Thursday, February 22, 2024

Where Hate Leads

From the New York Times:

A 16-year-old student in a small Oklahoma town outside Tulsa died after what the police said was a “physical altercation” in a high school bathroom, drawing outrage from gay and transgender rights groups who said the student was attacked because of their gender identity.

The student, Nex Benedict, who often used the pronouns they and them, told relatives that they did not see themselves as strictly male or female. Under an Oklahoma law passed in 2022, students must use the bathrooms that align with their birth gender.

As of Wednesday afternoon, no arrests had been made in connection with the altercation, which occurred on Feb. 7 in a girls’ bathroom at Owasso High School. The police said the case was still under investigation.

The apparent severity of the altercation, and the death of the student a day later, has focused national attention on how it is being handled by school officials and law enforcement.

The Owasso Police Department said in a statement on Tuesday that no report had been made about the incident until after the injured student was taken to a hospital by relatives later the same day. At that point, a school resource officer went to the hospital, the police said in their statement. The student was discharged and went home, but was rushed back to the hospital by Owasso Fire Department medics the next day, and died there, the police said.

“It is not known at this time if the death is related to the incident at the school or not,” the statement said.

On Wednesday, the police said in a new statement that preliminary information from the medical examiner, based on a complete autopsy, “indicated that the decedent did not die as a result of trauma.” The statement did not suggest a cause of death, citing further pending tests including toxicology.

No other student was deemed to be in need of outside medical attention after the incident, the school said in a statement.

Nex may have been assaulted by students, but the blame rises up to the people who have decided that fear, loathing, and hatred is an acceptable education policy.

The death renewed scrutiny of anti-transgender laws passed in the state and rhetoric by Oklahoma officials, including the state superintendent for education, Ryan Walters, whose agency has been forceful in trying to bar what it calls “radical gender theory” in schools.

“It’s dangerous,” Mr. Walters said in a video made by the agency last year. “It puts our girls in jeopardy.”

The video highlighted a fight in a bathroom the previous year in which, according to a lawsuit, a female student was “severely” injured in a fight with a transgender student.

Advocates for nonbinary and transgender students said that the state’s policy on gender and bathrooms had led to more reports of confrontations in schools.

“That policy and the messaging around it has led to a lot more policing of bathrooms by students,” said Nicole McAfee, the executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, which advocates for transgender and gay rights. Students who do not present themselves as obviously male or female find themselves questioned by other students, they said. “There is a sense of, ‘do you belong in here?’”

In addition to the bathroom law, Oklahoma passed a ban on gender-transition care for minors last year. And in 2022, the state was among the first in the nation to explicitly prohibit residents from using gender neutral markers on their birth certificates.

Last month, the state education agency drew outrage from transgender rights groups after it named Chaya Raichik, who runs Libs of TikTok, an account on X that has posted anti-gay and anti-transgender content, to serve on the agency’s Library Media Advisory Committee, which reviews the appropriateness of school library content.

As far as anyone can tell, all Nex wanted to do was be a normal teenager as they saw themself and grow up in peace.  But the state of Oklahoma had other plans.  Put simply, the state labeling Nex as a proponent of a “radical gender theory” painted a target on their back, then stood back.

Nex’s blood is on their hands.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

That’s Because It Is, Sam

From the New York Times:

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. on Tuesday renewed his criticisms of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision recognizing the right to same-sex marriage, saying that people who oppose homosexuality risk being unfairly “labeled as bigots and treated as such.”

The justice included his warning in a five-page statement explaining why the court had rejected a request to hear a Missouri case about people removed from a jury after voicing religious objections to gay relationships. The case, Justice Alito wrote, “exemplifies the danger” from the court’s 2015 decision, Obergefell v. Hodges.

The ruling, he added, shows how “Americans who do not hide their adherence to traditional religious beliefs about homosexual conduct will be ‘labeled as bigots and treated as such’ by the government.”

Hiding behind the skirt — or the robes — of “religious freedom” has, since time out of mind, served as the cover for bigotry.  It was the reason a lot of mainline churches supported slavery and segregation and other things they found icky such as women having agency over their bodies and the right to vote.  The Jesus-shouters abuse their freedom of religion to oppress the freedoms of people they don’t like — or who are expressing their identities in ways they are afraid to acknowledge they secretly harbor.  The number of Jesus-shouting homophobes who have been caught with a rent boy, or worse, molesting kids, is so rampant that it borders on cliché.  (And don’t get me started on the Catholic Church.)

There are enough religious congregations that not only accept homosexuality as one of their deity’s gifts, but embrace it to stand against this prejudice in society.  But when it comes from the mouth of an associate justice of the Supreme Court, it needs to be called out for exactly what it is: bigotry, pure and simple, that is rooted in the opposite of what their nominal savior and in whose name they preach is recorded as having taught: Love One Another with no exceptions.

Take The Money And Run, Clarence

John Oliver has a perfectly legal offer for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

When it comes to Supreme Court reform, John Oliver is tired of just talking about term limits and ethics codes. Instead, the late-night talk-show host said he’s taking a page out of the playbook used by the rich and powerful, who the comedian said routinely lavish gifts on public servants to curry favor.

“If we’re going to keep the bar of accountability this low, perhaps it’s time to exploit that low bar the same way billionaires have successfully done for decades,” Oliver said on Sunday’s episode of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” before announcing the offer he had for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas: $1 million per year if he steps down from his post immediately.

Oliver is also throwing in a new $2.4 million motor coach that’s outfitted with a king-size bed, four televisions and a fireplace — a potential deal-sweetener for Thomas, who has come under fire for receiving significant gifts and favors from a network of wealthy friends and patrons.

Oliver’s “somehow legal” proposal — at least, according to the experts he consulted, Oliver said — was made at the end of a segment devoted to the highest court in the land. The Supreme Court, Oliver argued, had reached a “breaking point” following a string of scandals involving the patronage of right-wing billionaires — many of whom, the comedian pointed out, have a stake in some of the cases brought before the court.

“In their confirmation hearings, they pretend to have no idea how they’ll rule on hot-button issues, and we all have to pretend to believe them before we appoint them to a job that they can hold until they die,” Oliver said. “We don’t treat them like what they are, which is people who can be motivated by ideology and greed like anybody else.”

A spokesperson for the Supreme Court did not respond Monday to a request for comment from The Washington Post.

Oliver’s segment came at a time in which public confidence in the Supreme Court has sunk to record lows.

A poll last year by Gallup found that only 9 percent of Americans have a “great deal” of trust and confidence in the “judicial branch headed by the U.S. Supreme Court.” The poll also showed that 58 percent of Americans “disapprove” of the way the Supreme Court is handling its job — the highest disapproval rating for the court since Gallup began tracking in 2000.

“Going forward, concerns about Supreme Court justices’ acceptance of gifts and lavish trips, particularly among two conservative justices, may subdue the public’s approval of and trust in the nation’s highest court,” Gallup concluded, referring to the controversies surrounding Thomas and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Oliver mentioned that Alito had failed to disclose his luxury fishing vacation in Alaska with a wealthy hedge fund executive — which reportedly included dinners of king crab legs and wine worth $1,000 a bottle, according to an investigation by ProPublica — but the bulk of his show centered on Thomas.

Oliver delved into the controversies Thomas has faced in his more than three decades on the high court, including failing to disclose lavish trips with Harlan Crow — a Dallas-based real estate investor and a major Republican donor — and his wife’s texts urging Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff to overturn the 2020 election. The comedian also noted that Thomas has not recused himself from cases in which there is an apparent conflict of interest or in which he may have received gifts from special-interest groups.

“It’s not that these billionaires paid Thomas to change his views. It’s that they like his views so they’re paying for him not to leave, which is different, but not better,” Oliver said.

Thomas has denied wrongdoing and said he was advised that he did not need to disclose trips and gifts from wealthy donors, who are some of his “dearest friends.”

“Early in my tenure at the court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the court, was not reportable,” Thomas said in a statement in April, The Post previously reported.

In the wake of deep scrutiny, the Supreme Court announced in November that it had adopted a new code of conduct, but that it did not have a way to enforce those standards against those who fall short.

It was for that reason that Oliver decided it was time to put his own pocket on the line. And if $1 million a year until either of the men die is not enough, Oliver said, then taking the deal is probably “the perfect way to find out who your real friends actually are.”

“That’s the beauty of friendship, Clarence,” Oliver said, standing next to the state-of-the-art motor coach he is offering the justice. “If they’re real friends, they’ll love you no matter what your job is.”

But, Oliver warned, his offer expires in 30 days.

“Let’s do this!” he screamed, throwing a wad of dollar bills into the air to cheers from the audience.

As the money floated down around him like confetti, Oliver asked the million-dollar question: “How is this legal?”

Don’t worry, Clarence; Ginni will grift enough to keep you comfy.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Bright Light

From the Guardian:

The brightest known object in the universe, a quasar 500tn times brighter than our sun, was “hiding in plain sight”, researchers say.

Australian scientists spotted a quasar powered by the fastest growing black hole ever discovered. Its mass is about 17bn times that of our solar system’s sun, and it devours the equivalent of a sun a day.

The light from the celestial object travelled for more than 12bn years to reach Earth.

Australian National University scientists first spotted it using a 2.3-metre telescope at the university’s NSW Siding Spring Observatory in Coonabarabran. They then confirmed the find using the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO’s) Very Large Telescope, which has a primary mirror of 8 metres.

The findings by the ANU researchers, in collaboration with the ESO, the University of Melbourne, and France’s Sorbonne Université have been published in Nature Astronomy.

The lead author and ANU associate professor, Christian Wolf, said it was the most luminous known object in the universe, and that its incredible rate of growth meant a “huge release of light and heat” – and that he doubted its record would ever be beaten.

The light is emitted from an “accretion disc” that is seven light years in diameter. That disc is where material is getting dragged into and spiralling around the black hole, before it crosses the event horizon.

As that material smashes into other material it creates vast amounts of light and heat.

“It looks like a gigantic and magnetic storm cell with temperatures of 10,000 degrees Celsius, lightning everywhere and winds blowing so fast they would go around Earth in a second,” Wolf said.

“This storm cell is seven light years across, which is 50% more than the distance from our solar system to the next star in the galaxy, Alpha Centauri.”

Co-author, Dr Christopher Onken said it was surprising it had remained undetected for this long, and that it was “hiding in plain sight”.

Twelve billion light-years is a bit of a distance, so I don’t think we have to worry about being sucked into it.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Presidents Day

Today is Presidents Day, the federal holiday mashed together to honor Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday which used to be holidays on their own. This one generically honors all presidents, and it’s a mid-winter break for schools and a day off for those of us who work in them.

Things will be a little quiet around here.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Sunday Reading

No Braver Man — Charles P, Pierce on Alexei Navalny.

Long ago, a very wise friend told me that, under any form of government, Russia does not change. Communist, Tsarist, briefly Democratic, or kleptocratic, as we’ve seen over the past several decades, the dynamics of political power in Russia remain implacable and ruthless. From Reuters:

The death of Navalny, a 47-year-old former lawyer, robs the disparate Russian opposition of its most courageous and charismatic leader just as Putin prepares for an election which will keep the former KGB spy in power until at least 2030. Navalny rose to prominence more than a decade ago by speaking publicly – and documenting – what he said was the vast corruption and opulence among the “crooks and thieves” who ran Putin’s Russia. The Federal Penitentiary Service of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk at the IK-3 penal colony in Kharp, about 1,900 km (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow into the Arctic Circle. He lost consciousness almost immediately and died shortly afterwards despite the efforts of the prison’s medical team and ambulance staff, the prison service said. Attempts to resuscitate him failed, it said.

I don’t mean to jump to conclusions, but this sounds like complete bullshit on ice. And, apparently, I’m not alone. From Politico:

“Whatever story they tell, let us be clear, Russia is responsible,” Harris said during a speech at the Munich Security Conference, adding the Biden administration would have more to say about its response soon. The vice president noted that the United States had yet to confirm the news, but if it’s true, “this would be a further sign of Putin’s brutality.”

And, also, too:

“It is obvious to me: He was killed — like other thousands who were tortured to death because of this one man,” Zelenskyy said of the Russian president, during a meeting in Berlin with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Zelenskyy’s voice was part of a global wave of outrage following the announcement that Navalny had died in a Russian prison colony… Also in Munich, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: “I am deeply saddened and concerned about the reports coming from Russia that Alexei Navalny is dead. All the facts have to be established … Russia has serious questions to answer.” He added that Navalny had been a strong voice for freedom and for democracy for many years: “NATO and NATO allies have called for his immediate release for a long time. Today, my thoughts go to his family and his loved ones. Russia has become more and more an authoritarian power.”

“The indecisiveness of the democratic world is seen as weakness by dictators, and they like testing how far they can go without a response,” Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the Belarusian opposition leader, told POLITICO. She also tweeted: “I urge the global community to act now to protect my husband & other political prisoners, who are in great danger.” Her husband Sergei has been a prisoner of Belarusian dictator and Putin ally Alexander Lukashenko since 2020.

There was no braver person alive than Navalny, who went back to Russia when he already was the embodiment of resistance to the current regime, which already had tried to kill him once. He was never going to be a Mandela, or a Havel, or a Walesa because he never was going to get out of his Arctic prison alive. Even if he somehow served his full sentence, which was a real long shot even without outside interference, he would’ve been over 70 upon release. Now he has to be a symbol, and he will be a damned good one. Even Republican U.S. Senators like Thom Tillis of North Carolina have noticed.

“Navalny laid down his life fighting for the freedom of the country he loved. Putin is a murderous, paranoid dictator. History will not be kind to those in America who make apologies for Putin and praise Russian autocracy. Nor will history be kind to America’s leaders who stay silent because they fear backlash from online pundits.”

This country invented the architecture in which political courage can be nurtured and encouraged, and yet it seems in criminally short supply these days. Meanwhile, somehow, it lives again in the wilderness at the top of the world.

Doonesbury — Lesson learned.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Quick Trip

I’m heading out this morning for a trip to Pittsburgh for a reading of a play by a friend.  It’s tonight, then I’ll spend the night and return Sunday morning, arriving home 24 hours after I leave Miami.

You might call it a whirlwind trip, but the weather forecast is for snow flurries.

[rimshot]

$364 Million

We’re talking real money.

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York judge ordered Donald Trump and his companies on Friday to pay $355 million in penalties, finding they engaged in a yearslong scheme to dupe banks and others with financial statements that inflated his wealth.

Trump won’t have to pay out the money immediately as an appeals process plays out, but the verdict still is a stunning setback for the former president.

If he’s ultimately forced to pay, the magnitude of the penalty, on top of earlier judgments, could dramatically diminish his financial resources. And it undermines the image of a successful businessman that he’s carefully tailored to power his unlikely rise from a reality television star to a onetime — and perhaps future — president.

Judge Arthur Engoron concluded that Trump and his company were “likely to continue their fraudulent ways” without the financial penalties and other controls he imposed. Engoron concluded that Trump and his co-defendants “failed to accept responsibility” and that experts who testified on his behalf “simply denied reality.”

[…]

The total $364 million verdict — which James’ office said grows to $450 million, adding interest — keeps the Trump Organization in business. The judge backed away from an earlier ruling that would have dissolved the former president’s companies. But if upheld, the verdict will force a shakeup at the top of the company.

I am sure he’s going to try to raise the money from his base, and I’m pretty sure there are enough MAGAtroids who will pony up their last dime to keep him solvent, but I wonder if they are that stupid.

On second thought, I don’t want to know.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Happy Friday

Cabana Boy has been selected for the 2024 Valdez Theatre Conference, June 8 through 15 in Valdez, Alaska.

Ron DeSantis doesn’t like it when parents take him at his word and try to control what books to read or not read.

A year into Florida’s supercharged debate on book challenges, Gov. Ron DeSantis is calling on state lawmakers to take action against “bad actors” that he says are misinterpreting state laws for political gain.

“If people are abusing this process to try and muddy those waters then we have to have some reforms,” DeSantis said at a press conference on Thursday in which he blamed activists who challenge too many books and school leaders who he claimed are “intentionally” withholding books.

The full details of the plan remain in the works. But DeSantis — who for years has made parental involvement in book challenges a key part of his political platform — said he is directing the Florida Department of Education to craft rules that will hold educators accountable if they go beyond what state law requires them to do. He also signaled support for a legislative proposal that would fine residents who file frivolous complaints.

“Let’s not let people try and hijack the process,” he said. “We don’t have time for your political agenda.”

The decision to crack down on the what DeSantis called the politicization of book challenges comes as Florida has become a hot spot in the clash over what reading material is appropriate for children, with the help of a broad state law that made it easier for parents and residents to object to instructional materials and books in schools.

To comply with the law, school districts across the state have temporarily removed hundreds of books from shelves while they review them to ensure compliance with the state’s content standards.

At least 1,400 titles have been pulled from shelves in Florida public schools, more so than any other state during the past school year, according to data collected by the group PEN America between July 2022 and July 2023. Among the titles that have been removed from circulation in some grades are encyclopedias, dictionaries, Toni Morrison’s first book “The Bluest Eye,” and the poem The Hill We Climb, which was recited by poet Amanda Gorman at the Jan. 20, 2021, inauguration of President Joe Biden.

DeSantis did not assign blame on the vague laws that have driven many of the challenges.

Of course he didn’t assign blame because it’s him, the flaming jackass.  But this is what happens when you campaign on authoritarian ideas and pass draconian — and freedom-throttling — laws.

Sheesh.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Seven Trillion Dollars

To hear the MAGAtroids and the anti-immigration bigots, immigrants are a huge drain on our economy by taking jobs from real Americans and using all of our social services and sucking up our hard-earned tax dollars.

Guess what.

As the economy has improved and consumers have begun recognizing that improvement, Republicans have pivoted to attacking President Biden on a different policy weakness: immigration. After all, virtually everyone — Democrats included — seems to agree the issue is a serious problem.

But what if that premise is wrong? Voters and political strategists have treated our country’s ability to draw immigrants from around the world as a curse; it could be a blessing, if only we could get out of our own way.

Consider a few numbers: Last week, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released updated 10-year economic and budget forecasts. The numbers look significantly better than they did a year earlier, and immigration is a key reason.

The CBO has now factored in a previously unexpected surge in immigration that began in 2022, which the agency assumes will persist for several years. These immigrants are more likely to work than their native-born counterparts, largely because immigrants skew younger. This infusion of working-age immigrants will more than offset the expected retirement of the aging, native-born population.

This will in turn lead to better economic growth. As CBO Director Phill Swagel wrote in a note accompanying the forecasts: As a result of these immigration-driven revisions to the size of the labor force, “we estimate that, from 2023 to 2034, GDP will be greater by about $7 trillion and revenues will be greater by about $1 trillion than they would have been otherwise.”

Emphasis added to point out that $7 trillion isn’t chicken feed. The technical term is that it is “a shitload.” But boogedy-boogedy racism trumps great economic predictions.

They Keep Losing

Charlie Pierce:

On Tuesday, on his second try, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson got his impeachment resolution against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas passed by one whole vote on its way to a sudden, bloody death in the Senate. Later that evening, Johnson’s majority got slimmed down even further—and we’re heading into Xeno’s Paradox territory here—as Democrat Tom Suozzi flipped the House seat that was once garnished by George Santos, International Man Of Mendacity. That is a rich, full day.

Of course, Rep. Warren Davidson did tell CNN’s Manu Raju that, if Johnson has the audacity to bring the Senate’s foreign-aid bill to the floor of the House, someone will move to vacate the chair. So, there’s that.

For all the talk over the last two weeks about how weak and feeble the top of the ticket is, the Democratic candidates keep winning elections all over the country and, where they’re not winning, they’re gnawing big chunks out of what once were solidly Republican outposts. On Tuesday, In legislative races in Oklahoma, one of our favorite states, Democratic candidates won two special election, and a third candidate shaved what once was an R+26 district down to five points. In the suburbs north of Philadelphia, the Democratic candidate won a special legislative election in a district that the president won by 10 points in 2020. The Democrat won the race Tuesday night by 68 percent to 32.

But Joe Biden is old, you see.

The issues that are starting to bite down hard are Democratic issues. In Suozzi’s race, for example, the Republican candidate, Mazi Pilip, went strongly after Suozzi on the issue of immigration and the border, almost to the exclusion of everything else. Suozzi easily deflected the attacks by supporting the now-deceased bipartisan border bill, and by linking Pilip to El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago as an extremist on the issue. Suozzi drained the invective from that issue and pivoted to economic policies. It appears that, while the immigration issue remains an important one, its political salience as a wedge issue may be limited in its usefulness primarily to Republican primary voters. What seems even clearer is that Trumpism is a bigger general-election millstone than it is reckoned to be. But Joe Biden is old, you see.

The Republicans keep harping on the same issues — anti-woke, anti-immigration, anti-women, anti-Taylor Swift — and they keep losing because they can’t do anything else.  Trump and his fascist authoritarian losing strategy has them by the balls — assuming they still have them, eh, Lindsey? — and they keep losing.

“Joe Biden is old” is the 2024 version of “but her e-mails.”  With any smarts, the Democrats won’t fall for that shit.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Trump Is “Dumb,” “Shameful,” and “Dangerous.”

Don’t take my word for it.  Take it from Joe Biden via The Guardian.

Joe Biden has attacked Donald Trump’s comments on the US pulling out of the Nato military alliance as “dumb”, “shameful” and “dangerous” in a blistering speech attacking Republican opposition to legislation partly aimed at providing support for Ukraine in its stand against a Russian invasion.

Trump’s remarks about encouraging Russia to attack Nato allies who did not contribute what Trump called their fair share of Nato funding have set off alarm bells across Europe among leaders who eye the prospect of a second Trump presidency with growing disquiet.

In a speech after the foreign aid bill – which also includes aid to Israel and Taiwan – passed the Senate, Biden urged reluctant Republicans to pass the legislation in the Republican-controlled House.

“Supporting this bill is standing up to Putin,” Biden said. “Opposing it is playing into Putin’s hands.”

Biden then attacked Trump for his encouraging of Republicans in the House to refuse to support the bill and for his comments about Russia and Nato.

“Can you imagine a former president of the United States saying that? The whole world heard it,” he said. “The worst thing is, he means it. No other president in our history has ever bowed down to a Russian dictator. Let me say this as clearly as I can: I never will.

“For God’s sake it’s dumb, it’s shameful, it’s dangerous. It’s un-American. When America gives its word it means something, so when we make a commitment, we keep it. And Nato is a sacred commitment.”

The right-wingers keep on talking like Joe Biden is Uncle Fluffy.  Yeah, that’s a distraction from the fact that their guy is an indicted predator staring down the barrel of 91 felony counts.  The truth is that Trump is all that Biden says and more.