Saturday, March 18, 2023

What we can learn about right wing politics from the response to SVB

When it became clear that the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) was failing, Speaker Kevin McCarthy had a message he wanted Republicans to embrace: "Biden’s spending triggered a rise in inflation, and the Federal Reserve’s subsequent interest rate increases wiped out the bank." 

Of course, that is all based on a half-truth. Rising interest rates did pose a problem for SVB's long-term bond investments, but given the global nature of inflation following the pandemic, it wasn't Biden's spending that triggered the problem. However, McCarthy's message would have presented a problem for Biden and Democrats, given voter's concerns about inflation. 

As we now know, McCarthy's messaging on this one was rejected in favor of blaming the whole episode on wokeness.

House Oversight Committee chair James Comer: "We see now coming out that they were one of the most woke banks in their quest for the ESG [environmental, social, and governance]–type policy and investing."

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: "I mean, this bank, they’re so concerned with DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] and politics and all kinds of stuff. I think that really diverted from them focusing on their core mission.”

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley: "SVB = too woke to fail."

WSJ columnist Andy Kessler“the company may have been distracted by diversity demands,” specifically citing the bank having women, Black, and LGBTQ+ board members.

That's just a sampling. But the message is clear. When given the opportunity to use a crisis to spread a negative attack on their opponent's economic agenda, Republicans rejected it in favor of fanning the flames of their culture war against wokeness. That is further confirmation of what Ron Brownstein said about the state of our politics today: 

The dividing lines between the parties now is not so much economic as it is how you feel about the way the country is changing. That is a fundamental fault line in our politics. And it is clear the energy in the Republican Party is for candidates who express resistance to that in all sorts of ways, from classroom censorship to book bans to what is happening on LGBTQ rights in the red states."

There is another political lesson we can learn from the SVB failure about the nature of propaganda. Take a look at what happened on Fox News

Contrary to those claims, SVB did NOT donate $73 million to Black Lives Matter and related organizations. Both Judd Legum and Josh Marshall have written excellent exposés documenting the lies.  

The Fox News hosts touting the lie got it from a database that was put together a few days after the SVB crisis by the right wing think tank Claremont Institute. It claims to be "the most comprehensive database to date tracking corporate contributions and pledges to the Black Lives Matter movement and related causes from 2020 to the present."

The crux of the lie comes in how Claremont defines "the Black Lives Matter movement and related causes." They claim that BLM's "goal is to undermine capitalism, the nation state, and Western civilization." But in their database they included donations made to organizations like the United Negro College Fund, historically Black colleges and universities, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Urban League, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Equal Justice Initiative, and Bank of America financing for housing and business development in minority communities. As Marshall summed up, "the general message is that anything in any way connected to Black people in pretty much any way is 'BLM riots,' and explicitly supporting mayhem and violence." In other words, it's nothing but vile, racist propaganda. 

The fact that Claremont was able to post this so-called "database" within a couple of days of SVB's failure and had Fox News spouting their lies immediately tells us a lot about the nature of propaganda. While it will take weeks/months to unpack the truth about SVB, it was possible to put together the lies in a matter of days. By the time the truth comes out, major media will have moved on and those living in the right wing bubble will have swallowed the propaganda whole.

That is the challenge that liberals face. To the extent that we are grounded in facts, it is important to keep in mind that reality is complex and most of the time it's hard to unravel (see: origins of the coronavirus). The party based on lies has the advantage of being able to produce simplistic fabrications almost immediately. 

There are no easy fixes to that challenge. But at minimum, we have to recognize the problem. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

I, for one, am proud to be part of the "woke mob."

During his State of the Union address, President Biden said this:

My economic plan is about investing in places and people that have been forgotten. Amid the economic upheaval of the past four decades, too many people have been left behind or treated like they’re invisible.

Maybe that’s you, watching at home.

You remember the jobs that went away. And you wonder whether a path even exists anymore for you and your children to get ahead without moving away.

I get it.

That’s why we’re building an economy where no one is left behind.

Jobs are coming back, pride is coming back, because of the choices we made in the last two years. This is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America and make a real difference in your lives.

During the first two years of his term - with the slimmest of majorities in the Senate - Biden and the Democrats delivered on that "blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America" with passage of the American Rescue Plan, the infrastructure bill, and the Inflation Reduction Act. With the release of his 2024 budget, the president continues to build on that success.

With all of that, Biden and Democrats have successfully undermined any holdouts who continue to claim that their party has abandoned working class voters. So it's important to note what Republicans have done in response. Ron Brownstein nailed it!

The dividing lines between the parties now is not so much economic as it is how you feel about the way the country is changing. That is a fundamental fault line in our politics. And it is clear the energy in the Republican Party is for candidates who express resistance to that in all sorts of ways, from classroom censorship to book bans to what is happening on LGBTQ rights in the red states."

In other words, all Republicans have these days is fear mongering about the so-called "woke mind virus." 

What does that mean? The perfect example is what Governor DeSantis is doing in Florida, where he says that "wokeness goes to die." It means using state power to attack Black history, voting rights, LGBTQ rights, women's autonomy, and immigrants - along with free speech and the press. Those attacks are being repeated all over the country in red states. Republicans have completely abandoned any economic message and gone all-in on their so-called "culture wars."

It's important to keep in mind that what Brownstein is referring to is "backlash." The changes Republicans are reacting to are the result of decades of struggle to "perfect our union" and extend the hand of belonging to those who have been left out. 

For example, we've seen that the election of our first African American president triggered Ron DeSantis in a deep way. I am reminded of something Rebecca Traister wrote just before the 2016 election got underway.

The public spectacle of this presidential election, and the two that have preceded it, are inextricably linked to the racialized and gendered anger and violence we see around us…

Whatever their flaws, their political shortcomings, their progressive dings and dents, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton mean a lot. They represent an altered power structure and changed calculations about who in this country may lead.

The threat of an "altered power structure" led to the election of Donald Trump, who Ta-Nehisi Coates called “our first white president.” As he wrote, “The foundation of Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.” 

The Republican platform is now devoted to the negation of every gain we've made over the last century when it comes to civil rights. To accomplish that goal, the GOP is more than willing to abandon democracy, because for them, "being outnumbered doesn't have to mean losing."

That is the state of our politics today. Anyone who struggled with the question of whether working class voters went with Trump because of "economic anxiety" or "xenophobia" can leave that conversation to historians and open their eyes to what is happening right now. The president from Scranton is "building an economy where no one is left behind," while the opposition is so afraid of living in a pluralistic society that they're willing to abandon democracy in order to maintain their dominance. 

There are no "both sides" arguments for this one. It's time to chose sides. I, for one, am proudly part of the "woke mob."

Monday, March 13, 2023

Matt Taibbi: Challenge Accepted

Last week Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger (two authors of the so-called "Twitter files") testified before the House committee on the "weaponization of the government." After the hearing, in response to a tweet from Rep. Sylia Garcia (D-TX), Taibbi issued a challenge. He asked: "Can you please identify something @ShellenbergerMD or I said that is extreme, a lie, or a conspiracy theory?"

Challenge accepted. I'll let you decide if these are extreme, lies, conspiracy theories, or all of the above.

To begin with, both Taibbi and Shellenberger referred to a "censorship industrial complex." Besides being a complete balderization of Eisenhower's powerful indictment of the "military industrial complex," there has been zero proof of any government "censorship." Shelllenberger demonstrated his confusion about that under questioning by Rep. Daniel Goldman (D-NY).

In that clip, Shellenberger equates the FBI flagging material that violated Twitter's terms and services (ie, dickpics) with the FBI directing twitter to remove content. He can't/won't distinguish between the two, which is why their claims of censorship are bogus.

During the hearing, Shellenbergr responded to questions from Chair Jim Jordan about the Hunter Biden laptop story by claiming that the FBI had been "spying on Rudy Giuliani." Not true.
American intelligence agencies were not spying on Giuliani, but on the people with whom he was talking, the source said, including Andrii Derkach, who has been identified by the Treasury Department as a Russian agent. That collection led them to learn about Giuliani's dealings with Derkach and other Russian operatives who wanted to feed him information attempting to discredit Democrat Joe Biden, the source said.

Just as an aside, it wasn't the FBI spying on Derkach. It was the CIA.

There were also a series of questions from Goldman to Shellenberg about this claim from one of his "twitter files." 

Goldman pointed to the opening paragraph of that NY Post story, demonstrating that every single fact is not true.

Hunter Biden introduced his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, to a top executive at a Ukrainian energy firm less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company, according to emails obtained by The Post.

The fact is that the Ukrainian prosecutor in question was fired for NOT investigating corruption - including companies like Burisma. 

In another round of questions from Goldman to Shellenberg about the Hunter Biden laptop story, the journalist seems confused about the difference between a laptop and a hard drive. 

That exchange may leave you scratching your head, which is exactly what the liars/conspiracy theorists want. So let's break it down. 

Supposedly the laptop in question has been in the possession of the FBI since it was subpoenaed in 2019. Everything else is a reference to hard drives that were allegedly copied from the laptop or other hard drives. So no, CBS did NOT do an analysis of the "laptop in question" - but of a hard drive that was given to them by the lawyer of the computer repair shop owner.

Furthermore, Shellenberger seems to be completely ignorant of what the Washington Post found on a hard drive given to them by Jack Maxey. Here's how Philip Bump summarized what they found:
We had multiple experts examine the contents of a hard drive that purported to contain the laptop’s contents, validating tens of thousands of emails as likely to be legitimate. But an enormous amount of the material on the drive couldn’t be validated as legitimate, in part because of the game of telephone that the material had undergone by the time it reached us...

“The experts found the data had been repeatedly accessed and copied by people other than Hunter Biden over nearly three years,” our report explained, with those we spoke with being unable to “reach definitive conclusions about the contents as a whole, including whether all of it originated from a single computer or could have been assembled from files from multiple computers and put on the portable drive.”

All of the data on the hard drive given to the Washington Post could NOT be verified. The reason why this could be significant is that in 2017 Russian intelligence hacked Emmanuel Macron's campaign and leaked data - as well as fake information - to social media sites. It is this mixing of hacked data with fake information that is worth noting. 

Since the hearing concluded, Goldman and Taibbi have continued a discussion on Twitter. Here is the Congressman calling out the journalists on some basic facts: 

Here is a clip of why Goldman made that point. In it, Taibbi claims to not know whether the Russian government hacked and leaked Clinton campaign emails and Shellenberg waffles on the question.

Those are some of the lies/conspiracy theories spread by Taibbi and Shellenberger during the hearing last week. 

Perhaps all of this gives you some clue as to why one of Taibbi's staunchest defenders - Glenn Greenwald - tried to smear Rep. Goldman. 
Dan Goldman is one of the richest members of Congress, he has a net-worth of 250 million dollars. Not because he earned any of it. He was born into the billionaire family that created Levi-Strauss. His great grandfather was the founder of Levi-Strauss and therefore he is the heir to that fortune...The reason he was so popular among the wealthy white liberals who vote for the member of Congress in Manhattan is because he spent the last three years as a lead lawyer in the Mueller investigation.

Here's what you need to know about Dan Goldman. Yes, he is heir to the Levi-Strauss fortune. I guess that in Glenn's mind, that is some sort of crime. But from 2007 to 2017, Goldman was an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York. He prosecuted Russian organized crime, Genovese crime family mobsters, and a variety of white-collar crime and securities fraud. Then in 2019, Rep. Adam Schiff tapped Goldman to be the lead counsel for the House Intelligence Committee during Trump's first impeachment hearings.

So no, Goldman was never "a lead lawyer in the Mueller investigation." That, too, is a lie.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

To avoid slouching towards Gilead, it's time for liberals to connect the dots

When it comes to job creation, we got another good jobs report this week. Those who insist that a recession is looming continue to scratch their heads wondering what the heck is going on with this economy. So let's take a look at some headlines and see if we can connect the dots.

Chip makers feel labor market squeeze

The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought

The State of the Nation’s Nursing Shortage

Whenever one of these pop up, we see politicized finger-pointing at how the opposition is to blame. For example, right wingers claim that the BLM protests caused the law enforcement labor shortage while liberals blame the teacher shortage on the right wing attacks leveled at public education. There might be some truth to those claims in individual situations. But it is imperative that we all look at the big picture: we have a shortage of labor. 

While it is true that things like early retirements and a pandemic have had an impact, the fact is that we've been heading in this direction for awhile. Six months before we had ever heard of COVID,  Alexia Fernández Campbell wrote this:
The US economy doesn’t have enough workers.

For a record 16 straight months, the number of open jobs has been higher than the number of people looking for work. The US economy had 7.4 million job openings in June, but only 6 million people were looking for work, according to data released by the US Department of Labor.

This is not normal. Ever since Labor began tracking job turnover two decades ago, there have always been more people looking for work than jobs available. That changed for the first time in January 2018.

Ten years ago Ezra Klein noted that "the ratio of working Americans to retirees will fall from 5-to-1 today to 3-to-1 in 2050." Fewer workers and more retirees spells trouble.

But there are several reasons why it is critical to connect these dots. For starters, it has sparked a natalist movement on the far right. 

A bill introduced in the Texas legislature would give tax breaks to heterosexual couples who have lots of children. J.D. Vance has also proposed tax breaks to families with multiple children while lambasting the “childless left” who have no “physical commitment to the future of this country."

These folks aren't just against abortion and contraception. They literally want women barefoot and pregnant. Anyone who has read "The Handmaid's Tale" knows that this is how things started in Gilead.

Just as ominous is the fact that natalism begins to build a case for "replacement theory," which is a dangerous melding of xenophobia and misogyny.

An extension of colonialist theory, [replacement theory] is predicated on the notion that white women are not having enough children and that falling birthrates will lead to white people around the world being replaced by nonwhite people.

And like so many fundamentalist ideologies, the foundation of this one requires the subjugation of women.

Of course, one easy fix for the labor shortage is to reform our immigration system. But while right wingers are busy with their xenophobic and sexist proposals, too many of us in the real world are simply ignoring what's going on. It's time for us to wake up if we want to move this country FORWARD instead of slinking backwards towards Gilead. 

Friday, March 10, 2023

Republicans have gone beyond post-truth to become the party of lies

Back in 2011, David Roberts wrote that Republicans had become the "post-truth" party.

[Republicans] talk about cutting the deficit even as they slash taxes on the rich and launch unfunded wars. They talk about free markets even as they subsidize fossil fuels. They talk about American exceptionalism even as they protect fossil-fuel incumbents and fight research and infrastructure investments.

In short, Republicans have mastered post-truth politics. They’ve realized that their rhetoric doesn’t have to bear any connection to their policy agenda.

Fast forward to 2023 and we see that, for Republicans, their rhetoric doesn't have to bear any connection to reality.

  1. While in office, Donald Trump told over 30,000 lies. 
  2. Representative George Santos lied about pretty much everything.
  3. Filings from the lawsuit Dominion brought against Fox News show that the Republican propaganda network is a completely dishonest organization.
Those are just a few examples. 

Of course, a party based on lies can flourish if two conditions are met:

  1. Their supporters exist in an epistemic bubble where they're protected from reality, and
  2. They are in the minority and all they have to do is lob accusatory bombs at the opposition. 
It remains to be seen if the truth about Fox News will poke a hole in the right wing epistemic bubble. But in the 2022 elections, Republicans gained a majority in the House and folks like Jim Jordan are learning that the tactics they perfected while in the minority aren't working for them right now. 

Jordan is chairing the select subcommittee on the "weaponization of government" whose goal is to scrutinize the "concerted effort by the government to silence and punish conservatives at all levels.” So far, things aren't going great. 

  • Axios published at article with the headline: "Jim Jordan scrambles amid claims 'weaponization' probe is a dud."
  • Mike Davis, former chief counsel for nominations for then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), wrote in a tweet thread: "This is doomed to fail."
  • Jeff Carlson, co-host of "Truth Over News" on EpochTV, tweeted, "Is it once again all talk and no action from the ... Weaponization Committee?"
  • Fox News' Jesse Watters said: "Make me feel better, guys. Tell me this is going somewhere." 
  • On Steve Bannon’s program, a conservative guest described the “weaponization” committee as “a failure,” adding, “Jim Jordan is just not a serious person.”
  • Dana Milbank wrote that "It is possible that, by random chance, one of the witnesses may have said something that is factually true, but any pellet of accuracy was lost amid all the errant slugs that ricocheted crazily out of their muzzles."
  • Writers at the Bulwark noted that, "once again, Jordan’s investigative weapon was loaded with blanks. And he was hunting dead game anyway."
So across the political spectrum, the consensus is that Jordan is blowing it. But it's not just because he's incompetent. Steve Benen nailed it.
It would be no more productive for House Republicans to create a select subcommittee to investigate Bigfoot. They could hire dozens of investigators, depose countless witnesses, hold hours of hearings, and send out a steady stream of subpoenas, but in the end, things that don’t exist can’t be found.

The whole premise of the committee is based on a myriad of lies Republicans have been telling for years now. The moral of this story is that, when liars have to step out of their epistemic bubble into the sunlight of the real world, it's not a pretty picture.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

What if the media told the truth about DeSantis?

In a recent speech, Ron DeSantis laid out his case for the presidency based on his performance as Governor of Florida. He said that in "fighting the woke mind virus," what you've seen is "surgical precision execution day after day after day." What we've seen from the media is, at worst, confirmation of those claims and, at best, tacit agreement. 

What would we be hearing if they actually told the truth? 

First of all, we'd learn that the whole DeSantis vs Disney battle was an example of a politician rushing to make headlines before he had any idea what he was doing. For example, a little more than a month after Disney spoke out against DeSantis's "don't say gay" bill,  the governor signed a bill that would dissolve the company's special district status. Here's how the Florida Senate summarized SB 4-C (emphasis mine):

The bill provides for the dissolution of any independent special district established by a special act prior to...November 5, 1968...The bill provides that dissolution of the affected districts will occur on June 1, 2023.

Almost immediately, Disney let it be known that, if the special district was dissolved, Florida taxpayers would be on the hook for its $1 billion in bond debt. Run-roh! Time to scramble behind closed doors to fix that! Seven months later DeSantis had a solution. As governor, he would appoint the board of supervisors who oversee the district, but here's the final word on its status:

When it comes to the people DeSantis appointed to the board, the guy who said that homosexuality is the result of estrogen in our tap water sounds like a real winner. 

But this sums things up pretty well:

It’s unclear what, if any, effect that board will have on how Disney behaves...Even on the level of administration of municipal matters, so far experts estimate that the board takeover isn’t necessarily going to change how things are run in Disney World’s district. “In terms of the day-to-day operation of the district, it doesn’t look like much is going to change,” Aubrey Jewett, associate professor at the University of Central Florida, told NBC News.

Surgical precision execution? Not so much. 

What DeSantis has going for himself are Republican supermajorities in the state house and senate that are willing to pass any nonsense he proposes. So he goes on Fox News to tout his "so-called" accomplishments. What you don't hear much about is how many of those bills face serious court challenges - like his "Stop the Woke Act," which a judge compared to the "upside down" dimension in "Stranger Things." Here are some of the governor's other failures:

  • The "free speech" law that was blocked for violating free speech.
  • The "anti-riot" law that was deemed unconstitutional.
  • The 15-week abortion ban that violates the Florida constitution.
  • The myriad of civil cases being brought against the governor for his scheme to transport migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard.
As of last December, the Miami Herald documented that DeSantis faced "more than 15 lawsuits costing Florida taxpayers nearly $17 million in legal fees to date."
In case after case, courts have scaled back, thrown out, or left in legal limbo rules and laws that impose restrictions on social media giants; limit voting; curb gender-related health care; influence speech in the workplace, college campuses and classrooms; and create new crimes for peaceful protests.

It's also worth noting that, in the process, DeSantis has not only aligned himself with people who think tap water creates homosexuality, he also pals around with liars and propagandists like Christopher Rufo and James O'Keefe. 

None of that bears any resemblance to surgical precision execution. What we have with DeSantis is a fascist governor (with a totally compliant legislature) who conjures up enemies to shoot first and aim later. 

Now run and tell that! 

Sunday, March 5, 2023

No, Democrats don't have a patriotism problem

Ruy Teixeira - one of the white pundits Ron Brownstein labelled a "neo-New Democrat - has developed a "three-point plan to fix the Democrats and their coalition." Here's how he defines the problem:

The Democratic Party may be the party of blue America, especially deep blue metro America, but its bid to be the party of the ordinary American, the common man and woman, is falling short.

There is a simple—and painful—reason for this. The Democrats really are no longer the party of the common man and woman. The priorities and values that dominate the party today are instead those of educated, liberal America which only partially overlap—and sometimes not at all—with those of ordinary Americans.

Do you see what he did there? Those who live in "deep blue metro America" aren't "ordinary Americans." Neither are "educated liberal Americans." That kind of split is reminiscent of where this whole MAGA movement started - with Sarah Palin in 2008. For example: here's what she said at a fundraiser in Greensboro, North Carolina:

We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation.

So it should come as no surprise that one of Teixeira's three points is that Democrats have a patriotism problem. 

It’s kind of hard to strike up the band on patriotism when you’ve been endorsing the view that America was born in slavery, marinated in racism and remains a white supremacist society, shot through with multiple, intersecting levels of injustice that make everybody either oppressed or oppressor on a daily basis.

That is nothing more than a repetition of the lie Republicans tell about Democrats. It is a fact that America was born in slavery and that systemic racism remains alive and well. But that sits alongside the fact that, for hundreds of years, those who were oppressed have fought valiantly and often risked their lives for this vision of America.

I don't know about you, but THAT'S what I call patriotic. 

I was thinking about all of this as President Biden travels to Selma today to commemorate the 58th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. It was eight years ago that then-President Obama gave his most important speech at the 50th anniversary. It is helpful to remember the context.

Early that year, Rudy Giuliani had set off a firestorm by suggesting that Obama didn’t love America...It became one of those stories that not only swirled around right wing media, but migrated into mainstream outlets as well. The patriotism of this country’s first African-American president was under assault.

In his speech Obama got to the root of patriotism, going beyond the sentimentality of flag-waving and the divisiveness of referring to "real Americans."

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?...

It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what is right, to shake up the status quo. That’s America...

For we were born of change. We broke the old aristocracies, declaring ourselves entitled not by bloodline, but endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. We secure our rights and responsibilities through a system of self-government, of and by and for the people... 
Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person. Because the single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” “We The People.” “We Shall Overcome.” “Yes We Can.” That word is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone.

During my life there have been many moments when I didn't feel patriotic. But when I reflect on Obama's words, I realize that those were times when the need to "speak out for what is right, to shake up the status quo" was most important. So like any other form of love, patriotism is more than a requires having a vision and working on making that a reality. That's what Obama referred to as the "imperative of citizenship." 

Pundits like Teixeira who regurgitate right wing talking points about patriotism can simply have a seat and maybe read a book or two about some of our real patriotic heroes - like Democrat John Lewis.

What we can learn about right wing politics from the response to SVB

When it became clear that the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) was failing, Speaker Kevin McCarthy had a message he wanted Republicans to embrace:...