Bowie, Bing and a Christmas wish for peace on Earth | Friday morning coffee

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I wasn’t going to write a Christmas column. After so many years, and so many column inches, I wasn’t sure I could add anything new to a time of year that, when it isn’t steeped in tradition, is too often steeped in cliché, and no small amount of holiday schmaltz.

But because this is my last column of 2022, and because we’re coming out of a year so fraught with drama, violence and division, I figured that if I could spread a little holiday cheer as you and yours get ready to go over the river and through the woods over these next few days, then another 750 words or so on the magic of the holiday season was probably worth it.

And in this instance, as is so often the case, it all comes down to the music. Or, more specifically, David Bowie’s 1977 duet with Bing Crosby on “Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy.”

If you’ve never seen it, the duet, recorded for Crosby’s “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas,” television special, is peak 1970s cheese. The storyline has Crosby crashing at a long-lost relative’s house in England,  when in strolls a neighbor … who just happens to be Bowie.

On paper, the pairing of the Thin White Duke with a 1940s crooner well into his twilight shouldn’t have worked. Legend has it that Bowie hated “The Little Drummer Boy.”

But after huddling with songwriter Ian Fraser, who co-wrote the ‘Peace on Earth‘ portion, and Buz Kohan and Larry Grossman, who also worked on the special, Bowie and Bing nailed the final arrangement, according to a CBC history of the song.

And what emerged was just magic. Read more

‘Abortion absolutely is healthcare’: U.S. House panel told as GOP pursues nationwide ban

Kelsey Leigh, a Pittsburgh woman who had an abortion at 20 weeks and who now works with people seeking abortion care, addresses the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform during a hearing on Thursday, 9/29/22 (Screen Capture).

NC’s Virginia Foxx likens support for abortion rights to policies in China and North Korea

A nationwide abortion ban would widen disparities in healthcare and drive up the maternal mortality rate, particularly among Black women, physicians and advocates told a U.S. House panel on Thursday.

“Women’s progress has always been inextricably linked with the ability to control our own bodies,” Jocelyn Frye, the president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, told members of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform during a three-hour-plus hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building.

“Access to abortion has been pivotal to women and all those who give birth,” Frye continued. “Research shows that restricting abortion impacts the health, safety, and welfare of people who are pregnant.”

Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced a bill that would ban abortion nationwide at 15 weeks, superseding state-level restrictions, and further roiling the debate over abortion access in the wake of a June U.S. Supreme Court decision toppling Roe v. Wade.

Graham’s bill came even as Republican-controlled legislatures across the country have been moving to impose strict abortion bans, forcing pregnant people to flee across state lines to seek care. Some of Graham’s fellow Republicans have distanced themselves from the proposal.

“How do abortion bans disproportionately impact communities of color that are often left behind?” U.S. Rep. Shontel Brown, D-Ohio, asked Frye.

“What we really want is the ability for every person, especially Black and brown people, and people of color, to have the access to the healthcare they need,” Frye responded. “Abortion bans take the decisions out of their hands. It makes them rely on systems that have perpetuated disparities for decades.”

‘Who are you going to be?’

One witness told lawmakers they face a binary choice on abortion rights.

“Who are you going to be?” Kelsey Leigh, a Pittsburgh resident, asked the panel. “Will you sit in judgment of people who are pregnant without knowing them or their circumstances? Or will you listen … and be the compassion our country so desperately needs right now?” Read more

Report: Online trolls are spreading offline hate against LGBTQ Americans

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Tweets using the ‘grooming’ slur shot up by 406% in the month after Florida passed ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

Baseless attacks against LGBTQ Americans by online trolls — whether anonymous or by well-known politicians and public figures — have created a “cascade of … hate, underpinned by dangerous misinformation and outright lies against the LGBTQ+ community,” according to recently released research.

That’s the top-line finding of a new report, jointly released by the Center for Countering Digital Hate and the Human Rights Campaign that calls on the social media giants Twitter and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, to act on hate speech, even as they profited from LGBTQ users during Pride Month observances and at other times of the year.

And that online hate has reinforced offline violence and hate, with, for instance, members of the far-right Proud Boys launching a verbal assault during a ‘drag queen story hour’ at a Bay Area library in June, employing many of the same slurs found online.

“After decades of hard-won progress, the recent surge in violence and anti-LGBTQ+ hate serve as a reminder of how fragile that progress might be, and that there remain determined and capable opponents,” Imran Ahmed, the CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, wrote in the report’s introduction.

Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado – Photo: William Woody for Colorado Newsline

Much of the hate focused on the baseless claim that LGBTQ individuals “groom” young children — a line of attack that’s also been used to undermine the teaching of sex education in schools across the country.

The data in the report underscores just how common that slur has become in some quarters of social media.

Researchers found that:

  • Tweets mentioning the ‘OK groomer’ slur surged by 2,465 percent.
  • The Walt Disney Co. was targeted with 345,152 tweets about ‘grooming.’
  • The 500 most influential hateful ‘grooming’ tweets were seen 72 million times.‘Grooming’ tweets from just ten key figures were viewed 48 million times.
  • Twitter is failing to act on 99 percent of hateful ‘grooming’ tweets.

Looking at conversations about LGBTQ people between January and July of this year, researchers found that tweets using the ‘grooming’ slur shot up by 406 percent in the month after Florida passed its ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.

U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., were among the top purveyors of hate speech online, according to the analysis.

(Source: Center for Countering Digital Hate)

The report further notes that the hate speech is not exclusive to Twitter, but also was spread on Facebook, where researchers found 59 ads, viewed more than 2.1 million times, promoting the false ‘grooming’ narrative

“The ads were purchased and ran between March and August 2022 during the height of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ bill controversy and often focused on Disney’s opposition to the bill, with language that claims opponents of ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ are protecting pedophiles or that teaching about LGBTQ+ issues in schools amounts to ‘radical sexual grooming,’ according to the report.

“Having spoken out against the bill, Disney became a target in this narrative and was the subject of over half of the Facebook ads in this study. The company has also been targeted on Twitter, where 345,152 tweets mentioning Disney appear alongside slurs like ‘predator’, ‘pedophilia’, and ‘grooming,’” Ahmed noted.

In July, Twitter, Meta, and TikTok said slandering LGBTQ people as ‘groomers’ violated its existing policies, the Los Angeles Blade reported.

But “as social media companies fail to crack down on the posting and sharing of content that violates their own policies, politically motivated extremists are becoming increasingly unfettered and unhinged online — further inflaming and radicalizing their followers, emboldening extremists to focus their ire on LGBTQ+ people, and doing so with virtually no boundaries or limitations,” Joni Madison, the interim president of the Human Rights Campaign, wrote in prefacing remarks.

As the 2022 midterms approach, social media companies are obligated to “recognize their responsibility to stop the spread of extremist and hateful misinformation, including the grooming narrative,” Madison wrote. “These companies must act swiftly and transparently, providing clarity on how they’re interpreting their own policies. And given their lack of action thus far, we also ask lawmakers to hold these companies to higher standards.”

John L. Micek is the editor-in-chief of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, which first published this report.

Biden’s Philadelphia speech was a challenge to all of us. We have to step up

President Joe Biden delivers a primetime speech at Independence National Historical Park September 1, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. President Biden spoke on “the continued battle for the Soul of the Nation.” (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Returning to the state where he launched his candidacy — and the one that handed him the White House in 2020 — President Joe Biden called on Americans last Thursday to join him in a fight to preserve democracy and to beat back the forces of extremism.

The 30-minute address was equal parts tribute to the nation’s resilience and a wartime call to arms from a president who based his candidacy on restoring the soul of a nation buffeted by the pandemic and four years of domestic unrest.

“For a long time, we’ve reassured ourselves that American democracy is guaranteed,” Biden said, speaking before a nationwide audience in Philadelphia with Independence Hall as his backdrop. “But it is not. We have to defend it. Protect it. Stand up for it. Each and every one of us.”

With little more than two months to go before this November’s midterm elections, Biden drew a stark contrast between Democrats, independents, and “mainstream Republicans,” who support and defend democratic norms, and “MAGA Republicans” who embrace political violence because they cannot accept that they’d lost an election.

“Too much of what is happening in our country today is not normal,” Biden said. “[Former President] Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the foundations of our democracy.”

Biden’s speech came even as Trump, who faces the very real prospect of a federal indictment over top secret documents found at his Florida residence, said he would not rule out pardons to Jan. 6 rioters who sacked the U.S. Capitol and violently attacked law enforcement officers if he regains the White House in 2024.

The optics of Biden’s speech were hard to miss. More than two centuries ago, the Founders, with a bloody revolution barely in the rearview mirror, gathered in Philadelphia to hammer out the framework of a new nation.

Then, as now, the future was hardly assured. Then, as now, there were deliberate choices to be made about what kind of country the new United States of America would become. Read more

The Dems’ 2022 momentum just shifted. GOP overreach on abortion helped power it

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Has the right’s electoral gamble on abortion failed? With the midterms a little less than three months away, there’s some reason for encouragement.

Consider these three developments alone:

The results of a recount in Kansas this week reaffirmed that voters overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have stripped residents of the Sunflower State of the constitutional right to an abortion, the Kansas Reflector reported. As Axios further reported, voters rejected the Republican-crafted amendment by about 165,000 votes, with 922,000 ballots cast. That means that even GOP voters opposed it.

In a bellwether congressional district in upstate New York, voters in Tuesday’s primary chose a pro-abortion rights Democrat over an anti-abortion Republican. As the Washington Post reports, the race between Democrat Pat Ryan and Republican Marc Molinaro was seen as a key early test of the pro-abortion rights messaging that Democrats have leaned heavily into since the U.S. Supreme Court toppled Roe v. Wade in June. The district went for former President Donald Trump in 2016. President Joe Biden flipped it in 2020, according to the Post.

In must-win Pennsylvania, Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, an anti-abortion hardliner who has called abortion “a national catastrophe,” and is backing a six-week abortion ban, without exceptions, has gone silent on the issue. As the Capital-Star reported this week, a coalition of physicians is pressing him to break that silence so that Keystone State voters have no misconceptions about where he stands. The Philadelphia Inquirer also reported this week that women are outpacing men in voter registration. And of those who have registered since the high court’s decision, there are four Democrats for every Republican, the newspaper reported.

“People were feeling helpless after Roe,” Mustafa Rashed, the president and CEO of Philadelphia-based Bellevue Strategies, told me in July after Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled General Assembly pushed through a constitutional amendment package that includes language declaring there’s neither a constitutional right to abortion nor a right to public funding for the procedure in the state’s foundational document.

“The Republicans just gave them something to do,” Rashed said. Read more