions by the end of this week and hold a vote in Congress next week, suddenly trying to rush stalled talks in the face of growing public and political unrest.

    I suspect the sudden interest in cutting a deal has more to do with the fact that the Senate goes on a monthlong recess starting Friday, and even Republicans don’t want this hanging over their heads during their visits home. Which is fine. If that’s what it takes to motivate Republicans to reach an agreement, I’ll take it.

    I’m also impressed with this statement from Mitch McConnell:

    “The American people, in the end, need help,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, told reporters. “And wherever this thing settles between the president of the United States and his team that has to sign it into law and the Democrat not-insignificant minority in the Senate and majority in the House is something I am prepared to support, even if I have some problems with certain parts of it.”

    That’s not bad, coming from a Republican leader. No, really.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    “Cat on a Patio, 2020.” On a technical note, this is a panoramic shot. I took the picture of the cat and then lowered the camera to take a close-up picture of the bricks. The two frames were stitched together into a single vertical picture in Photoshop, which I cropped into (almost) a square. It would take a seriously expensive wide-angle lens to do this in a single shot.

    August 1, 2020 — Garden Grove, California
  • Raw Data: The US Is the 7th Worst Country in the World for COVID-19 Deaths

    After hearing Donald Trump blather away about how great the United States has done in its battle with COVID-19—based on a completely meaningless statistic—perhaps you’d like to see how we’re really doing. Here you go:

    We are the seventh worst in the world, behind only Belgium, the UK, Peru, Italy, Sweden, and Chile. At the rate we’re going, in a few weeks we’ll probably be the third worst country in the world. And that’s despite a huge and extremely competent health care system.

    There was no good reason for this. Maybe we never had the self-discipline and patience to be Germany (109 deaths per million), but even moderately decent leadership could have cut our number in half and had us trending downward instead of heading back up.

    Competence matters.

    NOTE: For space reasons in the chart, only every third country is labeled. I also deleted tiny statelets.

    UPDATE: The original chart was too confusing. It now shows every country, not every third. The downside is that the type is teensy.

  • Trump: US COVID-19 Response Is the Best in the World


    We all know that Donald Trump is an idiot, so I’ve mostly stopped highlighting the idiocy-of-the-day from the White House. By now, you’re either convinced or you aren’t. But every once in a while Trump turns in a performance so jaw dropping that I just have to pass it along. Here is Trump talking about COVID-19 deaths with Axios reporter Jonathan Swan:

    As always, the question is: Is Trump really so deluded that believes this, or is he just willing to say anything to muddy the waters? Or both? It’s stunning either way.

    For more, Inae Oh has a more detailed wrap-up of the Axios interview here.

  • Dementia Is On the Wane . . . But Maybe Not For Long

    Bernd Thissen/DPA via ZUMA

    A new study says that dementia has been on the wane for multiple decades:

    The risk for a person to develop dementia over a lifetime is now 13 percent lower than it was in 2010. Incidence rates at every age have steadily declined over the past quarter-century….In 1995, a 75-year-old man had about a 25 percent chance of developing dementia in his remaining lifetime. Now that man’s chance declined to 18 percent, said Dr. Albert Hofman, chairman of the department of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and the lead author of the new paper.

    But wait:

    In a reversal of trends, American baby boomers scored lower on a test of cognitive functioning than did members of previous generations, according to a new nationwide study.

    Findings showed that average cognition scores of adults aged 50 and older increased from generation to generation, beginning with the greatest generation (born 1890-1923) and peaking among war babies (born 1942-1947). Scores began to decline in the early baby boomers (born 1948-1953) and decreased further in the mid baby boomers (born 1954-1959).
    While the prevalence of dementia has declined recently in the United States, these results suggest those trends may reverse in the coming decades, according to study author Hui Zheng, professor of sociology at The Ohio State University.

    Trust the boomers to screw things up. On the other hand, this might be the result of juvenile lead poisoning, and that’s the fault of the Greatest Generation. Greatest indeed.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    This is the third and last picture of highways fading into the distance from my Arizona trip earlier this year. But this isn’t really one single highway: it’s Baker Blvd. in the foreground and Interstate 15 in the distance. If I had backed up a few hundred feet you’d also be able to see the world’s largest thermometer, but alas, that would have put me on lower ground and spoiled the shot. All art is a series of compromises.

    January 25, 2020 — Baker, California
  • Do We Really Need Senate Confirmation of 1,200 Positions?

    This is probably not a big vote-getter, but it’s worth a thought:

    This tweet was spurred by President Trump’s latest temporary appointment: Anthony Tata, a retired brigadier general with a history of anti-Islamic tweets. The Senate made clear that Tata was not going to be confirmed as Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, so instead Trump simply appointed him as “the official Performing the Duties of” the DUDP. He could do this because the Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 allows him to. Trump has used the Vacancies Act to appoint dozens (hundreds?) of temporary officials without the bother of Senate confirmation.

    This is an abuse of the intent of the Vacancies Act, but in the spirit of bipartisan benevolence I’ll offer up a simple compromise: tighten up the Vacancies Act and at the same time cut way back on the number of executive branch officials who require Senate confirmation. There are about 1,200 of them these days, and that sure seems like overkill. Does every deputy undersecretary really need a full-dress Senate confirmation, after all?

    So that’s that. Let Trump—and other presidents—appoint far more of their team than they do now, but for the positions that really matter get stricter about Senate confirmation. Given the intense partisanship of the Senate these days, this might also require placing some bounds on how long the Senate can keep a position from being filled, but that’s a subject for another days.