Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

The Unfinished Mission

I look forward – always forward – to the unfolding story of our nation: a story of light and love, of patriotism and progress, of many becoming one, and, always, an unfinished mission to make the dreams of today the reality of tomorrow.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi

This week’s featured post is “When can I stop writing about Trump?“.

This week everybody was talking about the new Congress

We finally have a result in the House: the Republicans will have a narrow majority, with somewhere between 3 and 11 more seats than the Democrats. (For comparison, Democrats came out of the 2020 elections with 9 more seats than the Republicans.) Kevin McCarthy was reelected leader of the GOP House caucus, but whether that means he has the votes to become speaker is still undetermined.

Successful Republican candidates ran on the issues of inflation and crime, so McCarthy immediately unveiled a legislative program to address those problems. NO, I’M KIDDING. Republicans immediately starting talking about investigating Hunter Biden.

At a press conference on Thursday, when a reporter began to pose a question about the plans of the coming Republican majority that was not linked to the Biden family, [incoming Chair of the House Oversight Committee James] Comer, from Kentucky, sprang forward to say, “If we could keep it about Hunter Biden, that would be great.”

This investigation is supposed to own the libs somehow, but I don’t know any Democrats who actually care about Hunter (other than, I assume, his Dad). Hunter is a private citizen who (unlike, say, Ivanka and Jared) has held no position in his father’s administration. In four years, the Trump Justice Department somehow failed to prosecute Hunter for anything, and there’s already a DoJ investigation and a grand jury hearing testimony about him in Delaware. But if McCarthy thinks the House can do better, he should have at it. (BTW: Marcy Wheeler’s opinion is that the “Hunter Biden laptop” is a forensic mess.)

If Hunter does wind up in jail someday, though, I don’t see that outcome having any effect on the country or even the government, other than making the President sad.

McCarthy promises investigations plural, but again, little in the way of legislation that will offer Republican solutions that the Democratic Senate will have to respond to. Other investigations might include harassing the Department of Justice for investigating Trump’s crimes (because the Durham investigation worked out so well), promoting conspiracy theories about the origin of Covid-19, examining Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the state of our border with Mexico (which could be interesting if Republicans look at it honestly, which I suspect they won’t).

Marjorie Taylor Greene claims that she has gotten a promise from McCarthy to “investigate Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Justice Department for their treatment of defendants jailed in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.” Because, you know, they’re all political prisoners who didn’t really do anything wrong, no matter what the juries say.

Will the GOP learn anything from its disappointing 2022 results? Looking at the lame-duck agenda of the Pennsylvania House, which will flip to the Democrats in January, Amanda Marcotte thinks not.

[Philadelphia District Attorney Larry] Krasner’s impeachment is just a symptom of this larger problem. We shouldn’t expect any Republicans, anywhere, to respond to these midterm losses by actively trying to deradicalize their party. If only. They’ll just double down on conspiracy theories and lies, in a last-ditch attempt to delegitimize the voters who keep rejecting them.

Josh Hawley’s WaPo op-ed is a somewhat mixed bag, but mostly proves Marcotte’s point. The GOP’s problem, Hawley thinks, is that it hasn’t been radical enough.

For the past two years, the Republican establishment in Washington has capitulated on issue after issue, caving to Democrats on the Second Amendment and on the left’s radical climate agenda (“infrastructure”).

“Caving to Democrats on the Second Amendment” is a reference to the very modest (and very popular) reform bill passed in June, which increased background checks for gun buyers under 21 and made it harder for domestic abusers to own guns. (Hawley is welcome to propose a “give guns back to domestic abusers” bill if he wants.) And I wonder what his alternative to “the left’s radical climate agenda” is. Let it burn?

The positive side of Hawley’s article is that he wants Republicans to stop threatening Social Security and Medicare, and siding with Big Pharma on insulin prices. But then there’s this:

Republicans will only secure the generational victories they crave when they come to terms with this reality: They must persuade a critical mass of working class voters that the GOP truly represents their interests and protects their culture. [my italics]

When he wrote the phrase “working class”, Hawley left out the modifying phrase “older White Christian”, which is clearly implied. A government that “protects the culture” against change is the essence of Orbanism, which appears to be the new model for Republican authoritarian government. That agenda is not just anti-immigrant, but also pro-fossil-fuel, pro-Don’t-Say-Gay, anti-trans, anti-voting-rights, and against any attempt to tell school children about America’s history of racism. I don’t think younger voters support that agenda, even in the White Christian working class.

What happened to the Impeachment 10, the ten Republicans in the House who voted for Trump’s second impeachment? Only one, Dan Newhouse of Washington, got re-elected. Dan Valadao of California got renominated and leads, though his race still hasn’t been called.

Four retired: Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, Fred Upton of Michigan, and John Katko of New York. Gonzalez’ district got eliminated when Ohio lost a seat after the 2020 census. Republicans held Kinzinger’s and Katko’s seats, but lost Upton’s.

Four lost primaries: Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Tom Rice of South Carolina, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, and Peter Meijer of Michigan. Republicans held Cheney’s and Rice’s seats, but lost Beutler’s and Meijer’s.

So: One re-elected. One re-election still undecided. One seat eliminated. Four seats held by new Republicans. Three seats lost to Democrats. So Trump mostly got the scalps he was after, but at a cost to his party.

and Nancy Pelosi

She was going to have to give up the speakership anyway, now that the Republicans have won the majority and will take over the House in January. But she also announced that she won’t run to lead the House Democratic caucus, a position she has held since 2003. She has been speaker twice, 2007-2011 and 2019-2023.

Progressives like to bash Pelosi for favoring moderate positions, but I can’t think of an example during her speakership of a progressive bill that passed the Senate but got stuck in the House. If some part of the Obama or Biden agenda had a legitimate chance to become law, Speaker Pelosi passed it. She is widely given credit for the legislative maneuver that pushed ObamaCare over the finish line after the Democrats unexpectedly lost their filibuster-proof Senate majority.

I think Kevin McCarthy is about to show us just how difficult it is to be speaker when you have a narrow majority. (John Boehner and Paul Ryan had trouble governing with much larger majorities, or even predicting what their caucus was going to do.) Like Ginger Rogers matching Fred Astaire’s moves backwards and in heels, Pelosi has made speakership look easy these last few years, but it’s not.

It’s not just Pelosi stepping aside, but also her second and third in command, Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn. That clears a path for a new generation of Democratic leaders. The new minority leader is likely to be Hakeem Jefferies, a 52-year-old from New York. 58-year-old Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and 43-year-old Pete Aguilar of California are likely to join him in the Democratic leadership.

Pelosi’s resignation speech on the floor of the House included a classic Pelosi insult-by-omission.

It has been my privilege to play a part in forging extraordinary progress for the American people.  I have enjoyed working with three Presidents, achieving historic investments in clean energy with President George Bush, transformative health care reform with President Barack Obama, and forging the future – from infrastructure to health care to climate action – with President Joe Biden.

Wait. Wasn’t some fourth guy president during part of her speakership? Give me a minute. His name is right on the tip of my tongue.

and Trump

The featured post looks at the convergence of several Trump stories this week: the announcement of his candidacy, the surprisingly cool reaction that announcement got, Merrick Garland naming a special prosecutor to investigate Trump, and Elon Musk reactivating Trump’s Twitter account, which it’s not clear that he’s going to start using again.

and Twitter

This week Twitter continued to hemorrhage users, engineers, advertisers, and cash. MarketWatch reports on the engineers:

Elon Musk’s managerial bomb-throwing at Twitter has so thinned the ranks of software engineers who keep the world’s de-facto public square up and running that industry insiders and programmers who were fired or resigned this week agree: Twitter may soon fray so badly it could actually crash.

Musk ended a very public argument with nearly two dozen coders critical to the microblogging platform’s stability by ordering them fired this week. Hundreds of engineers and other workers then quit after he demanded they pledge to “extremely hardcore” work by Thursday evening or resign with severance pay.

The newest departures mean the platform is losing workers just at it is gears up for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which opens Sunday. It’s one of Twitter’s busiest events, when tweet surges heavily stress its systems.

The Wall Street Journal describes the money situation:

Nearly 90% of its revenue last year came from advertising, and it traditionally has been the company’s main source of revenue. … The exodus of advertisers poses a threat for a company so reliant on that revenue stream. “As an online ad company, you’re flirting with disaster,” said Aswath Damodaran, a finance professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. … Market-research firm Insider Intelligence Inc. recently cut its annual ad-revenue revenue outlook for Twitter by nearly 40% through 2024.

Meanwhile, Twitter has interest payments to meet. Musk financed $13 billion of his $42 billion purchase by loading the company with debt. That debt is at higher interest rates because the credit rating has dropped.

As for users, I am regularly seeing messages from my Facebook friends telling me their new Mastodon address. I rarely use Twitter for anything other than posting links to Weekly Sift articles, but I will probably try out Mastodon soon.

I’m thinking that this might turn into a big enough disaster to change the culture. Going forward, it’s going to be really hard to make the case that billionaires are rich because they’re so much smarter than the rest of us.

and you also might be interested in …

There was a lot of fear in the air Tuesday when a missile crossed the Ukrainian border and hit inside Poland. What if this was a deliberate Russian attack, a warning shot telling NATO to stop supporting Ukraine? Would NATO have to respond somehow? If it did, would we be be on some kind of tit-for-tat escalation path towards World War III?

Apparently not. The currently accepted theory is that Russia’s missile attacks on Ukraine led the Ukrainians to fire air defense missiles. One of those went astray and landed inside Poland, killing two people.

During the coverage of this incident I learned that Russian misfires (which this strike now appears not to be) are more and more likely as the war goes on. Russia has used up nearly all of its most accurate missiles and is now shooting off whatever it has left. For example, they’ve started using anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles against land targets.

Strikes from a Russian S-300 air defense system “don’t have the ‘oomph’ to really hit hardened military targets and they don’t have the accuracy in a land attack role to even strike the building you want to hit,” [Ian] Williams [of the Center for Strategic and International Studies] said. “This really is just firing them into the ether and seeing where they land.”

It’s still too soon to say anything conclusive about the shooting at a Colorado Springs LGBTQ club Saturday night, but it has all the marks of a hate crime.

While no motive in the shooting has been disclosed by authorities, the violence comes amid heightened tensions for the LGBTQ community. Several drag events around the country have drawn protests and threats, with some protesters carrying firearms, and more than 240 anti-LGBTQ bills were filed in the first three months of this year, most of them targeting trans people.

The COP-27 climate conference in Egypt was a mixed bag. The decision to create a loss-and-damage fund is big, but the commitment to phase out fossil fuels didn’t happen.

and let’s close with something epic

A strangely acquired taste is the Epic Rap Battles of History on YouTube. My favorite so far is Eastern vs. Western philosophers.

Every County

Every county, every vote. … I never expected that we were going to turn these red counties blue. But we did what we needed to do. And we had that conversation across every one of those counties. And tonight, that’s why I’ll be the next U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.

John Fetterman

This week’s featured post is “Notes on the midterm elections“.

This week everybody was talking about the midterms

That’s the subject of the featured post.

I noticed this too late to include in that post, but it perfectly illustrates how unlikely MAGA Republicans are to learn from their mistakes. Like their object of worship, they don’t make mistakes, so how could they learn from them?

The American Greatness blog has put its finger on who’s to blame for MAGA candidates’ failure: the voters.

The problem here is voter quality.

The picture we got from Tuesday is that of a decadent, vegetative electorate easily swayed by platitudes and sentimental appeals, fervently attached to its entitlements. … Republicans performed well with married men and women—the people who should be the center of our civic life, while Democrats dominated with unmarried women and the twitchy, nihilist Gen Z. 

Again: voter quality.

The writer only expects things to get worse “after another 10 or 15 years of mass immigration have taken their toll”. He doesn’t say it, but the obvious answer is to give up on democracy entirely and take power by force.

David Frum recalls how after 2016, reporters from the “liberal media” went on tours of small-town diners to connect with the white-working-class voters that had surprised them by turning out for Trump. Lots of liberals (me, for example), read J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy in an attempt to understand. He wishes MAGA Republicans would do something similar now, but he doesn’t believe they will. He quotes historian Bernard Lewis:

The question, ‘Who did this to us?’ has led only to neurotic fantasies and conspiracy theories. The other question—‘What did we do wrong?’—has led naturally to a second question, ‘How do we put it right?’ In that question … lie[s] the best hope for the future.

and Twitter

It’s been stunning to watch how quickly Elon Musk has destroyed his reputation as a great businessman. The problem in a nutshell is that Twitter’s revenue comes from advertising, and most advertisers hate to have their ad next to hate speech. It’s just a bad association. So they got spooked when Musk described himself as a “free speech absolutist” and fired Twitter’s content-moderation people. That flight of advertisers tanked the company’s revenue, and now Musk is floating the possibility of bankruptcy.

One of the more interesting takes on this situation comes from Josh Marshall. Marshall’s TPM site used to be supported by advertising, but after years of trying to make an advertising model work he moved to a subscription model. (His Twitter article is behind his paywall, so I’ll quote liberally.)

Because of that, for upwards of fifteen years I had to deeply immerse myself not only in the advertising business generally but in the niche of advertising in political media. It was a huge part of my work for years and I had to understand it really, really well — because the existence of TPM depended on it. …

When I first got into advertising, TPM was hot. We had a big audience and it was pretty clear that it was just a matter of agreeing to sell this lucrative ad space. Our audience was educated, fairly well off. We would print money.

I soon realized it was quite a bit more complicated.

It’s not just that advertisers don’t want to be near hate speech or awful things. It goes way beyond that. They want to tell you about their brand when you’re in a good, comfortable, feel-good moment.

He points out that the Drudge Report had a huge audience for many years, but it never had high-quality advertisers, because it was “hot and contentious” and left its readers in an “agitated state”.

This aspect of the advertising business is actually a big, big reason for what we sometimes call “bothsides” journalism. This is often presented as an outmoded style of journalism. It’s really more a business model. In a politically polarized society advertisers are very, very cautious about giving any hint that they are taking sides in the great political or political factional controversies of the day.

So while it may look like Musk has gotten into the social media business, actually he has gotten into the advertising business, which he doesn’t understand.

He wants to be the world’s biggest troll, play to his new far-right/Trumpy fan base and have all the high dollar national brand advertisers flock to the platform he just wildly overpaid for. That was always an absurd proposition.

Wish I’d said this: “Buying Twitter is Musk’s invasion of Ukraine.” Guys who surround themselves with people who believe they are geniuses eventually start doing stupid things.

Wired explains how Twitter has become a “scammer’s paradise“.

and Ukraine

Ukrainian troops have taken Kherson, a key Black Sea port that the Russians occupied in the early days of the invasion. President Zelenskyy visited there today, and vowed that “We are step by step coming to all the temporarily occupied territories.”

I’m not an expert on Russian or Ukrainian culture, but I know that the folklore is full of heroes who confidently bluff and bluster. I remember Boris Yeltsin — backed by nobody in particular at the time — standing on a tank outside the Parliament building and announcing that he would see the leaders of the ongoing coup brought to justice. It worked.

It’s hard to imagine a bigger contrast of imagery than Zelenskyy touring a front-line city versus Putin sitting alone at the end of his long table. One of them is a folk hero and the other isn’t. I have to think that the people of both countries see that.

Last week I linked to Masha Gessen’s warning in The New Yorker that Putin might really use nukes. Now Alexander Gabuev is saying something similar in The Atlantic.

and Trump’s legal situation

Getting past the midterms has reawakened speculation about when or whether Trump might be indicted for a variety of crimes. (DoJ policy discourages indictments that might influence an election.) The source I trust most here is Marcy Wheeler. She’s been following the investigations closely, but tries to avoid making sensational claims that she’ll have to walk back later.

An indictment of Trump is not going to happen today. In the stolen document case, that’s likely true because DOJ will first want to ensure access to the unclassified documents seized in August, something that won’t happen until either the 11th Circuit decision reverses Judge Aileen Cannon’s decision to appoint a Special Master (that will be ripe for a hearing after November 17) or after a judgement from Special Master Raymond Dearie on December 16 that Cannon chooses to affirm. It’s not impossible, however, that DOJ will take significant actions before then — perhaps by arresting one or more of Trump’s suspected co-conspirators in hoarding the documents, or by executing warrants at other Trump properties to find the documents still believed to be missing.

The next most likely indictment to drop is in the fake-electors scheme, but Wheeler thinks there’s a layer of conspirators who will be indicted before Trump. Ditto for January 6. She isn’t sure what to predict about the Fulton County election-tampering investigation, which is still is fighting to get testimony from Lindsey Graham and a few other witnesses. (One objection I have to the media coverage of these battles: They’re being treated as if avoiding testifying is a normal thing to do, and few are drawing the obvious conclusion that Graham et al know things they don’t want investigators to know.)

Meanwhile, the lawyers who filed Trump’s massive (and quickly dismissed) lawsuit against everyone involved in starting the Trump/Russia investigation (i.e., Hillary Clinton, Jim Comey, and 29 others) have been sanctioned by the judge in the case. He ordered them to pay $50K to the court and $16K in legal fees to Charles Dolan, the defendant who asked for sanctions. Such sanctions are warranted under the law when a lawsuit’s claims are “objectively frivolous” and “the person who signed the pleadings should have been aware they were frivolous”.

The judge’s order says:

Plaintiff deliberately misrepresented public documents by selectively using some portions while omitting other information including findings and conclusions that contradicted his narrative. This occurred with the Danchenko Indictment, the Department of Justice Inspector General’s Report for Operation Hurricane, and the Mueller Report. It was too frequent to be accidental.

Every claim was frivolous, most barred by settled, well-established existing law. These were political grievances masquerading as legal claims. This cannot be attributed to incompetent lawyering. It was a deliberate use of the judicial system to pursue a political agenda.

But the courts are not intended for performative litigation for purposes of fundraising and political statements.

Trump’s last-ditch attempt to avoid showing his tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee is at the Supreme Court. The six partisan Republican justices could do their buddy a solid just by dragging their feet until Republicans take over the House (assuming they do) in January. I expect the Court to avoid this unsavory option and make an actual ruling, but it’s an open question.

Trump’s former chief of staff and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly is the latest ex-official to describe attempted wrong-doing. He doesn’t have a book to sell, but …

Mr. Kelly said he chose to respond now because Mr. Trump had publicly claimed last week that he had used the Justice Department and the F.B.I. to help Gov. Ron DeSantis win election in Florida in 2018. Mr. Kelly, who was Mr. Trump’s chief of staff at the time, said Mr. Trump never made such a request. If he had, Mr. Kelly said, it would have been an improper use of the Justice Department and the F.B.I.

(MSN fact-checked Trump’s statement and found “no evidence” to support it.) Kelly went on to describe other times when Trump wanted to misuse the IRS and other government agencies to help his friends or harm his enemies.

“I would say, ‘It’s inappropriate, it’s illegal, it’s against their integrity and the I.R.S. knows what it’s doing and it’s not a good idea,’” Mr. Kelly said he told Mr. Trump.

“Yeah, but they’re writing bad things about me,” Mr. Kelly said Mr. Trump told him.

A spokesman for Trump denied the claims, calling Kelly “a psycho”.

Meanwhile, Mike Pence does have a book to sell, so he’s finally dishing on Trump. Trump’s “reckless” words on January 6, he says, “endangered me and my family”. Maybe he should have told the Senate that during the second impeachment trial.

and you also might be interested in …

A Trump-appointed judge has blocked Biden’s student-loan forgiveness program. This case will have to work its way through the system before anybody sees debt relief.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine compared Massachusetts school districts that dropped mask mandates to those that maintained them. Conclusion: masks work.

Among school districts in the greater Boston area, the lifting of masking requirements was associated with an additional 44.9 Covid-19 cases per 1000 students and staff during the 15 weeks after the statewide masking policy was rescinded.

Two more raped minors have had to leave Ohio to get abortions.

Remember that billion dollars Alex Jones is supposed to pay to the Sandy Hook parents? That was just the actual damages. A judge has added another $473 million of punitive damages.

Dean Baker points out something important: In the early years of the 21st century, health-care spending as a percentage of GDP was headed inexorably upward. That seemingly unstoppable trend caused economists to make a lot of ominous projections. But instead health-care inflation moderated, and the percent of GDP spent on healthcare is now below where it was in 2014, when ObamaCare was implemented.

This is an example of how good government is hard to campaign on. Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act in March of 2010, and then got clobbered in the 2010 midterms, largely because Republicans were able to raise so many fears about “death panels“, rationing, and all sorts of other things ObamaCare supposedly included.

So here’s to all the Democrats in Congress who lost their seats in 2010 because they did the right thing. The purpose of having power should be to use it well, not to hang onto it.

Friday wasn’t just Veterans’ Day, it was also Kurt Vonnegut’s 100th birthday. I recently passed through Indianapolis, Vonnegut’s home town, and went to the Vonnegut museum there. I particularly enjoyed reading Vonnegut’s rejection letters from publishers, which are framed and hung on the wall.

and let’s close with something powerful

Like a fleet of snowplows. Last year, the Minnesota Department of Transportation started a contest to name new snowplows. Predictably, the big winner was Plowy McPlowface.

But now that the obvious name is out of the way, things have gotten more interesting. The next generation of plows named by the public display much more creativity.

Runner-up names are also listed. My favorite is Sled Zeppelin.

Except for all the others

No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government — except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

– Winston Churchill

This week’s featured post is “Can conservatives be allies against climate change?

And if you’re wondering what I did with my week off, here’s the talk I gave.

This week everybody has been talking about tomorrow’s elections

Ordinarily, the day before an election I write a guide for people who plan to watch the returns come in, including things like poll closing times in various states, which early-reporting races are likely to be bellwethers for how the night is going, and so on.

I’m not doing that this time, because I’m not planning to watch, so I’m not sure that I want to encourage you to watch. Probably I won’t be able to resist briefly turning the TV on every hour or two, but I don’t think that an all-evening watch party will be good for my health and sanity.

It’s not that I’m sure my candidates will lose, although the polls have been trending that way for the last few weeks. It’s possible that the attack on Paul Pelosi (see next note) was a wake-up call to the electorate, that Obama’s tour of swing states will make a difference, or that the polls have been undercounting young women who previously haven’t voted, but will turn out to protect their reproductive rights. So there’s reason to hope, reason to vote, and reason to do whatever you can to encourage others to vote.

The reason I’m planning to restrain myself from watching the returns is that I have a bad attitude: I’m pissed at the American people. A lot of these races shouldn’t be close. Herschel Walker, for one, should not have gotten anywhere near the Senate, and the idea that he can run (against a minister like Rafael Warnock) as the “Christian” candidate should scandalize anyone who cares about Jesus or the churches founded in his name. And Ron Johnson didn’t just wink and nod as Trump tried to overthrow American democracy, he was an active participant in the plot to count the votes of fake electors. I could go on.

I didn’t used to feel this way. When John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 ran against Barack Obama, for example, I had no doubt that I wanted Obama to win. But I also saw some virtues in McCain and Romney, and I understood how someone with different values could rate those virtues higher than Obama’s virtues. (During the 2012 primaries, I wrote “The Tragedy of Mitt Romney” about the candidate he could have been.)

This year, I’ve lost that vision and that generosity of spirit. I can’t twist a few knobs in my values and picture myself supporting Doug Mastriano or Kari Lake. How does that go? “Sure, he’s antisemitic, but …” or “I know she’s against democracy, but …”

With exceptions I can count on my fingers, the Republican Party is now a personality cult, and the man they worship is a fascist. I can’t get past that.

So anyway, there are polls. Nate Silver is currently giving Republicans an 83% chance to take the House and a 55% chance to take the Senate.

The key Senate races are Georgia (where Herschel Walker has a 58% chance of defeating Raphael Warnock), Nevada (Paul Laxalt has a 57% chance to defeat Catherine Cortez Masto), and Pennsylvania (John Fetterman has a 54% chance to defeat Mehmet Oz). Whichever party takes two of those three races probably wins the Senate.

and the Pelosi attack

The narrative here is pretty simple: Republican rhetoric has been demonizing Nancy Pelosi for decades, and we’ve known for a while that some of the more unhinged right-wing partisans take that demonic image very seriously. QAnon folks, for example, promote the libel that she (and other top Democrats) drink the blood of children. Some of the seditionists on January 6 were roaming the halls of the Capitol calling “Nancy … Nancy” like villains in a horror movie.

So early in the morning of Friday October 28, the Speaker’s 82-year-old husband woke up to find a man standing over his bed with a hammer, asking where Nancy was. He said he was there to “have a little chat” with Speaker Pelosi, and later told police he intended to kidnap the Speaker and break her kneecaps unless she told him “the truth”, whatever he imagined the truth to be.

Paul Pelosi then had a bizarre conversation with the attacker, during which he managed to call 911. When police arrived, the attacker hit Pelosi in the head with the hammer. We don’t have a lot of details about his injuries, but he needed surgery and didn’t get out of the hospital until Thursday.

It’s important to be clear on what Republicans are and aren’t responsible for here. The attacker looks to be a deranged loner, rather than part of an organized fascist group like the Oath Keepers or Proud Boys, or even the men recently convicted of plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. No one is accusing Trump or any of the leaders of his cult with planning or carrying out the attack.

At worst, this seems to be “stochastic terrorism” — promoting the idea that your political enemies deserve violence, while knowing that you have violent followers who are likely to respond. The classic example is King Henry II saying “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?“, which resulted in the murder of Thomas Becket. Henry’s hands may have stayed clean, but he knew or should have known what might happen.

Even that judgment may seem a bit harsh, until you look at how Republicans reacted to news of the attack. Their immediate reflex was to make up and promote a false narrative in which the attack had nothing to do with politics, but instead reflected badly on Paul Pelosi himself.

The flood of falsehoods showed how ingrained misinformation has become inside the G.O.P., where the reflexive response of the rank and file — and even a few prominent figures — to anything that might cast a negative light on the right is to deflect with more fictional claims, creating a vicious cycle that muddies facts, shifts blame and minimizes violence.

Donald Trump Jr. quickly tweeted a joke about the attack, and Trump Sr. told an interviewer that there were “weird things going on in that household the last couple of weeks”, as if the Pelosis had done something to invite violence. Kari Lake got uproarious laughter by telling a campaign crowd “Nancy Pelosi, well, she’s got protection when she’s in D.C. Apparently, her house doesn’t have a lot of protection.” Lake did not appear shocked by the response, and did nothing to rein in the hilarity.

What should Republicans say? Well, here’s what Bernie Sanders said in 2017 (which is how far back you have to go to find any comparable liberal political violence) after the shooter of Steve Scalise turned out to have been a volunteer for the Sanders presidential campaign:

I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values. My hopes and prayers are that Representative Scalise, congressional staff and the Capitol Police Officers who were wounded make a quick and full recovery. I also want to thank the Capitol Police for their heroic actions to prevent further harm.

No jokes, no conspiracy theories, no implications that Scalise was asking for it somehow. No excuses about how “passionate” Sanders’ supporters are, or how “angry” the state of the country has made them. Just: This is wrong. Don’t do it.

Given the upswing in right-wing violence since Trump lost the 2020 election, I’d like to hear an even stronger statement:

If any of my supporters think they’re doing me a favor by physically attacking my political rivals, they’re wrong. If you’re involved in any ongoing plots, I want you to stop.

But Trump and the other MAGA Republicans won’t say anything like that, because don’t believe political violence is “unacceptable”. Quite the opposite: They’re counting on it.

and Twitter

So, after months of stop-and-start will-he-or-won’t-he, Elon Musk finally owns Twitter. He immediately fired a lot of people and announced a lot of intentions that may not manifest for some while, if ever. There’s some evidence that trolling and hate speech have already increased in anticipation of lower standards and more lax enforcement.

My personal experience of Twitter hasn’t changed yet, so I’m in a wait-and-see mode. I’m hearing a lot of people talk about closing their account and moving to some rival platform, but there’s not a simple Coke/Pepsi or iPhone/Android replacement.

What we need is a sagacious, media-savvy voice of sanity, and I’ll nominate James Fallows. He makes a few key points in his Substack post “Twitter is Our Future“.

  • He plans to stay on Twitter for the time being.
  • He’s not going to pay a monthly fee to maintain his “blue check mark” (which verifies that he is who he says he is), because those check marks benefit the system as a whole, not him as an individual.
  • Twitter is a “bellwether” for changing media platforms in general. Many online communities are going to be displaced as media sites change, but the process is happening much faster on Twitter.
  • While individual tweets aren’t reliable sources of information, they are valuable tips about what might be happening.
  • Musk himself is “like a rich football fan buying an NFL team and imagining that he can name draft-picks and call plays.” Fallows also quotes a line from The Great Gatsby: “They were careless people… they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness… and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
  • No single site will replace Twitter, but “there will have to be many, and we’ll blunder and feel our way forward.”

The substitute most Twitter-refugees are choosing is Mastodon, which is not exactly the same thing. I haven’t tried it yet.

and nuclear threats

If the rest of the news wasn’t depressing enough this week, The New Yorker’s resident Putin expert, Masha Gessen, warns that we need to take his threat to use nuclear weapons seriously.

In the end, every “rational” case for why Putin won’t use nuclear weapons in Ukraine falls short. He is not afraid of losing support from his current allies, because he misapprehends Russia’s position in the world; he sees Russia as politically, economically, and militarily stronger than it is. Chinese and Indian leaders may express alarm at the use of extreme measures such as nuclear weapons, but to Putin this points to their lack of resolve—their weakness, not the Kremlin’s. And, if need be, he is prepared to make outlandish denials, no matter how implausible. …

The arguments that Putin won’t use nuclear weapons because doing so would endanger Russians, including himself, are blind to the fact that Putin believes he has the right, possibly the moral obligation, to sacrifice hundreds of thousands or millions of people. The argument that a nuclear strike wouldn’t help Putin achieve his strategic goals mistakes Russia’s strategic goals as anything but inflicting terror on Ukrainians. The losses the Russian military is suffering now can only motivate Putin to create more terror, against more people.

you also might be interested in …

The week’s good news was that Jair Bolsonaro narrowly lost his re-election bid in Brazil, and it looks like he’s going to accept that he has to leave office. Brazilian election officials made an interesting choice: They avoided the appearance of election shenanigans by going with electronic voting systems that produce instant results. In the long run, though, they’ve made real voting fraud easier, because the lack of paper ballots makes the system impossible to audit.


Benjamin Netanyahu is poised to reclaim the prime minister’s office following the recent elections. It’s tempting to shrug and say “We’ve been here before”, but actually we haven’t. This time his coalition includes some right-wing parties that used to be beyond the pale in Israeli politics.

Some members of his likely parliamentary majority believe in Jewish supremacy and support racist policies that may ultimately change the way the state of Israel protects the rights of its citizens, whether Palestinians who hold citizenship or leftists, activists, and critics who seek equal rights for Palestinians in the occupied territory.

NYT columnist Thomas Friedman says “The Israel we knew is gone.

Netanyahu has been propelled into power by bedfellows who: see Israeli Arab citizens as a fifth column who can’t be trusted; have vowed to take political control over judicial appointments; believe that Jewish settlements must be expanded so there is not an inch left anywhere in the West Bank for a Palestinian state; want to enact judicial changes that could freeze Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial; and express contempt for Israel’s long and strong embrace of L.G.B.T.Q. rights.

and let’s close with something moving

When the world gets to be too much, you can always dance, even if the music isn’t from your era.

Playing defense

No Sift next week. The next new articles will post on November 7.

The greatest way to defend democracy is to make it work.

Tommy Douglas

This week’s featured posts are three separate closing arguments for (1) why you should vote, and (2) why you should vote for Democrats. “Closing argument: Democracy“, “Closing argument: Abortion“, and “Closing argument: Biden’s accomplishments“.

This week everybody was talking about the midterm elections

Since I won’t be blogging next Monday, I decided to post my closing arguments today. (Otherwise they’d appear the day before the election, which seems too late to convince anybody.) I encourage you to send these links to anybody you think needs to see them.

and the UK

Liz Truss’ reign as prime minister is over after about six weeks. She’s the third PM in a row to have a short tenure: David Cameron served a respectable six years before leaving in 2016 after the Brexit referendum. He was replaced by Theresa May, who resigned in 2019 because she couldn’t get a Brexit agreement negotiated and approved. Boris Johnson lasted for three chaotic years before resigning in scandal in July, but not actually leaving office until September.

Truss came into office promoting a big tax-cuts-for-the-rich plan that was (1) deeply unpopular with voters and (2) spooked the capital markets, sending the pound plunging. (For what it’s worth, Trump economic advisor Larry Kudlow loved it, and claimed Truss’ plan looked just like what Kevin McCarthy wants to do if he becomes Speaker.)

Now she’s resigned too, and it looks like Rishi Sunak is going to replace her.

The Conservative Party (home of everybody I’ve mentioned so far) still has a majority in Parliament and doesn’t have to hold new elections until 2024. But its polls have crashed and there’s general acclaim for holding elections sooner, which is a thing that can happen in the British system. We’ll see.

As for what this is all about, Vox interviews Johns Hopkins Professor Matthias Matthijs, who claims these years of instability trace back to Brexit.

There is one clear root cause of Britain’s woes, according to Matthijs: Brexit. The vote to Leave or Remain in the EU, he says, scrambled UK partisan affiliations and created new, polarized political identities around one dominant issue. The decision to leave unleashed serious economic aftershocks, which were impossible to ignore or paper over indefinitely. The result has been a chaotic, unsteady Britain, battling social malaise and political upheaval in the aftermath of the pandemic and amid an inflation crisis sweeping the global economy.

and Trump legal notices

Trump is facing so many legal challenges these days that you really can’t tell the players without a program. This summary of the week’s events may be incomplete.

Friday, the January 6 committee subpoenaed Trump. The subpoena says:

[W]e have assembled overwhelming evidence … that you personally orchestrated and oversaw a multi-part effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election and to obstruct the peaceful transfer of power. … Because of your central role in each element of these actions, the Select Committee unanimously directed the issuance of a subpoena seeking your testimony and relevant documents in your possession.

No doubt he’ll run out the clock until the committee dissolves at the end of the year. But that will make him look weak and cowardly compared to Hillary Clinton, who faced the Republican Benghazi Committee for 11 hours and ate their lunch.

Wednesday, Trump gave a deposition under oath in the civil suit where E. Jean Carroll is charging him with defamation. In a memoir she published in 2019, Carroll claimed Trump had raped her in a department store dressing room in the mid-1990s. Trump told reporters that she was “totally lying” and that he never knew her, a claim that became suspicious when The Cut published a picture of them (with spouses) talking at a party in 1987. Trump managed to delay his deposition for years, but he finally had to do it. (The deposition isn’t public, so I don’t really know, but my bet is that he sounded like a dementia patient, and just kept repeating “I don’t remember.” That’s how his written testimony in the Mueller investigation was.)

The Trump Organization’s trial for tax fraud starts today. The case is related to the charges for which CFO Allen Weisselberg has already pleaded guilty. Trump himself has not been indicted.

Also on Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that Trump lawyer John Eastman (the guy who came up with the Mike-Pence-can-decide-the-presidency theory) has to turn a number of Trump-related emails over to the January 6 committee. Eastman had claimed attorney/client privilege, but the judge invoked the crime/fraud exception to that privilege. The judge’s order says:

The emails show that President Trump knew that the specific numbers of voter fraud were wrong but continued to tout those numbers, both in court and to the public. The Court finds that these emails are sufficiently related to and in furtherance of a conspiracy to defraud the United States.

The special master reviewing the non-classified documents the FBI seized in their search of Mar-a-Lago — the one Trump nominated himself — is getting impatient with some of Trump’s bizarre claims, like that a document can be personal, and yet also subject to executive privilege. Trump has never grasped that president was a role he played; it did not adhere to his person.

Meanwhile, WaPo reported this:

At least one of the documents seized by the FBI describes Iran’s missile program, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe an ongoing investigation. Other documents described highly sensitive intelligence work aimed at China, they said.

Unauthorized disclosures of specific information in the documents would pose multiple risks, experts say. People aiding U.S. intelligence efforts could be endangered, and collection methods could be compromised. In addition, other countries or U.S. adversaries could retaliate against the United States for actions it has taken in secret.

Clearly, nothing to worry about.

Lindsey Graham appealed to the Supreme Court in a last-ditch attempt to get out of testifying to the Fulton County, Georgia grand jury about his possible interference in the 2020 election. I’ve got to wonder what question he is afraid to answer under oath, that it’s worth going to this much trouble.

Friday, Steve Bannon was sentenced to four months in prison for contempt of Congress. He defied a subpoena from the January 6 committee similar to the one Trump got. (Again: What question is he afraid of?) His sentence won’t begin until his appeals are exhausted, but he’s going to jail eventually, because this case is really really simple: He got a legal subpoena and he didn’t show up.

Meanwhile, his completely unrelated fraud trial should start in November.

and John Durham’s final whimper

The Durham investigation was supposed to uncover some huge anti-Trump plot inside the Deep State, and demonstrate that the Trump/Russia investigation was based on politics rather than evidence. Trump promised it would uncover “the crime of the century“, and claimed Durham was “coming up with things far bigger than anybody thought possible”.

But as so often happens with Trump’s claims, when it’s time to produce evidence they come up short. It happened again in the Igor Danchenko case, which concluded Tuesday with an acquittal. The jury deliberated for only nine hours, and a juror quoted by the Washington Post said there were “no holdouts“.

As in the Sussman case, the only other Durham indictment that went to trial, the charge was that someone lied to the FBI, not that the FBI investigation itself was corrupt or ill-founded. And even that small claim could not be proved to a jury. Danchenko’s lawyer said:

If this trial has proven anything, it’s that the special counsel’s investigation was focused on proving crimes at any cost as opposed to investigating whether any occurred

Charlie Savage and Linda Qiu of the NYT point out that Durham applied very different standards when he was investigating CIA torture during the Bush administration.

At the time, Mr. Durham had set a high bar for charges and for releasing information related to the investigation. Throughout his 2008-2012 investigation, he found no one he deemed worthy of indictment even though two detainees had died in the C.I.A.’s custody, and he fought a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to avoid disclosing to the public his findings and witness interview records.

Durham’s grand jury has expired with no other indictments outstanding, so this looks like the end of the line for his long, expensive, and unproductive investigation. He’ll produce a report that will probably make his master happy by rehashing all the conspiracy theories he did not prove. But in the end “the crime of the century” has resulted in two acquittals, one minor guilty plea, and no one going to jail.

and you also might be interested in …

Last Monday, WaPo revealed one more way that the Trump Organization had scammed the government: Family members with Secret Service protection stayed in Trump hotels, which then overcharged the agents who protected them.

The records show that in 40 cases the Trump Organization billed the Secret Service far higher amounts than the approved government rate — in one case charging agents $1,185 a night to stay at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. The new billing documents, according to a congressional committee’s review, show that U.S. taxpayers paid the president’s company at least $1.4 million for Secret Service agents’ stays at Trump properties for his and his family’s protection.

That $1,185 was five times the government rate, and the $1.4 million doesn’t include payments to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago or Bedminster properties, which he frequently visited as president.

Eric Trump’s previous claims that agents got discounted rates or stayed “free”, and that the government “saved a fortune”, appear to be lies.

Back in August, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced with great fanfare that his new Election Crimes Office had arrested 20 Floridians who had voted illegally in 2020. This was seen on the Right as evidence that voter fraud is rampant and that more states should have their own ECOs.

From the beginning, though, the cases seemed a bit off. The 20 were all people who had been in prison, and who believed (incorrectly, it turned out) that the 2018 referendum returning felon voting rights applied to them. So they registered, were sent voter cards by local election officials, and then voted.

Since the 20 were confused and the government itself erred by approving their registrations, simply revoking those registrations seems like an adequate response. But instead the ECO charged them with a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. (The point seems to be to terrorize people who aren’t sure about their eligibility. It’s a voter-suppression tactic.)

Friday, the first case came to court, and the charges were dismissed because the state prosecutors have no jurisdiction.

Statewide prosecutors, which are an extension of the Attorney General’s office, are prosecuting all of the election fraud cases that were brought in August. In order for the statewide prosecutor to have jurisdiction, the crimes alleged must have occurred in at least two judicial circuits.

The judge agreed with the defense’s argument that the alleged violations, applying to vote and voting while ineligible, only occurred in Miami-Dade County. Thus, the statewide prosecutor was found to not have jurisdiction.

Statewide prosecutors argued that the alleged crimes were committed in Leon County in addition to Miami-Dade County, because the defendants’ applications and votes were later transmitted to the Department of State in Tallahassee.

In other words, this whole story is yet another DeSantis stunt that got him headlines without accomplishing anything other than harassing some powerless people. If there is in fact a vast conspiracy of illegal voters, Florida still has not uncovered it.

Ten years ago, Rick Perlstein (author of all those history-of-the-conservative-movement books like Nixonland and Reaganland) explored the connection between conservative politics and hucksterism in “The Long Con“. It turns out that if you’re selling something of no particular value, a mailing list of conservative donors is a gold mine, because the conservative movement is a self-selected group of people who are easily fooled.

I mean, if you believe that 1-6 was an antifa plot or Trump is God’s anointed, the sky’s pretty much the limit, isn’t it?

Updating Perlstein’s points a little, Alex Jones makes his money selling overpriced dietary supplements, and Tucker Carlson’s show is sponsored by dubious products that promise to treat your diabetes or get rid of your toe fungus, made by companies that frequently get in trouble with the FDA. (If you needed to sell such products, where would you look for suckers? That communist FDA — it’s constantly tying creative entrepreneurs in red tape and keeping you from using products that work. Am I right?)

But this week we got an even more striking example of the pattern. A right-wing blogger known as Vox Day has been raising money to make a right-wing superhero movie based on the conservative-themed comic-book character Rebel, whose Wonder-Woman-like costume includes the Confederate battle flag’s X of stars across her face and chest. The script, written by Day and Chuck Dixon, has her battling “a global police force hunting down freethinking conservatives”.

A plot ripped right out of today’s headlines, don’t you think?

Day claims to have raised $1 million, which he put in escrow in hopes of leveraging it into enough financing to make the film (which is already listed on IMDB and had a trailer on Vimeo until … well, we’ll get to that).

To hold the money, Theodore Beale (Vox Day’s real-life alter ego) turned to cryptocurrency billionaire James Wolfgramm, whose firm Ohana Capital Finance promises “banking to the unbankable”.

And guess what? The million dollars is gone, and it turns out Wolfgramm wasn’t really a billionaire at all. So (sorry, early investors) there’s not going to be a movie. Who (other than Rick Perlstein) could have imagined?

But don’t worry, Beale is not discouraged and is already working on a new project. I’m sure you’ll be hearing from him soon.

and let’s close with something super, sort of

This week I ran across The Mediocre Superheroes, an online comic strip that I find hilarious. There’s an article about it here, or you could just browse.

Roads Not Taken

The misgovernment of the American people is misgovernment by the American people.

– Lincoln Steffens, The Shame of the Cities (1904)

This is our last election. It is fascism or communism. We are at the crossroads. I take the road to fascism.

Father Charles Coughlin (1936)

This week’s featured post is “American Democracy has been in trouble before“.

This week everybody was talking about the upcoming elections

Polls seem to be tipping back towards Republicans as inflation continues and the stock market keeps falling. But it’s not too late for them to turn again.

Conventional wisdom says Democrats should hope voters are thinking about abortion or democracy or Trump rather than the economy. But I wonder if perhaps the Democrats’ closing message ought to focus on what Republicans will do to the economy if they win one or both houses of Congress: They’ll sabotage it, like they did when Obama was president.

That seems pretty obvious, but not many Democrats are talking about it.

Republicans are already promising a return to their Obama-era hostage-taking policies. If they get hold of any lever of power, you can count on them to force government shutdowns and to play chicken with the debt ceiling. If the Fed succeeds in starting a recession, they’ll try to make it worse with spending cuts.

When I imagine a debt-ceiling crisis, the worst thing is that the MAGA generation of right-wing radicals is significantly dumber than the Tea Party generation. Ted Cruz may have pretended otherwise, but he always knew what a disaster it would be if the US defaulted on its debt. I don’t think Marjorie Taylor Greene does, and I can’t see Kevin McCarthy standing up to her, especially if Trump thinks a global economic panic will help him in 2024.

and Ukraine

Unable to win on the front lines, Putin seems to have settled on a Battle-of-Britain strategy. He’s raining destruction on Ukrainian cities in hope of breaking the people’s will. It didn’t work for Hitler, but I guess you never know.

and the Trump subpoena

The January 6 Committee held another hearing on Thursday. I didn’t feel like I learned much that was new, but the Committee did bolster what might be its closing argument: January 6 wasn’t a rally that got out of control. Rather, it was the culmination of a plot to steal the 2020 election that Trump was already hatching the summer before.

The conclusion of the hearing was a unanimous vote to subpoena Trump himself. I think it’s extremely unlikely that Trump will ever testify to the Committee, which goes out of business on January 1 and certainly won’t be renewed if Republicans get control of the House. But issuing the subpoena does establish a key point: Trump isn’t telling his side of the story because he doesn’t want to, not because the Committee doesn’t want to hear it.

and other egregious malefactors

A Connecticut jury decided Alex Jones owes the Sandy Hook families nearly $1 billion. That’s on top of the $50 million a Texas jury awarded earlier this year, and it doesn’t count possible punitive damages still to be assessed by the judge.

Most observers believe Jones doesn’t have a billion dollars, though he does have considerably more than he claims. (Somewhere in the hundreds of millions, probably.) Declaring bankruptcy probably won’t save him.

When the last appeal ends, the experts predict Jones will be left owing many millions of dollars to the Sandy Hook families he defamed in his broadcasts, in addition to other creditors chasing him through bankruptcy court.

“Alex Jones probably doesn’t have much of a project in life at this point other than beating these kinds of money judgments,” said UConn law professor Minor Meyers. “By and large, he is going to have a hard time earning money without immediately being forced to hand it over. He may really enjoy being a radio personality, but I can’t imagine he wants to do it pro bono.”

Steve Bannon’s contempt-of-Congress trial has moved to the sentencing phase. The government is asking for a six month prison sentence, rather than the maximum two years.

So Sean Hannity played a recording of a Biden phone message to his son Hunter from October, 2018. (Obtained how, exactly?) It revealed Biden as a compassionate father trying to support a troubled son.

It’s Dad. I called to tell you I love you. I love you more than the whole world, pal. You gotta get some help. I don’t know what to do. I know you don’t either. I’m here, no matter what you need. No matter what you need, I love you.

For some reason, Hannity appeared to consider this a “gotcha” of some sort, which says more about Hannity than he probably intended to reveal.

I keep seeing tweets from people who made some mistakes in their lives and wish their parents had been more like Joe Biden.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Tucker Carlson’s interview with Kanye West is how Carlson edited out Kanye’s anti-semitism to fit the story he wanted to tell.

Media Matters’ Matt Gertz has the details, along with this summary of Tucker’s overall message and mission.

Tucker Carlson Tonight revolves around an antisemitic conspiracy theory. The host posits that a cabal of global elites controls the heights of U.S. politics, media, culture, and business, and is using its power to corrupt American children, destroy western civilization, and replace its population with immigrants.

Carlson’s innovation is that he generally deracinates these familiar antisemitic tropes. While open white supremacists might argue, for example, that Jews are using immigration to replace the white population with a black and brown one, Carlson tells his viewers that elites like the financier George Soros (who is Jewish) are replacing “legacy Americans” with people from “far-away countries” in the “third world.”

Carlson’s stated worldview is close enough that neo-Nazis regularly praise his show for mainstreaming their blood-soaked positions. But Carlson’s careful use of language, and his furious denials that he is a racist, give the Fox brass just enough plausible deniability that they can continue to defend and support his program. 

but maybe we should be talking about nuclear power

This week, the stock broker I inherited from my father tossed out a speculative idea: NuScale Power. He said he couldn’t recommend it, because he wasn’t sure exactly what the company does. But one of his other clients had done the research and was very hot on it. So it might be something to look into, given that my portfolio has been light on energy stocks ever since I purged my fossil-fuel holdings.

The symbol for the stock is SMR, which turns out to stand for “small modular reactor”, a new generation of nuclear power plants that promise to be smaller, safer, easier to build, and less one-of-a-kind than current nuclear power plants. The environmental news site Grist had a mostly favorable article about SMRs in 2020.

While it’s true that renewable energy is cheap now, most energy wonks think it will get expensive when renewables are powering the entire grid, which will require building lots of batteries to deal with fluctuations in the sun and wind. Sure, there are studies suggesting it wouldn’t be prohibitively expensive to power the country purely on renewables, but the most accurate ones — which model the nitty-gritty details of how electrical systems work — tend to show that the best way to keep renewable power cheap is by having a source of clean energy that can be turned up when wind dies and the sun is hiding behind the clouds, said Matt Bowen, a research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy, at Columbia University.

“In the energy world, there are really two camps: The all-renewables camp and everyone else,” he said. “I’m with everyone else.”

The negative case was outlined by Farhad Manjoo last month in the NYT: At best, nuclear power is the expensive kind of power you throw into a low-CO2-emission system when its renewables-and-batteries component is failing to keep up with demand. Manjoo recognizes the potential of SMRs, but if you have to do research to make a power-generation system work, why not spend your research dollars on better renewables and batteries? (And I’ll add this: There’s still no long-term storage plan for the radioactive waste.)

In the end, I decided SMR is not for me (which is one reason I feel no ethical qualms about discussing it here; I’m not touting a stock I own). Even if nuclear does have a role to play in the transition to a low-carbon-emission future, that role looks purely transitional to me. So a nuclear power-plant construction company doesn’t seem like a good long-term investment. If I bought into the industry now, I’d also have to figure out when to sell.

and you also might be interested in …

One of the most important topics in political research is just how social media contributes to political polarization. A new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has a surprising answer. (The study itself is behind a paywall, but an article about it is here.)

Most people think social media is polarizing because it isolates you inside an echo chamber. You are constantly hearing people agree with you that Trump or Biden is a villain, so there’s no reason you should change your mind.

The study says it doesn’t work quite that way. What establishes and hardens a political identity is that social media also exposes you to opposition. You solidify as this or that when you argue with people on the other side.

We shouldn’t think of the internet as an “echo chamber” in which our arguments are repeated back to us until we get more and more convinced. I think it’s more like the island in the Lord of the Flies: it creates a social space that affords the emergence of separate social groups, it strengthens collective identities, and pushes opposing groups into conflict. This leads to a form of politics that is based on cycles of conflict between two warring tribes.

Slate examines just how hard it is for a transman to get breast-reduction surgery. Anti-trans mythology imagines doctors all too eager to prey on impressionable people, especially minors, by pushing irreversible gender-affirming treatments. The article claims exactly the opposite is true.

This detail sounds especially weird:

It is, after all, much easier for cis people to get plastic surgery than for trans people to get gender-affirming care. In 2020, there were 15.6 million cosmetic procedures performed in the U.S., according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Breast augmentations were one of the most popular surgeries, with 3,223 of these procedures performed on people aged 13 to 19.

If that sounds OK to you, but you still object to a similarly aged person with a female birth certificate getting their breasts reduced, you might want to think some more about that.

Apropos of nothing, Dan Kois’ retrospective on Rod McKuen is fascinating. Kois is too young to remember when McKuen sold poetry books by the millions and was the kind of celebrity poets never get to be.

But by the time I was a teenager, he had completely vanished from the cultural landscape. I only know of him because I spent the entire 1990s in thrift stores and used bookshops, and everywhere I went, I saw Rod McKuen’s name.

Eventually, Kois’ article turns into a meditation on cultural memory.

One of the weird contradictions of living in the future is that every artist is at the tip of your fingers, but you can only find who your fingers know to search for. In the not-so-distant past, artists could avoid slipping away thanks to only the physical evidence: a record in a thrift store, a used book with a man in a white turtleneck on its cover, murmuring to the bewildered shopper, “Who am I? To whom did I matter? To whom did I stop mattering?”

The Spotify algorithm, Amazon’s recommendations, they’ll never, ever show you Rod McKuen. Those are designed to direct you towards things that other people like right now. But thrift stores, used bookshops, and Goodwills are, accidentally, perfectly designed to show you things that people liked decades ago, then stopped liking.

I love surprising science results. The WaPo’s Well Being column offers this:

“Healthy fat is not about the amount of fat” someone carries, said Jeffrey Horowitz, a professor at the University of Michigan, who studies exercise and metabolism. It is about how well that fat functions, he said. “A person who has healthier fat is much better off than someone with the same body fat percentage whose fat is unhealthy.”

Apparently, what you want are small fat cells that can expand or contract as the body’s supply-and-demand of calories requires. What you don’t want are big inefficient fat cells leaking fatty acids that can build up inside vital organs.

This is why physical activity can make you healthier, even if you don’t lose weight or even lose fat. Exercise can “remake” your fat.

and let’s close with something batty

It turns out that bats aren’t just screeching for no reason, or even necessarily echolocating. A lot of the time they’re arguing with each other.

Yossi Yovel and his colleagues recorded a group of 22 Egyptian fruit bats, Rousettus aegyptiacus, for 75 days. Using a modified machine learning algorithm originally designed for recognizing human voices, they fed 15,000 calls into the software. They then analyzed the corresponding video to see if they could match the calls to certain activities.

They found that the bat noises are not just random, as previously thought, reports Skibba. They were able to classify 60 percent of the calls into four categories. One of the call types indicates the bats are arguing about food. Another indicates a dispute about their positions within the sleeping cluster. A third call is reserved for males making unwanted mating advances and the fourth happens when a bat argues with another bat sitting too close. In fact, the bats make slightly different versions of the calls when speaking to different individuals within the group, similar to a human using a different tone of voice when talking to different people.

Burning Bridges

Everything illegal must be destroyed. Everything stolen must be returned.

Mykhailo Podolyak, advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
after the attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge

This week’s featured post is “Does anything matter?

This week everybody was talking about Herschel Walker

That’s covered in the featured post.

and Ukraine

The Kerch Strait bridge linking Crimea (which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014) to the Russian mainland has high symbolic value. It is Europe’s longest bridge, and Putin himself drove the first vehicle across in 2018. Saturday Ukraine (apparently, they haven’t officially claimed responsibility) blew up a chunk of it.

Limited auto and train traffic has resumed, but it’s not clear how much weight of either type the damaged bridge can carry. The bridge is a major supply line for Russian troops in southern Ukraine.

Russia called the attack “vandalism” and “terrorism“, in spite of the bridge’s obvious military significance. It struck back on Sunday with air and missile attacks on Kyiv and several other Ukrainian cities. The Economist reports:

Many missiles fell nowhere near any plausible military target, suggesting that the projectiles were either inaccurate or the barrage was intended to be indiscriminate. Russia is thought to have used up a large proportion of its precision-guided missiles—as much as 70% of those in stock, according to a Western military source—and even those weapons have frequently missed their intended targets throughout the war. A large, smouldering crater stood metres away from a children’s playground in Shevchenko Park, one of the city’s busiest parks and usually packed with families.

and the fall elections

Both the House and Senate majorities are up for grabs, with each party currently favored to control one House. Nate Silver estimates a 68% chance Democrats retain control of the Senate, and a 70% chance Republicans retake the House.

Some of the Senate races once thought to be toss-ups now have clear favorites. Democrats Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire (84% chance), Mark Kelly in Arizona (82%), and John Fetterman in Pennsylvania (73%) are favored, as are Republicans Ted Budd in North Carolina (68%) and Ron Johnson (67%) in Wisconsin. If all those races come out as he projects, each party has 49 seats.

Silver still considers two races toss-ups Warnock/Walker in Georgia (Warnock 59%) and Masto/Laxalt in Nevada (Masto 51%).

For reasons I don’t understand, Real Clear Politics thinks Fetterman and Kelly will lose (even though they each lead in the RCP polling average), and projects a 52-48 Republican Senate.

and OPEC

The cartel of oil-exporting countries agreed to cut production, essentially siding with Russia against the West. Western sanctions against Russia create an opportunity for other OPEC nations to take their market share. Instead, they opt for higher prices rather than sales volume, and make it harder for Europe to do without Russian energy as winter approaches. The move is likely to start US gas prices rising again, which will work against Democrats in the fall elections.

The WaPo editorial board‘s assessment:

It looks for all the world like an attempt by [Saudi leader] MBS to influence internal U.S. politics, to the advantage of the party of former president Donald Trump, who dealt warmly with him.

When he was in office, Trump did his best to protect Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from suffering any consequences for his murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

and Biden’s marijuana pardons

Thursday President Biden signed a pardon for “all current United States citizens and lawful permanent residents who committed the offense of simple possession of marijuana in violation of the Controlled Substances Act”. People currently in prison will get out, and those who have served their time will have their records cleared, making it much easier for them to get jobs, loans, etc.

He also is taking other actions to get marijuana out of the justice system: He’s urging governors to follow his lead.

Just as no one should be in federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or a state prison for that reason either.


the President is asking the Secretary of HHS and the Attorney General to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. Federal law currently classifies marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act as the same schedule as for heroin and LSD, and it’s even higher than the classification for fentanyl and methamphetamine — the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic. … [But] even as federal and state marijuana law changes, important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and underage sales should stay in place.

Vox goes into more detail, repeating a NYT analysis that about 6500 people will benefit from the pardons.

and Trump

The House committee investigating the January 6 coup attempt will hold its next (and possibly last) hearing on Thursday.

The NYT lays out the backstory of Trump’s conflict with the National Archives over the presidential documents he kept after leaving office. It suggests the first plausible motive I’ve seen.

It was around that same time [October-November, 2021] that Mr. Trump floated the idea of offering the deal to return the boxes in exchange for documents he believed would expose the Russia investigation as a “hoax” cooked up by the F.B.I. Mr. Trump did not appear to know specifically what he thought the archives had — only that there were items he wanted.

Mr. Trump’s aides — recognizing that such a swap would be a non-starter since the government had a clear right to the material Mr. Trump had taken from the White House and the Russia-related documents held by the archives remained marked as classified — never acted on the idea.

The WaPo also has a timeline of the Trump/Archives conflict.

The “deal” idea matches my impression of Trump perfectly: He views obeying the law as a concession, and wants the government to concede something in return.

Republican judges in Texas state courts are refusing to recognize the validity of subpoenas from the Georgia special grand jury investigating Trump.

The second, and apparently last, case brought to trial by the John Durham investigation starts tomorrow. The first trial (of Michael Sussman) ended in a quick acquittal. Like the Sussman charges, the indictment against Igor Danchenko is far narrower than the massive Deep State conspiracy Durham supposedly was going to uncover.

and you also might be interested in …

So Elon Musk is back to buying Twitter. Maybe.

Kentucky is now the third state where Jewish women are suing to block an abortion ban.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Jefferson County Circuit Court, the three plaintiffs and their attorneys argue those laws are vague, unintelligible and give preference to Christian beliefs in a way that diminishes the rights and religious freedoms of Jews. “In Judaism, reproductive health of a mother is between the mother, her rabbi and her doctor — not the attorney general,” Louisville attorney Aaron Kemper said.

The women are described as facing “reproductive challenges”, and are afraid to try to overcome those challenges due to the abortion ban.

“At this point, I’m scared to try and have another child,” she told the Herald-Leader in an interview Tuesday. “If I miscarry, I could bleed out before the doctors and the lawyers could decide whether or not they could treat me or if I needed to be prosecuted, and that’s not a risk I’m willing to take for myself or my child or my husband.”

Two new studies compared death certificates to voting registrations, and concluded that

average excess death rates in Florida and Ohio were 76% higher among Republicans than Democrats from March 2020 to December 2021

The gap started to open up about the time vaccines became available, but the researchers don’t think vaccine reluctance (which has been pushed by Fox News) is the whole reason. Refusal to take the virus seriously in other ways, like wearing masks and staying out of crowds, also plays a role.

Another mystery of political statistics: Red states have a higher percentage of chain restaurants.

According to leaks from the FBI, agents investigating Hunter Biden think he should be charged. But the fact that he hasn’t been charged yet doesn’t mean the fix is in. Donald Trump hasn’t been charged yet either.

Democrats are not a personality cult, so the ones I know are much less concerned with Hunter’s future than Republicans are with the Trump family. If there’s a good case that he broke laws, charge him. Let a jury decide. No Democrat is going to riot in the streets if a Hunter Biden indictment comes out.

Republican candidate for governor Doug Mastriano on his admiration for Ron DeSantis: “My goal is to make Pennsylvania the Florida of the North.”

If you have a perfect life and are completely stuck for something to get upset about, think about purple M&Ms. According to a host on One America News, the purple M&M (which appears to be female) might be transgender.

and let’s close with something fashionable

In a recent Paris fashion show, model Bella Hadid walked onto the stage in her underwear. Technicians then sprayed a Coperni-designed dress onto her, using Fabrican, a liquid that quickly transforms into wearable material. In ten minutes, she had a dress shaped to her body.

“You can wear this dress, keep it as a dress and put it on a hanger. But if you don’t want it anymore, you can put back the dress into the liquid and you can immediately spray it again,” Coperni’s creative director and co-founder, Sébastien Meyer, told CNN at the brand’s Paris atelier ahead of the show.

Question and Answer

You know who questioned slavery? The enslaved people.

Van Jones

There’s no featured post this week.

This week everybody was talking about Ian

I won’t try to cover the devastation or the human suffering, because the mainstream media has been all over that. (I can’t tell you how many NBC reporters I’ve seen standing in front of a boat sitting on top of a crushed Chevy Suburban in Fort Myers. The network appears to have declared that particular site Ground Zero.)

I do think it’s worth noticing how normal Biden’s response has been. No Sharpie controversies. No playing politics with disaster funding. No presidential whining that some governor hasn’t been nice enough to him. No tossing paper towels into a crowd, as if relief supplies come from his personal largesse.

One big reason Biden was elected was to make government normal again. This is an example of him doing precisely that. It doesn’t matter that Governor DeSantis is one of Biden’s potential rivals in 2024. Florida needs help and it’s the president’s job to see that they get it.

Disasters like Ian emphasize a point that David Graeber made in Debt: the first 5,000 years: Society rests on a core of communism that we seldom see until an emergency happens. When everything else breaks down, we help people because they need it and expect people to help because they can.

In a pure market economy, you’d be perfectly justified to frame a disaster as an opportunity to make enormous profits by, say, only rescuing people who can pay you a lot. But we all understand how unseemly that would be.

(Crassus, the rich man who joined Caesar and Pompey in Rome’s First Triumvirate, made a lot of his money by training a crew of slaves to fight fires — which happened all the time in a crowded city built out of wood. When he saw a fire, he’d show up with his crew and offer to buy adjacent properties for a low, low price. After the sale, he’d have the fire put out. What a guy!)

As I predicted last week, the hurricane in Florida made us all forget Hurricane Fiona’s damage to Puerto Rico, which never did get the 24/7 coverage of Ian. But PR isn’t back to normal yet.

On Friday – as Floridians assessed the destruction left by Hurricane Ian and the storm made landfall in South Carolina as a Category 1 – more than 230,000 customers in Puerto Rico were still without electricity, according to the PowerOutage.US website. More than 800,000 customers were without power last weekend.

Nearly 80,000 customers – about 6% – of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority were without water on Friday, according to the government’s emergency portal system website.

Fox News even forgot Puerto Rico is part of the United States.

Martha MacCallum was telling Fox News viewers about the devastating impacts of hurricanes in places such as Cuba and Puerto Rico on Wednesday when she quipped: “Thank God we have better infrastructure in our country”.

We should never forget the reason Puerto Rico isn’t a state: race and language prejudice. If the US owned an island of three million English-speaking White people, it would have joined the union decades ago.

After Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, right-wing Christians proclaimed it as a sign of God’s judgment. Franklin Graham in particular showed little sympathy for the city’s suffering:

This is one wicked city, OK? It’s known for Mardi Gras, for Satan worship. It’s known for sex perversion. It’s known for every type of drugs and alcohol and the orgies and all of these things that go on down there in New Orleans. … There’s been a black spiritual cloud over New Orleans for years. They believe God is going to use that storm to bring revival.

Those voices are silent now. Florida has been competing with Texas to lead the nation in persecuting trans youth, shoving LGBTQ people back into the closet, and keeping students ignorant about racism. So what about that, fundamentalist preachers? Does God speak through storms or not? What might God be trying to tell Ron DeSantis?

Or maybe all the signs-of-God’s-judgment talk has always just been a way for flim-flam artists like Graham to put their own words into God’s mouth.

and Putin’s annexations

He went through with it.

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin formally declared four regions of Ukraine as part of Russia following sham referendums this week in eastern and southern Ukraine. Putin made the illegal decree as he lobbed even more threats against the United States and its allies, another potential escalation in the war in Ukraine and in Russia’s standoff with the West.

Putin moved to annex four regions of eastern and southern Ukraine — Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia — after officials in Russian-controlled territory staged an illegal vote on joining Russia. The Kremlin does not fully control any of these areas, and pollsters reportedly went door to door with armed soldiers in Russian-controlled zones, but Putin justified the decree by saying that it was done on behalf of the “will of millions of people.”

“Illegal” can be a loaded word, so I tracked down the basis for the claim that the annexation referendums are illegal. The 1958 commentary on the fourth Geneva Convention (1949) says:

As was emphasized in the commentary on Article 4, the occupation of territory in wartime is essentially a temporary, de facto situation, which deprives the occupied Power of neither its statehood nor its sovereignty; it merely interferes with its power to exercise its rights. That is what distinguishes occupation from annexation, whereby the Occupying Power acquires all or part of the occupied territory and incorporates it in its own territory.

Consequently occupation as a result of war, while representing actual possession to all appearances, cannot imply any right whatsoever to dispose of territory. As long as hostilities continue the Occupying Power cannot therefore annex the occupied territory, even if it occupies the whole of the territory concerned. A decision on that point can only be reached in the peace treaty.

The practical point of the annexation is to frame Ukraine’s current offensive (which is still advancing) as an attack on Russia itself rather than a recapture of its own territory. Putin has said he will use “all available means” to defend “Russia”, which raises the specter of nuclear war.

Yesterday’s NYT discusses the possibility that Russia will use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

“The chance that Putin would strike out of the blue seems very low,” said Graham T. Allison, the author of a seminal 1971 book about the Cuban Missile Crisis, “Essence of Decision.” “But as Kennedy said back then, the plausible scenario is if a leader is forced to choose between a catastrophic humiliation and a roll of the dice that might yield success.”

Mr. Allison suspects Mr. Putin will not face that choice unless Ukraine succeeds in pushing Russian forces out of the areas Mr. Putin annexed on Friday.

For that reason, the next few weeks could prove a particularly dangerous time, a range of American and European officials agree. But Mr. Putin is not likely to use a nuclear weapon immediately.

That’s not very comforting. During the Cold War, I didn’t worry much about a Soviet first strike because it didn’t make sense from a Marxist worldview. Soviet dogma said that communism was the inevitable outcome of history. So why would you risk everything on a roll of the dice now if your eventual victory was certain? But that thinking doesn’t apply now. If Putin sees his regime going down, he might think rolling the dice is his best bet.

OTOH, a gangster regime rests on the self-interest calculations made by all the henchmen. If a lot of those calculations are based on the belief that Putin would never do something that could get them all killed, the possibility of nuclear war could start people up and down the regime reevaluating their cooperation.

I’d like to see Biden address Putin’s henchmen directly, in a statement something like this:

A nuclear attack is something that the world will never forget and never forgive. Anyone who in any way participates in such a decision or such an attack will never know a moment’s peace. You must realize that Putin’s regime will eventually fall and his protection will fail. When that happens, there will be no safe place for you. You will be hunted to the ends of the Earth.

As for how the US should respond if Putin does use a tactical nuke in Ukraine, I’ve been reluctant to say what I’m thinking, because I’d be just another ignorant guy spouting off. So I found a knowledgeable guy who is saying the same thing: former general and CIA head David Petraeus. NATO should respond directly, but with conventional weapons. The goal would be to make sure Russia lost at least as much as it had gained by using the nuke.

The US and its allies would destroy Russia’s troops and equipment in Ukraine – as well as sink its Black Sea fleet – if Russian president Vladimir Putin uses nuclear weapons in the country, former CIA director and retired four-star army general David Petraeus warned on Sunday.

I understand fully the temptation to back down: To the rest of the world, losing Ukraine is a small price to pay to avoid the kind of escalation that could lead to an all-out nuclear war. But giving in to threats means giving something up without getting anything back. Putin retains his nuclear arsenal and can make the same threat over the next conflict. Where does that road end?

CPAC has since deleted the tweet, but its reflex response to the annexations was to line up with Putin’s propaganda. The tweet referred to the four territories as “Ukrainian-occupied”, as if they had always been Russian and Ukraine is the aggressor.

A possibly related event is the rupture in the Nord Stream pipelines, which take Russian natural gas to Germany. This appears to be sabotage, but everybody is pointing fingers at everybody else. In the short term it helps Russia, because this winter Europe will realize how much it depends on Russian energy. In the long run it hurts Russia, which will need the pipelines to sell natural gas after the Ukraine-related sanctions get resolved somehow.

and other right-wing foreign governments

Speaking of ultra-conservative foreign leaders, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro was up for re-election yesterday. He trails another former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known more simply as “Lula”) 48.4%-43.2%, which means a run-off will happen October 30. There has already been violence in this campaign, and it is expected to get worse.

In addition to how the run-off will come out, everyone wonders what Bolsonaro will do if he loses. Like Trump in 2020, Bolsonaro started questioning the integrity of the election before it happened. His supporters are more likely than his opponents to be armed, and the nation’s police support him. He probably has enough military support to keep Brazil’s army on the sidelines.

The far-right Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) Party, which traces its ancestry back to the World War II Fascists, leads the new Italian government, elevating Giorgia Meloni to prime minister. Wikipedia explains the history.

FdI emerged from a right-wing split within Silvio Berlusconi‘s party, The People of Freedom (PdL), in December 2012. The bulk of the party leadership including Meloni, as well as the symbol of the movement (the tricolour flame), comes from the National Alliance (AN, 1995–2009) party, which had merged into PdL in 2009. AN was the heir to the Italian Social Movement (MSI, 1945–1995), a neo-fascist party founded by former members of the banned National Fascist Party (1921–1943) and the Republican Fascist Party (1943–1945).

American conservatives are ecstatic, and Meloni looks likely to join Hungarian authoritarian Viktor Orbán in the pantheon of foreign leaders who get cheered at CPAC (where she has already spoken twice). But lots of people on my social media feeds posted this quip:

I can’t believe they made Mussolini a woman in the reboot. This woke nonsense has ruined yet another franchise.

The most immediate problem raised by Italian neo-fascism is whether Italy will become pro-Putin voice inside NATO. So far, Meloni is not signalling that.

Meloni, 45, has sought to moderate her views recently, and this week she tweeted support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Yet as Europe teeters on the brink of a recession stemming at least partly from energy sanctions imposed on Russia, there are fears within the Biden administration and elsewhere that Meloni could slash what’s been a significant Italian contribution to Ukraine’s defense.

Such a move could have a domino effect and cause key Western allies to push for a negotiated end to Russia’s war on Ukraine. Trump backed that position Wednesday, one Ukraine’s leaders vehemently oppose because it would likely require giving up large swaths of their territory to Putin.

and the Supreme Court

The start of the new Court term led a lot of pundits to raise a bunch of the issues I discussed last week. The NYT Editorial Board wrote:

The actual cause of [the Supreme Court’s] historic unpopularity is no secret. Over the past several years, the court has been transformed into a judicial arm of the Republican Party. This project was taking shape more quietly for decades, but it shifted into high gear in 2016, when Justice Antonin Scalia died and Senate Republicans refused to let Barack Obama choose his successor, obliterating the practice of deferring to presidents to fill vacancies on the court. Within four years, the court had a 6-to-3 right-wing supermajority, supercharging the Republican appointees’ efforts to discard the traditions and processes that have allowed the court to appear fair and nonpartisan.

The WaPo’s Ruth Marcus wrote an extended introduction to the new Court term, which includes a number of race-related cases: affirmative action and voting rights in particular. Another case revisits whether anti-discrimination laws apply to Christian businesses that turn away gay customers for religious reasons. There’s an opportunity for the Court to limit the power the Clean Water Act gives the EPA, and to increase state legislatures’ power to sway elections.

and the pandemic

Case numbers are dropping almost everywhere except where I am in New England. Nationally, deaths stubbornly remain around 400 per day.

When President Biden declared the pandemic over a couple weeks ago, I had to decide when I’ll start thinking of it as over: When the death numbers get down to about 100 per day. That would be flu-like.

According to data collected by the CDC from 2010 to 2020, the agency estimates that the flu has caused 12,000 to 52,000 deaths annually.

100 per day would be 36,500 annually, right in the middle of a normal flu range. Until then, I’m going to keep wearing masks and avoiding indoor crowds.

and you also might be interested in …

The week’s dumbest controversy was about Lizzo playing James Madison’s flute. If you’ve seen references to it and want to know what it was about, click the link. But if you don’t care, don’t start caring on my account.

I aspire to someday have a life so carefree that how the Library of Congress handles James Madison’s flute rises to the top of my list.

The dumbest statement about a controversy had to be this one by Ron DeSantis, who was defending his initiative to put a right-wing slant on how Florida public schools teach American history.

It was the American Revolution that caused people to question slavery. No one had questioned it before we decided as Americans that we are endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights and that we are all created equal.

CNN’s Van Jones pointed out the obvious.

You know who questioned [slavery]? The enslaved people.

Like the history I was taught growing up, DeSantis’ history is based on the principle that only European views count. There’s no other way to justify the claim that “no one” questioned slavery before 1776, that Columbus “discovered” America, that Gutenberg (and not Bi Sheng of the Song Dynasty) invented movable type, or a bunch of other pseudo-facts I remember from my K-12 years.

The origins of movable type.

But even if you only count English-speaking White people, DeSantis’ history is just wrong.

In the 1569 case it had been ruled that English law could not recognise slavery. This view, although overturned by the ruling in Butts V. Penny, was subsequently upheld in 1701 when the Chief Justice, Sir John Holt, ruled that a slave became free as soon as he arrived in England. In this view, different from, but no less unequivocal than that of the Solicitor-General in 1677, slavery was illegal.

Judge Cannon continues to put Trump above the law. Once again, the special master that Trump chose wanted to pin down exactly what he’s claiming — this time about whether the FBI planted documents or not. But no. Those claims are allowed to float, and presumably to influence the case, without even being stated for the record, much less supported by evidence.

New Tory Prime Minister Liz Truss’ first major act was to propose a gigantic tax cut for the rich.

Last week, Truss’ government announced that they would cut taxes by £45 billion ($48 billion) in a bid to get the UK economy moving again, with a package that includes scrapping the highest rate of income tax for top earners from 45% to 40% and a big increase in government borrowing to slash energy prices for millions of households and businesses this winter.

Truss has acknowledged mistakes in how the proposal was rolled out, but seems to be standing by it, even as the pound crashes. But not everybody is behind her.

Conservative members of parliament fear the combination of tax cuts along with huge public spending to help people cope with energy bills, rising inflation, rising interest rates and a falling pound are going to make winning the next general election impossible.

Who better to comment than UK fake-news personality Jonathan Pie?

Having passed the House and gotten support from Mitch McConnell, a bill to reform the Electoral Count Act of 1887 looks likely to become law. The bill eliminates various loopholes and vagueries that Trump used to try to hang onto power after losing the 2020 election.

McConnell’s support is one more step in the continued souring of his relationship with Trump. Obviously, Trump doesn’t like the implication that his failed coup attempt was the kind of thing America should avoid in the future. But he really lashed out after McConnell supported a continuing resolution to keep the government open until after the election. On his Trump-centered Twitter-clone, the former president said McConnell “has a death wish”, which I (and a lot of other people) interpret as a suggestion that McConnell be assassinated. The same post insulted McConnell’s Chinese-American wife, Elaine Chao, who left Trump’s cabinet after January 6. Trump called her McConnell’s “China loving wife Coco Chow”.

Explain to me again how “divisive” Joe Biden is.

Speaking at a Trump rally in Michigan Saturday, Marjorie Taylor Greene said

I’m not going to mince words with you all. Democrats want Republicans dead. They’ve already started the killings.

Again, the point here seems to be to incite and justify right-wing violence.

This week I learned two words: Having an implant removed is called “explanting”. And a person known by a one-word name (like Madonna or Lula) is “mononymous”.

and let’s close with some practical information

Ryan North’s career in comic books (Dinosaur Comics, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, …) has led him to spend an enormous amount of time contemplating plausible supervillain schemes. Now you can benefit from his lifetime of research by reading his book How to Take Over the World.

The infrastructure chapter alone could save you billions. Where should you build your secret lair? (Not at the bottom of the ocean or on the Moon. You’d just be creating problems for yourself.) How much space do you need to achieve food and energy independence from the outside world? (The Biosphere 2 research is invaluable here.)

And then there are the more specific villainous plans. How can you create your own dinosaurs? (Actual dinosaur DNA is unrecoverable now, so the Jurassic Park technique can’t possibly work. But you might be able to create pseudo-dinosaurs by manipulating the DNA expression of the dinosaurs’ bird descendants. This technique also avoids a lot of catastrophic outcomes, because your dinosaurs’ offspring would be birds again.) What’s the most plausible path to immortality? How can you control the weather? (The plan here looks a lot like the one Neil Stephenson explores in Termination Shock, which was probably being written simultaneously.)

Supervillainy may seem like a radical career choice, but there’s no time to lose, because Disney owns Marvel Comics and Warner-Discovery owns DC. Think about what that means:

Two of the most powerful multinational corporations on the planet have spent decades, in plain sight, paying some of the most creative people alive today to design increasingly credible world-domination schemes.

So if you don’t take over the world, one of those two undoubtedly will. Your reign is bound to be better than theirs.

Democratic Process

The Dobbs decision is the culmination of a decades-long effort by Republicans to capture the Supreme Court and use it, not just to undercut abortion rights but also to implement an unpopular agenda they cannot implement through the democratic process.

– Ian Millhiser “The Case Against the Supreme Court

This week’s featured post is “The Court’s problems run deeper than Roe“.

This week everybody was talking about Trump’s bad week

Last week’s featured post was Trump-centered, and I refuse to do that two weeks in a row. Fortunately, other people covered the week’s developments quite well. The three big events were:

  • The New York Attorney General Letitia James announced a sweeping civil lawsuit accusing the Trump family and the Trump organization of fraud.
  • The special master in the Mar-a-Lago search case has been pinning Trump’s lawyers down: They can’t just vaguely imply stuff (like that Trump declassified the secret documents the FBI found or that the FBI may have planted evidence). If they want to be taken seriously, they have to make specific claims and back those claims up with evidence.
  • On appeal, the 11th Circuit reversed Judge Cannon’s decision to take the documents marked classified away from investigators and turn them over to the special master.

Those last two fulfilled the hopes I expressed last week:

The Justice Department has appealed to the 11th Circuit, which also includes a lot of Trump-appointed judges. Hopefully, though, these are real judges who will insist on applying the law, even to the man who appointed them.

The NY lawsuit accuses Trump of claiming fraudulent valuations for his properties: high when he needed a loan, low when assessed for taxes.

James says in the suit that she estimates the financial benefits from this “fraudulent scheme” were $250 million. She wants Trump to give up those benefits and be permanently banned from serving as an officer in any New York business entity, and to ban the Trump Organization from buying commercial real estate in the state for five years.

Fraud is a crime, but this is not a criminal case. Other prosecutors investigated this as a criminal matter and decided not to proceed. Probably for two reasons:

  • The standard of proof in a civil case is lower: a preponderance of the evidence rather than proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • A jury might not be convinced that the scheme had victims. Banks that would not have made loans based on accurate valuations nonetheless got paid back. (Tax fraud would have to be prosecuted by the IRS, not the State of New York.)

As usual, Trump and his cult are claiming “witch hunt”. However, they don’t seem to be refuting any of the specific claims in the indictment. They’re throwing around a lot of outrage, but not offering a lot of facts.

Trump’s two main defenses don’t sound very good politically: His lies didn’t hurt anybody, and besides, everybody else in his business is a crook too.

Trump’s claim to Sean Hannity that he could declassify documents “by thinking” drew a lot of ridicule. His lawyers have refused to advance any such claim in court, and I doubt they will. After all, what if Biden’s first thought after taking office was to reclassify all Trump’s documents?

I take the claim as an indication that has no evidence to support his declassification claim. Ultimately, you just have to believe in the telepathic powers of the presidency.

In the same quote, Trump seemed to slip up:

If you’re the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying, ‘It’s declassified,’ even by thinking about it because you’re sending it to Mar-a-Lago or wherever you’re sending it. [my italics]

To me, that implies he has more stolen classified documents hidden away somewhere else.

The weirdest and potentially scariest Trump news has to do with his increasing embrace of the QAnon movement, which is counting on him to save us all from the world-dominating conspiracy of liberal pedophiles by publicly executing thousands of them.

In a recent rally in Youngstown, Ohio (purportedly for Senate candidate J. D. Vance, who Trump belittled), Trump closed with a QAnon anthem playing in the background and people raising their index fingers in an almost religious salute.

The right-wing research I do confuses the social-media algorithms: Facebook has been showing me ads for the Trump Store, which is marking the end of summer with a sale on official Trump-branded sweatshirts. (Only $63.75!) I was going to leave a comment asking if they had any orange jumpsuits, but somebody had beaten me to it.

How about it, liberal entrepreneurs? I’m sure there’s a market.

and Russia

As his forces continue to lose on the battlefield, Putin keeps doubling down. Wednesday he announced mobilization of 300K reservists, pledging that he will “use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people.” He was clear that “all the means” includes nuclear weapons, but left vague what threats would make their use necessary.

According to The Economist, Russia has not had a mobilization since World War II.

Reports have emerged of men receiving conscription papers en masse, especially in poorer areas in the east and south of the country such as Chechnya and Dagestan. In Buryatia, an ethnic-Mongolian region in eastern Siberia, men were handed draft papers in the middle of the night, regardless of their experience or profession. According to Alexandra Garmazhapova of the Free Buryatia Foundation, an anti-war group, people were drafted within minutes of Mr Putin’s speech. …

According to RAND, a think-tank, many of Russia’s reservists lack military training sufficient or recent enough to be effective fighters. Experts suggest that training could take months. Yet in one recent video, officers can be heard telling newly mobilised recruits that they will get just two weeks of training before being sent to Ukraine.

The mobilization has led to protests, which are illegal in Putin’s Russia. Reportedly, 1300 protesters were arrested Wednesday. The NYT reported yesterday that 745 were detained from protests all across the country.

Thousands more have fled since [the mobilization announcement], and many flights to destinations where Russians are not required to have a visa have sold out. Border crossings with Finland and Georgia are clogged with cars.

The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum suggests that Putin’s speech itself was a sign of chaos in the Kremlin.

If an American president announced a major speech, booked the networks for 8 p.m., and then disappeared until the following morning, the analysis would be immediate and damning: chaos, disarray, indecision. The White House must be in crisis.

In the past 24 hours, this is exactly what happened in Moscow. The Russian president really did announce a major speech, alert state television, warn journalists, and then disappear without explanation. Although Vladimir Putin finally gave his speech to the nation this morning [i.e. Wednesday], the same conclusions have to apply: chaos, disarray, indecision. The Kremlin must be in crisis.

Putin has also begun changing the definition of “Russia and our people” by holding referendums on whether four parts of Ukraine that his forces occupy will become part of Russia. This opens up the question of whether Putin would use nuclear weapons if Ukraine’s current offensive started recapturing Ukrainian territory that Russia is annexing.

Vox summarizes the reasons Russians give for being confident they will win this war.

  • The West is weak and shiftless; it won’t match Russia’s staying power.
  • China will be Russia’s lifeline.
  • Russia doesn’t need sanctioned Western tech all that much.

The author doubts all these points.

That’s the Russian point of view, but what about the pro-Russia American Right? What are they telling themselves? Here’s a piece from The American Conservative by Trump Pentagon veteran Douglas Macgregor about how badly Ukraine is losing the war.

Moscow’s determination to destroy Ukrainian forces at the least cost to Russian lives prevailed. Ukrainian casualties were always heavier than reported from the moment Russian troops crossed into Eastern Ukraine, but now, thanks to the recent failure of Ukrainian counterattacks in the Kherson region, they’ve reached horrific levels that are impossible to conceal. … Moscow is in no hurry. The Russians are nothing if not methodical and deliberate. Ukrainian forces are bleeding to death in counterattack after counterattack. Why rush? Moscow can be patient.

Macgregor made the same case to Tucker Carlson Thursday, adding the bizarre charge that it is the West that is threatening poor innocent Russia with nukes. (Zelenskyy, Carlson elaborates, is “demanding that we preemptively nuke Russia”, a charge that not even Russian state media outlet RT is making.)

As a reality check, I went back to see what Macgregor was saying in June, when Russia was still grinding out small territorial gains. Western media, he claimed then, was “preparing the public for Ukraine’s military collapse”.

Kiev’s war with Moscow is lost. Ukrainian forces are being bled white. Trained replacements do not exist in sufficient numbers to influence the battle, and the situation grows more desperate by the hour. No amount of U.S. and allied military aid or assistance short of direct military intervention by U.S. and NATO ground forces can change this harsh reality.

The problem today is not ceding territory and population to Moscow in Eastern Ukraine that Moscow already controls. The future of the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions along with the Donbas is decided. Moscow is also likely to secure Kharkov and Odessa, two cities that are historically Russian and Russian-speaking, as well as the territory that adjoins them. These operations will extend the conflict through the summer.

That take turned out to be totally wrong; summer is over, Ukraine’s military hasn’t collapsed, and Odessa and Kharkiv are still securely Ukrainian. But why should American conservatives care about the failed predictions of the past? Putin is great! His brilliant plan will prevail! Glory to Trump! Glory to Russia!

BTW: This is another example of the difference between Left and Right in America. Not that liberal pundits always make accurate predictions, but they are much more likely to regard a huge mistake as something they need to explain. Paul Krugman, for example, was wrong about inflation. But he owned up to it and tried to learn from his mistake. Macgregor just charges ahead with new predictions of Ukrainian doom.

and hurricanes

Puerto Rico continues to dig out from Hurricane Fiona. Like Maria in 2017, it took down the electric grid. Nearly 3/4 of a million people are still without power.

Meanwhile, Ian was upgraded to a hurricane this morning and is expected to keep strengthening until it makes landfall somewhere on Florida’s gulf coast on Wednesday.

The coverage of these two storms tells you something about the importance of statehood. Florida is going to get far more attention than Puerto Rico.

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I’ve gotten my bivalent booster Covid vaccine.

Women in Iran seem to have had enough with the theocracy. Protest movements like this are hard to gauge, especially from a distance. Who knew the George Floyd protests would spread like they did? An observation from Vox:

One thing that’s certain is that protests in Iran are becoming more frequent, says [Ali] Vaez [an analyst with International Crisis Group], which shows the degree of discontent. “We used to see this kind of outburst of public ire once a decade in Iran,” he told me. “Now it’s becoming every other year, basically, and it’s becoming more ferocious, more violent.”

As the 100th anniversary of Mussolini’s March on Rome approaches, Italy looks ready to put another far-right government in power.

DeSantis’ stunt of flying Venezuelan asylum-seekers to Martha’s Vineyard just keeps getting weirder and weirder.

The Florida Republican refuses to release the state contract that funded the flights.

WaPo’s Greg Sargent speculates about the reason: The flights don’t match the budgetary language used to fund them. If that’s true, DeSantis can’t hide it forever.

Vox untangles the Mississippi welfare fraud scandal, which is bigger than NFL Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre.

What happened in Mississippi is less a case of criminal masterminds perpetrating a heist, and closer to walking into a vault that welfare reform left open and unguarded, all while purporting to protect the government from mooching citizens.

It points to the fundamental problem with putting people who don’t care about poverty in charge of poverty programs. In their minds, this is all wasted money anyway, so why not steal it?

and let’s close with something celebratory

Rosh Hashanah began yesterday and lasts through Tuesday. It is the first of the annual High Holy Days, which will conclude October 4-5 with Yom Kippur. Here’s a quick intro to Rosh Hashanah, which notes:

While Rosh Hashanah tends to be a joyful celebration, Yom Kippur is a more somber holiday often marked by fasting.

This musical piece sounds pretty joyful.

Moving On

Even if Durham approached the probe with earnest sincerity, the real reason he was appointed is that Donald Trump’s political con requires the promise of total vindication right around the corner. For a time, Durham provided that hope for Trump backers. But now, as Trump moves on to other ploys, the Durham probe has served its purpose, even though it has produced no major convictions or epiphanies.

– David Graham
The John Durham Probe Gave Trump What He Wanted

This week’s featured post is “How the Trump Grift Works“.

This week everybody was talking about something that doesn’t interest me

I have spent exactly zero time these last two weeks watching coverage related to the British royal family. I just don’t see what connects the royals to anything I find meaningful. If I’d been running a news network, I would have briefly announced developments on the days they happened: the Queen’s death, Charles’ coronation, her funeral — and then moved on to something that might actually matter.

and Ukraine

After a grinding Russian offensive in the summer made only minimal gains, Ukraine has been striking back surprisingly effectively. It has regained a comparatively large amount of territory in the Kharkiv area, and put Russian forces into a disorganized retreat.

Like the collapse of Russia’s Kyiv offensive in the spring, this new series of reverses is raising questions about the effectiveness of the Russian military in general. Putin is also beginning to face criticism from the political right, from Russians who believe in the goals of the war but are disappointed by how it’s going.

The main thing to worry about is that Putin will respond by escalating further, which is why Biden warned him not to use tactical nuclear weapons.

and the fall elections

It’s hard to imagine what Lindsey Graham is thinking as he introduces a national 15-week abortion ban. It’s obviously not going to pass in this Congress, and it’s also giving Democrats a wedge issue for the midterm elections: It unites Democrats and splits Republicans.

Nationally, the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe has motivated Democratic voters in special elections and in the Kansas referendum. The Republican response has amounted to “Calm down. The Dobbs decision is just federalism; it returns the abortion question to the states.”

But Graham’s bill points out the obvious: National abortion bans will be proposed in every Congress from now on, and Republicans will not be able to stand up to their base and vote them down. So if Americans elect Republican majorities in Congress and regain the presidency, abortion will eventually be banned.

Graham is pitching his bill as a “late-term” abortion ban, but 15 weeks is early in the second trimester, and has never previously been considered “late-term”.

Polls show that late-term abortion bans are more popular than general abortion bans. But I encourage Democrats to keep raising this question to women who have ever been pregnant: “At what point in your pregnancy did your judgment become inferior to the government’s?” Late-term abortions are nearly all complex situations where difficult decisions need to be made. I can’t imagine that any large percentage of those decisions will be made better by Congress than by the people actually involved.

One reason I didn’t panic when Democrats were doing so badly in the polls was that I expected Republicans to do what they’re doing: nominate extreme MAGA candidates who represent about a third of the electorate.

Latest example: Don Bolduc, who is the Republican Senate nominee in New Hampshire. Incumbent Democrat Maggie Hassan won by a whisker in 2016, so she has been an obvious target for Republicans looking to flip the 50-50 Senate. Popular Governor Chris Sununu probably could have won that seat, but decided he didn’t want to be part of a Republican Senate caucus with no policy other than blocking whatever President Biden wants to do.

So the primary came down to Bolduc against a more mainstream Republican, Chuck Morse.

Bolduc holds a wide variety of extreme beliefs: He wants to eliminate both the FBI and the Department of Education, has backed former President Donald Trump’s lies about the election and called GOP Gov. Chris Sununu a “Chinese Communist sympathizer.”

But Sununu has pledged to support Bolduc, because mainstream Republicans are content to watch the fascists take over their party. Bolduc, meanwhile, has had a sudden conversion on election denial: The day after his primary opponent conceded, he announced that he no longer believes Biden stole the 2020 election from Trump.

One of Bolduc’s most charming positions is that voters shouldn’t be able to pick their senators at all: He wants to repeal the 17th Amendment and return to the system where state legislatures picked senators.

That’s how it’s supposed to be. And it worked until the 17th Amendment.

Weirdly, Bolduc sees this as an anti-corruption measure, when the pre-amendment Senate was a big part of what made the Gilded Age notoriously corrupt, as memorialized in the famous political cartoon “Bosses of the Senate“. Bolduc clearly doesn’t know American history.

So anyway, New Hampshire: If you don’t vote for Hassan, you may never get to vote for a senator again.

Another example is the Massachusetts governor’s race. Massachusetts is one of the bluest states in the country, but it has a history of electing moderate Republican governors — like currently popular Governor Charlie Baker, as well as Mitt Romney and Bill Weld in the not-so-distant past.

So there’s every reason to believe the GOP could have put up a real fight this year. Instead, they nominated MAGA Republican Geoff Diehl. The lastest poll has him trailing Democrat Maura Healey by a ridiculous margin, 52%-26%.

Of course Republicans are doctoring videos to exaggerate the effects of John Fetterman’s stroke. How did I not see that coming?

and the secret documents Trump stole

I’ve been reluctant to talk about “Trump judges” in a way that implies they’re all MAGA cultists. First, because it’s too reminiscent of the way Trump himself has talked about “Obama judges“, as if the judiciary is necessarily partisan. If we start assuming that every judge is in the tank for the party that appointed him or her, it’s hard to see how democracy stands.

But also, a number of “Trump judges” have held the line against his most outrageous attacks against democracy, and even his Supreme Court appointees refused to overturn the election he lost.

However, it’s hard to explain Judge Aileen Cannon’s rulings in the Mar-a-Lago documents case without assuming some kind of bias or corruption. Her position makes no sense as law, and gives Trump a unique above-the-law status.

Most telling is the way that she takes seriously claims that Trump has made in public, but which his lawyers have not raised in court: that the clearly marked secret documents the FBI recovered may not actually be classified at all, and that this is something for her appointed special master to decide. (Based on what?)

In their court filings, Trump’s lawyers imply claims they do not actually state, referring to “purportedly classified” documents and observing that the government “wrongly assumes that if a document has a classification marking, it remains classified in perpetuity”.

Any real judge would have pressed them to make a factual claim: Did Trump declassify these documents or not? When? How? I believe Trump’s lawyers would have backed down because they know Trump’s public claims are lies, just as Trump’s lawyers often refused to claim fraud in his election lawsuits. Lawyers can be sanctioned for lying to the court, but not for vague implications that the judge lets stand.

Cannon, however, did not ask the obvious questions, and instead just observed that there is a “dispute” about the documents’ classification that the court needs to resolve somehow.

The Justice Department has appealed to the 11th Circuit, which also includes a lot of Trump-appointed judges. Hopefully, though, these are real judges who will insist on applying the law, even to the man who appointed them.

the Martha’s Vineyard stunt

You’ve probably already heard about Florida Governor DeSantis using state funds to fly Venezuelan immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. They arrived not knowing where they were (since DeSantis’ people had lied to them), and local officials were not told they were coming. In short, it was a political stunt designed to create maximal chaos. The Martha’s Vineyard community seem to have handled it well, and the Venezuelans are now housed at a military base on Cape Cod.

Similar stunts have been going on for a while, as when Texas Governor Abbott bused about 100 Hispanic immigrants to Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence, again unannounced.

To some, this is reminiscent of the “reverse freedom rides” that Southern racists organized (again, tricking their victims) in the 1960s. Others wonder about the political reaction from Florida’s large Venezuelan population, after seeing how little regard DeSantis has for people escaping the Maduro government.

My reaction to this series of events is to ask: How does dropping migrants in a resort community with no warning make anything better? DeSantis and Abbott seem to share one dominant motive: spite.

The underlying problem is that both treaties and our own laws require the United States to allow people facing persecution in other countries to claim asylum here. (This is largely a response to the shameful way Jewish refugees were treated when they tried to escape the Holocaust.) Once refugees get here and turn themselves in [1], we are legally obligated to hear their claims. Currently, the asylum courts are overwhelmed, and it can take years to decide if someone’s claims of persecution are legitimate.

As it did in so many areas, and as Trump continues to do today, the Trump administration dealt with the asylum problem by ignoring the law. The Biden administration refuses to do that, and systemic reforms have been logjammed in Congress for many years.

It’s important that we get this figured out soon, because in the coming decades many millions of people will become climate refugees, as their homes are flooded out or their fields become deserts. What’s our plan for dealing with the ones who appear on our border? Let them all in? Shoot them?

[1] The Republican rhetoric about “securing the Southern border” is way off-base when we’re talking about asylum seekers. They are not avoiding or breaking our laws, they are seeking the protection of our laws. And of course no one worries about our Northern border, because we think of Canadians as White English-speaking people.

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Geoffrey Berman’s new book Holding the Line is a good read. Chapter-by-chapter, it’s a real-life crime series that covers art fraud, Jeffrey Epstein, street gangs, extortion, international banking fraud, and many other cases, underlining the wide variety of issues that arise in the Southern District of New York, where Berman was the US attorney for 2 years during the Trump administration.

Like any good TV crime series, the episodes have a long-term background plot playing out: How Trump and Bill Barr tried to use the Justice Department to protect Trump’s friends and attack his enemies. Berman’s refusal to play ball involved strategic resistance, as he was constantly forced to decide which concessions mattered and which didn’t. He eventually did get fired, but managed to avoid handing SDNY off to a Trump/Barr puppet.

One point that makes Berman’s book topical: When Trump talks about “weaponization of the justice system“, it’s projection. He spent four years trying to weaponize it.

A legal battle is playing out in Texas over Governor Abbott’s and Attorney General Paxton’s desire to persecute families of trans youth. In Abbott and Paxton’s view, parents who allow their children to receive puberty blockers or other gender-identity-affirming medical care (under a doctor’s supervision) should be investigated for child abuse. A state judge disagrees, but Paxton will appeal the ruling.

Whatever happened to the praying football coach? You know, the one that the Supreme Court eviscerated the Constitution’s Establishment Clause for? Has he been reinstated, as he demanded and the Court ordered?

Well, not exactly. His reinstatement papers have been sitting around since August 8, but “we haven’t gotten so much as a phone call” says a spokesperson for the school district.

Instead, ex-Coach Kennedy has been living large as a conservative celebrity.

Instead, as the Bremerton Knights were prepping for the season in August, Kennedy was up in Alaska, meeting with former Vice President Mike Pence and evangelist Franklin Graham. On the eve of the first game, which the Knights won, Kennedy was in Milwaukee being presented with an engraved .22-caliber rifle at an American Legion convention.

The weekend of the second game, which the Knights also won, Kennedy appeared with former President Donald Trump at the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey. He saw Trump get a religious award from a group called the American Cornerstone Institute.

Coming up this month, Kennedy’s scheduled to give a talk as part of a lectureship series at a Christian university in Arkansas.

No doubt we can soon expect a book tour and a movie. It sure looks like “the praying coach” is just another right-wing grifter.

The purge continues at CNN: Don Lemon has lost his prime time slot and has been moved to the morning.

The latest “woke” thing that upsets the Right: In the live-action remake of Disney’s animated “The Little Mermaid”, Ariel is played by a Black actress.

Let me provide some perspective: When I was growing up in the 1960s in the Midwestern White working class, I was still a little uncertain about imitating great athletes like Willie Mays or Bill Russell on the playground, because White boys weren’t supposed to identify with Black men. That all changed in my lifetime, and now there’s nothing the least bit strange about players of any race or age trying to shoot like Steph Curry.

Same thing here: If you worry that your daughter can’t really identify with a Black Ariel, it undoubtedly bothers you a lot more than it does her. And in the future, she will look back on this controversy as something weird about her childhood.

and let’s close with something well designed

The Betterdoggos web site picks out dozens of examples of cleverly designed public spaces, like these Bulgarian benches.

Threats to Democracy


History tells us that blind loyalty to a single leader and a willingness to engage in political violence is fatal to democracy.

President Joe Biden

This week’s featured posts are “Fascist is a description, not an insult” and “The Battle for Voters’ Imaginations” (which is about framing the abortion debate).

This week everybody was talking about Trump’s crimes

The breaking news says a judge has granted Trump’s request for a special master. But a weekly blog can’t cover breaking news, so look for details elsewhere.

Maybe the weirdest thing about the whole Mar-a-Lago story is how the former president keeps goading the government into revealing details that are damaging to him. He could have kept the whole search secret if he’d wanted, but no. Then he leaked his copy of the search warrant, and demanded a copy of the affidavit DoJ had submitted to a judge to get the warrant. Every new document that came out blew up more of his defenses and pushed his supporters deeper into a corner.

Trump’s lawyers’ motion to appoint a special master to review the seized documents was full of misinformation that had to annoy DoJ, so it responded Tuesday with a 38-page filing telling the history of the government’s efforts to get back the documents Trump illegally took with him when he left the White House.

That’s how we know all this:

When the National Archives asking nicely failed to get all the documents returned, DoJ followed up with a subpoena for “[a]ny and all documents or writings in the custody or control of Donald J. Trump and/or the Office of Donald J. Trump bearing classification markings [list of classification markings].”

Trump’s lawyers returned more documents, including many classified documents (that Trump no longer has the clearance to possess), and one of them signed off on this statement:

Based upon the information that has been provided to me, I am authorized to certify, on behalf of the Office of Donald J. Trump, the following: a. A diligent search was conducted of the boxes that were moved from the White House to Florida; b. This search was conducted after receipt of the subpoena, in order to locate any and all documents that are responsive to the subpoena; c. Any and all responsive documents accompany this certification; and d. No copy, written notation, or reproduction of any kind was retained as to any responsive document.

This turned out to be a lie. When DoJ began to suspect it had been duped, it got a search warrant. And sure enough, the FBI found what it was looking for.

That the FBI, in a matter of hours, recovered twice as many documents with classification markings as the “diligent search” that the former President’s counsel and other representatives had weeks to perform calls into serious question the representations made in the June 3 certification and casts doubt on the extent of cooperation in this matter

The filing closes with the photo below. Even if you believe the bogus argument that Trump had waved his declassification wand over all these documents, they clearly bear classification markings and so are subject to the subpoena.

Tuesday’s filing blew up all the bizarre and contradictory defenses Trump and his defenders had been spreading since the search was first announced. All they have left is to threaten violence.

Reading the filing, it’s hard to see how Trump can escape being indicted. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they don’t want this kind of case to be what Trump finally goes down for, since the attempt to overthrow democracy on January 6 was so much worse. However, what’s unique about this episode in Trump’s criminal history is how easy it is to understand.

In all his previous crimes, judgment calls provided wiggle room for people who didn’t want to believe Trump did anything wrong. Did Trump’s pressure on Ukrainian President Zelenskyy constitute extortion? Did his demand that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “find” enough votes for him to win cross the line into election tampering? Do we have enough quid-pro-quo evidence to call his pardons of potential witnesses Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, and Paul Manafort a conspiracy to obstruct justice? Is it clear that he knew he had lost the election and intended to subvert the will of the voters?

I think a reasonable juror who is shown all the evidence will say “yes” to all of those questions and convict Trump of the corresponding crimes. But there is at least an argument to be made.

In this case there isn’t: He took the classified documents. They didn’t belong to him. His lawyers signed a statement saying he had given them all back. A search proved that he hadn’t. He knew he hadn’t, because some of them were in his desk next to his passport.

He’s guilty.

Trump’s crowds are still chanting “Lock her up” when he lies about Hillary Clinton.

Steve Benen addresses the difference between Trump’s theft of classified documents and the Clinton email affair, which Republicans like John Cornyn and Lindsey Graham surely understand when they’re not trying to bullshit the public.

Clinton’s email protocols were, of course, the subject of a lengthy criminal probe. Federal investigators appeared eager to find evidence of wrongdoing: then-FBI Director James Comey privately marveled at the “visceral hatred” some senior FBI officials in New York had for the former secretary of state.

But federal law enforcement nevertheless didn’t charge the Democrat with any crimes because they couldn’t find evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Comey took the extraordinary step of publicly criticizing Clinton anyway, but he grudgingly conceded that the FBI, following an exhaustive investigation, couldn’t indict her.

Trump’s State Department similarly conceded — late on a Friday afternoon — that there was no systemic or deliberate mishandling of classified information from Clinton. The inspector general’s office in Trump’s Justice Department also concluded that the FBI had no reason to charge Clinton.

Trump’s scandal bears little resemblance to his former rival’s. Clinton didn’t take physical documents. She didn’t ignore pleas for cooperation. She didn’t store highly sensitive secrets at a private club that had an unfortunate habit of letting foreign spies walk around.

Bill Barr, of all people, makes this excellent point about the claim that Trump declassified all these documents:

If in fact he sort of stood over scores of boxes not really knowing what was in them, and said, “I hereby declassify everything in here,” that would be such an abuse that shows such recklessness that it’s almost worse than taking the documents.

Imagine declassifying secrets just for your own convenience, without even bothering to learn why they had been classified in the first place.

Several TV talking heads with intelligence backgrounds have pointed out the sources-and-methods issue that makes declassification decisions complicated: If you saw a top-secret document saying that Vladimir Putin had oatmeal for breakfast last Tuesday, you might think that was a silly fact to classify and want to declassify it. (Putin already knows, so who are we keeping this secret from?) But if Russian intelligence saw it, they might be able to find the spy who is close enough to Putin to report such facts. That would be very bad.

The most mysterious thing the FBI seized are “43 empty folders with CLASSIFIED banners“. Did those folders used to contain documents? Where might they be?

I don’t want to go too far out on a limb speculating about them, but I hope we find out eventually.

and semi-fascism

President Biden’s calling out of MAGA Republicans is covered in one of the featured posts. I point out that — unlike when AOC is called a “Marxist” without any reference to public ownership of the means of production — “fascist” isn’t just an insult. The term means something, and that meaning applies to Trump and his personality cult. Calling Trump a fascist is more like calling AOC a New Yorker.

That post starts with the hypocrisy of Trumpists being offended by rhetoric that is much tamer than what their side routinely dishes out. But there is one additional point I didn’t mention: Taking offense when you are the greater offender is a telltale sign of assholery, as defined in Aaron James’ book Assholes: a theory.

James’s asshole has a sense of ironclad entitlement. He’s superior, immune to your complaints, though he insists you listen to his.

and Jackson’s water problem

According to Vox:

The water system in Jackson, Mississippi, the state’s capital and largest city, failed earlier this week.

On Tuesday, most of the city’s 150,000 residents were without running water, prompting the state’s Republican governor, Tate Reeves, to declare a state of emergency. He warned that there wasn’t enough water “to fight fires, to reliably flush toilets, and to meet other critical needs.” As of Wednesday afternoon, there was still little-to-no water pressure for most of the city’s residents.

The crisis has causes at multiple time scales. The immediate problem is twofold: excessive rain washed more contaminants into the system than the city’s water-treatment plant could handle. Also, several major pumps went out at the same time.

But this isn’t a unique crisis; the city often has problems after major weather events. Consider this Mississippi Today article from March, 2021:

[F]or the better part of the last month, Avalon and her husband Billy heaved buckets of water they retrieved from government tankers, kind neighbors or rainfall into their home to flush their toilet or wash dishes. 

Most Jacksonians lost running water altogether after back-to-back winter storms the week of Feb. 14 stunned unprepared utilities across the Deep South, and the Avalons were some of the roughly 43,000 people whose taps remained dry for more than two weeks. City officials were still telling most residents, 82% of whom are Black, to boil their water a month later.

So the medium-term problem is that Jackson’s water infrastructure is crumbling.

“This is a set of accumulated problems based on deferred maintenance that’s not taken place over decades,” [Mayor Chokwe Antar] Lumumba said. Lumumba estimated it would cost at least $1 billion to fix the water distribution system and billions more to resolve the issue altogether.

But where would that money come from? That question points to the long-term problem. Jackson delayed integrating its schools as long as it could, and when it did many prosperous Whites left. The city is now 83% Black and 25% below the poverty line; the median household income is $52K. So Jackson doesn’t have the tax base to generate billions for infrastructure.

It’s also a Democratic city in a Republican state, so state government isn’t coming to the rescue. Biden’s federal infrastructure bill is expected to deliver $75 million to Jackson for water projects — real money for most medium-sized cities, but not on the scale of Jackson’s needs.

And then there’s the deep-background problem: racism. The slogan “Black Lives Matter” doesn’t just call attention to police shootings of Black people. It points to White Americans’ reluctance to take Black suffering to heart.

Take me, for example. I didn’t grow up in a KKK-style household, and I wasn’t taught to actively hate any racial group. But all the same, I grew up believing that Black people’s problems were not my problems. If they were suffering, that was a shame. But why should I do anything about it?

That ingrained attitude has been hard to shake. To this day, my eyes will glide past headlines about suffering Black people, and I have to make myself go back and read the stories. I suspect a lot of White Americans have a similar hole in their compassion.

So as a thought experiment, imagine that some whiter state capital — Salem, Oregon, say (which is about the same size, but more prosperous) or Des Moines, Iowa (somewhat larger) — were having similar problems. Would the American public have a similarly detached emotional response? Or would we feel in our bones that this was an emergency that required both immediate action and a complete long-term solution, whatever the cost?

and CNN

At some point in their careers, just about everybody in the news business has to decide whether they’re primarily in news or primarily in business.

Back in February, CNN got a new boss, Chris Licht. The buzz at the time was that Licht would emphasize hard news and “dial down the prime-time partisanship”. Reportedly, the head of Warner Brothers Discovery — CNN’s new corporate parent after a spin-off from AT&T — wanted to “move CNN back to the middle”, and away from the “partisan and combative” tone it developed during the Trump administration.

In some ways that sounds good, but there’s a lot of room for skepticism: How exactly should a “hard news” organization have covered the Trump administration, which was flat-out lying most of the time? How do you accurately report “The President is lying” in a nonpartisan way, or insist that liars take follow-up questions without being “combative”? How do you respond when Trump targets factual CNN reports as “fake news” and labels the news media in general “the enemy of the people“? When administration spokespeople claim the right to assert “alternative facts” that aren’t facts at all, what do you do?

You can try to walk a middle road between Left and Right. But how can a news organization walk a middle road between True and False? It doesn’t serve your viewers if your coverage amounts to “Biden says it’s sunny, Trump says it’s raining, and we’ll have to leave it there.”

So it was a bit ominous in June when Axios reported:

To conservative critics, some on-air personalities, like Jim Acosta and Brian Stelter, have become the face of the network’s liberal shift.

Is it up to “conservative critics” to decide when CNN has successfully found the center? Trump himself isn’t even happy with Fox News, because it occasionally shows independence. He’ll be happy with CNN when it becomes his propaganda agency, and not a moment before.

By August, Brian Stelter was gone and his “Reliable Sources” show was canceled. And now White House correspondent John Harwood is gone too. He leaves saying he “look[s] forward to figuring out what’s next”, which I interpret to mean that this move may be part of somebody’s plan, but not his.

If this really is about a shift to hard news, i.e., more correspondents on the ground in places like Ukraine and fewer talking heads in the studio, that could be good. But if the point is to compete for the Fox audience by telling them what they want to hear, whether it’s true or not (which is what Fox does), then that is bad news indeed.

but I’d like to tell you about a book

Possibly the greatest American you’ve never heard of is John Harlan.

In the rise of Jim Crow, two shameful Supreme Court decisions stand out. In the Civil Rights Cases (1883), the Court declared the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional and gave its official blessing to segregation in the private sector. In Plessy v Ferguson (1896) the Court endorsed legally enforced “separate but equal” policies, and chose to ignore whether the separate facilities provided for Black people would ever truly be equal.

Both decisions would have been unanimous but for one justice: John Harlan. His ringing dissent in Plessy provided the legal roadmap Thurgood Marshall followed when he argued Brown v Board of Education more than half a century later.

Harlan also dissented in other pivotal Gilded Age decisions that are now viewed as mistakes — cases concerning states’ ability to limit working hours or impose a minimum wage, the legality of an income tax, enforcement of the Sherman Antitrust Act, lynching, whether the United States’ colonial subjects are protected by the Constitution, and many others. Again and again, he was ahead of his time, and lit a path for a later generation of lawyers to follow.

The recent book The Great Dissenter by Peter Canellos is a dual biography of Harlan and another man whose very existence was a major influence on Harlan’s views: Robert Harlan, an enslaved woman’s child who was recognized within the family as John’s older half-brother. Robert overcame racial discrimination to become a successful businessman, a canny investor in other Black businesses, an adventurer, a world traveler, and an influential political leader in Cincinnati’s Black community.

Lifelong admiration of Robert seems to have immunized John against his era’s popular myths of Black inferiority. In reviewing Plessy, John must have wondered why the law needed to protect anyone against sharing a train car with Robert Harlan.

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Mikhail Gorbachev died. He represented the generation that grew up with no memory of the Czar, and never really knew the idealistic side of Communism. The Soviet Union was what it was, and didn’t represent a step on the path to perfect socialism.

He tried to save the corrupt monstrosity the Soviet state had become, and ended up killing it faster. His legacy was an opportunity for Russia to achieve democratic freedom, which it didn’t do. He’s going to give generations of historians a complicated riddle to solve.

A county librarian in Idaho resigned rather than put up with “the political atmosphere of extremism, militant Christian fundamentalism, intimidation tactics, and threatening behavior currently being employed in the community”.

The threats against her have been veiled, but their message is clear, she said. During comments in public meetings, she has been warned with fire-and-brimstone language of her imminent damnation, coming from certain Christian fundamentalists groups who are known to believe they have a call to violence, she said.

The Idaho Statesman article drew six comments, most of them attacking the librarian.

That Texas law requiring all schools to have “In God We Trust” posters is just as sectarian as we all thought. A group that wants church and state to remain separate offered the local school board two alternatives that meet the conditions of the law: rainbow-colored “In God We Trust” posters, and the motto translated into Arabic. The donations were turned down.

When asked to identify “women’s issues”, Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker pointed to inflation, because “they’ve got to buy groceries“. So don’t look for Herschel at the supermarket, because that’s women’s work.

Ukraine has started a counter-attack aimed at the southern city of Kherson.

Author Barbara Ehrenreich died Thursday. I didn’t really understand poverty traps until I read her 2001 classic Nickel and Dimed about trying to survive on minimum wage. Sometimes living cheaply requires an up-front investment (like a security deposit on an apartment) that poor people can’t cover.

and let’s close with something timely

Today isn’t just Labor Day, it’s Labor Day falling on 9-5. So we have hear from Dolly Parton.