Thursday, February 6th, 2020


Acquit Hits the Fan

The National Prayer Breakfast is a dish best served cold. It's there that the president's impeachment victory lap began in earnest (and oddly, included no laughtrack). Holding up a newspaper (to really hammer home the irony) with a headline that read Acquitted, Trump complained about his unfair treatment: "As everybody knows, my family, our great country and your president have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people." (The Senate GOP made a real mess(iah) of things this time...) From AP: At Prayer Breakfast, Trump unleashes fury at impeachment. (I miss the old days when the only thing unleashed at prayer breakfasts were the bagels.)

+ The prayer breakfast was followed by a press conference that featured more of the Gospel of Saint Don: "These people are vicious. Adam Schiff is a vicious, horrible person. Nancy Pelosi is a horrible person. And she wanted to impeach a long time ago." (Too bad it's not possible to rip a news conference in half.)

+ "They admit his lies. And they acknowledge what he did was wrong." Sherrod Brown in the NYT: In Private, Republicans Admit They Acquitted Trump Out of Fear.

+ "So what are we left with? Mitt Romney, alone with his principles, and Trump, angry, vengeful, and unconstrained by any constitutional threat. Until the voters render their verdict, in November, Trump will be the President he has always wanted to be: inescapable, all-powerful, and completely unaccountable." Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker: The Wrenching Truth About Mitt Romney's Vote Is That It Doesn't Matter.

+ My take is that the truth about Mitt Romney's vote is less wrenching. These political times feel hopelessly craven, lacking in decency and decorum, and otherwise terrible. So, now especially, we should be deeply appreciative when someone stands up and does the right thing for a reason that has largely fallen by the wayside due to neglect and outright contempt. Mitt Romney did the right thing because it was the right thing to do. From me: Mitt Won't Bend the (Rom)knee: In praise of a bold decision at a critical moment.


Sucker Punch

The Opioid Merchants, The Catholic Church, Investment Banks, Big Tobacco, Big Energy ... It's not just Trump. We always let the powerful get away with it. Sure, we report on it. We make documentaries about it. We add chapters to history books. But the powerful almost always walk. That's not cheerful news, but at least something about this era is normal. Dahlia Lithwick in Slate: The Law Is for Suckers. "Donald Trump staked his career on the bet that if you're rich, famous, brazen, and unrepentant, the law will let you do it. He staked his presidency on the same."

+ One thing I'm definitely a sucker for is people who know these realities but still stand up and speak the truth. Marie Yovanovitch: "I have seen dictatorships around the world, where blind obedience is the norm and truth-tellers are threatened with punishment or death. We must not allow the United States to become a country where standing up to our government is a dangerous act. It has been shocking to experience the storm of criticism, lies and malicious conspiracies that have preceded and followed my public testimony, but I have no regrets. I did — we did — what our conscience called us to do. We did what the gift of U.S. citizenship requires us to do." These are turbulent times. But we will persist and prevail. (If Marie Yovanovitch can stay positive and fight the good fight, so can you.)


Bring the Noise

"What I was seeing was a strategy that has been deployed by illiberal political leaders around the world. Rather than shutting down dissenting voices, these leaders have learned to harness the democratizing power of social media for their own purposes—jamming the signals, sowing confusion. They no longer need to silence the dissident shouting in the streets; they can use a megaphone to drown him out. Scholars have a name for this: censorship through noise." McKay Coppins in The Atlantic: How new technologies and techniques pioneered by dictators will shape the 2020 election.

+ And then, of course, there are the technologies and techniques being pioneered in Iowa.


Morale Hazard

"Hundreds of new staffers were rushing in, eager to cash in on a booming startup with an altruistic mission: making cigarette smoking, the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, obsolete. Instead, by the end of 2019, Juul was public health enemy number one. Between the FDA, Congress, anti-tobacco groups, parents, schools, cities, and states, there was no shortage of parties who were angry about the new youth vaping crisis and saw Juul as the main offender." Juul Employees Say 'Morale Is At An All-Time Low' After Its Worst Year Ever.

+ California Sunday Magazine: The Lucrative, Largely Unregulated, and Widely Misunderstood World of Vaping.


Cruise Control

LA Times on the cruise ship stuck in place and trapped by coronavirus. "The Diamond Princess cruise ship, quarantined off Yokohama, Japan, has now had 20 cases of coronavirus diagnosed -- 10 earlier in the week and 10 more in the last day."

+ China's total confirmed cases top 28,000, more than 3,800 of them critical, China has begun imposing penalties on social media platforms publishing critical information about the outbreak, and Hong Kong residents race to buy toilet paper and other essentials amid shortages. Here's the latest from WaPo.


Self Sabotage

"I didn't start out on this article planning to try my hand at ransomware. A few weeks in, though, it occurred to me that if someone like me could pull off a digital heist, it would function as a sort of hacking Turing test, proof that cybercrime had advanced to the point where software-aided ignorance would be indistinguishable from true skill. As a journalist, I've spent years writing about people who do things that I, if called upon, couldn't do myself. Here was my chance to be the man in the arena." Drake Bennett in Bloomberg: The time I sabotaged my editor with ransomware from the dark web.


Class War

"Schools are a newer front, and the debate that took place in Lockport encapsulates the furor surrounding the technology. Proponents call it a crucial crime-fighting tool, to help prevent mass shootings and stop sexual predators ... But opponents ... say the concerns about facial recognition — namely privacy, accuracy and racial bias — are even more worrisome when it comes to children." NYT: Facial Recognition Moves Into a New Front: Schools.


I’m Spartacus

"Kirk retained his movie star charisma right to the end of his wonderful life, and I'm honored to have been a small part of his last 45 years. I will miss his handwritten notes, letters and fatherly advice, and his wisdom and courage — even beyond such a breathtaking body of work — are enough to inspire me for the rest of mine." So said Steven Spielberg, one of many remembering a Hollywood legend. Kirk Douglas, Indomitable Icon of Hollywood's Golden Age, Dies at 103.

+ BBC: How Kirk Douglas helped break the Hollywood blacklist.


Huey Lewis (and the) News

"They also don't know what causes it or how to cure it. His doctors have put him on a low-salt diet, but he's not sure it's helping. The condition might go away as it came on. It also might not." Dave Holmes in Esquire: The Story of Huey Lewis Is Not a Tragedy. "Suddenly, and without warning, the beloved pop star lost his ability to hear amplified music. Now, from his remote Montana ranch, he's on a search for answers." (There's no musical star like a musical star from Marin...)


Bottom of the News

"Two steps forward one step back? Not thinking about second-order consequences? The type of thing the face-palm emoji was invented for? Call it what you will but, as more and more of energy generation switches to renewables, some of the equipment, in this case wind turbines, is already aging and old parts piling on." Un-recyclable wind turbine blades sent to landfills.

+ "The alcohol, which officials had placed in a pit after it was seized on court orders, had seeped through the soil and into a well." Shock after alcohol flows from kitchen taps in Kerala. (This seems like more of feature than a bug...)

+ OK, not a lot of happy news today, I know. So here's some video of a dog who's really good at sledding.