Why the Sift is minimal this week

The main reason is that I’m still recovering from Covid. It’s a fairly mild case, but it has sapped my ambition. Saturday I realized I hadn’t gotten started yet, and asked, “Am I willing to put on a big push to catch up?” The answer was no.

A second reason is that this week’s news isn’t inspiring me. A lot of articles and news-show segments have been speculating about what the January 6 Committee will report, in particular whether it will make criminal referrals against Donald Trump for this or that crime. I admit that’s an intriguing topic, but if we can just hang on for a few more hours, the committee will tell us this afternoon. The full report will be available on Wednesday. So if you’re having fun speculating, don’t let me discourage you. But it’s not an efficient use of energy, particularly if you’re running short this week.

Or we could speculate about whether Kevin McCarthy will find the votes to become speaker, and what will happen if he doesn’t. Again, if you’re enjoying yourself, have at it. But hardly anybody who’s writing about this knows anything for sure. Here’s what I think I know: Nothing tells voters that you’re “ready to govern” like having a big internal conflict on Day 1, especially if it’s mostly about egos and has nothing to do with the voters’ lives.

Other big news stories have involved people who are intentionally trolling us. So Elon Musk tweets “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci.” And MTG told New York’s Young Republicans that if she and Steven Bannon had organized January 6, the Capitol invaders would have been armed, and “We would have won.” She then said she was joking, which was probably at least partly true. Fascists are famous for their sense of humor; I suspect many Nazis were laughing uproariously on Kristallnacht as they broke windows and burned Jewish shops.

The ambitious post that I didn’t have the energy to pursue asked the question: So how should we respond to such trolling? People say this stuff because they want to be the center of an outrage-storm, so if we get outraged we’re just playing the role they’ve assigned us. Since the trolls are not interested in an exchange of ideas, a detailed debunking is probably useless. Pointing out that these are horrible people is more wasted effort, because I suspect most of their fans already know that they’re horrible people.

When trolls are powerless to do anything more than get your goat, ignoring them is the right answer. But ignoring a soon-to-be-important member of the new House majority and the world’s second-richest man (who has turned a significant chunk of the public square into his personal fiefdom) is probably also a mistake.

So what, then? I have thoughts, but nothing resembling a complete answer. Feel free to contribute your thoughts in the comments. Maybe you’ll influence what I eventually do write.

A talk I’ve been working on for January — I’ll link to a full text after I give it — has me recalling how the Sift got started. Originally, it was just a list of links that I called “What impressed me this week”. I posted the list on Monday mornings as an easy product that would get my week off to a good start. (Over time, the tail came to wag the dog, and now my week is organized around getting the Sift out.)

So what follows is a throwback: With minimal comment, these are the links that caught my eye this week.

I’m not usually a Thomas Friedman fan, but his column “What in the World is Happening in Israel?” is worth your time.

Ron DeSantis wants a grand jury to investigate the pharmaceutical companies who produce and distribute Covid vaccines. He also is establishing a Florida “public health integrity committee” to second-guess the CDC. Chris Hayes points out that DeSantis is attempting to get between Trump (who wants credit for funding Operation Warp Speed) and his base (who believe all sorts of anti-vax conspiracy theories). Ironically, it’s Trump’s one clear life-saving accomplishment that makes him vulnerable. Lesson for future conservative presidents: Never do anything good, because other conservatives will use it against you.

Do I really need to comment on the Trump NFTs? Sad. Maybe the saddest thing ever produced in our Country.

Cory Doctorow summarizes Joseph Stiglitz’s report on the current inflation: It wasn’t caused by excess demand, so raising interest rates is the wrong way to solve it — and might make it worse. I have a yes-but reaction: Raising interest rates may not solve inflation, or might solve it but create too much collateral damage. But rates had been unreasonably low since the start of Covid, and needed to go up to more typical levels eventually.

The one development that tempted me to sift this week was TPM’s series exposing the texts Republican congresspeople sent to Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows just before and after January 6. Both Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Rep. Ralph Norman urged Meadows to urge Trump to declare “Marshall Law” which is not really a thing. (Martial law is literally the “law of Mars”, i.e., rule by the military.)

Vanity Fair’s Bess Levin explains that Greene and Norman asked for Marshall Law “because they’re both f–king idiots”, but I prefer to think that they intended to invoke the hero of this 1980s comic book.

The House Oversight Committee had a hearing about anti-LGBTQ violence and the Club Q shooting. If you’re a Republican, the problem can’t be guns and it can’t be right-wing eliminationist rhetoric against drag queens and transfolk, so how do you spin this? It’s about defunding the police, which no one anywhere near Club Q actually did.

The recent Musk/Twitter developments have made it clear that free speech was never the issue. Now that one of their own has control, right-wingers are fine with Twitter banning whoever Musk feels like banning, for whatever reasons he wants. This is a general trait on the right: Freedom means freedom for them. They will never, ever defend freedom for everybody.

Over on Mastodon, Simon Weiss makes a good point about the @ElonJet controversy:

There are many legitimate reasons to track Elon Musk’s flight coordinates, for example to offer him ads more relevant to his interests

Amanda Marcotte argues that the right-wing “cancel culture” and “woke mobs” rhetoric is psychological projection:

In reality, it’s left wing ideas that are suppressed out of a genuine fear of their persuasiveness. Books are banned from schools so kids won’t learn that LGBTQ people are normal or that racism is wrong. Musk openly argues that the “woke mind virus” must be “defeated,” which is to say that threateningly convincing ideas about human equality must be banished from the discourse, lest they win people over.

Until next week: Have a great Christmas, Solstice, Hanukah, or whatever you celebrate. Have fun, stay safe, and try to stay (or get) healthy.

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  • Kat  On December 19, 2022 at 9:49 am

    Thank you for all your year’s output – your very rational summaries help me to keep things in perspective. Get well and have a nice relaxing holiday week!

  • MaryPat Sercu Randall  On December 19, 2022 at 10:22 am

    Thank You for this excellent piece while you are still recovering from COVID. Continue to “take it easy” (as we nurses say) for at least a couple more weeks, though. This bug can wreak longer term havoc with memory (“The word just floats away!”) and energy. All the Best!

    P.S. Hot Toddies Work!

    MaryPat, RN, MSN

  • Wade Scholine  On December 19, 2022 at 10:33 am

    Vanity Fair’s Bess Levin explains that Greene and Norman asked for Marshall Law “because they’re both f–king idiots”

    Strictly speaking, it would be “because they’re both f–king illiterate ignoramuses,” not “idiots.”

    • Wade Scholine  On December 19, 2022 at 10:36 am

      Though, after a brief excursion into the etymology of “idiot,” I realize that the original sense was pretty much exactly that and not a judgement about innate or essential incapacity.

    • weeklysift  On December 19, 2022 at 10:37 am

      Precision matters.

  • Wade Scholine  On December 19, 2022 at 10:42 am

    As for Friedman, I feel sure he is far too optimistic when he says that the two-State outcome for Israel is “in hospice.” That smell is the corpse rotting, as everybody stands around in denial about its condition.

  • Roger  On December 19, 2022 at 10:53 am

    I hope you feel better. I’ve probably linked to your pieces in my blog a couple of dozen times yearly, so thanks.

  • Carlos  On December 19, 2022 at 10:58 am

    It’s tragic that the Fed, and a compliant media, have successfully sold (bamboozled) Americans on the idea that raising interest rates is the only medicine we have to deal with today’s rampant inflation. As the paper by Joseph Stiglitz and Ira Regmi points out, what we’re now experiencing is not inflation from an overly-heated economy, consumers gone wild with all the free cash they received from the Government, or from workers demanding higher wages; it’s oil (and Outin’s war), Covid, supply-chain disruption, and (no surprise) price gouging by large, monopolistic corporations. As they argue, raising interest rates will actually backfire until we have a recession and much higher unemployment. What the paper doesn’t mention is that much of corporate monopolistic power derives from a compliant and mostly non-existent anti-trust action by the FTC, which has allowed anticompetitive mergers that have dramatically reduced competition across many sectors of the economy. Also, not mentioned is that the Fed itself is comprised of conservative, Republican corporate bankers and academic economists who were groomed in Milton Friedman monetary theory.

    • Creigh Gordon  On December 21, 2022 at 12:16 pm

      Consider this: in March, banks were paid 0.15% for parking money at the Fed. Now, they are being paid 4.5%. That’s $200Bn/yr in free money for parking money risk free at the Fed.

      Historically, the Government issued (nonconvertible, interest-bearing) bonds as a way to temporarily take (convertible) currency out of circulation. Bond sales were a way to protect the Treasury’s gold supply from currency conversion demands. The interest paid on bonds was a motivation and reward for forgoing convertibility. Today, the Fed is rewarding banks for taking non-convertible currency out of circulation. Why? Sure, bankers think they ‘deserve’ 5 or 6% return on their money, but what is the public purpose? If the bankers want 5 or 6% let them do something useful with the money. Parking it risk free deserves nothing.

  • Andy Skurna  On December 19, 2022 at 11:22 am

    Even when you’re under the weather, you’re head and shoulders above the crowd. Get well soon and enjoy all your holiday celebrations.

  • Ed Blanchard  On December 19, 2022 at 12:01 pm

    Stay home. Put away the pen. Get rest. Get better. One more thing: I believe Ron DeSantis is actually MTG in drag/ cross-dresser/ trans-gender. Now, go take two aspirin and enjoy the holidays.

  • BFG  On December 19, 2022 at 1:07 pm

    Feel better ASAP, and Happy Kwanzaa! –PeterinFtL

  • Tim  On December 19, 2022 at 1:41 pm

    Thank you for your weekly contribution to my understanding of the world. Get well!

  • ccyager  On December 20, 2022 at 5:51 pm

    Feel better and stay healthy in 2023! I empathize with the lack of ambition — I’m fighting a monster cold that I suspect is actually Covid despite the negative test results and all I want to do is watch stupid TV and cocoon. Happy holidays to you and your family and I look forward to more of your discerning blog posts in 2023.

  • paranoid  On December 21, 2022 at 2:43 pm

    To the how to respond to a troll question, I don’t have answer, but I do have ideas.
    * It has to preempt a “can’t you take a joke” response.
    * It has to be reasonably easy, meaning it doesn’t require much more research or thought than the troll put into the trolling.
    * It has to be understandable to people who don’t follow a topic closely. Defining terms in academic language is not the way to go, but neither is conceding the troll’s definition of terms. The best middle ground that I can think of so far is to make explicit the definitions the troll is using implicitly (as was mentioned regarding CRT a week or two ago), e.g. “By ‘groomer ‘ you mean gay teachers who don’t pretend to be straight.” I’m not quite satisfied with that middle ground, but when “erase” is used to mean anything from meaning not being specifically, explicitly acknowledged in a text to meaning genocide, some clarity would be helpful.
    * Because people want to be smart and like to root for an underdog, a response gets bonus points if it ridicules how stupid an idea is but get points deducted if it ridicules how stupid a person is.

    • weeklysift  On December 22, 2022 at 7:39 am

      I agree. Bonus points for a response that pokes fun without humiliating the troll. That turns around the “Can’t you take a joke” response.

  • Anonymous  On December 24, 2022 at 9:11 am

    Merry Christmas, Doug. I get so much insight from reading the Sift.

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