Everyone Has Opinions. Who Can Know?

Merchants of DoubtOur founding fathers placed freedom of the press in the first amendment of the US Constitution, because democracy requires it. Citizens need information to make decisions, and a free press is crucial to its flow. Two centuries later the Fairness Doctrine was established in law, and although the legal doctrine was dismantled in the Reagan years, the notion of “equal time” remains enshrined in Americans’ sense of justice and fair play.

But not every “side” is right or true; opinions sometimes express ill-informed beliefs, not reliable knowledge. As we’ve seen throughout this book, some “sides” represent deliberate disinformation spread by well-organized and well-funded vested interests, or ideologically driven denial of the facts. Even honest people with good intentions may be confused or mistaken about an issue. When every voice is given equal time — and equal weight — the result does not necessarily serve us well. Writing in Democracy in American long ago, Alexis de Tocqueville lamented the cacophony that passed for serious debate in the young republic: “A confused clamor rises on every side, and a thousand voices are heard at once.”

That was two hundred years ago; today the problem is much worse. With the rise of radio, television, and now the internet, it sometimes seems that anyone can have their opinion heard, quoted, and repeated, whether it is true or false, sensible or ridiculous, fair-minded or malicious. The internet has created an information hall of mirrors, where any claim, no matter how preposterous, can be multiplied indefinitely. And on the internet, disinformation never dies. “Electronic barbarism” one commentator has call it — an environment that is all sail and no anchor. Pluralism run amok.

The result is plain to see. A third of all Americans think that Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks on September 11. Nearly a quarter still think that there’s no solid evidence that smoking kills. And as recently as 2007, 40 percent of Americans believed that scientific experts were still arguing about the reality of global warming. Who can blame us? Everywhere we turn someone is questioning something, and many of the important issues of our day are reduced to he said/she said/who knows? Any person could be forgiven for being confused.

—Naomi Oreskes & Eric M Conway
Merchants of Doubt

Increased Storms Sign of… End Times

Polar BearsOver the weekend, I discussed the way that atheists often fetishize science and overstate its power. But better that than the total disregard for any inconvenient science that gets in the way of the religious fundamentalists’ Iron Age dogma. And pity the once great empire that relies on such nonsense to govern itself. It will find itself needing to relearn how to smelt metal. Good people of America, I offer for your consideration and concern: Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma.

Inhofe is known for his highly publicized claims that global warming is a hoax. Does he actually know any science? Of course not! But it doesn’t take much to go to The Heartland Institute website and grab a bunch of cherry-picked data and argue that global warming is just a communist plot to trick people into believing collective action is sometimes necessary. (Funny how conservatives never have a problem with the draft!) But Inhofe’s interest is not in the modern science but in the “science” of the 6th century BC.

Earlier this month, Right Wing Watch caught Inhofe on Crosstalk, a show on Voice of Christian Youth America. He explained that climate change just couldn’t be happening because God wouldn’t allow it. Again, this is because an Iron Age book, put together by countless writers, tells him so:

Genesis 8:22… is that “as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night,” my point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.

Three thousand years ago, people told stories around the fire at night. Someone wrote them down after hundreds of years. And James Inhore is now using those stories to explain that science is just a great big hoax. It’s an entirely typical game that he is playing. The fundamentalists know that they can’t be honest and just admit that they believe what they believe because they learned it in Sunday school when they were six. Instead, they pretend to do science. It is despicable.

If this isn’t depressing enough, Digby brought my attention to a recent Public Religion Research Institute poll. It asked what they thought the reason was for increased storms. Among white evangelicals, 49% said that they thought it was due to global warming. That’s actually pretty good. But here’s the freaky part: 77% thought that it was a sign of the End Times. This would not be a problem if these people were living in a cave somewhere. But they probably vote more consistently than readers of this blog. I think I might make a bumper sticker, “I’m a religious freak: And I vote!

I’m sure if you asked Joni Ernst, the new Iowa Senator-elect, she would provide the same answer. But for the media to report on her extremist views during the campaign would have been rude. So the media do what they always do: error on the side of allowing right wing extremists to get away with everything. After all, there was reporting to be done on her challenger’s fight with his neighbors over chickens. We’ve got to stay focused on what’s important. And the fourth estate knows what’s important: total nonsense. But don’t worry: it will all work out fine. If you’re super rich.

How About a Democratic Defense Secretary?

Chuck HagelNow that Chuck Hagel is on his way out as Defense Secretary, maybe we can revisit the whole question of why our New Democratic heroes are so fond of appointing Republicans to this post. It’s a really bad idea from a political standpoint. It implies that Republicans are better when it comes to the art of war. This is totally refuted by looking at how Republicans actually do manage our wars. But the people can be forgiven if they think, “Well even Democratic presidents think Republicans are best for the job; Republicans must really be better than Democrats!”

This has been going on for a while. The Secretary of Defense for Bill Clinton’s entire second term was a Republican, William Cohen. And then when Obama came into office, he just couldn’t find a capable Democrat, so he stuck with Bush’s choice, Robert Gates. (Sadly, that was not the only way that Obama followed the lead of Bush.) After leaving office, he used the opportunity to snipe at the administration. Then Obama picked conservative Democrat Leon Panetta for the job. He stayed a short period of time before leaving office so he too could snipe at the administration. So Obama put Hagel in the position, again, saying to the world that Democrats know nothing about war and must depend upon Republicans. I can’t wait for Hagel’s book where he snipes at the administration.

Obama NopeAs I wrote at the time of Hagel’s nomination, “Obama cares more about his legacy than he does the legacy of his party.” It’s always the same with the New Democrats. Their constituencies are not, you know, the people who voted for them. Those silly people probably think that electing a Democrat means they would get a Democratic cabinet and liberal governance. But instead, Obama and company care about the kind of Very Serious People that brought us the DLC of the 1990s and “third way” today. Obama explicitly wanted a “team of rivals” like Lincoln had. (Apparently, Obama had read a book.) In his immature way, Obama seemed to think that this is what made Lincoln great. Forget all the Civil War and slavery stuff. People remember Lincoln because he made William Seward his Secretary of State.

So the question is naturally raised, “Could we have a Democratic Defense Secretary now?” And I really don’t know. Will the Senate be willing to confirm any Obama appointment? I’m really not sure. But it would be nice if Obama at least was willing to nominate a Democrat. But he might try to nominate another Republican, hoping to woo Republican support. But that didn’t go all that well last time. Not that it would stop Obama. Constantly hoping that the Republicans will behave is one of his main strategies.

If the people choose a Republican President in 2016, maybe it won’t be that bad. There is, at least, a kind of truth in advertising. We can depend that at least his cabinet will be filled with Republicans. And if there is any exception, it will be something low-profile like the Secretary of Transportation. Maybe after a few elections like that the New Democrats will learn that their economic conservatism, with its “split the difference” on everything else, is not popular. Regardless, in the distant future, historians will not write Team of Rivals about Obama; they will write, “Opportunity Squandered.”

Chris Christie’s “Tough Guy” Shtick

Chris ChristieThe thing that impresses me about Chris Christie is how he manages to have the reputation of an brave truth-teller while being as craven a politician as there is. I still remember his big Bridgegate press conference where he was gentle as a lamb. What’s really going on with him is just the manipulation of power. He knows better than other politicians what power he has and just what he can get away with. As such, it speaks poorly of people and people in New Jersey specifically that they buy his act. When I call him a bully, I don’t say it lightly. I call him that because he attacks the powerless. He’s never stood up to a powerful person or institution in his life.

It’s interesting that New Jersey should be so associated with The Sopranos. It is a relatively accurate presentation of the mob as a bunch of thugs who feed on the weak. And that is what Christie is all about. The fact that he wears a nice suit and has a law degree doesn’t change anything. In fact, that is the traditional form that thugs take. Christie just adds the yelling and the tough guy act and the people eat it up. But we all know that if Christie were around real tough guys he’d be groveling and asking if he could polish their shoes.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo provided an update on one of Christie’s most recent acts of “tough guy” politics, More on Christie’s Ditched Ebola Policy. You may remember earlier this month when Christie quarantined nurse Kaci Hickox. It was hugely popular, because once again, the people of New Jersey believed his brave truth-teller act even though the decision was pure demagoguery.

Along with locking Hickox in a cage for three days, Christie came up with a whole plan to deal with the Ebola crisis that wasn’t happening. Big plans were made. But once Christie got credit for “being tough” the whole project was abandoned. Susan Livio at NJ explained, NJ Police Force Earned 500-Plus Hours of Overtime Guarding Empty Hospital for Ebola Quarantine. It was all a political stunt, which is pretty much all that Christie does:

[PBA Local 113 Attorney Stuart] Alterman called the Hagedorn assignment “an impulsive way to deal with an acute situation that was neither planned very well or executed very well.” He said officers in the 94-member police force were concerned and frustrated they were provided no training to respond in the event a quarantined person become ill.

This morning, Jim Newell wrote an appropriate article over at Salon, No, Chris Christie Isn’t “Back”: Why He May Be Confident, but His Moment Has Passed. It discusses a front page profile by Mark Leibovich in The New York Times magazine:

What Leibovich’s piece omits all mention of is a useful metric for determining whether people do get tired of Christie’s schtick after it loses its novelty. Perhaps — a look at the public opinion polls of New Jersey residents? A late-October survey registered Christie’s statewide approval at 41 percent. That’s low.

It’s nice to think that the people of New Jersey are waking up to Christie’s shtick. I’m not convinced. The people of New Jersey seem to be deluded about who they are, and Christie is very good at using that. Just the same, I’ve never felt that Christie’s act would play in Iowa where it would just be seen as nasty (which it is). Still, given a bad economy in 2016, Christie could easily become president. That would be bad from a policy standpoint, and you can well imagine him turning the White House into a Nixon-like crime headquarters. But more than that, I don’t think I could take years of Christie’s act on the national stage.

Marie Bashkirtseff

Marie BashkirtseffOn this day in 1858, the great Ukrainian painter Marie Bashkirtseff was born. The reason you have probably never heard of her is that she died of tuberculosis when she was only 25 years old. But she was a master. She was an admirer of Jules Bastien-Lepage, although I think she shows greater technique. What I especially like about her is that depending upon the work, she can use the finest of brush strokes while at other times using very crude strokes as found with the impressionists. Of course, she is of that time and Bastien-Lepage was an influence on the movement.

Bashkirtseff is also known as a diarist and sculptor — probably because we have so little of her work. She died in Paris on Halloween in 1884. Normally, I would provide a bit of her work. But I found this excellent three-minute video that gives a very nice overview of her work — even including one of her sculptures. She was an amazing talent.

Happy birthday Marie Bashkirtseff!