- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

San Antonio Express-News. Sept. 15, 2019.

If the late author George Orwell was correct that political language is “designed to make lies sound truthful” and “give an appearance of solidity to pure wind,” then surely social media was made to fan those lies far and wide.

That’s much easier to do when bots artificially amplify disinformation.

Automated accounts on Twitter do so in a variety of ways. One is by heavily promoting a lie immediately after it’s published, tricking real people into trusting and sharing it.



Doing so is against Twitter’s rules on platform manipulation. But that’s apparently what happened this month when a Twitter account with relatively few followers posted a conspiracy theory falsely linking Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke to the Midland-Odessa mass shooter - and then swiftly received thousands of retweets.

The original tweet was posted a day after the massacre to the account of Sue Moore, purportedly a 72-year-old retiree living in Mesa, Arizona. It read: “The Odessa Shooter’s name is Seth Ator, a Democratic Socialist who had a Beto sticker on his truck.”

Within days, the fake news had racked up more than 10,000 retweets, including one by Anthony Shaffer, a member of President Donald Trump’s 2020 advisory board. The Washington Post reported that bots were to blame for most of the amplification.

A Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman has categorically debunked the conspiracy theory. But weeks later, the lie remains posted on Twitter. The company has said it won’t remove the proven untruth because it doesn’t break any of Twitter’s rules.

It’s a familiar refrain in the social media industry: Platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter should not be “arbiters of the truth.”

This has incensed O’Rourke’s campaign manager, who sent letters to the major technology companies demanding they do more to stamp out disinformation ahead of the 2020 election. The concern is bigger than O’Rourke’s campaign. As we’ve mentioned previously, the U.S. census is potentially vulnerable from disinformation campaigns to stifle participation.

Do tech giants get this? It’s debatable.

Last summer, Twitter announced it had removed tens of millions of fake accounts from the platform. That apparently wasn’t enough. A few months later, a study by the Knight Foundation found that more than 80% of the accounts that spread disinformation during the 2016 presidential campaign still were active - and publishing more than 1 million tweets a day.

Shortly before the 2018 midterm elections, Twitter announced it had purged thousands more automated accounts that were trying to discourage voters from casting ballots. But the company would not provide examples of the accounts it had removed.

Other platforms have shown increasing comfort in shutting down disinformation, particularly in moments of crisis.

In February, as the worst measles outbreak in decades swept the country, YouTube stopped allowing anti-vaccine channels to run ads. A month later, Facebook made it more difficult for its users to find similar content.

These were welcome developments - and examples of social media companies acting as arbiters of truth, whether they want to admit it or not.

As for Twitter, it has shown less hesitation in swinging an editor’s ax.

In June, the company announced it would finally start removing or quarantining tweets by public officials that violate its rules. On Friday it backed up that pledge by deep-sixing a tweet that once again targeted O’Rourke.

After O’Rourke made a statement during the Democratic presidential debate last Thursday in Houston about taking away assault weapons, Rep. Briscoe Cain tweeted : “My AR is ready for you Robert Francis,” using O’Rourke’s legal name.

Two hours later, Twitter removed the state lawmaker’s tweet because it violated the company’s policy against violent threats, according to the Washington Post.

Twitter should take the same swift action against political speech that is provably untrue, especially when it’s blown to the winds by an army of bots. Disinformation fueled by social media is a crisis in this country, and the tech giants have a responsibility to help rein in the lies rather than amplify them.

___

Houston Chronicle. Sept. 16, 2019.

For the first time since the Affordable Care Act went into effect in 2010, the number of Americans without health insurance has gone up - and once again Texas leads the nation. Isn’t it time that changed?

The Census Bureau says 27.5 million Americans (8.5% of the U.S. population) didn’t have health insurance in 2018, compared with 25.6 million (7.9 in 2017.

In Texas alone, more than 5 million (17.7 were uninsured last year, compared with 4.8 million (17.3%) in 2017.

Having an uninsured rate that’s more than double the nation’s is embarrassing but it hasn’t stirred the state’s elected leaders to action. They have blithely ignored polls that show most Texans not only care about the uninsured problem, they want Medicaid expanded to help solve it.

That could happen under the Affordable Care Act, which would fund up to 90% of the cost to add more Texans to Medicaid’s rolls. Unfortunately, Gov. Greg Abbott and Republican leaders in the Legislature have decided it’s more important politically for them to reject any part of Obamacare - initially to thwart President Barack Obama’s signature achievement and now to walk in lockstep with President Donald Trump.

“Medicaid expansion would be the biggest contributor to reducing the number of uninsured,” said Elena Marks, president of the Episcopal Health Foundation. “There’s this false narrative that Medicaid is a broken program. Actually, Medicaid is a really good program, and most of its cost is borne by the federal government.”

Marks told the editorial board that, ironically, the unemployment rate’s drop to record levels nationally may have pushed more Americans into the ranks of the uninsured. “Many of the people who have finally found jobs no longer qualify for Medicaid and earn too much to qualify for subsidies to buy health insurance on the ACA exchanges,” she said.

That description fits about 625,000 of the 1.2 million Texans who would become eligible for Medicaid if it were expanded here. Many of them have more than one job but still can’t afford to both put food on the table and buy health insurance.

It’s irresponsible to let politics get in the way of helping families trying their best to get by. It’s unconscionable to be so obstinate when children’s health is at stake. Texas’ uninsured includes more than 833,000 children - also the highest in the nation. Second-place Florida is far behind, with 321,000 uninsured children.

It’s clear that Trump’s misguided war against the ACA has endangered public health. Many of the nation’s uninsured are in the age 19-25 cohort that was expected to forgo coverage after Republicans voided the ACA’s tax penalty for not having insurance. Trump dealt the ACA another blow when he drastically cut funding for Obamacare outreach efforts intended to educate people about the program and help new applicants sign up.

Some Republicans claim they have opposed Medicaid expansion because federal funding might be reduced or eliminated later. By that logic, Abbott shouldn’t have accepted $25 billion from the Trump administration to cover the hospital bills of indigent patients who don’t qualify for Medicaid under Texas’ current rules. That money will run out in 2021.

It’s time for Texas’ elected leaders to stop playing political games and make decisions in the best interest of Texans. They can do that by joining the 37 states that have already claimed a share of the billions of dollars in federal funds available to expand Medicaid. That money includes taxes paid by Texans. Why shouldn’t they get some of it back?

___

Amarillo Globe-News. Sept. 16, 2019.

The Amarillo Sod Poodles are Texas League champions.

Go ahead and read that again. It has a really nice sound to it. The championship marks the first Texas League title for an Amarillo Major League Baseball-affiliated franchise since 1976, when the Gold Sox captured the crown, also as a Class AA San Diego Padres affiliate.

It has been the most memorable of first years for the Sod Poodles franchise and the “if-you-build-it-they-will-come” mentality for supporting the team throughout its inaugural season.

By the way, it took some doing on a Sunday afternoon in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the Sod Poodles had once again been stretched to the fifth game of a best-of-five series. There were several missed chances along the way, but ultimately, the Sod Poodles broke through with a seven-run ninth inning en route to an 8-3 victory over the Tulsa Drillers that assured the team of the championship.

“We had the fifth with the bases loaded and no outs and we didn’t come through there, but we put ourselves in position to have a chance,” Amarillo manager Phillip Wellman said in a story posted on the Texas League website. “This team has been like that all year - very resilient and they never die. They keep fighting.”

That has certainly been the case in the postseason. The Sod Poodles kept their season alive in the opening round of the playoffs by winning three consecutive road games against Midland, climbing out of a two-game deficit and punching their ticket to the finals.

“We play in a ballpark in Amarillo, when the opposition has a five-run lead, it’s not a big lead. We learn, playing in that ballpark, not to give up until the final out,” Wellman said. “There’s a helluva lot easier ways to do it, but we got it done.”

But why do anything the easy way?

Trailing 3-1 entering the ninth inning and facing a reliable Drillers closer, Taylor Trammell delivered the biggest hit in the history of the young franchise. Trammell, who joined the team following a trade at the July 31 deadline, came to the plate after two walks and a bunt single loaded the bases.

His grand slam over the right-field fence staked the Sod Poodles to a 5-3 lead. Teammate Hudson Potts added a three-run homer later, and, after retiring the Drillers in order in their half of the ninth, Amarillo’s title was secure.

“I’m just overwhelmed right now, I’m so happy,” Trammel said. “I can’t say enough about this team.”

We can’t either. To say professional baseball in Amarillo this season has been a success would be a dramatic understatement. The Sod Poodles played before large crowds throughout, providing the city with a high-quality entertainment option. The regular season merely set the stage for a memorable postseason capped by a memorable rally on the road against a quality opponent. To their credit, the Padres stocked the team with talent, including some who have moved on to the major league club where the next chapter of their professional career is unfolding.

Congratulations to Wellman, players and staff on this hard-fought and well-deserved championship. Sod Poodles fans are already looking forward to another memorable run during the 2020 season, which will be here before we know it.

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