Saturday, April 22, 2023

Deadly Fear

 Deadly Fear

by Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird May 2023)


When I read about an 84 year old white man in a Kansas City suburb shooting unarmed Black teenager Ralph Yarl through his front door, saying he was “scared to death,” I remembered a similar incident I wrote about five years ago, when a 14-year-old Black teenager, lost on his way to school, was fired upon when he knocked on a white neighbor’s door to ask for directions. In both cases, the perceived threat was only in the mind of the homeowner, stoked by the relentless fearmongering of politicians, conservative news media, and organizations like the NRA who want to capitalize on that fear.


Fearful and angry men shooting first and asking questions later is becoming an epidemic. Within a week, several examples of innocent people being shot by a trigger-happy ‘good guy with a gun’ have made the national news. 


In upstate New York, Kaylin Gillis was killed when the car she was riding in turned in to the wrong driveway. As the car was turning around and leaving, the homeowner fired on the vehicle, killing the 20-year-old honor student who hoped to become a marine biologist. Near Austin, Texas, a cheerleader who got into a car she thought belonged to her friend was shot after she got out of the car but before she could apologize. And in North Carolina, a man shot a 6-year-old and her parents when they tried to retrieve a basketball that had bounced into the man’s yard.


In each of these cases, and likely many others around the country, the victims were just doing something every one of us has done. But rather than trying to understand the mistake and respond with reason, the shooters reacted with fearful violence and deadly consequences.


None of this should be a surprise. The gun industry used to market their products as something for responsible sportsmen, emphasizing safety and citizenship. But as former gun industry insider Ryan Busse wrote in The Atlantic — “The Gun Industry Created a New Consumer. Now It’s Killing Us.” July 25, 2022 — advertising began a shift in the 1990s towards marketing guns as a means for young men to get their ‘man card’. 


After the assault weapons ban was allowed to expire in the mid 2000s, marketing took an even darker turn. As manufacturers saw the opportunity to sell ever more deadly weapons, they began creating their own market by instilling fear of Antifa, Black Lives Matter protesters, and many of the other right-wing ‘bogeymen’ that are statistically much less likely to commit violence than the fearful white man.


This same rhetoric is used by politicians and right-wing news media to hold the attention of their audience and supporters. Those who consume the 24-hour barrage of fear from the likes of Tucker Carlson are afraid to leave their own homes without carrying a weapon. Republican-led states are eliminating gun regulations, claiming that individual citizens need unlimited access to weapons to defend their homes and families. So-called ‘stand your ground’ laws encourage the use of firearms as a first response rather than a last resort.


But more access to guns does not reduce gun violence. To the contrary, statistics compiled by Everytownshows a direct correlation between states with fewer gun restrictions and higher rates of gun violence. 


“True Americans must be prepared! Get a gun to protect yourselves, because the government and the liberals aren’t going to do it! They are coming for your guns, your wives, your children! Don’t trust them. Don’t trust the media. Those people (Mexicans, Blacks, immigrants, democrats) are coming for you. Those people are going to replace you! Liberals want to defund the police and let all the violent criminals out on the street!  Vote for me and I’ll protect you! Buy more guns to protect yourself!  Stand your ground. Shoot first and ask questions later!”


With such inescapable rhetoric, It's no wonder so many live with an irrational fear of the other, which leads to irrational behavior. 


Shooting a lost teenager through your front door out of fear is irrational. Shooting a 6-year-old retrieving a basketball from your front yard is irrational. Shooting someone in the back as they try to escape from you is irrational.


Fear is a primal human emotion. Our natural response to fear is not rational; it is inherent in our biology to respond to danger. When that irrational fear has a lethal weapon readily available, innocent people are injured and killed.


As Yoda is famous for saying in another galaxy: “Fear is the path to the dark side… fear leads to anger… anger leads to hate… hate leads to suffering."


We are a nation divided by fear — fear that is fed by those who want our vote or our money. And we are all suffering with too much violence.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt was right when he said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.


And I’m afraid.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Правда (Pravda)

 Правда (Pravda) 

by Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird March 2023)


During the height of the Cold War against the Soviet Union, I always thought the title of the Soviet newspaper, Pravda, was the epitome of irony. Pravda — or ‘truth’ in English — was the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. I often wondered how many Russian citizens actually believed what they read in Pravda, and whether they were aware that what they read was only what the leaders in power wanted them to believe. Even today, Russian propaganda has a completely different ‘truth’ about the Russian invasion of Ukraine than what we see in the Western free press.


But what is the truth? In a free society, does the truth always win?


The First Amendment was written as a check against an overreaching government that would use its power to limit speech, control the press, or infringe on the right to peaceably protest. The Constitution guarantees those rights in order to limit the ability of the government to use its power against the people.


Having a free press is essential to hold accountable those who would use the government for their own gain. Freedom of the press is so important that it has sometimes been called the fourth estate or the fourth branch of government. The right to criticize government policy and public officials, even with the use of inflammatory language, is a fundamental right that has been repeatedly affirmed by the Supreme Court, most notably in the 1964 decision New York Times v. Sullivan.


But what if the press isn’t working to protect the interests of the people, of our democratic principles? What if the press is more interested in their profitability than they are in reporting the truth? 


The recent legal filing in Dominion Voting Systems against Fox News Corporation (FNC), portions of which were released on February 16, provides explicit details of how the corporate leadership and top personalities at Fox knew what they were telling their viewers wasn’t true. But they continued to spread lies and disinformation, telling their audience what they wanted to hear instead of the truth. Why? 




Texts between top FNC personalities and corporate leadership show that they knew claims of election fraud were false, that Dominion voting machines were not to blame, and that Joe Biden was the legitimate winner of the 2020 presidential election. 


When reporter Jacqui Heinrich fact checked a Trump tweet, correcting him with statements that election officials had found no evidence of fraud and that there was no evidence that voting systems had deleted, lost, or changed votes, Tucker Carlson sent this text to Sean Hannity: “Please get her fired… Seriously… What the f*ck? I’m actually shocked… It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”


Example after example of messages like these show that Fox was more concerned with the bottom line than with telling the truth and protecting our democracy.


Republican leadership, afraid of the same demographic to which Fox News panders, refuses to acknowledge the truth more than two years after the 2020 election. Indeed, dozens of Republican candidates ran on a claim that the 2020 election was rigged or fraudulent. That repeated claim, that our elections cannot be trusted, is undermining the foundation of faith in our democracy. A Newsweek poll in November 2022 found that 40% of Americans still believe Trump’s Big Lie.


There’s an old joke that goes: “How can you tell a politician is lying? His lips are moving.” But there’s a difference between political spin and outright lies. And when the media not only repeats those lies, but amplifies them to the point of creating doubt in our electoral system, they are attacking our country from within. When profit is more important than the truth, the free press becomes an accomplice of our enemies instead of an essential protector of the people’s government.


Fox News is just an extreme example. All media includes spin. Selection of what to report, how to report it, which perspectives to promote and which perspectives to avoid — all are influenced by corporate media owners, editors, and reporters. Journalists can’t avoid their own biases and opinions, even those that work hard to be objective. (And opinion pieces aren’t news, although the line between them is often intentionally muddled.)


The so-called mainstream media has become increasingly sensational. To grab more market share, they use click-bait headlines and divisive rhetoric. Americans think we are more polarized because we are told that we are. At the heart of the loss of a common truth is corporate media repeating false equivalencies and using both sides-isms, with social media providing an amplifying feedback loop of noise. 


Time and time again the media — and that’s across the political spectrum — focuses more on the politics and division than on the issues. They are echoing what they think their readers and viewers want to hear. They obfuscate the truth to maintain the status quo. And while most of us are looking in the wrong direction for someone to blame, the corporate politicians continue to get elected, the rich keep getting richer, the problems in this country continue to fester, and the truth gets harder to find. 


Carl Sagan, in his book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, wrote:


“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”


Let’s not allow ourselves to be bamboozled. Look through the noise and spin for the actual truth, not the “alternative facts” someone else is trying to sell us.