Saturday, May 30, 2020
Back in December, 2019, many Americans had a false sense of security and stability even through the Trump/Pence regime and the Republican Party were hard at work to create a new Gilded Age with more and more of the nation's wealth concentrating in the 1% - or even 0.1% - of the population, Unemployment was at a 50 year low yet real wages for the middle class when adjusted for inflation had risen little since 1970. Adding to the mix was Trump's never ending signaling to white supremacists and extreme right Christians (the two groups sadly overlap to a very large degree) the false message that they were being persecuted and needed to "take back America." Those truly being persecuted were those hated by these angry whites and modern day Pharisees. And sadly, police across the nation continued to kill unarmed blacks even as ridiculous marijuana laws were disproportionately used to criminalize young black males (Virginia belatedly decriminalized possession for personal use just this year). One could say that America was like the Titanic at 11:30 pm on April 14, 1912 - ten minutes before the iceberg strike - and now the Covid-19 has proved itself to be America's iceberg that is laying bare all of the problems that have simmered for years and which are exploding under the economic stress and racial injustice highlighted again by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. A column in the New York Times looks at America as its underlying problems explode to the surface. Frighteningly, we have an occupant of the White House and a U.S. Senate majority that will only make matters worse. Here are column highlights:
The last two and a half months in America have felt like the opening montage in a dystopian film about a nation come undone. First the pandemic hit and hospitals in New York City were overwhelmed. The national economy froze and unemployment soared; one in four American workers has applied for unemployment benefits since March. Lines of cars stretched for miles at food banks. Heavily armed lockdown protesters demonstrated across the country; in Michigan, they forced the Capitol to close and legislators to cancel their session. Nationwide, at least 100,000 people died of a disease almost no one had heard of last year.
Then, this week, a Minneapolis police officer was filmed kneeling on the neck of a black man named George Floyd. As the life went out of him, Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe, echoing the last words of Eric Garner, whose 2014 death at the hands of New York policemen helped catalyze the Black Lives Matter movement. Floyd’s death came only days after three Georgia men were arrested on charges of pursuing and killing a young black man, Ahmaud Arbery, whom they saw out running. A prosecutor had initially declined to charge the men on the grounds that their actions were legal under the state’s self-defense laws.
In Minneapolis protesters poured into the streets, where they met a far harsher police response than anything faced by the country’s gun-toting anti-lockdown activists. On Wednesday night, peaceful demonstrations turned into riots, and on Thursday Minnesota’s governor called in the National Guard.
For a moment, it seemed as if the blithe brutality of Floyd’s death might check the worst impulses of the president and his Blue Lives Matter supporters. The authorities were forced to act: All four of the policemen involved were fired, police chiefs across the country condemned them and William Barr’s Justice Department promised a federal investigation that would be a “top priority.”
But on Thursday night, after a county prosecutor said his office was still determining if the four policemen had committed a crime, the uprising in Minneapolis was reignited, and furious people burned a police precinct. (One of the officers was arrested and charged with third-degree murder on Friday.) On Twitter, an addled Trump threatened military violence against those he called “THUGS,” . . . . [Trump]
The presidentlater tried to tamp down outrage by saying he was just warning of danger — the Trump campaign has hoped, after all, to peel off some black voters from the Democrats — but his meaning was obvious enough. This is the same president who on Thursday tweeted out a video of a supporter saying, “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.”
The Trump presidency has been marked by shocking spasms of right-wing violence: the white nationalist riot in Charlottesville, Va., the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the mass shooting targeting Latinos in El Paso. But even as the country has simmered and seethed, there hasn’t been widespread disorder. Now, though, we might be at the start of a long, hot summer of civil unrest.
So many things make America combustible right now: mass unemployment, a pandemic that’s laid bare murderous health and economic inequalities, teenagers with little to do, police violence, right-wingers itching for a second civil war and a president eager to pour gasoline on every fire. “I think we’re indeed in a moment where things are going to get a lot more tense before they get more peaceful,” said the University of Michigan historian Heather Ann Thompson, . . . .
These demonstrations were sparked by specific instances of police violence, but they also take place in a context of widespread health and economic devastation that’s been disproportionately borne by people of color, especially those who are poor. “Sociologists have studied collective behavior, urban unrest for decades, and I think it’s safe to say that the consensus view is that it’s never just about a precipitating incident that resulted in the unrest,” Darnell Hunt, dean of social sciences at U.C.L.A., told me. “It’s always a collection of factors that make the situation ripe for collective behavior, unrest and mobilization.”
[F]rustration is likely to build, because the economic ruin from the pandemic is just beginning. In some states, moratoriums on evictions have ended or will soon. The expanded unemployment benefits passed by Congress as part of the CARES Act run out at the end of July. State budgets have been ravaged, and Republicans in Washington have so far refused to come to states’ aid, meaning we’ll likely soon see painful cutbacks in public jobs and services.
But if America feels like a tinderbox at the moment, it’s not just because of pressure coming from the dispossessed. On Wednesday, the journalists Robert Evans and Jason Wilson published a fascinating and disturbing look at the “boogaloo” movement — “an extremely online update of the militia movement” — on the investigative website Bellingcat. “The ‘boogaloo Bois’ expect, even hope, that the warmer weather will bring armed confrontations with law enforcement, and will build momentum towards a new civil war in the United States,” Evans and Wilson write. They add, “In a divided, destabilized post-coronavirus landscape, they could well contribute to widespread violence in the streets of American cities.” . . . . People associated with the subculture had a significant presence at the lockdown protests, but some, motivated by hatred of the police and a love of bedlam, took part in the Minneapolis demonstrations as well.
Most American presidents, faced with such domestic instability, would seek de-escalation. This is one reason civil unrest, for all the damage it can cause to communities where it breaks out, has often led to reform. Change has come, said Thompson, when activists have “created a situation where the people in power actually had to act in order to bring back some meaningful public peace.”
Now, however, we have a president who doesn’t much care about warding off chaos. “In every other time when protest has reached a fever pitch because injustices very much needed to be remedied, the country ultimately tried to find a new equilibrium, tried to address it enough to reach some sort of peace,” said Thompson. “We now have a leadership that’s been crystal clear that it’s perfectly OK if we descend into utter civil war.”
Some of the tropes are familiar, but we haven’t seen this movie before. No one knows how dark things could get, only that, in the Trump era, scenes that seem nightmarish one day come to look almost normal the next.
Be very afraid.
Friday, May 29, 2020
As Adolph Hitler rose to power, one of his first targets other than Jews were media outlets that reported the truth and refused to be propaganda arms of Hitler's Nazi Party. Under Hitler confidant and sycophant Paul JosephGoebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda gained and exerted control over the news media, arts, and information in Germany. Newspapers and radio stations that failed to comply with Nazi Party dictates were vandalized, publishers arrested and put out of business. Fast forward to 2020 and it is obvious that Donald Trump wants the same control over the media and seeks to silence any platform that exposes his endless lies and untruths. Trump's executive order signed yesterday - which is likely illegal - is a step in trying to silence social media platforms that have felt compelled to notate the untruthfulness of Trump's Twitter outbursts. The irony is that by stripping them of limitations on liability for content, Trump may unwittingly be forcing them to be more vigorous in removing false content - something that would result in the opposite situation from what Trump wants: an unfettered platform to lie, A piece in the New York Times looks at how Trump may have shot himself by his rash and tyrant like behavior. Here are highlights:
PresidentTrump, who built his political career on the power of a flame-throwing Twitter account, has now gone to war with Twitter, angered that it would presume to fact-check his messages. But the punishment he is threatening could force social media companies to crack down even more on customers just like Mr. Trump.
The executive order that Mr. Trump signed on Thursday seeks to strip liability protection in certain cases for companies like Twitter, Google and Facebook for the content on their sites, meaning they could face legal jeopardy if they allowed false and defamatory posts. Without a liability shield, they presumably would have to be more aggressive about policing messages that press the boundaries — like [Trump's]
That, of course, is not the outcome Mr. Trump wants. What he wants is to have the freedom to post anything he likes . . . . . Furious at what he called “censorship” — even though his messages were not in fact deleted — Mr. Trump is wielding the proposed executive order like a club to compel the company to back down.
It may not work even as intended. Plenty of lawyers quickly said on Thursday that he was claiming power to do something he does not have the power to do by essentially revising the interpretation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the main law passed by Congress in 1996 to lay out the rules of the road for online media. Legal experts predicted such a move would be challenged and most likely struck down by the courts.
Mr. Trump’s order is intriguing because it attacks the very legal provision that has allowed him such latitude to publish with impunity a whole host of inflammatory, harassing and factually distorted messages that a media provider might feel compelled to take down if it were forced into the role of a publisher that faced the risk of legal liability rather than a distributor that does not.
“Ironically, Donald Trump is a big beneficiary of Section 230,” said Kate Ruane, a senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, which instantly objected to the proposed order. “If platforms were not immune under the law, then they would not risk the legal liability that could come with hosting Donald Trump’s lies, defamation and threats.”
Mr. Trump has long posted false and disparaging messages to his 80 million followers on Twitter, disregarding complaints about their accuracy or fairness.
[S]ome government officials said his plan was unenforceable. “This does not work,” Jessica Rosenworcel, a member of the F.C.C. first appointed under President Barack Obama, said in a statement. “Social media can be frustrating. But an executive order that would turn the Federal Communications Commission into the president’s speech police is not the answer. It’s time for those in Washington to speak up for the First Amendment. History won’t be kind to silence.”
Even some conservatives objected, warning that the president was handing control of the internet to the “administrative state” and creating a bonanza for liberal trial lawyers to go after unpopular speakers traditionally filtered out by the mainstream media — including those like Mr. Trump himself.
The Communications Decency Act was passed during the dawn of the modern information age, intended at first to make it easier for online sites run by early pioneer companies like Prodigy and AOL to block pornography even when it is constitutional without running afoul of legal challenges.
By terming such sites as distributors rather than publishers, Section 230 gave them important immunity from lawsuits. Over time, the law became the guarantor of a rollicking, almost no-holds-barred internet by letting sites set rules for what is and is not allowed without being liable for everything posted by visitors, as opposed to a newspaper, which is responsible for whatever it publishes.
Mr. Trump may face an uphill road with his order. Daphne Keller, who teaches at Stanford Law School and has written extensively on internet law and regulation, said the order appeared to be “95 percent political rhetoric and theater that doesn’t have legal effect and is inconsistent with what the courts have said.”
However, Ms. Keller, who worked as an associate general counsel at Google for 10 years, said that even if the order did not carry legal weight, it may still be challenged because it was potentially an abuse of power that could violate the First Amendment rights of the companies.
Thursday, May 28, 2020
Donald Trump's lashing out in a desperate efforts to "change the discussion" may be working with some of his Kool-Aid drinking supporters - I just had a Facebook set to with one - but the polls, both nationally and in key swing states, show that more and more Americans are growing fed up with Trump gross malfeasance in handling the Covid-19 pandemic and the cratering economy. Down ballot Republicans are worrying that Trump may drag them down with him. Though Trump fails to see, it, many are belatedly tiring of his incessant lies. Nonetheless, expect more and more lashing out and more and more lies as Trump seeks distract and deflect from his horrific failures and continues his efforts to gaslight voters in general. Trump seemingly cannot recognize that his crime boss-like ways in his shady real estate business do not translate to holding high elected office. A piece in Time looks at the behavior of the psychotic occupant of the White House. Here are highlight:
PresidentTrump wanted to see a rocket launch. On the day the U.S. topped 100,000 deaths from COVID-19, Trump was at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center to watch two astronauts blast off inside a capsule built by billionaire Elon Musk. The President may have been hoping for an escape—maybe not from the Earth, but from the drumbeat of devastating headlines. The stormy skies above Cape Canaveral seemed to echo Trump’s temper.
A tragic time for the country has become a dire moment for the President’s re-election prospects. The toll of the coronavirus pandemic is mounting, nearly 40 million Americans are out of work, and Trump is trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden among key sectors of the population and in crucial swing states. His ability to communicate directly to his voters has been undercut by Twitter’s decision to begin fact-checking misinformation in his feed, and he still cannot hold the large rallies that are crucial to his campaign strategy.
The circumstances have left Trump fuming behind the scenes. . . . . Trump has lashed out repeatedly at his critics, to a degree that is rare even for him. He has been stoking unfounded conspiracies about a decades-old accidental death in the former congressional office of Joe Scarborough, now his cable news nemesis, prompting the family of the deceased woman to ask Trump to stop.
He has continued to undermine public-health efforts by refusing to wear a mask in public. He’s further frayed the country’s democratic institutions by conducting a purge of the inspectors general tasked with ferreting out government waste. And he’s sought to undermine faith in November’s election, attacking states’ use of mail-in ballots, which are legal, have a track record of expanding voter access and have not been linked to wide-spread fraud.
It’s the instinct to punch back which sometimes plays out in ways like this,” the White House official says, warning against trying to ascribe “too much grand strategy” to the outbursts. Aides close to Trump have come to see his Twitter feed as a release valve for the President, and have given up on trying to rein in his impulses on the platform.
Some observers see in Trump’s outbursts an attempt to change the subject. . . . . This isn’t the first time Trump has lobbed incendiary tweets to try to deflect. But a “look over there” strategy has rarely been tested during a public health crisis in a time of national grief, with American lives on the line and a presidential election just months away. As the pandemic continues, Trump’s electoral prospects are worsening. The Real Clear Politics polling average finds Trump trailing Biden by an average of more than 5 points nationally, and losing to the former Vice President in most key swing states, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania—the troika that delivered him the White House in 2016.
Some prominent Republicans say the President has crossed the line with the attacks he’s lobbed in recent days. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic, he’s the Commander-in-Chief of this nation, and it’s causing great pain to the family of the young woman who died, so I would urge him to stop it,” Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the chair of the House Republican Conference, said May 27, referencing Trump’s repeated implication that Scarborough had been involved in the death of staff member Lori Klausutis in 2001.
For its part, Trump’s 2020 campaign is attempting to reframe his tantrums as part of his blunt personality that gets results. . . . . But as Trump continues grasping for distractions, even the rocket launch couldn’t provide the outlet he craved. Just 16 minutes before liftoff, the launch was scrubbed because of bad weather.
The issue is tht Trump is Trump and ignores advice and counsel. He is a self-centered narcissist incapable of telling the truth and who ignores anything and anyone who doesn't tell him what he wants to hear. Nothing would be more sweet than to see him suffer a landslide defeat which might be more than his fragile mental state can handle. That said, the worse the polling, the more dangerous Trump will become. Nothing and no one matters to the man except his ego and sense of self-importance. .
Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that he has little interest in additional economic relief bills being passed by Congress, preferring instead to focus on the appointment of extreme right wing judges, and Donald Trump's main obsession - when not seeking to punish those who call out his lies - is "reopening" the economy with seemingly no thoughts about the reality that an economic comeback is likely to be a long process. Faced with GOP "let them eat cake" mentality (something wrongfully attributed to Marie Antoinette, but accurate with respect Congressional Republicans), many of the 40 million Americans who have lost their jobs since March are likely to face economic hardship, if not ruin. Do Trump and McConnell care about them? Of course not! A piece in the New York Times looks at the frightening prospect facing far too many Americans. Here are excerpts:
About 1 in 4 American workers have filed for unemployment since March.
For millions of Americans left out of work by the pandemic, government assistance has been a lifeline preventing a plunge into poverty, hunger and financial ruin.
This summer, that lifeline could snap, reports Ben Casselman.
The $1,200 checks sent to most households are long gone, at least for those who needed them most, with little imminent prospect for a second round. The lending program that helped millions of small businesses keep workers on the payroll will wind down if Congress does not extend it. Eviction moratoriums that kept people in their homes are expiring in many cities.
And the $600 per week in extra unemployment benefits that have allowed tens of millions of laid-off workers to pay rent and buy groceries will expire at the end of July.
More than 40 million people have filed for benefits since the crisis began, and some 30 million are receiving them.
The multitrillion-dollar patchwork of federal and state programs hasn’t kept bills from piling up or prevented long lines at food banks, but it has mitigated the damage. Now the expiration of those programs represents a cliff they are hurtling toward, for individuals and for the economy.
“The CARES Act was massive, but it was a very short-term offset to what is likely to be a long-term problem,” said Aneta Markowska, the chief financial economist for the investment bank Jefferies, referring to the legislative centerpiece of the federal rescue. “This economy is clearly going to need more support.”
Even the possibility that the programs will be allowed to expire could have economic consequences, Ms. Markowska said, as consumers and businesses brace for the loss of federal assistance.
PresidentTrump and other Republicans have played down the need for more spending, saying the solution is for states to reopen businesses and allow companies to bring people back to work. So despite pleas from economists across the political spectrum — including Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chairman — any federal action is likely to be limited.
The House voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to give businesses more time to use money borrowed under the Paycheck Protection Program, which offers forgivable loans to small businesses that retain or rehire their workers. The bill’s fate in the Senate is uncertain, but a deal seems likely to be reached.
Few members of the Republican Party have more debased themselves and prostituted themselves to Donald Trump than South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, a/k/a the Palmetto Queen. Graham went from critic of Trump to apologist and cheerleader seemingly simply so as to not offend the racist and knuckle dragging base of the GOP in his home state. Honor, integrity and simple honesty were all jettisoned as Graham raced to pander to Trump and the ugliest elements of the GOP base. A new ad by a PAC working for Graham's defeat in his reelection bid in November highlights Graham's two faced conduct and the limitless way Graham willing prostitutes himself to Der Trumpenführer. A piece in The Advocate looks at Graham's moral and ethical decline. Here are article excerpts:
A new ad opposing the reelection of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina uses his own words against him, noting that he’s gone from calling Donald Trump a “kook” and a “bigot” to deeming him “a damn good president.”
The ad highlighting “the two faces of Lindsey Graham,” from a super PAC called Lindsey Must Go, contrasts “old Lindsey” with “new Lindsey.” It shows, among other things, “old Lindsey” referring to Trump as “a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot,” then “new Lindsey” saying the president “deserves the Nobel Peace Prize and then some.”
The three-term Republican senator is facing a serious challenge this year from Democrat Jaime Harrison. Super PACs can’t coordinate with candidates, but Harrison is likely to benefit from the ad, Jonathan Capehart writes in The Washington Post.
“We believe that we can make the case that Lindsey Graham has been a failure to South Carolina,” Harrison told Capehart a few months ago. The ad, Capehart writes in a Friday column, “makes the case better than anyone else could — especially since Graham does all the talking.”
Graham has always been a solid conservative, but he once exhibited at least a degree of integrity and was one of the few Republicans willing to criticize Trump; now he’s become a sycophant. “Here’s a guy that many of us had tremendous respect for. Because when John McCain was alive, we thought in the end of the day he would do the right thing for either the state or the nation when the rubber met the road,”
“But what we have now seen is that this guy’s only interest is in Lindsey O. Graham. His only interest is being in the middle of things, to have power.”
“Lindsey Graham has done both the impossible and the unthinkable: He went from being the late John McCain’s best friend to Donald Trump’s best friend,” Jimmy Williams, senior adviser to the Lindsey Must Go PAC, told the journalist. “We’re simply tired of his snarling, revengeful, dirty payback politics down here, and I promise you we will do whatever we legally can to make his last nine months in the U.S. Senate a miserable hell.”
Wednesday, May 27, 2020
The day after Twitter felt compelled to attach a warning to some of Donald Trump's tweets containing gross falsehoods (to thereby prompt readers to fact-check Trump's claims), much like a (i) petulant self-absorbed child or (ii) banana republic dictator, Donald Trump claims he will sign an executive order likely punishing social media companies that resist giving a platform for his lies and deliberately false propaganda. Spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany (who is severely challenged herself when it comes to truth and veracity) confirmed Trump's intentions to reporters aboard Air Force One, traveling with Trump to Washington from Florida. Trump's threatened action confirms that he sees himself as a monarch accountable to no one. In reality, questions remain as to what Trump can realistically do to get revenge on those who will not disseminate his lies. CNN Business looks at the controversy:
Donald Trump threatened to "regulate" or even "close" down social media platforms in a series of tweets over the last day after Twitter added a fact-check label to some of his posts. But Trump's options for cracking down on Twitter and other platforms over how they moderate their platforms are somewhat limited, legal experts say.
The options at Trump's disposal could range from pushing for new legislation to pressuring US regulators to sue the companies, none of which are guaranteed to accomplish what the president is threatening to do. The most "obvious" course of action would be for Trump to seek changes to the Communications Decency Act, which shields tech platforms from legal liability for a wide range of online content, according to Andrew Schwartzman, senior counselor at the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society.
There has been an ongoing push, led by the Justice Department and Republicans in Congress, to do just that. But changing the law would require building broad consensus in a deadlocked Congress. The Trump administration could not go it alone. And a new law that specifies how tech companies must police their platforms could raise questions about the law's constitutionality.
Trump could pressure agencies such as the FTC and the Federal Communications Commission to take action against social media companies. But the agencies have previously resisted efforts by the White House to transform them into arbiters of political speech, with officials privately voicing opposition to a draft executive order that experts at the time said tested the limits of agency jurisdiction. The FCC regulates phone and broadband infrastructure, said Schwartzman, and lacks much jurisdiction over Twitter ( ) and Facebook ( ) in the first place. Schwartzman said one way Trump could seek to "harass" social media companies would be to pressure the FCC to deny those companies licenses for unrelated experiments involving satellite internet or wireless spectrum. Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump has considered establishing a White House commission to study allegations of conservative bias. But that only underscores the limits of Trump's direct influence on the matter.
Despite the limitations, growing tensions with the White House could still be perceived as a threat to the companies. Twitter and Facebook saw their shares dip on Wednesday on a day when the overall market was up.
Others argue that Trump should be allowed to lie and show his true self, but that argument forgets that a wide swath of the public lacks the knowledge - dare I say, intelligence - recognize the level of the untruthfulness. A column in the Washington Post makes the case of allowing Trump to hang himself. Here are excerpts:
Timothy Klausutis is right: His late wife deserves better than a president who has cynically seized on the tragic circumstances of her death at 28 and “perverted it for perceived political gain.”
Basic human decency, a quality manifestly lacking in Trump, argues in favor of granting Klausutis’s request. Yet, while my heart aches for him and his family, I think that, on balance, deleting the tweets would be a mistake.
Twitter is both a private company and a powerful public platform. Once it assumes the role of deciding what speech by public officials is to be allowed and what is to be taken down, it has ventured onto the slipperiest of slopes. I’m not sure I want Dorsey or his team deciding what the public should and shouldn’t see from the elected president of the United States. Even this one.
[U]nder Twitter’s ordinary terms of service, the platform would not only remove the tweets but also perhaps even Trump himself; some people have advocated for just that. But the president, like any world leader — except more so, with his 80 million followers — is no ordinary tweeter. The argument over what to do about Trump on Twitter is a subset of the larger debate about how to treat his outbursts and falsehoods, in particular whether the media becomes complicit simply by presenting them to a wider public. Thus, stretching back to the 2016 campaign, there has been vigorous debate over whether and how to cover Trump’s misinformation- and venom-filled campaign rallies. [B]ut I would argue that shining sunlight on Trump’s idiocy is the best disinfectant. Let the public witness him in his full glory and make its own judgment about whether he deserves a second term. Combine that with real-time chyrons and commentary calling out his falsehoods.
That is what Twitter usefully and appropriately did Tuesday when it appended a fact check to another set of Trump tweets about the supposed dangers of voting by mail. Twitter should do the same with Trump’s tweets about Scarborough
The fundamental problem isn’t Twitter — it’s Trump. He shouldn’t be de-platformed, but he must be defeated.
I have a real problem with the news media - and by extension, social media - when it allows itself to be a platform for outright lies and untruths. The news media does this when it reports lies by Trump and other Republicans and never indicates that the statements are demonstrably untrue. Sadly, the phenomenon is part of the news media's false equivalency mindset that fails to protect the public from blatant untruths and which helped elect Donald Trump in 2016. Social media has become as irresponsible as Facebook regularly allows the publication of falsehoods. And then there is Twitter which is Trump's favorite means of spreading lies and falsehoods - or at least until now when Twitter took the step of added information to refute the lies and inaccuracies in Trump’s tweets for the first time. If Twitter wants to be responsible, it will need to continue the practice and add such warnings to the vast majority of Trump's tweets. The New York Times looks at what happened and will hopefully continue to be applied to Trump and others who deliberately disseminate lies and untruths. Here are story excerpts (in the interest of full disclosure, I have a Twitter account I never use since I prefer this blog as a platform):
Twitter added information to refute the inaccuracies in
PresidentTrump’s tweets for the first time on Tuesday, after years of pressure over its inaction on his false and threatening posts.
The social media company added links late Tuesday to two of Mr. Trump’s tweets in which he had posted about mail-in ballots and falsely claimed that they would cause the November presidential election to be “rigged.”
The links — which were in blue lettering at the bottom of the posts and punctuated by an exclamation mark — urged people to “get the facts” about voting by mail. Clicking on the links led to a CNN story that said Mr. Trump’s claims were unsubstantiated and to a list of bullet points that Twitter had compiled rebutting the inaccuracies.
The warning labels were a minor addition to Mr. Trump’s tweets, but they represented a big shift in how Twitter deals with [Trump]
For years, the San Francisco company has faced criticism over Mr. Trump’s posts on his most favored social media platform, which he has used to bully, cajole and spread falsehoods. But Twitter has repeatedly said that the president’s messages did not violate its terms of service and that while Mr. Trump may have skirted the line of what was accepted under its rules, he never crossed it.
That changed Tuesday after a fierce backlash over tweets that Mr. Trump had posted about Lori Klausutis, a young woman who died in 2001 from complications of an undiagnosed heart condition while working for Joe Scarborough, a Florida congressman at the time. As part of his long-running feud with Mr. Scarborough, a host for MSNBC, Mr. Trump had posted false conspiracy theories about Ms. Klausutis’s death in recent days suggesting that Mr. Scarborough was involved.
Early Tuesday, a letter from the widower of Ms. Klausutis addressed to Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, became public. In it, Timothy Klausutis asked Twitter to delete Mr. Trump’s tweets about his late wife, calling them “horrifying lies.”
Twitter said it was “deeply sorry about the pain these statements” were causing the Klausutis family, but said that it would not remove Mr. Trump’s tweets because they did not violate its policies. Instead, the company added warning labels to other messages posted by the president on Tuesday, where he claimed the mail-in ballots themselves would be illegally printed.
The changes immediately set off accusations by Mr. Trump, who has more than 80 million followers on Twitter, and his 2020 re-election campaign that the company was biased against him.
A Twitter spokesman said Mr. Trump’s tweets about mail-in ballots “contain potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labeled to provide additional context.”
Disinformation experts said Twitter’s move indicated how social media platforms that had once declared themselves neutral were increasingly having to abandon that stance.
“This is the first time that Twitter has done something that has in some small way attempted to rein in the president,” said Tiffany C. Li, a visiting professor at Boston University School of Law. “There’s been a gradual shift in the way that Twitter has treated content moderation. You see them taking on more of their duty and responsibility to create a healthy online speech environment.”
Twitter faces singular pressure because it is Mr. Trump’s most frequently used method of communicating with the public.
But by doing nothing, Twitter was also being “misguided,” said Joan Donovan, research director at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center, who studies disinformation. “If world leaders are not kept to the same standard as everyone else, they wield more power to harass, defame and silence others.”
[L]ast October, Mr. Dorsey said the company would ban all political ads from the service because they presented challenges to civic discourse, “all at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale.” He worried such ads had “significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle.”
Twitter is not the only tech company struggling with moderating Mr. Trump’s threats and falsehoods online. Over the past few days, Mr. Trump posted identical comments about Ms. Klausutis’s death on Facebook. One of his posts there gained about 4,000 comments and 2,000 shares and was not mentioned by Mr. Klausutis. On Twitter, that same post, which questioned whether Mr. Scarborough had gotten away with murder, was shared 31,000 times and received 23,000 replies.
Until this week, Twitter had maintained that Mr. Trump did not violate its policies and that the company would take action if he crossed the line.
“We believe it’s important that the world sees how global leaders think and how they act. And we think the conversation that ensues around that is critical,” Mr. Dorsey said in an interview with HuffPost last year. If Mr. Trump posted something that violated Twitter’s policies, Mr. Dorsey added, “we’d certainly talk about it.”
On Tuesday, the company turned that talk into action.
If Twitter wanted to be truly responsible, it would suspend Trump's account and bar him from creating a new one.
Tuesday, May 26, 2020
|(Screenshot: Fox Business)|
Personally, I have long viewed watching Fox News as a form of self-administered lobotomy given that studies have shown its viewers to be among the most poorly informed and its programming often consisting of propaganda rather than legitimate news. Now, in the age of Covid-19, a new study (which can be found here) suggests that watching Fox News may also be harmful to one's health and may literally endanger Fox viewers' lives but also the lives of others in their communities as Fox News viewers failed to accept the dangers of the pandemic and refuse to comply with social distancing, wearing masks, etc. A piece in Talking Points Memo looks at the study's findings which also note the ties between support of Donald Trump and noncompliance with stay home orders and other heath precautions. Here are article excerpts:
A new study produced by business school profs at Columbia and University of Chicago suggests that viewing Fox News is strongly correlated with ignoring social distancing guidance during the first weeks of the COVID19 epidemic and is in fact driving that non-compliance.
The researchers looked at geospatial data derived from anonymized cell phone data and cable channel position by ZIP code around the country. They found that a 1% increase in Fox News viewership in a zip code reduced social distancing by 8.9%.
The study abstract follows …
We test for and measure the effects of cable news in the US on regional differences in compliance with recommendations by health experts to practice social distancing during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. We use a quasi-experimental design to estimate the causal effect of Fox News viewership on stay-at-home behavior by using only the incremental local viewership due to the quasi-random assignment of channel positions in a local cable line-up. The average partial effect of Fox News viewership in a zipcode implies that 1 percentage point increase in cable viewership reduces the propensity to stay at home by 8.9 percentage points compared to the prepandemic average. We find a persuasion rate of Fox News on non-compliance with stay-at-home behavior during the crisis of about 33.5%-50% across our various social distancing metrics.
From reviewing the study it’s not entirely clear to me whether the persuasive effect of Fox News is demonstrated as opposed to the correlation. Fox News viewership is a marker for conservatives. Conservatives are less likely to social distance, etc. But that likely amounts to something similar since Fox is the key source of political information not only for Fox viewers but for the conservative information ecosystem generally.
The authors do note, revealingly, that they are not able to fully distinguish between the impact of Fox News commentators versus the administration officials and especially [Trump]
the Presidentwhose views are so aggressively repeated and amplified.
I have long been baffled by the support older voters tend to give to the GOP - a party that consistently wants to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The only explanation is that GOP appeals to racism and religion have for years duped many seniors into voting against their own best interests. Now, Donald Trump's incompetent handling of the Covid-19 pandemic may be changing this blind loyalty to the GOP and could cause Republicans a difficult time in November. If this happens, it will be long overdue in my view. A column in the Washington Post looks at what may be a critical defection from the GOP base that, with luck, will impact not only Trump but also his enablers and sycophants within the Republican Party. Here are column highlights:
One of the most durable political assets that Republicans have enjoyed throughout the 21st century is their edge among Americans 65 and older, who tend to turn out at the polls more reliably any other group.
PresidentTrump’s inept and erratic handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic, he is rapidly losing support among the age group most vulnerable to its ravages — which is a big warning sign to Republicans as they look to the fall. Trump has also been showing slippage in support among the next-oldest cohort, those 55 and older.
The shift has been showing up in a string of recent polls, reportedly including those that have been conducted by Trump’s own campaign. One of the most striking is a survey of 44 battleground House districts done by Democratic pollster Geoff Garin during the second week of May.
In those districts, voters over 65 said they had supported Trump in 2016 by a 22-point margin — 58 percent to 36 percent.
But this year, those same respondents are practically evenly divided, with 47 percent saying they are planning to vote for the president and 43 percent expressing an intention to cast their ballots for former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee. That is an enormous net swing of 18 percentage points.
“They’re in real trouble if they can’t count on a strong showing with seniors,” said Garin, who did the survey for a client he declined to name. “Trump is blowing what had become an important Republican advantage.”
Not since Al Gore in 2000 has a Democratic presidential candidate won the 65-and-over vote.
Practically from the outset of the pandemic, Republicans have been sending a message to older Americans, with varying degrees of subtlety, that their health is not as important as that of the economy. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick actually said it out loud: “Those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves. But don’t sacrifice the country.”
Insensitive comments aside, a bigger problem for Trump and the Republicans may be that older Americans have been paying close attention to the president’s handling of the crisis.
They are the group most attuned to television news, which means they are more likely than younger voters to have seen with their own eyes some of the more bizarre things Trump has done, such as entertaining the possibility that ingesting bleach could cure covid-19. They know, though Trump denies it now, that he was initially dismissive of the dangers posed by the coronavirus. On a daily basis, they have seen his petulance and his blame-shifting, and heard his flat-out lies.
Older voters also have outsize political clout in some of the states that will be most critical this fall. Florida, where Biden is leading Trump in recent polls, is the most obvious example. But Arizona, where Trump suddenly finds himself struggling, is also home to a lot of retirees. Nearly 20 percent of the population of Pennsylvania, a key swing state, is 65 or older, which is the eighth-highest percentage in the country.
It would still be a stretch for Biden to carry a majority of older voters overall. But if he could make a significant dent in Trump’s margin with them, it might give the former vice president a cushion against the very real possibility that younger voters will not show up in the numbers that Democrats hope.
Much is riding, of course, on what happens as Trump and the Republicans push to reopen the country. If they move too quickly and trigger a second wave of infections, it could arrive just in time for the election. But at least one thing is certain: The age group most likely to suffer is also the one most likely to vote.
Monday, May 25, 2020
|Crowd not social distancing in Alamance County, North Carolina, on Saturday.|
Back in early April Alabama governor Kay Ivey said the following: “Y’all, we are not Louisiana, we are not New York state, we are not California,” she said, suggesting that the fate of hard-hit parts of the country would not be shared by Alabama. Now, Alabama's Capital, Montgomery, has so many covid-19 cases that the infected are being sent to Birmingham since Montgomery lacks sufficient hospital capacity. Ivey represents the mind-set of far too many residents of rural areas and red states that almost seemed to take glee as the pandemic hit New York City and other large urban areas especially hard, Now, the pandemic is moving into the very same rural areas and red states, many of which are woefully unprepared and lack hospitals and medical personnel to deal with the crisis. A piece in the Washington Post looks at the situation, noting that the pandemic "has taken hold in counties where residents flout social distancing guidelines or believe the pandemic to be exaggerated, the virus’s lethality a myth spread by President Trump’s political foes and a liberal media." Here are article highlights:
The novel coronavirus arrived in an Indiana farm town mid-planting season and took root faster than the fields of seed corn, infecting hundreds and killing dozens. It tore though a pork processing plant and spread outward in a desolate stretch of the Oklahoma Panhandle. And in Colorado’s sparsely populated eastern plains, the virus erupted in a nursing home and a pair of factories, burning through the crowded quarters of immigrant workers and a vulnerable elderly population.
As the death toll nears 100,000, the disease caused by the virus has made a fundamental shift in who it touches and where it reaches in America, according to a Washington Post analysis of case data and interviews with public health professionals in several states. The pandemic that first struck in major metropolises is now increasingly finding its front line in the country’s rural areas; counties with acres of farmland, cramped meatpacking plants, out-of-the-way prisons and few hospital beds.
In these areas, where 60 million Americans live, populations are poorer, older and more prone to health problems such as diabetes and obesity than those of urban areas. They include immigrants and the undocumented — the “essential” workers who have kept the country’s sprawling food industry running, but who rarely have the luxury of taking time off for illness.
Rural counties now have some of the highest rates of covid-19 cases and deaths in the country, topping even the hardest-hit New York City boroughs and signaling a new phase of the pandemic — one of halting, scattered outbreaks that could devastate still more of America’s most vulnerable towns as states lift stay-at-home orders.
In many of those places, where the health-care system is already stretched thin, even a minor surge in patients is enough to overwhelm.
Where and when hot spots arise in America’s most isolated counties is, in part, a matter of chance. But crowded spaces, and populations with poor access to health care, quickly facilitate the spread.
Of the 25 rural counties with the highest per capita case rates, 20 have a meatpacking plant or prison where the virus took hold and spread with abandon, then leaped into the community when workers took it home.
It has taken hold in counties where residents flout social distancing guidelines or believe the pandemic to be exaggerated, the virus’s lethality a myth spread by President Trump’s political foes and a liberal media.
“We’ve got a little bit of everything: folks who feel their rights have been taken away because they’ve been asked to stay home and they lost jobs and they’re really hurting, and we have folks who are very concerned and frightened and won’t leave their house,” said Rebecca Burns, a health officer for the agency that covers Hillsdale County, Mich., which last month topped the state for the highest death toll among rural counties, after a nursing home outbreak. . . . . We have to continue to watch,” Burns added, during a week when members of a conservative militia stood outside a Hillsdale County barbershop, brandishing guns to “protect” its reopening, in defiance of the governor’s orders. “Anyone who thinks this is one and done is probably wrong,” she said.
Lim also fears the outbreak is facilitated by people in the conservative farming community not following preventive measures. “If you go to the local Walmart, I would say 10 percent of people are wearing masks, and the restaurants … that are open are packed,” Lim said. “I’m a registered Republican, by the way,” he added. “But [people] don’t seem to know the science behind it. Even though they see the news, they just think it’s all overblown.”
To epidemiologists and physicians, this checkerboard spread was all very predictable. It was never a question of whether the virus would hit rural America, but when.
Early on, two warning signals blared from opposite sides of the country.
In Blaine County, Idaho, population 2,200, an outbreak spurred by the annual influx of wealthy tourists seeking ski slopes turned the resort region into one of the first rural hot spots. The infection rate soared and was, at one point in late March, the highest in the nation.
That same month, more than 2,000 miles away, the virus began its siege on southwest Georgia. Most believe it was introduced at a well-attended Dougherty County funeral, an event that soon led to many more funerals. From Albany, the county seat and a regional hub, infections radiated to neighboring locales with ferocious intensity.
Health officials have estimated that urban areas have more than twice the number of physicians per capita as rural areas and more than 8.5 times the number of specialists.
And in many more regions, there are no hospitals for hundreds of miles, the result of closures amid crushing financial pressures. Since 2010, 130 rural hospitals have shut their doors, according to an ongoing study from the University of North Carolina.
Sunday, May 24, 2020
One of the hallmarks of the Trump/Pence regime has been its assault on environmental protection and health safety regulations which will leave the nation and world dirtier and Americans less safe and less healthy. Part of the motivation is a contempt for average Americans and a desire to allow big business to operated unrestricted. The other is Trump's obsession with destroying everything Barrack Obama - who occupied the White House for eight years without scandals and criminal convictions of members his administration - accomplished. The threat to average Americans is real and, as a piece in The Atlantic notes, has caused a number of members of the Obama administration to leave the lucrative private sector and return to politics and activism and advocacy. Their motivation? To protect the environment and concern for their children and grandchildren. Here are article excerpts:
Washington legend has it that bureaucrats and political operatives overwhelmingly stay in issue advocacy or politics after their bosses leave office. But that notion is decades out-of-date. These days, many top officials who leave the D.C. swamp go directly to the private sector—and are paid handsomely to do so.
More of former President Barack Obama’s top aides entered the private sector than from any other administration in the past four decades . . . . Yet as Trump’s aggressive rollback of Obama-administration policies has continued, several former Obama officials who went into academia or took private-sector jobs have since returned to politics or advocacy work.
Take Gina McCarthy, who spent seven chaotic years in Washington, four of them as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Obama. McCarthy was happy to pass the first years of the Trump administration in Boston, where she got to ride her bike to work every day as a professor at Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health.
Her Trump-appointed successors at the EPA announced changes to federal standards almost daily. By June 2019, they had done away with the Obama-era regulation to curb carbon emissions from power plants, and set their sights on redrafting a rule to allow cars to discharge more polluting gases—a change that the auto industry itself largely opposed. But late last year, when a rewrite of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, which limits the levels of mercury emitted from power plants, seemed imminent, McCarthy decided that she was ready to make a change.
So when the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental-advocacy nonprofit that had been searching for a new president, called her last fall, McCarthy said she was in.
McCarthy wasn’t alone: Last June, former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell became the interim head of the Nature Conservancy, the top environmental-lobbying spender, which takes in more money than the American Cancer Society. Tina Tchen, a former chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama, initially joined a law firm before taking a job leading the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund late last year. And former administration officials such as Elissa Slotkin and Lauren Underwood ran for congressional seats in 2018—and won.
The former officials who decided, instead, to stick it out in (or rejoin) the less remunerative world of politics and activism were likely spurred on by the dramatic operational and regulatory shifts seen in Trump’s White House, Neera Tanden, the president of the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress, told me.
“Many people recognize the existential threat to progressive issues and progressive values [caused] by the Trump administration,” Tanden said. “And it has called a lot of people into the battle.”
McCarthy’s NRDC, which has its own political-action committee, has emerged as one of the most aggressive challengers to the Trump administration’s environmental policies. The group plans to spend more than $5 million on federal-election efforts by June. It has donated more to candidates this election cycle than most other environmental organizations, topping the former Democratic candidate Tom Steyer’s group, NextGen Climate Action. Since Trump took office, the NRDC has sued his administration more than 100 times over a range of deregulatory actions and won more than 90 percent of the cases that have been resolved. Its victories include reinstating a ban on oil drilling in the Arctic and penalties for automakers who violate emissions rules.
The Trump administration’s actions on the mercury rule especially infuriated McCarthy. Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that can lead to impaired vision, muscle weakness, and changes in mental function. Children and unborn infants are the most vulnerable. As Obama’s last EPA head and a top air-pollution official at the agency before that, McCarthy was intimately involved in drafting the rule, which she said was broadly accepted by all parties.
The EPA finalized changes to the mercury rule on April 16, declaring it not “appropriate and necessary.” Industry groups and environmentalists alike had opposed alterations. There’s “no basis to repeal these important and long-overdue” protections, Exelon, a major utility company, wrote to regulators in a 2019 public comment.
The Trump administration’s squabbling over the rule drove McCarthy “absolutely nuts,” she said. “That’s when I realized what they were doing made no sense from a standard-setting process. It was just to destroy everything that had been done before. It had no explanation otherwise.”
NRDC certainly has the money to push its agenda. Through the group’s political arm, McCarthy will have millions to put toward endorsing and advertising for candidates in key 2020 races and promoting the ultimate goal: unseating Trump. The fund budgeted $6.2 million for election and lobbying efforts in fiscal 2018, ahead of the midterms. This money, which also supports voter-turnout efforts, can make a significant difference in close House and Senate races.
McCarthy doesn’t think of the rollbacks of her work at the EPA—or even the attacks from her critics—as a personal affront. But she sees her job as deeply personal nonetheless. . . . Everything that I thought I was working towards, which is really protecting my family and other families from damage from pollution, particularly—that was all at risk. And I couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore.”