Saturday, August 04, 2012

Study Demonstrates How Right-Wing Media Act As A Hate Speech Echo Chamber

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

We've been saying for a long time that the right-wing media machine, led particularly by Fox News, has become an echo chamber for hate speech from the far right. At places like Fox, the virulent language found on the racist and extremist right has been largely toned down, but the underlying sentiments, not to mention the larger meta-narrative about politics remains intact. And this has been acutely the case in recent years regarding Latinos and Muslims.

Well, thanks to a scientific study from UCLA's Chicano Research Center, there's now some specific evidence that substantiates all this:
This study analyzes how social networks that form around the hosts of commercial talk radio shows can propagate messages targeting vulnerable groups. Working with recorded broadcasts from five shows gathered over a six-week period, involving 102 scheduled guests and covering 88 topics, researchers determined hosts’ and guests’ ideological alignment on the topics discussed most frequently—including immigration and terrorism—through a content analysis of on-air statements and website content. The findings reveal that the hosts promoted an insular discourse that focused on, for example, anti-immigration, anti-Islam, and pro-Tea Party positions and that this discourse found repetition and amplification through social media. Of the 21 guests who appeared more than once, media personalities (57 percent) and political figures (19 percent) accounted for 76 percent. Fox News accounted for nearly one-fourth (24 percent) of appearances by guests representing an organization. Political figures accounted for 27 percent of all guests, and the Republican Party and the Tea Party accounted for 93 percent and 89 percent, respectively, of all political figures appearing on the shows. Eighty-nine percent of the scheduled guests were white, and 81 percent were male.
The study's conclusions make the key point:
The data demonstrate the mutual referencing among a relatively small cluster of nodes that include hosts, guests, and other affiliated individuals and groups. The findings reveal that these individuals and groups were connected by certain ideological sentiments targeting vulnerable groups. For example, discussions around immigration and Islam were framed in oppositional and absolutist terms: immigrants as “illegal” and law breaking, and Islam as the context of terrorism.

If talk radio and social media sustain a social network, they do so within a narrow range of ideological positions reflected by the hosts and guests.
What’s more, the predominance of guests that represent media organizations not only minimizes alternate voices but also facilitates the mass broadcast and echoing of the shared ideologies that are discussed on the air. What emerges is a discourse that remains insular rather than open and that finds alignment, repetition, and amplification through social media.
As Salvatore Colleluori at Media Matters observes:
These viewpoints have far reaching consequences. NHMC President and CEO Alex Nogales told Fox News Latino that the social network surrounding conservative talk radio and Fox News has spread to social media websites resulting in "an echo-chamber of voices, both online and off, that promotes hatred against ethnic, racial and religious groups and the LGBT community on social media web sites."

Using hateful rhetoric, these hosts have cast immigrants as disease ridden, equated pro-immigrant organizations with neo-Nazis, called Islam an "evil religion," claimed the Obama administration is promoting "race riots" and made fun of the ethnicity of Asian-American politicians.
This is what we've called "eliminationist rhetoric" for a long time. And the problem hasn't been getting better. Indeed, as this campaign season has progressed, it's gotten increasingly worse.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Why Romney And The Rich Will Never Really Get It

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

 [H/t Diane]

You know, we all get the chuckles while watching Mitt Romney and his Republican cohorts grapple with trying to explain to all of us little people just why it's essential -- it's the natural order of things, you know -- for the people who own the world to be the ones who run it.

It goes along with the heavy dressage fandom and weird bits of behavior from Romney, like the time he he gave his hot chocolate back to a barista after stiffing the guy for a tip. Or walk away from a terminally man asking him to rethink his position on medical marijuana.

Mind you, the two Bush regimes were full of this kind of behavior: rich guys who like to pretend they're normal dudes displaying utter perplexity at the norms of the "little people".

But you know what? It seems that perhaps they just can't help themselves. At least, that's what some scientists have reported at Scientific American:
Berkeley psychologists Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner ran several studies looking at whether social class (as measured by wealth, occupational prestige, and education) influences how much we care about the feelings of others. In one study, Piff and his colleagues discreetly observed the behavior of drivers at a busy four-way intersection.

They found that luxury car drivers were more likely to cut off other motorists instead of waiting for their turn at the intersection. This was true for both men and women upper-class drivers, regardless of the time of day or the amount of traffic at the intersection. In a different study they found that luxury car drivers were also more likely to speed past a pedestrian trying to use a crosswalk, even after making eye contact with the pedestrian.

In order to figure out whether selfishness leads to wealth (rather than vice versa), Piff and his colleagues ran a study where they manipulated people’s class feelings. The researchers asked participants to spend a few minutes comparing themselves either to people better off or worse off than themselves financially. Afterwards, participants were shown a jar of candy and told that they could take home as much as they wanted. They were also told that the leftover candy would be given to children in a nearby laboratory.

Those participants who had spent time thinking about how much better off they were compared to others ended up taking significantly more candy for themselves--leaving less behind for the children.

A related set of studies published by Keltner and his colleagues last year looked at how social class influences feelings of compassion towards people who are suffering. In one study, they found that less affluent individuals are more likely to report feeling compassion towards others on a regular basis. For example, they are more likely to agree with statements such as, “I often notice people who need help,” and “It’s important to take care of people who are vulnerable.” This was true even after controlling for other factors that we know affect compassionate feelings, such as gender, ethnicity, and spiritual beliefs.

In a second study, participants were asked to watch two videos while having their heart rate monitored. One video showed somebody explaining how to build a patio. The other showed children who were suffering from cancer. After watching the videos, participants indicated how much compassion they felt while watching either video. Social class was measured by asking participants questions about their family’s level of income and education. The results of the study showed that participants on the lower end of the spectrum, with less income and education, were more likely to report feeling compassion while watching the video of the cancer patients. In addition, their heart rates slowed down while watching the cancer video—a response that is associated with paying greater attention to the feelings and motivations of others.

These findings build upon previous research showing how upper class individuals are worse at recognizing the emotions of others and less likely to pay attention to people they are interacting with (e.g. by checking their cell phones or doodling).

But why would wealth and status decrease our feelings of compassion for others? After all, it seems more likely that having few resources would lead to selfishness. Piff and his colleagues suspect that the answer may have something to do with how wealth and abundance give us a sense of freedom and independence from others. The less we have to rely on others, the less we may care about their feelings.
In other words, "job creators" like Romney and his fellow plutocratic Republicans are most likely to be people with personality disorders, often straight-on psychopaths utterly lacking in empathy.

This explains a lot, don't you think?

Funny How Intolerant Right-Wingers Leap To Decry Intolerance

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

[H/t Heather]

The ever-clueless Steve Doocy this morning, talking about the Chick-Fil-A controversy:
DOOCY: Remember, it wasn't just people supporting Dan Cathy for his Christian values. ... People not only supporting his Christian values, and they are closed on Sundays. But also just the CEO's right to say what he thinks. You know, a lot of people wound up going -- I was reading in the New York Post today about how a lot of people went over to New Jersey to a Chick-Fil-A, and it wasn't to support the family-values thing, but to support his right to say something, because so many people on the left are so intolerant -- you gotta be able to say in this country what you think!
Of course, it never appeared to occur to Doocy that what the people who are raising an outcry about Dan Cathy's remarks are protesting is Dan Cathy's blatant and blind intolerance.

This is an old conundrum, or at least it appears to be one, raised time and again during the civil-rights struggles of the 1950s and beyond: Should the tolerant tolerate intolerance?

It's not really a conundrum, though, because the answer is a simple one: No. Tolerance and intolerance are diametrically opposed principles, like matter and anti-matter. One cannot exist in the presence of the other. People who are dedicated to the principles of tolerance have no place for intolerance: It is what they are fighting.

The people like Doocy who are on the historically wrong side of the Chick-Fil-A controversy should think back to the civil-rights era, when people voiced outrage at the intolerance of famous bigots like George Wallace and Lester Maddox and Orval Faubus. The people who organized boycotts of these bigots and the places they represented back then were similarly accused of "intolerance" at the time.

The lesson of that history remains a simple and clear one: One cannot end racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual intolerance by "tolerating" the people who practice it. They will only change when they are faced with becoming pariahs. It is no different today than it was fifty years ago.

Not that we could expect a dim bulb like Doocy to figure that out, either.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Sheriff Joe On Trial: 'Tough' Guy Is Looking Pretty Pathetic

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Our favorite nativist nutcase in an actual position of authority, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, has been coming down off the high notes of his dramatic investigation of President Obama's birth certificate the past couple of weeks. Because he's finally on trial for his racial-profiling policies targeting Latinos in his community.

And it hasn't been much fun for him, as Ray Stern at the Phoenix New Times reports:
Under pointed questioning by Young, Arpaio denied that he equated brown-skinned people with illegal immigrants, as a press release from 2007 demonstrates he did. Young took time to go over a letter received by Arpaio from an anti-immigrant group in which Arpaio had emphasized statements about how police shouldn't be afraid to check the status of day laborers. And Young played a video from another press conference in which Arpaio said he'd have a "pure" program that went after illegal immigrants first, and their suspected crimes second.

But the sheriff made his worst impressions while answering questions about his book, Joe's Law.

Basically, anytime Arpaio was shown some of the blatant bigotry in that book, he blamed it on co-author Len Sherman. And this was despite being read back his testimony from a previous deposition in which he'd said he didn't need to read his own book because he'd written it himself.

Arpaio was forced by Young to back off from a couple of statements in the book, including one in which he wrote that Mexicans don't come to the United States with the same hopes and dreams as people from other countries.. In another part of the book, Young pointed out, Arpaio wrote that second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans were not part of the American "mainstream."

"My co-author wrote that," Arpaio blurted out.
The whole week has gone like that. If his officers were provably bigoted and indulged in nakedly racist policing, why, none of that was HIS doing. He had no knowledge of such things!
As the Arizona Republic put it in an editorial:
Apologists for Arpaio must come to terms with the person they so zealously defend. Either he is America's toughest sheriff, or America's most oblivious sheriff.

Arpaio's attorneys contend that Arpaio's hermetically sealed existence in his own office is intended to avoid micromanagement of professional police work.

"It serves as an insulation against desires and impulses that might not be in the best interest of the community," said attorney Tim Casey.

That runs exactly counter to Arpaio's assertions, repeated endlessly, that his notorious, wasteful "crime-suppression sweeps" through largely Hispanic neighborhoods were conducted precisely because he deemed them in the community's best interests. The very existence of the sweeps was a political statement.

Arpaio and his acolytes either lied to the public about the purpose of those sweeps, or they are lying to the judge now.

 Meanwhile, there have been some lively protests and counter-protests.

-- A group of young immigrants was arrested outside the trial after publicly revealing their undocumented status.

-- Some protesters have been outside Arpaio's church, urging the bishop to denounce Arpaio's malfeasance. That in turn has attracted counter-protesters, not to mention disgusted looks from parishioners.

-- The plaintiffs rested yesterday. Now we get to see Arpaio's defense. If it's anything like his birth-certificate investigation, this could get deeply amusing.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Elwha Dams And The Future Of Our Rivers: Hope Runs Free

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

[Two videos: The first, a time-lapse video of the deconstruction of the Elwha Dam on the lower Elwha River (YouTube here), the second a video of the blasting of one of the last remaining sections of concrete on the Glines Canyon Dam on the upper Elwha, shot by my brother-in-law.]

Timothy Egan had a superb contribution at the NYT's blog space the other day, describing the effects of the Elwha Ecosystem Restoration project, which is the largest dam-removal project in U.S. history:
It defies experience-hardened cynicism whenever any big public works project is under budget and ahead of schedule. But the Elwha has served up something even better: life itself, in the form of ocean-going fish answering to the imperatives of love and death.

Not long ago, scientists were stunned to find wild steelhead trout scouting habitat well past the site where the Elwha Dam had stood for nearly a century. They didn’t expect fish to return this soon.

This biological boomerang is a tribute to stubborn DNA memory, and it is a precursor for what the wild Elwha will be in the not-so-distant future. Beyond that, the restoration of the Elwha, as in the revival of the much-abused southern end of the Bronx River at the other end of the country, is proof that American ingenuity is alive and well and hard at work on with the tricky task of healing parts of the natural world that we’ve trashed.
Be sure to read the whole thing, since Egan is such a fine writer. Here's more about that steelhead run, as well as further good news: the downstream flow of silt is not turning out to be nearly as noxious as originally feared.

But it's not just the Elwha where this is happening. As these structures age, removal is often the sensible solution. And it's creating opportunities for river restoration in a wide variety of places.

A recent Boston Globe piece examined the local benefits of another dam-removal project:
Tim Purinton makes the analogy that removing dams from a river is akin to getting rid of clogged arteries in the body.

"If you're interested in rivers and river ecology, there's no better thing you can do for a river than remove a dam," said Purinton, director of the Division of Ecological Restoration for the state Department of Fish and Game.

Removing the obstruction allows not just better passage for fish and other aquatic species, but also the movement of sediment and a change in water temperature, he said. "If you can clean the arteries and allow for the free flow of water, sediment, and nutrients, you bring back river health almost immediately."
Obviously, dams remain extremely useful things, especially in places like the Northwest, where they provide most of our carbon-neutral energy (though at the expense of salmon runs). But when they outlive their usefulness, it's a wonderful thing to watch Mother Nature come rushing back to her domain.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Would Scalia Protect My Right To Bear A Suitcase Nuke?

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

[H/t Dave]

I got to thinking about Justice Antontin Scalia's train of logic on the Second Amendment, at least as he explained it to the talking heads yesterday:
"We'll see," Scalia replied. "Obviously the amendment does not apply to arms that cannot be carried. It's to 'keep and bear' so it doesn't apply to cannons."

"But I suppose there are handheld rocket launchers that can bring down airplanes that will have to -- it's will have to be decided," he added.
That's it? That's the criteria as to whether or not the right exists to keep and bear a weapon of any kind -- its portability?

Wow. Or as my redneck friends back in Idaho who like to blow shit up would put it: Yeeeeeeeehaw!!!!

Scalia seems to be opening the door not just for legalizing fully automatic guns, but all kinds of weapons. I mean, hell, pipe bombs -- which, let's be honest, really aren't quite up there in the rocket-launcher category in terms of lethality -- are currently illegal as hell and tightly regulated by the ATF and various other federal agencies right now.

So, for that matter, are all various kinds of portable bombs, particularly those made with C-4. They pack quite a kick, too.

And I guess if we continue to follow the impeccable logic of District of Columbia v. Heller, as Scalia is doing here, then we'll soon loose the dogs on a whole range of weapons that are currently regulated -- because they certainly can be carried.

But hell, why stop there? Go all the way: Let's establish the right to keep and bear a suitcase nuke, since obviously, it's a kind of arms and you can bear it, too.

In fact, I think every American ought to have a suitcase nuke for their personal use. That way if some nutcase comes into a theater and tries to blow everyone up with a suitcase nuke, the entire audience can set off their own nukes. God Bless Murka!

Thanks, your honor. We owe you one.