Josh Marshall

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Josh Marshall is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of TPM.

Can We Be Ready? Prime Badge

Perhaps the most important thing about the Chinese surveillance balloon episode is the completely over the top reaction to it among the political class which in turn reminds us how the entrenched stupidity of our politics endangers us. I was reminded of this over the weekend when I read this column in the Times by Zeynep Tufekci. If by chance you’re not familiar with her, you should be. She was one of the most insightful and reliable sources of information throughout the pandemic despite not being an epidemiologist or a doctor.

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Rising Violence Prime Badge

Brandon Russell, founder of Atomwaffen, and his girlfriend Sarah Clendaniel have been arrested and charged with a plot to attack a ring of power stations around Baltimore, Maryland in the hope of sowing chaos and triggering the predicted race war at the center of neo-Nazi/white supremacist ideology. FBI Special Agent Thomas J. Sobocinski of the Baltimore field office told reporters there was “no indication” the plot was part of “anything larger.” I assume that’s true as far as it goes. But we’ve seen a wave of these attacks over recent months.

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How To Pilot a Balloon Prime Badge

Yesterday we discussed the very limited control you have over a balloon. You have some limited directional control and you control your altitude. But if you’re going east, and you can’t find a wind stream going west, you’re going east. Period. TPM Reader EJ turns out to know a lot about this and he gives us more of a sense of how this works.

I have a commercial license to fly hot air and gas (helium) balloons.

Balloons are ALWAYS at the mercy of the wind they are in. They can NEVER maneuver in any way within that stream of air. However, they have limited ability to maneuver in relation to the ground. They do this by changing to an altitude that has a wind favorable to the direction they want to go. If they want to loiter over an area, they would have to find an altitude where there was zero wind. You almost never find a wind going exactly in the direction you want to go, so you constantly change altitude to, sort of, tack in the direction you want to go, almost like a sailboat trying to sail in a direction upwind.

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A Theory Emerges Prime Badge

The Post has an article up that provides a bit more detail on earlier Chinese balloon incursions. The gist seems to be that they’ve skirted U.S. territory a number of times and crossed into U.S. airspace but not as extensively as what happened in this case. The “briefly” in that earlier reference was the key. In a nice bit of additional detail, Florida and Texas were earlier targets.

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A Bit Deeper on the Great Balloon of Doom Prime Badge

David Ignatius is a consistently good and informative read. This column is not really an exception. But it’s notable that Ignatius feels the need to kick off with a classic “to be sure” sentence — “an embarrassment for the Biden administration, to be sure” — before going on to explain that shooting the balloon down over the ocean was the most logical course of action and that it will likely yield more intelligence for the United States than for China.

What an embarrassment!

But with so much attention to it I thought it made sense to put together what we actually know and where the story is at.

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Of Men and Balloons Prime Badge

We officially have an absurd debate over Chinese surveillance balloon toughness. Yes, this is now a thing. A slew of Republicans today lashed out at President Biden for not shooting down the balloon just as the Pentagon carried out his orders to do so. The balloon was shot down by an F-22 firing a sidewinder missile just off the coast of South Carolina.

This was followed by new claims that President Trump never would have allowed a Chinese balloon into U.S. airspace at all. Rep. Joe Wilson, a notorious goober who represents a district in South Carolina, declared: “The catastrophic Chinese Spy Balloon spectacle clearly threatened American families from Alaska to my home community in South Carolina and confirms President Biden and Vice President Harris should resign.”

But according to a Pentagon press release out this afternoon, Chinese surveillance balloons entered U.S. airspace at least three times during Trump’s presidency. He not only didn’t shoot them down, he also, it would seem, kept it a secret.

The Costa Rica Balloon is Also From China Prime Badge

I was half joking in the post below about the unidentified high-altitude balloon over Costa Rica. But the Pentagon now says that it believes that balloon is another Chinese surveillance balloon. WTF?

WTF? Now There’s a Balloon over Costa Rica? Prime Badge

I’ve been sort of mystified by the apparent Chinese spy balloon over Montana. It seems highly provocative for relatively little intelligence payoff. And it happens at a time when both countries appear to be attempting to at least stabilize tensions. But TPM Reader JS points out that there seems to be another unauthorized and unidentified balloon currently over Costa Rica. Weird!

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Does the White House Need to Restate Its Refusal to Negotiate the Debt Ceiling? Prime Badge

It seems like the White House may have some clarifying to do about just what came out of this week’s first meeting between President Biden and Speaker McCarthy. The statement from the White House seemed pretty clear. They’re ready, eager to negotiate budget issues separate from the debt ceiling, which has to be passed without conditions. This I think has always been the actual and proper position and the one I noted back on Monday was worth reiterating.

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Meet the Contract Killer who Now Represents George Santos in Brazil Prime Badge
Jonymar Vasconcelos, 47, lawyer for Rep George Santos in Brazil

I’m not sure the George Santos stories keep getting worse. But they do get weirder, more bizarre.

As we learned way back at the beginning of the Santos saga, he remains a wanted man in Brazil for check fraud he committed back in 2008. After he became an international celebrity in December, Brazilian authorities decided to reinitiate the case which had stalled when they couldn’t locate him. After the case was reopened, Santos hired a Brazilian lawyer to represent him in the revived case. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, since it’s George Santos, that he managed to find a lawyer who’s a convicted murderer. In fact, he’s a convicted contract killer.

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