Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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


Trickle-down economics has never worked.

President Biden, 4-28-2021

NO SIFT NEXT WEEK. The next new posts will appear on May 17.

This week’s featured post is “The Reagan Era is Finally Over“.

This week everybody was talking about Biden’s speech

Before getting into the details of either Biden’s televised speech to Congress [video, transcript] or Senator Tim Scott’s Republican response [video, transcript], I want to make one view-from-orbit observation: When Democratic leaders are given a microphone, they talk about the American people, the challenges we face, and what can be done to make things come out right. When Republicans leaders are given a microphone, they list their grievances against Democrats.

Biden’s speech was about fixing things and setting the country up for future prosperity. It was hopeful and encouraging. He kept saying things like “We can do this.”

Scott started out by saying that President Biden “seems like a good man … but”. God forbid Republicans should give a Democratic president the benefit of the doubt about being a good man. “I won’t waste your time tonight with finger-pointing or partisan bickering,” Scott said, and then did essentially nothing else.

More high-level impressions of Biden’s speech are in the featured post.

I won’t do a full bulleted list of what’s in Biden’s American Families Plan and American Jobs Plan, because CBS News already has that. Basically, the Families Plan is about child care, education, paid time off, and money for parents. The Jobs Plan is about traditional infrastructure like roads, bridges, and public transportation, plus broadband, adjusting to climate change, transitioning to electric vehicles, and capital spending on schools. It also includes “workforce development” (which I think we used to call “job training”), money for taking care of the elderly in their homes rather than institutionalizing them, R&D, and a few other things.

The NYT puts both plans in one chart.

What I found most striking in Scott’s speech was the amount of conservative Christian identity politics in it. He talked about prayer, original sin, grace, and closed with a Christian blessing.

The most quoted line of Scott’s response is “America is not a racist country.” I have to agree with Matt Yglesias:

“Is America a Racist Country?” is the perfect meaningless culture war debate because it has basically no content at all. What is it asking? Compared to what?

Scott clearly wasn’t claiming America has no racism, because he also said “I have experienced the pain of discrimination.” He even allowed that American racism is not entirely in the past: “I know our healing is not finished.” So the argument he started is basically semantic: How much racism does it take to count as a “racist country”? Today’s US is not as racist as the Confederacy or Nazi Germany or the old apartheid regime in South Africa. Is that good enough? How many angels of color have to be included before we consider a pinhead dance to be integrated?

Remember: Meaningless debates serve the interests of people who have nothing to say. If you have a real vision of the future you want, avoid getting baited into arguing about nothing.

BTW: By talking about what America is or isn’t, Scott is invoking a popular trope of conservative rhetoric; he’s talking about essence rather than behavior or results. Similarly: an argument about whether certain drawings in a few Dr. Seuss books reinforce racial stereotypes — they do — becomes “Was Dr. Seuss a racist?”

The next step in that dance is to argue that we can’t know someone else’s essence, so it’s unfair to claim that so-and-so is a racist (which probably nobody did).

I saw this happen in my social media feed this week. Someone objected to Biden claiming that all police are racists. When I asked when he did that — he didn’t — she responded with a quote where Biden mentioned “systemic racism in law enforcement”, which is not at all the same thing. Systemic racism is about the results of our law enforcement system. “All police are racists” is a statement about the essence of a large number of individuals.

Another point of debate between the parties is the effect of Republican voter-suppression laws. It’s possible to cherry-pick comparisons between states, as Scott did when he claimed: “It will be easier to vote early in Georgia than in Democrat-run New York.”

But it’s important to keep your eyes on the bottom line: Where do people end up waiting in line for hours to vote? And the answer is: In Black neighborhoods, especially in states with Republican legislatures. Georgia was already particularly bad before the recent law, and now it will be worse.

Unlike voter fraud and ballot fraud, people waiting hours to vote actually happens already. It’s not a conspiracy theory or a what-if fantasy. It should deeply embarrass all Americans, and legislatures should be full of proposals to process more voters faster, especially in urban Black neighborhoods.

I live in a majority-white Boston suburb, and it takes me about five minutes to vote. Why can’t that happen in inner-city Atlanta?

Every time I checked Fox News on Thursday, they were talking how badly liberals were treating Tim Scott. WaPo columnist Kathleen Parker wrote:

The only Black Republican in the Senate, Scott was quickly trending as “Uncle Tim” on Twitter, as a tool of white supremacists and as a blind servant of the far right. Liberals just cannot handle a Black conservative.

This, my friends, is (also) what racism looks like in America today.

The New York Post devoted a whole article to the “Uncle Tim” insult, but could only attribute it to otherwise undistinguished Twitter users.

OK, white people should not lob racialized insults at non-white politicians of any philosophy. (Though Scott did indeed act as the mouthpiece of a party that panders to white supremacists; that’s not an insult, it’s just factual.) But Twitter was being mean? How is that news? Have you seen what conservatives tweet about AOC?

If Democratic politicians or opinion leaders are talking about “Uncle Tim”, that’s worth calling out. But I haven’t seen that. Vice President Harris responded to Scott by agreeing that American is not a racist country, but adding

We also do have to speak the truth about the history of racism in our country and its existence today. … One of the greatest threats to our national security is domestic terrorism manifested by white supremacists. And so these are issues that we must confront, and it does not help to heal our country, to unify us as a people, to ignore the realities of that.”

You can also find other sharp-but-not-racist disagreements with Scott from WaPo columnist Eugene Robinson, radio host Clay Cane, and many other liberals. Perhaps an actual discussion could be had. But Fox News does not want that.

Instead, Fox and its allies stoke conservative outrage by pointing out that there are obnoxious people on the internet, some of whom profess to be liberals. Who knew?

and the Giuliani raid

Much as I enjoy speculating about Rudy getting arrested and then flipping on Trump, it’s important not to get ahead of the facts. Here’s what we know:

FBI agents with a search warrant executed a crack-of-dawn raid on Rudy Giuliani’s apartment and office Wednesday. Giuliani ally Victoria Toensing was also raided. The agents took phones and other electronic devices.

The Justice Department isn’t commenting, but unofficially told AP the investigation “at least partly involves Giuliani’s dealings in Ukraine”. Giuliani’s attorney said the warrant mentioned “possible violation of foreign lobbying laws and that it sought communications between Giuliani and people including a former columnist for The Hill, John Solomon”. Reuters claims to have seen the warrant and lists a dozen people, all of whom have some Ukraine connection.

Toensing has also represented Dmitry Firtash, Putin’s favorite Ukrainian oligarch, who is already under indictment in the US. Solomon wrote a series of articles publicizing accusations about the Bidens and corruption in Ukraine. US intelligence has attributed these accusations to a Russian disinformation campaign intended to help reelect Trump. This is not some theory that the intel people have cooked up recently to please their new masters. Back in October the NYT reported:

The intelligence agencies warned the White House late last year [i.e. 2019] that Russian intelligence officers were using President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani as a conduit for disinformation aimed at undermining Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential run, according to four current and former American officials.

One question seems to be: To what extent was Giuliani knowingly working for Russia or its Ukrainian allies like Firtash?

It’s also important to understand exactly how this process works:

A search warrant must be based upon probable cause and the applicant must present a sworn affidavit to a neutral and detached magistrate or judge. Within this affidavit, there must be facts sufficient to persuade that judge that a crime was committed and that searching in the locations specified within the search warrant will reveal evidence of the crime, or crimes. The locations to be searched must be described with particularity, as well as the items that will be seized from those locations.

In the case of someone like Giuliani, there would have been the requirement that those search warrants be approved by someone at the highest levels of the Department of Justice, as well as the requirement of exhaustion of other less-intrusive investigative means. Giuliani is an attorney, and an attorney’s communications with clients are usually deemed to be confidential and protected by the attorney-client privilege.

We shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that Giuliani is guilty of something, that the government already had enough evidence to indict Giuliani, or that they necessarily found the evidence they were looking for. But they clearly have more than just a desire to harass a Trump ally.

Giuliani’s lawyer called the raid “another disturbing example of complete disregard for the attorney-client privilege”, but it’s not clear that’s true. Typical practice for searching a lawyer’s office, which we saw when former Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s office was searched, is for a “clean team” to conduct the actual search, forwarding to the investigating agents only the items not privileged.


Giuliani’s son Andrew briefly stepped outside of his father’s Manhattan apartment on Wednesday afternoon to denounce the Department of Justice, saying that if this can happen to “the former president’s lawyer, this could happen to any American.”

Once you put the situation in context, the younger Giuliani’s statement is exactly right: If federal investigators can convince a judge that a crime has probably been committed and that evidence of that crime is probably in your home or office, they can get a warrant to search for that evidence, even if you’re buddies with a former president. It could happen to any American, but you’re most at risk if you’ve committed crimes.

Giuliani’s people are complaining about “politicization” of the Justice Department, but all the indications are that the political influence has been working in the other direction: Prosecutors have been investigating Giuliani since 2019, but his relationship with Trump protected him. Now that Trump is out of office, the investigation can continue the way it would against any suspected criminal.

and the virus

Good news and bad news this week. The good news is that the US definitely seems to have turned the corner on new cases. The daily average is down to about 50K. Deaths also continue their slow decline. We’re down to less than 700 per day.

The bad news is in this morning’s New York Times:

more than half of adults in the United States have been inoculated with at least one dose of a vaccine. But daily vaccination rates are slipping, and there is widespread consensus among scientists and public health experts that the herd immunity threshold is not attainable — at least not in the foreseeable future, and perhaps not ever.

Instead, they are coming to the conclusion that rather than making a long-promised exit, the virus will most likely become a manageable threat that will continue to circulate in the United States for years to come, still causing hospitalizations and deaths but in much smaller numbers.

The second piece of bad news is the international picture. New cases in India continue to skyrocket, and the numbers in several South American countries are near record highs. Adding it all up, the virus worldwide is spreading faster now than it ever has.

The more Covid-19 there is in the world, the more mutations we’ll see. Eventually, some variant could beat our vaccines.

The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson listens to people not planning to be vaccinated, and isn’t optimistic about convincing them. But this is his best suggestion:

Instead of shaming and hectoring, our focus should be on broadening their circle of care: Your cells might be good enough to protect you; but the shots are better to protect grandpa.

and you also might be interested in …

Last week I wrote about Republicans in Florida and several other states trying to criminalize protest, pointing out once again that the GOP’s commitment to “liberty” and “the Constitution” is bogus.

This week Florida went further, passing a law that forces social media companies to participate in disinformation campaigns, even if they predictably lead to violence.

The Florida bill would prohibit social media companies from knowingly “deplatforming” political candidates, meaning a service could not “permanently delete or ban” a candidate. Suspensions of up to 14 days would still be allowed, and a service could remove individual posts that violate its terms of service. 

The state’s elections commission would be empowered to fine a social media company $250,000 a day for statewide candidates and $25,000 a day for other candidates if a company’s actions are found to violate the law

I can imagine a proposal to split up social media companies, or perhaps to turn their networks into some kind of public/private entity like the post office. But as long as they are private corporations whose users, advertisers, and employees come to them by choice, they’ve got a right to manage their own affairs and set their own policies.

It’s hard to come up with any rationale that justifies this law and also upholds previous conservative causes, like allowing a baker to refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding reception, or letting Hobby Lobby object to providing birth control for its employees. If Twitter decides it no longer wants to be associated with Trump’s domestic terrorism, how is that illegitimate?

One possible but scary rationale is contained in a Zero Hedge article a friend sent me. The author was discussing a scenario where companies require their employees and/or customers to be vaccinated (which would be terrible for some reason that escapes me).

These companies do not represent private business or free markets anymore. Instead, they are appendages of establishment power that receive billions in taxpayer dollars to finance their operations. They should no longer be treated as if they have the same rights as normal businesses.

That is one way the libertarian-to-fascist pipeline might work. Businesses have rights until they do something the fascists don’t like, at which point they become “appendages of establishment power” and their rights go away.

Weird development in the Matt Gaetz scandal. The Daily Beast claims to have copies of communications between Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg and (wait for it) Roger Stone, who Greenberg was willing to pay $250,000 if he could broker a pardon from Trump. (No pardon was given and no money paid.)

In the private text messages to Stone, Greenberg described his activities with Gaetz, repeatedly referring to the Republican congressman by his initials, “MG,” or as “Matt.”

“My lawyers that I fired, know the whole story about MG’s involvement,” Greenberg wrote to Stone on Dec. 21. “They know he paid me to pay the girls and that he and I both had sex with the girl who was underage.”

If you’re wondering “Why on Earth would you ever admit that to somebody, especially in writing?”, you’re not alone.

As Biden keeps proposing things the American people like, Trumpist attacks on him are getting increasingly desperate. Here, a NewsMax talking head goes off on a clip of Biden bending down to pick a dandelion and give it to Jill. This act is labelled “bizarre” and somehow deserving of ridicule.

All I can say is that Biden had better not wear a tan suit.

You know who’s a communist now? Mitt Romney. At least that’s what the hecklers at the Utah Republican Convention were calling out as he tried to speak. But a motion to censure Mitt for daring to vote to convict Donald Trump narrowly failed 711-798.

As someone who went to a few Burning Man festivals years ago, I’m not sure what I think about the proposal for a permanent art installation that generates solar electricity. Don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it is a key element of the Burning Man experience. The fact that this is all going up in smoke at the end of the week teaches a lesson about being truly present.

On the other hand: renewable energy in an attractive package.

and let’s close with something artsy

You never know when someone might escape from a painting and fly around the Brussels airport.

Reaping the Benefits

The countries that take decisive action now to create the industries of the future will be the ones that reap the economic benefits of the clean energy boom that’s coming.

– President Biden,
opening remarks at the Virtual Leaders Summit on Climate

This week’s featured post is “Red States Crack Down on Protests“.

This week everybody was talking about the Chauvin verdict

Unless you spent the week completely off the grid, you already know that Derek Chauvin was found guilty of all charges. He’s due to be sentenced in June, and probably he will appeal on a number of grounds that seem unlikely to succeed (but you never know). So it will still be a while before we can definitely attach a number of years to his name — between 12 1/2 and 40 years, if his conviction stands — but at the moment he is a convicted murderer. It was the best result the trial could have produced.

Opinions about the larger meaning of this verdict varied widely, from “See, I told you the system works” to “This one result doesn’t really change anything.”

I come down somewhere in the middle: The Chauvin verdict establishes a floor. It shows that the well of injustice is not bottomless. Police officers cannot kill Black people with complete impunity, in broad daylight, on a city street, in front of multiple witnesses who are recording video. If Chauvin had been acquitted, or if just one juror had held out to force a retrial, we still wouldn’t know where the floor is, or even if there is one.

But the Chauvin verdict doesn’t mean that the system works, or works as well for Black people as for White people. We can’t forget what the original police report said about George Floyd: “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.” If the video hadn’t gone viral, that most likely would have stood as the official word. You would not know the names of Derek Chauvin or George Floyd, and Chauvin would still be abusing Black people on the streets of Minneapolis.

Most of all: The killings haven’t stopped, or even slowed down. It’s hard to give ourselves credit for progress until they do.

As for the larger struggle for justice, I think this widely viewed trial begins to establish a consensus that police mistreatment of Black people really is a thing. We didn’t all imagine this murder, and it’s not a he-said/she-said situation. It’s now public knowledge that Chauvin murdered Floyd. We all saw it happen, and we can’t unsee it.

But knowing that doesn’t mean that we know what to do about it. Many people, particularly many white men, still believe the Bad Apple theory: Chauvin was a bad cop, and he’s off the force now, so the problem has been handled. Maybe there are other bad apples, but the system can deal with them too.

The problem with the Bad Apple theory is the way other cops usually rally around a cop who kills someone or otherwise abuses authority. (Hence: “Man Dies After Medical Incident”.) In case after case, we see police investigating the victim rather than the death, while official police spokespeople and the local police union president act as PR flacks for the bad-apple cop. In other words, the whole department joins Team Bad Apple.

To a large extent, that didn’t happen this time. One reason Chauvin was convicted, I believe, was that cops testified against him. They blew up his lawyer’s claims that Chauvin acted according to his training, and that his use of force was appropriate. Maybe that signals some larger change in police culture, or maybe not; we’ll see in future cases.

Pity poor Fox News, which was all geared up to cover the post-verdict violence. You know: Dangerous Black people run wild, cheered on by Democrats. Ratings gold.

Instead, they’re left with no burning buildings to televise, and a conspiracy theory about why that is: The jury might have acquitted Chauvin, but for the threat of violence that intimidated them.

I last looked at police reform in June, and the defund-police slogan a week later.

At the federal level, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has passed the House, but is pending in the Senate, where Democrats once again lack the votes to overcome a Republican filibuster. Unlike other issues, though, this one could result in a bipartisan compromise.

Still, there are new signs of optimism that Republican and Democratic lawmakers are serious about trying to make a deal. [Democratic Rep. Karen] Bass says she hopes the two sides can put together a framework by late May, which would be the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s murder. [Republican Senator Tim] Scott floated a potential compromise last week on reforming qualified immunity, arguing that police departments could be held accountable even if individual officers are still shielded. The South Carolina Republican has said some Democrats he has spoken with are open to his compromise and he doesn’t believe Republicans are far apart on the issues.

Additionally, Attorney General Merrick Garland has restarted the Obama-administration policy of federal oversight of local police departments, which may result in lawsuits and enforceable consent decrees.

I can’t remember who first called my attention to Beau of the Fifth Column, but I’ve become a fan. He combines working-class common sense with deep insight into what’s going on under the surface of the public conversation. I envy the way he can communicate complex ideas in five or six minutes without using polysyllabic buzzwords. Here’s what he had to say about the questions people raise to justify police killing 13-year-old Adam Toledo.

and climate change

Thursday, President Biden set a goal:

to cut greenhouse gases in half by the end of this decade. That’s where we’re headed as a nation, and that’s what we can do if we take action to build an economy that’s not only more prosperous, but healthier, fairer, and cleaner for the entire planet. These steps will set America on a path of net-zero emissions economy by no later than 2050.

Setting goals is the easy part, though. The question is whether he can get the country committed to achieving them, and in particular whether that commitment can endure even after he leaves office.

One encouraging thing about this speech is that he’s not even nodding at people who make the Environment vs. Economy argument. In the same way that we can’t reopen the economy without dealing with the virus, we can’t have a healthy economy for the future if we ignore climate change.

I see an opportunity to create millions of good-paying, middle-class, union jobs.

I see line workers laying thousands of miles of transmission lines for a clean, modern, resilient grid.

I see workers capping hundreds of thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells that need to be cleaned up, and abandoned coalmines that need to be reclaimed, putting a stop to the methane leaks and protecting the health of our communities.

I see autoworkers building the next generation of electric vehicles, and electricians installing nationwide for 500,000 charging stations along our highways.

I see the engineers and the construction workers building new carbon capture and green hydrogen plants to forge cleaner steel and cement and produce clean power.

I see farmers deploying cutting-edge tools to make [the] soil of our Heartland the next frontier in carbon innovation.

and infrastructure

Last week, I predicted that the GOP would not come up with a counterproposal to President Biden’s infrastructure plan. Thursday, they seemed to prove me wrong, announcing what The Hill described as “a $568 billion infrastructure proposal”.

I mean, their two-page big-print document has a specific number attached to it, and even breaks it down: $299 billion for roads and bridges, $61 billion for public transit, $65 billion for broadband, and so on. That’s a proposal, right?

Not exactly. A lot of key questions remain unanswered, and I suspect it’s because the GOP Senate caucus doesn’t have any answers they agree on. The big one is: Where does this $568 billion come from? Their pamphlet rejects how Biden funds his much larger proposal: no new debt, no changes to the Trump tax cut, and no “corporate or international tax increases”. It vaguely offers to “repurpose unused federal spending”, and proposes taxing electric vehicles, which Biden wants to subsidize.

It also wants to “partner with spending from state and local governments” and “encourage private sector investment and the utilization of financing tools”, whatever that means. Which raises this question: Are the anticipated state, local, and private-sector investments included in the $568 billion? How much federal money are we really talking about here? (Trump’s ill-fated 2018 proposal claimed to be a $1.5 trillion plan, but only contained $200 billion of federal money spread over 10 years. An analysis by the Wharton Business School predicted that most of the other $1.3 trillion would never appear.)

The Washington Post notes that while the GOP “plan” appears to be about a quarter the size of Biden’s $2.3 trillion plan, it’s actually not even that big.

Congress typically passes long-term transportation funding bills, currently worth about $300 billion over five years. For example, between 2016 and 2020, Congress provided the $300 billion for roads, transit and rail, with a separate measure funding airports. The Biden plan expects that Congress will continue to provide at least that much money in the coming years. But the Republican proposal includes that $300 billion as part of its total.

So if you’re talking about new money, Republicans are offering about 1/9th what Biden is asking for — and committing themselves to oppose the most obvious ways to finance even that much, without specifying an alternative.

If the GOP pamphlet were a serious proposal, they would be on their way to writing an actual piece of legislation, which some large percentage of their senators and representatives would commit to vote for.

That’s not going to happen.

and the virus

Thanks largely to India, new-case totals are soaring worldwide. In the US, they have renewed a downward track, with daily new cases averaging around 56K. Maybe the vaccinations are getting ahead of the new variants and relaxed standards of behavior. Daily US death totals are currently just above 700.

The number of vaccinations per day in the US has peaked, and is now around 2.75 million, down from around 3.3 million. 94.8 million people have been fully vaccinated.

We seem to be hitting the point where the problem is demand, not supply, particularly in Trump country. Basically, everybody who listens to President Biden or Dr. Fauci already is either vaccinated or has shots scheduled. To get the rest of the way, we all need to start exercising our personal influence. Does somebody you know need a nudge?

Botswana native Siyanda Mohutsiwa unleashed a massive tweetstorm about media coverage of Covid in Africa.

The @nytimes, like countless others in Western media, has a tradition of “journalism” which takes place in an Africa without leaders, without public health officials or activists. It takes place in a vacuum of knowledge and strategy. Africa has no thinkers or planners. In Western Media, Africa has no epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists, no academics, no local journalists or medical associations are quoted. Just a vast maw of African horror witnessed only by the brave souls at the UN and the Africa bureaus of western papers.

… COVID coverage in Africa ignores reality to instead reach for any other explanation that squares with a continent devoid of brains. Most writers lean on vague ideas about “genetics” and “immunity.” It smacks of “the tenacious physical traits of the negroid race” style thinking. I cannot think of any other way to explain a decided refusal to acknowledge the actions of nations like my native Botswana which, through strict lockdown measures instituted as early as February 2020, managed to keep COVID deaths to 45 by January 2021.

It appears even as its own healthcare system is brought to its knees & exposed as a hollowed out shell of its former self, America’s media need a world where Africa can produce no solutions, can give no knowledge and is devoid of the power to positively influence the world.

and you also might be interested in …

I gotta love this story: A January 6 insurrectionist bragged about storming the Capitol to a woman the Bumble app had matched him with. “We are not a match,” she replied, and reported him to the FBI. He was arrested Thursday.

It’s hard to decide whether the Arizona election audit is a tragedy or a farce.

The audit grew out of Arizona Republican lawmakers’ effort late last year to toss out Joe Biden’s victory in the state. The audit won’t change the certified election results.

The audit is being led, funded and supported by people with documented records of promoting the falsehood that the Arizona vote was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

Senate Republicans are spending at least $150,000 in taxpayer money for the audit, according to audit documents. 

A private fund-raiser reports bringing in another $150,000 in donations from undisclosed sources. That fund raising continues.

Democrats have been suing to stop the audit, and a hearing was scheduled for today. But yesterday the judge overseeing the case withdrew. Meanwhile, Trumpist yahoos have custody of the ballots. Nothing that we hear from this point on can be trusted or checked.

At the 100-day mark, Biden’s popularity is holding up pretty well.

In the long-but-worth-it department: Wil Wilkerson’s “The Anti-Majoritarian Mistake“. It’s a direct answer to the idea currently popular in conservative circles that we can maintain a liberal society without majority support.

The conservative theory — which is the substantive content behind the republic-not-a-democracy slogan, to the extent there is any substantive content — is that constitutional restrictions have to protect basic liberties against a tyranny of the majority. So far, so good. But they jump ahead to the conclusion that majority rule is actually not necessary.

Wilkerson’s point is that society never comes to a complete-and-permanent agreement about what “basic liberties” are. In the long term, they can’t be defined by a minority, no matter how convinced that minority is of its own righteousness.

When minorities strip majorities of their power to successfully seek redress and assert their will within the system — which is what a stacked 6-3 Republican court majority veto over Democratic unified government could amount to — sooner or later, stymied majorities will seek to protect their rights and interests outside the system. This is what it means for a political system to lose legitimacy — in the grubby, practical, nuts-and-bolts stabilizing sense of “legitimacy.” …

There’s a sense in which basic rights, whatever those turn out to be, are non-negotiable. But what they turn out to be is the product of negotiation. … Political deliberation and negotiation can be a process of discovery, but what’s discovered depends on who’s allowed in the room. Rights don’t come to us on tablets etched by the divine. They come from people who know where the shoe pinches demanding more comfortable shoes. …

[T]he peaceful management of pluralistic disagreement is perhaps the most basic problem we need our political institutions to solve.

As with so many Facebook memes, I don’t know who should get credit. But it’s too good not to share.

Speaking of Fox, I have a theory: Tucker Carlson already has the next phase of his career planned, and Step 1 is getting Fox to fire him. That’s why he keeps ramping up his white-supremacist rhetoric. Fox wants to dog-whistle to those people, not appeal to them openly. But Tucker is going to find out exactly where their line is, then go out as a martyr to the Liberal Cancel Culture that even Fox is part of.

Unlike Tucker, I try to be open about when I’m speculating beyond the evidence, and that’s what I’m doing here. I don’t know whether Step 2 is entering politics or starting some more lucrative media gig that milks subscribers (like Glenn Beck does; just because you don’t notice him any more doesn’t mean that he’s not raking in the bucks) or launching some more extreme network to out-Fox Fox. But I think there’s a method in Tucker’s increasing madness.

Fascinating set of issues in a Supreme Court case about whether a school can punish a cheerleader for something she put on Snapchat. Her personal issues are all moot — a lower court restored her to the cheerleading squad and she has graduated — but the case is still alive because of the broader implications about student speech. I’m going to have to read the appellate-court ruling before I even know which side I’m on.

Matt Yglesias called attention to a fact I hadn’t noticed: Gallup reported already in 2017 that the number of Americans who described the Bible as “fables, history, moral precepts recorded by men” exceeded the number who think of the Bible as “actual word of God to be taken literally”. Both views significantly trail the fairly stable 47% who chose “inspired by God, not to be taken literally”.

and let’s close with something both airy and timely

Xavi Bou practices an unusual form of bird photography, using time studies of individual birds and flocks of birds to create arresting patterns.

someone encountering his work for the first time could be excused for having no idea what his subject is. In a project called Ornithographies, he creates mesmerizing images by taking many photographs per second and stitching up to 3,500 or more of them together. The results are beautifully abstract, capturing the energy of flight, whether in the chaotic squiggles that result when Alpine Swifts dive and swoop for insects, or the smooth, even undulations of a gull flying over the water.

The result is a still image like this:

Or a video like this:

Not Waiting

So when will it be the right moment to leave? One more year, two more years, ten more years? Ten, twenty, thirty billion dollars more above the trillion we’ve already spent?

– President Biden
Remarks on the Way Forward in Afghanistan

This week’s featured posts are “Finally, some honesty about Afghanistan“, “The GOP: Still not a governing party“, and “The anti-trans distraction“.

This week everybody was talking about Afghanistan

President Biden says our troops will be out by September 11. This is discussed one of the featured posts.

and shootings

Between the police shootings and the mass shootings, it’s been hard to keep up.

Closing arguments in the Chauvin trial are happening today, and the case should go to the jury this week. By next Monday, we might have a verdict.

The nearby Daunte Wright shooting, and claim that the police officer mistook her gun for a taser, provoked a great deal of protest and skepticism. The officer has been charged with second-degree manslaughter. Chicago police released video of the shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who appeared to be unarmed and have his hands up. The NYT reports:

Since testimony [in the Chauvin trial] began on March 29, at least 64 people have died at the hands of law enforcement nationwide, with Black and Latino people representing more than half of the dead. As of Saturday, the average was more than three killings a day.

And CNN:

Three people are dead after someone opened fire inside a tavern in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Another three people were killed in a shooting that police said appeared to be related to a domestic incident in Texas. Authorities said a potential mass shooting was averted at San Antonio airport when a parks officer stopped a man with a box full of ammunition and a .45 caliber handgun.

Such events underscore the easy availability of deadly weapons. The 19-year-old who killed eight people in a massacre at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis late on Thursday bought his two assault rifles legally, police said over the weekend.

According to a CNN analysis, the United States has suffered at least 50 mass shootings since March 16, when eight people were killed at three Atlanta-area spas. Six of the victims were women of Asian descent.

and the virus

We’re starting to hit the vaccine-resistance wall, particularly in areas with a lot of Trump voters. The 7-day average on vaccinations peaked at 3.3 million per day a few days ago, and has dropped slightly to 3.2 million since. 131 million Americans (including me, as of Tuesday) have gotten at least one shot, and 84.3 are fully vaccinated.

The number of new cases might be starting to head back down, after briefly going about 70K per day, but it’s too soon to declare a new trend. Deaths are down to about 750 per day.

and Russia

The Treasury Department announced sanctions against a list of Russian individuals and organizations Thursday. Well down the list was Paul Manafort’s associate Konstantin Kilimnik. The write-up revealed more about Kilimnik than had been previously known to the public:

Konstantin Kilimnik (Kilimnik) is a Russian and Ukrainian political consultant and known Russian Intelligence Services agent implementing influence operations on their behalf. During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy. Additionally, Kilimnik sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

He got that “sensitive information” from Rick Gates, working under the instructions of Manafort. This completes the collusion cycle: Russia launched a social media campaign to help Trump beat Clinton in 2016, and the Trump campaign made sure they had good data to target their efforts.

BTW, “the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election” wasn’t just Russian propaganda, it was a main feature of the Trump defense in his first impeachment trial.

Ben Rhodes:

The US and EU have the means to do what Navalny has done so well: relentlessly detail and publicize the breadth and depths of the corruption of Putin and his people.

I am puzzled why we don’t do this. I think the Russian people deserve to know just how many billions Putin has stolen and where it all is.

and infrastructure

To the surprise of few, it looks like there isn’t going to be a Republican alternative to Biden’s infrastructure proposal. They’re just going to say no. More about this in one of the featured posts.

and you also might be interested in …

Who could have imagined that Roger Stone would cheat on his taxes?

Senator Ed Markey and Rep. Jerry Nadler have introduced a bill to expand the Supreme Court, but Nancy Pelosi says she’s not going to bring it up for a vote.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier series on Disney Plus is examining race in a way I didn’t expect from the Marvel Universe, even after Black Panther.

At the end of Avengers: Endgame, Steve Rogers returned to the 1940s and left the shield of Captain America to Sam Wilson, the Falcon. What to do with that shield, and with the Captain America identity it represents, is the central issue of F&WS. And that issue ends up hinging on the question: What can or should American patriotism mean to a Black man? In this week’s episode (#5) a bitter Black super-soldier from the 1950s (Isaiah Bradley) tells Sam: “They will never let a Black man be Captain America, and no self-respecting Black man would want to be.”

Sam is becoming the Barack Obama to Bradley’s Jeremiah Wright. (“For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. … That anger is not always productive … but the anger is real; it is powerful. And to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.”) He’s looking for a way forward that acknowledges and respects the experience of the people who came before him.

After decades of TV series that either made Black people invisible, stereotyped them, or cast them in roles where their race really didn’t matter, lately we’ve gotten a bumper crop of high-quality race-examining major-studio TV: Lovecraft Country, Watchmen, and many others.

Paul Krugman did a responsible thing Friday: He committed his thoughts about inflation to print before actual inflation heats up.

There are indeed reasons to be worried about inflationary overheating. In fact, even those of us who think it will be OK expect to see above-normal inflation this year. We just think it will be a blip. … [I]t seems to me that we should make that argument now, so as not to be accused of making excuses after the fact. This is a good time to identify which aspects of inflation might worry us, and which shouldn’t.

In short: He expects the economy to boom in the coming year, for two reasons:

  • vaccinated people who have been working from home and saving their money start to get out and spend that money
  • the government’s emergency anti-Covid spending.

Inflation will be part of that boom, as oil prices go back up and some parts of the economy grow faster than others, creating bottlenecks.

But history shows us two very different kinds of inflation: temporary blips, like during wars, and “embedded” inflation, like in the 1970s. The first kind of inflation goes away on its own as soon as the situation that caused it abates. The second won’t end without some kind of drastic intervention, like when the Fed shut down the 1970s inflation by raising interest rates over 20% and causing a major recession.

So the tricky thing going forward will be how to interpret inflation numbers: There’s nothing to worry about when depressed prices return to normal, or when a bottleneck sends prices of some particular commodity soaring temporarily. But a general inflation, where prices go up because prices are going up, is more serious.

and let’s close with an overdose of cuteness

A boy romps with golden retriever puppies, and is mobbed by them when he falls down. One of the commenters says: “This should be prescribed as a cure for depression.”

Unacceptable Behavior

When I look into that officer’s eyes, they’re not looking at me like I’m another human being. At best, I’m a threat. At worst, I’m an animal. That is unacceptable.

Delegate C.T. Wilson of the Maryland House
describing his experience dealing with police as a large Black man

There is no featured post this week.

This week everybody was talking about the Chauvin trial, and policing in general

The prosecution is getting close to wrapping up its case against Derek Chauvin. The defense should start this week.

I’ve found the defense attorney’s cross-examination of prosecution witnesses hard to watch, so I suspect the case they present will be even harder. In the words of The New Yorker’s Jeannie Suk Gersen, “The defense’s best hope is to instill doubt about what jurors can plainly see.”

The argument will probably be a kind of rhetorical sleight-of-hand that shows up fairly often, but doesn’t get nearly enough attention: Reduce the scene to a verbal description, then weave a new scene from that description. (I first noticed this technique during the Clinton impeachment trial. The public wasn’t buying that Clinton should be removed for having an affair and covering it up. So Republicans didn’t talk about that directly. Instead, they reduced Clinton’s actions to the legal categories of perjury and obstruction, then argued that perjury and obstruction were impeachable offenses, as they might be in other circumstances.)

So this week the horrified bystanders to Chauvin’s crime will become a potentially dangerous mob. The struggles George Floyd made while he was upright will be painted as plausible threats from his prone, handcuffed, unconscious, and dying body. Floyd’s death will be attributed to drugs and pre-existing health problems, with Chauvin’s knee on his neck merely incidental.

Reassemble that, and the defense’s question becomes: If an officer under threat from a dangerous mob is using force to subdue a resisting suspect, and the suspect happens to die for other reasons, is the officer really guilty of anything? Jurors will be invited to imagine other possible scenes that fit this description, and the blameless officers who might be convicted by the standard they set here.

Such a scene isn’t at all what the videos of Floyd’s death show, but if one juror can be induced to forget or ignore what he saw, Chauvin goes free. As the prosecutor said in his opening remarks: “Trust your eyes.”

Here’s why I expect: Chauvin won’t go free, but he won’t be convicted of the highest charge, second-degree murder. (IMO, that charge is already too low.) Consequently, he’ll face a sentence that will appear to devalue George Floyd’s life. Riots will erupt in Minneapolis and possibly elsewhere. The legal decision will be a done deal at that point, so the question will be whether Black Lives Matter activists can craft some demand that can still be met.

However the trial comes out, it’s worth appreciating that Chauvin was only charged because bystander videos went viral. If not for video, police would have circled the wagons around him and nothing would have happened. I have to wonder how many murders by police haven’t been prosecuted because the only surviving witnesses were other police.

If Chauvin goes free in spite of the video, I don’t know what comes next. Any conservatives who express horror at riots should have to answer this question: What is a community’s appropriate response when police can murder its members, the murder can be posted on YouTube, and they get away with it? What should people do when this happens over and over?

Meanwhile, Sunday afternoon another Black man was killed by a police officer in a Minneapolis suburb.

Chief Tim Gannon of the Brooklyn Center Police Department said an officer had shot the man on Sunday afternoon after pulling his car over for a traffic violation and discovering that the driver had a warrant out for his arrest. As the police tried to detain the man, he stepped back into his car, at which point an officer shot him, Chief Gannon said.

To me, it matters what the warrant was for. Was 20-year-old Daunte Wright a dangerous criminal whose immediate apprehension was necessary for public safety? Or might police have simply followed until Wright realized he wasn’t going to get away? Or did the officer decide that Wright’s failure to obey carried a death sentence, independent of whatever his original crime might have been?

The shooting touched off a riot Sunday night, and the National Guard was called out.

Nobody died in this incident, but it’s still not right: Two Virginia police approached an Army lieutenant at gunpoint, then pepper-sprayed him when he refused to get out of the car until they explained why they had stopped him. The lieutenant has filed a lawsuit against the officers.

Zack Linly comments at The Root:

Why are you like this?—when someone asks a police officer why he’s being asked to exit his vehicle or why he’s being stopped in the first place, why the hell can’t cops respond by…oh, I don’t know…answering the fucking question? Instead, the officers in this instance appear to have responded by typical aggression and equally typical police brutality.

Incidents like this give me sympathy for the “Abolish the Police” movement. I understand that laws need to be enforced somehow, but are men who behave like this really making us safer? Sometimes I think we should just fire everyone and start over (like the former Soviet republic of Georgia did). Maybe we should contract our policing out to civilized countries like New Zealand or Iceland.

I’m going to keep repeating this point until it’s widely acknowledged. Whenever you compare US policing to other countries, somebody raises the point that US criminals are more dangerous, because so many of them have guns. (“I’d rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6” police tell each other.) So: Trigger-happy police is a price we pay for not controlling guns.

In 2018, the Pittsburgh newsletter The Incline answered a reader’s question about what police can or should do when a suspect flees during a felony traffic stop. The answer seems much more reasonable than the police behaviors we’re talking about.

Tom Nolan, a 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department who’s now an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Merrimack College, said, “Certainly it’s not in compliance with standard police training and protocol to shoot at individuals who are fleeing the police. The police are not trained to do that unless there is a threat to an officer or innocent bystander or an imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death. Absent that there’s no justification.”

A police reform bill passed in Maryland over Governor Hogan’s veto.

The changes do not go as far as some social justice advocates had hoped: Discipline will now largely be decided by civilian panels, for example, but police chiefs maintain a role. Some activists wanted the panels to act independently of police.

Still, the legislation imposes one of the strictest police use-of-force standards in the nation, according to experts; requires officers to prioritize de-escalation tactics; and imposes a criminal penalty for those found to have used excessive force.

A Democratic legislator described the danger he faces from police simply because he is a large Black man.

When I look into that officer’s eyes, they’re not looking at me like I’m another human being. At best, I’m a threat. At worst, I’m an animal. That is unacceptable.

Saturday Night Live’s opening skit featured a disagreement between White and Black Minneapolis news anchors: White anchors are confident that justice will be done in the Chauvin trial, while Black anchors say “We’ve seen this movie before.”

and the virus

Today should pass 120 million people at least partially vaccinated. (I get my first shot tomorrow.) The number of new cases continues to edge upward, running just below 70K per day. Deaths continue to slowly decline.

Anecdotally, I’ve been hearing for weeks that vaccination appointments were easier to get in red states, where more people are skeptical of the vaccines and even of the seriousness of Covid-19. Now there are numbers to back that up.

The official statistics on Covid deaths in Russia don’t look that bad: 707 deaths per million, according to Worldometer, compared to 1,732 in the US. But Saturday’s NYT reported that excess deaths in 2020 are far larger than the official Covid statistics account for. Deaths in Russia during the pandemic months of 2020 were 28% above normal, compared to 17% above normal in the US.

Russians understand that the government is lying to them about Covid deaths, and that produces a nasty result: They don’t trust the government about vaccines either. (Russia produces its own vaccine, which apparently is pretty good.)

One conclusion to draw is that of all forms of government, the one that has handled Covid the worst is authoritarian populism. Of all large countries, possibly the most inexcusably bad responses to the pandemic are the US (Trump), Russia (Trump’s role model Putin), and Brazil (led by Jair Bolsonaro, “the Tropical Trump“).

The Center for Countering Digital Hate (never heard of them before, so take this with a grain of salt) claims that most of the vaccine misinformation on Facebook comes from just 12 people.

Analysis of a sample of anti-vaccine content that was shared or posted on Facebook and Twitter a total of 812,000 times between 1 February and 16 March 2021 shows that 65 percent of anti-vaccine content is attributable to the Disinformation Dozen.

and Republicans

I should have linked to this last week: The Trump campaign solved a cash crunch late in the 2020 campaign by scamming its own donors. Recurring donations were the default, which you had to read carefully to opt out of.

The sheer magnitude of the money involved is staggering for politics. In the final two and a half months of 2020, the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and their shared accounts issued more than 530,000 refunds worth $64.3 million to online donors.

The money was paid back using the haul from Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign, which was a different kind of scam. Most of the money collected was not spent on contesting the election results.

I keep hearing that Republicans are bound to win back the House in 2022, because midterm elections usually favor the party that’s out of power. But I think the GOP faces an unusual number of problems this cycle, like explaining why they’re voting against things their voters like, and whether or not the party should continue to be a Trump personality cult now that he’s literally one of those crazy old men ranting about socialism.

An RNC donor retreat went to Mar-a-Lago Saturday for a Trump speech. (The Great Man could not come to them.) The speech made headlines for attacking his own party’s Senate leader. (He called Mitch McConnell a “dumb son of a bitch” and a “stone cold loser”.)

As Playbook and the New York Times have reported, Trump has become a complication for donors. They don’t want their money going toward his retribution efforts. Remember: These are exorbitantly wealthy people — some with egos as big as Trump’s — and they are not interested in hearing about how another rich guy had his ego bruised.

The 2022 GOP primaries are going to be nasty affairs, and many of them will be won by QAnon crazies or outright fascists. Republicans proved in Alabama in 2017 and Missouri in 2012 that a bad enough candidate can blow a race anywhere, and 2022 will feature some historically bad GOP candidates.

Fascist/supremacist rhetoric is getting increasingly explicit in Republican circles. Last week I quoted from an article from the Claremont Institute calling for a “counter-revolution” because “most people living in the United States today—certainly more than half—are not Americans in any meaningful sense of the term.”

Thursday, Fox News host Tucker Carlson explicitly endorsed the white supremacist “Great Replacement” theory:

I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term “replacement,” if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate — the voters now casting ballots — with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World. But they become hysterical because that’s what happening, actually. Let’s just say it. That’s true. …

It’s a voting-rights question. In a democracy, one person equals one vote. If you change the population, you dilute the political power of the people who live there. So every time they import a new voter, I become disenfranchised as a current voter.

In the link, Jonathan Chait points out how weird this framing is: The ordinary use of “replacement” would imply that current US citizens are being kicked out as new immigrants come in, which no one thinks is happening.

My employer hires new writers pretty often. If they fired me and gave my job to a new writer, that would be replacement. If they just created a new job, and assigned the writers to work alongside me, that would not be replacement.

If we take Carlson’s “voting-rights” view seriously — which I don’t believe he does, because he only pays attention to its anti-immigrant conclusions, rather than its full implications — then when my white ancestors arrived in the 1840s, they disenfranchised the previously established Americans; every American who turns 18 disenfranchises the rest of us; and our votes gain power whenever any other American voter dies. (Go, coronavirus!)

And let’s not ignore the racism of assuming that immigrants from the largely non-white Third World are “more obedient voters”, rather than human beings who can think for themselves. Also: No one is importing “new voters”. When immigrants arrive here (by their own choice rather because some sinister cabal “imports” them) the road to citizenship is long and full of obstacles. This is especially true for those who circumvent the legal immigration process.

Replacement Theory also comes with a lot of baggage Carlson didn’t mention, but that his white-supremacist fans are well aware of. Chait summarizes:

When Nazis marched in Charlottesville in 2017, they chanted “You will not replace us!” and, somewhat more clarifying, “Jews will not replace us!” The terrorist who gunned down 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand, used this slogan (“The Great Replacement”) in his manifesto. …

“Replacement theory” imagines that an elite cabal, frequently described as Jewish, is plotting to “replace” the native white population with non-white immigrants, who will pollute and destroy the white Christian culture.

George Soros is frequently identified as the Jewish mastermind of the replacement plot. That’s why the MAGA bomber mailed him a pipe bomb. Replacement Theory is also why an anti-immigrant gunman killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

So why would a TV host mangle the English language in order to get the word “replacement” into his screed? Because he wanted to invoke the baggage. Tucker was giving a shout-out to the Nazis in his audience.

John Boehner has written a book in which he breaks with the Republican Party in its current form. I feel like I ought to read it, but I don’t want to, and I certainly don’t want to pay for it. I anticipate feeling the same frustration with it as the NYT’s reviewer.

Boehner doesn’t acknowledge the role that his generation of Republicans played in building the bridge from Ronald Reagan’s era to our current times. … Boehner’s memoirs are an X-ray into the mind of Reagan-era Republicans who did whatever was necessary to win and who today are seeing the high costs of their decisions.

Boehner’s generation thought they could pander to the reality-denying right-wingers while keeping them under control — basically the same mistake German industrialists and aristocrats made with Hitler. And their heirs are still doing it: Kevin McCarthy knows that Trump is an idiot and QAnon is insane, but he won’t say so. I don’t have a lot of patience with their self-justifications.

On the other hand, the way Trumpism ends is that everybody who’s not a Trumpist leaves the Republican Party, which then goes down to historic defeats until it reorganizes, once again becoming a political party with a message for the political center, rather than an authoritarian cult that sponsors political violence. Max Boot acknowledges that necessity:

those of us on the center-right can’t afford a third-party flirtation. We need to become Biden Republicans.

So I welcome Boehner’s book as a harbinger of a GOP crash-and-burn. But I’m not looking forward to reading it.

and you also might be interested in …

Matt Gaetz’ troubles aren’t getting any better. CNN reports that Trump has refused to meet with him, and Trump certainly failed to mention Gaetz during his Saturday-night ramble in front of GOP donors. Meanwhile, the attorney of his associate Joel Greenberg is hinting at a plea deal.

As I said last week, I’m waiting for some official documentation (like an indictment) before I follow this for any reason other than entertainment. But it is entertaining. The NYT told more of the Greenberg story yesterday.

While I was looking for the SNL video above, YouTube recommended I look at this Jen Psaki press briefing from March 10, where a Fox reporter peppered her with hostile questions about the situation at the Mexican border and school reopenings. This is why I love Psaki: no insults to the reporter, no rants about his network’s obvious bias or falling ratings, no threats to have his White House pass revoked. She fields the questions calmly and answers with facts.

The new Ken Burns series has people talking about Ernest Hemingway again. I’m reminded of a pattern I usually illustrate with Don Henley’s song “The Boys of Summer” (an old-guy reference that readers can update for themselves): A 15-year-old hears it and thinks, “That’s how it feels to be in love.” Ten years later he hears it and thinks, “That’s so immature. I can’t believe I ever liked that song.” Then another ten years pass and he thinks, “That’s how it felt to be in love when I was 15.”

In other words: First you’re captured by a point of view. Then you’re trying to get distance from it. But eventually you feel secure in your distance and can look back more fondly.

I think we might be ready for that third stage of reading Hemingway. First, people read his books and thought: “That’s what it means to be a man.” Then “His books are full of toxic masculinity.” Now maybe we can read him and think: “That’s what it’s like to wrestle with toxic masculinity.”

After all, Hemingway heroes are not John Wayne or James Bond. Their masculine virtues don’t lead to triumphs that right all the wrongs and let them live happily ever after with either the girl of their dreams or an endless parade of Pussy Galores. Hemingway stories center on lonely men struggling to get by in a world that is either godless or ruled by a God who is the Father in all the wrong ways. Maybe they’re a pretty accurate picture of where excessive masculinity leads.

As a writer, I feel indebted to Hemingway as a pivotal figure in American prose. 19th century novels still reflect old-time oral story-telling, where long florid descriptions help pass the endless winter nights. Hemingway changed everything by writing novels in the style of a newspaper, where each column-inch is valuable and needs to accomplish something.

We’re still influenced by him, whether we know it or not. If you’ve ever gotten impatient with an author and thought, “Can we just get on with this?”, or if you’ve had a writing teacher tell you, “Show, don’t tell” — you’ve been influenced by Hemingway.

I haven’t watched Burns’ Hemingway series yet, but I did watch HBO’s “Q: Into the Storm“, in which filmmaker Cullen Hoback tries to identify Q, and ultimately decides it’s Ron Watkins — “CodeMonkey” of the 8kun site that hosts most QAnon discussion.

I recommend watching this as entertainment, but not taking it too seriously. It is entertaining, though, and it’s fascinating/horrifying to see the people Hoback has been following for years show up at the Capitol on January 6.

and let’s close with something musical

Lubalin is a musician who turns “random internet drama” into songs. They show up on his Twitter feed, which is strangely engaging.

Watching Takes Its Toll

I don’t know if you’ve seen anyone be killed, but it’s upsetting

Minneapolis EMT Genevieve Hansen
under cross-examination by Derek Chauvin’s attorney

This week’s featured post is “Answering 7 Questions About the Georgia Election Law“.

This week everybody was talking about the Chauvin trial

CSPAN is carrying the trial live, and large chunks of it have been on MSNBC. The Minneapolis Star Tribune is livestreaming it. The Washington Post has put entire days of testimony on YouTube. I’ll let other sites do the legal analysis.

The thing that has struck me (and others) is the emotional tenor of the prosecution’s witnesses. Virtually all the bystanders seem traumatized by their experience. Again and again, witnesses have expressed regret or shame that they didn’t or couldn’t do more to help George Floyd, even though they knew he was being murdered right in front of them. The cashier who made the original call to the police (after Floyd passed him a counterfeit $20 bill) testified: “If I would have just not taken the bill, this could have been avoided.”

I’ve lost track of the number of witnesses who have cried on the stand. CNN’s Don Lemon broke down on his TV show just from listening to Cornell West imagine trying to save Floyd. “Some of us black men, we’re not gonna stand there. We have to intervene in some way. They ain’t gonna kill us like that, and we remain spectators.”

The only people who don’t seem to feel remorse are the cops.

I think it’s important that so much of the trial is being seen live by large numbers of people. When a trial happens far away and the verdict seems strange, it’s easy to yield to the deeper immersion of the jury: I wasn’t there. Maybe the jury came to a different understanding of the case from the one I picked up from the media. Or maybe the evidence I found so convincing wasn’t admissible for some reason.

Not this time. It’s obvious to anybody who’s watching that Chauvin murdered Floyd. If he gets off, the whole country will know that cops are above the law. Financial Times sets the legal stage:

Prosecutors have hedged their bets by pursuing three charges: second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter. The most serious, second-degree murder, requires that prosecutors prove Chauvin unintentionally killed Floyd while committing a felony. Manslaughter only requires proving Chauvin took an unreasonable risk of causing death. Manslaughter carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, compared to 40 years for second-degree murder.

The fact that he’s only charged with second-degree murder is already an injustice. Chauvin continued kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly ten minutes, while people all around told him that Floyd was dying. How is that not an intentional killing? Houston’s Channel 11 says that the recommended sentence for manslaughter with no prior convictions is four years. Actual time served might be less. Would that feel like justice?

The two most likely scenarios, in my opinion, are either a mistrial (because of one holdout juror), or a conviction resulting in a light sentence (sending the message that a cop killing a black man just isn’t that big a deal). In either case, violent protest is the likely result.

and infrastructure

President Biden came out with his infrastructure plan, the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan. The Washington Post summarizes it in this graphic.

Employing people to build or rebuild the stuff we all use is a fairly popular idea with Americans of both parties. It was implicit in both recent winning presidential slogans: Biden’s “Build Back Better” in 2020 and Trump’s “Make America Great Again” in 2016.

Unfortunately, as I keep saying, the Senate is broken. So Mitch McConnell announced all-out GOP opposition.

He said as much as Republicans would like to address infrastructure, “I think the last thing the economy needs right now is a big, whopping tax increase,” according to Politico. The Kentucky Republican specifically criticized the plan’s proposed corporate tax rate hike, which he said would hurt America’s ability to compete in a global economy, and the subsequent increase to the national debt.

In other words, McConnell wants to address infrastructure, but without raising taxes or increasing debt. (This is like my desire to lose ten pounds without dieting or exercising.) With those principles in mind, I doubt he’ll be making a counter-proposal. Maybe Republican thoughts and prayers will build bridges the same way they prevent school shootings.

The one upside of McConnell’s position is that he won’t keep us guessing about whether a bipartisan deal is possible: It’s not. You might imagine pealing off two or three Republican senators in spite of McConnell’s opposition, but getting the 10 necessary to survive a filibuster is out of the question.

The only alternative is the same reconciliation path that Biden’s Covid relief plan took, and that depends on keeping all 50 Senate Democrats united. In particular, Joe Manchin has to stay in line. Manchin has previously stated that any infrastructure plan should be bipartisan. But he’s also said he’s for a big infrastructure plan. He’s going to have to choose which of those positions is more important to him.

The fact that they’re already pledged not to support the bill won’t keep Republicans from opining about what should be in it. CNN quotes numerous Republicans musing about what “infrastructure” is, and deciding that it’s only roads and bridges.

Some items in the Biden plan, like support for keeping elderly people in their homes (which might end up being one of the most popular parts), does stretch the traditional meaning of infrastructure. (Bernie Sanders describes them as “human infrastructure”.) But replacing all the nation’s lead water pipes (the ultimate culprits in the Flint water crisis) would be infrastructure under any reasonable definition. Rural broadband hasn’t been in previous infrastructure bills, but there was also a time when interstate highways were a new idea. Modernizing the electrical grid and public transportation systems are likewise infrastructure.

Unlike Covid Relief, this isn’t an emergency bill, so I suspect we’ll have many weeks to discuss the details.

and voting rights

The featured post examines the Georgia election law.

and Matt Gaetz

By now you’ve undoubtedly heard the gist of this story. Super-Trumper and insurrection defender Congressman Matt Gaetz is being investigated for some lurid stuff: sex with a 17-year-old, possibly involving money or interstate travel; sex in exchange for gifts with other women recruited online; and illegal drug use while on these “dates”. Reporters from The New York Times claim to have seen text messages and receipts related to these allegations. All of this is connected with Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg, a former Orlando tax collector who is himself under multiple indictments.

Those accusations have brought out other stories that are unseemly but not illegal in themselves.

Gaetz allegedly showed off to other lawmakers photos and videos of nude women he said he had slept with, the sources told CNN, including while on the House floor. [I assume CNN means the showing was on the House floor, not the sex.] The sources, including two people directly shown the material, said Gaetz displayed the images of women on his phone and talked about having sex with them. One of the videos showed a naked woman with a hula hoop, according to one source.

The fact that his colleagues are telling the press such stories rather than rushing to Gaetz’s defense demonstrates that “His antics have also aggravated a sizable number of his own GOP colleagues, leaving him now with few allies outside of the far-right faction of the party.” (One of those “antics” was going to Wyoming to speak out against Liz Cheney after she voted to impeach Trump.) As far as I know, the only Congresspeople who have defended Gaetz are Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

And this:

Mr. Gaetz’s behavior also came into question during his service in Florida’s state legislature from 2010 to 2016, according to a person familiar with the matter. While in Tallahassee, he and others competed against each other in a contest over having sexual relationships with women, operating under a point system in which participants were awarded one point for sleeping with a lobbyist and two points if the lobbyist was married, this person said.

Also, photos of Gaetz with teen-age girls have been all over Twitter this week. Maybe they were harmless selfies-with-a-celebrity at the time, but events now have cast them in a much creepier light.

I’m of two minds about all this. On the one hand, I already thought Gaetz was a slimeball, so I’m not going to hide my schadenfreude. Picturing Matt Gaetz in an orange jumpsuit makes me smile.

On the other hand: We shouldn’t know any of this yet. Gaetz hasn’t been charged or convicted of anything, and it doesn’t look like The New York Times dug this up through independent reporting. Somebody in the Justice Department must have leaked the investigation (and maybe the receipts and text messages).

That’s not good. The government has enormous investigative powers, and that power should not be abused.

Remember: The heart of the first Trump impeachment was his illegal attempt to pressure Ukraine into investigating the Bidens. The point wasn’t to expose any Biden crimes in Ukraine, since Trump probably knew that there weren’t any. But his goal was to produce a regular stream of “Biden Under Investigation for Ukraine Corruption” headlines, similar to the Hillary-email stories that worked so well for him in 2016 (“Lock her up!”), but ultimately fizzled as investigators found nothing worth prosecuting.

I’m not claiming the Gaetz story is similarly insubstantial, or that the Department of Justice investigation (which apparently began under Bill Barr) is politically motivated. But it’s a bad practice to run people out of town because they’re “being investigated” for something lurid. Anybody could be investigated for anything. And while leaks about investigations can be legitimate if those investigations are being interfered with (so that the normal course of justice is blocked), that also doesn’t seem to be happening here.

So if and when the Gaetz investigation culminates in an indictment, as I’m confident it will if everything we’re reading is true, then that information will legitimately wind up in the public domain. But until then, I’m going to treat this like a National Enquirer story: I’ll follow it for my own entertainment, but I’m not going to demand that it result in any negative consequences for Gaetz, even though I still don’t like him.

McSweeney’s explains how Gaetz fits inside the “party of family values”

We are very much still the party of family values. We’re simply redefining “family values” to reflect what the term actually meant in the first place. Would it be helpful to spell it out? Here you go:

GOP family values
values that mandate that a woman should marry a man and provide him with sex and free domestic labor

And the April Fool’s issue of the Washington Free Beacon published this commiserating letter from Liz Cheney. “I am so sorry this is happening to you, Matt.”

and the new Covid surge

For weeks, new Covid cases had been stuck in a range around 55-60K per day. It seems to have broken out on the upside, and is now around 64K. Typically, this has been interpreted as a battle between vaccination pushing the numbers down and the new variants pushing them up. But I wonder if there might be a different dynamic in play: Maybe what’s been making younger, less vulnerable people take care has been the thought “I don’t want to be the one who gets Grandma killed.” But now Grandma is vaccinated, so they’re taking more risks.

Ultimately, though, the vaccines should win, if we can get enough people to take them. At last count, 106.2 million Americans had received at least one shot, with 61.4 million fully vaccinated. Saturday more than 4 million people were vaccinated. (I’m scheduled to get my first shot a week from tomorrow.)

One side effect of the battle against Covid is that colds and flu infections have been way down this year. Maybe wearing a mask should be more common, even after we “return to normal”.

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The March jobs report was really good: The economy added 916K jobs in March, and the January and February estimates were revised upward, accounting for another 156K jobs. The unemployment rate is back down to 6%, which is still way higher than the 3.5% before the pandemic, but well below the April, 2020 peak of 14.7%.

I have no idea how to interpret any of that. I mean, we all knew that jobs would collapse during the lockdown and rebound after reopening. But lots of things are reopening that shouldn’t reopen yet, and new Covid cases are headed back up, so I wonder how sustainable this is.

The big question is where we’ll be when the jobs market starts behaving normally again, assuming that happens. And I think it’s too soon to tell.

To the surprise of nobody who’s been paying attention, Brexit is causing problems in Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement that ended the “the Troubles” in 1998 led to a nearly invisible border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which remained in the United Kingdom. But Brexit is all about putting a significant border between the UK and the EU, which Ireland still belongs to.

That contradiction was resolved by giving Northern Ireland an in-between status: It stays in the UK, but there now are trade barriers between it and the rest of the UK, so that the border with Ireland can stay open. The pro-British side in Northern Ireland doesn’t like that, and has been rioting this weekend. If they would happen to get their way, the pro-Irish side would probably start rioting.

Meanwhile, leaving the UK and rejoining the EU is a big issue in next month’s elections in Scotland.

Trump issued some kind of a statement this week that, like all his statements, was full of lies and got some people upset. But really, who cares? If you need somebody’s permission to ignore him, take mine.

A reminder that the meaning of your religious symbols might not be obvious to others.

and let’s close with something sinister

Hogwarts’ Sorting Hat may have a relative. Looking at the Classifying Khakis, I can only think of the line from Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock“: “The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase”.


No one, no matter where he lives or what he does, knows who next will suffer from some senseless act of violence. Yet it goes on and on in this country of ours. Why?

Senator Robert F. Kennedy

This week’s featured post is “Two Parties, Two Worlds“.

This week everybody was talking about guns

Just about every political article this week could have started with the line: “The Senate is broken.” I suspect that is going to be true every week until the filibuster is eliminated.

So we had another mass shooting. This one was in a grocery in Boulder. (I was in Boulder one summer in the late 80s. It’s an idyllic mountain college town. The week I was there it showered briefly each afternoon, so that the clouds could move on and give us a rainbow. The thought that buying groceries there is dangerous really brings home the RFK quote at the top of the page.)

The Boulder shooting kicked the Atlanta shooting off the front pages, even though we hadn’t really gotten a clear account yet of the shooter’s motive or how it all went down. (A New Yorker article contrasted how the Atlanta shootings affected a local Korean Baptist church and the mostly white Southern Baptist church that the shooter attended. As I might have predicted, the shooter’s church did zero introspection. The murders are “the result of a sinful heart and depraved mind for which Aaron is completely responsible.” The church’s repressive teachings about “sex addiction” require no rethinking.)

Two shootings so close together once again raised issues of gun control.

In the two mass shootings that unfolded over the past two weeks in the U.S., both suspected shooters purchased weapons shortly before their attacks. The suspect in the Atlanta-area spa shootings purchased a 9mm semi-automatic pistol hours before he used it to kill eight people on March 16. The suspect in the King Soopers attack in Boulder, Colorado, bought a Ruger AR-556 pistol six days before he killed 10 people on Tuesday, according to the arrest warrant affidavit. Police recovered a rifle and handgun at the scene but didn’t indicate if either was the Ruger.

Every few years, some shooting or group of shootings reminds us that this problem isn’t going away on its own. And again we wonder, “This time, will it be enough? Will we see some meaningful action?” Many thought the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 would tip the balance, because it was children. Or maybe the Parkland shooting in 2018 would, because the survivors were such articulate young people.

Neither massacre resulted in anything passing the Senate. After Sandy Hook, an assault-weapon ban failed to get a majority in the Senate, and an extremely watered-down background-check proposal — background checks regularly polling above 80% — got 54 votes but couldn’t overcome a filibuster. After Parkland, schools got more money for metal detectors, but Congress did nothing about guns.

The rhetoric has become so predictable that it virtually satirizes itself. On social media, “thoughts and prayers” has become an eye-rolling way of saying “I’m not going to lift a finger to help you.” An iconic Onion article sums up: “No Way To Prevent This,” Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.

Now, the very predictability of inaction has become a reason to attempt nothing. Tuesday Ted Cruz told the Senate Judiciary Committee:

Every time there’s a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders.

There are laws that arguably could make a difference, short of the full-scale rewriting of the Second Amendment I proposed (to a shower of hostile comments) in 2019. Enforcing a waiting period on gun purchases might have interrupted the process that led to both of the recent shootings. An assault-weapon ban decreased mass shootings during the ten years it was in effect, and could again. Shooters are most vulnerable while they reload, so limiting the size of gun magazines could at least reduce the body count.

But the Senate is broken, so we’re left with thoughts and prayers.

and voting rights

I discuss this in more detail in the featured post, but basically this is where we are: Republicans at the state level have decided that they lost the 2020 elections because they let too many people vote. So in red states across the country, bills are pending (or have passed already) to make voting harder, make it easier to stay in power with a minority of votes, or maybe just let the legislature overrule the voters completely.

Democrats are fighting back at the federal level, with the For the People Act, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act which would set some minimum national standards for elections and voter rights. For the People has passed the House, but will face a filibuster in the Senate. John Lewis has not been voted on in this Congress, but likely will take similar path: pass the House, filibuster in the Senate. Democrats could use this opportunity to nuke the filibuster, but West Virginia’s Joe Manchin (and maybe Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema) don’t seem to be on board with that.

Until they change their minds, the Senate is broken and nothing will happen.

The most outrageous anti-voter bill so far was signed this week in Georgia. It’s worth remembering the reason Brian Kemp is governor of Georgia in the first place: As Secretary of State, he managed to throw tens of thousands of Black voters off the rolls. Successful voter suppression leads to more voter suppression.

Steve Benen is wondering the same thing I am:

what happens after GOP senators make clear to Manchin that they will not cooperate on voting rights. The West Virginian wrote, “We can and we must reform our federal elections together.” OK, but when Republicans tell him they have no intention of reforming federal elections, or even working in good faith on the issue, Manchin will … do what exactly?

This might be a good time to remind you of “I Was Undocumented in Arizona“. Back in 2012 (so, well after the post-9/11 security regime started), I found myself in line at the airport when I remembered that I had left my driver’s license in the pocket of my jogging shorts. (If I ever have a heart attack while jogging, I want the ER to know who to contact.) I flew from Boston to Phoenix, and back a week later, with no photo ID. It turned out that TSA had work-arounds, because they were trying to identify me, not to prevent me from traveling. But Republican voter-ID laws don’t have work-arounds, and in fact are quite picky about what kinds of ID they’ll accept. (For example, student IDs often aren’t good enough. Neither are expired driver’s licenses. The poll-worker might be your next-door neighbor and have no doubt who you are, but that doesn’t matter.) That’s because they ARE trying to prevent people from voting.

and the border

Last week I said I couldn’t find an article that handled the border situation well. This week I have one: “9 questions about the humanitarian crisis on the border, answered” on Vox.

In general, I’ve been seeing a lot of irresponsibly sensational coverage of the Biden-wants-open-borders variety, partially balanced by people who try to explain the whole situation away. The Vox article presents the issues and problems in what I regard as their proper perspective. For example: the framing in the headline. The current situation on the border is a “humanitarian crisis” — people are suffering there. But it is not a security crisis — we’re not being “invaded” by “terrorists”. And it’s not a health crisis — we’re not being overrun by diseased foreigners.

and Biden’s first press conference

President Biden did not hold his first press conference until Thursday, more than two months into his administration. For me, this was a non-issue, so I wasn’t surprised that it concluded in a non-event. The press conference did not break any major news or produce any headline-grabbing gaffes.

Ideally, reporters would demonstrate the value of professional journalism by getting important information out of Biden that ordinary people wouldn’t have known how to ask for. But that didn’t happen.

Instead, the questions showed the public how poorly the White House press corps’ interests align with ours. There were no questions about the pandemic, but one reporter was already focused on 2024: Is Biden running? (He thinks so, but doesn’t seem to have any clear plans yet.) Will Harris be his VP again? (What president in his third month would ever say no to this question?) Does he expect to run against Trump again? (Who the hell cares what Biden expects Republicans to do three years from now?)

The Insight blog suggests “Ten Questions the Press Should Have Asked President Biden“, any one of which would have been better than the questions they asked.

Historical note: Obviously, George Washington gave no televised press conferences. This modern innovation is not part of the president’s constitutional duties.

The presidential press conference became a big deal because JFK was particularly good at them. He was charming and funny, and those qualities came through as he bantered with reporters. For more than half a century, the press has been wishing for another JFK and being disappointed.

Since Nixon, presidents have often cast reporters in the role of the Enemy. This tendency reached its peak during the Trump administration, when the press was openly branded “the enemy of the People“. The purpose of a Trump press conference (or of briefings by his press secretaries) was not to inform the public, but to stage a drama in which the President triumphed over his enemies in the media.

Beyond the theater of press conferences, the more important issue is whether the American People can get answers from their government, and whether those answers are true. As we saw last year when Trump was holding daily Covid briefings, it doesn’t matter how available the President is if he uses those opportunities to lie to us. (Like: “Anybody that wants a test can get a test.” or “Everything [the governors] need they get, and we are taking good care. We have tremendous supplies and a great supply chain.”)

By that standard, the Biden administration is doing quite well. The achievements that he noted in his introductory remarks Thursday (vaccinations are going faster than he promised, nearly half of K-8 classrooms are open five days a week, 100 million people have gotten payments through the American Rescue Plan, jobless claims are down) are real. The fact-checks on his news conference are fairly minor; often they depend on omitting a single word (WaPo flags Biden for a statement about corporations that pay no “taxes”, when he should have said “federal taxes”), or dueling interpretations. (AP disputed Biden’s claim that 83% of the benefits of the Trump tax cut go to the top 1%, but went on to admit that the 83% figure is true, if you measure over the plan’s full ten-year projection, and assume that the middle-class provisions that are set to expire actually will expire.)

But even without presidential press conferences, a lot of true information is coming out of this administration. Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s briefings are frequent and quite good — though, of course, she can’t announce decisions that haven’t been made yet. She fields hostile questions without creating unnecessary drama, and communicates much that is true and useful. (Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has criticized Psaki for how often she promises to get back to reporters when she doesn’t know the answer to their questions. But McEnany had the option of responding to a question immediately by attacking the reporter, making something up, or lying, all of which Psaki tries to avoid.) Plus, government experts like Dr. Fauci or the scientists at the EPA can now speak freely, without interference from political commissars.

and the stuck ship

The stuck ship is a great reminder of the physicality of the economy. It’s easy to get caught up in apps and memes and hacks and digital rights — and forget the importance of gross physical objects that have to fit in the spaces they’ve been assigned. Once you get a giant container ship wedged sideways in the Suez Canal, you’re not going to get it out without a lot of old-fashioned brute force.

Late this morning, the ship was finally freed.

Grist looks at the complex environmental tradeoffs the ship embodies. Larger container ships are supposed to use less fossil fuel than an equivalent number of smaller ships, but blocking the canal has left about 300 ships idling, and caused countless others to take the longer route around Africa. Many ports need to dredge deeper channels to accommodate such ships, and that usually involves using a substantial amount of fossil fuel, in addition to whatever environmental damage the dredging itself does.

Meanwhile, the ship has become the subject of many jokes, and a metaphor for anything that blocks a process — including why the Senate is broken.

But my favorite take on the ship comes from the Twitter account “I’m not a girl I’m a wolf“, where you can find this parody of a rhyme from The Lord of the Rings. (Hat tip to Jonathan Korman.)

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who pass here can float;
The boat that is long does not fit here,
Whose bow is dug into this moat.

From the sand a small digger is woken,
Some tugs from the shadows shall spring;
Re-float shall the boat that was stuck in,
Its cargo again shall it bring.

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My vengeful heart is going to enjoy watching Trump’s liars squirm as they defend the defamation lawsuits filed by Dominion Voting Systems. They have a simple problem: They’re guilty. They knowingly lied about fraudulent vote-counting, and those lies injured a corporation with deep enough pockets to make them pay.

This week we saw Trump’s (sometimes) lawyer Sidney Powell’s defense: If you were fooled by all that silly stuff she was saying, it’s your own fault.

reasonable people would not accept such statements as fact but view them only as claims that await testing by the courts through the adversary process

Here’s a question worth asking: How many of the participants in the Capitol Insurrection actually did “accept such statements as fact”? How do they feel now that they know Powell does not view them as “reasonable people”?

Meanwhile, Dominion filed a new lawsuit, this one seeking $1.6 billion from Fox News for its “orchestrated defamatory campaign”. It’s already having an effect: When Trump called in to Laura Ingraham’s show Thursday and started to repeat his election-fraud bullshit, Ingraham cut him off. “Speaking as a lawyer, we’re not going to relitigate the past.”

Jay Rosen points to a prime example of bad reporting at the NYT:

Democrats say that Republicans are effectively returning to one of the ugliest tactics in the state’s history — oppressive laws aimed at disenfranchising voters

And he comments:

“Democrats say…” Okay. But what do you say, @nytpolitics? Do these laws make it harder to vote? Or do they fix problems with election security? And if your answer is “depends on who you ask,” does that meet the quality bar for Times reporting?

Lazy reporting tells you what people say. Good reporting investigates until it figures out what the truth is.

QAnon isn’t catching on in Japan. “It’s too naïve for our readership,” says the editor of Mu, Japan’s top magazine for believers in Bigfoot and ancient astronauts. He urges people to “boost their ‘conspiracy theory literacy,’ by regularly reading our magazine”.

Israel has now totaled up its fourth election in two years, and this result looks just as murky as all the others. It’s hard to see how Netanyahu can pull together a governing coalition. But it’s also hard to see how anybody else can.

and let’s close with something portentous

And in the fullness of time, the vision of St. Paul became manifest.

Against Violence

The best thing you can do today is to speak out against violence toward Asians in this country, especially if you yourself are not Asian.

George Takei

This week’s featured post is “Race in US History: 4 Facts Every American Should Know“.

This week everybody was talking about the Atlanta shootings

Tuesday night, a gunman killed eight people at three spas or massage parlors in the Atlanta area. Six of the victims were Asian-American women. He used a gun purchased only hours before. He was apprehended on his way to Florida, where he presumably intended to kill more people.

The shootings touched off a number of discussions: First, about anti-Asian violence, which has been growing during this past year, as Asians get blamed for Covid-19’s origin in China. Rather than try to tamp this down (as President Bush sometimes tried to calm anti-Muslim sentiment after 9-11), Trump often seemed to be intentionally stoking it, going out of his way to use inflammatory phrases like “the China virus” or “Kung Flu”.

Another discussion concerned misogyny: The shooter appeared to blame women for the temptation of his “sex addiction”. Much of the media struggled with the intersectionality of racism and sexism, as if the motive had to be one or the other. AP seemed to handle it best:

While the U.S. has seen mass killings in recent years where police said gunmen had racist or misogynist motivations, advocates and scholars say the shootings this week at three Atlanta-area massage businesses targeted a group of people marginalized in more ways than one, in a crime that stitches together stigmas about race, gender, migrant work and sex work.

In short: Sexism makes women objects, and racism makes Asian women a particular kind of object.

A discussion the media generally handled even worse than intersectionality was the role of religion in this killing spree. The shooter blamed his crime on “sex addiction”. Apparently he was killing women in the sex industry (if indeed they were; that hasn’t been established) to eliminate temptation.

This is a peculiarly evangelical narrative. Repressive religion turns ordinary desires into sins, which can complicate the challenge rather than resolve it. Blaming women for the desires they raise in men also has a long history in patriarchal religion. The shooter’s church, meanwhile, seemed more interested in escaping blame than doing anything useful.

In accordance with the biblical pattern and our church bylaws, Crabapple First Baptist Church has completed the process of church discipline to remove Robert Aaron Long from membership since we can no longer affirm that he is truly a regenerate believer in Jesus Christ.

As Jesus said: “I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”

Finally, the shooting and the police response brought up issues of white privilege. Some wondered whether a non-White shooter (particularly if he had killed White women) would have been apprehended without injury. A sheriff department spokesman seemed far too sympathetic when he summed up the crime spree like this:

He was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.

In general, the media assumes White murderers are anomalous in a way that Black or Muslim murderers aren’t. Coverage is far too likely to generate explanations of how a good boy went bad, rather than promote the idea that White people are dangerous. News sites seem to worry a lot less about giving people the idea that Blacks or Muslims are dangerous.

McSweeney’s, as it so often does, uses humor to say something deadly serious in “Editorial Template for Every Time a White Person Commits an Atrocious Crime“.

and the border

I’m having trouble finding a good reference that puts the border story in its proper perspective. There’s been a surge in the number of unaccompanied minors arriving at the US/Mexico border. The Trump administration had been sending them back, but the Biden administration isn’t, so it has the problem of where to put them while it determines whether someone in the US is willing and able to take care of them until their asylum status can be assessed.

People are being far too glib about comparing this situation to the one that arose from Trump’s family-separation policy. In this case, the family separated itself and sent a child here. The US government didn’t take the child away by force. Under Trump’s policy, cruelty was the point: He wanted people thinking about coming here to know that we’d take their children. That threat was supposed to keep them from coming. Under Biden, kids are showing up and we’re doing the best we can with them.

Any fair discussion of the border also needs to point out that Biden inherited an unsustainable situation: Trump’s policy of ignoring migrants’ right to claim asylum violated both our laws and our treaty obligations. Biden has to do something different.

and Russia’s support for Trump

This week gave us many opportunities to appreciate just how often and how blatantly the Trump administration lied to us. The Biden administration released a declassified version of the report “Foreign Threats to the 2020 US Federal Elections” that the National Intelligence Council submitted on January 7, when Trump was still president.

The upshot: No foreign actor influenced the counting of votes, as Trump lawyers often claimed. Of the nations trying to influence voters, the most egregious was Russia, who once again supported Trump. In Max Boot‘s words: “there are suspiciously strong parallels between Trump’s propaganda and Russia’s.” Such as: manufactured stories of the Biden family’s corrupt dealings with Ukraine, fearmongering about the untrustworthy nature of mailed ballots, and manufactured stories about the sinister origins of Covid-19.

One country the report says didn’t interfere in the 2020 election was China. China “considered but did not deploy influence efforts” because it “did not view either election outcome as being advantageous enough for China to risk blowback if caught”.

Rachel Maddow found the video of Trump, Bill Barr, and other Trump officials claiming the exact opposite: that China, not Russia, was the major power interfering. They claimed to base this opinion on intelligence that we couldn’t see. Now that we see it, we know they were lying. “None of that was true when they said it, and they knew it.”

Another claim that unraveled was that the post office in Erie, Pennsylvania backdated the postmarks on ballots so that more votes would count. More votes counting is a bad thing in Republican circles, so this was a key part of the stolen-election conspiracy theory. This week, the Post Office inspector general report came in, and found no evidence to support the claim.

Meanwhile, four Proud Boy leaders were indicted for conspiring to attack the Capitol on January 6.

and the virus

Numbers: The new-case-per-day averages have flattened out again, running in the 55K-56K range all week. Deaths continue to go down; the 7-day average is now under 1,000 per day for the first time since early November.

Michigan has the most disturbing statistics: The 7-day average of new-cases-per-day bottomed out a little over 1,000 on February 21, and have risen back up to just under 3,000. Deaths per day have also started increasing, but not nearly so much: After bottoming at 16 per day, they’re now up to 20 per day. In the past week, Covid-related hospitalizations in Michigan went up 32.5%. Nationally, hospitalizations are still falling, down 4.2% last week. Local experts speculate that a combination of factors might be responsible for the Michigan surge: the more-contagious U.K. variant of the disease, “Covid fatigue” that caused people to be less careful, looser restrictions on restaurants and other businesses, and the resumption of school sports programs.

As of yesterday, 81.4 million Americans had received at least one vaccine shot, and 44.1 million were fully vaccinated.

and cancel culture

I’m resisting doing a third-week-in-a-row article, because I’m afraid I’m falling into the right-wing culture-war distraction trap. But the commenters on last week’s “Is an Intelligent Discussion of Cancel Culture Possible?” posted a lot of good links that did in fact point in the direction of an intelligent discussion. So I’ll eventually get back to this topic (after paying attention to some other timely issues). But for now I’ll just take note of this week’s developments.

Using opposition to cancel culture as an excuse to keep displaying the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest in the Tennessee state capitol could be an SNL skit if it weren’t really happening. (Forrest — slave trader, war criminal, KKK founder — is essentially the patron saint of white supremacy.) The state’s Republican governor appointed a historical commission to decide what to do with the statue, and when the commission recommended moving it to a museum, even-further-right members of the legislature started pushing to dissolve that commission and appoint a new one.

Even National Review isn’t buying it.

We need to get better at having direct and honest conversations about the ethical boundaries of our culture. … I’m sure if we put our heads together and tried some public moral reasoning for a change we could come up with a way of canceling the Klan without canceling Dr. Seuss. The question isn’t whether or not we’re going to have a “cancel culture,” it’s what we’re going to cancel people for.

This week’s other development was Teen Vogue letting go of new editor Alexi McCammond before she even started, apparently because of a staff revolt over 10-year-old tweets, which now look homophobic and anti-Asian. (I’m saying look because I haven’t read the tweets myself, so I make no judgment on what they are.)

Atlantic’s Graeme Wood laments that “American has forgotten how to forgive“, but I think he’s missing something. He’d be totally right if Atlantic or the NYT fired a new editor for something she posted when she was 17 and now recognizes as a mistake. But to the limited extent that I understand Teen Vogue, I think it’s committed to the idea that teens do things that matter. They can’t shrug off McCammond’s tweets with “Eh, she was just a teen-ager.”

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Here’s the difference between dormant and extinct: Mount Fagradalsfjall in Iceland hadn’t erupted for 6,000 years — until Friday night.

One reason Iceland is so geologically interesting is that North America and Europe meet near there, just a bit below sea level. Here a diver bridges the gap between the continents.

Maybe the saddest thing about QAnon is all the loved ones people leave behind when they vanish down the rabbit hole.

Conservative Supreme Court justices have been voicing support for a strict view of the separation of powers that is called the “nondelegation doctrine“. Wikipedia defines it as

the theory that one branch of government must not authorize another entity to exercise the power or function which it is constitutionally authorized to exercise itself

That sounds abstract and technical, but it has real implications. If making rules is a legislative function, then Congress can’t delegate that power to an agency like the EPA or the FCC. In practice, this would make regulations rigid and cumbersome. Since polluters, con-men, and other bad actors can adjust their tactics much faster than Congress can pass laws (particularly if it retains the filibuster), large segments of the economy would essentially go unregulated, at least at the federal level.

A recent article in Columbia Law Review “Delegation at the Founding” points out that although non-delegation is pushed by judges who claim to be “originalists”, there’s nothing original about it: The Founders did not view the separation of powers in this way.

The nondelegation doctrine has nothing to do with the Constitution as it was originally understood. You can be an originalist or you can be committed to the nondelegation doctrine. But you can’t be both.

and let’s close with something strangely appropriate

I can’t think of any widely known song that has ever been so appropriate for timely parodies as “My Shot” from Hamilton. In its original context, “My Shot” is the young Hamilton pledging that he will not miss his chance to succeed. The song defines his character as a man who can’t stop, because he will always see opportunities to accomplish more and rise higher. It contrasts with the song his wife sings later, “That Would Be Enough“, in which she urges him to be happy with all that life has offered them. The tragedy of Hamilton is that he can’t hear this message; nothing will ever be enough.

But now, of course, we’re all waiting for our shot of a vaccine — or maybe we’re avoiding it for some crazy reason. Either way, we’re singing about our shot.

Seven doctors in the Sacramento area have formed Vax’n 8 and made a video to promote vaccination. I haven’t found an embeddable version yet, but here’s a TV report on the backstory.

But of course Dr. Liu couldn’t possibly be the only person to think of this. Adam Shain says “I’m not gonna delay my shot.

Last summer already, the Holderness Family did a Covid/Hamilton medley to encourage mask-wearing.

And Inverse K uses “My Shot” to make fun of the anti-vaxxers.

Hope and dreams

Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope. The death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender.

– J. Michael Straczynski

This week’s featured posts are “Is an Intelligent Discussion of Cancel Culture Possible?” and “What Makes a Good Conspiracy Theory?

This week everybody was talking about the American Rescue Act

Thursday, President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act. The day before, the House had passed the Senate’s version of the bill, which had passed the Senate by one vote the previous Saturday. No Republican in either house voted for the bill.

Biden has not tried to hide the fact that this bill is big: A lot of Americans need help to get through this crisis, and the government is going to give it to them. He’s not pretending that this isn’t the “big government” that Bill Clinton said was over.

The political result of all this will test whether the Reagan Era is finally over.

New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz: “Rand Paul Saddened to See Government Flagrantly Helping People”.

In closing, Paul castigated his Senate colleagues who voted for the bill, accusing them of “ushering in a dangerous new era of Washington politicians intrusively abetting people’s efforts to survive.”

“You have broken your most solemn oath, which is, ‘First, do no good,’ ” he said.

More seriously, Fox News published an op-ed by Paul, who has said the spending puts the US on the path to becoming the next Venezuela. Paul has his own theory on how to fix the economy: Stop fighting the virus.

Instead of printing more money and making believe that this money will retain its value as it is sprinkled across the land, we could remove the government shackles that have caused a depression in the restaurant, retail, and entertainment sectors of our economy.

His op-ed closes with a misappropriation of a famous John Maynard Keynes quote:

The economist John Maynard Keynes famously said that stimulus works in the short run and he didn’t much care about the future because we’d all be dead. I will vote against any more ‘free’ money because I care about my kid’s future and the future of our great country.

Misquotes are often more revealing than quotes. This reading of Keynes has little to do with Keynes, but is the way Keynes is presented in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. (Rand apparently got that interpretation from Hayek.) What Keynes actually meant was that it’s hard to get people to sacrifice for policies that economists think are best “in the long run”, when the imagined benefits are so far in the future that those making the sacrifices won’t live to see them. (“It is not wise to look too far ahead; our powers of prediction are slight, our command over results infinitesimal.”)

A good example of what Keynes was talking about is Paul himself, who can’t be convinced to care about climate change, no matter what it will do to his kids’ future.

and Biden’s speech

Thursday night, which marked both the signing of the bill and the one-year anniversary of WHO declaring a global pandemic, Biden gave a televised address (transcript, video). Maybe the last four years have lowered my standards, but I thought it was masterful.

The speech wove a complex emotional tapestry. It mourned the losses we have all suffered this past year (lost loved ones, lost jobs, lost experiences, lost opportunities), regretted the ways we had been turned against each other (battles over masks, racist reprisals against Asian Americans), pointed to the progress being made (every adult will be vaccine-eligible by the beginning of May, enough vaccine will be available to cover all of us by the end of May, schools will soon be ready to reopen safely), asked for the public’s help (keep wearing your mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands frequently, get vaccinated when you have the chance), envisioned a realistic goal (safe July 4 cook-outs with friends and family), and expressed a high hope (“My fervent prayer for our country is that, after all we have been through, we’ll come together as one people, one nation, one America.”).

Biden lacks the soaring rhetorical ability of Barack Obama, but he has a different set of strengths: He embodies sincerity. He is the guy who will level with you, the guy who has taken on a difficult job and is working hard to do it well. He has suffered with you, and has not lost hope.

Jonathan Chait is onto something here:

Joe Biden has reaped the normal rewards that come from behaving like a normal president — perhaps benefitting more than most due to the contrast with his unhinged predecessor. This has naturally infuriated Republicans, who see Biden’s strategy of reaping positive coverage by acting normal as a form of cheating.

On the other hand, Biden suffers from fact-checkers needing to fill space. Fairly small exaggerations get flagged, while a comparable Trump speech would include so many whopping lies that they couldn’t all be covered.

At this point, a novelist or movie director would make the previous president pop up and say something that underlined the contrast. And so it came to pass. Wednesday, Trump issued a statement emphasizing what is most important to him: getting credit whether he deserves it or not. No one should forget the (completely ridiculous and untrue) fact that without him, vaccines wouldn’t exist for another five years, if ever.

One attempt to manufacture an issue against Biden is his lack of press conferences. David Frum argues that this is good strategy: In the current environment, presidents are polarizing. The more Biden can project the idea that action is being taken by the government rather than the President, the better.

Another advantage is that Biden is not being pressured to take positions on things that are none of his business: Should Andrew Cuomo resign? Is the British royal family racist? And so on. Unlike Trump, Biden doesn’t want to opine on everything under the sun.

and fighting the virus

This week marked a lot of different Covid-19 anniversaries. A year ago, many things started happening quickly: The WHO declared a global pandemic. One of the nation’s top sports events (the “March Madness” NCAA basketball tournament) got cancelled. Schools started going virtual. I remember picking up a friend’s son at a public-transit station. He thought he was coming home for spring break, but he actually wouldn’t return to college until January.

The thing that strikes me looking back at the pandemic restrictions is how few of us knew what we were facing. The initial school closure in my town was for two weeks. Only serious pessimists were saying that we wouldn’t have this figured out by fall.

Steady as she goes: The number of Americans with one vaccine shot (69.8 million) or a complete vaccination (36.2 million) continues to rise. The number of cases (7-day daily average 55K) is still falling, but not very fast. Deaths (1,235) are coming down faster. But we are still at levels that would have been alarming last summer.

Biden’s appointees

Whenever someone gets a raw deal, people hope for them to “get justice” someday. Well, this week Merrick Garland really did get Justice. Three cabinet nominees — Becerra at HHS, Haaland at Interior, Walsh at Labor — still need to be confirmed by the Senate. Neera Tanden’s nomination at OMB was withdrawn; a replacement hasn’t been announced.

and you also might be interested in …

Last week I nudged you to support an Amazon boycott because of the union organization effort in Alabama. Commenters pointed out that the union organizers themselves were not asking for a boycott. Best to let them decide on their own strategy.

So last week, if you didn’t send your money to a rapacious giant that is taking over the world, maybe you should have. Sorry for misleading you.

The immigrant my church has been sheltering from deportation is leaving sanctuary after three years.

“Glorious news!” wrote First Parish minister John Gibbons in an email sent to parishioners and volunteers. “This morning, Maria received official confirmation that she has a one-year stay of deportation.”

For our congregation (and the volunteers from other congregations who pitched in), this is a starfish-on-the-beach story. We all knew that the pointless cruelty Trump’s immigration policy dwarfed any response we could muster. But here was one person who needed help. That was something we could do.

Part of me says I already spent too much time on the Dr. Seuss controversy last week. But there are a couple more things worth mentioning. First, the Seussical poem “The Day Children’s Literature Died” is hilarious. Second, PDFs of all six of the books no longer being published are here — mislabeled as “banned” books, but otherwise open to inspection. (Legally? I have no idea. If the link stops working, you’ll know what happened.) If you want to form your own opinions, it helps to see the work in its full context. My opinion: I’d figure out a way to save On Beyond Zebra, which is a cute concept marred by one illustration that should be easy to fix. The others are no big loss.

Talking about things that get too much attention: I stopped caring about the British royal family in 1776, when I was minus-180 years old.

Hard to know how much attention to give to speculation about Trump’s legal problems. Lots of dark clouds are forming around him, but I don’t want to get too excited before any rain falls.

Ditto for Mike Flynn. The Pentagon was investigating him for emoluments-clause violations when that investigation got subsumed by the Mueller investigation that eventually prosecuted him for lying to the FBI. After Trump pardoned him for that crime, the old investigation reopened.

A nasty story has a happy ending. As I mentioned in one of featured posts, an announcer had an open-mic moment during a girls high-school basketball tournament in Oklahoma, racially insulting girls who knelt during the national anthem. Well, Saturday, that team won the state championship.

George Floyd’s family is getting a $27 million settlement from the City of Minneapolis. Someday cities are going to figure out that good policing is cost effective.

I have not seen HBO’s Allen v Farrow, but it’s been intriguing to watch people react to it, like Ginia Bellafante, who published “Why My Teen-Age Self Gave Woody Allen a Pass” in Thursday’s NYT. The comments on that story are mixed: Some clueless older men think Woody has gotten a raw deal; a larger number of commenters of either gender condemn him in a fairly orthodox way; some women recount personal horror stories of exploitation by older men; and a few women still remember their intergenerational relationships fondly.

To me, the interesting issue isn’t what Woody did or didn’t do, how to reevaluate his movies, or who is telling the truth. It’s watching American culture use this case to think through its changing ideas and values.

My opinion: When we raise girls to have Cinderella-like fantasies, where a powerful man swoops out of nowhere and makes her a queen, we’re grooming them for exploitation. OTOH: Protecting young women can sometimes be an excuse for refusing to let them grow up.

Also, age-of-consent (which comes up often in the pro-Allen Bellafante comments) is a blunt instrument doing delicate work. People mature on different schedules, so any one-size-fits-all age is going to throw some young women to the wolves while unjustly telling others that they aren’t wise enough to make their own decisions.

That’s why this issue needs to have a social component in addition to a legal component. Legally, a middle-aged man may be in the clear if he has sex with a young woman on her 16th or 17th or 18th birthday. But the situation may still be creepy enough that the rest of us want to shun him. (OTOH, I have never understood why the law should get involved if a boy who just turned 16 has sex with his two-weeks-younger girlfriend, and she is not complaining about it.)

and let’s close with something well timed

Somebody hit the button at exactly the right instant to capture this frisbee-catching dog.

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.