Arizona: $200 Million Fraud & Voting Rights AG, DeSantis: Unconstitutional Firing & Humiliates NHL, Alabama Scrapes Bottom, GOP Dresses Down Drag, AI Lawyer for the Defense, Etta James Wows, and More
My thoughts on the top--and top-ish--stories in this week's political, sports, and pop culture news.
Each of these newsletters takes three to four days of reading, researching and writing. I often have too much material to fit, so I’m usually working on two newsletter at the same time. While writing them, I can feel my own outrage building as I see the deliberate injustices committed against people by those they trust to care more about them than about their own careers. Once I exhaustedly post a newsletter, I sit back, take a breath, read a mystery, and await my favorite part: your comments.
Here’s why I love the comments: I’ve always promoted my Substack site as a community and that’s exactly how it feels when I read the comments. Everyone is generally respectful, even when disagreeing, which is very important to me. People feel free to share other points of view, include links to dissenting voices, and even correct me when I’ve made a mistake (which I greatly appreciate).
For me, this is what discourse should be like. I’m happy to provide a place where my readers can express their opinions to many thousands as well as to me. We all deserve an outlet for our thoughts. When I read the Comments section of other online sites, I’m often appalled at the viciousness, the vitriol, and mostly the lack of reasoning. Fortunately, we have very little, if any, of that here. To me, it’s a conversation on a Sunday afternoon with some good jazz in the background and some delicious snacks in the foreground.
In case you were wondering, I read every single comment, even though I don’t always have time to respond. Sometimes I pop in long enough to respond to one or two comments, then I have to go do something else. I just want you all to know that I hear you. You are not writing into a void.
And, thanks to you, neither am I.
Politics: Ex-Gov Paves Paradise; New AG Brings a Jackhammer of Hope
Arizona: It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times
Here are two articles about Arizona that show the best and worst in politics. In some ways, Arizona is the symbol of where America stands politically. We’ve come out of some very bad governing by the worst president in U.S. history. His legacy of greed, lying, and self-serving still lingers in the remnants of the worst of the GOP: Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, George Santos, and others. They are the balled-up, crusty sweat sock left on the corner of the locker room over the summer. They stink of Trump’s eau de inhumanity.
There are politicians in both parties trying to bury this embarrassing and ignoble past by a return to decency, transparency, and earnest discourse. We can see both the sad past and the hopeful future—America’s id and superego—battling it out in Arizona.
SUMMARY: “Former governor Doug Ducey had planned to build 10 miles of border ‘wall’ made up of double-stacked old shipping containers through the federally protected forest.
“But local residents and environmental groups occupied the construction site, running out the clock in December on Republican Ducey’s waning days in office.
“Ducey, under threat of litigation from the Department of Justice, finally agreed to remove the rusty hulking barriers installed near Yuma in the west and Sierra Vista in the south-east of the state. Environmentalists are now warning that the damage already done to the areas will require a huge recovery effort.
“…Now two related lawsuits [one is now moot] between Ducey and the federal government are on hold as Arizona’s new governor, Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, negotiates the project’s end.”
MY TAKE: What’s the financial cost to Arizonians for Ducey’s attempt to remain politically relevant after leaving office? First, the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity has filed two lawsuits against Ducey and AshBritt, the Florida-based company that installed the makeshift wall, citing violations of the federal Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. Second, Ashbritt, the company that installed the wall for $123.6 million, is also being paid $76.5 million to remove it. That’s $200 million paid by taxpayers for a wall that didn’t do anything (certainly not keep out immigrants) but promote the man who wanted to fluff his own career at the expense of all the good that amount of money could have done for Arizonians.
Politics at its worst by a politician who is the worst.
SUMMARY: “A unit created under the former Republican attorney general of Arizona to investigate claims of election fraud will now focus on voting rights and ballot access under the newly elected Democratic attorney general.
“The Democratic attorney general, Kris Mayes, told the Guardian that instead of prosecuting claims of voter fraud, she will ‘reprioritize the mission and resources’ of the unit to focus on ‘protecting voting access and combating voter suppression’. Mayes won the attorney general’s race in November against election denier Abe Hamadah by just 280 votes, a race that went to a state-mandated recount.
“‘Under my predecessor’s administration, the election integrity unit searched widely for voter fraud and found scant evidence of it occurring in Arizona,’ Mayes said in a statement. “That’s because instances of voter fraud are exceedingly rare.”
“Mayes also plans for the unit to work on protecting election workers, who have faced threats of violence and intimidation. And she intends for the unit to defend Arizonians’ right to vote by mail, which has been attacked by Republican lawmakers and the state GOP in recent years despite being the most common way Arizonians of all political parties cast their ballots.”
MY TAKE: Finally, someone who thinks rationally and not just about how to pander to the worst Arizonians. By worst, I mean those who would undermine America’s democratic infrastructure by denying the integrity of elections without any substantive evidence.
Are you an Arizonian who is an election denier? Then have the courage to take the Kareem Challenge: You bring all your evidence of significant election fraud in your state to a panel of three impartial logic professors who will weigh your evidence and your arguments. If they find your evidence and arguments compelling, I will print a full apology. If you are wrong, you must donate all your money, house, and possessions to the Red Cross. So, how sure are you?
When I played basketball for Coach Wooden at UCLA, his policy was to try to make us be good men as well as good players. He drilled kindness and compassion into us as much as he did passing and shooting. His philosophy was that if we played our hardest for ourselves and our teammates, we would be winners as human beings. If winning games followed, that was a bonus.
That’s how I feel about politicians. I have no problem with them being ambitious and wanting to move into higher positions. But let them earn their way through their good deeds on behalf of the principles of the U.S. Constitution—not in spite of it.
Kareem’s Video Break
What cracks me up about this video is how the other three dogs just sit there staring oblivious while Nathan gets his joie de vivre on.
If all my political and social commentary doesn’t convince you subscribe, certainly that dancing dog does. Do it for Nathan!
Politics: This Week in Ron DeSantis Grandstanding
DeSantis Two-fer: He Knowingly DeFies the Constitution and Also Humiliates the NHL
As he gets closer to announcing his candidacy for the presidency, Ron DeSantis has been amping up his attacks on all marginalized people in order to appeal to voters who don’t like marginalized people. He spends millions of dollars of Florida’s money getting publicity, and rallies a coalition of irrational, racist misogynists who seem to hate the America envisioned by our Founders. The Founders knew that they were anchored by many traditions—as we all are victims of out times—but they also knew that over time we would know how to shed those anchors to better express the principles they codified in the Constitution. They didn’t expect Americans to run backward in time shouting “Witchcraft” at our scientists and suppressing every group that didn’t look like “them” (White, male, straight, born here). I guess, after fighting a War of Independence, they thought we’d be less cowardly and more independent.
Judge Rules DeSantis Was Wrong, but Lacks Authority to Overturn Prosecutor’s Suspension (The New York Times)
SUMMARY: “Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida violated the state’s Constitution when he removed Tampa’s top prosecutor from office, but even so, the suspension cannot be overturned by a federal court, a judge ruled on Friday. The judge, Robert L. Hinkle of the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, dismissed a petition by the prosecutor, Andrew H. Warren, to be reinstated to his elected position.
“In a 59-page ruling, Judge Hinkle found that the Republican governor’s suspension of Mr. Warren, a Democrat, violated the prosecutor’s free speech rights. The chief reason that Mr. DeSantis cited for removing Mr. Warren from office in August was that Mr. Warren had signed a statement in June against criminalizing abortion.
“The governor also cited other justifications for the suspension that do not violate the First Amendment, but do violate the Florida Constitution, Judge Hinkle wrote. “A governor cannot properly suspend a state attorney based on policy differences,” he said in a written order on Friday, nearly two months after a fast-tracked three-day trial in November.
“The judge found, however, that he could not order Mr. Warren’s reinstatement, because it was a matter of state law and not federal law.”
MY TAKE: Ron DeSantis knows he’s violating Florida’s constitution, but he does it anyway because he knows no one in the state has the guts or integrity to defy him. He knowingly breaks the law for his own political gain, ousting anyone who opposes him, whether prosecutors or school board members. Still, he has the nerve to have people arrested for voter fraud at gunpoint (see video here of arrest of this dangerous desperado). DeSantis’ crime is much worse, yet who will arrest him?
This is the man who would be president. Drain the swamp? He IS the swamp.
Opinion: Ron DeSantis turns anti-Black, discriminatory agenda on the NHL (USA Today)
SUMMARY: “The NHL recently had what seemed like a sensible idea. It was a job fair that was scheduled to be held on Feb. 2 called ‘Pathway to Hockey Summit.’
“‘Participants must be 18 years of age or older, based in the U.S., and identify as female, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, Indigenous, LGBTQIA+, and/or a person with a disability. Veterans are also welcome and encouraged to attend,’ the event description said.
“The NHL, a majority white league, was trying to take small steps to diversify itself. It's a noble cause and good business.
“However the press secretary for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Bryan Griffin, didn't think so, saying in a statement: ‘Discrimination of any sort is not welcome in the state of Florida, and we do not abide by the woke notion that discrimination should be overlooked if applied in a politically popular manner or against a politically unpopular demographic. We are fighting all discrimination in our schools and our workplaces, and we will fight it in publicly accessible places of meeting or activity.’
“To DeSantis, diversification is discrimination.
“The threat from DeSantis worked and the NHL backed down, later stating the event was open to anyone over the age of 18. This will go down as one of the great acts of cowardice in the recent history of sports.”
MY TAKE: I agree with Mike Freeman, who wrote the above editorial, that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has allowed himself to be bullied by a racist. After posting the call for diversity by addressing marginalized groups, the league licked DeSantis’ boots by saying they made a clerical error in the original text and meant to say that the event was open to everyone. Sure, you did.
We all have defining moments when we can choose to become a better version of ourselves. Often, it means some sacrifice because the road to becoming better is always a rocky one. The fact that it costs us is what elevates us because we are putting more value on what enriches us spiritually than what enriches us materially.
Bettman had that moment—and chose commerce over conscience. He sided with a petty, vindictive, law-breaking tyrant over the principles of the Constitution. Instead, he should have pulled the All-Star game from Florida the way the NBA pulled their All-Star game from Charlotte in 2016 as a reaction to discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. That is commitment to doing what’s right rather than what’s profitable.
If the NHL management is too afraid, now it’s up to NHL players to take a stand. So far, crickets.
Further Reading: “Column: A cowardly NHL bows down to a bullying DeSantis (The Los Angeles Times)”; “Michael Hiltzik: A cowardly NHL bows down to a bullying DeSantis” (DecaturDaily.com); “In DeSantis’ Florida, ‘reverse racism’ has morphed into a new bogeyman: diversity | Opinion” (Miami Herald)
Kareem’s Short Takes
Alabama AG Says He May Prosecute Women for Taking Abortion Pills (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: “Alabama’s attorney general this week left open the possibility that his office may prosecute women for taking abortion pills—just days after the federal government eased access and made it easier for them to obtain those very same pills. The announcement follows passage of Alabama’s Human Life Protection Act, which is designed to criminalize abortion providers and stop prosecutors from charging those seeking to terminate their pregnancies. Despite these measures, Alabama AG Steve Marshall suggested in a statement to AL.com that he may use an older law—one designed to protect children from the ill effects of meth labs—to prosecute those seeking abortion pills. ‘The Human Life Protection Act targets abortion providers, exempting women ‘upon whom an abortion is performed or attempted to be performed’ from liability under the law,’ Marshall told the outlet. ‘It does not provide an across-the-board exemption from all criminal laws, including the chemical-endangerment law—which the Alabama Supreme Court has affirmed and reaffirmed protects unborn children.’ Last week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration amended its regulations for two medications commonly prescribed for abortions—allowing retail and mail-order pharmacies to dispense both mifepristone and misoprostol, which are used in the majority of U.S. medication abortions.”
MY TAKE: Alabama is striving to be #1 in misogyny. Makes sense, since they are 47th in education, 45th in healthcare, and 43rd in crime and corrections. They are also the third-worst state in child well-being (24% of children live in poverty), fourth worst in infant mortality (yet, they want to force women to have babies), and are near the bottom in life expectancy (73.2 years compared to 83.4 years in San Francisco).
As this article proves, they are also ranked the worst state in the South for women. According to research compiled by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “The state scored Ds and Fs in every statistical category, including political participation, earnings, poverty, work and family, health, reproductive rights and well-being.” In addition, Alabama is in the bottom ten of states with women in the state legislature (17.1%); states in the top ten have legislatures comprised of 40-60% women. Yet, women make up 51.4% of the population. They could have the power to change things—they just don’t.
The worst part is that there is no clear path out of this cycle of oppression for the women (and children) of Alabama. With sub-par education, poverty, poor health care, and politicians mansplaining what women need, the state will remain at the bottom of every list of the quality of life. As long as Alabamans keep electing these sad, ill-equipped and uninformed politicians (like AG Steve Marshall), they can expect to be stuck in the mud as other states pass them by.
SUMMARY: “Across the United States Republican politicians are seeking to bring in new laws that crack down on drag shows as part of a broader backlash against LGTBQ+ rights sweeping through rightwing parts of America.
“Legislators in at least eight states have introduced legislation aiming to restrict or censor the shows, according to a new report from a leading freedom of speech group. A total of 14 bills have been introduced across Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.
“Other bills are also being drafted in other states, including in Montana and Idaho.”
MY TAKE: This is another burning issue Republicans are taking time and money to pursue. It’s a sure fund-raiser issue, even though it doesn’t really have any positive effect on society. There is a lot of muttering about protecting children, but what are they protecting children from? Do they think that if a child sees a man dressed as a woman he will suddenly think, “That’s what my life was missing?” And if he does, then he was going to do that anyway. No one’s being “groomed” into doing something they don’t want to do. The only lesson our children are learning is that adults who want to ban this make decisions without using any mode of logic: facts, statistics, experts. They are the red-faced parents who justify every decision to their kids with, “Because I said so!”
An AI Lawyer Is About to Defend a Human in a U.S. Courtroom (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: Joshua Browder, CEO of consumer-liberation startup DoNotPay, is paying two traffic court defendants $1,000 each to wear smart glasses that will double up as their attorneys in a test case that could have enormous ramifications. “The glasses will record the proceedings and a chatbot—built on OpenAI’s GPT-3, famous for transcribing ballads and high school essays on demand—will offer legal arguments in real-time, which the defendants have pledged to repeat…. The locations of the hearings have been kept secret, to prevent judges from derailing the stunts ahead of time. Each defendant will have the option to opt out if they choose.
“‘My goal is that the ordinary, average consumer never has to hire a lawyer again,’ said Browder.”
MY TAKE: Lately, I’ve been commenting on a lot of AI influence in our society. From writing convincing school essays to creating art works that can fool experts, AI computers are here to stay. The only question is how do we integrate them into our personal lives and into the infrastructure of society in a way that doesn’t compromise our humanity. Even though our initial reaction to learning about yet another AI program might be fear that Skynet is here, there are many ways in which these programs can be useful tools. Certainly, there are instances in which an AI lawyer could provide adequate representation at a fraction of the cost, which would a great benefit for the poor.
The biggest downside is less about the quality of the AI’s work—which will improve over time—than about displacing all the humans who have a passion to do the work. We need to have something to do, ways to interact, to be inspired, to see how far humanity can go evolve and what can achieve. Otherwise, we’ll all end up like the bloated passengers on the spaceship in WALL-E, floating around on futuristic La-Z-Boys with no purpose but to consume what robots make.
Perhaps the competition from AI bots will inspire us to strive harder to demonstrate what we can bring to the table that they can’t.
What to Read: Graphic Novels
A Vicious Circle, Book 1
Mattson Tomlin (writer), Lee Bernmejo (artist)
Book 1 of this exquisite graphic novel is one of the best I’ve read in the last year. There’s time travel that spans 1950s New Orleans to 22nd century Tokyo. There’s a crazed assassin. And there is amazing art. Really, really amazing art.
I don’t want to spoil the surprises in the story with too many details. But I can assure you that it’s filled with action and suspense—and a relatable hero whose suffering will touch you.
Music: What Can’t She Sing?
Etta James Brings the Blues
Etta James died eleven years ago this month. She sang it all: jazz, blues, gospel, rock, and whatever else she wanted. She won six Grammys and 17 Blues Music Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame. She even did two guest appearances at Grateful Dead concerts. Beyonce portrayed her in the film Cadillac Records in 2008.
When you listen to “A Sunday Kind of Love” you’ll understand why. I know most people know her from “At Last,” but I find this song showcases the deep melancholy in her voice and sets all my emotions at alert. She articulates every feeling you’ve ever had that exists just beyond the words to describe them.