Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Unfair Treatment

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

David Roberts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Chait puts his finger on the problem:

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

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

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

and the Covid surge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the Olympics

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick sums up:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mostly, I think Chris Hayes has this right:

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something honest

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


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

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

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

This week everybody was talking about voting rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and DACA

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

and new Trump books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

Biden’s child tax credits started arriving.

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something arresting

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

Outrage Politics

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

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL)

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

This week everybody was talking about a new Covid surge

That’s the topic of the featured post.

and foreign affairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

but we can’t lose sight of climate change

David Roberts makes two important points about fighting climate change.

First, there is no “moderate” policy option.

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

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

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

Second, the top priority has to be clean electrification.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then jumps to this ominous consequence:

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

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

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

Gypsy moths have been cancelled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something repetitive

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

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

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

Why to Investigate

If you believe Antifa and BLM actually attacked the Capitol, you should want a January 6 commission. If you think the FBI organized the Capitol riots, you should certainly want a January 6th commission. But if you believe that you’ve been lying about it the whole time, then you don’t want a January 6 commission. That’s why we have to do it

Rep. Adam Kinziner (R-Illinois)

This week’s featured posts are “Climate Change is Here” and “The Trump/Weisselberg Tax Evasion Scheme“.

This week everybody was talking about the Trump Organization indictment

If you take away one thing from the featured post on this topic, it should be this: All businesses, even little ones, could try the same thing with their employees. But they don’t, because they’re not that stupid.

and the heat wave

In the other featured post, I wonder if this could be an inflection point in the climate-change debate. Because you can’t look at 116 degree temperatures in Portland and say that nothing is wrong.

Meanwhile, a gas leak near a Pemex drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico set the ocean on fire for a few hours on Friday.

and court decisions

Bill Cosby is a free man. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out his sexual assault conviction Wednesday, claiming that it violated a verbal non-prosecution agreement made by a previous prosecutor. Sixty different women have accused Cosby of sexual assault, but only one of those accusations resulted in a conviction. Vox has a good explanation

The thrust of that opinion is that, even though then-Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor never reached a formal agreement with Cosby that granted him immunity from prosecution, a press release that Castor sent out in 2005 — combined with Cosby’s later, incriminating testimony in a civil lawsuit — had the same effect as a formal immunity deal.

That decision — which, again, attaches a simply astonishing amount of legal weight to a 16-year-old press release — is less ridiculous than it sounds …

The court’s often-confounding opinion muddies this case’s place in history and may contribute to sexual assault victims’ sense that reporting the crimes against them won’t lead to justice.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the court’s decision was wrong as a matter of law. Six members of the seven-justice Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed that Cosby’s conviction must be tossed out, although only [Justice David] Wecht [who wrote the majority opinion] and three other justices agreed that the state should not be allowed to retry Cosby.

The Supreme Court continues to chip away at the Voting Rights Act. In upholding recent Arizona laws, the Court says that new rules that result in fewer people of color voting can be OK, if the number of votes suppressed isn’t that big, and if the state’s new rules advance a state interest — and preventing mythical voter fraud is a legitimate state interest.

The Court also made the world safer for dark money.

In its infamous decision in Citizens United v. FEC (2010), the Supreme Court tossed a bone to lawmakers seeking to regulate money in politics. With a few exceptions, Citizens United stripped the government of its power to limit the amount of spending on elections, especially by corporations. But the decision also gave the Court’s blessing to nearly all laws requiring campaigns and political organizations to disclose their donors.

They’ve now stripped most of the lingering meat off that bone.

Back in 1958, the Court ruled that the NAACP didn’t have to reveal its membership to the state of Alabama. The very real fear in that case was that NAACP contributors in Alabama could become targets for the KKK.

Now the Court has extended that ruling to potentially cover all sorts of donors, who might find themselves victimized by “cancel culture” if their contributions were revealed.

The Supreme Court turned down an opportunity to extend its rulings on special rights for Christians religious liberty. A florist in Washington state refused to create arrangements for a same-sex wedding, citing her “relationship with Jesus Christ”. She was fined for violating an anti-discrimination law. The Washington Supreme Court unanimously upheld that fine, and now the US Supreme Court has refused to hear the florist’s appeal. Apparently that ruling will stand.

I’ve already stated my general opinion on such cases: Any freedom-of-speech or freedom-of-religion exemption to discrimination laws needs to be rooted in what someone is asked to make or do, not on who is asking. If the florist had refused to make a floral rainbow-flag display, for example, I’d support her. But refusing to offer a gay couple arrangements that she’d happily make for an opposite-sex couple is discrimination and should be illegal. “I won’t do that” is an acceptable objection, but “I won’t do that for you” isn’t.

What I find most aggravating about this series of religious-freedom cases, though, is that they’re not just bad law; they’re also bad religion. People aren’t finding these behaviors in Christianity, they’re stretching Christianity to justify the bigotry they already have. I don’t know of any commandment that says “Thou shalt not arrange flowers for two men who love each other.”

Second example: the teacher who can’t use a student’s preferred pronouns because of his “Christian faith”. (A Virginia judge recently ruled that he must get his job back because of “religious liberty”.) My Bible somehow fails to include the “Epistle to the Grammarians”, where St. Paul explained the proper Christian usage of 21st-century English pronouns.

These days, a great deal of conservative Christians’ “practice of their faith” consists of the mental gymnastics needed to insert themselves into other people’s moral issues. (What I would say to the anti-trans Virginia teacher is: “This child has made a decision to present themselves to the world as a boy or a girl. It’s not about you.”) As I explained several years ago, this isn’t “religious freedom”, it’s passive aggression.

and the virus

For weeks, people have been wondering if the Covid delta variant, combined with pockets of anti-vaccine sentiment, might stop the decline in cases that has been going on since January. Now it seems that it has.

Covid deaths are still going down, but the NYT reports a 19% increase in cases over the last two weeks. Missouri and Arkansas are the top hot spots, with 16 cases per 100K per day, compared to less than 1 case per 100K per day in Massachusetts and Vermont. Arkansas has 34% of adults fully vaccinated and Missouri 39%, while Massachusetts has 62% and Vermont 66%.

and the January 6 select committee

Having failed to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection, House Democrats have created a select committee. A Republican filibuster in the Senate blocked the bipartisan commission, but the House has no filibuster, so it will investigate on its own.

Republicans tried to block this investigation also. Only two Republicans — Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger — voted for the resolution establishing the committee.

Several investigations into the assault are already underway, but none have a mandate to look comprehensively at the event similar to the fact-finding commissions that scrutinized Sept. 11, the attack of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Speaker Pelosi immediately named the eight members the establishing resolution allowed her to appoint, including Republican Liz Cheney. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy can choose the other five members, but Pelosi can veto them. It’s unclear whether McCarthy will agree to participate, or if he will try to subvert the process by naming members like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who wants the job, or perhaps Andrew Clyde, who has compared the rioters invasion of the Capitol to a “normal tourist visit“.

McCarthy has already made snide remarks about Cheney accepting the appointment, suggesting that the former vice president’s daughter — a doctrinaire conservative whose only failing is her unwillingness to worship Trump — might be “closer to [Pelosi] than us”. He also hinted that her Republican committee assignments might be in jeopardy: “I don’t know in history where someone would go get their committee assignments from the Speaker and expect to have them from the conference as well.”

The predictable Republican objection to the select committee is that it will be partisan. Of course, they had a bipartisan option, but turned it down. Their real preference is that January 6 not be investigated at all. At various times, GOP congresspeople have blamed the riot on antifa, Black Lives Matter, or even the FBI. But none of the representatives who have made these claims voted in favor of an investigation that could establish the truth of the matter — probably because they already know that their claims aren’t true.

Some Democrats also have unproven theories: that Trump operatives (like Roger Stone) planned the violence, or that right-wing members of Congress gave “reconnaissance tours” to prospective insurrectionists. But unlike Republicans, they want the facts to come out.

This is one of those situations where the facts have a partisan bias: January 6 was a stain on the Republican Party, and on McCarthy’s puppetmaster Donald Trump. If the whole truth comes out, it will be bad for them.

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The June jobs report says that the economy added 850K jobs, led by hotels, restaurants, and bars gearing up for a real summer this year. Anomalously, the unemployment rate ticked up slightly, from 5.8% to 5.9%, as people re-entered the job market slightly faster than jobs appeared. Jobs are also paying a bit better, possibly because reopening businesses in some sectors have to compete for workers.

But there’s still a lot of ground to make up: 6.8 million more people were working when Covid hit the US in February of 2020.

1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones will get a tenure offer from the University of North Carolina after all, in spite of an outcry from anti-anti-racists.

The tenure approval [from the university’s board of trustees] came just one day before Hannah-Jones was set to officially join [UNC’s] Hussman School of Journalism and Media as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. Last month it was revealed that her appointment didn’t come with tenure, a break with tradition for that position. Hannah-Jones’ legal team had said she would not take the position if it doesn’t include tenure.

Hannah-Jones’ tenure application had been proceeding smoothly until May, when it reached the trustees, who refused to take any action on it. Influential conservative groups had lobbied against her, but protests from faculty and students, together with bad publicity, seem to have turned the tide.

Hannah-Jones’ resume includes a Pulitzer Prize and and MacArthur genius grant. I would guess that most UNC professors can’t say that.

Iraq invasion architect Donald Rumsfeld died Tuesday. George Packer decided not to follow the ancient “Say nothing but good about the dead” adage, and made a list of just how wrong Rumsfeld had been in the years after 9-11:

Rumsfeld started being wrong within hours of the attacks and never stopped. He argued that the attacks proved the need for the missile-defense shield that he’d long advocated. He thought that the American war in Afghanistan meant the end of the Taliban. He thought that the new Afghan government didn’t need the U.S. to stick around for security and support. He thought that the United States should stiff the United Nations, brush off allies, and go it alone. He insisted that al-Qaeda couldn’t operate without a strongman like Saddam. He thought that all the intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was wrong, except the dire reports that he’d ordered up himself. He reserved his greatest confidence for intelligence obtained through torture. He thought that the State Department and the CIA were full of timorous, ignorant bureaucrats. He thought that America could win wars with computerized weaponry and awesome displays of force.

He believed in regime change but not in nation building, and he thought that a few tens of thousands of troops would be enough to win in Iraq. He thought that the quick overthrow of Saddam’s regime meant mission accomplished. He responded to the looting of Baghdad by saying “Freedom’s untidy,” as if the chaos was just a giddy display of democracy—as if it would not devastate Iraq and become America’s problem, too. He believed that Iraq should be led by a corrupt London banker with a history of deceiving the U.S. government. He faxed pages from a biography of Che Guevara to a U.S. Army officer in the region to prove that the growing Iraqi resistance did not meet the definition of an insurgency. He dismissed the insurgents as “dead-enders” and humiliated a top general who dared to call them by their true name. He insisted on keeping the number of U.S. troops in Iraq so low that much of the country soon fell to the insurgency.

His death at home, surrounded by loving family, is another reminder that the Bush administration officials implicated in torture were never brought to justice. This is from “The Green Light” written by Philippe Sands in 2008:

On a table before us were three documents. The first was a November 2002 “action memo” written by William J. (Jim) Haynes II, the general counsel of the U.S. Department of Defense, to his boss, Donald Rumsfeld; the document is sometimes referred to as the Haynes Memo. Haynes recommended that Rumsfeld give “blanket approval” to 15 out of 18 proposed techniques of aggressive interrogation. Rumsfeld duly did so, on December 2, 2002, signing his name firmly next to the word “Approved.” Under his signature he also scrawled a few words that refer to the length of time a detainee can be forced to stand during interrogation: “I stand for 8–10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”

The second document on the table listed the 18 proposed techniques of interrogation, all of which went against long-standing U.S. military practice as presented in the Army Field Manual. The 15 approved techniques included certain forms of physical contact and also techniques intended to humiliate and to impose sensory deprivation. They permitted the use of stress positions, isolation, hooding, 20-hour interrogations, and nudity. Haynes and Rumsfeld explicitly did not rule out the future use of three other techniques, one of which was waterboarding, the application of a wet towel and water to induce the perception of drowning.

So this happened about a dozen miles up the road from where I live.

What started out as a seemingly routine stop by a State Police trooper to help motorists on the shoulder of Interstate 95 early Saturday morning spiraled into a surreal hours-long confrontation between nearly a dozen men with high-powered rifles and police, who were forced to shut down a busy highway on a holiday weekend and order nearby residents to shelter in their homes.

The men said they were from Rhode Island, and were headed to Maine for “training”.

When I first saw the headline, I thought this was some kind of white-supremacist militia thing. But it’s more complicated than that. The men were from Rise of the Moors, which seems to be an Islamic group of dark-skinned people who reject the label “Black” and instead identify as Moorish Americans.

In its zeal to expel immigrants who committed even minor crimes, the Trump administration deported “hundreds, perhaps thousands” of veterans and their immediate family members. The Biden administration is trying to bring them back.

“It’s our responsibility to serve all veterans as well as they have served us — no matter who they are, where they are from, or the status of their citizenship,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “Keeping that promise means ensuring that noncitizen service members, veterans, and their families are guaranteed a place in the country they swore an oath — and in many cases fought — to defend.”

Looking at this video, I have to wonder how many Evangelicals are hearing QAnon conspiracy theories from the pulpit. This particular preacher is the founder of Global Vision Bible Church in Mount Juliet, Tennessee (which coincidentally is seven miles from where my sister is moving; I may have to drop in some Sunday).

Two firsts: A transgender woman is Miss Nevada and will be a contestant for Miss USA. Carl Nassib, a defensive end for the Las Vegas Raiders, is the NFL’s first openly gay active player.

Nassib is by no means the first gay football player in the NFL, but he is the first openly gay active player in the league to play in the regular season. Michael Sam came out as gay following his successful college career and before the 2014 NFL draft, making him the first publicly gay player to be drafted in the NFL. However, Sam played only during the preseason. A handful of other players have come out after their professional careers had ended.

and let’s close with something bipartisan

A conservative boyfriend challenged the song-writing duo of Garfunkel and Oates to write a song where “both sides can laugh”. “How’d I do, Dan?”

Confident Assertions

At this point, I feel confident to assert the results of the Michigan election are accurately represented by the certified and audited results. While the Committee was unable to exhaust every possibility, we were able to delve thoroughly into enough to reasonably reach this conclusion.

– Michigan Republican State Senator Ed McBroom
Report on the November 2020 Election in Michigan

There is no featured post this week. Just a collection of too-long short notes.

This week everybody was talking about the infrastructure deal

So is there a bipartisan deal on an infrastructure bill or not? At the moment, where is Lucy’s football exactly?

Thursday, President Biden and a group of ten senators — five Republicans and five Democrats — announced they had reached in infrastructure compromise. Reportedly, it included $579 billion in new spending over five years and $973 billion in total.

Immediately, there was skepticism: Five Republicans is not the ten needed to beat a filibuster, so where will the other five votes come from, even if Biden and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer corral all 50 Democratic votes? (Apparently 11 Republicans have endorsed the “framework” of the agreement.) And an agreement is not a bill; will even the five Republicans who worked out the compromise proposal — Rob Portman of Ohio, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of Utah — stay on board as the details get filled in? Do they even really intend to vote for a bill, or is this yet another Republican ploy to run out the clock on the slim Democratic majorities in Congress?

All along, Democrats have said they were following a two-bill strategy:

Everyone in that group [of ten senators] — Republicans and Democrats alike — understood the dual tracks forward.

The bipartisan package was to be on one track. The agreement included money for traditional infrastructure — roads, bridges, rail, transit — plus some spending for clean energy. To get it to Biden’s desk, supporters would need 60 votes in the Senate, meaning at least 10 Republicans if all 50 Democrats were on board.

The rest of Biden’s proposals, which amount to trillions of dollars in spending on what he has called human infrastructure, on more programs to address climate issues and on money for social programs, would be on the other track, included in a budgetary package that would come to the Senate floor under terms of reconciliation, meaning it would need just 50 votes to pass.

The other track would also include a funding mechanism that is very popular among everyone but congressional Republicans: tax the rich and roll back some of the Trump tax cuts for big corporations.

Many Democratic pundits don’t understand why Republicans would be part of this plan. Chris Hayes, for example, asked Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut):

But like, why are the Republicans going to go for this? Like, if this is the plan — if the plan is to have your cake and eat it too and like, pass this one thing, but then all the other things they don’t like get past a reconciliation, like, what am I missing about why they’re going to vote for it?

Murphy didn’t respond crisply, but eventually got around to the right answer:

for many Republicans, this is an ability to, you know, put their name on a package and then be able to disavow parts — other parts that they may not be as comfortable with. So, there is an ability for Republicans to have their cake and eat it too as well here.

In other words, the bill I voted for is the “good” infrastructure that is creating jobs and fixing the broken parts of the country, while the bill I voted against is “wasteful spending” and “socialism”.

But within hours of Thursday’s announcement, discovery of the Democrats’ two-bill strategy was producing outrage among Republicans, causing them to reconsider their support. What had changed? Nancy Pelosi announced that the House would not pass the bipartisan package unless the reconciliation bill had also made it through the Senate, and Biden referred to the two bills as a “tandem”:

“I’m going to work closely with [House] Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and [Senate Majority] Leader [Charles E.] Schumer to make sure that both move through the legislative process promptly and in tandem. Let me emphasize that: and in tandem.” Asked to clarify, he said: “If this [bipartisan agreement] is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it.

Saturday, Biden was walking that statement back, saying that it was not a “veto threat”. Whether that statement will be enough to save the deal is not clear, though several Republicans seemed to be back on board.

What is clear is that this is a dance. Participants simultaneously know things and don’t know them. They are by turns optimistic or outraged, without anything really having changed. The five Republicans are dancing, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are dancing, and Biden is dancing.

But we still don’t know who the dance is for. Is it for the Republican populist base, which generally likes the idea of creating jobs by rebuilding America (and many even like the idea of taxing the rich), but has been trained to respond angrily to “socialism”, and to oppose whatever Democrats support? Is it for moderate voters in West Virginia and Arizona, who want something to pass, but also want to see Manchin and Sinema standing strong for “bipartisanship” and against “the radical left”? Is it to convince 2022 swing voters that Republicans are trying to be reasonable, and aren’t intentionally sabotaging the economy under Biden the same way they did under Obama? Or is it to convince progressives that Democrats tried really, really hard for their priorities, even if they failed to pass any?

More concisely: Is the point to do something for the country, or to stake out talking points for 2022?

I don’t think we’ll know the answer until the music stops , one or two bills have been written in detail, and they have either passed or failed with some number of Democratic and Republican votes. Current predictions say that won’t happen until the fall.

and the Florida building collapse

Thursday, half of a 13-story condominium building near Miami Beach collapsed for no obvious reason.

While a number of bridges, overpasses and buildings under construction fail each year, the catastrophic collapse of an occupied building — absent a bomb or an earthquake — is rare, and investigators are struggling to understand how it could have come with so little urgent warning. … Structural engineers were shocked that a building that had stood for decades would abruptly crumble on an otherwise unremarkable summer night.

So far the death toll stands at nine, but more than 150 people are still missing.

Collapsed portion of building outlined in red. Annotation is at

The search for an explanation comes with a sense of urgency not only for sister buildings near the complex but also for a broad part of South Florida, where a necklace of high-rise condos, many of them decades old, sits on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, enduring an ever-worsening barrage of hurricane winds, storm surge and sea salt.

Video from a distant security camera shows the center portion of building falling first, quickly followed by an eastern section.

A 2018 report indicated that a concrete structural slab was cracking near the parking deck, near where the collapse appears to have started, and that failed waterproofing needed to be repaired to prevent expansion of the damaged area. However, the condo owners association was told that the building was “in very good shape” heading into the 40-year recertification due this year.

and Biden and the bishops

Like the story of the infrastructure bill, this week’s drama concerning President Biden and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is tricky to interpret.

President Biden is America’s second Catholic president, following John F. Kennedy more than half a century ago. Biden clearly thinks of his faith as more than just a label. He occasionally refers to his Catholicism in speeches, and made headlines by unexpectedly attending mass at a local church during his recent trip to England for the G-7 meetings.

Attending mass — a ritual consumption of bread and wine based on the last supper of Jesus before his crucifixion, also called “communion” or “the Eucharist” — is central to the Catholic faith. When someone claims to be a “practicing” Catholic, they usually mean that they regularly go to confession and attend mass. Someone who doesn’t participate in those rituals is a “lapsed” Catholic. So while cutting someone off from the mass is not excommunication, it is a major obstacle to practicing the Catholic faith and maintaining a Catholic identity.

Some number of US bishops want to cut President Biden off from the mass because he supports abortion rights, which conflicts with the position of the Church. At a recent meeting, the USCCB started a process that could end in denying communion to Biden, and possibly other pro-choice Catholic politicians. According to NPR’s report, Biden was mentioned by name during the debate.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, who leads the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, has been among the most vocal critics of Biden’s support abortion rights. He said he’s disturbed by Catholic officials who “flaunt their Catholicity” while publicly taking positions on abortion that conflict with those of the church.

“This is a Catholic president that’s doing the most aggressive thing we’ve ever seen in terms of this attack on life when it’s most innocent,” Naumann said. 

This is not a new issue for Naumann. Back in 2008, he denied communion to then-Governor Kathleen Sebelius after she vetoed an anti-abortion law.

The USCCB’s moves got a great deal of publicity, much of it negative. California Rep. Ted Lieu, also a pro-choice Catholic, pointed out the bishops’ partisan hypocrisy.

Dear @USCCB: You did not deny Communion to the following Catholic Republicans: Newt Gingrich, who believed in open marriage & had multiple divorces, Bill Barr, who expanded death penalty executions, Chris Collins, who stole by insider trading.

Countless people on social media went someplace Lieu avoided: Where was this judgmental spirit when Catholic priests were raping children entrusted to their care? How many of the bishops voting to exclude Biden actively participated in covering up that scandal, or moved known pedophile priests to positions where they could attack more Catholic children?

More in the spirit of Ted Lieu, I’ll add a few other hypocrisies: The bishops haven’t threatened Catholic Republicans who voted to kick tens of millions of Americans off of health insurance, or to deny food stamps to needy families. This is in spite of Pope Francis, who has denounced single-issue Catholicism:

Our defence of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.

But there’s more going on here than just whataboutism. It’s worth taking a step back to examine exactly what President Biden’s “sin” is supposed to be. Let’s allow for the moment the dogma that aborting a fetus at any stage for any reason is murder. (However, it’s worth noting that this issue has a history, and is not nearly so clear-cut as the Church currently pretends. “Early Church leaders began the debate about when a fetus acquired a rational soul, and St. Augustine declared that abortion is not homicide but was a sin if it was intended to conceal fornication or adultery.” However the current hierarchy may assert its authority, this is a position about which reasonable people may disagree, even if they are Catholic in every other way.)

Even granting the current dogma, though, Biden stands at a considerable distance from this sin. He (obviously) has never had an abortion himself. Nor has he ever performed an abortion. As far as we know, he has never encouraged a woman to have an abortion. So he is not “pro-abortion” in any visible sense.

What has he done, exactly, that puts him in conservative bishops’ crosshairs? He has taken a position on the role of government in the abortion decision, specifically, that government should not be the one deciding. That’s what “pro-choice” means.

The bishops, on the other hand, believe that their theological opinion about the moral value of a fertilized ovum should be written into law, and that the government should enforce it — not just on Catholic women who don’t find the bishops’ views persuasive, but on American women of all faiths. In short, they want precisely the “establishment of religion” that the First Amendment forbids.

It soon became apparent that, in E. J. Dionne’s words “The Catholic bishops’ anti-Biden campaign is backfiring.” Four days later, the USCCB issued a statement that essentially claimed it was all a misunderstanding: “There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians.”

So did we all just go off about nothing? Or did the Catholic bishops back down in the face of a public furor?

and the New York mayoral primary

New York City is having its first mayoral elections under its ranked-choice voting system. The results of the Democratic primary show both the strength and weakness of the system: Nobody was the first choice of a majority of voters, which would have led to a run-off election under previous rules. That won’t be necessary now, but the re-allocation of losing-candidates’ votes to the voters’ second or third choices is going to take some time.

In the highly anticipated Democratic primary race for mayor, as of today, Eric Adams leads the first-round count in the Democratic primary for mayor with 31.7 percent, followed by Maya Wiley in second with 22.3 percent, Kathryn Garcia in third with 19.5 percent and Andrew Yang in fourth with 11.7 percent. All other candidates are in the single digits.

The reallocation can’t even start, though, until the exact order of the finishers is established, and that can’t happen until all the absentee ballots are counted. RCV is definitely less trouble than a run-off, but it may not be much faster.

and trouble in TrumpWorld

Trump loyalists got a lot of discouraging news this week, assuming ONN covered any of it. Multiple news sites are reporting this:

The Manhattan district attorney’s office has informed lawyers for the Trump Organization that it could face criminal charges in connection with benefits it has provided to company employees, a Trump attorney confirmed Friday. The charges, which could come as soon as next week, would likely involve allegations of a company effort to avoid paying payroll taxes on compensation it provided to employees, including rent-free apartments, cars and other benefits, a person familiar with the matter said. … Prosecutors are also likely to announce charges against Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization chief financial officer, as soon as next week, people familiar with the matter said.

Weisselberg has so far been unwilling to cooperate with prosecutors on more serious charges of tax evasion and/or bank/insurance fraud concerning members of the Trump family. Presumably, these charges (if they happen) would put pressure on him.

The attempt to start an election audit circus in Georgia similar to the one going on in Arizona suffered a major blow Thursday when a judge dismissed 7 of 9 counts in a suit demanding access to the 147,000 absentee ballots cast in Fulton County. The two surviving parts of the suit seek only digital images of ballots under Georgia’s open-records law.

Rudy Giuliani’s law license has been suspended.

The New York State appellate court temporarily suspended Mr. Giuliani’s law license on the recommendation of a disciplinary committee after finding he had sought to mislead judges, lawmakers and the public as he helped shepherd Mr. Trump’s legal challenge to the election results. For months, Mr. Giuliani, who served as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, had argued without merit that the vote had been rife with fraud and that voting machines had been rigged. … Mr. Giuliani now faces disciplinary proceedings and can fight the suspension. But the court said in its decision that he would be likely to face “permanent sanctions” after the proceedings conclude. A final outcome could be months away but could include disbarment.

The 33-page report goes through Giuliani’s lies in detail: falsely claiming that Pennsylvania counted more absentee ballots than it sent out, that his lawsuit made a fraud claim when it didn’t, that many thousands of ineligible voters — dead people, underage voters, convicted felons, illegal aliens — had voted in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and/or Arizona (the numbers he claimed were “wildly divergent” from one statement to the next, and sometimes “in the very same sentence”), and that video from security cameras showed Georgia election officials counting fraudulent mail-in ballots.

Suspending a lawyer’s license temporarily before disciplinary hearings is unusual, but the report justified the move:

We find that there is evidence of continuing misconduct, the underlying offense is incredibly serious, and the uncontroverted misconduct in itself will likely result in substantial permanent sanctions at the conclusion of these disciplinary proceedings.

It also emphasized that if Guiliani fights the sanctions, he’ll have to offer real evidence that his statements — if not true — were at least based on some information a reasonable attorney might have believed.

[O]nce the [Attorney Grievance Committee] has established its prima facie case, respondent’s references to affidavits he has not provided, or sources of information he has not disclosed or other nebulous unspecified information, will not prevent the Court from concluding that misconduct has occurred. … Nor will offers to provide information at a later time, or only if the Court requests it, suffice.

The suspension is the first shoe to drop on Giuliani; there may be several others. Dominion Voting Systems is suing him for $1.3 billion over his false statements about their voting machines, and he is under federal investigation for illegal lobbying in Ukraine.

Michigan Republicans are not going along with Trump’s Big Lie. The Michigan Senate Oversight Committee, with three Republicans and one Democrat, issued their report on the 2020 election, which “found no evidence of widespread or systematic fraud in Michigan’s prosecution of the 2020 election.”

Committee Chair Ed McBroom writes in the introduction:

At this point, I feel confident to assert the results of the Michigan election are accurately represented by the certified and audited results. While the Committee was unable to exhaust every possibility, we were able to delve thoroughly into enough to reasonably reach this conclusion. The strongest conclusion comes in regard to Antrim County. All compelling theories that sprang forth from the rumors surrounding Antrim County are diminished so significantly as for it to be a complete waste of time to consider them further.

The report examines in detail each of the Trumpist fraud claims (which duplicate a lot of Giuliani’s false claims listed above). For example, here is the section on dead people voting:

The Committee was also provided a list of over 200 individuals in Wayne County who were believed to be deceased yet had cast a ballot. A thorough review of individuals on that list showed only two instances where an individual appeared to have voted but was deceased. The first individual was a 118-year-old man whose son has the same name and lives at the same residence. The Committee found there was no fraud in this instance but was instead a clerical error made due to the identical name. The second individual was a 92-year-old woman who died four days before the November 2020 election. Research showed she had submitted her completed absentee ballot prior to the November 2020 election and prior to her death. Notably, research showed the secretary of state and clerks were able to discover and remove approximately 3,500 absentee ballots submitted by voters while they were alive but died before Election Day, which is a commendable accomplishment.

And about “illegal” absentee votes:

Many court filings and individuals highlighted a data spreadsheet by an individual who claimed to have worked with “experts” to determine whether individuals had received an unsolicited absentee ballot. The spreadsheet indicated that “289,866 illegal votes” had been cast. This figure came from the Voter Integrity Project. To arrive at this number, the group used a methodology where they called 1,500 voters and asked if they had received a ballot without requesting it, something that would be illegal although not specifically indicative of fraudulent voting. The number of affirmative answers were then extrapolated out to 289,866 voters statewide receiving these ballots which are defined as “illegal ballots.” The repeated use of the terminology “illegal ballots” is misleading and causes significant confusion as it implies fraudulent votes or votes received that do not come from legitimate sources or should not be counted. However, while it may not be lawful to send ballots without first receiving an application, voting this ballot is not an illegal action by a lawful voter and it is not indicative of fraudulent or illicit behavior of the voter nor of an illegitimate vote.

The Committee called forty individuals from this list at random. Only two individuals reported having received an absentee ballot without making a proper request. One of the two individuals is labeled as a permanent, absentee voter within the state’s QVF file, indicating that they had, at some point, requested to be placed on that list. The other individual voted via an absentee ballot in the August primary election, and it is possible they checked the box to vote absentee in the subsequent election and simply forgot they had chosen this option.

In general, this report is a good reference to use if you find yourself dealing with bizarre claims by Trumpists.

Meanwhile, Trump had a rally in Wellington, Ohio Saturday night, where he repeated many of his debunked claims. The rally was to support a challenger to Republican Congressman Anthony Gonzalez, who voted to impeach Trump in January. During his speech, Trump twice referred to mythical election-fraud problems in “Montana”, which apparently looks like “Michigan” when you see it on a teleprompter. (But tell me again about Biden’s cognitive decline.)

Warm-up speaker Marjorie Taylor Greene got cheers by calling AOC a “little communist” who “is not an American”, and agreeing with a call to “lock her up”.

Atlantic’s Jonathan Karl offers some details about Bill Barr’s final days in office — in particular, why he announced publicly that he had seen no evidence of election fraud, a statement that enraged Trump and ultimately led to Barr resigning a few weeks early. It would be nice to see that statement as a final attack of conscience, a line he ultimately could not cross, and an unwillingness to prostitute the Justice Department to politics any further.

But come on, this is Bill Barr we’re talking about. His statement was a shift in his politicization, not a renunciation of it.

To McConnell, the road to maintaining control of the Senate was simple: Republicans needed to make the argument that with Biden soon to be in the White House, it was crucial that they have a majority in the Senate to check his power. But McConnell also believed that if he openly declared Biden the winner, Trump would be enraged and likely act to sabotage the Republican Senate campaigns in Georgia. Barr related his conversations with McConnell to me. McConnell confirms the account.

“Look, we need the president in Georgia,” McConnell told Barr, “and so we cannot be frontally attacking him right now. But you’re in a better position to inject some reality into this situation. You are really the only one who can do it.”

“I understand that,” Barr said. “And I’m going to do it at the appropriate time.”

On another call, McConnell again pleaded with Barr to come out and shoot down the talk of widespread fraud. “Bill, I look around, and you are the only person who can do it,” McConnell told him.

So the no-evidence-of-fraud announcement arose from conversations between the US attorney general and the Senate majority leader about what the AG could do to help preserve the Republican majority. Barr was corrupt, from the beginning of his term right up to the end. It never stopped.

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Friday, Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison for killing George Floyd, and he could be eligible for supervised release in 15 years. His sentence was longer than the 10-15 years recommended by sentencing guidelines because of “aggravating factors” in the crime. But it was still less than the 30 years prosecutors requested.

To me, the exact number of years means less than the fact that the sentence is substantial. Assuming it stands up to appeal, 22.5 years puts an end to the idea that cops can do anything and get away with it.

The Washington Post, publishing material from the new book Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic that Changed History, revealed just how scary Trump’s bout with Covid really was, and how extraordinary his experimental treatment was. And in the end, it changed nothing in his handling of the pandemic.

X-Files creator Chris Carter comes to no conclusions in his op-ed on “unidentified aerial phenomena” (a.k.a. UFOs). But he still wants to believe that alien civilizations are out there.

Protesters are disrupting school board meetings with complaints about “critical race theory”, which literally no one is teaching to K-12 students. No one would have even heard the phrase “critical race theory” if it weren’t being made into a boogeyman by conservative media. What perhaps is being taught in some (but not many) public schools is the existence of unconscious or systemic racism, or the longstanding influence of white supremacy on American history.

It’s striking how these fanned-by-national-media “grass roots” protests parallel the Tea Party disruptions of congressional town-hall meetings in the summer of 2009, when we heard so much about the mythical “death panels” ObamaCare was supposedly going to set up, and how the US was about to go bankrupt like Greece. The same playbook gets dusted off whenever Democrats have power.

and let’s close with something made up

From the Bored Panda:

Luca Luce is a professional makeup artist from Milan, Italy, who uses his own face as his canvas to create mind-boggling 3D makeup art. The Italian artist shows the power of makeup – he more than highlights and accentuates facial features; he distorts, confuses and redefines them – creating looks that are creepy yet captivating at the same time.

Angry Freedom

If you don’t have money, you cling to your freedoms all the more angrily. Even if smoking kills you, even if you can’t afford to feed your kids, even if your kids are getting shot down by maniacs with assault rifles. You may be poor, but the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to fuck up your life.

– Jonathan Franzen, Freedom
quoted by George Packer in “How America Fractured Into Four Parts

This week’s featured post is “Four Narratives of America“.

This week everybody was talking about voting rights

Joe Manchin, the Senate swing vote and the lone Democrat who wasn’t supporting the For the People Act, put forward his plan for defending voting rights. That plan got a big boost when Stacey Abrams supported it. Manchin believes he can get the 10 Republican votes he needs to overcome a filibuster, but Mitch McConnell predicts he’ll get zero.

So far, no Republican has expressed support for bringing the For the People Act to the floor, where Manchin could propose the amendments he wants. Even Romney and Murkowski have said they’ll support McConnell’s filibuster.

Missouri’s Roy Blunt laid out the Republican framing:

When Stacey Abrams immediately endorsed Senator Manchin’s proposal, it became it became the Stacey Abrams substitute, not the Joe Manchin substitute.

New York Magazine’s Sarah Jones explains:

Ever eager to press the case against any expansion of voting rights, Republicans fell back onto an old strategy: They racialized the proposal. The moment Abrams, who is Black, expressed a measure of support for Manchin’s compromise, it became a radical, even dangerous, idea. Her name is a byword, evidence that liberals have breached an unacceptable standard. The hope is that, to the GOP’s base, she inspires a kind of fear that Manchin — older, white, and male — can’t possibly provoke.

It’s been clear for months that this bipartisanship drama about voting rights — and the parallel dramas of Biden’s infrastructure proposal and the January 6 commission — needs to play out:

  • Democrats need Manchin’s vote either to pass the infrastructure bill through reconciliation or to circumvent the filibuster on voting rights.
  • Manchin represents an overwhelmingly Republican state, and needs to show his voters that he is trying everything to get Republican cooperation.
  • Republicans are not going to cooperate, because they don’t want the economy to do well under Biden, they don’t want the full story of 1-6 to come out, and (most of all) they don’t everybody to vote and have their votes count equally.

All along, the question has been: What happens after we get through all the predictable parts of this scenario — after Manchin has tried everything to bring Republicans in, and they have clearly refused? We still don’t know.

Ezra Klein holds out hope that Manchin knows what he’s doing, and will manage to pass meaningful legislation one way or another. I (and many other people) worry that the drama itself is the point: Manchin will be happy to have held center stage and demonstrated to West Virginia that he is at least trying to do things the right way, even if ultimately nothing is accomplished.

So anyway, what would Manchin’s version of a voting-rights bill do? He published a long list of reforms he wants. The big one is to ban partisan gerrymandering. That’s a great proposal, because even Republican voters know the practice is corrupt. (That’s why anti-gerrymandering ballot initiatives have passed even in red states like Utah.)

Beyond gerrymandering, Manchin also supports several fairly modest proposals that are likely to make it easier to vote in many states. He would allow voters who show up at the wrong polling place on Election Day to still cast a ballot, although these voters might not be allowed to vote in certain local elections. And he would require at least 15 consecutive days of early voting in federal elections.

Manchin also supports the DISCLOSE Act, which requires certain groups to disclose their election-related spending, and the Honest Ads Act, which imposes disclosure requirements on online ads.

Manchin also proposes a reasonable compromise on voter ID: You’d have to show some kind of ID at the polls, but the number of acceptable IDs would expand so that any legitimate voter could easily provide one (a utility bill showing your name and address, for example). This would make voting more like getting a library card rather than a passport or a security clearance.

Manchin’s ID compromise is good politics for Democrats. Being against voter ID in any form sounds bad to a lot of people, even if they realize that voter fraud is quite rare. Americans who have an up-to-date driver’s license, know where their birth certificate is, and have lived at their current address for many years grossly underestimate the number of legal voters who have trouble assembling a rigorous collection of ID documents. Making a principle out of “no voter ID” gives Republican fantasies of massive fraud some credibility.

His proposal restores some parts of the Voting Rights Act that Chief Justice Roberts hand-waved away in 2013, but isn’t as strong as the proposed John Lewis Act. (TPM argues that Manchin’s changes to John Lewis are major, and “gut the bill”. It would still improve on the current state of the law.)

In short, passing a Manchin voting rights bill would be a great thing, if that’s really what he’s trying to do. I hope it is.

and Juneteenth

Juneteenth is now a federal holiday, but it will take a few years to determine what that means in any practical sense in most of the country. Officially, the federal government can only declare a holiday for its own workforce, so unless you work at a military base or a post office, you won’t notice much difference until your state government decides to participate.

What Juneteenth should mean for White Americans is still something of a work in progress, and there are a number of mistakes to avoid. Hardly anybody these days still remembers that Labor Day is supposed to honor the union movement. Cinco de Mayo (which isn’t an official holiday in the US) often gets celebrated in an offensive way, as Anglos wear sombreros and drink a lot of margaritas at some corporate fake-Mexican chain restaurant.

Juneteenth marks the end of slavery in the US, when a Union general began enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas. Implicit in the holiday are the gaps between January 1. 1863 (when the Proclamation was supposed to take effect), June 19, 1865 (when it actually did), and the dawn of true racial equality (still to come). So it’s both a celebration and a moment to reflect on what still needs to be done.

While the holiday will always be special for Black Americans whose ancestors were enslaved, the rest of us should also appreciate living in a country without slavery. So there is something here that everyone can celebrate.

and the Supreme Court

In a 7-2 ruling, the Court once again refused to invalidate the Affordable Care Act, i.e. ObamaCare.

This is the third time the Court has ruled on the ACA, and the challenges to it have become increasingly bizarre. The first challenge, in 2012, was based on a novel restriction on the commerce clause that literally had not come up in the year-long debate leading to the ACA’s passage in 2009.

The constitutional limits that the bill supposedly disregarded could not have been anticipated because they did not exist while the bill was being written. They were invented only in the fall of 2009, quite late in the legislative process.

The root idea of the first challenge was that the commerce clause allows Congress to regulate actions that affect interstate commerce, but not inaction. So penalizing people for not buying health insurance is unconstitutional.

No one had ever heard of this idea prior to ObamaCare, but the Court supported it 5-4. However, Chief Justice Roberts saved ObamaCare by reinterpreting the individual mandate’s penalty as a tax. (Congress could have written it as a tax from the beginning, but didn’t want the political baggage of “raising taxes”. The possibility that it might be unconstitutional as a penalty was not mentioned at the time by either the advocates or critics of the bill. Nobody decided to “chance it”; the inaction doctrine just wasn’t a thing.) So ObamaCare was 5-4 constitutional, but for a different reason than Congress had imagined.

The second challenge made even less sense. Somebody noticed that if you took one sentence of the bill completely out of context, it didn’t seem to allow the federal government to subsidize insurance policies bought on exchanges that HHS set up on behalf of states that chose not to create their own exchanges, even though the law specifically authorized HHS to set up such exchanges, which couldn’t function in anything like the way intended without the subsidies.

It was sort of a “gotcha” argument. No one claimed that anyone had ever intended the law to work that way, just that you could take that one sentence out of context and screw everything up. The Supreme Court rejected that interpretation 6-3, with Thomas, Alito, and Scalia dissenting.

Meanwhile, Republicans kept trying to repeal the ACA, and came within one Senate vote of doing so in 2017, even though no Republicans either in Congress or in the Trump administration had the faintest idea what to do about the tens of millions of people who would lose their health insurance.

Later that year, one part of Trump’s tax cut reduced the penalty/tax of the individual mandate to zero, and that set up the latest attempt to get the Supreme Court to skewer the ACA. Try to follow this one:

So, under current law, most Americans must either obtain health insurance or pay zero dollars. The Texas plaintiffs didn’t just claim that this zeroed-out tax is unconstitutional (on the theory that a zero dollar tax can’t be an exercise of Congress’s taxing power), they claimed that the entire law must be declared invalid if the zero dollar tax is stuck down.

It was an audacious ask of the Supreme Court — requesting the justices strike down the entire law despite only claiming that a single provision of Obamacare is unconstitutional. Especially since the provision that the plaintiffs challenged literally does nothing at all.

Not even Clarence Thomas would go for that one. (Oversimplifying just a little: The Court ruled that a tax of $0 causes no injury to anyone, so the plaintiffs don’t have standing to sue.) That made it a 7-2 decision, with Alito and Gorsuch approving of this nonsense.

Leaving us with this question: Is ObamaCare safe yet? Maybe Republicans need to learn a Hunting-of-the-Snark lesson: What the Supreme Court tells you three times is true. ObamaCare is constitutional.

The general lesson of these three cases should be that the Supreme Court isn’t willing to make a purely political decision to get rid of ObamaCare — and without politics, cases with so little merit would never have been filed in the first place. (Samuel Alito voted for all three challenges, and wrote the dissent on this one. That tells you all you need to know about him.)

So ObamaCare should be safe unless Republicans gain control of Congress and the Presidency again. And even then, repeal is starting to feel like tilting at windmills. If the GOP ever comes up with an actual healthcare policy — beyond Trump’s empty promise of a “beautiful” healthcare plan to be unveiled after the ACA was repealed — then ObamaCare might wind up in trouble again. But that seems unlikely.

Jonathan Chait sees the 12-year ObamaCare drama as a paradigm of Republican politics: They motivate their voters by inventing a dire threat to the American way of life — has anybody faced an “ObamaCare death panel” during the past dozen years? — and then they get trapped by their own rhetoric and can’t let it drop.

Turning a policy question over insurance-market regulation and subsidy levels into a cultural fight was a shrewd, and perhaps necessary strategy. But it left the party’s elite with no way to back down. Having persuaded their own voters the law was evil and an existential threat, they had to act as if this claim was true. Hence red states refusing to opt into the Medicaid expansion, even at the cost of punishing their own doctors and hospitals, who have been stuck with the cost of treating uninsured people who show up in the emergency room. …

For a lawyer in a Republican state, refusing to join a lawsuit to eliminate Obamacare merely because its legal merits were preposterous was therefore unthinkable. If they had ambitions to a future court nomination, how could they dare mark themselves as ideologically unreliable by opposing the holy cause of Obamacare repeal, in any form?

Something similar is going on now with respect to Trump’s Big Lie about the “stolen election”. Having whipped up such a fever with so little truth to it, they find themselves unable to deny even blatantly ridiculous conspiracy theories. That’s how 17 state AGs signed on to a baseless lawsuit to prevent four other states from certifying their electors. How could they not?

The other major case this week concerned balancing non-discrimination laws with the rights of conservative Christians. (Most news outlets are calling this “religious freedom”, but I see little evidence that the Court wants to protect religious freedom in general.) As is the pattern in several recent cases, the court ruled narrowly in favor of the Christian group, which was Catholic Social Services. They are allowed to continue receiving public funding in Philadelphia while they refuse to consider same-sex couples as candidates to be foster parents.

But the Court once again resisted making a sweeping ruling with broad implications. This means more such cases will be filed, and will rise up to the Supreme Court. I’m not sure what they’re waiting for.

and Biden’s meeting with Putin

The world will little note nor long remember President Biden’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva Wednesday, and that’s a nice change. One Trump-administration notion that deserves to be forgotten is that political relationships between major powers depend on the personal relationships between their leaders.

Trump was never America, and whether or not Putin liked him (or at least found him amusing) didn’t have much to do with anything. Ditto for President Xi of China or anybody else. North Korea was going to keep doing what North Korea does, independent of whether Trump and Kim Jong-un “fell in love“.

That said, it was good once again to see a president at least try to represent our nation’s interests, rather than his own. Trump could never separate the two; Russia helped him get elected, so Putin was a good guy. Trump and Putin could stand together against the American intelligence services, which worried about having a president indebted to one of our enemies.

Trump, BTW, is doubling down on that question:

As to who do I trust, they asked, Russia or our “Intelligence” from the Obama era, meaning people like Comey, McCabe, the two lovers, Brennan, Clapper, and numerous other sleezebags, or Russia, the answer, after all that has been found out and written, should be obvious.

Indeed it should.

but you should look at what George Packer has been writing

The featured post discusses his new book Last Best Hope.

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Covid case numbers are still falling: The 7-day daily average is down to 11,000. The average number of deaths per day has fallen below 300. 45% of Americans are fully vaccinated, with 53% getting at least one dose. Reported number of doses per day actually went up last week, to 1.2 million. The differences between states are getting starker. Vermont has fully vaccinated 64%, Mississippi only 29%.

Last week I anticipated the annual meeting of the Southern Baptists, which happened in Nashville this week. Tuesday, the convention narrowly defeated the most conservative candidate for president. The NYT describes the new president, Ed Litton, as a “moderate”, but in an interview with Vox, scholar Greg Thornbury pointed out that moderation is relative. (“Compared to what? Idi Amin?” Thornbury described Litton as “a pretty conservative guy”.)

The Convention also beat back a resolution denouncing critical race theory by name. The root problem seems to be that while the denomination’s recent leadership has wanted to take at least token steps towards rooting out racism and making the SBC more welcoming to people of color, the rank-and-file are still pretty comfortable with white supremacy.

I think the people who are the dyed-in-the-wool evangelicals are the people that showed up to the polls and voted for Trump in the face of four years of utter vulgarity. They did so anyway, because that’s where they are. When you looked at January 6, and you looked at the crowd that stormed the Capitol, look at how many prayer meetings there were before the storm happened? How many praise songs were being sung?

Anti-Trump Republican Peter Wehner makes a good point in an NYT column: While the SBC is trying to defend against critical race theory and wokeness, it’s ignoring a far more serious problem: QAnon and the conspiracy theory habits of thought that are taking root in evangelical congregations.

This reminds me of a rule-of-thumb I came up with years ago for separating authentic religious leaders from charlatans: An authentic religious leader challenges the congregation to think about their own failings. A charlatan flatters the congregation by talking about other people’s failings.

Not many Southern Baptists are in danger of being pulled into Marxism by critical race theory. But a lot of them are in danger of sliding into the QAnon fantasy world.

If Mike Pence can find a friendly audience anywhere, you’d think it would be at a Faith and Freedom Coalition meeting in Florida. But no. Pence was heckled Friday, facing calls of “traitor” because he refused to help Trump stay in power after losing the 2020 election.

By now, Republicans ought to understand that there’s no station where you can safely get off the Trump train. If you’re not for a full fascist takeover that makes the Donald president-for-life, eventually you’ll be discarded. Pence may not recognize that his political career is over, but it is.

The vaccine wars continue. Florida won an injunction against the CDC, which at least temporarily sets aside CDC guidelines that determine whether cruise ships can sail. A Florida law stops cruise lines from requiring passengers prove they’ve been vaccinated, but Carnival and Norwegian say they will require vaccinations anyway. Celebrity will have different rules for unvaccinated passengers, who may be charged more for testing and may not be able to get off the ship in all ports.

The Washington Post writes about the family conflicts caused when a bride wants everyone at her wedding vaccinated, and key relatives (usually her father) refuse.

Trump was interviewed by the conservative Jewish magazine Ami:

You know what really surprised me? I did the Heights, I did Jerusalem, and I did Iran—the Iran Deal was a disaster, right? And I also did many other things. Jewish people who live in the United States don’t love Israel enough. Does that make sense to you? I’m not talking about Orthodox Jews. I believe we got 25% of the Jewish vote, and it doesn’t make sense.

Two things he doesn’t seem to understand:

  • A lot of Jews take the social-justice message of the prophets seriously. They’re liberals because their God cares about the poor, the persecuted, and refugees.
  • American Jews are genuinely freaked out by the violent white supremacists in Trump’s base.

What doesn’t make sense to me is that 21% of American Jews — not 25%, Trump always exaggerates how much support he has — were able to put all that aside and vote for him anyway.

A guy who drove his car into a crowd of anti-police-brutality protesters in Minnesota has been charged with murder.

Meanwhile, that St. Louis couple who stood on the porch of their mansion waving guns at peaceful protesters have pled guilty to misdemeanors and paid a fine. They had to give up the specific firearms they misused, but nothing stops them from buying replacements.

They appeared at the Republican Convention last summer, because threatening Black people with violence is what the GOP stands for these days. The husband is currently running for the Senate, hoping to replace retiring Missouri Republican Roy Blunt.

This is a good time to do a reverse-the-races thought experiment: If peaceful White protesters walk past a Black family’s home, and the Black husband and wife come out and threaten them with guns, what happens next? Assuming they survive and escape prison, is there any chance Democrats want them running for office?

The First Dog has died. Champ Biden, a German shepherd, was 13. Champ is survived by his adopted brother, Major.

Meanwhile, Joe and Jill Biden celebrated their 44th anniversary on Thursday. You know who was also married in 1977? Donald and Ivana Trump, in April. But I don’t recall anybody making a big deal out of that anniversary. Media bias, I guess.

Lake Mead, created on the Colorado River by the Hoover Dam, seems to be drying up, due to a combination of climate change, development, and excessive water use. The current drought is exacerbating a 20-year trend. 25 million people depend on the lake for water.

Reuters described this week’s heat wave in the Southwest as “apocalyptic“. Las Vegas hit 116 degrees Wednesday and Phoenix got to 118 Thursday. Denver had three straight 100-degree days. Both California and Texas strained to keep up with the electricity demand. The heat wave and drought has raised anxiety about wildfires later in the summer.

and let’s close with a message about safety

The Danish Road Safety Council made a truly clever public service announcement about wearing bicycle helmets. A Viking warrior’s wife lays down the law: “You can go looting and pillaging all you want, but you have to wear a helmet.”

Laws and Limits

While there are supposed to be laws and limits on the presidency, Trump was unrestrained, exposing just how toothless those safeguards have become and just how urgently the nation needs to reform the office of the presidency itself.

– The Boston Globe “Future-proofing the Presidency

This week’s featured posts are “Critical Race Theory is the New Boogeyman” and “Cleaning Up After Trump“.

This week everybody was talking about Trump’s corruption

One featured post discussed this, beginning with The Boston Globe’s “Future-proofing the Presidency” series.

I missed this development back in November: In 2017, the German news magazine Der Spiegel had published a shocking cover of Trump decapitating the Statue of Liberty. But their post-election cover last fall showed Biden putting the head back on.

and Critical Race Theory

The other featured post examined how CRT is becoming just another content-free scare-label, in the tradition of cancel culture and political correctness.

and the G-7

With Biden replacing Trump, the G-7 meeting in Cornwall lacked the fireworks we’ve gotten used to. Trump had an attention-grabbing habit of insulting our democratic allies while fawning over our authoritarian enemies, but Biden has returned to more typically American behavior. It looks like we can trust him to go overseas without embarrassing us.

The seven nations all pledged to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030, and together they will donate a billion doses of Covid-19 vaccine to the developing world.

The group last met in 2018, with the 2020 meeting being canceled due to the pandemic. (If you remember, that was the meeting Trump initially awarded to his own company to host, before backing down from such a blatantly corrupt act.)

Biden is now heading to a NATO summit. From there he goes to a meeting with Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in Geneva. That’s unlikely to be the lovefest it was for Trump.

This socially distanced photo of the G-7 leaders (plus two guests I haven’t identified; I’m amazed at the news sites that will publish a nine-member G-7 photo without comment) has led to a lot of humorous response.

Steven Colbert tweeted:

Before I order these figures, does anyone know if you can take them out and play with them or are they glued to the display stand?

Some people noticed the resemblance to a Star Trek crew that has just beamed down (and expressed concern about Angela Merkel’s prospects for survival, given her red top). Others thought the diplomatic meeting was about to end with a song and dance. (Both Macron and Trudeau look ready for a solo.)

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Last week I quoted Seth Abramson’s point that Trump could stop talk of a coup with a short statement saying that he would not cooperate with an effort to reinstate him as president by force. Well, this week Reuters outlined the death threats Trump supporters have been making against election officials who refused to let Trump intimidate them into overturning a legal election. This is something else Trump could probably easily stop, but doesn’t. He’s complicit.

ProPublica published an expose of how little tax the super-rich pay.

In 2007, Jeff Bezos, then a multibillionaire and now the world’s richest man, did not pay a penny. He achieved the feat again in 2011. In 2018, Tesla founder Elon Musk, the second-richest person in the world, also paid no federal income taxes. Michael Bloomberg managed to do the same in recent years. Billionaire investor Carl Icahn did it twice. George Soros paid no federal income tax three years in a row.

As is so often the case, the scandal is not that they broke the law, but that they didn’t. The biggest loophole is that capital gains on stock aren’t taxed until the stock is sold. So as Amazon stock skyrockets, Jeff Bezos can become the world’s richest man without triggering a taxable event.

Middle-class people, whose wealth is mainly in their homes, can’t do that. Even if you don’t sell it, your home is subject to property tax. It may take a while for the assessor to catch up with the value a zooming house market puts on your home, but eventually it will happen.

This is why Elizabeth Warren’s wealth-tax proposal shouldn’t seem all that radical. The New Yorker elaborated on that idea.

Here’s an example of bipartisanship: The Oregon House voted 59-1 to oust Rep. Mike Nearman, with only Nearman himself voting in his favor.

Nearman was removed for the disorderly behavior of allowing rioters into the closed Capitol building during a special legislative session on Dec. 21, 2020. His actions led to dozens of people — some armed and wearing body armor — gaining access to the Capitol, thousands of dollars in damage and six injured Salem and Oregon State police officers. …

Republicans had stayed mostly silent on Nearman’s actions until the past week, after a video surfaced that showed Nearman suggesting to a crowd days before the riot that if demonstrators texted him he might let them into the Capitol.

This is one reason why it’s not unthinkable that Republican members of Congress might have collaborated in the January 6 riot. A bipartisan commission would have been a good way to look into such possibilities, if Republicans in the Senate hadn’t filibustered the proposal to create such a commission. Treason was in the air in late December and early January. It was being spread by the President of the United States, and some number of Republican officials were infected by it.

The upcoming national meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville is the latest battleground in the culture wars. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal both have good summaries. Southern Baptists may still seem quite conservative to non-evangelicals, but from the point of view of its own conservative wing, the denomination has been “drifting” to the left.

One faction argues the SBC should step back from its role in electoral politics in order to broaden its reach and reverse a 15-year decline in membership. Another faction says the denomination has been drifting to the left, and the way to retain and attract members is to recommit to its conservative roots and stay politically engaged. Each side accuses the other of straying from the SBC’s core mission.

What’s unusual about this conflict is that it seems to have little to do with theology. One side objects to “wokeness” and wants to denounce “critical race theory”, while the other wants to be more welcoming to non-whites, and to take sexual assault accusations more seriously.

So Netanyahu is finally out of power in Israel. Ben Rhodes comments:

One lesson from Israel: to defeat an autocrat who attacks democratic norms and institutions, oppositions need to unify under a big tent. In Israel’s case, that even led Lapid to compromise on who would start as PM, but he understood the imperative of getting Bibi out first.

This is an increasingly common and necessary strategy around the world. In Hungary, opposition parties have agreed to put aside differences and unify in next year’s election to oust Netanyahu’s good buddy and fellow corrupt, nationalist autocrat: Viktor Orban.

and let’s close with some maps that make an interesting point

Sometimes geology is destiny.

Voting for Change

If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.

Emma Goldman

This week’s featured posts are “Trump’s Next Coup” and “Manchin Deserts the Fight for Democracy“.

This week everybody was talking about Trump’s next coup attempt

In a featured post, I interpret his hints of being “reinstated” in August.

Meanwhile, Republicans continue to deny and cover up his last attempt at treason.

Chris Hayes:

We’re never gonna see eye to eye on whether I should have been hanged, but I’m proud to have been at his side (except for the one time he sent a violent mob after me and my family)

and the dimming prospects for protecting democracy

In an op-ed yesterday, Joe Manchin doubled down on his defense of the filibuster, and said he will vote against the For the People Act. I discuss this more fully in a featured post.

and Biden’s Tulsa speech

Tuesday, for the first time in the century since it happened, an American president showed up to observe the anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre. President Biden gave a very good speech that emphasized the massacre’s continuing significance.

When people deny American racism, they usually end up explaining the racial wealth-and-income gap in terms of some Black deficiency. Maybe Blacks lack intelligence or a work ethic or two-parent households or the ability to defer gratification. After all, it’s the only logical conclusion: If nothing is wrong with American society, something must be wrong with Black people.

But Tulsa points out a factor we can’t sweep under the rug: In the Greenwood neighborhood, Black people were building wealth the way traditional ideals say Americans are supposed to: They opened businesses, trained for professions, and owned homes. But all that was destroyed by white violence. And Tulsa was not the only place this happened.

While the Tulsa massacre was a century ago, it’s not just ancient history, because wealth has a way of sticking around and growing generation by generation. I appreciate that Biden didn’t just lay a wreath; he called our attention to what the massacre and the burning of 35 blocks of Greenwood mean in terms of Black success or lack of success.

Imagine all those hotels and diners and mom-and-pop shops that could have been passed down this past hundred years. Imagine what could have been done for Black families in Greenwood: financial security and generational wealth.

Biden tied this violent destruction (and the subsequent unwillingness of insurance companies to pay claims) to other ways that Black families have systematically been denied the opportunity to build wealth.

While the people of Greenwood rebuilt again in the years after the massacre, it didn’t last. Eventually neighborhoods were red-lined on maps, locking Black Tulsa out of homeownerships. A highway was built right through the heart of the community … cutting off Black families and businesses from jobs and opportunity. Chronic underinvestment from state and federal governments denied Greenwood even just a chance at rebuilding.

One common objection to the notion of white privilege is: “Nobody gave me what I have. I worked for it.” Nobody gave me this house — I made all the payments. Nobody gave me my education — I studied hard and my parents took out a second mortgage. Nobody gave me this job — I earned the credentials to get started and I worked my way up. Nobody gave me this business — I took the risks and made them pay off.

All that may be true. Despite notable exceptions, for the most part successful White people don’t just cruise into affluence. They have to walk the path to success step by step. When they look back, they see their struggles and resent the implication that they don’t deserve what they have.

And yet, while they (i.e., we) did have to walk that path themselves, the path was open. The loans had to be paid back, but they were available. Their parents had something to mortgage. Schools let them in, and teachers took them seriously. Teen-age hijinks didn’t land them in jail or get them killed by police. They found mentors (or investors) when they needed them. When they deserved a promotion, they got one. And after they had built something, nobody took it away.

Whites don’t usually think of those things as privileges. That’s just the way life is supposed to work for everybody. But it hasn’t always and it still doesn’t now. That’s the point.

and assault weapons

A federal judge threw out a California assault-weapons ban that has been in place for 31 years. Reading the decision leaves me puzzled. Judge Benitez roots his reasoning in the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision (which Justice Stevens described as “the Supreme Court’s worst decision of my tenure“) which says the Second Amendment “elevates above all other interests the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.”

Benitez’ point, then, is that the AR-15 is great weapon for defense against home invaders.

While the state ought to protect its residents against victimization by a mass shooter, it ought also to protect its residents against victimization by home-invading criminals. But little is found in the Attorney General’s court filings reflecting a goal of preventing violence perpetrated against law-abiding citizens in their homes.

I’m having trouble picturing the usefulness of a long gun in a home-invader context. In a close-combat situation, I would think you’d want a weapon where the barrel is hard to grab or push aside. Special Operations Force Report claims otherwise. Still, the implied scenario in that article is multiple intruders who are themselves armed and determined to shoot it out with you, so merely killing one of them will not scare the others away. I have to wonder how often that situation occurs. Is it more or less frequent than, say, mass shootings?

Maryland banned assault weapons after the Sandy Hook massacre, and a federal appeals court upheld that law in 2016, noting that the Heller decision specifically mentioned M-16 rifles (which are close cousins of the AR-15).

Because the banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are “like” “M-16 rifles” —“weapons that are most useful in military service” — they are among those arms that the Second Amendment does not shield.

The Supreme Court refused to review that case, letting the law stand.

But that was in 2017, and the Supreme Court is different now: A man who lost the 2016 popular vote by 2.9 million votes became president, and a Republican Senate majority representing a minority of American citizens approved his three appointments to the Court. So because of that exercise of minority rule, the Constitution means something different now than it did in 2017.

The thing I find most disturbing in conservative judges’ continuing expansion of the Second Amendment is that it puts any kind of gun control permanently beyond the reach of democracy, regardless of future events. If Sandy Hooks start happening in every state on every day, nothing can be done.

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The seven-day average of daily new Covid cases in the US is now below 15K, with less than 500 daily deaths. 51.3% of the population has received at least one vaccine shot, and 41.6% are fully vaccinated. (You’ll see higher numbers in some sources, because they are giving a percentage of adults, or of the eligible population, which is now people 12 and over.) But vaccination rates are going down, particularly in the South.

This isn’t getting a lot of coverage, but the long-term implications could be huge:

The G-7 group of advanced economies announced an historic accord to set a minimum global corporate tax rate on Saturday, taking a first step to reverse a four-decade decline in the taxes paid by multinational corporations.

As things stand now, big global corporations can play countries off against each other. “You want me to pay taxes? I’ll just go somewhere else.” If countries can work together, though, they can avoid the race-to-the-bottom on corporate tax rates.

Economist Heidi Shierholz debunks the “labor shortage” theory, which you may see popping up in Facebook memes about how people don’t want to work.

Shierholz defines a labor shortage as “accelerating wage growth, accompanied by sluggish job growth”. That’s not happening. Every recession ends with a sorting-out process, where employers evaluate how many workers they need and workers evaluate their job prospects. It usually doesn’t go all that smoothly, but it works out eventually. So far, there’s no reason to think it will be different this time.

My personal guess is that a lot of women will re-enter the job market when children go back to school in the fall.

The May jobs report can fit into just about anybody’s theory of what the economy is doing. The economy added over half a million jobs, which is good. But some economists were predicting more. The unemployment rate is dropping (now 5.8%), but is still higher than before the pandemic.

In short, the economy continues to bounce back, but it’s not all the way back yet. Maybe it will get there and maybe it won’t. The whole last year is kind of unprecedented, so there’s not a lot of history to base a prediction on.

Democrat Melanie Stansbury held the House seat vacated by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland by a 25-point margin in a special election Tuesday. A Republican victory, or even a close race, would have been shocking in this district, but Stansbury easily overcame an effort to paint her as anti-law-enforcement.

If there’s a pattern in the special elections held since November, it’s that voters show up when they expect their side to win: Republicans are outperforming in Republican districts and Democrats in Democratic districts. There hasn’t been a true swing-district special election yet.

I can’t believe we have to keep defending Anthony Fauci, but any time I scan through Fox News, they’re going after him. The narrative the Trumpists want to tell is that the whole pandemic was a conspiracy between Fauci and China, and that Trump performed admirably. It’s insane.

Is it too soon to say good-bye to Netanyahu? A bizarre coalition looks ready to form a new government, while Bibi himself seems to be plotting his own January 6.

I wasn’t ready to get on a cruise ship this summer yet anyway, but the latest news seals the deal: Royal Caribbean has surrendered to Florida’s ban on businesses requiring vaccinations. The islands will still be there next year.

How to tell you’re raising a smart kid:

Just learned our 9y/o did an experiment on us. Lost tooth, told no one for 3d, kept tooth under his pillow. No $. Then he tells us he lost the tooth, next night there is money under his pillow. Then confronted us with his scientific evidence that the tooth fairy isn’t real.

The kid guesses that a scam is happening, constructs a method to prove it, but doesn’t blow the whistle until after he gets his payoff.

and let’s close with something magnificently pointless

The idea of domino patterns is to build something up just so you can knock it down. I don’t know why it’s so compelling, but it is. In this video, 82 days of work are undone in about five minutes.


When people are moving heaven and earth to block an investigation, you’ve got to ask: What is it they’re afraid will be revealed?

Senator Angus King (I-Maine)

This week’s featured post is “The Bipartisanship Charade is Almost Over“.

This week everybody was talking about the Trump grand jury

Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. had “convened the grand jury that is expected to decide whether to indict former president Donald Trump, other executives at his company or the business itself”.

Vance has had Trump’s tax returns for about three months, after fighting a years-long legal battle to obtain them. In March, The New Yorker had a long article on Vance and the Trump investigation, which it described as

a broad examination of the possibility that Trump and his company engaged in tax, banking, and insurance fraud. Investigators are questioning whether Trump profited illegally by deliberately misleading authorities about the value of his real-estate assets. [Former Trump lawyer Michael] Cohen has alleged that Trump inflated property valuations in order to get favorable bank loans and insurance policies, while simultaneously lowballing the value of the same assets in order to reduce his tax burden.

The New York Times also claimed in September to have seen Trump’s tax returns, and a more recent article summarizes his questionable tax avoidance strategies.

The vision of Trump in an orange jumpsuit is so compelling that Democrats are easily tempted to waste time speculating about how or when it might happen. But we just don’t know. When Republicans investigate Democrats — like the Starr investigation of Bill Clinton or the FBI probe into Hillary’s emails — those investigations leak, because politics was the point from the beginning; the investigation was never about finding a serious crime and taking it to court. But from Mueller and Comey through to Vance, the various investigations into Trump have not leaked.

So despite the many hours of coverage this topic has attracted this week, the legitimate tea-leaf reading can be summed up fairly quickly: Vance must believe he can prove that somebody committed a crime. Maybe it’s Trump. Or maybe it’s somebody Vance hopes to flip against Trump, like Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg or one of Trump’s children.

But financial charges against rich men are hard to make stick, both because plutocrats hire good lawyers, and because they can always hide behind underlings. (“I just the sign the documents my staff tells me to sign. I couldn’t possibly read them all.”) Convicting Trump will require getting some of those underlings to flip. Somebody needs to tell a jury, “I explained this to him and he told me to break the law.”

One thing I can predict: If Trump faces charges, he will instantly transform from a brilliant businessman to Sergeant I-Know-Nothing Schultz. Something similar happened when he answered questions (in writing) for Bob Mueller. After years of telling us how smart he is — “I have a very good brain” — Trump suddenly sounded like an escapee from the dementia ward. No matter what Mueller asked, Trump’s answer was some form of “I don’t remember.”

and anniversaries of racist violence

Tuesday marked one year since George Floyd’s murder. Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre.

With regard to George Floyd, the big question raised by the one-year mark is: How much has changed? And the answer is: some things, but not nearly enough.

The biggest change, in my opinion, is the precedent set by the Chauvin trial itself: George Floyd’s killer was convicted of murder, and other Minneapolis police officers testified against him. It’s still possible to argue that Chauvin should have been convicted of first-degree murder rather than second, but “Police always get away with it” isn’t true any more.

Laws have also changed, at least somewhat. Numerous cities and states have passed some kind of police reform, and some version of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act may get through Congress this summer. Mostly the reforms center around when and how police are allowed to use force.

Colorado now bans the use of deadly force to apprehend or arrest a person suspected only of minor or nonviolent offenses. Also, though many states permit the use of deadly force to prevent “escape,” five states enacted restrictions or prohibitions on shooting at fleeing vehicles or suspects, a policy aimed at preventing deaths like that of Adam Toledo, a 13-year old shot by Chicago police during a foot chase. Additionally, 9 states and DC enacted complete bans on chokeholds and other neck restraints while 8 states enacted legislation restricting their use to instances in which officers are legally justified to use deadly force.

But the national shock of the Floyd murder, the millions of Americans who demonstrated against it, and the many white people who finally seemed to recognize the problem, appeared (just for a moment) to promise much more. Perhaps the nation would fundamentally rethink public safety and the role of police. “Defund the Police” may have inspired more backlash than reform, but nonetheless the idea was getting out there: Not every kind of disorder is best handled by people with guns. Maybe some of the money that now passes through police departments should instead go to unarmed first responders trained in mental health or social work. Maybe traffic tickets could be written by civil servants who can’t shoot people.

Despite a few tentative steps, that promise has gone unfulfilled. The symbol here is the Minneapolis City Council’s pledge to “end policing as we know it”, which came to nothing.

Finally, the bottom line has not budged: The unjustified killing of Americans by police continues, and the victims continue to be disproportionately non-white. We know this both anecdotally — Rayshard Brooks, Daunte Wright, Ma’Khia Bryant, Adam Toledo — and statistically.

Any individual killing has details that can be debated, but the larger picture is undeniable: No comparable country has this problem to any similar degree.

If we were rational about this problem, US police departments would be flying folks in from Norway or England to explain how they police modern cities without killing people. But instead, American cops have been paying “experts” like Dave Grossman of the Killology Research Group to tell them how to be better “warriors” on the “battleground” of American cities.

The 100-year anniversary of Tulsa raises a different set of issues: how we teach and commemorate US history. When I was growing up in the 1960s, “race riot” meant outbreaks of violence in Black sections of Los Angeles or Detroit. Race riots were yet another reason for Whites to fear Blacks, and to vote for “law and order” candidates like Richard Nixon or George Wallace.

Only decades later did I discover that often Whites have been the rioters. I’m not sure when exactly I first learned about the destruction of the prosperous Greenwood district in Tulsa, but it has definitely been in the last ten years.

When it was over on June 1, 1921, 35 square blocks of what was nicknamed Black Wall Street lay in smoldering ruins. There were reports that bodies were thrown into the Arkansas River or buried in mass graves. Hundreds of survivors were rounded up at gunpoint and held for weeks at camps.

No one was ever held accountable for the lives lost or the property destroyed. Insurance claims filed by homeowners and business owners were rejected

I didn’t learn about that in school. In 2014, I described my high school education in Black history like this:

Except for Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, [the Black people Lincoln emancipated] vanished like the Lost Tribes of Israel. They wouldn’t re-enter history until the 1950s, when for some reason they still weren’t free.

So: Black people in Tulsa in 1921? What Black people?

Fortunately, ignorance about the Tulsa riot is declining. Recently, Tulsa has become a touchstone in popular culture’s re-examination of America’s racial history. It plays a key role, for example, in both the Watchmen and Lovecraft Country series on HBO.

Similarly, I first heard of Ida B. Wells and her anti-lynching campaign when I went to the National Museum of African American History in 2018. Ditto for the Harlem Renaissance. I mean, are you sure Black culture bloomed in the 1920s? Did we even have Black people then?

So as Republican legislatures ban “critical race theory” from schools and protect Confederate statues against liberals who want to “erase history“, it’s worth remembering Tulsa. The history of white supremacy in America, and the racist violence that has maintained it, was erased from public consciousness long ago. We need efforts like the 1619 Project to recover the national memories that white racist propaganda has made us forget.

and the pandemic

Recent trends continue: Vaccinations continue to rise while new cases and deaths fall. The 7-day average for daily new cases is down to 21K, after peaking over 250K in mid-January. The number of people with at least one dose of the vaccine has crossed 50%.

A new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that we might get to the 70% vaccinated level that some experts say would give American society herd immunity. In particular, some holdout groups are starting to come around, particularly Latinos and people without college degrees.

Sometimes trends advance because nobody wants to be on the fringe. As long as some friend you think of as more sensible is holding out, joining the trend doesn’t seem urgent. But at some point, it’s just you and people you think of as wackos.

I kinda-sorta get how a person might mistrust the government and the medical establishment so much that they avoid vaccination. Last summer, when it looked like Trump might push the FDA to approve a vaccine prematurely so that he could tout it as a campaign issue, I was skeptical myself. But that didn’t happen, millions of people have been vaccinated with few side-effects, and the case-counts and deaths have been dropping. So I got vaccinated.

But even in the Trump-corrupts-the-FDA scenario, it never occurred to me that I might protest against other people taking the vaccine, just like it never occurs to me to hassle people who wear masks in situations where I don’t think they’re necessary. (If you want to wear a mask when you’re alone in your own home, go for it. Why should I care?) After all, the point of not taking the vaccine would have been to make my own risk assessment, which I should be free to do in all but the most dire circumstances. But using my judgment to overrule other people’s risk assessments is something else entirely.

Well, I’m clearly not thinking like a true right-wing loony. In fact, people are protesting against the vaccine, including a Tennessee woman — what got into Tennessee this week? — who shouted “No vaccine!” as she drove her SUV through a vaccination tent “at a high rate of speed”, threatening both the medical staff and ordinary people who came to be vaccinated. She’s been arrested and charged with seven counts of reckless endangerment.

Apparently, this is a thing. The Washington Post reports:

Demonstrations have popped up in vaccination sites such as high schools and racing tracks in recent months, and anti-vaccine protesters temporarily shut down Dodger Stadium after maskless people blocked the entrance to one of the country’s largest sites.

I also can’t explain why hitting people with a car has become such a popular tactic on the right, to the point that Republican legislatures are starting to write it into law.

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Da(Y)go Brown:

A lady just came up to me and said “Speak English, we are in San Diego.” So I politely responded by asking her “how do I say ‘San Diego’ in English?” The look of bewilderment on her face made it feel like a Friday.

Apparently by coincidence, two once-crazy ideas are now being treated more respectfully: the lab-leak theory of Covid, and the existence of UFOs.

I’m not really in a position to say anything definitive on either theory, but I do think it’s important not to jump too far: Even if Covid leaked out of a Chinese lab, that doesn’t mean it was engineered by humans or released as a bioweapon attack. More likely, the lab collected a bunch of viruses to study, and one got loose.

Wired’s Adam Rogers does a good job of separating ordinary scientific uncertainty from what he calls “weaponized uncertainty”.

When scientists say “We’re not totally sure,” they mean their analysis of some event or outcome includes a statistical possibility that they’re wrong. They never go 100 percent. Sometimes they think they might possibly be wronger than others. This is the world of confidence intervals, of mathematical models and curves, of uncertainty principles. But non-scientists hear “We’re not totally sure” as “So you mean there’s a chance?” It’s the mad interstitial space between scientific—let’s say, statistical—uncertainty and the meaning of normal human uncertainty. This is where “just asking questions [wink]” lives.

It’s a subtle difference. When Tony Fauci says he’d like to get more certainty, for example, he most likely means that, yeah, all things being equal, it’s better to know than not know—especially if that’s the way the political winds are blowing.

But when political actors like senators and right-wing TV commentators talk about this uncertainty, this doubt, they’re trying to jam a crowbar into this gap in understanding and lever it open. They’re still hinting that the Chinese government is doing something sneaky here, something warlike—and that even the scientists think it’s possible. Because if they can seem to have the backing of science, they can use that power elsewhere. They can bang shoes on tables about Biden administration inaction and Chinese skullduggery to distract from their lies about the election, about attempts to curtail voting rights, about the January 6 insurrection, about efforts to get the world vaccinated against the disease they claim to want to understand better.

FWIW, I live next door to a biologist, who tells me that Mother Nature is still much better at constructing nasty viruses than we are. Apparently, engineering the Andromeda Strain is more difficult than the movies would have you believe.

Same point about UFOs: Pentagon videos of literal “unidentified flying objects” do not prove that aliens walk among us. “We do not know what we’re seeing” does not equal “We’re seeing alien spaceships.”

Richard Pape from the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Threats, on what he’s learned from studying the people arrested for the Trump Insurrection:

One overriding driver across all the three studies that we’ve now conducted is the fear of the Great Replacement. The Great Replacement is the idea that the rights of Hispanics and Blacks — that is, the rights of minorities — are outpacing the rights of whites. … The number one risk factor [in whether a county sent an insurrectionist to Washington] is the percent decline of the non-Hispanic white population.

The whole interview is worth watching. The insurrectionists are overwhelmingly white and male. We ordinarily think of violent revolutionaries as young and desperate, but these folks are mostly middle-aged and well-to-do, with some of them owning their own businesses. What unites them is racial anxiety, their fear that whites are losing their superior place in American society.

Sean Hannity, who is worth $250 million and makes $40 million a year, advises his listeners to “work two jobs” rather than “rely on the government for anything”. Better that you should never have time to see your kids than that he should have to pay taxes.

and let’s close with something ridiculous

“One of the craziest, little-league type plays you’ll ever see.” Batting with a runner on second and two outs Thursday afternoon, Cub shortstop Javier Baez apparently grounds out to end the inning. When the throw from third pulls the first baseman Will Craig off the base, he moves to tag Baez, who starts retreating back towards home. Craig forgets he could just go back to tag first and end the inning, and things just get wilder from there.


Money is a role, not a thing.

– Paul Krugman,
What We Talk About When We Talk About Money” (5-21-2021)

This week’s featured post is “The Problem With Bitcoin“.

This week everybody was talking about January 6

What more is there to say about the Republican refusal to support a bipartisan commission to investigate Trump’s insurrection? Kevin McCarthy gave Rep. John Katko a list of demands before he negotiated an agreement with House Homeland Security Chair Benny Thompson, and Katko achieved them: Republicans and Democrats name an equal number of members of the commission, and have equal influence on subpoenas and staff. And yet McCarthy refused to take Yes for an answer: He opposed the commission anyway, though he couldn’t stop 35 Republicans in the House from voting for it.

In the Senate, Mitch McConnell is against the commission, and there appears to be slight chance of getting 10 Republicans to break a filibuster. So: no bipartisan commission.

A congressional investigation will still happen, but it will have to take place in committees with Democratic leadership, which Republicans will doubtless label a “partisan witch hunt”. So the Trump Insurrection will remain a he-said/she-said issue.

That seems to be what Republicans want. They had their chance to seek truth, and they said no.

Meanwhile, many Republicans are simply lying about January 6. Like Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin:

I’ve talked to people that were there. By and large, it was peaceful protest except for, you know, there were a number of people, basically agitators, that with the crowd and breached the Capitol.

And, you know, that’s really the truth of what’s happening here. But they like to paint that narrative, so they can paint a broad brush, and basically impugn 75 million Americans, call them potentially domestic terrorists and potential armed insurrectionists as well if they get another chance. So this is all about a narrative that the left wants to continue to push, and Republicans should not cooperate with them at all.

Those largely “peaceful” protesters beat Capitol police with flagpoles. I think Johnson would not enjoy seeing some similarly “peaceful” protesters show up at his office.

I assume Johnson’s 75 million is supposed to refer to Trump voters. Actually there were 74.2 million, which would round to 74 million. I don’t know why it’s necessary to constantly exaggerate Trump’s support. But more importantly, I don’t know anyone whose narrative says that Trump voters are to blame for the insurrection. Literally no one.

For the record, if you merely voted for Trump, I profoundly disagree with you, but I don’t question your loyalty to America, to democracy, or to the Constitution simply because you voted differently than I did. If you listened to President Trump’s “Save America” speech, but then went home without breaking any laws, I think you exercised your rights as an American. But if you broke into the Capitol in order to stop the constitutionally mandated counting of the electoral votes, if you roamed the halls of Congress chanting “Hang Mike Pence” or calling out “Naaancy” while the Speaker of the House hid from you, I think you’re a traitor, and I hope you go to jail for a long, long time.

and Bitcoin

The 30% crash on Wednesday was the trigger to get out ideas I’ve been thinking for a while. They’re in the featured post.

and Israel/Palestine

A ceasefire went into effect Friday, and seems to be holding.

Both sides claim victory in the recent fighting, which underlines the point I was making last week: Neither side is motivated to seek a lasting peace. Israel can point to all the Hamas infrastructure it destroyed in Gaza. Hamas can point to the destabilization of Israeli society, and the increasing radicalization of Arab Israelis.

Several worthwhile articles came out recently. The New Yorker’s David Remnick talks to a friend and fellow journalist inside Gaza. And another New Yorker article by Ruth Margalit looks at the tensions between Jews and Arabs inside an Israeli city.

Whenever I’m tempted to stereotype American Christians as fundamentalist Trumpists, I go back to John Pavlovitz, a pastor and blogger from North Carolina.

In moments like these, people want you to pick a side because that’s how most people’s minds work. They need a hard and fast litmus test position so that can sum you up and decide whether they are for you or against you, whether you are good or evil. But that kind of all-or-nothing extremism seems to be what has fueled and perpetuated the conflicts were watching right now.

So, with all that I don’t know and all I can’t understand and with all the nuances that escape me, here’s the side I’m on:

I’m on the side of ten-year old girls and boys wherever they live and whoever they’ve been raised by and whatever God they pray to and whatever pigmentation their faces carry. I am for disparate humanity being treated with equal reverence without caveat or condition and I am against powerful people who dehumanize the powerless for political gain.

As long as any children have to contend with nightmares that they were born into and cannot escape and do not deserve—I’m going to declare how grievous that is.

Until there is no longer terror in any young child’s eyes, that will be the side I’m on.

You don’t have to be a fan of Bibi Netanyahu to deplore the recent outbreaks of anti-Semitism in the US. It would be bad enough to persecute random Israelis because you dislike what their government has been doing. (Ditto for the citizens of any other country. I wouldn’t have wanted foreigners mad at Trump to take their revenge on me if I had happened to be in their country during his administration.)

But American Jews are Americans. Full stop. They’re not Israelis, and Netanyahu is not their leader.

I resent it when supporters of the Israeli government blur the boundary between criticizing Israel and anti-Semitism (as Ben Shapiro is doing now). But that puts a responsibility on me to guard that boundary. I can’t object to Shapiro, and then wink and nod at people harassing Jews.

If you’re in doubt about your own discourse, An Injustice offers a guide for talking about Israel without invoking anti-Semitic tropes.

and the pandemic

We’re getting close to having vaccinated half the population with at least one dose. If you’re only looking at the eligible population — people over 12 — we’ve at least partially vaccinated 58%. New vaccinations are well below their peak, but still close to 2 million a day.

New England is leading the parade: New Hampshire’s fully vaccinated percentage is 41%, just slightly above the national average of 39%. But Rhode Island is at 49.7%, and all the other New England states are over 50% fully vaccinated.

The South is trailing. Mississippi is at the bottom with 26.5% fully vaccinated. Then come Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia, and Tennessee — all below 31%.

So far, that difference is not showing up in the new-case numbers: Vermont and Mississippi are both averaging 5 new cases per 100K people, while Rhode Island and Wyoming (31% fully vaccinated) both have 14.

New cases are down to a daily average around 25,000 nationally, down tenfold from the January peak. Average daily deaths are below 600, lower than they’ve been since July. In January, that average was over 3,000.

and you also might be interested in …

The Supreme Court will consider an appeal from Mississippi concerning its ban on abortions after 15 weeks, which was struck down by lower courts in accordance with Roe v Wade and subsequent Supreme Court cases. The only reason to take up the case is if the Court wants to alter those precedents in some way. This will be the first abortion ruling since Amy Coney Barrett replaced Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Court.

Unsurprisingly, there is still no deal to be had on infrastructure. The only question is when Democrats will go ahead with a reconciliation package, and whether Senator Manchin will support it.

Yesterday, the NYT published an article about the problems population decline might cause. Some projections have the world population peaking around 2070, and then heading downward. In most first-world countries, fertility is already well below the replacement rate.

Given the strain that increased population puts on the environment, it’s hard to get worried about this. But it will require some adjustment.

A point worth making: The US will be one of the last first-world countries to feel the negative effects of population decline, if it preserves its ability to integrate immigrants into its society.

Another NYT article makes a point I rarely hear: The doubling of life expectancy during the 20th century wasn’t just due to scientific advances like antibiotics. Without social and political change, the benefits of the new science would never have reached the masses.

Nikole Hannah-Jones will not get the tenured position that typically goes with the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the University of North Carolina’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for creating the 1619 Project that emphasizes the role of racism and slavery in American history. She has received a MacArthur Genius Grant. NC Policy Watch quotes Hussman School Dean Susan King:

Hannah-Jones was on the school’s radar as a potential faculty member before the publication of “The 1619 Project,” King said. But the project is part of Hannah-Jones’s long career of reporting powerfully on race. …

Last summer, Hannah-Jones went through the rigorous tenure process at UNC, King said. Hannah-Jones submitted a package King said was as well reviewed as any King had ever seen. Hannah-Jones had enthusiastic support from faculty and the tenure committee, with the process going smoothly every step of the way — until it reached the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees.

[A board member] who had direct knowledge of the board’s conversations about Hannah-Jones … had one word for the roadblock to Hannah-Jones gaining tenure. “Politics.”

Hannah-Jones appears to be a victim of conservative financier Art Pope, who funds a network of groups that dominate Republican politics in North Carolina. One of those organizations is the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

Last week, a columnist for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal (formerly known as the Pope Center for Higher Education) wrote that UNC-Chapel Hill’s board of trustees must prevent Hannah-Jones’s hiring. If they were not willing to do so, the column said, the UNC Board of Governors should amend system policies to require every faculty hire to be vetted by each school’s board of trustees.

The upshot is that conservatives are doing exactly what they accuse liberals of: violating academic freedom to suppress points of view they don’t like.

In the post-Trump era, no scandal sidelines a Republican candidate. You just brazen it out, the way he did.

In Wyoming, State Senator Anthony Bouchard, one of the Trumpist candidates challenging Liz Cheney for the Republican nomination to Congress, admitted (ahead of it coming out elsewhere) that when he was 18 he got a 14-year-old girl pregnant. They married at 19 and 15, and got divorced three years later. She committed suicide at 20. Bouchard is “almost” estranged from the son, who has “made some wrong choices in his life”. (The linked article quotes another source claiming the son faces “multiple sexual offense charges” in California.)

There’s always the question: Aren’t teen-age mistakes forgivable? After all, who among us wants to be judged for who we were at 18? For me, the answer to the forgiveness question hinges on three other questions: Does the person who made the mistake understand and take responsibility for it? Has he or she learned? Are they wiser now?

Bouchard expresses no shame about his sexual abuse of an underage girl, describing himself and his victim as “two teen-agers”. He says: “It’s like the Romeo and Juliet story.” So the answers to those questions are No.

Like Trump, Bouchard may seem an unlikely choice to represent the party of “family values”. But also like Trump, Bouchard is the real victim here. “This is really a message about how dirty politics is. They’ll stop at nothing, man, when you get in the lead and when you’re somebody that can’t be controlled, you’re somebody who works for the people. They’ll come after you.”

Ted Cruz is at it again. A series of Army recruiting videos highlight soldiers who don’t fit the traditional stereotypes.

The video is part of a series titled “The Calling,” which features a diverse group of soldiers, several who are people of color or from immigrant families, and one who overcame learning issues. The entry that really roused Cruz’s ire tells the story of Cpl. Emma Malonelord, a white woman brought up by two moms in California.

Cruz retweeted a TikTok video that juxtaposes the recruitment video with Russian propaganda featuring he-man paratroopers, and added the comment.

Holy crap. Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea….

When critics — particularly fellow senator Tammy Duckworth, who lost her legs piloting a helicopter in Iraq — pointed out that he was glorifying the Russian military at the expense of our own troops. Cruz doubled down with an anti-gay slur.

I’m enjoying lefty blue checkmarks losing their minds over this tweet, dishonestly claiming that I’m “attacking the military.” Uh, no. We have the greatest military on earth, but Dem politicians & woke media are trying to turn them into pansies.

In view of Ted’s own lack of masculine virtues — he bowed down to Trump after Trump viciously ridiculed his wife and accused his father of being involved in the JFK assassination — the hashtag #emasculaTed went viral.

and let’s close with something visual

Over at, there’s a whole gallery of visually stunning photos of water drops. Here’s one to get you started.