Since the election, Republicans, driven by the lie that is now their party’s central ideology, have systematically attacked the safeguards that protected the last election. They have sent the message that vigorous defense of democracy is incompatible with a career in Republican politics.

— Michelle Goldberg “How Republicans Could Steal the 2024 Election

This week’s featured posts are “What to Make of Israel/Palestine?” and “Why Liz Cheney Matters“.

This week everybody was talking about getting back to (sort of) normal

Tomorrow marks two weeks since my second Pfizer shot, so according to the new CDC guidance I should be able to more-or-less resume normal life.

If you’ve been fully vaccinated: You can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic. You can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.

Not everyone is happy about this advice, and I don’t think I’ll take full advantage of it either. While daily new-case numbers and daily deaths are dropping, cases are still higher than they were a year ago, and not far off the level in mid-September. Barely more than one-third of the country is fully vaccinated, and there are breakthrough infections even among the vaccinated, including eight members of the New York Yankees.

Now, breakthrough infections were expected, and don’t cast doubt on the effectiveness of the vaccines. Epidemiology is a numbers game; the vaccines substantially reduce the odds of catching, transmitting, or dying from Covid, but they’re not guarantees.

Personally, I regard mask-wearing as a fairly trivial hardship, so I think I’ll still do it when I’m in stores or crowds. I may wear masks in movie theaters for the rest of my life (unless I get popcorn). And I plan to keep avoiding indoor dining until the new-case numbers drop much further. Some people are being even more cautious.

There are at least a few reports of people being harassed for wearing masks, which apparently anti-maskers regard as turnabout-is-fair-play. But it’s not: People who refused to wear masks when they were necessary were endangering everyone else. People who continue to wear masks when they’re not necessary are only inconveniencing themselves. Why should anyone else care?

Caroline Orr Bueno tweets a number of examples to support this point:

Since CDC announced the new COVID-19 mask guidance for vaccinated Americans, a flurry of right-wing accounts — seemingly belonging to unvaccinated people — have tweeted saying they “identify as vaccinated” and won’t be wearing a mask. It’s the new anti-vaccine talking point.

“Identifying as vaccinated” is a twofer in conservative circles: It parodies the rhetoric of trans people in order to undermine the public health system’s battle against Covid. This is what passes for cleverness on the Right. As my junior high English teacher told us, “Some people are so stupid they think they’re intelligent.”

Long but worth it: Wired has a medical whodunnit: How did the medical establishment become so convinced (wrongly) that Covid could only travel short distances in droplets, rather than hanging in the air and covering longer distances? The problem goes back to a misinterpretation of a tuberculosis study in 1962, and it was fixed this year by a small group of scientists who wouldn’t let rejection slow them down. Their work not only helped control Covid (much later than it should have been controlled), but should prevent flu deaths for years to come.

Arthur Brooks offers an uncommon perspective on the end of the pandemic: Don’t restart aspects of your old life that didn’t make you happy.

If your relationships, work, and life have been disrupted by the pandemic, the weeks and months before you fully reenter the world should not be wasted. They are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come clean with yourself—to admit that all was not perfectly well before.

… Many of us have taken to asking each other, over the past year or so, what we miss from before the pandemic and hate about living through it. But for your happiness, the more germane questions are “What did I dislike from before the pandemic and don’t miss?” and “What do I like from the pandemic times that I will miss?”

Brooks recommends that you take inventory of your pre-pandemic life and make a plan for not returning to normal.

I saw Brooks interviewed on CNBC, where he made another interesting point: The pandemic may be a once-in-a-lifetime event, but something turns the world upside-down about every ten years: the financial crisis of 2008, 9-11, the fall of the Soviet Union.

and Israel/Palestine

A featured post discusses two articles outlining very different ways to look at the situation.

Matt Yglesias makes an interesting point that doesn’t fit in that article:

I’m not saying you or your favorite politician should have a strong take on the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia — it is every American’s right to ignore foreign events! — but it’s worth asking why some things get on the news agenda and others don’t.

and Republicans behaving badly

I cover Liz Cheney’s ouster from House Republican leadership, and what it means for the GOP, in a featured post. But that was far from the only story illustrating the ongoing decline of the Republican Party.

But before leaving the Cheney story, I want to point out an irony: The GOP’s acceptance of Trump’s Big Lie is an example of what “political correctness” originally meant, before it became a meaningless insult.

In Stalinist circles, everybody understood that he Party told lies. So in order to function, you had to stay aware of two realities: the real world, but also the alternative reality described by the Party’s propaganda. To get things done, you had to appreciate what was factually correct. But often you couldn’t say the truth out loud, because those factually correct statements weren’t politically correct.

Same thing here: Kevin McCarthy and the rest of the House Republican leadership understand that Trump lost the election. But in an authoritarian party, you can’t contradict the Leader. “Biden won fair and square” may be factually correct, but it’s not politically correct.

House Republicans and Democrats finally agreed on a plan for a bipartisan January 6 Commission, but Kevin McCarthy hasn’t said whether he’ll support it.

Tom the Dancing Bug portrays the insurrectionists as a comic character. It had to be either Snoopy’s air ace or Calvin as Spaceman Spiff.

This is the kind of craziness the insurrectionists are still spreading: Trump lawyer Lin Wood in Myrtle Beach on May 11: Trump is still president, because he won the election. The military is still looking to him for leadership. “This isn’t about Trump. This isn’t about flesh. This is about God. This is about Powers and Principalities. God’s getting ready to clean up this world.”

And Rep. Louie Gohmert makes insurrectionists the victims of January 6.

Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas took to the House floor on Friday to downplay the January 6 Capitol riot, describing the insurrections as “political prisoners held hostage by their own government.”

“Joe Biden’s Justice Department is criminalizing political protest, but only political protest by Republicans or conservatives,” Gohmert said in his lengthy speech in which he cited several conservative news outlets, according to CNN. “They’re destroying the lives of American families, they’re weaponizing the events of January 6 to silence Trump-supporting Americans.”

Lest we forget: Trump had masked federal police abducting people off the streets in Portland because protesters were defacing a federal court house with graffiti. But folks who broke windows and beat policemen with flagpoles in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the peaceful transfer of power are “political prisoners”.

A lot of news stories this week told us about Republicans who might get indicted, but haven’t been yet. I’m keeping track of these developments, but trying not to get too excited about them until there’s something definite in the public record.

Friday, Joel Greenberg, often described as Congressman Matt Gaetz’ “wingman” (though I haven’t been able to track down how that started), pleaded guilty to six federal charges, including sex trafficking women, one of whom was a minor at the time.

As part of his plea deal, Greenberg plans to admit in court that he introduced a child “to other adult men, who engaged in commercial sex acts with the Minor in the Middle District of Florida,” according to the document filed Friday.

It’s widely suggested that one of those men was Gaetz, though the plea deal doesn’t name him, and Gaetz denies any wrongdoing. In the deal, Greenberg promises to “cooperate fully with the United States in the investigation and prosecution of other persons”. Who those persons are is not specified, but it’s reasonable to assume one of them is a bigger fish than Greenberg himself. If not Gaetz, then who?

The Daily Beast has been the leading news source on the Gaetz scandals. My impression of DB is middling: I don’t think they’d invent a story out of nothing, but I also don’t trust them to be as scrupulous as The New York Times or Washington Post. It bothers me that top-line news organizations haven’t been able to verify many of DB’s claims through their own reporting. (When MSNBC’s Chris Hayes interviewed DB’s reporter, he said: “I want to stress here that we at NBC have not confirmed this reporting.”)

Friday DB posted this claim: After Gaetz was the lead speaker at the Trump Defender Gala at a resort in Orlando on October 26, 2019, his hotel room was the site of cocaine party that Gaetz participated in. The drugs were provided by a woman who had an ongoing money-for-sex relationship with Gaetz and a no-show government job provided by Greenberg.

The woman is identified, but not the witnesses the story relies on.

Elsewhere, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is still working on his investigation of Donald Trump’s finances. The investigations appears to be trying to get something on Trump accountant Allen Weisselberg in an effort to flip him against Trump.

Vance already has millions of pages of Trump financial documents, but (according to numerous lawyers speculating in the media) doesn’t want to make a purely document-based case against Trump. Documents are far more persuasive with an inside witness who can lead the jury through them.

Still no word on what might have been found in the raid on Rudy Giuliani’s home and office.

A good overview of the public knowledge on Trump-related cases is in this conversation between Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick and former SDNY US Attorney Preet Bahrara.

It looks like Trump’s former White House Counsel, Don McGahn, will finally testify to Congress. The interview will not be public, but a transcript will be released a week later.

The interview will be limited to information attributed to McGahn in the publicly available portions of the Mueller Report, as well as events that involved him personally. He can decline to answer questions that go beyond that scope.

That should include instances that the Mueller Report analyzed as possible obstructions of justice by Trump, like when Trump allegedly instructed McGahn to tell Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller, and then instructed McGahn to publicly deny that Trump gave any such order.

And while McGahn “can” decline to answer other questions, it will be interesting to see what he chooses to answer.

Marjorie Taylor Greene appears to have cheated on her state taxes. She and her husband have claimed homestead exemptions on two houses. You’re only allowed one.

We also found out this week that Greene is not only harassing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the halls of Congress, but that she started stalking AOC in 2019, before she got to Congress. Her 2020 campaign juxtaposed a picture of her holding a rifle with images of her presumed targets: Ocasio-Cortez along with Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.

Greene apologists would like to say this is just ordinary politics, but it isn’t. This is deeply disturbing behavior that could get somebody killed. No member of Congress has ever had to take out a restraining order against another, but AOC should.

One of this week’s weirder arguments is whether Governor DeSantis might be able to shield Trump from extradition if New York indicts him. Ultimately, the answer seems to be no.

If Trump is indicted in New York, both the U.S. Constitution and a federal statute dating to 1793 require DeSantis (or the governor of whatever state Trump is in at the time) to hand him over. And if DeSantis still refuses, a 1987 Supreme Court decision makes clear that federal courts can order him to comply.

But state and local officials seem to be preparing to try.

and the pipeline shutdown

A ransomware attack, apparently by the Russian criminal group Darkside, shut down a major pipeline supplying gasoline to the east coast for a little over a week. The pipeline is now back in operation. The C|Net article on this is pretty good.

Back in the 1800s, someone described various cabals’ attempts to corner the wheat market as “like watching men wrestling under a blanket”. In other words, you can see that something is happening, but it’s hard to tell what it means. Ditto here.

Colonial Pipeline appears to have paid a $5 million ransom, so that looks like a win for Darkside. But the criminal group also appears to have suffered consequences.

As of Friday, the group appeared to have disbanded, according to the Journal, which reported Darkside had told associates that it had lost access to the infrastructure it needs for its activities. The group said law enforcement actions had prompted its decision, according to the paper.

Darkside itself seems like an unusually businesslike criminal operation.

Those responsible for DarkSide are very organized, and they have a mature Ransomware as a Service (RaaS) business model and affiliate program. The group has a phone number and even a help desk to facilitate negotiations with and collect information about its victims—not just technical information regarding their environment but also more general details relating to the company itself like the organization’s size and estimated revenue.

This is bound to be merely the first example of a larger problem. All kinds of vital infrastructure is controlled by computers, or related to computer systems in some other way. (One account I’ve seen of the Colonial Pipeline hack speculated that Darkside had hacked the billing software, not the software that runs the pipeline itself. So Colonial could still deliver gasoline, but wouldn’t know how to get paid. I don’t know if that’s true, but it points out the breadth of the vulnerability.) Software is notoriously full of bugs, and much of it is developed on platforms that are themselves full of bugs, like Windows.

Georgia Tech media studies Professor Ian Bogost commented on the general state of computer security:

You need a license to go fishing but not to deploy software at global scale.

and you also might be interested in …

If you’re wondering why President Biden is making such a big deal about infrastructure, consider the crack that the Tennessee Department of Transportation found in one of the girders holding up a bridge carrying I-40 over the Mississippi near Memphis.

No, the NRA will not be able to play games with the bankruptcy laws to escape their reckoning in New York.

The root issue is the extreme level of corruption in the organization, centering on Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. (Even GQ is horrified by LaPierre spending a quarter million of the NRA’s money on suits.) Escaping state regulatory enforcement, a federal judge in Texas ruled, is not “a purpose intended or sanctioned by the Bankruptcy Code”.

This week I noticed Hi/Storia, a Facebook page devoted to amusing memes and cartoons about history. For example:

I’m always amused by Trae Crowder’s “Liberal Redneck” rants. But his “Confederate Memorial Day” is laugh-out-loud funny.

in order to grasp the full nuance of his views, though, you should also watch his “In Defense of Dixie” from 2016.

While we’re talking about Confederate remembrance, Clint Smith is a Black man who tours some iconic Confederate shrines and writes “Why Confederate Lies Live On” for The Atlantic.

Confederate history is family history, history as eulogy, in which loyalty takes precedence over truth.

Among other myths, Smith debunks the frequently heard claim that

“From the perspective of my ancestors, [the Civil War] was not [about] slavery. My ancestors were not slaveholders. But my great-great-grandfather fought.”

Even if you didn’t own slaves — and large numbers of Confederate soldiers’ families did — you probably liked the idea that you weren’t at the bottom of society.

The proposition of equality with Black people was one that millions of southern white people were unwilling to accept. The existence of slavery meant that, no matter your socioeconomic status, there were always millions of people beneath you. As the historian Charles Dew put it, “You don’t have to be actively involved in the system to derive at least the psychological benefits of the system.”

and let’s close with something you can dance to

The genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton was in translating a WASPy bit of American history into a modern ethnic musical genre, hip-hop. Well, what if somebody from a different American ethnicity had gotten a similar idea, and told Alexander Hamilton’s story through polkas?

Of course, this is a Weird Al Yankovic question, and he provides this answer.

Almost as amusing is to watch Lin-Manuel Miranda watch The Hamilton Polka on his phone.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • ramseyman  On May 17, 2021 at 3:56 pm

    It’s good to know that Republicans in Florida would be breaking the law if they refuse to extradite Trump. My question would be: what happens if they try refusing anyway? Would the federal government attempt to arrest DeSantis for obstruction? I can’t imagine they would, so would they end up sending in troops after Trump? Both seem politically messy. Would they be more likely to quietly let Florida remove itself from federal jurisdiction in this instance, which would certainly please the GOP faithful no end?

  • Kim Cooper  On May 17, 2021 at 5:47 pm

    I think I prefer the polka version. At least I can understand some of the words.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: