Trump and his supporters can't prove election fraud — so they're trying to redefine it: legal expert
Unable to prove former president Donald Trump's false claims of widespread election fraud, Republicans are now attempting to move the goalposts.
Marc Elias, a prominent Democratic elections-law and voting-rights attorney, explained Tuesday how GOP lawmakers in numerous states are effectively trying to change the definition of "fraud."
"What Republicans are doing now is they are redefining ordinary and even exemplary behavior, and redefining it to be fraudulent," Elias told MSNBC. "So that when people engage in this behavior, like handing a bottle of water to someone who's thirsty, the Republicans can now say, 'You see, that was all fraud.' And it's a really pernicious way that I think Republicans are preparing to challenge the results of the election in the future."
Elias, who oversaw the state-by-state response to Trump's election-fraud lawsuits, examined the threat in more detail in a recent article on his website, Democracy Docket.
"Consider Georgia's new voter suppression law," he wrote. "Handing a bottle of water to someone waiting in a long line to vote used to be an act of a good Samaritan. Now it is a crime. In previous elections, many Georgians relied on nonprofit organizations to send them an absentee ballot application and help return the application in time to receive a mail-in ballot. That too is now illegal."
"By manufacturing fraud from ordinary activity, Republicans create the foundation to challenge election results in 2022 and 2024," he wrote. "By manufacturing fake fraud, these new laws provide defeated candidates in 2022 and 2024 with the propaganda necessary to support their own Big Lies in the future."
Watch Elias' MSNBC interview below.
Mark Elias on MSNBC www.youtube.com
Three social media networks massively popular with the youngest users -- TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube -- tried to convince skeptical US lawmakers Tuesday they are safe as worry about Facebook's potential harms spills over to other platforms.
Video-sharing app TikTok and photo network Snapchat, in their first testimony to US senators, argued they are built to protect against the mental health and safety risks present on social media.
"Your defense is, 'We're not Facebook,'" Senator Richard Blumenthal told the networks' representatives. "Being different from Facebook is not a defense, that bar is in the gutter."
"Everything you do is to add users, especially kids, and keep them on your apps," he continued.
While a recent whistleblower-fueled controversy has focused on Facebook's knowledge that its sites could cause harm, other social media giants also grapple with safety issues.
"Snapchat was built as an antidote to social media," said Jennifer Stout, Snap VP of global public policy, noting images on the platform delete by default.
Under questioning later in the hearing, she said the company is making efforts to crack down on the drug dealing that has proliferated on the platform, with sometimes deadly consequences.
TikTok, which said in September that it has one billion active users, has fast become a phenomenon among youths and argued it is a different kind of platform.
"TikTok is not a social network based on followers.... You watch TikToks, you create on TikTok," said Michael Beckerman, TikTok's head of public policy in the Americas.
Yet the app has been attacked on charges its algorithm can serve content to kids, for example, that encourages dangerous weight loss or introduces them to viral challenges that promote the destruction of school property.
'How long will this continue?'
The site also became a political battleground after then-president Donald Trump targeted the app in 2020 for a subsequently abandoned shutdown effort on the argument the platform represented a national security risk because of its links to China.
The ByteDance subsidiary, whose equivalent in China is called Douyin, nevertheless remains well behind YouTube, which claimed 2.3 billion monthly active users in 2020.
Though 13 is the official minimum age limit to join most social media platforms, both TikTok and YouTube have versions that are aimed at younger children.
"Our child safety-specific policies... prohibit content that exploits or endangers minors on YouTube," said Leslie Miller, vice president of public policy at YouTube.
She added that between April and June its moderators removed nearly 1.8 million videos that violated policy.
YouTube has battled with a surge in Covid-19 and vaccine misinformation as the pandemic drove people online looking for information.
Senator Marsha Blackburn, who was co-chairing the hearing, drew little difference among the platforms and their arguments for safety.
"For too long we have allowed platforms to promote and glorify dangerous content for its kid and teen users," she said. "How long are we going to let this continue?"
Facebook, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, has delivered testimony repeatedly before US lawmakers and is facing one of its worst crises ever with the leaking of thousands of internal studies to authorities and journalists.
However, the company has previously been hit by major scandals that did not translate into major new US legislation aimed at regulating social media.
Latte drinkers may in the future be sipping on java sourced from a petri dish rather than a plantation, say scientists behind a new technique to grow what they hope to be sustainable coffee in a lab.
"It's really coffee, because there is nothing else than coffee material in the product," Heiko Rischer tells AFP, pointing to a dish of light brown powder.
His team of researchers at the Finnish technical research institute VTT believe their coffee would avoid many of the environmental pitfalls associated with the mass production of one of the world's favourite drinks.
The coffee is not ground from beans, but instead grown from a cluster of coffee plant cells under closely controlled temperature, light and oxygen conditions in a bioreactor.
Once roasted, the powder can be brewed in exactly the same way as conventional coffee.
Rischer's team used the same principles of cellular agriculture that are used to produce lab-grown meat, which does not involve the slaughter of livestock and which last year was given approval by Singapore authorities to go on sale for the first time.
"Coffee is of course a problematic product," Rischer said, in part because rising global temperatures are making existing plantations less productive, driving farmers to clear ever larger areas of rainforest for new crops.
"There is the transport issue, the fossil fuel use... so it totally makes sense to look for alternatives," Rischer said.
The team is carrying out a fuller analysis of how sustainable their product would be if manufactured on a large scale, but believe it would use less labour and fewer resources than conventional coffee.
"We know already that our water footprint, for example, is much less than what is needed for field growth," Rischer said.
For coffee lovers, the key to the success of the lab-grown variety will be in its taste -- but so far only a specially trained panel of sensory analysts are authorized to try the new brew because of its status as a "novel food".
For the time being, they are only allowed "to taste and spit, but not swallow it," said research scientist Heikki Aisala, an expert in sensory perception who leads the testers on the project.
"Compared to regular coffee, the cellular coffee is less bitter," which may be due to a slightly lower caffeine content, Aisala told AFP, adding that fruitiness is also less prominent in the lab-produced powder.
"But that being said, we really have to admit that we are not professional coffee roasters and a lot of the flavour generation actually happens in the roasting process," Rischer said.
Other initiatives are also under way in search of a more sustainable alternative to coffee.
The Seattle startup Atomo in September announced it had raised $11.5 million in funding for its "molecular coffee", which has the same flavor makeup as the drink, but is originated from other organic material than a coffee plant.
The biology of coffee, the world’s most popular drinkThe biology of coffee, the world’s most popular drinkCoffee (Shutterstock)
But surveys in the US and Canada have suggested widespread public wariness towards lab-grown food substitutes, although less so among younger consumers.
Despite the environmental benefits, some food policy specialists have warned that coffee producers' livelihoods could be hit if there is a widespread move towards lab-produced products.
In Helsinki, Rischer estimates it will be a minimum of four years before the team's lab-grown coffee gains the regulatory approval and commercial backing to enable it to sit alongside its conventional cousin on the shelves.
The project has a special significance in Finland, which according to analyst group Statista ranks among the world's top consumers of coffee, averaging 10 kilos (22 pounds) per person every year.
"There's definitely a lot of enthusiasm for it," Aisala said.
© 2021 AFP
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