Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: The aftermath

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup is a long-running series published every morning that collects essential political discussion and analysis around the internet.

We begin today with Annie Karni of The New York Times writing that House Speaker Mike Johnson now has a status within the Republican Party equivalent to former Vice President Mike Pence due to the House passage of funding for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan yesterday.

When Mr. Pence refused former President Donald J. Trump’s demands that he overturn the 2020 election results as he presided over the electoral vote count by Congress on Jan. 6, 2021 — even as an angry mob with baseball bats and pepper spray invaded the Capitol and chanted “hang Mike Pence” — the normally unremarkable act of performing the duties in a vice president’s job description was hailed as courageous. [...]

Mr. Johnson and Mr. Pence, both mild-mannered, extremely conservative evangelical Christians who have put their faith at the center of their politics, occupy a similar space in their party. They have both gone through contortions to accommodate Mr. Trump and the forces he unleashed in their party, which in turn have ultimately come after them. Mr. Pence spent four years dutifully serving the former president and defending all of his words and actions. Mr. Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, played a lead role in trying to overturn the election results on Mr. Trump’s behalf.

I’ll give Ms. Karni the “in their party” observation. But Mike Pence was quite sure that he would be breaking the law if he did as the shoe salesman asked him to do when he presided over the counting of electoral vote on Jan. 6, 2021 and to the extent that he wasn’t 100% sure, Mike Luttig and former Vice President Dan Quayle told him that Trump’s request was unconstitutional.

Speaker Johnson was trying to get needed security funding passed after delay after delay after delay and in defiance of the right flank of his party. Many people in the political world underestimated his ability to do it. So I’ll toss Johnson a cookie and say job well done but still...that does not make him Churchill.

Olivia Beavers and Jordain Carney of POLITICO report that Speaker Johnson has staved off a challenge to his speakership for now.

That could go two ways for Johnson. Tempers could cool as lawmakers return to their districts for a week and focus on their constituents and reelection bids. Or members, particularly in deep-red districts, hear more from an angry base — prompting more members to entertain action against Johnson.

Greene and Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, the second Republican to back ousting Johnson, are betting it’s the latter. And they reiterated their promises on Saturday that Johnson will ultimately face a choice: resign or face a referendum. [...]

Despite the intense fury among conservatives, some say they still won’t support the so-called motion to vacate. But if Johnson gets booted and goes for the gavel again, or tries to run to lead the GOP again next term, they said they wouldn’t support his bid.

David Frum of The Atlantic writes that the passage of the Ukraine funding bill in the House is yet another Trump loss on a policy issue and a sign of the shoe salesman’s diminished status.

The anti-Trump, pro-Ukraine rebellion started in the Senate. Twenty-two Republicans joined Democrats to approve aid to Ukraine in February. Dissident House Republicans then threatened to force a vote if the Republican speaker would not schedule one. Speaker Mike Johnson declared himself in favor of Ukraine aid. This weekend, House Republicans split between pro-Ukraine and anti-Ukraine factions. On Friday, the House voted 316–94 in favor of the rule on the aid vote. On Saturday, the aid to Ukraine measure passed the House by 311–112. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Senate will adopt the House-approved aid measures unamended and speed them to President Biden for signature.

As defeat loomed for his anti-Ukraine allies, Trump shifted his message a little. On April 18, he posted on Truth Social claiming that he, too, favored helping Ukraine. “As everyone agrees, Ukrainian Survival and Strength should be much more important to Europe than to us, but it is also important to us!” But that was after-the-fact face-saving, jumping to the winning side after his side was about to lose. [...]

To make an avalanche takes more than one tumbling rock. Still, the pro-Ukraine, anti-Trump vote in the House is a very, very big rock. On something that mattered intensely to him—that had become a badge of pro-Trump identity—Trump’s own party worked with Democrats in the House and Senate to hand him a stinging defeat. This example could become contagious.

Renée Graham of The Boston Globe looks upon the criminal trial of the shoe salesman with some sadness.

So after months of delays due to Trump’s run-out-the-clock legal strategy, having the former president on trial is both overdue and welcome.

But it’s the latest disorienting moment exacted on this country since Trump’s literal descent into politics in 2015 with his first first presidential run. We have endured two impeachments; a deadly insurrection; his fanboying of murderous dictators; unveiled threats of retribution against his perceived enemies; and a profane disregard for the pillars of American democracy.

Now there’s the twisted possibility of a presumptive Republican presidential nominee also being a convicted felon. And despite this, tens of millions of people, mostly his fellow Republicans, including those like Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, who once pretended he could never support Trump, will vote to return to the White House the man who once called it “a real dump.”

It’s a disturbingly sad state of affairs.

Luis Feliz Leon writes for his labor blog Labor Notes (reprinted by In These Times) about the historic victory of workers who have voted to unionize at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The United Auto Workers is riding a wave of momentum after winning landmark contracts at the Big Three automakers last year. Production workers at Volkswagen earn $23 per hour and top out above $32, compared to $43 for production workers at Ford’s Spring Hill assembly plant by the contract’s end in 2028. [...]

To head off a union drive, Volkswagen boosted wages 11% to match the immediate raise UAW members received at Ford. Peoples saw her pay jump from $29 to $32 an hour. [...]

The vote was a key test of whether the union could springboard the strike gains to propel new organizing in longtime anti-union bastions in the South, the anchors of big investments in the electric-vehicle transition.

The vote was 2,628 in favor of forming a union to 985 against. There were seven challenged ballots, and three voided; 4,326 workers were eligible to vote.

Edward Russell of The Washington Post report that construction is about to begin on a high-speed rail line connecting Las Vegas to a suburb of Los Angeles.

Travelers have a lot to look forward to. Electric trains will depart every 45 minutes from a Las Vegas station south of the city’s storied Strip and a Southern California station in Rancho Cucamonga, a Los Angeles suburb about 40 miles east of downtown.

Traveling at up to 186 mph — faster than any other train in the United States — Brightline West trains will make the 218-mile trip in about 2 hours and 10 minutes. [...]

Other high-speed railroads that would carry passengers at 200 mph and faster are in the works in California, Texas and the Pacific Northwest.

Driving between Rancho Cucamonga and Las Vegas takes at least three hours without traffic, according to Google Maps.

David Remnick of The New Yorker tries to make sense of the Iran-Israel kerfuffle as the Netanyahu government continues its destruction of Gaza.

There is no way to know whether another volley will be coming in the short term, but what is clear is that the decades-long shadow war between Israel and the Islamic Republic of Iran is no longer confined to the shadows. A line was crossed when Israel carried out a lethal air strike on Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a leading commander in Iran’s Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and six of his associates, who were meeting in a consular building in Damascus. That strike, as precise as it was deadly, was followed by Iran’s massive launch of drones and ballistic missiles on Israeli territory—an attack that was thoroughly repelled by a coördinated effort involving Israel, the United States, Britain, Jordan, the U.A.E., and Saudi Arabia.

By deploying such a relatively mild response near Isfahan, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, seemingly attempted to thread a kind of political needle, at once mollifying the Biden Administration and the Sunni Arab leaders to avoid a regional escalation and yet satisfying his domestic political allies who demanded that he “do something.” Indeed, the Iranian leadership decided to absorb the latest attack with theatrical cool. State television showed “life as usual” footage in the area and insisted that the regime’s nuclear and military sites in the region were undamaged.

Zia Ur Rehman of Deutsche Welle reports on the chill in the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The relationship between the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan's government has been growing more and more strained since the fall of Kabul in August 2021.

Many experts attribute the current tensions to the increase in cross-border terrorism originating from Afghanistan.

But some of Islamabad's recent actions have also embittered the Taliban regime — last year, Pakistan enforced trade restrictions on its neighboring country, expelled 500,000 undocumented Afghan migrants , and implemented stricter visa policies at border crossings. [...]

As ties with Pakistan cool, the Taliban administration is forging new partnerships.

Western powers remain hesitant, but other players such as China, Russia, Iran, India, and some Central Asian states are cautiously engaging with the regime.

Finally today, I ate breakfast at a local restaurant yesterday and was quite audible saying things like “she is nuts” as I was reading George Parker’s batsh*t crazy interview with former British prime minister Liz Truss in The Financial Times.

Truss explains that she is having Lunch with the FT because “you’ve got to know the enemy” — before clarifying that she doesn’t regard the FT as part of the deep state per se, more a kind of flying buttress propping it up. Along with other sinister elements in a leftwing “anti-growth coalition” — she has singled out “Brexit deniers”, people with podcasts and those living in north London town houses — the FT apparently helped to ensure that Truss’s time in Downing Street famously had the longevity of a supermarket lettuce.

Liz is one step away from talking about Jewish space lasers, y’all!

Have the best possible day everyone!

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Mr. Gantz goes to Washington

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup is a long-running series published every morning that collects essential political discussion and analysis around the internet.

We begin today with Itamar Eichner of Ynet News who was the first to report that Minister without portfolio and Knesset opposition leader Benny Gantz will be traveling the United States today for high-level talks about the situation in Gaza; apparently without the initial approval of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This visit comes at a time when efforts to secure a hostage exchange deal have been ongoing for quite some time, and amidst reports in the U.S. that the American government is losing patience with Netanyahu's conduct in the war - and allegations that he is being restrained by his government partners Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.

The Prime Minister's Office expressed anger at the publication of Ynet and clarified that Gantz is flying without the Prime Minister's approval, contrary to the government regulations, which "require every minister to coordinate his trip in advance with the Prime Minister, including approval of the travel plan."

According to Netanyahu's associates, "the Prime Minister clarified to Minister Gantz that the State of Israel has only one Prime Minister." From Washington, Gantz is expected to continue to London.
Earlier this week, President Joe Biden emphasized that Israel must pursue peace with the Palestinians for its long-term survival. He cautioned that the country's "incredibly conservative government" risked losing international support, during an appearance on “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”

Trevor Hunnicutt of Reuters reports that among the officials that Minister Gantz will meet with are Vice President Kamala Harris, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and members from both parties of Congress.

The talks, first reported by Reuters, are expected to span topics including reducing Palestinian civilian casualties, securing a temporary ceasefire, the release of hostages held in Gaza and increasing aid to the territory, a White House official said.

"The Vice President will express her concern over the safety of the as many as 1.5 million people in Rafah," the official said, adding that Israel also had a "right to defend itself in the face of continued Hamas terrorist threats."

A statement from Gantz confirmed that he would meet with Harris, as well as with U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Republican and Democratic members of U.S. Congress.
"Minister Gantz personally updated the prime minister on his own initiative on Friday of his intention to travel, in order to coordinate the messages to be transmitted in the meetings," the statement said.

Yasmin Rufo and David Gritten of BBC News write about petitions to the Israeli and Egyptian governments by journalists and news organizations for international journalists to have access to Gaza.

Only one foreign journalist has been granted entry into Gaza through Egypt on an escorted visit. CNN's Clarissa Ward - who is among the signatories of the letter - was able to spend only a few hours on the ground in the southern border city of Rafah with an Emirati medical team in December.

The letter calls on Israel's government to "openly state its permission for international journalists to operate in Gaza".

It also asks Egyptian authorities to allow foreign press access to the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza.


The broadcasters represented in the letter are the UK's BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky News, and the US outlets ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC.

A number of journalists who signed the letter have been reporting from Israel during the conflict.

As I have said, while I have some sympathy for the Gazan journalists already operating at great risk to their lives and the lives of their loved ones, I am under no illusion that those Gazan journalists have operated independently of the influence of Hamas.

Nor do I entirely trust the reporting of the number of Western journalists embedded with the IDF; after all, the IDF will show those journalists what they want seen and reported.

Most of the international journalists there have reported on conflicts and wars before. Allowing them freedom to report on the war without “embedding” may also serve to better protect those Palestinian journalist who have been losing their lives.

Turning to domestic matters, Super Tuesday is coming up and with the presidential primaries all but wrapped up, I’ll focus on downballot items beginning with High Point University’s poll showing a substantial lead for candidates in both the Republican and Democratic primaries for governor of North Carolina.

In the Democratic primary for governor of North Carolina, Josh Stein has support of 57% of the vote among likely and self-reported Democratic primary voters. He is followed by Michael R. Morgan (14%), Gary Foxx (10%), Chrelle Booker (10%) and Marcus Williams (9%).

In the Republican primary for governor, Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson has 51% support among these likely and self-reported Republican primary voters. Bill Graham and Dale Folwell have less support with these voters, receiving 33% and 17% of the vote, respectively. [...]

There is no clear front-runner in the Democratic primary for attorney general of North Carolina. Democratic likely and self-reported primary voters appear to be split between Jeff Jackson (36%), Tim Dunn (33%) and Satana Deberry (31%).

Avi Bajpai of the Charlotte Observer reports that a Republican Super PAC appears to be funding a Democratic candidate for North Carolina Attorney General.

A mysterious new super PAC that has spent close to a million dollars promoting Satana Deberry in the Democratic primary for state attorney general is being funded by the Republican Attorneys General Association, new election filings show.

The group, And Justice For All, started buying TV, radio and digital ads last month in support of Deberry, the Durham County District Attorney who is running against U.S. Rep. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte and Fayetteville attorney Tim Dunn in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

Details initially available about the super PAC’s expenditures, such as the bank and media buyer it was using, showed ties to groups typically used by Republicans. But not much else was known about the group or who was behind it. [...]

As of Feb. 29, the group had spent more than $950,000 on TV and radio ads, digital ads, mailers, and text messages in support of Deberry.

The ads promote Deberry’s liberal record and suggest she’s the “real progressive” in the race, according to Charlotte radio station WFAE.

Francine Kiefer of The Christian Science Monitor says that it looks like a ballot initiative to link California’s mental health systems with its affordable housing systems appears likely to win the support of a majority of California voters.

As states across America grapple with the twin challenges of rising homelessness and mental illness, California’s counties are clamoring for more places like ASC. But there aren’t enough of them. Neither is there enough affordable housing in this expensive state. Despite billions spent in recent years, homelessness has increased, and many unhoused people struggle with mental illness and addiction. All of this has rolled into a perfect storm impacting public health and safety, businesses, and quality of life – making homelessness a top concern for California voters.

Politicians, not surprisingly, are under tremendous pressure to do something. Their latest effort, Proposition 1, which will be on the March 5 ballot, would overhaul the state’s mental health system to firmly link it to housing. For the first time, counties would be required to spend behavioral health dollars on housing for homeless people with mental illness and addictions. Proposition 1 also includes a $6.4 billion state bond to secure supportive housing and treatment places for homeless people, with $1 billion for veterans. Gov. Gavin Newsom dubs it “treatment, not tents.”

The measure has its critics. One main objection is that more county behavioral health dollars for housing means fewer for mental health services. While the ballot measure promises more than 11,000 places for treatment and living, the independent state legislative analyst says the new measure would reduce statewide homelessness “by only a small amount.” Yet the legislation behind the measure passed with near unanimity in Sacramento last year. Opinion polling shows nearly two-thirds of likely voters support it.

Christopher Hooks of Texas Monthly takes a look at the struggle of Texas state House Speaker Dade Phelan to win his primary in spite of the endorsement of former governor Rick Perry as Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton seeks revenge on those who chose to impeach him last year.

On February 16, money has come calling to the Jack Brooks Regional Airport in Nederland, south of Beaumont, where Speaker Dade Phelan is holding a campaign rally. It is the week before the start of early voting in the Republican Primary. Phelan is suffering through an unprecedentedly brutal bid to be reelected Speaker. He faces two candidates in this first round to retain his seat, the most formidable being David Covey, a right-wing Christian conservative and the former chair of the Republican party of Orange County, which straddles the Louisiana state line near Beaumont. (The third candidate, Alicia Davis, a hairdresser from Jasper, has not been showered in attention and resources like Covey has.) The most powerful Republicans in the state have either endorsed Covey or are staying out of the race altogether. Phelan hopes to win a majority of the vote to avoid a runoff and smooth the way to his next Speaker vote. [...]

Ever since the state’s founding, the political religion of the state has been economic development. Southeast Texas is littered with its temples. On the night of the rally, moonlight illuminates clouds of water vapor and other emissions rising from petroleum refineries in the distance. The Port Arthur Canal snakes around the airport, which has just one daily flight left, an American Eagle shuttle to Dallas–Fort Worth. The namesake of the airport, Jack Brooks, represented the area in Congress for 42 years as a conservative Democrat—as Perry was once. In his day, politicians gained power to help their constituents. In 1994, in a sign of changing times, Brooks lost the general election to Republican Steve Stockman, a right-wing ideologue who spoke the new vernacular of talk radio and was later convicted of felony money laundering.

Nothing to do with Democratic Party politics, of course, but given the surprise impeachment of Paxton last summer, I was curious.

Anita Hofschneider of the climate blog Grist reports that a federal study shows climate change may lead to the exposure of nuclear waste in some parts of the world. 

A federal report by the Government Accountability Office published last month examines what’s left of that nuclear contamination, not only in the Pacific but also in Greenland and Spain. The authors conclude that climate change could disturb nuclear waste left in Greenland and the Marshall Islands. “Rising sea levels could spread contamination in RMI, and conflicting risk assessments cause residents to distrust radiological information from the U.S. Department of Energy,” the report says.

In Greenland, chemical pollution and radioactive liquid are frozen in ice sheets, left over from a nuclear power plant on a U.S. military research base where scientists studied the potential to install nuclear missiles. The report didn’t specify how or where nuclear contamination could migrate in the Pacific or Greenland, or what if any health risks that might pose to people living nearby. However, the authors did note that in Greenland, frozen waste could be exposed by 2100.


The authors of the GAO study wrote that Greenland and Denmark haven’t proposed any cleanup plans, but also cited studies that say much of the nuclear waste has already decayed and will be diluted by melting ice. However, those studies do note that chemical waste such as polychlorinated biphenyls, man-made chemicals better known as PCBs that are carcinogenic, “may be the most consequential waste at Camp Century.”

Carmen Morán Breña of El País in English writes about the just-finished Mexican Open tennis tournament which took place in Acapulco. It’s was the city’s first major event since Hurricane Otis devastated the town this past October.

People say that crises bring opportunities. Many imagined a new-look Acapulco following the devastation of Hurricane Otis, an apocalypse that would usher in peace through the reconstruction of the city, or so the most optimistic people thought. However, the calm has not followed the storm, at least not yet. During these days, in which the battered pearl of the Pacific is staging the Mexican Tennis Open as a symbol of the yearned-for normality, all is still not well in the region. There are still long queues in supermarkets to exchange the vouchers issued by the government for food before they expire and many of those affected are waiting to be censused to receive the expected aid. Violence has resulted in various deaths in the last week alone, with the customary scenario of bodies shot to death or severed heads accompanied by narco-messages. Public and private transportation has ceased to operate on several occasions in protest against the attacks perpetrated by organized criminal groups. In the meantime, the governors have hailed the big Latin American tennis event with grandiose phrases: “The port lives, shines and will shine stronger than ever. We want a new Acapulco,” recently exclaimed the governor, Evelyn Salgado.

Hoteliers still estimate that it will take two years before they can run at full capacity, given the extent of the destruction caused by the hurricane that swept in from the sea in the early hours of October 26. Health officials are working tirelessly to bring to an end as soon as possible the dengue epidemic that caused the collapse of the health services. Acapulco is still struggling to get back on its feet, which is why the tennis tournament, hosted in the city since 2001, represents two sides of the coin. On the one hand, it is an opportunity to stimulate tourism and employment. On the other, it is evidence that basic needs and outbreaks of violence cannot be camouflaged with a sporting showcase. [...]

Perhaps nothing can stop crime. People thought at first, the hurricane that devastated the city would drive the corrupt narcos out of Acapulco and the community could rebuild itself with other social parameters. But this was not the case. The assassinations have been ongoing and there are many who believe that the economic gains from the reconstruction will provide a lifeline for the gang members and their diverse circle, which sometimes involves politics and the business sector. The crisis of violence in the transport sector certainly includes some of this. “We thought that with Otis’ battering they would have no one to extort money from, all the businesses closed, but they have targeted the transport sector,” says the journalist Muñoz Cano. Indeed, the mafias that fight over transportation have triggered numerous crises in Acapulco and the whole state of Guerrero, causing deaths and placing the state government in a complex situation. Burned taxis, murdered drivers. The state responds to each crisis by pledging to provide more police to reinforce the routes, but nothing can deter crime.

Finally today, Gary Younge writes for The New York Review of Books (paywalled $$$) about the rise and (continuing) fall of the British Empire.

Britain’s diminished status has been anticipated for some time. It was, to my mind, best captured by the broadcaster Peter Jennings on New Year’s Eve 2000 as he watched an impressive fireworks display cascade over the River Thames:

It’s something of a reminder for those people who pay attention to history that in 1900, when Queen Victoria was on the throne, she presided over the largest empire in history. Four hundred million people, one fifth the earth’s surface…. And now as we come to the end of the century, for all this fantastic show that they’ve put on…Britain’s possessions have dwindled…but the Falkland Islands are still British.

Britain’s decline is relative, of course (its economy remains the sixth largest in the world), but it is real (it was fifth until the end of 2021, when India, its erstwhile colony, overtook it). Decades ago this diminishment was understood to be gradual and generational. After the Suez Crisis in 1956, there was an attempt to retreat to this smaller position in an orderly manner. I’m fifty-five, and my generation’s parents grew up in a virtually monoracial country, reliant on heavy industry, with the globe colored pink to mark British territories. I was raised to learn the metric system, the names of new countries—Zimbabwe, Benin, Burkina Faso—in a nation that saw itself as the stable conduit between Europe and America, with postcolonial ties across the globe. My children’s cohort has adjusted to an economy in which Indian restaurants employ more people than steel, coal, and shipbuilding all put together, and membership in the EU is a fact of history. [...]

What has happened to Britain? For all its faults, the British ruling class used to take itself seriously—if anything, too seriously. No one would accuse it of doing that now. The deluded act of self-harm otherwise known as Brexit was the most glaring example: for momentary electoral gain and an internal party truce, former prime minister David Cameron asked the country a question to which he did not want to know the answer and then resigned when they got it “wrong.” A nation that insisted on an aggressive, isolating version of its own sovereignty has spent the past eight years struggling to figure out what to do with it. But Brexit also acted as a sifting mechanism, elevating the least serious to the top.

I mostly remember watching MSNBC on New Year’s Eve 1999 but I recall ABC’s Peter Jennings’s talking a lot about clocks. New Year’s Eve 2000 in London was by far the best fireworks display of the night...and of course, Big Ben going off at the turn of the millennium did make it seem as though it was a New Year even though it still remained seven hours away here in Chicago.

And, of course, there was this stunner on New Year’s Eve 1999. And yes, there was a slight concern about those Russian missiles.

Try to have the best possible day everyone!

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Disgraced

We begin today with Josh Marshall—again—of Talking Points Memo, excoriating legacy media for falling for the now-discredited Hunter Biden Laptop story.

For years I’ve continued saying, against what seems like the unified thinking of every reporter, editorialist and credentialed smart person, that the fabled “Hunter Biden Laptop” was obviously the product of a Russian influence operation. The story was absurd on its face. Somehow Hunter Biden decided in a drugged-up fugue that he needed to take his laptop to a computer repair shop. He then forgot about it. The legally blind owner of the repair shop decided to crack it open and look at the files (as one does, of course) and then somehow managed to get the contents to Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon.

And yet basically everybody and I mean everybody ended up falling for this. Indeed, the very brief efforts to remain wary of the laptop story in the final days of the 2020 election have evolved into an object case of the dangers of censorship and even liberal media election meddling. It’s a decision — albeit one lasting only a few days — that everyone now agrees “we got wrong.” It was the centerpiece of Elon Musk’s “Twitter Files” nonsense. But Elon Musk going in for it isn’t the point. He’s a clown. All the serious people ended up doing exactly the same. This has always been bullshit. Media organizations at first wouldn’t touch the story because they’d spent the previous four years kicking themselves for allowing themselves to become the promoters of a Russian election interference and disinformation campaign with the purloined DNC emails back in 2016. Since the Hunter Biden laptop stories had all the hallmarks of exactly the same thing somehow happening to pop up in the final days of the 2020, of course they were suspicious. 


The real issue, as I note above, is the reporters, editorialists and commentators, who vouched for and credited this whole edifice of lies and bullshit…


This entire thing has been based on Russian plants and intelligence operations from the start. Every bit of it. It’s been obvious. And yet, well … they’re all dupes. Somehow almost a decade after this whole thing started we’re shocked to see, wow, Weiss’s office was being led around by another cat’s paw of the Russian intelligence services. We’re shocked. But why are we shocked? Every last person among the serious people of the nation’s capital and the sprawling thing called elite received opinion has egg on their face. And it’s not even clear they fully realize it yet.

Aidan Quigley of Roll Call says that Congress will have very little time when it returns next week to pass spending bills in order to avoid a government shutdown.

The Senate returns Monday, only to face impeachment articles the House adopted seeking removal of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas from office. The chamber could quickly dismiss the charges or hold a longer trial as some conservatives are demanding; either way, it’s a constitutional prerogative that must be dealt with first.

The House, meanwhile, isn’t back until Wednesday. That means the latest congressional leaders could theoretically release the text and still adhere to House rules requiring the legislation to be publicly available in advance is Monday.

But even assuming the House can pass the spending package as soon as Wednesday — possibly under suspension of the rules — that leaves little time for the Senate to process it by the end of the day Friday. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and other Senate hard-liners have shown a willingness to delay must-pass bills on several occasions, even if it’s clear they don’t have the votes to block them.

All of these factors have led to speculation that lawmakers may be forced to punt final action for a week with a short-term stopgap measure, lining up the first package of bills currently expiring March 1 with the remaining eight bills that lapse March 8.

Charles Blow of The New York Times says that with the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling about IVF and frozen embryos, this country careens even closer to a theocracy.

There have been cases before in which embryos were destroyed as a result of negligence, but the Alabama decision significantly ups the ante. It essentially turns cryopreservation tanks into frozen nurseries.

The idea is absurd and unscientific. It is instead tied to a religious crusade to downgrade the personhood of women by conferring personhood on frozen embryos.  


Control of women’s bodies is the endgame. And some religious conservatives won’t stop until that goal is achieved. For that reason, intervening victories — like the overturning of Roe v. Wade — will never be seen as enough; they will only intensify a blinding sense of righteousness.


The only thing that seems to be temporarily stopping congressional Republicans from pushing for a national abortion ban — after years of arguing that their goal was merely to allow individual states to make their own laws — is that the issue of reproductive choice is an electoral loser for their party.

Mark Joseph Stern of Slate notes that public defenders are good for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wednesday’s case, McElrath v. Georgia, involves a tragic set of facts. Damian McElrath spent several years slipping into schizophrenia before, in a fit of delusional paranoia, he stabbed his mother to death, convinced she was poisoning his food. Georgia prosecutors charged him with malice murder, felony murder, and aggravated assault. At trial, McElrath pleaded insanity, presenting a persuasive case that he could not distinguish right from wrong at the time of his crime. The jury partially agreed and returned a split verdict. On the charge of malice murder, the jury found McElrath “not guilty by reason of insanity”—an acquittal, but one that committed him to a mental hospital indefinitely. On the two other charges, the jury found him “guilty but mentally ill”—a conviction that subjected him to prison time, with the possibility of mental health treatment. The trial judge accepted the verdict and sentenced McElrath to life in prison.

After a complicated appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court declared that the jury’s split verdicts on malice murder (acquitted) and felony murder (convicted) were “repugnant” under state law. The court insisted that it was impossible for McElrath to have had different mental states at the same time, so the verdicts could not be reconciled. Thus, the court vacated both verdicts, effectively allowing the state to retry McElrath for malice murder despite the jury’s acquittal. McElrath argued that this retrial would violate double jeopardy, but the court disagreed, reasoning that the two verdicts were “valueless,” indistinguishable from a mistrial due to a hung jury.

Could it really be that easy to evade the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee against double jeopardy? Can a court just proclaim that an acquittal doesn’t count because it doesn’t make sense? No, Jackson reasoned in her opinion on Wednesday: The Georgia Supreme Court got it wrong. To explain why, the justice went back to first principles. The Fifth Amendment states that no person may “be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” That means that “a verdict of acquittal is final” and serves as “a bar to a subsequent prosecution for the same offense.” An acquittal encompasses “any ruling that the prosecution’s proof is insufficient to establish criminal liability for an offense.” A jury’s acquittal is “inviolate” and cannot be reviewed, let alone overturned, by a higher court. This “bright-line rule” preserves the jury’s duty “to stand between the accused and a potentially arbitrary or abusive government that is in command of the criminal sanction.”

Lauren Weber of The Washington Post discusses nonprofits that made a lot of money through the trafficking of COVID-19 misinformation.

Children’s Health Defense, an anti-vaccine group founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., received $23.5 million in contributions, grants and other revenue in 2022 alone — eight times what it collected the year before the pandemic began — allowing it to expand its state-based lobbying operations to cover half the country. Another influential anti-vaccine group, Informed Consent Action Network, nearly quadrupled its revenue during that time to about $13.4 million in 2022, giving it the resources to finance lawsuits seeking to roll back vaccine requirements as Americans’ faith in vaccines drops.

Two other groups, Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance and America’s Frontline Doctors, went from receiving $1 million combined when they formed in 2020 to collecting more than $21 millioncombined in 2022, according to the latest tax filings available for the groups.

The four groups routinely buck scientific consensus. Children’s Health Defense and Informed Consent Action Network raise doubts about the safety of vaccines despite assurances from federal regulators. “Vaccines have never been safer than they are today,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on its webpage outlining vaccine safety.

Elizabeth Wellington of The Philadelphia Inquirer caught the shoe salesman stealing again.

What unsettles me is the former president’s golden sneaker is a clear nod — albeit gaudy — to hip-hop culture, a culture he’s spent years vilifying. Yeah, I know. Why can’t Trump’s Sneaker Con appearance be about him connecting with his homies over footwear. Why are you making it about race?

The truth is, if it wasn’t for hip-hop culture, sneaker culture wouldn’t exist. And if it wasn’t for Black American culture, hip-hop wouldn’t exist.

Trump is a friend to neither, period. In fact, Trump and many of his Republican supporters are actively trying to wipe Black culture off the American landscape, most egregiously through continued attempts at voter suppression and banning books. Black people benefitted from slavery, so many say. Black history is not American history, they argue.

But sneaker culture is ripe for the taking?

The hypocrisy is astonishing.

Or, is it? Trump’s colonization of sneaker culture is totally on brand. All 1,000 of the limited edition Trump sneaker, made [by] CIC Ventures LLC, have sold out, netting the company at least $400,000. According to the website, the sneakers are not designed, manufactured, distributed or sold by Donald J. Trump, The Trump Organization or any of their respective affiliates or principals. But Trump reported owning CIC Ventures in his 2023 financial disclosure.

Wellington is right regarding the connection of sneaker culture to hip-hop culture but I do remember that in the early 1970s, Converse Chuck Taylors were very popular. My little self wanted a pair soooooo badly. They went out of style when NBA players stopped wearing them in the late 1970s. And I do remember wanting a pair of those knock-off-Chucks called Bata Bullets, too.

I didn’t know that Chuck Taylors dated back to the 1920s, though.

So ...I would mark “sneaker culture” as “beginning” in the mid to late 1970s, perhaps; a little bit before hip-hop. In any event, sneaker culture was well under way by the time this song came out.

David Smith of The Guardian notes that former British Prime Minister Liz Truss showed up here. In the United States. At CPAC. And gave a speech. And blamed her downfall on “the deep state.”

In Wednesday’s opening session, an “international summit”, the ex-PM sat side by side with Nigel Farage, former leader of the Brexit party, both with small Union flags on the table in front of them.


Not for the first time Truss, whose premiership last only 50 days, sought to portray herself as the victim of bureaucratic forces. “I ran for office in 2022 because Britain wasn’t growing, the state wasn’t delivering, [and] we needed to do more,” she said. “I wanted to cut taxes, reduce the administrative state, take back control as people talked about in the Brexit referendum. What I did face was a huge establishment backlash and a lot of it actually came from the state itself.”

She continued: “What has happened in Britain over the past 30 years is power that used to be in the hands of politicians has been moved to quangos and bureaucrats and lawyers so what you find is a democratically elected government actually unable to enact policies.”

Truss was interrupted and asked to explain the meaning of “quango”. She replied: “A quango is a quasi non-governmental organisation. In America you call it the administrative state or the deep state. But we have more than 500 of these quangos in Britain and they run everything.”

Lettuce Liz is talking about “the establishment” in the original sense that former UK Spectator and Washington Post columnist Henry Fairlie used the word.

Mariko Oi of BBC News reports that Japan’s main stock index, the Nikkei 225, has hit a record high; just above its previous high of 35 years ago. But the Japanese economy is still suffering and has slipped into recession.

The Nikkei 225 rose 2.19% on Thursday to end the trading day at 39,098.68.

That topped the previous record closing high of 38,915.87 set on 29 December 1989, the last day of trading that decade.

Asian technology shares were boosted after US chip giant Nvidia revealed strong earnings, driven by demand for its artificial intelligence processors.

Global investors are returning to the benchmark index thanks to strong company earnings, even as the country's economy has fallen into a recession.


The country's gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by a worse-than-expected 0.4% in the last three months of 2023, compared to a year earlier.

It came after the economy shrank by 3.3% in the previous quarter.

The figures from Japan's Cabinet Office also indicate that the country has lost its position as the world's third-largest economy to Germany.

Lilia Yapparova of the Russian independent media outlet Meduza interviews one of Bellingcat’s lead investigative journalists, Christo Grozev, about the beginnings of his investigation into the death of Russian activist Alexei Navalny.

In early 2021, when Alexey Navalny was getting ready to return to Russia just five months after being poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, Christo Grozev asked Navalny’s wife Yulia whether she realized that her husband would face certain arrest when his plane landed in Moscow.

“In response, she just smiled and said, ‘Christo, you’re so naive. They won’t just arrest him. They’ll keep him in torture chambers for years. And they might also kill him,’” Grozev told Meduza.


“I’ve already gotten warnings from my sources that there could be an entire new wave of repressions and murders — that Putin has ‘special plans’ for Russian opposition leaders,” he told Meduza. If these reports are true, he noted, jailed opposition figures such as Ilya Yashin and Vladimir Kara-Murza will be “especially vulnerable” to Putin’s whims ...


On Sunday, two days after Navalny’s death, Novaya Gazeta reported that Navalny’s body was in a morgue in the town of Salekhard, the capital of the region where he died, and that it has bruises suggesting he was physically restrained while convulsing.

According to Grozev, convulsions are a “typical symptom” of poisoning by high doses of organophosphates, nerve agents expressly prohibited by the U.N. Chemical Weapons Convention, to which Russia is a party.

Finally today, Renée Graham of The Boston Globe reminds us that when it comes to the job of defending civil rights and democracy, the “job’s not finished” simply because a charismatic leader dies. Never.

In a widely circulated clip from “Navalny,” the Academy Award-winning documentary about Alexei Navalny — often called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “most formidable opponent” — he was asked what message he would want to leave for his fellow Russians if he were killed by his political enemies.

“Listen, I’ve got something very obvious to tell you — you’re not allowed to give up,” he said, speaking in Russian. “If they decide to kill me, it means that we are incredibly strong. We need to utilize this power to not give up, to remember that we are a huge power that is being oppressed by bad dudes. We don’t realize how strong we actually are. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. So don’t be inactive.”

More than a poignant epitaph for Navalny, who died last week under suspicious circumstances in a Russian penal colony, his words were also a pointed directive to his many followers. He not only echoed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s stance that the “appalling silence of the good people” is as destructive as “the hateful words and actions of the bad people” but also the civil rights leader’s last speech delivered the day before he was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis.

Try to have the best possible day, everyone!

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Trump v. Anderson

We begin today with Ann E. Marimow of The Washington Post and her primer on Trump v. Anderson, the Colorado Supreme Court case involving Number 45’s disqualification from the Colorado presidential ballot, which will have oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court later this morning.

The justices will decide whether Colorado’s top court was correct to apply a post-Civil War provision of the Constitution to order Trump off the ballot after concluding his actions around the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol amounted to insurrection. Primary voting is already underway in some states. Colorado’s ballots for the March 5 primary were printed last week and include Trump’s name. But his status as a candidate will depend on what the Supreme Court decides.

Unlike Bush v. Gore in 2000, when the court’s decision handed the election to George W. Bush, the case challenging Trump’s qualifications for a second term comes at a time when a large swath of the country views the Supreme Court through a partisan lens and a significant percentage still believes false claims that the last presidential election was rigged. [...]

But election law experts have implored the justices to definitively decide the key question of whether Trump is disqualified under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, settling the issue nationwide so that other states with similar challenges to Trump’s candidacy follow along.

They warn of political instability not seen since the Civil War if the court was to overturn Colorado’s ruling but leave open the possibility that Congress could try to disqualify Trump later in the process, including after the general election.

Oral arguments for Trump v. Anderson begin at 10 AM ET and can be followed through a number of available audio feeds.

Donald K. Sherman writes for Slate that Trump v. Anderson is, in many ways, this generation’s Brown v. Board of Education.

Now the Supreme Court is facing another inflection point to consider democratic protections. On Thursday, the justices will hear arguments in Trump v. Anderson, to consider whether to uphold Donald Trump’s disqualification from office given the Colorado Supreme Court’s finding that he engaged in an insurrection by inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. As the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which famously litigated Brown, argued in a friend of the court brief filed in Anderson, the “Reconstruction Amendments were enacted to ensure that the worst abuses in our nation’s history are not repeated and to achieve the fullest ideals of our democracy. But those Amendments are effective only when those responsible for applying them have the courage to do so.”

Of course, millions of Americans would be disappointed or even infuriated if Trump is removed from the ballot. Some may even turn to violence. But that threat is obvious given the former president’s incitement of violence after his refusal to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election. Trump’s supporters continue to threaten violence in his name, and without condemnation by the candidate. In his briefs before the Supreme Court, Trump has threatened “bedlam” if he is kept off the ballot, but the bedlam he provoked on Jan. 6 is how we got here—and why he is disqualified by the Constitution from serving as president again. [...]

If the Supreme Court allowed concerns about civil unrest or violence to deter enforcement of the Constitution, especially the 14th Amendment, then Black Americans and millions of others would never have secured the rights enshrined after the Civil War. Brown provoked immediate backlash from many white Americans, including violence, riots, and the founding of segregation academies throughout the South—with effects still seen today. Because the court did not cower in the face of this resistance, our country continued forward on the path toward a more just and democratic society.

The amicus curiae brief filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund for Trump v. Anderson (linked in the excerpt) is a great read and a short read.

For example, the footnote at the bottom of page 7 reminds us that part of the insurrection scheme was designed “to undermine the voting rights and full citizenship of Black voters in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and other federal laws.”

Kevin Lind of Columbia Journalism Review interviews Slate’s senior editor Dahila Lithwick about Trump v. Anderson and, more generally, about how the media covers the courts.

[LIND]: You gave a talk at Columbia Journalism School’s graduation last year (I was among the graduating class) and discussed how reporters from other beats broke major stories about the Supreme Court—particularly around undisclosed gifts from wealthy interests to justices—as opposed to court reporters doing it. What led to that happening, and what can journalists learn from that experience?

[LITHWICK]: I think that the Supreme Court press corps had a narrow aperture for what its responsibility was. There was a sense that its job was to cover the cases—What’s happened in oral argument; here’s what the decision held. We had this pristine beat, covering the law itself. The justices who produced it are nameless, faceless actors in a sausage-making factory, and we just write about the sausage. It became clear that there wasn’t a beat that was asking, Who are these justices, how do they get on the court, how do they decide cases? and Who’s paying for what, why is it never disclosed, and why are we constantly told that probing these things is somehow destabilizing to the rule of law? We were so busy guarding the henhouse that it took us years to realize nobody was covering the foxes.

We’ve really seen a change both in investigative journalists being sicced on the court and the raft of important stories that have subsequently come out. Stuff is starting to happen, but the critique was another version of what I said before, which is that we’re so busy covering this structure, we forgot to cover all of the systems and subterranean money. We failed to cover it, or we covered it incidentally. It is incredibly boring to write about how a handful of dark-money groups essentially captured the Supreme Court. But the fact that the press didn’t think that was a front-page story day after day, as it happened, for decades? That’s on us.

David A. Graham of The Atlantic looks at the week of Congressional Republicans in disarray (and the week isn’t even finished!).

Underlying the drama was a banal truth: Speaker Mike Johnson doesn’t have a grip on his caucus. Maybe no one could manage such a thin majority, but his task will be even harder after yesterday’s failure. (Johnson vowed to try again on the Mayorkas impeachment. We’ll see.) The inexperienced Johnson is speaker thanks to Trump, who cheered on conservative rebels against former Speaker Kevin McCarthy and refused to save him. Johnson’s rise was due in part to his starring role in attempts to overturn the 2020 election. (An irony: If McCarthy hadn’t resigned after his ouster, Republicans might have had the votes yesterday.)

Things are barely going better for the Senate Republican caucus. Over recent months, that group hatched what seemed like a clever plan to entrap Democrats. Rather than pass a bill with aid to Ukraine and Israel, which the White House as well as many GOP members wanted, it would tie those issues to tighter security at the southern border. That would force Democrats to support policies that the GOP wanted, or else to vote against them and face political blowback on immigration, Trump’s favorite campaign issue. [...]

“I feel like the guy standing in the middle of a field in a thunderstorm holding up a metal stick,” Lankford lamented last week, before lightning struck. “The reason we’ve been talking about the border is because they wanted to, the persistent critics,” McConnell told Politico. “You can’t pass a bill without dealing with a Democratic president and a Democratic Senate.”

McConnell is right, but no one in his caucus wants to hear it. As for Lankford, his mistake was believing his colleagues when they said they wanted a bill that would tighten the border, and then trying to write one. But the Trump wing of the Republican Party isn’t interested in policy—it’s interested in sending signals. The MAGA crowd would rather impeach Mayorkas, even if they know he won’t be convicted and it won’t change anything, than enact a law that actually affects the border. The point is expression, not legislation.

Bill McKibben of the Guardian has nothing but good things to say about the Biden Administration’s decision to say no to big oil in one respect.

Ten days ago Joe Biden did something remarkable, and almost without precedent – he actually said no to big oil.

His administration halted the granting of new permits for building liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals, something Washington had been handing out like M&Ms on Halloween for nearly a decade. It’s a provisional “no” – Department of Energy experts will spend the coming months figuring out a new formula for granting the licenses that takes the latest science and economics into account – but you can tell what a big deal it is because of the howls of rage coming from the petroleum industry and its gaggle of politicians.

And you can tell something else too: just how threadbare their arguments have become over time. Biden has called their bluff, and it’s beautiful to watch.

Charles Blow of The New York Times reminds us of a previous schism between Jewish Americans and African Americans over the Six-Day War of 1967 and says that It still has lessons to offer us today.

Despite the fact that Jewish American sentiments don’t necessarily align with sentiments in Israel, the world’s lone Jewish state, or with the policies of Israel’s government, there are parallels between the perceived split years ago and the current cleavage: Many Black Americans, especially younger, politically engaged Black Americans, oppose Israel’s conduct of the war in Gaza, with particular concern about the death toll among Palestinian civilians.

Many Jewish Americans support Israel’s right to conduct the war and American support for Israel’s war effort in order to eliminate the threat posed by Hamas — and some feel disappointed or even betrayed that many Black people seem to have more sympathy for the Palestinian perspective than the Israeli perspective.

The issues involved feel irreconcilable, because many of those engaged in the debate believe that their positions represent the moral high ground. And nuanced views are sometimes characterized as weak. But there has to be room for nuance.

David Gilbert of WIRED has exclusive reporting about a Russian disinformation campaign involving the border “crisis.”

The disinformation campaign began in earnest in late January, and expanded after Russian politicians spoke out when the US Supreme Court lifted an order by a lower court and sided with President Joe Biden’s administration to rule that US Border Patrol officers were allowed to take down razor-wire fencing erected by the Texas National Guard. Days later, when Texas governor Greg Abbott refused to stand down, former Russian president and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, who is currently deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, claimed that the Texas border dispute is “another vivid example of the US hegemony getting weaker.” [...]

After these comments, state media, influencers, and bloggers quickly got involved. Over the past two weeks, state-run media outlets like Sputnik and RT have called the dispute between the Texas governor and the Biden administration a “constitutional crisis” and an “unmitigated disaster,” while one Sputnik correspondent posed a video on the outlet’s X account, stating: “There’s a big convoy of truck drivers going down there. So, it can very easily get out of hand. It can genuinely lead to an actual civil war, where the US Army is fighting against US citizens.”

On Telegram, there were clear signs of a coordinated effort to boost conversations around the Texas crisis, according to analysis shared exclusively with WIRED by Logically, a company using artificial intelligence to track disinformation campaigns.

Finally today, Alex Burness of Bolts writes about a new initiative by a Montgomery County, PA county commissioner to create mobile units designed to go into neighborhoods to help voters “cure” their ballots.

Having won his election last November, [Neil] Makhija is now in a position to secure voting rights from the inside. County commissions in most of Pennsylvania double as boards of elections, with broad discretion over election procedures, handing Makhija power to help shape how voting is conducted in the third most populous county of this pivotal swing state. And he’s intent on getting creative.

Makhija tells Bolts he intends to propose that Montgomery County set up a mobile unit that’d go into neighborhoods to help people resolve mistakes they’ve made on their mail ballots.

He likens his proposal, which election experts say does not currently exist anywhere in Pennsylvania, to an ice cream truck for voting.

“Imagine if voting was as efficient and accessible as getting an Amazon delivery or calling an Uber,” Makhija told Bolts. “Exercising fundamental rights shouldn’t be more burdensome.”

Try to have the best possible day everyone!

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: New Hampshire Republican primary poll numbers remain steady

We begin today with Steven Shepard of POLITICO and the latest poll numbers from this coming Tuesday’s New Hampshire Republican primary race.

Former President Donald Trump leads former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley by 17 percentage points in the latest New Hampshire tracking data from Suffolk University, The Boston Globe and WBTS, the NBC affiliate in Boston.

In interviews conducted Thursday and Friday, Trump leads Haley, 53 percent to 36 percent, the poll shows.

Since the Iowa caucuses, the race in New Hampshire has remained remarkably stable. In each of the four days the tracking poll has been released, Trump has been at or above 50 percent, and his lead over Haley has ranged between 14 and 17 points.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is in a distant third place, with 7 percent. Another 5 percent prefer another candidate, are undecided or refused to answer.

Moving right along...

Heather Cox Richardson writes for her “Letters from an American” Substack about the reasons that Number 45 has been sounding off about “debank-ing” as of late.

His statement looks like word salad if you’re not steeped in MAGA world, but there are two stories behind Trump’s torrent of words. The first is that Trump always blurts out whatever is uppermost in his mind, suggesting he is worried by the fact that large banks will no longer lend to him. The Trump Organization’s auditor said during a fraud trial in 2022 that the past 10 years of the company’s financial statements could not be relied on, and Trump was forced to turn to smaller banks, likely on much worse terms. Now the legal case currently underway in Manhattan will likely make that financial problem larger. The judge has already decided that the Trump Organization, Trump, his two older sons, and two employees committed fraud, for which the judge is currently deciding appropriate penalties.

The second story behind his statement, though, is much larger than Trump.

Since 2023, right-wing organizations, backed by Republican state attorneys general, have argued that banks are discriminating against them on religious and political grounds. In March 2023, JPMorgan Chase closed an account opened by the National Committee for Religious Freedom after the organization did not provide information the bank needed to comply with regulatory requirements. Immediately, Republican officials claimed religious discrimination and demanded the bank explain its position on issues important to the right wing. JPMorgan Chase denied discrimination, noting that it serves 50,000 accounts with religious affiliations and saying, “We have never and would never exit a client relationship due to their political or religious affiliation.”  

But the attack on banks stuck among MAGA Republicans, especially as other financial platforms like PayPal, Venmo, and GoFundMe have declined to accept business from right-wing figures who spout hate speech, thus cutting off their ability to raise money from their followers.

Kathryn Dunn Tenpas of the Brookings Institution examines the personnel turnover of senior Biden Administration officials.

2023 was another challenging year for the president — tepid approval ratings, narrow margins in Congress, calls for impeachment, new and continuing military conflict abroad, and an economy struggling to regain its footing. Despite these challenges, relative stability in White House staffing continued to be a Biden administration hallmark, particularly when compared to the tumult in the Trump administration. In year three, the men and women who work at the most senior levels of the Executive Office of the President (EOP) continued their efforts with less turnover than in 2022, dropping from 35% (23 individuals) in 2022 to 23% (15 individuals) in 2023. Overall, three years of top staff departures stand at 65%, which ranks President Biden fourth among the seven presidents going back to Ronald Reagan and including George H.W. Bush, William Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. [...]

Though one can only speculate on the causes of the 15 departures, one reason may be the increased (and inevitable) focus on reelection when, some former White House staff members contend, reelection politics trumps policymaking. Ever since President Nixon established an independent reelection organization (CREEP, The Committee for the Reelection of the President), the national party’s role in reelection planning has declined, and the White House has become more involved in campaign planning. Referring to the 1992 reelection campaign, Marlin Fitzwater, President George H.W. Bush’s press secretary, explained, “Within the White House there is less emphasis on issues, fewer decisions coming to the president. The President was distracted by the campaign…lots of travel…Maybe we should’ve abandoned the process of governing earlier. The reality is the White House pretty much comes to a stop.” “Shutting down” governing for the reelection campaign does not necessarily create an inviting climate for those happily immersed in the details of legislation or policy analysis. Also, “burnout” in the White House is real: Many of the 15 departing staff began working grueling hours when they joined the Biden campaign in spring of 2019. In short, some of the senior staff members departing in year three were reaching their fifth year with Team Biden.

Another key segment of senior presidential appointees includes the Cabinet secretaries in the 15 departments that are in the line of presidential succession. Whatever the fluctuations among the “A Team” in the EOP, the Biden Cabinet has experienced record-level stability compared to the six most recent administrations. George Condon of the National Journal recently reported that one had to go back 171 years, to the nation’s 14th president, Franklin Pierce, to find a more stable Cabinet. Only one Biden Cabinet member has departed, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. (Note that my analysis of turnover relies on a strict definition of “Cabinet,” including only the 15 Cabinet secretaries in the line of presidential succession.)

It’s interesting that Republican administrations, by and large, experience the most Cabinet-level turnover (and the Shrub’s Administration should have experienced more turnover….which it did during it’s second term)

Melissa Hellman of the Guardian says that the right-wing strategy utilized to force former Harvard President Claudine Gay’s resignation will continue to be used as long as it works.

The strategy behind Gay’s ousting wasn’t new, and has been used to advance conservative agendas, influence school curriculum and demonize Black people throughout history. What was different this time was the quick efficacy of the takedown, which, according to some political scientists, historians and lawyers, emboldened conservative activists and could have dangerous implications for the future of education. [...]

Weeks prior to Gay’s resignation, the rightwing activist Christopher Rufo publicized the plan to remove her from office: “We launched the Claudine Gay plagiarism story from the Right. The next step is to smuggle it into the media apparatus of the Left, legitimizing the narrative to center-left actors who have the power to topple her. Then squeeze.” In an interview with Politico after Gay vacated her post, Rufo described his successful strategy as a three-pronged approach of “narrative, financial and political pressure”.

Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, an associate professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, noted the effectiveness of the plan, and warned of what it could portend considering that these actors have “seen the impact that they can have when they are able to marshal pressure from the media, donors and others”.

Of course, many on the Left have internalized the centuries-long propaganda about Black people. That’s why this method of attack remains so effective.

Mary Mitchell of the Chicago Sun-Times writes about how the decision and desire of seniors to remain in their homes for various reasons are affecting the housing market.

What does aging in place mean?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes it “as the ability to live in one's own home and community safely, independently and comfortably regardless of age, income or ability level.”

According to a 2021 AARP survey, “More than three-quarters of adults 50 and older said they wanted to stay in their homes or communities as they age.”

That means most seniors don't want to move to a retirement community or an assisted-living facility or nursing home.

I'm sure there are plenty of quality facilities in the Chicago metro area aimed at seniors, but I've been in enough bad ones to know that's not where I want to spend my last days. [...]

Seniors’ decisions to not move have affected the housing market, according to Construction Coverage, a company that specializes in researching construction software, insurance and related services.

The headline on an email it sent that landed in my inbox leaped out: “Boomers own 35.6% of Chicago homes amid a housing shortage.”

Katrin Kuntz (with photographs by Dmitrij Leltschuk) of Der Spiegel looks into the efforts of survivors of the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre at the Nova music festival to overcome the trauma.

The Nova festival in the Negev Desert of southern Israel was a popular event for electronic trance music. Around 4,000 people gathered there for several days of partying – just five kilometers from the border to the Gaza Strip. On October 7, around 50 terrorists attacked the party and killed 364 people. Dozens more were abducted and taken back to Gaza. [...]

On October 7, young people once again found themselves the targets of a terror attack – just as they have been in the past. In 2015, the terror organization Islamic State killed 90 people in the Paris concert venue Bataclan, many of them in their thirties. The right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik murdered 69 people, most of them teenagers, on the Norwegian island of Utøya in 2017. Films, novels and Netflix series have appeared in the wake of such attacks, and many of those directly affected by the assaults have never been able to find their way back to normal lives. It remains to be seen what the consequences of the attack on the Nova festival might be.

Therapists fear that the trauma inflicted on the Nova festivalgoers is likely to be even worse than that caused by previous wars in Israel. One reason is that the survivors are so young, averaging 27 years of age, but also because the attack was so unexpected and because Israel failed to protect them. And because many were high on hallucinogenic drugs at the time. Their experiences have also been magnified by the horrific video clips that can be found on the internet. Some survivors saw themselves in those videos, fighting for survival. In a number of cases, festivalgoers themselves filmed with their mobile phones.

The government is paying for at least 12 hours of therapy for survivors, but not all Nova guests qualify. Experts believe the time allotted to be absurdly inadequate and have also complained about the slow pace of financing. It’s like promising a cancer patient just a single cycle of chemotherapy, says one Israeli scientist.

Sui-Wee Lee of The New York Times previews another of the upcoming elections in 2024, this time in Indonesia.

...Prabowo Subianto has spent the past two decades trying his hand at democratic politics, donning different personas in multiple attempts to become Indonesia’s leader.

Now, a month before the next election, nearly every poll shows Mr. Prabowo, 72, leading in the first round of voting. His rise, with the help of a running mate who is the son of the popular departing president, Joko Widodo, has alarmed millions of Indonesians who still remember the brutal and kleptocratic rule of Suharto, Mr. Prabowo’s former boss and father-in-law.

A victory for Mr. Prabowo, his critics warn, would revive a dark past.

“What will happen is the death of democracy,” said Hendardi, the director of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace. Like many Indonesians, he goes by one name. “We have long been against Prabowo,” he added, “and with our limited power, we were still able to prevent him from moving forward. But now he has gained this support.”

Finally today, Rafael Clemente of El País in English explains the complexities of landing on the Moon.

Japan’s recent lunar landing, becoming the fifth nation to complete a soft landing after India last August, showcased the challenges of returning to the moon. The moon lacks air, of course, making parachute deployment impossible. Only rocket engines can be used, requiring precise adjustments to achieve a near-zero speed touchdown. Landing on the moon is a complex task that requires radar and laser measurements to monitor altitude and carefully manage fuel consumption. The objective is to avoid premature depletion while ensuring a safe landing without any horizontal displacement. And the delicate onboard instruments must be protected from potential damage upon impact.

The challenge is such that NASA has chosen to delay the Artemis program, pushing back its crewed lunar landing until at least 2026. Uncrewed landers have also met with frequent failure. In the past decade, no privately-funded attempts have succeeded, with only China and India making successful soft landings.

Try to have the best possible day everyone!

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: The insurrection continues

We begin today with Chris Geidner of the “LawDork” Substack stating that the U.S. Supreme Court must state that Number 45 engaged in insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.

Over the coming month, a handful of lawyers will be arguing in briefs at the U.S. Supreme Court, and then at oral arguments on Feb. 8, that the justices must reverse the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision holding that Trump “engaged in insurrection,” is disqualified from being president under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, and can be barred under Colorado law from appearing on Colorado’s primary ballot.

Some of the arguments being brought forth — like whether the president is an “officer” subject to Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment — are weak and ultimately show how much weaker other arguments are. Arguments about whether states have the authority to act as Colorado has done, meanwhile, are arguments about the implementation of the amendment. I don’t think they’re successful either, but they’re (more or less) arguments being made by lawyers engaged in lawyering about issues not previously implemented in this way.

Those lawyers, however, who go so far — as Trump’s lawyers did in their petition for certiorari — as to argue that Trump did not engage in insurrection at all are failing the law, the court, and the nation.

The Supreme Court should affirm the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision, but — given that they granted certiorari in response to Trump’s petition — they should do so in an opinion concluding specifically and explicitly what we all know to be true: Donald Trump engaged in insurrection three years ago today.

Adam Serwer of The Atlantic takes note of the fine line between the political and legal merits of Anderson v. Griswold; the Colorado Supreme Court case that said Trump was disqualified for Colorado primary ballots.

In the history of self-defeating euphemisms, Jonathan Chait’s characterization of Donald Trump’s failed coup as an attempt to “secure an unelected second term in office” belongs in the hall of fame, alongside George W. Bush’s “weapons of mass destruction–related program activities” or Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts.” [...]

When writing that line, Chait, like many other liberal writers, was alarmed by the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision disqualifying Trump from the ballotbased on Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which bars from political office those who have sworn an oath to the Constitution and subsequently engaged in “insurrection or rebellion.” Although Chait curiously insisted that he wouldn’t “comment on the legal merits of the case,” he managed to somehow zero in on one of the main legal points at issue, which is whether Trump’s behavior “constitutes ‘insurrection.’” [...]

There are many compelling political reasons not to disqualify Trump under the Fourteenth Amendment, among them the potential implications of removing the immense decision of who gets to be president from the electorate’s control. But to oppose his removal on legal, not political, grounds is to, in a circuitous way, make the same argument as Trump himself: that he is above the law—that the constraints of the Constitution apply to others but, for some reason, not to him.

David Montgomery and Kathy Frankovic of YouGov look at a YouGov/Economist poll that shows that most Americans think that they should be able to decide for themselves whether an insurrectionist belongs on the presidential ballot.

The latest Economist/YouGov poll from December 31, 2023 - January 2, 2024 asked Americans whether voters, the courts, and Congress should be able to determine if Donald Trump should be able to run for president in 2024. Respondents could select multiple options. 62% of Americans said voters should be able to determine whether Trump runs again, including majorities of Democrats and Independents, and 75% of Republicans.

Fewer Americans — 42% — said the courts should be able to make that determination. That includes 55% of Democrats, but just 28% of Republicans.

Only 20% said Congress should be able to determine Trump's eligibility.

Many Americans who think voters should be able to decide also think the courts or Congress should have a say: 31% of those who think voters should decide also say the courts should be able to decide, and 21% say Congress should also be able to.

So according to this poll, there should be no explicit PROHIBITION of who is allowed to run for president or any other office...if you get my drift on that.

Peter Grier and Sophie Hills of The Christian Science Monitor look at how easy (or difficult) it would be for Trump to become a dictator if he wins the 2024 presidential election.

As the Iowa caucuses and the official beginning of the 2024 election cycle arrive, the question of whether a second Trump term would result in the collapse of American democracy as we know it has gripped much of official Washington and U.S. pundits and political insiders.

Mr. Trump’s own words have fed this narrative. Among other things, he’s dehumanized political opponents as “vermin” who need to be exterminated, proposed that shoplifters be shot, said immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country,” and suggested that former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley should be executed after a trial for treason.

His critics say those words should be considered against the background of past actions. They point to what the former president actually did in the wake of the 2020 election, when he falsely insisted the election had been stolen despite lack of evidence and numerous court rulings against him. He pushed state officials to overturn their results, tried to shut down the Electoral College vote count in Congress, and considered seizing voting machines with the U.S. military. [...]

Yet in Mr. Trump’s first term, experienced officials such as chief of staff John Kelly blocked many of his most reckless proposals. The Trump team is planning for any second term to be staffed with loyalists who may not act the same way. The former president’s impeachments, indictments, and criminal and civil trials have already written a new chapter in the history of the United States. The book is open. Where will the story go now?

Paul Egan of the Detroit Free Press reports on Michigan Republicans in disarray now that they has voted to remove their state party chair, Kristina Karamo.

Mark Forton, chairman of the Macomb County Republican Party, said he has long been a supporter of Karamo and still admires her, but he ultimately concluded she has to be removed because of the people around her. "We have an election in 2024 and up until now the state party hasn't addressed any part of it," Forton said.

But the special meeting of the state party's governing committee had already been declared null and void by Karamo and her supporters. Karamo, who took office 11 months ago, said the meeting at a hall in western Oakland County was not convened in accordance with the party's bylaws. She did not attend Saturday's session and pointed to an authorized special state committee meeting, set for Jan. 13. [...]

So for now, Saturday's action signals further strife and disarray and possibly another in a long list of lawsuits in a party riven by divisions as its power has cratered in Michigan. Just before the 2018 election, the GOP controlled both chambers of the state Legislature plus the offices of governor, attorney general, and secretary of state. After the 2022 election, that full control was held by Michigan Democrats.

Good riddance!

Daniel Soufi of El País in English reports on an alarming movement within Silicon Valley circles called “effective accelerationism.”

Effective accelerationism advocates deregulated technological development. Its supporters believe in the need to allow emerging technologies to progress as quickly as possible, without obstacles that slow down innovation. They give special importance to AI and consider the path to technological singularity — a point where AI will vastly surpass human intelligence — as an inevitable destiny. [...]

To a large extent, effective accelerationism arises in response to effective altruism — a philosophy and social movement that seeks to maximize the effectiveness of charitable actions, by using evidence-based methods and critical reasoning to determine the most efficient ways to help others. Followers of this doctrine research how to earn the most money possible and donate it to causes that save the most lives, or reduce the most suffering for each dollar invested. However, in recent years, many philanthropists have expressed concern about the safety of artificial intelligence, with the idea that powerful AI could destroy humanity if not properly regulated. The confrontation between proponents of effective accelerationism and altruists represents one of the many schisms currently emerging on the AI scene in San Francisco.

Effective accelerationism is directly rooted in the writings of the British philosopher Nick Land, who proposes accelerating technological and social processes to induce radical changes in society and the economy. Land — who was quite influential in the late-1990s — considers capitalism to be an autonomous force that’s reconfiguring society. He suggests intensifying its effects to provoke a collapse that could overcome capitalism itself.

Land is also focused on how technology could lead humanity into a post-human era. A reference for the North American neoreactionary right, Land wrote The Dark Enlightenment in 2022, where he argues that accelerationists should support figures like Donald Trump to blow up the current order as quickly as possible.

Finally today, Graham Readfearn of the Guardian reports about an Australian academic that has designed an app to combat vaccine and climate change misinformation.

The basis for the game is research by Cook and other social science colleagues that tested how best to combat misinformation.

A standard approach to debunking a myth might be to first state the piece of misinformation, such as “climate change is caused by the sun” or “vaccines are dangerous because a child got sick after having a jab”, and then explain the facts.

But Cook and others have developed an approach which – perhaps ironically – is known as the “inoculation technique”, where people are taught common modes of arguing used by “cranky uncles” before they are exposed to the myths they spread.

“We’ve found through a number of studies that inoculation has some powerful benefits, such as it converts immunity across topics,” says Cook.

Try to have the best possible day everyone!

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Why the Claudine Gay story now?

We begin today with the now former president of Harvard, Claudine Gay, writing for The New York Times that it’s the forces which led to her resignation have a much bigger agenda.

As I depart, I must offer a few words of warning. The campaign against me was about more than one university and one leader. This was merely a single skirmish in a broader war to unravel public faith in pillars of American society. Campaigns of this kind often start with attacks on education and expertise, because these are the tools that best equip communities to see through propaganda. But such campaigns don’t end there. Trusted institutions of all types — from public health agencies to news organizations — will continue to fall victim to coordinated attempts to undermine their legitimacy and ruin their leaders’ credibility. For the opportunists driving cynicism about our institutions, no single victory or toppled leader exhausts their zeal.

Yes, I made mistakes. In my initial response to the atrocities of Oct. 7, I should have stated more forcefully what all people of good conscience know: Hamas is a terrorist organization that seeks to eradicate the Jewish state. And at a congressional hearing last month, I fell into a well-laid trap. I neglected to clearly articulate that calls for the genocide of Jewish people are abhorrent and unacceptable and that I would use every tool at my disposal to protect students from that kind of hate. [...]

Never did I imagine needing to defend decades-old and broadly respected research, but the past several weeks have laid waste to truth. Those who had relentlessly campaigned to oust me since the fall often trafficked in lies and ad hominem insults, not reasoned argument. They recycled tired racial stereotypes about Black talent and temperament. They pushed a false narrative of indifference and incompetence.

Kimberly Atkins Stohr of The Boston Globe says that yes, of course, Black women took note of what happened to Claudine Gay and why it happened.

Whatever your views about Claudine Gay, the plagiarism accusations against her, or her handling of antisemitism on campus, the mode of her downfall should ring alarm bells for everyone in academia. The voices of deep-pocketed donors with even deeper animosity for diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts drowned out those of the members of Harvard University’s own governing board, which supported Gay until they didn’t. If some folks missed that piece of context in this controversy, Black women surely did not.

As Joy Gaston Gayles, a professor and a former president of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, told me, Black women in academia feel disposable.

“It’s no secret that if you are a Black woman, in order to rise to certain levels of leadership — especially at a place like Harvard — you’ve got to do 10 times more than people who are privileged and who don’t share your identities have to do,” said Gayles, who heads the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy, and Human Development at North Carolina State University but clarified that she was expressing her personal views. [...]

Even among Black women who succeed in academia, the toll can be great. The deaths of two Black female college presidents last year —  JoAnne A. Epps of Temple University and Orinthia Montague of Vol State — led some Black academics to speculate if their deaths were hastened by the stress Black women feel on the job. Given the medical data supporting the fact that racism shortens Black people’s lives by weathering our bodies, I can understand the suggestion.

Charles Blow had a few words to say about the resignation of Claudine Gay on TikTok.

It’s as simple as this.🤷🏾‍♂️

— It’s Me Ya’ll (@Datelinefam) January 4, 2024

You can read Blow’s column in The New York Times (on the same topic) here.

David Roberts of the “Volts” Substack went on a tweetstorm about the ease with which center-left pundits allow themselves to be used to peddle the right-wing framing of news topics.

I just want to describe a certain pattern/dynamic that has replicated itself over & over & over again, as long as I have followed US media and politics. I have given up hope that describing such patterns will do anything to diminish their frequency, but like I said: compulsions.

— David Roberts (@drvolts) January 2, 2024

The center-left pundit approach to these things is simply to accept the frame that the right has established and dutifully make judgments within it. In this case, they focus tightly on the question of whether particular instances qualify as plagiarism as described in the rules. [...]
Why are we talking about this? Is there any reasonable political or journalistic justification for *this* being the center of US discourse for weeks on end? Who has pushed this to the fore, and why, and what are they trying to achieve? [...]
There are a lot of important things going on right now. Why are we talking about this and not any of those?  
We know why: the right is expert at ginning up these artificial controversies and manipulating media. Again, they brag about it publicly! [...]
My one, futile plea to everyone is simply: before you jump in with an opinion on the discourse of the day, ask yourself *why* it is the discourse of the day and whose interests the discourse is serving

Note: I understand and even agree, somewhat, with people who would rather not see embedded posts from Twitter/X. However, some relevant material is only available on Twitter/X.

Author Ishmael Reed describes how America’s so-called “media elite” are Trump’s willing Barnumesque “suckers” for El País in English.

Playwright Wajahat Ali, the fastest and most prepared mind on television panels, was discontinued at CNN because he talked about white racism too much. Because whites buy their products, TV reporters and pundits are instructed to refrain from calling the Trump followers racists or anti-Semites, so they give tepid reasoning for why whites are attracted to a man charged with 91 felonies. Though they might spend 24/7 criticizing the former president, they assist him by making excuses for those who support him, millions of deplorables, and thousands who are deranged like the man who attacked Representative Pelosi’s husband.

On Dec. 26, both media elite members, Chris Matthews, and Tim Miller, appearing on MSNBC, said that Trump followers are rural people who vote for him because the Eastern elites insult and ridicule them. Are they suggesting that if the Eastern elite hadn’t mocked them, the insurgency of Jan. 6 would never have happened? Maybe bought them a beer? [...]

Trump has to be one of the greatest showmen in history. He believes with circus entrepreneur P.T. Barnum that there’s a sucker born every minute. Not only is the media Trump’s sucker, but the sucker earns money by being taken. Trump knows that if he says outrageous things, it would make round-the-clock news. So the media reacts to his every tweet. He called political opponents “vermin,” which became a subject in TV panels for days to come, or his desire that President Biden “rot in hell.” Instead of covering the world like the BBC and Al Jazeera, American media owners involve all-day panels in answering Trump’s tweets, something that’s entertaining and inexpensive.

Well, Trump no longer “tweets,” technically. Members of the “media elite” screenshot his every post on TruthSocial and tweet his message for him.

Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post says that an amicus brief filed by never-Trump Republicans in support of Tanya Chutkan’s ruling that presidents do not have any sort of “privileged immunity” reflects “true conservatism.”

First and foremost, the amicus brief demonstrates fidelity to the clear meaning of the Constitution. When its writers argue that the Constitution’s text omits any reference to presidential immunity and that the Framers could have put one in had they intended to shield the office from prosecution (as they did for members of Congress in the speech or debate clause), the writers are deploying honest originalism. Because the text lacks an immunity provision, the courts have no power to invent such a protection. They likewise find no basis in the Constitution for Trump’s argument that prosecution must be preceded by impeachment and conviction. In deploying an originalist analysis, the amicus brief returns to a principle that the current right-wing majority on the Supreme Court has kicked to the curb: judicial restraint.

Second, these true conservatives embrace the concept of limited government. Citing Federalist Paper No. 69, they note that the president should not be regarded as a king but rather as something akin to the governor of New York (hence, subject to prosecution). To back up their argument that the president has never been regarded as beyond the reach of criminal laws, they cite, among other things, the pardon for Richard M. Nixon (unnecessary if he was immune) and Trump’s own arguments in the second impeachment trial.

Trump’s notion that Article II means he can do whatever he wants is a repudiation of our constitutional system that rejected a monarchy. In an era in which the GOP attempts to intrude into every corner of life — from banning abortion and books to micromanaging health care for LGBTQ+ youths — it’s helpful to remember that limited government used to be a fundamental principle for conservatives. Presidents are not kings; government is not all-powerful. Such ideas are now an anathema to Trump’s MAGA party.

Phyllis Cha of the Chicago Sun-Times writes that some abortion rights advocates and LGBTQ+ groups are already gearing up to protest at the 2024 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Abortion rights advocates want to send delegates a message when they come to Chicago for the Democratic National Convention in August: They’re tired of what they say is “lip service” from the Democratic Party when it comes to reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights, and they’re demanding action. [...]

In addition to CFAR, Bodies Outside of Unjust Laws: Coalition for Reproductive Justice and LGBTQ+ Liberation includes members of local abortion rights and LGBTQ+ advocate groups Stop-Trans Genocide, Chicago Abortion Fund, Reproductive Transparency Now and the Gay Liberation Network.

The Chicago Department of Transportation has 10 days to make a decision on the permit and notify the applicant. Permits are reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis, a CDOT spokesperson said, and are reviewed by multiple city departments. Approval of the permit depends on whether the event can be held safely.

CDOT hasn’t received any other applications for the time period when the convention is in town, the spokesperson said, but more applications are expected as convention dates approach.

Patrick Wintour of the Guardian analyzes South Africa’s request before the International Court seeking an Interim measure in order to prevent Israel from carrying out the intent of genocide.

Crack legal teams are being assembled, countries are issuing statements in support of South Africa, and Israel has said it will defend itself in court, reversing a decades-old policy of boycotting the UN’s top court and its 15 elected judges.

The first hearing in The Hague is set for 11 and 12 January. If precedent is any guide, it is possible the ICJ will issue a provisional ruling within weeks, and certainly while the Israeli attacks on Gaza are likely to be still under way.

The wheels of global justice – at least interim justice – do not always grind slowly.

South Africa’s request for a provisional ruling is in line with a broader trend at the ICJ for such rulings. Parties have been seeking – and obtaining – provisional measures with increasing frequency: in the last decade the court has indicated provisional measures in 11 cases, compared with 10 in the first 50 years of the court’s existence (1945-1995).

Finally today, Kyle Orland of Ars Technia writes about the 13-year old kid that killed Tetris.

For decades after its 1989 release, each of the hundreds of millions of standard NES Tetris games ended the same way: A block reaches the top of the screen and triggers a "game over" message. That 34-year streak was finally broken on December 21, 2023, when 13-year-old phenom BlueScuti became the first human to reach the game's "kill screen" after a 40-minute, 1,511-line performance, crashing the game by reaching its functional limits.

What makes BlueScuti's achievement even more incredible (as noted in some excellent YouTube summaries of the scene) is that, until just a few years ago, the Tetris community at large assumed it was functionally impossible for a human to get much past 290 lines. The road to the first NES Tetris kill screen highlights the surprisingly robust competitive scene that still surrounds the classic game and just how much that competitive community has been able to collectively improve in a relatively short time.

And yes, I do play Tetris on my smartphone.

Everyone try to have the best possible day.

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Republicans trashing our institutions

We begin today with John T. Bennett of Roll Call reporting on the GOP-lead House approving of an impeachment inquiry of President Biden.

The measure was approved 221-212, with every Republican supporting it and every Democrat opposed. One Democrat did not vote.

The impeachment resolution spells out the authorities of three involved committees, and an accompanying measure describes the GOP-run panels’ subpoena powers. GOP leaders, including Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., who teed up the resolution, contend the move would place the inquiry on firmer legal ground, should the Biden camp challenge any subpoenas in court. [...]

House Judiciary Committee ranking member Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., on Wednesday called the inquiry “political hackery,” adding: “This is not serious work.” And Oversight and Accountability ranking Democrat Jamie Raskin of Maryland said moments earlier that “this stupid, blundering investigation is keeping us from getting any real work done for the people of America.”

President Biden and White House aides have vigorously denied any wrongdoing. Asked last week about House GOP claims that he had interacted with his son’s foreign business associates, Biden told White House reporters, “I did not. And it’s just a bunch of lies.”

Kimberly Atkins Stohr of The Boston Globe says that the U.S. Supreme Court threatens to dismantle the criminal prosecution of Donald Trump by taking up the appeal of a case from a Jan. 6 Capitol rioter.

By taking up an appeal by accused Jan. 6 Capitol rioter Joseph W. Fischer, the court could undo the most serious federal criminal charge Trump is facing for his attempt to subvert democracy.

Fischer’s appeal stems from a charge that he, Trump, and hundreds of others involved in the events of Jan. 6 are facing: corruptly obstructing, influencing, or impeding an official proceeding. The charge comes under a federal law passed in the wake of the Enron collapse and was aimed at toughening penalties for actions including destroying, altering, or fabricating financial records. The penalties are stiff indeed: Trump and the other defendants face as many as 20 years in prison as well as steep fines if found guilty.

The language of the statute is not limited to shredding documents and the like. It contains the broad catchall that prohibits any action that “otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so.” And it has been deemed by courts to include interfering with congressional proceedings.

Adam Serwer of The Atlantic writes about the complete absurdity of the “Great Replacement” theory at a time Republicans can field Vivek Ramaswamy for the Republican presidential nomination.

Right-wing apologism for January 6 is no longer shocking, not even from Republican presidential candidates. Trumpists often vacillate between denying it happened, justifying and valorizing those who attempted to overthrow the government to keep Donald Trump in power, or insisting that they were somehow tricked into it by undercover agents provocateurs. But the basic facts remain: January 6 was a farcical but genuine attempt to overthrow the constitutional government, which many Trump supporters think is defensible because only conservatives should be allowed to hold power. [...]

Since Trump’s election, in 2016, the Great Replacement has gone from the far-right fringe to the conservative mainstream. After a white supremacist in Texas targeted Hispanics, killing 23 people in 2019, many conservatives offered condemnations of both the act and the ideology that motivated it. But over the past several years, a concerted campaign by conservative elites in the right-wing media has made the theory more respectable. By 2022, after another white supremacist murdered 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, some prominent voices on the right were willing to claim that there was some validity to the argument that white people are being “replaced.” [...]

Arab American voters, both Christian and Muslim, are withdrawing support from Joe Biden over his thus-far unconditional support for Israel’s conduct in its war with Hamas. This shift, along with a drift to the right that had already begun among more conservative segments of the Muslim community over LGBTQ rights—is an obvious example of how religious and ethnic minority groups can realign politically in unanticipated ways. Muslim voters were a largely pro-Bush constituency in 2000, prior to the GOP embrace of anti-Muslim bigotry after 9/11. So  were Hispanic voters in 2000 and 2004, and Trump showed similar strength with such voters in 2020, as well as making gains with Black voters. Many immigrants who fled left-wing or Communist regimes in Asia and Latin America—Vietnamese, Venezuelans, Cubans—lean right, much as the influx of Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union in the 1990s did. Immigrants from West Africa are often highly religious and socially conservative. And even within particular groups, there are tremendous regional, cultural, class, and educational differences—Puerto Rican voters in Chicago will not necessarily have the same priorities and values as Tejano voters living in Laredo. The far right and its admirers are too busy railing against diversity to understand that diversity is precisely why “the Great Replacement” is nonsense.

Charles Blow of The New York Times looks at some of the reasons that too many Americans are thirsty for authoritarianism.

Confidence in many of our major institutions — including schools, big business, the news media — is at or near its lowest point in the past half-century, in part because of the Donald Trump-led right-wing project to depress it. Indeed, according to a July Gallup report, Republicans’ confidence in 10 of the 16 institutions measured was lower than Democrats’. Three institutions in which Republicans’ confidence exceeded Democrats’ were the Supreme Court, organized religion and the police.

And as people lose faith in these institutions — many being central to maintaining the social contract that democracies offer — they can lose faith in democracy itself. People then lose their fear of a candidate like Trump — who tried to overturn the previous presidential election and recently said that if he’s elected next time, he won’t be a dictator, “except for Day 1” — when they believe democracy is already broken.

In fact, some welcome the prospect of breaking it completely and starting anew with something different, possibly a version of our political system from a time when it was less democratic — before we expanded the pool of participants.[...]

And while these authoritarian inklings may be more visible on the political right, they can also sneak in on the left.

The former chair of the board of trustees at the University of Pennsylvania, Scott L. Bok, writes about the negative influence of donors on university decisions for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

I advocate for free expression and the right to demonstrate, but I am deeply troubled by the hurtful rhetoric sometimes used at demonstrations.

I despair at the ability of social media to mislead, distort, and amplify such rhetoric.

But there are limits to what universities can do to address such matters. Physical safety concerns must come first, so at Penn, we dramatically stepped up our police presence — that campus has never been more closely watched. And if you walked across campus as I did numerous times this semester, most often you would have been struck by how normal life seemed. [...]

Penn has repeatedly condemned hateful speech and appropriately investigated all acts of antisemitism, pursuing every remedy within its power. In particular, it has acted aggressively in response to any vandalism, theft, violence, or threats of violence on the campus.

The challenge all universities face — and always have faced — is how to balance the desire to allow free speech with the desire to maintain order and allow all students to flourish free from bias or harassment. Chaos and violence are bad, but so are McCarthyism and martial law.

Jeannie Suk Gersen of The New Yorker asks an interesting hypothetical question: should American colleges and universities have affirmative action for men?

Despite efforts to dampen their success in admissions, women have, since the nineteen-eighties, been a majority of undergraduate student bodies. Today, they constitute nearly sixty per cent of students enrolled in college nationwide, at private and public institutions. The freshman classes of nearly all Ivy League schools are majority female. Female applicants consistently have higher high-school grades than male applicants, have completed more credits and more challenging courses, and have done more extracurricular activities. Male applicants reportedly have more trouble getting their application materials submitted (which has led Baylor to launch a “males and moms communication campaign” to help keep male applicants on track). Women also perform better than men in college, being more likely to graduate and to do so with honors. Women outnumber men in college applications by more than a third, and there are more qualified women than men in the applicant pool. [...]

At oral arguments in the S.F.F.A. [Students for Fair Admission] case, more than a year ago, Justice Elena Kagan stated aloud the open secret that, if selective colleges were to admit applicants without considering gender, the student bodies would be majority female. Justice Kagan asked the lawyer for S.F.F.A., who argued against using race in admissions, whether he thought it was lawful for schools to use gender in admissions and “put a thumb on the scales” for men in order to serve the health of university life and of society. He replied that the use of gender in admissions may be lawful even though the use of race is unlawful, because the Court does not subject gender to the same level of scrutiny that it subjects race to. Kagan observed that it “would be peculiar” if “white men get the thumb on the scale, but people who have been kicked in the teeth by our society for centuries do not.”

In equal-protection analyses under the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court has indeed allowed more leeway for using gender, but, in order to be constitutional, the use of gender must be substantially related to an important interest. The question, then, would be whether colleges’ interest in having a gender-balanced student body is so important that it justifies holding women to higher admissions standards than men. If a plaintiff brought an equal-protection challenge to the use of sex in admissions, colleges would surely have to do better than to invoke students’ desire to be on a gender-balanced campus, which may reflect their assessment of dating or marriage prospects. (Susan Dominus reported this fall in the Times that at Tulane, where last year’s freshman class was nearly two-thirds women, female students felt that “the gender ratio left them with fewer options, in sheer numbers and in the kinds of relationships available to them.”) Alexandra Brodsky, a civil-rights lawyer at Public Justice and the author of “Sexual Justice,” told me, “I’d be curious, in an equal-protection suit, what reasons a school would give for wanting a sex-balanced class. Relying on the desires of customers is not usually a justification for discrimination.” It’s also doubtful that the Court, which doesn’t consider racial diversity a compelling interest for schools to pursue, would conclude that gender diversity is an important one.

Marianne Lavelle of Inside Climate News says that, with the help of U.S. Special Climate Envoy John Kerry and his team, COP28 wasn't the total disaster that it might have been.

The United States may not have entirely won over its critics when COP28 ended Tuesday with the first statement on fossil fuels in the history of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. But the summit’s cautious final compromise text—which the United States clearly had a key role in helping to craft, say those familiar with Kerry’s team—was enough to ensure that the gathering did not blow up and end without a deal. And that, in itself, was a victory both for the United States and the much-maligned U.N. process, say a number of close observers of climate talks.

To the extent that the U.S. contributed to keeping the process alive, it was able to ensure continued progress would come out of its intensive pre-summit diplomacy with China. The world’s two largest greenhouse gas polluters worked together at Dubai to include in the summit’s final statement a number of items from the agreement they reached in November in Sunnylands, California, including language on addressing potent greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide, especially methane.

Univision news anchor Enrique Acevedo pens an essay for The Washington Post defending his Univision interview with Number 45.

Joaquin Blaya, a former president of Univision who left the network 32 years ago, told The Post, “This was Mexican-style news coverage,” casting a shadow of corruption over my interviewing style and overlooking how journalists in Mexico, where I’m based, are killed more than anywhere else in the world for doing their jobs. Some Latino celebrities employed the same nativist rhetoric they decry from the far right to say “the Mexicans” were importing unscrupulous practices to meddle in U.S. elections. Never mind, I’m American, and have been working more than 20 years for some of the most prestigious news outlets in the world, my record speaks for itself.

Outdated prejudice about Mexico and its news media poses significant dangers, validating decades-old perceptions that fail to reflect the modern, vibrant and open society that defines the country today. Moreover, it underscores a striking absence of humility in the face of our own democratic challenges. Given this broader context, the irony of such false claims is glaring and concerning.

Amid intense partisanship with clearly delineated camps, my interview with Trump wasn’t crafted to convince Democrats or my colleagues in the press that Trump is an unsuitable choice. Instead, its purpose was to afford conservative Latinos the opportunity to hear directly from him without confrontation or hostility.

I didn’t even consider watching Mr. Acevedo’s interview with Number 45 until last night, which basically consisted of Acevedo asking a question and then allowing Number 45 to gish gallop his answers. That’s my problem with the interview as opposed to Mr. Acevedo or Univision wanting to create a “safe space” for conservative Latinos that admire Trump.

Finally today, Fred Kaplan of Slate reports on the possible consequences of Republicans holding Ukraine aid hostage.

The Ukrainian president had flown 5,000 miles to patch up his fraying relationship with Washington legislators. On his previous two trips, they’d practically hoisted him on their shoulders, cheering him as democracy’s great brave hope. But this time, in a series of meetings on Tuesday, the Republican lawmakers brushed him off, shrugged that the romance was over, then tacked on that hoariest of evasions: It’s not you, it’s us.

It was among the most shameful episodes of a sordid political season—and it could have dangerous consequences worldwide.

Taken by itself, the cause of Ukrainian independence—which requires arming Ukrainian troops to fight off Russia’s invading army—enjoys broad, bipartisan support. But the cause has hit a dire moment. The troops are running out of ammunition. President Biden has asked Congress for $60 billion in emergency supplemental funding to keep them going. But Senate Republicans are telling him: We won’t give you the money—we’ll block the 60-vote majority needed to pass the supplemental funding—unless you let us pass a radical immigration bill that all but locks down America’s southern border and makes it nearly impossible for migrants to apply for asylum.

Biden says he’s willing to meet the Republican demand for border tightening halfway. But the Republicans want no compromise; they demand a Senate version of a bill that the House passed earlier this year—a bill so extreme that it garnered not a single Democratic vote. And they are willing to do this even if it means the collapse of Ukraine’s defenses against Russia.

I didn’t even need to read that story, just the look on Zelensky’s face in the photo…

Everyone try to have the best possible day!

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: The early legacies of the COVID-19 pandemic

We begin today with David Wallace-Wells of The New York Times citing a rather obvious underlying reason for continuing American economic pessimism: the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But in fishing for causes, an obvious contributor is often overlooked: the pandemic itself. It not only killed more than a million Americans but also threw much of daily life and economic activity and public confidence into profound disarray for several years, scarring a lot of people and their perceptions of the country, its capacities and its future.

When Americans are asked whether the country is on the right track, or whether they themselves are optimistic or pessimistic, they don’t treat the query like a trivia quiz about the last quarter’s G.D.P. growth or the Black unemployment rate or even the size of their own paychecks or stock portfolios. They are effectively responding to the therapist’s query: How are things? They answered that question according to one set of patterns, stretching back decades. And the pattern did not begin to shift only when inflation peaked in late spring 2022, or when pandemic relief was relaxed in fall 2021, or when supply-chain issues first arose earlier that year. They began answering differently in 2020, as the scale and duration of the pandemic came into view.

For decades, surveys about the economy were an accurate gauge of economic fundamentals that, practically speaking, there was little need to distinguish between the two.

That all changed in early 2020, when a significant gap opened between economic conditions and public perception...

Solomon Jones of The Philadelphia Inquirer sees the legacy of the worst of COVID-19 pandemic in the lingering violence of a stabbing of a security guard at a Macy’s in Philadelphia.

The armed rage that led to the fatal stabbing of a Macy’s security guard on Monday is an indication that the COVID-19 pandemic has given birth to yet another contagion. This time, the disease is violence. [...]

The trend seems to have begun in 2020, when cities around the world shut down in an effort to protect the public from a virus that killed at least three million people worldwide in a single year, according to World Health Organizationestimates. That year, as schools and offices closed, interpersonal guardrails like after-school programs and social services were removed. An economic downturn and a historic uptick in gun purchases occurred. The killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor spurred worldwide protests, and amid all of those factors, the divisive politics of a presidential election also boiled over.

Daniel Webster, the director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins, told ABC News that 2020 was the “perfect storm,” adding that “everything bad happened at the same time — you had the COVID outbreak, huge economic disruption, people were scared.”

I’ve already expressed my belief that the COVID-19 pandemic was one of the underlying and hidden factors of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol (Jan. 6, 2021 also happened to be the day of the most single-day deaths from COVID-19 up to that point in time). Reports about everything from lingering loneliness to children left behind in school are also a part of the legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic.
America isn’t alone in suffering from the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, either (although those “lingering effects” do vary from country to country and city to city).

The editorial board of The Los Angeles Times says that former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is only a victim of his own machinations.

It’s not surprising that dozens of members of the U.S. House of Representatives are choosing to leave the dysfunctional chamber rather than seek another term. The politics are toxic. The rhetoric is ugly. And it seems that members aren’t interested in doing much besides fighting the culture wars — and one another.

But we don’t believe for a minute that’s the reason former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy decided to step down at the end of the month after 17 years in Congress. After all, he helped create the hostile conditions in Congress by toadying to the hard-right Republicans in his conference by, among things, voting to challenge some of the results of the 2020 election and authorizing a baseless inquiry into impeaching President Biden.

In the end, however, McCarthy couldn’t manage the unruly conference and was deposed in October after a mere nine months in charge. His crime, according to the GOP hard-liners who orchestrated his downfall? Taking the kind of sensible action that Americans expect of their leaders. He’s no a tragic hero, though. Just a victim of the MAGA flames he fanned.

Clint Smith of The Atlantic details the radical plans that a potential second Trump Administration would have for educational policy.

Although educational policy is formed most directly at the state level, the Department of Education has $79 billion of discretionary funding that it can use as both carrot and stick, to encourage states and school districts to teach—or stop them from teaching—certain topics in certain ways. Trump’s 2024 education-policy plan promises to cut federal funding to any school or program that includes “critical race theory, gender ideology, or other inappropriate racial, sexual, or political content” in its curriculum. Already, in Texas, Florida, and other Republican-controlled states, educators are being ostracized for attempting to teach parts of American history that don’t cast straight, white, Christian Americans as the primary protagonists. Teachers are being punished for engaging with the history of policies that segregated, violated the rights of, or oppressed those whose identities fell outside that group. Trump would encourage such sanctions on a national scale.

What Trump and the MAGA movement want is a country where children are falsely taught that the United States has always been a beacon of righteousness. Despite our nation’s many virtues, the truth of its past is harrowing and complicated. Slavery, Jim Crow, Indigenous displacement and slaughter, anti-immigrant laws, the suppression of women’s rights, and the history of violence against the LGBTQ community—these things sully the MAGA version of the American story. [...]

A central part of Trump’s project is to depict the presentation of empirical evidence as an attempt at ideological indoctrination. The claim that this country has prevented millions from achieving upward mobility should not be a controversial one; it reflects actual policies such as convict leasing, school segregation, and housing covenants. To Trump and his allies, however, anyone making such a claim has fallen prey to a “radical movement” that sees America as an inherently and irredeemably evil country. A professor stating that the Confederacy seceded from the Union because of slavery and racism is a member of the “woke mob,” never mind the fact that the seceding states said this directly in their declarations of secession. (Mississippi in 1861: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest in the world.”) An elementary-school teacher highlighting the importance of LGBTQ figures in the history of American activism is reprimanded for being part of an effort to force sexuality onto students, never mind the fact that Bayard Rustin, Harvey Milk, and Marsha P. Johnson played an indisputable role in shaping political life.

Jim Saksa of Roll Call reports on the very different political stances that religious House Democrats have from Speaker Mike Johnson.

When he was mayor of Kansas City, Mo., Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II faced a choice. As pastor of one of the city’s largest congregations, he had helped lead opposition to the legalization of riverboat gambling. It passed anyway, and some expected Cleaver would use his new office to protect the downtown waterfront from the kind of sinful business that any good Christian would find repugnant.

They were wrong. Cleaver refused to get involved. “I was not elected as the Methodist mayor. I was elected as the mayor of our largest city, and I’m not going to try to convert people to Methodism,” the Democrat explained.

Before Mike Johnson was speaker of the House, he faced a similar moral dilemma. In his hometown of Shreveport, La., a strip club was set to open, the kind of sinful business that any good Christian would find repugnant. A coalition of neighbors thought Johnson, then a young attorney just a few years out of law school, might help them fight it. [...]

Confronted with forks on the path of righteousness, these two deeply devout Christians went opposite ways. And today they follow those paths in Congress.

Ian Millhiser of Vox parses out the oral arguments of Moore v. The United States, which was argued before the Supreme Court yesterday.

The Supreme Court spent much of Tuesday morning beating up Andrew Grossman, a lawyer asking the justices to revive a long-defunct limit on Congress’s ability to levy taxes. [...]

The full array of legal issues in Moore is dizzyingly complex. To completely understand the case, someone must have a working knowledge of how tax accounting typically works, how it works for certain investors who are taxed differently than others, how the Court once read a provision of the Constitution enacted to preserve a Union between free states and slaveholders to protect investors from taxes, and why the United States amended its Constitution to restore the federal government’s ability to tax investment income. (I explain all of these details here.)

But the shortest explanation of what’s at issue in Moore is that it asks whether the Constitution prohibits Congress from taxing investment income before that income is “realized” — meaning that the investor has sold an asset for a profit or otherwise disposed of that asset.

Renée Graham of The Boston Globe is unconvinced by the “apology” of actress Julianna Margulies over her derogatory comments about Black and LGBTQ support for Jews.

During an appearance last month on “The Back Room with Andy Ostroy” podcast, the actress best known for “The Good Wife” questioned the level of support for Jews in Black and LGBTQ communities since the Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 7 when Hamas stormed into Israel, massacred at least 1,200 people, and took more than 200 others hostage.

After mentioning Jewish support of the 1960s civil rights movement, Margulies said, “The fact that the entire Black community isn’t standing with us, to me, says either they just don’t know or they’ve been brainwashed to hate Jews.” She also castigated LGBTQ people, especially those who identify as gender nonconforming who, she said, “will be the first people beheaded and their heads played like a soccer ball on the field” in places run by extremist groups like Hamas. [...]

Every headline about Margulies claimed she apologized for her comments. She didn’t. Her podcast appearance aired Nov. 21. Only more than a week later when her remarks started getting negative traction on social media did she even say anything about them. And when she did, she shifted away from what she said to how she has worked “tirelessly to combat hate of all kind, end antisemitism, speak out against terrorist groups like Hamas, and forge a united front against discrimination.” She added that she “did not intend for my words to sow further division, for which I am sincerely apologetic.”

Her intentions are irrelevant. Her words sowed further division. But Margulies did not retract her statement that Black people “have been brainwashed to hate Jews,” as if antisemitism is as innate to us as the texture of our hair or the melanin in our skin. She reduced Black people to a monolith guided by one mind and a binding set of hateful beliefs.

Sarah DeWeerdt of Anthropocene reports about a study showing that attempts to combat climate disinformation have only very limited success.

Spampatti and his colleagues have developed six psychological interventions to combat climate disinformation. Past research has suggested that pre-emptively providing warnings about disinformation and counterarguments against it could serve as a psychological ‘vaccine,’ inoculating people to better resist denialists’ messages.

The new interventions, which Spampatti and his colleagues describe in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, are based on current research about how people develop and update their understanding of scientific information. The researchers devised messages emphasizing:

  1. The strong scientific consensus about the reality of human-caused climate change;
  2. The trustworthiness of scientists who prepare international climate reports and suggest strategies to fight climate change;
  3. Transparency about the pros and cons of climate actions;
  4. The strong moral case for climate action;
  5. The importance of carefully judging the accuracy of online information; and
  6. The positive emotions that come from climate action.


“We expected the psychological inoculation we tested to protect people from climate disinformation, because they had been identified as a promising strategy to fight disinformation,” Spampatti says.

“Unfortunately, we noted that these inoculations protect only against one piece of disinformation, but not more.” A more sustained effect would be necessary to protect against disinformation in the real world, where climate denial is plentiful.

Florantonia Singer of El País in English reports about the annexation of Essequibo, a disputed territory between Venezuela and Guyana, by Venezuela.

Two days after the referendum on Essequibo, a territory disputed between Venezuela and Guyana, the government of Nicolás Maduro is moving forward to try to enforce what was approved Sunday in a vote that registered almost no participation in the streets but which Chavismo hailed as a victory with 10.4 million voters, reawakening a crisis of credibility in the country’s electoral authorities. In a television appearance Tuesday, Maduro presented a new official map of Venezuela with Essequibo incorporated, without the disputed delimitation, during a Council of State in which he announced a series of measures and upcoming legislation to cement Caracas’ possession of the territory and its resources. Earlier, Maduro had sent a military contingent to Puerto Barima on the Venezuelan Atlantic border, close to the limits of the area under claim.

The war of narratives has begun. A few weeks ago, Guyana raised a flag on a small hill in Essequibo. On the day of the referendum, the Venezuelan Ministry of Communication released a video in which Indigenous people lowered the Guyanese flag and raised the Venezuelan flag. Maduro is now counterattacking with everything at his disposal. Via a special law announced Tuesday, he will create a new province or state in the territory, having already appointed a single provisional authority: Major-General Alexis Rodríguez Cabello, a deputy for the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), who will operate from the mining community of Tumeremo in Bolívar state, barely 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the town of San Martín de Turumbang in the disputed area. [...]

Brazil, which shares a border with both Venezuela and Guyana, has also expressed concern over the escalation of the territorial dispute. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva spoke with both Maduro and Ali and reinforced the military deployment on the border. The Ministry of Defense increased the contingent of the Boa Vista detachment in the state of Roraima from 70 to 130 uniformed personnel. Its mission is to “guard and protect the national territory,” according to a statement from the ministry. After the Venezuelan referendum, Lula also decided to send around 20 armored vehicles to the triple border.

Finally today, we return to The Philadelphia Inquirer and Elizabeth Wellington’s celebration of the complex legacy of Norman Lear, who died yesterday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 101.

At five, I was banned from watching “Sanford & Son” after I slapped a toy out of my cousin’s hands, rolled my eyes, called him a fish-eyed fool and a heathen in my best Aunt Esther imitation.

That was the power of Norman Lear’s situation comedies on my little pop-culture psyche back in the 1970s and 1980s, when Lear’s shows dominated the primetime landscape. With shows like “Maude” and “All in The Family,” Lear introduced taboo topics like rape, incest, and abortion to America’s living rooms in a way that educated us and made us laugh. Lear died Wednesday morning at his Los Angeles home. He was 101.

Lear’s impact on the Black situation comedy was groundbreaking. From “The Jeffersons” to “Good Times,” Lear introduced modern Black life to television, when before we just had “Soul Train.” Little Black children saw ourselves in Arnold, Willis, Tootie and Michael. Songs in these shows’ opening credits were schoolyard chants. Lear proved that Black shows starring Black people had a place on primetime television, paving the way for a slew of 1990s comedies from “Martin” to “Moesha.”

It wasn’t all good in the hood. Lear’s shows were full of stereotypes. Sherman Hemsley’s George Jefferson moved on up to the East Side, but when he got there he was rude, loud, obnoxious and racist. The Evans family on “Good Times” were always struggling and broke, so much so my mother didn’t allow my sister and I to watch it because she didn’t want us to internalize that Black people never could have anything. She was also disgusted at how much of a buffoon JJ Evans (Jimmie Walker) was.

Try to have the best possible day everyone!

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Dark Brandon jumps all the way out

We begin today with Aaron Blake of The Washington Post wondering what the GOP majority in the House will do now to get a Speaker elected not that Jim Jordan jumped out and then back into the race for House Speaker.

Thursday brought one of the most embarrassing episodes yet in the GOP’s arduous 16-day quest to find someone — anyone — who can get the votes to be House speaker. With the realization that that might not be possible at this juncture apparently setting in, Republicans set about forging a temporary fix that seemed potentially agreeable to much of the House: giving acting speaker pro tempore Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.) more power to conduct vital business while everyone figured out a longer-term solution. [...]

That Jordan would even attempt something so haphazard and immediately doomed speaks to the fact that he’s running out of ideas. And he’s surely not alone in that distinction.

To be sure, there are very understandable reasons this wasn’t workable, personal feelings about McHenry aside. Some opposed the idea of a temporary speaker on constitutional grounds. Some Jordan opponents probably feared this could keep his bid alive, by giving him a couple months of McHenry potentially working with the Democrats (whose votes would help install him) to run against. And you can bet more than a few Republicans viewed this, correctly, as the capitulation to Democrats that it would be. [...]

Apparently the old, unworkable dynamics were preferable to that potential new dynamic. The problem is that the old ones are going nowhere and probably just became more unworkable.

Thanks to Greg for subbing on short notice yesterday!

Peter Baker of The New York Times notes that when President Biden was asked a question on Air Force One about the House Speakership fiasco, Dark Brandon jumped all the way out (as noted by Kerry Eleveld).

President Biden was on his way back from a high-stakes diplomatic mission to Israel on Wednesday night when a reporter on Air Force One asked him if he had any thoughts about Representative Jim Jordan’s predicament in the House.

“I ache for him,” Mr. Biden said, putting his hand on his heart.


“Noooo,” he said with a laugh.

No sympathy there. “Zero,” he said. “None.” [...]

As much of a struggle as it was for Mr. Biden to work across party lines with Kevin McCarthy when he was speaker, a Jordan speakership would be a nightmare in the view of the president’s aides. Mr. Jordan, dubbed a “legislative terrorist” by former Speaker John A. Boehner, a fellow Republican, has long preferred bomb throwing to deal making and could push for Mr. Biden’s impeachment, government shutdowns and other moves at odds with the White House.

Mr. Biden has resolutely refused to comment at any length about the chaos in the House, sticking by the old view that it is up to Congress to determine its own leadership, not the executive branch. Still, he has alluded to his attitude before. When Mr. Jordan jumped into the speakership race a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Biden said he would work with whoever won. “Some people, I imagine, it could be easier to work with than others,” he said, “but whoever the speaker is, I’ll try to work with.”

David Graham of The Atlantic examines how Sydney Powell’s guilty plea in the Georgia RICO elections case against Number 45 (and 18 co-conspirators) might shape the overall case.

First, the plea simplifies the Chesebro trial. Powell and Chesebro had asked for speedy trials, rather than waiting a few months for a more standard trial. Though both are attorneys, their roles were very different. Powell, flashy and drawn to animal prints and chunky jewelry, became a household name in the weeks after the election because she often spoke to the press about the election scheme, though her role seems to have been mostly lower-level and operational. Chesebro, by contrast, was little known and had no public profile but worked closely with John Eastman and other lawyers on the broad contours of the paperwork coup. [...]

Second, Powell’s plea moves forward the Coffee County portion of the racketeering case. According to prosecutors, the conspirators arranged to unlawfully access and copy data from voting machines in the Southeastern Georgia location. Powell is the second person to plead guilty to involvement there, following Scott Hall, an Atlanta bail bondsman who copped a plea in September. Their testimony may help prosecutors target Jeff Clark, a little-known Justice Department official who attempted to lead a coup inside the department, getting Trump to appoint him acting attorney general, and to convince state legislatures to overturn election results. (He has pleaded not guilty.) [...]

Third is the question of how other people accused in the case might react to Powell’s plea. Prosecutors likely hope that it might convince some of the lower-level defendants to conclude that their chances of beating the rap are low but also that cooperating now might produce favorable terms. Agreements to testify would, in turn, presumably make it easier to mount a successful case against the biggest names in the case—Trump, of course, as well as the attorneys Eastman and Rudy Giuliani, and former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. A trial for these defendants likely won’t occur until next year.

David E. Sanger of The New York Times analyzes last night’s Oval Office address by President Joe Biden about the wars in Ukraine and Israel.

Throughout the speech, Mr. Biden toggled between the two crises, making the case that if America does not stand up in both conflicts the result will be “more chaos and death and more destruction.” That argument reflects his certainty that this is the moment he has trained for his entire political career, a point he often makes when challenged about his age.

His sense of mission explains why, at age 80, he has in the past eight months visited two countries in the midst of active wars. But at the same time he has married his public embraces with private cautions to American allies, while carefully keeping American troops out of both conflicts — so far. He seems determined to prove that for all the critiques that the United States is a divided, declining power, it remains the only nation that can mold events in a world of unpredictable mayhem.

“When presidents get into their sweet spot you usually see and hear it, and in the past few weeks you have seen and heard it,” said Michael Beschloss, the historian and author of “Presidents of War,” which traces the rocky history of Mr. Biden’s predecessors as they plunged into global conflicts, avoided a few, and sometimes came to regret their choices.

Whether Mr. Biden can bring the American population along, however, is a more unsettled question than at any moment in his presidency, and was the backdrop of his Oval Office address.

Lawrence Freedman of The New Statesman studies some of the reasons for intelligence failures.

Intelligence failures happen when pieces of information that should be picked up are not or are picked up and then misinterpreted. If they are interpreted correctly but not acted upon then it becomes more of a policy failure. When Israel was caught out by the Hamas attack of 7 October this was both an intelligence and policy failure. Despite the famed professionalism and tenacity of Israel’s intelligence agencies, they did not notice signs of the coming attack by the Palestinian militants, and despite the equally famed security focus of the government, it was complacent about the situation in Gaza. This was not the first time the country had been caught out, in different circumstances but for similar reasons. Fifty years earlier, on 6 October 1973, Israel was surprised as Egyptian and Syrian forces embarked on a sudden offensive and broke through its defensive lines.

Perhaps still the most fateful and studied example of a successful surprise attack is the Japanese strike against the American Pearl Harbor naval base on 7 December 1941 that opened the Pacific War. In a landmark study, the historian Roberta Wohlstetter introduced the thought that the problem was not a lack of information – the Americans were after all reading Japanese diplomatic and military traffic – but that those bits that in retrospect warned of trouble to come were lost in the background “noise” of masses of material that turned out to be irrelevant. [...]

This is why the problem facing intelligence analysts is often described as one of “joining the dots”: seeing a pattern in disparate pieces of information that point to the danger ahead. This is always going to be a difficult exercise because the information is often incomplete, ambiguous, contradictory and confusing. To make sense of it all analysts need a working hypothesis – we can call it a “construct” – against which the incoming evidence will be tested, and its reliability judged. If the construct is too strongly held, the risk is that only information that fits with it will be highlighted, while that which does not is disregarded...

Haaretz Editor-in-Chief Aluf Benn looks at the specific reasons for the Israeli intelligence failure to foresee the brutal attack by Hamas on October 7.

This was the mission planned by the Hamas commanders, the mission for which they trained, armed and equipped their people, as they collected intelligence for the operation and identified the time when Israel’s alertness would be particularly low, at the end of the holidays. They kept their extensive plans from leaking and pulled off a perfectly executed deception: The Israel political and military leadership, from Benjamin Netanyahu on down, was convinced that Hamas was deterred and mainly focused on economic growth and not preparations for an invasion.

Hamas’ military build-up was not kept completely out of sight. Its terrorists trained right out in the open, in broad daylight, and the Israeli side that was monitoring this activity saw infantry units being built and training for combat in Gaza.

But the IDF assumed that the Hamas elite force was being built to fight the IDF, Nukhba versus Golani, and interpreted it as a sign of Hamas becoming more establishment and transforming from a terrorist organization into a regular army. Israel failed to grasp that the confrontation with the IDF would only be a secondary mission, while the main effort would be a mass slaughter of civilians in their homes and at a large outdoor event, all through the area, and all at the same time.

Israeli intelligence and the IDF was working with very wrong “constructs”, more or less...which doesn’t remove Hamas’s responsibility.

Georg Fahrion, Christoph Giesen, and Christina Hebel of Der Spiegel look at the alliance between Beijing and Moscow.

Moscow, for its part, is making no attempt to play down its close ties with China. On the contrary, having the world's second-largest power on its side is an invaluable asset for Russia. At most, Moscow officials would like to avoid giving the impression of increased dependence on Beijing, even if the facts clearly speak a different language.

Xi and Putin stage their summits to look like meetings of equals. And the two autocrats appear to get on quite well. Putin addresses Xi as his "dear old friend," who in turn has called Putin his "best friend." They have awarded each other honorary doctorates from their respective alma maters and – on the periphery of international summits – celebrated birthdays together on several occasions: in 2013 in Bali over vodka and sausage, and in 2019 in Tajikistan with ice cream. [...]

But beyond their similar backgrounds, they share an overarching political goal: that of breaking U.S. dominance. Russia and China see themselves as pushing back against Washington's "pursuit of hegemony," while "the friendship between the two countries has no limits, there are no 'forbidden' areas of cooperation." That's from the text of a joint statement from February 4, 2022, adopted shortly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when Xi received his guest of honor Putin for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Finally today, in spite of the overall results of the Slovakian parliamentary, Lubos Palata of Deutsche Welle locates a very bright light in the those elections.

Before the election, the anti-corruption OLANO party of former Prime Minister Igor Matovic had joined forces with a number of smaller parties to form the OLANO and Friends coalition.

When all the votes were counted, it had come away with almost 9% of the vote and was the fourth-largest grouping in parliament. This was far more than most polls had predicted in the run-up to the election.

Another surprise was that a record six Roma had been elected to the 150-seat Slovak parliament. Four of the six belong to OLANO and Friends; two to the largest opposition party, Progressive Slovakia. [...]

Straight after the election, the Slovak police investigated whether electoral fraud or bribes had been behind the phenomenal results. There have in the past been attempts to buy Roma votes.

However, over two weeks after the election, no evidence of such fraud has been presented.

Matovic called the allegations absurd. "We just ran a good campaign," he told Slovak media.

Everyone try to have the best possible day!