Saturday, December 31, 2022
The following op-ed is by Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post:
Sooner or later, the Republican Party’s devolution was bound to saddle GOP leaders with someone exactly like Rep.-elect George Santos of New York: a glib, successful candidate for high office who turns out to be pure fantasy with zero substance.
Santos, 34, who helped give Republicans their slim House majority by winning an open Long Island seat previously held by a Democrat, has admitted to “embellishing” his résumé and using a “poor choice of words” in touting his credentials. Those are understatements akin to calling the Amazon a creek or the Grand Canyon a ditch.
After initial reporting by the New York Times, journalists have discovered that, basically, Santos’s whole life story — as he sold it to voters — is a lie. He did not attend the exclusive Horace Mann Prep school in the Bronx, according to school officials. He did not graduate from Baruch College, as he had claimed. He did not climb the ladder of Wall Street success via Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, as he boasted. He is not “a proud American Jew,” as he wrote in a campaign document seeking support from pro-Israel groups, but instead considers himself “Jew-ish, as in ‘ish.’” Which apparently means not being Jewish at all.
Those are just a few of the acknowledged or apparent lies Santos told. He presented himself as the made-for-television incarnation of the vitality and diversity the Republican Party would like to project: a handsome gay Latino man, wealthy and self-made, whose very existence refuted the charge that today’s GOP shamelessly panders to racism and bigotry.
With that existence now revealed to be an illusion — with the “George Santos” voters elected shown to be a fictional character — most leading figures in the GOP have been silent. One exception is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who defended him with tweets acknowledging that Santos lied but accusing “the left” of lying, too, although most of the examples she cited were not lies at all. “The left said George Floyd didn’t die of a drug overdose, they lied,” she wrote. Fact check: Floyd wasmurdered, and a jury convicted former police officer Derek Chauvin of the crime.
Some Democrats have called for Santos not to be seated in the new Congress; others have called for an immediate House Ethics Committee investigation. GOP leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), hoping for Santos’s vote to help him be elected House speaker, has offered no comment as to what steps, if any, the incoming Republican majority might take.
The most honest thing House Republicans could do, in my view, is welcome Santos with open arms. The party embarked on the path of make-believe politics long before Santos came onto the scene. All he did was expand the frontier.
For me, the key moment came when Republicans decided not to write a platform for the 2020 presidential election — when, in effect, they refused to tell voters what they would do if elected. They pledged only to enact whatever policies President Donald Trump might propose, ceding their political philosophy to a man who, by Post count, told more than 30,000 lies during his four years in the White House.
The party can’t blame it all on Trump, though. In today’s GOP, a leading figure such as Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) — a cum laude graduate of Princeton University and a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School who clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist — routinely rails against smarty-pants “elites” who supposedly look down on regular folks like him.
Greene and others have shown that the way to prominence in the party is not through legislative or administrative accomplishments but via attention-grabbing displays of performative outrage. If you can “own the libs” on Fox News and on Twitter, you can raise a lot of campaign cash; and if you can raise tons of money, you can have tons of power. What does it matter if what you say has no grounding in fact? By the time you get called on it, you’re off to the next over-the-top statement.
Santos’s carapace of lies is so elaborate and encompassing that it may suggest psychological issues we should hope he gets help in addressing. And there are serious legal questions about the source of $700,000 he reported lending to his campaign, with both local and federal prosecutors now said to be investigating.
But his idea of building a political career in the Republican Party on sharp-edged rhetoric and audacious lies was hardly original. Santos just took that routine further than his soon-to-be colleagues have done. We’ve had lots of metaphorical empty suits in Congress over the years. Now comes the emptiest yet.
Friday, December 30, 2022
The Labor Department released its weekly unemployment statistics on Thursday. It showed that about 225,000 workers filed for unemployment benefits in the week ending on December 24th. Here is the official Labor Department statement:
In the week ending December 24, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 225,000, an increase of 9,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 216,000. The 4-week moving average was 221,000, a decrease of 250 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised down by 500 from 221,750 to 221,250.
The following hopeful message is from former Labor Secretary Robert Reich:
It has been quite a year. Some of the regressive forces undermining our democracy, polluting our planet, widening inequality, and stoking hatred have been pushed back. This is a worthy accomplishment and cause for celebration. It offers hope that the Trump years are behind us and the hard work of building a decent society can resume.
But this is no time for complacency. No one should assume that the battle has been won. The anti-democracy movement is still fulminating. Trump is still dangerous. Corporate malfeasance continues. The climate catastrophe is worsening. Inequality is widening. Reproductive rights have been dealt a major setback. The haters and bigots have not retreated.
These regressive forces have many weapons at their disposal — lobbyists, money to bribe lawmakers, giant media megaphones, the most rightwing Supreme Court since the 1930s, a GOP that has lost all moral bearings and, starting soon, a Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
But their most powerful weapon is cynicism. They’re betting that if they can get most of us to feel like we can’t make a difference, we’ll stop fighting. Then they can declare total victory.
We must keep up the fight.
Here’s the thing to keep in mind. Notwithstanding setbacks, we are better today than we were fifty years ago, twenty years ago, even a year ago.
We’ve strengthened labor rights and LGBTQ rights. Most Americans are intent on strengthening women’s rights and civil rights. Most also want to extend Medicare for all, affordable childcare, paid sick leave, and end corporate monopolies and corporate dominance of our politics. We have clean water laws and clean air laws. We’ve torn down Confederate statues and expanded clean energy.
And we’ve got a new generation of progressive politicians, labor leaders, and community organizers determined to make the nation and the world more democratic, more sustainable, more just.
They know that the strongest bulwark against authoritarianism is a society in which people have a fair chance to get ahead. The fights for democracy, social justice, and a sustainable planet are intertwined.
The battle is likely to become even more intense this coming year and the following. But the outcome will not be determined by force, fear, or violence. It will be based on commitment, tenacity, and unvarnished truth.
It is even a battle for the way we tell the story of America. Some want to go back to a simplistic and inaccurate narrative where we were basically perfect from our founding, where we don’t need to tell the unpleasant truths about slavery, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and all the other injustices.
But there is another story of America, one of imperfection but progress. In this story, which is far more accurate, reformers have changed this nation many, many times for the better.
From Martin Luther King, Jr. to Ruth Bader Ginsberg to, more recently, Stacey Abrams, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Chris Smalls (who led the victory of Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse workers), Jaz Brisack (who led Starbucks workers), and Maxwell Alejandro Frost (the first Gen-Z elected to Congress), and many others — individuals have repeatedly changed the course of history by refusing to believe that they could not stand up to repression, bigotry, and injustice.
You don’t have to be famous to be an agent of positive change. You don’t have to hold formal office to be a leader. Change happens when selfless individuals, some of whose names we will never know, give their energies and risk their livelihoods (and sometimes their lives) to make the world more humane.
Small actions and victories lead to bigger ones, and the improbable becomes possible.
Look, I know: The struggle can be exhausting. No one can go all in, all the time. That’s why we need to build communities and movements for action, where people give what effort they can, and are buoyed in solidarity with others.
That’s what we’re doing in a small way in this forum. Building community. Sharing information and analyses. Fortifying our commitment.
The reason I write this newsletter is not just to inform (and occasionally amuse) you, but also to arm you with the truth — about how the system works and doesn’t, where power is located and where it’s lacking, and the myths and lies used by those who are blocking positive social change — so you can fight more effectively for the common good.
Here’s my deal. I’ll continue to give you the facts and arguments, even sprinkle in drawings and videos. I’ll do whatever I can to help strengthen your understanding and resolve, and give you the information you need.
In return, please use the facts, arguments, drawings and videos to continue the fight. To fight harder. And enlist others. (And, if you can, support this effort with a paid or gift subscription.)
If at any time you feel helpless or despairing, remind yourself that the fight for democracy, social justice, and a sustainable planet is noble. The stakes could not be higher. And we will — and must — win.
Wishing you a good 2023.
Thursday, December 29, 2022
The following is by the editorial board of The Washington Post:
The FBI released what seemed to be good news earlier this month, announcing that the agency had counted 7,262 instances of hate crimes in 2021 — a drop from 8,263 the year before. In fact, outside experts said, hate crimes might actually have trended sharply higher last year; the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism charted a 21 percent surge in hate crimes in 20 states over the same period. One reason for the discrepancy: The FBI relies on state and local police departments to report crime numbers to the federal government, and only 11,883 of 18,812 law enforcement agencies submitted their 2021 hate-crimes data. The nation’s two largest cities, New York and Los Angeles, were among the non-reporters.
FBI crime data is supposed to give the public, criminal justice researchers and law enforcement agents hard numbers so that they have more than just instinct and anecdote — and the claims of demagogic politicians — to characterize what is happening on the country’s streets and elsewhere. Real numbers provide insights into what is working and what is not. They also show how often police respond to crime with force, against what types of people and in what situations. But voluntary compliance from state and local departments falls well short of what is necessary.
This is not the first time the FBI has struggled to collect reliable criminal justice statistics. The Post has tracked fatal police shootings since 2015, painstakingly sorting through news and social media reports, local law enforcement records and other sources. The Post has found that police shoot and kill about 1,000 people every year — including 1,084 over the past 12 months. Black Americans are killed at a much higher rate than White Americans, the victims skew young, and nearly all are male. Further, the number of fatal police shootings has been rising in recent years, The Post’s tally shows. Yet the FBI has reported a decline between 2015 and 2021. The FBI’s records contain only about one-third of the 7,000 fatal police shootings The Post counted during that period.
In other words, the statistics provided voluntarily by local law enforcement agencies underplay both the scale of the problem and the urgency of taking measures to address it — for instance, by updating use-of-force guidelines and investing in de-escalation training. The FBI has embarked on a broad effort to track fatalities and serious bodily injury committed by law enforcement officers, plus instances in which police officers fire their weapons. Yet the bureau almost had to shut down the program for lack of response from local police departments.
True, in any given year, smaller police departments might have seen no hate crimes, police use-of-force incidents or other notable events to report, so they might not see a need to inform the FBI. Doing so takes time and resources; the FBI estimates it consumes 38 minutes to report every incident to its police use-of-force database. Police departments complain that the FBI’s transition to a new crime reporting system, which asks for more details, has made complying harder.
But “none this year” results are crucial if the FBI is to compile an accurate and comprehensive report. Police departments that have a sense of what is happening within their areas would also benefit from seeing what is happening down the road — or across the country.
Congress should intervene once again. Federal appropriations to help police departments report their crime numbers are an obvious place to start. At the same time, Congress should condition the large number of various crime-fighting grants it sends to state and local governments on departments reporting their numbers. Bills such as 2021’s George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, which passed the House but got nowhere in the Senate, would have created such a system. Federal legislators should also eliminate any confusing or duplicative reporting requirements that place an unnecessary burden on police departments.
Ultimately, however, the federal government has only so much leverage. Most police funding comes from state and local governments. Some departments get scant federal money at all. So state governments should also step in, requiring their police departments to submit crime data to the FBI — or to them directly, to be forwarded to the FBI.
A trustworthy set of statistics is a foundational tool with which to begin figuring out just how big of a problem crime, police use of force and related issues are in the United States — and how to tackle them.