The Presidential Medal of Freedom is a farce

Orrin Hatch has died This is hardly something I feel sad about, and I pretty much concur with PZ Myers. Reading his obituary, I noticed that he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Trump.

Wikipedia explains the purpose and history of the medal:

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is an award bestowed by the president of the United States to recognize people who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” The Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal are the highest civilian awards of the United States. The award is not limited to U.S. citizens and, while it is a civilian award, it can also be awarded to military personnel and worn on the uniform. It was established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy, superseding the Medal of Freedom that was established by President Harry S. Truman in 1945 to honor civilian service during World War II.

Until Biden there has been handed out 656 Presidential Medals of Freedom, spread out across 11 presidents.

John F. Kennedy 31
Lyndon B. Johnson 58
Richard Nixon 28
Gerald Ford 26
Jimmy Carter 34
Ronald Reagan 86
George H. W. Bush 42
Bill Clinton 110
George W. Bush 85
Barack Obama 132
Donald Trump 24

Until Trump, the Presidential Medal of Freedom was given to sport and cultural personalities, as well as noteworthy public servants and politicians across the political spectrum. Under Obama, a lot of the recipients were people involved in Civil Rights, less so under other presidents. Unsurprisingly, Trump used the Medal of Freedom as a political tool.

I took a look at the list of recipients under Trump, and tried to categorize them:

As you can see from the figure, more than half of the recipients are sports people, a couple of which were foreign. Most of the rest were Republicans, all of which supported Trump.

This pretty much demonstrates why the Medal of Freedom is a farce. It is completely up to the president to decide who gets it, and it is frequently used to award political allies. Also, I find it curios, how someone like the Swedish golfer, Annika Sörenstam, is qualified to get the medal – she was the last recipients of Trump’s Medals, which I used her as an example, but I could use any number of the Trump recipients.

Anyway, the Presidential Medal of Freedom might have meant something in the past, but like everything else he touched as a President, Trump has shown how it can be used for political purposes, and that it is a farce, like everything else that the US Presidential position has the full control over.

Lazy linking

A few interesting links.

There is no “Putin wing” of the GOP: Why almost no Republican backs Ukraine over Russia by Amanda Marcotte

Republicans may say they oppose Putin, but they keep siding with the Russian dictator over Democrats and democracy

Amanda Marcotte explains very well why the Putin Wing of the Republican Party is almost the whole party, and that the only time that most Republicans will speak out against Russia and Putin is when they are forced to by public opinion, or, more likely, when they can use it against President Biden in one way or another.

Preparing for Defeat by Francis Fukuyama

I’m writing this from Skopje, North Macedonia, where I’ve been for the last week teaching one of our Leadership Academy for Development courses. Following the Ukraine war is no different here in terms of available information, except that I’m in an adjacent time zone, and the fact that there is more support for Putin in the Balkans than in other parts of Europe. A lot of the latter is due to Serbia, and Serbia’s hosting of Sputnik.

As a general rule, don’t expect me to link to stuff by Fukuyama, but this was an interesting list of predictions by him – even if some of predictions would be better characterized as wishful thinking.

Spectacularly Colorful Fish Is First New Species Ever Described By A Scientist From The Maldives by GrrlScientist

An international team of scientists discovered a new species of mesophotic coral reef-dwelling fish in the Indian Ocean

It’s always interesting when new species are discovered, and it is great that science is getting decolonized.

Atheists for Liberty are anti-vax

There are a number of Atheist organizations out there, working to promote atheism and try to protect the rights of atheists. Some of them are good, such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, others are more problematic, and some are outright horrible.

In the latter group, falls Atheists for Liberty, a right-winged organization which participates in CPAC, and have David P. Silverman as the advisory board chair.

Atheists for Liberty at CPAC tweet

As their pinned tweet shows, they are proud of both of these things.

If there is any doubt about how horrible, the organization is, on the whole, just take a look at the books they promote, and the words they use to sell them.

This is nearly a literal who’s who of horrible people connected to atheism (some more of these can be found in the organization’s board of advisors)

Looking at the Atheists for Liberty’s website, I was not surprised to see that their major cause right now, is to allow atheist to get exemptions from the vaccine mandate. They couch it in the argument that allowing religious exemptions only, is discriminatory towards atheists, but instead of trying to get the religious exemptions removed, they are instead trying to get them expanded, showing that they are supporting the anti-vaxers.

Atheists for Liberty writes on their website:

Vaccine Mandate Equality Project

Atheists for Liberty has a firm stance on vaccine mandates:  Atheists musts be treated equally.  Across this nation, atheists, like our client/member Patrick Wilmers who are opposed to the Covid Vaccine, are being fired, while their religious counterparts are being allowed to stay because of “religious exemptions”.  This policy writ large, as promoted by the US Government, effectively thins atheists from the workforce while allowing religious people to stay.  It’s religious discrimination and it’s illegal.

Left unchallenged, it would set nationwide precedent – we would effectively lose a right – the right to equal treatment – and it would surely be used against us in the future as precedent for even more erosion.

We simply cannot stand and let our rights be reduced under the guise of safety.  Civil rights still count, even and especially in difficult times.  Atheists for Liberty ALONE (so far) is working to defend equal protection under the law for atheists with regards to vaccine mandates. We seek plaintiffs, lawyers, and your financial support for this important effort.

On the surface, it might seem like a reasonable stance that it is discriminatory to allow for religious exemptions, but not secular ones, but the right remedy would be to work for the removal of religious exemptions, not for allowing atheists to not be vaccinated when holding jobs as nurses or working together with other people in large companies. This probably explains why Atheists for Liberty are “ALONE” in working for this.

One of the Atheists for Liberty people at CPAC, was transbigot and Trump-fan Arielle Scarcella, who is actively promoting anti-vax propaganda by retweeting it

All in all, it is pretty clear that Atheists for Liberty are anti-vax, but I guess that is hardly surprising for a group that have notorious bigot and anti-vax promoter, James Lindsay on it’s board of advisors.

Banning Maus

A schoolboard in Tennessee has decided to ban the usage Art Spiegelman’s award winning graphic novel Maus while teaching about the Holocaust. Maus is of course, a graphic novel based on the true experiences of Art Spiegelman’s family as told by his father.

The McMinn County School Board voted 10-0 to ban the book in a Jan. 10 meeting, citing concerns over “rough” language and a nude drawing of a woman, according to meeting minutes posted to the district website. The book was part of its eighth-grade English language arts curriculum.

Maus was serialized in 1986 – 1991, and won a Pulitzer Prize  in 1992 (the special award in letter), and is so far the only graphic novel to have won any Pulitzer prize. When arguing whether graphic novels can be literature, Maus is held up as the number one exhibit in favor.

When I was a Danish school kid, back in the Eighties, we would be told stories about the holocaust and the German occupation by people who experienced it. This was incredible impactful. As the people who experienced the Holocaust are dying out, works like Maus becomes more and more important. They tell the stories that otherwise would be lost, allowing us to remember the atrocities, and pushes us to ensure that they never happen again. The US Holocaust Museum states it well:

As news spread about the school board’s decision, the U.S. Holocaust Museum said, “Maus has played a vital role in educating students about the Holocaust through sharing detailed and personal experiences of victims and survivors.”

“On the eve of International #HolocaustRemembranceDay, it is more important than ever for students to learn this history,” the museum said Wednesday on Twitter without mentioning the district. “Teaching about the Holocaust using books like Maus can inspire students to think critically about the past and their own roles and responsibilities today.”

Of course, the ban on Maus is just part of a larger culture war, as Art Spiegelman himself points out:

While it’s not the first time “Maus” has been the subject of controversy, Spiegelman said he is alarmed by school boards nationwide banning books amid tense debates over the teaching of race, slavery and oppression.

“This is not about left versus right,” Spiegelman told The Tennessean, part of the USA TODAY Network. “This is about a culture war that’s gotten totally out of control.”

When start to ban books, especially books like Maus, the rest of us should take note, and speak out. This is the first step towards a very dark path.

Lazy linking

One of the clear signs that US society doesn’t work probably, is the fact that people have to do fundraisers to cover medical costs and increasingly, to cover basic costs of living. One of the big platforms for these fundraisers, is GoFundMe. Now, the CEO of GoFundMe is speaking out, pointing out that this is wrong

GoFundMe CEO: Hello Congress, Americans need help and we can’t do your job for you

Coronavirus surge of fundraisers on GoFundMe shows why Congress must pass emergency aid for monthly bills, restaurants, small businesses and food.

The opinion piece in USA Today doesn’t tell us anything that most of us didn’t already know, but it is good that a CEO of a company, which is benefiting greatly from the current situation, is speaking out.

The Burger Flipper Who Became a World Expert on the Minimum Wage

As a 16-year-old kid flipping burgers at a Seattle McDonald’s in 1989, Arindrajit Dube was earning the state minimum wage of $3.85 an hour. “I remember feeling privileged that I was going to go on to college, while there were many older workers working at that wage,” he recalls.

He still thinks about the minimum wage, only now it’s from his perch at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he’s possibly the world’s leading authority on its economic effects. Dube’s research is guaranteed to get a bigger audience as Democrats in Congress attempt to make good on President Biden’s pledge to raise the federal wage floor to $15 an hour by 2025.

Intuitively, it makes sense that increasing the minimum wage, would force companies to increase prices, drive down sales, reduce company profit, and will even force companies into closing. Fortunately, as with many things, intuition is wrong in this.

This is for a few reasons:

  • Wages only form a portion of the costs, and the costs can be spread over many items. E.g. in the classic example of a burger joint, the employer sells many burgers per hour, meaning that the price increase per burger will be minimal.
  • Increasing minimum wages will allow people to work fewer hours, and not e.g. two jobs as we see all too often now, thus opening the job market up for more people.
  • It will give minimum wage employees more money to spend, thus increasing the demand on goods.

Yes, there might be companies surviving on the very margins, which can’t increase their sales, which will close, but my guess is that many of those companies already have closed during this pandemic.

Further reading: Home Articles Making the Case for a Higher M… SHARE: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call Making the Case for a Higher Minimum Wage by Arindrajit Dube

Big Tech as an Unnatural Monopoly

Interesting piece by Tim Brennan in the Milken Institute Review, where he takes a look on Big Tech as monopolies, why they defy the current anti-trust laws, and what can actually be done about Big Tech.

Further reading: Rethinking Antitrust by Lawrence J. White (also in the Milken Institute Review)

This COVID-vaccine designer is tackling vaccine hesitancy — in churches and on Twitter

Immunologist Kizzmekia Corbett helped to design the Moderna vaccine. Now she volunteers her time talking about vaccine science with people of colour.

Kizzmekia Corbett’s twitter feed can be found here.

It is a low bar that President Biden has to clear, but I find it so nice that the US now has a president who is willing to thank people for their hard work


A decent start

I saw a tweet shortly after the US election results became known, about having the feeling of a background process running in your brain, draining energy, suddenly being shut off. This seems like an apt description, and if that was true after the election, it is even more true after the inauguration ceremony.

Like so many others, Biden wasn’t my first pick, but unlike many others, I didn’t buy into the rhetoric painting him as a Republican lite, since his voting records simply didn’t back this up. I am not claiming that his voting record was far-left, but it was firmly to the left of even the most moderate Republican in recent times.

What did worry me a bit about him, was that he has been part of the political system for so long, that it might be hard for him to fight the urge to compromising, which most politicians develop over time. On the other hand, the fact that he has been part of the political system, also means that he wants to restore it to something not serving the political urges of a would be despot.

Now, Biden has been in power a few days, and I must say that I have been delighted beyond expectation by his actions.

Opening Arguments has gone through Biden’s actions on his first day. They were happy, to put it mildly.

I am looking forward to seeing what Biden will be bringing to the table in the coming period. For an indications of what that might be, I think we could do worse than look at the Biden Promise Tracker created by Politifact.

As an aside, isn’t it great that there are websites tracking promises, rather than lies.

It sure looked a lot like an attempted coup

Wednesday the whole saw how Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, and tried to keep elected politicians from doing their job, as defined in the constitution. There is a lot of hand-wringing among certain parties about what to call it, though it seems like a lot have settled on insurrection, edged on by Trump and his surrogates.

From outside the US, a different word springs to mind.

Some among America’s military allies believe Trump deliberately attempted a coup and may have had help from federal law-enforcement officials

The supporters of President Donald Trump who stormed the Capitol on Wednesday to stop the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory were attempting a violent coup that multiple European security officials said appeared to have at least tacit support from aspects of the US federal agencies responsible for securing the Capitol complex.

Insider spoke with three officials on Thursday morning: a French police official responsible for public security in a key section of central Paris, and two intelligence officials from NATO countries who directly work in counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations involving the US, terrorism, and Russia.

There is no doubt that the Capitol was not as secured as one would have expected, given the fact that the insurrection has been planned fairly publicly .The unpreparedness and outright willingness to help, does leave one wondering whether at least some of the people responsible for the security of the Capitol would have been okay with Trump staying in power, by any means necessary.

Luckily, the coup was not successful, but have instead resulted in a backlash against Trump, even getting Twitter to ban his account (something long overdue).

Dominion and Smartmatic are tired of the Trump lies

One of the attack vectors of Trump and his allies has been to attack the voting machine used during the election, claiming that they were used for fraud.

This obviously have negative effects on the companies behind the voting machines, and they are clearly not going to just accept this. The two main companies behind the voting machines, Dominion and Smartmatic, have started to take steps towards legal action. On top of that, at least one employee from one of these companies has also taken steps.

Smartmatic started out by demanding that Fox News, Newsmax and One America News Network retracted their fraud claims. This led to at least Fox News fact-checking their own claims, finding the false, as did Newsmax.

Dominion also came out swinging with 21 retraction and/or record preservation demand letters, some of which were quite brutal – see e.g. the letter to Mellissa Carone. Before those 21 letters, they had already sent one to Sidney Powell.

From the news articles I have read and the law podcasts I have listened to, both Dominion and Smartmatic have strong cases, so it seems likely that a number of news sources and Trump allies will find themselves in deep legal trouble. It is also going to be interesting to see what will be turned up during discovery.

Bette Midler should stay in her lane

I am generally not a great fan of people telling actors that they should stay in their lane, but occasionally they really should stay in their lane. Bette Midler demonstrates a clear example of this.

It all started with a tweet by Dr. Jen Gunter

Which caused Bette Midler to write the following

It is hard to surprise me these days, but I must admit I hadn’t considered Bette Midler attacking Dr. Jen Gunter as being alt-right as one of the missing ingredients of 2020. Bette Midler’s defense was much appreciated by Marianne Williamson

Unsurprisingly, Dr. Jen Gunter actually knew what she was talking about.

Bette Midler is probably not going to admit that she is wrong about Marianne Williamson, but hopefully this will be a lecture in humility, making her actually do a little research before tweeting, and especially before accusing someone like Dr. Jen Gunter as being alt-right.