What's Good: Jan. 8, 2021

Shit-stirring, money stuff, and [redacted].

Hello, good evening, happy Friday. I am so sorry for the later-in-the-day newsletter, but 1) I had a major work project due today and 2) um, some things have happened today. We’ll get to that.

This week I got my PS5 and played through both the remastered version of Marvel’s Spider-Man and also Miles Morales. They were both tremendous, but Miles Morales did feel quite short; I hope there will be a second (and third?) act as an expansion or something.

Also this week we won the Senate, even though that feels like a year ago. That is… incredible, for so many reasons. Over the last four years the President managed to lose the House, the Senate, and his own job. He did end up finally keeping the promise of his campaign slogan, although I suppose it’s a bit like when you arrive at the correct answer using the incorrect formula. Oh well! We take those.

Going coup-coup

Listen, it’s harder to come up with coup puns than you might imagine, just go with me.

On Wednesday there was a (terrible, ridiculous) coup attempt against our country at the Capitol Building, and there have been multiple reported deaths, and last I saw only fifteen people have been arrested. President-Elect Joe Biden rightly pointed out that Black Lives Matter protesters this summer were treated far differently - far more violently. The response by law enforcement was an absolute joke! But that was not an accident or a mistake, it was the result of an intentional series of choices by individual and institutional actors.

And, importantly, this was not like some spontaneous set of decisions that came out of nowhere. The President and his party have been forecasting and encouraging this behavior for months. To wit:

WASHINGTON — A few days before Christmas, President Donald Trump issued an ominous warning to the US Supreme Court: There would be “disruption” if the justices failed to take his side in a challenge to President-elect Joe Biden’s win in Pennsylvania.

“[I]f this matter is not timely resolved, not only Petitioner, but the Nation as а whole may suffer injury from the resulting confusion,” the president’s lawyers wrote in a Dec. 20 brief. “Indeed, the intense national and worldwide attention on the 2020 Presidential election only foreshadows the disruption that may well follow if the uncertainty and unfairness shrouding this election are allowed to persist.”

Two weeks later, Trump’s supporters made good on that warning, launching a violent assault on the US Capitol as lawmakers formally counted the electoral votes and prepared to certify Biden as the next president.

These people have become so delusional, so detached from reality, that they will create any set of excuses necessary to justify their behavior:

A block further south, at Freedom Plaza, the crowd ballooned, and the anger became more palpable. “Who here thinks the DC police will actually enforce the curfew tonight?” one protester called into a megaphone. He was answered by loud booing. “They’re not real police,” the man continued. “They’re security guards for Washington!”

The cognitive dissonance going on is absolutely absurd. They’re claiming to be righteous patriots while desecrating one of the nation’s most governmentally sacred buildings, totally undermining national security, and… doing it for the gram:

As news of the chaos engulfing the Capitol was emerging yesterday, my feed was filling up with images of supporters of Donald Trump that bordered on the absurd. Photos of a man putting his feet up on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk, or a man carrying a Senate podium, or a man in... I don’t know what the hell this is.

My endless scroll came to a halt suddenly, when I landed on a video of two men gleefully arranging themselves on the set of the steps for the National City Christian Church. One lies down on his front, pretending to be unconscious. The other carefully kneels down and hovers his knee above the other man’s neck. The kneeling man checks to see if a third friend is recording: They were reenacting the police maneuver that, eight months ago, killed George Floyd, sparking a national outcry. Above them, a massive Black Lives Matter banner flaps in the wind.

It was the subtle confirmation that this was “content” that got me. I replayed the video again and again and again. The men in the video almost seem to be saying, “Are you getting this? You got the shot?” while the man lying down and playing dead adjusts his hat just so.

So it’s an ego play, and maybe not much else. That makes sense, right? These are people who could afford to take vacation from work, who could afford gas money or plane tickets (or, significantly, private planes), who could afford hotels or other accommodations (though good luck booking an Airbnb in the pandemic), who could afford the absurd merchandise and props they were all carrying… you get the point. These aren’t working-class folks. They’re pulling a grift on the country to get everyone to think they are, but they’re lying to themselves and to others about it. And grift is a common theme:

When the white nationalist Tim Gionet stormed the U.S. Capitol with a mob of Trump loyalists on Wednesday, entering congressional offices and putting his feet up on lawmakers’ furniture, he also chatted live with more than 16,000 of his fans.

Using a livestreaming site called Dlive, Mr. Gionet — known by the online alias “Baked Alaska” — broadcast his actions inside the Capitol. Through Dlive, his fans then sent him messages telling him where to go to avoid capture by the police. They also tipped him with “lemons,” a Dlive currency that can be converted into real money, through which Mr. Gionet made more than $2,000 on Wednesday, according to online estimates.

There is a kind of pattern to the story I am trying to tell here. This isn’t just one event, it wasn’t just a small group of people involved, and it’s not over just because the first coup attempt failed. It was probably even much worse than anyone realizes.

Over the last year of this newsletter, I have tried to highlight the dangers of right-wing extremism - and of mainstream right-wing bullshit. If you have been a loyal reader, I hope you weren’t terribly surprised that violent action finally happened - and you shouldn’t be surprised when it happens again. The President has already expressed regrets about his concession video, the right is falsely blaming the violence on “antifa” rather than taking ownership of the consequences of its actions, and the FBI failed to ascertain that there were publicly-posted threats of terrorism in the days and weeks leading up to the event. This will happen again - there are publicly-posted plans for it to happen again - and there is no reason to believe that the next response will be any better. 45% of Republicans think that this coup attempt was good and cool, 68% of them don’t think it’s a threat to democracy, 53% of them do not think the President is to blame for what happened at all.

And just in case, for some reason, you still take them seriously at all, please know that they smeared their own shit all over the building. You know, as serious intellectuals do. With their feces. There are so many other utterly violent and unbelievable things that they said and did that we could get into, but “they took shits on the floor and spread it all over” should be sufficient.

Jack offs Trump

Twitter permanently banned the President today. In fact, not only did they permanently ban his personal account, they have been very busy banning every other account that he demands control of in attempts to circumvent the ban. The man simply does not know how to take an L.

But not only that:

And the list is growing as the night goes on.

Obviously this is a net good - there should be no argument about that. But it’s also extremely fucking overdue, and the only reasonable analysis of the timing here is that platforms finally decided to act on the issue when they knew that the money and power would be on their side. After all, deplatforming works - if they wanted to get rid of him earlier, they could have! It’s no coincidence that all of this is happening mere days after the Democrats won control of the Senate, and if that hadn’t happened, we might not have seen these kinds of responses.

How has the President handled this? Not well:

President Donald Trump has many prized possessions. But few seemed to inspire as much personal joy as his Twitter feed. Trump routinely boasted of the social media bullhorn he possessed. He credited it with launching his political trajectory. And he used it as a tool to lacerate his foes.

On Friday night, he lost it. And, then, he lost his mind.

The president is “ballistic,” a senior administration official said after Twitter permanently took down his account, citing the possibility that it would be used in the final 12 days of Trump’s presidency to incite violence. The official said Trump was “scrambling to figure out what his options are.”

The man has the emotional maturity of every user I have banned from a Discord server for being under 13 years of age (or under 18, as the server may require). Swapping from account to account - all easily identifiable - and immediately posting a direct continuation of his last thought? That’s the playbook of every child with a prefrontal cortex that is not fully developed.

Don’t get me wrong, this is single best day for internet content that the world will ever see. I am having an incredible time tonight. But it’s still way overdue! And he’s still the fucking President, somehow! Every other person who has been entrusted with the decision-making about whether or not our President remains fit to lead the country has decided thus far that it’s not so important to remove him that we should do it right away. He’s bad enough to be banned from every major social media platform, but he can still have the nuclear codes. Seems wrong, to me! Impeach the motherfucker!

Infrastructure week

I enjoyed this story from reader Melanie about how H-E-B - a regional grocer - prepared for the pandemic, especially given rising sentiment that they should be involved in the process of rolling out the vaccine. It’s from March of last year, but I think issues of scale and process are going to gain renewed relevance (to the extent they haven’t already) as the states and the federal government struggle to distribute the vaccine in a manner that is both orderly and efficient. Supply chains rule the world:

The coronavirus pandemic has transformed the country in just a handful of weeks. As Americans focus on the essentials—feeding our families and ensuring we have the necessary supplies to keep our households clean and safe—grocery stores and pharmacies have demonstrated just how crucial they are to a functioning society.

We’ve seen chains struggle with the challenges the current crisis presents. Some stores are instituting policies limiting the numbers of shoppers allowed in at a time, creating long waits to enter. Perhaps even worse, other stores are not, leaving their shops a free-for-all without adequate social distancing measures. Staples like flour and yeast, to say nothing of hand sanitizer and toilet paper, are proving difficult to find on shelves. Supply chains are taxed. And the conditions faced by employees vary wildly by chain, with stores developing new (sometimes controversial) policies around sick leave for the workers who have proved themselves essential, and often doing so on the fly.

San Antonio-based H-E-B has been a steady presence amid the crisis. The company began limiting the amounts of certain products customers were able to purchase in early March; extended its sick leave policy and implemented social distancing measures quickly; limited its hours to keep up with the needs of its stockers; added a coronavirus hotline for employees in need of assistance or information; and gave employees a $2 an hour raise on March 16, as those workers, many of whom are interacting with the public daily during this pandemic, began agitating for hazard pay.

This isn’t the first time H-E-B has done a good job of managing a disaster—it played an important role in helping the Gulf Coast recover from Hurricane Harvey in the immediate aftermath of the storm—which led us to ask: How did a regional supermarket chain develop systems that allow it to stay ahead of a crisis as big as this one? We spoke with nearly a dozen employees, executives, and customers to better understand—in their words—how H-E-B has taken on its unique role in shaping its business around the needs of Texans in the midst of trying circumstances.

Levine Stuff

I will not include a bunch of excerpts and exhaust the lot of you who are totally uninterested in this kind of content, but Matt Levine is finally back from his parental leave and Money Stuff has been tremendous all week. You should read it and sign up to get the emails. My personal favorite story this week:

To celebrate the latter milestone, Elon Musk, who is obsessed with short sellers and never seems to have more pressing business to attend to, created a line of red satin shorts:

Sporting a gold Tesla logo, the “short shorts”, as they are branded, were dreamt up by the carmaker’s founder Elon Musk as a way to mock investors betting against the company’s shares.

And it turns out there is a short short shortage? I’m sorry. Here’s the Financial Times in early December:

The shorts sold out almost immediately when they were offered online in early July, but as Christmas approaches, some customers say they have yet to receive them.

“Tesla can’t even deliver a pair of shorts in over five months,” one customer told the Financial Times. “What did they do with all that money?” ...

Some who got the shorts are now selling them with a huge mark-up on auctions sites such as Ebay.

One buyer who owns a Tesla but has yet to receive the shorts, said they ordered them as a “fun idea” and is not surprised at the delay.

“Each of these one-off Tesla merchandise offers are instant collectors' items and not at all essential to Tesla's business, so this is kind of expected,” they told the Financial Times.

You have to click through if you want to see the punchline, but I promise it is worth it.

Not safe for work

No, really, I’m warning you, the article I’m about to link to is NSFW. Don’t open it on a work device or whatever. It’s not my fault if you ignore these multiple warnings.

That being said, this is a newsletter where I share the most interesting articles I’ve read each week, and this is one of the most interesting articles I’ve read this week.

Breaking the cycle

Poverty is hard to escape. If you’ve ever been financially insecure, you know that small bills become large ones, and that being poor is expensive. So, this rules:

On New Year’s Eve, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill that will end the suspension of driver’s licenses over a failure to pay a traffic ticket, a major win for economic and racial justice advocates who have long decried the practice. The law will also reinstate the licenses of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, many of whom have lost driving privileges because they cannot afford to pay their fines.

Suspending driver’s licenses entrenches and punishes poverty by preventing people from driving to work, taking kids to school, or visiting their doctor during the COVID-19 pandemic. People who are stopped for driving on a suspended license face misdemeanor or felony charges, and arrests of people who can’t afford to pay fines and fees inflate jail populations across the country.

It won’t fix everything, and Cuomo has been failing spectacularly on many issues lately. But I’ll take the wins where we can get them.

You deserve some good animal content

Have a good weekend.