Saturday, September 26, 2020

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Noam Chomsky: There’s Reason for Hope

from  JstorDaily:

The celebrated linguist and scholar on his new book on global climate change, the mediated reality of Fox News, and the economics of the Green New Deal.

As the world faces an existential crisis–climate change, not the global coronavirus pandemic–it is fitting that Noam Chomsky, arguably the most influential public intellectual of the last half-century, is fixing his attention on a solution. Chomsky, perhaps best known as the father of modern linguistics, has spent decades speaking truth to power as a vocal anti-war activist, from the Vietnam War to the drone strikes under Barack Obama. And while he is associated with the American Left, he prefers to align with the “libertarian socialist” camp and has been deeply critical of both major U.S. parties.
In his new book, Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal, Chomsky and renowned economist Robert Pollin answer questions posed by C.J. Polychroniou on the global climate catastrophe, spelling out what, exactly, could happen if we do not take immediate action to stop carbon emissions. In the book, Chomsky tackles the economic arguments related to the Green New Deal: how neoliberal economic policies since Ronald Reagan got us into the current mess, and why the new proposal actually will be good for American workers.

Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal

I spoke with him over Zoom from his home office in Arizona, and our conversation touched on how climate change will create new jobs, the biggest myths about the Green New Deal, and why the Republicans in Congress are worse than the Nazis.

Here is our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Hope Reese: One of the things you’ve written is that people are going to have to be convinced of the urgency of the threats we face. How can that happen?
Noam Chomsky: If you look at the coverage of the conventions, there’s not one word about it, not a word. People are incapable of imagining what is not immediately in front of their eyes. So, if they see a storm, they might think about it. But when they see that the Greenland ice sheet has reached the point of irreversible melting, it sort of shoots off into the back of their minds. It’s going to destroy the species unless we overcome this.
You argue that we need to revive the labor movement. Can you talk about the importance of the labor movement in connection to the climate crisis?
Well, look over modern history. The labor movement has been in the forefront of just about every significant action for social change, reform, and so on. The U.S. labor history happens to be unusually harsh and brutal. Well, the labor movement has been very vibrant, but it’s repeatedly been crushed by force. And that was true in the 1920s: it had virtually disappeared. The Depression hit in 1929, and it took about five years for the labor movement to start to revive. And then it led the thrust toward the New Deal, which we’ve been living with since.
When Reagan and Thatcher came in, they understood this very well. Their first actions were to destroy the labor movement––illegal strike-breaking under Reagan, which was pretty effective. But nowadays the labor movement is quite weak. It could reconstitute. And if it does, it should be in the forefront of this, so these are issues that immediately affect working people.

One example: Even before the pandemic, the oil and gas prices were sharply declining. Companies were going out of business, wells were not being closed, which is very dangerous because they leak methane and so on. There are about 100,000 workers involved in this. They can be put to work immediately and constructively just to close the wells. Okay? Make sure that the wells are closed and not leaking huge quantities of methane. Not a huge sum of money, but it requires some concern for working people and that’s lacking.
The Democrats gave up on the working class 50 years ago. The Republicans are violently opposed to working people. They pretend otherwise, but it’s clear from what they do, so nobody’s pushing it. Actually, you can read it in the business press, Bloomberg Businessweek proposes it, another picks it up. Then, there’s the Green New Deal, which is essential for survival. One strong component of it is engaging working people.
How does that happen under the Green New Deal?
There’s a huge amount of work to be done simply in retrofitting homes, construction development, and mass transportation. All of these activities engage a huge part of the labor force, installing solar heaters, solar panels, and so on. Well, that should be a large part of the Green New Deal. But of course, it takes legislation, initiative, popular movements to press it. These things are happening, but not on a sufficient scale to make it work.
I mean, the Republican Party programs, of course, are just asking for total disaster and calamity. And the Democrats have a somewhat better program. In fact, the best on paper, the best program that’s ever been produced. But meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee’s cutting back on it. So, for example, both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris proposed cutting subsidies on the fossil fuel industries, which is insane. The democratic establishment cut it out of the program—over the objections of both the presidential candidate and the vice presidential candidate.
This is the kind of thing that takes lots of public activism to overcome. The Clintonite Democrats are basically moderate Republicans. They don’t want to see anything happen, and they control the “Party of Radicals,” which means that there has to be a lot of effort to get the chance to get a serious change.
In the book, you say that dismantling capitalism might be ideal, but there’s a problem with doing that now. How so?
It’s just out of the question. In order to overturn capitalism, you have to have huge masses of the population committed to overturning all of the basic institutions of society and creating new ones. Do you see any sign of that anywhere?
I believe you wrote that we just don’t have the time for it, in the face of this immediate crisis…
We have to work on it, but you have to create the situation. You can’t do it by snapping your fingers. Talking about getting rid of capitalism is like saying, “why don’t we have total peace on earth with everyone loving each other?” It’d be nice.
What role does the media play in the public’s perception of the climate crisis? In light of fake news and a fractured media landscape, can we come to an agreement about what’s going on?
Well, it’s not entirely a fractured landscape. There’ve been good studies of media outreach by the business press and peer research and so on, and the results are pretty interesting. So one major study took about 30 media, print, TV, radio, the full range, and asked people which ones they go to, and they divided into Republicans and Democrats. Among the Democrats, it was a pretty broad spectrum, most of them. Among Republicans, it was very narrow, focused on Fox News, Breitbart, Rush Limbaugh. That’s what they hear. Now, what they hear is what you just said: fake news. Everything’s invented, Rush Limbaugh, four corners of deceit, science, academia, government, and media. They thrive on the deceit. Well, if half the population has that drummed into their heads every day, every year, you’re going to get stranger attitudes.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Misinformation Is ‘Its Own Pandemic’ Among Parents Here’s how to push back on social media and in person.

from the New York Times:

In January 2019, Scott Wiener, a California State Senator, introduced what he thought was an L.G.B.T.Q. Civil Rights Bill. At the time, California law gave judges discretion on whether to put a 19-year-old man on a sex offender registry if he had vaginal sex with a 16-year-old girl, but if that 19-year-old man had anal or oral sex with a 16-year-old boy, he would automatically be registered as a sex offender. Wiener ’s bill sought to fix that discrepancy by giving the same discretion to judges over oral or anal sex offenses. Sex with any minor would be a crime in the state of California if this bill passed.

According to Wiener’s communications director, Catie Stewart, the bill was moving through the legislature with little fanfare or opposition until this summer, when a mom with tens of thousands of followers on Instagram got wind of a politically motivated misrepresentation from earlier in the year — one with the headline “California lawmakers introduce bill to protect pedophiles who sexually abuse innocent kids.” She then posted about it, and encouraged her followers to contact Wiener’s office to complain.
This mom is anti-mask, against vaccines and promotes QAnon-based conspiracy theories about pedophilia — specifically that Democratic elites are running secret pedophile rings. When her anti-bill Instagram post went viral, it reached many parents who were not her direct followers and who were not affiliated with QAnon.

“They’d share it on their grids, and they’d share on their stories. They were fully unaware it was false information,” she said. “They weren’t really hard-core QAnon people — I don’t know if they’d know what QAnon was.” They just saw that there was a bill appearing to protect pedophiles and were understandably horrified. Wiener’s official Instagram was bombarded with thousands of comments and D.M.s, ranging from upset to violent. “#SaveTheChildren seemed to be the way in for many people,” Stewart said.

Since the bill passed on Sept. 2, the torrent of comments and D.M.s have become “a monsoon.”

As my colleague Kevin Roose pointed out in August, the SaveTheChildren hashtag began as “a legitimate fund-raising campaign for the Save the Children charity,” a 100-year old nonprofit dedicated to improving the health of children around the world. But since the pandemic began, that hashtag has been hijacked by QAnon followers spreading conspiracy theories about rampant pedophilia.

In the motherhood and wellness online space, #SaveTheChildren has been successfully distanced from the more extreme elements of QAnon, said Kathryn Jezer-Morton, a doctoral researcher in online motherhood at Concordia University in Montreal. Mom-fluencers pushing essential oils and nontoxic cleaning products aren’t, say, posting about how pedophiles are murdering children and harvesting their blood to stay forever young — they’re merely posting photos of themselves at rallies against child-trafficking.
“No one wants to take a public stance for child trafficking,” Jezer-Morton said, especially on Instagram, where “posi-vibes” are encouraged, so these posts go unchallenged, and can spread quickly. It matters because people can follow these hashtags down the rabbit hole of QAnon and become radicalized. And at this moment, parents may be particularly vulnerable. “It’s a really hard time in our country,” said Stewart. “People are suffering, there’s massive unemployment,” and becoming an activist against something as disgusting as child trafficking may be a way to make sense of the chaos.

“What most of us don’t realize is how entrenched people can get in these beliefs very quickly,” said Joan Donovan, the Research Director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy who studies online extremism and disinformation campaigns. In the worst-case scenarios, these beliefs can lead adherents to potentially harm people, as Annie Kelly explained in an op-ed about moms for QAnon, and the F.B.I. labeled conspiracy theories including QAnon a new domestic terrorism threat in 2019.

Since July, at least three reality-TV-star moms with over four million Instagram followers collectively have posted about #SaveTheChildren, including incorrect information like the statistic that “300,000 American children a year will be lured into the sex trade,” a figure that has been thoroughly debunked.

If you’re active on social media, you may have seen a fellow parent share some of this information. So how do you go about pushing back against the falsehoods? I asked three experts to weigh in.

If it’s someone you know, talk to them privately. Start by asking broad questions about their posts, like, “What is this about? Can you explain it to me?” said Mike Rothschild, a conspiracy theory researcher and the author of “The World’s Worst Conspiracies.” You’re trying to gather knowledge about their beliefs in a non-adversarial way. “You don’t want to try to debate or debunk, it makes them think they’re right,” he said. Just ask questions and get them to explain it to you. “Get them to do the thinking,” said Rothschild. “You can’t reason someone out of a fringe belief,” but you may be able to get them to see their logic isn’t holding up.

Approach the subject with kindness and empathy. Paul Offit, M.D., the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who talks to parents who have encountered vaccine conspiracy theories, said that “I am sympathetic to the fact that it’s hard to see your kids injected with a biological fluid,” he said. “I can see when people would be worried about that.” So try to engage with what your friend is really afraid of if they are posting a lot about child trafficking. Are they scared of their child getting kidnapped? If so, why?

You have to be willing to meet them where they are without calling them “crazy” or dismissing them out of hand. “Even feigning interest in the conspiracy in order to find out what their real pain point or fear is that they’re trying to address in their lives, may give you info on how to reach them as they’re getting more and more involved in this,” Donovan explained.

Acknowledge when someone is not open to a discussion. If your friend is so deeply into the QAnon world that they cannot have a civil discussion about their beliefs, “Let them know you love them, that you’re here for them,” but then drop it, said Rothschild — you can’t “talk somebody out of a belief that they want to have.”

If it’s someone you don’t know personally, respond with facts. If someone is repeating misinformation, say, in a Facebook mom group, you can gently push back with a link to correct data, said Donovan. It’s appropriate to respond, “‘I don’t think this discussion has a place here,’ and potentially link to some of the reporting going on,” she said. If that misinformation is anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim, as many of QAnon-related conspiracies tend to be, you should report those posts to either the moderator or the social media company, Donovan said. “It’s important to use the tools available on the platform to get these posts removed.”

Catie Stewart ignored all the Instagram messages that were abusive or contained threats of violence toward her or Sen. Wiener, but she said she had a decent success rate responding to constituents who were just misinformed. “You helped pass a law in California for pedophiles, basically,” one parent initially wrote to Wiener’s account over Instagram D.M., which Stewart shared with me. “As a mother, I need a clear understanding of what the laws that are being passed actually mean.”

Stewart wrote back to this woman with a link to a USA Today story that fact-checkedconspiracies about the bill, and made it clear California was not legalizing pedophilia. “OK, thank you for clearing that up. My heart literally dropped thinking that this would be something California would do,” the mom replied.
“It’s really important that if you see someone in your life spreading this, you explain to them the truth in a really kind way,” Stewart said. “Sometimes it’s not going to work, but whoever you can get to, it’s one more person who is not going to spread this.” Misinformation is “its own pandemic.”