Criminal justice reform faces political buzzsaw as GOP hones its midterm message

“The Senate delivered former President Donald Trump a bipartisan criminal justice reform deal shortly after the last midterm election. Staging a sequel for President Joe Biden this year won’t be so easy.
Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, are still in talks over finalizing a package that would serve as a more narrow follow-up to the 2018 prison and sentencing reform bill known as the First Step Act. But both senior senators acknowledge it’s not a glide path forward, particularly given the GOP messaging on rising crime ahead of the 2022 midterms — a focus that was on full display during Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court hearings last month.”

“While both Durbin and Grassley say the sequel legislation is necessary to fully implement and expand on the sentencing updates in the First Step law, the campaign-season politics surrounding criminal justice reform threaten broader GOP support. Though 38 Republican senators backed the 2018 bill, it took Trump’s personal appeals to get many on board. And with Democrats in full control of Washington, Republicans’ emerging midterm message — that liberals are to blame for rising violent crime — could make sentencing changes that much harder.”

The time to panic about anti-trans legislation is now

“In recent weeks, as Republican politicians in several states have introduced increasingly draconian measures designed to crack down on the lives and well-being of trans teenagers”

“A bill in Idaho, currently being considered by the state Senate after being passed out of the House, perhaps goes furthest in this regard. That bill would make providing medical care to trans youths a felony, punishable with up to life in prison. It would also effectively trap families of trans children in Idaho by forbidding them to travel elsewhere for treatment.”

” exas Gov. Greg Abbott directed that state’s Department of Family and Protective Services to open child abuse investigations into parents who pursue gender-affirming health care for their trans children. A judge issued an injunction against the directive being carried out, but a tweet from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton suggested that the state will ignore the injunction and continue investigations into families of trans children.”

“There is a reason every major American medical body recommends giving trans children the chance to transition. (Here’s an article from the American Medical Association’s Journal of Ethics making this argument 11 years ago.) Children first transition socially — with changes to their clothing, haircut, and name. Then, with a physician’s guidance, they can block the onset of puberty in early adolescence, and finally start hormone treatment in later adolescence.
This method works. We have records of trans children receiving hormone treatment as long ago as the 1930s. With this approach, trans kids can largely live lives that are indistinguishable from those of cis kids.”

“It’s worth repeating some other basic facts: Affirming trans children’s genders reduces their risk of attempting suicide; the use of puberty blockers in trans kids is safe; children are having bottom surgery only in exceptionally rare cases; and almost every element of trans health care we have was originally developed for cisgender people. (Cis children with precocious puberty have been using blockers for decades!)”

How Jan. 6 Enabled Greater Interference In Our Elections

“In around a half dozen states under Republican control, new laws have reduced the authority of state election officers who haven’t backed Trump’s “Big Lie” and/or allowed GOP-controlled statewide boards to more easily override or threaten local election administrators in Democratic-leaning areas. And that could be just the tip of the iceberg, as bills to create similar laws have been proposed in other states, too, as well as even more extreme proposals that would make it easier for state legislatures to subvert or even ignore election results.

For instance, some Republican-controlled states have even targeted statewide officials to reduce their oversight over elections. In Arizona, for example, the GOP took away the authority over election-related litigation from the secretary of state – currently a Democrat – and shifted it to the state attorney general — a Republican. Tellingly, however, this change is set to expire in January 2023 at the same time the secretary of state’s term ends. Meanwhile in Georgia, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s refusal to help Trump interfere in Georgia’s 2020 election result not only earned him a Trump-endorsed primary challenger who supports the Big Lie, but it also led state Republicans to remove the secretary of state as a voting member of Georgia’s State Election Board and give the Republican-run state legislature control over appointing the board’s chair.

New laws in GOP-run states have also placed local election officials more overtly under the thumb of state authorities, enabling Republicans to target the election apparatuses of Democratic-leaning localities. In Georgia, for instance, the Republican majority on the State Election Board can suspend local officials and appoint temporary replacements. County boards have the power to decide challenges over voter eligibility and certify election results, so this law creates a conceivable path for Republicans to influence the results in heavily Democratic counties by disqualifying votes based on challenges to individual voters’ eligibility — or even by refusing to certify results.

Laws in some Republican-controlled states also now include heavy penalties for election officials who supposedly step out of line. Take Iowa, where officials can now face felony charges for failing to carry out election laws or failing to follow the guidance of the secretary of state, who is currently a Republican. They can also be fined $10,000 for “technical infractions” of their duties. Such rules could have a chilling effect whereby local officials may not govern as they see fit out of fear of being targeted.

In fact, faced with such legal changes, threats made by Trump supporters and the stress of the 2020 election, many local election officials have quit en masse — a loss of experience that could weaken the election system. This exodus has also created vacancies in state and local election administration that supporters of the Big Lie have sought to fill. Coupled with the far right’s concerted effort to recruit precinct officers who often decide poll worker assignments and choose local election boards, the likelihood of future election chicanery motivated by Republican electoral interests has undoubtedly increased.

And this may only be the beginning. Graver threats lurk, such as a Republican proposal before Arizona’s legislature that could permit the legislature, by simple majority vote, to ignore the state’s presidential vote and appoint the state’s electors in the Electoral College. Republicans in Wisconsin are also considering ways to upend the state’s bipartisan election agency and assert partisan control over Wisconsin’s election results.

Rather than ebbing, the movement on the right to threaten free and fair elections appears to be picking up speed. The nation’s small-d democratic backslide is already happening — the question now is just how far will it go?”

Liz Cheney’s Expected Ouster Shows the GOP Stands for Nothing but One Man’s Whims

“Although Rep. Liz Cheney (R–Wyo.) easily survived a February attempt to replace her as chair of the House Republican Conference after she voted to impeach Donald Trump, she is expected to lose her post on Wednesday as punishment for her continued criticism of the former president’s fantasy that Joe Biden stole the 2020 election. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R–Calif.), who supported Cheney in February, now favors replacing her with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R–N.Y.), who is willing to indulge Trump’s fanciful belief that massive, orchestrated fraud deprived him of his rightful victory.

The comparison between Cheney and Stefanik speaks volumes about the extent to which the Republican Party has devolved into a personality cult that elevates Trump’s capricious demands above any principles or policies it once claimed to support.”

“Aside from her willingness to bend reality so that it conforms with Trump’s self-flattering delusions, what does Stefanik have to offer as a Republican leader? “Elise Stefanik is NOT a good spokesperson for the House Republican Conference,” the Club for Growth declared on Twitter last week. “She is a liberal with a 35% CFGF [Club for Growth Foundation] lifetime rating, 4th worst in the House GOP. House Republicans should find a conservative to lead messaging and win back the House Majority.”
By contrast, Cheney’s CFGF lifetime score, which is based on votes that reflect a commitment to fiscal discipline, low taxes, restrained government, and economic freedom, is 65 percent. It is clear that resisting the Democratic agenda counts for less in the GOP’s priorities than kowtowing to one man’s whims.”

The GOP’s attack on trans kids’ health care, explained

“Nowadays, doctors recommend taking a humane and affirming approach when a child expresses that their gender may not match their assigned sex at birth. This affirmation includes allowing trans kids to socially transition (i.e., use whichever name, pronouns, and clothing make them comfortable). Medical interventions — like puberty suppression or gender-affirming hormones like estrogen or testosterone — are only recommended for adolescents who have been insistent, persistent, and consistent in their gender identity over long periods.

The affirming model has been recommended by nearly every major American medical association, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the Endocrine Society, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and many others.

While the affirming model is often willfully misconstrued as instructing parents to accept a child’s gender identity and rush them off into medical interventions, it’s really more about creating a space for trans kids to explore their own gender expression and more thoroughly understand their dysphoria before deciding on whether to transition or not. Allowing a trans adolescent to go on puberty blockers is a decision most parents don’t take lightly. Transitioning is a slow, deliberative process for minors.

Puberty blockers merely act as a pause on an adolescent’s natal puberty, so that adolescents ages 9 to 14 can be more mentally mature before deciding on the course of their permanent treatment when the time comes”

“puberty… brings along its own permanent changes, which could only partially be reversed through painful and expensive medical treatments in adulthood. Trans women forced through male puberty would then have to undergo painful and expensive electrolysis to remove facial hair and may be left with a body frame (shoulder and hip width) that would be unchangeable by any surgeries. Trans men would have to have surgery to remove their breasts and, like their trans female counterparts, be forced to live in an unwanted body frame for their entire lives.”

The fantasy-industrial complex gave us the Capitol Hill insurrection

“American insurrectionists, for the first time in the history of this country, stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday. Offices were vandalized. Windows were broken. Statues toppled. A woman was shot and killed. Four others have reportedly died, including a Capitol Police officer. It was ugly, embarrassing, and seditious.

But it wasn’t surprising.

We’ve been inching, inexorably, toward this moment for years. I know this because I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time over the course of this presidency thinking and writing about what you might call the “epistemic crisis” or the “post-truth crisis” or the “misinformation crisis” — it all refers more or less to the same thing.

The American mind, or a sizable chunk of it at least, has been deranged by a poisoned information system. The way millions of citizens learn about the world, the way they form core beliefs, is irredeemably broken. And because the media environment has been blown apart by digital technology, “there is no longer any buffer between mainstream thought and the extreme elements of our politics,” as Politico’s Tim Alberta put it recently.

If the depth of that crisis wasn’t apparent before Wednesday, it sure as hell is now.”

“The road to this dark place was paved by lots of hands over many years. But the evolution of right-wing media into a fantasy-industrial complex is at the center of the story.

Propaganda has always been a bipartisan game, but media-driven polarization has become more asymmetric in recent years. The left mostly receives its news from organizations like the New York Times, the Washington Post, or cable news networks like MSNBC or CNN. However biased some of this reporting can be (and there’s plenty of bias), most of it is anchored by basic journalistic ethics.

This just isn’t true on the right. A 2018 book called Network Propaganda by three Harvard researchers is probably the best survey on this disparity, and it shows that American conservative media functions very much like a closed system, with Fox News at the center (at least until recently). The people who inhabit this system rarely collide with information beyond it, and the competition within it — on the supply side — is continually intensifying in order to meet the demand from audiences consuming the high-stakes narratives. As Brian Stelter, longtime media reporter and author of Hoax, told me in November, anchors at Fox are now struggling “to keep up with their viewers’ demand for propaganda.””

“Consumers of this stuff have been fed a daily diet of conspiracies and panicked claims about the death of the republic and the plot to steal the election.”

“If you watch Newsmax and OAN every night, if you listen to talk radio hosts like Mark Levin claim that “Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution are being destroyed by the Democratic Party and the media,” if you hear Sean Hannity (whose show pulls in 4 million viewers a night) insist, “We have a duty to investigate every legitimate claim of fraud and abuse,” if you’re inhaling QAnon fantasies online, you’re likely extremely deluded about the state of the world. Is it any surprise that we’re living in a golden age of conspiracy theories?

The president himself is the most consequential consumer of this stuff. Listen to his leaked hour-long call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and you’ll hear a hodgepodge of familiar conspiracy theories about hacked voting machines and forgeries and collusion among various election officials. It’s all laid out and distilled, just as you’d hear it on Newsmax or read on 4chan or Parler, the right-wing alternative to Twitter.

All these fictions have coursed through the conservative media ecosystem, and the insurrectionists who flooded the Capitol have imbibed it for months. It’s why they chanted, “Stop the steal,” and it’s why you can hear them saying, “They don’t get to steal it from us, they don’t get to tell us we didn’t see what we saw.” And it’s why something like 70 percent of Republicans do not believe the 2020 election was free and fair.

So we reached this precipice because millions of Americans have had a firehose of falsehoods blasted into their brains for months on end. They believe the election was rigged and stolen. And they believe that because they’ve been told exactly that, not just by the president but by a vast network of grifters and online provocateurs and political entrepreneurs who have cultivated and reinforced conspiracy theories about the election and god knows what else.

And all of this is facilitated by social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, both of which, as Warzel told me last year, pretend they’re not “arbiters of truth” and insist they “don’t want to weigh in at all” — but they’re already in that position and have been for a long time. These tech companies may not be putting their thumbs on the scale in the conventional sense, but as Andrew Marantz, author of Antisocial, pointed out to me in a recent interview, they’re “outsourcing those decisions to algorithms” that continually push users into blackholes of mutually reinforcing content. Whatever their intentions, these companies helped lead us to this moment.”

“If you believed — I mean really believed — that the president you supported won a landslide victory that was systematically undermined by seditious Republicans and Democrats, and that that conspiracy was being covered up by a crooked and compromised media, and at the same time you saw over 100 Republican House members and multiple senators questioning the validity of the election, and the president was telling you to do something about it, it’s not hard to see how quickly you might move from shitposting online to storming the Capitol.”

“Everyone who participates in this system of misinformation shares responsibility for what happened at the Capitol on Wednesday. We are reaping what they sowed. Still, Tucker Carlson goes on Fox News primetime hours after a violent assault on the Capitol and, naturally, casts blame elsewhere: “We got to this sad, chaotic day for a reason. It is not your fault; it is their fault.””

“It was obvious when a man walked into a DC pizza shop in 2017 with a gun because he believed a conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring. It was obvious when armed protesters occupied the Michigan Legislature to protest Covid-19 lockdowns after an incendiary Trump tweet. It was obvious when we learned the Nashville bombing suspect reportedly believed in various conspiracy theories about aliens and lizard people. As this Wall Street Journal report shows, it was obvious in recent weeks as various watchdog groups warned of growing threats online. And it’s painfully obvious now after we saw the Capitol ravaged by rioters who believed, without any evidence, that an election had been stolen from them.”

“Every member of the Republican Party — from senators like Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz to the toadies working in the Trump White House — bear special responsibility for this crisis. They’ve known exactly who and what Trump is from the start, and they rode the tiger straight into the abyss.

And so many of them performed this ridiculous two-step, parroting Trump’s nonsense in one breath and winking quietly while doing it. Even on Thursday, before the dust has settled at the Capitol, Republican House members like Paul Gosar (AZ) and Matt Gaetz (FL) are spreading baseless conspiracy theories suggesting the assault was some kind of “false flag” perpetuated by antifa. And despite everything that happened in the past 48 hours, nearly 150 Republican lawmakers formally objected to the election results anyway.

If the fantasy-industrial complex churning out lies and conspiracy theories wasn’t bad enough, we’re also dealing with a much more pervasive problem in the press. As I tried to explain last year, we’re facing a new form of propaganda that wasn’t really possible until the digital age, something known as “flooding the zone with shit.” It’s less about perpetuating alternative realities and more about overwhelming the public with so many competing narratives, so much misinformation, that even well-intentioned people don’t know what to believe.”

“Without some kind of reckoning in right-wing media, there is no sustainable path forward for the country. And even if the complicit pull back from the brink, it’s probably too late anyway. So much of the damage is already done. The conspiracy theories that radicalized that mob are already out there, already implanted in millions of minds. Like some kind of political pathogen, they will keep working their will on the body politic.

That is our hell for the foreseeable future.”

Why Republicans are failing to govern

“Different Republican senators have different ideas, but across the party as a whole, there is no plan. The Republican Party has no policy theory for how to contain the coronavirus, nor for how to drive the economy back to full employment. And there is no plan to come up with a plan, nor anyone with both the interest and authority to do so. The Republican Party is broken as a policymaking institution, and it has been for some time.

“I don’t think you’re missing anything,” said a top Republican Senate staffer. “You have a whole bunch of people in the Senate posturing for 2024 rather than governing for the crisis we’re in.”

“There hasn’t been a coherent GOP policy on anything for almost five years now,” a senior aide to a conservative Senate Republican told me. “Other than judges, I don’t think you can point to any united policy priorities.””

The Fall of the Roman Republic and the Fall of the American Republic: Sources

Donald Trump On Paying Supporter’s Legal Fees Meet The Press. 3 14 2016. NBC News. A look back at Trump comments perceived by some as inciting violence Libby Cathey and Meghan Keneally. 5 30 2020. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/back-trump-comments-perceived-encouraging-violence/story?id=48415766 Presidents Have Declared Dozens