Sunday, April 30, 2023

Hunter Biden's Laptop Is a Total Nothingburger

Right wing lawyer Jonathan Turley thinks the shoe is about to drop on the Biden family. Reading his piece I was reminded that nothing in this whole scenario about Hunter's laptop makes any sense. 

First of all, the ultimate claim of the Twitter files was that the story about the laptop at the New York Post was suppressed and that if voters knew about it, Trump would have likely won re-election. we know. Twitter only blocked the NYP article for about a day and right wingers have been talking about it relentlessly for 2 1/2 years. Several news outlets have gotten access to hard drives that supposedly contain the contents of the laptop and, to various degrees, they have confirmed their authenticity. 

As a result, every right wing journalist/politician who has an ax to grind against President Biden has had a couple of years to comb through those hard drives for something - anything - that they can use against the president or his family. So far we've gotten nothing but a few dickpics from the days when Hunter was abusing drugs.

But for Representatives Jim Jordan and James Comer - the hunt continues.

At this point, the Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney for Delaware, David Weiss, is still investigating Hunter Biden. There have been leaks about possible charges, mostly related to tax evasion. But those leaks should be taken with a grain of salt. It is, however, very possible that Hunter could eventually face criminal charges. If the evidence is there, so be it. 

But when it comes to the laptop right wingers are so obsessed's obviously a total nothingburger!

Saturday, April 29, 2023

What DeSantis Couldn't Say in Response to Disney's Lawsuit

Now that we've covered the lawsuit Disney filed against Ron DeSantis, it's worth taking a look at how the governor responded.  

First of all, he claimed that Disney is "upset because they're going to have to live by the same rules as everybody else." He went on to say that "they don't want to have to pay the same taxes as everybody else."

But the truth is that, if Disney were to be forced to pay the same taxes as everybody else, they'd be getting a pretty big break.
The board sets the district’s tax rate, which is currently three times higher than that paid by residents of Orange and Osceola counties. Disney pays more than $1.1 billion in state and local taxes, including more than $160 million in property tax, which is used to maintain a higher level of services and infrastructure than the counties provide.

The same thing is true of the governor's other point about Disney wanting to avoid oversight.

The RCID building codes (the “Epcot Codes”) meet or exceed all state & federal requirements. Same with their environmental standards etc.

DeSantis ended by saying that the law suit was "political" (whatever that means in the context of a dispute over free speech), and then implied that the company was judge-shopping for filing the suit in Tallahassee. 

The governor needed to make that final point because the judge that has been assigned to this case is Mark Walker - someone who has a pretty stellar record on upholding First Amendment rights. But it gets even worse. Walker is the judge that said this in a ruling against DeSantis's Stop WOKE Act:

Walker said Florida had become a place where the First Amendment allowed, rather than prevented, the state to limit speech. Or as he put it, "in the popular television series Stranger Things, the 'upside down' describes a parallel dimension containing a distorted version of our world. Recently, Florida has seemed like a First Amendment upside down."

While it's clear that DeSantis isn't the brightest bulb, he's probably at least smart enough to know that he's going to lose this one at the District Court. So he's planting the seeds for blaming that on the "woke judge" chosen by Disney.

The most important part of these remarks by DeSantis are what he DIDN'T say. For example, he didn't repeat any of these past statements:

  • “Disney and other woke corporations won’t get away with peddling their unchecked pressure campaigns any longer” and that he would “not allow a woke corporation based in California to run our state." 
  • “For whatever reason, Disney got on that bandwagon. They demagogued the bill. They lied about it. ... We signed the bill. And then, and incredibly, they say, ‘We are going to work to repeal Parents’ Rights in Florida.’ And I’m just thinking to myself, ‘You’re a corporation based in Burbank, California, and you’re going to marshal your economic might to attack the parents of my state?’ We view that as a provocation and we are going to fight back against that.” 
  • “We took action” after Disney made “the mistake” of opposing the legislation." 
  • "Leaders must stand up and fight back when big corporations make the mistake, as Disney did, of using their economic might to advance a political agenda. We are making Florida the state where the economy flourishes because we are the state where woke goes to die.”
As a reminder, here's a summary of what Disney's lawsuit is all about:
A targeted campaign of government retaliation—orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech—now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.
The statements above are all things the governor said about the events in question BEFORE Disney filed this lawsuit. As I said yesterday, "Nothing makes Disney's case better than the governor's own words." It's obvious DeSantis knows that, so he can't say the quiet parts out loud anymore. 

This case is probably going to take years to wind its way through the courts. By filling it, Disney has managed to muzzle DeSantis's ability to make claims about punishing woke corporations. That's a win right there.

The real showdown will come if this case makes its way to the Supreme Court. One the one hand, you have six extremist judges who have pretty much gone all-in on the war against woke. But it wasn't that long ago that the Court decided that corporations had free speech rights when it comes to political contributions. What will this group of justices have to say about actual speech rights for corporations? We'll have to wait and see.  

But if Disney finally claims victory in this case, it will be a step towards putting a nail in the coffin of the National Conservatives. One of their main goals is use the government to punish institutions that fight back against their "culture wars." If the courts rule that that is a violation of the institution's right to free speech, the movement could be dead in the water. That is why this case is such a BFD!

Friday, April 28, 2023

Disney Skewers DeSantis With His Own Words

I've read the entire suit Disney filed against DeSantis - which you can find here. One of the most notable things is that it is written in plain English, avoiding the kind of legaleze that you usually find in such documents. The only drawback is that it's 77 pages long.

Before getting into the weeds about Disney's claims, here's a quick timeline of the major events in question:

  • March 28, 2022 - DeSantis signs "don't say gay bill." On the same day, Disney released a statement saying the bill should never have been passed and committed to working towards its repeal.
  • April 22, 2022 - DeSantis signs SB 4C, which dissolves the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) as of July 2023.
  • Feb. 8, 2023 - RCID approves a declaration of restrictive covenants and a development agreement with Disney.
  • February 27, 2023 - DeSantis signs HB 9B, which maintains the district under a different name and allows the governor to appoint members to the governing board.
  • April 17, 2023 - DeSantis holds a press conference to announce plans to nullify the development agreement and suggests further steps he might take to punish Disney.

The case Disney is making is summarized with this (emphasis mine):

A targeted campaign of government retaliation—orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech—now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights...

Disney regrets that it has come to this. But having exhausted efforts to seek a resolution, the Company is left with no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect its cast members, guests, and local development partners from a relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain State officials... 
Governor DeSantis and his allies paid no mind to the governing structure that facilitated Reedy Creek’s successful development until one year ago, when the Governor decided to target Disney. There is no room for disagreement about what happened here: Disney expressed its opinion on state legislation and was then punished by the State for doing so.

Throughout the document, they refer to the way DeSantis has "weaponized government," which is interesting given the way people like Rep. Jim Jordan are using the term to go after Democrats.

You may have heard that the agreements between RCID and Disney approved on Feb. 8th stripped DeSantis's new governing board of all of its power. That is not true.

[T]hese contracts are land use agreements between a developer and its local regulator. They are similar in character to contracts between other developers and special districts to fix long-term development rights and obligations, thereby facilitating the certainty needed to ensure investment and effective commercial progress. Contrary to misunderstandings and mischaracterizations by some government leaders, they do not undermine the newly constituted Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (“CFTOD” or the “District”) board’s ability to govern and exercise authority, including by imposing taxes, exercising the power of eminent domain, approving or disapproving building permit applications (including for the projects carried out pursuant to the development agreement), building roads, providing emergency services, or issuing bonds.

Here's part of the kicker paragraph that comes at the end of their initial summary:

But Disney also knows that it is fortunate to have the resources to take a stand against the State’s retaliation—a stand smaller businesses and individuals might not be able to take when the State comes after them for expressing their own views. In America, the government cannot punish you for speaking your mind. 

Most of the document is a timeline of the major events noted above. At every turn, they document that, in his own words, DeSantis made it clear that he was taking action in retaliation for Disney's public stand against the "don't say gay bill."

Perhaps the most potent example is that, on the day after DeSantis signed the bill that allowed him to appoint members of the district's governing board, he actually put his intentions in writing for an opinion piece at the Wall Street Journal. These are the governor's own words captured for posterity:

For more than 50 years, the state of Florida put Disney on a pedestal. That all changed last year, when left-wing activists working at the company’s headquarters in Burbank, Calif., pressured Disney to oppose Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act...

The regrettable upshot of the woke ascendancy is that publicly traded corporations have become combatants in battles over American politics and culture, almost invariably siding with leftist causes...

When corporations try to use their economic power to advance a woke agenda, they become political, and not merely economic, actors. In such an environment, reflexively deferring to big business effectively surrenders the political battlefield to the militant left...

Woke ideology is a form of cultural Marxism. Leaders must stand up and fight back when big corporations make the mistake, as Disney did, of using their economic might to advance a political agenda.

Nothing makes Disney's case better than the governor's own words. 

But the real whopper in this lawsuit comes at the end when Disney lays out the particulars of what they want the courts to do. Here's the biggy:

Declare that Senate Bill 4C and House Bill 9B are unlawful and unenforceable because they were enacted in retaliation for Disney’s political speech in violation of the First Amendment.

In other words, they want both (1) the bill that originally dissolved RCID, and (2) the one that gave the governor the power to appoint members of the governing board, to be declared unconstitutional. 

I suspect that if DeSantis had been willing to sit down with Bob Iger and talk this through, they could have come up with a compromise that allowed the governor to save face. But that's not what MAGA folks do. So Disney was left with no choice but to sue for the whole enchilada. Their lawyers laid out an excellent case using DeSantis's own words - proving once again that the governor isn't the brightest bulb.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Populism Without Civil Rights Is Fascism

Following Tucker Carlson's ouster from Fox News, two writers at the liberal publication, The American Prospect, wrote a piece lauding his so-called "populism." Here's the line that caught my eye:

Tucker’s willingness to challenge and mock ruling elites went alongside an obsessively nativist message that alienated viewers who might otherwise have embraced his populist perspective.

As an example of Carlson's "populist reflex," the authors pointed to a disagreement he had with Ben Shapiro in 2018 on whether the government should be able to restrict trucking companies from adopting autonomous vehicle technology to avoid potential job losses in the industry. 

Carlson was emphatic that a self-determining polity should be able to control its technological destiny, while Shapiro dithered about government overreach in the market.

“Are you joking?” Carlson responded when asked by Shapiro if he’d ban autonomous vehicles. “In a second.”

The fact that the authors saw this as proof of Carlson's populism indicates that they have completely ignored the rise of National Conservatism on the right. Matthew Continetti describes them as "post-liberals" (emphasis mine).

The post-liberals say that the distinction between state and society is illusory. They argue that, even as conservatives defended the independence of civil society from state power, the left took over Hollywood, the academy, the media, and the courts. What the post-liberals seem to call for is the use of government to recapture society from the left.

The poster boy for National Conservatives is Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban - they guy Carlson promoted as a model for America’s future. As a demonstration of what that would look like in this country, Orban has become the model for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis, who has built a profile as a pugilistic culture warrior with eyes on the presidency, has steadily put together a policy agenda with strong echoes of Orbán’s governing ethos — one in which an allegedly existential cultural threat from the left justifies aggressive uses of state power against the right’s enemies.

There is a debate to be had about whether or not that has anything to do with "populism." But regardless of that, Rick Perlstein made the deeper point back in 2016 when calling out Matt Taibbi for lauding Trump's populism.

It’s an ignorance of a simple historical fact: Every fascist achieves and cements his power by pledging to rescue ordinary people from the depredations of economic elites. That’s how fas­cism works...

But guess what? Under fascism, economic protection for the goose accompanies dispossession of the gander. White people prosper in part because minorities suffer — whether, under Hitler, by taking away property from Jews, or as Herr Trump expects, by taking back ​“our” jobs from ​“them,” whether the them is immigrants or our supposedly duplici­tous trading partners.

There’s even a sociological term for it: herrenvolk repub­licanism.

I had to look that one up. The definition of "herrenvolk republicanism" is "a system of government in which only a specific ethnic group participates in government, while other groups are disenfranchised.

The bottom line is that populism without civil rights is fascism. 

This is why I've been so focused on exposing the truth about National Conservatism. It is, at heart, a fascist movement. It is important that we all recognize the way it has taken over the Republican Party and been embraced by some of the extreme left like the authors of that piece in The American Prospect - as well as Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald. Even some classic liberals have suggested that Democrats can partner with National Conservatives on issues like monopolization. This is dangerous territory when it comes to protecting our democracy!

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Glenn Greenwald gets triggered by smart competent women like Rep. Stacey Plaskett

Stacey Plaskett has been a member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 2015. She serves as the non-voting delegate representing the Virgin Islands, where she has consistently received around 90% of the vote in elections. 

In 2021, Plaskett served as one of the managers on Trump's second impeachment trial and in 2023, she was named the ranking member of the House Select Committee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. As an example of why she has been chosen for such prominent roles, here she is talking to Chris Hayes about the latter:

You might remember that last month Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger testified about the so-called "twitter files" before the weaponization committee. It didn't go well. So all of Taibbi's buddies have come to his defense. 

As someone who has been pointing out the nonsense spewed by Glenn Greenwald for years now, I probably shouldn't be surprised that he is using a particularly ugly personal attack on Plaskett in his defense of Taibbi. After all, this is the guy who has called Nicole Wallace "the typhoid Mary of disinformation" and Natasha Bertrand "a deranged conspiracy theorist and scandal-plagued CIA propagandist." In other words, the guy seems to have a penchant for dredging up ugly personal attacks against women. 

So what is Greenwald's line of attack against Plaskett? He has repeatedly referred to her as:

Of course, it would be a waste of time to point out to Glenn that there is nothing "fake" or "pretend" about Plaskett's role as a member of congress - or the fact that the people of the Virgin Islands matter and they have overwhelmingly voted for her to be their representative. This is basically how the guy operates. 

The only good news is that there aren't that many people paying attention to Glenn these days. I just wanted to note that the guy who tries to sell himself as a rational debater sure seems to get triggered by smart competent women. As you can see, his response is not to engage in rational debate, but to go after them with vicious personal attacks. 

Friday, April 21, 2023

Why Trans Women Pose a Particular Threat to Right Wingers

Since right wingers decided to make trans people their new enemy target, I've noticed that they tend to focus most of their enmity on trans women. We've seen that with their phobia about things like bathrooms and sports. We hear almost nothing similarly fear-mongering about trans men. Why is that?

The latest abuse has been directed at Dylan Mulvaney - a trans woman who recently celebrated her "day 365 of womanhood" by partnering with Bud Light. Wingers went nuts destroying their supply of the beer. That is the context for a column by Brian Broome about the fact that toxic masculinity is rooted in a hatred of anything deemed feminine. 

Mulvaney’s celebration for some reason threatened the very existence of a whole bunch of guys who aren’t ready for that reality. This will surprise no one who has ever been a small boy. Every boy knows the sting of being called a sissy. Boys are raised to believe that so-called feminine traits represent a danger they must avoid. Boys learn early that they can expect to be punished if they stray in any way into risky, weakening feminine behaviors. These lessons take root deep in our psyches as youngsters, and they stay there forever...

Men need to move beyond the idea that dominating other human beings and engaging in endless emotional barricading is how to show the world that they’re “masculine.” The concept needs a de-gendering. Perhaps to some, masculinity only means that you are self-assured, confident, not easily threatened and won’t be told what to do, what you can’t wear, whom you can love. But there are literally millions of people who possess these traits regardless of sex or gender identity.

If your idea of “masculine” is just a hatred of anything that someone told you is “feminine,” then I don’t know what to tell you except that, as a human being, you are entitled to the whole human experience. Not just part of it.

Since everything feminine is to be rejected by men, a person who has been labelled a man transitioning to become a woman is seriously triggering for folks steeped in toxic masculinity. 

Jill Filipovic notes that these right wingers are all wound up about liberal "gender ideology." But the fact is that they have their own gender ideology. It's called "patriarchy" (emphasis mine).

Conservative gender ideology is religiously-based and it goes like this: Men and women are fundamentally different, created by God to compliment each other. There is a clear hierarchy: God, man, woman, boy child, girl child. Women are to serve men, produce children, and maintain the home; and in turn, men are to protect and provide for women and children. For Christians, this is the origin story of humankind; it is foundational, the very first building block of humanity and by extension society. It is, essentially, a “separate but equal” view of gender: Men and women have equal dignity, but not equal rights, roles, or responsibilities.

A trans woman is - by definition - a violation of that established hierarchy. As Filipovic goes on to point out, "the forever lie of patriarchy is that it’s 'natural'" and "the very existence of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people makes a joke of patriarchal claims to naturally-occurring gender roles."

That brings to mind the way that Doug Muder described the Confederate insurgency.

The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.

All of this ties together when we understand that the fundamental threat right wingers are reacting to is the impending demise of white patriarchy - which they assume is the "divinely ordained way things are supposed to be." 

Interestingly enough, the future of our democracy just might depend on embracing the traditional feminine qualities of humanity. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Surprise, Surprise. The Racist Blames the Black Guy

Tucker Carlson is a despicable excuse for a human being. But you knew that already, didn't you? It's time to say it again though, after a rant he launched last night claiming that "Democrats are stoking race hate and violence."

The big picture is that Carlson is simply projecting...again. As Philip Bump documented, it is right wing news networks like Fox that are responsible for the "toxic mix of guns, concern over crime - and fear-mongering."

So what was Carlson so riled up about last night? Apparently some teens engaged in disruption and violence in Chicago last weekend. Carlson did his usual " this is the end of civilization" routine and then said this about the city's mayor-elect, Brandon Johnson:

[T[he new mayor of Chicago, who is an ideologue and a racist, understands that these stupid children are his militia. When they destroy what others built, he becomes more powerful. Their destruction has a political use, so he refuses to criticize them.

I'd like to believe that any sentient human being would know that is an outright dangerous/racist lie. But I can't be sure about Fox News viewers these days, so here is the mayor-elect's actual statement about the events last weekend:

“In no way do I condone the destructive activity we saw in the Loop and lakefront this weekend,” Johnson said in the statement. “It is unacceptable and has no place in our city. However, it is not constructive to demonize youth who have otherwise been starved of opportunities in their own communities.”

Johnson, 47, said his administration would work to “create spaces for youth to gather safely and responsibly, under adult guidance and supervision, to ensure that every part of our city remains welcome for both residents and visitors.”

Apparently spring came to the Windy City last weekend and what has been a problematic cycle was repeated. 

Most Chicagoans treat the first warm days after a long, bitter winter as unofficial holidays from work and school, and teens have long flocked downtown to celebrate...

For years, the cycle would repeat – teens and young adults would flock downtown, dozens would be arrested and city officials and police leaders would vow to crackdown...

“Teens want to feel like they are part of this city and there is nothing wrong with that,” [Vondale] Singleton said. “But structure is needed. They go downtown because they feel safer there.”

But that was spoiled by a “few troublemakers,” tarnishing the image of Black teens in Chicago nationwide, Singleton said, thanks to headlines like “‘Teen Takeover’ terrorizes Chicago as hundreds of teenagers destroy property, attack tourists” from Fox News.

A local media outlet highlighted this story back in 2019.

On warm days, Chicago teenagers from all parts of the city like to head downtown to visit Millennium Park and Water Tower Place, especially if they have nothing else to do.

These teens are all looking for fun, of course. But for many, especially those from the city’s South and West sides, it’s also about finding their place in Chicago.
Of course, none of that matters to Carlson, who was not content to simply blame the mayor-elect. He took it a step farther.
Democrats approve of racial violence. They are stoking it everywhere. No, it's not your imagination. They want race hate and violence.

But it was how Carlson ended his little hate-fest that took my breath away (emphasis mine).

[T]he rioting this weekend in Chicago began in a place called Millennium Park. If that sounds familiar, you're not from the city. That's because Millennium Park - Grant Park is part of it - is the same place where Barack Obama gave his famous 2008 victory speech in which he promised a better future.

OBAMA: It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.

Change has come to America. Barack Obama was more prophetic than we knew. That was just 15 years ago, but today, we're seeing the change that Barack Obama brought to America. This is what it looks like.

For many of us, that celebration in Grant Park fifteen years ago represents one of the most hopeful moments of our lifetime. 

But Tucker Carlson confirmed his place with the racists who still haven't gotten over how triggered they are that this country elected its first African American president, who served with dignity, competence and grace for eight years. 

Don't anyone ever try to tell me that the confederate insurgency we're witnessing in this country right now isn't deeply rooted in that historic presidency!

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

How Disney Outplayed DeSantis...Again

On Monday DeSantis held a press conference to announce the vengeance he seeks after the Mouse House pulled a fast one and basically stripped his politicized governing board of their power. 

Most of the headlines coming out of that news conference focused on the fact that DeSantis threatened to build a prison next to a family theme park. Yeah, like that is some kind of genius political move for the guy who claims to be all about protecting the young ones. 

But I spent some time doing a deeper dive into what DeSantis might be up to - especially after reading a piece by Jonathan Turley where he claimed that "Disney may have been too clever by half. The 'Hail Mickey' play appears fundamentally flawed."

In terms of the big picture, it's important to keep in mind that when the special district was established back in 1967, it was set up to act like a local municipal government. Disney wanted to develop it's attractions, but the county governments didn't have the resources to support it. So the purpose of the district was to act as it's own municipal government - collect taxes, regulate development, and build infrastructure. 

In light of that, there are some things you should know about the agreements that were signed by the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) and Disney before the DeSantis folks took over. First of all, there were actually two agreements: (1) a declaration of restrictive covenants and (2) a development agreement. 

The covenants were designed primarily to protect the properties OWNED BY DISNEY (land, facilities, and trademarks). They restrict the properties to their current use and include a long list of prohibited uses. The district also must seek Disney’s comment before altering the properties and can’t use Disney’s name or trademarks. This is the agreement that contains the clause about being valid in perpetuity - or if perpetuity is declared illegal, until 21 years after the death of the last surviving descendant of King Charles III.

The development agreement codifies a comprehensive 10-year plan that was finalized last summer - before this whole bru-haha with DeSantis began. It serves as a blueprint to guide development through 2032 and ensures that future boards will honor funding commitments for the planned infrastructure.

All of this makes sense. Any corporation would do whatever is necessary to ensure that their land, facilities and trademarks are protected. With the development agreement, Disney was simply seeking stability for long-term planning efforts. The fact that DeSantis and his minions are so appalled by these agreements indicates that they had plans to usurp Disney's control of it's brand/properties. 

While DeSantis didn't distinguish between these two agreements during his press conference on Monday, he did cite a Florida statute on development agreements when suggesting that the legislature would take up a bill nullifying the actions of the previous RCID. He's going to run into three problems with that:

1. He has no standing.
[I]n order to challenge the contract, you have to have legal standing, said J.C. Planas, a Miami lawyer who teaches about Disney’s special district in his local government law class at a South Florida law school...

“A development order like this can’t be challenged,” Planas said. “There’s no standing on behalf of the governor. There’s no standing on behalf of the new board. The only people standing are the residents [all Disney employees] because it’s a development agreement.

2. Included in the development agreement is this statement:

Modification or cancellation of all or any portion of this Agreement without either the express written consent of Master Developer [Disney] or in accordance with Section 163.3235, Florida Statutes, shall be considered per se a modification or cancellation of the allowable uses and entitlements to Master Developer's legal and equitable interest in the Property. 

I'm not a lawyer, but that seems to indicate that, should the agreement be cancelled, Disney (who owns the property) would consider it a cancellation of the district's use of their property. I'm not sure what the ramifications of that would be, but it could lead to the collapse of the district's special status.

3. In crafting the development agreement, Disney and RCID carefully followed Florida law. After developing the comprehensive plan, it was submitted to the state for approval - which was granted by the DeSantis administration on July 15, 2022.

Other than his threats to nullify the development agreement, DeSantis used his press conference to throw out a myriad of actions he could take as governor to punish Disney - build a prison, raise their taxes, inspect their rides, etc. Other than being completely vindictive, they are simply nuisances to a corporation like Disney. 

Oh...and in case you're wondering whether the Mouse House is cowering in fear at the threats made by the big bad governor, they released this announcement on Monday after the DeSantis press conference:

Sunday, April 16, 2023

The Confederate Insurgency Continues...

During a time when we can get confused by all of the particular atrocities being committed in red states these days, David Rothkopf reminded us about not missing the forest for the trees. 

I do, however take exception with that last sentence. This is NOT the most dangerous movement in our history - at least not yet. To explain, I'd like to go back to an article written by Doug Muder nine years ago. That was back when the current MAGA folks were calling themselves the Tea Party. Muder's piece reminds us that they are really a Confederate Party. 

He begins with a bold assertion (emphasis mine):

Reconstruction was the second phase of the Civil War. It lasted until 1877, when the Confederates won.

It is important to keep in mind that, in the first census after the Civil War, Blacks were a majority in South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana. In three other southern states - Florida, Alabama, and Georgia - they were only 2-4 percentage points short of majorities.  

That reality is what triggered this:

After the U.S. forces won on the battlefield in 1865 and shattered the organized Confederate military, the veterans of that shattered army formed a terrorist insurgency that carried on a campaign of fire and assassination throughout the South until President Hayes agreed to withdraw the occupying U. S. troops in 1877. Before and after 1877, the insurgents used lynchings and occasional pitched battles to terrorize those portions of the electorate still loyal to the United States. In this way they took charge of the machinery of state government, and then rewrote the state constitutions to reverse the postwar changes and restore the supremacy of the class that led the Confederate states into war in the first place...

By the time it was all over, the planter aristocrats were back in control...Blacks were once again forced into hard labor for subsistence wages, denied the right to vote, and denied the equal protection of the laws. Tens of thousands of them were still physically shackled and subject to being whipped...The real Civil War — the one that stretched from 1861 to 1877 — was the first war the United States lost.

To date, that terror campaign was the most dangerous movement in our country's history and it destroyed democracy in the south for the next 60 years. Here is what was at the heart of that movement:

The essence of the Confederate worldview is that the democratic process cannot legitimately change the established social order, and so all forms of legal and illegal resistance are justified when it tries...

The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.

Where Rothkopf and Muder converge is in recognizing that "the core distinguishing belief of the contemporary Republican Party" is that they are facing a challenge to the "established social order." Here's how DeSantis articulated that in a fundraising email.

Our country is currently facing a great threat. A new enemy has emerged from the shadows that seeks to destroy and intimidate their way to a transformed state, and country, that you and I would hardly recognize...

This enemy is the radical vigilante woke mob...A group that will, literally, tear down monuments and buildings but — perhaps in an even more sinister way — tear down the American spirit itself.

What spurred this fear of "a new enemy?" You can start here:

  • Six states are majority-minority as of July 2019
  • As of 2019, children are majority minority nationwide.
  • The whole United States of America is projected to become majority-minority by the middle of the 21st century if current trends continue.
In the midst of all of that, this happened:
  • 2008 - the election of Barack Obama
  • 2015 - SCOTUS makes marriage equality the law of the land
  • 2016 - Hillary Clinton wins the popular vote in the presidential election
  • 2017 - Me Too movement explodes
  • 2020 - the murder of George Floyd sparks massive protests

Much like the Confederate response to Reconstruction, right wingers are demonstrating that they are prepared to use "all forms of legal and illegal resistance" in response to this perceived threat. It worked in the 19th Century...why not try it again?

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Embracing Republican talking points won't help Democrats

The following stories are all based on a set of data released by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH).

Dramatic realignment swings working-class districts toward GOP

Kapatur developed a two-page chart that lists every US House district by median income in 2021, with Democratic-held districts highlighted in blue and Republican-held districts highlighted in red. Her point is that the top half of the chart (highest median income) is predominantly blue and the bottom half is mostly red. Axios (first article above) put together a chart of the results.

Here is Kaptur's most often quoted takeaway:
"You could question yourself and say, well, the blue districts are the wealthiest districts, so it shows that the Democrats are doing better to lift people's incomes," said Kaptur. "The other way you could look at it is: how is it possible that Republicans are representing the majority of people who struggle? How is that possible?"

The conclusions being drawn from this data set are misleading. The most obvious contradiction of Kaptur's claim is that election polls have consistently shown that people making less than $50,000/yr vote heavily for Democrats. One could even suggest that the higher up the income ladder one goes, the more Republican they become.

But something else struck me about the reliance on "median income." By design it is based on 50% of the population making less and 50% making more. If we take into account the fact that Democrats dominate in large urban areas, it is important to recognize that those districts tend to include everything from deep poverty to extreme wealth. Rural areas - where Republicans dominate - aren't where the uber-wealthy reside, which means that their median income is naturally lower. 

Because I know my home state's congressional districts, I decided to take a closer look at Minnesota to see what they say about Kaptur's conclusions. To simplify, let's narrow things down to the reddest and bluest congressional district. True to form, the reddest district is the 7th, which is overwhelmingly rural and covers most of the western half of the state. Median income is $64,700 - the lowest in the state. Here's the the breakdown:

The bluest district in Minnesota is the 5th - Minneapolis. Median income is $71, 600. Here's the breakdown:

Even though the percentage of people making less than $50,000 is slightly higher in the rural 7th district (39-34%) the actual number of people in that category is higher in the 5th due to higher population overall. But notice that the percentage of people in the 7th district who make more than $100,000 is 27%, while in the 5th it's 36%. That drives median income up in the latter. While Kaptur suggests that Democrats represent affluent districts, the truth is that they represent diverse districts when it comes to income. 

A quick look at Mississippi demonstrates how all of this plays out in the south. The state only has four congressional districts - all of which fall near the bottom of Kaptur's chart. The highest of the four - the 1st district - is R+18 with a median income of $53,300. The lowest is the 2nd district - the one represented by Democrat Bennie Thompson - with a median income of $37,900. What makes the 2nd district different from the other three in Mississippi? It's racial make-up is 65% Black. The rest of the state (all represented by Republicans) comes in at about 40%. So what's going on in Mississippi is that, with a Republican gerrymander, a Democrat is "representing the majority of people who struggle" - both economically and racially. 

If you followed all of that, congratulations, you now qualify for a degree in statistics. But what it all means is that the conclusions drawn by Kaptur and those writing the articles cited above are simply BS. But it's even worse than that. 

From a political standpoint, Kaptur is claiming that Democrats don't understand working class people while the party is in the midst of implementing a "blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America." If we simply focus on Kaptur's home state of Ohio, here's what that means:
To date, $2.8 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding has been announced and is headed to Ohio with over 125 specific projects identified for funding. This year alone (2022), Ohio will receive more than $2.3 billion for transportation to invest in roads, bridges, public transit, ports and airports and over $240 million for clean water. And, as of today, more than 673,000 households across the state are receiving affordable internet due to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

That doesn't include the fact that, due to the Chips Act, Ohio will be home to a new $20 billion semiconductor factory. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) knows how to celebrate these kinds of achievements. On the semiconductor factory, he declared that "with this historic announcement, we are finally burying the term 'rust belt.'”

I'm not sure what Democrats like Kaptur and Tim Ryan hope to get out of these false attacks on Democrats. But especially when it comes to the latter, it doesn't seem to be working - even in Ohio. After attacking and dismissing Democrats during his senate campaign, Ryan lost to an elitist-wanna-be-populist, J.D. Vance. 

Ohio has clearly gone from being a swing state to a fairly safe red state. And personally, I don't know what it would take to turn that around. But I'm pretty sure that publicly attacking Democrats by embracing Republican talking points (ie, lies) won't do it. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

The story of systemic racism as told by maps

Life expectancy in the United States is actually going down for the first time in our history. But as this map shows, that data point doesn't tell the whole story.

A lot of liberals look at that map and immediately blame red state policies, and they wouldn't be entirely wrong. But the roots of a 20-year span in life expectancy go even deeper. For example, compare the red areas across the southeast to this map of majority Black cities in the U.S.

Compare that to this map of the slave population from 1860.

As for the other red areas of lower life expectancy in the rest of this country, most of them are accounted for by this map of Indigenous Americans (primarily on reservations).

What becomes clear is that life expectancy is significantly lower in areas populated by a concentration of Black and Brown people. 

There are only two ways to explain that fact. Racists will blame it on Black and Brown people. Anti-racists will recognize the complex web of systemic racism that began with slavery and continues to this day.  

Sunday, April 9, 2023

The Power of Fusion Politics on Display in Nashville

This is one of the video clips from Tennessee that went a bit viral on Twitter last week: 

My first reaction was to think about how Rev. William Barber has been talking about something called "fusion politics" for years now. Here's what he said about that during a speech in 2014:

Back then 146 years ago blacks and whites came together. In the south! And they understood the fusion between lifting up the former slaves, and how it intersected with the preservation of the south and the nation…

In 1868 we see this moral fusion language and it formed the framework for reconstruction. Here’s what they fought for with this fusion movement: voting rights, public education, labor, health care, equal protection, fair tax policy, good of the whole and that kind of agenda reshaped the south and it reshaped the country. It reshaped the world.

But it also brought a vicious backlash…

A group arose that called themselves the redemption movement and it was rooted in the extreme philosophy of immoral deconstruction and they fought back. They were moved by fear. Fear that their world was being taken over. Fear of a more just society. Fear of a more perfect union. They were radical racists and they began a process of immoral deconstruction. They began a campaign of fear and divide.

Sound familiar? Barber goes on to describe the second reconstruction that resulted in the passage of our civil rights laws and the end of Jim Crow, which was followed by the assassination of it’s leaders and the backlash unleashed by the Republican Southern Strategy. He posits that we are now in the midst of a third reconstruction that was sparked by the election of Barack Obama. But it wasn’t simply about the election of our first African American president (emphasis mine).

Again it is because the movement in some ways was signaled by the 2008 election of President Obama. Now it wasn’t so much the president, as powerful and as hopeful as we’ve been about that. But what signaled that we were in the possibility of a third reconstruction was the emergence of a new majority electorate, especially in southern states.

The backlash to a potential "new majority electorate" is going on in red states all over the country - including Tennessee. 

What the video up above demonstrates is the fusion politics of a white mother in an emotional embrace with a young Black man who was just silenced for standing with her to protect her a southern state. 

In watching the student protests that led to the expulsion of Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, I noticed that most of the participants were white - not surprising in a state where the population is 73% white.

But I'll bet that these students (and their parents) have all noticed who is standing with them to protect them from gun's the Black guys who experienced a racist backlash from Tennessee Republicans for doing so. That creates a powerful opening for fusion politics.

 Much has been written about how successful Democrats have been lately in running on the issues of women's reproductive choice and defending democracy. I'd suggest that the party should add gun reform to that list. All three have the potential to build on the power of fusion politics - even in southern states.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Judge Kacsmaryk's Ruling Raises Some Difficult Questions for Republicans

In outlawing the use of mifepristone, federal Judge Kacsmaryk used language that raises some serious questions for the anti-choice/anti-abortionists. 

Right off the bat he explains in a footnote why he uses the terms "unborn human" or "unborn child" rather than "fetus."

Jurists often use the word “fetus” to inaccurately identify unborn humans in unscientific ways. The word “fetus” refers to a specific gestational stage of development, as opposed to the zygote, blastocyst, or embryo stages … Because other jurists use the terms “unborn human” or “unborn child” interchangeably, and because both terms are inclusive of the multiple gestational stages relevant to the FDA Approval, 2016 Changes, and 2021 Changes, this Court uses “unborn human” or “unborn child” terminology throughout this Order, as appropriate.

In equating an "unborn human" or "unborn child" with a zygote (ie, "both terms are inclusive of the multiple gestational stages") he is suggesting that fertilization is the point at which an egg becomes a human. 

Kacsmaryk goes on to write that mifepristone is used to "kill an unborn human."

If you agree with him, then every attempt to terminate a pregnancy at any stage for any reason is murder.

So before the anti-choice/anti-abortionists celebrate the judge's ruling, they'll need to answer a couple of questions:

  1. If abortion at any stage after fertilization involves killing an unborn human, how can you support a 15-week ban or a 6-week ban?
  2. If abortion involves killing an unborn human, how can you make exceptions for rape or incest?
  3. If abortion involves killing an unborn human, wouldn't a woman who knowingly took mifepristone be guilty of murder? 
The fact is that these are questions Republicans want to avoid - which is why so many of them went silent about the issue in the run up to the 2022 midterms. 

The unifying position of the anti-choice movement is, as Kacsmaryk suggests, that abortion involves the taking of a human life. But once you get beyond sloganeering about that one, things get a lot more dicey. 

A lot of Americans agree with that unifying position, but are more comfortable with the Roe vs. Wade decision that sought to define life as beginning at viability. With the Dobbs decision, Republicans threw that one out the window and are now left with the position embraced by most Christian nationalists (their base) that life begins the moment an egg is fertilized. For that crowd, banning abortions after 6 weeks or 15 weeks still allows for the murder of humans.

With the question of "when life begins" being called into question, so are the issues surrounding exceptions. A lot of Republicans, especially in red state legislatures, are openly embracing the idea that victims of rape and incest must carry their pregnancies to term. This was almost unthinkable only a few years ago. But the Dobbs decision opened up a whole new can of worms that the GOP could previously sweep under the rug. 

We haven't gotten to the stage (yet) where anyone is proposing that women who have abortions are guilty of murder. But it is the logical conclusion to the assumptions rooted in Kacsmaryk's ruling. 

The dilemma posed by these questions has obviously rattled some Republicans. For example, Jon Schweppe went on a bit of a Twitter rant recently:

The problem is that, as Kacsmaryk's ruling suggests, the majority of the anti-choice crowd DOES believe in full bans with no exceptions. How do Republicans square that circle? They can't. So we need to keep holding their feet to the fire in order to make that clear. 

Friday, April 7, 2023

The Tennessee GOP Just "Summoned Up a Thundercloud"

The NBC headline says it all, "Tennessee GOP expels 2 Black Democratic lawmakers for anti-gun violence protests. A white legislator survived her vote."

The two young Black men who were expelled are Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson. As we watched all of this unfold on Thursday, one of the stories that emerged was how impressive they are. For example, take a look at how Jones responds when asked about his use of the slogan, "No action, no peace" (second video) - which was posed as a trap to suggest that Jones was calling for violence.  

Jones is no newcomer to protests calling for justice.  

The exchange I'd like to highlight with Pearson is a bit longer. It begins with a diatribe from GOP Rep. Andrew Farmer - who authored the expulsion bill - doing everything but call Pearson "boy." Watch how this young man responds!

After asking the rhetorical question, "How many of you would want to be spoken to that way?" Pearson points out that the reason Farmer spoke that way to an African American colleague is "because he's comfortable doing that - because there's a decorum that allows it." With those words, Pearson got to the heart of the racism on display with a level of wisdom and composure that seems remarkable for a 28 year-old. 

As I watched all of this unfold yesterday, I remembered something written by Eric Wattree back in 2013 when Jones and Pearson were just 18 years old (emphasis mine). 

Being Black in America gives one an education and perspective on life that you can't get anywhere else. That's not widely recognized, because public attention is often focused on the most dysfunctional in the Black community. But contrary to popular belief, that might not be an altogether bad thing, because it allows the excellence within the Black community time to incubate, untainted by the public eye. That's what allowed Barack Obama to explode upon the world stage as a fully developed powerhouse, and there are hordes of others just like him who are currently incubating in Black cocoons in suburbs and inner cities all over America...

So this is an exciting time for Black people, because we recognize that the world is about to discover what we already know - that there is nothing in the human experience more impressive than watching the development of a Black child, who's been dragged through the pits of Hell and the brutal experience of “American Exceptionalism,” then emerge on the other side as a well adjusted, uniquely eclectic, resolute, and learned product of his or her environment.

These are society's unsung heroes, and there are many more to come. They've been tested by fire, and they've prevailed. By the time they've reached thirty, they've faced down more adversity than the average American at eighty. So simply having survived America unscathed, by definition, makes them special.

I suspect that sentiment might make some white people uncomfortable - suggesting that those who have survived oppression might be somehow special. But he is echoing what Barack Obama said to Morehouse graduates that same year. 

As Morehouse men, many of you know what it’s like to be an outsider; know what it’s like to be marginalized; know what it’s like to feel the sting of discrimination...

So your experiences give you special insight that today’s leaders need. If you tap into that experience, it should endow you with empathy -- the understanding of what it’s like to walk in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, to know what it’s like when you're not born on 3rd base, thinking you hit a triple. It should give you the ability to connect. It should give you a sense of compassion and what it means to overcome barriers...

So it’s up to you to widen your circle of concern -- to care about justice for everybody, white, black and brown. Everybody. Not just in your own community, but also across this country and around the world. To make sure everyone has a voice, and everybody gets a seat at the table.

As a white woman in her golden years, the emergence of leaders like Jones and Pearson brings me tremendous hope. And as Wattree pointed out, there are a lot more young Black and Brown men - AND WOMEN - out there who are just as powerful (which is probably why Barack Obama is devoting his post-presidential activities to raising them up). 

But it also poses the question Theodore Johnson says is the most important in our country today: "how comfortable are White Americans in a democracy where people of color increasingly hold political power?"

This is subtly, but significantly, different from voter suppression. Angst and anger over particular groups’ increased participation in democracy is giving way to a despair associated with being governed by those groups.

A swath of the right has put its cards on the table. Its comments about immigrants, majority Black cities and Black and Hispanic Democratic officials — coupled with conspiracy theories and disinformation — make plain the fears it harbors about living in a nation where people of color genuinely participate in power.

The expulsion of Jones and Pearson from the Tennessee house is - in part - an answer to Johnson's question. But far from silencing these voices, Republicans just gave them a national stage. As Leonard Cohen wrote:

I can run no more 
With that lawless crowd 
While the killers in high places 
Say their prayers out loud. 
But they've summoned, they've summoned up 
A thundercloud 
They're gonna hear from me. 

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Back When Right Wingers Agreed With George Soros

With the announcement of Donald Trump's first indictment, right wingers are speaking in unison and blaming the whole thing on Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg - calling him a "Soros-backed prosecutor." But that's not new, as the ADL explains:

In the United States, Soros long has been a favored target of the so-called alt right and other right-wing extremists. Their online echo chambers reverberate with conspiracies about Soros, accusing him of attempting to perpetrate “white genocide” and push his own malevolent agenda...

But it's been equally troubling to see claims of Soros-driven conspiracies move into the mainstream. Even if unintentional, politicians and pundits repeating these unsubstantiated conspiracies essentially validate the same hateful myths propagated by antisemites.

A person who promotes a Soros conspiracy theory may not intend to promulgate antisemitism. But Soros’ Jewish identity is so well-known that in many cases it is hard not to infer that meaning.

So yes, these attacks on "Soros-backed prosecutors" is antisemitic. But it is also about igniting voter's fear of crime and blaming it all on liberals. 

To put this in some perspective, it's helpful to know just a bit about how Soros came to focus on the issue of criminal justice reform. Back in 2004, he donated over $20 million to defeat George Bush and elect John Kerry. After that defeat, Soros soured on investing heavily in campaign-centric causes and "shifted his giving away from pure politics, preferring to fund causes devoted to building up progressive infrastructure." That led to the creation of organizations like the Democracy Alliance in 2005.

Ten years later, Soros began his work on reforming the U.S. justice system.

While America’s political kingmakers inject their millions into high-profile presidential and congressional contests, Democratic mega-donor George Soros has directed his wealth into an under-the-radar 2016 campaign to advance one of the progressive movement’s core goals — reshaping the American justice system.

The billionaire financier has channeled more than $3 million into seven local district-attorney campaigns in six states over the past year.

The candidates Soros supported "ran on reducing racial disparities in sentencing and directing some drug offenders to diversion programs instead of to trial."

All of this was prior to the police killing of George Floyd. But other incidents of police violence had alerted the country to the central role district attorney's play in holding police accountable. In many ways that wasn't happening because of this:

[The Reflective Democracy Campaign] commissioned research in 2015 that found that 95 percent of elected local prosecutors in the U.S. are white and three-quarters overall are white men. It also highlighted a Wake Forest University study that found that a vast majority of prosecutors — 85 percent — run for reelection unopposed.

But Soros wasn't the only one highlighting these issues at the time. Back in those days, criminal justice reform was the one bipartisan issue that was bringing Democrats and Republicans together. 

Given where we are today, here's a shocking headline from Politico back in 2015: "Charles Koch, Liberal Crusader? He’s one of the left’s biggest bogeymen. Now he’s teaming up with George Soros." 

The vast apparatus of foundations, advocacy groups, corporations and think tanks that Koch oversees and supports—what his critics darkly call the “Kochtopus”—was busy this winter launching programs and initiatives aimed at reeling in the worst excesses of one of the few industries larger than his own: the criminal justice-industrial complex. Koch had decided to help pull together a new coalition of left-right advocacy groups in Washington, including the Hillary Clinton-aligned Center for American Progress, to fight what he calls the “overcriminalization of America.”...

But Charles Koch isn’t the only one who has woken up to America’s self-perpetuating, out-of-control criminal justice system—a reminder of how far the best-intentioned government programs can, when left unchecked, do as much harm as good. And so this very rich right-winger has found himself fighting alongside the likes of [Cory] Booker and [George] Soros...Indeed, an increasingly loud clamor of activists from both the left and right, from city halls to Capitol Hill, lawmakers to lawyers, are taking aim at what both sides now term “over-incarceration” and the general unforgivingness of America’s justice system.

One of the organizations involved in those efforts was a group formed in Texas named "Right on Crime." Their mission was to highlight conservative criminal justice reform efforts in red states, like this one in Utah:

A bill that contained the measures, H.B. 348, passed out of the state Legislature on March 23. Republican Gov. Gary Herbert signed it about a week later.

Some of the changes that are set to take place under the new law include reducing first-time and second-time drug possession convictions from felonies to misdemeanors, expanding mental health and substance abuse treatment services for offenders, providing opportunities for inmates to earn sentence reductions by completing specified programs meant to keep them out of prison in the future, and offering greater assistance to people transitioning out of prison.

That is the kind of momentum that eventually led to the passage of the First Step Act in 2019. 

The First Step Act, which passed with overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats, takes modest steps to alter the federal criminal justice system and ease very punitive prison sentences at the federal level...Essentially, the law allows thousands of people to earn an earlier release from prison and could cut many more prison sentences in the future.

That bill passed the Senate 87-12 and the House 358-36 - something that is unheard of in these days of political polarization. 

All of that was before right wingers did a u-turn on criminal justice reform because they needed to fear-monger about crime in order to fuel their so-called "culture wars." 

The root of the problem is a theology that enables sexual abuse

As someone who was raised in a white evangelical Christian family and church, it deeply saddens me every time we hear that another leader o...