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kottke.org posts about politics

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.


Jon Stewart Calmly Dismantles Gun Zealot

*sigh* I get it. I get why people are so enthused about this Jon Stewart video. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a clip from Stewart’s show on Apple+ where he’s debating a Second Amendment purist gun nut who also happens to be a state senator from one of the states that’s trying to take away health care, reproductive rights, and persecute/prosecute LGBTQ+ people for daring to exist in public โ€” basically a real “rights for me but not for thee” dickbag.

Anyway, I guess it’s fun to see Stewart dismantle this guy but arguing with a dimwitted ideologue in this manner is like that old saying: “What’s the sense of wrestling with a pig? You both get all over muddy…and the pig likes it.” Conservatives in America want what they want and don’t care about the arguments against it or facts or consensus or bipartisan anything. They only care about their radical ideology and their constituents who agree with them (and their constituents who don’t can go fuck themselves, I guess). In fact, they welcome arguments because it wastes the time and energy of people who would argue with them and they can’t lose because they don’t care about facts and they increasingly have no shame. See also Can You Really ‘Back The Blue’ If You’re Weak on Guns? from the same show.

Anyway, anyway, anyway…it’s gonna be a fun Monday here I guess.


Mink!

In the course of making his Oscar-winning documentary about basketball star Lusia Harris, director Ben Proudfoot became interested in how Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any educational program that receives federal funding, was passed. And that led him to former US Representative Patsy Mink, who was the first woman of color elected to Congress and a key advocate in the fight for Title IX.

As the first woman of color elected to Congress, Ms. Mink โ€” and her path to office โ€” was influenced by the discrimination she experienced in her personal and professional lives. Many doors were closed to her as a Japanese American woman, and she became an activist and later a politician to change the status quo.

As I learned more about the early history of Title IX in the 1970s, I found that lobbyists and legislators mounted a formidable campaign to dilute and erode the law. This effort would culminate in a dramatic moment on the House floor, where Ms. Mink was pulled away during a crucial vote on the future of the law.


The Boring Conservatism of Elon Musk

After restricting the visibility of the account that tracks the location of Elon Musk’s private jet, Twitter has now completely suspended it. Using publicly available data, @elonjet would tweet where and when the $70 million Gulfstream G650 ER was taking off and landing. (It’s still available on Instagram.)

Musk said in November that the account was a “direct personal safety risk” but that he would not ban it as part of his “commitment to free speech.”

Lol. In recent months, Musk has revealed himself to be conservative, a boring and completely predictable move for someone with a shit-ton of money, but which seemingly flies in the face of his acolytes’ conception of him as a free-thinking maverick genius god being. Banning @elonjet is a pretty minor event in the grand scheme of potentially dangerous things happening over at Twitter since Musk took over, but it demonstrates Musk’s commitment to Frank Wilhoit’s succinct 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.

So after going on and on about how important free speech is (in society and on Twitter), Twitter essentially shadow-banned @elonjet โ€” shadow-banning on Twitter being something that Musk is trying to censure with the comical “Twitter Files” hogwash โ€” and then just suspended the account altogether. From this and other actions, it’s pretty obvious that in running Twitter, Musk will define which people will be protected by The Twitter Rules and which groups of people will be governed by those same rules. It’s a private company and he has every right to do so, but for the love of god, his governance will not increase the amount of freedom that people using Twitter have. Musk will have freedom to bend and break the Rules, as will others of his choosing, but everyone else will have to toe the line and be subject to the Rules’ consequences and to the actions of those the Rules protect.

Update: Charlie Warzel wrote about Musk’s obvious and self-serving conservatism using a much more dangerous and harmful jumping off point: a recent Musk tweet that reads “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci”.

In five words, Musk manages to mock transgender and nonbinary people, signal his disdain for public-health officials, and send up a flare to far-right shitposters and trolls. The tweet is a cruel and senseless play on pronouns that also invokes the right’s fury toward Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, for what they believe is a government overreach in public-health policy throughout the pandemic and an obfuscation of the coronavirus’s origins. (Fauci, for his part, has said he would cooperate with any possible investigations and has nothing to hide.)

Beyond its stark cruelty, this tweet is incredibly thirsty. As right-wing troll memes go, it is Dad-level, 4chan-Clark Griswold stuff, which is to say it’s desperate engagement bait in the hopes of attracting kudos from the only influencers who give Musk the time of day anymore: right-wing shock jocks. But that is the proper company for the billionaire, because whether or not he wants to admit it, Musk is actively aiding the far right’s political project. He is a right-wing activist.

Warzel invokes Wilhoit as well:

The hypocrisy at the center of Musk’s Twitter tenure is crucial to the understanding of Musk’s political activism. He has championed ideals of free-speech maximalism and amnesty to those who’ve offended his rules. Twitter, under his management, has let back on organizers of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia; neo-Nazis such as Andrew Anglin; and January 6-investigation personalities such as Roger Stone. At the same time, Twitter has suspended accounts that have mocked Musk or expressed left-leaning views. Whether intentionally or not, Musk has, in effect, been governing Twitter using the classic Frank Wilhoit maxim: “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.” Put differently, the billionaire has been advancing a long-running right-wing political project described recently by my colleague Adam Serwer as a “belief in a new constitutional right. Most important, this new right supersedes the free-speech rights of everyone else: the conservative right to post.”

(via @torrHL)


The Real Fight for Abortion Rights

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 โ€” 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) โ€” 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

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” โ€” 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

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 โ€” 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 โ€” now widely accepted โ€” 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

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

book cover of Allow Me To Retort by Elie Mystal

That’s the subtitle of a new book by Elie Mystal โ€” 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

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

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 โ€” and I know what it’s like, and you have children of your own, Mrs. Johnson โ€” 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

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

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?