Category Archives: Weekly summaries

Each week, a short post that links to the other posts of the week.

Real Liberty

The defendant insists that his liberty is invaded when the State subjects him to fine or imprisonment for neglecting or refusing to submit to vaccination … But the liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States to every person within its jurisdiction does not import an absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint. … Real liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own, whether in respect of his person or his property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others.

– Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan,
Jacobson v Massachusetts (1905)

This week’s featured post is “On Doing Your Own Research“.

This week everybody was talking about Biden’s vaccine “mandate”

Which is not even actually a mandate; a company that isn’t a government contractor can avoid penalties by instituting weekly testing for its unvaccinated workers. Anyway, here’s what President Biden announced in his speech Thursday.

  • Federal employees and contractors have to get vaccinated to keep their jobs and contracts. “If you want to do business with the federal government, vaccinate your workforce.”
  • Workers at health-care facilities have to get vaccinated if the facilities receive government funds (i.e., Medicare or Medicaid). “If you’re seeking care at a health-care facility, you should be able to know that the people treating you are vaccinated.”
  • Even companies that don’t do business with the federal government (if they have more than 100 employees) have to mandate vaccines for their workers. Workers can claim a religious or health exemption, but if they do, they have to be tested for Covid weekly.

In all, about 100 million Americans will be affected by the order. If we assume that they’re typical of the total American adult population (about 75% vaccinated already), that would mean that 25 million unvaccinated Americans are now facing the options of (1) get vaccinated (and maybe save your own life); (2) get tested every week; or (3) look for a job at a smaller company.

Republicans, who in general have fought any effort to control the virus, were quick to denounce Biden’s move.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, for example, said the mandate was “tyranny” and “unconstitutional”. He charged that Biden was only doing it to distract attention from Afghanistan. (Because why else would an American president respond to a plague that had killed 677,000 Americans and was adding to that total at the rate of 3K every two days?)

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey called it “dictatorial” and predicted “This will never stand up in court.” South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem was one of several GOP governors pledging to challenge the rule in court. When asked about these threatened lawsuits, Biden said, “Have at it.

Assuming that the Supreme Court will uphold the laws and long-established precedents — always a dangerous assumption with this highly political court — Biden is on pretty firm ground.

The authority for the mandate comes from the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 (which was signed by that flaming liberal Richard Nixon). OSHA has never been used to mandate a vaccine before, but gives the government broad powers to enforce workplace safety.

As to whether individuals have an inherent right to refuse vaccination, that was decided back in 1905, when Massachusetts (among other states) mandated a smallpox vaccine. Supreme Court Justice John Harlan (the greatest justice you’ve probably never heard of; among other claims to fame, he was the lone dissenter in both Plessy v Ferguson and in the Civil Rights Cases that opened the door for Jim Crow) reasoned that a community’s power to protect itself against an epidemic would violate an individual’s 14th Amendment rights only if it went “far beyond what was reasonably required for the safety of the public”.

In order to prevail, then, a challenge would have to argue on fairly narrow grounds. Either:

  • Individuals have more extensive rights to resist a federal mandate than a state mandate.
  • OSHA’s sweeping grant of power to regulate workplace safety has an invisible vaccine exception.
  • Increasing vaccinations does not increase workplace safety, and is not a reasonable measure to protect the public from Covid.
  • OSHA itself is unconstitutional.

CNN reports that corporate America is actually pretty pleased with this government interference: Companies want a vaccinated workforce, but don’t want to appear heavy-handed. So they’re happy to demand vaccination and blame Biden for it. That’s why groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, who are knee-jerk opponents of all other government regulation, are on board.

This Texas Dad creatively lampoons the masks-violate-my-freedom crowd by stripping down during a school board meeting. Who’s free now?

With characteristic cruelty, anti-maskers laugh at a teen as he talks about his grandmother dying of Covid.

Last week I was uncertain whether the new-case numbers were peaking, or if Ida had disrupted the statistics. This week confirms the peak. New cases are down 7% over the last two weeks, though deaths (which usually run two weeks behind new cases) are still increasing. New cases are averaging 145K per day in the US, and deaths are averaging 1648 per day. The total American death total since the start of the pandemic is up to 677,988.

I continue to be amazed at the reactions of people who resist vaccines and masking and anything else that might mitigate the spread. 677K Americans are dead, with three thousand more every two days. You’d think that kind of impact would justify a little inconvenience. But no.

and the 20th anniversary of 9-11

The anniversary was Saturday. I noticed two main trends in the commentary. First, acknowledging again the human impact: the losses people suffered on that day, the long-term suffering of people exposed to whatever got into the air, and the heroism of people who tried to help others at great risk to themselves.

The second major trend was to take a step back and recognize just how badly we screwed up our national response. After 9-11, the public was united in a way it hadn’t been since World War II. The country wanted to do something, and even people who believed that George W. Bush hadn’t legitimately been elected the previous November recognized that he was the only leader available to rally behind. For the next year or two, President Bush could have done just about anything he wanted, if he could claim it had some reasonable connection to 9-11.

What he did, largely under the influence of Vice President Cheney, was to start two wars that were unwinnable because they lacked reasonable goals. American military power could topple the the Taliban and Saddam governments fairly quickly, but Bush and Cheney had no clear notion of how to replace them, or what they wanted out of the new governments.

Many of the prisoners from those wars wound up in a lawless zone in Guantanamo, where they were tortured in violation of both our treaty agreements and longstanding American values. Once introduced, torture spread to other US facilities. In addition, the US government claimed enormous new powers to spy on its own citizens, and even to whisk them into military brigs indefinitely by declaring them “enemy combatants”. Internationally, America claimed the right to launch attacks on the soil of any country where we believed terrorists were hiding.

Subsequent administrations could have reversed these policies, but didn’t (unless forced to by the Supreme Court). They could have leveled with the American people about how little we were accomplishing in Iraq and Afghanistan, but didn’t.

The mainstream media was largely complicit in these efforts, and remains complicit today — as we saw recently when it savaged President Biden for ending the Afghan War. Twenty years of wasting money and misusing power never aroused a fraction of the ire that was unleashed when a president reversed that foolish course.

And while our troops are no longer fighting in Afghanistan, and President Biden claims the combat mission of our remaining 2500 troops in Iraq will end this year, the internal spying powers remain, and 39 prisoners are still at Guantanamo. The Biden administration may have tightened up control over drone strikes, but, like all post-911 administrations, it claims the right to attack anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice.

Every surviving president but Carter appeared at ceremonies to mark 9-11. Biden, Obama, and Clinton were all in New York, and Biden and Bush were at the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Carter’s absence is understandable. He’s 96 and has a variety of health problems. Also, his presidency ended two decades before 9-11, so he neither caused nor responded to it.

Trump took heat for not attending, and for marking 9-11 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Florida, where he was a guest commentator for a boxing match. He did, however, address by video a Day of Prayer event on the National Mall organized by the Let Us Worship organization. Trump never tried to be the president of all the people, so it’s not surprising that he acts as ex-president only for crowds of his supporters.

In The Guardian, Harvard Professor Linda Bilmes examines where the $5 trillion spent on Afghanistan and Iraq went: mostly to military contractors.

Ross Douthat owns up to being part of a misguided post-911 consensus, and now sees the War on Terror as a 20-year distraction from our real foreign-policy challenge: the rise of China.

Kurt Andersen notes that the 20th anniversary of Pearl Harbor was not a big deal.

Paul Krugman recalls how willing Republicans were to exploit 9-11 to push an unrelated political agenda (“Nothing is more important in a time of war than cutting taxes,” said Tom DeLay), and how this foreshadowed the party-over-country trend that has characterized the GOP ever since.

and the Texas abortion law

After a week of speculation about how the Biden administration would respond to the law, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a lawsuit. (The text of the suit is here.) The approach AG Garland chose was to sue the State of Texas in federal court, seeking “an order preliminarily and permanently enjoining the State of Texas, including its officers, employees, and agents, including private parties who would bring suit under the law, from implementing or enforcing S.B. 8.”

Because SB8 specifically does what Supreme Court precedents say laws cannot do (substantially burden a woman’s right to choose an abortion before a fetus is viable), the suit says SB8 is “in open defiance of the Constitution”.

The United States therefore may sue a State to vindicate the rights of individuals when a state infringes on rights protected by the Constitution. … The United States has the authority and responsibility to ensure that Texas cannot evade its obligations under the Constitution and deprive individuals of their constitutional rights by adopting a statutory scheme designed specifically to evade traditional mechanisms of federal judicial review.

The suit notes that while Texas executive-branch officials may not be involved in enforcing the law, Texas judges are.

while Texas has gone to unprecedented lengths to cloak its attack on constitutionally protected rights behind a nominally private cause of action, it nonetheless has compelled its judicial branch to serve an enforcer’s role.

And when private individuals file suit to enforce the law, they also become agents of the state “and thus are bound by the Constitution”. (One indication of their state-actor status is that the people who sue under SB8 can collect a payment even though they have not personally suffered damages. Clearly they are not suing in their private capacity.)

The suit also notes an impact on the federal government: Whenever a government program requires it to cover someone’s health care, the government might wind up paying for an abortion — and thus itself being liable for damages under SB8. (Job Corps, Refugee Resettlement, Bureau of Prisons, Office of Personnel Management, Medicaid, and Department of Defense are examples.)

AP reports that yesterday Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett “spoke at length about her desire for others to see the Supreme Court as nonpartisan”.

Maybe she should worry first about what she is, and then worry about how she appears.

Texas Governor Abbott was asked about forcing women to have their rapists’ babies, and he responded in ways that make it clear he doesn’t take the problem seriously: First, he claimed the law gives women “six weeks” to get an abortion, when most women will not know they are pregnant by then, and most pregnancy tests are unreliable until after a missed period. And then he went to Fantasyland:

Rape is a crime and Texas will work tirelessly that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets.

So: Nothing to worry about, because there aren’t going to be any more rapes in Texas. Sadly, though, Texas had nearly 15,000 reported rapes in 2019 (the most recent numbers I could find), and some unknown number of unreported rapes. Abbott did not reveal his magic plan to eliminate rape, or explain why he has not implemented it during the six years he has been governor. And what will he do when accused rapist Donald Trump comes back to the state?

And so Abbott joins the long list of Republican politicians who have said stupid and/or heartless things about rape.

and Lee’s statue

A giant Robert E. Lee statue came down in Richmond Wednesday, provoking all kinds of discussion of Lee’s place in history.

Probably no American historical figure has been as thoroughly mythologized as Lee, who in Southern hindsight became the great saint of the Lost Cause. The glorification of Lee was so extreme that in 1996 a biography was titled Lee, Considered because it claimed that the Southern general had never been realistically evaluated by historians. So “considered”, not “reconsidered”.

The two main points of contention are (1) Lee’s relationship to slavery, and (2) how good a general he really was. The first was discussed by Gillian Brockwell in the Washington Post. As for the second, Lee, Considered makes a convincing case that Lee was a brilliant tactician, but not much of a strategist.

As Rhett Butler explained in Gone With the Wind, the South went into the war over-matched in manufacturing capacity and potential manpower. So there were basically only two ways the South could have defeated the North:

  • A “bloody nose” strategy, where a quick Southern strike would convince the North that it didn’t really want to pursue this war.
  • A Fabian strategy that would avoid pitched battles, drag out the war, and frustrate the North’s desire for a decisive victory until its electorate lost patience.

But no matter how clever its generals were from battle to battle, the South couldn’t possibly win the kind of war Lee got them into: a multi-year war of attrition. Bad strategy. The strategy by which Grant ultimately defeated Lee was to stop worrying about his own casualties and focus instead on inflicting as many as possible. Grant understood that he could replenish his forces, but Lee couldn’t.

How the South ultimately did win (in 1877) was through an endless terrorist campaign, not a second try at Gettysburg.

Connecting this note with the 9-11 retrospective: If Americans understood our own history, we would never have tried to remake Afghanistan. Even after the victories of Sherman and Grant, and a decade of military occupation, the North was never able to remake the South in its own image. Like the Taliban, the White supremacist aristocracy reestablished itself as soon as the Union troops left.

and you also might be interested in …

Tuesday is election day for the California recall. Polls on recalling Newsom were tight a month ago, but Keep now has a wide lead over Remove. Consequently, Republicans are already preparing to accuse Governor Gavin Newsom of fraud, because no elections they lose can possibly be legit.

Someday I want to hear their theory on how Newsom managed to coordinate this election fraud with all the polling operations.

Nate Silver does a quick analysis of the decline in President Biden’s approval rating. It corresponds to two events: the Afghanistan withdrawal and the rise in Delta variant cases. Like Nate, I think the Afghan situation will either fade from public attention or look better in hindsight. If this Covid wave is also peaking, Biden might bounce back, though Nate isn’t sold on that as a likelihood.

The negotiations over the Democrats’ reconciliation infrastructure package is getting serious, with Bernie Sanders on one side and Joe Manchin on the other.

James Fallows describes efforts to rethink college rating systems. The traditional US News approach measures inputs: how accomplished students are when they enter college. It would be better to measure what students gain while they’re there.

In line with this week’s historical themes, an actual historian debunks the Molon Labe slogan favored by gun-rights extremists. After all, according to the story, the Persians did come and take the Spartan weapons, after killing the Spartan king and all his warriors. Persian casualties were likely larger, but Thermopylae was merely “a speed bump under the wheels of the Persian war machine”, which went on to burn Athens before losing the naval battle of Salamis.

Probably, though, the whole Thermopylae myth was Greek propaganda intended to spin a disastrous defeat as a moral victory. (The Alamo myth serves a similar purpose.) It persists today for a different reason:

[The pro-gun] right-wing fringe favors Molon Labe, and by extension the larger toxic myth of Spartan badassery, primarily because it dovetails with other ideas they favor—namely, the advancement of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim causes. … In the film version, a hunky 36-year-old Gerard Butler (the real Leonidas was 60 at the time of this battle) led a tiny, beleaguered force composed entirely of musclebound white men to defend the gates of Europe against a brown-skinned tide of decadent foreigners. This wildly false take on Thermopylae, and by extension Sparta, has become a constant reference point for right-wing fringe groups in slogan after poster after stump speech.

and let’s close with something wild

Back in 2015, Paul Joynson-Hicks and Tom Sullam started the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards. Last year’s winner was “Terry the Turtle flipping the bird“.

This year’s finalists are now posted. The whole gallery is worth a look, but my favorite is this undersea choir.


It’s almost impossible to get your mind around how much is currently being sacrificed in favor of a Senate procedural rule that appears nowhere in the Constitution and emerged to buttress segregation.

Ben Rhodes

This week’s featured post is “A Dozen Observations about Texas, Abortion, and the Supreme Court“.

This week everybody was talking about the Texas abortion law

That’s the subject of the featured post.

and the cost of the filibuster

The Texas abortion law could be undone if Congress passed the Women’s Health Protection Act. But it won’t, of course, because the WHPA can’t muster 60 votes to get past a Republican filibuster.

So we can add one more item to the bill America pays to maintain the filibuster. Similarly, all the hoops and hurdles Republican legislatures have put in the way of voting could be reversed if Congress passed the For the People Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, or some watered-down version of either bill. Even Joe Manchin claims to want to pass something to protect voting rights, but again, unified Republican opposition makes the filibuster an insuperable roadblock.

Similarly, the filibuster dooms the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a $15 minimum wage, and statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico. It’s the reason January 6 is being investigated by a House committee rather than a bipartisan commission.

Historically, the filibuster protected segregation in the South, preserving Jim Crow for decades.

Filibuster defenders need to be challenged to answer: What victories balance all these losses? At what moment in American history was the Republic saved from a catastrophic mistake because some prescient minority filibustered? I don’t know of one.

and the growing Republican acceptance of gangsterism and violence

Thursday, CNN reported that the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection had asked telecommunication companies to preserve the phone records of a number of Republican congresspeople, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

Notice: preserve, not turn over. If the committee eventually decides that it needs some of those records, it will presumably subpoena them. At that point, McCarthy et al might challenge the subpoenas in court, and I assume the companies will do whatever the courts tell them. All perfectly normal.

Kevin McCarthy responded like a Mafia don.

If these companies comply with the Democrat order to turn over private information, they are in violation of federal law and subject to losing their ability to operate in the United States. If companies still choose to violate a federal law, a Republican majority will not forget and will stand with Americans to hold them fully accountable under the law.

An appropriate response to this tweet might be: WTF? Or more specifically, WFL: what federal law?

McCarthy’s office has not responded to CNN’s request for clarification on what law McCarthy believes the telecommunication companies would be violating.

Marjorie Taylor Greene was more explicit about the threat, if not the law:

These cell phone companies, they better not play with these Democrats, because Republicans are coming back into the majority in 2022, and we will take this very serious.

When you warn people not to cooperate with investigators, or else — that’s pretty much the definition of obstruction. But for congressional Republicans, it’s just Tuesday.

A week ago yesterday, North Carolina Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn issued this threat:

If our election systems continue to be rigged, and continue to be stolen, then it’s going to lead to one place, and it’s bloodshed.

He went on to say that he dreads “having to pick up arms against a fellow American.” Not that he wouldn’t do it, but that he doesn’t look forward to it. You don’t “dread” things that you know you aren’t going to do.

Cawthorn’s spokesman claimed he was opposing violence. But when a conditional threat is based on a lie, the result is just a naked threat. Democrats can’t stop rigging and stealing elections, because they haven’t done that in the first place. If I tell you I’m going to burn your house down unless your dog stops peeing on my lawn, and you don’t have a dog, then the bottom line is that I’m threatening to burn your house down.

As we’ve seen again and again, Trump claims fraud whenever he loses. He claimed that fraud prevented him from winning the popular vote against Hillary Clinton in 2016, and he also claimed Ted Cruz committed fraud when he beat Trump in the 2016 Iowa caucuses, tweeting: “Based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified.”

Given that history and Cawthorn’s devoted Trumpism, the only conclusion to draw is that Cawthorn is regretting in advance all the Americans he will kill if his side loses again. If they lose, they will claim fraud again and get violent again, but with more bloodshed this time.

A Republican candidate for county executive in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, explained how he plans to handle schools boards that impose mask mandates.

Forget going into these school boards with frigging data. You go into school boards to remove ’em! That’s what you do! They don’t follow the law! You go in and you remove ’em. I’m going in there with 20 strong men, I’m going to speak to the school board and I’m going to give them an option. They can leave or they can be removed.

No attempt to convince, no organizing for the next election, no petitions or marches or sit-ins. Just “20 strong men”. Increasingly, that’s how the GOP wants to handle things.

All across the country, there are reports of the Proud Boys joining anti-mask protests outside of schools and school board meetings. Explicit threats are often part of these demonstrations.

and the pandemic

I’m not sure I trust this week’s numbers. On the one hand, they follow the recent trend of slowing growth: New cases are up only 8% over the last two weeks, compared to last week’s 20%, preceded by 36% and 60%. On the other hand, the biggest drop is 51% in Louisiana, with even bigger drops in the coastal counties where Ida hit. It could just be that the hurricane interrupted testing and reporting of new cases. But if these numbers are accurate, we could hit a peak this week.

and you also might be interested in …

It’s weirdly ironic that Covid-related unemployment benefits are expiring on Labor Day.

My part of the northeast got some rain, but no serious flooding when the remnants of Ida blew through Wednesday night and Thursday morning. South of here, though, particularly in Philadelphia and New York, things got ugly, and more than 40 people died.

Meanwhile, Louisiana is still recovering from when Ida hit there eight days ago.

In addition to the abortion ban, Texas now has open carry of firearms, without permits or training. So if you want to shoot up a Texas school or shopping mall, you aren’t breaking any laws until you pull the trigger.

The anti-voting law that Texas Democrats delayed by leaving the state? It passed. Harris County is suing to keep it from being enforced.

You’ll be pleased to know that Rudy Giuliani reports that he is “not an alcoholic” and functions “more effectively than 90% of the population”.

Trump Tower is having trouble finding tenants, but it has one really reliable, deep-pocketed one: the Make America Great Again PAC that Trump runs himself. It rents a space that could accommodate 30 employees, but it only lists three, and they’re not there most days. The high-priced lease appears to be a simple way to turn donors’ money into personal income for Trump, but it’s all perfectly legal.

and let’s close with something explosive

I’ve previously closed with videos of elaborate domino constructions that fall in amazing and beautiful ways. An even more kinetic version of the same basic idea is the stick bomb. The elasticity of tongue depressors is used to store potential energy, which can be released in a chain reaction.

If you want to build your own, here’s a tutorial.

Innocence and Folly

To state the obvious: There was no good way to lose Afghanistan to the Taliban. A better withdrawal was possible — and our stingy, chaotic visa process was unforgivable — but so was a worse one. Either way, there was no hope of an end to the war that didn’t reveal our decades of folly, no matter how deeply America’s belief in its own enduring innocence demanded one.

– Ezra Klein, “Let’s Not Pretend That the Way We Withdrew from Afghanistan Was the Problem

This week’s featured post is “Power Move“, a review of Charles Blow’s book The Devil You Know.

This week everybody was talking about Afghanistan

Tomorrow is President Biden’s deadline for getting American forces out of Afghanistan. The US announced yesterday that it was ending its airlift of Afghans from the Kabul airport. It estimates that about 250 Americans are still to be removed, plus the forces protecting the airport, and that around 280 Americans have decided to stay for now. (Don’t ask me what they’re thinking.) 117,000 people, most of them Afghans, have been airlifted out of Afghanistan since August 14.

The Taliban has largely cooperated with this effort, but a suicide bomber from a rival Islamist group, ISIS-K, killed 180 people outside the airport Thursday, including 13 members of the US military. An American drone strike destroyed a suspected car bomb Sunday; at least nine civilians died in the explosion. Rockets were fired at the airport today, but no casualties were reported.

The reason there’s no featured post about Afghanistan this week is that I can’t improve on what Ezra Klein said.

As I discussed last week, it’s been maddening to watch so many of the architects of this 20-year disaster go unchallenged on TV while they pretend the only problem is the “competence” of the Biden administration. Apparently, everything would be fine if Biden had just kept the war going for a while longer. And even if he had to end it, there was some clean and clever way to get all the right people out before the roof fell in.

Klein isn’t buying it:

American policymakers and pundits routinely try to rescue the reputation of bad ideas by attributing their failure to poor execution. … Focusing on the execution of the withdrawal is giving virtually everyone who insisted we could remake Afghanistan the opportunity to obscure their failures by pretending to believe in the possibility of a graceful departure.

… I will not pretend that I know how we should have left Afghanistan. But neither do a lot of people dominating the airwaves right now. And the confident pronouncements to the contrary over the past two weeks leave me worried that America has learned little. We are still holding not just to the illusion of our control, but to the illusion of our knowledge.

He points out something I don’t hear anyone else saying: Afghanistan is an example of too much bipartisanship, rather than too much polarization.

At least for my adult life, on foreign policy, our political problem has been that the parties have agreed on too much, and dissenting voices have been shut out. That has allowed too much to go unquestioned, and too many failures to go uncorrected. It is telling that it is Biden who is taking the blame for America’s defeat in Afghanistan. The consequences come for those who admit America’s foreign policy failures and try to change course, not for those who instigate or perpetuate them.

The bipartisan trust in American power and good intentions leads us to imagine that our intervention can only do good, and that any part of the world that captures our attention will benefit. But Klein quotes Ben Rhodes’ observation that Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya are all arguably worse off than when we stepped in.

This is the deep lacuna in America’s foreign policy conversation: The American foreign policy establishment obsesses over the harms caused by our absence or withdrawal. But there’s no similar culpability for the harms we commit or that our presence creates. We are much quicker to blame ourselves for what we don’t do than what we do.

And finally, our fixation on military power causes us to overlook the non-military ways we could help others: We could aggressively vaccinate the people of poorer countries against Covid-19, or fight the perpetual plague of malaria. We could open our doors to refugees fleeing oppression. We could build schools. And we could do it all at a fraction of the cost of fighting a war.

If foreign-policy bipartisanship was to blame for getting us into Afghanistan, it’s gone now. Republicans have taken any cheap shots at Biden they could find, including calling for his resignation after Thursday’s suicide bombing.

Political leaders used to unite behind the president during foreign crises. (Recall the post 9-11 consensus, when President Bush’s approval briefly went over 90%.) Even moreso, former presidents used to avoid direct criticism of their successors. With that in mind, it’s hard to know how to respond to Trump’s current shamelessness. We expect it by now, so it’s not news. And yet, ignoring it doesn’t seem right either.

This week, Trump and his people have been doing everything they can to distance themselves from their own Afghan policy. Biden, after all, is just carrying out the agreement Mike Pompeo signed with the Taliban. If Biden’s withdrawal seems too abrupt, Trump wanted to leave even more abruptly: Last October he called for all our troops to be home by Christmas.

Now, of course, Trump is imagining that he would have handled all this differently. Not only would everyone have gotten out safely, without leaving any equipment behind, but we wouldn’t have given up the Bagram Air Base at all. “We would have had Bagram open because we always intended to keep it. … We should have kept Bagram because Bagram is between China. It has total access to China, Iran, and Afghanistan.”

Trump’s immaculate withdrawal plan is like his “beautiful” healthcare plan that would have covered everyone and been better and cheaper than Obamacare. It exists only in his fantasies, and in the minds of his gullible followers.

Remember: When Trump pulled our troops out of Syria, he didn’t rescue any of the Kurds who had helped us. He left equipment behind and abandoned bases which were then occupied by the Russians.

When you heard about Rep. Seth Moulton’s quick trip to Afghanistan, you may have thought, “I wonder if his constituents understand what that was all about.” Answer: No, we don’t. We also didn’t know what he was thinking when he ran for president or tried to oust Speaker Pelosi. My best theory is that some oracle once told him he had a grand destiny, and he’s been acting on that assumption ever since. But he should have gotten a second opinion.

and the pandemic

The summer surge of new cases continues to round off, as if approaching a peak. The two-week increase is now 20%, compared to 36% last week and over 60% the week before. The total number of Americans hospitalized is now over 100K, and still rising at the rate of 24% over two weeks. 30K of those are in either Florida or Texas, whose governors seem to be doing everything they can to help the virus spread.

Deaths are averaging just under 1300 per day, with about 450 in Florida or Texas. The death toll from the beginning of the pandemic is 637K, a number that resembles a major war.

The question now is whether the start of school (and the filling of college football stadiums throughout the land) will give the surge a new boost. Consider this anecdote from California:

An unvaccinated elementary school teacher who took off their mask to read to students ended up infecting more than half of them last May — and they went on to infect other students, family members and community members … In the classroom of 22 students, 12 became infected — including eight out of 10 students in the two front rows.

Examples like this point out the common sense behind masking: If some barrier had just slowed down the virus particles coming out of the teacher’s mouth, maybe at least the kids in the second row would have been safe.

But why mask or vaccinate when you can use a “miracle cure” intended for farm animals? The ivermectin craze has really gotten out of hand. It’s always hard to get reliable estimates of the number of people who try an underground remedy, but it looks like a lot of folks.

A recent study examining trends in ivermectin dispensing from outpatient retail pharmacies in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic showed an increase from an average of 3,600 prescriptions per week at the prepandemic baseline (March 16, 2019–March 13, 2020) to a peak of 39,000 prescriptions in the week ending on January 8, 2021.1 Since early July 2021, outpatient ivermectin dispensing has again begun to rapidly increase, reaching more than 88,000 prescriptions in the week ending August 13, 2021. This represents a 24-fold increase from the pre-pandemic baseline.

And that’s just the people who are getting the human version. (Ivermectin has a legitimate use as an anti-parasitic drug; that’s probably what the pre-pandemic 3,600 prescriptions per week were.) The drug is also sold as a de-wormer for farm animals — and it’s flying off the shelves.

Many feed stores across North Texas told WFAA they are sold out of ivermectin. [farm store operator Matt] Meredith said his supplier told him they can’t get it for him. “Nobody’s got it,” Meredith said. “You can’t even order it online.”

Poison-control centers in Texas say their ivermectin calls have more than quintupled. That’s probably because:

The drugs produced for humans are different than the drug made for livestock, which is “highly concentrated and is toxic to people, and can cause serious harm,” the Mississippi State Department of Health said in an alert Monday.

If it has never occurred to you to dose yourself with some veterinary concoction, you may wonder what this is all about. Simply this: right-wing stupidity. Apparently, the people who think vaccines are unsafe and masks are a Marxist plot also think “Good old pig de-wormer. What harm could that do?”

The thought that ivermectin could have some use against Covid is not crazy in itself. The drug has anti-viral effects in a petri dish, but unfortunately tests on people haven’t panned out.

A quick look at this data suggests a reason why: The doses and concentrations necessary for antiviral activity are much higher than are safe for humans, and would be toxic to human life as well as viruses. If this sounds familiar it’s because the same misapplication of in vitro science has been used to promote hydroxychloroquine and disinfectants like bleach.

Funny that this article mentions hydroxychloroquine. The same group that pushed hydroxychloraquine — American’s Frontline Doctors (though their “About Us” page just mentions one doctor: founder Simone Gold; I don’t know who those other white-coated people are) — started pushing this too. Then Fox News chimed in, and Senator Ron Johnson, and the usual collection of know-nothings that your cousin Jerry follows on Facebook. And now people are stealing drugs from their sheep.

If there’s one thing conservatives hate, it’s when liberals imply that they’re stupid. But you know what? Liberals don’t do stupid shit like this. We just don’t. Back in the early days of the pandemic, we acted out our panic by wiping down our groceries before we put them away. It turned out to be a waste of effort, but at least it didn’t hurt anybody or stop us from doing sensible things too. I’ve never heard a Democrat say “I don’t need a vaccine, because I wipe down my groceries.”

So if you’re the kind of clear-thinking Republican who doesn’t like being lumped together with these yahoos, let me point something out: Hillary Clinton warned you. The point of her infamous “deplorables” speech was never that all Trump voters were deplorable. (Fox News turned it into that, but that wasn’t what she said.) That speech was targeted at people like you, and the point was: Look who you’re associating yourself with. In another 2016 campaign speech, she quoted a Mexican proverb: “Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are.”

So look at the horse-paste eaters, you smart, sophisticated Republicans. Those are your people.

Matt Yglesias calls attention to some interesting data from the Federal Reserve: Restaurant sales are now above pre-pandemic levels, but restaurant employment is still below pre-pandemic levels.

and the hurricane

Ida hit the Louisiana coast yesterday on the 16th anniversary of Katrina. CNN covers this kind of news much better than I do.

and the Supreme Court

As it had signaled it would do, the Supreme Court tossed out the Biden administration’s attempt to extend the pandemic eviction moratorium. The ruling doesn’t address the questions of whether a moratorium is a good idea, or is constitutional. It just disputes that existing law gives the CDC the power to declare one.

The Government contends that the first sentence of §361(a) gives the CDC broad authority to take whatever measures it deems necessary to control the spread of COVID–19, including issuing the moratorium. But the second sentence informs the grant of authority by illustrating the kinds of measures that could be necessary: inspection, fumigation, disinfection, sanitation, pest extermination, and destruction of contaminated animals and articles. These measures directly relate to preventing the interstate spread of disease by identifying, isolating, and destroying the disease itself. The CDC’s moratorium, on the other hand, relates to interstate infection far more indirectly: If evictions occur, some subset of tenants might move from one State to another, and some subset of that group might do so while infected with COVID–19. …

We expect Congress to speak clearly when authorizing an agency to exercise powers of “vast ‘economic and political significance.’ ”

I’m not in the habit of agreeing with the Court’s conservative majority, but I think they’ve got a point here. A year and a half into the pandemic, Congress has had plenty of time to either declare a long-term eviction moratorium itself, or to delegate that power to the CDC or some other agency. It hasn’t done so. The problem here isn’t the Supreme Court and it isn’t the Biden administration. As I’ve observed before, the dysfunction of Congress forces the other two branches to over-reach.

When considering an executive branch claim of power, it’s worth asking this hypothetical question: How would I feel about this power in the hands of an administration I didn’t like? If the CDC has broad authority to do whatever it finds necessary to deal with a public-health emergency, could a Trump-appointed CDC head have used that authority to, say, cancel the 2020 elections? I’m not sure, but the possibility creeps me out.

Also, we tend to think of landlords as rich corporations, and probably the owners of most rental properties are. But a lot of landlords are middle-class people who have a large chunk of their net worth invested in properties they rent to one or two households. (I live in an apartment attached to the back of a friend’s house. My wife and I are their only tenants. After moving to town when I was a toddler, my parents rented out the house on their 160-acre farm.) A nationwide eviction moratorium does a lot more than just stick it to the fat cats.

This week’s second important case concerned the Trump administration’s remain-in-Mexico plan for people seeking asylum at our Southern border. I’ve thought it was always questionable whether that policy really meets our treaty obligations to give refugees a hearing, but that wasn’t the issue here. The Biden administration has tried to end the program, but the State of Texas sued to keep it in place. Technically, the policy has been on hold anyway since March, 2020, due to Trump administration Covid restrictions at the border.

A district court granted Texas an injunction, keeping the policy in place while the legal process plays out. The administration asked for a stay of that injunction, and the Court denied it. The denial is just a paragraph, so there’s not a lot to go on here. Vox tries to flesh out what it all means, but comes to the conclusion that the decision makes no sense.

but I want to tell you about a book

The featured post reviews Charles Blow’s recent The Devil You Know: a Black power manifesto.

and you also might be interested in …

The House Select Committee investigating the January 6 insurrection is taking an aggressive approach. Wednesday it asked for documents from eight federal agencies. The word “sweeping” appeared in many articles about the requests, which centered on “archived communications from the Trump White House“. The Committee is also seeking records from Facebook and Google “on policy changes social media companies made, or failed to make, to address the spread of misinformation, violent extremism and foreign influence, including decisions to ban content.”

We don’t know yet whether anyone is going to fight these orders, and if so on what grounds.

The effort to sanction lawyers who filed baseless lawsuits in support of Trump’s Big Lie continues. Wednesday, a federal judge in Michigan ruled against seven Trump lawyers, including Sidney Powell and Lin Wood.

[US District Judge Linda] Parker is ordering the lawyers to reimburse the attorneys’ fees that the city of Detroit and Michigan state officials paid in seeking the sanctions. The lawyers must also take legal education classes, the judge said, and she is referring her decision to the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission, and “the appropriate disciplinary authority for the jurisdiction(s) where each attorney is admitted,” for potential disciplinary action.

Rudy Giuliani has already had his license suspended in DC and New York.

The gist of the judge’s opinion is that the lawyers made claims their affidavits didn’t support, failed to vet their affidavits for credibility, and made false claims about the laws they were invoking. Judge Parker wasn’t buying the lawyers claims of ignorance about the complaint they signed their names to or the flimsiness of the evidence they provided.

Plaintiffs’ counsel may not bury their heads in the sand and thereafter make affirmative proclamations about what occurred above ground.

… Although the First Amendment may allow Plaintiffs’ counsel to say what they desire on social media, in press conferences, or on television, federal courts are reserved for hearing genuine legal disputes which are well-grounded in fact and law.

The officer who shot Ashli Babbitt revealed his identity for the first time and did an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt.

Babbitt, the only person killed by police during the January 6 riot, has become the Horst Wessel of the violent Trumpists. Her shooting was captured on video, so there is no doubt what happened. She was part of a violent mob trying to break down a door to get into the House chamber, where many congresspeople were still present. Officer Michael Byrd was behind the door with gun drawn and clearly visible through the glass, when the window was broken and Babbitt began to climb through.

But Trump called the shooting a “murder” — so much for “Back the Blue” — and Babbitt is considered a martyr for the Trumpist cause.

Byrd argues that the shooting saved lives, which seems obvious to me.

The Boston Globe’s list of the 25 best TV episodes of the 21st century is a conversation starter. Your list may differ, but the main thing I gleaned from their list was an appreciation of just how much amazing TV there has been these last 21 years. I can’t think of any TV series from my youth that could compete with “The Wire”, “Mad Men”, “The Americans”, “Game of Thrones”, or “The Sopranos”.

One federally funded Covid program makes the “seamless summer” school lunch option available year-round. Rather than paying for free lunches for low-income students, the government offers free lunches to everyone. The program has a variety of goals, mostly relating to the unpredictability of food insecurity during the pandemic, but one effect is to remove the stigma of free lunches. You don’t have to announce that you’re poor in order to get one.

408 school districts in Wisconsin are eligible for the program, and one is opting out. Waukesha wants to go back to a system where 36% of kids get free lunches and the rest don’t.

Karin Rajnicek, a school board member, said the free program made it easy for families to “become spoiled.” Darren Clark, assistant superintendent for business services, said there could be a “slow addiction” to the service.

As a taxpayer, I suppose I ought to be horrified that some hedge-fund manager’s kid might be eating free fish sticks or sloppy joes on my dime. Strangely, I’m not.

and let’s close with something timely

The Holderness Family’s music parodies have been a great help in staying sane during the pandemic. As a body of work, their songs express the mood swings of an ordinary family muddling through a historically difficult time. This video makes Katy Perry’s “Firework” the platform for a rant against the paperwork parents have to fill out if they want to get their kids back into school.

And if you’ve forgotten what school at home was like, there’s a video for that too, based on Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week”.

Being American

If you only like democracy when it goes your way, you don’t like democracy.

Justin Kanew

We sort of have general agreement that government should help Americans, but what we disagree over is who gets to be American.

Lilliana Mason

This week’s featured post is “Afghanistan, Biden, and the Media“. When I went to post that link on Twitter, I discovered that David Roberts was saying almost the same things.

This week everybody was talking about Afghanistan

See the featured post.

Noah Smith:

Refugees are legal immigrants, and yet all the anti-immigration people get just as freaked out about refugees as they do about illegal immigration. It was never about the legality.

and the pandemic

Just like last week, things are getting worse at a slower rate. Last week, the 14-day increase in new Covid cases in the US was running over 60%. Now it’s 36%. The only two states where case numbers are shrinking are the states where the current wave started: Missouri (-12%) and Arkansas (-2%).

Mississippi has both a high new-case rate and a high rate of increase (and, not coincidentally, the nation’s lowest vaccination rate). Things are bad there already, and they’re going to get apocalyptic.

Much attention is being given to the high rates of Covid among children, which are surpassing the January peak. I haven’t seen much analysis of what their ineligibility for the vaccine has to do with this. Maybe the whole country would already have passed the January peaks — in deaths as well as cases — if not for the vaccines.

The FDA gave full approval to the Pfizer vaccine today. (Like the other vaccines, it’s been available via an emergency use authorization.) We’ll see if this makes any difference to the people who have been avoiding the vaccines because they’re “experimental”.

Post-Sturgis, South Dakota once again has the nation’s highest rate of increase in new Covid cases (312%). Thanks, Governor Noem.

In general, it was a bad week for the pro-Covid governors. Tennessee’s Bill Lee got denounced by a member of his Covid task force. Florida’s Ron DeSantis is facing revolt from several school districts over his ban on mask mandates, and a lawsuit challenging his order goes to trial today.

Texas’ Greg Abbott didn’t just lose at the state supreme court, he caught Covid himself. Fortunately, it was a mild case.

It’s hard to know how seriously to take over-the-top anti-vax activists like this one, who threatened Springfield, Missouri pharmacists with execution under the “Nuremberg Code”, which bans involuntary medical experiments. Maybe this is all a publicity stunt, in which case we’re giving him what he wants by paying attention. On the other hand, maybe he and his small band of followers really are whipping themselves up to kill people.

Anti-vax nonsense brings to mind SketchPlantations’ illustration of Brandolini’s Law.

but I’d like to tell you about a book

Geoffrey Cain’s The Perfect Police State is the story of the oppression of the Uyghur minority that lives in Xinjiang province in China’s far northwestern corner.

Bouncing back and forth between discussions of Chinese high-tech companies and interviews with Uyghurs who have escaped to Turkey, Cain argues that technology has at long last caught up to our imaginary dystopias. It’s now reasonably cheap to post cameras everywhere and network them together. The bottleneck in the dystopian process used to be paying enough people to watch all those feeds, but now artificial intelligence has learned to recognize faces and voices. It can also track smartphones and sift through everyone’s social media feeds.

What this means for the Uyghurs is a unified “social credit” score, an algorithmic assessment of how “trustworthy” the government thinks you are. If your score falls below a certain level, you can’t travel. If it falls further, you can’t buy or sell. Below that, you must report to a reeducation camp, where you are constantly on camera, and your face’s every expression is evaluated (by a tireless algorithm, of course) for signs of “ideological viruses” like terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism.

Naturally, one sure way to lower your score is to hang around with other untrustworthy people. So once your score starts to drop, others will shun you to protect themselves.

Like 1984, where Winston Smith eventually learns to love Big Brother, the goal isn’t simply that you reject these “poisons of the mind”. Ultimately, you are expected to express gratitude to the Chinese government for curing you.

You may or may not care about the Uyghurs. (I certainly didn’t before reading this book.) They’re ethnically Turkic Muslims on the other side of the world, after all, and there are only about 12 million of them in Xinjiang, less than 1% of China’s total population. You probably don’t know any of them.

But here’s why you should pay attention: Authoritarian governments perfect their tactics on sub-populations that no one wants to defend. But once the bugs are worked out, those tactics never stay in their boxes. Surveillance and facial-recognition software are already spreading. Data-hungry algorithms are already studying every footprint you leave on the internet. “Social credit” is an idea with many potentially beneficial applications.

Case in point: Apple is rolling out an algorithm to detect child-sexual-abuse photos and videos, even if they’re encrypted, by doing some higher-level evaluation of the databases they come from. But developers who abandoned work on a similar system point out a key problem: The tech is not subject-matter specific. If Apple can help US law enforcement detect encrypted child-abuse materials, it can help Chinese law enforcement detect encrypted pro-democracy materials.

Apple is making a bet that it can limit its system to certain content in certain countries, despite immense government pressures. We hope it succeeds in both protecting children and affirming incentives for broader adoption of encryption. But make no mistake that Apple is gambling with security, privacy and free speech worldwide.

Who wants to defend people who abuse children? Nobody. And makes them the perfect guinea pigs.

One interesting question in China’s maneuvering to take advantage of the fall of the US-backed government in Afghanistan is whether the Taliban will turn its back on its Muslim brothers in Xinjiang. China will happily fund infrastructure projects if they do.

and some long articles that are worth it

CNN explains the looming disaster of the Colorado River and what it means for the Southwest. Climate change is cutting the quantity of water the river carries, while a combination of irrigated agriculture and growing cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas need more and more.

The water shortage then creates an energy shortage: There is less water for hydroelectric dams, and one proposed water solution — desalinization plants near the mouth of the river in Mexico — would be very energy-intensive.

The NYT Magazine reports on “superweeds“: unwanted but highly evolved competitors to cash crops. They’re evolving resistance faster than the chemical companies can develop new weed-killers, threatening the whole factory-farm model.

The article flashes me back to being maybe 12 years old, and fighting an outbreak of buttonweeds by walking up and down the rows of Dad’s soybean field pulling them up. Today, after decades of get-big-or-get-out, no farming family has enough kids to do that.

While I’m listing things that are worth investing time in, I have two podcasts to recommend. NYT’s “The Argument” series has an actually intelligent, respectful discussion among people who disagree about critical race theory.

Also Ezra Klein’s more-than-an-hour interview with Lilliana Mason (from which I get the quote at the top). Klein wrote the book Why We’re Polarized, and Mason wrote Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity. They discuss “How Identity Politics Took Over the Republican Party”. It’s a wide-ranging discussion that I can’t boil down to one quote, but I found this part particularly fascinating: There’s a project called the Voter Study Group that interviewed thousands of people in 2011, and then has gone back to interview the same people again at regular intervals.

these data became sort of a time machine for us, where we could go back to 2011, before Trump was a major political figure, and try to see what types of people are drawn to Trump in the future. Before Trump existed, what were their characteristics that then predicted they would really like him in 2018?

So one of the things that we found, obviously being a Republican, being a conservative, that predicted that they would like Trump in 2018. And it also predicted that they would like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and the Republican Party in general. However, for Trump himself, and Trump alone, the other thing that predicted whether they would like him was that they disliked Muslims, African Americans, Hispanics and L.G.B.T.Q. Americans. Any mix of those, but largely all of them. And that animosity towards those marginalized groups did not predict support for the Republican Party. It did not predict support for Mitch McConnell or for Paul Ryan. It just predicted support for Trump.

And also, these people were coming not just from the Republican Party. Democrats who had these attitudes in 2011 liked Trump in 2018. Independents who had these attitudes in 2011 liked Trump in 2018. So it’s almost like Trump acted as a lightning rod for people who held these attitudes. He was extremely attractive to them, regardless of party, regardless of ideology.

and you also might be interested in …

Thursday morning, news networks were fixated on a guy parked near the Library of Congress. He claimed to have a bomb in his truck and was demanding that Biden resign, in addition to spouting a lot of Trumpist disinformation. When he surrendered after five hours, the truck was discovered to contain bomb-making materials, but no bomb.

By Friday morning, the incident was well down the Washington Post’s home page, and not mentioned on the NYT’s home page at all. Nothing to see here, just a guy making noise to draw attention to his fascist views. (He also tried to get noticed by throwing money on the sidewalk.) But I doubt it’s the last incident we’ll see of Trump-inspired terrorism in DC.

TPM focused a the woman who posted a picture of the bomber in his truck.

“It’s a white guy in a truck near the Capitol,” she said. “I’m not from D.C., I don’t know if that’s a regular Tuesday here.”

She said she saw some people ignore the man and keep walking, while one DoorDash delivery man stopped his bike to scoop up the bills.

One of her classmates, Bobb said, stopped a Supreme Court police officer to alert him to the situation, but he said it was the jurisdiction of the Capitol Police.

“Weird, okay,” Bobb remembers thinking. “So if there was a guy with a gun, you’re just gonna wait for the right people to come?”

Rep. Mo Brooks (F-AL) had an interesting response to this incident: He sympathized with the terrorist’s motives, while distancing himself from terrorism per se, at least for now.

I understand citizenry anger directed at dictatorial Socialism and its threat to liberty, freedom, and the very fabric of American society. The way to stop Socialism’s march is for patriotic Americans to fight back in the 2022 and 2024 elections. I strongly encourage patriotic Americans to do exactly that more so than ever before. Bluntly stated, America’s future is at risk.

The underlying message, which I think Brooks’ fellow fascists will hear loud and clear, is that it’s not time for political leaders like Brooks to endorse violence YET. If Democrats win again in 2022 and 2024, though, all bets are off. The goal — overthrow of the Biden regime by whatever means prove necessary — is not questioned. When “the very fabric of American society” is at stake, “patriots” might have to destroy democracy in order to save it.

The Proud Boy leader who burned a DC church’s Black Lives Matter banner in December (in a violent demonstration that now looks like a rehearsal for the January 6 insurrection) argues that it wasn’t a hate crime: He wasn’t terrorizing a Black church, he was protesting BLM because it’s “Marxist”.

This is a primary tactic for racists who want to deny their racism: Pin a pejorative label on somebody because they’re Black, and then claim you’re reacting to that label, not to their race. It’s like the people who claimed to oppose Obama because he was born in Kenya. Of course, Hawaii early on said Obama was born in Hawaii, and that should have been the end of that controversy. Birthers continued to believe Obama was born in Kenya only because they hated having a Black president.

Similarly, BLM is “Marxist” because it’s pro-Black.

Check out this review of two Amazon groceries that don’t have check-outs.

One reason I’m not as panicked about the 2022 midterm elections as many other Democrats are: Republicans do have a number of advantages, but they are also going to have trouble unifying their conservative and fascist wings. The NYT discovered some warning signs at a Gaez/Greene “America First” rally in Iowa:

Ms. Greene denounced Covid-19 vaccines to applause. Both declared former President Donald J. Trump the rightful winner of the 2020 election.

These were facts, argued Eric Riedinger of Des Moines, 62, a small-business owner who attended the event and owns the website And he would not vote for any Republican who failed to state this clearly, he said.

“My biggest issue looking ahead: Stop the RINOs,” he said, using a pejorative conservative phrase for ‘Republicans in Name Only.’ “If they’re part of that infrastructure bill and supporting it, they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing.” …

“I’m not voting for anyone who won’t say Donald Trump had the election stolen from him,” said Ron James, a 68-year-old retiree from Des Moines. “And I don’t think anyone in that room would, either.”

At the moment, the only way to prove you’re not a RINO is to take positions that are not just false, but also deeply unpopular with the electorate as a whole.

Marcy Wheeler boils down a WSJ scoop to: “John Durham won’t charge any of Trump’s favorite villains.” The investigate-the-investigators probe has lasted longer than the Mueller investigation, and produced far less. A report is expected soon.

Durham will not charge anyone for spying on Trump before the opening of the investigation, because it didn’t happen. Durham will not charge the FBI or CIA for setting Joseph Mifsud up to entrap George Papadopoulos, because it didn’t happen.

Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family have come to symbolize the corporate profiteering side of the opioid crisis. A court is deciding whether to finalize a Purdue bankruptcy deal that raises billions for settlements, but also lets the Sacklers walk away with billions and no further responsibility. Apparently we have to choose between compensation for the victims and justice for the villains.

Many close Senate races don’t get as much coverage as the competition to be the host of Jeopardy.

and let’s close with something sneaky

Have you ever thought the highway signs in your area could be better? Back in 2001, LA street artist Richard Ankrom decided to improve a freeway sign. He made and installed a new sign, and did it so well that the fake wasn’t discovered until he gave interviews about it — after the statute of limitations had expired. CalTrans left the sign up, and eventually replaced it with a duplicate.

This video was made on the 10th anniversary of the prank, and now it’s the 20th anniversary.


The puzzle for me is the absence of contingency planning: If everyone knew we were headed for the exits, why did we not have a plan over the past two years for making this work?

– retired General Douglas Lute

There is no featured post this week.

This week everybody was talking about Afghanistan

Kabul fell to the Taliban yesterday.

It’s no great surprise that the Taliban is taking over now that American troops are pulling out. But the speed of the Afghan government’s collapse has stunned many commentators and even US government officials. The human tragedy for any Afghan who shares Western values, especially women who are educated or employed or just want to be able to leave the house, will probably be immense.

There are two ways to read this:

  • Biden should have prevented this by leaving some number of troops in Afghanistan indefinitely.
  • The speed of the collapse underlines just how little our 20-year war accomplished, and makes the case against investing more American blood and treasure.

I hold the second position. I see the appeal of the first position, because I appreciate how much suffering this outcome will unleash. (“It’s like my identity is about to be scrubbed out,” one woman said.) But I think people who hold that view need to say the word “indefinitely” out loud and fully wrap their minds around it. In 20 years, we did not build a government that the Afghan people want to defend, and $83 billion in weapons and training did not establish a fighting force that could stand up to the Taliban for more than a few days.

More years and more billions probably wouldn’t change that. Quite the opposite, in fact: Governments propped up by a foreign power typically get better and better at sucking up to the foreign power, and worse and worse at representing their people.

If we’d been facing reality these last 20 years, we wouldn’t be in this position today. Instead, we’ve heard a constant series of justifications for staying another year, and then six months after that, and so on. Within months of the invasion in 2001, we had troops in Kabul and knew that Bin Laden had escaped from Tora Bora. That was the moment for a realistic conversation about what we could hope to accomplish in Afghanistan and how much the American people were willing to sacrifice to do it. Instead, the Bush and Obama administrations conspired to sell us fantasies. Trump kept saying we should get out, but then kept letting the generals talk him out of it. The Biden administration has finally faced up to reality, ugly as it is.

The one thing Biden can be faulted for is summed up by the quote at the top. Why wasn’t there a better plan for getting Americans, as well as the Afghans who had helped us, out of the country in an orderly way?

One thing we can say clearly is that an open-ended commitment to keep fighting in Afghanistan is deeply unpopular across a broad spectrum of the American public. Trump ran against “endless wars” in 2016, and kept threatening to pull troops out of Afghanistan precipitously, but then being stalled by his generals. (Now, of course, Trump insists his withdrawal would have been better.)

Back in 2008, it was already considered a gaffe when John McCain envisioned having troops in Iraq for 100 years. Nobody wanted that.

The Economist (subscription required) describes Afghans preparing for Taliban rule: hiding books they expect to be banned, buying burqas, etc. The reporter talks to one woman in Kandahar became a doctor under the American-backed government. Now she stays home, or wears her mother’s poorly fitting burqa when she goes out.

India’s Deccan Herald describes the problem of “ghost soldiers”: non-existent personnel falsified so that corrupt officials could collect American money to pay and supply them. Last summer, a report to Congress from the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said:

[G]etting an accurate count of Afghan military and police personnel has always been difficult. For example, in 2013, before becoming president, Ashraf Ghani told Inspector General Sopko in a meeting at his residence that the United States government was still paying the salaries of soldiers, police, teachers, doctors, and other civil servants who did not exist.

One of the enduring impediments to overseeing U.S. funding for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) has been the questionable accuracy of data on the actual (“assigned,” as distinct from authorized) strength of the force.

Seeing how fast the ANDSF units collapsed, you have to wonder how many of them really existed in the first place. And if they existed, were they being paid, or was the money vanishing before it got to the soldiers?

When an Afghan police officer was asked about his force’s apparent lack of motivation, he explained that they hadn’t been getting their salaries. Several Afghan police officers on the front lines in Kandahar before the city fell said they hadn’t been paid in six to nine months.

and the infrastructure bill

I was wrong. For months, I have been skeptical that Republican Senate votes were available for anything Biden wanted to do, no matter how obviously good for the country it might be. So the negotiations over the bipartisan infrastructure bill looked like a stalling exercise, similar to the way Republicans strung President Obama along on the ACA. Republicans and Democrats might spend all summer constructing a “framework” for an infrastructure compromise, but when push came to shove, I figured, the details would never work out, and the ten Republican votes needed to overcome a filibuster would evaporate.

Well, Tuesday a $1 trillion (or $550 billion, if you only count new money) infrastructure bill got through the Senate with 19 Republican votes, including Mitch McConnell’s. That happened despite ex-president Trump’s strenuous opposition.

The Senate went on to pass (50-49 on party lines) a budget resolution that makes space for the $3.5 trillion infrastructure package Democrats plan to pass through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process. That will be taken up in September, after the Senate returns from its recess.

At that point the cat-herding begins: Since no Republican support is expected, all 50 Senate Democrats and all but a handful of the House Democrats have to come to agreement. Speaker Pelosi wants the House to consider both bills simultaneously, so it’s likely neither will pass the House until the Senate passes (or fails to pass) the reconciliation package.

The path of disaster is that the reconciliation package fails, and House progressives follow through on their threat to sink the bipartisan bill, with the result that nothing passes. I think Democrats of all stripes recognize how bad that would be, so I expect the Senate to pass something via reconciliation: maybe not $3.5 trillion, maybe without everything currently envisioned.

So what’s in the two bills? I haven’t looked at the 2,700 pages of text myself, so I have to trust other sources.

Investopedia has a good summary (though I don’t understand why it says the bipartisan bill is $1.2 trillion, when most other sources I found said $1 trillion).

The bipartisan bill is almost all “traditional” infrastructure: roads, bridges, the power grid, water systems, ports and airports, environmental clean-up, public transit, etc. But Democrats did get a certain amount of forward-looking funding included: rural broadband, cybersecurity, electric school buses and charging stations. The $550 billion of new spending is spread over five years.

The reconciliation package isn’t written yet. Various Senate committees have been assigned amounts of money and objectives, with the recommendation that they each have their part of the bill written by September 15. The $3.5 trillion is supposed to be spent over eight years.

In a nutshell, the reconciliation package covers two things Republicans couldn’t stomach: serious amounts of money to combat and mitigate climate change, and “human infrastructure” like housing, education, and elder care.

To me, the climate change projects are worth the disaster-scenario risk, but I could compromise on the rest. I think it’s important to keep repeating David Roberts’ point: There is no non-radical position on climate change now. The choice is whether to take radical action or accept radical impacts.

One thing to keep in mind: It takes time to build infrastructure, so hardly any projects will be complete and improving Americans’ lives in time for the 2022 elections. At best, Democrats’ 2022 message will be more like “Help is coming” rather than “Look what we built.”

Conversely, since the actual roads and bridges will still be in the future, Republicans will be able to manufacture fantasies of elaborate boondoggles, similar to the way they imagined “death panels” into the ACA during the 2010 election cycle.

and the climate report

The Working Group I (of three groups) contribution to Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out this week. I’ve been having a hard time getting a handle on it.

The full report is nearly 4,000 pages. The summary for policy makers is 42 pages, but consists almost entirely of conclusions and assessments.

Observed increases in well-mixed greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations since around 1750 are unequivocally caused by human activities. … It is virtually certain that the global upper ocean (0–700 m) has warmed since the 1970s and extremely likely that human influence is the main driver. It is virtually certain that human-caused CO2 emissions are the main driver of current global acidification of the surface open ocean.

Long strings of sentences like those invite the Big Lebowski response: “Well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.” which is basically what it got from Fox News. Not everyone in the world agrees — especially not scientists from think tanks funded by fossil fuel companies — so there’s still a controversy.

Of course, the summary is the opinion of hundreds of the top climate scientists in the world, as selected by governments with a wide variety of political views and economic interests. The details backing those assessments are in the 4000-page report, as well as in the thousands of studies and peer-reviewed research papers it cites. But if you don’t have the time or expertise to evaluate all that — and I don’t — then why shouldn’t we believe the one or two guys Fox managed to dig up?

The question I’d like answered is: What do we understand now that we didn’t understand in 2013, when the fifth assessment came out?

Fortunately, Grist links to a number of what’s-it-all-mean popularizations, of which this video by Columbia University climate-science grad student Miriam Nielsen is my favorite. And not just because she understands that all this bad news requires a puppy break in the middle.

The main answer to my question seems to be that the uncertainty is shrinking: There’s already been 1.1 degrees centigrade of global average warming since 1750 (when coal-burning really got going). Due to greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere, that will become 1.5 degrees in the next two decades. And the wide range of unusual weather events — droughts, heat waves, floods, storms, etc. — that we’ve been wondering whether to blame on climate change? Yeah, they’re climate change. And they’re going to happen more frequently and more extremely as the planet continues to warm.

Another Grist article calls attention to “tipping points”, which are thresholds that change the system in ways that stoke further change, making the previous status quo unrecoverable. One such tipping point involves the arctic permafrost: If CO2 emissions raise global temperature enough to start melting the permafrost, the additional CO2 that had been frozen there will be released.

Time for a puppy break.

and the census

The census fact that made headlines is that the US has fewer White people than we thought: down to a little less than 58%, from 64% in 2010 and 69% in 2000. The percentage of Blacks also fell slightly (12.1% to 11.9%), while Hispanics (19.5%) and Asians (5.9%) increased. And it wasn’t just percentages: The raw number of people identifying as White dropped from 196 million in 2010 to 191 million in 2020.

But that’s not the whole story. If you look at a category the Census Bureau calls “white alone or in combination”, that’s still 71% of the country. Its percentage fell much less, from 73% in 2010, and its raw numbers are actually up. So it’s not that Whites are being “replaced”, the way Tucker Carlson likes to tell the story. There’s more interracial marriage and mixed-race children than there used to be, so fewer people are identifying as purely White.

Politically, the important issue is whether light-skinned Hispanics and other Americans who don’t fit traditional definitions of whiteness will see themselves (and be seen by others) as participating in the racial majority. That’s a social question, not a demographic question.

and the pandemic

I remember a button-and-t-shirt meme from the 70s: “Cheer up! Things are getting worse at a slower rate.” That’s the story here. The new-cases-per-day numbers keep rising — 130K now — but if you look at the trend over the past several Mondays — 50K, 80K, 110K — you can see the graph starting to level off. (Southern Missouri, where this wave started, is having fewer cases now.) OTOH, school is opening and it’s too soon to see the results of this year’s Sturgis super-spreader rally (which was even bigger than last year), so the contagion might take off again.

Compared to two weeks ago: cases are up 64%, hospitalizations 65% (to 76K), and deaths 113% (662). Deaths are a lagging indicator, so the fact that deaths are increasing faster than cases is, perversely, a good sign.

This wave continues to be concentrated in the comparatively unvaccinated South. Louisiana, Florida, and Mississippi are all averaging over 100 new cases per day per 100K people, compared to 13 in New Hampshire and 14 in Maryland and Michigan. Michigan is the oddball here: Its 49% vaccination rate is slightly less than Florida’s 50%, though well above Mississippi’s 36%.

Florida’s Ron DeSantis is making a case to be the most pro-Covid governor in the country. (As the cartoon demonstrates, though, there is competition.) In spite of having some of the worst county-wide outbreaks (Columbia County has 212 new cases per day per 100K), he has banned mask mandates in schools and vaccine mandates in businesses and government offices. He describes Covid in schools as a “minor risk”. He told President Biden to leave Florida alone at a time when the state was requesting ventilators (which it got) from the feds.

School districts have been defying Santis and mandating masks anyway. He threatened to not pay the superintendents, but has backed down.

Being the retirement capital of the US, Florida is blessed with abundant hospital beds. So its nation-leading 72 Covid hospitalizations per 100K aren’t collapsing the system as badly as Mississippi’s 52 are. Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee (where my nephew’s wife is a nurse) is full. Go have your emergency somewhere else.

and you also might be interested in …

Andrew Cuomo faced reality and resigned. Matt Gaetz, on the other hand, will probably hold out until there’s an indictment.

Trump was not reinstated as president on August 13. Mike Lindell’s three-day symposium, which was supposed to reveal irrefutable proof that China stole the election from Trump by hacking Dominion voting machines all over the country, came and went without convincing anybody, much less leading to a 9-0 Trump reinstatement vote at the Supreme Court. The main question the symposium raised for sane observers was: Is Lindell a grifter, or is he the victim of grifters who sold him “proof” of something he desperately wanted to believe?

Meanwhile, a judge has allowed Dominion’s billion-dollar defamation lawsuit against Lindell (and others) to go forward. (Is there an insanity defense in civil lawsuits?)

This is yet another opportunity for Trump cultists to return to reality, but I doubt many of them will. For the few who do, I believe the best we can hope for is not an “OMG, I’ve been lied to” moment, but rather a shift of attention somewhere else, with eventual amnesia about the whole delusional episode.

Remember when President Obama had the audacity to wear a tan suit? Or when he put his feet up on the White House desk? Or when his family took vacations? Or “lived large” in the White House with a chef and servants and stuff? Or did hundreds of other things that nobody thought to object to when white presidents did them?

Incredibly, after eight years of constant criticism in the White House, Obama still doesn’t know his place. Look at what he did Saturday: He had a party to celebrate his 60th birthday! I mean, who does that?

OK, maybe he scaled down the guest list a little so he wouldn’t host a super-spreader event, but there was still a big tent. Well, NYT columnist Maureen Dowd wasn’t going to let him just get away with it. He’s “Jay Gatsby”, “Barack Antoinette”, “nouveau riche”, “lofty”. After selling millions and millions of books, he has the cheek to live in a “sprawling mansion”. He invited celebrities, and they came.

How uppity can you get?

Haiti had a powerful earthquake.

A 12-year-old Canadian girl was forced out of co-ed hockey because … I’m not sure exactly. Something to do with dressing rooms.

and let’s close with something big

Remember the movie “Air Bud” about the dog who played basketball? Well, they should make one about an elephant. Though I’m not sure what the rules say about throwing your teammate at the basket.

Not Required

Given the data from 2020-21 showing very low COVID-19 transmission rates in a classroom setting and data demonstrating lower transmission rates among children than adults, school systems are not required to conduct COVID-19 contact tracing.

– Texas Education Agency (8-5-2021)

These numbers have sparked concerns that what had once seemed like the smallest of silver linings — that Covid-19 mostly spared children — might be changing. Some doctors on the front lines say they are seeing more critically ill children than they have at any previous point of the pandemic and that the highly contagious Delta variant is likely to blame.

– The New York Times (8-9-2021)

This week’s featured post is “The Once and Future Coup“.

This week everybody was talking about Trump’s attempt to involve DOJ in overturning the election

That’s the topic of the featured post.

In Friday’s Washington Post, Lawrence Tribe, Barbara McQuade, and Joyce Vance explain why the Justice Department should be investigating Trump for his attempt to stay in power after losing the 2020 election.

The publicly known facts suffice to open an investigation, now. They include Trump’s demand that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “find” 11,780 votes to declare he won that state’s election; Trump’s pressure on acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen as well as Vice President Mike Pence to advance the “big lie” that the election was stolen; the recently revealed phone call in which Trump directed Rosen to “just say the election was corrupt, [and] leave the rest to me,” and public statements by Trump and associates such as Rudolph W. Giuliani and Rep. Mo Brooks on Jan. 6 to incite the mob that stormed the Capitol.

None of these facts alone proves a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, but together they clearly merit opening a criminal investigation, which would allow prosecutors to obtain phone and text records, emails, memos and witness testimony to determine whether Trump should be charged.

The article specifies the criminal charges that such an investigation might lead to, depending on what facts are uncovered: conspiracy, obstructing an official proceeding, racketeering, voter fraud, coercing officials to violate the Hatch Act, inciting insurrection, and seditious conspiracy.

Lawfare’s Dana Zolle gives a clear explanation why Trump shouldn’t be able to claim immunity from lawsuits concerning damages resulting from his actions on January 6.

Briefly: There are two controlling Supreme Court decisions. In Nixon v Fitzgerald, the Court ruled that a president can’t be sued for damages resulting from his official acts. Basically, presidents should be able to carry out their duties without worrying about judges second-guessing them. In Clinton v Jones, the Court laid out the opposite boundary: Presidential immunity doesn’t extend to actions that are totally outside a president’s official duties.

Zolle argues (correctly, IMO) that inciting a mob to disrupt Congress is not part of a president’s official duties.

and Andrew Cuomo

Tuesday, the New York Attorney General released a report concluding that Governor Cuomo had sexually harassed multiple women. The accusations are of unwanted touching and suggestive comments. The report describes the governor’s office as a toxic work environment that normalized Cuomo’s inappropriate behavior.

Many people had already called for Cuomo’s resignation as soon as it became clear that there would be more than just one or two accusations, while others wanted the investigation to play out first. Now that the report is official, calls for Cuomo’s resignation or impeachment are nearly universal, including national Democratic figures like President Biden, Majority Leader (and New York Senator) Chuck Schumer, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as large numbers of Democrats in the New York legislature.

Cuomo continues to insist that he did nothing wrong, but other than the governor himself, Cuomo defenders are hard to find.

The accusations against Cuomo are actually less serious and smaller in number than those against former President Trump, but Democrats refuse to circle the wagons around Cuomo the way Republicans have around Trump. This is one of the major differences between the two parties.

and the pandemic

The average daily numbers of new Covid cases in the US continues to rise sharply, and is now up to 110K, up from under 80K last week and 50K the week before. Average daily deaths are now over 500. Just under 62K Americans are hospitalized with Covid, not quite double the number two weeks ago.

Louisiana (99 new cases per day per 100K residents) and Florida (90) are the current hot spots, but numbers are rising everywhere. In my home county of Middlesex in Massachusetts, our 11 new cases per day per 100K is up from less than 1 a month ago. Vermont, the most vaccinated state in the country (68% of all residents), has 10 new cases per day per 100K.

The differences between states in deaths is much starker. Maine has .01 Covid deaths per day per 100K residents, while Arkansas has .68.

Schools are set to open soon, and debate about how to open them is heated. Almost everyone, from the Biden administration on down, wants in-person classes available to any student who wants them. The CDC says

Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority.

The question is what safeguards are needed to open schools safely. The CDC is recommending children get vaccinated if they are over 12, and wear masks in class. But in Florida, Governor DeSantis is threatening to take state funding away from school districts that mandate masks. Many red states have such mandate bans, and a number of hard-hit school districts are planning to defy them.

In Arizona, a state law forbidding mask mandates in schools goes into effect in late September, though it was written to apply retroactively. Even so, several school systems, including districts in Phoenix and Tucson, have decided to require masks on campus when the school year begins.

At the center of this debate is the changing nature of the virus as the Delta variant spreads. Nationally, the number of cases is about 1/3 of its January peak, but the number of children hospitalized with Covid is nearly the same.

That number has been climbing since early July; from July 31 to Aug. 6, 216 children with Covid were being hospitalized every day, on average, nearly matching the 217 daily admissions during the pandemic’s peak in early January.

Hospitals in coronavirus hot spots have been particularly hard hit. On a single day last week, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, in Little Rock, had 19 hospitalized children with Covid; Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, in St. Petersburg, Fla., had 15; and Children’s Mercy Kansas City, in Missouri, had 12. All had multiple children in the intensive care unit.

The rules in Texas are particularly lax.

Texas school districts will not be required to conduct contact tracing this year if a student contracts COVID-19, according to new guidelines issued by the Texas Education Agency this week.

The agency said a district should notify parents if it learns of a student who has been a close contact to someone with the virus. But with the relaxation of contact tracing, broad notifications will not be mandatory.

So if there’s a Covid outbreak in your child’s school, you might not hear about it.

At the college level, the question is whether schools can mandate that their students get vaccinated. CNN reports that about 400 colleges and universities have some form of vaccine mandate. But some states won’t allow them. In Texas, an executive order from Governor Abbott won’t let state universities mandate either vaccines or masks.

and Congress

The bipartisan infrastructure bill is crawling towards the finish line in the Senate. Meanwhile, the much larger infrastructure package Democrats hope to pass through reconciliation is waiting in the wings.

In addition, Democrats are trying to craft a voting-rights bill far less ambitious than the For the People Act which failed in the Senate.

It’s hard to raise excitement about processes that move so slowly, but this is the success or failure of the Biden administration right here. Democrats need to go to the voters in 2022 with proof that government can accomplish things. If government can’t improve people’s lives, then why not vote for the Republicans, who are far more entertaining?

The nightmare scenario is that divisions among Democrats will result in nothing getting passed. Moderate Democrats are skeptical of the price tag of the reconciliation bill, while progressives regard the bipartisan bill by itself as a sell-out. If neither passes, Democrats will certainly lose the House in 2022, and then nothing worthwhile will get through Congress for the rest of Biden’s term.

and you also might be interested in …

I was going to write a much longer note, or maybe even a separate post, about Tucker Carlson broadcasting his show from Budapest this week and doing a propaganda interview with its authoritarian leader Viktor Orbán. But I decided I was just letting him troll me, so instead I will say a few simple things and provide links.

When authors write about how democracies die, Hungary is usually a prime example. In 2018, Vox published a long-but-worth-it article explaining how Hungary’s “soft fascism” works: All the trappings of democracy and free society are allowed to exist, but the rules are rigged to prevent any opposition from getting traction. You can have your individual anti-government opinions, but you are blocked at every turn from raising money or getting media attention or organizing any kind of effective resistance.

Carlson’s Budapest trip is an example of American conservatives becoming increasingly open about their anti-democratic agenda. If they have to ditch democracy to win the culture wars, they think that sounds like a good deal.

So they love Orbán’s anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-cosmopolitan policies, and it sets them dreaming about getting an autocrat of their own. Here’s Rod Dreher of American Conservative being interviewed in Hungarian Conservative, an English-language journal that gets substantial funding from the Hungarian government:

I have often said that if Donald Trump had had even half the intelligence and the focus of Viktor Orbán, America would be a very different place. Maybe in 2024, for the conservative movement, we will be able to put forward a politician, a presidential candidate, who is more like Orbán than Trump.

Matt Yglesias responds to conservative envy of Hungary by pointing out that much of America’s economic vibrancy comes from immigration, and that parts of the US (rural West Virginia, say) are already “non-diverse, non-cosmopolitan, highly traditionalist”. They’re also comparatively poor. Strangely, people don’t want to move there.

a lot of contemporary conservatives just look at small, poor, backward, insular Hungary and think to themselves “this is great, this is better than living in Austin and having food from all over the world and a vibrant music scene and a world-class university and all these tech companies.” You get this paranoia that the arrival of foreign-born people is an existential threat to the native stock, so anything would be better than letting that continue.

And I really do think we should all stop and ponder how un-American and wrong that is. The nice lady from Mexico who sold me some breakfast tacos in downtown Kerrville this morning did not replace anyone, nor did the second-generation Vietnamese guy who was born in Houston and moved here to open a Chinese restaurant. Donald Harris taught at Stanford and his daughter became vice president. That’s a great American story. And the people who think it would be better to live in a country where that kind of thing never happens — a country like Hungary — are nuts.

The July jobs report says the US economy added just under a million jobs, and unemployment dropped to 5.4%. But we’re still 5.7 million jobs short of the pre-pandemic highs.

On both sides, a lot of the current debate about Biden’s economic performance is just noise. As the pandemic receded, jobs were going to come back and inflation was going to take off, at least temporarily. Claiming the jobs as a Biden achievement or inflation as a Biden failure is just silly.

As has been true for more than a year, the economy is the tail and the pandemic is the dog. If we deal with the pandemic, the economy will recover; if we don’t, it won’t. So Biden deserves credit for his management of the vaccine distribution, and the corresponding effect on the pandemic. If Trump had been reelected and had somehow gotten the same vaccine numbers, he also would have seen an increase in jobs and inflation.

The question is what happens from here. The Delta-variant surge didn’t really get going until mid-July, so these numbers don’t tell us how much it will slow down the economic recovery.

Someone needs to explain Rudy Giuliani’s resemblance to Underdog’s nemesis Simon Bar Sinister.

I don’t know if it’s the research I do on right-wing extremism or an algorithm not grasping the sarcasm in my comments, but Facebook is convinced I want to see ads for Christian nationalist t-shirts worn by muscular White guys with tattoos. I’m guessing that they do the photo shoots in a prison yard.

and let’s close with something unlikely

I try not to repeat closings, and I’ve used Two Cellos before, but that was a different song seven years ago. So here’s “Welcome to the Jungle” on cellos.

Beautiful Times

If it was such a God-damned fine, beautiful time, why did it turn into this time which is not so damned fine and beautiful if there wasn’t something in that time which wasn’t fine and beautiful?

– Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men (1946)

The wealthy business elite never took to Obama, even though he didn’t castigate or prosecute those who had caused the financial crisis. The military and foreign policy establishment never fully took to Obama, even though he refrained from exorcising all of the demons (and people) who led us into Iraq or participated in the use of torture. America’s oil-rich allies in the Gulf never took to Obama, even though he continued to sell them weapons. The Republican Party relentlessly attacked and sought to undermine Obama, even though he came into office determined to work with them. Eight years later we got Trump, a reality star playing a billionaire, committed to cutting taxes for the wealthy, wrapping himself in the trappings of the military, rewarding the oil-rich allies, and tapping the darkest veins of the Republican Party’s racism and jingoism through his brand of white identity politics. Don’t tell me Trump isn’t the establishment.

– Ben Rhodes, After the Fall (2021)

This week’s featured posts are “After the Fall” and “Simone Biles vs. Sports Culture’s Toxic Masculinity

This week everybody was talking about the 1-6 Committee

Tuesday four police officers, two from the Capitol Police and two from DC Police, testified to the 1-6 Select Committee about their experiences fighting the rioters. It was a moving kick-off to the hearings, and served as an antidote to the gaslighting Republicans have been doing these last six months.

The officers said the rioters they fought against were terrorists. Woven into the stories about how they and their colleagues were attacked — and in some cases badly injured — the officers expressed outrage that the violence launched by pro-Trump supporters was being ignored by the very lawmakers they protected that day.

Trump has called the rioters a “loving crowd“, and suggested that they were welcomed by police.

They were ushered in by the police. I mean, in all fairness — the Capitol Police were ushering people in. The Capitol Police were very friendly. You know, they were hugging and kissing.

Other Republicans have compared the insurrectionists to tourists, and praised them as “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law”.

The four policemen reintroduced reality into the discussion. They were verbally assaulted with racial slurs. They were beaten and badly injured. They feared for their lives. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn urged the committee to find the real cause of the riot.

If a hit man is hired and he kills somebody, the hitman goes to jail. But not only does the hitman go to jail, but the person who hired them does. It was an attack carried out on Jan. 6 and a hitman sent them. I want you to get to the bottom of that.

Predictably, conservative media decided “Back the Blue” didn’t apply here. Based on nothing but the inconvenience of his testimony, Tucker Carlson all but denied that Dunn was a cop.

Dunn has very little in common with your average cop. Dunn is an angry left-wing political activist.

If that were true, it should have been easy to find a Capitol policeman to say so. But, of course, Carlson produced no such witness. Laura Ingraham said the officers deserved “acting awards”, but likewise did no journalism to contradict their testimony.

Before the hearings started, I had wondered what role the two Republicans, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, both of whom were appointed to the committee by Speaker Pelosi, would play. Would they just be window dressing that allowed the committee to claim to be bipartisan? Or would they be more active?

They’re going to be active. This is from Cheney’s opening statement:

America is great because we preserve our democratic institutions at all costs. Until January 6th, we were proof positive for the world that a nation conceived in liberty could long endure. But now, January 6th threatens our most sacred legacy. The question for every one of us who serves in Congress, for every elected official across this great nation, indeed, for every American is this: Will we adhere to the rule of law? Will we respect the rulings of our courts? Will we preserve the peaceful transition of power? Or will we be so blinded by partisanship that we throw away the miracle of America? Do we hate our political adversaries more than we love our country and revere our Constitution? I pray that that is not the case.

It would not surprise me if Cheney becomes the star of these proceedings. She clearly wants the role and Democrats seem happy to let her have it.

The next order of business seems to be sending out subpoenas. The Department of Justice has formally waived executive privilege claims, instructing former officials “to provide information you learned” while serving under the former president.

The NYT summarizes DOJ’s logic:

The department reasoned that congressional investigators were examining potential wrongdoing by a sitting president, an extraordinary circumstance, according to letters sent to the former officials. Because executive privilege is meant to benefit the country, rather than the president as an individual, invoking it over Mr. Trump’s efforts to push his personal agenda would be inappropriate, the department concluded.


But the committee may have a harder time securing testimony from Trump and aides such as former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, as well as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and GOP Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mo Brooks of Alabama. Even if the Biden administration doesn’t intervene, Trump could still try to go to court to stop the select committee from obtaining documents and testimony from the Trump White House by attempting to assert privilege, an effort that could delay the probe.

I have to think that will be a bad look for them, and delaying the investigation just pushes it closer to the 2022 elections.

The Justice Department also released handwritten notes from an aide to Trump’s Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, detailing one of many phone conversations in which Trump tried to enlist the Justice Department in his attempt to stay in power after losing the election. Deputy AG Richard Donoghue noted that Trump pushed election-fraud theories at himself and Rosen, but that Donohue pushed back.

“Much of the info you’re getting is false,” Mr. Donoghue said, adding that the department had conducted “dozens of investigations, hundreds of interviews” and had not found evidence to support his claims. “We look at allegations but they don’t pan out,” the officials told Mr. Trump, according to the notes.

When told the DOJ had no power to change the outcome of the election, Trump replied that they should “Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and Republicans in Congress.”

I doubt Trump himself will ever consent or be forced to testify. (He’s not Hillary Clinton, after all. There’s no way he could give coherent answers for 11 hours, much less avoid perjury.) But if he ever faces questioning, I would like to see him confronted with a list of all the people who investigated and told him his fraud theories were bunk: Rosen and Donohue, Bill Barr, Brad Raffensperger, and probably many others. He either knew he lost the election or he is completely insane.

and infrastructure

The long-anticipated bipartisan infrastructure bill finally exists. The Senate could vote on it as early as this week, and at the moment it looks likely to pass. What happens next is anybody’s guess. Ideally, Senate Democrats go on to pass their larger infrastructure package via reconciliation, and the House passes both bills simultaneously. If the Senate is slow, or if the reconciliation bill fails because either Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema (and all Republicans) vote against it, then we’ll see whether House progressives go through with their threat to torpedo this bill. That would be a bold move, and could mean that nothing gets passed.

and the pandemic

Things continued to get worse, and the CDC changed its guidance to say that even vaccinated people should wear masks indoors if they are in an area with substantial or high levels of transmission. New studies of the Delta variant show that vaccinated people can spread the disease, which previously seemed unlikely.

Here’s a clear explanation of how vaccinated people can catch and spread Delta without getting seriously ill themselves:

The Delta variant seems to flourish in the nose, the main port of entry for the virus. The vaccines are injected into muscle, and the antibodies produced in response mostly remain in the blood. Some antibodies may make their way to the nose but not enough to block it.

“The vaccines — they’re beautiful, they work, they’re amazing,” said Frances Lund, a viral immunologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “But they’re not going to give you that local immunity.”

When the virus tries to snake down into the lungs, immune cells in vaccinated people ramp up and rapidly clear the infection before it wreaks much havoc. That means vaccinated people should be infected and contagious for a much shorter period of time than unvaccinated people, Dr. Lund said.

“But that doesn’t mean that in those first couple of days, when they’re infected, they can’t transmit it to somebody else,” she added.

As for the numbers, new cases per day in the US is approaching 80K, up from around 50K a week ago. Deaths are averaging 350 per day, up from 269 a week ago, but still well below the 3,300 we were seeing in mid-January.

The center of the new wave is moving to Florida, where new cases per day is just under 16K, or right about where it was at the January peak. Louisiana has over 4K new cases per day, a new high. Deaths in each state are at about 1/4th their January high.

As the country contemplates the possibility of new mask mandates or even a return to shutting down theaters and restaurants, the public mood is turning against the unvaccinated. In the beginning, just about all the talking heads advocated patience: Give the unvaccinated time, address their concerns, and don’t be judgmental.

This week, patience went out the window. “Vaccinated America has had enough,” David Frum wrote in The Atlantic. NBC News reports on the “scorn, resentment” the unvaccinated are triggering.

From Kevin McShane:

Occasionally I channel-scan through Tucker Carlson’s show and find him “asking questions” about the safety or effectiveness of Covid vaccines. Like Wednesday, when he quoted Dr. Fauci explaining about vaccinated people carrying the virus in their nasal passages (see above), and said “What? What does that even mean? We’re not even going to speculate as to what that means.”

OK, everybody understands that Tucker’s show isn’t news, it’s entertainment for red-hatters. But even so, he’s on an effing news channel. When he has questions, he could interview somebody who knows answers. Why doesn’t he? That’s the question I want to raise.

Why would you raise questions and stop there, when you have the resources to get answers?

and Simone Biles

See one of the featured posts. Late-breaking news: She’s coming back for tomorrow’s balance-beam competition.

and (still) the 2020 election

The “forensic audit” of the 2020 presidential election in Maricopa County has now finished its work, but it’s still not clear when the report will come out. The audit was started with $150,000 from the Arizona Senate, but was obviously costing more than that. We now know they raised $5.7 million from “political groups run by prominent Trump supporters including Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell, Patrick Byrne and correspondents from One America News Network”.

Trump complained on election night that the ballots were taking too long to count, but his “auditors” have been working since April 22. I have little doubt they will come up with some reason to claim that Trump really won Arizona. That was their mission, and no other outcome would be acceptable to their sponsors. The reason this has taken so long, in my opinion, is that the ballots themselves don’t support that conclusion. If there were clear evidence of election-stealing fraud, they’d have reported it months ago.

Along the same lines, the My Pillow guy is planning a three-day event August 10-12 in Sioux Falls, where he will present in detail the “cyberforensics” that prove Trump won.

Last January—on the 9th, he says carefully, placing the date after the 6th—a group of still-unidentified concerned citizens brought him some computer data. These were, allegedly, packet captures, intercepted data proving that the Chinese Communist Party altered electoral results … in all 50 states. This is a conspiracy theory more elaborate than the purported Venezuelan manipulation of voting machines, more improbable than the allegation that millions of supposedly fake ballots were mailed in, more baroque than the belief that thousands of dead people voted. This one has potentially profound geopolitical implications.

That’s why Lindell has spent money—a lot of it, “tens of millions,” he told me—“validating” the packets, and it’s why he is planning to spend a lot more.

He claims that after his evidence is made public, the Supreme Court will vote 9-0 to reinstate Trump. (Where exactly does the Constitution make provision for such a thing?)

It’s hard to tell whether Lindell himself is grifting, or if he’s a victim of the grifters who are “validating” the packets.

He will not, on August 10, find that “the experts” agree with him. Some have already provided careful explanations as to why the “packet captures” can’t be what he says they are. Others think that the whole discussion is pointless. When I called Chris Krebs, the Trump administration’s director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, he refused even to get into the question of whether Lindell has authentic data, because the whole proposal is absurd. The heavy use of paper ballots, plus all of the postelection audits and recounts, mean that any issues with mechanized voting systems would have been quickly revealed. “It’s all part of the grift,” Krebs told me. “They’re exploiting the aggrieved audience’s confirmation bias and using scary yet unintelligible imagery to keep the Big Lie alive, despite the absence of any legitimate evidence.”

One of the most ominous parts of Georgia’s new election law was that it created a process by which the Republican legislature could take over the management of local elections. In essence, a non-partisan process would be taken over by a partisan group.

Now the legislature has taken the first move in that process: It has requested a performance review of election officials in heavily Democratic Fulton County, which includes Atlanta. Republicans blame their loss of the presidential election in Georgia and both of Georgia’s senate seats on the fact that a lot of Black people voted in Fulton County. Now they’re moving into a position to do something about that.

and the eviction moratorium

The Covid-related eviction moratorium ran out at the end of July.

The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in September, helped keep 2 million people in their homes as the pandemic battered the economy, according to the Princeton University’s Eviction Lab.

Eviction moratoriums will remain in place in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois, California and Washington DC, until they expire later this year.

Elsewhere, evictions could begin on Monday, leading to a years’ worth of evictions over several weeks and ushering in the worst housing crisis since the last major recession, in 2008.

NPR (referencing the Census Bureau) says that 7 million households are behind on their rent. The NYT says 6 million, and provides a map showing where they are.

The expiration is the result of a multi-player screw-up. After the CDC established the moratorium, the Covid relief packages passed in December and March together allocated $45 billion to rental assistance. But only $3 billion has been distributed, for a number of reasons.

Confusion at the federal level about how to distribute that amount of money, and which of numerous programs would handle distribution, has also slowed getting the aid out. As Vox’s Jerusalem Demsas has reported, many renters in need of aid simply did not know that they were eligible for rent relief, and if they did, some were unable to provide the necessary paperwork because of their turbulent living circumstances, lack of formal documentation of their work, or nontraditional rental agreements.

The Biden administration would have liked to extend the ban on evictions at least until the relief money gets distributed. (It would suck to be thrown out on the street when Congress had already appropriated money to keep you in your home.) But although the Supreme Court refused to order an end to the moratorium in June, one of the five votes in the 5-4 majority was Brett Kavanaugh, who made it clear in his concurring opinion that he only let the moratorium continue because it was scheduled to expire soon. He felt that waiting for the intended expiration would result a “more orderly” process than just cutting it off.

From that, the administration concluded that the Court would throw out any attempt at an extension by executive order, so Congress had to act. But for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, it didn’t make this announcement and ask for Congress to address the issue until this week.

Congress has been unable to respond in time. No one knows whether the Senate could have overcome a filibuster, because a moratorium-extending bill has not made it through the House. Progressive and moderate Democrats in the House weren’t able to come to agreement, and of course they got no help from Republicans. A last-ditch attempt to extend the ban just until October required (for reasons I don’t understand) unanimous consent, but Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry objected.

The House is now in recess, but members have been warned of a possible 24-hour recall if an infrastructure bill gets through the Senate. Possibly something might be done then.

Two weeks ago I pointed to Congress’ inability to resolve the Dreamers’ immigration status as an example of broken democracy. This is another example. Hardly anyone thinks it’s a good idea to evict large numbers of people from their homes right now, but that seems to be what’s going to happen.

and you also might be interested in …

I try not to do too many a-Republican-said-something-outrageous notes, because (1) I could fill the whole Sift with them every week, and (2) it’s not good for me to spend so much of my time being outraged. But this one takes the cake: Elise Stefanik, you might remember, became the third-ranking Republican in the House after Liz Cheney was ousted for being insufficiently subservient to Donald Trump. Friday she tweeted:

Today’s Anniversary of Medicare & Medicaid reminds us to reflect on the critical role these programs have played to protect the healthcare of millions of families. To safeguard our future, we must reject Socialist healthcare schemes.

But Medicare and Medicaid are socialist healthcare schemes. Republicans have been telling us that for more than half a century. In 1961, Ronald Reagan recorded an entire LP making the case that Medicare would lead first to a complete government takeover of healthcare, and then to a socialist dictatorship. If Medicare passed, Reagan warned,

you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.

So if you believe that Medicare and Medicaid play a “critical role” in protecting “the healthcare of millions of families”, the obvious conclusion to draw is that socialist healthcare schemes work.

AOC retweeted Stefanik, and then drove the point home:

Totally agree. In fact, to further protect Medicare from socialism, let’s strengthen it to include dental, vision, hearing, & mental healthcare and then allow all Americans to enjoy its benefits. Trust me, Medicare for All is the #1 thing you can do to own the socialists.

You can get a virtual zoo membership. Check out what’s going on in the zoo habitats whenever you want. Participate in Zoom meetings with animal experts.

and let’s close with something hyperbolic

If you’ve never read the book Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, you’ve missed out. Using a combination of text and fairly artless cartoons, Brosh tells the kinds of stories you shouldn’t tell about your childhood, or maybe anybody’s childhood.

Fortunately, you don’t have to buy a book to decide what you think. Brosh publishes similar cartoons (and sometimes whole book chapters) on her blog.

Unfair Treatment

We’re going to end up locked down again, for another miserable season or two, because we’re trapped in a country with a bunch of morons. And while that is happening, the morons will be incessantly whining about how unfairly they’re treated.

David Roberts

This week’s featured post is “The Cleveland Indians/Guardians: a teachable moment?“.

This week everybody was talking about the 1-6 investigating committee

At the end of what Ed Kilgore describes as a “chess game” between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the membership of the House Select Committee to investigate the January 6 insurrection is set now, and hearings will begin tomorrow.

The I-move/you-move part of the metaphor works:

  • Pelosi advanced the idea of a bipartisan commission to investigate January 6.
  • McCarthy sent Rep. Katko to negotiate ground rules, setting the goal of near-perfect equality of power between the two parties, which he was sure Pelosi would never accept.
  • But Pelosi accepted.
  • McCarthy couldn’t go against Trump’s desire to have no investigation, so he had to turn against Katko’s successfully negotiated deal, which was ultimately blocked in the Senate by Mitch McConnell’s filibuster.
  • Pelosi proposed that House create a select committee to conduct an investigation. She would name eight members of and McCarthy five, subject to her approval.
  • McCarthy opposed the select committee, but it passed anyway.
  • Pelosi named seven Democrats and Liz Cheney.
  • McCarthy warned Cheney not to accept.
  • Cheney accepted.
  • McCarthy delayed naming his five members, then included Jim Jordan and Jim Banks, both of whom indicated they rejected the very premise of investigating the attack on the Capitol. (Two middle-aged white guys named Jim is what passes for diversity in the Republican caucus.)
  • Pelosi refused to accept Jordan and Banks.
  • McCarthy then threatened to retract all five of his nominees, saying “Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts.”
  • Pelosi didn’t budge. But she did add Republican Adam Kinzinger.

So now here we are with an investigating committee of seven Democrats, Cheney, and Kinzinger.

I dispute the chess part of the metaphor, though, because to me this looks like poker: Pelosi had the better hand and she played it.

Beltway pundits who continue to worship at the altar of bipartisanship, like CNN’s Chris Cillizza, disagree. They think Pelosi’s decision to exclude Jordan and Banks “dooms even the possibility of the committee being perceived as bipartisan or its eventual findings being seen as independent.”

And I wonder: “perceived” and “seen” by who? The MAGA faithful were never going to be convinced Trump did anything wrong, no matter who signed the report. Think about it: We’re already in a scenario where Liz Effing Cheney is a RINO! If the whole select committee were made up of Jim Jordans, but it somehow did a legitimate investigation and put out an factual report about Trump’s culpability, they would all be RINOs too.

No committee that investigates Trump honestly will be “perceived” or “seen” by the Trump personality cult as bipartisan or independent. That was never a possibility.

As for reasonable people, particularly political independents, the proof will be in the pudding: If hearings consist of Democrats giving political speeches, independents will be turned off. But if the committee members fade into the background and let the witnesses and the evidence tell the story (as I think they will), nobody will care that none of Trump’s puppets are in the room. The fact that Jordan et al won’t be there, in fact, will make the investigation more credible, because there will be less political grandstanding and more attention to the evidence.

As for McCarthy’s threat to “pursue his own investigation” … Go for it, Kevin. I dare you.

Jonathan Chait puts his finger on the problem:

[T]he entire political context for the investigation has changed. The insurrection was briefly considered an event akin to 9/11: an outside attack, which in its horror would unite the parties.

Now Republicans see the insurrection as an action by their political allies. Some of them are embarrassed by the insurrection and wish to avoid discussing it, while others see its members as noble martyrs. But almost none of them actually have the stomach to denounce the rioters any more.

… The scrambling and confusion [over filling the Republican slots on the committee] is the result of the fact that the January 6 commission was conceived in a political context that no longer exists. Congress never would have had a “9/11-style commission” if the hijackers had been supporters of, and had received support from, one of the political parties.

and the Covid surge

Case numbers continue to ramp up. Average new cases per day is now over 50K, after bottoming at 11K a few weeks ago. Last summer’s peak, which seemed apocalyptic at the time, was just over 70K, but paled before January’s 300K.

Deaths (270 per day) are also above their early-July low (209), but seem to be flattening. Last summer deaths got over 1100 per day. In January they got over 3000. The difference is almost certainly that the most vulnerable people are now vaccinated.

Cases are increasing everywhere, even in places that had seemed to have the virus almost beaten. In my county (Middlesex in Massachusetts) we are at 4.7 new cases per day, which is tiny compared to counties like Baxter in Arkansas (126), but a few weeks ago we were averaging less than 1 new case per day.

Meanwhile, Republicans around the country are still acting like public health officials are the more urgent threat. Missouri’s attorney general announced he will file suit to stop St. Louis from re-imposing a mask mandate. Numerous legislatures have passed or are working on bills to curb state and local governments’ powers during a health emergency.

Tennessee seems to be back from its brief trip to the Dark Ages.

Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said the Tennessee Department of Health will restart outreach efforts recommending vaccines for children and once again hold events on school property offering the COVID-19 vaccine, including some next week. Department staff are no longer instructed to strip the agency logo from public-facing vaccine information, she said.

“Nothing has been stopped permanently,” Piercey said during a press briefing. “We put a pause on many things, and then we have resumed all of those.”

A few Republican politicians and/or media personalities seem to be changing their tune about vaccinations, or at least toning down their anti-vaccine disinformation.

After banning “vaccine passports” in May, Alabama Governor Kate Ivey lashed out at unvaccinated Alabamans Thursday. “it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.”

Alabama currently has the lowest vaccination rate (34% of the population fully vaccinated) in the country, and is in the top ten of states with the most new cases per capita. So, according to Gov. Ivey, the majority of Alabamans are not “regular folks”.

I can barely imagine the freak-out conservative media would be having if a Democratic official had said something like that.

The origin of Covid-19 is highly politicized topic. Then-President Trump jumped on the lab-origin possibility when the evidence seemed against it, because it gave him someone else to blame and helped him divert attention from his own bungling. Later, when scientists said the lab-leak theory had not gotten enough attention, he claimed vindication.

The evidence is still not conclusive, but more recent information points back towards the virus jumping from animals to humans at a Wuhan market.

Whenever this topic comes up, it’s worth reiterating two points:

  • Leaking out of a lab is not the same as being artificially engineered. (The lab might have been studying a naturally occurring virus, rather than creating a new one.) Scientists looked at this possibility and concluded that the virus itself does not show signs of human engineering.
  • The conspiracy theory that China released the virus intentionally is bizarre. Not only is there little evidence behind it, but it makes no sense. If China wanted to unleash a plague on the world, why would it release it in one of its own interior cities? And if this “bio-weapon” was aimed at the US, how did the Chinese know that the Trump administration would botch the American response so badly?

and the Olympics

The games started this week in Tokyo, after being postponed last summer. It’s an odd Olympics, without cheering crowds.

Trump and his fans are rooting against the US Women’s soccer team in the Olympics, because only Trump supporters are real Americans. Aaron Rupar comments:

If Joe Biden goaded people into booing a US Olympics team, Hannity would cut in for special Fox News coverage that would last until armageddon.

and you also might be interested in …

Negotiations on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which Majority Leader Schumer hopes to pass before the Senate’s August recess, are coming down to the wire.

Democrats are simultaneously working on a larger package that they hope to pass through the filibuster-avoiding reconciliation procedure.

When Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court was nearly derailed by Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault accusation in 2018, wavering Republicans agreed to delay the confirmation vote, giving the FBI a week to investigate further. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has been trying for three years to find out what that investigation consisted of. The answer seems to be: not much.

For example, the FBI set up a tip line, which received 4,500 responses. (I’m trying not to read much into the size of that number, just as I give little weight to the sheer number of affidavits Rudy Giuliani has about election fraud. The question is what they say and whether they’re trustworthy.) The FBI sent the most “relevant” tips to the White House Counsel’s office, which, unsurprisingly, did not ask the FBI to pursue any of them.

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick sums up:

It is, in a sense, hard to be horrified by the explicit confirmation from the FBI that this was indeed a sham investigation, simply because much of this was known at the time and more has emerged since. The sham occurred in plain view, as did the decision to dismiss all of the 83 judicial ethics complaints lodged against Kavanaugh at the time, because Supreme Court justices are not bound by the judicial ethics regime tasked with investigating them. In a sense, then, because the shamming always happened openly, the revelation that it was shamatory feels underwhelming. We have become so inured to all the shamming in plain sight that having it confirmed years later barely even feel like news.

Trump friend and fund-raiser Tom Barrack was arrested Tuesday for “violating foreign lobbying laws, obstructing justice and making false statements”. The indictment says that he was secretly using his influence in the Trump administration for the United Arab Emirates. (Given that Michael Flynn was working for Turkey and Paul Manafort was passing information to a Russian intelligence agent, I have to wonder how many people in the “America First” administration were actually working for the United States.)

Barrack didn’t just work for UAE, he accomplished things for them.

Others in Trump’s orbit may have influenced the president’s decisions on Middle East policy. But what is clear from the indictment is that Barrack and the other indictees claim credit for virtually every interchange between Trump and the UAE, whose government quickly became a Trump favorite.

Barrack’s biggest success was in getting the Trump administration to side publicly with UAE and Saudi Arabia against another US ally in the region, Qatar.

The outing of Catholic Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill (as a user of the Grindr gay hook-up app and a patron of gay nightclubs) has a number of disturbing angles. The Judas in this story was his own phone, which tracked his location, and Grindr, which sells data about its users (as many apps do).

In theory, commercially packaged app data doesn’t track identifiable individuals, but as the NYT showed in 2018, the protections are flimsy.

One path … leaves a house in upstate New York at 7 a.m. and travels to a middle school 14 miles away, staying until late afternoon each school day. Only one person makes that trip: Lisa Magrin, a 46-year-old math teacher. Her smartphone goes with her.

More recently, the NYT was able to identify January 6 rioters from commercially available app data.

The Burrill story was broken by The Pillar, whose reporters made similar deductions from Grindr data. The Pillar was founded by journalists previously at the Catholic News Agency, apparently so that they could cover the Catholic Church with more independence. The WaPo article portrays them as right-leaning journalists who might have an anti-gay agenda. This line of their article struck me as suspicious:

There is no evidence to suggest that Burrill was in contact with minors through his use of Grindr. But any use of the app by the priest could be seen to present a conflict with his role in developing and overseeing national child protection policies

Really? Why? It later quotes psychotherapist and former Benedictine monk Richard Sipe:

“Sooner or later it will become broadly obvious that there is a systemic connection between the sexual activity by, among and between clerics in positions of authority and control, and the abuse of children.”

A common belief, which is not true, is that gay men are more likely that straights to be pedophiles. The Pillar seems to be exploiting that belief without stating it openly.

There are also ethical issues around journalists using invasive methods to out people who are committing no crime. The Pillar founders/reporters claim the Burrill case is different because it is “serial and consistent, immoral behavior on the part of a public figure charged with addressing public morality”. But if they had found that Burrill had a female mistress, would that be a story?

On liberal social media, much was made of the connection between Burrill and last month’s USCCB statment that seemed headed towards denying communion to President Biden and other pro-choice Catholic politicians. Burrill was the general secretary of the USCCB at the time, and presumably played some role, but he does not seem to have been a ring-leader of that movement. When I went back and read news stories from June, I couldn’t find mention of him.

The featured post discusses the Cleveland Indians becoming the Cleveland Guardians. I’ll briefly add: Whether it rolls off your tongue or not, the Cleveland Guardians is certainly no worse than the names teams have bizarrely kept when they moved away from cities where they were appropriate, like the Los Angeles Lakers (who moved from Minneapolis to a place where the rivers dry up in the summer) or the Utah Jazz (from New Orleans). We’re used to those names by now, but they make no more sense than if Miami’s NFL team moved west and became the Phoenix Dolphins.

Mostly, I think Chris Hayes has this right:

A thing I’ve said to many parents in the process of naming their child: Whatever the name is, you will love it because you love the child. Literally no one ever wakes up one day with an eight-year-old named Max and says “WHY DID WE NAME HIM MAX?!?!?!”

The Washington Football Team also needs to pick a name, now that they’re no longer the Redskins. Sadly for them, the most obvious Washington names are associated with failure: the Senators were perennial losers in baseball, and the Washington Generals is the team that tours with (and is constantly humiliated by) the Harlem Globetrotters.

One of my social-media friends had suggested the WFT could keep the Redskins name, if they changed their logo and mascot to a russet potato. “Oddly,” he writes, the team “never got back to me.” It could have worked: Go Spuds!

Personally, I’m rooting for the WFT to become the Deep State. That should strike fear into their opponents

Michael Wolff, author of three Trump administration books, is sure Trump will run again in 2024.

and let’s close with something honest

Thinking about going back to the movies now that you’re vaccinated? (I’m not ready yet, but I’m told afternoon shows are almost empty.) Don’t pick a film based on a trailer that combines all the best bits into a few minutes and creates the illusion that it’s all that good. No, insist on Honest Trailers. Like this one for Black Widow.


A second flood, a simple famine, plagues of locusts everywhere
Or a cataclysmic earthquake, I’d accept with some despair.
But no, you sent us Congress.
Good God, sir, was that fair?

– “Piddle, Twiddle, and Resolve
sung by John Adams in “1776”

This week’s featured post is “DACA: One More Example of Broken Democracy“.

This week everybody was talking about voting rights

This week’s political drama was provided by Democratic legislators from Texas, who came to Washington Monday. By leaving, they denied the Texas House the quorum it needs to pass new voter-suppression laws. By arriving, they drew attention back to federal voting-rights legislation, which seems stalled in the face of a Republican filibuster.

Yes, it’s a stunt. But Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat was a stunt. Susan B. Anthony voting in 1872 was a stunt. Half of politics is constructing stunts that galvanize public opinion.

Scanning conservative media, I’ve been struck by the amount of time spent attacking or ridiculing the Texas Democrats, when I would have expected no coverage at all. I think Fox et al are afraid this might work.

I wish I felt that way. I’m more in line with the WaPo’s Dan Balz, who pointed out the disconnect between making headlines and making laws.

Democrats have produced the biggest headlines recently on the charged issue of voting rights. What they’ve yet to produce is an effective strategy to counteract the work Republican state legislators are doing to limit access and inject partisanship into the election process.

Some of those headlines came from President Biden’s speech on Wednesday, when he said that the US faces “the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War”.

I wonder what President Lincoln would have done if a Senate filibuster had blocked his effort to preserve the Union. Whatever that option might have been, Biden did not mention it.

Senator Manchin met with Texas Democrats on Thursday, and came out talking about the importance of voting rights. But is protecting them important enough to circumvent the filibuster? No. He continues to fantasize about a compromise that could draw 10 Republican votes in the Senate, despite all appearances to the contrary.

Meanwhile, the partisan “forensic audit” of Maricopa County’s ballots in the 2020 presidential election is generating bogus claims, as it was designed to do.

and the pandemic

New deaths have begun to rise for the first time since January. Covid deaths in the US had been down to an average of 206 per day on July 6, but are back up to 274 per day. New cases, which had bottomed out at just over 11K per day in mid-June, have risen to just under 32K. Both numbers are still well below the peaks (3347 and 248K) reached in mid-January, just after holiday socializing and before vaccinations had ramped up. They’re also below their level a year ago, near the mid-summer peak (66K and 519). But the trends are now going in the wrong direction.

Worldwide, infections are up 32% in the last two weeks, and are now over half a million a day.

The saddest thing about the increase in deaths is that nearly all Covid deaths are preventable now. Not only do vaccinated people catch Covid less often, but their cases are less serious.

More than 99 percent of recent deaths were among the unvaccinated, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said earlier this month on NBC’s Meet the Press, while Walensky noted on Friday that unvaccinated people accounted for over 97 percent of hospitalizations.

If those numbers are still holding, then maybe 2 vaccinated Americans are dying each day, along with 272 unvaccinated Americans. Approximately half the country, and 60% of adults, are now vaccinated. So if the entire country were vaccinated, we’d be seeing daily death totals in the single digits rather than the hundreds. In addition, Covid would spread more slowly in a totally vaccinated population, so even those single-digit death tolls might soon go away.

But conservative media is still doing its best to discourage people from getting vaccinated.

It also discourages all other efforts to slow the spread, like masking or shutting down high-density indoor events.

And as for the numbers, well, who trusts numbers? The Washington Post has a reporter in Springfield, Missouri:

Deep skepticism about the latest outbreak was on display outside the Bass Pro Shops complex that draws customers from around the region to buy fishing supplies and guns in a sprawling store that has zoo-like enclosures with alligators and turtles.

Several shoppers, who declined to give their names, described the reports about the delta variant outbreak as “overblown,” “exaggerated” and a “crock of s—.” One woman said that her daughter was hospitalized in an intensive care unit with covid-19 but that she thinks the numbers are exaggerated.

The NYT talked to three unvaccinated women between 62 and 74 in a Covid ward in north-central Arkansas.

Mrs. Billigmeier said the scariest part was that “you can’t breathe.” For 10 days, Ms. Johnson had relied on supplemental oxygen being fed to her lungs through nasal tubes.

Ms. Marion said that at one point, she felt so sick and frightened that she wanted to give up. “It was just terrible,” she said. “I felt like I couldn’t take it.”

Yet despite their ordeals, none of them changed their minds about getting vaccinated. “It’s just too new,” Mrs. Billigmeier said. “It is like an experiment.”

This resembles a pattern I pointed to two weeks ago in climate-change denial: In the beginning, populists told us to trust own experience and common sense rather than the statistical projections of the so-called experts in universities and government agencies. (“The weather’s fine. It gets hot and cold the same way it always has.”) But now that the evidence is all around us, the faithful are told to ignore what they see and feel, and instead believe what Fox News and the other conservative media outlets tell them.

And they do. That poor woman in Springfield has a daughter in the ICU, and still she doubts the seriousness of the pandemic.

Similarly, the WaPo reports on rural Oregon people who are endangered by a wildfire spreading through their drought-stricken area:

The West has been beset by historic drought and heat waves this year exacerbated by climate change, but among the small towns that have been threatened by the Bootleg Fire — Sprague River, Beatty, Bly — there is little talk of global warming. …

“Global warming?” Lawrence said as he sat drinking coffee with three friends on Wednesday morning around a table at the back of the Sycan Store in Bly.

“Yeah, right,” one of the others muttered.

Populists used to tell us to stop being sheep who believe whatever the expert elites say. But now that message has turned around: Ignore what you can see and experience, and trust instead in the “populist” leaders and pundits. Don’t be their sheep, be our sheep.

The monster can come right to your doorstep, but if Tucker Carlson says it’s not there …

and DACA

Nine years after President Obama created DACA, the courts still haven’t figured out what to do with it. The featured post discusses the latest injunction, but mainly focuses on Congress’ nine years of inaction.

and new Trump books

A raft of books about Trump’s final days in office have come out recently. From them we learned many disturbing things, including:

Trump, of course, denies all of this. But some of his denials are revealing: About the coup, he says, “if I was going to do a coup, one of the last people I would want to do it with is General Mark Milley”. This sounds remarkably like all the times he claimed that the women who accused him of sexual misconduct were too ugly to assault.

Back in 2015, I wrote an article examining why it made sense to use the word fascist when discussing Trump, and how his candidacy was the result of fascistic themes mainstream Republicans had been flirting with for decades. During the Obama years, Republicanism was a mixture of Mitt Romney corporatism, Paul Ryan libertarianism, and Tea Party fascism, which Trump remade as a more purely fascist movement.

In the years since that article, I have often referred to Trump as a fascist. This is not a mere insult; it is a word with meaning, and I use it in a meaningful sense. (In contrast to Mitch Daniels, I think refusing to describe Trump as a fascist robs the word of meaning. I would challenge Daniels to identify when Hitler became a fascist. 1933? 1936? 1939? When the Final Solution launched in 1941? How late in the Nazi Era could Hitler’s fascism be minimized the way Daniels minimizes Trump’s fascism?)

Influenced by writers like Timothy Snyder and Jason Stanley, I’ve since sharpened my view of fascism, so these seem like the key elements:

  • Identification of one segment of the population as the sole authentic citizens. (i.e., “real Americans”, meaning conservative White Christians)
  • Nostalgia for a mythic past when the authentic citizens ruled and the nation was great.
  • A myth of entitlement and victimization: The authentic group was betrayed and humiliated by a scapegoat group or groups (immigrants, Blacks, Muslims, “the liberal elite”), which bear responsibility for the nation’s decline.
  • Contempt for laws that treat authentic citizens and scapegoats the same, and for democracy that counts their votes equally.
  • Worship of a leader who will restore the mythic era. (Make America or Germany great again.)
  • Contempt for sources of truth or authority independent of the leader. (“Fake news”)
  • Blatant lying; shamelessness when the lies are exposed.
  • Justification of the leader taking and consolidating power by whatever means necessary, including violence.
  • Celebration of cruelty against the scapegoats. Even if the leader does little to help his followers, he takes vengeance on their enemies.

The recognition that Trump is a fascist is becoming more mainstream. This week David Frum posted “There’s a Word for What Trumpism is Becoming” on the Atlantic website. One fascinating connection: Frum very aptly connects Trump’s attempt to make Ashli Babbitt a martyr with the Brownshirt martyr Horst Wessel.

If you remember, the mainstream media had a similar debate over whether news articles should use the word lie to describe Trump’s most blatant falsehoods. (After all, a “lie” springs out of conscious intention to deceive, and what reporter could get far enough into Trump’s head to know that for a fact?) But eventually such hair-splitting became ludicrous; if you weren’t calling out Trump’s lies, you were helping him spread them.

I expect something similar to happen with fascist. (“Gee, Trump is telling enormous lies in order to encourage his white-supremacist followers to overturn democratic elections by any means necessary. What should we call that?”)

Speaking of political books: It’s not new any more, but I just read Grounded by Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester. It came out in September of 2020, and I suspect Tester started writing it in case a liberal Democratic presidential nominee wanted to balance the ticket by choosing him as VP.

It’s an enjoyable read. Tester is an engaging character — he continues to grow organic grains and beans on his 1,800-acre farm, planting and harvesting during the spring and fall Senate recesses — and the book is written with wit and charm. Tester apparently believes that any mistake you survive becomes funny, so he spends much of the book laughing at himself.

The subtitle “a senator’s lessons on winning back rural America” is a little overstated; the suggestions in the epilogue aren’t a magic formula. But Tester has won three Senate races in a red state, including the 2018 race where Trump picked him out as a special target, so he must know something.

Tester’s main message to Democrats is that rural America isn’t unreachable. He doesn’t deny that rural voters can be racist and xenophobic, but fundamental Democratic themes like fairness still work there. He also focuses on serving his constituents; he has done well by two large subgroups of Montana voters: veterans and Native Americans.

That said, the stories he tells of each campaign revolve around his opponents’ misjudgments, leaving the impression that he was beatable all three times. But maybe he’s just displaying the modesty and lack of ego that Montanans appreciate.

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Week after week, I start writing about how to reconnect with the sane portion of the Trump electorate, and end up not finishing. The fundamental debate is summed up in two recent articles by other people: “Biden’s Invisible Ideology” by Adam Gropnik and “Democrats Can’t Win the Culture War With Silence” by Ed Kilgore.

On the one hand, Trumpism is an extremist movement that thrives on division — exactly the kind of thing I wrote about in 2004 in “Terrorist Strategy 101“. Participating in round after round of attack-and-reprisal helps them. As Gropnik writes: “You get people out of a cult not by offering them a better cult but by helping them see why they don’t need a cult.”

Trumpists like Marjorie Taylor Greene rise on the opposition they draw, and more reasonable right-wingers like J. D. Vance can’t keep up, because they don’t troll liberals nearly as well.

On the other hand, the Right/Left struggle is real, and the Left needs to win. Republicans are going to draw attention to issues they think work in their favor, and even if those issues are total BS, Democrats need to have answers.

Biden’s child tax credits started arriving.

This week’s floods in Europe are yet another sign of climate change.

The infrastructure negotiations continue, both between parties and among Democrats.

Rodney Pierce was North Carolina’s 2019 Social Studies teacher of the year. Now he’s a target of the anti-critical-race-theory crackdown.

I haven’t commented on the whole billionaires-in-space thing, because I don’t have much to say. Critics point to the amount of good that money could do if it were spent in some better way. But on the other hand, they could be buying enormous yachts that don’t even stimulate the public imagination.

I mainly see the convergence of two trends: the vast accumulation of wealth at the top, and the unwillingness of governments to attempt big things. So if space travel is going to happen, billionaires have to do it.

and let’s close with something arresting

Between the music, the musicians, and the scenery, Gioli and Assia will take your mind off of whatever.

Outrage Politics

What President Biden said is: We’re willing to come to your house to give you the vaccine. At no point was anybody saying they’re going to break down your door and jam a vaccine into your arm despite your protests. This is outrage politics that is being played by my party, and it’s going to get Americans killed.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL)

This week’s featured post is “Vaccines versus Variants“.

This week everybody was talking about a new Covid surge

That’s the topic of the featured post.

and foreign affairs

President Biden is taking heat for sticking by his plan to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan. The Taliban is gaining ground, and should not be trusted to keep any pledges they make.

I understand all that, and yet I think the withdrawal is long overdue. Critics may describe it as a “defeat“, but actually it’s just an admission of the defeat that happened long ago. No one has a plan for standing up an Afghan government that can command the loyalty of its people and defend itself without us. So we can pull out now and watch the Taliban take over, or stay another 20 years and then pull out and watch the Taliban take over.

That’s the choice, and I’m glad to hear Biden recognize it.

I will not send another generation of Americans to Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.

Bad things will happen in the areas the Taliban takes over. But as Biden has observed elsewhere, bad things happen in lots of countries: Are we going to send troops to all of them?

One reasonable question is what will happen to Afghans who worked with us, like our translators. In his speech, Biden talked about granting them special immigration visas. Current law won’t let Biden bring them to the United States immediately, but the plan is to take as many as want to come to Guam or some third country, while they wait for their paperwork to be processed.

Haiti is in turmoil after its president was assassinated Wednesday night. The assassination was clearly a well-planned operation, but it’s not clear yet who did it or why.

Various political figures are locked in a struggle over who is actually running the country (including two interim prime ministers, Claude Joseph and Ariel Henry), while a group of legislators has also recognised Joseph Lambert, the head of Haiti’s dismantled senate, as provisional president.

The US may well end up sorting this out somehow. But if we do, we should make sure we’re backing the right horse.

Cuba is suffering through an economic crisis intertwined with the Covid epidemic. Thousands of Cubans protested Sunday, the largest demonstrations against the Communist government in decades.

and race

Antiracist author Ibram X. Kendi reflects on having become a straw man:

Over the past few months, I have seldom stopped to answer the critiques of critical race theory or of my own work, because the more I’ve studied these critiques, the more I’ve concluded that these critics aren’t arguing against me. They aren’t arguing against anti-racist thinkers. They aren’t arguing against critical race theorists. These critics are arguing against themselves.

What happens when a politician falsely proclaims what you think, and then criticizes that proclamation? Is she really critiquing your ideas—or her own? If a writer decides what both sides of an argument are stating, is he really engaging in an argument with another writer, or is he engaging in an argument with himself?

And Matt Yglesias raises a question about anti-CRT laws:

Does anyone care to make a forecast of the form “states that adopt [good/bad] laws banning ‘Critical Race Theory’ will see [benefits/harms] to [someone] that we can measure [somehow] within [timespan]”?

In an article about Nicole Hannah-Jones’ decision to reject a battled-over position at University of North Carolina and instead accept an enthusiastically-offered professorship at Howard University, Paul Butler notes:

Columbia University law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term “critical race theory,” has argued that the law can often be interpreted in a way that benefits the ruling class, no matter what the law actually says.

I believe that anti-CRT laws will validate this proposition. The laws themselves outlaw ideas that no antiracist is explicitly teaching or wants to teach (like “That any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin is inherently superior or inferior“). But in practice, the effect of these laws will be to limit teaching about the significance of slavery in American history, and the continuing effects of racism on American society. (Example: If government-endorsed red-lining creates a racial ghetto, does that ghetto magically disappear when the rules change? Will the Black families who were denied the opportunity to build wealth instantly be made whole?) Any White parents who are uncomfortable with the facts their child is learning will feel empowered to complain or sue, and school officials will be reluctant to stand up for the teacher. That’s already happening.

Will those effects, or the effect on teachers (and the students of teachers) who just decide to play it safe and not talk about race, be measurable within a time frame, as Yglesias asks? Probably not.

Nicole Hannah-Jones and Ta-Nehisi Coates going to historically Black Howard University is a big deal. It signals that a virtuous cycle is underway: Big-name faculty leads to big-time donations, which draw more big-name faculty. Also: Howard just got more attractive to top-notch Black high school students who also get in to Ivy League schools. Hannah-Jones isn’t just someone you’d want to study with, she models the thought process that might draw you to Howard: Do you really want to spend the next four years proving to White people that you belong at Harvard?

The Robert E. Lee statue that was the center of the “Unite the Right” rally of very fine people white supremacists in Charlotte in 2017 has finally been removed from Market Street Park. A statue of Stonewall Jackson was removed from a different Charlottesville park.

The city, a university town that is liberal by Virginia standards, has been trying to take the statues down for years, but was blocked by a state law that protected them. But the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in the city’s favor in April.

but we can’t lose sight of climate change

David Roberts makes two important points about fighting climate change.

First, there is no “moderate” policy option.

To allow temperatures to rise past 1.5° or 2°C this century is to accept unthinkable disruption to agriculture, trade, immigration, public health, and basic social cohesion. To hold temperature rise to less than 1.5° or 2°C this century will require enormous, heroic decarbonization efforts on the part of every wealthy country.

Either of those outcomes is, in its own way, radical. There is no non-radical future available for the US in decades to come. Our only choice is the proportions of the mix: action vs. impacts. The less action we and other countries take to address the threat, the more impacts we will all suffer.

Politicians who hamper the effort to decarbonize and increase resilience are not moderates. They are effectively choosing a mix of low action and high impacts — ever-worsening heat waves, droughts, floods, and hurricanes. There is nothing moderate about that, certainly nothing conservative.

Second, the top priority has to be clean electrification.

while different climate models disagree about which policies and technologies will be needed to clean up remaining emissions after 2030, virtually all of them agree on what’s needed over the next decade. It’s clean electrification:

1. clean up the electricity grid by replacing fossil fuel power plants with renewable energy, batteries, and other zero-carbon resources;

2. clean up transportation by replacing gasoline and diesel vehicles — passenger vehicles, delivery trucks and vans, semi-trucks, small planes, agricultural and mining equipment, etc. — with electric vehicles; and

3. clean up buildings by replacing furnaces and other appliances that run on fossil fuels with electric equivalents.

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Trump filed lawsuits against the major social media companies, seeking to be reinstated on their platforms. The reasoning is kind of far-fetched: Facebook, Twitter, et al are essentially “state actors”, because they cooperate with government agencies like the CDC, and because Democrats in Congress intimidate them into doing their bidding. That means that the First Amendment — which only applies to government action — should apply to social media companies as well.

Many of the actions the suit cites happen on January 7, and yet there is no indication that anything unusual might have happened on January 6 — like say, that the mob that Trump raised (at least in part) by using social media platforms violently attacked Congress and tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

No, instigating violence to overthrow democracy had nothing to do with it. Democrats were just jealous of Trump’s social media skills.

Democrat legislators in Congress feared Plaintiff’s skilled use of social media as a threat to their own re-election efforts. These legislators exerted overt coercion, using both words and actions, upon Defendants to have Defendants censor the views and content with which Members of Congress disagreed with, of both the Plaintiff and the Putative Class Members.

The lawsuit is going nowhere (not the least reason being that the Facebook terms of service say all suits have to be filed in California, not Florida). But that’s not the point: fund-raising is the point.

The Washington Post observes that the suit has the usual dollop of Trump projecting his own actions onto others.

The real hypocrisy of Trump’s case, [Santa Clara University law professor Eric] Goldman points out, is that the U.S. government official most responsible for trying to strong-arm the platforms is Trump himself. Last year, he responded to a content moderation decision he didn’t like by issuing an executive order that sought to weaken social media companies’ liability shield.

Back on June 28, Tucker Carlson charged that the NSA was spying on him, and was trying to get his show off the air. The NSA tweeted a denial that Carlson had ever been a target, but didn’t explicitly say that they hadn’t intercepted any of his communications.

We now know why the NSA might have swept up some of Carlson’s messages without him being a target: He was negotiating with the Kremlin to get a Putin interview. They were spying on Russia, and Carlson just popped up.

In National Review, Eric Kaufmann lamented the unwillingness of Ivy League and other educated women to date Trump supporters.

Trump supporters excluded, fully 87 percent of all female college students wouldn’t date a Trump supporter. Even among non-Trumpist Republicans, just 58 percent of women would date a Trump supporter.

And then jumps to this ominous consequence:

The problem of “affective polarization” has been well documented, in which people react negatively to those of the opposing political tribe, and this animosity spills over from politics into everyday social relationships. But what if polarization has an asymmetric effect on power in society? What if the elite is becoming a politically endogamous tribe that dominates positions of power in society, reserving them for those with the correct political pedigree?

Kaufmann seems oblivious to the special circumstances around women and Trump. More than two dozen women have accused Trump of various levels of sexual abuse, going all the way up to rape. So a man who supports Trump either (1) doesn’t believe women, or (2) thinks sexual abuse isn’t a deal-breaker.

Don’t go out with that guy. It’s just common sense.

Gypsy moths have been cancelled.

A reporter points out an interesting difference between covering the Trump and Biden administrations: Getting a clear official statement about what the Trump administration was doing was often hard, but Trump’s people “had contempt for their boss” and so leaked like mad. OTOH, Biden’s people are happy to tell you what the policy is — Jen Psaki’s press briefings are downright educational sometimes — but they won’t repeat what the President is saying behind closed doors.

If Trump has noticed this, it must frustrate the hell out of him. He was always so focused on loyalty, but got so much less of it from his people than Biden does from his. They would grovel to Trump in his presence, then tell reporters off the record what a moron he is.

It’s still happening. Somebody on the inside, probably John Kelly himself, told author Michael Bender the anecdote about Trump defending Hitler to Kelly. Compare that to the post-Obama-administration books. I’ve read a bunch of them, and they all treat President Obama with great respect. I can’t think of a single tell-all Obama administration book, unless you count those scandalous stories of Barack sneaking an occasional cigarette and not telling Michelle.

Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary Saturday. The former president was still teaching Sunday school in 2019, at the age of 95. Tell me again which party represents Christian values.

White Evangelical Protestant numbers have been plummeting for more than a decade. Now there are now more White mainline Protestants.

New York Magazine’s Intelligencer column offers an additional detail:

While white Evangelicals are shrinking as a share of the population, they’re also getting older. PRRI reports that they “are the oldest religious group in the U.S., with a median age of 56, compared to the median age in the country of 47.”

I’ll offer a speculative interpretation based on this data: The Trump years convinced unaffiliated liberal Christians that they needed to commit and organize. If you add together the Unaffiliated and the White Mainline Christians, the number stays almost constant: 38.6% in 2017, 39% in 2018, 38.7% in 2019, and 39.7% in 2020.

GETTR was advertised as a “cancel-free” social media platform devoted to free speech. Turns out, that’s not true. It’s a conservative platform where you can get canceled for criticizing conservative personalities and ideas. (I know. You’re shocked, right?)

When you predict the future, sometimes you get things just a little bit wrong. Like Wired, 24 years ago:

We are watching the beginnings of a global economic boom on a scale never experienced before. We have entered a period of sustained growth that could eventually double the world’s economy every dozen years and bring increasing prosperity for—quite literally—billions of people on the planet. We are riding the early waves of a 25-year run of a greatly expanding economy that will do much to solve seemingly intractable problems like poverty and to ease tensions throughout the world. And we’ll do it without blowing the lid off the environment.

and let’s close with something repetitive

When a new language group takes over a region, they often keep words from the old language as names. This sometimes results in repetitive names, like when English speakers talk about the Rio Grande River (river big river). Mississippi River similarly means “big river river” if you know Ojibwe or Algonquin. There are other famous examples, like the Sahara Desert, which means Desert Desert when you translate the Arabic, or Lake Tahoe, which means Lake Lake.

The alleged champion repetitive place name, though, is Torpenhow Hill in England, whose name was extended several times by speakers of different languages, until it now means Hill Hill Hill Hill.

Except, as Tom Scott observes in this video, the locals don’t actually call it Torpenhow Hill. But it is a hill right outside the village of Torpenhow, which really does mean Hill Hill Hill, more or less. So people could start calling it Torpenhow Hill. “This can be Torpenhow Hill, if enough people want it to be. … There have been plenty of tourist attractions built around much less than this.”