Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Fox News Says We Shouldn't Believe Tucker Carlson

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump's bagman—Michael Cohen—paid off Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about sexual encounters with his boss. Karen McDougal took a similar story to the National Enquirer, which paid her $150,000 and then spiked the story, as they had promised Trump they would do. 

Two years later, Tucker Carlson claimed that Trump was the victim of extortion by these two women.

Carlson first told viewers, "Remember the facts of the story. These are undisputed."...

He then proceeded to say, "Two women approach Donald Trump and threatened to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn't give them money. Now that sounds like a classic case of extortion."

Carlson's so-called "facts" were a lie. McDougal never approached Trump. She claims that "she feared word of the affair would leak out during the campaign anyway and she preferred to be the one to tell the story."

McDougal proceeded to sue Carlson for falsely accusing her of the crime of extortion. Fox News lawyers employed an interesting defense.

Just read U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil's opinion, leaning heavily on the arguments of Fox's lawyers: The "'general tenor' of the show should then inform a viewer that [Carlson] is not 'stating actual facts' about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in 'exaggeration' and 'non-literal commentary.' "

She wrote: "Fox persuasively argues, that given Mr. Carlson's reputation, any reasonable viewer 'arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism' about the statement he makes."...

In written briefs, [Carlson's lawyers] cited previous rulings to argue Carlson's words were "loose, figurative or hyperbolic." They took note of a nonjournalist's use of the word "extort," which proved nondefamatory because it was mere "rhetorical hyperbole, a vigorous epithet."

The Fox News lawyers were basically saying that anyone who believes what Carlson says is not a "reasonable viewer," which is quite an indictment of all of the people who've made his show number one in the Fox News lineup. 

I'm also struck by all the verbiage used to avoid saying that Carlson lies, such as "exaggeration," "non-literal commentary," and "rhetorical hyperbole." But then, we've gotten used to that in the era of Trumpism. Remember Kellyanne Conway's "alternative facts?" We were also cautioned to not take what Trump said "literally."

What all of this demonstrates is that the people at Fox News are not only lying—they've openly admitted that they're lying. That is an even worse indictment than the one that can be leveled against the people we might call "true believers." In the end, people like Carlson are playing their audience for fools and fueling the divisive politics that is threatening our democracy, as Kevin Drum noted.

Fox News—not social media, not think tanks—is the primal source of racism, xenophobia, polarization, and reckless lying in American media. Until we somehow put a stop to this, it will be hard to ever recover the country we used to have. Not a perfect country by any stretch, but at least one where we all had a roughly similar idea of what was true and were willing to talk openly about it. Rupert Murdoch has earned billions of dollars for destroying American politics, and he’ll keep doing it until the money hose goes away.
We should all take the lawyers at Fox News seriously when they say that we'd be fools to believe what Tucker Carlson says. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Rest in Peace, Sister Dianna Ortiz

I went to bed with a heavy heart last night after learning that Sister Dianna Ortiz died on Friday from cancer at the age of 62. Her story is one that every American should know.

In 1987, at the age of 29, Ortiz went to a remote village in the Guatemalan highlands to teach Mayan children to read. Two years later, she was abducted by police officers who took her to a secret prison at a police academy in Guatemala City where she was repeatedly gang-raped and brutally tortured. You can read Ortiz's account of what happened here, but be warned, it is more horrific than you can imagine. 

Unlike the thousands of Guatemalans that "disappeared" back then, Ortiz lived to tell her story. 

As a U.S. citizen, I had another advantage: I could, in relative safety, reveal afterwards the details of what happened to me in those twenty-four hours. One of those details: an American was in charge of my torturers.

I remember the moment he removed my blindfold. I asked him, "Are you an American?" In poor Spanish and with a heavy American accent, he answered me with a question: "Why do you want to know?" Moments before, after the torturers had blindfolded me again and were getting ready to rape me again, they had called out in Spanish: "Hey, Alejandro, come and have some fun!"

And a voice had responded "Shit!" in perfect American English with no trace of an accent. It was the voice of the tall, fair-skinned man beside me. After swearing, he’d switched to a halting Spanish. "Idiots!" he said. "She’s a North American nun." He added that my disappearance had been made public, and he ran them out of the room.

Ortiz was never able to prove that the man in charge of her torturers was an American. But from what we know about U.S. history in Guatemala, her story is plausible.

We have to go back to 1951, when Jacobo Arbenz became the second democratically elected president of Guatemala. He initiated land reforms which granted property to landless peasants. That didn't sit well with the United Fruit Company, which had close ties to Eisenhower's White House. Under the guise of fighting communism, the United States planned and funded a coup, installing Carlos Castillo Armas as the military dictator. He was followed by a series of right-wing military dictators backed by the U.S., setting up a civil war in Guatemala that lasted from 1960 to 1996. The results were horrific.

With the 1996 signing of a peace accord between the Guatemalan military and leftist guerrillas, the Latin American Cold War finally came to an end – in the same place it had begun – making Guatemala’s the longest and most lethal of the hemisphere’s civil wars. Some 200,000 men, women and children were dead, virtually all at the hands of the military: more than were killed in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, Nicaragua and El Salvador combined.

One of those dictators was Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt. In 2013, a Guatemalan court found him guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. Here is how Corey Robin described what was going on in 1982.

On 5 December 1982, Ronald Reagan met the Guatemalan president, Efraín Ríos Montt, in Honduras. It was a useful meeting for Reagan. ‘Well, I learned a lot,’ he told reporters on Air Force One. ‘You’d be surprised. They’re all individual countries.’ It was also a useful meeting for Ríos Montt. Reagan declared him ‘a man of great personal integrity . . . totally dedicated to democracy’, and claimed that the Guatemalan strongman was getting ‘a bum rap’ from human rights organisations for his military’s campaign against leftist guerrillas. The next day, one of Guatemala’s elite platoons entered a jungle village called Las Dos Erres and killed 162 of its inhabitants, 67 of them children. Soldiers grabbed babies and toddlers by their legs, swung them in the air, and smashed their heads against a wall. Older children and adults were forced to kneel at the edge of a well, where a single blow from a sledgehammer sent them plummeting below. The platoon then raped a selection of women and girls it had saved for last, pummelling their stomachs in order to force the pregnant among them to miscarry. They tossed the women into the well and filled it with dirt, burying an unlucky few alive. The only traces of the bodies later visitors would find were blood on the walls and placentas and umbilical cords on the ground.

That is why, when I read that Rep. Jamie Raskin was giving speeches to denounce Reagan's involvement in Latin America while he was a student at Harvard, I knew that his roots as a progressive ran deep. But Reagan wasn't just slapping Montt on the back and calling him a good guy, he was sending millions of dollars to Guatemala to support the military that was committing these atrocities. But thanks to Sister Dianna Ortiz, we know it was much worse than that. Here's how she describes part of her ongoing search for justice.

In 1996, I held a five-week vigil before the White House, asking for the declassification of all U.S. government documents related to human rights abuses in Guatemala since 1954, including documents on my own case. A few days into my vigil, I was granted a meeting with First Lady Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton admitted what no other U.S. government official had dared to concede during my seven-year search for the truth behind my abduction and torture in Guatemala: she said it was possible that the American in charge of my Guatemalan torturers was a "past or present employee of a U.S. agency."

One of the most significant, but unheralded accomplishments of the Clinton administration was the declassification of thousands of documents related to the involvement of the CIA and military intelligence in Latin America during the Cold War. Here's some of what we learned:

U.S. Army intelligence manuals used to train Latin American military officers at an Army school from 1982 to 1991 advocated executions, torture, blackmail and other forms of coercion against insurgents, Pentagon documents released yesterday show.

Used in courses at the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas, the manual says that to recruit and control informants, counterintelligence agents could use “fear, payment of bounties for enemy dead, beatings, false imprisonment, executions and the use of truth serum,” according to a secret Defense Department summary of the manuals compiled during a 1992 investigation of the instructional material and also released yesterday.

The Army School of the Americas, long located in Panama by moved in 1984 to Fort Benning, Ga., has trained nearly 60,000 military and police officers from Latin America and the United States since 1946.

Its graduates have included some of the region’s most notorious human rights abusers, among them Roberto D’Aubuisson, the leader of El Salvador’s right-wing death squads; 19 Salvadoran soldiers linked to the 1989 assassination of six Jesuit priests; Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, the deposed Panamanian strongman; six Peruvian officers linked to killings of students and a professor; and Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, a Guatemalan officer implicated in the death of an American innkeeper living in Guatemala and to the death of a leftist guerrilla married to an American lawyer.

Years later it was Yale history professor Greg Grandin who connected the dots between George W. Bush's "war on terror" and these activities in Latin America. 

In fact, it was in Latin America that the CIA and U.S. military intelligence agents, working closely with local allies, first helped put into place the unholy trinity of government-sponsored terrorism now on display in Iraq and elsewhere: death squads, disappearances and torture.

It's also worth noting that the torture of Sister Ortiz happened on George H.W. Bush's watch, the president who had previously served as CIA director. Here's how she described the response of the U.S. embassy in Guatemala at the time.

Only one week after my abduction, before any true investigation had been conducted, the U.S. ambassador suggested that I was a political strategist and had staged my own kidnapping to secure a cutoff of U.S. military aid to Guatemala.

Two months later, after a U.S. doctor had counted 111 cigarette burns on my back alone, the story changed. In January 1990, the Guatemalan defense minister publicly announced that I was a lesbian and had staged my abduction to cover up a tryst. The minister of the interior echoed this statement and then said he had heard it first from the U.S. embassy. According to a congressional aide, the political affairs officer at the U.S. embassy, Lew Anselem, was indeed spreading the same rumor.

In the presence of Ambassador Thomas Stroock, this same human rights officer told a delegation of religious men and women concerned about my case that he was "tired of these lesbian nuns coming down to Guatemala." The story would undergo other permutations. According to the Guatemalan press, the ambassador came up with another version: he told the Guatemalan defense minister that I was not abducted and tortured but simply "had problems with [my] nerves."

Ortiz spent the rest of her life not only seeking justice, but working with other victims of torture to find a modicum of healing. I've watched a few videos of her telling this story and her pain in relating these events years later remained absolutely palpable.  

That is why I love the picture of her up above. Looking at it I can imagine that, perhaps in her death, Sister Dianna might have finally found some peace. At least...that is my hope.

Monday, February 22, 2021

For Decades, the GOP Has Been the Party of Voter Suppression

Speaking to a gathering of religious conservatives just prior to the 1980 presidential election, Paul Weyrich—who has been referred to as the founding father of the conservative movement—said the quiet parts out loud. 

Weyrich was actually telling the truth when he said that, in this country's history, elections have never been won my a majority of people. Extending the franchise to women and people of color has been a long, hard struggle. Weyrich was also right when he suggested that, when it comes to Republicans, "our leverage in elections goes up as the voting populace goes down."

That is why, for at least four decades, the GOP has been the party of voter suppression. It didn't start with Trump's claims about voter fraud in the 2016 election or the "Big Lie" about the 2020 election being stolen from him. 

For example, President Nixon nominated William Rehnquist to the Supreme Court. During his confirmation hearings, questions arose about his political efforts in Arizona.
From 1960 to 1964, Rehnquist directed “ballot security” operations for the Republican Party in Phoenix, known as “Operation Eagle Eye,” which was designed to challenge the eligibility of Democratic voters at the polls. 

Rehnquist went on to vote against efforts to enhance voting rights and was eventually nominated to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President Reagan. To fill the opening created by that promotion, Reagan nominated Antonin Scalia, who argued vigorously against the Voting Rights Act, suggesting that it amounted to a "racial entitlement." 

Reagan also put William Bradford Reynolds, who had spent most of his career in commercial litigation, in charge of DOJ's Civil Rights Division. Reynolds believed that “government-imposed discrimination” had created “a kind of racial spoils system in America” favoring historically disadvantaged minorities over whites. Obviously, he didn't have much interest in protecting the voting rights of those racial minorities. 

George W. Bush's nominees to the Supreme Court were Chief Justice John Roberts (who clerked for Rehnquist and worked for Reynolds) and Samuel Alito—both of whom voted to gut Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. But perhaps even more importantly, it was during the Bush presidency that the work of the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division was literally turned on its head. Here is what Joseph Rich, head of the section from 1999 to 2005 wrote about that.

From 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African American or Native American voters. U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which, when coupled with the strong support for voter ID laws, indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities.

In other words, the unit that was tasked with enforcing the Voting Rights Act was literally transformed into an effort to depress voter turnout. 

That is why it should come as no surprise that voter suppression continues to be a central focus for the Republican Party. As Amy Gardner reports, "GOP state lawmakers across the country have proposed a flurry of voting restrictions." Those efforts will likely be funded by the dark money Leonard Leo is amassing for co-called "conservative causes." Kelly Loeffler, the billionaire who lost the Georgia Senate runoff election to Raphael Warnock, has promised to ramp up voter suppression efforts in her state. As Greg Bluestein reports, she "aims to push conservative electoral policies as state lawmakers weigh a range of new voting restrictions after the GOP defeats."

None of this is new for the Republican Party. It's merely becoming more desperate. While they fail to put forward an agenda other than white grievance, the GOP will try to maintain power by doing everything they can to stop the opposition from voting. Jim Sciutto is right when he says that "voting restrictions will be the story of the 2022 election and beyond."

Democrats have several huge issues on their plates: the pandemic and its effect on the economy, climate change, immigration reform, infrastructure, etc. But in order to address those challenges in the long term, nothing is more important than the electoral and voting reforms included in the For the People Act. Securing our democracy via the protection of voting rights has to be a major priority. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Why the Pot Is Lying About the Kettle Being Black

When former President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to a seat on the Supreme Court, a group called the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) spent $7 million to support McConnell in refusing to even hold hearings. Their message was, "let the people decide."


As Jay Michaelson wrote at the time, the whole campaign was ironic in that JCN was using dark money to keep an Obama nominee from being confirmed.
“Let the people decide” is the refrain of Republicans opposed to holding hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland, but they’re being bankrolled by an anonymous collection of billionaires—1 percenters so cowardly that they’re hiding behind tax laws to avoid revealing their identities.
Four years later, when Justice Ginsburg died less than two months before a presidential election, JCN did a complete reversal, pushing for the immediate confirmation of Trump's nominee—Amy Coney Barrett. That should give you some idea about the organization's lack of integrity. 

But as Garland now faces confirmation hearings on his nomination to be Biden's attorney general, JCN isn't directly attacking him. Instead, their CEO, Carrie Severino, has identified 10 questions Garland should face during the hearings, all aimed a demonizing the woman Biden nominated to be associate attorney general (the number three spot at the Justice Department) - Vanita Gupta. 

But that is just part of the assault JCN is waging against Gupta. Severino is going on right-wing networks to attack her and the organization recently released this ad calling Gupta "dangerous."

The ad contains three lies, which Ryan Reilly debunked.
As Politico reported, the article the Judicial Crisis Network ad cites to support its claim that Gupta favors defunding police “does not actually say that she favors defunding the police.” The claim that Gupta wants to “reduce sentences for white supremacists” comes as a voiceover atop an image of Dylann Roof ― the white supremacist killer whose prosecution Gupta oversaw while at the Justice Department. (The ad cites a letter ― sent by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to Biden more than a month after Gupta took leave from the organization because of her nomination ― that calls for Biden to commute all federal death sentences. Such a commutation would “reduce” Roof’s penalty insomuch as it would condemn him to a natural death behind bars rather than death by lethal injection.) And her statement last summer that “COVID-19 is killing people in federal prison who could be released” is one that even former Attorney General William Barr would agree with.

But here's the real kicker. Severino and JCN are working with Heritage Action and Americans for Public Trust (all three dark money groups) to claim that Biden's nominees are payback to dark money groups for helping him get elected.

This would be the ultimate example of the pot calling the kettle black - if the kettle was, indeed, black. But it's not. To understand, it's helpful to know a bit about Gupta's background. After graduating from New York University School of Law, she worked for both the ACLU and served as Assistant Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Then, in 2014, Obama appointed her to be Acting Director of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. With the election of Donald Trump, Gupta left DOJ and became CEO of the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights. Since that organization isn't as well known as the ACLU or the NAACP, here is a summary about them from their web site.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States. Through advocacy and outreach to targeted constituencies, The Leadership Conference works toward the goal of a more open and just society – an America as good as its ideals.

The Leadership Conference is a 501(c)(4) organization that engages in legislative advocacy. It was founded in 1950 and has coordinated national lobbying efforts on behalf of every major civil rights law since 1957.
The Leadership Conference qualifies as a "dark money" organization based on its designation for tax purposes. But according to Open Secrets, it didn't report any outside spending in the 2020 election. Individual members or employees did, however, donate a whopping $4,829 directly to Joe Biden's campaign. In other words, JCN isn't just lying about Gupta's positions, they're lying when they suggest that her nomination as assistant attorney general is based on some kind of "pay for play" scheme. 

Whenever I see this kind of blatant hypocrisy on the right, I am reminded of a column Steve Benen wrote back in 2011 titled, "Karl Rove and the affection for projection." He wrote that "More than anyone I’ve ever seen or heard of, Rove identifies some of his own ugliest, most malicious, most pernicious qualities, and then projects them onto those he hates most." Benen ended that piece by writing that "A lesser hack might find it difficult to launch political attacks that are ironic, wrong, hypocritical, and examples of projection, all at the same time, but Rove is a rare talent."

At the time, I doubt that Benen had heard of Carrie Severino or her accomplices at the Judicial Crisis Network, who could certainly give Rove a run for his money. But two recent events have exposed that organization to a bit of sunlight. The first came from Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Shawn Boburg of the Washington Post. They did an in-depth expose on the dark money groups assembled by Leonard Leo during his time at the Federalist Society. At the heart of those efforts is the Judicial Crisis Network.  Second came a presentation by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse during the confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett. He documented the three legs of the effort operating behind the scenes to remake the federal judiciary.

1. The Federalist Society - which screens and selects extremist judges,
2. The Judicial Crisis Network - which promotes the nominees, and
3. The myriad of organizations that file both court cases and amicus briefs to tell the judges what to do.

Whitehouse went on to explain that dark money from the same groups funded all three efforts. 

Perhaps as a result of being so blatantly exposed, Leonard Leo resigned from his position at the Federalist Society (although he remains as co-chair of the board) and rebranded the former CRC Strategies—which had handled all of the media campaigns for Leo's myriad of dark money groups—to become CRC Advisors. As Leo told Jonathan Swan, it "will funnel big money and expertise across the conservative movement." 

But if, as Deep Throat so famously counseled, you want to "follow the money," Leo has ensured that will be impossible to do. First of all, the funding for their efforts originates with dark money groups like Donors Trust. Secondly, as Swan reported, "Mueller and Leo say they plan to work with two existing non-profit groups, which will be rebranded as the Concord Fund and the 85 Fund, to funnel tens of millions of dollars into conservative fights around the country." Just try and follow the bouncing ball about those two nonprofits in this report from Open Secrets and the Guardian (emphasis mine).
In December, the Judicial Education Project formally changed its legal name to The 85 Fund, a group Leo backed to funnel “tens of millions” of dollars into conservative causes, according to Axios. The Honest Elections Project is merely a fictitious name — an alias — the fund legally adopted in February. The change was nearly indiscernible because The 85 Fund registered two other legal aliases on the same day, including the Judicial Education Project, its old name. The legal maneuver allows it to operate under four different names with little public disclosure that it is the same group...

There is a lot of overlap between the Honest Elections Project and the Judicial Crisis Network. Both groups share personnel, including Carrie Severino, the influential president of the Judicial Crisis Network...The Judicial Crisis Network also rebranded in recent months, changing its name in December 2019 to The Concord Fund. The Fund then registered Judicial Crisis Network, its old name, as an alias.

The Honest Elections Project, which has been spreading lies about voter fraud in order to make the case for voter suppression, is also the Judicial Education Project and The 85 Fund. Whatever name they use, that organization is connected via Severino to the Judicial Crisis Network, or the Concord Fund. 

With that information, we can finally connect the dots between the Judicial Crisis Network and Vanita Gupta. During her time as CEO of the Leadership Conference, Gupta prioritized lobbying for H.R. 1—otherwise know as the For the People Act—which would expand voting rights, election security, and campaign finance reform. That is precisely why she is being demonized by these right-wing groups. If confirmed, she is likely to go head-to-head with them on the issue of voting rights. 

Karl Rove might actually be envious of the ability of Leo and Severino to "launch attacks that are ironic, wrong, hypocritical, and examples of projection, all at the same time." 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Both Sides DON'T Do It

While Sen. Ted Cruz was hopping off to Mexico for a family vacation, here's what a couple of real leaders were doing to address the crisis in Texas.

Just sayin... 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Dear Texans: A Little Socialism Wouldn't Be Such a Bad Thing

That image became one of my favorite memes when Republicans once again got obsessed with accusing Democrats of being "socialists" during the 2020 election—especially as someone who lives in the tundra, otherwise known as Minnesota. 

But with the brutal weather that is crippling so much of the country this week, an awful lot of people in red America are learning the hard way about the role of government in helping us survive when mother nature unleashes her fury. Nowhere is that more true than Texas, where blackouts have left many without power and heat.

While Governor Abbot is intent on blaming frozen wind turbines, the actual culprit is a bill that was signed back in 1999 by none other than former Governor George W. Bush that deregulated the electricity market. 

As everyone scrambles to point fingers about the current crisis, lets go back to an article written by Loren Steffy at Texas Monthly in 2014. Apparently this isn't the first time the state has experienced blackouts as a result of extreme weather.
Just after seven a.m. on January 6, as Texans awakened to one of the coldest mornings in years, an email and social media alert went out from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas: “Reduce electric use now. Risk of power outages exist throughout Texas. Power warning in effect.” The last time a hard freeze gripped Texas so tightly, in February 2011, power blackouts rolled across much of the state as ERCOT, which operates the state’s power grid, struggled to meet the demand. Then, just as in January, power plants unexpectedly went offline when the state needed them most. This time blackouts were averted, but barely.

This isn’t the free-market wonderland that lawmakers envisioned back in 1999 when they voted to deregulate electricity, turning most of the state’s power system over to private companies. That decision, which was helped along by some arm-twisting from Houston’s Enron Corporation, was supposed to result in a robust market, thriving with competition, which would drive down prices for consumers, unleash a host of twenty-first-century innovations, and boost reliability by encouraging newer—and greener—generating plants...“Competition in the electric industry will benefit Texans by reducing monthly rates and offering consumers more choices about the power they use,” said a euphoric Governor George W. Bush.

First of all, Bush's promise of lower monthly rates didn't turn out to be true. According to a 2014 report by the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power (TCAP), "deregulation cost Texans about $22 billion from 2002 to 2012. And residents in the deregulated market pay prices that are considerably higher than those who live in parts of the state that are still regulated." There are several complicated reasons for those increased costs. But one of them is especially pernicious. With profit as the only goal for a deregulated industry, the possibility of gaming the system was unleashed.

On a typical day, power on the wholesale market sells for between $30 and $100 per megawatt hour. But during January’s cold snap, prices spiked to $5,000. At times like that, generators make big money, which creates an incentive to withhold power from the market. “They know if they hold back and get into real shortages, they will reap tremendous rewards,” Hirs says. Electricity traders have raised questions about suspicious activity that suggests withholding has been going on, but no one has proved anything. What we do know is that the free market isn’t responding the way the architects of deregulation expected. The market doesn’t care if your AC isn’t running in August.

But deregulation didn't just cost Texans money. Steffly goes on to describe how the break-up of electricity monopolies—a major part of the deregulation process—created a far more complicated system for the state to oversee. It also failed to provide incentives for building backup plants to be used during times of peak usage. Both of those are major contributors to the current spate of blackouts that are happening across the state.

What we are witnessing in Texas is yet another example of how the Republican agenda has always been built on lies. Deregulation doesn't unleash the power of competition and reduce costs. Much like their tax cuts, those who benefit are the wealthy, while the rest of us pay the price. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Dear Media: Stop Giving Extremists a Platform to Spread Their Lies

Now that Trump's impeachment trial is over, we can expect right-wing media to go back to fear-mongering about President Biden's immigration plan—which includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. 

As the debate heats up, one of the issues we'll face is that national media organizations continue to quote anti-immigrant extremists groups in their coverage, as Courtney Hagel documented.

In their coverage of the plans, some national and media outlets have irresponsibly turned to the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), two extremist organizations that the Southern Poverty Law Center deems hate groups. Both organizations were founded by John Tanton, a white nationalist and eugenicist who created a network of anti-immigrant groups and has expressed an explicit desire to keep the U.S. a majority-white country through limiting immigration...[W]hile CIS claims to be “pro-immigrant,” the think tank has a decades long history of circulating white nationalist, anti-immigrant, and anti-Semitic writers in its newsletters, and the organization has been repeatedly called out for its extremism.

We can now add the Washington Monthly to the list of news organizations that have relied on misinformation from the Center for Immigration Studies. They have published an article by Elaine Shannon titled, "Hope and Chaos on the Border." Here's the opening:

It’s Joe Biden’s border crisis now...

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials reported Thursday that they had expelled, detained, or arrested 78,323 migrants last month, up six percent from December and more than double the number in January 2020. Nearly 6,000 of the migrants intercepted by border officers trying to slip the border last month were unaccompanied children.

“It looks like we’re at the beginning of a bona fide migrant crisis like 2019,” said Todd Bensman, an Austin-based senior national security fellow with the conservative Center for Immigration Studies

The lead-up to quoting Bensman from CIS about a "migrant crisis" is to present numbers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. So it's important to take a look at those. Shannon uses the numbers for January because that is the last month for which they are available. But keep in mind that Biden was only president for the last eleven days of that month. That negates the tag line to her piece, which reads: "Since Biden has become president, there’s been a surge of migrants trying to enter America." But its even worse than that. The trend line for an upsurge in border contacts started last April, as this chart demonstrates.

But the numbers shared in Shannon's piece are deceptive for another reason, as Julia Ainsley reports:
[I]n the past increases in immigration have occurred around U.S. elections and transitions of power. There was a spike in migration in late 2016 and early 2017, just before Trump took office, and caravans from Central America arrived in southern California in 2018, around the mid-term elections.
Nevertheless, according to Bensman, this is all part of something he refers to as the "Biden effect" because "nearly all the migrants he has interviewed along the routes from Central America and Mexico were ecstatic about the president’s campaign promises to reform the U.S. immigration system." That is what passes for investigative reporting on the part of CIS staff, I guess.

Shannon actually quotes Bensman several more times, including his warnings about terrorists from Iran crossing the southern border and an influx of drugs like fentanyl. She goes on to predict that "one indirect consequence of the migrant surge may be spiraling overdose deaths."

All of this sounds like a segment you might hear on Tucker Carlson's show. That's what happens when you give anti-immigrant extremists a platform. They give you lies and fear-mongering. We get enough of that from right-wing sites. 

Fox News Says We Shouldn't Believe Tucker Carlson

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump's bagman—Michael Cohen—paid off Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about sexual encounters wi...