The Monday Morning Teaser

I tested negative for Covid on Christmas Eve, and have recovered enough energy to do a Sift this week.

The big event this week was the release of the January 6 Committee’s final report, which I admit I have not read completely. It appears to be a fleshing out of the basic narrative they’ve been building since their first public hearings this summer: January 6 was not a one-day event, but the unsuccessful culmination of Trump’s months-long plot to hold onto power in spite of losing the 2020 election.

This week’s featured post revisits a point I focused on after the Committee’s early public hearings, which I think hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention: Trump doesn’t have a story to tell. His entire effort has been to block the Committee from assembling evidence to support its story, not to build a narrative of his own.

In the summer he claimed to have “sooo many witnesses” that would end “this Witch Hunt” “quickly” if only the Committee would talk to them. But that’s the last we heard of those witnesses. Instead, Trump’s people have defied subpoenas, claimed executive privilege, and invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering questions. Those who have answered questions — willingly or unwillingly — have provided evidence that supported the Committee’s narrative.

Anyway, that post will be out soon. The weekly summary has a few other important events to cover: President Zelenskyy spoke to Congress. Congress’ waning Democratic majority (with Mitch McConnell’s connivance) got the government funded through September, when the new Republican House majority will undoubtedly force some kind of crisis. Kevin McCarthy still hasn’t corralled the last few votes he needs to become speaker. And a few other things.

That will probably be out between noon and one EST.

Why the Sift is minimal this week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standards of Living

Part of the scam is to define basic bedrock standards of decency as “left” & then, lo, you find “left bias” everywhere you look. But that’s not bias, fellas. That’s just people trying to live in a society together.

David Roberts

So this week I have some first-hand experience of Covid to report. Shortly after Thanksgiving, I started a cold. So I took a home test for Covid and it was negative. Then a bit later, my wife seemed to catch my cold, but her Covid test was positive. So I took the more accurate PCR test, which was also negative. A few days later, my cold symptoms stopped fading and began to intensify, so I took another test: positive this time.

Anyway, I have good news and bad news about my experience. The bad news is that Covid is even easier to catch than I thought; my wife and I have been very careful and seem to have gotten it anyway. The good news is that, having had every possible booster and being generally in good health, my symptoms are pretty mild.

This week everybody was talking about the Georgia runoff

I expected more Republicans to stay home rather than vote for such an embarrassing candidate, so I had anticipated Warnock winning by a larger margin than 2.8% — something more like 55%-45%. (538 anticipated a smaller margin of 1.9%, which was not far off.) But one way or another, Rafael Warnock defeated Herschel Walker and won reelection, giving Democrats a net gain of one Senate seat in the 2022 midterms, and a 51-49 overall majority.

Watching the TV coverage was an odd experience: Before the polls closed, commentators explained how the vote had arrived in November: Early voting was counted first, and it favored Democrats. Then the smaller rural counties counted their same-day vote, which favored Republicans. Finally, the big counties around Atlanta reported their same-day vote, which again favored Democrats.

Combined with polls showing Warnock slightly ahead, that established pattern led to this expectation: a big Warnock lead early, possibly a small Walker lead in the middle, and then a Warnock surge to victory at the end. And that’s exactly what happened.

But after giving that analysis, the TV people mostly forgot about it and covered the incoming vote as if they were calling a horse race: “Warnock opens a lead, Walker comes charging back along the rail, now it’s Warnock, Walker, Warnock, Walker, and Warnock surges at the tape to win.”

Josh Marshall has a good point: Don’t watch TV on Election Night. The drama of a lead see-sawing back and forth was almost entirely an illusion.

We went into the night thinking the probable election outcome was X. The very first results supported the eventual outcome of X but were too limited to confirm it. As the results came in they continued to point to X with a mounting likelihood. With more and more data that mounting likelihood of X moved toward relative certainty. The point, as I noted, is that there was no drama as the statewide results lead sloshed back and forth between the two candidates.

Marshall recommends following the returns through the livefeeds of political pros, as he did. If you did that, you’d have gone into the evening kinda/sorta expecting Warnock to win, and then watching that likelihood slowly grow into a certainty.

Or you could do something else with your evening and check for results the next morning.

In total, Democrats lost nine House seats (and the majority) in the midterms, which probably cripples the Biden agenda going forward. But they also gained two governorships and four houses of state legislatures. So it was a mixed bag, rather than the “shellacking” President Obama took in his first midterm.

Walker’s loss puts the capstone on the other major story of the midterms, which is that Trump’s hand-picked candidates lost winnable elections all over the country.

Walker had been Trump’s personal choice as a Senate candidate in Georgia and turned out to be the only Republican statewide candidate to lose in the Peach State in 2022. … In other swing states, Trump-backed Senate candidates suffered embarrassing losses, including Blake Masters in Arizona and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, along with a host of other candidates who embraced the former president’s lies about the 2020 presidential election.

In both Georgia and New Hampshire, governors who kept their distance from Trump easily won reelection, while Trumpy senate candidates lost. In Ohio, Trump’s senate candidate J. D. Vance won by 6.1%, but significantly trailed the rest of the Republican ticket. (Goverrnor DeWine, for example, won by 25%.) So maybe the argument that beats Trump in the 2024 Republican primaries is to let him blather, and then say: “Yeah, but we want to win this time.”

It’ll be interesting to see where Georgia goes in the coming years. In some ways, Warnock’s reelection resembles Claire McCaskill’s in Missouri in 2012: She faced a terrible opponent and won in a mostly red state. Six years later, the Missouri GOP had learned its lesson and ran a less obviously unsuitable candidate (Josh Hawley), who beat her.

The difference, though, is that Missouri was trending increasingly red in those years, while Georgia is trending blue now. A better Republican candidate could probably have beaten Warnock this time, but Georgia might look very different by 2028.

I’m not sure what to make of Kyrsten Sinema’s announcement that she is now an independent. She’s been pretty independent before this, and intends to caucus with the Democrats, so I’m not sure it makes much difference in the Senate.

She’s up for reelection in 2024 and seemed likely to lose a Democratic primary, so she’s probably trying to bluff the Democrats out of running a candidate against her, for fear of handing the seat to some MAGA Republican like Kari Lake. How credible that bluff is will depend on the polls: Will Sinema’s move garner enough support from independent Arizona voters to make her a credible general election candidate? If it doesn’t, I can’t believe she’d endure the embarrassment of a spoiler campaign where she got 6% of the vote. But we’ll see.

The next time you’re thinking about not voting because “What difference does it make?”, remember Kristin Kassner. The first count of the vote in her race for the Massachusetts House had her behind a five-term Republican by ten votes. That triggered a recount, which concluded that she actually won by one vote.

and Kevin McCarthy’s struggles

The Republicans’ 222-213 margin in the House means that any five GOP representatives can torpedo Kevin McCarthy’s election as speaker, which is still uncertain. (The vote is scheduled for January 3, when the new Congress opens.) Nancy Pelosi has been running the House quite effectively with a similar margin, but (to speak bluntly) she’s good at this and Kevin McCarthy isn’t.

Also, the Democrats’ progressive wing and the Republicans’ fascist wing are not mirror images of each other. The progressives want positive things that Pelosi could include in legislation. So, for example, enough pieces of the Green New Deal showed up in the Inflation Reduction Act to win progressive votes. But the MTGs and Paul Gosars don’t have a comparable agenda that McCarthy can write into a compromise. They want to burn it all down.

There’s still a chance that GOP moderates will refuse to let the extreme right wing call the tune, and will instead work out a deal with the Democrats to organize the House around some compromise speaker. But I’m not betting on that.

and Brittney Griner’s release

The deal to trade Russian black-market arms dealer Viktor Bout for American WNBA star Brittney Griner was announced Thursday. Griner arrived in the US Friday morning.

The press has speculated at length about why the deal happened now, but (without any inside knowledge) I ask this question: Can it really be a coincidence that it happened two days after the Warnock/Walker runoff, which marked the end of the US midterm elections? Griner’s return is the fulfillment of a promise from President Biden, and would have helped Democrats politically if it had happened sooner. I think the timing shows that Putin still knows which American party he’s rooting for.

Former US marine Paul Whelan remains in Russian prison. A Biden administration spokesperson said that Russia classifies him as a spy (which the US denies) and wanted Russian spies in return for him, a trade the US has been unwilling to make. “The choice was Brittney or no one at all.”

Conservative American media could not celebrate the return of Griner, who is Black, liberal, and married to another woman, so it focused instead on Whelan. Tucker Carlson said, “Paul Whelan’s case would be a priority for any American government”, ignoring the fact that President Trump also failed to secure his release, and was “not particularly interested” in his case, according to Fiona Hill, a Russia expert in the Trump administration.

Trump also didn’t own up to his own record, calling Griner “a basketball player who openly hates our Country”, and gaslighting us with the claim that Paul Whelan “would have been let out for the asking”. (So why didn’t you ask when you were president, Don?)

The “hates our country” charge against Griner, which has been widely repeated on the right, is based on something she said after George Floyd was murdered by a White Minneapolis policeman. She asked the WNBA to protest racism by not playing the national anthem before games. (Personally, I’d like to see all sports leagues stop playing the anthem, because there’s nothing patriotic about sporting events. We don’t play the anthem in movie theaters, so why sports arenas?)

Like many conservatives, Trump elevates the symbols of patriotism over the substance. He’ll posture about the flag or the anthem, but he won’t obey the laws, respect the Constitution, or pay his taxes. I’ll take Brittney Griner’s kind of patriotism over Trump’s any day.

and the Trump Organization’s tax fraud

Last week brought the seditious conspiracy verdict against the leader of the Oath Keepers. This week the Trump Organization was convicted of criminal tax fraud. It was not the first Trump entity found to be engaged in dishonesty: In 2018, the Trump Foundation was dissolved by the State of New York, and in the same year Trump paid $25 million to settle civil fraud claims related to Trump University.

Predictably, Trump labeled the tax-fraud verdict as a “the Greatest Political Witch Hunt in the History of our Country“, blamed the crimes on his loyal CFO Allen Weisselberg, and said he would appeal.

I suspect Trump’s claim that his legal troubles are just politics is starting to wear thin among all but his most rabid supporters. As we know from the Durham investigation and Benghazi, political partisanship can start an investigation and maybe even muster an indictment or two. But getting a jury to convict requires enunciating a clear charge and proving it beyond a reasonable doubt to 12 ordinary people. The government did that in this case.

That’s more than just politics.

and the Supreme Court

The Court heard arguments this week in two cases with ominous implications. It’s always chancy to predict outcomes based on the questions the justices ask, but the Court seems likely to do the ominous thing in one case but maybe not the other.

In 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis , the Court’s conservative majority appears likely to gut anti-discrimination laws in favor of special rights for conservative Christians. The weirdest thing about this case is why it’s a case at all, much less what it’s doing at the Supreme Court. Ostensibly, it’s yet another case about a business owner who doesn’t want to serve same-sex couples, but there is no same-sex couple, and the business is mostly hypothetical.

There is only one face in this case—Lorie Smith, the web designer who has never made a wedding website for anyone, much less withheld a proposed wedding website from anyone due to their sexuality. (She just already knows that she will want to do that. Really!)

Fear of the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA) is inhibiting her from offering wedding-website-design services, though, so she wants the part of it that would apply to her declared unconstitutional. Supposedly, this is a free-speech case. CADA wants to force her to create something that supports same-sex marriage, which is against her religious principles. Website design — even if it’s just a template whose content is filled in by the couple — is “speech”, so the law violates her free-speech rights.

I question a whole bunch of things in this case:

  • Whether Smith genuinely intends to create wedding websites, or if this entire case has been constructed to undermine anti-discrimination laws.
  • What part of the Bible says that Christians can’t create wedding websites for same-sex couples. (I think this case, like Masterpiece Cakeshop before it, arises from conservative spite over losing the battle to keep same-sex marriage illegal. It has nothing at all to do with Christian principles.)
  • Whether this broad interpretation of free-speech rights will ever apply to non-Christians “speaking” in favor of positions conservative Christians don’t share.
  • Whether any anti-discrimination laws at all can stand if Christians want to discriminate. (Remember, the judge who found in favor of Virginia’s interracial marriage ban — and was subsequently overruled — cloaked his racist argument in a Christian guise. “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. … The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”)

In oral arguments, the conservative justices mostly just refused to engage any of the case’s substantive issues, and instead just yucked it up, as you can do when all the harms you are threatening to cause are hypothetical.

So today’s hearing at the highest court in the land was about levity and mockery, and all the trivial examples of imaginary harms that will never come to pass. This is not just erasure of LGBTQ interests; interests which the state has an important and established interest in protecting. This is about mocking the obvious implications of creating a carveout from antidiscrimination laws with fatuous slippery slopes and petty humor.

The Court also heard arguments in Moore v Harper, which the Brennan Center sums up like this:

In Moore v. Harper, the Supreme Court will decide whether the North Carolina Supreme Court has the power to strike down the legislature’s illegally gerrymandered congressional map for violating the North Carolina Constitution. The legislators have argued that a debunked interpretation of the U.S. Constitution — known as the “independent state legislature theory” — renders the state courts and state constitution powerless in matters relating to federal elections.

ISL is a very weird theory, because it implies that with regard to federal elections, a state legislature is not bound by the state constitution that defines it and by whose authority it governs. Consequently, the state’s supreme court has no role to play in gerrymandering cases.

Extreme versions of ISL would allow state legislatures to ignore presidential election results and appoint their own slate of electors, which is what Trump urged Republican legislatures to do in 2020. This case does not ask the Court to make such a ruling, so the decision will almost certainly not go that far. But in the same way that the arguments in Dobbs set up future challenges to interracial marriage and other unenumerated constitutional rights, arguments in this decision could set up a Trumpian constitutional crisis in the future.

Justice Barrett and Chief Justice Roberts seem reluctant to back an extreme ISL, which is the good news. But Just Security’s Kate Shaw worries that even a compromise ruling could get ISL’s foot in the door.

and you also might be interested in …

There was really only one choice for 2022’s Person of the Year. Before 2022, Volodymyr Zelenskyy was just the guy being extorted on Trump’s “perfect” phone call. Now he’s the symbol of his nation’s heroic resistance to the Russian invasion.

The Respect for Marriage Act, which repeals the parts of the Defense of Marriage Act that (before the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision) allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, passed the House and should be signed by President Biden soon.

During the House debate, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo) tearfully urged the House not to pass the bill.

I’ll tell you my priorities: Protect religious liberty, protect people of faith and protect Americans who believe in a true meaning of marriage. I hope and pray that my colleagues find the courage to join me in opposing this misguided and this dangerous bill.

After Hartzler’s speech went viral on right-wing outlets, she was answered by her nephew Andrew Hartzler, a gay man who had to endure Christian “conversion therapy” as a teen-ager. He had come out to his aunt in February, but “I guess she’s still as much of a homophobe.”

You want the power to force your religious beliefs onto everyone else. And because you don’t have that power, you feel like you’re being silenced. But you’re not. You’re just going to have to learn to coexist with all of us.

Wednesday, Germany arrested 25 people plotting a right-wing coup. The group involved, Reichsbürger, has been compared to QAnon, and so the plot has similar fantasy-world components that make it hard to take seriously. But Germany is taking it very seriously. Vox’ Zack Beauchamp interviews someone who’s been tracking the movement:

It sounds like something out of a novel: a cell of heavily armed German extremists plotting to overthrow the elected government and elevate a man called Prince Heinrich XIII to the throne of a new Teutonic monarchy.

On Wednesday, German police arrested 25 people attempting to do exactly that — including a former member of parliament from Alternatives for Deutschland (AfD), a far-right anti-immigrant faction.

The plot originated out of a movement called the Reichsbürger — literally, “Reich citizens.” They believe that every German state since World War I has been illegitimate, a corporation rather than an authentic government, and thus feel entitled to ignore its laws.

There’s a similar the-government-became-a-corporation conspiracy theory in the US, which was involved in several of QAnon’s Trump-restoration theories.

That wasn’t even the only coup attempt on Wednesday. In Peru, a president facing impeachment announced that he was dissolving Congress and instituting an “emergency government”. Fortunately, nobody bought it. The Constitutional Court refused to recognize the dissolution order, the Army didn’t back the emergency government, Congress went ahead with its impeachment, and the president was arrested on his way to seek asylum at the Mexican embassy.

That’s what they do in other countries: They arrest presidents who try to stay in office illegitimately.

Like Trump, Elon Musk is a bright shiny object that would be easy to obsess over. This week, I’ll limit myself to one link.

the Twitter Files are best understood as an egregious example of the very phenomenon it purports to condemn — that of social-media managers leveraging their platforms for partisan ends. … The Twitter Files provide limited evidence that the social-media platform’s former management sometimes enforced its terms of service in inconsistent and politically biased ways. The project offers overwhelming evidence that Twitter’s current management is using the platform to promote tendentious, partisan narratives and conservative misinformation. In that sense, Taibbi and Weiss have performed revelatory journalism.

The full article (by Eric Levitz) does an in-depth takedown of Parts I (Matt Taibbi) and II (Bari Weiss) of the Twitter Files.

Well, OK, one more link. Josh Marshall:

[It’s] remarkable to me that literally with access to everything, even things ethically they shouldn’t have access to, they’ve surfaced basically nothing. one guy didn’t get boosted? libs of tiktok actually got special treatment? blowing the shit wide open guys.

Back in 1960, when Air Force Captain Joseph Kittinger proposed a parachute jump from 19 miles above the New Mexico desert, probably some worried friends warned him he would die.

Well, Friday they were proven right. Lung cancer got him at the age of 94. Kittinger retired as a colonel, and his record stood until 2012.

The Keystone Pipeline, which moves about 600K barrels of oil a day from Canada to Oklahoma, has spilled about 14K barrels into a creek in Kansas, about 150 miles from Kansas City.

Concerns that spills could pollute waterways spurred opposition to plans by TC Energy to build another crude oil pipeline in the Keystone system, the 1,200-mile Keystone XL, which would have cut across Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.

President Biden revoked a construction permit shortly after taking office, and TC Energy cancelled the XL.

The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer points out the inconsistencies in conservatives’ “free speech” arguments:

In Citizens United, the Republican-appointed justices feared that restrictions on corporate electioneering amounted to state control of civic discourse, “muzzl[ing] the principal agents of the modern free economy.” But when the justices wrote that decision, they were thinking of corporations as allies of the conservative movement. The moment that perception changed, conservative views on corporate speech changed too. Last year, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime champion of corporate electioneering, warned of state retaliation if private firms did not “stay out of politics,” by which he meant stop opposing Republican interests. It is wrong to “muzzle” the “principal agents of the modern free economy,” unless they do something Republicans don’t like. Then it’s fine.

and let’s close with something custom made

If you’ve heard of the late Bill Lishman, it’s probably because of the 1996 movie Fly Away Home, where he trained geese to imprint on his ultralight airplane and helped them learn a new migration route.

Bill died in 2017, but his widow is still living in the unique house the family designed and built in the countryside outside of Toronto. They cut the top off of a hill, built a series of interconnected igloo-like domes, and then rebuilt the hill over them, leaving just the skylights exposed to the weather. The round rooms mean that everything in them had to be custom-built, but Bill was a universally talented craftsman, so why not?

The Monday Morning Teaser

I’m continuing to plead illness as I allow myself another week without a featured post. This week a Covid test came back positive, so who knows whether that’s a new development, this is a false positive, or previous tests were false negatives. I don’t have a fever and my energy is good, so I’ll put out a weekly summary.

It was another newsy week: Warnock beat Walker. (Was that really this week? It already seems like a long time ago.) Krysten Sinema declared her independence. Kevin McCarthy kept trying to corral enough votes from the GOP’s fascist wing to become speaker. Germany and Peru broke up right-wing coup plots. Brittney Griner came home, but as a Black lesbian who wants to protest during the national anthem, she’s not American enough for conservatives to be happy she’s free. The Respect for Marriage Act passed. The Trump Organization was convicted of tax fraud. President Zelenskyy (who else?) is Time’s Person of the Year. The Supreme Court heard arguments in two major cases. Elon Musk kept releasing “Twitter Files”, which are supposed to prove something but mostly don’t.

Expect the summary to appear between 10 and 11 EST, at which time I’ll drink another cup of tea with honey and probably go back to bed.

The Meaning of Woke

it would be the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.

Florida General Counsel Ryan Newman,
explaining what “woke” means to the DeSantis administration
(He thinks it’s a bad thing.)

There’s no featured post this week.

I’ve been battling a cold (or a minor case of Covid, the tests have been ambiguous, and either way I’ve almost recovered), which is my excuse for a number of failings:

  • the mental glitch that caused me to turn Douglas Rushkoff into Douglas Coupland halfway through last week’s “Two Glimpses into the Future“. Douglas Coupland is also an author, but how his name got into my head, I have no idea. He had nothing to do with Rushkoff’s Survival of the Richest.
  • not paying attention to comments, which meant that a comment by Neo on the weekly summary sat in limbo for several days. (That comment takes me to task for complimenting Alaska’s ranked-choice voting system, when STAR voting has several advantages.) I should explain this wrinkle in the WordPress software: When a comment has some number of links (Neo’s had four), WordPress kicks it into my “moderation” queue. I think this is supposed to be a spam-control feature, but it happens seldom enough that I forget to check the queue.
  • not getting enough research done to have a featured article this week.

This week everybody was talking about the Georgia runoff

In a runoff, turnout is everything. Early voting has set records (particularly in Democratic counties), and Election Day is tomorrow. I can easily imagine how in November, people who showed up at the polls to vote for Governor Kemp and the rest of the Republican slate might also vote for Herschel Walker. But I have a much harder time imagining Republicans going to the polls for the exclusive purpose of voting for Walker. He is, as this Warnock ad points out, an embarrassing candidate.

I’ve often said that speculation is a waste of both my time and yours, but I’m hopeful for a Warnock victory.

Shortly after the November election, I sent Warnock a contribution. So every time I hear Republicans complain that they’re being outspent, I’m like “That’s me, you losers!” I’m getting a lot of satisfaction for the amount of money I sent, especially if Warnock wins.

As you probably already know, Democrats will retain control of the Senate either way — either 51-49 or 50-50 plus VP Harris’ vote. The difference that makes is technical, but significant. Currently, all Senate committees are evenly split between the two parties. But if Warnock wins, Democrats will get a one-vote advantage on all committees. That matters for things like launching investigations and issuing subpoenas.

A Warnock victory would also mean that no single senator can veto what the rest of the Democratic caucus wants to do. Though probably anything Manchin or Sinema would object to is already doomed in the Republican House.

and a complete non-story about talks with Putin

Thursday, President Biden and President Macron of France held a joint press conference. The last question asked about the possibility of talking to Putin concerning Ukraine. Biden answered:

I have no immediate plans to contact Mr. Putin. Mr. Putin is — let me choose my words very carefully — I’m prepared to speak with Mr. Putin if in fact there is an interest in him deciding he’s looking for a way to end the war. He hasn’t done that yet. If that’s the case, in consultation with my French and my NATO friends, I’ll be happy to sit down with Putin to see what he wants — has in mind. He hasn’t done that yet.

So Biden didn’t bring up talking to Putin, his first response was that he has no plans to, and that he’ll only do so after Putin does something he hasn’t done yet. Even then, he’ll meet after consulting with France and our other NATO allies. Minutes before, the French president had said:

we will never urge the Ukrainians to make a compromise which will not be acceptable for them … If we want a sustainable peace, we have to respect the Ukrainians to decide the moment and the conditions in which they will negotiate about their territory and their future.

President Zelenskyy, meanwhile, has insisted that Ukraine won’t give up any territory.

There is only one condition for the negotiations: Russia must leave all captured territories.

So what is Biden supposed to say about talking to Putin? (Maybe something diplomatic, like: “Screw that guy. I’m not talking to him.”) He says he’ll talk to Putin if “he’s looking for a way to end the war”.

For some reason, Reuters interpreted this as a “trial balloon”. Russia then said it’s open to negotiations if the West “accepts its demands”, i.e., recognizes Russia’s ownership not just of Crimea, but also of the other Ukrainian provinces it has annexed (which its retreating forces don’t even fully occupy). Then Fox News’ wrote the headline: “Putin open to Ukraine talks after Biden signals willingness if Russia serious about ending war“.

Basically, each side has said that it’s willing to accept the other’s complete surrender. That’s not news.

and another bad week for Trump (and associated traitors)

Tuesday, two members of the right-wing paramilitary group Oath Keepers, including its founder Stewart Rhodes, were convicted of seditious conspiracy for their role in the January 6 riot, plus several other charges. Seditious conspiracy by itself carries a sentence of up to 20 years, and convictions for it are rare; this is the first guilty verdict since 1995.

The jury appears to have done its job carefully. There were five defendants and a list of charges, with each defendant guilty of some and not guilty of others. The deliberations took three days. So it’s hard to paint this jury as radical Trump-haters or a rubber stamp for the Justice Department. It sure looks like they went through the charge/defendant matrix cell by cell and asked “Did the government prove this charge against this defendant?”

To me, the main significance of this verdict is what it implies about future cases, including a possible charge against Donald Trump. In the Oath Keepers case, the Justice Department proved to a jury (beyond a reasonable doubt) that there actually was a conspiracy behind January 6; the attack on the Capitol wasn’t just a Trump rally that spiraled out of control. It also proved that the intention of the conspirators was seditious; the conspirators weren’t patriots, and they weren’t trying to protect democracy against a stolen election. Quite the opposite, they were trying to overthrow democracy.

What can be proved to one jury can be proved to others. Both the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys (whose seditious conspiracy trial begins later this month) must realize they are facing serious jail time. So it must be very tempting to make a deal with the government, perhaps delivering the goods on people closer to Trump, like Roger Stone or Mark Meadows.

The verdict has political as well as legal importance. Since the insurrection, most Republican politicians and conservative pundits have tried to claimed January 6 was no big deal. Maybe Democrats on the January 6 committee were trying to make something out of it, but that was just politics.

Well, a guilty verdict is more than politics. This is a jury of ordinary Americans unanimously saying that January 6 was a very serious matter. The guilty parties weren’t just some people trespassing on government property: The attack was planned, and the planners intended to subvert the orderly transfer of power.

For contrast, look at the Durham investigation, which really was just politics. It produced only minor charges against minor characters — and never persuaded a jury that the “conspiracy” it was investigating existed at all. (Kevin McCarthy is planning a similar investigation of the January 6 committee, for all the good that will do. Bring it, Kevin.)

Ever since Trump-appointed Judge Aileen Cannon interfered in the Mar-a-Lago case (by appointing a special master to review the documents seized from Trump under a legal search warrant), I and a lot of other people have been yelling about favoritism and corruption: Cannon was clearly repaying her debt to Trump by bending the the law in his favor.

Well, it looks like the appeals court agrees. Thursday, a three-judge panel from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (two of whom were also appointed by Trump, but seem loyal to the law anyway) vacated Cannon’s order, and sent the case back to Cannon with instructions to dismiss Trump’s lawsuit.

The law is clear. We cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after the execution of the warrant. Nor can we write a rule that allows only former presidents to do so. Either approach would be a radical reordering of our caselaw limiting the federal courts’ involvement in criminal investigations. And both would violate bedrock separation-of-powers limitations. Accordingly, we agree with the government that the district court improperly exercised equitable jurisdiction, and that dismissal of the entire proceeding is required.

Trump will undoubtedly appeal to the Supreme Court, but I don’t think they’ll take long to deny his motion. (They didn’t take long to reject his claim with regard to the classified documents seized in the search.) The law here really is clear, and the Constitution does not define any special rights for former presidents.

Presumably, the Mar-a-Lago investigation can soon proceed the way any other criminal investigation would.

Mark Meadows lost his case at the South Carolina Supreme Court, which refused to protect him from a subpoena to testify to the Fulton County grand jury investigating Trump’s attempt to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. (Meadows is currently living in South Carolina.)

Because of a previous adverse ruling on his executive privilege claim, Trump’s White House Counsel Pat Cipollone testified to a Washington, D.C. grand jury Friday.

News stories on these kinds of cases leave out the obvious: Trump’s people fight so hard against subpoenas because they don’t want the full truth to come out. Deduce from that what you will. Personally, I believe that if they knew something that would exonerate Trump, they’d be begging to testify.

One sign that Trump has jumped the shark is that he keeps trolling the country harder and harder, in a vain attempt to regain the edginess he had in 2015. After seven years of watching his act, we’re not shocked any more if he calls Mexicans rapists or says that John McCain wasn’t a hero. So he’s got to turn it up to 11.

Last week we found out he had a pre-Thanksgiving dinner with a White supremacist, Nick Fuentes. (I was going to mention it in last week’s Sift, but it slipped my mind.) And then Saturday he called for “the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution” if that’s what’s necessary to undo the 2020 election and install him as president again.

What’s next? Maybe he’ll suggest genocide against the people who didn’t vote for him. Whatever.

Meanwhile, most Republicans in the House and Senate — stalwart defenders of the Constitution that they are — aren’t commenting. One or two are condemning the remarks, but Rep. Dave Joyce isn’t one of them.

Joyce, the chair of the influential Republican Governance Group in the House, was asked by ABC “This Week” anchor George Stephanopoulos to respond to Trump’s post on Saturday on his Truth Social platform.

Joyce initially declined to do so, saying the public wasn’t “interested in looking backwards.” But Stephanopoulos followed up and Joyce ultimately said that Trump’s comment shouldn’t be taken seriously but that it wouldn’t lead him to pull potential support for Trump’s 2024 comeback bid.

“I will support whoever the Republican nominee is,” Joyce said while noting he didn’t think Trump would manage to win the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

“That’s a remarkable statement,” Stephanopoulos said. “You just said you’d support a candidate who’s come out for suspending the Constitution.”

“Well, you know, he says a lot of things,” Joyce said. “I can’t be really chasing every one of these crazy statements that come out about from any of these candidates at the moment.”

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Joyce that the GOP could find candidates who don’t constantly make “crazy statements”.

Former prosecutor Dwight Holton imagines how this Trump statement might play in his own seditious conspiracy trial.

Now the defendant wants you to think that this is all a misunderstanding – that he never meant to subvert the Constitution when he urged his armed followers to go to Capitol Hill to “stop the steal.” “I’d never subvert the Constitution!” the defendant wants you to believe.

But we know that is not true – the evidence makes that crystal clear. We know that subverting the Constitution is right in this defendant’s wheelhouse. And you don’t have to take my word for it. We know he is ready to subvert the Constitution BECAUSE OF HIS OWN WORDS.

and the Twitter/Hunter flap

Twitter continues to go down the tubes under Elon Musk’s visionary leadership, but he has learned a trick from his new right-wing allies: Play the Hunter Biden card.

So at a time when the big Twitter-related stories are falling advertising revenue, Nazis getting their accounts back, and Musk deplatforming Ye (i.e. Kanye West, who is also starting to sound like a Nazi), Musk turned some internal Twitter correspondence over to Matt Taibbi, showing times when the 2020 Biden campaign asked Twitter to take down certain tweets about Hunter Biden based on material allegedly hacked from his famous laptop.

This is being hyped as yet another great Hunter scandal, but (unless there’s a lot more that hasn’t been revealed yet) it seems to fall apart pretty quickly: The tweets in question posted dick pics, which probably would have been taken down for anybody. Tim Miller explains.

A related concern is why the New York Post’s pre-2020-election story on Hunter’s laptop wasn’t the beginning of a big media firestorm. Philip Bump explains that: The authenticity of the laptop and its files was just sketchy enough to remind everyone of the 2016 DNC-emails story, which was based on Russian hacking for the purpose of getting Trump elected. The American media had been played once before, and was wary of getting played again.

The other thing the Hunter story proves is that people like Musk and Tucker Carlson either don’t understand the First Amendment or don’t want you to understand it. Nothing in the Hunter/Twitter story concerns the First Amendment. The Atlantic’s David French elaborates:

In October 2020, when the laptop story broke, Joe Biden was not president. The Democratic National Committee (which also asked for Twitter to review tweets) is not an arm of the government. It’s a private political party. Twitter is not an arm of the government; it is a private company.

This matters for a simple but profoundly important reason. The First Amendment regulates government conduct. It does not regulate private actors. …

This means the First Amendment protects Twitter, the Biden campaign team, and the Democratic National Committee. The “TWITTER FILES” released so far do not describe a violation of the First Amendment. Instead, they detail the exercise of First Amendment rights by independent, private actors.

Even when the government does get involved, it’s not a First Amendment violation unless some kind of coercion is involved. (An example French doesn’t give, but could: Police may ask media outlets not to publicize certain aspects of a murder case. As long as that’s just a request, it’s not a First Amendment issue.)

But there’s no evidence of any such coercion (at least so far) in the Hunter Biden story, and unless and until there is, the story of Hunter Biden’s laptop is the story of private individuals making decisions they were entitled to make. It is not the story of a government run amok.

Similarly, when Twitter decides to block the account of somebody (like Ye, for example), it’s not a First Amendment issue, any more than it’s a First Amendment issue when The New York Times decides not to print your letter.

A related concern is that the major social-media companies — Twitter, Meta, Google — have too much influence over our national conversation. But that’s an antitrust problem, not a First Amendment problem.

and you also might be interested in …

Both Iran and China seem to have yielded (at least a little) in response to public protests. Iran may be abolishing its morality police, and China is backing off of its zero-Covid policies.

What China does next is tricky, because its population is much more vulnerable to Covid than, say America’s. Fewer people have immunity from previous infections, and China’s vaccine is much less effective, particularly against Omicron variants.

Looking at the results achieved in countries around the world, hindsight makes the right strategy obvious: Lock down hard to limit the spread of the disease until an effective vaccine can be developed, then vaccinate everybody as quickly as you can and reopen.

An authoritarian government like China’s should have an advantage in dealing with a pandemic, and during the lockdown phase it did: China has had fewer deaths per capita than almost any other country. But it should have recognized the superiority of the MRNA vaccines and imported them. Then it could have used its authoritarian power to vaccinate everybody, and reopened its economy with comparatively little damage.

Tuesday, the Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act. The House is expected to pass it this week, and President Biden is expected to sign it.

The bill is intended as a backstop in case the Supreme Court overturns its ruling in the Obergefell case, which mandates that same-sex marriages be performed in all 50 states. As Clarence Thomas pointed out in his concurring opinion in Dobbs, the logic the Court used to overturn abortion rights would also overturn same-sex marriage rights.

But this bill stops short of forcing states to perform same-sex marriages. Instead, it says that all states and the federal government must recognize marriages performed in other states. The Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act allowed states not to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. (To me, that always looked like a violation of the Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit clause, but that’s a different argument.) That would once again be the law if this bill doesn’t pass and the Court overturns Obergefell.

According to the UK’s Office of National Statistics:

For the first time in a census of England and Wales, less than half of the population (46.2%, 27.5 million people) described themselves as “Christian”, a 13.1 percentage point decrease from 59.3% (33.3 million) in 2011; despite this decrease, “Christian” remained the most common response to the religion question.

“No religion” was the second most common response, increasing by 12.0 percentage points to 37.2% (22.2 million) from 25.2% (14.1 million) in 2011.

Back in August, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren (who was elected, not appointed) because Warren said he would not enforce the state’s 15-week abortion ban, and signed a statement supporting prosecutors in other states who refuse to enforce laws against gender-affirming care.

DeSantis summed up his objection by calling Warren a “woke ideologue”. “Woke” has been a buzzword for DeSantis, as it has been for much of the right. But does it mean anything, or is it just pejorative?

Warren challenged his suspension in court, and the trial was held this week, though there is no decision yet. During the trial DeSantis aides were asked what “woke” meant to them. I found DeSantis’ General Counsel Ryan Newman’s answer astounding.

Asked what “woke” means more generally, Newman said “it would be the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.”

Newman added that DeSantis doesn’t believe there are systemic injustices in the U.S.

If you had asked me what conservatives mean by “woke”, I would have given more-or-less the same answer. But I’m viewing them as a hostile outsider. I never imagined they would put it that way themselves.

While we’re on the subject, the NYT’s Jamelle Bouie has some interesting observations about the “woke capitalism” DeSantis objects to. Bouie thinks DeSantis should have read more Karl Marx. Then he would understand that capitalism inevitably upends established social relations and prejudices. You can have traditional values or you can have unfettered capitalism, but not both.

Conservatives, if their policy priorities are any indication, want to both unleash the free market and reserve a space for hierarchy and domination. But this will not happen on its own. The state must be brought to bear, not to restrain capital per se but to make it as subordinate as possible to the political right’s preferred social agenda.

The WaPo’s Ruth Marcus savages the judicial philosophy of originalism. Two criticisms seem particularly on-target to me:

  • Originalism encourages how-many-angels-can-dance-on-a-pinhead arguments about unknowable questions, like exactly what people in other eras thought some particular word meant. They may not have had a coherent view, and may have chosen a vague word precisely because they couldn’t agree on anything more specific.
  • Conservative judges apply originalism opportunistically to get the results they want. (The Founders’ hostility to corporations like the British East India Company, for example, goes out the window whenever the Court considers corporate rights.)

and let’s close with something family oriented

John Wilhelm has some very cute and expressive kids, a camera, and photo-manipulation skills. The three come together in imaginative ways. He calls this one “Catch It Like a Dog”.

The Monday Morning Teaser

I’ve been sick this week — I’m almost recovered now — so I didn’t have the attention span to do a featured post. The weekly summary has a lot to cover: the Warnock/Walker runoff, why you should pay no attention to the manufactured story about talks with Russia, the long list of defeats Trump and his allies had in court, Elon Musk going full MAGA and using Hunter Biden to distract from his own failures, Iran and China giving ground to protesters, the Respect for Marriage Act getting through the Senate, and a few other things. I’ll try to get that out between 10 and 11 EST.

Dependable Appeal

One of the uncomfortable truths that you find in the dark corners of our history is that fascism happens, recurrently. Movements and demagogues and media figures and elected officials promote elements of fascism: antisemitism, hatred of minority groups and immigrants, worship of strongman leaders, wishing for the end to elections, the end to rule by law — it comes up, repeatedly. It has a certain appeal to a certain percentage of the country, in a fairly dependable way.

– Rachel Maddow
Ultra, episode 8

This week’s featured posts are “Is Club Q just the beginning?” and “Two Glimpses into the Future“.

This week I staked out some turf on Mastodon:

The Weekly Sift Twitter account has been used almost entirely to announce new posts, so at least in the beginning I plan to use Mastodon the same way. I’m also going to stay on Twitter for the time being.

This week everybody was talking about mass shootings

The Wal-Mart shooting in Virginia followed the Club Q shooting in Colorado so quickly that the public didn’t really have time to process Club Q. So I try to do that in one of today’s featured posts. I wanted to make a clear point in that article — the campaign of anti-LGBTQ lies and particularly anti-trans lies is so vicious that it looks designed to set off a pogrom — so a lot of auxiliary details got left out.

Club Q is an LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs, which is a stronghold of the religious right. In 2021, MinistryWatch identified six different conservative Christian organizations with annual revenue over $100 million that have headquarters there, including James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. As far back as 2005, NPR’s All Things Considered portrayed Colorado Springs as “a Mecca for Evangelical Christians”. (Not long afterward, mega-church pastor Ted Haggard, who figured prominently in NPR’s piece, fell in a drugs-and-gay-sex scandal. He then started another church in Colorado Springs, which also eventually asked him to leave. He then started a third church that met in his home. I don’t know how that’s going.)

In his recent successful reelection campaign in Florida, Senator Marco Rubio answered questions from survivors of the Parkland shooting by pointing to his support for red-flag laws rather than a ban on assault weapons. But the Club Q shooting points out one problem of red-flag laws in the current political environment: The local sheriff is one of many in Colorado who refuse to enforce Colorado’s red-flag law. El Paso County is a “2nd amendment sanctuary”.

So if you’re a violent crazy person and you want to keep your guns, Colorado Springs is the place for you. The citizens must be so proud.

Assault-weapon bans work. The WaPo’s Robert Gebelhoff supports that idea, and adds five other things that work:

  • Keep guns away from kids.
  • Stop the flow of guns
  • Strengthen background checks.
  • Strengthen red flag laws.
  • Treat guns like we treat cars.

Each of Gebelhoff’s points is turned into specific proposals, complete with evidence to support the idea that it will make a difference in the number of gun deaths.

and the incoming GOP House majority

It’s still not clear how Kevin McCarthy is going to get enough votes to become speaker, or what he’ll have to promise to who.

I keep wondering when a dozen or two moderates will realize they could probably cut a better deal in coalition with the Democrats. That has happened in the Alaska legislature.

Meanwhile, the Democrats still have control for the next five weeks. Let’s hope they pass something that takes the debt ceiling off the table for a long time. Having a debt ceiling at all is kind of like having an easily-triggered self-destruct button on your car.

and Twitter

The claim that Elon Musk was going to create a “content moderation council” to decide who gets banned or reactivated was always just for show. Techdirt’s Mike Masnick elaborates:

For years, tons of people have believed, falsely, that it was the CEOs of these social media companies making the final call on what stays up and what stays down. … Indeed, part of the reason those same folks got so excited about Musk taking over, was that they believed (falsely) that he was going to get rid of all the moderation and so they’d be “freed.” Instead, what they have is exactly what they falsely feared was happening before: an impulsive, moody, vindictive billionaire, enforcing his own personal views on moderation. It’s deeply ironic, but his supporters will never recognize that Musk is doing exactly what they falsely believed Dorsey was doing before.

It’s also deeply stupid, because no CEO should be engaged in such day to day decision making on content moderation questions. The flow of questions is absolutely overwhelming.

Conservatives often claim that social media algorithms are biased against them, and that was one reason Elon Musk cited for wanting to take over Twitter. But it’s worth pointing out that people who have done research on the topic have found the exact opposite:

Our results reveal a remarkably consistent trend: In six out of seven countries studied, the mainstream political right enjoys higher algorithmic amplification than the mainstream political left. Consistent with this overall trend, our second set of findings studying the US media landscape revealed that algorithmic amplification favors right-leaning news sources.

I can think of two reasons for both the actual algorithmic bias and the inverted public perception of it:

  • The purpose of social-media algorithms is to generate responses and keep people engaged. The industry understands that negative emotions like anger and fear serve that purpose better than empathy and good will. Since the MAGAverse also emphasizes anger and fear, their interests align. I mean, what’s more likely to keep you clicking: AOC explaining the difference between pardons and expungements, or MTG speculating about Jewish space lasers?
  • When you think of people who have been banned from social media, the names that pop to mind are high-profile conservatives like Trump and MTG, rather than equivalently high-profile liberals. But that’s because no equivalently high-profile liberals have misbehaved to the same extent. For example, none of Biden, Obama, and Clinton have ever used Twitter to incite a riot that got people killed, as Trump did prior to January 6. Twitter’s then-CFO said, “Our policies are designed to make sure that people are not inciting violence.”

That second point is supported by this study:

In sum, these data indicate that the tendency of Twitter users to share links to misinformation sites prior to the 2020 US election was as predictive of post-election suspension as partisanship or ideology – because users who were Republican/conservative were much more likely to share low quality information than users who were Democrat/liberal.

If you subscribe to TPM, read Josh Marshall’s “Elon Musk and the Narcissism/Radicalization Maelstrom“. He documents Musk’s rapid radicalization in recent weeks.

He’s done with general “free speech” grievance and springing for alternative viewpoints. He’s routinely pushing all the far right storylines from woke groomers to great replacement.

Marshall makes an apt comparison to Donald Trump, who had vague “dark political impulses and beliefs going back decades,” long before the 2016 campaign. But during that campaign he filled in his views to move to where the applause was loudest and the worship the most intense, i.e., the far right. Musk is doing something similar, but at light speed.

If you’re not a TPM subscriber, check out “Elon Musk has gone full authoritarian” by Dustin Rowles, which covers much of the same ground.

Found on Mastodon: “50 Ways to Leave Your Twitter” by Jon Reed

You just pin your last tweet, Pete …

From there it kind of writes itself.

and protests

Iranian soccer players didn’t sing their national anthem at the World Cup, apparently in support of the protests that have been going on in that country for the last two months. A girls’ basketball team posted to Instagram a team photo in which none of them wore hijabs.

Chinese protesters want the Covid quarantines lifted. It doesn’t seem to be working. China recently had a record 31K new infections in a day, which is actually not that bad by American standards. (We’re averaging about 42K per day, with a much smaller population.) But our cases are less serious because of our vaccines. China relied on a homegrown vaccine, which was never as effective as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and hasn’t been updated for Omicron.

In America, the point of lockdowns was to buy time for vaccines to arrive. It pretty much worked.

but I’d like to talk about two recent books

One of the featured posts discusses Yascha Mounk’s The Great Experiment and Douglas Rushkoff’s Survival of the Richest.

and you also might be interested in …

Rachel Maddow’s 8-episode podcast Ultra is complete now. You can binge the whole thing rather than parcel it out week-by-week. It’s the story of American fascists, some directly allied with the Hitler government, who plotted to overthrow democracy in the 1930s and 1940s. The pro-Nazi effort included a couple dozen members of Congress, as well as armed militias in various parts of the country.

Rachel’s theme, which she obviously intends as a lesson applicable to the present, is that the justice system by itself was not able to deal with these plotters, who had enough resources and behind-the-scenes influence to stymie prosecution even after the plot was uncovered. The big names in the plot — Senator Burton Wheeler of Montana and Rep. Hamilton Fish III of New York — never went to jail. (And yes, the Hamilton Fish Bridge on I-84 is indeed named after him and his son, Hamilton Fish IV. I’ve driven over it.) But they did get voted out after the scandal came to light.

yes, the courtroom might have maybe been a more satisfying place for these members of Congress to face consequences for what they had done. But the voters did it instead once they had the information they needed about what those members of Congress had been up to. It’s not jail-time accountability, but it is political accountability.

I’m sure she intends Ultra to be an argument against a let-Jack-Smith-do-it attitude towards Trump and our current crop of fascists. We need anti-fascist and pro-democracy activity at all levels.

What was required then, in the 1940s, was all of it. It was the plucky, creative, heroic efforts of clever, brave Americans, journalists, activists, lawyers, people of faith, citizens of all stripes who came to democracy’s aid when it needed them the most. That is what got us through back then. And now, almost a full century later, we get to learn from what they left us. We inherit their work.

Alaska’s ranked-choice voting system took weeks to produce final results, but they’re in: Democrat Mary Peltola held the House seat that she won in a special election earlier this year, once again defeating Sarah Palin. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski held her seat against a Trump-backed challenger.

In spite of the delay, I’ve become a fan of Alaska’s system. They hold a jungle primary where all candidates are on the same ballot. The top four vote-getters move on to the general election, where voters are allowed to rank them. Votes are then tabulated in rounds. In each round, the lowest vote-getter is eliminated and his/her votes are distributed according to the voters’ rankings. After at most two rounds of redistribution, somebody has a majority.

There are grounds for criticizing this system. For example, a candidate who was the second choice of literally everyone could be eliminated for not getting enough first-choice votes, even though the preferences might indicate that the eliminated candidate would have won one-on-one races against each of the other three. (Something like this appears to have happened to Republican Nick Begich in the special election.) But no system is perfect; there’s an actual theorem that proves it. This system seems better than most, and is a real improvement over the way elections work almost everywhere else.

The major benefit is that a moderate candidate can win by getting support from people of both parties plus independents, even though that candidate would have lost either party’s primary. That’s what Murkowski appears to have done this time.

New York magazine’s Intelligencer explains the FTX crypto collapse at many different levels of sophistication. I’ll let you find your own level.

The thing I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around is that Sam Bankman-Fried’s net worth was estimated at $16 billion earlier this month, but more recently “Bloomberg Billionaires Index considered Bankman-Fried to have no material wealth.” Seems like he could have tucked a few hundred million under a floorboard somewhere.

Josh Marshall nails something in this tweetstorm about guys who label themselves “alpha males”, like conservative author Nick Adams.

An Alpha, to the extent the term has any meaning, is the guy who the other guys get behind. Girls are into him. Charisma. Big man on campus, etc. … Back in the real world, being alpha can’t ever be a “hard job” since that’s basically the opposite of what being an alpha is – dominant, powerful, assertive and – critically – the ability to pull those things off. … If you’re going around constantly saying you’re an “alpha” and how it’s just getting harder and harder to do and things are tough all over and everyone’s being such dicks to the “alphas” and wow inflation is so high I can’t afford the chicken wings at Hooters… well, you’re pretty clearly doing it wrong.

In other words, alphahood isn’t a lifestyle you can choose. It’s something that either shows up in your life or it doesn’t.

The NYT published its annual assault on my ego: The 100 Notable Books of 2022. Usually I’ve read one or two of them, but this year it’s zero. The WaPo lists ten best books, which I have also read none of.

and let’s close with something that saves time

I’ve closed before with John Atkinson’s cartoons, particularly his radically condensed versions of classic novels. As we enter into the Christmas season, it’s a good time to recall Atkinson’s retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Is Club Q just the beginning?

It seems weird to say that one mass shooting is more disturbing than another. Whatever the details, people are dead for reasons that have little to do with the lives they thought they were leading. They didn’t do anything wrong or take foolish risks. They just happened to be in the way when someone started shooting.

Instinctively, we want to draw lessons from other people’s misfortunes, hoping to find some rule to protect us from similar harm. But mass shootings defy that impulse, because (on a personal level) there’s little to learn from them short of “Stay home and barricade the door.”

The six victims who died in the Chesapeake shooting Tuesday were just people who showed up for work. The three University of Virginia football players killed two weeks ago were on a class bus trip coming back from a play, and one of them was asleep. The five killed in Colorado Springs nine days ago were out at a club. There’s no cautionary tale to tell about them. Their deaths just remind us that we could die too, suddenly, without any prior awareness that we were walking into that kind of story.

So how could one such event be any more disturbing than another (in any way other than quantitatively — more dead, more wounded)? When I mentioned Club Q last week, one commenter wasn’t interested in whether or not it was a hate crime, because that distinction could hardly make it worse. Mass shootings are “wrong on so many levels, finding out why the perpetrator thought they needed to do this heinous thing is at the absolute bottom of my list of questions.”

I get that. And yet, I find myself ruminating over the Club Q shooting more than the others. This shooting seems different to me, because it looks so repeatable.

But even that observation doesn’t quite capture it, because in a sense every mass shootings is a repeat of all the previous ones. The stories have different details, but only a handful of plots: Someone feels insignificant, and believes that killing others will make him consequential. Or feels insulted or threatened or picked on, and wants to act out revenge on the largest possible scale. Or becomes convinced that some grievous wrong is happening in the world, one that they must fix themselves through violence. Or something similar.

Our country is awash in weapons of war. Our culture glorifies violence. We are constantly exposed to conspiracy theories that claim to expose great wrongs and the villains who perpetrate them. So we seldom go more than a week or two without a mass shooting, and sometimes they cluster, so that a new one happens before the news cycle of the previous one has played out.

We know the pattern is going to repeat. Next week, two weeks from now, there will be another shooting, another shooter, another list of dead people, another town that is probably not your town, but probably not so different.

But the Club Q shooting is repeatable in a much more specific way. Conspiracy theories about LGBTQ people, especially trans people, are circulating widely and are no longer just on the fringe: They’re being pushed by leaders in conservative media and politics. Among the theories regularly touted on the right, you will find:

Violence is often suggested as a proper response to these “assaults” on children. In April, Tucker Carlson said:

I don’t understand where the men are. Like where are the dads? You know, some teacher’s pushing sex values on your third grader. Why don’t you go in and thrash the teacher?

The Proud Boys, a group known for violence, several of whom are on trial for their role in the January 6 riot, have been disrupting drag story hours at libraries around the country. Boston Children’s Hospital received bomb threats after right-wing media accused it of “child abuse” for its gender-affirming care.

And then there’s Club Q: Someone kills five and wounds 19 others at an LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs on the eve of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, when an all-ages drag show was scheduled.

No doubt the shooter has some unique story, but this was not in any sense a lone-wolf attack. An entire political movement has been plowing the ground and planting the seeds for something like this to happen. And they’re not stopping. On only his second show after the Club Q shooting, Tucker Carlson repeated the tropes I listed above, and interviewed anti-trans activist Jaimee Michell, who said:

Saying that “groomer” is an anti-LGBTQ slur, that is doing irreparable damage to us as a whole, and it’s putting a really large target on our backs. And unfortunately, you know, the tragedy that happened in Colorado Springs the other night, it was expected and predictable. Sadly I don’t think it’s going to stop until we end this evil agenda that is attacking children.

I don’t know how to interpret that in any other way than “They had it coming.”

Usually, opinion leaders who campaign against a group are at least momentarily silenced when that group is violently attacked. They may not take any responsibility or make any long-term change in their rhetoric, but they do at least go silent for a while. When the El Paso shooter targeted Hispanics in a WalMart, for example, President Trump did not immediately double down on the “invasion” frame that the shooter had taken literally. He came back to it later, but not right away.

But this time is different. People like Carlson and Michell did double down. They may not have explicitly called for more violence, but they repeated the distorted chain of logic that led to that violence.

The way to start a pogrom against a group of people has been understood for centuries: You tell such a vicious lie about them that, to those who believe your lie, anything done in response seems fair. Anti-Jewish pogroms were started by the blood libel: Jews needed the blood of a Christian child to consecrate their matzohs for Passover. So any child who went missing at the wrong time of year might have been murdered by Jews. “When will these outrages stop?” Christians asked each other, and before long a mob would be in the Jewish quarter bashing heads and burning homes.

That looks to be what’s going on here. In actual fact,

  • Trans people and drag queens pose no threats to your children.
  • No men-claiming-to-be-women are waiting in public bathrooms to attack your daughters.
  • No teachers, counselors, therapists, or doctors are plotting to convince your children to change their genders.
  • Seeing a same-sex couple, either in person or on TV, is no more “sexual” than seeing an opposite-sex couple.
  • Diversity curricula in schools are not grooming your children for pedophiles.

Those are all blood libels. Their purpose is to start a pogrom. And it might be working.

Two Glimpses into the Future

Will American democracy survive after Whites become a minority?
And will the super-rich care whether civilization survives at all?

Following 2020 and 2022 elections, a number of articles have suggested that Democrats losing their hold on Hispanic voters, a development portrayed in liberal circles as something ominous that needs to be fixed. For years, the increasing number of Hispanic Americans was thought to promise Democrats some sort of demographic inevitability, and now they seem to be blowing it.

I’m of two minds about this line of thought. On the one hand, no segment of the electorate should be taken for granted, so the complaints that Democrats are offering Hispanic voters “noble rhetoric but never a seat at the table” deserve serious attention.

On the other, the whole emerging Democratic majority argument now seems wrong-headed, for reasons that Yascha Mounk spells out in the The Great Experiment: Why diverse democracies fall apart and how they can endure.

Mounk is deeply worried about the possible future in which we have a White Party and a People of Color Party. If the major-party identities get fixed in such a tribal way, he has a hard time seeing how democracy in America avoids devolving into civil strife, as it has in, say, Lebanon. Democracy should be about voters who are open to changing their minds when the other party presents a compelling vision, not about rival blocs you are born into and never leave. In a racially-defined two-party system, neither party can hope to convince the other’s voters, so they will end up competing in less positive ways.

To the extent that the parties themselves believe in demographic inevitability, they start to take their own demographic groups for granted and cast the other party’s demographic groups as enemies. You can see this happening already among MAGA Republicans, who see the coming non-White majority as a “Great Replacement” of White people, and try to head off that threat by rigging the system so that the dawning non-White majority never achieves power: stop non-White immigration, stop non-White immigrants from becoming citizens, make it hard for non-White citizens to vote, herd them into gerrymandered districts that minimize their political strength, and so on. Some on the right are ready to jettison democracy entirely rather than face a future where Whites lose power.

Many Democrats, on the other hand, fail to see why they need to win Hispanic votes. I mean, they’re Hispanics. What’s wrong with them if they can’t see which party they’re supposed to support? Conversely, White Evangelicals get written off, and they shouldn’t be. There are good Christian reasons to support liberal policies, and that argument needs to be made.

But Mounk is an optimist in that he believes the melting pot is still bubbling, at least for some groups. The original ethnic majority in the US was English, then Northern European (minus the Irish), and then grew to include Eastern and Southern Europeans (plus the Irish). (Jews, I think, are a special case — assimilated in some ways but not others, and still a political identity in a sense that Italians and Poles no longer are. Jews are separate enough that Doug Mastriano would try to make an issue of Josh Shapiro’s religion in the 2022 Pennsylvania governor’s race. But they’re accepted enough that he failed by a wide margin.) So why couldn’t it also absorb Hispanics, Asians, and Muslims? He thinks that’s starting to happen, and sees it as a good thing: There should be no need for either a White Party or a People of Color Party.

When their race or religion stops being a defining characteristic, Hispanic, Asian, and Muslim political views may come to more closely resemble the rest of the country. Hispanic businessmen, for example, may start to vote like other businessmen, Hispanic Catholics like other Catholics, and Asian or Muslim professionals like other professionals. If Republicans stop casting non-Whites and non-Christians as enemies, people of any race or religion may decide that they prefer lower taxes, less regulation, and other traditionally Republican policies.

Mounk glides over what this means for Black people, whose path into the mainstream has always been more difficult. (To an extent, non-Blackness has been the unifying principle of America’s ever-expanding “White” majority.) Mounk doesn’t explain why this will change, which I think is a major hole in his argument. But I believe this much of his thesis is sound: It’s a mistake to think that people will or won’t vote for you purely because they belong to this race or that religion. There’s nothing inevitable about Democratic dominance in a post-White-majority America — and that’s a good thing for democracy. Both parties would do well to recognize that fact and compete to win the allegiance of the new voters.

Another interesting recent book is Survival of the Richest: escape fantasies of the tech billionaires by Douglas Rushkoff.

Rushkoff describes himself in the introduction as a “Marxist media theorist” and “a humanist who writes about the impact of digital technology on our lives”. So he is “often mistaken for a futurist” and often finds himself at the same futuristic conferences as tech billionaires. One time he was paid to fly out to a desert compound, and discovered that the small conference he thought he would address was actually a handful billionaires who wanted advice on where to site their apocalyptic refuges and how to keep control of their mercenaries after the legal system collapses.

His book describes a fundamental change in capitalism and the capitalist mindset. Originally, the point of establishing some income-producing enterprise — a shop, a farm, a factory, or whatever — was to create something that could be passed down through the generations like a medieval fiefdom. (This is my interpretation of Rushkoff’s point, and the examples that follow are mine rather than his.) For example, I imagine Henry Ford would have been thrilled to glimpse a future in which the Ford Motor Company still existed 75 years after his death and was still a major source of wealth for his descendants. Some small-scale capitalist — let’s call him Jack — might well have a similar fantasy of a great-grandchild still owning and operating Jack’s Bar & Grill a century hence.

But recently, particularly in the tech world, the prevailing fantasy has shifted to one where you cash out. Elon Musk‘s original fortune, for example, came from co-founding Zip2 and then selling it to Compaq for $300 million. He then co-founded an online bank, which merged into PayPal, which was eventually bought by eBay.

These days, that’s what a tech entrepreneur hopes to do: turn an idea into a business that works, then sell that business and move on to the next idea. It’s as if, rather than open a Mom & Pop grocery and hope to pass it down to your kids someday, you started M&P Grocery Franchises with the idea of selling it to Walmart or Kroger in a few years.

The old model softened capitalism somewhat by connecting the capitalist to the community, because the community was the arena in which success would ultimately play out. Your shop might become a landmark, or your factory could make you a pillar of the community. Some rich families were easily identified with their cities, like the Pillsburys in Minneapolis or the Buschs in St. Louis.

The new model, though, is about transcending the community. You build a team to implement your idea. You hire workers to provide your service or build your product. And once all those relationships are established, you sell and move on.

Rushkoff refers to this as “The Mindset”, and he thinks it explains the wealthy’s disinterest in preventing possible future dystopias: My ultimate fantasy doesn’t rely on the world not going to hell, but on transcending Earth-bound society by colonizing Mars, or uploading my consciousness to the Cloud, or building my Bond-villain bunker in the wilds of Alaska (assuming I can figure out how to control my mercenaries after the legal system collapses).

[T]hese people once showered the world with madly optimistic business plans for how technology might benefit human society. Now they’ve reduced technological progress to a video game that one of them wins by finding the escape hatch.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Last Monday, the Club Q shooting was recent enough that I hadn’t thought it through yet. Quick reactions to disturbing events often turn out to be misguided, and I didn’t want to muddy the waters any further. But the more I think about it, the more I reaffirm my original sense that this represents something even worse than the typical mass shooting. I write that while realizing that it’s crazy to diminish any mass shooting by calling it “typical”. What could possibly be worse?

That’s what I’ll try to flesh out this morning in “Is Club Q just the beginning?” What’s particularly disturbing about the Club Q massacre is that the far-right end of our political spectrum didn’t react with the horror that mass shootings usually require, at least in public. Usually, people whose rhetoric has attacked the targeted group may not take responsibility for their malign influence, but they usually at least go silent for a while. This time they didn’t. Anti-trans rhetoric in particular continued apace. The people pushing it had to recognize the they-had-it-coming interpretation of their words, but they didn’t seem to care.

Of course there will be more mass shootings in general. That seems to go without saying in our gun-saturated country. But going forward, it seems increasingly likely that there will be more mass shootings like this one. To me, that’s disturbing in a new way.

That post will be out late, maybe not until noon EST. Before that, I’ll post a review of two recent books: Yascha Mounk’s The Great Experiment about diverse democracy, and Douglas Rushkoff’s Survival of the Richest about a bizarre change in the fantasies of the very rich. That should be out shortly.

The weekly summary will cover guns, Twitter, protests in Iran and China, Alaska’s ranked-choice voting system, and a few other things, before closing with an extremely condensed version of Dickens. That should be out by 1 or so.