All posts by Sheila

Indiana’s “Pro Life” Liars

Those of you who read this blog with any sort of regularity already know that the Hoosier legislators who wrap themselves in the “pro-life” label are anything but.  They are either pro-birth or anti-woman or focused on pandering to far right constituencies–usually, all three.

Nowhere is the hypocrisy of that label more vivid than in their devotion to instruments of death. I recently received the following email from a university staff member; I am sharing it in its entirety, in the hopes that many of you will take the indicated actions (not that our legislators listen to the broader public, which favors more gun control by massive margins.)

House Bill 1077 passed the house last week despite broad opposition, including from law enforcement. This bill allows for anyone, 18 or older, unless otherwise prohibited, to carry loaded handguns in public without a permit. Senate Bill 14 is similar to House Bill 1077; it allows anyone, 21 or older, unless otherwise prohibited, to carry loaded handguns in public without a permit. Senate Bill 14 will be heard by the Judiciary Committee on January 19th. Indiana has nearly 1,000 gun deaths a year, and gun deaths have increased 30% in the last decade, compared to an 17% increase nationwide. Indianapolis has seen a record number of homicides in 2021— many of which were gun homicides. Repealing the permitting requirement is irresponsible, reckless, has led to increased gun violence, and guts essential permitting standards for carrying handguns in public.

What you can do:
Sign and Share the Petition: https://www.change.org/p/oppose-hb-1077-say-no-to-permitless-carry.
Text INDIANA to 644-33 to tell your lawmaker to vote NO on HB1077/SB14 when it comes up for discussion and a vote before the full Senate chamber.

Senate Bill 143, Self-defense, specifies that “reasonable force” includes the pointing of a loaded or unloaded firearm for purposes of self-defense and arrest statutes. This is a dangerous policy as pointing a firearm does not deescalate a confrontation. This stand your ground expansion will likely disproportionately impact communities of color. When white shooters kill Black victims, the resulting homicides are considered justifiable 5 times more often than when the shooter is Black and the victim is white. Senate Bill 143 has a hearing on January 18th.

What you can do:
If your senator is on the Corrections and Criminal Law Committee, tell them to vote NO on SB 143.Corrections and Criminal Law Committee: Sen. Michael Young, Sen. Susan Glick, Sen. Mike Bohacek, Sen. Aaron Freeman, Sen. Eric Koch, Sen. Jack Sandlin, Sen. Kyle Walker, Sen. Rodney Pol, Sen. Greg Taylor
If your senator is not on the Corrections and Criminal Law Committee, tell them to vote NO on SB 143 if it comes up for discussion and a vote before the full Senate chamber.

Senate Bill 228, Acquisition and storage of firearms, prohibits a person from keeping or storing an unsecured firearm on any premises controlled by the person under certain circumstances; it also requires a person wishing to transfer a firearm to another person to transact the transfer through a firearms dealer. Senate Bill 228 has yet to have a hearing scheduled. Unsecured guns in the home pose a substantial risk to children who may find and use them against themselves or others. Estimates suggest that modest increases in the number of American homes safely storing firearms could prevent almost a third of youth gun deaths due to suicide and unintentional firearm injury

What you can do:
Email or Call Senator Young (s35@iga.in.gov | 317-232-9517) and ask him to hear SB 228 in the Corrections and Criminal Law Committee.

Something else you can do, if you live in a district (mis)represented by one of Indiana’s pro-death, pro-gun cowboys, is vote against them at the next election and get your rational neighbors to do the same.

And be sure to let them know why.

 

Another Reason To Get Rid Of The Electoral College

A few days ago, Heather Cox Richardson–a historian who writes Substack’s popular “Letters from an American”–reported on several aspects of the Trump coup effort. Among the various efforts she itemized was the following

Over the past several days, news has broken that lawmakers or partisan officials in various states forged documents claiming that Trump won the 2020 election. This links them to the insurrection; as conservative editor Bill Kristol of The Bulwark notes, false electoral counts were part of Trump’s plan to get then–Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to count a number of Biden’s electoral votes on the grounds that the states had sent in conflicting ballots.

Interestingly, on December 17, 2021, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity that in four states there were an “alternate slate of electors voted upon that Congress will decide in January.” McEnany talked to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol yesterday.

Over the past few election cycles, the history and operation of the Electoral College has come under increasing scrutiny. And the more closely this odd element of our electoral process is examined, the more anti-democratic and positively dangerous it looks.

Whether, as several constitutional scholars insist, the Electoral College was a concession to the slave states, or as its defenders contend, it was an effort to give added electoral heft to smaller states–it  It currently undermines democracy and–as Richardson’s report illustrates–facilitates the efforts of those who would overturn the will of American voters.

Structurally, there is a great deal wrong with the Electoral College. For one thing, it substantially advantages white rural voters. Research suggests that–thanks to the current operation of the College– every rural vote is worth one and a third of every urban vote. Small states already have a significant advantage by virtue of the fact that every state–no matter how thinly or densely populated–has two Senators.

No other advanced democracy in the world uses anything like the Electoral College (and as political scientists have noted, there are good reasons for that). And for those who fashion themselves as “originalists,” it’s worth pointing out that our current version of the Electoral College is dramatically different from the mechanism as it was originally conceived and even as it was later amended.

According to law professor Edward Foley, who wrote a book on the subject, the changes made to the College by the Twelfth Amendment in 1804 rested on the assumption that the candidate who won a majority of the popular vote would be elected. Those who crafted the Amendment failed to foresee the emergence of third party candidates whose presence on the ballot often means that the winner of a given state doesn’t win a majority, but a plurality of the vote.

These issues aside, the main problem with the Electoral College today isn’t even the  undemocratic and disproportionate power it gives rural voters and smaller states. It’s the statewide winner-take-all laws, under which  states award all their electors to the candidate with the most popular votes in their state– erasing all the voters in that state who didn’t vote for the winning candidate.

Forty-eight states have winner-take-all rules. As a result, most are “safe” for one party. The only states that really matter in any given federal election are “battleground” states — especially bigger ones like Florida and Pennsylvania, where a swing of a few thousand or even a few hundred votes can shift the entire pot of electors from one candidate to the other.

Winner-take-all has an even more pernicious effect–it disincentivizes voting by people who are in their state’s political minority. If your state is red and you are blue, or vice-versa, it’s easy to convince yourself your Presidential vote is meaningless, because it is.

Winner take all rules are why Democratic votes for President simply don’t count in Indiana and Republican votes for President don’t count in New York. Even if the margin is incredibly thin, the candidate who comes out on top gets all of that state’s electoral votes. If the votes were apportioned instead—if a winner of 51% of the popular vote got 51% of the electoral vote, and the candidate who got 49% got 49%, it wouldn’t just be fairer. It would encourage voters who support the “other” party in reliably red or blue states to vote, because–suddenly– that vote would count.

Joe Biden had to win the popular vote by five percentage points or more — by more than seven million votes — to insure his win in the 2020 election. That’s not only an unfair and undemocratic burden–it’s insane.

Now we learn that–in addition to its multiple anti-democratic effects–the College facilitates cheating. It really needs to go.

 

 

 

 

Grievance, Trust And Conspiracy

A long essay in The Washington Post a few weeks ago made an effort to demystify America’s current embrace of conspiracy theories.

The author acknowledged that Americans have always been susceptible to these theories, and that mass delusions, disinformation and conspiracy mongering are hardly unique to America. Granted, the internet has made dissemination of these beliefs far simpler, and more visible to those of us that don’t engage with them, but that isn’t a measure of how prevalent they are.

I read the essay with considerable interest, because–really! What sorts of people believe the most prominent versions going around these days? The essay described a couple of them:

QAnon followers believe that former president Donald Trump spent his time as president battling a cabal of Satan-worshiping “deep state” Democrats who traffic children for sex, a paranoia that has often led to valuable resources being diverted away from real missing children cases. Since the 2020 election, they have also come to believe that Trump’s loss was the result of massive fraud, a disproved conspiracy theory that has in turn created a real threat to our democracy and elections. Going further than the 7 in 10 Republican voters who believe the same election conspiracy, Q followers also assure with prophetic zeal that Trump will be reinstated imminently. Mass arrests of the country’s corrupt elite and a “Great Awakening” will follow, they say.

This one is even more bizarre (if possible):

This one — bordering on messianic and based in part on numerology — involved the slain president’s son, who himself died in a plane crash in 1999. Here on the grassy knoll, they believed, John F. Kennedy Jr. would soon reemerge more than two decades after having faked his own death, or would perhaps be reincarnated outright. The resurrected son of the assassinated father, they assured, would become Trump’s vice president.

The author assured readers that–looney-tunes as these seem–they emerge from a long history of similarly outlandish beliefs. He traced a variety of these irrational stories through the nation’s history–remember all those witches in Salem? The “alternative” theories about the assassination of JFK? The insistence that Barack Obama was really born in Kenya?

Why do such theories thrive here–and under what circumstances? I’m not a psychiatrist and I don’t play one on TV, but think the following paragraphs explain a lot. (It always comes back to racism…)

Here in the United States, conspiracy theories have always been exacerbated by our unique racial, ethnic and religious pluralism, according to Goldberg and other historians.

As populist myths, conspiracy theories allow their believers to feel part of a “true” American community, as special defenders of it. They thrive, the historical record shows, amid the mistrust that exists between people and communities.
Americans have often embraced conspiratorial stories and lies with particular vigor during moments of pronounced uncertainty wrought by social and technological change. And conspiracy theory opportunists throughout U.S. history have found myriad ways to exploit these particular American fissures.

Students of these theories tell us that they are about certainty, belonging and power. They flourish because they resonate with people who are fearful and/or dissatisfied with their lives–people looking for someone to blame for whatever it is that they fear or whatever has gone wrong. As the author says,

To understand the lure of conspiracy theories and alternate realities, you have to interrogate what people get out of believing such things. You have to understand the human emotions — fear, estrangement, resentment — that underlie them.

The author also explains why we are hearing so much more about these trips into la-la land.

Over the past 20 years, sweeping technological change has dramatically accelerated the speed with which conspiracy theories can spread and has made it easier for people with fringe beliefs to find one another. I have seen in my reporting time and again that conspiracy theory communities online can often become more important to believers than their offline relations, a new kind of self-segregation that can eviscerate even family bonds. In our chaotic and divided moment, the stories we believe say something about the factions we belong to, like the music we listen to or the clothes we wear.

The Internet has not only made it easier for conspiratorial communities to organize, but it has also made conspiracy mongering substantially less arduous. No longer do those trafficking in conspiracy theories have to write books or stitch together grand presentations for maximum effect.

Add in the erosion of trust in American institutions, including government, and the very human tendency to see simple incompetence as something darker and more intentional–the need to identify a culprit who did it (whatever “it” was) on purpose…and the next thing you know, you’ve got Jewish Space Lasers.

We live in weird times.

The World’s Worst Legislature–Again

Okay–every once in a while, Hoosier legislators introduce bills worth supporting. Indiana’s ACLU tracks them and you can find them here, along with several abominations that probably have a better chance of being passed by the culture warriors that dominate the Indiana Statehouse.

Speaking of the multiple deficiencies of that body…

Indiana’s legislature is run by a super-majority of Republicans who represent–and are responsive to– rural parts of the state. Even districts that include parts of Indianapolis and other Indiana cities have a majority of suburban and rural voters, thanks to the extreme gerrymandering that “marries” carved up urban areas to larger outlying precincts.

The absolute dominance of rural interests explains a lot of the retrograde policies beloved by the members of the General Assembly, but it doesn’t explain the extent of legislators’ resentment of Indianapolis. You would think that lawmakers would at least occasionally try to accommodate the needs of central Indiana residents, if for no other reason than recognition that the city is the economic driver of the state.

But no.

When the culture warriors aren’t attacking public education and schoolteachers, they take aim at the needs of urban Hoosiers. I’ve previously pointed to the ways in which state distribution formulas shortchange city roads and schools; this session, two State Senators have decided to overrule the needs and express wishes of Indianapolis residents by once again trying to kill the city’s belated effort to provide citizens with accessible public transportation.

As the Indianapolis Star reported,

2022 presents IndyGo’s third go-around with challenges in the Indiana General Assembly.

In the previous two legislative sessions, lawmakers introduced bills seeking to restrict bus rapid transit expansion until IndyGo raised a percentage of its revenues through private dollars, and make IndyGo, rather than utility companies, pay for utility relocations for its projects. After drawn-out debate, neither of these came to fruition.

This year, Senators Jack Sandlin and Michael Young introduced a bill that would prohibit future dedicated bus lanes outside the Mile Square, effectively tanking the Blue Line project, the city’s third bus rapid transit line that would run along Washington Street between Cumberland and the Indianapolis International Airport.

“It’s disappointing,” Evans said. “But, you know, we’re hopeful, as we always are, that the voice of the people” — the 59% of Marion County residents who voted for the referendum in 2016 for a public transit tax — “will be heard.”

There are plenty of reasons to support public transportation in Indianapolis, but even people who don’t agree–people who were in the distinct minority who voted “no” on that referendum–can see that this attack is simply one of the legislature’s regular, despicable efforts to show citizens of the state’s largest city who calls the shots.

It took three sessions just to get our legislative overlords’ permission to hold a referendum to tax ourselves. (Even then, the “we know what’s best for you” yahoos at the statehouse forbid such tax dollars to be used for light rail. Why? Who knows?) 

Business and government leaders in Indianapolis have worked for years on IndyGo’s plans to extend public transit. They’ve fielded studies, investigated the experiences of similar cities, and–importantly–managed to obtain significant federal financing for the project.

As Inside Indiana Business has reported,

The line would be Marion County’s third bus rapid transit line in a year’s long plan to improve mass transit. Using dedicated lanes, the routes are intended to more effectively move bus traffic and improve service. 

IndyGo is set to receive federal funding to cover nearly half of the 220 million dollar project. Years of planning have gone into the line that also includes infrastructure improvement along the westside corridor with miles of new sidewalks, pavement, ADA ramps and traffic signals.

This is not the first time the Blue Line has been under scrutiny. Last session, a measure from Republican Sen. Aaron Freeman (Indianapolis) sought to change IndyGo’s funding arraignment.

These attacks come from petty would-be tyrants with histories of demonstrated animosity for Indianapolis and the diverse–and largely Democratic– folks who live here. And since the state does not have anything remotely resembling home rule, lawmakers can choose to ignore a democratic process that allowed citizens of Indianapolis to voice their preferences. They can vent their spleen with impunity.

There is no principled policy reason for the Sandlin/Young bill.; it’s a sheer expression of vitriol. They are proposing to overrule the democratically-demonstrated desires of Indianapolis residents because they can.

After all, they only answer to rural Hoosiers who don’t need public transit.

 

Will Propaganda Win?

Did Betty White die because she got a Covid vaccine booster?

Evidently, that’s one of the messages being circulated by the (very busy) purveyors of what we politely call “misinformation” and what is more accurately labeled propaganda. 

According to the News Literacy Project,

 Propagators of anti-vaccine disinformation previously have seized on celebrity deaths — including baseball great Hank Aaron; boxer Marvin Hagler; Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh; and rapper DMX — to falsely impugn the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. Remember: Vaccinated people also die of other causes and a significant portion of the population, including celebrities, are vaccinated. Posts that falsely connect high-profile deaths to vaccines are often attempting to exploit the public’s emotions to generate fear and distrust.

With respect to a phony Betty White quote used in that particular effort, the Project noted

This particular rumor has another red flag: The fake quote has been added to a screenshot of a social media preview for an actual article in which the quote never appeared. This lends the fabricated quote an air of authenticity without providing a clickable link, making it less likely that people will check the alleged source to confirm that the quote is authentic.

I subscribe to a couple of newsletters devoted to news literacy. There are some valiant efforts “out there” to combat the “choose your own reality” media environment we currently inhabit–efforts to provide people with mechanisms for evaluating the credibility of social media posts.

In addition to debunking the suggestion that 99-year-old Betty White died from a vaccine booster, the most recent newsletter from the News Literacy Project highlighted the continued, determined campaign to peddle the “Big Lie.” 

A year after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the role of misinformation in fueling the historic attack continues to come into clearer focus, as does the extent to which falsehoods still shape Americans’ divided views of the deadly riot. Misinformation swept across podcasts, Facebook — as documented in this new investigation by ProPublica and The Washington Post — and other social media platforms ahead of the attack, allowing false narratives to take root and spread. Some news organizations recently published fact-checking roundups that debunk persistent falsehoods and underscore the ongoing threat misinformation poses to democracy.

The problem, of course, is that the folks most susceptible to these falsehoods, and most likely to disseminate them further, don’t read or trust outlets like ProPublica and The Washington Post. Instead, they look for more ideologically compatible sources when they engage in what we used to call “cherry picking”–what psychologists call “confirmation bias”–in their search for information.

No matter how off-the-wall any particular belief might be, there’s a website out there confirming it. (As I used to tell my Media and Public Policy students, if you really believe that aliens once landed in Roswell, New Mexico, I can find you several websites with pictures of the aliens…)

Right now, credible media outlets are focused on very real threats to American democratic institutions. And although it is absolutely true that the country has previously faced and overcome significant challenges to our unity and constitutional system, I can’t help thinking about what is different this time. I think about  that quote attributed to Mark Twain to the effect that “that history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes.”

What is different about the stanza of that rhyme that we currently occupy is an unprecedented media environment–the extent of disinformation and propaganda, the ease of accessing false “evidence” proving that this or that conspiracy theory is correct, and the consequential, damaging absence of a widely shared reality.

It has never been easier to believe nonsense. It has never been easier to attribute the inevitable disappointments in life to nefarious (albeit non-existent) machinations of “others”– those people who look, think or pray differently.   

Political scientists and (some) politicians have long emphasized the critical importance of a free press to a free society. That’s why the First Amendment prohibited government suppression–i.e.,censorship. But censorship–like so much else–has evolved. Thanks to new communication technologies, contemporary autocrats have discovered that controlling the flow of information no longer requires suppression: censorship can be achieved simply by sowing confusion and/or drowning out disfavored news.

We are about to see what happens when credible journalism is buried in bullshit– swamped by outlets purveying partisan propaganda and lunatic conspiracy theories–and citizens at that media smorgasbord are invited to pick and choose from the copious selection. 

I’m very much afraid this “rhyme” is uncharted territory.