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A COLD STORM SYSTEM will bring snow to the mountains and rain to valleys and the coastal plain through Wednesday. In addition, isolated thunderstorms with small hail are forecast through Tuesday. Thereafter, dry weather on Thursday will be followed by another front approaching the region Friday and Saturday. (NWS)
YESTERDAY'S RAINFALL (past 24 hours): Leggett 0.92" - Fort Bragg 0.90" - Laytonville 0.84" - Covelo 0.81" - Yorkville 0.72" - Boonville 0.70" - Willits 0.66" - Hopland 0.48" - Ukiah 0.43" - Mendocino 0.31"
THIS LADY LEFT HER PURSE at the Boonville General Store Sunday. Anybody know her?
KEEPING THE PEACE ON THE COAST
I took note this week of the letter by the Willits area area resident who had been helped, following a car accident, so kindly by the deputy sheriff who arrived at the scene. She reported he had helped her keep calm through the shock and aftermath of this event and had arranged for her dog to be taken care of. Of all the AVA news that day, this letter of thanks stuck in my memory.
And now my wife and I have our own thanks for two coastal deputy sheriffs. Saturday night we attended the Caspar Hit’n Run event, fine comedy and many laughs. But as we came out to my wife’s car, parked on the street by the Jewish Community Center after the performance, we noticed a piece of concrete and a car jack on top of the car’s roof, an odd thing for sure. We then noticed that the windshield had been smashed, and the hood was scratched and damaged. Across the street was a man acting strangely and who seemed a likely suspect, but he disappeared inside the building after cursing at me.
Soon two deputies arrived, took my information and went inside the building to talk to the man. They emerged in a few minutes, with the man in cuffs, under arrest. He was saying, as they placed in him in their vehicle, “Why are you arresting me? I didn’t do anything.” The deputies reported he had confessed to damaging the car and was going to jail. Both deputies (one I knew from his former service as a Fort Bragg PD officer for 20 years) were efficient, kind and thorough. Their work at the scene was done so well and so professionally. It was something to admire, the kind of intervention that marks every day in their lives, the normal routines of keeping the peace that not many of us could do.
So, our thanks and gratitude to these brave deputies. We are fortunate to have them in service to our communities.
This POS physically assaulted a bartender [female] at Dick's Place in Mendo, the reason...he was asked to leave. If anyone knows his name please let us know…
— Dicks Place
A 30-YEAR OLD male resident of Santa Rosa, still not identified, died Saturday afternoon [November 5th] a little after 5 when his southbound Lexus unaccountably left the pavement of Highway 128 and collided with a tree, apparently killing the driver on impact. There was no one else in the vehicle. The accident remains under investigation by the CHP.
A READER WRITES: Magic Milk is simply great. Didn't get a photo of the cow but truly amazing work there Sofia!! When Anderson Valley creatives get together we are the luckiest duckies anywhere.
AN UNKNOWN PROJECTILE Damaged a Window on the Mendocino County Coast — Was It a Meteorite?
by Matt LeFever
On the night of Friday, November 5, 2022, Fort Bragg Police officers were dispatched to reports of gunshots striking the window of a Fort Bragg residence. After investigators examined the damage and gathered statements from witnesses, Fort Bragg Police Chief Neil Cervenka told us the projectile that damaged a window of a home on Azaela Way was most definitely not a bullet. Emphasizing his theory is circumstantial and speculative in nature, he posited that instead of a bullet, the window was struck by a meteorite the size of a grain of rice associated with the fireball from the Taurid meteor shower seen across Northern California on Friday night.…
SUPERINTENDENT SIMSON VS. NCS'S EXORBITANT GATE FEES FOR PLAYOFFS
I have asked our district’s attorney to look into the requirement that parents must purchase playoff tickets on a credit card and the game fee is exorbitant for our poor parents. This is my kind of equity issue. I may not grant independent study because I think it’s bad for kids achievement, but I fight 100% for parents to have access to the kids extracurriculars. Here’s my note to the district superintendents. I will keep you posted on the outcome.
I have an issue with the playoff structure and the requirement for parents to pay for a playoff game ticket with a credit card. Many of my families don’t have a credit card and they certainly don’t have Internet. The exorbitant ticket prices combined with the requirements for credit card, are an equity issue reeking of white privilege that are impacting my families’ ability to participate in their students extracurricular sports. I grew up in a ghetto. My parents had no money. The ability for parents to support their students in viewing extracurriculars is a passionate belief that I hold. I have contacted our attorney to lobby on a change to a cash gate for playoff games. I hope you will support this effort. Equity isn’t just about what we do in classrooms, it’s about what we allow our parents to experience as well.
Louise Simson, Superintendent, Anderson Valley Unified School District, Cell: 707-684-1017
COMMERCIAL WELL ORDINANCE STUCK IN COUNTY COUNSEL’S OFFICE
by Jim Shields
I want to share with you a letter I sent to Supervisors John Haschak and Glenn McGourty regarding a draft ordinance that would regulate private sector groundwater wells whose owners sell, or plan to sell water commercially, as well as individuals or entities that transport water from these commercial groundwater wells to customers.
First I’ll give you a summary of the proposed ordinance, and then provide the letter that sets out a problem that no one was aware of.
Here are highlights of the proposed ordinance.
Under this proposed Ordinance, individuals desiring to sell water will be required, among other things, to:
• Apply for a Minor Use permit;
• Obtain a Mendocino County Business License, which must be renewed annually;
• Obtain a well permit for each proposed source well;
• Perform a hydrologic well test on the source well;
• Install a water meter on the well;
• Keep various records regarding water production and sales; and
• File various reports with the County regarding well operation and sales.
Individuals or entities engaged in transporting water for sale to customers will be required, among other things, to:
• Not transport water to a commercial cannabis operation that does not have a state license or a state provisional license and either a county permit or an application in active review by the county cannabis department.
• Not transport water from a water supplier to a separate parcel without first obtaining a Mendocino County Business License, to be renewed annually.
• Keep a tracking log of all purchases and deliveries that shall include:
Date, location, volume, of the water purchase.
Date, location, volume, of each water delivery.
The name and contact information of the person to whom the water will be delivered and the date of delivery.
The intended use of the water.
• Not transport water after 10 p.m. or before 5 a.m. unless such transport is for road work or logging operations.
These are just highlights of the two main provisions found in the draft Ordinance.
I sent the following letter on Nov. 1st to Supervisors Haschak and McGourty; it is self explanatory, and it definitely describes the problem:
Hi John and Glenn,
As you are aware, from September 2021 through July 2022, I served, along with approximately six other appointees, on a committee working under the auspices of the Board of Supervisors Ad Hoc Drought Committee comprised of the two of you.
The charge given our committee was to prepare a draft ordinance that would regulate private sector groundwater wells whose owners sell, or plan to sell water commercially, as well as individuals or entities that transport water from these commercial groundwater wells to customers.
It should be noted that the impetus for developing this ordinance occurred last year (2021) during extreme drought conditions when the local cannabis industry was in a record state of over-production, coupled also with record usage of both legal and illegal sources of water, some of which is transported by water trucks.
We all remember the public outcry surrounding those issues.
At the July 12, 2022 BOS meeting, the Board voted 4-1 to approve the draft ordinance prepared by the committee, and forward it to the Planning Commission for further review. Specifically, according to the July 12, 2022 minutes, “Upon motion by Supervisor Haschak, seconded by Supervisor Gjerde, IT IS ORDERED that the Board of Supervisors accepts the draft ordinance and forwards to the Planning Commission for review.”
A little over a week ago, I contacted Supervisor Haschak and asked him if he was aware of the status of the Planning Commission’s review of the draft ordinance. He said he had no information at all on the matter. I told John I would contact Planning Commission Chairwoman Alison Pernell and attempt to find out the status of the review. John said he would also immediately look into the situation and get back to me.
I spoke with Alison on Oct. 26 and she informed me that the draft ordinance has not been forwarded to the Commission and she had no knowledge of its status or why it had not been forwarded to the PC. She also said she would make inquiries about the matter and would get back to me.
She called me a short time later on Oct. 26 and informed me that PBS Director Julia Krog told her that the draft ordinance was in the County Counsel’s office for review which is estimated to be completed by sometime in February of 2023. A few minutes after speaking with Alison, John Haschak got back to me with the same information.
I find this turn of events to be surprising as well as unacceptable.
This County just renewed its declaration of a local emergency due to drought conditions and imminent threat of disaster in Mendocino County. Yet it appears that in instances such as this critical matter, there doesn’t seem to be any corresponding sense of urgency to get something done that is of the highest priority. This situation has not been caused by either of you, our committee, or the Planning Commission.
I’m asking for your help in breaking the logjam at the County Counsel’s office so that the draft ordinance can be expeditiously forwarded to the Planning Commission, as was the intent, I believe, of the Board’s action at the July 12 meeting.
As always, if I can be of any assistance in this matter, just let me know.
(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, email@example.com, the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and is also chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org.)
A READER WRITES: Mendo jail flap and 'One Taste.' The same lawyer is threatening KZYX, Mendo Fever, and Kym Kemp for publishing their stories.
Part of me grew up on this old summer resort, and my other parts grew up elsewhere. The author, John van der Zee wrote about re-visiting “Ray's” in an article from the S.F. Chronicle that I saved. John's family had stayed at the resort when he was a child and when his article was published, the whole Bay Area chimed in with their memories of that special place.
“There were other resorts like this all over Northern California once -- rustic retreats whose minimal accommodations -- my father once turned on the shower in a Ray's cabin and a toad popped out of the spout -- were part of their charm for middle-class city people before they took to the suburbs. But for us, there was no other Ray's.
I never had enough of Ray's. Much of my life since has been, I realize, an attempt to return. Yet I resisted going back to the original from simple fear that, like so much of the best of California in these years, it would be too good, too tempting to resist change. Someone would see possibilities. Develop. Improve. Incorporate it into what Tom Wolfe has aptly dubbed 'the big shopping plaza of life.'
The life that Ray's and resorts like it represented -- modest family joys, indulgence within limits, an inward-looking husbandry of summer freedoms -- has all but disappeared from the California of these years, obscured by clouds of speedboat spray and camper dust. Yet it's restorable, through work and love, like a woody station wagon forgotten in a barn. It's about time for people to rediscover the pleasures of going to a place you don't send postcards from, and the joys of going away and staying home at the same time. It's a good life to bring back -- if indeed it ever fully left us. “There is no present or future,” Eugene O'Neill, that most family-ridden of writers, once wrote. “Only the past, happening over and over again -- now.”
CATCH OF THE DAY, Sunday, November 6, 2022
RAFAEL CEJA-MENDOZA, Manteca/Ukiah. DUI, suspended license for DUI.
ANNE CORMIA, Upland/Ukiah. DUI.
IAN FORMAN, Fort Bragg. Vandalism.
CARLOS GALVAN-MONTANEZ, Clearlake/Ukiah. Suspended license for DUI, probation revocation.
JESUS NAVA-LOPEZ, Hopland. Marijuana cultivation, maintaining a place for storage or sale of a controlled substance.
KELLY QUINN, Clearlake/Ukiah. DUI.
MICHAEL WHETSTONE, Ukiah. DUI with blood-alcohol over 0.15%, child endangerment, suspended license, probation revocation.
KELLY WHITTAKER, Petaluma/Ukiah. Failure to appear.
MONDAY'S POWERBALL JACKPOT GROWS TO RECORD $1.9 BILLION
DES MOINES, Iowa — A record Powerball jackpot grew to an even larger $1.9 billion after no one won the lottery drawing on Saturday night.
The numbers for the drawing were: white balls 28, 45, 53, 56, 69 and red Powerball 20.
The next chance for someone to get lucky will be Monday night.
The new $1.9 billion jackpot is for a winner who is paid through an annuity over 29 years. Winners of lottery jackpots usually prefer a lump sum of cash, which for Monday’s drawing would be $929.1 million.
The Powerball prize keeps getting more massive because of the inability of anyone to overcome the long odds of 1 in 292.2 million and win the jackpot. To take the top prize, players must match all five white balls and one red Powerball.
Since someone won the prize on Aug. 3, there have been 40 drawings without a winner. That matches a record for draws without a winner, along with a run of drawings last year, according to the Clive, Iowa-based Multi-State Lottery Association.
Powerball is played in 45 states, as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
HAM IN YOUR CHEERIOS, DEAR?
by Tommy Wayne Kramer
Bought me some ham a couple weeks back.
Purchasing a ham would not ordinarily warrant an ordinary column but it was no ordinary ham. It was one of those hand-cured Tennessee hams from a family that’s been smoking hams since Davy Crockett roamed the neighborhood.
The whole ham family is called the Bentons and six months ago the New York Times did a long article describing the aging process, the old fashioned hand rubbing, and the hickory smoke that brings each ham that pure, unadulterated salty flavor beloved by generations.
Keep in mind that part about “salty flavor.”
So beloved are these hams that people drive from all over, maybe even Ukiah, to stand around waiting for another Benton ham to pop out. Or else they order their ham online, like I did.
(NOTE: I got a ham in spite of a rave review given by the New York Times reporter. This suggests not every Times writer is always lying, only its op-ed columnists.)
You’d assume a ham aged this long (years, I think) and with this kind of pedigree, heritage and reputation would be an expensive investment, but it came out at a people’s price of $79, plus shipping.
Quite reasonable I thought, and I agreed with myself many more times when my box of cured, smoked ham was delivered by UPS an hour or two later.
It weighed 17 lbs, bone included.
That’s a wallet-friendly price for an artisan food product that is hand-cured, gently smoked, and has bedtime stories read to it at night followed by sweet lullabies.
It means my ham cost less than 17 lbs of Spam, though this will not be a “ham-versus-Spam” column. Ham is already far outside the boundaries of my usual AVA material and I’ll go no further afield describing canning techniques at Hormel Foods. (But I doubt hickory smoke and years of cuddling are invested in a can of Spam.)
So I have a great big ham on the kitchen counter, outfitted in dressy cheesecloth outside a plain brown wrapper. I stare at it, thinking just how much it does not look like a honey baked spiral-cut ham, or a Smithfield ham or deli ham or a can of Spam.
I am not a geneticist. I’m not even a farmer. I don’t know a pig from a sow from a stoat from a hog from a camel from a boar. But I do suspect the Benton family sent me a ham that, although mostly of swine, has a fair amount of Brontosaurus on its daddy’s side.
The bone is big as the business end of a baseball bat, but tastier in soup. The ham’s hide, or cover, or skin, is like leather but not the soft, smooth, fine suede-like chewable leather of your car’s upholstery. It’s a ham hide capable of fending off attacks from cave men wielding sharp sticks and throwing big rocks and planning a Brontosaurus BBQ later in the day.
It was way too much pig for my feeble assortment of kitchen knives, though I was able to hack off a chunk after about 20 minutes of sawing with the biggest blade we have.
Remember that part about “salty flavor”? I’ll never forget it.
Maybe some of that hand-rubbing involves a long sodium soak, or maybe the piglets spend their youth grazing at the Bonneville flats in Utah. If Dr. Portnoff, my Ukiah cardiologist, knew I was consuming more than a thimble-full of Benton Hickory Smoked Ham a month he’d have me strapped to a heart monitor in the emergency room.
What’s to be done with the remaining ham? My wife and kids change the subject whenever I suggest yet another ham-centric meal. It might make a fine doorstop, and a progressively more aromatic one, as the months wear on.
It’s easily enough ham to last me a lifetime, including feeding whoever shows up for my funeral services (“Welcome Mourners! Free Beer! Free Ham Sandwiches!”) with still more ham to leave to grandchildren and homeless kitchens.
It’s a bit tough and a mite salty, but with a scant 12 or so more lbs. to get through I think hefty hunks of tasty Benton Hickory Smoked ham will make fine Christmas presents for some of my lucky acquaintances who aren’t exactly friends.
We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and—in spite of True Romance magazines—we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely—at least, not all the time—but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don't see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.
— Hunter Thompson
THE GIUSTI REPORT
Happy 68th birthday.
I finally just received the September 7 issue of the AVA. Mail here is very, very slow. I'm kind of tired of hearing about Sergeant Murray's two-year probation sentence. Slap on the wrist? More like a tickle of the toe. I am in here for basically a harmless, homeless camp fight and got an 18 to life sentence. Who is the coward who wrote about me and didn't give his name? That dude states in a letter to the editor that the alleged victim was half dead in a rest home. That's a bold faced lie. The District Attorney has no clue where this “snitch cat” disappeared to. He fled Mendocino County as he was wanted for questioning in the mysterious deaths of two of my hobo pals: Charlie Hensley and Pasadena Dave. This alleged “victim” in my case came to my camp intending to make me or another camper his third victim! He brought an accomplice with him and they snuck up on my camp without their shopping carts. Carts tend to wake hobos up.
You seem fairly intelligent. When are you going to catch on to these wicked people? Evil characters like Judge Faulder and Alan 'the snith' Crow and John Greasy Thumb McCowen? It's hard to believe supervisor Ted Williams made up a lie about McCowen stealing those county keys. McCowen eventually returned them, admitting to having them. Why is John McCowen laying low like a hermit?
You'd have to be blind not to figure out that District Attorney Eyster won't prosecute a cop even if he was a mass murderer! He already just let serial rapist Murray fly free.
Let's look at Alan Crow's track record. He knew about my cousin's illegal pot grow in Covelo. When my cousin got busted Alan's serious Lake County charges were dismissed immediately. Then he comes to Mendocino County Jail and writes a slanderous letter to the AVA about me. After the article was published he was mysteriously released. Then he robbed a girl at gunpoint and after praising District Attorney Eyster in that article, Eyster stuck him with a seven-year sentence. If that would have been me I would have got 10 for the robbery, five for the gun, plus a strike. So Crow only got a hard tickle of the toe. Now he is allegedly dying of liver disease! In 2001 he had a brain tumor! Come on, we all know now he is a backstabber but he's got you and some AVA readers hoodwinked!
McCowen cleaning up homeless camps? Who is going to be snowed by that one? I've personally seen him persecute homeless people in public!
Lastly, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I think AVA readers and my home boys and girls in Fort Bragg desire to read the truth. The victim in my case was a notorious woman beater and sneak thief of homeless people who narced and dealt drugs with certain Ukiah policemen! When these Ukiah police pulled up to arrest me, this victim told the cop, “Leave me alone. I'll get Giusti on my own. I'll get revenge on Giusti.” One hour later he told the Adventist medical staff to let him go home. The Ukiah police then showed the nurses a document with Judge Faulder's name on it with an order to blood test me. I refused but they forced the test on me anyway which constitutes an illegal search and seizure. My quiz is this: how did the Ukiah police get Judge Faulder's document at 1 AM, 15 minutes after my arrest? My whole attempted murder case was phony baloney. The victim never pressed charges nor appeared in court. My own lawyer denied me witnesses and a court trial. I was forced to have a rigged jury.
You make the call.
David Detective Youngcault Giusti
California State Prison, Delano
EXODUS 20:17 (The Tenth Commandment): “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.”
(King James Bible)
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
I live at 26th and Shotwell in San Francisco. This area has been entrenched with large encampments since 2016. In 2017, the city set up a 311 system and residents were able to call and ask that encampments be removed. In 2019, Jeff Kositsky, then head of HSOC, reversed that. Hot teams are now sent out to ask people to move when there is a shelter bed for them, and they don't have to move if they don't want to. The result is that now these encampments take over huge areas of public space, and they last for months and even years. There was an enormous encampment two doors down from me that was fifty feet long, covering two property lines, that lasted for four months. The residents, including me, had to put up with picking there way around an enormous amount of stuff to get into their houses. The individuals in the encampment had three dogs that were ignored because their owners were often drugged out. These dogs barked day and night. The filth was phenomenal. I had to wash up their diarrhea twice. One woman in the encampment would scream at me every time I got a little close to it which was often since they were only a couple doors down. I had acute stress symptoms like dizziness and a feeling like a lump in my chest. That is just one incident over a span of two years, and I am just one person. This story is playing out all over SF. Worse, The Homeless Coalition caused this crises with their Housing First policy that discourages building shelters so the money can go to apartments.
PRO-WAR HAWKS HAVE PROGRESSIVES ON THEIR SQUAD
Retracting their call for diplomacy with Russia to end the Ukraine war, Congressional Progressives cave to the neocons.
by Aaron Maté
Reporting on Republican Party divisions over funding the Ukraine proxy war, the Washington Post notes that, despite scattered internal opposition, the GOP remains “home to a large number of old-school hawks who promise to continue providing support for Kyiv.”
In the Democratic Party, there is no need for such a distinction. As the debacle over the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ retracted letter shows, the entire Democratic caucus is now firmly at home with the old-school hawks.
The original letter, released Oct. 24th, gently noted that the integral US military and intelligence role in Ukraine “creates a responsibility for the United States to seriously explore all possible avenues,” to achieve “a peaceful settlement.” Accordingly, it called on President Biden to “make vigorous diplomatic efforts in support of a negotiated settlement and ceasefire,” and “engage in direct talks with Russia” to achieve that goal. The signatories went out of their way to declare their support for Biden’s arming of Ukraine and for continued Congressional funding to sustain it. In arguably its most polite gesture, the letter omitted the fact that Biden’s White House has undermined diplomacy at every turn, from refusing to even discuss Russia’s core pre-invasion proposals to backing – if not orchestrating – UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s April jaunt to Kiev that thwarted a tentative peace deal with Moscow.
Were it any other geopolitical issue, a tepid request for diplomacy from less than one-third of the Progressive Caucus would likely go ignored. But in the post-Russiagate era, where MSNBC-watching Democrats have been conditioned to promote confrontation with the Kremlin and dismiss political opponents as “pro-Putin” traitors, there is no room for even the mildest of dissent.
“Vladimir Putin would have signed that letter if asked,” one member of the House Democratic leadership sneered to Politico. The anonymous complainant apparently believes that Putin regards his invasion of Ukraine as “outrageous and illegal”, as the letter put it. But if Putin would indeed sign on to a call for “direct engagement” in order “to reduce harm and support Ukraine in achieving a peaceful settlement,” it is unclear why that would be worthy of this senior lawmaker’s opprobrium. For reflexive supporters of US militarism, the answer is clear: a call for diplomacy with Russia is “appeasement” (Bill Kristol) and “appalling” (Max Boot). Taking these neoconservative naysayers’ side was none other than the former Democratic “Revolution” leader Bernie Sanders, who declared his opposition to the letter as well.
Because any good Democrat must now understand that diplomacy with Russia is an appalling act of appeasement, those who advocated it for 24 hours were forced to repent. Progressive Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal claimed that the letter “unfortunately was released by staff without vetting.” To the certain approval of chickenhawks like Kristol and Boot, Jayapal also declared that while the Ukraine war will indeed end “with diplomacy,” that will now only happen “after Ukrainian victory.” As to how that “victory” will be achieved, the path has been articulated by the progressives’ allied old-school hawk Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has boasted that US military assistance ensures that Ukraine “will fight to the last person.”
Of all the remorseful signatories, no one renounced the letter more forcefully than Rep. Jamie Raskin. Arming Ukraine, Raskin declared in a statement, is not just about defending a country from foreign invasion, but combating bigotry:
Moscow right now is a hub of corrupt tyranny, censorship, authoritarian repression, police violence, propaganda, government lies and disinformation, and planning for war crimes. It is a world center of antifeminist, antigay, anti-trans hatred, as well as the homeland of replacement theory for export. In supporting Ukraine, we are opposing these fascist views, and supporting the urgent principles of democratic pluralism.
Raskin has apparently forgotten about his own prior positions that take a different view on the state of democratic pluralism in Ukraine. In 2019, Raskin signed on to a letter urging the State Department to declare Ukraine’s Azov Battalion a Foreign Terrorist Organization, on the grounds that Azov is a “a well-known ultranationalist militia organization in Ukraine that openly welcomes neo-Nazis into its ranks.” That militia happens to be formally incorporated into the ranks of the Ukrainian military. And despite a Congressional ban, it also continues to receive US military assistance, as its members do not even bother trying to conceal.
Raskin may also be unaware of the State Department’s annual human rights reports on Ukraine, which most recently documented:
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees by law enforcement personnel; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious abuses in the Russia-led conflict in the Donbas, including physical abuses or punishment of civilians and members of armed groups held in detention facilities; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; refoulement of refugees to a country where they would face a threat to their life or freedom; serious acts of government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes, violence, or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of ethnic minority groups, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.
In these cases, the State Department concluded, the Ukrainian government “generally failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity.”
In fairness to Raskin, renouncing a letter calling for diplomacy with Russia is at least consistent with his staunch Cold Warrior militarism over the last several years.
The same cannot be said for Rep. Ilhan Omar. In March, Omar stood apart from the proxy war pack in warning that “flooding Ukraine with billion[s] [of] dollars in weapons” is “unpredictable and likely disastrous.” Eight months and several votes in favor of those billions of dollars in weapons later, Omar now declares that protesters who take the same position as she did in March are “dangerous propagandists who are literally making a mockery of the anti- war movement,” and even spreading “[Russian] ridiculous internet disinformation.”
Alternatively, in mocking activists for echoing her previous concerns about the Ukraine proxy war and accusing them of being Russian pawns, Omar is making a mockery of the Democratic Party’s elected progressives.
One of the few lawmakers who declined to fully abase himself was Ro Khanna, who insisted that calling for diplomacy is simply “common sense.” But in standing by the letter, Khanna diluted its message into a form more palatable to the pro-war crowd.
“All the letter said is that we at the same time that we stand with Ukraine, need to make sure that we're reducing the risk for nuclear war, that we're engaging in talks with the Russians to make sure that the conflict doesn't escalate,” Khanna told CNN. But the letter did not merely seek to “make sure that the conflict doesn't escalate.” It explicitly called on Biden to try to “end the war” via “a negotiated settlement and ceasefire,” so long as the solution is “acceptable to the people of Ukraine.”
As Khanna’s misleading “defense” of the letter underscores, calling for negotiations to end the Ukraine war is no longer acceptable to the American people’s elected progressives.
There has been ample speculation about the behind-the-scenes pressure that prompted the letter’s quick retraction. But the 24-hour reversal makes perfect sense in light of the Democratic Party’s last six years. Since the 2016 election of Donald Trump, Democrats have embraced fantasies about anything to do with Russia: a Manchurian, Kompromat-compromised president and the hope that Robert Mueller will prove it; Russian bots swinging elections and fueling anti-racism protests; Russia bounties on US troops in Afghanistan; Russian microwave weapons injuring US officials; Russia fabricating Hunter Biden’s laptop. Accordingly, Democrats have also embraced the national security state officials behind these deceptions, and the Cold Warrior outlook that guides them.
When it comes to issues that directly led to Russia’s invasion, collusion-crazed Democrats were incentivized to look the other way as Donald Trump tore up vital arms control treaties with Russia and authorized weapons shipments to Kiev that Obama had refused to send, out of fear of provoking the cross-border war that we’re now in today.
In fact, Democrats’ only response to Trump’s militarism toward Russia was to take drastic action ensuring that he continue it. When the Mueller probe collapsed, Democrats rebounded by impeaching Trump for briefly pausing those Obama-opposed weapons shipments while trying to compel Ukrainian assistance on investigating Russiagate’s origins and the Biden family’s role in Ukraine (a linkage that, contrary to the hype, was never actually proven). As Adam Schiff alleged, Trump had somehow undermined US national security by freezing weapons packages that help the US use Ukraine “to fight Russia over there.”
The consequences of enlisting Democrats in a jingoistic campaign to “fight Russia” in Ukraine were obvious, as I wrote three years ago this month in The Nation:
In a different time, a liberal opposition movement might be raising concerns of its own about war-profiteering...; the merits of fueling a war on the borders of the world’s other top nuclear power, or doing so in a way that arms and empowers far-right forces incorporated within the Ukrainian military. Instead, Democrats have been enlisted to champion that proxy war and the coffers of the military firms that profit from it.
With even progressives unable to stand by a meek call for diplomacy for longer than 24 hours, they are also handing a political gift to the Republican Party, which can at least claim to have some dissenting voices within the ranks (a reflection of the GOP voting base, a new poll shows). And as a senior Democratic congressional aide told Vox, the retraction sets a dangerous precedent for this proxy war and beyond:
“We floated the world’s softest trial balloon about diplomacy, got smacked by the blob” — [nickname for the Washington foreign policy establishment] — “and immediately withdrew under pressure. I hate the idea that it’s going to look now like progressives are endorsing the idea that diplomacy is appeasement.”
Congressional progressives are indeed endorsing the idea that diplomacy is appeasement, the inevitable result of their deepening alliance with old-school hawks.
THE POLITICIANS WHO DESTROYED OUR DEMOCRACY Want Us to Vote for Them to Save It
We should have walked out on the Democratic Party and mounted a serious opposition movement while we still had a chance.
by Chris Hedges
The bipartisan project of dismantling our democracy, which took place over the last few decades on behalf of corporations and the rich, has left only the outward shell of democracy. The courts, legislative bodies, the executive branch and the media, including public broadcasting, are captive to corporate power. There is no institution left that can be considered authentically democratic. The corporate coup d’état is over. They won. We lost.
The wreckage of this neoliberal project is appalling: endless and futile wars to enrich a military-industrial-complex that bleeds the U.S. Treasury of half of all discretionary spending; deindustrialization that has turned U.S. cities into decayed ruins; the slashing and privatization of social programs, including education, utility services and health care – which saw over one million Americans account for one-fifth of global deaths from Covid, although we are 4 percent of the world’s population; draconian forms of social control embodied in militarized police, functioning as lethal armies of occupation in poor urban areas; the largest prison system in the world; a virtual tax boycott by the richest individuals and corporations; money-saturated elections that perpetuate our system of legalized bribery; and the most intrusive state surveillance of the citizenry in our history.
In “The United States of Amnesia,” to quote Gore Vidal, the corporate press and the ruling class create fictional feel-good personas for candidates, treat all political campaigns as if it is a day at the races and gloss over the fact that on every major issue, from trade deals to war, there is very little difference between Democrats and Republicans. The Democratic Party and Joe Biden are not the lesser evil, but rather, as Glen Ford pointed out, “the more effective evil.”
Biden supported the campaign to discredit and humiliate Anita Hill to appoint Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. He was one of the principal architects of the endless wars in the Middle East, calling for “taking Saddam down” five years before the invasion of Iraq. He rehabilitated the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, after vowing to make the country a pariah because of the assassination of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Biden is a fervent supporter of Israel, calling the apartheid state “the single greatest strength America has in the Middle East” and declaring “I am a Zionist. You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist.” His campaigns have been lavishly funded by the Israel lobby for at least two decades.
In the 1970s, he fought school busing, arguing that segregation was beneficial for Blacks. He and South Carolina’s racist senator, Strom Thurmond, sponsored the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, which eliminated parole for federal prisoners and limited the amount of time sentences could be reduced for good behavior. Biden sponsored and aggressively pushed the 1994 crime bill, which he also helped draft, calling for its passage because “We have predators on our streets that society has in fact, in part because of its neglect, created.” The bill expanded the death penalty for dozens of existing and new federal crimes and mandated life imprisonment for a third violent felony, also known as the “three strikes and you’re out” rule, more than doubling the nation’s prison population. The bill provided funds to add 100,000 new police officers and build new prisons, on the condition that prisoners serve their entire sentences. He pushed through the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which gutted the federal writ of habeas corpus, abolished the rights of death row prisoners and mandated harsh federal sentencing rules.
Biden takes credit for writing the 2001 Patriot Act, which expanded the government’s ability to monitor anyone’s phone and email communications, collect bank and credit reporting records, and track activity on the Internet. He backed austerity programs, including the destruction of welfare and cuts to Social Security. He fought for NAFTA and other “free trade” deals which fueled inequality, deindustrialization, a significant drop in wages and the offshoring of millions of manufacturing jobs to underpaid workers who toil in sweatshops in countries like Mexico, Malaysia, China or Vietnam.
He also backed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act that, as Human Rights Watch writes, “eliminated key defenses against deportation and subjected many more immigrants, including legal permanent residents, to detention and deportation.”
Biden long opposed abortion, writing in a letter to a constituent: “Those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them. As you may know, I have consistently — on no fewer than 50 occasions — voted against federal funding of abortions.”
He was at the forefront of deregulating the banking industry and the abolition of Glass-Steagall, which contributed to the global financial meltdown, including the collapse of nearly 500 banks, in 2007 and 2008. He is a favorite of the for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical industry, which contributed $6.3 million to his 2020 presidential campaign, almost four times more money than they channeled to Donald Trump’s campaign. Biden and the Democrats annually increase the military budget, approving $813 billion for fiscal year 2023. He and the Democrats have provided over $60 billion in military aid and assistance to the war in Ukraine, with no end in sight. In the Senate, Biden abjectly served the interests of MBNA, the largest independent credit card company headquartered in Delaware, which also employed Biden’s son Hunter.
The decisions of politicians like Biden have a staggering human cost, not only for the poor, workers and the shrinking middle class but for millions of people in the Middle East, millions of families ripped apart by mass incarceration, millions more forced into bankruptcy by our mercenary for-profit medical system where corporations are legally permitted to hold sick children hostage while their frantic parents bankrupt themselves to save them, millions who became addicted to opioids and hundreds of thousands who died from them, millions denied welfare assistance, and all of us barreling toward extinction because of a refusal to curb the greed and destructive power of the fossil fuel industry, which has raked in $2.8 billion a day in profit over the last 50 years.
Biden, morally vacuous and of limited intelligence, is responsible for more suffering and death at home and abroad than Donald Trump. But the victims in our Punch-and-Judy media shows are rendered invisible. And that is why the victims despise the whole superstructure and want to tear it down.
These establishment politicians and their appointed judges promulgated laws that permitted the top 1 percent to loot $54 trillion from the bottom 90 percent, from 1975 to 2022, at a rate of $2.5 trillion a year, according to a study by the RAND corporation. The fertile ground of our political, economic, cultural and social wreckage spawned an array of neo-fascists, con artists, racists, criminals, charlatans, conspiracy theorists, right-wing militias and demagogues that will soon take power.
Decayed societies, such as Weimar Germany or the former Yugoslavia, which I covered for The New York Times, always vomit up political deformities who express the hatred a betrayed public feel for a corrupt ruling class and bankrupt liberalism. The twilight of the Greek, Roman, Ottoman, Habsburg and Russian empires were no different.
These political deformities play the role of the Snopes clan in William Faulkner’s trilogy “The Hamlet,” “The Town” and “The Mansion.” The Snopeses wrested control in the South from a degenerate aristocratic elite. Flem Snopes and his extended family — which includes a killer, a pedophile, a bigamist, an arsonist, a mentally disabled man who copulates with a cow, and a relative who sells tickets to witness the bestiality — are fictional representations of the scum that hijacked the Republican Party.
“The usual reference to ‘amorality,’ while accurate, is not sufficiently distinctive and by itself does not allow us to place them, as they should be placed, in a historical moment,” the critic Irving Howe wrote of the Snopeses. “Perhaps the most important thing to be said is that they are what comes afterwards: the creatures that emerge from the devastation, with the slime still upon their lips.”
“Let a world collapse, in the South or Russia, and there appear figures of coarse ambition driving their way up from beneath the social bottom, men to whom moral claims are not so much absurd as incomprehensible, sons of bushwhackers or muzhiksdrifting in from nowhere and taking over through the sheer outrageousness of their monolithic force,” Howe wrote. “They become presidents of local banks and chairmen of party regional committees, and later, a trifle slicked up, they muscle their way into Congress or the Politburo. Scavengers without inhibition, they need not believe in the crumbling official code of their society; they need only learn to mimic its sounds.”
Biden and other establishment politicians are not actually calling for democracy. They are calling for civility. They have no intention of extracting the knife thrust into our backs. They hope to paper over the rot and the pain with the decorum of the polite, measured talk they used to sell us the con of neoliberalism. The political correctness and inclusivity imposed by college-educated elites, unfortunately, has now become associated with the corporate assault, as if a woman CEO or a Black police officer is going to mitigate the exploitation and abuse. Minorities are always welcome, as they were in other species of colonialism, if they serve the dictates of the masters. This is how Barack Obama, whom Cornel West called “a Black mascot for Wall Street,” became President.
Freedom for millions of enraged Americans has become the freedom to hate, the freedom to use words like “nigger,” “kike,” “spic,” “chink,” “raghead” and “fag;” the freedom to physically assault Muslims, undocumented workers, women, African-Americans, homosexuals and anyone who dares criticize their Christian fascism; the freedom to celebrate historical movements and figures that the college-educated elites condemn, including the Ku Klux Klan and the Confederacy; the freedom to ridicule and dismiss intellectuals, ideas, science and culture; the freedom to silence those who have been telling them how to behave; the freedom to revel in hypermasculinity, racism, sexism, violence and patriarchy.
These crypto-fascists have always been part of the American landscape, but the disenfranchisement of millions of Americans, especially white Americans, has inflamed these hatreds. Voting for the architects of what political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls our system of “inverted totalitarianism” will not make them go away; in fact, it will further discredit liberal ideas and liberal democracy. This puts liberals in a terrible bind. They have every right to fear the far right. All the dark scenarios are correct. But by backing Biden and the ruling corporate party, they ensure their political irrelevance.
The Democratic Party has spent millions funding far-right “pied piper” candidates assuming they would be easier to defeat, a tactic foolishly copied from the Clinton campaign, which secretly “elevated” Trump in the hopes that he would win the Republican nomination. They have worked to censor critics from the left and the right on social media. They claim they are the last bulwark against tyranny. None of these subterfuges will work. America will descend into a Viktor Orbán-type of authoritarianism without profound political, social and economic reform.
After the Iraq war went sour, I, as someone who publicly opposed the invasion and had been the Middle East Bureau Chief for The New York Times, was often asked what we should do now. I answered that Iraq could no longer be put back together. It was broken. We broke it. Those who ask if we should support the Democrats as a tactic to halt our descent into tyranny are in a similar dilemma. My answer is no different. We should have walked out on the Democratic Party while we still had a chance.
THE MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE-ING OF AMERICA
by Maureen Dowd
Are we ready for our new Republican overlords?
Are we ready for an empowered Marjorie Taylor Greene?
Are we ready for a pumped-up, pistol-packing Lauren Boebert?
“How many AR-15s do you think Jesus would have had?” Boebert asked a crowd at a Christian campaign event in June. I’m going with none, honestly, but her answer was, “Well, he didn’t have enough to keep his government from killing him.”
The Denver Post pleaded: “We beg voters in western and southern Colorado not to give Rep. Lauren Boebert their vote.”
The freshman representative has recently been predicting happily that we’re in the end times, “the last of the last days.” If Lauren Boebert is in charge, we may want to be in the end times. I’m feeling not so Rapturous about the prospect.
And then there’s the future first female president, Kari Lake, who lulls you into believing, with her mellifluous voice, statements that seem to emanate from Lucifer. She’s dangerous because, like Donald Trump, she has real skills from her years in TV. And she really believes this stuff, unlike Trump and Kevin McCarthy, who are faking it.
As Cecily Strong said on “Saturday Night Live” last weekend, embodying Lake, “If the people of Arizona elect me, I’ll make sure they never have to vote ever again.”
Speaking of “Paradise Lost,” how about Ron DeSantis? The governor of Florida, who’s running for a second term, is airing an ad that suggests that he was literally anointed by God to fight Democrats. God almighty, that’s some high-level endorsement.
Much to our national shame, it looks like these over-the-top and way, way, way out-of-the mainstream Republicans — and the formerly normie and now creepy Republicans who have bent the knee to the wackos out of political expediency — are going to be running the House, maybe the Senate and certainly some states, perhaps even some that Joe Biden won two years ago.
And it looks as if Kevin McCarthy will finally realize his goal of becoming speaker, but when he speaks, it will be Marjorie Taylor Greene, Jim Jordan and Lauren Boebert doing the spewing. It will be like the devil growling through Linda Blair in “The Exorcist” — except it will be our heads spinning.
Welcome to a rogue’s gallery of crazy: Clay Higgins, who’s spouting conspiracy theories about Paul Pelosi, wants to run the House Homeland Security Committee; Paul Gosar, whose own family has begged Arizonans to eject him from Congress, will be persona grata in the new majority.
In North Carolina, Bo Hines, a Republican candidate for the House, wants community panels to decide whether rape victims are able to get abortions or not. He’s building on Dr. Oz’s dictum that local politicians should help make that call. Even Oprah turned on her creation, Dr. Odd.
J.D. Vance, the Yale-educated, former Silicon Valley venture capitalist and author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” who called Trump “America’s Hitler” in 2016, before saluting him to gain public office, could join the Senate in January. Talk about American Elegy.
Even though he wrote in his best seller that Yale Law School was his “dream school,” he now trashes the very system that birthed him. Last year, he gave a speech titled “The Universities Are the Enemy”: His mother-in-law is a provost at the University of California San Diego.
It’s disturbing to think of Vance side by side with Herschel Walker. Walker was backed by Mitch McConnell, who countenanced an obviously troubled and flawed individual even if it meant degrading the once illustrious Senate chamber.
Overall, there are nearly 300 election deniers on the ballot, but they will be all too happy to accept the results if they win.
People voting for these crazies think they’re punishing Biden, Barack Obama and the Democrats. They’re really punishing themselves.
These extreme Republicans don’t have a plan. Their only idea is to get in, make trouble for President Biden, drag Hunter into the dock, start a bunch of stupid investigations, shut down the government, abandon Ukraine and hold the debt limit hostage.
Democrats are partly to blame. They haven’t explained how they plan to get a grip on the things people are worried about: crime and inflation. Voters weren’t hearing what they needed to hear from Biden, who felt morally obligated to talk about the threat to democracy, even though that’s not what people are voting on.
As it turns out, a woman’s right to control her body has been overshadowed by uneasiness over safety and economic security.
To top it off, Trump is promising a return. We’ll see if DeSantis really is the chosen one. In Iowa on Thursday night, Trump urged the crowd to “crush the communists” at the ballot box and said that he was “very, very, very” close to deciding to “do it again.”
Trump, the modern Pandora, released the evil spirits swirling around us — racism, antisemitism, violence, hatred, conspiracy theories, and Trump mini-mes who should be nowhere near the levers of power.
Heaven help us.
WHY FACTS DON’T CHANGE OUR MINDS
New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason.
by Elizabeth Kolbert (February 19, 2017)
In 1975, researchers at Stanford invited a group of undergraduates to take part in a study about suicide. They were presented with pairs of suicide notes. In each pair, one note had been composed by a random individual, the other by a person who had subsequently taken his own life. The students were then asked to distinguish between the genuine notes and the fake ones.
Some students discovered that they had a genius for the task. Out of twenty-five pairs of notes, they correctly identified the real one twenty-four times. Others discovered that they were hopeless. They identified the real note in only ten instances.
As is often the case with psychological studies, the whole setup was a put-on. Though half the notes were indeed genuine—they’d been obtained from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office—the scores were fictitious. The students who’d been told they were almost always right were, on average, no more discerning than those who had been told they were mostly wrong.
In the second phase of the study, the deception was revealed. The students were told that the real point of the experiment was to gauge their responses to thinking they were right or wrong. (This, it turned out, was also a deception.) Finally, the students were asked to estimate how many suicide notes they had actually categorized correctly, and how many they thought an average student would get right. At this point, something curious happened. The students in the high-score group said that they thought they had, in fact, done quite well—significantly better than the average student—even though, as they’d just been told, they had zero grounds for believing this. Conversely, those who’d been assigned to the low-score group said that they thought they had done significantly worse than the average student—a conclusion that was equally unfounded.
“Once formed,” the researchers observed dryly, “impressions are remarkably perseverant.”
A few years later, a new set of Stanford students was recruited for a related study. The students were handed packets of information about a pair of firefighters, Frank K. and George H. Frank’s bio noted that, among other things, he had a baby daughter and he liked to scuba dive. George had a small son and played golf. The packets also included the men’s responses on what the researchers called the Risky-Conservative Choice Test. According to one version of the packet, Frank was a successful firefighter who, on the test, almost always went with the safest option. In the other version, Frank also chose the safest option, but he was a lousy firefighter who’d been put “on report” by his supervisors several times. Once again, midway through the study, the students were informed that they’d been misled, and that the information they’d received was entirely fictitious. The students were then asked to describe their own beliefs. What sort of attitude toward risk did they think a successful firefighter would have? The students who’d received the first packet thought that he would avoid it. The students in the second group thought he’d embrace it.
Even after the evidence “for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in those beliefs,” the researchers noted. In this case, the failure was “particularly impressive,” since two data points would never have been enough information to generalize from.
The Stanford studies became famous. Coming from a group of academics in the nineteen-seventies, the contention that people can’t think straight was shocking. It isn’t any longer. Thousands of subsequent experiments have confirmed (and elaborated on) this finding. As everyone who’s followed the research—or even occasionally picked up a copy of Psychology Today—knows, any graduate student with a clipboard can demonstrate that reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed more relevant than it does right now. Still, an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way?
In a new book, “The Enigma of Reason” (Harvard), the cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber take a stab at answering this question. Mercier, who works at a French research institute in Lyon, and Sperber, now based at the Central European University, in Budapest, point out that reason is an evolved trait, like bipedalism or three-color vision. It emerged on the savannas of Africa, and has to be understood in that context.
Stripped of a lot of what might be called cognitive-science-ese, Mercier and Sperber’s argument runs, more or less, as follows: Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to coöperate. Coöperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.
“Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves,” Mercier and Sperber write. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an “intellectualist” point of view prove shrewd when seen from a social “interactionist” perspective.
Consider what’s become known as “confirmation bias,” the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them. Of the many forms of faulty thinking that have been identified, confirmation bias is among the best catalogued; it’s the subject of entire textbooks’ worth of experiments. One of the most famous of these was conducted, again, at Stanford. For this experiment, researchers rounded up a group of students who had opposing opinions about capital punishment. Half the students were in favor of it and thought that it deterred crime; the other half were against it and thought that it had no effect on crime.
The students were asked to respond to two studies. One provided data in support of the deterrence argument, and the other provided data that called it into question. Both studies—you guessed it—were made up, and had been designed to present what were, objectively speaking, equally compelling statistics. The students who had originally supported capital punishment rated the pro-deterrence data highly credible and the anti-deterrence data unconvincing; the students who’d originally opposed capital punishment did the reverse. At the end of the experiment, the students were asked once again about their views. Those who’d started out pro-capital punishment were now even more in favor of it; those who’d opposed it were even more hostile.
If reason is designed to generate sound judgments, then it’s hard to conceive of a more serious design flaw than confirmation bias. Imagine, Mercier and Sperber suggest, a mouse that thinks the way we do. Such a mouse, “bent on confirming its belief that there are no cats around,” would soon be dinner. To the extent that confirmation bias leads people to dismiss evidence of new or underappreciated threats—the human equivalent of the cat around the corner—it’s a trait that should have been selected against. The fact that both we and it survive, Mercier and Sperber argue, proves that it must have some adaptive function, and that function, they maintain, is related to our “hypersociability.”
Mercier and Sperber prefer the term “myside bias.” Humans, they point out, aren’t randomly credulous. Presented with someone else’s argument, we’re quite adept at spotting the weaknesses. Almost invariably, the positions we’re blind about are our own.
A recent experiment performed by Mercier and some European colleagues neatly demonstrates this asymmetry. Participants were asked to answer a series of simple reasoning problems. They were then asked to explain their responses, and were given a chance to modify them if they identified mistakes. The majority were satisfied with their original choices; fewer than fifteen per cent changed their minds in step two.
In step three, participants were shown one of the same problems, along with their answer and the answer of another participant, who’d come to a different conclusion. Once again, they were given the chance to change their responses. But a trick had been played: the answers presented to them as someone else’s were actually their own, and vice versa. About half the participants realized what was going on. Among the other half, suddenly people became a lot more critical. Nearly sixty per cent now rejected the responses that they’d earlier been satisfied with.
This lopsidedness, according to Mercier and Sperber, reflects the task that reason evolved to perform, which is to prevent us from getting screwed by the other members of our group. Living in small bands of hunter-gatherers, our ancestors were primarily concerned with their social standing, and with making sure that they weren’t the ones risking their lives on the hunt while others loafed around in the cave. There was little advantage in reasoning clearly, while much was to be gained from winning arguments.
Among the many, many issues our forebears didn’t worry about were the deterrent effects of capital punishment and the ideal attributes of a firefighter. Nor did they have to contend with fabricated studies, or fake news, or Twitter. It’s no wonder, then, that today reason often seems to fail us. As Mercier and Sperber write, “This is one of many cases in which the environment changed too quickly for natural selection to catch up.”
Steven Sloman, a professor at Brown, and Philip Fernbach, a professor at the University of Colorado, are also cognitive scientists. They, too, believe sociability is the key to how the human mind functions or, perhaps more pertinently, malfunctions. They begin their book, “The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone” (Riverhead), with a look at toilets.
Virtually everyone in the United States, and indeed throughout the developed world, is familiar with toilets. A typical flush toilet has a ceramic bowl filled with water. When the handle is depressed, or the button pushed, the water—and everything that’s been deposited in it—gets sucked into a pipe and from there into the sewage system. But how does this actually happen?
In a study conducted at Yale, graduate students were asked to rate their understanding of everyday devices, including toilets, zippers, and cylinder locks. They were then asked to write detailed, step-by-step explanations of how the devices work, and to rate their understanding again. Apparently, the effort revealed to the students their own ignorance, because their self-assessments dropped. (Toilets, it turns out, are more complicated than they appear.)
Sloman and Fernbach see this effect, which they call the “illusion of explanatory depth,” just about everywhere. People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people. In the case of my toilet, someone else designed it so that I can operate it easily. This is something humans are very good at. We’ve been relying on one another’s expertise ever since we figured out how to hunt together, which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history. So well do we collaborate, Sloman and Fernbach argue, that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins.
“One implication of the naturalness with which we divide cognitive labor,” they write, is that there’s “no sharp boundary between one person’s ideas and knowledge” and “those of other members” of the group.
This borderlessness, or, if you prefer, confusion, is also crucial to what we consider progress. As people invented new tools for new ways of living, they simultaneously created new realms of ignorance; if everyone had insisted on, say, mastering the principles of metalworking before picking up a knife, the Bronze Age wouldn’t have amounted to much. When it comes to new technologies, incomplete understanding is empowering.
Where it gets us into trouble, according to Sloman and Fernbach, is in the political domain. It’s one thing for me to flush a toilet without knowing how it operates, and another for me to favor (or oppose) an immigration ban without knowing what I’m talking about. Sloman and Fernbach cite a survey conducted in 2014, not long after Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. Respondents were asked how they thought the U.S. should react, and also whether they could identify Ukraine on a map. The farther off base they were about the geography, the more likely they were to favor military intervention. (Respondents were so unsure of Ukraine’s location that the median guess was wrong by eighteen hundred miles, roughly the distance from Kiev to Madrid.)
Surveys on many other issues have yielded similarly dismaying results. “As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. If we all now dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts our opinion, you get, well, the Trump Administration.
“This is how a community of knowledge can become dangerous,” Sloman and Fernbach observe. The two have performed their own version of the toilet experiment, substituting public policy for household gadgets. In a study conducted in 2012, they asked people for their stance on questions like: Should there be a single-payer health-care system? Or merit-based pay for teachers? Participants were asked to rate their positions depending on how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the proposals. Next, they were instructed to explain, in as much detail as they could, the impacts of implementing each one. Most people at this point ran into trouble. Asked once again to rate their views, they ratcheted down the intensity, so that they either agreed or disagreed less vehemently.
Sloman and Fernbach see in this result a little candle for a dark world. If we—or our friends or the pundits on CNN—spent less time pontificating and more trying to work through the implications of policy proposals, we’d realize how clueless we are and moderate our views. This, they write, “may be the only form of thinking that will shatter the illusion of explanatory depth and change people’s attitudes.”
One way to look at science is as a system that corrects for people’s natural inclinations. In a well-run laboratory, there’s no room for myside bias; the results have to be reproducible in other laboratories, by researchers who have no motive to confirm them. And this, it could be argued, is why the system has proved so successful. At any given moment, a field may be dominated by squabbles, but, in the end, the methodology prevails. Science moves forward, even as we remain stuck in place.
In “Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us” (Oxford), Jack Gorman, a psychiatrist, and his daughter, Sara Gorman, a public-health specialist, probe the gap between what science tells us and what we tell ourselves. Their concern is with those persistent beliefs which are not just demonstrably false but also potentially deadly, like the conviction that vaccines are hazardous. Of course, what’s hazardous is not being vaccinated; that’s why vaccines were created in the first place. “Immunization is one of the triumphs of modern medicine,” the Gormans note. But no matter how many scientific studies conclude that vaccines are safe, and that there’s no link between immunizations and autism, anti-vaxxers remain unmoved. (They can now count on their side—sort of—Donald Trump, who has said that, although he and his wife had their son, Barron, vaccinated, they refused to do so on the timetable recommended by pediatricians.)
The Gormans, too, argue that ways of thinking that now seem self-destructive must at some point have been adaptive. And they, too, dedicate many pages to confirmation bias, which, they claim, has a physiological component. They cite research suggesting that people experience genuine pleasure—a rush of dopamine—when processing information that supports their beliefs. “It feels good to ‘stick to our guns’ even if we are wrong,” they observe.
The Gormans don’t just want to catalogue the ways we go wrong; they want to correct for them. There must be some way, they maintain, to convince people that vaccines are good for kids, and handguns are dangerous. (Another widespread but statistically insupportable belief they’d like to discredit is that owning a gun makes you safer.) But here they encounter the very problems they have enumerated. Providing people with accurate information doesn’t seem to help; they simply discount it. Appealing to their emotions may work better, but doing so is obviously antithetical to the goal of promoting sound science. “The challenge that remains,” they write toward the end of their book, “is to figure out how to address the tendencies that lead to false scientific belief.”
“The Enigma of Reason,” “The Knowledge Illusion,” and “Denying to the Grave” were all written before the November election. And yet they anticipate Kellyanne Conway and the rise of “alternative facts.” These days, it can feel as if the entire country has been given over to a vast psychological experiment being run either by no one or by Steve Bannon. Rational agents would be able to think their way to a solution. But, on this matter, the literature is not reassuring.