Category Archives: Uncategorized

How I evaluate sources

I want to keep challenging my biases by reading posts I disagree with.
But I also don’t want to waste my time on nonsense or propaganda.

This week, one of my social-media friends posted a link from a blog I’d never heard of. This particular article claimed Russia is winning its war against Ukraine, and criticized a Western leader for claiming that Russia would lose a war against all of NATO. These observations seemed unlikely to me, but I try not to write blogs off just because I disagree with them. (That’s a good way to trap yourself in an ideological silo.) So I asked myself: What is this blog? Is it a reliable source?

These questions come up all the time, and by now I have a fairly standard technique for answering them. After I finished my assessment — I eventually decided it wasn’t a reliable source — I realized I’d never described the technique to Sift readers. Arguably, the technique is more valuable than the conclusions I draw with it.

The first step is obvious: Read the article in question. If, in addition to the parts I initially disagreed with, it references long-debunked claims and conspiracy theories without acknowledging the arguments that have been made against them, I feel comfortable trashing the article without wasting any more of my time. For example, if you say that voting machines stole the 2020 election from Trump, you need to explain all the states where hand recounts came to the same totals, within the usual error bands of recounts. If you have a believable explanation of that — I can’t imagine what it could be right now, but never mind — I might pay attention.

But suppose the article isn’t that obviously bad. This particular one wasn’t: Its assessment of the Ukraine War was attributed to Polish generals I didn’t recognize. So maybe the author is plugged in to sources I don’t know about, and maybe those sources know something.

So the next step is to look at the front page of the blog or news source. A Japanese proverb says: “When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends.” The other articles the source is promoting are the “friends” of the article I’m evaluating. If a bunch of them are obviously nonsense, it’s not a big leap to assume the article I’m assessing is nonsense too.

The day I was looking at it, this blog was still just barely making the cut. (Today it might not. It’s full of glowing assessments of the Durham report, buying into the idea that the whole Trump/Russia thing was a hoax. More about that topic in today’s other featured post.) It had a bunch of other articles about Ukraine being in trouble, which could be legit if the article I was assessing was legit.

The final step is to look back in time. In general, well-constructed propaganda can look pretty good in the moment, but it usually doesn’t age well. The same is true of delusional points of view. In the moment, people can convince themselves of all kinds of things and be pretty persuasive about it.

The Iraq invasion is a good example. Back in 2002-2003, it was far from obvious what a stupid idea this was. Maybe Saddam did have weapons of mass destruction. Maybe the Bush administration really did know things we didn’t. Maybe Iraq was eager for democracy, and even if not, Saddam was such an awful ruler that getting rid of him would create a lot of room for improvement. When Saddam’s army collapsed so quickly, a lot of people wondered why we hadn’t invaded a long time ago. Sure, some contemporary observers saw the folly from the beginning, but a lot didn’t, and not all of them were stupid or crazy.

With twenty years of hindsight, though, hardly anybody defends the invasion any more. Time tends to clear the fog that blinds us to contemporary events.

A simpler and more recent example: A lot of pundits predicted last year (after the Dobbs decision) that voters would forget about abortion by the time the fall elections rolled around. At the time, that claim was hard to assess, but now we can clearly see that it was wrong.

So anyway, if today’s front page is hard to assess, look back six months or a year. That might be easier.

But when you do that, be careful. Because simply finding something the source got wrong isn’t discrediting in itself. We all get stuff wrong, so you will find an excuse to write the source off, if that’s what you’re looking for. If you’re trying to make an honest assessment, though, the process is a little more complicated. Finding a mistake is just the first step.

The point isn’t just to find things the source got wrong, but to see how they responded as events went some other way. What I hope to find is a reaction like Paul Krugman’s: In 2021, Krugman was wrong about the risks of inflation, and then he was slow to recognize how big a problem inflation was becoming. (If you’re looking for an excuse to write Paul off, there it is.) But that mistake bothered him as much as it bothered anyone else. He has written several columns since trying to figure out what led him astray.

In early 2021 there was an intense debate among economists about the likely consequences of the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion package enacted by a new Democratic president and a (barely) Democratic Congress. Some warned that the package would be dangerously inflationary; others were fairly relaxed. I was Team Relaxed. As it turned out, of course, that was a very bad call.

But what, exactly, did I get wrong?

The Ukraine War itself is a good topic to examine, because at the beginning, just about everybody expected Ukraine’s defenses to collapse in a few weeks. A credible military blog might have made that mistake, but then they should have spent the summer reevaluating. It’s possible that by now they might have come back around to the idea that Ukraine will lose (or not). But if they’ve been holding steady on the Ukraine-is-about-to-collapse narrative all year, they’re not credible.

So Krugman is the gold standard, but I’ll give a silver medal to anybody whose mistake made them realize they don’t understand the subject they got wrong, and who subsequently shifted their attention elsewhere. Or maybe they reevaluated and downgraded the sources they got their wrong opinion from.

So, for example, picture a Republican who took Trump’s claims of election fraud seriously at first, but then stopped repeating them when no supporting evidence emerged. They may not ever have acknowledged their mistake in so many words, but they’ve taken steps not to keep doing it, i.e., not just blindly repeating whatever Trump says any more. I’m not going to write that source off forever. On the other hand, if they’re still pushing that stolen-election nonsense today, they’re not worth my time.

So anyway, when I looked back on the past record of the blog in question, I found claims that Trump was framed in both his impeachments, the FBI framed Michael Flynn, the Russians didn’t interfere in the 2016 election, Covid was exaggerated by the Deep State, Dominion voting machines stole the 2020 election from Trump, it was Seth Rich (and not the Russians) who leaked the Clinton campaign emails, Russia has been winning the Ukraine War from the very beginning, and many others.

In short, it was down-the-line pro-Russia pro-Trump stuff, with no acknowledgment that any of those claims hadn’t panned out. So I’m not taking the new claims seriously either.

So that’s the technique: Read the article, then look at the front page, then look back until you find a mistake and see how they handled it.

No Sift Next Monday

The next new articles will appear on August 22.

Lingering Dishonor

Tonight I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.

Rep. Liz Cheney

This week’s featured posts are “Will the Great Salt Lake stay great?” and “The hearings, week two“.

This week everybody was talking about the continuing 1-6 hearings

This was covered in the second featured post.

This week we saw that the Big Lie is alive and well, and screwing up current elections. New Mexico held a primary on June 7, but Otero County refused to certify results for the state to total up.

The all-Republican [county] commission had refused on Monday to certify the results — citing concerns about Dominion voting machines and questions about a handful of individual votes in this month’s primary.

Friday, the commission voted 2-1 to submit to a court order that they certify results. The one dissenting vote was from a commissioner who has been sentenced to 14 days jail time for trespassing on the Capitol grounds during the 1-6 riot.

Controversies over Dominion voting machines are perhaps the most thoroughly debunked of all Trump’s election-fraud lies. Not even Fox News and Newsmax make the claim any more. Hand recounts in numerous states have failed to find higher-than-normal discrepancies in final vote totals, ending the controversy for all people who live in the real world.

Republican Rep. James Comer promised an OAN interviewer that when Republicans get control of the House in 2023, they will take revenge by holding “Hunter Biden hearings“. The idea here seems to be that this will make Democrats sorry they investigated 1-6 and demonstrated Trump’s criminality.

Here’s what he doesn’t get: Democrats aren’t a personality cult the way Republicans are.

In particular, we aren’t dedicated to protecting each other from learning the truth about Joe Biden or his family. If it turns out that Hunter Biden really did commit crimes (which I don’t think has been established yet), by all means he should be investigated, prosecuted, convicted, and go to jail. I believe that would make his father sad, but keeping Joe Biden happy is not a high priority for me or for most Democrats, certainly not the way that keeping Donald Trump happy is a priority for Republicans.

and “both sides do it” distractions

Right-wing media and politicians like Marco Rubio have started calling for the Justice Department to take action against a pro-choice “terrorist” group, Jane’s Revenge. You can expect JR to become the new antifa. Night after night, Fox News will cast it as a violent left-wing conspiracy that the authorities supposedly ignore while targeting “patriotic” right-wing groups like the Proud Boys.

The problem with this framing is simple: So far there’s little indication that Jane’s Revenge is much more than a viral meme. (Similarly, antifa is much less than right-wing media makes it out to be. It appears to be a handful of local groups with no national coordination.) So if you graffiti some anti-choice institution (“You Do Not Have the Right to Determine How Others Live” painted on a Catholic Church, for example), your action will become part of a 50-incident list of “Attacks on Churches, Pro-Life Organizations, Property, and People Since the Dobbs Leak” that Rubio will tie to Jane’s Revenge. And as the meme catches on, you may even decide to sign your graffiti as “Jane’s Revenge”, or attach that name to a threatening letter you post online. But that doesn’t mean you belong to any group — or even that there is a group to belong to.

A small percentage of the “attacks” on Rubio’s list do involve real or attempted property damage, and those are crimes that should be investigated and punished like comparable property crimes, most of which never get federal attention. But I doubt that his list would impress anybody who has worked at an abortion clinic, where hostile graffiti is just another Tuesday, and people occasionally get killed. (My church suffered an “attack” a few years ago: Our “Black Lives Matter” sign was defaced, as were the signs of at least 50 other churches. We never heard from Rubio.)

None of this “left-wing terrorism” bears any resemblance to right-wing terrorism, which regularly kills people, or to the Proud Boys’ or Oath Keepers’ participation in Trump’s coup attempt.

Just last weekend, 31 members of Patriot Front were arrested on their way to violently disrupt a Pride event in Idaho. Reportedly, the 31 came from 11 states and only one was from Idaho. That’s what an interstate terrorist group looks like.

So far, Senator Rubio hasn’t written to Merrick Garland to complain about them.

and the Senate gun compromise

Last week a bipartisan group of senators announced they had compromised on a framework for legislation. But it started to come undone this week when they got down to writing a bill.

The major sticking points? Funding for red flag laws and what to do about the “boyfriend loophole.” Both issues present a number of thorny challenges for negotiators, but the “boyfriend loophole” specifically has been cited as a considerable roadblock.

Currently, you can’t buy guns if you’ve been convicted of domestic violence against a spouse, a live-in partner, or the mother of your child. Democrats want to extend that prohibition to less well defined dating relationships. Republicans agreed in principle, but defining the exact bounds of “boyfriend” is giving them heartburn. After all, violent men who like guns are pretty much the core of the Republican Party.

It’s had to argue, though, that extending the loophole wouldn’t have a big effect on mass shootings. Men who commit such crimes usually start out smaller, by abusing either animals or women who are in their power.

Mass killings of children get the most media attention, but apparently no one of any age is safe from the epidemic of gun violence. Thursday evening, a 70-year-old man went to a potluck dinner at an Episcopal church in Alabama and killed three even older diners before being hit with a chair by another man in his 70s.

If I had to choose the American denomination least likely to be either the victims or perpetrators of violence, I might well have picked the Episcopalians. Historically upscale and stereotypically “nice people” (sometimes to a fault), Episcopalians tend to be theologically and politically liberal but ritually conservative. They are closely related to the Church of England, whose niceness comedian Eddie Izzard lampooned in her “Cake or Death” routine, which seems a bit less funny today.

and Juneteenth

By the calendar it was yesterday (June 19); the federal day-off-work is today.

Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when a Union general announced that the slaves of Texas were free. That makes it a bittersweet holiday, because the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect on January 1, 1863, more than two years earlier. General Lee had surrendered at Appomattox more than two months before. And even after Juneteenth, the proclaimed “absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves” was a long time in coming. Some would say it still hasn’t arrived.

In short, Juneteenth reminds us that there’s a big difference between having rights on paper and having rights that the ruling institutions can or will enforce in practice.

but we’re not paying enough attention to environmental disasters in progress

That’s the topic of the first featured post, about the shrinking of the Great Salt Lake.

The other big recent environmental news story is about too much water rather than too little: the flooding of Yellowstone.

and you also might be interested in …

The Texas Republican Party went off the deep end this week, approving a platform

declaring that President Joe Biden “was not legitimately elected” and rebuking Sen. John Cornyn for taking part in bipartisan gun talks. They also voted on a platform that declares homosexuality “an abnormal lifestyle choice” and calls for Texas schoolchildren “to learn about the humanity of the preborn child.”

It also calls for repealing the 16th Amendment (which allows a national income tax), abolishing the Federal Reserve, and holding a referendum on whether Texas should secede from the Union.

Here’s hoping Governor Abbott doesn’t duck a debate with Beto O’Rourke, so Beto can ask him about his party’s platform point by point.

If you’re in my generation and want to feel old, meditate on this: Paul McCartney turned 80 this week. “When I’m 64” is but a distant memory for him now. Two days before the big day, he performed at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey, and was joined on stage by New Jersey icons Bruce Springsteen (a mere 72), and young whippersnapper Jon Bon Jovi (60).

French President Macron’s party lost its majority in the lower house of Parliament. It’s still the largest party, but will have to find allies to accomplish anything. France’s government may become as logjammed as the US.

and let’s close with something over the top

Apparently in Denmark, the only thing cooler than riding the bus is driving one.

Liberators and Destroyers

The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. … The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty.

– President Abraham Lincoln (April 18, 1864)

This week’s featured post is “The Emotional Roots of Political Polarization“.

This week everybody was talking about Build Back Better

Joe Manchin announced on Fox News Sunday that he could not vote for President Biden’s Build Back Better bill, effectively dooming it. The White House released an angry statement in response, ratifying the breakdown in the Biden/Manchin relationship.

For half a year, Manchin has delayed progress on the bill, raising the question of whether he would eventually come through after he had whittled the proposal down to his liking, or if he was simply stringing Biden along. Now it looks like the latter.

Manchin’s decision sinks a number of popular proposals, including lowering prescription drug prices, continuing the child tax credit, and mitigating climate change.

and January 6

During the House debate on whether to find Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress for his defiance of a subpoena, (the contempt resolution passed) members of the January 6 Committee revealed a number of text messages Meadows had received on January 6 from various conservative luminaries, including Fox News hosts, at least one member of Congress, and Donald Trump Jr.

The point of publicizing these texts was that they emphasize the need for Meadows’ testimony. But they make another important point about the subsequent cover-up of January 6: As much as Trump propagandists try to claim that (1) the Capitol insurrection wasn’t a big deal, and/or that (2) Trump bore no responsibility for it, they knew at the time that those things weren’t true.

The texts plead with Meadows to get Trump to stop the violence, which demonstrate their authors’ belief at the time that Trump was controlling the violence. The texts would make no sense if the demonstrators were basically peaceful, or if the violence were a false-flag operation sparked by antifa, as Trumpists like to claim.

As Trump’s attempt to block the January 6 Committee’s access to documents from his administration goes to the Supreme Court, Vox points out what a flimsy claim he has under existing precedents. If the Court’s partisan majority wants to protect him, they’ll have to invent new law.

They might, but I’ll bet not. Roberts won’t go for it, and he only needs to convince one more conservative. Either Gorsuch or Kavanaugh might be that deciding vote. If the Court doesn’t find against Trump, they’ll manufacture an excuse to keep the legal wrangling going in hopes that a new Republican House majority will make the case moot by sacking the whole committee in 2023.

The Atlantic follows freshman Republican Rep. Peter Meijer through the events of January 6.

On the House floor, moments before the vote, Meijer approached a member who appeared on the verge of a breakdown. He asked his new colleague if he was okay. The member responded that he was not; that no matter his belief in the legitimacy of the election, he could no longer vote to certify the results, because he feared for his family’s safety. “Remember, this wasn’t a hypothetical. You were casting that vote after seeing with your own two eyes what some of these people are capable of,” Meijer says. “If they’re willing to come after you inside the U.S. Capitol, what will they do when you’re at home with your kids?”

That account led WaPo’s Aaron Blake to write “The role of violent threats in Trump’s GOP reign”.

This is one panel of a Tom Tomorrow comic in which the news anchors outline the run of recent bad news.

AP reviewed “every potential case of voter fraud in the six battleground states disputed by former President Donald Trump” — all 475 of them.

The cases could not throw the outcome into question even if all the potentially fraudulent votes were for Biden, which they were not, and even if those ballots were actually counted, which in most cases they were not.

The review also showed no collusion intended to rig the voting. Virtually every case was based on an individual acting alone to cast additional ballots.

Not all Republicans are comfortable centering their Party on a lie that undermines democracy. Wisconsin State Senator Kathy Bernier called out her fellow Republicans.

A Delaware judge has ruled that Dominion Voting System’s lawsuit against Fox News can go forward. At issue is whether Fox knew at the time that the election-fraud claims it was making against Dominion were baseless.

and Omicron

The pandemic numbers continue to increase: New cases per day in the US are up to 133K, a 21% rise over two weeks. Deaths are inching up: 1296 per day (7-day average), up 9%. Hospitalizations are at 69K, up 16%.

The records were set last January: 248K cases per day on January 11, deaths at 3336 per day on January 15, 140K hospitalized on January 5.

Omicron spread in the United Kingdom is running ahead of the US, so it may provide a glimpse of our future. The UK has been setting new-case records, and London bars and restaurants have begun shutting down on their own, creating a “lockdown by stealth”.

The economic consequences could be more dire this time around, because the government isn’t providing support to businesses that close temporarily. That could happen here too.

There’s no federal money left to keep restaurants open. The aid for concert halls and other customer-starved performance spaces has nearly gone dry. Federal officials ended their primary effort that pumped money into small businesses with sagging balance sheets, and they stopped paying out extra sums to workers who are out of a job.

Like the original strain of Covid-19, Omicron is hitting the US first in New York City. [See the correction in the comments. Covid his NYC early and hard, but not first.] I’m writing these words in Florida, which has become a low-Covid oasis since the summer surge passed. But a new outbreak seems to be starting in Miami.

Ed Yong’s article in The Atlantic does a great job of explaining the biology of Omicron in terms ordinary people can understand.

The coronavirus is a microscopic ball studded with specially shaped spikes that it uses to recognize and infect our cells. Antibodies can thwart such infections by glomming onto the spikes, like gum messing up a key. But Omicron has a crucial advantage: 30-plus mutations that change the shape of its spike and disable many antibodies that would have stuck to other variants.

… In terms of catching the virus, everyone should assume that they are less protected than they were two months ago. As a crude shorthand, assume that Omicron negates one previous immunizing event—either an infection or a vaccine dose. Someone who considered themselves fully vaccinated in September would be just partially vaccinated now (and the official definition may change imminently). But someone who’s been boosted has the same ballpark level of protection against Omicron infection as a vaccinated-but-unboosted person did against Delta.

… Even if Omicron has an easier time infecting vaccinated individuals, it should still have more trouble causing severe disease. The vaccines were always intended to disconnect infection from dangerous illness, turning a life-threatening event into something closer to a cold. Whether they’ll fulfill that promise for Omicron is a major uncertainty, but we can reasonably expect that they will. The variant might sneak past the initial antibody blockade, but slower-acting branches of the immune system (such as T cells) should eventually mobilize to clear it before it wreaks too much havoc.

Data continues to come in.

Moderna’s results show that the currently authorized booster dose of 50 micrograms — half the dose given for primary immunization — increased the level of antibodies by roughly 37-fold, the company said. A full dose of 100 micrograms was even more powerful, raising antibody levels about 83-fold compared with pre-boost levels, Moderna said.

But not all the results are encouraging:

All vaccines approved in the United States and European Union still seem to provide a significant degree of protection against serious illness from Omicron, which is the most crucial goal. But only the Pfizer and Moderna shots, when reinforced by a booster, appear to have success at stopping infections, and these vaccines are unavailable in most of the world.

The other shots — including those from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and vaccines manufactured in China and Russia — do little to nothing to stop the spread of Omicron, early research shows.

Six anti-vax protesters were arrested for a sit-in at the Cheesecake Factory in New York City. They barged in after refusing to show their vaccine cards, as the city requires.

The protesters compared the employees who refused to serve them to Nazis, and claimed a constitutional right not to reveal their private medical information. (And that is true, of course. But there is no constitutional right to eat at Cheesecake Factory.)

Because the sports leagues do such regular testing, they are spotting mild and asymptomatic Covid cases that the larger society misses. In the last two weeks, Covid’s effect on games has greatly increased. We’re starting to hear calls for the leagues to shut down again.

Fox News has been actively denying the well-established link between vaccine status and hospitalization for Covid.

When it comes to pronunciation, I am on Team OH-micron rather than Team AH-micron. To me, it’s obvious: omicron is a companion to omega (little-o/big-o) and nobody says AH-mega.

and inflation

The Bank of England became the first central bank to start raising interest rates in response to rising inflation.

The Federal Reserve is also responding, but more slowly. The Fed controls short-term interest rates on dollar deposits more-or-less directly, through the rates that it charges to banks; it affects long-term rates indirectly, by purchasing bonds in the market.

The Federal Reserve said on Wednesday it would end its pandemic-era bond purchases in March and pave the way for three quarter-percentage-point interest rate hikes by the end of 2022 as the economy nears full employment and the U.S. central bank copes with a surge of inflation.

Paul Krugman writes a readable account of the history and causes of inflation, and summarizes the debate between economists who think the current inflation is transitory and those who expect it to persist. Krugman himself is on Team Transitory, but he acknowledges that the current bout has already gone further than he expected, and I think he presents the debate fairly.

The problem, as Krugman presents it, isn’t so much that demand has soared as that during the pandemic it shifted from services into goods.

The caricature version is that people unable or unwilling to go to the gym bought Pelotons instead, and something like that has in fact happened across the board.

Services tend to be local, but goods depend on a global supply chain, which hasn’t broken, but hasn’t responded flexibly enough to accommodate increased demand. This, Krugman believes, will work itself out: As the pandemic recedes, service consumption will go back up, and supply-chain adjustments are already being made.

A second factor has been workers’ reluctance to return to the labor market, the so-called Great Resignation, which is forcing wages up. Krugman confesses he doesn’t understand exactly what is causing this or how quickly workers will come back.

A third factor in inflationary periods of the past has been psychological: Businesses raise prices and workers demand higher wages because they’re convinced that other prices will go up. In other words, inflation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. He doesn’t see evidence of this happening yet, but acknowledges that it could.

but you might want to think about this

Take a look at James Muldoon’s article “Regulating Big Tech is not enough. We need platform socialism.” I’m not sure how these specific ideas would work in practice, but I think we need to expand the universe of possible solutions to our social-media problem.

In practice, all participatory democracy processes — the daily hours-long open meetings of the Occupy movement being a prime example — run into the widespread desire for what I like to call Disneyland authoritarianism: Somebody should set things up so that I don’t have to worry about how anything works, and I don’t care if they exploit me a little as long as they also provide an enjoyable experience.

Disneyland authoritarianism works fine in a place like Disneyland, where management knows that you can easily walk out and never come back if you don’t like how you’re treated.

A lot of democratic-on-paper organizations end up running in a Disneyland authoritarian manner, because only a small group of people can be bothered to show up to decision-making meetings and man the bureaucracy. As long as the insider cabal keeps providing the services that the larger community expects and maintaining an acceptable level of quality, most people are content to fall into the role of customers rather than citizens. And that can be OK, as long as the processes are transparent and the cabal’s boundaries are permeable.

Small-town school boards are a good example. As long as local schools function at an acceptable level, most people can’t be bothered to participate, or even to vote in school-board elections. Democratic control exists mainly as a fail-safe, but that’s enough to keep authoritarian abuses at bay.

Disneyland authoritarianism becomes problematic when essential systems of everyday life depend on decisions made inside a Disneyland by a cabal that isn’t transparent or permeable. That’s the problem with social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

In the beginning, free privately owned social media apps seemed like a good deal. We got to stay in touch with our friends, participate in communities of interest, and so on. Sure, they harvested our data and used it to target ads at us, but that seemed like a small price. If we didn’t like their online Disneylands, we could leave them and never come back.

But now we’ve gotten into a situation where democracy itself is strongly influenced by what happens inside social media platforms that are organized to maximize their owners’ profit. Disinformation and polarization are good for profits, but not for us as individuals, and not for our country or the world. But we can’t join the decision-making group, or even find out what they’re doing. And while we can walk away from the platforms themselves (at some cost to our ability to fully participate in society), we can’t isolate ourselves from their effect on our democratic systems.

and you also might be interested in …

A heart-breaking article about how conspiracy theorists hurt the very people they claim to help, like the children they are misguidedly trying to save from sex trafficking, as well as the actual sex-trafficking investigations they monkey-wrench.

For years we’ve been hearing about American airstrikes that go wrong and kill innocent people. This week the NYT published a series based on internal Pentagon assessments, claiming that

the American air war has been plagued by deeply flawed intelligence, rushed and imprecise targeting and the deaths of thousands of civilians, many of them children.

… Taken together, the 5,400 pages of records point to an institutional acceptance of civilian casualties. In the logic of the military, a strike was justifiable as long as the expected risk to civilians had been properly weighed against the military gain, and it had been approved up the chain of command.

The Pentagon records point to an official count of about 1,600 civilian deaths from airstrikes in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan since the official American ground war ended in Iraq in 2014. The Times’ estimate is much higher.

Christine Emba brings some common sense to the critical race theory disinformation campaign. Is math racist? Of course not. But the subject can be taught and its classes organized in racially biased ways.

Now we know what Putin’s sabre-rattling in Ukraine is about: He wants NATO to renounce expansion or other interference in what he imagines to be the Russian sphere of influence.

Bruce Springsteen’s half-billion-dollar deal with Sony induced the NYT to explain the new economics of the music business.

The intrepid war correspondents of Fox News are on the front lines as the War on Christmas enters its 17th year. CNN’s John Avalon looks back at the origins of this annual conflict. He interviews Alisyn Camerota, who is now with CNN, but was at Fox back in those early days of the War, when “marching orders” to give national 24/7 coverage to any local nativity-scene controversy “so that you begin to think it’s a national crisis” came down from Fox president Roger Ailes.

The turning of something that unifying, something that really should transcend partisan politics in every way, into something divisive that people can fixate on and feel fear about — that’s a real trick. And it’s also a sign of sickness, a sign of partisanship seeping into every element of our lives at the hands of people who are trying to gin up this anxiety.

The Sackler family had negotiated a sweet deal for itself: The family’s company, Purdue Pharma, would take full responsibility for its role in creating the opioid crisis, and then declare bankruptcy. That plan would generate $4 billion to pay out to victims, but shield the family from any further lawsuits, letting them walk away with their own billions intact.

But a federal judge threw that agreement out Thursday, saying that the New York bankruptcy court didn’t have the authority to offer the family that protection.

The Sackler family is the subject of the best-selling book Empire of Pain, and the HBO documentary The Crime of the Century.

and let’s close with something seasonal

Trust Stephen Colbert to remind us of what the Christmas season is really about: blockbuster movies. This year in particular marks the 20th anniversary of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first film in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Colbert commemorates this milestone as they undoubtedly would in Rivendell, with rap.

Solemn Mockery

The legislature of a State cannot annul the judgments, nor determine the jurisdiction, of the courts of the United States. … If the legislatures of the several states may at will annul the judgments of the courts of the United States, and destroy rights acquired under those judgments, the Constitution itself becomes a solemn mockery, and the Nation is deprived of the means of enforcing its laws by the instrumentality of its own tribunals.

– Chief Justice John Marshall
United States v Peters (1809)
quoted by Chief Justice John Roberts on Friday
in Whole Women’s Health v Jackson

There is no featured post this week.

This week everybody was talking about threats to democracy

The Biden administration hosted a virtual Summit for Democracy Friday and Saturday. The talks are available on the web site.

The event comes at a time when the US has been designated a “backsliding democracy” in the Global State of Democracy 2021 report by International IDEA.

The Global State of Democracy 2021 shows that more countries than ever are suffering from ‘democratic erosion’ (decline in democratic quality), including in established democracies. The number of countries undergoing ‘democratic backsliding’ (a more severe and deliberate kind of democratic erosion) has never been as high as in the last decade, and includes regional geopolitical and economic powers such as Brazil, India and the United States.

… Disputes about electoral outcomes are on the rise, including in established democracies. A historic turning point came in 2020–2021 when former President Donald Trump questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election results in the United States. Baseless allegations of electoral fraud and related disinformation undermined fundamental trust in the electoral process, which culminated in the storming of the US Capitol building in January 2021.

That backsliding was highlighted in the week’s most important article “Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun” by Barton Gellman in Atlantic.

For more than a year now, with tacit and explicit support from their party’s national leaders, state Republican operatives have been building an apparatus of election theft. Elected officials in Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other states have studied Donald Trump’s crusade to overturn the 2020 election. They have noted the points of failure and have taken concrete steps to avoid failure next time. Some of them have rewritten statutes to seize partisan control of decisions about which ballots to count and which to discard, which results to certify and which to reject. They are driving out or stripping power from election officials who refused to go along with the plot last November, aiming to replace them with exponents of the Big Lie. They are fine-tuning a legal argument that purports to allow state legislators to override the choice of the voters.

By way of foundation for all the rest, Trump and his party have convinced a dauntingly large number of Americans that the essential workings of democracy are corrupt, that made-up claims of fraud are true, that only cheating can thwart their victory at the polls, that tyranny has usurped their government, and that violence is a legitimate response.

Atlantic is hosting a virtual conversation about Gellman’s article today. A good companion to Gellman’s article is The Washington Post’s “18 Steps to a Democratic Breakdown“.

Meanwhile, we’re still learning more about Trump’s first coup attempt. Friday, Chris Hayes pulled together a narrative of Trump’s attempt to hold power after losing the 2020 election.

Both Hayes’ segment and Gellman’s article express a deep frustration at the story’s inability to grab public attention. Trump tried to overthrow American democracy and is setting up to try again. And yet, this doesn’t break through as a Watergate-level story that dominates the headlines day after day.

The response of each party is disappointing in its own way. By their complicity and silence, and sometimes by their active participation in Trump’s attempt to overthrow democracy, Republicans have let their party become the de facto party of autocracy. There are a few exceptions, but not many.

Because of their small majorities in Congress, Democrats have to be completely united to accomplish anything. So a few holdouts like Joe Manchin have prevented filibuster reform, which in turn has doomed any attempt to protect voting rights, limit gerrymandering, or put up any other resistance to the prospect of installing Trump (or some other MAGA Republican) against the will of the voters. The result is that, as a party, Democrats are not showing the urgency the situation requires.

CNN’s Zachary Wolf points out how this inability to act in the face of “existential threat” runs through multiple issues, including climate change.

Among the documents Mark Meadows turned over to the House January 6 Committee (before he started stonewalling again) was a 36-slide Powerpoint presentation outlining how to overturn the 2020 election: “Election Fraud, Foreign Interference & Options for 6 Jan”, which was presented to some Trump-allied senators and representatives on January 4.

Senators and members of Congress should first be briefed about foreign interference, the PowerPoint said, at which point Trump could declare a national emergency, declare all electronic voting invalid, and ask Congress to agree on a constitutionally acceptable remedy.

The PowerPoint also outlined three options for then vice-president Mike Pence to abuse his largely ceremonial role at the joint session of Congress on 6 January, when Biden was to be certified president, and unilaterally return Trump to the White House.

Apparently the “foreign interference” in the presentation’s title was a bizarre and unsupported-by-evidence claim that “the Chinese systematically gained control over our election system.”

The DC Circuit Court of Appeals rejected former President Trump’s attempt to block a subpoena by the January 6 Committee for documents from his administration now held in the US Archives. The 68-page decision concluded that

former President Trump has failed to satisfy any of [the] criteria for preliminary injunctive relief.

Namely: a likelihood of success on the merits of his claim, irreparable harm if an injunction is not granted, and advancing the public interest.

In short, confronting former President Trump’s claim of privilege is the hydraulic constitutional force of not only a reasoned decision by the President that a limited release is in the interests of the United States, and the uniquely compelling need of Congress for this information, but also this court’s “duty of care to ensure that we not needlessly disturb ‘the compromises and working arrangements that those [Political] branches themselves have reached.’” …

President Trump bears the burden of at least showing some weighty interest in continued confidentiality that could be capable of tipping the scales back in his favor … He offers instead only a grab-bag of objections that simply assert without elaboration his superior assessment of Executive Branch interests, insists that Congress and the Committee have no legitimate legislative interest in an attack on the Capitol, and impugns the motives of President Biden and the House. That falls far short of meeting his burden and makes it impossible for this court to find any likelihood of success.

The main problem with the suit is that Trump claims to be suing to preserve the interests of the Presidency, and that’s just not his job any more. This isn’t the legislative vs. executive branch conflict he frames it as. It’s a private citizen asking the judicial branch to undo an agreement between the legislative and executive branches.

The case looks headed for the Supreme Court, but I think the best the conservative majority can do for Trump is stall. He hasn’t given them a credible way to rule in his favor.

and the pandemic

The post-Thanksgiving surge continues. New cases are averaging 119K per day, up 43% in two weeks. Deaths are averaging 1298 per day, up 32%. The Midwest and Northeast continue to be hardest hit, though Kentucky and West Virginia are still among the leaders in deaths and hospitalizations per capita.

Meanwhile, the first information about vaccines and the Omicron variant started coming out. British and Israeli studies tell similar stories: Two doses of vaccine don’t provide much protection against Omicron, but three do.

Meanwhile, the UK reported its first Omicron death.

Meanwhile, misinformation and conspiracy theories don’t have to wait for data.

Michael Osterholm from the University of Minnesota predicted in April, 2020 that the US could see 800K deaths in the next year and a half, which is startlingly close to what has happened. It’s always hard to tell how much luck is involved in a prediction like that, but you do have to wonder what he’s saying now.

Here’s what I found interesting:

While it’s early, I believe that Omicron is less virulent than Delta. The variant is being studied in South Africa, which is important because the virus has been in that country longer than others. And we do know that hospitalizations, serious illness and deaths are lagging indicators. Rates often rise two to three weeks after rises in case numbers start to occur. But as of today, the epidemiologic and clinical data on Omicron cases around the world support this virus is less lethal than Delta.

… When we first investigated the Covid-19 vaccines, we had to prioritize the assessment of the safety of the vaccines, which was done well. But we never really understood how to best use the vaccine in terms of number of doses, dose spacing, even the dose amount to maximize our immune response both for the short and long-term. … [W]e do need that third dose — and not as a luxury dose, but the third dose of a three-dose prime series. It should have been three doses all along.

… [W]e keep hearing about technology transfer and giving [low-income] countries the ability to make their own vaccines, and yet the expertise needed to make these vaccines is really at a premium. It’s very difficult to find people who know how to do this. So, it’s not enough to transfer technology to a low-income country if you don’t provide the expertise to make these vaccines. It’s not as simple as making chicken soup.

Ridiculous claims of executive privilege are not just for coup plotters. Trump administration trade representative and Covid-adviser Peter Navarro is refusing to comply with a subpoena from the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

Navarro claims he is obeying a “direct order” from Private Citizen Donald Trump.

While he was in the government, Navarro was a font of misinformation about hydroxychloroquine and other snake-oil Covid cures, as well as calling Anthony Fauci the “father of the virus” based on a thinly supported conspiracy theory about a Wuhan lab.

and SB8

Supreme Court had another chance to rule on Texas’ vigilante-enforced anti-abortion law SB8.

The Supreme Court on Friday refused for a second time to block Texas Senate Bill 8 (SB8), which bans abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy, in what may seem like a misleading 8-1 vote in favor of abortion providers’ attempts to challenge the law.

The reason the 8-1 vote is misleading stems from the fact that the Court left open “a single tenuous route to challenging” SB8 while not only keeping intact the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the US, but also foreclosing relief against Texas state court officials and its attorney general. As one academic commentator from Florida State University remarked, “If you read the win for abortion providers here as some kind of positive sign in the Dobbs case, I think you’re deluding yourself.”

I confess that I haven’t read the Court’s ruling, but I make the link available in case you want to.

The Court was not ruling on the case itself, but on various motions: to dismiss the case, or to grant in injunction against enforcing the SB8 until a final decision on its constitutionality. It denied the injunction, and narrowed the scope of who the pro-choice plaintiffs can sue.

If you consider Roe v Wade a binding precedent (which it is until the Court reverses it), SB8 is clearly unconstitutional. But SB8 is designed to evade the federal courts, and by a 5-4 vote, the Court is doing nothing about that.

This evisceration of the Supreme Court’s authority does not sit well with Chief Justice Roberts (hence the quote at the top), but the five radical conservative justices on the Court now leave him on the outside looking in.

California Governor Gavin Newsom plans to strike back. If conservative states can nullify federal court rulings, so can liberal states:

If states can shield their laws from review by federal courts, then CA will use that authority to help protect lives. We will work to create the ability for private citizens to sue anyone who manufactures, distributes, or sells an assault weapon or ghost gun kit or parts in CA.

A Texas judge is doing what the federal Supreme Court has refused to do: block the enforcement mechanism of SB8 because it violates the state constitution. The judge

ruled that the law unconstitutionally gave legal standing to people not injured, and was an “unlawful delegation of enforcement power to a private person.”

and commented:

In response to a direct question from this court, the attorneys responded that they are not aware of any comparable set of procedures in American law, ever, whether enacted for civil cases generally or for one special kind of lawsuit alone.

If you’re wondering what a religious takeover of government looks like, consider parts of India dominated by Hindu nationalists.

Citing complaints from Hindus as well as health concerns, local officials in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city, and at least four other cities in mid-November banned the sale and display of meat, fish and eggs on the street. As the mayor of one city, Rajkot, told the local news media: “Carts with nonvegetarian food can be seen everywhere in the city. The religious sentiments of the people are hurt by this.”

See? The religious nationalists are victims of those horrible egg-eaters and the vendors who serve them. They’re just fighting back.

and tornadoes

Tornadoes ripped through the center of the country late Friday and early Saturday, probably killing over 100 people, most of them in Kentucky.

Does global warming increase the number and force of tornadoes? Probably, but scientists are careful about stuff like that.

and you also might be interested in …

Weirdly, another Republican in Congress decided to celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace by posting a photo of her children with their military-style guns. Didn’t some guy once tell his followers to put their weapons away because “all who draw the sword will die by the sword”?

I am reminded of the John Pavlovitz column where he asks conservative Christians what Jesus they believe in, and concludes “It’s not any Jesus I know.”

As Fox News becomes the Tucker Carlson Channel, there is less and less place for anyone hoping to do real journalism. The network’s latest loss is Chris Wallace. He will join CNN’s new streaming service, CNN+.

Paul Krugman remarks on the strange disjunction between the economy and public opinion about the economy. Jobs are up, GDP is up, businesses are investing, retail sales are up, and the stock market is high. If you ask people how they are doing personally, they are upbeat. But if you ask them how the economy in general is doing, they say “not so good”. There’s some inflation (which is a global phenomenon), but does that really negate everything else?

Speaking of Mark Meadows (as I did above), I have never before heard an author refer to his own book as “fake news”. Trump objected to Meadows’ account of him testing positive for Covid and not telling the people around him, so Meadows backed down. Because the Truth is whatever Trump says it is.

Chris Christie, meanwhile, is pretty sure Trump gave him the Covid that sent him to the ICU.

There is now a unionized Starbucks. It’s in Buffalo.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a popular Republican in a Democratic state, isn’t running for re-election or anything else next year.

Rather than try to rehabilitate the party he’s belonged to for decades, Baker chose to step aside. His move dovetails with the recent decisions of Chris Sununu of New Hampshire and Phil Scott of Vermont—two other Republicans who routinely poll among the most popular governors in the country—to spurn what could be competitive Senate races next year.

Baker-style Republicans are starting to recognize that they have no place in the Trump personality cult that the GOP has become. Why would they want to rise in a party where Trump can make you denounce your own book as “fake news”?

Derek Thompson in The Atlantic reflects on the decline in religious affiliation among Americans (especially young Americans), what caused it, and what it means going forward.

The main causes the article cites are (1) liberal disgust with the increasing identification between Christianity and conservative politics; and (2) America’s main enemy switching from the atheistic USSR to the hyper-religious Al Qaeda.

He also inverts the usual link between families and churches. It’s not that loss of religion undermines families, but that the loss of close family relationships undermines religion.

just as stable families make stable congregations, family instability can destabilize the Church. Divorced individuals, single parents, and children of divorce or single-parent households are all more likely to detach over time from their congregations.

A new product entered the market this week: eyedrops that temporarily fix age-related near-sightedness.

The new medicine takes effect in about 15 minutes, with one drop on each eye providing sharper vision for six to 10 hours, according to the company.

Hating eyedrops myself, I don’t see the win. But I guess other people do.

Gawker demonstrates the right way to publish an interview with someone who makes a lot of off-the-wall and unsupported claims. This interview is with RFK Jr., who was anti-vax before anti-vax was cool among the people who think it’s cool now. Kennedy’s words are published as he spoke them, but fact-checking and other needed contextual information is displayed just as prominently.

and let’s close with a different kind of merriment

If you’re about to OD on Christmas movies, maybe this collection of SNL Christmas-movie parodies will get you feeling like yourself again.

Autocrats of Trade

If we will not endure a king as a political power we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life. If we would not submit to an emperor we should not submit to an autocrat of trade, with power to prevent competition and to fix the price of any commodity.

– Senator John Sherman, author of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890

This week’s featured post is “How Ominous Were Tuesday’s Elections?“.

This week everybody was talking about last Tuesday’s elections

That’s the topic of the featured post.

and the bipartisan infrastructure bill

which finally passed Friday. The bill passed the Senate back in August, but it had been stuck in the House while negotiations on the parallel Build Back Better bill continued. BBB is still stuck, but Tuesday’s disappointing election results convinced Democrats that they needed to ring up an accomplishment quickly.

The $1.2 trillion bill really is a BFD for Biden, and it’s important that the bill not get overshadowed by what’s not in it. Trump talked endlessly about what a great builder he is, but he couldn’t get this done and Biden did.

We also shouldn’t let the bill fall victim to what Jay Rosen has dubbed the “cult of savviness” in the mainstream media. The important thing is not the play-by-play of the congressional process, it’s what the bill does. The short version: fixing run-down roads and bridges, bringing broadband internet to rural areas, upgrading public transit and cross-country rail, improving ports and airports, modernizing the electrical grid, and upgrading water systems by, for example, getting the lead out of water pipes.

and the pandemic

US case numbers had been going down since mid-September, but that trend has flattened at around 72K cases per day, or 22 per 100K people. Deaths continue to fall, but we’re still losing about 1200 people a day.

Something I find ominous is the way high-case counties are clustered in the far north, like Coos County, NH (125 cases per 100K), Baraga County, MI (122), Blaine County, MT (135), and the whole state of Alaska (82). Even Vermont, which until now has consistently had low case-counts and high vaccination rates, is up to 49. All are low-population areas where it doesn’t take many cases to push the numbers up, but they also all have borders with Canada. Which makes me wonder: Is this a seasonal outbreak that will drift south in the coming weeks?

Pfizer announced a new anti-Covid drug, Paxlovid, that it claims cuts deaths by 89%. Like Merck’s recently announced Molnupiravir, Pfizer’s drug is a pill that can be taken at home.

The partisan gap in Covid deaths continues to grow.

Starting today, US border checkpoints will let fully vaccinated travelers enter.

I have zero sympathy for police who refuse to get vaccinated or police unions that fight against vaccine mandates. The simple reality is that you aren’t allowed to socially distance from the police, if they decide to get in your face. That puts the responsibility on them to minimize the risks they bring to the job.

I completely agree with John Oliver, including the expletives:

This all sums up the American police problem in miniature. The constant refrain we hear from cops every time they kill an unarmed, Black person is, “They should have complied with commands.” Because as long as you comply, things will supposedly go well. But that only seems to work one way. Because when officers are asked to follow simple rules or face consequences, a not insignificant amount of them flip their shit.

So if an officer wants to quit over this, fucking let them. Let the individuals who clearly don’t care about public safety stop being in charge of public safety. It is really that simple.

Dr. Ashish Jha of Brown University draws a parallel:

There is a viral disease where most infections are mild, asymptomatic. With a very low fatality rate. And large age gradient: kids are even lower risk than adults. And less than 1% of kids have any serious complications at all.

Yup. Polio. And we vaccinate against it

but I want to talk about a book

Senator Amy Klobuchar has written a much meatier book than you typically get from a politician: Antitrust: Taking on Monopoly Power From the Gilded Age to the Digital Age. (That’s where I got the Sherman quote at the top of the page.) It is as engagingly written as a book with this many footnotes can be, and does two things: tells the story of American antitrust law, and advocates for updating the laws to handle the particular problems of monopoly and monopsony in the current era.

Klobuchar turns out to have an antitrust background. Early in her career as a lawyer, she represented MCI as it tried to break into the telephone market then dominated by AT&T. Today, she is on the Senate Commerce Committee.

In addition to her specific proposals — the book has many of them — Klobuchar wants to take the anti-monopoly movement back from the lawyers (even though she is one). Antitrust has become a complex legal specialty that in many ways is far removed from the popular movement that spawned it in the 19th century. Leaving it to the lawyers might be fine if the laws on the books solved the problem and only needed enforcement. But monopolistic practices keep evolving while the law stands still — or even backtracks, as our big-business-friendly Supreme Court interprets antitrust laws in ways that make them ever harder to apply.

That situation will only change if there is political pressure. And since the big money is lined up against such change, the only place it can come from is people.

and you also might be interested in …

I am a former fan of Green Bay Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has broken NFL Covid protocols and deceived the public about his vaccination status. When asked by reporters weeks ago, Rodgers said he had been “immunized”, which to him meant something different from vaccinated.

The public found out about the deception this week when he tested positive for Covid. The NFL requires unvaccinated players to isolate from their teams for ten days after a positive test, and they finally decided to enforce the rules on the league MVP, causing him to miss Sunday’s loss to Kansas City.

AP summarizes the NFL protocols and who is responsible for enforcing them. The Atlantic’s Jamele Hill provides commentary.

But the stunning news of Rodgers’s COVID-19 diagnosis has been compounded by what else it revealed: Rodgers had lied about his vaccination status, and his team had likely provided cover for his deception. Both the Packers and the league itself have stood idly by as the reigning NFL MVP apparently violated safety protocols and jeopardized the health of others around him.

Throughout the season, Rodgers has been seen maskless many times at indoor press conferences. Per the NFL’s coronavirus protocols, unvaccinated players are required to wear masks at all times inside club facilities, submit to daily PCR testing, and avoid being within six feet of other unvaccinated players while traveling or eating meals. … Rodgers has put the NFL’s credibility in jeopardy. The situation raises the obvious question of whether other teams have been covering for unvaccinated key players.

It got worse from there. Rather than apologize, Rodgers lashed out at the “woke mob” and “cancel culture” in an interview where he

rattled off a Bingo card’s worth of anti-vaxx catchphrases: Ivermectin, “politicized,” “my own research,” a Martin Luther King Jr. quote applied wildly out of context (“You have a moral obligation to object to unjust rules”), “monoclonals,” “sterility,” and more.

“I’m not some sort of anti-vaxx flat-earther. I am somebody who’s a critical thinker. I march to the beat of my own drum. I believe strongly in bodily autonomy, and the ability to make choices for your body, not to have to acquiesce to some woke culture or crazed group of individuals who say you have to do something.”

That “crazed group of individuals” includes his employer, who has paid him $263 million during his 17-year career.

His main sponsor, State Farm Insurance, is standing by him publicly, but has reduced his appearances from 25% of their commercials to under 2%.

I’m glad to hear the Justice Department link the Texas abortion law to what a blue state could do against gun rights.

A state might, for example, ban the sale of firearms for home protection, contra District of Columbia v. Heller, or prohibit independent corporate campaign advertising, contra Citizens United v. FEC, and deputize its citizens to seek large bounties for each sale or advertisement. Those statutes, too, would plainly violate the Constitution as interpreted by this court. But under Texas’ theory, they could be enforced without prior judicial review — and, by creating an enforcement scheme sufficiently lopsided and punitive, the state could deter the exercise of the target right altogether.

To the disappointment of Q-Anon faithful who gathered on Dallas’ famous grassy knoll Tuesday, JFK Jr. did not return from his apparent death (faked 20 years ago, according to the theory) to become the VP of a restored Trump administration. So it’s on to the next crazy prediction.

and let’s close with a love story

Hubert and Kalissa were a bonded pair of lions described as “inseparable” by the Los Angeles Zoo curator of animals. Both 21 years old, they had far outlived a typical lion lifespan of 14-17 years. Suffering from a variety of age-related infirmities that had “diminished their quality of life”, the two were euthanized together so that neither would have to be alone.

The couple met at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, and in 2014 were transferred to Los Angeles where “They quickly became favorites among LA Zoo guests and staff and were known for their frequent cuddles and nuzzles.”

Where the Weekly Summary Is

Here. Due to a technical glitch, WordPress thinks I published it two days ago.

The Increasingly Desperate Attack on Democracy

In Congress and behind the scenes, Trump and his allies try to hang onto power, in spite of both the voters and the law.

Whenever dealing with a Trump story, I like to take a moment to remember how things were before his regime took power. Otherwise, it’s easy to forget how unusual and un-American these last four years have been.

According to the procedures established in the 12th Amendment and the Electoral Count Act of 1887, every four years a joint session of Congress meets on January 6 to formally receive and tally the electoral votes of the states. Typically this is a non-event; you probably don’t even remember it happening in 2017 or 2013. In 2005, two Democrats — Barbara Boxer in the Senate and Tubbs Jones in the House — used it as a stage to call attention to voter suppression in Ohio. The Senate defeated Boxer’s challenge 74-1, and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry refused to endorse it. No one viewed it as a serious attempt to undo the election.

The only other challenge was in 1969, and concerned whether or not to count the vote of a faithless elector. Whichever side won that challenge, Richard Nixon would become president.

In short, the United States has a long tradition of respecting the elections held in November. Until now.

This is the first time since 1877 that we have arrived at January 6 with the loser of the election claiming that he won, and pressuring the system to put him in office. It is the first time ever that an incumbent president has used the power of his office to push such a claim.

Normally, we have an election in November, the votes are tallied, and the loser concedes as soon as the outcome is clear. It took a little longer to count the votes this time, but the outcome has been clear since November 7. This election was not close: Biden won the popular vote by more than 7 million, and carried the Republican-biased Electoral College 306-232.

But Trump’s effort to hang onto power illegitimately continues on multiple fronts.

The extortion call. Until yesterday, “Trump’s extortion call” would have referred to his July 2019 conversation with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, the one where he asked for a “favor” in exchange for releasing desperately needed military aid appropriated by Congress. He got impeached for that, and would have been removed from office if not for Republican partisanship in the Senate. Susan Collins famously voted to let him off, speculating that he had “learned a pretty big lesson“.

Yesterday, we found out what lesson he really did learn: He can get away with extortion calls.

Sunday, the Washington Post released excerpts, a full recording, and a transcript of a call Trump made Saturday to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who oversaw the certification of the election in which Trump lost Georgia and its 18 electoral votes.

In the call, Trump insists that “I won this election by hundreds of thousands of votes. There’s no way I lost Georgia. There’s no way. We won by hundreds of thousands of votes.” And he pressures Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we [need to win the state]”. (Trump actually says “have” rather than “need”, but it’s clear what he means.) He tells Raffensperger “there’s nothing wrong with saying that, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated.”

In claiming that he’s entitled to these votes, Trump rehashes a laundry list of debunked conspiracy theories, which Raffensperger rebuts:

I don’t believe that you’re really questioning the Dominion machines. Because we did a hand retally, a 100% retally of all the ballots and compared them to what the machines said and came up with virtually the same result. Then we did the recount, and we got virtually the same result. So I guess we can probably take that off the table.

Trump deflects but does not acknowledge reality: Dominion machines did switch votes, he claims, but he doesn’t need those votes because he has other claims, all of which are equally groundless.

He makes a series of vague threats of mob violence in Georgia or prosecution of Raffensperger: “The people of Georgia are angry. … I hate to imagine what’s going to happen on Monday [when Trump has a rally in Georgia] or Tuesday, but it’s very scary to people. … [I]t is more illegal for you than it is for them because, you know what they did and you’re not reporting it. That’s a criminal, that’s a criminal offense. And you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. … But I mean, all of this stuff is very dangerous stuff. When you talk about no criminality, I think it’s very dangerous for you to say that.”

Raffensperger and his lawyer Ryan Germany calmly rebut all Trump claims, and stand by the accuracy of the election results: Trump lost Georgia. Trump refuses to accept this, and pressures them to release privileged voter data to his lawyers. (I believe this would allow Trump to know how individual people voted.) Germany replies “I don’t think we can give access to data that’s protected by law.” Trump lawyer Kurt Hilbert suggests an illegal work-around: “[I]s it possible that the secretary of state could deputize the lawyers for the president so that we could access that information and private information without you having any kind of violation?”

Crime or insanity? I have to agree with Mark Hamill:

Listening to the entire phone call is like discovering a long-lost episode of The Sopranos.

Trump never says: “I need you to cheat for me and bad things will happen to you if you don’t.” — just like Tony Soprano never says, “I want you to murder that guy.” Instead, the call is full of innuendo and falsehoods: not cheat for me, but believe these outrageous lies and act like they’re true.

Lots of mobsters are behind bars for conversations like this. If the intention is clear, the literal meaning of the words doesn’t necessarily matter. Several legal experts have said Trump violated the law by pressuring an election official to reverse an election. Here’s former Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Bromwich:

Unless there are portions of the tape that somehow negate criminal intent, “I just want to find 11,780 votes” and his threats against Raffensperger and his counsel violate 52 U.S. Code § 20511. His best defense would be insanity.

Lawrence Lessig allows for the possibility that Trump really believes all the nonsense he’s spouting. In that case, insanity would be more than just a legal ploy.

When you listen to the tape, what’s most striking is that he really sounds like he believes that he’s been robbed of the election. Like he really believes there were hundreds of thousands of ballots stolen or reversed — and is pleading with the SOS to reverse a crime. If that’s true, this doesn’t evince a crime. It evinces that the man has no connection to reality. Impeachment isn’t the remedy for that. The 25th Amendment is.

Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein is not a lawyer, but draws the obvious political conclusion:

In any other conceivable moment in US history, this tape would result in the leadership of both parties demanding the immediate resignation of the President of the United States.

Raffensperger. Raffensperger has already spoken out about being pressured by Trump’s allies. In November, he said that Lindsey Graham had pressured him to find a way not to count legally cast mail-in votes. Graham denied doing that, which is why Raffensperger decided to make a recording this time.

So why not record the call with the president, Raffensperger’s advisers thought, if nothing else for fact-checking purposes. “This is a man who has a history of reinventing history as it occurs,” one of them told Playbook. “So if he’s going to try to dispute anything on the call, it’s nice to have something like this, hard evidence, to dispute whatever he’s claiming about the secretary. Lindsey Graham asked us to throw out legally cast ballots. So yeah, after that call, we decided maybe we should do this.”

Raffensperger held the tape until Trump mischaracterized the call:

I spoke to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger yesterday about Fulton County and voter fraud in Georgia. He was unwilling, or unable, to answer questions such as the “ballots under table” scam, ballot destruction, out of state “voters”, dead voters, and more. He has no clue!

As with the Ukraine call, the Raffensperger call is just the one we happen to know about. We can only wonder: How many other calls has he made to pressure election officials into breaking the law for him?

Shenanigans in Congress. On Wednesday, Congress meets to officially receive and count the electoral votes. Ordinarily this is a formality that the public barely notices, but we’ve never before had an autocrat pulling out all the stops to stay in power (and quite likely to stay out of jail). Back in August, when I was considering Trump’s options for overthrowing democracy, I circled this date:

Here’s something I have great faith in: If the joint session of Congress on January 6 recognizes that Joe Biden has received the majority of electoral votes, he will become president at noon on January 20 and the government will obey his orders. Where Donald Trump is at the time, and whatever he is claiming or tweeting, will be of no consequence.

The inauguration itself is a tradition, not a constitutional requirement. Biden has to take the oath, but he could do it in his basement in Delaware. (After the Kennedy assassination, Vice President Johnson took the oath of office on Air Force One.) Congress’ recognition of his election signals to the rest of the government that Biden becomes president on January 20.

It appears there will be a challenge. Dozens of Republican congresspeople have said they will challenge the electors of various states, possibly including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Saturday, seven current Republican senators and four who will take their seats in the new Senate announced their support for Trump’s coup attempt. This is not a formality or a protest: Trump is claiming that he should remain in office in spite of the state-certified election results, and these Republicans are backing that claim.

This has never happened before in American history.

According to their joint statement, the senators are demanding that Congress

immediately appoint an Electoral Commission, with full investigatory and fact-finding authority, to conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states. Once completed, individual states would evaluate the Commission’s findings and could convene a special legislative session to certify a change in their vote, if needed.

This would keep the drama going right up to January 20, when the Trump and Pence terms end. If no successor has been recognized by then, we’re in uncharted territory. In that scenario, probably Nancy Pelosi has the best claim on the office.

The statement cites “unprecedented allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law, and other voting irregularities” as a reason for this Commission, which the statement suggests should be modeled on the one that delivered the presidency to Rutherford Hayes in 1876 (as part of a deal that ended Reconstruction and set the stage for the Jim Crow era in the South).

Coyly, the senators make no actual allegations, and provide no evidence that there was any significant fraud — because there is no such evidence. Trump’s allegations have been raised in the appropriate venues and have been rejected at every turn by state and local election boards, secretaries of state, and state and federal courts at all levels. Often, when they get to court, Trump’s lawyers have refused to make the claims Trump makes, or that the same lawyers make to the media. There are, after all, consequences for lying to judges, but none for lying the American public.

Many of the officials who rejected the claims are Republicans (like Raffensperger) and many of the judges were appointed by Republicans, including some by Trump himself. Trump administration officials, including Attorney General Bill Barr, have found no evidence of the kind of fraud that could have decided the election. Trump has urged Republican legislatures to overturn their states’ elections, and none has done so.

Instead, the statement justifies the Election Commission by quoting polls showing that large numbers of Americans believe Trump’s lies — and the echoing lies of some of these same senators — that the election was rigged. Ben Sasse summarizes:

Right now we are locked in a destructive, vicious circle:Step 1: Allege widespread voter fraud. Step 2: Fail to offer specific evidence of widespread fraud. Step 3: Demand investigation, on grounds that there are “allegations” of voter fraud.

Facts don’t matter. It should be obvious that if such a 10-day Election Commission is convened on January 6, on January 16 we’ll be right back where we are now: The Commission might rehash some fanciful tales of fraud, but it will find no evidence (because there is no evidence). No legislatures will replace their electors. Trump will continue to say the election was rigged, and his sheep will continue to repeat his claims. Worse, he and his followers will use the very existence of a commission to claim that there was something uniquely suspect about the 2020 election. Rather than restore public confidence, the Commission would dignify Trump’s conspiracy theories.

If this were a dispute about facts, a fact-finding commission might resolve it. But the facts have been clear for a long time. (Ben Sasse has summarized them pretty well too.) Trump and his followers don’t want to accept the facts, and no one can make them. They want to overturn the election so that Trump can have a second term — and probably stay in office for life. Nothing else will satisfy them, so they will have to go unsatisfied.

Republican pushback. Fortunately, this effort to turn America fascist will fail on Wednesday, with both the House and the Senate declaring Biden the winner. Trump’s supporters will probably riot in response — so much for law and order — but they will achieve nothing.

The effort will fail because not all Republicans are going along with it. Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse have been the most vocal critics in the Republican Senate caucus, but Lindsey Graham, Tom Cotton, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski have also made statements against the challenge. Prominent Republicans not currently in office have also denounced the move. Paul Ryan, for example, was blunt:

Efforts to reject the votes of the Electoral College and sow doubt about Joe Biden’s victory strike at the foundation of our republic. It is difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act than a federal intervention to overturn the results of state-certified elections and disenfranchise millions of Americans. The fact that this effort will fail does not mean it will not do significant damage to American democracy.

And then? Once Congress has recognized Biden’s election, Trump has no more cards to play within the American political system. His only option then is to attempt a violent revolution. This could be why all living former defense secretaries — including Trump secretaries James Mattis and Mark Esper — issued a statement urging current Pentagon officials to cooperate in the Biden transition (which Trump’s people have not been doing).

Acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller and his subordinates — political appointees, officers and civil servants — are each bound by oath, law and precedent to facilitate the entry into office of the incoming administration, and to do so wholeheartedly. They must also refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder the success of the new team.

My personal prediction is that Trump will back down from starting an armed conflict that he will lose, just as he has lost everywhere else. Instead, I expect that after Congress votes and the Proud Boys riot, he will enter the bargaining stage of his defeat: We’ll start hearing about all the horrible things he could still do, and what he wants in order to restrain himself from doing them.

The Yearly Sift 2020: State of the Sift

One annual tradition of this blog is to take a look back at the numbers and assess the Weekly Sift’s popularity. It’s sort of a compromise with myself: I avoid the tendency to focus week-by-week on how the posts perform, as well as the temptation to pander to a wider audience at the expense of my regular readers. But at the same time, the point of doing a blog is to have readers, so I need to notice what does or doesn’t get a response.

One event that pulls this question into focus happened in 2011, when “Six True Things Politicians Can’t Say” suddenly hit it big with over 50,000 page views in a single day — still a Sift record. For a long time, it was the blog’s most popular post, with more than double the number of hits of posts I thought were more substantial. (No doubt one-hit-wonder bands feel the same way.) Not that there was anything wrong with “Six True Things”, but I had the hunch that its popularity had more to do with its formulaic clickbait title than with its content. For months afterward, I resisted the temptation to come up with “Six More True Things Politicians Can’t Say”. (I still use the X-things format when appropriate, like this year’s “The Four Big Lies of the Republican Convention“.)

So anyway, I think about these things once a year.

As I’ve explained in previous years, various measures of this blog’s popularity have been in contradictory trends for several years: Year after year it has more regular readers but fewer (and less explosive) viral posts. I think the lack of viral posts is largely the result of changes in Facebook’s algorithms, which make it harder for a link to spread without paying Facebook to promote it (which I never do). That certainly is a factor that has been felt across the blogosphere, but it’s hard to say if that’s the whole explanation. Maybe I just don’t write ’em like I used to.

So anyway, if you look at total hits on the site, as measured by WordPress, that statistic peaked at 782K in 2015, and then declined each year until it hit 188K in 2019. 2019’s numbers would have been even lower without “How Should We Rewrite the Second Amendment?“, which got 17K hits because a Google algorithm called it to the attention of people interested in the Second Amendment, who positively hated it. It picked up 303 comments, almost all of them negative. (“Take this article, crumble it up nice and tight and shove it up your ass.”) I believe this is my only post that ever went negatively viral, by spreading from one hater to another. (Though 2011’s “Why I Am Not a Libertarian“, with 28K hits and 283 far more mixed comments, was arguably another one.) I picture gun-nuts all over the country sending each other the link with a comment like: “Look at this! Can you believe this shit?”

This year, driven by the election and the amount of quarantine time we all spent browsing the internet, total hits rebounded to over 200K, and should wind up around 205K. Comparisons to 2015 tell a clear story: Over 400K of 2015’s hits came from two viral posts: “Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party” (which posted in 2014, but got most of its hits in 2015) and “You Don’t Have to Hate Anybody to be a Bigot“. “The Distress of the Privileged“, which came out in 2012, chipped in another 50K.

Those kind of single-post numbers have been out of reach for a long time. “Not a Tea Party” and “Distress” garnered an additional 14K hits in 2020 — I have no idea what sets them on new runs — but the most popular new posts of 2020 had far more modest numbers: “Ten Principles that Unify Democrats (and most of the country)” (6.6K), “The Underlying Differences Between Liberals and Conservatives” (5.9K), and “In the Land of ‘No We Can’t’” (3.7K). “Opening Thoughts About the Trump Voter” (2.9K) came out two weeks ago and hasn’t finished its run yet, so it should go over 3K in the next day or two.

On the other hand, WordPress also tells me that 6032 people now follow the blog. I have no idea exactly what that number includes, how often those six thousand folks read the posts WordPress emails them, whether they forward those emails to their friends, or how many people read the Sift through some other blog-following service. But the apples-to-apples on that 6032 is 3820 in 2015. I started noticing Facebook numbers in 2018, when the Sift’s page had 978 follows; it now has 1166.

A mixed measure of readership is hits on the homepage, Those hits are of two types: (1) regular readers who have the blog bookmarked so they can check it regularly, and (2) people who come across some viral post and then look at the homepage to see what else the blog does. I have no idea how to separate the two. That number peaked at 101K in 2016, then declined each year to 66K last year before rebounding somewhat this year to around 69-70K.

Hits on the weekly summaries — which again are mainly read by regulars — are up significantly. Years ago, 300 hits was a good number for a summary, but much higher numbers are common now: April 20’s “Off the Table” got nearly a thousand views.

Finally, the number — and I would argue, the quality — of the comments has been going up for some while. The Sift now has what I said I wanted several years ago: a commenting community. There are now discussions I don’t feel I need to get involved in, because I had my say already and you guys are doing fine. A few years ago, I felt like I had to respond whenever a commenter pushed a false right-wing talking point, because otherwise the blog would be a vehicle for disinformation. But these days, there are regular commenters who take care of that.

There were 1407 comments in 2015 (again, most of them responding to the small number of viral posts). This year had somewhat more: 1540 with a week to go; 1570 if you count the last week of 2019 to make a full year. So a smaller number of hits on the website is leading to more comments. Substance is hard to quantify, but my impression is that in the past more comments were pretty simple agreements or disagreements. If you look at “Opening Thoughts About the Trump Voter” from two weeks ago, the comments are almost more interesting than the post.

Next year, I’m going to face the same problem as all political media: How do I draw attention without the five-alarm dumpster fire of the Trump presidency? I’m thinking about it. Maybe it’s finally time for “Six More True Things”.

Republicans Start Reaping the Whirlwind

Republican officials who want to recognize reality, do their jobs, and follow the law are finding themselves branded as Republicans In Name Only.

Early in the classic movie A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More is arguing with zealous young William Roper about the importance of the Law. Roper asks whether More would extend the benefits of the law even to the Devil himself, and More turns the question around: “What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?” Roper allows that this would be a fine idea, that he would be willing to “cut down every law in England” in order to pursue the Devil. And More responds:

And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?

In the weeks since the election, Republicans like Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey, Georgia’s Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and even Trump appointees like Attorney General Bill Barr, and cybersecurity czar Christopher Krebs have been learning a similar lesson, not about Law, but about Reality.

For decades, Republicans have been motivating their base voters by dabbling in fantasies and conspiracy theories. But they have always imagined that the craziness could be put back in its bottle after it had served its purpose. In the waning days of the Trump administration, however, the fantasy world has taken over and demanded fealty. Republican officials who want to recognize reality, do their jobs, and follow the law are finding themselves branded as villainous turncoats, Republicans In Name Only.

Few in the GOP have the courage to stand up to that pressure. A Washington Post survey this week found that only 25 Republicans in Congress (later rising to 27) are willing to admit that Joe Biden won the election.

Two Republicans consider Trump the winner despite all evidence showing otherwise. And another 220 GOP members of the House and Senate — about 88 percent of all Republicans serving in Congress — will simply not say who won the election.

And soon-to-be-former President Donald Trump responded to that report by wanting to know who those disloyal Republicans are.

25, wow! I am surprised there are so many. We have just begun to fight. Please send me a list of the 25 RINOS.

And it’s not just the Stolen Trump Victory fantasy, it’s also the Covid Isn’t a Big Deal fantasy. Ohio’s Republican Governor Mike DeWine is facing calls for impeachment from his own party, because he insists on taking action to save his citizens’ lives. Viewed from the Conservative Fantasy World (CFW), his attempt to slow the spread of a deadly virus

promotes fear, turns neighbors against neighbors, and contracts the economy by making people fearful to leave their homes.

Other Republicans have taken note. South Dakota’s Governor Kristi Noem has seen Covid burn through her state like a wildfire through a dry grassland, and done essentially nothing to stop it. With visions of national office, Noem does not dare tie herself to reality.

At the end of the Trump administration, the CFW is not just one or two fantasies, it is many: Antifa is burning down our cities! Hunter Biden did [I can never quite figure out what]! The Deep State invented the Russia hoax! Joe Biden has dementia! The DNC server is in Ukraine! Bill Gates is trying to micro-chip us all! Anti-Covid restrictions are a plot against religion! Democrats are protecting an international pedophile ring! George Soros is financing a migrant caravan invasion of our country!

It’s not just an occasional rabble-rousing slogan any more, not just a Willie Horton ad or a food-stamp-lobster story that can be set aside after the inauguration. Republicans now live in a 24/7 fantasy world, and if anyone attempts to leave it, there are consequences.

As in the extreme branches of Islam, apostasy will not be tolerated. And the apostate cannot seek the protection of facts or logic or law, because in the zealous pursuit of liberal devils, all those barriers have been cut down.

Georgia. The consequences are most visible in Georgia, which Joe Biden won by just under 12,000 votes. That margin has held up through three recounts, including a hand recount (which would have corrected any problem with the voting machines).

In the CFW, however, Trump did not lose by seven million votes nationwide, but in fact won a resounding landslide. If only “legal” votes were counted, Trump would win 410 electoral votes, carrying even California. Former three-star general and pardoned felon Michael Flynn recited the catechism:

There is no doubt in my mind that he won this election. Hands down. In a landslide. I believe that at the end of the day we’re going to find out that he won by a massive landslide and he’ll be inaugurated come this January.

That landslide victory has to include Georgia’s 13 electoral votes, so anyone involved in verifying the vote totals or certifying the election must be part of the Biden Steal, including Kemp, Raffensperger, Republican state election official Gabriel Sterling, and a 20-year-old computer geek working for Sterling. All of them, including the 20-year-old, have been getting death threats. This set off Sterling, who delivered an epic rant (video, transcript).

Joe diGenova today asked for Chris Krebs, a patriot who ran CISA, to be shot. A 20 something tech in Gwinnett County today has death threats and a noose put out, saying he should be hung for treason because he was transferring a report on batches from an EMS to a county computer so we could read it. It has to stop. Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language. Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop. … This is elections. This is the backbone of democracy. And all of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this. It’s too much.

The “senators” he is addressing are David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, the ones involved in the January 5 runoffs, where Republicans need to win at least one seat to retain control of the Senate. Both are in a tricky position that prevents them from upholding reality, or even denouncing the threats of violence against fellow Republicans. They need the full support of Trump’s personality cult if they’re going to win their elections. But they also need the suburban voters who did in fact put Biden over the top last month.

At a time when Republicans need to unite, they are attacking each other. They are also asking their voters to believe contradictory things: Trump is going to win a second term, but Perdue and Loeffler need to win to keep President Biden from having a Democratic Senate. Republicans should come out and vote, even though the rigged voting machines will flip their votes to Democrats.

How did this happen? The Republican reliance on fantasy has grown tremendously in the last four years, but it didn’t start with Trump.

Back in 2012, in “Five Pretty Lies and the Ugly Truths They Hide” I picked out these bits of political whimsy:

  • Raped women don’t get pregnant.
  • The uninsured can get the medical care they need in the ER.
  • Tax cuts pay for themselves.
  • Gays can be “cured”.
  • Obama’s election proved that racism is over.

Of course, even then that was far from a complete list. “People who work hard aren’t poor,” is a perennial favorite, and you can always find some (white, of course) Republicans ready to tell you that slavery wasn’t really so bad. An entire genre of fantasy falls into the form “The real victims of discrimination are X” where the choices include all manner of privileged groups: men, whites, Christians, straights, and so on. And who can forget the Atlas-Shrugged vision of the productive rich, whose largesse provides for the rest of us by “giving” us jobs?

In addition to fantasies about how the world works, the CFW has included fantasies about events, like Saddam’s mobile chemical-weapons labs, the Benghazi stand-down order, Barack Obama’s birth in Kenya, and ObamaCare’s death panels.

The CFW is marked as much by what it leaves out as what it invents. Global warming isn’t real, and neither is systemic racism. Science has no more claim to authority than any other belief system, and evolution is “just a theory”. The human failings of the Founders have been airbrushed away, as have any unworthy motives behind American wars, or any economic contributions made by undocumented immigrants.

Trump’s advantage. None of that is new. But the key insight of Donald Trump, the one that allowed him to push aside so many better qualified and better connected Republican rivals in 2016, was that the balance of power between Fact and Fantasy had decisively shifted in favor of the unreal. Pre-Trump Republicans had treated the CFW the way an imperial power treats a colony: They went there when they needed something, like votes or campaign contributions. But when it was time to staff a government, Republicans like the Bushes or McCain or Romney would draw from the same expert class Democrats did. Considerable effort might go into explaining policy in fantasy-world terms, but the behind-closed-doors discussions that shaped those policies happened in the real world.

And don’t think that the full-time denizens of the CFW didn’t notice. They may be deluded, but they’re not stupid. They understood very well the phoniness of reality-based Republicans who merely humored them. Trump, on the other hand, stood out as more authentic, precisely because he had given himself whole-heartedly to the fantasy.

TrumpWorld. In exchange for his undivided loyalty to the fantasy other Republicans only exploited, the true-believing base awarded Trump the power to define that fantasy. Today, the CFW is what Trump says it is. If Trump’s ego will not allow him to face his defeat, then he didn’t lose. Anyone who says he did is a RINO, and any media outlet that reports the facts is Fake News. In the absence of any reliable independent source of information, any story is as good as any other. The only difference is who you trust and what you want to believe.

This kind of loyalty is an asset beyond the dreams of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. But unfortunately for those Republicans who have hitched themselves to Trump’s CFW-defining power, he does not believe that he is hitched to them. He cares nothing for how loyal you have been in the past, but only about whether you support what he is saying now. If you don’t, he will turn ’round on you.

And how will you stand upright in the winds that blow then?