Phantoms of the Night

Morning glow, by your light
We can make the new day bright,
And the phantoms of the night
Will fade into the past.

– Stephen Schwartz, “Morning Glow
from the musical Pippin

This week’s featured posts are “North Dakota Is About to Kill the National Popular Vote Compact” and “The Action Shifts to Congress“.

This week everybody was talking about Congress

One of the featured posts covers the progress of bills through Congress (Covid relief, the Equality Act) plus Senate action on Biden’s nominees.

and bombing Syria

Thursday, America planes struck in Syria near the Iraqi border. The raid was aimed at Iranian-backed militias that the Pentagon says attacked American and allied forces in Iraq with rockets. President Biden sent a letter to congressional leaders explaining the attack, as the War Powers Act requires. He found justification for the raid in “the United States’ inherent right of self-defense”.

A lot of Americans have probably forgotten that we still have troops in Iraq, but we do: about 2,500 of them. Their main mission is to prevent the Islamic State from reforming.

and Covid

The precipitous drop in new Covid cases looks like it might have leveled off. The 7-day average of new cases per day bottomed out at around 66K on February 21. Coincidentally, that’s two weeks after the Super Bowl. So maybe people let down their guard for Super Bowl get-togethers, or maybe the more-transmissible variants are starting to take hold, or maybe it’s random fluctuation. 66K is way below the peak of 259K on January 8 (two weeks after Christmas), but would have been considered shockingly high back in early October.

Curiously, deaths also have plateaued at around 2,000 per day, down from over 3,300 at the peak. This is odd because death totals usually trail new-case totals by a week or two, so they should still be going down.

Vaccination continues to gain ground. As of Sunday evening, 49.8 million Americans had received at least one shot, and 24.8 million have been fully vaccinated.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine got FDA approval Saturday. Sunday, the CDC recommended it for use.

“The J&J vaccine, which is easier to transport and store… is going to dramatically increase our vaccine availability,” Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine at George Washington University, told CNN Saturday. “It’s a big, big deal.” About 3.9 million doses will be available for ordering right away, according to Lori Tremmel Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials — which could add about 25% more Covid-19 vaccination capacity for states.

3.9 million doses are available, and distribution might start today. Matt Yglesias speculates:

If Pfizer, Modern, and J&J all hit their stated delivery targets we’re going to be doing 4 million doses/day in March, and by April the whole vaccine story will shift to be about reluctance/hesitancy/resistance.

The NYT posted a very powerful short film: “Death Through a Nurse’s Eyes“.

and CPAC

Trump made his return to the public stage yesterday, giving his first speech since leaving the White House. Reportedly, he talked for 90 minutes, so (life being short) I haven’t watched it. CNN’s Chris Cillizza listed the 50 most ridiculous lines, and I couldn’t even make through them.

Trump’s fans (and many of the people who fear him) still don’t realize he’s a has-been, but he is. He lost in 2020 by over 7 million votes. After he lost he tried to overthrow American democracy. He’s stuck in the past talking about personal grievances that have nothing to do with the lives of American voters. And odds are at least 50-50 he’ll be in jail when 2024 rolls around. So if Republicans want to run that loser again — hey, don’t let me stop you.

Two crazy stories come out of CPAC. One is true and the other is at best an amazingly unfortunate coincidence. The true one is that CPAC featured a golden statue of Trump. Comparisons to the Biblical golden calf idol appeared independently all over social media, but CPAC participants happily got their photos taken with their own idol anyway. The kicker is that the statue was made in Mexico.

The other story is CPAC’s main stage, whose elaborate design closely resembles the Norse odal rune, a symbol used by the Nazis. That sounds like the kind of insane thing Twitter users are always going on about, but the resemblance is hard to deny, once it has been pointed out to you.

The unresolved question is whether this was an intentional message to the international far right, a weird attempt to invoke some kind of dark magic, or some other sinister thing. Snopes calls such claims “unproven”, which it’s hard to argue with. CPAC organizers deny any intent and seem appropriately outraged, if not appropriately embarrassed. (I mean, the rune is really there, and the Nazis really did use it. I’d be embarrassed.)

I wasn’t going to mention the controversy if it was was just liberals entertaining each other by finding faces in the clouds and tweeting their outrage. But I decided to ask two additional questions: What do the people who cover Norse paganism think? And are actual Nazis getting the message?

As for the pagans, the Wild Hunt blog is taking this seriously. The Hunt notes that the stage shape is not driven by functionality, so somebody liked the design for other reasons:

The wings of the CPAC stage lead nowhere – they do not lead to stairs, and the stage’s entrances and exits are in the rear, flanking the back wall. The red triangle toward the rear of the stage similarly serves no apparent functional use. This means that the set was intentionally designed this way, not for its utility, but for its visual appeal – an image that looks, unquestionably, like the odal rune.

The Nazi connection runs deeper than just a photo of some SS officer’s collar insignia. (Go to the Hunt’s article if you want the full history.) And it’s not hard to see why, if you know the rune’s traditional interpretations:

The odal rune’s historical meaning deals with inherited estates, homelands, or the aristocracy.

So it’s an ideal “Make das Vaterland great again” symbol. In addition, the significance is not just Hitler-era history.

In the present day, the odal rune has been adopted as a replacement for the swastika in American far-right circles, notably by the National Socialist Movement (NSM), who changed their logo to the odal rune in November 2016. The change was specifically in response to the election of Donald Trump, as the NSM’s leadership hoped there would be an opening for their entry into mainstream conservative contexts under Trump and believed the odal rune would be more presentable to the public than the swastika.

On the other hand, I failed to find any actual Nazis high-fiving each other about this. I don’t have much in the way of Nazi contacts, but I looked around on the Daily Stormer and Stormfront web sites — I wonder what lists that got me onto — and didn’t run across any excited odal-rune chatter (though lots of folks at Stormfront were planning to livestream Trump’s speech).

and the report on the Khashoggi murder

The Biden administration released an unclassified report on the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. The short version: MBS did it. The report is just four pages, and doesn’t say how the operation went down or how we know what happened, presumably in order not to reveal how we spy on MBS and the Saudis generally.

Congress had demanded a report during the Trump administration, but Trump stonewalled in order to protect the Saudi Crown Prince, who was chummy with Jared Kushner. Biden released the report to fulfill his obligation.

It’s hard to know what to do next. MBS ordered an American resident murdered. But he’s also the de facto head of state of a country that the US sees as a counterweight to Iran in the Middle East. We no longer need Saudi oil ourselves, but our allies do. Biden has already shown an intention to distance the US from Saudi Arabia somewhat. For example, we are backing away from the Saudi proxy war in Yemen, though it’s not clear exactly what that means.

and you also might be interested in …

Things got worse for Andrew Cuomo this week. In addition to the recent scandal about reporting Covid deaths in nursing homes, he now faces a second accusation of sexual harassment. The new charge is of verbal harassment — when they were alone in a room, the governor allegedly asked a young female aide leading questions that seemed to suggest they should start a sexual relationship. Earlier, another female aide had accused him of giving her an unwanted kiss after a number of similarly suggestive conversations.

The NYT looked for someone to corroborate the first accuser’s story:

The New York Times spoke to three people who worked in the governor’s office during Ms. Boylan’s time there. The people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that while they could not corroborate her allegations, they concurred that the governor would sometimes make inappropriate remarks during work and comment on people’s appearances.

Cuomo denied the accusation, but responded to the second with one of those half-way apologies that seemed to cover the first accusation as well.

At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good natured way. … I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.

The WaPo’s Karen Tumulty believes Cuomo will be forced to resign, and I think that is appropriate. At the very least, he should announce that he will not run for a fourth term in 2022. Trump can claim that his dozens of accusers are all liars, and be confident that members of his cult will just repeat whatever he says. But standards are higher among Democrats.

BTW: Those who talk about the “liberal media” need to recognize that it wasn’t Fox News that broke this story. It was the New York Times.

The Perseverance Mars rover sports decals of its “family” of previous Mars rovers.

Two counties in North Dakota are trying to save their coal-mining jobs by blocking wind power. A local coal-powered electric plant might close, and if it does, the nearby coal mine that supplies it will probably close as well, with a total cost of a thousand jobs.

The problem is that coal isn’t competitive economically any more, not just with renewables, but with natural gas as well. Stopping farmers from letting wind-energy companies put up windmills on their land probably won’t save the coal jobs for long.

In a 50/50 Senate, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin can kill a bill or a nominee (or save the filibuster) all by himself. Frustrated progressive Democrats often ask, “Can’t we do better?”. Philip Bump looks at the last several elections in West Virginia, both presidential and senatorial. He concludes that the answer is no.

Another test for the QAnon theory: Thursday is March 4, which was the original Inauguration Day before the 20th Amendment changed it to January 20. Well, apparently, nothing that happened after 1871 is really legit.

QAnon believers claim that the US federal government secretly became a corporation under a law they believe passed in 1871 but does not actually exist, rendering every president inaugurated and every constitutional amendment passed in the years since illegitimate. But on March 4, the narrative goes, Trump will return as the 19th president, the first legitimate president since Ulysses S. Grant, with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as his vice president.

Any resemblance to the many restoring-an-ancient-line-of-kings myths is purely coincidental, I’m sure. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

and let’s close with something clever

Not my cleverness, other people’s. Like this young man’s technique for watching a movie on his phone.

Lisa Turner has collected dozens of such “life hacks” — some more clever than others — on her My Health Gazette blog.

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  • wcroth55  On March 1, 2021 at 1:28 pm

    Um, not to be a downer here, but you DO recall that the new King Pippin has to undo all of his reforms, shortly after the end of the song “Morning Glow”… 😦

  • dagoldner  On March 2, 2021 at 7:01 am

    I’m no expert on iconography, but I think it’s a lot more than an honest mistake. This thread articulates it well:

  • George Washington, Jr.  On March 2, 2021 at 12:41 pm

    What the QAnon March 4 theory fails to notice is that if every president since Ulysses S. Grant was illegitimate, that would include Trump. He has no more right to be sworn in than Carter, Clinton, Bush, or Obama do. In fact, since Carter also served only one term, he should be the one sworn in, maybe with Dianne Feinstein as his VP to give us the first nonagenarian administration.

  • jimmyen  On March 2, 2021 at 3:09 pm

    Always appreciate your perspective Doug, but I think it’s a bit dangerous to count Trump out as a has-been.

    The GOP knows he lost bigly. They know he botched the pandemic response, and that if he had mustered even an ounce of competence and solemnity in its face he would probably have cruised to re-election despite literally everything else. They know he is, at best, indifferent to the fact that he wound up a violent mob and pointed it directly at them. They know they had the opportunity to reject him, but in the end they almost all decided to kiss the ring.

    Maybe (mayyyybe) he can never win a national election again, but even if he’s in prison or flees to Russia I think he’d still be in control of the party, and the party can still inflict tremendous damage.

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