One of the main conclusions of 2022 is that unpunished evil returns with even greater evil.

Kira Rudik, member of the Ukrainian Parliament

This week’s featured post is “Partying Like It’s 1942“.

This week everybody was talking about 2022

In the featured post, I raise a possibility (not a certainty) that I find intriguing: Hinge years, when bad trends turn around, look a lot like 2022. They’re scary to live through, because horrible possibilities are constantly looming. But again and again, the worst doesn’t happen.

In 2022 we dodged a lot of bullets: Ukraine didn’t fall, NATO didn’t collapse, and MAGA candidates didn’t sweep the midterms. Early in the year, a lot of people imagined it might end with Trump triumphant: in firm control of the GOP, 1-6 in the rearview mirror, the 2024 nomination his for the taking, and election-denying secretaries of state ready to hand him a victory whether the voters want him or not.

Before good things can start happening, bad things need to stop happening. A lot of bad things didn’t happen in 2022.

TPM awarded its annual Golden Dukes, which celebrate the cartoonishly corrupt and incompetent in American politics. This year’s winners:

Best Scandal, General Interest: Donald Trump, for the Mar-a-Lago documents

Best Scandal, Local Venue: the Patriot Front, for delivering themselves to the cops in a UHaul

Meritorious Achievement in the Crazy: Herschel Walker, for his vampire vs. werewolf speech

Most Cringe Campaign Ad/Meme: Dr. Oz, for his crudités

Most Convoluted Conspiracy Theory: Marjorie Taylor Greene, for Jewish space lasers*

Soon-to-be-forgotten Hero: Madison Cawthorne.

*I know: Jewish space lasers started in 2018, but she did have some tiff about it this year as well. And Lauren Boebert brought it up again. But really Italygate should have won in this category.

and Title 42

Title 42 is a 1944 law that lets the government to keep people from entering the US during a public health emergency. The Trump administration invoked it in March, 2020 to expel migrants at the southern border. The Biden administration has been trying to end the policy since May, but has been blocked by the courts. This week, the Supreme Court issued a stay, keeping Title 42 in effect until it can rule on a case it won’t even hear until February, and probably won’t rule on until June.

What’s embarrassing and infuriating about this whole story is the bad faith. Trump invoked this Covid emergency at a time when he was denying the seriousness of the pandemic in every other way. The point wasn’t to protect the country from Covid, which was already here and wasn’t any more prevalent among immigrants than among any other group. The pandemic was just a pretext for keeping immigrants out of the country.

Similarly today, the states that are trying to enter this case are the ones that have had the fewest Covid restrictions. They’re not trying to protect public health; they just don’t want immigrants.

And the Court’s majority is acting in bad faith as well, as Ian Millhiser explains on Vox. When the conservative majority likes the current administration’s policy (as it usually did when Trump was president), it acts swiftly to remove obstacles in the lower courts. When it doesn’t (as in the current case), it drags its feet and leaves obstacles in place.

In 2021, Trump-appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett delivered a speech at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center (named for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell), in which she announced that her goal was “to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks.” But if that is truly her goal, she and her colleagues might want to consider applying the same scheduling rules to cases brought by Republicans that her Court applies to cases brought by Democrats.

and 1-6 Committee Transcripts

This week was characterized by document dumps bigger than any one person could possibly process. Let us agree to forgive each other for not reading all the 1-6 Committee’s interview transcripts or six years of Trump’s tax returns.

The main thing that has come through for me is that the Committee was very selective about what it included in its public hearings. If it had just wanted to tell outrageous stories, it had plenty that it didn’t use: Mark Meadows burning documents, for example.

and Trump’s taxes

I continue to be of two minds about this. Obviously, Trump should have released his taxes voluntarily long ago, as all other presidential candidates have since Nixon, and as he often promised to do. It is now clear that his excuses for not releasing them were lies.

I’m still not comfortable with a House committee releasing these documents on a party-line vote. As DoJ (I hope) gets ready to indict Trump, I want to be able to argue that everything done against him has been done in the public interest, and not for political advantage. In spite of the protests of MAGA Republicans, I believe the January 6 Committee’s actions can be defended on those grounds. Ditto for the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago.

Here, though, I’m not sure. The political point-scoring is obvious: He claims to be rich and a genius businessman, but he reported huge losses to the IRS that in many years resulted in him paying less tax than you did. Taxpayers who can’t afford complicated tax-avoidance schemes should be angry. Also: His income has come mainly from selling off properties inherited from his father; his own ventures have usually resulted in losses. He looks more like a clueless rich kid than like a brilliant businessman.

There is a public-interest angle, but it’s more subtle. Clearly the IRS has dropped the ball on auditing him, even though they are supposed to audit the president’s taxes every year. Exactly one auditor was assigned to his complicated return, and none of the audits have been completed. Somebody needs to figure out the IRS just lacks resources, or if it was succumbing to political interference.

A lot of things in his returns look suspicious, but they need to be investigated by someone who can demand to see receipts. We in the general public can just shake our heads and wonder.

and you also might be interested in …

Tomorrow we’ll find out whether Kevin McCarthy has the votes to become speaker. If he doesn’t, we’re in the land of political novels, because there hasn’t been a multi-ballot speaker election since 1923. Maybe that’s something we need to do every hundred years.

George Mason Professor Steven Pearlstein suggests that a bipartisan coalition pick a compromise speaker from outside the House. It’s part of a wonderful fantasy in which centrists depolarize Congress and try to do things the voters want done. I don’t believe in it for a second, but I enjoy picturing it.

Deaths this week: Pelé, Pope Benedict, and Barbara Walters. They were too late to make the annual Sgt. Pepper tribute to people lost during the year by Chris Barker.

The best account I’ve seen of Southwest Airlines’ recent problems is in the Seat 31B blog. Basically, Southwest tries to keep fares low and profits high by using its assets “efficiently”, which means that there’s no slack if anything goes wrong. It also has an antiquated IT system.

The only real way they have to [handle this situation] (because of the way they operate and their limited IT capabilities) is to stop for an entire day and set to work inventorying their assets and crews and then build out entirely new trips for everyone.

When I watch Republicans in Congress defend Trump, I often wonder whether they really believe what they’re saying. Elise Stefanik clearly doesn’t. The NYT has a fascinating piece about her “conversion” from a young moderate to self-described “ultra MAGA” member of the House GOP leadership. She made a career move, not an ideological reassessment; it’s actually not clear whether she has any political philosophy at all. I can’t remember who I heard describe her as a “House of Cards” character, but it fits.

I’ve been enjoying the images that my Facebook friends create using the new AI art tools. But I’ve also been wondering about the dark possibilities.

Cartoonist Sarah Anderson describes how disturbing it is to see strangers easily hijack your style and use it for purposes you would never approve. Her cartoons are on the internet, so they were included in AI training sets (for which she received no compensation). Now you can start making an imitation Sarah Anderson cartoon — expressing your views, not hers — by using her name as a prompt.

Speaking of online cartoons, have you read SMBC by Zach Weinersmith?

Paul Krugman has been analyzing Tesla, whose stock fell 65% in 2022 and is still selling at a lofty 35 times earnings. In his first column, he sticks with financial prospects, arguing that Tesla stock never deserved its high growth premium, because it lacks the “network externalities” of successful past tech growth stocks like Microsoft or Apple.

Decoding that: As Microsoft and Apple products became more popular, users got locked in. So if you have a bunch of iPhone apps, your next phone is probably also going to be an iPhone, even if you’re replacing your phone during a period when competing phones are better or cheaper or cooler. Ditto for your company’s Microsoft software.

That’s why, once they hit it big, Microsoft and Apple became profit-generating machines that justified the high prices their stocks had traded at in earlier years: Their products stay on top even through periods where they don’t deserve to, and the difficulty of switching induces users to pay near-monopoly prices.

But Tesla has nothing like that going for it. Maybe Tesla cars are better/cooler right now, so maybe you’ll buy one if you can afford it. But that kind of advantage is fleeting, and once it’s gone, nothing will stop you from buying something else the next time you need a car. So Tesla stock should be valued more according to its current or near-future earnings than by projected far-future earnings that may or may not manifest.

In his second Tesla column, Krugman looks at the likely effects of Elon Musk’s recent behavior. Using a variety of indirect measurements, he argues that Teslas are bought mainly by Democrats. (Counties with large Trump majorities, for example, have very few Tesla registrations.) Consequently,

Musk’s public embrace of MAGA conspiracy theories is an almost inconceivably bad marketing move, practically designed to alienate his main buyers.

Speaking purely for myself, I am considering buying an electric car in the next year or two, and Tesla used to be an attractive possibility. Now, a Tesla would have to be much, much better than competing alternatives to overcome the Musk stigma.

An NYT article on the failure of election-denier secretary-of-state candidates pointed to a difference in money:

A significant factor in the imbalance was Mr. Trump, who vocally promoted election denier candidates in Republican secretary of state primaries but put almost none of his money where his mouth was. Save America PAC, his leadership PAC, spent only $10,000 of its $100 million-plus war chest on secretary of state candidates who made it into the general election. A spinoff super PAC, MAGA, Inc., chose to spend money on races for Senate instead.

But even the spending on Senate races was a small percentage of his full war chest.

Here’s what I suspect: Trump has sucked up a significant portion of Republican fund-raising, but as a grift. Even money that his PACs apparently spend on candidates somehow finds its way back to the Trump Organization. (Quartz noticed this pattern back in 2015.) That creates friction for GOP candidates across the board.

It’s not new, but The New Yorker just pointed me to a 2018 article in which Molly Ringwald looks back at her breakout hits Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club.

I imagine that everyone in my generation (60-something) has had the experience of re-watching something we loved when we were younger and reflecting on how horrible parts of it are by current standards. I’m sure it’s even more complicated when you helped make the thing in question.

Ringwald does a good job of giving the past its due without excusing its flaws, and recognizing that the good and bad do not cancel each other out. That’s a complex attitude that we would all do well to master, particularly as we look back on American history.

Ringwald is focusing on adolescents and especially girls, but she describes a pattern that applies to Blacks, gays, and all sorts of groups that have had to struggle for recognition: First you’re invisible, then you’re a token, then you’re a stereotype, and then (maybe, eventually) you start to be seen as a person. With all its problems, each stage is an advance over the previous stage.

and let’s close with a countdown

As a teen-ager, I used to listen to AM radio on New Years Eve as they counted down the top songs of the year. What would be #1? I’ve been hooked on countdowns ever since (though I don’t do song-countdowns any more because I wouldn’t recognize most of them).

I still appreciate good humor and satire, though. So here’s McSweeney’s countdown of its most-read articles of 2022. My favorite is #4: “Selected Negative Teaching Evaluations of Jesus Christ“, which includes the comment: “Only got the job because his dad is important.”

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  • EFCL  On January 2, 2023 at 12:34 pm

    “Musk stigma.” Maybe “Musk musk”?

  • Larry D Benjamin  On January 2, 2023 at 7:33 pm

    Apropos of Sarah Anderson, Mike Holmes has a book “Mikenesses,” where he draws himself in the style of several dozen cartoonists, including Charles Schulz, Al Hirschfeld, Berke Breathed, Dr. Seuss, Edward Gorey, Chris Ware, the classic cartoonists of MAD Magazine, and many others.

  • sunnysal92  On January 2, 2023 at 11:36 pm

    Get Outlook for Android ________________________________

  • Jacqueline Mardell  On January 5, 2023 at 9:58 am

    On Tesla lock: the thing that holds a Tesla owner in, at least for now, is the robust supercharger network, which is not -yet- available to the other excellent e-cars on the market.

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