Saturday, April 22, 2023
Florida Republicans on Wednesday expanded a state law that prohibits classroom instruction on L.G.B.T.Q. subjects through third grade. Now the “Don’t Say Gay” law will also apply to students in grades four to 12.
Though the law might appear to be just about allowing parents a say in their children’s education — now up to high school graduation — its breadth and vagueness have a chilling effect on what students and teachers think they can say about sexual orientation and gender identity. Just as dangerously, scientific research has linked the gag order’s implicit message of exclusion, shame and unworthiness to tangible health harms for L.G.B.T.Q. youth.
The original law, in effect since July 2022, was championed as a way to ensure that very young children wouldn’t be exposed to supposedly age-inappropriate topics. But the law’s expansion to all grades casts doubt on whether that was ever the goal.
I spent decades studying another notorious anti-L.G.B.T.Q. gag rule: the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that banned military members from saying they were gay. Its lessons are instructive. As with “Don’t Say Gay” laws, proponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” promised to protect the rights, privacy and dignity of people on all sides of the fraught debate around sexuality. The policy was sold as a way to prevent the culture wars from infecting a key institution of American society. Yet in reality, it did the opposite, heightening division, undermining trust, hampering morale and driving capable people away.
Our country now risks replicating the damage of this failed policy, but this time for children. Since 2021, versions of the “Don’t Say Gay” law have been introduced in 24 state legislatures. The political calculus here is evident. . . . if additional politically convenient gag orders were to pass, they would harm L.G.B.T.Q. students across the country.
A 2008 report by a panel of senior retired military officers provides a damning summary of the individual and institutional costs of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Even speech restrictions that don’t directly ban coming out are sure to reproduce this corrosive dynamic by impeding the sort of free and authentic exchanges between students and teachers that are vital to cultivating trusting relationships and cohesive learning communities.
Indeed, one of the reasons “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was so harmful was that penalizing expression — through direct or indirect pressure to self-police how one appears to others — harms both personal health and social cohesion. For L.G.B.T.Q. people especially, disclosing their true selves and being accepted by their community is critical to their well-being. When sexual orientation and gender identity are marginalized, young people can feel shamed and suppress their identities in ways that harm their mental and physical health.
Studies bear this out. . . . We found that being able to come out is a crucial part of healthy development for L.G.B.T.Q. young people and “can reduce the stress associated with worrying about future rejection.” Yet “Don’t Say Gay” laws threaten the future of the clubs and support groups that often serve as the only safe spaces for students to come out.
Evidence also shows that hostile or negative social environments, especially in schools, cause or compound problems for L.G.B.T.Q. youth. One study involving more than 9,000 students found that L.G.B. students who experienced hostility and anti-gay victimization “reported higher levels of substance use, suicidality and sexual risk behaviors.” . . . . suicide attempts were “20 percent greater in unsupportive environments compared to supportive environments,” stark evidence of the difference made by gay-friendly climates.
As gender identity and expression have become ground zero of the culture wars, transgender and gender-nonconforming youth have experienced particularly hostile climates, evidenced by outright bans on transition-related health care. A climate like this is dangerous.
Our research reviews have found that even just the fear of being stigmatized or mistreated has a measurable negative impact. Laws like the Florida bill will cause harm whether or not direct censorship takes place.
As much as discriminatory laws harm L.G.B.T.Q. people, policies of equal treatment can help — even just by virtue of the affirming messages they send. A 2017 study found that suicide attempts by young people dropped by 7 percent in states that legalized same-sex marriage. . . . Young people who are not yet certain of their identity can benefit enormously from precisely the kinds of discussion and conversation now being prohibited.
The science is overwhelmingly clear. Affirming young people’s L.G.B.T.Q. identity and providing them with supportive communities will help them thrive. Silencing or stigmatizing them will not.
We know so much about what hurts and helps L.G.B.T.Q. youth. It is heartbreaking to watch lawmakers pass bills that are known to cause harm and whose only upside is scoring political points. Laws like these don’t actually give parents any more rights than they currently have, while the damage they cause is already palpable, with students sharing more and more stories of censorship, isolation and fear. When combined with book bans and limits on transition-related care, along with a restrictive federal bill passed by the Republican-controlled House, the landscape for L.G.B.T.Q. youth looks grim.
We know how to make these young lives better. We also know how to make them worse. The question is whether the adults actually care.
Uganda’s parliament is set to debate a new anti-gay bill next week, as the country’s president called for a “medical opinion” on the deviancy of homosexuals. The bill, besides criminalizing homosexuality, also criminalizes the “promotion” and “abetting” of homosexuality and follows a January parliamentary investigation into an alleged promotion of homosexuality in schools. It’s no surprise, given how rampant anti-gay sentiment is in the country.
In September, I came across a video that was going viral on Twitter in Uganda. In the video, 26-year-old Elisha Mukisa, who is reported to have been previously imprisoned on defilement charges, speaks for a little over eight minutes detailing how he was lured as a minor into acting in gay porn by Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG)—a nongovernmental organization (NGO) based in Kampala working to support and defend LGBTQ+ persons in the country.
The video caught my attention for several reasons. The first was the anti-gay rhetoric it catalyzed in the following days and the corresponding moral panic. In the ensuing conversation on social media, SMUG was defined as a threat to children that parents had to watch out for. One Twitter user, @Ashernamanya, wrote: “Uganda must be for God Almighty not for Bum lickers the Gays. SMUG an NGO is recruiting young children into Homosexuality and acting the gay. They need to be arrested.”
The second reason the video kindled my interest was that it added to the growing list of instances of mass media being weaponized in Uganda to propagate the “ex-gay” narrative, in which a person claims to have been “lured” and “recruited” into homosexuality. It was also organized by the Family Life Network’s Stephen Langa, who in March 2009 put together a similar seminar called “Exposing the Homosexuals’ Agenda.” The language and presentation of luring and recruitment (as though it were a job listing) were not, in fact, novel to my ears, and it is a phenomenon I have seen across African news media.
It has deep links to white evangelical Christianity and is an export of a made-in-the-USA movement and ideology that is polarizing African countries and harming and endangering LGBTQ+ people.
While it looked innovative, it was not the first time such a press conference was creatively planned to spark panic and parade out a person claiming to be ex-gay. It was also not peculiar to Uganda; it is a method that was and continues to be used in both puritanical and evangelical Christianity in countries from Ghana to Kenya and Nigeria.
From the days of European colonialism, when sodomy warranted the death penalty, the church has been the face of the anti-LGBTQ+ movement and has deployed language and framing consistent with present-day ex-gay movements.
The rhetoric relies on a “prodigal son” framing that checks out with the Bible, in which gay people are only valid as long as they turn away from their sexuality. . . . When the pro-conversion therapy Christian group Exodus International put Yvette Cantu Schneider and other ex-gay spokespeople on TV in the 2000s to talk about being formerly gay, it was because of such beliefs.
[A]s the ex-gay movement lost its grip in the United States, it started to reach for relevance elsewhere. . . . The church has been involved in manufacturing and sustaining the ex-gay framework in more than subtle and metaphorical ways. Evangelical preachers have traveled across Africa, verbalizing this harmful language.
In the early 2000s, American evangelical Scott Lively was part of a series of anti-gay events that culminated in Uganda’s 2009 “Kill the gays” bill, which called for the death penalty for what it described as “aggravated homosexuality.” Lively had written books such as The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party and Seven Steps to Recruit-Proof Your Child against what he described as “pro-homosexual indoctrination.”
This recasting of homosexuality as akin to pedophilia, alongside the widespread use of similar language, is meant to legitimize the response and crackdown by governments and institutions. If gay people are not successfully framed as predators, then extreme measures against them could be questioned.
However, the violence that LGBTQ+ people experience in Africa has been justified by these anti-gay groups through the construction of a narrative of intent by “them” to target children.
That same rhetoric drawing connections between homosexuality and pedophilia has remained largely unchanged from how evangelicals created panic around gay people in the early days of the anti-gay movement. In a 1981 letter, U.S. preacher Jerry Falwell described gay people as out to “recruit,” saying “many of them are out after my children and your children” and that they “must not be recruited to a profane lifestyle.” Falwell also added that gay people threatened families because they didn’t reproduce.
These comments on recruitment, destruction, and being a threat to families now cloud much of the discourse around homosexuality in several African countries. They were present in the Mukisa press conference, are currently in use as Ghana’s Parliament debates a draconian anti-gay bill, and continue to swirl across the anti-LGBTQ+ movement on the continent. In an African context, visits and speeches from prominent Americans such as Lively and Falwell have the effect of legitimizing homophobia; their straight white male identities crown it with credibility.
I do not mean to exonerate Uganda, Ghana, or other African countries of homophobia or suggest that they are incapable of it without external backing. They are.
However, claiming that homosexuality is uniquely Western offers the United States’ ex-gay movement the opportunity to present itself as being on the right side of history, as being close to the sources of “moral decadence” but still resisting it. For Ugandan and African homophobes, the reverse is the case. It gives them a premise for absolution—an anticolonial veneer that allows them to say, “This was brought here from abroad, and we need to eradicate it.”
Proponents of ex-gay and anti-gay philosophies depend on the permanence of gay people for their message to be relevant. They require an enemy for their fight to be valid, and they go to great lengths to construct this enemy as a well-funded and all-powerful foreign movement while falsely presenting the local anti-gay movement as a grassroots underdog, despite its heavy reliance on U.S. evangelicals for publicity.
These people are vicious and dangerous and too many Americans fail to realize that banning abortion and demonizing gays are only the first phase of their agenda.
Friday, April 21, 2023
Every public library is an exception. The world outside is costly and cordoned off, but here no one is charged, and no one is turned away. People browse for books and go online. They learn English, meet with friends, dawdle, nap, and play. For children, the public library is a place to build an inner life, unencumbered by grownups. Story time is an invitation to that experience. A librarian reads a book aloud to a huddle of kids seated cross-legged on the floor. It’s part early-literacy tool, part theatre, and looks basically the same wherever it happens. The public libraries in Flathead County, Montana, a region of mountainous beauty bordering Canada and Glacier National Park, offer seven story times per week, for babies on up. Three scattered branch locations—in Kalispell, Columbia Falls, and Bigfork—serve a population of a hundred and eleven thousand people, spread out over five thousand rugged square miles.
On a spring day in 2019, Ellie Newell, the youth-services librarian at the main branch, in a historic post office in downtown Kalispell, hosted a special story time for a visiting class of preschoolers. Newell was raised by librarians and had taken the job straight out of graduate school, drawn to Flathead’s reputation for “doing cutting-edge library stuff.” Several years earlier, the library had rebranded to adopt a new name and logo, as well as an updated, possibly foolhardy mission. The Flathead County Library System became the ImagineIF Libraries and set out to use technology and interactive programs to bring together far-flung residents of the county.
Like most children’s librarians, Newell did a lot of story times and kept a stack of read-aloud books on her desk. She considered it important to mix things up: some books with animals, some with people; some classics, some new releases. At the top of Newell’s pile that day was “Prince & Knight,” a fairy-tale picture book published in 2018. The story features a charismatic dragon, but no lady who wins a warrior’s heart. The romance instead unfolds between the titular prince (a man) and knight (also a man). Newell thought the book was sweet: a bit edgy in its gayness, but still chaste and traditional, culminating in marriage. . . . The children giggled and clapped. But, at the end of the reading, their teacher looked upset.
The class had come from a Catholic school, and, a few days later, the teacher wrote to the Daily Inter Lake, a local newspaper, saying how “shocked and grieved” she was by the presentation of a book about “homosexual marriage.” She argued that “such a controversial topic” should not be introduced to “innocent children.” Flathead County had always trended conservative, and harbored clusters of Ammon Bundy extremists, but its mainstream politics, until recently, tended toward a live-and-let-live libertarianism. The weeks that followed stunned library staff. Newell, who is openly bisexual, was harassed: “I had people get in my face, yell, and spit, and scream an inch from my face.” At an outreach event, she was grabbed by a man complaining of the “library’s agenda about transgenderism.”
The responses to the “Prince & Knight” reading tracked with the county’s divergent politics. Was the story time a sign of open-mindedness or proof that the library was promoting “all these alternative lifestyles,” as one Kalispell man wrote to the Inter Lake? The Catholic schoolteacher filed a formal challenge to “Prince & Knight,” seeking its removal from ImagineIF’s collection. The library director, Connie Behe, recommended that the book be retained because the work as a whole conformed to ImagineIF standards. The final decision was up to the library’s five-member board of trustees.
The board voted to keep the book in the collection, and subsequent meetings were quiet. It appeared that the tumult over Newell’s story time had settled. Then, two months later, a spot on the board opened up and Adams applied for the position.
When Adams applied, a supporter of ImagineIF went to Brodehl with an op-ed that Adams had written in the Inter Lake just after Donald Trump’s Inauguration. In the article, Adams instructed liberals to “toughen up and take it,” . . . . “I have to be ashamed of America in order not to offend an illegal alien. I have to let perverts use the restroom with my wife.” The library supporter hoped that Brodehl would be shocked by Adams’s polemic.
In fact, Brodehl’s fellow county commissioners, who belonged to the right wing of the Flathead Republican Party, had encouraged Adams to apply for the library board. The commissioners seemed to think that the library director and employees were too liberal, and that the library board too often bent to their will. Adams agreed. . . . He said repeatedly that, if it were up to him to create a library, it would “be a religious library.” The commissioners unanimously appointed him to the board.
For years, the Flathead County Library System operated with little controversy. It did what it could with a small budget, a team of three dozen full- and part-time employees, and the fund-raising help of a dedicated nonprofit. . . . At the new ImagineIF, furniture was removed to increase space for meetings and play. A book bike went out to the community, and youth-services librarians expanded their story times in parks and schools. There were no more fines for overdue materials.
The changes were popular, but not universally so. Some residents didn’t like that the county’s name had been erased. They saw ImagineIF as a space of haughty leftism, run by women with master’s degrees.
In retrospect, the skirmishing over ImagineIF contained the germ of today’s library wars. Public libraries—once as popular with libertarian autodidacts as leftists—have become targets of the Republican Party, and not just in Flathead County. Local-library systems, and local librarians, are being vilified nationwide as peddlers of Marxism and child pornography. Whatever faith there was in public learning and public space is fraying.
Last month, the Missouri House of Representatives tried to eliminate all funding for public libraries. A group of citizens in Ada County, Idaho, attempted to force a vote that would dissolve the local-library system. Tactics previously applied in public schools, ostensibly to protect children, are now being used against city- and county-library systems whose mandate is to help everyone.
Part of the issue in Flathead County was a disagreement over the term “everyone.” The commissioners and conservative trustees appeared to prioritize the majority. If the area was predominantly white, straight, and Christian, then books such as “Prince & Knight” surely had no place in the public library. The workers of ImagineIF saw things differently. . . . “The library has always been an organization that collects not just for majority populations but also minority populations,” said John Chrastka, of the national advocacy group EveryLibrary, which advised ImagineIF’s staff and trustees. S. R. Ranganathan, a founder of library science, made the same argument a century ago, in his statement of basic principles: “Every reader his book. Every book its reader.”
In 2018, Crowley grew tired of her dealings with the commissioners and retired early. Behe, the longtime assistant director, took over. She shared Crowley’s enthusiasm for making ImagineIF “an inspired, creative place,” but had a softer, conciliatory bearing that she hoped would mollify the commissioners. Not long into her term, though, came the controversy over “Prince & Knight.”
The county commissioners, however, were intent on jerking the library rightward. Their recruitment of Adams was only the first step in remaking the board. In the summer of 2020, they reappointed an incumbent trustee, Heidi Roedel, a Christian homeschooler and a G.O.P. activist. A year later, they replaced a moderate Republican who was twice named Trustee of the Year by the Montana Library Association with David Ingram, a retired anesthesiologist who regarded contemporary notions of race and gender identity as incompatible with his Christian world view.
Ingram, Roedel, and Adams secured a three-vote majority on the five-member library board. The conservatives were in control.
In July of 2021, just after Ingram’s appointment, Behe stepped down as director. A current employee of ImagineIF told me that the “sheer strain” had forced her out. Behe took a library job in Tacoma, Washington, and wrote, in her farewell note, “As public servants, the library director and staff don’t get to cherry-pick which interests, perspectives, and values are represented through library materials and programs, even when it violates their own values and perspectives, or those of Trustees.” Shortly thereafter, Newell, the youth-services librarian, left ImagineIF for a better-paid position in Bozeman, one of the wealthiest cities in Montana.
A woman named Carmen Cuthbertson . . . . inveighed against “Gender Queer” to a library worker named Ben Mason, who has long blond hair and identifies as nonbinary. To Mason, it felt personal. It was as if she had said, “Hi, I’d like to complain about your general identity,” they told me. “It was a big ‘fuck you.’ ” . . . . Cuthbertson is a Swiss immigrant and an active member of the county G.O.P. She filed a formal challenge to “Gender Queer,” arguing that it contributed to the “mainstreaming of fringe experiences and behavior” and reflected the “state of mind of a troubled individual.”
At a board retreat held soon after Cummins started, the trustees and librarians arrived with very different priorities. Ingram was upset that ImagineIF had the book version of the Times’ “1619 Project,” but no books that criticized that project. Adams wanted to rewrite the library’s policies to give the board more say—over book displays, for instance. (He denied that he was trying to exert control and said that it was routine for board members to review ImagineIF’s policies.) He also wanted to remove all references to the American Library Association, which prescribes standards for public libraries.
ImagineIF employees used the retreat to highlight their dismal working conditions. They presented a survey that found a “hostile environment for L.G.B.T.Q. and non-Christian staff and public.” They were being called pedophiles and groomers and, in recent weeks, had logged many instances of patrons hiding or vandalizing books that dealt with sex or BIPOC identity. The board members looked unconcerned.
The fights at ImagineIF also played out on much larger stages. In the Montana legislature, and ten other Republican-controlled statehouses, lawmakers introduced legislation that would criminalize the distribution of “obscene materials” to minors by public librarians, public-school employees, and museum workers—groups long exempted from obscenity statutes, given their interaction with a range of subjects and texts. Politicians from tiny, rural towns gave speeches on the dangers posed by the transgender lobby and comic books.
Thursday, April 20, 2023
The unpleasant reality facing the anti-abortion movement is that most Americans don’t actually want to ban abortion.
This explains why the pro-life summer of triumph, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, led to a season of such demoralizing political outcomes. Voters in Montana, Kansas, and Kentucky in November rejected ballot measures to make abortion illegal; just last month, in Wisconsin, voters elected an abortion-rights supporter to the state supreme court.
Yet the movement’s activists don’t seem to care. Thirteen states automatically banned most abortions with trigger laws designed to go into effect when Roe fell; a Texas judge this month stayed the FDA approval of the abortion pill mifepristone, setting in motion what is sure to be a drawn-out legal battle; and some lawmakers are pursuing restrictions on traveling out of state for the procedure—what they call “abortion trafficking.”
[A] new generation of anti-abortion leaders is ascendant—one that is arguably bolder and more uncompromising than its predecessors. This cohort, still high on the fumes of last summer’s victory, is determined to construct its ideal post-Roe America. And it’s forging ahead—come hell, high water, or public disgust.
The groups this new generation leads “are not afraid to lose short term if they think the long-term gain will be eliminating abortion from the country,”
Doggedness and moral conviction have always characterized the anti-abortion movement. Activists have sustained their energy for 50 years “by believing that success was possible, even in the absence of clear victories,” Daniel K. Williams, a history professor at the University of West Georgia, told me. Dobbs gave this new generation a taste of victory. Activists like Hawkins are bolder now. Without Roe, they reason, anything is possible.
Hawkins’s master plan to completely eradicate abortion in America begins with passing as many state controls as possible. She calculates that 26 state legislatures contain enough anti-abortion Republicans to be amenable to a strict ban of some sort, and her organization is pushing an “early abortion” model, which means that it drafts and supports legislation restricting abortion either entirely or after six weeks. Hawkins claims credit for pressuring reluctant Republican state leaders in Florida to take up the six-week abortion ban that Governor Ron DeSantis signed late Friday night.
Yet American culture seems to be moving in the opposite direction. The Dobbs ruling, though exciting for anti-abortion activists, was so enraging for abortion-rights supporters that, in some places, they responded by enshrining the right to abortion into state law. These and other political losses suggest that the pro-life movement is already overreaching—and generating a backlash. “It’s breathtaking to see people so motivated and so well funded to push an agenda that is so incredibly unpopular,” Jamie Manson, the president of the abortion-rights organization Catholics for Choice, told me. The months since Dobbs have exposed a fundamental tension between the outcome that abortion-rights opponents want and the one democracy supports.
Post-Roe, we can expect these hungry, mobilized activists to seek new conquests. But even as they do, pro-life leaders will have to wonder whether they are guiding their movement toward righteous victory—or humiliating defeat.
The piece at CNN looks at DeSantis and Florida's new cruelty directed towards immigrants which may well damage Florida's economy. Again, the wants of the party base are all that matter and morality and humane treatment of others are nowhere on the GOP radar. Here are excerpts:
In the coming weeks, Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature is expected to pass a package of immigration measures championed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. These proposals are the harshest crackdown on illegal immigration by a state in over a decade. “We need to do everything in our power to protect the people of Florida from what’s going on at the border and the border crisis,” DeSantis said at a February press conference.
Unfortunately, the proposals from DeSantis will not help solve the border crisis, let alone protect residents of the Sunshine State. The measures he is backing are likely unconstitutional and certainly impractical. They will harm undocumented immigrants, their families and other Floridians. If enacted, the measures hold the potential to seriously damage the state’s economy, as its agriculture, hospitality and service sectors depend heavily on immigrant workers. The American Immigration Council estimates that immigrants make up over a quarter of the state’s labor force.
Under the proposed legislation, people sheltering, hiring, or transporting undocumented immigrants would face felony charges. Hospitals would be required to ask patients their immigration status and then report it to the state. The measures would invalidate out-of-state drivers’ licenses issued to undocumented immigrants.
If some of these ideas sound familiar, that’s because several states have tried to enact similar laws in the past. Arizona, Alabama and Georgia tried their own versions of strict immigration laws, only to have them largely struck down by the courts. The Supreme Court was clear in US v Arizona (2012) that immigration policy is the jurisdiction of the federal government, and it is hard to see how DeSantis can get around this established precedent.
Because Florida’s proposed immigration measures are written so broadly, all kinds of everyday activities could become a crime for people living there. This would include citizens and legal residents, like a pastor who gives an undocumented immigrant a ride to church, a landlord who rents to a family with an undocumented member, or a person who hires an undocumented caregiver for their elderly parents. The measures would also force state and local law enforcement officers to act as immigration agents, diverting time and resources away from serious offenses.
The provision of the proposed law involving hospitals is especially problematic. If Florida hospitals begin asking patients’ immigration status, it will lead to undocumented people avoiding medical treatment for themselves or for their children. . . . You don’t have to be a medical expert to recognize that Florida’s plan could result in serious emergencies, needless suffering and the possibility of a broader public health crisis.
It’s no wonder that the DeSantis plan is generating pushback among some Floridians. Religious leaders are concerned that the proposals could hinder their outreach efforts in immigrant communities. Some conservatives view these immigration measures as a potential intrusion by big government, while Latino advocacy groups see them as an invitation to racial profiling by law enforcement.
The plan by Gov. DeSantis to punish undocumented people in his state is both divisive and destructive, and goes against his state’s long tradition of being a haven for immigrants. His legislation represents an attack on Florida families, immigrant communities and American citizens.
Wednesday, April 19, 2023
It isn’t often that winning $787.5 million is an underwhelming result. But then again, the defamation case of the century doesn’t come around often.
This afternoon, when opening statements were expected in a lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox News, the parties announced a settlement with that astronomical figure.
Dominion’s choice to settle comes as a great disappointment to many critics of Fox, and is also probably a smart financial decision. For the critics, this case was about democracy and disinformation and provided an opportunity to hold Fox accountable for years of broadcasting hogwash. For Dominion, it was primarily about business. No matter how lofty the language its spokespeople used, the company didn’t sue to fix the American media landscape.
Imagine if the case had gone to trial, Dominion had won the full $1.6 billion, and then the matter had been caught up in years of costly appeals and wrangling. At best, Dominion would have been able to recover the money years from now; at worst, the award might have been reduced or thrown out altogether. Wiser to take the cash on offer. Whether or not Fox has to make some public apology, the network will presumably be very careful not to defame Dominion again.
The last-minute sprint to settlement suggests that the company really did not want to put its stars or its executive chairman, Rupert Murdoch, on a witness stand in court.
Despite the settlement with Dominion. Fox News is still not out of the woods no matter how little it says about the Dominion settlement to its viewers - so far the lead talking heads at Fox have said nothing. The reasin is that Fox still faces an even larger lawsuit by Smartmatic USA, another voting technology company. As the Washington Post reports, Smartmatic plans to push on with its $2.7 Billion lawsuit:
Fox News’s legal troubles related to the 2020 presidential election are far from over, despite its massive settlement with Dominion Voting Systems announced Tuesday afternoon.
The media company also faces a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit filed by another voting technology company, Smartmatic, that alleges Fox broadcast lies that “decimated” its business.
In a nearly 300-page complaint filed in New York State Supreme Court in February 2021, Smartmatic alleges that Fox News knowingly made “over 100 false statements and implications” about the company, amplifying false information from former president Donald Trump and his allies that Smartmatic played a role in his election loss. In February, a New York appeals court ruled that the case was allowed to proceed.
After Fox News’s $787.5 million settlement with Dominion was announced Tuesday, Smartmatic attorney J. Erik Connolly released a statement.
“Dominion’s litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign. Smartmatic will expose the rest,” Connolly said. “Smartmatic remains committed to clearing its name, recouping the significant damage done to the company, and holding Fox accountable for undermining democracy.”
In addition to Fox News, the complaint named Fox’s on-air hosts Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro, as well as former Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell. A judge last year ruled the case could go forward but dropped Powell from the lawsuit because she is a Texas resident and the New York court doesn’t have jurisdiction over her.
“Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell needed a platform to use to spread their story,” the lawsuit stated. “They found a willing partner in Fox News.”
It cited dozens of examples of statements that it called false, including one where Giuliani claimed Smartmatic was founded by Venezuelans close to dictator Hugo Chávez “to fix elections.”
As Dominion did in its lawsuit, Smartmatic alleged Fox aired its broadcasts as it worried about losing a chunk of its audience to right-wing networks Newsmax and One America News.
In November 2021, Smartmatic also sued Newsmax and the parent company of One America News, alleging that the outlets similarly defamed Smartmatic by suggesting it helped rig the election against Trump.
Smartmatic’s lawsuit against Newsmax is being handled by Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis, the same judge who oversaw Dominion’s lawsuit against Fox.
Let's hope Smartmatic goes for the juglar and further exposes Fox News as a lying enterprise.
Tuesday, April 18, 2023
The rich are different from you and me: They have immensely more power. But when they try to exercise that power they can trap themselves — supporting politicians who will, if they can, create a society the rich themselves wouldn’t want to live in.
This, I’d argue, is the common theme running through four major stories that have been playing out over the past few months. They are: the relationship between Justice Clarence Thomas and the billionaire Harlan Crow; the rise and seeming decline of Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign; the trials (literally) of Fox News; and the Muskopalypse at Twitter.
People on the right often insist that expressing any concern about highly concentrated wealth is “un-American.” The truth, however, is that worrying about the dangers great wealth poses for democracy is very much part of the American tradition. And our nation basically invented progressive taxation, which was traditionally seen not just as a source of revenue but also as a way to limit excessive wealth.
In fact, if you read what prominent figures said during the Progressive Era, many expressed views that would be hysterically denounced as class warfare today. Theodore Roosevelt warned against “a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power.”
Until recently I would have said that outright corruption — direct purchase of favors from policymakers — was rare. ProPublica’s revelation that Justice Thomas enjoyed many lavish, undisclosed vacations at Crow’s expense suggests that I may have been insufficiently cynical.
Beyond that, there’s the revolving door: Former politicians and officials who supported the interests of the wealthy find comfortable sinecures at billionaire-supported lobbying firms, think tanks and media organizations. These organizations also help shape what military analysts call the “information space,” defining public discourse in ways that favor the interests of the superrich.
Despite all that, however, there’s only so much you can achieve in America, imperfect and gerrymandered as our democracy may be, unless you can win over large numbers of voters who don’t support a pro-billionaire economic agenda.
[T]he U.S. right has won many elections, despite an inherently unpopular economic agenda, by appealing to intolerance — racism, homophobia and these days anti-“wokeness.” Yet there’s a risk in that strategy: Plutocrats who imagine that the forces of intolerance are working for them can wake up and discover that it’s the other way around.
For a while DeSantis seemed to be surging in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Much of his apparent rise reflected support from big G.O.P. donors, who saw him as a saner alternative to Donald Trump — someone who would serve their financial interests while attracting working-class support with his social conservatism and willingness to play footsie with conspiracy theories.
But some of those donors are now bailing, because it looks increasingly as if DeSantis’s intolerance and conspiracy theorizing weren’t a political show — they’re who he really is. And the big money was looking for a charlatan, not a genuine fanatic.
Among the forces pushing a DeSantis candidacy has been Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. Fox was essentially founded to carry out the right-wing strategy of pushing plutocratic policy while winning over working-class whites with intolerance and conspiracy theories. But emails and texts uncovered by the defamation suit by Dominion Voting Systems show that Fox has become a prisoner of the audience it created.
And does anyone doubt that if the Republican primary goes the way it seems to be heading, Fox will soon be back in Trump’s corner? Rupert Murdoch’s organization, then, has effectively been taken hostage by the very forces he helped conjure up.
Elon Musk’s story is, if anything, even sadder. As Kara Swisher recently noted for Time magazine, he’s become “the world’s richest online troll.” The crazy he helped foment hasn’t taken over his organization — it has taken over his mind.
I still believe that the concentration of wealth at the top is undermining democracy. But it isn’t a simple story of plutocratic rule. It is, instead, a story in which the attempts of the superrich to get what they want have unleashed forces that may destroy America as we know it. And it’s terrifying.
Monday, April 17, 2023
Amid all the attention on this month’s elections in Wisconsin and Illinois, one outcome with major implications for 2024 flew under the national radar: School board candidates who ran culture-war campaigns flamed out.
Democrats and teachers’ unions boasted candidates they backed in Midwestern suburbs trounced their opponents in the once-sleepy races. The winning record, they said, was particularly noticeable in elections where conservative candidates emphasized agendas packed with race, gender identity and parental involvement in classrooms.
While there’s no official overall tally of school board results in states that held an array of elections on April 4, two conservative national education groups did not dispute that their candidates posted a losing record. Liberals are now making the case that their winning bids for school board seats in Illinois and Wisconsin show they can beat back Republican attacks on divisive education issues.
The results could also serve as a renewed warning to Republican presidential hopefuls like Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis: General election voters are less interested in crusades against critical race theory and transgender students than they are in funding schools and ensuring they are safe.
“Where culture war issues were being waged by some school board candidates, those issues fell flat with voters,” said Kim Anderson, executive director of the National Education Association labor union. “The takeaway for us is that parents and community members and voters want candidates who are focused on strengthening our public schools, not abandoning them.”
“We lost more than we won” earlier this month, said Ryan Girdusky, founder of the conservative 1776 Project political action committee, which has ties to GOP megadonor and billionaire Richard Uihlein and endorsed an array of school board candidates this spring and during the 2022 midterms.
Democrats hope the spring school election season validates their playbook: Coordinate with local party officials, educator unions and allied community members to identify and support candidates who wield an affirming pro-public education message — and depict competitors as hard-right extremists.
Yet despite victories in one reliably blue state and one notorious battleground, liberals are still confronting Republican momentum this year that could resemble November’s stalemated midterm results for schools and keep the state of education divided along partisan lines.
Conservative states are already carrying out sharp restrictions on classroom lessons, LGBTQ students, and library books. And they are beginning to refine their message to appeal to moderates.
Trump, DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and other Republican presidential hopefuls are leaning on school-based wedge issues to court primary voters in a crowded White House campaign.
Conservatives have also seized on transgender students to rejuvenate a social agenda that includes a push to restrict transgender athletes in sports, gender-affirming medical care and access to LGBTQ-affirming library materials.
“What I was most surprised by was just the sheer prevalence of these Republican candidates,” said Ben Hardin, executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois, after his party made an unprecedented decision to endorse dozens of local school and library board candidates and funnel nearly $300,000 into those elections.
In Oswego, Ill., a small community in Chicago’s far southwestern suburbs, the 1776 Project supported four candidates running as part of a “We The Parents” slate on a platform aligned with the conservative parental rights movement. Each of those candidates lost, including to one candidate endorsed by a local Illinois Federation of Teachers affiliate.
The Chicago Tribune reported Oswego’s We The Parents slate received support from the local Stamp Act political action committee, which proclaims it will “fight to preserve our cultural and religious heritage” and “resist attempts by the Left to transform and reshape American society.”
A group of conservative candidates in the wealthy Chicago suburb of Barrington who were backed by the 1776 PAC, Moms For America Action and Awake Illinois also lost their school board bids.
“Fortunately, the voters saw through the hidden extremists who were running for school board — across the [Chicago] suburbs especially,” Pritzker told reporters after last week’s election. “I’m glad that those folks were shown up and, frankly, tossed out.”
Teacher unions are also celebrating a school board victory in a bellwether community in suburban Milwaukee. . . . . Wauwatosa’s GOP-backed aspirants still lost by wide margins to teacher union-supported candidates. The 1776 Project won slightly less than half of the nearly 50 Wisconsin races it endorsed candidates in.
Moms For Liberty, a newly prominent conservative group that helps train and endorse school board candidates, said just eight of its candidates won races in Wisconsin last week. The group had endorsed candidates in another 20 elections, its founders said.
Let's hope the rejection of GOP extremism continues.