Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Stating The Case

Charles P. Pierce on the right-wing nutsery’s opposition to D.C. statehood.

The Republican Party is dead-set against making the District of Columbia our 51st state. This is because the Republican Party would rather that the residents of the capital, half of whom are Black, not get a chance to elect two senators. Now, one might suggest that it’s a more decent and patriotic approach to decide not to be the party of thinly disguised white supremacy, and to find a way to appeal to this particular slice of the citizenry. But on Monday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee took on the question, and the Republican minority spent the day coming up with dozens of creative ways to explain that, no, they would rather not have Black people electing two new senators, and that, no, they would rather not adjust to the country’s changing demographics, thank you.

The cause is an evergreen among progressive activists and has been for more than three decades. But the energy behind it at the moment comes from its importance as part of the Democratic strategy to break down the bone-deep Republican devotion to voter-suppression, and to employ every institutional choke-point to its maximum in the service of minority rule. In this, the preposterous filibuster rule is merely a byproduct of the absurd makeup of the Senate, in which a 50-50 partisan split represents a difference of over 41 million people between the Democrats and the Republicans. The Republicans have pressed this mathematical absurdity to its limits, and one can hardly blame the Democrats for casting around for some solution that doesn’t involve eliminating the Senate entirely. So for the first time, a proposal for D.C. statehood seems to have considerable wind behind it, and the Republicans know it.

Rather than simply stating their actual reasons for their opposition, the Republicans on the committee ginned up a constitutional argument that was less compelling than it was vague. (It depends on an arcane interpretation of the puzzling 23rd Amendment to the Constitution, and ignores the fact that the creation of new states always has been the province of Congress.) Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s “delegate” in the Congress who’s been fighting this fight for 30 years, did a good job explaining this simple truth.

My own family has lived through almost 200 years of change in the District of Columbia, since my great grandfather, Richard Holmes, as a slave, walked away from a plantation in Virginia, and made his way to the district. Today it is my great honor to serve in a city where my father’s family has lived without equal representation for almost two centuries. Congress can no longer allow D.C. residents to be sidelined in the democratic process.

Meanwhile, other Republicans mustered up a brigade of bogeymen because they’re stuck for any other answer to any issue of national policy. As ranking Republican Rep. James Comer of Kentucky put it, the Democrats want two more senators because:

D.C. statehood is a key part of the radical leftist agenda to reshape America, along with the Green New Deal, defunding the police and packing the U.S. Supreme Court.

Other Republicans, like the inexcusable Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin, argued that, once it is declared a state, D.C. would be a deadbeat drag on the American taxpayer, which is an indication that Rep. Grothman is unfamiliar with the concept of Mississippi. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Republican assault on the franchise, and on the democratic infrastructure of the government, is becoming an issue in and of itself. This seems to be something that the Republicans didn’t see coming.

The best grasping-at-straws argument I’ve heard against statehood is that there’s not a car dealership in D.C. (there is, actually; they sell Teslas) or an airport.  Neither of those are prerequisites for statehood.

The GOP says it has been trying to win back minority voters — no, really — so you would think that statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico would be a no-brainer.  But a no-brainer is what best describes them.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Shameful

You should know the names of people who didn’t mind seeing the Capitol under attack by a mob but got their tails so twisted by calling it an “insurrection” that they voted against a resolution to honor the police who tried to protect them.

A dozen House Republicans voted against a resolution to award three Congressional Gold Medals to the Capitol Police, the D.C. police and the Smithsonian Institution in recognition of those who protected the U.S. Capitol when it was attacked by a pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6.

The GOP lawmakers, who said they objected to the use of the term “insurrectionists” in the resolution, are: Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Thomas Massie (Ky.), Andy Harris (Md.), Lance Gooden (Tex.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Louie Gohmert (Tex.), Michael Cloud (Tex.), Andrew S. Clyde (Ga.), Greg Steube (Fla.), Bob Good (Va.) and John Rose (Tenn.).

They had their excuses, but I’m not going to repeat them because stupid has a life of its own.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Filibluster

I’ve never been one to really study the inner workings of the United States Senate any more than I have on how things work at the local Masonic lodge.  It’s all rather secret and they have their traditions, rituals, and quirks that to an outsider are arcane, confusing, and have very little connection with the actual business of the real world.  The difference, however, between the Senate and the Masons is that one has an everyday impact on every aspect of your life.  The Masons are harmless.  The Senate is not.

That is why how the Senate operates is important.  In the ideal democracy, the folks with the majority of votes would be able to get their way based on the idea that most of the people who elected them want what they want.  That’s how it works in most legislatures, be they state and local, and also in the U.S. House of Representatives.  But the Senate is another matter.  Because of rules they whipped up back in the 19th century to keep progress at bay as well as the freed slaves from full citizenship, they came up with rules of their own to give even those with minority status enormous sway over the process in the Senate.  And since the conservative wing of American politics has always been more interested in ruling and holding power as opposed to actually doing anything, they were bound and determined to keep their talons on their power when they were in the minority, and wield it like a cudgel when they were in the majority.  Hence the filibuster: one senator could stop anything in its tracks as long as he — and it was always a he — could hold the floor and his water.

It has evolved over the years since Strom Thurmond held up civil rights by reading his mother’s cornbread recipe and Jimmy Stewart outlasted Claude Rains, but it is still in place.  Now that the Democrats have landed on the 50-50 split, the only way they can get anything done is either by using the reconciliation rule, which applies only to budgetary matters, or by convincing ten Republicans to go along with them since that’s the number of votes you need to shut down a filibuster.  And since the majority of Republicans don’t even believe Joe Biden is the legitimate president, they have a problem.  Mitch McConnell, who ruled the Senate like Yertle the Turtle when he was the Majority Leader, is threatening “scorched earth” if the Democrats mess with the filibuster.

The obvious question, though, is how could anyone tell his “scorched earth” from what we have now?

TPM:

If Democrats torch the filibuster on legislation, or at least torch the 60-vote threshold part of it, McConnell said he’d use Senate rules to slow down and force votes on every single small piece of Senate operations. Much of Senate business runs on unanimous consent, a quick way to dispense with unobjectionable and housekeeping tasks.

“I want our colleagues to imagine a world where every single task, every one of them, requires a physical quorum, which, by the way, the Vice President does not count in determining a quorum,” he said.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) shrugged off the threat.

“He has already done that,” he told reporters of McConnell’s threat to grind the chamber to a halt. “He’s proven he can do it and they’ll do it again, I assume.”

This isn’t the first time McConnell has threatened Democrats with all-out gridlock should they take away his best tool to obstruct legislation from the minority. In January too, he threatened a “nightmare” scenario where he uses unanimous consent to slow down all Senate business. He made the comments towards the end of his maneuver to hold the Senate’s organizing resolution hostage — preventing Democrats from taking over committee chairmanships — where, again, he threatened to stop Senate business in its tracks if Democrats didn’t promise to sustain the filibuster.

On Tuesday, McConnell added another threat to his spiel.

He painted a hellscape for Democrats in which, as soon as Republicans take back the majority in the Senate, they ram through policy deeply opposed by Democrats like defunding Planned Parenthood, loosening gun restrictions and expanding anti-abortion legislation.

For once, I would like to see the Democrats call his bluff. After all, if your idea of threats is by warning us about Republicans passing bad and unpopular laws out of spite when they get the majority, that’s telling the electorate a lot more about your values and bigotry than all the MAGA hats made in China.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Happy Friday

What a difference a year makes, just in prime-time presidential addresses: going from flop-sweating Trump (“Holy shit now what”) to Joe Biden and his cautiously hopeful homily about dealing with the pandemic: things are looking up, but we still have to be vigilant.  Apparently it got through because the Republicans and their Wormtongues over at Fox News are trashing their shorts about how the $1.9 trillion will destroy the beautiful world crafted by grifters and felons… and then horn in on the credit when it works.

Now comes the part where President Biden and his team goes out and sells it to the nation.  That shouldn’t be too hard since the legislation has very wide bipartisan support.  The only dissent is from the gang that still won’t acknowledge that he won the election, but that begs the question of why any reasonable person should be expected to deal with them.  They’re grousing about “unity” when they didn’t want it?  Seriously?

Speaking of unity:

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Deflection

The House is about to pass the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill which will have a huge impact on our economy and take us a long way to ending the pandemic.  Yet the bill will be passed with 0 GOP support.  Instead, they’re still upset about Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head.

According to polling in several places, 79% of Americans support the bill, including 59% of Republicans.

Then again, this is the party that sold its soul to a grifter who lost them the House, the Senate, and the White House and is still shaking them down for money.

Yeah, I think they would be looking for any form of deflection.

Attacking Dog

President Biden’s dog Major apparently was involved in an incident where he nipped the hand of a Secret Service agent.  It wasn’t a serious injury; no skin was broken, and the agent remained on duty.  Major was sent back to the Biden home in Delaware.

Major and the first family’s older German shepherd, Champ, were sent to the Bidens’ Wilmington, Delaware, home and are being watched by family friends, which Psaki said was planned because first lady Jill Biden is traveling this week.

“It had been previously planned already for the dogs to be cared for by family friends in Delaware during Dr. Biden’s travels to military bases this week,” she said at the White House briefing. “She has a three-day trip this week, and the dogs will return to the White House soon.”

Psaki noted that the dogs “are still getting acclimated and accustomed to their new surroundings and new people.”

Anyone who has spent any time with dogs know that they are protective of their space and don’t like to be surprised; especially German Shepherds, who were bred to be guard dogs. But even little dogs will nip if you startle them when they’re still acclimating to new surroundings. But that was enough to send the punditry into twitterpations about putting him down — the dog, not the agent.

Sheesh.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

It’s Not Censorship

Dr. Seuss isn’t being censored. His estate and rights holder is withdrawing six of his books from publication because times have changed since they were originally published.

It’s censorship when someone else does it. It’s “cancel culture” when people shame others for noting that the images in those old books are racist.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

A Huge Mistake

Just when things were looking up…

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said on Tuesday that he was ending his statewide mask mandate, effective March 10, and that all businesses in the state could then operate with no capacity limits.

“I just announced Texas is OPEN 100%” he tweeted on Tuesday afternoon. “EVERYTHING.”

Mr. Abbott took the action after federal health officials warned governors not to ease restrictions yet because progress across the country in reducing coronavirus cases appears to have stalled in the last week.

“To be clear, Covid has not, like, suddenly disappeared,” Mr. Abbott said. “Covid still exists in Texas and the United States and across the globe.”

Even so, he said, “state mandates are no longer needed” because advanced treatments are now available for people with Covid-19, the state is able to test large numbers of people for the virus each day and 5.7 million vaccine shots have already been given to Texans.

Speaking to reporters at a Chamber of Commerce event in Lubbock on Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Abbott, a Republican, said that most of the mandates issued during the peak of the pandemic in the state would be lifted; he did not specify which mandates would remain. He said top elected officials in each county could still impose certain restrictions locally if hospitals in their region became dangerously full, but could not jail anyone for violating them.

“People and businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate,” he said.

Texas is among the worst states in vaccination rates, and especially in the poor and minority communities. But to someone with presidential fever dreams and a desperate need to find something else to talk about other than the way the state totally fucked up the electrical grid with their “FREEDUM!” vulture-culture off-the-grid system that was totally unprepared for a cold snap despite being warned ten years before after the exact same thing happened, he needed something to make his political donors and sycophants happy. That’s the only reason I can think of for doing this. But as a friend of mine who lives in Texas said, “It’s a huge mistake and people are gonna die. But since they’re poor and most likely Democratic voters, he doesn’t care.”

It’s not like they haven’t tried this before to get in the good graces of Trump and the folks who think good public hygiene is an assault on their rights and fee-fees.

The timing of Abbott’s announcement is hard to parse. It’s been known for months that the vaccines will soon be widely available, meaning the frustration at containment measures like business limitations and masks will soon ebb as we achieve herd immunity through effective inoculations.

This is one reason Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Monday that states should be cautious about scaling back containment measures. Another was the spread of more contagious variants, three of which have already been confirmed in Houston, Texas’s largest city.

“At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” Walensky said. “These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress.”

It’s clearly not the case that Texas has achieved sufficient immunity to disregard these concerns. The state has done one of the worst jobs in the country of vaccinating its residents, though that was negatively affected by the recent winter storm. That’s the asterisk to the Biden announcement, of course: Vaccine ability doesn’t mean uniform ability to quickly distribute it.

Abbott is instead appealing to the ability of Texans to take necessary precautions on their own, an optimism that recent history suggests is not warranted. Abbott announced a stay-at-home order in late March, moving quickly to lift it once Donald Trump’s administration began advocating for broad reopenings. By summer, Texas had become an epicenter of new case spikes nationally. Abbott implemented a mask mandate on July 2, when the state was seeing about 6,300 new cases a day. Over the next few weeks, as existing infections became symptomatic, new case totals topped 10,000. By early September, though, they’d fallen again.

In early October, Abbott began scaling back restrictions on restaurants and bars. Nationally, a third wave of cases was just beginning, and Texas ended up seeing more than 23,000 new cases a day and, at the worst moment, more than 336 new deaths each day.

Even with the millions of doses of the vaccines that are coming, a spike in Texas means that instead of getting them to places where they are needed, we’re going to be spending time, money, lives, and shots in a place that could have avoided a new spike in the first place.

I fully expect the idiot governor of Florida to follow the lead.

Monday, March 1, 2021

What A Phony

The Washington Post ran an extensive backgrounder on Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC).  The whole article is behind their paywall, but to sum it up, he’s basically made up most of his up-from-tragedy / thank-you-Jesus story.

Madison Cawthorn was a 21-year-old freshman at a conservative Christian college when he spoke at chapel, testifying about his relationship with God. He talked emotionally about the day a car accident left him partially paralyzed and reliant on a wheelchair.

Cawthorn said a close friend had crashed the car in which he was a passenger and fled the scene, leaving him to die “in a fiery tomb.” Cawthorn was “declared dead,” he said in the 2017 speech at Patrick Henry College. He said he told doctors that he expected to recover and that he would “be at the Naval Academy by Christmas.”

Key parts of Cawthorn’s talk, however, were not true. The friend, Bradley Ledford, who has not previously spoken publicly about the chapel speech, said in an interview that Cawthorn’s account was false and that he pulled Cawthorn from the wreckage. An accident report obtained by The Washington Post said Cawthorn was “incapacitated,” not that he was declared dead. Cawthorn himself said in a lawsuit deposition, first reported by the news outlet AVL Watchdog, that he had been rejected by the Naval Academy before the crash.

Shortly after the speech, Cawthorn dropped out of the college after a single semester of mostly D’s, he said in the deposition, which was taken as part of a court case regarding insurance. Later, more than 150 former students signed a letter accusing him of being a sexual predator, which Cawthorn has denied.

Yet four years after Cawthorn spoke at the chapel, the portrait he sketched of his life provided the framework for his election in November as the youngest member of the U.S. House at the minimum age of 25 years old. A campaign video ad repeated his false claim that the car wreck had derailed his plans to attend the Naval Academy.

He promptly used his newfound fame to push baseless allegations about voting fraud on Twitter in a video viewed 4 million times, which President Donald Trump retweeted, saying, “Thank you Madison!” Then Cawthorn spoke at the Jan. 6 rally where a mob was incited to storm the U.S. Capitol, again alleging fraud and extolling the crowd’s courage in comparison with the “cowards” in Congress. He returned to the Capitol, where he falsely claimed that insurrectionists had been “paid by the Democratic machine.”

This doesn’t surprise anyone, I’m sure. He’s following in the footsteps of a lot of other Republican up-and-comers, including a retiree who lives here in Florida, sucking on the government tit.

He and Josh Hawley should all take a vacation with Ted Cruz to Cancun.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Coloring Their Judgment

Headline and lede in the Washington Post:

Many of Biden’s nominees of color run into turbulence in the Senate

The Biden administration has fewer top government leaders in place than other recent presidents at this point in their terms, a pace that’s been slowed by a siege at the Capitol, an impeachment trial, a plague and a series of snowstorms.

But activists who pushed Biden to nominate a diverse Cabinet are also noticing another phenomenon: Many of the president’s Black, Latino, Asian and Native American nominees are encountering more political turbulence than their White counterparts, further drawing out the process of staffing the federal government.

[…]

“We are concerned with what seems like foot-dragging and an effort to slow down the confirmation process of eminently qualified individuals and the fact that these nominees are women, people of color, sons or daughters of immigrants and there seems to be a pattern that is very troubling,” said Janet Murguía, the president of UnidosUS, a Latino-focused group. “It seems like this treatment is a double standard because we’re seeing that historically other administrations have been able to move much more quickly.”

Biden made a point of elevating a record number of officials of color to top posts, putting the majority-White Senate in a position where it is potentially more likely that candidates of color will be rejected or scrutinized.

What did they expect by putting up people of color or the children of immigrants to be confirmed by members of a party that is still in the thrall of a racist and misogynist leader? Well, they will remind you that they whooped through Ben Carson as Trump’s HUD Secretary because everyone knows that a Black man would know what it’s like to grow up in the ghetto, and Elaine Chao was perfect as the Secretary of Transportation because she was the wife of the Senate Majority Leader. But those Others being put up by Biden? They’re all “Radicals.”

Certainly there can be honest disagreements between political parties, but it’s no shock that something else seems to be coloring their judgment.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Hey, No Fair!

Via TPM, wingnuts are pissed that antifa is getting blamed for false-flagging the insurrection on January 6.

The “this-was-probably-antifa” rhetoric made its way into the mouths of a number of Trump allies, including Candace Owens and Paul Sperry. It trickled into Congress, with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) buying into the conspiracy theory that was eventually picked up Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL). It was even espoused by Trump himself mid-insurrection.

The MAGA folks who were present that day in Washington weren’t happy about this, Kate noted.

For example, DeAnna Lorraine, a host on InfoWars, implored her listeners to give credit where due. “No one should be blaming antifa for what happened,” she said in a video she streamed the day after the insurrection from an RV while on her way home. “American patriots did this. And it’s a good thing. It’s not a bad thing.”

To quote Miranda, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.  But keep talking anyway.

A Blight On America

Charlie Pierce does not mince words on the death of Rush Limbaugh.

I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.

Clarence Darrow

The doctrine of nil nisi bonum is not often subjected to the kind of stress test that it now will undergo with the death of Rush Limbaugh on Wednesday. I have gone all around Robin Hood’s barn trying to find anything to say about him that is simply neutral, let alone complimentary. I have given up and decided to stand with Voltaire: “to the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.”

The truth is that Limbaugh was a titan of American broadcasting who saw the potential of deregulated talk-radio as a profit center and conservative vandalism as a hyper-sellable product. That’s it. That’s all of it. Outside of those things, he was a blight, responsible more than any other non-politician for the spread of the prion disease from movement conservatism to the Republican Party, and the index patient for Trumpism before any of us even knew what it was. He ranks with Father Coughlin, Joe McCarthy, and very few others among the country’s most destructive demagogues. American politics would have been infinitely better off if he’d stuck to promoting baseball.

That’s about it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Power Failure, Part II

Not only are people freezing in the dark in Texas and Oklahoma, it was all avoidable.

When it gets really cold, it can be hard to produce electricity, as customers in Texas and neighboring states are finding out. But it’s not impossible. Operators in Alaska, Canada, Maine, Norway and Siberia do it all the time.

What has sent Texas reeling is not an engineering problem, nor is it the frozen wind turbines blamed by prominent Republicans. It is a financial structure for power generation that offers no incentives to power plant operators to prepare for winter. In the name of deregulation and free markets, critics say, Texas has created an electric grid that puts an emphasis on cheap prices over reliable service.

It’s a “Wild West market design based only on short-run prices,” said Matt Breidert, a portfolio manager at a firm called TortoiseEcofin.

And yet the temporary train wreck of that market Monday and Tuesday has seen the wholesale price of electricity in Houston go from $22 a megawatt-hour to about $9,000. Meanwhile, 4 million Texas households have been without power.

As I said before, I’ve lived in places where below-zero temperatures in winter are the norm, and the utility companies were ready for it. I’ve also lived in places where they get hurricanes, and to some degree the utilities were ready for it was well, acknowledging the fact that when the storm hits, power is going to be disrupted.

Of course there was an attempt by the nutsery to blame it all on wind turbines — not only do they kill all the birds and cause cancer, they don’t work in the cold. That’s news to Denmark, where they work just fine, and Copenhagen isn’t exactly a beach town in February.

But wind accounts for just 10 percent of the power in Texas generated during the winter. And the loss of power to the grid caused by shutdowns of thermal power plants, primarily those relying on natural gas, dwarfed the dent caused by frozen wind turbines, by a factor of five or six.

I suspect that there are more than a few politicians and government office holders in Texas who either directly or indirectly have a hand or got a hand-out from the energy companies, working to deregulate and let the free market ring. But it’s really rather cold — pun intended — to give customers cheap energy but do it on the cheap.

Monday, February 8, 2021

All Shine And No Substance

Via the Washington Post:

In a wide-ranging interview with CBS News, President Biden expressed disappointment with how his predecessor had handled the coronavirus pandemic, specifically the number of vaccines that were available to inoculate the population. “The circumstances of how the [previous] administration handled covid was even more dire than we thought,” he said in a segment aired Sunday afternoon.

Biden admitted it would be “difficult” to vaccinate much of the population by the summer and said he had ordered vaccine makers to ramp up production and had the assurances of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that all its stadiums could be used as mass vaccination sites.

In 1961, JFK said that when he got into office, he was shocked to find out that things were really as bad as they had said they were when he was running for president.

That said, I find it very plausible to believe that anything could be as rotten as they’re finding they are; in fact, I think they’ll find that rot runs far deeper than than what appears on the surface.

It reminds me of a monologue from “Inherit the Wind” (1960) with Spencer Tracy and Fredric March.

That’s what Trump and his minions were selling, and that’s what all of his followers swallowed: that the only way to save the country was to buy Golden Dancer. A lot of us knew it was all shine and no substance. And we still need to hold those charlatans to account for the damage they caused.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Sunday Reading

It’s Not A Theory — Josh Marshall on the QAnon phenom.

As the QAnon phenomenon becomes more central to critical political and public safety questions, I realize we need a new vocabulary to describe this and similar phenomena. Q is not a “conspiracy theory”. The faked moon landing was a conspiracy theory. Perhaps birtherism was a conspiracy theory, though one with similarities to QAnon because of its strong ideological valence. But Q is not a conspiracy theory. It’s a fascistic political movement which predicts and advocates mass violence against liberals (and everyone else outside its definition of true Americans) in an imminent apocalyptic political reckoning. What we call the ‘conspiracy theories’ are simply the storylines and claims that justify that outcome. They could easily be replaced by others which serve the same purpose.

In other words – and this is still a very basic confusion – the Q phenomenon is not a factual misunderstanding that more credible news sources or prevalent fact-check columns would deflate and tame. You can even see this play out in real time in what we might call Q ‘man on the street’ interviews in which a reporter dissects or debunks some claim the Q supporter believes. The response is invariably something like, “Well, there are a bunch of other bad things I heard they did.”

Some Q supporters clearly believe some of the movement fables. You can see this in the late 2016 story of the man who stormed the Pizza shop in DC which was a focal point of pedophilia claims in the PizzaGate conspiracy theory, which was a precursor to Q. (Most PizzaGate fables were later incorporated into Qanon.) Edgar M. Welch, the would-be mass shooter and rescuer of abused children, was clearly quite surprised to find that Comet Ping Pong was in fact just a good pizza joint, with no abused children, no dungeons, no secret headquarters of John Podesta.

But Welch, I think, is the exception. Just as the ‘conspiracy theory’ language is inadequate and misleading we need a better way of understanding belief, particularly belief as a form of aggression. I don’t think most QAnon believers actually ‘believe’ that Hillary Clinton runs a pedophilia ring, at least not in the sense that you and I think of the word. Most of us in politics and in journalism have a rather classical and mechanistic understanding of cognition and belief. We use our mental faculties to ascertain what is true and then we believe those things that appear to be true. Or we take the word of trusted sources and believe those things. We may believe things which are not true either because we’ve been mislead or because our pre-existing biases distort our understanding of what is true. For this, good fact-check columns can help. When we say things we know are not true that’s lying. We know that’s not right. But sometimes we do it anyway.

This is a very inadequate way of understanding the Q phenomenon and much else in contemporary politics and culture.

I say you’re a pedophile not because I think you’re actually a pedophile but because it is an attack. Because it hurts you. In online and message board culture there are legions of users constantly attacking anyone they disagree with or don’t like as pedophiles or other horrid accusations. Presumably these people aren’t acting on some mistaken information that the people (the identities of whom they usually don’t even know) they’re attacking have sexually abused children. It’s not a misunderstanding. It’s a form of aggression. Things like the Q phenomenon are just this aggression writ large. I say you’re a pedophile because it is itself an act of aggression but also because it dehumanizes you. It’s a storyline that makes hurting you or killing you make more sense and be more exciting.

Not surprisingly given his role in these movements, Donald Trump is a good illustration of how to think about belief in this context. We know that Trump is a scurrilous, pathological liar. But as I’ve written, Trump doesn’t believe or not believe as you or I likely do. In fact, if you could sit Trump down sedated or under some kind of truth serum and ask why he was lying about some particular claim I think he would find the question almost bewildering. Someone like Trump finds what would be helpful to his needs or claims or interest in the particular moment and then says those things. And I think he even kind of believes them because they help him. What you say and ‘believe’ isn’t tethered to what’s true in quite the same way. You might as well ask a novelist why she writes things that aren’t true. She’d be equally befuddled by the question.

If you’ve worked in business a certain kind of salesman is like this. You size up the customer, find out what they want, what they feel they need and then tell them a story to make the sale. Is it lying? Well, not to them. Not exactly. It’s selling. Again, you don’t ask a playwright why he writes stories that aren’t true. Needless to say Donald Trump is that kind of salesman. How is it Donald Trump always seems to rapidly believe whatever is helpful to him in the given moment? Or later say exactly the opposite when that’s helpful? There’s rampant voter fraud. Bill Clinton is the worst sexual predator in human history and is definitely awful even as Trump himself casually harasses, importunes, assaults, rapes and more? Since they help you you do sort of come to believe them because why not?

Any sports fan comes to believe that their team is absolutely the best and the rival team is definitely the worst, with all manner of chants, regalia and affirmations even though they know – from another perspective – that all of this is in fact absurd. To Trump it really would be like asking a novelist why they keep making up stories that aren’t true. The reaction is incomprehension. The point here is not to defend Trump who is malevolent predator and degenerate liar. It is to explain that his calculus of truth, belief and advantage are quite different than what most of us are likely familiar with.

Just how QAnon and comparable movements work is something I’m still working to get my head around. (These two articles are the analyses that interest me most – here and here.) But calling them conspiracy theories is not only wrong in concept it seriously misleads us about what they are and how to combat them. Qanon is a violent terroristic political movement with strong fascistic facets the upshot of which, in every storyline, is a final violent reckoning in which Trump’s political enemies are rounded up and murdered. That’s what it’s about. The fables are just getting people primed and ready for that moment.

Doonesbury — Modern times.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Happy Friday

Eleven Republicans, including three from South Florida, voted to strip the Q-Anon nutter of her committee assignments.  So that’s something.

Johnson & Johnson is applying for emergency authorization from the FDA to release their single-shot vaccine.

And after pulling an all-nighter, the Senate passed the budget bill for the $1.9 billion coronavirus relief bill.

Meanwhile, the ibis crowd stopped by for lunch.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

The New McCarthyism

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy condemns the batshit craziness of MTG.

WASHINGTON — The top House Republican refused on Wednesday to punish Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene for spreading false and bigoted conspiracy theories and endorsing political violence against Democrats, condemning the Georgia freshman’s previous comments but declining to take away her posts on influential congressional committees.

After days of public silence and private agonizing over what to do about Ms. Greene — who has endorsed the executions of top Democrats, suggested that school shootings were staged and said that a space laser controlled by Jewish financiers started a wildfire — the minority leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, issued a tortured statement that harshly denounced her past statements but then argued that she should face no consequences for them.

“Past comments from and endorsed by Marjorie Taylor Greene on school shootings, political violence, and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories do not represent the values or beliefs of the House Republican Conference,” Mr. McCarthy said.

But he’s not going to do anything about her.

That’s not leadership, it’s being held hostage by nutsery, and he’s basically handed over the Republican Party to them. This may work for the base, but all every Democrat who has hopes of winning a seat in the House against a GOP incumbent has to do is run an ad tying MTG around their neck and stand back.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Nuts To You

Oh, so the Republicans are finally figuring out that they have some whackjobs in their midst.

A growing number of Republicans took sides Tuesday in a brewing House battle over the shape of the GOP after the Donald Trump presidency, amplifying pressure on Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy as he decides this week whether to sideline conspiracy theorists and secure a place for anti-Trump voices in party leadership.

Leading the charge was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who made an unusual detour into the other chamber’s affairs by denouncing the extremist rhetoric of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene while offering a gesture of support for Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House GOP leader, who voted last month to impeach Trump.

He was joined Tuesday by several other Republican lawmakers, as well as pillars of the conservative establishment, who together warned that sidelining Trump critics from the party while tolerating purveyors of social-media-driven paranoia would spell long-term disaster — a “cancer for the Republican Party and our country,” as McConnell put it.

Sen. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.), a McConnell confidant who recently ended a stint as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called Greene “nutty” and “an embarrassment to our party.”

“The people of her congressional district, it’s their prerogative if they want to abase themselves by voting to elect someone who indulges in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and all manner of other nonsense. But I’ve got no tolerance for people like that,” he told reporters. “In terms of the divisions within our party, she’s not even part of the conversation, as far as I’m concerned.”

Funny how they were pretty much silent when she and the others of that ilk, including the Ammosexual from Colorado, Lauren Boebert, were running for office. Trump himself supported them. And it’s not like they haven’t had their share of bug-eyed crazies before, going back to Michele Bachmann, Steve King (the congresscritter from Iowa, not the writer), and Louie “Aspersion Asparagus” Gohmert. Up to now they were happy to let them scream and holler from out in the yard. But now the crazies are at their doorstep and going after them and their friends such as Liz Cheney.

You asked for it, you got it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Holocaust Memorial Day

Today marks the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

January 27 marks the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. The day was designed by way of a UN General Assembly resolution adopted on November 1, 2005. The date designated for this Holocaust Remembrance Day is no coincidence. On January 27, 1945, Soviet troops liberated the biggest Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau in the then occupied Poland. At that concentration camp, over a million men, women and children were killed in the most heinous of ways.

The official theme for 2021 is “Facing the Aftermath: Recovery and Reconstitution after the Holocaust.” As the UN notes, this year’s commemoration “focuses on the measures taken in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust to begin the process of recovery and reconstitution of individuals, community, and systems of justice. Integral to the process of reconstitution was the accurate recording of the historical account of what happened before and during the Holocaust. Challenging the denial and distortion of the historical events was interwoven in the processes of recovery and reconstitution. The theme examines the contribution of the responses to the victims of the Holocaust, and of the survivors, to addressing the needs of the contemporary world, and to the historical record of the Holocaust.”

It is especially important to remember the Holocaust now because the seeds of what led to the camps are still being planted and nourished. White supremacy, systemic racism, and supporters of those policies are still a part of our lives all over the world. It’s not stretching things too far to say that a good deal of the number of those who attacked the Capitol on January 6 harbor at least some tendencies towards Fascism, as did the man who they say inspired them: the guy who wore the “Camp Auschwitz” t-shirt did it on purpose, and the Proud Boys, today’s version of Hitler’s brownshirts, march under the banner of “Six Million Was Not Enough.” And yet it is problematic whether or not their Dear Leader will be held accountable, much less barred from trying to run again.

We shouldn’t just remember the Holocaust. We need to make sure that “Never Again” is not just a reminder, but a reality.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Don’t Let Up

For a while it looked like Mitch McConnell was still going to wield power even though he is no longer the Senate Majority leader.  Through the arcane rules of that chamber, he was refusing to give up his power unless the new majority agreed to his demands about keeping the filibuster.  Basically it’s the same as hostage-takers making demands of the SWAT team.  But Chuck Schumer, the new majority leader, was having none of it even though he knew it might endanger the agenda of the Democrats and the newly-minted Biden administration.  For a few days, it looked like the desire for unity and comity would overpower the simple fact that McConnell was the guy barricaded in the bank and screaming into the phone and the Democrats would do what they always seem to do: cave.

But last night it was McConnell who caved.  He agreed to follow the rule that was used the last time there was a 50-50 split in the Senate and the Democrats were in the White House.  The Democrats will now be able to go forth and do their job of appointing committee chairs and all the other things that the party with the majority gets to do.

Finally. It’s about time the Democrats held their ground, controlled their wavering members, and let the GOP be the ones who are in disarray. Frankly, the Republicans have been in disarray since Trump came down that escalator, but they’ve been very adept at deflection, projection, and bullshit, and they’ve swept up the both-siders and what-abouters in the punditry who stroke their chins, clutch their pearls, and mewl about being “nice.” I don’t think we have to be “nice” to people who supported insurrection and got people killed. Neither do we have to do unto them what they tried to do. We just have to stand firm, stand together, and hold them accountable. The SWAT team does not kill the bank robbers; they wait them out, talk them down, and try to stop them with as little collateral damage as possible. But they do not give in.