Monday, September 18, 2023

Pride and Violence

I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. ... Pride is their necklace; a garment of violence covers them. From their prosperity proceeds iniquity; the imaginations of their hearts run wild. They mock and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongues strut across the earth.

- Psalm 73

This week's featured posts is "Don't just connect the dots". It sets the Biden impeachment in a larger context of conspiracy theory reasoning.

This week everybody was talking about the looming government shutdown

As always, the federal government's fiscal year ends on September 30, i.e. a week from Saturday. So unless Congress passes and President Biden signs some new appropriation bills in the next two weeks, the government will shut down on Monday morning, October 2.

If the budget process were working the way it's designed, funding the government would mean passing 12 separate appropriation bills, each covering some set of government activities, like defense. That seems extremely unlikely at this point. The Senate is more-or-less on track, but Kevin McCarthy's Republican majority in the House can't unite on a set of proposals, much less get together with the Senate and work out something both houses can pass.

Failing at 12 appropriation bills, the next option is one big omnibus bill, which has happened in recent years, and which House Republicans have been railing against. That doesn't seem very likely at the moment either.

The third option is a continuing resolution, which allows the government to keep spending money at the same rate as last year, until Congress can get its act together to pass an omnibus. Currently, Kevin McCarthy is trying (and mostly failing) to build support for a continuing resolution.

The far-Right "Freedom" Caucus has made a series of demands for what any continuing resolutions would have to include, such as ending the Trump prosecutions. (Anything to avoid a trial in front of a jury, which would see the evidence and find Trump guilty.)

So we seem headed for a shutdown. The main issue in the shutdown is whether or not McCarthy will fulfill the deal he made with Biden in May to resolve the debt ceiling crisis. The "Freedom" Caucus thinks the spending targets in that deal are too high, so they want to renege.

When McCarthy agreed to open an impeachment inquiry targeting President Biden (without any evidence of wrongdoing), some speculated that he had bought himself credit with the far Right, which would give him some room to maneuver on the spending bills. But, as CNN analyst Stephen Collinson observed, "That narrative barely lasted a day." Apparently any concession these people get only whets their appetite for more.

and Ken Paxton

Ken Paxton is the corrupt attorney general of Texas.

Even in the long, sordid history of Texas political scandals, Paxton stands out. The accusations leveled against him in 21 years of public life ranged from felonious to farcical: that he duped investors to whom he sold stock, profited from inside information on a land deal, made false claims in court about the 2020 presidential election, and purloined another lawyer’s expensive pen.

Other episodes gave grist to criticism that Paxton considered himself above the law, like when he fled his home last year, in a truck driven by his wife, to avoid being served a subpoena.

In March, the Republican Texas House overwhelmingly voted to impeach him on 16 counts, with 70% of Republicans voting against him. But Saturday, only 2 of 19 Republican senators voted to convict on any charge, and so he was acquitted and returns to office.

What changed? The politics, not the evidence. National Republican groups stirred up the grass roots.

It was made clear to Texas GOP senators that they'd face a very well-funded primary opponent in their next election if they voted to impeach.

"Christian" organizer Nate Fischer argues

I judge politicians on their effectiveness against the left. In an existential war, you do not remove an effective officer—much less cede his position to the enemy—because an affair or gambling problem comes to light. We are in a war for our civilization. Paxton and Boebert have been effective in important battles. But if God could use Samson as his instrument to deliver Israel, I’m skeptical of calls to toss one of our fighters out because he doesn’t meet some standard of conduct that is anything but a uniform rule across the political aisle.

And of course, any conspiracy-theory allegation against a Democrat is evidence that no standard of conduct is "a uniform rule across the political aisle". So this "Christian" applies no moral standards at all to the conservatives he supports.

Matt Yglesias responds:

This is how corrupt people use culture war hysteria to bait you into sacrificing your interests to advance theirs; it’s the ultimate logic of Trumpism — he may be a thief, a liar, and a scumbag but at least he’s *our* scumbag.

the Hunter Biden indictment

Hunter was indicted on federal firearms charges Thursday. You'd think this would settle questions about the independence of the Justice Department from White House interference, but no.

Hunter could wind up at the center of a legal question that cuts across partisan lines. A federal appeals court representing a different district has found that the law he's accused of violating conflicts with new Supreme Court precedents and so is unconstitutional. So people on all sides have to ask themselves what's more important: getting/saving Hunter or gutting/preserving federal gun laws?

and the Trump interviews

Two female journalists did televised interviews with Donald Trump recently: Kristen Welker, as her inaugural broadcast as host of Meet the Press, and Megyn Kelly on her XM Radio show.

It's hard to say what the point of doing either interview was. Conde Nast Legal Affairs Editor Luke Zaleski summarizes the problem:

Trump doesn’t do interviews. He tells long fake stories that provide an alternate reality in which he’s the hero and allow his audience to conflate themselves with him as he pretends to vanquish imaginary enemies like “Sleepy Joe” “Crooked Hillary” “the Deep State” & “Fake News”

The traditional power of the press comes from its ability to publicly shame a politician for lying or hypocrisy. But Trump has no shame. NYU journalism Professor Jay Rosen describes Welker's approach as "zero innovation", meaning that she treated Trump like a typical, shameable public figure.

Everything was predictable, nothing was surprising, and new host Kristen Welker did nothing to justify going to the well again with another Trump Q & A.

So Trump got a platform to spread his usual disinformation, and NBC got to publish a separate fact check, which (as we know) accomplishes little. Unlike a Cronkite-era politician, Trump is not shamed to be caught lying, and his cultists will brush off any fact-checking as "fake news". Worse, traditional fact-checking is meant for correcting simple lies and misstatements. It can't cope with a complete alternate reality.

"Pinning Trump down", as Welker did when she got him to say he would testify under oath that he never ordered a subordinate at Mar-a-Lago to delete security video, is also useless. Making that statement serves Trump's purposes now -- it makes him sound determined and resolute -- but when Trump does not testify at all in any of his trials, he will not feel shame for having said that he would.

The end result of this interview is that viewers are more poorly informed about Trump-related issues than they were before they watched. I have to agree with Rosen's conclusion:

I would love to hear what [MSNBC's Rachel Maddow] thought about NBC's interview with Trump. She is the one who said on air: “There’s a cost to us as a news organization of knowingly broadcasting untrue things.” NBC willingly paid that cost today.

Tonight we'll see a test of Maddow's integrity: Will she call out her sister network?

Welker also asked Trump: "Is there any scenario by which you would seek a third term in office?" In other words, "Do you intend to ignore the Constitution?"

Trump said "No." But again, he's not going to feel bound by that answer, so what's the point of asking? All Welker did was put into viewers' minds the idea that seeking a third term (in defiance of the Constitution) is an option.

One upside of Kelly's interview is that Trump said some things that Jack Smith will probably use against him in court.

I’m allowed to take these documents, classified or not classified. And frankly, when I have them, they become unclassified.

Aside from being nonsense legally, Trump's statement sounds an awful lot like a confession that he did take classified documents.

It's a mystery to me why Biden's mental capabilities are being questioned, but not Trump's. There could be a story like this every day:

Trump says Joe Biden is “cognitively impaired” and then accuses him of getting us into World War TWO.

Or consider this part of the Welker interview:

You talk about Kim Jong Un, right? I got along great with Kim Jong Un after the first month or two when we were sparring. But I got along great with him. We were in no danger. There was — President Biden said, and he felt even now, and President Obama told me when we sat down, Obama told me, and Biden still to this day, except I don’t think he knows, he’s only — he can’t put two sentences together. But President Obama told me, “Our biggest threat is from North Korea. We’re going to end up in a war.”

Yep. It's Biden who can't put two sentences together.

David Roberts raises a worthwhile question:

How would we even know if Trump's age was affecting his mental acuity? He's done nothing but ramble sub-literate nonsense since he came on the public stage. Could you even tell if he got dementia?

and Mitt Romney

I've always been of two minds about Mitt Romney, an ambivalence that comes through in "The Tragedy of Mitt Romney" which I posted during his primary campaign way back in 2012. At his best, Mitt is a conservative version of Joe Biden: a basically decent person who can listen to members of the other party, define common goals, and occasionally get something important done. RomneyCare, the Massachusetts health insurance program that became the model for ObamaCare, is a prime example.

Mitt's tragic flaw is that he's never had quite enough courage to be that person consistently. So he's been a truth-teller, but only sometimes. Other times, he has pandered to the worst elements in his party. Two examples stand out: His 2012 presidential campaign ran away from his record as governor of Massachusetts, to the point of promising to repeal the same ObamaCare his program had inspired. And he bowed down to Trump during the 2016 transition, hoping to become secretary of state.

This week he announced that he's not running for reelection in 2024. As a result, he is free from future political considerations and can be a truth-teller again. And so we have "What Mitt Romney Saw in the Senate", a preview of an upcoming biography by McKay Coppins. The biography comes from long conversations with Romney, as well as access to his papers and journals.

And so we find out:

  • The Republican Senate caucus gave Trump a standing ovation, and then laughed at him after he left.
  • "A very large portion of my party really doesn't believe in the Constitution."
  • During Trump's first impeachment, Mitch McConnell told Romney: "You’re lucky. You can say the things that we all think. You’re in a position to say things about him that we all agree with but can’t say."
  • "No one has been more loyal, more willing to smile when he saw absurdities, more willing to ascribe God’s will to things that were ungodly than Mike Pence."
  • Some Republicans wanted to vote for Trump's second impeachment or conviction, but were intimidated by the prospect of right-wing violence against themselves and their families. At that time, Romney was paying $5K a day for security.

In return for this openness, Romney is being lauded as a man of principle and integrity. And he has been, up to a point and some of the time.

You know what I long for? Republicans who not only speak out against the MAGA usurpation of their party, but take that message to the voters rather than meekly slip out the Capitol's side door like Romney and Jeff Flake and Lamar Alexander. Maybe such a race is hopeless -- it was for Liz Cheney -- but people of real principle would make a charge-of-the-light-brigade anyway. To paraphrase the MAGA god himself: If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a party anymore.

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Climate Change summer is continuing as we approach fall. The worst catastrophes happen when natural disasters cause failures in human infrastructure.

More than 5,000 people are presumed dead and 10,000 missing after heavy rains in northeastern Libya caused two dams to collapse, surging more water into already inundated areas.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Lee spent most of its energy over the Atlantic, but was just 4-mph short of hurricane status when it hit Nova Scotia Saturday. Places like Halifax and Bar Harbor, Maine don't usually have to worry about tropical storms.

The United Auto Workers are striking against the Big Three American automakers. The Atlantic explains that this is about more than just the usual wages and benefits: Government-subsidized investments in electric vehicle plants are being used to shift production to states that make it hard for workers to unionize.

As you may have heard, Saturday night Rep. Lauren Boebert was escorted out of a production of the musical "Beetlejuice" for vaping, taking flash pictures of the performance, and "creating a disturbance". Afterwards, she denied vaping, said she didn't realize she couldn't take pictures, and admitted "laughing and singing too loud". Unfortunately for her, the vaping is on video, along with some mutual groping with her date (Boebert's divorce is still pending), as well as Boebert giving theater employees the finger on her way out the door.

In response to the clear evidence that her denial was a lie, Boebert apologized for the vaping (claiming she "genuinely did not recall" doing it), but did not comment on the public groping.

The incident provoked a stream of what-if comparisons on social media: How would conservative politicians and media personalities erupt if some prominent liberal woman like AOC behaved the same way? Or a woman of color? Or a gay or lesbian politician with a same-sex date? What if Biden did something inappropriate in public, denied it, and then explained away his denial by claiming he didn't remember?

Who better to comment on Boebert's "trashy" behavior than fellow "trash monster" Trae Crowder? Boebert's "vaping and hollering stuff" in the theater doesn't alarm him:

My fellow Trailer Americans, I ask you: Who among us? Right? I mean, we do that. We do. Get a little too excited at a public event, start cussing in front of the 8-year-olds, then act indignant when the bouncer shows up. "Oh, what? Is it illegal to have a good time now?"

What's wrong with Boebert, according to Crowder, isn't that she comes from the underclass, because "some of the most genuine, kindest, most empathetic people I've ever known were trailer babies". We'd do well, he says, to have a Congress full of such people. But Boebert is a "ladder-puller", who tries "to take away the same government benefit programs that kept her alive as a child".

Boebert ... somehow took all the wrong lessons away from her life and now spends her time spewing misplaced rage and making us all look bad.

BTW: If you want a view of how the world looks to the White rural underclass, I can recommend this year's Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver.

While we're talking about the Party of Family Values, The New York Post claims South Dakota Governor (and rumored Trump VP candidate) Kristi Noem has been having an affair with former Trump advisor Corey Lewandowski. Both are married. All together, the two couples have seven children.

Remember Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples back in 2015? That case is still percolating through the system. Two couples sued her for damages, and a judge ruled in March 2022 that she had violated their rights. Wednesday, a jury awarded one couple $100K and the other nothing. (I'm not sure what distinction the jury saw between the two couples.)

Davis plans to appeal, on grounds that the current Supreme Court might find tempting:

We will argue religious accommodation under the First Amendment, and other state and federal laws. We will also argue that Obergefell v. Hodges was wrongly decided and should be overturned.

She previously had moved to have her case dismissed, on the grounds that she had immunity for acts performed in her official capacity. But the plaintiffs argued that official immunity doesn't apply when the official is doing something clearly outside the law. An appellate court refused to dismiss, and in 2020 the Supreme Court decided not to hear her appeal. But this time around could be different, if the current Court is looking for an opportunity to reverse Obergefell.

Two thousand South African rhinos are looking for new homes.

A line too good not to repeat: After Mitch McConnell froze up a couple weeks ago, fellow Kentucky Senator Rand Paul was not all that supportive. Among other comments, he disputed the Capitol doctor's claim that McConnell had not suffered a seizure, but only the effects of concussion recovery and dehydration.

Afterwards I heard a comment that Rand Paul is "nasty and brutish and short".

and let's close with something sentimental

In 1950, Oswald Laurence recorded a message telling patrons of the London underground to "mind the gap". After Laurence died in 2003, his widow Margaret McCollum began going to the nearby Embankment tube station whenever she wanted to hear his voice.

Eventually, though, the transport company replaced Laurence's recording with an artificially generated voice. Margaret then asked the company for a recording. But they did her one better: They restored Laurence's announcement for exactly one station, Embankment.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Basic Understanding

Your letter makes clear that you lack a basic understanding of the law, its practice, and the ethical obligations of attorneys generally and prosecutors specifically.

- Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis
letter to Rep. Jim Jordan

This week's featured post is "We're all in law school now".

This week everybody was talking about the Trump trials

We're way past the point where I can hold all the details in my head -- even just one week's events. That's what this week's featured post covers.

But that post didn't cover the freshly released report that the Fulton County special grand jury wrote to recommend indictments it didn't have the power to issue. The headline result is that it recommended indictments not just of the 19 people who have now been charged, but of 21 others, including Senator Lindsey Graham and former Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.

The theme of the featured post is that we're all learning law these days, and here's the lesson I draw from this report: The special grand jury and the district attorney have different jobs. The special grand jury was answering a simple question: Is there probable cause to claim that these people broke these laws?

The prosecutor is asking a different question: What charges can I present to a trial jury and convince them beyond reasonable doubt?

A second lesson to draw is that Willis is really trying to win a case, not just make a big splash.

The WaPo has a long and fascinating article about the Reffitt family: The dad (Guy) was an armed 1-6 rioter now serving an 84-month sentence. The son (Jackson) turned him in to the FBI and testified against him. The mom (Nicole) still believes Trump won and Guy is a patriot. The daughters (Peyton and Sarah) are caught in the middle.

For years and years we've been hearing stories about how families get pulled apart when the kids join a cult. But these days, it's the parents who are joining a cult.

and the Covid resurgence

Several people I know have caught Covid lately, and we're heading into the fall, when school begins and social get-togethers move indoors.

But Vox has a reassuring article. The new variant (now named Pirola) doesn't look that dangerous. Yes, infection rates are rising (even if they're still nowhere near previous highs), but

over the last few days, several laboratory studies have led to sighs of relief: On a cellular level, Pirola just isn’t that alarming, meaning that the chance this variant will lead to a massive, emergency room-flooding Covid surge is pretty small. Other, less mutated omicron variants remain the dominant strains, and it seems unlikely Pirola will wreak major havoc.

So: Get the updated vaccine when it comes out (soon), use common sense about exposing yourself to crowds, and try not to worry too much otherwise unless you're specially vulnerable.

More good advice for avoiding Covid: Stay out of Florida. With Governor DeSantis' vocal support, Florida's quack surgeon general Joseph Ladapo is urging Florida residents not to get the new Covid vaccine.

Dr Joseph Ladapo, the governor’s hand-picked surgeon general and a vaccine skeptic previously found to have manipulated data on vaccine safety, falsely claimed the new booster shots had not been tested on humans, and contained “red flags”.

His reasoning seems to be more religious than scientific.

Casting the dispute as spiritual warfare, Ladapo posed a rhetorical question: Why did so many people follow DeSantis instead of guidance to the contrary from the national public health establishment — “all these Ph.D.s and M.D.s?”

He imputed this thinking to those people: “I hear what they’re saying, but what he’s saying feels right.”

He continued: “Because there is something within all of us that resonates with freedom. And that something is part of our connection with God and our connection with every single thing around us, including each and every one of us.

“There are these forces out there who are relentless. And they really are relentless. It’s not that they were ever done trying, and they’re not done now. They are relentless, relentless, with every breath that they take. They are thinking about how they can control you. To what ends, only God knows, but it’s nothing pretty, right?”

That's what passes for thought on the Right these days: It's totally mysterious why public health officials would want to slow the spread of a deadly virus, so they must have some other motive. And it's nothing pretty.

and Tommy Tuberville

Up until now, I've mostly been ignoring Senator Tuberville's holds on military promotions, figuring it was a stunt that would come to nothing. But he's been doing it since February, with no end in sight. More than 300 promotions that need Senate approval are in limbo, and three military services -- the Marines, Army and Navy -- have acting chiefs rather than Senate-confirmed ones. An estimated 650 promotions could be blocked by the end of the year.

The ostensible root issue is abortion, which now trumps national security on the far Right. When the Supreme Court overturned constitutional protections for reproductive rights in its Dobbs decision, and numerous states began restricting abortions to the point of banning them entirely, the Pentagon recognized that that it had ordered tens of thousands of servicewomen of childbearing age to serve in states where they no longer had control over their own medical care.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin responded in October with a policy to:

Establish travel and transportation allowances for Service members and their dependents, as appropriate and consistent with applicable federal law and operational requirements, and as necessary amend any applicable travel regulations, to facilitate official travel to access noncovered reproductive health care that is unavailable within the local area of a Service member's permanent duty station.

This is what Tuberville objects to. (Notice that the policy does not even pay for abortions. It only pays for travel.) The promotions he is blocking have nothing to do with abortion, but they are the monkey wrench he has access to. The Senate usually passes promotion lists by unanimous consent; going through the names one-by-one could take "months" of dropping all other Senate business, according to Majority Leader Schumer. By refusing consent, Tuberville has brought the promotion process to a halt.

Short-term holds have been used before to call attention to individual officers, and even that has been rare. But shutting down the whole promotion system for months at a time is unheard of.

I said that abortion was the "ostensible" issue, because the more Tuberville talks, the clearer his real problem becomes: The US armed forces are not masculine enough to suit him. (BTW, Tuberville has never served in the military.)

This is a common complaint on the Right. In 2021, Ted Cruz attacked our "woke, emasculated military" by comparing a recruiting ad targeted at women with a much manlier ad for the Russian army. (This was before the Russian military flop in Ukraine. Today, Cruz would be laughed at for saying our armed forces should be more like Russia's.) He subsequently claimed that Democrats were "trying to turn [our troops] into pansies". (Cruz also has never served.)

Tuberville likewise attacks our military as too "woke". The meaning of "woke" shifts from one minute to the next, but here it seems to mean "feminine" (or perhaps "pansylike") in some stereotypical sense. On Laura Ingraham's Fox News show, Tuberville said:

Right now, we are so woke in the military. We're losing recruits right and left. Secretary Del Toro of the Navy, he needs to get to building ships, he needs to get to recruiting, and he needs to get wokeness out of our Navy. We've got people doing poems on aircraft carriers over the loudspeaker. It is absolutely insane the direction that we're headed in our military.

I'll let him take the poetry thing up with Rudyard Kipling or maybe the samurai. (If you want to get scholarly, you can trace Western warrior poetry back to Archilochus.) But recruiting is the point of this policy. Of course, if you dismiss the woke idea that women have something to contribute, then any benefit from recruiting or retaining them can be ignored, as Tuberville seems to do.

But think about it, Tommy: How many women are going to join our military if they know they risk being exiled to some backward state like Alabama, where their rights are subject to the local version of the Taliban?

And before we leave this subject, what about the "and their dependents" in Austin's memo? Even the studliest dude in the Marines might have a wife with a problem pregnancy. What about her?

One more thing: Once again we see that the rules of the Senate were written for a different era. Holds, blue slips for judicial nominees, the filibuster -- they all arise from a model of disagreement within a culture of gentlemanly courtesy. The US Senate is not such a place, if it ever was. All those practices should go.

and another week of climate change

The EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service reports that July and August were the hottest months on record by a wide margin. June was the 8th hottest month on record and the hottest June ever, giving 2023 the hottest summer.

A new UN report analyzes how well the world is doing in living up to the Paris Agreement of 2015. I haven't read it yet, but it looks discouraging.

All summer we've been hearing reports of how warm the ocean is. Now that ocean heat is feeding energy into tropical storms. Hurricane Idalia jumped from Cat 1 to Cat 4 in about 24 hours "making it one of fastest rates of tropical cyclone intensification ever observed in the Atlantic basin".

Hurricane Lee jumped from Cat 1 to Cat 5 between 5 a.m. Thursday and 5 a.m. Friday. (It subsequently degraded, and looks like it will miss land.) In the Pacific, Jova went from a tropical storm to Cat 5, also in about 24 hours.

So far, these are just unusually strong storms and not record-breakers. But no one should be surprised if new categories have to be invented before hurricane season ends in November.

Hong Kong, which had endured a Cat-2-equivalent typhoon the previous weekend, was hit with massive rains Friday. Some parts of the city got nearly 20 inches, the most rainfall there since official records began in 1884.

Grist points out that climate-related deaths are routinely undercounted. It's a challenging problem that requires case-by-case analysis. If someone with a history of heart trouble dies when it's 105 and a brown-out has shut down his air conditioning, that might just be counted as a heart attack without noting the role of the heat. Similarly, suppose people die of a disease they caught by drinking polluted water after a hurricane shut down their clean water source. They may not be listed as victims of the hurricane.

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The big news this week is the earthquake inn Morocco, which so far has led to nearly 2,500 confirmed deaths. But I have no special insight into that; I'm just watching the news like anybody else.

So Elon Musk significantly overpaid for Twitter, and has since run it into the ground. But he's a Wiley-Coyote-level super-genius, so it can't really be his fault. Somebody else must be to blame. I know! It's the Jews, isn't it? It's the Anti-Defamation League, which has scared off advertisers by pointing out that Musk has made X/Twitter a haven for Nazis, white supremacists, antisemites, and haters of every sort.

What is being done to the ADL on Twitter right now has little to do with the group’s conduct and everything to do with the symbolic role Jews play in the conspiratorial imagination. Rather than face up to the hate that has enveloped his platform, and the errors that led to the site’s degradation, Musk is claiming that the victims have had it coming.

Nate Silver is writing a new blog these days. In this post, he gives good advice to people who are freaking out about 2024 election polls: There's a long way to go.

There are exactly four things you need to know about the horse race right now: Joe Biden could win. Donald Trump could win. Someone other than Biden or Trump could win. The odds of these scenarios do not shift very much from day to day.

I’d argue that 1 (Biden winning) is more likely than 2 (Trump winning) which, in turn, is more likely than 3 (someone else winning). But unless you’re making trades of some kind, there probably isn’t a lot to be gained from further precision than that right now.

The push to get right-wing propaganda into public schools continues. Oklahoma has joined Florida in allowing PragerU videos to supplement civics and government lessons. (I discussed PragerU's slick distortions of history last month.)

And the board of the Pennridge School District in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (30 miles north of Philadelphia) is mandating

a new social studies curriculum that will require teachers to incorporate lessons from the 1776 Curriculum, a controversial K-12 course of study developed by Hillsdale College, a private Christian institution that promotes right-wing ideologies.

Like the PragerU videos, Hillsdale's 1776 Curriculum minimizes slavery's role in American history and whitewashes the Founders' racism.

This is a consistent pattern on the Right: Lies about liberals doing something (like "indoctrinating children") invariably lead to conservatives doing that very thing in the name of "balance" or to "set things right". The starkest example is Trump's stolen-election lie, which justified his own attempt to steal the 2020 election. Similarly, false claims about Biden's "weaponization of the Justice Department" have led to open planning by Trump to weaponize the Justice Department if he gets back in office "because they're doing it to us". It's tit-for-tat where the "tat" is manufactured specifically for the purpose of justifying the desired response.

That "praying coach" who got reinstated by the Supreme Court? He quit. I'm sure he'll make a lot more money on the right-wing talk circuit than any school district would pay him to be a part-time assistant football coach. That was probably the point all along.

and let's close with something clever

The last couple of years have demonstrated the resilience and ingenuity of the Ukrainian people in all sorts of ways. So suppose you're a Ukrainian farmer, and you want to plant and harvest your fields like you usually do. But the war has swept through, and who knows who might have planted mines where? There are official government minesweeping units, but they've got higher priorities than your wheat or sunflowers. What to do?

Well, wrecked Russian tanks are an abundant raw material, so why not jury-rig something to do the job yourself?

Monday, September 4, 2023

Setting the Stakes

We need to understand that if the next 15 months remain the worst-covered election in U.S. history, it might also be the last.

- Will Bunch
"Journalism fails miserably at explaining what is really happening to America"

This week's featured post is "What an innocent Trump should do".

This week everybody was talking about Labor Day

1912: The Bread and Roses strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts

It's a three-day weekend and an excuse for one last cookout. It marks the end of summer. It's Week 1 of college football. It presages another school year. But isn't it supposed to be about something else too? You hear a lot about remembering to keep Christ in Christmas, but keeping the labor movement in Labor Day seems like a much more serious problem.

So as you fire up the grill, try to make peace with your to-do list from June, and cheer for the old one-color-and-another-color, take a minute to remember what the labor movement has given us: For one thing, the weekend itself. Also: the 40-hour week, minimum wages, holidays, paid vacations, unemployment insurance, and job safety standards.

And remember how precarious it all is. Do you imagine that Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the other masters of the universe want to share the wealth their enterprises produce?

Picture the new wave of technological unemployment that might result from artificial intelligence. Think about the universal abundance that is possible, and compare it to the inequality and insecurity we have now. How can we change that? (Hint: You're not going to do it by yourself.)

Jen Sorenson provides an important reminder: In a capitalist media system, what matters isn't people, but their money. If people mattered, you'd see more TV shows like these:

and Mitch McConnell

I don't often feel sorry for Mitch McConnell, but it's hard not to when you watch this clip of him freezing up behind a podium on Wednesday.

It's the second time this has happened. The first was in late July, and both incidents followed a concussion he suffered in March after falling at a dinner event at the Waldorf Astoria in D.C. Watching his aides' lack of alarm, I have to wonder how many similar incidents they've seen privately.

It's striking to contrast the responses this incident evoked with a variety of occasions when President Biden has shone much less worrisome signs of aging. Democrats largely responded to McConnell's lapse compassionately. Biden's first reaction was to say "Mitch is a friend" and that he would "try to get in touch with him later this afternoon". After talking on the phone, Biden attributed the freeze to McConnell's concussion and said that such incidents were "part of the recovery". He expressed confidence that McConnell "is going to be back to his old self".

The both-sides-do-it NYT used the McConnell freeze to segue into discussion of aging politicians in general, like Dianne Feinstein and, of course, Biden. (The article paid much less attention to Trump, who obviously is in significantly worse physical condition. If I had to bet which man was most likely to survive until January of 2029, I'd pick Biden.)

Right-wing media, on the other hand, always puts the worst possible construction on anything Biden says or does (including misstatements related to a stuttering problem he's had since childhood). Sometimes they even doctor video to make Biden look addled. Biden falling off a bicycle was front-page news, when it's hard to imagine that Trump has ever been on a bicycle. (I recently had a similar foot-caught-on-the-pedal spill. Fortunately, no one immortalized the moment in video.)

Monday, Biden claimed he had managed to talk legendary Dixiecrat Senator Strom Thurmond into voting for the Civil Rights Act "before he died", clearly referring to the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which Thurmond voted for at a time when Biden was also in the Senate. That claim is based on private conversations unrecorded by history, so it's entirely possible that Biden exaggerated his role in Thurmond's about-face. But that's not where right-wing media went: Instead, they assumed a confused Biden was referring to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which was voted on before Biden was a senator and which Thurmond opposed. You know: an old guy talking nonsense.

And let's not forget Don Jr. saying John Fetterman had "mush for brains" after his stroke. One party values compassion and the other values cruelty.

and the Trump trials

The featured post discusses the obvious disconnect between what Trump is saying about his indictments and how he's responding to them. If the indictments really are nothing but politics, and he really "did nothing wrong", he should want to get to court as fast as possible, so that juries of ordinary American citizens can vindicate him before the election.

Unless a deal closes by Friday, Trump's Truth Social platform could go bust, with great losses to the investors who believed in it. Who could have predicted that a Trump product might fail in the market? I mean, hitching your wagon to Trump's genius has always been a reliable path to wealth.

There's no way I'm going to read the recently-released 479-page transcript of Trump's 7-hour deposition with the NY Attorney General for the civil fraud case against the family business. But Ron Filipkowski did and provided the lowlights.

Basically, he's not liable for misrepresenting the value of his properties, because

  • A paragraph warns other parties to make their own assessments rather than rely on his numbers.
  • His brand is so potent that the value of any property increases the instant his name gets attached to it.

Also, apparently he whines a lot about how unfair the AG's lawsuit is. Who could have predicted?

and climate change

As usual, my opponent is playing the quicksand card, while ignoring the real issues facing ordinary people today

Climate change summer continued with Hurricane Idalia. At least this time it wasn't something completely unprecedented, like Hilary still having tropical storm strength when it hit Southern California last week. No hurricane had hit Florida's Big Bend since 1950, but Cat 3 hurricanes hit somewhere in Florida every several years.

Not so long ago -- like when President Obama and Governor Christie inspected the damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 -- we expected political leaders to demonstrate bipartisan unity in the face of disaster. Republicans and Democrats might disagree about taxes or spending or how to handle China, but they pulled together when Americans faced a common challenge.

Apparently not so much any more. President Biden thought Governor DeSantis would be there when he toured Florida's hurricane damage Saturday, but DeSantis had other priorities. Republican Senator Rick Scott did show up, though, and thanked Biden for the federal government's quick response to the storm, saying it was "a big deal".

As for weather events that never happen, this week's Burning Man Festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert has had to deal with massive rains. It's not that unusual to have a little rain during the festival. (Long ago, when I was a much cooler person, I was at Burning Man when a rain shower got tangled up with a dust storm. Mud fell from the sky.) But this quantity is unheard of.

Of course, climate change isn't the only explanation. Maybe "God has a way of making sure everybody knows who God is", and so is punishing people for the mock sacrifice ritual at the center of Burning Man.

Just like God is punishing Florida for being so cruel to trans kids, I imagine.

And the heat is affecting food production:

Across much of the country, the food system also struggled. In Texas, farmers reported smaller yields as their corn and cotton crops struggled to survive soaring summer temperatures. In Arizona, beekeepers spotted dead honeybees outside hives. Even underwater, off the coast of Long Island, kelp farmers recorded another year of shrinking yields.

But Jeanine Pirro from Fox News' "The Five" isn't worried, because weather has been happening forever.

What's so fascinating about this is one of the first hurricanes reported I think was in the 1400's. Now I would venture a guess that had nothing to do with fossil fuels, okay?

and as summer ends, here are a few fascinating things you didn't really need to know

The WaPo brings us up to date on the vital issue of pizza. Pizza is popular everywhere in America, but the word means different things in different places. So asking Yelp about the best pizza in some town you're passing through is likely to get you a pie you weren't expecting and may not like.

So the Post breaks it down, defining New York, Chicago, Detroit, New Haven, and California Neapolitan style pizzas, and suggesting where to find the best incarnation of each. You also get some history and lore, like the name of New York's first pizzeria in the 1890s, or this gem about Detroit pizza:

A northern Italian immigrant named Gus Guerra invented Detroit-style pizza at Buddy’s in 1946, because he needed to serve his customers something to soak up their beer. In her book, “Detroit Style Pizza: A Doughtown History,” reporter Karen Dybis writes that Guerra was adapting a homestyle recipe from his Sicilian mother-in-law using a baking pan. According to local lore, the pans responsible for the city’s signature crust came straight off the Ford assembly line.

Dybis couldn’t authenticate that legend, but she did confirm Guerra worked for Ford Motor Company as a tile setter and that his children remember him buying industrial pans from hardware stores. Blue steel pans intended for use as drip trays and scrap metal collectors have become part of the Detroit-style mystique.

In a separate article, WaPo maps the most popular pizza style by state: New York (yellow), Neapolitan-ish (pink), Chicago (brown/orange), and other (grey: Detroit style in Michigan and New Haven style in Connecticut).

Atlantic's Amanda Mull points out that the state of retail is more complicated than most of us thought. In spite of the internet, more physical stores are opening than closing.

Mull sees an upscale/downscale bifurcation. If you're trying to be a discount store, the internet is hard to compete with.

At the low end, the math on well-run stores has gotten worse and worse with time. Companies push prices and expenses as low as possible, which means that stores tend to be understaffed, poorly merchandised, and disorganized.

All too often, I find myself in a store wondering "What does this cost?" or even "Does anybody work here?" But at the other end of the market, people who have time to shop and money to spend want to get out of the house and have an in-person retail experience.

Consumers who are less price-sensitive can handle higher markups, and better margins mean more money sloshing around to ensure that stores always look good and are generously staffed with pleasant salespeople. On the higher end, sales require both the customers and the products to feel special.

But to prove that thriving stores don't have to be exclusive havens for the well-to-do, she highlights Bass Pro Shops, where there is some expensive merchandise (like fishing boats and ATVs), but you can also get the Bass-logo six-dollar baseball hat. And it all happens in a setting that is engaging and entertaining.

Mull's description of "a store that's good at being a store" reminded me of a recent trip to the regional IKEA, where I bought a wok I didn't know I needed and would never have searched for on Amazon. Like Bass Pro Shops, IKEA has a mix of expensive stuff and deals, organized around a unique identity. (Try the Swedish meat balls.)

Similarly, my local independent bookstore isn't just for acquiring merchandise. Wandering its aisles evokes fantasy: Could I possibly become the kind of person who would read that tome, do those workouts, tour that country, or cook that cuisine? (Did I mention I bought a wok?)

Going shopping can be an event, an errand, or even a chore. If it's a chore, I'd rather do it online.

and you also might be interested in ...

Kat Abu gives us another week's worth of the most batshit stories on Fox News. Watching Fox live tends to make me angry, but watching it through Kat's eyes makes me laugh.

Bridgette Exman is the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for public schools in Mason City, Iowa. Iowa recently passed one of those narrow-minded laws banning books of various sorts from classrooms and school libraries.

Iowa’s “parental rights bill,” signed into law at the end of May and made effective July 1, put public schoolteachers and administrators in an untenable position and recently thrust my own district in north-central Iowa into notoriety.

The law mandates that school libraries may only contain “age-appropriate” books free of any “descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act” as defined by Iowa Code. In a particularly draconian move, the law holds individual teachers and school librarians accountable for violations.

Like most such laws, this one is ridiculously vague. Somebody had to figure out how to apply its terms to the books in Mason City. Otherwise, either all books would have to be boxed up, or teachers would be on their own in facing risks of lawsuits or other disciplinary actions. That somebody turned out to be Bridgette, a former English teacher who loves books and hates the idea of censoring them.

Her NYT account of the moral and educational challenges she faced is clearly meant to garner our sympathy. But I had a more ambiguous reaction: Everybody who chooses to collaborate with an oppressive regime runs into these issues. Authoritarians set these situations up intentionally: If you don't help us implement our program, even worse things will happen.

Another common pattern is that the line keeps moving: You collaborated up to here, so why not up to there? I hope the NYT checks back with Bridgette next year.

In a WSJ op-ed, Karl Rove compared Vivek Ramaswamy to Harold Hill, the con artist in The Music Man.

But Karl should be careful, because if you watch clips like "Ya Got Trouble", you might start to think that the whole GOP sounds like Harold Hill. For "pool", just substitute "wokeness" or "Critical Race Theory" or "drag queens".

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz wants you to know that "they" are plotting to take away your ceiling fan and limit you to two beers a week. Ya got trouble, I tell ya.

and let's close with something therapeutic

Venezuelan artist Maria Guadarrama imagines Disney princesses getting the therapy they desperately need.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Blossoming Seeds

Inverting power relationships -- casting the powerless as a looming threat and the powerful as beleaguered -- is a primal feature of reactionary thinking, the very seed that blossoms into fascism.

- David Roberts

This week's featured post is "Republicans think they've found a way to pitch abortion bans".

The David Roberts quote above is in response to this social-media exchange:

Rod Dreher: Trump is rich, but he is totally not the ruling class. It's about culture.

Radley Balko: Trying to think of a definition of "ruling class" that includes Oberlin social justice activists, Black Lives Matter, and drag queens, but not the billionaire real estate mogul who was literally just president, appointed 1/3 of SCOTUS, and is even odds to be president again.

This week everybody was talking about Fulton County Inmate #P01135809

Trump surrendered to authorities in Fulton County Thursday evening. He was booked, photographed, and then released. He returned to Twitter (for the first time since his post-insurrection banning) with a post of his mugshot and the slogan "Never Surrender!" -- as if he hadn't just surrendered. That image and slogan is now available on a wide variety of Trump merchandise, in case you believe a self-described billionaire needs your money more than you do. (BTW, I thought "Never Surrender" was done better in Galaxy Quest.)

Did you wonder what was going on with Trump's expression in his mugshot? It turns out the look he gave has a name.

"The Kubrick Stare" is one of director Stanley Kubrick's most recognizable directorial techniques. A method of shot composition where a character stares at the camera with a forward tilt, to convey to the audience that they are at the peak of their derangement

The other amusing thing about the booking was his height-and-weight listing: 6'3", 215 pounds. That turns out to be a fairly typical set of measurements for NFL quarterbacks. To me, this just underlined something I've believed for several years: This guy can't tell the truth about anything. I mean, we've all probably shaved a few pounds off our weight at one time or another, but at some point you're just insulting people's intelligence.

Legally, of course, these indignities are meaningless. The other three jurisdictions where Trump was indicted didn't mugshot him or report his weight, and yet I'm sure police will easily recognize him if he goes on the lam.

Nonetheless, I suspect this ubiquitous mugshot will end up mattering politically. Until now, low information voters who favor Trump have been able to tell themselves that his legal troubles are all meaningless political shennanigans, kind of like the "scandals" on Fox News that rage for a weekend and then come to nothing. (Biden is banning gas stoves! ) They ignored his impeachment hearings (where his guilt was proved for anyone who bothered to watch) and the January 6 hearings (ditto), and felt justified in doing so, because ultimately there were no consequences.

But the mugshot sends a different message: This is really happening. It's different from the usual partisan mudslinging.

A new poll from Politico underlines this point: 61% of the country wants to see Trump's election-subversion trial happen before the 2024 election. 51% believe he's guilty, and only 26% believe he's innocent. 50% believe he should go to prison if convicted, while only 18% said he should go unpunished.

The upshot is that about a quarter of the country hasn't paid enough attention to have a definite opinion. That number is going to shrink as the trials take place. And since the evidence against him is compelling, a lot of those people are going to shift into the guilty/prison columns.

and Putin's revenge

Russian officials have now verified that Yevgeny Prigozhin's DNA is in the wreckage of the plane that crashed between Moscow and St. Petersburg Wednesday. The number of Putin opponents who have had fatal "accidents" is long and not worth reviewing.

I haven't yet seen any persuasive analysis of what Prigozhin's death means for Putin, for Russia, or for Ukraine. University of Colorado Professor Sarah Wilson Sokhey is tentative, but makes sense to me:

What the historical context best tells us in this case is that when you have a coup attempt, and when you have generals being demoted and you have a failing military campaign, there are a lot of cracks in the system. It's very difficult for people to predict how that power struggle will play out, but violently and chaotically is one way that has played out in the past. And that's something we should be concerned about.

and the Jacksonville race shooting

Saturday afternoon, a White gunman with swastikas on his AR-15 killed three Black people in a Dollar General store before killing himself. Reportedly, he had previously stalked the historically Black college Edward Waters University, and left behind a manifesto expressing his hatred of Black people.

[The shooter] legally purchased his guns despite having been involuntarily committed for a mental health examination in 2017, the Associated Press reported.

This shooting follows last summer's shooting in a Buffalo supermarket, where a White racist gunman targeted Black people, killing ten of them. In 2019, a White gunman targeted Hispanics at a WalMart in El Paso, killing 23. He also left a manifesto citing the Great Replacement theory that White people in America are at risk. I could go on.

If young Muslim men were entering places with a lot of Christians and shouting "Allah Akbar!" before opening fire, they would be portrayed in the media as Muslim terrorists, independent of their state of mind at the time. But due to White privilege, that's not how these shootings have been covered. Instead, each shooter is described as "mentally ill", rather than as a representative of a dangerous ideology.

In this instance, for example, Governor DeSantis acknowledged that the killings were racially motivated, but denounced the shooter mainly in individual terms as a "deranged scumbag" and "lunatic".

But these are not random lone-wolf attacks. It's time we start linking these killings together as a White supremacist terrorist movement, and addressing what the government and the public can do about this dangerous violence.

and the Republican debate

I covered the abortion part of the debate [transcript] in the featured post. But that was not the only important topic. By far the most significant moment of the debate was when the moderators posed this question from a young Republican:

Polls consistently show that young people’s number one issue is climate change. How will you as both President of the United States and leader of the Republican Party calm their fears that the Republican Party doesn’t care about climate change?

Moderator Martha Maccallum then asked for a show of hands: "Do you believe in human behavior is causing climate change?"

No hands were raised and the young man's question was never answered. Vivek Ramaswamy declared that "the climate change agenda is a hoax", and claimed that "more people are dying of bad climate change policies than they are of actual climate change."

No one contradicted him. Various candidates obliquely recognized the issue, but made excuses for doing nothing. Nikki Haley said:

We also need to take on the international world and say, okay, India and China, you’ve got to stop polluting. And that’s when we’ll start to deal with climate.

Tim Scott pointed his finger at the whole developing world:

America has cut our carbon footprint in half in the last 25 years. The places where they are continuing to increase Africa, 950 million people, India, over a billion, China over a billion. Why would we put ourselves at a disadvantage, devastating our own economy? Let’s bring our jobs home.

No one presented an idea that would have any effect on the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, other than to increase them.

To me, everything else about the debate was trivial. My takeaway from the debate is this: If you care at all about climate change, there is no Republican you can support.

That's why I agree with Beau of the Fifth Column: The winner of the debate was Joe Biden.

The climate change quote was far from the only outrageous thing Vivek Ramaswamy said during the debate, and over the weekend he was on virtually every talk show saying even more outrageous things.

There's something broken in our media, and it intersects badly with what's broken in the Republican Party. In our media, saying ridiculous things gets you more attention than saying wise or sensible things. And a sizable chunk of the Republican base yearns to break free from the constraints of Reality, so a potential leader shamelessly spouting nonsense -- heedless of the criticism of "elites" who are still attached to Reality -- appeals to them.

Ramaswamy has been taking full advantage of that sad configuration, and no doubt the next set of polls will show him moving up, at least as a second choice for Trump voters.

Consequently, I'm not going to repeat all the craziness he spouted on the talk shows. However, I did take a look at his biography, and I'm having a hard time figuring out why anyone thinks he should be president.

Ramaswamy, at 38, is an entrepreneur in the pharmaceutical industry, and he's made quite a bit of money in that role. But it's hard to tell whether his career has actually benefited anyone. His fundamental idea is to buy up patents for unproven drugs that the large companies are giving up on, then form small companies focused around getting those drugs through clinical trials and onto the market.

Does that strategy work? Hard to say, at this point. His main company, Roivant, got its first drug onto the market in 2022; it's a cream for treating plaque psoriasis. A dozen or so other drugs are in various phases of clinical trials and may or may not ever be approved for use. At the moment, the testing and development process is burning cash faster than the one marketable drug can earn it, so the company is losing money. A lot of start-ups do that, and some of them eventually turn into Facebook. But most don't.

So 10-20 years from now, Ramaswamy could be Elon Musk, or he could be (barely) remembered as a guy who sucked in a lot of investor cash and blew it.

Personally, I'd like to see more definite results from his first career before I consider him for a second career as a political leader.

and you also might be interested in ...

Today is a significant day in Trump's trials. Mark Meadows has a hearing before a federal judge in Georgia, trying to get his trial moved from Georgia state court to federal court. The issue is whether what Meadows did to further Trump's conspiracy was part of his job as White House chief of staff. If so, he's entitled to move the case to federal court.

Ordinarily that hearing would mostly have procedural significance, but both sides have upped the ante: Meadows is testifying in favor of his motion, and Fani Willis has called Brad Raffensperger. So this hearing is a preview of the overall case.

In a different courtroom, Judge Tanya Chutkan picked a trial date for the federal case against Trump for conspiring to overturn the 2020 election: March 4, a date much closer to Jack Smith's January 2 proposal than Trump's April, 2026 offer. If this date holds up, the trial will begin the day before the Super Tuesday primaries.

Sarah Palin is the latest Republican to suggest "civil war" as a proper response to the Trump indictments.

“Those who are conducting this travesty and creating this two-tier system of justice, I want to ask them what the heck, do you want us to be in civil war? Because that’s what’s going to happen,” Palin told Newsmax on Thursday night.

“We’re not going to keep putting up with this.”

It's important to recognize this talk for the admission of guilt it is. If Trump supporters really believed what they say -- that the charges are politically motivated nonsense -- they'd want a quick trial so that a jury could laugh the case out of court. The only way that "civil war" makes sense is if you believe that a jury of ordinary American citizens who sees the evidence against Trump will find him guilty, and so violence is the only way to keep him out of prison.

and let's close with something photogenic

Past Chronicles picks out a few dozen of the most creative ways people have incorporated statues and prominent architecture into their photos.

As several of the photos suggest, kids do this spontaneously.

Sometimes you can repurpose a statue completely: With the right staging, an applause can become a spanking.

And a baseball swing becomes an assault.

Apparently, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is a popular target for photographic abuse. Here, it tops an ice cream cone.