Sunday, December 20, 2015

Last Call For Screaming Into The Abyss

Washington Post columnist Caitlyn Dewey got a year and a half out of her weekly feature fighting The Stupid before hanging it up this week and correctly arriving at the conclusion that you can't beat confirmation bias in the age of the internet.

We launched “What was Fake” in May 2014 in response to what seemed, at the time, like an epidemic of urban legends and Internet pranks: light-hearted, silly things, for the most part, like new flavors of Oreos and babies with absurd names.

Since then, those sorts of rumors and pranks haven’t slowed down, exactly, but the pace and tenor of fake news has changed. Where debunking an Internet fake once involved some research, it’s now often as simple as clicking around for an “about” or “disclaimer” page. And where a willingness to believe hoaxes once seemed to come from a place of honest ignorance or misunderstanding, that’s frequently no longer the case. Headlines like “Casey Anthony found dismembered in truck” go viral via old-fashioned schadenfreude — even hate.

There’s a simple, economic explanation for this shift: If you’re a hoaxer, it’s more profitable. Since early 2014, a series of Internet entrepreneurs have realized that not much drives traffic as effectively as stories that vindicate and/or inflame the biases of their readers. Where many once wrote celebrity death hoaxes or “satires,” they now run entire, successful websites that do nothing but troll convenient minorities or exploit gross stereotypes. Paul Horner, the proprietor of and a string of other very profitable fake-news sites, once told me he specifically tries to invent stories that will provoke strong reactions in middle-aged conservatives. They share a lot on Facebook, he explained; they’re the ideal audience.

The primary feature of the internet is, not to put too fine a point on it, the Speed Of Total Bullshit.  It's a feature, not a bug.  It directly results in things like fewer than half of Iowa Republicans believe President Obama was born in the US.  It's demonstrably true that he was, but the people who need facts the most are the least swayed by them.

This is America, a country where quite literally the facts no longer matter.

Lone Star Gunmen

Texas, like many other red states, is in the process of putting open carry laws into effect.  Starting in 2016 the state will allow people to carry handguns in holsters.  The challenge now is for as few people to die from this law as possible, I guess.

Experts predict that open carry will most likely take place in small numbers in rural areas, but unlike Oklahoma, six of the most populous cities in the country are in Texas: Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, and El Paso. And that’s not taking into account the political climate around gun control in Texas this year. There have been number of demonstrators openly carrying rifles in large cities, the most recent being a group of armed protestors in front of a mosque in Irving and demonstrators who marched with rifles near UT-Austin and later held a mock mass shooting to protest “gun-free zones.” It’s still unclear why they felt the need to protest what would soon be law.

But one of the biggest concerns of law enforcement is establishing the fine line between respecting the rights of someone legally carrying a handgun and protecting the general public. “What happens when an officer sees someone openly carrying a handgun in a holster, in accordance with the law, what can an officer legally do?” Shannon Edmonds, director of governmental relations for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, told theHouston Chronicle. “We keep getting more questions than answers.”

The fear is that open carry will make it harder for police officers to tell the difference between a law-abiding citizen legally carrying a gun and someone with criminal intentions carrying a gun. In the Houston Chronicle, comments like these from Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers Union, don’t really help to clarify things.

Houston police, he said, will not “be doing random stops of people simply to see if they have a CHL,” but they also will not “sit back for 30 minutes” if they have a reasonable suspicion to stop someone.

So, what will they do?

My guess is police in Texas are going to be much, much more likely to open fire on people carrying weapons, not less...especially if the people carrying weapons aren't white.

It's going to be tragic when it happens...and of course, for Texas, the solution will be -- all together now -- MORE GUNS.

Trapped In A Hell Of Our Own Making

The NY Times editorial board takes on Republican TRAP laws designed for one purpose: to make legal abortions impossible to get for as many women as possible. 2015 was a banner year for TRAP legislation, and the only thing preventing national versions of these ridiculous laws was a Democrat in the White House (which may not be the case in 2017.)

In many states, including Texas, these laws have resulted in the shuttering of all but a few clinics that perform abortions, forcing women to travel hundreds of miles for the procedure. Among other burdens, this increases the chance that a woman will try to end her pregnancy on her own. This is extremely risky, and in some states it is even grounds for a charge of attempted murder. One study, based on a recent survey, estimated that 100,000 to 240,000 Texas women ages 18 to 49 have attempted a self-induced abortion without medical assistance. These women, the study found, were significantly more likely than average to have less access to basic reproductive-health services like birth control.

TRAP laws are the only ones currently before the Supreme Court, but they are far from the only roadblock to reproductive health care put up in 2015.

Just a few examples: Five states enacted or extended waiting periods for abortions, joining the more than two dozen states that already had such laws. Some of these laws also require a woman to undergo in-person counseling, which means two separate trips to a clinic or hospital. Two states, Arizona and Arkansas, passed laws requiring doctors to give women misleading information about the possibility of “reversing” a medication-induced abortion. Arkansas also became the third state to ban the use of the modern, evidence-based drug protocol for medication abortion, which is cheaper and more effective than what the Food and Drug Administration approved in 2000.

And then there is the unrelenting, but politically unpopular, campaign by Republicans in Congress, in statehouses and on the presidential campaign trail to deny funding to Planned Parenthood. The organization, which is the only reproductive-health service provider for millions of poorer women, is already prohibited by law from using federal funds for almost all abortions.

We're one election away from the outlawing of legal and safe medical abortions across the country, period.  Either the GOP will impose a national ban, or a Republican president will appoint enough conservatives to make it happen.

Sunday Long Read: Suppression Procession

This week's Sunday Long Read is part 7 of Jim Rutenberg's Disenfranchised series at the NY Times Magazine on GOP voter suppression.  This time he focuses on the Hispanic vote, and how Republicans and the Supreme Court are working to wipe out Hispanic and especially Latino voting power in Texas.

The 2016 presidential election will be the first to take place after the gutting of the V.R.A. and with all of these new laws potentially in place. Civil rights lawyers are just as concerned about provisions they don’t yet know about — the last-minute changes that could deter voters in ways that were previously disallowed. North Carolina, Virginia and Florida are among the states previously covered in whole or in part by Section 5, and they will be closely contested. Marc Elias, a longtime Democratic lawyer and the lead counsel for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, told me, ‘‘You are likely to see more litigation over the fundamental right to vote this election cycle than we have seen since the passage of the Voting Rights Act.’’

But the bigger voting rights fight isn’t about the map of today. It’s about the map of tomorrow, which will be reshaped by Hispanics in ways that could realign national politics for generations. Hispanic Americans have faced a long legacy of white hostility, dating back to the mid-19th century, when Texas state and local officials began a sporadic campaign to chase Hispanic citizens from polls with threats of violence or prison. Congress placed Texas under Section 5 oversight in 1975, based partly on its continued use of English-only ballots. But even now, Hispanic citizens are registering and voting at levels that are not much better than those of blacks near the end of Jim Crow — a 38.8 percent turnout in Texas in 2012, according to the Census Bureau, as opposed to more than 60 percent for both blacks and ‘‘Anglos,’’ the widely used informal term for non-Hispanic whites. (In the census, Hispanics can be of any race, and do not count as a racial category.)

If Hispanics were to start registering and voting in the same percentages that Anglos do in Texas, and continued to prefer Democrats over Republicans in the same proportions that they do now in presidential elections, Democrats would be able to shave the 16-point deficit they saw there in 2012 to 6 points by 2024 — less than the deficit the party faced in Virginia in 2004, four years before it managed to win the state. Continuing demographic trends would push Texas toward the Democratic column by 2036, but by then national Democrats, seeing a winnable presidential race, would already be flooding the state with money, staff and volunteers — something they haven’t done in earnest in nearly 20 years — to put it in their column even sooner. Projections have shown black and Hispanic population growth combining to force a similar dynamic in Georgia by as early as 2020 and making North Carolina a safer Democratic bet by 2024 or 2028; Hispanic growth alone could make Arizona competitive for Democrats by 2024, if not sooner.

The stakes are highest in Texas. Its 38 Electoral College votes make it ‘‘the last line of defense’’ against the Democrats, its Republican governor, Greg Abbott, has said. This explains why liberal groups like Battleground Texas have started spending so much money — $10 million in 2013 and 2014 — on, among other efforts, registering new voters. It also explains why Representative Louie Gohmert, a Republican from Texas, would go on the conservative cable network NewsMax TV to charge that the Obama administration was encouraging undocumented immigrants to come into the country to vote illegally. The right defense against those illegal voters, he suggested, was Texas’ voter-ID law. If they’re not stopped, Gohmert warned, ‘‘it will ensure that Republicans don’t ever get elected again.’’

And that is why Republicans are doing everything they can to lock in voter suppression now.  If they do not, the country belongs to Democrats in 20 years.  It is the last gasp of a dying party, a party that will scorch the earth rather than hand over power.

The Hispanic vote is key.  Republicans have no chance at it.  So they must destroy it.
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