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In a crisis, trust the experts, not the nattering nabobs of nonsense

Millions of Americans don’t want to hear the truth. They would rather listen instead to echoes of their own interpretations and distortions of the truth. The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic is showing just how absurd – and deadly – that bone-headedness can be.

Americans of all political persuasions can be guilty of preferring spin to truth, but the coronavirus has brought out the worst in the nattering nabobs of nonsense on the right who daily entertain their listeners and readers with the conspiracies and fantasies they think their audiences want to hear and read. Radio and TV commentators Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity were among several of their crowd downplaying, dismissing and ridiculing the warnings of experts as the coronavirus was beginning to loom as a for-real threat over the United States.

“A review of hundreds of hours of programming and social media traffic from Jan. 1 through mid-March – when the White House started urging people to stay home and limit their exposure to others – shows that doubt, cynicism and misinformation about the virus took root among (President) Trump’s boosters in the right-wing media as the number of confirmed cases in the United States grew,” reporter Jeremy W. Peters writes in The New York Times. (See article)

It is unknown how much the right-wing media’s misinformation influenced Trump’s own initial attempt to downplay the seriousness of the virus, but his political base includes their audiences.

More recently, Peters writes in the article linked below, as the coronavirus pandemic has expanded in the U.S. and the number of deaths has increased, the right-wing commentators have changed tactics and started blaming liberals — for what, I am not sure. As far as I know the virus is apolitical. It attacks liberals, conservatives, moderates, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, independents and know-nothings.

And, of course, there is blame for the media, the mainstream media, that is.

“It’s so unfair. It’s so unfair,” Trump said last week in an interview with Hannity on Fox News. “If we could only have a fair media in this country, our country.”

The media are contracting this virus too, Mr. President, and so are educators, the people who actually believe in science and health experts. So quit whining.

(An explanatory note: For those who may not know, the late Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon’s first vice president and attack dog, used the phrase, “nattering nabobs of negativism,” to attack the mainstream news media who dared to criticize Nixon back in the Watergate era. Agnew resigned in October 1973, less than a year before Nixon did, and pled guilty to tax evasion to avoid being indicted on kickback and bribery charges for schemes dating back to when he was Baltimore County executive and governor of Maryland. I never thought I would find inspiration in Spiro Agnew, but he did have a way with words.)

Clay Robison

Whom do you trust? Dan Patrick or the scientists?

Science versus politics is a familiar war in Texas and the rest of the country. Some obvious examples: Evolution versus the State Board of Education, climate change versus much of the political establishment and the anti-vaxxers who have helped measles make a comeback in the classroom.

More recently, as the coronavirus pandemic has raged, we have had the infectious disease expert versus the denier-in-chief. Politely, but persistently, Dr. Anthony Fauci has repeatedly corrected President Trump’s optimistic and misleading statements about the health emergency, using scientific facts and projections to counter the president’s desperate attempt to rescue a reelection campaign while COVID-19 cases are beginning to soar and the economy is tanking.

And now we have Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Trump’s chief point man in Texas, chiming in on the side of absurdity, urging a resumption of life-as-normal when life for most people right now is anything but normal. Let’s defy the pandemic and the warnings of scientists and put everybody back to work and rescue the economy, he says.

What he really means is let’s reopen schools, restaurants, bars and other businesses, boost the stock market and help Donald Trump get reelected. Like the president, Patrick is dangerously putting politics over science and, most importantly, over countless lives.

“Let’s get back to living. Let’s be smart about it, and those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves, but don’t sacrifice the country. Don’t do that. Don’t ruin this great American dream,” he said on Fox News the other night, echoing similar comments by Trump.

We all wish Patrick were correct, but most of us know better. We all would like people to be able to go back to work today. But we also know that would lead to an even greater health and economic disaster, assuming the scientists and health experts are correct. And I will trust the scientists and health experts any day over opportunist political ideologues like Patrick and Trump.

“We’ll take care of ourselves,” Patrick said, knowing full well that, as lieutenant governor, he will have no difficulty getting the best medical treatment available should he contract the virus. Millions of his constituents are not so fortunate. Five million Texans don’t even have health insurance, in part because of the inadequate health care Patrick hasn’t lifted a finger to improve.

He and Trump are playing a very dangerous political game with Americans’ health.

—Clay Robison

The myth of “Texas exceptionalism”

Gov. Greg Abbott this week released his “2020 Report to the People of Texas,” in which he boasts – as countless Texas politicians of both parties before him have boasted — about the myth of “Texas exceptionalism.”

Go ahead. Call me a heretic for debunking the idea that my native state is exceptional. Yes, it is a nice place to live, maybe even a great place to live — for many people. Texas offers a lot for which we can be grateful.

But no state that has five million residents without health insurance is exceptional. No state whose leaders refuse to expand Medicaid services that could provide health care for many of these individuals, including school children and their families, is exceptional. The leaders, though, are exceptionally short-sighted, and health care was mostly missing from the governor’s report.

No state whose leaders care more about “state sovereignty” and its budget than they do about the care and safety of thousands of foster children is exceptional. Texas spent years fighting a federal judge’s demands that conditions for these vulnerable children be improved, and it remains to be seen what the future holds for these kids.

No state that ranks 39th in per-pupil spending and 27th in average teacher pay, as Texas did during the 2018-19 school year, is exceptional. Those figures may improve slightly for the current school year because, yielding to pressure from educators and other advocates, the governor and the Legislature last year appropriated an additional $6.5 billion for public education, including teacher pay raises, during this two-year budget cycle.

Abbott proudly pointed out that extra funding in his report. But the additional state money amounts to only a down payment on the resources that will be necessary to meet the needs of a growing student population in the years to come, and so far we have heard no commitment from the governor and legislative leaders that education will be a top priority again when the Legislature meets next year.

As a trade-off for the increased education funding, Abbott and legislators put tight restrictions on the ability of school districts and other local governments to raise property tax revenue for important public services in the future, including additional school funding and things like fire and police protection.

Abbott recently provoked a dispute with the city of Austin, complaining publicly on Twitter about homeless people camping in public places and wandering city streets. It was easier for the governor to complain than provide the adequate mental health care that many of these people need. And the tight tax restraints that the governor and his legislative allies placed on local governments will make it even more difficult for Austin and other cities to deal with homelessness. There is nothing exceptional about Abbott’s tweets and the mostly absent role of state leaders in addressing this issue.

In his report, Abbott boasts a lot about Texas’ friendly business climate and strong economic development record. But if Texas doesn’t continue to improve its school finance system and significantly improve its support structure for Texans in need, future governors will have to find something else to brag about.

“Texas is more than just a place on a map,” the governor’s report states. “It is a state of boundless opportunity – where the compass points north, south, east, west and up.”

Up for some people, anyway.

—Clay Robison

School vouchers are not a “conservative moral value”; neither are some other things

TSTA’s opposition to President Trump’s proposed $5 billion-a-year voucher giveaway to private and religious schools prompted an email from a teacher, who wrote, “Thumbs down to TSTA’s constant bashing of Trump…your constant bashing of our conservative moral values.”

Wonder which one of these “conservative moral values” the teacher meant. Trump’s decision to tear apart immigrant families at the southern border? The kiss-and-don’t-tell hush money that landed his former lawyer in prison? His almost constant stream of exaggerations, misrepresentations, lies and lack of respect for the Constitution? Or maybe she means the “moral values” he so eloquently expressed in the Access Hollywood tape….Surely not.

Yep, someone has been bashing our conservative moral values, and it hasn’t been the Texas State Teachers Association.

More to the current point, adequately and equitably funding public schools IS a conservative moral value because public schools are where the vast majority of the children in this state and country will continue to be educated. Improvements in public school funding are essential to the future of this country, and TSTA is committed to fighting for those improvements.

Taking $5 billion a year in taxpayer money from those public schools, including the one in which this complaining teacher teaches, and using that money to enrich private school owners is not a conservative moral value, regardless of who proposes it.

Clay Robison