Tuesday, January 16, 2024


Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recently vetoed an anti-trans care bill, declaring that it's up to parents to make medical decisions for their children. He was applauded by supporters of trans rights.

But a few days later he utterly betrayed those transgender people and their supporters by issuing Executive Orders containing proposed rules that cover much the same ground as the bill he vetoed and are in some ways worse. What follows is a blending of my response to a video on the matter and my more formal comment submitted to Ohio on the proposed rules.

PS: The veto was overridden. There was speculation that DeWine issued the Executive Orders hoping to head off an override; no word yet on if the override will lead to the rules being withdrawn or if he'll seek to combine the worst of both.

For more on what the rules say, check out the invaluable Erin Reed.

Anyway, this is what I said:
The proposed rules stand in stark contrast to the positions and standards of care expressed by, among others, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Endocrine Society, and WPATH (World Professional Association of Transgender Health) - that is, they ignore, indeed reject, the expert scientific and clinical judgments of those who are the leading experts in the field of gender-affirming care in favor of politically-driven posturing and fearmongering.

Rather then protecting anyone's health or safety, these regulations - which are in several ways worse than the bill the Governor vetoed - are a transgender version of TRAP (Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers) laws, a method used in anti-choice states to effectively ban abortions without admitting to it by putting more and more restrictions on clinics, often involving medically-unnecessary requirements, to the point where few or even no clinics in a state were capable of meeting them all. That is, don't ban abortions, just make them impossible to get.

The goal is the same here: presenting a facade of preserving access to gender-affirming care while in actuality creating a maze of roadblocks, bottlenecks, and pointless requirements with the effect of making obtaining that care all but impossible - that is, to accomplish by regulation what cannot accomplished by law or, more to the point, accomplish by trickery what can't be accomplished legitimately. I label Gov. Mike DeWine a conscious hypocrite, hoping to get away with talking out of both sides of his mouth, saying on one side "I vetoed the bill" and on the other "I made it effectively impossible to get the care," and using a smokescreen of "protecting youth" as a means to cover an attack all transgender people of all ages.

These proposed rules are, in sum, uninformed and misguided at best, unethical to the point of outright cruelty at worst.

Amend that: It gets worse. Multiple studies have found that obtaining gender-affirming care leads to improved mental health and significant reductions in suicide attempts and actual suicides. Which means that the result of regulations like these is that people will die. We can't say just who, just when, or precisely how many, but based on the data, on the facts, we can say with high assurance that People. Will. Die. Endorsing these rules is endorsing suicide.

I urge these proposed regulations be withdrawn in their entirety and any new such rules be drafted only in consultation with WPATH and other professional organizations dealing with the medical and mental health care issues involved.

Or at the very least have the sufficient honesty to drop the hypocrisy and admit your goal is the total erasure from society of transgender people.

This was not the first attempt this year to deny health care and human rights to members of the LGBTQ+ community. According to the LGBTQ+ Legislative Tracking 2024 site, as of January 14 there have been 219 bills introduced across 25 states and Congress related to community issues. Not every one of these is anti-LGBTQ+ in general or anti-transgender in particular, indeed some may be positive, and of those that are negative, many will not pass or will be combined into a package because they are essentially duplicates. And it’s worthy of note that most of the total are being introduced in states that already have laws denying LGBTQ+ rights; for example, Florida, already so hostile to trans folks that it’s listed as “Do Not Travel,” accounts for 21 of the bills. And some of them have been introduced in states such as Maryland and New Jersey where it can safely be said that their chances of passing are effectively nil.

So the numbers alone do not tell the story, but they do indicate that this onslaught against human rights is not abating. This remains no time to relax - because, remember even if only a small percentage of these bills pass, they still have real consequences for the people affected. But even so, while the infection is not abating, it at least may no longer be spreading.

But that begs the question of what is driving the continued attacks, particularly considering many of these bills amount to little more than piling on. So what combination of ignorance, paranoia, (usually religious) fanaticism, and cold, exploitive, cynical, political ambition is driving it?

That’s a valid question, but it’s one for another time. Hopefully a soon-type time.

Welcome to Fish-Wrapping 101

Or maybe 404.

I have written a number of times in the past about how we are uninformed, malinformed, and misinformed by our mainstream news media and on the impacts on our political discourse that result (some examples here).

Our latest example comes to us from Newsweek. It’s not as egregious as some, where the bias lies in shading and emphasis, but it is so ridiculous that it deserves mention.

One of the things that media outlets, particularly print outlets, know full well is that a good many people never get past the first graph of a news article. That’s why the standard of “the 5 Ws” (who, what, when, where, why) exists; the idea is to get as many of the basic facts as high in the article as possible, if possible in the first graph, to ensure that the greatest number of readers will have them - because that’s often all many readers see and so form the impression they take away from it.

It’s also why the headline is important, as it should (and in practice does) frame the substance of the issue in a single line or two. One thing as readers we should be wary of is that the headline we see on an article from an outside source, for example on a news aggregator or a reprint of a wire service report, may not be the one the original source put on it and so may have a different slant or emphasis than was intended or even present in that original.

So know that in this case, that is not an issue. Newsweek is the original source and the headline involved is theirs.

Okay, the story.

On January 9, there were a series of 13 special elections in Virginia, two for state Senate seats, 11 for ones in the state House of Delegates. How did Newsweek report the results? Here is the headline and first paragraph:

Republicans Annihilate Democrats in Virginia Election Sweep
Republicans scored massive victories in elections held in Virginia on Tuesday, returning two GOP politicians to local legislature following the departure of the incumbents.
So what, beyond the hyperbole, is wrong?

Not one of those 13 races flipped a seat! Not one! The magazine took advantage of two large wins by GOPpers, one in the Senate and one in the House, to use “annihilate,” “sweep,” and “massive” to describe the overall result and focus the first 13 graphs of a 17-graph story on those two races.  Even that overstates it, as the 11 House races were mentioned just once, in the 14th graph, with the final three being about Glen Youngkin, a Biden-Trump poll, and that Newsweek had asked state parties for more comment.

As if that wasn’t enough, the two “big” wins weren’t all that big when you consider that one of the winners had run unopposed in his last race and the other was replacing a GOPper who had retired and also had run unopposed last time. (Thank you, Ballotpedia and Wikipedia.) To say these districts are overwhelmingly GOPper borders on understatement, so the size of the victories were no surprise.

Such is the state of too much of our national news media, where the search from drama frequently outweighs being informative or even making a stab at balance. There is an old saying among newspapers that “if it bleeds, it leads.” A modern version might be using “tricks for clicks” because “if it shocks, it rocks.”

For the moment, though, we have “Newsweak.”

Monday, January 15, 2024

Free Speech: $35,000 and up

A GOPper in the Florida Senate by the name of Jason Brodeur has introduced a bill, SB1780, "that would deal a devastating blow to freedom of speech in the Sunshine State" in the words of The New Republic.

The bill would make calling someone a racist, sexist, homophobe, or transphobe "defamation per se," that is, by definition, making them grounds for a civil suit of "at least" $35,000 plus attorney's fees and court costs. At the same time, it would restrict defenses available to the target of such a suit by, for example, limiting who could be considered a "public figure" and making it easier to find "actual malice" in the accusation.

In the case of a transphobic or homophobic bigot, as Erin Reed noted, it's even worse.

The bill says that in cases of "sexual orientation or gender identity," a person can't defend themselves against a suit by "citing a plaintiff’s constitutionally protected religious expression or scientific beliefs" (lines 135-145). What that means, in practical reality, is that truth is no defense.

Bigot: "Homosexuals should be killed!"
You: "You're a bigot."
Bigot: "I'm suing you for defamation."
You: "But it's true! You are a bigot!"
Bigot: "Doesn't matter, that's my 'constitutionally protected religious expression.' Pay up."

Upon reading about this bill, I fantasized about someone saying this during debate:

"If it please the Chair, I rise to propose a friendly amendment to my esteemed colleague's bill, one to which I'm sure he'll agree as it pursues the same object of his own. The amendment would add to his list of terms to be presumptively defamatory accusations of 'groomer' and 'pedophile' plus claims of connections to 'the deep state,' in each case whether directed at an individual, group, or organization. I will yield to Mr. Broder for his response."

It wouldn't be accepted, of course, but it would serve to make the actual purpose of the bill even clearer than it already was.

One other thing: The bill is almost a carbon copy of one introduced last session, which died in committee. Hopefully this one will meet the same fate.

But if this did pass and was challenged in court, don't be surprised if the defense included claiming there is no First Amendment issue because the accusations aren't banned, the state is doing nothing to impede your speech, it's merely a matter of defining the legal meaning of certain terms. If the response is that there's a penalty for using those terms, the comeback would be "Maybe so, but the state isn't the one imposing the penalty, so nothing to do with us."

This style of argument - don't actually do it, just enable others to sue over it and so impose self-censorship - is central to the "Don't Say Gay" bill and Florida has become saturated with it even though the roots, if I recall correctly, lie in a Texas bill about abortion.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Worth repeating

On a recent video, the poster mentioned how one thing that distinguishes the left and the right is that we want even those we politically oppose to obtain the help they need. That prompted me to pull this out which I know I have said in a few different ways but which I think bears repeating from time to time. This version is from 2011 but the original is from a letter to a friend the 1990s. Here we go:

It's the right that says "I," the left that says "we." It's the right that says "gimme," the left that says "we'll give." It's the right that says "compete," the left that says "cooperate."

Where the left says "us together," the right says "me first." Where the left says "hope," the right says "fear." Where the left says "you can come for help," the right says "you can go to hell."

Time after time after time, the left argues for choices that primarily benefit the needy. Time after time after time, the right argues for choices that primarily benefit the needless.

Time after time after time, when folks on the left benefit from their proposals it's because they're part of a broader community. Time after time after time, when folks on the right benefit from their proposals it's because they're part of a narrow clique.

It is the left, not the right, that knows that the real answer to Cain's question is "Yes."

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Wise up about "grow up"

Some recent polls have indicated a difficulty for Joe Biden's reelection chances in that young people in particular, a major area of support in 2020, are unenthusiastic about voting for him this time because they are upset with recent decisions and policies, particularly around Gaza, the Palestinians, and Israel.

And we have seen the thoroughly predictable response from several quarters among the party stalwarts: "Grow up!"

Well, I have some advice based on the experience of over 50 years of being one of the unrecognized, uncelebrated millions who have labored in the trenches of political activism.

You want to encourage people to vote for Biden despite their misgivings? Okay. First of all, DO NOT tell them to "grow up," you blithering idiot. It is rude, insulting, and condescending. It may make you feel extra-virtuous ("Look at me - I'm voting for Biden despite all my disagreements! See how politically mature I am?") but it won't do a damn bit of good. Put more simply, "Shut up and do what your betters tell you!" is not an argument. This is a mistake the Dems have made repeatedly, perhaps most disastrously in 1980 when they treated Ralph Nader voters as disobedient children to be scolded rather than adults to be persuaded and we got George Bush, AKA "Shrub," and all that entailed as a consequence.

The most important thing to do (as opposed to not do) if you want to convince someone overcome their reluctance to turn out for Biden is tell them why they should, meaning why they should vote for him, not just against Tweetie-pie, AKA The Great Orange Messiah. There certainly are positive arguments in his favor you can raise; COVID recovery aid, Build Back Better with its infrastructure and climate funding, the Inflation Reduction Act with its taxing the rich and start of negotiating drug prices, and student debt relief spring immediately to mind. None of them unqualified successes, but all undeniably better than what existed before.

Next, yes, compare him to Tweetie-pie but don't make that the sum total or even the focus of the argument. That's exactly the mistake the Dems made in 2016, when most of the campaign seemed to be "We're not that scumball Trump!" and we know how that worked out. Argue the "yes," not (at least not primarily) the "no," because resorting to "lesser of two evils" arguments are not going to fly.

At the same time, there are areas where the "lesser evil" can be argued and I am thinking specifically of Israel and Palestinians. Biden has not only failed to call for an immediate ceasefire, he has sent additional military aid to Israel, all as part of his "bear hug" strategy of holding Netanyahu close in the hope of being able to constrain him - a policy that has been a demonstrable, horrific, failure.

But where Biden has failed to constrain, Tweetie-pie would actively encourage. It's properly said you should not make the perfect the enemy of the good, but it is quite true that you can make the worse the enemy of the bad, the actively evil the enemy of the cruel failure.

Note that none of this addresses what is the biggest threat of this election: Tweetie-pie's unique threat to our ability to continue as a functioning democracy. And absolutely, after arguing for the "yes" and getting to the point of "Yeah, I suppose," then dive in with everything in your arsenal, including his increasingly-bizarre rants, his repeated praise of dictators, January 6, and Project 2025 and if you don't know what that is, look it up! (A few sources are offered at the end here.)

Look, the last major party general election presidential candidate I felt I really could believe in was George McGovern. There is nothing anyone can tell me about strategic voting or tactical voting or lesser-of-two-evils voting or even hold-your-nose voting. I have done them all at local, state, and national levels. For most of my voting life I have lived in one safely-blue state or another, so I usually could opt to vote third party without impacting the presidential outcome. But in 2020 I did and in 2024 I will again vote for Biden despite my disappointments and despite being in a safely blue state because I not only want Tweetie-pie to lose the electoral vote; I want him crushed in the popular vote. I want Johnson-Goldwater levels. I won't get them, but that's my target.

And sneering at those reluctant to vote for Biden to "grow up" is not going to get us anything toward that goal.

Some sources for Project 2025

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