Challenge yourself

Margaret Heffernan, an author and former producer for BBC, has an explanation for why politics and even social relations in the United States have become so strained, partisan, divisive and nasty.

It’s not because those on the other side of the spectrum from us lack brains, a heart or courage. The problem is that we only pay attention to the wizards who tell us what we want to hear.  

In her latest book, “Willful Blindness,” Heffernan describes why we do this and the unfortunate effects of the phenomenon. Basically, we seek personal validation by screening out viewpoints we don’t agree with because they make us uncomfortable. The results include an ever-narrower perspective that becomes more extreme with every avoidance of alternative opinions.

She also describes how people’s opinions tend to move away from the edges of the spectrum and towards middle ground when they do allow themselves exposure to different ways of thinking.

With this in mind, President Obama’s attempts to seek grounds for compromise with his political opponents appears to be less a betrayal of principles and more a mature acknowledgement that nobody has a monopoly on truth or answers.

So in the spirit of a broad-minded search for solutions and a dispassionate analysis of facts, I have added conservative websites and publications to Bad-Influence’s media listings. One of them, World Net Daily, caused me an embarrassing Homer Simpson moment when I checked its media-listings page. It includes The Nation, Mother Jones, Progressive Review and the Village Voice, along with conservative stalwarts like The American Partisan, and Reason Magazine.

A leading conservative website with a broader offering of news sources than Bad-Influence? Doh!

Although Bad-Influence intends to be a resource for progressive activists, Heffernan’s writing has convinced me that nobody will get much of anything done until we pay more attention to opinions we don’t like. So I’m going to start looking at those conservative sites to crack my mind open a bit. Not so much that my brains fall out, but enough to recognize that there may be more than one path through the woods that will lead to home.



Fair employment practices versus jobs is a false choice

Do laws requiring fairness in hiring kill jobs?

That’s the claim being made about Obama’s proposal to outlaw discrimination against the unemployed. It’s a very old argument that surfaces everytime  government has to step in to prevent businesses from ruling out entire classes of people as potential employees. A good example of these arguments against fairness can be found in a Chicago Tribune op-ed column of 9/22/2011, “The wrong help for the unemployed,” with the subtitle, “Employer discrimination is not the real problem.”

Its basic point is that such a law isn’t needed because the practice is not widespread and once the economy improves enough, hiring eventually will include those currently unemployed.

It’s easy for white males (like the column writer) to believe this because many have never experienced discrimination. As everybody who isn’t a white male knows, job discrimination still is widespread, often precisely because the white males making hiring decisions are clueless about their own prejudices. Laws against this aren’t terribly effective, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t needed.

Once again, the old claim is made that market forces on their own will lead to rational hiring policies because companies want to hire the best people available. In reality, when market forces operated without fair-employment laws, businesses demonstrated they wanted to hire only the best white, heterosexual, physically able males available for the highest-paying, most desirable jobs.

In the past several decades, business has enjoyed freedom from hard-won regulations intended to curb their most egregious misbehavior. The results include financial devastation for middle-class investors, homeowners, the unemployed and – as usual – the poor. This will remain true as long as American business remains relentlessly focused on profit as its first, last and only goal, an obsession used to justify all kinds of unjust practices because profit has been enshrined as sacred.

When businesses make job growth their top goal instead of profit, unemployment will ease and the economy will improve. But we’ll always need laws restraining market forces and their use to protect employees, consumers, communities and even businesses from their own worst instincts. 


Class warfare, indeed

The party of greed, guns and God has now stooped to a new low in shameless hypocrisy – branding Obama’s call for higher taxes on the wealthy as “class warfare.” Almost as sickening is their pious claim that calling on corporations and the wealthy to pay their fair share of the bill for the enormous benefits they’ve received amounts to “divisiveness.”

In truth, Republicans have waged class warfare against anyone who isn’t wealthy. During Republican administrations from Reagan on, wages have fallen or remained stagnant, jobs have moved overseas, workplace benefits have been gutted and unions attacked. The goals of the GOP have been to protect property instead of people, to “unburden” business from laws mandating basic fairness and to kowtow to the rich in return for their favors.

It’s long past time to stop appeasing people who deride centrists as radicals and brand liberals as traitors. It’s time to start acknowledging the truth – there is such a thing as class warfare in this country, it’s been directed against the poor (a group that includes more Americans than ever) and unless we protest it loudly and insistently, it will persist. The Banana Republicans would love to turn this country into a Third World haven where 90 percent of the population slaves for the top 10 percent.