…stormy weather [DOT 19/2/22]

gonna need a bigger teacup...

…still doesn’t seem like there’s any real sign to let us know if we’re about to hit the “cry havoc” stage or if this is all a matter of selling woof tickets writ large

At this moment of crescendo for the Ukraine crisis, it all comes down to what kind of leader President Vladimir V. Putin is.

In Moscow, many analysts remain convinced that the Russian president is essentially rational, and that the risks of invading Ukraine would be so great that his huge troop buildup makes sense only as a very convincing bluff. But some also leave the door open to the idea that he has fundamentally changed amid the pandemic, a shift that may have left him more paranoid, more aggrieved and more reckless.

The 20-foot-long table that Mr. Putin has used to socially distance himself this month from European leaders flying in for crisis talks symbolizes, to some longtime observers, his detachment from the rest of the world. For almost two years, Mr. Putin has ensconced himself in a virus-free cocoon unlike that of any Western leader, with state television showing him holding most key meetings by teleconference alone in a room and keeping even his own ministers at a distance on the rare occasions that he summons them in person.

Speculation over a leader’s mental state is always fraught, but as Mr. Putin’s momentous decision approaches, Moscow commentators puzzling over what he might do next in Ukraine are finding some degree of armchair psychology hard to avoid.


…but…we’re still going with this part

President Joe Biden on Friday said the U.S. has reason to believe that Russia will attack Ukraine’s capital within the coming days, calling the situation a “rapidly escalating crisis.”

Speaking from the White House, Biden said he was “convinced” Russian President Vladimir Putin had already “made the decision” to invade Ukraine, but said a diplomatic resolution remained on the table.
The president also said Russia was pushing “more and more disinformation” in an effort to make Ukraine appear as the aggressor. Biden said it was part of the Kremlin’s playbook to set up a “false justification to act against Ukraine.”
Biden’s televised speech marked the second time this week he has spoken directly to the American public about U.S. efforts to help avert a war between Russia and Ukraine, as American officials have painted an increasingly grim picture in recent days of the potential for a diplomatic solution and warned that Moscow is giving no signs of de-escalation.
Russia’s status as one of the world’s largest energy suppliers means a disruption of supplies coming from the country could lead to a spike in the price of oil and natural gas that would affect U.S. consumers.

Russia is also a major global supplier of raw materials, such as aluminum, nickel, palladium and copper. Any disruption to the supply of those materials could rattle an already disrupted global supply chain, further adding to inflation, that is at its highest levels in decades.

“If Russia pursues these plans, it will be responsible for a catastrophic and needless war of choice,” Biden said Friday.


…& knowing how many people still seem to take things said by the likes of tucker carlson as believable

On Feb. 7, former Trump administration aide Kash Patel aired an interview with his former boss on Epoch Times TV. Former president Donald Trump predicted there would be “a lot coming” from special counsel John Durham and that Durham would “fully expose” Democratic efforts to tie his campaign to Russia.

“All of the things they said about me and Russia — it was them and Russia,” Trump said. “It was them and Russia, they worked with Russia.”

Four days later, in a filing that appeared in electronic federal court records shortly before midnight, Durham made new claims about the case that exploded across right-leaning media during the weekend.
Patel did not respond to a request for comment. The deep-in-the-weeds connection between his 2017 inquiries and the Durham probe reflects the unusual web of Durham-focused influencers that helped drive the narrative that the latest Durham filing was a monumental bombshell.

The group includes anonymous Twitter accounts, such as one called “Techno Fog,” conservative journalists, such reporters for the Epoch Times and Red State, and former administration officials such as Patel. Fox News and Newsmax then led the charge on conservative television, often in misleading ways.
Because the Durham filing was made late on Friday, the narrative pushed by this group was largely unchallenged over the weekend. Not until Monday did mainstream journalists begin to look into the filing, adding context and reporting, including responses from Sussmann and other players supposedly implicated. The Sussmann legal team accused Durham of making “prejudicial — and false — allegations that are irrelevant to his Motion and to the charged offense, and are plainly intended to politicize this case, inflame media coverage, and taint the jury pool.”

[…] as part of the document, Durham listed “factual background” that included a series of new, but uncharged allegations. (We created a guide to the allegations earlier this week.)

Marcy Wheeler, a national security reporter who has written skeptically about the Durham probe, said she received a copy of the filing through PACER at 11:33 p.m. Eastern time on Friday. Within an hour, an anonymous Twitter account called “Whispers of Dementia” had tweeted about the filing but only focused on the conflict-of-interest issue.
Early Saturday morning, the gaggle of Durham followers on the right sprang into action and shaped the news coverage that followed.

Hans Mahncke, an Epoch Times reporter and host on Epoch TV, at 9:25 a.m. tweeted: “Holy moly! New Durham filing. Rodney Joffe and his buddies at Georgia Tech monitored Trump’s Internet traffic while he was President of the United States.”
In many ways, this framing formed the core of the conservative news coverage that followed — a claim that Democrats had spied on Trump, even when he was president. But Durham’s filing, which is written in turgid and confusing prose, did not actually say that Trump’s Internet traffic had been monitored during his presidency.
Indeed, 20 minutes later, Wheeler sarcastically tweeted over Mahncke’s tweet: “BREAKING: Cybersecurity of US networks covers cybersecurity of the White House and (as Durham admits) had while Obama was there.” But Wheeler’s corrective tweet made little difference to the emerging slant on the right.
At 10:25 a.m., the anonymous Techno Fog Twitter account, with nearly 350,000 followers, tweeted: “Special Counsel John Durman [sic]: DNC/Perkins Coie allies — Rodney Joffe, et al. — ‘exploited a sensitive US govt arrangement’ to gather intel on the ‘Executive Office of the President of the U.S.’ They spied on Trump.” This tweet also had a screenshot of paragraph five. Before noon, this person had tweeted a substack analysis that emphasized, in bold type, “they essentially spied on President Trump.”

The 10:25 a.m. tweet also raised the possibility that the Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee was actually a plot engineered by the Clinton campaign via Sussmann and Joffe. Never mind that the Russian hack has been extensively documented by a Senate bipartisan report and 12 Russians were indicted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III for their roles. For some of the Durham obsessives, this theory is the Holy Grail.

At 11:11 a.m., the House Judiciary GOP account tweeted over the Techno Fog tweet: “We knew they spied. But it was worse than we thought.” That tweet a few hours later received this response from former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe: “And now you’re finding out why … ” He linked to an interview he gave in October saying he had provided 1,000 intelligence community documents to Durham that should support additional charges.
Then former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows weighed in, also tweeting over Techno Fog’s 10:25 a.m. tweet: “They didn’t just spy on Donald Trump’s campaign. They spied on Donald Trump as sitting President of the United States. It was all even worse than we thought.”

Finally, Patel issued a lengthy statement via Twitter that claimed “the Hillary Clinton campaign and her lawyers masterminded the most intricate and coordinated conspiracy against Trump when he was both a candidate and later President of the United States.” (Durham’s filing actually did not claim the Clinton campaign directed this.) Patel separately told Fox News “the lawyers worked to ‘infiltrate’ Trump Tower and White House servers.”

Fox News then used Patel’s phrase and, in a headline, made it appear that it came from Durham’s filing: “Clinton campaign paid to ‘infiltrate’ Trump Tower, White House servers to link Trump to Russia, Durham finds.”

Interestingly, Patel’s statement made an odd distinction. Rather than refer to the Executive Office of the President, as was mentioned in the filing, he referred to the hacking of “Trump Tower and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.” That suggested he knew something more than what was in the filing.
It no longer mattered whether it was true or even whether Durham’s allegations were disputed. Within the echo chamber, it was believed.



An Oklahoma school that specializes in teaching advanced computer science skills has rejected an offered donation by Melania Trump, who said on Friday that “politics got in the way of my mission to support children.”
Mrs. Trump said that she had offered to make the donation anonymously, with the money intended to support scholarships. She said she had signed an agreement detailing the planned contribution when the school moved to reject it, which she said was part of an effort to “cancel me.”
She added that it was at least the second time her efforts to support a charitable cause had been rejected, asserting that a “corporate partner refused an opportunity to further our shared philanthropic goals surrounding my visit to Africa,” which took place in 2018. She provided no other details.
Since December, Mrs. Trump has accelerated her efforts to raise or make money — for herself and for charitable causes — holding an online auction last month to sell a white hat she had worn at the White House during a visit by the French president in 2018, as part of what she called the Head of State Collection.

She also recently announced plans to host what she called an “exclusive high tea” that she is calling Tulips & Topiaries, selling tickets for as much as $50,000 for “V.I.P. table sponsors.” The money raised from the event, scheduled to be held in Naples, Fla., in April, would be at least partly donated to a cause that supports children in or emerging from foster care, Mrs. Trump has said.
But the planned event in Florida has drawn questions from officials who are investigating whether Mrs. Trump complied with state law. Florida requires anyone soliciting charitable donations to register with the state, and officials there could not find a registration filed on behalf of Mrs. Trump or the programs she said she was raising money for, called Be Best and Fostering the Future.

In the statement on Friday, Mrs. Trump said that she did not intend to create her own formal nonprofit organization, registered with Florida or the federal government.
“The media has created a narrative whereby I am trying to act in an illegal or unethical manner,” her statement on Friday said. “That portrayal is simply untrue and adversely affects the children I hope to support. Those who attack my initiatives and create the appearance of impropriety are quite literally dream killers. They have canceled the hopes and dreams of children by trying to cancel me.”

Mrs. Trump’s moneymaking efforts have only intensified in recent weeks, as she announced a partnership with Parler, the conservative social media site, to use the platform to promote her online sales.

She disclosed on Parler this week a plan to sell what she is calling the POTUS TRUMP NFT Collection, which features virtual artwork known as a nonfungible token, or NFT, on USAmemorabilia.com, a website she is creating.
She did not indicate where the images from the NFTs would come from, but a former aide questioned in a tweet whether it was appropriate to sell photographs of White House events.

“Trump selling the PEOPLE’s House archives?!!” wrote Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to Mrs. Trump, who had a falling out with the family after a dispute over spending during Mr. Trump’s inauguration. “Is this legal?”
Her statement made no mention of whether any of the money raised from the sales would support her charitable efforts or simply be collected by Mrs. Trump and her business partners. Mrs. Trump also indicated that images of the virtual artwork she is selling — with names like Air Force One Platinum, First Lady Platinum and Mount Rushmore Platinum — would not be publicly disclosed before they were sold.

“Collectors will enjoy an element of surprise, as the artwork of each NFT is revealed only after purchase,” the announcement said. “Of course, collectors can make multiple purchases to own the entire POTUS Trump Collection.”



The US National Archives confirmed on Friday that officials found classified materials in boxes of documents Donald Trump improperly removed from the White House – and that they had alerted the Department of Justice (DoJ).

The disclosure is expected to escalate an investigation by the House oversight committee into whether Trump violated the Presidential Records Act of 1978 by removing and destroying White House documents.
The agency also confirmed that deleted tweets from Trump’s personal account and accounts belonging to top White House officials including former press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and senior adviser Peter Navaro have probably been lost forever.


…available evidence to the contrary

…I gotta imagine that there are an awful lot of russians who genuinely don’t think their nation is the aggressor in this

A pair of whistleblower complaints filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission this month allege Facebook misled investors about its efforts to combat climate change and covid-19 misinformation, according to redacted copies of the documents viewed by The Washington Post.

One complaint alleges that climate change misinformation was prominently available on Facebook and that the company lacked a clear policy on the issue as recently as last year, despite Facebook executives’ committing to fight the “global crisis” during earnings calls. A second, companion complaint argues that while Facebook executives were publicly touting their efforts to remove harmful covid misinformation, internal documents “paint a different story.” The complaint cites internal company communications about the spread of vaccine hesitancy in comments and internal surveys that showed the proliferation of covid misinformation on the service.
The climate change complaint, filed with the SEC on Feb. 7, cites records that show employees internally grappling with the company’s perceived role in spreading climate misinformation. In a document from the first quarter of 2021, an employee said they searched for “climate change” in the social network’s Watch tab. The second result was a piece of “climate misinfo,” the employee wrote, and had been viewed more than 6.6 million times.
The complaint also cites internal records about the platform’s Climate Science Information Center, a much-touted hub designed to connect people with authoritative climate information. Awareness of the webpage was “very low,” even for people who had visited it.

“Climate change knowledge is generally poor,” one of the internal reports from 2021 said. “Given how many people use Facebook for information about climate change … climate science myths are a problem across all surveyed markets.”

The filings argue that it’s particularly urgent that Facebook tackle climate change misinformation, in part because of the popularity of the site. An internal company document cited in the complaint says Facebook is the second-most common source for news related to climate change, behind only television news and ahead of news aggregators, movies, online climate news sources and other social media platforms.


…so who the hell knows who all this posturing is really for or how close to being convinced they are of what

…but all the same I’d just as soon not have a precipitous conflict ratchet its way up to a global catastrophe

The world is spending at least $1.8tn (£1.3tn) every year on subsidies driving the annihilation of wildlife and a rise in global heating, according to a new study, prompting warnings that humanity is financing its own extinction.
This government support, equivalent to 2% of global GDP, is directly working against the goals of the Paris agreement and draft targets on reversing biodiversity loss, the research on explicit subsidies found, effectively financing water pollution, land subsidence and deforestation with state money.

The authors, who are leading subsidies experts, say a significant portion of the $1.8tn could be repurposed to support policies that are beneficial for nature and a transition to net zero, amid growing political division about the cost of decarbonising the global economy.
“Nature is declining at an alarming rate, and we have never lived on a planet with so little biodiversity,” [Christiana Figueres, who was head of the UN climate change convention when the Paris agreement was signed] said. “Harmful subsidies must be redirected towards protecting the climate and nature, rather than financing our own extinction.”

The fossil fuel industry ($620bn), the agricultural sector ($520bn), water ($320bn) and forestry ($155bn) account for the majority of the $1.8tn, according to the report. No estimate for mining, believed to cause billions of dollars of damage to ecosystems every year, could be derived.

Lack of transparency between governments and recipients means the true figure is likely to be much higher, as is the implicit cost of harmful subsidies. Last year, an International Monetary Fund report found the fossil fuel industry benefited from subsidies worth $5.9tn in 2020, but the vast majority of this figure comes from the hidden costs of failing to make polluters pay for the deaths they cause and global heating.
Last year, a UN report found almost 90% of subsidies given to farmers every year are harmful, damaging people’s health, fuelling the climate crisis, destroying nature and driving inequality by excluding smallholder farmers.


…of all the things anyone could do with as we try to shake off a pandemic & get our collective shit together about everything from the fabled supply chain to the increasingly unavoidable realities of climate change

As recently reported in the The Washington Post, “More than 4 in 10 Americans live in a county that was struck by climate-related extreme weather last year … and more than 80 percent experienced a heat wave.”

That news is not good, but considering environmental intelligence advances, there is some good news. Businesses are applying publicly available data and models for a slew of new products and services enabling governments, businesses and consumers to navigate many of the challenges facing the world today. These products won’t bring back homes or lives lost, but they do provide ever-improving tools for reducing future risk and uncertainty.
Numerous companies are demonstrating what the private sector does best: rapid development of broad customer-focused solutions with the capability to scale nationally and globally. In turn, they are impacting hundreds of millions of customers daily and economic assets in the trillions.
Since 1980, floods have cost Americans more than $1 trillion, making flooding the most expensive natural disaster in the United States. With National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data playing a central role, First Street Foundation’s Flood Factor product, which describes a property’s flood risk, is integrated into Realtor.com’s website, which receives more than 100 million views a month.

Beyond the U.S. housing market, Cloud to Street’s Global Flood Database is a flood mapping technology advancement that integrates NASA and NOAA data to track floods throughout the world in real time, on-demand, without ground data. Recently featured on the cover of Nature, Cloud to Street responds to the urgency to improve uncertainty models worldwide and reduce flood-related fatalities.
[…there are more examples…but then I’d basically be quoting the entire article?]


Rightwing lobby group Alec driving laws to blacklist companies that boycott the oil industry [Guardian]

This week a peer-reviewed study confirmed what many have suspected for years: major oil companies are not fully backing up their clean energy talk with action. Now the PR and advertising firms that have been creating the industry’s greenwashing strategies for decades face a reckoning over whether they will continue serving big oil.
Although this isn’t the first time that oil companies have been accused of overstating their climate bona fides, it has never been set out quite so comprehensively, according to environmental sociologist Dr Robert Brulle at Brown University. “This is the first robust, empirical, peer-reviewed analysis of the activities – of the speech, business plans, and the actual investment patterns – of the major oil companies regarding their support or opposition to the transition to a sustainable society,” he says.

Brulle says PR firms and advertising agencies that have created campaigns around the oil firms’ net-zero claims are now on notice. “There’s no plausible deniability that they are unaware of the activities of these companies after this paper has been published,” he says. “This paper clearly shows that these companies aren’t walking the talk.”
According to Brulle, it’s unlikely that PR and advertising firms will be able to serve the fossil-fuel industry as they have in the past. “It doesn’t seem to me that they have the room to do that any more,” he said. “They would have to basically engage in bad-faith advertising and greenwashing to continue to support these organizations as actually engaging in climate action.”

The greenwashing study comes just a week after House Democrats Katie Porter and Raúl Grijalva sent letters to six PR firms asking for more details on their work for fossil fuel companies, particularly with respect to campaigns that misled the public on climate change. The House oversight committee has indicated that it will also question PR firms as part of its investigation into climate disinformation.


…it feels a lot like “let’s maybe throw a world war” might be right around last place?

“High-functioning depression” is not a clinical diagnosis found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a handbook used by health-care professionals. It’s a colloquial term that has grown in popularity in recent years, although some experts have mixed feelings about its use.

The phrase highlights “a really important point that people can be suffering with mental illness and still appear outwardly to be able to function or not appear mentally ill to an outside observer,” said Rebecca Brendel, president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association.
Brendel said people who are worried about possible depression in themselves or others should watch for subtle changes, including shifts in energy, mood and quality of sleep. Those changes could just be a signal that someone needs to reset and prioritize taking care of themselves, she said. But, she noted, if they persist over a two-week period, it may be a sign to seek professional help. Other potentially concerning signs are bleak thoughts about the future, as well as feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness.


…all the same

In the early 1990s I was a roving correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, based in Europe. Some years it felt as if all I did was cover good news: the end of the Soviet Union, Ukrainians voting for independence, German reunification, the spread of democracy across Eastern Europe, Mandela coming out of prison and the end of apartheid, the Oslo peace process that seemed to bring stability to the Middle East.

I obsess about those years now. I obsess about them because the good times did not last. History is reverting toward barbarism. We have an authoritarian strongman in Russia threatening to invade his neighbor, an increasingly authoritarian China waging genocide on its people and threatening Taiwan, cyberattacks undermining the world order, democracy in retreat worldwide, thuggish populists across the West undermining nations from within.

What the hell happened? Why were the hopes of the 1990s not realized? What is the key factor that has made the 21st century so dark, regressive and dangerous?
What happens when you don’t tend the seedbeds of democracy? Chaos? War? No, you return to normal. The 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were normal. Big countries like China, Russia and Turkey are ruled by fierce leaders with massive power. That’s normal. Small aristocracies in many nations hog gigantic shares of their nations’ wealth. That’s normal. Many people come to despise cultural outsiders, like immigrants. Normal. Global affairs resembles the law of the jungle, with big countries threatening small ones. This is the way it’s been for most of human history.
Putin has established political order in Russia by reviving the Russian strong state tradition and by concentrating power in the hands of one man. He has established economic order through a grand bargain with oligarch-led firms, with him as the ultimate C.E.O. As Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy write in their book, “Mr. Putin,” corruption is the glue that holds the system together. Everybody’s wealth is deliberately tainted, so Putin has the power to accuse anyone of corruption and remove anyone at any time.
Putin has redefined global conservatism and made himself its global leader. Many conservatives around the world see Putin’s strong, manly authority, his defense of traditional values and his enthusiastic embrace of orthodox faith, and they see their aspirations in human form. Right-wing leaders from Donald Trump in the United States to Marine Le Pen in France to Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines speak of Putin admiringly.

The 21st century has become a dark century because the seedbeds of democracy have been neglected and normal historical authoritarianism is on the march. Putin and Xi seem confident that the winds of history are at their back. Writing in The Times a few weeks ago, Hill said that Putin believes the United States is in the same predicament Russia was in during the 1990s — “weakened at home and in retreat abroad.”

Putin, Xi and the other global conservatives make comprehensive critiques of liberalism and the failings of liberal society. Unlike past authoritarians they have the massive power of modern surveillance technology to control their citizens. Russian troops are on the border of Ukraine because Putin needs to create the kind of disordered world that people like him thrive in. “The problem Russia has faced since the end of the Cold War is that the greatness Putin and many Russians seek cannot be achieved in a world that is secure and stable,” Kagan writes in “The Jungle Grows Back.” “To achieve greatness on the world stage, Russia must bring the world back to a past when neither Russians nor anyone else enjoyed security.”
Then we need to fortify the institutions that are supposed to teach the democratic skills: how to weigh evidence and commit to truth; how to correct for your own partisan blinders and learn to doubt your own opinions; how to respect people you disagree with; how to avoid catastrophism, conspiracy and apocalyptic thinking; how to avoid supporting demagogues; how to craft complex compromises.


…I’m not exactly comforted by the whole “hanging fire” bit…I mean…what part of a fire waiting to fall on something is reassuring?

Defenders of this push for censorship say they are simply working to protect the nation’s children from prejudice, psychological distress and inappropriate material. “To say there were slaves is one thing, but to talk in detail about how slaves were treated, and with photos, is another,” said Tina Descovich, a leader of Moms for Liberty, a conservative group that seeks to enshrine “parental rights” into law. Descovich was speaking to The Washington Post in defense of Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, who is spearheading an effort to censor educators who teach, or even raise, certain politically incorrect issues in their classrooms.

One of these bills would give parents and state regulators broad authority to ban books or teachings that cause “discomfort” in students, and would put lessons on “the Civil War, the expansion of the United States to its present boundaries, the world wars, and the civil rights movement” under careful review. Another would permit parents to sue school districts that “encourage classroom discussions” on “sexual orientation or gender identity” in “primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” Critics say this language is so broad as to effectively outlaw any discussion of L.G.B.T. people in elementary school classrooms, or at the very least, strongly discourage teachers from raising those issues, regardless of context.

Pushed by militantly conservative activists — and heeding the demands of an increasingly censorious group of conservative voters — Republican lawmakers are, in states across the country, introducing bills that suppress debate and stifle discussion in favor of the rote memorization of approved facts.
Last month, for example, the Indiana House of Representatives approved a bill — not yet signed into law — that would limit what teachers can say regarding race, history and politics in the state’s classrooms. Under the law, schools could be held liable for mentioning any one of several “divisive concepts,” including the idea that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish responsibility, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin or political affiliation.”

The bill would allow parents to allege a violation, file a complaint, sue and even collect damages (up to $1,000). It would also, in the name of transparency, create curriculum review committees for parents and require schools and teachers to post lists of material on websites for parents to inspect.

In South Carolina, lawmakers have introduced a bill — known as the Freedom from Ideological Coercion and Indoctrination Act — that would prohibit any state-funded institution from stating that “a group or an individual, by virtue of his or her race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, heritage, culture, religion, or political belief is inherently racist, sexist, bigoted, ignorant, biased, fragile, oppressive, or contributive to any oppression, whether consciously or unconsciously.” If signed into law, this bill could make it illegal, for instance, for teachers and college professors in the state to criticize members of a white supremacist group since that affiliation might count as a “political belief.”
According to PEN America, more than half of the “educational gag orders” moving through state legislatures include a mandatory punishment for those found in violation.
Free speech, free discourse and free debate are among the great traditions of this country. They are, at this moment, under threat from a well-organized, well-funded movement of ideologues who have used both the force of the mob and their own institutional power (including that of the state itself) to impose their edicts on the public at large.


…at the risk of hyperbole

The most fundamental concept in American government is that all politicians are accountable to the people. Constituents accept laws shaped by the people they vote for, knowing that they have the power to eventually vote them out of office if they disagree.

But when it comes to the US House of Representatives, this pillar of democracy is crumbling. An overwhelming majority of seats in the US House are becoming non-competitive. That means that when voters show up at the polls in November to vote for their candidates, the contests will already be decided. Their votes won’t matter.

It felt strange writing that as the opening to a story we published last weekend exploring the decline of competitive congressional seats. How could voters’ choices not matter in an American election? But academics, analysts and other experts say the trend is undeniable.

Just 27 of the 335 congressional districts that have been drawn so far as part of the redistricting process are considered competitive – meaning either party has less than a five-point advantage – according to FiveThirtyEight. Dave Wasserman, an elections expert for the non-partisan Cook Political Report, told me he expects there to be 30 to 35 competitive seats in total once states finish drawing all 435 district boundaries. That means that as many as 94% of representatives would be running in relatively safe seats – a figure that astonished me.
But politicians are undoubtedly accelerating the decline in competition by distorting district lines to their advantage. As redistricting has unfolded this year, elected officials made aggressive efforts to change district lines to shore up incumbents, locking in their seats for several more years. The clearest example of this happened in Texas, where Republicans, who have complete control over the redistricting process, reduced the number of competitive districts from 12 to one .

The decline in competition has huge consequences. No longer worried about a general election, politicians become more worried about fending off challengers in a party primary. That disincentivizes bipartisan compromise and incentivizes playing to their party’s base.
The lack of competition can have consequences beyond congressional races, said Amanda Litman, the co-founder and executive director of Run for Something, which focuses on down-ballot contests. She noted that the Democratic party focuses its resources in battleground states where there are competitive congressional districts. Fewer competitive districts, she said, would mean fewer resources.
Thinking about competitive districts also caused me to rethink what constituted a “fair” electoral map. A state that is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans – with 10 congressional districts, for example – could draw five safe Republican districts and five safe Democratic ones. Would that map be fair? Would it be fairer than one that has three safe districts for each party and four competitive districts?


…if susan collins has identified that it all comes down to how the electoral college’s contribution is attested to being the crux of the thing…does that put it beyond reasonable doubt that reforming the electoral count act won’t actually change anything…or is that overly cynical?

The Senate passed a short-term spending bill Thursday night to prevent a government shutdown that was set to take place Saturday unless Congress acted.

Senators voted 65-27 to pass the funding measure that will keep the government’s lights on through March 11. Lawmakers in both chambers are working to finalize a broader deal on a spending package for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.

The House passed the short-term bill, known as a continuing resolution, in a 272-162 vote last week. President Joe Biden signed the measure into law on Friday.

Senate leaders in both parties this week repeatedly said there was no real risk of a shutdown. But a quartet of GOP senators had delayed quick passage of the bill by demanding votes on key conservative priorities.

[…] Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., thundered on the Senate floor Thursday. “What we’re saying is we will start putting all these things in to slow up a continuing resolution so the United States government can shut down tomorrow night.

“Putin can say, ‘Why should I listen to them? Three or four people can go on their Senate floor and shut down the government.’”

The four GOP issues that delayed passage of the funding bill were all domestic in nature.
The delay, in part, was due to some Senate absences. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., is recovering from a stroke, though he tweeted Thursday he is now recovering in Washington. Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., had to travel home to Arizona to be with his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who is in the hospital for appendicitis. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was also attending to a family issue.

Because of those missing lawmakers, Democrats worried that some of the GOP amendments might pass in the 50-50 Senate, where the party has zero wiggle room. So Democratic leaders stalled and waited until a handful of GOP senators left town on Thursday evening, ensuring Democrats had just enough votes to beat back the GOP proposals.

The Lee amendment failed by just a single vote, 46-47, while the Cruz amendment went down in a 44-49 vote.


…not least when treading water isn’t as comforting a concept if the water keeps rising while you retain your previous position & adopt a strategy of neutral buoyancy…which seems roughly how the continuing resolution approach to real-terms contractions of government funding in the face of increasing costs & demands seems to work

Last summer the vast majority of American families with children saw money appear in their bank accounts without doing anything at all. Thanks to legislation passed by Democrats earlier in the year, an expanded Child Tax Credit automatically sent out $300 each month through the rest of the year for every child under 6 and $250 for older ones to people who regularly file taxes. It showcased what government can do when it works at its most efficient: seamlessly deliver meaningful benefits without requiring people to take much, or really any, action.

But for the roughly 2.3 million children whose families hadn’t recently filed income taxes, the Child Tax Credit showcased all the worst instincts of governmental bureaucracy. The I.R.S. needed to know how many children they had, how much they earned and where they lived in order to send these families their money. Other government agencies probably had at least some of that data. But at first the I.R.S. wanted to make this group of people file tax returns instead of hunting down the information itself. It was eventually swayed to track it down, and yet when it started a portal for anyone it didn’t find, the form didn’t work on a cellphone, was available only in English, required an email address and came with densely written instructions.
The excitement around policymaking is almost always in the moments after ink dries on a bill creating something new. But if a benefit fails to reach the people it’s designed for, it may as well not exist at all. Making government benefits more accessible and efficient doesn’t usually get the spotlight. But it’s often the difference between a family getting what it needs to survive and falling into hardship and destitution. It’s the glue of our democracy.
One of the biggest barriers to government benefits is all of the red tape to untangle, particularly for programs that serve low-income people. They were the ones wrangling with the I.R.S.’s nonfiler portal while others got their payments automatically. Benefits delivered through the tax code, which flow so easily that many people don’t think of them as government benefits at all, mostly help the already well-off. Programs for the poor, on the other hand, tend to be bloated with barriers like income tests, work requirements and in-person interviews. It’s not just about applying once, either; many require people to continually recertify, going through the process over and over again.

The hassle doesn’t just cost time and effort. It comes with a psychological cost. “You get mad at the D.M.V. because it takes hours to do something that should only take minutes,” Pamela Herd, a sociologist at Georgetown, said. “These kind of stresses can be really large when you’re talking about people who are on a knife’s edge in terms of their ability to pay their rent or feed their children.”
The barriers are terrible because they separate people from the help they desperately need and are technically owed. But the trouble runs deeper. “If you have negative interactions with the government, you’re going to think negatively about the government and the government’s capacity to actually meet broader social needs,” Dr. Herd said.

Why would Americans believe politicians who say they’ll create new ways to help them if past promises ended in frustration and empty hands? That distrust, in turn, weakens our democracy, the notion that we elect people to lead us who will listen to us and improve our lives.


…anyway…while I go look for some tunes to take my mind off why I always seem to be doing my best voice of doom impression even when I know it’s the weekend…here’s something that at least had the virtue of making me smile?

…after all…sometimes it isn’t so much what you have to say that matters…as how you say it?



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