Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Those Who Dare

Mr. Potato Head! An army of Mr. Potato Heads!

– Weird Al Yankovic
planning session for “Dare To Be Stupid

This week’s featured post is “Silly Season in the Culture Wars“.

Last month’s post “Why You Can’t Understand Conservative Rhetoric” has become the Sift’s first authentically viral post in a long time. It should pass 20,000 page views soon, the first Sift post to do that since “You Don’t Have to Hate Anybody to be a Bigot” in 2015. Given the changes in the social media landscape, I had wondered if that was still possible.

This week everybody was talking about Covid Relief passing the Senate

Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief package passed the Senate Saturday without the $15 minimum wage, but without a lot of other major changes. Because it isn’t exactly what the House had passed, the House needs to pass it again. Democrats hope to do that tomorrow, getting the bill on President Biden’s desk before some previous Covid-related benefits run out on March 14.

At the risk of counting unhatched chickens, I want to point something out: Congress is doing something major, and getting it done on time. No posturing and then pointing fingers at each other about why nothing is happening. No driving up to the cliff, giving yourself an extension, and then driving up to the cliff again. Biden won’t go back and forth on whether to sign this, as Trump did in December. This isn’t a reality-TV show that needs some suspense to boost its ratings, it’s governance.

I think the American people are going to like this: You say something needs to get done, and then you go do it. That’s not what we’re used to out of Congress.

I think people are also going to notice that this passed without a single Republican vote in either house. Republicans are trying to spin that in their favor: When the Republican Senate passed a bill in December, it was bipartisan. But that’s putting lipstick on a pig: The December bill was bipartisan because Republicans didn’t have the votes to pass anything without Democratic help, not even in the Senate. A bunch of their people wouldn’t vote for any Covid relief at all.

Paul Krugman analyzes what’s in the plan, and why he thinks it needs to be this big. Basically, it funds stuff that needs to happen to fight the virus (vaccinations, testing) and get the country back to normal (preparing schools to reopen safely). It helps individuals who are in financial trouble because of the pandemic (unemployment, stimulus checks). And it makes up for state and local tax shortfalls that otherwise would have governments laying people off at the worst possible time. Some people who need help don’t fit into any obvious categories, so they’re hard to target; that’s where the checks-to-almost-everybody feature comes in. That makes the price tag bigger than a perfectly efficient bill would carry, if anybody knew how to design one.

Will the bill overstimulate the economy and produce inflation? Krugman admits he doesn’t know: We’ve never been in this situation before. If it does cause inflation, he foresees more of a one-time pop than the kind of inflationary spiral we saw in the 1970s.

and Covid itself

Things are looking good in the battle against the pandemic, but a number of Republican governors are spiking the ball on the five-yard line. They’re acting like the battle is already won and everything can go back to normal right away — repeating the mistake that so many of them made last May, after the March/April surge began to die down.

The good news is that with the third vaccine now available, vaccination rates are soaring. 59 million Americans have gotten at least one shot, and more than 30 million are fully vaccinated. 2.9 million shots were given Saturday, and the 7-day average is up to 2.2 million. This is well past Biden’s post-election pledge of 100 million shots in 100 days. His current projection is that enough vaccine will be produced for every American adult to be vaccinated by the end of May. At some point, the problem will shift from not having enough vaccine to convincing reluctant Americans to get vaccinated.

While the share that is most enthusiastic to get vaccinated increased across racial and ethnic groups, Black and Hispanic adults continue to be more likely than White adults to say they will “wait and see” before getting vaccinated. Nearly four in ten Republicans and three in ten rural residents say they will either “definitely not” get vaccinated or will do so “only if required,” as do one-third (32%) of those who have been deemed essential workers in fields other than health care.

The sort-of-good news is that after hiccuping these last two weeks, the new-case curve looks like it is continuing downward, but at a slower pace than the precipitous fall we saw from mid-January to mid-February. The current daily average of new cases is just under 60K, down from a peak of 250K. But don’t forget: The peak that had us all so rattled last summer was 70K, so it’s not like we’re in a good place yet.

The bad news is that red states — especially Texas — are rolling back their Covid restrictions and canceling their mask mandates. This is the same mistake that many of the same states made last May, leading to the virus’ second wave in the summer.

Meanwhile, there’s actual evidence that mask mandates save lives and indoor dining costs lives. And whatever masking-and-distancing is doing to fight Covid, we can see that it clobbered the flu this year. Chris Hayes says this stat blew his mind: Positive flu specimens in week 7 of flu season were 174K last year and 1.5K this year.

“At least 100” protesters gathered in front of the Idaho state capitol in Boise Saturday. They burned face-masks to dramatize their opposition to government-imposed mask mandates.

Supposedly this has something to do with freedom and limited government, but I don’t get it. Does it violate your freedom when restaurants insist you wear shoes? When stores require pants?

Many Catholic bishops have an issue with the J&J vaccine, because it uses “lab-grown cells that descend from cells taken in the 1980s from the tissue of aborted fetuses”. I’m not a theologian, Catholic or otherwise, but it seems to me that at some point the clock runs out on these kinds of moral considerations. The J&J vaccine will keep people alive, while refusing to take it will not save a single fetus, much less bring back any of the ones aborted in the 1980s.

We use the body parts of organ donors who die by violence or are victims of drunk drivers. Getting some good out of their deaths does not condone the violence or excuse those responsible. So if you hold the un-Biblical belief that fetuses have souls, I think you should say a short prayer of appreciation for their sacrifice, and then roll up your sleeve.

and more legislation in the pipeline

The House has passed the George Floyd Police Reform Act and the For the People Act to protect voting rights and defend democracy. Both face Republican resistance in the Senate, and aren’t amenable to the reconciliation work-around that let Democrats pass Covid relief. The Biden administration is working on its infrastructure proposal, which could go through under reconciliation, but 50th vote Joe Manchin doesn’t want it to. Of course, Manchin still believes that Republican cooperation is possible, so we’ll see what he does when he discovers that it isn’t.

In any case, the filibuster issue is going to come to a head before much longer. Republicans at the state level are doubling down on voter suppression. (The lowlight here is Georgia’s proposal that would make it illegal to give water to someone waiting in line to vote.) They clearly believe that the solution to their problems isn’t to win over more voters, it’s to make sure fewer people vote, and to continue rigging the system so that they can return to power even if a majority votes against them.

It’s going to be a serious crisis for the Democratic Party if they do nothing while their voters are disenfranchised, because they are more loyal to “bipartisanship” or “Senate tradition”.

and you also might be interested in …

Texas consumers were overcharged around $16 billion for electricity during the recent winter-storm crisis, but the Texas Public Utility Commission has decided not to do anything about it. “It’s nearly impossible to unscramble this sort of egg, and the results of going down this path are unknowable.”

Amazon workers in Alabama are trying to unionize, and fighting an anti-union campaign from the company. You can help.

To support Amazon workers and let the company know that we do not approve of their union-busting tactics, a one-week boycott of the company has been planned. From Sunday, March 7th to Saturday, March 13th, everyone is being asked to not use Amazon or Amazon Prime and do not stream videos using the Amazon Prime video service.

In case you needed it, here’s more evidence that Trump only cares about Trump: His lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. They’ve been using his name and image in fund-raising pitches, and he doesn’t even get a cut!

Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blunt says he’s not running for re-election. Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson hasn’t decided, but says he’s leaning against running. Rob Portman of Ohio is also not running.

2022 is going to see some off-the-wall primary campaigns, as Republicans compete to be the most outrageous, Trumpiest candidate. Wisconsin is a swing state, but Missouri is deep red and Ohio is trending that way. But history shows that a wacky enough candidate can blow an election in any state.

One more data point in favor of a guaranteed basic income:

The city of Stockton, California, embarked on a bold experiment two years ago: It decided to distribute $500 a month to 125 people for 24 months — with no strings attached and no work requirements. The people were randomly chosen from neighborhoods at or below the city’s median household income, and they were free to spend the money any way they liked. Meanwhile, researchers studied what impact the cash had on their lives.

Conservatives say that if you give people money, they won’t work. Liberals say that no-strings money will help people escape the poverty traps that keep them from working. The Stockton experiment supports the liberal theory.

The most eye-popping finding is that the people who received the cash managed to secure full-time jobs at more than twice the rate of people in a control group, who did not receive cash.Within a year, the proportion of cash recipients who had full-time jobs jumped from 28 percent to 40 percent. The control group saw only a 5 percent jump over the same period.

My theory: Looking for a job is like looking for a date. If you’re too desperate, you’re unattractive.

Jen Psaki continues to be a press secretary worthy of The West Wing.

In case your nightmares have been getting repetitive, here’s something new: six-foot long bioluminescent sharks. You’re welcome.

The featured post responds to this week’s conservative ravings about imaginary liberal attempts to “cancel” Dr. Seuss, Mr. Potato Head, and the Muppets. But here’s what an attempt to cancel really looks like: a petition to get American Girl to pull its Doll of the Year off the shelves, because her backstory involves two lesbian aunts.

and let’s close with something life affirming

I can’t explain why watching this beaver chow down on cabbage makes me smile. It just does.

Phantoms of the Night

Morning glow, by your light
We can make the new day bright,
And the phantoms of the night
Will fade into the past.

– Stephen Schwartz, “Morning Glow
from the musical Pippin

This week’s featured posts are “North Dakota Is About to Kill the National Popular Vote Compact” and “The Action Shifts to Congress“.

This week everybody was talking about Congress

One of the featured posts covers the progress of bills through Congress (Covid relief, the Equality Act) plus Senate action on Biden’s nominees.

and bombing Syria

Thursday, America planes struck in Syria near the Iraqi border. The raid was aimed at Iranian-backed militias that the Pentagon says attacked American and allied forces in Iraq with rockets. President Biden sent a letter to congressional leaders explaining the attack, as the War Powers Act requires. He found justification for the raid in “the United States’ inherent right of self-defense”.

A lot of Americans have probably forgotten that we still have troops in Iraq, but we do: about 2,500 of them. Their main mission is to prevent the Islamic State from reforming.

and Covid

The precipitous drop in new Covid cases looks like it might have leveled off. The 7-day average of new cases per day bottomed out at around 66K on February 21. Coincidentally, that’s two weeks after the Super Bowl. So maybe people let down their guard for Super Bowl get-togethers, or maybe the more-transmissible variants are starting to take hold, or maybe it’s random fluctuation. 66K is way below the peak of 259K on January 8 (two weeks after Christmas), but would have been considered shockingly high back in early October.

Curiously, deaths also have plateaued at around 2,000 per day, down from over 3,300 at the peak. This is odd because death totals usually trail new-case totals by a week or two, so they should still be going down.

Vaccination continues to gain ground. As of Sunday evening, 49.8 million Americans had received at least one shot, and 24.8 million have been fully vaccinated.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine got FDA approval Saturday. Sunday, the CDC recommended it for use.

“The J&J vaccine, which is easier to transport and store… is going to dramatically increase our vaccine availability,” Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine at George Washington University, told CNN Saturday. “It’s a big, big deal.” About 3.9 million doses will be available for ordering right away, according to Lori Tremmel Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials — which could add about 25% more Covid-19 vaccination capacity for states.

3.9 million doses are available, and distribution might start today. Matt Yglesias speculates:

If Pfizer, Modern, and J&J all hit their stated delivery targets we’re going to be doing 4 million doses/day in March, and by April the whole vaccine story will shift to be about reluctance/hesitancy/resistance.

The NYT posted a very powerful short film: “Death Through a Nurse’s Eyes“.

and CPAC

Trump made his return to the public stage yesterday, giving his first speech since leaving the White House. Reportedly, he talked for 90 minutes, so (life being short) I haven’t watched it. CNN’s Chris Cillizza listed the 50 most ridiculous lines, and I couldn’t even make through them.

Trump’s fans (and many of the people who fear him) still don’t realize he’s a has-been, but he is. He lost in 2020 by over 7 million votes. After he lost he tried to overthrow American democracy. He’s stuck in the past talking about personal grievances that have nothing to do with the lives of American voters. And odds are at least 50-50 he’ll be in jail when 2024 rolls around. So if Republicans want to run that loser again — hey, don’t let me stop you.

Two crazy stories come out of CPAC. One is true and the other is at best an amazingly unfortunate coincidence. The true one is that CPAC featured a golden statue of Trump. Comparisons to the Biblical golden calf idol appeared independently all over social media, but CPAC participants happily got their photos taken with their own idol anyway. The kicker is that the statue was made in Mexico.

The other story is CPAC’s main stage, whose elaborate design closely resembles the Norse odal rune, a symbol used by the Nazis. That sounds like the kind of insane thing Twitter users are always going on about, but the resemblance is hard to deny, once it has been pointed out to you.

The unresolved question is whether this was an intentional message to the international far right, a weird attempt to invoke some kind of dark magic, or some other sinister thing. Snopes calls such claims “unproven”, which it’s hard to argue with. CPAC organizers deny any intent and seem appropriately outraged, if not appropriately embarrassed. (I mean, the rune is really there, and the Nazis really did use it. I’d be embarrassed.)

I wasn’t going to mention the controversy if it was was just liberals entertaining each other by finding faces in the clouds and tweeting their outrage. But I decided to ask two additional questions: What do the people who cover Norse paganism think? And are actual Nazis getting the message?

As for the pagans, the Wild Hunt blog is taking this seriously. The Hunt notes that the stage shape is not driven by functionality, so somebody liked the design for other reasons:

The wings of the CPAC stage lead nowhere – they do not lead to stairs, and the stage’s entrances and exits are in the rear, flanking the back wall. The red triangle toward the rear of the stage similarly serves no apparent functional use. This means that the set was intentionally designed this way, not for its utility, but for its visual appeal – an image that looks, unquestionably, like the odal rune.

The Nazi connection runs deeper than just a photo of some SS officer’s collar insignia. (Go to the Hunt’s article if you want the full history.) And it’s not hard to see why, if you know the rune’s traditional interpretations:

The odal rune’s historical meaning deals with inherited estates, homelands, or the aristocracy.

So it’s an ideal “Make das Vaterland great again” symbol. In addition, the significance is not just Hitler-era history.

In the present day, the odal rune has been adopted as a replacement for the swastika in American far-right circles, notably by the National Socialist Movement (NSM), who changed their logo to the odal rune in November 2016. The change was specifically in response to the election of Donald Trump, as the NSM’s leadership hoped there would be an opening for their entry into mainstream conservative contexts under Trump and believed the odal rune would be more presentable to the public than the swastika.

On the other hand, I failed to find any actual Nazis high-fiving each other about this. I don’t have much in the way of Nazi contacts, but I looked around on the Daily Stormer and Stormfront web sites — I wonder what lists that got me onto — and didn’t run across any excited odal-rune chatter (though lots of folks at Stormfront were planning to livestream Trump’s speech).

and the report on the Khashoggi murder

The Biden administration released an unclassified report on the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. The short version: MBS did it. The report is just four pages, and doesn’t say how the operation went down or how we know what happened, presumably in order not to reveal how we spy on MBS and the Saudis generally.

Congress had demanded a report during the Trump administration, but Trump stonewalled in order to protect the Saudi Crown Prince, who was chummy with Jared Kushner. Biden released the report to fulfill his obligation.

It’s hard to know what to do next. MBS ordered an American resident murdered. But he’s also the de facto head of state of a country that the US sees as a counterweight to Iran in the Middle East. We no longer need Saudi oil ourselves, but our allies do. Biden has already shown an intention to distance the US from Saudi Arabia somewhat. For example, we are backing away from the Saudi proxy war in Yemen, though it’s not clear exactly what that means.

and you also might be interested in …

Things got worse for Andrew Cuomo this week. In addition to the recent scandal about reporting Covid deaths in nursing homes, he now faces a second accusation of sexual harassment. The new charge is of verbal harassment — when they were alone in a room, the governor allegedly asked a young female aide leading questions that seemed to suggest they should start a sexual relationship. Earlier, another female aide had accused him of giving her an unwanted kiss after a number of similarly suggestive conversations.

The NYT looked for someone to corroborate the first accuser’s story:

The New York Times spoke to three people who worked in the governor’s office during Ms. Boylan’s time there. The people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that while they could not corroborate her allegations, they concurred that the governor would sometimes make inappropriate remarks during work and comment on people’s appearances.

Cuomo denied the accusation, but responded to the second with one of those half-way apologies that seemed to cover the first accusation as well.

At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good natured way. … I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.

The WaPo’s Karen Tumulty believes Cuomo will be forced to resign, and I think that is appropriate. At the very least, he should announce that he will not run for a fourth term in 2022. Trump can claim that his dozens of accusers are all liars, and be confident that members of his cult will just repeat whatever he says. But standards are higher among Democrats.

BTW: Those who talk about the “liberal media” need to recognize that it wasn’t Fox News that broke this story. It was the New York Times.

The Perseverance Mars rover sports decals of its “family” of previous Mars rovers.

Two counties in North Dakota are trying to save their coal-mining jobs by blocking wind power. A local coal-powered electric plant might close, and if it does, the nearby coal mine that supplies it will probably close as well, with a total cost of a thousand jobs.

The problem is that coal isn’t competitive economically any more, not just with renewables, but with natural gas as well. Stopping farmers from letting wind-energy companies put up windmills on their land probably won’t save the coal jobs for long.

In a 50/50 Senate, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin can kill a bill or a nominee (or save the filibuster) all by himself. Frustrated progressive Democrats often ask, “Can’t we do better?”. Philip Bump looks at the last several elections in West Virginia, both presidential and senatorial. He concludes that the answer is no.

Another test for the QAnon theory: Thursday is March 4, which was the original Inauguration Day before the 20th Amendment changed it to January 20. Well, apparently, nothing that happened after 1871 is really legit.

QAnon believers claim that the US federal government secretly became a corporation under a law they believe passed in 1871 but does not actually exist, rendering every president inaugurated and every constitutional amendment passed in the years since illegitimate. But on March 4, the narrative goes, Trump will return as the 19th president, the first legitimate president since Ulysses S. Grant, with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as his vice president.

Any resemblance to the many restoring-an-ancient-line-of-kings myths is purely coincidental, I’m sure. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

and let’s close with something clever

Not my cleverness, other people’s. Like this young man’s technique for watching a movie on his phone.

Lisa Turner has collected dozens of such “life hacks” — some more clever than others — on her My Health Gazette blog.

Standing the Strain

I know I need a small vacation
But it don’t look like rain.
And if it snows, that stretch down south
Won’t ever stand the strain.

– Jim Webb, “Witchita Lineman

This week’s featured post is “Who Messed With Texas?

This week everybody was talking about Texas

The weather caused power failures which caused water failures, and now the weirdness of Texas’ energy system is resulting in outrageous electricity bills. All that is in the featured post, plus the state’s history of mismanagement and its leadership’s attempt to deflect blame onto sustainable energy, which works fine in much colder places like Wisconsin and Antarctica. And Ted Cruz is the comedy relief, standing in the Cancun airport with his flag-of-Texas face mask demonstrating how much he identifies with the state he was running away from.

As long as that article is, one point got left out. Remember the Russian SolarWinds hack, the one that spread into more systems than anyone has fully listed? One of the things computer-security wonks (like my wife) worry about is penetration of systems that control the power grid.

Probably the scariest thing about the whole Texas situation was what would have happened if ERCOT hadn’t starting pulling the plug to reduce demand:

The worst case scenario: Demand for power outstrips the supply of power generation available on the grid, causing equipment to catch fire, substations to blow and power lines to go down.

That scenario could have left Texas blacked out for months (kind of like Puerto Rico). But now think about this: Imagine some hostile hacker, maybe from the Russian military, has penetrated ERCOT’s control systems. Maybe the hack only survives because the hackers don’t do anything to draw the system’s attention, but they know they have a short time window to meddle before they get detected and booted off. What if that time period is long enough to block the ERCOT shut-down order for the “minutes and seconds” necessary to trigger that worst case?

and legislation

The March 14 deadline is looming for Congress to pass Biden’s Covid relief package, or something like it. (Otherwise people start to lose unemployment benefits.) The administration is still hoping to get some Republican support, but also preparing to push a bill through the Senate using the reconciliation process that would circumvent a Republican filibuster.

That’s probably all going to work out somehow, because Biden has been going around the Republican opposition in Congress to get support from state and local Republican officials, as well as the American people. Neither Democratic nor Republican moderates will want the blame if nothing passes.

But two other bills will come up shortly, and their fates are much less certain: an immigration bill and a democracy bill.

The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 includes: an eight-year pathway to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants; a shorter process to legal status for agriculture workers and recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program; and an enforcement plan that includes deploying technology to patrol the border.

The For the People Act

makes illegal essentially all of the anti-enfranchisement tactics perfected by the right over the past decades. It then creates a new infrastructure to permanently bolster the influence of regular people.

The bill’s provisions largely fall into three categories: First, it makes it far easier to vote, both by eliminating barriers and enhancing basic outreach to citizens. Second, it makes everyone’s vote count more equally, especially by reducing gerrymandering. Third, it hugely amplifies the power of small political donors, allowing them to match and possibly swamp the power of big money.

Neither bill is likely to get support from ten Republican senators. Nor does either fit within the tight constraints on the reconciliation process, which is focused on issues of taxing and spending. So that will be the point where the filibuster issue can’t be finessed any further. Either Democrats will have to eliminate the filibuster (or poke such a big hole in it that it might as well be eliminated), or they will have to go back to core constituencies and admit failure.

The For the People Act stands in stark contrast to the hundred or more voter-suppression laws being considered in Republican state legislatures.

This is a good time to repeat the theme of a 2018 Sift post “You can’t compromise with bullshit“. At that time, I was focusing on the various “border security” measures Trump and his nativist allies were pushing: the wall, concentration camps for asylum seekers, and so on. The point of these measures was to end the “American carnage” of a non-existent immigrant crime wave. Trump pushed this dark fantasy again and again, to the point of implying that the US has no indigenous criminals: “STRONG BORDERS, NO CRIME” he tweeted.

For years, Democrats had hoped for a grand bargain on immigration: Legal status for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here in exchange for increased border security. The reason that deal has never worked out is simple: Because the “immigrant crime wave” never existed, no amount of border security can stop it.

Same thing with elections: No amount of “election security” can ever be enough to satisfy Republicans, because the “voter fraud” problem they are trying to solve doesn’t exist. As I wrote in 2018:

When claims are based on nothing, they can go on being based on nothing, no matter what you do to mollify the people who make those claims.

and the virus

The statistics continue to improve, while the spread of new variants of Covid-19 looms ominously. (I think the cartoon is too pessimistic, but it expresses an important point of view.) The US recorded its half-millionth Covid death, a total that is already well past the number of deaths the country had in World War II. 43.6 million Americans have gotten at least one vaccine shot, and 18.9 million are fully vaccinated. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one shot and can be stored in a simple refrigerator, is getting closer to approval. Shots could start in early March.

One of the striking facts about vaccine distribution is the racial inequity.

This is a good example of the kind of systemic racism conservatives deny exists. (Laura Ingraham is offended that President Biden even uses the phrase “systemic racism”.)

I’m pretty confident that nobody in the public-health power structure has been saying “Let’s not waste our scarce vaccines on people of color.” (That would be overt, personal racism, not systemic racism.) But somehow, things just work out so that white people are more likely to get vaccinated first. If nobody consciously makes racial equity a priority, the gears just turn in a way that favors Whites.

and the Mars landing

One of my earliest memories is of my grandfather and I watching the countdown on John Glenn’s Mercury flight. For a lot of people of my generation, space flights still evoke that little-kid belief that anything is possible if we all work towards it. Hearing that we had landed a new rover on Mars rekindled some of that.

The Mars rover has its own Twitter account

and Rush Limbaugh

He died of lung cancer on Wednesday.

It’s hard to decide what to say about him. He doesn’t deserve the protection of maxims like “Speak nothing but good about the dead”, because his whole career was about scorning those kinds of rules (like when the “AIDS Update” segment on his show mocked dying gay people). On the other hand, it’s not the dead who benefit from such restraint. Vindictive thoughts are corrosive; we control them for our own well-being.

So it’s tempting to say nothing, but Limbaugh had a big impact on American political culture, so his death requires an assessment. That assessment can’t be positive, because his impact was far from positive. But I refuse to revel in his death. I have smiled at some of the more vicious things I’ve seen posted on Facebook, but I won’t pass them on.

Over a 40-year period, Limbaugh’s voice popularized a new style of conservatism. Pre-Rush conservative media personalities like Bill Buckley and George Will modeled upper-class intellectuality: Some people are just better than the rest, and government attempts to pretend otherwise are bound to backfire. They could be funny in a clever, Victorian way; sometime the next morning you might figure out exactly how you had been insulted. They were embarrassed by the yahoos, the Birch-society conspiracy theorists of their day, and did their best to keep them in the closet. Most of all, the Buckley/Will conservatives were about ideas — bad ideas, for the most part, but defended with all the skill their Yale and Oxford educations could bring to bear.

Limbaugh changed all that, creating a conservatism that was about tribes rather than principles or programs. Day after day, he fought a scorched-earth culture war. He championed the yahoos, reveled in conspiracy theories, and lied without qualm or apology. The goal was not to persuade liberals, but to make them cry.

The Republican Party today, the party of Trump, is largely his creation. It has no core ideas or governing philosophy, but instead has personalities and grievances. It cares nothing about facts, doesn’t believe in democracy, and is comfortable being supported by violence. It can motivate 74 million people to vote, but it can’t come up with even a back-of-the-envelope diagram of a healthcare plan.

Did he have any virtues? Fellow conservative pundit Rich Lowry tweeted:

Liberals who didn’t listen to Rush, and just read the Media Matters accounts, never understood how *funny* he was. What set him off from his many imitators was how wildly entertaining he was, and the absolutely unbreakable bond he formed with his listeners.

But what kind of “funny” was he? Humor revolves around surprise: An expectation is set up and then violated. In most of the Limbaugh humor I saw, the surprise came from violating the taboo against cruelty. (“I can’t believe he said that!”) As Slate’s Justin Peters put it: “his was the wit of the prep school bully making fun of the foreign exchange student’s lunch.”

Limbaugh violated “political correctness” by relentlessly mocking and insulting anyone who threatened his white male Christian privilege. If you were similarly privileged (as Rich Lowry is), and if you felt stifled by a culture that increasingly disapproved of the vicious things you wanted to say, it was probably cathartic to hear Limbaugh say them and defy the consequences. But I’ve googled various versions of “Limbaugh’s funniest lines”, and all I get are the outrages collected by his critics. “Limbaugh jokes” will lead you to jokes about Limbaugh, not jokes he told. (They’re not particularly funny either.) Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf verified my finding:

He will likely be remembered more for the worst things he said than the best things he said, because unlike Buckley, who said his share of awful things, no Limbaugh quote stands out as especially witty or brilliant.

Rolling Stone’s Bob Moser commented:

He wasn’t selling political ideas — and he never has. He was selling political attitude. The swaggering certitude. The mocking dismissiveness. The freedom to offend. The right to assert your privilege without guilt or embarrassment.

and continued fallout from the Trump coup attempt

Even after I have the thought “There oughtta be a law”, it’s still sometimes surprising to discover there actually is one: the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D- Mississippi) has filed a lawsuit against Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, the Proud Boys, and the Oath Keepers, invoking the KKK Act’s provisions for civil compensation:

The carefully orchestrated series of events that unfolded at the Save America rally and the storming of the Capitol was no accident or coincidence. It was the intended and foreseeable culmination of a carefully coordinated campaign to interfere with the legal process required to confirm the tally of votes cast in the Electoral College. …

Accordingly, this action seeks the award of compensatory damages to redress the harm to the Plaintiff caused by the Defendants’ use of intimidation, harassment and threats of violence to interfere with his discharge of his legally required duty as a Member of Congress and punitive damages to punish the Defendants for the reckless and malicious manner in which they acted and to enjoin and deter a recurrence of this unlawful conduct. …

Under the Ku Klux Klan Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1985(1), Defendants may not “conspire to prevent, by force, intimidation, or threat, any person … holding any office, trust, or place of confidence under the United States … from discharging any duties thereof; or to induce by like means any officer of the United States to leave any … place[] where his duties as an officer are required to be performed, or … to molest, interrupt, hinder, or impede him in the discharge of his official duties.” …

As a result of the acts set out in the above paragraphs committed in furtherance of this conspiracy, Plaintiff Thompson was hindered and impeded in the discharge of his official duties and suffered the deprivation of his right to be free from intimidation and threats in the discharge of his official duties, as explicitly protected under Ku Klux Klan Act. …

As a result, Plaintiff Thompson seeks an award of compensatory damages [and] an award of punitive damages to punish the Defendants for engaging in a concerted and continuing course of unlawful conduct and to deter the Defendants and others from engaging in similar unlawful conduct in the future.

[Don’t be confused like I was: The quote above doesn’t say that the KKK Act is from the year 1985. It’s section 1985 of the U.S. Code.]

Nine members of the Oath Keepers are also facing criminal charges.

A 21-page indictment alleged that the defendants “did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with each other and others known and unknown” to force entry to the Capitol and obstruct Congress from certifying the election of Joe Biden as president in riots that led to five deaths and assaults on 139 police.

One of the attorneys who filed one of Trump’s baseless lawsuits to overturn the election is going to have to explain himself. The judge in that case has ordered him to face a grievance committee that could recommend discipline. (Disbarment? The article doesn’t specify.) The attorney “has not sufficiently allayed the court’s concerns regarding potential bad faith.”

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After a long delay, which might have been intended to avoid interfering with the election campaign, then not interfering with Trump’s attempt to invalidate the election, and finally not interfering with his impeachment trial, the Supreme Court has ruled that Trump’s accountants have to turn over the documents that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance wants, including his tax returns. Vance responded with a laconic statement: “The work continues.”

Last spring, the country briefly went ga-ga over Andrew Cuomo’s Covid briefings. They were such a realistic contrast with happy talk that came out of the White House.

Well, Cuomo has his own Covid scandal now.

An investigation by the New York State attorney general found that the governor’s office may have misled the public on the number of pandemic deaths in nursing homes after it ordered elderly people hospitalized with the virus returned to their facilities.

One of the more interesting links in this week’s featured post came from the Chicago Tribune. Well, enjoy it while you can. The Tribune Company is about to be bought by a slash-and-burn financial group. In the same boat are the Orlando Sentinel and New York Daily News, which the Tribune Company owns. But Baltimore gets a reprieve. The Baltimore Sun will be spun off to a nonprofit organization.

Having lived in the Chicago in the 1980s and visited many times since, I’ve already mourned the Trib that I used to know. It once was the kind of paper you couldn’t finish in a single sitting. Those days are long gone, but the Trib still retains the ability to do a certain amount of real journalism. That’s probably going to end soon too.

Advice from Heather Thompson Day on responding to sexist jokes:

My dad just told me “never laugh. They will mistake your nervous laughter as compliance. Instead, pretend you don’t get it, and watch them explain to you why you should be laughing.” I’ve used this advice my whole life since.

When I was 19 my boss said I should be a phone sex operator & laughed.

I said “I don’t get it”

He said “it’s a joke”

I said “explain it to me”

& that’s how I learned that once sexual harassers have to explain why their inappropriate jokes are funny, they stop laughing.

The fact that President Biden is far more popular with the American people than Trump ever was is really bugging right-wing media. The counter-attack is already underway, using the old Karl Rove tactic of trying to turn an opponent’s strength into a weakness.

Tucker Carlson sarcastically poked at the Joe-and-Jill relationship, which seems infinitely warmer and more genuine than previous first couple’s. In the process, he managed to repeat his denial of climate change and invoke the ridiculous Biden-is-senile trope. (Trump never had the kind of mental acuity Biden demonstrated in his CNN townhall Tuesday in Milwaukee — though he did misstate a few statistics. When asked a question, Biden actually answered it, rather than talking over it and daisy-chaining rambles about himself and his grievances, as Trump usually did. His answers reflected his ability to imagine what the questioner’s life is like — something Trump could never do.)

The Bidens’ affection is totally real. It’s in no way part of a slick PR campaign devised by cynical consultants determined to hide the president’s senility by misdirection. No, not at all! Their love is as real as climate change!

Meanwhile, Newsmax picks another target: Biden’s 12-year-old German shepherd Champ.

and let’s close with something energetic

In 1943, the Nicholas Brothers performed what Fred Astaire claimed was the greatest dancing he had ever seen on film. The NYT told the brothers’ story, and here’s the video, from the movie “Stormy Weather“. (Hat tip to another sifter, the twisted one.)

Bright Lines

Without drawing that bright line, you are ceding your party to this: a party of not living in facts, that bullying is acceptable behavior and that violence is acceptable behavior if you are trying to preserve your “way of life”, whatever that means. This will result in more people, especially within the echo chamber they are living in, seeing people that they disagree with as a mortal enemy, which for some small percentage of them translates into “I have a justification for violence.

Elizabeth Neuman,
former Assistant Secretary for Threat Prevention and Security Policy
in Trump’s Department of Homeland Security

This week’s featured post is “The Week That Broke Trump’s Brand“.

This week everybody was talking about impeachment

Most of what I want to say about the impeachment trial is in the featured post. But it was already getting long and a few odds and ends didn’t fit there.

Lisa Murkowski’s vote to convict may be evidence for the moderating influence of what is sometimes called the “jungle primary” system. In November, Alaska passed a ballot initiative that changed its elections. Instead of the usual system, where parties hold primaries and then the winners of those primaries meet in the general election, Alaska now has a unified primary for the entire state. The top four vote-getters advance to the general election, which is decided by ranked-choice voting. That change seems like a big deal to me, so I’m surprised I hadn’t heard about it until now.

In other words, Murkowski doesn’t have to fear facing a Trumpist candidate in a primary restricted to Republican voters. Both the primary and the general will involve the entire electorate.

Of course, Murkowski may not have feared a primary anyway. In 2010, she lost the Republican primary to a more conservative candidate, but then won the general election as a write-in candidate.

I want to call attention to one of the arguments Trump’s defenders used: This bad precedent will come back to bite you. Trump lawyer Bruce Castor put it like this:

If you go down the road Mr. Raskin asks you to go down, the floodgates will open. The political pendulum will shift one day. This chamber and the chamber across the way will change one day and partisan impeachments will become commonplace.

He warned that former officials that Republicans love to hate — like Obama attorney general Eric Holder — could be impeached. Lindsey Graham predicted Kamala Harris will be impeached if Republicans take back the House in 2022.

In other words, the arguments used in this case and the precedents it establishes could be used in bad faith in the future. But that’s true of any government action: If we raise tax rates now, some future Congress could raise them to 100% and confiscate everything! If we convict a murderer of murder, someday you could be convicted of murder too!

Just stop. If there’s some reason to believe that the current impeachment was pursued in bad faith, Castor should have brought that up for discussion. Similarly, if there is something regrettable about a good-faith application of this precedent — say, if you think Democrats will be sorry when Biden is prevented from using violence to hang onto the White House four years from now — Trump’s defenders should have talked about that. But don’t threaten us with the unknowable bad faith of future Congresses.

Another bad argument is the one McConnell and Portman made after voting to acquit: The criminal justice system should handle this. That really is a precedent that could come back to bite us.

Here’s what’s wrong with it: I don’t know of any specific law against hanging onto power after you lose an election. Crimes were involved in Trump’s scheme, like possibly incitement to violence or election tampering, but his fundamental wrongdoing was political. He attempted a subversion of the entire system rather than the kind of specific action that a law might ban.

Having watched Trump’s attempt to wiggle through the loopholes in American democracy, I can imagine that a cleverer usurper might stay in power after losing without provably breaking any laws at all, just by abusing the power of his office and the zeal of his supporters to intimidate or cajole officials into doing what he wanted. Think back to the Raffensperger call, and now imagine that the Georgia secretary of state had believed — without the president even hinting at it — that some Trump supporter would kill his family if he didn’t “find” those eleven thousand votes. There might not be any provable crime, just the derailing of our constitutional system.

That’s why it’s wrong to take an overly legalistic view of impeachment. The point is to protect democracy, and the attack might consist of actions that nobody has ever thought to make illegal, because only the president can do them, and no president has ever tried before. “High crimes and misdemeanors” is vague for a reason. Similarly, beyond-reasonable-doubt is a good standard if we’re talking about putting someone in jail. But I don’t think everyone should stand around doing nothing if we’re only 75% sure our democracy is being subverted.

When our entire republic is threatened, Congress should do what it needs to do.

I find myself agreeing with Ben Sasse way more often these days. Should I worry about that, or should he?

Conservatives regularly denounce executive overreach – but we ought primarily to denounce legislative impotence. … If Congress cannot forcefully respond to an intimidation attack on Article I instigated by the head of Article II, our constitutional balance will be permanently tilted. A weak and timid Congress will increasingly submit to an emboldened and empowered presidency.

The NYT’s Charles Blow believes the January 6 riot and the Republican unwillingness to hold Trump to account for it is the end of the Blue-Lives-Matter movement.

In the Senate’s acquittal — or more accurately, abetting — of Donald Trump, they stripped away the facade of the opposition to Black Lives Matter and the elevation of Blue Lives Matter.

It was never about preventing the desecration of American symbols. Members of the insurrection mob smeared feces throughout the Capitol after they broke into it.

This was never really about the protection of officers, generally speaking, but about allowing officers to treat with more impunity the people who protested the maltreatment of Black people.

but there’s still a pandemic going on

The numbers continue to improve. CNN reports:

Covid-19 infection and hospitalization numbers are now plummeting nationwide after rounds of devastating surges that followed the holidays. The country’s seven-day average of new cases is now below 100,000 — down from a peak of about 250,000 in early January, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Hospitalizations are also way down from their peak of more than 132,400 on January 6, data from the COVID Tracking Project show.

Deaths are also down, but not as sharply. The seven-day average death toll is down to 2600, after peaking at over 3300 a few weeks ago. It makes sense that deaths would be a lagging indicator, because people usually don’t die until some while after they’ve had a positive test and been hospitalized.

The number of Americans who have gotten at least one vaccination shot is up to 38 million, and increasing by 1.5-2 million each day. But the experts CNN talked to believe that isn’t the reason for the decrease in cases. After taking chances with social gatherings during the Thanksgiving-to-New-Years holiday season, people have become much more careful. (I described this a few weeks ago as the deal-with-God theory: “If you just let me get through Christmas, I’ll be good.”)

Meanwhile, the more-contagious variants continue to spread, though none of them have become the most common version yet.

and Congress needs to do something about it

Right now, Biden’s $1.9 billion Covid-relief proposal is being turned into a fully detailed bill by the House Budget Committee. This is currently at the behind-the-scenes stage of putting together a proposal that has full Democratic support. Nothing formal will happen this week because Congress is on recess.

If House Democrats can stay united, they have enough votes to pass the package. The problem will come in the Senate, where the bill will either need to attract 10 Republican votes or fit through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process.

The looming deadline is March 14, when the Covid-related unemployment benefits lapse.

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Covid relief is a sufficiently popular bill that Senate Democrats will probably be OK with using reconciliation to get it through, especially if they can attract a handful of Republican senators, but not enough to overcome a filibuster. But the filibuster will become a real issue when the focus shifts to political reform: outlawing voter-suppression tactics, ending gerrymandering, and so on. Reconciliation was designed to get must-pass budget items through, so non-financial legislation doesn’t fit well into that process.

The voter-suppression issue is particularly important in the Black community, because Blacks have so often been targets of suppression. And Democrats owe a considerable debt to their Black supporters: High turnout in Black precincts was a major factor in Biden’s win, and even moreso in the two Georgia races that allowed Democrats to take the Senate.

A voting-rights bill should come out of the House before much longer. If moderate Democrats in the Senate let a filibuster kill it, the moderate/progressive split in the Party could reopen in a big way.

I’m trying hard not to let my relief that Trump is gone make me too gullible about the Biden administration. For example, I love watching Jen Psaki’s press briefings, because so often she communicates actual information that, when you check on it, turns out to be true. And she handles hostile questions without getting hostile in return. But I have to keep reminding myself: She’s a press secretary, so if the Biden administration ever needs something covered up, she’ll be the face of that effort.

Similarly, I’m cynical enough to know that no presidential interactions with the press are truly spontaneous. But damn. This four-minute clip of Joe and Jill out walking their dogs on the White House lawn and talking about what Valentine’s Day means to them. It’s awfully endearing.

Maybe stuff like that is why the public has been giving Biden the kind of honeymoon every president used to get. So far, his approval rating has never fallen below 50% — a level Trump never reached. 538 has him at 54.6% positive 37.3% negative.

In general, Biden is doing a good job of selling his positive image: a basically decent guy who is working hard and trying to do the right thing. If people continue to believe that about him, they’ll forgive him for policies they don’t fully agree with.

and let’s close with something old made new again

One of the classic songs about the dehumanization of the working class was Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons”. Geoff Castellucci has used his incredibly deep voice and some self-harmonizing software to produce a 21st century version.

One of the under-appreciated aspects of this song is how much religious content it has. Right from the first line: “Some people say a man is made out of mud.” Who says that? Genesis does. It says that humans are shaped by the hand of God, who breathes a soul into them. The second line’s counter “A poor man’s made out of muscle and blood” essentially denies that account. Maybe you rich folks were sculpted by God and endowed with a soul, but nothing in a poor man’s life testifies to that.

Going theological for a second, “having a soul” is a poetic way of saying that your life is an end in itself. You have your own reasons to be on this Earth; you’re not just a tool for other people to use. “Sixteen Tons” raises the question: Do we really believe that? About everybody?


This trial arises from President Donald J. Trump’s incitement of insurrection against the Republic he swore to protect.

House impeachment manager’s pre-trial brief

This week’s featured post is “Why You Can’t Understand Conservative Rhetoric“.

This week everybody was talking about the impeachment trial

Which starts tomorrow. Both the prosecution and the defense have filed briefs outlining their positions. The prosecution (technically the “impeachment managers from the House”, but I think that’s a needless mouthful of words) requested that Trump himself testify, and he has refused.

He could be subpoenaed, but that would undoubtedly set off a long litigation that Democrats would rather avoid. Instead, I believe the purpose of asking for Trump’s testimony was to make it clear that it’s his choice not to speak under oath, where his lies could result in perjury charges. Whenever the ex-President’s lawyers make some claim about what he was thinking or what he intended, prosecutors can point out that this is hearsay, and that they wanted to get direct testimony but were rebuffed.

If he did testify, this cartoon from his first impeachment would be relevant again.

CNN explains why both sides want a speedy trial: Democrats don’t want the Senate distracted from approving Biden’s nominees for too long, and Republicans want the country to stop thinking about the January 6 insurrection.

It looks like the lawyers have prevailed on Trump not to use the impeachment trial to repeat lies about his “landslide” victory over Biden, and how it was stolen from him. Instead, they’ll claim (falsely) that it’s unconstitutional to hold an impeachment trial for an ex-president. That allows Republican senators to acquit for procedural reasons, without supporting or justifying the insurrection Trump incited.

BTW: Every statement coming out of the Trump camp refers to him as the “45th President”. He is not allowing his people to call him the “ex-president” or “former president”, presumably because he still does not acknowledge that Biden (or anyone else) is the 46th president.

However, his lawyer’s claim that the proceedings are unconstitutional rests on the fact that he is no longer president. One reason he doesn’t want to testify, in my opinion, is that he could be asked questions like “Is Joe Biden the President of the United States?” or “Did Dominion voting machines send results overseas to computers that flipped your votes to Biden?”, where his answers would mark him as either delusional or a liar.

and the Covid relief bill

It’s good to see Biden avoiding the bipartisan trap Obama fell into in 2009. The point of “unity” is to give Republicans a bill they could support, and that many of their voters do support, but Biden can’t control whether any Republicans will vote for it. Biden knows the public will hold him responsible for the results, so his first priority is passing the bill the country needs. That’s why he hasn’t backed off of his $1.9 trillion proposal.

It seems likely the House will pass it with few changes. The question is whether it gets through the Senate, which it will if all 50 Democrats vote for it and Vice President Harris provides the tie-breaking vote. Friday, the Senate passed a budget resolution on party lines. That is a procedural prerequisite for invoking the filibuster-proof reconciliation process to pass Covid relief.

Republicans are complaining about this tactic, which they used to pass the Trump tax bill, claiming that it shows a lack of commitment to bipartisanship. But in reality, the only hope of getting Republican support is to have a Plan B if they won’t get on board.

In general, I think Democrats should compromise in only two situations:

  • What Republicans are asking for is actually a good idea.
  • The changes Republicans want don’t make the bill significantly worse, and they will vote for the bill if it is changed.

Too often, the Obama administration compromised with Republicans, got none of their votes anyway, and then were blamed by the public for the less-effective bill.

The big question is whether the Senate Democrats can hold together. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is the most likely defector, but so far he is staying on board. He is insisting on a “bipartisan process”, but says that means “Democrats and Republicans will have amendments”, not that the bill will be held hostage until it can get Republican votes. It helps that West Virginia’s Republican governor has come out in favor of a big relief package.

and the Covid statistics turn

Fewer Americans are now hospitalized with Covid than at any time since the Thanksgiving wave started. New cases are down sharply, to 107K Saturday from 318K on January 8. Deaths are edging lower, but not by nearly as much: The average number of daily deaths for the past week is 2800, down from several days above 3300 in mid-January. Deaths are always the last statistic to turn. In a week or two the daily average should be well under 2000.

Those are all numbers we would have considered horrifying in October. But at least they’re headed in the right direction now.

Everyone is complaining about the vaccine distribution process, but it is happening. By yesterday, 31.6 million Americans had gotten at least one dose, and 9.1 million were fully vaccinated.

The interesting question is how demand will hold up. Right now, many more people want to be vaccinated than can get appointments. But at some point, all the people who describe themselves as “eager” to be vaccinated (like me) will have had their shots. Then the burden will shift to coaxing reluctant people to be vaccinated. Nobody is sure when that shift will happen.

Johnson & Johnson has applied for approval of its vaccine, which is simpler but somewhat less effective. It is one shot instead of two, and can be stored in an ordinary refrigerator. The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is nearly ready to apply for approval as well. It is a two-dose vaccine, but can be stored in a refrigerator.

HuffPost posted the article “It’s Not Just You. A Lot of Us Are Hitting a Pandemic Wall Right Now.” I realize that’s supposed to be reassuring: There’s nothing wrong with you; it’s perfectly normal to want to run naked through the streets with an AR-15.

Somehow, though, I’m not comforted by the thought that everybody else in the world is just as close to the end of their rope as I am.

and the QAnon lady* in Congress

[* I’ve heard MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace refer to her that way, and I kind of like it.]

As I pointed out last week, freshman Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has promoted a lot of truly horrific ideas over the last few years, both orally and on social media. Wednesday, the House Republican caucus decided she is not a problem, and no disciplinary action is needed.

Democrats were not having that, so Thursday evening the full House voted to kick her off of the committees the GOP had assigned her to: Education and Budget. Only 11 Republicans voted for that resolution; the rest support her.

In the debate over that resolution, Greene gave a self-justifying speech; some Republicans have said it was similar to the speech she gave to the Republican caucus before it decided not to punish her. I link to the full text so that you can judge it in context, without relying on me (or anybody else) to interpret it correctly.

Having provided that backstop, here’s what I see in her speech.

  • She avoided taking responsibility. “The problem with that is though is I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true and I would ask questions about them and talk about them.” Who “allowed” her to repeat all those crazy things? What does that even mean?
  • She falsely claimed that her objectionable statements are all from years ago, and all from social media. “If it weren’t for the Facebook posts and comments that I liked in 2018, I wouldn’t be standing here today and you couldn’t point a finger and accuse me of anything wrong.” Actually, things she has said and done in person are just as disturbing, and she was defending QAnon as recently as December 11: “Asked by @ryanobles on Pelosi saying GOP has ‘QAnon in [their] caucus,’ Marjorie Taylor Greene said ‘I don’t think there’s anything wrong w/ people looking things up & not believing things in the news…it’s unfair to criticize regular Americans looking things up on the internet’.” On December 4, she praised a pro-Q news article.
  • She falsely claimed that her words have been taken out of context. “Big media companies can take teeny tiny pieces of words that I’ve said, that you have said, any of us and can portray us and to someone that we’re not, and that is wrong.” The full context of her statements usually makes them worse, not better. Last week I called your attention to a completely unhinged 40-minute video she uploaded to YouTube in 2018. Even if she had completely repudiated all the claims she made then, people’s habits of thinking don’t turn over that quickly (at least not without some kind of medication). The lunatic in that video should not be making decisions for our country.
  • She equated QAnon with the mainstream media, and in particular equated believing that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to the conspiracy theories of QAnon. “I started seeing things in the news that didn’t make sense to me like Russian collusion, which are conspiracy theories also, and have been proven so … Will we allow the media that is just as guilty as QAnon of presenting truth and lies to divide us?” Reports from both the Mueller investigation and the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that Russia intended to help Trump get elected, that Trump knew they were helping, and that (at least in some instances) his campaign welcomed that help. That doesn’t sound like Jewish space lasers to me.
  • She vaguely alluded to changes in her views, but did not specifically deny any previous claim. For example, she said “School shootings are absolutely real. … 9/11 absolutely happened.” But she did not say that the Parkland school shooting (the one she badgered survivor David Hogg about in 2019) really happened, or that a plane really did strike the Pentagon on 9/11. While saying in general that she had “stopped believing” parts of QAnon, describing it as “a mixture of truth and lies”, she never said which parts she denies and which she still thinks are true. Does she, for example, still believe that top Democrats are pedophiles who drink children’s blood? (On January 31 she tweeted: “What would the list of the anti-Trump pedos and associates look like? It would likely contain all of the people currently frothing with MTG hate.”) At a bare minimum, I think Greene should submit to questioning about such things. I’d start with: “Is David Hogg a crisis actor, or was he present at a real event where his classmates were murdered?”
  • She did not acknowledge that she advocated violence against other members of the House, apologize for advocating violence, or disavow violence going forward. CNN’s KFile claims to have seen videos Greene has since deleted from her Facebook page, which she said that Nancy Pelosi was guilty of treason, which was “punishable by death”. She liked comments that talked about executing Pelosi and other Democrats by hanging or firing squad.

Weirdly, in a tweet the day after the Capitol Insurrection, Greene accused numerous Democrats of being “accomplices” to “Antifa/BLM terrorism”, and added: “Those who stoke insurrection & spread conspiracies have blood on their hands. They must be expelled.”

Josh Marshall makes a good point:

Q is not a “conspiracy theory”. The faked moon landing was a conspiracy theory. Perhaps birtherism was a conspiracy theory, though one with similarities to QAnon because of its strong ideological valence. But Q is not a conspiracy theory. It’s a fascistic political movement which predicts and advocates mass violence against liberals (and everyone else outside its definition of true Americans) in an imminent apocalyptic political reckoning. What we call the ‘conspiracy theories’ are simply the storylines and claims that justify that outcome. They could easily be replaced by others which serve the same purpose.

In other words – and this is still a very basic confusion – the Q phenomenon is not a factual misunderstanding that more credible news sources or prevalent fact-check columns would deflate and tame.

In the big picture, it’s not all that important whether or not Greene believes that the Clintons sabotaged JFK Jr.’s airplane or George Soros started a California wildfire with a space laser. But whether she is still part of “a fascistic political movement which predicts and advocates mass violence against liberals” matters a great deal.

and protests against Putin

Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader Putin had poisoned, returned to Russia on January 17 after recuperating in Germany, and was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for violating his probation on an embezzlement charge that he claims was trumped-up to discredit him. Since returning, he has been a symbol of opposition to Putin, inspiring protests around the country.

The center of the protests is not Navalny’s personal popularity, but the failures of the Putin regime, which is corrupt, has let economic inequality get worse, and has not handled the pandemic well.

But economic inequality is the reason that people are most unhappy with Putin, according to research by Moscow-based independent pollster, the Levada-center. Some 45% of respondents faulted Putin for “failing to ensure an equitable distribution of income in the interests of ordinary people” in 2018, up from 39% in 2015. In Russia, the top 10% own 83% of the country’s wealth, making it the most unequal of the world’s largest economies followed by the U.S. and China, according to Credit Suisse Research Institute in 2019.

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A memo from new Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin:

We will not tolerate actions that go against the fundamental principles of the oath we share, including actions associated with extremist or dissident ideologies. Service members, DoD civilian employees, and all those who support our mission, deserve an environment free of discrimination, hate, and harassment. … I am directing commanding officers and supervisors at all levels to select a date within the next 60 days to conduct a one-day ” stand-down” on this issue with their personnel. Leaders have the discretion to tailor discussions with their personnel as appropriate, but such discussions should include the importance of our oath of office; a description of impermissible behaviors; and procedures for reporting suspected, or actual, extremist behaviors in accordance with the DoDI. You should use this opportunity to listen as well to the concerns, experiences, and possible solutions that the men and women of the workforce may proffer in these stand-down sessions.

A number of former and active-duty military people were involved in the Capitol Insurrection, and there are other signs that the military has a problem with white supremacist groups recruiting in the ranks.

Biden is taking steps to get ICE under some kind of control.

“They’ve abolished ICE without abolishing ICE,” said one distraught official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because that person was not authorized to speak to the media.

I suspect the distraught official is exaggerating, but I wouldn’t be sorry if he weren’t. Trump’s ICE was a rogue agency that knew nobody above them cared about the people they could detain.

I find it weird that lawsuits by corporations are the most effective ways to strike back at political disinformation.

A voting technology company swept up in baseless conspiracy theories about the 2020 election filed a monster $2.7 billion lawsuit on Thursday against Fox News, some of the network’s star hosts, and pro-Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, alleging the parties worked in concert to wage a “disinformation campaign” that has jeopardized its very survival.

I can’t vouch for how they figure the $2.7 billion, but the basic idea of this suit makes a lot of sense: A group of people knowingly spread lies about Smartmatic, and those lies had dire financial consequences for the company. Another lied-about voting-tech company, Dominion, has already sued.

Within days, Fox News had axed Lou Dobbs, who helped spread many of Trump’s election-fraud conspiracy theories on the air.

Suits like Smartmatic’s are rare, because they’re hard to win — unless the person who smeared you does it really blatantly. Josh Marshall explains:

The Supreme Court rightly put a very high bar on success in libel suits for public people and entities. You have to be wrong. And you have to have known you were wrong or have had a malicious indifference to whether you were right or wrong. It’s very hard to [meet] that standard. …

The Smartmatic/Dominion cases are the first case at scale that seems almost to try out the Sullivan standard. Fox and various other pro-Trump entities made numerous, repeated and HIGHLY damaging claims which certainly in the cases of the institutions and almost certainly with the individuals (with Lindell he may simply be crazy) they [knew] were false.

The Texas Republican Party has endorsed legislation that would ask the voters whether they want the state to secede. I wonder what they would do if they didn’t love America so much.


The U.S. trade deficit over the four years of President Donald Trump’s presidency soared to its highest level since 2008, despite his tough tariff tactics intended to bring it down, a new Commerce Department report showed on Friday.

The combined U.S. goods and services trade deficit increased to $679 billion in 2020, compared to $481 billion in 2016, the year before Trump took office. The trade deficit in goods alone hit $916 billion, a record high and an increase of about 21 percent from 2016.

Like most of what he did, Trump’s trade policy was mainly a reality show. It was always more about creating the appearance of action than achieving results.

President Biden has decided that Trump should not get intelligence briefings, which former presidents usually have access to. While he was president, Trump occasionally let some valuable piece of intelligence slip, but Biden refused to speculate about what he might do now. What Biden did say was revealing:

I just think that there is no need for him to have the — the intelligence briefings. What value is giving him an intelligence briefing? What impact does he have at all, other than the fact he might slip and say something?

The main reason former officials of all sorts are given access to intelligence is that current officials might want to consult them about ongoing situations that have roots in the former official’s tenure. When he says there’s “no need”, Biden is really saying that he can’t imagine a situation where he’d want Trump’s advice. It’s a subtle but devastating barb.

and let’s close with something unexpected

Who knew that a two-cello mash-up of Beethoven’s Fifth and Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” would work?

Tell the Story

Probably the story of our time in politics is that the Republican Party is radicalizing around an explicitly anti-democratic violent white nationalist ideology, and that most of elite establishment media is uninterested or editorially incapable of accurately telling that story

Brian Murphy

This week’s featured posts are “The Biden Blitz” and “The Republican Party Chooses Not to Change“.

This week everybody was talking about the Biden administration

One featured post goes through the flurry of executive orders that Biden has already issued. For the most part they are important orders that turn the country in the right direction. But to really be successful, Biden has to get legislation through Congress. The first item on his agenda is his Covid relief plan. It provides economic relief to individuals, sends money to states to use distributing vaccines, funds the changes necessary to reopen schools, and institutes a national testing-and-contact-tracing plan.

Ten Republican senators — exactly the number needed to overcome a filibuster — have approached Biden with a much smaller effort: $618 billion rather than $1.9 trillion. I’m not sure exactly what the differences are. Biden is meeting with the senators today.

Biden has three avenues open: Pass something small with bipartisan support (assuming all ten of these senators stay on board, which I regard as a large assumption); pass something large through the reconciliation process with only (or almost entirely) Democratic votes; or pass a small bipartisan bill now and then come back with a larger Democratic bill later. (This would give Republicans cover: They voted for something and opposed something.)

I’ve been pleased that so far Biden has been unwilling to close off his options without getting any concessions back. If he had pledged, say, not to use reconciliation, then I doubt Republicans would be making a counter-proposal.

Chuck Schumer did something similar with the filibuster.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about why the Senate should abolish the filibuster. (My argument transcended any particular legislation that might get filibustered: If a tiny slice of the electorate — say, small majorities in the 21 smallest states — can block what most of the country wants, the American people are going to lose faith in democracy.)

Well, this week Mitch McConnell essentially filibustered to save the filibuster: He blocked the organizing resolution that would allow the Democratic majority to replace the Republican committee chairs, holding out for a stipulation that the Senate would not alter the filibuster during these next two years. Chuck Schumer held out for the agreement Tom Daschle and Trent Lott worked out the last time there was a 50-50 Senate, which made no such promises.

Schumer held his ground and McConnell yielded. What McConnell got instead of an amended resolution was that two Democrats, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, repeated filibuster-supporting promises they each made when they were elected in 2018.

It’s important to understand that this all about appearances: Whatever the organizing resolution says, and whatever individual senators might pledge, Democrats can end the filibuster any time they want — if they are unanimous. The question is how the politics would shake out: Will Manchin and Sinema look bad to their voters if they change their minds? Would the entire Democratic Senate majority look bad if they had passed a resolution defending the filibuster and then later reversed themselves?

And the answer to those questions is entirely situational: What will McConnell use the filibuster to block? That partly depends on how clever Democrats are in using the filibuster-avoiding maneuver known as reconciliation (which is how Republicans passed the Trump tax cut and nearly repealed ObamaCare).

If some very important, very popular legislation gets filibustered, that creates an opportunity for Manchin and Sinema to say “When I supported the filibuster, I never imagined Republicans would misuse it like this.” (Both say they’re not open to changing their minds, but who knows if they will? Neither comes up for reelection until 2024, and by then the filibuster could be ancient history.) Or maybe Schumer will come up with some trick for negating the filibuster in that particular case without getting rid of it completely, giving Manchin and Sinema some cover.

In short, this is not the best time fight this battle, and Schumer wouldn’t have the votes to win right now even if he wanted to fight it. That explains why the party’s progressive wing isn’t pushing too hard for it right now. At the moment, it’s an abstract battle about Senate procedure. Soon the terrain will shift to something voters care about, and then the situation will change.

Having the option of eliminating the filibuster pushes the Republicans to negotiate in good faith. Democrats should not give that up without getting something back.

and impeachment, which is all about where the Republican Party is going

Most of what I had to say about this is in one of the featured posts. But a few odds and ends didn’t fit.

The trial starts a week from tomorrow. But Trump is having a hard time finding lawyers willing to defend him.

Former President Donald J. Trump has abruptly parted ways with five lawyers handling his impeachment defense, just over a week before the Senate trial is set to begin, people familiar with the situation said on Saturday. … Mr. Trump had pushed for his defense team to focus on his baseless claim that the election was stolen from him, one person familiar with the situation said.

And that’s a problem because, unlike the Republican Party, the legal profession has standards.

Any defense attorney holds a broad obligation to represent his or her client zealously. That’s a crucial part of our adversarial justice system. But there are limits on what a defense attorney can argue. For example, per the American Bar Association, it would be unethical for any attorney to raise an argument “that he knows to be false.” The “rigged election” narrative certainly fits that description.

According to the NYT, something similar happened as early as November 12: Trump’s lawyers told him there was no fraud on a scale sufficient to flip the election in his favor, so they parted ways and Rudy Giuliani took over.

Thursday the 12th was the day Mr. Trump’s flimsy, long-shot legal effort to reverse his loss turned into something else entirely — an extralegal campaign to subvert the election, rooted in a lie so convincing to some of his most devoted followers that it made the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol almost inevitable.

Conservatives sometimes try to divert attention from Majorie Taylor Greene with the “What about left-wing radicals in Congress?” ploy. But Democrats are responding with a bring-it-on attitude. And they should: AOC, like Bernie Sanders, is more liberal than some Democrats want to be, but I think everybody understands that she lives in the real world. Progressives want the US to be more like Denmark, not Camelot. Denmark is a real place that is doing fine.

Greene, on the other hand, does not live in the real world.

Another typical whataboutist move diverts discussion of the Capitol Insurrection by bringing up the violence associated with the George Floyd protests (most of which were peaceful). The best description of the difference between those two incidents comes from Tom Robinson on Quora:

One of these things was protesting murder while the other was protesting Democracy.

Typically, an American political party that loses the presidency by seven million votes asks how it can appeal to a larger slice of the electorate. The GOP is asking how it can stop Democrats from voting.

An MTG-endorsed conspiracy theory (about how Jewish-funded space lasers caused a California wildfire) makes this Mel Brooks clip timely again.

and Christianity has some introspecting to do

An Atlantic article on impeachment-supporting Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger focuses more on his criticism of his church than of his party.

The problems that led to the January 6 insurrection are not just political. They’re cultural. Roughly half of Protestant pastors said they regularly hear people promote conspiracy theories in their churches, a recent survey by the Southern Baptist firm LifeWay Research found. “I believe there is a huge burden now on Christian leaders, especially those who entertained the conspiracies, to lead the flock back into the truth,” Kinzinger tweeted on January 12.

I think conservative Christians won’t solve this problem until they realize how deep it goes. The original “fundamentalists” in the early 20th century were reacting against two developments in modern thought: Darwinian evolution and the “higher criticism” of the Bible, which applied to scripture the techniques of interpretation scholars had invented to understand ancient texts like the Homeric epics. The fundamentalist response was to avoid these challenges by encouraging the development of bad thinking habits among Christians. Any kind of denial or logical fallacy was fine if it came to the right conclusions.

Well, a century later, those bad thinking habits have been exploited by purveyors of all kinds of nonsense: climate-change denial, Covid denial, QAnon, “Stop the Steal”. The conservative Christian mind is now like a poorly designed software application; it has back doors that allow hackers to circumvent the usual protocols and make the app serve purposes unrelated to its designers’ intent. That’s how we arrive at the situation Kinzinger diagnoses so clearly:

There are many people that have made America their god, that have made the economy their god, that have made Donald Trump their god, and that have made their political identity their god.

Christianity in general is not going to fix this problem until until it goes back to the source: It needs to figure out how to deal with the reality of evolution, and with the uncanny resemblance of the Bible’s oldest sections to many other texts from the same eras. A few of the more liberal sects did this work a long time ago, but the bulk of the movement would rather build a fortress around its errors than change.

and you also might be interested in …

What if an electric car could recharge in five minutes?

Ever since the Inauguration, the Bernie meme has been everywhere. This is my favorite. collected some other Bernie-in-space images. He’s also been in famous paintings, at historic events, and in classic movie scenes.

Several writers have tried to explain what this phenomenon “means”. Like, why is it happening? Why Bernie? Why this particular image? I think it’s not hard to understand: The original Bernie-at-the-Inauguration photo captured a truth we all recognized: Wherever Bernie goes, he’s still Bernie. The historic grandeur of an inauguration doesn’t change him, so why would anything else?

Biden had a phone conversation with Putin.

In his first phone call with Vladimir Putin since taking office, President Biden pressed his Russian counterpart on the detention of a leading Kremlin-critic, the mass arrest of protesters, and Russia’s suspected involvement in a massive cyber breach in the United States.

In short: we’re an independent country again. Our president is no longer under the thumb of the Russian president.

Hakeem Jefferson on this weekend’s snowstorm:

DC’s so white today the GOP might vote to grant it statehood.

and let’s close with something musical

I can’t decide between a good-bye-Trump or a hello-Biden song, so I’ll post one of each. On the last day of the Trump administration, James Corden did this wonderful send-up of “One Day More” from Les Miserables.

And after President Biden suggested that Janet Yellin — the first female Treasury Secretary — should get a musical just like the first male Treasury Secretary did, Marketplace got Dessa, a member of the hip-hop collective Doomtree and one of the artists who contributed to “The Hamilton Mixtape” working on it. That led to “Who’s Yellin Now?

The Path to Unity

No Sift next week. The next new posts will appear on February 1.

All Donald Trump has to say to calm tensions down is one sentence: “The election was not stolen.

Rep. Ted Lieu

This week’s featured posts are “The Orwellian Misuse of ‘Orwellian’” and “To Save Democracy, End the Filibuster“.

This week everybody was talking about impeachment

The Economist sums up pretty well why Trump must be convicted by the Senate:

Stand back, for a moment, and consider the enormity of his actions. As president, he tried to cling to power by overturning an election that he had unambiguously lost. First, he spread a big lie in a months-long campaign to convince his voters that the election was a fraud and that the media, the courts and the politicians who clung to the truth were in fact part of a wicked conspiracy to seize power. Then, having failed to force state officials to override the vote, he and his henchmen whipped up a violent mob and sent them to intimidate Congress into giving him what he wanted. And last, as that mob ransacked the Capitol and threatened to hang the vice-president, Mike Pence, for his treachery, Mr Trump looked on, for hours ignoring lawmakers’ desperate pleas for him to come to their aid.

… The proper place to defend the constitution is the venue the constitution itself provides: Congress. That is why the House was right to vote to impeach Mr Trump and why the Senate should move fast to convict him.

… His supporters argue that impeachment is divisive just when America needs to become united. That is self-serving and wrong. Nobody has sown discord as recklessly as Mr Trump and his party. You do not overcome division by pretending that nothing is wrong, but by facing it. Were Mr Trump to be convicted, the healing might genuinely begin.

Here’s an example of what can happen when a democracy fails to defend itself against an authoritarian threat.

In 1924, after his first attempt to take power by force, Hitler served only eight months of an already lenient five-year sentence for treason. (He used the down-time to write Mein Kampf.) When he was released, The New York Times printed “Hitler Tamed By Prison“. It opined that the “demi-god of the reactionary extremists” had learned his lesson.

He looked a much sadder and wiser man today … It is believed he will retire from public life and return to Austria, the country of his birth.

The root of the fascist claim to power is that democracy is too weak and corruptible to defend das Volk — in America, straight white Christians — from domination by a sinister Other (Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, blood-drinking pedophiles …). When fascists fail to overthrow democracy and are treated leniently, that very lenience is seen as evidence in favor of their claim: Democracy cannot even defend itself, much less the People.

If the insurrectionists — from Trump on down to the buffalo-horn guy — walk away unscathed, they will be back, and will strike harder next time.

Watching the business community pull away from Trump and his supporters, I am reminded of Mafia history. American organized crime has long understood that it is a parasite on the larger society, and so needs to stay in its niche, lest it either kill its host or provoke an immune response. From time to time, then, the bosses turn on one of their own who is getting out of hand. Such overreach, they say, is “bad for business”.

Two examples: In 1935, Dutch Schultz was under pressure from Tom Dewey, a special prosecutor who had been appointed to crack down on organized crime in New York City. (On the strength of his crime-fighting reputation, Dewey would later become governor and eventually the Republican nominee for president in 1944 and 1948.) When Schultz started plotting to have Dewey killed, New York’s other crime bosses decided he was going too far, and had him killed instead. They had no love for Dewey either, but killing him would only have incited a larger anti-crime campaign.

Ironically, the mobster who told the bosses about Schultz’s planned assassination of Dewey eventually became a second example: Albert Anastasia, head of the legendary Murder Incorporated. By 1950, he was killing people unrelated to organized crime, more or less on a whim. When he killed Arnold Schuster, who tipped the police on how to find escaped bank robber Willie Sutton (an independent operator with no Mafia connection), the other bosses decided the attention Anastasia was drawing was bad for business. So he also was killed.

Anyway, that’s my interpretation of, say, Charles Koch and other big conservative donors pulling away from the Republicans who backed Trump’s effort to overturn the election. It’s not that they’ve suddenly seen the light about democracy. Charles and his brother David (before his death in 2019) were major backers of the GOP’s push for minority rule through gerrymandering, voter suppression, and taking advantage of the undemocratic nature of the Senate and the Supreme Court. But sending a mob to attack the Capitol is bad for business.

Wondering if there are 17 Republican senators willing do to their duty and convict Trump, I feel like Abraham hoping there might be ten righteous people in Sodom.

Ben Sasse might be one of them. In the Atlantic, he at least says the right things: The problem isn’t just one man or one event, but a series of bad decisions that started some while ago.

Until last week, many party leaders and consultants thought they could preach the Constitution while winking at QAnon. They can’t. The GOP must reject conspiracy theories or be consumed by them. Now is the time to decide what this party is about.

Trump has been blowing up our norms of government for four years. Former Deputy Director of National Intelligence Susan Gordon suggests a norm Biden should blow up: allowing his predecessor access to intelligence briefings.

and just how bad the Capitol invasion was

The best article on the topic is Luke Mogelson’s “Among the Insurrectionists” in The New Yorker. The video he shot with his phone became public yesterday, and it is mind-boggling. One thing becomes clear from Mogelson’s reporting: We may never know exactly what percentage of Trump voters were motivated by racism, but the folks willing to take up arms to keep Trump in office after he lost the election are overwhelmingly white supremacists. BuzzFeed agrees.

Probably some of the invaders just got swept up in the moment, and may not have gone to Trump’s rally with any clear intention of what they would do next. But others may have intended to capture or kill members of Congress and/or Vice President Pence. (Sources disagree about this.) At times the mob was only a short distance away from people they intended to harm.

In addition to whatever action is taken against Trump, Congress has to investigate whether its own members were involved in the insurrection. New Jersey Democrat Mikie Sherrill claims that some of her Republican colleagues were giving “reconnaissance tours” to insurrectionists the day before.

Some evangelicals see how far astray their movement went in backing Trump. And some don’t.

Slate verifies something I noticed whenever I channel-scanned through Fox News this week: They just aren’t talking about the riot at the Capitol. On Fox, the lead news story was how horrible it is that Twitter decided to stop helping Trump incite violence.

and what Biden wants to do about Covid

Using FEMA and the National Guard to set up more vaccination sites, invoking the Defense Production Act to knock down any bottlenecks in the production process, a new round of stimulus, money to help schools reopen safely, expanded testing to find not just asymptomatic carriers but new strains of the virus, a national contact-tracing effort, … what amazes Ezra Klein is not that it’s so brilliant, but that it’s so obvious. “Most elements of the plan are surprising only because they are not already happening.”

but you should pay more attention to Trumpist attempts to change the language

That’s the topic of the featured post “The Orwellian Misuse of ‘Orwellian’“.

and you also might be interested in …

The NRA filed for bankruptcy Friday. Like Trump’s many bankruptcies, this seems to be a move to stiff creditors and evade oversight, rather than organizational death. The NRA is incorporated in New York, and faces a lawsuit from the New York attorney general alleging management fraud and self-dealing. It plans to dissolve in New York and reincorporate in Texas. Whether the same management will continue to scam NRA members in the same ways remains to be seen.

In August, I used that lawsuit’s charges to illustrate the industry of grifters set up to fleece the gullible conservative faithful in “The NRA and the Long Con“.

I admit, it’s petty to focus on stuff like this. But Ivanka and Jared not letting the Secret Service use any of their half-dozen bathrooms, and the $100K the government has spent to rent agents a nearby room of their own, is so in tune with my general impression of what it means to be a Trump.

It has taken more than six years, but former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is finally facing some kind of accountability for his role in the Flint water crisis, in which 12 people died of Legionnaire’s Disease and 6,000-12,000 Flint children were exposed to high levels of lead.

Snyder has been charged with willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of one year in prison.

Ordinarily, we think of police shootings when we hear the phrase “Black lives matter”, but it also refers to situations like this, where officials are slow to notice harm done to communities that are predominantly Black, and slow to respond after they do notice. A report from the Michigan Civil Rights Commission

says one theme was common in the hearings where the public spoke. People said predominantly white cities like Ann Arbor or Birmingham, near Detroit, would have been treated differently by the state. The report quotes a resident who said: “If this was in a white area, in a rich area, there would have been something done. I mean, let’s get real here. We know the truth.”

and let’s close with something absurd

The Yes classic “Roundabout”, performed by the characters from Peanuts.

Post and Pre

Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place.

– Timothy Snyder “The American Abyss

This week’s featured posts are “Sedition and Free Speech” and “The Capitol Invasion is Both an End and a Beginning“.

This week everybody was talking about the Trump insurrection

Most of what I have to say on this topic is in one of the featured posts. But I only briefly touched on the friendly reception the insurrectionists got from some of the police, and didn’t mention the racial angle at all.

Joy Reid nailed that point, contrasting her own experience in Black Lives Matter protests with the untroubled demeanor of the Capitol invaders:

The reason these people were so unafraid of the cops … the reason they could so easily and casually, with their cameras on, film themselves throwing things through the walls of our Capitol, our property, going inside the Capitol, sitting in Speaker Pelosi’s office, casually take pictures of themselves, have that played on Fox News — they know that they are not in jeopardy. Because the cops are taking selfies with them, walking them down the steps to make sure they’re not hurt, taking care with their bodies — not like they treated Freddie Gray’s body.

White Americans aren’t afraid of the cops. White Americans are never afraid of the cops, even when they’re committing insurrection. Even when they’re engaged in trying to occupy our Capitol to steal the votes of people who look like me. Because in their minds, they own this country. They own that Capitol. They own the cops; the cops work for them. And people like me have no damn right to try to elect a president. Because we don’t get to pick the president, they get to pick the president. They own the president. They own the White House. They own this country.

So when you think you own it, when you own the place, you aren’t afraid of the police, because the police are you. And the police reflect back to them: “We’re with you. You’re good. We’re not going to hurt you, ’cause you’re not them.” I guarantee you if that was a Blacks Lives Matter protest in D.C. there would already be people shackled, arrested, or dead.

As soon as they realized the attack on the Capitol — which everyone in the world saw coming — was a public-relations disaster, Trumpists began blaming it on Antifa, inventing the ridiculous story that antifascists impersonated Trumpists and committed all the actual crimes. The Washington Post traced the provenance of this conspiracy theory.

The genesis for the assertion appears to be an article published by the right-wing Washington Times that claimed that a “retired military officer” had provided information from a firm called XRVision that used facial recognition software to identify several people who invaded the Capitol — and that two of them were linked to antifa. A third was “someone who shows up at climate and Black Lives Matter protests in the West.”

XRVision spokesperson Yaacov Apelbaum corrected the story:

“XRVision didn’t generate any composites or detection imagery for the Washington Times nor for a ‘retired military officer,’ ” Apelbaum said, “and did not authorize them to make any such representations.”

What happened, Apelbaum explained, was that the firm “performed an analysis on the footage” and, in doing so, was able to identify three people. “We concluded that two of individuals … were affiliated with the Maryland Skinheads and the National Socialist Movements,” the firm determined. “These two are known Nazi organizations, they are not Antifa. The third individual identified … was an actor with some QAnon promotion history. Again, no Antifa identification was made for him either.”

XRVision did create graphics comparing people who had been at the Capitol with other photographs, Apelbaum said, which “were distributed to a handful of individuals for their private consumption and not for publication.”

One of the graphics includes a photograph of two people that can also be found on the website Philly Antifa. As noted by Twitter user Respectable Lawyer, though, the reason the photo of those people is on the website isn’t that they are antifa, but that they were believed to be fascists.

So: the people identified were fascists, not anti-fascists.

and removing Trump

My post on the Capitol invasion ends with the idea that democracy needs to defend itself vigorously against fascism. We can’t even appear to give in to the attitude Joy Reid posits: that the fascists “own this country”.

That idea has two pieces: The identifiable people involved in the attack need to be charged and sent to jail, and there has to be some kind of consequence for Trump inciting that riot. The first piece got off to a bad start, when rioters were allowed to mingle in front of the Capitol for hours and then head for home on their own, rather than being arrested. But law enforcement and the social-media hive mind are identifying a bunch of these people now, and some are being arrested. We’ll see if they get what’s coming to them.

As for Trump, Democrats are insisting that he not be allowed to leave office honorably: He needs to resign or be removed by Pence using the 25th Amendment, or get impeached again. Republicans want to just let his term run out, and are trying to play the “unity” card. Keven McCarthy tweets:

Impeaching the President with just 12 days left will only divide our country more. I’ve reached out to President-elect Biden today & plan to speak to him about how we must work together to lower the temperature & unite the country to solve America’s challenges.

This spirit of unity was nowhere to be found when McCarthy voted to disenfranchise millions of Democrats Wednesday, even after Trump had incited a violent insurrection. Any Republican who puts forward such an idea needs to be challenged: What are you going to do to promote unity? What concessions is your side offering to make peace?

You want to lower the temperature, Kevin? Get Trump to resign. That would save a lot of grief all around. In the meantime, Democrats should continue with impeachment. McConnell will no doubt drag his feet to delay a vote past January 20 and then claim the case is moot. But that’s on him. Democrats should at least try to do the right thing.

Some conservative voices are joining the chorus. American Enterprise Institute Fellow Matthew Continetti writes in National Review:

There will be time to sort through the wreckage of the conservative movement and the Republican Party. There is not as much time — a little less than 14 days — to constrain the president before he plunges the nation’s capital into havoc again. Incitement to trespass, harassment, and destruction cannot go unanswered. The Constitution offers remedies. Pursue them — for no other reason than to deter the president from escalation. There must be a cost for reckless endangerment of the United States government. Trump must pay.

and the post-Christmas Covid surge arrived

Friday, new cases topped 300K for the first time, coming in at 315K. The previous day, deaths topped 4K for the first time, coming in at 4027. The 7-day average on deaths is now 3200, and still going up. In general, deaths lag cases by a week or two, and track at about 1.5% or so. So the 300K cases is consistent with 4,500 daily deaths before the end of the month.

I have hopes that the cases and deaths will start to drop sharply before long. I base this not on the vaccine, which continues to roll out slowly, but on my bargain-with-God theory. I think a lot of people knew they were taking irresponsible risks over Christmas, but offered God a deal: “Just let me get through the holidays, and I’ll be good.” I think masking, staying-at-home, and social distance compliance is probably picking up now.

and free speech (and its consequences)

The other featured post discusses the implications of Twitter banning Trump, and Josh Hawley losing his book deal.

and oh, by the way, the Democrats captured control of the Senate

Wednesday was a busy day. I woke up to find that Raphael Warnock had won his race against Kelly Loeffler, and Jon Ossoff was ahead of David Perdue. Later that day Ossoff’s race was called, producing a 50-50 Senate that VP Harris will tilt to the Democrats. The late vote-count increased the margins in both races, with Ossoff ahead now by 1.2% and Warnock’s margin over 2%, big enough that a recount is not necessary. Georgia law allows Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger until January 22 to certify the results, after which both new senators should be sworn in.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a nice ring to it.

and you also might be interested in …

The editor of Forbes calls for “a truth reckoning”, which requires consequences for Trump’s hired liars. Ordinarily, a White House press secretary stands to make millions after rejoining the private sector. Trump’s should not.

Let it be known to the business world: Hire any of Trump’s fellow fabulists above [Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Stephanie Grisham, Kayleigh McEnany] and Forbes will assume that everything your company or firm talks about is a lie. We’re going to scrutinize, double-check, investigate with the same skepticism we’d approach a Trump tweet. Want to ensure the world’s biggest business media brand approaches you as a potential funnel of disinformation? Then hire away.

This has got to hurt: The Professional Golfers Association doesn’t want Trump’s baggage.

“The PGA of America Board of Directors voted tonight to exercise the right to terminate the agreement to play the 2022 PGA Championship at Trump Bedminster,” said Jim Richerson, PGA of America president, in a statement. Holding the tournament at Trump Bedminster, Richerson said, would be “detrimental” to the PGA of America’s brand and put the organization’s ability to function “at risk.”

As if to bookend the images of white domestic terrorists freely roaming the Capitol, Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced that the officer who shot Jacob Blake seven times would not be charged with any crime.

Watching Graveley’s statement to the press as it happened, I was not in a position to immediately confirm or refute the points he was making. But I was struck by the tone: He was speaking as a defense attorney for the cops, trying to persuade the public rather than inform it.

The great NYT reporter Neil Sheehan died this week, freeing The Times to publish the full story of how he got The Pentagon Papers from Daniel Ellsberg.

and let’s close with the best new thing of 2020

Rachel Maddow used to close her show with an upbeat segment called “The Best New Thing in the World”. The new things were usually off-beat and not terribly momentous, but just made you feel good to think about them. I have such a new thing here: In March of 2020, the South Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher had its photo published for the first time in the 130 years since the species had been described. “It has eluded scientists for over a hundred years because of its behavior. It is difficult to see as it perches quietly and darts invisibly from perch to perch.”

Against the Nation

Right now, the most serious attempt to overthrow our democracy in the history of our of country is underway. Those who are pushing to make Donald Trump President, no matter the outcome of the election, are engaged in a treachery against their nation. You cannot, at the same time, love America and hate democracy.

Senator Chris Murphy

This week’s featured post is “The Increasingly Desperate Attack on Democracy“.

This week, everybody was talking about the Republican attempt to steal the election for Trump

As I explained in this morning’s Teaser, I resent that Trump is continuing to make me pay attention to him. The world and the country face real issues that have nothing to do with him, his ego, and his prospects of going to jail. I would like to start focusing on them. But his attempt to intimidate Georgia’s secretary of state into throwing the election, and his supporters’ effort to block (or at least de-legitimize) Biden’s victory, can’t go unnoticed.

This attempt to establish an American autocracy should be a black mark that all these people wear for the rest of their lives. I agree with Jennifer Rubin:

These spurious challenges to an election should remind us that the GOP has become an authoritarian, unprincipled party whose only purpose is to retain power by whatever means possible. It should permanently disqualify these Republicans from holding office.

I discuss the details in the featured post.

and about vaccine distribution

Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, writes bluntly in the Washington Post: “Vaccination is going slowly because nobody is in charge.”

Let’s start with a quick recap: As recently as early October, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said we’d have 100 million doses of vaccine by the end of 2020. One month later, that was reduced to 40 million doses. As recently as Dec. 21, Vice President Pence, the head of the White House coronavirus task force, said that we were on track to vaccinate 20 million Americans by Dec. 31. Unfortunately, 20 million doses haven’t even gotten to the states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that we have vaccinated about 2.6 million people. Assuming the reporting lags by a few days, we might be at 3 or 4 million total. …

How did we get from 100 million promised doses to just a few million people vaccinated? It is a lesson in misunderstanding American federalism and a failure of national leadership. The federal government and Operation Warp Speed saw their role as getting vaccines to the states, without considering what supports states would need to get vaccines to the people.

State public health departments are already worn down by pandemic, and the money appropriated in the CARES Act last spring is long gone. The Covid relief package just passed by Congress has new funding for states to spend on vaccination programs, but the new money, plus a plan for what to do with it “should have happened in October and November”.

In the face of this unforced error, Trump is doing what he always does: blame somebody else. The slow delivery of the vaccine is the states’ fault, he claims. (In a remarkable coincidence, all 50 of them are failing in exactly the same way.) In a tweet, Trump makes this systemic failure sound like his personal success.

The vaccines are being delivered to the states by the Federal Government far faster than they can be administered!

One of the most frustrating thoughts I have about the whole botched pandemic response, beginning to end, is that this is precisely the kind of thing Hillary Clinton would have been good at: a difficult organizational problem with a lot of details, requiring an understanding of how the various parts of government work and how they fit together.

The pandemic seems to have leveled off at a horrifying plateau, as we wait to see the size of the post-Christmas surge. We’re currently averaging about 220K new cases per day and 2600 daily deaths, and have been for more than two weeks. The total number of American deaths has passed 350K.

and the Georgia senate runoffs

I haven’t posted much about this because I don’t know what to say. I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen.

The election is tomorrow. After November, I’m not trusting small margins in polls, but 538’s polling average has both Democrats narrowly ahead, with neither polling over 50%. For what it’s worth, polls in Georgia did pretty well in November. 538 had Biden winning by .9%; he actually won by .2%.

Two Senate seats will be decided. If Democrats win both of them, they will control a 50-50 Senate by virtue of Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. Otherwise, Mitch McConnell continues to be majority leader.

Even if both Democrats win, it’s a mistake to expect much out of the Senate. The filibuster is still in place, and to get rid of it Schumer would need all 50 Democratic votes — something that’s unlikely to happen. The main advantage that would come from controlling the Senate would be deciding what comes to a vote. For the last two years, Pelosi’s House majority has been passing legislation about voting rights, Covid relief, DC statehood, and all sorts of other worthy causes. The Senate should have to vote on these things. If it does, some watered-down version might even pass.

Also, a Republican Senate will spend most of its time launching spurious investigations into whatever Biden conspiracy theory they can come up with.

But the idea that a 50-Democrat Senate will enable some kind of “socialist agenda” is just Republican propaganda.

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Nancy Pelosi gets another term as speaker.

Congress overrode Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act. Efforts to up the $600 payments in last week’s Covid relief bill to $2000 went nowhere in the Senate.

Patrick Cage knew about Q-Anon before most of the rest of us did, because he makes regular bets on PredictIt, the political stock market. Back in 2018 he started noticing anomalies in the prediction markets: People were willing to bet money on prospective events that nothing in the news pointed to: say, that Hillary Clinton or Jim Comey or Barack Obama would be indicted by a certain date. After he won a few bets against these positions, he started studying the comments sections for explanations of what the bettors were thinking. And that’s how he discovered Q.

The followers of Q, it turns out, don’t just trade theories on social media. Some of them think they have real inside knowledge that they can use to make money. Cage has become a student of Q-Anon theories so that he can bet against them. He claims he hasn’t lost an anti-Q bet yet.

If you have Q-Anon friends, you might want to show them this article. One of the best ways to dissuade them, I suspect, would be to get them testing their theories on prediction markets. You can explain away things you said on the internet. But you can’t explain away a steady loss of money. If Q is so smart, why can’t the people who listen to him get rich?

I’ve been resisting the recent trend of paying for subscriptions to individual writers — sorry, Matt Yglesias — but this week I made an exception for David Roberts’ new blog Volts.

Roberts has been writing about environmental issues and their philosophical underpinnings for years. I started reading his stuff when he wrote for Grist, then followed him to Vox. I’ve quoted posts like “The question of what Donald Trump ‘really believes’ has no answer“, and his discussion of “tribal epistemology“. His 2012 exchange with Wen Stephenson about how the mainstream media covers climate change is just as relevant now as it was then.

An example of the kind of thinking I have appreciated from Roberts is his recent Volts post “Why I Am a Progressive“, which includes a critique of philosophy’s famous Trolley Problem (which you may have seen on “The Good Place”). The thought experiment is misguided, he claims, because it implies that the important thing in ethics is to find the right abstract rules, as if the height of ethical achievement is to become the perfect decision-making automaton.

As the Trolley Problem is structured, you, the moral agent, have an utter paucity of knowledge about the situation. You don’t know why you’re there, any of the people involved, any history, any detail. All you know is, one life or five lives. The problem is designed to make the agent (the decider) invisible, to isolate the decision itself away from embedded, embodied experience.  …

All we have are the perceptual and analytic tools available to us, so we should focus on improving them. If you want trolley-style decisions made better in the real world, in real societies, you’re much better off focusing on agents than on any set of final principles. … [W]hat we’d want operating in a real-world case of the Trolley Problem is not the perfect set of principles, but the perfect moral agent — the best possible decision-maker.

By contrast, the world we have now is determined by “harried people making thoughtless decisions based on crude heuristics and mental models”. The surest path to a more moral world, then, is to improve that situation.

And so he winds around to the question he is supposed to be answering: why he’s progressive. People make better decisions, he says, when they have the slack to take a step back and think things through, and they make worse decisions when they’re hungry or afraid or worried about losing their place in the world. They also make better decisions when they have access to high-quality information. So, of course, you educate people about how to think clearly, and you make it easy for them to find good information. And then you create a society where as few people as possible live in fear or under stress.

I finally got around to reading Dan Kaufman’s book The Fall of Wisconsin, which came out in 2018. It tells the story of how Scott Walker and an extreme form of conservatism took over the state where Bob La Follette invented the progressive movement a century ago. The short version is:

  • Walker’s conservatives were backed by limitless amounts of money, which they used not only to overwhelm Democrats during election campaigns, but also to create a permanent infrastructure of organizing groups like Americans for Prosperity. Liberals organized issue by issue, election by election, and candidate by candidate, and so were always a step behind.
  • They had a long-term strategic plan and carried it out, systematically crippling centers of Democratic strength like the unions.
  • They were ruthless about changing the rules in their favor, instituting a voter-ID law that disenfranchised tens of thousands, gerrymandering legislative districts so extremely that repeated Democratic voting majorities can’t dislodge the Republican leadership, and transferring power from the governor to the legislature after Walker was voted out.

But it’s not just a story of diabolical Republican brilliance. The dysfunction of Democrats and progressives in general is a second theme. By taking a short-term non-strategic perspective, Walker’s opposition allowed itself to be picked apart piece by piece. Walker succeeded in turning private-sector unions against public-sector unions, and non-unionized workers against unionized workers. Liberal whites in the small towns often failed to stand up for blacks in Milwaukee or Native Americans protecting the environment near their reservations, and those groups returned the favor. The thought “They’ll be coming for me next” never seemed to register.

The Democratic Party in general showed a similar lack of solidarity, and worried more about losing the news cycle nationally than about supporting grassroot movements that channeled local energy. So in 2011 when Walker was taking collective-bargaining rights away from teachers and other public-sector unions, and tens of thousands of grassroot protesters occupied the state capitol building, President Obama was looking ahead to his 2012 reelection campaign and stayed away.

The lesson I learn from this book is that to be successful, the Democratic Party has to be strong locally, and has to stand for themes that manifest in issues people can see in their lives. Republicans have become the party of fantasy, focused on bizarre conspiracy theories (like Q-Anon), just-so stories (like rich people creating jobs with their tax cuts), meaningless pejorative labels (“socialists!”) and fears disconnected from reality (like transgender acceptance allowing pedophiles to lurk in girls’ bathrooms). Democrats can’t win on that turf.

Democrats have to be the party of real people talking about what’s going on in their lives: my groundwater is polluted, I can’t pay my medical bills or my student debt, you can’t live on minimum wage in this city, and so on. And if those stories sound foreign at first, because in some way we’re different from the people telling them, trusted national figures have to encourage us to stretch our empathy, and explain how we may need others to be there for us someday. National figures need to invest their political capital in local issues, rather than pull back because those stories are not immediately popular.

and let’s close with something restful

In Utah, a wildlife bridge allows for transit over Interstate 80. Back in November, the state Division of Wildlife Resources posted a video of the “traffic”, which includes several deer, as well as coyotes, bears, and a bobcat who snares a mouse.

The Long December

It’s been a long December
And there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last.

Counting Crows

This week’s featured posts are my end-of-the-year summaries: “The Yearly Sift 2020: State of the Sift” and “The Yearly Sift 2020: Themes of the Year“.

But it’s 2020, so the news didn’t slow down for the holiday week. Here’s what’s been happening.

This week everybody was talking about vetoes

Trump threatened to veto the $2.3 trillion package that includes $900 billion of Covid relief and money to keep the government open past today. Then he did nothing for several days. Then yesterday he finally signed it. The enhanced unemployment benefits included in the CARES Act ended Saturday, so his delay means that states won’t be able to restart the benefits until the first week of January.

The announcement that he had signed the bill was quickly followed by a bizarre statement that makes the signing sound like something other than a capitulation. Trump’s statement invoked the Impoundment Control Act of 1974, as if he believes this law does the opposite of what it really does.

Congress passed the ICA in response to President Nixon’s executive overreach – his Administration refused to release Congressionally appropriated funds for certain programs he opposed. While the U.S. Constitution broadly grants Congress the power of the purse, the President – through the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and executive agencies – is responsible for the actual spending of funds. The ICA created a process the President must follow if he or she seeks to delay or cancel funding that Congress has provided.

The process is for the President to make a list of the desired cuts and then send it back to Congress, which can just ignore the criticism — as it certainly will in this case. The President then must spend the money appropriated in the original bill. So the list of rescissions Trump announced (which may or may not ever appear; remember all the times he has said that a health care plan was coming) is just symbolic. Even Fox News says

with only a few days left in this Congress, such a request is nearly out of the question

In addition to “demanding” and “insisting on” changes in the bill he signed, Trump’s statement falsely claims Congress has agreed to change Section 230 of Communications Decency Act of 1996, which protects social media companies from certain lawsuits. (Trump would like to sue Twitter for continuing to flag his lying tweets about the election as “disputed”.) Congress has also, the statement falsely asserts, “agreed to focus strongly on the very substantial voter fraud which took place in the November 3 Presidential election”.

It is unclear whether Trump issued this toothless statement to fool his supporters, or if his staff fooled him into thinking the statement somehow continues the fight. It does not. He surrendered.

On Wednesday, he did veto the National Defense Authorization Act, which is one of those must-pass bills that allows the government to do things like buy weapons and pay the troops. A vote to override is scheduled for this afternoon in the House, though Senate procedures may delay their vote until Sunday. The ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee sent out a carefully phrased note to his colleagues.

Your decision should be based on what is actually in the bill rather than distortions or misrepresentations. … Your decision should be based upon the oath we all took, which was to the Constitution rather than any person or organization

You mean, some “person” is demanding loyalty to himself rather than to the Constitution, and is spreading “distortions or misrepresentations” about the contents of the NDAA? Whoever could that be?

Trump’s stated objections to the bill are tangential, to say the least.

Trump vetoed the bill after Democrats and Republicans refused to include his last-minute demand to repeal legal protections for social media companies [Section 230 again], which is unrelated to the defense legislation. He also objected to provisions that would remove the names of Confederate leaders from Army bases and place limits on his plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Europe.

Trump describes the bill as “a gift to Beijing”, which might be one of the “misrepresentations” Rep. Thornberry had in mind. The bill also funds a new cybersecurity effort, which probably is not going down well with Trump’s handler in Moscow.

Amanda Marcotte has an interesting theory: Trump’s vetoes and veto threats are intended to pressure Mitch McConnell into helping him steal the election.

To be clear, this isn’t 11th level chess. It’s actually Trump employing junior high school bully logic: McConnell wants a thing (this paltry coronavirus relief bill), and so Trump is threatening to take it away unless Trump gets what he wants (a successful coup). Trump, being very dumb, has not considered the possibility that McConnell couldn’t give in to the extortion if he tried because there’s actually no secret file in McConnell’s office labeled “How To Steal Any Election.”

and pardons

Three weeks ago in “Pardons and Their Limits” I talked in general about the issues involved in the pardons Trump might issue. Now we have some actual pardons to discuss.

The Washington Post sums up what’s wrong with them:

Larry Kupers, the former acting head of the Justice Department Office of the Pardon Attorney, who served in the Trump administration until he left in mid-2019, said in an interview that the president has been abusive in failing to go through the normal channels to review requests for clemency.

Normally, such requests go through his former office and recommendations are eventually sent to the White House. Most of Trump’s actions have been made on requests that did not go through the office. “It is abusive in the sense that very few of his grants, commutations or pardons really went to any legitimate purpose,” Kupers said.

“The purpose of the pardon power set out by Alexander Hamilton — that is mercy and reconciliation and I would add to that forgiveness. I can’t think about any of his grants that come under those categories. They are all grants to cronies or are partisan in the sense that he wants to excite and please his base.”

One striking thing that you might miss or misunderstand: Writers trying to be fair to Trump are sure to mention the dubious pardons of previous presidents — Ford pardoned Nixon; Clinton pardoned Marc Rich; Bush the First pardoned the Iran-Contra conspirators; and so on. What’s important to notice is that the worst examples from America’s past are the run of the mill now. Just about all of Trump’s pardons are self-serving, corrupt, or otherwise damaging to America.

The latest batch included the pardon everyone expected: Paul Manafort, who gets his reward for keeping quiet about the collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. His pardon ties a nice bow on Trump’s obstruction of the Mueller investigation.

Among the partisan pardons are three corrupt Republican congressmen: Duncan Hunter, who was convicted of stealing campaign funds for personal use; Chris Collins (insider trading); and Steve Stockman (charity fraud). All three were clearly guilty of money crimes that served no political purpose; they were just greedy, and grabbed the money because they could. They all deserved their punishment, and could be poster boys for the swamp that Trump promised to drain. It is impossible to imagine a corrupt Democratic congressman — or even a never-Trump Republican — getting a similar pardon. The message this sends to corrupt Republican politicians everywhere is: Go for it. Even if you’re caught, eventually a Republican president will pardon you.

But probably the least deserving beneficiaries of Trump’s largesse are the four Blackwater mercenaries convicted of the Nisour Square Massacre. They killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including two children. There is no doubt they are guilty, or that their crime is heinous. I reconstruct Trump’s thinking like this: They’re Americans and they killed non-white foreigners, so who cares?

This is reminiscent of Trump’s pardon in 2019 of convicted murderer Major Matt Golsteyn, of whom Trump tweeted:

We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!

It is hard to overstate how much damage these pardons (and Trump’s overall attitude towards murderers in uniform) do to the reputation of the United States and the morale of our armed forces. What must our soldiers think, when they hear their Commander in Chief call them “killing machines”? Former head of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey tweeted in response to the first talk of such pardons:

Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US servicemembers accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the Law of Armed Conflict seriously. Bad message. Bad precedent. Abdication of moral responsibility. Risk to us.

The Blackwater pardons go beyond simple corruption. They are evil for evil’s sake.

Josh Marshall’s take on the pardons as obstruction is interesting: He doesn’t think they matter that much. More important than sending people to jail is figuring out what happened, and he expects that to come out of the documents that will be available to the Biden administration.

A new President not invested in the cover up changes the equation dramatically. Everything that has been bottled up at the DOJ, in the intelligence services, in the President’s tax returns, in the voluminous records of the US government have been bottled up because of the President’s slow-rolling, mostly spurious claims of executive privilege or simple non-compliance. All that power disappears on January 20th and translates into the hands of Joe Biden. An ex-President has no privileges to claim whatsoever. In the past, incumbent Presidents have deferred to former President’s on claims of privilege. But that is purely a courtesy. All of these documents and records are the property of the United States government and they are under the control of the incumbent President, who will be Joe Biden in 26 days.

What Biden will do with this power, I can’t tell you. But it will be up to him. And there is quite a lot that remained hidden during Trump’s presidency that can now be uncovered.

In general, I’m against a tit-for-tat view of democratic norms. We believe in democracy and Republicans don’t, so we have a different obligation to maintain its norms. It’s frustrating, but necessary.

In this case, though, I think a exception is called for: Trump has violated so many norms that I think his claims of privilege deserve no deference from his successor. Give him his legal rights and nothing more.

and the Nashville bombing

A car-bomb rocked Nashville at around 6:30 on Christmas morning. It was placed in a touristy area of downtown, but at a time when tourists wouldn’t be there. Police have identified the bomber and believe he died in the bombing, possibly intentionally. Officials are being careful not to assign motives before they have clear evidence. The bomber seems to have been a loner who purchased and assembled the bomb components himself.

The bomber clearly was trying to destroy property rather than kill people. Gunfire apparently was intended to draw police to the area, but the bomb-carrying RV warned people away by blaring a recorded warning that counted down to the explosion. He has been described as “a hermit”, and there are reports that he had been giving away major possessions, as if he expected to die soon.

The bomb was next to an AT&T hub and knocked out some services, but no one knows yet whether that was the purpose. Unconfirmed speculation says that the bomber was paranoid about 5G. You may have seen a photo purporting to be the bomber wearing a Trump hat, but International Business Times claims the photo is a hoax. A scraggly beard makes the Trump-hat photo hard to compare to the clean-shaven photo released by police.

Trump spent the weekend golfing, with no comment on any of the news. Bryan Tyler Cohen makes a sage observation:

Just so we’re clear, Trump is staying silent on Nashville until he finds out whether the person responsible supports him or not.

His concern with “terrorism” and “law and order” never includes violent acts by his supporters.

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Brexit finally got done, more or less.

WaPo’s editorial board reviews the state of Trump’s wall as he leaves office: $15 billion spent, environmental damage, and no benefit to speak of. Oh, and Mexico never paid a dime.

Here’s the New Hampshire I remember:

In Concord on Monday December 21st of 2020 at ten a.m., a group of over one hundred people from across New Hampshire gathered at the now-closed state house steps to invoke their Right of Revolution as specified in Article Ten of the Bill of Rights of the NH Constitution.

The maskless gathering seemed to be motivated by the fairly meager emergency orders of Republican Governor Chris Sununu, who was described as “hiding in his home on Christmas Eve” like that was a strange thing to do.

The Trump claims of electoral fraud all fall apart when looked at in any detail. They rely on their bulk, not on their quality. Here, WaPo’s Phillip Bump focuses on one. And Sidney Powell’s secret “expert” witness isn’t particularly expert.

and let’s close with something judgmental

On bad days, I agree with Eileen McGann’s “I Think We’re Just Too Stupid for Democracy“. Unfortunately, as she observes, “All of the alternatives are worse.”