Space Force Commander Fired After Badmouthing the Military on a Conservative Podcast

Illustration for article titled Space Force Commander Fired After Badmouthing the Military on a Conservative Podcast

Image: United States Space Force

A Space Force lieutenant colonel has been removed from his post after claiming on a conservative podcast that Marxist ideologies are overrunning America’s armed forces, CNN and Military.com reported Sunday.

Advertisement

Earlier this week, Lt. Col. Matthew Lohmeier appeared on The Steve Gruber Show to tout his new book, Irresistible Revolution: Marxism’s Goal of Conquest & the Unmaking of the American Military. As you might suspect from that title, Lohmeier has some strong views about the state of the military these days, which he talked about at length on the podcast:

“Since taking command as a commander about 10 months ago, I saw what I consider fundamentally incompatible and competing narratives of what America was, is, and should be. That wasn’t just prolific in social media, or throughout the country during this past year, but it was spreading throughout the United States military. And I had recognized those narratives as being Marxist in nature.”

He went on to denounce the 1619 project, which chronicles the impacts of slavery on U.S. history, as “anti-American” propaganda.

“It teaches intensive teaching that I heard at my base—that at the time the country ratified the United States Constitution, it codified White supremacy as the law of the land,” Lohmeier continued. “If you want to disagree with that, then you start being labeled all manner of things including racist. Which is a product of race theory which is steeped in Marxism.”

On Sunday, a Defense Department official told CNN that Lohmeier was relieved of command on May 14 due to a “loss of trust and confidence in his ability to lead.” The agency’s decision stemmed from his comments “in a recent podcast,” the official said, and it has since opened a Command Directed Investigation into whether these comments “constituted prohibited partisan political activity.” Another DoD official told the outlet the investigation will also review whatever policies allowed his book to be published in the first place. Lohmeier has been temporarily reassigned in the meantime, though his new assignment was not immediately clear.

Fun fact: There is a long, long list of federal regulations outlining exactly what political activities that servicemembers and civil service employees can and can’t do. And these regulations typically overrule a person’s freedom of speech protections under the First Amendment. Essentially, the DoD doesn’t want to be inadvertently associated with any particular candidate or political view by proxy, so its personnel have to be particularly careful when it comes to talking about politics, displaying partisan swag, and wearing their government-issued uniform or using government vehicles in public.

Advertisement

Now, folks, I only know all this because I grew up in a huge Navy area. So I can see how your average person might read a headline about Lohmeier’s fate and start shouting about “free speech!” What’s harder to understand is why politicians are up in arms as if these regulations are anything new. They’re either worryingly ignorant about the very policies they’ve been elected to uphold or they’re being purposefully obtuse to rile up their support base. Or (as I suspect is the case) it’s a little of column A and a little of column B.

Florida representative and alleged sex trafficker Matt Gaetz said on Twitter Sunday that he would be “seeking action on this in the Armed Services Committee.” He didn’t go into further detail about what that action would be exactly, but he did encourage his followers to buy Lohmeier’s new book.

Advertisement

“Lt. Col. Lohmeier is a Patriot telling the truth about the attempted wokeification of our military – and worse,” Gaetz wrote.

His fellow Florida representative, Byron Donalds, tweeted Sunday that Lohmeier is a “hero” and went on to decry the mob of leftists apparently trying to “cancel him.” (I mean, if anyone “canceled” him in this scenario, it was his superiors, and last I checked that was just called getting fired). Arizona Republican Party chairwoman Kelli Ward also denounced the DoD’s decision and called for “Marxism (ie #Communism)“ in the nation’s military to be rooted out.

Advertisement

All this pearl-clutching outcry is likely only going to continue into the week so strap in folks. Whatever happened to that all-American wisdom about how if you don’t like your job, you should just get another one?

Now There’s a Deepfake Audio Platform Where Celebrities Can License AI-Generated Voice Clips

Illustration for article titled Now There's a Deepfake Audio Platform Where Celebrities Can License AI-Generated Voice Clips

Graphic: Veritone

Whenever deepfakes make the news, it’s almost always for the latest terrifying way bad actors have figured out how to spawn hoaxes or cyberbully people using the AI-powered technology. However, the media industry has found some more practical (and less sinister) applications, such as using face swaps to craft more realistic visual effects, synching actors’ mouths with dialogue in dubbed films, and, now, automating voice work.

Advertisement

Veritone, the creator behind the world’s first operating system for artificial intelligence, aiWare, launched a new platform this week called Marvel.ai that lets content creators, celebrities, and others generate audio deepfakes of their voices to license as they see fit.

Veritone’s pitch is that media companies and personalities can churn out monetized audio content and generate revenue without ever stepping foot in a studio—because after all, time is money. Built on its aiWare operating system, Marvel.ai produces synthetic voice clips that it claims sound like the real thing for radio spots, audiobooks, voice-overs, and localized content, among other examples.

“With complete control over their voice and its usage, any influencer, personality, or celebrity can quite literally be in multiple places at once,” the company said in a press release Friday. “This would open the door to a new level of scale that was not humanly possible before, allowing them to increase the number of projects, sponsorships, and endorsements they can do in any given year.”

The process, also known as voice cloning, uses artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to replicate someone’s voice based on a series of audio samples. The Marvel.ai platform itself functions as both a marketplace where customers can submit requests to use a particular voice model for auto-generated content and a self-service tool that resembles your more traditional text-to-speech reader, letting users pick from a catalog of pre-generated voices to create a customized audio clip.

In an interview with the Verge, Veritone president Ryan Steelberg said it offers another service—a “managed white-glove approach”—where customers can submit voice clips to train Veritone’s systems and produce their own voice clone to license.

Speaking with the outlet, Steelberg explained that while Veritone bills itself as an AI developer first and foremost, it also depends on old-school advertising and content licensing for a large chunk of its revenue. Its advertising subsidiary, Veritone One, is heavily invested in the podcasting industry and places more than 75,000 “ad integrations” with influencers every month, he said.

Advertisement

“It’s mostly native integrations, like product placements,” Steelberg told the Verge. “It’s getting the talent to voice sponsorships and commercials. That’s extremely effective but very expensive and time consuming.”

This advertising expertise along with technological advances in speech synthesis in recent years motivated the company to construct a better solution. Of course, whether Veritone’s platform takes off is largely dependent on how convincing its voice clones are. Steelberg shared a few examples of Marvel.ai’s finished product with the Verge, which you can check out here, and the clone sounds human enough to me. The tone is a little uncanny in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. However, I’ll be honest, it’s hard to tell if that’s just my brain convincing me it sounds off because I know it’s from a robot and not a person.

Advertisement

While I know I mentioned before that the media industry is finding less sinister applications of deepfake tech, there is one aspect of Marvel.ai that gives me some serious pause. Whoever owns the legal rights to a voice—i.e. not just the person behind the voice—can use the platform to create whatever audio message they please. And that raises many of the same privacy red flags and potentials for misuse that have plagued the rise of deepfake videos. Marvel.ai can even resurrect the voices of the dead using archived recordings to train its AI systems, Steelberg told the Verge.

“Whoever has the copyright to those voices, we will work with them to bring them to the marketplace,” he said. “That will be up to the rightsholder and what they feel is appropriate, but hypothetically, yes, you could have Walter Cronkite reading the nightly news again.”

Advertisement

From a technological standpoint, that’s obviously impressive. From a moral standpoint, it’s creepy as hell. I really don’t need to hear Cronkite and other deceased big names reanimated through AI, especially since you know it’s only a matter of time before brands start doing shit like using Princess Diana to endorse Oreos or David Bowie to convince you to subscribe to Spotify Premium. I mean, have we learned nothing from the Prince hologram fiasco?

The Entire State of California Is in Drought—But the Impacts Are Just Beginning

A concrete structure that is usually under water is visible at Folsom Lake on May 10, 2021 in Granite Bay, California.

A concrete structure that is usually under water is visible at Folsom Lake on May 10, 2021 in Granite Bay, California.
Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

California and many parts of the West rely on snowpack for water resources. There has been less snowpack, as well as rapid spring snowmelt, this year. Consequently, the resulting snow water equivalent, or the amount of water that will be released from a snowpack when it melts, has been drastically low. In California, the snow-water equivalent is at 6% of normal levels for this time of year. In essence, there’s next to nothing left on the ground in the Sierra Nevadas, with state data showing less than an inch of snow water equivalent on average.

The state began the winter wet season in drought as well. That, coupled with a dearth of snow and rain this winter, left the ground so dry that the water from the snowpack seeped into the ground instead of flowing into rivers, streams, and reservoirs.

“What’s amazing to me as a climate scientist is to see the snow melt occur and then to see the rivers lakes and steams not responding,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles and the Nature Conservancy, told CNN. “The soil under the snow is so dry that there is no runoff.”

As of this week, the Drought Monitor declared the entire state of California is now experiencing some form of drought. Nearly three-quarters of the state is in exceptional or extreme drought, the worst categories.

Archivists Want to Make Sci-Hub ‘Un-Censorable’

Illustration for article titled Archivists Want to Make Sci-Hub 'Un-Censorable'

Screenshot: Shoshana Wodinsky (Gizmodo)

For roughly the past decade, Sci-Hub—aka, the “Pirate Bay of Science—has been giving researchers, reporters, and open-source advocates unfettered access to countless scientific papers across every discipline you can imagine. In return, it’s been hit with multiple lawsuits, a suspended Twitter account, and an investigation from the United States Department of Justice.

Advertisement

Now, people are trying to rescue the site before it’s wiped off the web for good. A collection of data-hoarding redditors have banned together to personally torent each of the 85 million articles currently housed within Sci-Hub’s walls. Ultimately, their goal is to make a fully open-source library that anyone can access, but nobody can take down.

“It’s time we sent Elsevier and the USDOJ a clearer message about the fate of Sci-Hub and open science,” the moderators of the r/DataHoarder subreddit wrote in a post on Thursday. “We are the library, we do not get silenced, we do not shut down our computers, and we are many.”

There are many papers that need to be downloaded. Sci-Hub is built out of 850 separate torrents housing 100,000 articles apiece, making the site’s entire database take up a whopping 77TB of data. While there’s a handful of torrenters working with Library Genesis to catalog as much as they can, the collective is trying to recruit at least 85 more data guzzlers to store 10 torrents apiece, adding that they should “reach out to 10 good friends” and ask them to torrent what they can. With enough people on board—the goal is 8,500 torrenters total—they’ll be able to siphon off the entire library.

This isn’t the first time that a Reddit community’s gone on an open-source rescue. In 2019, a group managed to pull off a nearly identical mission to onboard 33TB of scientific papers and books from Library Genesis, a site that’s faced legal troubles similar to Sci-Hub. At the start of the pandemic, archivists compiled close to 5,000 studies on covid-19 and put them out to the public free of charge. 

While Sci-Hub’s site is still on the web, the r/DataHoarder post notes that it’s essentially defunct—it hasn’t uploaded any new papers since December of last year. Meanwhile, Sci-Hub founder Alexandra Elbakyan reported last week that Apple had given the FBI access to her account data.

40,000-Year-Old Rock Art Is Being Destroyed Due to Climate Change

The climate crisis has taken so much away from us that we’ll never get back: people, places, wildlife, even languages. Now, it’s destroying some of the oldest art on Earth, new research led by Griffith University shows.

Advertisement

The study focuses on ancient paintings in the limestone caves of southern Sulawesi, Indonesia. Drawn between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago, these are some of the world’s first known cave paintings.

The paintings depict people, symbols, and animals and include the earliest known drawing of an animal. But now, they’re degrading, because bits of the caves’ rock walls are flaking off. The paintings’ deterioration has been documented since the 1950s, and it’s gotten worse over that time.

To see why this is happening, the authors examined 11 different cave painting sites, using powerful microscopes and chemical analysis. They found that a large part of the problem is that salt crystals are forming on the cave’s walls, penetrating deep into them and then expanding and contracting with the air temperatures’ fluctuations. That’s making the rock weaker, causing it to crack and flake.

“In some cases, the result is the stone surface crumbling into a powder,” the authors wrote in a commentary about the study. “In other instances, salt crystals form columns under the hard outer shell of the old limestone, lifting the art panel and separating it from the rest of the rock, obliterating the art.”

The findings suggest that the effects of climate change are to blame for this. The region has also gotten hotter overall, causing the salt crystals in the caves’ walls to expand more often. The rapid oscillation between drought and heavy downpours of monsoon rains also seem to create the perfect conditions for more salt crystals to form and expand. Indonesia’s weather was already highly dynamic, but amid the climate crisis, the rapid shifts have become even more dramatic. Global warming may be driving more intense El Niños, a climate phenomenon characterized by warmer-than-normal waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean. El Niño ups the odds of drought in Indonesia as well as more heat.

As a result, the caves’ deterioration has sped up over the past four decades. And if the climate crisis gets worse, so will the paintings’ rate of decay.

Advertisement

Even if the world adheres to the goals of the Paris Climate Accord—which, frankly, is not a given—the Earth warming by between 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius (2.7 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) will “have grave implications for the conservation of this globally significant cultural heritage,” the study says.

The authors call for more research to look into the effects of the climate crisis on ancient treasures, and for more researchers to work to find more of these ancient art sites before they disappear. To preserve the world’s oldest paintings, they also suggest that scientists could use 3-D scanning to ensure we document them before it’s too late. And of course, we must work to curb greenhouse gas emissions to slow warming and thereby preserve what’s there while we still can.

Advertisement

Exxon Blames You for Climate Change

Exxon, our fossil fuel savior.

Exxon, our fossil fuel savior.
Photo: Logan Cyrus (Getty Images)

Over the past few decades, oil companies have largely shifted away from climate denial. Now, you can see the energy giants openly acknowledge that climate change is happening, but their new messaging tends to leave a bad taste in my mouth. A new, first-of-its-kind study by Harvard researchers Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes explains why: The new language makes it seem like climate change is our fault, not theirs.

Advertisement

“It’s a really pernicious kind of gaslighting,” said Supran.

The authors, who published their work One Earth on Thursday, used machine learning to analyze 212 public and internal Exxon documents from 1972 and 2019, including all publicly available internal company memos, all advertorials the company paid for in the New York Times, and all of the firm’s flagship climate change reports. For the painstaking research, they employed three different forms of computational linguistics to locate the differences in how Exxon talks about climate change in public versus in private. The discrepancies were stark.

For instance, in internal discussions about climate change, Exxon frequently uses terms like “fossil fuel,” “fossil fuels,” and “fossil fuel combustion.” Similarly, when talking about the effects of using its own products, Exxon’s internal discussions are full of terms like “fossil fuel emissions” and “fossil fuel CO2.”

But you’ll hardly ever see it use those terms in public. Instead, it says “demand,” “energy demand,” and “consumers” come with a climate “risk,” suggesting that individual choices are the problem, and that the fuels we use are a potential threat to safety rather than the basis of a crisis that’s already well underway. And instead of saying those actions cause “fossil fuel emissions,” it opts to use the term “greenhouse gas emissions,” conveniently omitting information about what products create that pollution. The company also publicly focuses on the need to increase “energy efficiency” as a solution rather than, you know, ending the production of fossil fuels.

“In private, they name the heart of the problem, which is their products, but in public their public communications were biased towards individualistic framings,” Supran said.

The same is true of Exxon’s discussions of solving the climate crisis. Publicly, it not only fails to mention its own role in causing the climate crisis but also often promotes itself as part of the solution. Its outward-facing rhetoric is full of references to the “promise” of its technological “solutions,” drawing focus to how it is “developing” and “innovating” new technologies. The authors call this a narrative of “fossil fuel saviorism” combined with “technological optimism,” which eschew any discussions of phasing out fossil fuel extraction.

Advertisement

“There’s such an asymmetry in the way the problem and its solutions are represented,” said Supran. “The function of this is to promote the company as basically a trusted innovator whose fossil fuel-based solutions we should look to rely on to get us out of this problem that ostensibly we, the consumers, caused.”

Though the study only looks at Exxon, these patterns reflect the rhetorical choices of the fossil fuel industry at large. It was the oil company BP that popularized the use of the term “carbon footprint” to shift focus on corporate responsibility to consumers. In an interview this week Shell’s CEO spoke about how his company’s technological prowess is “absolutely needed” to fight the climate crisis. Last year, Shell also got wrecked on Twitter when it asked consumers what we would be “willing to change to help reduce emissions.”

Advertisement

The fingerprints of these public relations strategies can even be found in international climate policy. As the study notes, the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement—which fossil fuel lobbyists were involved in negotiating—doesn’t mention the term “fossil fuels” at all.

If this all makes you mad, you’re certainly not alone—and there are ways to fight back. Supran pointed to the increasing popularity of greentrolling and climate-focused comedy videos as signs that people are ready to call the fossil fuel industry out on its bullshit.

Advertisement

On a bigger level, right now, energy giants including Exxon are facing hundreds of global lawsuits that allege they’ve curbed climate action by pushing misinformation on the public. Activists and lawyers around the world are also fighting to ban fossil fuel advertising, or at least get it to come with warnings about the dangers of their products. And the Clean Creatives campaign is also attempting to push public affairs firms to cut ties with the oil industry. (Even law students are putting pressure on top firms to stop doing Big Oil’s dirty work.)

All of these actions can serve as an important counterweight to the fossil fuel industry’s insidious attempt to “groom us to see ourselves as consumers first and citizens seconds,” Supran said. 

Advertisement

“It’s very hard to point to one headline in isolation where the company may say something like, ‘technology is promising,’ and claim that that’s problematic,” he said. “But when you take a step back, you see how it’s constructing all of these overarching narratives.”

In response to the study, Exxon has dropped the “bombshell” that Supran’s co-author, esteemed Harvard historian Naomi Oreskes, has a relationship with a legal firm that’s been filing climate lawsuits, which I guess it wants us to find damning or something. But it’s not. “Sher Edling played no role in the paper we published today, nor in any other academic work we have done,” the authors wrote in an email.

Advertisement

Exxon also put out a statement saying it “is working to reduce company emissions and helping customers reduce their emissions while working on new lower-emission technologies and advocating for effective policies.” But then, of course it did.

“ExxonMobil is now misleading the public about its history of misleading the public,” the authors said.

Advertisement

Update 5/14/2020, 1:24 p.m. ET: This story has been updated to include information about Exxon’s response to the study.

The EPA Is Doing Its Job Again

Illustration for article titled The EPA Is Doing Its Job Again

Photo: Mark Wilson (Getty Images)

For the Environmental Protection Agency, having Donald Trump in office was kind of like letting loose a bull in a china shop for four years. Now, the Biden administration is rapidly attempting to clean up the mess he left behind. In doing so, we’re getting a better picture of just how far the agency has fallen behind in holding polluters accountable even before Trump showed up.

Advertisement

The EPA said Thursday that it was moving to rescind a rule issued under the Trump administration that hamstrung the agency’s ability to effectively calculate and enforce air pollution violations under the Clean Air Act. The regulation, known as the cost-benefit rule, required the agency to complicate its cost-benefit analysis for rulemaking. Trump’s EPA chief Andrew Wheeler said it was designed to reduce transparency, but also admitted would prevent the EPA from passing future regulations on things like mercury pollution from power plants—a rule that cost industry $9 billion to comply with after it was passed under the Obama administration. (The cost-benefit regulation was a long-awaited wish list item for the fossil fuel industry, which gives you an idea of who really benefited from the rule.)

The move is the latest in this administration’s effort to undo the damage Trump did. President Joe Biden signed an executive order on his first day in office requiring the EPA to review all rules and policies passed under Trump. That’s good and all given the widespread damage Trump did to the agency by appointing coal lovers Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler to lead the EPA during his administration.

But a new report from the agency’s watchdog shows the EPA has been dragging its feet a little on keeping polluters in line even before our last Big Wet President wreaked havoc. The EPA’s Office of Inspector General issued a report Thursday that found that between 2007 and 2018, there was a decline across the board in enforcement actions from the EPA with some types of enforcement actions declining by as much as 50%. This decline was despite a corresponding boom in industrial activity and economic growth that should have prompted the agency to go after polluters even harder.

“The decline in compliance monitoring activities meant that, over time, the Agency and the public had less knowledge about compliance by regulated entities and whether facilities emitted pollutants that could be harmful to people,” the report found.

The reason for this decline, the report found, was a decline in resources. The budget for EPA enforcement in 2018 was 18% less than it was in 2006, laeding leadership to cut resources even as polluting industries saw a boom. The report also found that leadership in the agency chose to put most of their enforcement resources into bigger efforts, leaving the smaller enforcement actions to less-well-funded state agencies.

Much of this decline in funding happened pre-Trump; his gutting of the agency, including eliminating some wonky but key enforcement actions, served to hamstring enforcement even further. But there are signs that the Biden EPA is working to make up for lost time, especially as it commits itself to climate progress and environmental justice. Last week, the agency’s acting assistant administrator sent a memo instructing the agency to ramp up “enforcement of violations of cornerstone environmental statutes” in communities vulnerable to pollution. The agency also issued a fresh update this week with new statistics and measurements on its Climate Change Indicators site, which sat long-neglected under the Trump administration. (The EPA climate change subsite also returned earlier this year.)

Advertisement

It was wild watching how quickly the Trump EPA moved to roll back environmental protections—but disappointing knowing the agency was letting some polluters off the hook even before he showed up. Here’s hoping the new administration will work double-time to right the ship.

Michigan Republicans Want to Legally Protect Their ‘Right to Be Wrong Without Being Told So’

Trump supporters protest the 2020 election results on Nov. 7, 2020, outside the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing.

Trump supporters protest the 2020 election results on Nov. 7, 2020, outside the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing.
Photo: Seth Herald/AFP (Getty Images)

Republicans! They just love their live-action role-playing, don’t they folks. They’re still questing to find the magic law that will stop the nefarious Silicon Valley leftists and antifa journalists from censoring the land of Real America. The latest proposal? Forcing fact-checkers to register with the state.

Advertisement

The Detroit News reports that Michigan state Representative Matt Maddock (R-Milford) has introduced the “Fact Checker Registration Act,” a bill that requires all individuals who publish in print or online in Michigan, is paid by a fact-checking organization and is a member of the International Fact Check Network to file a $1 million fidelity bond with the Michigan Secretary of State’s office. (Importantly, the IFCN certifies Facebook’s fact-checkers.) Any “affected person” could then file a claim for “any wrongful conduct that is a violation of the laws of this state” in county district court and the bond could be forfeited if a judge ruled the fact checker’s work had resulted in “demonstrable harm.” Thus the bill, as written, tries to fulfill a conservative fantasy of any aggrieved conservative being able to sue fact-checkers for six figures for practically any reason agreed upon by a judge (hopefully a loyal Republican).

In a post on Facebook, Maddock wrote, “My legislation will put Fact Checkers on notice: don’t be wrong, don’t be sloppy, and you better be right.”

The bill would also fine fact-checkers $1,000 a day if they failed to register. Eight other GOP representatives, Pat Outman, John Roth, Gary Eisen, David Martin, Robert Bezotte, Beth Griffin, John Damoose, and Steve Carra, are co-sponsors on the bill.

Maddock has a history of anti-democratic stunts and obvious personal antipathy for fact-checkers in general. According to the Detroit News, he’s proposed burning voting machines belonging to a voting tech manufacturer that right-wingers baselessly accused of electoral fraud “so we don’t use them in future elections,” he was involved in a failed federal lawsuit demanding presidential election results be certified by GOP-controlled state legislatures in five swing states, and he signed onto another failed federal suit before the Supreme Court trying to invalidate Joe Biden’s victory in Michigan. All of these efforts relied on what might be euphemistically deemed “alternative facts.”

According to the Detroit Metro Times, Maddock rallied a crowd to attempt to disrupt vote counting at TCF Center on Nov. 6, 2020, fabricating a claim that 35,000 votes for Biden “showed up out of nowhere.” He also urged former Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to certify the 2020 election results under the mistaken argument that Pence could have somehow single-handedly kept Trump in office, one of the key motives of the crowd of Trump supporters that threw a riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, ultimately resulting in several deaths.

Republicans have largely swallowed hook, line, and sinker conspiracy theories that social media companies are biased against conservatives. They have been especially enraged about piecemeal efforts by companies like Facebook and Twitter to fact-check some posts, as the companies attached fact-checking labels to posts by Donald Trump and other Republican politicians and otherwise imposed speedbumps on the virality of hoax news.

Advertisement

Several states have seen pushes by GOP legislators to introduce laws that would clear the way for conservatives to bombard websites with “censorship” lawsuits, while Republicans in Florida are trying to pass a law that would fine sites that “knowingly de-platform” candidates. (In reality, the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube amplify the right-wing online noise machine that heavily influences the day-to-day priorities of GOP politicians and candidates, with Facebook, in particular, going out of its way to treat conservatives preferentially.)

The Washington Post noted other GOP-backed legislation has included a 2016 bill in South Carolina that would have the state only allow “responsible” journalists to publish, a 2017 bill in Indiana requiring licensing of journalists, and a 2019 proposal in Georgia to create a state “Journalism Ethics Board” that would control the way journalists did their work and impose punishments for non-compliance.

Advertisement

Let’s just take a moment to really emphasize that libel and defamation laws already exist.

These and other related speech bills such as congressional Republicans’ threats to throw out Section 230, a law that protects websites against most liability for user-generated content or their moderation decisions, all have two things in common. While they’re couched as protecting First Amendment rights to free speech, they’re really designed so as to assist conservatives in suppressing any speech that challenges their own speech. And barring some truly extreme upsets to legal precedent—something that’s certainly possible with a Supreme Court packed with right-wingers and/or a Republican takeover of Congress and White House in 2024—the proposals largely amount to magical thinking about the way Republicans think the First Amendment ought to be, rather than how it actually works in practice. Virtually all of the aforementioned laws would be likely thrown out in court on constitutional grounds, as journalists and social media firms both have First Amendment rights of their own, to rule otherwise would invite disastrous secondary consequences.

Advertisement

Case in point: In a statement to the Washington Post, Maddock suggested that the First Amendment actually means people have a right to be wrong without being told so.

“This isn’t about journalists or free speech,” he said. “It’s about the fact-checkers who have been injected into our First Amendment right to be wrong if we want to. If a fact check entity is bankrupting businesses and cancelling people with lies, they should be held accountable. If they have high standards and are doing good fact checking, they have nothing to worry about.”

Advertisement

Florida Man Tries to Hold Back the Sea

Then-candidate Ron DeSantis takes a tour of the Everglades in September of 2018.

Then-candidate Ron DeSantis takes a tour of the Everglades in September of 2018.
Photo: Wilfredo Lee (AP)

Here’s something you don’t hear every day: there’s good news out of Florida. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed bills on Wednesday that make serious efforts to address the impacts of sea level rise in the state. But don’t take that as a sign that Trump-lite DeSantis is now some sort of right-wing climate savior. Rather, this is the latest in his high-wire act to fix some of Florida’s climate problems without doing anything about their causes.

Advertisement

The pair of bills establishes an annual fund worth tens of millions of dollars to help local communities living with sea level rise, guidelines for regular flood risk assessments and resilience plans, and forms local “resilience coalitions” to help communities prepare. “We’re really putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to protecting the state of Florida and particularly our coastal communities from the risks of flooding and storms,” DeSantis said at the signing.

Most of DeSantis’s political views are pretty guessable from anyone with an offhand knowledge of the types of stuff Fox News commenters like to regularly froth themselves into a rage about. In recent weeks, DeSantis has offered cash to cops and trumpeted that he wants to “fund the police” (OK?), announced the state would ban vaccine passports (weird), thrown a fit because a coronavirus panel he hosted that was full of scientific misinformation was taken off of YouTube (lol), and said he would sign a bill banning trans girls from playing women’s sports in the state (fuck you, dude).

But in a deviation from the normal pablum that passes for Republican policymaking these days, DeSantis’s environmental and climate record has some bright spots. In one of his first moves after taking office, DeSantis signed a sweeping executive order that, among other things, directed the state to “adamantly oppose” offshore drilling and fracking and appointed a chief science officer “to help prepare Florida’s coastal communities and habitats for impacts from sea level rise.” From the guy who once featured his infant son in a campaign ad teaching him how to “build a wall” out of blocks and put the kid in a “Make America Great Again” onesie, it was a stark departure from the Trumpian blueprint of climate denial. This unexpected move as well as other motions to protect the Everglades also got DeSantis accolades about being “bold on climate change” early in his tenure.

The most recent bill is a striking illustration of the type of tightrope DeSantis is seeking to walk that may provide a blueprint for other Trumpy Republicans wondering how in the world they can address climate change without being called antifa by the MyPillow guy making an appearance on Newsmax or whatever. DeSantis told reporters during his campaign that he’s “not in the pews of the church of the global warming leftists.”

But as he prepares to campaign for reelection next year—and possibly eyes a 2024 presidential run—he seems to understand that he needs to find some way of talking about the increasingly clear threat that climate change poses. This recent set of bills talks a big talk on mitigating the impacts of sea level rise—but does nothing to explore the causes of why that sea level rise is happening, make any sort of goals for lowering statewide emissions, or encourage the development of renewable energy.

“I think the irony of the proposal was that he listed all the impacts of climate change but never actually said ‘climate change,’” state Rep. Anna Eskamani told the Sierra Club Magazine in February. (It’s true in the final bills, too: The phrase “climate change” doesn’t appear once in either bill.) “And so we’re going to continue to spend money on resiliency over the years where we could also be making investments in taking the state off fossil fuels and actually tackling the climate change crisis in front of us.”

Advertisement

Ultimately, what may be pushing DeSantis “left” on climate change is the simple fact that sea level rise is hitting Florida, well, now. A report published last year found Miami “faces the largest risk of any major coastal city in the world.” When one of your major cities is projected to be one-fifth underwater by 2045 (Miami, it was nice to know you), it’s ignorant to not address that elephant in the room.

As more and more Republican politicians try to figure out how to seem concerned about climate change, DeSantis is showing one way to do it: Talk big on cleaning up the mess, but stay quiet about what caused it in the first place.

Advertisement

New York’s Public Power Bill Could Be a Model for the Rest of the Country

A large section of Manhattan’s Upper West Side and Midtown neighborhoods are seen in darkness from above during a major power outage on July 13, 2019 in New York City.

A large section of Manhattan’s Upper West Side and Midtown neighborhoods are seen in darkness from above during a major power outage on July 13, 2019 in New York City.
Photo: Scott Heins (Getty Images)

Two years ago, New York enshrined the most ambitious statewide climate targets in the country. The legislation, called the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, requires the state to completely decarbonize its electric grid by 2040 and reduce emissions from all sectors by 85% within the following decade.

Advertisement

A bill that’s currently gaining support in the New York legislature could set the state back on track to meet its goals. (The path has been bumpy, particularly because the state legislators haven’t come up with a payment plan for the CLCPA.) It hinges on the idea that the best way to decarbonize the state’s energy system is to make it publicly owned and democratically controlled. A new report from the policy tank climate + community project shared exclusively with Earther lays out exactly how it works, and shows that it could be a model for the rest of the country.

“As long as energy is treated as a commodity like any other, poor people, workers, and communities of color will suffer,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York, who is a champion of the legislation. “Our energy and power systems must be accountable to the public so that we can build an equitable future, in New York and nationwide, free of corporate exploitation.”

The measure, called the New York State Build Public Renewables Act, has dozens of co-sponsors and is supported by the Public Power Coalition, which is led by Democratic Socialists of America chapters and local environmental justice organizations. It would essentially create a public option for electricity. To do so, it would expand the New York Power Authority, empowering it to build out utility-scale renewable energy generation and transmission infrastructure and requiring it to supply only renewable power.

NYPA is the largest state-owned energy provider in the U.S. It currently owns and operates one-third of New York’s high voltage power lines and provides up to 25% of the state’s electricity, the majority of which comes from hydropower.

Under the bill, NYPA would be required to fully decarbonize its existing energy infrastructure, decommissioning its fossil fuel plants by 2025 while rapidly increasing the state’s renewable energy generation. (The report proposes that the entity would have the right of first refusal for all renewable energy projects greater than 25 megawatts in the state.)

In addition to supplying power directly to customers who choose to opt-in, NYPA would also have to ensure that all publicly owned buildings—to which it is the sole provider of energy—run on 100% clean power by 2025.

Advertisement

As it does all this, it would also be required to adhere to strict labor standards and unionization for all its projects, and also to partner with worker-owned cooperatives and small businesses owned by members of disadvantaged communities to procure necessary equipment and appliances. The law would also forbid the entity from shutting off power for unpaid bills.

That NYPA is publicly owned and operated is important for two reasons. For one, as a state entity, it’s directly governable, unlike investor-owned utilities.

Advertisement

“We want to embark on an energy transition that is simultaneously rapid, equitable, and thorough. We want the energy system to be fully decarbonized, we want it to be maximally equitable, and we also want it to happen in less than 10 years,” said Thea Riofrancos, an associate professor of political science at Providence College and co-author of the new report. “In the private sector, the way to do that is to create incentives for investments and to regulate. With the public sector, it’s much more direct. You can ensure it happens.”

Unlike investor-owned utilities, which are required to make money for their shareholders, NYPA also has no profit motive. That would make it easier to ensure that the utility bills of low-income households stay low and that communities see the benefits of an energy transition.

Advertisement

“With NYPA, they don’t have always to go the cheapest option or choose actions that will make the most money,” said Johanna Bozuwa, co-manager of the climate and energy program at the Democracy Collaborative and co-author of the report. “They are held to the standard of the public interest. That means that, for instance, instead of putting transmission through a place that may be cheapest but might have pretty significant environmental impacts, we can actually shift that framework because it’s not a profit motive that we’re going for.”

To ensure that it operates in an equitable manner, the report suggests that the law could come with a number of measures to boost democratic control. The authors suggest the state could create a multi-stakeholder board with seats for longtime environmental justice leaders or labor organizers who have a say in NYPA’s actions. They also propose that NYPA create community engagement hubs where residents can learn about new renewable energy plans and work opportunities and provide input on where new energy projects are sited.

Advertisement

The report estimates that the comprehensive proposals would create up to 51,000 jobs—including 16,000 permanent ones—and between $48.6 billion and $93.5 billion of additional economic activity. It could also serve as a model for the rest of the country.

In the state of Nebraska, for instance, the electricity sector consists entirely of public power districts, publicly owned utilities, and energy cooperatives. The state could implement a similarly ambitious timeline to move the grid to 100% renewables. The federally owned Tennessee Valley Authority, which sells energy to 150 companies as well as utilities, could also take up a similar project.

Advertisement

If the bill passes and is successful, Bozuwa also said it could help show that the U.S. needs more public entities to control electricity—and that there’s no reason we can’t create them.

“We could see, for instance, federal money going to states so that they could set one up themselves so that they can build out public renewable energy in their states, bring down the cost, make it accountable to the people, and bring down energy poverty at the same time,” she said. “It’s exciting to think of how we could take NYPA as this state-based entity, take the principles that guide it, put it through a rapid energy transition, and use the federal level to unleash similar types of entities across the U.S.”

Advertisement

The Biden administration could use the New York bill’s model, Riofrancos added, to ensure that it meets the goals it has set since taking the White House, including the promise to decarbonize the grid by 2035 and ensure “40% of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments” meet the needs of communities who have borne the worst brunt of the climate crisis and pollution.

“By using a public institution … you can directly ensure that projects and jobs are sited in the places that deserve them most, where working class and racialized communities have been the most impacted by not only the climate crisis but also the pandemic and economic recession,” said Riofrancos.

Advertisement

Through the power of the public sector, the U.S. has achieved massive energy goals quickly before. During the New Deal, for instance, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Rural Electric Cooperative system.

“It actually was able to bring lights on within 10 years,” said Bozuwa. “So we don’t need to create sticks and carrots for the private energy sector. We’re saying to the private sector, we’re going to outflank you, we’re going to make sure we transition the public sector faster than you ever would.”

Advertisement