Move Over Fox News, MSNBC is gaining, but Sinclair Broadcast Group will Trump them all!

A line I often quote from Mr. Mom, the 1980’s comedy movie, “No, lie to him, he likes it.” is funny, but possibly true.

Voters apparently don’t mind being lied to (again and again). Notably Trump’s national political ascent sprang from his destructive and baseless lie about President Obama’s place of birth.

Research suggests that people will believe lies if they support our biases. In fact people get a dopamine rush every time they hear something that supports what they believe, and they tend to disregard all else. And when confronted with facts to remove the basis for that belief, they will usually still cling to their originally formed belief even if there is no longer a reason to. Read this thorough New Yorker article for research on this phenomenon.

The lesson here is to form your beliefs cautiously, using good information in the first place. But that is getting harder.

The thing is, the news industry has become more conservative and  manipulative in recent decades.  The American myth of “The Liberal Media”, based on a couple misinterpreted studies in the 1980s, helped Conservatives carve a niche for opinion-based reporting which has grown and undermined fact-based reporting. This has resulted in both conservative, liberal, and fringe “news” outlets. For a solid understanding of this I recommend you read The Republican Noise Machine: Right-Wing Media and How it Corrupts Democracy written by former Republican David Brock in 2004, but eerily and urgently relevant today.

We already know how much Fox News correlates with less informed viewers (in study after study). One study even found that Fox viewers may be less informed than those who consume no news at all. Yet Fox wields power in the public consciousness and can force other networks to cover stories differently. Recall Fox’s premature call for Bush in the 2000 election creating a chain of events which disenfranchised voters across the state of Florida and affected the nation’s leadership at a pivotal time.

That is why it is noteworthy that MSNBC recently surpassed Fox news in weeknight prime-time viewer ratings. I attribute much of that to Rachel Maddow whose ratings have soared since the Presidential election. She may repeat herself like a Kindergarten teacher, but she reports well-researched and relevant news to you like you are a grown-up, without screaming/streaming talking heads. Her interest in discovering the truth through actual investigative reporting reveals real journalism. Thank you, Rachel.

But watch out for Sinclair Broadcast Group, a penny-pinching Trump-supporting propaganda news outlet poised to take over Tribune Media and become the largest TV news outlet in the nation, thwarting monopoly rules all thanks to the Trump administration recently paving the way for the merger. This news company forces content onto local news outlets, the ones you trust because they are from your community. Watch John Oliver’s piece on Sinclair Broadcast Group in “Last Week Tonight” and cringe at the middle of the segment when he shows the scripted news clips echoing from stations around the country using the exact same propaganda language to brainwash people into thinking the FBI has a vendetta against Mike Flynn. Incidentally, “Last Week Tonight” correlates with the most informed viewers (as does NPR).

Complicating matters further, our news sources have also been corrupted by an unholy alliance between the alt-right and Russia, and an army of Russian bots and trolls, ushering in the modern era of fake news.  This includes targeted campaigns that push propaganda messages to U.S. military personnel and their families. Our technologies in social media–Facebook, Twitter–presumptuously and relentlessly push extreme and fake news in front of you, allowing lies and hatred to spread like viruses (SEE: This Video Will make You Angry and its sequel).

Many Americans respond to all this by ignoring news, instead of taking the effort to sort it out and find reliable sources. Instead they focus on their jobs, their families, their biases. Sounds fair until you consider that the upshot of that approach chills democracy. If we all put our heads in the sand, it will allow the corrupt and power-hungry to constantly manipulate us and take over completely. It will make us all only slightly more informed than Fox viewers.

History has its eyes on you… Hamilton, Candide, and Wonder Woman

The last couple months were packed with entertainments and philosophical exchanges with family and friends. The upshot is that we cannot escape from politics right now, even when we are enjoying ourselves. Here are some highlights.

We enjoyed an excellent musical production of Candide produced by the Musical Theater Works company in Evanston. Yet there was a nagging something that tarnished enjoyment, for me at least. This story reminds us that good art is timeless. Voltaire could not have predicted Trumpians any better. How impossible it was not to picture Trump in the vain brother, Melania in the shallow jewelry-loving Cunegonde, etc. Ultimately the main characters were revolting, even Candide whose professed innocence belied his murdering selfishness.

Similarly, we finally got our family to Hamilton in Chicago. This was so well done and anticipated that people were laughing at jokes before they finished, and singing along in certain spots. Yet, my experience of it was filtered through my awareness of current political events. You are supposed to weep at the loss of a character toward the end. I did, a little. But my sobbing moment was when Washington revealed his haunting awareness that, “History has its eyes on me”. I took this to heart. I took it personally. This is the moment we will answer to later in our lives.

We have choices in what we believe and what ideas we surround ourselves with, even what ideas we entertain ourselves with.

Do we entertain ourselves by reading dystopian Atlas Shrugged as Paul Ryan recommends to inform our world view? Or do we read Steve Bannon’s apocalyptic obsessions?

Or do we choose the messaging that typifies us as Americans, uplifting, promising, liberating and empowering?

My top pick this summer is Wonder Woman  (a must see movie, though you will cringe at Steve Mnuchin’s name in the credits) which captured the essence of our modern-day conflicts in our quest to save humanity, “It’s not about what they deserve, it’s about what you believe”.  And also, “If you see something in the world that isn’t right, you can either do nothing, or you can do something about it.”

Help an immigrant who might help you one day–the world is round

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It was during the Science March in April that we proudly waved our “Einstein was an immigrant” sign. I could not stop thinking about how lucky we are that our country attracts brave and brilliant people who flock to us from around the world. But that could be changing under the Trump administration.

In January, Trump’s Travel/Muslim Ban, had an immediate chilling effect, contrary to our Constitution, and also contrary to the goal of making America great. Universities reported drops in foreign applications to University programs, with likely negative impacts on our economy and innovation. Students have choices about where to go in the world. After Trump announced his decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, President Emmanuel Marcon of France made a direct appeal for scientists to “consider France [their] second homeland”. Do we really want other countries to compete against us for, and win market share of, hard workers and innovators?

Meanwhile, we need immigrants to fill the numbers gap (or Generation X, Y and millennials) left behind by the Baby Boomers. This is not a time to turn away consumers and producers who boost our economy. We need them to make America great, we always have.

If you want to help immigrants, I recommend that you take a peak at the organizations listed in these Free Research Resources on Immigration presented recently at our local Library by two attorneys/librarians. Perhaps something in here may be useful to you or someone you know.

 

Victory Today, March on Saturday, and No Work on May Day

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Today roughly 2,000 women, men and some children, gathered at the Women’s Rally in the state Capitol Building in Springfield, Illinois. It is a long haul to make it to Springfield from most of the state. Many people, like me and my son, took the day off from work and school. It was worth it. Unlike the Science March Chicago  and the Tax Day March Chicago (which were awesome by the way) this rally was directly aligned for legislative impact. Today HB40 was passed in the House 62-55. This bill is intended to protect women and doctors from an automatic trigger to criminalize abortion and abortion counseling the moment Roe v, Wade is overturned (a real possibility now that Gorsuuch was confirmed for the US Supreme Court). The Senate will likely pass it, but Governor Rauner flipped his position, balking at one piece on state employee and insurance coverage for abortions, even though he has personally donated thousands to Planned Parenthood. Please put pressure on Rauner to sign.

Meanwhile, there are many other bills pending that deserve attention, such as the Equal Rights Amendment, important language changes to Equal Pay Act (to stop the common practice of employers to ask job candidates to disclose past salary), Learning with Dignity (feminine products in schools), etc.

I met Daniel Biss at the rally today, a state senator who spoke eloquently at the Tax Day March, and again today. Based in near north suburbs of Chicago, he seems to have the right mix of integrity, compassion and political savvy and activism. He is one to watch in the next race for Governor.

Coming up: This Saturday, April 29 at Noon in Federal PLaza, Chicago is the People’s Climate March. Spread the word, people don’t know much about this one. We are going after all. Hope to see you there!  Also May 1 is the Labor March.

Keep writing to your US Senators and Congressmen to demand an independent investigation of Trump-Russia collusion. This is criminal to the point of high treason, way beyond the “lock her up” pay for play Trump activities. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you are watching Fox propaganda/whitewashing or not reading news at all, so get busy triangulating your news sources or give me a ring for a jumpstart.

Greed, Fear and Racism, or Something Worse

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National Republicans, and the national conversation during the 2016 Presidential Election, have already led me to the conclusion that greed, fear and racism were driving principles in the new Republicanism (and old conservatism).

These driving principles fuel things like white flight that create self-fulfilling prophecies in now hurting neighborhoods. After having experienced that myself in Chicagoland, I was interested to learn about old Louisville in Kentucky from a resident when we traveled for spring break. These principles allow white people to pull the ladder up behind themselves on immigration under the guise that “I just want them to obey the laws of entering our country” while ignoring our own history. Also, these driving principles allowed people to be easily cowed and manipulated by lies and misleading information and regime-toppling propaganda (enter Russian internet trolls retweeted by Trump).

Bill Maher expressed the same exact thing–greed, fear and racism–so it caught my attention. But he goes further to explain the otherwise inexplicable behavior of the current White House leadership. Would be funnier if it weren’t true.

  • Click Here (late night language)  My teen tells me this is trending on YouTube. Maher doesn’t even mention all the examples he could, like rolling back clean water rules, but he sums it up with the simple truth.

Let’s break free of the ugly instincts driving current politics and foreign influencers, I prefer rhetoric and policies that stand for generosity, bravery, and love. Let’s rise above our base instincts so we can be the Americans we are supposed to be and “Fly like an Eagle…”

“Look, A New Day Has Begun”! Ben Vereen, Credit Unions and the ACLU

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This weekend I had the extreme pleasure of enjoying Ben Vereen’s performance at Dominican University’s Annual Gala for student scholarships. The University’s mission is to “…prepare students to pursue truth, to give compassionate service, and to participate in the creation of a more just and humane world.” This coupled with Vereen’s “vibration of love” as he put it, left a lasting impression of positivity and hopefulness.

I love his music, but many of you may most fondly remember him, as my husband does, for his role as Chicken George in the classic TV mini-series Roots (If you have not seen this, make the time!). As Vereen inevitably walked us through years of American history with his musical revue of Broadway hits (“Memory”, “Jesus Christ Superstar”, “Aquarius”) and other classics, (“Chicago”, “Summertime“, “Standby Me”, “What a Wonderful World”), the moments were poignant with recollections of hardship, social change, and triumph of America and Americans.

Other events this weekend buoyed spirits. Consider the ACLU’s PeoplePower.org debuting online (Must see). Even Democrats got it together last Wednesday with the first Democrats Live virtual Town Hall meeting (Subscribe for future meetings). And the best part of this weekend was celebrating a local Credit Union who supports hardworking people every day, unlike the “foreclosure king” who now serves in Trump’s cabinet as Secretary of Treasury.

Immersed in this positivity, perhaps I can stomach Trump’s cabinet member Ben Carson, who recently and ridiculously equated slaves with immigrants. Perhaps I can handle the fact that kids at my son’s school are making Hail Hitler gestures and calling him and others “the Jew”. Perhaps I can see Trump’s audacious wiretapping lie for what it really is, which is a reckless effort to distract news from his corrupt Russian ties. See Russian ties visual or (incomplete) Russian Video Timeline. Perhaps.

The hatred stirred up, amplified, and downright created from whole cloth in Right-Wing political rhetoric and strategy, is ugly. But we have seen uglier. And think how far we have come.

So I will try to let Ben Vereen’s voice resonate stronger and linger longer. I could feel his belief in “What a Wonderful World” and hear his haunting conclusion to “Memory“, which seemed to usher in the resistance as a dawning of enlightenment, “Look, a new day… has begun”.

 

It Takes a Woman. To Save a Village.

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Today, in honor of International Women’s Day and a call for action following the Women’s March, a group of women (and my father and ten-year old son) took off for the day and toured Jane Addams Hull House Museum in Chicago.

I was humbled by the sheer breadth and depth of what Hull House accomplished in its many decades of service to our city and our nation. Also what women accomplished at a time when they did not yet have the right to vote. And most notably, how so much of what they accomplished persists today, to the benefit of all Americans, such as the eight-hour work day, child labor laws, occupational health and safety laws, the NAACP and ACLU.

A remarkable aspect of the settlement house was its commitment to serving the needs of the whole community, which meant dining halls, reading rooms, classes in citizenship and skill-building, child care for women who worked, new concepts like kindergarten, the first city playground for children, etc. This was not a single-issue settlement. It was about improving lives and community as a whole.

Also worth noting was both the neighborly and scientific approach taken by Hull House social workers. The map pictured above was developed by their study and intimate knowledge of the surrounding area and helped them understand the extreme poverty that existed. They deduced that families were making so little money weekly that children were forced to work, and work inordinate numbers of hours. Their studies and persistence led to child labor reforms we take for granted today.

Hull House workers settled in and served a neighborhood community, affording them a holistic view of a variety of community needs and solutions to those needs. This work is complex and issues are intertwined. Solving one problem might mean several solutions are simultaneously needed. Conversely, solving multiple needs can sometimes point to one powerful solution. Knowing the difference is critical, and it takes careful study and intimate knowledge and understanding of the needs. We are tempted today to treat Poverty, Child Care, Health Care, Equal Pay and Women’s Rights as separate issues. But they are inextricably intertwined. For example, equal pay for women will lift whole swathes of children out of poverty. Our modern-day politics either relies on statistics, or scoffs at them. Can we plant powerful people from both major parties on the frontlines–of poverty, rust belt, or immigrant communities–so they can get an up close and personal view?

Jane Addams’ example is an inspiration to us all. Interestingly, a woman from Finland joined part of our tour and she told us that she was very eager to visit the museum because in her country they are very aware of Jane Addams and her contributions to social work. In contrast, some women in our group who live in Chicagoland had never been to the museum and were not fully aware of her accomplishments, let alone her lessor known talented and dedicated female colleagues.

After learning more about Jane Addams and the residents at Hull House, who were mainly women of wealth and privilege intent on doing social good, I am more convinced than ever that women must take up the cause to heal and lead this nation. We are not fully empowered, so that helps us understand what it means to be a minority, and the good that is lost by marginalizing people. But meanwhile, women are not a minority, so that means we have the power of numbers, and many of us have the power of privilege and resources of being white and wealthy. We can and should step up to bridge the gap in our nation’s politics that would otherwise divide and weaken us all.

While it takes a village to raise a child, it may very well take a woman to save a village.