Fake News and the Federal Budget

The Tea Party folks have been most shocking for their insistence that citizens should have a sort of line-item veto over the Federal budget. We have usually sent letters, etc. to our representatives in Congress to register our unwillingness to spend tax dollars on certain Federal programs or activities that displeased us. However, the Tea Party went much further. They were so angry, so demanding, so intimidating that the entire party backed them and moved far to the right. Then the party, in order to keep their scary Tea Party constituents at bay did things like shut down the government and vote to repeal the ACA about 60 times, and get the party to threaten to “primary” elected representatives to Congress (including Senators of course) who did not fall in line. The party got the “enforcer”, Grover Norquist to back up these primary attacks.

In particular the Tea Party wanted more control over their taxes – how much they had to pay and how it was spent. They had come to believe that their tax dollars were being handed out to deadbeats, to illegal immigrants, to way too many people in the form of food stamps, and to refugees. They were convinced, in spite of fact checks which disagreed with their analysis, that everyone was getting something for nothing but them. According to urban legend, the government was even handing out cars, free housing, and free “Obama phones” (a program begun in the Bush administration). And there was some truth to what the Tea Partiers believed but the abuses were hardly rampant, or budget-busting. The government does keep numbers on this stuff. Do we still trust numbers or does it now depend on who crunches them?

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Talk radio has kept the Tea Party angry for the last decade at least and they expanded their reach to even more Americans as the economy lost steam. The anger fed the people’s fears. Then Fox News piled on because this was a ratings bonanza too good to miss. People like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin and Bill O’Reilly and now Sean Hannity have been broadcasting fake news for years. There has always been fake news. It is called propaganda. Fake news did not begin with the 2016 election. But radio and TV outlets that broadcast fake news all the time, any time of the day or night have made fake news a trending phenomenon, allowed to masquerade as main stream media. The popularity of using social media on the internet added a new dimension to the dissemination of news and fake news. And I don’t know that we have previously had to deal with fake news injected into politics in a Presidential election year by a foreign power like Russia who is not generally considered to have American interests at heart.

As a result of the feelings that gave birth to their movement and the overwhelming amount of propaganda that nurtured the hate and anger, the Tea Party is adamant about many things and it is especially adamant about what budget items it will pay taxes for, and which ones it will not. In order to be sure they do not give one dollar to someone who doesn’t deserve it they want to stop giving any tax dollars to anyone. Privatize everything – no food stamps, no welfare, no Medicaid, no Medicare, no Social Security or SS Disability and no public schools. Many Tea Partiers are Evangelical Christians and they do not want their tax dollars to go towards paying for health care in any program that offers abortion, even though the Federal government no longer subsidizes abortions. Some even want to stop helping women get contraception. Send the “illegals” home say these folks and cut off immigration. Don’t take in refugees. But they do want us all to use our tax dollars to build a wall.

Well, if the right has a line item veto over the US budget then the left should also be allowed to say what they don’t want their tax dollars used for. I’m pretty sure that very few people on the left want to pay for a wall along the Mexican border. I’m pretty sure most of us want to see public education remain as a key budget item. Of course, we could put up a web site with various budget items and actually pick what to fund by voting line by line on the budget (recipe for chaos). But there is the matter of laws that were passed or voted down to determine what programs we would fund. Clearly though, some American’s feelings have been exploited by people in the media who know how to use their words to brainwash, to turn their listeners into “pod” people who seem to be convinced that they want to, 1) continue to pay taxes that pay for nothing, and 2) bypass the Congressional system and make decisions according to who does the best bullying. And perhaps the only cure for this is to just decide every single issue in our nation with a popular vote to try to lessen the effectiveness of a media without a soul.

People speak of trends towards fascism, and fake news and nationalism, and racism as if they just popped up in the 2016 election but we have been fed a steady diet of invective over at least the last decade, and it was easy because people had lost so much they were happy that someone was speaking their language of spite and jealousy, fear and despair, and that they were doing it so authoritatively and emotionally too.

I do not want to pay for a wall. I do not want to pay for a deportation force. There are many things the Tea Partiers don’t want to pay for that I feel a society should pay for. Where is my radio talk show to whisper revolution in my ear through the long night? I can’t even stand to watch news at all these days.

The right wing has won and our President elect who could be a unifier obviously is more an easily wounded defender of only himself. If he would show us that he could govern fairly and do that consistently I might not feel so bereft. His cabinet appointments give me little hope. I am thinking that I and other liberals will be left to wander in the wilderness. Any bets about how likely it is that DT can get it together and turn into a real President? Any bets on whether the soulless Republican Party can worry about anything besides owning what was once the government of the people, by the people, and for the people?

How I Became a Political Activist

I got an e-mail yesterday asking me to tell the story of how
I became a political activist. But the roots of my fighting spirit did not grow
in political soil. My parents voted but we did not sit around the dinner table
discussing politics. We talked about who needed shoes and how the family would
be able to afford them.
In fact my father would have been thrilled if we did not
speak at all or if we took turns in an orderly fashion. However, there were ten
people around that table and Dad was not always home for dinner because for
years he worked the second shift. My two brothers sometimes launched a reign of
terror at the dinner table and our meals were always chaotic. Someone often spilled milk which dripped down through the leaves in the dining room table.
Our dinner was more like a swarm of locusts who ate every bit of food and then
moved on.
Dad had a scientific mind. He was an electrician but he
seemed to have an innate understanding of physics even though he left school in
the eighth grade. He loved to read and I read whatever books were available so
since he loved science fiction that is what I read. Science fiction books often
have heroes who fight injustice, although they do it in space. Science fiction
allows a reader to consider how societies function and to be entertained at the
same time. Some futuristic lit was utopian and some was dystopian so this genre
is one that looks at good and evil on a grand scale. Most of the good in sci-fi
is present when a society values fairness and justice. Evil empires are unjust
and do not value fairness. So I don’t know if I was born with a nose that
sniffed out unfairness and injustice in the world or if I learned those values
from the books my Dad shared with me. Perhaps, if those values were hard-wired
in me, my brain was born to fire on all its neurons when reading science
Politically, my high school years were dominated by the Cold
War with Russia. We dropped bombs at the end of World War II and I guess we
expected retribution at any moment. My college years were dominated by
assassinations and the Civil Rights’ Movement. As I was leaving college the
Beatles were traveling ever Eastward and we were demonstrating against the
Vietnam War, sort of. We were actually smoking lots of pot, listening to really
great music, dancing, and talk, talk, talking. All the things America
experienced in those years, not just the antiwar movement, but the women’s
rights movement, the effects of the birth control pill, a new air of freedom
that expressed itself even in our clothing and our lifestyles activated my mind
to make judgments about the fairness and justice in America, and America was not
doing very well.
Fortunately I found a career in a program that sent
economically disadvantaged and minority adults to college after delivering some
coursework to help them succeed. For many years this satisfied my craving for
fairness and justice, and many of the issues that I would have wanted to fight
for had been somewhat resolved for the time being. It was time to help those
people who were born with too few choices find their futures and our school’s
staff got better and better at doing this.
When I retired from teaching (and I retired early) my Dad
was sick and could no longer drive. I was the only one in the family who could
retire (although I had other reasons) and help my Mom who did not ever drive. I had little time for political
activism until after Dad died (or traveled to a galaxy far, far away). Save me a spot Dad.
That was when I began to hear from people who were listening
to talk radio and I realized that Dad was not the only one who was going to a
distant galaxy. It didn’t take long from the time I began to hear the nutty
things people were saying for me to tune in to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.
After listening to these two accuse a nice young Senator and father running for
President of the United States of being the new “Hitler, the fairness and
justice I was born and bred to fight for made me decide that the world had to
hear equally strong messages that were not so filled with hate. The haters are
still fighting for control of America, ironically at this moment which also
celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.
My unfairness/injustice genes have found their moment. I
have tried to speak against the most extreme reactionary and fearful voices we
have heard in America in many years. I decided to fight the fever on the right
by writing about the sanity and compassion on the left. That is the arena where
I decided to fight the good fight and I still am a very tiny voice talking into
a strong wind that is still blowing from the right. I do not believe that the left is always good and the right is always bad; I do believe that the right is currently not selling anything America should want to buy.

By Nancy Brisson

Bizarro America or “Release the Kraken”

Cliven Bundy is a rancher in Nevada. I first read
about him in the Daily Kos and then
saw a more detailed story on All In with
Chris Hayes
on MSNBC. He has
been grazing his cattle on federal land for about 20 years. Ranchers are
allowed to let their stock graze federal land but ranchers pay a fee for this
right. All of the other Nevada ranchers have kept up with their fees but not
Cliven Bundy. He says he does not recognize the federal government (of the
United States of America) which is a very interesting belief, especially when
you now owe the federal government and the American people about $1 million
The government, having tried unsuccessfully to
collect the fees owed, started collecting Bundy’s cattle in corrals they had
built and they were preparing to truck his cattle to market and sell them so
they could apply the proceeds against Bundy’s debt. Bundy had other ideas and
he had a large group of family and friends, sort of militia-type friends, who
came, well-armed, to join the fray. So we have US Bureau of Land Use and
Management Rangers lined up on one side of a ragged line across an interstate
and we have Bundy’s “army” lined up across from them. A few pushes and lots of
angry words ensue. The US Rangers decide that it is not a good day to die and,
fortunately, they back off before anyone does. But now we have the impromptu
militia winning the battle and freeing the cattle – more federal bucks down the
drain. What will the next move be for the feds? Bundy warns the county sheriffs
to arm themselves as they are the only authority he accepts (I’m guessing
marginally). No one leaves happy.
But, even as I wonder how this situation will
finally shake out, I begin to get a glimpse of the new Bizarro America that
could be wrought from years of conspiracy-centered talk radio which has
energized so many across the US. Without a federal government America will
maybe become Europe. States will become independent nations with their own
governmental rules and their own leaders. There could even be states that
become Kingdoms, and states that decide to be lawless nations. In this
topsy-turvy America you will need a passport to go from state to state. Some
states will offer benefits, some will offer none. Schooling will vary a lot
from state to state, which is already true, but differences in the types and
amounts of education offered may become even more pronounced. Trade rules will
have to be negotiated. Each nation (state) may have embassies from 49 other
states lined up along an elegant avenue. (OK, that probably won’t happen.) And
what kind of events will it take to produce this new bizarro nation; revolution,
secession, armed rebellion? Yikes!
This is what it begins to look like if, instead of
having a very small federal government as Republicans say they want, we get
Cliven Bundy’s America where there is, effectively, no federal government.
Where did Mr. Bundy get the idea that each individual in America could make up
his or her own mind about whether the federal government has any control over
his or her behavior, or any power over anything whatsoever? That very talk
radio network just possibly might have given Mr. Bundy and others that
revolutionary idea. It is one thing to be a rugged individualist, which, according
to the theory I have seen around the internet, describes why a lot of pioneers
came to this country in the first place and settled in frontier areas where the
fingers of government barely reached, but we are a long way from the 1800’s and
Mr. Bundy is not just talking about “nanny state” stuff here; he is talking
insurrection and rebellion, because the fact is, right now America does have a
federal government and we have not been granted the freedom to ignore it.
It is easy to blame right wing Talk Radio for all of
this rebellion-militia –tyrannical government stuff, but Talk Radio had existed
almost since the radio was invented. Talk Radio used to accompany truckers
across America in the dead of night talking about family topics and psychology
and some politics. But once Talk Radio started talking government conspiracy and
barraging listeners with grievance talk against certain policies in American
(like how their taxes were being spent by lazy people who chose not to work)
then Talk Radio found its zone, its vein of money and influence. Talk Radio
became the grain of sand around which the irritation living in the heart of
America with their government (or in fact any government) coalesced to become
the hard pearl of anger. Because of Freedom of Speech these talk show hosts
could not be reined in. When they saw the effects they were having they should
have reined themselves in but they found they loved being stars (and making
lots of money is also very fine) and these listeners apparently really needed
them. Well they have in a way performed a service for America. They have “released
the Kraken” so to speak. There has always been anti-government sentiment
whispering through America, but these rural people never really came together
as a movement until Talk Radio gave them a much louder voice. When a nation has
groups of people who are terribly discontented by what government is doing, the
government either finds something that will calm these voices, something that
will turn them into happier citizens, or the government goes to war with some
of its citizens and then who knows what will result.
Cliven Bundy’s is only one of the possible Bizarro
Americas we could end up with because we don’t agree on anything anymore.
People are operating on their last nerve. If you or anyone challenges one of
the fondly held beliefs of one of these rage-filled people, these beliefs as
drummed into their brains by whatever particular talk show host they have
chosen to be their personal guru, that person is likely to go off like
fireworks or a bomb. And each of these property-owning (or not) opinionated
individuals probably owns a small arsenal of weapons because talk radio
stresses that the federal government is trying to do away with the 2nd
Amendment. Whenever heated arguments and weapons crop up in one location there
is the potential for mayhem. Many of these talk show hosts even suggest that it
may be necessary one day very soon to rise up against the federal government
and this is phrased as Patriotism, as a defense of the Constitution, but these
folks are really stoking a revolution. Are they planning one also? Has Clive
Bundy simply tipped their hand? Let’s hope not because the world is a chaotic
place right now and we need to stay united.
These same Talk Radio guys, who gleefully embraced
the rugged individualist spirit at crossroads of America, offered the tools for
rebellion, gave voice to a list of grievances, but have never once given these
folks an image of what they will get once they rebel. They are rebelling for
nothing and will get unfettered freedom and little else as far as I can see. We
will try to return to being a frontier, Wild West society but we will fail
because there are too many people, forward movement is inexorable (we have been
to space) and climate change will still make the predictable simple life they
yearn for totally unpredictable. The only good outcome would be that we would
probably no longer have the infrastructure to use fossil fuels at the rate that
we do. If Talk Radio goes away if will leave a yawning vacuum in the garages,
cars, trucks and even the kitchens of America. Can’t we find another topic,
less conspiracy-based, that would interest America as must as grumbling about
the government? I can’t think of anything that would do it short of an alien
invasion, but we need to try or combust.
It is a wonder we have had only something like
bimonthly mass shootings so far. Can we expect this trend to escalate from
situations where police face off against riled up and armed citizens to
neighbor against disagreeable neighbor? Is this an isolated standoff against a
nut or is the American tinder box primed and ready to fire.
Mr. Bundy is lawless in a way that scares me because
he does not see himself as lawless. He believes that he is a free American with
free speech (free thought) and guns who must defend what he believes even
though it is unconstitutional and illegal, and will lead us into anarchy if
everyone starts to behave in this way. However if I owed the federal government
one million dollars I might try to tough it out in the manner of Mr. Bundy,
especially if I knew I had support. We can hope that the government gets
creative and finds a nonviolent way to make its point and bring this situation
to a quick end. But the larger problem of the anger that has been fomented in
Americans will still remain and we need a really good lightening rod to deflect
all that explosive energy and ground it.
Is all this bizarre enough for you? It gives me the



This is the view from the cheap seats.

By Nancy Brisson
This blog post is also available at http://brissioni.com/