Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Insurrection Investigation

The House Select Committee on January 6th gets underway today, with this op-ed from Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, explaining the stakes, scope, and goals.

Jan. 6 was supposed to be about the peaceful transfer of power after an election, a hallmark of democracy and our American tradition. The rioters went to the Capitol that day to obstruct this solemn action — and nearly succeeded while defacing and looting the halls of the Capitol in the process. The committee will provide the definitive accounting of one of the darkest days in our history. Armed with answers, we hope to identify actions that Congress and the executive branch can take to help ensure that it never happens again.

The bipartisan members of the committee believe strongly it is important to begin our work by hearing from law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol on Jan. 6. On Tuesday, we will be joined by Capitol Police officers Aquilino Gonell and Harry Dunn and Metropolitan Police officers Daniel Hodges and Michael Fanone. These officers will provide firsthand accounts of the chaos of that day and the violence perpetrated by the rioters.

Fanone voluntarily rushed to the Capitol with his partner when he heard about the attacks. As a result of his bravery that day, he suffered a traumatic brain injury and a heart attack. In a video that has now been shared widely, Hodges can be seen being crushed by the mob as he and his fellow officers sought to defend a narrow hallway leading to a Capitol entrance. Dunn was one of the first officers to speak publicly about what law enforcement encountered when the rioters stormed the Capitol and the racial epithets he and others faced. Gonell, a veteran who had been deployed to Iraq, defended the Capitol against rioters who hurled chants of “traitor.” While pulling an officer who had fallen to the ground away from the rioters, Gonell was beaten with a pole carrying an American flag.

The officers’ testimony will bring into focus individual acts of heroism by law enforcement that day. The officers will also speak to how, more than six months after the attack, law enforcement officers continue to deal with the physical, mental and emotional effects of that day. This conversation is an important step, as we look to bolster protection of the Capitol and our democracy.

Regrettably, some are already focusing their energies on maligning the select committee before its work has even begun. We will not be distracted by politically motivated sideshows.

This hearing is just the beginning of the select committee’s work; when it comes to the security of the Capitol — and our democracy — nothing will be off-limits. We will do what is necessary to understand what happened, why and how. And we will make recommendations to help ensure it never happens again. We owe it to the country we love to provide the answers that the American people deserve


Of all the topics that Rep. Thompson covered, it's the promise that "nothing will be off-limits" that is the most impactful. If Thompson is serious about this, it will mean subpoenas for several Republicans in the House and Senate, namely Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, and if there is a just deity in this multiverse, Mike Pence himself.

We'll see how far that "nothing will be off-limits" goes, and given that both the Justice Department and Reps. Cheney and Kinzinger seem serious about the prospect of calling GOP witnesses, this might get real interesting.

We'll see.

Recalling Gavin, Con't

The latest LA Times/UC Berkeley poll shows California Gov. Gavin Newsom is in real trouble of being recalled by voters in September as delta variant COVID, local mask ordinances, and parents just thrilled to go through another round of school lockdowns this fall all threaten to put a Republican in charge of the state again.
Californians who say they expect to vote in the September recall election are almost evenly divided over whether to remove Gov. Gavin Newsom from office, evidence of how pivotal voter turnout will be in deciding the governor’s political fate, according to a new UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times.

The findings dispel the notion that California’s solid Democratic voter majority will provide an impenetrable shield for Newsom, and reveal a vulnerability created by a recall effort that has energized Republicans and been met with indifference by many Democrats and independent voters.

The poll found that 47% of likely California voters supported recalling the Democratic governor, compared with 50% who opposed removing Newsom from office — a difference just shy of the survey’s margin of error.

Conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, who last week won a court battle to appear on the Sept. 14 recall ballot, leads in the race to replace Newsom among the dozens of candidates in the running, while support for reality television star Caitlyn Jenner remains low, the survey found. Forty percent of likely voters remain undecided on a replacement candidate, providing ample opportunity for other gubernatorial hopefuls to rise in the ranks before the Sept. 14 special election.

Even though Democratic voters far outnumber Republicans in California, the GOP’s enthusiasm over the recall promises to inflate the potency of the anti-Newsom vote in September, said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll. Nearly 90% of Republicans expressed a high level of interest in the recall election while just 58% of Democrats and 53% of independent voters were as interested, the poll found.

“Democrats, at least in the middle of July, almost unanimously believed that Newsom will defeat the recall. I think that may be contributing to some complacency among those voters. Republicans, on the other hand, are confident that they can turn out the governor,” DiCamillo said. “I think the Newsom campaign really has to light a fire among the Democrats and say, ‘Look, the outcome is in jeopardy unless you get out there and vote.’”

Though Republicans account for only about a quarter of all registered voters in California, the poll found that they account for 33% of those most likely to cast ballots in the recall election. Democrats make up 46% of the state’s 22 million voters and “no party preference” voters 24%, but their share of the likely recall voters drops to 42% and 18% respectively, DiCamillo said.

“Gavin Newsom is in serious trouble at this time because his base of voters is not motivated to come out and support him,” said Dave Gilliard, one of the political strategists leading the effort to oust Newsom.

Gilliard said Newsom doesn’t have much time to correct that, or voter discontent over the homeless crisis and crime in California, since elections officials will begin mailing ballots to all registered voters starting Aug. 16

Hey California, you'd better start giving a damn, or your next governor is going to be a right-wing minstrel asshole who will end the state's affirmative action, climate change, health care, and social services programs by decree. If you think Newsom's making you miserable now, wait until Larry Elder gets done with the place and turns California into Alabama...with Alabama's GDP.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Last Call For If You Come At The Queen...

If you want to know just how good House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is at vexing the GOP, assisted in no small part by House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy being a dim bulb among dim bulbs? Well, in the last few days, we've gone from the GOP demanding McCarthy give his rabid cultists a quixotic House vote to dethrone Pelosi to the cultists demanding the blood sacrifice of GOP Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for joining the January 6th committee.
A growing group of rank-and-file House Republicans wants House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and GOP leadership to punish Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for accepting a position from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to serve on the select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection. 
The push to seek punishment rose to a new level on Sunday, after Pelosi announced that Kinzinger had accepted her invitation to join the committee. Initially, most rank-and-file Republicans were content to let Cheney serve without much of a fight, but Kinzinger's addition has changed the conversation and has put a new level of pressure on McCarthy. 
While the loudest cries have come from members of the hard-right Freedom Caucus, sources say that the sentiment has started to spread beyond the hard-line crew. 
"There's a lot," said one GOP member about the push to have the pair removed from their other committees. "Supporting Pelosi's unprecedented move to reject McCarthy's picks was a bridge too far." 
Pelosi rejected two of McCathy's choices last week -- Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio -- which prompted the GOP leader to withdraw all five of his picks.
Rep. Scott Perry, a Freedom Caucus member, publicly called on Conference Chair Elise Stefanik to call a special GOP conference meeting to "address appropriate measures" related to Pelosi booting two of McCarthy's chosen picks from the committee. Some members specifically want McCarthy and Stefanik to push for a vote of GOP members to strip Cheney and Kinzinger, who both voted to impeach former President Donald Trump earlier this year, from their other committee assignments. Stefanik's office did not respond to a request for comment on Perry's desire for a conference meeting. 
But kicking them off their committees would be easier said than done. While McCarthy could remove Cheney and Kinzinger from their other committees, Pelosi ultimately controls committee membership. She could theoretically just re-appoint them to their current posts. 
The scuttle demonstrates how difficult McCarthy's leadership role remains. While conservatives applauded his decision to attempt to appoint both Banks and Jordan and his subsequent move to pull back all of his choices, they still believe Cheney and Kinzinger need to be reprimanded for not remaining loyal to the conference. 
McCarthy's office did not respond to questions about Republicans pushing him to punish Kinzinger and Cheney.
McCarthy is now stuck. There's nothing he can do about Pelosi, and he can't really punish Kinzinger and Cheney without Pelosi putting them back on committees. Expulsion is likewise out of the picture. He doesn't have a whole lot of options left at this point, because the cultists will start demanding his blood next.

So what does he do?  Yeah, this is a "devil we know" situation, as long as the massively incompetent McCarthy remains lead Cat Herder in House GOP land, Pelosi can continue to run circles around him and leave him running from his own caucus. The issue is however that McCarthy's situation is growing increasingly untenable. Something will have to shift dramatically, it's just a question of when.

Ask the last couple of GOP House leaders how that goes.

School Of Hard Right Knocks, Con't

We've now entered the "The education funding problem for Democrats is a lot more than just Critical Race Theory!" phase of blaming Joe Biden for Republican state budget cuts to educator staff, school closures, and charter school smoke and mirrors in states around the country. Of course, WIN THE MORNING DOT COM is specifically ignoring the millions being spent to disrupt school board meetings by right-wing corporate donors, treating all this rage as organic. You know, just like the Tea Party ten years ago.


Elina Kaplan is the kind of suburban mom who made Joe Biden president.

An immigrant who came to the United States from the Soviet Union, she is a registered Democrat from San Mateo County, Calif. And she’s alarmed over her state’s new model ethnic studies curriculum, which cites critical race theory as a “key theoretical framework and pedagogy.”

“I firmly believe that if the vast majority of Californians and Americans knew about this, and about the content of this type of curriculum, this would not be happening. We would not be having this conversation,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan, who has launched an email list, set up meetings with state legislators and recruited people to meet with their school boards to discuss ethnic studies, is representative of Democrat-leaning or politically moderate suburbanites interviewed by POLITICO in six states, all but one of which were won by Biden. They are up in arms over their school systems’ new equity initiatives, which they argue are costly and divisive, encouraging students to group themselves by race and take pro-activist stances. Proponents of the initiatives say they are a long-overdue step toward getting rid of systemic racism in the school system.

On the national level, Democrats have insisted that the brush fires over critical race theory — which has become a political punching bag even for unrelated equity initiatives — are largely the work of right-wing activists who willfully misrepresent what it means, and they blame Fox News for fanning parents’ anger.

"That's another right-wing conspiracy. This is totally made up by Donald Trump and [Republican candidate for governor] Glenn Youngkin," Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe said in June.

“I don’t think we would think that educating the youth and next and future leaders of the country on systemic racism is indoctrination,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki in May.

But those Democrats appear to be underestimating parents’ anger in places where critical race theory is top of mind. Objections to new equity plans are not the sole province of conservatives but extend to many moderate and independent voters, according to POLITICO interviews with school board members, political operatives and activists in Democratic and left-leaning communities including the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.; Palm Beach County, Fla.; New York’s Westchester County; Maricopa County covering Phoenix, Ariz.; and suburban Detroit.

Parents who are showing up to school board meetings and have helped launch a spate of recall elections say they are angry about a host of issues, including what they see as a myopic focus on diversity at school boards, ongoing frustration over a year of closed schools and school lesson plans that they say are becoming too progressive, too fast. While those complaints have often been branded in the media as “anti-critical race theory,” the causes of the anger are varied, and are being ignored, parents say.

The stakes aren’t lost on Amanda Litman, founder of the Democratic organization Run for Something, which works to elect school board members and other local officials: “This is a perfect storm of something that can appeal to, or draw back in, some of the suburban parents that might have voted Republican in 2016, Democrat in 2018 and 2020, but could be drawn back to the Republican Party in 2022.”

“We’re trying to argue ‘No, you’re mis-defining critical race theory,’ and that’s not the point,” Litman added. “The point is that people are scared about what their kids are learning.”
Critical race theory is an academic discipline that evolved at law schools and universities in the 1980s to examine institutional racism and challenge existing approaches to racial justice. This year, opposing activists started using the term as shorthand to describe a wave of newly adopted efforts to combat systemic racism in schools.

Polling suggests that the majority of voters still aren’t aware of critical race theory. But as the current debate escalates, activists and Republican officeholders are succeeding in giving voters a negative impression of it. As of mid-June, fully a third of voters told pollsters from the firm YouGov they hadn’t heard of critical race theory, and only a third of voters said they’d both heard of it and had a good idea of its meaning. But opinions among those who’d heard of it were sharply negative. Fifty-three percent said they were “very unfavorable” of it while only 23 percent said they were “very favorable.”

People who identified as Republican and had heard of critical race theory were especially negative: 85 percent termed their views “very unfavorable.” But the same was true of 71 percent of independents, the group that was key to Biden’s victory over former President Donald Trump, favoring the Democrat by 9 points, according to the Pew Research Center, after Trump had narrowly won the group over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Among Democrats who had heard of critical race theory, most (58 percent) were “very favorable,” while a smaller but still significant 7 percent were “very unfavorable.”
This would somehow be novel if it wasn't constant, I guess. "I'm scared about what my kids are learning in school" has, in my lifetime, been applied to pretty much everything, from "the new math" to American history to sex education to D.A.R.E. to computers to foreign languages. Now the wheel is back on US history again and it always, always is a "problem" for liberals who are "moving too fast".
Meanwhile, Democrats and President Biden are on the verge of a major infrastructure bill that will add pre-K schooling for millions of kids, and Republicans are doing everything in their power to block the bill, but sure, the problem is liberals.
It's tiring nonsense, but it always works.

Minority Report, Florida Edition

This one pretty much hits all of my buttons: police clearly misusing power, technology being abused to spy on citizens, racism in criminal justice, racism in tech, and the state of Florida being an awful place in general. Congratulations Black and brown people of Pasco County, your local sherriff would like to schedule you for a precrime hearing.

It starts like an offer of admission from a prestigious university.

“We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected…” it says.

But the four-page letter from the Pasco Sheriff’s Office goes on to tell recipients they will be facing enhanced police scrutiny under the agency’s controversial intelligence program.

“You may wonder why you were enrolled in this program,” the letter continues. “You were selected as a result of an evaluation of your recent criminal behavior using an unbiased, evidence-based risk assessment designed to identify prolific offenders in our community. As a result of this designation, we will go to great efforts to encourage change in your life through enhanced support and increased accountability.”

Last year, a Tampa Bay Times investigation revealed that the Sheriff’s Office creates lists of people it considers likely to break the law based on criminal histories, social networks and other unspecified intelligence. The agency sends deputies to their homes repeatedly, often without a search warrant or probable cause for an arrest.

Targets and their relatives, including four who are now suing the Sheriff’s Office in federal court, described the tactics as harassment and a violation of their constitutional rights. National policing experts drew comparisons to child abuse and surveillance that could be expected under an authoritarian regime.

The Times also found that the agency has a separate program that uses schoolchildren’s grades, attendance records and abuse histories to label them potential future criminals.

Earlier this year, Sheriff Chris Nocco and the Pasco County school district announced they would scale back some features of the school-data program. But the letter signals a broadening of the core program.

The Sheriff’s Office said the letter is part of a new intelligence effort aimed specifically at people whose criminal histories include drug offenses and violent crimes.

It was supposed to launch in mid-2020, but was delayed until December because of the pandemic, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Amanda Hunter said.

It includes several new features, including that people can be dropped from the program after two years without “criminal activity” and a phone number they can call with questions.

In an online video, Sheriff’s Office Captain Toni Roach says being selected is “good news” because participants will “have the opportunity to receive assistance from the Pasco Sheriff’s Office and several community partners.”

But critics of the agency’s intelligence efforts, including an alliance of local, state and national organizations known as People Against the Surveillance of Children and Overpolicing, or the PASCO Coalition, said the latest communication raises even more concerns.

“The letter is basically threatening and promising a certain level of harassment and oversight that is in line with the stories we are hearing from the community,” said Raniah Elgendi, of the Council of American-Islamic Relations-Florida.

“We know that is not what makes people or communities more safe, this heightened level of surveillance,” said Lauren Johnson, an assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Now I understand the need for community outreach programs in general. If this was being coordinated through the county's social services department, that would be one thing. Getting people help that they are eligible for, and that exists, is a real struggle and doing that is noble.
What this is on the other hand, is outright police intimidation and harassment. This is Pasco COunty telling you "you're on a database of criminals and known criminal associates, we're going to be paying special attention to you, we're letting you know about it, and there's not a damn thing you can do, be seeing you real soon."

I mean, police do that anyway, but disguising it as a community outreach program is vile and disgusting. The bigger issue is, as I said above, social services, religious charities, community activists and non-profits should be coming to people and asking them what their needs are. The police doing it like this only gets people hurt.

We need to stop using police as a replacement for social services, period.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Last Call For If You Come At The Queen...

Republican House minority leader Kevin McCarthy is in way over his head, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi outsmarted him yet again. After McCarthy's tantrum over Pelosi denying Jim Jordan the chance to wreck the January 6th Select Committee and withdrawing all five Republican picks he had, Pelosi turned to Trump foe and pro-impeachment GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger to join.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Sunday she has appointed GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger to the House select committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, bolstering the Republican presence on the panel after GOP leadership pulled its appointees last week. 
"Today, I am announcing the appointment of Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, an Air Force veteran and Lieutenant Colonel in the Air National Guard, to serve on the Select Committee," Pelosi said in a statement. "He brings great patriotism to the Committee's mission: to find the facts and protect our Democracy." 
Kinzinger, a vocal critic of former President Donald Trump who was one of 10 House Republicans to vote for his second impeachment, is joining Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming as the only Republicans on the new select committee. 
"Let me be clear, I'm a Republican dedicated to conservative values, but I swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution—and while this is not the position I expected to be in or sought out, when duty calls, I will always answer," the Illinois Republican said in a statement Sunday. 
Kinzinger's appointment may bring additional legitimacy to one of the most consequential investigations ever conducted by Congress and will likely make it harder for Republicans to argue that it's a partisan endeavor -- although they quickly framed Pelosi's announcement that way. 
"The Speaker has structured this select committee to satisfy her political objectives," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a statement Sunday.
And with one move, Pelosi deftly disarmed not only her Republican detractors, but the media scolds who cried foul and screeched about Pelosi not wanting a real bipartisan committee. Of course, Pelosi has now appointed two Republicans, and I'm betting she's working behind the scenes to get more.
I still stand by my statement that there are no good Republicans left, but there are at least ones willing to do the goddamn job. 

I'll take it.

Un-Vaccination Nation, Con't

As delta variant COVID cases explode across red states like Florida, Texas and Missouri, and the Biden administration is letting FOX News and other disinformation outlets quietly know they will be sued into oblivion if they continue, suddenly Republicans are having those come to Jesus moments they should have has nine months ago about urging everyone who can to get the vaccine, while still vowing to ban health mandates that would prevent the spread of the virus.


Former White House press secretary and Republican Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced in an op-ed that she has been vaccinated against the coronavirus and urged others to do so.

"Like many of you, I have had a lot of misinformation thrown at me by politicians and the media during the pandemic. And, like many of you, I spent a lot of time sorting through it all, trying to make the best decision I could for myself and my family," Sanders wrote in the entry published over the weekend in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "Based on the advice of my doctor, I determined that the benefits of getting vaccinated outweighed any potential risks."

The fact that former President Trump and his family had been vaccinated, Sanders said, helped her make her decision.

"If getting vaccinated was safe enough for them, I felt it was safe enough for me," she wrote.

Sanders has received Trump's endorsement in the Republican primary in Arkansas and is looking to replace outgoing Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), who cannot run again due to term limits.

Arkansas is one of several states in the Southeast and Midwest with lower-than-average vaccination rates, as the delta variant of the coronavirus sweeps through the nation.

"I understand that the decision to be vaccinated is deeply personal and not an easy one to make," Sanders wrote in her op-ed. "As the number of covid cases and hospitalizations once again rise exponentially in Arkansas, information is emerging that I hope people will consider."

She concluded her entry with advice for Arkansans still debating the merits of being vaccinated: "Pray about it, discuss it with your family and your doctor. Filter out the noise and fear-mongering and condescension, and make the best, most informed decision you can that helps your family, community, and our great state be its very best."
Pretending that the choice to get the vaccine is "deeply personal" is actual condescension, enabling bad actors to continue while jettisoning any semblance of responsibility, and all this after Huckabee Sanders gleefully vowed to never allow a public health mandate again last week if she is elected governor of Arkansas.
Besides, we know full well that people are refusing the vaccine literally just to spite Biden and a government they see as illegitimate.

George Grabryan and Mike Melton have been helping people here on the bank of the Tennessee River survive devastating tornadoes, floods and other disasters for decades. Ask any local official in rural Lauderdale County, and they have the two emergency managers’ numbers saved in their phones — just in case.

But Covid-19 has broken those bonds. Despite Grabryan and Melton’s best efforts, only 34 percent of county residents are vaccinated, even as the highly transmissible Delta variant has driven up new infections by 300 percent in the last two weeks. Three people have died, and health officials predict that many more will follow before the summer mist lifts off the cornfields.

Many people here and elsewhere in the Southeast are turning down Covid-19 vaccines because they are angry that President Donald Trump lost the election and sick of Democrats in Washington thinking they know what’s best. State and local public health officials have struggled to combat that deep-rooted obstinance. But they don’t want more on-the-ground help from the White House, fearful it would prolong the current surge — even as the Biden administration has begun approaching southern states with offers to send federal “surge teams” on door-knocking campaigns.

The pushback from both state officials and people who refuse vaccination underscores the extent to which the federal government may never be able to convince rural, conservative populations in parts of the South to get the shot. And it raises questions about how the Biden administration will shape its response to Covid-19 over the next several months as more schools and businesses reopen and Delta spreads.

“To say that politics doesn’t play a part would be wrong,” Melton said. “I think the national figures get people talking about the vaccine and that can sometimes take the wrong fork in the road and go the wrong way.”

Local public health officials and physicians in this part of the country are convinced that they are doing everything they can to save lives — pulling 15-hour days to set up pop-up mobile vaccine units, monitor patients on respirators, and administer rounds of therapeutics. But they can only do so much. They will not go to people’s homes to try and twist their arms, they say, and they do not want federal officials to do so either.

“I don’t know going door to door would help us,” said Karen Landers, an Alabama state health officer based in Sheffield. “People in more rural areas … you’re going on to their property. It might not be the best idea to have them do that because people are protective of their privacy.

There is precisely nothing that can be done now to convince the bulk of these folks to get the vaccine. It's not going to happen. We'll continue to try to save them and rehabilitate them as victims when they die and infect their family members, leading to more deaths, but at this point I'm tired of being told I have to have sympathy for the people trying to kill me.

We'll mourn them, of course.

But at some point we have to turn to take care of the living.

Sunday Long Read: Ghost In The Machine

This week's Sunday Long Read comes to us from Jason Fagone at the San Francisco Chronicle, which asks the question "Is it okay to build an AI chatbot of your dead fiancee?" and if that doesn't immediately creep you the hell out, the rest of this story will.

One night last fall, unable to sleep, Joshua Barbeau logged onto a mysterious chat website called Project December. An old-fashioned terminal window greeted him, stark white text on a black square:

14 November 1982


Unauthorized access is forbidden!

Enter electronic mail address:

It was Sept. 24, around 3 a.m., and Joshua was on the couch, next to a bookcase crammed with board games and Dungeons & Dragons strategy guides. He lived in Bradford, Canada, a suburban town an hour north of Toronto, renting a basement apartment and speaking little to other people.

A 33-year-old freelance writer, Joshua had existed in quasi-isolation for years before the pandemic, confined by bouts of anxiety and depression. Once a theater geek with dreams of being an actor, he supported himself by writing articles about D&D and selling them to gaming sites.

Many days he left the apartment only to walk his dog, Chauncey, a black-and-white Border collie. Usually they went in the middle of the night, because Chauncey tended to get anxious around other dogs and people. They would pass dozens of dark, silent, middle-class homes. Then, back in the basement, Joshua would lay awake for hours, thinking about Jessica Pereira, his ex-fiancee.

Jessica had died eight years earlier, at 23, from a rare liver disease. Joshua had never gotten over it, and this was always the hardest month, because her birthday was in September. She would have been turning 31.

On his laptop, he typed his email address. The window refreshed. “Welcome back, Professor Bohr,” read the screen. He had been here before. The page displayed a menu of options.

He selected “Experimental area.”

That month, Joshua had read about a new website that had something to do with artificial intelligence and “chatbots.” It was called Project December. There wasn’t much other information, and the site itself explained little, including its name, but he was intrigued enough to pay $5 for an account.

As it turned out, the site was vastly more sophisticated than it first appeared.

Designed by a Bay Area programmer, Project December was powered by one of the world’s most capable artificial intelligence systems, a piece of software known as GPT-3. It knows how to manipulate human language, generating fluent English text in response to a prompt. While digital assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa also appear to grasp and reproduce English on some level, GPT-3 is far more advanced, able to mimic pretty much any writing style at the flick of a switch.

In fact, the A.I. is so good at impersonating humans that its designer — OpenAI, the San Francisco research group co-founded by Elon Musk — has largely kept it under wraps. Citing “safety” concerns, the company initially delayed the release of a previous version, GPT-2, and access to the more advanced GPT-3 has been limited to private beta testers.

But Jason Rohrer, the Bay Area programmer, opened a channel for the masses.

A lanky 42-year-old with a cheerful attitude and a mischievous streak, Rohrer worked for himself, designing independent video games. He had long championed the idea that games can be art, inspiring complex emotions; his creations had been known to make players weep. And after months of experiments with GPT-2 and GPT-3, he had tapped into a new vein of possibility, figuring out how to make the A.I. systems do something they weren’t designed to do: conduct chat-like conversations with humans.

Last summer, using a borrowed beta-testing credential, Rohrer devised a “chatbot” interface that was driven by GPT-3. He made it available to the public through his website. He called the service Project December. Now, for the first time, anyone could have a naturalistic text chat with an A.I. directed by GPT-3, typing back and forth with it on Rohrer's site.

Users could select from a range of built-in chatbots, each with a distinct style of texting, or they could design their own bots, giving them whatever personality they chose.

Joshua had waded into Project December by degrees, starting with the built-in chatbots. He engaged with “William,” a bot that tried to impersonate Shakespeare, and “Samantha,” a friendly female companion modeled after the A.I. assistant in the movie “Her.” Joshua found both disappointing; William rambled about a woman with “fiery hair” that was “red as a fire,” and Samantha was too clingy.

But as soon as he built his first custom bot — a simulation of Star Trek’s Spock, whom he considered a hero — a light clicked on: By feeding a few Spock quotes from an old TV episode into the site, Joshua summoned a bot that sounded exactly like Spock, yet spoke in original phrases that weren’t found in any script.

As Joshua continued to experiment, he realized there was no rule preventing him from simulating real people. What would happen, he wondered, if he tried to create a chatbot version of his dead fiancee?

There was nothing strange, he thought, about wanting to reconnect with the dead: People do it all the time, in prayers and in dreams. In the last year and a half, more than 600,000 people in the U.S. and Canada have died of COVID-19, often suddenly, without closure for their loved ones, leaving a raw landscape of grief. How many survivors would gladly experiment with a technology that lets them pretend, for a moment, that their dead loved one is alive again — and able to text?

That night in September, Joshua hadn’t actually expected it to work. Jessica was so special, so distinct; a chatbot could never replicate her voice, he assumed. Still, he was curious to see what would happen.

And he missed her

The question is "Is this at all healthy, or is it fetishizing grief?" There have been a number of movies and books over the years exploring the relationship between men and digital women, and they're all about pretty broken men.

But frankly I see more things like this happening in the years ahead. What kind of chatbot would be created by feeding it all of my blog and Twitter posts? Would it be me, even with 12 years of near daily material to work with?

Something worth thinking about.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

If You Come At The Queen...

The conservative House Freedom Caucus is urging Kevin McCarthy to try to boot Nancy Pelosi from her position as speaker, a sign of further escalating tensions after the California Democrat vetoed two of the House Minority Leader’s GOP picks from the Jan. 6 select committee.

In a letter Friday, the far-right group asked McCarthy to file and bring up a privileged motion by July 31 “to vacate the chair and end Nancy Pelosi’s authoritarian reign as Speaker of the House.”

“Speaker Pelosi’s tenure is destroying the House of Representatives and our ability to faithfully represent the people we are here to serve,” they write. “Republicans, under your leadership, must show the American people that we will act to protect our ability to represent their interests.”

The motion is all but guaranteed to fail in the Democratic House, but it signals a stewing anger on the right towards the speaker. The Freedom Caucus’ letter indicates that McCarthy would need to initiate the motion, and if he were to do so, it would further escalate partisan acrimony in the House that has remained high, and occasionally gotten personal, since Jan. 6.

They argue that Pelosi’s decision to reject Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) from the panel was “intolerable.” Pelosi, meanwhile, says she made the right call blocking the two Trump allies because of their “antics” in the months following the deadly insurrection.

Banks and Jordan “made statements and took actions that just would have been ridiculous to put them on a committee seeking the truth,” Pelosi told reporters.

A spokesperson for Pelosi did not immediately respond to request for comment.

That's because the spokesperson for Pelosi was too busy laughing for twelve minutes.

You know what? This is a threat more to McCarthy's role as minority leader than it is Pelosi's position as House Speaker, and if he doesn't play along, he may not be in that role much longer. Boehner and Ryan were both run out of town, Boehner by rail, Ryan by primary.

This is more his concern. Pelosi should even have to lose a wink of sleep, and won't.

The Big Lie, Con't

The Trump Traveling Circus And Hate Show comes to Arizona today, and the topic is going to be wall-to-wall attacks on the 2020 elections with The Big Lie.
In this narrative, truth doesn't merely take a back seat. It gets tossed to the side of the road. 
Take last week's GOP briefing at Arizona's state capitol, where Doug Logan, lead contractor on the review of ballots in Maricopa County, said "we have 74,243 mail-in-ballots where there is no clear record of them being sent," and 11,326 people whom he said were not on the Nov. 7 voter rolls but showed up on the final roll of voters on Dec. 4. 
Election experts, analysts and reporters quickly debunked Logan's claims online and in news stories, noting they seemed to be based on Logan misunderstanding or misstating how the voting process worked. 
But that didn't matter. Within minutes, and in the week since, Donald Trump and a slew of GOP election conspiracists trumpeted these supposed findings across social media as "proof" the election was stolen. And candidates touting their fealty to Trump were quick to tweet, re-tweet or otherwise post Logan's debunked claims and call for more audits. 
From the start, with Arizona Senate President Karen Fann hiring the Cyber Ninjas firm, a little-known firm inexperienced in election audits, run by a man who'd repeated wild conspiratorial fraud claims; to the review being funded with great secrecy by private, likely partisan sources; through the company initially handing auditors blue pens until a reporter pointed out they could be used to change how ballots are read; to, more recently, contractors sending reams of vote data off to a mysterious cabin in Montana, in the latest portion of the audit, the Arizona vote review has been fraught. 
There could scarcely be a deeper canyon than the one between how election experts see the audit and how Trump-backing GOP candidates describe it. 
"Was this deliberate from day one for fundraising?" asked Harri Hursti, founder of Nordic Innovation Labs, and a data-security expert who recently completed a conventional election audit in New Hampshire, about the Arizona vote review. "This whole thing is theater ... it's all smoke and mirrors and theater." The New Hampshire audit, by contrast, found that a borrowed folding machine in the town of Windham caused 400 ballots to be improperly counted, but that there was "no basis to believe that the miscounts found in Windham indicate a pattern of partisan bias or a failed election." 
Trey Grayson, a Republican and former Kentucky Secretary of State, co-wrote a recent report on the Arizona audit for the States United Democracy Center, a nonprofit focused on fair and secure elections. It detailed huge flaws in the audit's processes, poor security, high levels of built-in error and other problems. 
"If you are a Republican who has concerns about this election, you shouldn't trust the outcome of this review in Arizona," Grayson told CNN. 
"Routine audits of vote counts are important," said Mark Lindeman, acting co-director of Verified Voting, a nonpartisan election-integrity nonprofit that earlier this year worked with Georgia on a full hand count of its vote and with Pennsylvania on a risk-limiting election audit. Both indicated that the original results were substantially accurate. 
But in Arizona, he said, "The problem seems to be that Trump lost, and that's what they're trying to fix; but that's not what audits do." He called the procedures Cyber Ninjas and the other subcontractors in Arizona are following bizarre, adding, "It's a process that can only raise more questions, muddy the waters ... None of it makes much sense, except as a way to increase doubt." 
Maricopa County's GOP-led Board of Supervisors also has termed the Arizona Senate's audit unnecessary, with board chairman Jack Sellers last week issuing a statement that, "It's clear the people hired by Arizona Senate leadership to supposedly bring integrity to our elections are instead just bringing incompetence." 
But many of the GOP candidates and lawmakers visiting Arizona, who have eagerly fomented lies about the 2020 vote, and embraced vicious and radical rhetoric about those who disagree with them, dismiss such criticisms. 
"I don't care what a GOP board says; you have a lot of RINOs occupying positions they should not be in," said Oklahoma's Lahmeyer, using the term for "Republicans in name only." Lahmeyer, who touts his endorsement from disgraced former Gen. Michael Flynn, and hopes to unseat GOP Sen. James Lankford in 2022, termed Lankford "a traitor," for voting on Jan. 6 to certify President Biden's victory. As of June 30, Lahmeyer reported raising just more than $250,000 to the Federal Election Commission. Lankford's FEC reports show he'd raised $2.3 million as of that date. 
"Absolutely," the election was stolen from Trump, said Gray, the Wyoming lawmaker challenging Cheney. Trump has regularly attacked Cheney for voting to impeach him and for rejecting his claims the election was stolen, scurrilous claims and nonsensical rhetoric Gray eagerly echoed. "We've ... got to expose the truth, got to stop the fake news media, Liz Cheney and the coalition of radical socialists," he said. 
Jones, the former Georgia lawmaker, has called Gov. Kemp "a traitor" for rejecting election fraud claims. Asked about his visit to the Arizona audit and his claims of fraud in Georgia, Jones said, "It has helped my campaign. From day one, I've talked about things I described as violation of the Constitution, the procedures followed in counting absentee ballots." His fundraising website specifically asks for contributions to "ensure that Georgia's elections are never stolen by Democrats again."
Understand that the audits will never, ever end. Never. They will keep going until "the truth is found".  They will keep going until they justify violence and election theft by Republican lawmakers "decertifying" 2022 elections. And at the center of it all is Ringmaster Trump and his Circus of the Damned.

The Big Lie forever!

Guardians Of The Ballgame

Finally shedding a century of racism, Cleveland's MLB club will be known as the Guardians starting next season.

Known as the Indians since 1915, Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team will be called Guardians.

The ballclub announced the name change Friday — effective at the end of the 2021 season — with a video on Twitter narrated by actor and team fan Tom Hanks. The decision ends months of internal discussions triggered by a national reckoning by institutions and teams to drop logos and names considered racist.

The choice of Guardians will undoubtedly be criticized by many of the club’s die-hard fans, some of whom quickly went on social media to vent.

The organization spent most of the past year whittling down a list of potential names that was at nearly 1,200 just over a month ago. But the process, which the club said included 140 hours of interviews with fans, community leaders, front office personnel and a survey of 40,000 fans.

Owner Paul Dolan said last summer’s social unrest, touched off by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, spurred his intention to change the name.

Dolan is expected to provide more details on the choice and background on the change at a news conference at Progressive Field before the Indians host the Tampa Bay Rays.

Dolan said the new name mirrors the city and its people.

“Cleveland has and always will be the most important part of our identity,” he said in a statement. “Therefore, we wanted a name that strongly represents the pride, resiliency and loyalty of Clevelanders. ‘Guardians’ reflects those attributes that define us.”

“It brings to life the pride Clevelanders take in our city and the way we fight together for all who choose to be part of the Cleveland baseball family. While ‘Indians’ will always be a part of our history, our new name will help unify our fans and city as we are all Cleveland Guardians.”

The change comes as the Washington Football Team continues to work toward a similar makeover. The franchise dropped its Redskins name before the 2020 season. Washington recently said it will reveal a new name and logo in 2022.

Cleveland’s new name was inspired by two large landmark stone edifices near the downtown ballpark — referred to as traffic guardians — on the Hope Memorial Bridge over the Cuyahoga River.

The team’s colors will remain the same, and the new Guardians’ new logos will incorporate some of the architectural features of the bridge.


The Atlanta Braves and Chief Nocahoma could not be reached for comment. 

Still, good for Cleveland, whose most embarrassing major league sports franchise is now officially the Browns.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Last Call For Eviction Prediction, Con't

With the Biden administration's CDC moratorium on evictions ending this month, it seems Ohio and Kentucky landlords will get an early start on procedures as the 6th Circuit has unanimously struck down the moratorium in four states.

A U.S. appeals court ruled on Friday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lacked authority for the national moratorium it imposed last year on most residential evictions to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati means judges in Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan are no longer bound by the moratorium, said Joshua Kahane, the lawyer who argued the case for a property manager.

The unanimous decision by the three-judge panel upheld a lower court ruling in March finding the CDC overstepped its authority when it issued the moratorium last year.

The opinion by Judges Alan Norris, Amul Thapar and John Bush said dealing with the evictions during the pandemic could not be delegated to the CDC under existing law.

"While landlords and tenants likely disagree on much, there is one thing both deserve: for their problems to be resolved by their elected representatives," wrote Judge Thapar in a concurring opinion.

The moratorium is set to expire on July 31 and the Biden administration said in June it would not grant further extensions. read more

The CDC issued a national eviction ban on all residential rental properties in September to facilitate self-isolation, contain the spread of COVID-19 and prevent homelessness.

It acted after the expiration of a narrower previous ban enacted by the U.S. Congress. The CDC's moratorium has been extended three times, once by Congress and twice by the agency itself.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June left the CDC ban in place by a 5-4 decision.
Hundreds of thousands nationwide will be evicted in the months ahead, right into the teeth of the delta variant, so I do hope that vaccination efforts are enough. But I fear that the end of the moratorium is going to be far more consequential than people realize, and the pain that comes from it will be miserable for hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

Retribution Execution, Con't

Donald Trump will settle for nothing less than the political extermination of GOP Rep. Liz Cheney for speaking out against him, and he's in the middle of choosing his catspaw to do his dirty work in Wyoming.

Former President Donald Trump’s top political advisers have been holding quiet talks over the last several months with the primary challengers looking to take down his most prominent Republican nemesis: Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney.

During phone calls and Zoom chats, the Trump advisers have pressed the candidates on their fundraising capabilities, their policy positions and the overall strength of their campaign organizations. The goal: to determine whether they have what it takes to unseat Cheney, the influential daughter of a former vice president, who served as the No. 3 House Republican until colleagues ousted her in the spring.

The talks will escalate next week, when Trump meets with two challengers at his Bedminster, N.J., golf club: state Rep. Chuck Gray and attorney Darin Smith. Trump’s son, Don, Jr., who earlier this year visited Wyoming to speak out against Cheney for supporting his father’s impeachment, is expected to be present at the meetings.

Trump is expected to sit down with other candidates before deciding whom to endorse, though advisers say that Gray and Smith have emerged as the two clear frontrunners. To prevent Cheney from winning renomination with just a plurality of the vote, they also say, Trump needs to back the strongest candidate and then elbow out others in the crowded field.

The behind-the-scenes talks underscore the high stakes confronting Trump, who has made unseating Cheney a priority since she blamed him for inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and voted to impeach him. The outcome of the contest — and Trump’s ability to shape it — will be a key measure of Trump’s post-presidential dominance over the Republican Party.

“The Wyoming race is the highest priority of the cycle. It’s a must-win for President Trump. I hope he fully understands that because it’s an undeniable fact,” said Christopher Ekstrom, a major GOP donor overseeing a super PAC that’s expected to get involved in the effort to unseat Cheney.

Shortly after the January impeachment vote, the former president’s advisers began reaching out to the state Republican Party chair, Frank Eathorne, and state legislators to take their temperature on Wyoming’s political landscape. They were also in touch with the anti-tax Club for Growth, a pro-Trump group that is opposing Cheney.

Trump allies, including Donald Trump, Jr. and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, have participated in anti-Cheney events in the state. Former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows also went to Wyoming to get on-the-ground intel and meet with potential primary challengers.

The Trump team sounded out a potential early challenger in state Treasurer Curt Meier. But Meier said he wasn’t interested and instead recommended Gray, a state legislator and former radio show host who is staunchly supportive of the former president. In late January, Trump pollster John McLaughlin commissioned a 500-person survey through the former president's political action committee, which asked respondents their opinion of Gray and whether they would support him or Cheney in a primary matchup. The poll also tested the strength of another candidate, state Sen. Anthony Bouchard.
While it's definitely a litmus test on the power of Trump's cultism, I don't expect him to lose. I expect Cheney to be utterly destroyed and left broken, with Trump gloating that he crucified her, and that everyone else in the GOP who voted to impeach him will suffer the same fate. 
Most likely he'll be 100% correct.

It is a cult, after all.

The Road To Gilead, Con't

Tired of the subtext, Mississippi GOP Attorney General Lynn Fitch wants her place in the history books as the woman who "ended abortion in America" and is straight-up asking the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade completely in the state's case before the Supreme Court later this fall.

Mississippi's attorney general told the Supreme Court on Thursday that Roe v. Wade was "egregiously wrong" and should be overturned as she urged the justices to allow a controversial law that bars most abortions after 15 weeks to go into effect. 
"The conclusion that abortion is a constitutional right has no basis in text, structure, history, or tradition" state Attorney General Lynn Fitch told the justices in a new brief, launching the opening salvo in the most important abortion-related dispute the court has heard in decades. 
Fitch said that the case for overruling Roe is "overwhelming." 
Roe v. Wade is the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide prior to viability, which can occur at around 24 weeks of pregnancy. 
The case reignites the debate surrounding abortion and comes as states across the country, emboldened by the conservative majority and the addition of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the high court, are increasingly passing restrictive abortion related regulations hoping to curb the constitutional right first established in 1973 in Roe and reaffirmed in 1992 when the court handed down Planned Parenthood v. Casey
The justices deliberated for months whether to take up the Mississippi dispute, finally announcing their decision last spring and sending shock waves to groups supporting abortion rights who are fearful that the conservative majority -- bolstered with three of President Donald Trump's appointees -- will upend long-established constitutional protections for access to abortion. 
Oral arguments will likely be heard in the late fall or early winter with a decision expected by next June in advance of the midterm elections. 
Mississippi's Gestational Age Act, passed in 2018 but blocked by two federal courts, allows abortion after 15 weeks "only in medical emergencies or for severe fetal abnormality" and has no exception for rape or incest. If doctors perform abortions outside the parameters of the law they will have their medical license suspended or revoked and may be subject to additional penalties and fines. 
A district court blocked the law in a decision affirmed by a federal appeals court.
"In an unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's abortion cases have established (and affirmed and re-affirmed) a woman's right to choose an abortion before viability," a panel of judges on the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals said in December of 2019. "States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not ban abortions," the court held and concluded "the law at issue is a ban." 
The Center for Reproductive Rights is representing Jackson Women's Health Organization, the only licensed abortion facility in Mississippi, and the clinic's medical director, Sacheen Carr-Ellis, who are challenging the law. Lawyers for the Center will respond to Mississippi's appeal later this year. 
So yes folks, everything I've been warning about in the Road To Gilead series of posts is coming true at an alarming pace. Thanks and try the veal.

We're rocketing towards a two-tiered system where women have the right over their bodies in only about half the states in America,

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Last Call For The Black Hole Of Justice Kegstand

So, turns out the FBI passed along more than four thousand tips on Justice Brett Kavanaugh before his confirmation hearing to the Trump White House, and the Trump White House dumped the entire file into the garbage can.

Nearly three years after Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s tumultuous confirmation to the Supreme Court, the F.B.I. has disclosed more details about its efforts to review the justice’s background, leading a group of Senate Democrats to question the thoroughness of the vetting and conclude that it was shaped largely by the Trump White House.

In a letter dated June 30 to two Democratic senators, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Chris Coons of Delaware, an F.B.I. assistant director, Jill C. Tyson, said that the most “relevant” of the 4,500 tips the agency received during an investigation into Mr. Kavanaugh’s past were referred to White House lawyers in the Trump administration, whose handling of them remains unclear.

The letter left uncertain whether the F.B.I. itself followed up on the most compelling leads. The agency was conducting a background check rather than a criminal investigation, meaning that “the authorities, policies, and procedures used to investigate criminal matters did not apply,” the letter said.

Ms. Tyson’s letter was a response to a 2019 letter from Mr. Whitehouse and Mr. Coons to the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, posing questions about how the F.B.I.’s review of Mr. Kavanaugh was handled.

In an interview, Mr. Whitehouse said the F.B.I.’s response showed that the F.B.I.’s handling of the accusations into misconduct by Mr. Kavanaugh was a sham. Ms. Tyson’s letter, Mr. Whitehouse said, suggested that the F.B.I. ran a “fake tip line that never got properly reviewed, that was presumably not even conducted in good faith.”

Mr. Whitehouse and six of his Democratic colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee replied to the F.B.I.’s letter on Wednesday with demands for additional details on the agreement with the White House that governed the inquiry. They also pressed for more information on how incoming tips were handled.

“Your letter confirms that the F.B.I.’s tip line was a departure from past practice and that the F.B.I. was politically constrained by the Trump White House,” the senators wrote. Among those signing the letter were Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the committee’s chairman, Mr. Coons and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Donald F. McGahn, the White House’s general counsel at the time, and the F.B.I. did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
I could see this becoming the impetus for the removal of FBI Director Chris Wray down the road, but frankly that's going to be a wildly political move, something that not even Trump dared to do. It's certainly not going to get Kavanaugh to resign, so other than this being a rather stark reminder of Democrats' utter failure in the last ten years on Supreme Court issues, I don't see what the point of this is at all.

Move on.

Biden Fights The Viral, Con't

Here in Cincinnati last night, President Biden held a town hall meeting televised on CNN to talk to the American people, and the big topic was the resurgence of COVID-19's delta variant over the last several weeks that have tripled the number of new infections since the beginning of the month.

President Biden pleaded urgently Wednesday with anyone eligible for a vaccine shot to get one, asserting in an unusually direct way that the pandemic is now essentially a problem only for those who are still refusing to get immunized.

Biden spoke at a pivotal moment in the pandemic, as new cases and deaths are far down from their peak. But the emergence of the coronavirus’s delta variant, along with the refusal of large parts of the population to get vaccinated, has prompted a resurgence in some states and fears of a major spike in the fall.

Speaking to voters in Ohio at a town hall-style event broadcast by CNN, Biden was challenged on issues including the economy and gun laws. But the resurgent pandemic took up most of the discussion, and Biden — while careful not to assign blame — was blunt in making a distinction between those who are now at risk of hospitalization or death and those who are much less so.

“It’s real simple: We have a pandemic for those who haven’t gotten a vaccination,” he said.

He also challenged Americans to reject conspiracy theories and face the reality of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, whatever their politics. A pro-Trump mob overran the U.S. Capitol that day in an attempt to prevent Congress from confirming Biden’s election victory.

“I don’t care if you think I’m Satan reincarnated. The fact is, you can’t look at that television and say nothing happened on the 6th. You can’t listen to people who say this was a peaceful march,” the president said.

The question-and-answer session at Mount St. Joseph University included questions from people who said they had supported the Democrat in his presidential run last year and some who said they had not.

Biden said he expected the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend that children under 12 returning to school next fall wear masks. He said the Food and Drug Administration probably fully would approve a vaccine around the beginning of the school year, rather than the current emergency authorization.
We're in for a bad fall, folks. And, if we're not careful, a bad tumble, as well.

School Of Hard Right Knocks, Con't

A Missouri legislative committee on Monday held a hearing on how educators teach K-12 students about race and racism without hearing from any Black Missourians.

No Black parents, teachers or scholars testified to the Joint Committee on Education during the invite-only hearing on critical race theory.

Aside from an official from Missouri’s education department, the only people who testified Monday were critics of critical race theory, which is a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism.

Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel called it “ridiculous” to have a conversation about inequity while “excluding the very people who are saying we’ve been treated inequitably.”

“That talks more to the kind of hearing that they wanted to have than the information that they wanted to gather,” Chapel told reporters after the hearing. “They wanted to hear from their friends who were going to support their political talking points.”

Republican Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, who leads the committee, said she wanted to use the hearing to highlight voices of parents upset about critical race theory who have said local school officials ignored their complaints.

“I felt today it was important to hear from people who have tried to go through the official cycle of authority within their districts and have basically been turned away,” she told committee members.

O’Laughlin said she also invited an associate professor of teaching who specializes in Black history, but he declined to testify.

She said there will be more committee hearings on critical race theory and more opportunities for the public to weigh in.

“I’m certain this won’t be the last conversation,” she said.
They don't want a debate. They want cover to erase Black history from America, and they're winning

In May, the North Carolina House voted along partisan lines to move to the Senate the “Ensuring Dignity & Nondiscrimination/Schools” bill prohibiting public schools from promoting concepts such as that an individual should feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish” or bear responsibility for actions from the past based on their race or sex; and opposing the characterization that the belief that the United States is a meritocracy is “inherently racist or sexist.” In support of the legislation, the Republican State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt vouched to eradicate CRT from classrooms, saying, “There is no room for divisive rhetoric that condones preferential treatment of any one group over another.” Democratic Rep. James Gailliard of Nash County called it a “don’t-hurt-my-feelings bill” that reproduces “discrimination, fanaticism, bigotry.”

Former President Donald Trump, conservative activists, media, and political figures have turned CRT, which has largely been applied to academic research fields and isn’t actively taught in K-12 schools, into a wedge issue, feeding into parents’ concerns that their children are being indoctrinated with dangerous, radical leftist ideologies. But for the most part, the decades-old academic framework is wrongfully being weaponized as a catchall term to conflate and delegitimize conversations about race, diversity, equity, and inclusion in schools.

“Just teaching about history isn’t CRT,
” Sherick Hughes, a critical race scholar and expert in Black education at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Education, says. The backlash, he adds, is prompted by the idea of doing any critical analysis of not just the present but the past. 

In the end, it's about making sure white kids -- and white parents -- never have to think about the bad parts of US race history, only now there's an entire political party dedicated to disappearing that history forever.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Last Call For Do Fear The Reaper

At this point, openly choosing to not take the vaccine really does have consequences, and it's time that more people learned exactly what the stakes are.
Dr. Brytney Cobia said Monday that all but one of her COVID patients in Alabama did not receive the vaccine. The vaccinated patient, she said, just needed a little oxygen and is expected to fully recover. Some of the others are dying.

“I’m admitting young healthy people to the hospital with very serious COVID infections,” wrote Cobia, a hospitalist at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, in an emotional Facebook post Sunday. “One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late.”

Three COVID-19 vaccines have been widely available in Alabama for months now, yet the state is last in the nation in vaccination rate, with only 33.7 percent of the population fully vaccinated. COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations are surging yet again due to the more contagious Delta variant of the virus and Alabama’s low vaccination rate.

For the first year and a half of the pandemic, Cobia and hundreds of other Alabama physicians caring for critically ill COVID-19 patients worked themselves to the bone trying to save as many as possible.

“Back in 2020 and early 2021, when the vaccine wasn’t available, it was just tragedy after tragedy after tragedy,” Cobia told AL.com this week. “You know, so many people that did all the right things, and yet still came in, and were critically ill and died.”

In the United States, COVID is now a pandemic of the unvaccinated, according to the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Alabama, state officials report 94% of COVID hospital patients and 96% of Alabamians who have died of COVID since April were not fully vaccinated.

“A few days later when I call time of death,” continued Cobia on Facebook, “I hug their family members and I tell them the best way to honor their loved one is to go get vaccinated and encourage everyone they know to do the same.”

“They cry. And they tell me they didn’t know. They thought it was a hoax. They thought it was political. They thought because they had a certain blood type or a certain skin color they wouldn’t get as sick. They thought it was ‘just the flu’. But they were wrong. And they wish they could go back. But they can’t. So they thank me and they go get the vaccine. And I go back to my office, write their death note, and say a small prayer that this loss will save more lives.
More than 11,400 Alabamians have died of COVID so far, but midway through 2021, caring for COVID patients is a different story than it was in the beginning. Cobia said it’s different mentally and emotionally to care for someone who could have prevented their disease but chose not to.

“You kind of go into it thinking, ‘Okay, I’m not going to feel bad for this person, because they make their own choice,’” Cobia said. “But then you actually see them, you see them face to face, and it really changes your whole perspective, because they’re still just a person that thinks that they made the best decision that they could with the information that they have, and all the misinformation that’s out there.
 Only a third of Alabama is fully vaccinated.

That is, at this point, a choice.

Understand the consequences of that choice being at best, a disease that will cause you chronic health issues for life, and at worst a disease that will cause you chronic health issues for life with the length of that lifespan being measured in days, if not agonizing hours where you drown in your own flooded lungs despite the tube shoved down your throat trying desperately to pump the fluid out.

Make the right choice.

The Big Lie, Con't

America still has questions about the January 6th terrorist insurrection, and the majority of us expect Congress to get us some damn answers, which ostensibly is a problem for the GOP.

With Congress' January 6 Select Committee slated to start work soon, Americans still overwhelmingly disapprove of the events they witnessed that day, a sentiment that includes big majorities of both Republicans and of former President Trump's voters, too — and most do think there's more to learn about it. But beyond that larger sentiment, not everyone describes what happened the same way.

A majority of Americans still specifically call what happened that day an "insurrection" and an attempted overthrow of the government. This is where most Democrats and independents land. But roughly one-third of the country call it patriotism, or defending freedom, even though some of them nonetheless disapprove of the attack itself. And on those descriptors, we see divides within the GOP.


This may be worth watching: among Republicans, there is some shifting sentiment as they disapprove, though not quite as strongly as they used to. This less intense disapproval, among some in the Republican base, comes perhaps on the heels of recent comments about the day from former President Trump and others.
Here's the thing though: "There's more to learn" in this case to the GOP clearly means "goofball right-wing conspiracy theories must be investigated and given equal importance", and that's where Kevin McCarthy's merry band of assholes comes in.  

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has made his selection of five Republicans to join the select committee investigating January 6, ensuring that Republicans will have input in the investigation run by Democrats. 
Republican Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Rodney Davis of Illinois, Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota and freshman Troy Nehls of Texas have been selected by McCarthy, the minority leader confirmed to CNN. The group of House Republicans who were named to the select committee huddled in McCarthy's office for a meeting on Monday evening. 
When asked how he arrived at his selections, McCarthy said he carefully chose a mix of members who represent a wide swath of views inside the House GOP conference and can each bring a different area of expertise to the table because of their past jobs or current committee assignments. 
"You've got a mix from the entire conference, from people who objected, people who didn't object. ... You've got people who authored the commission," McCarthy told reporters. "So, you've got a microcosm of the conference."


Please note the "microcosm of the conference" here are all white men from the Midwest, three of the five (Jordan, Banks, and Nehls) who voted to make Trump dictator on January 6th. Rod Davis is the one Republican in that group that actually voted for the January 6th Committee.

But let's be real about what the goal here is:
When asked by CNN what Republicans want to accomplish on the select committee, Jordan attacked Democrats: "You know what this is about. This is about going after President Trump. The Democrats don't want to talk about anything else." 
Banks was selected to be the ranking Republican on the committee and is also the head of the Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative caucus in the House. 
In a statement, Banks confirmed that he had accepted McCarthy's appointment, but outlined his concerns with the scope of the committee, framing it as an effort by Democrats "to malign conservatives and to justify the Left's authoritarian agenda." 
"I have accepted Leader McCarthy's appointment to this committee because we need leaders who will force the Democrats and the media to answer questions so far ignored. Among them, why was the Capitol unprepared and vulnerable to attack on January 6?" Banks asked.
The goal was always to muddy the water and produce ignoble headlines like "Dems, GOP Clash On January 6th Committee" for several weeks, and America tunes the arguing out.
Pelosi knows this, so she told Jordan and Banks to piss off.
McCarthy has now pulled all Republicans from the committee and vows that he'll keep it from going forward.

The fact that Jordan, who should be a potential witness called to answer for his role in the insurrection, was chosen the committee signals very clearly that the GOP is going to do its dead level best to cover up the mess here, and America will just shrug and go back to watching reruns of Judge Judy.

Republicans don't want answers. They want the Big Lie.

A Little Sinema Verite, Con't

Arizona Democratic Sen. Krysten Sinema is in real trouble with her party if she doesn't change her tune on the filibuster, at least according to a new poll in Mother Jones.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s support for the Senate filibuster appears to be doing real damage to her political brand back home. The first-term Arizona Democrat has often defended the Senate’s 60-vote supermajority requirement as a necessary check on partisan whiplash, arguing that it forces the chamber to put together “durable” coalitions. But according to a new survey shared with Mother Jones from the progressive polling and policy firm Data for Progress, her stance has left her far less popular in Arizona than either President Joe Biden or her recently elected Senate colleague, Mark Kelly—and perhaps even vulnerable to a primary challenge.

According to the survey, which was conducted from June 28 to July 6th, Sinema is viewed favorably by 38 percent of voters, compared to 47 percent for Kelly and 51 percent for Biden—all of whom were elected in recent years by similar margins to Sinema. (Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s favorability sits at 44 percent.) The numbers are more stark when you look at the partisan breakdown. Sinema is viewed favorably by just 42 percent of Democrats (with 39 percent viewing her unfavorably), while Kelly, who was elected narrowly last fall, is at 75 percent favorability with just 17 percent viewing him unfavorably. Biden? He’s doing just fine according to Arizona Democrats, with 95 percent viewing him positively.

Beyond the toplines, though, there are some ominous numbers for Sinema’s long-term standing back home. Democratic voters overwhelmingly support a $15 minimum wage according the survey; Sinema drew the ire of activists this spring for casting a largely symbolic vote against adding such a minimum-wage hike to the coronavirus stimulus package. They support getting rid of the legislative filibuster and overwhelmingly back the PRO Act, which would expand rights and protections for labor unions, but which Sinema has not signed onto.

After voters were read a script linking the filibuster to Republican obstruction, 66 percent of Democrats said that if given the chance in a 2024 Senate primary, they would “vote for a different candidate who would get rid of the filibuster.”

There’s one silver lining in all these numbers for Sinema. The poll also indicates she’s far more popular among Republicans than either Kelly or Biden. More than twice as popular, in fact. And this isn’t the first recent poll to pick up on such a divide. Another Arizona survey last month—this time of registered voters—showed a similarly stark gap. That survey, from pollster Bendixen & Amandi, found that while Kelly, like Biden, was overwhelmingly popular among Democrats and overwhelmingly unpopular among Republicans, Sinema’s numbers among the two parties were almost identical: She was viewed favorably by 52 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of Republicans.
Being underwater with your own party, but preferred by Republicans, well...

Let's just say if I were an Arizona Democrat, I'd be looking at a possible primary challenge to Sinema. We'll see how she reacts to this. You can't stay in office very long if you lose a primary.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Last Call For The Rights Thing To Try

Vice President Kamala Harris is making a final push to bring Republican senators on board with voting rights legislation, and while I understand the sentiment, I don't understand why anyone believes a single Republican in Congress will vote for anything involving voting rights that doesn't also include disenfranchising an equal amount of Black, brown, and Asian voters.

Vice President Kamala Harris says she is speaking with Republican senators on a key piece of voting legislation. During a phone interview with CBS News, the vice president said there is "no bright line" defining whom she speaks to about voting rights legislation. She said it's "a non-partisan issue" and "should be approached that way."

In response to a question about whether she had spoken with any GOP senators about S. 1, the sweeping voting rights bill that has been blocked in the Senate, she replied, "I have spoken to Republican senators — both elected Republicans and Republican leaders," Harris said, and she identified one GOP senator.

"I've talked with [Senator Lisa] Murkowski about this issue," Harris said.

Harris' office later clarified that the two had discussed infrastructure, not voting rights. A spokesperson for Murkowski did not respond to a request for comment.

S. 1 is not a bill that Murkowski favors — she has previously called the For the People Act a "partisan, federal takeover of the election system."

The Alaska senator is the co-sponsor of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would essentially restore a portion of the act struck down by the Supreme Court. This bill also faces GOP opposition and has not yet been introduced, but the White House has expressed support for this legislation, too.
Oh, never mind, it's one GOP senator, Murkowski, and she won't vote for it. 

I guess we can keep wasting time with this, or go for reconciliation, which was always going to be the answer.
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