Monday, January 31, 2022

Moar Impeachment!

So I had to take a look at the Breitbart story, which reports:

A criminal IRS investigation into Hunter Biden — President Biden’s son — appears to have convened a grand jury as far back as May 2019, a confidential subpoena served to JPMorgan Chase bank reveals. The subpoena also seeks bank records of James Biden, the president’s brother, which appears to be the first time another Biden family member has surfaced in connection with the investigation.

Actually, this isn't exactly news; it seems to be an investigation we could have known about for quite a while, since December 2020, when Hunter Biden himself found out that his taxes were under investigation, and immediately issued a statement. According to CNN's reporting picked up by Wilmington TV,

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Plague notes

Miniature by Pierart dou Tielt illustrating the Tractatus quartus by Gilles li Muisit (Tournai, c. 1353). The people of Tournai bury victims of the Black Death. Wikimedia Commons.

That obnoxious David Leonhardt bothsidesery in The New York Times

Millions of Republican voters have decided that downplaying Covid is core to their identity as conservatives, even as their skepticism of vaccines means that the virus is killing many more Republicans than Democrats.

Millions of Democrats have decided that organizing their lives around Covid is core to their identity as progressives, even as pandemic isolation and disruption are fueling mental-health problems, drug overdoses, violent crime, rising blood pressure, and growing educational inequality. As David Hogg, a gun-control activist, tweeted last year, “The inconvenience of having to wear a mask is more than worth it to have people not think I’m a conservative.”

is pretty obnoxious indeed. 

Insisting that everybody in the car wear a seatbelt, even in the back seat, even when you're only driving a mile to the mall and seatbelts are uncomfortable, may be irrational, though I don't think it is, but it is not the same kind of irrationality as refusing to wear one and attempting to make seat belt requirements illegal. Overstating the danger of falling victim to a pandemic disease that has actually killed close to a million fellow citizens and is currently killing 2,500 Americans per day (it hit almost 4,000 day before yesterday), if anybody is overstating it, is not the same as denying that there's any danger at all worth worrying about and working to outlaw public health measures designed to slow it down. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Boring Democrats, Always Solving Problems and Shit


Image via Nikkei Asia.

Thought I was somewhere back in the 80s yesterday as the stock indexes crashed and soared out of "uncertainty" over inflation, ostensibly, though in fact over the cure for inflation, which includes the Federal Reserve Bank ticking up interest rates. Of course in the mid-80s the federal funds rate was running around 7 or 8%, occasionally higher, and had recently gone as high as 19%, during the Volcker shocks, while now it's effectively zero, with plans to get it up to 0.75% or even 1.0% in the course of the year (those plans could be changing at this very moment, as I type, as the governors are in the first day of their two-day meeting, but it's not considered likely). 

One percent isn't exactly a nightmare, is it?

I found myself wondering about the actual issues that are causing price hikes, the Covid-caused international supply chain breakage and labor shortage, and what the Biden administration is doing about them. Leading up to Christmas, there was a profusion of news coverage of how, basically, Santa's sleigh was stuck on the freeway and everybody's holiday was going to be wrecked by the failure, and how badly the government was handling it, and how the public wasn't impressed (and horserace gossip: when Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg informed the nation in late November that $17 billion had been allocated to keeping the ports working around the clock and other measures, the media coverage was all about the stupid question of whether "Mayor Pete" might challenge Kamala Harris for the vice presidency). And then, after Biden announced on 22 December that, in fact, the toys had all arrived on time, the discussion kind of went quiet.

It took me three or four pages of Google results to get to some circumstantiated coverage, in a pretty unexpected source, Iowa Starting Line (Your Home for Iowa Politics)

The Biden administration on Wednesday [19 January] announced a major effort to address supply chain backlogs caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The federal government released $14 billion to the US Army Corps of Engineers to fund 500 projects, which will make it easier to transport goods, allow the passage of larger ships, and expand capacity at key ports, according to a White House fact sheet.

Also in the same report legislation in the House to do various reforms in the shipping industry to free up movement of goods, introduced by Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA), which is probably how the story ended up on an Iowa site. Good for her! Show her some love, if you can, and give her some publicity!

But the story of the big Biden initiative, now almost a week old, still hasn't really shown up in the mainstream news sources (a quick Google search finds it's been on ABC and CBS but not in New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, MSNBC, Politico or Axios, or, like, anywhere people go), and lots of people think the interest rate thing is the only thing the administration is doing about inflation. I guess the political reporters think it's boring. That's why Democrats don't get a break.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Stupid analogies department


Sorry, this is kind of childish.

What on earth is going on at The Times? Their attitude toward the Biden presidency is getting downright venomous, as in this latest "Political Memo" by the Times's Nate Silver ersatz, Nate Cohn:

Biden as a New F.D.R.? Try L.B.J.

The president’s agenda — big progressive change — has placed Democratic priorities over the voters’ desire for practical help on the pandemic and inflation.

Venomous and dumb! It's peculiar enough to start with this dichotomy between Johnson as (bad) "progressive" grinding his ideological axe in the people's faces vs. Roosevelt as (good) "centrist" just doing the practical stuff people wanted, as if Roosevelt had done all his planning on the basis of those stupid "most important issue" polls instead of gathering his Brain Trust during the campaign from the most systematically leftist thinking going on at the time outside the actual socialist parties, to design a huge and transformative program of social insurance, regulation of banking and securities industries, and strictly socialist public works programs, based on stringent structural analysis of the economy and ideas for remodeling it through central government planning. Has Cohn ever read a book about the New Deal?

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Marco Rubio's Caramel Macchiato

I don't actually do avocado toast at breakfast, because I'm on a three-year yogurt-and-granola binge, and when I take a break from yogurt-and-granola I kind of need bacon, while the rhythm of avocado buying leaves me helplessly making guacamole but really? There's something objectionable in avocado toast? Photo via.

Avocado Toast

By Senator Marco Rubio

Last week, the Vice President of the United States told us that a riot which happened here at the U.S. Capitol last year was equal to the day on which Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor and the U.S. was pulled into a world war that took the lives of 3% of the world's population.

Actually, vice president Harris did not say that. She said,

Certain dates echo throughout history, including dates that instantly remind all who have lived through them where they were, and what they were doing, when our democracy came under assault. Dates that occupy not only a place on our calendars, but a place in our collective memory: December 7th, 1941, September 11th, 2001, and January 6th, 2021.  
That does sound like a suggestion that the 6 January date might "live in infamy", like December 7th and 9/11, and I could add November 22 (after the killing of President John F, Kennedy), or for that matter 8 December 1980 (after the murder of John Lennon), one of the dates you always remember. That is not the same thing. The 9/11 terrorist attack did not lead to the deaths of 3% of the world's population, for instance, but that doesn't mean we don't remember it. Neither did the Pearl Harbor attack, for that matter; the deaths of 3% of the world's population probably go back to 1 September 1939 and the invasion of Poland, which most of us don't remember at all, though we probably should. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

The Lord works in mysterious ways

A piece on Dr. King's theology from this time six years ago holds up well, I think.  

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Panama, in keeping with our annual custom of running a picture of Dr. King in a hat. Via Relaford Club.

Let's not leave the long Martin Luther King Day weekend without our annual tribute visit to the Bizarro Dr. King who usually surfaces in the rightwing media around this time of the year, who if he had been alive would certainly have disapproved of the #BlackLivesMatter movement because they are the "sons and daughters of Stokely Carmichael and, to some extent, even Huey P. Newton" (former moderately good detective novelist Roger L. Simon, via Shakezula), and of the ongoing imaginary War on Police (Fox & Friends, via David at C&L); and Donald Trump, at the Dr. King tributes at Liberty University in the appropriately named Lynchburg, VA., praised the size of the crowd that came to see him as

an honor in terms of Martin Luther King," Trump said. "We're dedicating the record to the late, great Martin Luther King." Trump made no other mention of the civil rights leader.

In my usual stomping grounds at the National Review they haven't been able to come up with anything new this year, but they reran a piece by Lee Habeeb from January 2013:

Saturday, January 15, 2022

So what is it to you?

It is my birthday, shared, as some of you know, not only with Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr., but also Intellectual Dank Web philosopher Benjamin "Ben" Shapiro.

I was deeply gratified by this, from a friend:

Friday, January 14, 2022

Seditious Conspiracy


Virginian Oath Keeper Thomas Caldwell, 67, has denied he was in the building, but the FBI seems to know better.

This is really great news for those who have been worried about the Justice Department approach to 6 January investigations and the apparent focus over the whole past year in its 725 arrests on the misbehavior inside the Capitol on the day itself, and seeming failure to see the conspiratorial context, stretching back to the 2020 election and the existence of a leadership, going very high up, in the neighborhood of Donald J. Trump himself. I mostly felt pretty confident Attorney General Garland was conducting it on the classic model of a mob investigation, doing an exhaustive job on the soldiers and pressing as many of them as possible into cooperation agreements before moving upwards to the leadership and the plan. With the long-awaited arrest of Stewart Rhodes and the charge of seditious conspiracy

Thursday, January 13, 2022


Jeff Darcy, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 28 October 2021.


Beating out the perpetually "concerned" Senator Collins in the adjective competition, Senator Sinema is actually  "alarmed", but she's not going to let that spoil her appetite:

Pre-empting a presidential visit to the Capitol to meet privately with Democrats, Ms. Sinema took to the floor to say that while she backed two new voting rights measures and was alarmed about new voting restrictions in some states, she believed that a unilateral Democratic move to weaken the filibuster would only foster growing political division.

“These bills help treat the symptoms of the disease, but they do not fully address the disease itself,” Ms. Sinema said. “And while I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country.”

And "disappointed" too! Collins never imagined being disappointed, that's pretty original!

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Literary Corner: Look at Pennsylvania!


One way to look at Pennsylvania. Via Philadelphia Magazine.

Look at the Numbers!

by Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America

(after an interview with host Steven Inskeep aired on National Public Radio's Morning Edition, broadcast 12 January 2022)

It was too early to ask for fraud and to talk about fraud.1
Rudy said that, because of the fact it was very early with the —
because that was obviously at a very, very — that was a long time ago.2
The things that have found out3 have more than bore out
what people4 thought and what people felt and what people found.
When you look at Langhofer,5 I disagree with him as an attorney.
I did not think he was a good attorney to hire. I don't know
what his game is, but I will just say this: You look6 at the findings.
You look7 at the number of votes. Go into Detroit and just ask yourself,
is it true that there are more votes than there are voters?8
Look at Pennsylvania. Look at Philadelphia.9 Is it true that
there were far more votes than there were voters?

1 That would be 17 November 2020, when attorney Rudolph Giuliani told Judge Matthew Brann in federal court in Williamsport, PA, that two voters in Republican counties were not allowed to fix errors in their mail-in ballots, whereas voters in Democratic counties were: "The best description of this situation is it's a widespread, nationwide voter fraud," he said. 

“It’s a widespread, nationwide voter fraud,” Giuliani said. He accused local election officials of being part of a “little mafia” and preventing Republican Party observers from watching ballots being counted. He said only cities “controlled by Democratic machines” had problems, and “you’d have to be a fool to think this is an accident.”

But when Judge Brann asked him to explain why these fraud allegations were not mentioned in the lawsuit he was litigating, Giuliani acknowledged that "This is not a fraud case." This was not because it was "too early to talk about fraud"; indeed Giuliani had started talking about fraud earlier still, in his celebrated Four Seasons Total Landscaping address on 7 November, the day the election was called:

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

For the Record: Pipeline Talk


Getting Russian natural gas to Europe, via Radio Free Europe. It'l be a lot less complicated once Europe stops using natural gas—may it be soon!—but in the meantime, the Ukraine (the purple line) is not getting replaced...

And now for something completely different:

Monday, January 10, 2022

Brooks Sights a Squirrel

David F. Brooks phoning it in ("Why Democrats Are So Bad at Defending Democracy"):

Paragraph 3:

As Yuval Levin noted in The Times a few days ago, it’s become much easier in most places to register and vote than it was years ago. We just had a 2020 election with remarkably high turnout.

Paragraph 7:

As my Times colleague Nate Cohn wrote last April, “Expanding voting options to make it more convenient hasn’t seemed to have a huge effect on turnout or electoral outcomes. That’s the finding of decades of political science research on advance, early and absentee voting.”

These two don't actually contradict each other from a strictly logical standpoint, in the sense that Levin probably isn't claiming there is any causal connection between expanded voting options and the 2020 turnout, and Brooks certainly isn't. But the interesting thing is that both points, Cohn's assertion that expanded voting doesn't affect turnout and Levin's that it doesn't not affect turnout, support Brooks's argument here, which is to deny the "myth" that there's a crisis across the US electoral system: In fact there is a crisis, Brooks agrees, but it's only in one part:

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Rectification of Names: "Democracy"


Speaker's platform on the hill known as Pnyx in western Athens, photo via Wikpedia.

I think I may be guilty of having an original idea without noticing it, which is one of the pitfalls of being an amateur. Specifically, I've started using the word "democracy" in a somewhat different way from the way it's usually used, and it may have gotten a little more different than I intended. But it could also be an interesting case for the Rectification of Names, as I think Confucius intended that concept, if I could argue that my way of using the word is more useful than the various traditional ways—

Zi Lu said: “The monarch of the state of Wei wants you to govern the country, what is the first thing you plan on doing?” Confucius said: “First, it is necessary to rectify the names” (Zhu Xi, 1998, p. 498). 

According to Confucius, in order for society to be stable, everyone needs to do with the right name. Zhu Xi (1998) states that: If names are not correct, one cannot speak smoothly and reasonably, and if one cannot speak smoothly and reasonably, affairs cannot be managed successfully. If affairs cannot be managed successfully, rites and music will not be conducted. If rites and music are not conducted, punishments will not be suitable. And if punishments are not suitable, the common people will not know what to do. So, when the gentleman uses names, it is necessary to be able to speak so that people understand. If one can say it, one can definitely do it. A gentleman should not be careless with words” (Zhu Xi, 1998, pp. 498-499)

Yesterday, it was with reference to the invariable American conservative response when you complain that something they like (like the Electoral College) is undemocratic: "We're not a democracy, we're a constitutional republic."  

I guess what is clearly stupid about this argument is fairly well known, certainly to Dr. Google (who led me here): it's a specific reference to the passage in Federalist 14, by Madison, in which he explains that North America is too big for a democracy:

Friday, January 7, 2022

For the Record: January 6

 On the 12th night of Christmas the White House gave to me... A pretty good speech suggesting he's still interested in putting some of those masterminds in jail. 

Who copyrighted "Stop the Steal"... in 2016? Photo via CNN.

Startled to learn that the January 6 Committee may have started investigating the "1st Amendment Praetorians", a paramilitary organization consisting "entirely of veterans of the military, law enforcement, and the intelligence community" that has provided security at rallies for the Q folks, Allen West, and ex-General Mike Flynn, led by Robert Patrick Lewis, a wingnuttery entrepreneur who also warns YouTube audiences about the threat of an "antifa Tet Offensive" and "syndicate" of liberals allied to Chinese special forces units. No, I'm not startled. Maybe reassured, because I'd hate to think they weren't being investigated.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Whoa, If True

Speaking of Republican plots to ensure the party a permanent majority through gerrymandering of state legislatures and House districts, they've seemed pretty scary to most of us—they haven't pretended not to be doing it, and we've seen plenty of evidence of success in the disproportions, at all levels, between how many Republicans vote in a given contest and how many seat they win—sometimes grossly unfair, as in 2012, when Republicans won a comfortable 33-seat majority in the House with just 46% of the vote, or these crucial and grotesque results for local legislatures in the 2018 election

As Eric Levitz put it in New York's Intelligencer rubric on Christmas Day,

The Democratic House majority was supposed to die in redistricting. For months now, pundits and political forecasters have predicted that Republicans could win back the House next year without flipping a single voter. After all, the GOP controls far more state governments than the Democrats, and this is a post-Census year, when states redraw their congressional maps. Republicans boast sole authority over the boundaries of 193 congressional districts, while Democrats command just 94. Given the slimness of Nancy Pelosi’s majority, several analyses projected that GOP cartographers would generate enough new, safe “red” seats to retake the House through gerrymandering alone.

But now, Levitz continued, Democrats seemed to be doing "weirdly well" in the redistricting process:

Overly Civil War

A post from Steve M ("A Civil War With No Gunfire") argues, I think correctly, that the real coup Republicans are putting together for next time isn't going to be an assault in the style of 6 January but the completion of the attempts to rig the voting system conservatives have been working on since forever, I guess especially since Bush v. Gore, by writing Republican dominance into the design of state and federal legislative districts instead of depending on the whims of voters, and taking away what power voters still have in appointing the electors in presidential elections and delivering it to the state legislatures to overturn the ones they don't like (unilaterally deciding they're "fraudulent").

It struck me that the base, used to bloodthirsty Trumpiness and really gearing up for a proper war, might not be too roused by this strategy—as I was noting the other day focus on dubious cases of election fraud seems to bring down Republican turnout—and Steve's rhythm brought me a visit from the Muse, with apologies to Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern, to the tune of:

A civil war with no gunfire
A crashing bore, a no-fun fire
We should be dressed like seventeen-sev'nty-sixers
Instead we're led by dozens of K Street fixers

A civil war with no cannon
Is just a snore for Steve Bannon
If you don't spill some unpatriotic gore
What is it even for?
Overly civil war

A civil war with no bleeding
Is not the score that Trump's needing
You may have found an argument that convinces
But not the ones from wherever Erik Prince is

A civil war with no bullets
Is not for guys who wear mullets
If you don't spill some unpatriotic gore
What is it even for?
Overly civil war


Monday, January 3, 2022

Manchin Making Moves


Reverend Barber, left, and some West Virginians outside the Hart Building, 14 December, demanding Manchin's cooperation on the Biden agenda, Build Back Better and voting rights. Photo by Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images, via The Nation, whose headline was "West Virginians Give Manchin a Lump of Coal for Christmas".

Got any New Year optimism? 

I'm pretty cheered by this Axios report

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is open to reengaging on the climate and child care provisions in President Biden's Build Back Better agenda if the White House removes the enhanced child tax credit from the $1.75 trillion package — or dramatically lowers the income caps for eligible families, people familiar with the matter tell Axios

assuming it's Manchin himself, directly or indirectly, who engineered the story, anxious to get his name back in the mouths of the panditry as soon as possible, which would mean it's probably true.

The bargaining chip he seems to be pushing back onto the table is the one I've been recommending on and off as the best way to buy him off: cutting some of the wealthier recipients off from receiving the enhanced child tax credit, which in its current form is getting fully paid to households with an income of up to $150,000 (approximately the bottom 90%), but only half that for single-parent households, which is nuts. 

Because I'm kind of receptive to one of the points Manchin might be making on this: advocates love telling us that the expanded CTC reduces childhood poverty by something like 50%, an unarguably worthy goal (a lot less than 100%, of course, but infinitely more than zero), but it does that by giving an awful lot of cash to people who are far from poor. I dislike this, as you know, because I think it maintains and even increases economic inequality (while the poor are using the money to stay where they are, treading water, the well-off can invest the money, rising higher). At best, it's just really inefficient, and at worst, it's a bad political error.