Lindsay Beyerstein

The real reason right-wingers hate vaccines

"Go get vaccinated, America," the president urged the nation last Wednesday in his State of the Union address. Joe Biden had a lot of good news to report to the US Congress on the COVID vaccination effort: 220 million shots have been administered in his first 100 days in office, everyone over 16 is eligible and 90 percent of Americans now live within five miles of a vaccination site. Vaccine manufacturing is booming. Supply will soon no longer be a limiting factor. Yet even as eligibility has expanded, demand has plateaued across the country and vaccination rates have dipped from their peak.

Time is of the essence. More transmissible variants of the virus mean a higher percentage of the population must be immunized to reach herd immunity. We're in a race between the finest that human civilization has to offer and venal dumbassery.

In one corner is science, bolstered by billions in public investment. Eighteen months ago, there were no vaccines for human coronaviruses. Today, there are multiple safe, highly-effective COVID shots. Better yet, thanks to wise public policy and all-hands-on-deck roll-out, they're available for free to any American adult. The president even announced tax credits to reimburse small- and mid-sized businesses that give their employees paid time off to get vaccinated and to recover from vaccine side effects.

In the opposite corner are demagogues, clout-chasers and magical thinkers. These operators think they can gain political power, attention and, in some cases, money by undermining vaccinations against a disease that has killed more than 588,000 people.

Power-hungry Republicans like United States Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin are positioning themselves as heirs to Donald Trump by opposing vaccinations. Johnson recently told a conservative radio host that distribution should have been limited to the truly vulnerable and he questioned the need for broad-based vaccination.

Johnson also attacked the civic-minded values behind the push for herd immunity. "What is it to you? You have got a vaccine and science is telling you it's very, very effective," Johnson asked, "So, why is this big push to make sure everybody gets a vaccine?" The answer is obviously herd immunity, which offers protection for those who can't get vaccinated or whose immune systems can't respond to the vaccine.

It's a shrewd bet. Forty-two percent of Republicans say they probably or definitely wouldn't get a shot, even if it's shown to be safe. The "even if shown to be safe" proviso speaks volumes. Some Republicans claim to be against vaccination as a matter of personal liberty, but nobody's forcing them to get vaccinated. It's all rationalization.

Vaccine refusal is a tribal touchstone, even as vaccine hesitancy ebbs generally. Indeed, last summer's heavily armed anti-lockdown sieges of state legislatures were the dress rehearsals for the January 6 insurgency. Rejecting vaccines is about values, not facts. These right-wingers reject vaccines because vaccines represent science, the welfare state and the common good, which are antithetical to everything they hold dear.

Johnson isn't the only Republican riding anti-vaccine paranoia. Perhaps the perfect example of how vaccine denialism furthers extreme right-wing political ambition is Pennsylvania State Senator Doug Mastriano, who freely mixes anti-government and anti-vaccine sentiment. Mastriano beat the rush and came out against the COVID vaccine before it existed. He was also a central player in the bid to steal the election for Trump. (He actually had to be pulled out of a meeting with then-president Trump because he was found to be suffering from COVID.) But he recovered enough to organize bus transportation for the January 6 insurrection. Mastriano's antics have transformed him from an obscure legislator to a gubernatorial hopeful.

State legislators in 40 states have introduced bills that would undermine vaccine mandates. These bills are to legislating what vaccine denialism is to science. Few will become law, but they are potent messaging designed to further politicize vaccination.

Some entertainers are also milking COVID denialism for ratings and notoriety. Podcaster Joe Rogan, a UFC commentator better known for his takes on elk meat and DMT, and his willingness to host conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones, opined that, "If you're, like, 21 years old, and you say to me, 'Should I get vaccinated?' I'll go no."

Rogan has 11 million listeners, many of them young. Predictably, Fox host Tucker Carlson defended Rogan's attempt to poison public understanding of vaccinations. Even Sean Hannity, who claims he's not anti-vaxx, flirted with vaccine denialism Tuesday, falsely suggesting there might not be any science behind the vaccine.

In a desperate bid to become Twitter's main character, a D-list Republican pundit gave the game away: "My primary reason for refusing the vaccine is much simpler: I dislike the people who want me to take it, and it makes them mad when they hear about my refusal. That, in turn, makes me happy." He's a troll, but he speaks the truth.

We're not just dealing with garden-variety vaccine hesitancy anymore. We're up against a cynical campaign to turn vaccination into a referendum on science, the welfare state and social solidarity. If that's how they want to play it, fine.

Vaccines are the greatest triumph of medicine. Public health is a crowning achievement of the welfare state. What we have done together to battle COVID is a testament to our love for ourselves, our neighbors and our country. Those are our values. The Republicans have called the question. Which side are you on?

Biden sparked outrage calling Jan. 6 'the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War' — he was right

In his first address to a joint session of Congress, President Joe Biden called the January 6 insurrection "the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War." This is an apt comparison. The insurrection was the worst attack on our democracy since the shelling of Fort Sumter, because the president of the United States schemed to overturn a free and fair election and remain in power against the will of the people, a high crime for which he was impeached. It was pure luck that the insurgents didn't assassinate the vice president for refusing the president's order to steal the election.

Revisionists are already trying to memory-hole the full significance of the attack and cast it as a mere riot rather than as a coordinated assault on American democracy orchestrated by a sitting president. While the out-and-out hacks allege January 6 was a false-flag operation masterminded by BLM, the more intellectually respectable apologists are trying to muddy the waters with spurious historical objections.

Bloomberg Opinion columnist Eli Lake tweeted: "The Capitol Hill riot was terrible. All of this is true. At the same time, what happened on January 6 is not the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War. Some perspective would be nice here."

Asked what would count as a greater attack on our democracy than January 6, Lake suggested the Kennedy assassinations, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the assassination of Martin Luther King. Conservative commentator Mollie Z. Hemingway bizarrely suggested that four days of race riots in 1967 constituted a greater attack than the January 6 insurgency.

As shattering as these crises were, they weren't attacks on our form of government in the same way as the Confederate States of America trying to break up the union or Donald Trump and his Republican Party allies scheming to install a dictator.

The insurrection was a putsch, an attempt to throw out the results of a free and fair election to keep Trump in power against the will of the people. If it had succeeded, the United States would have been led by a dictator rather than a democratically elected president. The tradition of the peaceful transfer of power would have been broken.

Some of the cataclysms that conservatives are pointing to as greater attacks on our democracy were more lethal, but there was no sense in which 9/11 or Pearl Harbor directly threatened democracy. The assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. didn't throw the future of democratic government in the United States into doubt. Furthermore, these assassinations were the acts of lone assailants, not plans laid at the highest levels of the United States government.

The January 6 insurgency was the culmination of an anti-democratic bid by the president's advisors, senior Republicans in Congress and Trump himself to overturn the 2020 election and keep the president in power. There's much we still don't know about what role, if any, the president and his advisers had in coordinating the actual assault on the capitol, but what's in the public record is damning in and of itself.

Trump called his supporters to Washington for the counting of the electoral votes. He'd been stoking his supporters' anger for weeks with baseless allegations of election fraud. At the very least, he wanted them to be a vocal presence in the streets to cheer on the procedural coup he and top Republican allies were planning. The plan hinged on the Electoral Count Act of 1877, which allows members of Congress to object to the counting of the electoral votes. Trump and his cronies hoped to keep Biden's Electoral vote tally under 270, so that the election would be decided by the House, a vote Republicans could actually have won despite not holding a majority in the chamber.

It all came down to Vice President Mike Pence.

The president publicly and privately pressured him to throw out electoral votes during the ceremonial joint session of Congress during which these votes were to be counted. Without Pence, pro-Trump senators and congresspeople could object to the certification of results, but they couldn't hope to change the outcome. "I hope Mike Pence comes through for us," Trump said at a rally in Georgia on January 4, adding that, "Of course, if he doesn't come through, I won't like him so much." Trump's pressure campaign continued in public and in private, but Pence was unmoved.

Pence flatly refused to go along with Trump's unconstitutional and anti-democratic scheme. The vice president doesn't get to approve or deny electoral votes any more than the emcee of the Oscars gets to pick the Academy Award winners.

On January 6, Trump riled up the mob and sicced them on the chamber where Pence was presiding. "Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us, and if he doesn't, that will be a sad day for our country," the president warned. As the throng headed off toward Capitol Hill, Trump fired off one more tweet assailing the vice president.

Soon members of the mob were chanting "Hang Mike Pence" as they marched. Pence was whisked out of the chamber about a minute before rioters burst into the Capitol building. If the insurgents had been just a little quicker, they would have had the opportunity to assassinate Pence or force him to steal the election as commanded.

Trump allowed the mob to ransack the Capitol for hours, watching the events unfold on television and ignoring aides who were begging him to intervene. Even when he finally told the insurgents to go home, he made a point of telling them how special they were and how much he loved them and reiterated that the election was stolen.

The January 6 insurrection was not an isolated riot.

It was a campaign to subvert democracy that continues to this day.

The truth about Officer Sicknick's death and the Capitol riot

United States Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died of a rare kind of blood clot, more often seen in men 20 years his senior, hours after being sprayed directly in the face with a chemical product designed to stop a 1,200-pound brown bear in its tracks. Even so, a medical examiner announced Tuesday that he died of natural causes.

Washington, DC's chief medical examiner, Francisco J. Diaz, stressed that "all that transpired played a role in his condition," referring to the January 6 insurrection, during which Sicknick, 42, engaged in hand-to-hand combat with armed insurgents. The Capitol Police Department considers Sicknick to have died in the line of duty.

Right-wing pundits said the lugenpresse framed the mob. Fox contributor Charlie Hurt and frequent network guest Glenn Greenwald accused the media of lying about the cause of Sicknick's death. Initial reports that Sicknick had been beaten to death with a fire extinguisher were based on vague statements by the Capitol Police and video of an officer being attacked with a fire extinguisher. Those reports were later revised when it became clear it was a different officer in the video. Later, video of the bear-spray attack on Sicknick was widely reported.1 The medical examiner's ruling of death by natural causes probably precludes murder charges against Julian Khater and George Tanios, who allegedly attacked Sicknick. But they're still facing serious criminal charges for the assault.

Sicknick suffered devastating strokes caused by a blood clot in his basilar artery, a vessel that supplies blood to the brainstem. His death is considered natural because he died from a medical crisis rather than from trauma or an allergic reaction to the bear spray. But the ruling does not mean Sicknick's death was a random mishap.

These rare blood clots are seldom seen in people Sicknick's age. They account for 1 percent of strokes and they are more likely to strike men in their mid-60s. The autopsy report has not been made public, and it's unclear whether Sicknick had any risk factors, such as hypertension, hardening of the arteries or a blood clotting disorder.

The factors that precipitate these blood clots have not been widely studied, but there are case reports of basilar clots forming in younger people following relatively minor trauma, like chiropractic neck manipulation and even head-banging during religious rituals. That's the sort of thing that wouldn't necessarily show up on an autopsy. As I said, the last day of Sicknick's life saw hand-to-hand combat with angry insurgents. So it's possible he suffered some kind of less-than-obvious trauma precipitating a clot.

Extreme stress has also been known to precipitate blood clots in susceptible people. The body's fight-or-flight response enhances blood clotting, which is thought to be an adaptation that reduces the chances of bleeding to death from wounds. Stress also raises heart rate and blood pressure, which primes the body for peak performance, but places extra stress on the cardiovascular system. Interestingly, two insurgents also died of cardiovascular events during the insurrection. Three cardiovascular deaths in a group of a couple thousand relatively healthy people is way more than you'd expect by chance. Fact is, this insurgency killed people, including some who died of so-called natural causes. About 140 cops were injured defending the Capitol. Their injuries included stab wounds, crushed spinal disks, head trauma and a mild heart attack. That's not even counting two responding officers who died by suicide afterward.

Could the bear spray have caused the clots? There's not a lot of research on the effects of bear spray on humans, probably because it's explicitly not designed to be used on people. Bear spray uses the same active ingredient as the pepper spray used by police departments, but in a more concentrated form and at a much higher dose. When inhaled, the spray causes acute inflammation of the lungs that, combined with the stress of agonizing pain, could predispose a susceptible person to throw clots.

A medical examiner looks for hard evidence that can point authorities to a specific person who caused Sicknick's death. The standard for a criminal conviction is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Science and commonsense tell us Sicknick's strokes were almost certainly caused by the insurgency. But it wouldn't be fair to charge suspects who allegedly sprayed Sicknick with his murder, given that we don't know for a fact that the bear spray they pumped into his face had anything to do with his death.

The January 6 insurrection was a premeditated assault on our democracy and everyone who supported the putsch ultimately shoulders responsibility for Sicknick's death.

Update: This story has been updated to clarify Greenwald's relationship to Fox News.

Q is exposed. Will he face consequences?

A month before the sacking and looting of the United States Capitol on January 6, Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee asked the FBI for an updated assessment of the threat posed by QAnon. At a hearing on Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray assured the committee that the report would be available shortly.

A lot has happened since 2019, when the bureau flagged QAnon as a threat after a number of sensational QAnon-related crimes, including an armed assault on a pizzeria, a blockade of the bridge over the Hoover Dam and the murder of a mob boss. QAnon went on to back Donald Trump's Big Lie of a stolen election. Worse came to worst when insurgents in full Q regalia fought their way into the Capitol in a bid to throw out a free and fair election. Q hasn't been heard from since December 8, but the FBI has plenty of material to incorporate into its new QAnon threat assessment.

Another development in this sordid saga was the March release of Cullen Hoback's documentary Q: Into the Storm, which strongly suggests that the impresario of QAnon is Ron Watkins, the degenerate failson of the owner of the notorious 8kun message board. Which is … more or less what most knowledgeable observers thought all along.

The documentary lays out a strong circumstantial case that Watkins wrested control of QAnon by establishing his board, then known as 8chan, as Q's exclusive online home, booting the original Q, and assuming the old Q's digital identity. Hoback follows Watkins and his father Jim to the Capitol on January 6. The filmmaker shows how Watkins reinvented himself as a bogus "election security" expert and fomented voter fraud conspiracy theories on right-wing media. It was Watkins who seemed to bring down the curtain on Inauguration Day, urging the conspiracy's faithful to go back to their lives and focus on the "friends and happy memories" they'd made along the way.

What sets the documentary apart is that Hoback extracts the closest thing to a confession from Watkins that we're ever likely to get. Watkins tells Hoback that he's been anonymously posting on the QResearch message board for the last three years, teaching ordinary people to do intelligence work—which is exactly what Q did. Watkins hastily adds he never did so as Q. Hoback obviously doesn't believe him.

I leave it to the reader to decide if a "confession" from a professional liar is any more reliable than a denial from a professional liar. Either way, Q: Into the Storm has solidified the conventional wisdom that Ron Watkins is the main architect of Q.

The Watkins' main antagonist in the film, Frederick Brennan, is now calling for the arrest of Ron Watkins and Jim Watkins for their role in the QAnon conspiracy. United States Senator Martin Heinrich, Democrat of New Mexico, may have been inspired by the documentary when he asked Wray whether Watkins and his father could face charges for their role in promoting a conspiracy theory that inspired an insurrection against the United States and numerous acts of violence. To his credit, Wray said the FBI was focused on investigating violent plots, rather than policing speech online.

Even if it could be proven that Watkins is the ringleader of QAnon, he doesn't seem to have broken any laws. LARPing1 is not a crime, except perhaps against good taste.

The central theme of QAnon ideology is the glorification of political violence. The anons are awaiting "The Storm," a cleansing political purge in which the military will liquidate tens of thousands of Q's enemies and seize control of the government. As repellent and toxic as this belief is, it's legally protected speech. The First Amendment protects the right to wish that the military would overthrow the government someday.

A speaker only crosses the line if they're inciting imminent lawless action—i.e., telling people to violently overthrow the government right this minute. QAnon was crucial in popularizing the Big Lie that spurred the insurgency, but Q's writings are far too elliptical and non-directive to count as an concretely inciting. To put it more bluntly, they don't make enough sense. For the most part, Q spits out a bunch of riddles, acronyms and leading questions, and his fans read what they want into them.

A big part of running a site like 8kun is fielding requests from law enforcement to take down illegal content that users have posted, such as child porn and death threats, so Watkins probably has a solid grasp of the boundaries of free expression online.

The Watkins' nemesis, Frederick Brennan, argues that Ron Watkins and Jim Watkins should be arrested for impersonating federal agents. This legal argument seems far-fetched. Q certainly invited the inference that he was a national security big-shot, but Q was as vague about his fictional credentials as he was about everything else.

Moreover, the federal law against impersonating an officer of the United States is designed to be used against impostors who usurp the authority of the federal government to coerce their victims. Classic examples include the kidnapper who flashes a fake FBI badge to convince his victim she's under arrest, or the con artist who poses as an IRS auditor and demands a pensioner's Social Security number. Implying you're a government agent for internet clout probably doesn't cut it, even if said clout helps you raise money or sell ads. That's because the suckers are forking over that cash freely, and not because you ordered them to do so in the name of the state.

As satisfying as it would be to see Ron Watkins and Jim Watkins in handcuffs, it wouldn't solve the underlying problem, namely, that millions of Americans remain in the grip of right-wing conspiracy culture, including most of the GOP. Prosecuting the architects of this pathetic scheme would only validate their sense of persecution.

A North Carolina bill exposes the real agenda of the anti-trans coalition

On Monday, legislators introduced a bill to the North Carolina Senate that would not only ban health care for trans people under 21. It would require schoolteachers to "out" students to their parents if they say they're trans, or if they exhibit, according to the bill's text, "symptoms of gender dysphoria, gender nonconformity, or otherwise demonstrate a desire to be treated in a manner incongruent with the minor's sex."

While SB514 is unlikely to become law, it is among items on a wishlist for the most extreme anti-trans activists. The gender nonconformity proviso shows that the aspirations of the anti-trans movement go far beyond banning gender-affirming health care for minors. They seek nothing less than to give agents of the state the power to determine what constitutes "normal" or "appropriate" gender expression. The law gives teachers carte blanche to decide based on their own views, whims and prejudices. Boys who wear sparkles and girls who wear camo could find themselves written up.

Anti-trans activists claim they are champions of parents' rights to raise their children as they see fit. But bills like this one show that the commitment only goes as far as parents who already buy into their rigid model of child-rearing. This bill would take away the rights of parents who want to support their kids through medical transition.

The modern anti-trans movement is a lopsided alliance between religious conservatives and certain self-proclaimed radical feminists. It recalls the 1970s and 1980s when feminists and the religious right found a common cause in the fight against pornography. The radical Women's Liberation Front (WoLF) has co-authored anti-trans literature with a local affiliate of the evangelical group Focus on the Family. The factions attend each others' conferences. The Heritage Foundation even quotes radical feminists like Janice Raymond approvingly in anti-trans position papers.

Radical feminists are very much the junior partner. The religious right brings most of the power, money and people to the fight. However, these radical feminists, known derisively as TERFs (short for trans-exclusionary radical feminists), are useful for recasting anti-trans rhetoric in a form that's palatable to secular, liberal audiences.

As trans people gain visibility and acceptance, the anti-trans movement is fighting a losing battle. Anti-trans messaging is an increasingly desperate attempt to answer a simple question: What's it to you? Why should you, the American voter, give a damn how someone else's pronouns relate to their genitals? The anti-trans movement's rhetorical solution has been to present trans people as threats. So-called "bathroom bills" were an attempt to present trans people as threats to the safety of cis women. Proponents portrayed trans women as sexual deviants who wanted access to "women's spaces" for nefarious reasons. The great bathroom bill push failed in large part because a preoccupation with the genitals and bodily functions of strangers seemed creepy. Also, as the average person's understanding of trans women expanded to include women like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, the stereotype of the predatory trans woman has become less credible and therefore less useful as a political weapon.

Undeterred, the anti-trans lobby has found new hypothetical victims to defend: the children. They argue that most children who say they're trans are mostly gender nonconformists and budding gays and lesbians, who will eventually grow out of their gender dysphoria if left alone. These kids are supposedly at risk of being talked into unnecessary body modifications by "the trans lobby." (It's hard not to hear echoes of the old homophobic propaganda about gays and lesbians "recruiting" children.)

TERFs raise the specter of cis tomboys resorting to testosterone and mastectomies as a capitulation to gender stereotypes that say they can't be themselves and still be women. Sounding more like the World Wildlife Fund than social activists, these radical feminists, so-called, condescendingly warn that butch lesbians are an "endangered species" at risk of "going extinct" due to gender transitions. The recent flurry of legislation that aims to ban trans girls from girls sports is yet another example of anti-trans activism positioning trans people as a threat to cis children.

TERFs want us to see a zero-sum game in which the well-being of gender non-conformists and sexual minorities is set against that of trans people. They want us to believe expanding access to transition-related health care for kids is another way of pressuring gender nonconformists. The North Carolina bill shows why this argument is fallacious. The religious conservatives, who wield most of the power in the anti-trans coalition, aren't content with banning trans-affirming health care for youth. They want to give teachers to decide what constitutes "gender nonconformity." This is tantamount to giving state sanction to gender stereotypes. If kids don't conform to a teacher's idea of what is masculine or feminine, they'd be exposed to their parents. Such reporting could endanger kids, as some parents police gender norms violently.

The interests of gender-nonconforming cis people and those of trans people are not diametrically opposed. Expanding the rights of one group doesn't penalize the other. TERFs are presenting a false zero-sum game to scare progressives into backing off their support for trans kids and their families. The North Carolina bill shows the real agenda of the anti-trans coalition: empowering agents of the government to help conservative parents maintain a stranglehold over their children's gender expression.

Glenn Greenwald grossly misfires in botched attempt to smear an intern

Brenna Smith, an investigations intern at USA Today, revealed over the weekend that various defendants awaiting trial for their role in the January 6 insurgency at the US Capitol are resorting to underhanded tactics to get around tech platforms' strict rules against transferring money to violent extremists. Smith and her colleagues—veteran reporters Jessica Guynn and Will Carless—conducted a meticulous investigation on a matter of great public interest. But no good deed goes unpunished. Not on Twitter.

"Congratulations on using your new journalistic platform to try to pressure tech companies to terminate the ability of impoverished criminal defendants to raise money for their legal defense from online donations," tweeted Glenn Greenwald, a pundit and frequent Tucker Carlson guest, directing his ire squarely at the young female intern, Brenna Smith, rather than at the ideas presented in her piece.

Greenwald offers no evidence that these defendants are indigent, as opposed to merely cheap, but let's assume they're unable to afford lawyers. If so, that's what public defenders are for. The right to counsel doesn't entitle you to ignore the terms of service set by private companies. There's no constitutional right to PayPal.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to an attorney, but not to any attorney you want, and certainly not the right to fundraise however you want to afford them. DC public defenders are known as some of the finest advocates available at any price, so it isn't even a sacrifice for an insurgent to accept a free lawyer if he qualifies for one.

Payment processors like PayPal and Stripe cracked down hate groups after a right-wing extremist murdered an antifascist protester and injured dozens of others at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. PayPal's terms of service exclude those who promote "hate, violence or racial intolerance." The violence criterion alone disqualifies the Capitol defendants who, although innocent until proven guilty of the specific charges against them, promoted a violent effort to overturn an election.

Smith and her crew at USA Today reported on Sunday that some January 6 defendants who have been booted from crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe are resorting to deceit to keep their fundraising going. They are swapping out usernames and switching platforms in an attempt to keep the money spigot open. PayPal's hard line on hate groups is complicating the insurgents' lives, because the company also balks at processing credit and debit card transactions from independent crowdfunding sites.

The right to a criminal defense is a red herring. There's no rule against crowdfunding legal expenses, per se. Attempts to crowdfund the criminal defense of insurgents have not been labeled as violence in and of themselves. The bans apply to specific people who have been kicked off for prior bad behavior. These defendants gave PayPal et al. even more reason to ban them when they engaged in a campaign of subterfuge.

These technology companies are private entities. They can ignore, suppress, block or deplatform whomever they want for any reason. In this case, they're using that power wisely, and justly, to thwart extremist movements linked to a violent attack on our democracy. We shouldn't be complacent, however, and assume Big Tech will always act for good. But that's an argument for tougher regulation, or even for publicly-owned digital utilities to safeguard our freedoms online.

Greenwald's attack on Brenna Smith—who is an intern, I repeat an intern—shows now that he's opposed to the only other meaningful check on Big Tech, lieu of government regulation: A free press that scrutinizes its behavior and imposes reputational costs for bad behavior.

Smith's piece was straight reporting, not advocacy. The public deserves to know what the rules of Big Tech are, and whether they are being consistently enforced. People who disagree on the merits of PayPal's rules can still find value in accurate reporting about what they are, as long as they aren't blinded by ideology. Greenwald could cite Smiths' reporting to make his case that PayPal is committing an injustice against the MAGA chuds. It's telling that instead of thanking Smith and attacking PayPal, Greenwald chose to assail the intern instead of the billion-dollar company.

The Pulitzer-winning former top editor at The Intercept presents himself as a champion of free speech, but he demands that a young female journalist adopt a "stop snitching" ethic when it comes to insurgents fundraising online. The free press has no obligation to look the other way while insurgents hoodwink tech companies.

The untold history behind the push to make the District of Columbia a new state

The House will vote Friday on a bill that would make Washington, DC, a state. The measure is all but guaranteed to pass. It has so many co-sponsors it could almost pass with their support alone. With Democratic control of the United States Congress and the White House, the dream of DC statehood has never been closer to reality. As of Monday, the bill had 41 co-sponsors in the Senate. This could actually happen.

"It's a joke for anyone in Congress to pretend that there's some principle, rather than partisanship, driving them on DC statehood," wrote Edward-Isaac Dovere, a writer for The Atlantic, Monday. "Republicans oppose it because it would give Dems more power, which is why Dems want it. But none of that accounts for the 700,000 DC residents."

It's astonishing to see a political correspondent for a major magazine refuse to see the moral principle in the struggle for DC statehood: over 700,000 people are living as second-class citizens in our nation's capital, largely due to anti-Black racism. The struggle for statehood for the District of Columbia, which is majority Black, long predates the modern realignments of the Republican and Democratic Parties. The disenfranchisement of Washingtonians has been staring us in the face for 220 years.

DC statehood is a profound moral issue. Residents have a right to full local control and full federal representation. The injustice is not that a new Democratic state might be created, but that residents have been stifled for two centuries.

When the federal government took over in 1801, DC residents lost all federal representation. Of course, they had to go on paying taxes, despite the fact that the revolution had been fought on the motto of "no taxation without representation." Members of the Continental Congress expressed interest in fixing the obvious problem of forcing residents to pay without a say, but they never got around to it.

Racism wasn't a significant factor in DC's secondary status, but it's the overriding reason for keeping it that way. It's had a large Black population since its founding. It was a beacon of Black political power long before Blacks became the majority in the 1950s. By 1830, free Blacks comprised nearly a third of Washington. The numbers continued growing during and after the Civil War. Black colleges, churches, and cultural institutions flourished—filling Blacks with pride, and racists with dread.

Because the US Congress exercises out-sized control over Washington's local affairs, federal lawmakers have often used the capital city as a proxy in larger fights. In 1867, radical Republicans granted the Black men of DC the right to vote in local elections, three years before the 15th Amendment enfranchised all Black men nationwide.

Black legislators promptly established themselves as a major force in Washington's local government. The prospect of the capital under Black control was intolerable to white supremacists. So the Congress abolished DC's local government in 1874.

The residents of the district were now completely disenfranchised: they had no local government, no vote for president, and no representation in the Congress. But, you guessed it: They still had to pay taxes. In the 20th century, racist senators like Theodore Bilbo, Democrat of Mississippi, wielded Congress's dictatorial power over the district to impose segregation laws the residents would never have agreed to.

This quasi-colonial system lasted until the Civil Rights Movement won back some basic political rights for the district, including a say in presidential elections in 1961, the local council in 1967, and the district's non-voting member of the House in 1970.

Even with these changes, however, DC remains a long way from self-determination. In the 1980s, the Congress overturned DC's criminal law reforms, restricted funding for abortion, and forced DC to let churches discriminate against gays and lesbians.

To this day, DC relies on the feds to prosecute felonies, which gives its US attorney effective veto power over local laws. Since DC has no senators, the district's residents have no real say in the US attorney whose office decides which of its laws will be enforced and which will be supplanted with federal laws that are more punitive.

DC statehood is a profound moral issue. Residents have a right to full local control and full federal representation. The injustice is not that a new Democratic-voting state might be created, but rather the residents of the district have been stifled for two centuries. How might our national politics be different if they'd always had their rightful voice? The fact that today's Republicans are willing to keep 700,000 people as second-class citizens in our capital city shows their cynicism and prejudice.

The preposterous defense of George Floyd's killing has a long, dark history

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's criminal defense team is still trying to show that George Floyd died of a drug overdose or high blood pressure or something—anything—other than Chauvin's knee pressed down on his neck.

In August, his defense argued that all charges against Chauvin should be dropped because, attorney Eric Nelson said, an overdose of fentanyl was responsible for Floyd's death. Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill was not convinced, but at this week's pretrial hearings, Nelson was back on this argument, asking Cahill to allow evidence about another time Floyd swallowed pills and suffered from very high blood pressure.

The idea that 46-year-old George Floyd coincidentally died of natural causes exactly eight minutes and 46 seconds after Derek Chauvin started squeezing his neck is preposterous. The Hennepin County medical examiner ruled Floyd's death a homicide. A second independent autopsy confirmed the officers, and not the drug, killed Floyd.

Nevertheless, right-wing media has stressed his health problems, including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and a long-running battle with addiction.

Floyd did in fact have a significant amount of fentanyl in his system when he died. But we know he didn't die from a fentanyl overdose. An opioid overdose unfolds in a predictable order: The person drifts off to sleep and eventually stops breathing.

Floyd, by contrast, was wide awake and begging for his life as the officers handcuffed him and pressed him face down into the concrete. Floyd's desperate protests that he couldn't breathe are further evidence that he wasn't overdosing. Opioids numb the agonizing feeling of breathlessness that signals you are not getting enough air.

The various drugs in Floyd's system (one of which was methamphetamine), and his hardened arteries, may have made him more vulnerable to death during restraint, but this is legally irrelevant to Derek Chauvin's culpability.

"This is the classic eggshell skull," Chauvin prosecutor Matthew Frank said, referring to the legal principle that a victim's fragility does not lessen an assailant's guilt.

If you punch someone in the head and they die because they have a fragile skull, you're not any less guilty, even if a healthy victim would have survived. Judge Cahill agreed:

"The officers have to deal with their arrestee as they find him."

The defense's strategy is part of a long history of scientifically dubious attempts to blame detainees for dying. Police have been using the dubious label of "excited delirium syndrome" (ExDS) to excuse deaths in custody for decades. The label helped officers avoid charges in the deaths of Elijah McClain (August 2019) and Daniel Prude (March 2020), and other unarmed Black men who have died in police custody.

In Texas, one in six non-shooting deaths in police custody was blamed on "excited delirium syndrome," and nearly 85 percent of the victims were Black or Hispanic men, according to a 2017 analysis by the Austin American-Statesman.

The condition is alleged to be most common among younger men with histories of stimulant drug use and/or mental illness. The sufferer is said to be cut off from reality, impervious to pain, extremely strong, and very aggressive. ExDS is not a diagnosis recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association or the World Health Organization. Proponents of the ExDS label admit there are no standard criteria for diagnosing it, and no objective signs at autopsy.

There's no there there.

Above all, "excited delirium syndrome" is a narrative purporting to explain why a young healthy person might drop dead in police custody through no fault of the officers. It is alleged to be a fatal disease already well-advanced by the time the police show up. It's this so-called "disease" that causes the person's combative behavior and the "disease" that ultimately claims his life. The "excited delirium narrative" is also perfect to justify rapid escalation of force and extreme forms of restraint.

As Floyd lay on the sidewalk, rookie cop Thomas Lane asked if he should be rolled onto his side, saying, "I am worried about excited delirium, or whatever" (stress added).

"That's why we've got him on his stomach," Chauvin replied, using the suspicion of "excited delirium syndrome" to justify extreme and dangerous police restraint.

Critics say deaths ascribed to "excited delirium" are a predictable result of hog-tying extremely agitated people: If a man is struggling, he's using extra oxygen. His adrenaline is pumping, which increases heart strain. The pressure on his torso makes breathing shallower. So he may be taking in oxygen, but unable to blow off carbon dioxide—which acidifies the blood and sets the stage for deadly complications. There's no need to posit a mysterious disease to explain why people sometimes die this way.

"Excited delirium" has always been a racialized concept. The term was coined in the 1980s by a Miami medical examiner seeking to explain why 17 dead Black sex workers were found semi-nude with non-lethal levels of cocaine in their systems. Dr. Charles Wetli hypothesized that the women were done in by a lethal mix of sex and drugs. "For some reason," Wetli said, "the male of the species becomes psychotic [after chronic cocaine use] and the female of the species dies in relation to sex." These women were later found to have been strangled by a serial killer, but that didn't stop the concept from evolving into the go-to excuse for deaths of restrained people in police custody.

If the police must take their arrestee as they find him, then they're legally responsible if they do something reckless that kills him—even if the same treatment wouldn't have killed a healthier person. The appeal of "excited delirium" is that it supposedly breaks the causal chain between the police officers' actions and the person's death.

The Chauvin defense team's focus on Floyd's drug use and chronic health issues is just an underhanded way to invoke "excited delirium" defense by another name.

'Republicans were stopped in their tracks': How Democrats stood for fundamental rights in the rescue bill

Democrats in the Congress shut down Republican attempts to insert so-called "Hyde language" into the American Rescue Act. If the Republicans had succeeded, this language would have barred stimulus money from being spent on abortion care.

Given that Democrats are willing to fight abortion restrictions in the relief bill, they may be ready to make good on their promise to end the Hyde Amendment, which bans the government from paying for most abortions. Abolishing Hyde is part of the Democratic Party's platform. House leadership has committed to abolishing it.

Ending Hyde is critical for reproductive justice. It disproportionately affects women of color and poor women, whose health care usually comes through a federal program.

The Democrats' willingness to stand up to Hyde language in the relief-stimulus bill may signal a bigger fight ahead.

Kelsey Ryland, the co-director of All Above All, a pro-choice group fighting for equal abortion access and the end of the Hyde Amendment, is heartened by the Democrats' willingness to stand up to proposed abortion restrictions in the stimulus package.

"I think it shows a vote record that is important," Ryland told me Wednesday. "It shows that there is the political will to do this among Democrats and with the base."

The Hyde Amendment was introduced in 1976 as a counterweight to Roe v. Wade, the United States Supreme Court's legalization of abortion in 1973. Defenders of Hyde framed it as a compromise between making abortion legal and "forcing" taxpayers to fund it. For many years, this logic held sway, even among many Democrats.

The Hyde Amendment is a rider to the appropriations bill that funds Medicaid and other federal health care programs. It must be added every year. In theory, the Democrats could take it out whenever they control Congress, but so far they've never done so. With Democratic control of the United States Senate and a president who opposes Hyde in the Oval Office, the time may be right to make the final push.

"Five years ago, everyone took Hyde for granted," Ryland told me. But thanks to a pro-choice coalition led by women of color, Democrats no longer consider Hyde to be an acceptable compromise. Reproductive rights are rights. Poor women should have as much control over their reproductive destinies as their wealthier counterparts.

The American Rescue Act was never going to fund abortions. Despite fanciful Republican claims that $414 billion in direct cash payments could be spent on government-funded abortions and abortion-covering insurance, most of the rescue bucks are for completely unrelated purposes, such as extended jobless benefits, child tax credits, covid-proofing schools, and a rescue package for bars and restaurants.

But the Democrats' willingness to stand up to creeping Hyde language in the relief-stimulus bill may signal an appetite for a much bigger fight. "What's meaningful here is that Republicans were stopped in their tracks," Ryland told me. That's a BFD.

Biden's relief plan is extremely popular — and the GOP arguments against it are increasingly desperate

The House is expected to pass the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package Friday and the Senate will take up the bill in early March. Democrats are racing to send a bill to Joe Biden's desk before extended unemployment benefits run out in mid-March.

So far, not a single Congressional Republican has signaled support for the COVID stimulus. The Biden administration is fully prepared to see passage of the massive relief package with no GOP support. And why not? Nearly 80 percent of Americans support Biden's American Rescue Plan Act, including 60 percent of Republicans.

As usual, Congressional Republicans are more interested in fighting symbolic culture-war battles than in crafting meaningful relief policy for suffering Americans.

GOP legislators have taken every opportunity to introduce performative anti-choice bills and amendments aimed at COVID relief. These measures have little chance of success in the Democrat-controlled Congress, but they burnish a legislator's anti-choice cred, which in the 2021 Republican Party, is really what matters.

Republicans Sen. Roger Marshall and Rep. Brian Babin introduced companion bills designed to expand the Hyde Amendment to forbid any COVID relief funds from being spent on abortion. Hyde bans the use of federal funds for most abortions.

Sen. Ben Sasse tried unsuccessfully to insert a "born alive" amendment into the budget resolution that serves as the vehicle for COVID relief. Sasse's amendment would have required doctors to offer medical care to babies born following failed abortion attempts, which is … exactly what current law requires. Nevertheless, Sasse felt this was a good use of legislative time in a crisis. I hope he enjoys the talk-show invites.

Rep. Lauren Boebert tweeted that the American Rescue Plan would allocate $414 billion for elective abortions or abortion-covering insurance. That is a jaw-dropping estimate—$414 billion is about 20 percent of the entire stimulus. Boebert's spokesman said that she meant that without Hyde Amendment language in the American Rescue Plan, $414 billion dollars of stimulus money could potentially be spent on abortion. He declined to further explain how Boebert arrived at the $414 billion number.

Suffice it to say, the word "could potentially" is doing a lot of work here.

The stimulus sets aside $414 billion for direct payments to individuals (the much-anticipated $1,400 checks) and $163 billion for extended unemployment insurance benefits. Americans can spend this money however they want, including on abortions, but these payments would never have been subject to Hyde restrictions anyway.

The stimulus also sets aside $350 billion for state and local governments, some fraction of which abortion opponents warn could potentially be spent on abortion services. But a lot of that cash is flagged for pandemic-related things like vaccine distribution and paying first responders, which have nothing to do with abortion services. Other big line-items with no tie to abortion include $175 billion for childcare, $170 billion for schools, $30 billion for rental insurance, and $3.54 billion for food aid.

The Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-choice group, offered a more sober estimate of how much COVID relief could potentially be spent on abortion: $750 million for global health activities, unspecified "billions" for community health centers, $50 million for the Title X family planning, allowing Planned Parenthood affiliates to compete for small business loans, and unspecified sums through tweaks to Obamacare and COBRA benefits. Note abortion is only a fraction of the work of these entities.

You may think these numbers don't add up, certainly not up to $414 billion, but the Susan B. Anthony List and Rep. Boebert are using special Anti-Choice Math: a program's entire budget counts as money that could potentially be spent on abortion if a single dollar of that program's budget could be spent on anything abortion-related.

Call it homeopathic finance.

This pandemic has hammered abortion access and several states have seized on COVID as an excuse to further restrict a woman's right to choose. I would be delighted if the American Rescue Plan Act actually rescued Americans from unwanted pregnancies during the greatest economic and health crisis of our time, but I regret to inform you that it does not. The GOP is boxing at shadows.

It's sadly typical that Republicans have chosen to spend this historic moment playing semantic games and fanning culture war flames rather than proposing meaningful solutions to help the American people.


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