DeSantis Cancels Free Speech, Lindell Smothers Elections, Trump Harmonizes with Insurrectionists, Gaetz Pledges Allegiance to Accused Murderer, COVID #1 Killer of Cops, MTG Gets It Sooo Wrong—Again
My take on news, pop culture, sports, and whatever else interests me.
Sometimes I feel like Jon Snow standing guard atop the towering Night Watch wall as the deadly White Walkers gather outside intent on destroying everything we stand for. Among the (very white) White Walkers, I can see the pale and privileged visages of Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Tucker Carlson, and others as they giddily approach with their democracy-smashing battering rams.
So, yeah, I feel compelled to raise the alarm and warn my readers whenever they start to breach our defenses or scurry up the wall. I try to pour the boiling oil of reason, facts, statistics, science, history, and logic on them, even though it has no effect. They are cursed to be immune to those things and are rabid to infect others with their curse.
Here we go again, fellow Night Watch, as we gather on the wall to guard against the White Walkers and their wilding supporters. What a week…
Ron DeSantis Wants to Be President—He Also Wants to Cancel Free Speech in Florida
Florida Is Trying to Take Away the American Right to Speak Freely (The New York Times)
Here’s How Florida Could Become the Capital of Weaponized Libel Suits (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: “Florida’s new House Bill 991 proposes a laundry list of legal changes that would make it easier for plaintiffs to bring and win defamation cases. It would also weaponize the law to allow the powerful to silence their critics.
“The bill’s sponsor makes no secret that the intended target of this bill is the news media. And given the widespread public dissatisfaction with the media, this bill promises to be popular, and easily spun by politicians as a way of making the media accountable.
“But it isn’t just irresponsible media actors that get hit with defamation actions. Whether we’re using Twitter, TikTok, Substack, or any other self-publishing platform, we’re all publishers now. That should make us all cautious about defamation law reforms that strongly tilt to one side.
“A close look at the proposed bill shows that it is excessively lopsided in favor of plaintiffs.”
MY TAKE: Ron DeSantis is currently touring the country proclaiming how Florida should be the blueprint for the rest of the country. I can’t decide whether it’s like Elon Musk saying the way he runs Twitter is how the country should be run—or Harvey Weinstein saying how he treated women is the way we should treat the country. Either way, it may be the scariest idea you will hear this year.
DeSantis’ State of Shame has already taken cancel culture to the extreme: he canceled Disney because they disagreed with his policy, he canceled open education because historical truths made White folks feel, not bad, but picked on, he canceled voting availability because they helped non-Republicans vote, he canceled women’s rights (“Florida Republicans Move to Ban Abortions After Six Weeks”) because he doesn’t think they are equal to men, he canceled LGBTQ+ rights because he doesn’t think they are worthy of the same rights he has.
Add to all that a bill that will cancel a major part of freedom of speech, allowing conservatives to go after what they determine to be liberal media—which could include people on social media platforms or even those who make a public speech—if they make any unintentional mistakes, even if no malice was meant or the mistake was minor. This would be a contradiction to a 1964 Supreme Court decision, The New York Times Company v. Sullivan, and throw a muzzle on anyone afraid they will be sued if they make an error or anger someone with money, vitriol, or just spare time. Which is exactly what they hope will happen. These lawsuits don’t have to be won in court, just cause enough panic and court costs to dissuade opposition from speaking out.
Clearly, a political party with a proven track record of accomplishments and a robust platform of innovative ideas and intelligent candidates wouldn’t have to resort to manipulating voting and silencing critics. But Floridian Republicans can’t win on merit, so it’s all about bullying. American exceptionalism indeed.
ALSO READ: “Ron DeSantis’ Anti-Free Speech Crusade Would Cancel Fox News” The Daily Beast)
Kareem Short Takes
Mike Lindell backs rightwing California county as it ditches voting machines (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: “Proponents of the lie that the presidency was stolen from Donald Trump are eying an often overlooked region of California as they continue to promote falsehoods around the 2020 election: Shasta county, population 182,000.
“Shasta, a conservative stronghold in the state’s far north, recently ended its contract with Dominion Voting Systems, the company that has been the subject of a conspiracy theory that it played a role in swinging the election for Biden. The move has left the semi-rural county without a voting system and no replacement ready to implement when its Dominion contract ends next week.
“Mike Lindell, the chief executive of MyPillow and one of the leading promoters of falsehoods about election fraud and Dominion, has pledged to support the county’s efforts, even offering financial assistance. Lindell and other Trump allies have maligned the company for years and Dominion is suing the chief executive, as well as Fox News, for defamation.
“…The northern California county may seem an unlikely target for Lindell, but it has become a growing hotbed for fringe thinking and far-right politics since the pandemic began. Anger over pandemic restrictions and the loss of Donald Trump brought tensions in Shasta to a boiling point, fueling a political upheaval. With outside funding from a Connecticut millionaire and support from the area’s militia groups, an ultra-rightwing majority gained control of local government and has overseen a ‘devastating’ exodus of county employees.”
MY TAKE: Mike Lindell has been pedaling election misinformation for years and has never presented any evidence of election fraud that made even the smallest difference. Yet, he’s got an entire county dismantling their voting structure. Why should we care? Because we have to be vigilant when people stop bothering to demand truth and are content with being lied to just because the lie is what they want to hear.
It is difficult for me to accept that there is a whole sub-culture of sub-human politicians who exploit these sad people rather than inform them. Who would rather press them down rather than lift them up. But accept it I must, because a guy who makes pillows, but otherwise has never offered one coherent political opinion backed by facts, has managed to undermine an entire county of almost 200,000 people. And the most disturbing part of this story: the residents of Shasta County let him. Lindell does have an ulterior motive in his continuing campaign against Dominion: they’re suing him for $1.3 billion—and there’s a good chance they’ll win (“Supreme Court won't let MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell dodge Dominion's $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit” Business Insider). Shasta County just shasta-ed themselves.
Singin’ the coups: Donald Trump releases single with January 6 prisoners (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: “Donald Trump has released a charity single, recorded with a choir of men held in a Washington DC prison for their parts in the deadly January 6 insurrection he incited.
“On Friday, Justice for All by Donald J Trump and the J6 Prison Choir was available on streaming platforms including Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube.
“The move is the latest in a growing trend by Trump and others on the far right of US politics to embrace the January 6 attack on the Capitol as a political cause and portray many of those who carried it out as protesters being persecuted by the state.
“Forbes, which first reported the song’s production, said a video would debut on a podcast hosted by Steve Bannon, the far-right activist and alleged fraudster who was Trump’s campaign chair and White House strategist.
“Over an ambient backing, the song features Trump reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, interspersed with a male voice choir singing The Star-Spangled Banner. The song lasts for about two and a half minutes and ends with a chant of ‘U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!’ Forbes said it was ‘produced by a major recording artist who was not identified’.”
MY TAKE: At first, I thought it was a grim joke. The former president makes a single with convicted criminals who are responsible for deaths and an attack on their government? Worse, this same ex-president is leading the polls of whom Republicans support for president in 2024. Trump has already admitted that if he won re-election, he would “very, very seriously” consider full pardons for rioters who breached the US Capitol during the insurrection, beat police, and threatened to hang the Vice President. Thug life, Republican style.
Let me remind you that the Pledge begins: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands…” Certainly, pretty much everything Trump has done to undermine the Constitution, which is the blueprint for our republic, would make his pledge a lie. But lying is what he does best.
But wait, there’s more Pledge of Allegiance shenanigans.
Matt Gaetz’s Pledge of Allegiance stunt took an unfortunate turn (MSNBC)
SUMMARY: Last week, Rep. Matt Gaetz did two things that showed his contempt for democracy and for Congress. First, he invited Corey Beekman to lead the Pledge of Allegiance before the year’s first Judiciary Committee hearing. “It is my pleasure and distinct honor to introduce to the committee Staff Sergeant Corey Ryan Beekman, an American hero and a constituent of mine residing in Pensacola, Florida,” Gaetz said. The problem is that Beekman was accused of murder and of shooting someone else, in addition to engaging in a stand-off with police.
MY TAKE: FYI: The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by a socialist Baptist minister Francis Bellamy. A strict believer in the separation of church and state, he deliberately did not mention God in the pledge, which was written for Youth’s Companion, a patriotic magazine.
The Pledge, even though written by a socialist, has always been a means of virtue signaling to announce one’s patriotism. Bullying others into saying the Pledge indicates that the one doing the bullying just isn’t too bright because anyone who would undermine the country certainly isn’t going to balk at pledging allegiance. In fact, they would be the first to clamp their hand over their heart, maybe even work up a patriotic tear. As those Republicans reciting the Pledge while assaulting democracy attest.
And yet Gaetz, whose entire political career is being the goofy House jester, distracts from important issues, which he clearly has no understanding of (see last week when Gaetz unknowingly attempted to use China’s propaganda to undermine U.S. intelligence). Instead, he focuses on simplistic issues that get headlines because they trigger his base. He craves “likes.” Does it even matter that Gaetz refused to accept an amendment to his amendment that would bar insurrectionists from leading the Pledge? Or that House members already say the Pledge in the morning, so this is just repeating it for no reason?
Kareem’s Video Break
You can’t help but laugh at this expression of pure, unfiltered joy.
That video is how I feel every time we get a new subscriber. Would you deny me that feeling?
More Kareem Short Takes
Covid was top line-of-duty death for US police for third year running in 2022 (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: “Covid was the top cause of death in the line of duty for American law enforcement for the third year in a row in 2022, according to a recent report, though the pace has slowed.
“When the pandemic first hit, many law enforcement officers did what they could to lower the risks of catching Covid-19 – taking some reports over the phone rather than in person, trying to limit contact within departments and with the public.
“Working on the front lines made some face-to-face contact unavoidable – and, as a result, hundreds of law enforcement officers died as Covid swept through the US. In 2020, there were at least 346 confirmed Covid deaths in the line of duty, and at least 301 work-associated deaths from Covid in 2021.
“The actual mortality rate from Covid among law enforcement is assuredly higher, due to undercounting when tests were scarce and because reports like these only include line-of-duty deaths.”
MY TAKE: This is where the blustering politics of COVID meets the deadly reality. All the “it’s my body” chest-puffing has always missed the point: don’t get vaccinated, don’t wear a mask, fine—but then don’t go out in public if you have symptoms or have been near anyone who has them. Ignoring this basic rule of how disease works is why the virus has killed 1.1 million people in the U.S. and still kills about 400 people every day (“Why the Covid-19 Death Toll in the U.S. Is Still Rising” The Wall Street Journal).
There’s a horrifying arrogance to denying that. Just because one is not in the most vulnerable group, they still aren’t transmitting the virus to those who are, sending them to the hospital and possibly the grave. Thanks to the uninformed and twisted logic of some celebrities, athletes, and podcasters, vaccine hesitancy is still a thing. The CDC says that only 41% of the population age 65 and older, the most vulnerable age group, has received a bivalent booster shot. Meanwhile, the famous deniers sit safely in their multimillion-dollar homes while the virus still kills.
Here’s what actually happens when voters move between states (The Washington Post)
SUMMARY: “Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s recent agitating about ‘national divorce’ has an explicit trigger.
“The Georgia Republican, like many on the right, is frustrated at the ways in which she thinks America is changing — changes that she ascribes to left-wing agitation but that, in many contexts, are simply a reflection of demography. She seeks what she described on Fox News as a ‘safe space,’ a place where she and those who agree with her can implement policy and engage in rhetoric that’s unassailable by opposition. Truth Social, but as a state government.
“Part of Greene’s rhetoric on the issue included advocacy for a policy that would prevent the pollution of this utopian state’s politics by outsiders. Why not have red states bar new blue-state arrivals from voting for a few years, she offered, preventing Manhattanites from moving to Tupelo to claw back the city council for Democrats.”
MY TAKE: I’ve commented on this in a previous newsletter, mostly about how it’s anti-democracy and anti-Constitution (as well as illegal based on federal law). Today, I want to address Greene’s basic logic. According to a Washington Post statistical analysis of voters who move to other states, if Green’s proposal were actually adapted in her home state of Georgia, “she’d be excluding the 8 percent of new arrivals who came from blue states and are modeled as Republicans. She’d be allowing the 22 percent of new arrivals from red states who are modeled as Democratic — more than 18 percent of blue-state arrivals who are modeled as being members of that party.”
In other words, it would have the exact opposite effect of what she wants. And yet, this is a person in Congress who suddenly has enormous power thanks to Kevin McCarthy’s deal-making. Sadly, the people who voted her into office will probably never read this, nor the Post article, and so will never know how lame-brained their representative’s ideas are.
Democrats challenge credibility of GOP witnesses who embrace false Jan. 6 claims (The Washington Post)
SUMMARY: “House Republicans vowing to uncover a “weaponization” of the federal government against conservatives have so far called witnesses who have not presented any evidence of wrongdoing at the Justice Department and FBI but have peddled conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to Democrats on the panel who have heard their interviews.
“The three witnesses who have participated in transcribed interviews, all former FBI officials, have shown no firsthand evidence of the politically motivated misconduct Republicans say they are investigating. But they have variously promoted dissolving the FBI, cited baseless claims that the Jan. 6 insurrection was planned by Democrats, that rioter Ashli Babbitt was murdered, and made Nazi allusions, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee said in a 316-page report released Thursday night. In addition, they said, two of the witnesses were paid and supported by Kash Patel, an ally of former president Donald Trump.”
MY TAKE: No one is refuting the facts: None of the three testimonies confirm any first-hand knowledge of wrongdoing. They have only reported hearsay. When you read some of the nonsense that they spouted, you will lose some faith in the intelligence of FBI agents.
Democrats have asked for the testimonies to be broadcast live to the public, but Republicans have refused. Yet, Kevin McCarthy released 40,000 hours of January 6 video to Tucker Carlson claiming the public has a right to know. Why then doesn’t the public have the right to know that these hearings are another wasteful distraction in preparation for the 2024 elections?
Kareem’s Jukebox Playlist
Wayne Shorter (1933-2023)
Wayne Shorter died last week after a lifetime as one of the most accomplished and influential jazz musicians in the world. I listened to him when he was part of Miles Davis’s Second Great Quartet and later when he formed his own jazz fusion group, Weather Report. He was known for his mastery of the tenor saxophone, his inventive song composition, and his inspired improvisation. Those qualities earned him 12 Grammys.
I picked this video because I wanted to show that, even later in life (like me), he hadn’t lost his technical skill or passion. Slower, older, sure—but still a master of all the music he surveyed. Still able to make us bob our heads, tap our feet, and soar into the stratosphere on his insistent and provocative notes. Listen—and soar.
Loving your columns, Kareem - this coming from a 73-year-old raised in a WASP-R environment. I gave a gift subscription to my brother. You open my eyes wider to the world around me more than just my years of experience have.
Your reference to the Pledge of Allegiance reminds me of a family story. My parents were both born in 1938 so when they went to school, the pledge of allegiance was still in its original form. When they heard my cousin recite it in the early '60s, they thought she was saying it wrong! I'm glad to read a reminder that the original pledge upheld the principle of the separation of church and state.