Today is President Donald Trump's last day in office! A White House official said Trump plans to pardon or commute sentences for up to 100 people today. Whether it might include big-name whistleblowers (like Chelsea Manning, Reality Winner, and Julian Assange) or just more of the president's crook friends and allies is anybody's guess. In any event, Trump leaves office with a 34 percent approval rating and a record-low average approval rating of 41 percent.
With Americans still reeling from the January 6 Capitol riot, the Biden administration will begin its term amid a rapidly escalating "tough on domestic terror" mood.
That's never a good influence no matter which ruling party is in office, and perhaps especially bad in times of intense partisan conflict. There are a few things both Democrats and Republicans can almost always come together on, and limiting civil liberties in the name of national security is chief among them. But worse, Biden has never backed away from hysterical policy reactions to perceived crime and terror threats.
"Biden's career was built on the politics of panics," Reason's Jacob Sullum writes. "After 9/11, Biden did not just vote for the PATRIOT Act, which expanded the federal government's surveillance authority in the name of fighting terrorism. He bragged that it was essentially the same as legislation he had been pushing since 1994."
Now, "the Biden administration plans to make domestic terrorism a key focus of the National Security Council, transition officials tell @carolelee," tweeted Geoff Bennett, NBC's White House correspondent, on Monday. "Officials have been looking at ways to shift government resources previously used for counterterrorism, to combating domestic terrorism."
Former lackeys of the war on terror are already salivating.
"Former intelligence official on PBS NewsHour tonight saying that the US should think about a '9/11 Commission' for domestic extremism and consider applying some of the lessons from the fight against Al Qaeda here at home," noted Evan Hill of The New York Times last night.
("The more explicit they make it that they're using the first War on Terror model for their new one domestically, the better," responded Glenn Greenwald. "Please keep up this candor.")
"Domestic terror" panic is infecting all sorts of policy arenas, too.
Since the Capitol riot, people have been calling for crackdowns on social media tech companies, under the rationale that some folks involved organized or posted about their plans online and/or received misinformation on digital platforms that led them to riot. (And, once again, people pretending that people will stop communicating disfavored ideas if they lose a few venues to do so are finding themselves sorely wrong, as folks move from Facebook, Twitter, and Parler to encrypted messaging apps and other forms of communication.)
Now, that's spilling over into attacks on traditional media, too.
"Biden needs to reinvigorate the FCC to slow the lies and sedition from Fox and other right-wing broadcasters," wrote Washington Post columnist Max Boot on Twitter yesterday, continuing the melodrama by warning that, if not, "the terrorism we saw on Jan. 6 may be only the beginning, rather than the end, of the plot against America."
But as Boot and others unfold the plot to reinvigorate the failed war on terror, it seems we may have a lot more to fear from status quo authoritarians than the MAGA nationalist crowd right now. The latter worships a disgraced man who is leaving the White House tomorrow. The former will find friends in the executive branch, Congress, and all the levers of legacy media.
"It is not enough to just condemn hate, we need to equip law enforcement with the tools needed to identify threats and prevent violent acts of domestic terrorism," said its sponsor, Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL). "The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act improves coordination between our federal agencies and makes sure they are focused on the most serious domestic threats," he said.
We've seen this episode before, and it doesn't end well.
Sex, Communism, race, and creative freedom in Hollywood. In Reason's February issue, Kat Rosenfield looks at historical Hollywood production codes and today's new diversity standards for Oscar-eligible films.
In a way, these battles represent a new front in Hollywood's diversity wars. But in another sense, they are nothing novel. The Academy was formed in tandem with Hollywood's early content code, and it has been enmeshed in battles over what constitutes acceptable or desirable on-screen content—a matter in which the film industry has always yearned to both eat its cake and have it. Hollywood wants to wield total creative control and unimpeachable moral authority, to wag its finger out in public before retreating to backroom debauchery, to be seen as an idealistic protector of the arts against the forces of censorship and conformity while keeping box-office cash coming.
And like the Code that ruled during its Golden Age, Hollywood's signature awards ceremony isn't just a glitzy vehicle for celebrating Tinseltown's best; it's about control. The imprimatur of the Academy is a powerful influence on filmmakers' output and public perceptions of the movie business alike, but more than that, it imagines Hollywood as an arbiter of goodness. What must we say? How should we live? What moves us to fear, to tears, to disgust? Sit back, let the lights go down, and await further instructions.
Hawley book finds new publisher. Conservative publishing house Regnery will publish Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley's anti-tech book after it was dropped by Simon & Schuster. The company chose to contract with the senator and promote his work until Hawley's refusal to accept the presidential election results (and, some say, partial blame for the Capitol riot) made him someone the publishing company didn't want to associate with anymore. Hawley exercised his right to speak in dispute of the election, Simon & Schuster exercised its right to choose who it does business with, and then one of the publisher's competitors took advantage of that and snapped it up. Contra Hawley's insistence that it was a First Amendment violation for Simon & Schuster to cancel his book contract in the first place, this is how free speech, freedom of association, and free markets work.
At USA Today, Ilya Somin suggests that Hawley's statement about Simon & Schuster and the First Amendment "is not simply the result of ignorance. It is rooted in a broader worldview under which government should have vastly expanded power to control the private sector and thereby restrict constitutional rights. That vision is widespread on the right, among 'national conservatives.' But it also has close analogues on the left. Both variants are menaces to liberty."
- President-elect Joe Biden is promising to promote an eight-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. "It provides one of the fastest pathways to citizenship for those living without legal status of any measure in recent years, but it fails to include the traditional trade-off of enhanced border security favored by many Republicans, putting passage in a narrowly divided Congress in doubt," the Associated Press points out. "Expected to run hundreds of pages, the bill is set to be introduced after Biden takes the oath of office Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the legislation and granted anonymity to discuss it."
- Parler is partially back. After being dropped from Amazon's web hosting services last week, the conservative social platform is back online—albeit not yet functional again. "On Monday, Parler's website was reachable again, though only with a message from its chief executive saying he was working to restore functionality," reports Reuters. "The internet protocol address it used is owned by DDos-Guard, which is controlled by two Russian men and provides services including protection from distributed denial of service attacks."
- "Anytime when you have mutations that come up independently of each other in multiple places, it's really a sign," coronavirus researcher Vineet Menachery from the University of Texas told The Atlantic. And it's not a good sign.