Monday, November 28, 2022

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 Coupland'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.

Monday, November 21, 2022

The Unfinished Mission

I look forward – always forward – to the unfolding story of our nation: a story of light and love, of patriotism and progress, of many becoming one, and, always, an unfinished mission to make the dreams of today the reality of tomorrow.

- Speaker Nancy Pelosi

This week's featured post is "When can I stop writing about Trump?".

This week everybody was talking about the new Congress

We finally have a result in the House: the Republicans will have a narrow majority, with somewhere between 3 and 11 more seats than the Democrats. (For comparison, Democrats came out of the 2020 elections with 9 more seats than the Republicans.) Kevin McCarthy was reelected leader of the GOP House caucus, but whether that means he has the votes to become speaker is still undetermined.

Successful Republican candidates ran on the issues of inflation and crime, so McCarthy immediately unveiled a legislative program to address those problems. NO, I'M KIDDING. Republicans immediately starting talking about investigating Hunter Biden.

At a press conference on Thursday, when a reporter began to pose a question about the plans of the coming Republican majority that was not linked to the Biden family, [incoming Chair of the House Oversight Committee James] Comer, from Kentucky, sprang forward to say, “If we could keep it about Hunter Biden, that would be great.”

This investigation is supposed to own the libs somehow, but I don't know any Democrats who actually care about Hunter (other than, I assume, his Dad). Hunter is a private citizen who (unlike, say, Ivanka and Jared) has held no position in his father's administration. In four years, the Trump Justice Department somehow failed to prosecute Hunter for anything, and there's already a DoJ investigation and a grand jury hearing testimony about him in Delaware. But if McCarthy thinks the House can do better, he should have at it. (BTW: Marcy Wheeler's opinion is that the "Hunter Biden laptop" is a forensic mess.)

If Hunter does wind up in jail someday, though, I don't see that outcome having any effect on the country or even the government, other than making the President sad.

McCarthy promises investigations plural, but again, little in the way of legislation that will offer Republican solutions that the Democratic Senate will have to respond to. Other investigations might include harassing the Department of Justice for investigating Trump's crimes (because the Durham investigation worked out so well), promoting conspiracy theories about the origin of Covid-19, examining Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the state of our border with Mexico (which could be interesting if Republicans look at it honestly, which I suspect they won't).

Marjorie Taylor Greene claims that she has gotten a promise from McCarthy to "investigate Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Justice Department for their treatment of defendants jailed in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol." Because, you know, they're all political prisoners who didn't really do anything wrong, no matter what the juries say.

Will the GOP learn anything from its disappointing 2022 results? Looking at the lame-duck agenda of the Pennsylvania House, which will flip to the Democrats in January, Amanda Marcotte thinks not.

[Philadelphia District Attorney Larry] Krasner's impeachment is just a symptom of this larger problem. We shouldn't expect any Republicans, anywhere, to respond to these midterm losses by actively trying to deradicalize their party. If only. They'll just double down on conspiracy theories and lies, in a last-ditch attempt to delegitimize the voters who keep rejecting them.

Josh Hawley's WaPo op-ed is a somewhat mixed bag, but mostly proves Marcotte's point. The GOP's problem, Hawley thinks, is that it hasn't been radical enough.

For the past two years, the Republican establishment in Washington has capitulated on issue after issue, caving to Democrats on the Second Amendment and on the left’s radical climate agenda (“infrastructure”).

"Caving to Democrats on the Second Amendment" is a reference to the very modest (and very popular) reform bill passed in June, which increased background checks for gun buyers under 21 and made it harder for domestic abusers to own guns. (Hawley is welcome to propose a "give guns back to domestic abusers" bill if he wants.) And I wonder what his alternative to "the left's radical climate agenda" is. Let it burn?

The positive side of Hawley's article is that he wants Republicans to stop threatening Social Security and Medicare, and siding with Big Pharma on insulin prices. But then there's this:

Republicans will only secure the generational victories they crave when they come to terms with this reality: They must persuade a critical mass of working class voters that the GOP truly represents their interests and protects their culture. [my italics]

When he wrote the phrase "working class", Hawley left out the modifying phrase "older White Christian", which is clearly implied. A government that "protects the culture" against change is the essence of Orbanism, which appears to be the new model for Republican authoritarian government. That agenda is not just anti-immigrant, but also pro-fossil-fuel, pro-Don't-Say-Gay, anti-trans, anti-voting-rights, and against any attempt to tell school children about America's history of racism. I don't think younger voters support that agenda, even in the White Christian working class.

What happened to the Impeachment 10, the ten Republicans in the House who voted for Trump's second impeachment? Only one, Dan Newhouse of Washington, got re-elected. Dan Valadao of California got renominated and leads, though his race still hasn't been called.

Four retired: Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, Fred Upton of Michigan, and John Katko of New York. Gonzalez' district got eliminated when Ohio lost a seat after the 2020 census. Republicans held Kinzinger's and Katko's seats, but lost Upton's.

Four lost primaries: Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Tom Rice of South Carolina, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, and Peter Meijer of Michigan. Republicans held Cheney's and Rice's seats, but lost Beutler's and Meijer's.

So: One re-elected. One re-election still undecided. One seat eliminated. Four seats held by new Republicans. Three seats lost to Democrats. So Trump mostly got the scalps he was after, but at a cost to his party.

and Nancy Pelosi

She was going to have to give up the speakership anyway, now that the Republicans have won the majority and will take over the House in January. But she also announced that she won't run to lead the House Democratic caucus, a position she has held since 2003. She has been speaker twice, 2007-2011 and 2019-2023.

Progressives like to bash Pelosi for favoring moderate positions, but I can't think of an example during her speakership of a progressive bill that passed the Senate but got stuck in the House. If some part of the Obama or Biden agenda had a legitimate chance to become law, Speaker Pelosi passed it. She is widely given credit for the legislative maneuver that pushed ObamaCare over the finish line after the Democrats unexpectedly lost their filibuster-proof Senate majority.

I think Kevin McCarthy is about to show us just how difficult it is to be speaker when you have a narrow majority. (John Boehner and Paul Ryan had trouble governing with much larger majorities, or even predicting what their caucus was going to do.) Like Ginger Rogers matching Fred Astaire's moves backwards and in heels, Pelosi has made speakership look easy these last few years, but it's not.

It's not just Pelosi stepping aside, but also her second and third in command, Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn. That clears a path for a new generation of Democratic leaders. The new minority leader is likely to be Hakeem Jefferies, a 52-year-old from New York. 58-year-old Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and 43-year-old Pete Aguilar of California are likely to join him in the Democratic leadership.

Pelosi's resignation speech on the floor of the House included a classic Pelosi insult-by-omission.

It has been my privilege to play a part in forging extraordinary progress for the American people.  I have enjoyed working with three Presidents, achieving historic investments in clean energy with President George Bush, transformative health care reform with President Barack Obama, and forging the future – from infrastructure to health care to climate action – with President Joe Biden.

Wait. Wasn't some fourth guy president during part of her speakership? Give me a minute. His name is right on the tip of my tongue.

and Trump

The featured post looks at the convergence of several Trump stories this week: the announcement of his candidacy, the surprisingly cool reaction that announcement got, Merrick Garland naming a special prosecutor to investigate Trump, and Elon Musk reactivating Trump's Twitter account, which it's not clear that he's going to start using again.

and Twitter

This week Twitter continued to hemorrhage users, engineers, advertisers, and cash. MarketWatch reports on the engineers:

Elon Musk’s managerial bomb-throwing at Twitter has so thinned the ranks of software engineers who keep the world’s de-facto public square up and running that industry insiders and programmers who were fired or resigned this week agree: Twitter may soon fray so badly it could actually crash.

Musk ended a very public argument with nearly two dozen coders critical to the microblogging platform’s stability by ordering them fired this week. Hundreds of engineers and other workers then quit after he demanded they pledge to “extremely hardcore” work by Thursday evening or resign with severance pay.

The newest departures mean the platform is losing workers just at it is gears up for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which opens Sunday. It’s one of Twitter’s busiest events, when tweet surges heavily stress its systems.

The Wall Street Journal describes the money situation:

Nearly 90% of its revenue last year came from advertising, and it traditionally has been the company’s main source of revenue. ... The exodus of advertisers poses a threat for a company so reliant on that revenue stream. “As an online ad company, you’re flirting with disaster,” said Aswath Damodaran, a finance professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. ... Market-research firm Insider Intelligence Inc. recently cut its annual ad-revenue revenue outlook for Twitter by nearly 40% through 2024.

Meanwhile, Twitter has interest payments to meet. Musk financed $13 billion of his $42 billion purchase by loading the company with debt. That debt is at higher interest rates because the credit rating has dropped.

As for users, I am regularly seeing messages from my Facebook friends telling me their new Mastodon address. I rarely use Twitter for anything other than posting links to Weekly Sift articles, but I will probably try out Mastodon soon.

I'm thinking that this might turn into a big enough disaster to change the culture. Going forward, it's going to be really hard to make the case that billionaires are rich because they're so much smarter than the rest of us.

and you also might be interested in ...

There was a lot of fear in the air Tuesday when a missile crossed the Ukrainian border and hit inside Poland. What if this was a deliberate Russian attack, a warning shot telling NATO to stop supporting Ukraine? Would NATO have to respond somehow? If it did, would we be be on some kind of tit-for-tat escalation path towards World War III?

Apparently not. The currently accepted theory is that Russia's missile attacks on Ukraine led the Ukrainians to fire air defense missiles. One of those went astray and landed inside Poland, killing two people.

During the coverage of this incident I learned that Russian misfires (which this strike now appears not to be) are more and more likely as the war goes on. Russia has used up nearly all of its most accurate missiles and is now shooting off whatever it has left. For example, they've started using anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles against land targets.

Strikes from a Russian S-300 air defense system “don’t have the ‘oomph’ to really hit hardened military targets and they don’t have the accuracy in a land attack role to even strike the building you want to hit,” [Ian] Williams [of the Center for Strategic and International Studies] said. “This really is just firing them into the ether and seeing where they land.”

It's still too soon to say anything conclusive about the shooting at a Colorado Springs LGBTQ club Saturday night, but it has all the marks of a hate crime.

While no motive in the shooting has been disclosed by authorities, the violence comes amid heightened tensions for the LGBTQ community. Several drag events around the country have drawn protests and threats, with some protesters carrying firearms, and more than 240 anti-LGBTQ bills were filed in the first three months of this year, most of them targeting trans people.

The COP-27 climate conference in Egypt was a mixed bag. The decision to create a loss-and-damage fund is big, but the commitment to phase out fossil fuels didn't happen.

and let's close with something epic

A strangely acquired taste is the Epic Rap Battles of History on YouTube. My favorite so far is Eastern vs. Western philosophers.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Every County

Every county, every vote. ... I never expected that we were going to turn these red counties blue. But we did what we needed to do. And we had that conversation across every one of those counties. And tonight, that's why I'll be the next U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.

- John Fetterman

This week's featured post is "Notes on the midterm elections".

This week everybody was talking about the midterms

That's the subject of the featured post.

I noticed this too late to include in that post, but it perfectly illustrates how unlikely MAGA Republicans are to learn from their mistakes. Like their object of worship, they don't make mistakes, so how could they learn from them?

The American Greatness blog has put its finger on who's to blame for MAGA candidates' failure: the voters.

The problem here is voter quality.

The picture we got from Tuesday is that of a decadent, vegetative electorate easily swayed by platitudes and sentimental appeals, fervently attached to its entitlements. ... Republicans performed well with married men and women—the people who should be the center of our civic life, while Democrats dominated with unmarried women and the twitchy, nihilist Gen Z. 

Again: voter quality.

The writer only expects things to get worse "after another 10 or 15 years of mass immigration have taken their toll". He doesn't say it, but the obvious answer is to give up on democracy entirely and take power by force.

David Frum recalls how after 2016, reporters from the "liberal media" went on tours of small-town diners to connect with the white-working-class voters that had surprised them by turning out for Trump. Lots of liberals (me, for example), read J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy in an attempt to understand. He wishes MAGA Republicans would do something similar now, but he doesn't believe they will. He quotes historian Bernard Lewis:

The question, ‘Who did this to us?’ has led only to neurotic fantasies and conspiracy theories. The other question—‘What did we do wrong?’—has led naturally to a second question, ‘How do we put it right?’ In that question … lie[s] the best hope for the future.

and Twitter

It's been stunning to watch how quickly Elon Musk has destroyed his reputation as a great businessman. The problem in a nutshell is that Twitter's revenue comes from advertising, and most advertisers hate to have their ad next to hate speech. It's just a bad association. So they got spooked when Musk described himself as a "free speech absolutist" and fired Twitter's content-moderation people. That flight of advertisers tanked the company's revenue, and now Musk is floating the possibility of bankruptcy.

One of the more interesting takes on this situation comes from Josh Marshall. Marshall's TPM site used to be supported by advertising, but after years of trying to make an advertising model work he moved to a subscription model. (His Twitter article is behind his paywall, so I'll quote liberally.)

Because of that, for upwards of fifteen years I had to deeply immerse myself not only in the advertising business generally but in the niche of advertising in political media. It was a huge part of my work for years and I had to understand it really, really well — because the existence of TPM depended on it. ...

When I first got into advertising, TPM was hot. We had a big audience and it was pretty clear that it was just a matter of agreeing to sell this lucrative ad space. Our audience was educated, fairly well off. We would print money.

I soon realized it was quite a bit more complicated.

It’s not just that advertisers don’t want to be near hate speech or awful things. It goes way beyond that. They want to tell you about their brand when you’re in a good, comfortable, feel-good moment.

He points out that the Drudge Report had a huge audience for many years, but it never had high-quality advertisers, because it was "hot and contentious" and left its readers in an "agitated state".

This aspect of the advertising business is actually a big, big reason for what we sometimes call “bothsides” journalism. This is often presented as an outmoded style of journalism. It’s really more a business model. In a politically polarized society advertisers are very, very cautious about giving any hint that they are taking sides in the great political or political factional controversies of the day.

So while it may look like Musk has gotten into the social media business, actually he has gotten into the advertising business, which he doesn't understand.

He wants to be the world’s biggest troll, play to his new far-right/Trumpy fan base and have all the high dollar national brand advertisers flock to the platform he just wildly overpaid for. That was always an absurd proposition.

Wish I'd said this: "Buying Twitter is Musk's invasion of Ukraine." Guys who surround themselves with people who believe they are geniuses eventually start doing stupid things.

Wired explains how Twitter has become a "scammer's paradise".

and Ukraine

Ukrainian troops have taken Kherson, a key Black Sea port that the Russians occupied in the early days of the invasion. President Zelenskyy visited there today, and vowed that "We are step by step coming to all the temporarily occupied territories."

I'm not an expert on Russian or Ukrainian culture, but I know that the folklore is full of heroes who confidently bluff and bluster. I remember Boris Yeltsin -- backed by nobody in particular at the time -- standing on a tank outside the Parliament building and announcing that he would see the leaders of the ongoing coup brought to justice. It worked.

It's hard to imagine a bigger contrast of imagery than Zelenskyy touring a front-line city versus Putin sitting alone at the end of his long table. One of them is a folk hero and the other isn't. I have to think that the people of both countries see that.

Last week I linked to Masha Gessen's warning in The New Yorker that Putin might really use nukes. Now Alexander Gabuev is saying something similar in The Atlantic.

and Trump's legal situation

Getting past the midterms has reawakened speculation about when or whether Trump might be indicted for a variety of crimes. (DoJ policy discourages indictments that might influence an election.) The source I trust most here is Marcy Wheeler. She's been following the investigations closely, but tries to avoid making sensational claims that she'll have to walk back later.

An indictment of Trump is not going to happen today. In the stolen document case, that’s likely true because DOJ will first want to ensure access to the unclassified documents seized in August, something that won’t happen until either the 11th Circuit decision reverses Judge Aileen Cannon’s decision to appoint a Special Master (that will be ripe for a hearing after November 17) or after a judgement from Special Master Raymond Dearie on December 16 that Cannon chooses to affirm. It’s not impossible, however, that DOJ will take significant actions before then — perhaps by arresting one or more of Trump’s suspected co-conspirators in hoarding the documents, or by executing warrants at other Trump properties to find the documents still believed to be missing.

The next most likely indictment to drop is in the fake-electors scheme, but Wheeler thinks there's a layer of conspirators who will be indicted before Trump. Ditto for January 6. She isn't sure what to predict about the Fulton County election-tampering investigation, which is still is fighting to get testimony from Lindsey Graham and a few other witnesses. (One objection I have to the media coverage of these battles: They're being treated as if avoiding testifying is a normal thing to do, and few are drawing the obvious conclusion that Graham et al know things they don't want investigators to know.)

Meanwhile, the lawyers who filed Trump's massive (and quickly dismissed) lawsuit against everyone involved in starting the Trump/Russia investigation (i.e., Hillary Clinton, Jim Comey, and 29 others) have been sanctioned by the judge in the case. He ordered them to pay $50K to the court and $16K in legal fees to Charles Dolan, the defendant who asked for sanctions. Such sanctions are warranted under the law when a lawsuit's claims are "objectively frivolous" and "the person who signed the pleadings should have been aware they were frivolous".

The judge's order says:

Plaintiff deliberately misrepresented public documents by selectively using some portions while omitting other information including findings and conclusions that contradicted his narrative. This occurred with the Danchenko Indictment, the Department of Justice Inspector General’s Report for Operation Hurricane, and the Mueller Report. It was too frequent to be accidental.

Every claim was frivolous, most barred by settled, well-established existing law. These were political grievances masquerading as legal claims. This cannot be attributed to incompetent lawyering. It was a deliberate use of the judicial system to pursue a political agenda.

But the courts are not intended for performative litigation for purposes of fundraising and political statements.

Trump's last-ditch attempt to avoid showing his tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee is at the Supreme Court. The six partisan Republican justices could do their buddy a solid just by dragging their feet until Republicans take over the House (assuming they do) in January. I expect the Court to avoid this unsavory option and make an actual ruling, but it's an open question.

Trump's former chief of staff and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly is the latest ex-official to describe attempted wrong-doing. He doesn't have a book to sell, but ...

Mr. Kelly said he chose to respond now because Mr. Trump had publicly claimed last week that he had used the Justice Department and the F.B.I. to help Gov. Ron DeSantis win election in Florida in 2018. Mr. Kelly, who was Mr. Trump’s chief of staff at the time, said Mr. Trump never made such a request. If he had, Mr. Kelly said, it would have been an improper use of the Justice Department and the F.B.I.

(MSN fact-checked Trump's statement and found "no evidence" to support it.) Kelly went on to describe other times when Trump wanted to misuse the IRS and other government agencies to help his friends or harm his enemies.

“I would say, ‘It’s inappropriate, it’s illegal, it’s against their integrity and the I.R.S. knows what it’s doing and it’s not a good idea,’” Mr. Kelly said he told Mr. Trump.

“Yeah, but they’re writing bad things about me,” Mr. Kelly said Mr. Trump told him.

A spokesman for Trump denied the claims, calling Kelly "a psycho".

Meanwhile, Mike Pence does have a book to sell, so he's finally dishing on Trump. Trump's "reckless" words on January 6, he says, "endangered me and my family". Maybe he should have told the Senate that during the second impeachment trial.

and you also might be interested in ...

A Trump-appointed judge has blocked Biden's student-loan forgiveness program. This case will have to work its way through the system before anybody sees debt relief.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine compared Massachusetts school districts that dropped mask mandates to those that maintained them. Conclusion: masks work.

Among school districts in the greater Boston area, the lifting of masking requirements was associated with an additional 44.9 Covid-19 cases per 1000 students and staff during the 15 weeks after the statewide masking policy was rescinded.

Two more raped minors have had to leave Ohio to get abortions.

Remember that billion dollars Alex Jones is supposed to pay to the Sandy Hook parents? That was just the actual damages. A judge has added another $473 million of punitive damages.

Dean Baker points out something important: In the early years of the 21st century, health-care spending as a percentage of GDP was headed inexorably upward. That seemingly unstoppable trend caused economists to make a lot of ominous projections. But instead health-care inflation moderated, and the percent of GDP spent on healthcare is now below where it was in 2014, when ObamaCare was implemented.

This is an example of how good government is hard to campaign on. Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act in March of 2010, and then got clobbered in the 2010 midterms, largely because Republicans were able to raise so many fears about "death panels", rationing, and all sorts of other things ObamaCare supposedly included.

So here's to all the Democrats in Congress who lost their seats in 2010 because they did the right thing. The purpose of having power should be to use it well, not to hang onto it.

Friday wasn't just Veterans' Day, it was also Kurt Vonnegut's 100th birthday. I recently passed through Indianapolis, Vonnegut's home town, and went to the Vonnegut museum there. I particularly enjoyed reading Vonnegut's rejection letters from publishers, which are framed and hung on the wall.

and let's close with something powerful

Like a fleet of snowplows. Last year, the Minnesota Department of Transportation started a contest to name new snowplows. Predictably, the big winner was Plowy McPlowface.

But now that the obvious name is out of the way, things have gotten more interesting. The next generation of plows named by the public display much more creativity.

Runner-up names are also listed. My favorite is Sled Zeppelin.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Except for all the others

No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government — except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

- Winston Churchill

This week's featured post is "Can conservatives be allies against climate change?"

And if you're wondering what I did with my week off, here's the talk I gave.

This week everybody has been talking about tomorrow's elections

Ordinarily, the day before an election I write a guide for people who plan to watch the returns come in, including things like poll closing times in various states, which early-reporting races are likely to be bellwethers for how the night is going, and so on.

I'm not doing that this time, because I'm not planning to watch, so I'm not sure that I want to encourage you to watch. Probably I won't be able to resist briefly turning the TV on every hour or two, but I don't think that an all-evening watch party will be good for my health and sanity.

It's not that I'm sure my candidates will lose, although the polls have been trending that way for the last few weeks. It's possible that the attack on Paul Pelosi (see next note) was a wake-up call to the electorate, that Obama's tour of swing states will make a difference, or that the polls have been undercounting young women who previously haven't voted, but will turn out to protect their reproductive rights. So there's reason to hope, reason to vote, and reason to do whatever you can to encourage others to vote.

The reason I'm planning to restrain myself from watching the returns is that I have a bad attitude: I'm pissed at the American people. A lot of these races shouldn't be close. Herschel Walker, for one, should not have gotten anywhere near the Senate, and the idea that he can run (against a minister like Rafael Warnock) as the "Christian" candidate should scandalize anyone who cares about Jesus or the churches founded in his name. And Ron Johnson didn't just wink and nod as Trump tried to overthrow American democracy, he was an active participant in the plot to count the votes of fake electors. I could go on.

I didn't used to feel this way. When John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 ran against Barack Obama, for example, I had no doubt that I wanted Obama to win. But I also saw some virtues in McCain and Romney, and I understood how someone with different values could rate those virtues higher than Obama's virtues. (During the 2012 primaries, I wrote "The Tragedy of Mitt Romney" about the candidate he could have been.)

This year, I've lost that vision and that generosity of spirit. I can't twist a few knobs in my values and picture myself supporting Doug Mastriano or Kari Lake. How does that go? "Sure, he's antisemitic, but ..." or "I know she's against democracy, but ..."

With exceptions I can count on my fingers, the Republican Party is now a personality cult, and the man they worship is a fascist. I can't get past that.

So anyway, there are polls. Nate Silver is currently giving Republicans an 83% chance to take the House and a 55% chance to take the Senate.

The key Senate races are Georgia (where Herschel Walker has a 58% chance of defeating Raphael Warnock), Nevada (Paul Laxalt has a 57% chance to defeat Catherine Cortez Masto), and Pennsylvania (John Fetterman has a 54% chance to defeat Mehmet Oz). Whichever party takes two of those three races probably wins the Senate.

and the Pelosi attack

The narrative here is pretty simple: Republican rhetoric has been demonizing Nancy Pelosi for decades, and we've known for a while that some of the more unhinged right-wing partisans take that demonic image very seriously. QAnon folks, for example, promote the libel that she (and other top Democrats) drink the blood of children. Some of the seditionists on January 6 were roaming the halls of the Capitol calling "Nancy ... Nancy" like villains in a horror movie.

So early in the morning of Friday October 28, the Speaker's 82-year-old husband woke up to find a man standing over his bed with a hammer, asking where Nancy was. He said he was there to "have a little chat" with Speaker Pelosi, and later told police he intended to kidnap the Speaker and break her kneecaps unless she told him "the truth", whatever he imagined the truth to be.

Paul Pelosi then had a bizarre conversation with the attacker, during which he managed to call 911. When police arrived, the attacker hit Pelosi in the head with the hammer. We don't have a lot of details about his injuries, but he needed surgery and didn't get out of the hospital until Thursday.

It's important to be clear on what Republicans are and aren't responsible for here. The attacker looks to be a deranged loner, rather than part of an organized fascist group like the Oath Keepers or Proud Boys, or even the men recently convicted of plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. No one is accusing Trump or any of the leaders of his cult with planning or carrying out the attack.

At worst, this seems to be "stochastic terrorism" -- promoting the idea that your political enemies deserve violence, while knowing that you have violent followers who are likely to respond. The classic example is King Henry II saying "Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?", which resulted in the murder of Thomas Becket. Henry's hands may have stayed clean, but he knew or should have known what might happen.

Even that judgment may seem a bit harsh, until you look at how Republicans reacted to news of the attack. Their immediate reflex was to make up and promote a false narrative in which the attack had nothing to do with politics, but instead reflected badly on Paul Pelosi himself.

The flood of falsehoods showed how ingrained misinformation has become inside the G.O.P., where the reflexive response of the rank and file — and even a few prominent figures — to anything that might cast a negative light on the right is to deflect with more fictional claims, creating a vicious cycle that muddies facts, shifts blame and minimizes violence.

Donald Trump Jr. quickly tweeted a joke about the attack, and Trump Sr. told an interviewer that there were "weird things going on in that household the last couple of weeks", as if the Pelosis had done something to invite violence. Kari Lake got uproarious laughter by telling a campaign crowd "Nancy Pelosi, well, she's got protection when she's in D.C. Apparently, her house doesn't have a lot of protection." Lake did not appear shocked by the response, and did nothing to rein in the hilarity.

What should Republicans say? Well, here's what Bernie Sanders said in 2017 (which is how far back you have to go to find any comparable liberal political violence) after the shooter of Steve Scalise turned out to have been a volunteer for the Sanders presidential campaign:

I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values. My hopes and prayers are that Representative Scalise, congressional staff and the Capitol Police Officers who were wounded make a quick and full recovery. I also want to thank the Capitol Police for their heroic actions to prevent further harm.

No jokes, no conspiracy theories, no implications that Scalise was asking for it somehow. No excuses about how "passionate" Sanders' supporters are, or how "angry" the state of the country has made them. Just: This is wrong. Don't do it.

Given the upswing in right-wing violence since Trump lost the 2020 election, I'd like to hear an even stronger statement:

If any of my supporters think they're doing me a favor by physically attacking my political rivals, they're wrong. If you're involved in any ongoing plots, I want you to stop.

But Trump and the other MAGA Republicans won't say anything like that, because don't believe political violence is "unacceptable". Quite the opposite: They're counting on it.

and Twitter

So, after months of stop-and-start will-he-or-won't-he, Elon Musk finally owns Twitter. He immediately fired a lot of people and announced a lot of intentions that may not manifest for some while, if ever. There's some evidence that trolling and hate speech have already increased in anticipation of lower standards and more lax enforcement.

My personal experience of Twitter hasn't changed yet, so I'm in a wait-and-see mode. I'm hearing a lot of people talk about closing their account and moving to some rival platform, but there's not a simple Coke/Pepsi or iPhone/Android replacement.

What we need is a sagacious, media-savvy voice of sanity, and I'll nominate James Fallows. He makes a few key points in his Substack post "Twitter is Our Future".

  • He plans to stay on Twitter for the time being.
  • He's not going to pay a monthly fee to maintain his "blue check mark" (which verifies that he is who he says he is), because those check marks benefit the system as a whole, not him as an individual.
  • Twitter is a "bellwether" for changing media platforms in general. Many online communities are going to be displaced as media sites change, but the process is happening much faster on Twitter.
  • While individual tweets aren't reliable sources of information, they are valuable tips about what might be happening.
  • Musk himself is "like a rich football fan buying an NFL team and imagining that he can name draft-picks and call plays." Fallows also quotes a line from The Great Gatsby: "They were careless people… they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness… and let other people clean up the mess they had made."
  • No single site will replace Twitter, but "there will have to be many, and we’ll blunder and feel our way forward."

The substitute most Twitter-refugees are choosing is Mastodon, which is not exactly the same thing. I haven't tried it yet.

and nuclear threats

If the rest of the news wasn't depressing enough this week, The New Yorker's resident Putin expert, Masha Gessen, warns that we need to take his threat to use nuclear weapons seriously.

In the end, every “rational” case for why Putin won’t use nuclear weapons in Ukraine falls short. He is not afraid of losing support from his current allies, because he misapprehends Russia’s position in the world; he sees Russia as politically, economically, and militarily stronger than it is. Chinese and Indian leaders may express alarm at the use of extreme measures such as nuclear weapons, but to Putin this points to their lack of resolve—their weakness, not the Kremlin’s. And, if need be, he is prepared to make outlandish denials, no matter how implausible. ...

The arguments that Putin won’t use nuclear weapons because doing so would endanger Russians, including himself, are blind to the fact that Putin believes he has the right, possibly the moral obligation, to sacrifice hundreds of thousands or millions of people. The argument that a nuclear strike wouldn’t help Putin achieve his strategic goals mistakes Russia’s strategic goals as anything but inflicting terror on Ukrainians. The losses the Russian military is suffering now can only motivate Putin to create more terror, against more people.

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The week's good news was that Jair Bolsonaro narrowly lost his re-election bid in Brazil, and it looks like he's going to accept that he has to leave office. Brazilian election officials made an interesting choice: They avoided the appearance of election shenanigans by going with electronic voting systems that produce instant results. In the long run, though, they've made real voting fraud easier, because the lack of paper ballots makes the system impossible to audit.


Benjamin Netanyahu is poised to reclaim the prime minister's office following the recent elections. It's tempting to shrug and say "We've been here before", but actually we haven't. This time his coalition includes some right-wing parties that used to be beyond the pale in Israeli politics.

Some members of his likely parliamentary majority believe in Jewish supremacy and support racist policies that may ultimately change the way the state of Israel protects the rights of its citizens, whether Palestinians who hold citizenship or leftists, activists, and critics who seek equal rights for Palestinians in the occupied territory.

NYT columnist Thomas Friedman says "The Israel we knew is gone."

Netanyahu has been propelled into power by bedfellows who: see Israeli Arab citizens as a fifth column who can’t be trusted; have vowed to take political control over judicial appointments; believe that Jewish settlements must be expanded so there is not an inch left anywhere in the West Bank for a Palestinian state; want to enact judicial changes that could freeze Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial; and express contempt for Israel’s long and strong embrace of L.G.B.T.Q. rights.

and let's close with something moving

When the world gets to be too much, you can always dance, even if the music isn't from your era.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Playing Defense

No Sift next week. The next new articles will post on November 7.

The greatest way to defend democracy is to make it work.

- Tommy Douglas

This week's featured posts are three separate closing arguments for (1) why you should vote, and (2) why you should vote for Democrats. "Closing argument: Democracy", "Closing argument: Abortion", and "Closing argument: Biden's accomplishments".

This week everybody was talking about the midterm elections

Since I won't be blogging next Monday, I decided to post my closing arguments today. (Otherwise they'd appear the day before the election, which seems too late to convince anybody.) I encourage you to send these links to anybody you think needs to see them.

and the UK

Liz Truss' reign as prime minister is over after about six weeks. She's the third PM in a row to have a short tenure: David Cameron served a respectable six years before leaving in 2016 after the Brexit referendum. He was replaced by Theresa May, who resigned in 2019 because she couldn't get a Brexit agreement negotiated and approved. Boris Johnson lasted for three chaotic years before resigning in scandal in July, but not actually leaving office until September.

Truss came into office promoting a big tax-cuts-for-the-rich plan that was (1) deeply unpopular with voters and (2) spooked the capital markets, sending the pound plunging. (For what it's worth, Trump economic advisor Larry Kudlow loved it, and claimed Truss' plan looked just like what Kevin McCarthy wants to do if he becomes Speaker.)

Now she's resigned too, and it looks like Rishi Sunak is going to replace her.

The Conservative Party (home of everybody I've mentioned so far) still has a majority in Parliament and doesn't have to hold new elections until 2024. But its polls have crashed and there's general acclaim for holding elections sooner, which is a thing that can happen in the British system. We'll see.

As for what this is all about, Vox interviews Johns Hopkins Professor Matthias Matthijs, who claims these years of instability trace back to Brexit.

There is one clear root cause of Britain’s woes, according to Matthijs: Brexit. The vote to Leave or Remain in the EU, he says, scrambled UK partisan affiliations and created new, polarized political identities around one dominant issue. The decision to leave unleashed serious economic aftershocks, which were impossible to ignore or paper over indefinitely. The result has been a chaotic, unsteady Britain, battling social malaise and political upheaval in the aftermath of the pandemic and amid an inflation crisis sweeping the global economy.

and Trump legal notices

Trump is facing so many legal challenges these days that you really can't tell the players without a program. This summary of the week's events may be incomplete.

Friday, the January 6 committee subpoenaed Trump. The subpoena says:

[W]e have assembled overwhelming evidence ... that you personally orchestrated and oversaw a multi-part effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election and to obstruct the peaceful transfer of power. ... Because of your central role in each element of these actions, the Select Committee unanimously directed the issuance of a subpoena seeking your testimony and relevant documents in your possession.

No doubt he'll run out the clock until the committee dissolves at the end of the year. But that will make him look weak and cowardly compared to Hillary Clinton, who faced the Republican Benghazi Committee for 11 hours and ate their lunch.

Wednesday, Trump gave a deposition under oath in the civil suit where E. Jean Carroll is charging him with defamation. In a memoir she published in 2019, Carroll claimed Trump had raped her in a department store dressing room in the mid-1990s. Trump told reporters that she was "totally lying" and that he never knew her, a claim that became suspicious when The Cut published a picture of them (with spouses) talking at a party in 1987. Trump managed to delay his deposition for years, but he finally had to do it. (The deposition isn't public, so I don't really know, but my bet is that he sounded like a dementia patient, and just kept repeating "I don't remember." That's how his written testimony in the Mueller investigation was.)

The Trump Organization's trial for tax fraud starts today. The case is related to the charges for which CFO Allen Weisselberg has already pleaded guilty. Trump himself has not been indicted.

Also on Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that Trump lawyer John Eastman (the guy who came up with the Mike-Pence-can-decide-the-presidency theory) has to turn a number of Trump-related emails over to the January 6 committee. Eastman had claimed attorney/client privilege, but the judge invoked the crime/fraud exception to that privilege. The judge's order says:

The emails show that President Trump knew that the specific numbers of voter fraud were wrong but continued to tout those numbers, both in court and to the public. The Court finds that these emails are sufficiently related to and in furtherance of a conspiracy to defraud the United States.

The special master reviewing the non-classified documents the FBI seized in their search of Mar-a-Lago -- the one Trump nominated himself -- is getting impatient with some of Trump's bizarre claims, like that a document can be personal, and yet also subject to executive privilege. Trump has never grasped that president was a role he played; it did not adhere to his person.

Meanwhile, WaPo reported this:

At least one of the documents seized by the FBI describes Iran’s missile program, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe an ongoing investigation. Other documents described highly sensitive intelligence work aimed at China, they said.

Unauthorized disclosures of specific information in the documents would pose multiple risks, experts say. People aiding U.S. intelligence efforts could be endangered, and collection methods could be compromised. In addition, other countries or U.S. adversaries could retaliate against the United States for actions it has taken in secret.

Clearly, nothing to worry about.

Lindsey Graham appealed to the Supreme Court in a last-ditch attempt to get out of testifying to the Fulton County, Georgia grand jury about his possible interference in the 2020 election. I've got to wonder what question he is afraid to answer under oath, that it's worth going to this much trouble.

Friday, Steve Bannon was sentenced to four months in prison for contempt of Congress. He defied a subpoena from the January 6 committee similar to the one Trump got. (Again: What question is he afraid of?) His sentence won't begin until his appeals are exhausted, but he's going to jail eventually, because this case is really really simple: He got a legal subpoena and he didn't show up.

Meanwhile, his completely unrelated fraud trial should start in November.

and John Durham's final whimper

The Durham investigation was supposed to uncover some huge anti-Trump plot inside the Deep State, and demonstrate that the Trump/Russia investigation was based on politics rather than evidence. Trump promised it would uncover "the crime of the century", and claimed Durham was "coming up with things far bigger than anybody thought possible".

But as so often happens with Trump's claims, when it's time to produce evidence they come up short. It happened again in the Igor Danchenko case, which concluded Tuesday with an acquittal. The jury deliberated for only nine hours, and a juror quoted by the Washington Post said there were "no holdouts".

As in the Sussman case, the only other Durham indictment that went to trial, the charge was that someone lied to the FBI, not that the FBI investigation itself was corrupt or ill-founded. And even that small claim could not be proved to a jury. Danchenko's lawyer said:

If this trial has proven anything, it’s that the special counsel’s investigation was focused on proving crimes at any cost as opposed to investigating whether any occurred

Charlie Savage and Linda Qiu of the NYT point out that Durham applied very different standards when he was investigating CIA torture during the Bush administration.

At the time, Mr. Durham had set a high bar for charges and for releasing information related to the investigation. Throughout his 2008-2012 investigation, he found no one he deemed worthy of indictment even though two detainees had died in the C.I.A.’s custody, and he fought a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to avoid disclosing to the public his findings and witness interview records.

Durham's grand jury has expired with no other indictments outstanding, so this looks like the end of the line for his long, expensive, and unproductive investigation. He'll produce a report that will probably make his master happy by rehashing all the conspiracy theories he did not prove. But in the end "the crime of the century" has resulted in two acquittals, one minor guilty plea, and no one going to jail.

and you also might be interested in ...

Last Monday, WaPo revealed one more way that the Trump Organization had scammed the government: Family members with Secret Service protection stayed in Trump hotels, which then overcharged the agents who protected them.

The records show that in 40 cases the Trump Organization billed the Secret Service far higher amounts than the approved government rate — in one case charging agents $1,185 a night to stay at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. The new billing documents, according to a congressional committee’s review, show that U.S. taxpayers paid the president’s company at least $1.4 million for Secret Service agents’ stays at Trump properties for his and his family’s protection.

That $1,185 was five times the government rate, and the $1.4 million doesn't include payments to Trump's Mar-a-Lago or Bedminster properties, which he frequently visited as president.

Eric Trump's previous claims that agents got discounted rates or stayed "free", and that the government "saved a fortune", appear to be lies.

Back in August, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced with great fanfare that his new Election Crimes Office had arrested 20 Floridians who had voted illegally in 2020. This was seen on the Right as evidence that voter fraud is rampant and that more states should have their own ECOs.

From the beginning, though, the cases seemed a bit off. The 20 were all people who had been in prison, and who believed (incorrectly, it turned out) that the 2018 referendum returning felon voting rights applied to them. So they registered, were sent voter cards by local election officials, and then voted.

Since the 20 were confused and the government itself erred by approving their registrations, simply revoking those registrations seems like an adequate response. But instead the ECO charged them with a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. (The point seems to be to terrorize people who aren't sure about their eligibility. It's a voter-suppression tactic.)

Friday, the first case came to court, and the charges were dismissed because the state prosecutors have no jurisdiction.

Statewide prosecutors, which are an extension of the Attorney General's office, are prosecuting all of the election fraud cases that were brought in August. In order for the statewide prosecutor to have jurisdiction, the crimes alleged must have occurred in at least two judicial circuits.

The judge agreed with the defense's argument that the alleged violations, applying to vote and voting while ineligible, only occurred in Miami-Dade County. Thus, the statewide prosecutor was found to not have jurisdiction.

Statewide prosecutors argued that the alleged crimes were committed in Leon County in addition to Miami-Dade County, because the defendants' applications and votes were later transmitted to the Department of State in Tallahassee.

In other words, this whole story is yet another DeSantis stunt that got him headlines without accomplishing anything other than harassing some powerless people. If there is in fact a vast conspiracy of illegal voters, Florida still has not uncovered it.

Ten years ago, Rick Perlstein (author of all those history-of-the-conservative-movement books like Nixonland and Reaganland) explored the connection between conservative politics and hucksterism in "The Long Con". It turns out that if you're selling something of no particular value, a mailing list of conservative donors is a gold mine, because the conservative movement is a self-selected group of people who are easily fooled.

I mean, if you believe that 1-6 was an antifa plot or Trump is God's anointed, the sky's pretty much the limit, isn't it?

Updating Perlstein's points a little, Alex Jones makes his money selling overpriced dietary supplements, and Tucker Carlson's show is sponsored by dubious products that promise to treat your diabetes or get rid of your toe fungus, made by companies that frequently get in trouble with the FDA. (If you needed to sell such products, where would you look for suckers? That communist FDA -- it's constantly tying creative entrepreneurs in red tape and keeping you from using products that work. Am I right?)

But this week we got an even more striking example of the pattern. A right-wing blogger known as Vox Day has been raising money to make a right-wing superhero movie based on the conservative-themed comic-book character Rebel, whose Wonder-Woman-like costume includes the Confederate battle flag's X of stars across her face and chest. The script, written by Day and Chuck Dixon, has her battling "a global police force hunting down freethinking conservatives".

A plot ripped right out of today's headlines, don't you think?

Day claims to have raised $1 million, which he put in escrow in hopes of leveraging it into enough financing to make the film (which is already listed on IMDB and had a trailer on Vimeo until ... well, we'll get to that).

To hold the money, Theodore Beale (Vox Day's real-life alter ego) turned to cryptocurrency billionaire James Wolfgramm, whose firm Ohana Capital Finance promises "banking to the unbankable".

And guess what? The million dollars is gone, and it turns out Wolfgramm wasn't really a billionaire at all. So (sorry, early investors) there's not going to be a movie. Who (other than Rick Perlstein) could have imagined?

But don't worry, Beale is not discouraged and is already working on a new project. I'm sure you'll be hearing from him soon.

and let's close with something super, sort of

This week I ran across The Mediocre Superheroes, an online comic strip that I find hilarious. There's an article about it here, or you could just browse.