This program was recorded on SUNDAY, OCTOBER 19 at about 6:30 AM. Due to Covid-19, shows are being prerecorded beginning March 13th and until further notice. We miss our live call-in participants, and look forward to a time we can once again go live.
Thinkwing Radio with Mike Honig (@ThinkwingRadio), a listener call-in show airing live every Monday night from 3-4 PM (CT) on KPFT-FM 90.1 (Houston). My co-host and Editor is Andrew Ferguson.
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For the purposes of this show, I operate on two mottoes:
- An educated electorate is a prerequisite for a democracy.
- You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.
SIGNOFF QUOTE[s]: “At one point he [Trump] started to attack the press and I said, ‘You know, that is getting tired. Why are you doing this? You’re doing it over and over and it’s boring and it’s – it’s time to end that. You know, you’ve won the nomination and, uh, why do you keep hammering at this? And he [Trump] said, ‘You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.’ He said that. So, put that in your head for a minute.” ~ Lesley Stahl (“Deadline Club”, May 21, 2018). Excerpt from “Kasie DC”, May 27, 2018
TOPICS: Mail-In Ballot Postage, Early Voting Has Started; Drive-Thru Voting in Harris County; TX quickly appeals Travis Cty ruling allowing multiple ballot drop-off sites; Drive-thru voting Harris Cty greater than in-person; Women’s Marches In Washington, D.C. & Nationwide; Pandemic causes world’s economies to diverge; EU Sanctions Russian Officials Over Navalny Poisoning; The First Amendment in the age of disinformation; More.
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- “… [A]sk not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country!” ~ John F Kennedy, Inaugural speech, January 20, 1961
- The Secrecy Voting Envelope: https://www.youtube.com/embed/oxaXleNeQKA
- According to current court rulings, there will be NO straight-ticket voting in this election.
- The next election is the General Election on November 3rd, 2020
- VOTING FAQ – In Texas, Early Voting Starts October 13-thru-30!
- VOTETEXAS.GOV – Texas Voter Information
- Last Day to Apply for Ballot by Mail (Received, not Postmarked): October 23, 2020
- VOTING BY MAIL: INSTRUCTIONS
- 1-2 page Ballot: USE (1)-stamps
- 3-4 page Ballot: USE (2)-stamps
- 5-6 pages Ballot: USE (3)-stamps
- LAST DAY TO APPLY FOR BALLOT BY MAIL (RECEIVED, NOT POSTMARKED): OCTOBER 23, 2020
- HARRISVOTES.COM – Countywide Voting Centers, (Election Information Line (713) 755-6965), Harris County Clerk
- DRIVE-THRU and 24-HOUR VOTING will be available at some early voting sites. More info at HARRISVOTES.COM!
- Make sure you are registered to vote!
- On the possibility that the courts make you eligible to vote by mail on Election Day due to the Covid-19 virus, make sure that you are ready with an application to mail in. These are available from HARRISVOTES.COM. Follow directions carefully.
- For personalized, nonpartisan voter guides and information, consider visiting VOTE.ORG. Ballotpedia.com and Texas League of Women Voters are also good places to get election info.
- If you are denied your right to vote any place at any time at any polling place for any reason, ask for (or demand) a provisional ballot rather than lose your vote.
- HARRISVOTES.COM – Countywide Voting Centers
- HARRIS CTY – IDENTIFICATION REQUIRED FOR VOTING: Do not possess and cannot reasonably obtain one of these IDs?
- Fill out a declaration at the polls describing a reasonable impediment to obtaining it, and show a copy or original of one of the following supporting forms of ID:
- A government document that shows your name and an address, including your voter registration certificate
- Current utility bill
- Bank statement
- Government check
- A certified domestic (from a U.S. state or territory) birth certificate or (b) a document confirming birth admissible in a court of law which establishes your identity (which may include a foreign birth document)
- HARRIS CTY – IDENTIFICATION REQUIRED FOR VOTING: Do not possess and cannot reasonably obtain one of these IDs?
- You may vote early by-mail if:
- You are registered to vote and meet one of the following criteria:
- Away from the county of residence on Election Day and during the early voting period;
- Sick or disabled;
- 65 years of age or older on Election Day; or
- Confined in jail, but eligible to vote.
- Make sure you are registered:
- Ann Harris Bennett, Tax Assessor-Collector & Voter Registrar
- CHECK REGISTRATION STATUS HERE
- CLICK How to register to vote in Texas
- Outside Texas, try Vote.org.
- CHECK REGISTRATION STATUS HERE
- The battle over Harris County drop-off locations: Texas quickly appeals Travis County judge’s ruling that would allow multiple absentee ballot drop-off sites to reopen – A federal appeals court recently upheld Gov. Greg Abbott’s order limiting mail-in ballot delivery locations. The Travis County lawsuit focuses on potential state law violations. by Jolie McCullough 15, 20204 PM
- MIKE – Checking HarrisVotes.com, NRG STADIUM is still the only ballot drop-off location, so the ruling is apparently stayed and the suit goes on … as does the election cycle.
- Drive-thru voting locations in Harris County see greater numbers than in-person, despite challenges; By Andy Li | COMMUNITYIMPACT.COM | 8:30 AM Oct 17, 2020 CDT
- Over 42,000 residents in Harris County voted through drive-thru polling locations in the first four days of early voting Oct. 13-16. …
- “My [No. 1] priority is to keep voters and poll workers safe,” [Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins] said in a July 22 press release. “The feedback we received from the Drive-Thru Voting pilot proves that voters felt safe exercising their right to vote and that it was an easy and efficient alternative to going inside a voting center.”
- Hollins’ office also released a video detailing how voters can use the drive-thru system.
- The Texas Republican Party filed a last-minute lawsuit against Hollins’ office Oct. 12 to restrict drive-thru and curbside voting to “only those Harris County registered voters who have submitted sworn applications.” According to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office website, curbside voting is allowed upon request to an election officer.
- The lawsuit was dismissed Oct. 13, and since then many of the drive-thru sites—each of them also a regular polling site—have seen more drive-thru voters than regular voters.
- … Luke Twombly, press secretary for the Texas Republican Party, said the party is taking the case to the Texas Supreme Court.
- “We filed this case to ensure that no illegal votes would be cast and counted in this election,” Twombly said.
- Women’s Marches Being Held In Washington, D.C., Cities Nationwide; By Jason Slotkin |org | October 17, 20201:51 PM ET
- Women’s Marches are underway Saturday in Washington, D.C., and hundreds of cities across the country.
- The latest iteration of the protest event — first held the day after President Trump’s 2017 inauguration — comes as the Senate is moving toward a confirmation vote on the president’s third Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. …
- Saturday’s tent-pole event in Washington was permitted for 10,000 attendees. Organizers said that in total, some 380 events were planned throughout the country. …
- The pandemic has caused the world’s economies to diverge; COM | Oct 8th 2020 edition
- IN FEBRUARY THE coronavirus pandemic struck the world economy with the biggest shock since the second world war. …
- The crash was synchronised. As a recovery takes place, however, huge gaps between the performance of countries are opening up—which could yet recast the world’s economic order. By the end of next year, according to forecasts by the OECD, America’s economy will be the same size as it was in 2019 but China’s will be 10% larger. Europe will still languish beneath its pre-pandemic level of output and could do so for several years—a fate it may share with Japan, which is suffering a demographic squeeze. It is not just the biggest economic blocs that are growing at different speeds. In the second quarter of this year, according to UBS, a bank, the distribution of growth rates across 50 economies was at its widest for at least 40 years. …
- … America has injected more stimulus than Europe, including spending worth 12% of GDP and a 1.5 percentage point cut in short-term interest rates. But policy also includes how governments respond to the structural changes and creative destruction the pandemic is causing.
- As [The ECONOMIST’S] special report this week explains, these adjustments will be immense. The pandemic will leave economies less globalised, more digitised and less equal. As they cut risks in their supply chains and harness automation, manufacturers will bring production closer to home. As office workers continue to work in their kitchens and bedrooms for at least part of the week, lower-paid workers who previously toiled as waiters, cleaners and sales assistants will need to find new jobs in the suburbs. Until they do, they could face long spells of unemployment. In America permanent job losses are mounting even as the headline unemployment rate falls (see article). …
- EU Sanctions Russian Officials Over Navalny Poisoning, Citing Chemical Weapons Use; Bill Chappell Twitter | NPR.ORG | October 15, 202012:44 PM ET
- The European Union is hitting six high-placed Russian officials with sanctions over the suspected assassination attempt of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, citing the use of forbidden chemical weapons. Lab tests found Navalny was poisoned by a variant of Novichok, a rare Soviet-era nerve agent.
- “The use of chemical weapons constitutes a serious breach of international law,” the European Council said Thursday as it published the sanctions in the EU’s Official Journal. The council had previously condemned the poisoning of Navalny, who spent weeks receiving treatment in Germany after an emergency evacuation from Russia in late August. …
- A state entity in Moscow is also on the sanctions list. The EU said it included the State Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology, because it is responsible for “the destruction of chemical weapons stocks inherited from the Soviet Union.”
- The First Amendment in the age of disinformation; By Emily Bazelon | NYTIMES.COM | Oct. 13, 2020
- … [The US is in] the midst of an information crisis caused by the spread of viral disinformation, defined as falsehoods aimed at achieving a political goal. (“Misinformation” refers more generally to falsehoods.) …
- Republicans have promoted a false narrative of widespread voter fraud … Attorney General William Barr …[said on CNN in September that] someone in Texas was indicted for filling out 1,700 ballots for other people, which never happened. …
- … Links from Fox News hosts and other right-wing figures aligned with Trump …often dominate the top links in Facebook’s News Feed for likes, comments and shares in the United States. …
- Censorship of external critics by the government remains a serious threat under authoritarian regimes. But in the United States and other democracies, there is a different kind of threat, which may be doing more damage to the discourse about politics, news and science. It encompasses the mass distortion of truth and overwhelming waves of speech from extremists that smear and distract.
- … Along with disinformation campaigns, there is the separate problem of “troll armies” — a flood of commenters, often propelled by bots — that “aim to discredit or to destroy the reputation of disfavored speakers and to discourage them from speaking again,” Jack Goldsmith, a conservative law professor at Harvard, writes in an essay … that was published this year. … Tim Wu, a progressive law professor at Columbia, points out in the same book, the “use of speech as a tool to suppress speech is, by its nature, something very challenging for the First Amendment to deal with.”
- These scholars argue something that may seem unsettling to Americans: that perhaps our way of thinking about free speech is not the best way. At the very least, we should understand that it isn’t the only way. Other democracies, in Europe and elsewhere, have taken a different approach. …
- Facts and transparency are the intended pillars of the modern First Amendment. Since the nation’s founding, the Constitution has guaranteed that the government “shall make no law” abridging “the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” ….
- In the 1960s … Supreme Court majorities laid the cornerstones of modern American free-speech protections [when] the justices struck down an Ohio law used to arrest a Ku Klux Klan leader for speaking at a rally, [thus] barring the government from punishing speech unless it encouraged and was likely to cause “imminent lawless action” … . In [another case], the court made it difficult for a public figure to sue a newspaper for libel that included false statements. Errors were “inevitable in free debate,” the court said, and “must be protected …”
- It’s a fundamentally optimistic vision: Good ideas win. The better argument will prove persuasive.
- [As an aside, in the Star Trek:TOS episode, “The Omega Glory”, McCoy says: “Spock, I’ve found that evil usually triumphs – unless good is very, very careful.”]
- There’s a countertradition, however. It’s alert to the ways in which demagogic leaders or movements can use propaganda, an older term that can be synonymous with disinformation. A crude authoritarian censors free speech. A clever one invokes it to play a trick, twisting facts to turn a mob on a subordinated group and, in the end, silence as well as endanger its members. …
- In other words, good ideas do not necessarily triumph in the marketplace of ideas. …
- In 2012, by a 6-to-3 vote in United States v. Alvarez, the court provided some constitutional protection for an individual’s intentional lies, at least as long as they don’t cause serious harm. …
- Somewhere along the way, the conservative majority has lost sight of an essential point: The purpose of free speech is to further democratic participation. “The crucial function of protecting speech is to give persons the sense that the government is theirs, which we might call democratic legitimation,” says the Yale law professor Robert Post. …
- In a 2018 book, “Network Propaganda,” … the three authors found that the conservative media did not counter lies and distortions, but rather recycled them from one outlet to the next, on TV and radio and through like-minded websites.
- The dearth of competition for factual accuracy among conservative outlets leaves their audiences vulnerable to disinformation even if the mainstream news media combats it. People are more likely to believe fact-checking from a source that speaks against its apparent political interest, research shows. In the eyes of many conservatives, news outlets like The Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN do not fill that role when they challenge a story that Trump and Fox News promote. …
- In the past, ensuring a vibrant free press made up of competing outlets was an express aim of federal policy. From the founding until the early 20th century, Congress lowered the cost of starting and running a newspaper or magazine by setting low postage rates for mailed copies. The advent of radio raised questions about how to foster competition and public access. “Lawmakers of both parties recognized the danger that an information chokehold poses to democratic self-government,” says Ellen P. Goodman, a law professor at Rutgers University. “So policymakers adopted structures to ensure diversity of ownership, local control of media and public broadcasting.”
- In 1927, when Congress created the licensing system for exclusive rights to the broadcast spectrum, so that radio broadcasters could secure a place on the dial, lawmakers told broadcasters to act “as if people of a community should own a station.” The 1934 Communications Act similarly required anyone with a broadcast license to operate in the “public interest” and allocated spectrum based on ensuring that local communities had their own stations. In 1949, the Federal Communications Commission established the fairness doctrine, which interpreted operating in the public interest to require broadcasters to cover major public-policy debates and present multiple points of view. And in 1967, Congress created and funded the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, whose mission is to “promote an educated and informed civil society,” and reserved broadcast spectrum for local NPR and PBS stations.
- During these decades, broadcasters were held to a standard of public trusteeship, in which the right to use the airwaves came with a mandate to provide for democratic discourse. Broadcasters made money — lots of it — but profit wasn’t their only reason for existing. “The networks had a public-service obligation, and when they went to get their licenses renewed, the news divisions fulfilled that,” says Matthew Gentzkow, an economist at Stanford who studies trust in information. The model coincided with a rare period, in American history, of relatively high levels of trust in media and low levels of political polarization.
- But public trusteeship for broadcast and diverse ownership began to unravel with the libertarian shift of the Reagan era. In the mid-1980s, the administration waived the F.C.C. rule that barred a single entity from owning a TV station and a daily newspaper in the same local market to allow Rupert Murdoch to continue to own The New York Post and The Boston Herald after he bought his first broadcast TV stations in New York and Boston.
- The F.C.C. repealed the fairness doctrine, which had required broadcasters to include multiple points of view, in 1987. “When that went, that was the beginning of the complete triumph, in media, of the libertarian view of the First Amendment,” the Rutgers law professor Goodman says.
- Murdoch and Roger Ailes, a former Nixon campaign adviser, started Fox News as the first TV network to cultivate a conservative audience in 1996. A decade later, studies showed what has become known as the Fox News Effect: After a local cable system adds Fox News to the lineup, voters in the vicinity tend to shift toward Republican candidates. As Trump’s ally and frequent platform, Fox News can help shift its audience’s behavior toward his views even when they may risk public health. In a study this year, a team of economists, controlling for other factors, found that communities with higher numbers of Fox News viewers were less likely to comply with stay-at-home orders to fight coronavirus.
- In the early ’90s, David D. Smith, a conservative who inherited the Sinclair Broadcast Group from his father, bought a second local TV station in Pittsburgh, despite a federal regulation barring the ownership of more than one station in a local market. In Baltimore, Sinclair got around the same rule by creating another company, Glencairn, controlled by Smith’s mother and an employee. Sinclair is growing as local journalism is hollowing out: About 1,800 metro and community newspapers have closed or merged since 2004. Sinclair is now the largest station owner in swing states. …
- … “We are here to deliver your message — period.” Smith reportedly told Trump during the 2016 campaign. In early 2018, dozens of Sinclair newscasters across the country echoed Trump’s diatribes against the press by reading from the same script warning of “fake stories” from “some members” of the media. (Deadspin captured the repetition of the script in an eerie video montage.) In July, Sinclair released online an interview with Judy Mikovits, a conspiracy theorist who has accused Dr. Anthony Fauci of manufacturing the coronavirus. When the segment drew criticism, the company canceled the planned on-air broadcast but called itself “a supporter of free speech and a marketplace of ideas and viewpoints, even if incredibly controversial.” …
- In many ways, social media sites today function as the public square. But legally speaking, internet platforms can restrict free speech far more than the government can. They’re like malls, where private owners police conduct. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have guidelines that moderate content that could drive away users, including spam and pornography, and also certain forms of harassment, hate speech, fake engagement or misrepresentation and violent extremism. But for years, the companies enforced these rules subjectively and unevenly — allowing for explosions of anti-Semitic memes and targeted harassment of women, for example.
- Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Jack Dorsey of Twitter have each said that their sites cannot be “arbiters of truth” and make important exceptions to their guidelines. Facebook leaves up content, including hate speech, that breaks the rules when it decides it’s newsworthy, because it’s a post from a politician or a public figure. “In the same way that news outlets will report what a politician says,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post in June, “we think people should generally be able to see it for themselves on our platforms.”
- Social media sites have leaned on First Amendment principles to keep secret the identities of people who appear to abuse their services. Following the right-wing news coverage of the conspiracy theory about Seth Rich, his brother subpoenaed Twitter, in a defamation suit against media companies, to uncover the name of the person behind the Twitter account @whysprtech, alleging that person sent to Fox News a forged F.B.I. document about Rich’s case. Twitter fought back in court, saying that unmasking @whysprtech would chill speech by violating what the platform’s lawyers called a constitutional right to be anonymous. This month, a judge ordered Twitter to reveal information that could unmask the person or people behind @whysprtech.
- Over the past two months, as Trump attacked mail-in voting and the validity of the November election results, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter said they would impose a few more controls on speech about voting. The platforms expanded or reaffirmed their policies for removing a narrow category of content that misleads people about how to vote …
- In September, Facebook and YouTube joined Twitter in adding labels to content that a fact check has noted could undermine the results of the election or mislead about the results. (Facebook contracts with an independent fact-checking network, which includes both The Associated Press and Check Your Fact, a subsidiary of the right-wing outlet The Daily Caller. Twitter does fact-checking internally. YouTube relies on a network of news organizations, including PolitiFact and The Washington Post Fact Checker.)
- Fact-checking and labeling are First Amendment-friendly responses. They counter false speech with more speech, at the initiative of a private company, not the direction of the government. Today the research consensus among social scientists is that some fact-checking methods significantly reduce the prevalence of false beliefs. In print or on TV, journalists can use headlines or chyrons to provide context and debunking in real time — though they sometimes fail to do so. …
- Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters for America, a nonprofit media watchdog group, finds the changes useful but frustratingly late. “We went from them refusing to touch any of the content, an entire ocean of disinformation on voting and election integrity, and dismissal of any efforts to address that — to this. They let it metastasize, and now they start doing the thing they could have done all along.” Carusone also points out that independent researchers don’t have access to data that would allow them to study key questions about the companies’ claims of addressing disinformation. How prevalent are disinformation and hate speech on the platforms? Are people who see Facebook, Twitter and YouTube’s information labels less likely to share false and misleading content? Which type of warning has the greatest impact?
- Coordinated fake accounts posting about the election have also shown up on Twitter. In August, NBC News reported on a series of viral tweets that appeared to be from Black men who said they were lifelong Democrats and planned to leave the party. The accounts were fake; one used a stock photo of a Black man, and the other used a photo of a Dutch model. Twitter eventually took them down….
- Another reason political ads are controversial online is that campaigns or groups that pay for them don’t have to disclose their identities, as they’re required to do on TV and radio and in print. “The First Amendment value of individual autonomy means we should know who is speaking to us and why,” the Rutgers law professor Goodman argues. But online, neither the Supreme Court nor Congress has stepped in to require disclosure. …
- As social media companies have tried to address the spread of disinformation and other toxic speech, conservatives including Trump have hurled a series of accusations that the companies are showing bias against them. …
- The principle of free speech has a different shape and meaning in Europe. For the European Union, as well as democracies like Canada and New Zealand, free speech is not an absolute right from which all other freedoms flow. The European high courts have allowed states to punish incitements of racial hatred or denial of the Holocaust, for example. Germany and France have laws that are designed to prevent the widespread dissemination of hate speech and election-related disinformation. “Much of the recent authoritarian experience in Europe arose out of democracy itself,” explains Miguel Poiares Maduro, board chairman of the European Digital Media Observatory, a project on online disinformation at the European University Institute. “The Nazis and others were originally elected. In Europe, there is historically an understanding that democracy needs to protect itself from anti-democratic ideas. It’s because of the different democratic ethos of Europe that Europe has accepted more restrictions on speech.”
- The difference between the political-speech traditions of the United States and Europe was acutely apparent in the American and French presidential elections of 2016 and 2017. When Russian operatives hacked into the computers of the Democratic National Committee, they gave their stolen trove of D.N.C. emails to WikiLeaks, which released the emails in batches to do maximum damage to Clinton and her party in the months before the election. The news media covered the stolen emails extensively, providing information so the public could weigh it, even if a foreign adversary had planted it.
- The French press responded otherwise to a Russian hack in May 2017. Two days before a national election, the Russians posted online thousands of emails from En Marche!, the party of Emmanuel Macron, who was running for president. France, like several other democracies, has a blackout law that bars news coverage of a campaign for the 24 hours before an election and on Election Day. But the emails were available several hours before the blackout began. They were fair game. Yet the French media did not cover them. Le Monde, a major French newspaper, explained that the hack had “the obvious purpose of undermining the integrity of the ballot.”
- Marine Le Pen, Macron’s far-right opponent, accused the news media of a partisan cover-up. But she had no sympathetic outlet to turn to, because there is no equivalent of Fox News or Breitbart in France.
- America’s information crisis was not inevitable. Nor is it insoluble. …
- The government, federal or state, could invest in … stop the decline of local reporting by funding nonprofit journalism. It could create new publicly funded TV or radio …
- … Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act … effectively makes internet platforms, unlike other publishers, immune from libel and other civil suits for the content they carry. …
- There are plenty of ideas, and bills, floating around Washington that seek to improve the online speech environment — like the giant step of using antitrust law to break up the big tech companies, or medium-size steps like banning microtargeted political ads, requiring disclosure of the ad buyers, making the platforms file reports detailing when they remove content or reduce its spread. …
- To fend off regulation and antitrust enforcement, the internet platforms spend millions of dollars on lobbying in Washington. They align their self-interest with a nationalist pitch …
- Europe, however, doesn’t have a stake in the dominance of American tech companies. Policymakers talk about the importance of maintaining the health of their democracies. …
- [Miguel Poiares Maduro] of the European Digital Media Observatory has proposed treating the platforms like essential facilities, the European version of public utilities, and subjecting them to more regulation. Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat, has outlined a similar idea in the U.S. It would be a huge shift.