Yesterday, thousands of Americans learned their federal convictions will go up in smoke. That is because Joe Biden announced mass pardons for anyone currently serving time for simple possession of cannabis.
Even if you don't think pot should be legal, it makes little sense to ruin peoples' lives over this particular crime. Biden agrees, and said as much in his statement explaining why imprisonment for this is wasted effort:
Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while White and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.
Only a dope could dispute this logic, right?
The White House doesn't yet know exactly how many people will be affected by the kush amnesty, but they are probably not enough by themselves to swing any meaningful elections. However, this is a clear signal that if the Democrats maintain control of both houses of Congress—and only Congress can change the federal drug schedule and/or the penalties for possession/use of a particular drug—then they will scrub the anti-chronic laws from the books. If the tea party types take over the House, by contrast, then... not so much. That means that the President has very much put ganja on the ballot; coupled with the loan forgiveness, it's a clear play to get young voters to the polls.
And our count, not including "marijuana" in Biden's quote, is 11 references. We always whack (12!) readers over the head with slang terms when we do an item about the wacky tobaccy (13!). Maybe it's cheesy, but it also hits (14!) on the fact that Mary Jane (15!) use is deeply enmeshed in American culture, and so shouldn't be treated the same as more damaging crimes. Anyhow, we have been kind (16!) enough to put the whole list at the bottom of the page. (Z)
The Biden administration cajoled, begged, and pushed for OPEC+ to keep petroleum production exactly where it is right now (approximately 30 million barrels a day). Needless to say, the administration doesn't want to go back to a situation where Americans are taking a beating at the pumps, particularly right before the midterm elections. The leaders of OPEC+ listened to what Team Biden had to say, and... promptly slashed production anyhow. In fact, although there was talk of cutting production by 1 million barrels a day, OPEC+ actually decided to make the cut 2 million barrels a day. That's about 2% of all global oil production.
Now everyone gets to wait and see what happens next. The actual impact of the reduced production won't be felt for a couple of months. But, of course, the entire petroleum market adapts predictively, and thus very rapidly, to changes that are coming down the pike, or that may be coming down the pike. Since OPEC+ announced its decision, U.S. gas is up three cents a gallon, to $3.89. That's not a big difference, but if prices go up three cents a day for two straight weeks, which is certainly possible, then we'll be closing in on $4.50/gallon as the midterm cycle hits the home stretch.
In making this choice, the Saudis, in particular, are prioritizing short-term gain over potential long-term pain. The U.S. helps that nation out with weapons and other needs, in exchange for access to oil and for allowing the U.S. to maintain several big military bases there. However, the Saudis' human-rights abuses, coupled with the fact that they are often not all that friendly to the United States in return, has many Democrats suggesting the time has come to make changes to the nature of the Saudi-American relationship.
It is mostly progressive Democrats who are carping right now, as you might guess, so change is not likely imminent. Certainly, that is what the Saudis are counting on (and while it is OPEC+ who cut production, it's the Saudis who effectively lead the cartel). However, the commodity that is the key to Saudi power is on its way to extinction (well, a second extinction, beyond the first one that produced much of the oil in the first place). Maybe it will be 10 years and maybe it will be 50, but the time will come when the oil-producing nations will no longer be in a position to push the rest of the world around. And if an American politician manages to built a pro-alternative-fuel platform around: (1) combating climate change and (2) making America less reliant on fickle authoritarian regimes, then it will be much closer to 10 years than to 50. (Z)
"Wait," you may be saying. "Haven't we already seen this headline? Did you accidentally run an item from 2 months ago?"
Yes, you have seen this headline. And no, we didn't accidentally run an old item (perhaps due to "celebrating" Joe Biden's announcement on Thursday?). The Department of Justice believes that, even after all that has already transpired, Donald Trump still has possession of some classified documents. Yesterday, the news broke that the DoJ has sent letters to the former president's attorneys demanding that the documents be returned immediately.
The original reporting, from The New York Times, is a case study in squeezing 1,500 words out of a story where virtually no details are known. The DoJ didn't talk to the Times, of course, nor did Trump's lawyers. So, beyond the already publicly known fact that the materials seized from Mar-a-Lago contained many empty classified folders, it's not clear exactly why the DoJ thinks they haven't gotten everything back.
New York Times reporters, of course, do not speculate and do not generally draw inferences. We are not so constrained. So, to start, it's a safe assumption that the DoJ has very good reasons for thinking Trump still has classified materials. At the same time, we also know that when the Department has enough evidence to secure a warrant, that is what they do. So, their mole (or moles) can't help out with this one, it would appear. It's also improbable that the feds missed anything when they turned Mar-a-Lago upside down, since they even gained access to the "secret" safe. Add it up, and it suggests that those missing documents must be somewhere else—a safe deposit box, another one of Trump's properties, Stephen Miller's freezer... who knows?
At the moment, the ball is in Trump's court. If he really does have more documents, he must want them for some very significant reason, to take a risk like this. If he surrenders the documents, then he reduces his criminal liability a bit, perhaps, but he also loses the ability to use those documents for whatever purpose he intended to use them for. Further, yielding to the feds like this would be a huge blow to him, ego-wise, and would also undermine his argument that he is entitled to all of the documents he had in his possession. So, Trump's lawyers are apparently encouraging him to stonewall.
If Trump ignores the DoJ's demands, he assumes a very different set of risks. He doesn't know, any better than we do, exactly what evidence the feds have. If they've got him dead to rights, he could dig the hole deeper by denying everything. Even if AG Merrick Garland & Co. don't get a warrant, they could get Trump on the stand to testify, under penalty of perjury, that he handed over everything. If that was a lie, and the DoJ could prove it, Trump would be screwed.
Of course, all of this assumes that there really are un-surrendered documents (likely) and that Trump hasn't already turned them over to a "customer" (certainly possible). Whatever the truth is, this isn't a big story yet, but it could be. (Z)
The 1/6 Committee was supposed to hold a hearing last week, of course, but it was postponed due to Hurricane Ian. Now, they have announced the new date and time: Thursday, Oct. 13 at 1:00 p.m. ET.
Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said there will likely be no live witnesses. That's not surprising, since live witnesses take a lot of time to interrogate, while relying on clips and other pre-set elements will allow the Committee to cover more ground. Thompson also referred to this as the "last" televised hearing. That is also not surprising, since there is relatively little time left before the midterms, and relatively little point in holding hearings after the midterms.
Beyond that, Thompson & Co. are playing things very close to the vest. The Chair promises "significant information" will be revealed, some of it related to Donald Trump's fundraising activities. To find out what exactly that means, and what else the Committee has come up with since their last TV appearance, we'll just have to be patient for a week, and then tune in on Thursday afternoon. Here is the YouTube link for the livestream, should you wish to watch online. (Z)
Yesterday came news from out of left field: Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) is likely to resign his seat, pending approval of his appointment as president of the University of Florida by the trustees of the university and the Florida Board of Governors.
Sasse is certainly an excellent candidate for a job like this. He's already been a university president (Midland University, 2010-14). His name will bring glory to the university. And the primary job of a university president these days is to raise money. As a U.S. Senator, Sasse is undoubtedly capable of fundraising, and comfortable with the sort of glad handing of rich people that it requires. As a bonus, a millionaire fat cat can only give a few thousand dollars to a U.S. Senate candidate, but the sky's the limit when donating to a university.
Why is the Senator jumping ship on the Senate, only 2 years into his second term? Presumably, as a Trump critic, he's decided he has no real political future in the Republican Party, at least not in the short-term (though he could be a popular candidate to lead a post-Trump GOP). On top of that, the change of jobs will come with a hefty pay raise. The $174,000 Sasse currently earns is nothing to sneeze at, but the current UF president (Kent Fuchs) earns just south of $1 million, in addition to perks like an expense account and a free residence on campus. Certainly, Sasse's salary will be in the seven figures, and it would not be a surprise if—to poach a sitting U.S. Senator—the university had to pony up to the tune of $2 million or more. Sasse also has college-age kids; they would get free tuition if they enrolled at UF, and even if they didn't, it's way easier to pay your kids' college costs when your salary increases fivefold (or more).
Thanks in large part to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), the educational system in Florida, including UF, has become highly politicized. Sasse, who is a conservative after all, might be an ally to the Governor in that. However, as noted, Sasse is no Trumper. He's also an educator. So, we would guess that his hiring is actually meant as a hedge against the Governor's meddling. While DeSantis gets to appoint some of the people who will be involved in approving Sasse, the Governor himself cannot veto a candidate. In some states, governors have one vote as an ex oficio regent/trustee/board member, but that is not the case in Florida.
If and when Sasse quits, Gov. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) will pick a replacement, who will serve until the next statewide election, to be held in Nov. 2024. So, the balance of power in the upper chamber will not be affected by Sasse's departure. In 2024, Sen. Deb Fischer's (R-NE) seat is up, in addition to the special election. Nebraska is pretty red, and has only elected one Democrat (Ben Nelson) to the Senate this millennium. Without knowing the candidates, we'd guess the chances of a flip (much less a double-flip) are slim, unless maybe the Democrats get an abortion initiative on the ballot. That's possible in Nebraska (it's one of 27 states that allow ballot initiatives) and, if so, it could make things very interesting. (Z)
The Ohio legislature, which has careened rightward in the last decade or so (thanks, gerrymandering!) is currently considering a rather radical proposal. Noting that there is a teacher shortage, and also that military veterans often struggle to adapt to civilian life, state Sen. Jerry Cirino (R) proposes killing two birds with one stone: make it easy for recently discharged veterans to become teachers.
If "make it easy" meant something like "the state of Ohio establishes and funds a fast-track, 2-year program to train veterans how to teach," then the proposal might have some merit. But what Cirino and his co-sponsors mean by "make it easy" is "let veterans enter the classroom with virtually no training, and commence their careers as teachers." Trust us, as two people who have a combined 60+ years as teachers under their belts, this is madness. And college students are much easier to teach than younger students are; with the latter, there are all kinds of developmental and communicative issues that an educator needs to be aware of that are not really in play in university teaching.
At the very least, this proposal reflects the general disdain that many Republicans (and some non-Republicans) have for teachers, thinking that it is a low-skill job that anyone can do well. When Larry Elder ran for governor of California, (Z) noted that he'd once heard the radio host rally against college professors, decreeing that teaching college classes is an "easy job" and that it only requires "5-10 hours a week, at most." This is profoundly ignorant. This Wednesday, for example, thanks in part for the need to create replacement material for a lecture that was interrupted by a fire alarm (in addition to writing a quiz, writing the next set of essay questions, reviewing some students' essay drafts, grading some papers, editing a video for in-class use, holding office hours and delivering several lectures), (Z) was on campus from 10:00 a.m. until 2:30 a.m. According to Elder math, that was enough for 2-3 weeks' worth of work, not one day. But even though such statements are absurd, "teaching is easy-peasy" is a sentiment that often creeps into right-wing rhetoric about teachers (at all levels).
We also wonder if there may not be something more nefarious at play with this proposed Ohio legislation. Many Republicans believe that teachers indoctrinate students with left-wing ideas. This is also profoundly ignorant, but they believe it. They also believe that military veterans are right-wing. That's more accurate, though it's not as true as you might think. Putting these two things together, one wonders if the Ohio plan is meant to "counter" left-wing indoctrination by increasing the number of right-wing teachers. We actually don't think it would work out that way, but that doesn't mean that the Ohio legislature realizes that. Again, these are folks who apparently think you can jump into the classroom after just a few hours of training.
Since both teachers' and veterans' groups have expressed opposition to the proposed legislation, it is unlikely to become law. But given the increased weaponization of the education system, primarily by those on the right, it is useful to be aware of and the keep an eye on potential policy ideas that are being bandied around. (Z)
Since we are talking about the education system, we'll also include this story, from The New York Times, which has gotten a lot of attention this week. In short, a long-serving organic chemistry professor's contract was terminated because many of his students complained his class was too hard.
Now, before developing a strong opinion on this story, you should make sure you're familiar with the details. The professor, Maitland Jones Jr., taught o-chem at Princeton for multiple decades, during which time he won teaching awards and wrote a well-regarded textbook on the subject. When he retired from his Princeton post, he accepted a contract-teaching position at NYU, where his courses and teaching style continued to earn raves for several years.
However, at some point in his teaching career—Jones says it was about 10 years ago—he began to perceive a change in how well the students were doing in his courses. He says, with some justification, that he attempted to course correct, relaxing his grading standards a bit, and providing various study aids, like videos. He also tried to emphasize problem-solving over rote memorization. Still, grades kept trending down. Then the pandemic hit, and they really went into a tailspin, which culminated in the current, NYT-worthy crisis.
In short, Jones has a strong defense of himself. He knows the subject, he knows how to teach, and he did what he could to adapt. That said, the students have a strong argument, too. The grades in Jones' classes became laughably bad, even by o-chem standards. The mean grade was around 30%. Many students scored in the single digits, and some of them recorded zeroes. When you have a grade curve like that, something is clearly going wrong, and it's not all on the students.
Eventually, nearly 100 students in Jones' course signed a petition asking the administration to get involved. They were not only unhappy about their grades, but also about Jones' demeanor, describing it as "harsh," "sarcastic," and "dismissive." The NYU administration put some pressure on Jones to revise his grading scale and his tests and, when he said he could not bend any further, they fired him.
This story is not exactly politicized, at least not yet, though it has inspired a number of pundits across the spectrum to write "See? Here's what's wrong with higher education" thought pieces. We bring this up because, as educators, it raises at least three issues that are likely to become more acute over the next several years:
We cannot know exactly how this will play out, but we do know that there's plenty of frustration and anger to go around, and that politicians are very good at weaponizing frustration and anger. That particularly applies to today's Republican politicians, and to frustration and anger with the educational system.
Forgive the personal anecdotes, but here's one more that might be instructive. A few years ago, as readers may recall, there was a shooting at UCLA where a professor was murdered by a former student. As chance would have it, this came right before finals week. And so, many UCLA professors made accommodations for those students who were upset, or who did not want to come to campus.
At this time, as we might have mentioned previously (can't remember for sure), (Z) was connected on Facebook with a long-time friend from elementary school. This long-time friend became a staunch right-winger over the years, and so was himself connected to a bunch of other staunch right-wingers. After the shooting, the elementary-school friend began a Facebook conversation about the accommodations being made at UCLA, and how today's professors and students have become "soft."
(Z) was not actually among the professors who made accommodations. He doesn't believe in in-class tests, so there was no need. However, since he understood where his colleagues were coming from, and since he believed his now-former-friend would like to have a proper understanding of what was going on, (Z) put his teacher hat on and tried to explain the professors' mindset. The exact phrase used was something like this: "An exam is an instrument, designed to make as accurate a measurement as is possible, just like a thermometer, a scale, or a blood test. And if the professor becomes aware of anything they believe will interfere with the accuracy of that instrument—badly written questions, cheating, external issues—they have a responsibility to adapt and to correct for the situation."
This is precisely the tone that (Z) maintained throughout his contributions to the conversation. However, his remarks enraged one of the right-wing friends of the elementary school friend. This right-wing friend is not some MAGA stereotype, he is a highly-educated and well-respected physician. And he absolutely lit into (Z), despite being entirely clear that (Z) had not personally made changes to his classes. The phrase "fu**ing fa**ot" was deployed several times, in addition to others, despite the fact that (Z)'s Facebook page has pictures of some ex-girlfriends and his ex-wife. (Z) asked the elementary school friend if he was going to say anything, and the elementary friend said the only thing he was going to do was pop some popcorn and enjoy the show. That was the end of that friendship, of course.
The point here (and with the items above) is that folks on the right have some very clear ideas about education, and about higher education, even if those ideas are rooted much more in supposition and emotion than they are in actual fact. And reading the story about the NYU o-chem class, it's clear that as much as things like Critical Race Theory and gender-neutral language at schools and student masking are parts of the culture wars now, they are just the beginning. (Z)
The McEnany family has done little to dispel the impression that they are kinda sleazy. Kayleigh, of course, was an outspoken never Trump Republican until she decided that there were more opportunities available in being a Trump apologist. So, like Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), she turned on a dime and flipped positions. That eventually led to an appointment as White House Press Secretary, where she performed her uncanny impression of Baghdad Bob for a couple of years.
It would appear that another McEnany apple did not fall far from the McEnany tree. That would be Ryann McEnany, who is Kayleigh's sister. Ryann landed a job in the Trump White House, thanks to a process known as nepotism. Once Trump was out of a job, so was Ryann, and she wasn't high-profile enough to latch on at Fox News, like Kayleigh did. So, Ryann went to right-wing billionaire Peter Thiel and pitched an idea: How about a dating app for MAGA folks? Thiel wrote a check for nearly $2 million, and The Right Stuff was born.
Of course, plenty of dating opportunities like this already exist (have Thiel and McEnany never heard of FarmersOnly?). Beyond that, however, we can't get behind anything that further heightens the political divide in the country. Also, we don't think anyone involved with this project really cares about helping people find their "happily ever after." From where we sit, it looks like yet another TrumpWorld grift, meant to relieve the MAGA crowd of some of its money.
These things being the case, there is some schadenfreude in the fact that the app has been a disaster so far. To start with, there was already an app called The Right Stuff, and the owner of that one has sued. On top of that, it turns out there are plenty of young, conservative men looking for love, but not many young, conservative women. In other words, the whole thing has turned into a giant sausage party.
Further, because everyone in TrumpWorld knows they are going to be magnets for ridicule, The Right Stuff has an invites-only policy. It's not working. The policy is keeping real users, who might make the app a success, from joining up. Meanwhile, enemies of TrumpWorld are still getting through and are leaving vicious reviews on the Apple Store, so much so that Apple is suppressing most of them.
But wait, there's more. The folks to whom this app is being marketed often have something of a conspiratorial bent. And so, the conspiracies are already in full flower. Because a couple of people signed up for an account, and then were contacted by the FBI, the word is out on right-wing sites that the app is really just a front for an FBI sting operation. And then there's this, from one of the reviews that's still available on the Apple Store:
This app is actually funded by Bill Gates. What happens is they take your photo and information and store it in a database that will be used in the future as a way to identify and exterminate all of us conservative Christian's. (sic)
That's right: Bill Gates, genocidal maniac.
The upshot here is that this app is going to go down in flames. And given the people who backed it, that's a very satisfactory outcome. (Z)
This is about as meta as it gets. At the moment, the Supreme Court docket includes a case involving a man named Anthony Novak, who created a parody Facebook page to lampoon his local police department. The police were not amused, declaring that it was too realistic, so Novak quickly took the page down. That wasn't enough, and the police continued to railroad him, which ultimately culminated criminal charges. Novak was acquitted, and then turned around and sued on the basis that his First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated. That's what the Supreme Court will be considering.
Naturally, the legal limits for parody are of considerable interest to the folks who publish the satirical newspaper The Onion, and so the publication has filed what might be the greatest amicus brief in Supreme Court history. It is simultaneously a legitimate expression of legal theory and yet also a biting parody of curiae briefs. In the opening portion of the brief, for example, The Onion explains its interest in the case thusly:
The Onion is the world's leading news publication, offering highly acclaimed, universally revered coverage of breaking national, international, and local news events. Rising from its humble beginnings as a print newspaper in 1756, The Onion now enjoys a daily readership of 4.3 trillion and has grown into the single most powerful and influential organization in human history.
In addition to maintaining a towering standard of excellence to which the rest of the industry aspires, The Onion supports more than 350,000 full- and part-time journalism jobs in its numerous news bureaus and manual labor camps stationed around the world, and members of its editorial board have served with distinction in an advisory capacity for such nations as China, Syria, Somalia, and the former Soviet Union. On top of its journalistic pursuits, The Onion also owns and operates the majority of the world's transoceanic shipping lanes, stands on the nation's leading edge on matters of deforestation and strip mining, and proudly conducts tests on millions of animals daily.
That means The Onion's readership is not much smaller than ours is. Of course, we do it with just two authors, two tech support helpers, two poll inputters, a handful of copy editors, two dachshunds and a usually soused mathematician. So, our readers-per-staffer ratio is way better than theirs is.
Because the document works on two very different levels, many people have wondered if it was a legal brief that was spruced up by the parodists, or it was a work of parody that was later fortified with actual legal verbiage by actual lawyers. NPR looked into it, and discovered it is basically the latter. Novak's attorneys contacted The Onion, the outlet's head writer Mike Gillis wrote the humorous parts, and then the Novak legal team added the legal stuff.
Ultimately, it was a very shrewd way to make the point that for parody to work, it has to be able to potentially pass as the real thing. And because the brief went viral, Gillis has done more in one week to bring attention to government infringements on the First Amendment than most real newspaper writers are able to do in a lifetime.
Have a great weekend, everyone! (Z)
The polls continue to tell us that Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) is likely safe; by all accounts, Blake Masters did nothing at last night's debate to change the trajectory of the contest. Meanwhile, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) is remains the most endangered Democrat in the Senate. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that her opponent is not a loon or a sleazeball. (Z)
|State||Democrat||D %||Republican||R %||Start||End||Pollster|
|Arizona||Mark Kelly*||51%||Blake Masters||45%||Sep 26||Oct 02||SSRS|
|Nevada||Catherine Cortez Masto*||46%||Adam Laxalt||48%||Sep 26||Oct 02||SSRS|
Reefer (17!) references: High time, up in smoke, cannabis, pot, wasted, dope, kush, scrub, chronic, tea
party, ganja. PLus, of course, whack, wacky tobaccy, hits, Mary Jane, kind, and reefer.
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