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Member since: Fri Jan 14, 2005, 11:36 PM
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Jay Kuo: Conspiracy Theories and the MAGA GOP


There are three modern political conspiracies that a good number of the American public have bought into, more or less fully.

The first we are familiar with: the Big Lie about a stolen election. This theory posits, in a nutshell, that the Democrats managed to pull off electoral fraud on a massive scale across numerous states, enough to tip the election to Joe Biden and rob Trump of his rightful win.

The second concerns the so-called “Biden Crime Family,” which takes the true narrative that Hunter Biden was profiting off of his father’s position to falsely assert that the entire Biden “family” (meaning, his father) is corrupt. This conspiracy is complicated, as many are, because it is intertwined with Russian propaganda about Ukrainian corruption. It is also now the driving factor behind an evidence-free impeachment inquiry in the House.

The third conspiracy is of “election interference,” a drum Trump and his acolytes like to beat nearly daily, which claims that federal and state prosecutors are in a coordinated effort to take Trump down in order to keep him from regaining the Oval Office. They make this assertion even though there is an independent Special Counsel in charge of both federal prosecutions and there are independent local prosecutors bringing the state charges.

These three conspiracies are all fairly easily disproved based on the facts. But facts and the truth have never stopped a conspiracy from spreading. They follow a very familiar course for modern conspiracies, and in a normal world, the public would lump them in with 9/11 truthers and Pizzagate.


How Copaganda Works: The Media Helps Police Amplify Misleading Narratives Around Crime


What do successful alternatives to policing, prosecution, and prison actually look like? And how would they work? A group of Chicago’s leading public safety, health, and justice innovators gathered at the DePaul Art Museum last summer to provide much-needed clarity on these crucial questions.

Artists, survivors of violence, entrepreneurs and business leaders, public defenders, policy experts, restorative justice practitioners, and system-impacted people sat down for a series of conversations while exploring Remaking the Exceptional, a groundbreaking exhibition on torture and incarceration.

The conversations expose common myths about crime and punishment and explain a range of critical issues and innovations, including restorative justice, violence interruption, copaganda, pretrial detention, and the criminalization of survivors, among others.

The following short film — the fourth in a series named after the exhibition and produced by Zealous, Truthout, and Teen Vogue — focuses on the concept of “copaganda,” or police-centered media coverage and propaganda. It explains how journalists and media outlets — sometimes inadvertently — help police and prosecutors amplify misleading narratives around crime and violence at the expense of community health and safety.


John Solomon inadvertently detonated the House impeachment case


The right-wing scandal machine relies on confusing the public with references to an obscure cast of characters and a plethora of minute details which they claim prove their political foes engaged in nefarious deeds. But when you dig through the labyrinthine particulars they rail about, you often find that the core of their story is total nonsense. Here is one such case.

The right-wing conspiracy theory that Joe Biden, as vice president, pushed for Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor in order to aid his son Hunter’s business dealings is a pillar of House Republicans’ push to impeach him. Even some GOP members of Congress have pointed out there is “no evidence” to support this long-debunked narrative. But the hypothesis is further demolished by a document published last month by — of all people — the fabulist John Solomon, which indisputably confirms that at the time of that meeting, it was the policy of the U.S. government to seek that prosecutor’s removal.

The right has baselessly claimed for years that when Biden told Ukraine’s leaders during a December 2015 visit that the U.S. would not release $1 billion in loan guarantees unless they fired Viktor Shokin, the country’s prosecutor general, he was acting to benefit Hunter by halting Shokin’s purported probe of Burisma Holdings, on whose board Hunter served. Solomon, a former Fox News contributor and Washington Times editor, played a key role in concocting this pseudoscandal, alongside Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Fox News host Sean Hannity, and others, as they sought to damage Biden’s 2020 presidential run.

Their allegations were nonsense: Biden was carrying out U.S. policy, Shokin had been widely faulted by Western governments for failing to prosecute corruption, and his Burisma probe had stalled, as detailed in contemporaneous news reports and sworn testimony during then-President Donald Trump’s first impeachment. But House Republicans have revived the conspiracy theory as the core of their Biden impeachment plan.


Project 2025: "Mandate for Leadership: The Conservative Promise"


Most people aren’t aware of Project 2025, or its playbook, “Mandate for Leadership: The Conservative Promise”—but you need to be. In stark terms, Project 2025 reveals the conservatives’ plan to enact a sweeping “Don’t Say Gay” policy that will effectively blot out all LGBTQ content on the internet as well as any published material with LGBTQ content, no matter how benign.

Project 2025 is a coalition of prominent conservative organizations that includes the Claremont Institute, Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Research Council, Hillsdale College, Heritage Foundation, Freedom Works, American Legislative Exchange Council, American Principles Project, and dozens of others. The organization’s goal is to lay out a “first 180 days” agenda for the next administration, and to recruit conservatives to fill positions within the federal government appointed by the executive branch.

“The Mandate for Leadership” is a 920-page document that details how the next Republican administration will implement radical and sweeping changes to the entirety of government. This blueprint assumes that the next president will be able to rule by fiat under the unitary executive theory (which posits that the president has the power to control the entire federal executive branch). It is also based on the premise that the next president will implement Schedule F, which allows the president to fire any federal employee who has policy-making authority, and replace them with a presidential appointee who is not voted on in the Senate.

The document is basically a wish list for social conservatives and mega corporations. The business wish list calls for eliminating federal agencies, stripping those that remain of regulatory power, and deregulating industries. The president would directly manage and influence Department of Justice and FBI cases, which would allow him to pursue criminal cases against political enemies. Environmental law would be gutted, and states would be prevented from enforcing their own environmental laws.


Chemo for Democracy


No paywall

With four separate criminal cases moving forward against Donald Trump, the rule of law in America appears both commanding and startlingly fragile. Small scenes at courthouses from Florida to New York underline the ever-present threat of violence. In Fulton County, Georgia, officials set up bright-orange security barriers around the courthouse in advance of Trump’s indictment there. In Washington, D.C., fences and yellow tape surrounded the U.S. district court. Judge Tanya Chutkan, who will oversee the federal case against Trump for his efforts to overturn the election, has received increased protection from U.S. marshals—and perhaps not a moment too soon, as a Texas woman was recently arrested for calling in death threats against the judge. Trump, meanwhile, has been busy attacking Chutkan and other judges on social media, smearing the prosecutors bringing the cases against him as a “fraud squad” doing the bidding of President Joe Biden, and promising to turn the Justice Department against his foes should he win a second term.

It’s a grim picture. “The next 18 months could further undermine confidence in democracy and the rule of law,” The Washington Post warned in June. Some commentators, largely on the right, have cautioned that the investigations and prosecutions of Trump might widen cracks in the already-unstable foundations of the American public sphere. Last year, the National Review editor Rich Lowry cautioned in Politico that U.S. institutions “are ill-equipped to withstand the intense turbulence that would result from prosecuting the political champion of millions of people.” Writing more recently in National Review, John Yoo and John Shu argued that even a successful prosecution of Trump for his efforts to overturn the election “will leave many doubtful of the conviction and more distrustful of the Justice Department and the criminal-justice system, especially at a time when public trust in our institutions is already in decline.”

As the threats of violence and attacks on the justice system show, these concerns are not unfounded—far from it. But worrying about the dangers of prosecuting Trump is a bit like focusing on the risk that chemotherapy poses to a cancer patient’s health. The reasoning isn’t exactly wrong; it just begins the analysis in the wrong place. The chemotherapy might be ugly, but it isn’t the source of the problem. It’s the treatment for the underlying disease.

During Watergate, Richard Nixon’s White House Counsel, John Dean, famously told the president that the scandal had become a “cancer growing on the presidency.” Trump’s presence in American politics is similarly malignant. He has made the country meaner, uglier, and more violent. During his first term, he ate away at the protections guarding the U.S. system from authoritarianism, insisting on his own right to absolute power. For prosecutors to have ignored Trump’s provocations would have been to allow the cancer to progress—to acquiesce to his vision of a fundamentally corrupt politics in which the only constraint on power is the threat of vengeance.


Keri Blakinger: The Dungeons & Dragons Players of Death Row


No paywall

The first time Tony Ford played Dungeons & Dragons, he was a wiry Black kid who had never seen the inside of a prison. His mother, a police officer in Detroit, had quit the force and moved the family to West Texas. To Ford, it seemed like a different world. Strangers talked funny, and El Paso was half desert. But he could skateboard in all that open space, and he eventually befriended a nerdy white kid with a passion for Dungeons & Dragons. Ford fell in love with the role-playing game right away; it was complex and cerebral, a saga you could lose yourself in. And in the 1980s, everyone seemed to be playing it.

D.&D. had come out a decade earlier with little fanfare. It was a tabletop role-playing game known for its miniature figurines and 20-sided dice. Players were entranced by the way it combined a choose-your-own-adventure structure with group performance. In D.&D., participants create their own characters — often magical creatures like elves and wizards — to go on quests in fantasy worlds. A narrator and referee, known as the Dungeon Master, guides players through each twist and turn of the plot. There’s an element of chance: The roll of the die can determine if a blow is strong enough to take down a monster or whether a stranger will help you. The game has since become one of the most popular in the world, celebrated in nostalgic television shows and dramatized in movies. It is played in homes, at large conventions and even in prisons.

By the time Ford got to high school, he had drifted toward other interests — girls, cars and friends who sold drugs and ran with gangs. Ford started doing those things, too. He didn’t get into serious trouble until Dec. 18, 1991. Sometime before 9 p.m., two Black men knocked on the door of a small home on Dale Douglas Drive in southeast El Paso, asking for “the man of the house.” The woman who answered, Myra Murillo, refused to let them in. A few minutes later, they returned, breaking down the door and demanding money and jewelry. One opened fire, killing Murillo’s 18-year-old son, Armando.

Within hours, police picked up a suspect, who said Ford was his partner. They arrested Ford, who was 18 at the time, the following day. He has maintained that the two men who entered the house were brothers, and that he was outside in the car the whole time. There was no physical evidence clearly connecting him to the crime. He was so confident that a jury would believe him that he rejected a plea deal and took his case to trial in July 1993. He lost. By October, at age 20, he was on death row.


Trump Judges Have a New Strategy for Gutting Minority Rights


No paywall

Can a state prohibit gay people from adopting children or stop immigrants from purchasing property? Under modern Supreme Court precedent, the answer to these questions is an emphatic no. Over the past week, however, federal judges appointed by Donald Trump have answered both questions yes, and without a hint of doubt or discomfort. To greenlight this wave of hate, Trump judges are ignoring more enlightened contemporary precedent, relying instead on old, repudiated decisions that upheld bigotry and oppression. By invoking these zombie precedents, Trump’s judges are attempting to roll back decades of constitutional progress to create space for the Republican Party’s ongoing pursuit of nativist and anti-LGBTQ state-level legislation. Only the Supreme Court can send these discredited pseudo-precedents back to their tomb—and it is unclear if they will bother to do so.

The award for most shocking and gratuitous revival of zombie precedent must go to Judge Barbara Lagoa, whose opinion in Monday’s Eknes-Tucker v. Alabama constitutes a venomous ambush of the South’s LGBTQ+ community. Writing for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, Lagoa upheld Alabama’s criminalization of gender-affirming care for transgender minors, joined in full by fellow Circuit Judge Andrew Brasher and District Judge J.P. Boulee, who’s sitting on the case. (All three are Trump appointees.)

There are several constitutional infirmities in Alabama’s law, most of which Lagoa tried to circumvent by mechanically citing Dobbs to support the notion that trans health care can’t be a fundamental right because it didn’t exist in 1868. But that approach did not resolve a different problem: The Supreme Court has long held that parents do have a fundamental right “to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.” As the lower court ruled in this case, Alabama infringed on that right by revoking parents’ ability to “direct the medical care” of their kids in accordance with “medically accepted standards.” This intrusion into parental authority is subject to strict scrutiny, which the law cannot survive because it is far broader than necessary to achieve its stated purpose of protecting children.

To avoid Supreme Court precedent supporting parents’ rights, Lagoa turned to one of the most bigoted appellate decisions of the century so far: 2004’s Lofton v. Secretary of Department of Children and Families. In Lofton, the 11th Circuit upheld a Florida law barring gay people—whom the court dubbed “practicing homosexuals”—from adopting children. The Lofton court held that this ban, which has since been overturned, served the state’s “overriding interest” in placing children “with a secure family environment,” which gay people were less likely to provide. “Homosexuals,” the court continued, are unable to provide the “stable and nurturing environment for the education and socialization” of children that heterosexuals can. So Florida had legitimate cause to prevent gay people from “shaping” adoptive children’s “psychology, character, and personality.” The state also had rational reasons to conclude that gay parents could inhibit their children’s “sexual development throughout pubescence and adolescence.”


A Public Service: Translating the President's many crimes for the Fox News watchers


Hey everyone. This will be a short public service announcement for consumers of right wing media, who I think we should call “patriots” in deference to their own narratives about themselves.

If you aren’t one of these, please feel free to use it yourself when explaining recent news to the patriots in your life.

As you’re probably aware, the former white christian president and aspiring fascist dictator Donny D-town Trump got hit with a fourth set of indictments this week, which means that his next one is free and will include a complimentary muffin.

The charges against the white supremacist demagogue are many, and damning in both their scope and their severity, and also by the fact that we actually watched him do many of them right on television, or heard tape of him doing them over the phone some weeks after he did them, and in some cases also heard him brag about doing them while denying he did them, and so forth.

In a court of law, he’s innocent until proven guilty. In a court of our own eyes and ears, however, he is—to quote young 60s college radio personality “Marvelous” Mark Slackmeyer—“Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!” And as somebody who still hopes—after watching one institution after another crumble in the face of horrible people who are simply shameless enough to ignore rules that were apparently built not on a system of checks and balances but on tissue paper and a wan handshake—that some center might hold, I have to say that it is heartening to see that a lifetime of open crime eventually can lead, after decades of self-enrichment and untold damage done, to some criminal charges, if not actual convictions.


Judd Legum: Meet the "scholars" who created Florida's new Black history curriculum


To comply with the Stop WOKE Act, a 2022 law championed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R), the state needed to create a new curriculum for Black history. The law required the curriculum to "celebrate the inspirational stories of African Americans who prospered, even in the most difficult circumstances" and banned instruction that would make students "feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race."

The new Black history curriculum was approved by the State Board of Education on July 19. The response has been scathing. "Today's actions by the Florida state government are an attempt to bring our country back to a 19th century America where Black life was not valued, nor our rights protected," NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement.

Much of the criticism has centered around a provision of the new curriculum that requires instruction about "how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit." That provision was blasted by Black Republicans. “There is no silver lining in slavery,” Senator and presidential candidate Tim Scott (R-SC) said. “Slavery was really about separating families, about mutilating humans and even raping their wives. It was just devastating.” Congressmen Byron Donalds (R-FL) and John James (R-MI) also spoke out against the curriculum. DeSantis responded by attacking the three Black Republicans, claiming they accepted Democrats' "false narratives" and "lies."

DeSantis also defended the notion that enslaved people benefited from slavery. "Some of the folks…eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life," DeSantis told a reporter while campaigning in Iowa.


A.R. Moxon: What you find "understandable" depends on who it is you choose to understand


So let’s say you’re on the subway and it’s crowded, and let’s say a guy gets onto your car and crowd in next to you. And let’s say he steps on your toes.

And you think, hey, it’s a crowded car, that’s just a mistake. It hurt, but it didn’t injure. You assume no ill will. You might not even say anything about it. It’s city living.

Say he does it again, so you clear your throat, to make sure he’s aware of you. And then again. And so you break your silence, and politely ask him to please take care.

And then he tells you that he didn’t step on your toes, and while he tells you that, he makes eye contact with you, and steps on them again—hard. And you yell at him, because you now know it is intentional. And he loudly protests that he has no intention of stepping on feet, he doesn’t even see feet, and that the place where your feet are is his area of the car anyway. He is only concerned about equality. This is a question of integrity in matters of subway floor-plan fairness, he says, and if you’re getting your little toes stepped on—which you aren’t—it’s because you’re putting yourself somewhere where you shouldn’t be, which means that you are actually the one infringing on the space of others. And, having said this, he steps on your toes.

So you shove him away.

Now let’s say I see this, and come over.

Say I scold you that violence is never appropriate, and explain that you are adding to the overall polarization and division on the subway car. Say I tell you that while you have the right to your opinion, he has the right to his, because this is a free country, and we all have to exist together on this subway car, and his position is perfectly understandable, if you’ll just listen to it. And if you won’t, then you are actually causing him to kick you.

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