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Get a weekly roundup of the best Substack posts, by hacker news affinity:

Letters from an American's top posts of the month

By hacker news affinity
day week month year all
Letters from an American 15 HN points 16 Jan 23
You hear sometimes that, now that we know the sordid details of the lives of some of our leading figures, America has no heroes left. When I was writing a book about the Wounded Knee Massacre, where heroism was pretty thin on the ground, I gave that a lot of thought. And I came to believe that heroism is neither being perfect, nor doing something spectacular. In fact, it’s just the opposite: it’s regular, flawed human beings, choosing to put others before themselves, even at great cost, even if no one will ever know, even as they realize the walls might be closing in around them.
Letters from an American 13 HN points 10 Jan 23
The crisis in Brazil knocked my weekend into the week, but I’m going to post a picture tonight and get some rest to face the week. I’ll see you tomorrow. [Photo of the sunrise after this week’s snowstorm, by Buddy Poland.]
Letters from an American 10 HN points 30 Jan 23
Seeing a little more of the world this weekend... and taking the night off. Will be back at it tomorrow. [Photo by Buddy Poland]
Letters from an American 8 HN points 28 Jan 23
Tonight’s news dump is horrific: video footage of five Memphis, Tennessee, police officers kicking and beating 29-year-old FedEx worker and photographer Tyre Nichols, a Black man, after what appears to have been a routine traffic stop on the night of January 7. He died in the hospital three days later.
Letters from an American 8 HN points 29 Jan 23
Two relatively small things happened this week that strike me as being important, and I am worried that they, and the larger story they tell, might get lost in the midst of this week’s terrible news. So ignore this at will, and I will put down a marker.
Letters from an American 7 HN points 17 Jan 23
A quiet day today, and a quiet night tonight. Would love to predict a quiet week ahead, too, but that seems to me unlikely. Still, let’s take our calm when we can get it. I’ll see you tomorrow.
Letters from an American 7 HN points 26 Jan 23
Democrats are generally staying out of the way and letting Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the House Republicans make a spectacle of themselves. In order to get the votes to become speaker, McCarthy had to give power to extremists like Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and now has openly brought her on board as a close advisor, making the extremists the face of the new MAGA Republican Party. If McCarthy appears to have abandoned principle for power by catering to the far right, Representative George Santos (R-NY) hasn’t helped: stories of his lies have mounted, and financial filings yesterday suggest quite serious financial improprieties.
Letters from an American 7 HN points 02 Feb 23
On February 1, 1862, in the early days of the Civil War, the Atlantic Monthly published Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” summing up the cause of freedom for which the United States troops would soon be fighting. “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,” it began.
Letters from an American 7 HN points 15 Jan 23
Today is officially Ratification Day, the anniversary of the day in 1784 when members of the Confederation Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War and formally recognized the independence of the United States from Great Britain.
Letters from an American 7 HN points 07 Jan 23
Two years ago today, rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol to stop the counting of electoral ballots that would put a Democrat in the White House. There was no doubt Joe Biden had won: his majority in the popular vote was more than 7 million and he won the electoral college by 306 votes to 232, the same margin that the incumbent Republican had called a “landslide” four years earlier when it favored him. But supporters of that incumbent, Donald Trump, believed that Democrats could not possibly have won fairly and that if they had, it simply meant their voters were illegitimate.
Letters from an American 7 HN points 08 Jan 23
Early this morning, shortly after midnight, Republican Kevin McCarthy of California won enough votes to become speaker of the House of Representatives. Not since 1860, when it took 44 ballots to elect New Jersey’s William Pennington as a compromise candidate, has it taken 15 ballots to elect a speaker.
Letters from an American 7 HN points 21 Jan 23
Tonight’s letter was supposed to be a photo, but then it turned into just a few things I didn’t want to miss, and now it’s a sort of roundup of a whole lot of stories. TGIF, I guess. After last night’s sanction of almost a million dollars in a frivolous lawsuit, Trump dropped a similar lawsuit today against New York attorney general Letitia James. That lawsuit has been widely interpreted as his attempt to make James abandon the $250 million civil lawsuit against Trump and the Trump Organization. But it, like the one that yesterday cost him and his lawyer close to a million dollars, was assigned to Judge Donald Middlebrooks, and as
Letters from an American 7 HN points 23 Jan 23
We need to put on the record another public mass shooting over the weekend. It happened in Monterey Park, California, last night, when a gunman killed ten people and wounded ten others. This morning, a shooter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, injured twelve people in what appears to have been a targeted attack at a nightclub, and this afternoon, in another targeted attack, a gunman wounded eight people in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Letters from an American 6 HN points 05 Jan 23
The Republicans won a narrow majority in the House of Representatives in 2022—aided by gerrymandering and new laws that made it harder to vote—but they remain unable to come together to elect a speaker. In three ballots yesterday, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) could not muster a majority of the House to back him, as a group of 20 far-right Republicans are backing their own choices. The saga continued today with three more ballots; McCarthy still came up short.
Letters from an American 6 HN points 18 Jan 23
Today the bill for the elevation of Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to House speaker began to come due. McCarthy promised the far-right members of his conference committee seats and far more power in Congress to persuade them to vote for him. Now they are collecting.
Letters from an American 6 HN points 20 Jan 23
As Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned would happen today, the U.S. hit the debt ceiling, although it can avoid default for a few months with what Yellen calls “extraordinary measures.” These consist primarily of suspending government pension investments, which will have to be made whole again when the ceiling has been increased or suspended.
Letters from an American 6 HN points 19 Jan 23
One of the promises House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made to the extremist members of the Republican conference to win his position was that he would let them bring the so-called Fair Tax Act to the House floor for a vote. On January 8, Representative Earl “Buddy” Carter (R-GA) introduced the measure into Congress.
Letters from an American 6 HN points 22 Jan 23
Tomorrow marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court decided that for the first trimester of a pregnancy, “the attending physician, in consultation with his patient, is free to determine, without regulation by the State, that, in his medical judgment, the patient's pregnancy should be terminated. If that decision is reached, the judgment may be effectuated by an abortion free of interference by the State.”
Letters from an American 6 HN points 27 Jan 23
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) today asked six former presidents and their vice presidents to look to see if they have any presidential records, including documents marked classified, in their possession. It sent the letters to representatives for former presidents Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan and former vice presidents Mike Pence, Joe Biden, Dick Cheney, Al Gore, and Dan Quayle. It did not make a similar request to former president Jimmy Carter because although he was the one who signed the Presidential Records Act into law, it did not go into effect until he left office.
Letters from an American 6 HN points 01 Feb 23
House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is having to grapple with the difference between the rhetoric that fires up the Republican base and the reality of governance. Since Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) became speaker in 2019, Republican lawmakers have been able to complain and demand without actually having to participate in legislation. Now, though, it is up to McCarthy to bring the party’s rhetoric into the reality of laws, and so far it’s not going particularly well.
Letters from an American 6 HN points 14 Jan 23
Yesterday, Russia released an American whom it had held since April in Kaliningrad, a slice of land held by Russia between Poland and Lithuania. Taylor Dudley had been backpacking in Europe and gone to Poland for a music festival. “At some point,” as accounts have it, he crossed into Kaliningrad and was picked up by Russian authorities. The State Department told reporters that it could not comment on the release because of a law giving control of information to the individual involved, rather than to the State Department.
Letters from an American 6 HN points 31 Jan 23
The news today illustrates a dramatic difference between governing and garnering votes. President Joe Biden was at the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel in Baltimore, Maryland, today to celebrate the bipartisan infrastructure law, passed in November 2021, that is investing about $1.2 trillion in fixing our highways, bridges, internet access, and so on. In Maryland it will devote about $4 billion to fixing and expanding the 150-year-old Baltimore and Potomac railroad tunnel, which has become a bottleneck for the 9 million commuters who pass through it as they travel the vital link between Philadelphia and Washington.
Letters from an American 5 HN points 24 Jan 23
Today a jury found three members of the Oath Keepers gang, along with a fourth defendant associated with them, guilty of seditious conspiracy for their actions surrounding the January 6th insurrection in 2021. In October a different jury also found the founder of the Oath Keepers, Elmer Stewart Rhodes, as well as their Florida leader, Kelly Meggs, guilty of seditious conspiracy. Five members of another extremist gang, the Proud Boys, are currently on trial on that charge and others.
Letters from an American 5 HN points 25 Jan 23
The fact that former vice president Mike Pence’s lawyer disclosed on January 18, 2023, that Pence also had documents with classified markings at his Indiana home should tell us a couple of things. First, the discovery suggests that it is apparently not uncommon for officials to find such documents among their papers, although the level of classification clearly matters. There have been complaints for a long time that people overuse classification in general at the lower levels. We do not know the level of classification of the documents found at the Biden and Pence residences, but it is possible to imagine lower-level documents slipped in among their papers when they were packed up to move from one office to another.
Letters from an American 5 HN points 03 Feb 23
Today the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted along party lines to remove Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from her seat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Republicans voting to remove her justified their action by pointing to language she used that they say was antisemitic. She has apologized for that language.
Letters from an American 5 HN points 09 Jan 23
Today, in Brazil, supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro attacked the presidential palace, congress, and supreme court, insisting that the country’s October election, in which voters replaced Bolsonaro with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was fraudulent. For months, Bolsonaro supporters have called for the military to stop Lula, as he is known, from taking office. Today, they attacked the government and called for military intervention to remove Lula from office. Many of them wrapped themselves in the Brazilian flag.
Letters from an American 5 HN points 12 Jan 23
Watching the news today, I suspect I am not always going to report all the twists and turns of the House Republicans for the next two years. They campaigned in the midterm elections on so-called kitchen-table issues—inflation, primarily—but upon taking control of the House, they instantly reverted back to the culture wars that are their bread and butter. This is largely performative for their base, since the Democratic-led Senate will never pass their extreme measures.
Letters from an American 5 HN points 06 Jan 23
After 11 ballots, the Republicans remain unable to elect a speaker and thus unable to organize the House. After passing comprehensive laws on a wide range of issues with a similarly small House majority under Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during the last Congress, the Democrats remain united behind Hakeem Jeffries. They have delivered 212 votes for him 11 times.
Letters from an American 5 HN points 13 Jan 23
After news broke yesterday that President Joe Biden’s lawyers had found a second batch of documents in his home in Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney General Merrick Garland today appointed Robert Hur as special counsel to investigate Biden’s handling of classified documents. After law school, Hur clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist and then served as special assistant to Christopher Wray—then an assistant attorney general, now FBI director—before being appointed by former president Trump as the U.S. attorney in Maryland. Since he left office in February 2021, he has been in private practice.
Letters from an American 5 HN points 11 Jan 23
National security scholar Maria W. Norris of Coventry University, who is covering events in Brazil, reports that today, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva gathered around him the president of the supreme court and the governors or vice-governors of each state, the senators, the attorney general, and congressional representatives, all of whom condemned the coup. Many had been staunch supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro, but since the coup failed, they have thrown their lot behind Lula. After they declared their support, Lula led them through the vandalized buildings, symbolically reclaiming them.