Sunday, May 1, 2022

Last Call For The Return Of Nerd Prom

Donald Trump famously canceled the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the White House because of his equally famous inability to take a joke at his expense, and then COVID sank the affair for another two years. The WHCA finally held their dinner over the weekend and President Biden and headliner Trevor Noah got in some epic burns of the Village Idiots.

The White House press corps’ annual gala returned Saturday night along with the roasting of Washington, the journalists who cover it and the man at the helm: President Biden.

The White House Correspondents’ Assn. dinner, sidelined by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, featured Biden as the first president in six years to accept an invitation. President Trump shunned the event while in office.

“Just imagine if my predecessor came to this dinner this year,” Biden told an audience of 2,600, among them journalists, government officials and celebrities. “Now that would really have been a real coup.”

The president took the opportunity to test out his comedic chops, making light of the criticism he has faced in his 15 months in office while taking aim at his predecessor, the Republican Party and the members of the press.

“I’m really excited to be here tonight with the only group of Americans with a lower approval rating than I have,” Biden said to the Hilton ballroom filled with members of the media.

Biden also made light of the “Let’s Go Brandon” slogan, which has become the right’s stand-in for swearing at the president.

“Republicans seem to support one fella, some guy named Brandon,” Biden said, causing an uproar of laughter among the crowd. “He’s having a really good year. I’m happy for him.”

As far as roasting the GOP, he said, “There’s nothing I can say about the GOP that Kevin McCarthy hasn’t already put on tape.”

He also took a jab at Fox News. “I know there are a lot of questions about whether we should gather here tonight because of COVID. Well, we’re here to show the country that we’re getting through this pandemic. Plus, everyone has to prove they are fully vaccinated and boosted,” Biden said. “Just contact your favorite Fox News reporter. They’re all here. Vaccinated and boosted.”

In addition to speeches from Biden and comedian Trevor Noah, the hours-long event had taped skits from talk show host James Corden, comedian Billy Eichner and the president himself.

“Thank you for having me here,” Noah said to Biden. “And I was a little confused on why me, but then I was told that you get your highest approval ratings when a biracial African guy is standing next to you.”

While the majority of the speech was filled with cutting jabs, Biden did make note of the important role journalism plays in American democracy, especially in the last decade.

“I mean this from the bottom of my heart, that you, the free press, matter more than you ever did in the last century,” he said. “You are the guardians of the truth.”

The dinner had other serious moments, with tributes to pioneer journalists of color, aspiring student reporters and a dedication to the journalists detained, injured or killed during the coverage of the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine
Noah's closing monologue at the end of the night made it clear how much trouble journalism is across the globe, and how America's local reporters are the backbone to freedom of the press here. It was good to see them getting a major shoutout. Lord knows none of them would rate an invite to Nerd Prom. 

Still, let's not forget that the relationship between the government and the media in 2022 is 100% transactional access, and it's been that way for decades now. It's definitely necessary to poke fun at it, but it's more so to reform it.

Border Line Fascism, Con't

Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott sees his path to the White House going over the corpses of women needing abortions and immigrants in a culture war defending white "Christian" ethno-nationalism, and now he's dropping the pretense of war on Brown People and looking to make it official.

For the past year, Mr. Abbott has transformed an unceasing flow of migrants over the border into a potent political message, seizing the role of defending the country from unauthorized migration as he runs for a third term in November. His aggressive posture has done little to stem the tide and also exposed him to fierce criticism that he is using his authority to meddle in a policy area that belongs to the federal government. Still, his efforts to tighten border security and harden Texas’ 1,254-mile frontier have helped Mr. Abbott, a Republican, hold off challenges from his right and made the lawyerly governor into a regular on Fox News.

Now Mr. Abbott is weighing whether to invoke actual war powers to seize much broader state authority on the border. He could do so, advocates inside and outside his administration argue, by officially declaring an “invasion” to comply with a clause in the U.S. Constitution that says states cannot engage in war except when “actually invaded.”

Top lawyers for Mr. Abbott and for the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, met this month to debate the move, which would put the state in a head-on collision with the federal government by allowing state police to arrest and deport migrants, according to two people familiar with the discussions. Mr. Abbott says he remains open to the approach, but he has expressed concern about unintended consequences.

“If we do use this strategy, it could expose law enforcement in the state of Texas to being prosecuted,” Mr. Abbott said during a recent news conference. But, he added: “Is it something we’re looking into? Yes.”

Already, the governor has mobilized thousands of National Guard troops to sit at border posts, and ordered safety inspections of trucks coming from Mexico, disrupting international trade. He has overseen construction of 20 miles of new border fencing, repurposed certain state prisons to hold migrants charged with trespassing, poured money into border towns for law enforcement and paid for buses to take willing migrants from Texas to Washington, D.C.

The Biden administration has been dismissive of Mr. Abbott’s actions on the border, at times calling them a “political stunt,” and has not taken steps to intervene, despite calls from Texas Democrats to do so. Any attempt by Texas to enforce federal immigration laws would almost certainly end up in court.

Even as Mr. Abbott has directed more than $3 billion to border security, and approved an additional $500 million on Friday, he has little to show for it beyond drug seizures and arrest figures. The overlapping state actions have not held back the rush of arrivals.

Federal agents recorded nearly 129,000 crossings into Texas in March, about 11,000 more than during the same month last year, when Mr. Abbott began the effort known as Operation Lone Star. The biggest increase occurred in an area of the border that includes Eagle Pass, a sun-faded city of 28,000 people, numerous stray cats and dogs and few resources to spare.

Costs have been mounting. Just maintaining the National Guard deployment through the summer will require another $531 million, state officials said this month. A 22-year-old soldier assigned to the mission drowned last week while attempting to rescue two migrants in swift water.

And now officials in Texas are bracing for an even larger influx of migrants, who are expected to come when the Biden administration ends a pandemic policy of turning back many asylum seekers under the public health rule known as Title 42.

Across from Eagle Pass in the Mexican city of Piedras Negras, large numbers of migrants are awaiting the policy change, ready to cross. Many others are not waiting.

“What’s most important is prevention,” Steven C. McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said. “And we’ve got a ways to go.”
At some point this summer, Abbott is going to make good on this threat to militarize the state and seize emergency war powers, and then the raids and mass incarcerations and deportations will begin as Texans are encouraged to rat out undocumented neighbors and friends with a bounty system similar to that of women getting abortions.
Now, we all know that Abbott being "tough" on border security is a con job, the feds are stopping drugs and trafficking but he gets to go on FOX and say they're a failure for not stopping 100% of it. He's also learned that if he disrupts the border or even closes it for a worth period of time as he did last month, he can cost America billions per day.

Now imagine him drafting state police, Texas Rangers, and the Texas National Guard to round up, imprison, and deport undocumented immigrants carte blanche. You want to talk about fear?

Do you want to bet that the Roberts Court will stop this? Do you want to bet that the Biden Administration will stop this? Because I don't think either will be able to.

Abbott's going to make good on this threat, and all the mass incarceration infrastructure that was put in place under Trump is going to get used spectacularly this summer.

I hope I'm wrong on this.

I don't think I will be.

Sunday Long Read: Tucker Up, America

The NY Times gives us a multi-part long read this week, the subject being how FOX News carbuncle Tucker Carlson became America's Favorite TV Racist, and how he has been the voice of white supremacy for years now and has an audience of tens of millions, some of which or more than willing to conduct violence for the cause.

Tucker Carlson burst through the doors of Charlie Palmer Steak, enfolded in an entourage of producers and assistants, cellphone pressed to his ear. On the other end was Lachlan Murdoch, chairman of the Fox empire and his de facto boss.

Most of Fox’s Washington bureau, along with the cable network’s top executives, had gathered at the power-class steakhouse, a few blocks from the office, for their annual holiday party. Days earlier, Mr. Carlson had set off an uproar, claiming on air that mass immigration made America “poor and dirtier.” Blue-chip advertisers were fleeing. Within Fox, Mr. Carlson was widely viewed to have finally crossed some kind of line. Many wondered what price he might pay.

The answer became clear that night in December 2018: absolutely none.

When “Tucker Carlson Tonight” aired, Mr. Carlson doubled down, playing video of his earlier comments and citing a report from an Arizona government agency that said each illegal border crossing left up to eight pounds of litter in the desert. Afterward, on the way to the Christmas party, Mr. Carlson spoke directly with Mr. Murdoch, who praised his counterattack, according to a former Fox employee told of the exchange.

“We’re good,” Mr. Carlson said, grinning triumphantly, as he walked into the restaurant.

In the years since, Mr. Carlson has constructed what may be the most racist show in the history of cable news — and also, by some measures, the most successful. Though he frequently declares himself an enemy of prejudice — “We don’t judge them by group, and we don’t judge them on their race,” Mr. Carlson explained to an interviewer a few weeks before accusing impoverished immigrants of making America dirty — his show teaches loathing and fear. Night after night, hour by hour, Mr. Carlson warns his viewers that they inhabit a civilization under siege — by violent Black Lives Matter protesters in American cities, by diseased migrants from south of the border, by refugees importing alien cultures, and by tech companies and cultural elites who will silence them, or label them racist, if they complain. When refugees from Africa, numbering in the hundreds, began crossing into Texas from Mexico during the Trump administration, he warned that the continent’s high birthrates meant the new arrivals might soon “overwhelm our country and change it completely and forever.” Amid nationwide outrage over George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer, Mr. Carlson dismissed those protesting the killing as “criminal mobs.” Companies like Angie’s List and Papa John’s dropped their ads. The following month, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” became the highest-rated cable news show in history.

His encyclopedia of provocations has only expanded. Since the 2020 presidential election, Mr. Carlson has become the most visible and voluble defender of those who violently stormed the U.S. Capitol to keep Donald J. Trump in office, playing down the presence of white nationalists in the crowd and claiming the attack “barely rates as a footnote.” In February, as Western pundits and politicians lined up to condemn the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, for his impending invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Carlson invited his viewers to shift focus back to the true enemy at home. “Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist?” Mr. Carlson asked. “Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?” He was roundly labeled an apologist and Putin cheerleader, only to press ahead with segments that parroted Russian talking points and promoted Kremlin propaganda about purported Ukrainian bioweapons labs.

Alchemizing media power into political influence, Mr. Carlson stands in a nativist American tradition that runs from Father Coughlin to Patrick J. Buchanan. Now Mr. Carlson’s on-air technique — gleefully courting blowback, then fashioning himself as his aggrieved viewers’ partner in victimhood — has helped position him, as much as anyone, to inherit the populist movement that grew up around Mr. Trump. At a moment when white backlash is the jet fuel of a Republican Party striving to return to power in Washington, he has become the pre-eminent champion of Americans who feel most threatened by the rising power of Black and brown citizens. To channel their fear into ratings, Mr. Carlson has adopted the rhetorical tropes and exotic fixations of white nationalists, who have watched gleefully from the fringes of public life as he popularizes their ideas. Mr. Carlson sometimes refers to “legacy Americans,” a dog-whistle term that, before he began using it on his show last fall, appeared almost exclusively in white nationalist outlets like The Daily Stormer, The New York Times found. He takes up story lines otherwise relegated to far-right or nativist websites like VDare: “Tucker Carlson Tonight” has featured a string of segments about the gruesome murders of white farmers in South Africa, which Mr. Carlson suggested were part of a concerted campaign by that country’s Black-led government. Last April, Mr. Carlson set off yet another uproar, borrowing from a racist conspiracy theory known as “the great replacement” to argue that Democrats were deliberately importing “more obedient voters from the third world” to “replace” the current electorate and keep themselves in power. But a Times analysis of 1,150 episodes of his show found that it was far from the first time Mr. Carlson had done so.

“Tucker is ultimately on our side,” Scott Greer, a former deputy editor at the Carlson-founded Daily Caller, who cut ties with the publication in 2018 after his past writings for a white nationalist site were unearthed, said on his podcast last spring. “He can get millions and millions of boomers to nod along with talking points that would have only been seen on VDare or American Renaissance a few years ago.”

That pattern is no accident. To a degree not broadly appreciated outside Fox, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” is the apex of a programming and editorial strategy that transformed the network during the Trump era, according to interviews with dozens of current and former Fox executives, producers and journalists. Like the Republican Party itself, Fox has sought to wring rising returns out of a slowly declining audience: the older white conservatives who make up Mr. Trump’s base and much of Fox’s core viewership. To minimize content that might tempt them to change the channel, Fox News has sidelined Trump-averse or left-leaning contributors. It has lost some of its most respected news journalists, most recently Chris Wallace, the longtime host of Fox’s flagship Sunday show. During the same period, according to former employees and journalists there, Fox has leaned harder into stories of illegal immigrants or nonwhite Americans caught in acts of crime or violence, often plucked from local news sites and turbocharged by the channel’s vast digital news operation. Network executives ordered up such coverage so relentlessly during the Trump years that some employees referred to it by a grim nickname: “brown menace.


I understand the argument, we've gone from "free speech is free speech" to "free speech has consequences" to "who decides those consequences, and why do they decide that my free speech specifically should have them, that's censorship" to where we are now, which is "If I suffer any consequences, it's proof that you don't believe in free speech, and I will stop you."

Which is, you know, actual fascism.
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