TGIF: Debunked! Edition
Fake news about mass graves, inflation, SSRIs, Alzheimer’s, puberty blockers and more. Plus: TikTok and Gawker.
Welcome back. You know what we do here. See you in the comments.
→ It’s not a recession if Biden didn’t see his shadow: With news that the economy shrank by 0.9% in the last quarter, you might think that we’ve entered a recession, which is commonly defined as an economy shrinking for two consecutive quarters. But that old way of thinking is over. Recession is a very mean word that we don’t use under President Biden. The White House is denying all past statements from White House officials who used the old forbidden definition: “That’s not the definition,” the press secretary said this week when confronted with the banned one. They even put out a special update on the meaning last week to prepare us, with the first line being, “What is a recession?” How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
The media is ready to go carrying the administration’s water. Here’s the Associated Press: “By one common definition—the economy shrinking for consecutive quarters—the U.S. economy is on the cusp of a recession. Yet that definition isn't the one that counts.” Online encyclopedias and social media are following suit. The Wikipedia page on “recession” is getting furiously updated. (The crowd-source encyclopedia now contains a note on the “recession” entry that all previous definitions are false: “An outdated version of this article has been widely circulated. Please verify that claims or screenshots you may have seen are consistent with the actual content here.”) The economic historian Phil Magness posted on Facebook about the White House word games with recession and got a warning tagging it as “false information” and adding a “fact check.” Government is inefficient in most ways, but when it comes to coordinating with our social media oligarchs, it’s a well-oiled machine.
→ Fed desperately trying to bring inflation down: The Fed rolled out another big rate increase, three-quarters of a percentage point. Hopefully this has some real impact on our inflation, which rose by 9.1% in June. But don’t worry, Biden is still considering extending the long, long pause on student loan payments. As Bloomberg puts it: “Move aimed at appealing to voters under 30 before midterms.”
→ Manchin gets his win: First, Biden tried to ram through a roughly $4 trillion spending plan. It was a wild money hose to every favored progressive cause. Moderates like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema were lambasted for saying, hey guys maybe this is crazy?! (Thank God for them.) Then Biden tried an around $2 trillion plan, much smaller, so pared down, basically the price of a latte. Now, the spending’s been pared down to a sober $369 billion energy and climate plan, called The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. A good breakdown of the planned spending is here. And here are details on what a potential breakthrough this would be for the climate.
There’s money to pay down the deficit as Manchin demanded, plus funding for healthcare, incentives for private industry to produce more renewable energy, and funding to help communities hard hit by pollution. It imposes no new taxes on families making under $400,000 a year. It would be paid for with a 15% minimum corporate tax and by expanding the IRS. The IRS isn’t popular, but neither are tax cheats, who cost the U.S. an estimated $1 trillion a year.
→ GOP fundraising slows: In another sign that Republicans are suffering because of their right-wing flank—hardline pro-life bills that threaten even IUDs; unpopular culture-war stances like reviving bans on gay marriage—GOP fundraising has dropped by 12% and Democratic donations have surged 21%. And the polling folks over at fivethirtyeight.com now show the Dems in a toss-up to retain control of the Senate come midterms.
→ Roe no boats: The abortion quagmire is going to fuel a lot of bad headlines for a long time. This week: How free are people to cross state lines for an abortion? You’re not free to do that if you’re on parole or probation, at least in Georgia. Having an act be literal homicide in one state and totally legal in another is going to be endlessly, impossibly tricky.
Meanwhile, going hard against gay marriage in a society that’s moved beyond this debate is leading to predictable chaos and miserable personal situations. Glenn Thompson, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, voted against gay marriage, then a few days later went to his son’s gay wedding and gave the welcoming speech.
→ Republicans block bill for veterans exposed to toxins: Republicans this week voted against a measure that would expand coverage for veterans exposed to toxins and burn pits while serving. The measure—called The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act—was celebrated by veterans and looked good to go, so the failure was a surprise. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said, among other things, he didn’t like how it would change prior discretionary spending on veteran care into mandatory spending. Veterans groups and Jon Stewart are, rightly, pretty pissed off.
→ We don’t talk about monkeypox (no, no, no): Monkeypox, we are being told, has nothing to do with your sex life. “The myth that sexual activity is the cause of monkeypox and that reducing it is a valid strategy for managing a disease does not, on its face, make any sense,” wrote Andy Slavitt, who served as a senior advisor on Biden’s pandemic response team. (He has since deleted the tweet.)
Sure, there are other ways besides sexual contact to get the disease, but you’re way, way more likely to get it through sex.
Maybe that’s why to get the monkeypox vaccine in New York, if one is even available, you need to be: a man who has sex with men and has had multiple or anonymous sex partners in the last 14 days. There’s a notion that health officials need to lie a little to protect everyone’s feelings; it’s somehow hurtful to say guys there’s a bad virus, let’s slow down the summer parties. First, I really don’t think gay men are that sensitive. Also, you know what’s worse than hurt feelings? Getting freaking monkeypox! Oh sorry, I forgot that term is illegal now. Here’s New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner: “We have a growing concern for the potentially devastating and stigmatizing effects that the messaging around the ‘monkeypox virus’ can have on these already vulnerable communities. Therefore, I write to urge you to act immediately on renaming the ‘monkeypox’ virus.” It’s a virus that manifests as horrible boils all over your body and health officials are freaking out about the name!
→ Beverly Hills says NO to mask mandates: Los Angeles County tried to bring back mask mandates. But Beverly Hills said absolutely not, nope, not gonna happen here. Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said people pushing back are “snowflake weepies” for saying it's “oppressive to wear a mask.” The county on Thursday evening reversed course: no mask mandates. Thank you 90210.
→ People want to go back to normal: People liked normal—the real, old, ring a bell, let-me-check-the-back, normal. Brick-and-mortar is back. Shopify, which makes online stores for small businesses, says it over-estimated how lasting Covid’s changes would be and gives us this great chart:
→ Washington Post with a smart idea: “How to stop gun violence? End poverty and racism.” That’s a real headline this week.
→ Nearly 10% of families with young kids left Manhattan during the pandemic: Remember when all of New York could be unmasked except for kids under 5? Parents have picked up on the fact that America’s big cities really don’t want them around. And so they’re leaving. As families flee, the city has lost 9.5% of children under 5. Meanwhile, at a campaign event, someone jumped on stage and tried to stab Representative Lee Zeldin, a Republican candidate for governor in New York. He was arrested—and then the would-be assassin was quickly released without bail. (He has since been arrested on federal charges and is undergoing a mental-health assessment.)
→ Proud forever-masker is now a top figure at WHO: Susan Michie, a professor at the University College London and a very committed communist, is the new chair of the World Health Organization’s “Technical Advisory Group on Behavioral Insights.” She has argued that Covid-era face masks and social distancing should “continue forever,” which her university was proud enough about to post on their website.
→ Fake science: In one week, three major debunkings are a good reminder that “trust the science” is silly. Science is always a work in progress.
First: Depression seems to have nothing to do with a chemical imbalance. All that talk about how depressed people don’t make enough serotonin? It’s not really true—at least according to a new study. Lead author Joanna Moncrieff said: “I think we can safely say that after a vast amount of research conducted over several decades, there is no convincing evidence that depression is caused by serotonin abnormalities.” That’s not to say depression is fake. And SSRIs do indeed seem to work for a lot of people, but now no one is quite sure how.
Second: The theory that Alzheimer’s is caused by plaques in brain tissue is based on falsified images. Tens of millions of dollars in research funding—and 16 years of scientists’ time—has been misdirected and relied on possibly fabricated results because of this “shockingly blatant” image tampering. The lead author of the earlier reports, Sylvain Lesné, a neuroscientist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, has stayed really quiet.
→ England closes its pediatric gender clinic: In another win against terrible science: the Tavistock Centre, England’s top gender-transition clinic for children, is closing. This is the result of long, hard campaigning by people who risked (and sometimes lost) their jobs, their privacy, and their reputations. The closure is thanks in part to a damning report that found that children coming in with gender dysphoria were fast-tracked to medical interventions. The clinic saw a surge in young women and autistic children coming in expressing gender dysphoria. Clinicians were scared to push for a more restrained approach.
A lot of harm was done to children at that clinic, and it’s a very positive sign that it’s finally closing. This same week, Allison Bailey, an English barrister, won 22,000 pounds in her discrimination case against her former employer after the tribunal agreed she had indeed been punished by her workplace for being skeptical of the new gender politics.
Meanwhile America is going full-steam ahead with medically transitioning children. How could drug companies pass up this opportunity to have such a large and life-long new market of customers? And talking about it is getting harder and harder here. The Associated Press this week released an updated stylebook recommending reporters no longer use the phrase “biological male” or “biological female,” nor differentiate a trans woman from a natal woman in any way. As the stylebook says, it’s all just for clarity: “Phrasing like is a woman is more to the point than identifies as a woman.”
→ Mass graves story looking questionable: Remember when there was a mass grave of Indigenous children at a Canadian boarding school? Some 751 young souls were allegedly buried in unmarked graves, in yet another example of the government’s cruelty toward the Native population. It was huge news, and this week, the pope went to Alberta to formally apologize. But the story is looking a little suspicious, and now various scholars are saying they aren’t so sure about it. There have been no excavations or plans to do so. The “bodies'' were located with ground-penetrating radio by an archaeologist reportedly hired by the tribe. (A great read on it here from Jonathan Kay.)
What’s absolutely real: Canadian boarding schools for Indigenous children were horrible and cruel efforts to destroy a culture. The reality is bad enough.