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The elusive politics of Elon Musk – The Japan Times

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The opinions poured in, 280 characters at a time, as to whether it was good or bad that Elon Musk had offered to buy Twitter for more than $40 billion and take it private.

A person’s politics typically dictated how they felt: Conservatives cheered it as victory for free speech. Liberals fretted that misinformation would spread rampantly if Musk followed through with his plan to dismantle how the social network monitors content.

But what no one seemed to be able to say with any certainty was what kind of political philosophy the enigmatic billionaire believes himself.

That’s because Musk, 50, who was born in South Africa and only became an American citizen in 2002, expresses views that don’t fit neatly into America’s binary, left-right political framework.

He is frequently described as libertarian, although that label fails to capture how paradoxical and random his politics can be. He has no shortage of opinions on the most pertinent and divisive issues of the day, from COVID-19 lockdowns (“fascist,” he called them) to immigration restrictions (“Very much disagree,” he has said.)

There is not much consistency in the miscellany of his public statements or his profuse Twitter commentary — except that they often align with his business interests. And despite the intense partisan reaction to his unsolicited bid to buy Twitter, his opaque politics make it difficult to say whether the elation and fear about how he would run the company are justified.

He has railed against federal subsidies, but his companies have benefited from billions of dollars in tax breaks and other incentives from federal, state and local governments. He has strenuously opposed unionization, criticizing the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden for proposing a tax credit for electric vehicles produced by union workers.

He is the co-founder of an electric car manufacturer, Tesla, who quit former President Donald Trump’s business councils after the administration pulled out of the Paris climate accord. But he recently ran afoul of environmentalists for calling for an immediate increase in domestic oil and gas production, although it would not be helpful to his businesses in electric cars and solar energy.

He is an avowed enthusiast for the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. But he tried to force a journalist to testify in a defamation lawsuit against him, and he has often had outsize reactions to criticism. Four years ago, he floated a plan to create a website to rate the credibility of reporters, calling it Pravda, in an odd nod to the Soviet Union’s propaganda publication. (Nothing much came of it.) And a venture capitalist wrote at length about Musk canceling his order for a new Tesla after the investor complained about a Tesla event.

Musk said he was a registered independent when he lived in California, the state he famously and loudly left for Texas because he said its business climate had grown too inhospitable. He has described himself as “politically moderate” but added, “Doesn’t mean I’m moderate about all issues.” He did not respond to a request for comment.

His concerns about the way Twitter censors content echo those of conservative activists and politicians who have argued that social media companies are poor arbiters of truth and should not be engaged in policing speech. One person who has worked closely with Musk said that it is Musk’s firmly held belief that in a functioning democracy, it is anyone’s right to say “whatever stupid thing you want.” This person, who spoke anonymously to not violate Musk’s trust, added dryly, “Which he occasionally does.”

If he were to become Twitter’s owner, Musk said he would scrap the program of content monitoring and censoring. Conservatives were elated. “Elon Musk seems to be our last hope,” declared Tucker Carlson of Fox News.

Ordinarily, with public figures so outspoken and wealthy, their political leanings are easy to discern because they are explained in campaign finance disclosures. But Musk’s political giving is paltry compared with that of other billionaires like Charles Koch and Peter Thiel, whose donations have largely supported conservative Republicans, and George Soros, who has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to liberal causes in recent years.

Musk tends to give only a few thousand dollars at a time — nothing like the tens of millions that Thiel has given this year to support candidates like J.D. Vance for Senate in Ohio, for instance. And his giving is fairly evenly distributed to candidates in both political parties. He has donated to stalwarts in the Democratic Party, including Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama. But he has also cut checks to Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, and to the Republican National Committee.

Here, too, his actions appear to reflect the moves of someone who is not thinking ideologically but pragmatically. Many of his donations were funneled to politicians in states where Tesla has manufacturing operations like Texas and California. He has given to both Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat.

Few issues have raised Elon Musk's ire as much as the coronavirus restrictions, which impeded Tesla’s manufacturing operations in California. | REUTERS
Few issues have raised Elon Musk’s ire as much as the coronavirus restrictions, which impeded Tesla’s manufacturing operations in California. | REUTERS

Musk has objected when politicians have tried to characterize his views as in sync with their own, insisting that he would rather leave politics to others, despite ample evidence on Twitter to the contrary. When Abbott last year defended a strict anti-abortion law that made the procedure virtually illegal in Texas by citing Musk’s support — “Elon consistently tells me that he likes the social policies in the state of Texas,” the governor said — Musk pushed back.

“In general, I believe government should rarely impose its will upon the people, and, when doing so, should aspire to maximize their cumulative happiness,” he responded on Twitter. “That said, I would prefer to stay out of politics.”

If that is the case, he often can’t seem to help himself. He heckles political figures who have taken a position he disagrees with or who have seemingly slighted him. Musk’s response to Sen. Elizabeth Warren after she said that he should pay more in income taxes was, “Please don’t call the manager on me, Senator Karen.”

After one of Musk’s Twitter fans pointed out that Biden had not congratulated SpaceX for the successful completion of a private spaceflight last fall, Musk hit back with a jab reminiscent of Trump’s derisive nickname “Sleepy Joe.”

“He’s still sleeping,” he replied. Several days later, he criticized the Biden administration as “not the friendliest” and accused it of being controlled by labor unions. These comments came just a few weeks after his insistence that he preferred to stay out of politics.

Few issues have raised his ire as much as the coronavirus restrictions, which impeded Tesla’s manufacturing operations in California and nudged him closer to his decision last year to move the company’s headquarters to Texas. That move, however, was very much symbolic since Tesla still has its main manufacturing plant in the San Francisco Bay Area suburb of Fremont, California, and a large office in Palo Alto.

Over the course of the pandemic, Musk’s outbursts flared dramatically as he lashed out at state and local governments over stay-at-home orders. He initially defied local regulations that shut down his Tesla factory in Fremont. He described the lockdowns as “forcibly imprisoning people in their homes” and posted a libertarian-tinged rallying cry to Twitter: “FREE AMERICA NOW.” He threatened to sue Alameda County for the shutdowns before relenting.

In an interview in the fall of 2020 with The New York Times’ contributing Opinion writer Kara Swisher, Musk expressed dismay over his belief that the pandemic had brought out irrational fears in many Americans. “It has diminished my faith in humanity, this whole thing,” he said.

At the same time, as the country’s nerves were fraying six months into an outbreak with no end in sight, social media companies came under pressure to take more proactive steps to limit the spread of false information about COVID-19 and the presidential election on their platforms.

And when new content moderation policies after the 2020 election began to affect users on Twitter — where Musk has 82 million followers — he sided with many conservatives and allies of Trump who accused the social media company of arbitrary censorship.

Many accounts that spread disinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines and voter fraud have been suspended or shut down. People like Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist who denied the Sandy Hook massacre, and Trump, who used Twitter to rally his followers to march on the Capitol on Jan. 6, have been banned.

Supporters of the former president cheered his possible return to Twitter. A Republican congressman from Texas, Troy Nehls, tweeted, “Make Twitter Great Again.” For his part, Trump, who is promoting his own social media venture, Truth Social, said last week that he doesn’t think he will come back.

“Twitter’s become very boring. They’ve gotten rid of a lot of their good voices,” he complained in an interview on Americano Media, a Spanish language network.

But given Musk’s largely nondenominational political philosophy, some on the right were less sanguine. Ann Coulter, a frequent presence on Twitter, said that the billionaire entrepreneur struck her as “mostly apolitical” and “mostly about promoting himself.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times. © 2022 The New York Times Company

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Politics Podcast: Who Will Win The GOP’s Senate Primary In Pennsylvania? – FiveThirtyEight

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FiveThirtyEight

 

Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kentucky, Idaho and Oregon are holding primary elections on Tuesday. In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew discusses the the most anticipated contests — the Keystone State’s Republican Senate and gubernatorial races — and previews other races we’re watching, including the Republican gubernatorial primary in Idaho, where the lieutenant governor is challenging the sitting governor for the GOP nomination, and the Republican primary for North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District, where Rep. Madison Cawthorn is facing seven challengers from his own party after revelations of numerous scandals.

The team also looks at FiveThirtyEight’s latest collaboration with Ipsos, in which Americans are asked about the issues they care about the most in the run-up to the midterms. The first poll is all about inflation.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

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'Replacement' conspiracies driving gunmen creep into mainstream politics – CNN

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(CNN)Critics are drawing parallels between the pattern of racist gunmen citing fears of a conspiracy to “replace” Whites with rhetoric pushed on Fox and by some Republican politicians.

The mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, on Saturday was not the first such event in recent years in which a White gunman, who allegedly posted a White supremacist manifesto online, targeted the Black or immigrant community.
It’s not the second. Or the third.
Overtly racist lone gunmen motivated by such hate have, in recent years, targeted a Black church in South Carolina, a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and immigrants at a Walmart in El Paso. Read CNN’s report.
Some apparently drew inspiration from a shooting by a White man in New Zealand who targeted mosques, killing 51, and published his own manifesto about “The Great Replacement.”
Now, Buffalo.
Get the latest on:
  • The Buffalo shooting and the victims: 10 people were killed at a supermarket and authorities say it was hate crime. The gunman exchanged fire with and killed an armed security guard.
  • The shooter: The suspect is 18-year-old Payton Gendron, who traveled from another New York county hours away and livestreamed the attack on the social media platform Twitch.
“Replacement theory” motivation — According to a 180-page document posted online, attributed to Gendron, he was fixated on what’s known as “replacement theory” — the idea that Whites are being slowly and intentionally replaced by minorities and immigrants.
Variations on this basic idea — that Whites are being replaced by some sort of minority-driven conspiracy — have made their way into more than just the musings of gunmen.
The Fox and GOP version of replacement theory. Critics say it is dangerously close to xenophobic rhetoric finding its way into the mainstream of American politics.
Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, pointed the finger squarely at her party’s leadership Monday morning, saying it has “enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism. History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse. @GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.”
And after the shooting in Buffalo, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the Illinois Republican who has split with his party by criticizing former President Donald Trump, tried to make a connection between an old Facebook ad published by Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican, and replacement theory.
“Did you know: @EliseStefanik pushes white replacement theory? The #3 in the house GOP,” Kinzinger said on Twitter, linking to media coverage that the congresswoman’s Facebook ads received in 2021, including a critical editorial from a local newspaper.
The Facebook ads from her campaign last September suggested Democrats wanted to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants to create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.
CNN has reached out to Stefanik about Kinzinger’s comment.
Replacement pattern. That ad is part of a larger narrative.
Tucker Carlson, the Fox host, has pushed the idea that Democrats want to import new voters to dilute the votes of other Americans, presumably Whites like him.
Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio and City University of New York media studies professor James Cohen wrote a CNN opinion piece last year about how the concept of replacement theory has festered in US politics for decades, but has recently become easy to decode in segments on Carlson’s show and in remarks by lawmakers. Read more.
CNN’s Chris Cillizza has documented how the concept of replacement theory has been mentioned by lawmakers like GOP Rep. Scott Perry, who said this at a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting in April of 2021:
“For many Americans, what seems to be happening or what they believe right now is happening is what appears to them is we’re replacing national-born American — native-born Americans to permanently transform the landscape of this very nation,” the Pennsylvania Republican said in reference to the number of people trying to enter the country at the United States’ southern border.
“Uncomfortably” close. This is not to say Perry’s comment, Carlson’s broadcasts or Stefanik’s ad are the same as what’s represented in the writings, allegedly from Gendron or other gunmen. They’re not. But it is also impossible to deny certain parallels in the language.
“This tension, this frustration, this fear sits not that far from our mainstream politics,” journalist Wesley Lowery said on CNN’s Inside Politics Sunday.
“One thing is unquestionably true,” he added. “Very often the rhetoric in our politics sits uncomfortably close to the rhetoric that these kind of terrorists espouse.”
Pledges to fight racism. But how? President Joe Biden, who is headed to Buffalo on Tuesday, pledged to fight racism.
“Any act of domestic terrorism, including an act perpetrated in the name of a repugnant white nationalist ideology, is antithetical to everything we stand for in America,” he said in a statement on Saturday. “Hate must have no safe harbor. We must do everything in our power to end hate-fueled domestic terrorism.”
Race is enmeshed in US politics. Political rhetoric often feeds replacement fears by highlighting racial divides that are enmeshed in American life and politics.
The issue of immigration will loom over this fall’s midterm elections as Biden struggles with how to end Trump-era immigration policy that has kept US borders largely closed.
The related issues of voting rights and election security often pit GOP-led states like Georgia, Texas and Florida against big cities with their large minority populations.
Seeking accountability from social media companies. Democratic politicians like New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argued Sunday that social media companies should bear some responsibility.
“This spreads like a virus,” Hochul told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.” She said CEOs of social media companies must look a their policies and do more to take racist content down.
“They have to be able to identify when information like this — the second it hits the platform, it needs to be taken down, because this is spreading like wildfire.”
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla who has been in the process of buying Twitter, has said he would go in the opposite direction. He’s a self-described free speech absolutist and would allow more, not less, speech online.
Buffalo and gun laws. The gun control debate has shown us that even tragic shooting after tragic shooting will lead to very little concrete action so long as a minority of senators, locked together, can stop any legislation
New York already has some of the strictest gun laws in the country and Hochul said she would look to close loopholes in state law that she said allowed magazines like the one apparently used in Buffalo across state lines.
Separately, Bash asked Pelosi if Democrats should place higher priority on passing gun safety measures like a stricter background check proposal passed by the House that was stalled in the Senate. Pelosi argued the math makes passing such bills a challenge.
“The fact is the 60-vote majority in the Senate is an obstacle to doing any, many good things, unfortunately, and again, we are not going away until the job is done,” Pelosi said.

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Ukraine won the 2022 Eurovision because of politics – The Washington Post

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Even before this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, commentators claimed that if Ukraine took home the trophy, it would not be for the quality of its folk-rap entry, “Stefania.” Instead, it would be a sign of European support for Ukraine amid the Russian invasion.

The Eurovision Song Contest allows countries to enter songs — but also to vote for the songs entered by other countries (each country nominates a jury of representatives to vote on its behalf). Several country representatives didn’t exactly try to hide their sympathy for the Ukrainian cause. When Poland’s representatives were asked for their jury vote, they mentioned “artistic creativity” — but also the bravery of Ukrainian fighters.

And it’s true: Ukraine’s victory on Saturday was political. This doesn’t make it unusual. Eurovision has always been about politics, even if the European Broadcasting Union (the organization that runs Eurovision) sometimes claims the opposite.

Past Eurovision songs have taken aim at Russia

In the past, Russia’s neighbors have weaponized Eurovision songs to retaliate against Russian actions. In 2007, Ukraine submitted a song called “Dancing Lasha Tumbai.” In Ukrainian, the pronunciation sounds very much like “Russia Goodbye.” After Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia, that country tried the same trick with a song called “We Don’t Wanna Put In” — coincidentally pronounced in the song like “we don’t want a Putin.” It didn’t work; the entry was promptly disqualified. When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Ukraine’s entry was a song about the Soviet deportation of Crimean Tatars. The song, entitled “1944,” also won the contest.

An analysis of voting patterns demonstrates that Russia, too, has engaged in Eurovision politics. Since Russia first entered the contest in 1994, its entry has frequently finished in the top five. Is that due to the quality of its entrants? Maybe, but many watchers also have noted how Russia almost always collects “douze points” (12 points: the maximum) from Belarus and other allies. This year, Russia was banned from participating.

Not all of the politics is about Russia’s actions

So, would Eurovision be apolitical if Russia’s ban from the contest became permanent? Hardly. While many of the recent political scandals have involved Russia, it’s not the only country that sparks controversy.

Israel’s participation in Eurovision means that many Arab countries do not participate, even though Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan are all eligible. Morocco’s first and only appearance in the contest was in a year Israel did not participate. In 2005, Lebanon withdrew rather than broadcast the Israeli entry.

Nor have Western European nations avoided politics. 1974’s Eurovision might be best known for introducing the world to ABBA. The Portuguese entry was more politically consequential: It served as a signal for coup plotters to begin the overthrow of Portugal’s authoritarian regime. Nor was that all; Italy censored its own entry that year, for fear that listening to “Sì” too many times would influence voters to vote “sì” (yes) in a referendum the next month to make divorce legal.

Eurovision has been political from the start

None of this is entirely surprising. Eurovision — and the European Broadcasting Union — was founded in the aftermath of World War II. The aim was to promote European cooperation. If it gave European nations a way to compete without guns and bombs, that was all to the good. There are worse ways for nations to vie for supremacy than with song and dance.

Given these foundations, it is safe to say that “Stefania” is not undermining any proud vision of political neutrality in Eurovision. It is very likely that Ukraine did win because of the Russian invasion — but it will be neither the first nor the last time that Eurovision expresses politics through the medium of a song contest. The solidarity that other European countries have expressed with Ukraine, and their implicit condemnation of Russia’s invasion, is not out of keeping with the contest’s political beginnings.

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