Betsy DeVos seems confused about what “civil rights” are.
The education secretary, who reportedly opposed President Donald Trump’s reversal of Obama-era federal guidelines for transgender students, defended her eventual support for the move during an appearance at CPAC on Thursday. “This issue was a very huge example of the Obama administration’s overreach,” she said.
And yet, DeVos also cited civil rights protections as a key part of her agency’s mission. “I think the role of the federal government should be as light a touch as possible,” she said, but added that “the areas in which the Department of Education has an important role are really around the needs of special needs students and around some of the civil rights issues.”
LBGT students, under greater threat thanks to the Trump administration, can only hope that reports are true about the education secretary’s private advocacy for their cause. Yet her public remarks on Thursday suggest something less hopeful: that her conservative fealty to “states’ rights” overrides her nominal tolerance.
As you may have heard by now, alt-right leader Richard Spencer on Thursday told a group of reporters at CPAC that “Depeche Mode is the official band of the alt-right.” The news spread so quickly that Depeche Mode responded before the original breaker of the news, Olivia Nuzzi of New York magazine, could even file her story. “That’s pretty ridiculous,” a band representative said. “Depeche Mode has no ties to Richard Spencer or the alt-right and does not support the alt-right movement.”
Spencer became the umpteenth conservative to feel the scorn of his beloved pop culture idols, joining the company of Chris Christie (diehard Bruce Springsteen fan) and Rand Paul (Rush). He and his kind were subjected to heaps of Depeche Mode–related mockery online, including being told to “enjoy the fucking silence nazis.” Video resurfaced of Spencer being sucker-punched by an anti-fascist protester on Donald Trump’s inauguration day, to the tune of “Just Can’t Get Enough.”
But it also prompted the question: What could be the connection between the racist right and an avowedly liberal synth-pop band that had its heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s? According to Spencer, Depeche Mode is an example of “white music,” not merely in the sense that its band members are white, but that its music (allegedly) has no roots in R&B and blues, making it different from the Rolling Stones and other rock bands. The idea seems to be that electronic-inflected music has both a futuristic sheen—very important to those on the transgressive right who view themselves at the cutting edge—and is cleansed of associations with a musically miscegenational past. This penchant for electronica has led to such horrors as “fashwave” music; Spencer has previously described Depeche Mode as one of the “fashiest 80s electropop bands.”
Still, there is something more at work here. Anyone familiar with Depeche Mode at their peak knows they were almost as famous for their look as they were for their music. At the time, David Gahan, Martin Gore, and Co. were considered bold sex symbols. In retrospect, particularly when you watch the videos for “Personal Jesus” and “Policy of Truth,” they look a little Village People. As Nitsuh Abebe wrote of Gahan and Depeche Mode before they reached peak fame: “He looks so young! And shy! And they haven’t even started dressing like leather men yet!”
Part of Depeche Mode’s appeal, in other words, has always stemmed from the very strong suggestion of S&M and kinkiness—transgression of a sexual nature. We might suggest something similar about the supposedly “dapper” Spencer, who matches his tweed vests with a “fashy” high-and-tight haircut and clearly aspires to be a kind of rebellious style icon. When I asked my colleague what the connection between Depeche Mode and Richard Spencer could be, she said they both “let their fans enjoy gay culture without admitting to being interested in gay culture.” Spencer is aware of this aspect of his appeal, but in typical fashion turns it into something bigoted: “The gays love me,” he has declared.
As Gothamist points out, lead singer Dave Gahan just this month compared Trump to Adolf Hitler: “The things that he’s saying sound very similar to what someone was saying in 1935. That didn’t work out very well! The things that he’s saying are cruel and heartless and promoting fear.” In its latest video, “Where’s the Revolution,” the band rips exactly the sort of fascist demagoguery that Spencer and his ilk are spreading.
John Boehner admits Republicans don’t have an ObamaCare replacement—and won’t come up with one, either.
You might have thought that after eight years of endless, one-note messaging to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, opponents would have come up with a plan of their own, or at least formulated some ideas. But maybe that was just never going to happen.
Boehner, who during his time as speaker of the House held an interminable number of votes to repeal the ACA, may have let that cat out of the bag. Politico reports that Boehner, speaking at a health care conference today in Orlando, said that Republicans are instead going to make modest fixes to the law. “I shouldn’t call it repeal-and-replace, because it’s not going to happen,” he said.
On Thursday, Boehner said the talk in November about lightning-fast passage of a new health care framework was wildly optimistic.
“I started laughing,” he said. “Republicans never ever agree on health care.”
He concluded, “Most of the framework of the Affordable Care Act … that’s going to be there.” Good to know!
Dan Schneider—executive director of the American Conservative Union, which hosts the annual conservative conference—denounced the white nationalist movement from the stage Thursday. “There is a sinister organization that is trying to worm its way into our ranks,” he said. “We must not be duped. We must not be deceived.”
It’s tempting to give Schneider credit for distancing CPAC from overt white identity politics. He explicitly condemned an alt-right conference in Washington last year, where movement leader Richard Spencer waxed nostalgic about when America was “a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity” and audience members hailed him with Nazi salutes.
But then Schneider explained who he really blames for the movement that backed Donald Trump’s bigoted campaign: progressives. “They are nothing but garden-variety left-wing fascists,” he said of the alt-right.
Fascism is right-wing by definition, and the modern, multicultural left is precisely the opposite of the alt-right’s white identitarian politics. Schneider was similarly off-base arguing that the alt-right is more akin to socialists than conservatives, and suggesting they’d “hijacked a once-decent term” in calling themselves “alt-right.”
Spencer, who coined the term, was having none of this on Thursday. He was on hand at CPAC, and said Schneider’s comments were “objectively stupid.”
“Total bullshit,” he told reporters. “I wasn’t aware that left-wing fascists were so numerous—such a common persuasion.”
Spencer said Schneider’s remarks were evidence of the alt-right’s growing influence in politics, as it battles the traditional conservative movement. “The fact is, they weren’t talking about the alt-right a year ago, two years ago,” he said. “They now feel the need to talk about us.”
There’s something to that. Despite CPAC’s denouncement, Spencer certainly had fans at the conference:
Air pollution doesn’t kill people, and other revelations from the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Climate change is “fake news.” Environmentalists’ “only goal is power.” The government “has completely corrupted science.” Recycling is “pretty useless.”
Those were just a few of the claims made at a CPAC panel on Thursday entitled “Fake climate news camouflaging an anti-capitalist agenda—and what President Trump plans to do about it.”It was organized by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute (E&E), a coal industry–funded non-profit best known for filing lawsuits against climate scientists. Among the panelists was Steve Milloy, a paid advocate for the tobacco and coal industries, who argued that excessive air pollution is not linked to premature death, and that, in fact, those activists at the EPA are “paying for the science it wants.” Consequently, Milloy said, Trump must completely overhaul the scientific research process at the EPA and other federal agencies. “Our government is lying to us,” Milloy said.
Ivanka Trump’s child care plan would mostly benefit people like Ivanka Trump.
In today’s edition of Ivanka Trump Is Not The Progressive You Want Her To Be, Bloomberg reports that her vaunted child care proposal would do little for lower-income parents:
A deduction for child care expenses is both costly and regressive because it would favor wealthier families with two working parents. The deduction would cost the federal government $500 billion in revenue over a decade, according to an estimate by the Tax Foundation, a politically conservative, nonprofit research group.
Two-parent households earning under $500,000 a year would receive the child care deduction; according to Bloomberg, low-income families would simply receive a larger income tax credit. That translates to some savings, but wealthier families would still benefit the most from Ivanka’s proposal. That’s not exactly a surprise: Ivanka is no policy expert. She may be drawing on personal experience, however: Nannies raised her; now she employs nannies of her own.
If Ivanka really wanted to improve American child care, she’d tell her father to spend more money on programs like Head Start. Or she could urge him to veto any bill that reduces the availability of free school meals. If she doesn’t, it’ll be even more obvious that she, like her father, sees the presidency as a means to protect her class’s interests.
The First Lady has refiled her libel lawsuit against Daily Mail Online, CNN reported yesterday, over their false publication last year of a story that she had worked for an escort service. But the new wrinkle is very interesting, as she and her lawyer seek to take back the admission that she wanted to personally profit from being First Lady.
The original lawsuit document clearly stated as a claimed damage: “Plaintiff had the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as an extremely famous and well-known person, as well as a former professional model and brand spokesperson and successful businesswoman, to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multimillion dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world.”
After two weeks of harsh media criticism, though, the lawsuit has been refiled to omit that language. The new claim is purely based on emotional distress—including the recent incident in which New York Times reporter Jacob Bernstein publicly apologized after he was overheard referring to her as a “hooker” at a party.
The amount she’s asking for now: $150 million—the same exact damages as were claimed before, from alleged commercial harm.
This raises many questions. But mainly, how exactly is “emotional distress” still worth the same $150 million that they were previously claiming as a concrete, material damage? Is it the emotional distress that comes from having lost opportunities to make money off being First Lady?
The secretary of education released a pointed statement last night in response to the Trump administration’s withdrawal of the Obama-era federal guidelines that would have allowed transgender students to use bathroom facilities according to their gender identities. In the statement, she apparently sought to lay out in public what has been her own reportedly independent position, which was overruled in favor of Attorney General Jeff Sessions:
We have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment. This is not merely a federal mandate, but a moral obligation no individual, school, district or state can abdicate. At my direction, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools...
I have dedicated my career to advocating for and fighting on behalf of students, and as Secretary of Education, I consider protecting all students, including LGBTQ students, not only a key priority for the Department, but for every school in America.
But what does this even mean, when the administration’s LGBT policies are being run by the likes of Jeff Sessions and Vice President Pence? And as has been noted, DeVos caved after raising the issue that transgender students have high rates of suicide and suicide attempts. So she knows what the consequences are.
DeVos nevertheless chose to go along with the administration’s collective policy, instead of taking the option to resign. There are no heroes in the Trump cabinet—they signed up for all of it, the bad and the ugly.