Monday, March 20, 2023


No Sift next week. The next new articles will appear on April 3.

The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.

- attributed to Socrates by Epictetus
Discourses, book I

This week's featured posts are "A right-wing judge takes aim at medication abortions" and "Can the anti-woke mob define 'woke'?"

This week everybody was talking about indicting Trump

For some while, I've been playing down speculation about possible Trump indictments, because those stories have been in reruns for months: Yes, there are all these grand juries and a list of possible charges that could be pressed at any time. We could talk forever about all the possibilities. But is anything actually happening?

This week, though, things got a lot more definite, at least with respect to the Manhattan grand jury investigating the Stormy Daniels payoff and the false business records that covered it up. AP reports that law enforcement officials are making security plans to handle a Trump indictment and arrest. Trump's lawyer said Friday that Trump would appear voluntarily if indicted (and would not hand Governor DeSantis the hot potato of deciding whether to delay or block his extradition from Florida). NBC says the arrest could happen this week. In a Truth Social post, Trump claimed he would be arrested tomorrow. So that's a little more than just speculation.

Former Manhattan prosecutor Karen Friedman Agnifilo describes the process in a 13-minute video, including a few things I did not already know: The indictment will be sealed until the arraignment, but Trump will have seen it, and so will be able to spin it for some period of time while the DA's office is obliged to stay silent. Also, if he refused to come to New York and fought extradition, his problems wouldn't be limited to Florida. Any state could arrest him and send him to New York. It's kind of hard to run for president under those conditions.

Here's the outline of the case: Trump had sex with porn star Stormy Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford) in 2006. Late in the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump's fixer Michael Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 not to tell her story to the media. (As Chris Hayes reminded us this week, the payoff happened shortly after the Access Hollywood grab-them-by-the-pussy controversy had nearly destroyed Trump's candidacy. A follow-up sex-with-a-porn-star scandal would have been a big deal.) Trump repaid Cohen over a period of months, with the Trump Organization falsely recording the payments as legal fees. An indictment would claim that the $130K was an unreported campaign contribution, which would be a crime. Falsifying business records in furtherance of a crime is another crime.

A lot of people find it ridiculous that Trump would be indicted for this, rather than for his more serious offenses, like inciting a riot and trying to overturn an election. (That said, a Fulton County grand jury is still discussing whether to indict him for election manipulation in Georgia.) I'm sure we'll hear similar complaints if Jack Smith indicts Trump for mishandling classified documents and obstructing the investigation of that crime.

Politically, the unfortunate thing about this case is that the scandalous part (sex with a porn star while your wife is tending a new baby) isn't the criminal part, which is more technical. So it sounds to a lot of his (male) supporters like he's being charged with something that shouldn't be illegal, and that they'd do if they had the chance.

And while complaints about the smallness of the crime may be valid as far as they go, I think that's the wrong way to look at this situation.

it’s really not a notional offense. If we had known in the final weeks of the 2016 election that a presidential candidate would arrange a hefty payment to kill a story about his sleeping with a porn star and do it by committing tax fraud and campaign finance fraud, I don’t think any of us would have said, “Oh, well, that kind of stuff happens all the time. Let’s not pretend those types of fraud are crimes.”

You and I would be indicted if we did what Trump has done, so he should be indicted too. There shouldn't be one set of laws for Trump and another set for everybody else. (His fans want to claim the reverse, that the law shouldn't be harder on him than it would be on anybody else. I agree with their point in theory, but I don't believe that's what's happening.) If you don't think these laws should apply to Trump, what laws should?

The obvious comparison here is Al Capone, who was convicted of tax evasion, not murder and racketeering. I'm sure that prosecution also seemed a bit ridiculous, but should Capone have been able to get away with avoiding taxes just because he was also a murderer?

The second big question related to a Trump indictment is whether he will incite another riot. He's posting all-caps screeds on his Twitter-clone Pravda Social, calling on supporters to PROTEST and TAKE OUR NATION BACK, which resembles his pre-January-6 rhetoric.

Trump's speeches have always been dark, full of visions of "American carnage" and so on. But lately it's gotten worse.

In 2016, I declared, “I am your voice.” Today, I add: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution. I am your retribution.

He's been getting more and more explicit about the idea that if he gets back into power, he'll make a lot of people suffer.

In other Trump-related legal news, a DC judge has ordered Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran to testify to the grand jury investigating Trump's mishandling of classified documents. Courts ordinarily don't expect lawyers to testify against their clients (i.e., attorney/client privilege), but the judge is invoking the crime/fraud exception: Conversations in which a lawyer and his client conspire to break the law are not privileged.

That means that Special Counsel Jack Smith has convinced the judge (by a preponderance-of-evidence standard, i.e., more likely than not) that Trump and Corcoran discussed committing a crime.

Tucker Carlson may have texted "There isn’t really an upside to Trump.”, but I believe that's too pessimistic. Think of all the law we've learned since the Donald came into our lives.

and abortion

One of the featured posts covers the lawsuit that seeks to outlaw the abortion drug mifepristone.

and Ron DeSantis

DeSantis seems to have entered a tricky new phase of his quest for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. He hasn't declared his candidacy yet, but he has begun making appearances in places like Iowa that sure look like campaign rallies. Previously, Republicans had mostly been responding to the idea of nominating DeSantis, but now they're going to have a real campaign and candidate to examine. This is a transition all candidates have to go through. Some sail through it, while others are thrown by it.

One famous example was Ted Kennedy in the 1980 presidential cycle. High inflation and the Iranian hostage crisis had made President Carter vulnerable to a primary challenge, and Kennedy seemed to represent a return to the halcyon days of JFK's Camelot. Polls showed him crushing Carter in the primaries, and then probably sailing into the White House. But in August of 1979, just as he was getting ready to announce his candidacy, Kennedy sat down for a televised interview with Roger Mudd -- an interview so consequential that it headlined Mudd's obituary more than 40 years later. "Why do you want to be president?" Mudd asked. Kennedy was stumped for an answer. (One lesson here is that abrasive or pugnacious interviewing is not necessarily the most hard-hitting. A simple question can be devastating if there's no good answer. One of the featured posts discusses a similarly devastating simple question: When Briahna Joy Gray asked Bethany Mandel to define woke.)

Ted went forward with his campaign and took his challenge all the way to the convention, where he gave a historically great speech. ("The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.") But after the Mudd interview, the bloom was off the rose. A new Kennedy presidency no longer seemed inevitable, and Ted was just a candidate running to Carter's left, not the reincarnation of his sainted brothers.

Early in the 2012 cycle, Texas Governor Rick Perry was briefly ahead in the polls. But his campaign had a rocky start, and his chances vanished for good during a debate in November, 2011, when he boldly promised to eliminate three government agencies, but could only remember the names of two of them.

The candidates most vulnerable to this transition might be described as "high concept". They haven't run nationally before and don't have a committed following, but their attraction can be summed up in one simple line: Scott Walker was the governor who broke the public-employee unions. Marco Rubio was a handsome young senator who could bring Hispanics into the GOP. Gary Hart was a new kind of Democrat challenging the Mondale establishment.

Ron DeSantis' high concept is that he's Trump without the baggage. He's the anti-woke candidate who will troll the libs and fight tooth-and-nail against the kind of people the Republican base hates, but he's not a pussy-grabbing insurrectionist who will have to spend more time in court than on the campaign trail. He can look ahead to 2024 and beyond, rather than constantly relitigate 2020. At 44, he can exploit Joe Biden's age in way that 76-year-old Trump can't.

That capsule description looks good to a lot of Republicans, but now they'll have to see what they think of the actual Ron DeSantis. We started getting a preview of that process this week, when he answered Tucker Carlson's question about Ukraine.

While the U.S. has many vital national interests – securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness within our military, achieving energy security and independence, and checking the economic, cultural, and military power of the Chinese Communist Party – becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them.

In some sense, that was the right answer for his campaign. Aiding Ukraine is popular nationally, and most voters understand that the Russian invasion is more than a "territorial dispute", but the most likely Republican primary voters are on the other side of that question. In MAGA circles, aid to Ukraine is always cast in a zero-sum frame: "Why are we sending our money to Ukraine when we still have problems X, Y, and Z at home?" (as if they have obvious solutions to X, Y, and Z that can only be funded if Ukraine aid gets scrapped). So nobody who challenges Trump can afford to be the pro-Ukraine anti-Putin candidate.

But the deeper problem is that he had to answer the question at all. Reagan Republicans may be in the minority now, but they're not gone, and Republicans who look to the general election know that it would be fatal to run as the Putin party against the Zelenskyy party. And DeSantis wants to be seen arguing with Pete Buttigieg or Kamala Harris. He doesn't need people like John Cornyn and Marco Rubio challenging his lack of foreign-policy experience.

But that's going to keep happening for a while now: DeSantis wants to talk about woke teachers indoctrinating kids to hate America, Anthony Fauci shutting down America's economy for no reason, and predatory doctors pressuring teen girls to cut their breasts off. But he's going to face increasing pressure to take positions on issues that are off-brand for him, like health care and jobs.

And as he goes into small early-decision states like Iowa and New Hampshire, individual voters are going to be telling him the actual problems in their lives, and expecting him to pretend that he cares. That might be difficult for him.

An NYT newsletter (behind a paywall) claims DeSantis is falling behind Trump in recent polls. Polling is hard in this race, because the results various polls get are wildly inconsistent with each other. But

In this situation, the best way to get a clear read on recent trends is to compare surveys by the same pollsters over time. ... Every single one of these polls has shown Mr. DeSantis faring worse than before, and Mr. Trump faring better.

DeSantis is suffering from the same problem Republicans have been having since 2015: He seems to be hoping Trump will magically disappear, because he doesn't want to anger Trump's base by criticizing him. So Trump can tear him down without any fear of DeSantis striking back.

Barring a heart attack or a well-placed meteor, the only way to beat Trump is for somebody to take him on. If DeSantis won't do that, he should save his effort and not run.

and you also might be interested in ...

The International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin. He's charged with war crimes for deporting Ukrainian children to Russia.

The warrant has few immediate consequences, since the ICC won't be taking Putin into custody anytime soon. However, it does limit his travel options and puts a stigma on him. The ICC has international prestige, so this counts for more than just a claim made by the Ukrainian government or his country's other enemies.

Saturday, the NYT published an article on something that has been long rumored but never definitively established: The Reagan campaign's successful attempt to sabotage the Carter administration's efforts to negotiate the release of American hostages in Iran.

The state of Texas is taking over Houston's schools. The state is dominated by White Republicans, the city by Black Democrats, so trust is hard to come by here.

and let's close with a simple test

If you see a Ukrainian flag here, you've been watching too much news. It's a Jersey shore sunrise, photographed and submitted to a Smithsonian photo contest. (The flag would be upside down anyway.)

Monday, March 13, 2023

Swimming naked

Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked.

- Warren Buffett

This week's featured posts are "Is it 2008 again, or not?" and "Democracy in Israel".

People who don't follow financial markets probably need an interpretation of the quote above. What Buffett meant is that an investor can get away with just about anything when the market is going up. But when it starts going down, you see who was using sound principles and who wasn't.

This week everybody was talking about bank failures

The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank is covered in one featured post. Everything's been happening so quickly that you may not realize what's at stake.

and Tucker Carlson's fairy tale

Predictably, Tucker Carlson is using his exclusive access to January 6 security footage (granted to him by Speaker McCarthy), to produce pro-insurrection propaganda. So let's start by repeating the facts he is trying to whitewash:

In reality, a total of about 140 police officers were assaulted as they defended the Capitol during the riot, which resulted in $2.9 million in damages and costs to the Capitol Police, according to the Department of Justice.

Roughly 1,000 participants in the riot have been arrested so far, according to the most recent update from the Department of Justice. About 326 of them have been charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding officers or employees. Of those, 106 have been charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer.

“I was among the vastly outnumbered group of law enforcement officers protecting the Capitol and the people inside it,” Michael Fanone, an officer for the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, told a congressional committee several months after the attack. “I was grabbed, beaten, tased — all while being called a traitor to my country. I was at risk of being stripped of and killed with my own firearm, as I heard chants of, ‘kill him with his own gun.'”

Carlson, however, presented the situation differently on his March 6 show, describing the “overwhelming majority” of demonstrators as “meek,” saying, “these were not insurrectionists, they were sightseers.”

It's hard to know what to do with this kind of blatant gaslighting. Being outraged is probably counter-productive, since trolling liberals is part of Tucker's shtick; his fans love him for it. So maybe the best thing to do is to laugh at his ridiculousness. [Hat tip to Yahoo News for collecting many of these examples.] The Daily Show produced fake footage of Tucker covering the JFK assassination, which he describes as "proud Americans out for a drive on a lovely day in Dallas". Another Daily Show video edits footage of Tucker himself to have him say the exact opposite of what he actually said. See how easy it is?

Stephen Colbert's Late Show imagined Tucker covering the events of "Jaws". Lee Aronsohn uses Tucker's techniques to show that Hitler and other Nazis came to Paris as tourists. Seth Meyers explains that

When you cherry-pick the footage you're showing you can prove whatever you want. I could show you footage from John Wick that proves he's non-violent. Take a look. [clip of Wick feeding his dog] You're telling me that guy is a trained killer? Give me a break!

The Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit has made it a matter of public record that Tucker (like Fox's other prime-time hosts) lies to his audience. He says one thing when the camera is on, and something else entirely when it's off. This week we found out what he wrote in private text messages two days before January 6:

We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can't wait. ... I hate him passionately.

Once the camera's on, though, he's as dedicated a Trump bootlicker as you'll find.

One person who appears to be taking Tucker's BS seriously is Elon Musk, who tweeted "Free Jacob Chansley". Chansley is the Q-Anon Shaman, who Carlson said was peacefully led through the Capitol by police. "They acted as his tour guides."

Of course, we already know how Chansley got in: He was right behind uniformed militiamen who broke two windows and then forced open a door.

The response you're most likely to get from a Carlson fan if you object to his cherry-picking is "Isn't that exactly what the January 6 Committee did?" (Because "everybody else is despicable too" is the way all moral people respond to criticism.)

In a word: no. Most of what the Committee showed in its hearings came from under-oath testimony by Trump's own people: Bill Barr, Cassidy Hutchinson, Pat Cipollone, and many others, including even Ivanka and Jared. Any of them could have gone on Fox afterwards to explain how they had been taken out of context, but none of them did.

Mike Pence's speech at the Gridiron Dinner Saturday night points out how skinny a tightrope he is trying to walk. On the one hand, he described Tucker's project harshly: "what happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it in any other way." He also said that Trump was "wrong" about the vice president's power to count the electoral votes however he wants, and that "history will hold Donald Trump accountable".

"History", though, is not Mike Pence. He's standing by his effort to avoid testifying to the special counsel. The American people “have a right to know what took place” during the insurrection. Just not from him.

and the threat of national default

Here's all you need to know at this point: President Biden put forward a budget proposal that preserves Medicare and lowers future deficits by raising taxes on the rich. (Full details here.) Meanwhile, Republicans have been working on their fanciful plan for managing a national default, where the government's obligations get prioritized for payment as revenue comes in. Not even Koch-funded economists are on board with this.

Brian Riedl, an economist at the Manhattan Institute, said the U.S. government’s computer systems do not have the technology to implement the system and prioritize payments.

“Unless they can build a new system in the next four months, it doesn’t matter,” he said, adding that even then the measure still likely may not address a “bond market panic.”

Several Republican groups say they are working on budget proposals, but none have published one yet, and prospects are slim for the party as a whole taking a position anytime soon. The House "Freedom" Caucus produced a single page that the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Rep. Brandon Boyle (D-PA), characterized as reading "more like a ransom note than a serious budget proposal".

It's big on arbitrary spending caps without specifying what program cuts those caps might entail, other than rolling back the $80 billion already appropriated for the IRS to collect taxes that rich people aren't paying (which will increase the deficit by reducing revenue), and making sure we burn as much fossil fuel as possible (by reversing all the alternative energy subsidies in the Inflation Reduction Act and "unleashing the production of reliable domestic energy by ending federal regulations").

The ransom note says the members of the "Freedom" Caucus will "consider" voting to raise the debt ceiling after their demands are written into law. In other words, it's not a good-faith proposal. Even if Biden were to give in to all their demands, they won't commit themselves to supporting the result.

It seems clear that the MAGA wing of the GOP won't be happy with any compromise that avoids a catastrophe, and Speaker McCarthy seems completely in their pocket. I can see only two ways this resolves: Some number of Republican congressmen face reality and join with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling, or Biden pulls a rabbit out of his hat that makes the debt ceiling irrelevant. (The New Republic advocates challenging the debt ceiling in court; I largely agree with their interpretation of the law, but I can't guess how the Supreme Court would view it.)

After the country gets past the artificial debt-ceiling crisis, then there's the actual budget compromise to work out. That will be a difficult negotiation, but it's normal legislating. I see the whole discussion as being like trying to decide what color to paint some room of your house, when your spouse announces that if they doesn't get their color, they'll burn the house down. First you have to get an agreement not to burn the house down, and then you can go back to talking about colors.

and Israel

The current protests in Israel, and the threat to democracy that led to them, is the topic of the other featured post.

and debates about Covid

One of the problems with having major chunks of our media (i.e., Fox and its friends) committed to disinformation is that it's really hard to have a nuanced public discussions of scientific issues. If you've been following topics like creation/evolution or climate change, you've been seeing the patterns for decades. For example, when the consensus view of evolution shifted from gradualism (where evolutionary change is slow and steady) to punctuated equilibrium (where long periods of relative stability get interrupted by periods where evolutionary change happens more quickly), creationists were suddenly crowing that "New research is proving that Darwin was wrong." That false message was the only one a lot of people got out of that discussion.

Something similar is happening in response to a recent journal article about the effectiveness of masks in preventing the spread of viral disease like Covid. A meta-analysis of 78 previously published studies -- most of them prior to Covid-19 and focused on other viruses that cause respiratory diseases -- looked at

One big problem in this whole line of research is that the study that would answer the question most directly is unethical: You'd have infected and uninfected people meet in a lab, in various combinations of masked and unmasked, at various distances for various lengths of time. Then you'd see who got Covid. You might end up killing a few of your subjects, but it's all for the greater good, right?

Since you can't do that, you try other techniques that don't get the information you really want. Professor Jason Abaluck (who did a mask study in Bangladesh) summarizes:

The vast majority of the studies assessed by the Cochrane Review ask, “If we give people masks and information about masking, do they get healthier?” Most of these studies find that the answer is, “Not much healthier.”

But there is a problem: giving people masks is not generally enough to get them to wear masks! In piloting in Bangladesh, we found that mask distribution plus information plus involving village leaders increased mask use by less than 10% (we later added other elements that were more impactful). In other scale-ups, masks and information alone did even less. One study in Uganda found that giving people masks and information increased mask use by one percentage point—that is, by 1 in 100 people.

The anti-public-health people are jumping on this to crow that they were right all along: Masks don't do anything. ("Will the mandaters apologize?" asks the right-wing Washington Examiner.) Columbia Professor Zeynep Tufekci explains in the NYT explains why that's the wrong interpretation. But no matter, the disinformation is out there. When the next pandemic hits, lots of people will confidently declare that the ineffectiveness of masks was proved during Covid.

You can see a similar kind of thinking whenever there's a mass shooting in a place that has more gun laws than most other places: See, gun control doesn't work! But has any community in America actually succeeded in controlling guns? (Chicago's gun laws just make you get your gun in Indiana.) Until one does, we won't really know whether gun control works.

Then there's the origin-of-Covid debate. Pretty much everyone agrees that Covid-19 first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The two main theories are that a human caught it from an animal (probably a bat) in Wuhan's live-animal market, or that it escaped containment at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which studies viruses in bats.

The lab-leak theory, while credible at one level, quickly became the root of wild and improbable conspiracy theories: Covid wasn't just collected and studied in a lab, it was created there. It's a bio-weapon that the Chinese engineered to attack us. (Never mind that they killed a bunch of their own people first and lost hundreds of billions of dollars worth of economic growth in the subsequent lockdown. It's all about us. Or maybe it's all about Trump.)

President Trump, desperate to avoid blame for his own mishandling of the pandemic, got way ahead of the facts and jumped on the lab-leak theory as a way to shift blame to China. (People who think Covid was an intentional attack on the US to destabilize the Trump administration need to explain how the Chinese knew Trump would botch the response. Lots of governors saw their popularity rise during the pandemic. Trump might have done the same had he shown real leadership rather than try to happy-talk his way through a real crisis.) He amplified his claims with openly racist rhetoric about "the China virus" or the "Kung Flu". Predictably, this led to a rise in anti-Asian violence in the US. (Remember how President Bush urged Americans not to blame all Muslims for 9-11? Trump never did that for Chinese Americans and Covid.)

So the debate was politicized from the beginning. The scientific question "How did this happen?" and the public-health question "What can we learn from this?" quickly turned into the political "Who should we blame?" Often that resulted in Trumpists harassing or even harming innocent people.

Liberals responded by over-estimating the evidence for the natural-transmission theory. The truth is that we don't know for sure and may never know. The origin of pandemics are often hard to pin down. (After decades of research, some scientists concluded that HIV passed from monkeys to humans in the 1920s. Who had that on their bingo card?) This one is even harder than most, because the Chinese government, also sensitive to claims that it botched its initial response, has been uncooperative.

One US source, the Department of Energy, recently put out a new assessment: A lab leak was the "likely" source of the pandemic, a conclusion it reached with "low confidence". But various agencies of the US government still disagree, and the overall situation has not changed much since an October, 2021 report from the Director of National Intelligence summarized with this graphic:

But of course the lab leak theory is now considered an established fact on the Right.

and you also might be interested in ...

This morning the administration approved the development of a new oil field on the Alaska's North Slope. I'd like to give President Biden the benefit of the doubt on this, but I'm going to need some convincing.

Here's what I'd like to hear: I'd like to know that there's a definite plan for getting the country off fossil fuels by a set date. That plan would have targets for exactly how much fossil fuel we expect to need in meantime, and how we're going to get it in the least destructive way possible. If the new oil field is part of such a plan, I could be OK with it.

If we had that kind of vision, it would put us past the oil-good/oil-bad debate, where environmentalists feel obligated to oppose all fossil fuel development plans everywhere, and pro-economic-growth people feel obligated to support all fossil fuel development plans everywhere. We'd get past the maximize/minimize production debate and agree on a path to zero.

Maybe such a plan exists, but I don't know it. If there is such a thing, the Biden administration should be publicizing it.

Last week, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) called for cutting funding from any public school that teaches comprehensive sex education. This week, she announced that her 17-year-old son has gotten his even-younger girlfriend pregnant, making Boebert a 36-year-old grandmother sometime next month. According to The Denver Post:

Boebert staffers on Friday confirmed the announcement. Breaking from a meeting for an interview, Boebert verified her son and his girlfriend are not married and declined to reveal the age of the girlfriend, other than to say she’s over 14. [i.e., Boebert's son didn't commit a crime under Colorado law.]

My faith (Unitarian Universalism) offers a very comprehensive version of sex education, one that emphasizes giving teens accurate information, teaching them important life skills (like how to buy a condom), and encouraging them to think through the consequences of their actions. As a result, I don't know any 36-year-old grandmothers. I think Boebert's son's girlfriend would have done well to seek us out.

Ron Filipkowski summarizes what we know about the Twitter Files:

  1. Musk buys twitter and sets out to prove his premise that the govt used twitter to censor right wingers.
  2. He chooses two people to “investigate.” Nobody else can see the “evidence.”
  3. He only provides them with evidence that fits his chosen narrative. They admit that they were not given things like the Trump WH seeking to censor people on the Left.
  4. They reach Musk’s desired conclusion.
  5. Musk then goes to the Capitol and visits McCarthy. He doesn’t meet with Dems.
  6. Weaponization Comm is formed.
  7. These two people are brought in by Jim Jordan.
  8. They say that they can’t reveal who their source is for the information they received, even though the whole world knows it was Musk.

Steve Benen nails the root problem of Jim Jordan's attempt to expose the "concerted effort by the government to silence and punish conservatives at all levels": There has been no such effort.

It would be no more productive for House Republicans to create a select subcommittee to investigate Bigfoot. They could hire dozens of investigators, depose countless witnesses, hold hours of hearings, and send out a steady stream of subpoenas, but in the end, things that don’t exist can’t be found.

I've seen some discussion that we shouldn't dignify the committee by using the name House Republicans have given it: "Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government". Some writers would just call it "the Jordan Committee". I'm starting to like "Jim Jordan's Bigfoot Committee".

The Manhattan district attorney has invited Donald Trump to testify voluntarily to the grand jury that is presumably considering charges in the Stormy Daniels payoff matter, as well as possible financial crimes. It's far from the worst thing Trump has done, but it is one of the most easily proved of his crimes; Michael Cohen has already done jail time for carrying out his wishes.

In New York, an offer to speak in front of a grand jury is typically the last step before a criminal indictment. State law mandates that potential defendants must be given an opportunity to appear before a grand jury to answer questions before they are indicted.

Trump will undoubtedly decline the invitation, just as he has repeatedly pled the fifth in any deposition under oath. In general, innocent people want the truth to come out, but guilty people don't.

I long ago lost patience with Trump-is-about-to-be-indicted stories, so I'm not getting excited. Call me when there's an actual indictment.

Ron DeSantis would like you to believe that book-banning in Florida is a "hoax", and the only books getting banned from Florida school libraries are "pornographic and inappropriate". But it looks like DeSantis is the one who's been hoaxing us. And novelist Jodi Picoult would like a word:

In the past six months, my books have been banned dozens of times in dozens of school districts. As sad as it seems, I was getting used to the emails from PEN America’s Jonathan Friedman telling me that yet again, my novel was under attack. But this week, something truly egregious happened. In Martin Country School District, 92 books were pulled from the school library shelves. Twenty of them were mine.

... It is worth noting I do not write adult romance. The majority of the books that were targeted do not even have a kiss in them. What they do have, however, are issues like racism, abortion rights, gun control, gay rights, and other topics that encourage kids to think for themselves.

So whenever DeSantis says the word "pornography", in your mind you need to interpret that as "Jodi Picoult".

Also in Florida, the state's surgeon general has been pushing Covid misinformation that federal agencies warn is harmful to the public.

and let's close with something that depends on your point of view

Artist Michael Murphy makes sculptures that may look entirely different from different perspectives.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Learn Everything

No matter how hard some people try, we can't just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know. We should learn everything, the good, the bad, the truth of who we are as a nation.

- President Biden, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge,
marking the anniversary of Bloody Sunday

This week's featured post is "Imaginary problems, real laws, real victims".

This week everybody was talking about bills in state legislatures

The featured post focuses on some of the scary laws either recently passed or under consideration in red-state legislatures, including Tennessee's anti-drag law and Ron DeSantis' attempt to get ideological control of Florida's state university system.

I left out some bills would indeed be terrible laws, but so far show no signs of moving in that direction. Remember: There are 50 state legislatures, most of which have two houses and 100-200 members. So there are thousands of state legislators, any one of whom can file a bill saying whatever. You can't let them troll you.

So Florida also has a bill that would make bloggers register with the state and file monthly reports if they write about state politics and receive money.

If a blogger posts to a blog about an elected state officer and receives, or will receive, compensation for that post, the blogger must register with the appropriate office, as identified in paragraph (1)(f), within 5 days after the first post by the blogger which mentions an elected state officer. ... Upon registering with the appropriate office, a blogger must file monthly reports on the 10th day following the end of each calendar month from the time a blog post is added to the blog

The reports have to say who paid you and how much. Failure to report on time carries a $25 per day fine for each post. I don't make any money off this blog, so it wouldn't apply to me. But I do wonder about blogs with advertising.

Anyway, the bill was filed on Tuesday, has only one person's name on it, and hasn't yet even been assigned to a committee. I'm not worried about it yet.

There's also a Florida bill to "cancel" the state's Democratic Party, but I doubt it's going anywhere.

and propaganda

We keep getting more information from the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against Fox News, and it just keeps looking worse for Fox. Earlier we saw internal communications among the most popular Fox anchors -- Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham -- indicating that they knew the 2020 election had not been stolen, and that the guests they were promoting to claim otherwise were "insane" or (in Sidney Powell's case) "a complete nut". When a Fox correspondent (accurately) fact-checked a Trump tweet claiming fraud, Carlson told Hannity:

Please get her fired. Seriously….What the fuck? I’m actually shocked…It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.

This week we discovered that top executives knew what the network was doing. In a deposition under oath, Fox owner Rupert Murdoch acknowledged that Trump's stolen-election claims were false, but disputed that Fox News as a whole had endorsed them. When asked specifically about the false stolen-election narrative, though, he did admit that "some of our commentators were endorsing it".

Also revealed in Dominion’s filing, Rupert Murdoch gave Jared Kushner, son-in-law of former President Donald Trump, “confidential information about [President Joe] Biden’s ads, along with debate strategy” in 2020, “providing Kushner a preview of Biden’s ads before they were public,” the court filing states.

Paul Ryan, who is on Fox's corporate board, warned Murdoch.

On at least one occasion, Ryan advised the Murdochs that the company should “move on from Donald Trump and stop spouting election lies.”

During this time, Ryan told the Murdochs that many of those who thought the election had been stolen did so “because they got a diet of information telling them the election was stolen from what they believe were credible sources.”

But of course, neither Murdoch nor Ryan did anything to stop the lies or warn the public about them.

Sean Hannity's response to the scandal is telling. He has been caught red-handed promoting lies to his audience -- not just getting something wrong, which can happen to anyone, but telling his viewers they should believe something that he knew was false and believed to be absurd.

At any legitimate news outlet he would be fired. But since he won't be, think about the ways he could conceivably respond to his scandal as an individual: He could resign voluntarily. He could apologize to his viewers and ask for their forgiveness. He could explain that the post-2020-election period was an unusual time that created unique pressures on him. He could tell his audience that he has learned a terrible lesson and will never intentionally mislead them again.

Of course, that would be completely un-Hannity-like. He isn't sorry, he hasn't learned a lesson, and he intends to continue propagandizing his viewers, whom he rightly sees as gullible rubes. So what does he do instead? He hosts a segment about how other media people lie.

They lie all the time and what bothers me is that they get away with it, and they just move on to the next set of lies.

So he doesn't even deny that he lied to his viewers (which would itself be a lie). He just tries to convince them that other people lie too.

This week a deceptive 19-second video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy went viral. In it he seemed to be calling on the US to send troops to defend his country from Russia. "The US will have to send their sons and daughters ... to war, and they will have to fight."

But if you look at a longer clip, that's not what he's saying at all. Having been asked what he would say to Americans who oppose sending aid to Ukraine, one reason he gives is that Putin will not stop after conquering Ukraine. Zelenskyy warns that Russia will then move on to attack NATO members like the Baltic states, which the US is treaty-bound to defend. Then "the US will have to send their sons and daughters ..."

So the gist of Zelenskyy's argument is the exact opposite of what his social media critics claimed: not that American troops should go to war for Ukraine, but that the US should support Ukraine with money and weapons so that American troops don't have to go to war later on somewhere else.

The cleverly edited clip went viral because it fooled a lot of people like your MAGA friend from high school. And I find it hard to blame them for sharing it, because devious propagandists fool ordinary people all the time. That's their job. Ordinary people don't usually have the time or attention or google-fu to follow the good advice CNN correspondent Daniel Dale gives at the end of this segment: "When you come across a sensational but short clip on social media, it's always a good idea to look for the extended footage."

But the clip was also shared by Senator Mike Lee and former Trump administration spokesperson Monica Crowley. Them I do blame, because they're supposed to be more sophisticated than this. Lee in particular has staff that could check things like this out for him, and he has a responsibility not to mislead his constituents.

Lee has since removed his tweet, but that's not good enough. He needs to apologize in a forum that gets as much attention as his original tweet did.

Speaking of irresponsible, do you think MTG was just fooled by the viral clip, or was she actively being dishonest during her CPAC speech?

I think the Republican Party has a duty. We have a responsibility, and that is to be the party that protects children. [applause] Now whether it's like Zelenskyy saying he wants our sons and daughters to go die in Ukraine ...

As Rick Perlstein pointed out back in 2012, conservative politics has had a long and intimate relationship with grifting. After all, both rely on identifying and exploiting people who are easily fooled. So it should surprise no one that Don Jr.'s fiance Kimberley Guilfoyle was pushing her precious-metal investment company at CPAC.

and you also might be interested in ...

"I don't want my kids reading books that make them feel bad about being big and bad."

Last week I talked about mainstream news sources like CNN, the NYT, and WaPo trying to avoid being cast as "the liberal media" by giving undeserved attention to conservative voices. Well, Wednesday brought a new example: "My Liberal Campus Is Pushing Freethinkers to the Right" by Princeton senior Adam Hoffman, published in the NYT.

Increasing radicalism among conservative students, Hoffman claims, is the fault of liberals.

For those on the right, the experience is alienating. The typical American’s views on gender ideology or American history are often irrelevant to his or her day-to-day life. But for the conservative college student, life is punctuated by political checkpoints. Classes may begin with requests for “preferred pronouns” or “land acknowledgments.”

I'm not getting it. If someone asks you what pronouns you prefer, it's not a "political checkpoint", it's a question. You can just answer it, the same way you'd answer someone who asked how to pronounce your name. (I've found "he/him" to be a perfectly acceptable response.) And having someone tell you which Native American tribe used to live here is alienating why exactly? The trauma escapes me.

One reason I follow David Roberts is that he doesn't just vent about something like this, he uses it as a teaching opportunity:

I just want to highlight what a perfect example of Murc's Law it is. Murc's Law says, basically: only the left has agency; the right is merely reacting, having its hand forced, being "pushed" or "shaped."

This is not some quirk, it is central to reactionary psychology. Every fascist (and fascist-adjacent) movement ever has told itself the same story: our opponents are destroying everything, they're forcing us to this, we have no choice but violence.

It is, at a base level, a way of denying responsibility, of saying, "we know the shit we're about to do is bad, but it's not our fault, you made us." Once you recognize the pattern it shows up *everywhere*.

I don't understand why some crimes or trials catch some network's attention while the vast majority don't. I can't count the number of times I've channel-scanned through CNN in the last month and immediately kept scanning because they were telling me about the Alex Murdaugh murder trial. The CDC says there were about 26,000 homicides in the US in 2021, the most recent year I could find numbers for. I have no idea why I should care about this one more than the others.

The public fascination with the O. J. Simpson trial in 1994 made some sense to me, because O. J. had been a celebrity for years; many Americans probably felt like they knew him. But I still remember how puzzled I was by the way the JonBenet Ramsey murder case dominated the news for months in 1996. During that time, dozens or maybe even hundreds of other little girls were murdered or vanished without a trace. But we didn't hear about them, we heard about Ramsey.

So this week Murdaugh was convicted and sentenced. I have no opinion about whether that was a fair outcome or not, because why should I? I just care that it's over, because maybe now CNN can get back to covering the news.

Eli Lilly announced plans to cap insulin prices at $35 per month. It's not that they've decided to be the good guys, but it's bad PR to so publicly be the bad guys.

David French responds to the "national divorce" idea, echoing many of the points I made last week. He adds a disturbing historical observation.

The South separated from the North and started a ruinous and futile war [in 1861] not because of calm deliberation, but rather because of hysteria and fear — including hysteria and fear whipped up by the partisan press.

So my question is not “Is divorce reasonable?” but rather, “Are we susceptible to the unreason that triggered war once before?”

Here's a fun tweet storm:

My sustainability class just finished a module about disinformation. I had them write me a letter assuming they were flunking and arguing that they deserve an A, using the techniques of disinformation we discussed, like cherry picking, false experts and ad hominem. HOO-boy.

The thread of examples is both amusing and instructive. More classes should try this exercise.

Even Fox News' Jesse Watters has started to notice that the House GOP majority isn't accomplishing much, even by their own standards. "Where are the bombshells? Have the investigations even started? ... Where are the smoking gun documents?"

But he isn't ready yet to reach the obvious conclusion: Maybe the "scandals" the Republicans promised to uncover are actually a bunch of crap that can't stand up to scrutiny outside the friendly environment of Fox News.

But Matt Gaetz has an answer to that problem: one-party rule.

It is no longer time to go back to the old, low-energy Paul Ryan, Trey Gowdy days of fake oversight. These are the Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz days. And if the Democrats are going to obstruct our investigation, then I am calling to remove the Democrats from our investigation. They shouldn't be allowed to sit in the depositions and hear the evidence if they are going to use that to try to get in the way of thorough, rigorous oversight.

Think about what he's saying here: His side won't be able to make their case if anyone in the room can fact-check, or ask the witnesses unscripted questions. So get them out of the room.

I can anticipate an objection to what I just said: "Isn't that what happened in the 1-6 committee hearings?" Two counter-points: (1) Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger were Republicans; they just weren't MAGA Republicans. (2) Kevin McCarthy is the one who pulled his people off the committee, because he thought he could de-legitimize it.

and let's close with something local

The library about half a mile from here has a charming annual contest to make a diorama with peeps. It may or may not be great art, but it has become a beloved local tradition. I hope your town has something similar.

Here's my favorite from last year: the "Immersive Van Peep" exhibit.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Speech and Understanding

It’s almost gotten to be boring, the degree to which people believe that what they refer to as “free speech” should not only allow them to say whatever they want (which it does), but should also prevent other people from understanding them to be the sort of person who says those things.

- A. R. Moxon "The Case for Shunning"

This week's featured post is "MTG's dream deserves a serious response".

This week everybody was talking about the first anniversary of the Ukraine War

One year in, a few conclusions are obvious:

  • It's amazing that Ukraine, with material help from the NATO countries, is still standing. The Ukrainian military has performed better than anyone expected and the Russian military worse.
  • Sanctions have not been as crippling to the Russian economy as many expected.
  • NATO has been far more united and resolute than most expected. President Biden deserves a lot of credit for this.
  • So far, military failure has not loosened Vladimir Putin's hold on power in Russia.

In general, I've been surprised by the optimism many observers expressed this week about Ukraine's position. A long war usually turns into a war of attrition, which favors the larger country. (I keep thinking about the American Civil War. Early in the war, Lincoln's generals maneuvered to preserve their army. But Grant understood that he had reserves to draw on and Lee didn't, so battles that decimated both armies were actually victories. It was a horrible vision, but ultimately a successful one.)

The countervailing view is that Ukraine has now seen what Putin intends: to utterly destroy Ukrainian society. So they are motivated in a way that Russian troops aren't. One apocryphal Sun Tzu quote says that you should "build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across". But Putin has left Ukrainians nowhere to retreat to, and so they will keep fighting as long as it takes.

The optimists say that Russia has sustained enormous casualties during its recent offensive and has gained little. So they're expecting a successful Ukrainian counter-attack to begin sometime during the spring months.

All across Europe, people helped Russian diplomats mark the anniversary: In The Hague, a portable barrel organ sat on the sidewalk outside the Russian embassy and played the Ukrainian national anthem. In Berlin, somebody plunked a disabled Russian tank in front of the embassy.

and the East Palestine derailment

On February 3, a Norfolk Southern train that included 20 cars of hazardous chemicals derailed near East Palestine, Ohio. Wikipedia has the basic facts, and I'm way late in covering this. (I missed it two weeks ago, and then took a week off.) So I'm going to focus on interpretation and reaction.

Basically, the only three things worth paying attention to are

  1. The Past. Could either the railroad or its government regulators have prevented this?
  2. The Present. Are the people affected by the derailment getting the kind of help they need?
  3. The Future. What practices or regulations need to change to keep more stuff like this from happening?

Anybody who talks about the derailment without addressing one of those three questions is just playing political games. For example, Ukraine has nothing to do with any of those questions, so if somebody tries to link Ukraine and East Palestine together, they're wasting your time and trying to bamboozle you. (I'm looking at you, Josh Hawley.) And the attempt to use suffering of working-class White people to increase racial resentment is just despicable.

About the present, I don't know what to say. Obviously, after a disaster like this, the people affected have conflicting urges: They want to go home, get back to normal, and be safe. So when to let them restart their normal lives involves a lot of technical questions about testing and balancing long-term risks that I can't answer. We may not know for years whether those judgments were made well. It's also too soon to tell what kind of remediation the area will need and where the funding will come from. (I want to see Norfolk Southern pay the brunt of it, though I doubt it will.)

If someone believes the people of East Palestine (and downstream communities) won't get the help they need, they should make a proposal for help and see if anyone actually opposes it. Any vague they're-all-against-you talk, though, is just demagoguery.

Long-term, I think the main lesson to be learned from this disaster is that government needs to regulate business. Every year or two I see another study totaling up some awesome quantity of money that government regulations "cost" the economy. ($1.9 trillion a year, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute.) Typically, these studies list every dollar companies spend to avoid killing people and poisoning the land -- and they completely ignore the benefits of companies not killing people and poisoning the land. (If it really does cost us $1.9 trillion each year to avoid living in a post-apocalyptic hellscape, that sounds to me like money well spent.)

The Obama administration tried to require railroads to improve their braking systems. (A better technology has existed for decades.) It also wanted to strengthen cars that carry hazardous materials, so that they'd be less likely to rupture in an accident. But the industry claimed that installing the new systems would be too expensive, so the regulation was never implemented. The Trump administration then reversed course and slashed railroad regulations -- because, you know, regulations just get in the way of corporations who otherwise would always do the right thing.

There's still debate over whether the Obama regulations might have prevented the East Palestine disaster. (Ironically, the claim that they wouldn't have rests mainly on the idea that Obama's regulations weren't sweeping enough, and so might not have applied to a train that was only partly a hazardous-chemical train.)

Another issue is whether trains like this need more crew to spot problems sooner and take action. This was a major issue in last year's union dispute, where Congress and the Biden administration averted a national strike by imposing a settlement. The East Palestine train had only two crew members and a trainee to handle 141 freight cars. Is that enough?

What shouldn't be under debate is that trains could be made much safer, if we only had the will to do so. The people of East Palestine didn't lose political battle with Ukraine or Black people, they lost a political battle with railroad lobbyists. So Josh Hawley's statement is easy to fix:

I would say to Republicans: You can either be the party of Ukraine corporate lobbyists and the globalists deregulation, or you can be the party of East Palestine and the working people of this country.

and Fox News

The text of the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against Fox News came out, and it is devastating. The claim, which is supported in detail by internal Fox communications, is that Fox knew Trump's claims about Dominion voting machines stealing the election for Biden were false; but it promoted them anyway because it was afraid of losing viewers to Newsmax. All the major Fox hosts -- Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity -- were telling each other how ridiculous the claims were, even as their shows pushed them out to viewers.

It's been clear for decades that much of Fox' coverage is ridiculous and/or false. But there's always been a debate about its authenticity: Do the hosts actually believe the crazy theories they peddle, or are they consciously duping their viewers? Now we know the answer: They don't believe what they're saying, and are just taking advantage of their viewers' ignorance and gullibility.

For years, one constant Fox drumbeat has been to tell its viewers "The elites are laughing at you." That is the root grievance that animates just about every segment of every show. But now we know that it is really Carlson, Ingraham, and Hannity who are laughing at their viewers.

Speaker McCarthy has turned all the January 6 security-camera footage over to Tucker Carlson. We already know that Carlson is dishonest (see above), so what he will do with the video is predictable: He will selectively edit it to spin some conspiracy theory that vindicates the pro-Trump mob. When he does this, no one in the legitimate news media will have any way to check the choices he made: What if you look at the scene from a different angle, or watch a longer clip of the same video?

Jamie Raskin has it exactly right: "If you want to make tens of thousands of hours publicly available, then it should be available for all media, not for just one propaganda mouthpiece."

Of course, the better decision is not to release it at all. Anyone with access to this video will know where all the Capitol's security cameras are, and can observe in detail where the weak spots in Capitol security were on January 6.

and The New York Times

Fox isn't the only news site that's been under fire recently. A week ago Thursday, 200 NYT contributors signed an open letter protesting the paper's treatment of transgender issues. Several examples are given of the basic charge, which is that the Times has repeatedly laundered the talking points of anti-trans hate groups, turning them into front-page articles, which are then quoted by legislators pushing trans-oppressing bills.

A supporting letter endorsed by numerous LGBTQ-supporting organizations was written by GLAAD.

It is appalling that the Times would dedicate so many resources and pages to platforming the voices of extremist anti-LGBTQ activists who have built their careers on denigrating and dehumanizing LGBTQ people, especially transgender people. While there have been a few fair stories, mostly human interest stories, those articles are not getting front-page placement or sent to app users via push notification like the irresponsible pieces are.

Those letters point to a broader problem: Because national news sources like the NYT, Washington Post, and CNN hate to be characterized as "the liberal media", conservatives can work the refs to get undeserved attention and credibility for right-wing talking points.

A case in point, this one about race rather than gender: Wednesday the WaPo published an opinion piece: "I’m a Black physician, and I’m appalled by mandated implicit bias training" by Marilyn Singleton.

If you just stumbled onto this article cold (as I did), you might imagine that a female Black doctor with no particular political ax to grind found herself in implicit-bias training and was appalled by what the trainers tried to teach her. That would certainly be an opinion worth hearing.

But if you read the article thoroughly and google up some relevant context, a completely different picture emerges. Singleton is not just a doctor, she's a politician who ran for Congress in 2012 on a platform opposing the Affordable Care Act. (Her argument, expanded at length in Med City News, was that people's poor health is primarily due to their own bad habits, which government can do nothing about.) She's also a contributor for the right-wing Heartland Institute, which is part of the Koch network, and whose top issue is climate change denial. Singleton's contribution to Heartland was an article protesting the "big government" response to Covid-19, promoting hydroxychloroquine as a "potentially lifesaving drug", and describing barriers preventing its use against Covid (barriers that turned out to be entirely justified) as "appalling and unforgivable".

And then (in paragraph 9 of her WaPo article) it turns out that Singleton has not in fact taken implicit-bias training.

I am so disturbed by the state’s mandate that, so far, I have balked at the training.

That admission comes after multiple paragraphs in which she has explained -- entirely on her own authority, without reference to any training documents, trainer statements, or trainee accounts -- the training's "malignant false assumption" and "basic message", as well as characterizing it as a "racially regressive practice". But how does she know these things about a training she's never taken?

In short: a right-wing activist who has no actual experience of implicit-bias training repeats right-wing talking points about it. And for some mysterious reason, this entirely predictable set of opinions deserves prominent placement in The Washington Post.

Worse, the only warning WaPo offers its readers that they are about to be propagandized is: "Marilyn Singleton is a board-certified anesthesiologist and a visiting fellow at the medical advocacy organization Do No Harm." Again, you have to do your own googling to figure out what this means: Do No Harm is a right-wing organization focused on opposing "critical race theory" as it applies to medicine. Its FAQ defines CRT as "a divisive ideology that attributes all societal problems to racism", an opinion I have never heard expressed by an actual anti-racism advocate.

and culture war battles

You know those conservative white guys who get seriously offended when someone implies they might be racists? Well, here's a great example: Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert. In this clip (starting at about the 16 minute mark), he explains his new strategy for dealing with Black people:

I would say, based on the current way things are going, the best advice I would give to White people is to get the hell away from Black people. Just get the fuck away. Wherever you have to go, just get away, cause there's no fixing this. ... So that's what I did. I went to a place with a very low Black population. ... I'm going to back off from being helpful to Black America, because it doesn't seem like it pays off. Like, I've been doing it all my life, and the only outcome is I get called a racist.

Really, Scott? That's so unfair, that anybody would call you a racist. Clearly there's not a racist bone in your body, and I'm sure Black America is really going to miss all your sincere helpfulness.

Sarcasm aside, that's probably the last you'll see of Dilbert for a while. Just about every newspaper in the country is dropping it. Adams' statements are part of an hour-long post to his own YouTube channel -- not an open-mic moment or somebody recording a drunken ramble on their iPhone -- so clearly he planned his transformation into an anti-woke martyr. We'll see where he takes it from here.

If you're wondering what inspired Adams' rant -- other than maybe a desire to headline at CPAC or get Trump to say nice things about him on Truth Social -- the Reframe blog explains:

There’s a saying that is very popular among white supremacists and neo Nazis and other far right bigots, and that saying is this: “It’s OK to be white.” It’s a catchphrase of theirs, which tries to position people deemed “white” as an oppressed minority, which they are not, instead of an artificially created privileged class, which is what they are.

And there’s a right-wing polling company called Rasmussen, who decided, for some reason they’d probably like us all to pretend is unknowable, to ask people whether or not they agree with the statement “it’s OK to be white”—which is, again, a well-known catchphrase among white supremacists.

Apparently only about half of Black Americans polled agreed with the phrase, which is a pretty high level of acceptance for a well-known white supremacist catchphrase, and which probably only shows the degree to which Black Americans are aware that this is a catchphrase among white supremacists.

Dilbert creator Scott Adams got into the crosstabs and found this little tidbit, and proceeded to have a decidedly non-skeptical meltdown about it. He decided to not know that “it’s OK to be white” is a white supremacist catchphrase (or at least not to mention it), and proclaimed that this result meant that Black people are a hate group, and advocated that white people stay the hell away from Black people, and he said some other racist things, too, which is the sort of thing he does from time to time.

Governor Bill Lee's signature is all that Tennessee needs to be the first state to ban drag performances "on public property" or "in a location where [it] could be viewed by a person who is not an adult." SB 3, which has passed both houses of the legislature, lumps drag shows in with other "adult cabaret" performances.

"Adult cabaret performance" means a performance in a location other than an adult cabaret that features topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest, or similar entertainers, regardless of whether or not performed for consideration;

The law follows the pattern of other recent repressive laws in red states, in that its vaguely defined terms seem intended have a chilling effect on a wide variety of activities. For example, what exactly does an impersonator have to do to "appeal to a prurient interest"? The law does not say. Is simply standing around in a showgirl costume enough? And is any trans person a "male or female impersonator" under Tennessee law? Suppose a trans woman headed for a night out wears something slinky (but no different from what another woman might wear). If she walks down a public sidewalk, she could be breaking the law.

Conservatives are supposedly for local rights, but cities and towns are forbidden to have their own standards. They're supposedly for parental rights, but parents who want their child to see a drag show can't. They're all for the First Amendment when it protects Nazis on Twitter, but not here.

Rep. Justin Jones from Nashville knew he couldn't win the vote, but he could call out the hypocrisy:

If we want to talk about what is seriously harmful to children, let's have a bill to ban children from going to these Bible camps where they're being sexually assaulted with the Southern Baptist Convention. Let's go after real threats to our youth. Let's go after the predatory behavior in your own districts, clergy in your own congregations, harming youth. Weekly we read about this in the news, my colleagues.

That's a statistic somebody needs to tabulate: How does the number of kids sexually assaulted by drag queens compare to the number sexually assaulted by ministers?

Another recent culture-war hoo-hah has to do with the publisher editing children's books by the late Roald Dahl to eliminate a few words and phrases that present-day readers might find offensive, like saying that Augustus Gloop (in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is "enormous" instead of "fat".

The changes have drawn objections from a wide range of critics, left and right. (The objection that most resonates with me is that the people making these changes are exactly the kinds of adults Dahl liked to make fun of.)

But whether you like or don't like the changes, let's attribute them to the right source: As with the great Dr. Seuss uproar of 2021, this isn't primarily a political-correctness thing; it's just capitalism. Helen Lewis nails it:

The Dahl controversy will inevitably be presented as a debate about culture—a principled stand in favor of free speech versus a righteous attempt to combat prejudice and bigotry. But it’s really about money. I’ve written before about how some of the most inflammatory debates, over “cancel culture” and “wokeness,” are best seen as capital defending itself. The Dahl rewrites were surely designed to preserve the value of the [intellectual property] as much as advance the cause of social justice.

Some government agency demanding these changes would be a completely different issue. It would even be different if some left-wing group were threatening a boycott. But this is just brand protection, and apparently it's going to lead to a New Coke/Classic Coke outcome.

In general, I stand by what I said two years ago:

What should be done about [dated phrases and illustrations] depends on what you want Dr. Seuss to be in 2021. If he's to be a historical figure — a leading children’s-book author of the mid-to-late 20th century — then his work should speak for itself. Leave it alone, and organize a conversation around it, as HBO Max did when it briefly withdrew and then re-launched Gone With the Wind. ...

But if Theodore Geisel’s legacy is supposed to be timeless — [his widow's] vision — if his work is supposed to live through our era and beyond, then it needs to be curated. Parents and grandparents should be able to trust the Dr. Seuss brand. When you sit down to read to your four-year-old, you should be able to pick up a Dr. Seuss book without worrying that you might put something bad into a developing mind.

People can reasonably disagree about how to curate beloved children's literature of the past. But if you argue that the texts should be left alone, you're turning them into museum pieces. Over time, more and more parents will do the curation themselves by not introducing their children to authors they see as problematic.

Becoming seldom-read historical figures may or may not be what authors would prefer, if that's what it takes to preserve their original texts. But turning popular works into historical artifacts is definitely bad for business.

and you also might be interested in ...

A week ago Friday, newly elected Senator John Fetterman checked into a hospital to get treatment for his clinical depression. His office is talking in terms of weeks, not days.

Fetterman had a serious stroke not long after winning the Democratic senatorial primary, and has lingering effects related to understanding spoken words. He stayed in the race in spite of the stroke and won his seat last fall. According to

Depression is a common experience for stroke survivors. It’s often caused by biochemical changes in the brain.

Experts keep going back and forth about whether the Covid-19 pandemic started through natural transmission from animals or leaked out of a laboratory. The Department of Energy now believes (with "low confidence") that it was a lab leak, though several other government agencies still disagree.

Whichever way you go on this question, it's important not to jump to the conclusion that the virus was constructed rather than naturally-occurring. Among scientists, even lab-leak proponents overwhelmingly believe the lab was collecting viruses for study rather than building them.

The Southern Baptist Convention is kicking out Saddleback Church, the megachurch founded by best-selling author Rick Warren. Saddleback's crime? It named a woman to its pastoral team. When Warren retired as lead pastor last fall, he named Andy Wood as his successor. Andy's wife, Stacie Wood, became a "teaching pastor" at the same time. That breaks the SBC's rules.

Keeping women out of the ministry is one of those rules that can only be enforced strictly. Because once your people see their first woman minister, it will be obvious to most of them that excluding women was always senseless bigotry. Amazingly quickly, the men-only pulpit starts to look like the Jim-Crow-era whites-only drinking fountain. You think: "Really? We used to do that?"

Mike Pence is trying to dodge a subpoena from Jack Smith with a bizarre constitutional argument that I won't even go into. If you get lost in details like that, you'll miss the fact that if Trump did nothing wrong Pence should want to testify, so that the truth will come out. Why does there even need to be a subpoena? What does Pence want to cover up? Why won't he say things under oath that he has already written in a book?

If you do care about the legalities here, iconic conservative Judge J. Michael Luttig, the very guy Pence consulted when he wanted know exactly what his constitutional powers would be on January 6, has written an op-ed explaining why Pence's argument against the subpoena doesn't hold water.

It is Mr. Pence who has chosen to politicize the subpoena, not the D.O.J.

and let's close with something moving

Much as I try to empathize with people everywhere, events hit me harder when I have a personal connection. For example, last summer's 4th of July shooting in Highland Park stuck with me more than most shootings, both because I used to live in the Chicago area and because Highland Park has been the backdrop for so many movies and TV shows I've seen (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Risky Business, The Good Wife). Highland Park has become Hollywood's archetype of an insulated suburban enclave.

Well, I'm a Michigan State graduate, so the mass shooting of students on campus on February 13 had a bigger impact on me than the general run of mass shootings. (Think about that phrase for a moment: the general run of mass shootings. The United States is the only country where someone would say those words.)

One emotion that surfaces after a lot of disasters is collective pride in the human spirit, which keeps going in the face of tragedy. One way the MSU community expressed that pride after the shooting was by circulating this YouTube from 2012: the MSU Men's Glee singing "We Rise Again".