Standards of Living

Part of the scam is to define basic bedrock standards of decency as “left” & then, lo, you find “left bias” everywhere you look. But that’s not bias, fellas. That’s just people trying to live in a society together.

David Roberts

So this week I have some first-hand experience of Covid to report. Shortly after Thanksgiving, I started a cold. So I took a home test for Covid and it was negative. Then a bit later, my wife seemed to catch my cold, but her Covid test was positive. So I took the more accurate PCR test, which was also negative. A few days later, my cold symptoms stopped fading and began to intensify, so I took another test: positive this time.

Anyway, I have good news and bad news about my experience. The bad news is that Covid is even easier to catch than I thought; my wife and I have been very careful and seem to have gotten it anyway. The good news is that, having had every possible booster and being generally in good health, my symptoms are pretty mild.

This week everybody was talking about the Georgia runoff

I expected more Republicans to stay home rather than vote for such an embarrassing candidate, so I had anticipated Warnock winning by a larger margin than 2.8% — something more like 55%-45%. (538 anticipated a smaller margin of 1.9%, which was not far off.) But one way or another, Rafael Warnock defeated Herschel Walker and won reelection, giving Democrats a net gain of one Senate seat in the 2022 midterms, and a 51-49 overall majority.

Watching the TV coverage was an odd experience: Before the polls closed, commentators explained how the vote had arrived in November: Early voting was counted first, and it favored Democrats. Then the smaller rural counties counted their same-day vote, which favored Republicans. Finally, the big counties around Atlanta reported their same-day vote, which again favored Democrats.

Combined with polls showing Warnock slightly ahead, that established pattern led to this expectation: a big Warnock lead early, possibly a small Walker lead in the middle, and then a Warnock surge to victory at the end. And that’s exactly what happened.

But after giving that analysis, the TV people mostly forgot about it and covered the incoming vote as if they were calling a horse race: “Warnock opens a lead, Walker comes charging back along the rail, now it’s Warnock, Walker, Warnock, Walker, and Warnock surges at the tape to win.”

Josh Marshall has a good point: Don’t watch TV on Election Night. The drama of a lead see-sawing back and forth was almost entirely an illusion.

We went into the night thinking the probable election outcome was X. The very first results supported the eventual outcome of X but were too limited to confirm it. As the results came in they continued to point to X with a mounting likelihood. With more and more data that mounting likelihood of X moved toward relative certainty. The point, as I noted, is that there was no drama as the statewide results lead sloshed back and forth between the two candidates.

Marshall recommends following the returns through the livefeeds of political pros, as he did. If you did that, you’d have gone into the evening kinda/sorta expecting Warnock to win, and then watching that likelihood slowly grow into a certainty.

Or you could do something else with your evening and check for results the next morning.

In total, Democrats lost nine House seats (and the majority) in the midterms, which probably cripples the Biden agenda going forward. But they also gained two governorships and four houses of state legislatures. So it was a mixed bag, rather than the “shellacking” President Obama took in his first midterm.

Walker’s loss puts the capstone on the other major story of the midterms, which is that Trump’s hand-picked candidates lost winnable elections all over the country.

Walker had been Trump’s personal choice as a Senate candidate in Georgia and turned out to be the only Republican statewide candidate to lose in the Peach State in 2022. … In other swing states, Trump-backed Senate candidates suffered embarrassing losses, including Blake Masters in Arizona and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, along with a host of other candidates who embraced the former president’s lies about the 2020 presidential election.

In both Georgia and New Hampshire, governors who kept their distance from Trump easily won reelection, while Trumpy senate candidates lost. In Ohio, Trump’s senate candidate J. D. Vance won by 6.1%, but significantly trailed the rest of the Republican ticket. (Goverrnor DeWine, for example, won by 25%.) So maybe the argument that beats Trump in the 2024 Republican primaries is to let him blather, and then say: “Yeah, but we want to win this time.”

It’ll be interesting to see where Georgia goes in the coming years. In some ways, Warnock’s reelection resembles Claire McCaskill’s in Missouri in 2012: She faced a terrible opponent and won in a mostly red state. Six years later, the Missouri GOP had learned its lesson and ran a less obviously unsuitable candidate (Josh Hawley), who beat her.

The difference, though, is that Missouri was trending increasingly red in those years, while Georgia is trending blue now. A better Republican candidate could probably have beaten Warnock this time, but Georgia might look very different by 2028.

I’m not sure what to make of Kyrsten Sinema’s announcement that she is now an independent. She’s been pretty independent before this, and intends to caucus with the Democrats, so I’m not sure it makes much difference in the Senate.

She’s up for reelection in 2024 and seemed likely to lose a Democratic primary, so she’s probably trying to bluff the Democrats out of running a candidate against her, for fear of handing the seat to some MAGA Republican like Kari Lake. How credible that bluff is will depend on the polls: Will Sinema’s move garner enough support from independent Arizona voters to make her a credible general election candidate? If it doesn’t, I can’t believe she’d endure the embarrassment of a spoiler campaign where she got 6% of the vote. But we’ll see.

The next time you’re thinking about not voting because “What difference does it make?”, remember Kristin Kassner. The first count of the vote in her race for the Massachusetts House had her behind a five-term Republican by ten votes. That triggered a recount, which concluded that she actually won by one vote.

and Kevin McCarthy’s struggles

The Republicans’ 222-213 margin in the House means that any five GOP representatives can torpedo Kevin McCarthy’s election as speaker, which is still uncertain. (The vote is scheduled for January 3, when the new Congress opens.) Nancy Pelosi has been running the House quite effectively with a similar margin, but (to speak bluntly) she’s good at this and Kevin McCarthy isn’t.

Also, the Democrats’ progressive wing and the Republicans’ fascist wing are not mirror images of each other. The progressives want positive things that Pelosi could include in legislation. So, for example, enough pieces of the Green New Deal showed up in the Inflation Reduction Act to win progressive votes. But the MTGs and Paul Gosars don’t have a comparable agenda that McCarthy can write into a compromise. They want to burn it all down.

There’s still a chance that GOP moderates will refuse to let the extreme right wing call the tune, and will instead work out a deal with the Democrats to organize the House around some compromise speaker. But I’m not betting on that.

and Brittney Griner’s release

The deal to trade Russian black-market arms dealer Viktor Bout for American WNBA star Brittney Griner was announced Thursday. Griner arrived in the US Friday morning.

The press has speculated at length about why the deal happened now, but (without any inside knowledge) I ask this question: Can it really be a coincidence that it happened two days after the Warnock/Walker runoff, which marked the end of the US midterm elections? Griner’s return is the fulfillment of a promise from President Biden, and would have helped Democrats politically if it had happened sooner. I think the timing shows that Putin still knows which American party he’s rooting for.

Former US marine Paul Whelan remains in Russian prison. A Biden administration spokesperson said that Russia classifies him as a spy (which the US denies) and wanted Russian spies in return for him, a trade the US has been unwilling to make. “The choice was Brittney or no one at all.”

Conservative American media could not celebrate the return of Griner, who is Black, liberal, and married to another woman, so it focused instead on Whelan. Tucker Carlson said, “Paul Whelan’s case would be a priority for any American government”, ignoring the fact that President Trump also failed to secure his release, and was “not particularly interested” in his case, according to Fiona Hill, a Russia expert in the Trump administration.

Trump also didn’t own up to his own record, calling Griner “a basketball player who openly hates our Country”, and gaslighting us with the claim that Paul Whelan “would have been let out for the asking”. (So why didn’t you ask when you were president, Don?)

The “hates our country” charge against Griner, which has been widely repeated on the right, is based on something she said after George Floyd was murdered by a White Minneapolis policeman. She asked the WNBA to protest racism by not playing the national anthem before games. (Personally, I’d like to see all sports leagues stop playing the anthem, because there’s nothing patriotic about sporting events. We don’t play the anthem in movie theaters, so why sports arenas?)

Like many conservatives, Trump elevates the symbols of patriotism over the substance. He’ll posture about the flag or the anthem, but he won’t obey the laws, respect the Constitution, or pay his taxes. I’ll take Brittney Griner’s kind of patriotism over Trump’s any day.

and the Trump Organization’s tax fraud

Last week brought the seditious conspiracy verdict against the leader of the Oath Keepers. This week the Trump Organization was convicted of criminal tax fraud. It was not the first Trump entity found to be engaged in dishonesty: In 2018, the Trump Foundation was dissolved by the State of New York, and in the same year Trump paid $25 million to settle civil fraud claims related to Trump University.

Predictably, Trump labeled the tax-fraud verdict as a “the Greatest Political Witch Hunt in the History of our Country“, blamed the crimes on his loyal CFO Allen Weisselberg, and said he would appeal.

I suspect Trump’s claim that his legal troubles are just politics is starting to wear thin among all but his most rabid supporters. As we know from the Durham investigation and Benghazi, political partisanship can start an investigation and maybe even muster an indictment or two. But getting a jury to convict requires enunciating a clear charge and proving it beyond a reasonable doubt to 12 ordinary people. The government did that in this case.

That’s more than just politics.

and the Supreme Court

The Court heard arguments this week in two cases with ominous implications. It’s always chancy to predict outcomes based on the questions the justices ask, but the Court seems likely to do the ominous thing in one case but maybe not the other.

In 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis , the Court’s conservative majority appears likely to gut anti-discrimination laws in favor of special rights for conservative Christians. The weirdest thing about this case is why it’s a case at all, much less what it’s doing at the Supreme Court. Ostensibly, it’s yet another case about a business owner who doesn’t want to serve same-sex couples, but there is no same-sex couple, and the business is mostly hypothetical.

There is only one face in this case—Lorie Smith, the web designer who has never made a wedding website for anyone, much less withheld a proposed wedding website from anyone due to their sexuality. (She just already knows that she will want to do that. Really!)

Fear of the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA) is inhibiting her from offering wedding-website-design services, though, so she wants the part of it that would apply to her declared unconstitutional. Supposedly, this is a free-speech case. CADA wants to force her to create something that supports same-sex marriage, which is against her religious principles. Website design — even if it’s just a template whose content is filled in by the couple — is “speech”, so the law violates her free-speech rights.

I question a whole bunch of things in this case:

  • Whether Smith genuinely intends to create wedding websites, or if this entire case has been constructed to undermine anti-discrimination laws.
  • What part of the Bible says that Christians can’t create wedding websites for same-sex couples. (I think this case, like Masterpiece Cakeshop before it, arises from conservative spite over losing the battle to keep same-sex marriage illegal. It has nothing at all to do with Christian principles.)
  • Whether this broad interpretation of free-speech rights will ever apply to non-Christians “speaking” in favor of positions conservative Christians don’t share.
  • Whether any anti-discrimination laws at all can stand if Christians want to discriminate. (Remember, the judge who found in favor of Virginia’s interracial marriage ban — and was subsequently overruled — cloaked his racist argument in a Christian guise. “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. … The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”)

In oral arguments, the conservative justices mostly just refused to engage any of the case’s substantive issues, and instead just yucked it up, as you can do when all the harms you are threatening to cause are hypothetical.

So today’s hearing at the highest court in the land was about levity and mockery, and all the trivial examples of imaginary harms that will never come to pass. This is not just erasure of LGBTQ interests; interests which the state has an important and established interest in protecting. This is about mocking the obvious implications of creating a carveout from antidiscrimination laws with fatuous slippery slopes and petty humor.

The Court also heard arguments in Moore v Harper, which the Brennan Center sums up like this:

In Moore v. Harper, the Supreme Court will decide whether the North Carolina Supreme Court has the power to strike down the legislature’s illegally gerrymandered congressional map for violating the North Carolina Constitution. The legislators have argued that a debunked interpretation of the U.S. Constitution — known as the “independent state legislature theory” — renders the state courts and state constitution powerless in matters relating to federal elections.

ISL is a very weird theory, because it implies that with regard to federal elections, a state legislature is not bound by the state constitution that defines it and by whose authority it governs. Consequently, the state’s supreme court has no role to play in gerrymandering cases.

Extreme versions of ISL would allow state legislatures to ignore presidential election results and appoint their own slate of electors, which is what Trump urged Republican legislatures to do in 2020. This case does not ask the Court to make such a ruling, so the decision will almost certainly not go that far. But in the same way that the arguments in Dobbs set up future challenges to interracial marriage and other unenumerated constitutional rights, arguments in this decision could set up a Trumpian constitutional crisis in the future.

Justice Barrett and Chief Justice Roberts seem reluctant to back an extreme ISL, which is the good news. But Just Security’s Kate Shaw worries that even a compromise ruling could get ISL’s foot in the door.

and you also might be interested in …

There was really only one choice for 2022’s Person of the Year. Before 2022, Volodymyr Zelenskyy was just the guy being extorted on Trump’s “perfect” phone call. Now he’s the symbol of his nation’s heroic resistance to the Russian invasion.

The Respect for Marriage Act, which repeals the parts of the Defense of Marriage Act that (before the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision) allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, passed the House and should be signed by President Biden soon.

During the House debate, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo) tearfully urged the House not to pass the bill.

I’ll tell you my priorities: Protect religious liberty, protect people of faith and protect Americans who believe in a true meaning of marriage. I hope and pray that my colleagues find the courage to join me in opposing this misguided and this dangerous bill.

After Hartzler’s speech went viral on right-wing outlets, she was answered by her nephew Andrew Hartzler, a gay man who had to endure Christian “conversion therapy” as a teen-ager. He had come out to his aunt in February, but “I guess she’s still as much of a homophobe.”

You want the power to force your religious beliefs onto everyone else. And because you don’t have that power, you feel like you’re being silenced. But you’re not. You’re just going to have to learn to coexist with all of us.

Wednesday, Germany arrested 25 people plotting a right-wing coup. The group involved, Reichsbürger, has been compared to QAnon, and so the plot has similar fantasy-world components that make it hard to take seriously. But Germany is taking it very seriously. Vox’ Zack Beauchamp interviews someone who’s been tracking the movement:

It sounds like something out of a novel: a cell of heavily armed German extremists plotting to overthrow the elected government and elevate a man called Prince Heinrich XIII to the throne of a new Teutonic monarchy.

On Wednesday, German police arrested 25 people attempting to do exactly that — including a former member of parliament from Alternatives for Deutschland (AfD), a far-right anti-immigrant faction.

The plot originated out of a movement called the Reichsbürger — literally, “Reich citizens.” They believe that every German state since World War I has been illegitimate, a corporation rather than an authentic government, and thus feel entitled to ignore its laws.

There’s a similar the-government-became-a-corporation conspiracy theory in the US, which was involved in several of QAnon’s Trump-restoration theories.

That wasn’t even the only coup attempt on Wednesday. In Peru, a president facing impeachment announced that he was dissolving Congress and instituting an “emergency government”. Fortunately, nobody bought it. The Constitutional Court refused to recognize the dissolution order, the Army didn’t back the emergency government, Congress went ahead with its impeachment, and the president was arrested on his way to seek asylum at the Mexican embassy.

That’s what they do in other countries: They arrest presidents who try to stay in office illegitimately.

Like Trump, Elon Musk is a bright shiny object that would be easy to obsess over. This week, I’ll limit myself to one link.

the Twitter Files are best understood as an egregious example of the very phenomenon it purports to condemn — that of social-media managers leveraging their platforms for partisan ends. … The Twitter Files provide limited evidence that the social-media platform’s former management sometimes enforced its terms of service in inconsistent and politically biased ways. The project offers overwhelming evidence that Twitter’s current management is using the platform to promote tendentious, partisan narratives and conservative misinformation. In that sense, Taibbi and Weiss have performed revelatory journalism.

The full article (by Eric Levitz) does an in-depth takedown of Parts I (Matt Taibbi) and II (Bari Weiss) of the Twitter Files.

Well, OK, one more link. Josh Marshall:

[It’s] remarkable to me that literally with access to everything, even things ethically they shouldn’t have access to, they’ve surfaced basically nothing. one guy didn’t get boosted? libs of tiktok actually got special treatment? blowing the shit wide open guys.

Back in 1960, when Air Force Captain Joseph Kittinger proposed a parachute jump from 19 miles above the New Mexico desert, probably some worried friends warned him he would die.

Well, Friday they were proven right. Lung cancer got him at the age of 94. Kittinger retired as a colonel, and his record stood until 2012.

The Keystone Pipeline, which moves about 600K barrels of oil a day from Canada to Oklahoma, has spilled about 14K barrels into a creek in Kansas, about 150 miles from Kansas City.

Concerns that spills could pollute waterways spurred opposition to plans by TC Energy to build another crude oil pipeline in the Keystone system, the 1,200-mile Keystone XL, which would have cut across Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.

President Biden revoked a construction permit shortly after taking office, and TC Energy cancelled the XL.

The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer points out the inconsistencies in conservatives’ “free speech” arguments:

In Citizens United, the Republican-appointed justices feared that restrictions on corporate electioneering amounted to state control of civic discourse, “muzzl[ing] the principal agents of the modern free economy.” But when the justices wrote that decision, they were thinking of corporations as allies of the conservative movement. The moment that perception changed, conservative views on corporate speech changed too. Last year, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime champion of corporate electioneering, warned of state retaliation if private firms did not “stay out of politics,” by which he meant stop opposing Republican interests. It is wrong to “muzzle” the “principal agents of the modern free economy,” unless they do something Republicans don’t like. Then it’s fine.

and let’s close with something custom made

If you’ve heard of the late Bill Lishman, it’s probably because of the 1996 movie Fly Away Home, where he trained geese to imprint on his ultralight airplane and helped them learn a new migration route.

Bill died in 2017, but his widow is still living in the unique house the family designed and built in the countryside outside of Toronto. They cut the top off of a hill, built a series of interconnected igloo-like domes, and then rebuilt the hill over them, leaving just the skylights exposed to the weather. The round rooms mean that everything in them had to be custom-built, but Bill was a universally talented craftsman, so why not?

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