AZ Gov "Steals" $95 Million, MT Greene Wants to Arm Insurrectionists, Golden Globes Continue to Suck, GOP Wants to Ban Porn and Libraries, Elon Musk Godzillas the World, and More
My thoughts on the top--and top-ish--stories in this week's political, sports, and pop culture news.
Lots of interesting stories here. I’m intrigued by how many people complain about the abuses of the government, but seem fine when Gov. Ducey of Arizona and Gov. DeSantis of Florida use taxpayers’ money for boondoggles that reap no practical benefit—except to promote their political careers. It’s Three-card Monte with their citizens grinning dopily as their money is taken.
There’s a lot more, but I especially want you watch the video of Hansel Emmanuel dunking the ball. You’ll remember that for a long time.
Politics: Basically Stealing from His State for his Own Career
SUMMARY: “A makeshift new barrier built with shipping containers is being illegally erected along part of the US-Mexico border by Arizona’s Republican governor – before he has to hand over the keys of his office to his Democratic successor in January.
“Doug Ducey is driving a project that is placing double-stacked old shipping containers through several miles of national forest, attempting to fill gaps in Donald Trump’s intermittent border fencing.
The rusting hulks, topped with razor wire and with bits of metal jammed into gaps, stretch for more than three miles through Coronado national forest land, south of Tucson, and the governor has announced plans to extend that up to 10 miles, at a cost of $95m (£78m).”
MY TAKE: Oh, Arizona, you’ve just spent $95 million on an illegal and ugly wall that pretty much anyone can get over or through. But the point wasn’t to actually keep people out, it was to look like you were keeping people out. Because of term limits, Ducey could not run again for governor, but he clearly wants to launch his political future as a Donald Trump clone. And Arizonians footed the bill for this grand gesture of self-promotion.
They are illegally built on federal land, they interfere with firefighting, they are threat to endangered species, and the 70 wildlife cameras focused on this area rarely see any migrants crossing there. No evidence was presented to prove this wall would be of any benefit—except to Ducey’s political career.
Not only has the newly elected governor Democrat Katie Hobbs promised to remove the “wall,” but the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Arizona over the containers. Removing them will cost even more money, which Arizonians will have to pay. Remember that fiscal responsibility in case someone drops a Ducey in the political waters in the future.
IN RELATED NEWS: “Florida governor seeks grand jury investigation into Covid vaccines”
SUMMARY: “The Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, said on Tuesday he will petition the state supreme court to convene a grand jury to investigate “any and all wrongdoing” with respect to Covid-19 vaccines.”
MY TAKE: Does anyone think he will find serious or deliberate wrongdoing? This is a politician trying to pad his culture-war resume prior to running for president. He knows it doesn’t matter whether or not they find anything significant (just as Musk’s hyped “Twitter Files” revealed very little not already known). Like the Arizona governor, DeSantis is buying publicity—and he’s paying for it with taxpayers’ money.
Politics: Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Think
SUMMARY: “The White House on Monday strongly condemned the claim from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) that she and former Trump aide Stephen K. Bannon would have executed a successful attack on Jan. 6, 2021, if they had organized the storming of the U.S. Capitol and that they would have ‘been armed.’
“The divisive Republican pushed back on theories that she was a ringleader of the violent incident that left more than 100 law enforcement officers injured. “I want to tell you something, if Steve Bannon and I had organized that, we would have won. Not to mention, we would’ve been armed,” Greene said Saturday at a dinner hosted by the New York Young Republican Club, according to the New York Post.”
MY TAKE: Yes, dear reader, I feel your pain at yet another segment on one of the most reprehensible and unworthy members of Congress. First, let’s unpack the implied treason: What exactly would she have “won”? The overthrow of the constitutionally elected government? Her only regret about the murderous mob that invaded the Capitol Building is that they weren’t armed. Is she making a veiled threat that the next time she and Steve Bannon will make sure their traitors are armed?
On Jan. 3, Greene will be sworn in for another term (yup, she just won re-election) and take an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” Yet, she’s already told us that she won’t.
“This violent rhetoric is a slap in the face to the Capitol Police, the DC Metropolitan Police, the National Guard, and the families who lost loved ones as a result of the attack on the Capitol,” Deputy White House press secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement.
Greene countered that she was just being sarcastic. Maybe. But it’s a clear commentary on her reputation and past comments that no one can tell when she’s “joking.”
Why this is important: As I said before, Greene is now poised to have vast power over the Republican-controlled House because Speaker Kevin McCarthy needs her support to keep his job. McCarthy already announced he will award Green committee assignments next year, even though she had them stripped in February 2021 for her extremist pronouncements, including embracing QAnon, stating that 9/11 was planned by the government, and that a Jewish cabal started wildfires using space lasers. (Yes, she got re-elected!)
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre responded that “it is just antithetical to our values as a country for a member of Congress to wish that the carnage of January 6 had been even worse and brag that they would have succeeded in an armed insurrection against the United States government. This is someone who is expected to have their committee positions restored. So we should let that sink in.”
Sure, she doesn’t understand how batteries work (as I commented on previously) or how treason works, so let’s put her on committees where she can make decisions for the entire country.
Still not convinced?
A report from the Southern Poverty Law Center said that the same event where Greene spoke included a speech by the group’s president, Gavin Wax, who warned: “We want to cross the Rubicon. We want total war. We must be prepared to do battle in every arena. In the media. In the courtroom. At the ballot box. And in the streets.”
Hmmm, what could “in the streets” mean? When she swears in, check to see if her fingers are crossed.
Sports: Yes, I Can!
One-armed US college basketball player scores first points (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: “A US college basketball player who lost one of his arms during an accident in childhood has caused a sensation after he scored his first points for his university last weekend.
“Hansel Emmanuel, 19, was six years old and growing up in the Dominican Republic when a pile of cinderblocks fell on him. He was so badly hurt that doctors had to amputate his left arm for him to ultimately recover."
“…His performance on Saturday helped Northwestern collect its eighth win in 10 outings, along with the Demons’ seventh consecutive victory. It also drew headlines from national news outlets, including ESPN, CBS, the Associated Press and the Daily Beast.”
MY TAKE: This is what sports is all about: athletes showing us what amazing feats the mind and body are capable of. Every player who’s tempted to make a lame excuse for a poor performance should look at this clip, say nothing, and go out and try harder.
You don’t need me to tell you what to do.
Censorship: Do You See a GOP Pattern?
SUMMARY: The porn industry is under fire from the right and has been winning. “Right-wing evangelical Laila Mickelwait teamed up with billionaire Bill Ackman to demand credit card companies stop processing payments on PornHub, and the protests worked. Instagram subsequently de-platformed the tube company’s account without explanation, and PornHub’s parent company, MindGeek, remains in court over several lawsuits.
“The war on porn could get even worse in 2023 thanks to new Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance, who has said he wants to ban porn nationwide. Vance’s proclamations come at a time when fringe extremists, including Ye (the rapper formerly known as Kanye West), are pushing for porn prohibition. Their demands may lack legal grounding, but they pose serious threats.”
SUMMARY: “Traditionally, debates over what books are appropriate for school libraries have taken place between a concerned parent and a librarian or administrator, and resulted in a single title or a few books being re-evaluated, and either removed or returned to shelves.
But recently, the issue has been supercharged by a rapidly growing and increasingly influential constellation of conservative groups. The organizations frequently describe themselves as defending parental rights. Some are new and others are longstanding, but with a recent focus on books. Some work at the district and state level, others have national reach. And over the past two years or so, they have grown vastly more organized, interconnected, well funded — and effective.”
MY TAKE: You may be wondering at my audacity in grouping the attack on porn with the attack on libraries. Kareem, you may be thinking, they aren’t the same. One is about sexual gratification, the other is about expanding our minds.
True, but where those two goals meet is where a group wants to censor what you can and cannot pursue. I realize that every community is always struggling with the limits of free expression. This is what social media is facing as it decides what constitutes free speech that benefits society and what is detrimental. Right now, most of us are in agreement that hate speech—opinions that encourage demeaning or committing violence against others, especially based on race, ethnic background, religion, gender identity, sexual preference—should be prohibited.
The ultimate goal of Republicans supporting banning porn and library books is to create a society that expresses only opinions that support their moral agenda. In 2021, Vance said, “I think the combination of porn, abortion have basically created a really lonely, isolated generation that isn’t getting married. They’re not having families, and they’re actually not even totally sure how to interact with each other.” Fortunately, Vance doesn’t burden his opinions by offering any objective proof. I wonder if we couldn’t reach the same conclusion by blaming romance novels and rom-coms that create a false optimism about romance. Romance novels are at their highest sales in a decade and the marriage rate is going down. Coincidence, Sen. Vance?
Keith Flaugh, one of the founders of Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative group focused on education, justifies his group’s suppression of libraries by saying, “This is not about banning books, it’s about protecting the innocence of our children, and letting the parents decide what the child gets rather than having government schools indoctrinate our kids.” I wish Flaugh had spent more time reading books. If he had, he’d realize that when you’re banning books, it IS about banning books. He, too, has never had a critical thinking class or he would know that by removing books about LGBTQ+ or systemic racism, they are indoctrinating kids to think their way. Also, if he’d read The Catcher in the Rye, he’d realize that Holden Caufield spends the entire novel trying to protect innocence, only to discover at the end that it’s impossible. Ironically, parents have been banning that book since it was published. It really is like having the worst students in the class decide how kids should be educated.
Statistics about the popularity of porn are hard to come by. Anti-porn sites have plenty of stats, though not from reliable sources. In 2018, The Guardian wrote: “Current revenue estimates for the US range from $9bn to $97bn a year. The latter figure looks excessive, but a conservative estimate is $15bn. That makes it bigger than not only Netflix ($11.7bn) but also Hollywood as a whole ($11.1bn) and Viacom ($13.3bn). In other words, online porn is huge.”
Why this is important: Once you let conservatives define pornography, there is no end to what they consider offensive—and therefore no limit to what they might ban. When we look at the books that have been banned in the past, we see some of the greatest works of literature, including The Catcher in the Rye, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Farewell to Arms, A Clockwork Orange, Lord of the Flies, A Brave New World, 1984, The Martian Chronicles, The Shining, and Slaughterhouse-Five. If they have their way, all we’ll be left with is Hallmark movies and reruns of Blue Blood. The way to protect children is by guiding them, not intellectually disarming them so they can live in an isolated snow globe.
Twitterverse: From Bad to Worse
I’ve clustered together only a few of the stories about Elon Musk and the Twitterverse from this week. What makes this section significant is how broad in scope these stories are—and how many people they affect, but not in a good way. I will offer “My Take” at the end of this cluster because it’s less about the individual stories than about their cumulative effect on society.
SUMMARY: “Twitter, since it was taken over by self-described ‘free-speech absolutist’ Elon Musk, has seen a dramatic rise in the use of the anti-gay slur ‘groomer’ among a cluster of high-profile anti-LGBTQ accounts, according to a new report.
“According to a study by Media Matters and GLAAD released Tuesday, nine prominent anti-LGBTQ accounts had an over 1,200% increase in Twitter users’ retweets of the accounts’ tweets with the ‘groomer’ slur in the one-month period after Musk’s Oct. 27 takeover compared with the month prior.”
SUMMARY: “President Biden’s chief medical adviser, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, brushed aside criticism from Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter, who has drawn widespread criticism with comments on policies on the platform.
“‘I don’t pay attention to that,’ Fauci said during an appearance on Andrea Mitchell’s daytime show on MSNBC when asked about Musk. ‘I mean, yeah, he has a big megaphone, but, I mean, the Twittersphere as it is has really gone berserk lately. It’s kind of become almost a cesspool of misinformation.’
“Musk on Sunday, in a tweet, called to prosecute Fauci, who has emerged as a target of right-wing outrage during the coronavirus pandemic and whom congressional Republicans have teased an investigation of.
Twitter’s Former Head of Trust and Safety Forced to Flee Home After Elon Musk Accuses Him of Being a Pedophile (The Wrap)
SUMMARY: “Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of Trust and Safety, has been forced to flee his home after receiving death threats stemming from Elon Musk’s suggesting that Roth is a pedophile, CNN reported on Monday.
“Roth, who initially supported Musk after he took control of the platform, resigned on Nov. 10, saying he had hoped ‘to avoid an escalation in the volume of dangerous speech online.’
“Over the weekend, Musk shared some of Roth’s past tweets and what appears to be an excerpt from his PhD thesis about Grindr, the LGBTQ social media app. Roth is quoted as saying that the app is possibly too ‘lewd or hook-up-oriented’ for people under age 18 who are already using it, but that providers should ‘focus on creating safe strategies … for queer young adults’ that aren’t just about hook-ups. Musk commented, ‘Looks like Yoel is arguing in favor of children being able to use adult services in his PhD thesis.’ On Monday, the tweet had more than 60,000 likes and received 15,000 retweets.”
SUMMARY: On Monday night, Elon Musk tweeted an explicit encouragement to his 121 million followers to look into the QAnon conspiracy movement.
“Follow [rabbit emoji],” Musk tweeted. Seemingly innocuous, “follow the white rabbit” is a line taken from Lewis Carroll’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that has since made multiple appearances in pop culture, most notably in the original Matrix film.
But since 2018, the saying has become synonymous with QAnon and when pushers of the conspiracy urge others to look into the movement. The term “white rabbits” was mentioned on three different occasions in Q drops, twice in 2018 and once in 2019. This gave the term even more importance to the community, which believes Trump is waging a secret war against the deep state.
SUMMARY: “More than 30 million users are expected to leave Twitter over the next two years as concerns mount over technical issues and the proliferation of offensive content after Elon Musk’s $44bn takeover, according to a forecast.”
MY TAKE: A 2019 survey in the UK found that after being a doctor, the most popular profession kids aspired to was social media influencer. That alone should frighten us a little bit about the obsession with social media. That’s why whatever Twitter owner Elon Musk does isn’t just an amused curiosity over the jester-like antics of someone seeming to be having a nervous breakdown, it’s also about how information is valued, protected, and spread instantaneously across the world.
This week Musk cryptically supported QAnon, a source for improbable conspiracies that undermine democracy. He also dissolved Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council, consisting of civil rights leaders, academics, and advocates volunteering to advise the platform of safety measures. He does this at a time when online anti-LGBTQ+ attacks have risen since his takeover.
He also deliberately put a target on the back of a former employee who resigned, calling him a pedophile. Yet, if one reads the “proof” that brought Musk to that conclusion, one sees that the document says the exact opposite. He put the man’s life in danger because he can’t properly read a Ph.D. thesis. (You might also wonder why he’s suddenly reading a former employee’s thesis. It’s almost as if he wanted to dig up dirt because the employee criticized Twitter. He also banned users with millions of followers for making fun of him with parodies. So much for free speech.)
And he attacked Dr. Fauci—who is retiring, so what’s the point. (Prosecute? For what specific crime?) What’s odd is that Musk is surrounded by scientists in his rocket and car programs, yet when it comes to medicine, he doesn’t understand how science works.
Here’s a reminder of how science works: A major study from the Commonwealth Fund and Yale School of Public Health showed: (1) vaccines have saved more than 3.2 million lives and prevented more than 18.5 million people from being admitted to the hospital; (2) without vaccinations, there would have been nearly four times more hospitalizations and deaths within the past two years; (3) vaccines also saved the U.S. nearly $1.15 trillion in medical costs.
Music: Women in Jazz Get Heard
Terri Lyne Carrington: New Standards Vol. 1
There’s some important history that goes with this Grammy-nominated album. Respected drummer Terri Lyne Carrington is also head of Berklee’s Institute for Jazz and Gender Justice. When a student project turned up only one woman composer in the jazz bible The Real Book, she decided to write a book of 101 songs written by women. This album is the first in a series recording those songs.
I included “Respected Destroyer” here because I love the title and because the music is a rush of sounds that compel me to move, to think, to feel. It’s like standing in the surf with your eyes closed and wave tugs you harder than you thought it could. It is a glorious song.