We've been keeping an eye on the various trackers, because we did not want to let 1 million COVID deaths pass without notice. Last week, we thought the trackers had reached a consensus, and so we wrote that long-planned item. And then we discovered, too late, that we had misread Johns Hopkins' site, where the tally still hadn't quite crossed 1 million.
Now, we have a chance to revisit the subject and to get it right. That is because yesterday, Joe Biden delivered remarks eulogizing the million Americans dead from COVID-19, and urging Congress to step up and allocate more money to fight the pandemic. It is worth noting that Johns Hopkins still has the tally below 1 million (999,128 as of this writing). However, Biden jumped the gun a little bit because the White House is hosting a COVID-19 summit right now, and because he undoubtedly doesn't want his remarks to get buried if he waits until Saturday/Sunday, when the number will hit 1 million.
We had actually hoped to do a little better job of giving readers some ways to contextualize that number, since the human mind isn't great at processing the distinction between, say, 10,000 and 1 million. Time did not allow last week, but now that we're revisiting, we can do a better job. So, to start, here's the chart we put together and that we've run several times:
We've updated it with the latest figures, of course. As always, the chart includes only American deaths.
And now, here are 10 other ways one might conceptualize the appalling extent of the damage:
So there you have it. Hopefully a couple of these will be a bit instructive, perspective-wise. (Z)
The economy is in the midst of a wild ride right now, and it would seem that the Senate has decided not to change horses mid-ride. And so, Jerome Powell was confirmed for a second term as chair of the Federal Reserve yesterday by a vote of 80-19.
It is curious the way that politics works when it comes to the economy. Powell was first tapped by Donald Trump, and was approved by the Senate on that occasion by a similar margin, 84-13. Since the chair of the Fed has more power to influence the economy than any other person, it would seem that any ups or any downs are something of a team accomplishment, and can be laid at the feet of the Chairman, the Democratic and Republican senators who approved him, and the Democratic and Republican president who each nominated him. And yet, it's Joe Biden who gets 100% of the blame when anything goes wrong these days.
Similarly, it sure seems like any time any specific issue emerges, people are wondering why the Biden administration isn't doing anything and, in fact, why it didn't solve the problem 3 weeks ago. For example, as anyone who follows financial news at all knows, Bitcoin is in freefall right now. Is it just one of those inevitable ebbs that happens with any investment instrument? Or is it more like the foundation of the pyramid is starting to crumble? Who knows? Either way, it seems to us that anyone who invested in Bitcoin should have known they were placing a high-stakes bet, and should have been prepared for any outcome. And yet, there is enormous pressure right now on the administration and on Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen to fix things.
Perhaps our memory is fuzzy, but we rarely recall media outlets, right or left, wondering what exactly Donald Trump was doing to fix [problem X]. Sure, it happened with the obvious things, like hurricanes and the COVID pandemic, but that was very infrequent. Is our memory wrong? Or, if it's not, was that because the media was too busy covering his latest outrageous tweet? Or was it because the baseline level of competence in the Trump administration was so low, the answer to what was being done to fix [problem X] was always obvious (i.e., "nothing")? We just don't know. (Z)
When it comes to the 1/6 insurrection, and the investigation therein, there is little question that several Republican members of the House are—to use the police term—"parties of interest." Several Republican members of the Senate, as well, but those folks are a little beyond the reach of the 1/6 Committee.
Anyhow, if the Committee is going to do a proper investigation, it needs to talk to those parties of interest. And those folks aren't going to talk voluntarily (the Committee already tried that). So, the question was: Would the members of the Committee be willing to subpoena their fellow House members? Yesterday, we got the answer to that question: Yes, yes they are willing. In fact, they sent "invites" to five House Republicans: Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Scott Perry (R-PA), Andy Biggs (R-AZ) and Mo Brooks (R-AL). How Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO) avoided summonses, we do not know.
Targeting actual members of Congress opens up several cans of worms that don't apply to other potential witnesses. On one hand, members of Congress cannot be sued for actions undertaken in the performance of their jobs, and so the five subpoena-ees (subpoenants? subpoenacipients?) are likely to try to tie this up in court for as long as necessary. On the other hand, the House Sergeant-at-Arms can't exactly grab Steve Bannon by the collar and perp walk him into the hearing room. That is at least theoretically possible, however, with sitting members of Congress. Also, if this ends up in the Department of Justice's hands, then it no longer matters if the 1/6 Committee has been dissolved or not. And we doubt that McCarthy wants to risk jail time, even a little bit, since by the rules of the House he would have to give up his leadership role (which, by then, could be the Speakership).
Maybe the parties will work out a compromise. For example, the members could show up and then answer every question with: "Based on my Fifth Amendment rights, I refuse to answer that question." None of these folks are going to rat on Trump unless the Supreme Court orders them to do so sometime in 2027, and probably not even then. (Z)
When you see the phrase "delayed by one senator," there's about a 98% chance that the guilty party is one of three members of the upper chamber, all of them red-staters with presidential ambitions. And in this particular case, well, you were smart if you played the odds. But for Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), the $40 billion in Ukraine aid would already be approved and would be sitting on Joe Biden's desk waiting for his signature. Instead, it will have to wait another week or two.
Paul's specific issue is that he wants to add language appointing an inspector general to oversee the spending of the money and to make sure it doesn't go to waste. Seems reasonable enough, except that the Kentucky Senator doesn't want to subject his proposal to the usual amendment process, or to wait for a standalone vote to create a similar oversight position, per a bill sponsored by Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA). In other words, Paul's ends are reasonable and are agreeable to his colleagues, but he's decided he wants to throw a temper tantrum and to use parliamentary maneuvering in order to squeeze out a little extra leverage.
Unlike Ted Cruz, whose positions on issues are governed entirely by polling, Paul is a true believer. On the other hand, very much like Cruz, Paul loves attention and is willing to do almost anything to get it. These things mean you can never be sure, in any particular situation, what is motivating the Kentuckian. In any event, the current Ukraine allocation runs out in roughly a week, so hopefully Paul's posturing doesn't cost any Ukrainians their lives. This is also a reminder that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is currently furious with his junior colleague, has his own equivalents to Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to deal with, which is why the Senate did not exactly pass copious amounts of legislation even when the turtle was running the show. (Z)
Today, we wrap this series up with sources for information about the War in Ukraine that are written by people with military expertise:
Here's the list of the other entries, all in one place:
We would like to thank all the readers who sent in suggestions! And we hope that original questioner B.J.L. in Ann Arbor, and other readers, found at least one or two things of interest.
Also, we had to prioritize the SCOTUS news, and then we felt we needed to get to this, but now we can get back to the brackets and finish that up. So, look for that next week. (Z)
The idea has certainly taken hold, among those on the right, that social media companies discriminate against conservatives (not true, but why should someone care about facts when they can invent their own "alternative facts"?). And in a world where certain Republican politicians, particularly at the state level, are willing to do literally anything to make things "the way they ought to be," this is definitely a problem worth tackling.
And so it is that various red-state legislatures have come up with bills that would make it illegal for social media platforms to "censor" conservatives. The Ohio legislature is working on a bill like that at this very moment, and the Texas legislature already passed one. The Texas law, adopted last year, decrees that platforms with more than 50 million users (Parler and Gab are thus conveniently excluded) cannot censor, label, or otherwise manage content based on "viewpoint." The theoretical argument here is that social media platforms are in the "telecommunications" industry, and since phone companies don't selectively block or label phone calls, social media companies shouldn't either. Of course, phone companies do block some phone calls (robocalls, for example), but again, who needs facts?
Anyhow, when legislators try to tackle this particular problem, it's actually pretty tricky to do. On one hand, they want conservatives to be able to say whatever thing that comes into their heads. On the other hand, if it's laissez faire, then the platforms will be flooded with spam, hateful content, threats, terrorists making plans, and other bad stuff that will drive users away. On the third hand, conservatives are among those who post the spam, hateful content, etc., so tamping down on that stuff too much is no bueno.
In an effort to thread this needle, the Texas bill makes it possible, but very hard, for social media companies to remove some content. If the companies want to do so, they have to undertake a rigorous review process, followed by an appeal process, for each item they remove. They have 14 days to complete this process, and they also have to provide detailed annual reports on their decisions. Given that, say, Facebook removes billions of posts per year, this process is utterly onerous and unworkable. Oh, and there's also the small matter of the First Amendment, which forbids the government from getting involved in people's exercise of free speech. Remember, substantially thanks to Republican lawmakers, corporations are people, too.
The Texas bill is so obviously shoddy that it was quickly stayed by Judge Robert Pitman of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas. The problem is that decisions from Pitman's court are appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which has become a bastion of right-wing judicial activism. And yesterday, two of the circuit's most... recognizable judges (Edith Jones and Andrew Oldham) lifted the stay.
We are not clever enough to reconcile the Republican Party's longstanding commitment to corporate deregulation with a law like this. We are similarly not clever enough to understand how the Texas law can be reconciled with the First Amendment or with other relevant case law. Fortunately, answering questions like that is exactly what judges are supposed to do. So, all we have to do is read their decision in order to understand their reasoning. There's only one small problem with that plan: There is no decision. The judges were so eager to let the Texas law take effect that they lifted the stay without explaining themselves. They promise that a written decision is coming, though... eventually.
Obviously, this is going to be promptly appealed. And one has to assume that the social media platforms will win, since the law is overwhelmingly on their side. Although these days, you never know, since the law doesn't seem to be all that important to a lot of federal judges. Meanwhile, it grows harder and harder to identify consistent principles that define the modern Republican Party, other than "owning the libs." (Z)
Remember how, when kids said naughty things, they had to wash their mouths out with soap? That was pretty fucked up.
We would submit to you that, this week, the (dying?) network OAN had to do the cable television equivalent. Recall that the network's on-air "talent" was rather careless about accusing individuals, including private citizens, of committing voter fraud—well into defamation territory. Two Georgia poll workers, Ruby Freeman and Wandrea "Shaye" Moss, filed suit. The suit was settled a few weeks ago.
As is generally the case with these things, the details of the settlement were undisclosed. However, in a "remarkable" coincidence, the channel aired this announcement this week:
Georgia officials have concluded that there was no widespread voter fraud by election workers who counted ballots at the State Farm Arena in November 2020. The results of this investigation indicate that Ruby Freeman and Wandrea "Shaye" Moss did not engage in ballot fraud or criminal misconduct while working at State Farm Arena on election night. A legal matter with this network and the two election workers has been resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties through a fair and reasonable settlement.
Hmmmmm, do you think that making that announcement might just have been one of the terms of that "fair and reasonable settlement"?
When a jerk-laden cable network, whose hosts care nothing for the harm they do to their country or their fellow citizens, is forced to eat soap? Definite time for schadenfreude. (Z)
NB: Yes, we normally censor four-letter words, but we do make occasional exceptions for various reasons, and in this case the line doesn't work if it's censored.