Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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


Take any horrible thing the right wing is doing, call it X. Go back in time two years and publicly predict: “the right wing is going to do X.” You will be dismissed as a partisan crank. This has been reliably, consistently true throughout the entire right-wing escalation. Still true today.

David Roberts

This week’s featured post is “A reluctant defense of Bill Cassidy“.

This week everybody was talking about primaries

Pennsylvania was last Tuesday, Georgia tomorrow.

The headline result in Pennsylvania was that a radically Trumpy candidate won the Republican primary for governor. State Senator Doug Mastriano attended the January 6 rally — there’s some dispute about how close the violence he got — and still doesn’t recognize Joe Biden’s victory. He introduced a bill for the Pennsylvania legislature to award the state’s 19 electoral votes to Trump, despite Biden getting 80,000 more votes than Trump. Governors have to sign presidential election certifications, so there is serious doubt that a Governor Mastriano would certify a Democratic victory in 2024, no matter what the voters said.

He also supports a complete abortion ban, without exceptions.

What we do know scientifically is that baby in the womb is a distinct individual — it’s not a clump of tissue. The argument, it’s 60-year-old science, is we know that’s a distinct individual with a distinct DNA. That baby deserves a right to life, whether it was conceived in incest, rape or whether there are concerns otherwise for the mom.

He is frequently identified as a Christian nationalist, though I haven’t found any example of him claiming that label explicitly.

Speaking of Christian nationalism, Trump has endorsed Jacky Eubanks for the Michigan legislature. She was interviewed by Michael Voris of the Church Militant digital media service.

“You cannot have a successful society outside of the Christian moral order,” she claimed, insisting that “things like abortion and things like gay marriage are outside the Christian moral order.” Eubanks added: “They lead to chaos and destruction and a culture of death; we’ve abandoned the Christian moral order as a nation and we are reaping that destruction.”

When Voris suggested to Eubanks that her political opponents are likely to paint that as extreme, Eubanks countered: “I don’t see what we believe as extreme at all. We need to return to God’s moral order. That’s not radical. God’s morality is for everybody,” she said. “You cannot have happiness outside of God’s moral order.”

As I recall, there’s a group in Afghanistan that also wants to return to God’s moral order.

John Fetterman easily won the Democratic nomination for the Senate, despite suffering a stroke a few days before the primary. He spent about a week in the hospital, but has been released. He claims to expect a full recovery, but everyone will watching him closely when he starts campaigning again.

On the Republican side, the Senate race is still too close to call. As of Friday, Dr. Oz held a .08% lead over David McCormick. A recount is expected, so the race may not be decided until June 8. It’s been amusing to hear Republicans talking about counting ballots that they considered fraudulent in 2020.

Oz has not, so far, taken Trump’s advice and claimed victory, seeming to trust the election system in a state that the ex-President claimed was corrupt two years ago. Aides to McCormick, who has previously raised doubts about electoral integrity in the state, argue that uncounted absentee ballots — the very outstanding votes that Trump falsely claimed in 2020 were proof of fraud — will put him over the top.

Neither senate primary in Georgia is expected to be close: the Herschel Walker/Raphael Warnock match-up seems set. Likewise, Stacey Abrams seems assured of the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

The Republican side of the state-office primaries has been called “Trump’s revenge tour“. He’s trying to oust Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Rafensperger, the Republican officials who did their jobs in 2020 rather than “find” the votes he needed to win. (Trump’s famous call to pressure Rafensperger is still the subject of an election fraud investigation.) So far it seems not to be working: Kemp held a 32-point lead in a recent poll.

There does seem to be a bottom: Madison Cawthorn lost the Republican primary to defend his House seat.

A Republican candidate for governor in Colorado proposes that the state adopt its own version of the Electoral College for gubernatorial elections, one that would boost the power of rural counties and diminish urban centers like Denver.

Under Lopez’s plan, [the 2018] governor’s race would have been a runaway win for Republicans, who lost the actual race by double-digits when each vote was weighted equally.

Right now, anybody who predicts Republicans will actually do such a thing would be dismissed as a partisan crank, in accordance with the David Roberts’ principle stated at the top.

and replacement theory

When I started writing last week’s featured post, I thought the point I was making — that White Replacement Theory was becoming central to the Republican message — was not necessarily original, but wasn’t getting the attention it deserved. Apparently, though, I was one of a number of people having the same thought at the same time.

Rolling Stone’s Talia Lavin got there a day ahead of me, and also with a sense of I’m-just-figuring-this-out:

Once you understand an obsession with racial composition and white fertility to be the driving engine of Republican politics, a number of seemingly disparate movements begin to fit together into an ugly whole. Some aspects are obvious: The anti-immigrant movement that has seen U.S. refugee admissions at historic lows and asylum seekers marooned in purgatorial camps in Mexico continues to dominate the right-wing airwaves. Historic levels of gerrymandering are ensuring that a diversifying populace remains beholden to the views of a white minority — alongside openly antidemocratic restrictions on voting and changes in election administration.

Other aspects are more veiled, but no less vitriolic. Years of fearmongering about transgender rights, and in particular their influence on youth, are linked to fears of waning fertility: anti-trans demagogues like Abigail Shrier describe trans bodies as “maimed and sterile,” and, as such, a chief motivation for the legion of anti-trans laws passed by state legislatures is the future fertility of trans children born female. The violent antifeminism of a far-right movement that sees women principally as vessels for breeding a new white generation expresses itself in a fixation on a return to “traditional” gender roles. And the culmination of generations of right-wing activism, which will secure the “domestic supply of infants,” as Justice Samuel Alito memorably put it, is poised to arrive in the form of the dissolution of Roe v. Wade. Payton Gendron, and those like him, are listening: like Brenton Tarrant, the mass shooter at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, Gendron opened his manifesto with a screed on the supposedly apocalyptic consequences of “sub-replacement fertility rates” among white women.

Kathleen Belew in the NYT:

Immigration is a problem because immigrants will outbreed the white population. Abortion is a problem because white babies will be aborted. L.G.B.T.Q. rights and feminism will take women from the home and decrease the white birthrate. Integration, intermarriage and even the presence of Black people distant from a white community — an issue apparently of keen interest in the Buffalo attack — are seen as a threat to the white birthrate through the threat of miscegenation.

Matt Schlapp, the head of the Conservative Political Action Conference, also sees the connection between replacement and abortion:

If you say there is a population problem in a country, but you’re killing millions of your own people through legalized abortion every year, if that were to be reduced, some of that problem is solved,. You have millions of people who can take many of these jobs. How come no one brings that up? If you’re worried about this quote-unquote replacement, why don’t we start there? Start with allowing our own people to live.

Like me, Ryan Cooper rejected the isolated-crazy-guy explanation of the Buffalo shooting:

the alleged shooter was just taking the conservative “replacement” rhetoric seriously. If one really believes that the white race is the foundation of American society (a disgusting lie in its own right), and that wealthy Jews and liberals are conspiring to drown that race in a tide of bestial subhuman immigrants, then mass murder is a logical conclusion

Vox’ Zack Beauchamp looks at Hungary, where Replacement Theory has become the governing ideology. In that context, the connection between racism and anti-feminism becomes clear: If the white race (or the Hungarian ethnicity) is in danger of diminishing to extinction, then its women have to be induced to have more children. Similarly, non-childbearing LGBTQ relationships threaten the race’s survival.

The Guardian reports on the CPAC conference held in Budapest this weekend. (Try to imagine US Democrats holding a conference in Havana.)

Viktor Orbán spoke on Thursday. American speakers have included Donald Trump Jr., Tucker Carlson, Ted Cruz, Rick Scott, Ken Paxton, and Kristi Noem, all building up to a climactic video speech by Donald Trump.

The conference also hosted Zsolt Bayer

a notorious Hungarian racist who has called Jews “stinking excrement”, referred to Roma as “animals” and used racial epithets to describe Black people

Birds of a feather.

The editorial board of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison challenged Senator Ron Johnson to “renounce replacement theory”.

Debating immigration policy is fine. The United States has adjusted its flow of newcomers for 2½ centuries, creating a “melting pot” of people and cultures that defines the American experience.

But granting any credence to the racist and absurd “great replacement theory” should disqualify politicians from public office.

The editorial notes that many of Johnson’s past statements have “sounded eerily similar to the theory’s proponents”.

He told a conservative radio host in Minneapolis last month: “I’ve got to believe [Democrats] want to change the makeup of the electorate.”

The editorial brings Johnson back to the reality of his home state:

Wisconsin needs more immigrants — not for any political purposes, but because our population is graying fast and doesn’t have enough young people to take over the jobs of retirees, much less fill the new positions that growing businesses create. Wisconsin is suffering a workforce shortage, something a manufacturer such as Johnson should understand. The birth rate is declining, and the working-age population fell in every Wisconsin county except Dane and Eau Claire from 2007 to 2017. That’s an enormous challenge to Wisconsin’s economy.

Those needed immigrants may choose to favor the political party that helped them “find freedom and opportunity in America”, but

Many Cuban and Vietnamese Americans favor Republicans. It’s difficult to predict how the immigrants of today might vote tomorrow.

Especially if Republicans stop fanning racial prejudice against them.

I’m in the middle of reading The Rising Tide of Color, a 1920 book that is sometimes cited as the origin of Replacement Theory. It’s available for free at Project Gutenberg, but you need a strong stomach to read it, because it’s unapologetically racist in a way you seldom see today. It’s reminding me that some large number of Americans once viewed world history the same way Hitler did, as a story whose main characters are the various races. (Tom Buchanan speaks approvingly of a very similar book in 1925’s The Great Gatsby.)

A too-obvious-to-state assumption in RToC is that of course you identify with your (presumably white, preferably Nordic) race. A future in which your descendants aren’t white, but rather are some darker-skinned mixed race, represents a catastrophic defeat. The defeat isn’t that you won’t have descendants, but that they won’t be white.

I have a hard time wrapping my mind around that point of view. The only similar identification I can find in myself concerns culture: I am filled with a profound sense of loss if I envision a future where no one performs Shakespeare or reads Plato or studies geometry texts descended from Euclid. But a future where no one is white doesn’t bother me.

and abortion

States continue to tee up ever more restrictive abortion laws in anticipation of the Supreme Court overturning Roe next month.

Oklahoma is banning abortions after “fertilization”. The law, HB 4327, is sweeping, but is also better thought out than some. They’ve explicitly avoided some obvious sticking points.

Abortion … does not include the use, prescription, administration, procuring, or selling of Plan B, morning-after pills, or any other type of contraception or emergency contraception.

It also includes specific exemptions for abortions that save a woman’s life, or remove a dead fetus or an ectopic pregnancy. It kinda-sorta has a rape/incest exception, but only if the crime “has been reported to law enforcement”.

HB4327 gets around criminalizing IVF clinics (which also kill lots of fertilized ova) by stipulating that such killing only counts as “abortion” if it is done

with the purpose to terminate the pregnancy of a woman

So the point seems to be to control pregnant women, not to save “human life” as the Religious Right defines it. No pregnancy, no abortion.

The same is true of a 2019 Alabama law, which was blocked at the time, but may be enforced if Roe is overturned.

While defining “life” on the basis of a fetus’ location in relation to a woman’s womb may seem like a legislative oversight, the bill was actually written with specific language to ensure this application of the law.

During the bill’s legislative debate, a Democratic state Senator inquired as to  how the law would impact labs that discard fertilized eggs at an in vitro fertilization clinic. Republican state Senator and sponsor of the bill Clyde Chambliss, responded that, “The egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant.”

The Oklahoma law’s enforcement is through Texas-style private lawsuits. If you know that somebody performed an abortion or helped a woman get one, you can sue them for $10,000 (unless somebody else has already collected from them for that abortion). If you live in Oklahoma, you can sue in your own county, even if none of the relevant events happened there and it’s inconvenient for the people you’re suing.

If the abortion hasn’t happened yet, you can sue for an injunction to stop it.

Tennessee has criminalized getting abortion drugs through the mail.

The Archbishop of San Fransisco has banned Speaker Nancy Pelosi from receiving communion because of her support for a bill to codify abortion rights.

I’ll be blunt about this: The archbishop is using his religion as a Trojan horse for his politics.

Pelosi has not performed an abortion, gotten one herself (as far as we know), or encouraged anyone else to get one. What she has tried to do is to protect a woman’s right to make decisions about her own pregnancy. What that woman decides should be on her, not on Pelosi.

Compare abortion to, say, guns. No one is refused communion for selling guns, or making them, or keeping them legal. In the church’s view, sins committed with those guns belong to whoever pulls the trigger, not to people further up the causal chain. Why is abortion different? Because of politics.

and the crypto crash

In retrospect, we should have known the crypto-currency boom was ending when we saw the Super Bowl ads. BitCoin was already down to $40,000, from its November peak of $65,000, and yet

Digital funny money was everywhere during the Super Bowl, without even attempting to explain what the hell crypto is. Though, in some cases, like the eToro “social investing” site, it’s just as easy to parade out some Doge and “to the moon” memes, which is basically the same as explaining how stupid this stuff is. If they explained it, they couldn’t advertise it.

It was all a little too reminiscent of the dot-com bubble two decades before.

It’s hard to pinpoint a tipping point on something like the dot-com bubble — the tippy-top of the Dow’s chart was thrust upward and pulled back down by more than just tech stocks — but Super Bowl XXXIV, which had over a dozen ads for startups, many of which the broader public had never heard of, might be it.

Now BitCoin is around $30,000, and the other crypto-currencies are doing even worse. The so-called “stable coins” have proven to be anything but stable. Non-fungible tokens, which were supposed to be a way to invest in art without actually owning anything physical, are plunging.

There are two ways to look at this:

  • Every new market has its ups and downs. The crash of 1929 wasn’t the end of stock investing.
  • From the beginning, crypto was an illusion. It only seemed to make sense because it was techy, and nobody understood tech anyway.

I’m in the second camp. I’ve never owned any crypto-currency or NFT, on the general principle that if you don’t understand it, you shouldn’t invest in it. A number of articles have come out lately making the point that there was never a there there. Current Affairs interviewed crypto-skeptic Nicholas Weaver. Vox’s Emily Stewart wants to believe the hype, but “I have a hard time telling myself a coherent story about all of this” after she debunks just about everything crypto is supposed to be good for.

and the war in Ukraine

Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership. Turkey is objecting. The issues: Sweden suspended weapons sales to Turkey after its Syria invasion, and both countries have taken in Kurdish refugees that Turkey classifies as terrorists.

President Biden signed a bill authorizing another $40 billion in aid to Ukraine. The NYT has a table describing what’s in it.

Masha Gessen describes what it’s like to work for Russian news media.

CNN talks to a Russian officer who resigned after participating in the invasion of Ukraine. Because this is a “special military operation” rather than a war, resignation is an option.

The German news site Deutsche Welle provides (in English) an informative 15-minute look at the Russian economy. Interesting macro-economic note: The ruble has recovered from its post-invasion crash, and is now higher than it was in February — but that’s not the good news for Russia that it appears to be. Imports have crashed as more and more countries/businesses refuse to sell to Russia. That gives the country a trade surplus, which boosts the currency. But a lack of Western retail goods is depressing consumers, while lack of Western parts is working through the supply chain, hurting production.

Mitt Romney on the suggestion that Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling should make us back away from Ukraine.

Failing to continue to support Ukraine would be like paying the cannibal to eat us last.

you also might be interested in …

After endlessly demanding that Biden do something about the infant formula shortage, nearly all House Republicans voted against doing something. Meanwhile, Biden is airlifting formula from Europe, and has invoked the Defense Production Act to help get American production back up.

Every week, it seems, I could write a post called “January 6 was worse than you thought”. This week we found out that Ginni/Clarence Thomas’ corruption was worse than we thought. In 2020, Ginni was lobbying Arizona Republican legislators to ignore the voters and appoint their own slate to the Electoral College, invoking a fringe legal theory that her husband would undoubtedly have to rule on when it reached the Supreme Court.

And it turns out that Rep. Barry Loudermilk really did give Capitol tours the day before the January 6 insurrection, in spite of his previous denials.

Yes, there’s a new virus circulating: monkey pox. But it doesn’t seem nearly as contagious as Covid.

On his wannabee-Twitter platform Truth Social, former President Trump “retruthed” somebody else’s “truth” calling for civil war. Rep. Adam Kinzinger posted on actual Twitter:

Any of my fellow Republicans wanna speak out now? Or are we just wanting to get through “just one more election first…?”

and let’s close with some AI art

This week a Facebook friend shared images generated by putting Beatles’ lyrics into the Wombo app. I couldn’t resist doing something similar, so here’s what I got from “Buying a stairway to Heaven”.

Dystopia Now

That which is a sin within a certain set of religious beliefs is to be made a crime for all.

– Margaret Atwood, “I invented Gilead. The Supreme Court is making it real.

This week’s featured post is “White replacement is MAGA’s unified field theory“.

This week everybody we tried not to talk about our one million dead

If you’d told anybody at the beginning of this pandemic that one million Americans would die in it, their almost certain reaction would have been that we should do whatever we can to avoid that outcome. But we didn’t.

It was the Trump administration, so of course the existence and seriousness of the disease turned into a political issue, and the country polarized into those who wanted to do what we could and those who wanted to ignore the whole thing and get on with life.

The one thing Trump did right was support vaccine development, and once he got into office Biden pushed every way he could to get the country vaccinated. But the political polarization got in the way, as well as the by-then well established networks of medical disinformation. So almost a year and a half after vaccines were approved, only 78% have received any vaccination at all, 66% are considered fully vaccinated, and a mere 31% have gotten a vaccine booster. (I got my second booster a week ago. I’ve been fortunate; none of the four shots have led to any adverse reaction beyond a little soreness at the site of the injection.)

Mask mandates are gone almost everywhere, and voluntary mask usage is way down. (I still wear one when I’m indoors in public.) It’s like we’ve all given up.

As the virus evolves, the vaccines no longer do that good a job of preventing infection, but they’re still very effective at preventing serious illness or death.

Right now, cases are surging: The 90K reported cases is almost certainly an undercount. I personally know people who tested positive at home, had only minor symptoms, and quarantined until they got better. Their cases never made it into the official statistics.

Deaths are harder to ignore, so the numbers are more accurate. They’re staying down; they’ve been in the 300s per day for more than three weeks. Hospitalizations are up, but only 21% in the last two weeks.

so instead we talked about the shooting in Buffalo

The featured post is about the Buffalo race massacre on Saturday, how it resembles past race massacres, and the White Replacement Theory that has motivated all of them.

The Buffalo shooting overshadowed another shooting: six people got shot in a church in California.

and Russia’s bad week

Putin’s original plan, I imagine, was for his stunning military success in Ukraine to set NATO on its heels. The old Warsaw Pact countries and once-Soviet Baltic republics would tremble with fear, doubting that the US or Germany had the resolve to stand by them in a crisis. Conquest of Ukraine might be the hammer-blow that shattered the European alliance.

Instead, Ukraine has exposed the weakness of the Russian military machine, NATO has banded more tightly together, and the NATO countries have provided the Ukrainians with billions in advanced weaponry.

And now Finland and Sweden, which had no plans to join NATO before Putin’s Ukraine invasion, are about to apply for membership. Finland’s president and prime minister announced their intention to apply Thursday, and Sweden is expected to apply sometime this week. Accepting new members requires unanimous approval from the existing members (which makes sense, considering that everyone will be obligated to defend the new members once they join), and Turkey is expressing doubts; but most speculation is that Erdogan is looking to get some concessions, not that he really wants to block the new members.

The first Russian offensive had to retreat from Kyiv, and now the second is pulling back from Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv.

Another military failure this week happened Tuesday, when Ukrainian artillery destroyed a pontoon bridge Russian forces were using to cross the Siverskyi Donets river in eastern Ukraine. Reports seem to show an entire battalion wiped out, including dozens of tanks and other vehicles. Retired Australian Major General Mick Ryan did a tweetstorm on military river crossings in general and this disastrous one in particular.

Saturday, as their colleague Rand Paul delayed President Biden’s Ukraine aid package, Republican senators visited Kyiv, producing this photo op for Moscow Mitch and his buddies.

Folks on Twitter competed to caption the photo. The hands-down winner is Amy Berg: “This is the closest Russian operatives have gotten to Zelensky since the invasion started.”

Berg’s caption is a little unfair, given the mostly bipartisan support Ukraine has received in Congress so far. But the Sharpie-writing is on the wall, and Ukraine’s fight for survival will soon become a partisan issue. Back in March, only three GOP congresspeople refused to stand up to Russian aggression.

Little by little, however, with each proposal, a few more Republicans would sign up: eight Republicans opposed suspending trade privileges for Russia in mid-March; 17 Republicans opposed a resolution supporting Moldova, whose leaders fear their Ukraine-bordering nation could be Putin’s next target; 19 opposed a similar resolution in support for Georgia.

Then, on April 27, 55 House Republicans opposed legislation to build secure telecommunications networks in Ukraine and neighboring nations. Finally, on Tuesday,, 57 Republicans opposed President Biden’s request for $40 billion in weapons and humanitarian aid

Friday, Trump came out against the $40 billion. Who knows? He may yet get to build Trump Tower Moscow.

The WaPo points out that we’re experiencing mission creep in Ukraine. Originally, we were aiding the Ukrainians in hope that Russia wouldn’t take over the whole country. Now our rhetoric has shifted towards a Ukrainian victory.

and reactions to the prospect of losing abortion rights

The Senate failed to pass a bill codifying abortion rights at the federal level. The bill got 49 votes, with Joe Manchin and all Republicans voting against it.

The featured post covers the link between abortion (especially Senator Daines’ weird comparison to sea turtles and eagles) and White Replacement Theory. Fear for the future of the white race justifies the push towards a Handmaid’s Tale dystopia. (A fertility crisis was the presenting problem in the novel, if you remember.) We need to take away women’s rights, the theory goes, because White women are not doing their job. Recall the advice once given to British women with unappealing husbands: “Close your eyes and think of England.

This 2019 Onion article isn’t a joke any more: “Abused 12-Year-Old Alabama Girl Doesn’t Think She Can Handle Being A Mom On Top Of Everything Else“.

The Republicans’ most effective talking point against the Democrats’ codify-Roe bill concerns third-trimester abortions, which anti-abortion activists describe as “partial birth” abortions.

These abortions poll badly, largely because the public has been sold a false picture of them. It’s important to understand two things about late-term abortions.

  • They’re rare. In 2019, the CDC tabulated 4882 US abortions after 21 weeks of gestation, out of 491,901 total abortions, or less than 1%. An study from 2018 estimated that only about 160 happened after 28 weeks.
  • Each one is a special case, often involving unforeseen medical problems that either threaten the health of the pregnant woman or presage some hellish future for the fetus after birth.

NPR recounts the example of Dana Weinstein, whose doctors told her that her fetus’ brain was not developing properly:

“[We were told] that our baby would have seizures 70% of the time — that was a best-case scenario; that when we delivered her, that we’d need to have a resuscitation order in place because she would most likely seize to death,” Weinstein said.

Almost a decade later, Weinstein and her husband are the parents of three active children — a boy and two girls. She’s 48, living in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and working for a nonprofit.

She still tears up when she talks about that diagnosis and the difficult decisions that surrounded it. Fearing a short and painful life for their baby, Weinstein and her husband chose to travel to Boulder, Colo., to end the pregnancy, at one of the few clinics in the country that offer third-trimester abortions.

Weinstein has been speaking publicly about her experience for years. But she decided to tell her story again recently, amid renewed national debate over decisions like hers.

“I just don’t understand why and how this is so front and center in the national debate,” Weinstein said. “I would have given anything to have been able to help our baby live if she could have lived. But she was going to be incapable of that.”

Under the bills anti-abortion activists want to pass on the state level, Weinstein would have been forced to give birth and watch her daughter die painfully.

When you look at such real examples rather than hypotheticals, their messy complexity points out why these decisions have to be made case-by-case, by the people who are actually involved, and not by legislators dealing in abstractions or bureaucrats crafting one-size-fits-all rules.

Pete Buttigieg expressed things well in a 2019 Fox News town hall.

So, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a woman in that situation. If it’s that late in your pregnancy, that means almost by definition you’ve been expecting to carry it to term.

We’re talking about women who have perhaps chosen the name, women who have purchased the crib, families that then get the most devastating medical news of their lifetime, something about the health or the life of the mother that forces them to make an impossible, unthinkable choice.

That decision is not going to be made any better, medically or morally, because the government is dictating how that decision should be made.

Clarence Thomas says the leak of Alito’s draft opinion “changes the institution fundamentally. You begin looking over your shoulder.” @PopeHat seems not to have forgotten Anita Hill:

Yeah, imagine being constantly afraid a coworker would do something inappropriate

and primaries

Fascinating race on the Democratic side in Pennsylvania, which votes tomorrow. Rep. Conor Lamb is a model of the kind of Democrat party leaders like to run in swing states: “a congenial, manicured candidate straight from Hollywood central casting who could appeal to voters turned off by Trump while still wary of the party that opposed the 45th president”. Ex-military, a former prosecutor with moderate positions on wedge issues, he won his seat in Congress in a swing district special election in early 2018, and then held the seat in the 2018 fall election and in 2020.

But the polls say he’s losing badly to Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who takes more liberal positions on issues, but also is more of a character. One voter says he “has the ‘it factor’. I find him lovable.” Six-foot nine, wandering around in a Carhartt hoody and gym shorts, Fetterman says what he believes in very blunt, simple terms, and isn’t afraid to campaign in rural areas where Democratic candidates are seldom seen.

According to the longstanding right/left view of American politics, Lamb should be the better general-election candidate because he’s closer to the center on issues. But Fetterman has the common touch. The two candidates’ messages to swing voters are very different: Lamb isn’t crazy (like the Republican candidates are) and doesn’t take positions at odds with White working-class values (as Fetterman sometimes does). But Fetterman wants those voters to say, “He doesn’t always agree with me, but he gets me.”

I’d like to think that approach works. (It’s more-or-less what Jon Tester does. His views look centrist to Democrats nationally, but he’s way left-of-center for Montana.) I guess we’ll see in November.

As if all that wasn’t interesting enough, Fetterman suffered a stroke Friday. His campaign claims he is on his way to a full recovery. In a video taken in the hospital, Fetterman speaks clearly, but lets his wife do the bulk of the talking. (They’re cute together. She takes credit for making him get his symptoms checked out. “Because I was right, as always.”)

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that it wanted to make endorsements on the Republican side of tomorrow’s primary, but “we can’t” because so many Republican candidates aren’t “operating in the same reality” where the Inquirer lives. In particular, they had a hard time getting Republican candidates to admit that Joe Biden had won the 2020 election.

How do you find points of agreement when you can’t reach common ground on facts so basic that they could be used in a field sobriety test?

Case in point, on the national level: Third-ranking House Republican Elise Stefanik. (Remember? She replaced Liz Cheney as the token woman in the GOP leadership team when Cheney decided to be honest about January 6.) These days her whole Twitter feed is about the baby-formula shortage, and one tweet begins

The White House, House Dems, & usual pedo grifters are so out of touch with the American people

This is where the GOP has gotten: Members of leadership can associate the President and Democrats in general with pedophilia, without the slightest justification. Because, like, facts — who needs them?

BTW, about that baby formula shortage. One major cause is one of the Trump administration’s proudest achievements: the United States Canada Mexico Agreement. Remember? USCMA replaced that horrible NAFTA deal with an almost-identical deal that was great because it had Trump fairy dust sprinkled on it.

Jim Wright explains:

Three (or four, depending on your point of view) American companies control 90% of the global infant formula market, chief among them is Abbott Nutrition. When a Chinese company announced it was investing in a Canadian manufacturing facility to make powdered baby formula from excess Canadian skim milk powder (Canada makes a lot of butter, so they have a lot of leftover skim milk), Abbott and the US diary industry spent millions lobbying congress to change the trade rules — claiming increased Canadian production of formula would “negatively impact U.S. dairy trade and jobs.”

… And so, when the Trump Administration backed by a Republican congress wrote and implemented the USCMA to replace NAFTA, they imposed new regulations restricting commercial importation of baby formula from Canada

… So when Abbott contaminated its production line and was forced into a massive recall, well, for Americans, there just ISN’T any other place to get infant formula. And you can thank the dairy industry, and their lackies in Congress (and, yes, the [Trump] White House) for that.

Wright points out that you can import Canadian formula for personal use, but you might get into trouble if you resell it for a profit.

But whatever caused the shortage, Stefanik and Fox News have a piece of the solution: The US government should starve the immigrant babies in its custody.

The most charitable way to look at this argument is that the Republican politicians and Fox hosts making it don’t really want Biden to starve migrant babies to death – they are just cynically using the specter of fed migrant babies to anger desperate American parents for political gain and ratings.

and some other things you might be interested in …

On second thought, maybe Elon Musk won’t buy Twitter. Or maybe he will.

This weekend it got hot in Texas. Who could have foreseen such a thing? Not the people who manage the state’s power grid. Friday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas put out a statement asking people to turn their thermostats up to 78 and avoid running major appliances.

Industry groups of all sorts frequently sponsor studies about the cost of government regulations. Well, this is the cost of not having government regulations. In the free market, it’s always tempting not to prepare for unlikely scenarios. If they don’t happen, your quarterly numbers look better and your stock goes up. And by the time luck runs out, maybe you’ll have sold your shares or moved on to your next job.

Think you’ve worked for your company too long? This guy just turned 100, and he’s still with the company he joined when he was 15.

Fox News is furious at new White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre because in 2020 she called the network racist.

That’s known as “telling it like it is”. Fox would rather she be “politically correct” and spare its viewers’ sensitive feelings.

Remember John Durham and his assignment to investigate the people who had the temerity to investigate Donald Trump for colluding with Russia? Well, he’s still on that job — his investigation has already lasted more than a year longer than Bob Mueller’s.

And today he’s finally bringing a case to trial: He charges that lawyer Michael Sussman lied to the FBI when he brought the FBI information about suspicious internet traffic between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, which is owned by Russia. Not that he lied about the traffic; no, he’s supposed to have lied by claiming he wasn’t giving them the data on behalf of a client.

If you really care, Marcy Wheeler analyzes what a thin reed this indictment rests on. And TPM’s Josh Kovensky summarizes its significance:

If Durham secures a win, it’s not clear what would come next.

As Harry Sandick, a former federal prosecutor, told me, the case that Durham made against Sussmann doesn’t quite match up with traditional up-the-chain prosecutions, in which lower-level defendants flip on higher-ups.

“It seems to me less like a logical first step in an up-the-chain prosecution, and more like an attempt by a prosecutor to justify a tremendous amount of time and expense in an investigation,” he said.

and let’s close with puppies

It’s been a hard week. We deserve some puppies. These 11 golden retrievers are just one of 210 puppy photos from Bored Panda.

Deny and Disparage, Pervert and Betray

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

– U.S. Constitution, Ninth Amendment

To use a history of discrimination to deny people their constitutional rights is a perversion of logic and a betrayal of justice. … Women are indeed missing from the Constitution. That’s a problem to remedy, not a precedent to honor.

– Jill Lepore, “Of course the Constitution has nothing to say about abortion

This week’s featured posts are “What Alito Wrote” and “Who’s to blame for overturning Roe?

This week everybody was talking about overturning Roe v Wade

For Mother’s Day, my mom would like the activism of her youth not to be for nothing.

One featured post goes through what Justice Alito’s draft opinion says. Another lists the people to blame for this finally happening, assuming it does. Here I’m going to discuss the politics of the decision.

Republicans have been oddly silent about the approaching culmination of their decades-long effort to overturn Roe. At a rally in Pennsylvania Friday, Donald Trump talked for almost 90 minutes and mentioned abortion only in passing.

The reason they’re restraining their urge to crow is obvious: Yes, the GOP has accomplished something, but it’s not something the American people want. (How they managed that in a country widely regarded as a democracy is discussed in one of the featured posts.) For decades, people who favor at least some level of abortion rights have greatly outnumbered those who don’t, but anti-abortion voters have been more fervent. Many on the Right considered a politician who wanted to preserve Roe unacceptable, a baby-killer. But on the Left, abortion was somewhere in the middle of a laundry list of issues. Republican politicians talked endlessly about ending abortion, but for most swing voters life went on as before. The upshot was that, in spite of the polls, standing against abortion might win you more votes than it lost you.

Now that it’s actually happening, though, things are getting real. Parents in about half the states have to wonder: “What happens if my daughter gets pregnant?” Will she have to drop out of college to raise her rapist’s baby? Will she marry that guy she never should have gone out with in the first place? Can she really go through nine months of pregnancy and then give the child away? What if there are major birth defects? What if the pregnancy endangers her life? What if she gets desperate enough to seek out an illegal abortion, and then something goes wrong?

Younger women are realizing that their lives are no longer their own. A failure of birth control can wreck all their plans for the future. Married couples can no longer decide not to have children (as my wife and I did), and be confident their decision will stick.

All along, abortion has been a deal-breaking issue for the religious Right. Now it’s becoming a deal-breaker across the board.

But polls on abortion vary wildly, depending on how you ask the question. Asking about preserving Roe, as Gallup has in the graph above, is basically a proxy for maintaining the status quo, whatever it is. People who don’t understand exactly what Roe means are really saying, “I can live with things the way they are.”

Other polls get different results, though, because most Americans’ views on abortion are complicated. Practically no one (including a lot of people who will tell you otherwise, I suspect) really believes that an IUD commits murder when it prevents a newly fertilized ovum from implanting in the uterus, or that a clump of cells sitting in an IVF clinic’s freezer is a “baby”. A similarly small number are comfortable with the idea of a healthy woman aborting a healthy fetus that is only a few days away from a normal birth. Most of us sympathize with a woman who wanted a baby but whose life will be in danger if she carries her fetus to term. We have less sympathy for one who just couldn’t be bothered to use birth control.

So the answers you’ll get depend largely on the examples people imagine when they hear your question. Most women who get an abortion don’t publicize it, so until now the Right has largely been free to paint whatever picture it wants, especially to captive audiences like Evangelical congregations. But as more and more women are forced to bear children against their will, or start dying from illegal abortions, the real situation will be harder to hide. “What ever happened to Jenny?” you ask, remembering the bright ten-year-old you taught in Sunday school. And then someone tells you.

Based on little more than intuition, I suspect a large majority of Americans could accept this general framework, which is not terribly different from the status quo:

  • The moral value of life in the womb increases with time. A newly fertilized ovum evokes little empathy, a ready-to-be-born fetus a great deal.
  • Before the abortion option is closed off, a woman deserves a fair chance to discover that she is pregnant, to consider her situation, and to discuss the matter with people she trusts.
  • Given the growing significance of the fetus, the woman has a responsibility to make a timely decision.
  • She should be allowed to reconsider if significant new information becomes available about her own health or her potential child’s quality of life.

My own preference would be to keep the government out of the decision entirely, but I could live with this kind of compromise.

NPR’s “7 persistent claims about abortion, fact-checked” is essential to having an intelligent discussion of this issue. The part I found most surprising was the graph of abortions per 1,000 women of child-bearing age: The number of abortions did rise sharply between 1973 and 1980, but has been declining ever since. Today, there are fewer per capita abortions than in 1973.

The reason, if you chase their link to data from the Guttmacher Institute, is fewer pregnancies, presumably leading to fewer unwanted pregnancies. This is consistent with the abortion-prevention strategy that has been so successful in the Netherlands: Don’t drive abortion underground by banning it, but make contraception readily available and teach everyone how to use it. (That is, of course, the polar opposite of what the Religious Right wants to do in America. I have to suspect that they don’t really care about fetuses; they just want to control women’s sexuality.)

One of the more bizarre takes on the end of Roe came from the NYT’s Ross Douthat:

Worth noting that in the 50 yrs since Roe, men have become less likely to find a spouse, less likely father kids or live with the kids they father, and less likely to participate in the workforce.

Equally worth noting is that in less than two decades after Roe was decided, America won the Cold War.

If Ross thinks he can beat me in a non-sequitur contest, he needs to think again.

Because they don’t want to accept responsibility for the consequences of what they’ve done, Republican politicians want the national discussion to be about whoever leaked the Alito’s draft. The leak certainly violates normal court procedure, and deserves to get somebody fired or even disbarred. But unless you work at the Court, the leak’s significance doesn’t compare with being forced by law to carry a fetus to term.

In the cartoon below, Nick Anderson pokes at the hypocrisy of cheering a leak when an enemy of America does it to favor a presidential candidate (and potentially put the next president in his debt), but being outraged by the much less serious leak of Alito’s draft. (I would also point to the “Climategate” leak, where illegal hacking was just fine when it provided fodder for climate-change denial.)

If you do care about the leak, which I mostly don’t, the most solid theory I’ve heard is that there were actually three leaks: a conservative leaking the result to the Wall Street Journal, a leak to Politico of which justices voted which way, and then a liberal leaking Alito’s draft opinion to Politico.

and primary elections

Tuesday got us into primary election season. In Ohio, J. D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy, won a tight race for the Republican senate nomination with 32% of the vote. Vance’s win showed both the power and the limits of a Trump endorsement. 32% is not that impressive, but second-place Josh Mandel (24%) claimed to be even Trumpier than Vance. Matt Dolan, a non-Trump but not anti-Trump Republican, got only 23%.

Meanwhile, Democrats united around Tim Ryan (70%), who faces an uphill race in what is increasingly a red state.

and the pandemic

The numbers keep getting worse: new cases are up 50% in the last two weeks. Hospitalizations are up 21%. And the longest-lagging statistic — deaths — has turned upward as well, up 1%.

I would expect this wave to turn around first in the Northeast, because it started there earlier. But so far it hasn’t.

I also wonder how accurate these new-case numbers are, now that we have access to home tests. I think many people test positive, have mild symptoms, and just wait it out at home. Their cases never get into the statistics.

and Esper’s book

Trump’s final Defense Secretary Mark Esper has book coming out, titled A Sacred Oath. In it, he relates a number of anecdotes about President Trump that make him appear even more unfit for office than we already thought he was.

  • Trump proposed shooting missiles at drug labs in Mexico and denying we did it. “No one would know it was us,” Trump improbably suggested. Maybe it was one of those other missile-shooting countries.
  • In response to the George Floyd protests of police brutality that erupted in D.C., Trump wanted to put 10,000 troops on the streets. About the protesters, he asked: “Can’t you just shoot them?”

Esper also tells about bizarre suggestions from Trump advisor Stephen Miller, who wanted 250,000 troops sent to the southern border to meet refugee caravans, and proposed mutilating the corpse of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

What Esper doesn’t say is that he ever went to Vice President Pence and offered his support in invoking the 25th Amendment, which to me seems like the most rational response to his experiences. When NPR asked him why he didn’t resign, he said that he feared some “uber loyalist” would get his job and do the bad things he was stopping Trump from doing.

I am reminded of what James Comey wrote three years ago:

[Trump’s] outrageous conduct convinces you that you simply must stay, to preserve and protect the people and institutions and values you hold dear. Along with Republican members of Congress, you tell yourself you are too important for this nation to lose, especially now. …

Of course, to stay, you must be seen as on his team, so you make further compromises. You use his language, praise his leadership, tout his commitment to values.

And then you are lost. He has eaten your soul.

I have not read Esper’s book, but I suspect a better title would be How Trump Ate My Soul. It would probably also sell better.

and you also might be interested in …

The Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine continues, but we’re also hearing about Ukrainain counter-offensives. It’s hard to know who’s winning.

Many suspected that Putin would use the annual commemoration of the Russian victory over Nazi Germany to make some major announcement about the war, but he seems not to have.

Anonymous American “senior defense officials” have been taking some credit for Ukrainian successes. American intelligence helped sink the Moskva, and also has helped target Russian generals.

I share Josh Marshall’s trepidation about this:

What I take from these leaks is that there is a specific message the U.S. is trying to send the Russians. They have decided that these leaks are the best way to send that message. I’ve heard it suggested that the message is somehow connected to the May 9th Victory Day celebrations which many fear will be the pivot point for Putin declaring a national mobilization and expansion of the conflict. I have no idea whether that’s true. But this isn’t loose lips. It’s not bragging. It’s strategic and intentional. This is clearly a specific message being sent. I wish I knew what that was. Because on its face it seems like a very bad idea.

Student loan forgiveness is a topic that rings a lot of people’s bells, both positively and negatively. On the one hand, it’s crazy that getting an education costs students so much, and that we expect them to go into debt to cover it. The nation needs educated people, and the benefits go well beyond the students themselves. (When I go to my doctor, for example, I hope she got a good education.) Forgiving debt would be a way of acknowledging the mistake we’ve been making in the way we structure our educational system.

On the other hand, the issue seems almost tailor-made for the conservative politics of envy: Somebody who is already better off than you (because they went to college) is going to get a benefit you’re not getting.

The easiest target for envy is someone who is just slightly better off than you (or someone slightly worse off who might be gaining on you). Corporate welfare and trillion-dollar tax cuts for the ultra-rich seem abstract, but the idea that your cousin who went to college is going to get some debt forgiven, or that you could have gotten debt forgiven if you’d just waited longer to pay it off — it boils people’s blood.

Personally, I know that I got my education cheap, because I graduated from high school in the 1970s. Government contributed a lot more of a university’s budget in those days, so my parents were able to cover my state-university expenses without me taking on debt. In grad school, I got a fellowship from the NSF. So again, no debt.

Primarily, that’s not some virtue of mine, it’s the luck of when I was born. So I don’t begrudge student debt forgiveness now.

This farewell exchange between Fox News’ Peter Doocy and press-secretary-about-to-leave Jen Psaki reminds me of the old kind of politics, when competition didn’t imply personal animosity. Reporters didn’t used to be part of that political game, but the game was played like this.

and let’s close with something photogenic

Apple has an annual contest for macro photography. My favorite of the winners is this photo of strawberries dropped into a carbonated beverage.

Though I also like this close-up look at sea glass.


Ask yourself this question: If Russian journalists, who are losing their livelihoods and their freedom for daring to report on what their own government is doing, if they had the freedom to write any words, to show any stories, or to ask any questions, if they had, basically, what you have, would they be using it in the same way that you do? Ask yourself that question every day, because you have one of the most important roles in the world.

Trevor Noah, at the White House Correspondents Dinner

This week’s featured post is MAGA 2.0.

During my week off, I spoke at the Unitarian Church of Quincy, Illinois (my hometown). I converted the Sift post “How did Christianity become so toxic?” into a sermon “Where Christianity Went Wrong”. The text is here and the audio there.

This week everybody was still talking about Musk and Twitter

So far it looks like Musk’s takeover is really happening, though it still could fall through.

Like Adam Serwer, I am skeptical of Musk’s “free speech” rhetoric.

The fight over Twitter’s future is not really about free speech, but the political agenda the platform may end up serving. As Americans are more and more reliant on a shrinking number of wealthy individuals and companies for services, conservatives believe having a sympathetic billionaire acquire Twitter means one less large or influential corporation the Republican Party needs to strongarm into serving its purposes. Whatever Musk ends up doing, this possibility is what the right is actually celebrating. “Free speech” is a disingenuous attempt to frame what is ultimately a political conflict over Twitter’s usage as a neutral question about civil liberties, but the outcome conservatives are hoping for is one in which conservative speech on the platform is favored and liberal speech disfavored. …

The fact that conservative concerns about Big Tech vanish the second a sympathetic billionaire buys a social-media platform, however, illustrates the shallowness of their complaints about the power of Silicon Valley. Conservatives are not registering their concern over the consolidation of corporate power so much as they are trying to ensure that consolidation serves their interests. Put simply, conservatives hope that Twitter will now become a more willing vehicle for right-wing propaganda.

An issue that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention is that Musk-ownership links Twitter’s interests to Tesla’s. And Tesla builds and sells a lot of cars in China. What happens when the Chinese government demands favorable treatment on Twitter (or deplatforming of its critics), and threatens to shut Tesla down? If Musk thinks he’s too rich to push around, he should have a talk with Alibaba’s Jack Ma.

and more January 6 revelations

Few stories illustrate the corruption of the Republican Party like the recent Kevin McCarthy tapes. It started with a report in the new book “This Shall Not Pass” by NYT reporters Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, that shortly after the 1-6 insurrection, House GOP Leader McCarthy told other members of the leadership team that he was going to tell President Trump it was time to resign. McCarthy branded the report “totally false and wrong”, and his spokesman said “McCarthy never said he’d call Trump to say he should resign.”

Except that he did, and it’s on tape.

McCarthy has long since come crawling back to Trump, of course, and now he hopes for Trump’s support in becoming Speaker, should the GOP take the House majority this fall. You might think that Trump would be angry to find out that McCarthy was saying such things in private, but in fact he’s not.

Trump doesn’t need Republican leaders to believe in him. He just needs them to be spineless, and McCarthy is.

Texts exchanged before the election between Sean Hannity and Mark Meadows came out. Meadows, who was then White House chief of staff, gave Hannity instructions about what to stress on his radio show, to which Hannity replied “Yes sir.”

The texts show the kind of political subservience that CNN fired Chris Cuomo for. But Fox News’ standards are much lower, and Hannity has not been disciplined in any way.

The Manhattan grand jury investigating Donald Trump for possible fraudulent bank and tax fraud is expiring without issuing an indictment, making such charges unlikely, though the DA says investigations will continue. The Washington Post has published a summary of the various Trump investigations and where they stand.

and the line between church and state

The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of a football coach who led players in prayer on the 50-yard-line after games. His claim is that his prayers are private religious acts protected by the First Amendment’s free-exercise clause. I’m not sure why this private act needs to happen on the 50-yard-line, but the Court’s conservative majority didn’t seem bothered by this.

I will be more interested in the Court’s reasoning than in the decision itself. Whatever standard the justices use to find in the coach’s favor, does it apply to non-Christians, or is this yet another special right that Christians have and no one else does? It seems entirely implausible to me that we would be having this discussion if the coach were performing a Muslim or Hindu ritual.

The best thing I read about this case appeared in Baptist News Global, where the coach’s case was related to another recent story about Christians who turned a commercial air flight into a hymn-sing.

The common thread is performative Christianity that operates out of a place of assumed privilege. That is a privilege so taken for granted that the average American Christian has no clue they are swimming in it.

… The parallel to this, of course, is the thousands of evangelicals who have been trained — literally trained — to use places like airplanes to evangelize their seatmates. What Christians may see as a God-ordained witnessing opportunity, the poor seatmate may see as religious assault.

Such attitudes and actions from Christians are not evil, but they are misguided. And they originate from a place of assumed privilege. As I’ve written before, there’s an easy test to understand this: What if the roles were reversed and you, dear Christian, were seated next to an evangelizing Muslim or Hindu or Mormon or atheist? Would you afford them the same assumed privilege you claim for yourself? I don’t think so.

Modern Christians must understand that we live in an increasingly pluralistic society and that assuming Christian privilege actually does more harm than good. If you want to be a good witness for Jesus, this is not the way to do it. It is tone deaf and arrogant and rude — pretty much the opposite of every virtue of love described in 1 Corinthians 13.

Chaz Stevens, whose Twitter handle describes him as “stunt activist“, is responding to a new Florida law giving parents more input into school decisions by asking school districts across the state to ban the Bible.

On the one hand, he’s pushing precisely the point I was making above: The law needs to apply to Christians the same way it applies to everyone else. And he’s absolutely correct that the Bible describes murder, adultery, sexual immorality, and infanticide — stuff that would absolutely get any other book banned from Florida schools.

But at the same time, this tactic points out a strategic weakness in the secular position: We want to defend public schools, while Christian nationalists are looking for excuses to privatize them. Any tit-for-tat that drives public support away from the schools hurts us in the long run. If we ban their books after they ban ours, we’re still losing.

Meanwhile, Marjorie Taylor Greene says of Catholic Relief, an organization that assists immigrants: “Satan’s controlling the church.

In previous weeks, I’ve talked about the right-wing takeover of the public library system in Llano County, Texas, which resulted in firing a librarian who wouldn’t cooperate. Last week, residents sued in federal court, charging that books are being removed without public hearings or any other due process.

The Texas school district in Southlake got bad publicity last fall when an administrator was taped advising teachers to “balance” books about the Holocaust with opposing perspectives.

The school district has come up with a way to make sure that doesn’t happen again: A “non-disparagement clause” has been added to teachers’ contracts. The problem isn’t what the administrator said, it’s that somebody snitched to the press.

and the war in Ukraine

It’s too soon to draw a firm conclusion about how Russia’s Plan B — advance in the Donbas rather than try to take Kyiv — is going, but the early reports look familiar: slow progress and heavy losses.

The Economist has a fascinating article about the Russian army’s radio problems. They know how to make secure hard-to-jam radios, but they didn’t procure enough of them, so only elite units have them. When those units try to coordinate with less-elite units, they end up reverting to more primitive equipment, including off-the-shelf walkie-talkies. The Ukrainians intercept their communications, and sometimes jam them by broadcasting heavy metal music on the same frequencies.

This is one example of a larger logistical problem: Apparently the Russian procurement system is even less efficient and more corrupt than ours.

“They put a lot of money into modernisation,” says [retired Czech] General [Petr] Pavel. “But a lot of this money was lost in the process.”

and the pandemic

Reported cases per day in the US have doubled since they bottomed out at 26K on April 3. They’re now up to 56K. Hospitalizations turned up about two weeks later, as they usually do. They bottomed at 14.8K on April 18, and are now at 17.1K. The number of Covid patients in ICUs bottomed at 1886 on April 22, and is now 1985.

Deaths are still dropping, about four weeks after case numbers turned up, and more than a week after ICU patients bottomed. An average of 321 Americans are dying of Covid each day, down considerably from 2652 on February 1. I thought that might be unusual, but it appears not. The last time deaths turned upward was on November 30, 20 days after hospitalizations bottomed, and 18 days after ICU patients bottomed. That would suggest that we’re about 10 days from deaths beginning to increase.

and you also might be interested in …

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner was held Saturday. Trevor Noah’s monologue is worth the time.

Solar energy is booming in both Texas and California, but in different ways that reflect different styles of government.

Texas solar projects often come with a “batteries not included” designation. In the Lone Star State, among Interconnection Agreement-signed projects expected to reach COD through 2024, only 28% of the 120 solar projects with completed are solar + battery projects. Again, this compares to nearly 99% of solar projects in California.

California is aiming towards a future where renewable energy replaces fossil fuels, and that requires batteries. Otherwise, you still need fossil-fuel or nuclear plants to generate electricity when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.

and let’s close with something bookish

Back in the old days, the stereotypic librarian was a dowdy woman shushing anybody who spoke above a whisper. These days, though, a big part of a librarian’s job is doing silly things to encourage reading. Electric Lit has collected librarian music parodies, like “Unread Book” to the tune of “Uptown Funk”.


No Sift next week. The next new posts will appear May 2.

Consolidating control is not the way to protect democracy and enhance free expression

Samir Jain,
director of policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology

This week’s featured post is “Elon and Twitter“.

This week everybody was talking about Elon Musk’s bid for Twitter

That’s the subject of the featured post.

and the Ukraine War

Ukrainian missiles sunk the Moskva, a guided-missile cruiser that was the flagship of the Russian Black Sea fleet. Russia disputed claims that Ukraine was responsible, instead saying just that a fire broke out (which is undoubtedly true, if not complete). After initially saying it didn’t know, US intelligence eventually confirmed the Ukrainian account.

If you want to speculate on exactly how this happened, Naval News postulates a chain of Russian failures rather than one clever Ukrainian tactic.

Ukrainian forces are still holding on to the Azov Sea port of Mariupol, but it could fall at any moment. Currently, Mariupol is the only holdout between Russian forces in the Donbas and those in Crimea.

Eliminationist Russian rhetoric towards Ukraine (which I noted last week) is spreading. The Washington Post characterizes it as “genocidal speech” and gives these examples:

On state television, a military analyst doubled down on Russia’s need to win and called for concentration camps for Ukrainians opposed to the invasion.

Two days later, the head of the defense committee in the lower house of parliament said it would take 30 to 40 years to “reeducate” Ukrainians.

And on a talk show, the editor in chief of the English-language television news network RT described Ukrainians’ determination to defend their country as “collective insanity.”

“It’s no accident we call them Nazis,” said Margarita Simonyan, who also heads the Kremlin-backed media group that operates the Sputnik and RIA Novosti news agencies. “What makes you a Nazi is your bestial nature, your bestial hatred and your bestial willingness to tear out the eyes of children on the basis of nationality.”

WaPo searched for an expert assessment.

Ruth Deyermond, a Russia expert in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, said such arguments are “hard to read in any other way than a justification for mass killing. It’s extremely disturbing language and clearly has genocidal overtones. It’s not that they, Ukrainians, have a Führer or a political ideology or a Nazi system. They’re just Nazi.”

Long but interesting background reading: Retired Lieutenant General Mark Herling tells stories about his interactions over the years with both the Russian and Ukrainian militaries. When he first interacted with them, both were corrupt and inept. But the Ukrainians worked to get better.

A Finnish writer explains one way Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has backfired: Finland wasn’t planning to join NATO, but now many Finns think it must.

and the pandemic

I’ve described the last few weeks as a stalemate between the fading of the previous Covid wave and the start of the next one. The battle line was around 30K new cases per day.

This week the new wave made a decisive breakthrough. Cases are now running at about 38K per day. Hospitalizations and deaths are still headed downward. I’d expect hospitalizations to turn upward in a week or two, but whether deaths turn around is an interesting question. More and more of the infected people have at least some resistance from either a vaccination or a previous infection. Also, treatments keep improving. So maybe deaths, which have come down to about 500 per day from peaks over 3000 in January of 2021 and a recent peak over 2600 in early February of this year, can stay around 500 for a while.

Nate Silver tweets some interesting numbers:

Some tangible indications of the return to “normal” pre-pandemic social behavior in the US: Restaurant reservations = 100% of pre-pandemic levels MLB attendance = 100% of pre-pandemic levels Air travel = 90% of pre-pandemic levels

Tucker Carlson spoke at a church and told them he isn’t vaccinated, something he has never revealed before during his many anti-vax rants. Jimmy Kimmel doesn’t believe him:

Tucker Carlson is the vaccine equivalent of the guy on the Titanic who dresses as a woman to get on the lifeboat first. The sickest part is his audience is mostly scared and impressionable senior citizens, who happen to be the most vulnerable group when it comes to Covid. This is like selling Girl Scout cookies outside a diabetes clinic. But I’m glad to see the church welcoming prostitutes, as Jesus taught us to do.

and presidents’ relatives involved in corruption

I have to be careful about covering this topic without engaging in whataboutism. The fact that what Jared Kushner did is so much worse than what Hunter Biden is accused of is not an excuse for ignoring Biden.

Since the point of whataboutism is to avoid discussing something bad about your own side, let’s start with Hunter Biden. Frank Figliuzzi at MSNBC outlines what needs to be investigated there.

Hunter Biden’s contract with [Chinese energy company] CEFC is questionable not only because of the large sums involved in return for services that he appears ill-suited to provide, but also because of the characters it brought him in contact with.

Figliuzzi, a former counter-intelligence director at the FBI, sees this as part of a larger pattern of foreign adversaries attempting to form relationships with people close to powerful figures. Hunter Biden is supposed to have closed off business dealings with CEFC before his father became president, and

We may never know precisely what executives, said to be affiliated with the Chinese government, thought the Bidens could do for them.

But at a minimum this is an example of bad judgment. Democrats have been slow to take any of this seriously because the previous conspiracy theories about Hunter and Ukraine were so badly overblown. But if Biden did something illegal, the law should apply to him the way it would to anyone else.

Now let’s talk about Jared Kushner.

Six months after leaving the White House, Jared Kushner secured a $2 billion investment from a fund led by the Saudi crown prince, a close ally during the Trump administration, despite objections from the fund’s advisers about the merits of the deal.

… But days later the full board of the $620 billion Public Investment Fund — led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler and a beneficiary of Mr. Kushner’s support when he worked as a White House adviser — overruled the panel [of advisers].

Ethics experts say that such a deal creates the appearance of potential payback for Mr. Kushner’s actions in the White House — or of a bid for future favor if Mr. Trump seeks and wins another presidential term in 2024.

You don’t say. Hunter Biden was close to a powerful figure, and we can’t identify an actual quid-pro-quo. It looks like the Chinese just wanted to generally get in good with the Bidens.

Kushner, on the other hand, was himself a powerful figure who repeatedly did favors for the Saudis, and for MBS personally, while he was in office. And now he’s gotten his payment.

and culture wars

The Missouri House was debating an amendment that would ban trans students from school sports (one of several anti-trans bills in the Missouri legislature this term) when Ian Mackey, a gay Democratic legislator from St. Louis, blew his top. It’s worth listening to. Speaking directly to the amendment’s sponsor, Mackey said,

I was afraid of people like you growing up. … Gentlemen, I’m not afraid of you any more. Because you’re going to lose. You may win this today, but you’re going to lose.

State Rep. Martha Stevens, a Democrat from Columbia (site of Missouri’s flagship state university) also wasn’t inclined to be polite about Republican legislators scoring political points by attacking children.

It makes my blood boil and the same time it breaks my heart that children have to keep traveling to this capitol to face adults, elected officials, … that they have to come down here and justify their existence.

Both speeches are several minutes longer than those excerpts, and are well worth your attention.

Last month, I told you about a librarian getting fired in Llano, Texas because she resisted conservative censorship. Yesterday, The Washington Post added a lot of detail about the right-wing-Christian takeover of the Llano public library system.

“God has been so good to us … please continue to pray for the librarians and that their eyes would be open to the truth,” Rochelle Wells, a new member of the library board, wrote in an email. “They are closing the library for 3 days which are to be entirely devoted to removing books that contain pornographic content.”

[Local parent Leila] Green Little [who has started an anti-censorship group] said little is known about what administrators did during the time the libraries were closed. The book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” a work about systemic racism by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Isabel Wilkerson, has mysteriously vanished, and the fate of several other works remains unknown, she said.

A library board of political appointees is meeting secretly to make decisions about what books to keep or purchase.

An English teacher at Greenfield High School in Greenfield, Missouri has been fired for teaching “critical race theory”. Her offense was distributing a worksheet “How Racially Privileged Are You?” to prepare the class for reading the award-winning young-adult novel Dear Martin. (The novel is about a Black teen-ager in Atlanta who tries to make sense of his run-in with police, and more generally his life as a Black scholarship student in a predominantly White prep school, by writing a series of letters to the spirit of Martin Luther King.)

The worksheet is a list of 15 true/false questions for readers to answer about their own experiences, like: “I can go shopping alone most of the time and feel sure that I will not be followed or harassed.” and “I can be pretty sure that if I ask to speak to ‘the person in charge’ I will be facing someone of my own race.”

A letter from the Superintendent Chris Kell

stated this reason: “Your decision to incorporate the worksheet associated with the novel ‘Dear Martin,’ due to the content and subject matter.”

In a subsequent interview with the News-Leader, [Kell said the vote was not unanimous. He said the vote not to rehire Morrison went against his recommendation and that of the high school principal.

What probably drew complaints is the scoring scale at the bottom of the worksheet. The upper range of scores sits above the statement:

You are privileged. You may or may not know it. It means a lot of other people in the world don’t live life with the advantages you have, and that’s something you should always be aware of, as you can use your voice to help those who are marginalized.

Incidents like these make it clear what anti-CRT laws are trying to protect White students from: learning about the existence of racial privilege in America. It’s very important that White teens who “may not know” about their privilege remain ignorant.

The Florida Department of Education announced Friday that it is banning 54 of the math textbooks submitted for use in Florida public schools.

28 (21 percent) are not included on the adopted list because they incorporate prohibited topics or unsolicited strategies, including CRT.

FDoE’s announcement gave no examples to illustrate how the math books were teaching critical race theory. The Miami Herald explains the larger process, and why math books are the current targets:

The state has a textbook adoption cycle that rotates through subjects every six years. When buying books for their schools, districts turn to the state’s approved list to make sure they align with state standards. Next up is social studies, and many educators have predicted the effort will be more confrontational than in past years

In DeSantis Newspeak, textbooks have to be banned in order to stop “attempts to indoctrinate students”.

A lawsuit challenging Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law is calling out the law’s vagueness as implicit discrimination. While the text doesn’t specifically target LGBTQ discussions,

the law plainly isn’t intended to ban discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity related to “non-LGBTQ people.” It doesn’t intend to ban a teacher from presuming “the normalcy of opposite-sex attraction while teaching literature,” or to ban “run of the mill references” to people’s heterosexuality.

So the suit argues that under the measure, “anyone who discusses or acknowledges any aspect of LGBTQ identity must fear running afoul of the law,” while it’s “taken for granted that discussing heterosexuality or cisgender identity in school settings is perfectly fine.”

and you also might be interested in …

Easter humor is tricky, but some people manage to pull it off.

Alex Jones is trying to escape responsibility for his lies by declaring bankruptcy.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is backing away from his disruption of trade with Mexico. He has accomplished nothing, but the supply chain issues and increased inflation he caused will probably get blamed on Biden.

The Republican National Committee voted unanimously to pull out of the Commission on Presidential Debates, saving Trump the embarrassment of losing another debate in 2024. If Trump is the candidate, he will have to spend his entire campaign avoiding obvious questions, like why he tried so hard to hang onto power after he lost the election in 2020. His whole campaign will take place inside a bubble of sycophants.

The move is part of a decades-long trend on the Right: Any organization they don’t control must be biased against them. Recently Facebook has been showing me ads for a conservative rival of AARP, because any group that isn’t explicitly conservative must be “woke”. (The research I do on conservative issues sometimes confuses Facebook’s algorithms.)

Relationship coach Matthew Fray writes in Atlantic about his amazing discovery: When people you love tell you they’re unhappy about something, you should listen to them. (I don’t know how I’ve survived 38 years of marriage without the benefit of insights like this.) The book-length version of Fray’s startling wisdom came out last month.

On his Substack blog (which I subscribe to and recommend), James Fallows writes about DC’s ban on gas-powered leaf blowers. Banning these devices may seem like one of those laws whose main effect is to annoy homeowners, but actually it’s a big deal. In Fallows’ words:

  • The little pieces of equipment are a genuine concern. They are far and away the most-polluting form of machinery still in legal use. In California they produce more ozone pollution than all cars combined. They emit carcinogenic fumes. For neighbors, their unique noise might be irritating; for lawn crews, it can be deafening
  • They’re one more example of poorer people being exposed to greater environmental risks. The people breathing the fumes all day, and being battered by high-decibel sound within inches of their ears, are disproportionately low-wage and often non-English-speaking. They’re sacrificing themselves to keep some customer’s lawn pristine.
  • There are wholly practical alternatives, thanks to the battery revolution transforming all industries.

Fallows is also one of the best observers of news-media behavior. In this post, he discusses a number of topics in current framing:

  • How the mainstream media’s life-in-a-red-state lens colors all news from places like Texas, which are much more three-dimensional than they get credit for.
  • The pointless fixation on trying to predict how elections will come out, which pundits are bad at anyway. Unlike coverage of government or the mechanics of democracy, the value of even accurate predictions evaporates once there is a real outcome to report.
  • How all things Trump are graded on a curve. Attacks on democracy or financial corruption are just “Trump being Trump”, rather than the front-page stories they’d be if anyone else did the same things.
  • The important distinction between “tough” reporters who stage confrontations with powerful newsmakers, and authentically tough reporters who respectfully but firmly insist on getting their questions answered.

Jen Psaki sort-of defended Fox News reporter Peter Doocy on Pod Save America Thursday. The host asked her if Doocy really was a “stupid son of a bitch” (as President Biden said in a hot-mic moment in January and then apologized for), “or does he just play a stupid son of a bitch on TV?” Psaki answered that Doocy

works for a network that provides people with questions that, nothing personal to any individual including Peter Doocy, but might make anyone sound like a stupid son of a bitch.

So (in my words) Doocy is a victim of what we might call “systemic stupidity”. Psaki went on to tell “a nice Peter Doocy story”.

The President did call him a stupid son of a bitch, right? So, that happens and it was like, “oh, okay. That happened.” So, what do you do about it? The President called him. He’s talked about this a little bit. The President called and apologized and what have you. So, he went on TV that night and I actually watched Sean Hannity to see what he said. … But Sean Hannity asked him about the, you know, what the President had said and what he said back and he could have been like, “he is a son of a bitch” or, “I’m standing up for —” whatever. He could have said anything. And instead, he said, “you know, he called me. We had a really nice conversation. I’m just asking my questions. He’s doing his job.” So, I will say that was a moment of grace. You don’t have to like everything Peter Doocy says or does but that is certainly a moment of grace by Peter Doocy.

and let’s close with something

I’ve closed with Holderness Family song parodies before. In this one, Penn Holderness starts with the music from Dua Lipa’s “Levitating”, and turns it into an ode to his wife Kim’s different way of dealing with the world: “Introverting“.

Big War

What Putin has been doing for many, many years is building up to a big war. At a certain point, I felt crazy for saying it because the big war kept not starting. But the logic of his rhetoric, the logic of his actions, the logic of totalitarianism in general — all of these things required a big war.

Masha Gessen

This week’s featured post is “Why the Russians did it“.

This week everybody was talking about Russian atrocities in Ukraine

The atrocities, and why I believe in them, are discussed in the featured post.

Everyone is saying that the war in Ukraine has entered a new phase. The attack on Kyiv from Belarus appears to be over. Forces are being shifted to the Donbas region in the east, where Russia is trying to conquer the two Ukrainian territories that it has recognized as independent countries.

This is sort-of-good news. Putin seems to understand that the effort to conquer the whole country has failed, and is scrambling to achieve secondary goals that he could still spin as a victory. Without admitting any failures, Putin has replaced the invasion’s top general.

A Russian column has been reported headed towards Kharkiv. It’s not clear whether this force will do any better than the one that targeted Kyiv.

Military experts and western officials have also speculated that Putin’s generals are feeling the pressure to deliver some sort of results ahead of May 9, when Russia marks Victory Day, the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. But a fresh analysis from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a US-based think tank, casts some doubt on Russia’s ability to concentrate the forces needed to make a breakthrough in the Donbas.

“We assess that the Russian military will struggle to amass a large and combat-capable force of mechanized units to operate in Donbas within the next few months,” the analysis states. “Russia will likely continue to throw badly damaged and partially reconstituted units piecemeal into offensive operations that make limited gains at great cost.”

Fiona Hill has a book coming out soon. The story about her in the NYT Magazine makes connections between Trump’s first impeachment, 1-6, and Putin’s Ukraine invasion.

“In the course of his presidency, indeed, Trump would come more to resemble Putin in political practice and predilection than he resembled any of his recent American presidential predecessors.”

Hill found it dubious that a man so self-​interested and lacking in discipline could have colluded with Russia to gain electoral victory in 2016 … Still, she came to see in Trump a kind of aspirational authoritarianism in which Putin, Erdogan, Orban and other autocrats were admired models.

… Hill was at her desk at home on the morning of Jan. 6, 2021, writing her memoir, when a journalist friend she first met in Russia called. The friend told her to turn on the television. Once she did so, a burst of horrific clarity overtook her. “I saw the thread,” she told me. “The thread connecting the Zelensky phone call to Jan. 6. And I remembered how, in 2020, Putin had changed Russia’s Constitution to allow him to stay in power longer. This was Trump pulling a Putin.”

In the Economist, John Mearsheimer makes the blame-America case for the Ukraine invasion: We provoked Putin by raising the possibility that Ukraine could join NATO. I’m not convinced by that, because I don’t regard NATO-invades-Russia-for-no-reason as a credible fear; it’s been hard enough getting the alliance to unite in helping Ukraine defend itself. But Hill puts an interesting spin on that argument: Leaving Ukraine dangling as a maybe-someday NATO member was “the worst of all possible worlds”. We should either have let it in and helped defend it, or made it clear to Russia that NATO had no interest in extending that far.

and the larger lesson about autocracy

The most insightful thing I read this week was The.Ink’s interview with Masha Gessen, the Russian-American author who often writes for The New Yorker. She has written a biography of Putin, and a book-length account of contemporary Russian society. Her grasp of authoritarianism and totalitarianism reminds me of Hannah Arendt.

The opening part of the interview is focused on the Ukraine war and how it might play out. (Gessen takes the threat of nuclear war seriously, and believes that Putin, like Hitler, will not fall without bringing his country down with him. But, unless he dies soon of some other cause, he will fall.)

Then the discussion goes global, and this is the part I find most fascinating: Putin is part of a larger momentum towards right-wing autocracy, a wave that includes Orban in Hungary, Trump in the US, and Le Pen in France. Putin’s social rhetoric, she says, should be very familiar to Americans.

It’s how the American right weaponizes fear of your kids turning trans. It’s shorthand for the decadent West. It’s shorthand for the Other. It’s the promise of returning to an imaginary past when there was nothing that made you uncomfortable, like having to accept weird gender stuff and other queerness.

The message is: If you want to feel at home in the world again, if you want to feel at home in your country again, we have to get rid of this Western contagion. …

Erich Fromm very accurately describes preconditions for autocracy in Escape From Freedom. He wrote in the late 1930s and looked at extreme economic anxiety and mass displacement. Extreme economic anxiety related not only to hyperinflation in Germany but more broadly to a changing world, a world in which it was impossible for people to imagine who they’ll be and how they’ll live some years from now, or where their children will be. Those are conditions that are very much present in many parts of the world. There are kinds of societies and governments that try to address anxieties, and there are kinds that don’t. We definitely have the kind that doesn’t. I think that’s a culture-wide failure that isn’t concentrated on the right.

Is the point you’re making that, in a sense, the bad guys do address those kinds of anxieties whereas the good guys don’t?

Yes, that is the point I’m making. I think we see some attempts from the Biden administration to address those anxieties, but they’re meek, unconvincing, and unsustainable.

… What we need is recognition on the part of politicians that people all over the world are in this state of extreme anxiety, for very good reasons, and they need to be addressed as “my dears” [as the mayor of Kharkiv did recently]. We can’t just leave it to the bad guys to address the anxieties.

She sees Zelensky as a model, because he makes an FDR-like emotional connection with his people: He feels their fear and speaks to it, rather than telling them that everything is OK.

He models political speech. It is not about policy, and it is not about military strategy. It’s about people. No matter who he is addressing, he’s addressing people directly. He’s speaking directly to their experience.

and Justice Jackson

Thursday, Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first Black woman to be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. The vote was 53-47, with all 50 Democrats voting in favor. They were joined by only three Republicans: Collins, Murkowski, and Romney. Romney was the only Republican with the good grace to applaud for her.

Justice Jackson will take her seat this summer, when Justice Breyer’s retirement takes effect.

Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted that voting for Jackson’s confirmation made the Collins, Murkowski, and Romney “pro-pedophile“. I wasn’t going to make a big deal about that desperate plea for attention, but then it turned into this bru-ha-ha with Jimmy Kimmel. In his response, Kimmel coined a useful term: snociopath, a person who is both a sociopath and a snowflake.

and the pandemic

A tug-of-war is going on between the fading of the January wave and the start of a new wave. The result is case numbers that have been more-or-less flat for almost a month. Falling numbers in the Midwest and South have masked rising numbers in the Northeast.

Probably because the increase is in the highly vaccinated Northeast, deaths continue to fall nationally. (When cases rise in Mississippi, more people die than when cases rise in Vermont.) They’re now averaging 570 a day, cut about in half in the last month. Hospitalizations and ICU admissions are also still falling.

The Tyee, an independent news site from British Columbia, summarized a study in Nature of Sweden’s hands-off approach to Covid. The results were not good: Sweden’s death rate (though enviable by American standards) was four times its neighbor Norway. The Canadian writer finds parallels to

places like Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, B.C. and Ontario, where political leaders didn’t adopt consistent public health goals, withheld data and offered little transparency about the decision-making process.

Yeah, but did they push quack treatments, demonize researchers, turn public health into a partisan issue, hold super-spreader events, ridicule people who wear masks, and personally spread the virus to others, as our former president did? That could be why Canada’s total of 991 Covid deaths per million people will never catch the US’s 3026. More than 600K Americans would still be alive if we had handled the pandemic as well as Canada. That should be a national scandal.

and the Trump coup

Newly released text messages show that Donald Trump Jr. was already envisioning how his father could stay in power in spite of the voters on November 5, two days after the election and before any news organizations had declared a winner.

The November 5 text message outlines a strategy that is nearly identical to what allies of the former President attempted to carry out in the months that followed. Trump Jr. makes specific reference to filing lawsuits and advocating recounts to prevent certain swing states from certifying their results, as well as having a handful of Republican state houses put forward slates of fake “Trump electors.”

If all that failed, according to the Trump Jr. text, GOP lawmakers in Congress could simply vote to reinstall Trump as President on January 6.

“We have operational control Total leverage,” the message reads. “Moral High Ground POTUS must start 2nd term now.”

Arizona’s Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich reported on his six-month investigation into the 2020 presidential election in Arizona. He has uncovered no mass fraud that could have changed the outcome of the election.

By law, the State Department is supposed compile an annual list of gifts US officials receive from foreign governments. But there is no accounting of gifts to Trump or other White House people in 2020, because the Trump administration routinely flouted anti-corruption laws.

and the culture wars

When radical Christian lawmakers propose extreme bills that hurt people, liberal politicians have a tendency to go easy on them: They have sincere beliefs, they mean well, they’re basically good people, and so on.

Well, not in Nebraska this week. Senator Megan Hunt represents a blue district in Omaha and is term-limited out of running again, so she’s got no appearances to keep up any more. She successfully led a filibuster of an abortion trigger law that would kick in if the Supreme Court overturns Roe “in whole or in part”, as it’s expected to do in June. The bill would have outlawed killing fertilized ova in just about all circumstances, including rape, incest, ectopic pregnancy, and possibly in-vitro fertilization, depending on how judges interpret its language.

Hunt played political hardball: Her maneuvers prevented amendments that might soften the bill to get the last few votes needed to end debate. So her filibuster held by two votes.

Her speech on the floor of the state’s unicameral legislature didn’t pull any punches:

There is no scenario where this will be amended, because I got to it first. You guys pulled the wrong bill. If this bill advances, IPP motions [to indefinitely postpone activity] are going on the bills of every proponent, because to me, yeah, this is personal.

I am not a person who can say, if you think my 11-year-old should be forced to give birth, that we can still be friends. I don’t understand a person who can say something like that. Maybe it’s a person who can’t give birth. Maybe it’s a person who’s never been raped. Somebody who doesn’t have a clue what it is to go through it. …

In life, sometimes we go through things where we have to draw a boundary. It is healthy for me, as a mother, as a rape survivor, to draw a boundary and say if you think that my child should be forced to give birth, you are not my friend.

And if I go to the Pearly Gates and meet your God someday—which sounds great, I hope I do—I don’t think I’m gonna get in any trouble for killing all of your bills who vote for this. I don’t think your God’s gonna have any problem with that. And I don’t think I’m gonna see any of you there either.

The guy who started the Republican panic about critical race theory is now planning a direct attack against public schools and public universities. “To get universal school choice,” he says, “you really need to operate from a premise of universal public school distrust.”

By belatedly objecting to Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law, Disney has made itself a target for conservative authoritarians.

Remember: In other contexts, conservatives believe that corporations are people and have a right to their own moral views. That’s why the Obama administration wasn’t allowed to make Hobby Lobby pay for birth control.

Now, if conservative individuals don’t want to do business with Disney any more, that’s their right. I’m fine with them declaring a boycott and trying to get people to unsubscribe from Disney Plus. It’s hypocritical to do that while denouncing “cancel culture”, but hypocrisy is not illegal. (I should mention here that I own some small amount of Disney stock. I don’t think it’s affecting my view of this situation, but full disclosure and so on.)

However, threats to retaliate against Disney by using government power in unrelated areas — that’s corrupt; it’s basic machine politics. Government power should be wielded for the benefit of citizens, and not to further partisan political goals. So it’s corrupt for Governor DeSantis to threaten to revoke the special local-government status of Disney’s holdings in Orlando. (As a protection racketeer might say: “Nice park you got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it.”) And Fox News host Laura Ingraham was promoting corruption when she said:

when Republicans get back into power, Apple and Disney need to understand one thing: Everything will be on the table–your copyright and trademark protection, your special status within certain states, and even your corporate structure itself.

I can only imagine Ingraham’s howl of rage if President Obama had similarly declared war on Hobby Lobby for getting in his way, or on Koch Industries because the Koch brothers contributed to conservative political campaigns. (That’s exactly what Trump repeatedly tried to do to Amazon to get back at Jeff Bezos for letting The Washington Post criticize him. But we already knew Trump was corrupt.)

(BTW: I have long opposed Congress’ repeated moves to extend copyright just as Mickey Mouse approaches the public domain. Lawrence Lessig is right about this. If the current conservative temper tantrum gets us a sensible copyright law, that would be good.)

Friday, Alabama became the latest state to pass laws targeting trans teens. Alabama’s SB184 is only 11 double-spaced pages, so you can read it for yourself. The bill makes a Class C felony out of medical treatments

performed for the purpose of attempting to alter the appearance of or affirm the minor’s perception of his or her gender or sex, if that appearance or perception is inconsistent with the minor’s sex as defined in this act

The banned treatments include puberty-blocking drugs, cross-sex hormones, and surgery.

The law justifies itself by claiming “Some in the medical community are aggressively pushing for interventions on minors”, and arguing the state knows better than either doctors or parents do. (Conservatives often claim to support “parental rights”, but that’s only when they approve of the parents’ decisions.)

Minors, and often their parents, are unable to comprehend and fully appreciate the risk and life implications, including permanent sterility, that result from the use of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and surgical procedures.

Section 4b creates an exception for surgeries that attempt to turn intersex infants into boys or girls. (Conservatives only support “nature” when nature does what they want.)

Section 5 of the law forces nurses, counselors, teachers, and administrators at public or private schools to violate their students’ trust. They are forbidden to

(1) Encourage or coerce a minor to withhold from the minor’s parent or legal guardian the fact that the minor’s perception of his or her gender or sex is inconsistent with the minor’s sex.

(2) Withhold from a minor’s parent or legal guardian information related to a minor’s perception that his or her gender or sex is inconsistent with his or her sex.

Governor Ivey also signed HB322, which is just four pages. Section 1 of that bill requires public schools to segregate multiple-person bathrooms and locker rooms by sex. Students must use the facilities associated with the sex specified by their birth certificates.

Section 2 is a don’t-say-gay provision:

An individual or group of individuals providing classroom instruction to students in kindergarten through the fifth grade at a public K-12 school shall not engage in classroom discussion or provide classroom instruction regarding sexual orientation or gender identity in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.

It also requires the State Board of Education to establish such standards. (As with parental rights, local control is only a conservative value if local officials do what conservatives want.)

Reason eventually prevailed in Starr County, Texas: The woman arrested for murder after she had a miscarriage will not be prosecuted. She was charged with murder when the hospital reported to the county sheriff’s office that the miscarriage was self-induced. The local DA later announced that this was “not a criminal matter”. It was never clear exactly which law was being enforced.

Texas Public Radio has details.

Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, said it was also troubling that this incident began with hospital staff making a report to police.

“We should not be living in a country where people who get pregnant are afraid to go for help at a hospital, because somebody there will turn them in or might turn them in, and it will result in arrest,” Paltrow told TPR.

Apparently there are some depths that Republicans are not willing to sink to yet. The Republican Party of Hampton, Virginia tried to remove the local Republican electoral board chair after his Facebook post assailed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and retired three-star general Russell Honoré as “dirty stinking ni**ers” (without the asterisks) and recommended “a good public lynching” as “the best way to pull us back from the brink”.

That seems to be a step too far, at least for now. The Hampton GOP has revoked his membership and returned his contribution. But I’ve got to wonder how this guy managed to rise so far without anyone noticing he was a raving bigot.

The official in question, David Dietrich, refused to resign until Governor Youngkin stepped in. Dietrich faulted Austin for his attempts to remove White nationalists (who Dietrich characterizes as “conservative, freedom-loving Americans”) from the military. Honoré’s sin was to accept Speaker Pelosi’s invitation to review Capitol security infrastructure in the wake of the 1-6 insurrection. Dietrich says Honoré, who is Creole, sounds like “a Black nationalist”.

and you also might be interested in …

With hardly anybody noticing, the economy continues to do quite well. New claims for unemployment last week came in at the lowest level since 1968.

Europe is reconsidering nuclear power. The Ukraine war is causing European countries to question their dependence on Russian natural gas. According to Grist

Roughly one-fourth of Europe’s energy comes from natural gas, and as much as 40 percent of it flows from Russia.

If you do the math, 10% of Europe’s energy comes from Russian gas. There are ways to replace that 10%, but they’ll take time: increasing renewable power (which is already ramping up, but not fast enough), and importing liquified natural gas from places like the US (the port facilities for unloading it aren’t adequate yet). Europeans could turn down their thermostats, but that’s not going to be a popular solution.

In addition, the prospect of replacing gas-powered cars with electrics requires more generating capacity, not just maintaining the current capacity.

Normally, you wouldn’t think of nuclear power as a quick solution, because nuclear plants take a long time to approve and build. But Europe has recently decommissioned a number of plants, and more are scheduled to close over the next few years. Restarting the closed nuclear plants and extending the life of those still online would indeed provide a short-term boost over currently anticipated generating capacity.

Not everyone likes this idea, of course. Disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima loom large in European thinking, as they should. The Grist article is a pretty well balanced look at the pros and cons.

A guy who has bounced around from one working-class job to another, and now cleans carpets, has a remarkable knack for languages. He speaks 24 languages, and has a lower-level understanding of many more. He didn’t set out to break any records, he just wants to understand what people are saying.

Proposed mergers involving smaller airlines Jet Blue, Spirit, and Frontier are a challenge to regulators. Air travel is dominated by four big carriers: United, American, Delta, and Southwest. Either of the proposed mergers would create a fifth large airline. Is that good or bad for competition in general?

and let’s close with something stupid

We should all be more familiar with economist Carlo Cipolla’s work on human stupidity. Cipolla had a very succinct definition of stupid people: those who cause harm to others without benefit to themselves.

Cipolla’s Five Laws of Stupidity are:

  1. Always and inevitably, each of us underestimates the number of stupid individuals in the world.
  2. The probability that a certain person is stupid is independent of any other characteristic of the same person.
  3. A stupid person is one who causes harm to another person or group without at the same time obtaining a benefit for himself or even damaging himself.
  4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the harmful potential of stupid people.
  5. The stupid person is the most dangerous person that exists.

Cipolla’s theory leads to this four-bin categorization:

My one quibble with this model is in the upper left quadrant, which should be divided: If you understand that you are harming yourself to help others, you are generous. But if you don’t, you are gullible, and are probably being victimized by a bandit.

Limitations of Experience

No Sift next week. The next new articles will appear on April 11

He characteristically would tell us things that we knew but would rather forget; and he told us much that we did not know due to the limitations of our own experience.

Supreme Court Justice Byron White
“A Tribute to Justice Thurgood Marshall”

This week’s featured post is “Where Does the Religious Right Go After Roe?

How did Christianity become so toxic?“, from two weeks ago, was one of the rare posts to have a bigger second week than its first. It has now gotten over 17,000 page hits, and is still running. That puts it in 13th place on the Sift’s all-time hit list, mostly behind posts from the era when Facebook algorithms let links go viral more easily.

This week everybody was talking about Judge Jackson

The televised interviews with the Judiciary Committee are over now. The committee vote on Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination is planned for April 4, and she seems likely to pass on a party-line vote.

The full Senate will vote sometime after that. She can be approved with only Democratic votes. So far, no senator of either party has announced a decision to break ranks. Senator Manchin recently came out in support, which probably means she’s in, though Senator Sinema still hasn’t committed herself.

Charles Blow pointed out how far the Senate has gotten from its constitutional duties. The point of the confirmation hearings on Judge Jackson’s nomination has never been to examine her qualifications or judicial philosophy. The point, rather, is to “put on a show”.

Lindsey Graham and various other Republican senators used the hearings to air their issues with Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. But from my point of view, comparing those hearings makes a very different point: If you’ve ever wondered what white male privilege consists of, the contrast between the two hearings makes it obvious.

Judge Jackson had to be responsive, civil, and under control at all times, while Republican senators frequently interrupted her or talked over her. Kavanaugh, on the other hand, was free to go on a partisan rant, push a conspiracy theory, cry and express anger, lie and misdirect, and throw hostile questions back at his questioners. A Black woman could never get away with that kind of behavior.

The Republican senators at the hearing knew they were using smear tactics. Ted Cruz, for example, tied Jackson to books that are used at a private school where Jackson serves on the board (as if she had personally selected those books). He then misrepresented the books.

GOP senators repeatedly referenced Wesley Hawkins, an 18-year-old who Judge Jackson sentenced to three months prison, three months home detention, and six years of supervision because he possessed child pornography. He’s now 27 and has not been charged with anything since. The WaPo detailed his case and talked to him.

One popular falsehood I’ve heard during the hearings is that conservatives believe in judicial restraint while liberals want to expand judicial power. WaPo’s Henry Olsen put it like this:

Democrats favor the court expanding its jurisdiction into political matters; Republicans favor a restrictive view, generally deferring to democratically elected bodies at all levels of government rather than making the court the final arbiter of public policy. This is one of the most important political issues of our time.

If that was ever true, which I doubt, it certainly is not true now.

One case this week demonstrated how conservative justices are reaching for power: Three conservative justices — Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch — tried to insert judges into the Navy’s chain of command, undercutting President Biden’s role as commander-in-chief.

Another right-wing judicial power grab is the push for “nondelegation“, a theory under which Congress cannot delegate regulatory power to agencies of the executive branch like the EPA or the SEC. In practice, this makes the Supreme Court the ultimate regulator, as it decides which regulations are or aren’t sufficiently specified by Congress’ authorizing legislation.

And finally, we can’t ignore the two places where conservative justices regularly invent new rights: for corporations and for right-wing Christians. Corporations are not mentioned in the Constitution, and yet conservatives are constantly defending their right to influence elections or to act on their religious convictions as “corporate persons“. And right-wing Christians (but not other religious groups) are held to be largely exempt from laws they don’t like.

and Ginni Thomas

People who pay attention have known for years that Ginni and Clarence Thomas were a scandal waiting to happen: Ginni is a right-wing political organizer, and she runs a profit-making lobbying firm. Her husband Clarence is a Supreme Court justice who rules on cases that sometimes overlap with Ginni’s interests. That’s been going on for years. The New Yorker detailed the ethical problems the Thomases raise back in January. The NYT Magazine followed in February.

What’s new this week are text messages she exchanged with Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows during the period between the election and the January 6 riot.

The messages — 29 in all — reveal an extraordinary pipeline between Virginia Thomas, who goes by Ginni, and President Donald Trump’s top aide during a period when Trump and his allies were vowing to go to the Supreme Court in an effort to negate the election results.

Ginni encourages Meadows (and Trump) to “stand firm” against “the greatest Heist of our History”. She gives strategic legal advice on a case that her husband might have needed to rule on.

Among Thomas’s stated goals in the messages was for lawyer Sidney Powell, who promoted incendiary and unsupported claims about the election, to be “the lead and the face” of Trump’s legal team.

She repeatedly embraced the most bizarre and baseless conspiracy theories about the election.

Ginni has admitted attending the January 6 rally, but claims to have left early, before the assault on the Capitol.

Clarence was the lone dissent in an 8-1 decision not to hear Trump’s objections to the National Archives delivering documents to the January 6 Committee. The Ginni/Meadows texts were not part of that trove, but his wife’s involvement certainly creates a strong appearance of impropriety.

and Ukraine

This week Ukraine has been pushing back Russian troops threatening Kyiv, while Russian forces continue to make slow progress in the eastern part of the country.

Russia is now claiming that everything has gone according to plan.

“The main objectives of the first stage of the operation have generally been accomplished,” Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate, said in a speech Friday. “The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which … makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbas.”

Of course, the combat potential of the Russian forces has also been reduced, which probably wasn’t part of the plan. Maybe this announcement means that Russia has scaled down its ambitions and no longer intends to conquer the entire country. Or maybe the speech is just noise. It’s always hard to tell.

Karolina Wigura and Jaroslaw Kuisz write in the NYT about the divide within NATO. Everybody supports Ukraine against Russia, but the former Warsaw Pact countries in the East frame the issue differently than NATO’s original members in the West, including the United States.

For Western countries, not least the United States, the conflict is a disaster for the people of Ukraine — but one whose biggest danger is that it might spill over the Ukrainian border, setting off a global conflict.

For Central and Eastern European countries, it’s rather different. These neighbors of Russia tend to see the war not as a singular event but as a process. To these post-Soviet states, the invasion of Ukraine appears as a next step in a whole series of Russia’s nightmarish assaults on other countries, dating back to the ruthless attacks on Chechnya and the war with Georgia. To them, it seems foolhardy to assume Mr. Putin will stop at Ukraine. The danger is pressing and immediate.

While the West believes it must prevent World War III, the East thinks that, whatever the name given to the conflict, the war against liberal democratic values, institutions and lifestyles has already started. …

NATO’s cautious steps look to many Central and Eastern Europeans like an echo of the phony war of 1939, when France and Britain undertook only limited military actions and did not save their eastern ally, Poland.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas summed up the Eastern view:

At NATO, our focus should be simple: Mr. Putin cannot win this war. He cannot even think he has won, or his appetite will grow.

Elliot Ackerman is a former Marine and intelligence officer writing for The Atlantic. He had an enlightening conversation with a former Marine now fighting for Ukraine about the way weapons like the Javelin missile have changed the tactics of warfare.

When Ackerman was in Fallujah in 2004, Abrams tanks were key in the infantry’s advance into the city — a role the tank has played since it was invented in World War I to lead soldiers over enemy trenches.

On several occasions, I watched our tanks take direct hits from rocket-propelled grenades (typically older-generation RPG-7s) without so much as a stutter in their forward progress. Today, a Ukrainian defending Kyiv or any other city, armed with a Javelin or an NLAW, would destroy a similarly capable tank.

If the costly main battle tank is the archetypal platform of an army (as is the case for Russia and NATO), then the archetypal platform of a navy (particularly America’s Navy) is the ultra-costly capital ship, such as an aircraft carrier. Just as modern anti-tank weapons have turned the tide for the outnumbered Ukrainian army, the latest generation of anti-ship missiles (both shore- and sea-based) could in the future—say, in a place like the South China Sea or the Strait of Hormuz—turn the tide for a seemingly outmatched navy. Since February 24, the Ukrainian military has convincingly displayed the superiority of an anti-platform-centric method of warfare.

They also discussed the difference in philosophy between the Russian and the more NATO-style Ukrainian command structures.

Russian doctrine relies on centralized command and control, while mission-style command and control—as the name suggests—relies on the individual initiative of every soldier, from the private to the general, not only to understand the mission but then to use their initiative to adapt to the exigencies of a chaotic and ever-changing battlefield in order to accomplish that mission.

The Russian system breaks down when soldiers wind up in situations that make it impossible to carry out their specific orders. (As orders to go to a particular place break down when the roads are jammed with traffic.) They can’t improvise effectively, because they don’t know what the larger mission is.

Wednesday, the NYT and CNN published articles about US contingency planning for scenarios where Russia escalates to nuclear, chemical, or biological warfare. It’s very hard to tell how seriously to take this possibility.

Dictators have a long history of playing chicken with democracies, figuring that a leader not accountable to public opinion has more room to take risks, so he will be able to get elected leaders to back down. This is basically the story of Hitler and the West prior to his attack on France in 1940.

He is the very model of a Russian major general.

and the pandemic

Last week I wondered if we were in the eye of the storm. This week the trend definitely seems to have turned: After two months of steep drops in the number of new Covid cases, the curves look like they’re turning upward again.

Last week, new cases per day were running just under 30K, this week they’re just over. If you use a two-week window, that’s still a 12% decline. But the national flattening out over the last week hides the fact that cases have turned upward in the parts of the country that usually lead the statistics (New York City, for example), but are still falling in parts that lag.

This is personal to me. My wife takes a cancer-survivor drug that can have immune-suppressing side effects, so we’ve been especially cautious during the pandemic. And though I’ve started to enjoy cooking during the pandemic, I still miss the days when we ate out often. (Take-out is not the same.) A few weeks ago we made a judgment: If new-cases-per-100K in our Boston-suburb county got into single digits, we could eat indoors at restaurants if we avoided the times when they’re crowded.

We didn’t get there. Our county’s number bottomed out at 11 sometime last week, and is now back up to 16. This morning it’s snowing again, and outdoor dining seems far away.

and anti-LGBTQ oppression

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sent the Austin Independent School District a letter informing them of his opinion that their Pride Week is illegal.

By hosting “Pride Week”, your district has, at best, undertaken a week-long instructional effort in human sexuality without parental consent. Or, worse, your district is cynically pushing a week-long indoctrination of your students that not only fails to obtain parental consent, but subtly cuts parents out of the loop.

AISD says the focus of its Pride Week is “creating a safe, supportive and inclusive environment”, not teaching about human sexuality. Apparently, Paxton can’t see the difference between teaching students to accept one another and teaching them how to perform sexual acts.

The district shows no signs of giving in; the superintendent tweeted back:

I want all our LGBTQIA+ students to know that we are proud of them and that we will protect them against political attacks

Paxton, you may recall, also opines that gender-affirming therapy is child abuse, and was investigating nine Texas families with trans children until a state court made him stop.

After he’s done persecuting children and their families, I have to wonder how much time he has left to do his job as the state’s chief law enforcement officer.

If you want to know where right-wing rhetoric about schools “grooming” children for pedophiles is headed, look at Mississippi’s former legislator and gubernatorial candidate Robert Foster, who tweeted:

Some of y’all still want to try and find political compromise with those that want to groom our school aged children and pretend men are women, etc. I think they need to be lined up against wall before a firing squad to be sent to an early judgment.

When Mississippi Free Press requested an interview to discuss this, Foster messaged back:

I said what I said. The law should be changed so that anyone trying to sexually groom children and/or advocating to put men pretending to be women in locker rooms and bathrooms with young women should receive the death penalty by firing squad.

So if you’re advocating for trans people to choose their own bathrooms, or trans women to be allowed to compete in women’s sports, you should be shot. Or let me boil that down further: I should be shot. Maybe you should be shot too.

It’s hard to come up with the right response to stuff like this, because real pedophiles do exist, just not with anything like the numbers or the organizational power of Foster’s fantasies. In the same way, there were a handful of real Soviet spies during the Red Scare, and probably some tiny percentage of the six million Jews Hitler killed were up to no good.

To be fair, this guy is nobody. He didn’t get nominated for governor, and there are a lot of crazy former state legislators out there. But Florida Governor DeSantis’ spokesperson has also described opponents of the Don’t Say Gay bill (that’s me again) as “groomers”.

If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children. Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn’t make the rules.

Foster is just pointing out where that kind of thinking leads.

The WaPo calls attention to books quietly vanishing from school library shelves. Administrators are ignoring the defined processes for dealing with complaints and just pulling books without any process, often over the objections (or without the knowledge) of librarians.

And after the school libraries are purged, they’ll come for the public libraries. Llano County, Texas just fired a librarian for refusing to remove books. KXAN quotes a library patron as saying “There are very clear rules that should be followed with regards to censorship to books in the public library, those rules were not followed.”

and you also might be interested in …

If you missed the Oscars, CODA won as best picture. Here’s a list of all the other winners.

One reason more and more Republicans feel they need to move on from Donald Trump is that he is stuck in the past; he’s still fixated on his crushing defeat in the 2020 election, which he lost by 7 million votes.

Well, this week he moved on from 2020, but in the wrong direction: to 2016. He’s filed a lawsuit in a Florida federal court against, as TPM puts it, “Everyone Who Ever Offended Him Over 2016 Election”.

At the core of Trump’s claim is the idea that Clinton ordered others to spread lies about him regarding Russia and the 2016 election. With Clinton at its head, the argument goes, a vast conspiracy to deprive Trump kicked into action, featuring people and entities that have populated Trump’s rhetoric since before he won in 2016 and, subsequently, right-wing media.

They include Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that the lawsuit accuses of creating “false and/or misleading dossiers” to damage Trump’s chances in the election.

Jim Comey, the former FBI director, makes the cut to be a defendant, as do FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. The DNC and its 2016 chief, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, also show up as defendants.

WaPo’s Phillip Bump points out the most ridiculous aspect of the suit: In order to “prove” that Clinton masterminded a conspiracy to manufacture a Trump/Russia “hoax”, the suit quotes from DNC emails illegally hacked by Russia to benefit the Trump campaign.

Whenever Trump’s 2016 conspiracy theory comes up, I feel obligated to repeat the established facts:

  • Russia did help Trump get elected in 2016.
  • That Russian effort included crimes, such as hacking computers at the DNC, and distributing illegally obtained emails through WikiLeaks during the fall campaign.
  • Trump knew Russia was helping him, to the point of saying in public “Russia, if you’re listening …”.
  • The Trump campaign had two major interfaces with the Russian effort: campaign manager Paul Manafort, who had been paid millions of dollars by Russian oligarch Oleg Derapaska, and long-time Trump ally Roger Stone, who was the campaign’s link to WikiLeaks. Neither man cooperated with the Mueller investigation, and Trump rewarded both of them with pardons.

In view of all that, and the likelihood that Trump would have to answer questions under oath if the suit made it to trial, probably the point is to scam more money out of his followers.

Oh, and they’re still trying to make a thing out of Hunter Biden’s laptop.

Belarus has granted asylum to a man charged in the January 6 insurrection. Putin’s allies consider people who rioted to keep Trump in power after he lost the election to be political prisoners.

In case you were still doubting that Mike Flynn is insane, he buys into the Bill-Gates-wants-to-microchip-you theory. The following picture is not authentic.

Vanity Fair has the sordid story of how the conservative Project Veritas obtained Ashley Biden’s diary.

If you ever watched the TV series Heroes, and if you had witnessed the scuffle involving actress Hayden Panettiere Thursday, could you have resisted calling out “Save the cheerleader!”?

and let’s close with some literal interpretation

This Dad assigned his kids the task of writing instructions for making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He then followed their instructions as literally as possible, with amusing results.

While I think this exercise taught the kids a valuable lesson, I predict Dad will soon regret having done it, as the kids will start following his instructions literally as well. “You told me to go to school. You didn’t tell me to go inside the school.”

Whose House?

It’s not Russian airspace. It’s Ukrainian airspace.

– former NATO commander Wesley Clark
commenting on a no-fly zone over Ukraine

This week’s featured post is “About Those Gas Prices“. Last week’s “How did Christianity become so toxic?” is the most popular Sift post since last October’s “Reading While Texan“.

This week everybody was talking about Ukraine

From the NYT: Russian forces advance slowly in the East and South, but are stalled in the North.

This week, the conventional wisdom began entertaining a question that seemed absurd a few weeks ago: Could Russia actually lose this war?

Early on, everyone took for granted that Russia’s military superiority over Ukraine meant that of course they would eventually overrun the entire country, just as the US had overrun Iraq. The question then would shift (as it did in Iraq) to whether Russian occupation forces could pacify the country well enough to install a friendly government and keep it in power for the long term.

And they still might get to that point; maybe that’s still the most likely scenario. But the resilience of Ukrainian resistance, Russian military incompetence, and the unity NATO’s determination to keep Ukrainian fighters well supplied, have combined to raise the question: What if Russia can’t overrun Ukraine? How long can Russia sustain these kinds of losses before their army’s best option is to turn around and go home? And facing that situation, would Putin lash out in some desperate way with chemical or nuclear weapons?

The WaPo summarizes:

in the absence of substantive progress on the ground and given the scale of the losses being inflicted on its ranks, Russia’s military campaign could soon become unsustainable, with troops unable to advance because they lack sufficient manpower, supplies and munitions, analysts and officials say.

President Zelensky gave a virtual speech to the U.S. Congress on Wednesday. Zelensky had a narrow path to walk: He wanted to express gratitude for the help the US and NATO have given his country, but he also wanted to challenge us: “I call on you to do more.”

He asked for some very specific things:

  • air defense. He’d like NATO to defend Ukrainian airspace directly by declaring a no-fly zone. But he seemed to realize he won’t get that commitment. “If this is too much to ask, we offer an alternative. You know what kind of defense systems we need, S-300 and other similar systems.” S-300s are Soviet-era air-defense missiles that three NATO countries (Bulgaria, Greece, and Slovakia) field. Slovakia has offered to provide S-300s to Ukraine if other NATO allies would replace them with some equivalent system. Russia has said it “will not allow” such a transfer, whatever that means. Presumably Zelensky specified S-300s because Ukrainians already know how to operate them.
  • broader sanctions. “We propose that the United States sanctions all politicians in the Russian Federation who remain in their offices and do not cut ties with those who are responsible for the aggression against Ukraine, from State Duma’s members to the last official who has lack of morale to break this state terror. All Americans’ company must leave Russia from their market, leave their market immediately because it is flooded with our blood. All American ports should be closed for Russian goods.”

After Zelensky’s speech, President Biden announced an additional $1 billion of military aid.

800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 100 drones, “over 20 million rounds of small arms ammunition and grenade launcher and mortar rounds,” 25,000 sets of body armor, 25,000 helmets, 100 grenade launchers, 5,000 rifles, 1,000 pistols, 400 machine guns, 400 shotguns, as well as “2,000 Javelin, 1,000 light anti-armor weapons, and 6,000 AT-4 anti-armor systems.”

The US will specifically provide Switchblade drones to Ukraine, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN. The small, portable, so-called kamikaze drones carry warheads and detonate on impact. The smallest model can hit a target up to 6 miles away

Arnold the former Governator has a powerful message for the Russian people and Russian soldiers in Ukraine. Apparently a lot of people are hearing it.

Netflix has brought back Zelensky’s comedy TV series “Servant of the People”. You can also watch it on YouTube.

Varia Bartsova laments the Russia she grew up in, now that Soviet-style repression and Iron-Curtain-like isolation have returned.

Vladimir Putin gave his own speech Wednesday, a quite scary one that seemed to threaten a Stalin-style purge.

The Russian people will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and simply spit them out like a fly that accidentally flew into their mouths. I am convinced that such a natural and necessary self-purification of society will only strengthen our country, our solidarity, cohesion and readiness to respond to any challenges.

A report from the Institute for the Study of War indicates that a purge may already be going on within the military and intelligence services. Some officials are being fired, while others are being arrested.

Putin reportedly fired several generals and arrested Federal Security Service (FSB) intelligence officers in an internal purge. Ukrainian Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov stated on March 9 that the Kremlin has replaced eight generals due to their failures in Ukraine, though ISW cannot independently verify this information.[21] Putin additionally detained several personnel from the FSB’s 5th Service, which is responsible for informing Putin about the political situation in Ukraine. The Federal Protective Service and 9th Directorate of the FSB (its internal security department) reportedly raided the 5th Service and over 20 other locations on March 11. Several media outlets reported that 5th Service Head Sergey Beseda and his deputy Anatoly Bolyukh are under house arrest on March 11.[22] Independent Russian media outlet Meduza claimed the 5th Service might have provided Putin with false information about the political situation in Ukraine ahead of his invasion out of fear of contradicting Putin‘s desired prognosis that a war in Ukraine would be a smooth undertaking.[23] Putin is likely carrying out an internal purge of general officers and intelligence personnel. He may be doing so either to save face after failing to consider their assessments in his own pre-invasion decision-making or in retaliation for faulty intelligence he may believe they provided him.

Everyone is focused on the war’s effect on the world’s energy production. (See the featured post.) But a more serious problem might be the effect on food production: Not only are Ukraine (where the next crop is not getting planted) and Russia (whose exports are sanctioned) top grain-exporters, but Russia and Belarus are important suppliers of potash, one of the key ingredients in fertilizer. Crop yields far from the battle zone may be affected.

And like the oil price rise, the expected rise in food prices will come at a time when prices are already high. This will be an annoyance to most Americans, and we may fight political battles over whether to offer some special food subsidy to the poor. But the world’s less well off countries could face real shortages.

There have been a lot of dark jokes about the apocalypse these last two years, as the world has faced Pestilence, Death, and now War. But soon the fourth horseman, Famine, may make an appearance.

and the pandemic

I feel like we’re in the eye of a storm. Here in the US, case numbers have been falling almost everywhere since January. We now average fewer than 30K new cases per day, a level not seen since July. Deaths are still over 1100 per day, but that also is lower than we’ve seen since a very brief period around Thanksgiving, and before that you have to go back to August.

So: great news. But there are also ominous signs: A new subvariant is out there (BA.2 where Omicron was BA.1). Europe, which experienced the original Omicron surge before we did, is currently having a BA.2 surge. And wastewater testing, the earliest warning signal of a new outbreak, is finding more Covid in many parts of the US.

It’s also hard to know how much trust to put in the case-number statistics these days. A lot of the less serious cases might never appear in the stats. (People I know personally have tested positive at home and dealt with their symptoms without telling the medical establishment.) It’s tempting to shrug off those easily managed cases. But the virus is the virus; you may or may not do as well as the person who infected you.

Hospitalizations and deaths are more reliable numbers, but they lag in time.

So deciding what risks to take is tricky right now. Maybe you should seize this chance to go to a concert or take a trip. Or maybe the new surge has already started, but we won’t notice it for a week or two.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have asked the FDA to approve a fourth vaccination shot. My advice: Trust your doctor on this. If the FDA approves it and your doctor recommends it, get it.

and the culture wars

Kim Davis is back in the news. She was the county clerk in Kentucky who in 2015 refused to process wedding licenses for same-sex couples who were legally entitled to them. She eventually got voted out, but two couples that she refused to serve are suing her. Friday, a judge ruled that as a matter of law, she did violate their civil rights. Now a jury has to decide what damages to award.

Davis is offering the usual defense: Because her bigotry arises from her “Christian” beliefs, discrimination laws don’t apply to her. I find it impossible to imagine this argument being taken seriously if you substitute a different faith. What if a county health commissioner refused to approve new steakhouses because of his sincerely held Hindu beliefs?

Davis’ lawyers say the case “has a high potential of reaching the Supreme Court”. Given the current Court’s record of inventing special rights for Christians, she may win.

Paul Waldman explains why the Republican plan to double down on unpopular culture war positions can make short-term political sense.

[T]o engineer a political backlash, you don’t actually need to win converts to your cause. Often, all you need is to persuade the people who haven’t changed their minds as the world changes around them to get more upset.

Which is what we’re seeing right now. Particularly at the state level, Republicans have successfully convinced their base that their entire way of life is under dire threat from a trans girl who wants to play on her middle school softball team or from the books that are sitting in school libraries.

Speaking of which: When USA Today included HHS Assistant Secretary Rachel Levine in their Women of the Year list, conservatives couldn’t take that lying down, because she’s trans. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted “Rachel Levine is a man”, and National Review wrote a whole article to protest the choice. NR quoted Levine’s message to people questioning their gender identity:

I think you have to be true to yourself and I think that you have to be who you are. You have tremendous worth just for who you are, no matter who you love, no matter who you are, no matter what your gender identity, sexual orientation or anything else, and to be, be true to that. And then everything else will follow.

and commented “This is terrible advice.” Don’t be who you are; be who we say you are.

In an article focused on trans athletes in women’s sports, The New Yorker commented:

There was something absurd in the spectacle of conservative politicians who have never shown any interest in supporting women’s sports, which are chronically underfunded and underexposed, moralizing about the sanctity of collegiate women’s swimming.

I’m relieved to learn that no NFL team I root for won the bidding war for quarterback Deshaun Watson, who faces 22 civil lawsuits for sexual assault and other forms of sexual misconduct, but will not be criminally charged. Watson denies everything, which at some point starts to make it even worse: When you’ve got 22 accusers, it’s not a he-said/she-said any more. Denial doesn’t make you sound innocent, just unrepentant.

The Cleveland Browns gave up three first-round draft picks to get Watson from the Texans, and then signed him to a five-year contract for $230 million that sets an NFL record for the most guaranteed money. The contract is structured so that he’ll lose the minimum amount possible when the NFL gets around to suspending him for the start of next season. Given the way the NFL works, Cleveland has mortgaged the franchise for Watson; if he doesn’t work out, they can’t draft his replacement and they’ll have no money available to offer a free agent.

Just about any NFL team occasionally puts somebody on the field who is hard to root for, and like most football fans, I’ve adjusted by not thinking about it too hard. But I wouldn’t be able to stretch this far. Quarterbacks are so central in the NFL that rooting for the Browns next season means rooting for Watson. I couldn’t do it.

Yahoo sports columnist Shalise Manza Young makes the comparison to Colin Kaepernick: Kneeling during the national anthem to protest racism got him (unofficially) banned for life. Watson will probably be suspended for a few games, and then will be the public face of the NFL in Cleveland.

and you also might be interested in …

When Texas was passing its latest voter-suppression law, critics said its main effect would be to screw up people trying to vote legally. And guess what? That’s exactly what has happened.

As Texans’ ballots were cast and tallied across the Lone Star State last week, Monica Emery received multiple letters from county election officials saying that her attempt to vote by mail had failed.

The problem, she learned, stemmed from SB1, Texas Republicans’ restrictive new voting law that not only requires an ID number on voters’ absentee ballots and applications, but also that the type of ID number match the number that a voter originally used to register. 

That law, signed by Governor Greg Abbott (R) last year, has now caused a massive spike in rejected applications to vote by mail. And for absentee voters in last week’s primary election, many of whom are elderly or disabled, it added an extra hurdle to what was once a simple process. 

Apparently, the number Emery wrote on her ballot — she thinks it was her driver’s license number — was not the one she used when she registered to vote. Other options include various state ID numbers and the last four digits of her Social Security number. Any of those numbers could be a voter’s ID number, it’s a question of which one a voter provided when they first registered.

“I did that 40 years ago,” Emery told TPM of her voter registration. “I just put a number down.”

When law-makers are warned that a law has unfortunate consequences, and they pass it anyway, you have to assume those consequences are intended.

Haven’t you suspected all along that Stacey Abrams was from the future?

The Webb space telescope is starting to produce sharp images.

Senate hearings on Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson begin today.

Josh Hawley, the Senator who gave a raised-fist salute to the seditionists on January 6, and then put the image on a coffee mug for his supporters (without permission from the news organization that took the photo), has come up with a particularly slimy charge to throw at Jackson: She “has a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes”.

One characteristic of an effective smear is that the charge is easier to grasp than an explanation of what really happened. For those who really want to understand, Ian Millhiser goes through the details. Other writers simply observe that Judge Jackson’s sentencing practices are in line with most other judges. Sentencing guidelines in child porn cases are widely believed to be out of whack, particularly in their inability to distinguish more serious cases (i.e., professional producers of child porn) from less serious ones.

Senator Hawley has already voted to approve judges whose sentencing practices are similar to Jackson’s.

Other Republicans looking for ammunition against Judge Jackson are joining this attack.

I’m not grasping the reasoning behind the push to make daylight saving time permanent. I can see not wanting to change clocks twice a year, but why not standardize on the original time system, rather than move it by an hour?

and let’s close with something soothing

If life has been too hectic lately, take a few minutes to watch an otter getting a good combing.

Win or Lose

Is there somehow Putin can back off from this? I mean, in poker terms, he has gone all in. So he either wins or he loses. And I think, for us, Putin has to lose this war.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas of Estonia

This week’s featured post is “How did Christianity become so toxic?” It’s the most Christian Weekly Sift post ever, but I doubt everybody will see it that way.

This week everybody was talking about Ukraine

If the Ukraine War were a mini-series, we’d all be complaining that the plot moves too slowly. Just like last week and even the week before, Russia has an overwhelming advantage in nearly every factor of war: more airplanes, more tanks, more trained and experienced soldiers. And yet, like last week and the week before, the Ukrainians are doing much better than anyone expected. They’re slowing the Russian forces down and making them pay a huge price, but they can’t push them back. Little by little, Russia is advancing towards Ukraine’s major cities, including Kyiv. As hope for a quick victory fades, the invaders get more indiscriminately destructive. So we see more refugees, and more scenes of urban devastation.

“OK, I get it,” I keep saying to the TV. “Can we move this along a little?”

Meanwhile, there’s an economic battle of wills going on. So far, Russia’s been getting the worst of it. Both their stock market and ours have been sinking, but we’re getting a correction at the end of a boom, while they’re seeing a crash so bad they can’t even open the exchanges. It takes more dollars to keep your car running, but a rouble is now worth less than a penny. Americans may wonder how we’re going to pay our credit card bills, but at least the cards still work. You don’t see thousands of Americans stuck in foreign countries with no way to pay their bills.

Putin, though, has one major advantage over Biden: It’s a lot easier for him to ignore his people’s suffering, and there’s a lot less they can do to challenge him. So the Russian people can be forced to endure economic devastation, but we still don’t know whether the American people have the stomach for a recession. It’s one thing to put a flag decal on your truck and talk about how willing you are to die for freedom. But how long will such patriots be willing to spend over $100 to fill their trucks’ gas tanks?

Stay tuned. It may be several episodes before that question gets answered.

President Zelensky will address Congress (virtually) on Wednesday.

Would the owner of this $700 million yacht please step forward? Otherwise we’re going to think it belongs to Putin.

A professor of strategic studies at Scotland’s St. Andrews University has a fascinating interpretation of the Russian advance: They have enough fuel trucks to supply their army as long as it’s within 90 miles of supply depots. And that’s about how far they’ve advanced into Ukraine. “Logistics Rule,” he says.

Russia and Tucker Carlson have been claiming that the US is funding mysterious bio-weapons labs in Ukraine. The NYT fact-checked and characterized the claims as “baseless”.

And as he so often does, Carlson snuck in another piece of Russian disinformation in an off-hand remark:

In 2014, [Undersecretary of State] Toria Nuland engineered a coup in Ukraine

You remember, that was the Revolution of Dignity that sent Putin’s corrupt puppet (and Paul Manafort’s former client) Viktor Yanukovych running back to Russia, where he still lives in his $52 million house. A central piece of Russian propaganda is that this was an American plot rather than a popular uprising. Carlson buys this, because of course he does.

Trump still won’t criticize Putin. But at least he’s not stooping to the level of Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who called President Zelensky a “thug” and the Ukrainian government “incredibly evil”.

and legalized bigotry

Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill passed the legislature on Tuesday. Governor DeSantis is expected to sign it.

Friday, a Texas state court ruled that the Governor Abbott had violated the state constitution with his new policy of investigating families for “child abuse” if their children got medical treatment for gender dysphoria. Nine investigations had been underway.

and you also might be interested in …

The Purdue Pharma bankruptcy settlement finally got approved. Unlike a previous version, the Sackler family isn’t immunized against future criminal charges.

For months I was on the Trump mailing list to keep track what he was up to. Often there were fund-raising gimmicks, where contributing would enter you to win something-or-other. It turns out that sometimes he just takes the money and nobody wins the prize. Who could have imagined that the founder of Trump University would con his fans like that?

WNBA star Brittney Griner has been held in Russia for weeks on drug-smuggling charges. NY Magazine wonders why this isn’t a bigger story.

Last week, the NYT devoted way too much space to University of Virginia student Emily Camp’s complaints about being made to feel uncomfortable when she expresses her beliefs, as if this is a new thing that never happened to anybody but White conservatives.

Jessica Valenti responds:

And that’s what is at the heart of so many of these ‘cancel culture’ complaints; conservatives don’t just want to be bigots, they want to be bigots with friends. They want to say terrible things and still get swiped right on; they want to support legislation that puts people’s lives in danger and somehow still get invited to parties. 

But here’s the thing: Expressing unlikeable views often makes you unlikeable. That’s not censorship, it’s life. 

What people call cancel culture is really just run-of-the-mill social and moral consequences—which have been around forever. A society decides what kind of values they find important, and which they find intolerable. You are more than welcome to be on the wrong side of history, but it certainly doesn’t entitle you to friends. 

and let’s close with something artistic

Check out John Atkinson’s webtoons, many of which are somewhat drastic abridgements of classic books.

Not Privileged

Communications in which a “client consults an attorney for advice that will serve him in the commission of a fraud or crime” are not privileged from disclosure.

– the January 6 Committee

This week’s featured post is really just another collection of short notes, but focused on the war in Ukraine.

This week everybody was talking about Ukraine

I pushed all my Ukraine notes into the featured post. But even if you’re not following the war, you should see this little girl entertain the other people in the shelter by singing “Let It Go” in Ukrainian.

and the State of the Union

Text and video are at

I think we can all agree that President Biden is not the orator President Obama was. But at least he’s not the bullshitter that Trump was. He has a good story to tell, and he needs to get more help telling it:

  • Biden deserves credit for re-unifying NATO after the demoralizing Trump years. The international response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine makes a sharp contrast with Trump’s go-it-alone trade war against China, which accomplished nothing.
  • Thanks to the fact that 75% of American adults are now vaccinated, we can start getting our lives back to some semblance of normal. The vaccines were developed during the previous administration, but Biden can take a bow for getting shots in arms. (That’s precisely the kind of detailed organizing the previous administration was bad at.)
  • Thanks largely to the American Rescue Plan, the economy is bouncing back quickly from its Covid slump. As Biden pointed out: “unlike the $2 trillion tax cut passed in the previous administration that benefitted the top 1 percent of Americans, the American Rescue Plan helped working people and left no one behind. And, folks — and it worked. It worked. It worked and created jobs — lots of jobs. In fact, our economy created over 6.5 million new jobs just last year, more jobs in one year than ever before in the history of the United States of America.”
  • The Bipartisan Infrastructure Plan is actually going to rebuild America in ways that Trump talked about, but never delivered on.

Biden took some credit for Ford and GM’s decisions to invest billions developing and building electric cars in the US; and for Intel’s decision to invest $20 billion outside of Columbus. He quoted Intel’s CEO (who was present) saying that they could invest $100 billion if the Innovation and Competition Act passes.

Much of the rest of the speech was about proposals stalled in Congress: cutting the cost of prescription drugs, combating climate change, subsidizing child care, insisting that corporations pay taxes, cracking down on monopolies and oligopolies, giving Dreamers a path to citizenship, protecting abortion rights and voting rights, and more.

It’s a balancing act: taking credit for what’s been done while holding out hope that we can do more. And this is where Biden’s rhetorical failings hurt him. It’s too easy to lose sight of what’s been done in the face of what hasn’t been done, or to write off what hasn’t been accomplished yet as pie in the sky.

At least one poll shows Biden getting a bounce from the SOTU/Ukraine combination.

The February jobs report came out, and continued to show the progress Biden pointed to. The economy added 678K jobs in February, as unemployment fell to 3.8%. It was 3.5% when Trump proclaimed “the best economy ever“.

The Boebert/Greene heckling of Biden was a new low in SOTU behavior: Boebert heckled Biden (about the 13 servicemen who died during the Afghanistan withdrawal) just as he was talking about the death of his son Beau, whose brain cancer may have been caused by pollution from military burn pits.

Previous congressional heckling incidents, like Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” directed (falsely) at President Obama in 2009, were violations of decorum and showed disrespect for the presidency as well as Congress. But Boebert violated basic human decency. You don’t heckle a guy who is talking about his dead son. I don’t care if it’s the president speaking to a joint session of Congress or a drunk sitting next to you at the bar. You just don’t do it.

and Trump’s crimes

John Eastman, the author of the Mike-Pence-can-overturn-the-election theory, is fighting to keep his papers and emails away from the January 6 committee, claiming they are covered by attorney/client privilege. This week the committee submitted its rejoinder to that claim.

Much of their filing concerns the nuts and bolts of attorney/client privilege. Specifically, Eastman has not documented that he had such a relationship with Trump or the Trump campaign at all, and if he does, he will still need to show how that relationship applies to each of the requested documents, rather than claiming a blanket privilege. (Example: My nephew is a lawyer. But conversations we have during family dinners are not privileged unless I have engaged him professionally and he is giving me legal advice at the time. And even in that case, he could still report to a grand jury that I did indeed eat the brussel sprouts.)

But that’s not the most interesting part of the filing, because even if Eastman could establish all that (the burden of proof being on him in this situation), that’s not the end of the story.

Communications in which a “client consults an attorney for advice that will serve him in the commission of a fraud or crime” are not privileged from disclosure.

The committee goes on to outline the crimes Trump and Eastman might have been plotting together. Particularly noteworthy is that what the committee is asking for — the judge to review the documents in question before deciding whether the privilege applies — doesn’t require the committee to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime occurred. It only requires

factual basis adequate to support a good faith belief by a reasonable person that in camera review of the materials may reveal evidence to establish the claim that the crime-fraud exception applies.

The possible crimes in question are

  • obstructing an official proceeding
  • conspiracy to defraud the United States
  • common law fraud

The basic conspiracy here is one you have undoubtedly already heard about: Trump and his associates attempted to prevent Congress from carrying out its constitutional duty to count the electoral votes that had been certified by the states. They did this by

  • trying to convince Vice President Pence to illegally claim the power to refuse to count certified electoral votes
  • promoting a false narrative of a stolen election, which induced multiple people to perform actions based on their belief of the false narrative

A key point here is that we’re not just talking about a difference of opinion: Trump knew that what he was saying was false.

the President and Plaintiff engaged in an extensive campaign to persuade the public, state officials, members of Congress, and Vice President Pence that the 2020 election had been unlawfully “stolen” by Joseph Biden. The President continued this effort despite repeated assurances from countless sources that there was no evidence of widespread election fraud. On November 12, 2020, CISA issued a joint statement of election security agencies stating: “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.” At around the same time, researchers working for the President’s campaign concluded that several the claims of fraud relating to Dominion voting machines were false.

In December, Attorney General Barr publicly announced that there was no widespread election fraud. By January 6, more than 60 court cases had rejected legal claims alleging election fraud. The New York court that suspended Giuliani’s law license said that certain of his allegations lacked a “scintilla of evidence.” On multiple occasions, acting Attorney General Rosen and acting Deputy Attorney General Donoghue told the President personally that the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigations had found no evidence to substantiate claims being raised by the President. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger likewise rebutted many of the President’s allegations of fraud in Georgia. Despite these refutations and the absence of any evidence to support the allegations he was making, the President and his associates continued to publicly advance the narrative that the election had been tainted by widespread fraud.

The filing then goes into detail about one particular false claim: that “suitcases of ballots” were pulled from under a table in Georgia. It lists all the ways that both Georgia election officials and local media had debunked this claim, only to see Trump repeat it in Facebook ads.

On what Trump knew about his election-fraud claims, Bill Barr now says, “I told him all this stuff was bullshit.”

Trump is always bold about what other people should do. Now he’s telling audiences that he would not be afraid of war with Russia.

and states attacking gay and trans kids and their families

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has

authored a legal opinion declaring that providing gender-affirming care to minors is “child abuse” according to existing state law. Governor Greg Abbott then directed the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), the state’s child welfare agency, to comply by investigating any reports of parents providing gender-affirming care to their children.

According to an ACLU lawsuit, Governor Abbott

has also declared that teachers, doctors, and the general public are all required, on pain of criminal penalty, to report to DFPS any person who provides or is suspected of providing medical treatment for gender dysphoria, a recognized condition with well-established treatment protocols.

Meanwhile, Florida is about to pass its Don’t-Say-Gay law. The bill has already passed the House and made it to the floor of the Senate, where it is expected to pass. Gov. DeSantis has said he will sign it.

Like so many red-state bills to control what can be said in schools, the law is vague and will have a chilling effect on any discussion of gender identity or sexual orientation, whether it is specifically violates the law or not. Like the Texas abortion bill, parents can enforce it by suing their child’s school, something no teacher wants to risk.

DeSantis’ press secretary is publicly accusing anyone who opposes the bill of being a pedophile:

The bill that liberals inaccurately call ‘Don’t Say Gay’ would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill. If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children. Silence is complicity.

Like the anti-Critical-Race-Theory laws, Don’t Say Gay is based on fear-mongering about things that aren’t actually happening. Where is the evidence of some statewide epidemic of pedophile grooming based in the public schools? It’s crazy.

SNL’s Kate McKinnon on Don’t Say Gay: “I’m trying to make sense of all this. Does this Don’t Say Gay law have a purpose? … If the 90’s were right and ‘gay’ means ‘bad’, then this is the gayest law I’ve ever seen.”

and Judge Jackson

The outlines of Republican resistance to Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson are becoming clear: She’s too liberal, and her experience as a public defender makes her soft on crime.

I expect dog whistles about race, but no explicit racial attacks. One tactic seems obvious: Find a really bad Black man that Jackson defended, and try to associate her with his crimes. Ideally, she got him off, or got him a light sentence, and then he committed worse crimes later. Nobody will say “Black”, but his picture will be everywhere, as Willie Horton’s was.

Mitch McConnell is trying to make a thing out of her refusal to denounce proposals that would add justices to the Court. Since the Court plays no role in deciding such things, she has no reason take a position — or even form one, for that matter. McConnell might as well ask her opinion about NATO establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

Tucker Carlson is demanding to see Ketanji Brown Jackson’s LSAT score, a request he didn’t make for any previous Supreme Court nominee. This is a standard racist tactic: When a Black person is up for promotion, suddenly there are issues nobody cared about before. For example, nobody ever cared about a president’s birth certificate until we had a Black president.

And as we saw with Obama, no evidence is ever quite good enough. When he released his short-form birth certificate, he was accused of hiding the long form. When the long form came out, how did we know it wasn’t a forgery? Then racists like Trump moved on to demand Obama’s Harvard transcript. (Of course we never saw Trump’s college transcript. That level of disclosure only applies to Black candidates.)

Inventing some new requirement is a way of making a Black job-seeker prove things that White applicants can take for granted, and implying that their candidacy is uniquely questionable. Demanding Judge Jackson’s LSATs (or then accusing her of hiding them) is a way of implying doubts about her intelligence. And if she releases her score, what then? Unless it’s a perfect 180 (which only 1 in 1,000 tests are), then Tucker can find a White guy who scored higher and ask why he’s not the nominee — as if LSATs were now the sole criterion. If she got a 179, she’s an affirmative action hire.

but I want to talk about a TV show

Namely: Severance on Apple TV+.

One of the fundamental motifs of horror is to literalize some disturbing metaphor. So Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula literalizes the metaphor that aristocrats suck the blood of the productive classes. Mary Shelley’s worries that technologists might metaphorically be playing God, together with her fears that our Creator might be no better than we are, become literal in Dr. Frankenstein. The savagery of middle school becomes literal in Lord of the Flies.

Severance continues that tradition. The Lumon Corporation has developed a procedure that severs work memories from personal memories, so you forget whatever you did at work when you go home (to the extent that you don’t even recognize co-workers if you meet them on the street), but you also forget your personal life when you’re at work. (Do you have a family? You don’t know.) The result is that the work-selves are entirely at the mercy of the corporation: In their experience, they never leave the office. Only the outside-selves can quit, but those personas don’t know any reasons why they should. (You might imagine that Lumon would take advantage of severance to have its workers do horrible things, but the show doesn’t go there: The work we see appears entirely meaningless.)

Several metaphorical fears are being literalized here: that we become different people at work; that the compartmentalization of our work lives is psychologically toxic; that our apparent autonomy is an illusion, because we’re denied the information we need to make prudent decisions; that while we may put the victims of capitalism out of our minds, they are not actually different from us; and a number of others.

and you also might be interested in …

This week I’m down-grading the pandemic to just another short note. New cases are back where they were in July, before the Delta surge, averaging 45K per day. Deaths are still running at 1500 per day, but are dropping at a rate of 31% over the last two weeks. Since cases are falling, deaths should continue falling for some time yet.

This cartoon speaks for itself:

and let’s close with a reminder that anybody can be criticized

McSweeney’s imagines negative classroom reviews of Jesus: “Feels like a class for farmers. Hope you like talking about seeds. Wheat seeds. Mustard seeds. Seeds, seeds, seeds.”

“I asked him to sign my accommodations form from the Disability Services Office, and he spit on the ground and rubbed the dirt in my eyes. I can see now, but it was still rude.”

“Only got the job because his dad is important.”