Not Silent

Those who seek to silence us will not have the final say.

Justin Pearson

This week’s featured post is “Why fascism? Why now?“.

This week everybody was talking about a security leak

Thursday, the FBI arrested a 21-year-old man suspected to be the source of the recent leak of hundreds of classified documents, whose publication has damaged the US relationship with its allies and possibly exposed intelligence sources to America’s enemies. He worked as a “cyber transport systems specialist” for the Massachusetts Air National Guard, which appears to have given him access to highly classified systems.

The FBI’s explanation for the leak is frightening in its ordinariness: Jack Teixeira wanted to impress his friends. He appears not to have been motivated by money, blackmail, loyalty to another country, hatred of America, or any of the other motives typically found in spy movies. I am reminded of two characters in a minor John Le Carre novel struggling to explain why someone had defected. “I knew a man once who sold his birthright because he couldn’t get a seat on the Underground.”

I was investigated for a top-secret clearance (which I got) back in the 1980s, though I probably never saw more than half a dozen classified documents. The questions the investigators asked me and my references focused on things like whether my lifestyle matched my income, did I have blackmail-worthy secrets, had I expressed bizarre political beliefs, did I have friends or relatives in hostile countries, and so on. None of it would have picked up a motive like wanting to show off for an online discussion group. I don’t know how investigators could look for that kind of risk. That’s what’s most scary about this case.

The depth and variety of the leaked documents raises another question: Why did anybody in the Massachusetts Air National Guard need to know all this stuff? Why did our systems allow access to it?

The leak may have helped Russia, and it also sort of looks like Donald Trump’s theft (and possible misuse) of classified documents. So of course Marjorie Taylor Greene defends the leaker.

and abortion drugs

The abortion-pill injunction is still working its way through the system. The initial injunction banning mifepristone was supposed to take effect Friday. The appeals court rolled back the worst of it, but still left a terrible ruling. (That’s how bad the original was.) The Justice Department appealed to the Supreme Court, which froze everything until Wednesday. Stay tuned.

The Supreme Court has an easy way out if it wants one: Under existing precedents, the plaintiffs don’t have standing to sue. The appeals court upheld their standing, which is just really bad law in general, independent of how you feel about abortion. If an organization can sue any time one of its members is statistically likely to suffer some theoretical injury sometime in the future, the courts will be swamped with frivolous suits.

and the Fox News trial

The Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit against Fox News was supposed to hear opening statements today, but (in a surprise last-minute move) that was delayed until tomorrow. Maybe that means a settlement is in the works.

and even more evidence of Clarence Thomas’ corruption

Last week, we found out that for two decades Thomas has been taking expensive vacations paid for by a major Republican donor who also gives a lot of money to organizations trying to influence Supreme Court decisions. We had to find out about these trips from Pro Publica rather than Thomas himself because, you know, the gift-reporting rules are just way too complicated for a mere Supreme Court justice to understand, and it’s not like Thomas should be expected to have some kind of moral intuition that would tell him this whole arrangement smells bad.

Right-wing media raced to Thomas’ defense, because clearly Thomas was just a guy hanging out with a dear friend — who just happens to be a billionaire and just happens to have befriended Thomas after he rose to the Supreme Court. And it’s not like there’s been a pattern of conservative organizations trying to befriend justices.

This week Pro Publica let another shoe drop: In 2014 the same donor, Harlan Crow, bought real estate from Thomas, including the house where Thomas’ mother lives, for over $100K, which might or might not be market price for properties a previous Thomas disclosure form had valued at less than $15K each. Again, Thomas did not report the transaction, in spite of laws that seem to say he has to.

Crow has since been paying the property taxes on Thomas’ mom’s house, and has funded a number of improvements that I’m sure Mrs. Thomas appreciates.

Soon after the sale was completed, contractors began work on tens of thousands of dollars of improvements on the two-bedroom, one-bathroom home, which looks out onto a patch of orange trees. The renovations included a carport, a repaired roof and a new fence and gates, according to city permit records and blueprints.

Crow’s statement on the Pro Publica scoop doesn’t say whether Mrs. Thomas pays rent. Clarence himself has said nothing.

Even Fox News has more-or-less gone silent, mentioning Thomas less than 50 times (and Bud Light 183 times) since the first Pro Publica article. The substance of its reporting has been that Democrats are attacking Thomas, and that AOC wants him impeached. But that’s Democrats for you. And you know AOC, she’s like that. It’s not like there’s an actual issue here. I mean, it’s not like George Soros has been buying off a liberal justice. That would be a national scandal deserving 24/7 coverage.

Yesterday, the WaPo reported another Thomas disclosure anomaly — that he reports income from a defunct real estate firm rather than the entity that replaced it. But unless there’s more to this story, I’m willing to write this one off as sloppiness rather than corruption.

and Tennessee

Both of the Justins — Justin Jones and Justin Pearson — have returned to the Tennessee House. After they were removed by the Republican supermajority last week, both were unanimously reappointed by councils of their constituents.

Both appointments are temporary until a special election can be held. But if the Justins were popular at home before, they are rock stars now. I don’t think getting elected will be a problem.

I’ll make a prediction: One or both of them will speak at the 2024 Democratic Convention.

Republican criticism of the demonstration the Justins led has included intentional misuse of the word insurrection. It started with Speaker Sexton, and then became a more general Republican talking point.

For almost a decade, I’ve been pointing out the right-wing practice of breaking words through intentional misuse. In 2014, I recalled the effort that had gone into breaking fascism, terrorism, and religious freedom, while pointing to a then-current effort to break torture.

The American Thinker blog reports on the “real torture scandal in America“, which is abortion. General Boykin says “Torture is what we’ve done by having the IRS go after conservative groups.” The Koch-funded American Energy Alliance is calling EPA fossil-fuel regulations “torture”.

Fortunately, they failed to break torture, and we have since been able to reclaim fascism, a word that has a lot of work to do these days. In 2021, I updated my 2014 analysis to include fake news, socialism, and even, ironically, Orwellian. (The breaking of fake news was so effective that hardly anyone remembers the original meaning: imitation “news” articles from entirely fictitious “publications” like the Denver Guardian or WTOE 5 News, created to be shared online and promote a false reality. The 2016 Trump campaign was the primary beneficiary of fake news, as many people took seriously fake articles that went viral, like “Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for president” or “FBI agent suspected in Hillary email leaks found dead in apartment murder-suicide“. Trump hated this meaning, so he misused fake news until it broke, and instead came to mean any news report — no matter how accurate — that he doesn’t like.)

And that leads us to insurrection. It annoys Republicans that January 6 is quite accurately described as an insurrection, so they want to make that idea inexpressible. That’s what’s behind their widespread use of insurrection to describe the protest on the floor of the Tennessee House that led to the Justins’ expulsion.

That usage is literally absurd. The Tennessee House was inconvenienced for about an hour. No one was injured and no one was threatened. The state house was not damaged. At no time did anyone propose establishing a new government in Nashville outside the usual electoral process. January 6, by contrast, was the culmination of a months-long plot to install the loser of the 2020 election as president. Had it succeeded, the United States’ centuries-old tradition of constitutional government would be over. Along the way, 114 Capitol police officers were injured, and numerous member of Congress (and their staff) feared for their lives. So did Mike Pence’s Secret Service detail.

But the absurdity is the point. Expect more misuse of insurrection, until the word ceases to mean anything at all. As Orwell put it in “The Principles of Newspeak“:

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. … This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meanings whatever.

and crazy new laws

Red-state legislatures just keep upping the ante on crazy.

Idaho hasn’t just outlawed almost all abortions, it is also outlawing “abortion trafficking”.

The new “ abortion trafficking ” law signed on Wednesday, is the first of its kind in the U.S. It makes it illegal to either obtain abortion pills for a minor or to help them leave the state for an abortion without their parents’ knowledge and consent. Anyone convicted will face two to five years in prison and could also be sued by the minor’s parent or guardian. Parents who raped their child will not be able to sue, though the criminal penalties for anyone who helped the minor obtain an abortion will remain in effect.

So if an Idaho man gets his 13-year-old daughter pregnant, her grandmother can get 2-to-5 in the big house for driving her across the border to get an abortion in Washington. But at least the rapist can’t sue the grandmother, because that would push a good idea too far.

In Missouri, the House just passed a budget that defunds the state’s libraries. Reportedly, the Senate plans to put the $4.5 million back, but still. Is there any public institution that does more good for less money than the public library?

And in Llano County, the commissioners are debating whether to close their three libraries rather than submit to a judge’s order not to ban 17 books.

The banned books, which include themes of LGBTQ+ identity and race, were removed last year without public input after Llano County officials declared them pornographic and sexually explicit.

Somebody’s going to have to explain to me how Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste is pornographic. (I somehow missed the dirty parts when I read it.) Among a long list of awards and honors, Time magazine named Caste as its #1 nonfiction book of 2020. And remember: This is the public library, not a school library. It would be bad enough to keep children from reading Caste, but Llano is claiming no one should be allowed to read it, at least not on the public dime.

Another too-sexy-for-Llano book is Larry the Farting Leprechaun, which I have not read. If I do, I’ll have to stay alert so I don’t miss the pornographic sections.

Amanda Marcotte sees the defund-the-library trend as a skirmish in a more general war against public education.

Libraries are the latest battlefield, but the real white whale for the GOP is the destruction of public education.

She cites Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s “school choice” proposal, which would move money from public to private (i.e. religious) schools through a voucher program linked to “education savings accounts”.

In the Texas Observer, David Brockman goes a step further: The motive behind ESAs is Christian nationalism.

Having spent nearly a decade researching and writing about Christian nationalism—the movement to make the United States an explicitly “Christian nation” governed by Bible-based laws—I see this year’s push to fund private and religious schools as just the latest front in that movement’s decades-long battle to undermine what Thomas Jefferson called the wall of separation between church and state, and thereby establish conservative Christian dominance over government. … Though not all “school choice” supporters are Christian nationalists, it’s hard not to notice the strong Christian nationalist presence among them.

But Texans who believe in separation of church and state have an unexpected ally against Abbott’s proposal: rural Texas communities who find a civic identity in their public schools.

Many in New Home worried that political shifts in Austin threatened to leave out the voices of rural Texans, for whom the local schools — the Friday night football games and principals whose cellphone numbers you know — are essential parts of what makes a community.

While we’re talking about publicly supported religious schools, Oklahoma is deciding whether to approve its first explicitly religious charter school, which would be Catholic. If it does, the inevitable lawsuit will undoubtedly go to the Supreme Court. I think this Court will find a way to approve it on originalist grounds, despite so many of the Founders being anti-Catholic bigots. As we saw in Alito’s Dobbs opinion and Thomas’ Bruen opinion, history says whatever the six-judge majority needs it to say.

It’s not true, but you can be forgiven if you got the impression this week that 12-year-olds can marry in Missouri. (The actual minimum age is 16, with anybody under 18 requiring parental consent.) Tuesday, a debate in the legislature over an anti-trans law produced this viral clip: Missouri state Senator Mike Moon defended the idea that 12-year-olds should be allowed to marry. He claimed to know a couple that got married at 12 when the girl became pregnant. And “their marriage is thriving“.

Somehow, I don’t find that story as heartwarming as he apparently does.

Ordinarily, I’m a fan of electoral systems where a jungle primary is followed by a runoff between the top two candidates. The system should allow moderate candidates to win by marshaling support from independents and the other party, even if they couldn’t win a one-party primary.

But there’s something decidedly shady about the way Montana’s Republican legislature is planning to implement such a system: They’ve written the election-law change so that it applies once — to Jon Tester’s Senate race in 2024 — and then sunsets immediately. The point here is to keep a Libertarian candidate from siphoning votes away from Tester’s Republican challenger.

So: The jungle-primary system, I like. Changing the rules election-by-election to get the result you want, I don’t like.

and you also might be interested in …

There was another mass shooting, this one in Alabama at a teen-ager’s birthday party. Four dead, 28 injured. The birthday girl’s brother was one of the four.

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) on the changing politics of guns:

For decades, the most vocal voices on the issue of guns were on the side of the gun lobby. If you held a town hall and someone stood up and said “I want to talk about guns”, you knew they were going to be advocates for the Second Amendment. That’s totally flipped. Today, in red and blue states, if somebody says “I want to talk to you about guns”, they want you to pass the assault weapons ban and universal background checks.

DA Alvin Bragg is asking a federal court to get Jim Jordan off his back. Jordan’s attempt to interfere in Bragg’s prosecution of Trump is completely out of line. Heads would explode on the right if a congressional committee tried to protect a Democratic politician against a local indictment, or to intimidate the local prosecutor.

I could have mentioned the right-wing outrage at Bud Light last week, but it was just too crazy to wrap my mind around. So I’ll let Vox explain it. The gist seems to be that the parent corporation wants to sell their beer to trans people, so if you hate trans people you should boycott it.

But hey, maybe there’s money to be made off folks who drink beer to express their bigotry rather than because they like the taste.

As JoJoFromJerz tweeted:

Apparently, this is real. But if I told you it was a parody video, would you know the difference?

Anyway, there’s a long history of such performative outrage, and zero examples of it accomplishing anything beyond providing opportunities for grifters. MAGA types love to lash out, but they don’t organize and persist, as successful boycotts must. So corporations just wait for them to get over it.

Remember the Great Keurig Boycott of 2017? Or Frito-Lay in 2021? Or, more recently, when people were mad because M&Ms were girls?

Most right-wingers probably don’t remember either.

I continue to believe that the best way to bridge the culture-war gap is for all of us to listen to each other’s stories. HuffPost Personal published one mother’s story of discovering that her child was trans.

I’m occasionally asked whether we should “trust” the mainstream media. My answer is usually some form of “Trust them to do what?”

A good case in point is Thomas Friedman’s recent NYT column “America, China, and a crisis of trust“. Nobody who lived through the Iraq War will ever again trust Friedman as a prognosticator. His rolling assurances that the war would turn a corner (for the better) in the next six months led to six months being referred to as a “Friedman Unit“.

Friedman is well-spoken and has access to the top experts — his problem in Iraq was that he too easily believed Bush administration sources who wouldn’t have talked so openly to the rest of us — so he can do a very convincing Voice of Authority. But he’s not as smart as he thinks he is, and his sources aren’t as smart as he thinks they are, so his authoritative predictions often go astray.

However, Friedman is also an honest reporter. In the current column, he goes to a conference in Beijing and talks to a lot of well connected Chinese who undoubtedly would not return my calls, even if I knew their numbers. Do I believe his account of what they’re saying? Yes, I do. I also believe his observation that the Chinese are investing in infrastructure that puts ours to shame.

And then there’s this:

a story making the rounds in Beijing is that many Chinese have begun using ChatGPT to do their ideology homework for the local Communist Party cell, so they don’t have to waste time on it.

and let’s close with someone who deserves my gratitude

Like Stephen Colbert, I grew up reading Mad Magazine and enjoying the cartoons of Al Jaffee, who died last Monday at the age of 102. I picture him reaching the Afterlife and giving the gatekeeper a snappy answer to a stupid question.

Here’s Stephen’s tribute to Al, which is well deserved.

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  • Ed Blanchard  On April 17, 2023 at 7:32 pm

    Trump’s business ethics do not require a considered study of pros and cons with respect to business ventures. He does not seek advise from board members or others who might be affected by financial decisions.
    This lack of working within a team effort to develop best outcomes is exactly why he approached any issue facing him while he was in office in a singular fashion. It is precisely why he failed so miserably in making fact-based, well-considered decisions.
    His “I alone know what’s best” attitude had no room for others in the Whitehouse who offered their input. They were summarily dismissed or fired. Eventually, he was able to surround himself with ‘yes’ men and women.
    A czar in his private business ventures as well as during his four year tenure in the Whitehouse.

  • Sharon C Herrick  On April 18, 2023 at 10:27 pm

    Thank you for sharing the story of the transgender child. If there had been such a gender pronoun of they/them when I was a child, I would have understood. Can’t say I would have embraced it as gender identity was much more rigid in the 1950’s. I’ve come to understand myself better now and though I choose to use the pronouns she/her, I really am a they/them.

  • Roger  On April 19, 2023 at 7:00 am

    I read what Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote about what he’s trying to do on his Substack and thought of you:


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