Watch the January 6 meetings live

June 13, 2022 • 11:19 am

I forgot that the January 6 hearings, Day 2, began this morning, but they’ll continue. The PBS live feed is below.

And it’s getting hot. Here’s a summary of what happened so far today from the New York Times. I’m afraid that if I start watching, I won’t stop!

Former President Donald J. Trump’s campaign chairman told the special House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol that he told his boss on election night in 2020 that he had no basis for declaring victory, but Mr. Trump insisted on doing so anyway.

Mr. Trump “thought I was wrong. He told me so,” Bill Stepien testified, according to a videotaped interview the panel played on Monday at the second in a series of public hearings this month to lay out its evidence.

The testimony came near the start of a session in which the committee planned to describe the origin and spread of Mr. Trump’s election lies, including the former president’s refusal to listen to advisers who told him that he had lost and that there was no evidence of widespread irregularities that could change the outcome. Later, the panel planned to show the chaos those falsehoods caused throughout several states, ultimately resulting in the riot.

“This morning, we will tell the story of how Donald Trump lost the election, and knew he lost the election, and as a result of his loss, decided to wage an attack on our democracy,” Representative Bennie G. Thompson, Democratic of Mississippi and the chairman of the committee, said as he opened the hearing.

Among the panel’s initial revelations Monday were:

  • Mr. Trump’s campaign advisers, his attorney general and other top officials told him repeatedly that his claims of a stolen election and widespread voting fraud were wrong, but the president insisted on pressing ahead with them.

Feel free to discuss what’s going on as it comes down.

The January 6 assault on the Capitol

June 11, 2022 • 10:15 am

Here is the 10-minute video that, I believe, was shown the other day at the Congressional hearings on the January 6 Capitol invasion. It’s an excellent piece of filmmaking, juxtaposing the violence at the building with Donald Trump’s infuriating words.  And, to me, at least, it conveys a sense of how violent the invasion was, and how crazed the invaders were.  “Lock ’em up” was my response to a lot of the video, and, indeed, many will be.

I believe one reader the other day took me to task for saying that this was an “insurrection.” Well, it looks, sounds, and smells like an insurrection to me.

As a supplement, here’s a 40-minute video, produced by the New York Times, on the events of that day. The YouTube description is below:

The Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was perhaps the most widely documented act of political violence in history. The New York Times obtained, analyzed and mapped out thousands of cellphone videos, police bodycam recordings and internal police audio to provide the most complete picture to date of what happened — and why. Our Oscar-shortlisted documentary “Day of Rage” charts in chilling detail how the peaceful transition of power was disrupted by rioters who stormed a seemingly impenetrable seat of government.

It’s more thorough but not as powerful as the shorter video above.

The Substack writing of Heather Cox Richardson

June 6, 2022 • 10:15 am

Reader Steve sent me a link to a Heather Cox Richardson post along with a comment:

You may know that Heather Cox Richardson is the top Substacker in terms of number of subscribers and amount of earnings. I think her opening paragraphs here are the perfect summary of how the USA got to this point in its history.

If a future historian writes about this time, like Gibbons did about the Roman Empire, he or she could use the Reagan presidency as the start of the decline and fall of the USA.

In fact, I hadn’t heard of Heather Cox Richardson (mea culpa), but found out that she is a Professor of History at Boston College, author of six books on history and politics, and is indeed the most widely read author on Substack. Below is the piece I was directed to, which you can read by clicking on it (but subscribe if you read regularly):

I’ll let you read the first three paragraphs for yourself; they recount how Reaganism led to the concentration of wealth among Americans, and, even though Democrats kept getting elected, Republicans started to delegitimize elections, culiminating in the January 6 insurrection. Perhaps she’s right about Reagan, but perhaps she’s not.

I was more interested in this, though:

Today, Maggie Haberman reported in the New York Times that on January 5, Marc Short, then–vice president Mike Pence’s chief of staff, told Pence’s lead Secret Service agent that Trump was about to turn against Pence publicly and that the vice president could be in danger. Clearly, members of the administration anticipated violence on January 6 and, astonishingly, expected it because of the actions of the U.S. president.

Click to read the NYT story. It’s worrisome, but I don’t see any serious evidence that Pence was ever in physical danger—at least from Trump. As hotheaded as Trump is, I can’t believe he’d think he’d survive in politics after masterminding an attack on his own Vice President:

Back to Richardson’s piece, though. It’s about economics, about which I know little and am not inspired to learn more. It’s also a news summary and I don’t see a lot of original thought. But remember, this is the first piece I’ve ever read by her, so the rest may be better. As for this one, I wasn’t inspired by snippets like this:

On Tuesday, Biden published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal touting his economic successes and explaining how he plans to transition from the red hot economy of the past year to stable, steady growth. He promised to work with anyone “willing to have an open and honest discussion that delivers real solutions for the American people.”

Will any Republicans take him up on it? Something else Biden wrote makes me doubt it: “I ran for president because I was tired of the so-called trickle-down economy. We now have a chance to build on a historic recovery with an economy that works for working families.”

Or this, which I already knew because a. it’s three days old (the column is June 3), and because it was reported in all the major media.  Likewise with her last paragraph:

And on Wednesday, as the horrific murders of schoolchildren and teachers in Uvalde, Texas, have been followed by several more mass killings, Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson claimed that Democratic efforts to promote gun safety are not about public health. Instead, he said, Democrats want to disarm the people because they’re afraid of a popular uprising against them because “they know they rule illegitimately.”

Well, yes, I’d heard that, too. In truth, this piece looks more like a news summary than a thoughtful analysis of the news. I read another of her columns, which was more of the same, but with perhaps a bit more analysis.  Still, I read Substack alongside the regular media (which also has op-eds) to garner long-form analysis and original thought, and I haven’t seen a lot of it in the three pieces I read. Still, perhaps people want a thoughtful yet short-form summary of the important news, which might explain Richardson’s popularity.  One of her advantages, too, is that she can explain current events in light of history, as she did in a third column. Still, I find other Substackers more intellectually challenging.

To each their own.

New Zealand P.M. Jacinda Ardern speaks at Harvard

May 28, 2022 • 12:30 pm

Here’s New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Adern speaking at this year’s Harvard commencement, and don’t really know what to make of her talk. It clearly shows her rhetorical abilities and humor: she’s a remarkably unpretentious person for a politician, and very likable. And her government, and New Zealand in general, have done many good things. She runs a country I love. But that country, and Ardern herself, is succumbing to wokeness. It gives me a lot of cognitive dissonance.

To me her message seems a bit confusing, if not distressing, and I can’t help but be a bit petulant about some of her statements.

She begins with what is the New Zealand equivalent of a “land acknowledgment”, speaking in Māori, a language that nobody in the audience understands. Well, so be it.  What bothers me more is that her message in English is explicitly against tribalism, and yet her very government is fostering tribalism, at least in terms of science.  By that I mean that that government is trying to maintain two forms of science as coequal: modern science and the form of indigenous “ways of knowing”, Mātauranga Māori (MM). They aren’t coequal and shouldn’t be taught as such in the classroom, which is what the Ardern government is trying to do. Further, they are trying to put criticism of MM as off limits, so that indigenous science, unlike “real” science, becomes insulated from criticism. And we all know (e.g. Lysenko) what happens when politics renders criticism of science out of bounds.

It’s through that lens that I view Ardern’s talk, which overall isn’t bad. But she notes that the foundations of a strong democracy include “trust in institutions, experts, and government,” which can be “built up over decades but torn down in mere years”. In fact, her government is fostering distrust in “experts” when they’re modern scientists, and are tearing down the foundations of science that, in New Zealand, are already eroding compared to similar countries.  When she remarks that a blind faith in democracy “ ignores what happens when, regardless of how long your democracy has been tried and tested, facts are turned into fiction and fiction turned into fact,” I think of how MM, a lot of which is fictional, is being turned into fact in the classroom, while modern science is largely dismissed as “colonialist.”

Finally, I also find it a bit ironic when she claims “that a strong democracy relies on debate and dialogue, and even the oldest regimes can seek to control these forums, and the youngest can seek to liberate them,” when her regime is in fact stifling any dialogue about science. It’s nearly impossible to get anything critical of “indigenous ways of knowing” published in New Zealand, and if you do, you might get fired. Believe me, I have the emails to prove it: messages from timorous Kiwis afraid to speak up. On some issues, “debate and dialogue” is impossible. Remember the debate between MM and science promised us by Auckland University vice Chancellor Dawn Dishwater. It hasn’t happened, and I doubt it will.

The last and longest bit of her talk is, curiously, on social media. Here’s her words as transcribed by the Harvard Crimson:

Ardern laid part of the blame for misinformation on social media platforms, the companies that run them, and the algorithms that create internet echo chambers.

“I’m not here to argue that social media is good, nor bad,” she said. “It’s a tool. And as with anything, it’s the rules of the game and the way we engage with it that matter. That means recognizing the role they play in constantly curating and shaping the online environments that we’re in — that algorithmic processes make choices and decisions for us, what we see and where we are directed, and that at best this means user experience is personalized and at worst it means it can be radicalized.”

Ardern noted the 2019 murder of 51 people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The shootings were livestreamed on social media. Investigators found that the killer had been radicalized online.

“The time has come for social media companies and other online providers to recognize their power and to act on it,” said Ardern, whose government passed restrictions on semiautomatic firearms and high-capacity magazines after the killings. [Those laws, by the way, were great.] Ardern pointed out that individuals also bear responsibility. How we use technology is an individual decision, she said, as is how we interact with those with whom we disagree.

To me this is the usual cry against “hate speech”; and “hate speech” in her country is construed far more widely than just anti-Islamic sentiments on social media. It’s the same kind of “hate speech” that led to complaints against those asserting that MM was equivalent to modern science, and against those who argue that morbid obesity is unhealthy. When she says, “I’m not here to argue that social media is good, nor bad,” I think she’s being disingenuous, playing to both sides. What she’s really saying is that social media is bad if it adheres to the kind of speech permitted by America’s First Amendment. She is calling for some unspecified brand of social-media censorship. Private companies have the right to censor, of course, but my own view is that they shouldn’t unless the censorship involves speech not defended by the First Amendment (calls for immediate, predictable, and incipient violence, etc.)

Perhaps I’m being too hard on Ardern. I was and remain a big fan, but I think the creeping wokeness of the woman, and the fear of many Kiwis to speak out, may eventually be her undoing.  Well, listen for yourself.

To Hell in a handbasket

May 23, 2022 • 11:15 am

Reader Steve sent me a link to the article below by Jeff Maurer, taken from his Substack site I Might Be Wrong (great title). Click on the link to read; it’s free but if you read regularly, please subscribe:

Maurer starts by reproducing the cartoon below that was tweeted by Elon Musk. This is the way many us older Leftists feel, bit Maurer sees it as too simplistic, especially in how it fails to represent historical divisions within the Right.

Then Maurer reproduces his own takes on where he’s been positioned, but winds up with this latest one:

The point is that he still sees a few smart conservatives (though Maurer sees himself as a liberal), but also finds a passel of zombies on the Left and Right. I just want to reproduce the take he gives about the Right and (mostly) about the Left:

The Right:

I consider the Republican Party to be totally incapable of solving problems. I think they’ve become that way because conservative media has distorted their worldview so badly that they’ve lost the ability to even recognize problems. This bothers me; I’ve never identified as a conservative, but I see the value of the conservative philosophy. There should be someone in society who defends what’s already working and doesn’t fall for every half-baked idea produced by pot-fueled rap sessions in freshman dorms. The world needs a discerning and principled counterbalance to the occasionally-very-stupid ideas of the left. The fact that the GOP can no longer perform that function worries me a lot.

I agree with him here, but he neglects the fact that there are some smart conservatives. It’s just that they have no power to move the party. People like Andrew Sullivan, for instance, are quite good for us Democrats, as they give us whetstones on which to hone our ideas. Sometimes they can even change our ideas. But how many people are there like Sullivan? If there are many, I haven’t been reading them. I used to read George Will, but haven’t for years.

The Left (a long quote). This is harsh, but I agree with a lot of it and want to put it out there for the readers. Do I need to reiterate that I remain in my own view a person on the Left and that I can’t conceive of voting for a Republican for dogcatcher?

The main thing I want to communicate with this panel [above] — the things I’ve been feeling most strongly recently — is that this ideology is NOT LIBERAL. Nor is it “progressive” or “left”, according to most definitions. I think that a closer look at this way of thinking reveals it to be completely antithetical to the American liberal/left tradition.

As many people have pointed out: This trend is clearly not liberal. Liberalism values things like free speech, individual rights, and due process. This new movement sees free speech as a fig leaf for white supremacy, focuses on group outcomes at the expense of individual rights, and replaces due process with Twitter Justice, the only form of justice that makes trial by monkey seem rational and fair. This movement is liberal the way that Blue Velvet is a kid’s movie.

But I would go even further: I often feel that this movement isn’t strictly “progressive” or “on the left” in any substantive way. We use labels — I use labels — like “progressive” and “left” because this is a new-ish phenomenon and we’re struggling to find language that works. But I often think that those words don’t fit. After all: If progressivism has a defining trait, then it must be distributing resources towards the disadvantaged. So why are so-called “progressives” calling for extremely regressive universal student loan forgiveness? Why did they advocate for school closures that were devastating to poor kids well past the point of necessity? Why are they altering the college admissions process in ways that benefit the wealthy and well-connected? Why are they undercutting real wages by pushing ineffective solutions to inflation? Why are they often the tip of the spear in the fight against lower housing costs? This is progressive? The fuck it is — this is idiocy.

I think the bottom line is that this movement is not defined by finding solutions to problems; it’s defined by performative flailing against perceived enemies. Every issue I listed above is a crusade against someone or something on the lefty enemies list, be it greedy developers, evil corporations, or the omnipresent “white supremacy”. The fact that the impacts of this movement’s actions would often hurt the disadvantaged doesn’t seem to phase its believers. And I think that’s telling: They don’t look beyond the glorious fight against their evil enemies, because the glorious fight is the end goal.

Ultimately, this viewpoint bears some similarity to the movement that destroyed the GOP’s ability to solve problems. Any consideration beyond the Manichean struggle against The Evil Ones has been jettisoned; this is the primitive mind reveling in its element like a pig in a pile of shit. There is no quest for a more perfect nation, only the battle between the righteous and the wicked. This movement is trying to gain influence, and they’ve scored a few victories. If they capture the Democratic Party the way that brain-dead pugilists captured the GOP, then I think we’re in big trouble.

Now I think Maurer goes too far in his accusations against the Left. After all, who can deny that Joe Biden really is trying to “find solutions to problems,” problems that include the war in Ukraine, covid, the new baby-formula crisis, and our crumbling infrastructure? It’s just that not much of this seems to be happening. And there are still plenty of lefties in favor of free speech, against the changes in college admissions, and wary of student-loan forgiveness. But those are the Silent Left. The move by the Left against freedom of speech has especially galled me.

At any rate, as time goes on Musk (at least from his cartoon), Maurer, and I all feel like our values haven’t changed much—in fact, my free-speech advocacy has hardened—but the extreme wing of the Left has shifted us more towards the center of the spectrum. The energy of the Left seems more and more absorbed by performative and ineffectual acts, and if we lose the Congress come November, well, it’s all over. I’m going to get ill if I see one more article suggesting that people like Darwin and Ed Wilson are racists? What on earth does this accomplish save burnish the virtue of the writer?

That’s all I want to say—the stuff in Maurer’s second quote above.

The Nation calls for a reformation of the New York Times

May 15, 2022 • 11:45 am

When reader Linda sent me this link from the respected magazine The Nation (free read; click on screenshot below), I was delighted, thinking that writer Dan Froomkin was going to call out the NYT for its one-sided ultraprogressive Leftism that has begun seeping into its news coverage as well as having led to the newsroom’s dominance by social-media loudmouths.

I was out of luck. If anything, Froomkin is chastising the magazine and its previous editor, Dean Baquet, for being too easy on the Right! Click screenshot to read:

Froomkin thinks that the papers’ “both-side-ism” and its failure to call out Republican lies as the lies they are is going to hurt the Democrats during the midterm. His summary:

Under Baquet, the Times has treated the upcoming midterms like any other. Reporters have glibly asserted that Republicans are in great shape to sweep, and win back a majority in one or both houses of Congress. They have unquestioningly adopted the conventional political wisdom that midterms are a referendum on the president, and since Biden is underwater, it doesn’t matter what the Republicans stand for.

But that’s not what these midterms will actually be about. They won’t be about Joe Biden, or putting a “check” on his agenda. They won’t be a “protest vote”.

It’s not just that the GOP has become an insurrectionist party that traffics in hate-filled conspiracy theories and lies. Now the Supreme Court has evidently decided to repeal Roe v. Wade, and Republicans are planning to force pregnant women to term against their will.

For decades, the history of America has been of expanding human and constitutional rights. At this moment, however, we appear to be headed the other way—unless a supermajority says no at the ballot box. Starting in November.

That’s the real story of the midterms.

The goal of a responsible news organization is not to get people to vote a specific way. But it is to make sure that everyone understands what’s at stake.

[JAC: what Froomkin means is “that everyone agrees with me’]

This potential tipping point is what New York Times journalists should be reporting the hell out of. Even more importantly, they need to be putting every daily political story squarely in that context.

Maybe I’ve missed something, but it seems to me that the NYT journalists have been doing that. They would regularly enumerate and point out Trump’s lies, and except for their few token conservative columnists, most oop-eds were precisely about the dangers of the Republican Party and platform.

Apparently not. Froomkin wants every political story to be slanted towards the perfidy of the Right. But is that objective journalism?  Here’s a list of how Froomkin says the Times has failed in its reporting (his quotes) and what the new editor, Joe Kahn, must fix lest our Republic dissolve in acrimony:

  • False equivalence or both-sidesing (“lawmakers from the two parties could not even agree on a basic set of facts”)
  • Focusing on what works instead of whether it’s true or false (“Republicans are using fears of critical race theory to drive school board recalls and energize conservatives”)
  • Attributing the most obviously true characterizations to “critics” or Democrats (“Rufo…has become, to some on the left, an agitator of intolerance”)
  • Spectacular understatement (“in a move that has raised eyebrows among diplomats, investors and ethics watchdogs, Mr. Kushner is trying to raise money from the Persian Gulf states”)
  • Pox on both your houses (“Democrats, without much to brag about, accuse Republicans of being afraid of competitive elections”)
  • Giving both parties credit for solving problems entirely created by Republicans (“Senate Democrats and Republicans neared agreement…to temporarily pull the nation from the brink of a debt default”)
  • Denial and gaslighting (Republicans “have been intent on rehabilitating themselves in the eyes of voters after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol last year”)

And more of his solution:

It doesn’t mean more “fact-checks” (which are insufficient, euphemistic, and skewed). It means rigorous lie-outing in the main news stories, and more stories about the motives behind the lies.

. . . The Times also needs to report aggressively and plainly on the racism, misogyny, and Christian nationalism that fuels the right, rather than covering it up with euphemisms.

Real independence manifests itself in exposing racial injustice and the civilian toll of US air strikes. It manifests itself in holding accountable institutions like the Supreme Court, the Department of Homeland Security, the Centers of Disease Control, major corporations, and, yes, both political parties—without fear or favor.

What he means by “both political parties” is apparently “one political party”—Republicans. God knows they ar the major danger to our democracy, but the solution to a Democratic victory cannot lie in slanting a paper whose news reporting is biased to the progressive Left towards the even farther left. Or in calling those who vote for Republicns racists, misogynists, or Christian nationalists. For THAT is disinformation!

For one thing, most Americans who vote for Republicans don’t read the New York Times. It would seem a far better for the Democrats to beef up their message to the people on immigration, the economy, and other issues that people care about than for one guy to hector the new editor of the NYT. Face it—we’re near the usual midterm downswing anyway, and it doesn’t help that the Democrats are fractured and Biden often appears senescent, with an all-time low approval rating.

But Froomkin’s solution to the wokeness of the New York Times appears to be for it to become more woke.

Fareed Zakaria: why is the American public so divided?

May 9, 2022 • 12:30 pm

Reader Paul sent me a link a this remarkably clear and short (5½-minute) video showing Fareed Zakaria’s rational analysis of American secularism and political/religious division in the U.S. He begins with a surprising and distressing summary of the gap between the beliefs of Rightists and Leftists on questions such as the importance of being a Christian and the role of religion as essential in society. The gap between Left and Right in America is far higher than that of other European countries. We are a deeply polarized people.

But why? It’s not because we’re less globalized or have more immigration than other countries. Instead, Zakaria draws on the work of Ronald Inglehart, whose work on secularism has often been discussed in these pages. In fact, the U.S., once the most religious of First World countries, has in the last 13 years become markedly more secular—another trend I’ve documented.  Here’s a screenshot showing the change:

That’s good news! Inglehart notes the change to several factors, including the decline of group norms and group mechanisms of control, aas well as the “rise of individualism.” However, this secularization has been accompanied by increased polarization on political issues. (Note that this is a correlation that Zakaria assumes reflects a causation: “big changes are leading to big reactions.” I think he’s right in the main, but he should have issued a brief caveat.)

As Zakaria notes:

“All of this highlights a new reality: you cannot really understand America any more by looking at averages. It has become two countries. One is urban, more educated, multiracial, secular, and largely left of center; the other rural, less educated, religious, white, and largely right of center.”

He then calls attention to the well known “Inglehart-Welzel” cultural map that plots countries’ locations on a two-dimensional map of values (religious/secular on one axis/ survival/self-expression values on the other. Wikipedia shows it and says this:

The Inglehart–Welzel cultural map of the world is a scatter plot created by political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel based on the World Values Survey and European Values Survey. It depicts closely linked cultural values that vary between societies in two predominant dimensions: traditional versus secular-rational values on the vertical y-axis and survival versus self-expression values on the horizontal x-axis. Moving upward on this map reflects the shift from traditional values to secular-rational ones and moving rightward reflects the shift from survival values to self-expression values.

According to the authors: “These two dimensions explain more than 70 percent of the cross-national variance in a factor analysis of ten indicators—and each of these dimensions is strongly correlated with scores of other important orientations.”

Here’s that map from 2020 (click to enlarge), showing that the U.S.(I’ve added an arrow) is in the middle on religious values, but high in “self expression”. If it were less religious, it would move up to join the countries of “Protestant Europe”: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and the Netherlands.

Zakaria posits that if you divided America into two countries, one red and one blue, the blue part would probably move into the “Protestant Europe” group, while the red one would move closer to those of Nigeria and Saudia Arabia (in the grayishy “African-Islamic” set of values.  His question: “Can these two Americas find a way to work together and cooperate?” (I say “hell, no”.)  And that means, and here Zakaria has it right, a failure to cooperate means that the abortion battle “may be the precursor to even larger struggles.” My guess: yes it will. We’re in trouble. You can argue whether secularization is the ultimate cause (if so, it means that religion has been even more toxic than we think), but you can’t argue about the polarization.

 

Here’s the video of Zakaria’s take; he’s a remarkably smart cookie for a newsperson. Who else would know all this survey data and put it together into a provocative and coherent thesis?

Fairness as justice: income inequality versus income unfairness, and what Democrats need to do about the distinction

April 21, 2022 • 10:15 am

Eric Protzer and Paul Summerville are coauthors of a recent book, Reclaiming Populism: How Economic Fairness Can Win Back Disenchanted Voters, and the Persuasion site we’re discussing today gives these IDs:

Eric Protzer is a Research Fellow at Harvard’s Growth Lab. Paul Summerville is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Victoria’s Gustavson School of Business.

The article below is clearly a summary of part of their book, and makes the point that it’s not income inequality that makes people so disaffected as much as “economic unfairness”: the sense that the deck isn’t stacked against you and that you, too, could have a shot at becoming a billionaire. Protzer and Summerville contend that if the Left is going to start winning elections, they have to enact policies that people see as fair.  One of these is decent healthcare initiatives, another is ceasing the campaign to cancel all student loan debt. In the former case there’s a sense of fairness of everyone being able to get decent healthcare (even if the rich can get super-expensive health care); in the latter people grouse that others shouldn’t get their loans canceled if they themselves had to pay off.

This does seem to have some truth in it. Do Americans really want equal incomes or drastic income distribution, or do they just want to know that they can work hard and be able to live decently? I for one don’t find that the “eat the rich” rhetoric resonates, as the billionaires that people despise generally made their dosh by providing a good or service that people want. (Yes, I think there should be a graduated income tax, but not the kind of equity that “progressive” seem to call for. At any rate, I’m neither a political nor financial pundit, so read and decide for yourself (click screenshot below):

The distinction between economic unfairness and economic inequality:

The fundamental problem with the left’s political program, currently centered around identity-based social justice and economic redistribution, is that it misunderstands the causes of this populist frustration. As our new book demonstrates, the left would do well to reorient itself around the true wellspring of populist anger: a scarcely-understood phenomenon called economic unfairness.

Economic unfairness is distinct from what we typically think of as economic inequality. It is characterized by low social mobility rather than inequalities of income or wealth. It’s not that the rich have too much, it’s that success depends on family wealth and status, when it should depend on good ideas, effort, and merit. It’s anger at this rigged system, rather than anger at inequality, that drives contemporary populist movements.

Why it hurts Democrats to confuse these concepts:

Unfortunately, the global left remains deeply confused about the distinction between economic fairness and equality. Consider, for example, how Democrats have often found that healthcare reform is an enormously popular issue with swing voters. This in fact makes a lot of sense: medical debt is the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S., and can unfairly shut down a person’s life chances regardless of how hard they’ve worked. Better, more affordable healthcare is a key missing input to equal opportunity in America. But the left flank tends to misinterpret this trend as a blanket indicator that “progressive policies do not hurt candidates,” including far more questionable measures to equalize outcomes.

Figures like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have vocally excoriated income and wealth inequality and promoted policies, such as a universal job guarantee and eliminating all student debt, that expressly aim to equalize outcomes instead. Republicans eagerly frame the entire Democratic message in this way, and even specifically referred to these politicians in advertisements during the 2020 Presidential Election. The electoral consequences have been devastating. Latino voters swung heavily toward Trump in 2020 on the fear that the Democratic equalization policies were “socialist,” and polling indicates a top concern among this segment of the electorate was that people would ultimately become “lazy and dependent on government.”

What’s more, Democrats have further alienated potentially-populist voters by embracing an identity-based approach to social justice that frequently dismisses the problem of economic unfairness. Too often, the social justice movement assumes that anyone who might consider voting for a right-wing populist must be motivated by spurious and malignant cultural concerns. It labels populist voters as racist and stupid, hoping that with enough condemnation or a resultant change in the political scene their views will somehow evaporate. This framing fails to acknowledge that when populist voters complain about a rigged system, they could actually have a point.

What we can do about this? (By “we”, I mean liberals):

The left needs to decisively pivot away from its current political dead-end, and toward the real predictor of populist disruption: economic fairness. Rather than focusing on cutting down the successful, the left should ask how it can give more citizens a fair chance to get ahead. Instead of enlarging government in every possible respect, it should ask where the state can intervene to expand opportunity and where it must avoid meddling. How, then, can it realize this vision?

A handful of countries stand out as role models, with the highest rates of social mobility in the world—like Canada, Australia, and the Nordics. These countries pair strong state support for equal opportunity through public goods like education and healthcare with competitive private markets. These factors combine to create an economy where many people can get ahead in life with talent and hard work, regardless of family origins. In turn, this creates best-in-class social mobility, the perception of a meritocratic system, and high levels of trust. Thus when populists run for office, their claims that the system is rigged do not resonate with most voters.

If the left cannot reconfigure itself toward economic fairness it has no hope of winning back disenchanted populist voters. Social justice platforms of defunding the police, open borders, and enforced anti-racism indoctrination communicate condescension and dismissal to the very citizens who already feel unfairly treated. Proposals to unfairly equalize outcomes, so that people largely get the same reward regardless of how hard they work, are not just irrelevant but actually antithetical to what these voters want.

This is why the notion of “equity” bothers so many of us. It conveys the message that there must be equal outcomes—outcomes proportional to the distribution of groups in a population—rather than equal opportunities. Inequities need not reflect “structural bigotry” in the present.

Now I’ve discussed this at length, for some inequities do reflect historical lack of opportunity: racism against African-Americans is a lingering reason why they’re not represented in higher proportions in measures of “success”. (This is one reason I favor some affirmative action, as a form of present reparations.) But everyone knows that the ultimate solution is indeed equal opportunity beginning at birth. It’s just that that permanent solutions are lot harder than striving to achieve equity by dismantling traditional standards of merit or representation. It would take tremendous societal will and resources to eliminate inequality. A good society—a just society—would make those changes, as the societies listed above have tried (as well as Scandinavia).

But harping endlessly on “equity” also creates a sense of unfairness among voters: Asians who feel they’re discriminated against in college admissions and so on, and a disenchanted voter will vote for Republicans.  To me, the solution is not to eliminate affirmative action (at least for a while), but to raise the bar to achieving so that at least people feel that it’s high enough to be fair (i.e., those who achieve are “qualified”), but still allows more equity than we have now. And that must be coupled with de-racializing rhetoric, realizing that it’s not just race that holds people back, and that we have to deal with issues like poverty and class. The desire for equity right now is intimately coupled with the dissolution of the meritocracy, as instantiated in getting rid of standardized tests and grades. But the meritocracy—the sense that if you have the right stuff and work hard, you can achieve—is intimately coupled with “the American dream.”

But I’ve said enough. The article speaks better than I on this topic, so do read it. It’s not very long. As you see, I’m concerned with things Democrats can do that are both acceptable and will help us in this fall’s election.

Paging James Carville! Here he talks about focusing on Dems’ economic accomplishments in fixing society—showing fairness towards “the little guy.”

Haidt on the seemingly irreparable brokenness of American life

April 18, 2022 • 9:20 am

One of the engineers at Twitter who had worked on the “Retweet” button later revealed that he regretted his contribution because it had made Twitter a nastier place. As he watched Twitter mobs forming through the use of the new tool, he thought to himself, “We might have just handed a 4-year-old a loaded weapon.” (From the article discussed below).

If you want a nice enlightening yet depressing read for this rainy day (at least it’s rainy in Chicago), here’s an Atlantic piece by the ever-thoughtful and eloquent Jonathan Haidt about how America “got broken”.  By that he refers to the seemingly irreparable divisions among us—not just Right versus Left, but also schisms within segments of the political spectrum—that are making life more and more difficult in America.

In the end, Haidt attributes this to the culture created by electronic social media (i.e., the Internet), which has exacerbated tribalism in many ways.  Although he offers solutions to the problem, since the Internet is here to stay, he actually sees things getting worse, not better, for his solutions aren’t likely to be adopted (or, if they are, are still overwhelmed by the hegemony of the Internet). Neverthless, he’s persisting.

Click below to read. Given that the piece is 15 pages long when printed out in 10-point type, I’m not going to even try to summarize his many points. I’ll just outline the main thrust of his argument. But I emphasize that this is a very good piece and well worth your time. Haidt’s quotes are indented:

The problem:

It’s been clear for quite a while now that red America and blue America are becoming like two different countries claiming the same territory, with two different versions of the Constitution, economics, and American history. But Babel is not a story about tribalism; it’s a story about the fragmentation of everything. It’s about the shattering of all that had seemed solid, the scattering of people who had been a community. It’s a metaphor for what is happening not only between red and blue, but within the left and within the right, as well as within universities, companies, professional associations, museums, and even families.

Haidt dates the real increase in tribalism to between 2011 and 2015, when social media really began taking off and incorporating some features, like the “retweet” or “like” button, that exacerbated tribalism. And the most inimical result of this was a loss of trust:

Recent academic studies suggest that social media is indeed corrosive to trust in governments, news media, and people and institutions in general. A working paper that offers the most comprehensive review of the research, led by the social scientists Philipp Lorenz-Spreen and Lisa Oswald, concludes that “the large majority of reported associations between digital media use and trust appear to be detrimental for democracy.” The literature is complex—some studies show benefits, particularly in less developed democracies—but the review found that, on balance, social media amplifies political polarization; foments populism, especially right-wing populism; and is associated with the spread of misinformation.

When people lose trust in institutions, they lose trust in the stories told by those institutions. That’s particularly true of the institutions entrusted with the education of children. . .

The reasons: Haidt avers that “the warped ‘accountability’ of social media has also brought injustice—and political dysfunction in three ways.” I’ll give quotes:

1.) First, the dart guns of social media give more power to trolls and provocateurs while silencing good citizens. Research by the political scientists Alexander Bor and Michael Bang Petersen found that a small subset of people on social-media platforms are highly concerned with gaining status and are willing to use aggression to do so. . .

2.) Second, the dart guns of social media give more power and voice to the political extremes while reducing the power and voice of the moderate majority.

3.) Finally, by giving everyone a dart gun, social media deputizes everyone to administer justice with no due process. Platforms like Twitter devolve into the Wild West, with no accountability for vigilantes. A successful attack attracts a barrage of likes and follow-on strikes. Enhanced-virality platforms thereby facilitate massive collective punishment for small or imagined offenses, with real-world consequences, including innocent people losing their jobs and being shamed into suicide. When our public square is governed by mob dynamics unrestrained by due process, we don’t get justice and inclusion; we get a society that ignores context, proportionality, mercy, and truth.

All of this rings true, of course, but Haidt also cites a number of studies supporting his arguments. He sees “stupidity” on both the Right and Left that has been promoted by social media:

Stupidity On the Right: 

The traditional punishment for treason is death, hence the battle cry on January 6: “Hang Mike Pence.” Right-wing death threats, many delivered by anonymous accounts, are proving effective in cowing traditional conservatives, for example in driving out local election officials who failed to “stop the steal.” The wave of threats delivered to dissenting Republican members of Congress has similarly pushed many of the remaining moderates to quit or go silent, giving us a party ever more divorced from the conservative tradition, constitutional responsibility, and reality. We now have a Republican Party that describes a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol as “legitimate political discourse,” supported—or at least not contradicted—by an array of right-wing think tanks and media organizations.

The stupidity on the right is most visible in the many conspiracy theories spreading across right-wing media and now into Congress. “Pizzagate,” QAnon, the belief that vaccines contain microchips, the conviction that Donald Trump won reelection—it’s hard to imagine any of these ideas or belief systems reaching the levels that they have without Facebook and Twitter.

Stupidity On the Left:

The Democrats have also been hit hard by structural stupidity, though in a different way. In the Democratic Party, the struggle between the progressive wing and the more moderate factions is open and ongoing, and often the moderates win. The problem is that the left controls the commanding heights of the culture: universities, news organizations, Hollywood, art museums, advertising, much of Silicon Valley, and the teachers’ unions and teaching colleges that shape K–12 education. And in many of those institutions, dissent has been stifled: When everyone was issued a dart gun in the early 2010s, many left-leaning institutions began shooting themselves in the brain. And unfortunately, those were the brains that inform, instruct, and entertain most of the country.

Liberals in the late 20th century shared a belief that the sociologist Christian Smith called the “liberal progress” narrative, in which America used to be horrifically unjust and repressive, but, thanks to the struggles of activists and heroes, has made (and continues to make) progress. . .

But when the newly viralized social-media platforms gave everyone a dart gun, it was younger progressive activists who did the most shooting, and they aimed a disproportionate number of their darts at these older liberal leaders. Confused and fearful, the leaders rarely challenged the activists or their nonliberal narrative in which life at every institution is an eternal battle among identity groups over a zero-sum pie, and the people on top got there by oppressing the people on the bottom. This new narrative is rigidly egalitarian––focused on equality of outcomes, not of rights or opportunities. It is unconcerned with individual rights.

The universal charge against people who disagree with this narrative is not “traitor”; it is “racist,” “transphobe,” “Karen,” or some related scarlet letter marking the perpetrator as one who hates or harms a marginalized group. The punishment that feels right for such crimes is not execution; it is public shaming and social death.

There’s a section of Haidt’s piece called “It’s going to get much worse”, in which he argues that if we don’t counteract these changes (and of course digital media is here to stay), then “our institutions, our political system, and our society may collapse during the next major war, pandemic, financial meltdown, or constitutional crisis.” Several readers have been saying things like this before, but they usually impute the future downfall entirely to the Right. Haidt thinks that everyone, Right or Left, can promote this collapse.

So what is his solution? Again, it’s threefold, and again I quote:

1.) “Harden democratic institutions so that they can withstand chronic anger and mistrust.”

. . . we must reform key institutions so that they can continue to function even if levels of anger, misinformation, and violence increase far above those we have today.

For instance, the legislative branch was designed to require compromise, yet Congress, social media, and partisan cable news channels have co-evolved such that any legislator who reaches across the aisle may face outrage within hours from the extreme wing of her party, damaging her fundraising prospects and raising her risk of being primaried in the next election cycle.

Reforms should reduce the outsize influence of angry extremists and make legislators more responsive to the average voter in their district.

2.) “Reform social media so that it becomes less socially corrosive.”

But it is within our power to reduce social media’s ability to dissolve trust and foment structural stupidity. Reforms should limit the platforms’ amplification of the aggressive fringes while giving more voice to what More in Common calls “the exhausted majority.”

. . . the main problem with social media is not that some people post fake or toxic stuff; it’s that fake and outrage-inducing content can now attain a level of reach and influence that was not possible before 2009. The Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen advocates for simple changes to the architecture of the platforms, rather than for massive and ultimately futile efforts to police all content. For example, she has suggested modifying the “Share” function on Facebook so that after any content has been shared twice, the third person in the chain must take the time to copy and paste the content into a new post. Reforms like this are not censorship; they are viewpoint-neutral and content-neutral, and they work equally well in all languages. They don’t stop anyone from saying anything; they just slow the spread of content that is, on average, less likely to be true.

Perhaps the biggest single change that would reduce the toxicity of existing platforms would be user verification as a precondition for gaining the algorithmic amplification that social media offers.

By “user verification,” Haidt doesn’t mean that users must give their real names online. Rather, it means verifying to the platform “that you are a real human being, in a particular country, and are old enough to be using the platform.”  That sounds eminently reasonable to me, and platforms could pledge to keep names anonymous or pseudonymous.

3.) “Better prepare the next generation for democratic citizenship in this new age.”

Haidt has long criticized the notion of “helicopter parenting,” which tends to give children a sense of fragility and has, he’s maintained (along with Greg Lukianoff), contributed to the syndrome of victimization and tribalism that characterizes wokeness. Here are two of Haidt’s suggestions:

The most important change we can make to reduce the damaging effects of social media on children is to delay entry until they have passed through puberty. Congress should update the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which unwisely set the age of so-called internet adulthood (the age at which companies can collect personal information from children without parental consent) at 13 back in 1998, while making little provision for effective enforcement. The age should be raised to at least 16, and companies should be held responsible for enforcing it.

More generally, to prepare the members of the next generation for post-Babel democracy, perhaps the most important thing we can do is let them out to play. Stop starving children of the experiences they most need to become good citizens: free play in mixed-age groups of children with minimal adult supervision. Every state should follow the lead of Utah, Oklahoma, and Texas and pass a version of the Free-Range Parenting Law that helps assure parents that they will not be investigated for neglect if their 8- or 9-year-old children are spotted playing in a park. With such laws in place, schools, educators, and public-health authorities should then encourage parents to let their kids walk to school and play in groups outside, just as more kids used to do.

I’m not sure how the first provision will reduce damages, unless it works to prohibit kids from using social media at all until they’re 16 (can they enter earlier with parental consent?). But if that’s the solution, it seems unworkable to me. Perhaps you can prevent a kid from posting on social media until he or she is 16, but the exposure to tribalism will still be there,. Well, perhaps preventing the ability of kids to interact with others could stave off some psychological damage, anger, and tribalism.

As for the second second suggestion, “let the kids out to play,” I’m wholly in favor of that. Yes, it’s how I and my generation were brought up, and it did confer a tremendous sense of freedom. When I came home from school, or especially on weekends, I just got on my bike and pedaled away to have adventures with my friends, or simply to visit them. And I walked to school every day from the sixth grade on (I was 12; before that I took a bus as the distance was greater). The only thing that’s changed since then is that the the threat of violence to kids on their own (I think Lukianoff and Haidt give the evidence in their book) has decreased. 

But still parents simply won’t let their kids run free. In fact, in some places it’s illegal. Like Haidt, I’m not suggesting that kids be allowed to run wild at all hours, but simply that parental supervision be minimized or removed in some cases.  While I’m not sure how much this will reduce future enmity, it will certainly promote maturity and the ability to form harmonious groups through social interaction and negotiation. And maybe that will reduce tribalism.

I am not an expert in social psychology, but Haidt is. I’m not really qualified, either, to pass judgement on his diagnoses and prescriptions. All I can say is that they ring true. As for things getting worse rather than better, I’m inclined to go with that as well. I don’t see the Right and Left becoming more conciliatory, and the tide of social-media demonization and punishment seems to be rising, not falling.

Covidiocy: Cathy Young’s take

March 16, 2022 • 11:15 am

Cathy Young often seems to me a voice of reason in the same way John McWhorter is: someone who’s not afraid to call things as they are. In her latest piece at Bulwark (click on screenshot below to read), Young, while reminding us that Covid is still with us, and Ukraine has not ended the virus narrative, calls out the various “covidiots” who were either stupidly wrong and overly precipitous in their take on the pandemic, or, worse, exacerbated it with their pronouncements. While Young gives both Left and Right their lumps, the Right turns out lumpier.

Here’s an example of party-typical behavior that Young sees as business as usual, but not explicitly dangerous:

Almost from the very beginning, responses to COVID-19 in the United States were (like everything else these days) polarized along political lines. Being Team Blue meant that you saw COVID as a very serious threat and supported drastic measures to contain and mitigate its spread. Being Team Red meant that you thought COVID wasn’t that big a deal and that its danger was being overhyped by safety freaks, people who wanted to give the government extraordinary powers, and Democrats who wanted to weaponize the pandemic to bring down Donald Trump. Obviously, not everyone fell neatly into those categories; but the tendency was undeniable.

This kind of stuff, however, she considers politically-based prognostications that can sort of be excused. Then the lump-production begins:

Chronicling Team Red covidiocy could easily fill a book: The estimate from Hoover Institution senior fellow Richard Epstein, a law professor, that just 500 Americans would die of COVID—followed by his comically desperate attempts to say he had really meant 5,000. The claims by talk-radio king Rush Limbaugh that COVID was just “the common cold” and was being overhyped by the media as part of “an effort to bring down Trump.” Trump’s rant at a rally about the Democrats’ “new hoax” and about the flu being far worse. (Yes, if you pick apart his word salad, he technically didn’t call the disease a hoax, only claims that he was mishandling it; but it’s ridiculous to deny that such talk boosted the “COVID hoax” narratives.) The #PlanDemic and #DemPanic hashtags (which still exist, but don’t look if you want to avoid brain damage). The war cries to “liberate” locked-down states. The obsessions with alleged miracle drugs, especially hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. The Anthony Fauci Derangement Syndrome. The anti-vaccine propaganda and scare tactics peddled by the likes of Tucker Carlson.

And she also indicts the Left for being so eager to blame Trump for everything, noting this:

Did Trump’s feckless rhetoric and lack of leadership encourage irresponsible behavior with regard to social distancing and vaccination and thus cost lives? Most likely; but counterfactuals are always iffy, and it’s difficult to say with any confidence how different the outcomes would have been under a different president.

As for lockdowns, school closings, and mask mandates, Young takes a judicious position, saying that perhaps the “elite”, who could work from home, were too eager to embrace lockdowns, yet there is some evidence that mask wearing was indeed effective. Her point is that even now we have no strong and unilateral answers to the efficacy of these actions:

How well lockdowns, mask mandates, and other pre-vaccination COVID-19 mitigation strategies worked in reducing the spread of the virus and the resulting deaths is a massively complicated question.

She cites evidence on both sides, but reserves her strongest opprobrium for those whose actions were positively dangerous, contributing to the spread of the virus.  These include the ivermectin-pushers and the anti-vaxxers—again, mostly people on the Right. Curiously, though, she includes among this group Bret and Heather Weinstein and Bari Weiss, who by their own lights are liberals. We’ve discussed some of their stands before.

Young says this:

But no part of Team Red COVID discourse has been more insidious than anti-vaccine propaganda, often abetted by the “anti-anti-vax” crowd. Some of this discourse comes from people who are not, strictly speaking, Team Red but are part of the “anti-woke” side in the culture wars (a side with which I broadly sympathize). Brett Weinstein and Heather Heying, husband-and-wife biologists who attracted a lot of support a few years ago when they were run out of Evergreen College for opposing an “anti-racist” exercise in which white people were asked to stay away from campus for day, have emerged as two leading voices of COVID vaccine skepticism—rejecting scientific evidence for quackery.

Former New York Times editor and anti-“cancel culture” dissenter Bari Weiss initially urged her newsletter readers last May to get vaccinated and start living a normal life (and advised the vaccine-hesitant to “consider the data” and get with the program); but later, she shifted toward platforming vaccine skeptics as a legitimate side in the debate and giving sympathetic coverage to vaccine resisters including the protesting Canadian truckers, with no balancing pro-vaccination message or criticism of anti-vax agitprop and conspiracy theories.

It’s hard to say whether this is contrarianism or audience capture. Either way—and I say this as someone who generally admires Bari Weiss—it’s, well, deplorable.

Note, though, that the link to Bari Weiss supposedly giving “sympathetic coverage to vaccine resisters” actually goes to an article by Suzy Weiss, Bari’s sister (it’s a family act now), and the link to sympathy with the Canadian truckers goes to a piece by Rupa Subramanya.  While one can assume that Bari Weiss sympathizes with their views, especially after her announcement on Bill Maher’s show that she was “done with covid”, it should have been more explicit that Weiss hosts posts by people she agrees with, and that these two posts were written by others. (Young does say she “platforms” vaccine skeptics.)

As for Weinstein and Heying’s vaccine skepticism and enthusiasm about ivermectin, this was and is unforgivable, especially in view of the very weak or nonexistent evidence for ivermectin as a “palliative” (except when worms are a comorbidity) and the fact that the best single-blind study we have shows no effect of the drug.

At this stage, a true scientist would admit that this advice was misguided, especially in view of this unchallengeable statement: during the pandemic, unvaccinated people who took ivermectin were much more likely to get sick, die, and pass on the virus than those who were vaccinated and didn’t take the de-worming drug.  This itself warrants an apology from people who consider themselves wedded to data. It is, in my view, reprehensible to question properly tested vaccines at the same time you promote ivermectin.

At any rate, let us remember that although the headlines are dominated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, covid is a problem that will remain with us for years to come.