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Nikki Haley Wants to Test Old Candidates, Mississippi Wants an All-White Empire, New Study Gets Anti-Maskers Giddy, Matt Gaetz Promotes China Propaganda, Another Republican Lies on Resume, and More
My thoughts on the top--and top-ish--stories in this week's political, sports, and pop culture news.
So much to discuss this week. Let’s jump right in.
SUMMARY: “Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Wednesday highlighted the need for generational change and called for mandatory competency tests for politicians older than 75 during a speech launching her 2024 presidential campaign.
“In the America I see, the permanent politician will finally retire,” said Haley, who served as U.N. ambassador during Donald Trump’s presidency. “We’ll have term limits for Congress. And mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old.”
The remarks are an undeniable strike against her only declared opponent, 76-year-old Trump, as well as President Joe Biden, who at 80 is the oldest person to hold the office.
Haley, 51, repeatedly talked about leading America into the 21st century.
MY TAKE: I certainly understand the appeal of this proposal to some people. They look at Trump, Biden, Sanders, and Feinstein and worry that our country is in the hands of doddering oldsters lacking in cognitive reasoning. This is partially based on real concerns about the mental challenges of aging (which at 75 I know all about), but it also partially feeds off America’s cultural prejudice against the aged.
It’s hard to claim bias when we elect the gray-haired (or dyed hair) brigade hoping for the wisdom of age and experience. Yet, at the same time, our attitude toward the aging is to portray them as sexless, powerless, passionless, clueless—just altogether less. We see them as cute or curmudgeonly or just there, like over-stuffed chairs with crocheted doilies on each arm.
What makes Haley’s proposal so Logan’s Run/Wild in the Streets heinous is that it targets people of an arbitrarily chosen age. (Should those movie references be a test of pop culture IQ?) If cognitive ability is so important, why not test all candidates? Then again, why not test candidates for their knowledge of the U.S. Constitution? Or American history? Or critical thinking?
For example, Haley said, “Joe and Kamala even say America is racist. Nothing could be further from the truth.” What Biden and Harris have said is that systemic racism exists in America, which is different from “America is racist.” There are enough facts, studies, and experts to confirm this (“25 simple charts to show friends and family who aren't convinced racism is still a problem in America” Business Insider; “Studies find evidence of systemic racial discrimination across multiple domains in the United States” Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies). Saying otherwise means Haley is either lying or doesn’t understand how facts work which would, under her own desire for cognitive reasoning in candidates, disqualify her as a candidate.
She then said, “And I don’t believe in glass ceilings, either. I believe in creating a country where anyone can do anything and achieve their own American dream.” Does she mean that glass ceilings don’t exist, like the Loch Ness monster? That’s what “either” suggests. Or is she saying they do exist but she believes they shouldn’t and she will create a country where they don’t exist? If the U.S. isn’t racist then does she imply it’s also not sexist, so there is no glass ceiling? In which case, she doesn’t have to “create” a country where anyone can do anything and achieve their own American dream because that country already exists.
Huh? Should we have a test that measures the ability to communicate clearly?
Or is the election process itself the test in which we judge the candidates’ abilities, intelligence, ethics, and so forth? Clearly, we haven’t perfected that yet because we still elect people like George Santos (34), Marjorie Taylor Greene (48), Ron DeSantis (44), Matt Gaetz (40), and other proven hucksters—but young hucksters. In the meantime, if you don’t want someone because they’re old, then don’t vote them into office. But if you want to start giving tests, then test everyone on everything.
Politics: Move Along. No Racism to See Here
‘Only in Mississippi’: White representatives vote to create white-appointed court system for Blackest city in America
SUMMARY: “A white supermajority of the Mississippi House voted after an intense, four-plus hour debate to create a separate court system and an expanded police force within the city of Jackson — the Blackest city in America — that would be appointed completely by white state officials.
“If House Bill 1020 becomes law later this session, the white chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court would appoint two judges to oversee a new district within the city — one that includes all of the city’s majority-white neighborhoods, among other areas. The white state attorney general would appoint four prosecutors, a court clerk, and four public defenders for the new district. The white state public safety commissioner would oversee an expanded Capitol Police force, run currently by a white chief.
“The appointments by state officials would occur in lieu of judges and prosecutors being elected by the local residents of Jackson and Hinds County — as is the case in every other municipality and county in the state.
“Mississippi’s capital city is 80% Black and home to a higher percentage of Black residents than any major American city. Mississippi’s Legislature is thoroughly controlled by white Republicans, who have redrawn districts over the past 30 years to ensure they can pass any bill without a single Democratic vote. Every legislative Republican is white, and most Democrats are Black.”
MY TAKE: Let me get this straight: Mississippi Republicans want to create a White citadel that is beyond the same laws that everyone else in mostly Black Jackson have to abide by? Will there be moats?
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said last week that it reminded him of apartheid. “It's oppressive because it strips the right of Black folks to vote," Lumumba said. “It's oppressive because it puts a military force over people that has no accountability to them. It's oppressive because there will be judges who will determine sentences over people's lives. It's oppressive because it redirects their tax dollars to something they don't endorse nor believe in.”
What is most disturbing is how blatantly out in open this act of racism is. All that’s missing are some sheets and a burning cross. They don’t really need to bother with hoods because these legislators believe they have read the room (White Mississippi) and the room will support them.
Beyond the racism is the move to undermine democracy and reject the U.S. Constitution. This is how democracy is destroyed, not by the Chinese or Russians, but by electing the worst dregs of humanity to run the state. Have they read the room correctly, Mississippi?
What was that Nikki Haley said above about racism in America?
Health & Politics: Dying to Be Right
Why All the Fuss Over Masks—Still
In my last newsletter, I mentioned the logical fallacy called confirmation bias, in which a person seeks only information that supports their previous opinion, or they interpret new information to confirm a previously held opinion. They don’t critically examine all sides before reaching a conclusion. Nor do they have enough self-awareness to realize that’s what they do.
The debate about masks seems almost nostalgically quaint now that the worst of COVID has passed (although 2,407 people did die of COVID-19 last week, so not quaint to them). However, the issue really isn’t about masks anymore; it’s about how Americans reach conclusions and then act on them based on information that may or may not be legitimate, and whether or not they can tell the difference. The reason this is so important is because we probably haven’t seen the last pandemic—and maybe not even the worst pandemic. So, how we act in the future can affect the health and lives of the population, and even the survival of the country.
A study of a bunch of other studies was recently released that concluded that masks weren’t that effective in stemming COVID-19. Instantly, anti-maskers chortled their victory cry. However, as many experts have since pointed out, the study was not done well, comparing dissimilar circumstances and thereby corrupting any meaningful conclusion. The study actually warns: “The high risk of bias in the trials, variation in outcome measurement, and relatively low adherence with the interventions during the studies hampers drawing firm conclusions.” That didn’t stop anti-maskers. Of course, the irony is that they rejected the science when masks were suggested, but now embrace science when they think it confirms their opinion.
See for yourself.
A New Turn in the Fight Over Masks (The Atlantic Monthly)
SUMMARY: “For many Americans, wearing a mask has become a relic. But fighting about masks, it seems, has not.
“Masking has widely been seen as one of the best COVID precautions that people can take. Still, it has sparked ceaseless arguments: over mandates, what types of masks we should wear, and even how to wear them. A new review and meta-analysis of masking studies suggests that the detractors may have a point. The paper—a rigorous assessment of 78 studies—was published by Cochrane, an independent policy institution that has become well known for its reviews. The review’s authors found “little to no” evidence that masking at the population level reduced COVID infections, concluding that there is “uncertainty about the effects of face masks.” That result held when the researchers compared surgical masks with N95 masks, and when they compared surgical masks with nothing.
“On Twitter, longtime critics of masking and mandates held this up as the proof they’d long waited for. The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative outlet, quoted a researcher who has called the analysis the ‘scientific nail in the coffin for mask mandates.’ The vaccine skeptic Robert Malone used it to refute what he called ‘self-appointed “experts”’ on masking. Some researchers weighed in with more nuanced interpretations, pointing out limitations in the review’s methods that made it difficult to draw firm conclusions.”
SUMMARY: “Masks have played a key role in keeping us all safe throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. At the start, masks helped flatten the curve to protect our hospital systems, and since, masks have helped make public spaces and essential services more open and accessible to everyone. Many studies show that masks work, and they work best when everyone wears a high-quality one to protect each other. Masks are magnificent.
“Yet, three years into the pandemic, we still see conflicting stories in the news about masks on a daily basis. The latest culprit powering the confounding headlines is a new scientific review published in Cochrane. The paper analyzes many different studies that assess how physical measures – including masks – fare against respiratory viruses.
“The analysis is flawed because it compares apples to oranges. The paper mixes together studies that were conducted in different environments with different transmission risks. It also combines studies where masks were worn part of the time with studies where masks are worn all the time. And it blends studies that looked at Covid-19 with studies that looked at influenza.
If apples work and oranges don’t, but your analysis mixes them together, you may come to the false conclusion that apples don’t work. Out of the 78 papers analyzed in the review, only two actually studied masking during the Covid-19 pandemic. And both of those found that masks did protect wearers from Covid-19. But these studies are drowned out by the greater number of studies on influenza included, where the benefit of masking is harder to detect because it’s a far less contagious virus than Covid-19.”
MY TAKE: I also want to recommend “COVID deniers claim a new study says mask mandates don’t work. They should try reading it” (The Los Angeles Times), which offers a detailed rebuttal to Bret Stephens column in The New York Times (“The Mask Mandates Did Nothing. Will Any Lessons Be Learned?”)
When you read the many articles reacting to this study, you’ll wonder why there is any controversy at all. The scientific evidence is pretty conclusive that masks were effective in saving lives. But even if we accepted the claim that they didn’t, why wouldn’t we follow the best advice from the experts at the time? If a vast majority of the most knowledgeable people on the subject advise us to do something to protect ourselves and our loved ones, we should do it, even if the experts are later proven wrong. If you get deathly ill and a team of expert doctors tells you this is the best medicine for your ailment, do you take it—or wait and see what happens down the road a few years?
However, in this case, science and the experts have been proven right. This latest study of studies is useless. We have to come to grips with the fact that some people refuse to look at evidence themselves but prefer to have someone with their same biases interpret the information for them. Like election deniers, they don’t care about facts. That’s exactly what many politicians are counting on.
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Kareem’s Video Break
This is the kind of dedication and willpower that makes champions.
Kareem’s Short Takes
SUMMARY: “Freshman Republican Rep. Andy Ogles (TN) says he’s a trained economist, but in reality, he only took one community college course on the subject—and he got a C, a transcript obtained by NewsChannel 5 in Nashville revealed. Ogles’ congressional bio says he graduated from Middle Tennessee State University, ‘where he studied policy and economics.’ However, a resume he used in 2009 said he got a degree in international relations, with no mention of economics. But both claims were false, according to the transcript, which Ogles had tried to keep sealed. Ogles actually majored in liberal studies. The congressman also enrolled in classes titled U.S. Presidency, Problems in Government, Political Theory and National Security Policy—failing all of them twice, once in 1995 and again in 1998. It took Ogles 17 years to attain his degree, graduating in 2007 with a 2.4 GPA, NewsChannel 5 reported. And the Freedom Caucus member has already admitted to his false claims, too, telling a conservative local paper, ‘When I pulled my transcript to verify, I realized I was mistaken.’ ‘I apologize for my misstatement,’ he added.
MY TAKE: That’s a whole lotta lyin’ going on. Worse, when he’s caught, Ogles doesn’t admit he lied, he says he was “mistaken.” That’s like stabbing someone and then claiming you misplaced your knife—in their abdomen.
We’ve gotten so numb to politicians lying that instead of condemning it outright and demanding consequences, we use a sliding scale of outrage. Except our outrage is impotent. George Santos has lied about his entire life and he’s still in Congress. Trump lied 30,573 times as president, yet here he is running again (and leading other Republicans, according to one recent poll).
Three things need to happen now: 1. Congress must fund an investigative body that fact-checks the credentials of anyone running for a congressional seat. They aren’t there to dig up past dirt, only to verify any claims made by candidates. 2. Journalists should also investigate candidates. 3. Candidates who have lied or mislead in providing their background should be prosecuted the same as we would with anyone running a scam. Maybe spend a little less time banning drag shows and a little more banning liars.
Matt Gaetz unknowingly cites Chinese Communist newspaper during Ukraine military funding hearing (Business Insider)
SUMMARY: Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz cited an unusual source during a congressional hearing about US military aid to Ukraine.
Gaetz has long been an outspoken critic of continued US security assistance to Ukraine as it fends off Russia's military invasion. During Tuesday's House Armed Services Committee hearing, he brought up a report by China's Global Times that he said talks about the US training Ukrainian soldiers.
Gaetz didn't appear to know, however, that the Global Times is a Chinese Communist Party-controlled outlet with an ultranationalist agenda until the witness he was questioning pointed it out.
"Is the Azov battalion getting access to US weapons?" Gaetz asked Colin Kahl, the US's undersecretary of defense for policy. The Azov battalion is a far-right nationalist regiment in Ukraine, and some of its members serve in Ukraine's armed forces.
"Not that I'm aware of, but if you have information, happy to hear it," Kahl told Gaetz.
Gaetz then asked to enter the Global Times report into the congressional record and cited from the paper to support his allegation that the Azov battalion was "getting stuff as far back as 2018."
"Any reason to disagree with that assessment?" Gaetz asked Kahl.
"Is this the — I'm sorry, is this the Global Times from China?" Kahl said.
"No, this is —" Gaetz began, before leaning over to read from the article he was quoting.
"That's what you read," Kahl said.
"Well, it might be," Gaetz said. "Yeah, it might be, yeah."
"As a general matter, I don't take Beijing's propaganda at face value," Kahl replied.
"No, no, just tell me if the allegation is true or false," Gaetz said.
Kahl reiterated that he didn't have any evidence one way or another and repeated that "as a general matter, I don't take Beijing's propaganda at face value."
Gaetz conceded the point, saying, "Fair enough, I would agree with that assessment."
MY TAKE: Matt Gaetz is one of the GOP’s least informed but most aggressive politicians. If you watch the video (skip to the 3-minute mark), you’ll see how giddy Gaetz is to bring in his source, like a bad history student who thinks he’s going to trip up his teacher in front of the class. Unfortunately for Gaetz, his gotcha source was propaganda from the Chinese government. What kind of member of Congress doesn’t check his sources before questioning highly informed people?
Sadly, Floridians re-elected Gaetz a few months ago, though my guess is none of them can say exactly what he’s done for them other than spout anti-woke rhetoric. In 2024, voters will have another chance to get it right.
Alabama community rallies in support of a Black author after school district cancels Black History Month event (CNN)
SUMMARY: “Award-winning children’s book author Derrick Barnes, known for writing stories for and featuring Black children, will no longer be visiting three Hoover City Schools, a school system just south of Birmingham, Alabama area this week. Dee Fowler, the district superintendent, cited contract issues and a parent’s ‘concern’ regarding Barnes’ social media posts, he told CNN.
The cancellation incited outrage from frustrated parents, teachers, and Hoover residents, some of whom channeled anger into activism. Hundreds have come together to raise a portion of the $9,900 Barnes would have been paid for the events.”
MY TAKE: The bad news is that this celebrated author was canceled based on one parent’s concern over his social media posts. A CNN review of his social media posts “found they predominantly feature photos of his family, writing, and music he enjoys, as well as comments about news events and political issues including police brutality, the January 6 insurrection and the presidential election.” Nothing inappropriate that should prevent him from reading his children’s book to children. Unfortunately, Barnes canceled another reading at the library out of concern for the safety of his family.
The good news is that local Alabamians raised money to show their support of him (the school also will be paying part of his fee). But they shouldn’t stop there. The school officials need to be held accountable for this arbitrary action that is an insult to the author—and to Black History Month. As usual, they thought they could get away with it because it was just a Black author. What a joy to have the community prove them wrong.
TV: What I’m Watching
Today, I’m going to recommend three shows that couldn’t be more different from each other. But each delivers a high degree of pure entertainment.
The Last of Us (HBO)
SUMMARY: A fungal pandemic has left the world shattered, with the non-infected struggling to survive in world filled with zombie-like creatures. Hardened smuggler Joel (Pedro Pascal) escorts a sassy young girl (Bella Ramsey) who is immune from the infection through dangerous territory in order to find a vaccine.
Who’d have thought that a post-apocalyptic drama based on a video game could be this compelling? One of the reasons this show works so well is that it is a combination road trip and anthology series in which the two protagonists must travel through the ravaged countryside fighting for survival while each week coming across a new relatable character and getting their story. That format gives the show more complexity and emotional insight than the usual zombie shows.
Poker Face (Peacock)
SUMMARY: This mystery series is a callback to the old Columbo series in which each week we get a famous actor to play the murderer brought to justice by a fumbling, mumbling detective who is deceivingly smart. Instead of Peter Falk’s shambling police detective, we have Natasha Lyonne as a blue-collar slacker with a gift: she can always tell when someone is lying. To complicate matters, she’s on the run from a Vegas gangster.
The show was created by Rian Johnson (Looper and Glass Onion, in which I had a short cameo) and it is a delightful mix of mystery and comedy that is one of the cleverest shows on TV. The format is refreshing: the crime is committed, then we flashback to see how Lyon was working a menial job while the crime was taking place. Then we watch her solve the crime. A lot of fun.
Physical: 100 (Netflix)
SUMMARY: This South Korean reality competition show pits 100 of the most perfect athletic bodies against each other for a big cash prize. Men and women compete against each other with little regard to size, gender, or age.
What makes this reality competition so compelling are the tough physical challenges they face each week in some of the most intense eliminations I’ve seen. They’re going for a Squid Games vibe, but the participants are so respectful to each other, whether they win or lose, that it’s a relief to see such sportsmanship. Part of the entertainment is the bad translation that sounds like the word choices came from a language dictionary rather than someone who speaks English. It doesn’t have all the hype of American Ninja Warrior, just straight-forward competing—and it’s great.
Kareem’s Jukebox Playlist
Rachael & Vilray: “Goodnight My Love”
“Goodnight My Love” (why didn’t they include the comma after Goodnight!) is from singer Rachael Ray and singer/guitarist/songwriter Vilray Blair Bolles’ new album I Love a Love Song. They met while students at Boston's New England Conservatory bonding over their appreciation for jazz standards and Tin Pan Alley pop. That musical background is apparent in this jazzy throwback to the 1940s and ‘50s style of intimate, smoky room performances.
I especially like the last half when Vilray also sings, adding a mellow counterpoint to her bluesy voice. In the last few seconds of the song, Rachael hits some notes that make you lean forward to listen more intently. You won’t realize you were holding your breath until the song is over. (Get the album here.)