I Did the Reading, So Now I’m Sharing

I read too many articles on the internet about politics. Instead of having one subscription to a high-quality newspaper that used to land on our driveway every morning, I now subscribe to three quality newspapers that I read online. I also visit a number of websites that offer interesting political news and commentary. All you need to give them is your time (although that, of course, is more precious than your money).

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t spend so much time reading about politics, but I want to understand what the hell is going on, i.e., why America is so screwed up. And after I read something, I sometimes feel the need to share. This reading and sharing might be a big waste of time, but it feels like something I should do.  

This explains why I read three long-ish articles in the past few days that I’m now going to mention and very briefly describe. Then I’m going to share a funny video. And then I’m going to share a little good news for a change.

The first article I read was “Donald Trump and the Rise of Tribal Epistemology”. The title isn’t quite accurate, because epistemology is the philosophical theory or study of knowledge. The title should really be something like “Trump and the Rise of Right-Wing Propaganda as a Source of Supposed News for Millions of Americans and the Ill Effects Thereof”. Another title might be “Here’s Why Our Country Is So Screwed Up: Many Americans Don’t Trust the Only Institutions We Have That Do a Fairly Decent Job of Describing Reality, and Is There Anything We Can Do About It?”. I recommend reading the whole thing, which isn’t really seven million words long, despite what the author says.

A link in that article led me to a 2016, pre-election article called “The Rise of American Authoritarianism”. It’s about people with authoritarian personalities, and how they aren’t necessarily bigots or stupid, but how they tend to be afraid of strangers and change, and when they’re especially afraid, they look for “strong” leaders who will protect them by building walls, putting people in jail and blowing things up. There are more of these authoritarians than you might expect and they’re the strongest supporters of the current President, for obvious reasons (“I alone can fix it”).

An interesting point is that the social scientists cited in the article don’t identify people with authoritarian tendencies by asking them about politics. They ask them about child-rearing, posing questions like these:

  • Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: independence or respect for elders?
  • Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: obedience or self-reliance?
  • Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: to be considerate or to be well-behaved?
  • Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: curiosity or good manners?

Authoritarians tend to answer these questions differently than the rest of us. Furthermore, they supposedly tell the truth when asked about raising children, which they might not do if asked about politics.

Another point made in the article is that many people have authoritarian tendencies, but those tendencies only come into play when these potential authoritarians are sufficiently scared, and sufficiently scared by people whom they think are dangerous in some way, either dangerous to their physical persons or to their preferred way of life. 

The importance of the fear factor leads to the third article, “How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics”. I confess I didn’t read the whole thing, because it was too depressing. It was written two years ago by a former Republican and is mostly historical. It describes the undoing of the Federal Communications Commission’s Fairness Doctrine, the rise of right-wing talk radio and the amazing success of Fox News, the result being that your authoritarian cousin and your potentially authoritarian plumber are convinced that liberals, scientists, the “mainstream media” and other lowlifes are out to destroy America. That makes your cousin and your plumber very angry and/or very, very afraid. 

So here’s the funny video: Randy Rainbow singing “Covfefe: The Broadway Medley”! If nothing else, watching it will mean that, for four glorious minutes, you won’t be reading about politics on the internet. 

I’ve watched this video many times, because, aside from the pleasure of watching and listening to Mr. Rainbow, and hearing those wonderful melodies again, if you do anything for four minutes, over and over again, it does add up. 

Lastly, the good news:  “Nevada Is Considering a Revolutionary Healthcare Experiment”. The Nevada legislature has passed a bill that would allow anyone in the state who doesn’t have health insurance to buy in to the state’s Medicaid program. Details need to be worked out and the Governor might not sign the bill, but it’s an encouraging sign that America might turn the corner one day.

“Covfefe, I just met a girl named Covfefe…”

Idle Thoughts, Small Actions

As we get further away from that horrific night in November, most of us are probably thinking less about why the Electoral College went the way it did (go to hell, Comey!). We’re also thinking less about the way things might have been. Instead, we’re freaking out about what’s happening now and what’s coming our way.

I haven’t been to any marches or demonstrations yet, but like many of us, I’ve contacted my members of Congress more than ever before. Today I called one of our Senators, although he’s a Democrat, to thank him for delaying a committee hearing on one of T__’s dangerous cabinet selections and to encourage him to do whatever he can to stop the appointment of a racist ideologue as Attorney General (that’s the jerk even Republicans thought was unqualified to be a Federal judge).

People are saying that Congress is being inundated with complaints about the monster(s) in the White House, so it was reassuring that getting through to one of my Senator’s offices wasn’t easy. The line was busy at his office near me, so I called his office in Washington. I was about to leave a message when a recording said his voicemail was full and couldn’t take any more messages. So then I called his remaining office, which is in a less populated part of our state. A nice young woman immediately answered the phone. She assured me that she’d transmit my message to Washington.

Some activities are less immediately practical than contacting Congress. Fantasizing, for example. I’ve entertained the usual fantasies, of course, such as T___ suffering a debilitating stroke or a fatal fall down some White House stairs; a benign military coup leads to a do-over election; and my favorite, that very smart, very kind beings from outer space take control and put us on a more reasonable path, one that includes single-payer health insurance and a fix for global warming. I’ve had a few other fantasies too.

One is that Rupert Murdoch, the evil billionaire who will be 86 next month, finally kicks the bucket and a more reasonable mogul or two purchase The News Corporation and 21st Century Fox. That would inevitably lead to entities like Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post becoming reputable organizations again, cutting off the stream of Murdoch-owned right-wing propaganda that has poisoned our democracy in recent years.

Another is that the CEO of Twitter,  Jack Dorsey, known to Twitter-ites as “@Jack” and who has contributed to Democratic politicians, admits that allowing T___ to have an official Twitter account presents a clear and present danger to the rest of us. It would be fine to let Donnie tweet as much as any other deranged right-winger, but he shouldn’t have a verified account that identifies him as “@realDonaldT___” or “@POTUS” (the President). That way, whenever Donnie transmitted his latest lie or insult, it wouldn’t have any effect on anyone but a small circle of nitwits. Nobody could possibly believe it came from the actual President of the United States.

Yet another of my fantasies involves the U.S. Senate. There are now 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats or Independents in what used to be a relatively reputable legislative body. If three of those Republicans were to declare themselves Independents and vote with the Democrats, the Republicans would be the minority again. They’d only have the House of Representatives to play with. Of course, controlling the Senate wouldn’t allow the Democrats to get much done (that’s in the official rules), but they could make sure T___ and his allies did less damage.

Finally, now speaking of other people’s fantasies, I recently took a tiny step toward correcting the fantastic beliefs of the sorry individuals who inhabit the Fox News and Breitbart websites (Breitbart is the far-right, white nationalist outfit that tells T___ what to do). It’s extremely unpleasant to visit those two sites, so I don’t recommend this to everyone. But I now leave the occasional comment, just to let some of them know there’s a real world out here. It’s rather like descending into Plato’s cave and removing the chains from poor souls who have never seen the sun or the sky. It’s a very dirty job, but we’re living in times that require direct action.

Wow! Could This Be the Beginning of a Movement?

Shepard Smith works for Fox News but sometimes doesn’t sound like it.

It was still quite a surprise to see what he said about Pope Francis and President Obama today:

I don’t know — I think we are in a weird place in the world when the following things are considered political. Five things, I’m going to tick them off. These are the five things that were on his and our president’s agenda. Caring for the marginalized and the poor — that’s now political. Advancing economic opportunity for all. Political? Serving as good stewards of the environment. Protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom globally. Welcoming [and] integrating immigrants and refugees globally. And that’s political? I mean, I don’t know what we expect to hear from an organization’s leader like the Pope of the Catholic Church, other than protect those who need help, bring in refuges who have no place because of war and violence and terrorism. These seem like universal truths that we should be good to others who have less than we do, that we should give shelter to those who don’t have it. I think these were the teachings in the Bible of Jesus. They’re the words of the pope, they’re the feelings of the president. And people who find themselves on the other side of that message should consult a mirror, it seems like. Because I think that’s what we’re supposed to do as a people, whatever your religion. I mean, it seems to me and I think to probably, as Bill O’Reilly would put it, most clear-thinking Americans — that that’s how we’re supposed to roll.

Yes, that’s how we’re supposed to roll! 

The remarkable video in which Mr. Smith states the obvious (at around 0:36) is available here.

A Month of Unwritten Posts Condensed Into One

It’s not as if there’s a shortage of reading material on the Internet. Nevertheless, since I haven’t done my part lately:

You might hear of a new Quinnipiac University poll, according to which Fox News is the most trusted network news in America. The poll found that 29% of American voters trust the news on Fox more than any other network. However, the poll also found that 57% of American voters trust either CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC or MSNBC more than Fox. In other words, 29% of us trust the right-wing propaganda “news” delivered by Rupert Murdoch, and twice as many of us trust the other kind, the “mainstream media” news that Rupert doesn’t own. So it’s bad enough, but not as bad as it sounds.

Meanwhile, a Pew Research Center poll found that 53% of Americans disapprove of the Affordable Care Act, even though the ACA has resulted in more people getting health insurance than the Obama administration predicted, while contributing to slower growth in overall healthcare spending. A Bloomberg article helps explain this discrepancy. First, many people think they can do without the comprehensive health insurance the law mandates and resent paying for services they’ll never need (like maternity care) or don’t think they’ll ever need (like rehabilitation). Second, more than half of the big companies in America have told their employees that the ACA is forcing them to pay even more for health insurance.

The Bloomberg article says that the coverage mandates aren’t making health insurance more expensive. The mandates are merely “pooling the cost of that coverage across more people”, which is why fewer people are having trouble paying for healthcare. Furthermore, employers are blaming an ACA provision (the so-called “Cadillac” tax) for immediate cuts in benefits and higher insurance payments, even though it’s unlikely that these employers will ever be subject to that provision.

But does it matter what the facts are? According to a very interesting article by Heather Cox Richardson, Professor of History at Boston College, America’s right-wing doesn’t accept the importance of empirical evidence or rational argument. She traces this amazing attitude back to William F. Buckley Jr.’s 1950s book God and Man at Yale. Richardson says that:

Buckley rejected the principles that had enabled social progress for centuries and laid out a mind-boggling premise: The Enlightenment, the intellectual basis of Western Civilization, was wrong.

Rational argument supported by facts did not lead to sound societal decisions, Buckley claimed; it led people astray. Christianity and an economy based on untrammeled individualism were truths that should not be questioned. Impartial debate based in empirical facts was dangerous because it led people toward secularism and collectivism—both bad by definition, according to Buckley. Instead of engaging in rational argument, Buckley insisted, thinkers must stand firm on what he called a new “value orthodoxy” that indoctrinated people to understand that Christianity and economic individualism were absolute truths.

If we accept the premise that Christianity and economic individualism (the idolatry of the “free market”) are absolute truths, it makes sense to reject any contradictory ideas, however well-founded those ideas are given the empirical evidence.

For example, the governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, inherited a $6 billion deficit from his predecessor, a self-styled “fiscal conservative” who wouldn’t raise taxes. Dayton convinced the legislature to raise taxes on the rich and increase the minimum wage. Republicans predicted, as always, that businesses would leave the state and unemployment would rise. What actually happened was that the deficit turned into a surplus, unemployment went down and Minnesota now has one of the best economies of any state. Forbes Magazine (a bastion of capitalism) recently ranked Minnesota as having the 7th best “economic climate” and the 2nd best “quality of life” in the nation.

But if you believe that higher taxes on the rich and a higher minimum wage are absolutely wrong, since they conflict with your “understanding” of morality and economics, it’s understandable that you’ll reject the evidence. Nothing that conflicts with absolute truth can possibly be true.

To end on a positive note, however, consider that Larry Summers, a leading economist and Wall Street-friendly Democrat, is now arguing for a relatively progressive set of policies. According to an encouraging article by Thomas Edsall of the New York Times, Summers has concluded that “free market capitalism, as now structured, is producing major distortions”:

In order to stem the disproportionate share of income flowing to corporate managers and owners of capital, and to address the declining share going to workers, the report calls for tax and regulatory policies to encourage employee ownership, the strengthening of collective bargaining rights, regulations requiring corporations to provide fringe benefits to employees working for subcontractors, a substantial increase in the minimum wage, sharper overtime pay enforcement, and a huge increase in infrastructure appropriations – for roads, bridges, ports, schools – to spur job creation and tighten the labor market…. Summers also calls for significant increases in the progressivity of the United States tax system.

Summers has advised both President Obama and Hillary Clinton on economic matters, so it’s a positive sign that he now advocates more worker-friendly policies.

Finally, with our harsh winter finally winding down, I want to express my sincere appreciation for everyone who has to work outside or travel to their jobs during terrible winter weather. Many such people aren’t able to take a day off or “work at home”, because you can’t drive a snowplow or staff your boss’s restaurant from your living room. I also want to express my profound appreciation for whoever devised the snow shovel with a bent handle. I’ve used one for years and there’s nothing better for shoveling snow while avoiding back pain!

backsaver-shovel2

Stupid Remarks Continue to Offend and Entertain

We who make, report, attack or defend stupid remarks have helped make the Internet what it is today, whatever that is. As my 160 (!) followers would attest, I’ve made my own tiny contribution to this ongoing effort. That is, they would attest if any of them actually read the stuff I painstakingly write here at WOCS. (Unfortunately, Internet statistics don’t lie.)

Furthermore, I promise to keep contributing as long as Republicans keep talking.

Keeping with this practice, although in a relatively non-political vein, I’m now going to discuss a few stupid remarks that have recently been reported, criticized and even defended.

First, it’s hardly worth noting that someone on FOX TV said that Santa Claus is white and Jesus was too. As a friend recently pointed out, saying things like that is what people on FOX do for a living. What was more remarkable was the story about a New Mexico high school teacher who criticized a black student’s decision to dress up as Santa Claus, implying that it would have been better if he had dressed up as an elf, reindeer or candy cane. 

According to the school district, the teacher apologized and was placed on “administrative leave”, so there is some truth to this story. Even though the student was deeply embarrassed, I hope the teacher was making a joke (the kind of jocular remark colloquially known in some quarters as “breaking balls”, as in “Hey, Ralph, don’t you know Santa Claus was white!” “No, I thought he was Italian.” “Boom!”). If the teacher wasn’t trying to be funny, we’d have to conclude that yet another education professional has lost his or her mind.

Another recent controversy involves a person with a very long beard who is part of a TV show called “Duck Dynasty”. He got into trouble when he said that it’s more logical for a man to want to put his penis in a vagina than in another man’s butt, suggesting that vaginal intercourse should be more pleasurable for a man than gay anal intercourse. He added, in an apparent attempt at explanation, that sin (in this case, gay sex) isn’t logical. It seems clear from the context that he wasn’t joking.

Now, it isn’t surprising that this person believes gay sex is sinful. Lots of misguided people believe that and say it all the time, even people who aren’t on FOX or in Congress. Nor is it interesting that he thinks sin is illogical. After all, if there are such things as sins, you could wind up in Hell by committing one (that, as Randy Newman once sang, would put you in a terrible position).

What I thought was interesting about this particular stupid remark was that the speaker may misunderstand evolution (even though he apparently spends a lot of time outdoors). It does make sense that vaginal intercourse is pleasurable for both men and women, because men and women who enjoy it tend to have children who will enjoy it too (and so on, and so on, until the nth generation). But that’s no reason to think that a person with a penis might not get a lot of pleasure, and even more pleasure, from putting it somewhere else or doing something else with it. Behavior evolves because it contributes to the survival of one’s offspring, not because it’s more pleasurable than other behavior. People on TV should grasp standard biological principles like this.

A third stupid remark hasn’t received much attention, so far as I know. But it’s also interesting in a way. A woman who works for a “leading internet and media company” sent this out on Twitter yesterday: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” In this case, the speaker claimed to be making a joke.

When I read about this, I had the impression I’d heard the joke before. Then I remembered watching a video of Sarah Silverman telling a similar joke at a benefit concert:  “Last month I did two benefits. One was for AIDS… It was great, but tonight’s benefit is going to be better. I won’t have to worry about who I hook up with. (pause) That’s terrible! (pause) WHOM I hook up with!”. She got a very big laugh.

What would the reaction have been if it was funny Sarah Silverman who tweeted the Africa AIDS remark? People on Twitter might have thought it wasn’t up to her usual comedic standards instead of calling her a stupid racist. I wonder if Justine Sacco’s co-workers in the London office of IAC thought her tweet was yet another example of Justine being her wild and crazy self (as when, earlier this year, she tweeted “I can’t be fired for things I say while intoxicated right?”).

It’s doubtful, but perhaps Justine Sacco goes to Africa on her vacation every year to work with AIDS patients. But, so far as most of us are concerned, she might as well be a talking, albeit insensitive, dog (ok, I’ve finished writing this post, will someone take me for a walk now?).

Breaking news update!!! Steve Martin has apologized for tweeting a lame joke about the African-American spelling of “lasagna” yesterday. Communication continues to be a dangerous thing, even for talented communicators. (The TMZ site, by the way, actually labeled this story BREAKING NEWS.)

Woof, woof!

nYdog