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The Real Fight for Abortion Rights

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2022

Melissa Gira Grant writing in The New Republic with a reminder that activists have seen this coming for a long time and moderates did not heed the warning:

Reproductive justice advocates have long warned that Roe v. Wade was in danger, well before the court agreed to take this case concerning a Mississippi abortion ban — before Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, before Trump shifted the balance of the court by appointing justices certain to roll back Roe.

Those who saw this coming, who never believed the court could save them, who have mostly given up on the Democratic Party’s promises to protect Roe, have hardly been quiet or thwarted. Every local abortion fund launched to bridge the divide between a right and acting on it, every shared how-to on self-managed abortion using misoprostol pills (and mifepristone, if you can get it) — that’s what knowing this moment would come has looked like for years. It’s what surviving the end of Roe has already meant in the 89 percent of counties in this country without a clinic providing abortion, where abortion is already a contingent right.

(via waxy)

Into the Dark Ages

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2022

Speaking of the fundamentalist movement to repeal the 20th century, Jack Mirkinson isn’t writing for The Atlantic and therefore is free to not mince words:

[Alito] says that Roe should be scrapped because the right to an abortion is “not deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and traditions” — a byzantine litmus test that would wipe out just about every modern civil rights protection you can think of, given the nature of American history. He forthrightly casts aside the notion that the court should be cautious about overturning decades of precedent. He sends unmistakable signals that other civil rights opinions, especially ones protecting gay rights, are in the crosshairs.

The final opinion could differ, but what we have in front of us is an extremist, illegitimate opinion from an extremist, illegitimate court, one that sees women as serfs and breeders, that sees queer people as subhuman, that sees minorities of every kind as dirt under its collective shoe. It is happily dragging us into the dark ages. Alito and everyone who joins him are evil people. No hell is too hot for them.

(via waxy)

The Plan to Repeal the 20th Century

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2022

Adam Serwer writing in The Atlantic about the leaked Supreme Court opinion draft penned by conservative justice Samuel Alito that will, if it remains substantially unmodified, overturn Roe v Wade and other precedents that guarantee the right to an abortion in the United States.

“The majority can believe that it’s only eviscerating a right to abortion in this draft,” Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told me, “but the means by which it does so would open the door to similar attacks on other unenumerated rights, both directly, by attacking the underpinnings of those doctrines, and indirectly, by setting a precedent for such an attack.”

Aside from rights specifically mentioned in the text of the Constitution, Alito argues, only those rights “deeply rooted in the nation’s history in tradition” deserve its protections. This is as arbitrary as it is lawless. Alito is saying there is no freedom from state coercion that conservatives cannot strip away if conservatives find that freedom personally distasteful. The rights of heterosexual married couples to obtain contraception, or of LGBTQ people to be free from discrimination, are obvious targets. But other rights that Americans now take for granted could easily be excluded by this capricious reasoning.

“In a series of cases beginning in the early 1920s, the Court carved out a protected space for family, marriage, and children that the government is constrained from regulating,” Kimberly Wehle wrote last December. “A rollback of Roe could split this sphere open if the conservative theory that implied rights are constitutionally invalid takes hold, and states begin passing draconian laws that creep into other areas of intimate personal life.”

And:

On the grounds that it constitutes a form of religious discrimination, conservatives will be able to claim an exemption from any generally applicable rule they do not wish to follow, while imposing their own religious and ideological views on those who do not share them. Although the right-wing justices present this rule in the language of constitutionalism, they are simply imposing their ideological and cultural preferences on the rest of the country.

Abortion, same-sex marriage, birth control, rights for trans persons, other LGBTQ protections, other civil rights — it’s all on the table, they’re coming for all of it.

Update: See also This is just the beginning:

I ask you to re-read the above passage and substitute for the word “abortion” any other modern liberty not mentioned in the Constitution: the right to use contraception, same-sex marriage, the right of same-sex couples to adopt children, marriage between different “races,” the right of any consenting adults to engage in sex, the right of unmarried couples to live together, and the rights of LGBTQ people to be treated with equal dignity.

Each of the above rights — now widely accepted — was criminalized or prohibited in many U.S. states until the latter part of the 20th century. Under Justice Alito’s reasoning, because the Constitution “makes no reference to those rights” and they were “unknown” in American jurisprudence until recently, the Constitution affords them no protection. Alito does handsprings to claim the draft ruling does not reach other rights rooted in the same legal ground as Roe and Casey. But there is no difference under Alito’s reasoning between abortion and contraception, same sex marriage, same-sex adoption, and bans against “fornication,” “sodomy,” cohabitation, and “miscegenation.”

This is just the beginning.

Garry Kasparov: Stand With Ukraine in the Fight Against Evil

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2022

In an uncompromising TED Talk from a few days ago, Garry Kasparov warns we must confront “true evil” in the world when we see it, in this case Vladimir Putin and his regime.

Actually, my first article of warning was published in “The Wall Street Journal” on January 4, 2001. I saw evil because I heard evil. Putin was telling us what he was. All we had to do was listen. When Putin said that there was no such thing as a former KGB agent, I knew Russia’s fragile democracy was in danger. When Putin said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, I knew Russia’s newly independent neighbors were at risk. And when Putin talked at the Munich Security Conference in 2007 about a return to spheres of influence, I knew he was ready to launch his plan. It was the language from the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, 1939. The language Hitler and Stalin used to divide Europe. And a year later, in 2008, Putin invaded the Republic of Georgia. 2014, Ukraine.

It’s a paradox, isn’t it? Dictators lie about everything they have done, but often they tell us exactly what they’re going to do. Just listen. Anyone who is surprised at Putin’s war crimes in Ukraine must not be aware about his long record, beginning with the Second Chechen War in Grozny more than two decades ago. Vladimir Putin has been a war criminal from the start.

When he was talking about the problem with compromising with authoritarians, I was reminded of a phrase I’ve heard in a couple of different contexts recently: meeting a racist halfway on their views is still racism; meeting a fascist halfway on their views is still fascism. As Rebecca Solnit put it in an article about the 2020 election: “Who the hell wants unity with Nazis until and unless they stop being Nazis?” Meeting a brutal authoritarian halfway, Kasparov is arguing, is still tyranny.

A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2022

book cover of Allow Me To Retort by Elie Mystal

That’s the subtitle of a new book by Elie Mystal — the full title is Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution. From the Kirkus review:

Mystal, an analyst at MSNBC and legal editor for the Nation, reads the Constitution from the point of view of a Black man keenly aware of the document’s origins in a slaveholding nation. “It is a document designed to create a society of enduring white male dominance,” he writes, “hastily edited in the margins to allow for what basic political rights white men could be convinced to share.” As the author abundantly demonstrates, people of color and women have always been afterthoughts, and recent conservative applications of constitutional doctrine have been meant to further suppress the rights of those groups. “The law is not science,” writes the author, “it’s jazz. It’s a series of iterations based off a few consistent beats.” Conservative originalists know this, but they hide their prejudices behind the notion that the text is immutable. Mystal shows how there’s plenty of room for change if one follows a rule hidden in plain sight: “There’s no objective reason that the Ninth Amendment should be applied to the states any less robustly than the Second Amendment. The only difference is that the rights and privileges that the Ninth Amendment protects weren’t on the original white supremacist, noninclusive list.” Article by article, amendment by amendment, Mystal takes down that original list and offers notes on how it might be improved as a set of laws that protect us all, largely by rejecting conservative interpretations of rights enumerated and otherwise.

The Ninth Amendment, in case you were wondering, reads: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” So basically, the Bill of Rights (and subsequent Constitutional amendments) are not the only rights Americans have.

Why Russia Is Invading Ukraine

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2022

In progress before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and completed as Russian troops began their advance into the country, this video is a helpful overview of some of the geographical, historical, demographic, environmental, political, and economic reasons why, from the perspective of Putin & Moscow, Russia wants to bring Ukraine back into their orbit. (via open culture)

Catwoman vs. the White House

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 28, 2022

In 1968, singer, actress, and activist Eartha Kitt was invited to a “Women Doers” luncheon at the White House by Lady Bird Johnson, the First Lady. Kitt’s focus on actual problems and solutions didn’t jibe well with the self-congratulatory platitudes of a DC working luncheon. First she pointedly questioned a caught-off-guard President Johnson about childcare for working parents after he stopped by to gladhand a little bit. Then, after remarks from several other women in the room, Kitt rose and spoke out against the war in Vietnam:

The children of America are not rebelling for no reason. They are not hippies for no reason at all. We don’t have what we have on Sunset Blvd. for no reason. They are rebelling against something. There are so many things burning the people of this country, particularly mothers. They feel they are going to raise sons — and I know what it’s like, and you have children of your own, Mrs. Johnson — we raise children and send them to war.

After the luncheon, Kitt’s career in the United States took a turn for the worse.

John Oliver Explains Critical Race Theory

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 24, 2022

I don’t know if it was the plan for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver to become Funny Cliffs Notes for Important Social Issues in the Failing States of America, but here we are. On this week’s Last Week, Oliver explains the “manufactured panic” around critical race theory in America.

How American Conservatives Turned Against the Vaccine

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 24, 2022

From Vox’s Joss Fong, a video essay on how conservatives turned against the Covid-19 vaccine in the US.

President Donald Trump presided over the fastest vaccine development process in history, leading to abundant, free vaccines in the US by the spring of 2021. Although the mRNA Covid-19 vaccines haven’t been able to stop transmission of the virus, they have been highly effective against hospitalization and death, saving hundreds of thousands of lives and rendering the majority of new Covid-19 deaths preventable.

Trump has received three doses of the vaccine. But many of his most dedicated supporters have refused, and many have died as a result. Why? Obvious culprits include misinformation on social media and Fox News and the election of Joe Biden, which placed a Democrat at the top of the US government throughout the vaccine distribution period. But if you look closely at the data, you’ll see that vaccine-hesitant conservatives largely made up their mind well before the vaccines were available and before Donald Trump lost the 2020 election.

Fong makes a compelling argument for the potential genesis of conservative vaccine denial: early on in the pandemic, in February and March 2020, prominent conservative leaders and media outlets (like Trump and Fox News) told their constituents that the threat of the pandemic and of SARS-CoV-2 has been exaggerated by journalists and liberal politicians. So, in the mind of a Fox News viewer, if the pandemic is not such a big deal, if it is “just the flu”, then why would you want to get vaccinated? Or wear a mask? Or take any precautions whatsoever? Or, most certainly, why wouldn’t you be angry at you and your kids (your kids!) being forced to do any of those things?

Cancel Culture Is a Moral Panic

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 08, 2022

Michael Hobbes, late of You’re Wrong About, has made a video essay arguing that “cancel culture” is a moral panic and not some huge new problem in our society. He says you can tell it’s a moral panic because of the shifting definitions of the term, the stories are often exaggerated or untrue, the stakes are often low, and it’s fueling a reactionary backlash.

Even if you think that cancel culture really is a nationwide problem, I don’t see why we should focus on random college students and salty Twitter users rather than elected officials and actual legislation. Look, I’m not gonna sit here and pretend there haven’t been genuinely ugly internet pile-ons. Social media makes it easy to gang up on random people and ruin their lives over dumb jokes and honest mistakes.

But for two years now, right-wing grifters and the liberal rubes who launder them into the mainstream have cast cancel culture as a problem for the American left and a sign of creeping authoritarianism. They’re wrong. Internet mobs are not a left-wing phenomenon and historically speaking, the threat of authoritarianism usually comes from political parties that try to overturn elections, make it harder to vote, and censor ideas they don’t like. All of this is obvious, but that’s what moral panics do: they distract you from an obvious truth and make you believe in a stupid lie.

Back in October, Hobbes wrote a piece on The Methods of Moral Panic Journalism that pairs well with this video.

Toni Morrison’s Ten Steps Towards Fascism

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2022

In a convocation address delivered at Howard University in March 1995, Toni Morrison noted that before fascist movements arrive at a “final solution” (the euphemism used by Nazi leaders to refer to the mass murder of Jews), there are preceding steps that they use to advance their agenda. From an excerpt of that speech published in The Journal of Negro Education:

Let us be reminded that before there is a final solution, there must be a first solution, a second one, even a third. The move toward a final solution is not a jump. It takes one step, then another, then another.

Morrison then continued, listing the pathway to fascism in ten steps:

  1. Construct an internal enemy, as both focus and diversion.
  2. Isolate and demonize that enemy by unleashing and protecting the utterance of overt and coded name-calling and verbal abuse. Employ ad hominem attacks as legitimate charges against that enemy.
  3. Enlist and create sources and distributors of information who are willing to reinforce the demonizing process because it is profitable, because it grants power and because it works.
  4. Palisade all art forms; monitor, discredit or expel those that challenge or destabilize processes of demonization and deification.
  5. Subvert and malign all representatives of and sympathizers with this constructed enemy.
  6. Solicit, from among the enemy, collaborators who agree with and can sanitize the dispossession process.
  7. Pathologize the enemy in scholarly and popular mediums; recycle, for example, scientific racism and the myths of racial superiority in order to naturalize the pathology.
  8. Criminalize the enemy. Then prepare, budget for and rationalize the building of holding arenas for the enemy — especially its males and absolutely its children.
  9. Reward mindlessness and apathy with monumentalized entertainments and with little pleasures, tiny seductions, a few minutes on television, a few lines in the press, a little pseudo-success, the illusion of power and influence, a little fun, a little style, a little consequence.
  10. Maintain, at all costs, silence.

As I have said before, you can see many of these steps playing out right now in America, orchestrated by a revitalized and emboldened right-wing movement that has captured the Republican Party. Jason Stanley, a scholar of fascism, recently wrote of Morrison’s speech:

Morrison’s interest was not in fascist demagogues or fascist regimes. It was rather in “forces interested in fascist solutions to national problems”. The procedures she described were methods to normalize such solutions, to “construct an internal enemy”, isolate, demonize and criminalize it and sympathizers to its ideology and their allies, and, using the media, provide the illusion of power and influence to one’s supporters.

Morrison saw, in the history of US racism, fascist practices — ones that could enable a fascist social and political movement in the United States.

Writing in the era of the “super-predator” myth (a Newsweek headline the next year read, “Superpredators: Should we cage the new breed of vicious kids?”), Morrison unflinchingly read fascism into the practices of US racism. Twenty-five years later, those “forces interested in fascist solutions to national problems” are closer than ever to winning a multi-decade national fight.

See also Umberto Eco’s 14 Features of Eternal Fascism and Fighting Authoritarianism: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century. (via jason stanley)

“America Is Now in Fascism’s Legal Phase”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2022

Jason Stanley, author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, writes about the recent revitalization of the long tradition in the United States of fascist movements using race & racism as tools to move towards their goals. And now with attacks on the courts, education, voting rights, and women’s rights, America is now in fascism’s legal phase.

According to the International Center for Not for Profit Law, 45 states have considered 230 bills criminalizing protest, with the threat of violent leftist and Black rebellion being used to justify them. That this is happening at the same time that multiple electoral bills enabling a Republican state legislature majority to overturn their state’s election have been enacted suggests that the true aim of bills criminalizing protest is to have a response in place to expected protests against the stealing of a future election (as a reminder of fascism’s historical connection to big business, some of these laws criminalize protest near gas and oil lines).

The Nazis used Judeo-Bolshevism as their constructed enemy. The fascist movement in the Republican party has turned to critical race theory instead. Fascism feeds off a narrative of supposed national humiliation by internal enemies. Defending a fictional glorious and virtuous national past, and presenting its enemies as deviously maligning the nation to its children, is a classic fascist strategy to stoke fury and resentment. Using the bogeyman of critical race theory, 29 states have introduced bills to restrict teaching about racism and sexism in schools, and 13 states have enacted such bans.

Something I was disappointed about on last week’s anniversary of the terrorist attack on Congress was too much emphasis on Trump’s role in what happened on that day, as if focusing on him somehow makes it possible that the rest of the Republican Party can jettison this bad seed at some point without losing face and American politics can get back to the bipartisan business as usual. This is a total fiction, and as Stanley correctly notes, this shift towards fascism is a party-wide effort that preceded Trump and will outlive him.

America Is Not Ready for Omicron

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2021

This piece, from Ed Yong, is not at all surprising: America Is Not Ready for Omicron.

America was not prepared for COVID-19 when it arrived. It was not prepared for last winter’s surge. It was not prepared for Delta’s arrival in the summer or its current winter assault. More than 1,000 Americans are still dying of COVID every day, and more have died this year than last. Hospitalizations are rising in 42 states. The University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, which entered the pandemic as arguably the best-prepared hospital in the country, recently went from 70 COVID patients to 110 in four days, leaving its staff “grasping for resolve,” the virologist John Lowe told me. And now comes Omicron.

Will the new and rapidly spreading variant overwhelm the U.S. health-care system? The question is moot because the system is already overwhelmed, in a way that is affecting all patients, COVID or otherwise. “The level of care that we’ve come to expect in our hospitals no longer exists,” Lowe said.

The real unknown is what an Omicron cross will do when it follows a Delta hook. Given what scientists have learned in the three weeks since Omicron’s discovery, “some of the absolute worst-case scenarios that were possible when we saw its genome are off the table, but so are some of the most hopeful scenarios,” Dylan Morris, an evolutionary biologist at UCLA, told me. In any case, America is not prepared for Omicron. The variant’s threat is far greater at the societal level than at the personal one, and policy makers have already cut themselves off from the tools needed to protect the populations they serve. Like the variants that preceded it, Omicron requires individuals to think and act for the collective good — which is to say, it poses a heightened version of the same challenge that the U.S. has failed for two straight years, in bipartisan fashion.

The main point:

Here, then, is the problem: People who are unlikely to be hospitalized by Omicron might still feel reasonably protected, but they can spread the virus to those who are more vulnerable, quickly enough to seriously batter an already collapsing health-care system that will then struggle to care for anyone — vaccinated, boosted, or otherwise. The collective threat is substantially greater than the individual one. And the U.S. is ill-poised to meet it.

Also from Yong: he recently cancelled his 40th birthday party because of Omicron and wrote about how he thought through the decision.

If someone got sick, I know others could too. A week later, many of my friends will spend Christmas with their own families. At best, a cluster of infections at the birthday party would derail those plans, creating days of anxious quarantine or isolation, and forcing the people I love to spend time away from their loved ones. At worst, people might unknowingly carry the virus to their respective families, which might include elderly, immunocompromised, unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or otherwise vulnerable people. Being born eight days before Christmas creates almost the perfect conditions for one potential super-spreader event to set off many more.

As has been the case the entire pandemic, our political and public health systems are not equipped to collectively combat this virus, so it falls to individuals to make good choices for our communities. It’s a nearly impossible thing to ask to pandemic-weary folks to focus in again on making good personal choices and even harder to achieve if few are willing to do it, but goddammit we have to try.

Don’t Look Up

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2021

Somehow, I missed the teaser trailer for Don’t Look Up a couple months back, but the official trailer just came out yesterday. Directed by Adam McKay (The Big Short, Vice) and starring Leonardo DiCaprio & Jennifer Lawrence (and Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, and Timothée Chalamet), Don’t Look Up is a comedy about what happens when scientific fact (in the form of a planet-killing comet) slams into the fantasy worlds of politics and entertainment media. Just because you can’t spin Newton’s laws of motion doesn’t mean you can’t try!

Nothing, absolutely nothing whatsoever, about this movie is related to current events, nope, no sir. *sobbing intensifies* (I love disaster movies and will 100% see this even though it will probably be completely enraging.)

The Slow Moving Coup

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2021

Others (like Timothy Snyder) have been saying this for months and years, but in a succinct 8-minute monologue, Bill Maher1 lays out what’s going to happen over the next three years that will pave the way for Donald Trump and the Republicans to take back the White House and set up the biggest political crisis in the United States since the Civil War.

A document came to light a few weeks ago called the Eastman Memo, which was basically a blueprint prepared for Trump on how he could steal the election after he lost it in November 2020. It outlined a plan for overturning the election by claiming that seven states actually had competing state slates of electors, which while not even remotely true, would have given Mike Pence the excuse to throw out those states and thus hand the election to Trump.

But of course the plan required election officials in those states to go along. Trump thought the ones who were Republican would. Most did not. And that’s what he’s been working on fixing ever since.

  1. You might have strong feelings about Bill Maher. Ok, fine. But he’s right about this.

The Graphic Edition of “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2021

book cover for the graphic edition of On Tyranny

sample page spread for the graphic edition of On Tyranny

sample page spread for the graphic edition of On Tyranny

Originally written as a Facebook post in the wake of the 2016 election, Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century went on to become a bestseller and a prescient warning on what was to come for America. Now, a graphic edition of On Tyranny has been released, designed and illustrated by Nora Krug. From Steven Heller’s piece on the book in Print:

Krug’s goal for this project was to use her medium to echo Snyder’s call for action. “While it was important to me to create images that would highlight the contemporary relevance of Snyder’s message,” she writes, “the use of historic images was clearly essential. At moments in the book that refer to a particular event in time — such as this one about Hitler’s annexation of Austria, when Austrian Nazis captured Jews and forced them to scrub the streets clean — I felt that rather than showing my own visual representation of that event, it was more powerful to feature a historic photograph because of the immediacy of the medium that would make that moment in history come to life.”

Combining Krug’s drawings with historic materials gave her the license to contrast the documentary with the imagined, the factual with the poetic, and to create a narrative tension that emphasizes historical relationships. “More importantly,” she explains, “this combination of mediums allows me to admit to the fact that we don’t exist in a vacuum, that we can only exist in relationship to the past, that everything we think and feel is thought and felt in reference to it, that our future is deeply rooted in our history, and that we will always be active contributors to shaping how the past is viewed and what our future will look like.”

You can order the graphic version of On Tyranny here but it seems to be backordered in most places.

“Profoundly Unequal” US is Unprepared for the Next Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2021

Ed Yong: We’re Already Barreling Toward the Next Pandemic. The US is throwing too little money at high-tech, ultimately private sector solutions but much of the problem comes down to our underfunded public health system and “profoundly unequal society”.

“To be ready for the next pandemic, we need to make sure that there’s an even footing in our societal structures,” Seema Mohapatra, a health-law expert at Indiana University, told me. That vision of preparedness is closer to what 19th-century thinkers lobbied for, and what the 20th century swept aside. It means shifting the spotlight away from pathogens themselves and onto the living and working conditions that allow pathogens to flourish. It means measuring preparedness not just in terms of syringes, sequencers, and supply chains but also in terms of paid sick leave, safe public housing, eviction moratoriums, decarceration, food assistance, and universal health care. It means accompanying mandates for social distancing and the like with financial assistance for those who might lose work, or free accommodation where exposed people can quarantine from their family. It means rebuilding the health policies that Reagan began shredding in the 1980s and that later administrations further frayed. It means restoring trust in government and community through public services. “It’s very hard to achieve effective containment when the people you’re working with don’t think you care about them,” Arrianna Marie Planey, a medical geographer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told me.

How to Solve Thorny Global Problems

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2021

Within the past 50 years, the global community has solved two huge problems that had the potential to harm every person on Earth. Smallpox once killed 30% of the people who contracted the disease but through the invention of an effective, safe vaccine and an intense effort that began in the 1960s, smallpox was completely eradicated by 1980. In the 1980s, scientists discovered a hole in the ozone layer that protects the Earth from UV radiation; further depletion would have caused major problems with the world’s food supply and an epidemic of skin cancer. Forty years later, we’ve virtually eliminated the chemicals causing the depletion and ozone losses have stabilized and have recently shown improvement.

So how did we do it? The short video above talks through each of challenges, how they were met (science + politics + a bit of luck), and how we might apply these lessons to the big problems of today (climate emergency, the pandemic).

Doctor Explains Why He Violated Texas’s Extremist Abortion Ban

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2021

Dr. Alan Braid, a practicing OB/GYN in the state of Texas for 45 years, explains why he provided medical care in the form of an abortion to a woman in violation of the state’s absurd and dangerous new law.

A new Texas law, known as S.B. 8, virtually banned any abortion beyond about the sixth week of pregnancy. It shut down about 80 percent of the abortion services we provide. Anyone who suspects I have violated the new law can sue me for at least $10,000. They could also sue anybody who helps a person obtain an abortion past the new limit, including, apparently, the driver who brings a patient to my clinic.

For me, it is 1972 all over again.

And that is why, on the morning of Sept. 6, I provided an abortion to a woman who, though still in her first trimester, was beyond the state’s new limit. I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care.

I fully understood that there could be legal consequences — but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested.

Braid concluded his piece: “I believe abortion is an essential part of health care.” Absolutely.

The Mistake that Toppled the Berlin Wall

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 03, 2021

I was 16 years old on the day the Berlin Wall fell. I remember coming home from school that day and watching the events unfold on television, completely shocked at how quickly it had all happened. Politics & protests had been pushing the Eastern Bloc countries toward more openness for years, but before watching this video, I’d never heard that the catalyst for that world-changing event was a short mistaken statement at the end of an otherwise boring press conference. From the BBC:

East German leaders had tried to calm mounting protests by loosening the borders, making travel easier for East Germans. They had not intended to open the border up completely.

The changes were meant to be fairly minor — but the way they were delivered had major consequences.

Notes about the new rules were handed to a spokesman, Günter Schabowski — who had no time to read them before his regular press conference. When he read the note aloud for the first time, reporters were stunned.

“Private travel outside the country can now be applied for without prerequisites,” he said. Surprised journalists clamoured for more details.

Shuffling through his notes, Mr Schabowski said that as far as he was aware, it was effective immediately.

In fact it had been planned to start the next day, with details on applying for a visa.

But the news was all over television — and East Germans flocked to the border in huge numbers.

How did the Berlin Wall fall? Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.

Visualization of Conservative America’s Vaccine Refusal

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2021

Charles Gaba has been graphing the Covid-19 vaccination rates of the 50 states (and DC) against the percentage of people who voted for Donald Trump in 2020 and there is unsurprisingly a clear correlation between the two:

Covid-19 vaccination rates for the 50 states graphed against the percentage of Trump voters

As one commenter noted, all of the solidly “blue” states are above the vaxxed national average and all the solidly “red” states are below it. The picture is a little more muddy when you look at the rates at the county level:

Covid-19 vaccination rates for US counties graphed against the percentage of Trump voters

The “conservatives are unvaxxed” trend is still there, but a lack of access and education around the vaccines in counties with large Black and Latino populations also plays a large role in whether people are vaccinated or not.

America’s Abstract Freedom

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2021

This is quite a paragraph from David Bentley Hart’s Three Cheers for Socialism in Commonweal:

Americans are, of course, the most thoroughly and passively indoctrinated people on earth. They know next to nothing as a rule about their own history, or the histories of other nations, or the histories of the various social movements that have risen and fallen in the past, and they certainly know little or nothing of the complexities and contradictions comprised within words like “socialism” and “capitalism.” Chiefly, what they have been trained not to know or even suspect is that, in many ways, they enjoy far fewer freedoms, and suffer under a more intrusive centralized state, than do the citizens of countries with more vigorous social-democratic institutions. This is at once the most comic and most tragic aspect of the excitable alarm that talk of social democracy or democratic socialism can elicit on these shores. An enormous number of Americans have been persuaded to believe that they are freer in the abstract than, say, Germans or Danes precisely because they possess far fewer freedoms in the concrete. They are far more vulnerable to medical and financial crisis, far more likely to receive inadequate health coverage, far more prone to irreparable insolvency, far more unprotected against predatory creditors, far more subject to income inequality, and so forth, while effectively paying more in tax (when one figures in federal, state, local, and sales taxes, and then compounds those by all the expenditures that in this country, as almost nowhere else, their taxes do not cover). One might think that a people who once rebelled against the mightiest empire on earth on the principle of no taxation without representation would not meekly accept taxation without adequate government services. But we accept what we have become used to, I suppose. Even so, one has to ask, what state apparatus in the “free” world could be more powerful and tyrannical than the one that taxes its citizens while providing no substantial civic benefits in return, solely in order to enrich a piratically overinflated military-industrial complex and to ease the tax burdens of the immensely wealthy?

I mean, when you put it like that…

The US Isn’t Ready for Another Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2021

Olga Khazan writing for The Atlantic:

After an inept coronavirus response, will the United States do better when the next pandemic strikes? Experts generally agree that America learned from the past year, and that the next public-health crisis won’t be quite as bewildering. But America’s pandemic preparedness still has major gaps, some of which are too big for any one administration to fix. In recent weeks, I’ve called back many of the experts I interviewed over the past 18 months about masks, testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and more. I asked them, “Are we ready for another one?” The short answer is “Not quite.” The long answer is that being truly “ready” will be harder than anyone realizes.

The Trump administration mishandled the American response to Covid-19 so completely that it’s tempting to pin most of the pandemic carnage on him. But the more I read about the pandemic (Michael Lewis’s The Premonition is a recent example), the more I have come to believe that the majority of the American pandemic deaths were baked in, no matter who was President. Trump was definitely a worst-case scenario, but even a more competent person in the White House in Jan 2020 (like Clinton or Sanders or Romney) would not have done so much better. Poor public health infrastructure, politicized government agencies, no mandatory paid leave, an overpriced healthcare system that only works for some, uncoordinated national response (+ federalism), years of defunding government programs, a reactive (rather than proactive) CDC, unhealthy populace, poverty, systemic racism in medicine, entitled individualism, high rate of uninsured people, growing anti-science sentiment — the pandemic was destined to race through the United States like a brush fire no matter what.

Even the European Union, whose member nations do not share many of America’s aforementioned challenges (but have other issues), did only marginally better than the US in preventing Covid deaths. The UK did worse:

a chart showing the cumulative covid deaths per million of the US, UK, EU, and world

Inside the Insurrection on Congress

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2021

This is an incredible video investigation by the NY Times of the January 6th attack on Congress by terrorists, rioters, and supporters of Donald Trump. They analyzed hundreds of videos, police bodycam footage, and police communications to reconstruct a minute-by-minute account of the Capital breach.

From the accompanying article of six takeaways from the investigation:

Most of the videos we analyzed were filmed by the rioters. By carefully listening to the unfiltered chatter within the crowd, we found a clear feedback loop between President Trump and his supporters.

As Mr. Trump spoke near the White House, supporters who had already gathered at the Capitol building hoping to disrupt the certification responded. Hearing his message to “walk down to the Capitol,” they interpreted it as the president sending reinforcements. “There’s about a million people on their way now,” we heard a man in the crowd say, as Mr. Trump’s speech played from a loudspeaker.

The call and response didn’t stop there. We found evidence of his influence once the violence was well underway. In one moment, a woman with a megaphone urged rioters to climb through a broken window by asking them to “stand up for our country and Constitution” — echoing the language in an earlier tweet from Mr. Trump. In another, as the police were pushing to clear the mob off the building, a rioter screamed at officers: “I was invited here by the president.”

It is astonishing to me how close we came to having a hostage or assassination situation with members of Congress and the Vice-President — like literal seconds and minutes away — and how is this not the only topic of conversation over the past 6 months in our country? And not only that, it’s clear that we’re not really going to do anything about it, aside from beefing up Capitol security and imprisoning some of the insurrectionists. This isn’t over — as the video’s narration states near the end: “The forces that brought them there have not gone away.”

Update: From Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources newsletter:

But Rangappa could have also been talking about CNN’s efforts in court to obtain riot footage; or ProPublica’s recent investigation that indicated “Senior Trump Aides Knew Jan. 6 Rally Could Get Chaotic;” or Just Security’s new “clearinghouse” for riot research. Her broader point is spot on: Newsrooms have been putting the January 6 puzzle pieces together, creating a detailed rough draft of history, in spite of partisan efforts to bury that history.

Germany Came to Terms with Its Nazi Past. Why Can’t America Do the Same with Slavery?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2021

For the Washington Post, Michele Norris wonders what it will take for the US to finally and fully acknowledge its history of slavery.

America experienced 246 years of slavery before it was officially ended with the passage of the 13th Amendment. That was followed by decades of legal segregation and oppression under Jim Crow, followed by a period of willful blindness and denial. A tourist from a foreign land might well conclude that the Confederacy had actually won the Civil War, based on the number of monuments, buildings and boulevards still named for heroes of its defeated army. The real truth of our shared history was a casualty of that war and, like any wound left untended, the results can be catastrophic.

A full accounting of slavery is one of terror and trauma, and for decades the natural inclination was to ask, why would anyone want to claim that history? But at a moment when the United States is dangerously divided, when we are having bitter and overdue conversations about policing, inequality and voting rights, when marauders fueled by white-nationalist rhetoric can overwhelm the Capitol, proudly waving the Confederate battle flag, the more important question is this: What happens if we don’t?

She uses Germany’s remembrance and examination of Nazism and the Holocaust as an example of a country that has properly faced up to its terrible past in order to move fully forward.

Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung refers to Germany’s efforts to interrogate the horrors of the Holocaust and the rise of Nazism. It has been a decades-long exercise, beginning in the 1960s, to examine, analyze and ultimately learn to live with an evil chapter through monuments, teachings, art, architecture, protocols and public policy. The country looks at its Nazi past by consistently, almost obsessively, memorializing the victims of that murderous era, so much so that it is now a central feature of the nation’s cultural landscape. The ethos of this campaign is “never forget.”

I visited Germany back in 2018 and its efforts to engage with past horrors were quite noticeable and stood in stark contrast to American activity along similar lines.

In particular, as a nation the US has never properly come to terms with the horrors it inflicted on African Americans and Native Americans. We build monuments to Confederate soldiers but very few to the millions enslaved and murdered. Our country committed genocide against native peoples, herded them onto reservations like cattle, and we’re still denying them the right to vote.

As Norris convincingly argues, “it is long past time to face where truth can take us”.

The Last Free Election in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2021

Yale historian Timothy Snyder has been one of the most prominent & insistent voices warning against the rise of authoritarianism & fascism in the United States in recent years — you may remember his 20 lessons from the 20th century on fighting authoritarianism from November 2016 and his more recent piece on the right’s coup attempt on January 6th.

Over the weekend, Snyder published a short piece about what he believes will happen as a result of the 1/6 insurrection and the Republicans’ ongoing effort to push their Big Lie about election fraud — basically the end of democracy in America.

I have the Cassandra feeling this spring because it is so obvious where all of this is heading. President Trump tells a big lie that elections are rigged. This authorizes him and others to seek power in extra-democratic ways. The lie is institutionalized by state legislation that suppresses voting, and that gives state legislatures themselves the right to decide how to allocate the electoral vote in presidential elections.

The scenario then goes like this. The Republicans win back the House and Senate in 2022, in part thanks to voter suppression. The Republican candidate in 2024 loses the popular vote by several million and the electoral vote by the margin of a few states. State legislatures, claiming fraud, alter the electoral count vote. The House and Senate accept that altered count. The losing candidate becomes the president. We no longer have “democratically elected government.” And people are angry.

No one is seeking to hide that this is the plan. It is right there out in the open. The prospective Republican candidates for 2024, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley, are all running on a big lie platform. If your platform is that elections do not work, you are saying that you intend to come to power some other way. The big lie is designed not to win an election, but to discredit one. Any candidate who tells it is alienating most Americans, and preparing a minority for a scenario where fraud is claimed. This is just what Trump tried in 2020, and it led to a coup attempt in January 2021. It will be worse in January 2025.

Like he says, so obvious and out in the open. As far as I’m concerned, this is a done deal and there’s not a lot that can be done to stop it. The horse left the barn some time ago and most people can’t even tell the door is open, much less that it needs closing.

QAmom

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2021

Sean Donnelly’s mother got sucked into the world of QAnon conspiracy theories, so he made a little video about it, including documenting some bets he made with her about whether or not Biden would still be in office 3 months after the inauguration or if Tom Hanks & Oprah would soon be arrested for pedophilia. Remember when Baby Boomers were all concerned that the internet was going to be harmful for their Gen X and Millennial children and grandchildren? And now all these Boomers are getting brainwashed by Facebook and Fox News? Good stuff. :|

See also QAnon, Conspiracy Theories, and the Rise of Magical Thinking, What Can You Do About QAnon?, Sacha Baron Cohen Says Tech Companies Built the “Greatest Propaganda Machine in History”, Living in a Conspiracy Nation, In Search of a Flat Earth, and My Dad, the Facebook Addict. (via waxy)

“If Democracy Is Dying, Why Are Democrats So Complacent?”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2021

For The Atlantic, Luke Savage writes that Democrats have to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to protecting American democracy.

If you’ve followed recent Democratic messaging, you’ll have heard that American democracy is under serious attack by the Republican Party, representing an existential threat to the country. If you’ve followed Democratic lawmaking, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the threat is actually a rather piddling one. The disconnect, in this case, isn’t attributable to Democratic embellishment, but to inexcusable complacency.

Without meaningfully reforming the rules of the Senate, the Biden administration & Congressional Democratic leadership basically gets to pass one substantial bill per year (through budget reconciliation). That’s it. If Democrats lose the House in 2022, which seems likely or even certain without the passage of a federal voting rights bill, then it’s only one or two bills. And then maybe Democrats don’t see the White House, a Senate majority, and a House majority for a generation and we’ll all have to ask ourselves whether we actually like living in a de facto nationalistic one-party state.

“Every Child on Their Own Trampoline”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2021

I suspect that if you read this site with any regularity, the pandemic has you thinking about our society’s prioritization of the rights & desires of the individual versus the needs of the community. Using the purchase of a backyard trampoline for his kids as a jumping off point, Jeremy Williams wonders if we haven’t “tipped too far towards private consumption”.

Capitalism pushes us towards private affluence. We aspire to acquire our own things. Shared things are seen as second best, something of an inconvenience. Politics responds accordingly, prioritising economic growth and ‘more money in your pocket’, rather than shared goods and services. So everyone has their own lawnmower while the grass grows long in the park. People get their own exercise bikes or rowing machines, and the gym at the local leisure centre starts to look tired and under-funded. The wealthy pay for childcare or hire a nanny, but the early years nursery closes down.

Having access to your own things looks like progress, but there is a cost. Community is one of the victims. Shared spaces are places where community happens, where people mix and meet. Nobody makes new friends on their own rowing machine, in front of the TV. Inequality is another. Those who can afford their own won’t notice, but those on lower incomes rely much more on shared resources. When a library closes, it’s those on the margins of society who lose access to books, internet access, or a warm place to sit and do their homework. There is also an environmental cost, as private ownership means endlessly duplicated goods, many underused objects across many owners rather than a few well used objects that are shared.

(via dense discovery)

Rick Steves: Germany’s Fascist Story

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2021

Rick Steves’ travel shows and videos typically highlight the positive aspects of travel destinations in Europe and around the world. But more recently, he’s also been making shows about Europe’s unpleasant past. In 2019, he did an hour-long TV special about the history of fascism in Europe

Because Steves hosts a travel show, they visit some of the places where this history played out, including Nuremberg, Auschwitz, and Rome, talk to historians and tour guides, and discuss fascist and anti-fascist art, including Picasso’s Guernica.

And earlier this year, Steves made a similar show that focused just on Germany, embedded above.

Traveling across Germany, we learn how fascism rose and then fell, taking millions of people with it. Visiting actual locations — from Munich to Nürnberg to Berlin — we trace the roots of Nazism in the aftermath of World War I, when masses of angry people were enchanted by Hitler. We explore the totalitarian society Hitler built, and see the consequences: genocide and total war. Learning from Germany’s fascist story, we can recognize that hateful ideology as well as the tricks of wannabe dictators in our own age.

(via open culture)