In my head, it's always baseball season. -Jacob
THE BIG NEWS
Secretary of Defense Hospitalized, But No One Notices
A strange-but-worrying story emerged over the weekend: Lloyd Austin, the Secretary of Defense, was hospitalized for three days last week before the White House found out, much less the public. The information blackout extended throughout the national-security hierarchy. When Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks, who was vacationing in Puerto Rico, assumed some of Austin's responsibilities, she didn't know that she was doing so because her boss was in the hospital with complications from an undisclosed elective medical procedure. President Biden, according to most reports, wasn't informed until January 4, three days after Austin was placed in Walter Reed Hospital's intensive care unit.
Austin's hospitalization and the relative secrecy surrounding it have prompted some bipartisan criticism. It comes at a typically busy time for the DoD, which is trying to manage conflicts ranging from Ukraine to Gaza to the Red Sea. "Someone's head has to roll," a brave anonymous DoD official told Politico, adding that it would probably be whomever controlled the disclosure (or lack of it) of information.
Will there be resignations? Maybe a "bruising hearing"? It's still early days for this would-be scandal. No one seems to know the extent of Austin's health issues, with some nodding to his tendency toward secrecy. But it says something about the American empire that its top technocrat could be MIA for days and, well, nothing really happened. The war machine kept on humming. Former VP Mike Pence, who called Austin's unexplained absence a "dereliction of duty," was photographed signing an IDF mortar shell in northern Israel.
MORE STORIES TO WATCH
Boeing Jets Grounded Over Structural Concerns
At least 171 Boeing Max 9 passenger jets were grounded in the US over the weekend. On Friday, a piece of fuselage came off an Alaska Airlines Max 9 plane, leaving a sizeable hole in the side of the plane while it was flying at 16,000 feet. No one was hurt, but the episode is yet another frightening notch on Boeing's bedpost of failures.
An earlier version of the Max was grounded after two plane crashes, in Nigeria and Indonesia, killed 346 people. Subsequent investigations into the planes' mechanical issues and into Boeing corporate revealed a culture that privileged managerial priorities over engineering necessities. Top executives pressed for immediate results to complex problems in order to get planes quickly delivered, juice the stock, and ultimately enrich shareholders via buybacks. The result was calamity.
But after billions of dollars in fines, litigation, inspections, delayed orders, and redesigns, the Max is back, with Boeing waiting to fill outstanding orders for 4,500 Max aircraft. As the New York Times noted, "The Max is the best-selling plane in Boeing’s history." The company has to get this right – or at least get those planes to buyers.
- Israel Kills More Palestinian Journalists Al Jazeera reporter Hamza al-Dahdouh and his colleague Mustafa Thuraya were killed in an Israeli air strike on Sunday, as the death toll for Palestinian journalists nears 100. Wael al-Dahdouh, Hamza's father and also a journalist for Al Jazeera, has become a symbol of Palestinian fortitude, continuing to report even as his wife, children, and other family members have been killed in multiple Israeli attacks. via Washington Post.
- Congressional Leaders Reach Spending Deal Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Johnson and some slightly less seditionist Republicans cobbled together a deal with Democrats to fund the 2024 government to the tune of $1.66 trillion. More than half of it is going to military spending, the only budgetary item that's actually increasing, as Republicans continue their longstanding, bad-faith war on government deficits. Congress still has to pass legislation to make the budget into law, so there's time for this to devolve into a colossal screwup that leads to a government shutdown and an unnecessary economic crisis. via Washington Post and Politico.
- Covid-19, Which Never Left, Is Back Covid cases are on the rise, alongside seasonal illnesses like influenza and RSV. JN.1 is the Covid strain of the moment – the dominant variant – while the disease itself has unfortunately become endemic, killing fewer people than in 2020 but still representing a major threat, especially for immunocompromised folks. via NPR and ABC News.
- Mehdi Hasan Leaving MSNBC Mehdi Hasan, the loquacious, rapid-fire interview specialist on MSNBC, is leaving the cable-news network. His departure follows the cancelation of his show and, essentially, the demotion of several Muslim journalists after the beginning of Israel's latest war in Gaza. via Mehdi Hasan/X.
That's when Elon Musk gave an interview to the New York Times during which he was "under the influence," according to the Wall Street Journal. Under the influence of what – that's not clear, but Musk appears to be a fan of a variety of common recreational drugs. In a soberly reported article, the Journal tries to square Musk's erratic behavior and bouts of sleeplessness with his drug use, some of it public, some not. "People close to Musk, who is now 52, said his drug use is ongoing, especially his consumption of ketamine, and that they are concerned it could cause a health crisis," writes the Journal. "Even if it doesn’t, it could damage his businesses."
ON THE SHOW TODAY
1/8: Happy Monday! Sam and Emma speak with Neil Kraus, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls, to discuss his recent book The Fantasy Economy: Neoliberalism, Inequality, and the Education Reform Movement.
DON'T MISS MR CLIPS
Alan Dershowitz – lawyer to scumbags everywhere – can't stop talking about his definitely normal relationship with Jeffrey Epstein.
Does vaccine paranoia still play? Some pundits hope so.
"We have new information that strongly suggests that the Business Insider source(s) is at @MIT."
-- From a tweet by billionaire hedge-fund honcho Bill Ackman, who spent the weekend raging on Twitter about Business Insider's reporting – apparently correctly – that Ackman's wife, Neri Oxman, plagiarized parts of her PhD dissertation. Oxman was previously known for receiving funding from Jeffrey Epstein, giving the pedophile financier an award, and then having her husband email the now-former head of the MIT Media Lab to ask him to keep it all quiet. The most recent Ackman drama has dovetailed with the billionaire's personal campaign against elite universities that he has deemed to be lax about on-campus antisemitism. It's now led to him declaring war on Business Insider and MIT's leadership. For what it's worth, the source revealing Oxman's plagiarism appears to be her own dissertation, which is available online from the MIT library.
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