Category Archives: Current Events

The Greatest Trick the Government Ever Pulled Was Convincing Us We Aren’t Already on Welfare

Paul Ryan

With the prospect of 24 million Americans losing health care if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, the question of the year is shaping up to be: “Why did so many Trump supporters vote against their own self-interest?”

At Forbes,  self-described former Republican Chris Ladd comes up with a credible answer — and at the center of it lies race, class, and a flawed perception of who gets or deserves “government assistance.” For generations, white middle-class Americans were taught to believe they “earned” everything given to them — and that by having a job, they were entitled to it. Meanwhile behind the scenes, the government used tax credits at the individual and employer level to hand over billions in subsidies for their health care, their housing, their public education, and their infrastructure:

My family’s generous health insurance costs about $20,000 a year, of which we pay only $4,000 in premiums. The rest is subsidized by taxpayers. You read that right. Like virtually everyone else on my block who isn’t old enough for Medicare or employed by the government, my family is covered by private health insurance subsidized by taxpayers at a stupendous public cost. Well over 90% of white households earning over the white median income (about $75,000) carried health insurance even before the Affordable Care Act. White socialism is nice if you can get it.

Companies can deduct the cost of their employees’ health insurance while employees are not required to report that benefit as income. That results in roughly a $400 billion annual transfer of funds from state and federal treasuries to insurers to provide coverage for the Americans least in need of assistance. This is one of the defining features of white socialism, the most generous benefits go to those who are best suited to provide for themselves. Those benefits are not limited to health care.

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Stories of Immigration as Protest: Letters to Donald Trump

At Granta, Barbara Zitwer, Colm Tóibín, Elham Manea, Linda Coverdale, Kyung-sook Shin, and Anne Landsman share their stories of immigration to protest Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban as an abomination in a country built and fueled by people from away.

Barbara Zitwer: I was very moved at an i am muslim too rally in NYC a few weeks ago. There were people of every color, every age and every religion. I overheard a conversation – an elderly woman was speaking so animatedly in a low, raspy voice, and although she had a thick accent her words lodged in my mind: ‘My family died in a camp in Germany. No one stopped them. We can never let that happen again. We can never watch. We must act. I lived for a reason. I am a Jew and today I am a Muslim, too.’ And then she rolled up her sleeve and revealed a tattoo on her arm as if it was a badge of courage.

Colm Tóibín: It is always easy to invent enemies; it merely takes a failure of imagination, a determination to look inwards, a lack of confidence in our own ability to see clearly, to understand, to love.

Linda Coverdale: Many of the more than eighty French books I have translated into English deal with war, oppression, misogyny, racism, the plight of refugees and the gruesome hells of genocide. The second book I ever took on told the story of Molyda, a child who watched without a tear – even a single one would have betrayed her ‘complicity’ – as those she loved died in the killing fields of Cambodia. Rescued from a Thai refugee camp by a couple in Paris, she could not speak for a year, but her new parents, psychiatrists in exile from Communist Czechoslovakia, helped her to dance and sing her memories, which slowly became her French voice.

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Empathy, Schmempathy.

Broken sign reading "Nothing"

My blue state bubble is trying so hard to reach out. Just one example: a local organization (The Evergrey) planned a field trip to a red zone in hopes of creating some kind of… understanding?  It seems every other person on the bus is reading Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance’s memoir about Appalachian culture. And my media diet offers an all-you-can-eat buffet of calls to empathize with Trump voters.

But in New York Magazine, Frank Rich asks if soft hearted lefties are wasting their — our? —  time:

But for those of us who want to bring down the curtain on the Trump era as quickly as possible, this pandering to his voters raises a more immediate and practical concern: Is it a worthwhile political tactic that will actually help reverse Republican rule? Or is it another counterproductive detour into liberal guilt, self-flagellation, and political correctness of the sort that helped blind Democrats to the gravity of the Trump threat in the first place? While the right is expert at channeling darker emotions like anger into ruthless political action, the Democrats’ default inclination is still to feel everyone’s pain, hang their hats on hope, and enter the fray in a softened state of unilateral disarmament. “Stronger Together,” the Clinton-campaign slogan, sounded more like an invitation to join a food co-op than a call to arms. After the debacle of 2016, might the time have at last come for Democrats to weaponize their anger instead of swallowing it? Instead of studying how to talk to “real people,” might they start talking like real people? No more reading from wimpy scripts concocted by consultants and focus groups. (Clinton couldn’t even bring herself to name a favorite ice-cream flavor at one campaign stop.) Say in public what you say in private, even at the risk of pissing people off, including those in your own party. Better late than never to learn the lessons of Trump’s triumphant primary campaign that the Clinton campaign foolishly ignored.

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MAWA! The Christian Alt-Right Wants to Make America White Again

In an exploration in The New Republic of how American Evangelicals came to embrace the Trump campaign, Sarah Posner introduces some of the main players in “alt-right Christianity,” like Nathanael Strickland.

Strickland recently told me that alt-right Christians see “racial differences” as “real, biological, and positive,” a view he insists is “merely a reaffirmation of traditional historical Christianity.” He argues that many on the alt-right who consider themselves atheists or pagans only lost their faith in Christianity “due to the antiwhite hatred and Marxist dogma held by the modern church.”

Strickland considers himself a “kinist,” part of the new white supremacist movement that, according to the Anti-Defamation League, “uses the Bible as one of the main texts for its beliefs,” offering a powerful validation to white supremacists for their racism and anti-Semitism. Strickland sees kinism as a successor to Christian Reconstructionism, a theocratic movement dating back to the 1960s that played a key role in the rise of Christian homeschooling. The movement’s primary goal was to implement biblical law—including public stonings—in every facet of American life.

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Who’s Been Seeding the Alt-Right? Follow the Money to Robert Mercer

stacks of united states $10 bills

Jane Mayer profiles hedge fund manager, alt-right supporter, and political funder Robert Mercer in the New Yorker. He’s the man who brought us Kellyanne Conway, Steve Bannon, and eventually, Donald Trump, and his worldview may sound particularly familiar to anyone who’s been reading up on Bannon.

Magerman told the Wall Street Journal that Mercer’s political opinions “show contempt for the social safety net that he doesn’t need, but many Americans do.” He also said that Mercer wants the U.S. government to be “shrunk down to the size of a pinhead.” Several former colleagues of Mercer’s said that his views are akin to Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Magerman told me, “Bob believes that human beings have no inherent value other than how much money they make. A cat has value, he’s said, because it provides pleasure to humans. But if someone is on welfare they have negative value. If he earns a thousand times more than a schoolteacher, then he’s a thousand times more valuable.” Magerman added, “He thinks society is upside down—that government helps the weak people get strong, and makes the strong people weak by taking their money away, through taxes.” He said that this mind-set was typical of “instant billionaires” in finance, who “have no stake in society,” unlike the industrialists of the past, who “built real things.”

Another former high-level Renaissance employee said, “Bob thinks the less government the better. He’s happy if people don’t trust the government. And if the President’s a bozo? He’s fine with that. He wants it to all fall down.”

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There Are Reasons We Can’t Handle the Truth

Julie Beck, in The Atlantic, digs deep into news silos, alternative facts, and cognitive dissonance. When we believe things that are counterfactual, it’s not because we’re getting news from biased sources (although we are) we’re lying to ourselves (which we also are), but because the actual truth of a statement is no longer what’s important.

In one particularly potent example of party trumping fact, when shown photos of Trump’s inauguration and Barack Obama’s side by side, in which Obama clearly had a bigger crowd, some Trump supporters identified the bigger crowd as Trump’s. When researchers explicitly told subjects which photo was Trump’s and which was Obama’s, a smaller portion of Trump supporters falsely said Trump’s photo had more people in it.

While this may appear to be a remarkable feat of self-deception, Dan Kahan thinks it’s likely something else. It’s not that they really believed there were more people at Trump’s inauguration, but saying so was a way of showing support for Trump. “People knew what was being done here,” says Kahan, a professor of law and psychology at Yale University. “They knew that someone was just trying to show up Trump or trying to denigrate their identity.” The question behind the question was, “Whose team are you on?”

In these charged situations, people often don’t engage with information as information but as a marker of identity. Information becomes tribal.

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I’m on a Boat, Y’all! (With Canada’s Hyper-Conservatives)

In The Walrus, Canadian writer Peter Norman spends a week with followers of Canada’s fear-mongering conspiratorial conservative Ezra Levant to explore how Trump’s nationalistic fervor has taken hold across the border, and what it portends.

How does an ordinary Canadian become a Rebel? During my week at sea, I began to classify Rebels according to the issues that made them angriest—the ones that had originally brought them into Levant’s orbit. Fear of Islam and a distrust of mainstream climate-change science were the most prevalent. Rebels might start out as temperate conservatives, centrists, or even leftists (Faith Goldy said that her conservatism had emerged from the ashes of a youthful hard-left zeal). But at some point, a gateway issue draws them in.

Maybe a sudden spike in a tax bill is what enrages them, or they lose their job. It could be a workplace incident in which they’re accused of exhibiting some stigmatized trait—racism, sexism, transphobia—that they don’t believe they possess. Or, watching the news, they are overcome by the horror of an Isis terrorist attack.

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Death in the Desert

Memorial coffins on the US-Mexico barrier for those killed crossing the border fence in Tijuana, México

Making it across the geo-political border doesn’t mean you’ve made it. In Documenting the Undocumented on Places, Taylor James and Adelheid Fischer find the end of the line for a number of “un-authorized border crossers.”

The public record of the Death Maps provides no detail about the private lives of its entrants. What hopes carried Claudia Patricia Oqunendo-Bedoya, Case Report 02-01321, into the desert inferno in August 2002 when she succumbed to “probable hyperthermia”? Just two days before Oqunendo-Bedoya’s remains were recovered, another crosser, Jaime Arteaga Alba, Case Report 02-01310, was riding in a vehicle that may have been taking him to his final destination: a job site in the U.S. Was he jubilant that he survived the grueling desert trek? Was he planning his new future when he was killed on August 8 in a highway accident?

Humane Borders gathers data each time a body is found, while the work of James (and Fischer, through this essay) attempts to humanize each loss.

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Voices from the Last Days of Obamacare: A Reading List

Repeal and replace: Republican candidates used these three words throughout the election cycle almost as an incantation. There was no other option for dealing with Public Enemy #1: Obamacare. When President Trump took office they became a battle cry for Republicans intent on undoing his predecessor’s signature legislation.

But what would repeal and replace look like? Last week, the House Republicans unveiled draft legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act, seven years in the making. The American Health Care Act shares part of the old plan’s name, but not many of its current features. Everything from the insurance mandate to Medicaid expansion is missing from the new plan, and leaders from both sides are unhappy with the half-baked results. Read more…

R.E.M.’s Political Songs Still Resonate Today

Never before has a rock and roll band been as lyrically political as R.E.M. From Murmur to Fables of the Reconstruction, Green’s “World Leader Pretend” and “Orange Crush” to Automatic for the People’s “IgnoreLand,” R.E.M. is the only band of the 20th century that legitimately crossed over from rock to pop and could appeal to hardcore college radio denizens as well as teens who first heard of the Athens-based quartet while surfing the mainstream radio dial.

What other band could draw tens of thousands and sell out arenas with lyrics like, “These bastards stole their power from the victims of the Us v. Them years/Wrecking all things virtuous and true/The undermining social democratic downhill slide into abysmal/Lost lamb off the precipice into the trickle down runoff pool.”?

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