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kottke.org posts about politics

The Slow Moving Coup

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2021

Others (like Timothy Snyder) have been saying this for months and years, but in a succinct 8-minute monologue, Bill Maher1 lays out what’s going to happen over the next three years that will pave the way for Donald Trump and the Republicans to take back the White House and set up the biggest political crisis in the United States since the Civil War.

A document came to light a few weeks ago called the Eastman Memo, which was basically a blueprint prepared for Trump on how he could steal the election after he lost it in November 2020. It outlined a plan for overturning the election by claiming that seven states actually had competing state slates of electors, which while not even remotely true, would have given Mike Pence the excuse to throw out those states and thus hand the election to Trump.

But of course the plan required election officials in those states to go along. Trump thought the ones who were Republican would. Most did not. And that’s what he’s been working on fixing ever since.

  1. You might have strong feelings about Bill Maher. Ok, fine. But he’s right about this.

The Graphic Edition of “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2021

book cover for the graphic edition of On Tyranny

sample page spread for the graphic edition of On Tyranny

sample page spread for the graphic edition of On Tyranny

Originally written as a Facebook post in the wake of the 2016 election, Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century went on to become a bestseller and a prescient warning on what was to come for America. Now, a graphic edition of On Tyranny has been released, designed and illustrated by Nora Krug. From Steven Heller’s piece on the book in Print:

Krug’s goal for this project was to use her medium to echo Snyder’s call for action. “While it was important to me to create images that would highlight the contemporary relevance of Snyder’s message,” she writes, “the use of historic images was clearly essential. At moments in the book that refer to a particular event in time — such as this one about Hitler’s annexation of Austria, when Austrian Nazis captured Jews and forced them to scrub the streets clean — I felt that rather than showing my own visual representation of that event, it was more powerful to feature a historic photograph because of the immediacy of the medium that would make that moment in history come to life.”

Combining Krug’s drawings with historic materials gave her the license to contrast the documentary with the imagined, the factual with the poetic, and to create a narrative tension that emphasizes historical relationships. “More importantly,” she explains, “this combination of mediums allows me to admit to the fact that we don’t exist in a vacuum, that we can only exist in relationship to the past, that everything we think and feel is thought and felt in reference to it, that our future is deeply rooted in our history, and that we will always be active contributors to shaping how the past is viewed and what our future will look like.”

You can order the graphic version of On Tyranny here but it seems to be backordered in most places.

“Profoundly Unequal” US is Unprepared for the Next Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2021

Ed Yong: We’re Already Barreling Toward the Next Pandemic. The US is throwing too little money at high-tech, ultimately private sector solutions but much of the problem comes down to our underfunded public health system and “profoundly unequal society”.

“To be ready for the next pandemic, we need to make sure that there’s an even footing in our societal structures,” Seema Mohapatra, a health-law expert at Indiana University, told me. That vision of preparedness is closer to what 19th-century thinkers lobbied for, and what the 20th century swept aside. It means shifting the spotlight away from pathogens themselves and onto the living and working conditions that allow pathogens to flourish. It means measuring preparedness not just in terms of syringes, sequencers, and supply chains but also in terms of paid sick leave, safe public housing, eviction moratoriums, decarceration, food assistance, and universal health care. It means accompanying mandates for social distancing and the like with financial assistance for those who might lose work, or free accommodation where exposed people can quarantine from their family. It means rebuilding the health policies that Reagan began shredding in the 1980s and that later administrations further frayed. It means restoring trust in government and community through public services. “It’s very hard to achieve effective containment when the people you’re working with don’t think you care about them,” Arrianna Marie Planey, a medical geographer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told me.

How to Solve Thorny Global Problems

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2021

Within the past 50 years, the global community has solved two huge problems that had the potential to harm every person on Earth. Smallpox once killed 30% of the people who contracted the disease but through the invention of an effective, safe vaccine and an intense effort that began in the 1960s, smallpox was completely eradicated by 1980. In the 1980s, scientists discovered a hole in the ozone layer that protects the Earth from UV radiation; further depletion would have caused major problems with the world’s food supply and an epidemic of skin cancer. Forty years later, we’ve virtually eliminated the chemicals causing the depletion and ozone losses have stabilized and have recently shown improvement.

So how did we do it? The short video above talks through each of challenges, how they were met (science + politics + a bit of luck), and how we might apply these lessons to the big problems of today (climate emergency, the pandemic).

Doctor Explains Why He Violated Texas’s Extremist Abortion Ban

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2021

Dr. Alan Braid, a practicing OB/GYN in the state of Texas for 45 years, explains why he provided medical care in the form of an abortion to a woman in violation of the state’s absurd and dangerous new law.

A new Texas law, known as S.B. 8, virtually banned any abortion beyond about the sixth week of pregnancy. It shut down about 80 percent of the abortion services we provide. Anyone who suspects I have violated the new law can sue me for at least $10,000. They could also sue anybody who helps a person obtain an abortion past the new limit, including, apparently, the driver who brings a patient to my clinic.

For me, it is 1972 all over again.

And that is why, on the morning of Sept. 6, I provided an abortion to a woman who, though still in her first trimester, was beyond the state’s new limit. I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care.

I fully understood that there could be legal consequences — but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested.

Braid concluded his piece: “I believe abortion is an essential part of health care.” Absolutely.

The Mistake that Toppled the Berlin Wall

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 03, 2021

I was 16 years old on the day the Berlin Wall fell. I remember coming home from school that day and watching the events unfold on television, completely shocked at how quickly it had all happened. Politics & protests had been pushing the Eastern Bloc countries toward more openness for years, but before watching this video, I’d never heard that the catalyst for that world-changing event was a short mistaken statement at the end of an otherwise boring press conference. From the BBC:

East German leaders had tried to calm mounting protests by loosening the borders, making travel easier for East Germans. They had not intended to open the border up completely.

The changes were meant to be fairly minor — but the way they were delivered had major consequences.

Notes about the new rules were handed to a spokesman, Günter Schabowski — who had no time to read them before his regular press conference. When he read the note aloud for the first time, reporters were stunned.

“Private travel outside the country can now be applied for without prerequisites,” he said. Surprised journalists clamoured for more details.

Shuffling through his notes, Mr Schabowski said that as far as he was aware, it was effective immediately.

In fact it had been planned to start the next day, with details on applying for a visa.

But the news was all over television — and East Germans flocked to the border in huge numbers.

How did the Berlin Wall fall? Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.

Visualization of Conservative America’s Vaccine Refusal

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2021

Charles Gaba has been graphing the Covid-19 vaccination rates of the 50 states (and DC) against the percentage of people who voted for Donald Trump in 2020 and there is unsurprisingly a clear correlation between the two:

Covid-19 vaccination rates for the 50 states graphed against the percentage of Trump voters

As one commenter noted, all of the solidly “blue” states are above the vaxxed national average and all the solidly “red” states are below it. The picture is a little more muddy when you look at the rates at the county level:

Covid-19 vaccination rates for US counties graphed against the percentage of Trump voters

The “conservatives are unvaxxed” trend is still there, but a lack of access and education around the vaccines in counties with large Black and Latino populations also plays a large role in whether people are vaccinated or not.

America’s Abstract Freedom

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2021

This is quite a paragraph from David Bentley Hart’s Three Cheers for Socialism in Commonweal:

Americans are, of course, the most thoroughly and passively indoctrinated people on earth. They know next to nothing as a rule about their own history, or the histories of other nations, or the histories of the various social movements that have risen and fallen in the past, and they certainly know little or nothing of the complexities and contradictions comprised within words like “socialism” and “capitalism.” Chiefly, what they have been trained not to know or even suspect is that, in many ways, they enjoy far fewer freedoms, and suffer under a more intrusive centralized state, than do the citizens of countries with more vigorous social-democratic institutions. This is at once the most comic and most tragic aspect of the excitable alarm that talk of social democracy or democratic socialism can elicit on these shores. An enormous number of Americans have been persuaded to believe that they are freer in the abstract than, say, Germans or Danes precisely because they possess far fewer freedoms in the concrete. They are far more vulnerable to medical and financial crisis, far more likely to receive inadequate health coverage, far more prone to irreparable insolvency, far more unprotected against predatory creditors, far more subject to income inequality, and so forth, while effectively paying more in tax (when one figures in federal, state, local, and sales taxes, and then compounds those by all the expenditures that in this country, as almost nowhere else, their taxes do not cover). One might think that a people who once rebelled against the mightiest empire on earth on the principle of no taxation without representation would not meekly accept taxation without adequate government services. But we accept what we have become used to, I suppose. Even so, one has to ask, what state apparatus in the “free” world could be more powerful and tyrannical than the one that taxes its citizens while providing no substantial civic benefits in return, solely in order to enrich a piratically overinflated military-industrial complex and to ease the tax burdens of the immensely wealthy?

I mean, when you put it like that…

The US Isn’t Ready for Another Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2021

Olga Khazan writing for The Atlantic:

After an inept coronavirus response, will the United States do better when the next pandemic strikes? Experts generally agree that America learned from the past year, and that the next public-health crisis won’t be quite as bewildering. But America’s pandemic preparedness still has major gaps, some of which are too big for any one administration to fix. In recent weeks, I’ve called back many of the experts I interviewed over the past 18 months about masks, testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and more. I asked them, “Are we ready for another one?” The short answer is “Not quite.” The long answer is that being truly “ready” will be harder than anyone realizes.

The Trump administration mishandled the American response to Covid-19 so completely that it’s tempting to pin most of the pandemic carnage on him. But the more I read about the pandemic (Michael Lewis’s The Premonition is a recent example), the more I have come to believe that the majority of the American pandemic deaths were baked in, no matter who was President. Trump was definitely a worst-case scenario, but even a more competent person in the White House in Jan 2020 (like Clinton or Sanders or Romney) would not have done so much better. Poor public health infrastructure, politicized government agencies, no mandatory paid leave, an overpriced healthcare system that only works for some, uncoordinated national response (+ federalism), years of defunding government programs, a reactive (rather than proactive) CDC, unhealthy populace, poverty, systemic racism in medicine, entitled individualism, high rate of uninsured people, growing anti-science sentiment — the pandemic was destined to race through the United States like a brush fire no matter what.

Even the European Union, whose member nations do not share many of America’s aforementioned challenges (but have other issues), did only marginally better than the US in preventing Covid deaths. The UK did worse:

a chart showing the cumulative covid deaths per million of the US, UK, EU, and world

Inside the Insurrection on Congress

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2021

This is an incredible video investigation by the NY Times of the January 6th attack on Congress by terrorists, rioters, and supporters of Donald Trump. They analyzed hundreds of videos, police bodycam footage, and police communications to reconstruct a minute-by-minute account of the Capital breach.

From the accompanying article of six takeaways from the investigation:

Most of the videos we analyzed were filmed by the rioters. By carefully listening to the unfiltered chatter within the crowd, we found a clear feedback loop between President Trump and his supporters.

As Mr. Trump spoke near the White House, supporters who had already gathered at the Capitol building hoping to disrupt the certification responded. Hearing his message to “walk down to the Capitol,” they interpreted it as the president sending reinforcements. “There’s about a million people on their way now,” we heard a man in the crowd say, as Mr. Trump’s speech played from a loudspeaker.

The call and response didn’t stop there. We found evidence of his influence once the violence was well underway. In one moment, a woman with a megaphone urged rioters to climb through a broken window by asking them to “stand up for our country and Constitution” — echoing the language in an earlier tweet from Mr. Trump. In another, as the police were pushing to clear the mob off the building, a rioter screamed at officers: “I was invited here by the president.”

It is astonishing to me how close we came to having a hostage or assassination situation with members of Congress and the Vice-President — like literal seconds and minutes away — and how is this not the only topic of conversation over the past 6 months in our country? And not only that, it’s clear that we’re not really going to do anything about it, aside from beefing up Capitol security and imprisoning some of the insurrectionists. This isn’t over — as the video’s narration states near the end: “The forces that brought them there have not gone away.”

Update: From Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources newsletter:

But Rangappa could have also been talking about CNN’s efforts in court to obtain riot footage; or ProPublica’s recent investigation that indicated “Senior Trump Aides Knew Jan. 6 Rally Could Get Chaotic;” or Just Security’s new “clearinghouse” for riot research. Her broader point is spot on: Newsrooms have been putting the January 6 puzzle pieces together, creating a detailed rough draft of history, in spite of partisan efforts to bury that history.

Germany Came to Terms with Its Nazi Past. Why Can’t America Do the Same with Slavery?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2021

For the Washington Post, Michele Norris wonders what it will take for the US to finally and fully acknowledge its history of slavery.

America experienced 246 years of slavery before it was officially ended with the passage of the 13th Amendment. That was followed by decades of legal segregation and oppression under Jim Crow, followed by a period of willful blindness and denial. A tourist from a foreign land might well conclude that the Confederacy had actually won the Civil War, based on the number of monuments, buildings and boulevards still named for heroes of its defeated army. The real truth of our shared history was a casualty of that war and, like any wound left untended, the results can be catastrophic.

A full accounting of slavery is one of terror and trauma, and for decades the natural inclination was to ask, why would anyone want to claim that history? But at a moment when the United States is dangerously divided, when we are having bitter and overdue conversations about policing, inequality and voting rights, when marauders fueled by white-nationalist rhetoric can overwhelm the Capitol, proudly waving the Confederate battle flag, the more important question is this: What happens if we don’t?

She uses Germany’s remembrance and examination of Nazism and the Holocaust as an example of a country that has properly faced up to its terrible past in order to move fully forward.

Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung refers to Germany’s efforts to interrogate the horrors of the Holocaust and the rise of Nazism. It has been a decades-long exercise, beginning in the 1960s, to examine, analyze and ultimately learn to live with an evil chapter through monuments, teachings, art, architecture, protocols and public policy. The country looks at its Nazi past by consistently, almost obsessively, memorializing the victims of that murderous era, so much so that it is now a central feature of the nation’s cultural landscape. The ethos of this campaign is “never forget.”

I visited Germany back in 2018 and its efforts to engage with past horrors were quite noticeable and stood in stark contrast to American activity along similar lines.

In particular, as a nation the US has never properly come to terms with the horrors it inflicted on African Americans and Native Americans. We build monuments to Confederate soldiers but very few to the millions enslaved and murdered. Our country committed genocide against native peoples, herded them onto reservations like cattle, and we’re still denying them the right to vote.

As Norris convincingly argues, “it is long past time to face where truth can take us”.

The Last Free Election in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2021

Yale historian Timothy Snyder has been one of the most prominent & insistent voices warning against the rise of authoritarianism & fascism in the United States in recent years — you may remember his 20 lessons from the 20th century on fighting authoritarianism from November 2016 and his more recent piece on the right’s coup attempt on January 6th.

Over the weekend, Snyder published a short piece about what he believes will happen as a result of the 1/6 insurrection and the Republicans’ ongoing effort to push their Big Lie about election fraud — basically the end of democracy in America.

I have the Cassandra feeling this spring because it is so obvious where all of this is heading. President Trump tells a big lie that elections are rigged. This authorizes him and others to seek power in extra-democratic ways. The lie is institutionalized by state legislation that suppresses voting, and that gives state legislatures themselves the right to decide how to allocate the electoral vote in presidential elections.

The scenario then goes like this. The Republicans win back the House and Senate in 2022, in part thanks to voter suppression. The Republican candidate in 2024 loses the popular vote by several million and the electoral vote by the margin of a few states. State legislatures, claiming fraud, alter the electoral count vote. The House and Senate accept that altered count. The losing candidate becomes the president. We no longer have “democratically elected government.” And people are angry.

No one is seeking to hide that this is the plan. It is right there out in the open. The prospective Republican candidates for 2024, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley, are all running on a big lie platform. If your platform is that elections do not work, you are saying that you intend to come to power some other way. The big lie is designed not to win an election, but to discredit one. Any candidate who tells it is alienating most Americans, and preparing a minority for a scenario where fraud is claimed. This is just what Trump tried in 2020, and it led to a coup attempt in January 2021. It will be worse in January 2025.

Like he says, so obvious and out in the open. As far as I’m concerned, this is a done deal and there’s not a lot that can be done to stop it. The horse left the barn some time ago and most people can’t even tell the door is open, much less that it needs closing.

QAmom

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2021

Sean Donnelly’s mother got sucked into the world of QAnon conspiracy theories, so he made a little video about it, including documenting some bets he made with her about whether or not Biden would still be in office 3 months after the inauguration or if Tom Hanks & Oprah would soon be arrested for pedophilia. Remember when Baby Boomers were all concerned that the internet was going to be harmful for their Gen X and Millennial children and grandchildren? And now all these Boomers are getting brainwashed by Facebook and Fox News? Good stuff. :|

See also QAnon, Conspiracy Theories, and the Rise of Magical Thinking, What Can You Do About QAnon?, Sacha Baron Cohen Says Tech Companies Built the “Greatest Propaganda Machine in History”, Living in a Conspiracy Nation, In Search of a Flat Earth, and My Dad, the Facebook Addict. (via waxy)

“If Democracy Is Dying, Why Are Democrats So Complacent?”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2021

For The Atlantic, Luke Savage writes that Democrats have to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to protecting American democracy.

If you’ve followed recent Democratic messaging, you’ll have heard that American democracy is under serious attack by the Republican Party, representing an existential threat to the country. If you’ve followed Democratic lawmaking, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the threat is actually a rather piddling one. The disconnect, in this case, isn’t attributable to Democratic embellishment, but to inexcusable complacency.

Without meaningfully reforming the rules of the Senate, the Biden administration & Congressional Democratic leadership basically gets to pass one substantial bill per year (through budget reconciliation). That’s it. If Democrats lose the House in 2022, which seems likely or even certain without the passage of a federal voting rights bill, then it’s only one or two bills. And then maybe Democrats don’t see the White House, a Senate majority, and a House majority for a generation and we’ll all have to ask ourselves whether we actually like living in a de facto nationalistic one-party state.

“Every Child on Their Own Trampoline”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2021

I suspect that if you read this site with any regularity, the pandemic has you thinking about our society’s prioritization of the rights & desires of the individual versus the needs of the community. Using the purchase of a backyard trampoline for his kids as a jumping off point, Jeremy Williams wonders if we haven’t “tipped too far towards private consumption”.

Capitalism pushes us towards private affluence. We aspire to acquire our own things. Shared things are seen as second best, something of an inconvenience. Politics responds accordingly, prioritising economic growth and ‘more money in your pocket’, rather than shared goods and services. So everyone has their own lawnmower while the grass grows long in the park. People get their own exercise bikes or rowing machines, and the gym at the local leisure centre starts to look tired and under-funded. The wealthy pay for childcare or hire a nanny, but the early years nursery closes down.

Having access to your own things looks like progress, but there is a cost. Community is one of the victims. Shared spaces are places where community happens, where people mix and meet. Nobody makes new friends on their own rowing machine, in front of the TV. Inequality is another. Those who can afford their own won’t notice, but those on lower incomes rely much more on shared resources. When a library closes, it’s those on the margins of society who lose access to books, internet access, or a warm place to sit and do their homework. There is also an environmental cost, as private ownership means endlessly duplicated goods, many underused objects across many owners rather than a few well used objects that are shared.

(via dense discovery)

Rick Steves: Germany’s Fascist Story

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2021

Rick Steves’ travel shows and videos typically highlight the positive aspects of travel destinations in Europe and around the world. But more recently, he’s also been making shows about Europe’s unpleasant past. In 2019, he did an hour-long TV special about the history of fascism in Europe

Because Steves hosts a travel show, they visit some of the places where this history played out, including Nuremberg, Auschwitz, and Rome, talk to historians and tour guides, and discuss fascist and anti-fascist art, including Picasso’s Guernica.

And earlier this year, Steves made a similar show that focused just on Germany, embedded above.

Traveling across Germany, we learn how fascism rose and then fell, taking millions of people with it. Visiting actual locations — from Munich to Nürnberg to Berlin — we trace the roots of Nazism in the aftermath of World War I, when masses of angry people were enchanted by Hitler. We explore the totalitarian society Hitler built, and see the consequences: genocide and total war. Learning from Germany’s fascist story, we can recognize that hateful ideology as well as the tricks of wannabe dictators in our own age.

(via open culture)

A Reevaluation of Jimmy Carter’s Presidency

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2021

A new documentary film called Carterland and Jonathan Alter’s biography His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life (ebook) are among the recent media attempting to reconsider and recontextualize the presidency of Jimmy Carter. From Megan Mayhew Bergman in The Guardian:

“Here’s what people get wrong about Carter,” Will Pattiz, one of the film’s directors tells me. “He was not in over his head or ineffective, weak or indecisive — he was a visionary leader, decades ahead of his time trying to pull the country toward renewable energy, climate solutions, social justice for women and minorities, equitable treatment for all nations of the world. He faced nearly impossible economic problems — and at the end of the day came so very close to changing the trajectory of this nation.”

Will’s brother, Jim, agrees. “A question folks should be asking themselves is: what catastrophes would have befallen this country had anyone other than Jimmy Carter been at the helm during that critical time in the late 1970s?”

I’m gonna need a three-episode series about Carter on You’re Wrong About, stat. If there’s any justice in the world (wait, don’t answer that), in 50 years’ time Ronald Reagan’s presidency will be considered the disaster that is was and Carter’s will look better in comparison.

If you’re interested in seeing Carterland, it looks as though it’s not out widely quite yet — the only place I could even find a trailer is on this Atlanta Film Festival page (click “Play Trailer” at the bottom of the page).

‘Private Choices Have Public Consequences’

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2021

This is a very good and bracing essay from David Roth for Defector about a certain type of knee-jerk libertarian response to the pandemic in the US.

In place of any actually ennobling liberty or more fundamental freedom, contemporary American life mostly offers choices. But since most of these are not really choices at all in any meaningful way, it might be more accurate to say that we’re offered selection. The choice between paying for health insurance and running up six figures of non-dischargeable debt because you got sick, for instance, is honestly less a choice than a hostage situation. But because the second outcome is still extremely possible even if you choose to pay for health insurance, it’s more correct to say that the choice is already made, and that the decision is more about choosing from an array of variously insufficient and predatory options the one whose name or price or risk you like most. Sometimes there isn’t even that, and the choice is a binary one between something and nothing. None of this is really what anyone would choose, but these ugly individuated choices are what we get.

And then:

The broader complacent and unreasoned acceptance that props up our otherwise untenable status quo is shot through all these facile “it’s a private matter and a personal choice” formulations; if you have accepted that mostly useless choices between dreary outcomes are all you could ever get as a citizen in the wealthiest and most powerful country on earth, then you have also accepted that these choices are actually very important, and that making them is the thing makes you free. None of these personal choices actually make anything better for the person making them. In the case of the vaccine, those choices have devastating downstream impacts for all the people who glance off the choice-maker as they carve their personal hero’s journeys through the world. None of this matters as much as the idea that the choice is theirs to make.

The Advantages of Political Buffoonery

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2021

From a short piece riffing on Idi Amin and the political utility of being a buffoon by Mark Leopold, author of an Amin biography:

What, then, are the advantages of political buffoonery? Off-hand, considering Amin’s career, I can think of at least five:

1) It leads opponents to underestimate the ability and intelligence of the buffoon.

2) It provides deniability — “it was only a joke.”

3) It appeals to core supporters (many Africans loved Amin’s teasing of the former colonial masters).

4) It serves as a distraction from the more serious, perhaps frightening or incompetent, actions of the leader, what we now call the “dead cat” tactic.

5) It leads to ambiguity (was it a joke or not?), producing confusion and uncertainty about how to respond.

Behind all this is clearly what Freud recognized as the aggressive nature of joking. I suggest that buffoonery is, at root, a quintessentially masculine characteristic.

If you’ve lived though recent UK and US politics, I expect you’re furiously nodding your head at all this right now. (via sam potts)

America’s Vaccine Glut and “Vaccine Diplomacy”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 05, 2021

After the Biden administration announced they will have enough Covid-19 vaccine supply to cover every single adult in the country by the end of May, I got to wondering about what they were going to do with the tens & hundreds of millions of surplus doses already procured for the remainder of the year. “Oh,” I thought, naively, “We’ll be able to distribute it to countries that can’t easily procure or manufacture vaccines of their own!” And I’m sure some of that will happen, if only for PR purposes. But it’s perhaps more likely that America will practice vaccine diplomacy and use the stockpile to reestablish its global leadership.

The United States has backed away from the world. This isn’t a Clinton thing or a W Bush thing or an Obama thing or a Trump thing or a Biden thing, but instead a United States thing. The American people lost interest in playing a constructive role in the world three decades ago, and America’s political leadership has molded itself around that fact. Trump may have been instinctually and publicly hostile to all things international, but Biden is only different in tone. Biden’s Buy-American program is actually more anti-globalization than Trump’s America-First rhetoric as it is an express violation of most of America’s international trade commitments. TeamBiden says it wants to reestablish America’s global leadership…but it plans to do so without any troops or money. Sorry, but that’s not how it works.

Which makes the possibilities for vaccine diplomacy wildly interesting. The United States has no responsibility to provide COVID vaccines to the world. It can — it will — distribute them, but it will want something in return.

Even if you disagree with some of the analysis here, it will be interesting to watch where America’s stockpile ends up. Given Biden’s rhetoric of “listening to the science” when it comes to the pandemic, I hope that at least some of that supply goes to places that need it most to make certain the pandemic doesn’t sputter on for years, generating potentially dangerous new variants, even if it’s politically disadvantageous.

Update: Countries now scrambling for COVID-19 vaccines may soon have surpluses to donate by Jon Cohen and Kai Kupferschmidt for Science magazine:

Like three dozen other countries, the United States contracted with multiple vaccine companies for several times the number of doses needed to cover its population. No one knew at the time which, if any, of the candidate vaccines would work or when they might prove safe and effective. But by now, most of the prepurchased vaccines appear to offer solid protection — which means many countries will receive far more vaccine than they need. The excess doses the United States alone may have by July would vaccinate at least 200 million people.

A chart in the article notes that the US has procured enough vaccine to cover almost 1.5 billion people after fully vaccinating its entire population.

Why Does Vladimir Putin Want Alexei Navalny Dead?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2021

After Vladimir Putin, dictatorial leader of Russia for over 20 years now, had seemingly insulated himself against losing power through control of the media, law, elections, and the wealthy allies, a lawyer named Alexei Navalny began to expose the corruption in Putin’s regime with a series of posts to his blog and on YouTube. Navalny continued his investigations, gaining public popularity and running for public office. Putin imprisoned him and tried to have him killed. This Vox video explains in more detail why Putin wants Navalny dead.

More reading on Navalny: Vox explainer, Masha Gessen on recent pro-Navalny protests in Russia. (via open culture)

E.B. White on the Meaning of Democracy

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2021

In response to a request from the Writers’ War Board in the summer of 1943, in the midst of World War II, E.B. White wrote this short piece for the New Yorker.

We received a letter from the Writers’ War Board the other day asking for a statement on “The Meaning of Democracy.” It presumably is our duty to comply with such a request, and it is certainly our pleasure.

Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don’t in don’t shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is a letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn’t been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It’s the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of a morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is.

My favorite line is “Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth.” Initially I read it as poetically referring to the first part of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 — which is lovely, no doubt — but upon further reflection he probably meant baseball. (via daring fireball)

Conservatism and Who the Law Protects

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 18, 2021

I’ve seen this quote, or ones very much like it, a few times in recent years:

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

The original quote is from Frank Wilhoit — it’s worth reading what he wrote in full in a comment on this blog post. He begins by stating that conservatism is the only political philosophy that has ever existed and goes on to say that liberalism or progressivism isn’t the answer or counterpoint to it, anti-conservatism is.

So this tells us what anti-conservatism must be: the proposition that the law cannot protect anyone unless it binds everyone, and cannot bind anyone unless it protects everyone.

Then the appearance arises that the task is to map “liberalism”, or “progressivism”, or “socialism”, or whateverthefuckkindofstupidnoise-ism, onto the core proposition of anti-conservatism.

No, it a’n’t. The task is to throw all those things on the exact same burn pile as the collected works of all the apologists for conservatism, and start fresh. The core proposition of anti-conservatism requires no supplementation and no exegesis. It is as sufficient as it is necessary. What you see is what you get:

The law cannot protect anyone unless it binds everyone; and it cannot bind anyone unless it protects everyone.

I wonder what such a system of law and governance would even look like? (via @koush)

How to Turn Your Red State Blue

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 16, 2021

portrait of Stacey Abrams

I posted this as a Quick Link earlier today but decided it needed its own post. Stacey Abrams & Lauren Groh-Wargo of Fair Fight have written an opinion piece in the NY Times about how they increased Democratic votes in Georgia over the past decade, leading to flipping both Senate seats in the 2020 election. They are sharing their approach and framework so that others can apply it in their states.

Georgians deserved better, so we devised and began executing a 10-year plan to transform Georgia into a battleground state. As the world knows, President Biden won Georgia’s 16 electoral votes in November, and the January runoff elections for two Senate seats secured full congressional control for the Democratic Party. Yet the result wasn’t a miracle or truly a surprise, at least not to us. Years of planning, testing, innovating, sustained investment and organizing yielded the record-breaking results we knew they could and should. The lessons we learned can help other states looking to chart a more competitive future for Democrats and progressives, particularly those in the Sun Belt, where demographic change will precede electoral opportunity.

We realize that many people are thinking about Stacey’s political future, but right now we intend to talk about the unglamorous, tedious, sometimes technical, often contentious work that creates a battleground state. When fully embraced, this work delivers wins — whether or not Donald Trump is on the ballot — as the growth Georgia Democrats have seen in cycle after cycle shows. Even in tough election years, we have witnessed the power of civic engagement on policy issues and increases in Democratic performance. This combination of improvements has also resulted in steady gains in local races and state legislative races, along with the continued narrowing of the statewide loss margin in election after election that finally flipped the state in 2020 and 2021.

The task is hard, the progress can feel slow, and winning sometimes means losing better. In 2012, for example, we prevented the Republicans from gaining a supermajority in the Georgia House of Representatives, which would have allowed them to pass virtually any bill they wanted. We won four seats they had drawn for themselves, and in 2014 we maintained those gains — just holding our ground was a victory.

The steps toward victory are straightforward: understand your weaknesses, organize with your allies, shore up your political infrastructure and focus on the long game. Georgia’s transformation is worth celebrating, and how it came to be is a long and complicated story, which required more than simply energizing a new coterie of voters. What Georgia Democrats and progressives accomplished here — and what is happening in Arizona and North Carolina — can be exported to the rest of the Sun Belt and the Midwest, but only if we understand how we got here.

This piece, and the plan it describes, is excellent. You can see how their potent combination of vision, planning, and methodical execution were able to yield big results over time — success is the application of patience to opportunity.

Bic ballpoint portrait of Stacey Abrams above by Claire Salvo. Prints of similar portraits of AOC, RBG, and John Lewis are available.

How Reporters Should Cover Government Going Forward

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 02, 2021

Press Watch’s Dan Froomkin imagines a speech that new editoral leadership at large American newspapers should give to their political reporters.

It’s impossible to look out on the current state of political discourse in this country and think that we are succeeding in our core mission of creating an informed electorate.

It’s impossible to look out at the looming and in some cases existential challenges facing our republic and our globe — among them the pandemic, climate change, income inequality, racial injustice, the rise of disinformation and ethnic nationalism — and think that it’s OK for us to just keep doing what we’ve been doing.

He continues:

First of all, we’re going to rebrand you. Effective today, you are no longer political reporters (and editors); you are government reporters (and editors). That’s an important distinction, because it frees you to cover what is happening in Washington in the context of whether it is serving the people well, rather than which party is winning.

Historically, we have allowed our political journalism to be framed by the two parties. That has always created huge distortions, but never like it does today. Two-party framing limits us to covering what the leaders of those two sides consider in their interests. And, because it is appropriately not our job to take sides in partisan politics, we have felt an obligation to treat them both more or less equally.

Both parties are corrupted by money, which has badly perverted the debate for a long time. But one party, you have certainly noticed, has over the last decade or two descended into a froth of racism, grievance and reality-denial. Asking you to triangulate between today’s Democrats and today’s Republicans is effectively asking you to lobotomize yourself. I’m against that.

Defining our job as “not taking sides between the two parties” has also empowered bad-faith critics to accuse us of bias when we are simply calling out the truth. We will not take sides with one political party or the other, ever. But we will proudly, enthusiastically, take the side of wide-ranging, fact-based debate.

Government reporters. Yes, exactly. Worth reading in its entirety.

Hypocrisy and the Filibuster

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2021

For the NY Times, Jamelle Bouie writes about the history of the filibuster in the Senate and how it (unsurprisingly) differs from Mitch McConnell’s comments about it.

The truth is that the filibuster was an accident; an extra-constitutional innovation that lay dormant for a generation after its unintentional creation during the Jefferson administration. For most of the Senate’s history after the Civil War, filibusters were rare, deployed as the Southern weapon of choice against civil rights legislation, and an occasional tool of partisan obstruction.

Far from necessary, the filibuster is extraneous. Everything it is said to encourage — debate, deliberation, consensus building — is already accomplished by the structure of the chamber itself, insofar as it happens at all.

In the form it takes today, the filibuster doesn’t make the Senate work the way the framers intended. Instead, it makes the Senate a nearly insurmountable obstacle to most legislative business. And that, in turn, has made Congress inert and dysfunctional to the point of disrupting the constitutional balance of power.

I’d like to highlight something else from the article’s title and reiterated in the text by Bouie: “I’m not actually that interested in McConnell’s hypocrisy.” Yes, exactly. I see a lot of calling-out of the hypocrisies of “the other side”1 on social media and it just seems worthless to me at this point. This sort of thing just doesn’t work when you’re dealing with people who are cynical and without shame in a very polarized media environment. Like, if you’ve read anything about McConnell at all, you know that he cares about power and he’s going to say what he needs to say to get it or keep it, regardless of self-contradiction. Pointing out his flip-flops doesn’t accomplish anything because he’s not actually switching his position! He didn’t really believe the thing he said before and he doesn’t really believe the thing he’s saying now. He just wants what he wants. Focusing on the facts and historical context of the issue, as Bouie does here (and in his explanation of the Electoral College on You’re Wrong About), is the way to go.

  1. Examples: “The ‘pro life’ party did nothing while 400,000 people died from the pandemic.” and “If you’re ‘pro choice’, why do you want to limit the 2nd amendment right of people to carry guns?” Etc. etc.

USA Downgraded from Democracy to Anocracy (“Part Democracy and Part Dictatorship”)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2021

Using the POLITY data series, The Center for Systemic Peace has downgraded the system of government of the United States of America from a democracy to an anocracy, a “regime that mixes democratic with autocratic features”. From a notice on the front page of the CSP website:

The USA has dropped below the “democracy threshold” (+6) on the POLITY scale in 2020 and and is now considered an anocracy (+5). It has also lost its designation as the world’s oldest, continuous democracy; that designation now belongs to Switzerland (171 years), followed by New Zealand (142) and the United Kingdom (139). Further degradation of democratic authority in the USA will trigger an Adverse Regime Change event.

The downgrade can be tied directly to the Trump administration’s actions over the past four years:

In 2019, CSP changed the USA code for Executive Constraints from 7 to 6 due to the executive’s systematic rejection of congressional oversight; dropping its POLITY score to +7 and resetting its DURABLE score to “0”. In 2020, the coding for Executive Constraints will fall another point or two due to the executive’s systematic purge of “disloyalists” from the administration, forceful response to protest, vilification of the main opposition parties; and undermining public trust in the electoral process, reducing the USA POLITY score in 2020 to +5 (anocracy).

Their analysis also places the US at “high risk of impending political instability (i.e., adverse regime change and/or onset of political violence)” and designates “the ongoing efforts of the USA executive to circumvent electoral outcomes and subvert democratic processes as an ‘attempted (presidential) coup’”.

Goodbye to Our White Supremacist President

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2021

For the occasion of Donald Trump’s last day as President, Ta-Nehisi Coates revisits his essay published in the October 2017 of The Atlantic, The First White President, which argued persuasively that Trump is a white supremacist. In a new introduction, he writes:

It was popular, at the time of Donald Trump’s ascension, to stand on the thinnest of reeds in order to avoid stating the obvious. It was said that the Trump presidency was the fruit of “economic anxiety,” of trigger warnings and the push for trans rights. We were told that it was wrong to call Trump a white supremacist, because he had merely “drawn upon their themes.”

One hopes that after four years of brown children in cages; of attempts to invalidate the will of Black voters in Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Detroit; of hearing Trump tell congresswomen of color to go back where they came from; of claims that Joe Biden would turn Minnesota into “a refugee camp”; of his constant invocations of “the Chinese virus,” we can now safely conclude that Trump believes in a world where white people are — or should be — on top. It is still deeply challenging for so many people to accept the reality of what has happened — that a country has been captured by the worst of its history, while millions of Americans cheered this on.

Madam Vice President

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2021

Kamala Harris

At 11:42 AM EST today, Kamala Harris was sworn in as Vice President of the United States of America. She is the first woman to hold that office. She is the first Black Vice President. She is the first person of South Asian descent to be Vice President. All good things to celebrate on this momentous day.

“He Ended Up As Nothing”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2021

Roxane Gay, The Last Day of Disco(rd):

I am tired of reciting all his crimes, misdeeds, and failures. Trump was a cruel, petty tyrant of a president who surrounded himself with similarly terrible people, slobbering sycophants, and political operatives who knew they could advance their agendas so long as they told him what he wanted to hear.

Trump is the living embodiment of shamelessness. He cannot be shamed. He does not care about the 400,000 dead Americans he has barely acknowledged. He does not care about the suffering he has caused. He does not care about anything that happens beyond the country’s borders. He does not care that he has disrupted the peaceful transfer of power. He is a catastrophe and he does not care. His children are exactly like him. His wife is exactly like him. I wish nothing but the very worst for them, for the rest of their days.