Wednesday, January 19th, 2022


Center Folds

Angus King could be the loneliest man in Washington. The independent senator from Maine occupies an almost entirely vacant space in America politics: The Center. And from his view, things look bad. "King views the current crisis as existential for the country: both Republican and Democratic voters increasingly fear that the other side is stealing elections. 'I have never been so worried about the future of the country,' King told me. 'I lived through the Cuban missile crisis and Vietnam and the recession of 2008. What worries me is that the structure of our system is at risk.' Informal talks between centrist Republicans and Democrats continue, but the Senate's inability to agree on how to protect democracy is the latest sign that the Trumpian tactic of energizing, turning out, and, in some cases, misleading one's political base is more effective than centrism at winning elections." (Yes, the polarization is dangerous and must be addressed. But only one side is promoting the most dangerous threats to democracy: The Big Lie and its weaponization aimed at limiting to the right to vote.) David Rohde in The New Yorker: The Senate's Dangerous Inability to Protect Democracy. The struggles of Angus King reflect the rise of Trumpism over centrism.

+ "The committee is continuing to widen its scope into Trump's orbit, on Tuesday demanding information and testimony from Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell and Boris Epshteyn." Rudy Giuliani among Trump allies subpoenaed by Jan. 6 panel. On one hand, we have a panel calling for testimony from those who tried to steal an election by pushing The Big Lie. On the other hand, we have politicians all over the country using that Big Lie to create laws to more effectively steal the next election.

+ AP: "Senators opened an emotional, raw debate Wednesday on voting legislation that Democrats and civil rights leaders say is vital for protecting democracy but that's almost certain to be defeated without a filibuster rules change."

+ At a moment when Americans should be breaking the glass and pulling the lever in alarm over democracy's fade, why isn't there more concern? Here's one reason: Almost seven in ten people worry they are being lied to by journalists.


Putt Cracks

One of the most obvious and extreme ways politicians try to tip elections in their own party's favor is by carving up congressional maps into districts with more twists and turns than the large intestine from which these maps are drawn. How many twists and turns? To demonstrate, WaPo has created a game that invites you to play mini golf to see how politicians tilt elections using maps. And it's a gift article, so your game is on me.


Vlad Handing

"The United States and Russia dug in their heels Wednesday over Russia's military buildup on Ukraine's border with no sign either will relent from entrenched positions that have raised fears of a Russian invasion and a new war in Europe." With U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov set to meet on Friday, the two sides seem no closer to a deal.

+ "Few people have studied Putin as long or as obsessively as Alexei Navalny. In his letters, he tries to explain what motivates the Russian President, and what Putin fears. It is not what he claims to be concerned about: the deployment of U.S. forces in Eastern Europe, or the chance that Ukraine might one day join the NATO alliance. 'Instead of ignoring this nonsense,' Navalny writes, 'the U.S. accepts Putin's agenda and runs to organize some meetings. Just like a frightened schoolboy who's been bullied by an upperclassman.' ... Rather than convening talks or offering concessions, Navalny wants the U.S. to pressure the Kremlin from without while Navalny and his supporters pressure it from within. The combination, he believes, will split the elites around Putin, ushering in what Navalny's followers like to call 'the beautiful Russia of the future,' one that is free, democratic, at peace with its neighbors and the West." Time: The Man Putin Fears, and how he thinks the West should react to his threats. (Sensing a trend today? There are a lot of people around the world who fear democracy.)


Clowning Glory

"It's unlikely anyone alive has made more clowns cry than Philippe Gaulier. In a supposedly more sensitive era, hundreds of people regularly travel from all around the world to a small town an hour outside of Paris to study clowning with Gaulier, a gruff 78-year-old éminence grise known for his blunt, flamboyantly negative feedback ... This process can sometimes sound like a masochistic cleansing ritual. 'He just insults his students all day long until they start laughing and their ego gets out of the way,' Bazinet said. 'You are taking your ego to the slaughterhouse.'" NYT (Gift Article): The Dumbledore of Clowning. "The French master teacher Philippe Gaulier has worked with stars like Sacha Baron Cohen. But at 78, are his methods, which include insults, outdated?" (With democracy on the ropes, I think we can live with a clown who is overly insulting.)


Extra, Extra

Masking the Issue: Biden administration to distribute 400 million N95 masks to the public for free. I'm not sure mask availability is really the issue. What we need is for more people to accept the free advice of experts.

+ Nice Lootin, Tex: "Unlike most other states that safely endured the February 2021 storm, Texas had stubbornly declined to require winterization of its power plants and, just as critically, its natural gas facilities. In large part, that's because the state's politicians and the regulators they appoint are often captive to the oil and gas industry." The Texas Electric Grid Failure Was a Warm-up.

+ Fifth Harmony: Eric Trump and Allen Weisselberg invoked their 5th Amendment rights more than 500 times in Trump Organization probe. (I wonder how Eric remembered his lines.)

+ A Bodak Moment: Bronx native Cardi B has offered to pay the burial costs for all 17 people killed in a fire that ripped through a New York City high-rise.


Bottom of the News

"The big-serving Berrettini had taken a medical timeout in the second set, a bathroom break after the third, and another one during the fourth, but managed to stay solid in the end." One assumes the pun was intended. Matteo Berrettini Thanks Imodium For Helping Him Win Match. (When you're as attractive as Berrettini, even diarrhea is charming.)

+ Carter Trozzolo's sighs of exhaustion after shoveling snow have made him the international voice of a generation.