Swimming naked

Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.

Warren Buffett

This week’s featured posts are “Is it 2008 again, or not?” and “Democracy in Israel“.

People who don’t follow financial markets probably need an interpretation of the quote above. What Buffett meant is that an investor can get away with just about anything when the market is going up. But when it starts going down, you see who was using sound principles and who wasn’t.

This week everybody was talking about bank failures

The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank is covered in one featured post. Everything’s been happening so quickly that you may not realize what’s at stake.

and Tucker Carlson’s fairy tale

Predictably, Tucker Carlson is using his exclusive access to January 6 security footage (granted to him by Speaker McCarthy), to produce pro-insurrection propaganda. So let’s start by repeating the facts he is trying to whitewash:

In reality, a total of about 140 police officers were assaulted as they defended the Capitol during the riot, which resulted in $2.9 million in damages and costs to the Capitol Police, according to the Department of Justice.

Roughly 1,000 participants in the riot have been arrested so far, according to the most recent update from the Department of Justice. About 326 of them have been charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding officers or employees. Of those, 106 have been charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer.

“I was among the vastly outnumbered group of law enforcement officers protecting the Capitol and the people inside it,” Michael Fanone, an officer for the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, told a congressional committee several months after the attack. “I was grabbed, beaten, tased — all while being called a traitor to my country. I was at risk of being stripped of and killed with my own firearm, as I heard chants of, ‘kill him with his own gun.’”

Carlson, however, presented the situation differently on his March 6 show, describing the “overwhelming majority” of demonstrators as “meek,” saying, “these were not insurrectionists, they were sightseers.”

It’s hard to know what to do with this kind of blatant gaslighting. Being outraged is probably counter-productive, since trolling liberals is part of Tucker’s shtick; his fans love him for it. So maybe the best thing to do is to laugh at his ridiculousness. [Hat tip to Yahoo News for collecting many of these examples.] The Daily Show produced fake footage of Tucker covering the JFK assassination, which he describes as “proud Americans out for a drive on a lovely day in Dallas”. Another Daily Show video edits footage of Tucker himself to have him say the exact opposite of what he actually said. See how easy it is?

Stephen Colbert’s Late Show imagined Tucker covering the events of “Jaws”. Lee Aronsohn uses Tucker’s techniques to show that Hitler and other Nazis came to Paris as tourists. Seth Meyers explains that

When you cherry-pick the footage you’re showing you can prove whatever you want. I could show you footage from John Wick that proves he’s non-violent. Take a look. [clip of Wick feeding his dog] You’re telling me that guy is a trained killer? Give me a break!

The Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit has made it a matter of public record that Tucker (like Fox’s other prime-time hosts) lies to his audience. He says one thing when the camera is on, and something else entirely when it’s off. This week we found out what he wrote in private text messages two days before January 6:

We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can’t wait. … I hate him passionately.

Once the camera’s on, though, he’s as dedicated a Trump bootlicker as you’ll find.

One person who appears to be taking Tucker’s BS seriously is Elon Musk, who tweeted “Free Jacob Chansley”. Chansley is the Q-Anon Shaman, who Carlson said was peacefully led through the Capitol by police. “They acted as his tour guides.”

Of course, we already know how Chansley got in: He was right behind uniformed militiamen who broke two windows and then forced open a door.

The response you’re most likely to get from a Carlson fan if you object to his cherry-picking is “Isn’t that exactly what the January 6 Committee did?” (Because “everybody else is despicable too” is the way all moral people respond to criticism.)

In a word: no. Most of what the Committee showed in its hearings came from under-oath testimony by Trump’s own people: Bill Barr, Cassidy Hutchinson, Pat Cipollone, and many others, including even Ivanka and Jared. Any of them could have gone on Fox afterwards to explain how they had been taken out of context, but none of them did.

Mike Pence’s speech at the Gridiron Dinner Saturday night points out how skinny a tightrope he is trying to walk. On the one hand, he described Tucker’s project harshly: “what happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it in any other way.” He also said that Trump was “wrong” about the vice president’s power to count the electoral votes however he wants, and that “history will hold Donald Trump accountable”.

“History”, though, is not Mike Pence. He’s standing by his effort to avoid testifying to the special counsel. The American people “have a right to know what took place” during the insurrection. Just not from him.

and the threat of national default

Here’s all you need to know at this point: President Biden put forward a budget proposal that preserves Medicare and lowers future deficits by raising taxes on the rich. (Full details here.) Meanwhile, Republicans have been working on their fanciful plan for managing a national default, where the government’s obligations get prioritized for payment as revenue comes in. Not even Koch-funded economists are on board with this.

Brian Riedl, an economist at the Manhattan Institute, said the U.S. government’s computer systems do not have the technology to implement the system and prioritize payments.

“Unless they can build a new system in the next four months, it doesn’t matter,” he said, adding that even then the measure still likely may not address a “bond market panic.”

Several Republican groups say they are working on budget proposals, but none have published one yet, and prospects are slim for the party as a whole taking a position anytime soon. The House “Freedom” Caucus produced a single page that the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Rep. Brandon Boyle (D-PA), characterized as reading “more like a ransom note than a serious budget proposal”.

It’s big on arbitrary spending caps without specifying what program cuts those caps might entail, other than rolling back the $80 billion already appropriated for the IRS to collect taxes that rich people aren’t paying (which will increase the deficit by reducing revenue), and making sure we burn as much fossil fuel as possible (by reversing all the alternative energy subsidies in the Inflation Reduction Act and “unleashing the production of reliable domestic energy by ending federal regulations”).

The ransom note says the members of the “Freedom” Caucus will “consider” voting to raise the debt ceiling after their demands are written into law. In other words, it’s not a good-faith proposal. Even if Biden were to give in to all their demands, they won’t commit themselves to supporting the result.

It seems clear that the MAGA wing of the GOP won’t be happy with any compromise that avoids a catastrophe, and Speaker McCarthy seems completely in their pocket. I can see only two ways this resolves: Some number of Republican congressmen face reality and join with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling, or Biden pulls a rabbit out of his hat that makes the debt ceiling irrelevant. (The New Republic advocates challenging the debt ceiling in court; I largely agree with their interpretation of the law, but I can’t guess how the Supreme Court would view it.)

After the country gets past the artificial debt-ceiling crisis, then there’s the actual budget compromise to work out. That will be a difficult negotiation, but it’s normal legislating. I see the whole discussion as being like trying to decide what color to paint some room of your house, when your spouse announces that if they doesn’t get their color, they’ll burn the house down. First you have to get an agreement not to burn the house down, and then you can go back to talking about colors.

and Israel

The current protests in Israel, and the threat to democracy that led to them, is the topic of the other featured post.

and debates about Covid

One of the problems with having major chunks of our media (i.e., Fox and its friends) committed to disinformation is that it’s really hard to have a nuanced public discussions of scientific issues. If you’ve been following topics like creation/evolution or climate change, you’ve been seeing the patterns for decades. For example, when the consensus view of evolution shifted from gradualism (where evolutionary change is slow and steady) to punctuated equilibrium (where long periods of relative stability get interrupted by periods where evolutionary change happens more quickly), creationists were suddenly crowing that “New research is proving that Darwin was wrong.” That false message was the only one a lot of people got out of that discussion.

Something similar is happening in response to a recent journal article about the effectiveness of masks in preventing the spread of viral disease like Covid. The researchers did a meta-analysis of 78 other studies.

One big problem in this whole line of research is that the study that would answer the question most directly is unethical: You’d have infected and uninfected people meet in a lab, in various combinations of masked and unmasked, at various distances for various lengths of time. Then you’d see who got Covid. You might end up killing a few of your subjects, but it’s all for the greater good, right?

Since you can’t do that, you try other techniques that don’t get the information you really want. Professor Jason Abaluck (who did a mask study in Bangladesh) summarizes:

The vast majority of the studies assessed by the Cochrane Review ask, “If we give people masks and information about masking, do they get healthier?” Most of these studies find that the answer is, “Not much healthier.”

But there is a problem: giving people masks is not generally enough to get them to wear masks! In piloting in Bangladesh, we found that mask distribution plus information plus involving village leaders increased mask use by less than 10% (we later added other elements that were more impactful). In other scale-ups, masks and information alone did even less. One study in Uganda found that giving people masks and information increased mask use by one percentage point—that is, by 1 in 100 people.

The anti-public-health people are jumping on this to crow that they were right all along: Masks don’t do anything. (“Will the mandaters apologize?” asks the right-wing Washington Examiner.) Columbia Professor Zeynep Tufekci explains in the NYT explains why that’s the wrong interpretation. But no matter, the disinformation is out there. When the next pandemic hits, lots of people will confidently declare that the ineffectiveness of masks was proved during Covid.

You can see a similar kind of thinking whenever there’s a mass shooting in a place that has more gun laws than most other places: See, gun control doesn’t work! But has any community in America actually succeeded in controlling guns? (Chicago’s gun laws just make you get your gun in Indiana.) Until one does, we won’t really know whether gun control works.

Then there’s the origin-of-Covid debate. Pretty much everyone agrees that Covid-19 first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The two main theories are that a human caught it from an animal (probably a bat) in Wuhan’s live-animal market, or that it escaped containment at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which studies viruses in bats.

The lab-leak theory, while credible at one level, quickly became the root of wild and improbable conspiracy theories: Covid wasn’t just collected and studied in a lab, it was created there. It’s a bio-weapon that the Chinese engineered to attack us. (Never mind that they killed a bunch of their own people first and lost hundreds of billions of dollars worth of economic growth in the subsequent lockdown. It’s all about us. Or maybe it’s all about Trump.)

President Trump, desperate to avoid blame for his own mishandling of the pandemic, got way ahead of the facts and jumped on the lab-leak theory as a way to shift blame to China. (People who think Covid was an intentional attack on the US to destabilize the Trump administration need to explain how the Chinese knew Trump would botch the response. Lots of governors saw their popularity rise during the pandemic. Trump might have done the same had he shown real leadership rather than try to happy-talk his way through a real crisis.) He amplified his claims with openly racist rhetoric about “the China virus” or the “Kung Flu“. Predictably, this led to a rise in anti-Asian violence in the US. (Remember how President Bush urged Americans not to blame all Muslims for 9-11? Trump never did that for Chinese Americans and Covid.)

So the debate was politicized from the beginning. The scientific question “How did this happen?” and the public-health question “What can we learn from this?” quickly turned into the political “Who should we blame?” Often that resulted in Trumpists harassing or even harming innocent people.

Liberals responded by over-estimating the evidence for the natural-transmission theory. The truth is that we don’t know for sure and may never know. The origin of pandemics are often hard to pin down. (After decades of research, some scientists concluded that HIV passed from monkeys to humans in the 1920s. Who had that on their bingo card?) This one is even harder than most, because the Chinese government, also sensitive to claims that it botched its initial response, has been uncooperative.

One US source, the Department of Energy, recently put out a new assessment: A lab leak was the “likely” source of the pandemic, a conclusion it reached with “low confidence”. But various agencies of the US government still disagree, and the overall situation has not changed much since an October, 2021 report from the Director of National Intelligence summarized with this graphic:

But of course the lab leak theory is now considered an established fact on the Right.

and you also might be interested in …

This morning the administration approved the development of a new oil field on the Alaska’s North Slope. I’d like to give President Biden the benefit of the doubt on this, but I’m going to need some convincing.

Here’s what I’d like to hear: I’d like to know that there’s a definite plan for getting the country off fossil fuels by a set date. That plan would have targets for exactly how much fossil fuel we expect to need in meantime, and how we’re going to get it in the least destructive way possible. If the new oil field is part of such a plan, I could be OK with it.

If we had that kind of vision, it would put us past the oil-good/oil-bad debate, where environmentalists feel obligated to oppose all fossil fuel development plans everywhere, and pro-economic-growth people feel obligated to support all fossil fuel development plans everywhere. We’d get past the maximize/minimize production debate and agree on a path to zero.

Maybe such a plan exists, but I don’t know it. If there is such a thing, the Biden administration should be publicizing it.

Last week, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) called for cutting funding from any public school that teaches comprehensive sex education. This week, she announced that her 17-year-old son has gotten his even-younger girlfriend pregnant, making Boebert a 36-year-old grandmother sometime next month. According to The Denver Post:

Boebert staffers on Friday confirmed the announcement. Breaking from a meeting for an interview, Boebert verified her son and his girlfriend are not married and declined to reveal the age of the girlfriend, other than to say she’s over 14. [i.e., Boebert’s son didn’t commit a crime under Colorado law.]

My faith (Unitarian Universalism) offers a very comprehensive version of sex education, one that emphasizes giving teens accurate information, teaching them important life skills (like how to buy a condom), and encouraging them to think through the consequences of their actions. As a result, I don’t know any 36-year-old grandmothers. I think Boebert’s son’s girlfriend would have done well to seek us out.

Ron Filipkowski summarizes what we know about the Twitter Files:

  1. Musk buys twitter and sets out to prove his premise that the govt used twitter to censor right wingers.
  2. He chooses two people to “investigate.” Nobody else can see the “evidence.”
  3. He only provides them with evidence that fits his chosen narrative. They admit that they were not given things like the Trump WH seeking to censor people on the Left.
  4. They reach Musk’s desired conclusion.
  5. Musk then goes to the Capitol and visits McCarthy. He doesn’t meet with Dems.
  6. Weaponization Comm is formed.
  7. These two people are brought in by Jim Jordan.
  8. They say that they can’t reveal who their source is for the information they received, even though the whole world knows it was Musk.

Steve Benen nails the root problem of Jim Jordan’s attempt to expose the “concerted effort by the government to silence and punish conservatives at all levels”: There has been no such effort.

It would be no more productive for House Republicans to create a select subcommittee to investigate Bigfoot. They could hire dozens of investigators, depose countless witnesses, hold hours of hearings, and send out a steady stream of subpoenas, but in the end, things that don’t exist can’t be found.

I’ve seen some discussion that we shouldn’t dignify the committee by using the name House Republicans have given it: “Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government”. Some writers would just call it “the Jordan Committee”. I’m starting to like “Jim Jordan’s Bigfoot Committee”.

The Manhattan district attorney has invited Donald Trump to testify voluntarily to the grand jury that is presumably considering charges in the Stormy Daniels payoff matter, as well as possible financial crimes. It’s far from the worst thing Trump has done, but it is one of the most easily proved of his crimes; Michael Cohen has already done jail time for carrying out his wishes.

In New York, an offer to speak in front of a grand jury is typically the last step before a criminal indictment. State law mandates that potential defendants must be given an opportunity to appear before a grand jury to answer questions before they are indicted.

Trump will undoubtedly decline the invitation, just as he has repeatedly pled the fifth in any deposition under oath. In general, innocent people want the truth to come out, but guilty people don’t.

I long ago lost patience with Trump-is-about-to-be-indicted stories, so I’m not getting excited. Call me when there’s an actual indictment.

Ron DeSantis would like you to believe that book-banning in Florida is a “hoax“, and the only books getting banned from Florida school libraries are “pornographic and inappropriate”. But it looks like DeSantis is the one who’s been hoaxing us. And novelist Jodi Picoult would like a word:

In the past six months, my books have been banned dozens of times in dozens of school districts. As sad as it seems, I was getting used to the emails from PEN America’s Jonathan Friedman telling me that yet again, my novel was under attack. But this week, something truly egregious happened. In Martin Country School District, 92 books were pulled from the school library shelves. Twenty of them were mine.

… It is worth noting I do not write adult romance. The majority of the books that were targeted do not even have a kiss in them. What they do have, however, are issues like racism, abortion rights, gun control, gay rights, and other topics that encourage kids to think for themselves.

So whenever DeSantis says the word “pornography”, in your mind you need to interpret that as “Jodi Picoult”.

Also in Florida, the state’s surgeon general has been pushing Covid misinformation that federal agencies warn is harmful to the public.

and let’s close with something that depends on your point of view

Artist Michael Murphy makes sculptures that may look entirely different from different perspectives.

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  • Nancy Browning  On March 13, 2023 at 1:19 pm

    I believe you are missing the end of the paragraph that starts with “something similar is happening,” in relation to Covid. And I love your blog.

    • weeklysift  On March 13, 2023 at 6:38 pm

      Thanks. I got caught between revisions, and left in the intro to something I’d already said.

  • pauljbradford  On March 13, 2023 at 3:54 pm

    I grimaced at “I think Boebert’s son’s girlfriend would have done well to seek us out”. How about “I think Boebert’s son and the son’s girlfriend would have done well to seek us out.”

    • weeklysift  On March 13, 2023 at 6:39 pm

      You are showing more benevolence than I was feeling at the time.

  • butimbeautiful  On March 13, 2023 at 6:36 pm

    Perhaps Lauren is really pissed off that public school sex ed failed to stop those kids procreating!

  • Lois Strand  On March 14, 2023 at 3:25 pm

    Thank you for the link to the Scientific American article, debunking “creationism.” I hadn’t read it before, and it is very good. Bookmarking it.

  • Lois  On March 14, 2023 at 3:29 pm

    Mr. Muder, thank you for the link to the “Scientific American” article, debunking creationism. Very good. Bookmarked for future reference.

    • Lois Strand  On March 14, 2023 at 3:48 pm

      Ooooops! Sorry that I double posted. The first comment took a while to post, and I thought I hadn’t submitted it correctly. Again, sorry.

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