Monday, January 16, 2017

Resonating Today
“More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation."

"We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.”

You can read the entire April 16, 1963 Letter From Birmingham Jail here.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Our Common Ground Has Turned to Quicksand
As we prepare to start a new year, let's remind ourselves that we share an objective: We all want to find ways to contribute… to think & talk, interact & problem solve in ways that enhance both the possibility and the desirability of living in a democratic society.

In each era there are a different menu of conflicts and challenges faced by the leaders of each new generation. The short editorial below frames one of the central challenges we face today, and frames it in a way that should be accessible to conservatives and liberals.

Liberals and Conservatives Have One Thing in Common: Zero Interest in Opposing Views
By Jeremy Frimer, Linda Skitka, and Matt Motyl in the LA Times on January 4, 2017

Dick Cheney, back when he was vice president, insisted all the TVs in his hotel suite be tuned to Fox News before he arrived.

It’s not just conservative politicians who like to stay ideologically insulated, though. So do campus liberals. Consider what happened two years ago at Rutgers University when Condoleezza Rice was invited to be commencement speaker. The faculty senate objected and students protested vehemently enough that the former secretary of State backed out.

In the wake of the 2016 election, there’s been a lot of talk about how Americans are stuck in partisan bubbles, especially on Facebook and Twitter. Anecdotes like the ones above remind us that bubbles don’t happen accidentally or passively. Instead, many politically minded people are in a state of motivated ignorance: They neither know — nor want to know — what the opposition has to say.

As social psychologists, we wondered whether liberals and conservatives were equally resistant to learning about one another’s views. Some psychology studies, for instance, have suggested that conservatives are more prone to the confirmation bias — meaning they selectively consume information, like biased news, that aligns with their preexisting opinions. But we weren’t so sure that liberals were any more open-minded.

A functioning democracy requires that citizens make informed choices — which voters can’t do if their information sources are ideologically monochromatic.

So we created some experiments to check. In one, we offered a chance to win $10 to participants who opposed letting gay couples marry. There was a catch: To qualify for the prize drawing, they had to read eight arguments for legalizing same-sex marriage. As an alternative, they could read eight anti-same-sex marriage statements — but any potential prize money would be reduced to $7. Greed and curiosity were teamed up against motivated ignorance.

Motivated ignorance won. Most conservatives (61%) chose to stay in their bubble and forgo the extra cash.

And when we gave liberals the same dilemma? Slightly more, 64%, chose to stay in their bubble.

The general trend held regardless of the issue or how we probed their interest. We asked about legalizing marijuana, climate change, gun control, or abortion. We even asked about elections (including Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton). The result was the same: Neither side much wanted to hear from the other.

Why were they so dug in? It wasn’t that they already knew the opposing arguments. Participants on both sides admitted to being largely unaware of the other side’s views, and this was confirmed by how poorly they did on a quiz before diving into the rest of the experiment. Rather, participants said that hearing from the other side felt lousy; they reported it was about as unpleasant as taking out the trash or standing in line for 20 minutes.

Participants pointed to social ramifications, too. In a separate study, people we surveyed said they anticipated getting angry if they were to listen to the other side, and suspected that it might damage their relationship with the person spouting off. This might explain why holiday dinners are both cherished (the meal part) and dreaded (the conversation part). Socially speaking, the safe bet is to stay in your bubble.

Although our research found that both liberals and conservatives are averse to learning about the other side, it is fair to ask whether both sides’ ideas are equally worth hearing. To be civically informed, one should consider a spectrum of reasonable views; fake news, baseless claims and lies are not necessarily in bounds. Trump and his surrogates notoriously played fast and loose with facts and propagated baseless claims. So perhaps opponents of Trump have reasonable grounds to ignore what he has to say.

Still, plugging one’s ears can prove costly. For example, during the election, mainstream media outlets spotlighted Trump’s most unhinged moments and largely ignored his dominant message — economic populism. Focusing on coverage of Trump’s gaffes made it too easy for the anti-Trump camp to dismiss his supporters as “deplorables.”

Those who feel politically embattled aren’t likely to unilaterally abandon motivated ignorance. But they should — and for their own sake. If their political opponents feel understood, they might be more receptive to hearing what others have to say. Listening to the other side could at least help prepare an arsenal of counterarguments.

Talking past each other is deeply unhealthy for our entire political system. A functioning democracy requires that citizens make informed choices — which voters can’t do if their information sources are ideologically monochromatic. Motivated ignorance replaces the marketplace of ideas with two isolated, noncompeting monopolies. It’s a scary situation if, in this deeply partisan moment in U.S. history, the one thing both sides have in common is a lack of curiosity about what the other thinks.

Jeremy Frimer is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Winnipeg. Linda J. Skitka is a psychology professor and Matt Motyl is an assistant psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

With this argument in mind about motivated ignorance and our shared tendency to choose to live in bubbles insulated from opposing it not clear that this shared norm makes it easier to see ‘the other’ as wrong, ignorant, selfish, evil and dangerous?

Of course, there are dangerous and ignorant people out there, but can we see how motivated ignorance and choosing to live in echo chambers are likely taking a tiny percentage of our community and conflating anyone who disagrees with us with that miniscule fringe element?

And this makes achieving agreements…central to making democracy both possible and desirable…a whole lot more difficult.

And achieving agreements, under the best of conditions, is already difficult enough. If a conflict is easy to resolve, it never gets into the political arena, because the marketplace solved it (someone found a way to make a profit by solving the problem) or a solution was found that satisfies what appeared be competing interests...when this does not happen…

…Conflicts become ‘political,’ meaning they are already among our most gnarly problems.

When we then try to figure these out together in a system dominated by motivated ignorance, echo chambers and insulated bubbles…it is not hyperbole to expect that democracy may be doomed.

…how can we...problem solve, help find ways—big and small—to navigate our way from this impasse to a renewal of our tradition of resilient democratic decision making?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Trump is a Phony, a Bullshit Artist, a Brilliant Huckster
His reputation as a deal maker and skilled businessman is phony—just ask the ghost writer for his book or consult analysis showing if he put his inheritance into a standard mutual fund it would be worth more today than he has earned from it.
His campaign was phony—filled with promises he has already reneged on: build a wall and have Mexico pay for it is now extend the existing fence on our own dime. Rinse and repeat.

And his phony populism is now transforming into phony policy as Paul Krugman unpacks here.

‘On Thursday, at a rough estimate, 75,000 Americans were laid off or fired by their employers. Some of those workers will find good new jobs, but many will end up earning less, and some will remain unemployed for months or years.

If that sounds terrible to you, and you’re asking what economic catastrophe just happened, the answer is, none. In fact, I’m just assuming that Thursday was a normal day in the job market.

The U.S. economy is, after all, huge, employing 145 million people. It’s also ever-changing: Industries and companies rise and fall, and there are always losers as well as winners. The result is constant “churn,” with many jobs disappearing even as still more new jobs are created. In an average month, there are 1.5 million “involuntary” job separations (as opposed to voluntary quits), or 75,000 per working day. Hence my number.

But why am I telling you this? To highlight the difference between real economic policy and the fake policy that has lately been taking up far too much attention in the news media.

Real policy, in a nation as big and rich as America, involves large sums of money and affects broad swaths of the economy. Repealing the Affordable Care Act, which would snatch away hundreds of billions in insurance subsidies to low- and middle-income families and cause around 30 million people to lose coverage, would certainly qualify.

Consider, by contrast, the story that dominated several news cycles a few weeks ago: Donald Trump’s intervention to stop Carrier from moving jobs to Mexico. Some reports say that 800 U.S. jobs were saved; others suggest that the company will simply replace workers with machines. But even accepting the most positive spin, for every worker whose job was saved in that deal, around a hundred others lost their jobs the same day.

In other words, it may have sounded as if Mr. Trump was doing something substantive by intervening with Carrier, but he wasn’t. This was fake policy — a show intended to impress the rubes, not to achieve real results.

Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, the Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.

The same goes for the hyping of Ford’s decision to add 700 jobs in Michigan — or for that matter, Mr. Trump’s fact-challenged denunciation of General Motors for manufacturing the Chevy Cruze in Mexico (that factory mainly serves foreign markets, not the U.S.).

Did the incoming administration have anything to do with Ford’s decision? Can political pressure change G.M.’s strategy? It hardly matters: Case-by-case intervention from the top is never going to have a significant impact on a $19 trillion economy.

So why are such stories occupying so much of the media’s attention?

The incoming administration’s incentive to engage in fake policy is obvious: It’s the natural counterpart to fake populism. Mr. Trump won overwhelming support from white working-class voters, who believed that he was on their side. Yet his real policy agenda, aside from the looming trade war, is standard-issue modern Republicanism: huge tax cuts for billionaires and savage cuts to public programs, including those essential to many Trump voters.

So what can Mr. Trump do to keep the scam going? The answer is, showy but trivial interventions that can be spun as saving a few jobs here or there. Substantively, this will never amount to more than a rounding error in a giant nation. But it may well work as a P.R. strategy, at least for a while.

Bear in mind that corporations have every incentive to go along with the spin. Suppose that you’re a C.E.O. who wants to curry favor with the new administration. One thing you can do, of course, is steer business to Trump hotels and other businesses. But another thing you can do is help generate Trump-friendly headlines.

Keeping a few hundred jobs in America for a couple of years is a pretty cheap form of campaign contribution; pretending that the administration persuaded you to add some jobs you actually would have added anyway is even cheaper.

Still, none of this would work without the complicity of the news media. And I’m not talking about “fake news,” as big a problem as that is becoming; I’m talking about respectable, mainstream news coverage.

Sorry, folks, but headlines that repeat Trump claims about jobs saved, without conveying the essential fakeness of those claims, are a betrayal of journalism. This is true even if, as often happens, the articles eventually, quite a few paragraphs in, get around to debunking the hype: many if not most readers will take the headline as validation of the claim.

And it’s even worse if headlines inspired by fake policy crowd out coverage of real policy.

It is, I suppose, possible that fake policy will eventually produce a media backlash — that news organizations will begin treating stunts like the Carrier episode with the ridicule they deserve. But nothing we’ve seen so far inspires optimism.’

You can read this story and more Krugman here.

And another good Krugman here.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Narragansett Tribal Land
Once covering nearly all of Connecticut, RI, and MA and only recognized as a nation by the US in 1983, the Narragansett's now control 1,800 acres of land and all but a few hundred acres are in Charlestown, very close to where we live.

Friday, January 6, 2017


On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, a sizeable minority of the U.S. electorate chose to send billionaire Donald Trump, an avowed sexist and an unrepentant racist, who has spent nearly forty years antagonizing vulnerable people, to the White House. Spewing hatred at women, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, and those with disabilities is Trump’s most consistent, and well-documented form of public engagement. Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women because, as he quipped, his celebrity made it easy for him to do so. We can only assume that the hostile climate and anxiety about what is to come were contributing factors. The political shift we are witnessing, including the appointment of open bigots to the president-elect’s cabinet, reaffirms the structural disposability and systemic disregard for every person who is not white, male, straight, cisgender, able-bodied, and middle or upper class.

As a community of feminist scholars, activists and artists, we affirm that the time to act is now. We cannot endure four years of a Trump presidency without a plan. We must protect reproductive justice, fight for Black lives, defend the rights of LGBTQIA people, disrupt the displacement of indigenous people and the stealing of their resources, advocate and provide safe havens for the undocumented, stridently reject Islamophobia, and oppose the acceleration of neoliberal policies that divert resources to the top 1% and abandon those at the bottom of the economic hierarchy. We must also denounce militarization at home and abroad, and climate change denial that threatens to destroy the entire planet.

We must also reject calls to compromise, to understand, or to collaborate. We cannot and will not comply. Our number one priority is to resist. We must resist the instantiation of autocracy. We must resist this perversion of democracy. We must refuse spin and challenge any narratives that seek to call this moment “democracy at work.” This is not democracy; this is the rise of a 21st century U.S. version of fascism. We must name it, so we can both confront and defeat it.

The most vulnerable, both here and abroad, cannot afford for us to equivocate or remain silent. The threats posed by settler colonialism and empire around the globe have never been more real, nor has our resolve to oppose these injustices ever been stronger. Concretely, within the U.S., we oppose the building of a wall along the U.S. – Mexico border, and the establishment of a registry for Muslim residents.

We owe this moment and the communities we fight for our very best thinking, teaching, and organizing. We must find creative solutions to address the immediate needs of those who will be acutely affected within the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency. We must push ourselves into new, and more precise and radical analytical frameworks that can help us to articulate the stakes of this moment.

The most important thing we can do in this moment is to make an unqualified commitment to those on the margins through our actions, insist that the media be allowed to do its job; and protect the right to protest and dissent. We recognize clearly that our silence will not protect us. Silence, in the aftermath of 11/8 is not merely a lack of words; it is a profound inertia of liberatory thought and praxis. So - what are we waiting for? We are who we are waiting for. We pledge to stand and fight, with fierce resolve, for the values and principles we believe in and the people we love.


Thanks for writing and circulating and putting yourselves on the line as leaders in the most important battle we face right now.

“We owe this moment and the communities we fight for our very best thinking, teaching, and organizing. We must find creative solutions….”


Trump is disgusting and dangerous and offensive.


We need to organize to oppose any Trump administration efforts to create a Muslim registry, deny climate change, deport 11 million, and more.

It is difficult to understand how so many fellow Americans could overlook the fact that Trump is disgusting, dangerous and offensive and that he was promising policies designed to hurt our most vulnerable and that he consistently lied or simply made up responses to important questions and that this disturbing behavior continues in his appointments.


But I wonder if starting from a standpoint of ‘rejecting compromise and understanding’ is our ‘best thinking, teaching and organizing’ and likely to result in our most ‘creative solutions.’

If this means rejecting any suggestion that we have changed our minds about how disgusting and dangerous and offensive Trump is, or sitting in silence as he appoints the worst bottom feeders from the swamp… Agreed

If this means we will not compromise or forgo or ease up our ongoing efforts to protect the vulnerable, to advance equal rights and social justice, than say that. Do not say we must reject compromise and understanding, because that is not our best thinking.

If this means that we believe the empathy gap is much larger in the other direction, say that, not that we reject calls to understand…since our concern about the empathy gap demonstrated by Trumpism is itself a call to focus on the importance of understanding.

But these are not what the language chosen says, thus this is not our best thinking and the imprecision matters because it is only one step from a reasonable person concluding something like this…

As written, the statement says we refuse to try to understand or compromise, we reject the importance of trying to understand or compromise…broadly, suggesting there is nothing we fail to understand about our situation or about the many different types of voters who supported this disgusting disruptor or about the complex policy challenges we face and that working with our opponents is off the table…which is precisely what Mitch McConnell said when he wanted to ensure government would not be able to function, democracy would weaken, and our most vulnerable would therefore suffer even more.

If are promising our ‘best thinking’ aimed at ‘creative solutions’ let’s start now.

Finally, since we know that the right, and even more so today the alt-right, dominates mass media messaging in ways that confound any effort to find creative solutions, we are similarly not putting forth our ‘best thinking’ when we pretend that a call to ‘let the media do its job’ is even remotely close to the kind of ‘best thinking’ analysis required here (or even remotely honest as an assessment of our concerns about our information system).

Problems with my analysis? No doubt. First, I am a privileged white man and almost certainly, as a result, fail to fully appreciate the situation as experienced by those in less privileged positions.

Second, it makes good sense for more disadvantaged groups to state their positions as strongly as possible, since the interplay of politics always pushes back on these to the detriment of everyone other than the already privileged.

Third, in a context where the most powerful groups are rhetorically free wheeling, willing to repeatedly just make things up and ignore the best available data, a focus on more finely calibrating the rhetoric of dissent may be more self-defeating than I am anticipating.

Nevertheless, I humbly suggest we consider this...

We reject any call to compromise or understand that is designed to suggests we have changed our views on the president-elect. We reject any such call that is a forked tongue effort to normalize a president-elect we continue to see as deeply dangerous and unfit for leadership.

We accept the outcome of the election; we reject that accepting that tabulation, and moving forward in our ongoing democratic struggles, includes a lessening of our opposition to the policy agenda of our president-elect or our disgust at the life he lives and the priorities he exemplifies.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

My Hometown Paper Leaning Into Fake News TerritoryABJ front page story today argues that Trump supporters in Ohio ‘heard topic and tolerated tone’ as the headline put it. The article elaborates with illustrations from individual stories. A black Republican found Trump’s ‘rhetoric unacceptable even for American politics,’ and the article then asserts that despite this ‘for many…that discomfort didn’t matter.’

The core the argument centers on how voters respond to more or less intensive rhetoric, one study showing that voters experiencing tough economic situations are more likely to see a candidate using more intense rhetoric as more trustworthy and presidential.

Thus, it is the candidate’s tone that resonates with them, not what the candidate actually says (or does). Then the article adds on that the candidates experience matters (though there is evidence provided on this second factor).

There are the obligatory quotes from Trump supporter detailing how tough their lives have been and their deep concern for their kids.

Then the article concludes with a description of how Ohio voters were okay when the candidates discussed economic issues and some other issues (like terrorists and gun control), but “when it came to talk of women and Muslims, more Ohioans across the board were dissatisfied.”

So, if we stop here we might conclude that Trump supporters in Ohio were dissatisfied with his anti-Muslim and misogynist rhetoric…and we might even conclude that Trump supporters in Ohio are only concerned about the economy and their children.

We might conclude this were it not for a stray fact include in a table accompanying the article that shows more than 80% of Clinton supporters in Ohio dissatisfied with the candidate’s focus on immigrants, Muslims, women and minorities while less than 40% of Trump supporters were dissatisfied.

When the article follows the comment about the black Republican with 'that discomfort did not matter' they suggest it did not matter to Ohio Trump supporters, while the data shows the opposite.

The article uses statewide data including Clinton supporters to misleadingly suggest that state Trump supporters were attracted to him because of this business background and because his ‘intense’ rhetoric captured a ‘tone’ consistent with how they feel about their own economic insecurity.

But the data tell a different story.

Tone may matter, and economic insecurity certainly matters, but the data also shows that large majorities of Ohio Trump supporters were okay with his vile, angry, and ignorant attacks on women, immigrants, Muslims and minorities.

We do need to unpack the data, because a subset of Ohio Trump supporters likely do fall into the space created by this article: non-bigots supporting Trump. We want to try to work with these folks.

But we must just as determinedly reject efforts (like this article) to mislead us into thinking that all Trump supporters are just good Christians suffering economic hard times who hold no ill-will toward women, or minorities, or immigrants, or Muslims…because that is simply untrue.

We do need to deconstruct the Trump coalition so we an work with the non-bigots on addressing the conflicts we face.

We also need to face up to the painful and disturbing fact that a large subgroup of his coalition...including those in our beautiful state of Ohio...revealed themselves as selfish bigots willing to support a candidate who promised to punish others to help our children regain their rightful privilege.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Juvenocracy in 140 Characters
In my view, we need to turn away from the daily twitter circus parading our pathetically insecure president-elect across our news feeds and focus on powerfully being the change, living the alternative, rejecting his juvenile bullying approach to life and doing our best to use him when we can and oppose him when we must to advance policies that will make us all stronger together.

 At the same time, his New Year's tweet is worthy of at least a passing glance.

Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!

He starts strong, if overly safe with Happy New Year. I wonder if this is his war on Christmas, since he is clearly choosing not to say Merry Christmas & and Happy New Year as all good god-fearing Christians not warring on Christmas do?

Then he takes an interesting turn with including to all my enemies and those who have fought me. I wonder if what he means to call on us all to love our enemies as ourselves?

But then he dashes all hope that his message might be about inspiration or leadership or even being an adult by concluding with and lost to me so badly they just don't know what to do. I wonder if he recognizes that this is the language of a three-year old throwing temper tantrum after staying up way past his bedtime...

...and entirely inconsistent with the last-minute addition of Love! to the message, almost in the spirit of Southerner who has just pointed out that a she hates her neighbor and tries to then cover it with 'bless her heart.'

We have a juvenile in charge who, like every other juvenile is not an innocent child but a full grown body without yet any development of emotional intelligence, maturity, or self-awareness. 

Year One of our Juvenocracy begins.

With a tweet.