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Nancy Pelosi Visits Kyiv

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) paid a surprise and secret visit to Kyiv this weekend, where she met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Except for a small number of insiders, no one knew she was going there until she was safely back in Poland after the visit. She told Zelenskyy: "Our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done." Since Kyiv is in the middle of a war zone, it was a dangerous trip for Pelosi, and so Zelenskyy gave her a medal for bravery.

Pelosi and Zelenskyy in Kyiv, they both look
tired as Pelosi gets her medal

Pelosi was accompanied by Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Jim McGovern (D-MA). Meeks is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Schiff is chairman of the Intelligence Committee, so they were clearly appropriate people to take along. McGovern is chairman of the Rules Committee, but since there are no rules in Ukraine now, it is not clear what he was there for. Pelosi's group was the first official congressional delegation to visit since the war started. That makes Pelosi the highest-ranking official to visit the war-torn country, as neither Joe Biden nor Kamala Harris has visited.

Pelosi's visit comes just days after Biden asked Congress for another $33 billion in weapons for Ukraine. Now when the bill comes to the House, Pelosi will be able to tell the members firsthand what it is like over there. One thing she can report back is that Ukraine needs fuel badly. Russian attacks on fuel depots and refineries have led to a gasoline shortage, with miles-long lines at gas stations. Some people have waited for over an hour to buy the maximum of 10 liters (about 3 gallons).

But shortages aren't limited to Ukrainian gas stations. Samantha Power, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that food prices are up 34% since a year ago due to the Russian invasion, because Ukraine used to supply a huge amount of grain to Africa and the Middle East and that has been upended by the war. The resulting grain shortages have driven up food prices in those regions with disastrous consequences for poor people there. (V)

Biden Kills It at White House Correspondents' Dinner

Donald Trump did not see fit to attend the two White House Correspondents' Dinners that took place during his presidency because he cannot handle being the butt of jokes, even a little bit. Joe Biden is not as thin-skinned, and so he showed up to this weekend's event with bells on, and gave what may be the most effective speech of his presidency. Among last night's presidential zingers:

  • "This is the first time a president attended this dinner in six years. It's understandable. We had a horrible plague followed by two years of COVID."

  • "Just imagine if my predecessor came to this dinner this year. Now, that would really have been a real coup if that occurred. "

  • "[The First Lady] doesn't pay much attention to the polls, though she did say the other day: Instead of introducing myself as Jill Biden's husband, maybe I should introduce myself as her roommate."

  • "Everyone at the White House is so excited. I told my grandkids and Pete Buttigieg they could stay up late and watch this show tonight."

  • "And, look, Fox—Fox News, I'm—I'm really sorry your preferred candidate lost the last election. To make it up to you, I'm happy to give my chief of staff to you all so he can tell Sean Hannity what to say every day."

  • "And, folks, I'm not really here to roast the GOP. That's not my style. Besides, there's nothing I can say about the GOP that Kevin McCarthy hasn't already put on tape."

Biden did end on a serious note, acknowledging the importance of a free press, commending those in attendance for their coverage of Ukraine in particular, and also paying tribute to several folks, including Madeleine Albright.

The President was followed by the "headliner" (a dubious assertion when the President of the United States is on the stage). Anyhow, this year it was The Daily Show's Trevor Noah, who also uncorked a few winners. Among them:

  • "I'm not doing this just for the attention. I'm a comedian, not Kyrsten Sinema."

  • "I know a lot of you are worried and, yes, it is risky making jokes these days. We all saw what happened at the Oscars. I've actually been a bit worried about tonight, I won't lie. What if I make a really mean joke about Kellyanne Conway and her husband rushes up on the stage and thanks me?"

  • Addressing himself to Biden: "I was a little confused about: Why me? But then I was told you get your highest approval ratings with a biracial African guy standing next to you."

  • "Fox News is sort of like a Waffle House. It's relatively normal in the afternoon, but as soon as the sun goes down, there's a drunk lady named Jeanine threatening to fight every Mexican who comes in."

  • "Apparently Jeff [Zucker] got fired after he tried to keep his workplace relationship a secret, which is weird because if he really didn't want anyone to know about it, he could've just made a show about it on CNN Plus."

  • "This is the golden era of conspiracy theories, whether it's the right wing believing Trump can still win the 2020 election, or the left believing Joe Biden can still win the 2024 election."

  • "Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate you. Please be careful leaving tonight. We all know this administration doesn't handle evacuations well."

Biden seemed to appreciate the jokes made at his expense. Maybe he was faking it, but he seems like the type to be able to take some ribbing. Further, when the targets of jokes are actually angry, they generally aren't very good at hiding it. Certainly, everyone knew what was on Trump's mind when he was roasted by Barack Obama in 2011. Similarly, George W. Bush didn't have much of a poker face when he was shredded by Stephen Colbert in 2006.

The White House Correspondents' Dinner presents a potentially valuable opportunity, at least for most presidents. First, by making and taking a few jokes, a president can humanize themself and make themself a bit more accessible. Second, because the humor provides plausible deniability, a president can say things that would be problematic if said directly. Like, could Biden get away with calling the Trump presidency a "plague" if the remark was not (allegedly) tongue-in-cheek?

Trump is actually the rare president who had little to gain from attending. Not only is he preternaturally unable to take a joke, he's also completely unable to make one. Though he's been an entertainer, in various ways, for four decades, he's never, ever, ever been funny. Not when he was on Howard Stern, not when he was on Letterman, not when he was on The Apprentice. Even the best writers in the world couldn't have come up with a speech for him to deliver that would have actually generated laughs. Meanwhile, The Donald has no filter, so he hardly needed the benefit of a once-per-year occasion where a president can get away with pushing the limits. In short, there was no real upside to his showing up to the dinner, taking withering fire from every other speaker, and giving the networks extensive footage of him glowering.

Biden's a different fellow, however, and the event suits him well, just as it did Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan, among others. We'll see how wide a circulation the President's performance gets, as it's kinda inside baseball, but he might actually have done himself a little good this weekend. (Z)

The Primaries Are Starting in Earnest

Texas held its primary back on March 1, but since there hasn't been any primary action. Now things are finally really getting going. Here is the schedule for May:

State Primary Runoff
Indiana May 3  
Ohio May 3  
Nebraska May 10  
West Virginia May 10  
Kentucky May 17  
Oregon May 17  
Pennsylvania May 17  
Idaho May 17  
North Carolina May 17 Jul 26
Alabama May 24  
Arkansas May 24  
Georgia May 24  
Texas (Mar 1) May 24

Most of the primaries aren't terribly exciting (e.g., incumbents running in heavily gerrymandered districts), but here are 17 races that are worth watching.

  • May 3: Ohio Senate (R): The races are starting with a big bang. One of the hottest is the Republican senatorial primary in Ohio, which is tomorrow (!). Donald Trump has endorsed former hillbilly James D. Vance because he is better at acting like a true sycophant than former state treasurer Josh Mandel, even though Mandel has been practicing much longer. Also running is millionaire banker Mike Gibbons and former GOP state chair Jane Timken. All of these are fighting to be the Trumpiest of all. Unfortunately for them, there is no mirror, mirror on the wall to answer that question definitively. There is also one candidate, state Sen. Matt Dolan, who noticed that Ohio is not in the old Confederacy and doesn't have runoffs. It's first past the post in the Buckeye State. He is running in the not-so-Trumpy lane. That means if, say, 76% of the Republican voters want a Trumpist and the four above-mentioned candidates split the vote evenly and each get 19% and he gets 20% and a few others get the crumbs, he is the nominee. If anyone other than Vance wins, Trump will take a huge hit and every Republican politician in the country will notice. If the only non-Trumpist wins, Trump will have a hard time explaining it. So by Wednesday, we will have a bit better idea of how much actual power Trump really has.

  • May 3: OH-11 (D): Nina Turner was the co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)'s presidential campaign. She is a very outspoken progressive and ran for the Democratic nomination in OH-11 special election last August for the seat vacated by Marcia Fudge (D), who joined Joe Biden's cabinet. The district is D+32. That's even bluer than NY-14, which is D+29 and sent Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to the House. Turner's primary opponent was an unknown member of the Cuyahoga County council, Shontel Brown. Brown won easily. Turner didn't like that result since she was convinced that in such a blue district, the voters were supposed to pick a fiery progressive like herself. So Turner is running again, only this time Brown is an incumbent and much better known. If Brown does better than her 6-point margin in the special election, a lot of moderate Democrats are going to be saying: "If a progressive can't win among Democrats in a D+32 district, how are they ever going to win in an R+3 district?"

  • May 10: Nebraska Governor (R): "Herbster" sounds like it ought to describe someone who grows herbs, but it actually applies to a Republican running for governor of Nebraska, Charles Herbster. Eight women, including a state senator, have accused Herbster of groping them. His name also showed up when the "dating" site for married people, Ashley Madison, was hacked in 2015. From memory, we don't recall if he was a Sugar Daddy or a Sugar Baby, and we didn't have time to check which he was. Trump has endorsed Herbster. We don't know if there is a causal connection here. Herbster has two opponents, state Sen. Brett Lindstrom and University of Nebraska regent Jim Pillen. As in Ohio a week earlier, it will be a test of Trump's power. Nebraska being a very red state, the winner of the primary is the overwhelming favorite to be elected governor in November. Although if it's Herbster, the sexual misconduct could possibly drag him down. The Cornhusker State has had a Democratic governor as recently as 1999 (Ben Nelson), so a Democratic victory isn't impossible.

  • May 17: Pennsylvania Senate (D): May 17 has lots of fun in store for political junkies. First, in one of the highest-profile Senate races in the country, both parties are having ferocious primaries. The Democrats have 2⅒ serious candidates: Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA), a giant tattooed motorcycle-riding progressive who comes from a working-class background, Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA), who is a much more formal fellow who has repeatedly won in a red district and whose grandfather was once majority leader of the state Senate, and Malcolm Kenyatta (the ⅒), a Black gay progressive. We counted him for ⅒ because there is no HTML code for 1/100. Fetterman is leading in the polls and in the fundraising, but either he or Lamb would be a formidable candidate in November. Fetterman would energize both progressives and moderates but wouldn't get a lot of Republican votes. Lamb would get nose-holding progressives, moderates, and some Republican votes. Kenyatta has no chance whatsoever of getting the nomination; his only possible role will be to maybe play spoiler and help Lamb if it's close.

  • May 17: Pennsylvania Senate (R): The battle between Fetterman and Lamb is child's play compared to the battle on the Republican side. New Jersey resident and television quack Mehmet Oz is running ads violently attacking Connecticut resident and hedge fund manager David McCormick, who is responding in kind. Trump has endorsed Oz, while Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is doing everything he can to help McCormick because he can easily envision Fetterman burying Oz. One could view this race as a proxy fight between Trump and McConnell (or maybe between whether New Jersey or Connecticut is more popular in Pennsylvania). As in Ohio and Nebraska, this is yet another test of Trump's power, especially in races where McConnell is all in for someone other than Trump's pick.

  • May 17: North Carolina Senate (R): Here we have another race where Trump has stuck his neck out. He has endorsed Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC), who is running against former governor Pat "Bathroom Bill" McCrory and former U.S. representative Mark Walker. There are also 11 barely known other candidates in the race. As a former governor, McCrory has the most name recognition of anyone in the race. But he signed the aforementioned bathroom bill, which requires people using public restrooms to use the one corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate. Among Republican voters, this is probably a feature, not a bug. Among general-election voters it is more of a bug and could hurt McCrory in November if he gets the nomination. After all, it played a big role in his defeat by now-Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC) when running for reelection as governor in 2016. The Democratic nomination is a done deal. Former state Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley has it nailed down.

  • May 17: NC-01 (D): Rep. George Butterfield (D-NC) is retiring from this D+17 district. Former state senator Erica Smith dropped out of the U.S. Senate race and sees this House seat as a consolation prize. She is Black and very progressive. Donald Davis, who is Black but more moderate, is also running. Butterfield is backing Davis.

  • May 17: NC-04 (D): This district, home to Durham and Chapel Hill, is an open seat due to the retirement of Rep. David Price (D-NC). It is D+17. The main contenders are state Sen. Valerie Foushee, former "American Idol" star Clay Aiken, and Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam. Foushee has an eclectic bunch of supporters, including Emily's List, AIPAC, and a crypto billionaire pouring money into her campaign. And when AIPAC spent $800,000 supporting Foushee, the progressive caucus of the North Carolina Democratic Party withdrew its support for her. Why did AIPAC get involved in the first place? Allam, who was born in Canada but is of South Asian heritage, is an observant Muslim. She sent out a tweet in 2018 complaining about Israeli influence in U.S. politics, and AIPAC sees that as antisemitic. Foushee is a Black member of the state House and a former police officer. To some extent, this race will be a test of how much of a difference big money makes in a race between two women of color and how claims of antisemitism play in a heavily Black district.

  • May 17: NC-11 (R): Hardly a day goes by when we don't write something about Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC). He's become our favorite nutter. We have mentioned him 104 times this year, compared to 57 times for Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), 41 times for Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and only 27 times for poor Lauren Boebert (R-CO). Boebert needs to get a new press agent or a better stunt coordinator. Today's installment of the Cawthorn Saga might be about the end of the line for him. He has really ticked off Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), who is tired of a guy who tries to smuggle guns on planes, drives with a revoked license, calls Volodymyr Zelenskyy a "thug," and praises Hitler. Tillis is actively supporting state Sen. Chuck Edwards (R) in an attempt to get rid of Cawthorn, who has (naturally) been endorsed by Trump. As in some other races, this will be a test of Trump's power to help an unusually toxic candidate.

  • May 17: OR-05 (D): We have written a lot about Donald Trump's endorsements; now a Joe Biden endorsement will get tested. Biden has endorsed one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), whose district used to have a PVI of EVEN. Schrader compared the 2021 impeachment of Trump to a "lynching." This earned him a challenge from progressive attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who has called Schrader the House's own Joe Manchin. This is not Hillary vs. Bernie, Part 197 because Schrader is far more conservative than Hillary Clinton, but Oregon is a progressive state, so McLeod-Skinner might have a chance.

  • May 24: Georgia Senate (R): This is another one of those Trump vs. The Establishment races. Trump has endorsed football player and spousal abuser Herschel Walker, who is Black. McConnell is supporting Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, who is white. Democrats are hoping (maybe even, in some extreme cases, praying) for Walker to win the GOP nomination because their oppo team has buckets... no, make that barrels... no, make that boatloads of material to take him down with. Walker is much better known than Black, so Trump might just pull this one off. Of course, if Walker goes on to lose the general election to Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), who is a prolific fundraiser and has already won statewide, a lot of Republicans will blame Trump for blowing a winnable race.

  • May 24: Georgia Governor (R): Georgia has a lot of biggies on May 24, but this is the biggest biggie. Trump has gone all in on defeating the incumbent governor, Brian Kemp, because he didn't throw the 2020 election to Trump. Trump talked former senator David Perdue into running against Kemp, although Perdue wasn't really interested. It shows. Kemp has a commanding lead in the polls and in money. If Kemp crushes Perdue, all the news the next day is about how Trump has been reduced to a paper bulldog. If Kemp gets the nomination, the $64,000 question will be what Trump does in the general election. Will he eat a heaping portion of crow and support Kemp or continue to try to defeat Kemp by supporting Stacey Abrams? If Abrams gets Trump's endorsement, that may be the ultimate illustration of the old chestnut that politics makes strange bedfellows. Of course, there is also a chance that if Trump endorses Abrams, she will reject the endorsement and say she wants nothing to do with him.

  • May 24: Georgia Secretary of State (R): Another Georgia official Trump hates, hates, hates is Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. So Trump is supporting Rep. Jody Hice, who has promised that he will make sure Trump wins any future elections in Georgia, no matter what the silly voters want. Victories by Kemp and Raffensperger would really take Trump down several pegs, even if Walker wins the Senate nomination. For Trump, destroying your enemies is far more important than helping your friends, and Kemp and Raffensperger are among his top enemies. Gary Black isn't Trump's enemy; the former president just prefers Herschel Walker, so that race isn't for blood like the other two are.

  • May 24: Georgia Secretary of State (D): The Democrats are fielding a serious candidate for secretary of state in Georgia, state Rep. Bee Nguyen, the first Asian-American Democrat elected in Georgia. She is a star among progressives for her attacks on Trump and his conspiracy theories. But she has five other opponents to contend with. If nobody gets 50% + 1, Georgia has runoffs, as you almost certainly know.

  • May 24: GA-07 (D): When the Republican-controlled state legislature gerrymandered the House districts, they conveniently put two incumbent Democrats, Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux, in the same district. The two will fight it out on May 24. McBath, who is Black, got into politics after her son was murdered in 2012. She got her start as an anti-gun activist. In 2018, she ran for Newt Gingrich's old seat and defeated Karen Handel. She won a rematch in 2020. Bourdeaux, who is white, is a moderate. She was formerly a professor at Georgia State University. McBath is running largely on her platform while Bourdeaux is running more on her ties to Gwinnett county, where the district is largely located. In any event, one of the two incumbents will lose in the primary and the other could lose in the general election.

  • May 24: Alabama Senate (R): In the Alabama Senate race, Trump initially endorsed Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who is Trumpy as hell. But he wasn't doing so well in the race, so Trump pulled the endorsement. He didn't endorse anyone else afterwards. The big question here is whether the endorsement still matters and can help Brooks over the finish line. Also in the race are the chief of staff of retiring Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), Katie Britt, and businessman Mike Durant. The popular Shelby is doing everything he can for his former staffer but Durant is wealthy and is putting a lot of his own money into the race.

  • May 24: TX-28 runoff (D): Progressive lawyer Jessica Cisneros is challenging moderate Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) in this fairly blue district. In the March 1 primary, Cuellar beat her by only 2 points, but neither one got 50%, forcing this runoff. This race is about how to win back socially conservative Latinos along the southern Texas border. Cuellar is a business friendly opponent of abortion rights. Cisneros is far to the left of him on everything. Party leaders, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Jim Clyburn (D-SC), support the incumbent Cuellar. Bernie Sanders supports Cisneros.

There you have it. And that's only for May. We still have June, with 18 states holding primaries, possibly some postponed to July, 14 in August, and at least 4 in September. (V)

Biden May Wipe Out Some Student Debt

Joe Biden has been agonizing about what to do about student debt for ages. On the one hand, young people are marginal voters and doing something concrete for them—like eliminating some student debt—might get him and the Democrats some love and votes. On the other hand, people with all kinds of other debt might get furious with him for helping former students but not people who didn't go to college. There is also an issue of equity, since people who borrowed money to go to medical school or law school may be doing quite well now, thank you very much, and don't need government help.

It is beginning to look like Biden is getting closer to making a decision on this. The basic idea would be to limit relief to people earning less than some cutoff. One number being bandied about is $125,000 (or maybe $150,000) for single individuals and $250,000 (or maybe $300,000) for couples. Operationally, this is straightforward: If your adjusted gross income last year was under the cutoff, you get relief, otherwise not. Or possibly there could be two cutoffs. If you are below the lower one, you get full relief. If you are above the upper one, you get no relief. If you are in between, the relief is proportional to where you are in the range. If there is a single hard cutoff, then people who made, say, $124,999 last year get their debt canceled and people who made $125,000 don't, which is awkward.

Biden has already said that the $50,000 of relief that Bernie Sanders and other progressives are asking for is not going to happen. The amount of debt canceled is more likely to be around $10,000 or somewhat more, but nowhere near $50,000.

Administration officials have also said that forgiveness is going to be only for former students who took out loans for an undergraduate degree. People who took out loans for medical school, law school, and other graduate studies won't get any forgiveness for those loans, only for any undergraduate loans they might have, if they otherwise qualify.

In any event, it seems likely that something will happen on this front in 2-3 weeks. It is absolutely certain that it will become politicized within a nanosecond of it being announced, with nearly all Democrats supporting it and nearly all Republicans opposing it. This is because a large part of the Democratic base went to college and some of them have student loans. In contrast, a large part of the Republican base didn't go to college and doesn't have student loans. From Biden's point of view, it is probably worth doing because it might make marginal, but pro-Democratic, voters happy and get them to vote. The noncollege voters who will hate this probably vote Republican anyway. For him, the question is: Are there many Democratic voters who will be angered enough by his canceling some student debt to switch to the red team? And if so, are there more of them than grateful former (and current) students who will vote on account of this and wouldn't have otherwise? (V)

What Will Twitter Contain If Musk Stops Censorship?

It now appears that the world's richest man, Elon Musk, will buy Twitter and take it private so he alone will control how it works and who can use it and what they can say there. The deal could still fall through, but at this point it seems likely to succeed.

Musk has said that he will make the algorithms open source and stop bots. He didn't say how he would do this because he doesn't know. In fact, there is some contradiction here. If the inner workings of Twitter are made public, it will be easier for botmasters in the St. Petersburg troll farm and elsewhere to figure out how to evade scrutiny. For example, if it becomes known that sending out, say, 12 tweets in a day gets you labeled as a bot, they will just cut back to 11.

One thing Musk could do is require everyone using Twitter to provide proof of his or her real identity, but as was pointed out in the mailbag yesterday, that could lead to harassment or worse. We doubt that he will do that since many users would probably leave Twitter if he did.

One thing he might do, however, is make providing proof of identity optional. People who did so would be labeled as "verified humans" and might get some advantages. Or people who didn't might get some disadvantages (e.g., a maximum number of tweets per day/week/month).

But a bigger issue lies in content moderation. Musk has said if it is legal, you will be allowed to put it on Twitter. That opens a huge can of worms because currently Twitter bans many things that are legal. Here are a few areas where problems are sure to arise if Musk allows all content that is technically legal.

  • Election misinformation: It is legal to say that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. It is also legal, at least in some places, to announce that due to technical problems, the election has been postponed from Nov. 8 to Nov. 9, so don't waste your time trying to vote on Nov. 8 because the polls will be closed then. But be sure to vote on Nov. 9.

  • Medical Misinformation: Tweets saying that COVID-19 and polio and measles vaccines cause autism and sterility and ED are legal. Tweets saying that no public health authority at any level can tell you what you can do or cannot do are legal. There is a very long list here.

  • Deepfakes: The technology for making extremely convincing fake videos is getting better by the day. This one is old hat already:

    In a few years, almost anything will be possible. Currently Twitter bans misleading videos. That would end if Musk allows everything that is legal. It will lead to a proliferation of deepfakes like the one above.

  • Impersonating others: Currently you can't pretend on Twitter to be someone you aren't. If you are impersonating someone else for the purpose of fraud, it is illegal. Otherwise, it generally isn't. If you later claim it was satire, it is very likely protected speech and legal.

  • Spam: Spam that simply advertises some product or service is certainly legal. Expect vast amounts of spam on Twitter if "legality" is the only test.

  • Hateful content: Twitter currently has a policy against hateful content. You can't equate Black people to monkeys, fat women to pigs, Jews to Nazis. There are a whole range of other outrageous parallels that are perfectly legal to say, but currently verboten on the platform. Once the Musk rules take over, expect tons of this, aimed at many different groups.

  • Porn: Pornography is legal is the U.S. Expect large amounts of it in the New Twitter. Some of the acts might be very gross. Revenge porn (naked photos or videos of your ex posted with the intent to humiliate that person) are legal in some places and illegal in others. Expect lots of it from people who live in states that don't have laws against it.

  • Graphic violence: Twitter currently bans violence that is excessively gory or depicts sexual violence. Some of it might be illegal, but a lot of it is not illegal. Expect loads of it.

  • Terrorist manifestos: People who commit mass murder or terrorist acts often have some ideological story to tell. These people don't suddenly lose their First Amendment rights to tell their story if they are convicted of a crime. Twitter currently bans this kind of stuff. The new policy would allow it.

The list goes on and on and you can count on people pushing the envelope to see what they can get away with. If Musk really means what he is saying and doesn't start censoring legal content, Twitter will quickly become a cesspool, advertisers and users will leave, and Twitter will shrink to a hard core of libertarians who believe "anything goes." Or he will start censoring it again, only eliminating content he doesn't happen to like.

Then there is the matter of what is legal. It depends on the jurisdiction. There are things that are legal in the U.S. that are not legal in France (e.g., selling Nazi memorabilia) or Saudi Arabia (e.g., saying nasty things about Mohammed). Twitter operates worldwide. Having 200 or so sets of rules, one per country, will be unmanageable. Twitter adopted its current rules after a lot of trial and error and experience with what happens when you allow anyone to post anything. (V)

A Handful of Billionaires Control the News

Elon Musk isn't the only problem. Technology has given a very small number of billionaires control over almost all the news. Many people get most (or all) of their news from social media. Soon they can choose if they want that to be the news as billionaire Elon Musk sees it or as billionaire Mark Zuckerberg sees it. Or if you are one of those old-timers who prefers newspapers for news, you can read The Washington Post and get the news as billionaire Jeff Bezos sees it. Or you could read The Wall Street Journal or The New York Post and get the news as billionaire Rupert Murdoch sees it. William Randolph Hearst had nothing on these guys.

Jon Schweppe, policy director at conservative think tank American Principles Project, put it this way: "I don't think it's a great commentary on the state of affairs that we are relying on a billionaire oligarch to save free speech online." Activists on the left are even less enthusiastic about giving any individual so much power over the flow of information, and certainly not white men who live in bubbles of limitless luxury. Academics are not wild about giving so much power to so few (unelected) people. Robert McChesney, a professor at the University of Illinois, said: "Even if Elon Musk was the smartest person on earth, had the best heart, had been touched by God, I wouldn't want him to have that much power. It is antithetical to democratic political theory."

These people aren't alone. A Pew poll showed that 62% of Americans think social media companies (and by implication, the billionaires that control them) have too much say over what people see as news.

Some people may shrug and say nothing can be done about the situation. That's not true. The European Union is showing what can be done. The Digital Services Act was just approved. Among other things, it puts many obligations on social media (and other) platforms. For example, if someone posts something that is illegal and the company is informed about this and does not take it down, it becomes liable for the content and can be sued. This is not true in the U.S. Platforms also have to disclose to regulators how their algorithms work. There are also rules about how platforms moderate content, how they use algorithmic processes, and what can be said in advertising. In addition, there are many rules about transparency. Finally, users of online services get more rights. The Act has teeth for enforcement. Companies can be fined up to 6% of their revenues for violation and in extreme cases, can be banned from operating in Europe altogether. (V)

Mayorkas Is Working on His Defense Already

Last Friday, we had an item on how the Republicans have already secretly drawn up articles of impeachment for Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. They say he looks the other way when Bad People come over the border. That's garbage, of course. What they mean is they don't like Joe Biden's immigration policies. Mayorkas is just the scapegoat.

He must read our site since yesterday he was already preparing his defense. He appeared on CNN's "State of the Union" and addressed would-be immigrants with the message: "Do not come." This way, when the Republican prosecutors accuse him of letting dirty, filthy, disease-ridden terrorists in, he can say: "On April 30, on national television, I clearly told the would-be immigrants not to come. You should get Dana Bash to come here to verify that." He also clearly stated that the border is not open to head off accusations that he did nothing about the "open border." (V)

Tucker Carlson's Audience Just Loves White Nationalism

On Saturday, The New York Times published a three-part story on Tucker Carlson. After the disgraced Bill O'Reilly was kicked out of Fox News' highly desirable 8 p.m. time slot, Rupert Murdoch chose Tucker Carlson, a millionaire heir to the Swanson TV dinner fortune (via his father's wife, Patricia Swanson), to take it over. Carlson quickly decided that he couldn't compete with Sean Hannity in the "who loves Trump the most" sweepstakes, and also didn't want to hug The Donald so tightly that he would have to explain away every stupid thing Trump did every night. So, Carlson picked a different theme to pitch: white nationalism. He understood the key reason some white people adored Trump: their fear of the country's changing ethnic composition. He made this the centerpiece of his show, which is now the most highly rated one on cable TV.

Carlson's gut feeling that Trumpism without Trump would be a winner was right, but now he and Fox are much more scientific (who says Fox doesn't believe in science?). They do minute-by-minute ratings analysis, which is expensive but gives them valuable data. What they discovered is that stories about the white nationalist Great Replacement Theory and warnings about demographic change are the biggest winners with the viewing audience. So he talks about these things more and more since that's what the viewers love most.

Carlson's style also changed as this sank in. He used to open the show with a few questions. Now it is a full-blown filibuster, with the audience addressed as "you" and today's boogeyman referred to as "they." He keeps pushing the envelope on immigration and racism and keeps getting rewarded for it in terms of higher ratings. That's his (not-so) secret formula and it keeps on working.

Carlson has already said that he won't read a word of the Times' articles and he believes that the scrutiny will only make his fans more rabid. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May01 Sunday Mailbag
Apr30 Saturday Q&A
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Apr23 Saturday Q&A
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