Monday, June 20, 2022

Lingering Dishonor

Tonight I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.

- Rep. Liz Cheney

This week's featured posts are "Will the Great Salt Lake stay great?" and "The hearings, week two".

This week everybody was talking about the continuing 1-6 hearings

This was covered in the second featured post.

This week we saw that the Big Lie is alive and well, and screwing up current elections. New Mexico held a primary on June 7, but Otero County refused to certify results for the state to total up.

The all-Republican [county] commission had refused on Monday to certify the results -- citing concerns about Dominion voting machines and questions about a handful of individual votes in this month's primary.

Friday, the commission voted 2-1 to submit to a court order that they certify results. The one dissenting vote was from a commissioner who has been sentenced to 14 days jail time for trespassing on the Capitol grounds during the 1-6 riot.

Controversies over Dominion voting machines are perhaps the most thoroughly debunked of all Trump's election-fraud lies. Not even Fox News and Newsmax make the claim any more. Hand recounts in numerous states have failed to find higher-than-normal discrepancies in final vote totals, ending the controversy for all people who live in the real world.

Republican Rep. James Comer promised an OAN interviewer that when Republicans get control of the House in 2023, they will take revenge by holding "Hunter Biden hearings". The idea here seems to be that this will make Democrats sorry they investigated 1-6 and demonstrated Trump's criminality.

Here's what he doesn't get: Democrats aren't a personality cult the way Republicans are.

In particular, we aren't dedicated to protecting each other from learning the truth about Joe Biden or his family. If it turns out that Hunter Biden really did commit crimes (which I don't think has been established yet), by all means he should be investigated, prosecuted, convicted, and go to jail. I believe that would make his father sad, but keeping Joe Biden happy is not a high priority for me or for most Democrats, certainly not the way that keeping Donald Trump happy is a priority for Republicans.

and "both sides do it" distractions

Right-wing media and politicians like Marco Rubio have started calling for the Justice Department to take action against a pro-choice "terrorist" group, Jane's Revenge. You can expect JR to become the new antifa. Night after night, Fox News will cast it as a violent left-wing conspiracy that the authorities supposedly ignore while targeting "patriotic" right-wing groups like the Proud Boys.

The problem with this framing is simple: So far there's little indication that Jane's Revenge is much more than a viral meme. (Similarly, antifa is much less than right-wing media makes it out to be. It appears to be a handful of local groups with no national coordination.) So if you graffiti some anti-choice institution ("You Do Not Have the Right to Determine How Others Live" painted on a Catholic Church, for example), your action will become part of a 50-incident list of "Attacks on Churches, Pro-Life Organizations, Property, and People Since the Dobbs Leak" that Rubio will tie to Jane's Revenge. And as the meme catches on, you may even decide to sign your graffiti as "Jane's Revenge", or attach that name to a threatening letter you post online. But that doesn't mean you belong to any group -- or even that there is a group to belong to.

A small percentage of the "attacks" on Rubio's list do involve real or attempted property damage, and those are crimes that should be investigated and punished like comparable property crimes, most of which never get federal attention. But I doubt that his list would impress anybody who has worked at an abortion clinic, where hostile graffiti is just another Tuesday, and people occasionally get killed. (My church suffered an "attack" a few years ago: Our "Black Lives Matter" sign was defaced, as were the signs of at least 50 other churches. We never heard from Rubio.)

None of this "left-wing terrorism" bears any resemblance to right-wing terrorism, which regularly kills people, or to the Proud Boys' or Oath Keepers' participation in Trump's coup attempt.

Just last weekend, 31 members of Patriot Front were arrested on their way to violently disrupt a Pride event in Idaho. Reportedly, the 31 came from 11 states and only one was from Idaho. That's what an interstate terrorist group looks like.

So far, Senator Rubio hasn't written to Merrick Garland to complain about them.

and the Senate gun compromise

Last week a bipartisan group of senators announced they had compromised on a framework for legislation. But it started to come undone this week when they got down to writing a bill.

The major sticking points? Funding for red flag laws and what to do about the "boyfriend loophole." Both issues present a number of thorny challenges for negotiators, but the "boyfriend loophole" specifically has been cited as a considerable roadblock.

Currently, you can't buy guns if you've been convicted of domestic violence against a spouse, a live-in partner, or the mother of your child. Democrats want to extend that prohibition to less well defined dating relationships. Republicans agreed in principle, but defining the exact bounds of "boyfriend" is giving them heartburn. After all, violent men who like guns are pretty much the core of the Republican Party.

It's had to argue, though, that extending the loophole wouldn't have a big effect on mass shootings. Men who commit such crimes usually start out smaller, by abusing either animals or women who are in their power.

Mass killings of children get the most media attention, but apparently no one of any age is safe from the epidemic of gun violence. Thursday evening, a 70-year-old man went to a potluck dinner at an Episcopal church in Alabama and killed three even older diners before being hit with a chair by another man in his 70s.

If I had to choose the American denomination least likely to be either the victims or perpetrators of violence, I might well have picked the Episcopalians. Historically upscale and stereotypically "nice people" (sometimes to a fault), Episcopalians tend to be theologically and politically liberal but ritually conservative. They are closely related to the Church of England, whose niceness comedian Eddie Izzard lampooned in his "Cake or Death" routine, which seems a bit less funny today.

and Juneteenth

By the calendar it was yesterday (June 19); the federal day-off-work is today.

Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when a Union general announced that the slaves of Texas were free. That makes it a bittersweet holiday, because the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect on January 1, 1863, more than two years earlier. General Lee had surrendered at Appomattox more than two months before. And even after Juneteenth, the proclaimed "absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves" was a long time in coming. Some would say it still hasn't arrived.

In short, Juneteenth reminds us that there's a big difference between having rights on paper and having rights that the ruling institutions can or will enforce in practice.

but we're not paying enough attention to environmental disasters in progress

That's the topic of the first featured post, about the shrinking of the Great Salt Lake.

The other big recent environmental news story is about too much water rather than too little: the flooding of Yellowstone.

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The Texas Republican Party went off the deep end this week, approving a platform

declaring that President Joe Biden “was not legitimately elected” and rebuking Sen. John Cornyn for taking part in bipartisan gun talks. They also voted on a platform that declares homosexuality “an abnormal lifestyle choice” and calls for Texas schoolchildren “to learn about the humanity of the preborn child.”

It also calls for repealing the 16th Amendment (which allows a national income tax), abolishing the Federal Reserve, and holding a referendum on whether Texas should secede from the Union.

Here's hoping Governor Abbott doesn't duck a debate with Beto O'Rourke, so Beto can ask him about his party's platform point by point.

If you're in my generation and want to feel old, meditate on this: Paul McCartney turned 80 this week. "When I'm 64" is but a distant memory for him now. Two days before the big day, he performed at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey, and was joined on stage by New Jersey icons Bruce Springsteen (a mere 72), and young whippersnapper Jon Bon Jovi (60).

French President Macron's party lost its majority in the lower house of Parliament. It's still the largest party, but will have to find allies to accomplish anything. France's government may become as logjammed as the US.

and let's close with something over the top

Apparently in Denmark, the only thing cooler than riding the bus is driving one.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Never Leave

Prior to these hearings, Republicans tried to claim that tonight was going to be a nothingburger. They were wrong. ... It was such a juicy burger that Fox News knew that even their viewers would be tempted to take a bite. Which is why -- and this is true -- for the first hour of his show opposite the hearings, Tucker Carlson took no commercial breaks. [Neither did Sean Hannity.] Do you understand what that means? Fox News is willing to lose money to keep their viewers from flipping over and accidentally learning information. ... But I'm not surprised. That's the first rule of any cult: Never leave the compound.

- Stephen Colbert

This week's featured post is "The 1-6 hearings begin."

This week everybody was talking about the 1-6 hearing

If you only get one thing out of these hearings, it should be a response you can give to anybody on social media who thinks Trump really won the 2020 election: "Not even Ivanka believes that."

I cover the first hearing in the featured post. The second hearing is going on as I write this, but I'm writing rather than watching, so I'll have to cover it next week.

In the featured post I mentioned the WSJ's opinion that Trump is morally but not criminally responsible for the 1-6 insurrection. Arkansas' Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson is taking that line as well.

and Ukraine

Russian forces continue to advance slowly into eastern Ukraine, with high casualties on both sides. From the outside, it's hard to tell who can keep this up longer.

and the pandemic

Two trends are fighting each other, so national case numbers are more-or-less flat, as a continuing decline in the Northeast is canceled out by increases in other regions. Hospitalizations are bending upwards, and deaths have been bouncing around in a 250-400 daily range for nearly two months.

and Senate compromises

Bipartisan committees of senators have reached compromises in two areas: mass shootings and revising the Electoral Count Act that Trump tried to abuse on 1-6.

The mass-shooting compromise gives credibility (probably more than they deserve) to Republican talking points about mental health and school vulnerability as causes. Vox summarizes:

The framework itself is heavy on mental health interventions, like setting aside funding for in-school mental health and support services, as well as telehealth services for individuals and families in mental health crisis. It also calls for a national expansion of community mental health services for children and families. ... [A]lthough the framework is thin on details, it suggests investing in “programs to help institute safety measures in and around primary and secondary schools, support school violence prevention efforts and provide training to school personnel and students.”

But there is some gun control included as well. One carefully worded part of the framework:

Provides resources to states and tribes to create and administer laws that help ensure deadly weapons are kept out of the hands of individuals whom a court has determined to be a significant danger to themselves or others, consistent with state and federal due process and constitutional protections.

It also may close the "boyfriend loophole" in an existing law that prevents gun ownership by people under restraining orders for domestic violence, and also enhance background checks for gun purchasers under 21 years old.

Everything depends on the final wording, which remains to be worked out. Any of the ten Republicans involved in the negotiations could torpedo a bill, since all ten would be needed to break a filibuster.

According to Susan Collins, the group negotiating to revise the Electoral Count Act

has already drafted language that would make clear that the vice president's role is ministerial in the process of counting Electoral College votes. The new language also raises the threshold for triggering a challenge to a state's slate from one member in each chamber to 20% of the members in each body. There would be a majority vote for sustaining an objection.

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The May consumer price index came in higher than expected: Inflation is running at 8.6%. Many economists had been theorizing that the peak inflation rate had been reached in March. But apparently not.

Obviously, this is an issue that drives down Biden's approval numbers, but it's not clear what he can do, what he should have done in the past, or what Republicans would do differently. Inflation would probably be lower if the American Rescue Plan hadn't passed, but unemployment would be considerably higher. I doubt that would be a win for the country.

Inflation is happening around the world, and is worse in many other countries than it is here.

Some Republicans want to blame Build Back Better or even the Green New Deal for inflation, but it's hard to see how that's possible, since neither of them passed Congress.

In view of the attempted right-wing coup being exposed by the 1-6 Committee hearings, the ongoing rash of mass shootings caused by our insane gun culture, and the pandemic that has already killed a million Americans, it makes perfect sense that Republicans would want to focus on ... kids going to drag shows.

Yep, that's this week's outrage, and public officials like Ron DeSantis are talking about siccing child protective services on parents who allow such a thing.

Because apparently seeing men dress like women will do some kind of permanent damage to a minor. I can't quite imagine what, but probably my imagination has been stunted by my childhood trauma of seeing Flip Wilson's Geraldine character, Corporal Klinger in MASH, and various Monty Python men-dressed-as-women skits. An earlier generation of American youth had to recover from seeing Milton Berle in a dress, as well as Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot.

It's a miracle the Republic has survived.

A related outrage I forgot to mention last week: Right-thinking folks are boycotting Pizza Hut because the Hut's Book-It program (to encourage children to read more) endorsed the book Big Wig, about a boy who creates a drag character. I personally favor local pizza places, so I've been unofficially boycotting the national chains for many years. But if you find yourself ready to flip a coin between chain pizzerias, you might want to give the Hut an edge.

A question to meditate on: Unless they go bare-chested at the beach, women dressing like men is hardly ever a big moral issue, and a kids' book about a girl creating a hyper-masculine fantasy character wouldn't be worth national attention. Why is that? Extra credit if your answer also accounts for the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. Old Testament), which denounces gay men but doesn't mention lesbians.

A guy was arrested Wednesday for plotting to assassinate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. It's kind of a bizarre story: He called 911 on himself, and gave the police his description. He was arrested with multiple weapons. As motive, he cited both the Court's pending decision to reverse Roe v Wade and the possibility that Kavanaugh might vote to loosen gun laws.

My IRL friend Abby Hafer has published an article fleshing out one of the strongest arguments for abortion rights: The law should not be able to commandeer parts of one person's body, even to save the life of another person. In "Do pregnant women have fewer rights than the dead?" she points out that not even a corpse can be forced to donate a kidney or liver unless permission was granted before death.

Yet the anti-abortion lobby feels that [a pregnant woman] must donate her entire body, and not for her own good. She is being required to make this sacrifice of her own organs and tissues without her consent, in order to help someone else, even though our society does not require this at any other time, from any other kind of person.

Poland is an example of what can happen when anti-abortion radicals get their way. The NYT tells the story of Izabela Sajbor, who died of sepsis after her water broke prematurely, and doctors refused to intervene for fear of killing her fetus. Shortly before dying, Sajbor wrote something that echoes Abby's point:

They cannot help as long as the fetus is alive thanks to the anti-abortion law. A woman is like an incubator.

and let's close with something to make us all feel smarter by comparison

People under pressure tend to say stupid things -- like when they're on TV, a clock is running, and a game show host is looking at them expectantly.

Monday, June 6, 2022


You don't have to be that gung-ho on trans rights to realize that a world where girls' genitals need to be inspected before they can play any sport is worse for girls than a world where once in a while there's a trans girl on a girls' team.

- Evan Urquhart

This week's featured post is "America's guns have changed in my lifetime."

This week everybody was talking still talking about guns

Because the mass shootings won't stop. A gunman killed four at a hospital in Tulsa on Wednesday. Three died and 11 were wounded in a multi-party shoot-out in Philadelphia Saturday. Three died Sunday morning in a shooting in Saginaw. Also on Sunday, three died and 17 were injured in a shooting near a bar in Chattanooga.

The Senate is under pressure to "do something", but if anything gets done, it will be small. Perhaps there will be some expansion of red-flag laws that prevent some criminals and mentally ill people from buying guns, perhaps an expansion of federal background checks that would still leave loopholes. But no universal background checks, no assault weapon ban, nothing remotely on the scale of the problem.

This week's featured post examines my own history with guns, and concludes that the apparently stable level of gun-ownership in America over the decades has masked a huge increase in the destructive potential of our civilian arsenal.

Yes, I grew up in a gun-owning household. But no, the guns (and the gun culture) of America in the 1960s and 70s bears no resemblance to what we see today.

In discussions of the Second Amendment, gun advocates often ignore the phrase "well regulated Militia", and gun-control advocates correspondingly call attention to it. But both sides usually forget that the Constitution uses the word "Militia" elsewhere, so the word is not an impenetrable mystery to be interpreted however we see fit. The constitutional context paints a pretty clear idea what the Founders meant a militia to be.

Article I, section 8 gives Congress the power "To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States"

Article II, section 2 says that the President "shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States".

So it's clear that self-appointed groups of guys playing war games in the woods are NOT militias in the constitutional sense. They are not organized, armed, and disciplined by Congress, and they picture themselves BEING the insurrection, not responding to a call from Congress to submit to the command of the President and put down an insurrection.

The only organizations today that fit the constitutional uses of "Militia" are National Guard units.

Michael Fanone, a 20-year DC policeman who testified about the 1-6 riot and now works for CNN, explains why the AR-15 should be banned.

If banning them outright seems like too extreme a solution to be politically palatable, here's another option: Reclassify semi-automatic rifles as Class 3 firearms.

That would mean that someone wanting to purchase an AR-15 would have to go through a background check, fingerprinting and review by an official from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives -- a process that takes anywhere from 12 to 16 months. And since Class 3 weapons can't be purchased by anyone younger than 21, it would solve the issue of emotionally unstable 18-year-olds buying them.

A Class 3 firearm reclassification would also make those who are approved to purchase these weapons subject to an annual check that they are complying with federal regulations regarding secure storage of the firearm, and to confirm their licensing and other paperwork is up to date. All of these hoops and hurdles are sure to reduce the civilian demand for these weapons.

in his Substack blog, Michael Sifry discusses the role of money in making the gun-control movement "a monoculture" that employs only the most vanilla tactics.

Faced with the same confluence of events that we had in 2018, even worse since now we’re reeling from the racist massacre in Buffalo along with the insanity in Texas, all the wings of today’s “stay on message” gun violence prevention lobby, from the youngest to the oldest, are not just singing from the same songbook, they’re following the same theory of change: trying to convert momentary public attention into successful lobbying of legislators, plus calling occasional big marches and walkouts aimed at converting attention into the successful lobbying of legislators. To be followed by the inevitable electioneering for candidates who are almost all Democrats. When media attention fades, as it will, this lobby has no plans to create attention on its own beyond “vote harder.” ...

It's as if we’re living in the 1950s and the only groups leading the charge for civil rights are the NAACP and the Urban League, and the only strategy they’re willing to try is polite protest and lobbying.

A Florida school-shooting survivor asked Marco Rubio if he would reject NRA contributions. The question got a standing ovation. Rubio could not say yes. "That is the wrong way to look," he explained.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

but we need to shift the focus to January 6

The House committee's televised hearings start Thursday evening. I'm getting disturbed that I'm not hearing more buzz about that. We're going to see in detail the story of how an American president almost overthrew democracy so that he could stay in power. It's a big deal.

Fox News still hasn't committed to covering Thursday night's hearing.

I can already predict the Republican response: It's all just a rehash of the second impeachment hearings. But it's not. Those hearings happened mere weeks after the insurrection, and spent most of their time recounting what happened at the Capitol on 1-6 itself.

The Committee now knows a great deal more about Trump's conspiracy to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election. They have sources inside the Trump White House, and can trace the plot through the fake electors and the attempt to induce Vice President Pence to break his oath of office. We'll hear just how many people told Trump explicitly that his stolen-election narrative was bullshit, and that his scheme to disrupt counting the electoral votes was illegal. I expect the hearings to reveal connections between the White House and the right-wing paramilitary groups that planned the Capitol assault. We'll find out if Republican congressmen were involved. We'll hear from executive-branch officials who Trump tried to pressure to go along with the plot, and get testimony about how Trump responded as events unfolded on January 6.

One indication that the Committee has the goods on Trump is just how hard his people have tried to obstruct its investigation.

Friday, Trump economic advisor (and proponent of the election-nullifying plot he called "the Green Bay sweep") Peter Navarro was arrested for contempt of Congress. He's pretty obviously guilty: He was subpoenaed by the 1-6 committee and just blew them off. He has tried to claim that executive privilege prevents him from testifying. However, it didn't prevent him from writing about the same topics in his book or discussing them on television. It isn't the world that's not supposed to know, just Congress.

"In any event, you must appear to assert any executive privilege objections on a question-by-question basis during the deposition," the committee wrote.

Navarro seems deeply offended about being treated like a criminal just because he broke the law.

“Who are these people,” Navarro said. “This is not America. I mean, I was a distinguished public servant for four years and nobody ever questioned my ethics. And they’re treating me in this fashion.”

Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert railed against the deep injustice of enforcing the laws Republicans break:

It actually puts an exclamation point on the fact that we have a two-tiered justice system. If you’re a Republican, you can’t even lie to Congress or lie to an FBI agent or they’re coming after you. They’re gonna bury you. They’re gonna put you in the D.C. jail and terrorize and torture you and not live up to the Constitution there.

Josh Marshall couldn't resist getting snarky:

you murder one person and suddenly ev'body's like LAW LAW LAW

Remember: the Benghazi Committee was precisely the kind of partisan witch hunt Republicans claim the 1-6 Committee is. But Hillary Clinton testified to them for 11 hours, because she was confident she had answers for all their questions. Trump and his people, on the other hand, know that they're guilty, so they want to prevent the American people from finding out what they did.

Can you imagine Trump showing up for hours of testimony under oath? He knows he couldn't go five minutes without either babbling or committing perjury.

meanwhile, the pandemic continues

The trends of the past few weeks continue: Case numbers are drifting downwards, particularly in the Northeast. (In my Massachusetts county, new cases per day per 100K were running in the high 50s a few weeks ago; it's 35 now.) Hospitalizations are well below their January peaks and deaths (now around 270 per day) never really did spike during this wave.

To put the death number in perspective, compare to the flu:

According to data collected by the CDC from 2010 to 2020, the agency estimates that the flu has caused 12,000–52,000 deaths annually.

Dividing by 365 gets you to 33-142 deaths per day. So right now Covid deaths are running about double the rate of a bad flu year. (That's assuming we could maintain this rate for a whole year. If deaths shoot up again in the fall and winter, we'll be much higher than double a flu death-rate.)

In Atlantic, Yasmin Tayag examines how this wave feels different from previous ones: It's a much longer but shallower wave.

The recent omicron variants have gotten better at evading the vaccines' protections against infection, but deaths among the fully vaccinated-and-boosted are still rare. I've noticed this in my own social circle, which is almost entirely vaccinated: More people I know have gotten sick lately, but none seriously.

and the Ukraine War

It's been 100 days since the Russian invasion began. Russian forces occupy about a fifth of the country, mostly in the east. The Russian offensive in the east has turned into a war of attrition, with each side making claims that the battle is turning in its favor.

It gets harder and harder to imagine how this war might end. Neither side is likely to give up, and there is no obvious settlement that both could accept.

Meanwhile, a debate is rising about America's and NATO's long-term commitment. The NYT's Ross Douthat expresses one side of that debate:

[G]iven the state of the war right now, the more likely near-future scenario is one where Russian collapse remains a pleasant fancy, the conflict becomes stalemated and frozen, and we have to put our Ukrainian policy on a sustainable footing without removing Putin’s regime or dismantling the Russian empire. ... [I]f Kyiv and Moscow are headed for a multiyear or even multi-decade frozen conflict, we will need to push Ukraine toward its most realistic rather than its most ambitious military strategy.

Atlantic's Anne Applebaum the other:

The West should not aim to offer Putin an off-ramp; our goal, our endgame, should be defeat. In fact, the only solution that offers some hope of long-term stability in Europe is rapid defeat, or even, to borrow Macron’s phrase, humiliation. In truth, the Russian president not only has to stop fighting the war; he has to conclude that the war was a terrible mistake, one that can never be repeated. More to the point, the people around him—leaders of the army, the security services, the business community—have to conclude exactly the same thing.

... Only failure can persuade the Russians themselves to question the sense and purpose of a colonial ideology that has repeatedly impoverished and ruined their own economy and society, as well as those of their neighbors, for decades. Yet another frozen conflict, yet another temporary holding pattern, yet another face-saving compromise will not end the pattern of Russian aggression or bring permanent peace.

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Dr. Oz will be the GOP's Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, after David McCormick conceded in the photo-finish primary. Oz got just over 31% in a multi-candidate race and won by less than 1,000 votes out of 1.2 million.

The Democratic candidate, John Fetterman, is still recovering from a stroke suffered just before the primary, which appears to have been caused by an underlying heart condition. He is said to be walking several miles a day.

Elon Musk buying Twitter still isn't a done deal.

A couple of Republican conspiracy theories blew up this week.

A jury took only six hours to acquit Michael Sussman of lying to the FBI. After three years of investigating the origin of the Trump/Russia investigation, this was Special Counsel John Durham's first indictment, and it was a pretty flimsy one. The main point of the indictment seems to have been to fan pro-Trump conspiracy theories about the Clintons, not to get a conviction.

Another long-running conspiracy theory has been the "unmasking" of Michael Flynn. WaPo's Aaron Blake summarizes the theory:

The idea was that Obama administration officials deliberately targeted Donald Trump associates — and particularly Flynn — by requesting the disclosure of their names in intelligence reports before Trump took office, doing so for political purposes. This fed into long-running allegations of the government “spying” on Trump, who chose Flynn as his national security adviser.

The Trump Justice Department investigated that claim and found nothing. BuzzFeed released the previously classified report (by then-US Attorney John Bash) last Monday:

“My review has uncovered no evidence that senior Executive Branch officials sought the disclosure of” the identities of US individuals “in disseminated intelligence reports for political purposes or other inappropriate reasons during the 2016 presidential-election period or the ensuing presidential-transition period,” Bash’s report says.

In particular, unmasking had nothing to do with the scandal that eventually got Flynn convicted of lying to the FBI (which Trump pardoned him for).

A central focus of the probe was the leak showing that Flynn had been in communication with then–Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak prior to Trump’s inauguration, and whether Flynn’s involvement was revealed through an unmasking request from a government official.

But Bash’s review of unmasked intelligence reports about the calls found that the FBI did not in fact disseminate any that contained Flynn’s information, and that a single unmasked report that did contain Flynn’s information did not describe the calls between him and Kislyak. “For that reason, the public disclosure of the communications could not have resulted from an unmasking request,” Bash’s report concludes.

Both of these attempts to come up with a nefarious origin story for the Trump/Russia investigation ignore the fact that there were perfectly good reasons to investigate, and that the public still has not heard the full story of what went on between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

Let me summarize at the highest level:

No innocent explanation of these facts has ever been offered.

Ron DeSantis continues his Orban-like tactics to use government power to punish corporations that don't support him. This time the target is the Tampa Bay Rays, who recently spoke out against gun violence and made a contribution to a gun-control organization.

Ohio's legislature has passed the "Save Women's Sports Act", which bans transgender girls from playing sports in public schools. Reason summarizes:

So, to be very clear here, no evidence is needed that a particular athlete is trans or not a biological female in order to demand that she prove her sex. The athlete must then go to a physician and either subject herself to a physical inspection of her sexual organs or arrange for hormone or genetic tests. And no, the bill does not fund the costs of such tests. ... News 5 in Cleveland notes that there is currently only a single trans female student competing in high school sports in Ohio.

Evan Urquhart comments:

You don't have to be that gung-ho on trans rights to realize that a world where girls' genitals need to be inspected before they can play any sport is worse for girls than a world where once in a while there's a trans girl on a girls' team.

Yes, Marjorie Taylor Greene really did say "peach tree dish". But it was funnier when Sarah Silverman said it to Conan O'Brien in 2010.

Brynn Tannehill reports that her friend's husband is a retired police officer who does police trainings. He finds that young officers are soaked in right-wing propaganda, to the point that they just don't believe FBI statistics about right-wing domestic terrorism.

Follow up. Spoke with his wife last night. The first responders also didn't believe that police were attacked on January 6th. Or if they were, it was Antifa. These are the people that will be propping up our post-democracy government. They're true believers. We're f****d.

and let's close with something religious

George Carlin seems to be having a comeback lately, in spite of having been dead since 2008. The streaming channels I subscribe to keep recommending his videos, and he's been coming up more often on my social media feeds. In addition to just being funny, Carlin generally gave you something to think about, like this attempt to edit the ten commandments down to a more manageable list.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Adult Fears

People who feel safer with a gun than with guaranteed medical insurance don’t yet have a fully adult concept of scary.

- William Gibson

This week's featured post is "Repeating myself about guns".

This week everybody was talking about gun violence

This week's featured post is my confession that I've got no new ideas about America's gun problem. Instead, I review what I've written on the topic since 2015. As far as I can see, nothing has changed in the last seven years, other than the list of mass shootings getting longer.

I also can't report any ideas from others that struck me as new this week. The battle of ideas, such as it is, has been going around in circles for a very long time.

What did seem fresh, though, was the earnestness of emotion that I heard from many people, particularly from folks who aren't politicians or news-show hosts. To me, the most moving comments came from people who have been successful enough to have people pay attention to them, but used that opportunity to channel what ordinary people are feeling.

One of them was NBA coach Steve Kerr, who on Tuesday couldn't bring himself to focus on questions about his team's progress in the playoffs. (They advanced to the finals on Thursday.) Violence is personal for Kerr. He was 18 when his father was gunned down by terrorists in Beirut. This is what he had to say.

The bill he's talking about, HR-8, is summarized here. It's hardly an attempt to seize people's guns. Rather, it just makes it illegal to sell a gun to someone without a background check. Polls indicate that most Americans believe that's already what the law demands, but it isn't.

Jimmy Kimmel also had trouble keeping his voice steady. He recorded this statement without an audience.

Video can capture weaselly responses as well. In this clip, Ted Cruz has no answer for a British reporter who asks him why these kinds of shootings happen so much more often in America than anywhere else, and if our lax gun laws have something to do with it. Cruz can only pretend to be offended and storm off, because there's nothing he can say.

Three years ago, the American Independent listed 13 absurd "causes" for mass shootings that Republicans offer to distract attention from guns. We heard just about the whole list this week as well. None of them answer the question the reporter asked Cruz: What's special about the United States other than the ease with which people with violent intentions can lay their hands on weapons appropriate for fighting a war?

The lack of any link between shootings and video games, for example, was already clear nine years ago in this chart: If you're having trouble reading it, the United States is the dot floating high above the field because of its per capita gun-related murders, while the Netherlands and South Korea spend far more per capita on video games.

The Texas Observer does a pretty thorough takedown of Governor Abbott and his finger-pointing at mental illness (which, of course, only exists in the US).

Abbott is simply changing the topic.

The Uvalde shooter did not kill those children with his purported mental health struggles. He did not shoot them with estrangement; he did not murder them with malaise; he did not ravage their little bodies with the inchoate rage of his misguided youth. He killed them with a goddamn assault rifle, and high-capacity magazines, designed for the precise purpose of human annihilation.

Abbott's interest in mental health lasts just as long as it takes for voters' attention to shift away from guns. (About four days, according to Princeton Professor Patrick Sharkey.) Just last month, he cut the state's mental health budget.

Texas ranked last out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia for overall access to mental health care, according to the 2021 State of Mental Health in America report.

Texas could easily start reversing that sorry record by approving ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion, which the Republican legislature still refuses to do.

But if you think pro-gun gaslighting can't get any worse, I have bad news for you: The problem isn't guns, says Derek Gilbert, it's demons. Killing so many children with an AR-15 is so hard, Gilbert improbably claims, that the Uvalde shooter couldn't have managed it unless he were possessed by a demon who has done this before. (Again, it's not clear why this demon doesn't possess people in the Netherlands or South Korea.)

The police in Uvalde arrived at the school within minutes. (It's a small town. I saw someone on Twitter claim that nothing is more than five minutes from the school.) But they didn't enter the room where the shooter was killing children until more than an hour later. Kids were calling 911 while police were just outside the door. The police changed their story many times in the first few days. Whether we have the true story now is anybody's guess.

and Ukraine

Russia continues to advance slowly into eastern Ukraine. CNBC calls this "a subtle momentum shift in the war". Some of the pro-Ukraine voices I've been following have stopped commenting, which worries me. The Week summarizes speculations in both directions.

As the war drags on, the likelihood of a global food shortage rises. It's easy to sensationalize that possibility, but The Economist covers it pretty well.

Russia and Ukraine supply 28% of globally traded wheat, 29% of the barley, 15% of the maize and 75% of the sunflower oil. Russia and Ukraine contribute about half the cereals imported by Lebanon and Tunisia; for Libya and Egypt the figure is two-thirds. Ukraine’s food exports provide the calories to feed 400m people. The war is disrupting these supplies because Ukraine has mined its waters to deter an assault, and Russia is blockading the port of Odessa.

Even before the invasion the World Food Programme had warned that 2022 would be a terrible year. China, the largest wheat producer, has said that, after rains delayed planting last year, this crop may be its worst-ever. Now, in addition to the extreme temperatures in India, the world’s second-largest producer, a lack of rain threatens to sap yields in other breadbaskets, from America’s wheat belt to the Beauce region of France. The Horn of Africa is being ravaged by its worst drought in four decades.

If you're a middle-class-or-higher American, this will be a nuisance but not a crisis. Food prices will increase, but the average American household spends only 10% of its income on food. We could afford to spend more, and we could eat more cheaply without starving. And if the rest of us choose to look out for Americans who are food insecure (always a dubious proposition), they could be fine too.

What will happen in poorer countries, though, is up in the air. The world still produces plenty of calories to feed everybody, if that were a priority. But much of that production goes into producing meat (which delivers calories much less efficiently) or fuel.

and the pandemic

Case numbers, which have been increasing since late March, seem to have leveled off nationally. In the Northeast, where the current surge started a little earlier, cases have started to drift downward. Hospitalizations, a lagging indicator, are still rising nationally, but are headed down in Maine, Vermont, and Rhode Island. Deaths never did take off during this surge, but are running at 374 per day, up somewhat from a low of around 300 a few weeks ago.

At this point, if you are in good health, have no special risk factors, and have gotten all the recommended vaccinations (including boosters), you don't need to worry that much about dying from Covid. A number of people I know personally have had Covid in the last month or so, and none have been hospitalized for it.

My personal fear at this point centers around long Covid, in which symptoms unpredictably last for months or years.

and you also might be interested in ...

The Georgia Republican primary showed the limits of Trump's influence. Few Republicans have drawn more of the Great Orange One's wrath than Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. But both won their primaries easily.

My reading of Republican primaries to date is that the GOP base fully supports Trump's fascism, but is ambivalent about his personal vendettas. I lean towards believing that the party's 2024 nominee will be a post-Trump fascist, like Ron DeSantis.

Georgia Republicans should be ashamed of themselves for nominating Herschel Walker to run against Senator Raphael Warnock. I don't know whether to feel sorry for Walker as a victim of cerebral damage from his football career or to fault him for just being stupid. But he has trouble speaking in complete sentences, as his response to the Uvalde shooting demonstrated. He's also dishonest and prone to violence. I know Republican standards have dropped sharply in the Trump Era. But this far? Really?

One of the themes of Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning was how racism in America has continuously evolved, from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration and beyond. Well, I think I just saw the future of racism in America: anti-racialism, as promoted in the current Atlantic by Reihan Salam of the Koch-funded Manhattan Institute.

Anti-racialism, basically, is an updated version of color-blindness, the idea that if we just stop calling attention to race, everybody will forget about it.

If liberal anti-racism is grounded in the idea that raising the salience of race is essential to achieving racial justice, anti-racialism holds that heightened race consciousness, and the racialization of disparities and differences that would obtain in any culturally plural society, more often than not cuts against fostering integration, civic harmony, and social progress.

One true observation Salam makes is that what we currently have (and are evolving toward) is not white supremacy, strictly speaking, because an increasing number of Asians and Hispanics are finding their way into the formerly all-white "mainstream" of American society.

In The Great Demographic Illusion, Alba underscores that the American mainstream is not coterminous with whiteness. “Just as the white Protestant mainstream that prevailed from colonial times to the middle of the twentieth century evolved through the mass assimilation of Catholic and Jewish ethnics after World War II,” he writes, “the racially defined mainstream of today is changing, at least in some parts of the country, as a result of the inclusion of many nonwhite and mixed Americans.”

Salam recognizes that of course there's still the problem of "black exceptionalism", i.e., not even an expanded mainstream has space for Black people.

the intense racial isolation experienced by most Black descendants of enslaved African Americans remains an important social fact

But, well, it sucks to be them. The rest of us should form a broad (or at least broader) multi-racial coalition that pretends race isn't an issue any more.

and let's close with something from another universe

The Marvel Cinematic Universe, to be exact. There's probably no easier piece of music to turn into a fun video than Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk". But together with this collection of Marvel outtakes, it's irresistible.

Monday, May 23, 2022


Take any horrible thing the right wing is doing, call it X. Go back in time two years and publicly predict: "the right wing is going to do X." You will be dismissed as a partisan crank. This has been reliably, consistently true throughout the entire right-wing escalation. Still true today.

- David Roberts

This week's featured post is "A reluctant defense of Bill Cassidy".

This week everybody was talking about primaries

Pennsylvania was last Tuesday, Georgia tomorrow.

The headline result in Pennsylvania was that a radically Trumpy candidate won the Republican primary for governor. State Senator Doug Mastriano attended the January 6 rally -- there's some dispute about how close the violence he got -- and still doesn't recognize Joe Biden's victory. He introduced a bill for the Pennsylvania legislature to award the state's 19 electoral votes to Trump, despite Biden getting 80,000 more votes than Trump. Governors have to sign presidential election certifications, so there is serious doubt that a Governor Mastriano would certify a Democratic victory in 2024, no matter what the voters said.

He also supports a complete abortion ban, without exceptions.

What we do know scientifically is that baby in the womb is a distinct individual — it’s not a clump of tissue. The argument, it’s 60-year-old science, is we know that’s a distinct individual with a distinct DNA. That baby deserves a right to life, whether it was conceived in incest, rape or whether there are concerns otherwise for the mom.

He is frequently identified as a Christian nationalist, though I haven't found any example of him claiming that label explicitly.

Speaking of Christian nationalism, Trump has endorsed Jacky Eubanks for the Michigan legislature. She was interviewed by Michael Voris of the Church Militant digital media service.

“You cannot have a successful society outside of the Christian moral order,” she claimed, insisting that “things like abortion and things like gay marriage are outside the Christian moral order.” Eubanks added: “They lead to chaos and destruction and a culture of death; we’ve abandoned the Christian moral order as a nation and we are reaping that destruction.”

When Voris suggested to Eubanks that her political opponents are likely to paint that as extreme, Eubanks countered: “I don’t see what we believe as extreme at all. We need to return to God’s moral order. That’s not radical. God’s morality is for everybody,” she said. “You cannot have happiness outside of God’s moral order.”

As I recall, there's a group in Afghanistan that also wants to return to God's moral order.

John Fetterman easily won the Democratic nomination for the Senate, despite suffering a stroke a few days before the primary. He spent about a week in the hospital, but has been released. He claims to expect a full recovery, but everyone will watching him closely when he starts campaigning again.

On the Republican side, the Senate race is still too close to call. As of Friday, Dr. Oz held a .08% lead over David McCormick. A recount is expected, so the race may not be decided until June 8. It's been amusing to hear Republicans talking about counting ballots that they considered fraudulent in 2020.

Oz has not, so far, taken Trump's advice and claimed victory, seeming to trust the election system in a state that the ex-President claimed was corrupt two years ago. Aides to McCormick, who has previously raised doubts about electoral integrity in the state, argue that uncounted absentee ballots -- the very outstanding votes that Trump falsely claimed in 2020 were proof of fraud -- will put him over the top.

Neither senate primary in Georgia is expected to be close: the Herschel Walker/Raphael Warnock match-up seems set. Likewise, Stacey Abrams seems assured of the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

The Republican side of the state-office primaries has been called "Trump's revenge tour". He's trying to oust Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Rafensperger, the Republican officials who did their jobs in 2020 rather than "find" the votes he needed to win. (Trump's famous call to pressure Rafensperger is still the subject of an election fraud investigation.) So far it seems not to be working: Kemp held a 32-point lead in a recent poll.

There does seem to be a bottom: Madison Cawthorn lost the Republican primary to defend his House seat.

A Republican candidate for governor in Colorado proposes that the state adopt its own version of the Electoral College for gubernatorial elections, one that would boost the power of rural counties and diminish urban centers like Denver.

Under Lopez’s plan, [the 2018] governor's race would have been a runaway win for Republicans, who lost the actual race by double-digits when each vote was weighted equally.

Right now, anybody who predicts Republicans will actually do such a thing would be dismissed as a partisan crank, in accordance with the David Roberts' principle stated at the top.

and replacement theory

When I started writing last week's featured post, I thought the point I was making -- that White Replacement Theory was becoming central to the Republican message -- was not necessarily original, but wasn't getting the attention it deserved. Apparently, though, I was one of a number of people having the same thought at the same time.

Rolling Stone's Talia Lavin got there a day ahead of me, and also with a sense of I'm-just-figuring-this-out:

Once you understand an obsession with racial composition and white fertility to be the driving engine of Republican politics, a number of seemingly disparate movements begin to fit together into an ugly whole. Some aspects are obvious: The anti-immigrant movement that has seen U.S. refugee admissions at historic lows and asylum seekers marooned in purgatorial camps in Mexico continues to dominate the right-wing airwaves. Historic levels of gerrymandering are ensuring that a diversifying populace remains beholden to the views of a white minority — alongside openly antidemocratic restrictions on voting and changes in election administration.

Other aspects are more veiled, but no less vitriolic. Years of fearmongering about transgender rights, and in particular their influence on youth, are linked to fears of waning fertility: anti-trans demagogues like Abigail Shrier describe trans bodies as “maimed and sterile,” and, as such, a chief motivation for the legion of anti-trans laws passed by state legislatures is the future fertility of trans children born female. The violent antifeminism of a far-right movement that sees women principally as vessels for breeding a new white generation expresses itself in a fixation on a return to “traditional” gender roles. And the culmination of generations of right-wing activism, which will secure the “domestic supply of infants,” as Justice Samuel Alito memorably put it, is poised to arrive in the form of the dissolution of Roe v. Wade. Payton Gendron, and those like him, are listening: like Brenton Tarrant, the mass shooter at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, Gendron opened his manifesto with a screed on the supposedly apocalyptic consequences of “sub-replacement fertility rates” among white women.

Kathleen Belew in the NYT:

Immigration is a problem because immigrants will outbreed the white population. Abortion is a problem because white babies will be aborted. L.G.B.T.Q. rights and feminism will take women from the home and decrease the white birthrate. Integration, intermarriage and even the presence of Black people distant from a white community — an issue apparently of keen interest in the Buffalo attack — are seen as a threat to the white birthrate through the threat of miscegenation.

Matt Schlapp, the head of the Conservative Political Action Conference, also sees the connection between replacement and abortion:

If you say there is a population problem in a country, but you’re killing millions of your own people through legalized abortion every year, if that were to be reduced, some of that problem is solved,. You have millions of people who can take many of these jobs. How come no one brings that up? If you’re worried about this quote-unquote replacement, why don’t we start there? Start with allowing our own people to live.

Like me, Ryan Cooper rejected the isolated-crazy-guy explanation of the Buffalo shooting:

the alleged shooter was just taking the conservative “replacement” rhetoric seriously. If one really believes that the white race is the foundation of American society (a disgusting lie in its own right), and that wealthy Jews and liberals are conspiring to drown that race in a tide of bestial subhuman immigrants, then mass murder is a logical conclusion

Vox' Zack Beauchamp looks at Hungary, where Replacement Theory has become the governing ideology. In that context, the connection between racism and anti-feminism becomes clear: If the white race (or the Hungarian ethnicity) is in danger of diminishing to extinction, then its women have to be induced to have more children. Similarly, non-childbearing LGBTQ relationships threaten the race's survival.

The Guardian reports on the CPAC conference held in Budapest this weekend. (Try to imagine US Democrats holding a conference in Havana.)

Viktor Orbán spoke on Thursday. American speakers have included Donald Trump Jr., Tucker Carlson, Ted Cruz, Rick Scott, Ken Paxton, and Kristi Noem, all building up to a climactic video speech by Donald Trump.

The conference also hosted Zsolt Bayer

a notorious Hungarian racist who has called Jews “stinking excrement”, referred to Roma as “animals” and used racial epithets to describe Black people

Birds of a feather.

The editorial board of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison challenged Senator Ron Johnson to "renounce replacement theory".

Debating immigration policy is fine. The United States has adjusted its flow of newcomers for 2½ centuries, creating a “melting pot” of people and cultures that defines the American experience.

But granting any credence to the racist and absurd “great replacement theory” should disqualify politicians from public office.

The editorial notes that many of Johnson's past statements have "sounded eerily similar to the theory’s proponents".

He told a conservative radio host in Minneapolis last month: “I’ve got to believe [Democrats] want to change the makeup of the electorate.”

The editorial brings Johnson back to the reality of his home state:

Wisconsin needs more immigrants — not for any political purposes, but because our population is graying fast and doesn’t have enough young people to take over the jobs of retirees, much less fill the new positions that growing businesses create. Wisconsin is suffering a workforce shortage, something a manufacturer such as Johnson should understand. The birth rate is declining, and the working-age population fell in every Wisconsin county except Dane and Eau Claire from 2007 to 2017. That’s an enormous challenge to Wisconsin’s economy.

Those needed immigrants may choose to favor the political party that helped them "find freedom and opportunity in America", but

Many Cuban and Vietnamese Americans favor Republicans. It’s difficult to predict how the immigrants of today might vote tomorrow.

Especially if Republicans stop fanning racial prejudice against them.

I'm in the middle of reading The Rising Tide of Color, a 1920 book that is sometimes cited as the origin of Replacement Theory. It's available for free at Project Gutenberg, but you need a strong stomach to read it, because it's unapologetically racist in a way you seldom see today. It's reminding me that some large number of Americans once viewed world history the same way Hitler did, as a story whose main characters are the various races. (Tom Buchanan speaks approvingly of a very similar book in 1925's The Great Gatsby.)

A too-obvious-to-state assumption in RToC is that of course you identify with your (presumably white, preferably Nordic) race. A future in which your descendants aren't white, but rather are some darker-skinned mixed race, represents a catastrophic defeat. The defeat isn't that you won't have descendants, but that they won't be white.

I have a hard time wrapping my mind around that point of view. The only similar identification I can find in myself concerns culture: I am filled with a profound sense of loss if I envision a future where no one performs Shakespeare or reads Plato or studies geometry texts descended from Euclid. But a future where no one is white doesn't bother me.

and abortion

States continue to tee up ever more restrictive abortion laws in anticipation of the Supreme Court overturning Roe next month.

Oklahoma is banning abortions after "fertilization". The law, HB 4327, is sweeping, but is also better thought out than some. They've explicitly avoided some obvious sticking points.

Abortion ... does not include the use, prescription, administration, procuring, or selling of Plan B, morning-after pills, or any other type of contraception or emergency contraception.

It also includes specific exemptions for abortions that save a woman's life, or remove a dead fetus or an ectopic pregnancy. It kinda-sorta has a rape/incest exception, but only if the crime "has been reported to law enforcement".

HB4327 gets around criminalizing IVF clinics (which also kill lots of fertilized ova) by stipulating that such killing only counts as "abortion" if it is done

with the purpose to terminate the pregnancy of a woman

So the point seems to be to control pregnant women, not to save "human life" as the Religious Right defines it. No pregnancy, no abortion.

The same is true of a 2019 Alabama law, which was blocked at the time, but may be enforced if Roe is overturned.

While defining “life” on the basis of a fetus’ location in relation to a woman’s womb may seem like a legislative oversight, the bill was actually written with specific language to ensure this application of the law.

During the bill’s legislative debate, a Democratic state Senator inquired as to  how the law would impact labs that discard fertilized eggs at an in vitro fertilization clinic. Republican state Senator and sponsor of the bill Clyde Chambliss, responded that, “The egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant.”

The Oklahoma law's enforcement is through Texas-style private lawsuits. If you know that somebody performed an abortion or helped a woman get one, you can sue them for $10,000 (unless somebody else has already collected from them for that abortion). If you live in Oklahoma, you can sue in your own county, even if none of the relevant events happened there and it's inconvenient for the people you're suing.

If the abortion hasn't happened yet, you can sue for an injunction to stop it.

Tennessee has criminalized getting abortion drugs through the mail.

The Archbishop of San Fransisco has banned Speaker Nancy Pelosi from receiving communion because of her support for a bill to codify abortion rights.

I'll be blunt about this: The archbishop is using his religion as a Trojan horse for his politics.

Pelosi has not performed an abortion, gotten one herself (as far as we know), or encouraged anyone else to get one. What she has tried to do is to protect a woman's right to make decisions about her own pregnancy. What that woman decides should be on her, not on Pelosi.

Compare abortion to, say, guns. No one is refused communion for selling guns, or making them, or keeping them legal. In the church's view, sins committed with those guns belong to whoever pulls the trigger, not to people further up the causal chain. Why is abortion different? Because of politics.

and the crypto crash

In retrospect, we should have known the crypto-currency boom was ending when we saw the Super Bowl ads. BitCoin was already down to $40,000, from its November peak of $65,000, and yet

Digital funny money was everywhere during the Super Bowl, without even attempting to explain what the hell crypto is. Though, in some cases, like the eToro “social investing” site, it’s just as easy to parade out some Doge and “to the moon” memes, which is basically the same as explaining how stupid this stuff is. If they explained it, they couldn’t advertise it.

It was all a little too reminiscent of the dot-com bubble two decades before.

It's hard to pinpoint a tipping point on something like the dot-com bubble — the tippy-top of the Dow's chart was thrust upward and pulled back down by more than just tech stocks — but Super Bowl XXXIV, which had over a dozen ads for startups, many of which the broader public had never heard of, might be it.

Now BitCoin is around $30,000, and the other crypto-currencies are doing even worse. The so-called "stable coins" have proven to be anything but stable. Non-fungible tokens, which were supposed to be a way to invest in art without actually owning anything physical, are plunging.

There are two ways to look at this:

  • Every new market has its ups and downs. The crash of 1929 wasn't the end of stock investing.
  • From the beginning, crypto was an illusion. It only seemed to make sense because it was techy, and nobody understood tech anyway.

I'm in the second camp. I've never owned any crypto-currency or NFT, on the general principle that if you don't understand it, you shouldn't invest in it. A number of articles have come out lately making the point that there was never a there there. Current Affairs interviewed crypto-skeptic Nicholas Weaver. Vox's Emily Stewart wants to believe the hype, but "I have a hard time telling myself a coherent story about all of this" after she debunks just about everything crypto is supposed to be good for.

and the war in Ukraine

Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership. Turkey is objecting. The issues: Sweden suspended weapons sales to Turkey after its Syria invasion, and both countries have taken in Kurdish refugees that Turkey classifies as terrorists.

President Biden signed a bill authorizing another $40 billion in aid to Ukraine. The NYT has a table describing what's in it.

Masha Gessen describes what it's like to work for Russian news media.

CNN talks to a Russian officer who resigned after participating in the invasion of Ukraine. Because this is a "special military operation" rather than a war, resignation is an option.

The German news site Deutsche Welle provides (in English) an informative 15-minute look at the Russian economy. Interesting macro-economic note: The ruble has recovered from its post-invasion crash, and is now higher than it was in February -- but that's not the good news for Russia that it appears to be. Imports have crashed as more and more countries/businesses refuse to sell to Russia. That gives the country a trade surplus, which boosts the currency. But a lack of Western retail goods is depressing consumers, while lack of Western parts is working through the supply chain, hurting production.

Mitt Romney on the suggestion that Putin's nuclear saber-rattling should make us back away from Ukraine.

Failing to continue to support Ukraine would be like paying the cannibal to eat us last.

you also might be interested in ...

After endlessly demanding that Biden do something about the infant formula shortage, nearly all House Republicans voted against doing something. Meanwhile, Biden is airlifting formula from Europe, and has invoked the Defense Production Act to help get American production back up.

Every week, it seems, I could write a post called "January 6 was worse than you thought". This week we found out that Ginni/Clarence Thomas' corruption was worse than we thought. In 2020, Ginni was lobbying Arizona Republican legislators to ignore the voters and appoint their own slate to the Electoral College, invoking a fringe legal theory that her husband would undoubtedly have to rule on when it reached the Supreme Court.

And it turns out that Rep. Barry Loudermilk really did give Capitol tours the day before the January 6 insurrection, in spite of his previous denials.

Yes, there's a new virus circulating: monkey pox. But it doesn't seem nearly as contagious as Covid.

On his wannabee-Twitter platform Truth Social, former President Trump "retruthed" somebody else's "truth" calling for civil war. Rep. Adam Kinzinger posted on actual Twitter:

Any of my fellow Republicans wanna speak out now? Or are we just wanting to get through “just one more election first…?”

and let's close with some AI art

This week a Facebook friend shared images generated by putting Beatles' lyrics into the Wombo app. I couldn't resist doing something similar, so here's what I got from "Buying a stairway to Heaven".