The Mahablog

Politics. Society. Group Therapy.

The Mahablog

Rupert Mudoch Regrets His Decisions

Oh, gracious, Trump is pissed. From Daily Beast:

Donald Trump is furious with his former ally Rupert Murdoch after the media mogul made astonishing admissions that some of his Fox News hosts “endorsed” lies that the 2020 election had been “stolen.” Murdoch, 91, also said in a deposition unsealed on Monday that he wished his organization had been “stronger in denouncing” the false narrative that the election was rigged by corrupt voting machines. Dominion Voting Systems is suing Fox News for $1.6 billion over the issue—but the network denies defamation. “Why is Rupert Murdoch throwing his anchors under the table, which also happens to be killing his case and infuriating his viewers, who will again be leaving in droves—they already are,” Trump fumed on his Truth Social platform on Tuesday. “There is MASSIVE evidence of voter fraud & irregularities in the 2020 Presidential Election,” Trump continued, pointing to Dinesh D’Souza’s conspiracy film 2000 Mules as evidence.

The new opposition brief filed by Dominion Voting Systems yesterday was full of new goodies. From Charlotte Klein at Vanity Fair:

While Murdoch denied that Fox as a whole endorsed Donald Trump‘s bogus claims of election fraud, Murdoch did pass the buck to Jeanine PirroLou Dobbs, and Sean Hannity, admitting that “they endorsed.” Later in the filing, Murdoch is asked whether he could have told CEO Suzanne Scott or those hosts to take Rudy Giuliani off the air. “I could have. But I didn’t,” he replied. At another point, Murdoch appeared to express regret over his network’s coverage of Trump’s conspiracy theory: “I would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it in hindsight.”

There’s quite a good overview of what happened at Fox after the 2020 election as revealed in the Dominion the Bulwark, by Amanda Carpenter. It’s titled Exposed: Fox’s Pander-for-Profit Business Model. The Fox News brand had to be protected above all else, and if that meant spreading lies — lies they knew to be lies — to the viewers to keep the ratings up, so be it. What’s interesting to me is that the execs and bobbleheads justified keeping up the pretense as “respecting our viewers,” even though it pretty much reveals they thought their viewers were fools.

Of course, as I wrote back in May 2020, “dealing with American right-wingers is a bit like dealing with hyenas. You can’t reason with them; all you can do is try to placate them so they don’t bite you.” Note that Fox News isn’t covering the Dominion lawsuit, so maybe they’re hoping their viewers don’t find out about it.

And as Hymen Roth told Michael Corleone, “this is the business we’ve chosen.” Don’t ask questions. Stick to business.

Some other tidbits that came out of the new brief. Before the election Rupert Murdoch shared “confidential information” about then-candidate Joe Biden’s campaign ads and debate strategy with Jared Kushner, the filing said. And he had Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott tell Sean Hannity to say “something supportive” about Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham ahead of the 2020 election. Murdoch said, “We cannot lose the Senate if at all possible.” In other words, Murdoch was explicitly using his “news” business on behalf of the GOP. I know that’s not a surprise, but it’s a tad unusual for them to be caught with their pants this far down, so to speak.

All of this has made Kevin McCarthy’s decision to hand House security tapes over exclusively to Tucker Carlson even more appalling. But this didn’t just piss off liberals. From Rolling Stone:

McCarthy’s gift to Carlson immediately triggered a right-wing media feud, and drew the scorn of multiple high-profile Donald Trump allies. And it quickly led to McCarthy getting legally threatened by the former president’s favorite election-attacking pillow mogul who’s using a pair of extremely pro-Trump lawyers, one of whom sued the January 6th House committee.  …

… On Monday, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell — a close Trump associate who has been one of the largest financial backers of the election-denialism movement since late 2020 — told Rolling Stone he’s now working with two attorneys, Doug Wardlow and Pat McSweeney, to file a lawsuit against McCarthy as soon as within the “next few days.” Lindell says he and his legal team have drafted a suit arguing his streaming program, Lindell TV, is being “injured” and discriminated against by not enjoying equal access to the unreleased Jan. 6 trove. The Trump ally, who often finds himself to the pro-Trump right of Fox News, notes that he doesn’t trust Fox’s “agenda” with these tapes, and dubs McCarthy’s decision “disgusting” and allegedly unconstitutional.

“As you correctly and publicly stated, the footage ‘belong[s] to the American public.’ Accordingly, I request the same access for my media company, Lindell TV,” the MyPillow CEO wrote to McCarthy in a Feb. 23 letter he provided to Rolling Stone. “Please have your staff reach out to me to arrange for access.”

Some other GOP House creatures have also objected to Carlson getting exclusive access. David Kurtz reports at TPM that “House Republicans as a whole aren’t completely onboard with Speaker McCarthy’s wholesale turning over of the Jan. 6 surveillance footage to Tucker Carlson.” Some GOP House members have expressed concerns about security. They also probably understand there’s only so much manipulation Carlson can do, and they’d rather not have more January 6 videos going viral, thanks much. And it’s  bad look to give one guy exclusive access to what amounts to government property.

In other news — let us take a moment to note the end of Disney World as we’ve known it.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill on Monday to take control of municipal services and development for the special zone encompassing Walt Disney World. The move deals a major blow to the company’s ability to operate with autonomy.

DeSantis says that the special district surrounding Disney World has enabled the park to unfairly skirt local rules and building codes.

It’s my understanding that Disney wanted to keep control of its property to be sure that roads stayed in good repair and utilities functioned properly. Their business model depends on presenting a gleaming, perfectly functioning experience. Well, that’s about to end.

“The corporate kingdom finally comes to an end,” DeSantis said during a news conference announcing the move on Monday. “There’s a new sheriff in town, and accountability will be the order of the day.”

The heart of the bill is the appointment of a five-person state board to oversee municipal services, such as fire protection and road maintenance, where Disney World operates.

But the oversight board that DeSantis assembled is a pack of culture warriors, not people experienced with municipal services. The Orlando Sentinel:

A GOP political donor, an evangelical minister who defends Christian nationalism and a co-founder of the conservative Moms for Liberty group are among the new board members chosen by Gov. Ron DeSantis to oversee Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District.

“It’s incredibly alarming,” state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said of the governor’s nominees, describing them as a group of “extremists and Republican operatives” picked based on cronyism and not merits. “He has these extremist culture war demagogues, and Republican Party operatives.”

I suggest that if you have “Disney World” on your bucket list, you shouldn’t put it off. There’s no way this won’t negatively impact the place.

Elon Musk Is a Terrible Person

Let’s start with this tweet from Esther Crawford, Director of Product Management at Twitter. It’s said Crawford is so loyal to the company she often sleeps in her office rather than go home.

Musk fired her today. She must have posted this right after being fired. I take it she’s not ready to go through the stages of grief yet. More from TechCrunch:

Recall that Crawford had been swept up by Musk’s hardcore takeover of Twitter last year, even boasting on the platform about sleeping at the office to handle round-the-clock demands from her new boss.

The layoffs came this weekend after Twitter employees realized they had been cut off from using Slack. While it later came out that Twitter hadn’t paid its Slack bill on time, that’s not why the platform went down. The Platformer reported that someone at Twitter manually shut off access. Many employees worried that this was the first sign of layoffs to come, and while correlation does not equal causation, an entire company being cut off from their main mode of communication as layoffs started dropping like bombs caused confusion and panic all around.

At this point, why would any competent person not absolutely desperate for a job go to work for Elon Musk? Alex Kirshner writes at Slate:

Crawford was the head of Twitter Blue, the subscription service that Musk has hyped as a key business plank but that has not attracted subscribers in large numbers. She had been as public as anyone in her embrace of Musk’s grindset cultural demands. When people pointed out that maybe it wasn’t a good idea for a leader to promote sleeping at the office, she stood up for it in an extensive thread. Musk, who brags about not sleeping much, probably loved it. Not four months later, Crawford’s payoff for going extremely hardcore was that Musk fired her.

They may well all have been Esther Crawfords. Those latest 200 Twitter layoffs had all remained at the company, or taken jobs there, after Musk made his demands of Twitter and its workplace culture quite clear. All of these people were prepared to stick around long after Musk had slashed everything but his expectations for their performance. These were the workers who were all in. There are many fair reasons for a person to stay in a demanding job with an unsatisfiable boss—money, health insurance, a fear of unemployment, and immigration status all come to mind—but Musk didn’t even give them the choice for long.

It will probably happen again, to more employees, at all of Musk’s companies. (Twitter is not the first Musk firm, or even the most troubling, to have staff sleeping on the floor.) The CEO glorifies the grind in which someone gives nearly their entire self over to their work. But that commitment isn’t a two-way street. …

Now that the world knows this, good luck hiring the best and brightest, dude.

A few days ago Musk fired a top engineer because views of his Tweets had gone down:

Earlier this month, when Twitter CEO Elon Musk locked his Twitter account to personally test whether locked tweets generated more views than public tweets, many wondered why he didn’t just ask a Twitter engineer how the platform worked. A new report says Musk did meet with engineers—after his test—and that meeting led him to impulsively fire an engineer who attempted to provide an alternative explanation for why Musk’s tweet views might be declining.

The meeting took place on Tuesday, according to the tech newsletter Platformer. Bringing together engineers and advisers, Musk asked his team why his account, which has “more than 100 million followers,” would only be getting “tens of thousands of impressions.”

“This is ridiculous,” Musk said, according to multiple sources.

A principal engineer stepped forward to explain that the decline may be due to easily chartable waning public interest in Musk. To back up the engineer, Twitter employees provided internal data that corresponded with a Google Trends chart, Platformer reported.

You know the rest. Musk threw a fit and fired the engineer for telling him the truth. And, sure enough, a few days after that the Verge reported Twitter is just showing everyone all of Elon Musk’s tweets now.

The latest, coming out after Scott Adams’s declaration that Black people are a “hate group” that White people should stay away from —

“The media is racist,” was Musk’s response to the widespread decision to terminate the Dilbert strip. “For a very long time, US media was racist against non-white people, now they’re racist against whites and Asians.”

He went on to compare US media with elite educational institutions in America where he claimed the “same thing happened”.

It was also reported that Musk deleted a tweet in which he responded to a comment from Adams about his comic strip being dropped, saying, “What exactly are they complaining about?”

Musk is said to have Asperger’s, which partly explains why he is so tone deaf. But that doesn’t explain why he’s such a jerk.

In other news, I see that Tesla stock value has surged recently, making Musk the richest person in the world again.  It’s not clear to me why that happened. Today we learned that some of Tesla shareholders are suing Tesla  for “overstating the effectiveness and safety of their electric vehicles’ Autopilot and Full Self-Driving technologies,” it says here. So let’s see what that does to the stock price.

Can the Beast Be Starved?

“Anything you feed will grow” is an aphorism I heard a long time ago that stuck with me. It’s coming back to me again. See Paul Waldman, Republican elites fear the monster they created

On screen, Fox News personalities paint a world of clear heroes and villains, where conservatives are always strong and right and liberals are weak and wrong. But the extraordinary private communications revealed in the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox show who they really are. Panicked over Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election, those same hosts, and the executives who run the network, cowered in abject terror.

They feared the same monster that keeps House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) up at night, the monster that conservative media and Republican politicians created: base voters who are deluded, angry and vengeful.

At this point, if they stop feeding the monster the monster might eat them. It’s also the case that if they stop feeding the monster, plenty of other news outlets and politicians will step forward with truckloads of juicy, red meat to keep feeding it. And of course the deluded, angry and vengeful base can always get on social media and feed each other.

Is this a beast that can’t be starved? We may never know. Recently Kevin McCarthy handed over House security footage of January 6 to Tucker Carlson so that the beast could be fed.

 Carlson’s producers will comb through endless pixels to find images with which to mislead viewers: to convince them that the riot wasn’t so bad or that Trump’s supporters weren’t to blame or that the whole thing was a setup.

That will only further convince Carlson’s audience to deny the truth about Jan. 6, and punish any Republican officeholder who disagrees.

The beast was created and carefully nurtured over many years as a cheap source of “conservative” votes for the Republican Party. Lee Atwater fed it. Karl Rove fed it. But back in the day, they could still control it. At this point, the beast is in control, even though in many parts of the country the extremists are driving middle-of-the-road voters away from the Republican Party.

Election deniers lost big in the midterms, so now they’re taking over state GOP offices. PBS:

Embracing election conspiracy theories was a political albatross for Republicans in states that weren’t completely red last year, with deniers losing every statewide bid in the swing states of Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But the movement has focused on GOP state party chairs — positions that usually are selected by only dedicated activists and have the power to influence the party’s presidential nominating contest and some aspects of election operations, such as recruiting poll watchers.

“The rise of this dangerous ideology nationwide and the rise within party machinery are ominous,” said Norm Eisen, a prominent Washington lawyer and former ambassador who is executive chair of States United Democracy Center, which tracks election deniers. “It’s an outrageous phenomenon.”

But, so far, it’s working pretty well for the beast. The PBS article goes on to list a number of hard-right ideologues and election deniers, some of whom lost midterm elections, who managed to get themselves elected to positions in their state’s Republican Party. Yes, let the party be run by the wackjobs who lost the last election. Such a plan.

If somehow the right-wing news outlets and right-wing politicians shut up for a few weeks, maybe some of the craziness would subside. Just stop feeding the beast. If the flow of disinformation and phony controversies (Pete Buttigieg didn’t go to East Palestine!) could be cut off — which is not going to happen — the beast at least would shrink. I’d like to believe that at some point the hard right fanatics will become such a liability to the Republican Party that they’ll be run out of the party instead of being given plum House committee assignments.

But Josh Marshall reports that right-wing web-based influencers are telling their loyal viewers the Ukraine War is fake. So the beast will be fed by somebody. It’s not going to be starved. Not anytime soon.

Righties Don’t Know What they Want

Ron DeSantis continues his descent into pure fascism with a bill that would end the New York Times v. Sullivan protections of press freedom. He wants to make it easier for people to sue news outlets for libel. This is especially fascinating given that Fox News is currently arguing in court that news outlets ought to be able to lie with impunity under the banner of “free speech.”

More about the DeSantis bill:

Critics of the bill took issue with the section about attorneys fees, saying it could add a financial incentive to file defamation lawsuits and erode the laws preventing retaliatory lawsuits filed to silence criticism. Florida, like other states, has anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) laws designed to help stop frivolous lawsuits.

“One of my largest concerns with the bill is the rolling back of the anti-SLAPP protection for defamation defendants,” said Adam Schulman, a senior attorney with the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute, which advocates for free markets, free speech and limited governments. ”That’s just moving in the wrong direction.”

He said beyond large media companies, some of which have legal teams, the changes could affect the “ordinary guy” who leaves an “unfavorable Yelp review.”

“At one time, it was not considered ‘conservative’ to advocate for turning on the spigot to all sorts of troll-like civil litigation that will line the pockets of bottom-feeding plaintiffs’ lawyers,” Schulman said.

Stern said the new bill would leave those protections “toothless.” Under most anti-SLAPP laws, individuals can recover attorneys’ fees if they can show they were sued in retaliation for criticizing the government.

“The new bill would change that so that plaintiffs whose lawsuits survive anti-SLAPP motions can recover their attorney’s fees,” he said. “That means the anti-SLAPP law would lose all of its value as a deterrent against powerful people filing abusive lawsuits to silence their critics.”

So, basically, DeSantis wants to be on the side of powerful people who want to keep news media off their backs.

DeSantis’s obvious animosity toward free speech is already on the record. As Bess Levin wrote in Vanity Fair,

One of Florida governor Ron DeSantis‘s favorite little mottos is “Florida is where woke goes to die.” In fact, a better, more accurate motto would be “Ron DeSantis’s Florida is where free speech goes to die, unless you’ve agreed to the governor’s list of preapproved talking points, like that LGBTQ+ people don’t exist, white people are and have always been awesome, and nonwhite people have nothing to complain about.” 

See also Ron DeSantis’s war on “wokeness” is a war against the First Amendment by Ian Millhiser at Vox.

As a constitutional matter, a governor is allowed to give speeches arguing that the United States is somehow miraculously immune from systemic injustice. He may sign legislation repealing programs intended to cure these injustices. He may appoint officials to public school boards that share his belief that the US is immune to these injustices. And he may even enact policies that help perpetuate these injustices, assuming that those policies violate neither the state nor federal constitution.

But DeSantis goes much further. He wields the government’s sovereign powers to sanction speech he does not like, and to punish institutions that criticize him. DeSantis, in other words, does not seem content to simply enact policies that hew to a right-wing economic or social vision. He wishes to use the sovereign powers of government to shape public discourse itself — punishing some ideas, rewarding others, and conscripting public schools and universities into his culture war.

Basically, what righties want is to be able to spew any ugliness they want to spew without proof, repercussions, or even being disagreed with, but at the same time they want to censor everybody else. They won’t be happy until that’s the America they get to live in. And apparently Ron DeSantis thinks he can become POTUS by promising to give them that America.

I argued yesterday that loosening the the Section 230 protections for social media companies, as righties want to do, will make it harder for them to upload anything they want to the Web, not less. Even some of the old establishment conservative media, like National Review, agree with this. But the MAGA right is convinced that if they could just do away with Section 230 they’ll be able to upload whatever they want to social media without the social media companies deleting it, which is kind of the opposite of the real consequences of ending Section 230.

Here’s something of a change of subject — behold this map —

The map, from WaPo, shows “FICO averages for individuals with credit cards by county as of 2019.” It’s a credit score map, in other words. The darker blue the county, the lower the credit scores. Counties with the highest credit scores are dark gold.

I admit this puzzled me a bit. Yes the South is poorer, but it’s also a lot cheaper to live there. Well, as long as you’re healthy. The people who put this data together found out that the biggest driver of really bad credit scores was medical debt. From the article:

Medical debt may not be the only force behind the South’s credit struggles, but it appears to be a key contributor. So where did it all come from? And why is it concentrated in the South? …

…But health alone does not solve the puzzle: Several Northeastern states struggle with chronic health conditions and have good credit.

A clue to the broader answer comes from a recent analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found that medical debt “became more concentrated in lower-income communities in states that did not expand Medicaid” after key provisions of the Affordable Care Act took effect in 2014.

One answer is that the South is simply less healthy than any other region. Data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shows that among Medicare recipients, the population for which we have the best data, those in the South are substantially more likely to suffer from four or more chronic conditions. And poor health tends to go hand in hand with people having overdue medical debt and poor credit scores.

Obviously there are exceptions, like some dark blue spots in California. Nevada expanded Medicaid after this was compiled. You can read more about this without the paywall at Truthout.

The Supreme Court Probably Won’t Touch This

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a case that challenges “Section 230,” a provision in law that protects big social media companies from being sued for stuff people upload. For years conservatives have hated Section 230 and complained that if they eliminate it there will be no more censoring of conservative content in social media. This makes absolutely no sense and reinforces my opinion that today’s so-called “conservatives” lack the cognitive skills God gave asparagus.

Josh Hawley recently introduced a bill that would require big social media companies to apply for some sort of certification from the Federal Trade Commission that would require them to not favor one political party over another. I don’t know how you’re going to enforce that, but whatever. Without certification a social media platform could not claim Section 230 protection, meaning those companies would be liable for any harm done by what people post. “Not only would this legislation drastically hurt free speech and competition in the online ecosystem, it would mean more conservative content, not less, will be removed from these websites,” says this guy. Obviously. But some righties can’t see that.

Even National Review warns that narrowing or eliminating Section 203 would cause more censorship of “conservative” content, not less. If companies can be sued for what users upload, those companies will be forced to put all content through much tighter filters. Or else give up and close the site entirely.

Righties complain that Section 230 prevents people from suing social media companies for removing their content. I am not sure that’s what the law does, nor do I think that anybody believes social media companies have some kind of obligation to keep everything everybody posts public and untouched. There can be honest disagreements about what content is harmful or contrary to company standards and what isn’t, of course. And it’s not like the algorithms don’t sometimes bounce leftie content also; it’s just that lefties don’t whine about it so much.

The case in front of the court is explained in this SCOTUSblog post:

The case was filed by the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old American woman who was studying in Paris when she was killed in an ISIS attack there in 2015. Their lawsuit alleges that Google, which owns YouTube, violated the Antiterrorism Act’s ban on aiding and abetting terrorism by (among other things) recommending ISIS videos to users through its algorithms, thereby aiding ISIS’s recruitment.

Representing the Gonzalez family, law professor Eric Schnapper told the justices that Section 230 distinguishes between claims that seek to hold internet companies liable for content created by someone else, and claims that seek to hold internet companies liable for their own conduct. Whether an internet company’s recommendations would fall within the latter category would depend on whether they met specific criteria outlined in the text of Section 230, Schnapper contended. But he faced a barrage of questions from justices across the ideological spectrum.

Justice Clarence Thomas has writtenskeptically in recent years about broad immunity under Section 230, but he appeared surprisingly sympathetic to the theory on which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit relied in ruling for Google below – the idea that Section 230 protects recommendations as long as the provider’s algorithm treats content on its website similarly. If the same algorithm that recommends ISIS videos based on a user’s history and interests also recommends cooking videos to someone who is interested in cooking, Thomas asked, how can Google be held responsible for those recommendations?

I doubt the big tech/social media companies (except maybe Elon Musk’s Twitter) have a clear political bias; if anything, they probably skew libertarian. Their only bias is in favor of what makes them money by increasing clicks on content. What the Right is asking for is more censorship of content, not less.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was perhaps most squarely in the Gonzalez family’s corner. In Section 230, she told Blatt, Congress was trying to protect internet platforms that were blocking and screening offensive materials. However, Jackson continued, you are arguing here that Section 230 protects platforms that are promoting offensive materials. “How,” Jackson asked Blatt, “is that even conceptually consistent with what Congress intended?”

So it would seem that Thomas is siding with lefties and Jackson with righties, which ought to give righties pause.

Most commentaries on the hearings are saying that it appears the Court will likely punt this issue to Congress. The justices on the whole don’t seem to want to touch it.

Meanwhile, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee already are drafting new legislation. And any sentence with the words “Republicans” and “House” should be cause for alarm. This is what they’re considering:

  • Limiting the right of tech companies to exclude users based on their viewpoints or political affiliations
  • Requiring “reasonable moderation practices” to address harms like illegal drug sales and child exploitation
  • Narrowing protected moderation to specific types of speech not protected by the First Amendment
  • Removing protection for discriminatory moderation decisions based on viewpoints.

The problem is that one person’s “viewpoint” might well be another person’s “yelling fire in a crowded theater” and not protected by the First Amendment. Posts that spread disinformation about vaccines get people killed, for example. Posts that promote armed insurrection or race wars or shooting abortion doctors probably are not protected by the First Amendment, but try telling a rightie that. If righties are censored more than lefties — and I’ve seen no data showing they are, but righties believe this to be so — maybe it’s because righties are posting more dangerous content. Just a guess.

In other news — In the ongoing Proud Boy seditious conspiracy trial, one Proud Boy testified the group was thinking about “all-out revolution.” From Politico:

A top lieutenant of the Proud Boys’ chairman, Enrique Tarrio, described on Wednesday a growing desperation among the group’s leaders as Jan. 6, 2021, approached and then-President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results sputtered.

That’s when the group’s thoughts turned to “all-out revolution,” according to Jeremy Bertino, the Justice Department’s star witness in the seditious conspiracy trial of Tarrio and four other Proud Boys leaders, who are charged with orchestrating a violent attempt to derail the transfer of power from Trump to Joe Biden.

I take it he’s changed his mind.

Also, too: Trump is supposed to be touring East Palestine, Ohio, today. Democrats are using this as an opportunity to revisit Trump’s role in the train derailment.

Donald Trump’s visit to the site of a toxic train derailment in Ohio is offering a political opening to battered Biden administration officials — by calling new attention to the former president’s record of rolling back regulations on both rail safety and hazardous chemicals.

Trump’s administration withdrew an Obama-era proposal to require faster brakes on trains carrying highly flammable materials, ended regular rail safety audits of railroads, and mothballed a pending rule requiring freight trains to have at least two crew members. He also placed a veteran of the chemical industry in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemical safety office, where she made industry-friendly changes to how the agency studied health risks.

These actions have mostly been a matter of Trump-era trivia amid the furor over the Feb. 3 derailment in East Palestine, which has brought fierce GOP criticism of the response by Biden appointees such as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. But Trump’s Ohio trip on Wednesday is provoking new scrutiny of his own track record — a development that some in the Biden administration were privately welcoming.

Whether the residents of East Palestine will hear any of this, I cannot say.

Demonstrating that he has all the sharp political insights of spinach, Mike Pence has decided to break with Trump on Social Security and Medicare, of all things.

You’ve probably heard about the Fulton County special grand jury forewoman who has been blabbing to the press. I don’t think she revealed anything significant or said anything that would hurt the eventual prosecutions, but we’ll see.

Biden Visits Ukraine; MAGAs Throw a Fit

President Biden’s surprise visit to Ukraine was gutsy, considering it’s a real war zone and he wasn’t surrounded by U.S. troops. I hope some good comes of it. But I want to talk more about the reactions.

The disloyal opposition is singing its usual song about “America first” and “blank checks.” They are also complaining that because Biden visited Ukraine that means he’s turned his back on East Palestine, Ohio. See, for example, DeSantis says Biden ‘neglecting’ domestic problems with Ukraine trip. Somebody might want to explain to DeSantis that real presidents often do have to handle both foreign and domestic crises at the same time.

In fact, the Biden Administration dispatched all kinds of help to East Palestine. But he didn’t actually go there, see, so the relief doesn’t count.  See As Biden Dispatches Disaster Relief to East Palestine, Trump Takes Credit at Mother Jones. In brief, Trump is claiming that Biden wasn’t going to send help to East Palestine until he, Trump, announced Friday night he was going sometime this week. The White House had already gotten several federal agencies involved in East Palestine before that, although I take it there was a delay in sending FEMA. (But if you go, Donald, be sure to take a lot of deep breaths and drink the water!)

See also Will Bunch’s column from yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer. 

In fact, if residents of East Palestine — a modern news desert of downsized or disappeared news sources, which allows misinformation to fester — truly knew the reality, a delegation of townsfolk would likely greet Trump with Tiki torches and pitchforks bought from the Fuller’s hardware store.

Because the truth is that handed the awesome power of the presidency to actually do something for “forgotten Americans,” Trump’s Oval Office actions protected the rich and the powerful — none more so than the nation’s wildly profitable railroads — over the “ignored, neglected and abandoned” everyday people of places like Columbiana County. Any visit wouldn’t be a victory lap, but more like the tendency of a criminal to return to the scene of his crime.

Trump acted specifically to sabotage a nascent government effort to protect citizens from the growing threat posed by derailments of outdated, poorly equipped and undermanned freight trains that were increasingly shipping both highly flammable crude oil from the U.S. fracking boom as well as toxic chemicals like the ones that would derail in East Palestine.

Maybe it was Trump’s bitter spite toward the man who tried to launch that regulatory drive — Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president. Maybe it was the more than $6 million that the railroad industry, including Norfolk Southern, donated to GOP candidates in 2016, plus millions more spent on lobbying.

Whatever the reason, Trump had been in office for less than a year when he moved to kill the 2015 rule change initiated by the Obama administration that would have required freight trains to upgrade the current braking technology that was developed in the 19th century for state-of-the-art electronic systems. In killing the rule, Trump bought the argument from lobbyists for Norfolk Southern and the rail industry that the upgrade would have cost them $3 billion — six times what the Obama administration found it would cost.

We don’t yet know if the Obama rules would have prevented the accident. But if it’s found that it might have, this needs to make headlines.

And then there’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, who now is allowed to serve on House committees and has already established a pattern of making a complete fool of herself in them. Here is her reaction.

Greene is so “America First” that some of America isn’t First enough for her. She’s been calling for a national divorce.

She seems unaware that most of the red states would sink into abject poverty if they didn’t have blue state money coming in to bail them out. Also keep in mind that Greene is on the bleeping House Homeland Security Committee while calling for the fracturing of the homeland.

In other news: James O’Keefe has been ousted from Project Veritas by its board of directors. Basically, O’Keefe is an asshole who can’t get along with anybody.

See also: When Lt. Jimmy Carter stopped a nuclear meltdown.

Fox News and Reckless Disregard for the Truth

More on the Dominion brief full of revelations about Fox News’s reckless disregard for the truth. Trump called in to the Lou Dobbs show on January 6, but Fox executives nixed putting Trump on the air. This is from the brief:

The afternoon of January 6, after the Capitol came under attack , then President Trump dialed into Lou Dobbs show attempting to get on air. But Fox executives vetoed that decision. Why ? Not because of a lack of newsworthiness. January 6 was an important event by any measure. President Trump not only was the sitting President, he was the key figure that day. But Fox refused to allow President Trump on air that evening because it would be irresponsible to put him on the air and could impact a lot of people in a negative way. 

Dominion goes on to complain that “The same is true of statements Fox chose to air about Dominion. Not only did the charges severely impact Dominion and its employees, they were based on verifiable falsehoods that any accurate and disinterested reporting would have mentioned.”

But I think it’s more than likely that the Fox execs were mostly trying to protect Trump as well as themselves. They must have known good and well how undisciplined Trump is and how he’s too stupid to know when to shut up. They must have realized he might have said something that would have incriminated himself, and maybe Fox, too. It’s a damn shame they didn’t let Trump talk to Dobbs.

Lou Dobbs comes up more than a hundred times in the brief, btw. I take it he was totally in the tank for Trump’s Big Lie. His show Lou Dobbs Tonight was the highest rated program on Fox Business Network, but it was cancelled abruptly in February 2021 after Dominion filed its lawsuit.

And the January 6 committee didn’t know about that call. It was not on White House phone logs. I’m not sure about the timeline, but I believe the Dobbs show was on after Trump would have told the mob to go home.

And then there’s Sidney Powell. This is from the brief, with interlinear citations deleted

Powell sent Bartiromo an email prior to the interview with the subject line Election Fraud Info which Bartiromo forwarded to Grossberg with information from a woman claiming Dominion’s software flips votes from Trump to Biden and tying Dominion to a conspiracy theory involving Nancy Pelosi and Senator Dianne Feinstein. … In the same email, Powell’s singular source explained that Roger Ailes (who, as previously noted, had died years ago) huddles every day with Rupert Murdoch about airing anti-Trump material, and that Justice Scalia was killed in a human hunting expedition ….  Powell’s source also explained that she gets her information from experiencing something like time-travel in a semi-conscious state, “allowing her to see what others don’t see, and hear what others don’t hear, and she received messages from the wind. … Bartiromo read this email at the time: she responded to Powell saying she had shared this very imp[ortant] info with Eric Trump. …  Powell provided Bartiromo with no other evidence for her claims about Dominion.

The context (see hard copy pages 118 and 119) suggests that Fox’s Maria Bartiromo had received this email from Powell before an interview on November 8. So they knew all along that Powell was nuts.

From the New York Times v. Sullivan case: “Factual error, content defamatory of official reputation, or both, are insufficient to warrant an award of damages for false statements unless “actual malice” — knowledge that statements are false or in reckless disregard of the truth — is alleged and proved.” I’d say Dominion has the proof.

At the moment, Fox lawyers seem to be reduced to arguing that Dominion has overinflated its value and shouldn’t be awarded the $1.6 billion in damages it is claiming.

Dominion Smacks Fox News

Dominion Voting Systems lowered the boom on Fox News yesterday. Dominion has asked for a summary judgment in its suit against Fox. The brief filed yesterday in support of the motion is a doozy. You can read it here, with a few redactions. The brief makes it abundantly clear that the Fox News bobbleheads knew good and well that what Fox News was presenting about Dominion voting machines was nonsense.

This gets to the heart of what I wrote a couple of days ago about reckless disregard for the truth. See also With Actual Malice and Reckless Disregard. The New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) ruling gave news organizations considerable protection from defamation suits, particularly when a reporter gets facts about a public figure wrong. Sullivan allows for honest mistakes. But Fox News hosts and management collaborated to present lies that they knew were lies to their viewers. This is even worse than “reckless disregard.”

It may be that it was interviewees spewing the lies, not the on-air Fox personalities. But the brief presents examples of Fox managers and hosts reprimanding colleagues for fact checkingAaron Blake at WaPo:

The filing repeatedly shows Fox News hosts and superiors objecting to how their colleagues fact-checked the Trump team’s claims. In one example, host Neil Cavuto cut away from White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who had claimed Democrats took positions on voting issues because they were “welcoming fraud” and “illegal voting.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Cavuto said, adding, “Unless she has more details to back that up, I can’t in good countenance continue showing you this. I want to make sure that maybe they do have something to back that up.”

The filing says Fox News executive Raj Shah’s team notified senior leadership that Cavuto’s actions amounted to a “Brand Threat.” The next day, another executive, Porter Berry, noted Newsmax was going after Cavuto and said, “They are just whacking us. Smart on their part.”

Because the Fox News business model depends on telling their viewers what they want to hear. If Fox isn’t giving them enough red meat, viewers will go elsewhere.

See also Michelle Goldberg, What Fox News Says When You’re Not Listening.

Today’s News Bits: Grand Juries and the Debt Ceiling

Three sections of the Fulton County Special Grand Jury’s report have been released. No names were named. This is from the Guardian:

The Fulton County special grand jury investigating whether then-President Donald Trump and his allies illegally tried to overturn his electoral defeat in Georgia says they found that there was “no widespread fraud” in the state’s 2020 presidential election.

The report’s introduction and conclusion, along with a section in which the grand jurors expressed concerns that some witnesses may have lied under oath, were released Thursday. But any recommendations on potential criminal charges will remain under wraps for now.

I’ll keep an eye out for more detailed commentary.

CNN reports that Special Counsel Jack Smith is locked in at least eight secret court battles in the Trump investigations.

Special counsel Jack Smith is locked in at least eight secret court battles that aim to unearth some of the most closely held details about Donald Trump’s actions after the 2020 election and handling of classified material, according to sources and court records reviewed by CNN.

The outcome of these disputes could have far-reaching implications, as they revolve around a 2024 presidential candidate and could lead courts to shape the law around the presidency, separation of powers and attorney-client confidentiality in ways they’ve never done before.

Yet almost all of the proceedings are sealed, and filings and decisions aren’t public.

You probably heard the news last night that Jack Smith subpoenaed Mark Meadows. This was followed by a grumbling chorus of “Why’d it take so long for the DOJ to subpoena Mark Meadows?”

The sickest thing I’ve read this week:

The Republican governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, appears to have thwarted an attempt to stop law enforcement obtaining menstrual histories of women in the state.

A bill passed in the Democratic-led state senate, and supported by half the chamber’s Republicans, would have banned search warrants for menstrual data stored in tracking apps on mobile phones or other electronic devices.

Advocates feared private health information could be used in prosecutions for abortion law violations, after a US supreme court ruling last summer overturned federal protections for the procedure.

This is Handmaid’s Tale stuff. There is no benign reason for the state to track anybody’s menstrual cycle.

Josh Marshall had an interesting talk with Paul Krugman:

We talked to economist and Times columnist Paul Krugman today in a TPM Inside Briefing. The full interview will be available for members tomorrow. But the biggest surprise for me came when we spoke about the debt ceiling. I think most of us assume that minting trillion dollars coins or invoking the 14th amendment amount to a kind of politics nerd fanfic — cool and probably the right thing to do but not at all things that are actually going to happen. Krugman told TPM he assumes that that’s exactly what will happen. They’ll deny it till the last moment. But if it comes down to the wire and the White House has to choose between default and one of several legal stratagems to save the full-faith-and-credit hostage from the House radicals’ firing squad they’ll do just that.

To be clear, he didn’t say he was sure or that it was guaranteed. But the fact that it’s his working assumption came as a pretty big surprise to me. He also points so much less discussed strategies as ones that may be more likely than boffo ideas like the trillion dollar coin.


There doesn’t seem to be a paywall on this bit, so you can read the whole thing. And here’s a video.

Finally, I was reminded today that sometime in January Kevin McCarthy had the metal detectors outside the House of Representatives removed. That means it’s only a matter of time before somebody with a gun gets into the House and shoots somebody else. I just want to be on record predicting this now.

Update: I was not expecting this. Proud Boys move to subpoena Trump in seditious conspiracy trial

Leaders in the far-right Proud Boys group, accused in federal court of plotting to use violence to keep Donald Trump in power, are asking the Justice Department to help them force the former president to testify.

Good luck with that.

“At all times relevant, Trump was president of the United States, and it’s the government’s obligation to produce him,” attorney Norm Pattis said in court Thursday. His client, Joseph Biggs, is one of five defendants accused of engaging in a seditious conspiracy to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Pattis did not explain what defendants hope to learn from Trump, only that he was joined in the subpoena effort by attorneys for co-defendant Dominic Pezzola. He said he needed help from the government to serve a subpoena on Trump because the U.S. Secret Service continues to protect the former president.

In opening statements last month, an attorney for longtime Proud Boys Chairman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio argued that the former president was the one responsible for the deadly riot.

So, faced with the very real likelihood of conviction and substantial jail time, these guys suddenly noticed they were used.

The Latest News About Lawsuits and Subpoenas

There’s an update in the Smartmatic and Dominion voting machine lawsuits against, um, a bunch of people. Here’s a list of who is being sued. And here’s the update, from the same source.

Voting company Smartmatic’s defamation lawsuit against Fox News and several of its anchors can move forward, a judge ruled Tuesday, also reinstating some claims against attorney Rudy Giuliani, as Smartmatic and rival company Dominion Voting Systems pursue a dozen defamation lawsuits over baseless election fraud claims about their voting machines.

This article at NPR will catch you up on a couple of the suits, which are being heard by Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis. I found this bit especially interesting.

Like Dominion, Smartmatic was the subject of false claims that its software had switched Trump votes to Joe Biden. Those claims were broadcast on Newsmax, Fox News and elsewhere.

Davis earlier this month denied Newsmax’s request to toss out Smartmatic’s defamation claim. Davis ruled that the facts pleaded by Smartmatic lead him to “reasonably infer” that Newsmax’s airing of stolen-election claims was reckless enough to meet the high legal bar required for defamation.

“Newsmax either knew its statements regarding Smartmatic’s role in the election-fraud narrative were false, or at least it had a high degree of awareness that they were probably false,” the judge stated.

Awhile back I wrote about the “actual malice” and “reckless disregard for the truth” standards from the old New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) case. Sullivan basically protects news outlets from being sued into bankruptcy for reporting negative things about politicians and other people of public interest. Very briefly, even if, say, a newspaper made a mistake and reported something that is false about a public figure, the public figure cannot collect damages unless he can prove the reporting was done with “actual malice” or “reckless disregard for the truth.”

These are both high bars, but they shouldn’t be insurmountable. Fox and other right-wing news outlets that pushed the stories about voting machines “stealing” votes from Donald Trump are arguing that they were just covering both sides. Trump and his people were making the accusations against the voting machine companies, which is a newsworthy thing, and we’re just reporting what they are saying. It’s not our responsibility to fact check them. 

Just to be clear, here’s an example of the kind of thing being shown on Fox News after the 2020 election.

Fox showed Dominion’s disclaimers, but this was not really an equal presentation of “both sides.” And as I wrote in the earlier post, this “both sides” standard has done a huge disservice to the American public for years. “Covering both sides” has meant, for example, pitting a climate scientist and a climate change denier against each other in a studio while a moderator simply sits there and offers no editorial context. There’s been less of that in recent years than there was, say, during the George W. Bush years (remember Crossfire?). But it still happens way too much. And what Jeanine Pirro is doing in that video is not journalism, either. Allowing a partisan hack to present unsubstantiated nonsense without challenging it robustly needs to qualify as “reckless disregard for the truth.”

This suit is complicated, IMO, by the fact that the litigant voting machine companies are not public office holders but businesses, and the defamation on the part of right-wing news must certainly have hurt their ability to do business. Plus many of the claims being made about Dominion and Smartmatic, such as alleged ties to the government of Venezuela, could be debunked via a ten-minute Google search. It’s not that hard.

Anything calling itself “journalism” should be required a certain amount of due diligence to fact check or at least acknowledge that facts are not known. It’s never perfect. News reporting is a messy business, and even the best reporters will get facts wrong sometimes. But I don’t think the Sullivan standards mean that no effort need be made at all.

In other legal news, MSNBC reported last night,

The special counsel investigating Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents is seeking to compel a lawyer for the former president to testify before a grand jury, a source familiar with the matter said.

Prosecutors allege in a sealed filing that they have evidence that some of Trump’s conversations with the attorney were in furtherance of a crime, the source said.

In a sign of an aggressive new legal strategy, first reported by The New York Times, the source said special counsel Jack Smith has asked a judge to allow prosecutors to invoke what’s known as the crime-fraud exception, which would let them sidestep protections afforded to Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran through attorney-client privilege.

I like the furtherance of a crime part. Evan Corcoran, of course, is the lawyer who allegedly told Christina Bobb to sign a statement last June that all of Trump’s White House documents had been turned over to the proper authorities. Steve Benen provides background.

Finally, we get to Mike Pence, who is fighting a Jack Smith subpoena by citing the “speech and debate” clause from the Constitution. Article I, Section 6, Clause 1:

The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

Pence, of course, was neither a Senator nor a Representative. But Pence is so concerned about Separation of Powers that he refused to speak to the January 6 committee because they were legislative and he was executive. Now he’s flipping that around and saying that he was legislative while Jack Smith works for the executive. But given the corruption of our courts, few people are willing to come out and say Pence couldn’t get away with this.