Critical Thinking Skill Builder

In an age when pencil-necked eggheads are mocked as cuckolded weenies, and critical thinking is discouraged in public discourse, it is more important than ever to keep the critical thinking skills sharp.   I offer the excellent analysis, from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, as a great short primer on how to critically read mainstream news.    Check out Janine Jackson’s brilliant, and simple, dissection of the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post’s contorted description of President Trump’s accidental bit of truth-telling, when he candidly revealed to FOX news that making access for voting easier was “crazy,” explaining that expanding voting options would result in:

“levels of voting that if you ever agreed to it you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Here is the paragraph Janine Jackson dissected, read it slowly and thoughtfully:

Trump didn’t expand on the thought. But he clearly linked high turnout to Republicans losing elections. The most generous reading of his comment is that he was referring to large-scale voter fraud resulting from the easier vote-by-mail options; Trump has in the past baselessly speculated about millions of fraudulent votes helping Democrats in the 2016 election. The more nefarious reading would be that allowing more people to participate in the process legally would hurt his party because there are more Democratic-leaning voters in the country.

As Janine Jackson points out, would you rather be generous or nefarious?  An idiotic reduction of the choices.

Here is a line edit, for clarification:

Trump didn’t expand on the thought, frequently expressed privately by Republican strategists acknowledging the unpopularity of most of their policies, which tilt famously toward the wealthiest 1%.

But he clearly linked high turnout to Republicans losing elections, something borne out in recent elections as his party veers to the extreme right; reducing turnout is something his party’s voter suppression efforts in many states is designed to do.

The most generous reading of his comment is that he was not lying this time, as this paper has documented he has publicly done over (insert latest number, north of 20,000) times in the course of his presidency.  

He was likely referring to the completely debunked claim of large-scale voter fraud resulting from the easier vote-by-mail options;

Trump has in the past baselessly speculated about millions of fraudulent votes helping Democrats in the 2016 election.  Mike Pence and Chris Koback, two Trump loyalists appointed to investigate this alleged fraud, were unable to turn up any proof of widespread voter fraud in the months before their commission was disbanded.

The more nefarious logical reading of the president’s comment would be that allowing more people to participate in the process legally would hurt his party because there are more Democratic-leaning voters in the country.

Not so fucking hard, Jeff, you evil fucking fuck.

 

 

 

Pinhead Heir Emerges as Pandemic Czar

Sekhnet gets upset when I read her the most recent raving from our cunningly survivalist, unhinged, counter-grammatical Commander-in-Chief.   Most people I know cannot watch the compulsively lying, floridly bragging president who needs attention and approval as much as the angriest two year-old.  Some profess to become physically sick watching the reality TV star spew his divisive non sequitars. I can picture millions projectile vomiting as he speaks, though I admit, I’ve never seen even one Trump hater do it.   As for me, I can eat anything while watching short spurts of his shit spewing without even a twinge of nausea, though I avoid hearing him whenever I can.

Late last night Sekhnet read something on her phone that caused her to roar in disgust.  Mike “Cure Your Homosexual Child or Spend Eternity in Hellfire” Pence had, apparently, announced that Jared Kushner was officially in charge of all interactions with FEMA.   There had been a jumble at the top of the dungheap that is Trump’s supremely disorganized, jealous, competitive administration when it came to whether medical experts, Christian extremists or born-wealthy pinheads would have the final say about how to best fight this deadly and highly infectious disease.   A lot of back and front stabbing in Trump’s inner circle, as the Mooch described from his week as Communications Director for America’s Greatest Winner.  

Now Jared Kushner, flushed with his unbelievable victory in the war on Opiate Abuse and his successful brokering of a totally fair, one-sided peace deal between Israel and the Ungrateful, Loser, Uncooperative, Opportunity-blowing Palestinians [1], was in charge of the federal response to the coronavirus plague.   Sekhnet was almost howling at the news.   I couldn’t blame her, and I didn’t take the opportunity to ask her to pipe down because she was going to make me vomit.   I’ve acquired a fairly strong stomach.  That said, Kusher is a mediocrity who can barely craft an English sentence, and who, also like his powerful father-in-law, would be rightfully unknown without the vast inheritance he got from his father, and, in Jared’s case, outsized talents for ass-licking and arrogance.  

This example of Jared’s oratorical brilliance, for example, leaps off the page.  The new liaison between Americans at risk of dying in this pandemic and FEMA made this childishly nonsensical remark about the proper use of federal stockpiles:

the notion of federal stockpiles was it’s supposed to be our stockpile, it’s not supposed to be the states stockpiles that they then use

 Even the cadence of it is childish, like Boof Kavanaugh’s petulant “even when I did good enough at the confirmation hearing, they attacked me unfairly”.   The notion of somebody in charge of a vast health emergency being stupid enough to utter something like that on live TV… well, it’s supposed to be qualified, in some way, the person in the position to utter something that stupid, or else not.  It’s our right not to die, not his!

It is hard not to admire the unintended irony of this one, while we’re all “trying to think about who will be a competent manager” :

“What a lot of the voters are seeing now is that when you elect somebody to be a mayor or governor or president, you’re trying to think about who will be a competent manager during the time of crisis,” he said. “This is a time of crisis, and you’re seeing certain people are better managers than others.”

source [2]

The man is clearly an imbecile, qualified for nothing but looking like an imperious, entitled, well-born SS officer.  

Here is a great opinion piece from Paul Waldman on the half-wit in charge of the federal response to the pandemic, from the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post and here’s an equally good one from Michele Goldberg at the New York Times.   Read them and join Sekhnet, and countless other concerned Americans, in a good group howl.

 

[1]  I found myself howling, in laughter– not horror–  at the CNN chyrons as loyal Jared was giving himself and Trump props for the historic peace deal that his genius father-in-law had enlisted him to draft.  Check out the wonderful start of Christiane Amanpour’s interview with the great man, and mind the comically brilliant chyrons.   It’s not like both sides are needed at the negotiating table to craft a fair compromise, particularly when one side are stupid, evil, losers! ROTFLMAO!  

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[2]  The incoherent ass-covering is kind of fun to watch, in a sick way.

from that same NPR piece:

A day after Kushner made his remarks, language on a government website about the national stockpile was changed to more closely reflect his description. But a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said the department had been using the new language for weeks. The assistant secretary for preparedness and response “first began working to update the website text a week ago to more clearly explain to state and local agencies and members of the public the role of the” Strategic National Stockpile, the spokesperson said.

When asked Friday about his son-in-law’s remarks, Trump said Kushner was “talking about our country.”

“We need it for the government and the federal government,” he said, complaining that state governments should have had their own stockpiles. “The federal government needs it, too, not just the states,” he said.

Why the Extreme Right are actually Nazis

I now use the word “Nazi” for the right wing extremists who are currently calling the shots here in our exceptional nation.   I know the word has an intemperate, hyperbolic ring to it, but hear me out.   Many governments have been oppressive, autocratic, several were/are openly fascist.   The Nazi regime stands head and shoulders above all these because of their openly racist criminality (draconian racial laws, death squads, death camps and so on) in the name of an imaginary ideal: to purify the blood of the most exceptional “race” in history.   A hallmark of Nazis everywhere is their willingness to see millions die in order to achieve their goals.  As that unimpeachable expert on Nazi philosophy and practice, Dr. Josef Goebbels, once remarked during the war: if we win, history will regard us as the world’s greatest benefactors, if we lose we’ll be remembered as its most notorious criminals.  

The American Extreme Right is animated by many of the same sentiments that ignited the Nazi revolution.  It is based, largely, in racism, organized hatred, a stilted “meritocracy” based on loyalty and anti-democratic obedience to the will of a superior being, an infallible leader.  In a pinch they don’t care how many of their “enemies” need to die so that they might prevail, a characteristic their ilk demonstrates daily in this pandemic we’re currently all trying to survive.

In 1954 the Supreme Court belatedly, almost a hundred years after a decision stating that blacks could not be citizens or possess any rights “the white man is bound to respect”, ruled that segregated education is an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of “non-white” Americans.   Recall at the time lynching was still practiced in many parts of the country.   The National Guard had to be called in when schools were integrated, by a few brave children, to protect these kids from being murdered by screaming crowds of outraged racists.

Almost immediately a small group of wealthy reactionaries formed the extremist John Birch Society in reaction to this indignity.   They got up and running, Fred Koch, father of the infamous Koch Brothers among them, in 1958.   They were appalled that Negroes were given full rights at the stroke of a pen by the Supreme Court, a court they were convinced had been taken over by Communists.   They were against the “mongrelization” of our country that would be caused by equal civil rights for all citizens and the likely “race mixing” that would result.  The Birchers were the ultimate anti-communists during a period of anti-communist hysteria.  The John Birch Society was a lunatic fringe group, considered nut jobs by most Democrats and Republicans of their time.   Now they are basically running the United States of America in the form of the current lockstep Republican party led by Mr. Trump, Mitch McConnell and their plutocrat sponsors.

Of course, I have skipped a few steps.  One of the first political campaigns Charles and David Koch undertook was an anti-integration campaign in North Carolina. They used some of their vast wealth to get their candidates on the school board and implemented policies that allowed white parents “school choice.”    This school board was able to immediately re-segregate the district’s schools and did considerable damage to the educational opportunity in the poorest, blackest schools before it was voted out.   This tells you a lot about the agenda of guys like the Koch boys.

They spent millions nationwide fighting minimum wage laws.  They spent tens of millions on influence machines from “think tanks” that informed and later dominated public debate on every issue (think “climate skepticism”) to colleges and universities who took their donations in exchange for promoting their ideology. They funded the campaigns of anti-union politicians.   They supported laws restricting voting in state after state, in order to increase their chances of victory for wildly unpopular anti-government policies.   They were big funders of the Federalist Society, a national legal fraternity dedicated to creating a cadre of solid, right wing federal judges to rule in favor of industry, deregulation, curtailment of underclass voting rights, protecting the rights of employers, landlords and fetuses and other issues important to protecting the privileges of the wealthy and powerful.  Why millions of the powerless go along with this agenda is a perplexing mystery.  The chance to vent their anger and hatred, and feel superior to others in comradeship with fellow travelers, seems to explain some of it.

A lifetime ago I enrolled, briefly, in a PhD program in history with a concentration on the Nazi regime.  I wanted to understand how an ignorant, violently opinionated sociopath could take over a famously civilized nation and order the murder of, among millions, my entire family.   I took it somewhat personally, I admit.  I quickly got into a fight with a professor about who supported the Nazis.  I’d read about the wealthy reactionaries and aristocrats who, early or late in the Weimar Republic, threw their support behind the regime that would protect them from Marxism, provide some of them with slave labor (Bayer among them) and the rest of them with generous protection of their privileges.  

The professor, an American who retained a bit of his German Jewish accent, a somber and well-read historian, told me dismissively that I sounded like Hugh Trevor-Roper, a freewheeling, acerbic British historian who shared my view, apparently, to great controversy [1].  I understood that this was a sophisticated way of calling me an unlearned, wildly opinionated crackpot.   I surmise that the professor was offended by Trevor-Roper, as apparently other Jewish historians were [2].  During my semester as a PhD candidate I quickly came to understand the role of politics in the writing of history, and began to read it differently.  I had to concede to the outraged professor that perhaps many of the wealthy did not throw their support behind Hitler until he was Fuhrer, which I thought was fair enough.   

You don’t need an active conspiracy to have a world of shared goals with like-minded people, if you have overriding interests in common.   The segregationist, anti-minimum wage, anti-union, anti-regulation, voting rights suppressing Kochtopus (they control dozens of influential institutions, Charles Koch’s favorite is called The Institute for Humane Studies) has a lot of very wealthy fellow travelers who are not specifically on board with all of their anti-humane, anti-democratic policies.  

You have very wealthy people who might be considered socially liberal, someone like Jeff “Democracy Dies in Darkness” Bezos, who are on board with many of the core reactionary beliefs of many of his fellow billionaires, primarily that he has a absolute right to every penny he can put into his portfolio.   Unions, hated by the Kochs and their ilk, are forbidden in Bezos operations.    Bill Gates, Bezos’s fellow billionaire philanthropist and smartest man in any room, like Michael Bloomberg, share many of the features of the Koch belief system — fighting for monopoly control of their industries, promoting chosen projects they can throw vast sums of money into (for Gates “charter schools” was one) to create a good, philanthropic public name, and when in power, having cops throw random black kids against the wall (Bloomberg) as a way of “fighting crime.” 

It’s easy to hate people who wake up every day burning to increase fortunes they already could not spend if they lived to be 1,000 years old.  I find it easy, anyway.  But when they promote policies that ensure that the poor will stay poor, and die in numbers as large as necessary to preserve the status quo that advantages the super-privileged, and spend millions to convince the credulous that there is something in this grotesque arrangement for them too, well, in my book these fucks, regardless of their well publicized “philanthropy”, are straight up evil.   Nazis, if you will.

 

[1]  Trevor-Roper’s most widely read and financially rewarding book was titled The Last Days of Hitler (1947). It emerged from his assignment as a British intelligence officer in 1945 to discover what happened in the last days of Hitler‘s bunker. From his interviews with a range of witnesses and study of surviving documents he demonstrated that Hitler was dead and had not escaped from Berlin. He also showed that Hitler’s dictatorship was not an efficient unified machine but a hodge-podge of overlapping rivalries.  

source

Echo of history with Mr. Trump’s hodge-podge of overlapping rivalries.  Pence and Kushner, for example, vie for control of the “response” to the plague currently killing many Americans.

[2] The American historian Lucy Dawidowicz in The Holocaust and Historians (1981) delivered what the British historian David Cesarani called an “ad hominem attack”, writing that Trevor-Roper in his writings on Nazi Germany was indifferent to Nazi antisemitism, because she believed that he was a snobbish antisemite, who was apathetic about the murder of six million Jews.[28] Cesarani wrote that Dawidowicz was wrong to accuse Trevor-Roper of antisemitism but argued that there was an element of truth to her critique in that the Shoah was a blind-spot for Trevor-Roper.[29]

source

Liars sometimes accidentally tell the truth

The other day on Fox and Friends the show’s greatest friend, Donald J. Trump, had a moment of unintended truth-telling that nobody will notice much, so, what the hey?

He was talking about some of the “ridiculous” things the Democrats were trying to put into the $4,500,000,000,000.00 Coronavirus/corporate bailout bill.   They tried to put in provisions about expanding voting during the plague.  According to the president, the extreme left Democrat plan sought

“levels of voting that if you ever agreed to it you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Shrewdly observed, sir.

Pack the churches for Easter, yo!

With a president whose strategy for dominating the world is dominating the news, fake and otherwise, during a pandemic or on any other day, it’s not surprising he’d call for packed churches on Easter Sunday.   Why Easter Sunday, of all days?   Oh, thanks for the reminder, Don!   Nobody would ever accuse you of being subtle, you rascal!

It’s easy to forget, when thinking of those 63,000,000 votes he allegedly got in 2016, that many millions were cast by America’s most organized, religiously fervent Protestants, the Evangelicals.   The pastors of these mega-churches were mostly all in on MAGA.   As long as Trump meant a government that comports with Christ’s message that no fetus ever be executed by the state and things of that nature, they urged their credulous followers to go to the polls and make it happen.  

In the noisier Trump world of white racists and corrupt super-greedy super-wealthy folks, it is easy enough to overlook the millions of true believers who came out to vote for the flawed vessel of Christ’s will, Donald Trump, in 2016.  Without the Evangelical voting block, no President Trump.

As you wait out the plague hoax, and get ready to rush out to pack the churches, take a moment to read this excellent opinion piece The Religious Right’s Hostility to Science Is Crippling Our Coronavirus Response.

It seems unfair, perhaps, to blame decent men and women of unshakeable faith for the acts of many of their leaders.   The Intercept put together a collage of Evangelical pastors telling their flocks that faith would protect them from this overblown new illness.  One of these pastors, naturally, promised that “God is going to purge a lot of sin” with this novel disease.   

I have a personal story about Evangelicals.   By Evangelicals I refer specifically  to faithful believers in whatever God-revealed truth their charismatic preacher tells them is true,  obedience to an authority-based belief system being their highest duty to God and man.   

My parents, toward the end of their lives, befriended a young Evangelical couple whose daughter my mother was trying to teach to read.   My mother reported that the girl was very sweet, and that she really enjoyed working with her, but that the child seemed unable to grasp the first thing about letters, sounds, the mysterious elements of reading.  

My parents soon became friends with the family, the young parents, having become fervent Evangelicals, were estranged from their own families.  They really took to these old Jews.   The theological and political arguments (the couple and everyone in their church had voted for Born-Again Dubya and the aptly named Dick Cheney), though bitter, were always tinged with love.

When my father was dying they came to the hospital, with a group of their co-religionists.   They loved him and wanted to make sure he got into heaven, so they held a prayer vigil around his bed and asked him to accept Christ.  My father was beyond giving a shit about anything at that point (this was a day before he died) and probably nodded at some point to get them to leave him alone.  They blessed him and left.  He died.  None of these religious lovers of Christ ever called his widow, ever.

Had I been there when these fanatics held hands and asked Jesus to save this old Jew from hell,  I’d have done my Christ with the money changers imitation.  You want to see a righteous Jew, you misguided fucking soul-saving Evangelicals?   Leave the poor bastard alone, particularly if you intend to abandon his widow in her time of grief.

But I digress.   Evangelicals look forward to the End Times, the Rapture, the blessed day when the earth with all its wickedness will be destroyed, as it is foretold, and the righteous will be spared, and taken up directly to Jesus’s ever-merciful bosom, while the wicked will be cast into eternal hell-fire.  My father, I’m glad to say, will presumably be among the blessed saved, his head on his saviors breast.  Although a Jew, these good Christians saved him from hell.   Me and most of my friends and loved ones?  Big party in the hot place, yo.   Do you think science will save you from religious fanatics and the beliefs that make them impervious to heresy?

After all, what is “science,” my friends, but a set of organized alternate alternate facts, vainglorious “theories” “proven” by unenlightened atheists who heed not the voice of the Lamb, nor do they tremble before the might of the Holy One, blessed be He.   Can I get an amen, you ignorant fucking dumbasses?   Hallelujah!

A cynical friend thinks it’s a great idea to pack the mega-churches on Easter Sunday during plague time.  Let them put their powerful beliefs to the test that religious zealots have always selflessly submitted themselves to.  Only, make them stay in the churches for two weeks afterwards, that their souls may be purified.   And as should be done with all the so-called Libertarians who revere individual liberty above all else, and recognize no role for organized people governing themselves to protect everyone, deny them entry to those despised, coercive halls of science where the arrogant pretend to know more than the righteous about the best way to treat a deadly, highly infectious disease created by the All Mighty.

 

Good Analysis of Government Priorities during the Plague

Janine Jackson, criticized for her often snarky tone by the friend who recommended her excellent podcast to me, lays out an insightful analysis of the scope of America’s larger problem– conflating the financial health of the corporate “persons” who control the nation and the actual health of the actual human citizens of the nation–here.

You have the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, urging his workers to altruistically give up accrued sick days for their ailing low-paid colleagues in his operations.   Massive no-strings bailouts to the very corporations that are destroying the planet (fossil fuel, fracking, airlines) to ensure their economic health while ordinary citizens must content themselves with incoherent platitudes and partisan drivel.   There are no plans to safeguard the millions who are incarcerated, including the thousands in privatized immigration cages, of course.

You have the incoherent, angry president having his Secretary of State announce the tightening of sanctions on Iran, even as Iran is an epicenter of Coronavirus.   

Jackson correctly describes the situation as a crime scene.   Which is, of course, only true if you consider the rights of ordinary humans as important as the rights of the legal fictions that actually run our country and the world.   Here she is, and here is the transcript of this informative episode, with a side order of appropriate snarkiness:

The coronavirus is highlighting existing faults and fissures in US society.  Stark evidence of government priorities and their impact is coming fast and furious: $1.5 trillion is available instantly for loans to banks, but there’s no plan to protect incarcerated people, in jails, prisons or migrant detention centers. Congress can’t seem to act on assistance that reaches all the people who need it, and Jeff Bezos—the one with $111 billion—wants Whole Foods workers to share their sick leave.  Immediate tests for celebrities without symptoms—yes; reconsideration of devastating sanctions on Iran and Venezuela—absolutely not.  It’s a crime scene that’s setting up social economic justice work for the next many years, and calling for dogged, humanistic reporting that doesn’t “ask what questions this all raises,” but instead demands better answers.

the rest of the episode

The Best You Chumps Can Hope For in our Corporate Democracy

Can former Vice-President O’Biden defeat Donald Trump in November 2020?  We will see, it appears.   He recently urged voters to go out, wait on long lines and cast votes for him in primaries held during nationwide public closures to slow the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic.   Biden and the DNC want to sew the Biden nomination up and end the debate and disunity among Democrats, plague be damned!   If you’re healthy, Biden idiotically tweeted, you have nothing to fear.   Go out and vote!

We are four months from the Democratic National Convention in July, twice as far from the actual presidential election.   What is the rush to anoint the chosen opponent to Trump without hearing the details of his actual policy positions?   No matter.  Would you rather have Biden or that Hitler-wannabe Trump?   No brainer! Shut this puppy down, say Biden’s surrogates, in the name of uniting to defeat Trump, the People have spoken!  

My fear is that this deeply flawed candidate with a compromising and anti-progressive policy record on many things [1] and a tendency to smoothly peddle untruths [2] will lose to an even more shamelessly proficient lying sack of shit.

This tweet summed up a lot in a few words:

Screen shot 2020-03-18 at 3.16.23 PM.png

On the other hand, like the oppressive and one-sided contracts we are all required to agree to when using any product or service (thank you, John Roberts), this substandard crap is the best we are fucking entitled to.   Get used to it, because well-paid people who know much better will always decide what is best for us in a corporately controlled democracy.  

That’d said, when the time comes, obviously, we all have to hold our noses and vote to support whichever corporately sponsored candidate runs against Trump.

If Trump winds up beating Biden like a drum next November, or even ekes out a surgical 10,000 vote, Facebook-algorithm-assisted Electoral College mandate, you may begin to think of history differently.   A brutal loop, that, with small variations, plays forever in favor of the most ruthless among us.    

The beauty part?   There is nothing you can do about it, we are told over and over again, except be very afraid and vote for another, less toxic, idiot in hopes of safely returning to politics as usual.

 

[1]  Biden’s consistent pro-corporate work on bankruptcy, predatory credit card practices, support for the Saudi war in Yemen (world’s current number one humanitarian crisis– but good for American munitions makers and their shareholders), mass incarceration, The Crime Bill, Welfare Reform, taking repeated positions for freezing or cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.  

In addition, as a friend put it nicely, Biden is “dumb as a bag of rocks”.

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[2] a short list of recent Biden lies:  his claim to have graduated in the top of his class in law school, 76th out of 85 — pretty close;  his repeated untrue story about being arrested in South Africa while visiting Mandela; his claim during the recent debate with Sanders that he can name all nine of Sanders’s Super PACs– when challenged by Sanders to do so he snorted “come on!” — he tends to laugh off direct, uncomfortable questions with that winning, affable bullshit artist smile of his.