Monday, June 14, 2021

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.)

and you might also be interested in

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.

https://www.reddit.com/r/MapPorn/comments/nvgyu5/how_a_coastline_100_million_years_ago_influences/

Monday, June 7, 2021

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.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/06/04/eye-eye/

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

https://www.timesfreepress.com/cartoons/2021/jun/05/critical-race-theory/4918/

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.

https://tulsaworld.com/opinion/columnists/cartoon-tulsa-massacre-by-bob-englehart/article_edb30d72-c4a0-11eb-af80-0faa3a462728.html

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.

https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/nobody-wants-to-work-anymore

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.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Revelations

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.

https://peoplebranch.org/2017/03/24/trump-is-a-traitor-lock-him-up/

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

https://theweek.com/political-satire/1000860/the-new-american-divide

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.

you also might be interested in ...

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dskVval50AE&t=225s

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.


http://baptistbookworm.blogspot.com/2011/01/postcards-from-wall-19.html

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.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Roles

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

https://theweek.com/cartoons/983971/political-cartoon-mcconnell-mccarthy-jan-6-gop

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 ...

https://theweek.com/cartoons/983981/political-cartoon-gop-voter-suppression

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.


https://theweek.com/cartoons/983665/political-cartoon-biden-kevin-mccarthy

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.


https://jensorensen.com/2021/05/15/wokester-madness-race/

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.

https://www.reddit.com/r/PoliticalHumor/comments/ha286x/pathetic_cowards_for_trump/

and let's close with something visual

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

Monday, May 17, 2021

Incompatibility

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?


https://theweek.com/cartoons/982669/editorial-cartoon-cdc-masks-pinocchio

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.

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/marjorie-taylor-greene-the-squad/

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMverRoF4fA

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.