Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Swimming naked

Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.

Warren Buffett

This week’s featured posts are “Is it 2008 again, or not?” and “Democracy in Israel“.

People who don’t follow financial markets probably need an interpretation of the quote above. What Buffett meant is that an investor can get away with just about anything when the market is going up. But when it starts going down, you see who was using sound principles and who wasn’t.

This week everybody was talking about bank failures

The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank is covered in one featured post. Everything’s been happening so quickly that you may not realize what’s at stake.

and Tucker Carlson’s fairy tale

Predictably, Tucker Carlson is using his exclusive access to January 6 security footage (granted to him by Speaker McCarthy), to produce pro-insurrection propaganda. So let’s start by repeating the facts he is trying to whitewash:

In reality, a total of about 140 police officers were assaulted as they defended the Capitol during the riot, which resulted in $2.9 million in damages and costs to the Capitol Police, according to the Department of Justice.

Roughly 1,000 participants in the riot have been arrested so far, according to the most recent update from the Department of Justice. About 326 of them have been charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding officers or employees. Of those, 106 have been charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer.

“I was among the vastly outnumbered group of law enforcement officers protecting the Capitol and the people inside it,” Michael Fanone, an officer for the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, told a congressional committee several months after the attack. “I was grabbed, beaten, tased — all while being called a traitor to my country. I was at risk of being stripped of and killed with my own firearm, as I heard chants of, ‘kill him with his own gun.’”

Carlson, however, presented the situation differently on his March 6 show, describing the “overwhelming majority” of demonstrators as “meek,” saying, “these were not insurrectionists, they were sightseers.”

It’s hard to know what to do with this kind of blatant gaslighting. Being outraged is probably counter-productive, since trolling liberals is part of Tucker’s shtick; his fans love him for it. So maybe the best thing to do is to laugh at his ridiculousness. [Hat tip to Yahoo News for collecting many of these examples.] The Daily Show produced fake footage of Tucker covering the JFK assassination, which he describes as “proud Americans out for a drive on a lovely day in Dallas”. Another Daily Show video edits footage of Tucker himself to have him say the exact opposite of what he actually said. See how easy it is?

Stephen Colbert’s Late Show imagined Tucker covering the events of “Jaws”. Lee Aronsohn uses Tucker’s techniques to show that Hitler and other Nazis came to Paris as tourists. Seth Meyers explains that

When you cherry-pick the footage you’re showing you can prove whatever you want. I could show you footage from John Wick that proves he’s non-violent. Take a look. [clip of Wick feeding his dog] You’re telling me that guy is a trained killer? Give me a break!

The Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit has made it a matter of public record that Tucker (like Fox’s other prime-time hosts) lies to his audience. He says one thing when the camera is on, and something else entirely when it’s off. This week we found out what he wrote in private text messages two days before January 6:

We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can’t wait. … I hate him passionately.

Once the camera’s on, though, he’s as dedicated a Trump bootlicker as you’ll find.

One person who appears to be taking Tucker’s BS seriously is Elon Musk, who tweeted “Free Jacob Chansley”. Chansley is the Q-Anon Shaman, who Carlson said was peacefully led through the Capitol by police. “They acted as his tour guides.”

Of course, we already know how Chansley got in: He was right behind uniformed militiamen who broke two windows and then forced open a door.

The response you’re most likely to get from a Carlson fan if you object to his cherry-picking is “Isn’t that exactly what the January 6 Committee did?” (Because “everybody else is despicable too” is the way all moral people respond to criticism.)

In a word: no. Most of what the Committee showed in its hearings came from under-oath testimony by Trump’s own people: Bill Barr, Cassidy Hutchinson, Pat Cipollone, and many others, including even Ivanka and Jared. Any of them could have gone on Fox afterwards to explain how they had been taken out of context, but none of them did.

Mike Pence’s speech at the Gridiron Dinner Saturday night points out how skinny a tightrope he is trying to walk. On the one hand, he described Tucker’s project harshly: “what happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it in any other way.” He also said that Trump was “wrong” about the vice president’s power to count the electoral votes however he wants, and that “history will hold Donald Trump accountable”.

“History”, though, is not Mike Pence. He’s standing by his effort to avoid testifying to the special counsel. The American people “have a right to know what took place” during the insurrection. Just not from him.

and the threat of national default

Here’s all you need to know at this point: President Biden put forward a budget proposal that preserves Medicare and lowers future deficits by raising taxes on the rich. (Full details here.) Meanwhile, Republicans have been working on their fanciful plan for managing a national default, where the government’s obligations get prioritized for payment as revenue comes in. Not even Koch-funded economists are on board with this.

Brian Riedl, an economist at the Manhattan Institute, said the U.S. government’s computer systems do not have the technology to implement the system and prioritize payments.

“Unless they can build a new system in the next four months, it doesn’t matter,” he said, adding that even then the measure still likely may not address a “bond market panic.”

Several Republican groups say they are working on budget proposals, but none have published one yet, and prospects are slim for the party as a whole taking a position anytime soon. The House “Freedom” Caucus produced a single page that the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Rep. Brandon Boyle (D-PA), characterized as reading “more like a ransom note than a serious budget proposal”.

It’s big on arbitrary spending caps without specifying what program cuts those caps might entail, other than rolling back the $80 billion already appropriated for the IRS to collect taxes that rich people aren’t paying (which will increase the deficit by reducing revenue), and making sure we burn as much fossil fuel as possible (by reversing all the alternative energy subsidies in the Inflation Reduction Act and “unleashing the production of reliable domestic energy by ending federal regulations”).

The ransom note says the members of the “Freedom” Caucus will “consider” voting to raise the debt ceiling after their demands are written into law. In other words, it’s not a good-faith proposal. Even if Biden were to give in to all their demands, they won’t commit themselves to supporting the result.

It seems clear that the MAGA wing of the GOP won’t be happy with any compromise that avoids a catastrophe, and Speaker McCarthy seems completely in their pocket. I can see only two ways this resolves: Some number of Republican congressmen face reality and join with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling, or Biden pulls a rabbit out of his hat that makes the debt ceiling irrelevant. (The New Republic advocates challenging the debt ceiling in court; I largely agree with their interpretation of the law, but I can’t guess how the Supreme Court would view it.)

After the country gets past the artificial debt-ceiling crisis, then there’s the actual budget compromise to work out. That will be a difficult negotiation, but it’s normal legislating. I see the whole discussion as being like trying to decide what color to paint some room of your house, when your spouse announces that if they doesn’t get their color, they’ll burn the house down. First you have to get an agreement not to burn the house down, and then you can go back to talking about colors.

and Israel

The current protests in Israel, and the threat to democracy that led to them, is the topic of the other featured post.

and debates about Covid

One of the problems with having major chunks of our media (i.e., Fox and its friends) committed to disinformation is that it’s really hard to have a nuanced public discussions of scientific issues. If you’ve been following topics like creation/evolution or climate change, you’ve been seeing the patterns for decades. For example, when the consensus view of evolution shifted from gradualism (where evolutionary change is slow and steady) to punctuated equilibrium (where long periods of relative stability get interrupted by periods where evolutionary change happens more quickly), creationists were suddenly crowing that “New research is proving that Darwin was wrong.” That false message was the only one a lot of people got out of that discussion.

Something similar is happening in response to a recent journal article about the effectiveness of masks in preventing the spread of viral disease like Covid. The researchers did a meta-analysis of 78 other studies.

One big problem in this whole line of research is that the study that would answer the question most directly is unethical: You’d have infected and uninfected people meet in a lab, in various combinations of masked and unmasked, at various distances for various lengths of time. Then you’d see who got Covid. You might end up killing a few of your subjects, but it’s all for the greater good, right?

Since you can’t do that, you try other techniques that don’t get the information you really want. Professor Jason Abaluck (who did a mask study in Bangladesh) summarizes:

The vast majority of the studies assessed by the Cochrane Review ask, “If we give people masks and information about masking, do they get healthier?” Most of these studies find that the answer is, “Not much healthier.”

But there is a problem: giving people masks is not generally enough to get them to wear masks! In piloting in Bangladesh, we found that mask distribution plus information plus involving village leaders increased mask use by less than 10% (we later added other elements that were more impactful). In other scale-ups, masks and information alone did even less. One study in Uganda found that giving people masks and information increased mask use by one percentage point—that is, by 1 in 100 people.

The anti-public-health people are jumping on this to crow that they were right all along: Masks don’t do anything. (“Will the mandaters apologize?” asks the right-wing Washington Examiner.) Columbia Professor Zeynep Tufekci explains in the NYT explains why that’s the wrong interpretation. But no matter, the disinformation is out there. When the next pandemic hits, lots of people will confidently declare that the ineffectiveness of masks was proved during Covid.

You can see a similar kind of thinking whenever there’s a mass shooting in a place that has more gun laws than most other places: See, gun control doesn’t work! But has any community in America actually succeeded in controlling guns? (Chicago’s gun laws just make you get your gun in Indiana.) Until one does, we won’t really know whether gun control works.

Then there’s the origin-of-Covid debate. Pretty much everyone agrees that Covid-19 first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The two main theories are that a human caught it from an animal (probably a bat) in Wuhan’s live-animal market, or that it escaped containment at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which studies viruses in bats.

The lab-leak theory, while credible at one level, quickly became the root of wild and improbable conspiracy theories: Covid wasn’t just collected and studied in a lab, it was created there. It’s a bio-weapon that the Chinese engineered to attack us. (Never mind that they killed a bunch of their own people first and lost hundreds of billions of dollars worth of economic growth in the subsequent lockdown. It’s all about us. Or maybe it’s all about Trump.)

President Trump, desperate to avoid blame for his own mishandling of the pandemic, got way ahead of the facts and jumped on the lab-leak theory as a way to shift blame to China. (People who think Covid was an intentional attack on the US to destabilize the Trump administration need to explain how the Chinese knew Trump would botch the response. Lots of governors saw their popularity rise during the pandemic. Trump might have done the same had he shown real leadership rather than try to happy-talk his way through a real crisis.) He amplified his claims with openly racist rhetoric about “the China virus” or the “Kung Flu“. Predictably, this led to a rise in anti-Asian violence in the US. (Remember how President Bush urged Americans not to blame all Muslims for 9-11? Trump never did that for Chinese Americans and Covid.)

So the debate was politicized from the beginning. The scientific question “How did this happen?” and the public-health question “What can we learn from this?” quickly turned into the political “Who should we blame?” Often that resulted in Trumpists harassing or even harming innocent people.

Liberals responded by over-estimating the evidence for the natural-transmission theory. The truth is that we don’t know for sure and may never know. The origin of pandemics are often hard to pin down. (After decades of research, some scientists concluded that HIV passed from monkeys to humans in the 1920s. Who had that on their bingo card?) This one is even harder than most, because the Chinese government, also sensitive to claims that it botched its initial response, has been uncooperative.

One US source, the Department of Energy, recently put out a new assessment: A lab leak was the “likely” source of the pandemic, a conclusion it reached with “low confidence”. But various agencies of the US government still disagree, and the overall situation has not changed much since an October, 2021 report from the Director of National Intelligence summarized with this graphic:

But of course the lab leak theory is now considered an established fact on the Right.

and you also might be interested in …

This morning the administration approved the development of a new oil field on the Alaska’s North Slope. I’d like to give President Biden the benefit of the doubt on this, but I’m going to need some convincing.

Here’s what I’d like to hear: I’d like to know that there’s a definite plan for getting the country off fossil fuels by a set date. That plan would have targets for exactly how much fossil fuel we expect to need in meantime, and how we’re going to get it in the least destructive way possible. If the new oil field is part of such a plan, I could be OK with it.

If we had that kind of vision, it would put us past the oil-good/oil-bad debate, where environmentalists feel obligated to oppose all fossil fuel development plans everywhere, and pro-economic-growth people feel obligated to support all fossil fuel development plans everywhere. We’d get past the maximize/minimize production debate and agree on a path to zero.

Maybe such a plan exists, but I don’t know it. If there is such a thing, the Biden administration should be publicizing it.

Last week, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) called for cutting funding from any public school that teaches comprehensive sex education. This week, she announced that her 17-year-old son has gotten his even-younger girlfriend pregnant, making Boebert a 36-year-old grandmother sometime next month. According to The Denver Post:

Boebert staffers on Friday confirmed the announcement. Breaking from a meeting for an interview, Boebert verified her son and his girlfriend are not married and declined to reveal the age of the girlfriend, other than to say she’s over 14. [i.e., Boebert’s son didn’t commit a crime under Colorado law.]

My faith (Unitarian Universalism) offers a very comprehensive version of sex education, one that emphasizes giving teens accurate information, teaching them important life skills (like how to buy a condom), and encouraging them to think through the consequences of their actions. As a result, I don’t know any 36-year-old grandmothers. I think Boebert’s son’s girlfriend would have done well to seek us out.

Ron Filipkowski summarizes what we know about the Twitter Files:

  1. Musk buys twitter and sets out to prove his premise that the govt used twitter to censor right wingers.
  2. He chooses two people to “investigate.” Nobody else can see the “evidence.”
  3. He only provides them with evidence that fits his chosen narrative. They admit that they were not given things like the Trump WH seeking to censor people on the Left.
  4. They reach Musk’s desired conclusion.
  5. Musk then goes to the Capitol and visits McCarthy. He doesn’t meet with Dems.
  6. Weaponization Comm is formed.
  7. These two people are brought in by Jim Jordan.
  8. They say that they can’t reveal who their source is for the information they received, even though the whole world knows it was Musk.

Steve Benen nails the root problem of Jim Jordan’s attempt to expose the “concerted effort by the government to silence and punish conservatives at all levels”: There has been no such effort.

It would be no more productive for House Republicans to create a select subcommittee to investigate Bigfoot. They could hire dozens of investigators, depose countless witnesses, hold hours of hearings, and send out a steady stream of subpoenas, but in the end, things that don’t exist can’t be found.

I’ve seen some discussion that we shouldn’t dignify the committee by using the name House Republicans have given it: “Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government”. Some writers would just call it “the Jordan Committee”. I’m starting to like “Jim Jordan’s Bigfoot Committee”.

The Manhattan district attorney has invited Donald Trump to testify voluntarily to the grand jury that is presumably considering charges in the Stormy Daniels payoff matter, as well as possible financial crimes. It’s far from the worst thing Trump has done, but it is one of the most easily proved of his crimes; Michael Cohen has already done jail time for carrying out his wishes.

In New York, an offer to speak in front of a grand jury is typically the last step before a criminal indictment. State law mandates that potential defendants must be given an opportunity to appear before a grand jury to answer questions before they are indicted.

Trump will undoubtedly decline the invitation, just as he has repeatedly pled the fifth in any deposition under oath. In general, innocent people want the truth to come out, but guilty people don’t.

I long ago lost patience with Trump-is-about-to-be-indicted stories, so I’m not getting excited. Call me when there’s an actual indictment.

Ron DeSantis would like you to believe that book-banning in Florida is a “hoax“, and the only books getting banned from Florida school libraries are “pornographic and inappropriate”. But it looks like DeSantis is the one who’s been hoaxing us. And novelist Jodi Picoult would like a word:

In the past six months, my books have been banned dozens of times in dozens of school districts. As sad as it seems, I was getting used to the emails from PEN America’s Jonathan Friedman telling me that yet again, my novel was under attack. But this week, something truly egregious happened. In Martin Country School District, 92 books were pulled from the school library shelves. Twenty of them were mine.

… It is worth noting I do not write adult romance. The majority of the books that were targeted do not even have a kiss in them. What they do have, however, are issues like racism, abortion rights, gun control, gay rights, and other topics that encourage kids to think for themselves.

So whenever DeSantis says the word “pornography”, in your mind you need to interpret that as “Jodi Picoult”.

Also in Florida, the state’s surgeon general has been pushing Covid misinformation that federal agencies warn is harmful to the public.

and let’s close with something that depends on your point of view

Artist Michael Murphy makes sculptures that may look entirely different from different perspectives.

Learn Everything

No matter how hard some people try, we can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know. We should learn everything, the good, the bad, the truth of who we are as a nation.

President Biden, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge,
marking the anniversary of Bloody Sunday

This week’s featured post is “Imaginary problems, real laws, real victims“.

This week everybody was talking about bills in state legislatures

The featured post focuses on some of the scary laws either recently passed or under consideration in red-state legislatures, including Tennessee’s anti-drag law and Ron DeSantis’ attempt to get ideological control of Florida’s state university system.

I left out some bills would indeed be terrible laws, but so far show no signs of moving in that direction. Remember: There are 50 state legislatures, most of which have two houses and 100-200 members. So there are thousands of state legislators, any one of whom can file a bill saying whatever. You can’t let them troll you.

So Florida also has a bill that would make bloggers register with the state and file monthly reports if they write about state politics and receive money.

If a blogger posts to a blog about an elected state officer and receives, or will receive, compensation for that post, the blogger must register with the appropriate office, as identified in paragraph (1)(f), within 5 days after the first post by the blogger which mentions an elected state officer. … Upon registering with the appropriate office, a blogger must file monthly reports on the 10th day following the end of each calendar month from the time a blog post is added to the blog

The reports have to say who paid you and how much. Failure to report on time carries a $25 per day fine for each post. I don’t make any money off this blog, so it wouldn’t apply to me. But I do wonder about blogs with advertising.

Anyway, the bill was filed on Tuesday, has only one person’s name on it, and hasn’t yet even been assigned to a committee. I’m not worried about it yet.

There’s also a Florida bill to “cancel” the state’s Democratic Party, but I doubt it’s going anywhere.

and propaganda

We keep getting more information from the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against Fox News, and it just keeps looking worse for Fox. Earlier we saw internal communications among the most popular Fox anchors — Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham — indicating that they knew the 2020 election had not been stolen, and that the guests they were promoting to claim otherwise were “insane” or (in Sidney Powell’s case) “a complete nut”. When a Fox correspondent (accurately) fact-checked a Trump tweet claiming fraud, Carlson told Hannity:

Please get her fired. Seriously….What the fuck? I’m actually shocked…It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.

This week we discovered that top executives knew what the network was doing. In a deposition under oath, Fox owner Rupert Murdoch acknowledged that Trump’s stolen-election claims were false, but disputed that Fox News as a whole had endorsed them. When asked specifically about the false stolen-election narrative, though, he did admit that “some of our commentators were endorsing it”.

Also revealed in Dominion’s filing, Rupert Murdoch gave Jared Kushner, son-in-law of former President Donald Trump, “confidential information about [President Joe] Biden’s ads, along with debate strategy” in 2020, “providing Kushner a preview of Biden’s ads before they were public,” the court filing states.

Paul Ryan, who is on Fox’s corporate board, warned Murdoch.

On at least one occasion, Ryan advised the Murdochs that the company should “move on from Donald Trump and stop spouting election lies.”

During this time, Ryan told the Murdochs that many of those who thought the election had been stolen did so “because they got a diet of information telling them the election was stolen from what they believe were credible sources.”

But of course, neither Murdoch nor Ryan did anything to stop the lies or warn the public about them.

Sean Hannity’s response to the scandal is telling. He has been caught red-handed promoting lies to his audience — not just getting something wrong, which can happen to anyone, but telling his viewers they should believe something that he knew was false and believed to be absurd.

At any legitimate news outlet he would be fired. But since he won’t be, think about the ways he could conceivably respond to his scandal as an individual: He could resign voluntarily. He could apologize to his viewers and ask for their forgiveness. He could explain that the post-2020-election period was an unusual time that created unique pressures on him. He could tell his audience that he has learned a terrible lesson and will never intentionally mislead them again.

Of course, that would be completely un-Hannity-like. He isn’t sorry, he hasn’t learned a lesson, and he intends to continue propagandizing his viewers, whom he rightly sees as gullible rubes. So what does he do instead? He hosts a segment about how other media people lie.

They lie all the time and what bothers me is that they get away with it, and they just move on to the next set of lies.

So he doesn’t even deny that he lied to his viewers (which would itself be a lie). He just tries to convince them that other people lie too.

This week a deceptive 19-second video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy went viral. In it he seemed to be calling on the US to send troops to defend his country from Russia. “The US will have to send their sons and daughters … to war, and they will have to fight.”

But if you look at a longer clip, that’s not what he’s saying at all. Having been asked what he would say to Americans who oppose sending aid to Ukraine, one reason he gives is that Putin will not stop after conquering Ukraine. Zelenskyy warns that Russia will then move on to attack NATO members like the Baltic states, which the US is treaty-bound to defend. Then “the US will have to send their sons and daughters …”

So the gist of Zelenskyy’s argument is the exact opposite of what his social media critics claimed: not that American troops should go to war for Ukraine, but that the US should support Ukraine with money and weapons so that American troops don’t have to go to war later on somewhere else.

The cleverly edited clip went viral because it fooled a lot of people like your MAGA friend from high school. And I find it hard to blame them for sharing it, because devious propagandists fool ordinary people all the time. That’s their job. Ordinary people don’t usually have the time or attention or google-fu to follow the good advice CNN correspondent Daniel Dale gives at the end of this segment: “When you come across a sensational but short clip on social media, it’s always a good idea to look for the extended footage.”

But the clip was also shared by Senator Mike Lee and former Trump administration spokesperson Monica Crowley. Them I do blame, because they’re supposed to be more sophisticated than this. Lee in particular has staff that could check things like this out for him, and he has a responsibility not to mislead his constituents.

Lee has since removed his tweet, but that’s not good enough. He needs to apologize in a forum that gets as much attention as his original tweet did.

Speaking of irresponsible, do you think MTG was just fooled by the viral clip, or was she actively being dishonest during her CPAC speech?

I think the Republican Party has a duty. We have a responsibility, and that is to be the party that protects children. [applause] Now whether it’s like Zelenskyy saying he wants our sons and daughters to go die in Ukraine …

As Rick Perlstein pointed out back in 2012, conservative politics has had a long and intimate relationship with grifting. After all, both rely on identifying and exploiting people who are easily fooled. So it should surprise no one that Don Jr.’s fiance Kimberley Guilfoyle was pushing her precious-metal investment company at CPAC.

and you also might be interested in …

I don’t want my kids reading books that make them feel bad about being big and bad.

Last week I talked about mainstream news sources like CNN, the NYT, and WaPo trying to avoid being cast as “the liberal media” by giving undeserved attention to conservative voices. Well, Wednesday brought a new example: “My Liberal Campus Is Pushing Freethinkers to the Right” by Princeton senior Adam Hoffman, published in the NYT.

Increasing radicalism among conservative students, Hoffman claims, is the fault of liberals.

For those on the right, the experience is alienating. The typical American’s views on gender ideology or American history are often irrelevant to his or her day-to-day life. But for the conservative college student, life is punctuated by political checkpoints. Classes may begin with requests for “preferred pronouns” or “land acknowledgments.”

I’m not getting it. If someone asks you what pronouns you prefer, it’s not a “political checkpoint”, it’s a question. You can just answer it, the same way you’d answer someone who asked how to pronounce your name. (I’ve found “he/him” to be a perfectly acceptable response.) And having someone tell you which Native American tribe used to live here is alienating why exactly? The trauma escapes me.

One reason I follow David Roberts is that he doesn’t just vent about something like this, he uses it as a teaching opportunity:

I just want to highlight what a perfect example of Murc’s Law it is. Murc’s Law says, basically: only the left has agency; the right is merely reacting, having its hand forced, being “pushed” or “shaped.”

This is not some quirk, it is central to reactionary psychology. Every fascist (and fascist-adjacent) movement ever has told itself the same story: our opponents are destroying everything, they’re forcing us to this, we have no choice but violence.

It is, at a base level, a way of denying responsibility, of saying, “we know the shit we’re about to do is bad, but it’s not our fault, you made us.” Once you recognize the pattern it shows up *everywhere*.

I don’t understand why some crimes or trials catch some network’s attention while the vast majority don’t. I can’t count the number of times I’ve channel-scanned through CNN in the last month and immediately kept scanning because they were telling me about the Alex Murdaugh murder trial. The CDC says there were about 26,000 homicides in the US in 2021, the most recent year I could find numbers for. I have no idea why I should care about this one more than the others.

The public fascination with the O. J. Simpson trial in 1994 made some sense to me, because O. J. had been a celebrity for years; many Americans probably felt like they knew him. But I still remember how puzzled I was by the way the JonBenet Ramsey murder case dominated the news for months in 1996. During that time, dozens or maybe even hundreds of other little girls were murdered or vanished without a trace. But we didn’t hear about them, we heard about Ramsey.

So this week Murdaugh was convicted and sentenced. I have no opinion about whether that was a fair outcome or not, because why should I? I just care that it’s over, because maybe now CNN can get back to covering the news.

Eli Lilly announced plans to cap insulin prices at $35 per month. It’s not that they’ve decided to be the good guys, but it’s bad PR to so publicly be the bad guys.

David French responds to the “national divorce” idea, echoing many of the points I made last week. He adds a disturbing historical observation.

The South separated from the North and started a ruinous and futile war [in 1861] not because of calm deliberation, but rather because of hysteria and fear — including hysteria and fear whipped up by the partisan press.

So my question is not “Is divorce reasonable?” but rather, “Are we susceptible to the unreason that triggered war once before?”

Here’s a fun tweet storm:

My sustainability class just finished a module about disinformation. I had them write me a letter assuming they were flunking and arguing that they deserve an A, using the techniques of disinformation we discussed, like cherry picking, false experts and ad hominem. HOO-boy.

The thread of examples is both amusing and instructive. More classes should try this exercise.

Even Fox News’ Jesse Watters has started to notice that the House GOP majority isn’t accomplishing much, even by their own standards. “Where are the bombshells? Have the investigations even started? … Where are the smoking gun documents?”

But he isn’t ready yet to reach the obvious conclusion: Maybe the “scandals” the Republicans promised to uncover are actually a bunch of crap that can’t stand up to scrutiny outside the friendly environment of Fox News.

But Matt Gaetz has an answer to that problem: one-party rule.

It is no longer time to go back to the old, low-energy Paul Ryan, Trey Gowdy days of fake oversight. These are the Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz days. And if the Democrats are going to obstruct our investigation, then I am calling to remove the Democrats from our investigation. They shouldn’t be allowed to sit in the depositions and hear the evidence if they are going to use that to try to get in the way of thorough, rigorous oversight.

Think about what he’s saying here: His side won’t be able to make their case if anyone in the room can fact-check, or ask the witnesses unscripted questions. So get them out of the room.

I can anticipate an objection to what I just said: “Isn’t that what happened in the 1-6 committee hearings?” Two counter-points: (1) Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger were Republicans; they just weren’t MAGA Republicans. (2) Kevin McCarthy is the one who pulled his people off the committee, because he thought he could de-legitimize it.

and let’s close with something local

The library about half a mile from here has a charming annual contest to make a diorama with peeps. It may or may not be great art, but it has become a beloved local tradition. I hope your town has something similar.

Here’s my favorite from last year: the “Immersive Van Peep” exhibit.

Speech and Understanding

It’s almost gotten to be boring, the degree to which people believe that what they refer to as “free speech” should not only allow them to say whatever they want (which it does), but should also prevent other people from understanding them to be the sort of person who says those things.

– A. R. Moxon “The Case for Shunning

This week’s featured post is “MTG’s dream deserves a serious response“.

This week everybody was talking about the first anniversary of the Ukraine War

One year in, a few conclusions are obvious:

  • It’s amazing that Ukraine, with material help from the NATO countries, is still standing. The Ukrainian military has performed better than anyone expected and the Russian military worse.
  • Sanctions have not been as crippling to the Russian economy as many expected.
  • NATO has been far more united and resolute than most expected. President Biden deserves a lot of credit for this.
  • So far, military failure has not loosened Vladimir Putin’s hold on power in Russia.

In general, I’ve been surprised by the optimism many observers expressed this week about Ukraine’s position. A long war usually turns into a war of attrition, which favors the larger country. (I keep thinking about the American Civil War. Early in the war, Lincoln’s generals maneuvered to preserve their army. But Grant understood that he had reserves to draw on and Lee didn’t, so battles that decimated both armies were actually victories. It was a horrible vision, but ultimately a successful one.)

The countervailing view is that Ukraine has now seen what Putin intends: to utterly destroy Ukrainian society. So they are motivated in a way that Russian troops aren’t. One apocryphal Sun Tzu quote says that you should “build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across”. But Putin has left Ukrainians nowhere to retreat to, and so they will keep fighting as long as it takes.

The optimists say that Russia has sustained enormous casualties during its recent offensive and has gained little. So they’re expecting a successful Ukrainian counter-attack to begin sometime during the spring months.

All across Europe, people helped Russian diplomats mark the anniversary: In The Hague, a portable barrel organ sat on the sidewalk outside the Russian embassy and played the Ukrainian national anthem. In Berlin, somebody plunked a disabled Russian tank in front of the embassy.

and the East Palestine derailment

On February 3, a Norfolk Southern train that included 20 cars of hazardous chemicals derailed near East Palestine, Ohio. Wikipedia has the basic facts, and I’m way late in covering this. (I missed it two weeks ago, and then took a week off.) So I’m going to focus on interpretation and reaction.

Basically, the only three things worth paying attention to are

  1. The Past. Could either the railroad or its government regulators have prevented this?
  2. The Present. Are the people affected by the derailment getting the kind of help they need?
  3. The Future. What practices or regulations need to change to keep more stuff like this from happening?

Anybody who talks about the derailment without addressing one of those three questions is just playing political games. For example, Ukraine has nothing to do with any of those questions, so if somebody tries to link Ukraine and East Palestine together, they’re wasting your time and trying to bamboozle you. (I’m looking at you, Josh Hawley.) And the attempt to use suffering of working-class White people to increase racial resentment is just despicable.

About the present, I don’t know what to say. Obviously, after a disaster like this, the people affected have conflicting urges: They want to go home, get back to normal, and be safe. So when to let them restart their normal lives involves a lot of technical questions about testing and balancing long-term risks that I can’t answer. We may not know for years whether those judgments were made well. It’s also too soon to tell what kind of remediation the area will need and where the funding will come from. (I want to see Norfolk Southern pay the brunt of it, though I doubt it will.)

If someone believes the people of East Palestine (and downstream communities) won’t get the help they need, they should make a proposal for help and see if anyone actually opposes it. Any vague they’re-all-against-you talk, though, is just demagoguery.

Long-term, I think the main lesson to be learned from this disaster is that government needs to regulate business. Every year or two I see another study totaling up some awesome quantity of money that government regulations “cost” the economy. ($1.9 trillion a year, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute.) Typically, these studies list every dollar companies spend to avoid killing people and poisoning the land — and they completely ignore the benefits of companies not killing people and poisoning the land. (If it really does cost us $1.9 trillion each year to avoid living in a post-apocalyptic hellscape, that sounds to me like money well spent.)

The Obama administration tried to require railroads to improve their braking systems. (A better technology has existed for decades.) It also wanted to strengthen cars that carry hazardous materials, so that they’d be less likely to rupture in an accident. But the industry claimed that installing the new systems would be too expensive, so the regulation was never implemented. The Trump administration then reversed course and slashed railroad regulations — because, you know, regulations just get in the way of corporations who otherwise would always do the right thing.

There’s still debate over whether the Obama regulations might have prevented the East Palestine disaster. (Ironically, the claim that they wouldn’t have rests mainly on the idea that Obama’s regulations weren’t sweeping enough, and so might not have applied to a train that was only partly a hazardous-chemical train.)

Another issue is whether trains like this need more crew to spot problems sooner and take action. This was a major issue in last year’s union dispute, where Congress and the Biden administration averted a national strike by imposing a settlement. The East Palestine train had only two crew members and a trainee to handle 141 freight cars. Is that enough?

What shouldn’t be under debate is that trains could be made much safer, if we only had the will to do so. The people of East Palestine didn’t lose political battle with Ukraine or Black people, they lost a political battle with railroad lobbyists. So Josh Hawley’s statement is easy to fix:

I would say to Republicans: You can either be the party of Ukraine corporate lobbyists and the globalists deregulation, or you can be the party of East Palestine and the working people of this country.

and Fox News

The text of the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against Fox News came out, and it is devastating. The claim, which is supported in detail by internal Fox communications, is that Fox knew Trump’s claims about Dominion voting machines stealing the election for Biden were false; but it promoted them anyway because it was afraid of losing viewers to Newsmax. All the major Fox hosts — Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity — were telling each other how ridiculous the claims were, even as their shows pushed them out to viewers.

It’s been clear for decades that much of Fox’ coverage is ridiculous and/or false. But there’s always been a debate about its authenticity: Do the hosts actually believe the crazy theories they peddle, or are they consciously duping their viewers? Now we know the answer: They don’t believe what they’re saying, and are just taking advantage of their viewers’ ignorance and gullibility.

For years, one constant Fox drumbeat has been to tell its viewers “The elites are laughing at you.” That is the root grievance that animates just about every segment of every show. But now we know that it is really Carlson, Ingraham, and Hannity who are laughing at their viewers.

Speaker McCarthy has turned all the January 6 security-camera footage over to Tucker Carlson. We already know that Carlson is dishonest (see above), so what he will do with the video is predictable: He will selectively edit it to spin some conspiracy theory that vindicates the pro-Trump mob. When he does this, no one in the legitimate news media will have any way to check the choices he made: What if you look at the scene from a different angle, or watch a longer clip of the same video?

Jamie Raskin has it exactly right: “If you want to make tens of thousands of hours publicly available, then it should be available for all media, not for just one propaganda mouthpiece.”

Of course, the better decision is not to release it at all. Anyone with access to this video will know where all the Capitol’s security cameras are, and can observe in detail where the weak spots in Capitol security were on January 6.

and The New York Times

Fox isn’t the only news site that’s been under fire recently. A week ago Thursday, 200 NYT contributors signed an open letter protesting the paper’s treatment of transgender issues. Several examples are given of the basic charge, which is that the Times has repeatedly laundered the talking points of anti-trans hate groups, turning them into front-page articles, which are then quoted by legislators pushing trans-oppressing bills.

A supporting letter endorsed by numerous LGBTQ-supporting organizations was written by GLAAD.

It is appalling that the Times would dedicate so many resources and pages to platforming the voices of extremist anti-LGBTQ activists who have built their careers on denigrating and dehumanizing LGBTQ people, especially transgender people. While there have been a few fair stories, mostly human interest stories, those articles are not getting front-page placement or sent to app users via push notification like the irresponsible pieces are.

Those letters point to a broader problem: Because national news sources like the NYT, Washington Post, and CNN hate to be characterized as “the liberal media”, conservatives can work the refs to get undeserved attention and credibility for right-wing talking points.

A case in point, this one about race rather than gender: Wednesday the WaPo published an opinion piece: “I’m a Black physician, and I’m appalled by mandated implicit bias training” by Marilyn Singleton.

If you just stumbled onto this article cold (as I did), you might imagine that a female Black doctor with no particular political ax to grind found herself in implicit-bias training and was appalled by what the trainers tried to teach her. That would certainly be an opinion worth hearing.

But if you read the article thoroughly and google up some relevant context, a completely different picture emerges. Singleton is not just a doctor, she’s a politician who ran for Congress in 2012 on a platform opposing the Affordable Care Act. (Her argument, expanded at length in Med City News, was that people’s poor health is primarily due to their own bad habits, which government can do nothing about.) She’s also a contributor for the right-wing Heartland Institute, which is part of the Koch network, and whose top issue is climate change denial. Singleton’s contribution to Heartland was an article protesting the “big government” response to Covid-19, promoting hydroxychloroquine as a “potentially lifesaving drug”, and describing barriers preventing its use against Covid (barriers that turned out to be entirely justified) as “appalling and unforgivable”.

And then (in paragraph 9 of her WaPo article) it turns out that Singleton has not in fact taken implicit-bias training.

I am so disturbed by the state’s mandate that, so far, I have balked at the training.

That admission comes after multiple paragraphs in which she has explained — entirely on her own authority, without reference to any training documents, trainer statements, or trainee accounts — the training’s “malignant false assumption” and “basic message”, as well as characterizing it as a “racially regressive practice”. But how does she know these things about a training she’s never taken?

In short: a right-wing activist who has no actual experience of implicit-bias training repeats right-wing talking points about it. And for some mysterious reason, this entirely predictable set of opinions deserves prominent placement in The Washington Post.

Worse, the only warning WaPo offers its readers that they are about to be propagandized is: “Marilyn Singleton is a board-certified anesthesiologist and a visiting fellow at the medical advocacy organization Do No Harm.” Again, you have to do your own googling to figure out what this means: Do No Harm is a right-wing organization focused on opposing “critical race theory” as it applies to medicine. Its FAQ defines CRT as “a divisive ideology that attributes all societal problems to racism”, an opinion I have never heard expressed by an actual anti-racism advocate.

and culture war battles

You know those conservative white guys who get seriously offended when someone implies they might be racists? Well, here’s a great example: Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert. In this clip (starting at about the 16 minute mark), he explains his new strategy for dealing with Black people:

I would say, based on the current way things are going, the best advice I would give to White people is to get the hell away from Black people. Just get the fuck away. Wherever you have to go, just get away, cause there’s no fixing this. … So that’s what I did. I went to a place with a very low Black population. … I’m going to back off from being helpful to Black America, because it doesn’t seem like it pays off. Like, I’ve been doing it all my life, and the only outcome is I get called a racist.

Really, Scott? That’s so unfair, that anybody would call you a racist. Clearly there’s not a racist bone in your body, and I’m sure Black America is really going to miss all your sincere helpfulness.

Sarcasm aside, that’s probably the last you’ll see of Dilbert for a while. Just about every newspaper in the country is dropping it. Adams’ statements are part of an hour-long post to his own YouTube channel — not an open-mic moment or somebody recording a drunken ramble on their iPhone — so clearly he planned his transformation into an anti-woke martyr. We’ll see where he takes it from here.

If you’re wondering what inspired Adams’ rant — other than maybe a desire to headline at CPAC or get Trump to say nice things about him on Truth Social — the Reframe blog explains:

There’s a saying that is very popular among white supremacists and neo Nazis and other far right bigots, and that saying is this: “It’s OK to be white.” It’s a catchphrase of theirs, which tries to position people deemed “white” as an oppressed minority, which they are not, instead of an artificially created privileged class, which is what they are.

And there’s a right-wing polling company called Rasmussen, who decided, for some reason they’d probably like us all to pretend is unknowable, to ask people whether or not they agree with the statement “it’s OK to be white”—which is, again, a well-known catchphrase among white supremacists.

Apparently only about half of Black Americans polled agreed with the phrase, which is a pretty high level of acceptance for a well-known white supremacist catchphrase, and which probably only shows the degree to which Black Americans are aware that this is a catchphrase among white supremacists.

Dilbert creator Scott Adams got into the crosstabs and found this little tidbit, and proceeded to have a decidedly non-skeptical meltdown about it. He decided to not know that “it’s OK to be white” is a white supremacist catchphrase (or at least not to mention it), and proclaimed that this result meant that Black people are a hate group, and advocated that white people stay the hell away from Black people, and he said some other racist things, too, which is the sort of thing he does from time to time.

Governor Bill Lee’s signature is all that Tennessee needs to be the first state to ban drag performances “on public property” or “in a location where [it] could be viewed by a person who is not an adult.” SB 3, which has passed both houses of the legislature, lumps drag shows in with other “adult cabaret” performances.

“Adult cabaret performance” means a performance in a location other than an adult cabaret that features topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest, or similar entertainers, regardless of whether or not performed for consideration;

The law follows the pattern of other recent repressive laws in red states, in that its vaguely defined terms seem intended have a chilling effect on a wide variety of activities. For example, what exactly does an impersonator have to do to “appeal to a prurient interest”? The law does not say. Is simply standing around in a showgirl costume enough? And is any trans person a “male or female impersonator” under Tennessee law? Suppose a trans woman headed for a night out wears something slinky (but no different from what another woman might wear). If she walks down a public sidewalk, she could be breaking the law.

Conservatives are supposedly for local rights, but cities and towns are forbidden to have their own standards. They’re supposedly for parental rights, but parents who want their child to see a drag show can’t. They’re all for the First Amendment when it protects Nazis on Twitter, but not here.

Rep. Justin Jones from Nashville knew he couldn’t win the vote, but he could call out the hypocrisy:

If we want to talk about what is seriously harmful to children, let’s have a bill to ban children from going to these Bible camps where they’re being sexually assaulted with the Southern Baptist Convention. Let’s go after real threats to our youth. Let’s go after the predatory behavior in your own districts, clergy in your own congregations, harming youth. Weekly we read about this in the news, my colleagues.

That’s a statistic somebody needs to tabulate: How does the number of kids sexually assaulted by drag queens compare to the number sexually assaulted by ministers?

Another recent culture-war hoo-hah has to do with the publisher editing children’s books by the late Roald Dahl to eliminate a few words and phrases that present-day readers might find offensive, like saying that Augustus Gloop (in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is “enormous” instead of “fat”.

The changes have drawn objections from a wide range of critics, left and right. (The objection that most resonates with me is that the people making these changes are exactly the kinds of adults Dahl liked to make fun of.)

But whether you like or don’t like the changes, let’s attribute them to the right source: As with the great Dr. Seuss uproar of 2021, this isn’t primarily a political-correctness thing; it’s just capitalism. Helen Lewis nails it:

The Dahl controversy will inevitably be presented as a debate about culture—a principled stand in favor of free speech versus a righteous attempt to combat prejudice and bigotry. But it’s really about money. I’ve written before about how some of the most inflammatory debates, over “cancel culture” and “wokeness,” are best seen as capital defending itself. The Dahl rewrites were surely designed to preserve the value of the [intellectual property] as much as advance the cause of social justice.

Some government agency demanding these changes would be a completely different issue. It would even be different if some left-wing group were threatening a boycott. But this is just brand protection, and apparently it’s going to lead to a New Coke/Classic Coke outcome.

In general, I stand by what I said two years ago:

What should be done about [dated phrases and illustrations] depends on what you want Dr. Seuss to be in 2021. If he’s to be a historical figure — a leading children’s-book author of the mid-to-late 20th century — then his work should speak for itself. Leave it alone, and organize a conversation around it, as HBO Max did when it briefly withdrew and then re-launched Gone With the Wind. …

But if Theodore Geisel’s legacy is supposed to be timeless — [his widow’s] vision — if his work is supposed to live through our era and beyond, then it needs to be curated. Parents and grandparents should be able to trust the Dr. Seuss brand. When you sit down to read to your four-year-old, you should be able to pick up a Dr. Seuss book without worrying that you might put something bad into a developing mind.

People can reasonably disagree about how to curate beloved children’s literature of the past. But if you argue that the texts should be left alone, you’re turning them into museum pieces. Over time, more and more parents will do the curation themselves by not introducing their children to authors they see as problematic.

Becoming seldom-read historical figures may or may not be what authors would prefer, if that’s what it takes to preserve their original texts. But turning popular works into historical artifacts is definitely bad for business.

and you also might be interested in …

A week ago Friday, newly elected Senator John Fetterman checked into a hospital to get treatment for his clinical depression. His office is talking in terms of weeks, not days.

Fetterman had a serious stroke not long after winning the Democratic senatorial primary, and has lingering effects related to understanding spoken words. He stayed in the race in spite of the stroke and won his seat last fall. According to

Depression is a common experience for stroke survivors. It’s often caused by biochemical changes in the brain.

Experts keep going back and forth about whether the Covid-19 pandemic started through natural transmission from animals or leaked out of a laboratory. The Department of Energy now believes (with “low confidence”) that it was a lab leak, though several other government agencies still disagree.

Whichever way you go on this question, it’s important not to jump to the conclusion that the virus was constructed rather than naturally-occurring. Among scientists, even lab-leak proponents overwhelmingly believe the lab was collecting viruses for study rather than building them.

The Southern Baptist Convention is kicking out Saddleback Church, the megachurch founded by best-selling author Rick Warren. Saddleback’s crime? It named a woman to its pastoral team. When Warren retired as lead pastor last fall, he named Andy Wood as his successor. Andy’s wife, Stacie Wood, became a “teaching pastor” at the same time. That breaks the SBC’s rules.

Keeping women out of the ministry is one of those rules that can only be enforced strictly. Because once your people see their first woman minister, it will be obvious to most of them that excluding women was always senseless bigotry. Amazingly quickly, the men-only pulpit starts to look like the Jim-Crow-era whites-only drinking fountain. You think: “Really? We used to do that?”

Mike Pence is trying to dodge a subpoena from Jack Smith with a bizarre constitutional argument that I won’t even go into. If you get lost in details like that, you’ll miss the fact that if Trump did nothing wrong Pence should want to testify, so that the truth will come out. Why does there even need to be a subpoena? What does Pence want to cover up? Why won’t he say things under oath that he has already written in a book?

If you do care about the legalities here, iconic conservative Judge J. Michael Luttig, the very guy Pence consulted when he wanted know exactly what his constitutional powers would be on January 6, has written an op-ed explaining why Pence’s argument against the subpoena doesn’t hold water.

It is Mr. Pence who has chosen to politicize the subpoena, not the D.O.J.

and let’s close with something moving

Much as I try to empathize with people everywhere, events hit me harder when I have a personal connection. For example, last summer’s 4th of July shooting in Highland Park stuck with me more than most shootings, both because I used to live in the Chicago area and because Highland Park has been the backdrop for so many movies and TV shows I’ve seen (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Risky Business, The Good Wife). Highland Park has become Hollywood’s archetype of an insulated suburban enclave.

Well, I’m a Michigan State graduate, so the mass shooting of students on campus on February 13 had a bigger impact on me than the general run of mass shootings. (Think about that phrase for a moment: the general run of mass shootings. The United States is the only country where someone would say those words.)

One emotion that surfaces after a lot of disasters is collective pride in the human spirit, which keeps going in the face of tragedy. One way the MSU community expressed that pride after the shooting was by circulating this YouTube from 2012: the MSU Men’s Glee singing “We Rise Again“.

Contrasting Temperaments


If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

This week’s featured post is “Choose your enemies well“.

This week everybody was talking about the State of the Union

In the featured post, I describe why Biden’s speech was strategically brilliant. Joe Biden will never have Barack Obama’s skillful delivery, but Tuesday he pulled off a maneuver Sun Tzu would have appreciated: He occupied an easily defended position and then baited his opponents into attacking him there.

One thing I forgot to mention about Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the Republican SOTU response: She painted Biden’s America as a dystopia and blamed Democratic policies. I was struck by this quote:

After years of democratic attacks on law enforcement and calls to defund the police, violent criminals roam free while law-abiding families live in fear.

It’s worthwhile to look up the states with the highest homicide rates in the country, as of 2020 (the most recent year I could find statistics for): Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Missouri, and Arkansas. All have Republican legislatures, and only one (Louisiana) has a Democratic governor. So whatever might be causing violent crime, I doubt it’s Democratic proposals for police reform.

and the earthquake

I don’t have anything to add to the mainstream media reports. The death toll continues to rise as would-be rescuers dig bodies out of the rubble. It’s currently up to 36,000.

and House Republicans’ hearings

When Republicans took control of the House, the big thing they promised (other than the debt-ceiling hostage crisis currently scheduled for June) was investigation. A few of their planned topics are legitimately things Congress should look into, like how people defrauded Covid relief programs and whether there was a better way to withdraw from Afghanistan. Good hearings on these topics could generate lessons for future Congresses.

But most of what McCarthy & Company have planned is political theater, meant to popularize and legitimize right-wing conspiracy theories: Anthony Fauci’s role in creating the Covid virus, the Twitter/FBI conspiracy against Trump, some previously unenumerated set of crimes that Hunter Biden’s laptop supposedly proves, and so on.

Kevin McCarthy’s problems securing the speakership delayed opening night, but now the hearings are underway. Sadly for him, though, they’re not going according to plan. You see, unlike the auditions that Fox News has been airing for two years now, the actual hearings include Democrats, some of whom are quite smart and do their homework. (My favorite source for clips from these hearings is to follow Acyn on Twitter.)

For example, House Weaponization Committee Chair Jim Jordan called “expert” witness Jonathan Turley to testify that

The Twitter Files raise serious questions of whether the United States government is now a partner in what may be the largest censorship system in our history. The involvement cuts across the Executive Branch, with confirmed coordination with agencies ranging from the CDC to the CIA. Even based on our limited knowledge, the size of this censorship system is breathtaking, and we only know of a fraction of its operations through the Twitter Files.

But then Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz made him admit that he doesn’t actually know anything beyond the cherry-picked claims the rest of us have seen.

DWS: Mr. Turley turning to you. Have you ever worked for Twitter?
Turley: No.
DWS: Do you have any formal relationship with the company?
Turley: No.
DWS: Do you have any specific or special or unique knowledge about the inner workings of Twitter?
Turley: Nothing beyond the Twitter Files and what I read in the media.

In this clip from the House Oversight Committee, AOC interviews Anika Collier Navaroli, a former member of Twitter’s content moderation team. She reviews then-President Trump tweeting that AOC and three other women of color in Congress should “go back where they came from”, and gets Navaroli to verify that:

  • At that time, Twitter’s content moderation guide specifically mentioned telling immigrants to “go back where you came from” as an example of banned abuse.
  • A higher official at Twitter overrode the content-moderation team’s assessment that Trump was in violation of the site’s policy.
  • Within days, that example was removed from the content moderation guide.

AOC: So Twitter changed their own policy after the President violated it, in order to essentially accommodate his tweet?
Navaroli: Yes.
AOC: Thank you. So much for bias against the right wing on Twitter.

That hearing was supposed to focus on a nefarious conspiracy between Twitter and Democrats in government to suppress free speech. But in fact the most striking case was of Trump trying to get a tweet by model Chrissy Tiegen removed because she called him a “pussy ass bitch”. (Trump can dish it out, but he can’t take it. Maybe that’s because he’s a … no, I won’t repeat it.)

And then there’s this epic rant by Rep. Jared Moskowitz. No single quote stands out; it’s just an end-to-end takedown. Along the way, he mentions this recent article from the WaPo, describing the direct financial benefits that Donald Trump and Jared Kushner have gotten from their relationship with Saudi Crown Prince MBS. The corruption described is much less speculative than what Hunter Biden is accused of.

The House Oversight Committee’s hearings about the border are also revealing more than Republicans expected. This full hearing is three hours, but if you skip to 1:40, you can hear Scott Perry (of 1-6 conspiracy fame) question John Modlin, chief of the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector. Perry quotes statistics showing that more migrants were apprehended at the border after Biden took office, and then badgers Modlin to tell him “what changed?”, clearly fishing for a condemnation of the Biden administration. Instead, Modlin explains that during post-arrest interviews, migrants said that they thought the border was open now.

Perry: The migrants said that they thought the border was open, right?
Modlin: Yes.
Perry: Why did they think that?
Modlin: They thought that, sir. … well, I don’t know. What they told us was that they had heard it was open. Sir, in my experience, it only takes a few people to say the right words, and it travels.

Why did they think the border was open? I don’t know, Scott. Maybe it’s because lying about Biden’s “open border” policy has been a major Republican talking point. (In the last Congress, for example, a number of Republicans introduced the “Close Biden’s Open Border Act“.) Maybe migrants think the border is open because they listen to people like you.

George Santos is not unique. There also appear to be problems with the story Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL) tells about herself.

but I want to give you an example of what “sifting” means

Every week, I see upsetting headlines that I decide are not worth your attention. This week, I ran across one so perfect that I thought I would highlight it as an example of the kinds of links you should ignore when they appear on your news feed: “Bill would ban the teaching of scientific theories in Montana schools“.

I have to confess that my first reaction was “Bill Who?”. But then I clicked through and read the article and the proposed legislation it’s based on.

Here’s what it’s about: A newly elected member of the Montana Senate introduced a truly stupid two-page piece of legislation that would limit K-12 science classes to teaching “scientific fact”, which it defines as “an indisputable and repeatable observation of a natural phenomenon”. Anything else is a “theory”, which is “speculation and is for higher education to explore, debate, and test to ultimately reach a scientific conclusion of fact or fiction”.

The bill looks like an attempt to get theories like evolution or climate change out of the K-12 curriculum. But the author clearly has no idea what “fact” and “theory” mean in a scientific context. A fact is something immediately observable, like where Jupiter is in the sky at a particular moment. A theory is a model that explains facts; the solar system, for example. (You can never “observe” the solar system. You can just observe where the planets are.) And no matter how many facts go into forming a theory, or how often a theory is confirmed by observation, it never becomes “indisputable”. (Think how many times Newton’s laws were confirmed by experiment before scientists started testing them near the speed of light, where they don’t work.)

So the whole idea that science chews on theories until they become “fact or fiction” is misguided. Theories and facts are two different kinds of things; one never becomes the other. (The missing word here is hypothesis, which is an insufficiently tested theory. Science tests hypotheses against observations until they are either disproved or become increasingly trustworthy.)

OK then, it’s a dumb bill that would, among other things, ban Montana schools from teaching kids about the solar system. But why do I say you shouldn’t concern yourself with it? Wouldn’t this be a terrible law?

Yes, of course it would. But so far it’s just one ignorant man spouting off. If you live in Great Falls and he happens to be your senator, you should care. But nothing about the bill indicates that it’s on its way to becoming law. It has one sponsor. It has been heard by the relevant committee, which took no action on it. And the bill’s official record already includes a “legal review note“; two lawyers working for the legislature point out that it would violate the Montana constitution, which doesn’t give the legislature this kind of power over curricula.

Conclusion: Don’t waste your energy getting upset about this bill.

Every week, I see stuff like this and decide not to call it to your attention. Thought you should know.

and you also might be interested in …

Every day or two now, we hear about another atmospheric object that the Pentagon is shooting down. There’s still no good explanation of what they are, who put them there, and what they were intended to do. The Atlantic Juliet Kayyem offers a simple if still speculative explanation: Maybe we’re seeing more of these objects because we’ve started looking harder.

Mike Pence has been subpoenaed by Special Counsel Jack Smith. This move opens up all kinds of speculation: about how close Smith is to charging Trump for his role in instigating the January 6 riot, whether Trump will claim executive privilege to prevent Pence’s testimony, and so on.

When it comes to Trump’s legal jeopardy, I’m just about done with speculation. Wake me up when somebody — whether it’s Smith or prosecutors in Georgia, in New York, or somewhere else — either file charges or announce that they’re not filing charges.

Meanwhile, more classified documents have turned up at Mar-a-Lago, including some that were scanned onto an aide’s laptop.

I’m growing increasingly suspicious of all the Kamala-Harris-has-a-problem columns I’ve been seeing in the NYT and elsewhere, almost from the moment she was sworn in. I didn’t support Harris when she ran for president in the 2020 primaries, and she wouldn’t be my first choice in 2024 if Biden decides not to run. But I’m not sure what standard she is failing to meet as vice president. I mean, was Mike Pence such a dynamic presence in the Trump administration?

The typical vice president stays in the background. George H. W. Bush’s main duty in the Reagan administration was to attend funerals of foreign leaders. Biden and Obama seemed to have a good relationship, but it was never particularly clear what Biden did in the administration. (Biden was often the comic relief, as in this cartoon about the trillion-dollar coin.) Al Gore was overshadowed by Hillary Clinton. Dick Cheney was a power-behind-the-throne in the George W. Bush administration, but that never seemed like a good thing. And the less said about Dan Quayle the better.

So what’s wrong with Kamala Harris? In my view, the most important duty of a VP is to avoid any appearance of conflict with the president. Otherwise, people with guns might get the idea that they can change the course of the nation by killing the president, as Leon Czolgosz did when he shot President McKinley and put Teddy Roosevelt into office. Done right, the vice presidency is not a job that lends itself to carving out a charismatic public persona.

I admit, Harris is not making a great case for why she should be president after Biden. But no VP does; if a current VP runs for president, the race almost always hinges on the popularity of the current president. So the more criticism of Harris I see, the more I suspect she is being judged by some special woman-of-color standard that hasn’t applied to any previous VP.

Twitter sounds like a terrible place to work these days. Recently, Elon Musk called a meeting to get an explanation of why his account’s engagement numbers are tanking. One of the engineers provided such an explanation: Musk is becoming less popular. Internal Twitter statistics say so, and so does his Google Trends score, which peaked at 100 in April and is now down to 9.

Musk had been looking for some way that Twitter’s algorithms are biased against him, which turns out not to be true. He fired the engineer.

It sounds like Jim Crow is coming back in Mississippi:

A white supermajority of the Mississippi House voted after an intense, four-plus hour debate to create a separate court system and an expanded police force within the city of Jackson — the Blackest city in America — that would be appointed completely by white state officials. … The appointments by state officials would occur in lieu of judges and prosecutors being elected by the local residents of Jackson and Hinds County — as is the case in every other municipality and county in the state.

The bill isn’t law yet, though. It still has to be passed by the state senate and signed by the governor.

The alleged purpose of the new system is to deal with Jackson’s crime problem. Why new funding has to go through a new state-appointed system rather than the existing Jackson system has not been adequately explained.

“This is just like the 1890 Constitution all over again,” [Black Democrat Rep. Ed] Blackmon said from the floor. “We are doing exactly what they said they were doing back then: ‘Helping those people because they can’t govern themselves.’”

The greenhouse effect that causes global warming is more complicated than I thought.

The price of electric vehicles is coming down and should continue to fall, according to the NYT. Three factors are coming together:

  • Production costs are falling, due to new mines opening and supply chains sorting themselves out.
  • Competition between manufacturers is increasing, as legacy car manufacturers like Ford and GM expand their offerings.
  • The Inflation Reduction Act included EV rebates.

A bit of right-wing rhetoric I haven’t decoded yet: Instead of talking about China, right-wingers talk about “the Chinese Communist Party”. One typical example comes from Marc Thiessen‘s column the WaPo:

Instead of using his speech this week to report to the American people on the recent incursion of a Chinese spy balloon and lay out a strategy to confront the danger posed by the Chinese Communist Party, Biden made only an elliptical reference

I see this again and again — and the Right doesn’t do this kind of thing by accident — but I don’t have an explanation: Why isn’t it “the danger posed by China” or even “posed by President Xi”? Anybody out there know?

and let’s close with something tiny

Every year, Nikon runs a variety of photo contests, including one devoted to microphotography. Winners are collected on Nikon’s Small World web site. Winning photos are unfailingly beautiful, even if you can’t begin to figure out what you’re seeing until you read the caption. This one, for example, is “blood vessel networks in the intestine of an adult mouse”.

Gains and complaints

Our merchants frequently complain of the high wages of British labor as the cause of their manufactures being undersold in foreign markets; but they are silent about the high profits of stock. They complain about the extravagant gain of other people; but they say nothing of their own.

– Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

This week’s featured post is “How did we get $32 trillion in debt?“. It’s a somewhat nerdy look at the history of the national debt, preparing the way for posts later this spring about what (if anything) can or should be done about it.

This week everybody was talking about police reform

Some issues in America wear me down. Mass shootings are one. They’re almost a constant feature of American life; if you forget to pay attention to one, don’t sweat it, because there will be another one soon.

Once in a while one is so much more horrific than the usual run of mass shootings — Columbine, Sandy Hook, that Las Vegas music festival, Uvalde — that national attention lingers for more than a day or two. And for a little while, in spite of all experience, I think, “This can’t go on. Now something will have to change.”

Then nothing changes, and I feel foolish for imagining that something would. And it gets a little harder to raise my interest the next time.

Police killing innocent people of color (or even an occasional innocent white person) is another issue that wears me down. Last week I mentioned Tyre Nichols’ death, but didn’t give it the attention it deserved. I had been worn down. I mean, I’ve already lived through the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice. And I got focused on each of them for a while and thought something would have to change.

And I can’t even say that nothing has changed. Derek Chauvin is in jail for killing Floyd, and his anticipated release date isn’t until 2035. So in this age of cellphone cameras, a cop can’t get away with killing a guy slowly in front of witnesses any more. That’s something. Tyre Nichols’ killers were fired and charged pretty quickly, and that’s something too. It rises above the very low bar set in the past.

But NYT columnist Jamelle Bouie put his finger on what I think is the core issue: “the institution of American policing lies outside any meaningful democratic control.”

What little accountability exists for American police is easily subverted. Internal-affairs departments are often more interested in exonerating colleagues than investigating misconduct, and police unions do everything they can to shield bad actors, attack critics and secure more due process for cops accused of abuse than their victims ever get. … Without a strategy to curb or break the cartel power of police departments — meaning their ability to undermine, neuter and subvert all attempts to regulate and control their actions and personnel — there is no practical way to achieve meaningful and lasting reform, if that is your goal.

In our current media and political culture, it’s way too easy for opponents of reform to frame the discussion as a dichotomy of bad choices: Either you are pro-police (which means you defend their right to kill people with little accountability) or you are anti-police (which means you want to abolish police and leave Americans at the mercy of violent criminals). What gets lost in that framing is any distinction between good policing and bad policing. Surely there must be some way to support police trying their best to do a difficult and dangerous job without giving bullies-with-badges carte blanche to beat or shoot anyone who looks cross-eyed at them. There has to be a way to empower a police department to protect the community without licensing it to prey on the community.

The Atlantic’s David Graham:

Since the rise of Black Lives Matter, activists had been pressing for reform of the troubled police department, yet starting in 2020, Memphis also saw a sharp rise in violent crime, including murder. The result was a city that was both underpoliced and overpoliced. Memphians, especially Black ones, complained of rampant crime and unchecked gang violence, and they didn’t want to defund the police. But they also reported that officers were focused on rinky-dink arrests and pretextual stops instead of violent crime, and feared that they or their family members would be brutalized by police—a fear that Nichols’s death chillingly validates.

Last week I linked to a clip of Tucker Carlson telling his audience that Antifa was using the newly released Tyre Nichols video as a pretext to start riots across the country. (The riots didn’t happen.) Apparently, that segment and many others on Fox News were based on a poster of dubious provenance that was said to be “circulating in the underground of New York City”.

Where that poster actually seems to have circulated was on right-wing sites trying to frighten their audiences. Disinformation researcher Caroline Orr has been able to trace the image through right-wing media back to NYPD sources, but hasn’t been able to find any earlier references. She describes it as a “likely disinformation narrative”.

One fact about the current era that conservatives are desperate to ignore, deny, or explain away is that right-wing political violence is a much bigger problem than left-wing political violence. (“Right-wing extremists perpetrated two thirds of the attacks and plots in the United States in 2019 and over 90 percent between January 1 and May 8, 2020.”) So any potential for left-wing violence is going to spread widely on the right, whether there’s any basis for it or not.

and Kevin McCarthy’s revenge

Thursday, the House voted on party lines to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar from from the Foreign Affairs Committee. Ostensibly, the removal was a punishment for past anti-Semitic remarks, but it was a fairly transparent reprisal for the Democratic House majority removing Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar from committees in the previous Congress.

Previously, McCarthy had removed Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from the House Intelligence Committee, which is a select committee that the Speaker has arbitrary power over. Again, reasons other than revenge were given, but the WaPo awarded McCarthy four Pinocchios for them. Schiff was the lead House manager in Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial, and Swalwell was on the Judiciary Committee for both impeachments. That’s what this is about.

Nancy Pelosi had used her power over select committees to refuse to seat possible Trump conspirators Jim Jordan and Jim Banks on the January 6 Committee. MAGA Republican Rep. Chip Roy compared McCarthy’s reprisal to pitchers throwing at batters in baseball: “My view is, you hit my guy. You come to the plate, we’re gonna pop your guy.”

By making this a tit-for-tat situation, House Republicans are denying that any standards apply to their behavior. Jim Jordan was refused a seat on the January 6 Committee because, as a likely witness, he had a conflict of interest. (Jordan later defied a subpoena from the committee.) Gosar and Greene were cited for promoting violence against other members of Congress: Gosar posted a video in which he killed Democratic colleague AOC. Greene told a crowd that Nancy Pelosi deserved the death penalty for treason. None of the sanctioned Democrats did anything remotely similar.

If the tit-for-tat logic continues to motivate Republicans, soon we can expect them to impeach Joe Biden for something-or-other.

Ilhan Omar represents Minneapolis and part of its suburban ring. She was first elected to Congress in 2018, and in November was elected to her third term with 74% of the vote. She is a Muslim who was born in Somalia. Her family fled the Somali civil war, and she spent four years in a refugee camp. Her family came to the United States in 1995, when she was 12. She became an American citizen at age 17.

Omar has played a unique role on the Foreign Affairs Committee, as Peter Beinart explained in the NYT, describing her as “the only person who consistently describes American foreign policy as it is experienced by much of the rest of the world.” She does not immediately assume that American actions are motivated by the commitment to freedom and democracy our officials claim, but reminds her colleagues of uncomfortable facts about the repressive governments we have sometimes supported.

Across the world, many people encounter American foreign policy when they see a drone flying overhead, a hospital that U.S. sanctions have deprived of medicine or a dictator’s troops carrying American-made guns. Ms. Omar asks the kinds of questions that these non-Americans — whether they reside in Pakistan, Cuba or Cameroon — might ask were they seated across from the officials who direct America’s awesome power. She translates between Washington and the outside world.

Whether you always agree with her or not, she has a point of view that Congress needs to hear.

and a balloon

This week’s dumbest story was the Chinese spy/weather balloon that floated from Alaska to the Carolinas before being shot down by an F-22 on Saturday. Currently, the Pentagon is trying to recover the equipment, which fell into 47-foot-deep water.

What makes it a dumb story is that none of us have the information we need to evaluate the situation, and possibly we never will. What were the Chinese looking for? Were they in control of the balloon or was it a runaway, as they claimed? What could a balloon tell them that their spy satellites can’t? Did it pose any actual threat?

I know of no way to answer those questions, short of getting myself hired by the NSA or some other agency with the appropriate clearances. Since that’s not going to happen, I can compare the US government’s official version to the Chinese government’s official version and decide who I want to believe, if anybody. Or I could just make something up.

Hardly anybody who has been commenting on TV knows any more than I do, so the balloon turned into a pure Rorschach test on whether or not you trust the Biden administration. I more-or-less do, so I’m willing to believe that watching the balloon for a few days and then shooting it down before it returned to international waters was a sensible response. If you don’t trust the Biden administration, on the other hand, you might disagree with me and imagine all kinds of dire scenarios.

But neither of us know anything.

and you also might be interested in …

There’s been a major earthquake centered in Turkey with effects extending into Syria. I don’t do breaking news on this blog, so you might want to check a source that does.

The January jobs report came out: The economy added 517K jobs in January, far more than analysts had expected. That pushed the unemployment rate down to 3.4%, which is lower than at any time during the Trump administration. The last time unemployment was this low was May, 1969.

It’s weird that Biden gets so little credit for this. Vox discusses how hard it is to find economic optimism, in spite of numbers that look pretty good.

Mike Pence wants credit for being “part of it when George W. Bush proposed Social Security reform in 2005”, and still wants to “give younger Americans the ability to take a portion of their Social Security withholdings and put that into a private savings account”.

That was an extremely unpopular idea back in 2005, and I can’t quite imagine why Pence thinks it will be more popular now. Elder care is a problem in the real economy, not the financial economy, and nothing magic happens when you move financial responsibility for it from the public to the private sector. Such a move can only “take us off this trajectory of massive debt” if it means that some people will be left without care.

It’s also a bad idea on the individual level. Fundamentally, Social Security is an insurance program, not a pension program. The risk it’s supposed to insure you against is having no money after you’re too old to earn more. Putting that money in the stock market, which might collapse at precisely the moment you need it, increases your risk.

Over decades, investing in the stock market can make the difference between a passable retirement and an enviable one. But the stock market is for money you can afford to lose. Your old-age-cat-food money, on the other hand, should be guaranteed by the government.

and let’s close with some ingenuity

I don’t want to get into a discussion of the practicality of this. (I mean, what do you do with all that plastic wrap after you’re ready to break camp?) But I have to admire the inventiveness involved in turning 10 rolls of plastic wrap into a wilderness shelter.

Absurdly dangerous

We cannot mistake absurdity for lack of danger. … Absurdity always makes you think something is more benign than it is.

Jon Stewart, on George Santos

This week’s featured posts are “Gas stoves, freedom, and the politics of distraction” and “How can Democrats win back rural America?“.

I will warn you that this week’s summary is unusually long, being the first one in three weeks. I used the time away from the Sift to focus on public speaking. One talk: “Whatever happened to the citizen journalist?” examines the good and bad ways the internet has changed news, using the history of the Weekly Sift as an example of (what I hope is) good change. I also led a church service, but the YouTube isn’t up yet.

These last three weeks everybody was talking about the new Congress

In an otherwise disappointing set of midterm elections for Republicans, they did manage to eke out a small majority in the House of Representatives. They did that largely by running against inflation and crime, while GOP candidates who focused on election denial and other extreme MAGA issues tended to fail — unless (like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz) they were in districts that any Republican could win.

But now that Kevin McCarthy has secured the speakership, we’re hearing virtually nothing about inflation and crime (probably because Republicans never had a plan to deal with either). Instead, the focus has been on setting up a debt-ceiling crisis to force Democrats to agree to long-term cuts in Social Security and Medicare, as well as getting revenge on Democrats and on government officials who investigated the crimes of President Trump.

The sleight of hand reminds me of a passage in Thomas Frank’s 2004 book What’s the Matter With Kansas?.

The trick never ages; the illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization.

Republicans could have run on cutting Social Security so that billionaires and corporations can keep the benefits of the Trump tax cuts. But they would have gotten clobbered, so they didn’t.

Rep. Russell Fry (R-SC) gives the new GOP House majority credit because “We fired 87,000 IRS agents.” I’m glad to see the 87K IRS agents incident come to a successful conclusion. I am reminded of the Khrushchev quote that provides the title for Rick Perlstein’s book The Invisible Bridge:

If the people believe there’s an imaginary river out there, you don’t tell them there’s no river there. You build an imaginary bridge over the imaginary river.

On a party-line vote, the House established a new Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, which will be chaired by Jim Jordan, a suspected January 6 conspirator who defied a subpoena from the January 6 committee. Its Republican members will include numerous election-deniers, and even Scott Perry, who is alleged to have sought a pardon from Trump for his role in the attempted coup.

If you want to consider what “weaponization of government” really looks like, read the NYT’s look back on the Durham investigation and the Durham/Barr relationship. You can expect Jordan’s committee to serve the same purpose Durham’s investigation did: It will provide plenty of fodder for Fox News hosts to speculate about the horrible crimes and scandals the committee is about to uncover, but it won’t actually uncover anything significant. Afterwards, regular Fox-watchers will believe that it did find something, but they either won’t be able to give you details about whatever it was, or they will recall testimony that in fact never happened.

(Occasionally I still see people wearing t-shirts pledging to remember Benghazi, and I always wonder how much of what they recall is real.)

George Santos has been the comic relief of the new House majority. Every few days has produced either the explosion of some outrageously false claim he made, or evidence of some grift in his past.

So far, the GOP and Speaker McCarthy have been unable or unwilling to remove Santos, partly due to McCarthy’s small majority (which can’t afford to lose Santos’ vote), and partly because grifting is now deep in the party’s identity.

and violence

It was a bad week for squeamish viewers of the news. Video from January 7 of Memphis police beating Tyre Nichols (who died from his injuries) was released. And we also got to see video of the Paul Pelosi attack. California has also had six mass shootings in January.

The Nichols video led to protest marches over the weekend, but they seem to have stayed peaceful, with rare exceptions that Fox News naturally highlighted. (The worst they could find was a guy who was arrested in New York for kicking in the windshield of a police cruiser. He and two others were arrested. The police were unharmed.)

I suspect that the reason the protests were peaceful was that Memphis has taken the incident seriously. It fired the five officers quickly, and has now arrested and charged them with second-degree murder. It also has disbanded the unit the officers belonged to. Now we’ll see if the city (and other cities) follows up with police reform.

A point the press sometimes misses is that public anger usually isn’t about the event itself, but about the official response to the event. If the public is confident that the institutional response will be prompt and appropriate, protest isn’t necessary.

The most irresponsible coverage I saw came from Tucker Carlson, who (based on apparently nothing) warned his viewers that Antifa would be organizing riots in major cities.

These riots, of course, did not happen, and it’s not clear that an organization called “Antifa” with the capability of organizing a national string of riots even exists. Tucker did an amazing job of making his lack of any actual facts sound ominous:

Antifa is being organized. By whom? We don’t know. Why don’t we know? To do what? We can’t say right now. But we know for certain that in cities across the country right now, Antifa is mobilizing to commit violence. This is a political militia. So the question is: Who’s benefiting from it? Those are the people you ought to be asking questions of.

Maybe, though, we don’t know much about Antifa because there’s not much to know. Maybe it’s not an organization, but just a label that Fox attaches to certain kinds of events, including a lot of events that don’t happen.

and the Georgia grand jury

Earlier this month, the Georgia grand jury investigating Trump’s attempt to reverse Georgia’s 2020 presidential election result submitted its final report. Tuesday, a judge yielded to Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ request to keep that report sealed for now, so we don’t know whether the grand jury recommended any indictments for Trump or any of his henchmen. (This was a special grand jury impaneled to investigate, but without the power to indict.)

Willis, however, has seen the report, and her reasons for keeping it sealed implied charges are coming for someone:

Willis argued Tuesday that disclosing the report now could violate the rights of potential defendants and could negatively affect the ability to prosecute those who may be charged with crimes.

The airwaves are full of speculation, but I think we just need to wait and see. Willis said a decision on criminal charges is “imminent”, which could mean days or weeks, but probably not months. That’s the extent of my speculation. If you want more, the Christian Science Monitor does a good job of presenting why Trump might or might not be charged.

and classified documents

Biden’s classified document problem muddied the waters, and now Mike Pence’s similar issue threatens to turn it all into a farce. I stand by what I wrote last week, and extend the argument to cover Pence: While the Trump, Biden, and Pence situations have a surface similarity that makes them politically difficult, they are unrelated legally, and I hope the Justice Department pursues the three investigations separately. Whether or not Trump committed indictable crimes has no bearing on whether Biden or Pence did.

Some writers are trying to turn this into a discussion about overclassification and the bloated system of classified documents. Those are legitimate concerns, but I don’t see the relevance. Whether you have one classified document or a thousand, you should take care of them, even if nothing in them seems all that important.

It’s like stop signs. When you’re driving in the middle of the night, it seems really stupid that there are all these stop signs. But you should stop anyway.

and China’s declining population

One of the odder stories of the last few weeks has to do with China losing population. You’d think this would be a positive development, given how hard China has worked over the years to control its population. A flat or declining population in China could be the harbinger of a flat or declining world population. That would lessen the human strain on the planet’s carrying capacity, and maybe lead to a future of abundance rather than destitution.

Strangely, though, most coverage of the story was doom and gloom. The NYT framed the decline as a “demographic crisis“, and followed up with an explanatory article two days later: “Why China’s Shrinking Population is Cause for Alarm“.

The alarms ringing at the NYT include (1) fewer young-adult Chinese could force businesses to move factory work to other countries (like Mexico and Vietnam); and (2) fewer Chinese consumers could shrink the global market for goods. In addition, there’s the internal-to-China problem of elder care, caused by the combination of low birth rates and higher life expectancy.

But I’m having trouble seeing the “cause for alarm”. If more Chinese are, say, living into their 80s, that probably means that many Chinese in their 70s are still pretty spry, and might be able to do some caretaking themselves. And if the world needs less production because there are fewer people consuming stuff, that just doesn’t seem like a problem to me.

Wired shares my sanguine attitude. For a variety of reasons, its article explains, countries that fall below 1.5 children per female have a hard time returning to replacement-level fertility. But while that means the population on average gets older, it doesn’t have to become proportionately sicker, more feeble, and less productive.

Fears about population aging are often guided by the false idea that older people are homogeneously ill, dependent, and unproductive. In fact, the average health of people over 60 has improved dramatically over the past decades. … We recently calculated the health-adjusted dependency ratio—the proportion of adults with the same or more aging-related disease burden as the global average 65-year-old—in 188 countries. Using this measure, we could demonstrate that many of the world’s chronologically oldest countries have the same or even lower aging-related burden than many of the world’s chronologically youngest countries. Our work suggests that China can effectively stay younger by investing in the health of its aging population.

In summary:

Measures that improve education, productivity, and health across the lifespan would ease the transition to a world with fewer children. It is possible for China—and the rest of the world—to decline and prosper.

A declining population will require some adjustments. But on the whole, I suspect it presents an easier set of problems than endless growth.

A side note: China’s success in controlling its population means that India’s population should pass China’s sometime this year.

and gas stoves and other nonsense

That’s covered in one featured post.

but you might want to think about rural rage

and that’s the topic of the other.

and parents whose children question their gender identities

The NYT had a thought-provoking article “When Students Change Gender Identity, and Parents Don’t Know“, focusing on parents’ anger at teachers and schools when their kids start “socially transitioning” at school (using a different name, going to a different bathroom, etc.) and no one tells the parents. Columnist Michelle Goldberg followed up with “Trans Kids Deserve Private Lives Too“.

OK, I understand that there’s a lot here I can’t relate to from my own experience: I’ve never struggled with my gender identity and I’ve never been a parent. But there seems to be one point that the complaining parents (both in the article and in the comments) are refusing to grasp: The important communications problem is between them and their kids, not between them and the school.

Again and again, parents cast the school as taking an active role:

But dozens of parents whose children have socially transitioned at school told The Times they felt villainized by educators who seemed to think that they — not the parents — knew what was best for their children. They insisted that educators should not intervene without notifying parents unless there is evidence of physical abuse at home.

But the “intervention” here is just respecting the student’s confidence. (Goldberg raises the example of whether teachers should tell Muslim parents that their daughter has stopped wearing a hijab at school.) If a student is talking to a school counselor about gender issues, that’s because the student raised those issues. Counselors are not roaming the halls looking for kids they can convince to change gender.

To me, the idea that a child’s teachers are all agents of the parents sounds horrible. Children of my friends have occasionally shared secrets with me, and I have always kept them. As long as they weren’t planning to commit suicide or harm someone else, I hope I always would. It’s normal for kids to have thoughts they believe their parents wouldn’t approve — I certainly did — and it’s a blessing to have other adults you can talk to.

If parents are concerned about their child’s gender identity, they should talk to their child directly, not expect teachers the child has trusted to betray that trust.

I ran the note above past a friend who is trained to counsel youth on gender issues, and they pointed me to the book Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon, which you can look at here.

Solomon, who is gay, is writing about the challenges of parent/child relationships where the child differs from the parent in some way that the parent finds hard to accept. He introduces the useful distinction between vertical identity (the traits that parents and children share that make identification in both directions easier) and horizontal identity (the ways they differ that make identification harder).

Every child, he proposes, has some of both. So in his model, cis parents of trans children are experiencing a magnified version of a problem that every parent faces. I like this model because it encourages empathy for all concerned. Solomon writes:

There is no such thing as reproduction. When two people decide to have a baby, they engage in an act of production, and the  widespread use of the word reproduction for this activity, with its implication that two people are but braiding themselves together, is at best a euphemism to comfort prospective parents before they get in over their heads.

My friend also pointed out why understanding the wide range of gender identities might be useful to someone who feels uncomfortable in their assigned gender: If all they know is the male/female dichotomy, they may interpret their discomfort to mean that they must be of the opposite gender, rather than something more nuanced. My friend attributed at least some of the examples of detransitioning — undoing a gender transition later in life — to this sort of confusion. (A recent Atlantic article urges us to take the detransition phenomenon seriously, while also not exaggerating its frequency.)

and you also might be interested in …

Trump will soon be back on Facebook, and probably Twitter too. He was banned partly for spreading misinformation, but mostly for fomenting violence on January 6. We’ll see how long he can go before fomenting violence again, and how the platforms will respond when he does.

If you believe, as I do, that his act is getting old even for some people who have supported him in the past, then giving him more exposure might work against him now.

Ukraine will get tanks: American M-1s (eventually), German Leopard IIs, and British Challengers.

At the moment the front line in this war is mostly static, with a slight momentum for the Russians. Both sides are expected to launch offensives when the weather improves. The Economist (behind a paywall) has been generally pro-Ukrainian in its coverage, but recently it sounds like it’s spinning some disturbing facts. In an otherwise upbeat article about Ukrainian prospects, it says:

Ukraine’s edge in battlefield manpower is eroding, now that the Kremlin has mobilised 200,000-300,000 soldiers and may soon call up more. With Russia’s arms factories working triple shifts, Ukraine cannot outmatch it in brute firepower, given the West’s depleting stocks of arms.

I am uncomfortably reminded of the American Civil War. For a moment, put aside your feelings about the morality of either war and just look at the military situation: The North was richer and more populous than the South, so it had tremendous advantages in a war of attrition. The South generally had better leadership and higher morale, so it enjoyed much early success.

The war turned in the North’s favor when General Grant took command and accepted that if the war became a meat grinder, Lee’s army would be ground up first. He made a horrifying decision, but it did lead to victory.

I don’t think Dianne Feinstein (who will turn 90 in June and is rumored to be suffering mental decline) has announced her retirement yet, but Democrats are lining up to compete for her Senate seat in 2024. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter have already announced, while Ro Khanna and Barabara Lee are making up their minds.

I’ve always liked Schiff, but my unresearched impression is that Katie Porter is something special. It’s early, though, and the campaign may change my mind.

In other way-too-early election news, Ruben Gallego is challenging Kyrsten Sinema in the Arizona Democratic Senate primary. Republican Kari Lake has tagged him as “the AOC of Arizona“, which she seems to think is an insult.

The arrest of Charles McGonigal, the former head of counter-intelligence in the FBI’s New York office, opens up lots of room for speculation about what happened in 2016. Allegedly, McGonigal was being paid by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who was also the guy who paid Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort millions of dollars.

Two moments when the FBI’s New York office may have tipped the scales in Trump’s favor stand out: (1) James Comey reopening the Hillary-email investigation just days before the 2016 election, allegedly out of fear the New York office would leak something, and (2) the NYT’s influential pre-election headline “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia“, which was based on anonymous “law enforcement officials”.

Timothy Snyder thinks there’s something there, but Marcy Wheeler disagrees. I don’t know enough yet to say. (Snyder’s blog is on Substack, which will ask you to subscribe, but let you read the post even if you don’t.)

The Miami Herald has a report on the teacher-training sessions for teaching the State of Florida’s new civics standards. (It’s paywalled, but you should get one article free.) The training was described by one teacher as “straight-up indoctrination”. Another commented: “It was a bit different than a typical training. [Previously, trainers would] show us how to teach the information. But this time, instead of being shown how to implement the standards, they kind of went the opposite way. They presented this history as if none of us had learned it before.”

Basically, slavery and church/state separation are minimized, originalism is presented as the only legitimate way to interpret the Constitution, and the importance of Christianity in founding the US is emphasized. These are supposed to be taught as facts, not as issues knowlegeable people disagree over.

Maybe you’ve seen those billboards claiming that a fetus has a heartbeat 18 days after conception. They’re usually accompanied by a picture of a baby, or maybe a fetus that looks almost fully formed.

I’ve been glad to see recent articles in both The Guardian and the NYT give a more realistic view of what gets removed from a woman during an early-term abortion. At five or six weeks, “the embryo is not typically visible to the naked eye”. What shows up in a post-abortion tissue examination is mostly the gestational sac, which is still tiny and looks nothing like a baby.

The image below is after seven weeks, and the gestational sac is about 3/4 of an inch wide.

Patients may come in for an abortion fearful at this stage, having read through forums or looked at images online. “They’re expecting to see a little fetus with hands – a developed, miniature baby.” Often, she says, “they feel they’ve been deceived.”

On Vox, Ian Milhiser writes about the sudden resurfacing of laws that became irrelevant after the Roe decision, which haven’t been looked at by courts at least since 1973, and possibly a lot longer. Today, many of these laws would probably be considered unconstitutionally vague (like when they use terms like “indecent”). But they’re suddenly applicable again, even though nobody is sure what a court would say they mean. One such law is the 1873 Comstock Act, which says:

Every article, instrument, substance, drug, medicine, or thing which is advertised or described in a manner calculated to lead another to use or apply it for producing abortion, or for any indecent or immoral purpose … Is declared to be nonmailable matter and shall not be conveyed in the mails or delivered from any post office or by any letter carrier.

But current DoJ policy

argues that the Comstock Act should be read narrowly to permit abortion-inducing drugs to be mailed “where the sender lacks the intent that the recipient of the drugs will use them unlawfully.” This memo signals that, at least as long as President Joe Biden holds office, the DOJ will not prosecute mifepristone manufacturers and mail-order pharmacies under the Comstock Act — although it remains to be seen what happens if a Republican takes over.

Milhiser summarizes:

So, to summarize, abortion providers face a crush of older and uncertain restrictions, many of which can at least plausibly be read to prohibit them from performing very basic tasks — such as receiving a supply of mifepristone in the mail. State lawmakers have prepped a wide range of bills adding new restrictions to medication abortions. And the federal judiciary and many state courts are dominated by Republican appointees who reasonably can be expected to read abortion restrictions expansively, regardless of what the law actually says.

That’s bad news for anyone who needs a medication abortion.

Rhonna McDaniel won a fourth term as Republican National Committee chair, defeating Harmeet Dhillon. Dhillon, a Sikh woman, faced what Politico called a “whisper campaign” targeting her faith. She tweeted:

To be very clear, no amount of threats to me or my team, or bigoted attacks on my faith traceable directly to associates of the chair, will deter me from advancing positive change at the RNC, which includes new standards of accountability, transparency, integrity, and decency.

After supporting a presidential candidate who called for a “total and complete shutdown on Muslims entering the United States“, Dhillon must have been horribly shocked to discover religious bigotry inside the GOP. Perhaps she should consider joining the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party.

and let’s close by getting out the vote in an important election

Voting is open to name the next set of Minnesota snowplows. My choices: Best in Snow, Han Snowlo, Mighty Morphin Plower Ranger, Sleetwood Mac, Plower to the People, and Alice Scooper.


NO SIFT FOR THE NEXT TWO WEEKS. The next new articles will appear on January 30.

If we let everybody in the boat, if we row in the same cadence together, there is no obstacle this body can overcome for this nation.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy

This week’s featured post is “The Debt Ceiling: a (p)review“.

This morning I’m wondering what’s happening in Brazil

Yesterday afternoon, supporters of Brazil’s defeated former president Jair Bolsonaro occupied the National Congress, Planalto Palace, and Supreme Court in Brazilia. Congress and the Court are not in session and President Lula was elsewhere, so there is no hostage crisis.

This morning, I’m seeing claims that government forces have restored order and that government offices will open. Hundreds of rioters have been arrested. (As in our January 6 riot, the rioters were taking selfies and posting video, so they should be pretty easy to find and convict.)

Ever since Bolsonaro lost the a runoff election October 30, his supporters have been urging the Army to intervene, which it hasn’t done. Lula took office on January 1. This attack appears to be a more extreme plea to the Army, which is still not responding to it. I’m seeing claims that some police or other officials may have helped the rioters.

Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes ordered the immediate suspension of the governor of Brasília for 90 days, accusing him and the district’s head of public security of abetting the unprecedented attack on the country’s capital.

Bolsonaro himself is in Florida, where he went instead of attending Lula’s inauguration. Like Trump, he claims that his defeat was not a fair election. It looks like Bolsonaro’s most extreme supporters were victims of the same kind of reality distortion that QAnon brought to January 6. BBC quotes a Brazilian teacher of history and sociology:

They just get information from WhatsApp and Bolsonaro’s social media, so they are really disconnected from reality.

They believed that Bolsonaro would win the election easily, it did not happen, and then when Lula was elected, they believed that it would happen militarily, a coup d’etat, and Bolsonaro would become dictator of Brazil.

This is still breaking news, which I don’t have the resources to cover. Among the major news services, BBC seems to me to have the best coverage. If you want to sort through unvetted reports, search social media for #Brazil.

meanwhile, everybody has been talking about the Speaker election

It took all week and 15 ballots, but Kevin McCarthy is finally Speaker of the House. The 15th ballot wasn’t complete until early Saturday morning, and then the newly elected congresspeople could finally be sworn in.

This afternoon we’ll see whether McCarthy has the votes to pass his rules package, which includes the concessions he made to the MAGA holdouts.

Democrat Katie Porter brought a good book for the occasion.

One benefit of listening to the various speaker-nomination speeches is getting to hear what the parties (or factions with the GOP) think their best talking points are. I was struck by two of McCarthy’s nominators — Steve Scalise and Kat Cammack — mentioning fentanyl overdoses as if this were a partisan issue. I mean, are Democrats for fentanyl overdoses?

Well, no. In a nutshell, Republicans try to turn every issue into the southern border. Crime is a border issue because immigrants are criminals. (They’re not, other than the one possible offense of crossing the border illegally.) Disease is a border issue because immigrants carry disease. (They don’t.) Fentanyl addiction is a border issue in the same way: It’s an excuse to militarize the border and maybe build Trump’s wall. Beyond that, it’s not clear Republicans have any interest in the problem, which is fundamentally a public-health issue, not a border-control issue.

Some Republicans go full-conspiracy-theory on the subject. Here’s J. D. Vance last April:

If you wanted to kill a bunch of MAGA voters in the middle of the heartland, how better than to target them and their kids with this deadly fentanyl? And, man, it does look intentional.

After McCarthy’s election, he gave a speech and then Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries gave a speech. I think it’s safe to say that Jeffries outdid McCarthy: He used an acrostic technique that goes back the Psalms: One line for each letter of the alphabet.

He starts playing with the alphabet subtly at around the 8 minute mark, envisioning a country that “Provides for the Poor, Works for Working families …”. Around 13 minutes he pledges to the new Republican majority that Democrats will “try to find common ground whenever and wherever possible on behalf of the American people”. But he also pledges that Democrats “will never compromise our principles”.

What principles? That’s where the alphabetic litany starts: “House Democrats will always put American values over Autocracy, Benevolence over Bigotry, the Constitution over the Cult” … all the way to “Zealous representation over Zero-sum confrontation”.

And McCarthy? Well, just before the end he made a Freudian slip:

If we let everybody in the boat, if we row in the same cadence together, there is no obstacle this body can overcome for this nation.

I think your speechwriter wrote “can’t”, Kevin. But in this House, your version is probably more accurate.

Imagine Biden making that gaffe. Fox would spend the next week citing it as evidence of dementia.

McCarthy also repeated a promise he often made during the fall campaign:

Our very first bill will repeal the funding for 87,000 new IRS agents. You see, we believe government should be to help you, not go after you.

I’m afraid this first bill really will set the tone for McCarthy’s House, because it’s based on a lie: There is no funding to hire 87,000 new IRS agents, and the new resources the Inflation Reduction Act does send to the IRS don’t target middle-class Americans.

I’ve criticized the decision to release Trump’s tax returns to the public — he should do that, not Congress — but I do have to admit that nothing better illustrates the IRS’s need for more funding. Wealthy tax cheats like Trump know that if they make a big enough tangle of their finances, the IRS won’t be able to put enough auditors on the case to sort it out.

And that’s why McCarthy wants the funding repealed: If he represents anybody, he represents wealthy people who cheat on their taxes. That’s his base.

Michelle Goldberg commented on Marjorie Taylor Greene’s exasperation at the far-right Republicans who wouldn’t get in line behind McCarthy:

It was the embodiment of the Twitter meme: “‘I never thought leopards would eat MY face,’ sobs woman who voted for the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party.”

Conservative commentator Noah Rothman argues that the chaotic nature of the speaker-election process and the insurgent demands for a weaker speakership is evidence against the charge that the GOP — and especially its MAGA/Freedom Caucus wing — is the “authoritarian” party.

He’s missing a key point: Fascists love weak governance when they are out of power. Any power center they don’t control should have its powers severely limited … until they do control it. Then, the sky’s the limit.

Case in point: Under Biden or Obama, presidential executive orders are tyranny, and presidential emergency powers are the worst tyranny of all. But in 2019, Andy Biggs urged President Trump to fund his border wall by declaring an emergency, usurping Congress’ power of the purse. (Trump did so.) Unchecked presidential power is wonderful if it’s his president.

Ditto for the Supreme Court. Judicial activism was horrible when the Court’s majority was liberal. But now that the Court is firmly in conservative hands, right-wing leaders no longer make “principled” denunciations of judicial activism.

Same thing here. Biggs was the first Republican to challenge McCarthy’s bid for speakership, and is a key member of the group trying to limit the speaker’s power. But that’s only because his faction represents a small percentage of the Republican caucus and has no chance to elect one of its own as speaker. If the tables ever turn, though, they’ll be looking for a very strong speaker indeed.

The lesson here is that authoritarians are not all the same, and in particular that fascists are not monarchists. Monarchists seek order; they believe that somebody needs to be in charge, and so they tend to fall in line behind the new king, whoever it turns out to be. But fascists seek power; they believe they should be in charge. So they’re for chaos when they’re out of power and order after they gain power. Any power center they can’t control should be weak. But power centers they do control should be strong.

and the debt ceiling

The featured post discusses the debt-ceiling standoff that is coming in the summer, and what the speaker election portends for it.

and the second anniversary of the insurrection

Friday, President Biden marked the second anniversary of the 1-6 insurrection by giving medals to 14 people who stood in the way of Trump’s attempt to stay in power after losing the 2020 election.

The group included law enforcement officers, current and former politicians and election workers who were targeted with threats following the 2020 presidential contest. Three of the medals were awarded posthumously to officers who had defended the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and died afterward by injuries or by suicide.

I heard one commentator (I believe after a conversation with Nancy Pelosi) point out that if this were a presidential inauguration year, a January 6 riot wouldn’t be necessary. Because the House still had no speaker on January 6, it would have been incapable of counting electoral votes. What would happen next is anybody’s guess.

Elon Musk celebrated January 6 by restoring the Twitter account of one of the top conspirators, retired General Michael Flynn.

The Fulton County special grand jury investigating Trump’s attempt to interfere with the 2020 presidential election in Georgia has completed its work. Apparently, that means it has written a report that either does or doesn’t recommend indictments. The grand jury had no authority to indict on its own.

At the moment I don’t know whether any indictments have been recommended. This is breaking news this morning, so consult other sources.

and the pandemic

Covid appears to having another surge. Case numbers are mostly flat and hard to interpret, but everything else is increasing. Deaths are now over 500 per day again, after dipping into the 200s in early December. Hospitalizations and ICU cases are also up.

A scary article from BBC: An official in China’s Henan province says that 90% of the population — about 88.5 million people — have had Covid.

Mr Kan did not specify a timeline for when all the infections happened – but as China’s previous zero-Covid policy kept cases to a minimum, it’s likely the vast majority of Henan’s infections occurred in the past few weeks.

In late December, nearly half of the passengers on two flights from China to Milan tested positive.

and the economy

It’s hard to know how to interpret economic statistics during a time when the Fed is trying to fight inflation. Usually, it’s great news that the economy is creating jobs and wages are rising — which is what Friday’s jobs report showed: The economy added 223K jobs in December and unemployment matched its pre-pandemic low of 3.5%.

But the Fed’s inflation-fighting policy is to slow the economy with higher interest rates, so more jobs just means they’ll increase rates further until the slowdown takes effect.

and you also might be interested in …

Jim Jordan will chair the new House select committee to investigate “the weaponization of the federal government”, i.e. the investigation of Trump and his co-conspirators, like Jim Jordan.

This follows in the footsteps of the failed Durham investigation, and will probably proceed in much the same way: with great fanfare about the devastating evidence it is about to uncover, which will be greatly underwhelming when it appears.

Other than giving Fox News something to talk about, the main point of the Jordan committee will be to harass anyone who has had the effrontery to investigate Republicans, and to intimidate anyone who might do so in the future. A second goal will be to screw up any Trump prosecution.

It will be interesting to see if members of the January 6 Committee (now dissolved) will cooperate with Jordan. After all, Jordan defied a subpoena from them; why should they testify for him?

It’s also worth pointing out that Democrats don’t do this. Nobody was ever punished for all those bogus Benghazi investigations.

President Zelenskyy’s New Year message was as good a piece of wartime messaging as I can think of. I’m inspired, and I’m not even Ukrainian.

Police killings in the US were up in 2022. At least 1176 Americans were killed by police, up from 1145 in 2021. The 2022 total is a new record, according to Mapping Police Violence, which began keeping track of police killings in 2013.

On TV, police kill violent criminals in self defense or to keep them from killing someone else. But that’s not the typical case.

In 2022, 132 killings (11%) were cases in which no offense was alleged; 104 cases (9%) were mental health or welfare checks; 98 (8%) involved traffic violations; and 207 (18%) involved other allegations of nonviolent offenses. There were also 93 cases (8%) involving claims of a domestic disturbance and 128 (11%) where the person was allegedly seen with a weapon. Only 370 (31%) involved a potentially more serious situation, with an alleged violent crime.

I looked for something to compare these numbers to. In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, Australia set a record with 16 police shooting deaths. The US has about 13 times Australia’s population, so the Australian number looks comparable to 208 American deaths, or less than 1/5 of our total. Canadian police killed 36 people in 2020, which would be comparable to 312 Americans, or less than 1/3 our total.

Iceland — a bit larger than 1/1000th the size of the US — has had only one police killing in its history, which happened in 2013. At the US rate it would have about one a year.

I typically hear two explanations for the US’s high rate of police killings: American police are trained to have a “warrior mindset” (most other countries’ police aren’t), and American police are responding to a more dangerous environment, i.e. anyone they encounter might have a gun. In other words: An increased risk of being killed by police is one of the prices we pay for America’s high level of gun ownership.

For police, the huge number of guns in America also means that every single call is treated as if someone involved could be armed — and that an otherwise nonviolent wellness check, mental health call, or traffic stop could turn into a deadly encounter. US law generally allows police to use force because they merely perceive a threat, and the many firearms in civilian hands give police officers a reason to believe they’re in danger.

In other gun news, the federal ban on bump stocks was struck down by a federal appeals court.

Bump stocks are devices that allow a semi-automatic weapon to function like an automatic one, shooting a series of bullets on one trigger-pull. They were banned by the Trump administration after one was used in a mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 people.

I’m still not interested in the British royal family.

Jackson, Mississippi is having another water crisis. The Guardian attributes the problems to “an aging and underfunded system that routinely fails to withstand extreme cold”. All 33 of Jackson’s public schools stayed closed Thursday and Friday (when they were supposed to return from Christmas break) due to low water pressure.

and let’s close with something sweet

Here’s a teacher’s story from 2018:

One of my first graders lost his mom 2 years ago as did I. On Wednesday he gave me a handwritten card saying both of our moms are angels together. Through tears, I tell him I’m having trouble reading it. He says to me, “Just sound it out.” 💕


One of the main conclusions of 2022 is that unpunished evil returns with even greater evil.

Kira Rudik, member of the Ukrainian Parliament

This week’s featured post is “Partying Like It’s 1942“.

This week everybody was talking about 2022

In the featured post, I raise a possibility (not a certainty) that I find intriguing: Hinge years, when bad trends turn around, look a lot like 2022. They’re scary to live through, because horrible possibilities are constantly looming. But again and again, the worst doesn’t happen.

In 2022 we dodged a lot of bullets: Ukraine didn’t fall, NATO didn’t collapse, and MAGA candidates didn’t sweep the midterms. Early in the year, a lot of people imagined it might end with Trump triumphant: in firm control of the GOP, 1-6 in the rearview mirror, the 2024 nomination his for the taking, and election-denying secretaries of state ready to hand him a victory whether the voters want him or not.

Before good things can start happening, bad things need to stop happening. A lot of bad things didn’t happen in 2022.

TPM awarded its annual Golden Dukes, which celebrate the cartoonishly corrupt and incompetent in American politics. This year’s winners:

Best Scandal, General Interest: Donald Trump, for the Mar-a-Lago documents

Best Scandal, Local Venue: the Patriot Front, for delivering themselves to the cops in a UHaul

Meritorious Achievement in the Crazy: Herschel Walker, for his vampire vs. werewolf speech

Most Cringe Campaign Ad/Meme: Dr. Oz, for his crudités

Most Convoluted Conspiracy Theory: Marjorie Taylor Greene, for Jewish space lasers*

Soon-to-be-forgotten Hero: Madison Cawthorne.

*I know: Jewish space lasers started in 2018, but she did have some tiff about it this year as well. And Lauren Boebert brought it up again. But really Italygate should have won in this category.

and Title 42

Title 42 is a 1944 law that lets the government to keep people from entering the US during a public health emergency. The Trump administration invoked it in March, 2020 to expel migrants at the southern border. The Biden administration has been trying to end the policy since May, but has been blocked by the courts. This week, the Supreme Court issued a stay, keeping Title 42 in effect until it can rule on a case it won’t even hear until February, and probably won’t rule on until June.

What’s embarrassing and infuriating about this whole story is the bad faith. Trump invoked this Covid emergency at a time when he was denying the seriousness of the pandemic in every other way. The point wasn’t to protect the country from Covid, which was already here and wasn’t any more prevalent among immigrants than among any other group. The pandemic was just a pretext for keeping immigrants out of the country.

Similarly today, the states that are trying to enter this case are the ones that have had the fewest Covid restrictions. They’re not trying to protect public health; they just don’t want immigrants.

And the Court’s majority is acting in bad faith as well, as Ian Millhiser explains on Vox. When the conservative majority likes the current administration’s policy (as it usually did when Trump was president), it acts swiftly to remove obstacles in the lower courts. When it doesn’t (as in the current case), it drags its feet and leaves obstacles in place.

In 2021, Trump-appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett delivered a speech at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center (named for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell), in which she announced that her goal was “to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks.” But if that is truly her goal, she and her colleagues might want to consider applying the same scheduling rules to cases brought by Republicans that her Court applies to cases brought by Democrats.

and 1-6 Committee Transcripts

This week was characterized by document dumps bigger than any one person could possibly process. Let us agree to forgive each other for not reading all the 1-6 Committee’s interview transcripts or six years of Trump’s tax returns.

The main thing that has come through for me is that the Committee was very selective about what it included in its public hearings. If it had just wanted to tell outrageous stories, it had plenty that it didn’t use: Mark Meadows burning documents, for example.

and Trump’s taxes

I continue to be of two minds about this. Obviously, Trump should have released his taxes voluntarily long ago, as all other presidential candidates have since Nixon, and as he often promised to do. It is now clear that his excuses for not releasing them were lies.

I’m still not comfortable with a House committee releasing these documents on a party-line vote. As DoJ (I hope) gets ready to indict Trump, I want to be able to argue that everything done against him has been done in the public interest, and not for political advantage. In spite of the protests of MAGA Republicans, I believe the January 6 Committee’s actions can be defended on those grounds. Ditto for the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago.

Here, though, I’m not sure. The political point-scoring is obvious: He claims to be rich and a genius businessman, but he reported huge losses to the IRS that in many years resulted in him paying less tax than you did. Taxpayers who can’t afford complicated tax-avoidance schemes should be angry. Also: His income has come mainly from selling off properties inherited from his father; his own ventures have usually resulted in losses. He looks more like a clueless rich kid than like a brilliant businessman.

There is a public-interest angle, but it’s more subtle. Clearly the IRS has dropped the ball on auditing him, even though they are supposed to audit the president’s taxes every year. Exactly one auditor was assigned to his complicated return, and none of the audits have been completed. Somebody needs to figure out the IRS just lacks resources, or if it was succumbing to political interference.

A lot of things in his returns look suspicious, but they need to be investigated by someone who can demand to see receipts. We in the general public can just shake our heads and wonder.

and you also might be interested in …

Tomorrow we’ll find out whether Kevin McCarthy has the votes to become speaker. If he doesn’t, we’re in the land of political novels, because there hasn’t been a multi-ballot speaker election since 1923. Maybe that’s something we need to do every hundred years.

George Mason Professor Steven Pearlstein suggests that a bipartisan coalition pick a compromise speaker from outside the House. It’s part of a wonderful fantasy in which centrists depolarize Congress and try to do things the voters want done. I don’t believe in it for a second, but I enjoy picturing it.

Deaths this week: Pelé, Pope Benedict, and Barbara Walters. They were too late to make the annual Sgt. Pepper tribute to people lost during the year by Chris Barker.

The best account I’ve seen of Southwest Airlines’ recent problems is in the Seat 31B blog. Basically, Southwest tries to keep fares low and profits high by using its assets “efficiently”, which means that there’s no slack if anything goes wrong. It also has an antiquated IT system.

The only real way they have to [handle this situation] (because of the way they operate and their limited IT capabilities) is to stop for an entire day and set to work inventorying their assets and crews and then build out entirely new trips for everyone.

When I watch Republicans in Congress defend Trump, I often wonder whether they really believe what they’re saying. Elise Stefanik clearly doesn’t. The NYT has a fascinating piece about her “conversion” from a young moderate to self-described “ultra MAGA” member of the House GOP leadership. She made a career move, not an ideological reassessment; it’s actually not clear whether she has any political philosophy at all. I can’t remember who I heard describe her as a “House of Cards” character, but it fits.

I’ve been enjoying the images that my Facebook friends create using the new AI art tools. But I’ve also been wondering about the dark possibilities.

Cartoonist Sarah Anderson describes how disturbing it is to see strangers easily hijack your style and use it for purposes you would never approve. Her cartoons are on the internet, so they were included in AI training sets (for which she received no compensation). Now you can start making an imitation Sarah Anderson cartoon — expressing your views, not hers — by using her name as a prompt.

Speaking of online cartoons, have you read SMBC by Zach Weinersmith?

Paul Krugman has been analyzing Tesla, whose stock fell 65% in 2022 and is still selling at a lofty 35 times earnings. In his first column, he sticks with financial prospects, arguing that Tesla stock never deserved its high growth premium, because it lacks the “network externalities” of successful past tech growth stocks like Microsoft or Apple.

Decoding that: As Microsoft and Apple products became more popular, users got locked in. So if you have a bunch of iPhone apps, your next phone is probably also going to be an iPhone, even if you’re replacing your phone during a period when competing phones are better or cheaper or cooler. Ditto for your company’s Microsoft software.

That’s why, once they hit it big, Microsoft and Apple became profit-generating machines that justified the high prices their stocks had traded at in earlier years: Their products stay on top even through periods where they don’t deserve to, and the difficulty of switching induces users to pay near-monopoly prices.

But Tesla has nothing like that going for it. Maybe Tesla cars are better/cooler right now, so maybe you’ll buy one if you can afford it. But that kind of advantage is fleeting, and once it’s gone, nothing will stop you from buying something else the next time you need a car. So Tesla stock should be valued more according to its current or near-future earnings than by projected far-future earnings that may or may not manifest.

In his second Tesla column, Krugman looks at the likely effects of Elon Musk’s recent behavior. Using a variety of indirect measurements, he argues that Teslas are bought mainly by Democrats. (Counties with large Trump majorities, for example, have very few Tesla registrations.) Consequently,

Musk’s public embrace of MAGA conspiracy theories is an almost inconceivably bad marketing move, practically designed to alienate his main buyers.

Speaking purely for myself, I am considering buying an electric car in the next year or two, and Tesla used to be an attractive possibility. Now, a Tesla would have to be much, much better than competing alternatives to overcome the Musk stigma.

An NYT article on the failure of election-denier secretary-of-state candidates pointed to a difference in money:

A significant factor in the imbalance was Mr. Trump, who vocally promoted election denier candidates in Republican secretary of state primaries but put almost none of his money where his mouth was. Save America PAC, his leadership PAC, spent only $10,000 of its $100 million-plus war chest on secretary of state candidates who made it into the general election. A spinoff super PAC, MAGA, Inc., chose to spend money on races for Senate instead.

But even the spending on Senate races was a small percentage of his full war chest.

Here’s what I suspect: Trump has sucked up a significant portion of Republican fund-raising, but as a grift. Even money that his PACs apparently spend on candidates somehow finds its way back to the Trump Organization. (Quartz noticed this pattern back in 2015.) That creates friction for GOP candidates across the board.

It’s not new, but The New Yorker just pointed me to a 2018 article in which Molly Ringwald looks back at her breakout hits Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club.

I imagine that everyone in my generation (60-something) has had the experience of re-watching something we loved when we were younger and reflecting on how horrible parts of it are by current standards. I’m sure it’s even more complicated when you helped make the thing in question.

Ringwald does a good job of giving the past its due without excusing its flaws, and recognizing that the good and bad do not cancel each other out. That’s a complex attitude that we would all do well to master, particularly as we look back on American history.

Ringwald is focusing on adolescents and especially girls, but she describes a pattern that applies to Blacks, gays, and all sorts of groups that have had to struggle for recognition: First you’re invisible, then you’re a token, then you’re a stereotype, and then (maybe, eventually) you start to be seen as a person. With all its problems, each stage is an advance over the previous stage.

and let’s close with a countdown

As a teen-ager, I used to listen to AM radio on New Years Eve as they counted down the top songs of the year. What would be #1? I’ve been hooked on countdowns ever since (though I don’t do song-countdowns any more because I wouldn’t recognize most of them).

I still appreciate good humor and satire, though. So here’s McSweeney’s countdown of its most-read articles of 2022. My favorite is #4: “Selected Negative Teaching Evaluations of Jesus Christ“, which includes the comment: “Only got the job because his dad is important.”

Ringleaders and Foot Soldiers

Ours is not a system of justice where foot soldiers go to jail and the masterminds and ringleaders get a free pass.

Rep. Jamie Raskin

This week’s featured post is “Trump still has no counter-narrative“.

This week everybody was talking about Trump’s crimes

Last Monday, the 1-6 Committee held its last public hearing. The executive summary of its final report was released Monday, and the 800-page full report on Thursday

The committee also announced that it had made criminal referrals to the Justice Department.

The committee’s historic referral says there is sufficient evidence to refer Trump for four crimes: obstructing an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the government, making knowingly and willfully materially false statements to the federal government, and inciting or assisting an insurrection.

I summarize Committee’s version of the January 6 plot (and Trump’s lack of any credible response) in the featured post. Briefly, the Committee sees January 6 not as a one-day event, but as the unsuccessful culmination of Trump’s months-long scheme to remain in power after losing the 2020 election. In their telling, Trump knew he had lost the election, knew that his fraud claims were false, knew that his false-elector scheme was illegal, knew that the Constitution did not give Vice President Pence the powers Trump pressured him to exercise, and knew that his January 6 speech would incite violence.

Trump responds with ad hominem attacks on the Committee and its witnesses, and he encourages his people not to testify or provide documents. I don’t believe this is how innocent people behave.

In my view, the one part of this narrative where the evidence is not iron-clad (yet) is in Trump’s connection to those who organized the violence. Those arrangements appear to have gone through Trump’s consigliere Mark Meadows, and then through Roger Stone and Mike Flynn. None of those three have answered questions about this. Meadows has been cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to testify. Stone and Flynn testified, but repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment.

There is reason to hope that the Department of Justice will have better luck getting at least a little cooperation from one or more of them, most likely Meadows.

I am largely in agreement with David Frum, who observes how the responsibility for calling Trump to account for his crimes keeps getting passed from one body to another.

Robert Mueller believed he had no power to indict Trump for obstructing his investigation of Russian influence on the 2016 election. When Trump then tried to extort Ukrainian President Zelenskyy into investigating Biden, the House impeached him, but to his defenders in the Senate

Holding Trump to account should be somebody else’s job: in this case, the voters.

When the voters accepted that responsibility and voted to remove Trump from office (by seven million votes), he tried to overturn the election by fraud and ultimately by force. When those actions led to a second impeachment that could have banned him from holding any future office, Mitch McConnell admitted

There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of [January 6].

But he decided that accountability and consequences were still somebody’s else’s job.

We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former Presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either one.

Now, once again, Trump has been investigated by a body that had no power to indict him. The January 6 Committee could only make a referral to the Justice Department, which it has done.

That leaves nobody for DoJ to pass the buck to. The final decision rests with Jack Smith and Merrick Garland. If they choose not to indict Trump, that will be the end of any consequences. Trump will have proven he is above the law.

There has been some debate about whether the 1-6 Committee should have bothered with criminal referrals, given that the Justice Department has no obligation to follow up on them. I think the referrals are important from the point of view of history and narrative.

Every time some official body investigates Trump and then declines to do something, his supporters take that inaction as vindication. The same thing would have happened here, as in “The Committee made a bunch of noise, but in the end even they didn’t claim Trump had committed any specific crimes.”

And if the Justice Department would decline to indict Trump — for what it’s worth, I believe it will indict him, that I’m not sure what the charges will be — the historical record wouldn’t have any explicit claims against him beyond the second impeachment, which had to be put together quickly and missed the full breadth of the conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election.

One sidelight of the report is an account of how Cassidy Hutchinson’s original TrumpWorld lawyer tried to influence her testimony.

Hutchinson stressed that he “never told me to lie,” but did say Passantino instructed her to say “I do not recall” and encouraged her to “use that response as much as you deem necessary.”

“I said, ‘But if I do remember things but not every detail, and I say I don’t recall, wouldn’t I be perjuring myself?'” Hutchinson asked Passantino, she told the committee. “Stefan said something to the effect of, ‘The committee doesn’t know what you can and can’t recall, so we want to be able to use that as much as we can unless you really, really remember something very clearly.”

… In a later conversation with Passantino on March 1, Hutchinson said he told her, “We’re gonna get you a really good job in Trump world,” and “We want to keep you in the family.”

The interview transcript also reveals Ben Williamson, another White House aide who was close to Meadows, told Hutchinson the night before her second deposition in March that “Mark wants me to let you know that he knows you’re loyal, and he knows you’ll do the right thing tomorrow and that you’re going to protect him and the boss.”

Hutchinson got a new lawyer before her second appearance before the Committee.

It was fascinating to watch how Fox News’ web site covered the criminal referrals. The news article disappeared from their front page quickly; it mentioned the four crimes by name, but gave no hint of the evidence behind the charges. The only person quoted was a spokesman for Rep. Jim Jordan, who characterized the referrals as “just another partisan and political stunt”.

The news article was quickly followed by an analysis article, which did not even list the charges. Instead, the article emphasized that a congressional referral “holds no official legal weight”, is just “theater”, and will be “ignored” by DoJ because it will be a “prosecutorial liability”.

Keep this in mind if you find yourself arguing with someone who mainly follows Fox News and other conservative media: The evidence against Trump has been systematically hidden from them.

The House Ways and Means Committee has voted to reveal six years Trump’s tax returns, as well as tax returns for eight of his businesses.

These returns are the outcome of a three-year court battle to enforce a fairly clear law, passed in 1924 after the Teapot Dome scandal, that allows certain committees of Congress to request individual tax returns from the IRS. Trump Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin refused to obey that law, and the case had to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

I am not sure why the returns had to be released to the public (though it’s worth noting that all major presidential candidate since Nixon have released their returns voluntarily, so it’s not like Trump has suffered some unprecedented injury). The New Yorker interviewed Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal about that.

Apparently, the failure to give Trump’s returns to Congress was not the only obligation that Trump’s IRS ignored. IRS policy requires that tax returns of presidents and vice presidents be audited annually, but audits of Trump’s taxes didn’t begin until after Neal requested the returns be released to his committee. (Audits of both Obama and Biden have been performed on schedule.) None of the Trump audits have been completed.

Neal phrases his responses carefully, but he clearly intends to leave the impression that it is necessary to release the returns so that the public can do the kind of auditing that the IRS hasn’t done. I have no idea whether that makes sense.

and President Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington

The Ukrainian president made a surprise visit to D.C. just before Christmas, and spoke to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. He spoke in English and invoked iconic moments in America’s past struggles to achieve or defend freedom: Saratoga and the Battle of the Bulge. He thanked America for its support in both weapons and money, and asked for more.

Your money is not charity. It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.

The MAGA right erupted in outrage. Matt Walsh tweeted “Get this grifting leech out of our country please”. Tomi Lahren tweeted: “No more money to Ukraine!!! We can’t fight this war for you for eternity!!!” (I’m puzzled how anyone could look at Ukraine’s bombed-out cities or consider its thousands of war dead and conclude that we are fighting this war for them. We’re helping to bankroll a war they are fighting for themselves with great courage. This is not like Afghanistan, where officials couldn’t surrender or leave the country fast enough as soon as we started turning off the money.) Tucker Carlson seemed deeply offended that Zelenskyy addressed Congress in his combat sweater (clearly the worst offense against America since President Obama’s tan suit).

The point was to fawn over the Ukrainian strip club manager and hand him billions more dollars from our own crumbling economy. It is hard, in fact, it may be impossible to imagine a more humiliating scenario for the greatest country on Earth.

As he so often does (and will if he becomes speaker), Kevin McCarthy seemed not to know what to do with himself.

Lawmakers rose to applaud. McCarthy, who vows to probe Ukraine’s use of U.S. funds, froze in his chair before eventually lumbering to his feet. … McCarthy’s unease was understandable. Zelensky’s joint-session address celebrated U.S. support for Ukraine’s defenses against Russian invaders, and many in McCarthy’s Republican caucus (whose votes McCarthy needs to become speaker) want to cut off U.S. aid. Most GOP lawmakers skipped the speech entirely, and a few in attendance — Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, Tim Burchett — sat through it sulking. Other Republicans trashed Zelensky, calling him “the Ukrainian lobbyist” (Rep. Thomas Massie), “the shadow president” (Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene) and a “welfare queen” (Donald Trump Jr.).

Trump and his cultists decided many years ago to side with Russia. It must be very frustrating that Putin has joined Hershel Walker, Keri Lake, and the Atlantic City Taj Mahal in the long list of slow horses Trump has bet on. Putin was supposed to be the prototype fascist strongman. The fact that he turns out to be surprisingly weak and ineffective is deeply embarrassing to fascists everywhere.

and the closing days of a sane Congress

The new Congress, with a Republican House majority, will take office on January 3. Meanwhile, the current Congress passed the bill that it had to pass to prevent a government shutdown. The $1.7 trillion bill will keep the military and a variety of other programs funded through the end of FY2023, i.e. September 30.

This is probably the last time between now and 2025 that the government will be funded without a hostage-taking drama.

One provision that made it into the bill was a revision of the Electoral Count Act. The revision makes clear the vice president’s role in counting electoral votes, eliminating any ambiguity that some future Trump might try to take advantage of. It also resets the threshold for challenging a state’s electoral votes. Previously, one member of each house was enough to start a debate about a state’s electoral votes. Now it will require 1/5th of each house.

Kevin McCarthy still doesn’t have the votes to become speaker. It’s hard to guess what kind of deal he can make with the five Freedom Caucus members who have pledged not to vote for him, because (unlike progressives that Nancy Pelosi had to negotiate with in past Congresses), they don’t seem to want anything in particular out of government, or even for the government to function at all.

One of the new Republican congressmen is George Santos of New York, who apparently isn’t who he says he is. In the simplest sense his name does appear to be George Santos, but beyond that, just about everything he told voters was a lie. He didn’t graduate from the college he claimed or work and the investment bank he claimed. One company he did work at is being investigated by the SEC for being a Ponzi scheme.

Santos is a Brazilian immigrant with a criminal record who was evicted from apartments in 2015 and 2017, but now somehow has enough money to contribute $700K to his own campaign. No one knows where his money comes from.

Kevin McCarthy appears to be standing by Santos, because his Republican majority is tiny and he needs every vote if he’s going to become speaker. As Adam Kinzinger said in his farewell speech to the House on December 15, today’s Republican Party has “embraced lies and deceit“.

and you also might be interested in …

Does Texas Governor Gregg Abbott know the true meaning of Christmas or what? His latest migrant-busing stunt resulted in three busloads of asylum seekers (not illegal immigrants; seeking asylum is recognized in US law) being deposited outside Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence at the Naval Observatory. (A private aid agency took the migrants to a local church. I don’t know what happened to them from there.)

“Governor Abbott abandoned children on the side of the road in below freezing temperatures on Christmas Eve without coordinating with any Federal or local authorities,” White House assistant press secretary Abdullah Hasan said in a statement. “This was a cruel, dangerous, and shameful stunt.”

Up to a point, I can sympathize with border states who feel that the burden of our immigration problem falls disproportionately on them. Wanting to slough that burden off on other states or the federal government is understandable. What I can’t sympathize with is Governor Abbott’s callous indifference towards the individuals involved. They may not be white and they may not speak English, but they are people.

Eric Swalwell tweeted:

Guess we know how Greg Abbott, a “practicing” Roman Catholic, would have treated Jesus, Mary & Joseph.

It’s also worth pointing out that Republican Thom Tillis and Democrat-turned-Independent Kyrsten Sinema worked out a bipartisan compromise proposal to that would cut the number of asylum-seekers in the US by putting more resources into the asylum-court process — smaller case backlog, faster decisions, fewer people waiting around for their cases to be heard. The proposal would in addition have given legal status to the “Dreamers” — children brought into the US illegally who have grown up here, most of whom know no other home.

The proposal died, largely because of a no-compromise attitude on the part of conservatives. It will not be revisited in the new Congress, because Kevin McCarthy has vowed not to consider any immigration reform compromise.

Amnesty is a nonstarter. It won’t be taken up by a House Republican majority.

Keri Lake’s lawsuit to overturn her election defeat in Arizona was thrown out. She lost.

Republicans lost the majority in the Pennsylvania House in the fall elections, but they could maneuver to hold the speakership. Power matters; the will of the voters doesn’t.

Maybe the problem of tall trucks should be handled the way we handle our gun problem.

This week I learned that chicken tikka masala is not a traditional Indian dish. One of the people credited with inventing it was a Pakistani immigrant who opened a restaurant in Glasgow in the 1960s. The NYT published his obituary Friday.

By this point in the season I get cynical about Christmas songs. I think “Last Christmas” is a jealousy ploy, and I doubt that “someone special” is a real person. I also don’t trust Mariah Carey: If she got me, she’d soon remember all the other stuff she wants for Christmas.

and let’s close with something cranky

Mark Woodley is a sports reporter for KWWL in Waterloo, Iowa, but when a blizzard hit he got drafted into storm coverage. He wasn’t happy about it.

Why the Sift is minimal this week

The main reason is that I’m still recovering from Covid. It’s a fairly mild case, but it has sapped my ambition. Saturday I realized I hadn’t gotten started yet, and asked, “Am I willing to put on a big push to catch up?” The answer was no.

A second reason is that this week’s news isn’t inspiring me. A lot of articles and news-show segments have been speculating about what the January 6 Committee will report, in particular whether it will make criminal referrals against Donald Trump for this or that crime. I admit that’s an intriguing topic, but if we can just hang on for a few more hours, the committee will tell us this afternoon. The full report will be available on Wednesday. So if you’re having fun speculating, don’t let me discourage you. But it’s not an efficient use of energy, particularly if you’re running short this week.

Or we could speculate about whether Kevin McCarthy will find the votes to become speaker, and what will happen if he doesn’t. Again, if you’re enjoying yourself, have at it. But hardly anybody who’s writing about this knows anything for sure. Here’s what I think I know: Nothing tells voters that you’re “ready to govern” like having a big internal conflict on Day 1, especially if it’s mostly about egos and has nothing to do with the voters’ lives.

Other big news stories have involved people who are intentionally trolling us. So Elon Musk tweets “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci.” And MTG told New York’s Young Republicans that if she and Steven Bannon had organized January 6, the Capitol invaders would have been armed, and “We would have won.” She then said she was joking, which was probably at least partly true. Fascists are famous for their sense of humor; I suspect many Nazis were laughing uproariously on Kristallnacht as they broke windows and burned Jewish shops.

The ambitious post that I didn’t have the energy to pursue asked the question: So how should we respond to such trolling? People say this stuff because they want to be the center of an outrage-storm, so if we get outraged we’re just playing the role they’ve assigned us. Since the trolls are not interested in an exchange of ideas, a detailed debunking is probably useless. Pointing out that these are horrible people is more wasted effort, because I suspect most of their fans already know that they’re horrible people.

When trolls are powerless to do anything more than get your goat, ignoring them is the right answer. But ignoring a soon-to-be-important member of the new House majority and the world’s second-richest man (who has turned a significant chunk of the public square into his personal fiefdom) is probably also a mistake.

So what, then? I have thoughts, but nothing resembling a complete answer. Feel free to contribute your thoughts in the comments. Maybe you’ll influence what I eventually do write.

A talk I’ve been working on for January — I’ll link to a full text after I give it — has me recalling how the Sift got started. Originally, it was just a list of links that I called “What impressed me this week”. I posted the list on Monday mornings as an easy product that would get my week off to a good start. (Over time, the tail came to wag the dog, and now my week is organized around getting the Sift out.)

So what follows is a throwback: With minimal comment, these are the links that caught my eye this week.

I’m not usually a Thomas Friedman fan, but his column “What in the World is Happening in Israel?” is worth your time.

Ron DeSantis wants a grand jury to investigate the pharmaceutical companies who produce and distribute Covid vaccines. He also is establishing a Florida “public health integrity committee” to second-guess the CDC. Chris Hayes points out that DeSantis is attempting to get between Trump (who wants credit for funding Operation Warp Speed) and his base (who believe all sorts of anti-vax conspiracy theories). Ironically, it’s Trump’s one clear life-saving accomplishment that makes him vulnerable. Lesson for future conservative presidents: Never do anything good, because other conservatives will use it against you.

Do I really need to comment on the Trump NFTs? Sad. Maybe the saddest thing ever produced in our Country.

Cory Doctorow summarizes Joseph Stiglitz’s report on the current inflation: It wasn’t caused by excess demand, so raising interest rates is the wrong way to solve it — and might make it worse. I have a yes-but reaction: Raising interest rates may not solve inflation, or might solve it but create too much collateral damage. But rates had been unreasonably low since the start of Covid, and needed to go up to more typical levels eventually.

The one development that tempted me to sift this week was TPM’s series exposing the texts Republican congresspeople sent to Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows just before and after January 6. Both Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Rep. Ralph Norman urged Meadows to urge Trump to declare “Marshall Law” which is not really a thing. (Martial law is literally the “law of Mars”, i.e., rule by the military.)

Vanity Fair’s Bess Levin explains that Greene and Norman asked for Marshall Law “because they’re both f–king idiots”, but I prefer to think that they intended to invoke the hero of this 1980s comic book.

The House Oversight Committee had a hearing about anti-LGBTQ violence and the Club Q shooting. If you’re a Republican, the problem can’t be guns and it can’t be right-wing eliminationist rhetoric against drag queens and transfolk, so how do you spin this? It’s about defunding the police, which no one anywhere near Club Q actually did.

The recent Musk/Twitter developments have made it clear that free speech was never the issue. Now that one of their own has control, right-wingers are fine with Twitter banning whoever Musk feels like banning, for whatever reasons he wants. This is a general trait on the right: Freedom means freedom for them. They will never, ever defend freedom for everybody.

Over on Mastodon, Simon Weiss makes a good point about the @ElonJet controversy:

There are many legitimate reasons to track Elon Musk’s flight coordinates, for example to offer him ads more relevant to his interests

Amanda Marcotte argues that the right-wing “cancel culture” and “woke mobs” rhetoric is psychological projection:

In reality, it’s left wing ideas that are suppressed out of a genuine fear of their persuasiveness. Books are banned from schools so kids won’t learn that LGBTQ people are normal or that racism is wrong. Musk openly argues that the “woke mind virus” must be “defeated,” which is to say that threateningly convincing ideas about human equality must be banished from the discourse, lest they win people over.

Until next week: Have a great Christmas, Solstice, Hanukah, or whatever you celebrate. Have fun, stay safe, and try to stay (or get) healthy.