Raging Over Masks

For a segment of the American population, the idea of being required to wear a mask triggers outrage. Some of the outrage results in physical violence. Over a mask.

On the surface, such a reaction defies reason. But behind the curtain, there are insidious reasons, all of which are egged on by rightwing and foreign interests determined to sow chaos in this nation.

There’s the ‘freedom’ element, resistance to being ‘required’ to do anything. But why? Similar outrage is not apparent in instances of ‘required’ seat belts, or shoes and shirts in stores, or – for that matter – driving in the right lane.

There are news reports of people who claim they can’t breathe if they wear a mask, but that dog won’t hunt. Doctors, nurses, scientists, and hazmat teams wear masks every day for hours. None of them have dropped dead from oxygen starvation or carbon dioxide buildup. Yes, there may be a few with mental health issues or respiratory problems that a mask can complicate. But that’s a handful of people in the overall situation.

If we pull back the curtain further, we find massive evidence of Denial. It’s not just excuses for why a mask requirement allegedly violates someone’s freedom or that one can’t properly breathe in a mask. The denial is far more fundamental than that, and largely hidden.

Remember, for the contingent of Americans who believe in Trump, the virus started out as a Democratic hoax. It was nothing more than the flu and would disappear by April. News coverage of New York’s crisis with bodies stored in refrigerated tractor-trailer trucks or ICU beds lining hospital hallways wasn’t real, simply more of that Democratic hoax meant to scare people and mess up Trump’s chance at re-election.

Now five months in and as the infection rate soars and hospitals in several states are nearing 100% capacity, the hoax lunacy has expanded to include screaming mobs of anti-vaxxers whose sole mission is to protect all of us from a mandatory vaccine that carries microchips which will … well, that detail is rather elusive. Some claim the chips will be the ‘mark of the beast’ that prevents its carrier from entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Others claim the chips will control our behavior and force us to accept the ‘New World Order’. Or most egregiously, it’s a Bill Gates plan to track everyone – because… ?

In a poll conducted May 20 and 21 by Yahoo/YouGov, 44% of Republicans said they believed the microchip conspiracy theory with Democrats checking in at 19%.[1]

A Christian Right broadcaster, Brannon Howse of “Worldview Watch,” warned that Gates and the “medical globalist deep state” were using the crisis to regulate people’s fertility depending on their worldview, through “procreation tickets” and microchips.[2]

So we have the ‘don’t tell me what to do’ mindset enhanced by the Democrats’ evil hoax and the microchip from Satan Gates himself. Some folks have even made the whole thing more concise by blaming Bill Gates for creating the virus so he could implant chips in the vaccine.

Elaborate thinking, perhaps – except it’s the result of not thinking at all.

Sadly, these conspiracy theories and rejections of facts have become fodder for political interests whose goal is to disrupt and divide the people of the United States. This has been the stated purpose of Russian disinformation campaigns for decades, but that too has become a conspiracy theory even when our best intelligence agencies confirm proof of such actions. The intelligence community is then swept into yet another conspiracy theory.

The more the far right learns (and can’t understand), the more it crafts yet another conspiracy theory. And experiences more rage.

Anger is often the result of fear, part of the adrenaline-stoked fight or flight response. Fear of the unknown, i.e. a virus or scientific process that is too hard to understand. Fear of being on the losing ‘side.’ Fear of being wrong for folks who need to feel ‘right’ in order to maintain mental stability.

With an invisible virus spreading through the population, anxiety sweeps in triggering fear. Those who are willing and able seek scientific information to help understand how the virus works, how it travels, what can prevent infection, and how he/she personally can best avoid the bug. These folks wear masks in public, stay home as much as possible, and social distance when they can’t.

But not everyone is equipped to seek out or understand scientific information and these people are more likely to be triggered into rage about wearing a mask. If these folks were capable or willing to investigate the virus instead of feeding on falsehoods promoted by Trump, they probably weren’t Trump voters to start with.

Trump voters are a strange amalgam of several sorts of people. At the core are those evangelicals who refuse to think beyond the boundaries of their religious beliefs, and those beliefs dictate saving the fetus above all else. That means a Republican vote no matter who the candidate, a constituency carefully cultivated and routinely fed hot-button rhetoric like the “Democrats want to kill babies after they’re born!”

There is no room in these minds for the rights of a woman to control her body, or the reality that abortions occurred millennia before Roe v Wade and will occur after it’s overturned, if it is. There is also no room in that lockstep for consideration of the horrific abuses perpetrated upon unwanted children, or immigrant children in cages, or children and pregnant women in places where our corporate war machines spread death and destruction on an industrial scale. Apparently ‘My Body, My Choice” slogans only apply to those who refuse to wear a mask.

Then there are those who hate government and rally behind the idea that Trump will dismantle the ‘deep state’ which describes, in their minds, a mysterious evil machinery behind all our nation’s ills. There is no room in these minds to understand how government works, no respect for people who devote entire careers to studying how chemicals in water or food affect our endocrine systems, or for people who spend every working day looking at data about our schools and whether students are learning, or the processes by which agencies can make choices about interest rates or surplus crops or weather forecasting – all of it in service to the people of our nation.

The mentalities involved in this willful ignorance and diminished reasoning capacity know somewhere deep inside they might be wrong. An internal crisis of anxiety and fear grows proportionately to the growing evidence of the possible error. When it reaches the point where their local supermarket won’t allow them through the doors without a mask, the evidence of their wrong blows up in their face.

Does that mean they suddenly realize that they were wrong? No. In defense of all the ignorance they hold dear, they rage.

Denial explains and justifies the rage. Denial that Trump is an idiot. Denial that the nation is not now nor ever was meant to be a ‘Christian’ nation, that the Republican mantra about fetuses and freedom of religion is nothing more than a political con meant to garner votes from people who are incapable of thinking for themselves. See, for example, the evangelical prediction that the world will literally end if Trump isn’t re-elected. (Footnote [3])

Other mask-ragers are people who fear losing the historical supremacy of white identity. People who still can’t admit the South justly lost the Civil War. People too lazy to pay attention to the facts, too busy or disconnected to read/watch the news from enough different sources to truly understand what is going on. These are people incapable of gathering relevant information regarding an issue, reasoning through that information, and reaching logical conclusions.

If we as a nation are going to survive the current chaos and move toward a more united, egalitarian future, each of these conditions among segments of the American population requires a focused examination of the cause and a concerted national effort to remediate the cause. These causes mean we are not equal. Without a long term determination to ‘cure’ these inequalities, they will destroy us. It’s not enough to have scientists discovering vaccines and advanced computing systems that can park cars for us. People have to understand how to apply rational processes and appreciate the logic of the scientific method.

Masks are a symbol of the truth of the virus, but they are also a symbol of the truth about Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Those who have embraced Trump deny they’ve been manipulated, misled, and used to further a political agenda that has – in reality – nothing to do with what they believe it to be. The agenda, in reality, is to further consolidate power and wealth in the hands of a few.

These folks have been played. Wearing a mask would require them to admit it.

 

[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-factcheck-video-microchip-coronavirus/false-claim-a-microchip-implant-will-come-with-coronavirus-vaccines-idUSKBN22R2GS

[2] https://www.typeinvestigations.org/investigation/2020/05/12/the-long-strange-history-of-bill-gates-population-control-conspiracy-theories/

[3] https://www.lgbtqnation.com/2020/07/evangelical-leaders-made-film-warn-world-will-literally-end-trump-isnt-reelected/

Why We Should Be Afraid of Bernie

My Berner friends may become incensed with what I’m about to say, but I have to say it. It’s not that I don’t like almost everything Bernie promises. It’s that I’ve learned in my 72 years to be suspicious of someone who offers everything I might want, especially when it’s free. What’s the catch?

I believe he promises far more than he can deliver. Obama managed to get the Affordable Care Act passed but with massive compromises even though Democrats held majorities in the House and Senate. Yet to hear Bernie tell it, he’ll wave his magic wand and give us Medicare for All.

Same thing with his talk about taxing the 1% to pay for all his promises. It sounds great to hear him talk of free college, free childcare, ending fossil fuels, etc. but – as my grandmother used to say – “It’s too much sugar for a dime.”

Immigration policy changes advocated by Sanders are extensive. Good ideas include his commitment to “ensure customs and immigration agencies have the funding and personnel necessary to eliminate the backlog of pending applications and cut wait times for immigration applications and to work with Congress to provide funding to swiftly unify families stuck in pending backlogs.”

But I’ve seen little if any analysis of the social, financial, and security costs to allow unlimited immigration. Just his Medicare for All policy for immigrants raises red flags for a lot of voters — that he would “provide comprehensive care to everyone in America, regardless of immigration status” and his plan to “provide year-round, free universal school meals; breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks through our school meals programs to all students regardless of immigration status.[1]

And how much is enough? One million immigrants? Five million? We already know that climate change will marginalize increasing areas of the planet. Is it our plan to let them all move here until we’re as crowded as China?

Bernie’s embrace of the Green New Deal includes statements like “Save American families money with investments in weatherization, public transportation, modern infrastructure and high-speed broadband.” And “Invest in conservation and public lands to heal our soils, forests, and prairie lands.”

Who is investing?

Short answer: the government. “Directly invest an historic $16.3 trillion public investment toward these efforts, in line with the mobilization of resources made during the New Deal and WWII, but with an explicit choice to include black, indigenous and other minority communities who were systematically excluded in the past.” And he goes on to promise “We will guarantee five years of a worker’s current salary, housing assistance, job training, health care, pension support, and priority job placement for any displaced worker, as well as early retirement support for those who choose it or can no longer work.”

Sanders vows to make “the fossil fuel industry pay for their pollution, through litigation, fees, and taxes, and eliminating federal fossil fuel subsidies” yet doesn’t hint at what this would do to fuel prices. He promises to “End the greed of the fossil fuel industry and hold them accountable,” what every environmentalist has wanted for 50 years. But how do you end greed?[2]

His plan to end right to work laws alone will roil through state governments—where such laws are passed—and spark enormous resistance. Program after proposed program relies on taxing the 1% — but Sanders provides no numbers of how much tax the 1% and many others earning above $29,000 per year will actually be expected to pay.

Believe absolutely that Republicans will make those calculations and blanket the campaign with them.

These proposed policies and much more are outlined at Sanders’ campaign website and are worth a read by voters before charging off to put him into the running against Trump. To me, much of Bernie’s platform is pie in the sky without any acknowledgment of the role of Congress in passing legislation or the overall impact on American lives.

There’s a strong sense of individualism among Americans. We believe in hard work and earning what we have. It’s not going to sit well among many voters for the government to take what is earned and give it to someone else. It’s one thing to send a contribution to a request for money by someone we know or to a legitimate charity and quite another to set up massive programs where everyone can get freebies even if they’re slackers. We already have plenty of evidence that people will believe the worst about welfare recipients, some of which is well proven.

Don’t get me wrong. I fully support higher taxes on the super-rich. We might hope that some of these changes could be enacted soon, no matter who the president or members of Congress. But each member of Congress has to answer to their constituents including local businesses and people who worry about having to pay even more taxes. Waving your arms and making promises doesn’t end the human desire to earn more money (i.e. greed) or the very real limits on what we can have.

Promises unfulfilled leave a bad taste in the mouths of voters who might naively elect someone who says all the right things and then can’t deliver. Sanders could set up Democrats for losses far into the future, not only of the White House but Congress and state races as well.

To the more pressing point, if we don’t get Donald Trump and his coterie of criminals out of power, we will have a majority of right wing nuts on the supreme court (much as we love her, Ginsberg can’t live forever), continued degradation of our ethical and social standards, and the risk of losing our entire democracy. Why should Democrats take the chance that Sanders with his wild promises might go down in flames and leave Trump in office another four years? Can’t we recognize the risk and choose a less extreme candidate?

I believe if Sanders becomes the Democratic nominee for president, the Republicans will mop the floor with him and his massive tax plan.

Yes, Republicans will attack any Democratic nominee. That’s what campaigns do. But Bernie is a grenade waiting to go off in our hands. I want change. I’ve been a progressive all my life and have worked hard on issues from women’s rights to the environment. I’d like to believe that Sanders can win the presidency and deliver on his promises. But I don’t believe.

Bernie scares me. He should scare you too.

~~~

[1] https://berniesanders.com/issues/welcoming-and-safe-america-all/

[2] https://berniesanders.com/issues/green-new-deal/

Is Elizabeth Warren’s voice the problem?

Perhaps the root cause of Warren’s disappointing showing in both Iowa and New Hampshire and her seeming inability to climb out from under the shadows of male candidates have nothing to do with her policies. Perhaps her poor showing has more to do with unconscious triggers embedded in the human genome.

Consider her voice, high pitched and often squeaky, with hoarse breaks as she tries to increase her volume for emphasis. I sometimes cringe when this happens. My reaction to her delivery often drowns out whatever she is trying to say. Am I alone?

“We understand that we find certain voices more soothing or grounded. And these tend to be deeper voices,” says Brian Lee, a voice communication expert who founded Be The Voice Academy. “High-pitched voices, on the other hand, can be unpleasant or cause anxiety.”

“These sentiments are echoed by Carina Tien, who founded The Voice Room in 2003. She shares that CEOs who are speaking on stage, for instance, tend to tone down their voices in order to be perceived as assertive or authoritative.

“In contrast, high voices tend to communicate high energy, and as such, ‘Don’t give people a serious impression.’”

The article I’m quoting, “The Science of Hating Someone for their Voice,” goes on to provide scientific data measuring various voice pitches against the listener’s reaction. No wonder people who are serious about making their points effectively often end up working with a voice coach.[1]

I don’t hate Warren. I think she’s got great ideas. Her fans appreciate the minutia of her policy plans although many others don’t dig that deep. But she might benefit from a voice coach – assuming it’s not already too late. Her poor showing in Iowa and New Hampshire will be difficult to overcome.

Another trademark characteristic of Elizabeth Warren’s public appearances is her wildly waving arms. She does this to demonstrate and generate excitement. But that’s likely not the effect on most observers.

“Wildly waving arms” is a distraction, according to a pastor’s advice to other pastors. Along with pacing and “sprinkler-like torso turns,” such movements are “not ways to emphasize the point.” Creating stillness, the advice continues, “allows listeners to feel the sermon without being distracted by unnecessary gestures.”[2]

In real life, humans instinctively see such gestures as a signal that someone is desperate for rescue from drowning or trying to regain balance as they teeter on the edge of a cliff – not the message Warren means to send. Rapid arm movement suggests frenzy or some form of emergency, none of which is helpful to conveying Warren’s intelligent message.

Women have a hard enough time breaking into the traditionally male enclave of politics. With two strikes already against her because of her gender, Warren has managed to gain public office by meeting and greeting people on a personal basis where waving arms and high squeaky rants aren’t involved. But that doesn’t work in big rallies and the types of appearances required in a presidential campaign.

Shrill voices trigger an innate reaction reminiscent to many of an angry mom or wife who rants while pointing her finger – emotional, volatile, bossy and nagging. This image doesn’t serve her well.

As for women in general, take the disparagement of Hillary Clinton who had the serious demeanor and determined strength people prize among men. Her voice wasn’t particularly high and she didn’t wave her arms. But among women, whose gender norms involve a comforting, maternal presence, Hillary’s strength and determination framed her as a cold unnatural bitch. That made her the perfect candidate upon which to hang the Republican’s most effective hot button: abortion, the “unnatural” female act.

Those who know Hillary personally say nothing could be further from the truth, but that’s worth nothing when you’re trying to persuade millions of people to care about you.

Not that men don’t have appearance and behavioral issues that turn off voters. Bernie’s entrenched presentation method involves an angry frown accompanied by arm waving as if he’s conducting a Tchaikovsky symphony. These elements of his body language are distracting. After watching him on multiple occasions, one interprets the underlying message, that he’s stuck in a habit and rigid in his beliefs in the same way that he can’t stop with the arms or frown.

Which is, ironically, one of the characteristics many of his fans prize the most. He’s been preaching the same leftist ideas for over fifty years. To many, that makes him authentic. To many others, it means that he is not well suited to a job that requires thinking on his feet to deal with unexpected developments.

It’s worth noting that Buttigieg doesn’t frown, doesn’t wave his arms, and smiles a lot when speaking intelligently and calmly about his position on the issues. This alone could help explain Buttigieg’s stunning rise in the candidate ranks.

Few people listening to these speakers investigate their gut reactions to analyze whether it’s a squeaky voice, waving arms, or smiles that make them like or dislike a particular political hopeful.

Psychologists who study body language more or less agree that less than 10% of what someone says is communicated through words alone. “The numbers represent the percentages of importance that varying communication channels have. The belief is that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken.”[3] Researchers rush to point out that circumstances can significantly influence the exact formula.

Researchers have also noted that for politicians in particular, nonverbal behavior is a major contributing factor to the audience’s lasting impression. “According to University of Pittsburgh Political Communications Professor Jerry Shuster, body language, mannerisms and facial expressions are 85 percent of what an audience takes away.”[4]

Again, these reactions are for the most part not recognized consciously by people in the audience. We walk away from a speech or flip the TV channel because we don’t like someone. Or we dismiss what a candidate is saying because they annoy us. Often, we can’t get past the body language/voice issue to really hear what they’re saying about their plans and aspirations for the office, should they be elected.

We’re not as intellectual about such things as we might think. As noted in a Wikipedia article about body language, “…if a person is feeling confident, then their breathing pattern will deepen, their intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) will increase, and their tone of voice will sound fuller and stronger. If they are feeling anxious, their breathing will become too shallow, their IAP will decrease, and their voice will sound thinner and weaker.” We want strong confident leaders, so our subconscious takeaway on voice matters.

Anyone who plays poker can verify that body language often makes or breaks a player’s game, and the same is true for politicians. Once you begin analyzing what you’re actually thinking as you watch and hear candidates or politicians speak, you’ll come to understand the power of this primal type of analysis.

Warren would be well served to lower her voice, speak from her diaphragm rather than her throat, and stop waving her arms. One of the advantages of Klobuchar is her low voice and resolute stance. No arm waving.

Sanders would benefit from a lot more smiling and positive slant in his speeches and for heaven’s sake, no more conducting. It’s doubtful he’s capable of this change, which again speaks to the overall impression of his ability to serve well as president.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by CRISTOBAL HERRERA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (10554400c)

Buttigieg may have already figured all this out. If you watch him, his easy-going presence immediately puts his audience into a calm and pleasant state of mind. We’re eager for calm and pleasant after the current president’s erratic, angry behavior.

Warren’s complex policy plans may put off many voters who don’t have the time or interest to wade through the details, although Warren seems to believe that the minutia of her proposals are key to her winning. Wrong. It’s bad enough to carry the ‘female’ baggage when running for president—too emotional, easily hysterical.

Men don’t escape from problems when violating gender norms. Buttigieg especially, as a gay man, has to avoid seeming weak. His military service helps him in this regard as does his athletic appearance, ever-present after-five shadow, and confident manner even when confronted with criticism.

Chances are that someone has mentioned these body language issues to both Sanders and Warren. It’s easy to imagine that their reaction was to cling fiercely to how they are naturally without any makeover. They’re both proud of their authenticity and may see such modifications as falsification. But just as people dress appropriately and manage a groomed hairstyle in order to create a better public image, so must they pay attention to body language and voice in order to more effectively communicate their potential.


~~~

 

[1] https://www.ricemedia.co/the-science-behind-hating-someone-for-their-voice/

[2] http://wesleyansermons.com/page/8/

[3] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beyond-words/201109/is-nonverbal-communication-numbers-game

[4] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/political-body-language_b_3163499

How to spot a troll…

Yesterday I had an interesting experience. A Facebook friend I’ll call Barbara posted a meme promoting a moveon.org petition calling for Nancy Pelosi to be removed from office. This was the morning after Pelosi famously ripped up the print copy of Trump’s State of the Union address.

The petition’s stated cause: “By ignoring the Title of Nobility Clause (Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution), ignoring the attacks on freedom of the Press, ignoring blatant obstruction of justice and abuse of pardons, proves Nancy Pelosi is incapable of keeping this country free of a potential dictatorship and must relinquish her position of Speaker of the House.”

Absurd, and later declaimed by MoveOn, the piece didn’t shock me as much as the fact that Barbara posted it. She is an extreme liberal. But she and I have argued before about her quick acceptance of propaganda and her entrenched hatred of Democratic leaders like Hillary Clinton as a result of the 2016 campaign. Barbara is a fervent supporter of Bernie Sanders.

I commented on her post, questioning why on earth she would fall for such a vitriolic attack on Pelosi when she alone has done more for the progressive cause during the reign of Trump than any other single figure. Our discussion was quickly interrupted by a Facebook ‘friend’ of hers named Paul F. Delargy, Jr.  Paul posted a string of memes showing Pelosi cartooned as a villain in various settings. One was of Trump and Pelosi standing side by side, half dressed in revealing clothes with exaggerated bodily features like Pelosi’s eyes and Trump’s belly. The meme’s text stated they were the same.

Amid the memes, Paul had little response to my questions. Barbara responded, immediately blaming the DNC for the app failure in Iowa as justification for her post of the anti-Pelosi meme. Several commenters pointed out the fallacies in her line of thought, to which her response was “and I keep getting accused of not facing reality… Keep defending the ones that you defend, the ones who keep the ones who could lead us into a better future from having power to change the party and see what happens. Primary the progressives into the ground.”

Okay, she and I have argued many times about the doubt I have that most of Sander’s promises would ever become reality in a situation where, as president, he would still have to get the proposed change through Congress. But more important in my view, Sanders has a lot of negatives that his supporters dismiss but which would be a field day for Republicans. But that’s beside the point of my topic here.

At one point, I visited Paul’s FB page, curious about him as a person. There was a generic flowery field as the header image. The inset photo of Paul showed a grizzled older man with a knit hat, holding a dog. There was no personal history and very few posts. Rushing off to errands in town, I mulled over my gut instinct that Paul was a troll. So when I returned home, I went back to Barbara’s post to further examine all of Paul’s posted memes denigrating Pelosi, the Democrats, and equating Democrats with Republicans.

I wasn’t completely shocked to discover that Paul’s memes and comments had vanished. Paul had vanished. I did a Google search on his name and found there was a real Paul F. Delargy Jr. living in a state near Barbara, age 80+, as found on whitepages.com. Another record gave his age as 91.

I don’t question the reality of Paul’s existence. I do question his presence on Facebook as an 80 or 91 year old man living with relatives. I question the photo I saw and I question his acuity with Facebook in accessing and posting so many memes on the specific issue of Pelosi. I especially question Mr. Delargy’s quick exit from Facebook after I visited his page.

This stinks of trolling with the intent of dividing Democratic Party supporters. Wednesday morning on the heels of Trump’s SOTU address was a moment for progressives to cling to any good news they could find. Pelosi’s actions at the end of his speech was one such bit of good news, reminding us that Trump isn’t yet king and we still have an election to win. It makes perfect sense that trolls working for Trump would try to pull her down. But it makes no sense that they would post a disgusting image of Trump equating him with Pelosi.

I’m left with the conclusion that Facebook Paul was a Russian troll, doing what they do best—assuming a false identity to spread mistrust and disinformation among Americans in order to damage our democracy. As stated in an intelligence report on the 2016 election and many other sources,

Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.[1], [2]

Barbara is a perfect target for trollers like Facebook Paul. She posts up to 80 times a day on topics as widely varied as the purported innocence of Julian Assange, puppies up for adoption, and personal bits about her garden or family business. But her primary focus is political. She’s not particularly astute about technical aspects of social media and seems rather confused about where her allegiance lies. She’s concerned, she wants to help, and yet can’t seem to sort out the absurd or harmful from the helpful materials that cross her newsfeed, which is fed by over 1,400 ‘friends.’ Her habit of prolific Facebook posting and lack of critical analysis of the information she receives makes her ideal as a vehicle for troll posts.

So what might help protect Barbara and the rest of us from trolls like Facebook Paul?

First, when someone asks to be your ‘friend,’ don’t just be flattered. Check them out. Look at the person’s Facebook page for background information, photos, etc. How many friends do you have in common and do you personally know any of those friends? If the person doesn’t have a long record of Facebook posts and most of the photos are the person alone, chances are this person is not real.

Do a Google search.

Be suspicious.

We weren’t always under siege by trolls, so it might be helpful to go back through your friend list to check those you don’t know personally.

Always be on guard against any posts—memes or comments—that don’t quite pass the smell test. Before you share a questionable post, check the source. Do a Google search on a key phrase or section of the post, see what turns up. Ask your FB friends if they’ve seen this post before and what they think of it.

The most important thing we can do for the future of this nation is to not be part of any effort to muddy facts and raise a hue and cry when you find misinformation. It’s up to us.

~~~

Further reading: The Atlantic,  The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President: How new technologies and techniques pioneered by dictators will shape the 2020 election”

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_interference_in_the_2016_United_States_elections

[2] https://www.wired.com/story/russia-ira-propaganda-senate-report/

Our Republican Religious War

Why keep Trump? Why would career politicians bare their rotten souls to the world in order to keep him in office? It makes no sense when they have another Republican in line to take his place.

What is the prize with Trump? Why is he the one and only person who can carry the Republican banner?

Why disgrace themselves and their party by dishonoring distinguished veterans and career professionals? Why hear testimony that lays out sharp and clear the bribery and extortion Trump pursued with Ukraine and then pretend it was nothing? Why manipulate sound bites from witnesses by taunts and interruptions in order to feed misinformation to their hapless followers?

Now no less than in 2015, the followers cling to any slim suggestion that Trump is the best man to lead the country. Unbelievable as it may seem, all the evidence of his misdeeds then—stiffing workers, molesting women, cheating on all three wives, an endless stream of bankruptcies and financial shenanigans—and now in the impeachment hearings of his cavalier risk of national security, none of it disrupts the fond narrative that he is the Chosen One who can lead this nation toward some glorious future.

What glorious future do they envision?

It’s a story of turning back the clock and at the same time fulfilling prophecies. We’ll put women back in the kitchen without birth control — that’s keep ’em busy and out of the jobs men need. (Never mind the immediate crisis in household income…) We’ll put Bibles in every classroom and pray hourly at the nation’s capitol. We’ll end the rights of LGBTQ individuals and push back the tide of people of color, declaring once and for all the America is a nation controlled by and for white heterosexual males.

Nothing can be said, apparently, to penetrate the religious fervor of this mindset. They are the monkeys who can hear and see nothing. God works in mysterious ways, and Trump is the way, the unrecognized messiah, the one who has been selected by God Almighty to work His powerful agenda of bringing America back to its reason for existence.

This narrative was carefully constructed over decades of Republican manipulation, a frenzied backlash to the ’60s generation with their free love, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. It was outrage over legalized abortion. It was the pushback to the defiance of an entire new generation against an agenda of conspicuous consumption and materialism at any cost. The Silent Majority were sitting ducks for clever spinmeisters who needed their votes to put the corporatiers in the driver’s seat.

The rewards have continued to flow—destruction of workers’ unions, profits over people, wildly skewed income inequality, continuing devastation of the environment in pursuit of wealth, incarceration of the poor and non-white.

Trump is stupid enough to accept the risk of exposing his inadequacies but smart enough to know he’s being used. He doesn’t care that he’s the mouthpiece of larger forces. He’s in it for himself, his family, and the profits they can generate in one scam after another. He has no concept of right or wrong, no shame, no conscience.

None of that matters to the Devin Nuneses of the world. They have hitched their wagons to the myth of the Chosen One and can’t back out now. The two opposing camps of our nation, one seeking to generate public policy framed in science, compassion and forward thinking and the other seeking to generate policies of near-term greed and blind faith, have never been more clearly defined since at least the 1860s.

This is a religious war.  Even though many people of faith have not given up rational thought in order to serve their religious doctrine, those who long for Someone to rule with a strong hand are dedicated to Trump. His braggadocio stands in for strong character among those willing to compromise in order to worship their golden calf.

Will awake voters show up at the polls in November 2020? Will one side have to kill the other in blood-drenched battlefields, hand to hand combat in our streets and cities? Or are there enough people of good faith and common sense to wrest this nation’s direction back from extremists determined to ensure the prophecies of Revelations, their sacrifice to an angry God with whom they bargain in hopes of walking the promised Streets of Gold?

I ask myself, what can I do today to bring my country back to the Founders’ vision of liberty and justice for all? Quite honestly, I don’t know. I’d like to think that through better education and economic opportunity, people can learn how to think past superstitions and myths, that they would embrace rationalism and equanimity. Sadly, just last week a law was passed in Ohio that permits wrong answers to be counted as correct if the error is based on religious teachings.

Those Evil Corporations!

I agree that corporations should not be allowed to make political contributions, and in that regard, they’re not ‘persons.’ That’s a step too far. But I’m here to defend the concept of corporations. Liberals need to get up to speed on corporate structures and why they exist. The long howling rant against corporations as a general concept discredits the progressive movement.

A corporation mostly isn’t a bad thing. There are non-profit corporations we rely on every day, and plenty of for-profit corporations that bring us everything from electricity to internet to vehicles. Corporations have been the construct by which new inventions in digital technology, medicine, and transportation have come to exist in the modern world.

The commercial incorporator has a specific objective—to streamline the business operation. Under the corporate umbrella, the business owner(s) can partner with other entrepreneurs, obtain materials, hire workers, own property, and produce goods and/or services from one checkbook, that is, the corporate checkbook, without having to do those things in his/her own name.

Likewise, the corporation can pay wages to the owner(s) and all employees and provide the corporation’s required contribution to Social Security and Medicare funds as well as unemployment  and disability insurance (required by law) and in many cases, health insurance—all without involving the owners’ private personal income and spending.

Whatever money the corporation holds in its bank accounts (and other investments) that is not spent on production/operations can be paid out in dividends to its stockholders. ‘Dividends’ is a simple concept: whoever put in money to help the company start and/or grow is paid a divided portion of the profits (usually quarterly) according to the amount paid in. If there are significant profits above and beyond operating expenses, the money paid in dividends can be an important income source for stockholders.

My disabled brother in law, for example, received big oil stocks as a gift from his father who had been at the leading edge of early oil exploration in Texas. Dividends from those stocks have made the difference for him and my sister in raising their family and surviving as they age. Even if we abhor the environmental degradation created by the oil industry, is there something evil about him receiving those dividends?

The concept of the ‘evil corporation’ is so ingrained that the term has its own entry in Wikipedia: “An evil corporation is a trope in popular culture that portrays a corporation as ignoring social responsibility in order to make money for its shareholders. …Evil corporations can be seen to represent the danger of combining capitalism with larger hubris.”

What is social responsibility then, that corporations may find easy to ignore? “Social responsibility is an ethical framework and suggests that an entity, be it an organization or individual, has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large.”[1]

Walmart, for example, has tried to claim social responsibility by its efforts to reduce waste, streamline shipping, and provide better work conditions and wages. Their 2018 Global Responsibility Report highlighted collaboration “with industry experts, NGOs, suppliers and the company’s own research to address risks pertaining to social issues in the supply chain.”[2] In general, Walmart’s approach to “environmental, social and governance issues goes beyond minimizing our own footprint or mitigating risk. We take a more assertive approach: sparking collective action to transform the retail sector for environmental, social and economic stability.”[3]

While naming laudable goals for one of the world’s largest corporations, Walmart continues to reap massive profits for its shareholders and especially the Walton heirs. “Sam Walton’s descendants have a combined wealth of $163.2 billion, according to Bloomberg. This is more than Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett, and nearly $70 billion more than the second-richest family in the United States, the Kochs.”[4]

Bernie Sanders has remarked that the Waltons earn more per minute than its employees earn in a year, and number crunchers have shown this is true (about $25,000 per minute). That imbalance would hardly decrease even if the company paid its 2.1 million employees $20 per hour. That would increase the total payroll by around $20 million, a drop in the bucket to the Walton heirs’ annual dividend payment of about $3.2 billion.  Such a wage increase would also go a long way to reducing employees’ need for social welfare support at taxpayer expense, currently estimated at $6.2 billion in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing.

This kind of inequity in profits versus salaries is one of the reasons corporations are seen as evil. And there’s no question that over the centuries as the corporation has matured as a legal entity, it has also maneuvered ways to embody self-serving benefits into law. It is this unfair advantage of a large, organized, well-financed behemoth versus the unorganized ‘little man’ citizen that drives much of the present-day fury toward corporations.

We can’t rely on corporate conscience to ensure fairness in its wages or environmental conduct, a lesson we’ve learned time and again. Just as environmental laws have reduced egregious corporate pollution, policy makers should pass laws that apportion CEO pay and stockholder dividends according to employee wages to ensure a livable wage. After all, without the employees, corporations would have nothing. Unions used to provide this balance, but right-to-works laws and the move to overseas production has pulled the rug out from under them.

Nevertheless, it’s wrong-headed to blame corporate structure in general for doing what anyone would do, which is to pursue advantages that benefit its goals and rewards. The problem is with those entrusted to make and uphold our laws and their vulnerability to highly paid lobbyists who sell corporate demands on the economic benefits of providing jobs and ignore inequities that place millions of workers in a form of wage slavery.

Local economies have also suffered in cases such as Walmart replacing local businesses supplying groceries, hardware, automobile supplies, clothing, shoes, stationery, and more. Grinding the point home is the fact that most of the profits made by Walmart don’t stay in the local economy but rather aggregate in Walton heirs’ pockets. Just as destructive is the arrival of a Walmart that lasts long enough to drive out  local drug stores, for example, then after a few years moves away, leaving the community without a pharmacy.

Yet enterprises like Walmart, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and massive financial corporations looming over today’s landscape provide jobs, goods, and services that we could not have any other way. Local grocers had no way to provide the assortment and quality of goods available at Walmart. Is it better to have bananas in January or a local grocer stocking a few essentials? These are problems facing a world in transition to a global economy.

Short of catastrophe and the accompanying deprivation it would bring, there’s no clear path to return to a village economy where local farmers are the primary source of food and local craftsmen fashion the only available light fixtures, for example (assuming electricity would be available). Whether we like it or not, we’re accustomed to a world-wide marketplace with advanced delivery systems.

As far as the current political mess in which the Citizens United ruling gave corporations the right of an individual in making political contributions, again we must look to our legislators to remedy the apparent lack of appropriate law. A constitutional amendment may be needed in order to refine the definition of a corporation other than as a ‘person’ with all the same rights as individual citizens.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), is a landmark United States Supreme Court case concerning campaign finance. … The ruling effectively freed labor unions and corporations to spend money on electioneering communications and to directly advocate for the election or defeat of candidates.”

With the slow death of unions and other consumer/worker advocacy organizations, the political power of corporations has become an obscene force in politics. While the legal structure of corporations in and of itself is not evil, when large corporations spend obscene amounts to influence elections, there is no doubt that their actions are self-serving and not necessarily of benefit to the common man.

The hue and cry, then, must not be about ‘corporations’ but rather against the actions of corporations that undermine our system of government and its stated purpose to protect the rights of its people. The duty to oversee this Constitutional guarantee belongs to all of us as voters but in particular to our elected representatives. It’s past time for us to hold our legislators responsible for their action or inaction on this subject.

~~~

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_responsibility

[2] https://www.supplychaindive.com/news/walmart-corporate-social-responsibility-efforts/521961/

[3] https://www.energydigital.com/csr/walmarts-2018-csr-report-20mn-tonne-reduction-emissions-sustainable-sourcing-and-more

[4] https://www.businessinsider.com/how-the-waltons-spend-their-fortune-2017-7

The Long Road

I’m firmly convinced that protesting the Senate’s confirmation vote to place Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court is a waste of time. Many of us saw this exact development looming back in 2016 with the election of Trump to the presidency. Putting conservative judges on the high court has been the primary goal of the far right for decades.

All manner of maneuvering has gone into saving the fetus, that pre-human internal development unique to women. The interests of corporate wealth have long since learned how to use this hot-button issue to inflame the religious right, driving voters to the polls. The result has been the increasing power of the One-Percenters to influence politics for their own gain. Thus we have Trump, a One-Percenter, appointing conservative justices who fulfill this fetus-obsessed promise.

One wonders what issue the One-Percenters will use to control the right when Roe v Wade is overturned.

The movement toward tamping down women’s rights didn’t start with the protest against Roe v Wade. It has been ongoing since well before women won the right to vote in 1920. Conservative men and women opposed voting rights for women based on strongly held beliefs which continue to echo through conservative views today.

There were several concerns that drove the anti-suffrage argument. Anti-suffragists felt that giving women the right to vote would threaten the family institution …that women’s highest duties were motherhood and its responsibilities. Some saw women’s suffrage as in opposition to God’s will.  [Many opponents] shared a religiously based criticism of suffrage and believed women should be only involved with children, kitchen and church. Some anti-suffragists didn’t want the vote because they felt it violated traditional gender norms.

There were also those who thought that women could not handle the responsibility of voting because they lacked knowledge of that beyond the domestic sphere and they feared government would be weakened by introducing this ill-informed electorate…

… Anti-suffragists claimed that they represented the “silent majority” of America who did not want to enter the public sphere by gaining the right to vote…

[After 1917], the anti-suffrage movement focused less on the issue of suffrage and began to spread fear of radical ideas and to use “conspiratorial paranoia.” Suffragists were accused of subversion of the government and treason. They were also accused of being socialists, “Bolsheviks” or “unpatriotic German sympathizers.”

Anti-suffrage movements in the American South included an appeal to conservatism and white supremacy. In Virginia, the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage chapter even linked race riots to women’s suffrage.[1]

The idea of women as flawed humans in need of male control rests at the foundation of Abrahamic religions and most early world cultures, so it’s not surprising that women’s suffrage and subsequent gains of women’s rights are painted by the same brush. It all goes back to mythological Eve and her temptation of Adam in the Garden of Eden which caused God to banish the couple to the mortal world where man would labor by the sweat of his brow and women would suffer the agonies of childbirth; “a view that women are considered as bearers of Eve’s guilt and that the woman’s conduct in the fall is the primary reason for her universal, timeless subordinate relationship to the man.”[2]

We can’t examine prehistory to unveil the root causes of such ideas about women, though many have tried. Were early tribal cultures primarily matriarchal along the same lines as other mammalian species? In this theory, subjugation of women occurred when men serving as warriors in early civilizations conquered their rulers, holding women under their control thereafter as a result of superior physical strength.[3] Possibly evolution has played a role by the forced attrition of women who rebelled against their larger, stronger male overlords and either died at men’s hands or suffered rape, abuse, and the loss of offspring in situations where the woman alone could not feed herself or her children. Thus the genetics of originally-dominant women dwindled.

Arguably, in the modern first world where men and women are educated equally and have gained, at least in theory, the right to equal treatment under the law, whatever happened in the past can be set aside in favor of a new view of all humans. Thus the fervent belief of many modern women that the U.S. Senate would hear the truth of Christine Blasey Ford in her testimony about her ill treatment at the hands of fellow high school student Brett Kavanaugh.

But such a belief would be incredibly naïve and ignores the growing rush to homeschooling and private schools where religion determines the curriculum, now encouraged by Trump’s education secretary Betsy DeVos. We haven’t come that far, not when it’s been only 100 years since women gained the right to vote and less than fifty years since women gained the legal right to determine what happens inside her own body.

Not when 4,000-plus years of civilization record the systematic suppression of women in all avenues of life, owned by men for the purpose of bearing children and keeping the home fires burning.

Not when so many women want to be owned and reject the idea of being independent.

Conservatives, by nature, want to hold onto the past. In times changing as rapidly as the 20th and now the 21st centuries – from horse and buggy and subsistence farming to cell phones, bionic limbs, and worldwide Internet – a sincere fear grows deep in the hearts of those who only want to maintain the existing order of things. It’s no surprise that something as fundamental as the subordination of women would serve as one of the guideposts of modern conservatism. It follows then that the primary outrage over women’s rise to equality would nestle in her womb, formerly the property and future of male power.

So it’s not about Kavanaugh. It’s not about Christine Blasey Ford. It’s about the last institution of the United States government that must be converted to a conservative view in order to put the genie back in the bottle. That this conversion violates the fundamental premise of the judicial branch of government flies past in the rear view mirror in this increasingly frantic need to cling to the past. Any corruption of the Founding Fathers’ intent is justified.

The problem isn’t that Ford’s testimony was brushed aside in the rush to fulfill the Republican objective. Despite the heartfelt (45-minute) justification by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) for her vote to confirm Kavanaugh, the day will come when Kavanaugh and other conservative justices will face a case challenging Roe v Wade. Whether Collins’ belief in Kavanaugh’s statement that Roe is “established law” is proven justified remains to be seen. Of greater import will be the decisions of conservative justices, all men, in answering the question of how far women have really come.

Are women still lesser than men, unequal and incapable of making the right decision about their bodies and the potential offspring their bodies might produce? Is the reasoning of the 1973 decision still reasonable, that “criminalizing abortion in most instances violated a woman’s constitutional right of privacy, which it found to be implicit in the liberty guarantee of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (“…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”).”[4]

I believe Collins ignored the subtext in Kavanaugh’s statements to her about his stance on Roe being “settled law.” He made it clear there were exceptions to established law, that being “rare circumstances where a decision is ‘grievously wrong’ or ‘deeply inconsistent with the law.”[5] It doesn’t take a genius to see the enormous loophole here for Kavanaugh to vote against Roe by citing laws against “murder,” as abortion has been framed, thus seeing legal abortion as “grievously wrong.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ideological_leanings_of_United_States_Supreme_Court_justices

I take comfort in statistics about the ideology of justices which seem to show a moderating effect on initial stances resulting from experience on the high court. This parallels the experience of journalists who, as a result of working on the front lines of social upheaval, become more “liberal” in their viewpoint. Liberal, Progressive — “favoring or implementing social reform,” “moving forward or onward : advancing.” We can only hope.

And vote. Like our lives depend on it.

~~~

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-suffragism

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fall_of_man

[3] See for example https://www.abctales.com/story/lailoken/rise-and-fall-goddess-and-descent-woman

[4] https://www.britannica.com/event/Roe-v-Wade

[5] https://www.collins.senate.gov/newsroom/senator-collins-announces-she-will-vote-confirm-judge-kavanaugh

NOW HEAR THIS!

 

With apologies to The Men’s Shouting Chorus, http://www.acappellanews.com/archive/003086.html

Once upon a time, people reserved loud outbursts for very special occasions.

HELP!

FIRE!

CHARGE!

In each case, the raised voice with its guttural message alerted anyone within earshot that an emergency required their immediate attention. Or in the case of warfare, now was the time to kill or be killed.

Polite company abhors a loud voice, such breech of manners considered the province only of drunkards, boors, or madmen. Like the boy crying wolf, making a loud noise with our voice serves us when normal communication fails, calls attention, and provokes a fight or flight response in those who hear it.

We respond to shouting both physically and emotionally as adrenalin dumps into our system. Our hands may form fists, our jaw clenches, our heart rate accelerates. Psychological studies have shown the negative impact of shouting:

Yelling activates structures in the limbic system that regulate “fight or flight” reactions. Repeated activation to these areas tells the brain that their environment is not safe, thus the interconnecting neurons in these areas must remain intact. …At work, overreacting creates a perceived unsafe environment and can also put others into constant fight or flight mode.[1]

Countless studies and publications warn against shouting at children, spouses, or employees. But why? Here’s an explanation.

The threat response is both mentally taxing and deadly to the productivity of a person — or of an organization. Because this response uses up oxygen and glucose from the blood, they are diverted from other parts of the brain, including the working memory function, which processes new information and ideas. This impairs analytic thinking, creative insight, and problem solving; in other words, just when people most need their sophisticated mental capabilities, the brain’s internal resources are taken away from them.[2]

Most of us realize that shouting is bad form. We also recognize that we don’t like to be the target of shouts. Then why do some of us tolerate shouting on a daily basis?

In the mid-1980s, a certain conservative radio announcer discovered that shouting on air provoked a rewarding response – people listened. Rush Limbaugh had been fired from previous radio jobs but finally found his niche after Congress repealed the Fairness Doctrine.

In 1984, Limbaugh returned to radio as a talk show host at KFBK in Sacramento… The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine—which had required that stations provide free air time for responses to any controversial opinions that were broadcast—by the FCC in 1987 meant stations could broadcast editorial commentary without having to present opposing views. … Rush Limbaugh was the first man to proclaim himself liberated from…liberal media domination.”[3]

It’s no surprise that the media had become, in some views, rife with so-called liberal viewpoints. Journalists are exposed to higher education before qualifying for a media job. Not only do journalists study literature, history, and political science which paint the broad picture of human suffering, but also upon being hired to a media job, journalists are immediately thrust onto the front lines of all the world’s social ills—crime, disease, prejudice, and injustice among them. Through these experiences, many journalists embrace a point of view that can be described as ‘liberal’ – by definition, “tolerant of different views and standards of behavior in others” and “concerned with general cultural matters and broadening of the mind.”

Professional journalists and the media outlets where they work must adhere to professional standards.

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility.[4]

Not so with Rush Limbaugh, a college dropout. His admitted objective in radio is to sway people to a conservative point of view. People not only listened to his bombastic style but became agitated as if whatever was said in this shouting voice carried greater meaning, more importance, and undoubtedly revealed a threat heretofore unnoticed. His attention-grabbing delivery gained purchase among a vulnerable demographic.

The lesson quickly spread to other media, most notably to FOX News who came on air in 1996 with commentators who never miss an opportunity to shout. Few of these ‘announcers’ are professional journalists. As noted in a 2017 report in the Washington Post,

With the departure of credible centrist and conservative voices and professional journalists (e.g. Megyn Kelly, Greta Van Susteren, George Will, Major Garrett), the alternative-reality programming seen in the Fox evening and afternoon lineup and on “Fox & Friends” now overwhelms the rest of the operation.[5]

Neither Sean Hannity nor Glenn Beck, both popular FOX News commentators, completed college and are not journalists. Yet their audiences believe these men are delivering unbiased news.

The success of both outlets in hooking rapt viewers didn’t go without notice among other media.  Some CNN reporters stepped up to the plate and began shouting as well, in particular Wolf Blitzer who doesn’t seem capable of speaking normally. Thus the current political and social crisis was born.

The Rush Limbaughs of the world use shouting not to intimidate listeners as might a parent, spouse, or employer, but to signal alarm. LISTEN TO ME! I’VE GOT NEWS! Whatever the content of such commentary, it’s not simply information that we can take or leave or interpret in comparison to equal but opposing information. This is life or death information. Dangerous. The context screams EMERGENCY!

Not only are listeners held captive by the threat of such emergencies, they suffer physical and emotional damage that makes them vulnerable to manipulation.

Researchers have long known about the infectious nature of stress… Studies have shown that there is “crossover” stress from one spouse to the other, between coworkers, and “spill over” from the work domain to home. The stress contagion effect, as it’s known, spreads anxiety like a virus. Our mirror neurons help suck us into the emotional eruptions of others. …Emotions are highly contagious, as film directors and fear-mongering propagandists know, especially negative emotions.[6]

Held captive by unconscious physical and emotional response to shouting newscasters, listeners become victims of a kind of Stockholm syndrome, “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.”[7] An urgent need to hear what the shouters say takes over normal intellectual function. There’s an emergency and they’re telling us about it. We have to listen.

No one questions that regular shouting at a spouse is a form of domestic abuse, or that shouting repeatedly at children is a form of child abuse. So why do so many people not question the harmful impact of loud-mouthed media personalities?

What could be a more perfect explanation for the masses of people walking around seemingly without the ability to think rationally about matters of critical importance in our nation’s politics? While liberals may gravitate to quietly spoken news of the day uttered by a calm commentator on the PBS NewsHour, many conservatives seem to require regular doses of shouting. There’s probably a clear connection between being shouted at with its rush of body chemistry and the acceptance of a point of view that seems to solve the problem just described in those shouts.

What any reasoning adult should know is that shouting is a theatrical tactic used to capture the attention of listeners/viewers, a form of bullying meant to hold its beleaguered  audience. Sportscasters shout in order to build visceral excitement for whatever game they’re announcing. But why would we want the adrenaline rush of sports when we’re hearing news?

Isn’t ‘news’ at its most basic concept a source of information about important events around the world? About electing those who will steer our nation through challenging times? Do we really want to unquestionably accept a shouter’s point of view on such critical topics?

Limbaugh, FOX and other conservative shouters groom their audiences by occasionally lowering their voices, providing strokes to calm those just incited by the shouts. “Here, here,” the shouters say. “It’s not so bad. Here’s how to think about this.” And then the prescription is delivered, a calming pill of hate and prejudice, of unthinking narrow-mindedness convinced that any further information is not needed. The audience becomes like other sufferers of Stockholm syndrome, eager to defend their captors, afraid to turn away from the source of their agitation.

~~~

“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” – Desmond Tutu

~~~

[1] https://mindfullifetoday.com/yelling-and-the-brain/

[2] http://www.businessinsider.com/stop-yelling-at-your-employees-its-making-them-stupid-2009-9

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rush_Limbaugh

[4] https://www.mediamatters.org/research/2009/10/27/30-reasons-why-fox-news-is-not-legit/156164

[5] https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2017/05/15/fox-news-undermines-a-free-independent-press/?utm_term=.90a81b4a1232

[6] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/joe-robinson/dealing-with-stress_b_4097921.html

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_syndrome

The New Censorship

Courtesy https://medium.com/@AspieSavant/the-worst-part-of-censorship-aab7879c9f2c

The latest absurdity to emanate from the Trump White House is the edict to scientists at the Centers for Disease Control that they cannot use seven words in a report that will be part of the 2019 budget request. The words are vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, and science-based.

If I were a scientist working on that report, I would be strongly tempted to go through the draft that contains those words and simply black them out. That would remove them from the report, as requested. Let those who don’t want to see those words guess what’s under the black mark.

My second temptation would be to replace the words with a first letter and a following blank, as in t__________. Since all the forbidden words begin with different letters, it shouldn’t be too difficult for the reader to figure out the missing letters.

Alternatively, authors less willing to be openly defiant could resort to lengthy talk-arounds. For example, “vulnerable” could be replaced with “persons who through birth defect, age, illness, or other conditions are less able to resist potential harm from…”

“Entitlement” would become “the condition of having a right to have, do, or get something, or the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges), or a type of financial help provided by the government for members of a particular group.” Readers get to choose which meaning they prefer.

No reasons were given for the banishment of these seven words. Observers are left to speculate whether more words might be forbidden in the coming months and what they might be. Already we’ve learned that agencies may not refer to “global warming” or “climate change,” all part of this administration’s fervent embrace of denialism. Such an approach speaks volumes about the close-mindedness of the Republican right.

In the psychology of human behavior, denialism is a person’s choice to deny reality, as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth.  Denialism is an essentially irrational action that withholds the validation of a historical experience or event, when a person refuses to accept an empirically verifiable reality. In the sciences, denialism is the rejection of basic facts and concepts that are undisputed, well-supported parts of the scientific consensus on a subject, in favor of radical and controversial ideas.[1]

Explanation is also missing about who in particular requested these restrictions. No one would be surprised if the proclamation came from the petulant-child-in-chief himself, since he prefers monosyllables. Maybe the four-syllable “diversity” is too much for him to move his lips over as he attempts to read it. With his utter disregard for science as a discipline and the exacting process science pursues in developing “evidence,” he might prefer, in the possible instance of his developing prostate cancer, that his doctor explains “there’s a bigly bad problem in your thingy down there.”

However, advisors whispering at the Big Baby’s elbow surely find political hay to be made from eradicating the word “fetus” in the hopes that report authors would be forced to use a preferred term such as “unborn child.” However, a fetus is not a child, born or not, and scientists would probably be picky about technicalities like that. They might resort to using a phrase something like “a being in the stage of prenatal development between the embryonic state and birth, occurring after the first eleven weeks of gestation.”

If the report isn’t specified to contain a limited number of words, perhaps no one would mind that a concise single-word scientific term like “fetus” would require twenty-two words to replace it.

This points up the deeply ridiculous aspect of the seven-word ban. Our society – and societies worldwide – agree on words like “fetus” to describe a precisely-understood concept. It’s not that the current administration doesn’t understand what a “fetus” is or feels that it needs a bigger explanation. It’s that the word is involved in a political debate about a woman’s right to choose whether to produce a child. The word “fetus” doesn’t trigger the warm fuzzies that make an evangelical want to rush out and murder a gynecologist or chortle over the prospect of an illegal abortion causing a woman to bleed to death.

Similarly, the word “transgender” triggers instantaneous outrage among the more benighted among us. Ready to drag out the Bible to point out where it clearly states that God only made man and woman, these folks aren’t going to listen to reason anytime soon no matter how clearly it’s explained that there’s a whole other world of gender- and sexual identity-reality out there. They still haven’t accepted that men and women can love and desire members of their own sex. Despite their abysmal ignorance and visceral terror over anything other than their mirror image, the prurient interests of these folks prod them to inspect and judge the more intimate details of Other People’s Lives.

Wikipedia:

Transgender people have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex. Transgender people are sometimes called transsexual if they desire medical assistance to transition from one sex to another. Transgender is also an umbrella term: in addition to including people whose gender identity is the opposite of their assigned sex (trans men and trans women), it may include people who are not exclusively masculine or feminine (people who are genderqueer or non-binary, including bigender, pangender, genderfluid, or agender). Other definitions of transgender also include people who belong to a third gender, or conceptualize transgender people as a third gender. Infrequently, the term transgender is defined very broadly to include cross-dressers, regardless of their gender identity.

Being transgender is independent of sexual orientation:  transgender people may identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual, or may decline to label their sexual orientation. The term transgender is also distinguished from intersex, a term that describes people born with physical sex characteristics “that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies”. The counterpart of transgender is cisgender, which describes persons whose gender identity or expression matches their assigned sex.[2]

It might be difficult to sum up all that in a short phrase in order to replace the word “transgender.”

Our collective intelligence and good will has been insulted repeatedly in the electoral-college victory of Donald Trump. Both before and after the election, he has intentionally incited violence, misunderstanding, prejudice, racism, and division. His performance as president is an international embarrassment. It’s difficult to believe he actually thinks about anything much less reasons. He’s the worst possible person for the role he managed to grab off the gut wagon.

We’ve been forced to accept a presidency of an essentially illiterate man with such a record of abuses, deceptions, insults, sexual assaults, adultery, and overarching greed that it’s difficult to maintain an appropriate level of disgust. While we may hope for a favorable outcome of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the election, meaning Trump himself would be found red-handed and subject to prosecution, we face the clear possibility that even this last glimmer of faith in our system will also fall by the wayside. And although we hope for a reversal of Congressional control in the 2018 election, even that will not remove the idiot currently occupying the Oval Office.

But this — this censorship of important words — is alarming evidence of the danger facing our nation.

Whether the seven-word ban is a result of Trump’s petulant desire to get his hands on an easier read—not that anyone thinks for a moment he’ll actually read the CDC report—or his acquiescence to the manipulations of people like Stephen Miller, the remarkably under-investigated wizard whirling the bells and whistles behind Trump’s curtain, no one can say. The most terrifying aspect of the straight-jacket this latest outrage places on scientists is the mentality behind it. Words that describe troubling issues are to be eliminated, as if banishing the word somehow banishes the issue.

These are manipulations of a tyrannical dictatorship, not the supposed world leader in freedom of thought and expression. The very idea of banning certain words from anything violates the fundamental concept of our nation and the stated protection of free speech enshrined in our First Amendment,  facts that are no doubt incomprehensible to this moronic president and the one-track extremists behind his agenda.

~~~

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denialism

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgender

The Poverty of Conservatism

 

A continuing crisis plagues Arkansas. Like a snake eating its tail, poverty, addiction and mental illness, teen pregnancy, sexual violence against women, and low educational achievement perpetuate themselves as a result of entrenched conservative thinking. Costs for addressing these problems continue to skyrocket while the state’s earning power lingers near the bottom.

Where do we cut the snake?

Arkansas ranks 48th out of 50 states in terms of poverty. In 2015, 19.1% percent of the state’s households—one fifth—have incomes below the federal poverty line of $24,250 for a family of four.[1]  For 2016, the state’s population of 2,887,337 included 550,508 people living in poverty.[2]

In a direct correlation to the poverty rate, the state ranks 39 out of 50 states in how well students are educated.[3] The state slips further down the scale for persons 25 years of age when considering the following factors: Only 84.8% graduate high school. Only 21.1% obtain a bachelor’s degree, a ranking that puts Arkansas at 48th out of 50. And only 7.5% obtain graduate degrees, a rank of 49 out of 50.[4]

We hover near the bottom at 46 in terms of mental illness in a compilation of 15 factors including all ages, availability of treatment, and addiction rates.[5] Between 2010 and 2014, over one third of teens in need of mental health treatment did not receive it while over 53% of adults did not. Only 20% of Arkansas residents with drug dependence and 10% with alcohol dependence received treatment.[6]

The state consistently ranks in the top five for teen pregnancies with up to 80 births per 1000 occurring among teen girls ages 15 to 19. Of these, 60% are white, 27% are black, and 11% are Hispanic. Counties with the highest rates included Sevier, Nevada, Arkansas, St. Francis, Mississippi, Jackson, and Randolph.[7]

According to a 2014 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures:

Children born to teen parents are more likely to enter the child welfare or juvenile justice systems and to become teen parents themselves. Every year, thousands of young Arkansans enter one or both systems. Research shows that, nationwide, the children of teen mothers are twice as likely to be placed in foster care as their peers born to slightly older parents. Sons of teen mothers are 2.2 times more likely to be incarcerated than the sons of mothers aged 20 to 21.[8]

The crisis becomes most apparent in the number of Arkansas children in foster care. From March 2015 to March 2016, the total number of available and in-use beds in foster homes increased from 2,801 to 3,306, but the number of foster children also increased, from 4,178 to 4,791. A 2016 report states that substance abuse by caregivers accounts for over 50% of children in foster care.[9]

Despite such high rates of teen pregnancies, many Arkansas school districts do not provide any sex education. Many others offer abstinence-only education including a virginity pledge (14 districts[10]), a ridiculous non-starter since census records show that over 52% of Arkansas teens are sexually active. Only seven school districts provide comprehensive sex education addressing contraceptives, sexually transmitted infection, abortion, and sexual orientation.

The Centers for Disease Control report that 37.4% to 38.5% of women in Arkansas experience at least one event of sexual violence during their lifetimes. These experiences include rape, sexual coercion, and/or unwanted sexual contact.[11] Among sexually active teens, 18% of females report acts of violence (being hit, slammed into something, or injured with an object or weapon on purpose by someone they were dating) and 16% reported being raped.[12]

Are Arkansas citizens somehow genetically predisposed to suffer these conditions? Is it something in the water? Or might the answer be found in the conservative mindset of a majority of Arkansas citizens?

Arkansas ranks 5th in the number of churches per capita. Seventy percent of adults define themselves as ‘highly religious’ with 65% saying they pray daily and 77% saying they believe in God with absolute certainty.[13] The predominant religion practiced in Arkansas is Southern Baptist, a conservative Protestant sect which believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Predictably, any push for sex education and contraceptives in public schools provokes conservative outrage. By religious thinking, unwanted pregnancies serve as punishment for illicit sex. The burden borne by women in unwanted pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare is God’s retaliation for the sins of Eve. As stated in Southern Baptist doctrine, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.”[14] Prevention either through birth control or abortion upends the natural order of things as ordained by God.

The prevailing idea of conservative parents is that talking about sex and especially advocating for birth control of any kind creates a permissive attitude wherein teens are more likely to have sex. Data clearly dispute this belief. But the refusal to accept widely accepted evidence about the effectiveness of sex ed fits perfectly with the greater mindset of religious conservatives: willful ignorance about any and all information that doesn’t square with religious teachings.

Under the belief that addiction or non-marital sexual activity are moral failings, many efforts to address non-marital sex, sexual abuse or substance abuse rely on faith-based programs. Yet as noted by a counselor with twenty years in faith-based addiction treatment, “Often times, Christian programs view the secular approach to recovery as counterproductive to their message and will often discredit and even disregard medical or empirical based advice to addiction recovery.”[15]

While embracing some aspects of modern science and the advances of civilization such as automobiles, cell phones, DVRs, and medical progress, conservatives refuse to acknowledge other key findings of our times. Early religions strictly regulated a woman’s sexual activity out of concern for proving paternity and reducing conflict between competing males, among other things.  None of that matters today. Genetic testing quickly solves questions of paternity. But religion has become so institutionalized its practitioners can’t back up far enough to consider its origins or usefulness.

There’s a blind adherence to the tradition of making babies as the primary goal in life.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that teen pregnancy leads to lack of education which in turn leads to poor employment opportunities, or that a state with a high rate of poorly educated adults won’t attract many employers. It also doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that poorly educated people with poor job opportunities are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol or suffer other forms of mental illness. Inadequate nutrition also plays a role, another cause and result of mental illness and poverty.

Further, an embattled position in poverty with subpar education leads people directly to unreasoned fear of Other—xenophobia and racism.

We have to start with the head of the snake. If we hold any hope of interrupting this vicious cycle, our state and national educational standards must require sex education. Such requirements must be imposed even in private, religious, and home school settings.

The requirements can’t stop there. All children must be required to learn the basics of science, history, political science, and other fields that serve as major elements in critical thinking about the modern world. While the state cannot dictate whether someone embraces any particular religion, we can dictate that our children are adequately prepared to make an informed choice about what to believe.

We cannot allow reactionary religious beliefs and tribalism to undo what civilization has achieved thus far.

The hue and cry against such reforms in education will be loud and long. State and federal legislators will be hard pressed to maintain a firm stance in the face of entrenched dogmatic beliefs. It will take true leaders to enact reforms in a time when leadership seems missing from public life. That means we must elect educated progressives who will carry the weight. The future of our nation depends on it.

~~~

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_poverty_rate

[2] https://talkpoverty.org/state-year-report/arkansas-2016-report/

[3] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/rankings/education  The

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_educational_attainment

[5] http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/ranking-states

[6] https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/2015_Arkansas_BHBarometer.pdf

[7] “Say no to sex, most state districts teach,” Ginny Monk. Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Sunday September 24, 2017. Page 1.

[8] http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/teen-pregnancy-in-arkansas.aspx

[9] “Children in foster care in Arkansas reaches all-tine high.” Brian Fanney. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 22, 2016. Online access October 18, 2017

[10] “Say no to sex, most state districts teach”

[11] https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/NISVS-StateReportBook.pdf

[12] https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/facts-and-stats/national-and-state-data-sheets/adolescent-reproductive-health/arkansas/index.html

[13] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/29/how-religious-is-your-state/?state=arkansas

[14] http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/basicbeliefs.asp

[15] http://www.addictioncampuses.com/resources/addiction-campuses-blog/3-reasons-christian-rehabs-dont-work-according-to-a-pastor/