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Don’t Debate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Elon Musk and Joe Rogan aren't interested in the "truth" about vaccines. They just want a circus.

Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images

Dr. Peter Hotez is a respected vaccine scientist, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine and professor of pediatrics and molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, who has devoted his career to improving global public health. He is also the author of Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism: My Journey as a Vaccine Scientist, Pediatrician, and Autism Dad, a book that draws on his experience as a doctor and the father of an autistic daughter. Podcaster and conspiracy theorist Joe Rogan and profoundly unfunny Twitter CEO Elon Musk spent the weekend trying to bully him into debating Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on the efficacy of vaccines.

The saga started on Saturday, when Hotez shared a Vice article about how Spotify—which signed Rogan to a multiyear exclusive contract in 2021 that is rumored to be worth $200 million—has stopped “even trying to stem” the podcast host’s “vaccine misinformation,” which was focused on Rogan’s three-hour-long interview with Kennedy. “Peter, if you claim what RFKjr is saying is ‘misinformation’ I am offering you $100,000.00 to the charity of your choice if you’re willing to debate him on my show with no time limit,” Rogan tweeted. Musk quickly backed him up, writing, “He’s afraid of a public debate, because he knows he’s wrong.”

Hotez has offered to appear on Rogan’s podcast but has rightfully refused to debate Kennedy on the issue. Given the popularity and influence of Rogan’s show, there are persuasive arguments for appearing, if only to correct the wild statements that are frequently shared about not just the Covid-19 vaccine but all vaccines. But appearing with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. would likely only legitimize those views. Kennedy has spent more than a decade spouting conspiracy theories with no basis in fact about vaccines. As Hotez noted to MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan, “Anti-vaccine disinformation … is now a lethal force in the United States. I offered to go on Joe Rogan but not to turn it into the Jerry Springer show with having RFK Jr. on.”

The goal of the “debate” Rogan is trying to host is not to hash out the truth or to finally decide if vaccines are safe and effective or not. Vaccines are safe and effective: This is settled science. The goal is to sow doubt and confusion over both settled science and the value of expertise, both in medicine and in the wider world. Hotez is right to avoid it. But he is already paying a price: He says he was “stalked” on Sunday by anti-vax protesters who were waiting for him outside his Houston home.

Texas Just Got Closer to Banning Drag Shows

Texas has become the fourth GOP-led state to try to ban drag performances.

Photo by Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images
A Drag Story Hour in Ohio

Governor Greg Abbott signed an extreme bill targeting drag performances on Sunday, making Texas the fourth Republican-led state to enact such a law.

The bill passed both the House and Senate in May, following last-minute changes that opponents worry will create a slew of new, unforeseen crimes when the measure goes into effect in September.

The new law will criminalize any performances that occur or could occur in front of a minor if they appeal to “prurient interest” or are of a sexual nature. Performers could be charged with a misdemeanor (and face up to one year in jail, a $4,000 fine, or both), while any business that hosts the show would face a $10,000 fine. The bill’s sponsor stripped out any specific references to drag, but opponents argue the vaguely worded legislation would still target LGBTQ people.

The text was amended during debates to remove specific mentions of the word “drag,” and just before the final vote, lawmakers also removed the definition of “premises,” raising concerns that drag performances in private homes could also be policed.

The law is extremely broad, which actually creates a host of other complications. A group of lawyers previously told The Dallas Morning News that the measure could restrict performances by artists such as Madonna and Miley Cyrus, which often feature sexual dancing. The text could even affect bachelorette parties, if they involved sex toys or other paraphernalia. The new changes could even impact cheerleading and criminalize sexual conduct between consenting 17-year-olds (17 is the age of consent in Texas).

Movie screenings and art history classes could similarly come under fire. And of course, the law will affect its original target: drag performers, Pride parades, and transgender people just trying to live their lives.

Some people say the measure was already singling out LGBTQ people before it was even signed. Kerry Lynn, who runs a business that sends drag queens to people’s homes for birthday or bachelorette party performances, said drag venues and performers have seen a spike in threats over the past year and have been targeted by neo-Nazis.

“Regardless of the content, the proposal of these bills have created an excruciating year for my business and drag performers,” Lynn said when the bill was heard in a House committee in late April. “These words in this bill create movements which become headlines that pave the way for those to feel justified in acting out hostilely and violently.”

Texas is now the fourth state to pass a law banning drag performances. Tennessee was the first, in March, followed a month later by Florida. A Tennessee bill was blocked before it could go into effect, on the grounds that it violated free speech. But LGBTQ groups in Florida are already canceling Pride celebrations in light of the new law. In May, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed a drag ban so broad it could prevent glam rock, wrestling, and even performances by Dolly Parton.

Republicans Are Winning Their War on LGBTQ Rights

Approval of same-sex relationships and trans rights is backsliding after years of progress, according to a new Gallup poll.

Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP/Getty Images
Anti-trans activists protesting earlier this year

Americans’ perception of LGBTQ people is backsliding, in a sign that the Republican Party’s dogged campaign to ostracize queer people is working.

Only 64 percent of Americans think same-sex relationships are “morally acceptable,” the research firm Gallup revealed Friday, down from 71 percent this time last year. Gallup conducts an annual Values and Beliefs poll every May.

The biggest driver for that drop is a changing perspective among Republicans. In 2022, 56 percent of Republicans viewed same-sex relationships as morally acceptable. But this year, only 41 percent do.


The Gallup poll also found that more people view transitioning from one gender to another as “morally wrong”—although support among adult Americans has always been low. In May 2021, 46 percent of adults thought changing gender was “morally acceptable,” while 51 percent opposed it. But in 2023, only 43 percent of people say transitioning is morally acceptable, while 55 percent consider it wrong.

Support is even worse for transgender athletes playing on the team that matches their gender identity. In 2021, 34 percent of adults said trans athletes should be able to play on a team that matches their gender. This year, only 26 percent of people support that.

These views again fall mainly along party lines, with changing Republican sentiment one of the biggest drivers for the backslide. People are more likely to support trans rights if they know a trans person, but overall support has still dipped.


It’s no wonder people’s perception has changed. Republicans across the country have passed law after law criminalizing key aspects of LGBTQ identity and well-being. Republican-led state legislatures have banned drag performances, gender-affirming care for minors and adults, and trans girls from playing girls’ sports.

Republicans have cruelly and steadily painted a portrait of LGBTQ people as predators, as villains, and as aberrations. Unfortunately some Americans are listening.

The Teamsters’ Strike Has Already Claimed a Climate Win

Delivery drivers, who have reported temperatures upward of 140 degrees in their trucks, won a suite of protections ahead of strike vote.

A man in a UPS uniform sits in a truck with a towel on his head.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
A UPS driver keeps a towel on his head while driving in New York City during warm weather.

On Friday, 97 percent of UPS employees represented by the Teamsters voted for a strike as they negotiate a new contract with the logistics company; the current contract is set to expire on July 31. The threat of that strike, though, may well have already claimed a win that could protect delivery drivers from the kinds of extreme heat due to sweep the South this weekend and become ever more common thanks to climate change.

According to a tentative agreement reached with UPS as part of contract negotiations on Wednesday, the company will be mandated to equip all of the recognizable brown “package cars” it purchases after January 1, 2024, with in-cab air conditioning. The existing fleet of package cars and vans will be outfitted with two fans after a new contract is ratified, with additional upgrades to include exhaust heat shields and air induction vents. As of now, most trucks and many loading facilities are not air conditioned. New cars will be dispatched to the hottest parts of the country first, the company stated.

Workers I spoke with credited the pre-vote win to their ongoing contract campaign and the credible threat of a strike.

The protections follow persistent complaints from workers that temperatures in their trucks have reached upward of 140 degrees, conditions made especially dangerous considering the intense physical demands of delivery work. A 2019 investigation by NBC News found that at least 107 UPS workers in 23 states had been hospitalized for heat-related illnesses since 2015.

Last year, 24-year-old driver Esteban Chavez Jr. died after finishing his last delivery in Pasadena, California, having passed out in his truck as temperatures outside reached into the upper 90s. Workers facing similar conditions have reported being reluctant to call 911 for medical assistance when experiencing symptoms of heat stroke or dehydration, fearing retaliation from the company.

UPS reported record profits in 2022.

Giuliani Says Key Biden Informant Is Dead

The Biden whistleblower can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, ’cause they’re dead!

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani

There’s a new wrinkle in the Republicans’ totally legitimate investigation into Joe Biden: One of their informants is apparently dead, according to Rudy Giuliani.

Republicans have spent all week accusing the president of accepting a massive bribe from Ukraine (conveniently at the same time that Donald Trump was arrested for allegedly stealing and hiding classified documents), and have referred a number of times to a set of recordings that they claim prove his guilt. The GOP learned about these supposed recordings as part of the House Oversight Committee’s months-long investigation into the Biden family, which has yet to produce any actual evidence linking the president to wrongdoing.

House members were allowed last week to see a redacted version of an FD 10-23, a form the FBI uses to note unverified information from confidential sources. Several Republican lawmakers say that not only does the FBI form they saw last week mention this bribe but that a Burisma executive has audio recordings of Biden and Hunter Biden accepting the money. Both Anna Paulina Luna and Marjorie Taylor Greene said that the executive is Burisma owner Mykola Zlochevsky.

But according to Rudy Giuliani, the executive is actually the wife of Burisma co-founder Mykola Lisin. Giuliani told Newsmax over the weekend that Lisin died under suspicious circumstances. He seemed to imply the businessman left the recordings to his wife, but she died before the FBI could interview her.

The FBI “followed up on none of the evidence I gave them,” Giuliani said. “I gave them one witness that any investigator would jump through hoops to go to. Gave them a witness who is a woman, who is the chief accountant at this crooked company Burisma.”

“She was the wife of the former owner, who died under suspicious circumstances. And she was willing to give up all of the offshore bank accounts, including the Bidens’!”

Only right-wing outlets have reported Lisin’s wife’s death. Lisin died in a car crash in 2011—well over a decade ago. Hunter Biden didn’t join the board of Burisma until 2014. And the $10 million bribe Republicans keep mentioning, first pushed by Giuliani and Donald Trump, supposedly occurred in 2016.

What’s more, the FBI did investigate Giuliani’s claim. The bureau, alongside a U.S. attorney appointed by then-President Trump, had reviewed the bribery accusation when it was made in 2020 and found it to be unsubstantiated.

The GOP investigation into Biden is rapidly going off the rails. Multiple Republicans have admitted they don’t know if the recordings even exist, while House Oversight Chair James Comer, who is leading the probe, said he doesn’t know if the audio is “legit.”

Comer also can’t keep track of his informants, while his colleagues are begging more informants to come forward. But given how many informants they supposedly have, it sounds like they can spare a couple.

DeSantis Super PAC: The Trump Campaign is “Obsessed With Men’s Genitalia”

The DeSantis-Trump feud keeps getting weirder, grosser, and more intense.

Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis in 2019

Marco Rubio’s time in the 2016 Republican presidential primary ended with a humiliating series of dick jokes. Desperate and trailing in the polls, the diminutive Florida senator tried to act like the then front-runner and eventual nominee by trying his hand at insult comedy. Speaking at a rally ahead of Super Tuesday, Rubio implied that Trump had a small penis, telling an audience, “You know what they say about men with small hands.” (Never mind that the actual knock on Trump is that he famously has very short fingers.) Donald Trump was not so coy when he responded to Rubio a few days later during a primary debate. “Look at those hands, are they small hands?” Trump said, as he raised them for viewers to see. “And, he referred to my hands—‘If they’re small, something else must be small.’ I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee.”

That was a low moment of the 2016 race, though (probably) not the lowest. It also came months into the contest: Rubio would hang around for another week after that debate before dropping out of the race entirely (and eventually endorsing Donald Trump). The dick jokes also came at a time when Rubio was running out of options and had nothing left to lose—except even more of his dignity. Nearly eight years later, this portion of the GOP primary has sadly arrived far earlier.

Ahead of Ron DeSantis’s Friday visit to Nevada, surrogates for both the Florida governor and the former president have been duking it out—and once again going blue. DeSantis is traveling to Reno to attend the long-running Basque Fry, an event where “lamb fries”—stewed, fried lamb testicles—are served.

Trump campaign senior adviser Chris LaCivita couldn’t help himself: “Not surprised Ron DeSantis is looking for a set of balls,” he said.

Erin Perrine, communications director for the pro-DeSantis Super PAC Never Back Down, quickly hit back: “The Trump team’s obsession with men’s genitalia is more perverted than a woke grooming book.” This is the DeSantis campaign in a nutshell: It’s a convoluted response with forced, clunky references to “wokeness” and the Florida governor’s obsession with book bans shoved in. (It’s also not entirely clear what a “woke grooming book” is, though that’s understandable given that no one knows what “woke” even means.) In any case, the Republican primary is devolving way ahead of schedule. It’s only June. We may have another year of this to go.

DOJ: Systemic Problems Led to George Floyd’s Murder

A report released on Friday found that the Minneapolis Police Department discriminated against racial minorities for years before Floyd's death in 2020.

Photo by KEREM YUCEL/AFP/Getty Images
A mural dedicated to George Floyd near where he was murdered in Minneapolis

The Minneapolis Police Department systemically used excessive force and discriminated against racial minorities for years ahead of the police killing of George Floyd, the Department of Justice said Friday.

Floyd, a Black man, was murdered while being handcuffed and pinned down during an arrest on March 25, 2020. His death sparked an international wave of protests against systemic racism and police brutality, and led the Justice Department to launch a probe into the city’s policing policies.

The patterns and practices we observed made what happened to George Floyd possible,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said during a press conference.

The 89-page report slams the Minneapolis Police Department for using “dangerous tactics and weapons,” including neck restraints and Tasers for small or even nonexistent offenses. The report found police punished residents who criticized the department, patrolled neighborhoods differently based on their racial demographics, and discriminated against people with behavioral health disabilities.

The Justice Department also found the Minneapolis Police Department’s accountability procedures were “fundamentally flawed,” as senior officers regularly dismissed legitimate complaints or mischaracterized allegations, causing any internal investigations to stall.

In light of the report’s findings, Minneapolis agreed to negotiate a court-enforced deal for a massive overhaul of its police force. While this is an important step forward, Black Americans still face daily discrimination and are concerned about the level of racism in society.

A new Washington Post-Ipsos poll found that 51 percent of Black Americans believe racism will get worse in their lifetime.

Donald Trump’s Legal Woes Keep Growing

Another attorney has withdrawn from yet another case, this time citing “irreconcilable differences.”

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Donald Trump is facing a growing pile of lawsuits with a rapidly shrinking legal team.

On Friday, lawyer Jim Trusty withdrew from the former president’s lawsuit against CNN, citing “irreconcilable differences.” Trump sued CNN in October for defamation and is seeking $475 million in damages. That lawsuit accuses the network of trying to “sabotage” his political career by focusing on his numerous lies and misstatements about the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

Just last week, Trusty left the legal team representing Trump for charges of mishandling classified documents and making false statements to federal officials. Trump announced he was switching up his defense squad just hours after Trusty vehemently defended him on CNN.

But there was already trouble among Trump’s legal staff, who reportedly had so much internal conflict that it was hindering their ability to defend the former president in the classified documents case. Trusty and lawyer Jim Parlatore, who quit Trump’s team in May, took particular issue with Trump’s senior adviser and in-house counsel, Boris Epshteyn, The Guardian reported.

Trusty and Parlatore disliked Epshteyn so much that they began withholding information from him. Trusty also chafed at having to run all of his decisions by Epshteyn first. He felt Epshteyn was not a trial lawyer and focused too much on Trump’s P.R. issues, not legal ones.

Things got so bad that Trusty and Parlatore began withholding information from another Trump lawyer, Evan Corcoran, because they worried he would brief Epshteyn without their knowledge. But that hobbled the team’s ability to build a defense, as the different factions had no clue what the others were doing.

Trump was charged with a total of 37 counts for keeping national defense information without authorization, making false statements, and conspiring to obstruct justice. A different Trump lawyer, Christopher Kise, attempted to convince Trump to return the documents he had taken from the White House and reach a settlement with the Department of Justice but was rebuffed by more “pugilistic” members of Trump’s team, per a Thursday Washington Post report. Trump is also under investigation in both Washington, D.C., and Georgia for his alleged role in trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Beyond that, Trump has recently been charged with 34 counts of business fraud in New York relating to hush-money payments made during the 2016 election, found liable for sexual abuse and defamation, and sued for defamation twice. He needs all the legal help he can get, but he’s running out of options.

More on Trump's Legal Woes

New Poll Shows a Majority of Black Americans Believe Racism Will Get Worse

The poll comes as several Republican presidential contenders rail against “critical race theory.”

Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

A new Washington Post-Ipsos poll highlights the concerns of Black Americans over daily discrimination and fears of worsening racism, with majorities describing an economic system that is stacked against them and worries about the safety of Black teenagers and children.

Fifty-one percent of Black Americans believe racism will get worse in their lifetime, although 48 percent still believe it is a “good time” to be Black in America. The latter figure is a steep improvement from similar polls conducted in 2020 and 2021—only 30 percent answered that it was a “good time” to be Black in America during Donald Trump’s presidency, while 34 percent answered affirmatively shortly after a white supremacist massacred 10 Black people in Buffalo, a year later.

Although more Black Americans say their financial situation has gotten better in the past year, 81 percent also say that the country’s economic system is “stacked against Black people.” Worries also filter to education and the way Black children are treated, with more than 70 percent of Black Americans concerned that schools will stop teaching about Black history or the history of racism. By comparison, roughly half of white Americans share these concerns.

In light of the April shooting of a 16-year-old Black boy by an 84-year-old white man, 85 percent of Black Americans say both instances were emblematic of broader problems in how white people treat Black people, compared to 54 percent of white Americans who feel the same. Just 17 percent of Black Americans believe white people trust Black people, compared to 44 percent of white Americans.

The poll comes as several Republican politicians, including many contenders for the 2024 presidential nomination, have railed against “critical race theory.” Senator Tim Scott, who is Black, has argued that structural racism is not a major issue in the U.S. Former President Barack Obama criticized Scott’s approach to racial issues in a podcast interview Thursday, saying that optimism on race relations must be “undergirded with an honest accounting of our past and our present.”

“There’s a long history of African American or other minority candidates within the Republican Party who will validate America and say, ‘Everything’s great, and we can make it,’” Obama said, specifically calling out Scott and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who is the daughter of Indian immigrants.

“Let us not forget we are a land of opportunity, not a land of oppression,” Scott replied in a statement. “Democrats deny our progress to protect their power. The Left wants you to believe faith in America is a fraud and progress in our nation is a myth.” However, the Post-Ipsos poll indicates that most Black Americans align more with Obama’s interpretation of structural racism than Scott’s argument.

Donald Trump Has a Long, Long History of Not Picking Up the Check

The former president loves leaving promises unfulfilled and bills unpaid.

Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
Donald Trump greeting supporters at Versailles, a popular Miami café.

Donald Trump has a long history of failing to deliver on promises, and not just when it comes to politics: The man seems incapable of picking up the tab.

After pleading not guilty to 37 criminal charges for mishandling classified documents, Trump stopped at the popular Miami restaurant Versailles to meet with supporters. During his visit, he could be heard shouting, “Food for everyone!” But he left after just 10 minutes—not long enough for anyone to order anything—without paying a single bill, the Miami New Times reported.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that Trump was just a little pressed. He was just arrested for federal crimes! He might need some alone time to decompress.


Trump is notorious for leaving a trail of unpaid bills wherever he goes. Hundreds of people have accused him of failing to pay them for services, ranging from a glass company in New Jersey to workers at his resorts, real estate brokers, and even law firms who represented him in suits for unpaid bills.

In his 2004 book Trump: Think Like a Billionaire, the former president instructed readers to “always question invoices.” But it sounds like his personal approach is more “Just ignore invoices.” He has been sued for failing to pay dozens of vendors who have worked his resort properties as well as his now-defunct, fraudulent university.

And this penny-pinching didn’t start when he became a businessman. Artist and designer Lucy Klebanow recounted a date she had with Trump in the early 1970s. In a 2016 essay for Salon, Klebanow said Trump took her out to an expensive restaurant but didn’t have cash to pay the bill. He promised to pay her back—but never did.

And it looks like the apple didn’t fall far from the tree: Donald Trump Jr. reportedly proposed to his ex-wife, Vanessa, with a ring he got for free. According to the New York Post, he agreed to make promotional appearances for the jewelry company in exchange for the ring.

Then, in 2018, Vanessa divorced Don Jr., in part because he was so cheap that she “had to rely on her mother for financial help for her personal needs,” Page Six reported, citing an anonymous source. Apparently, the family that saves together stays together.

Donald Sr.’s broken promise at Versailles, however, is also part of a larger trend. As The Washington Post’s Philip Bump writes, his failure to pick up the tab in Miami isn’t just about frugality. Trump loves to make big promises in front of cameras—which often, in turn, leads to positive coverage in both traditional media and online, even though he rarely follows through. For Trump, it’s a win-win: Get a short boost of positive press coverage without having to pay a dime.