Stories for the last day of winter, this year on the quadrennial day when your Facebook Memories have the fewest entries and, apparently, you can't pay for gas in New Zealand:
Finally, Economist editor Steve Coll got access to hundreds of hours of Saddam Hussein's taped strategy meetings. He concluded that both the CIA and Hussein had no understanding at all about what the other was thinking.
Also, the temperature at IDTWHQ bottomed out at -5.3°C just after 7am and has kept climbing since then. The first day of spring should get it up into the high teens, with 20°C possible on Sunday. Weird, but quite enjoyable.
The temperature at Inner Drive Technology World HQ bottomed out this morning, hitting -4.8°C at 10:41 am, and it may even end the day above freezing. So this mercifully-short cold snap won't keep us out of the record books, just as predicted. It's still the warmest winter in Chicago history. (Let's hope we don't set the same record for spring or summer.)
Meanwhile, the record continues to clog up with all kinds of fun stories elsewhere:
- Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has led his party in the Senate since the Cretaceous, announced he will step down from leadership in November, handing some other schmuck clean-up duties after the electoral disaster likely to befall the party on the 5th of that month.
- After the unhinged ruling on embryo "personhood" the Alabama Supreme Court handed down last week, Republicans across the country have fallen over themselves saying they want to protect IVF treatment while they vote against protecting IVF treatment. Jamelle Bouie runs down some of the dumbass things Republicans have said on the ruling, with a cameo from the dumb-as-rocks junior US Senator from Alabama, who sounded more like Nigel Tufnel than usual.
- Aaron Blake pointedly contradicts the usual "bad for Biden" story line by putting President Biden's Michigan-primary win last night in perspective.
- Bruce Schneier looks at the difficulties insuring against cyber crime, one of the problems we're also solving at my day job.
- New York prosecutors said the Art Institute of Chicago exhibited "willful blindness" in 1966 when it acquired art looted by the Nazis, an accusation the museum denies.
- Harry Windsor, the Duke of Sussex, lost his case against the UK Home Office, in which he sued to keep his publicly-funded security detail the same size as it was when he actually did his job as the Royal Spare. The high court (the rough equivalent of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals in this case) ruled that the relevant agency had made a perfectly rational decision as the Duke now lives in California, doesn't do bugger-all for the UK, and is a whiny prat to boot.
Finally, Chicago Transit Authority president Dorval Carter took a—gasp!—CTA train to a city council hearing, at which he promised the CTA could be the best transit system in the world if only the State of Illinois would give it more funding. The very last thing I did in Munich on Sunday was to take the S-Bahn to the airport at 7am, so I can assure you money isn't the CTA's only impediment to achieving that lofty goal.
(Also, I just realized that This Is Spinal Tap turns 40 on Saturday. Wow.)
It's official: with two days left, this is the warmest winter in Chicago history, with the average temperature since December 1st fully 3.5°C (6.3°F) above normal. We've had only 10 days this winter when the temperature stayed below freezing, 8 of them in one week in February. This should remain the case when spring officially begins on Friday, even though today's near-record 23°C (so far) is forecast to fall to -6°C by 6am. And that's not even to discuss the raging thunderstorms and possible tornadoes we might get as an energetic cold front slices through tonight. By "energetic," I mean that the NWS predicts a drop by as much as 16°C (30°F) in one hour around 10pm.
Not to worry: it'll be 17°C by Sunday. (The normal high temperatures are 4.7°C for February 27th and 5.4°C for March 3rd; the records are 23.9°C and 26.7°C, respectively.)
Meanwhile, I don't have time to read all of these before I pack up my laptop tonight:
And now, back to getting ready for the Sprint 103 release. That's a lot of sprints.
Throughout history, right-wing politicians have promised order in exchange for power. Every time, this has been a lie.
The National Rifle Association has kept to that model for decades: "We'll fight for the most unhinged interpretation of the Second Amendment possible, so our members can make billions selling guns to the people most likely to use them." You just have to remember that the NRA's members are the gun manufacturers, not the gun owners, for it all to make sense.
Except, the US courts sometimes work correctly, shutting down bullshit in favor of plain language. Even better when a jury has had enough:
Wayne LaPierre diverted millions of dollars away from the National Rifle Association to live luxuriously, while the gun rights group failed to properly manage its finances, a jury found Friday.
The case against the NRA was brought on by a lawsuit filed in 2020 by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who accused LaPierre and other current and former executives of flouting state laws and internal policies to enrich themselves.
They said LaPierre caused $5.4 million in monetary harm to the NRA but that he has already repaid at least $1 million of that. The 74-year-old appeared stoic as the verdict was read.
How surprising, if you know anything about humans: the head of an organization dedicated to shooting everyone in America turns out to have used his position for personal enrichment. It's so strange how organizations dedicated to changing the world turn out to be less corrupt than organizations dedicated to keeping everything the same, innit?
The US is at a turning point. We can throw all our power to private interests, in exchange for a completely unfounded belief that "those people" won't do whatever it is you're afraid of, or we can say "fuck all this" and start building for the future.
I have a suspicion that the latter is actually happening. At least in Illinois. Maybe someday this will be the norm.
Meanwhile, I'm in Germany, where people find the entire discussion horrifying. It turns out that getting shot for no reason is a bad thing, according to everyone in the world except for the NRA. If only there were a way to send a message to the right-wing nutters that we're all done with their bullshit...
Just noting these things to read later, as I have just a few minutes before boarding:
Finally, The Cut's financial-advice columnist Charlotte Cowles describes how she fell for a financial scam.
The weather forecast for Munich doesn't look horrible, but doesn't look all that great either, at least until Saturday. So I'll probably do more indoorsy things Thursday and Friday, though I have tentatively decided to visit Dachau on Thursday, rain or not. You know, to start my trip in such a way that nothing else could possibly be worse.
Meanwhile, I've added these to yesterday's crop of stories to read at the airport:
Finally, don't skip your dog's walks. They're very important to her health.
As I'm trying to decide which books to take with me to Germany, my regular news sources have also given me a few things to put in my reading list:
Finally, the North Atlantic has near-record jet streams again this week, approaching 360 km/h, and shaving 45 minutes off the DC–London route. I would love that to happen Wednesday.
I learned this morning that I have a meeting at 6am Wednesday, because the participants will be in four time zones across four continents. Since I'm traveling to Munich later that day, I'll just comfort myself by remembering it's 1pm Central Europe time.
I'm already queuing up some things to read on the flights. I'll probably finish all of these later today, though:
- Jennifer Rubin highlights four ways in which the XPOTUS has demonstrated his electoral weakness in the past few weeks.
- Republican pollster Frank Luntz agrees, warning the MAGA Republican extremists to stop screwing around lest the party suffer an historic ass-kicking in November. (For my part, I don't think they will stop, and the ass-kicking is long overdue.)
- Sean Wilentz warns that the Supreme Court abdicating its responsibility to evaluate the XPOTUS in light of the 14th Amendment's insurrection clause will lead to worse problems later on.
- James Fallows chastises the Times in particular for creating the controversy about President Biden's age they claimed simply to report on.
- Ian Bogost moans about the ever-deepening problems of carrying baggage onto planes. (I will be checking my bag through to Munich, for what it's worth, but I may carry it on for the return flight to avoid customs delays changing planes at Charlotte.)
Finally, John Scalzi erupts at the 2023 Hugo Awards administrators for outright fraud and unforgivable cowardice following a report on Chinese political interference in the awards selection process last summer.
I really have a hard time understanding why so many news organizations have trouble covering the substance of politics rather than the game of it. The general reporting on Special Counsel Robert Hur's (R) exoneration of President Biden shows what I mean. I mentioned in passing Saturday that James Fallows called Hur's report "tendentious," but he had more to say:
After Biden finished his remarks last night, White House reporters bayed and yelled at him, more aggressively than I can ever recall. They exceeded the baseline I wrote about nearly 30 years ago in the book Breaking the News, about the macho-style code of the press room that equated being ill-mannered with being intellectually tough.
After this yelling session, most of the leading press ran stories like this one in the NYT, saying that the one word—Mexico—had "placed Mr. Biden’s advanced age, the singularly uncomfortable subject looming over his re-election bid, back at the center of America’s political conversation."
Note the agent-free verb “placed.” It’s actually the journalists who are placing it there—as they placed Hillary Clinton’s emails eight years ago, and as they have not placed Donald Trump’s Nikki Haley, Nikki Haley, Nikki Haley.
Greg Sargent goes further:
Indeed, that New York Times analysis claims those details were “quickly seized on by Republicans,” and could “set the stage” for “a fresh round of political attacks” on Biden.
But in this case, those findings in the report are both being manipulated dishonestly by Republicans and are largely tangential to the report’s most important finding. Republicans are claiming the special counsel opted against charges for Biden because of his “age related dementia,” with many jumping on that idea to declare that this showed him to be unfit for office.
Yet Hur also reached that conclusion for another reason. He explicitly declares that a jury would be unlikely to convict “in the absence of other, more direct evidence” that Biden willfully and improperly hoarded that classified information. Hur says investigators “searched” for such evidence, but “found it wanting,” adding that “no witness, photo, email, text message, or any other evidence” was discovered. That’s why a jury would be unlikely to convict.
Jennifer Rubin sums up the problem:
Special counsel Robert K. Hur had a single task: Determine if President Biden illegally retained sensitive documents after his vice presidency. The answer should not have taken nearly 13 months or a more than 300-page report.
The Biden-Harris campaign decried the media’s obsession with Biden’s age while virtually ignoring another rambling, incoherent Trump speech in which he insisted Pennsylvania would be renamed if he lost. (In South Carolina on Saturday, he was at it again, inviting Russia to invade NATO countries and insulting Nikki Haley’s deployed husband.) By habitually and artificially leveling the playing field, much of the media enables MAGA propaganda and neglects Trump’s obvious mental and emotional infirmities.
Still, facts matter. Biden acted responsibly and committed no crime. Trump faces multiple felony counts, including intentionally withholding top-secret documents and obstructing an investigation. Three years separate Biden and Trump in age, but the distance between their mental and emotional fitness remains incalculable — as is the chasm between the media we have and the media democracy requires.
We've got just under 9 months until the election. Someday, I hope the country can have an election based on policy. Clearly, this is not that day.
In light of the report from special counsel Robert Hur that James Fallows calls "tendentious," Republican pollster and Lincoln Project member Stuart Stephens wonders why Democrats don't crow more loudly about all that President Biden has actually accomplished:
A plea to my Democratic friends: It’s time to start calling Joe Biden a great president. Not a good one. Not a better choice than Donald Trump. Joe Biden is a historically great president. Say it with passion backed by the conviction that it’s true.
Joe Biden should remain president because of his historic level of achievement here at home while standing on the side of freedom versus tyranny in the largest land war in Europe since World War II, a role no American president has played since the Roosevelt-Truman era. Be bold. Walk into this campaign with swagger and confidence and pride.
The stock market is hitting record highs. Unemployment is at a record low, with 14 million new jobs. Talk to small-business owners, and the biggest problem they are facing is finding workers. A child born in the first Republican “infrastructure week” would have been entering grade school by the time President Biden passed the largest public spending initiative in American history. As a Republican media consultant, I made hundreds of ads about the high cost of prescription drugs. But it took President Biden to give Medicare the power to directly negotiate with Big Pharma to lower prices and cap the cost of insulin for Medicare beneficiaries at $35. For all the bitching about gas prices, the United States is now producing more oil than any country in history. Yes, more than Russia or Saudi Arabia, and that’s one of the reasons gas prices are now lower in inflation-adjusted prices than in 1974. Yeah, I know, fossil fuels suck, and the world should run on solar power. But the Biden administration also launched a $7 billion solar power investment project.
What is most amazing is that Biden got this done in a world in which the majority of Republicans believe he is not a legal president. Ponder that for a minute. You are a White House staffer working to help pass Biden initiatives, and you are dealing with members of Congress and senators who don’t just disagree with your boss—they think he’s an illegitimate president.
I could go on citing the achievements of a president who actually cares about governing. All of these actions and numbers are important, but none matter as much as what Joe Biden has done to restore stability and decency to the presidency. One of the greatest gifts of a democratic civil society is the freedom not to think about government, to wake up and not worry about the mood of a leader. Joe Biden has made governing boring and predictable, both fundamental rights of the people in a healthy democracy.
I agree with Stuart: 2024 looks a lot more like 1944 or 1948 than it does other, more troubling election years (like 1856 or 1908). But Biden's our Truman. Is he showing his age? Well, he looks better at 80 than either Johnson did at 67 or FDR did at 64, doesn't he?