Monday, May 15, 2017

Who cares? I care!

I was drafting a very serious blog post two nights ago and remembered that Saturday Night Live was on, so I turned it on. I didn't see the monologue, but I watched the show from about 10 minutes in, and I really enjoyed it for the most part.

SNL had some funny political skits that I tended to agree with, especially the crazy lady discussing Pres. Trump on Weekend Update. They also had a skit making fun of moms who embrace their "inner animal," and even a mockumentary making fun of a "work marriage" behind-the-scenes at SNL. So, they were equal-opportunity satirists, making fun of everybody. There were a couple of times that I felt a little uncomfortable (I laughed at the fake Alexa ad making fun of older people, even though it was stereotypical), but good comedy is uncomfortable and takes risks. You can't do a funny show without offending somebody. Satire should afflict the comfortable.

The contrast between the SNL version of the White House press briefing and the one that just happened today couldn't be greater. Sean Spicer did nothing funny in his actual press briefing, but it was clear after a while that he was sent out there not to answer questions. It was clear from his demeanor and his words that he had no intention of giving anyone additional fodder for poking fun at him or the White House. Sean Spicer is a public figure, so he is fair game for satire, and I have no problem with the SNL writers doing that or with Melissa McCarthy impersonating him. The President has undercut his spokespeople to the extreme that it takes only a little imagination to come up with the kind of skit that SNL did on Saturday.

With the risk of being called too serious, I (surprise, surprise!) have some serious thoughts about politics I just have to share.

For those counting, there are 8 Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. They are:
  1. Chairman Richard Burr from North Carolina
  2. Roy Blunt from Missouri
  3. Susan Collins from Maine
  4. John Cornyn from Texas
  5. Tom Cotton from Arkansas
  6. James Lankford from Oklahoma
  7. James Risch from Idaho
  8. Marco Rubio from Florida
These honorable Senators have a job to do: investigate Pres. Trump's ties to Russia and present any evidence that Russia was responsible for Pres. Trump's election or "compromised" Pres. Trump through spy craft before, during, or after the election to the people.

Pres. Trump's public statements are enough to cause concern. The President was in favor of Russian President Vladimir Putin during the campaign, saying Putin was a better leader than Pres. Obama because he had better poll numbers, and responding to Bill O'Reilly's statement that "[Putin]'s a killer" that our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq are, too. 

A typical opinion essay on these matters published by some newspapers would explain that these leaders need to step up and call for an independent prosecutor or someone with the authority to bring Pres. Trump down. They might look at where these 8 leaders stand ideologically and geographically, and point out that only one or two, Susan Collins or Marco Rubio, has any kind of vulnerability from the liberal side of the spectrum, and none of them are up for re-election in 2018.

What does this have to do with SNL? I think some of the point of SNL is to wake people up to what's happening in our country. I would argue that it's long past time for voters to start voting a little more unpredictably. Our political machinery is so "advanced" that most Congressional leaders have "safe" seats. It's time for that to start changing. Why not start a movement like "We Care" (maybe something a little more catchy), which would use all the tools at our disposal to disrupt those safe seats? Let's talk about redistricting after the 2020 census, and why it's important for our communities to be represented in all districts. And, for that matter, how segregation by income allows electioneers to "focus" on certain census tracts and "predict" how people will vote based on where they live. It's time for white, middle-class Americans like me to get out of our comfort zones in cities large and small, hang out in the parts of town we don't normally frequent, and figure out for ourselves how free and fair our economic system really is.

I don't exempt myself from this -- I need to get involved downtown or with a charity that helps out. I am getting more involved at church, and that's good, but I need to put my actions where my words are, and really get off my couch and do something good. One SNL skit that really hit home, entitled "Thank you, Scott" (ironically), has me thinking about doing just that. So, I guess satire does have its useful purposes -- afflicting the comfortable, including me.

Friday, March 31, 2017

A new book, an old book on inequality (an old problem)

This New York Times book review points to a new book about income inequality in the U.S. and how it is shaping up to threaten our democratic institutions.

On the theme of inequality, a global perspective on the problem is reviewed here, with my review of The Bottom Billion. The phrase refers to the poorest billion people in the world, and the book is written by a World Bank official with wide-ranging expertise in the area.

Also of interest: the One Campaign to get the U.S. and other developed nations to devote 1% of GDP to world-wide efforts to combat poverty. It's unlikely to get much traction with Pres. Trump in charge, but I thought I'd link to it anyway.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Advice for liberals -- let's support the news!

Pres. Trump's cult of personality thrives on media and liberal opposition. Liberals should be "wise as serpents, innocent as doves" in response, to quote Jesus. The clever tweets and opinion pieces help to relieve the tension, but they don't address the real impact Pres. Trump's policies will have on real people. Americans and Nevadans need better news, not just more shouting. Yes, action against what is wrong is needed, but so are facts on the ground. If liberals stick to their guns, not just with demonstrations but also with research and evidence to back up their claims, they will win the day and elect a Democratic Congress in 2018. It worked for Republicans in 2010 -- "grass-roots" or "astro-turfed" action coupled with conservative think-tanks created the Tea Party phenomenon, which Pres. Trump embraced. It can work for liberals now.

For this reason, I invite all my Nevada friends to check out and support two news sites here in Nevada that have responded to Pres. Trump's "alternative facts" with real reporting. They both have a more liberal slant than some news outlets, but this structural bias, which they try to avoid, is different than the overt, "info-tainment" slant of Rupert Murdoch and Stephen Bannon's creations. The first is KNPR and the other is the Nevada Independent. I trust both sites to give more impactful news coverage than anything you'll see on the mainstream media, and they are undoubtedly more fact-based than any tweet storm the Donald can dream up.

Other independent news sites will undoubtedly crop up on the national scene, but two liberal news sites are Huffington Post and Politico. A fact-checker I like is The "grey lady," the New York Times, also has a valuable website, as does the Washington Post. Both sites have paywalls, but it is worth it to me to subscribe to these news sources, as they try to be balanced in their coverage and let the public officials "hang themselves" with their own comments.

As far as liberal think-tanks go, they like to maintain their independence, but I recommend the Pew Research Center for in-depth look at polls and public opinion. Check out the Pew Research Center's fact sheet on refugees, for example, for some perspective on our current situation.

So my advice to liberals is, invest in journalism!