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kottke.org posts about Politics

The Kids Are Right (and Alright)

Osita Nwanevu on the recent US campus protests:

The student left is the most reliably correct constituency in America. Over the past 60 years, it has passed every great moral test American foreign policy has forced upon the public, including the Vietnam war, the question of relations with apartheid South Africa, and the Iraq war. Student activists were at the heart of the black civil rights movement from the very beginning. To much derision and abuse, they pushed for more rights, protections and respect for women and queer people on their campuses than the wider world was long willing to provide. And over the past 20 years in particular, policymakers have arrived belatedly to stances on economic inequality, climate change, drug policy and criminal justice that putative radicals on campus took up long before them.

They have not always been right; even when right, their prescriptions for the problems they’ve identified and their means of directing attention to them have not always been prudent. But time and time and time again, the student left in America has squarely faced and expressed truths our politicians and all the eminent and eloquent voices of moderation in the press, in all of their supposed wisdom and good sense, have been unable or unwilling to see. Straining against an ancient and immortal prejudice against youth, it has made a habit of telling the American people, in tones that discomfit, what they need to hear before they are ready to hear it.

(via @anildash.com)


The Demon of Unrest by Erik Larson

Demon Of Unrest

Oh man, I screwed up big-time you guys and owe you an apology. The great Erik Larson (The Devil in the White City, The Splendid and the Vile, In the Garden of Beasts) came out with a new book two weeks ago and I somehow missed it! I almost shrieked when I saw it on the bookstore front table yesterday.

Anyway, the book is called The Demon of Unrest: A Saga of Hubris, Heartbreak, and Heroism at the Dawn of the Civil War (bookshop.org). Here’s the synopsis:

On November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln became the fluky victor in a tight race for president. The country was bitterly at odds; Southern extremists were moving ever closer to destroying the Union, with one state after another seceding and Lincoln powerless to stop them. Slavery fueled the conflict, but somehow the passions of North and South came to focus on a lonely federal fortress in Charleston Harbor: Fort Sumter.

Master storyteller Erik Larson offers a gripping account of the chaotic months between Lincoln’s election and the Confederacy’s shelling of Sumter โ€” a period marked by tragic errors and miscommunications, enflamed egos and craven ambitions, personal tragedies and betrayals. Lincoln himself wrote that the trials of these five months were “so great that, could I have anticipated them, I would not have believed it possible to survive them.”

With a movie out in theaters called Civil War and southern states once again agitating for “”“state’s rights”“” (I really can’t put enough exaggerated air-quotes around that phrase) in order to control bodily freedoms, The Demon of Unrest is really timely; Larson himself connects the events of the book with January 6th in a reader’s note:

I was well into my research on the saga of Fort Sumter and the advent of the American Civil War when the events of January 6, 2021, took place. As I watched the Capitol assault unfold on camera, I had the eerie feeling that present and past had merged. It is unsettling that in 1861 two of the greatest moments of national dread centered on the certification of the Electoral College vote and the presidential inauguration.

I was appalled by the attack, but also riveted. I realized that the anxiety, anger, and astonishment that I felt would certainly have been experienced in 1860-1861 by vast numbers of Americans. With this in mind, I set out to try to capture the real suspense of those long-ago months when the country lurched toward catastrophe, propelled by hubris, duplicity, false honor, and an unsatisfiable craving on the part of certain key actors for personal attention and affirmation. Many voices at the time of Sumter warned of civil war, but few had an inkling of what that might truly mean, and certainly none would have believed that any such war could take the lives of 750,000 Americans.

History may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme. So anyway, I’m 60+ pages in and can already recommend it โ€” you can get The Demon of Unrest at Amazon or bookshop.org.

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Squaring the Reality of What We See

Gareth Fearn writing for the London Review of Books about the student protests on US campuses: Liberalism without Accountability.

This is a toxic combination: universities reliant on investment portfolios in a system where mega-profits are made by companies that threaten and destroy human life, influenced by an increasingly radicalised class of billionaires, teaching students whose degrees won’t earn them enough to pay off their loans, managed by supine administrators threatened by (or willingly collaborating with) a reactionary right, who have decided that young people’s minds are being turned against capitalism not by their own lived experience of austerity and racialised police violence but by ‘woke Marxist professors’. This situation has now met with a live-streamed genocide which is supported, and brazenly lied about, by political leaders and commentators who claim to stand for truth and justice. Students, like much of the public, cannot square the reality of what they see with the world as constructed by politicians and the media.

Under such circumstances, pitching tents, raising placards and demanding divestment are really quite mild-mannered responses. That they have been met, in many US universities, with militarised policing reflects the fragility of liberalism โ€” in the face of the growing hegemony of the conservative right as well as its own inability to offer a future even to Ivy League college students, let alone the less privileged.


The Flashlight Gun Is Peak WTF America

An officer “accidentally” fired his weapon during an NYPD raid on a student-occupied building at Columbia University on Tuesday. Apparently, he mistook his gun for a flashlight. You may be wondering: how could this happen? Well, like this. From a 2014 article in the Denver Post:

an illustration of a gun with a flashlight mounted on it, showing a second trigger for the light right under the first trigger

Ronny Flanagan took pride in his record as a police officer in Plano, Texas. He had an incident-free career. He took safety training regularly. He was known at the range as a very good shot.

Yet he killed a man when he was simply trying to press a flashlight switch mounted beneath the trigger on his pistol.

In a deposition, Flanagan expressed his remorse and made a prediction.

“I don’t want anyone to ever sit in a chair I’m in right now,” he said. “Think about the officers that aren’t as well trained, officers that don’t take it as seriously, and you put them in a pressure situation, another accident will happen. Not if, but will.”

Jeeeeesus Christ this is the most American shit ever. First of all: guns, guns, guns!! We love ‘em! Don’t forget the complete militarization of the police (they’ve got tanks!), which happens in tinpot countries where leaders fear the citizenry. Those gun flashlights were initially developed for the Navy SEALs and now city cops wield them around students.

And then. And then! There’s the completely genius idea of PUTTING A SECOND TRIGGER ON A GUN โ€” I wish I had letters more uppercase than uppercase for this next part โ€” RIGHT BELOW THE FIRST TRIGGER!!!!!!! 1
You know, the one that propels a projectile out of the weapon at deadly speeds!?

You’re familiar with those doors where the handle makes it seem like a pull but you actually have to push it? They’re called Norman doors, the canonical example of bad design. These flashlight guns are like Norman doors that kill people. W T Actual Fuck. (via @ygalanter.bsky.social)

  1. I know I’m gonna get email about this so I’ll stop you right there Johnny Gmail: I am sure “not all guns” ๐Ÿฅด with flashlights are designed like this. I am positive that putting yet another switch on a firearm that’s designed to be used when the gun is pointed at something or someone is a Bad Idea. And anyway, this whole thing about being an “accident” is BS anyway…there is nothing accidental about where that officer was with the gear that he had, doing what he was doing. It is all perfectly predictable that guns are fired by militarized police in Gun Land USA.

“A 600-Year-Old Blueprint for Weathering Climate Change”

This is a fascinating article by Kathleen DuVal about how climate change (including the Little Ice Age) affected social and political structures in North America in the 13th and 14th centuries.

But then the climate reversed itself. In response, Native North American societies developed a deep distrust of the centralization, hierarchy, and inequality of the previous era, which they blamed for the famines and disruptions that had hit cities hard. They turned away from omnipotent leaders and the cities they ruled, and built new, smaller-scale ways of living, probably based in part on how their distant ancestors lived.

While Europeans reacted to the Little Ice Age by centralizing and militarizing under hereditary absolute monarchs, Native Americans went in a decidedly different direction:

The cities that Native Americans left behind during the Little Ice Age-ruins such as those at Chaco Canyon and Cahokia-led European explorers and modern archaeologists alike to imagine societal collapse and the tragic loss of a golden age. But oral histories from the generations that followed the cities’ demise generally described what came later as better. Smaller communities allowed for more sustainable economies. Determined not to depend on one source of sustenance, people supplemented their farming with increased hunting, fishing, and gathering. They expanded existing networks of trade, carrying large amounts of goods all across the continent in dugout canoes and on trading roads; these routes provided a variety of products in good times and a safety net when drought or other disasters stressed supplies. They developed societies that encouraged balance and consensus, in part to mitigate the problems caused by their changing climate.

Being an adult in the 21st century is the continual discovery of things you never learned in school โ€” how climate change has altered the course of history and changed our societies was not adequately represented in my history classes. (See, for example, how climate change played a role in Brexit.)

DuVal’s article is excerpted from her upcoming book, Native Nations: A Millennium in North America (Bookshop), which sounds really interesting:

A millennium ago, North American cities rivaled urban centers around the world in size. Then, following a period of climate change and instability, numerous smaller nations emerged, moving away from rather than toward urbanization. From this urban past, egalitarian government structures, diplomacy, and complex economies spread across North America. So, when Europeans showed up in the sixteenth century, they encountered societies they did not understand-those having developed differently from their own-and whose power they often underestimated.

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The Enablers

This is quite a paragraph from Adam Gopnik’s New Yorker review (titled The Forgotten History of Hitler’s Establishment Enablers (subhead: “The Nazi leader didn’t seize power; he was given it.”)) of Timothy Ryback’s new book, Takeover: Hitler’s Final Rise to Power:

Ryback details, week by week, day by day, and sometimes hour by hour, how a country with a functional, if flawed, democratic machinery handed absolute power over to someone who could never claim a majority in an actual election and whom the entire conservative political class regarded as a chaotic clown with a violent following. Ryback shows how major players thought they could find some ulterior advantage in managing him. Each was sure that, after the passing of a brief storm cloud, so obviously overloaded that it had to expend itself, they would emerge in possession of power. The corporate bosses thought that, if you looked past the strutting and the performative antisemitism, you had someone who would protect your money. Communist ideologues thought that, if you peered deeply enough into the strutting and the performative antisemitism, you could spy the pattern of a popular revolution. The decent right thought that he was too obviously deranged to remain in power long, and the decent left, tempered by earlier fights against different enemies, thought that, if they forcibly stuck to the rule of law, then the law would somehow by itself entrap a lawless leader. In a now familiar paradox, the rational forces stuck to magical thinking, while the irrational ones were more logical, parsing the brute equations of power. And so the storm never passed. In a way, it still has not.

I got this via Clayton Cubitt, who says “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.”


The Problem With Loving the Unborn

This Facebook post from June 2018 by Dave Barnhart, a Methodist pastor, is worth quoting in full:

“The unborn” are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated, unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor; they don’t resent your condescension or complain that you are not politically correct; unlike widows, they don’t ask you to question patriarchy; unlike orphans, they don’t need money, education, or childcare; unlike aliens, they don’t bring all that racial, cultural, and religious baggage that you dislike; they allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you can forget about them, because they cease to be unborn. It’s almost as if, by being born, they have died to you. You can love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging your own wealth, power, or privilege, without re-imagining social structures, apologizing, or making reparations to anyone. They are, in short, the perfect people to love if you want to claim you love Jesus but actually dislike people who breathe.

Prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The poor? Widows? Orphans? All the groups that are specifically mentioned in the Bible? They all get thrown under the bus for the unborn.

(thx, caroline)

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The Bias of Perceived Independence

This is an interesting point by Chris Hayes about the difference between institutions (the NY Times, the Dept. of Justice, Facebook) trying to be independent and trying to be perceived as independent:

But here’s the rub, if your goal is to be perceived as independent, then you are wholly *dependent* on the perceptions of some group of people (in both cases conservatives/Republicans). And now, if you’re just courting their perceptions, then you’re no longer independent! In fact you’re the opposite; you’re entirely dependent on how they perceive you. You’ve just traded one form of audience or partisan capture for another!


When the Ceiling Gets Lower

Technology analyst & scholar Dan Wang was one of the folks on the walk and talk I did in northern Thailand back in December. In his annual letter for 2023, Wang recapped the walk, using it as a jumping-off point for his wheelhouse topic: China. Most interesting to me were his observations about the trend of Chinese moving abroad, including to Thailand.

Many people still feel ambivalence about moving to Thailand. Not everyone has mustered the courage to tell their Chinese parents where they really are. Mom and dad are under the impression that they’re studying abroad in Europe or something. That sometimes leads to elaborate games to maintain the subterfuge, like drawing curtains to darken the room when they video chat with family, since they’re supposed to be in a totally different time zone; or keeping up with weather conditions in the city they’re supposed to be so that they’re not surprised when parents ask about rain or snow.

There still are some corners in China that are relatively permissive. One of these is Yunnan’s Dali, a city on the northern tip of highland Southeast Asia, where I spent much of 2022. There, one can find the remnants of a drug culture as well as a party scene for an occasional rave. But even Dali is becoming less tenable these days since the central government has cottoned on that the city is a hub for free spirits. The tightening restrictions emanating from Beijing are spreading to every corner of the country. “China feels like a space in which the ceiling keeps getting lower,” one person told me. “To stay means that we have to walk around with our heads lowered and our backs hunched.”

I also recently read this piece about The Chinese Migrants of Chiang Mai by Amy Zhang (via Jodi Ettenberg)

What strikes me is how Thailand’s porousness โ€” the fluidity of entries and exits due to the comparatively lax visa processes compared to other countries โ€” mean that while some can stay and enroll their kids in school here, some may go back to China after a long visit, carrying new ideas and experiences with them home. And in this case, it’s Chinese feminism being discussed in Chiang Mai, while feminist and LGBTQ+ groups are being increasingly suppressed in China itself.

The sentiment in that line quoted by Wang โ€” “China feels like a space in which the ceiling keeps getting lower” โ€” probably feels quite familiar to many here in the United States, particularly women, LGBTQ+ folks, and their families living in states with increasingly draconian laws around bodily autonomy.

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America Is at a Familiar Crossroads

the book cover for Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America by Heather Cox Richardson

This is a great overview and review by Teri Kanefield of Heather Cox Richardson’s new book, Democracy Awakening.

She opens with: “America is at a crossroads.”

But crossroads aren’t new. We’ve been at them before.

She shows how this moment is part of an ongoing struggle between a small group of white people who think that America was founded on principles of white supremacy and should remain that way, and the rest of us.

Throughout US history, the white supremacists have seized power and implemented minority rule: secession, Jim Crow & anti-immigration laws. Then the majority pushes back: the Civil War & Reconstruction, The New Deal.

The current GOP is a backlash against Brown v Board of Education (the Supreme Court case that declared racial segregation in schools unconstitutional.)

Richardson traces in detail how that backlash happened, and how today’s backlash echoes the language and attitudes of the Confederacy.

She shows Nixon and others tied taxes to “redistributing wealth” to “undeserving” people as a way to get lower income racists aboard an economic agenda that hurt them.

I really have to make time to read this book!


A Manifesto from People Reluctant To Kill for an Abstraction

I ran across this Slate piece by George Saunders yesterday and thought it was worth reposting. (Content warning: this article lists many violent acts, none of which are performed.)

At precisely 9 in the morning, working with focus and stealth, our entire membership succeeded in simultaneously beheading no one. At 10, Phase II began, during which our entire membership did not force a single man to suck another man’s penis. Also, none of us blew himself/herself up in a crowded public place. No civilians were literally turned inside out via our powerful explosives. In addition, at 11, in Phase III, zero (0) planes were flown into buildings.

During Phase IV, just after lunch, we were able to avoid bulldozing a single home. Furthermore, we set, on roads in every city, in every nation in the world, a total of zero (0) roadside bombs which, not being there, did not subsequently explode, killing/maiming a total of nobody. No bombs were dropped, during the lazy afternoon hours, on crowded civilian neighborhoods, from which, it was observed, no post-bomb momentary silences were then heard. These silences were, in all cases, followed by no unimaginable, grief-stricken bellows of rage, and/or frantic imprecations to a deity. No sleeping baby was awakened from an afternoon nap by the sudden collapse and/or bursting into flame of his/her domicile during Phase IV.

It’s a timely reminder of the overwhelming huge number of people in the world who are not militant extremists โ€” but also of the power held by the tiny minority that are.


The Origins of the Socialist Slur

The Atlantic has an adapted excerpt from Heather Cox Richardson’s new book, Democracy Awakening: The Origins of the Socialist Slur. It begins:

For years after World War II, the “liberal consensus” โ€” the New Deal idea that the federal government had a role to play in regulating business, providing a basic social safety net, and promoting infrastructure โ€” was a true consensus. It was so widely popular that in 1950, the critic Lionel Trilling wrote of the United States that “liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition.”

But the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional tied the federal government to ensuring not just economic equality, but also civil rights. Opponents of the liberal consensus argued that the newly active federal government was misusing tax dollars taken from hardworking white men to promote civil rights for “undeserving” Black people. The troops President Dwight Eisenhower sent to Little Rock Central High School in 1957, for example, didn’t come cheap. The government’s defense of civil rights redistributed wealth, they said, and so was virtually socialism.


Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America by Heather Cox Richardson

the book cover for Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America by Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson, author of the excellent Letters from an American newsletter, has a new book out today about the health of American democracy: Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America. From Virginia Heffernan’s review of the book in the Washington Post:

She has an intriguing origin point for today’s afflictions: the New Deal. The first third of the book, which hurtles toward Donald Trump’s election, is as bingeable as anything on Netflix. “Democracy Awakening” starts in the 1930s, when Americans who’d been wiped out in the 1929 stock market crash were not about to let the rich demolish the economy again. New Deal programs designed to benefit ordinary people and prevent future crises were so popular that by 1960 candidates of both parties were advised to simply “nail together” coalitions and promise them federal funding. From 1946 to 1964, the liberal consensus โ€” with its commitments to equality, the separation of church and state, and the freedoms of speech, press and religion โ€” held sway.

But Republican businessmen, who had caused the crash, despised the consensus. Richardson’s account of how right-wingers appropriated the word “socialism” from the unrelated international movement is astute. When invoked to malign all government investment, “socialism” served to recruit segregationist Democrats, who could be convinced that the word meant Black people would take their money, and Western Democrats, who resented government protections on land and water. This new Republican Party created an ideology that coalesced around White Christianity and free markets.

Heffernan calls this first part of Richardson’s book “the most lucid just-so story for Trump’s rise I’ve ever heard”. I’m in the midst of two other books right now (The Vaster Wilds & The Mountain in the Sea) but I might have to make room for a third.


The Climate Crisis and the Resilience of Social Trust

The climate crisis has hit home this year for many Americans โ€” its effects have been nearly inescapable in most parts of the country. With that, writes Bill McKibben, has come a sense of unease about the future, particularly about the places we live and will be able to live.

Drawing on his experience as a Vermonter, McKibben argues that no place is truly safe from the effects of the climate crisis, but we can find protection from it by rebuilding our sense of community and social trust. Those things can provide the resilience we’re going to need to get though this.

We’ve come through 75 years where having neighbors was essentially optional: if you had a credit card, you could get everything you needed to survive dropped off at your front door. But the next 75 years aren’t going to be like that; we’re going to need to return to the basic human experience of relying on the people around you. We’re going to need to rediscover that we’re a social species, which for Americans will be hard โ€” at least since Reagan we’ve been told to think of ourselves first and foremost (it was his pal Margaret Thatcher who insisted ‘there is no such thing as society, only individual men and women.”) And in the Musk/Trump age we’re constantly instructed to distrust everyone and everything, a corrosion that erodes the social fabric as surely as a rampaging river erodes a highway.

Update: Here’s an example of what McKibben is talking about w/r/t Vermont’s sense of community:

Someone called Susan from Hollister Hill brought them sandwiches and brownies every day for two weeks after the flood. Bill from East Montpelier showed up and turned out to be a kind of one-man construction crew, and he’s been coming for weeks, pushing river sediment around and clearing out barns.

Over 50 people came to help. And at the end of these days, there were bonfires and pizza.


Focus on the Stakes, Not the Odds

Now that the 2024 election campaigns have ramped up in earnest (absurdly & obscenely more than a year before the actual election), a good thing to keep in mind is NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen’s guidance for how journalists should cover the election:1

“Not the odds, but the stakes.”

That’s my shorthand for the organizing principle we most need from journalists covering the 2024 election. Not who has what chances of winning, but the consequences for our democracy. Not the odds, but the stakes.

Rosen first articulated this principle more than a decade ago and ever since reading about it a few years ago, I’ve all but stopped reading and linking to political horse race coverage. Who scored more “points” in the latest debate? Which candidate seems the most Presidential? Will his mugshot bolster his campaign? Come on, this isn’t the goddamned Oscars red carpet. Tell us what the candidates’ plans are and how they will affect how Americans live their lives. What experience do they have in governance? Or if not governance, in leadership? What do they believe, what actions have they taken in the past and what consequences have those actions had on actual people? What motivates them…power, money, fame, service? Many many people will not give a shit about any of this, but if we want to retain a functioning democracy with a press that’s not primarily about entertainment, voters need to know what they are getting into.

  1. And I would argue, how they should cover many other important issues. So much of “tech” news reads like horse race coverage instead of focusing what kind of world would result if Company A or Technology B were to succeed. Journalists and outlets that cover the stakes get my attention.


Trump’s Prosecutions Are About Repairing Our Social Norms

From Dell Cameron and Andrew Couts in Wired, Trump’s Prosecution Is America’s Last Hope:

The Trump administration’s ever-broadening palette of ethics violations caused Americans to realize, perhaps for the first time on a national scale, that truly there are few if any laws against some of the most basic forms of corruption; that, instead, conventions and norms โ€” an honor system, essentially โ€” is all that stand between presidents and the gross abuse of their power.

This is a good, short piece, riffing off of the 2018 book by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die. The Republicans, Trump, the Supreme Court, billionaires, corporations, and corporate shareholders are using America’s legal system to substantially weaken our democracy. It’s not a new thing for the powerful to place themselves above the law, but the pace and openness with which it’s happening right now is alarming.


“Elon Musk’s Shadow Rule”

Great, long piece from Ronan Farrow for the New Yorker on Elon Musk’s considerable influence over the US government. This doesn’t seem good:

There is little precedent for a civilian’s becoming the arbiter of a war between nations in such a granular way, or for the degree of dependency that the U.S. now has on Musk in a variety of fields, from the future of energy and transportation to the exploration of space. SpaceX is currently the sole means by which nasa transports crew from U.S. soil into space, a situation that will persist for at least another year. The government’s plan to move the auto industry toward electric cars requires increasing access to charging stations along America’s highways. But this rests on the actions of another Musk enterprise, Tesla. The automaker has seeded so much of the country with its proprietary charging stations that the Biden Administration relaxed an early push for a universal charging standard disliked by Musk. His stations are eligible for billions of dollars in subsidies, so long as Tesla makes them compatible with the other charging standard.

In the past twenty years, against a backdrop of crumbling infrastructure and declining trust in institutions, Musk has sought out business opportunities in crucial areas where, after decades of privatization, the state has receded. The government is now reliant on him, but struggles to respond to his risk-taking, brinkmanship, and caprice. Current and former officials from NASA, the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration told me that Musk’s influence had become inescapable in their work, and several of them said that they now treat him like a sort of unelected official. One Pentagon spokesman said that he was keeping Musk apprised of my inquiries about his role in Ukraine and would grant an interview with an official about the matter only with Musk’s permission. “We’ll talk to you if Elon wants us to,” he told me.


Five Crises Republicans Made Up to Distract & Harm Americans

In a June piece for The Guardian and the video above from just a few days ago, Robert Reich outlines five crises โ€” including wokeness, the trans panic, and critical race theory โ€” that Republicans have manufactured in order to deflect from their true agenda.

Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin’s “day one” executive order banned the teaching of critical race theory. DeSantis and Greg Abbott, the Texas governor, have also banned it from schools.

Here again, though, there’s no evidence of a public threat. CRT simply teaches America’s history of racism, which students need to understand to be informed citizens.

Banning it is a scare tactic to appeal to a largely white, culturally conservative voter base.

However, I would argue that Reich needed to go a bit further. While the crises are inventions, their consequences go beyond mere distraction and into the territory of active harm, particularly of queer and trans people, Black people, and people of color. That’s why I modified the title from his original.


Donald Trump Indicted for Conspiring to Defraud the United States

Yesterday, a Washington DC grand jury indicted Donald Trump for “for conspiring to defraud the United States, conspiring to disenfranchise voters, and conspiring and attempting to obstruct an official proceeding”, aka trying to steal the 2020 presidential election. Heather Cox Richardson lays it out in plain English:

The Trump team used lies about the election to justify organizing fraudulent slates of electors in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Allegedly with the help of Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, they attempted to have the legitimate electors that accurately reflected the voters’ choice of Biden replaced with fraudulent ones that claimed Trump had won in their states, first by convincing state legislators they had the power to make the switch, and then by convincing Vice President Mike Pence he could choose the Trump electors.

When Pence would not fraudulently alter the election results, Trump whipped up the crowd he had gathered in Washington, D.C., against Pence and then, according to the indictment, “attempted to exploit the violence and chaos at the Capitol” to overturn the election results. “As violence ensued,” the indictment reads, Trump and his co-conspirators “explained the disruption by redoubling efforts to levy false claims of election fraud and convince Members of Congress to further delay the certification based on those claims.” On the evening of January 6, 2021, the indictment alleges, Trump and Co-Conspirator 1 called seven senators and one representative and asked them to delay the certification of Biden’s election.

Here also is the full 45-page indictment, annotated by the NY Times (gift link). The gist of the indictment is, yes, the attempts that we all saw Trump making in broad daylight to stay in power despite his clear election loss were real, serious, and harmful.

One important aspect of the indictment that neither of them picked up on was pointed out by Adam Serwer on Bluesky:

The indictment makes clear that Donald Trump and his accomplices planned to seize power by force and then maintain that power through the mass murder of American citizens by their own military.

That sounds pretty serious โ€” here’s what the indictment says:

On the afternoon of January 3, Co-Conspirator 4 spoke with a Deputy White House Counsel. The previous month, the Deputy White House Counsel had informed the Defendant that “there is no world, there is no option in which you do not leave the White House [o]n January 20th.” Now, the same Deputy White House Counsel tried to dissuade Co-Conspirator 4 from assuming the role of Acting Attorney General. The Deputy White House Counsel reiterated to Co-Conspirator 4 that there had not been outcome-determinative fraud in the election and that if the Defendant remained in office nonetheless, there would be “riots in every major city in the United States.” Co-Conspirator 4 responded, “Well, [Deputy White House Counsel], that’s why there’s an Insurrection Act.”

And this:

Also on January 4, when Co-Conspirator 2 acknowledged to the Defendant’s Senior Advisor that no court would support his proposal, the Senior Advisor told Co-Conspirator 2, “[Y]ou’re going to cause riots in the streets.” Co-Conspirator 2 responded that there had previously been points in the nation’s history where violence was necessary to protect the republic. After that conversation, the Senior Advisor notified the Defendant that Co-Conspirator 2 had conceded that his plan was not going to work.

HuffPost explains who Co-Conspirator 4 is (top Trump DOJ official Jeffrey Clark) and what the Insurrection Act is all about. Co-Conspirator 2 is John Eastman, one of Trump’s lawyers.

Trump and his team were going to unlawfully (and immorally, I would argue) seize power and quell protests with military force by claiming there was a rebellion against the government or that public safety was at stake. Whether the military would have gone along with it (if Pence had chosen to play his part) is unknown, but it’s pretty incredible how close we came to the United States very quickly devolving into a dictatorship. This fucking traitor must be held accountable for his crimes and must not ever be allowed anywhere near any public office in the United States ever again.

Update: Updated the post to add a second passage from the indictment about the use of state violence to quell protest.


Rebecca Solnit: We Can’t Afford to be Climate Doomers

Rebecca Solnit, writing for The Guardian on the climate crisis:

Many things that were once true โ€” that we didn’t have adequate solutions, that the general public wasn’t aware or engaged โ€” no longer are. Outdated information is misinformation, and the climate situation has changed a lot in recent years. The physical condition of the planet โ€” as this summer’s unprecedented extreme heat and flooding and Canada’s and Greece’s colossal fires demonstrate โ€” has continued to get worse; the solutions have continued to get better; the public is far more engaged; the climate movement has grown, though of course it needs to grow far more; and there have been some significant victories as well as the incremental change of a shifting energy landscape.

I don’t think of myself as a climate doomer, but I certainly feel less hopeful about the situation than Solnit does. She asserts that the main obstacles to meaningful action on the climate crisis in the West are politics and capitalism, which is supposed to make readers feel hopeful. But that’s the part that often fills me with despair. The unpopular extremist party that controls more than half of the political apparatus in the country with the biggest responsibility to fix the planet is not only not interested in doing so, they are actively working against it. And they’ve built up such a wall against public accountability that I don’t know if protest (which they will make illegal if they can) or even voting (which they’ve fought to make more difficult) are meaningful levers with which to try and change the situation.

Ok, maybe I am a climate doomer. But this piece by Solnit is good medicine for folks in despair about the climate. And I’m putting Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility (edited by Solnit and climate activist Thelma Young Lutunatabua) on my reading list as well. (via @marcprecipice)


Robert Reich’s UC Berkeley Class on Wealth & Poverty

For the past 13 years, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has taught a class called Wealth & Poverty at UC Berkeley. He retired from teaching this year and has uploaded his lectures from the course to YouTube.

Welcome to my final UC Berkeley course on Wealth and Poverty. Drawing on my 40+ years in politics, including my time as secretary of labor, I offer a deeper look at why inequalities of income and wealth have widened significantly since the late 1970s in the United States, and why this poses dangerous risks to our society.

This course also offers insights into the political and public-policy debates that have arisen in light of this inequality, as well as possible means of reversing it.

Here’s the first lecture, What’s Happened to Income & Wealth:

Reich has also published an abbreviated syllabus for each of the classes; links can be found in his course introduction (here’s class #1).


The Prescience of Octavia Butler

I just finished reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower (so good!) and while doing a little customary post-read research on it, I discovered that Butler wrote a sequel in 1998 called Parable of the Talents and, uh… (from Wikipedia):

The novel is set against the backdrop of a dystopian United States that has come under the grip of a Christian fundamentalist denomination called “Christian America” led by President Andrew Steele Jarret. Seeking to restore American power and prestige, and using the slogan “Make America Great Again”, Jarret embarks on a crusade to cleanse America of non-Christian faiths. Slavery has resurfaced with advanced “shock collars” being used to control slaves. Virtual reality headsets known as “Dreamasks” are also popular since they enable wearers to escape their harsh reality.

Well, our present reality certainly checks a remarkable number of those boxes, including an absolute bullseye on “Make America Great Again”.


Duck & Cover: Ukrainian Book Fair Poster

poster for a Ukrainian book fair that shows people using a book to protect themselves from Russian bombs and troops

This is a poster for the 2023 International Book Arsenal Festival which recently took place in Kyiv, Ukraine. The poster was designed by Art Studio Agrafka from an illustration they originally did for the cover of Linkiesta Magazine.

A book festival. During a war. In a city under martial law. While schools and legislatures here in the US ban books about Black and LGBTQ+ experiences based on bad faith complaints of tiny fundamentalist parent groups. Tell me, who’s doing democracy better right now? (via @gray)


“The Supreme Court Has Killed Affirmative Action. Mediocre Whites Can Rest Easier.”

Elie Mystal writing for the Nation on the Supreme Court’s recent decision that declared affirmative action in college admissions unconstitutional.

But the death of affirmative action was not achieved merely through the machinations of Republican lawyers. While conservatives on the Supreme Court delivered the fatal blow, the policy has long been made vulnerable by the soft bigotry of parents, whose commitment to integration and equality turns cold the moment their little cherubs fail to get into their first choice of college or university. If you want to see a white liberal drop the pretense that they care about systemic racism and injustice, just tell them that their privately tutored kid didn’t get into whatever “elite” school they were hoping for. If you want to make an immigrant family adopt a Klansman’s view of the intelligence, culture, and work ethic of Black folks, tell them that their kid’s standardized test scores are not enough to guarantee entry into ivy-draped halls of power. Some of the most horribly racist claptrap folks have felt comfortable saying to my face has been said in the context of people telling me why they don’t like affirmative action, or why my credentials are somehow “unearned” because they were “given” to me by affirmative action.

That last bit is in some ways the most devastating: Black people are attacked and shamed simply because the policy exists, regardless of whether it benefited them or not. I’ve had white folks whom I could standardize-test into a goddamn coma tell me that I got into school only because of affirmative action. I once talked to a white guy โ€” whose parents’ name was on one of the buildings on campus โ€” who asked me how it felt to know I got “extra help” to get in. The sheer nerve of white folks is sometimes jaw-dropping.

I recommended this yesterday in a Quick Link, but Scene On Radio’s episode of their Seeing White series on White Affirmative Action is great.


The Supreme Court Just Made This Gerrymandered Map Illegal

This short video from Vox takes a look at the recent Supreme Court decision that struck down a gerrymandered congressional map in Alabama.

In 2013, a divided Supreme Court gutted one of the major pillars of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In the 10 years since then, the court has moved even farther to the right. So when the Voting Rights Act came before the Supreme Court again in 2022, it didn’t look good for the law. But then something completely unexpected happened: in a 5-4 decision, two of the conservative justices voted with the 3 liberal justices to preserve the Voting Rights Act. And the effects could be huge.

At stake in the case was the way that Alabama divides up its Congressional districts. Alabama has seven districts, one of which is what’s called a “majority-minority district” in which Black Americans are the majority of the population. In 2022, a group of Black voters sued the state, saying that under the law, Alabama should actually have two majority-minority districts. And the Supreme Court agreed.

The decision could affect recently redrawn district maps in other states, which could in turn affect the balance of power in the House of Representatives. You can read more about these gerrymandering cases at the Brennan Center for Justice: Allen v. Milligan: Gerrymandering at the Supreme Court (Formerly Merrill v. Milligan) and Redistricting Litigation Roundup.


Fighting Fascism in America

In a Memorial Day reflection, historian Heather Cox Richardson highlights a pamphlet distributed by the US War Department to Army soldiers during World War II on the topic of fascism: what it is and how to combat it.

The War Department thought it was important for Americans to understand the tactics fascists would use to take power in the United States. They would try to gain power “under the guise of ‘super-patriotism’ and ‘super-Americanism.’” And they would use three techniques:

First, they would pit religious, racial, and economic groups against one another to break down national unity. Part of that effort to divide and conquer would be a “well-planned ‘hate campaign’ against minority races, religions, and other groups.”

Second, they would deny any need for international cooperation, because that would fly in the face of their insistence that their supporters were better than everyone else. “In place of international cooperation, the fascists seek to substitute a perverted sort of ultra-nationalism which tells their people that they are the only people in the world who count. With this goes hatred and suspicion toward the people of all other nations.”

Third, fascists would insist that “the world has but two choices โ€” either fascism or communism, and they label as ‘communists’ everyone who refuses to support them.”

It is “vitally important” to learn to spot native fascists, the government said, “even though they adopt names and slogans with popular appeal, drape themselves with the American flag, and attempt to carry out their program in the name of the democracy they are trying to destroy.”

See also The 14 Features of Eternal Fascism, How Fascism Works, Toni Morrison’s Ten Steps Towards Fascism, and Fighting Authoritarianism: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century.


The Four Republican “Freedoms”

For the NY Times, Jamelle Bouie takes a look at the legislation that Republicans around the country are pushing and, in the style of FDR’s Four Freedoms speech, outlines what goals they are attempting to achieve.

There is the freedom to control โ€” to restrict the bodily autonomy of women and repress the existence of anyone who does not conform to traditional gender roles.

There is the freedom to exploit โ€” to allow the owners of business and capital to weaken labor and take advantage of workers as they see fit.

There is the freedom to censor โ€” to suppress ideas that challenge and threaten the ideologies of the ruling class.

And there is the freedom to menace โ€” to carry weapons wherever you please, to brandish them in public, to turn the right of self-defense into a right to threaten other people.

That sounds about right, and it reminds me, as Republican “governance” often does these days, of Frank Wilhoit’s definition of conservatism:

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.


RuPublicans

The folks at RuPublicans are having fun using AI to generate photorealistic imagery of prominent conservatives in drag. Here are Anita Filibust-Her McConnell, Claretta Corrupta, Rhonda Santy, serving looks:

Mitch McConnell in drag

Ron DeSantis in drag

Clarence Thomas in drag

From their Stories:

Oh honey, darlings, sugar pies! THANK YOU for following and sharing. Drag artists have brought me joy, laughter, helped heal old wounds, and given me permission to love myself โ€” and I’m not the only one.

Now let’s get real kittens. Drag isn’t lip-syncing; it’s art, it’s heart, and oh honey, it’s protest. To those in power serving up false narratives like an overcooked wig at a drag brunch, listen up: we’re here, we’re queer, and we ain’t going anywhere.

(via @thoughtbrain)


How to Counter the Gish Gallop

I was keen to read that the debating method practiced by Trump, Putin, anti-vaxxers, and climate deniers of flooding the zone with a firehose of incorrect information has a name: the Gish Gallop. From Mehdi Hasan’s piece in The Atlantic, adapted from his new book, Win Every Argument: The Art of Debating, Persuading, and Public Speaking (ebook):

Trump may be the grand master of the Gish Gallop, but he is not its originator. That honor goes to the person who gave the method its name: Duane Tolbert Gish.

Gish was a biochemist at the Institute for Creation Research, a pseudo-scientific group that maintains all life on Earth was created in six days by the God of the Old Testament at some point in the past 10,000 years, with evolution playing no part. Gish publicized the ICR and its creed โ€” and himself โ€” by winning debates against evolutionists across the country.

During debates, after letting his opponent go first, Gish would “begin talking very quickly for perhaps an hour”, overwhelming his opponent with factual-sounding nonsense. According to Hasan, there are a few tactics you can use to counter the Gish Gallop, but you’ve got to be prepared. For instance, you can call them out:

Don’t let your audience be fooled into assuming that your opponent has special command of the subject because of all the “facts” they’ve just spouted. Explain to them what your opponent is doing, and that the Gallop is really just a sleight of hand.


The So-Called “Culture Wars”

Political cartoonist Jen Sorensen recently published this cartoon at The Nib about the harmful mischaracterization of human rights battles as mere “culture wars”.

a political cartoon by Jen Sorensen about the culture wars

Here’s what she wrote about it:

The term “culture wars” is used by many well-meaning people, including many progressive writers and activists I admire. It’s a convenient way to refer to a number of issues. But in this current political moment, I think it’s a highly misleading euphemism. What we are experiencing in America right now is an asymmetrical attack on basic freedoms โ€” a fascist movement that thrives on targeting certain groups, erasing history, and spreading dangerous falsehoods through a vast media apparatus. To call this a “culture war” is to legitimize the contemporary GOP and its extremist counterparts as a coherent and authentic “culture” worthy of respect. This is a misuse of the concept of culture, creating a false equivalence between marginalized groups and those who would harm or eliminate them in a quest for ever more power.

Yeah, spot on. You can follow Sorensen’s work on Mastodon, The Nib, Daily Kos, and Patreon.