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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  3-D Chess, Texas-Style
      •  Voter ID, by the Numbers
      •  Bipartisanship, Huh, Yeah--What Is it Good For? (Absolutely Nothing...)
      •  This Is Not Fake News...Or Is It?
      •  Corporate America Gets Woke
      •  GOP Has a Greene-Sized Headache
      •  Flynn Appears to Be All-in on Military Coup

3-D Chess, Texas-Style

The high-stakes soap opera taking place in Texas right now is certainly of great interest to political junkies. It might even be entertaining if not for the fact that the health of, you know, democracy is at stake.

At the moment, there are three things that are known when it comes to the draconian voting-restrictions bill that was rushed through the Texas state Senate on Sunday:

  1. The bill is, at the moment, dead because the current session of the legislature has ended. They won't be back in normal session until 2023.

  2. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) has vowed to convene a special session, which he is legally entitled to do at any time.

  3. Abbott says he will veto funding for legislators' salaries, tweeting: "No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities." Texas has a line-item veto, so he can do this, although the veto wouldn't take effect until the new state budget takes effect in September. Note also that we're only talking $600 a month, so it's not like most (or any?) of them will go hungry.

There is a considerably longer list of things that are unknown. Here are the biggies:

  1. Special Session Optics: Although Abbott has vowed to call a special session, possibly as soon as today, by the terms of the Texas Constitution, he must specify the purpose(s) of the special session when issuing his proclamation. Given how much publicity this story is getting, largely not of the good kind, he might decide to cool his jets for a while. And even then, he's going to basically have to announce to the world that he considers restricting voting rights to be an emergency worthy of extraordinary measures.

  2. Special Session Timing: In addition to letting things blow over a bit, Abbott might also observe that the closer to the 2022 elections the bill becomes law, the less time there will be for court challenges. So, he might also delay based on that. These days, generally speaking, Republicans like to strike while the iron is hot (see, for example, anti-trans laws). That means that if we had to guess, we would guess that Abbott makes his move sooner rather than later. That said, he does have good reasons to delay. Further, cutting legislators' salaries beginning three months from now doesn't make a whole lot of sense unless he's playing the long game. Or, at least, the longer-than-a-week game.

  3. More Quorum-busting: Now that the Texas legislature is no longer in session, how plausible will it be to get enough Democrats to Austin to form a quorum? Keep in mind that the bill now has to be passed again by both chambers of the legislature, which means the Texas Senate will require the presence of at least 3 Democrats (out of 13), while the Texas House will require the presence of at least 17 Democrats (out of 67). The Texas Constitution empowers each chamber of the legislature to "compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner and under such penalties as each House may provide." What that boils down to, in the end, is dispatching Texas Rangers to round up and forcibly return members to the legislative chamber.

    However, the Rangers' authority ends at the Texas border, and quorum-busting is not an extraditable offense. Back in 2003, Texas had a situation much like this one, where the Republicans were trying to ram through a partisan redistricting bill. So, Texas Senate Democrats fled to New Mexico while Texas House Democrats fled to Oklahoma. After nearly 50 days, the Democrats folded, because they had jobs and families back in Texas (keep in mind that serving in the state-legislature in Texas is a very-part-time job). Still, the blue team might try something like this again.

  4. Work for Free: Assuming that Abbott follows through on his threat to veto funding for the legislature, and assuming this dispute lingers until Sept. 1, then we run into an interesting legal question: Can legislators be compelled to work if they are not being paid? And, for that matter, does the legislature even exist, legally, if it's not being funded? Especially if we're talking a special session? These issues are fuzzy enough that Texas Democrats would certainly be justified in filing a lawsuit, which would drag things out even more. And that, of course, is one of their main goals.

  5. Publicity: The Texas Democrats' other main goal, meanwhile, is to get as much attention as is possible. And every extraordinary move that Abbott and the Republicans make will play into that, from canceling paychecks to calling special sessions to (possibly) deploying Texas Rangers to (possibly) a lawsuit. The Governor should be thinking about these things as he decides on his counter-moves. Now, he may not think about them, since he seems like a bull-in-a-china-shop type of politician, but he should.

Texas Democrats are clearly in the weaker position here, and Texas Republicans are clearly determined to see this bill become law. So, the overwhelming odds are that the Democrats ultimately end up losing this one, as they did back in 2003. But if they go down fighting, and accruing lots and lots of headlines as they do so, then that is at least a partial win. (Z)

Voter ID, by the Numbers

With Texas putting voting restrictions in the headlines (once again), and given that we had a question in this weekend's Q&A, followed by a number of comments in this week's mailbag, we thought we would give some of the relevant data. So, first of all, courtesy of Project Vote, here are the percentages of American citizens, by ethnicity, who are currently without ID that would be valid for purposes of voting (in most or all voter-ID states):

Ethnicity Pct.
Black 13%
Latino 10%
Other 10%
White 5%

This is due to a number of factors, including poverty (e.g., if you can't afford a car, you have considerably less need for a driver's license), the costs in time and money of getting ID or replacing lost/expired ID, and the propensity for voter-ID laws to be written in a manner that favors white people (e.g., white people are more likely to have gun permits).

Meanwhile, here are the percentages of American citizens, by income level, who are currently without ID that would be valid for purposes of voting:

Income Level Pct.
Below $25,000 12%
$25,000 to $29,999 8%
$30,000 to $34,999 10%
$35,000 to $39,999 6%
$40,000 to $49,999 9%
$50,000 to $59,999 6%
$60,000 to $74,999 6%
$75,000 to $84,999 6%
$85,000 to $99,999 5%
$100,000 to $124,999 4%
$125,000 to $149,999 4%
Over $150,000 2%

These percentages are shaped by the same basic factors as the first list, though to this one we can also specifically add that the wealthier you are, the harder it is to live your day-to-day life without ID, given that identifying yourself tends to be necessary for employment and for various financial transactions. In any case, it is clear from the numbers that voter-ID laws are inherently discriminatory, against both poor people and people of color. And the financial and logistical hurdles that must be overcome to resolve the lack of ID add a second layer of discrimination.

Moving along, Fox News (for obvious reasons) has been in the habit of polling Americans' support for voter-ID laws. Inasmuch as requiring ID seems sensible (as it does to H.M. in Berlin, from this weekend), and inasmuch as the discriminatory impact is less obvious, support for voter ID is pretty high:

Year Yes No
2011 85% 14%
2012 80% 19%
2016 77% 21%
2017 78% 19%
2021 77% 19%

While Fox pollsters may sometimes ask partisan questions, they don't cook the books, so we consider these numbers to be reliable. And there are two different ways to look at them. The first, which is the basic angle that Fox News took when reporting the latest result, is that there is huge popular support for voter-ID laws. The second is that in the last decade, support for voter-ID laws has declined a fair bit. This suggests, in turn, that if Joe Biden, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and their colleagues are looking to turn public sentiment against Texas and other vote-restricting red states, they've got to keep pounding away at this, and explaining specifically why something that seems "fair" and "commonsense" may not be either of those things. (Z)

Bipartisanship, Huh, Yeah--What Is it Good For? (Absolutely Nothing...)

If you're starting to suspect that yesterday was a national holiday, and that there wasn't a lot of politics news being made, then you are right. It's ok, though, because we still have plenty to talk about. Having discussed voting restrictions, let us now move on to bipartisanship. As a general rule, bipartisanship is viewed very positively by Americans, on a level very close to that of mom, apple pie, and baseball. The assumption seems to be that it's a sign the system is working, and that people of different political persuasions are coming together to find a solution that is best for all. Kumbaya.

Several recent op-eds challenge that assumption, however. Let's start with the one by Politico's Jack Shafer. His rather scathing assessment is really worth reading in its entirety, but his three main points are as follows:

  1. Bipartisanship has been responsible for some successes, to be sure, but has also produced some of the worst outcomes in American history. Japanese internment, the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, the Bill Clinton crime bill, and the PATRIOT Act were all bipartisan. Meanwhile, some of the best outcomes, most obviously the New Deal programs, were staunchly partisan.

  2. The seeming bipartisanship of the recent past is mostly an illusion born of a misunderstanding of political history. Many of the laws passed in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s were "bipartisan" because each party had a liberal and a conservative wing, and the liberals or the conservatives would all unite to pass legislation. The obvious example here is the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, which was passed by liberal members from both parties over the objections of conservative members from both parties. Since the liberals are now all in the Democratic Party and the conservatives are now all in the Republican Party, this sort of faux bipartisanship can't happen anymore.

  3. "Bipartisanship" is often used, as Republicans are using it now, as a helpful buzzword to avoid having to actually do anything. Another example of this is bipartisan blue-ribbon panels that are appointed to study a subject, and whose real purpose is to kick the can down the road.

The upshot, in Shafer's view, is that: "Despite their moans of protests about the end of bipartisanship, members of Congress understand what's going on: Old-school accommodation is mostly dead, and Congress has evolved into a de facto parliamentary system in which the majority takes all."

Then there is this piece by The Guardian's Rebecca Solnit. She's no fan of glorifying bipartisanship or centrism, either. Her argument is simpler than Shafer's: Consensus, bipartisanship, and centrism all tend to favor the status quo, which is great for those who are doing well. But it's not so great for those who are at the bottom of the ladder, however. Or, to use Solnit's phrase: "It's mostly a prejudice of people for whom the system is working, against those for whom it's not."

And finally, The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson argues that bipartisanship may be a good thing in general, but that it's not viable with the current iteration of the Republican Party. He makes several observations that we have made many times, namely: (1) the Republican political program is fuzzy, and their basic principles are even fuzzier; (2) led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the Republicans do not negotiate in good faith, and (3) the Republicans are devoted to obstruction, something they have openly and proudly announced. Under these circumstances, Robinson believes that the Democrats have no choice but to push forward without Republican input. "Choosing powerlessness in the name of an abstract principle isn't just weak," he writes, "it's an unseemly sacrifice of everything else Democrats say matters."

Of course, politicians are not guided by thought pieces from op-ed writers. What they are guided by is what their voters want. And the good news for the Democrats is that their voters are, according to a new poll from Morning Consult, growing weary of "bipartisanship." While 59% of Republicans would prefer that Congress do nothing rather than pass partisan legislation (a convenient position for the smaller party to take), only 37% of Democrats feel that way. Put another way, nearly 2/3 of Democrats say that they're fine with partisan legislation if that's the only option. And the true number is surely higher than that, as voters tend to put results ahead of amorphous concepts. For example, do you think that 59% of Republicans actually lamented the 2017 tax cut, just because it was 100% partisan? We certainly don't. (Z)

This Is Not Fake News...Or Is It?

A group of researchers from Princeton, Michigan, and the University of Utah have just published a new study looking at respondents' ability to separate fake news from non-fake news. Before we get into their not-at-all-surprising findings, here are eight of the headlines they showed to study participants. See if you can identify the four fakes:

  1. A Series of Suspicious Money Transfers Followed the Trump Tower Meeting
  2. Donald Trump Caught Privately Wishing He'd Sided More Thoroughly with White Supremacists
  3. Google Workers Discussed Tweaking Search Function to Counter Travel Ban
  4. VP Mike Pence Busted Stealing Campaign Funds to Pay His Mortgage
  5. Trump, in Otherwise Sombre 9/11 Interview, Couldn't Help Touting One of His Buildings
  6. Soros Money Behind 'Black Political Power' Outfit Supporting Andrew Gillum in Florida
  7. Feds Said Alleged Russian Spy Maria Butina Used Sex for Influence. Now, They're Walking That Back
  8. Special Agent David Raynor Was Due to Testify Against Hillary Clinton When He Died

We'll get to the answers later. For now, however, here were the four main findings of the study:

  • The great majority of people (90%) think they are "above average" at sniffing out "fake news."
  • The solid majority of people (75%) aren't as good at sniffing out fakes as they think they are.
  • Republicans are more likely to be overconfident than Democrats.
  • A person who is overconfident in their assessments is more likely to share a phony news story with other people.

Again, there are no real surprises here. These tendencies were weaponized by the Trump campaign in particular, and by Republicans in general, in 2016. Team Trump understood that the voters they hoped to target were less likely to be properly critical of incendiary anti-Democratic information, and were more likely to pass that information along. Put another way, just as Russia apparently utilized Donald Trump as a "useful idiot" (their term), the Trump campaign utilized Republican voters as "useful idiots."

More broadly, what this team of researchers has done is provide an object lesson in the Dunning-Kruger effect, a cognitive bias wherein people of low ability at a particular task are most likely to be overconfident in their ability to perform that task. And the current study is hardly the first to look at Republican voters through a Dunning-Kruger lens. There were a number of surveys of Rush Limbaugh listeners, for example, that demonstrated that the Dittoheads thought they knew more about the news than non-Limbaugh listeners, but actually knew considerably less.

All of this said, we're not thrilled with the study design here. In our case, when we come across an item that we might use for this site, and that item seems like it might be dubious, we are guided significantly by two things: (1) the outlet doing the reporting, and (2) whether other outlets have the story. We will run with something that is a "CNN exclusive" or something that Fox, RedState, and The Washington Times all have, but we won't run with something that is a "Salon exclusive." Much of this contextual information was not available to study subjects.

Anyhow, the basic dynamics that the study highlights help to understand why fighting back against propaganda and lies is so difficult: The people who most need to do better are, on the whole, the ones who least feel a need to improve, and thus are least likely to be self-critical and try to do better. Oh, and among the headlines above, the even-numbered headlines are fake and the odd-numbered ones are real. (Z)

Corporate America Gets Woke

As with bipartisanship (see above), Americans tend to think that there was a time in the past when things like sports, and movies, and music were politically neutral. And some folks lament the fact that they can no longer use those things as an escape. This is a rather serious misreading of U.S. cultural history; if you think sports were apoliticial on the day in 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, or that movies were apolitical on the day that "High Noon" hit theaters in 1952, or that music was apolitical on the day in 1962 when Bob Dylan released his first (self-titled) LP, then you haven't been paying attention.

The one place where there largely has been neutrality, however, is corporate America. Behind the scenes, of course, the corporate types have their fingers in just about every pot, on both sides of the aisle. However, their outward-facing image is usually apolitical. And the basic reason is obvious. Reportedly, when Michael Jordan was asked why he never got involved in politics, as one of the world's highest-profile athletes, he responded: "Because Republicans buy shoes, too." That seems to be apocryphal, but it nonetheless illustrates the point: Taking political sides is bad for business, because it alienates some sizable portion of your customer base.

Another useful and apocryphal line is attributed to Dante: "The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis." It seems fair to say that "moral crisis" is a pretty fair descriptor for the last half-decade or so, between the resurgence of white supremacy, the death of George Floyd, the devaluing of democratic institutions, the Capitol insurrection, etc. And, as Politico's Ben White points out, many of America's most prominent corporations found themselves with little choice but to take a side. Whether that meant denouncing police violence, or withdrawing support from vote-suppressing states, or taking a stand against inflammatory rhetoric, they've had to jump in with both feet.

Meanwhile, the Harris Poll has just released its latest survey of corporate reputation rankings, and it turns out that...getting political may not be such a bad thing. Yes, it alienates some customers, but it also makes others more loyal. The top of the list includes numerous companies that have been very pro-left in the last few years, including #1 Patagonia, #5 SpaceX, #11 REI, #15 Unilever, #16 Apple, #21 IKEA, and #27 Berkshire Hathaway.

How about pro-right companies? There are definitely some conventionally conservative ones that are also doing well. That list includes #4 Chick-fil-A, #12 USAA, and #17 In-n-Out Burger. Going all-in on Trumpism, however, seems to be another matter. The list extends to 100 entries, and at #91 is MyPillow, which makes its first appearance on the survey thanks to having gained a lot of the wrong kind of publicity in the last year. Twitter, at #93, and Facebook, at #98, could well be suffering from the view that they enabled Trump. And at the very bottom of the list are the #99 Fox Corporation, and at #100...wait for it...The Trump Organization.

The perils of going all-in on Trumpism were actually demonstrated, in limited fashion, just this weekend. The owner of a Nashville hattery called hatWRKS, taking an obvious cue from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), decided to make some money by selling yellow Star of David patches, in the style of the ones used before and during the Holocaust, adorned with the phrase "not vaccinated." It did not go over well; the outrage was instantaneous and the picketing of the store began shortly thereafter. Then came the non-apology apology, followed by numerous hat brands announcing that they would no longer do business with, hatWRKS. When you are a hatter in the South, and you are no longer allowed to carry Stetson products, you might as well just close up shop.

In any event, the pressure for companies to speak out against things like voter-ID bills does not appear that it will abate anytime soon. So, presumably many corporations will remain woke. And if they believe that keeps employees happy, and that it does not hurt (or that it helps) the bottom line, that could be a permanent situation. (Z)

GOP Has a Greene-Sized Headache

We've already mentioned Marjorie Taylor Greene, so let's keep going and point out that the Republican Party knows it's got a problem when it comes to her. Heck, they knew it before anyone had ever heard of her, which is why they tried (unsuccessfully) to cut her off at the pass in the primaries.

The issue, of course, is that Greene essentially has no limits about what she will or will not do or say in search of headlines and fundraising dollars. And that works just fine in her district, which is R+28, and which went for Donald Trump by close to 50 points. CNN chatted with some of her constituents, and while some said they might like to see her tone it down a notch, most were supportive. Heck, one of them even said "A lot of people didn't like Jesus Christ, either." Because when you think of Marjorie Taylor Greene, isn't Jesus Christ really the first person that comes to mind?

Of course, while Greene's behavior might play just fine in Cedartown, Rome, and Dalton (the three largest towns in her district), it doesn't play so well in Peoria. The Democrats know that very well, which is why they plan to make her the centerpiece of the 2022 campaigns and the face of the Republican Party (essentially a reverse of what the GOP did with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY). The Republicans know it, too, and they are scared to death that Greene could cost them. She will be a useful foil for Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), as he runs for reelection to a full term. That's one Senate seat right there, and her odiousness might cost them others, as well, along with some number of House seats. Given the small margins involved here, it's not too much to say that she could personally keep the GOP from recapturing the Senate, the House, or both.

The challenge for Republican leadership is that they don't have all that many tools available to rein Greene in. She doesn't need money from the RNC or the NRCC, and she doesn't currently aspire to higher office, so they really have no carrots to offer. She's already been stripped of her committee memberships. The GOP could join with the Democrats to expel her from the House, but that would be unprecedented (previous expulsions followed the commission of one or more crimes), and would be tantamount to admitting that Trumpism is wrong. Further, she would promptly go on a national martyr tour, and would probably get herself reelected in 2022 anyhow. The Party could also recruit and fund a primary opponent, but that might not work, and it would also provide fuel for Greene's "the Deep State is out to get me" narrative. There may be no choice but to wait and hope that the Representative runs out of steam or, failing that, that she becomes uninteresting and stops getting so much publicity. (Z)

Flynn Appears to Be All-in on Military Coup

As long as we're on the subject of fanatical Trumpers, Lt. Gen Michael Flynn (ret.) is quite the celebrity in MAGA circles, and when he makes a public appearance, he can pack the room with adoring (maskless) fans. On Sunday, he appeared at an event in Dallas organized by QAnon types, and was asked why the U.S. cannot have a coup like the one Myanmar just had. "No reason. I mean, it should happen here. No reason," Flynn replied.

It would certainly appear that a high-ranking military officer, albeit a retired one, just engaged in sedition against the United States. That is certainly how the crowd took it, as they cheered his response so loudly that the last half was drowned out. Here is the footage:

After about a day, Flynn issued a statement claiming that he actually said "There is no reason it (a coup) should happen here (in America)." And that certainly is a possible reading of his words. However, that would be a somewhat unexpected assertion to make at a QAnon gathering. Further, that is certainly not how it sounded in the video. Nor did he clarify on stage, or anytime soon thereafter. It took him well over a day, almost like he and his PR people needed some time to come up with the right spin.

Presumably, it occurred to the former general that, while retired, he is potentially subject to prosecution under the terms of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, either for sedition or for conduct unbecoming a military officer. Further, if Donald Trump gets in hot water over the Mueller Report, or over the events of January 6, it will not be helpful for the former president to be associated with a former NSA who openly favors the overthrow of the U.S. government. Flynn and Trump both have had remarkable luck, thus far in their lives, avoiding the consequences of their actions. However, that success can lead to hubris and carelessness, as seems to be the case here. And that only increases the chances of that luck running out. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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