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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Rush Limbaugh Is Dead
      •  How to Turn Bad News into Good News, Texas Style: Lie
      •  Manchin Is a Byrder
      •  Biden Does Not Support Forgiving $50,000 in Student Loans
      •  Democrats May Turn Marjorie Taylor Greene into a Boogeywoman
      •  Traffic at Far-Right News Sites Spiked in 2020
      •  Forty Acres and a Mule, Revisited

Rush Limbaugh Is Dead

Longtime conservative radio shock-talker Rush Limbaugh has succumbed to the lung cancer with which he was diagnosed a little over a year ago. According to Politico: "Kathryn Rogers, the longtime radio host's wife, announced her husband's death at the beginning of his show on Wednesday." Limbaugh was married to Rogers for 11 years, which was a personal record. He had four wives in all; this champion of traditional marriage averaged under 8 years per wife.

Before the FCC repealed the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, radio stations had to be fair—that is, present all sides of controversial matters equally. After it was repealed, partisans could grind any ax they wanted to a razor-sharp edge. Limbaugh was a master of that. He sold the conservative viewpoint with gusto, mocking and insulting anyone who was not conservative enough for his tastes. He had millions of listeners every day, as well as millions who despised him. Limbaugh loathed Bill Clinton and especially Barack Obama, but he also hated Black activists, gay activists, abortion rights activists, animal rights activists, vegetarians, environmentalists, feminists, and many other groups he saw as un-American. Some of his more famous remarks include:

  • Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?
  • The most beautiful thing about a tree is what you do with it after you cut it down.
  • Feminism was established as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society.

One thing that can be said in Limbaugh's favor is that he didn't give up. He was basically stone-cold totally deaf (possibly from taking too many opioids) until he had a cochlear implant. The implant helped only a little, but allowed him to keep doing his radio shows. He hired a court reporter to listen to listeners' calls and type them out in real time so he could read them off his monitor and respond to them, even though he couldn't hear them. Stage IV lung cancer didn't stop him either, until it did.

Not surprisingly, Limbaugh's death was the top story on Fox News, which described him as being "a monumentally influential media icon." For once, Fox certainly nailed it (OK, maybe for twice, since Fox also called Arizona correctly on Election Night). It lovingly pointed out that his show was on 600 stations and up to 27 million people listened to him every week (though that number comes from Limbaugh himself, while analysts without a vested interest say his weekly audience was more like 15 million).

Fox also noted that Limbaugh was one of Donald Trump's early boosters in 2016, at a time when other conservative broadcasters would not touch him with a 10-foot pole. Though initially a skeptic, Limbaugh became a rapid convert to the Church of Trump, and stuck with the former president right until the end, mimicking Trump's claim that he won the 2020 election. Whether Limbaugh actually believed that or was just telling his audience what they wanted to hear, we may never know. But well into this year, Limbaugh was saying of Biden: "You didn't win this thing fair and square, and we are not just going to be docile like we've been in the past and go away and wait 'til the next election."

Here are the front pages of some right-wing media outlets:

Breitbart's headline is 
'Talk Radio Legend Limbaugh Dead at 70, Will Forever Be Remembered as the Greatest of All Time,' Fox's headline is 
'Greatest of All Time: Rush Limbaugh, Talk Radio Trailblazer and American Patriot, Dead at 70,' and Newsmax's headline
is 'Rush Limbaugh, Talk Radio Legend, Dies at 70 of Lung Cancer'.

Breitbart is shown at left, Fox News at top right, and Newsmax at bottom right. Interestingly, Limbaugh did not even make the front page at OANN. Is that because he wasn't right-wing enough? Because they perceive him as the competition? Because they're a hacky organization that can barely handle breaking news? Who knows?

Some conservative outlets covered Limbaugh's passing, but also took time to note their outrage at the response from liberals. A headline in The Daily Wire reads Blue-Check Leftists Celebrate Rush Limbaugh's Death, while RedState had Left-Wingers Turn in a Disgusting Performance Following Rush Limbaugh's Death, and at The National Review it was Liberals Celebrate Rush Limbaugh's Death, 'Good Riddance' Trends on Twitter. It's remarkable how often conservatives are victims these days (see below for another, Texas-sized example).

In any case, quite a few conservative folks are comparing the "respectable" way that conservatives responded to the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the "despicable" way that liberals responded to the death of Limbaugh. That's a falsehood, first of all—there was plenty of nastiness when Ginsburg died, including the inevitable comparisons to Adolf Hitler. Beyond that, however, it is an apples to oranges comparison. Lots of people spend their lives advocating strongly for a political agenda of some sort, as Ginsburg did, without being nasty about it on an everyday basis. Limbaugh, by contrast, spent decades dividing the country and pitting Americans against one another. There is no great left-wing parallel, but if you had to pick one, it would be someone like Michael Moore or maybe Ward Churchill, and not RBG. In any event, people tend to be treated with kid gloves immediately following their demise, but that's not an absolute. And if you put together the sort of career that Limbaugh did, you should know full well that you're forfeiting that presumption. Especially since he mocked many ill and/or dead people while he was broadcasting, including AIDS victims, COVID-19 victims, Eric Garner, George Floyd, Michael J. Fox and, yes, RBG.

Anyhow, with Limbaugh gone, will conservatism be the same now? It will survive, of course, but Trump and Trumpism have lost an important backer. Yes, there are many other Trumpeters on radio, but none of them have the reach of Limbaugh. Also, many of his listeners swallowed everything he said whole, never questioning any of it. Few other broadcasters had that devoted a following. He won't be replaced easily. (V & Z)

How to Turn Bad News into Good News, Texas Style: Lie

Winter storms have knocked out electric power to over 3 million customers in Texas. While Texans are shivering without power and heat, Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) saw this as an opportunity to knock the Green New Deal. He said that some of the state's wind turbines froze. Take that, Green New Deal. Actually, about 75% of Texas' electricity is made by burning fossil fuels and that's where the biggest failures occurred. The renewable sources actually did pretty well compared to the fossil fuel sources, especially given that the renewable sources are poorly maintained and regulated (in comparison to other states, like Kansas and Oklahoma, where the turbines are still humming along). Abbott called the situation "unacceptable." If he asks the legislature to pass a law requiring the power operators to be able to withstand winter storms, the lobbyists will tell them that the cost of electricity will skyrocket as a result and he will probably back down and it will happen again. After all, there was a similar storm in 2011 and in the aftermath, nothing changed.

Not content with Abbott's medium-sized lie, Tucker Carlson went for a full-throated lie. He said that Texas had become totally reliant on windmills. This is completely false. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: "The infrastructure failures in Texas are quite literally what happens when you *don't* pursue a Green New Deal."

Texas runs its own energy show, largely free of federal regulation. Operators are lightly regulated and didn't bother to winterize their facilities. So, when it got cold, everything froze. It is a policy decision that Texans made. The pooh-bahs decided that cheap energy is the primary goal and if millions of people have to freeze once in a while, it is a good tradeoff, although the people who are now freezing might not agree.

Talking about how hard it is to produce electricity when it is cold is nonsense. There is plenty of electricity in Alaska, northern Canada, Norway, and even Siberia. It merely requires the operators to prepare for the cold. As a result of the shortage in the South, the wholesale price of a megawatt-hour in Houston went from $22 to about $9,000. The spot price for March futures for natural gas in Oklahoma are normally $3 per million BTUs, but have hit $600 now because production went from 13 billion cubic feet per day to 7 billion now. One utility company, Griddy, which didn't prepare for the financial hit by buying megawatt futures, told its customers to go find another provider. How's that for service? In the middle of big snowstorms and power outages, your electricity company tells you to go find another one. And you can't do that on your computer because there is no power and in many places there is no cellular service because the cell towers don't have power.

If a spell of very bad weather had hit any other state, it wouldn't have been a problem because operators there would simply have bought whatever number of megawatt-hours they needed from operators in other states that were running normally. But Texas is the Lone Star State. They do things their way and don't need socialist agreements with other states. Texas is largely off the national grid, so even if a Texas company wanted to buy power from a producer in Nevada or Florida or somewhere else, it couldn't do it. Loading up a railroad car full of rechargeable AA batteries won't do the trick. Eventually it will warm up, power will come back on, everyone will forget this week's misery, and presumably nothing will change before the next storm. Then the cycle will repeat the same way, only with a different governor blaming the Green New Deal. (V)

Manchin Is a Byrder

Democrats believe that most, if not all, Senate Republicans will oppose Joe Biden's $1.9-trillion COVID-19 relief bill. Consequently they are preparing to pass it using the budget reconciliation procedure. However, the "Byrd Rule" states that only provisions that are primarily focused on the federal budget, either increasing or decreasing federal spending or taxes, may be in reconciliation bills. Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough gets to make the call on what is allowed and what is not. Some Democrats want to make it like a Christmas tree and hang all kinds of pretty ornaments not related to the underlying object on it, like a $15/hr minimum wage and more.

Good luck with that. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has already told Joe Biden that if MacDonough removes provisions from the bill during the Byrd bath and Democrats try some subterfuge to get them back in somehow, he is not going to vote for the bill. Without his vote, the bill won't pass if every Republican votes against it, which is likely. So the Democrats are stuck with humoring Manchin. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), chairman of the Budget Committee, said that he has a room full of lawyers dreaming up arguments to hopefully convince MacDonough. But if she isn't convinced, the minimum wage will continue to sit where it has been since 2009, at $7.25 per hour.

Some Democrats will no doubt start thinking about how to get rid of Manchin in 2024, but that probably wouldn't be very productive. Donald Trump carried West Virginia by almost 40 points, winning every county. The most likely replacements for Manchin are the billionaire governor, Jim Justice (R-WV), the richest man in West Virginia, or billionaire coal baron Don Blankenship, who ran for president in 2020 on the ticket of the far-right Constitution Party. Blankenship was CEO of Massey Energy, the sixth-largest coal company in America, when an explosion in one of its mines killed 38 miners as a result of the company ignoring years of safety warnings. It is doubtful that either of those politicians would vote for any increase in the minimum wage under any conditions. So Manchin is realistically the best the Democrats can expect from a West Virginia senator. Manchin is currently the only Democrat who holds statewide office in West Virginia and is also the only Democrat from West Virginia in Congress. Democrats should hope and pray that he manages to hang on in 2024 because his replacement would be a lot less friendly to them. (V)

Biden Does Not Support Forgiving $50,000 in Student Loans

One thing that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party wants is the cancellation of student loans. The topic is very controversial since some former students who worked hard and struggled to pay off loans are not happy seeing others who didn't being let off the hook. Also, blue-collar workers who couldn't or didn't go to college but have other debts don't see why student debts should be canceled but not credit card debts.

Joe Biden said on Tuesday that he is not going to issue an executive order that waives $50,000 in student debt, although he is OK with writing off $10,000 per student. This puts him at odds with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and others who want a much larger number. Yet others want some kind of means test, so that wealthy doctors and lawyers who incurred a lot of debt when they were students don't get a freebie. The whole area is very fraught.

Another issue is how much authority Biden has to waive any student debt if Congress refuses to act. There is no way for Biden to cancel loans students got from private banks, since the banks would instantly sue and almost certainly win in court. However, the secretary of education probably has the power to cancel some debt to the federal government on his own. That would make some people unhappy, but would someone who didn't have any (remaining) student debt have standing to sue? "This upsets me" is probably not enough damage to grant standing, so the courts might not take the case.

There is a fairly good chance that some debt will be canceled, though, because it will be popular with young people and Democrats will be able to use this issue to try to get them to the polls in 2022. Also, if, say, 10 million people each get $10,000 worth of debt canceled, that injects $100 billion into the economy over time, helping to reboot it. Pepping up the economy is a high priority for Biden, so he will probably push for some loan forgiveness for that reason. (V)

Democrats May Turn Marjorie Taylor Greene into a Boogeywoman

For years, Republicans have run ads featuring Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in attempt to scare people about socialism, grandmotherism, or something else. More recently, the GOP ad-makers decided they need more diversity, so a full 8% of all Republican ads in 2020 featured Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. From a bartender to the face of the Democratic Party in 2 years is pretty impressive. It's sort of a reverse Joe McCarthy, who went from the face of the Republican Party to a fall-down drunk in 2 years. Democrats ran some ads featuring Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), but people like turtles, so he isn't scary enough. Now Democrats think they may have finally found a boogeywoman they can rally around: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). She has said so many outrageous things on the record that they have a sumptuous buffet of material to pick and choose from. Ads for different states could use different video clips (antisemitic things in Florida, anti-immigrant things in Arizona, anti-California things in California; you get the picture).

Until this year, Donald Trump was the best foil, but with him sidelined, Democrats are hunting for a new one. While Greene fits the bill well, the problem is that Democrats are often trying to reach marginal voters of one kind or another, and it is precisely those voters who may not know who she is. On the other hand, high-information voters in the suburbs usually do know who she is, so ads aimed at them showing Greene saying something completely wacko (Jewish space lasers setting forests on fire) could have an effect. The trick though, is to make her the face of the entire Republican Party. Mentioning the vote in the House to strip her of her committee assignments could show that Republicans largely support her, which could help.

Greene is not the first person in Congress who might have fulfilled this role. Former Iowa representative Steve King said things at least as racist as anything Greene has said, but he wasn't well known enough to be a plausible face for the Republican Party. He was just an old white guy with reactionary views. One Democrat said: "It's like getting stuck sitting next to the wrong uncle at Thanksgiving." Greene is much higher profile and much more passionate when she says something, so she makes a better target. Also, she is more attractive than King, which is important if you want people to watch your ad. She has real potential to star in Democratic ads, so keep an eye out for her. If AOC becomes the face of the Democratic Party (in Republican ads) and MTG becomes the face of the Republican Party (in Democratic ads), is that a step forward for women in politics? (V)

Traffic at Far-Right News Sites Spiked in 2020

Internet traffic to previously marginal far-right news outlets like One America News Network and Newsmax grew sharply in 2020. OANN grew by 148% to 77 million visits and Newsmax grew by 141% to 223 million visits. One of the biggest gainers of all was the Gateway Pundit, which doubled to 310 million visits. That's a lot of traffic. We're jealous. We had only 20 million visits and about 48 million page views in 2020.

A lot of the new visitors to these sites came from Fox News, which some people don't consider conservative enough. Also, after Fox called the election for Biden, some of its viewers were desperate for alternative facts and found them at these other sites. Those alternative facts may cause them some trouble down the road, though. Newsmax, in particular, "conceded" that Joe Biden was going to be sworn in as president on Jan. 20, but only because the Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic machines were rigged to change votes to Biden. After Dominion's lawyers sprung into action, Newsmax admitted that it had no evidence that the machines were rigged. If either or both companies sue them, they are in a world of trouble.

Traffic at some left-wing sites also grew, but not nearly as much as at the right-wing sites. The Intercept grew 56% to 50 million; The Guardian grew 53% to 962 million, and The Week grew 30% to 84 million. Overall, the top 10 left-leaning sites did not have a sharp spike and most of their growth followed normal industry patterns.

Demographics differ between left- and right-leaning sites. Some 38% of visitors to left-wing sites were under 34. The corresponding figure for right-wing sites was 29%. Readers of left-wing sites were 41% female vs. 36% of right-wing sites. We're really jealous about that one. Engagement was also different. People read the left-wing sites for 2 minutes and 54 seconds vs. the right-wing sites that held their readers' attention for an incredible 3 minutes and 49 seconds. Maybe our problem is having more material than you can possibly read in 3 minutes and 49 seconds.

One note that puts this in context however, is that during the pandemic, consumer-oriented sites grew much faster than news sites. For example, beauty-oriented grew by 843%. After all, if you are going to be on Zoom TV every day, you want to look your best. (V)

Forty Acres and a Mule, Revisited

Very late in the Civil War, Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman issued Special Field Orders No. 15, which confiscated a bunch of valuable white-owned land in South Carolina and tentatively redistributed it to former slaves, 40 acres at a time. Though no mules are mentioned in the order, Sherman's maneuver nonetheless gave rise to hopes that every freed slave would be granted 40 acres and a mule by the federal government. Though there was some talk of that, it never happened. Sherman's order, meanwhile, was countermanded by Andrew Johnson after he became president. And so, most of the slaves ended up in a slightly different state of servitude, namely sharecropping.

A bill currently in the House, appropriately numbered H.R. 40, is intended to continue in the vein of SFO 15. The bill would create a commission to study the question of reparations to Black citizens. In principle, Joe Biden supports the bill, as does Kamala Harris. Similar bills have been introduced for years, but in the aftermath of some very high profile killing of Black people last year, it might have a chance this time, though probably not much of one.

The bill is unlikely to get even a single Republican vote and even Democrats are not all for it. And remember, this is just a bill to study the issue. A bill that actually awarded reparations in any form would be 1000x more controversial. Even the Congressional Black Caucus doesn't see this bill as a priority. It is more concerned about getting vaccines to Black Americans and is more worried about Black renters being evicted and Black home owners being foreclosed.

A reparations bill would have to deal with a huge number of very thorny issues, including:

  • Would someone with a single Black ancestor 150 years ago be eligible?
  • If so, would a potential recipient have to prove he or she had a (partly) Black ancestor? How?
  • What about people whose ancestors were all free Black Men and Women who lived in the North?
  • Would people like Kamala Harris, whose father immigrated from Jamaica, get money?
  • Would green-card holders who are not citizens get something?
  • Would successful Black millionaires be eligible?
  • Would the reparations be in the form of cash payments?
  • If so, would the amount be dependent on income or wealth?
  • If not direct cash payments, then what?

The barriers to carrying this out would be enormous and a lot of people would be unhappy if they didn't make the cut (for example, people who have family stories of being slaves 200 years ago but can't prove it).

Then there is the matter of other ethnic groups that were never slaves, but were treated very badly. How about Native Americans? And Latinos? What about the descendants of the Chinese coolies brought in during the 19th century in large numbers to build the transcontinental railroad? If they have advanced degrees from MIT, would they still be eligible? And finally, how about the descendants of white immigrants from Europe who were much hated in the 19th century, like the Irish who flooded the country after the Irish potato famine of 1845. Trump supporters who are descended from once-scorned white ethnic groups probably wouldn't take this well.

What might work, and would generate a lot less anger, are programs to help Black folks get ahead now rather than giving them cash or asking them to produce a fully documented family tree going back 200 years. For example, zero-interest government loans to Black people who want to start a small business. Or money to HBCUs to put them on better financial footing. Or renovation of schools in largely Black areas. How about letting small-time drug offenders who have no history of violence (and who are predominantly Black) out of prison on parole? The complexity of the issue is why a potential first step is creating a commission to come up with a workable plan. As far as Biden and Harris are concerned, creating a commission gets rid of the problem (at least for now). Let the commission deal with this hot potato and see if it can figure out how to deal with it. By signaling support for creating a commission, they get some breathing space. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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