Later On

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Archive for October 28th, 2018

An American President Bends to the Demands of Terror

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Vann Newkirk III writes in the Atlantic:

On Saturday morning, during Shabbat services, a gunman walked into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and opened fire. The investigation is ongoing, and early reports are often imprecise. But it appears that the suspect, a white male named Robert Bowers, killed and wounded multiple people and inflicted life-threatening injuries on police officers before being taken into custody. He reportedly shouted “All Jews must die” before shooting.

Later that morning, President Donald Trump responded. “Something has to be done,” he told reporters as he boarded Air Force One on his way to Indiana. The president denied that America’s gun laws had anything to do with this act of gun violence. He suggested that the victims would have averted disaster by arming themselves. “If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better,” Trump said. With that, he expressed a position common in his responses to violence over the past two years: that the only way to combat terror is to yield to it.

Trump continues to argue that his casual bigotry and xenophobia, his exhortations of extralegal measures against political opponents, and his delegitimization of the media are inconsequential to the violence. Instead, Trumpism demands that violence be solved by local militarization: increased security at schools, the arming of teachers, and now, the adoption of guns in places intended quite literally to be sanctuaries from the scourges of the world. Taken altogether, what Trumpism seems to intend is the creation—or perhaps the expansion—of the machinery of a police state.Violence has dominated the national conversation over the past week. Days before the Pittsburgh shooting, a gunman killed two black shoppers at a Kroger supermarket in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, just after he’d been seen unsuccessfully attempting to enter a nearby black church. On Friday, federal law-enforcement authorities arrested Cesar Sayoc, the suspect allegedly responsible for sending more than a dozen possible explosive packages to CNN and to Democratic Party leaders. A van belonging to him was plastered with pro-Trump propaganda, and a Twitter account apparently belonging to him brimmed with conspiracy theories, explicit threats of violence, anti-Semitism, and racism.

On Friday, in the very same speech in which Trump first addressed Sayoc’s arrest, he also laughed along to a chant from supporters to lock up George Soros, the liberal billionaire activist and philanthropist, who’d been one of Sayoc’s alleged targets. At a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, later that evening, despite a vow that “political violence must never, ever be allowed in America, and I will do everything in my power to stop it,” the president also repeated claims that he was a “nationalist,” derided “globalists,” and attacked the media. The very next day, the president suggested that armed guards should be stationed outside places of worship and that gun laws couldn’t prevent a mass shooting.

In facing what appears to be a rising tide of violence—a tide that Trump himself elevates and encourages—the prescription of arms merely capitulates to the demands of that bloodshed. The purpose of political violence and terrorism is not necessarily to eliminate or even always to create body counts, but to disempower people, to spread the contagion of fear, to splinter communities into self-preserving bunkers, and to invalidate the very idea that a common destiny is even possible. Mandates to arm people accelerate this process. They inherently promote the idea that society cannot reduce the global level of harm, and promote the authoritarian impulses of people seeking order. Historically, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and racism have been the three prongs of political violence that have destroyed democracies and brought along authoritarianism the quickest. Historically, police societies have been their companions, as opposed to their antagonists.

The gun-violence discourse will rage on.  . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2018 at 1:23 pm

Let’s Be Honest: The Rage Is Partly the Media’s Fault

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And I would say the problem specifically is the way the media model discussions in their talk/panel shows, in which the discussants consistently interrupt and talk over each other, do not listen to each other, become testy and (occasionally) outright angry (poor emotional control), and quite obviously are not interested in understanding each and cooperating in an effort to learn and discover the truth of a topic. (These shows are as far as one can get from a St. John’s College seminar or tutorial, which shaped my idea of how discussions should go.)

The dysfunctional discussions are why I never watch such shows and get my news and views from reading reports and opinion columns. Until TV pundits can learn the basics of good discussion, they are more destructive than helpful.

Matt Lewis writes in the Daily Beast:

In the wake of being targeted by mail bomb attempts, my media colleagues understandably cast themselves as heroic victims.

There’s a sense that Donald Trump’s dangerous rhetoric (referring to us as “fake news,” the “enemy of the people,” or boasting about a Republican congressman body-slamming a reporter) might have helped stoke the attempts to deliver mail bombs to CNN’s New York headquarters and to a select group of liberal politicians. But my concern is that we are actually part of the problem.

Let us begin by acknowledging that the evil person (or persons) who sent these bombs is to blame. Then, let’s acknowledge that, yes, words and ideas can encourage or discourage behavior. This is especially true when it comes to the president of the United States of America. He has a uniquely important job, which includes serving as a calming force and a uniting voice for the country. Trump has abdicated this responsibility and, in doing so, has engendered division.

But while I disagree profoundly with Trump’s comments about the press, I think that there is some merit to his claim that the media has contributed to the current climate of fear and anger.

I feel weird copping to this. As a Daily Beast commentator and CNN contributor, I am partly to blame. Likewise, as a member of the media, I could be a potential target of some anti-media revenge plot. (In my case, I could be hit by the left, because I’m a conservative, and/or the right, because I’m usually pretty tough on Trump.)

This identity helps inform my opinions about the importance of an independent media. It is vital to have an independent press that holds powerful people accountable. On the other hand, my roles have shown me that we bear some responsibility for fostering a toxic environment that increasingly has turned confrontational, uncivil, and even violent.

Cable news is frequently a shout-fest that brings more heat than light—more passion than illumination (I have sometimes contributed to this state of affairs.) We spend considerable time talking about caravans full of illegals headed to our border, school shootings, family separations, and how (depending on which network you’re watching) you’re either an evil racist who hates immigrant children or a dupe who is fine with terrorists and drug dealers raping our wives and daughters.

For 99 percent of us, the media frenzy causes a low-grade depression. For a small segment of Americans, though, I suspect it is driving them crazy. Crazy enough to do something horrific—like shoot a Republican congressman on a baseball diamond or try to send a bomb to a former Democratic president (or two).

The problem isn’t that we cover bad or depressing things happening in the world. These important topics deserve news coverage. But the truth is, we don’t just report them―we hype them (coupled with “BREAKING NEWS!!!” alerts, graphics, countdown clocks, music, and the most provocative B-roll footage we can find). Then, we bring on people to fight about the provocative topics. It’s a never-ending cycle. This madness doesn’t infect your home once a day at 6 p.m.—it’s a relentless, 24/7 barrage of negativity. And it’s not just on TV. It’s on talk radio, Twitter, and multiple websites. It is concocted entertainment—a “product” used to generate clicks and ratings.

So when we in the media get on our high horse about our role in defending democracy, we should take a long look in the mirror. When we cast ourselves solely as heroic victims, we consciously ignore the cable news segments, blogs, or tweets that are largely about ratings, buzz, re-tweets, and ginning up anger.

The same self-righteous media also had a hand in creating Donald Trump. It was NBC’s The Apprentice that arguably did the most to propel him to the presidency. The coverage he received on cable news bolstered his campaign. As then-CBS CEO Les Moonves said of Trump’s theatrics during the 2016 race, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

The media produces a climate in which Trump and his copycats (see Michael Avenatti) can flourish. It rewards assholery and never punishes pretend bullies. The result is a sense of lawlessness in political discourse or hopelessness (if you feel like you’re the victim). Just ask Mitch McConnell’s or Ted Cruz’s dinner companions.

I won’t equate McConnell’s ruined dinner with sending someone a bomb. The difference is stark. What I am suggesting is that there is a spectrum of uncivil behavior, and we have run the gamut the last few years (Steve Scalise’s shooting, comments from Eric Holder and Maxine Waters, The New York Times fantasizing about Trump’s assassination, Kathy Griffin’s gruesome photo, etc.). In general, I believe we should be consistent in championing civility and condemning rhetoric or action that could spiral out of control. For this reason, I have condemned both Trump and the Democratic “mob” for their misbehavior. (It is interesting that my friends in the media only applauded when I did the former, not the latter.)

The word “media”  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2018 at 1:03 pm

The myth of the modernizing dictator

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Robert Kagan writes in the Washington Post:

Many Americans have an odd fascination with the idea of the reforming autocrat, the strongman who can “modernize” and lead his nation out of its backward and benighted past. This was the hope for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, a hope now somewhat diminished by the hit he appears to have ordered against Post contributing columnistJamal Khashoggi in Turkey.

Sympathetic Americans saw Mohammed, or MBS, as he is known, as a transformational figure seeking to reform Saudi Arabia’s one-commodity economy and to reconcile Islam and modernity. If doing so required more not less dictatorial control, if it entailed locking up not only fellow members of the royal family but also women’s rights activists, moderate religious figures and even young economists raising questions about the dubious figures contained in his “Vision 2030” program, then so be it. Only a “revolution from above” held any promise of reforming that traditionalist, hidebound society. You know — omelets, eggs.

The trope isn’t new. During the 1920s and 1930s, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin and even Adolf Hitler looked to many Americans like just what their countries needed to get them into shape. During the Cold War, leaders including the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos, Iran’s Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, South Korea’s Park Chung-hee and Chile’s Augusto Pinochet took turns as the United States’ favorite “modernizing” dictators. In the post-Cold War era, the Chinese dictatorship has gained many Americans’ admiration for its smooth handling of the country’s economy.

Justifying all this sympathy for the dictator have been variations on what used to be called “modernization theory.” Developing societies, the argument ran, had to move through an authoritarian stage before they could become democracies, for both economic and political reasons. Only authoritarian governments could be trusted to make the right economic decisions, unhampered by popular pressures for inflationary and deficit-raising spending.

Moreover, non-Western societies allegedly lacked many of the basic elements necessary to sustain democracy — the rule of law, stable political institutions, a middle class, a vibrant civil society. Pressing democracy on them prematurely would produce “illiberal democracy” and radicalism. The role of the reforming autocrat was to prepare these societies for the eventual transition to democracy by establishing the foundations for liberalism.

During the 1960s, the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington argued that what modernizing societies need is order, not liberty. During the late 1970s, Jeanne Kirkpatrick used this argument to defend supporting “friendly” right-wing dictatorships — on the theory they would eventually blossom into democracies if the United States supported them against their opponents, but would give way to radical, communist governments if the United States withdrew support.

It is remarkable how much power these kinds of arguments retain, despite their having turned out to be mostly nonsense. Kirkpatrick had it exactly backward. Communist governments were the ones that undertook reforms that led to their unraveling and a turn to democracy, however feeble. Meanwhile, authoritarianism persisted in the Middle East and elsewhere, except where the United States did withdraw support, as in the Philippines, South Korea and Chile; only at that point did they become democracies.

As a purely factual matter, it turned out that dictatorships do not do a better job of producing economic growth. And economic growth has not proved the secret to democracy. We are now a quarter-century into expectations that Chinese economic growth, which has created a substantial middle class, would inevitably lead to greater political openness. Yet the trend has been in the opposite direction, as Chinese ruler Xi Jinping centralizes all power to himself and the government experiments with ever more thorough methods of political and social control.

As for the “liberalizing autocrat,” he turns out to be a rare creature indeed. Autocrats, as it happens, are disinclined to lay the foundations for their own demise. They do not create independent political institutions, foster the rule of law or permit a vibrant civil society precisely because these would threaten their hold on power. Instead, they seek to destroy institutions and opposition forces that might someday pose a challenge to their dictatorial rule. Why should we expect otherwise?

Yet we do, and for a variety of reasons. Some are simply racist. Much like the racial imperialists during the 19th century, we just assume that some people aren’t ready for democracy, or that their religious or historical traditions did not prepare them for democracy. Another reason springs from dissatisfaction with the messiness of our own democracy. There is a certain palpable yearning for the strongman who can cut through all the political nonsense and just get things done — a yearning that our current president plays to very effectively.

Then there is our fear of what democracy elsewhere might produce. During the Cold War, it was demands for greater economic and social justice, and possibly at the expense of U.S. investments; today, it is demands for a society and a polity more in consonance with Islamic teaching. We fear what people allowed to make their own choices might choose, so we prefer “revolution from above.”

And, of course, there are our strategic interests. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

You can find lists and maps here.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2018 at 8:21 am

When schools stop hitting kids, they stop hitting one another, a study finds

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Not really a surprise: children pick up their behavior from what they observe more than from what they are instructed to do. Diane Cole writes for NPR:

In 1979, Sweden became the first country to ban the corporal punishment of children. Earlier this year, Nepal became the 54th country to do so.

Now a new study looking at 400,000 youths from 88 countries around the world suggests such bans are making a difference in reducing youth violence. It marks the first systematic assessment of whether an association exists between a ban on corporal punishment and the frequency in which adolescents get into fights. And, says Frank Elgar, the study’s lead author and an associate professor at the Institute for Health and Social Policy at McGill University in Montreal, “The association appears to be fairly robust.” The study appeared in the online journal BMJ Open.

Of the countries included in the study, 30 have passed laws fully banning physical punishment of children, both in schools and in homes. The rates of fighting among adolescents were substantially lower than in the 20 countries with no bans in place: by 69 percent for adolescent males and 42 percent less for females.

The other 38 countries in the study — which include the United States, Canada, and the U.K. — have partial bans, in schools only. In those countries, adolescent females showed a 56 percent lower rate of physical fighting, with no change among males.

The data on fighting came from the World Health Organization’s Health Behavior in School-aged Children study and Global School-based health survey. These long-standing surveys of teen behavior included a question about whether, and how often, the teens had been involved in a physical fight in the past 12 months.

The association held true even after accounting for such factors as the differences in the wealth of the countries and the nation’s homicide rates, said Elgar. Even so, Elgar cautions, the study shows a correlation only, not a cause and effect.

“It could be that bans come into place in countries that have already generally accepted that spanking is not the best discipline method,” he said, or there may be other cultural factors involved. “We haven’t answered with certainty” the impact of the bans, he says, noting that more research is needed.

What research does show is the negative consequences of spanking. Physical discipline is not only ineffective, but it can also cause harm, says Elizabeth Gershoff, a professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin who has been studying the impact of physical punishment on children for 20 years.

In 2016, Gershoff and a colleague conducted a meta-analysis of 50 years of research on spanking, encompassing about 160,000 children.

“The findings were consistently negative,” she said. Although spanking is traditionally supposed to teach a lesson to correct bad behavior, children who were spanked were neither more compliant nor better behaved.

Moreover, for both boys and girls, she said, “We found [spanking] linked to more aggression, more delinquent behavior, more mental health problems, worse relationships with parents, and putting the children at higher risk for physical abuse from their parents.”

“People often ask: Why didn’t you look for positive aspects?” she continued. “My answer is: We did, and there were none. We see consistently that the more children are spanked, the more behavioral problems they have in the years ahead.”

UNICEF senior data specialist Claudia Cappa, believes the study provides additional support for the idea that “violence teaches violence.”

“A child exposed to violence at home is very likely to use violence against peers in school” and in later life as well, she says. The reason is that when children are spanked or slapped, she says, “they think that is the only way to address conflicts, that there are no alternative means” to working out a disagreement besides fighting, and as they grow and develop, they can start to interact with their peers in the same way.

The prevalence of physical punishment — its most common form being spanking, also called slapping — was highlighted in the 2017 UNICEF study authored by Cappa, A Familiar Face: Violence in the Lives of Children and Adolescents. The report found that, globally, about 300 million children between the ages of 2 and 4 experienced physical punishment or verbal abuse from their parents of caregivers, and in some countries, children as young as 12 months old were subject to hitting.

Given the prevalence and the repercussions, a number of human rights groups, including the United Nations, have condemned the practice. In 2006, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, or UNCRC, spelled out “the right of the child to protection from corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment” and continues to recommend prohibition against corporal punishment of children.

Legislated bans send a clear message that this kind of discipline is not acceptable, says Cappa. But to be effective, bans need to be paired with programs that help parents learn what to replace corporal punishment with. “Parents may think, this is what my parents did to me or is expected of me,” she says, and they are not aware that alternative strategies exist and are more effective. UNICEF, Save the Children and other organizations have helped put in place programs in a number of countries to promote such approaches.

“Discipline means teaching, and sometimes that involves modeling behavior,” such as using words to express disagreement and talking things out to find a solution, says Gershoff, who is completing a book about how to reduce physical punishment, aimed at psychologists, community organization leaders and policymakers. It also means praise when children do something we like, she says, “because that is the best way to increase the likelihood that will happen again.”

As for countries and territories that do ban corporal punishment in all settings, they run the gamut of all income levels. They include: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2018 at 6:53 am

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