Category Archives: Weekly summaries

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

Why to Investigate

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

Rep. Adam Kinziner (R-Illinois)

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

This week everybody was talking about the Trump Organization indictment

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

and the heat wave

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

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

and court decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Court also made the world safer for dark money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the virus

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

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

and the January 6 select committee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something bipartisan

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

Confident Assertions

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

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

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

This week everybody was talking about the infrastructure deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the Florida building collapse

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

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

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

Collapsed portion of building outlined in red. Annotation is at

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

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

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

and Biden and the bishops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the New York mayoral primary

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

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

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

and trouble in TrumpWorld

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

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

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

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

Rudy Giuliani’s law license has been suspended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Committee Chair Ed McBroom writes in the introduction:

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

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

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

And about “illegal” absentee votes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something made up

From the Bored Panda:

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

Angry Freedom

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

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

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

This week everybody was talking about voting rights

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

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

Missouri’s Roy Blunt laid out the Republican framing:

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

New York Magazine’s Sarah Jones explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Juneteenth

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

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

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

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

and the Supreme Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Biden’s meeting with Putin

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

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

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

Trump, BTW, is doubling down on that question:

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

Indeed it should.

but you should look at what George Packer has been writing

The featured post discusses his new book Last Best Hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump was interviewed by the conservative Jewish magazine Ami:

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

Two things he doesn’t seem to understand:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with a message about safety

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

Laws and Limits

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

– The Boston Globe “Future-proofing the Presidency

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

This week everybody was talking about Trump’s corruption

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

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

and Critical Race Theory

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

and the G-7

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

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

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

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

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

Steven Colbert tweeted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes geology is destiny.

Voting for Change

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

Emma Goldman

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

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

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

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

Chris Hayes:

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

and the dimming prospects for protecting democracy

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

and Biden’s Tulsa speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and assault weapons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to tell you’re raising a smart kid:

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

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

and let’s close with something magnificently pointless

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


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

Senator Angus King (I-Maine)

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

This week everybody was talking about the Trump grand jury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and anniversaries of racist violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Da(Y)go Brown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something ridiculous

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


Money is a role, not a thing.

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

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

This week everybody was talking about January 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Bitcoin

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

and Israel/Palestine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

and you also might be interested in …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something visual

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


Since the election, Republicans, driven by the lie that is now their party’s central ideology, have systematically attacked the safeguards that protected the last election. They have sent the message that vigorous defense of democracy is incompatible with a career in Republican politics.

— Michelle Goldberg “How Republicans Could Steal the 2024 Election

This week’s featured posts are “What to Make of Israel/Palestine?” and “Why Liz Cheney Matters“.

This week everybody was talking about getting back to (sort of) normal

Tomorrow marks two weeks since my second Pfizer shot, so according to the new CDC guidance I should be able to more-or-less resume normal life.

If you’ve been fully vaccinated: You can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic. You can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.

Not everyone is happy about this advice, and I don’t think I’ll take full advantage of it either. While daily new-case numbers and daily deaths are dropping, cases are still higher than they were a year ago, and not far off the level in mid-September. Barely more than one-third of the country is fully vaccinated, and there are breakthrough infections even among the vaccinated, including eight members of the New York Yankees.

Now, breakthrough infections were expected, and don’t cast doubt on the effectiveness of the vaccines. Epidemiology is a numbers game; the vaccines substantially reduce the odds of catching, transmitting, or dying from Covid, but they’re not guarantees.

Personally, I regard mask-wearing as a fairly trivial hardship, so I think I’ll still do it when I’m in stores or crowds. I may wear masks in movie theaters for the rest of my life (unless I get popcorn). And I plan to keep avoiding indoor dining until the new-case numbers drop much further. Some people are being even more cautious.

There are at least a few reports of people being harassed for wearing masks, which apparently anti-maskers regard as turnabout-is-fair-play. But it’s not: People who refused to wear masks when they were necessary were endangering everyone else. People who continue to wear masks when they’re not necessary are only inconveniencing themselves. Why should anyone else care?

Caroline Orr Bueno tweets a number of examples to support this point:

Since CDC announced the new COVID-19 mask guidance for vaccinated Americans, a flurry of right-wing accounts — seemingly belonging to unvaccinated people — have tweeted saying they “identify as vaccinated” and won’t be wearing a mask. It’s the new anti-vaccine talking point.

“Identifying as vaccinated” is a twofer in conservative circles: It parodies the rhetoric of trans people in order to undermine the public health system’s battle against Covid. This is what passes for cleverness on the Right. As my junior high English teacher told us, “Some people are so stupid they think they’re intelligent.”

Long but worth it: Wired has a medical whodunnit: How did the medical establishment become so convinced (wrongly) that Covid could only travel short distances in droplets, rather than hanging in the air and covering longer distances? The problem goes back to a misinterpretation of a tuberculosis study in 1962, and it was fixed this year by a small group of scientists who wouldn’t let rejection slow them down. Their work not only helped control Covid (much later than it should have been controlled), but should prevent flu deaths for years to come.

Arthur Brooks offers an uncommon perspective on the end of the pandemic: Don’t restart aspects of your old life that didn’t make you happy.

If your relationships, work, and life have been disrupted by the pandemic, the weeks and months before you fully reenter the world should not be wasted. They are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come clean with yourself—to admit that all was not perfectly well before.

… Many of us have taken to asking each other, over the past year or so, what we miss from before the pandemic and hate about living through it. But for your happiness, the more germane questions are “What did I dislike from before the pandemic and don’t miss?” and “What do I like from the pandemic times that I will miss?”

Brooks recommends that you take inventory of your pre-pandemic life and make a plan for not returning to normal.

I saw Brooks interviewed on CNBC, where he made another interesting point: The pandemic may be a once-in-a-lifetime event, but something turns the world upside-down about every ten years: the financial crisis of 2008, 9-11, the fall of the Soviet Union.

and Israel/Palestine

A featured post discusses two articles outlining very different ways to look at the situation.

Matt Yglesias makes an interesting point that doesn’t fit in that article:

I’m not saying you or your favorite politician should have a strong take on the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia — it is every American’s right to ignore foreign events! — but it’s worth asking why some things get on the news agenda and others don’t.

and Republicans behaving badly

I cover Liz Cheney’s ouster from House Republican leadership, and what it means for the GOP, in a featured post. But that was far from the only story illustrating the ongoing decline of the Republican Party.

But before leaving the Cheney story, I want to point out an irony: The GOP’s acceptance of Trump’s Big Lie is an example of what “political correctness” originally meant, before it became a meaningless insult.

In Stalinist circles, everybody understood that he Party told lies. So in order to function, you had to stay aware of two realities: the real world, but also the alternative reality described by the Party’s propaganda. To get things done, you had to appreciate what was factually correct. But often you couldn’t say the truth out loud, because those factually correct statements weren’t politically correct.

Same thing here: Kevin McCarthy and the rest of the House Republican leadership understand that Trump lost the election. But in an authoritarian party, you can’t contradict the Leader. “Biden won fair and square” may be factually correct, but it’s not politically correct.

House Republicans and Democrats finally agreed on a plan for a bipartisan January 6 Commission, but Kevin McCarthy hasn’t said whether he’ll support it.

Tom the Dancing Bug portrays the insurrectionists as a comic character. It had to be either Snoopy’s air ace or Calvin as Spaceman Spiff.

This is the kind of craziness the insurrectionists are still spreading: Trump lawyer Lin Wood in Myrtle Beach on May 11: Trump is still president, because he won the election. The military is still looking to him for leadership. “This isn’t about Trump. This isn’t about flesh. This is about God. This is about Powers and Principalities. God’s getting ready to clean up this world.”

And Rep. Louie Gohmert makes insurrectionists the victims of January 6.

Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas took to the House floor on Friday to downplay the January 6 Capitol riot, describing the insurrections as “political prisoners held hostage by their own government.”

“Joe Biden’s Justice Department is criminalizing political protest, but only political protest by Republicans or conservatives,” Gohmert said in his lengthy speech in which he cited several conservative news outlets, according to CNN. “They’re destroying the lives of American families, they’re weaponizing the events of January 6 to silence Trump-supporting Americans.”

Lest we forget: Trump had masked federal police abducting people off the streets in Portland because protesters were defacing a federal court house with graffiti. But folks who broke windows and beat policemen with flagpoles in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the peaceful transfer of power are “political prisoners”.

A lot of news stories this week told us about Republicans who might get indicted, but haven’t been yet. I’m keeping track of these developments, but trying not to get too excited about them until there’s something definite in the public record.

Friday, Joel Greenberg, often described as Congressman Matt Gaetz’ “wingman” (though I haven’t been able to track down how that started), pleaded guilty to six federal charges, including sex trafficking women, one of whom was a minor at the time.

As part of his plea deal, Greenberg plans to admit in court that he introduced a child “to other adult men, who engaged in commercial sex acts with the Minor in the Middle District of Florida,” according to the document filed Friday.

It’s widely suggested that one of those men was Gaetz, though the plea deal doesn’t name him, and Gaetz denies any wrongdoing. In the deal, Greenberg promises to “cooperate fully with the United States in the investigation and prosecution of other persons”. Who those persons are is not specified, but it’s reasonable to assume one of them is a bigger fish than Greenberg himself. If not Gaetz, then who?

The Daily Beast has been the leading news source on the Gaetz scandals. My impression of DB is middling: I don’t think they’d invent a story out of nothing, but I also don’t trust them to be as scrupulous as The New York Times or Washington Post. It bothers me that top-line news organizations haven’t been able to verify many of DB’s claims through their own reporting. (When MSNBC’s Chris Hayes interviewed DB’s reporter, he said: “I want to stress here that we at NBC have not confirmed this reporting.”)

Friday DB posted this claim: After Gaetz was the lead speaker at the Trump Defender Gala at a resort in Orlando on October 26, 2019, his hotel room was the site of cocaine party that Gaetz participated in. The drugs were provided by a woman who had an ongoing money-for-sex relationship with Gaetz and a no-show government job provided by Greenberg.

The woman is identified, but not the witnesses the story relies on.

Elsewhere, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is still working on his investigation of Donald Trump’s finances. The investigations appears to be trying to get something on Trump accountant Allen Weisselberg in an effort to flip him against Trump.

Vance already has millions of pages of Trump financial documents, but (according to numerous lawyers speculating in the media) doesn’t want to make a purely document-based case against Trump. Documents are far more persuasive with an inside witness who can lead the jury through them.

Still no word on what might have been found in the raid on Rudy Giuliani’s home and office.

A good overview of the public knowledge on Trump-related cases is in this conversation between Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick and former SDNY US Attorney Preet Bahrara.

It looks like Trump’s former White House Counsel, Don McGahn, will finally testify to Congress. The interview will not be public, but a transcript will be released a week later.

The interview will be limited to information attributed to McGahn in the publicly available portions of the Mueller Report, as well as events that involved him personally. He can decline to answer questions that go beyond that scope.

That should include instances that the Mueller Report analyzed as possible obstructions of justice by Trump, like when Trump allegedly instructed McGahn to tell Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller, and then instructed McGahn to publicly deny that Trump gave any such order.

And while McGahn “can” decline to answer other questions, it will be interesting to see what he chooses to answer.

Marjorie Taylor Greene appears to have cheated on her state taxes. She and her husband have claimed homestead exemptions on two houses. You’re only allowed one.

We also found out this week that Greene is not only harassing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the halls of Congress, but that she started stalking AOC in 2019, before she got to Congress. Her 2020 campaign juxtaposed a picture of her holding a rifle with images of her presumed targets: Ocasio-Cortez along with Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.

Greene apologists would like to say this is just ordinary politics, but it isn’t. This is deeply disturbing behavior that could get somebody killed. No member of Congress has ever had to take out a restraining order against another, but AOC should.

One of this week’s weirder arguments is whether Governor DeSantis might be able to shield Trump from extradition if New York indicts him. Ultimately, the answer seems to be no.

If Trump is indicted in New York, both the U.S. Constitution and a federal statute dating to 1793 require DeSantis (or the governor of whatever state Trump is in at the time) to hand him over. And if DeSantis still refuses, a 1987 Supreme Court decision makes clear that federal courts can order him to comply.

But state and local officials seem to be preparing to try.

and the pipeline shutdown

A ransomware attack, apparently by the Russian criminal group Darkside, shut down a major pipeline supplying gasoline to the east coast for a little over a week. The pipeline is now back in operation. The C|Net article on this is pretty good.

Back in the 1800s, someone described various cabals’ attempts to corner the wheat market as “like watching men wrestling under a blanket”. In other words, you can see that something is happening, but it’s hard to tell what it means. Ditto here.

Colonial Pipeline appears to have paid a $5 million ransom, so that looks like a win for Darkside. But the criminal group also appears to have suffered consequences.

As of Friday, the group appeared to have disbanded, according to the Journal, which reported Darkside had told associates that it had lost access to the infrastructure it needs for its activities. The group said law enforcement actions had prompted its decision, according to the paper.

Darkside itself seems like an unusually businesslike criminal operation.

Those responsible for DarkSide are very organized, and they have a mature Ransomware as a Service (RaaS) business model and affiliate program. The group has a phone number and even a help desk to facilitate negotiations with and collect information about its victims—not just technical information regarding their environment but also more general details relating to the company itself like the organization’s size and estimated revenue.

This is bound to be merely the first example of a larger problem. All kinds of vital infrastructure is controlled by computers, or related to computer systems in some other way. (One account I’ve seen of the Colonial Pipeline hack speculated that Darkside had hacked the billing software, not the software that runs the pipeline itself. So Colonial could still deliver gasoline, but wouldn’t know how to get paid. I don’t know if that’s true, but it points out the breadth of the vulnerability.) Software is notoriously full of bugs, and much of it is developed on platforms that are themselves full of bugs, like Windows.

Georgia Tech media studies Professor Ian Bogost commented on the general state of computer security:

You need a license to go fishing but not to deploy software at global scale.

and you also might be interested in …

If you’re wondering why President Biden is making such a big deal about infrastructure, consider the crack that the Tennessee Department of Transportation found in one of the girders holding up a bridge carrying I-40 over the Mississippi near Memphis.

No, the NRA will not be able to play games with the bankruptcy laws to escape their reckoning in New York.

The root issue is the extreme level of corruption in the organization, centering on Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. (Even GQ is horrified by LaPierre spending a quarter million of the NRA’s money on suits.) Escaping state regulatory enforcement, a federal judge in Texas ruled, is not “a purpose intended or sanctioned by the Bankruptcy Code”.

This week I noticed Hi/Storia, a Facebook page devoted to amusing memes and cartoons about history. For example:

I’m always amused by Trae Crowder’s “Liberal Redneck” rants. But his “Confederate Memorial Day” is laugh-out-loud funny.

in order to grasp the full nuance of his views, though, you should also watch his “In Defense of Dixie” from 2016.

While we’re talking about Confederate remembrance, Clint Smith is a Black man who tours some iconic Confederate shrines and writes “Why Confederate Lies Live On” for The Atlantic.

Confederate history is family history, history as eulogy, in which loyalty takes precedence over truth.

Among other myths, Smith debunks the frequently heard claim that

“From the perspective of my ancestors, [the Civil War] was not [about] slavery. My ancestors were not slaveholders. But my great-great-grandfather fought.”

Even if you didn’t own slaves — and large numbers of Confederate soldiers’ families did — you probably liked the idea that you weren’t at the bottom of society.

The proposition of equality with Black people was one that millions of southern white people were unwilling to accept. The existence of slavery meant that, no matter your socioeconomic status, there were always millions of people beneath you. As the historian Charles Dew put it, “You don’t have to be actively involved in the system to derive at least the psychological benefits of the system.”

and let’s close with something you can dance to

The genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton was in translating a WASPy bit of American history into a modern ethnic musical genre, hip-hop. Well, what if somebody from a different American ethnicity had gotten a similar idea, and told Alexander Hamilton’s story through polkas?

Of course, this is a Weird Al Yankovic question, and he provides this answer.

Almost as amusing is to watch Lin-Manuel Miranda watch The Hamilton Polka on his phone.


Trickle-down economics has never worked.

President Biden, 4-28-2021

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

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

This week everybody was talking about Biden’s speech

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

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

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

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

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

The NYT puts both plans in one chart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the Giuliani raid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

and the virus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something artsy

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

Reaping the Benefits

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

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

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

This week everybody was talking about the Chauvin verdict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and climate change

Thursday, President Biden set a goal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and infrastructure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s not going to happen.

and the virus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and let’s close with something both airy and timely

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

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

The result is a still image like this:

Or a video like this: