Saturday, March 31, 2018

ANS -- Bad Ideas Aren’t Worth Debating

This is an opinion piece.  It refers to the unfortunate modern tendency to showcase "both sides" of an issue even if there isn't any parity between the two sides.  It's about "serious conservatism" being an oxymoron.  

03/29/2018 02:19 pm ET Updated 1 day ago

Bad Ideas Aren't Worth Debating

The Atlantic's Kevin D. Williamson, formerly of National Review, pictured here in 2010.

Mainstream magazines in the Donald Trump era have been scrambling to hire more right-leaning columnists to demonstrate their commitment to diversity of thought. These efforts have borne fruit, though not exactly in the manner intended. Instead of showing the value of vibrant debate, they've demonstrated that conservative ideas aren't worth debating.

The Atlantic's recent personnel choices are a case in point. The magazine has just hired two new columnists, one on the left, one on the right. The left columnist, Ibram X. Kendi, is the author of Stamped from the Beginning. The monograph is a groundbreaking, painstaking history of the development of racist and anti-racist ideas in America that challenges comfortable notions of progress against bigotry. It won the National Book Award. The right columnist, Kevin D. Williamson, is a writer formerly at National Review who has referred to a nine-year-old black child as a "primate."

Most of the online discussion following The Atlantic's hires has focused on Williamson, especially on a series of tweets in which he stated that women who have abortions should be hanged. Kendi has been largely forgotten — but the contrast between his work and Williamson's is instructive. Kendi is a pioneering anti-racist, while Williamson regurgitates tired racist bilge. But beyond that, Kendi shows that it would be trivially easy for high profile, mainstream venues to find serious, important, respected, left scholars to write for them.

Tressie McMillan Cottom, Julia Serano,  Safiya Umoja Noble, Laura Agustín — the left has an embarrassment of thinkers with unique perspectives and valuable knowledge who could enrich the public discourse. And the right has ... Kevin D. Williamson, a longtimer in the right-wing media bubble whose brilliant, provocative ideas include the suggestion that we should name rape accusers.

Would American intellectual life really lose out because we aren't debating whether women who have abortions should be hanged?

It's not just Williamson, either. Bret Stephens, The New York Times' high profile conservative hire, kicked off his tenure with an embarrassing column spouting climate change denial. Later he penned a defense of Woody Allen which ignored substantial evidence that the actor had abused his then 7-year-old adoptive daughter. Stephens also compared Allen favorably to former Olympic gymnast national team doctor Larry Nassar, because Nassar abused more than 250 children, while Allen was accused only of abusing one.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post hired libertarian conservative writer Megan McArdle. McArdle seriously recommended in 2012 that we could reduce gun violence by training children to rush active shooters. "If we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly," she insisted.

McArdle, Stephens, and Williamson have all been mercilessly mocked on social media. In response, conservatives have wailed that liberals are intolerant, and don't want any conservatives to write in the mainstream. "If left-leaning but not explicitly ideological publications cleanse their pages of conservative voices, the loss to American intellectual life will be immense," National Review fulminates.

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But would it? Would American intellectual life really lose out because we aren't debating whether women who have abortions should be hanged? What does Williamson's cruel, bigoted refusal to use Laverne Cox's proper pronouns add to "American intellectual life"? Our public discourse ― or for that matter life on earth ― is not enriched but imperiled by ignorant, ideological efforts to cast doubt on the consensus around climate change.

The issue is not left intolerance. The issue is that conservative intellectuals make bad, often nonsensical arguments, and spout opinions that are hateful and harmful on their face.

Nor is this a surprise, given the last several decades of American history. Anyone looking objectively at the GOP's record in politics over the last 30-odd years would reasonably conclude that conservatism is a bankrupt and harmful ideology, built on bigotry and a fetishization of tax cuts for the rich. The previous Republican president, George W. Bush, presided over an unnecessary and catastrophic war, a horrifyingly incompetent hurricane relief effort, and a historic, devastating financial collapse. The current Republican president is an incompetent would-be authoritarian whose main accomplishments so far have involved empowering a fascist police force to harass and deport innocent people. The Republican Congress put forth incoherent health care plan after incoherent health care plan, before ramming through a similarly incoherent tax cut for the wealthy.

Conservatism in office has brought Americans war, financial disaster, misery, and rising fascism. Conservative pundits, meanwhile, write column after column propounding ill-informed, bigoted, and cruel solutions to problems that don't exist, while denying the existence of real injustices and misery.

This is not some sort of coincidence. Conservative governance is a disaster because conservative thinking is bankrupt. Giving more space to conservative thinkers is not going to make our polity more diverse and vibrant. It's going to fill our public sphere with prejudice and ignorance. Ibram X. Kendi challenges and enlightens. Kevin D. Williamson does neither of those things.

The left is constantly told that we're shutting down debate and thereby threatening free speech. But no one is owed a platform at a mainstream publication. The record of conservative governance, and the record of conservative pundits, makes a strong case that conservative ideas have little to offer in response to our greatest problems now, if they ever did.

Yes, lots of people believe in conservatism, but lots of people believe in astrology, too. That doesn't mean that mainstream publications should start running serious op-eds about what the arrangement of the stars says about the major political issues of our day. (Though admittedly astrology is a lot less harmful than conservatism.)

The rise of Trump should have led gatekeepers to question the legitimacy and the value of conservatism. Predictably, though, it has done the opposite. Power is always its own justification, and Trump's narrow, fluke victory has convinced editors at The New York Times and The Atlantic that what America really wants and needs is more serious conservatism to challenge readers. But "serious conservatism" is an oxymoron, and readers are ill-served by garbage provocations, bigotry, and ignorance couched as "challenges."

If conservatives have thinkers and scholars on the level of Ibram X. Kendi, bring them forward. In the meantime, Kevin D. Williamson, and all the other fourth-rate proponents of his failed ideology, should be shown the door. Our public sphere would be more vibrant, more thoughtful, more productive, and yes, more free, without them.

Noah Berlatsky is the author most recently of Nazi Dreams: Films About Fascism.

Friday, March 30, 2018

ANS -- The Parkland kids have triggered conservative snowflakes

This is a really good editorial about Parkland, gun control, and the tipping point.  

The Parkland kids have triggered conservative snowflakes

Ryan Cooper
Illustrated | kirstypargeter/iStock, robert hyrons / Alamy Stock Photo, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Over the weekend, the March for Our Lives event featured gigantic rallies across the nation, including one in Washington, D.C., that drew several hundred thousand people— depending on estimates, perhaps the largest single rally there in American history. It was an inspiring demonstration of American citizens exercising their democratic liberties.

But it also badly triggered the hyper-sensitive snowflakes in conservative politics and media, who apparently need a safe space from political assemblies to petition the government for redress of grievances. They have been in continuous meltdown ever since.

Hypocrisy aside, it's a good indication of the political threat they perceive from the post-Parkland gun control movement. The long-term prospects for the extremist views of movement conservatives on gun regulation do not look good.

Let's roll the tape. At National Review, Rich Lowry wrote a post entitled "The Teenage Demagogues" operatically bemoaning how the "braying spirit of the student gun-control advocacy" is "making our public debate even more poisonous and less civil." Why? Because the teenagers (hyperbolically) suggest that the NRA is basically fine with clockwork massacres of schoolchildren, if the alternative is modest regulation of gun manufacturers or restrictions on gun purchases.

(How one might draw that conclusion from the awesomely deranged pop-veined ranting of NRA President Wayne LaPierre or spokeswoman Dana Loesch is left as an exercise for the reader.)

Elsewhere at National Review, Joe Bissonnette excused his attention to the "ingratitude, sanctimony, and profanity" of Parkland survivor David Hogg (who Erick Erickson previously called a "high school bully") by baldly asserting that "manipulative adults in the media are deploying him as a useful idiot."

At Red State, Sarah Rumpf briefly dipped into an Alex Jones-style conspiracy theory, twisting a bit of vague language into an absolutely crackpot argument that Hogg was not actually present at the massacre, before having to shamefacedly retract the entire article.

What explains these defamatory attacks on a bunch of children simply trying to stop their fellow students from being senselessly butchered? Many left-leaning writers have correctly noted that the Parkland students' sustained political attention has a lot to do with the wealth of the community. A great many massacres in poorer communities have gone without the weeks-long national outrage and mobilization that followed the Parkland shooting.

On one hand, it is of course unfair for political influence to be correlated with wealth (though I would argue that Parkland was also a tipping point phenomenon). But on the other, it shows the thinness of the political ledge onto which the maximalist gun rights brigade — which includes just about the entire Republican Party — has marched itself. Gun violence is not something restricted to poor rural trailer parks or urban ghettos. It's a regular occurrence in the most privileged communities in the land.

But as the GOP has become composed of characterological extremists, they have become all but incapable of negotiation or compromise. The Republican establishment is fervently convinced that any slight deviation from current party dogma is nothing less than the death knell of American freedom.

So when an incomprehensibly gruesome massacre strikes in a wealthy neighborhood, where the citizenry is meaningfully politically enfranchised, and it sparks a massive nationwide demonstration, Republicans are largely caught flat-footed. To be fair, President Trump did recently take a tiny but meaningful step, invoking executive authority to ban bump stocks like the one used in the Las Vegas massacre (though not in Parkland). But that is mostly just plugging a loophole in the already-existing automatic weapons ban, and will come under instant legal assault from conservatives. The legal question could be solved by legislation, but such a ban would go nowhere under this Republican Congress.

In the rest of the party, the best they can offer is stuff like what former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum proffered over the weekend: learn CPR instead of "looking to someone else to solve their problems."

For one thing, it's deeply telling that in reality, a hypothetical elementary school combat medic trying to save their homeroom classmates from grapefruit-sized high-velocity rifle wounds would be most concerned with staunching bleeding, not CPR. Conservatives can't even get their transparently bad faith deflection arguments right.

And that is why they are largely reduced to smearing and defaming a bunch of kids trying to participate in American democracy. It's the only political move they have left.

But more importantly, by refusing to accept even slight compromise in the gun debate, conservatives have made their position extremely brittle. After Parkland, public opinion has shifted fast in favor of commonsense regulations like universal background checks, a national gun registry, and reversing the ban on government-funded gun violence research. Meanwhile, fanatical anti-Democrat partisanship from the NRA is purging out the last vestiges of pro-gun sentiment from that party. If and when Republicans lose their grip on national power, new gun control measures are liable to go much further than they would have if the NRA and Republicans had accepted a tactical retreat.

It will serve them right.

ANS -- Public School Teachers and Right To Work

Here's a very short blog post about teachers and Right To Work states and Unions.  It's from Anne Johnson of The Gods Are Bored.  Bad word warning.  

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Public School Teachers and Right To Work

Sounds like a boring topic, huh? I can see you stifling that yawn! But don't decamp for Dora the Explorer just yet, because you're in for an Anne rant. I'm rusty on ranting, but it came back today in full force.

You know what schools are? They are the spots that viruses of every kind choose for massive meet-ups. Every day, trillions of germs learn how to write paragraphs and reduce fractions. All while finding new hosts just sitting there waiting to fall ill!

This is one of the reasons why liberal states with strong unions provide decent health care to public school teachers. Mind you, I get a hefty chunk of change pulled from my envelope every pay period to partly cover my healthcare policy. But my policy is still generous. Thank you, thank you, thank you New Jersey Educational Association!

I say this because teachers in 28 states are laboring in "right to work" environments. "Right to work" (kind of like "right to life," huh?) has undercut collective bargaining rights and union clout, leading to lower salaries, and yes, higher insurance payments for teachers.

Teachers. Have you looked at a teacher's salary lately? Like, what we get paid to go sit all day among the frolicking viruses?

If you didn't see this story in the news, read it and WEEP.

Texas is a "right to work" state. But I'm not singling out Texas. This could happen in any "right to work" state.

First of all, I got a flu shot. It was free.

Second of all, if I did get the flu, my prescription of Tamiflu would cost $10.00, not $138. Therefore, I would be able to afford it. I wouldn't have to think twice.

Two children have been deprived of a mother. Probably two dozen second-graders must now deal with the trauma of having suddenly lost their teacher. (And which among those kids will feel guilty for maybe infecting her with the flu?) A loving husband has lost his wife.

Not because of the flu. No. Not because of the flu. This woman died because of RIGHT TO FUCKING WORK. I never heard of a teacher having to pay $138 for a prescription! That would NEVER happen in my state! I could be put on the most $$$$$$$$ medicine that is padding the pockets of the most venal Big Pharma executive, and my co-pay would be at most $20.

This nod to my performance of a difficult, tiring job in a germ-filled atmosphere is due to my union.

Right to work? Why don't we call it right to die?

Stay tuned for Supreme Court decisions that will bring right to die EVERYWHERE.

My heart goes out to this family, to the students and staff, and to all the public school teachers who have the misfortune of living in "right to work" states. Pay your dues, get your union card, and persuade all of your co-workers to do the same. This shit has got to stop.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

ANS -- Study: US is an oligarchy, not a democracy

Note that this article is four years old.  I think it is even truer now than it was then.  

Study: US is an oligarchy, not a democracy

An old man in a suit looks up from his newspaper and brandy.Image copyrightTHINKSTOCK
Image captionThis man does not like to be disturbed while he's running the US

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

The US is dominated by a rich and powerful elite.

So concludes a recent study by Princeton University Prof Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Prof Benjamin I Page.

This is not news, you say.

Perhaps, but the two professors have conducted exhaustive research to try to present data-driven support for this conclusion. Here's how they explain it:

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.

In English: the wealthy few move policy, while the average American has little power.

The two professors came to this conclusion after reviewing answers to 1,779 survey questions asked between 1981 and 2002 on public policy issues. They broke the responses down by income level, and then determined how often certain income levels and organised interest groups saw their policy preferences enacted.

"A proposed policy change with low support among economically elite Americans (one-out-of-five in favour) is adopted only about 18% of the time," they write, "while a proposed change with high support (four-out-of-five in favour) is adopted about 45% of the time."

On the other hand:

When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it.

They conclude:

Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

Eric Zuess, writing in Counterpunch, isn't surprised by the survey's results.

"American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it's pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation's "news" media)," he writes. "The US, in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious 'electoral' 'democratic' countries. We weren't formerly, but we clearly are now."

This is the "Duh Report", says Death and Taxes magazine's Robyn Pennacchia. Maybe, she writes, Americans should just accept their fate.

"Perhaps we ought to suck it up, admit we have a classist society and do like England where we have a House of Lords and a House of Commoners," she writes, "instead of pretending as though we all have some kind of equal opportunity here."