• 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.

  • Trump’s Attack on Mail Voting Is Good for Democrats

    Patrick Fallon/ZUMA

    This is so bugfuck nuts:

    President Trump’s unfounded attacks on mail balloting are discouraging his own supporters from embracing the practice, according to polls and Republican leaders across the country, prompting growing alarm that one of the central strategies of his campaign is threatening GOP prospects in November.

    Voting by mail has always been viewed as favorable to Republicans—or at worst a wash. Democrats embraced it this year because it makes sense in the middle of a pandemic, but Donald Trump simply refused to believe that anybody, let alone Democrats, could possibly be acting altruistically. The only thing that made sense to him was that mail voting must be some kind of Democratic trick and therefore he was opposed to it.

    That’s what happens when you’re so transactional and so cynical that you don’t believe non-selfish behavior is even possible. This should have been a no-brainer bipartisan initiative, but Trump didn’t believe it and no one in the Republican Party had the guts to tell him the truth. Now they’re getting exactly what they deserve.

  • Jared Kushner Wanted to “Get Shit Done.” He Didn’t.

    Ivanka is smart enough to wear a mask, but apparently Jared isn't.Shawn Thew/CNP via ZUMA

    Katherine Eban has a longish piece in Vanity Fair about how the White House—and Jared Kushner in particular—handled the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, there’s a passage examining why Kushner and Trump showed little interest in a national plan:

    Most troubling of all, perhaps, was a sentiment the expert said a member of Kushner’s team expressed: that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically. “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy,” said the expert.

    That logic may have swayed Kushner. “It was very clear that Jared was ultimately the decision maker as to what [plan] was going to come out,” the expert said.

    This isn’t really a scoop, though, since it was widely known among reporters at the time. Kushner, who was a sort of free-roving coronavirus troubleshooter in the early days, apparently started out trying to put together a national plan with his team of college pals and young banker types, but it never saw the light of day. By the end of April, partisan considerations had overwhelmed everything. Kushner and Trump decided that instead of putting in place a plan that would effectively crush the virus, they wanted a plan that would most effectively boost Trump’s reelection plans.

    OBLIGATORY NOTE: The White House, of course, denies all of this. Given their track record for lying about everything, however, there’s no need for you to take this seriously.

    In any case, with Kushner in charge it’s not clear just how good a national plan would have been anyway. Kushner’s mysterious planeloads of pandemic supplies have been documented before, but Eban provides a case study of one particular Kushner brainstorm that illustrates how his “just get shit done” attitude played out in real life. The idea was to order millions of Chinese-made COVID-19 test kits from an outfit in the Middle East:

    Normally, federal government purchases come with detailed contracts, replete with acronyms and identifying codes. They require sign-off from an authorized contract officer and are typically made public in a U.S. government procurement database, under a system intended as a hedge against waste, fraud, and abuse.

    This purchase did not appear in any government database. Nor was there any contract officer involved. Instead, it was documented in an invoice obtained by Vanity Fair, from a company, Cogna Technology Solutions (its own name misspelled as “Tecnology” on the bill), which noted a total order of 3.5 million tests for an amount owed of $52 million. The “client name” simply noted “WH.”

    I might be off base here, but the thing that really drew my attention was the invoice itself:

    Does this even look like a real invoice? It’s not aligned right; it has misspelled words; there’s no customer information and no order reference; and just based on having seen lots of invoices in my time, it doesn’t look real. It looks like something that was whomped up in PowerPoint.

    And that’s not all. The test kits were delivered in late March, but they were no good. “An FDA spokesperson told Vanity Fair the tests may have been rendered ineffective because of how they were stored when they were shipped from the Middle East. ‘The reagents should be kept cold,’ the spokesperson said.”

    “The reagents should be kept cold.” No kidding. A freshman chemistry major could have guessed that. But this kind of planning is what passes for brilliant thinking among the Kushnerites and the Trump administration in general. Ideology aside, it turns out that it really does matter if the president of the United States is competent.

  • Friday Cat Blogging – 31 July 2020

    I’ve been spending more time at my mother’s house than at my own, which means I’m mostly taking pictures of her cats these days. This one is a picture of Stripey, who was rolling around on the driveway until she caught a glimpse of my camera and immediately became a cat of considerable purpose. And what is that purpose? To stick her nose into the lens and then take a few swats at it. She seems to think of the camera as a new playmate.

  • Chart of the Day: European GDP Plummets in Q2 Too

    You think we have it bad? GDP plunged by 11.9 percent in Europe during the second quarter of the year. Here’s what that looks like:

    There is, however, a bright side to this: Europe has mostly crushed COVID-19. They took their shutdown more seriously than we did, and they kept it in place for about a month longer. The result is an economic crash even worse than ours, but with prospects of a full recovery this year now that the virus is under control. By the end of the year we’ll know for sure whether the European or American strategy worked better in the long run.

  • Consumer Spending Is Up, But Still $1 Trillion Below Normal

    Consumer spending increased in June, but it’s still about $1 trillion below where it ought to be:

    Even though national income increased thanks to stimulus checks and expanded unemployment benefits, people still aren’t willing to spend like they used to. Instead they’re saving more than normal, and who can blame them? If they had more confidence in both the federal response to COVID-19 and Republican willingness to continue benefits to the unemployed, spending might be closer to normal. But they don’t, so it’s not.