This week, as always, we have a roundup of the news. Then we take a beat to try and make sense of three murders that happened within three days.
Plus, a little dive into a Bard library drama and Common Sense happenings.
Let’s get to it:
→ Biden gives a rare press conference: In a revealing news conference, President Biden floated the idea of a stolen election coming up. Whether he will consider the 2022 midterms “legitimate” hinges on passing the democrats’ doomed voting bills, he said. "I'm not saying it's going to be legit," he said of the midterms, sounding somber. “The increase in the prospect of being illegitimate is in direct proportion to us not being able to get these reforms passed.”
Will those who rightly blasted Trump for denying the integrity of our elections express the same indignation about this? Mitt Romney came out to condemn Biden’s “irresponsible” rhetoric.
The President also said Russia would get away with a “minor incursion” into Ukraine, shocking leaders in Ukraine. Later, he walked it back.
And he gave himself a review: “I didn't overpromise, but I have probably outperformed what anybody thought would happen.” Americans don’t agree. The latest poll, from Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research: 56% of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of the job, while only 43% approve. And another wild stat: Only 28% of Americans say they want Biden to run for reelection in 2024, including only 48% of Democrats.
→ Why so rare? During his first year, Trump held 22 news conferences and Obama had 27. Biden? Just ten. Van Jones said it well—and on CNN if you can believe it: “I think you have to be honest that you can be a foggy, meandering president. Say, like Reagan near the end, if you're winning. But if you are foggy and meandering on key questions and you're also not winning, then you've got a real problem.”
→ No one rescued the Jews in Texas: The three men who remained hostage in Congregation Beth Israel as night fell were not rescued by some SWAT team or any special hostage negotiator. While negotiators worked hard to manage the terrorist, the Jews were held at gunpoint in the temple's sanctuary for 11 hours. They are alive today thanks to their own courage and the security training they received in years prior. As that night wore on and their captor grew agitated, he asked them to kneel. Jeffrey Cohen mouthed “no.” Then Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker threw a chair at the terrorist, and all three escaped.
→ Flint, Michigan closes school indefinitely: Public schools continue to fail at their most basic duty, which is staying open and teaching children. Now, schools across the poor, predominantly black town of Flint, Michigan are remote indefinitely.
Here’s Superintendent Kevelin Jones, who’s kept the school shut for weeks already: “While this decision was not made easily, it is necessary for the greater health of our community.”
→ Democrats v. Parents, continued: The Wake County, North Carolina Democrats this week put out a cartoon depicting frustrated district parents as conservative caricatures—the Qanon follower, the anti-vaxxer, the confederate flag diehard, the January 6 stormer.
Facing backlash from critics online, they wrote a sarcastic note thanking people for showing exactly how much the school board has had to deal with, ending with #facts #truth. When the backlash didn’t die down, they deleted the tweets. All of this was carefully documented by Corey A. DeAngelis, a tireless school-choice advocate.
The Michigan Democratic Party meanwhile posted a rant complaining about those people who drive carpool and won’t stop sending emails (that they later also deleted):
To top it off, the Democratic strategist Paul Begala said this week on CNN: “I think the problem for the Democrats right now is not that they have bad leaders. They have bad followers.”
My only possible theory here, in light of the falling birth rate: The people sending these messages have never in fact met a parent.
→ Which might explain these two new Gallup polls:
In a single year, Republicans are +7, while Democrats are -7. If you’re a Republican, this is great news, plain and simple. If you’re a common sense Democrat, this is a sort of depressing we-did-warn-you moment.
But the biggest group of all these days is Independents (I bet there are a lot here in the Common Sense world).
→ Chamath Palihapitiya does not care about that genocide: A Silicon Valley billionaire beloved by the press for talking about the need for more women in tech, decided to weigh in on the genocide of Uyghurs. To defend them? No, no. To say he doesn’t care about them: “Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uygers . . . of all the things that I care about, it is below my line.” He said it’s unclear a genocide is happening, that the CCP isn’t a dictatorship, and that America’s not exactly on moral high ground to weigh in on genocide, citing the number of incarcerated black men. This false moral equivalence is very common these days, especially from otherwise woke-sounding business and tech titans, so it’s worth seeing how Palihapitiya articulates it: “Until we actually clean up our own house, the idea that we step outside of our borders with us morally virtue signaling about somebody else's human rights track record is deplorable.” He later attempted a half-hearted apology. Expect more discussion in this space as we gear up for the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
→ Eric Adams, popular: New York City’s moderate mayor—hated by the intelligentsia who keep thinking they can cancel him for talking like a normal person—is polling at 63% favorable, 20% unfavorable. Even as a West Coaster, I loved watching the New York mayor’s race. My favorite moment was when Dianne Morales was protested by her own staff weeks before the primary.
→ Please stop trying to have D.C. set prices: CNN this week asks: Should the government control the price of food and gas? This week and every week the answer is the same and that answer is no.
“To Begin the Process of Decanonization”
It’s always fun to check up on what’s going on in academia. Here’s an announcement that showed up in the Bard College library newsletter (Bard tuition, $57,498 a year):
In keeping with campus-wide initiatives to ensure that Bard is a place of inclusion, equity, and diversity, the Stevenson Library is conducting a diversity audit of the entire print collection in an effort to begin the process of decanonizing the stacks. Three students, who are funded through the Office of Inclusive Excellence, have begun the process which we expect will take at least a year to complete. The students will be evaluating each book for representations of race/ethnicity, gender, religion, and ability.
So, to paraphrase this library announcement: three Bard students, chosen and paid for by the Office of Inclusive Excellence, are tasked with reviewing every book in the Bard library to evaluate how well it adheres to their moral standards. Facing outrage from library-fans, Bard quickly retracted and rewrote this announcement and clarified that the audit was more high-level analysis of each book and author.
Still I like to imagine these students marching through the stacks, pulling every spine, reading every page to examine for “representations of race, gender, religion, and ability.” Does Charles Dickens dehumanize someone with a limp somewhere? I bet he does. There’s some nasty ableism in Beowulf. Was Aristotle a feminist? This could take a while. Also, I think I kind of want to be on this committee.
The term decanonize means exclusion of a person’s name from a list or catalog. It’s a term most commonly associated with the church, who decanonizes to demote a saint who’s on the outs.
There’s of course a whole new intellectual underpinning for all of this. Here’s the librarian Sofia Leung, who offers trainings and workshops on critical race theory in libraries:
“Our library collections, because they are written mostly by straight white men, are a physical manifestation of white men ideas taking up all the space in our library stacks,” she writes, asking her readers to pause and think about that in her essay, Whiteness as Collections. Or watch her talk with the University of Michigan on the “‘Ordinary’ Existence of White Supremacy in Libraries.”
The announcement about decanonization came in a cheery library update. It wasn’t the top item. It’s just there between an alumna to be honored and a local cleanup effort. Decanonization is a casual, business-as-usual sort of activity, hardly anything to pay attention to or ask about.
When I wrote to ask about the announcement, Bard officials explained that this was all a big misunderstanding. Nothing the library newsletter had about this effort should be taken literally, they told me.
“It will help us understand and answer questions about representation in our collections and build a more inclusive collection going forward,” wrote Betsy Cawley, the director of Bard libraries. “Nothing is being removed, recategorized, or replaced.”
Decanonization is not decanonization at all. Judging each book does not mean judging each book (“an earlier brochure entry suggesting that has been revised”). It is just a fact-finding mission to learn more, not to remove anything.
In some cold upstate New York panic, they retracted and rewrote the whole thing. “The erroneous entry has been removed,” the school tells me now.
Regardless, if any Common Sense-readers would like to read books that three Bard students deem offensive, please turn yourself in to the local police station.
(We got word of this thanks to the great Emily Yoffe, who’s in touch with several library-loving whistleblowers. Thank you. TGIF is always open to tips: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Three Murders in Three Days
Michelle Alyssa Go, 40, was standing on a subway platform in New York City when a homeless man came up behind and shoved her into an oncoming train.
Sandra Shells, 70, a nurse on the edge of retirement, was waiting for a bus in Los Angeles when a transient beat her, causing her to fall and fracture her skull. She died of the injuries days later, cared for until the end by her colleagues of 38 years.
Nearby, Brianna Kupfer, 24, was working at a high-end furniture store when, in the middle of the afternoon, a man walked in, stabbed her to death, and calmly walked out.
Three murders in three days.
We’re told the solution is more of the same gentle, treat-in-place services that we have now. Just put more money into the homeless assistance programs, and the well-intentioned people will fix a problem that, so far, they’ve only watched grow. It can’t be that mentally ill people sometimes need to be forced to enter in-patient care. That image—forcing someone who is raving and suffering into a car—is too brutal for the public to stomach. Much better to let the homeless die slower deaths in public, overdosing on the sidewalk.
It can’t be about drugs, either. It can’t have anything to do with new, stronger meth circulating in homeless encampments. If that were the case, it would mean drug dealers needed to be arrested, and that’s a big no-no. Drug dealers are often victims themselves, as San Francisco’s District Attorney said in a town hall. Drug dealers need mindfulness training or meditation apps. Progressive district attorneys argue that jail doesn’t even work anyway.
Activists and city officials held a press conference in the subway saying we just need more conflict mediators, as though the man who shoved Michelle Go had some rational issue to discuss, some conflict he needed to work out with her. (The city’s mayor, thankfully, disregarded this and is adding more police to the subway.)
The New York City police are busy, of course. The night before she was being shoved into the tracks, the cops were right nearby dealing with some rowdy anti-vax passport protestors at an Olive Garden. They made four arrests.
At Brianna Kupfer’s memorial yesterday in Los Angeles, a crowd of more than one hundred stood in silence outside the upscale Croft House furniture store. In the center, a clutch of young women were sobbing and putting posters on the glass front of the store. The posters were decorated with pictures of Brianna dancing and smiling. The sidewalk was covered in bouquets. One of the owners of Croft House took a microphone and thanked everyone for being there. Then the mic started getting passed around.
“These kinds of things are happening more and more. We’ve been abandoned. He shouldn’t have been out. And he’s not alone,” a man said into the mic, as the downcast crowd lit up, roaring and whistling in approval. “We have to hold our politicians accountable.”
“The streets have gotten tougher,” another man said into the mic.
But it wasn’t a political rally. After that, the crowd fell back into silence and the speeches stopped.
This Week on Common Sense:
During Saturday’s hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas, our team was able to publish 29 minutes of tape from inside the synagogue. The audio is rough, but the message is clear: that Jewish conspiracies—mainly that a random group of American Jews might be able to secure the release of the jihadi Aafia Siddiqui—persist.
On Monday, Bari had a column on Colleyville and the place of Jews in an unraveling America.
Stacey Lane, a public school teacher in Canada, let us into the dark new reality of her classroom. She explains how Covid mitigation policies in her school have left it “cold and soulless,” and her students anxious and depressed. “Our children need life on the highest volume. And they need it now.”
Investigative journalist Alec MacGillis came on the podcast to talk about what our pandemic policies have wrought. Part One of the conversation focused on schools and the national crime surge. Part Two covers how the pandemic has exacerbated growing inequality in America, and how tech behemoths like Amazon have managed to reorganize the country geographically, financially, and, in a way, spiritually. That drops this morning.