It Would Be So Un-American If It Wasn’t So Historically Popular

The article’s subtitle is “Republican lies about voter fraud are giving way to naked grasping for power”. From Joyce Vance for MSNBC (links in the original):

We’re living in a time where one political party openly believes it’s more important to win elections than it is to let Americans choose their own representatives in free and fair elections. And whether they’re going to get away with it is shaping up to be one of the most important issues the country faces.

The Supreme Court isn’t a venue where you typically expect to hear the quiet part said out loud. But that was what happened Tuesday, when an attorney for the Arizona Republican Party, Michael Carvin, advised the court that provisions that made it easier for eligible Americans to vote put “us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats.” He was implicitly characterizing laws that make voting more difficult for likely Democratic voters, often people of color, as the difference between winning and losing elections.

Carvin was, of course, not the first person to say out loud what has become increasingly obvious to anyone paying attention: Republicans’ support for laws that make it more difficult to vote has little to do with their boogeyman — voter fraud — and everything to do with winning elections despite the will of the voters.

The former president did the same when he told “Fox & Friends” last March that Covid-19 mitigation proposals that included provisions that made it easier for more people to vote safely would mean “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Historically, restrictive voting measures have been justified as necessary to keep a shadowy group of people who are allegedly intent on casting fraudulent ballots from stealing elections. But those people never seem to materialize, and we’ve watched that narrative implode over the past few months as claims of fraud in the election were definitively rejected in over 60 lawsuits.

Similarly, after the 2016 election, [the winner of the Electoral College] established a so-called Election Integrity Commission to prove the existence of “widespread voter fraud.” It was forced to shut down just months into its work when it was unable to find evidence to substantiate that claim. Still, the fraud lie is routinely used to burden minority voting rights.

This happens despite the conclusion by the Brennan Center for Justice, based on the data, in December that “voter fraud is extraordinarily rare and our system has strong checks in place to protect the integrity of our voting process. These are the facts.”

It was in this landscape that the Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, in which Democrats sued Arizona under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The plaintiffs argued that a policy that kept otherwise lawful ballots that had been cast in the wrong precincts from being counted, as well as a law that broadly restricted people from having other people turn in early ballots for them, amounted to unlawful voter suppression. The court seemed inclined to approve both of the Arizona provisions; the Court of Appeals had ruled that they unfairly burdened Black, Latino and Native American voters.

When the Supreme Court issues its ruling, what’s really at stake is whether its holding will affect more than just the Arizona provisions. Brnovich gives an increasingly conservative court the opportunity to adopt a standard of proof in Section 2 cases that would make it easier for Republican legislatures to enact policies that make it more difficult for people of color to vote, simply by claiming they are guarding against voter fraud. Brnovich might result in a strict test that would apply to future cases — like those that may need to be brought if some of the more than 250 bills Republicans have offered to restrict voting pass in their legislatures.

It’s clear that Republican operatives and legislatures have adopted voter suppression through restrictive legislation as a political strategy. Now that a lawyer has confirmed before the Supreme Court that it’s really just about winning elections, what’s a constitutional republic to do?

It’s probably too much to hope that the court will have a moment of righteous indignation. This is an even more conservative court than the one that gutted the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg accused the majority of taking away the umbrella that protected us in the middle of the rainstorm because we were still dry while using it.

It seems like it would be easier to go out and compete for votes with attractive policies and ideas than to engage in complicated legislative shenanigans and expensive litigation, but some Republicans seem to be as afraid of voters as a kid headed home to his parents with a bad report card.

So the only real solution to protect the right to vote is for the Senate to pass the For the People Act, which the House cleared Wednesday night, and for both chambers to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Those laws would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act and remove barriers that make it difficult for eligible people to register and vote. If passed, they would restore the mechanism to challenge unduly restrictive state practices.

Unless the Supreme Court does something unexpected, this is the only path forward.
Otherwise, next year and beyond, a party that controls its state’s legislature can impose rules that make it confusing and difficult for some people to vote. It can create an array of last-minute changes and restrictions that defeat your right to vote, for instance by changing your polling place and rejecting your ballot if, unaware, you go to the previous one.

While your choice of whom to vote for may be political, the right to vote itself isn’t. Instead, it’s a fundamental right that defines who we are as Americans. In part, the story of America has been about expanding groups of people who can exercise the franchise. We celebrated the 100th anniversary of women’s gaining the right to vote last year. Important parts of our history are about people who persisted in demanding the right to vote and the dignity that comes with it for Black people, including the Selma march and the use of dogs and fire hoses against protesting schoolchildren in Birmingham. If we become a country where the right to vote can be restricted through political machinations, then who are we?

People who are afraid of the results of elections in which everyone who is eligible to vote can vote are people who don’t believe they have a good case to make to the voters — people who think they’re going to lose because they haven’t governed well. In the words of the lawyer in the Brnovich case, “Politics is a zero-sum game, and every extra vote they get … hurts us.” But voting is about our rights, not about gamesmanship. Elections should be decided by the people, not by slick efforts to make it harder for some people to register or vote.

American Politics Today: A Case Study

One America News Network (OAN, not OANN) is where you go for “news” when you think Fox has become way too liberal. Somebody posted this screenshot today:

Untitled

Yes, we all remember how the former president “went and fought every weather crisis”, like that time after Hurricane Maria when he personally launched paper towels — or was it toilet paper? — to a roomful of Puerto Ricans and then decided to delay millions of dollars in financial aid.

So why is that cowardly weakling Joe Biden “hiding in his basement”? Biden may have immediately declared a state of emergency in Texas and authorized the federal government to send generators and other supplies, and and he may have spoken to Gov. Abbott yesterday:

President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. spoke this evening with Texas Governor Greg Abbott about the severe winter weather situation facing central and southern parts of the United States, including Texas. [He] conveyed his support to the people of Texas [and] reiterated that the federal government will continue to work hand-in-hand with state and local authorities in Texas to bring relief and address the critical needs of the families affected. He also shared his intentions to instruct additional federal agencies to look into any immediate steps that could be taken to support Texans at this time. The President also expressed that his administration was at the ready should the State of Texas or any other impacted region need additional federal disaster support or assistance as severe storms move across the US.

But what has Biden done for Texas lately? Damn liberals.

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman of The New York Times tells what occurred after the disaster struck:

For a while, the politics surrounding the power outages that have spread across Texas looked fairly normal. True, the state’s leaders pursued reckless policies that set the stage for catastrophe, then tried to evade responsibility. But while their behavior was reprehensible, it was reprehensible in ways we’ve seen many times over the years.

However, that changed around a day after the severity of the disaster became apparent. Republican politicians and right-wing media, not content with run-of-the-mill blame-shifting, coalesced around a malicious falsehood instead — the claim that wind and solar power caused the collapse of the Texas power grid, and that radical environmentalists are somehow responsible for the fact that millions of people were freezing in the dark, even though conservative Republicans have run the state for a generation.

This wasn’t normal political malfeasance. It’s the energy-policy equivalent of claiming that the Jan. 6 insurrection was a false-flag Antifa operation — raw denial of reality, not just to escape accountability, but to demonize one’s opponents. . . . 

Like many states, Texas has a partly deregulated electricity market, but deregulation has gone further there than elsewhere. In particular, unlike other states, Texas chose not to provide power companies with incentives to install reserve capacity to deal with possible emergencies. This made power cheaper in normal times, but left the system vulnerable when things went wrong.

Texas authorities also ignored warnings about the risks associated with extreme cold. After a 2011 cold snap left millions of Texans in the dark, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission urged the state to winterize its power plants with insulation, heat pipes and other measures. But Texas, which has deliberately cut its power grid off from the rest of the country precisely to exempt itself from federal regulation, only partially implemented the recommendations.

And the deep freeze came.

While Texas’s Republican governor was blaming wind power, other state officials admitted that power plants and pipelines that deliver natural gas were the main source of the problem. (Besides which, wind turbines operate in places like Norway and Greenland all winter without breaking down.)

The Washington Post describes what actually happened this week:

Wind accounts for just 10 percent of the power in Texas generated during the winter. And the loss of power to the grid caused by shutdowns of thermal power plants, primarily those relying on natural gas, dwarfed the dent caused by frozen wind turbines, by a factor of five or six.

As the cold hit, demand for electricity soared past the mark that ERCOT [the Electric Reliability Council of Texas] had figured would be the maximum needed. But at a moment when the world is awash in surplus natural gas, much of it from Texas wells, the state’s power-generating operators were unable to turn that gas into electricity to meet that demand.

In the single-digit temperatures, pipelines froze up because there was some moisture in the gas. Pumps slowed. Diesel engines to power the pumps refused to start. One power plant after another went offline. Even a reactor at one of the state’s two nuclear plants went dark, hobbled by frozen equipment.

Krugman (who knows the answer) asks, therefore, “Why, then, the all-out effort to falsely place the blame on wind power?”

The incentives are obvious. Attacking wind power is a way for both elected officials and free-market ideologues to dodge responsibility for botched deregulation; it’s a way to please fossil fuel interests, which give the vast bulk of their political contributions to Republicans; and since progressives tend to favor renewable energy, it’s a way to own the libs. And it all dovetails with climate change denial.

But why do they think they can get away with such an obvious lie? The answer, surely, is that those peddling the lie know that they’re operating in a post-truth political landscape. When two-thirds of Republicans believe that Antifa was involved in the assault on the Capitol, selling the base a bogus narrative about the Texas electricity disaster is practically child’s play.

Greg Sargent of the Post concludes:

No doubt many Republicans expressing outrage at the failures producing this disaster — and calling for accountability and reform — are sincere in their intentions, though we’ll see how long those demands persist.

But it’s painfully obvious that in an important larger sense, many aspects of their reaction to the Texas calamity do indeed demonstrate the future they want.

It’s a future in which the default response to large public problems will be to increasingly retreat from real policy debates into an alternate information universe, while doubling down on scorched-earth distraction politics and counter-majoritarian tactics to insulate themselves from accountability. . . .

The thing is that Abbott knows renewable energy isn’t to blame. Elsewhere, he has admitted that natural gas and coal failures played a key role. Yet the lure of retreating into the Fox News universe — and spewing nonsense he knows will resonate there — is irresistible.

When a politician’s fundamental purposes in public life are to pursue power and maintain the economic and cultural status quo, it’s easy to lie with a clear conscience. As Gen. Sherman once said:

The lust for Power in political minds is the strongest passion of Life, and impels Ambitious Men to deeds of infamy.

The Late Molly Ivins on Limbaugh

Talk radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh (1951-2021) is no longer taking calls from his devoted listeners. Texas writer Molly Ivins summed up Limbaugh for Mother Jones in 1995:

One of the things that concerns a lot of Americans lately is the increase in plain old nastiness in our political discussion. It comes from a number of sources, but Rush Limbaugh is a major carrier.

I should explain that I am not without bias in this matter. I have been attacked by Rush Limbaugh on the air, an experience somewhat akin to being gummed by a newt. It doesn’t actually hurt, but it leaves you with slimy stuff on your ankle.

I have a correspondent named Irwin Wingo in Weatherford, Texas. Irwin and some of the leading men of the town are in the habit of meeting about 10 every morning at the Chat’n’Chew Cafe to drink coffee and discuss the state of the world. One of their number is a dittohead, a Limbaugh listener. He came in one day, plopped himself down, and said, “I think Rush is right: Racism in this country is dead. I don’t know what the n____s will find to gripe about now.”

I wouldn’t say that dittoheads, as a group, lack the ability to reason. It’s just that whenever I run across one, he seems to be at a low ebb in reasoning skills. Poor ol’ Bill Sarpalius, one of our dimmer Panhandle congressmen, was once trying to explain to a town hall meeting of his constituents that Limbaugh was wrong when he convinced his listeners that Bill Clinton’s tax package contained a tax increase on the middle class. (It increased taxes only on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.) A dittohead in the crowd rose to protest: “We don’t send you to Washington to make responsible decisions. We send you there to represent us.”

[Note: If this sounds quite familiar, a Republican official from Pennsylvania was discussing Sen. Pat Toomey, one of the Republicans who voted to convict last week, and said: “We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to ‘do the right thing’ or whatever”. Now back to Molly Ivins.]

The kind of humor Limbaugh uses troubles me deeply, because I have spent much of my professional life making fun of politicians. I believe it is a great American tradition and should be encouraged. . . . So what right do I have to object because Limbaugh makes fun of different pols than I do?

I object because he consistently targets dead people, little girls, and the homeless—none of whom are in a particularly good position to answer back. Satire is a weapon, and it can be quite cruel. It has historically been the weapon of powerless people aimed at the powerful. When you use satire against powerless people, as Limbaugh does, it is not only cruel, it’s profoundly vulgar. It is like kicking a cripple.

On his TV show, early in the Clinton administration, Limbaugh put up a picture of Socks, the White House cat, and asked, “Did you know there’s a White House dog?” Then he put up a picture of Chelsea Clinton, who was 13 years old at the time and as far as I know had never done any harm to anyone.

When viewers objected, he claimed, in typical Limbaugh fashion, that the gag was an accident and that without his permission some technician had put up the picture of Chelsea—which I found as disgusting as his original attempt at humor. . . .

The reason I take Rush Limbaugh seriously is not because he’s offensive or right-wing, but because he is one of the few people addressing a large group of disaffected people in this country. And despite his frequent denials, Limbaugh does indeed have a somewhat cultlike effect on his dittoheads. They can listen to him for three and a half hours a day, five days a week, on radio and television. I can assure you that [cult leader] David Koresh did not harangue the Branch Davidians so long nor so often. But that is precisely what most cult leaders do—talk to their followers hour after hour after hour.

A large segment of Limbaugh’s audience consists of white males, 18 to 34 years old, without college education. Basically, a guy I know and grew up with named Bubba.

Bubba listens to Limbaugh because Limbaugh gives him someone to blame for the fact that Bubba is getting screwed. He’s working harder, getting paid less in constant dollars and falling further and further behind. Not only is Bubba never gonna be able to buy a house, he can barely afford a trailer. Hell, he can barely afford the payments on the pickup.

And because Bubba understands he’s being shafted, even if he doesn’t know why or how or by whom, he listens to Limbaugh. Limbaugh offers him scapegoats. It’s the “feminazis.” It’s the minorities. It’s the limousine liberals. It’s all these people with all these wacky social programs to help some silly, self-proclaimed bunch of victims. Bubba feels like a victim himself—and he is—but he never got any sympathy from liberals.

Psychologists often tell us there is a great deal of displaced anger in our emotional lives—your dad wallops you, but he’s too big to hit back, so you go clobber your little brother. Displaced anger is also common in our political life. We see it in this generation of young white men without much education and very little future. . . . Unfortunately, it is Limbaugh and the Republicans who are addressing the resentments of these folks, and aiming their anger in the wrong direction.

In my state, I have not seen so much hatred in politics since the heyday of the John Birch Society in the early 1960s. Used to be you couldn’t talk politics with a conservative without his getting all red in the face, arteries standing out in his neck, wattles aquiver with indignation—just like a pissed-off turkey gobbler. And now we’re seeing the same kind of anger again.

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting [FAIR] . . . has a sweet, gentle faith that truth will triumph in the end, and thinks it is sufficient to point out that Limbaugh is wrong. I say it’s important to point out that he’s not just wrong but that he’s ridiculous, one of the silliest people in America. . . .

It’s important to show people that there is much more wrong with Limbaugh’s thinking than just his facts. Limbaugh specializes in ad hominem arguments, which are themselves ridiculously easy to expose. Ted Kennedy says, “America needs health care reform.” Limbaugh replies, “Ted Kennedy is fat.”

Rush Limbaugh’s pathetic abuse of logic, his absurd pomposity, his relentless self-promotion, his ridiculous ego—now those, friends, are appropriate targets for satire.

Keep This in Mind When You Hear the Right Claim They’re Censored on Social Media

It’s bullshit. From The Washington Post:

A new report calls conservative claims of social media censorship “a form of disinformation”.

[The] report concludes that social networks aren’t systematically biased against conservatives, directly contradicting Republican claims that social media companies are censoring them. 

Recent moves by Twitter and Facebook to suspend [the former president’s] accounts in the wake of the violence at the Capitol are inflaming conservatives’ attacks on Silicon Valley. But New York University researchers today released a report stating claims of anti-conservative bias are “a form of disinformation: a falsehood with no reliable evidence to support it.” 

The report found there is no trustworthy large-scale data to support these claims, and even anecdotal examples that tech companies are biased against conservatives “crumble under close examination.” The report’s authors said, for instance, the companies’ suspensions of [the ex-president’s] accounts were “reasonable” given his repeated violation of their terms of service — and if anything, the companies took a hands-off approach for a long time given [his] position.

The report also noted several data sets underscore the prominent place conservative influencers enjoy on social media. For instance, CrowdTangle data shows that right-leaning pages dominate the list of sources providing the most engaged-with posts containing links on Facebook. Conservative commentator Dan Bongino, for instance, far out-performed most major news organizations in the run-up to the 2020 election. 

The report also cites an October 2020 study in which Politico found “right-wing social media influencers, conservative media outlets, and other GOP supporters” dominated the online discussion of Black Lives Matter and election fraud, two of the biggest issues in 2020. Working with the nonpartisan think tank Institute for Strategic Dialogue, researchers found users shared the most viral right-wing social media content about Black Lives Matter more than ten times as often as the most popular liberal posts on the topic. People also shared right-leaning claims on election fraud about twice as often as they shared liberals’ or traditional media outlets’ posts discussing the issue.

But even so, baseless claims of anti-conservative bias are driving Republicans’ approach to regulating tech. Republican lawmakers have concentrated their hearing exchanges with tech executives on the issue, and it’s been driving their legislative proposals. . . .

The New York University researchers called on Washington regulators to focus on what they called “the very real problems of social media.”

“Only by moving forward from these false claims can we begin to pursue that agenda in earnest,” Paul Barrett, the report’s primary author and deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights said in a statement. 

The researchers want the Biden administration to work with Congress to overhaul the tech industry. 

Their recommendations focus particularly on changing Section 230, a decades-old law shielding tech companies from lawsuits for the photos, videos and posts people share on their websites. . . . 

The researchers warn against completely repealing the law. Instead, they argue companies should only receive Section 230 immunity if they agree to accept more responsibilities in policing content such as disinformation and hate speech. The companies could be obligated to ensure their recommendation engines don’t favor sensationalist content or unreliable material just to drive better user engagement. 

“Social media companies that reject these responsibilities would forfeit Section 230’s protection and open themselves to costly litigation.” the report proposed.

The researchers also called for the creation of a new Digital Regulatory Agency, which would serve as an independent body and be tasked with enforcing a revised Section 230. 
The report also suggested Biden could empower a “special commission” to work with the industry on improving content moderation, which would be able to move much more quickly than legal battles over antitrust issues. It also called for the president to expand the task force announced by Biden on online harassment to focus on a broad range of harmful content. 

They also called for greater transparency in Silicon Valley. 

The researchers said the platforms typically don’t provide much justification for sanctioning an account or post, and when people are in the dark they assume the worst. 

“The platforms should give an easily understood explanation every time they sanction a post or account, as well as a readily available means to appeal enforcement actions,” the report said. “Greater transparency—such as that which Twitter and Facebook offered when they took action against [a certain terrible person] in January— would help to defuse claims of political bias, while clarifying the boundaries of acceptable user conduct.”

This Is One of Our Two Major Political Parties

Marjorie Taylor Greene is 46 and serving her first term in the House of Representatives. She won the Republican primary for Georgia’s 14th Congressional District last year with 57% of the vote. She easily won the general election. The 14th District occupies the northwest corner of Georgia and is heavily Republican. This is what her official website says about her:

Marjorie graduated from the University of Georgia and received her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Marjorie has been actively involved in her community, in her children’s schools, and been active on a national level as National Director of Family America Project.

Marjorie has a strong Christian faith and believes we must continue to protect our great freedoms and work to keep America a great country for our generations to come.

Marjorie and her husband, Perry, have been married 23 years. They have three children . . .. Marjorie believes the best part of her life is being a mother and spending time with her family.

Media Matters for America presents more information about Rep. Greene:

In another newly uncovered 2018 Facebook post, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) endorsed a conspiracy theory that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was videotaped murdering a child during a satanic ritual and then ordered a hit on a police officer to cover it up. She also liked a meme claiming that some of her now-Democratic congressional colleagues have used the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for human trafficking, pedophilia, and organ harvesting. 

. . .  She has received heavy criticism for her recently uncovered endorsements of the conspiracy theories that the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, were staged false flags. Greene is also a QAnon and 9/11 conspiracy theorist who has promoted anti-Muslim attacks and a conspiracy theory that Jewish people are trying to take over Europe through immigration. 

Greene is also a backer of [a] violent and absurd . . .  conspiracy theory, which is linked to QAnon and Pizzagate and essentially claims that Hillary Clinton and former aide Huma Abedin sexually assaulted a child, [mutilated her] and then drank her blood as part of a satanic ritual . . .  Greene endorsed the conspiracy theory on Facebook in May 2018. . . .

Greene also liked a meme that was posted to her Facebook page in June 2018 claiming that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Clinton, former President Barack “Obama and their Democrat friends … can’t have Trump repeal DACA as it would show DACA was used by them … for human trafficking pedophilia in high places and organ harvesting.”

CNN offers more:

Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene repeatedly indicated support for executing prominent Democratic politicians in 2018 and 2019 before being elected to Congress, a [CNN] review of hundreds of posts and comments from Greene’s Facebook page shows. . .

In one post, from January 2019, Greene liked a comment that said “a bullet to the head would be quicker” to remove House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In other posts, Greene liked comments about executing FBI agents who, in her eyes, were part of the “deep state” working against Trump.

I add this piece of news without further comment:

Her Republican colleagues have selected Rep. Greene to serve on the House Education and Labor Committee.