Lingering mysteries

Ukraine

We are still right where Julia Ioffe said we are weeks ago. Russia might invade Ukraine. It might not. We don’t know.[1]


Havana Syndrome

It seems we still know nothing[2] about what’s causing U.S. embassy workers’ maladies.[3] Which is odd, actually, because a scientific review, you know, conducted by people who ought to know what the fuck they’re talking about, had concluded that some sort of pulsed energy weapon was a likely culprit[4] and people who are subject to the attacks deeply suspect Russia.[5]

When I encounter a discrepancy like this, I ask, how can it make sense? One possible explanation is that the Central Intelligence Agency, not an especially trustworthy agency, simply still doesn’t have the ‘smoking gun’ sort of evidence to finger a culprit[6] and is therefore declining to nail one. The agency, however, is actually denying not only that it has found one, but that there is one:

“We assess it is unlikely that a foreign actor, including Russia, is conducting a sustained, world-wide campaign harming U.S. personnel with a weapon or mechanism,” a senior CIA official said.

Instead, the agency concluded that other medical conditions, stress or unexplained factors could be behind the ailments that have been reported in roughly 1,000 personnel, the official said. While it didn’t find an orchestrated global attack, the agency is still investigating individual cases to determine whether a foreign actor was behind them, the official said.

“We are pursuing this complex issue with analytic rigor, sound tradecraft, and compassion and have dedicated intensive resources to this challenge,” CIA Director William Burns said in a statement. “While we have reached some significant interim findings, we are not done. We will continue the mission to investigate these incidents and provide access to world-class care for those who need it.”[7]

But if you don’t know the cause, you don’t know the cause. This really fails to eliminate the possibility of a malicious actor. It really just means we don’t know how such an actor might be acting.

That doesn’t mean there actually is such an actor; it might indeed be “unlikely.” But this latest report really does little to dispel the fog.

Nancy A. Youssef, “Havana Syndrome Unlikely Caused by Russia, Other U.S Foes, CIA Says,” Wall Street Journal, January 20, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/havana-syndrome-unlikely-caused-by-russia-other-u-s-foes-cia-says-11642686583


Right-wing dictatorship, Joe Biden’s bipartisan delusions

On the one hand, it’s a little remarkable how quickly the failure of the Democrats’ voting rights push[8] is disappearing from the headlines. On the other hand, the failure was widely expected and, to some degree, as such, it’s barely even news. It’s really just yet one more Democratic Party failure[9] in a long list of failures on issues that are existential for lots of folks:

It’s one thing for a political party to be so plainly more comfortable in opposition where it cannot be expected to actually accomplish anything and can simply take potshots at the governing party.[11] It’s another when the list of failures is so staggering and includes a sustained and significant threat to the ability of that party to ever again achieve power. We are not yet at a point where the Democrats have lost all credibility; the bipartisan paradigm likely ensures that they will continue to be taken seriously,[12] against all evidence, for some time yet to come.

But the lack of evidence for taking the Democrats seriously is now stark.

Theodore Schleifer, “Silicon Valley’s Doomed Pursuit of D.C. Nirvana,” Puck News, January 18, 2022, https://puck.news/silicon-valleys-manchin-sinema-voting-rights-campaign/

Mike DeBonis, “Senate Republicans block voting rights bill, dealing blow to Democrats’ effort to overhaul election laws,” Washington Post, January 19, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/democrats-brace-for-likely-defeat-of-voting-rights-push-due-to-gop-filibuster/2022/01/19/2f9a734c-792d-11ec-bf97-6eac6f77fba2_story.html

Greg Sargent, “Joe Manchin finally makes it plain: He is in favor of minority rule,” Washington Post, January 19, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/01/19/joe-manchin-filibuster-voting-rights-minority-rule/

Joan E. Greve, “Mitch McConnell’s viral Black voter comments cause widespread furor,” Washington Post, January 20, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jan/20/mitch-mcconnell-republican-black-voter-comments-outrage

Paul Waldman, “Behind their big defeat, Democrats may have reached a turning point,” Washington Post, January 20, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/01/20/democrats-turning-point/


Donald Trump

Coup attempt

Jennifer Rubin has previously written about a district attorney, Fani Willis, investigating Donald Trump’s phone call to the Georgia Secretary of State trying to find votes.[13] Willis is now asking for a special grand jury in the matter.[14]

I am worried that a special grand jury, which “could sit for a longer period of time than a normal grand jury and . . . would focus solely on the matter at hand, which [Willis] called ‘appropriate to the complexity of the facts and circumstances involved,’”[15] may take too long. My instinct is that Trump needs to be indicted in the first half of this year.

David G. Savage, “Supreme Court rejects Trump’s plea to shield White House records from House inquiry,” Los Angeles Times, January 19, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-01-19/supreme-court-turns-down-trumps-plea-to-shield-his-white-house-records-from-house-probe

John Wagner, “Georgia prosecutor requests special grand jury in probe of Trump’s efforts to overturn state’s election results,” Washington Post, January 20, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/01/20/georgia-da-seeks-special-grand-jury-trump/


Pedophilia

There is the case of Jeffrey Epstein. There is also the matter of the Roman-Catholic Church, most recently in allegations that aim squarely at Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.[16] We’re seeing a pattern that, frankly, Sigmund Freud might predict,[17] where powerful men effectively enjoy unfettered sexual “access’ to vulnerable others, whether, as with Epstein and the many powerful men who socialized with him and may have shared his taste in girls.[18] or with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky,[19] or with Clinton and his other ‘adventures,’[20] or Al Franken,[21] or Donald Trump,[22] or Joe Biden,[23] or Bill Cosby,[24] or Roger Ailes,[25] young women. This is ‘access,’ of course, that we should properly regard as rape, assault, or misconduct. It happens a lot, hence the #MeToo movement. And we must infer that it still happens a lot.

It happens so often, in fact, that we should be examining the context—the power relationships—in which they occur. It’s an odd thing that we don’t do that, perhaps because it would directly undermine a paradigm in which our rulers must be presumed ‘worthy’ and indeed have control over who will be deemed ‘worthy.’[26]

Chico Harlan and Loveday Morris, “German investigation accuses Benedict XVI of ‘wrongdoing’ in handling of abuse cases while archbishop of Munich,” Washington Post, January 20, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/01/20/germany-church-abuse-benedict/


Water Pollution

Jeff Himler, “Report cites water quality issues in hundreds of miles of Allegheny, Westmoreland waterways,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 20, 2022, https://triblive.com/local/regional/report-cites-water-quality-issues-in-hundreds-of-miles-of-allegheny-westmoreland-waterways/


Doomsday Clock

Paulina Firozi, “Doomsday Clock at 100 seconds to midnight for third year in a row: ‘Steady is not good news,’” Washington Post, January 20, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2022/01/20/doomsday-clock-100-seconds/


Abortion

Sonia Sotomayor’s furious dissent[27] notwithstanding, this still looks to me like the Supreme Court stalling until it can issue a decision in the Mississippi case that I think will strike down Roe v. Wade.[28]

Ariane de Vogue, “Supreme Court rejects another attempt to block Texas’ six-week abortion ban,” CNN, January 20, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/01/20/politics/abortion-texas-sb8-supreme-court/index.html


  1. [1]Julia Ioffe, “Putin’s Post-Trump Tantrum,” Puck News, December 17, 2021, https://puck.news/putins-post-trump-tantrum/; Julia Ioffe, “Putin’s Talk Therapy,” Puck News, December 31, 2021, https://puck.news/putins-talk-therapy/
  2. [2]Nancy A. Youssef, “Havana Syndrome Unlikely Caused by Russia, Other U.S Foes, CIA Says,” Wall Street Journal, January 20, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/havana-syndrome-unlikely-caused-by-russia-other-u-s-foes-cia-says-11642686583
  3. [3]Matthew Lee and Michael Weissenstein, “Hearing loss of US diplomats in Cuba blamed on covert device,” Associated Press, August 9, 2017, https://apnews.com/article/north-america-ap-top-news-barack-obama-politics-cuba-51828908c6c84d78a29e833d0aae10aa
  4. [4]Byron Tau, “U.S. Diplomats’ Illnesses Likely Linked to Pulsed Energy Attack,” Wall Street Journal, December 6, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-diplomats-illnesses-likely-linked-to-pulsed-energy-attack-11607278210
  5. [5]Julia Ioffe, “A Cold War Saga in Biden’s Washington,” Puck News, October 20, 2021, https://puck.news/havana-syndrome-in-bidens-washington/
  6. [6]Julia Ioffe, “A Cold War Saga in Biden’s Washington,” Puck News, October 20, 2021, https://puck.news/havana-syndrome-in-bidens-washington/
  7. [7]Nancy A. Youssef, “Havana Syndrome Unlikely Caused by Russia, Other U.S Foes, CIA Says,” Wall Street Journal, January 20, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/havana-syndrome-unlikely-caused-by-russia-other-u-s-foes-cia-says-11642686583
  8. [8]Mike DeBonis, “Senate Republicans block voting rights bill, dealing blow to Democrats’ effort to overhaul election laws,” Washington Post, January 19, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/democrats-brace-for-likely-defeat-of-voting-rights-push-due-to-gop-filibuster/2022/01/19/2f9a734c-792d-11ec-bf97-6eac6f77fba2_story.html
  9. [9]Annie Linskey et al., “After one year in office, what has Biden done
    about the four crises he pledged to address?,” Washington Post, January 20, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/interactive/2022/biden-covid-race-economy-climate/
  10. [10]Chris Arnold, “Evictions rising even as rental help from Congress reaches millions of people,” National Public Radio, November 11, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/11/11/1053540080/evictions-rising-even-as-rental-help-from-congress-reaches-millions-of-people
  11. [11]David Benfell, “Democrats and contradiction,” Not Housebroken, January 11, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/11/18/democrats-and-contradiction/
  12. [12]See, for example, Paul Waldman, “Behind their big defeat, Democrats may have reached a turning point,” Washington Post, January 20, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/01/20/democrats-turning-point/
  13. [13]Amy Gardner, “‘I just want to find 11,780 votes’: In extraordinary hour-long call, Trump pressures Georgia secretary of state to recalculate the vote in his favor,” Washington Post, January 3, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-raffensperger-call-georgia-vote/2021/01/03/d45acb92-4dc4-11eb-bda4-615aaefd0555_story.html; Jennifer Rubin, “A single district attorney in Georgia has the best case against Trump,” Washington Post, January 11, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/01/11/single-district-attorney-georgia-has-best-case-against-trump/
  14. [14]John Wagner, “Georgia prosecutor requests special grand jury in probe of Trump’s efforts to overturn state’s election results,” Washington Post, January 20, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/01/20/georgia-da-seeks-special-grand-jury-trump/
  15. [15]John Wagner, “Georgia prosecutor requests special grand jury in probe of Trump’s efforts to overturn state’s election results,” Washington Post, January 20, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/01/20/georgia-da-seeks-special-grand-jury-trump/
  16. [16]Chico Harlan and Loveday Morris, “German investigation accuses Benedict XVI of ‘wrongdoing’ in handling of abuse cases while archbishop of Munich,” Washington Post, January 20, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/01/20/germany-church-abuse-benedict/
  17. [17]Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism (New York: Vintage, 1939).
  18. [18]Dan Mangan and Kevin Breuninger, “Court releases documents about Jeffrey Epstein, accused in sex traffic case, and his alleged procurer Ghislaine Maxwell,” CNBC, August 12, 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/08/09/documents-released-about-jeffrey-epstein-and-ghislaine-maxwell.html
  19. [19]Douglas O. Linder, “The Impeachment Trial of President William Clinton,” University of Missouri, Kansas City, 2005, http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/clinton/clintontrialaccount.html; Rutgers University, “The Impeachment of President Clinton,” n.d., copy in possession of author
  20. [20]David Benfell, “Yes, Hillary Clinton must answer for Bill Clinton’s sexual assaults,” Not Housebroken, October 10, 2016, https://disunitedstates.org/2016/10/10/yes-hillary-clinton-must-answer-for-bill-clintons-sexual-assaults/
  21. [21] Tara Golshan, Jen Kirby, and Andrew Prokop, “8 women have now alleged sexual misconduct by Sen. Al Franken,” Vox, December 6, 2017, https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/11/16/16665830/al-franken-sexual-assault-allegations
  22. [22]Kate Briquelet, “Experts: Leaking Michael Cohen’s Bank Records Could Be Illegal,” Daily Beast, May 10, 2018, https://www.thedailybeast.com/experts-leaking-michael-cohens-bank-records-could-be-illegal; Sarah Kliff, “Trump, Cosby, Ailes: It took celebrity accusers to make us listen to sexual assault victims,” Vox, October 18, 2016, http://www.vox.com/identities/2016/10/18/13306300/trump-cosby-ailes-sexual-harrasment
  23. [23]Marc Caputo, “Tara Reade allegations rattle Biden’s VP search,” Politico, April 30, 2020, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/30/tara-reade-biden-vice-president-224945
  24. [24]Sarah Kliff, “Trump, Cosby, Ailes: It took celebrity accusers to make us listen to sexual assault victims,” Vox, October 18, 2016, http://www.vox.com/identities/2016/10/18/13306300/trump-cosby-ailes-sexual-harrasment
  25. [25]Sarah Kliff, “Trump, Cosby, Ailes: It took celebrity accusers to make us listen to sexual assault victims,” Vox, October 18, 2016, http://www.vox.com/identities/2016/10/18/13306300/trump-cosby-ailes-sexual-harrasment
  26. [26]Christopher Hayes, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (New York: Crown, 2012); C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite: New Edition (Oxford, UK: Oxford University, 2000).
  27. [27]Ariane de Vogue, “Supreme Court rejects another attempt to block Texas’ six-week abortion ban,” CNN, January 20, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/01/20/politics/abortion-texas-sb8-supreme-court/index.html
  28. [28]David Benfell, “On the likely overturning of Roe v. Wade,” Not Housebroken, December 18, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/12/02/on-the-likely-overturning-of-roe-v-wade/

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