No Helmet, no mask = free [not!]

In the world of bikers, rules about wearing helmets are often considered overreach. One of the pleasures of motorcycles is being out in the elements: feeling the alternation of cool and warm air on your face, smelling fields and forests as you pass. The helmet is a barrier.

Likewise, the COVID-19 mask is shunned. But neither of these items of safety gear is for the wearer alone. Accidents and contagion affect many more people. This two sentence news item from Time Magazine dramatically underscores the far-reaching social consequences of ignoring precautions.

Fun loving, party hardy, macho bikers have cost society more that 12 billion ($12,000,000,000) plus spreading suffering that’s impossible to quantify.

I haven’t heard how the town of Sturgis is doing. Could it have been worth it when the economic benefits are accounted for? This is a preview and a demo of what may happen this fall. The administration continues to downplay the threat. The president and his faithful followers continue to scorn mask use. Yes, he’s grudgingly begun to appear wearing a mask, but he makes no bones about not liking it.

Meanwhile the death rate hovers at 5,000 souls a week and experts estimate it will rise from the present 200,000 total to over 400,000 in December. At one point the president and some of his staff proffered the idea of letting COVID-19 run its course so that herd immunity could develop and the people’s lives (and the all-important economy) could return to normal. The Lincoln Project has vividly panned this bad idea in a recent political ad.

The ad is over-the-top harsh, and my initial reaction was that it’s deceptive. But then I considered the president’s actions of late. He’s pressured the CDC to recommend NOT testing people who are not symptomatic. He’s holding maskless rallies in indoor venues. He’s pressured schools to open before they are prepared to do so safely. The GOP legislature hasn’t passed enabling legislation, so the Democratic Governor’s mitigation rules have been declared unconstitutional. The President routinely contradicts his own experts’ assessments of risks and the timeline for vaccine protection. And he’s attacking mail-in ballots to necessitate in-person voting at crowded polling places.

All of those acts would be consistent with a plan to reopen and briefly enjoy the election week illusion of normalcy while COVID-19 does its grim work. Although millions would eventually die, the surviving 99% would be “fine.”

“I see it differently”

It has become abundantly clear that the left and the right see the world quite differently. It may be because we are all deluding ourselves with the help of algorithms that tell us what we want to hear.

But it is also becoming clear that these algorithms are being harnessed by those who shape perception: advertisers and propagandists.

“Media Literacy” is a term describing a skill set we all need if we want to avoid being pawns in the struggle to capture our attention and motivate us to action. Susan Mehrtens and I wrote about knowing what’s authentic in our book Credible? But critical thinking skill is not enough. We also need to be schooled in how the flood of information that gains our attention is shaped and tinted so that we maintain our perspective.

The same social mechanisms that bind people into cults allow political bubbles to form and be perpetuated. We are seeing this emerge and play out in what’s happening among the political followers of Donald Trump. To what extent are those aligned with Biden, AOC, and various liberal social movements also living in cultish systems of belief? How do we keep it real?

The List

A friend of mine cautioned me that Trump has no corner on scandalous behavior. He meant to imply that Biden and the Democrats are no better. In many of our discussions, he’s diverted from the latest Trump scandal by detailing wrongdoing by Clinton, Obama, or Biden. I’ve argued that there is no equivalency, even if you accept his allegations. (I usually find them meritless when I check the sources.)

Wanting to come up with actual verifiable evidence of Trump’s excesses, I remembered an article about the work of Amy Siskind. She’s made a list of thousands of acts large and small perpetrated by the 45th president since November 2016. The Washington Post published a feature (Outlook 10/16) by her.

The website catalogs the wrong things Trump has done EVERY WEEK for 207 weeks. The total number of items is in the thousands and it fills volumes. You can scan the whole ugly catalog on the website.

https://theweeklylist.org

This is far from the only list of misdeeds. The list published by McSweeney’s is up to 954 as of 10/30.

Of course, there is WaPo’s list of lies that will exceed 25,000 by election day. You can search the database by topic here (click).

The Poynter Institute

Politifact also keeps a running list of the President’s mendacity. Here’s the scorecard as of 10/31/2020

There are books being sold on Amazon purporting to list all of Trump’s acts of generosity and compassion. The top listing is actually a blank book – a cover with no inside printing. It’s yours for $15. Another is a collection of apocryphal stories about Trump’s excessive modesty about his selflessness. It’s published by an evangelical preacher/author (Michael Yeager) with more than 10,000 sermons and 100 book titles to his credit who claims to have helped start more than 25 churches. Among his titles is a book wherein he recounts his personal two-hour visit to hell and how it informed his life and the lives of others who heard his report. I have no information about his journalistic integrity or his motives.

Visit https://www.promiseskept.com/ to see the official list (by Trump) of his accomplishments. But you’ll want to fact check carefully, his veracity is highly questionable. Here’s a less partisan review:

Civic Literacy

About 40% of American’s are loyal supporters of Donald J. Trump. Almost none of them are aware of the facts these various lists present. His fans are focused on the President’s personality, or they have a narrow self-interest that overrides any concerns about character or deceptive behavior. They listen selectively for information that supports their affinity for the President. They revel in the emotional buzz of crowding into the bleachers at rallies with like-minded people experiencing the affirmation of hundreds who resonate with the words of their President. They are often described as “low information voters.” It’s not about facts, or lists. It’s about belonging and being uplifted by a successful and powerful man who promises to be their champion, one who never talks down to them. One who isn’t afraid of anything. Not even COVID-19.

With the manipulation of social media networks by foreign powers and political activists using coordinated disinformation (propaganda) campaigns, it is clear that most of us are poorly equipped to discern what’s real and authentic (the truth) in the torrent of lies and deceptions.

The book Sue Mehrtens and I wrote is a guide to civic literacy despite the mendacity. Credible? is available at Lulu.com and major booksellers.

Gaming the Electoral system


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There is plenty of evidence that the GOP has been preparing to exploit all possible strategies to retain power without winning either the popular vote or the electoral college. The US Constitution provides for deciding an election where the election results are not conclusive, and the alternative means make a “win” possible by a minority that refuses to accept the election results. Van Jones explains:

Van Jones’ TED Talk

The play hinges on successfully contesting the validity of the voting or at least miring the certifications in litigation. The GOP has laid the groundwork by promoting the idea that mail-in ballots are prone to wholesale fraud. (Ther aren’t.) They have launched numerous court battles to prevent changes to vote-counting practices that would allow speedy processing of mailed ballots. They have hobbled the US Postal Service’s ability to process the peak volume of mail-in ballots promptly. They have made it as inconvenient as possible to return ballots without mailing them. All of these actions foretell bad faith in accepting the reality of unfavorable results when ballots are tallied.

Here’s a WaPo story on these strategies:

These forebodings of an organized attempt to steal the election have prompted the mobilization of many diverse groups to prepare for active resistance. George Lakey sounded the alarm early on.

The Project on Government Oversite (POGO), not given to alarmism, has added their advice to protesters:

It is sad indeed that America is faced with the grim prospect of extreme civil unrest and a constitutional crisis. One party appears to have embraced a strategy of large-scale disenfranchisement of urban and minority voters. The grass-roots progressives are preparing to take to the streets.

God save America.

Fascist or Socialist?

Those on the right fear that progressives will bring Socialism to the US. Those on the left fear that conservatives will bring Fascism. Neither fear reflects the broad continuum of political positions. Heather Cox Richardson offers a clear and nuanced perspective on these concerns. It’s not an either-or choice, except in propaganda.

Songs of Democracy

The popular uprising against authoritarianism, tyranny, and deception has given rise to parody in song. The talent matches the cleverness. Enjoy!

The COVID-19 pandemic should not have become a political issue. But it is. Disregard for the practices that protect others became an expression of right-wing individualism. Late in the 2020 campaign the right began advocating for abandonment of the curve-flattening practices that slow contagion. Driven by the desire to restart the retail economy, GOP leadership flaunted maskless super-spreader events. While experts rallied to oppose this wrong-headed notion, the President persisted.

Coronavirsu Rhapsody lyracizes the issue.

strengthening our democracy

The past four years the past twelve years have brought the fragility of our democracy to the fore. We are part of a pivotal moment in US history and it behooves us all to examin why this is so.

Here is an interview with Danielle Allen of Harvard. It’s worth watching and discussing.

How we went wrong

“Denial is not a river in Egypt.” This joke has become a cliche among those who understand addiction. But willful blindness to reality is not exclusive to addictive behavior. Reality has a way of biting those who deny it, as President Trump is demonstrating as he fights his personal infection with the COVID-19 virus.

Though few ordinary citizens think much about it, our government at all levels is big on being prepared. We have an Office of Emergency Management at city, state, and federal levels that seeks to anticipate what will be needed when emergencies arrive.

Detailed plans are made that establish the systems needed to coordinate first responders and mobilize needed resources before, during, and following an emergency. The COVID-19 pandemic was not unanticipated. Plans were made. But they were largely ignored.

Mail-in doublespeak

While he publicly disparages mail-in ballots, his mailings to GOP voters say something else: “Important Notice: Requesting your General Election Ballot is a safe and secure way to guarantee your voice is heard.” Yup, that’s right, if you are a Republican he wants you to know it your mail-in ballot is safe and secure, despite anything he may be saying on TV.

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This is the third GOP sponsored mailing in three weeks that has provided an appliction form for the mail-in ballot.

Here is PBS’s excellent program on the reliability of the Mail in ballot.

Since the original posting of this article, Trump supporter Brian Fitzpatrick has added his mailer to the other three offering a mail-in ballot application.

Teflon Don no more

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It didn’t need to be this way.

It doesn’t need to be this way.

The President is accountable, but the propaganda and disinformation coming from Fox News and Sinclair Broadcasting shield his base from reality.

In March, 63% of Fox News regulars, polled by the non-partisan Pew Research Center’s Election News Pathways Project said the president’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic was “excellent”. Just 23% of average Americans – and a mere 2% of MSNBC regulars – agreed.

The Guardian

Denial has been lethal for tens of thousands because the US did not and does not have a coherent strategy for limiting contagion. The economic cost will be many multiples of what is might have been limited to judging from the experience of more successful countries.

Source: Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Center

This cumulative curve of deaths per 100,000 population continuse to have a steep rise. Testing indicates a rising trend in positive results as a percent of those tested — and indicator of accelerating spread. Business and school openings will tend to increase contagion.

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