What is becoming of Society?

If it Feels Like Our Societies Are Losing Their Minds, That’s Because They Are

How Our Societies Have Been Mentally Poisoned — And Why They’re Turning Fascist

Written by Umair Haque and published in Medium.com 4/20/2022

Image Credit: Jake May

If I had to pick a day that was a case study in the entire planet turning far right, that day would be yesterday. Why?

A 35 year old judge — ranked as “Not Qualified” by the American Bar Association — overturned the entire nation’s mask mandate during travel in America. The entire country’s. This wasn’t a judicial decision — it was a political one. She was appointed by Donald Trump, and married to one of his senior figures. This was a political decision made via nepotism, which suddenly changed the fate of the entire country.

Even though the far right’s not in power, it still manages to have power. More power than the rest. That is one thing a far right planet means, and it matters, because it says that the planet’s centre of political gravity has shifted so far to the right that the world hasn’t seen anything like it since the 1930s. An unqualified judge appointed by a President who led a bloody coup basically overturned the entire public health policy of America. Think about that for a second. Really think about it. The far right has more power than the rest of us even when it’s not in power — because it’s captured our institutions, and perverted them.

But that was just the beginning. What happened next was like a scene from a horror movie. In mid flight, airlines told people they should remove their masks. And cheering and applauding, they took them off. What level of idiocy is this? It’s beyond idiocy. Far beyond it. It is malignancy, of the narcissistic Machiavellian kind. It is the Dark Triad in action. Why?

Imagine that you were on one of those flights. And you were in any one of a number of groups at serious and severe risk from Covid. A cancer patient. Immunocompromised. Just elderly and frail. Young and ill with a serious disease. These people were cheering and applauding for your death.

No, nobody can claim ignorance. Not two and some years into a pandemic. We all know that certain people are still at severe risk, and there are many of them. To cheer and applaud and take off your mask while those people might be trapped in a tin can at 35,000 feet breathing recycled air is nothing short of a deathwish. It is seriously and badly psychologically warped.

Let me trace what I’m trying to say more formally. The far right has power even when it’s not in power. It abuses that power — to do things like overturn public health policies designed by doctors and scientists…at the hands of literally unqualified judges. And then people are licensed. Norms change. Social behaviour changes. A certain electric current runs through them.

It’s OK to hurt people. It’s good and right and justified. It’s fun. It feels good.

The far right has made it OK to want to hurt peopleOur societies are falling apart as a result.

Let me give you another example. A State Senator named Mallory McMorrow faced another tactic that’s become normalised in our societies now. She was smeared as a pedophile. She’s — in her own words — “A Christian suburban mom.” Why did they smear her? Because they could. Because it’s OK to hurt people now.

Increasingly, anything goes. Perfectly normal to smear a mom as a pedophile just because she sits across the political aisle from you. It’s not normalIt’s not OK. It’s badly, badly wrong — and in a democracy, for a democracy, it is slitting its throat.

The far right is making people lose their minds. I mean that in a formal sense, too. In a democracy, we have certain norms and codes. We don’t want to hurt people. That is the fundamental code which governs social behaviour. We act in good faith, not bad faith. We don’t deliberately tell lies about people — we speak truths about them. We don’t act with malice, but with a certain level of kindness and dedication to the truth.

Why do we have those norms? Because they enact what democracy isDemocracy isn’t just voting. In Rwanda, the President “wins” 99.8% of the vote — but it’s not a democracy. Democracy is the living, breathing expression of a certain set of values. Truth, justice, equality, law, freedom.

We don’t lie about other people, act in bad faith, be deliberately malicious towards them because it is fundamentally anti-democratic.

What are these forms of behaviour, really? If a child did them, we’d call them “bullying.” But these aren’t children. The people clapping and applauding taking off masks on planes — with zero regard for anyone but themselves — are not children. They are adults. And when adults engage in these forms of behaviour, we place them on a spectrum of violence. That spectrum ranges from aggression to hostility to real harm.

That is where our societies are now. Grown adults have lost their minds. The far right has goaded them on the one hand, to see everyone else as a scapegoat. With the other, it has licensed them to act with malice, to do violence. The result is that people are being driven mad with hate.

I really mean that. It is not remotely normal or OK in a democratic, civilized society for people to cheer and applaud the potential death of their fellow citizens. Especially the vulnerable. It’s not OK to smear your fellow politicians as pedophiles — the attack made on Mallory McMorrow, Ketanji Brown Jackson, which stems from the lunatic conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton drinks kids bloods after Satanically ritually abusing them.

People are losing their minds. They are becoming incapable of acting like responsible adults in a democracy. Having a shred of concern for others. Telling the truth or seeking it. Regarding others as equals — not things to subjugate. Respecting the freedoms of others, like bodily autonomy.

The far right has told them that these things do not matter. That their fellow citizens are now their enemies. Things to destroy and wish death on.

And so the average person is increasingly unmoored from the basic norms of a civilized, democratic society. Anything goes, they feel. The far right has goaded, licensed, impelled, tortured them with lies…until they are quite literally losing their minds. Their democratic minds, their modern minds, their social minds.

All that is left in the place of those minds is the atavistic impulse to hate. To destroy. To ruin. To wreck. That impulse is one and the same, from the coup at the Capitol, where the far right smeared it with literal sh*t, to people taking their masks off on planes and cheering and applauding. Violence. Hate. The democratic, social, modern mind has been shut down by the far right, with lies, with incendiary theories, with fear-mongering delusions — and all that’s left is this lizard-brain primitive impulse to destroy and wreck the nearest thing, in an orgiastic frenzy of violence, hate, and rage.

Do you get what I’m getting at? How the impulse is one and the same?

There is a set of links I’m trying to draw here. The far right tells people that, no, they don’t have to respect democracy, its norms, that its values are the real threat to their prosperity and survival and belonging and sense of selfhood. They should have contempt for equality, truth, justice, freedom. What should they respect? The very opposite. Dominance, power, aggression, lies, violence.

It’s OK to smear someone with a lie, as long as it works. It’s OK to take your mask off on a plane, as long as an unqualified judge says it — never mind anyone else, from doctors to scientists to the vulnerable. It’s OK to say that everyone you don’t agree with is a pedophile, even if you know it’s not true, just as long as it works.

It’s OK…as long as. As long as the result is power.

The far right has weaponised everything. It has coded paranoid, delusional threats into literally every last bit of the fabric of our lives. Even masks. Wearing masks is not a “two-sided” issue. I’m not sending a signal when I wear a mask. It’s an act of basic medical and social responsibility, an act in itself. But it is a message when you don’t wear one. It makes the person sending that message feel dominant.

And that need for dominance arises precisely because the far right has coded submission, fear, rage, hate into literally everything, triggering people’s fears of annihilation and abandonment, their most primal fears. When you trigger a primal fear, you get primal rage.

Our societies are now increasingly made of this primal rage, and you never really know when you’re going to trigger it. You never know when the person beside you has surrendered their mind, lost it to the far right, and will just attack you. For what? For wearing a mask. Reading a book. Saying something to someone. Looking at something on your phone.

We are all beginning to live in fear of the atavistic rage of the far right. Because the far right has coded primal fear into everything. What’s everything? I used the example of masks, so let’s take another one. Books. Now if kids are read books that say there’s unicorns should be nice to turtles or whatever, suddenly, it’s a problem. Those books are being banned. Parents are literally calling for teachers to be fired over kids’ books. Because those books have been coded by the far right as containing the stuff of primal fear. This is going to poison your kids. It’s going to take your kids away from you. This isn’t a book, this is a weapon.

This isn’t a book, it’s a pedophile in disguise. Do you want your kids to be sexually abused? This isn’t a book! It looks like a book. It feels like a book. It’s not a book. It’s primal fear. You must hate and fear this object. It is dangerous. It will take away everything you love. It will hurt everything you love.

What do people do when they’re threatened like this? They hurt back, first. They strike pre-emptively.

That is why people cheer and applaud taking their masks off. They know full well it’s going to hurt others. That’s the point.

Let me try and sum that up. The far right is ascendant around the world now. How is it winning? It is coding primal fear into literally everything. Masks. Books. People themselves, even little kids. Their mere existence triggers primal fear, because danger has been coded into it. People, bewildered, baffled, stunned by the decline of world order, prosperity, stability, believe it. They’re bombarded with the far right coding primal fear into everything a thousand times a day.

Their minds stop working.

The far right’s leaders then legitimise reacting against all this coded primal fear. They’re going to hurt you! Hurt them first. Take off your mask, and teach them a lesson! Hey, call them pedophiles. As long as it works, it’s OK. The norms of democracy don’t matter anymore. You don’t have to obey them. You don’t have to use your social, democratic, mind. It’s better that you don’t. They’re trying to annihilate you.

You can’t obey the rules of democracy with people like that. As long as it works, whatever it is, it’s OK — because this is an existential fight. You want to survive, don’t you? Then you have to strike first, hard, and anything goes now.

You can’t not have noticed that people just seem totally unhinged now. Their minds don’t seem to work anymore. That’s because they actually don’t. The atavistic impulse of primal rage is all that’s left when primal fears are triggered. This is how the far right wins.

The far right’s strategy is incredibly successful. So successful, in fact, that it doesn’t even need to be in power to have power. That is because this strategy works at the deepest level of all.

That is how the far right is winning. The entire planet. This approach is exactly the same. From America, to Europe, to Britain, to India, to Russia. That’s what’s truly chilling about it. It differs not one bit. The basics are coding primal fear into everything, triggering primal rage, so that people abandon democratic norms in terror and fear, provoked into believing their very survival is at stake, that their kids will be raped, abused, killed, that they will be hurt. So they hurt backfirst.

We need to undo this vicious cycle. This is the single most important challenge of this decade. Yes, really. Because if we can’t stop it, we have no hope of stopping any larger one, from climate change to economic collapse.

We are becoming zombie democracies. The average person is losing their mind. They are not capable of handling the barrage of primal fear coming from the far right, and the far right knows it. They regress beyond infantile states, to truly primal states, and lash out in ways that even kids don’t. Now you know why this moment feels like this.

We need to stop this vicious cycle, fastThe far right has stumbled on an incredibly dangerous formula. A black magic spell which literally rips people’s minds apart. Turns them against democracy. And leaves them little more than quivering lizard-mind blobs of hate, regressed right back to a primal scream of rage, against an annihilatory world, striking out at in violence, anything goes, destroy, hate, kill — all that now coded into everything from masks to books to little children.

I really hope you grasp what I’m saying. I have never been so worried for our societies as right now. Because the entire planet should not be turning far right. Ever. That it is, now, is a testament to how powerful this black magic of tearing people’s minds apart really is. It is the most devious thing history’s seen in a very, very long time.

Sexual Obsession to the Right of Me

Written by Joel Ombrey and published in Medum.com 4/20/2022

What’s With the Sexual Obsessions of the Far Right?

Tucker Carlson’s video is only the latest example

Source: Sharon McCutcheon on pexels.com

For your consideration:

According to a recent poll, almost half of Republicans believe that Democrats are involved in child sex trafficking rings.

A new Tucker Carlson series called “The End of Men” discusses declining testosterone levels, testicle tanning, and the collapse of society followed by a rebirth led by “strong” and “resourceful” men. The video trailer for the series, released earlier this month, has gay and straight alike saying “that’s really gay.”

In other reporting, Carlson claims that COVID-19 vaccines “feminize” people and “emasculated” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and “weakened him as a man.”

Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon talks admiringly of Mussolini’s “virility” and “fashion sense.”

“He has all that virility,” Steve Bannon told The Spectator of London. “He also had amazing fashion sense, right, that…


Former President Trump frequently uses rhetoric drenched in masculine connotations of strength, insult, and refusal to back down. Numerous articles have been written about his and the GOP’s “toxic masculinity.”

Certain parts of the far-right seem obsessed with sexuality. They sometimes frame political issues in gendered terms that puzzle political analysts and seem subtly (and in the case of Carlson’s video not so subtly) homoerotic. This obsession manifests itself in policy in various ways, among them, the wave of anti-LGBTQ laws working through GOP-led state legislatures ranging from Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law to anti-trans athlete bills in 10 states.

What the heck is going on?

Sexuality and sexual scandal have always been features of American politics. Since the founding, rumors and, at times, open secrets of infidelity, abound. However, from Thomas Jefferson’s fathering children with his slave Sally Hemmings, to JFK’s affairs, to Bill Clinton’s involvement with Monica Lewinski, most sexual scandals in our political history have been of a certain kind — heterosexual infidelity or sexual harassment between powerful men and women who are mostly in the shadows. It’s also been what I would call situational and specific — a male politician’s problematic sexual behavior becomes public and he weathers the political storm (e.g. Newt Gingrich) or doesn’t (e.g. Al Franken).

What seems to have changed in the last decade or so is that accusations of sexual impropriety have become more bizarre and more ongoing and generalized. It’s not just vanilla, man-woman infidelity, it’s more taboo; because infidelity is not enough to generate outrage anymore. The outrage comes from accusations of sexual predation on vulnerable children. And it’s not just Congressman John Q. Democrat, it’s all prominent Democrats. It’s not just a specific event, it’s ongoing.

So why is this happening?

Like most social and political behavior, the answer is probably a blend of multiple factors.

Political utility. Like any strategy in politics, it’s used if it works. And by works, I mean either it enhances loyalty in the base of supporters, or it demonizes the opposition, preferably both. Issues related to morality and children are powerful emotional motivators. And people make decisions (like voting) based on emotions even more so than intellect.

Social discomfort. Perhaps it’s a response to rapidly changing cultural norms on sexual issues. For example, public opinion on issues like gay marriage has changed dramatically in just two decades with a solid majority now supporting it. For some, this may be too much change, too fast.

Psychological undercurrents of right-wing ideology. This is where it gets trickier. It’s easy to play armchair psychologist and speculate on various theories about repressed sexual tensions, misogynistic tendencies, and/or patriarchal feelings within far-right thinking. However, I defer to more informed sources like the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and other experts. They report on a confluence of ancient anti-Semitic conspiracies involving children being kidnapped for blood rituals, modern-day QAnon conspiracies, and fundamentalist Christian thinking that likely pines for a return to traditional gender roles in defense of the family.

“…the alt-right has enlisted children in its full-spectrum defense of the traditional family. Gender-restrictive groups prey on our collective desire to protect children…By presenting themselves as ‘concerned adults’ with children’s wellbeing and safety, they appeal to a more moderate, nonreligious audience. This ‘defense of the family’ often conflates pedophilia with homosexuality.”

What’s tragic in the Right’s attempt to use pedophilia as a cover for attacks on the LGBTQ community is that it detracts from serious efforts to combat the real issue of sex trafficking of minors. It would seem like a natural fit and help Republicans gain credibility if they made high-profile efforts to combat the real issue. I don’t see it. IPS doesn’t either and suggests a compelling reason why:

“Because that would require an examination of some very embarrassing cases within its own ranks. Take the example of far-right Republican congressman Matt Gaetz, currently under investigation by the Justice Department for sex trafficking and having sex with a minor. Ralph Shortey, the chair of Trump’s Oklahoma campaign, is serving 15 years in prison for child sex trafficking. Would-be Senator Roy Moore, would-be congressman Ben Gibson, former Speaker of the House Denis Hastert, Trump Commerce Department official Adam Hageman, Republican digital strategist Ruben Verastigui, and so on: all have stood accused of pedophilia and/or child pornography.

Key takeaways

So it appears that the obsession with sexuality by some on the far-right is a witch’s brew of long-standing cultural conspiracies, religious fundamentalism, and political expediency. Based on this it seems reasonable to conclude:

  • These beliefs are deeply held, in the Republican mainstream (see the poll mentioned above) and absolutely crazy. And because of the first two issues, the last one doesn’t matter as much as you think it would when it comes to elections. It will be interesting, and potentially horrifying, to see how many GOP candidates use the anti-LGBT/pedophilia strategy in the 2022 midterms and win.
  • We must remain vigilant in our defense not only of truth, but also our advocacy for institutions that protect the rights of those under attack. This not only includes the LGBTQ community but extends to others. Since children’s welfare is the pretext for Republican efforts to suppress LGBTQ legitimacy as a political strategy, organizations that affect children’s education are now under pressure. School boards have received a lot of attention in recent months but public library boards are also in the crosshairs.
  • Tucker Carlson is a damaging, corrosive influence on our society but has an underlying point. Men are experiencing challenging times. The rapidly changing cultural norms I mentioned earlier may be causing some disorientation for men. It’s a topic worthy of honest discussion. But he’s using it for the basest political and bigoted purposes. Like child sex trafficking, a serious issue is being overwhelmed by a blizzard of politically motivated conspiratorial claptrap.

International Criminal Court

The U.S. does not recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court

A statue of the blindfolded lady justice in front of the United States Supreme Court building as the sun rises in the distance symbolizing the dawning of a new era.

Michel Martin transcript from NPR April 16, 2022

Heard on All Things ConsideredLISTEN· 6:50

NPR’s Michel Martin speaks with John Bellinger III, a former legal adviser for the National Security Council, about the complicated relationship the U.S. has with the International Criminal Court.


Earlier this week, President Biden used the word genocide to describe atrocities committed by Russia in Ukraine. The president had also previously called Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal and said evidence should be gathered to put Putin on trial. Now, you might be asking, how or where does such a trial take place? There is a legal body specifically set up to prosecute cases of genocide, war crimes and other serious international crimes. It’s the International Criminal Court, or ICC.

But here’s the rub. The U.S. does not recognize the jurisdiction of this legal body. We wanted to learn more about why the U.S. does not and, despite that, if there is a role the U.S. could play in investigating Russian actions in Ukraine. For this, we called John Bellinger III. He was a legal adviser for the National Security Council and the State Department during the administration of George W Bush. And he is with us now. John Bellinger, thank you so much for joining us.

JOHN BELLINGER III: Nice to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: So the International Criminal Court was established in 1998 by an international agreement called the Rome Statute. And although the U.S. helped negotiate that accord, it ultimately did not formally join the ICC. As briefly as you can, why not?

BELLINGER: Well, that’s right, Michel. The U.S. has had a real roller coaster relationship with the ICC from the beginning with, unfortunately, more downs than ups. The real answer to your question is that the U.S. has been concerned from the very beginning that the prosecutor for the court would be given too much power unchecked, and he or she could conduct politically-motivated prosecutions of U.S. soldiers.

And the U.S. actually had long supported the concept of an international criminal court. Congress had actually voted resolutions back in the 1990s calling for the creation of an international criminal court based on the Nuremberg tribunals after World War II. But as you said, when the Clinton administration participated in the negotiations of the treaty, the Rome Statute that created this International Criminal Court, the U.S. was not comfortable with the outcome and ended up being one of only seven countries in the world that voted against the treaty.

MARTIN: I do want to point out that Russia also does not recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, but the ICC has already opened investigations into possible war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine. Can the U.S. help with these investigations, despite not being a member of the court itself?

BELLINGER: Well, it certainly can, and it should, in my view. There are some legal problems because when the court opened in 2002, Congress passed, on a bipartisan basis, a very draconian piece of legislation called the American Service Members Protection Act that strictly limits the U.S. ability to cooperate with the court, with some exceptions. So the Biden administration would have to work its way through these legal restrictions, which would, I think, ultimately allow some support to the court. The bigger problem, really, is how is it that the U.S., which has traditionally had some concerns about the court, now support the court’s investigation of Russia? There’s an answer to that, which is that the United States is not concerned about everything that the ICC does.

In fact, when I was legal adviser for the State Department in the second term of the Bush administration, we supported the court’s investigation of the genocide in Sudan. So as long as the court is doing what it was created to do, which is to investigate international crimes that have not been investigated by the country that committed them, then we should be helping it. Of course, if they start investigating politically motivated cases of us or others, then we can oppose that. But…

MARTIN: But wait. Wait. Hold on. What’s the distinction there? Is the distinction – for example, the U.S. condemned a previous ICC investigation into U.S. actions in Afghanistan. Is the defining issue here whether the government responsible for the actions in question has the capacity or the willingness or any history of investigating itself? Is that the dividing line there?

BELLINGER: So if the United States does end up supporting the ICC’s investigation of Russia, which I hope and ultimately think that the Biden administration will, we will certainly open ourself up to some charges of hypocrisy because of these traditional concerns that the U.S. has had about the ICC’s investigation of the United States. But there is a difference.

I think what we need to do is apply the terms of the treaty itself. The International Criminal Court exists only to assert jurisdiction when a country hasn’t investigated its own nationals for the most serious of offenses, and Russia hasn’t done that. In the case of Afghanistan, though, the United States had investigated most of those offenses. You can argue about whether the investigations were full enough, but there’s a big difference between the investigations that were conducted by the United States at the same time that Russia is claiming that it has done absolutely nothing wrong in Ukraine.

MARTIN: Critics say that this is already hurting U.S. moral authority by not being a member. So do you feel comfortable telling me your opinion about this? I mean, do you think the U.S. should be a member?

BELLINGER: The U.S. should be a member. But sadly, that ship sailed back in 1998 when the negotiators, over U.S. objections during the Clinton administration, negotiated a treaty that did not address U.S. concerns. So yes, it’s painful for me as an American, as a lawyer, as the former legal adviser for the State Department, representing a country that has long been at the forefront of international criminal justice. It is unfortunate that the United States is not a party to the International Criminal Court. We should be. But for the time being, I think U.S. policy will have to continue to be, through both Republican and Democratic administrations, is to support the court when it is doing what it was set up to do, which, in this case, the investigations of the Russian war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine is exactly what the court was set up to do.

MARTIN: That was John Bellinger III. He is a former legal adviser to the National Security Council and the State Department during the administration of George W Bush. Mr. Bellinger, thanks so much for talking with us and sharing this expertise.

BELLINGER: Thanks, Michel. Great to be with you.

Political thoughts

Sharing Our Thoughts about Politics

Written by Carolyn Bertolino and published in Medium.com 4/15/2022

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

After public pressure and the Facebook whistleblower coming forward last year, social media has come under scrutiny for the massive amount of disinformation shared on the platform. That’s good, but I think it’s also important to help Americans determine reliable sources of information.

The culture wars are heating up in anticipation of this fall’s midterm elections. As usual, Republicans are a couple steps ahead of Democrats on “messaging”, having successfully convinced an alarming number of regular Americans that reading a book about two moms or dads is equivalent to teaching them about sex. They don’t really think first graders are being taught about sex, it’s just an attempt to distract from beneficial Democratic legislation like the Infrastructure Law and the Affordable Insulin Now Act.

Even so, I’m optimistic about the future. Trump and his henchmen are out of the White House and laws are being passed to do things like fix dangerous bridges, mitigate climate change, and quit forcing poor children to drink water containing lead.

Still, it’s discouraging to see so many people buying into harmful misinformation. COVID was an eye-opener in terms of how dangerous fake news can be. It was truly frightening to see so many people die because they believed a lie and refused the free, safe, life-saving vaccine. We also saw the Big Lie about the election culminate on January 6, 2021, with the violent attempted overthrow of our country.

The battle against disinformation is beginning to show some small, encouraging results. Cable news, the most biased source of political commentary, has been seeing a steep decline in its viewership. That phenomenon is in fact borne out by a recent study. When Fox viewers were paid to watch CNN instead, they were less likely to believe fake news, and the results began in as little as three days.

It’s usually pretty easy to verify things, but a lot of people don’t know that. Sometimes those of us who are skilled at and used to seeking out reliable sources forget that a lot of people have never really learned how to do it. This can lead to major breakdowns in communication. If we want to reduce the decisiveness, we need to work toward a standard fact-checking skills curriculum in public schools. We also need to learn how to help our friends, families, and acquaintances stop falling victim to misinformation machines like QAnon, Fox, and Newsmax.

I used to be really judgmental of people who believe conspiracy theories. Then I started reminding myself that some of them are smarter than me in other ways, and most people aren’t out to harm anyone. With those things in mind, it got easier to find common ground and help them question those phony sites and shows for themselves. When that happens, it’s easier for people to form their own opinions based on facts rather than rhetoric or even lies.

It doesn’t even cross a lot of people’s minds to cross-check their sources, to make sure they’re not receiving self-serving information from that source. An example would be a website run by the fossil fuel industry claiming to deliver official information about climate change. Once you find out that page was written by the very industry that profits from people’s misunderstanding, then you can check with NASA or NOAA, actual scientific agencies who specialize in that field, to get the facts.

It’s also beneficial to learn how to use government websites to verify statistics, budget facts, and how congresspeople voted. Of course, you’ll probably run into people who say they don’t believe anything from any governmental agency, but that’s a different topic. Most people will be receptive to something like “Well, we can check the actual bill or law by going to www.whitehouse.gov or www.congress.gov.” If you want to know the truth about the deficit or budget, go to www.cbo.gov. It may sound obvious to go to those websites, but it never occurs to people who’ve either forgotten or never been taught.

An early example that comes to my mind was the Affordable Care Act debate. That’s when I first noticed people from my hometown become armchair political pundits after not having cared about politics before. If you wanted to know the tax penalty for not having health insurance, you could do a Google search for “Obamacare penalty”. Then when you looked through the results for websites ending in .gov, you would have come across the one highlighted here. It’s still there today, with updated information to show that the penalty has been discontinued. If you want to know the facts about what’s in a bill or law, the website ending in .gov is the one to choose from your Google search.

A lot of people were convinced that they were going to have to pay a penalty if they didn’t have health insurance. They simply didn’t know that the fine had all kinds of exceptions to keep from penalizing regular people. Hardly anyone had to pay those fines because most people making that much money already had health insurance through their job, and if they didn’t, not only did the fine have an income threshold, but was not applicable unless the available plan was less than a certain dollar amount compared to your income. Knowledge about how hard it is to find people who had to pay the penalty helps you make an informed opinion based on something other than the Fox lie about how many were actually affected.

And these are not stupid people. These were people I knew from my hometown, school, or previous jobs, as opposed to the social media connections I’ve only met online either from political groups or shared activity interests. Most of these connections originating from real life had passed the same classes, at least in high school, that I had, requiring research from credible sources. But back then the only sources we had to choose from were newspapers, magazines, and books.

They, like me, also got most of their formal education before 24- hour cable news and the internet. After technology took over, we no longer had to go to the library, and we also had more “news” stations to choose from than just the standard networks. I believe it was this 24-hour news cycle that got a lot of people interested in issues they didn’t really care about before. Unfortunately, that 24-hour news cycle has only one goal: to keep viewers engaged. And nothing is more universally engaging than controversy.

When I’m talking with people who want to develop good research skills, I tell them one good way to start is to go to websites that end in either “.gov” or “.org”. The first ending means it’s a government website that’s got reliability requirements overseen by a legally bound inspector general. Websites that end in “.org” are those of non-profit organizations. Granted, there are some questionable nonprofit organizations, but it’s a good starting place. If the organization isn’t something widely known such as www.americancancersociety.org or www.worldwildlife.org, additional things to look for in the site or article could include links to government agency websites or other well-known non-profits.

Another thing I recommend using the Associated Press and public, or non-cable, news sources. Those networks, ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS, still hold themselves to internal standards from the Fairness Doctrine they were subject to from 1949 until 1987. Cable news was never subject to any of that, which is why it’s important to check the sources of info from them. I always verify through one of the three networks or a government watchdog website.

People who get their news from questionable sources are grossly uninformed about the recently passed Infrastructure Law and the Build Back Better bills being planned by congressional Democrats and the president. Both bills are incredibly popular, but a lot of people still honestly don’t know that the infrastructure law doesn’t raise taxes at all, and the Build Back Better bills don’t propose any taxes on people making less than 400,000 per year. And what’s really sad is that so far at least one Republican who voted against the extremely popular Infrastructure Law is already claiming they voted for it. All anyone has to do to see if those congresspeople are lying about their support is to go to the congressional website. I got there by typing “how congress voted on infrastructure bill” in Google and then put “.gov” behind it.

Now Biden is talking about a special billionaire tax. Judging by current standards, there will be a lot of misinformation surrounding it, which is another good example of why it’s so important to steer people toward reliable sources. It might be a little harder for the conspiracy theorists and Republicans to drum up opposition to the billionaire tax, because Democrats are actually calling it what it is, as opposed to the inaccurately nicknamed Defund the Police. Hopefully they’ll remember the lesson they learned on that one.

I hope things have gotten better in the debate on how to help people avoid fake news since I attended a presentation about fake news at my local library. It was given by a panel including a representative of a local TV station, someone from our state public radio, and a journalism professor from our local university.

They kept saying the only way to hear any truth was to subscribe to a print newspaper. When I got the mic, I asked for ideas on how to educate kids on reliable internet sources, because they and their parents don’t buy newspapers. I told them that even as a middle-aged adult, I don’t subscribe to print newspapers, but I know how to verify info online by checking with reputable news sources like ABC, the Des Moines Register, or the congressional budget office website. They looked down their noses at me and literally told me that if I was unwilling to pay for a print newspaper, I was buying into fake news. I really hope they have since evolved. This was 2017, at the height of the Trump-era fake news heyday.

As much as these guys wanted to, they weren’t going to be able to bring back print newspapers any more than they can bring back the horse and buggy or coal power plants. And when they claim the only source or correct news is print newspapers, they’re doing society and democracy a real disservice. They were basically discouraging families and our education system from teaching kids how to find reliable sources.

Young people seem to be getting more educated in their fact-checking, on a lot of political issues, and I think part of the reason is because they’re living the consequences of cable news lies. They’re the ones who have to do active-shooter drills in school and then can’t afford their rent or to put themselves through school even while working full-time. I commend today’s young people for taking it upon themselves to stand up against the lies, and it gives me hope for the future. At the same time, I see it as an unfortunate sort of “chickens coming home to roost.”

Now the Democrats are passing laws that will help bring us closer to the prosperity our parents and grandparents enjoyed before cable news reared its ugly head. If we help our friends and neighbors reach their own conclusions based on facts rather than lies, we’ll be able to keep the freedoms we have and restore the ones we’ve lost.

The Trouble with the Supreme Court

Opinion: The Supreme Court is broken. So is the system that confirms its justices.

Written by Ruth Marcus and published in the Washington Post 4/7/2022

The confirmation process for Supreme Court nominees is broken, and so, I fear, is the Supreme Court itself. These developments, mutually reinforcing, were both on sad display this week.

Not long ago, whether to confirm a Supreme Court nominee was not a predictably party-line affair, with a handful or fewer of defectors. In 2005, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was confirmed with 78 votes, and Democratic senators split equally on the nomination, 22 in favor and 22 against. That lopsided tally — earlier confirmations were, for the most part, more lopsided — is now a quaint artifact of a less polarized era.

The Senate finds itself now on the verge of a dangerous new reality, in which a Senate controlled by the party opposing the president might simply refuse to confirm a nominee, period. A tradition of deference to presidential prerogatives — of believing that elections have consequences, as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) liked to say in one of his earlier incarnations — is over. If the Senate majority is big and unified enough, it will defy the president.

Just wait and see. Republican senators were willing to caricature Ketanji Brown Jackson’s record in search of any excuse to vote against her — even though her addition to the court won’t affect its ideological balance. Imagine what would happen if a Republican appointee were to leave the court during a Democratic presidency. Actually, no imagination needed. Consider what the Senate did — or didn’t do — when Merrick Garland was nominated in 2016 to replace the late Antonin Scalia.

We could endlessly debate how things degenerated to this point: Republicans point to the Bork hearings, the Thomas hearings, the Gorsuch filibuster and the Kavanaugh hearings; Democrats bemoan the Garland blockade and the hurried Barrett confirmation. Neither side has clean hands.

The result is a fiercely partisan process that demeans the Senate and politicizes the court, rendering it a creature of political will and power. At this stage, there is no incentive for either party to back down from this maximalism. Time was (starting with Robert H. Bork), the Senate debated whether a nominee was in or outside the judicial mainstream. That assessment was in the eye of the beholder, of course, but at least it was a nod at deliberation.

That is so 1987. Judicial philosophy is now aligned with political party as never before in the court’s history. So it is no surprise to witness the same phenomenon — the raw exercise of power overtaking normal processes — unfolding on the court itself. Norms are shredded in both branches.

One vivid manifestation involves the conservative majority’s use of the emergency docket — what’s called, in more sinister-sounding terms, the shadow docket.

The court’s work is supposed to be conducted after full written briefing and oral argument and justified by written opinions. It has rules, or is supposed to, about when to intervene to referee disputes before they get to that stage, and, of course, that needs to happen sometimes. But increasingly, the court is using its emergency powers to step into disputes on the side that the majority favors — outside of the normal procedures and without written explanation.

Why? Because it can.

Thus, the week of Jackson’s confirmation saw five conservative justices — over the dissent of three liberals and the chief justice — intervening in a case still pending before a federal appeals court.

Five conservative justices voted to reinstate a Trump-era clean-water rule that restricted states’ ability to block potentially polluting projects. The three remaining liberal justices — joined, notably, by Chief Justice Roberts — dissented, complaining that the court was misusing its emergency powers by reviving the rule without the proof that was necessary to avoid “irreparable harm,” as the court’s precedents require.

“That renders the Court’s emergency docket not for emergencies at all,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan. This might sound mild, but process matters at the Supreme Court, and while Roberts had voted with the liberals before in such cases, this was the first time he had joined a dissent criticizing the misuse of the shadow docket.

Maybe the district court judge in the case made a mistake by going further than the Biden administration had asked in vacating the Trump-era regulation, not simply returning the matter to the Environmental Protection Agency while it worked on a new version of the rule.

That’s not the point. The point is that courts have rules about when to grant emergency relief — and the test isn’t just whether the lower court got it wrong. An appeals court is reviewing the district judge’s decision and, applying those rules, declined to stop it from taking effect. As Kagan explained in her dissent, “This Court may stay a decision under review in a court of appeals ‘only in extraordinary circumstances’ and ‘upon the weightiest considerations.’ ”

No emergency justified the Supreme Court interfering here. It just had the votes to act anyway.

When norms give way to partisanship and ideology, when applying impartial rules yields to obtaining results by any means, institutional legitimacy erodes. The immediate gain is understandably tempting. The institutional damage might not be immediately evident, but it is as undeniable as it will be difficult to repair.