News Roundup

Wow, what a news day. I was going to write something about inflation, but it’ll have to wait.


As expected, the Supreme Court ended the Biden Administration’s covid mandates on large employers. However, health care workers at facilities that recieve Medicare and Medicaid funds, which is probably pretty much all of them, must still get vaccinated. I have not read the decision, but here is one commentary from Paul Campos at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

Meanwhile in not so good news, John Roberts and the Furious Five have ruled that because in 1970 Congress didn’t have the foresight to pass a statute that specifically said that Joe Biden could tell OSHA in 2021 to issue a vaccine mandate because of COVID-19, Joe Biden can’t do that. This is a consistent application of the Republican Supreme Court’s doctrine that statutes written in general terms to deal with a wide variety of issues can only be enforced by Republican administrations.

I expect that’s about right.

On a happier note, the U.S. Justice Department has indicted the founder of Oath Keepers and a bunch of other Oath Keeper types on seditious conspiracy, folks. Yes, they used the “s” word. Let me boldface that — seditious conspiracy. A beautiful thing. The FBI arrested them today. “This case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Department of Justice National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section,” the Justice Department says.

You lose some, but sometimes you win some.

There was a news story saying that Prince Andrew has been stripped of his royal titles, which suggests he is no longer “Prince” Andrew unless Prince is really his first name. But the BBC, which probably gets this stuff right, just says Andy can’t be called His Royal Highness any more, and he’s also been stripped of military titles. Poor baby.

The RNC wants to pull out of future presidential debates. These are the debates between the party nominees run by the bipartisan presidential commission, not the primary debates, which were a hot mess last time. “The Republican National Committee is preparing to change its rules to require presidential candidates seeking the party’s nomination to sign a pledge to not participate in any debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates,” the New York Times says. The commission is unfair! It is unfair to Republicans! say the Republicans.

One suspects Trump is behind this. Donald Trump’s two debates with Joe Biden were a disaster for Trump, you might recall, and Trump refused to take part in one of the scheduled debates because he was recovering from covid and it was going to be remote.

So that’s today’s news roundup. Stay safe.

Update: Oops, I wasn’t done. After all the effort of President Biden and others to get a voting rights bill passed, today the deadly duo of Manchin and Sinema pretty much shot it down. I want them both gone. I don’t know what else there is to be done.

Why Righties Can’t Understand Covid Risks

Recently a neighbor dropped by, and in the course of the conversation she told us she had been fired as a health care worker because she refused to be vaccinated. (Imagine me taking a few steps back. Also, she called herself a “nurse,” but her apparent lack of knowledge of how infectious diseases work inspires some skepticism.) In this particular case she might have some claim to a medical exemption, which was a past history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (although Guillain-Barre is a known possible complication of covid infection, also). But in conversation it became clear she was terrified of the injections and talked about side effects she had heard about. Which can be rough for some people — for a day or two — but not as rough as covid.

Risk assessment, people. This is an easy one. According to Bloomberg, as of today more than 9.51 billion covid shots have been administered worldwide. “In the U.S., 520 million doses have been given so far. An average 1.17 million doses per day were administered over the last week,” it says. If even 1 percent of those vaccines had resulted in long-term, serious impairment or deaths, we’d have millions of impaired and dead people as a result. I think someone would have noticed.

As it is, the science people do acknowledge that it’s not impossible for a covid vaccination to be fatal. But most of the time if a person dies within a few days of receiving a covid shot, it’s very difficult to know if the shot was a factor. The guy who had the heart attack may have had a heart attack, anyway. So it requires investigation. Here is an article from the UK Office of National Statistics (since nobody wants to believe the CDC) on why it’s difficult to know if a recent vaccine was a factor in assessing a death. The nice lady with the title ONS Head of Mortality Analysis said that by August 2021 they had determined there had been nine deaths in the UK that involved the covid vaccine.

(As tragic as that is, it’s pretty much a given that any medical procedure comes with some risk. People have died from routine dental treatments, for example. It’s extremely unusual, but it has happened. On the other hand, an infected tooth — left untreated — can result in multiple organ failure. You go with the odds.)

The visiting “nurse” neighbor said she had heard that two people in Florida had died after getting vaccines. Even if this were true, it’s kind of not in the ball park of “a rational reason to not get vaccinated.” This is especially true since, according to Johns Hopkins, as of today there have been 61,983,723 confirmed cases of covid in the U.S. and 841,123 deaths. So let’s compare 841,123 deaths to maybe two guys in Florida. Hmm.

Most of the claims by anti-vaxxers about covid vaccination deaths are based on VAERS data, which I explained in an old post written before anyone had heard of covid. VAERS is a CDC database of adverse vaccine reactions to which anybody can report. Doctors, patients, crackpots, drunken college students, anti-vaxxers who need juicier statistics to scare people with can all make reports and add to the database. It is all unverified. The people who allegedly died by vaccination may have been hit by a bus. Or they may still be alive, or maybe they never existed. The CDC attaches all kinds of disclaimers to the database about how it is all unverfied. They only use it as a means to maybe spot trends. Anti-vaxxers believe it like gospel anyway.

The Omicron virus is causing more breaththrough infections, much to the glee of the anti-vaxxers. The New York Times has an article on the growing gap in outcomes between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. This graph shows what’s happened to infected people in New York City and Seattle.

It shouldn’t take a genius to understand that vaccinated is better.

Republicans are dedicated to the opposite proposition. They are more interested in demonizing Dr. Fauci (the latest example, from today) and opposing all mitigation efforts because freedom. Of course. The deaths from covid are explained away in various ways. A big one is to misread death certificates. If the cause of death is “pneumonia,” for example, and covid is only the underlying cause of death, then they will argue the person didn’t die of covid but from pneumonia. Of course, the covid caused the pneumonia, a detail one cannot explain to a wingnut. They will not listen.

It doesn’t help that some Republican medical examiners around the country are refusing to put “covid” on death certificates for political reasons. Covid deaths are no doubt being seriously undercounted as a result.

Another trick is to misquote scientists. Recently CDC Director Rochelle Walensky spoke about a study that evaluated the deaths of 1.2 million adults who had been vaccinated. It turned out that only 36 of of the 1.2 million died of covid-19, and 28 of those 36 had four or more comorbidities. That means other medical problems, like diabetes or heart disease.

Naturally, Tucker Carlson told his audience that Dr. Walensky had “admitted” that most people who die of covid have comorbidities. He left out the detail about the people in the study being vaccinated. He led his audience to believe that this data applied to all covid deaths. So why bother getting vaccinated? Indeed, if you are healthy, throw out the masks and get on with your life. Covid is just a scam.

Now, Tucker Carlson is smart enough to know better. And since Tucker works for Fox News, we know he is fully vaccinated. He just doesn’t care who dies because of his bad advice. He just wants to see the Biden Administration fail. If I believed in hell, I would expect a special place for Tucker in it.

Risk assessment requires accurate data. Righties have enough trouble dealing with risk assessment when they do have accurate data. When they don’t, forgeddaboutit.

Joe Manchin’s Conflict of Interest

Even now, from time to time a television pundit will look at the camera, and with a knowing smile assure us that Joe Manchin knows how to win elections in West Virginia. He knows his voters. The unspoken message here is that this is how it has to be. If we want a Democratic senator from West Virginia, he has to be way to the Right of the rest of the party. So sad, but we just have to work with what we’ve got.

I can’t argue that Manchin doesn’t know how to win elections in West Virginia, since he does win them, but “knowing his voters” isn’t necessarily part of the formula.

There’s a major exposé of Manchin in Rolling Stone by Jeff Goodell headlined “Manchin’s Coal Corruption Is So Much Worse Than You Knew.” (If you aren’t a subscriber, and I’m not, trying to read an article in Rolling Stone is a precarious thing. Sometimes you will be blocked by a firewall, but sometimes it will let you read an article, or at least give you a few minutes before the firewall comes up. I did a quick copy-and-paste into a Word file so I could read it without fighting with it. Do give it a try, though. This is juicy stuff.)

A representative paragraph:

The truth is, Manchin is best understood as a grifter from the ancestral home of King Coal. He is a man with coal dust in his veins who has used his political skills to enrich himself, not the people of his state. He drives an Italian-made Maserati, lives on a houseboat on the Potomac River when he is in D.C., pals around with corporate CEOs, and has a net worth of as much as $12 million. More to the point, his wealth has been accumulated through controversial coal-related businesses in his home state, including using his political muscle to keep open the dirtiest coal plant in West Virginia, which paid him nearly $5 million over the past decade in fees for coal handling, as well as costing West Virginia electricity consumers tens of millions of dollars in higher electricity rates (more about the details of this in a moment). Virginia Canter, who was ethics counsel to Presidents Obama and Clinton, unabashedly calls Manchin’s business operations “a grift.” To Canter, Manchin’s corruption is even more offensive than Donald Trump’s. “With Trump, the corruption was discretionary — you could choose to pay thousands of dollars to host an event at Mar-a-Lago or not,” Canter tells me. In contrast, Manchin is effectively taking money right out of the pockets of West Virginians when they pay their electric bills. They have no say in it. “It’s one of the most egregious conflicts of interest I’ve ever seen.”

Goodell explains that Manchin’s grift is not unique to Manchin. It is a standard feature of West Virginia politics going way back. The politicians and the coal mine owners are on the same team. And this takes us to the second point, which is that there would be no coal mining industry left if it weren’t for corrupt politicians like Manchin protecting it. Otherwise it would have gone the way of the horse and buggy by now and been replaced by newer, less expensive (and environmentally damaging) technologies.

Yes, West Virginians do vote for Manchin. Until recently the United Mine Workers supported Manchin. He was better for coal miners than his Republican opponents. But now the union is demanding Manchin change his votes, and his attitude.

Jonathan Weisman writes in the New York Times,

For years, burly men in camouflage hunting jackets have been a constant presence in the Capitol Hill office of Senator Joe Manchin III, their United Mine Workers logos giving away their mission: to lobby not only for the interests of coal, but also on more personal matters such as pensions, health care and funding to address black lung disease.

So when the miners’ union and the West Virginia A.F.L.-C.I.O. came out last month with statements pleading for passage of President Biden’s Build Back Better Act — just hours after Mr. Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, said he was a “no” — the Capitol took notice.

With the miners now officially on the opposite side of the mine owners, it signaled the escalation of a behind-the-scenes struggle centered in Mr. Manchin’s home state to sway the balking senator, whose skepticism about his party’s marquee domestic policy measure has emerged as a potentially fatal impediment to its enactment.

Let us be clear; Manchin is not “skeptical.” Let’s stop saying he is “skeptical.” He doesn’t want the gravy train to stop. He doesn’t want to lose all that coal money, including the half million in coal industry dividends he receives every year.

Weisman says the unions in the past have fought any policies that would have hastened a transition away from coal. But coal jobs have been diminishing for years, anyway, and they are not coming back. Build Back Better provides a lot of stuff that would help West Virginia union members, much of which Manchin has supported in the past. For example, BBB provides funds to help miners with black lung disease. BBB includes billions of dollars in incentives to bring manufacturing jobs to former coal mining regions. BBB provides penalties for employers that block union organizing. And, of course, it provides a lot of help for all low-income workers, of which West Virginia has an overabundance.

The unions have seen the future, and they are not going to stick with coal mine owners until the last scrap of coal is mined, and then end up with nothing.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton said “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” To be fair, this was taken out of context, but Trump took the quote and ran with it, and he promised to bring back coal jobs. “He did not keep that promise,” Weisman writes, “and coal mining employment, which was at about 51,000 jobs when he took office, had fallen to a nadir of 39,000 by the time he was denied a second term.” It has to be said, though, that Trump won West Virginia in 2020 with a nearly identical vote percentage (68.62%) as in 2016 (68.50%). This suggests to me that Democrats could be doing a better job of outreach in West Virginia. But maybe the union will help with that.

Greg Sargent writes that coal mine owners are fighting BBB’s tax incentives to bring new industries to coal minining communities. They see this as hastening their own demise, which it probably is, but the demise is coming one way or another.

The owners aren’t shy about advertising this. The president of the West Virginia Coal Association, which represents the owners, tells the Times that the union is “waving a white flag” by supporting tax incentives, meaning they’re surrendering to coal’s inevitable demise.

“We would have thought they’d go down swinging,” the mine owners’ representative tells the Times. He says it’s folly to trade away “fossil energy jobs” for renewable ones, because the former are “extremely well paid and carry benefits.”

They are well paid and carry benefits because the miners unionized a long time ago. It didn’t happen because of the generous spirits of mine owners. But let’s go on. The United Mine Workers responded to this by saying they are looking out for the well being of the workers. “That’s a remarkable rift,” says Sargent.

Going back to Manchin, the senator had supported incentives to bring new industries to coal country in the past. But when he recently declared himself to be a “no” on BBB, he took the position of the owners and opposed them. Sargent:

Yet in his statement opposing BBB, Manchin faulted BBB’s tax incentives with a barrage of misleading industry claims about what’s truly in the national interest. Manchin says he “cannot explain” BBB to West Virginia. But if miners want it, this posture is much shakier.

Of course he could explain BBB to West Virginia, unless he is a drooling idiot. He just doesn’t want to. But somebody else should have already.

I have not mentioned climate change, which hasn’t been part of the discussion in West Virginia. The mine workers are skeptical of climate change. But, of course, it’s happening, and ending coal power is a critical step that has to be taken now if we’re going to save the planet.  The stakes couldn’t be higher. But Manchin appears to be siding with coal money, against workers, against his party, against his nation, and against the planet.

What the Right Means by “Freedom”

In a recent Senate committee hearing about oversight of the Capitol police, Ted Cruz called the January 6 insurrection a “violent terrorist attack.” And boy, did he catch grief for that.

From the Texas Tribune:

The Right vilified Cruz for apostasy, so Cruz got on Fox News last night to do explain himself and seek forgiveness. Greg Sargent:

Sen. Ted Cruz is facing a vicious backlash from Tucker Carlson and the right for describing the Jan. 6 assault as a “violent terrorist attack.” So on Thursday night, the Texas Republican gamely ventured into Carlson’s Fox News sanctum, where he plainly hoped to do his penance and move on.

Instead, Carlson placed Cruz in the stocks and administered a brutal whipping.

The Right does not tolerate even the least deviation from canonical dogma. In this case, Carlson made it clear that none of the January 6 perps were to be called “terrorists,” no matter what they did that day. Righties are the same people who claim to be in favor of “freedom” and against “cancel culture,” mind you. And Tucker has no problem calling Black Lives Matter activists “terrorists.”

Terrorism is defined in the Code of Federal Regulations as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85). Kind of sounds like what happened last year on January 6. So far none have been charged with terrorism, but as A.G. Garland said the other night, the big fish have yet to be processed.

Greg Sargent writes that Carlson’s whipping of Cruz is part of the effort to deny that the January 6 insurrection was an insurrection. “The valorization and mythologizing of Jan. 6, which Carlson traffics heavily in — indeed, this led to the resignation of two Fox contributors — require erasing the degree to which it constituted a genuine effort to thwart a legitimately elected Democratic government from taking power, an effort to fundamentally subvert our constitutional arrangements,” Sargent writes. Only the Left, especially Black Lives Matter, are threats to America. Not the Right. Only the Left is capable of terrorism. This is what must be believed.

It’s the key to valorizing the underlying goals of the Jan. 6 rioters and to the mythologizing of them as heroes and patriots. It lays the foundation for treating what they call the “regime,” i.e. democratically elected Democratic governments, as illegitimate, justifying Jan. 6, corrupt procedural efforts to overturn elections, the flirtation with political violence, and who knows what future acts in response.

And, if you are part of the Right, you had better watch what you say. No thinking for yourself; no coloring outside the lines. You may say only what the Party, or whatever the Right is these days, allows you to say.

And these people fancy themselves to be defenders of “freedom.”

Cruz has meekly returned to the fold of political correctness (in the original sense of the term), and if he is careful he will be allowed to remain in the good graces of the Party. But it does underline the Right’s Orwellian understanding of “freedom.”

In other news —

From The Hill: “Cyber Ninjas, a firm hired by the Arizona state Senate to conduct a review of Maricopa County’s election results, on Thursday announced that it is shutting down after a county government report slammed the firm and a judge ordered it to pay $50,000 a day in fines.” We weep and we mourn.

Amaud Arbery’s killers have been sentenced to life in prison, two without parole. Finally.

QAnon Star Who Said Only ‘Idiots’ Get Vax Dies of COVID

Orange County Deputy DA Kelly Ernby, an anti-vax crusader, also died of COVID. You’d think these people would learn to take a hint.


President Biden Gives a Significant Speech

Possibly the most important thing to happen today was President Biden’s speech. And I missed it. But here’s the video:

And here’s the official transcript.

Note that even though much of this speech was about Donald Trump, and no point in the speech did the President use the word “Trump.” It was the “former president.” As in:

And here is the truth: The former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election.  He’s done so because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interests as more important than his country’s interests and America’s interests, and because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution.

He can’t accept he lost, even though that’s what 93 United States senators, his own Attorney General, his own Vice President, governors and state officials in every battleground state have all said: He lost.

That’s what 81 million of you did as you voted for a new way forward.

He has done what no president in American history — the history of this country — has ever, ever done: He refused to accept the results of an election and the will of the American people.

And “defeated former president.” As in:

He’s not just a former president.  He’s a defeated former president — defeated by a margin of over 7 million of your votes in a full and free and fair election.

There is simply zero proof the election results were inaccurate.  In fact, in every venue where evidence had to be produced and an oath to tell the truth had to be taken, the former president failed to make his case.

Joe Biden is done with this crap. This was later:

Our Founding Fathers, as imperfect as they were, set in motion an experiment that changed the world — literally changed the world.

Here in America, the people would rule, power would be transferred peacefully — never at the tip of a spear or the barrel of a gun.

And they committed to paper an idea that couldn’t live up to — they couldn’t live up to but an idea that couldn’t be constrained: Yes, in America all people are created equal.

We reject the view that if you succeed, I fail; if you get ahead, I fall behind; if I hold you down, I somehow lift myself up.

The former President, who lies about this election, and the mob that attacked this Capitol could not be further away from the core American values.

They want to rule or they will ruin — ruin what our country fought for at Lexington and Concord; at Gettysburg; at Omaha Beach; Seneca Falls; Selma, Alabama.  What — and what we were fighting for: the right to vote, the right to govern ourselves, the right to determine our own destiny.

If you missed it too, do watch or read, or both, the whole thing. This was a significant speech. There is no other speech equivalent to this in American history, I don’t believe, in which a sitting president issued a major address that so directly slammed the former president and his allies. I hope this marks a recognition that ignoring Trump won’t make him go away.

Of course, Trump deserved it. He was never a President of the United States, even when he held the title. Trump was like an alien thing who took up space where a president should have been for four years. In reaction to the President’s speech, the former not-president issued a series of his trademark adolescent whines at news media in which he said nothing new.

E.J. Dionne writes of Biden’s speech that  “In what was by far the most passionate, forceful and effective speech of his presidency, he moved democracy to the center of the nation’s political debate.”

Only rarely does a single speech alter the trajectory of politics, and Thursday’s address will matter even more if he and Vice President Harris follow up with equal force when they speak next week in Atlanta on behalf of voting rights — and if the administration fully joins the battle for two democracy bills pending in the Senate.

But in one important moment of truth-telling, Biden changed the direction of his presidency by setting his face against a denialism that has distorted our nation’s debate since the day he was inaugurated. He insisted that Republicans could not be treated as a normal opposition as long as most of them — in their leadership and in their ranks — refuse to break unreservedly with an odious, democracy-wrecking liar.

Meanwhile, the Right continues to crack. An accused insurrectionist in prison awaiting trial named Edward Jacob Lang may be starting to realize he was used.

“There should be a hundred thousand people in DC tomorrow at the very minimum,” Edward Jacob Lang, 26, told “The Stew Peters Show” in a Wednesday phone interview from jail. He continued, “I am so disappointed with Trump and with the American people at large that just do not get behind the January 6 political prisoners.”

“I feel like I’ve been completely abandoned by the political hierarchy here. Where are our leaders standing up, our congressmen, our senators, our president?” he said. “President Trump, where are you?”

Lang then addressed Trump directly, saying: “January 6 you better do a press conference, man. We are rotting in jail because we stood up for what you told us to stand up for.”

Lang, from New York, has been charged with 11 counts, including assaulting a police officer with a bat and a protective shield, court documents said.

Of course, Trump is never going to do anything for Lang or any of the other insurrectionists. He has no more use for them, and most of the Republican hierarchy is pretending they don’t exist. They are an embarassment now, an inconvenience.

January 6 was a day that will live infamy, although the perpetrators need a little more time to realize that.

Clio, muse of history, in the Capitol rotunda

Sean Hannity Is Not a Journalist

Sean Hannity’s involvement in the January 6 insurrection was much discussed on MSNBC last night. We already knew that Hannity had been in contact with Mark Meadows during the riot. Hannity wanted Trump to put a stop to the rioting, which suggests that Hannity realized this was Trump’s party all along.

But yesterday the special House committee investigating the riot made public more of Hannity’s emails to White House Chief of Staff Meadows, including several communications while the insurrection was being planned. Two major points:

One, it’s beyond obvious from the released emails that Hannity saw himself as an operative of the Trump White House, part of Trump’s team, not an independent journalist. Hannity clearly was trying to protect Trump and influence what was being planned. In doing so, he sat on the scoop of a lifetime. He also can’t very well claim any sort of journalistic privilege or protection, although that’s what his lawyer did today. I’ll come back to that.

The committee has requested Hannity appear and answer some questions. According to Axios,

In a letter to Hannity, Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) wrote that they seek “voluntary cooperation on a specific and narrow range of factual questions” and are not seeking “information regarding any of your broadcasts, or your political views or commentary.”

Two, Axios says that Hannity is being represented by Jay Sekulow, a lawyer on Trump’s legal team. The excellent Heather Cox Richardson points out in her email newsletter,

Hannity is apparently being represented in this matter by Jay Sekulow, a lawyer on Trump’s legal team, rather than lawyers from the Fox News Channel. While Sekulow has indicated he will object to the committee’s invitation on First Amendment grounds, the fact that the Fox News Channel seems to be standing back suggests that the corporation does not see the committee’s invitation as a First Amendment case involving freedom of the press and in fact might well be concerned that one of its lead personalities is connected to an event that should have been reported to the FBI.

Sekulow has complained to the committee that the request raises “serious constitutional issues including First Amendment concerns regarding freedom of the press.” Seriously? Again, these were not the communications of a journalist or investigator seeking information, but of someone trying to counsel and guide White House plans while studiously keeping these plans secret from the public.

Update: See Erik Wemple, Sean Hannity’s bottomless corruption.

Sean Hannity in happier (for him) times.

The Mighty Right Has Lost Direction

I believe I have found something to be hopeful about, or at least less pessimistic. It appears there is turmoil in the fever swamps, and the alligators are turning on each other. Drew Harwell writes at WaPo, Since Jan. 6, the pro-Trump Internet has descended into infighting over money and followers.

QAnon devotees are livid at their former hero Michael Flynn for accurately calling their jumbled credo “total nonsense.” Donald Trump superfans have voiced a sense of betrayal because the former president, booed for getting a coronavirus immunization booster, has become a “vaccine salesman.” And attorney Lin Wood seems mad at pretty much everyone, including former allies on the scattered “elite strike-force team” investigating nonexistent mass voter fraud.

After months of failing to disprove the reality of Trump’s 2020 presidential election loss, some of the Internet’s most popular right-wing provocateurs are grappling with the pressures of restless audiences, saturated markets, ongoing investigations and millions of dollars in legal bills.

Two of the alligators, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Dan Crenshaw, are opening feuding with each other. Last week Rep. Crenshaw (R-nación liberada de Tejas) suggested using FEMA to set up covid testing sites, which was a remarkably normal idea coming from Crenshaw, although I believe FEMA had been doing that already. Rep. Greene (R-Anglo-Saxon) dismissed the omicron variant as “sneezes, coughs and runny noses,” adding that Crenshaw “needs to stop calling himself conservative, he’s hurting our brand.” She tweeted this right before her Twitter account was, blessedly and permanently, suspended.

Crenshaw fired back, “Hey Marjorie, if suggesting we should follow Trump policy instead of Biden mandates makes you mad, then you might be a Democrat – or just an idiot.” These two will never be mistaken for the Algonquin Round Table.

Getting back to Drew Harwell —

The result is a chaotic melodrama, playing out via secretly recorded phone calls, personal attacks in podcasts, and a seemingly endless stream of posts on Twitter, Gab and Telegram calling their rivals Satanists, communists, pedophiles or “pay-triots” — money-grubbing grifters exploiting the cause.

The infighting reflects the diminishing financial rewards for the merchants of right-wing disinformation, whose battles center not on policy or doctrine but on the treasures of online fame: viewer donations and subscriptions; paid appearances at rallies and conferences; and crowds of followers to buy their books and merchandise.

Do not doubt that a whole lot of people, from the likes of Paul Manafort and Rudy Giuliani to the local guys still selling off Trump 2020 campaign merchandise, jumped on the Trump train mostly to fatten their own wallets. Much of the American Right has been a grift for a long time.

But it’s backfiring on them now. Trump is still raking in money from various sources, but he’s not sharing it. The Trump enablers who aren’t in jail yet are facing many lawsuits that could wipe them out. And I can’t imagine anybody is paying Rudy Giuliani to do anything right now, except maybe to keep quiet.

Kyle Rittenhouse is feuding with Lin Wood, who appears to be feuding with just about everybody else. QAnon followers are angry with Michael Flynn for calling their beliefs “total nonsense.” Some are angry with Donald Trump because of his recent statements encouraging people to get vaccinated.

Harwell interviewed Mike Rothschild, a conspiracy theory researcher unrelated to the famous bankers and author of a book on QAnon. The conflicts among the Trumpers and their factions are keeping the rubes engaged, Rothschild said, and giving them a chance to prove their loyalty by buying the books, T-shirts, coffee mugs, and other merch all these grifters are selling.

QAnon is “the easiest money that you could possibly make if you don’t have a conscience, but there’s only a certain number of people you can fleece. It’s not a renewable resource,” Rothschild said.

QAnon has been drifting since Q went silent and Trump got kicked off social media. Right now they don’t know who they are supposed to be following, which may be why hanging around in Dallas for the second coming of JFK and Junior might seem like as good an idea as any. It’s always possible a living being will step into the vacuum and take over, but otherwise QAnon is likely to dissipate. How long that might take, I cannot say.

Qanoners, unsure where to go next.

But if you really want Sidney Powell drink tumblers, maybe they’ll go on sale soon.

Speaking of merch, Melania Trump is auctioning off a hat she wore to welcome President and Madame Emmanuel Macron of France to the White House in 2018. She is also selling art in the form of nonfungible tokens. I don’t know what those are, either. Apparently it’s digital stuff she acquired while in the White House that’s not covered by the Emoluments Clause.

Melania hopes to raise at least $250,000 from the auction, “a portion” of which will be donated to Melania’s “Be Best” initiative, it says here. In other words, Melania is keeping the money.

The Sphinx to Speak

I want to say that I’m looking forward to Merrick Garland’s speech tomorrow on the January 6 investigation. Maybe he’ll announce that the Justice Department really is pursuing criminal cases against the Trumps and their enablers. I hope I’m not disappointed. See also Merrick Garland Needs to Speak Up at Lawfare and Trump’s Legal Fate Haunts Garland’s DOJ a Year After Jan. 6 Riot at Bloomberg.

How America Gave Up on Education

At the Philadelphia Inquirer, Will Bunch wrote, America gave up on truly educating all its kids. Then Jan. 6 happened. Coincidence?

Some background — In Pennsylvania there’s a court battle going on about whether disparities in public school funding across the state violate the state constitution.  The lawyer representing “budget-crunching GOP lawmakers” actually argued that children in poor districts don’t need the same education as in well-to-do-districts.

Note that this isn’t just a black versus white disparity, but also an urban versus rural disparity. I believe the specific area being short-changed of school funding, north-central Pennsylvania, is overwhelmingly white. And a majority of voters in this area supported Trump in 2016 and 2020.

Will Bunch writes,

I’ll even go way out on a limb here to argue you can draw a straight line between the country’s collective decision — hardened somewhere in the late 20th century — to stop seeing education as a public good aimed at creating engaged and informed citizens but instead a pipeline for the worker drones of capitalism, and the 21st century’s civic meltdown that reached its low point nearly one year ago, in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

A word that gets thrown around a lot these days is “meritocracy.” A “meritocracy” is supposed to be a system in which the most skilled and accomplished people are put in charge of things. The problem is that we’ve created a system that gives the children of upper-income white people, especially the boys, easy access to aquiring skill and accomplishment, but puts up barriers to everyone else. This explains how so many of our political and business leaders are mediocrities with Ivy League degrees. (See “Our Decadent Aristocracy” from 2019.)

The issue of school funding is an old one. Across the nation many school systems are primarily funded by local property taxes, so obviously schools in areas with higher tax assessments are funded more generously. Attempts to make the system fairer are usually slapped down by the aristocracy, who are often able to bamboozle the poor badly educated peasants into supporting the aristocrats’ position.

I’m thinking now of New Jersey. Back in 1990 a court decided that the state must ensure that as much money would be spent educating the children of the poor as it did the children of the wealthy. To accomplish this, Gov. Jim Florio proposed a very progressive income tax increase that would have sent lots of money to schools as well as pay down the state’s debts and provide property tax relief. The graduated tax increase kicked in at $55,000 annual income, which in 1990 was equivalent to about $114,000 today. The state also added 1 percent to the sales tax.

And the whole state went crazy. I wrote about this back in 2007:

My state income taxes didn’t change at all, because my income wasn’t all that glorious. But people all around me were going nuts over the tax increase, whether it affected them or not. I saw “Dump Florio” bumper stickers on cars of people who appeared to make even less than I did. In fact, at one point a secretary where I worked was going around with a big “Dump Florio” pin on her chest, and I knew good and well she made less than I did. When I told her that her taxes weren’t going to go up, and explained to her how much one actually had to make before they did, she was dumbfounded. She’d been worried she wouldn’t have enough money left over from the new state taxes to live on.

Then what’s everyone so worked up about? she asked. You tell me, I said. You’re one of the people who is worked up; I’m not.

A “grassroots” citizens’ revolt was organized by John Budzash, a postal worker from Howell Township. Budzash was a very useful tool and got a lot of attention from media, no doubt nudged by the aristocracy. When it was pointed out to him that his own children went to schools that were to benefit from the tax increase, he still wasn’t swayed from his campaign.

A few years later, when Republican Christie Whitman became governor, she lowered the Florio income and sales taxes. But to pay for this she cut the amount of state money going to public schools, fiddled a bit with state pensions, and outsourced the New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles to demons from the Fourth Circle of Hell. In many parts of the state property taxes had to be cranked up even more to make up the difference.

Note that Whitman didn’t just fiddle with state pension funds, she raided them to balance the budget as required by state law, setting up problems the state probably is still dealing with. But this is why we can’t have nice things.

The roots of Republican disparaging of public schools really goes back to the desegregation era, 1950s-1960s. As I am sure I’ve mentioned before, I can remember when conservative white people in the Bible Belt were mostly supportive of local public schools. Then came the end of “separate but equal,” and all of a sudden they wanted their kids to go to (white) Christian schools. That was about the time that it became an article of faith among convervatives that “throwing more money” at public schools didn’t make them any better, even though copious data argued otherwise. Since then Republicans have figured out how to divert tax dollars into “charter” schools and “voucher” programs that have failed to live up to promises of better educations. Note that some of these programs have been in effect for decades; if they were going to work, they would have done it by now.

And speaking of educated mediocrities, Betsy DeVos comes to mind. DeVox cut funds to already struggling rural schools, among other atrocities. She was big on “educating the workforce,” as I recall.

But schools aren’t just educating the Amazon warehouse workers of the future. They are educating citizens and voters. And what’s crystal clear after recent years is that a ton of U.S. citizens and voters have no grasp of science or history and don’t know how their own government works. And they can’t critically think their way out of a wet paper bag. Will Bunch:

True, that carpenter hammering drywall wouldn’t have to call on a knowledge of basic genetics, presumably — but education isn’t only about facts, but also about developing respect for the wider processes of knowledge, and how we find it. When I poked around, I wasn’t shocked to learn that McKean County — where a school superintendent concedes that math and science education is struggling — also has one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in Pennsylvania, just 38.1%, compared with 52.7% statewide. …

… He [Stephen Rodriguez, president of the Pennsylvania League of Urban Schools Caucus of superintendents] told me that, of course, a would-be carpenter would benefit from “a foundational knowledge of biology” — in a world where being a good citizen depends on honing an ability to understand what is true and what is misinformation.

“If we do not give our children a good basis for an understanding of their world, how will we know if our government lies to us about anything?” added Rodriguez, who specifically mentioned the spread of QAnon, the baseless conspiracy theory centered on child sex trafficking that animated so many of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists.

One thing I’ve noticed in online “discussions” over covid mitigation is that righties have absolutely no concept of risk assessment. If masks don’t work 100 percent of the time, there’s no point to them. If a small percentage of vaccinated people get “breakthrough” cases of covid, then vaccines are junk and not worth taking. You can give them data about odds and percentages, and they can’t or won’t understand it.

And, of course, a big, dumb, angry, undereducated population can be manipulated by just about anybody with enough money and clout to get mass media access.

Now schools are under fire for teaching history, for Pete’s sake, and a loud faction of ignorant white bigots is threatening to take over school boards and replace what history is taught with white supremacist myths. And these people are, of course, the same ones who can’t grasp covid risk assessments and think climate change is a hoax. I don’t see education getting any better in the U.S. any time soon.

Trump’s Evangelicals Are Killing Christianity

Following up my post from earlier this week, here’s some much ignored but significant data. In 2017, white Christians became a minority in the U.S. for the first time. And current projections say that Christians of all races will be a minority in the U.S. by 2050.

This is a shift that’s been going on for some time, driven partly by immigration but mostly by millennials. There is a long-standing pattern of young people skipping church attendance when they first leave home, but in the past they’ve returned to religious affiliation when they marry and have children. Millennials, however, are leaving religion and not coming back.

We’ve reached a point at which a reactionary faction among Christians appears to have taken over a large part of state and federal government, including the Supreme Court. They are now actively campaigning to either destroy or take control of the public school systems in conservative states. One wonders if this backlash to secularism and modernity isn’t partly driven by shrinking church memberships. Christians are losing control and feeling threatened.

A few years ago, there was much hand-wringing because the older, non-evangelical Protestant churches were losing members. Catholicism and evangelical denominations were doing fine. But Catholicism has benefited from immigration from South and Central America, which kept its numbers stable in spite of a loss of young adult members. And now evangelicalism is eroding.  “Only 8 percent of young people identify as white evangelical Protestant, while 26 percent of senior citizens do,” it says here.

A big reason for this shift, according to several researchers, is changing views on morality. Younger people are less likely than their parents to be knee-jerk homophobes, for example. Sex before marriage is now openly normal.  Conservative Christianity, with its rigidly absolutist Bronze Age moral code,  is increasingly out of touch with 21st century western culture. And culture is winning.

“Changing views about the relationship between morality and religion also appear to have convinced many young parents that religious institutions are simply irrelevant or unnecessary for their children,” it says here.

Those of us old enough to remember the Eisenhower Administration can probably remember when white Protestant Christianity was simply assumed to be America’s Religion, and white Protestantism dictated America’s accepted moral sensiblities.

1950s America

How white America saw itself, 1950s

Needless to say, between then and now there’s been a huge erosion of white Christian hegemony. Some People aren’t ready to accept this.

I suspect much of the corrupt state of U.S. Christianity can be traced to the rise of televangelism. Let’s face it; most televangelism is a freak show. It also made some well-known televangelists fabulously wealthy. This no doubt encourages them; religious freak shows make money. A kindly pastor tellng viewers to love their neighbors can’t compete with the likes of flamboyant Jimmy Swaggart, or with Joel Olsteen’s feel-good, guilt- and sacrifice-free prosperity gospel. But while these sideshow acts draw a lot of followers, they repel many more. If all you knew of religion is what you saw on television, you’d probably stay clear of it, too.

Earlier this week I wrote about the weird phenomenon of white evangelicals refusing to get covid shots. Writing in the Washington Post, Michael Gerson agrees that there is no Christian religious doctrine that discourages taking a covid shot. Just the opposite, actually; there’s an overwhelming argument to be made from Jesus’ words that people should just get jabbed.

Robert Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute, wrote that “in the upside-down world white evangelicalism has become, the willingness to act in self-sacrificial ways for the sake of vulnerable others — even amid a global pandemic — has become rare, even antithetical, to an aggressive, rights-asserting white Christian culture.” Golden Rule, anybody? Love your neighbor? Love your enemy, even? I guess not.

This objection to vaccines includes the widespread belief that the vaccines either contain aborted fetal cells (not true) or were originally cultivated in fetal cells. This is true of Johnson and Johnson, but the Pope says take it anyway. It’s not true of Pfizer or Moderna. And, anyway, whether Some People agree or not, there is no explicit biblical teaching forbidding abortions.

The objections of evangelicals to vaccine mandates is framed in the language of religious liberty. But, Gerson argues, that doesn’t fit. What the evangelicals are really arguing for is libertarianism, which has nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity. They have replaced Jesus’ moral and ethical teachings (which, you might recall, emphasized taking care of our neighbors, and everybody is a neighbor) with a libertarian position that individual rights supercede everything else, including the well being of others. And that the greatest evil in the world is government coercion, no matter what purpose is being served. “This is heresy compounded by lunacy,” Gerson says.

Writing in Salon earlier this year, an evangelical minister named Nathaniel Manderson said pretty much the same thing.

Over the last 70 years, Christian theology has been steadily replaced, within the evangelical world, by Republican or “conservative” ideology. … This shift is most obvious around the issues of gun rights and immigration. If you want to reject the foreigner, build a wall and own a private artillery, go right ahead. That is your right. But it is not your right if you sincerely want to follow the teachings of Jesus. We are not gun owners; we are pacifists. We are not provided with the gift of freedom and independence by God just to make sure no one else can have it.

As I wrote in the previous post, evangelicalism wasn’t always like this. Originally it was a big and very diverse movement. In the 18th century evangelism was defined by its emphasis on a personal relationship with God — without priest and church as intermediaries — and on a “born again” experience in which one makes a personal commitment to that relationship.

There have long been tensions between conservative and liberal movements within evangelicalism. In 19th century U.S., white southern evangelicals were marked by their support for slavery, while northern evangelicals called for Abolition. Some denominations split apart, some permanently.

But now some are beginning to wonder if evangelicalism is sustainable at all. Evangelicalism is breaking apart writes Peter Wehner at The Atlantic.

“The root of the discord lies in the fact that many Christians have embraced the worst aspects of our culture and our politics. When the Christian faith is politicized, churches become repositories not of grace but of grievances, places where tribal identities are reinforced, where fears are nurtured, and where aggression and nastiness are sacralized. The result is not only wounding the nation; it’s having a devastating impact on the Christian faith.”

Wehner talked to many ministers and church leaders, many of whom have walked away from their former churches. “How many people look at churches in America these days and see the face of Jesus?” one said.

Wehner’s is a really excellent analysis of how contemporary evangelicalism came to be hollowed out of Christian doctrine and replaced by politics and grievance. Churches have been putting more effort into being entertaining — which keeps people in their seats and puts money in the offering plate —  than in teaching.

And large numbers of conservative white Americans who happen to be evangelical are insisting that their churches perfectly reflect their political views, or they will take their offering plate money elsewhere. This is more likely to happen among evangelicals, who have a long tradition of anti-institutionalism, than “mainllne” Protestants. The Southern Baptist Convention, for example, sees itself as a kind of confederation of independent churches rather than as a single hierarchichal organization.

Finally we get to Jennifer Rubin, who writes that Trump idolatry has undermined religious faith. Worth a look. Trump really is the Golden Calf.

Getting back to the projection that Christians will be a minority of Americans by 2050 — for a long time I’ve heard that Europe is “post Christian.” This doesn’t mean there still isn’t a lot of Christianity in Europe, but it’s no longer the default. For some time, a growing majority of younger Europeans are “nones” — no religious affiliation. This is especially true in western Europe. The “nones” are not necessarily atheist. They just don’t consider themselves to be Christians or part of any other religious tradition. This is happening in the U.S. also, although the U.S. is a tad behind Europe. This phenomenon is not happening in places dominated by other religions, however in particular Islam and Hinduism. Globally, Christianity is expected to experience a greater net loss in the coming years than other religions.

Between 2015 and 2020, Christians are projected to experience the largest losses due to switching. Globally, about 5 million people are expected to become Christians in this five-year period, while 13 million are expected to leave Christianity, with most of these departures joining the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated.

I could be wrong, but it’s possible that the influence of Christianity on culture and events peaked in the 19th and 20th centuries and is about to go into a decline. If so, it has only itself to blame.