Posted by: Donna
My last post was about the wealthiest Americans and polling showing that they are (highly) disinclined to see the government as a force to increase the employment rate. And then there was this Howie Fischer piece on Tuesday:
Following some less-than-spectacular jobless reports, the Ducey administration is scrapping at least temporarily – and perhaps forever – the monthly media briefings on the state’s unemployment situation.
Kevin Donnellan, director of the Department of Administration, said his agency will continue to produce and distribute monthly reports. The state gets federal funds to gather the data, which are public records.
But it was always the monthly briefings, which have been provided for more than three decades, that provided the “why” behind the numbers. And it has been that analysis which has sometimes been at odds with the claims of not just Doug Ducey but prior governors about how well things are doing…
…But the move comes on the heels of Murthy pointing out some questions not only about the pure unemployment numbers but noting that many of the jobs actually being created in Arizona are in low-wage sectors of the economy…
…Murthy, however, said the data hide a much more downbeat picture of Arizona’s economy, pointing out that private employers in the state added only 300 new workers from the prior month – the smallest gains for any April since the end of the recession.
The Ducey admin quickly rescinded the decision, possibly realizing it wasn’t a good look for them, while not reinstating economist Aruna Murthy (who had been producing the report for five years) to her position.
It’s reasonable to assume that yanking the unemployment report and firing the party-pooper economist was a preemptive face-saving move on Ducey’s part, since his economic philosophy of tax cuts ‘n austerity (modeled after Sam Brownback’s Kansas) is hardly the job creating bonanza it’s been sold as. But maybe that’s getting too deep about it. Might it also have been rooted in a general unwillingness of Ducey and his wealthy benefactors to even address unemployment? Recall what pollsters found to be the priorities of the richest Americans. Those priorities definitely do not include alleviating unemployment, as I pointed out in my last post.
It could be that the main intention behind eliminating the monthly unemployment report was simply the desire to avoid having to talk about boring poor people’s problems. Don’t confuse rich people’s interest in causing such problems for poor people with an interest in understanding or mitigating their effects. The elites want high unemployment and they have never made a secret of it.
Posted by: Donna
When we think of conservatives and economics we tend to focus on things like their opposition to taxes (on the wealthy, not necessarily everyone else) and social safety net programs. We tend, however, to take right wingers at their word when they say that they want people to work. I mean, come on, that’s the reason they hate “welfare” so much! “I don’t want to pay for people to sit around and do nothing!” has been the constant refrain of 99% of the discussions I’ve ever had with people about their “economic” reasons for voting GOP (really, it’s not more deep than that). On several occasions I have proposed – in naive honesty at first and later with resigned cynicism – to such people that the government should embrace a policy goal of full-employment and do whatever is necessary to attain that, including simply giving government jobs to everyone who wants them. There’s certainly plenty that needs to be done in the country and job-seekers could be paid while they train for those tasks.
The response I get to that suggestion falls into roughly two categories:
1. Crickets (from most of them since, to be fair, the concept of ambitious public works projects is beyond many Americans’ comprehension these days).
2. Argle-bargle about “inflation” and/or “crowding out the private sector” (from the ones who know just enough economic rhetoric to be dangerous). I have some anecdotal experience of getting the latter response from affluent people, conservatives mostly (but also from some moderates and even liberals).
But don’t take my word for it on the rich people, as the Russell Sage Foundation did a meta-analysis of opinion polls on several economic topics. (H/t to DailyKos diarist Auriandra).
Note the chasm-like disparity in the responses to the two statements having to do with employment – “The government in Washington ought to see to it that everyone who wants to work can find a job.” “The federal government should provide jobs for everyone willing to work who cannot find a job in private employment.” It appears that the wealthiest Americans are uninterested, if not downright hostile, to the notion of the government promoting full employment.
You’ve probably figured out that I find the cavalier attitude of our most well-heeled citizens toward their more economically precarious fellows to be unconscionable. But they have had the consensus of many economists at their back. It has long been an article of faith that the unemployment rate should be kept at somewhere north of 5% so as to maintain good order in the markets and tranquility across the land. Not all economists agree, however, that general stability requires throwing millions of Americans into instability. Dean Baker and Jared Bernstein have been making that case for a few years, while addressing the overblown fear of inflation:
For economists, the question we’re asking is this: What is the lowest unemployment rate consistent with stable inflation, otherwise known as the nonaccelerating inflation rate of unemployment, or Nairu?
Most economists place the rate in the range of 5 to 5.5 percent, though some estimates go as high as 6 percent. The Congressional Budget Office‘s latest projections have it at 5.5 percent.
We think we can do better. Our work suggests that 4 percent — the average unemployment rate for 2000, the last time we were at full employment — is a reasonable target, one worth shooting for…
…That said, let’s be clear. Compared with the current situation, we’d gladly welcome 5.5 percent unemployment, though frankly, not as much as the tens of millions of un- and underemployed people who depend on tight labor markets to give them a fair shot at claiming their fair share of the economy’s growth. But for the following four reasons, we do think the full-employment target should be lower than do most of our colleagues:
1. The estimates of the Nairu in the past have been extremely unreliable.
2. The low unemployment rates in the 1990s boom were not associated with any notable uptick in inflation, implying that the economy was not below the Nairu.
3. As noted, the benefits associated with low unemployment are asymmetric, with the gains from lower unemployment rates far outweighing any potential costs from a rise in the inflation rate.
4. The statistical relationship between unemployment and inflation, known as the Phillips Curve, appears to have flattened in the last two decades, meaning that we would pay a lower price in terms of higher inflation from below Nairu unemployment than would have been the case in the 1970s or 1980s.
Baker and Bernstein go into a further explanation about inflation in that NYT article so be sure to read it. Yet I doubt such evidence would matter to most of the one percenters since I suspect that the resistance to full employment has never been about inflation or anything else as much as it is a desire to keep the workforce in a constant state of fear and docility. The aim is not for “jobs, jobs, jobs” as has been the ubiquitous chant of practically every GOP campaign lately but rather “make you desperate for any job, job, job you can get”.
Posted by: Donna
Anti-choicers are such prodigious and unabashed liars that when they don’t even bother pretending and just show their true natures it can startle even the jaded likes of me! Two developments this past week did just that. First was the conservative Fifth Circuit Court’s decision to uphold Texas’ draconian HB2, an anti-choice omnibus law passed in 2013 (amidst thunderous protest at the State Capitol and after then-Senator Wendy Davis’ now-famous filibuster) that imposed onerous and unnecessary “safety” requirements on abortion clinics in what was obviously an attempt to shut them down. The implementation of the law was delayed due to lawsuits, with a federal judge last summer calling the anti-choicers right out on their bullshit.
The most remarkable portion of Yeakel’s opinion, however, may be the fact that he does not simply analyze the effect of Texas’s law. He also accuses the state of outright dishonesty. Responding to the state’s argument that some Texans can seek abortions in New Mexico if they are unable to obtain one in Texas thanks to HB2, Yeakel notes that this argument completely undermines any suggestion that these laws are supposed to protect women’s health:
If the State’s true purpose in enacting the ambulatory-surgical-center requirement is to protect the health and safety of Texas women who seek abortions, it is disingenuous and incompatible with that goal to argue that Texas women can seek abortion care in a state with lesser regulations. If, however, the State’s underlying purpose in enacting the requirement was to reduce or eliminate abortion in parts or all of Texas, the State’s position is perfectly congruent with such a goal.
Yeakel, in other words, calls a sham a sham. He recognizes, in the words of the Supreme Court, that the purpose HB2 is to “place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.” And he comes just one step from outright accusing the state of lying when it claims that the law was actually enacted to protect women’s health.
Of course the Fifth Circuit, the lower court most sympathetic to anti-choicers, reversed Yeakel’s decision and allowed HB2 to go fully into effect. This will shut down the majority of providers and leave millions of Texas women with no safe, legal option for abortion care. The Fifth’s basis for its decision was basically that legislatures can pass whatever bogus laws restricting abortion they want, so long as a fig leaf of “safety” and “medical uncertainty” exists.
While Texas appears to be the premier laboratory of what a post-Roe America will be like, other states are definitely taking their own steps to bring that about. Not just with anti-choice legislation, which has been passing in state legislatures like wildfire since 2010, but in the increasing tendency of authority figures to use whatever laws are available (or that they imagine are) to make criminals of women for abortion, pregnancy outcomes, or behavior while pregnant. The latest example happened this week, with the news of the arrest of a Georgia woman for using an abortion drug.
A 23-year-old Georgia woman is facing a charge of “malice murder” — a crime that is punishable by the death penalty — after allegedly ending her pregnancy by taking abortion-inducing medication that she purchased online.
The case presents just the latest example of a U.S. woman who’s been arrested and criminally charged for taking abortion pills, even though advocates on both sides of the abortion debate typically say that desperate women should not face jail time for attempting to end a pregnancy.
According to WALB-TV, Kenlissa Jones asked a neighbor to drive her to the hospital this past weekend because she was experiencing stomach pain. In the car, Jones delivered a fetus that WALB-TV reports was approximately five and a half months old, which died in the hospital about 30 minutes later. She was arrested after a hospital social worker told officers she had purchased abortion-inducing pills online.
The malice murder charge was quickly dropped.
According to Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards, the murder charges against Jones were dropped on Wednesday. “I dismissed that malice murder warrant after thorough legal research by myself and my staff led to the conclusion that Georgia law presently does not permit prosecution of Ms. Jones for any alleged acts relating to the end of her pregnancy,” Edwards said. Jones still faces a misdemeanor charge of possession of a dangerous drug.
I won’t be surprised if the District Attorney’s lack of ability to charge women like Jones with a death penalty murder offense will be quickly rectified by the Georgia Legislature. Luckily for DA Edwards, he still gets a drug charge with which to mess up her life and ability to parent her two children. The swiftness and ferocity with which the law was brought down upon Kenlissia Jones is consistent with what has been done to other women, disproportionately poor and women of color, by people in positions of authority.
Anti-abortion activists have insisted for years that prosecuting women is a lie concocted by pro-choicers to slander their movement. Often, they’ll point to the period before Roe v Wade as evidence that women have nothing to fear from abortion bans.
The wisdom of not prosecuting women was based on extensive practical law enforcement experience in many states, over many years.
It will certainly be influential with prosecutors and state policy makers when Roe is overturned, and that should be the policy of legislators who are interested in the effective enforcement of abortion law.
Based on the 50-state record of enforcing abortion law for more than a century before Roe, Linton concluded that “if Roe is overruled, no woman would be prosecuted for self-abortion or consenting to an abortion, even in those few States where abortion prohibitions would be enforceable.”
Prolife legislators and pro-life leaders do not support the prosecution of women and will not push for such a policy when Roe is overturned. This is demonstrated by abortion regulations enacted in the past 20 years—like the federal partial birth abortion ban—in which women are expressly excluded from any possible prosecution. Instead, pro-life legislators are advocating laws that defend the unborn and protect women from the negative impact of abortion.
I don’t believe this is their intention for one second, but that does not matter. Nor does it matter if abortion restrictions are passed by lawmakers with no intention of them being used to prosecute women. The views that matter are those of the authority figures who put them into practice. We are already witness to the willingness of some ER doctors, social workers, police officers, prosecutors, judges, jurors, etc., to exert their white-hot and knee-jerk anger at girls and women they deem to be “bad” (or, possibly, to go after such girls and women because they fear for their jobs or of criminal prosecution if they don’t). Women are being prosecuted. It is no longer in the realm of the theoretical. It is real.
Legalized abortion for four decades has led the forced-birth mob to go into a craze of activity, including everything from bombing clinics and assassinating doctors down to using ultra-sound images and various dubious medical theories to convince the public that 20 week fetuses are viable and feel pain.
Basically, this is NOT the pre-Roe climate where abortion was illegal because it was dangerous and a way for women to escape the consequences of their immorality. In the post-Roe climate, it is still the latter (gotta punish the sluts!) but now there is the added charge of MURDER, available to any local prosecutor in a red state who wants to pursue it.
But hey, you know, I’m glad when any anti-choicers at least admit they want to throw women in jail. Because they love them both.
Posted by: Donna
Associated Press released a survey they did of states that report abortion statistics where they found that while most states saw reductions in their abortion rates, states that passed no restrictions on abortion since 2011 had larger decreases in the number of procedures reported than red states touted by anti-abortion advocates as “pro-life” champions.
Despite anti-choicers passing several abortion restrictions under the bogus premises of “safety” and “informed consent”, Arizona saw a modest decrease in abortions since 2011, less than half the national average.
Preliminary statistics from the Arizona Department of Health Services for 2014 show Arizona saw a 5 percent decline in abortions since 2011, from 13,606 abortions in 2011 to 12,900 last year.
That compares with a 12 percent decline nationally since 2010, according to the AP survey of all 45 states where abortion reporting is required. Arizona changed its reporting requirements in 2010, so figures before 2011 are not comparable.
Abortion rights advocates say the small drop in Arizona compared with many other states shows that women are not dissuaded from having an abortion once they have made up their mind.
“As you’ve seen across the country, what it doesn’t seem to be related to, at least not very much, are these draconian regulations that state Legislatures attempt to put in place,” said Jodi Liggett, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Arizona. “And I think what you’re seeing in Arizona is despite the intentions of the sponsors of these bills, they’re not actually moving the needle very much.”
Abortion foes disagreed.
“I feel like we have moved the needle — a five percent decrease is still significant,” said Aaron Baer, communications director for the Center for Arizona Policy, which has backed a series of bills targeting abortion that became law. “And at the end of the day, we view it as Arizona’s efforts to pass common-sense laws to protect pre-born children and their mothers have been successful.”
Baer probably shouldn’t be so confident about the (comparatively pathetic) success of those CAP laws for two reasons: One is that Arizona is bordered by states that still have liberal abortion laws (California is actually getting more expansive) so it’s entirely possible that some women from Arizona are traveling to those states for their procedures so as to avoid the hassles of getting them here. The other is that we border Mexico, where there is a booming black market trade in abortion pills.
Leaving aside the availability of more effective birth control methods, which many experts attribute the continuing decrease in abortions nationwide, the ability of some women Arizona women to travel to New Mexico or California to get abortion care, or to get misoprostol from Mexico, could easily account for a reduction of 700 abortions performed in Arizona in 2014 versus 2011. It’s silly to assume that those abortions simply didn’t happen because they weren’t done here by legal providers. But then, I would never expect wisdom from the forced birth crowd. By the way, this stat doesn’t exactly speak well to the efficacy of all those Crisis Pregnancy Centers that have popped up around the state, does it?
If anti-abortion activists in Arizona want to deny the possibility of women traveling outside the state then they also have to ignore that their counterparts in Louisiana and Michigan making that exact claim for why the number of abortions in those states have increased.
In both Louisiana and in Michigan, where abortions rose by 18.5 percent, the increases were due in part to women coming from other states where new restrictions and clinic closures have sharply limited abortion access. Anti-abortion groups said many Ohio women were going to Michigan and many Texas women to Louisiana.
Lori Carpentier, chief executive of Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan, argued that one factor in Michigan’s increase was inadequate public funding for family planning.
Genevieve Marnon of Michigan Right to Life said the increase resulted in part from new licensing and inspection regulations that prompted several abortion clinics to close a few years ago. She said some of these clinics had failed to report many of the abortions they performed and that women in those communities were now going to clinics with more scrupulous reporting practices. In all, about a dozen clinics closed; Marnon said 19 remain in operation.
Both sides agree that one factor in Michigan’s upsurge in abortions is an influx of women coming from Ohio, where several abortion clinics recently closed. According to Michigan’s health department, abortions for nonresidents jumped from 708 in 2013 to 1,318 in 2014.
Northland Family Planning, which operates three abortion clinics in southern Michigan, has been openly soliciting business from women in Ohio and Indiana. Its website notes that one of its clinics is less than 60 miles from Toledo, Ohio.
An influx of women from out-of-state also was cited as a reason for Louisiana’s increase. Ben Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, said abortions for nonresidents jumped by more than 1,200 between 2010 and 2012, and suggested new restrictions in Mississippi and Texas were a factor.
But what if there were a state, one that had not passed any abortion restrictions in the past few years and that also was not bordered by any other states? It would help if said state were not exactly easy or cheap to travel to for any reason…
…Oh wait, there is such a state. Hawaii.
The biggest decrease in abortion, percentage-wise, was in Hawaii, where abortions fell from 3,064 in 2010 to 2,147 in 2014. Laurie Temple Field, government relations director for Planned Parenthood in Hawaii, said more women there were getting access to health insurance and affordable contraception. She also credited the state’s policies on sex education in public schools, which includes information to help teens avoid unplanned pregnancies.
Go figure! It’s highly probable that the way blue states are being sensible about sex and unplanned pregnancy prevention does a better job of reducing the number of abortions than the overwrought shitshow we’re being treated to in Red America.
Five of the six states with the biggest declines — Hawaii at 30 percent, New Mexico at 24 percent, Nevada and Rhode Island at 22 percent, Connecticut at 21 percent — have passed no recent laws to restrict abortion clinics or providers.
Nancy Northup, who as CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights has overseen some lawsuits against state restrictions on abortion, said, “All of this effort is being spent on passing legislation and on litigation, when in fact what those states should do is take a look at the blue states and what they’re doing right in decreasing abortions.”
Good luck with that. My experience with right wingers is that when it’s a choice between preventing abortion and punishing women for having sex, they will go with the latter, every time.
Posted by: Donna
I often encounter people who are so wedded to the “both sides do it” narrative that no matter how bad the Right gets, they will strain to find something, anything, that has the remotest appearance to being equal to it on the Left. One particularly tedious example of this is the belief that MSNBC is the liberal version of Fox News.
Now, let me stipulate to being sympathetic to those of you who think the entire cable news concept is garbage. The 24 hour news cycle leads to a lot of inane bullshit making its way on the air to fill time. So I’m not here to defend the overall quality of MSNBC, which is frankly lacking much of the time. What I am disputing – not that I should even have to since it should be bleedingly obvious to anyone who spends an hour watching each network – is the risible notion that MSNBC and Fox are ideological mirror images. They’re simply not.
Fox News is a major propaganda organ of reactionary conservatism and its political party, the GOP. The entire day’s programming is dominated by conservatives. There are no liberal hosts on the network and while they do keep a few token Democrats around, it is mainly to humiliate them or to set a torch to the latest liberal strawman. MSNBC, on the other hand, starts it’s programming day with Morning Joe, a two-hour show co-hosted by former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough (who has not gone liberal).
Though the mid-morning and afternoon, MSNBC runs newscasts and chat shows where conservative contributors or guests are given ample time to express their views or the latest GOP talking points to rebut whatever ones the Dems are putting out. For such a “liberal” network, I’ve found it quite remarkable how much time MSNBC devotes to trying to save the Republican Party from itself. Countless hours are devoted to hand-wringing over the supposed rift between the “establishment” and Tea Party Republicans.
It isn’t until later in the day that we get to the shows hosted by liberals: Al Sharpton, Ed Schultz, Chris Matthews (a nominal liberal but one who is all about the “balance” on his show), Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnell. This could be where people get the “just like Fox” idea, except that it’s not. The hosts don’t hide their own views and they run segments meant to appeal to liberal interests but, as with the shows earlier in the day, various Republican consultants and pundits are given plenty of time to speak. On Fox’s evening broadcast, people ostensibly from the Left appear often but they are a special breed that seem to capitulate to their onscreen conservative counterparts quite easily and regularly. Think Washington Generals to the Harlem Globetrotters.
Fox doesn’t even have anything resembling MSNBC’s more content-rich weekend morning programs. No network does. You will not see a poverty expert on Meet the Press or Face the Nation but you will see people like that on Melissa Harris-Perry’s show. Yet (still) she and Steve Kornacki, who hosts the two-hour long show prior to hers, give an abundance of time to conservative guests and commentators.
But again, my point is not to sell MSNBC to you. It’s not everyone’s jam and that’s fine. People just have to stop pretending it’s a left counterpoint to Fox when it is clearly not. Two major news stories this past week, ones that Americans without a whit of interest in politics were following closely, illustrate this vividly.
First was the shocking revelation of child sex abuse in the Duggar family. Fox News initially devoted about two minutes (literally) to the disturbing story about the famous fundamentalist reality TV starring family, who were darlings among their viewers. When they finally did cover it, it was evening anchor Megyn Kelly doing a softball interview of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, along with some of the Duggar daughters. It ended up being a cringe-inducing debacle that backfired on the Duggars and their desperate attempt to keep their TLC program but that was surely not the intention of the Fox producers. MSNBC was, admittedly, a tad over-eager and sensationalist in its coverage. But this was something that Chris Hayes and Dan Savage deplored, on Hayes’show on MSNBC.
The second was Caitlyn Jenner unveiling her Vanity Fair cover last Monday. In this case, the difference between MSNBC and Fox was unequivocal. Here’s a typical MSNBC segment about it (they mercifully kept the right wing contrarians out of these discussions).
Like I said, this type of panel discussion might not be to your liking but you cannot say it was disrespectful to Jenner by any stretch.
Here’s a typical bit of Fox coverage:
Nope, they’re not the same. Not at all.
Posted by: Donna
I got this forwarded to me and I wanted to present Sen. Nancy Barto’s forward in all its unironic Comic Sans glory.
Here’s the event description:
From: Christine Accurso [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Tuesday, May 26, 2015 11:45 PM
To: Christine Accurso
Subject: Abortion Pill Reversal Presentation in Phoenix with Dr. George Delgado on 6/8
Dear Pro-Life Friends in Arizona,
I am sure you have heard by now about the Abortion Pill Reversal. Today marks the day that the 100th baby has been born thanks to this wonderful protocol. That means that 100 baby’s mothers have taken the abortion medication pill (RU-486) and changed their mind in time to reverse its effects.
On Monday evening, June 8th at 6:30pm you are invited to a free event where the doctor who is pioneering this protocol nationally, Dr. George Delgado, will be in Phoenix explaining the protocol and taking your questions. It is especially important that all pro-life medical professionals that have the ability to prescribe medication be present. Please forward this invitation to anyone you know who can prescribe medication in the State of Arizona. We need more medical professionals on the APR network so women have assistance available when they chose to reverse their decision. Dr. Delgado’s Abortion Pill Reversal network in Arizona is very slim. Beginning July 3rd, it will be part of the informed consent law for women to know that they may reverse the effects of a medication abortion, but that time is of the essence.
The priority of attendance is for medical professionals. However, anyone interested in learning more about this protocol is invited to attend, including pregnancy center staff members, sidewalk counselors and 40 Days for Life representatives.
This event is being sponsored by First Way Pregnancy Center and the Catholic Medical Association’s Phoenix Physicians Guild.
When: Monday, June 8th at 6:30pm
Where: Catholic Diocese of Phoenix Pastoral Center 400 E. Monroe Street Phoenix, AZ 85004
Parking: Free parking is available in the diocese underground parking garage off of 5th street
Questions: Email Christine Accurso at email@example.com or Dr. Jim Asher at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: Mass will be offered at 6pm in the chapel at the DPC for those who may be interested in attending.
Again, please forward this to all of the medical professionals you know that are in the State of Arizona!
First Way Pregnancy Center
Phone: (602) 261-7522
Fax: (602) 257-9520
It’s unlikely I’ll be able to make it to this but if any of you would like to show up and ask probing questions of the presenters, such as “WTF?” or “are you high?” or “where’d you get your medical degree, anyway?”, I highly encourage it.
Posted by: Donna
Last Friday evening a bunch of racist idiots thought it would be a great idea to hold a protest outside a Phoenix Mosque. Luckily, there was no violence (despite how heavily armed many of the anti-Islam protesters were) and something kind of wonderful happened:
Jason Leger, a Phoenix resident wearing one of the profanity-laced shirts, accepted an invitation to join the evening prayer inside the mosque, and said the experience changed him.
“It was something I’ve never seen before. I took my shoes off. I kneeled. I saw a bunch of peaceful people. We all got along,” Leger said. “They made me feel welcome, you know. I just think everybody’s points are getting misconstrued, saying things out of emotion, saying things they don’t believe.”
Paul Griffin, who had earlier said he didn’t care if his t-shirt was offensive, assured a small crowd of Muslims at the end of the rally that he wouldn’t wear it again.
“I promise, the next time you see me, I won’t be wearing this shirt,” he told one man while shaking his hand and smiling. “I won’t wear it again.”
Usama Shami, the president of the ICCP, invited anyone to join him and the 800 members of the mosque for a prayer.
“A lot of them, they’ve never met a Muslim, or they haven’t had interactions with Muslims,” he said. “A lot of them are filled with hate and rage. Maybe they went to websites that charged them with this hatred. So when you sit down and talk like rational people, without all these slogans, without being bigots, without bringing guns, they will find out that they’re talking to another human.”
That is really nice and I hope that the experience sticks with Leger and Griffin and can perhaps overcome the reinforcing effect of going back to the same community and media sources that fed the existing views the men had about Muslims when they showed up at that rally. Sadly, that outcome is not as likely as many liberals fervently would like to believe*.
A recent study about the positive persuasive effects of canvassers on people’s opinions about same-sex marriage – one that had several campaign organizers plotzing over it – appears to have used faked methodology to achieve its stunning results.
The results [Michael] LaCour showed [David] Broockman were, in fact, very cool, and like everyone else who had come across them, Broockman instantly knew they would be a hit. LaCour’s research involved dispatching canvassers to speak with California voters at their homes. He reported that a brief conversation about marriage equality with a canvasser who revealed that he or she was gay had a big, lasting effect on the voters’ views, as measured by separate online surveys administered before and after the conversation. LaCour told Broockman that he planned on getting a big name on the paper in progress: Donald Green, a highly respected political-science professor at Columbia who was also Broockman’s undergraduate adviser at Yale.
Part of why LaCour’s results were so noteworthy was that they flew in the face of just about every established tenet of political persuasion. While past research had shown canvassing can be effective at influencing people in certain ways, the sheer magnitude of effect LaCour had found in his study simply doesn’t happen — piles of previous research had shown that, all else being equal, human beings cling dearly to their political beliefs, and even when you can nudge them an inch to the left or right, people’s views are likely to snap back into place shortly after they hear whatever message you’ve so carefully and cleverly crafted. Not so in this case: When LaCour compared the before-and-after views on gay marriage in his study, he found that opinions had shifted about the distance between the average Georgian and the average Massachusettsian, and this effect appeared to have persisted for months.
So when LaCour and Green’s research was eventually published in December 2014 in Science, one of the leading peer-reviewed research publications in the world, it resonated far and wide. “When contact changes minds: an expression of transmission of support for gay equality” garnered attention in the New York Times and a segment on “This American Life” in which a reporter tagged along with canvassers as they told heart-wrenching stories about being gay. It rerouted countless researchers’ agendas, inspired activists to change their approach to voter outreach, generated shifts in grant funding, and launched follow-up experiments.
It’s understandable that LaCour’s fraud would be able to bamboozle liberals so easily. The temptation to believe that we can change hearts and minds, one voter at a time, by appealing to their rationality and humanity is strong in my tribe. And such individual epiphanies do happen, as most of us can attest to by considering people we know personally who used to be arch-conservative and are now liberal Democrats. Sometimes these transformations do follow contacts. But it’s difficult to believe that a substantial percentage of Americans would have changed their minds, as they have, on marriage equality due to one-on-one persuasive conversations. It’s more likely they have been swayed by sweeping disruptions to the status quo like more LGBTQ people being out, same-sex marriage becoming legal (through the courts or legislatures), positive/neutral portrayals of LGBTQ people in movies and TV, and (importantly) the increasing negative perception that homophobia holds.
In other words, people probably aren’t coming around on LGBT rights because they’ve been persuaded individually. No, it’s more likely because they want to avoid the shame of being seen as homophobic. Shame isn’t always a good thing. It can certainly be wrong-headed and counterproductive when applied to people about their own lives (weight, substance use, sexuality, etc.) but where attitudes on other people’s rights are concerned, it may do a better job of changing them than pleading and wheedling will ever do.
Which brings me back to Jason Leger and Paul Griffin at the Phoenix mosque. Leger accepted an invitation to go inside the mosque and pray with the members. Griffin had his conversation with Muslim attendees outside as the rally was dying down. Both were in “unfriendly” territory. The clear message both men got was that they were welcome but that their bigoted views about Muslims were not. They responded accordingly.
Again, will Leger and Griffin become permanently changed by their experiences? They might. They have their own minds and agency. I’m all for assuming that people can make up their own minds about things, something I wish my fellow liberals would grasp. The notion that conservatives and fence-sitters are delicate babies requiring careful cossetting is absurd and insulting to them. They can change if they want to. But let’s stop thinking that we shouldn’t create a hostile environment for their bigotry. We should. LGBTQ, Muslims, and other “out” groups have just as much right to exist as they do.
*Which does not in any way absolve them from whatever they choose to do or believe later. They are grown men in charge of themselves.