Friday, February 16th, 2024



"We don't realize how strong we actually are. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. So don't be inactive." So said Alexei Navalny in anticipating his own death at the hands of the Putin regime. Sadly, the reality he saw as a distinct possibility was just realized in a Russia jail. Most headlines are announcing that Navalny died in prison. It was a slow motion murder. Alexander Vindman cuts to the chase. Alexei Navalny was murdered by Vladimir Putin. "After sending his wife a Valentine's Day message and appearing on camera on February 15th, Navalny reportedly 'felt sick after a walk and lost consciousness.' Only a fool would take Russia's announcement at face value – it is clear that Alexei Navalny's death was an assassination by the murderous regime of Vladimir Putin."

+ President Biden agrees: "Make no mistake: Putin is responsible for Navalny's death. Putin does not only target citizens of other countries, as we've seen in what's going on in Ukraine right now — he also inflicts terrible crimes on his own people." Unfortunately, the American Congress, held hostage by a corrupted cult, continues to remain inactive, even when the only action required is to offer a modicum of support for the Ukrainians actually brave enough to stand up to this international menace.

+ Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic (Gift Article): Why Russia Killed Navalny: "The Russian prison system has said he collapsed after months of ill health. Perhaps he was murdered more directly, but the details don't matter: The Russian state killed him. Putin killed him—because of his political success, because of his ability to reach people with the truth, and because of his talent for breaking through the fog of propaganda that now blinds his countrymen, and some of ours as well. He is also dead because he returned to Russia from exile in 2021, having already been poisoned twice, knowing he would be arrested. By doing so he turned himself from an ordinary Russian into something else: a model of what civic courage can look like, in a country that has very little of it. Not only did he tell the truth, but he wanted to do so inside Russia, where Russians could hear him."

+ Navalny seen in video link a day before his reported death.

+ For a great look at Navalny's fight, and his efforts to uncover Putin's other attempt on his life, watch the excellent documentary, Navalny.


No Presidents Day Discount

New York Attorney General Letitia James was asking for $370 million  from Trump in the NY fraud trial. She didn't get it. But she got close. "Judge Arthur Engoron ordered the former president and the Trump Organization to pay over $364 million in damages, and bars Trump 'from serving as an officer or director of any New York corporation or other legal entity in New York for a period of three years.'" Of course, there will be an appeal. There will also be interest building up on the penalty during that process.

+ Maybe Fani Willis can give Trump a loan. She often keeps six months of cash at her house. That's just one of the details we've learned during the hearing to potentially disqualify her from the Georgia case. It has been at times combative and sordid. It's looking less and less likely that the court will have a reason to remove her from the case. But several days with the focus on the prosecutor is not a positive turn of events. Slate: "Anyone bringing criminal charges against Trump is bound to face withering scrutiny of their professional and private lives; they must conduct themselves unimpeachably to avoid even a hint of bias or corruption. By failing to disclose her relationship to the court in the first instance, Willis did not live up to that standard. The consequences—for her case, for accountability, for American democracy—are already devastating." (I'm not sure we've hit devastating, but this was a poor set of choices with a hell of a lot on the line.)


Baby Love

"As a general point, the United States, despite being the richest society Earth has ever known, tolerates astonishingly high rates of child poverty. Kids are two or three times as likely to grow up in poverty in the United States as they are in most of our rich-country peers. That is a direct consequence of the United States spending such a small share of its GDP on family benefits such as public child care, home visits, and payments to new parents—a smaller share than all other OECD countries except Turkey, Costa Rica, and Mexico. The country is also an outlier in lacking a comprehensive paid-family-leave program and child care for kids 5 and under." The Atlantic (Gift Article): The Case for Spending Way More on Babies.


Weekend Whats

What to Book: "Come inside a jury room as one juror leads a starkly divided room to consensus. Join a young CIA officer as he recruits a reluctant foreign agent. And sit with an accomplished surgeon as he tries, and fails, to convince yet another cancer patient to opt for the less risky course of treatment." The excellent Charles Duhigg is back with a much-anticipated, sure bestseller: Supercommunicators: How to Unlock the Secret Language of Connection. "Communication is a superpower and the best communicators understand that whenever we speak, we're actually participating in one of three conversations: practical (What's this really about?), emotional (How do we feel?), and social (Who are we?). If you don't know what kind of conversation you're having, you're unlikely to connect."

+ What to Doc: What's a great way to measure how food and different behaviors directly affect our health? Test twins. A Netflix limited series: You Are What You Eat: A Twin Experiment. (You might want to eat your bucket of movie popcorn before starting the doc.)

+ What to Vid: The official video for Billy Joel's new single, Turn the Lights Back On uses AI and archival footage to show Joel singing the song at various points in his career. (It's an ironic title given that most men over fifty spend their time yelling at family members to remember to turn the lights off.)


Extra, Extra

Harms Dealers: "In short, Mexico claims that illegal gun trafficking isn't just an unwanted byproduct of the industry's design choices, marketing campaigns and distribution practices. Instead, according to the lawsuit, feeding demand for illegal weapons is central to the industry's business model." Mexico is suing US gun-makers for arming its gangs − and a US court could award billions in damages.

+ Hunter Blatherers: "An FBI informant has been charged with fabricating a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme involving President Joe Biden, his son Hunter and a Ukrainian energy company, a claim that is central to the Republican impeachment inquiry in Congress."

+ A House is Not a Home: "Like everyone else looking to buy a house in 2024, investors want to buy cheap if they can, but affordable homes are scarce. Inventory is still low across the country as sellers cling to lower mortgage rates they locked in years ago." Investors bought a record 26% of the affordable houses in the US last quarter.

+ Boss Mode: "Democracy could use a win. All around the world, states have been taken over by strongmen dead set on extracting as much wealth as they can from the societies they rule. In Russia and Venezuela, Myanmar and Angola, weak electoral systems have given way to hyper-corrupt autocracies. And democrats haven't really figured out how to fight back. Successful methods to get rid of criminal regimes are desperately needed but vanishingly rare. Which is why what's happening in Guatemala right now demands attention." Quico Toro in The Atlantic (Gift Article): How to Defeat a Mafia State.

+ Two Gorillas Walk Into a Bar: "If you have ever watched a group of great apes at the zoo or elsewhere, the primates are dynamic. They pick dirt and insects off one another, play games and get into scuffles. Sometimes, it even looks like our relatives pull pranks, but that behavior has never been formally examined — until now." WaPo (Gift Article): Do apes joke around? "The human cognitive tools that help us learn humor may date back at least 13 million years." (And my kids think my jokes get old...)


Feel Good Friday

Caitlin Clark broke the NCAA women's basketball scoring record in style, with a shot from the logo in a game where she scored 49. Jay Bilas on the record. "She is the most exciting and recognizable college basketball player in the country. Period. Men or women. Her games sell out, at home and on the road. Every sports fan knows her. Every. Single. One. Yet, the responsibility of carrying the women's game doesn't seem to faze her one bit. She is not the Pete Maravich or Steph Curry of women's basketball, she is a singular star in American culture."

+ "As I watched the graduation, my imagination soared: What if everyone with a drug problem who was caught up in the criminal justice system had access to a comprehensive and long-term recovery program like this?" Nicolas Kristof in the NYT (Gift Article): The Addiction Recovery Story We Don't Hear Enough.

+ Greece has become the first majority-Orthodox Christian nation to legalize same-sex marriage under civil law.

+ Paul McCartney reunited with famous bass stolen 50 years ago after online campaign.

+ Taylor Swift Donates $100K to GoFundMe for Family of Woman Killed at Chiefs Victory Parade.

+ Teen cornhole players got athletic scholarships. Even they were shocked.