Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Good and Bad News About the Right's Obsession With Critical Race Theory

A little over a year ago, Ta-Nehisi Coates surprised himself (and everyone else) when he told Ezra Klein that he had become uncharacteristically hopeful. Coates initially referred to his father's experience in Baltimore during the 1968 riots.

The idea that black folks in their struggle against the way the law is enforced in their neighborhoods would resonate with white folks in Des Moines, Iowa, in Salt Lake City, in Berlin, in London — that was unfathomable to him in ’68, when it was mostly black folks in their own communities registering their great anger and great pain.

I don’t want to overstate this, but there are significant swaths of people and communities that are not black, that to some extent have some perception of what that pain and that suffering is. I think that’s different.

The murder of George Floyd by police officers didn't just ignite the Black community. White people all over this country (and around the world) rose up to protest yet another example of injustice. That inspired hope - even for a pessimist like Coates.

But as has always been the case, that turn of events also inspired a backlash. The protesters (who were almost exclusively peaceful) were called "thugs" and referred to as "violent." Then came a right wing obsession with so-called "cancel culture" and attacks on the NYT's 1619 Project. As Ibram Kendi noted, all of that eventually came together in an obsession with critical race theory.

And now the Black Lives Matter demonstrators, cancel culture, the 1619 Project, American history, and anti-racist education are presented to the public as the many legs of the “monstrous evil” of critical race theory that’s purportedly coming to harm white children. The language echoes the rhetoric used to demonize desegregation after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, in 1954.

That is the context in which you should read a piece by Elie Mystal titled "My Black Generation Is Fighting Like Hell to Stop the Whitelash." He sums up both the good and bad news.

My Black generation is doing everything we can think of to stop this. Our activists have used every tool available to start entire movements, like Black Lives Matter, to halt this onslaught of white rage. Our thinkers and writers are on fire: People like Nikole Hannah-Jones, KimberlĂ© Crenshaw, Michelle Alexander, and so many others, are producing the works that leave the white supremacists so unable to compete in the marketplace of ideas that their only resort is to try to ban these Black intellectuals from the marketplace. Black voting power is so strong and energized that white Republicans have decided to turn their backs on democracy all together. We are fighting. But we are also losing, primarily because the mass of white Americans has become inured to shame. 

That takes me back to what inspired Coates to feel hopeful last summer...the commitment of white people to the cause of equality. 

Several years ago a friend of mine who went by the name Robinswing wrote a blog post titled "We Cant' Fix Ya!" The point she made has stuck with me for a long time.

The blackwoman has been thinking it might be time to seek out some solutions for eliminating racism. A more difficult project than I imagined.

Race is a problem for white people to solve. If black people or brown people could have made racism go away it would have long since disappeared back into the nothing-ness from which it came.

Nah, it’s on white folks to make the necessary moves to kill and bury, once and for all, the notion of race. I think in a generation or two this just might happen...

We took what we could get...

White people have to come up with the solution to racism. Some of these folk are family. Some are neighbors. Some are friends. Talk to them. Don’t let them get away with the stereotypes. Challenge them on privilege. Point out that as long as this privilege exists, racism has a home.

If all else fails, remind them that they are soon to be the minority and that karma is a bitch.

The first civil rights battle in this country ended slavery. The second eliminated laws that enshrined inequality. As Robinswing suggested, the next step is going to require white people to listen, learn, and change. This might be the hardest step of all because a major part of white privilege is the assumption that our experience is normative, so we already know it all. 

We are at this point because, as Mystal wrote, the Civil Rights laws of the 60's opened the doors of opportunity and his generation took full advantage. We even elected this country's first African American president and now have a woman of color as vice president. In pretty much every field imaginable, Black people are succeeding. That sets off something Jonathan Chait wrote in response to the movie 12 Years a Slave (emphasis mine). 

Notably, the most horrific torture depicted in 12 Years a Slave is set in motion when the protagonist, Solomon Northup, offers up to his master engineering knowledge he acquired as a free man, thereby showing up his enraged white overseer. It was precisely Northup’s calm, dignified competence in the scene that so enraged his oppressor. The social system embedded within slavery as depicted in the film is one that survived long past the Emancipation Proclamation – the one that resulted in the murder of Emmett Till a century after Northup published his autobiography. It’s a system in which the most unforgivable crime was for an African-American to presume himself an equal to — or, heaven forbid, better than — a white person.

So when you see right wingers frothing at the mouth about things like critical race theory in an attempt to shut down the movement that began after the murder of George Floyd, remember that those folks are scarred shitless of the fact that a majority of people in this country might take the next step in realizing the promise of equality at the heart of our founding ideals. They're doing anything and everything they can to shut that whole thing down. Are we going to let them get away with that?

Monday, July 12, 2021

Talking Past Trump

Don Landgren, Augusta Chronicle

Adam Gopnik has written a fascinating piece outlining Biden's "exasperating but effective strategy to counter Trumpism." He starts out by noting that it's never a good idea to "play a guy at his own game." So what is the game Trump and his enablers are playing?

Donald Trump invented a game: of bullying, lying, sociopathic selfishness, treachery, and outright gangsterism, doing and saying things that no democratic politician had ever done or even thought of doing, and he did it all in broad daylight...It was a game designed for Trump alone to win, but all too many got drawn into it...It was designed, in plain English, to throw out so much crap that no one could ever deal with it all. Trying to bat the crap away, you just got more of it all over you, and meanwhile you were implicitly endorsing its relevance.

Perhaps since the dawn of time, people have been giving advice about how to deal with bullies. For the most part, conventional wisdom suggests that a show of physical force is necessary. So we teach children who are being bullied to punch back. But with people like Trump and his minions, we're talking about verbal bullying. So a lot of people find satisfaction when someone "hits back" verbally the way that Joy Reid took on Tucker Carlson. 

While that can be emotionally satisfying (which is an important factor to consider), it doesn't have a lot of impact on the "game." As Gopnik noted, you simply invite more crap and implicitly endorse its relevance. 

That last part has a lot to do with why I chose silence for the last two months. I refuse to play the game by giving any credence to the malicious lies being told by the right - even if it is in an effort to discredit them. For example, these days Tucker Carlson is making a name for himself by saying totally outrageous things and garnering headlines all over the media. While we congratulate ourselves for landing a good verbal punch, he's laughing all the way to the bank.

As Gopnik notes, President Biden refused to play Trump's game. He recognized that "an atmosphere of aggravation can only work to the advantage of the permanently aggrieved." Instead, he has focused on how to improve the lives of Americans—whether it be through tackling the coronavirus or proposing major investments in infrastructure. Pete Buttigieg, Biden's Transportation Secretary, put it this way during the campaign: "You can’t defeat a cartoon villain by being a cartoon hero. You defeat a cartoon villain by helping people remember that life is not a cartoon."

One of the reasons I was so interested in Gopnik's piece is that, over the years, I've suggested that this same strategy has been used by Michelle Obama - the only person I know of that effectively silenced Trump. As an example, her speech at the virtual Democratic Convention in 2020 included a description of two visions of America. The one Trump inhabits is totally void of empathy. It's the place where "greed is good, and winning is everything because as long as you come out on top, it doesn’t matter what happens to everyone else." The other is a place where courageous people go the extra mile for each other and pursue justice. In the end, Obama focused our attention on that one.
This is who we still are: compassionate, resilient, decent people whose fortunes are bound up with one another. And it is well past time for our leaders to once again reflect our truth.
As I listened to Michelle’s speech, it struck me that, given what we know about Donald Trump, I doubt he even understood what she was talking about. I’m sure he understood the words she used, but she addressed our common humanity—something his narcissistic ego has never actually experienced. As a result, Trump has never openly criticized Michelle Obama or used one of his ubiquitous nick names for her. She refused to play his game and he was left flat-footed.

Similarly, Biden has rarely engaged on Trump's level. Instead, he has focused almost entirely on speaking directly to the American people and promoting an agenda that garners their support.

None of this is to suggest that we should ignore Trump and his minions. What they are doing poses a serious threat to our democracy and we have to take that seriously. But I'm equally certain that we will not be successful in defending democracy if we play their game. 

Over the last few days I've been thinking about a fable I read back in the 80's (which I can't find anywhere on the internet today). It is the story of a woman who worked all night trying to sweep away the dark. When dawn finally came, she was so tired that she'd fallen asleep. 

We can't let ourselves get consumed with defeating the darkness. No matter how bleak things look, there is a crack in everything...that's how the light gets in. 


So let your little light shine and let's see how many cracks we can find!

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Why I chose silence

I abruptly stopped writing about politics two months ago. For those who wondered what was up, I apologize. But I couldn't explain what was happening because I didn't know myself. All I knew was that the effort to research topics to write about felt pointless. As has often happened in my life, I figured that eventually an explanation would emerge...if I followed my instincts and listened. 

A piece by Ibram X. Kendi, one of those recently maligned "critical race theorists," finally pulled it all together for me. His point is that the Republican operatives who are fear mongering about critical race theory are arguing with themselves.

There are differing points of view about race and racism. But what we are seeing and hearing on news shows, in school-district meetings, in op-ed pages, in legislative halls, and in social-media feeds aren’t multiple sides with differing points of view. There’s only one side in our so-called culture war right now.

The Republican operatives, who dismiss the expositions of critical race theorists and anti-racists in order to define critical race theory and anti-racism, and then attack those definitions, are effectively debating themselves. They have conjured an imagined monster to scare the American people and project themselves as the nation’s defenders from that fictional monster.

Kendi goes on to give several examples of people discussing his work in a way that is at odds with anything he's ever said or written. As he says, they're conjuring up an imagined monster. So what's the point of engaging.

What we write doesn’t matter to the people arguing with themselves. It doesn’t matter that I consistently challenge Manichaean racial visions of inherently good or evil people or policy making. It doesn’t matter that I don’t write about policy making being good or evil, or that I write about the equitable or inequitable outcome of policies. It doesn’t matter that I’ve urged us toward relative equity, and not toward perfect equity...

How should thinkers respond to monstrous lies?...Because restating facts over and over again gets old. Reciting your own work over and over again to critics who either haven’t read what they are criticizing or are purposefully distorting it gets old. And talking with people who have created a monologue with two points of view, theirs and what they impute to you, gets old.

And yet, silence comes with a price. As Kendi writes, "democracy needs dialogue. And dialogue necessitates seeking to know what a person is saying in order to offer informed critiques."

While Kendi's piece is focused on the fear mongering about critical race theory, it is also true of all of the lies being told by right wingers about Democrats more generally. As just one example, this week they're freaking out over something HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said recently. The editorial staff at the Washington Examiner wrote about it in a piece titled, "The wretched Xavier Becerra wants to control your life."

“We need to go to community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, oftentimes, door to door — literally knocking on doors to get help to the remaining people protected from the virus,” Biden said last week.

Asked on CNN whether it’s “the government's business knowing who has or hasn't been vaccinated,” the cultural warrior turned Biden proxy replied, “Perhaps we should point out that the federal government has spent trillions of dollars to keep Americans alive during this pandemic. So it is absolutely the government's business. It is taxpayers' business if we have to continue to spend money to try to keep people from contracting COVID and helping reopen the economy.”...

The answer was both stupid and clarifying.

...It was clarifying because it revealed one of the Left’s motivations in expanding federal spending: It wants more control over your life.

Every time Democrats say they want the government to pay for something, they mean they want the government to control that part of your life.

Becerra revealed that he and his ilk want the government to be your health insurer so that the government can micromanage your diet, your exercise, and probably your family size.

They want the federal government to fund education from pre-K through college so they can dictate the curriculum.

They want to pay the piper so that they can call the tune. Big government is the Trojan horse for an all-out culture war.

How do you engage in dialogue with people who go from money spent on vaccinating people during a pandemic to "micromanaging your diet, your exercise, and probably your family life?" It would be possible to do so if you were engaging people who sincerely wanted to listen in order to truly understand your position. But we all know that's not the case. At this point, even facts and evidence are irrelevant because they are dismissed as nothing more than partisan lies. 

In some ways, this kind of distortion has always been part of politics. What's new is the way that social media and right wing news outlets have not only propagated conspiracy theories, but have inoculated their followers against ever having their perceptions challenged. Last year Julian Sanchez explained that his concept of epistemic closure goes far beyond merely being an echo chamber.

The idea of “epistemic closure” was that you WOULD hear new and contrary information, but you have mechanisms in your belief system that reject anything that might force you to update your beliefs…

I bring this up now, because the Trump ecosystem has developed a pretty sophisticated set of epistemic closure mechanisms that work to reject new information that might otherwise pose a problem.
The closure mechanisms the right has installed in order to inoculate their followers include references to things like the deep state, fake news, and the swamp. Once people buy into those, they can reject any information that comes from those sources. Recently Trump said that painting the news media as corrupt will go down as one of his greatest achievements. That is precisely how he inoculates his followers against reality. 

But it doesn’t end there. As Sanchez explains, they “effectively judo-flip [contradictory information] into confirmation of the preexisting narrative, rather than new contradictory data.” In doing so, the right actually turns those who challenge them into targets that reinforce their delusional lies.

So—like Kendi—I'm wondering what's the point. 

Beyond all of the specific issues, policies, and politics that are on the table these days, this is the most important meta issue we are facing. For democracy to survive, we're going to have to figure this one out. But as far as I can see, no one has an answer to this one. I don't either...which is why I went silent.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Jen Psaki's Brilliant Blow to Bothsiderism

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has once again made his intentions clear. 

As some in the media pointed out, that was reminiscent of what McConnell said in 2010. 

None of this should come as any surprise because, as I wrote more than a year ago, McConnell had already promised a return to total obstruction if a Democrat was elected president. 

During her press conference on Wednesday, Jen Psaki was asked about McConnell's most recent remark and demonstrated why she is such an effective spokesperson for this administration. 

First of all, she drew the contrast. If Republicans are 100 percent committed to stopping anything this administration tries to do, Democrats are 100 percent committed to delivering relief to the American people. Boom! The message: while Republicans play political power games, Democrats are delivering for the people.

But then Psaki did something that tends to drive liberals crazy. She talked about how the Biden administration was continuing to reach out to Republicans and said that the door is always open to work together on providing relief to the American people. Why would she add that? 

The first thing to note in answering that question is something former Republican congressional staffer Mike Lofgren wrote back in 2011.

A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress's generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

Lofgren went on to point out that this Republican strategy works with low information voters who respond to the dysfunction in Washington with "a pox on both your houses." Even more importantly, it works with a media that is committed to bothsiderism. 

The media are also complicit in this phenomenon. Ever since the bifurcation of electronic media into a more or less respectable “hard news” segment and a rabidly ideological talk radio and cable TV political propaganda arm, the “respectable” media have been terrified of any criticism for perceived bias.

During Obama's presidency, I wrote a lot about his strategy of using conciliatory rhetoric as a ruthless strategy. Here's how Mark Schmitt described Obama's "theory of change" in 2007.

The reason the conservative power structure has been so dangerous, and is especially dangerous in opposition, is that it can operate almost entirely on bad faith. It thrives on protest, complaint, fear: higher taxes, you won't be able to choose your doctor, liberals coddle terrorists, etc. One way to deal with that kind of bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in, treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem. If they have nothing, it shows. And that's not a tactic of bipartisan Washington idealists -- it's a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers, who are acutely aware of power and conflict.

That strategy wasn't very successful - primarily due to the fact that the media's commitment to bothsiderism kept them from exposing the fact that Republicans had nothing. Instead, when we weren't being subjected to stories about how the two sides failed to reach an agreement, we were told that Obama was aloof and didn't reach out to Republicans enough. 

While the undertone of bothsiderism is still prevalent in the media, the direction the Republican Party has taken over the last few years made it much more difficult to maintain. What Psaki did during the press conference on Wednesday was to first of all point out the difference in focus between McConnell and Biden. But in reaffirming that the door is always open, she also drew a contrast with McConnell's obstruction. In doing so, she made it much more difficult to blame both sides for digging in their heels and refusing to cooperate. Well done, Madam Press Secretary! 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

What We Can Learn About Systemic Racism in Jury Selection from the Chauvin Trial

By the time he was 32 years old, Philando Castile had been stopped by police 52 times. It was the 53rd time, when former officer Jeronimo Yanez pulled him over because he "looked like" someone involved in a robbery, that resulted in his death. 

But let's imagine for a moment that the 53rd incident hadn't happened. If Castile was alive when former police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd and, having that kind of direct experience with racial profiling, attended a protest, he would have likely been barred from serving on the jury that found Chauvin guilty.

That is what I thought about when I read the story of Brandon Mitchell, a 31-year-old high school basketball coach in Minneapolis, who served on the jury in Chauvin's case. This photo from prior to the trial recently surfaced on social media (Mitchell is the one on the right).

Mitchell says that the photo was taken last August at an an event commemorating Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech." But according to the Washington Post, experts are saying that it calls into question whether Mitchell could have served as an impartial juror. In other words, Black men who speak out against systemic racism in policing are disqualified from serving on a jury in a case of police brutality. 

Here is what potential jurors in the Chauvin trial were required to disclose:
As part of the jury selection, the candidates were required to fill out a 14-page questionnaire asking about a wide range of topics including race and policing, as well as education levels, professional experience, and hobbies, in order to gather in-depth knowledge about the candidates.

It also asked prospective jurors about information they had on Floyd, their opinions on the Black Lives Matter movement, and, more specifically, if they had attended protests or demonstrations against police brutality.

If Mitchell lied on that questionnaire, it could be grounds for an appeal. But the whole incident brings up a much deeper question. Black people can be excluded from serving on a jury simply for acknowledging that systemic racism exists and that their own lives matter. In other words, the law basically says that, when it comes to being an impartial juror, the experience of Black people is disqualifying. Jurors must view the world through the eyes of a white person. That is precisely what systemic racism looks like. It isn't simply embedded in policing, but permeates the entire justice system, including jury selection. 

Of course, this country has a long history of racism in jury selection. It was the Civil Rights Act of 1875 that was supposed to guarantee that Black people could serve on juries. It stated:

Sec 4. That no citizen possessing all other qualification which are or may be prescribed by law shall be disqualified for service as grand or petit juror in any court of the United States, or of any State, on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude; and any officer or other person charged with any duty in the selection or summoning of jurors who shall exclude or fail to summon any citizen for the cause aforesaid shall, on conviction thereof, be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and be fined not more than five thousand dollars.

Nevertheless, African Americans were regularly excluded from serving on juries because they were deemed to lack the education and intelligence that white people required. That is part of the system that unleashed the post-Civil War terror campaign against Black people.

“It really made lynching and the Ku Klux Klan possible,” said Christopher Waldrep, a historian at San Francisco State University and the author of a forthcoming book about a lawyer who was able, in a rare case, to prove jury discrimination in Mississippi in 1906. “If you’d had a lot of black grand jurors investigating crimes, it would have made lynching impossible.”

But a study by the Equal Justice Initiative completed in 2010 demonstrated that the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's didn't eliminate the practice of excluding Black jurors in the southern states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Here's what they found:

Racially biased use of peremptory strikes and illegal racial discrimination in jury selection remains widespread, particularly in serious criminal cases and capital cases. Hundreds of people of color called for jury service have been illegally excluded from juries after prosecutors asserted pretextual reasons to justify their removal.

Prosecutors have struck African Americans from jury service because they appeared to have “low intelligence,” wore eyeglasses, walked in a certain way, dyed their hair, and countless other reasons that the courts have rubber-stamped as “race-neutral.”

Some district attorney’s offices explicitly train prosecutors to exclude racial minorities from jury service and teach them how to mask racial bias to avoid a finding that anti-discrimination laws have been violated.
We could now be moving into an era when it is the very experience of African Americans with systemically biased law enforcement that is used as an excuse to disqualify them from serving on juries. As Mangy Jay noted on Twitter, that sets up "an endless loop of oppression."  

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Biden's Ingenious Plan for Exposing Republican Obstruction

During the 2020 campaign, Donald Trump struggled to come up with a derogatory nickname for Joe Biden. For example, during a staged event in New Jersey, he asked the crowd "What’s better, Sleepy Joe or Slow Joe? I go back and forth.” On other occasions, he tried "Basement Biden," "Crazy Joe Biden," and "Slow Joe." Of course there were others. But a theme that emerged was an attempt to paint Biden as mentally incompetent due to his advanced age. 

Even as the president came out of the gate running, some of Trump's enablers still haven't completely let go of that one. They insist that Biden is merely a mouthpiece (a kind of Manchurian candidate), and someone else is behind the scenes pulling the strings. At various times that has been Vice President Kamala Harris, dark money interests, or "the Squad." There have even been attempts to name Chief of Staff Ron Klain as the "real president."

But just as Trump failed to land a blow with "Sleepy Joe," these attempts to paint him as incapable of doing the job are at odds with the need for Republicans to cast him as some kind of radical who is pushing through an agenda that is out of step with the American mainstream. And so, according to J. Peder Zane at the right wing site RealClearPolitics, "'Sleepy Joe' Was Just a Facade."

The candidate who promised a return to “normalcy” is advancing the most radical agenda since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. The candidate who pledged to unify the nation is rejecting all compromise. He is deploying deception and stoking racial tension to divide and conquer America for the left.

In order to paint Biden as a radical, Zane has to suggest that his proposals aren't popular with voters. So he adopts the Republican line about the president's infrastructure proposal.

Only about 15% of the spending would fund roads, bridges and other projects commonly understood as infrastructure and generally supported by the American people. The bulk of the money would go to a liberal wish list of more controversial social programs, making the bill a Trojan horse.

Here's what a CBS/YouGov poll found when it comes to public support for those "controversial social programs" in Biden's infrastructure bill.

A CNBC poll found almost identical results. If Biden is such a radical, so are about 80 percent of Americans. 

This demonstrates Biden's ingenious plan for dealing with Republican obstruction. He was part of the Obama administration that came into office promising to unify the country, only to see Republicans adopt a plan of total obstruction as a way to take a sledge hammer to that promise. So Biden's first step was to re-define bipartisan as support from American voters across party lines. Then he flooded the zone with liberal proposals with broad bipartisan support from the public. 

That has put Republicans on defense, claiming that things like universal access to pre-K and affordable child care are attempts to "take away the freedoms of parents to make decisions for their children."

In another media appearance, Sen. Blackburn said that Biden's proposal for universal pre-K would be mandatory — a complete and utter lie. 

But perhaps even more importantly, that nonsense completely ignores the facts about women's lives.

COVID-19 is hard on women because the U.S. economy is hard on women, and this virus excels at taking existing tensions and ratcheting them up. Millions of women were already supporting themselves and their families on meager wages before coronavirus-mitigation lockdowns sent unemployment rates skyrocketing and millions of jobs disappeared. And working mothers were already shouldering the majority of family caregiving responsibilities in the face of a childcare system that is wholly inadequate for a society in which most parents work outside the home... 
COVID-19 has also increased the pressure on working mothers, low-wage and otherwise. In a survey from May and June, one out of four women who became unemployed during the pandemic reported the job loss was due to a lack of childcare, twice the rate of men surveyed. A more recent survey shows the losses have not slowed down: between February and August mothers of children 12 years old and younger lost 2.2 million jobs compared to 870,000 jobs lost among fathers.

Biden is forcing Republicans to go on record to justify their obstruction of a whole myriad of proposals that would support working families and tackle the roots of income inequality. That is an argument he can win, demonstrating that "Sleepy Joe" knows exactly what he's doing

Monday, May 3, 2021

The Divisive GOP Arguments Against D.C. Statehood Just Took a Turn for the Worse

On April 22, the House passed a bill to grant statehood to Washington, D.C. On two separate occasions, Steve Benen has documented the nonsense arguments offered by Republicans against such a proposal. As an example, Sen. Tom Cotton said this during a speech on the Senate floor.

Wyoming is smaller than Washington by population, but it has three times as many workers in mining, logging and construction, and 10 times as many workers in manufacturing. In other words, Wyoming is a well-rounded working class state. A new state of Washington would not be.

There's a whole lot we could say about that argument, but perhaps Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) summed it up best. 

What all of these arguments have in common is that they are dog whistles meant to raise objections to granting statehood to a population that is over 57 percent people of color, predominantly African American. 

But those dog whistles turn into bull horns in an article by Kylee Zempel at The Federalist titled, "Let's Not Give Statehood to the Third World Country of Washington DC." The tag line goes to the place you might expect: "To repurpose a poetic line from former president and wordsmith Donald Trump, the District of Columbia is a 'sh-thole country.'" 

Let's start by recognizing that Trump's enablers now admit that he referred to Haiti and other African nations as "shithole countries." We could talk about why they would go from denying a statement like that to embracing it. But suffice it to say that they just continue to travel deeper down the rabbit hole of blatant white supremacy. 

Now we're hearing that the Americans who live in Washington, D.C. hail from a "shithole country." What is astounding to me is that so many people on both the right and the left continue to promote the narrative that it is Democrats who are elitist in their messaging. The fact is that it is Republicans who constantly say things like this, or take it upon themselves to define who qualifies as a "real American."

So how does Zempel go about defining D.C. as a shithole country? 

We don’t need to cross any borders to witness a failed state — or at least a dysfunctional wannabe state. The 68 square miles of Washington D.C. have it all: a pathetic education system, federal security that is a “shocking failure,” law enforcement that stands by while mobs set fire to their squad cars, and lots of povertyand illiteracy — one in four adults in the District struggles to do basic reading, and one in three can’t do simple math. This is to say nothing of the city government, which is known to be fraught with corruption...This brings us to the out-of-control crime.

That "shocking failure" of federal security is a reference to Capitol Police, who are accountable to Congress. What happened on January 6 is actually an argument in favor of D.C. statehood.

Twenty years after Congress dissolved a federal control board that had seized authority over the nearly bankrupt city’s affairs from a troubled mayor, it was D.C. leaders rushing to the aid of national lawmakers amid a threat posed by a failing president.

To local officials, the outcome provided a vivid illustration of the burdens imposed on the city by the lack of full home rule. The District has no voting rights in Congress, which still oversees its budget, and, unlike the nation’s governors, Bowser does not have authority over the local National Guard, which reports to the secretary of the Army.

If Zempel really wants to make an argument against statehood based on a failing education system, poverty and crime, perhaps we should re-think whether states like Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi should be part of the union. U.S. News and World Report recently published their rankings of states based on factors including education, health care, the economy, opportunities, quality of life, infrastructure, and public safety. The three states I mentioned are at the bottom of the list.

Let's be clear. The reason Republicans oppose D.C. statehood is that they can be fairly certain that its constituents will elect two Democratic senators. But even if they were to be honest about that, they'd still have to grapple with the fact that it was Republicans who gerrymandered the senate - bequeathing to us a system in which 18 percent of the population controls 52 percent of the Senate seats. Anyone who doubts that part of our history should have to answer the question: how did we wind up with two Dakotas?

Given that the Republican goal is to maintain that imbalance, it comes as no surprise that they are resorting to their favorite playbook - racism - to make their argument. Whether or not it's accurate, they believe that playing up racial divisions, whether it's via dog whistles or bull horns, is their best strategy. 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

"Is America a Racist Country" Is the Wrong Question

During his rebuttal to President Biden's speech before a joint session of congress, Senator Tim Scott made a declarative statement: "America is not a racist country." That prompted journalists to ask other elected officials whether they think America is a racist country.

Personally, I wouldn't touch that question with a ten-foot pole because it is the wrong one to ask. That is the point Jay Smooth made so powerfully years ago in this video where he distinguished between the "what they did" conversation and "what they are" conversation. 

As Smooth pointed out, the "what they are" question is a way to derail the whole conversation because it relies on a person's (or country's) motives and intentions, which you can't ever prove. 

A few years later, Smooth expounded on that by talking about how we respond to someone telling us that we said or did something racist. 

The first thing Smooth does is point out how we tend to approach this issue with the all-or-nothing "good person/bad person" binary that someone is either racist or not racist. That is the crux of the question, "Is America a racist country." It is framed as a "yes" or "no" query. As Smooth says, if you're not batting a thousand then you're striking out every time. That makes it harder to work on our imperfections because, in order to not be racist, we must be perfect. In that context, it is worth noting that the concept of "perfecting our union" was the theme of Barack Obama's 2008 speech about racism.

It is critical to recognize, as Smooth suggests, that when we're dealing with racism, we're dealing with a social construct that did not emerge out of science or logic. It was born out of a need to justify indefensible acts (ie, slavery and genocide).  In other words, it wasn't designed to make sense. In my own experience and observation, one of the most difficult things for white people to grapple with is that oftentimes during conversations about racism, there is no such thing as the "right answer." We must simply listen and absorb the complexities.

Smooth compares the binary "racist vs non racist" construct to our tonsils. Either we've had them removed or we haven't. Demonstrating his comedic talent, Smooth proposes that "we move away from the tonsil paradigm of race discourse to the dental hygiene paradigm of racial discourse." 

That would mean moving away from the premise that being a good person is a fixed, immutable characteristic and begin to see that being a good person is a practice we carry out by engaging with our imperfections. Let's pause for a moment and acknowledge the wisdom of that advice in all areas of our lives. 

So, how would a dental hygiene paradigm of racial discourse handle the question of whether or not America is a racist country? The answer can be found is something Barack Obama said during his speech to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Selma march.
What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than [Selma]? 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.

American is — and has always been — a work in progress. The real question is: "What have you done lately to perfect our union?

Saturday, May 1, 2021

No, Biden Is Not Reigniting the Cold War With Russia

On April 15th, President Biden announced actions he was taking against Russia, including new sanctions and the expulsion of diplomats. Here is how he explained that:

I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, find that specified harmful foreign activities of the Government of the Russian Federation — in particular, efforts to undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections and democratic institutions in the United States and its allies and partners; to engage in and facilitate malicious cyber-enabled activities against the United States and its allies and partners; to foster and use transnational corruption to influence foreign governments; to pursue extraterritorial activities targeting dissidents or journalists; to undermine security in countries and regions important to United States national security; and to violate well-established principles of international law, including respect for the territorial integrity of states — constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States. I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.

During a public address, Biden made it clear that what the U.S. wants is a "stable, predictable relationship" with Russia. 

Nevertheless, almost two weeks later, Tucker Carlson took a break from his white supremacist lies to host Glenn Greenwald on the topic of Russia. Lately I haven't even bothered to expose Greenwald's lies because he's gone so far over the edge as to actually become a caricature of his former self. But during this particular conversation with Carlson, he employed a couple of arguments that could sound reasonable to someone who doesn't know the facts and history. So let's take a look.


While it is always important to point out the ways that foreign policy in this country has gone off the rails, one of the consistent themes from people like Greenwald is that they want you to assume that other countries have no agency when it comes to conflicts with the U.S. In this case, Greenwald blames the rising tensions with Russia on (1) propaganda about "Russiagate" during Trump's presidency, and (2) the need in the U.S. for an enemy to justify military spending. 

To this day, Greenwald denies that Russia attempted to influence the 2016 election. Even when he opens that door a crack, he writes it off to the kind of thing the U.S. has done in other countries. So that explains why he would blame this country for the current state of affairs. On his second reason, there is no denying that we spend too much money on war-making. But you'll notice that the actions Biden took were diplomatic and designed to hold Russia accountable - not a call to war.

Even more importantly, Greenwald doesn't take into account how Russia has changed over the last decade. In his book, "From Cold War to Hot Peace," Michael McFaul outlined a dramatic turn in 2012. During Obama's first term, McFaul served on the National Security Council as senior director of Russian and Eurasian affairs. Then in 2012, he became the U.S. Ambassador to Russia. Here's how he described what happened from 2009-2012.
Several months before Obama’s inauguration, Dmitry Medvedev took over in the Kremlin — a change we believed might help us “reset” relations with Moscow. By June 2010, when Medvedev made his first visit to Washington, we were succeeding beyond our expectations: We’d signed a treaty to shrink our nuclear arsenals, jointly imposed tougher sanctions on Iran and added a supply route to Afghanistan through Russia, reducing our reliance on Pakistan. Soon we would help secure Russia’s membership in the World Trade Organization.

Coinciding with McFaul's appointment as ambassador in 2012 was an election in Russia. Vladimir Putin was once again elected president (he had previously been president from 2000-2008). Just prior to that election, massive protests erupted in Russia over a falsified parliamentary election. Here's how Putin reacted:

To rally his supporters and undermine the protesters, Putin would need an enemy, and he turned to the most reliable one in Russia’s recent history: the United States and then, by extension, me. As soon as I became the new proxy for Washington, Moscow launched a full-scale disinformation campaign alleging that, under my direction, the United States was funding the opposition and attempting to overthrow Putin. State propagandists and their surrogates crudely photoshopped me into pictures, spliced my speeches to make me say things I never uttered and even accused me of pedophilia.

To understand more recent Russian history, it is important to know what happened after the break-up of the Soviet Union.

[I]n the chaos that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, the state-owned assets and resources of the superpower were snapped up by a tiny group of smart, ruthless, ambitious and well-connected men, who abruptly joined the ranks of the very richest people in history...

The oligarchs, not content with buying companies, villas, yachts, planes and the most beautiful of Russia's beautiful women, also bought power. In 1996, they connived to engineer the re-election of the politically and physically ailing Boris Yeltsin. In 2000, they helped steer Yeltsin's successor into power - Vladimir Putin, a saturnine former spook with the KGB, and its descendant organisation, the FSB.

Putin was eventually able to establish a "grand bargain" with Russian oligarchs. It allowed them to maintain their powers, in exchange for their explicit support of – and alignment with – Putin's government. Those who resisted were prosecuted (usually of fraud and tax evasion) and consigned to prison camps. 

What followed was a bond between the oligarchs, organized crime, and nationalism. As Franklin Foer documented, this is the source of the money Trump's sons bragged about in the years prior to their father's campaign for the White House. 

Putin further consolidated his power with an attack on truth, as Peter Pomerantsev explained.

The new Russia doesn’t just deal in the petty disinformation, forgeries, lies, leaks, and cyber-sabotage usually associated with information warfare. It reinvents reality, creating mass hallucinations that then translate into political action…

In today’s Russia…the idea of truth is irrelevant. On Russian ‘news’ broadcasts, the borders between fact and fiction have become utterly blurred...insisting on the lie, the Kremlin intimidates others by showing that it is in control of defining ‘reality.’ This is why it’s so important for Moscow to do away with truth. If nothing is true, then anything is possible.

By 2013, that kind of information warfare became the Kremlin's weapon of choice.

The Arab Spring, according to General Gerasimov, had shown that “nonmilitary means” had overtaken the “force of weapons in their effectiveness.” Deception and disinformation, not tanks and planes, were the new tools of power. And they would be used not in formally declared conflicts but within a vast gray between peace and war. 
Those ideas would appear, the next year, in Russia’s formal military doctrine. It was the culmination of a years long strategic reorientation that has remade Russian power, in response to threats both real and imagined, into the sort of enterprise that could be plausibly accused of using cyberattacks to meddle in an American presidential election.

That is the Russia that not only interfered in the 2016 election, but is the one President Biden faces today. To ignore the threat posed by Putin is to live in a fantasy land where the only actions that matter are the ones taken by the United States. 

This isn't the Cold War redux for anyone but Vladimir Putin, who wants to return to the Nineteenth Century "Great Powers" politics that led to world wars. That is why, when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, President Obama gave a speech in Belgium to garner Western European support for sanctions. It was a powerful defense of the liberal international order established following World War II.

So I come here today to insist that we must never take for granted the progress that has been won here in Europe and advanced around the world, because the contest of ideas continues for your generation. And that’s what’s at stake in Ukraine today. Russia’s leadership is challenging truths that only a few weeks ago seemed self-evident -- that in the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force, that international law matters, that people and nations can make their own decisions about their future...

[O]ur enduring strength is also reflected in our respect for an international system that protects the rights of both nations and people -- a United Nations and a Universal Declaration of Human Rights; international law and the means to enforce those laws. But we also know that those rules are not self-executing; they depend on people and nations of goodwill continually affirming them. And that’s why Russia’s violation of international law -- its assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity -- must be met with condemnation. Not because we’re trying to keep Russia down, but because the principles that have meant so much to Europe and the world must be lifted up.

Obama wasn't threatening war. But he was very clear that Russia needed to be held accountable for breaking international law that protects the rights of both nations and people.

That is precisely what President Biden is doing again.  

Friday, April 30, 2021

Did Sexism Play a Role in the Media's Coverage of Biden and Clinton "Scandals?"

The Pew Research Center has done an extensive analysis of news coverage during Biden's first two months in office. They specifically looked at differences between media outlets that were aimed at (1) a left-leaning audience,  (2) a mixed audience, and (3) a right-leaning audience. Here is one finding that caught my eye.

In the first 60 days of the Biden administration, all three media outlet groupings were much more likely to frame their stories around the president’s policy agenda than his character and leadership skills...Four years ago, around three-quarters of stories about the new Trump administration (74%) were framed around the president’s leadership and character, with very little difference among media groupings.

Of course, that is understandable given that Trump trafficked in conspiracy theories and name-calling while rarely (if ever) talking about specific policies. 

The coverage of Biden also differs sharply from how the media treated Hillary Clinton in 2016. Of course, she lost the election, so we never got the opportunity to analyze how the media would have covered a Clinton presidency. But the Berkman-Klein Center at Harvard found this when comparing coverage of Clinton vs. Trump in the run-up to the 2016 election. 

The media focus was on the so-called "Clinton scandals," while covering the issues Trump was talking about (ie, immigration). That was true even though, as Jennifer Rubin noted, "Hillary Clinton is the most exonerated politician ever." By my count, she has been cleared of four major attempts to smear her reputation: (1) Whitewater, (2) Benghazi, (3) emails, and (4) the Clinton Foundation. But other than an opinion column like the one from Rubin, the accusations against Clinton still hang in the air and are often used by her critics on both the left and the right to claim that she ran a terrible campaign. 

 It is impossible to quantify how much the difference in coverage of Biden and Clinton is the product of sexism. But it is also impossible to ignore the fact that the media was quick to debunk the claims about Biden being corrupt, but lingered endlessly on similar claims about Clinton. Neither were based on any solid evidence. That seemed to matter a whole lot less when the target was a woman. 

Markos Moulitsas has done something that rarely happens with media figures. He wrote a column about the fact that he was totally wrong in his initial opinion about Biden during the primaries. In that piece, he noted this difficult fact:
Black voters in South Carolina took a look at the field, considered America’s relationship with race and gender, and said, “Nope, we ain’t chancing it. Getting rid of Trump is our number one priority, and the old white guy is the safest bet getting there.”

It hurts so much to admit it, because it says things about America that we all wish weren’t true (mainly, that we still have a long way to go on equality), but not only were they right to place all the chips on Biden, but he may very well be the only Democrat who could’ve beaten Trump last year. By virtue of his race, gender, and sexual orientation, Biden avoided the visceral, vitriolic hatred that conservatives muster up for anyone that doesn’t look or love like them.

None of this is meant as a critique of Biden. By all measures he is an older white man that is championing the cause of equality over the challenges posed by sexism, racism, and classism. But we can still mourn the way that the media is treating him differently than they did when a woman ran for president...and be better prepared for the next time.   

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Can we all agree on this one thing: Biden knows exactly what he's doing.

One of the biggest stories of Trump's first 100 days in office was that many his nominees to fill Cabinet positions had spent their previous careers attempting to undermine the work of the department they would go on to lead. That was designed to accomplish the goal Steve Bannon identified during his speech at CPAC: a deconstruction of the administrative state. Between positions left open and those filled by incompetent partisans, those Cabinet nominees did tremendous damage to the functioning of the federal government. For Republicans, that was a feature, not a bug.

That is why, even though Joe Biden wasn't my first choice during the 2020 primaries, I came to realize that his familiarity with what a functioning federal government should look like and the contacts he had developed over the years with competent, experienced people might be exactly what was needed to clean up the mess left by Trump. A functioning federal government might not be something that political pundits like to talk about, but it is critical to building support for a liberal agenda. 

As part of their messaging for Biden's first 100 days in office, the White House released a fact sheet demonstrating that Biden is doing exactly what I hoped he would do. 

The Biden-Harris Administration put in place its Statutory Cabinet faster than any other Administration since President Reagan. President Biden has also announced his intent to nominate 233 individuals to serve in Senate-confirmed leadership roles across the Executive Branch – more nominees than any past administration has announced by the 100-day mark.

You might remember that, following the 2020 election, the Trump administration attempted to delay and obstruct the Biden transition team. That makes the accomplishment described above even more impressive. 

Of course, Biden is doing all of that while assembling the most diverse cabinet in presidential history. As the White House documented, that is also true of the positions that don't require Senate confirmation.

[T]he White House Office of Presidential Personnel has hired nearly 1,500 presidential appointees to serve in key agency positions that do not require Senate confirmation – double the number of appointees hired by any prior administration by the 100-day mark. And, consistent with President Biden’s commitment to leveraging the talent, creativity, and expertise of the American people to build an Administration that looks like America, more than half of all Biden appointees are women, and half identify as non-white – numbers that set a new bar for future Administrations.

Of the approximately 1,500 agency appointees hired by President Biden so far: 

58% are women
18% identify as Black or African American
15% identify as Latino or Hispanic
15% identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander
3% identify as Middle Eastern or North African
2% identify as American Indian or Alaska Native
14% identify as LGBTQ+
4% are veterans
3% identify as disabled or having a disability
15% were the first in their families to go to college
32% are naturalized citizens or the children of immigrants

We can see the results of those efforts at the Department of Justice. Not only has the Civil Rights division opened pattern or practice investigations into the Minneapolis and Louisville police departments, they plan to ask a grand jury to indict Chauvin and the other three ex-officers involved in George Floyd's killing on charges of civil rights violations. On Wednesday, they also announced that the three Georgia men who shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery have been charged with federal hate crimes and attempted kidnapping. In other words, we now have a Justice Department that is operational when it comes to prosecuting civil rights violations. 

Of course, in addition to his knowledge of how the federal government is supposed to work, Biden knows Congress better than just about any politician on the scene today. And as Ed Kilgore explains, it's showing.

For all their political gifts, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — who, lest we forget, both had a much more firmly Democratic Senate and House the first two years of their presidencies — couldn’t come close to the mastery of Congress Biden has exhibited up until now...While Republicans fret about Trump and rage about “cancel culture,” Biden is eating their lunch.
There are plenty of political pundits on the left who assume that it is their job to tell Biden what he should be doing. But while I'm sure that the president will make some mistakes, I will mostly maintain a posture that allows me to watch and report what I see. As I did with a similar posture during Obama's presidency, I suspect that I'll learn a lot. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Republicans Can't Lay a Glove on Biden...So They Lie

Some Republicans are acknowledging that they're having a hard time laying a glove on President Biden, as Jordain Carney reports.

Republicans are struggling to land attacks against President Biden as they grapple with how to win back power in Washington next year.

Biden is proving to be an elusive cipher for Republicans to successfully message against nearly 100 days into his administration, keeping a relatively low profile and refusing to engage in the day-to-day verbal sparring that has consumed Washington in recent years.

It presents a challenge that, GOP senators acknowledge, they aren’t hitting the mark on.

As Carney explains, the president is keeping a pretty low profile, but it is also true that his policies are relatively popular with voters. Then there's also the fact that Biden has been involved in politics for a long time now. People know him, which makes it more difficult for Republicans to define him as some kind of threat. 

But all of that assumes that Republicans are somehow constrained by the truth—which they obviously are not. So they simply make shit up. We've seen a raft of those attempts over the last couple of days. For example:

Over the weekend, Republicans accused Joe Biden of trying to ban meat.

The claim, which you’ve heard from the likes of Donald Trump Jr. and Texas Gov. Greg Abbot, is that Biden’s climate plan will prohibit Americans from chowing down on burgers in an effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions associated with industrial agriculture.

On Fox News this Friday, former Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow warned of a Fourth of July where “you can throw back a plant-based beer with your grilled Brussels sprouts” (Kudlow doesn’t seem to be aware of what beer is made from). Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) dubbed Biden “The Hamburglar.”

Of course, Biden’s climate change plan does not limit meat-eating in any way. A Washington Post fact-check traced the burger-banning Biden myth back to a misleading article in the Daily Mail, a UK tabloid known for sensationalist coverage and right-wing politics. Biden’s actual climate policies so far have focused on reducing emissions from cars and power plants, with no effort to block meat production or consumption.

Then came this one:

What happened, according to The Washington Post’s fact-checking team, was this: After the city of Long Beach, Calif. asked residents for donations of books and toys as it established a temporary shelter for migrant children at its convention center, someone donated a copy of a children’s book written several years ago by Vice President Harris. The book was placed on a cot alongside toiletry items and a backpack. A photographer for Reuters, visiting the shelter, took a photo of the book and its surroundings.

What happened next was that the New York Post somehow decided that this meant the book was a standard part of “welcome kits” given to migrant children...Fox News picked up the story and ran with it, claiming that “photographs” showed its inclusion, though only one such photo existed. What happened after that was that Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy asked the president’s press secretary Jen Psaki about it.

She was, predictably, baffled.
The New York Post has apparently taken that story down, but not before it was retweeted by a whole host of Republican politicians. 

Both of those lies provide fodder for the right wing culture wars. But another one is being spread in an attempt to undermine Biden's foreign policy - particularly the administration's work to reinstate the Iran nuclear agreement. Here's how it all started:
The New York Times and Iran International, a Persian-language TV channel based in the United Kingdom, reported on a leaked audio of an unpublished interview Zarif conducted in March with an Iranian journalist, in which he discussed his frustrations with the country’s military steering foreign policy.

During the conversation, Zarif said that the military commanders had kept him in the dark on a number of crucial events. “It was former US Foreign Secretary John Kerry who told me Israel had launched more than 200 attacks on Iranian forces in Syria,” Zarif said, instead of learning this from his own government — a claim that Iran International characterized as “not very credible.”

On right wing media, that story morphed into one about Kerry sharing classified information from one of our most important allies (Israel) with a major adversary (Iran). A quick Google search of John Kerry, Iran, Fox News turns up 14 stories about this from just that one network over the last two days.  

Of course, a variety of Republican voices immediately jumped on the bandwagon, including Trump's secretary of state and UN ambassador. 

Former Trump administration secretary of state Mike Pompeo said the audio tape proves "what I’ve said for years: That [Zarif] continued to engage with former secretary of state Kerry on policy matters after Kerry’s public service and, according to Zarif, Kerry informed the Iranians of Israeli operations."

"Before we cut a deal with Iran that reduces Americans’ security," Pompeo said, "it would be good to know what the arrangement, if any, may have been between these two leaders." 

But perhaps the most duplicitous response came from Ari Fleischer, Bush's press secretary. 

That's a perfect example of "heads I win, tails you loose." If the smear campaign is true, he called on Kerry to resign. If it's not true, the Iranians are liars and we shouldn't be attempting to deal with them. 

Of course, Kerry denied it all. But a simple google search would tell these folks that this might be the worst-kept "secret" in history. 

News sources outside Iran such as The New York Times, Reuters, and Al Jazeera had reported on Israeli strikes against Iranian targets in 2013. Such reports continued in 2018Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even publicly acknowledged the strikes — and also to this very day. This isn’t some closely guarded international secret.

There are those within the Republican ranks who have been itching for war with Iran since the days when John McCain sang "bomb, bomb, bomb Iran." Most notable among them are Christian zionists like Mike Pompeo who view it as a prelude to the apocalypse. But regardless of whether their ambitions are religious or steeped in the old neocon tradition of regime change, these lies about Kerry are a dangerous attempt to disrupt the Biden administration's work to reinstate the Iran nuclear agreement. 

The good news in all of this is that, whether we're talking about culture wars or the desire for an actual war with Iran, right wingers have had to resort to making up lies because there are no rational arguments left to make. Anyone with an ounce of integrity would be embarrassed as these lies—which are total nonsense—are debunked almost immediately. But then, no one has ever accused these folks of having any integrity.

Monday, April 26, 2021

"If it's a lie, then we fight on that lie"

The number one goal of Republicans in the 2022 elections is to win back control of the Senate. The man who is in charge of that task is Sen. Rick Scott, who is currently chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. 

Given that the GOP has broadcast that their strategy for accomplishing that goal is voter suppression, Scott is in an unenviable position. Corporations that are headquartered in states like Georgia and Texas, which are at the forefront of voter suppression, have spoken out against those efforts. So the Republican Party has all of the sudden declared war on corporate American.

To further that claim, Scott wrote an op-ed for Fox News. The title of the piece addresses "Woke Corporate America," claiming that a backlash is coming. But the tag line is beyond irony. It reads: "It turns out that power does corrupt, and you have become corrupt." The senator from Florida doesn't want you to remember this:

In the 1990s, Scott was the CEO of Columbia/HCA, a company that, under his direction, owned more than 340 hospitals, 135 surgery centers, and 550 home-health locations by the time Scott resigned in 1997. That year, federal agents announced an investigation into whether or not the company defrauded Medicare and Medicaid on a massive scale. Turns out, they did...

As part of the settlement, Columbia/HCA agreed to plead guilty to 14 corporate felonies — charges that involve financial penalties, but no jail time. (Corporations are people, but they cannot be sent to prison.) Over two settlement rounds, Columbia/HCA wound up paying the government $1.7 billion in criminal fines, civil damages, and penalties, in what the Justice Department called “the largest health-care fraud case in U.S. history.”

In other words, Scott is the poster-child for how power corrupts. And yet, he now has the gall to suggest that corporate America is corrupt for speaking out against voter suppression. Here's my reaction to that:

Similarly, Sen. Marco Rubio wrote an op-ed for the New York Post titled, "Corporations that undermine American values don’t deserve GOP support." At least he was closer to being honest in admitting that Republicans have favored corporations by giving them tax breaks and deregulation. But according to Rubio, those came in the days when corporate America was patriotic. Now he claims that the "greatest threat" they pose comes from their "aggressive positions on woke cultural issues that tear at our national fabric." Rubio concludes with a bizarre analogy, combined with a threat.

No policymaker would allow a company to dump toxic waste into a river upstream of a thriving town he is charged with governing. Yet corporate America eagerly dumps woke, toxic nonsense into our culture, and it’s only gotten more destructive with time. These campaigns will be met with the same strength that any other polluter should expect...America’s laws should keep our nation’s corporations firmly ordered to our national common good.

Sorry Senator Rubio, but just because people disagree with you doesn't make them "toxic." There's also this thing in our Constitution about "free speech." The 1st Amendment prohibits Congress from making any law "abridging the freedom of speech." I suspect that if congress were to order corporations to align with Rubio's vision of "our national common good," that would be a direct violation of the 1st Amendment, as well as an actual example of "cancel culture." 

I have to admit to a certain amount of pleasure in watching Republican Minority Leader McConnell backtrack from his admonition to corporate CEOs that they should "stay out of politics." He's obviously fine with taking corporate money, but doesn't want them taking a stand on issues (meaning, of course, those that are at odds with the Republican Party).

When a party is willing to abandon democracy in order to sustain a lie, this is what happens. Anyone who rejects the lie must be labelled an enemy to the cause. While these attacks on corporate America are mostly posturing, they are aimed at convincing white working class Americans that the GOP is on their side. That, too, is a lie, as Paul Waldman pointed out.

After all, why bother trying to cram genuinely pro-worker economic ideas about wages or working conditions or health care into your pro-corporate box if you can just shout about Dr. Seuss and the War on Christmas? It works in keeping white working class voters choosing Republicans — not every time, but often enough.

That’s what produces things like the GOP’s current campaign of one-at-a-time retribution against corporations. It doesn’t get to any real issues; all it does is lash out when the culture war makes a company seem too aligned with liberal goals and values.

As has been clear for a while now, Republicans don't actually have an agenda. Former Republican Stuart Steven said it best during an interview with David Corn.

“The Republican Party has been a cartel,” Stevens said excitedly. “And no one asks a cartel, ‘What’s your ideological purpose?’ You don’t ask OPEC, ‘What’s your ideology?’ You don’t ask a drug gang, ‘What’s your program?’ The Republicans exist for the pursuit of power for no purpose.”

Speaking of drug gangs, the Republicans have become Slim Charles from The Wire, who counseled that, "Fact is, we went to war. And now there ain't no going back...If its a lie, then we fight on that lie."

The Good and Bad News About the Right's Obsession With Critical Race Theory

A little over a year ago, Ta-Nehisi Coates surprised himself (and everyone else) when he told Ezra Klein that he had become uncharacteristi...