Republicans Work the Refs | A Government Dissolved | Mailing it In
August 11, 2020
The Good News
- ‘No one should go hungry’: street fridges of free food help Americans survive Covid pandemic (Guardian). Neighborhoods across the country stepping up to serve.
- Innovation that excites: Drawing eyes on the butts of cows is highly effective in scaring away lion predators, study finds (Happy Mag)
“We’re all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding.”
Gaming the Gatekeepers
In politics, when it comes to “working the refs,” Republicans have beaten Democrats like a drum. They’d been doing it successfully for decades before the Republican Party chair outlined the right’s game plan for the 1992 presidential race: “There is some strategy to it [bashing the ‘liberal’ media]. If you watch any great coach, what they try to do is ‘work the refs.’ Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack on the next one.” Working the refs — screaming about bias and unfair treatment, no matter how favorable the treatment actually is — has been a consistent, long-term political strategy on the right. The reason it keeps happening is because it so often works.
Back in the day, the referees that mattered to conservatives were the big media companies. Most gave in to the constant choruses of unfair bias against conservatives, and strained to be “balanced.” It took years for some to begin pushing back against the myth of a “liberal media” and take to heart the concept of false balance and false symmetry.
Today there are new referees: the Silicon Valley giants that control what we see when we search, browse, or post online. They would do well to reflect on past lessons some media learned: “balance” is a false equivalency. The American left and right have never been mirror images of each other. They’re different coalitions, with different histories and strategies. In the Trump era, a specific kind of misinformation on social media is a central tactic of the right. The president makes untrue and misleading statements at an astounding pace, and a whole constellation of blogs and websites support and amplify that strategy.
In last month’s tech hearings on Capitol Hill, a Florida Republican congressman said to Google’s chief executive that the platform was making it difficult for him to find a website he was looking for, The Gateway Pundit. Google’s CEO promised the congressman he’d look into the issue. He could have said Google doesn’t showcase links to the site because it’s notorious for routinely pushing content with wild hyperpartisan spin to outright lies.
But as an expert on media and politics explained: “the CEO of Google can’t just come out and say ‘The signals your site is sending and fact-checks on your content have created a problem for our company and therefore we down-rank it.’” The result is that executives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter must dance around insinuation and sugar coat the truth about the pressure they’re under. All while the pro-Trump media manufacture misinformation with unparalleled scale and energy.
TikTok Talks Back
- After President Trump signed an executive order last week banning TikTok from the US on the grounds of national security, the video-sharing app said it would file a federal lawsuit against the administration in the US District Court for the Southern District of California as early as Tuesday.
- The lawsuit is expected to argue that President Trump’s far-reaching action is unconstitutional because it failed to give the company a chance to respond. It also alleges that the administration’s national security justification for the order is unfounded. “It’s based on pure speculation and conjecture,” a source said. “The order has no findings of fact, just reiterates rhetoric about China that has been kicking around.”
- Under the president’s order “any transaction” between a US citizen and TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company, ByteDance, will be outlawed in 45 days. Such a sweeping ban would be fatal for the company’s US operations. TikTok is popular among teenagers and millennials, boasting over 100 million American users.
- It’s used to share dances and comedy skits in 60-second video bites which often go viral. It’s such a cultural phenomenon that it’s become a platform to discover new music and has even launched several breakout hits that have topped the Billboard charts; it’s also been used to mock and antagonize the president.
- If the ban is upheld, its effects would be far-reaching. The app may no longer be able to send software updates, rendering TikTok unmanageable and eventually nonfunctional on smartphones. American advertisers would be cut off, and Apple and Google would be forced to remove it from their mobile app stores.
- Plus, TikTok’s more than 1,000 US-based employees could have their paychecks indefinitely frozen. It might also be impossible for American lawyers to represent the company in any US legal proceedings. (NPR)
Blast Leads to Government Shake-Up
(Daniel Carde via Getty Images)
- One week after a cataclysmic explosion destroyed the Beirut port, Lebanon’s besieged government has fallen. The country’s prime minister, Hassan Diab, announced the resignation of the government after over a third of the state’s ministers abandoned their posts. Diab also resigned after just nine months in office.
- “I said that corruption is rooted in every part of the state,” the prime minister said. “But I found out that corruption is greater than the state.” Diab said that real change was being thwarted by a political class using all their dirty tricks to forestall the process. “The more we tried to get to them, the bigger the walls became. This disaster is the result of chronic corruption.”
- Current ministers, including those who have resigned, are set to assume a caretaker role and form the backbone of a new administration. But a push is underway for more than a third of sitting MPs to quit parliament, which would force new parliamentary elections and could lead to an injection of new members less tainted by corruption and nepotism. As of today, the death toll from last week’s blasts has risen to 200, with another 6,000 people wounded. (Guardian)
Additional World News
- As one government resigns, another in peril: Belarus police, protesters clash as Lukashenko claims election win (Axios)
- China just arrested a top Hong Kong pro-democracy figure. Beijing isn’t playing around. (Vox)
- China sanctions Rubio, Cruz and other US officials for ‘Hong Kong-related issues’ (CNN)
- The Fortune Global 500 is now more Chinese than American (Fortune). A reminder of where the business world is headed.
- China is now blocking all encrypted HTTPS traffic that uses TLS 1.3 and ESNI (ZDNet)
- Secret government tracking software hidden in apps (Android Authority)
- Russia’s ‘Hunter’ Is Unlike Anything in America’s Arsenal (Popular Mechanics)
- Counting his chickens… Trump says G7 summit will be delayed until after the election (Axios)
- Health insurance whistleblower: I lied to Americans about Canadian medicine (WaPo, $)
- COVID-19 May Never Go Away — With Or Without A Vaccine (NPR). Will COVID become the common cold?
- How Trump killed tens of thousands of Americans. (Slate)
- A tale of two citizens: In Brazil, poor die of COVID-19 at greater rate than wealthy
- Atlassian tells employees they can work from home forever (CNBC)
- Superjet but not superspreader: Is It Safe to Fly? Here Are the Odds of Catching Covid on a Plane (Bloomberg)
- Researchers determined which masks are the least effective (CNN)
- Cancel College (Atlantic, $)
- How to Proactively Prepare for Distance Learning (NYT, $)
- Lifestyles of the Rich and Reckless: Posh Pandemic Parties (NYT, $). Money can’t buy common sense.
The Loan Arc of Justice…
(Chris Condon via Getty Images)
- New data released Monday shows that companies owned by West Virginia’s Republican Governor Jim Justice and his family received up to $24 million from one of the federal government’s key COVID-19 economic relief programs. Justice’s Greenbrier Hotel Corporation, which owns and operates a luxury resort, received a loan of up to $10 million without promising to retain any jobs.
- Greenbrier Hotel Corporation was one of only nine companies in West Virginia to receive a loan of that size. The Greenbrier Sporting Club, a Justice company that runs an upscale residential development adjacent to the hotel, received between $1 million and $2 million. Two coal companies owned by Justice’s family each received $2 million to $5 million.
- All in all, Justice companies received between $11.2 million and $24.4 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) money. Justice is a billionaire, and West Virginia’s richest man. He owns a vast array of businesses, including coal mines, resort hotels and agricultural interests, many of which are regulated by the state agencies he now runs.
- The Justice business empire has also been sued dozens of times for not paying bills. An investigation found more than $128 million missing in judgments and settlements in lawsuits. An economist at the Brookings Institution who has been following the PPP said: “Under the guise of helping mom and pop shops on Main Street, large companies got millions of dollars of government money, represented as loans, but much of it will never be repaid.”
- Like President Trump, Justice said when he took office that he would turn over the management of his companies to his adult children. However, he continues to guide his business empire. (ProPublica)
State Governments Mailing It In
- As COVID-19 continues interrupting lives around the country, and the administration and its state government allies continue to resist mail-in voting, states are struggling to figure out how to accommodate voters who become infected in the days leading up to an election. Texas fought the notion of expanding mail-in ballot access all the way up to the Supreme Court.
- Now, COVID-19 positive Texans can be put in the position of choosing between their right to vote and the public’s health. Vote-by-mail is only available to people who are over 65, who are not present in the state on election day, or who have a disability. Democrats across Texas tried to expand the disability statute to include everyone during the pandemic, but the court ruled that fear of catching COVID-19 doesn’t qualify.
- People must register almost two weeks before the election to vote by mail. In July, COVID-19 cases in Texas grew by 100,000 between the deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot and the run-off election day. One pediatric nurse who contracted COVID-19 after the state’s mail-in application deadline had to jump through hoops to get a mail-in ballot, including finding a doctor to certify she was ill.
- “It’s ridiculous that we can’t figure out a way for people who want to vote to get to vote,” she said, coughing. ”How many people in Texas are in this situation? We cannot be the only ones.” An elections official warned that because of the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and the next election, voters need to educate themselves on their state’s rules now.
- ”Registering to vote by mail — even if you don’t anticipate wanting to vote by mail — is a smart choice as a voter … because once you miss registration deadlines those rules get trickier and harder to unpack,” said one elections expert from Auburn University. (NPR)
Additional USA News
- Trump evacuated from briefing, reports shooting outside White House (Politico)
- ‘Christianity Will Have Power’ (NYT, $)
- Why that Falwell Jr. yacht photo finally led to his departure from Liberty University. (Slate)
- American Catholics and the Black Lives Matter Movement (NYT, $)
- We are only beginning to suffer the consequences of Trump’s failures (WaPo. $)
- What American History Tells Us About the Crises of the Trump Era (Foreign Affairs)
- How to Beat Populists When the Facts Don’t Matter (Atlantic, $)
- AG Bill Barr Calls Democrats ‘Cowards’ and Revolutionaries Concerned Only With Reelection (Newsweek)
- More than 100 Black leaders and celebrities urge Biden to pick Black woman as VP (Yahoo)
- The Real Reason the American Economy Boomed After World War II (NYT, $)
- To Catch a Terrorist (Harper’s)
Propping Up the Cops
- In the fall of 1993, ABC’s NYPD Blue was the hottest thing going on TV. Promoted as the first truly adult drama in the history of the medium, the show got away with words and showed viewers body parts that had never been on network television before.
- Initially, the most shocking part of the series was Detective Andy Sipowicz, a fat, drunk, violent, foulmouthed bigot, who nevertheless became a beloved character. In the fall of 1997, CBS premiered Brooklyn South, from the NYPD Blue team. Designed as a uniformed counterpart to the plainclothes-detective work of NYPD Blue, it lacked the earlier show’s vivid characters and lasted only a season.
- It also had the bad luck of debuting with a storyline about a black man dying in police custody, just a few weeks after a quartet of real-life Brooklyn patrol cops brutally beat and sodomized a black security guard. Until then, cops on TV were always depicted as unerring justice-doers. Beginning in 1949 with Dragnet’s star Sergeant Joe Friday, cops were shown as valiant, their judgment unquestioned.
- In fact, Dragnet was merely a propaganda tool used to whitewash the actions of the real LAPD. Dragnet and its imitators were training viewers to accept the judgment of police and prosecutors in almost any situation. Cop shows in the 70s and 80s — like Starsky & Hutch, Miami Vice, and Hunter — became more comfortable with showing detectives being violent with suspects, and bending, or even outright breaking, civil rights laws, but in a manner meant to be celebrated.
- It wasn’t until 2002’s The Shield that we saw a truly corrupt lead detective, after the enormous trust viewers were trained to place in policemen has been upended by so many recent events. Since video footage of George Floyd’s killing by members of the Minneapolis PD went viral, there’s been a very public reckoning not only with American policing, but with fictionalized depictions of American policing. The deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks, and clips that followed of police officers assaulting peaceful protesters, have begun to undermine the decades of televised conditioning that promote stories of heroic cops.
- That it took a string of horrifying and ubiquitously filmed incidents to turn public sentiment is a testament to how thoroughly television had burnished the image of law enforcement officers as unassailable do-gooders. (Rolling Stone)
- This New Zealand man gets paid $10,000 a year to be a city’s official wizard (CNN)
- Hookers for Jesus wins fresh round of funding from Trump administration (Reuters). Now that’s a headline that requires a double take.
- Greed may be good when it comes to solar power (Ars Technica)
- Save The Parasites? Scientists Warn They’re Endangered Too (NPR)
- Even bird watchers are having their jobs automated: Why Do Solar Farms Kill Birds? Call in the AI Bird Watcher (Wired)
- A School District in Georgia Says Requiring Masks Is Impractical. But It Already Enforces a Lengthy Dress Code. (Mother Jones). Oh, the irony.
- Big Ten Cancels College Football Season (Bloomberg)
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