Archive for March, 2023

The Right: Freedom-Loving Pro-Life Law-and-Order Patriots??

March 31, 2023

People can be perfectly rational in everyday life, even while holding some goofy ideas. Such occasional lapses are natural and normal. But what if they become comprehensive in extent?

That’s the state today of America’s political right — which for five decades I myself aligned with, till they went comprehensively to war against reality.

Their biggest watchword is “freedom.” Ron DeSantis paints it all over himself — while breaking new ground in government bossiness, telling individuals what they can and can’t do. Telling schools not only what they can or can’t teach, what books can be read, but even barring them from measures to protect student and teacher health. “Freedom” my ass.

This is going on all across red America, flummoxed by the idea of nonconforming sexuality. So these “freedom lovers” push all sorts of legislation trying to stop people living their lives as they choose, from “bathroom bills” to banning medical treatments and sports participation and even drag shows. And to keep this whole aspect of human life from surfacing in schools, lest children gain some understanding of the society they’ll be inhabiting. (While ignoring our real schools problem: lousy basic education, especially for minorities.)

The one freedom the right truly does fetishize is of course gun ownership. Despite also prating about “law and order” and crime — though a crucial threat there is the easy availability of guns, including military style weapons designed to kill a lot of people fast. The right blocks all reasonable gun regulation. “Law and order” my ass.

And their notions of personal self-protection are a tragic fantasy, because guns are extremely dangerous to have around, mostly killing not miscreants but gun owners themselves and their families. The local paper recently reported on a guy fiddling with his gun, which accidentally went off. His wife died. Just one more sad statistic in America’s anti-reality gun insanity.

Another obsession is abortion. A complex, difficult moral issue. But here again we see the “freedom loving” right deploying the heavy hand of government, to impose simplistic answers restricting freedom, rather than leaving it to women and their doctors. Draconian abortion bans deprive many women of vital medical care, with resulting deaths. And while “pro-lifers” fixate on the unborn, they couldn’t care less about the lives of children after birth. And of course all those lost to gun culture. “Pro-life” my ass.

A recent PBS profile of Dr. Anthony Fauci highlighted all the craziness sparked by the Covid pandemic, with widespread right-wing resistance to masking, social distancing, lockdowns, and vaccination. (Sloganeering “My body, my choice” with no sense of irony.) A whole subculture of medical misinformation and conspiracy mongering, with a thin veneer of asserted science and fact that was really all obvious garbage. Heeding clowns and frauds while Fauci himself was demonized as a murderous monster. This lunacy literally cost America hundreds of thousands of lives. Hundreds of thousands.

And, again, these people call themselves “pro-life??”

By the way, anti-abortion crusaders also seem oblivious that more Black babies born due to abortion bans will hasten America’s becoming majority non-white. A prospect that really discombobulates their brains, and drives a lot of their political behavior.

Including that exploding culture war over teaching in schools. “Critical race theory” is made a bugaboo by people not knowing what they’re talking about, or that it’s not even taught in any public schools. No kids are indoctrinated to feel guilty for whiteness. But some of these culture warriors even want to ban any teaching about slavery, a huge fact of U.S. history, still shaping American society today. Which students need to understand.

The right’s hostility to ethnic minorities, and sexual nonconformity — and immigrants too — is all of a piece, a basic antagonism toward “the Other.” Anything unfamiliar making them uncomfortable. What small mindedness. And all based again on factual nonsense. That gay and trans people somehow threaten children’s minds or sexual whatever. That Blacks are inferior, moochers, and crime-prone. That immigrants and refugees are threats too — rather than benefiting America, which is the reality.

Many on the right even believe the preposterous “replacement theory,” that there’s some calculated plot to somehow swap out white U.S. voters for “obedient” brown ones. (A pet theme of Fox’s Tucker Carlson.) This led the Buffalo shooter to target Blacks — with an assault rifle he easily got due to our insane laxity of gun regulation.

Speaking of Carlson, if Fox is your information source, you’re simply unaware that he and other top Fox talkers have been exposed as huge liars, loudly promoting Trump’s “stolen election” lie even while knowing it was nonsense. (Any fool could see Trump made it up because his snakepit psyche couldn’t face losing.) But that didn’t deter Carlson from doubling down by concocting a laughable alternative reality to what everyone witnessed on January 6.

Now these “law and order” and “tough on crime” Republicans are shrieking with outrage at our law-and-order system’s prosecution of crimes committed by Trump. Whether he actually did commit crimes seems irrelevant to them.

Yet they loudly call themselves “patriots.” Dismissing or excusing the January 6 attack on American democracy, and all the rest of Trump’s lies and depravities, is deeply sick. Continuing to support him is insane and treasonous. “Patriots” my ass.

So, in sum, the right’s flight from reality is indeed comprehensive, across the board. They also refuse to believe in climate change, or humanity’s role in it. They don’t believe in evolution. They don’t believe in church-state separation — ignorant of how that’s actually benefited religion in America. While they do believe everything is run by a man in the sky, and they’ll go to Heaven after death.

Religion is the gateway drug. It scrambles the brain, making it susceptible to all manner of other delusions. If you believe in God, you can believe in Trump.

Not everyone on the right holds all the nutty ideas I’ve mentioned. And there’s nuttiness on the left too.

But between the two sides, there’s no comparison. At least one scientific study* has found that factual falsehoods are more prevalent among right-wingers, they’re less good at telling truth from lies, and more credulous toward what really is “fake news” — a mostly right-wing phenomenon. It was noted that their beliefs tend to need falsehoods because they’re at odds with reality.

The right threatens to make America into a grotesque parody of its founding ideals. “Great again” my ass.


Why Trust Science?

March 26, 2023

Why Trust Science? — a book by Naomi Oreskes — was reviewed at the Albany Library by Sherrie Lyons, herself a science author.

Ours is the age of science. Yet the book’s title question seems very timely, with burgeoning distrust of things science tells us and produces. Part of a revolt against experts and elites more generally. A perverse result of greater education — making many people imagine themselves smarter than they really are — and an internet spreading information but also a ton of misinformation, often put there with bad motives. Inability to judge who to trust or distrust looms large.

Anti-science stances are not a monopoly of the right, denying realities about Covid, climate, evolution, etc. The left is not immune, with anti-vax hysteria and GMO demonization. And meanwhile “scientism” has long been a rhetorical term of opprobrium, denoting a supposed undue religion-like faith in science as an exclusive source of knowledge, an idea that’s decried.

A key point for Lyons is that scientists are not to be trusted just because they’re “scientists.” They are human, fallible, and can be biased. Rather, what’s to be trusted is science as a collective enterprise, a method for gaining knowledge.

Epistemology concerns how we know things. The reliability of knowledge has always been recognized as a problem. Only gradually, eventually, did the scientific method, as we now understand it, evolve.

Philosopher Karl Popper put falsifiability at its heart. That means subjecting a thesis to tests capable of disproving it. If no such tests are possible — or if a theory’s proponents rebuff them — then it’s not science. (Generally true regarding religious and other supernatural constructs.)

Lyons noted that actually, what qualifies as evidence in such testing can itself be problematic. She quoted science writer Henry Bauer, that all good theories start out “underdetermined” by anything that can be called facts or evidence. Nevertheless, the key is still facts and evidence being adduced by investigation and experiment, to either confirm a theory or scuttle it.

Thus science is not akin to revelation. It’s a cumulative step-by-step effort, building from observation. Not accepting dogma but always subjecting ideas to scrutiny.

Kepler was an astronomer keen to prove his theory that planets travel in perfect circles. To that end he amassed mountains of data. Whose analysis made him realize he was wrong. Thus he discovered the true laws of planetary motion (in ellipses). Now that’s science.

Lyons emphasized that answers produced by science are never final, but always to be seen as provisional, that is, subject to modification based on further evidence. And central here is the building of a consensus within a broad scientific community — strengthened by diversity within that community, an antidote to groupthink.

Still, a scientific consensus can be wrong. Lyons cited the Earth-centered Ptolemaic model of the Universe, which held sway for many centuries until a better theory — supported by observation — finally dethroned it.

But if you’re hoping a similar Copernican-style revolution will overthrow Darwinian evolution theory, don’t hold your breath. Unlike in Copernicus’s 1500s, any modern scientific consensus rests upon centuries of methodical foundation building. In fact, Darwin’s theory was not “underdetermined” by evidence, but grounded in a vast base of biological knowledge. His using that knowledge to figure out how nature actually works was one of the greatest ever achievements of human intellect. Darwinian evolution theory gets tweaked around the edges by new information, but there’s zero chance it’s fundamentally wrong.

Lyons noted the rich irony of anti-evolutionists sending in their DNA for genetic analysis. Indeed, she observed that nobody is really anti-science in toto. Everyone cheerfully partakes of all modernity’s amenities that are the product of science — monuments to the power of the scientific method. People only reject the bits that somehow conflict with what they wish were true.

“The Value of a Whale” — Capitalism and Climate

March 22, 2023

Adrienne Buller is a thirtyish British think-tanker. Her 2022 book, The Value of a Whale, is subtitled On the Illusions of Green Capitalism. Referring to tackling climate change through market-based approaches, incentivizing needed actions, as with a carbon price, carbon tax, cap-&-trade scheme, or carbon offsets, and “socially conscious” (ESG) investing, etc. All critiqued as flawed and ineffectual, no way to tackle what Buller deems an extreme crisis facing humanity.

The value of a whale was actually the subject of an International Monetary Fund study. We are of course meant to think that the very idea of putting a dollar value on a majestic living creature is crass and tacky. Thus the book’s title — embodying its ethos of prioritizing planetary health above money-grubbing “capitalism.”

True, the planet is beyond price — money is meaningless if Earth becomes uninhabitable. But that’s an extreme (and, so far at least, extremely unlikely) scenario. More realistically the question is the extent of environmental degradation and what we’d have to sacrifice to forestall it (or cope with it). Life is about tradeoffs. A choice between lower living standards and a worse environment is not obvious.

Buller notes that the IMF researchers came up with $2 million for a whale’s value, based on its contributions to eco-tourism and, mainly, carbon capture, reducing global warming. Hence they suggested investment in whale conservation, costing, she writes, “a modest $13 per person on Earth.” And this, on the first page, shows Buller’s mindset. Thirteen bucks may seem “modest” to an affluent brainy Brit. But masses of people earn less per day — or, indeed, per week. They might not be so ready to give up even one dollar for whales.

The book is full of voiced concern for the world’s poor. But they seem like an abstraction. Not flesh and blood.

“Green capitalism” Buller indicts as mostly greenwashing; just another gimmick for finance folks to make money. Surely much truth there. And she’s surely right that, by themselves, such measures won’t halt climate change. Yet so intense is her hatred for “capitalism” that she seems to reject market-based measures altogether, even as part of a larger toolkit. If climate change is such a huge menace, shouldn’t we try using every possible remedy?

Buller also doesn’t think technology can help much. For example, we’d need a lot more lithium, vital for many low-carbon technologies like electric car batteries; but she blasts lithium extraction as environmentally nasty. So she excludes that too.

Her answer instead — though she won’t plainly say it — is reducing living standards. She doesn’t face what this would actually entail for actual human beings — especially all those who’ve struggled to escape the poverty she bemoans. There’s no recognition of what she’s really asking them to sacrifice.

Even the affluent are asked to live, well, less affluently. We hear much about air flights adding to carbon emissions. But such travel has great value for us, it enhances quality of life. That’s just one example, illustrating what Buller refuses to confront. She wants people to accept poorer lives today for the sake of ones in the future whom they’ve never met. People naturally resist that. It’s the key reason why the sort of climate action she envisions is such a hard sell.

It should be imposed by force, Buller is really saying. Rejecting, again, market-based and incentivizing climate approaches, she thinks instead governments must lay down the law, requiring people to do what they can’t be induced to do voluntarily. She may be right that otherwise, we’re not biting the bullet. But nor does she bite the bullet of what she’s really advocating, in all its draconian coerciveness.

Furthermore, the left’s eternal faith in government is astonishing given how often it betrays their ideals. Buller forgets that the market-based measures she critiques are themselves government creations. Why expect government to be more brilliant imposing non-market schemes? And more fair to the poor? After all, the affluent and moneyed interests have far more influence over anything governments do. The kind of “direct regulation” Buller advocates is always vulnerable to capture by the very interests being “regulated.” Not to mention the law of unintended consequences. (My whole professional career as a government regulator gave me a healthy skepticism here.)

Like many climate warriors, Buller is also scathing toward fossil fuel producers. As though they’re villainously extracting oil and gas solely to make money, unnecessarily foisting their products upon us. She’s oblivious to the obvious: fossil fuels are extracted, sold and consumed because people need them. Yes, we should be weaning ourselves off them. But that’s a long process. In the meanwhile, stopping use of these energy sources would crash our economies and living standards. Berating oil companies for supplying needed oil is just idiotic. If tomorrow they all declared, “Greta is right! No more oil! We’re stopping now!” — it would be Mad Max time, wrecking civilization far worse than climate change.

Similarly, Buller condemns economic growth, as though it’s some sort of deranged obsession. Of course it’s true that economic growth is, ceteris paribus, bad for the environment. That’s the tradeoff we’ve always made — we could never have risen from the “nasty, brutish, and short” lives endured by our Stone Age ancestors without exploiting Earth’s resources. There’s no free lunch.

But what’s really jarring is Buller (like many left wingers) denouncing economic growth in the same breath as denouncing the lot of the world’s poor. Almost as if blaming the latter on the former. When in fact, of course, economic growth is the great poverty fighter. The powerful economic growth since WWII has converted the world from one where most people lived in extreme poverty to one where only a small fraction still do.

You’d never guess that fact from reading this book, which makes it sound like the opposite has been happening, “the rich get richer and poor get poorer.” Buller flays global financial systems and machinations as designed to suck wealth from poorer nations to richer ones. Which you might thusly think is the cause of world poverty. Never mentioned is the huge factor of lousy governance and institutions, rife with corruption and exploitation by indigenous elites, which so often afflict the poorer nations and keep them poor, with vast inequality. Nigeria, South Africa, and Zimbabwe jump to mind; there are plenty of others. It’s surely those countries themselves (not Buller’s first-world capitalist whipping-boys) bearing the most blame for their stunted economic picture.

It is true that the fruits of economic growth do not equally benefit all people, the richest doing best. But there is no conceivable economic system in which some people won’t do better than others. That would mean the rich getting richer and the poor poorer — absent economic growth. But with economic growth, even while the rich get richer, the poor can too. Because there’s more wealth to go around, so the poor can get a share, even if it’s not a fully equal share. That’s how poverty is reduced.

Buller types seem to think, instead, that the answer is to just take wealth from the rich and redistribute it to the poor. In fact, taxation does that to a degree. But good luck if there’s a no-growth zero-sum world where everyone is fighting over slices of a static (or shrinking) pie, so nobody can gain without someone else losing. And as world population rises (until, with birth rates falling, it levels off and eventually declines), economic growth will be necessary just to maintain current living standards. Opposing economic growth means favoring mass impoverishment.

And what produces economic growth? Not socialism. Global average real dollar incomes have risen something like sixfold since WWII, with again a massive poverty reduction and improved living standards. This gain has been concentrated in nations participating in a globalized, (relatively) free-trading, market economy, where people can improve their own lot by producing goods and services others need or want. Not a zero-sum world. “Capitalism,” if you will. (Marx’s biggest error was failing to foresee how capitalism would, rather than grinding the masses into deeper poverty, produce mass affluence.)

Yet distaste for capitalism, once more, pervades this book, for all its lamentation that some people are still poor. And of course, as with all indictments of capitalism’s evil, you will search in vain for any glimmer of an alternative system that would similarly make the masses richer rather than poorer. In fact, Buller does seem to endorse impoverishment, fatuously mooning about how life could actually be better, somehow, if we all decided to be satisfied with less.

Tell that to the world’s poor she keeps gnashing her teeth about. If governments did, as she seems to advocate, impose lower living standards, she’d be the first to lament that the rich would find ways to cope and thrive in that Brave New World, while the poor as usual get the short end of the stick.

Anyhow, there’s no attempt whatever to sketch out what her imagined “better” world would look like. Nor how we could conceivably get from here to there. But none of this deters her from demanding “bold changes,” positing “boundless possibility for things to be different.” Ah, the idealism of youth!

By the way, Buller types never seem to grasp that most people in the world earn their livings, and living standards, by working to produce stuff other people need or want. If we all did decide to cut back on “consumerism” and make do with less, a lot of people’s jobs would disappear. They in turn would be forced to cut back and spend less too. Eliminating yet more jobs. Economic growth gone savagely into reverse. A Brave New World indeed.

Meantime — yes! — climate change is a huge threat. And, at this point, rising temperature is baked in, there is no way we can avert some very severe harmful effects. No conceivable amount of emissions reduction can do the job — another reality this book refuses to acknowledge. So while it’s true that “green capitalism” won’t do it, the book’s own approach of imposing extreme governmental action and poorer lives won’t do it either. That too is an illusion. (Even aside from the question of whether voters in democracies would stand for it.)

Dealing with the now-unavoidable effects of climate change will require a lot of resources. Resources that economic growth can provide. If we really want to save ourselves (and especially the poorest), we’d better grow our economies as much as possible.

Justice — Maybe Just a Little?

March 18, 2023

The Judges of the International Criminal Court in the Hague have issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin. For a crime against humanity (only one of his many), abducting thousands of Ukrainian children. Such action against such a major head of state is unprecedented. Though no arrest is imminent; Russia does not recognize the ICC (nor, shamefully, does America). But most nations do, and would be obligated to arrest Putin if he’s found in their borders. So now, having made Russia one big prison, he’s confined there himself.

Closer to home, Trump’s indictment by a Manhattan Grand Jury at last seems imminent. What took so long?! The (“alleged”) crime occurred 6-1/2 years ago. Michael Cohen, who acted for Trump in executing it, has already been to prison. How could Trump himself not have been even more guilty? The facts are straightforward. What need for the endless investigation?

It wasn’t just the disgustingness of hush money to cover up adultery. Right before the 2016 election, it constituted a political expenditure whose non-disclosure violated campaign finance laws; and New York business accounting requirements, the crime prompting this indictment.

Trump previously lied that the payoffs (and the sex) never happened. Now he says he was actually the victim of a crime — extortion! Next he’ll claim those porn stars sexually exploited him. Grabbed him by the pussy?

But, as with Putin, don’t hold your breath to see Trump behind bars. He’s still a master at frustrating legal processes, running cases into a quicksand of pettifogging. This one will wind up at the Supreme Court, with a long record of shredding accountability for public corruption. (They’re about to let off New York’s Percoco.)

Trump meantime faces three other separate prosecutions: the Georgia Grand Jury’s on his attempt to engineer 2020 election fraud, and DOJ Special Counsel Jack Smith investigating his culpability for both the January 6 insurrectionary violence, and his government document thefts. Here again it’s hard to see the need for lengthy investigations, the facts being open-and-shut in all three cases.

About the documents, I recently saw a commentary by the absurdist Trump-apologist Victor Davis Hanson, with nine numbered points arguing that President Biden’s misfeasance outstripped Trump’s. Never mentioning the wee fact that Trump, unlike Biden, lied to government authorities.

So how will the criminal cases affect Trump’s 2024 campaign?

In July 2015, my very first blog post on his candidacy called it “just one big middle finger, attracting middle finger type people.” Civic seriousness out the window. Eight years on, it’s all the more glaring. With much of the million-plus U.S. Covid death toll caused by Trump’s idiotic handling — and after his literal attempt to overthrow our democracy, which included deadly violence — plus uncountable other grotesqueries — his popularity should skirt zero. At least a solid majority of Americans is repelled. Yet still sizable numbers remain fans. Actually imagining he was a good, even great, president. Probably enough to win him the Republican nomination, especially given winner-take-all state primaries, and non-Trumpers divided among numerous candidates.

His voters are not persuadable; akin to a religious cult movement. I recall one 2020 commentator saying they get access to the same information as everyone else, they just evaluate it differently. Not so. Fox News fans do not know that its leading lights were exposed as monumental liars, promoting Trump’s “stolen election” claim even while privately mocking it as bogus. Et cetera.

So even if a New York jury convicts Trump, his cultists won’t confront the reality that their god is a criminal. The counter-narrative will of course be a politically-motivated witch-hunt, the deep state trying to bring down that heroic tribune of the people — his enemies themselves the real criminals.* Like the Pharisees sending Jesus to the cross.

But it should be politically suicidal. Again, a solid sane majority of Americans by now is repelled; and even with all Biden’s negatives, he should win by a landslide. My rational optimist self hopes it would not only sweep Republicans from power all over, but finally lance the boil that has so long afflicted our civic culture. But I’m braced for continuing disappointment.

* Many Republicans believe the QAnon story, including those nefarious liberal elites extracting from trafficked children’s bodies the ingredients for youthifying elixirs. Though Biden-hating QAnoners find no cognitive dissonance in calling him a senile dodderer. No anti-aging elixir for him!

Religion Wrecking Israel

March 14, 2023

We’re often told religion provides “comfort.” It’s understandably comforting to imagine death isn’t death. Though a more authentically meaningful life can be lived by grasping its realities. But whatever may be said of religion in inner life, it’s bad for societies and nations. That might not be so if everyone held the same faith. However, we don’t, making religion an endless source of division and conflict.

Look at Israel.

Originally set up as a homeland and refuge for Jews in the wake of the unpleasantness they’d experienced in the Holocaust. Most nations are indeed ethnically defined. But while Jewish ethnicity is closely entwined with a religion, Israel was established as a democratic and basically secular state, closer to the American blueprint than to Iran’s theocracy.

Yet one difference from the American model has been the special status accorded to “Ultra-Orthodox” or “Haredi” Jews, a separate caste in Israeli society. Their education is solely religious, and they spend their whole lives immured in religious study rather than societally useful occupations or other productive work. This uselessness is coddled with taxpayer-funded subsidies. Furthermore, they’re exempted from the military service required of other citizens. Many of whom resent it all.

Perhaps this craziness was no big deal when the Haredi were only a small minority. But they have way more children than the Israeli average, so their population share inexorably grows. And in one key respect they’re not separate: they vote.

Mostly for parties representing their sectarian viewpoint and protecting their cosseting. Israel does not have a two-party system, no party ever wins a majority, and governments are coalitions. This often gives the Haredis outsized political clout as kingmakers. In modern times, the king they’ve made is Netanyahu.

Israel is closely divided politically — between liberal minded people favoring peace with (the Muslim) Palestinians through a two-state solution, and Jewish chauvinists whose attitude is “Fuck Palestinians.” Haredis are in the latter camp, and in the forefront of the “settler movement,” promoting expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank territories Israel has occupied since 1967. The settlements encroach upon the indigenous Palestinian inhabitants.

Those Jewish chauvinists imagine they can somehow forever keep the Palestinians down, with no real rights, confined as virtual prisoners, under grating and deeply hated Israeli occupation. Even while Palestinians too reproduce faster than the Israeli average. Israel is ultimately on a march toward national catastrophe.

The close electoral divide has made for chronic electoral stalemate. After the latest election, Netanyahu managed to return to power with a bare majority coalition by folding in the most extremist right-wing elements, giving them key cabinet posts, notably Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Jewish Power Party (its actual name), the most hard-line anti-Palestinian, put in charge of overseeing the occupied territories.

Now Netanyahu has advanced a plan to “reform” the judiciary — basically ending its independence and the separation of powers, giving the government of the day control over judicial appointments, and removing the Supreme Court’s ability to override the Knesset (parliament). Netanyahu most immediately wants to stymie corruption charges against him, working their way through the system. But it’s widely felt that this “reform” would destroy checks-and-balances. Emulating Hungary, where the Orban regime likewise gutted checks upon it, producing what Orban himself labeled an “illiberal democracy” — that is, a democracy in name only.

The last part of the 20th century saw a great global democratic flourishing. Since then there’s been a great democratic recession. If it sweeps Israel too — for so long a pillar of democracy — that’s really frightening and depressing. The sane half of Israeli society does see clearly what’s afoot, sparking massive protests against making Israel yet another authoritarian state. The outcome hangs in the balance.

Religious zealotry is a key factor in the sickness assailing the Israeli body politic. While our own U.S. Supreme Court is working assiduously to tear down our wall of separation between church and state. God help us.

About Fox News: Just Facts, No Rhetoric

March 11, 2023

As a writer, I love language, the challenge of putting ideas into words. To find just the right words to convey something.

Hyperbole is extreme language. The last seven years have presented escalating challenges to putting a proper cast upon events. I kept writing, “It will get worse.” A stone rolling downhill gathers momentum — until hitting rock bottom. Are we there yet?

Some recent stuff renders my rhetorical toolbox inadequate. So I’m giving up. Rather than try to find words to characterize them, I’ll limit myself here to relating only facts, leaving judgments to readers. (Of course in today’s America, even the word “facts” is problematic.)

Start with the fact (yes, fact) that Trump lost the 2020 election. A humiliation his psyche couldn’t tolerate, causing him to declare it a stolen election. Launching a whole mass movement of election denial, albeit lacking a shred of evidence. (Not a single Biden ballot was ever proven fraudulent.)

Fox News (I will use that name, though readers may question the “News” appellation) broadcast relentless false “stolen election” assertions. One was that Dominion Voting Systems’ machines changed votes from Trump to Biden. Dominion sued Fox for libel.

That lawsuit brought forth texts of messages exchanged among top Fox TV talkers, including Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Tucker Carlson, saying they knew the whole “stolen election” thing was a lie, even while they were loudly telling viewers the opposite. They even jeered at Trump lackeys pushing the lie; Hannity said Trump was acting insanely. While one Carlson message demanded the firing of a Foxite who was out of sync with the party line. Fearing that if Fox relented in spouting it, they’d lose viewers to more extreme right-wing channels (like Newsmax and OAN; Fox had already enraged its viewers for reporting, on election night, the fact that Biden had carried Arizona).

Revelation of the aforesaid exchanges among Fox commentators, showing them as liars, was a big, widely reported news story. But never mentioned (to my knowledge) on Fox itself. Nor has Fox reported on court testimony by its owner, Rupert Murdoch, acknowledging the falsity of its coverage, and calling Trump’s “stolen election” lie “terrible stuff damaging everybody.”

Tourists visiting the Capitol

Meanwhile, Trump was working to overthrow the vote and retain power. Culminating in the January 6 violent attack on the Capitol by his supporters (revved up by the “stolen election” lie Fox had helped promote). Many people were injured and several killed, including police officers. The aim was to stop Congress from certifying the election result. (A majority of Republicans in Congress then did vote against certification.)

A bipartisan effort to set up a Congressional committee to shed light on what happened was ultimately torpedoed by the House Republican leadership, under Kevin McCarthy, refusing to participate. A committee was nevertheless convened, to which Speaker Pelosi appointed two Republicans, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. Cheney in particular took a leading role, spotlighting Trump’s attempt to overthrow the election with lies and his culpability for January 6 (all attested by mostly Republican witnesses). The committee’s investigation and report meticulously documented what was indeed insurrectionary mob violence. Which we’d all watched on TV while it was happening.

Yet Trump Republicans have sought to whitewash January 6 and discredit the committee’s narrative as itself somehow a big lie; Fox’s Carlson leading in that effort.

Notwithstanding all the foregoing, voters saw fit to give Republicans a majority in the House of Representatives, and McCarthy became speaker. That position enabled him to hand Carlson exclusive access to over 40,000 hours of government January 6 video footage. No other news organization was allowed to have that. (Oops, I should not have said “other.”)

Carlson has proceeded to broadcast a few carefully selected snippets from those 40,000+ hours so as to portray a calm, peaceful episode, and thusly to denounce the January 6 committee’s work as a dishonest effort to mislead the public and falsely smear Republicans. A “scam,” Representative Elise Stefanik now calls the committee’s report. Trump has tweeted that Carlson did a “great job.”

Meantime a new tranche of private Carlson messages brought out in the Dominion case includes the line, “I hate him passionately.” Referring to Trump.

Last Tuesday I got a mass email from “” headed “January 6th was a lie.” It starts, “Tucker Carlson just revealed that everything you were told about January 6th was a LIE.” And goes on: “Liz Cheney and the Hate America Deep State used January 6th to paint every Trump loving conservative as an enemy of the state . . . but now every single lie she’s told is being EXPOSED. Liz Cheney needs to pay for what she did to this country.”

The recipient is asked to vote in a poll: “Should Liz Cheney be held criminally responsible for LYING about January 6th?” Adding, “Liz Cheney is laughing at every patriot who ignores this message.”

The fine print reveals it came from Ronny Jackson, a Republican Texas Congressman who was Trump’s White House physician. A similar message arrived from Harriet Hageman, the Wyoming Representative who defeated Cheney, saying Cheney and other committee members (her emphasis) “presented SELECTED CLIPS, like we all knew from the beginning, to tell the story they wanted to tell. Never worrying about the facts. But like always, the truth prevails.”

This post reports only facts. As stated, I will not even attempt to comment.

How Identity Politics Hurts Democrats

March 8, 2023

I heard a radio report about Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Cal.) declaring her candidacy for the U.S. Senate. Asked why she’s running, virtually the first word in reply was “LGBTQ.” Then “Blacks,” “women,” etc.

And I was like, Stop! Please! Enough already!

This is why Democrats are struggling even against a Republican party steeped in lies. Which too many voters fail to see. While seeing Democrats as culturally in la-la land, rather than representing their interests. A case Republicans relentlessly push, with all their “woke mob” rhetoric.

Look, I love it that gays, women, Blacks, and other such groups are being mainstreamed. But harping on that kind of group identity politics turns off many voters, making them feel Democrats are not a party for everyone. Even if not actively hostile toward gays and trans people, they’re made uncomfortable by so much emphasis on that stuff. It feels like the tail wagging the dog.

So President Biden should not have pledged to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court. The appointment itself was great — just go ahead and do it — but the advance pledge needlessly made it seem more like racial pandering than about her merits. Governor Hochul similarly stressed the Latino ethnicity of her choice for Chief Judge, another instance of in-your-face identity politics.

Blacks and Latinos would be better served if such appointments were considered routine, which in point of fact they now are, rather than oohed and aahed over as if we were still in a benighted past epoch when they were breakthroughs.

True, it’s not as though discrimination and racism are longer concerns. Republicans, for all their lip-service to more enlightened views, still coddle prejudices. Meantime many of them deeply resent feeling they’re seen as bigots. They don’t think they are. That may be arguable, but never mind for now. Those feelings are exacerbated by Democrats continually harping on LGBTQ-this and people-of-color-that. It was not incidental that Nikki Haley, in announcing her presidential candidacy, made a point of insisting America is not a racist country. Telling her putative Republican supporters: you’re not racist. While Democrats seem to broadcast a contrary vibe. (Recall Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables.”)

It doesn’t help them win votes. And their failing to win enough elections hurts anti-discrimination causes. Voting rights legislation, to name one, can’t pass because enough Republicans get elected to block it.

Whereas Republicans used to be the fatcat party, and Democrats the plebeian party, that has been turned upside down. Republicans have aggressively courted people with economic grievances (even while actually doing precious little for them), and Democrats are increasingly the party of the educated intelligentsia — a class Republicans demonize, with great resonance for voters who feel themselves screwed and looked down upon by that elite. Which is farther to the left than are many less affluent and ethnic minority voters. GOP immigrant-bashing resonates too, even with Hispanics who may feel no solidarity with new migrants who they (wrongly) fear threaten their own economic advancement.

Barbara Lee may be a worthy public servant. But I wish, in declaring her candidacy, she’d tried making it about what a broad mass of down-to-earth mainstream voters — especially less educated working class white voters — who Trump and company play like fiddles — really care about.

Freedom of Speech — Can of Worms

March 4, 2023

Elon Musk said he was taking over Twitter in the name of free speech. Twitter was faulted for trying to keep a lid on harmful craziness. Notably, its banning Trump (as did Facebook) in the wake of his election lies and incitement to January 6.

This was cast as part of “cancel culture,” America’s political right feeling its freedom of speech imperiled. I’ve favorably reviewed Robert Boyers’s book, The Tyranny of Virtue, under the heading “Woke Gone Wild,” criticizing the censoriousness of today’s hard left.

But while the left censors higher education, the right wants to do it for lower grades — passing laws like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill barring educating kids about realities of sexuality, a key aspect of life. And “Critical Race Theory” (not even taught in any public schools). They even query why kids need to hear about slavery. Well, maybe because it shaped American history and its reverberations still bedevil us today — as shown by Republicans tying themselves in knots over the issue.

Musk (who seems to be a right-wing nut job himself) has found the whole free speech problem a lot more complicated than he’d imagined. This self-styled free speech warrior soon found himself censoring content and even banning (“cancelling”) people he doesn’t like. Twitter’s supervision of content has now become one big hell of a mess, its rationale a muddle.

Interestingly, as The Economist’s “Lexington” columnist recently put it, “America has no problem with speech. It has a problem with listening.”

He quotes The New York Times, editorializing about a Yale Law School incident where students claimed to be exercising their free speech rights in shouting down a free speech discussion. Because one panelist was a conservative Christian. Americans, said The Times, are losing “the right to speak their minds . . . without fear of being shamed or shunned.” But Lexington comments that The Times itself is in the shaming and shunning business — protected by the First Amendment.

Which, we often forget, bars only government censorship. Anyone else has a right to “shame and shun” those they disagree with. That itself is an exercise of free expression. And you do have a right to express your opinion — but not a right to be free of any other people’s reactions, blowback, shaming and shunning.

Yet it is the shaming and shunning that is often the problem — for those who do it. Because it means they’re confining themselves within self-made prisons of thought, walled off from the free flow of ideas that makes for a vibrant and healthy discourse. Thus has higher education in particular become a total antithesis of what we long imagined it should be, with student minds expanded by their exposure to a wide spectrum of ideas, best enabling them to develop their own. Instead of that we get an intellectually impoverished landscape of enforced received “wisdom,” not to be questioned.

Of course those “cancelled” are harmed too. People have lost jobs. But at the end of the day it’s not really a case of speech being stopped. If you want to say something, there are plenty of opportunities to say it. Like my blog; I’ve encountered “shaming and shunning” but it hasn’t stopped me saying what I please. So, again, Lexington’s point: the real problem is not lack of speech but lack of listening; it’s people closing themselves off from divergent voices; making them intellectually impoverished. And thereby impoverishing our whole culture of ideas.

The latest kerfuffle is the idiotic Youtube rant by “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams saying Black people are a hate group whom whites should shun. Equally idiotic is Elon Musk’s agreeing with Adams and defending him on free speech grounds.* Again, “free speech” is not the issue here. Nobody denies Adams’s right to say stupid stuff. Criticizing him is also freedom of speech. And Adams has no right to say stupid stuff with no consequences. No right to have his cartoons continue being bought by newspapers who find them, as well as him, hateful.

There’s now a case before the Supreme Court challenging the legal structures that exempt platforms like Facebook and Twitter from liability for stuff third parties post on them, and also allow them to quash content they deem unacceptable. Without these protections, it was felt, such platforms could not function at all. Now nixing those rules could blow up the internet as we know it, as a venue for public debate.

Also under legal challenge here is the use of algorithms** to display and push content, like Facebook’s mis-named “News Feed.” Barring platforms from thusly prioritizing some content over others could destroy internet search — with googling, rather than presenting the most relevant hits first, showing a mishmash of mostly useless garbage.

These are complex issues and it doesn’t appear that the Supreme Court’s judges are tech-savvy or have a good handle on them. Let’s hope they don’t try to “fix” the internet, with all the unintended consequences that could entail.

* Musk is responsible for some terrific achievements, with Tesla and SpaceX. How can it be that he’s such a jackass?

** BTW, my favorite band is Al Gore and the Algorhythms.