Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Threats to Democracy Round Up - Early May, 2023

Influence of Hostile Foreign Powers

Reminders of how the US home-grown anti-democratic movement has been egged on by hostile foreign powers, chiefly Russia:

- How tied to Russia much of the far-right in the US now are: "the most energetic Kremlin propagandist around today" tells Tucker Carlson "We'll happily offer you a job if you wish to carry on as a presenter and host!"

- Russian propaganda broadcaster RT to Tucker Carlson after he was fired- "Hey @TuckerCarlson .... You can always question more with @RT_com"

- [Re coordination of Trumpist and Russian propaganda/disinformation] Russia Is Not Happy About Tucker Carlson Leaving Fox News- Kremlin propagandists are mourning the departure of Carlson from Fox – and offering him jobs on Russian state TV

Trump and Associate's Conflicts of Interest and Corruption

As we have said before, it is very difficult to reduce conflicts of interest and corruption in health care when a good chunk of societal leadership is conflicted and corrupt. A good example is our former President and his cronies:

-Trump, sued for defamation by E Jean Carroll, attacks her on social media during the trial.  Did he just violate a "federal obstruction statute that outlaws efforts to corruptly influence  or intimidate a juror, whether in a criminal or civil trial"

- [Were they always dirty tricksters?] Guiliani admits using ‘dirty trick’ to suppress Hispanic vote in 1993 mayoral race [by telling people in Hispanic areas that they would need to prove immigration status to vote]

- "Trump behaves in predictable patterns and seeing the big picture  helps to illuminate those patterns....  the various  investigations spanning New York, Georgia, and DOJ almost all involve  some combination of financial fraud and election manipulation"

- Judge says Trump "endeavoring, certainly, to speak to his quote-unquote public, but, more troubling, the jury in this case about stuff that has  no business being spoken about" That appears to be jury tampering, a criminal offense

Propaganda, Disinformation, Deception

 Some ideas for challenging rampant propaganda and disinformation


- "look closely at the way that people respond to criticisms of their theories. Do they engage directly...  resort to ad hominem attacks and red herrings... call on 'special pleading'...?"

- "To debunk a false belief, it may be better to target a person’s system  of beliefs rather than trying to change the false belief itself"

- How to cover RFK Jr responsibly "Provide context without pushing a narrative; Explain the history; Call a  lie a lie; Avoid false balance; Take care with the headlines; Only allow debates on policy; Have compassion for his followers"

- The press is in peril. Here’s how to save it- reader-funded journalism is free to hold power to account, and it’s spreading

Political Propaganda and Disinformation Damaging Health and Health Care

Note that the really damaging material often comes from the extreme right, extreme sectarians especially Christian nationalists, and hostile foreign powers, viz:


- Thomas Jefferson hospital president has ‘liked’ tweets critical of COVID-19 vaccines, among other controversial topics [Then pleaded that he did not understand "liking" a Tweet somehow meant liking a tweet. If he was that ignorant of Twitter, why was he using it?]

- There is a "nexus between anti-trans and anti-vaccine ideas... anti-vaccine figures like Sherri Tenpenny... and Stew Peters... share news  articles and posts... stoking hatred and panic about trans issues...LGBT SATANIC Cult"

- Making vaccines for COVID-19 look bad, presumably for political gain: How DeSantis' Florida Surgeon General reported "an increased risk of cardiac-related death among men 18-39" is "a dramatic story of how science should not be done"

- Debunking the latest anti-COVID vaccine disinformation: "Social media posts are misrepresenting what Fauci said about masks and COVID-19 and omitting part of his response"

- Turning the concept on its head: NE Democrat who has transgender child accused of therefore having a conflict of interest - Such reasoning would suggest anyone who has a medical condition, or a relative with one has a conflict of interest.

- The latest in anti-vax disinformation "portrays a striking but false narrative - claiming that swathes of people are suddenly and suspiciously dropping dead in large numbers, and that Covid  vaccines are to blame"

"Culture War" and Theocracy/Christian Nationalism

Much of the "culture war" is about attacking particular patient groups (eg, transgender patients, women seeking abortions, needing birth control or care for such conditions as ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage) and the health care professionals who care for them, or about attacking public health professionals (eg, those involved in pandemic policy) or creating phony public health problems, eg, pornography.

Furthermore, while these attacks are often framed in a biomedical, health care or public health context, the motivation behind them seems to come from extreme sectarianism, particularly Christian nationalism.

- DeSantis' "culture war" on Disney is about religious extremism: "American Family Association, a right-wing religious organization...[against] LGBTQ. rights, rallied...evangelical groups to boycott Disney [when] extended...benefits to gay employees"

- [First the religious fanatics came for the transgender kids, but I didn't have one so I did nothing...] Montana Governor Signs Law Banning Transgender Care for Minors [with apologies to Niemoller]

- Son asked Montana governor to veto anti-trans bill. It didn’t work. [They are so far gone that they won't even listen to your own children.  The family of @RepGosar was an early example]

- [They don't need no stinkin' separation of church and state: TX] Senate OKs bill to allow construction of anti-abortion monument on state Capitol grounds "[other] senators...[said] the statue seems to promote anti-abortion and religious beliefs"

- [Forcing their sectarian beliefs about morality onto those of other faiths] MI Republicans fight...repeal [of] ban on unmarried cohabitation: "This law was not passed to be mean … it was passed for the betterment of society, particularly for children"

- Far-right politics is about pushing extreme religious beliefs on non-believers, eg to far-right NC governor candidate "gay and transgender people are 'filth', homosexuality...abominable sin...transgender movement...'demonic'...'spirit of the antichrist'

- 14-year-olds could serve alcohol under a new Wisconsin bill [sponsored by Republicans.  And they say they are all about the children?]

But these attempts to impose rules based on extreme sectarian beliefs on people who believe otherwise often have adverse effects:

Far-right politicians attacking pornography, ostensibly to protect children, but per the ACLU "requiring adults to verify their ages – and expose their identities –  before accessing...websites will inevitably deter them from going to those sites"

DIY trans care evades barriers in Missouri, other states [Anti-trans laws are generating a black market in health care. Just what the doctor didn't order]

- An attempt to smear a health care institution based on far-right hostility to transgender patients fails "Investigation" of Washington University Transgender Center by a Republican AG whose staff ranted about "far left activists" turns up no major problems

- "researchers have found repeatedly that a gun in the house makes people more likely to be  murdered, not less. 'People living in homes with firearms have higher  risks for dying by homicide,' according to a 2022 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine."

Threats to Free speech, Expression

For health care professionals to use science to improve clinical care, via evidence-based health care, or simply by doing health care related science there must be a context of free speech and free expression.
Likewise, to change policy to reduce health care dysfunction reformers need to operate in a democratic context which protects free speech and expression.

However, the extreme right-wing movement threatens free speech and expression on many levels.

- What the Right-Wing [fascist] Takeover of a Progressive College Looks Like "Twitter under @elonmusk ...looked the same...degraded into a completely different experience.....'turning a top-rated academic institution into a third-rate athletic facility'""

- "citizens...are white, Black, brown, gay, straight, Christian, non-Christian... no...portion of the community  should dictate what the rest...have access to.... because you don’t want to read... or see it, it doesn’t give you the right to deny others"

"1,477[+] attempts to ban 874 individual book titles within the first half of the 2022-2023 school year... a nearly 30 per cent spike... over the previous year....Overwhelmingly, book ban attempts target stories by and about people of colour and LGBT+"

"fear leads to self-censorship and heightened caution — long before the  laws take effect.... 'That’s how  authoritarianism works'" So in DeSantis' fascist Florida, a college student asks a reporter: "is this conversation we’re having … legal?"

"local officials came to their school library in... Granbury [TX] and started carrying away boxes of books....stories about gender, sexuality and race" If we don't stop them, the sectarian far-right will erase free speech and our religious beliefs

- How to get involved in the fight against book bans "Read banned books; Reach out to your local officials; Donate to organisations; Get vocal; Vote"

The Gravest Threats to Campus Speech Come From States, Not Students "The ironic truth is that laws that prohibit the teaching of 'divisive  concepts' are themselves attempts to indoctrinate students into seeing  the world through one lens"

[He don't need no stinkin' free speech]  DeSantis accidentally handed Disney a potent weapon against him  "pretty clear statements from Governor DeSantis that he is  seeking to punish a corporation for its speech....  prohibited by the First Amendment"

Who Pays for and Benefits from Attacks on Democracy?


It is hard to challenge the wide-ranging attacks on health and health care, and the democratic context needed to promote them, without knowing who is supporting and funding them.

- Another under the radar far-right advocacy group,pushing to ease child labor laws, funded by "broad swath of ultraconservative and Republican donors-eg the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation and 85 Fund, a nonprofit connected to political operative Leonard Leo"

- How big corporations benefit from funding far-right politicians "DeSantis... rightwing Republican governor of Florida...handed favors to his big-money donors in the insurance industry at the expense of cash-strapped residents of his claims"

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