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Latest Narrative Analysis News Summary

March 1-15, 2023 Threat Scan

VSD Meter-Sept 15.jpg

Current Threat Level: High Level 5

Summary:  The VSD master threat rating DECLINED one threat level to High Threat Level 5 for the first two weeks of March 2023. This is primarily because threat levels in the following categories of news dropped one threat level rating: The Effectiveness of Our Justice System, The Independence of Our System of Checks and Balances, Economics and Dark Money and Gun Reform.


This was counter balanced by three news categories increasing at least one threat level. The increased challenges came in the following news categories: Women’s Right to Choose, Mitigating Climate Change and America’s Influence in the World.


Here's a summary of the two of the news categories that registered higher threat levels in this scan…


A Women’s Right to Choose

There is a narrative emerging in red states since the overturning of Roe V. Wade. It is being promoted by anti-abortion forces, emboldened by the unprecedented ruling by the Supreme Court. They are continuing to insist that State governments have the right to deny abortions to women.


The latest chapter of this fight that we are highlighting in this scan is the pending ruling by a conservative Federal judge in Texas to halt the sale of the prescription medication mifepristone. This is one of two medications that women have used safely for over 20 years to induce an abortion at home without a surgical procedure. Mifepristone was thoroughly tested and approved by the FDA twenty years ago. It has a very good safety record.


So, why is this pending ruling by the Federal judge in Texas a threat to democracy in America? The suit is being brought by the very conservative action group called the Alliance for Defending Freedom. They have asked Federal Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk to halt the sale of mifepristone in all 50 states until the FDA re-visits their “safety questions” about its use.


There has never been a Federal case brought against the FDA that attempted to halt the sale of prescription medicine that has been used safely for years. According to our narrative analysis, this case is a thinly veiled attempt by anti-abortion forces to dictate to women who choose to have an abortion at home without surgery the types of medication they can use.


US District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk is an appointee of former President Donald Trump, confirmed by a 52-46 Senate vote in 2019. Kacsmaryk also served for several years as deputy general counsel at the First Liberty Institute, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group, where he worked mainly on “religious liberty litigation in federal courts and amicus briefs in the US Supreme Court. He is also a longtime member of the conservative legal group the Federalist Society.


The primary reason we believe this case is so important to democracy in America is that it represents a continuing effort by very conservative activist groups to “judge shop” no merit court challenges to abortion and other culture war issues in red states. Based on our narrative analysis, we see these attempts as red states trying to dictate behavior to US citizens based on the opinions of a minority of Americans. Nothing could be more un-American.


IF Judge Kacsmaryk rules to stop the sale of mifepristone, the Justice Department will immediately challenge his ruling in the 5th Appeals Court Circuit. Most of these politically motivated rulings by conservative judges or laws by Maga Republican legislators in red states like Florida or North Dakota are eventually being overturned as unconstitutional, but the threat continues.


Mitigating Climate Change

Our concerns about Climate Change in this scan went up a threat point for three reasons. First, scientists are warning the excessive use of phosphorus fertilizers is depleting reserves vital to global food production, while also adding to the climate crisis. Humans have overused phosphorus based fertilizers for the last 20+ years in an attempt to increase food production. However, the run off from fields blanketed in these fertilizers are polluting water ways causing widespread algal blooms and creating aquatic dead zones that threaten fish stocks. In addition, overuse of the phosphorus element is increasing releases of methane across the planet, adding to global heating and the climate crisis caused by carbon emissions, researchers have warned.


Second, MAGA Republicans in the House have been criticized for not proposing actual policies on issues of interest to Americans like energy production, immigration and gun reform. Well, during this scan, MAGA Republicans introduced their sprawling energy package. Its primary purpose seems to be aimed at boosting fossil fuels and mining while limiting environmental reviews for infrastructure projects. Even though the bill will not make it through the Democratic controlled Senate, it is an indication of the climate change denying that will occur if MAGA Republicans win control of Congress in the 2024 election.


Lastly, the Biden administration approved the controversial Willow oil project, clearing the way for one of the largest new oil and gas developments on federal land in Alaska in 20 years despite fierce opposition from environmental activists.  The move came as President Joe Biden also signaled sweeping future action to bar offshore drilling on 2.8 million acres in the Arctic Ocean in an appeal to critics who said he betrayed his commitment to fight climate change.


Based on our narrative analysis, we see this move as having complex roots. The Biden administration appears to be positioning itself for the 2024 election. In the last month it has signaled new, more stringent immigration rules and now has approved oil drilling on Artic land. These policies could have a negative impact on our democracy because they seem to signal our continued dependence on oil, in spite of what carbon emissions are doing to the planet.


Also, Bidens latest immigration policies that are being seriously debated could put in place a more autocratic barrier to immigration aimed at people of color. IF President Biden is getting ready to do battle with MAGA Republicans in 2024 these moves could be seen as taking immigration and energy production off the table for MAGA Republicans to use against him in the 2024 election. As we said, a potentially mixed outcome for democracy.


Here is one category that has been in the news a great deal during this scan. Its  threat level rating remained the same at: High Threat Level 5


The Impact of Cable and Social Media on Democracy

Certainly we have been tracking the fallout from Fox News executives and personalities admitting “in writing” they lied to their audience about the results of the 2020 election and the violence of the January 6th insurrection. Also, Kevin McCarthy’s latest move, giving exclusive access to the Capitol security footage from January 6th to denier Tucker Carlson. You can hear our narrative analysis of what the hidden story is in all this news in the latest Vital Signs of Democracy podcast at…


In this scan, the threat rating for cable and social media news stayed the same at High Threat Level 5. The reason the threat level did not go up based on the Fox News revelations and the continuing threat they represent to democracy in America, is that Democrats may finally be willing to take Fox News on, the European Union is continuing to crack down on the excesses of Google, Meta and Instagram and the seeming sh… storm about Chatbot AI apps suddenly going dark in their engagements with consumers are, for the moment, holding the line in this category of news in terms of threats to our democracy.


I’m going to focus here on the Chatbot AI app controversy. We are pleased that the fears expressed by news reporters concerning their interactions with Microsoft’s latest OpenAI Chatbot technology, in a sense, cast attention on the entire news category we look at that reports on the impact of Artificial Intelligence on democracy. As the story went, the reporter for the New York Times was shocked when the Chatbot AI he was interacting with went dark with fantasies about erasing all humans data and even told him in another awkward moment that it loved him.


The real issue that this latest dustup highlights is that we are at the point in history where AI programs are writing books, news reports, and creating art works that we humans are finding it more difficult to tell the difference between what the Chatbot creates from other human efforts. The concern that seemed to come up in the Times story was that this Chatbot AI was pulling its “knowledge and insight” from the total archive of Internet information, including the darker disinformation and lies. Disinformation and lies in the "news" are designed to shake American’s confidence in our democratic institutions. Another way of saying this is… left to their own devices, Chatbot AI’s could promote all the worst of what humans have created on the Internet. This could lead all of us that depend on the news, podcasts and YouTube videos to shape our opinions about potential threats to democracy in America, engaging with information that was not created by other humans.


This is a very complex subject that we are continuing to track, but this latest click bait episode represents some of why we need to stay vigilant about what Chatbot AI’s could be contributing to our uncertainty about the world around us. And in keeping with the current “woke” conversation, Elon Musk claims he is creating a Chatbot AI that is NOT woke. Whatever that means to him. You can check out the article reporting on his latest at:


Hidden Story

The hidden story we are tracking in this scan concerns a narrative that is seemingly gaining traction in this country. That narrative concerns the possibility that America could descend into another civil war between red and blue states.


When the experts we pay attention to in our narrative analysis look at the possibility of another civil war in America, the general consensus is… it is not likely on any timeline they can see in spite of our current polarization. Unlike, our 1860’s civil war that pitted northern states vs southern states concerning the issue of slavery, red and blue individuals currently do not break down exclusively into one state or another. In some cases, a deep blue state like California can have parts of its territory governed deep red conservatives. In some cases these areas have armed militias that are not friendly to the Federal government.


In our narrative analysis we are looking deeper. We want to know IF there are undercurrents of this kind of unrest being acted on by either MAGA Republicans or Biden Democrats.


We have already been analyzing the movement by some citizens to states that better meet their narrative of America. For example, citizens that tend to vote blue are getting more uncomfortable living in red states. They are actually moving to be with their own tribe in blue states. The opposite is true as well. One of the articles we covered in our Culture Wars analysis in this latest scan reports on a bill passed by deep red legislators in Idaho that would absorb red counties that are currently in eastern Oregon (a blue state) into a new, larger Idaho.


However, the hidden story we are focusing on here are reports that red state legislators are attempting to control blue cities that are within their state boundaries. From Florida and Mississippi to Georgia, Texas and Missouri, an array of red states are taking aggressive new steps to seize authority over local prosecutors, and city policing policies in Democrat controlled cities. We also are seeing attempts by red state legislators to take control of local school districts on the premise that they are not meeting red state standards. This can include the curriculum they are teaching. For example, in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis is attempting to ban any discussion of diversity or the history of slavery in the south from state controlled universities and colleges.


When we look at this narrative it reminds us of the slow, steady erosion of our court system that took place over the last twenty years that currently favors deep red conservative positions, including lifestyle decisions. MAGA Republicans took control of state legislators, state courts and state justice departments in state and local elections while Democrats slept. We are now experiencing the impact of those conservative state bodies on laws and regulations concerning voting, abortion and transgender health care. The case in Texas about access to abortion medication that we highlighted above is another example of red conservatives attempting to take autocratic control of some states… legally!


So, it may not be a civil war between two opposing armies from northern and southern states this time, but we could see potential conflict IF for example, blue cities in red states do not adhere to state laws and regulations they don’t agree with. Or vice versa. Red states do not recognize Federal regulations. For more detail on what this potentially looks like, read the article that we have linked to from our “hidden stories” section of


Other Narrative Threats

As you consider the summaries of the individual news narratives below be reminded that what we are looking for in calculating our threat meter rating is the level of uncertainty in the American populace. IF citizens are not feeling secure, they are more likely to look to someone other than those in power to fix it for them. Whether voter unease is a result of their not knowing who to trust politically or who to believe in the many stories the news media are spinning, historically, democracies do not survive if their citizens stop trusting their democratic institutions.


Here are some of the headlines from this narrative analysis scan for March 1-15, 2023. You can find the details and the significance of these stories concerning threats to our democracy at:


  • DeSantis, in Iowa, says Republicans’ focus on "woke" will help win elections


  • San Francisco Board of Supervisors open to reparations to black citizens with $5M payouts.


  • A Texas man sues ex-wife's friends for allegedly helping her get abortion pills.


  • What do we know about the Silicon Valley and Signature Bank collapse?


  • How will 2 bank failures affect the Federal Reserve's approach to inflation?


  • Biden Issues Executive Order to Strengthen Background Checks for Guns


  • China Just Brokered a Historic Truce Between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Can It Do Ukraine Next?

Individual Narrative Analysis – March 1-15, 2023

Overall threat level is High Threat Level 5


Individual News Categories Threat Ratings


Voting Rights, Elections and Legislators

Moderate Threat Level 4


The threat level rating concerning Voting Rights, Elections and Legislators stayed the same at Moderate Threat Level 4. One negative reason for this is North Carolina’s high court seems inclined to toss past redistricting rulings that favored an equal split of house representatives. This was countered by more  positive news that Trump and DeSantis seem to be splitting the Republican Iowa caucus vote.


Relevant Articles


Who is Winning the Culture War?

High Threat Level 6


The threat rating for the Winning the Culture War factor remained the same at High Threat Level 6. The primary reasons for this was Idaho passing a bill to absorb red countries in Oregon into a new, bigger Idaho and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors considering a reparations plan for black residents with 5 million dollar payouts..


Relevant Articles


A Woman’s Right to Choose

Very High Threat Level 7


The threat rating for A Woman’s Right to Choose increased one threat point to Very High Threat Level 7. This is primarily because a Texas Federal Court, overseen by a very conservative Trump appointed judge, is about to rule if one of the medications women use to trigger an abortion is legal to be on the market. IF he rules against the use of the drug it could have implications country wide, even in blue states that allow abortion by medication.


Relevant Articles


The Effectiveness of Our Justice System

Moderate Threat Level 3


The threat rating for the Effectiveness of Our Justice System declined a threat level to  Moderate Threat Level 3. This was primarily because Jack Smith, the special prosecutor investigating Trump and his allies, seems to be ramping up his efforts at the Grand Juries. 


Relevant Articles


The Independence of Our System of Checks and Balances

High Threat Level 5


The threat rating for the Independence of Our System of Checks and Balances went down two threat level points to High Threat Level 5. The primary reason for this decline was more State Democrat legislators aggressively pushing back against the attempts of MAGA Republican state representatives to pass laws and regulations concerning abortion, immigration and gun control that are  based on the opinions of a minority of American voters.


Relevant Articles


The Impact of Cable News, Social Media News Feeds and Technology on Democracy in America

High Threat Level 5


The threat rating for the Impact of Cable News and Social Media on Democracy in America remained the same at High Threat Level 5. The primary reason for this was the Fox News revelations, Kevin McCarthy giving exclusive access to Tucker Carlson of the Capitol security footage from January 6th, the European Union's attempt to reel in the unwanted influence of Google, Meta and Instagram and the confusion that emerged from reporters claims that Chatbot AI apps had turned dark in their interactions with them. 


Relevant Articles


Mitigating Climate Change

Very High Threat Level 7


The threat level on Mitigating Climate Change increased one threat point to Very High Threat Level 7. This was a result of warnings by scientists of the damage phosphorus based fertilizers are doing to the environment, MAGA House Republicans introducing their energy plan that promotes fossil fuels and mining, and the Biden administration's approval of drilling for oil in a pristine Artic reserve.


Relevant Articles


US Economy and Dark Money

High Threat Level 6


The threat level for the US Economy and Dark Money factor declined one threat point to High Threat Level 6. This was primarily because the US banking system withstood a big stress test when two regional banks failed spectacularly in Silicon Valley. The economic outlook is still uncertain as we go going forward. How that might impact the 2024 election in unclear at the moment.


Relevant Articles

Gun Reform

Moderate Threat Level 4


​The threat level rating for Gun Reform declined two threat points to a Moderate Threat Level 4. This was a result of the Biden administration issuing an executive order than is designed to improve background checks on gun sales. It is still unclear whether the courts with reverse it as unconstitutional. Already some red states have filed lawsuits to overturn its regulations, but at least it represents something being done about the increasing violence in our cities. 


Relevant Articles


American Influence in World

Very High Threat Level 7


The threat level rating for American Influence in the World increased two threat levels to Very High Level 7. This is primarily because of the growing uncertainty about the outcome of Russia's was on the Ukraine. Russia continues to sacrifice large numbers of troops to gain the advantage. The Ukrainians are fighting back with the help of weapons from NATO, but the stalemate that has emerged for the moment is not doing the Ukrainian people any good. There seems there is no rest from the constant indiscriminate Russian shelling and missile strikes. 

In addition, Russian fighter jets intercepted a US drone in international air space over the Black Sea and caused it to crash. The video shot by the drone showed that it was an intentional attack by Russia fighter planes. China also just completed negotiating a treaty between two old enemies, Saudi Arabia and Iran, that could have major implications for the Middle East. China also appears to be considering negotiating a  cease fire between Russia and the Ukraine. These moves by China are designed to increase its influence in the world. That is not a good thing for American influence in these conflict regions. 


Relevant Articles

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