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TomCADem's Journal
TomCADem's Journal
May 11, 2023

Deaths from firearms keep climbing in Texas, decades after lawmakers began weakening gun regulations

New article in the Texas Tribune describes how as Texas has accelerated efforts to ease access to guns, deaths from firearms have increased.


Deaths from firearms in Texas — the vast majority of them suicides or homicides — have continued rising in Texas, reaching levels not seen in almost three decades.

At the same time, Texas relaxed its gun laws in a decadeslong push to expand Second Amendment rights in the state, most recently in 2021 when Gov. Greg Abbott signed what Republicans called a “constitutional carry” bill into law, allowing Texans to carry handguns without a license or training.

Texas lawmakers have approved more than 100 bills that loosened regulations on firearms over the last two decades, from blocking campus “zero tolerance” policies that expelled gun-carrying students to preventing hotels from restricting handguns, according to data compiled by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that deaths from firearms in Texas generally began to increase about two decades ago after a dramatic decline in the 1990s. There were 15 deaths by firearms per 100,000 people in Texas in 2021, a 50% jump from 1999 when there were on average 10 deaths by firearms per 100,000 people. Over the same period, firearm-related homicides rose 66% and suicides involving firearms rose 40%.
January 29, 2023

The Origins of Asymmetric Propaganda in American Media

Very interesting academic paper on the asymmetric nature of American media with the mainstream and left at least making an attempt to abide by journalistic standards while the right wing media being wholly focused on promoting partisan propaganda that can be totally disconnected to fact whether it be promoting vaccine disinformation or conspiracy theories about election fraud.

Unfortunately, mainstream media itself has often ignored this asymmetric landscape, and often embraces a false equivalency between Republicans and Democrats, which only served to validate the most extreme voices on the right such that Ted Cruz, MTG and Matt Geatz, on the right, are seen as equivalent in credibility to AOC, Katie Porter and Elizebeth Warren on the left.


Benkler describes the results of a large-scale study of the political media ecosystem duringthe 2016 US presidential campaign and the first year of the Trump presidency. The majorfinding is that the American political media ecosystem is asymmetrically polarized, with aninsular, well-defined right wing, and the rest of the media ecosystem, from the center-right to the far left,forming a single media ecosystem anchored by traditional media organizations like the NewYork Times or the Washington Post. The structure renders the American right moresusceptible to propaganda and disinformation than the left. The chapter then offers analysis of why political economy, rather than technology, was the source of thisasymmetry, outlining the interactions between political culture, law and regulation, andcommunications technology that have underwritten the emergence of the propaganda feedbackloop in the right wing of the American media ecosystem, and outlines the structural driversof the present epistemic crisis.
October 24, 2022

Republicans Are Supporting Putin/Saudi Arabia In Return for Help In Nov Election

We have all heard how Republicans have been signaling that if they control Congress, they will begin to oppose US support for Ukraine.

Kevin McCarthy’s Threatens To Cut Ukraine Aid At A Vital Moment

Support for Ukraine is shifting among Republicans

In return, Russia and Saudi Arabia have further cut oil supplies the November election when inflation started to moderate in order to spike gas prices and increase inflation to aid Republicans:

Saudi Arabia pushed other OPEC nations into oil cut, White House claims

What does Saudi Arabia get out of this? More oil friendly policies such as roll backs efforts to promote fuel efficiency and support for cuts in oil production to aid the oil industry similar to US policy under Trump:

Special Report: Trump told Saudi: Cut oil supply or lose U.S. military support - sources

Trump finalizes rollback of Obama-era vehicle fuel efficiency standards

So, you have Republicans willing to actively support a US adversary in Russia and US dependence on foreign oil, including Russia, in order to win elections by signaling to Russia that they will oppose support for Ukraine. In return, Russia and Saudi Arabia will make effort to increase oil prices near the election to improve Republican chances of controlling Congress with Republicans blaming Biden, and giving Putin and Saudi Arabia a free pass. and echoing Russian talking points in the right wing media.

It is unethical, unpatriotic and treasonous, but Trump showed that this works and with a vast right wing media apparatus to run interference, Republicans can blatantly coordinate with forces hostile to interest of Americans. If Republicans control Congress, and Russia wins in Ukraine, Republicans will happily sell out Europe, which will underscore that the U.S. in unreliable as an ally. Thus, Russia can continue to expand and threaten Europe.

Likewise, as Republicans oppose fuel efficiency standards and work with oil producing countries to increase US dependence on oil, the oil industry will reward Republicans with millions in campaign support, which does not include the value of support provided by Russia and Saudi Arabia.

April 24, 2022

LA Times - People's Convoy of truckers shows nation divided by reality

I think a mistake among progressives and the left is expecting a top down, Democratic leadership "media strategy" to counter right wing misinformation and reach out to the right. This misses the problem, which is the need for progressives and the left to develop a grass roots approach that begins at the local government / state level, which is where a lot of right wing rhetoric is focused. Complaints about efforts to fight the pandemic or "critical race theory" or "grooming" are raised in local school boards and city council meetings.

Democrats and progressives need to rediscover and adapt to grass roots organizing. Its not all about a once in a year march or rally. Instead, it is about a stead and organized effort targeted at local governments and school boards, because people are like the person described in the article are tuning out any media that does not confirm or reinforce their existing biases. To the contrary, you have both domestic and foreign actors happily pushing out content that further radicalizes the right.


I let it go with that because, well, Donny isn’t the first Donny I’ve spoken to. I’ve met lots of people with his misguided conviction and determination these past two years. What I’ve learned is that there is no common ground to find when it comes to the big issues. We may agree on community gardens, but ultimately, Thomas believes he’s been freed from the “Matrix,” as he puts it, and sees truths I can’t.

I believe he’s been lied to and manipulated by those seeking political and financial gain. It’s not that I think he’s a bad person, or has ill intent. I liked Donny. I just think he’s not functioning in reality, the same way he thinks I’m not.

But I don’t think there’s anything I can say that will make him reconsider these false “truths” he now holds dear. I’ve spoken to families desperate to pull their loved ones out of conspiracies such as QAnon, and reported on the intricacies and extremes that have taken ordinary people like Thomas and made them feel as if they are in an extraordinary moment.

It’s the energy of that alternative belief system that should concern us all. Trump isn’t the center holding these believers together anymore. As much as many still love Trump and will rally to a 2024 campaign, their focus is also on school boards and election offices and health departments, even as the rest of us pay little attention to the institutions of everyday life they are trying to transform.
January 21, 2022

Salon - Media messes up coverage of voting rights, blames Biden for GOP's racism

This article hits the nail on the head and explains why the media, and even many progressives, end up blaming Democrats for GOP racism. For example, look at this Board. Rather than discuss any of the 50 Republican Senators that are actively supporting racist vote suppression efforts in the States, you have much of the attention being focused on Manchin and Sinema, two Democrats. All this focus obscures and gives a free pass to Republicans.

This is sort of like how right wing media managed to flip the script and blame President Obama for not doing enough to stop racial tensions. Likewise, Republicans blame Biden for not doing enough to overcome their anti-vaccine misinformation efforts, which have lead to the death of many unvaccinated Americans.

At this point, I guess everyone on this Board should take responsibility for their crazy, racist Trump supporting uncle. Why are you not doing enough to prevent him from displaying a Trump flag? We will not blame him, because he is a Republican, and we expect no less.


emember: With Republicans, every accusation is a confession. Nowhere is that more true than in the discourse around fair elections and voting rights, both of which Republicans stand firmly against. On Wednesday, Senate Democrats attempted to pass a bill that would both protect voting rights and strengthen elections against blatant Republican sabotage. In response, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., lied and said that Democrats don't care about "securing citizens' rights," but just "about expanding politicians' power."

The opposite is true, however. It's Republicans who are swiftly dismantling the right to vote, in the name of preserving their own power. As such, the party has been passing state-level voting restrictions targeting people of color, redrawing district maps to marginalize minority populations, and running unmistakeably racist purges of election offices. So President Joe Biden was right to ask, in a speech in Atlanta last week, "Do you want to be the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?"

Republicans made their choice Wednesday, using their filibuster power — which is shamefully being protected by two turncoat Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — to block the passage of the Senate voting rights bill. Some Republicans are no doubt personally racist, in full agreement with Donald Trump's repeated insistence that racially diverse voters in cities like Philadelphia and Detroit are "frauds". Some are just worried about their own power, which they know is threatened in all Americans, regardless of race or ethnicity, have equal rights to the ballot box. Either way, the use of the filibuster — in line with its history — was leveraged by Republicans as a tool of white supremacy.

The obvious people to blame for this gross behavior are Republicans themselves. But what's the fun in that? So, instead, far too many in the media are letting Republicans off the hook and instead fixing the blame on Democrats for somehow not doing more to make Republicans less evil.
May 1, 2021

G.O.P. Seeks to Empower Poll Watchers, Raising Intimidation Worries

This is why we need to vote and fight for free and fair elections. First, much has been made about the polling errors. Yet, isn't the obvious answer due to voter suppression and intimidation. For example, when the Governor of Texas limits Houston to just one ballot drop off box in the middle of a pandemic, he is doing so for a reason.


Likewise, when Republicans try to to empower election workers to engage in voter intimidation, it is because they know that voting matters. The most important step to fighting this is to stay active and vote. 2022 is just as important as 2020, because Republicans are reacting to 2020 by trying their best to suppress the vote and encourage voter intimidation.


HOUSTON — The red dot of a laser pointer circled downtown Houston on a map during a virtual training of poll watchers by the Harris County Republican Party. It highlighted densely populated, largely Black, Latino and Asian neighborhoods.

“This is where the fraud is occurring,” a county Republican official said falsely in a leaked video of the training, which was held in March. A precinct chair in the northeastern, largely white suburbs of Houston, he said he was trying to recruit people from his area “to have the confidence and courage” to act as poll watchers in the circled areas in upcoming elections. A question at the bottom corner of the slide indicated just how many poll watchers the party wanted to mobilize: “Can we build a 10K Election Integrity Brigade?”

As Republican lawmakers in major battleground states seek to make voting harder and more confusing through a web of new election laws, they are simultaneously making a concerted legislative push to grant more autonomy and access to partisan poll watchers — citizens trained by a campaign or a party and authorized by local election officials to observe the electoral process.

This effort has alarmed election officials and voting rights activists alike: There is a long history of poll watchers being used to intimidate voters and harass election workers, often in ways that target Democratic-leaning communities of color and stoke fears that have the overall effect of voter suppression. During the 2020 election, President Donald J. Trump’s campaign repeatedly promoted its “army” of poll watchers as he publicly implored supporters to venture into heavily Black and Latino cities and hunt for voter fraud.
April 2, 2021

Plutocrats with Pitchforks - How Republicans Use Racism to Oppress White Working Class

Excellent analysis by Yale Political Science professor Jacob Hacker regarding how the the Republican party stokes racial tensions to get the white working class to support policies that only benefit the super rich. For example, Grover Norquist will attack taxes by arguing that they will be used to benefit immigrants and minorities. Thus, the formula is to fight some popular policy such as more funding for infrastructure bill, all Republicans need to do is point out examples of how it might benefit minorities or immigrants.

March 26, 2021

2022 Senate Elections - Trump's Last Stand?

If you want to see why folks like Rubio and Johnson are suddenly sounding even more overtly racist then usual, you need only look at who is running for re-election in 2022.


To beat back the rising tide of hate, disinformation and facism, we need to turnout in 2022.

March 15, 2021

The Right Wing's Big Lie That Biden Is Defunding the Police - The Exact Opposite Is True

Police funding is the second largest category of local government spending after education. Indeed, in some States, education is funded by the State, so law enforcement is the biggest item that local governments are responsible for funding. And who just passed a huge bill to save local governments from having to cut jobs in the face of declining tax revenues due to the pandemic? Joe Biden and Democrats.

So, the next time a Republican or Right Wing Talking Heads talks claims that Democrats are trying to defund the police, tell them that the truth is that it is Republicans that are seeking to defund the police (as well as education and health care) by voting against the American Rescue Plan.


The ARP is more than twice the size of the $900 billion package passed in December and, unlike the December package, the new proposal provides substantial direct aid to state and local governments. The $350 billion in direct aid more than doubles the $150 billion in Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) aid provided in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. ARP aid can be used to cover costs or replace revenue lost due to the pandemic, giving governments wide latitude in the application of the funds, and the use of funds would not be subject to an expiration date.

As approved by the US Senate and the US House, $195.3 billion will be allocated among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, with $25.5 billion split evenly, and most of the remainder allocated based on each state’s proportion of seasonally-adjusted unemployed individuals for the three-month period ending in December 2020. California (AA/Stable), Texas (AAA/Stable), New York (AA+/Negative) and Florida (AAA/Stable) are all in line for more than $10 billion each. Fitch's lowest-rated states, Illinois (BBB-/Negative) and New Jersey (A-/Negative), are estimated to receive $7.5 billion and $6.4 billion, respectively. Territories and tribal governments will also receive allocations.

Local government funding totals $130.2 billion, with $45.6 billion going to cities based on a formula including population, growth, poverty and housing overcrowding. Large cities with ratings on Negative Outlook, including New York, NY (AA-); Philadelphia, PA (A-); Chicago, IL ; and Los Angeles, CA (AA), will also get significant funding relative to their budgets. The bill provides $19.5 billion to states to allocate among other municipalities or (non-entitlement units of government) and the remaining $65.1 billion to counties through a population-based formula.

Proposed direct aid to governments also includes $30 billion for transit compared with $14 billion in the December bill and $25 billion in the CARES Act, almost $130 billion for K-12 schools, significantly above the $54.3 billion in the December package and the $13.5 billion in the CARES Act, and $10 billion for a Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund aimed at broadband expansion with a minimum $100 million distribution to each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
March 15, 2021

How Facebook got addicted to spreading misinformation

This article provides a serious discussion of why Facebook continues to be a major conduit for spreading misinformation. This also explains why Republicans are trying to redirect the conversation from combatting misinformation to combatting "bias." Of course, a focus on bias tends to treat facts and "alternative facts" as having equal weight and thus promoting a false equivalency under which which misinformation can thrive.


By the time thousands of rioters stormed the US Capitol in January, organized in part on Facebook and fueled by the lies about a stolen election that had fanned out across the platform, it was clear from my conversations that the Responsible AI team had failed to make headway against misinformation and hate speech because it had never made those problems its main focus. More important, I realized, if it tried to, it would be set up for failure.

The reason is simple. Everything the company does and chooses not to do flows from a single motivation: Zuckerberg’s relentless desire for growth. Quiñonero’s AI expertise supercharged that growth. His team got pigeonholed into targeting AI bias, as I learned in my reporting, because preventing such bias helps the company avoid proposed regulation that might, if passed, hamper that growth. Facebook leadership has also repeatedly weakened or halted many initiatives meant to clean up misinformation on the platform because doing so would undermine that growth.

In other words, the Responsible AI team’s work—whatever its merits on the specific problem of tackling AI bias—is essentially irrelevant to fixing the bigger problems of misinformation, extremism, and political polarization. And it’s all of us who pay the price.

“When you’re in the business of maximizing engagement, you’re not interested in truth. You’re not interested in harm, divisiveness, conspiracy. In fact, those are your friends,” says Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley who collaborates with Facebook to understand image- and video-based misinformation on the platform.

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