Within the past week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant certiori to hear an appeal of a decision upholding Wisconsin’s appalling voter i.d. law, (Frank v. Walker) and just remanded two Alabama redistricting cases (Alabama Black Legislative Caucus et al. v. Alabama et al., linked with Alabama Democratic Conference et al., v. Alabama et al.) back to the lower courts on a 5-4 decision holding that the state legislature could not justify “packing” African-American voters into fewer districts on the basis that it was compelled to do so in order to comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Superficially, this seemed to be a bit of give-and-take when it came to voting rights, although the cases weren’t directly comparable on the facts or issues.
Answer: Not much either way. The Texas Legislature (bless its aggregated shriveled dignity) overreached far more aggressively on both voter i.d. laws and on redistricting than did any of the other states (with the possible exception of South Carolina, which seems to be giving us a run for the money on efforts to cement the title of “most regressed” when it comes to voting rights).
As a consequence, the Texas lawsuits present voting rights advocates with an interesting set of tactical choices. On the one hand, the State has been such a bad actor that it is absolutely imperative that its voter i.d. and 2013 redistricting be struck down in the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, and that its future actions be subjected to “opt-in” preclearance under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act.
On the other hand, because Texas pushed the envelope on bad legislative acts, the State provided some cover for other states involved in similar lawsuits. It’s sometimes handy to be able to point to another entity and say, “Well, at least our state government didn’t try something on the order of what Texas did!”
In the case of the Wisconsin litigation, the plaintiffs lacked sufficient evidence of malicious racial intent to invoke key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. In the case of the Alabama litigation, the plaintiffs prevailed only in knocking back a couple of fairly tenuous legal arguments justifying racial gerrymandering.
In the Texas litigation, the stakes are much higher, and the evidence for racial animus is much stronger. As for me, I just hope that the Supreme Court fixes the Texas mistakes. As much as I might hope that Justice Roberts would have a change of heart regarding the importance of the Voting Rights Act for the country as a whole, I really just want some acknowledgment that there are fact patterns so egregious that they can embarrass even a few hard-core states-rightists.
I haven’t generally talked about campaign finance reform, or about one of the U.S. Supreme Court’s more disastrous policy missteps in that area (namely, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, the 2010 decision that famously ruled that corporations should be freed from federal statutory limitations on their contributions to political campaigns and opinion advocacy).
Thanks in large part to that decision, our political campaigns are now awash with vast sums of corporate money, untraceable dark money contributions, and churning rivers of purchased influence and graft.
The whole topic of campaign finance is depressingly familiar and trite, and outside my comfort zone, because it is a field of political engagement that isn’t amenable to legislative or judicial correction – it is, instead, the tinder of class conflict and armed revolution. And I find revolutions depressing because they are inefficient and cause tremendous collateral damage.
Nevertheless, I was professionally curious about what Floyd Abrams had to say about the free speech clause of the First Amendment and the role he played in getting the Supreme Court to strike down restrictions on corporate political contributions. After all, Mr. Abrams is widely regarded as the most prominent and successful First Amendment litigator practicing in the United States; his absolutist views regarding the sanctity of free speech are unquestioned, and he spoke at Temple University on March 16th, 2015 about what he saw as the greatest threats to free speech rights today. His full lecture is transcribed at concurringopinions.com, and can be viewed here.
Some critics have suggested that Mr. Abrams’ has a rather single-track mind when it comes to questions of free speech, and alas (at least based on these remarks), I have to agree. Mr. Abrams feels the greatest threat to free speech is that people sometimes refuse to allow other people to say awful things. In particular, he seems concerned that campus organizations and individuals often withdraw invitations from racists and lunatics who want to use educational forums to draw an audience.
In decrying this general human preference not to be bombarded with the rantings of crazy people, he cleverly forgets to mention that the free speech clause of the First Amendment doesn’t say, “Nobody shall take any action restraining the free expression of ideas.” It says that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.
You and I are still free to abridge the hell out of other people’s speech; we are certainly not obligated as private individuals to entertain the ravings of horrible people, and we can restrict communications to our hearts content. Heck, I do it every day by consciously avoiding Reddit forums!
It’s unfortunate that Mr. Abrams leads off his remarks with such silliness as being mad that horrible people like Ann Coulter sometimes get themselves booted off university campuses, because it trashes his credibility when he talks about other more pressing and complicated aspects of free speech law.
His argument with respect to “Citizens United” is to baldly declare that there’s nothing weird about the idea of giving civil rights to corporations, and that non-individual legal persons have had free speech rights recognized by the Supreme Court since forever – he then cites examples of businesses or institutions that at one time or another have been subject to what he views as restraints on expression, using the examples of (1) a bookstore being subpoenaed for Monica Lewinsky’s customer purchase history; (2) a museum being threatened with censorship by the former mayor of New York because of controversial art being displayed; (3) a movie being threatened with censorship because of sexual content; and (4) a tobacco company facing cruel demands to put dismaying images on its cigarette packs.
Wow. Um. I guess if you try hard enough, you can say that anything is a limitation on free speech. I hope that Mr. Abrams understands on at least some level that privacy cases, cases involving separation of powers and executive authority, and product safety regulations AREN’T ABOUT FREE SPEECH. I suppose that if the police pull me over for running a red light, they are infringing on my demonstrative expression of my disagreement with traffic regulations.
Citizens United is a bad decision for a lot of reasons. But one of the most glaring errors in the decision is the frankly bizarre assertion that because corporations are legal individuals, they are therefore … people … and that as a consequence they are entitled to free speech rights.
Um. No. Corporations are franchises of the sovereign. They exist only at the pleasure of the sovereign, and only to the limit of the sovereign’s license granted to them. As franchises, they are permitted to sue and be sued, to own property, and to possess legal rights identical to or analogous to the rights granted to natural persons. But they are not people, and it is within the sovereign’s right to dissolve their franchise. The Coca Cola Corporation is permitted to operate as a corporation not because it has rights, but because it has privileges granted by the state in which it is incorporated (probably Delaware, but I’m too lazy to look it up.) If Coca Cola Corporation fails to pay its franchise fees, or fails to maintain a structure of corporate governance, it will cease to exist, and will no longer be permitted to do business as a corporation.
Any privilege that the Coca Cola Corporation enjoys as a participant in the political process is subject to revocation at any time, at the pleasure of that which governs.
Aaagh. Sometimes I wonder how stupid ideas like “corporations are people” get started. And if I do get a ticket for running a red light, I do not want Floyd Abrams representing me – I’m afraid he’ll just make a mess of the thing.
After the November 2014 general election, Battleground Texas used the data from its Election Day voter hotline to summarize and describe the problems that voters faced in the election. That public report is available as a .pdf file through Battleground Texas. You can read the report here.
Among other things, the report finds that (1) the statewide voter registration list is riddled with errors (and the fact that the statewide database went down on Election Day was frustrating), (2) compared to the experience in other states, provisional ballots in Texas are used disproportionately in response to registration problems, (3) The Texas Department of Public Safety has a deserved reputation for particularly poor handling of “motor voter” registrations, a responsibility of the state agency that administers drivers’ license issuance and renewal as mandated by the National Voter Registration Act, and (4) voting systems in Texas are showing their age – equipment is breaking down, touchscreens are getting misaligned, and the availability of back-up machines is declining.
Another significant problem lay in the organization and staffing of polling places – as with almost every election, there were a number of precincts across the state that just couldn’t seem to get their act together. Polls opened late, failed to manage lines of voters properly, enforced nonexistent proof of identity requirements, failed to accommodate voters who needed accessible voting due to limitations on movement or other disabilities, didn’t bother to provide sufficient ballots, turned voters away, or otherwise disenfranchised eligible voters. Poor treatment of voters tended to disproportionately affect minority voters and voters with limitations on movement.
Materiality in the eyes of the beholder, and voting rights
One could imagine an officeholder responding to the report with an air of jaded acceptance. “Of course we infuriate voters, leave people angry and frustrated, and sour the voting experience. But our poor management of elections didn’t have a material effect on the outcome of the election.”
With respect to specific races, such a statement might not be true – targeted mistreatment or neglect of voting rights might well have tipped election results; the potential that such miscarriages of suffrage might be prosecuted in civil court is relatively slight, and given that voters traditionally and consistently have been ruled to lack standing to file election contests (because unlike candidates, voters are deemed to lack a justiciable property right in the assignment of public offices), the burden and expense of arguing that an election came out “wrong” falls on the candidates’ shoulders.
But even when an election turns out “right” (i.e., after discounting all other factors, including discouraged voters, voters who were pressured or coerced, voters who were disenfranchised, etc., the number of “clean” votes in favor of the winner were sufficient to overcome the number of “clean” votes in favor of the loser), one can still trespass on the rights of individual voters.
And so in one sense, focusing on the “materiality” and “proportionality” of the harm done by disenfranchising voters is looking at the problem of badly-run elections through the wrong end of the telescope. The act of voting (independent of the choices made by the voter on the ballot) is the voter’s formal participation in government. A voter who isn’t able to vote has therefore not formally given his or her consent to the acts of that government, and lives in a state of subjugation to totalitarian whims.
For that reason, prosecution of violations of voters’ civil rights, as well as prosecution of election-related crimes is not based on whether the election came out “right” or “wrong,” but on the experience of the individual victims. It is no defense for the entity or person responsible for a voter’s bad experience to argue that the voter’s vote “wouldn’t have changed the outcome.”
It’s a good time to be writing about Texas Elections, given that the 50th anniversary of the March from Selma to Montgomery was just two days ago, and given that we are still struggling to counter the corrosive effects of endemic institutional racism even now. There’s also quite a bit of action vis-a-vis public law generally in Texas, what with the Legislature’s latest experiments.
In the midst of all this election-related news, my wife had surgery recently. Everything went great, and we’re all doing fine, but the medical prelude and aftermath were distracting, to say the least, and now I feel like the kid who comes back to school after a long break and hopes that he can still remember the combination for his locker.
Also in the midst of all this, I finished a novel for middle-grade readers called “Sky Pirates of the Aetherosphere.” What does it have to do with Texas elections? Absolutely nothing whatsoever. As in, it is about as far removed from the law and elections as it can possibly get.
If the novel is in any way tied to my work as an attorney, it grows out of the rich loam of my extended hiatus from government employment. So thanks for that, State of Texas!
Very briefly, here’s a recap and highlights of some of the things I’ll be looking at this week:
I. Selma and the the future of voting rights
Everybody and their cousin have provided transcripts and links of varying quality to one of President Obama’s best speeches, namely the remarks he delivered on the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery. His speech was reprinted in full in a number of newspapers, including the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times, but what the heck, I’ll provide the link as well. It deserves as wide an audience as possible, and if you haven’t read it elsewhere, go check out the official transcript.
2. Calls for Electronic Voter Registration
Each time a legislator calls for Texas election law to enter the 21st Century, I admire the ambition, given that nobody’s managed to drag it into the 20th Century yet. But who knows? Hope springs eternal, etc. Anyway, there are a number of proposals for encouraging voter registration, including provisions for online registration. This seems like a no-brainer, which means we’ll probably get to see it happen sometime in the mid-2100s.
3. Election administrators exit Stage Left
Major elections impose a certain amount of wear and tear on election administrators, but 2014 seems (at least anecdotally) to have been worse than usual for causing turnover among county election officials.
4. Fixing the Texas Election Code
It’s my pet peeve – what can I say? The Texas Election Code isn’t just evil, it’s badly written. I mean, evil … well, that’s a policy choice – if you want your politics evil, you’ve come to the right state. But badly written? That’s just embarrassing.
I look forward to working through this daunting backlog of election-law-related stuff. One nice thing about writing on election issues is that there’s always something going on.
Now that I’m belatedly putting away the eggnog and packing up the ornaments, let’s see what’s shaking in Texas elections.
1. Punishment and Retribution, or the Relationships of Election Administrators and County Commissioners
Having talked to Dan Teed many times over the years, I know that he is a cautious and fastidious elections administrator; he was the elections administrator for Harrison County for a time, and then moved on to work in the challenging position of elections administrator for Waller County. His successor in Harrison County (Becky Dotson) was new to the job, and didn’t last – Harrison County was the last county to report vote totals following the November 2014 election, and had been subject to state criticism for its tardy distribution of a dozen military ballots; these problems led to Ms. Dotson being fired about a month after the election.
Her story is sad, complicated, messy, and an all-too-common one. Her downfall was depressingly predictable, and was grounded in the complexity of the job she was asked to do, her lack of experience, and the apparent lack of automation available to her. Ultimately, she was bested by the legal obligation to mail ballots out to military and oversees voters no later than 45 days before the election.
For several decades now, the Texas Election Code has authorized the creation of a salaried county position of “elections administrator.” Chapter 31, Subchapter B, Texas Election Code (Sections 31.031 et seq.). (Those who are curious about all of the ins and outs of county election administration should also look at Subchapters C, D, E, and F of Chapter 31, all of Chapter 32, and, well, to be honest, pretty much everything else in the Texas Election Code and Title 1, Part 4, Chapter 81 of the Texas Administrative Code).
The law solves a number of problems caused by the more traditional use of county clerks (who are elected in partisan contests) as the chief elections officers responsible for conducting county elections.
What the legislation attempts to achieve is insulation of the county elections officer from partisan pressure. This is done in part through an elaborate structure of divided supervisory responsibility for the hiring and termination of election officers – the elections administrator is hired by a county elections commission composed of the county clerk, county tax assessor, county judge, and the chairs of the county Republican and Democratic parties.
Meanwhile, the funding and staffing of the office is resolved by the debate and actions of the county commissioners.
To survive and continue to hold a county job, a county elections administrator must placate (1) the county judge, who presides over both the county commissioners and the county elections commission, (2) at least a majority of the county commissioners, and (3) at least one other member of the county elections commission. If this goal isn’t met, the administrator may either be dismissed by the county elections commission, or (more creatively) the commissioners’ court may either strip the office of funding, or abolish the position altogether.
In contrast, a county clerk only needs to win a primary and general election every four years.
In the end, it’s disingenuous to treat any election workers as if they are somehow magically immune to intense political pressure or partisanship. It would be more accurate to say that county election administrators face a different and potentially more complicated set of political pressures than the political pressures faced by elected county officials.
Looking beyond the specifics of Ms. Dotson’s termination, one is naturally inclined to ask whether the sins of embattled or terminated county election administrators (a group that includes Susan Wilson and Robert Mendoza for Ector County, fired several years ago, Rick Barron (Williamson County), who was under considerable pressure from Republican county commissioners, or Glenda Denton of Rockwall County) were by any stretch more damning than the glaring problems of election management in places like Harris County, where Stan Stanart won reelection for a new four-year term that began on January 1. I would argue that Mr. Stanart enjoys far greater administrative leeway than do his election administrator counterparts.
So, as 2014 winds down (and as the whirlwind of holiday events overtakes me), here’s a brief sampler of some of the issues likely to affect Texas election lawyers in 2015:
1. The Dropping of the Other Shoe
At some point, the U.S. Supreme Court will presumably take a look at Veasey v. Perry. I’d like to be an optimist, but the oligarchs have signaled that they are bored with even the most meritorious arguments regarding systemic racism in Texas elections. I predict that the majority will step gingerly over an angry and honest dissent, with mumbled apologies for having shut the door on the Civil Rights movement. The disaster, if it comes, will be cloaked in language absolving Texas of having introduced “unintentional” and “de minimus” racial bias into its voter I.D. laws.
2. The Windmills at Which We Will Tilt
Once again, legislative bills designed to drag Texas into the mid-20th century of election reform (including electronic registration, same-day registration, instant run-off voting, voting rights for felons, and bipartisan or non-partisan redistricting) will wend their way towards early deaths in committee.
3. Any Thoughts of Election Finance Reform, Civil Rights Protections, or Revitalization of the Voting Rights Act May Now Be Safely Dismissed
Now that the Party of No is firmly and conclusively in charge, you may be assured that any notions you might have had regarding Congressional responses to Shelby County v. Holder or Citizens United v. FEC can be dismissed out of hand, at least until the earlier of either the November 2016 elections or hell freezing over.
After the November election, a number of editorial articles came out with variations on the following theme – that the various depressing voter I.D. laws didn’t actually have much effect on elections. Because hey, the Republicans knocked the elections out of the park, right? That happened despite disproportionately good turnout among minority voters in some elections.
Such editorials are music to the ears of the extreme right (“Yeah. See, we’re not racists. If we were racists, we would have had to turn the firehoses on the swarms of minority voters that voted in the November 2014 federal elections. But we didn’t have to use firehoses or police dogs, or even fire any tear gas into the polling places. Therefore, we have conclusively demonstrated that we’re not racists. Plus, we love democracy. Democracy was very good to us.”) and to the defense attorneys representing the State of Texas in its appeal of Veasey v. Perry et al.
I mean, if an editorial by Nate Cohn in the New York Times, (that notorious hotbed of centrist legal opinions), comes out saying that voter I.D. weren’t no big deal, then the centerpiece of the plaintiffs’ evidence against the State in Veasey is undermined, and the State should walk on all charges, right?
Mr. Cohn’s argument runs like this: It must be the case that 600,000 Texas voters weren’t disenfranchised because if they had been disenfranchised, they would have been turned away from the polls. Since 600,000 people weren’t turned away from the polls, 600,000 people weren’t disenfranchised. Quod erat demonstram. Ipso facto. Res ipse loquitor. Et cetera.
And because only a fraction of all registered voters lack sufficient I.D., (say, 9 percent, or 11 percent, or something like that) it means that voter I.D. laws don’t actually change election outcomes. Right? Right? Because if the bad guy won by 20 percent, then even if all the voters without i.d. had been able to vote (and even if all of them had voted for the bad guy’s opponent), the bad guy would still have won by 11 percent, or 9 percent. Or whatever.
I’ve written about this before, but maybe if I write slower and louder, people will begin to understand.
The secret to getting people not to vote is to discourage them from attempting to vote. And because the cost of voting is so high compared to the benefit, it is very, very easy to discourage people from voting.
And when people don’t vote, they don’t make an ostentatious show of not voting. They don’t gather en masse, carrying placards and linked arm-in-arm at the polling place to not cast their ballot, in a vast silent repudiation of their civic authority. Such mass demonstrations by non-voters would be quite satisfying, if they happened, and would make for some fun political theater. But they don’t happen, because showing up at a polling place to not vote is almost as much bother as showing up at a polling place to vote.
Non-voters don’t go out of their way to proclaim their nonvoting status. They go to work or school. They run errands. They watch T.V. Some of them register to vote, but fail to register on Mr. Cohn’s radar, and so he assumes that they don’t exist. Some of them fail to register to vote, period, and so they don’t even show up in the statistics of “registered voters who lack i.d.”
The authors of the sociological studies at the heart of the plaintiffs’ case in Veasey v. Perry didn’t merely rely on the self-selecting sample of voters who actually go to vote. They called people up and asked them direct questions about their status as voters, and about their inclination to vote or not vote, based on their circumstances.
As it turns out, (as amply demonstrated by our most recent election) disenfranchisement works. It would have been embarrassing to the arch-conservative proponents and apologists for picture i.d. requirements if disenfranchisement hadn’t worked, because it’s actually kind of an administrative pain in the ass to exclude those naughty liberals from the polls, and it costs money to administer draconian voter i.d. laws. Luckily for the right, everything went swimmingly.
Let’s look at the November 2014 elections in one Texas county, and see how disenfranchisement succeeded in that county.
Harris County, Texas
Voters in Harris County had a long ballot to work on this year, in part because this very heavily populated county has an enormous county and district judiciary to handle the legal caseload generated by its roughly 4,330,000 residents. As it seems to happen every four years, the district and county courts were filled by Republican candidates, who pretty uniformly won their seats by consistent margins, just as they had even when Bill White carried Harris County in 2010.
2010 was a watershed year for the county – it was the first Federal decennial census in which Harris County had more than 4 million people. The City of Houston, meanwhile, was estimated to have just a smidge under 3 million people; there’s no doubt that Houston, like much of urban Texas, is experiencing a tremendous population boom. In fact, the county has added roughly 240,000 people or more since the 2010 Census; my guess (and the guess of the U.S. Census demographers) is that the recent population increase skews in favor of Hispanic or Latino residents.
As of the 2010 Census, slightly more than 40% of the Harris County population identified as Hispanic or Latino, while about 33% identified as non-Hispanic white, and about 18.4% identified as non-Hispanic black. As of 2013, those percentages were estimated to work out as 41% Hispanic, 19% Black, and 32% non-Hispanic white.
A lot of people under 18 live in Harris County, so let’s say that only about 72 percent of the total population are voting age. That’s about 3,117,600 voting age people in Harris County as of 2013.
So … how successful have people been at registering Harris County residents to vote? Well, out of those 3.12 million voting-age people in Harris County, only 2.06 million were registered to vote in the November 2014 election. So let’s see, um, that’s a 66% registration rate.
Hmm. Let’s see. In 2002 (a relatively slow gubernatorial election year, with anemic turnout), there were 1.9 million registered voters in Harris County.
But … Wait. What? That’s almost as many registered voters as there are now in that county.
What was the voting-age population of Harris County in 2002? Well, the estimated 2002 population in the county was 3.54 million. Of those, we’ll guess that around 71% were 18 or older (based on the 2000 census data). So that’s an estimated voting age population of 2.51 million in 2002, of whom 1.9 million were registered. That’s a 75.6% registration rate.
I’ll admit that a 75.6% voter registration rate wasn’t spectacular in 2002. But it was definitely better than a 66% registration rate in 2014. If the Harris County Voter Registrar had managed to just tread water with regard to registration between 2002 and 2014, we’d expect that there would be about 2.36 million registered voters in Harris County as of the November 2014 election.
Which works out rather nicely as a shortfall of 300,000 people in the Harris County voting-age population who should have been registered voters (based on historic trends), but who weren’t registered.
Now … from 2002 to 2014, the racial demographics in Harris County basically flipped for white and Hispanic voters. In 2002, about 42% of the voters were non-Hispanic whites, and about 32% of the voters were Hispanic.
What the Texas Republicans realized in 2011 is that they would have to find a way to discourage both voter registration and voting in Harris County, so that while the percentage of non-Hispanic registered voters would remain roughly steady (rising a very modest 8% over the course of 12 years), the percentage of Hispanic registered voters would need to go down. And it would need to go down by a big margin.
The available tools were varied, and ranged from bad-faith purges and registration challenges to outright bullying and strong-arm tactics. But none of those tools would be as effective (in terms of the percentage of potential votes suppressed) as a simple increase in the opportunity costs of voter registration and voting.
This is an area deserving of additional study, but I would hazard that by focusing solely on the suppressive effect of voter i.d. laws as applied to registered voters, studies by the Brennan Center and others have dramatically underestimated the intended and successfully achieved levels of vote suppression generally. The underestimate is the result of failing to consider the suppressive effect of harsh election laws not just on the people who are already registered to vote, but also on the people who haven’t registered yet.
If the suite of laws enacted in 2011 (not just picture i.d., but also restrictions on volunteer deputy registrars, the mealy scrutiny and comparison of error-ridden databases, etc.) managed to drop voter registration in Harris County by around 13%, and the picture i.d. requirement managed to mess up voter eligibility for around 9% to 11% of the remaining 2.06 million voters, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that (in Harris County, at least) that voter suppression succeeded in three ways, by:
(1) trimming the rolls of around 300,000 (mostly minority, poor, or elderly people) who would otherwise have registered to vote;
(2) discouraging another 180,000 to 220,000 registered voters from bothering to vote (the latter group also being disproportionately composed of minorities and the poor), and;
(3) so debasing and screwing up the election experience for everyone else that turnout was at an all-time low (around 678,000 votes cast in the big races, or around 33% of the registered voters).
It starts to look like the Republicans were running up the score in an unseemly way. I mean, if you start with 3.12 million possible voters (more or less), disenfranchise one sixth of those voters (say, around half a million), and then demoralize two thirds of the rest so badly that they don’t bother to come out and vote, well then … voila!
You get an instant Republican grand slam. A mandate for the ages, and an endorsement by our polity of the emerging πρωκτοκρατία (proctocratia, i.e., a form of government known as a proctocracy, administered by proctocrats).
Hey! You there! Candidates in Harris County who lost!
If you lost, and you lost by a margin of around 24% of the vote or less, strongly consider filing an election contest. Remember – such an action must be initiated not later than 30 days after the canvass of your election, by filing suit in district court. Your clock is ticking. Also remember (if you’re feeling a little sheepish about filing such a lawsuit) – that the November 2014 general election was an illegal election.
As for Mr.Cohn of the New York Times, here are some general tips for successfully navigating the confusing world we live in.
Sometimes bad actions are identified by absence, rather than presence. For example, if you are in a coal mine, and most of the canaries have suddenly gone silent, that isn’t proof that the remaining canaries are happy and content. That’s evidence that something is wrong.
“Well, everyone said that when the crew hit that natural gas pocket, it created a poisonous atmosphere. But I heard that at least 32% of the canaries were still singing. Therefore, the natural gas pocket could not have had any measurable effect on the health of the canaries. Q.E.D. Res ipse loquitor. Et cetera, et cetera. Say, does anyone else feel a little light-headed?”