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Ron Wyden's new billionaire income tax plan applauded as a step toward justice

Progressive lawmakers and other advocates of economic justice welcomed new legislative text for the Billionaires Income Tax unveiled Wednesday by Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden as part of Democrats' Build Back Better Package.

"Justice and just plain common sense demand that billionaires pay something closer to their fair share of taxes. The Billionaires Income Tax will see that they do," said Americans for Tax Fairness executive director Frank Clemente in a statement.

The tax would apply to Americans with over $1 billion in assets or more than $100 million in income for three consecutive years. Wyden (D-Ore.) estimates it would affect only about 700 taxpayers but raise hundreds of billions of dollars that policymakers can invest in key priorities such as affordable housing, child care, climate action, and Medicare expansion.

The proposal would impose the capital gains tax on tradable assets like stocks each year, whether or not they are sold. Additionally, when a billionaire who meets Wyden's criteria sells a nontradable asset such as real estate, they would pay not only capital gains tax but also a new charge "akin to interest on tax deferred while the individual held that asset."

"The Billionaires Income Tax will begin to tax income from wealth like income from work," said Clemente. "America's 700-odd billionaires have grown 70%, or $2.1 trillion, wealthier during the pandemic alone, yet many of them have paid zero federal income taxes in recent years."

Stephen Prince, vice chair of the Patriotic Millionaires and owner of National Business Products, also highlighted that the nation's rich have seen their wealth soar during the global health crisis.

"Meanwhile, the regular, hardworking Americans—particularly the essential workers who were lauded as 'heroes'—paid taxes on every dollar that they earned," Prince said, adding that he supports Wyden's plan "because it's only right that we end this injustice and start making wealthy Americans pay their fair share."

Others who expressed support for the proposal include labor leaders like AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler and National Education Association president Becky Pringle, as well as Main Street Alliance co-executive director Chanda Causer and National Women's Law Center president and CEO Fatima Goss Graves.

"For too long, families have been denied basic supports such as paid leave, child care, and an expanded child tax credit, all while billionaires evade taxes on obscene amounts of wealth," Goss Graves said Wednesday. "This dynamic is economically dangerous and morally unsustainable."

Politico highlighted some of the barriers the Billionaires Income Tax faces:

Many House Democrats are already balking at the proposal, preferring a slate of more traditional tax increases approved last month by the Ways and Means Committee.
And the proposal, should it pass, would almost certainly be challenged in court.
The Constitution restricts so-called direct taxes, an antiquated term referring to levies imposed directly on someone that can't be imposed on someone else. There's a big exception for income taxes, thanks to the 16th Amendment, which allows Congress to tax earnings. The question with the billionaires tax will be whether it counts as an income tax.

The new legislative text comes as congressional leaders and President Joe Biden are still negotiating the details of the sweeping budget reconciliation package, which House progressives maintain must advance to secure their support for smaller Senate-approved bipartisan infrastructure legislation.

A few corporate-backed, right-wing Democrats—namely Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona—have joined with business lobbyists in trying to water down the broader bill, which has to be backed by the full Senate Democratic Caucus to pass.

While Sinema has challenged Democrats' efforts to hike the corporate tax rate slashed by congressional Republicans and former President Donald Trump, Manchin spoke out against Wyden's plan to reporters on Wednesday morning, according to The New York Times.

"I don't like the connotation that we're targeting different people," specifically those who "contributed to society and create a lot of jobs and a lot of money and give a lot of philanthropic pursuits," he said. "It's time that we all pull together and grow together."

Sharing a Washington Post report that the tax proposal "could raise more than half of its revenue from just 10 people," Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) tweeted that "it is so wrong that there is any hesitation on taxing a handful of the richest Americans."

Wyden, in a statement, argued the proposal is grounded in fairness.

"There are two tax codes in America. The first is mandatory for workers who pay taxes out of every paycheck. The second is voluntary for billionaires who defer paying taxes for years, if not indefinitely," he said. "Two tax codes allow billionaires to use largely untaxed income from wealth to build more wealth, while working families struggle to balance the mortgage against groceries, and utilities against saving for the future."

"That's why it's time" for a policy to "ensure billionaires pay tax every year, just like working Americans," Wyden added. "We have a historic opportunity with the Billionaires Income Tax to restore fairness to our tax code and fund critical investments in American families."

Democrats may cut paid leave from the Build Back Better Act because of Manchin's demands

Progressive U.S. lawmakers and advocates for working families were outraged Wednesday by reporting that congressional leaders are planning to fully cut paid leave from Democrats' Build Back Better package due to opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin.

Sources on Capitol Hill told reporters at several news outlets—including CNN, Politico, The Hill, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal—that Democrats are, as the Times put it, "likely to abandon their plans to create a new federal paid family and medical leave program" because of Manchin (D-W.Va.).

The newspaper noted that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who "personally reached out" to the right-wing West Virginian in an attempt to sell him on a compromise, promised to keep pushing for it.

"Until the bill is printed, I will continue working to include paid leave in the Build Back Better plan," Gillibrand said in a statement Wednesday afternoon—a vow echoed by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) on Twitter.

Politico's Eleanor Mueller also reported that Democrats plan to slash the program, initially proposed as 12 weeks but recently reduced to just four weeks, "from their mammoth social spending package Wednesday after attempts to drastically pare it down were deemed insufficient."

"Already, advocates are fuming over what they see as an unwillingness by the White House to fight hard enough for a policy it won [the 2020] election on," Mueller wrote in a series of tweets, "particularly in the face of a public health crisis and an economic crisis that disproportionately impacted women and low-wage workers."

"Groups launched an eleventh-hour push to keep paid leave in the package, sending mass emails and flooding social media," she added. "The hashtag #SavePaidLeave appeared in posts by Paid Leave for All, National Women's Law Center, and other groups along with advocates like Melinda Gates."

The advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America tweeted: "How can we rebuild without paid leave to keep families working and healthy? We need paid leave."

"It's outrageous and shameful that in the midst of a global pandemic that's forced more than two million women out of the workforce, Congress and the White House have put forward a preliminary legislative deal without paid family and medical leave," Molly Day, executive director of Paid Leave for the U.S. (PL+US), said in a statement Wednesday evening.

Day declared that "paid leave is an essential tool for building back better—for returning millions of women to the workforce after a historic she-cession, addressing the widening racial wealth gap and other socio-economic income disparities, and creating the business resiliency our national economy needs in 2021."

"Paid leave is about ensuring that no working person has to choose between their family and their paycheck, and the American people are not going to allow that essential human need to be ignored and negotiated away behind closed doors," she said. "Congress cannot accept a final Build Back Better deal without paid leave."

Women's March pointed to a Times report from Monday highlighting that the United States is one of just six nations with no national paid leave and it would still be an outlier with the proposed four-week plan, given what other countries offer.

Some critics of the cut took aim at Manchin, who suggested to CNN Wednesday evening that paid family and medical leave doesn't belong in the package, saying Democrats should be "examining all this stuff," but the reconciliation bill "is not the place to do it."

According to the Times, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said that "we are not going to let one man tell millions of women in this country that they can't have paid leave."

Because Democrats are trying to use the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process, they need support from the party's entire Senate caucus—including Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona—to pass the package, which has been cut down to roughly $2 trillion in spending over a decade.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday afternoon that President Joe Biden wants a deal on the package—which is holding up a bipartisan infrastructure bill and is supposed to deliver on several of his campaign promises—"before he leaves for Europe" on Thursday.

An anti-trans narrative pushed by the right wing completely collapses

Republicans thought they had a live one in Loudoun County, Virginia. But, as happens with most right-wing panics, things were not as they were made to seem.

Ever since same-sex marriage was legalized, the right has been casting for a new villain in their endless culture wars. They swiftly landed on an even smaller, and therefore less understood, minority than gay people to demonize: Trans people. Their main weapon for driving up fear and hate was a myth that trans women — or cis men pretending to be trans women — lurk in women's restrooms to rape unsuspecting cis women who enter these newly tolerant spaces.

The problem was that it was nonsense.

Research repeatedly shows that trans-inclusive bathroom policies have no link to sexual assault. It's trans people who are at higher risk of being assaulted if denied access to the facilities that match their gender identity. But after two girls in Loudoun County schools — which, in a remarkable coincidence, also happens to be ground zero for other astroturfed right-wing freakouts over "woke" school policies — were sexually assaulted, the right pounced. Rumors spread that this was a real, live example of a man pretending to be a woman in order to rape strangers in the bathroom.

This was also not true.

The sexual assaults absolutely did occur, and the school district appears to have mishandled the situation, but the assaults themselves don't resemble the trans panic urban legend. One assault happened in a classroom. The other did happen in a bathroom, but the school did not have a gender-inclusive policy at the time. Instead, the victim testified that she and the rapist had repeatedly snuck off to meet in the bathroom, as kids often do. Like the majority of rapes, this was a case where the victim knew her attacker, who was identified in court as a boy.

So the story is not, in any way, evidence that gender-inclusive bathrooms are a threat to women and girls. This is the kind of acquaintance rape that the right usually finds themselves minimizing, as happened after accusations against Justice Brett Kavanaugh were made public and the release of a taped sexual assault confession from Donald Trump. Instead, the case is reminiscent of the "Satanic panic" that swept the country in the 80s and 90s, which was driven by similar reactionary fears and wildly misguided ideas about the realities of sexual violence.

Back then, the urban legends accused imaginary Satanists of raping and killing children, which led all too often to actual miscarriages of justice. In some cases, crimes were made up entirely whole cloth, as happened in the infamous McMartin preschool case. In other cases, the crime was real, but the public's understanding of it was completely false. That's what happened in the West Memphis three case, where a very real murder of three young boys was spun as "Satanic ritual," resulting in the conviction of three innocent teenagers and the actual killer walking free.

As Sarah Marshall of the "You're Wrong About" podcast explained to Vox earlier this year, the Satanic panic first arose because "women and mothers were entering the workplace" in record numbers. Stories about daycares being dangerous places where Satanists rape children were a handy weapon to shame women who rejected the housewife role.

Now, it's easy to see the parallels to the panic over trans people in bathrooms. In both cases, the right is wielding lurid but misleading stories of sexual violence to provoke anger and panic over changing gender norms and expanding human rights. And unfortunately, innocent people are getting attacked.

Thankfully, in the Loudoun case, it appears the correct person was convicted of the actual crime. But the situation is still being weaponized against innocent people, specifically trans people whose safety depends on having access to bathrooms that align with their gender identity. And, as happened with the Satanic panic, the titillating but misleading stories completely flip reality on its head. In the real world, patriarchy is the cause of sexual violence. In the world of reactionary fantasies, it's people who reject patriarchal norms — working women, trans people — who are the problem.

In an essay that recently went viral, Marshall's podcast cohost, Michael Hobbes, identified one of the telltale signs that what you're dealing with is a moral panic and not a real problem: Irrelevant examples, which often turn out to be cases where "these anecdotes actually demonstrated the opposite of the panic's core thesis."

The Loudoun case is a crystal clear example of this. The rape definitely occurred, but it had nothing to do with gender-inclusive bathroom policies. On the contrary, it's yet another story in the long litany of #MeToo stories, where sexual violence is downplayed and ignored by sexist institutions. Which is the exact opposite of the pro-patriarchy story that the conservatives stoking trans panic want to tell.

The trans panic resembles the Satanic panic in another way, reigniting the unfortunate tendency of a minority of feminists to play the useful idiots to reactionary forces, giving cover to what is ultimately an anti-feminist movement.

In the 80s, a lot of feminists were understandably glad that the public was finally starting to pay attention to the problem of sex abuse, after decades of feminists raising the alarm. This gratitude, however, all too often manifested as an unwillingness to be skeptical of the wild stories of Satanists and rape being pushed by the reactionary right. To be clear, plenty of feminists pushed back at the time, but a handful of feminists, fearful of returning to a time when victims were routinely disbelieved, were overly credulous to these impossible stories of Satantic ritual abuse.

The same thing goes on today with the trans panic.

The majority of feminists support trans rights, but a small and outspoken minority — the most famous being J.K. Rowling of "Harry Potter" fame — have sided with the reactionary right in seeing trans people as a threat to cis women. The BBC recently ran an article headlined, "We're being pressured into sex by some trans women" that passed talking points from an anti-trans organization off as "research." As happened when feminists gave credence to the Satanic panic in the 80s, these anti-trans feminists give moral cover to reactionaries bashing trans rights.

The moral of the Satanic panic should, after all this time, be clear: Be skeptical of reactionaries masquerading as the "protectors" of women and children. Unfortunately, however, moral panics over gender, sexuality, and young people tend to cloud the judgment of all sorts of people, including some — like feminists — who really should know better. The reality of sexual violence is as it always has been. It's not caused by letting women and sexual minorities have rights. It's caused by eons of patriarchy and the male entitlement that it has engendered. And we should all be very wary of hysterics peddling urban legends who want to distract us from that reality.

McConnell backs GOP candidate who called for 'total cleansing' and allegedly threatened to blow his wife’s 'brains out'

Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday endorsed Herschel Walker, who is being strongly backed by Donald Trump in his 2022 run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Politico reports.

Saying that Walker, a retired NFL player, "is the only one who can unite the party, defeat Senator Warnock, and help us take back the Senate," McConnell ignored the allegations against Walker, including from his now-ex-wife who said that when they were married he repeatedly threatened violence against her.

"I'm going to blow your f'ing brains out," Cindy Grossman, Walker's ex-wife, told ABC News her then-husband said to her as he pointed a pistol at her head, the AP reports. She was forced to obtain a protective order against him. Her sister in an affidavit said Walker"stated unequivocally that he was going to shoot my sister Cindy and her boyfriend in the head."

In that same July article the AP reported "Walker, now 59, has at times been open about his long struggle with mental illness, writing at length in a 2008 book about being diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, once known as multiple personality disorder."

CNN adds that Walker "has been particularly prolific and specific in his election-related dishonesty."

Two days before the January 6 insurrection, Walker tweeted "America needs a total cleansing" that only Donald Trump "can do with the help of TRUE PATRIOTS."

Walker has falsely claimed Joe Biden did not get even 50 million votes, when he won the White House with over 81 million. And on January 6 Walker tweeted that the election had been "stolen" and called on Donald Trump "to find out who these people are as they do not look like MAGA!"

In addition to McConnell's endorsement, Politico reports "Walker has also received endorsements from GOP Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri, Steve Daines of Montana, Roger Marshall of Kansas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Graham has played a key role in helping to guide Walker's candidacy."

How the Supreme Court's rules often exclude minority viewpoints

by David Orentlicher, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

In recent decades, much progress has been made in diversifying the Supreme Court. While only white males served as justices for more than 175 years, the court now includes three female justices, one Black and one Latina justice.

Despite the increased diversity, however, the court's voting rules often exclude minority viewpoints.

Like most other courts, the Supreme Court decides its cases by a majority vote. If at least five of the nine justices agree on a resolution, they are able to determine the court's decision and impose their preferred outcome.

If other justices disagree, they cannot ensure that their views are taken into account by the majority. They can only write a dissenting opinion to express their disagreement with the majority's decision.

Two justices who are especially likely to have their views not reflected, and therefore must write dissenting opinions, are Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas.

Consider the court's cases from its 2019-20 term, not including non-controversial 9-0 decisions.

When there were disagreements among the justices, Sotomayor dissented in 44% of cases, according to the news site SCOTUSblog. In those cases, the court's decisions lacked the perspective of its only minority female member.

Similarly, Thomas also dissented in 44% of cases when the court vote was not unanimous. In those cases, the court's decisions lacked the perspective of its only minority male member.

No other justice's voice was excluded as often as were those of Sotomayor and Thomas. And with five white male justices on the court, it's numerically impossible for the court to render a decision that lacks the perspective of a white male justice.

Single opinions the norm

As a constitutional law scholar who has written extensively about the Supreme Court, I believe there is a ready solution to this exclusion of minority viewpoints. Drawing from the example of jurors and the history of the court between 1801 and 1940, the justices could decide their cases by a unanimous vote.

Criminal juries decide their cases unanimously, and studies demonstrate that, as a result, the majority gives greater consideration to minority viewpoints. Those in the minority participate more in the jury's deliberations, and their perspectives play a greater role in shaping the jury's decision.

The Supreme Court also could ensure minority participation by deciding its cases unanimously.

Between 1801 and 1940, the high court generally decided its cases with a single, consensus opinion. As Chief Justice John Marshall recognized in 1801, the court strengthens its authority when it speaks in a unified voice. Hence, he established a norm for the court of consensus decisions.

As Marshall wrote, “The course of every tribunal must necessarily be, that the opinion which is delivered as the opinion of the court, is previously submitted to the judges; and, if any of the reasoning be disapproved, it must be so modified as to receive the approbation of all, before it can be delivered as the opinion of all."

During Marshall's first four years as chief justice, all of the court's opinions were issued for the court as a whole, with just one concurring opinion and no dissenting opinions.

Marshall's successors maintained this norm of consensus for most of the court's history. By 1941, only about 8% of cases included a dissenting opinion.

But when Harlan Fiske Stone became chief justice in 1941, he encouraged the expression of dissenting viewpoints. Stone believed that sound principles would result from “the clash of competing and sometimes conflicting ideas."

Today, one or more justices dissent in more than half of the rulings.

Importantly, when single opinions were the norm, scholars have found that justices on both sides would move toward the other side to reach consensus. Lead justices would shape their drafts to secure broad support from their colleagues. As a result, justices who initially disagreed with the majority were able to join their colleagues in a unanimous decision.

As the legal scholar Robert Post has observed, Chief Justice William Howard Taft “was willing to go to extraordinary lengths to modify his own opinions to reach out to others."

And even after 1940, justices often recognized the importance of consensus. Perhaps the most famous example occurred in 1954, when Chief Justice Earl Warren was able to forge a unanimous decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education that struck down segregated schools.

Consensus opinions

Unanimous decisions are better decisions. No single justice has a monopoly on the perfect legal interpretation – they all have their blind spots. The collective wisdom of the full bench is superior to that of a mere majority of justices.

Empirical research on group decisions confirms this.

As one important study found in 1996, “Heterogeneous groups outperform homogeneous groups on tasks requiring creative problem solving and innovation, because the expression of alternative perspectives can lead to novel insights."

When people with different perspectives make decisions together, they can identify solutions that none of them acting alone would have recognized. Their different ideas can combine to identify new approaches that better serve the public interest.

[Over 115,000 readers rely on The Conversation's newsletter to understand the world. Sign up today.]

Majority voting allows for decisions based on a narrower rather than broader range of perspectives. It is incoherent to value a diversity of perspectives and then employ a decision-making rule that frequently disregards an important part of that diversity. This is especially the case when the Supreme Court can decide critical issues by a 5-4 margin.

By restoring a norm of unanimous decisions, the Supreme Court would give voice to all of its justices and the unique perspectives that each of them brings.

As Chief Justice John Roberts has observed, “The rule of law benefits from a broader agreement."The Conversation

David Orentlicher, Professor of Law and Co-Director, Health Law Program, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is the Earth hanging by cosmic ropes inside a magnetic tunnel?

It sounds like the premise of an early science fiction novel: What if Earth actually exists inside a giant magnetic tunnel?

According to a preprint study published in the scientific magazine Astrophysical Journal, that fanciful concept may be less absurd than it seems. Indeed, the researchers' idea is one that could literally redraw the map of our universe.

Scientists have known since the 1960s that there are two seemingly separate radio structures — which are defined in astronomy as any object that emits strong radio waves — that can be definitively detected by Earth's technology. Known as the North Polar Spur and the Fan Region, the new study posits that these radio structures resemble long ropes and are approximately 1,000 light-years long, as well as roughly 350 light-years from our planet.

The research by scientists at Penn State University also suggests that, in addition to being near-Earth (relatively speaking), the two structures are connected to each other and, as a result, essentially surround us.

Imagine a giant tube composed of massive, magnetized tendrils that may look a bit like long and slender ropes. These tendrils include a magnetic field and charged particles which manage to link the two radio structures, effectively creating a tunnel-like structure that includes Earth as well as a small section of the Milky Way — that's the idea, at least.

The scientists' findings could help future researchers as they try to create a holistic model of magnetic fields in other galaxies, and understand similar structures uncovered through astronomical observations. They also predict that when scholars are able to observe these radio structures in higher resolution, they will discover additional features, including "a much more complex filamentary structure," among other things. As one of the scientists told Salon, these structures would be quite awe-inspiring if we could detect them with our own eyes. (The North Polar Spur, for instance, appears in one X-ray map as a sort of massive yellowish bubble.)

"If we could see radio light, then we (in the Northern hemisphere) would see several bright patches extending across a very large distance on the sky," Dr. Jennifer L. West, co-author of the paper and astronomer at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, told Salon by email. "These patches are fixed on the sky and they would change their position and orientation over a night and over the seasons, just like the stars and constellations." West added that people who ventured outside shortly after sunset in the autumn, as well as in cities at mid-Northern latitudes, would see the Fan Region apparent in one part of the sky.

"The Fan Region would extend from the Northern horizon right up to the point overhead," West explained. "It would pass through the constellations of Cameloparladis, Cassiopeia, and Cepheus. The North Polar Spur would extend up from the Western horizon and also reach nearly overhead. It would pass through the constellations of Bootes, Corona Borealis, and Hercules. Another, somewhat fainter patch would extend up from the South-East."

This new scientific research about the magnificent structures, West explained, "tried to take into account all of the different kinds of observations" from astronomers over the years. It also offers more than aesthetic gratification. As West told Salon, she is fascinated by magnetism in both the universe and our galaxy. Scientists are only beginning to learn more about these magnetic fields, and West is determined to understand as much as possible about why they exist and how they influence star and planet formation.

"One theory of magnetism in galaxies is called Dynamo theory - it's the theory that explains the magnetic field in the Earth and in our Sun, and that they are generated from rotating, charged particles," West said. "We think it is also responsible for generating the magnetic fields in galaxies, but we need more evidence to support this hypothesis."

She added, "In this study we are trying to map the local environment so that when we build models of the whole Galactic magnetic field we can take the local contribution into account. The saying that we can't see the forest for the trees really applies here. We need to understand what we're looking at close-up in order to get a sense of the bigger picture. I hope this is a step towards understanding the magnetic field of our whole Galaxy, and of the Universe."

This might even, West noted hopefully, someday include our own solar system.

A sociologist explains how moral panics serve the right-wing agenda

ProPublica detailed a pattern of suppressing cases of sexual assault at Liberty University, a private evangelical Christian school in Lynchburg, Virginia. After female students reported being assaulted, campus officials submitted them to victim-blaming, suggesting they violated campus policy against drinking and fraternizing with the opposite sex. Students told ProPublica that staff did not even report their cases to the Title IX office, a legal requirement. This has been going on for years. How?

How can an institution of this size and visibility carve out this immoral space and thrive in it for so long? What allows staff to feel justified in minimizing complaints of sexual assault? There are many explanations, including the obvious one that Liberty University was concerned about its image of producing good Christian women and men. But I want to offer an explanation that may not be obvious.

Moral panics are the taking of anecdotal instances and making them seem more prevalent than they actually are (the panic), then demonizing groups associated with these instances (the morality).

The moral panics engineered by a philosophically bereft and culturally out-of-step Republican Party allow pockets of America to continue patterns of behavior that most of society would deem problematic.

Let me explain.

Moral panics and immoral action
Social scientists and faculty administrators have been aware for some time that women endure all forms of sexual aggression on college campuses, from unwanted sexual advances to inappropriate touching to rape. It is a long-standing problem. It is well understood in progressive and academic spaces. A common statistic shared in these spaces is one in five women are sexually assaulted on campus.

The Harvey Weinstein case of 2017 and the subsequent #MeToo Movement was a watershed moment, inaugurating a wave of women coming forward about their experiences with sexual aggression. For many, it was simply making public what was already known.

But conservatives turned the #MeToo Movement into a moral panic, suggesting that hapless innocent men were in danger of being persecuted by liberal feminists. News organizations frequently ran stories saying the movement had "morphed into a career-destroying mob," "gone ridiculously too far" and that it was a "scary time for men."

Liberty University could then position itself as being against these feminists and what they support, and double down on practices we know are harmful. Administrators at Liberty University can operate under the assumption that they are a place free of progressive, pink-haired "feminazis." At the same time, they routinely dismiss legitimate claims of sexual assault from their students.

This is how moral panics sustain immoral practices.

The panics keep coming
I chose the Liberty example, because it is the most recent and one of the more disturbing. But also because the links between Liberty's practices and the moral panic that helped sustain it are not readily apparent. Other instances are much clearer.

Consider "cancel culture." The idea is that a hypersensitive irrational "woke mob" will call for the firing or the deplatforming of someone based solely on their ideas. A few cases where people have lost economic opportunities (rarely is someone actually canceled) are used to suggest a pervasive phenomenon. We now live in an oppressive society, they say, where people cannot speak their minds.

This narrative allows people to continue to disseminate damaging ideas without considering their impacts on vulnerable populations. They can say they are against "the wokies" and will not be silenced. So instead of operating in a moral space where people are mindful that speech is an action with consequences, people propagating racist, sexist and transphobic ideas can do so with no qualification or filter.

The panic around critical race theory (CRT) is even clearer, with candidates making the banning of it a significant part of their platform. Liberal, unionized public school teachers are the demonized group in this panic. Because scholars and K-12 teachers themselves have pointed out the ridiculousness of K-12 teachers discussing an esoteric set of ideas oriented towards law school students, anti-CRT advocates have stretched the idea of what CRT is. It now includes anything deviating from Martin Luther King Jr.'s phrase of judging one another based on the content of our character and not the color of our skin.

In response, citizens uncomfortable with talking about racial inequality can hide behind the anti-CRT banner, and legislators are now emboldened to narrow what children learn. In effect, they are upholding a white supremacist version of our history and reducing the ability of our young people to think with any depth about racism.

Let's do one more example, shall we?

Society continues to move forward on recognizing trans rights. It is inevitable that conservatives will generate moral panics giving people the cover needed to continue practicing their transphobia.

But this particular moral panic comes from an unusual space. Within the conservative media sphere, stories about trans women prisoners raping female inmates are becoming more numerous. While this does happen, and we need to find ways of preventing this, these instances are exaggerated (the panic) and they demonize trans persons (the morality). In an odd twist, conservatives have finally developed some sympathy for our incarcerated population only because it allows them to push back against what they see as "trans ideology."

The politics of panics
Moral panics have utility for people who want to resist change and continue operating in ways becoming increasingly inappropriate. People attracted to Liberty University do not want to accept a world in which women are not at the sexual disposal of men. Many white Americans are uncomfortable with a school system that critiques their ancestors and our nation's history. People are uncomfortable with the visibility of trans people and chafe at requests to treat them as equals.

Panics are tools for these people.

But they also serve a broader purpose.

The Republican Party of the 21st century is struggling with rapid change. It has always been the smaller party in terms of registered voters. Recent polling suggests it is getting smaller. Few policies Republicans can offer appeal to voters who are young, educated, less economically secure or of color. One of the ways they can maintain competitiveness is to make sure their voters are energized and vote.

My concern is that progressives legitimate these moral panics by participating in the discourse. By generating an argument against them, we operate on the battlefield conservatives chose. If these panics are at best distortions, at worst lies, maybe the most effective strategy is to double down on our own, more truthful narratives.

I have invested too much time discussing why CRT is not in our schools. Why did I do that? The anti-CRT folks and the political party supporting them were not invested in the truth. My engagement as a progressive academic only helped validate an anti-CRT opposition.

I will be doing that much less now.

Rod Graham is the Editorial Board's sociologist. A professor at Virginia's Old Dominion University, he researches and teaches courses in the areas of cyber-crime and racial inequality. His work can be found at roderickgraham.com. Follow him @roderickgraham.

Journalist details the surprising 'success' of 'Bidenomics' — despite claims to the contrary

According to Gallup, President Joe Biden's approval rating among independents went from 61% earlier this year to only 37% in September — and late October polls aren't very encouraging either, with the president's overall approval at 42% (Rasmussen), 43% (YouGov) or 46% (Morning Consult). But Biden is hardly the only U.S. president who saw his approval ratings tumble after the "honeymoon phase," as pundits call it. And New York Magazine's Eric Levitz, in an article published this week, stresses that "Bidenomics" is working regardless of Biden's disappointing poll numbers.

"Consumer prices are high and rising, and so is disapproval of Joe Biden," Levitz writes. "In recent days, the president's net-favorability rating has hit new lows in FiveThirtyEight's aggregation of polls. Meanwhile, America's headlines are full of testaments to economic discontent. By all appearances, Biden is suffering blowback from grave failures of economic management. But those appearances are deceiving."

Levitz continues, "The U.S. economy has real problems, and inflation is certainly one of them. At the same time, America is enjoying an exceptionally swift economic recovery, rising household wealth, falling income inequality, a resurgence in labor's economic power, and soaring capital investment. In these respects, Bidenomics has proved to be a smashing success."

Biden's economic "achievements," according to Levitz, "should not be obscured by an inflation problem that derives largely from forces beyond the president's control."

Over the years, Biden has had a reputation for being a centrist. The Scranton, Pennsylvania-born Democrat, during his decades representing Delaware in the U.S. Senate, famously bragged about his ability to get things done with Republicans and his productive relationship with the late conservative Sen. John McCain (a self-described "Goldwater Republican"). Biden, now 78, has long had a liberal streak and a conservative streak, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, his liberal streak has come to the forefront — and Levitz explains what he means by "Bidenomics."

According to Levitz, "Biden's macroeconomic vision inverts the logic of Reaganomics. In the president's conception, America's working class deserves a higher share of income and economic power…. Biden insists that a more equitable economy will also be a larger one since 'trickle-down economics has never worked' and the economy actually grows 'from the bottom and the middle out.'"

The fact that Biden's poll numbers have been weak doesn't necessarily mean that they will stay that way. President Barack Obama, President Ronald Reagan and President Bill Clinton all watched their parties suffer major losses during the midterms only to win a second term two years later. And "Bidenomics," according to Levitz, is a work in progress.

"Bidenomics has yet to deliver the economy it promised," Levitz writes. "And with the president's Build Back Better agenda still tied up in Congress, one might argue that real Bidenomics has never been tried. Nevertheless, if Biden's economic vision hasn't been fully realized, its core theoretical premises have been roundly confirmed."

'Is he embarrassed?': Biden baits Trump in mocking speech for the Virginia governor's race

President Joe Biden on Tuesday called out Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin for trying to distance himself from former President Donald Trump in his bid to win the increasingly blue state.

Youngkin has tried to walk a fine line in his race against Democrat Terry McAuliffe, hoping to avoid alienating both the Trump base that he needs to turn out on Election Day and independent and suburban voters who view the former president far less favorably. The former private equity executive has not campaigned with Trump and at one point even seemingly sought to tie McAuliffe, a former Virginia governor, to the ex-president, prompting Trump to reassert his "complete and total" endorsement for Youngkin's campaign.

"Terry's opponent has made all of his private pledges of loyalty to Donald Trump. But what is really interesting to me is he won't stand next to Donald Trump now that the campaign is on," Biden said during a McAuliffe rally in Arlington. "Think about it. He won't allow Donald Trump to campaign with him in this state… He is willing to pledge his loyalty to Trump in private, why not in public? What is he trying to hide? Is there a problem with Trump being here? Is he embarrassed?"

During the Republican primary campaign, Youngkin refused to acknowledge Biden's election victory and has called for a voting machine "audit," an apparent signal toward Trump's false claims of fraud — especially since Virginia conducts such audits on a regular basis. Biden on Tuesday argued that Youngkin has "embraced" Trump's "big lie."

"I ran against Donald Trump. And Terry is running against an acolyte of Donald Trump," Biden said. "Terry's opponent doesn't like to talk about him very much now, but to win the Republican nomination, he embraced Donald Trump. He started his campaign by saying that the No. 1 issue in the race was… election integrity. Now, why did he do that? Because he wanted to hear Donald Trump? It was a price he'd have to pay for the nomination, and he paid it. But now, he doesn't want to talk about Trump anymore. Well, I do."

Former President Barack Obama also hit the campaign trail for McAuliffe over the weekend, calling out Youngkin's attempt to dance around Trump's false election claims.

"Either [Youngkin] actually believes in the same conspiracy theories that resulted in a mob, or he doesn't believe it but he is willing to go along with it, to say or do anything to get elected," Obama said on Saturday. " And maybe that's worse ... because that says something about character."

Christian Martinez, a spokesperson for Youngkin, told NBC News that Obama's speech promoted "the fantasies of Terry and the left because they can't run on their failed record and radical vision for the future."

The McAuliffe campaign has seized on Youngkin's attempt to distance himself from Trump, who is widely unpopular in Virginia, where Biden won by 10 points last year and Democrats have dominated most recent statewide elections. McAuliffe, who previously served as the state's governor from 2014 to 2018, has offered to pay for Trump's travel expenses so the ex-president can campaign for Youngkin. Democrats have also sent out mailers touting Trump's endorsement of Youngkin.

But despite Biden's popularity in 2020, his approval in Virginia has slipped nine points from earlier this year to 48%, according to a recent Morning Consult poll. McAuliffe won his 2013 race by just two points, and polls currently show him with a very slim 1.5-point lead, according to FiveThirtyEight's polling average. (Virginia governors may not run for re-election, but a former governor is not barred from seeking the office again.)

Youngkin has largely focused the final days of the campaign on education amid widespread conservative panic over "critical race theory," calling for parents to dictate their children's school curriculum. McAuliffe fired back at a recent debate, arguing that parents should not be "telling schools what they should teach." Youngkin this week launched a new ad featuring a mother who tried to get Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1987 novel "Beloved" banned from schools, claiming that her nearly college-aged son suffered from "night terrors" due to the book's graphic depiction of slavery. The state legislature twice passed bills that would allow parents to opt their children out of reading books with explicit content but McAuliffe vetoed both bills.

"Just look how he's closing his campaign," Biden said on Tuesday. "He's gone from banning a woman's right to choose to banning books written by a Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize-winning author, Toni Morrison."

Obama also attacked Youngkin for focusing on manufactured outrage over school curricula.

"We don't have time to be wasting on these phony trumped-up culture wars, this fake outrage that right-wing media peddles to juice their ratings," he said Saturday. "And the fact that he's willing to go along with it, instead of talking about serious problems that actually affect serious people. That's a shame."

The modern Republican brainwashing plot is the latest outgrowth of McCarthyism

Three things need saying. One, that "critical race theory" is becoming the most destructive political boogeyman since Joseph McCarthy fear-mongered about Communists hiding behind every bush and tree.

Two, that this political boogeyman is being used by Republican state lawmakers to achieve what they have wanted — to use the power of the state to censor information and to police thought. We are close to updating the old Cold War pursuit of "un-American activities."

Three, that by censoring information and policing thought, the Republicans can replace knowledge and understanding with lies and propaganda advancing a preferred way of seeing America, to wit: In America, everyone gets a fair shake in life. Social ills like poverty and racism are individual failings, not societal ones. Everything is fine. Nothing to worry about. Except "those people" making trouble.

The desired outcome of such rhetoric, of course, is preempting serious and legit challenges to a social order in which white men are on top.

All of this is happening at the same time. It can be dizzying! But make no mistake. It is a backlash against the political gains made in the wake of George Floyd's murder. The movement against anti-Black white supremacy has been (somewhat) successful. The backlash is proof.

Now, remember. No one is learning critical race theory in K-12. That's what college students study if they choose to. What's being debated is make-believe. (Hence, my quotes around "critical race theory.") So when people like Glenn Youngkin, the GOP candidate for governor in Virginia, say they're going to ban "critical race theory," strictly speaking, that's not possible. "Critical race theory" doesn't exist.

But thanks to the efforts of Republicans and right-wing propagandists, there are now lots of things associated with "critical race theory" that have nothing to with critical race theory, without the quotes, and they pretty much include all discussion of race and racism that might make respectable white people conscious of their race, uncomfortable with heightened awareness of their race and even pained by the knowledge of a social, political and legal establishment that protects them on account of their race while punishing others on account of theirs.

So there's some highly coded rhetoric here. When Youngkin says he's going to ban "critical race theory," the message isn't that he's going to ban ways of thinking about and engaging the world, which is, in fact, what he's proposing, but instead "ban" the discomfort and pain respectable white people and their kids may feel as a consequence of the political gains made by Black activists after George Floyd's murder.

If we're very lucky, respectable white people — that great globular middle of American politics — will see the danger. They will see that, no matter how dangerous "critical race theory" is said to be, that's no reason to ban books and outlaw the utterance of individual words. They will see the Republicans, even at state and local levels, as being people who cheered the former president's attempted coup d'etat.

If we're very unlucky, however, respectable white people — those Americans who view politics through the gauzy lens of respectability between and among white people — will see the GOP as not censoring information and policing thought but instead "banning" Black people from making them feel the pain of being aware of being white. They will see the Republicans, especially at state and local levels, as being not so bad despite cheering the former president's attempted coup.

What to do? First, make it clear the Republicans are lying. No one, and I mean no one, is teaching white children to hate themselves. No one is teaching white children their moral character is determined by their race. No one is teaching white children that one race is superior to another. All of this is a lie that, when repeated often enough, becomes the basis for state laws forbidding such things from being taught. (See legislation passed by the Wisconsin Assembly for a case in point.)

Second, these lies are part of the Big Lie. Donald Trump lies when saying the election was stolen from him. It wasn't. What he means, however, is that people he believes should not have a say in American politics — nonwhite voters — had a say in American politics, and that's wrong. That's "fraud." This Big Lie dovetails with another big lie, which is the belief among authoritarian white people that the United States is being taken from them, being stolen from them. By whom? By those who should not have a say in American politics — nonwhite voters. When they pass laws against "voter fraud," what they mean is passing laws against the "fraud" that is nonwhite Americans having a say.

Third, these lies and the laws these lies are based on are spearheading myriad state and local efforts to do what Republican officials have wanted to do but did not have the chance or justification to do until respectable white people felt first a pang of discomfort on becoming increasingly aware of being white after George Floyd's murder.

Compulsory K-12 public education is the greatest tool the United States has devised for flattening the hierarchies of power that allow the Republicans to maintain an advantage in society. For decades, they endeavored to censor information and police thought among teachers and children for the purpose of keeping white men at the top of the order — for the purpose of replacing knowledge and understanding with lies and propaganda advancing a preferred way of seeing America, to wit: America is the best place in the world. Don't like it? Leave it.

Some even called for banning books and outlawing the utterance of individual words. That seemed extreme before Floyd's murder.

Let's make sure it stays that way.

GOP lawmaker suspended from Twitter after misgendering four-star officer

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind) has been suspended from Twitter following his offensive remark insulting a transgender government official, according to USA Today.

On Saturday, October 23, Banks tweeted his reaction to Dr. Rachel Levine being appointed as an admiral and the highest-ranking official of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Levine also made history by becoming the United States' first openly transgender four-star officer."

Responding to Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Banks wrote, "The title of first female four-star officer gets taken by a man."

Per USA Today, a spokesperson for Twitter detailed Banks' suspension and the requirement he must satisfy to access his account again. The spokesperson stated "that Banks's account was 'temporarily locked for violating our Hateful Conduct Policy,' adding that Banks 'is required to delete the violative Tweet' before he can regain access to his account."

USA Today also noted that Banks' actions are in violation of Twitter's community policy which "prohibits the 'targeting others with repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes about a protected category,' which includes 'targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals.'"

Despite the outcry from right-wingers, Levine made it clear she is looking forward to her professional future. Speaking to NPR, she shared her reaction to receiving the prestigious honor. "[Becoming a four-star officer] is very meaningful to me. I am so impressed by the dedication, the commitment and the expertise of the officers and the United States Public Health Service Commission Corps," Levine said. "And it is truly an honor to lead them and to serve with them."

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