With our politics increasingly polarized and democracy in retreat, worried Americans are responding in all manner of ways. Some, such as former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, have mounted a fight against voter suppression. Others, such as Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, are lobbying social networks to change their products and policies to promote transparency and accuracy in political advertising.
And then there’s the actor Chris Evans, best known for playing Captain America in 10 Marvel movies. According to an earnest new cover story that came out today in Wired, Evans is doing …….. this:
He would build an online platform organized into tidy sections—immigration, health care, education, the economy—each with a series of questions of the kind most Americans can’t succinctly answer themselves. What, exactly, is a tariff? What’s the difference between Medicare and Medicaid? Evans would invite politicians to answer the questions in minute-long videos. He’d conduct the interviews himself, but always from behind the camera. The site would be a place to hear both sides of an issue, to get the TL;DR on WTF was happening in American politics.
The origin story of A Starting Point, as the site will be called, is as follows. One day during a break from filming Avengers: Infinity War, Evans was watching the news. He heard an unfamiliar acronym — NAFTA, or maybe DACA. He Googled the term, and was met with headlines that took multiple, competing points of view. He clicked on the Wikipedia entry, but found that it was very long. “It’s this never-ending thing,” Evans told Arielle Pardes, “and you’re just like, who is going to read 12 pages on something?”
I don’t know — someone who cares?
In any case, Evans was crushed by the realization that to answer his question, he might have to read for several minutes. And so he decided to solve his problem in the next-most-logical way: by flying to Washington every six weeks, recording more than 1,000 videos of members of Congress and Democratic presidential candidates, and posting them on a website that he built with an actor friend and “the founder and CEO of a medical technology company called Masimo.”
And when all the videos are posted, what then?
If Evans got it right, he believed, this wouldn’t be some small-fry website. He’d be helping “create informed, responsible, and empathetic citizens.” He would “reduce partisanship and promote respectful discourse.” At the very least, he would “get more people involved” in politics.
Of course, all that assumes that people who won’t read a Wikipedia entry will watch videos instead. I would always rather read a few sentences about an unfamiliar subject than listen to a congressman filibuster about it until the camera shuts off, but maybe you’re a big fan of C-SPAN.
Still, there are a few obvious problems with Evans’ brainchild. One, it presumes that citizens can best be informed by hearing directly from politicians. Certainly politicians have a privileged viewpoint when it comes to some subjects — primarily their own opinions. But on most subjects, the median member of Congress can only repeat what they were told in briefings by staffers and lobbyists. To suggest that they have a monopoly on the truth is naive.
Two, A Starting Point assumes that you can reduce partisanship by exposing people to multiple points of view. In fact, the opposite is true. Human beings are fact-resistant, never more so than when a fact contradicts a closely held belief. Earlier studies found a so-called “backfire effect” in which seeing a fact contrary to your opinion would make you believe your erroneous opinion even more. Later studies have struggled to replicate that finding, but at the very least it seems fair to say that changing people’s views is extremely hard to do, especially with mere facts.
Finally, A Starting Point begins from the premise that voters are all basically the same, and differ primarily in how much information they have about candidates and issues. In reality, politics is tribal. As Ezra Klein explains in a book coming out later this month, Americans are increasingly polarized around their identities, with partisan affiliation representing a large and growing portion of that identity. Thus the inclination to dismiss what members of the opposing political party say out of hand, based on what they represent.
I don’t want to come down too hard on Evans here: there are worse ways to spend your time than trying to increase participation in the political process. (For example, Evans’ Avengers co-star Chris Hemsworth has a subscription-based fitness app.) But if you’re worried about democracy, you’re probably better off banding together with existing civil society groups, activists, and political scientists than you are going it alone. Defeating Thanos required that the Avengers work together with heroes even stronger than themselves. Captain America knew that. It’s a shame Evans doesn’t.
Today in news that could affect public perception of the big tech platforms.
Trending up: Facebook launched a new security feature that sends users a notification when their account is used to log into a third-party app. It’s both an added layer of protection and a way for people to gain more control over their information.
⭐ The National Security Agency announced that it alerted Microsoft to a vulnerability in its Windows operating system, rather than following the agency’s typical approach of keeping quiet and exploiting the flaw to develop cyberweapons. Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger at the New York Times explain the significant change in protocol:
The warning allowed Microsoft to develop a patch for the problem and gave the government an early start on fixing the vulnerability. In years past, the National Security Agency has collected all manner of computer vulnerabilities to gain access to digital networks to gather intelligence and generate hacking tools to use against American adversaries.
But that policy was heavily criticized in recent years when the agency lost control of some of those tools, which fell into the hands of cybercriminals and other malicious actors, including North Korean and Russian hackers.
By taking credit for spotting a critical vulnerability and leading the call to update computer systems, the National Security Agency appeared to adopt a shift in strategy and took on an unusually public role for one of the most secretive arms of the American government. The move shows the degree to which the agency was bruised by accusations that it caused hundreds of millions of dollars in preventable damage by allowing vulnerabilities to circulate.
California’s new privacy law gives consumers the right to see and delete their data. But getting access often requires giving up more personal details. (Kashmir Hill / The New York Times)
Network security giant Cloudflare said it’s going to give its security services to US political campaigns for free. The move is part of the company’s efforts to secure upcoming elections against cyberattacks and election interference. (Zack Whittaker / TechCrunch)
The person tasked with creating and enforcing Twitter’s rules is the company’s top lawyer Vijaya Gadde. She says CEO Jack Dorsey rarely weighs in on individual enforcement decisions. Oh, well in that case! ( (Kurt Wagner / Bloomberg)
⭐ Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said the company will probably never launch the edit button. In a video interview with Wired, the executive crushed the idea that the feature could go live in 2020. The Verge’s James Vincent explains:
[Dorsey] notes that the service has moved on since, but the company doesn’t consider an edit button worth it. There are good reasons for editing tweets, he says, like fixing typos and broken links, but also malicious applications, like editing content to mislead people.
“So, these are all the considerations,” says Dorsey. “But we’ll probably never do it.”
Twitter is preparing to launch pinned lists for Android. Already available on iOS, the feature allows users to create a list of topics or accounts and then pin them to the main feed. (Ben Schoon / 9To5Google)
YouTube launched new feature called profile cards that show a user’s public information and comment history. The feature has been touted as a way for creators to more easily identify their biggest fans by offering easy access to their past comments. It’s currently available on Android. (Sarah Perez / TechCrunch)
YouTube introduced filters to the subscriptions tab on its iOS app to help you decide what to watch next. The filters, which include “unwatched” and “continue watching,” will be coming to Android “in the future.” (Jay Peters / The Verge)
There’s now a tool to mute VCs on Twitter. The website urges people to “silence VC thought leadership and platitudes from your feed.”
Less investor tweets means less content to consume and more time to do literally anything else.
Reading The Interface, for example.
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Politics Briefing: Legault to address rising COVID-19 cases as Quebec, Ontario see surge – The Globe and Mail
COVID-19 cases in the country’s two biggest provinces are of great concern to health officials.
Ontario is reporting a surge in new cases of COVID-19, with nearly half of them in Toronto.
The province reported 700 new cases on Monday that included 344 in Toronto, 104 in the Peel Region, 89 in Ottawa and 56 in York Region.
As of Sunday, Quebec had reported 896 new cases of COVID-19, which amounted to its highest jump in a single day in months.
Quebec’s Premier François Legault is to hold a news conference this afternoon.
Ontario and Quebec have been most affected by COVID-19 and represent close to 80 per cent of all cases in Canada.
This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, usually written by Chris Hannay. Kristy Kirkup is filling in today. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.
The Liberal government is asking Parliament to fast-track its latest COVID-19 economic recovery package. Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez proposed Monday to limit debate on the bill which establishes more flexibility to qualify for employment insurance. It would also set up three new benefits for Canadians who won’t qualify for EI but are still affected by the economic crisis generated by COVID-19.
The parliamentary budget office says Veterans Affairs Canada can clear its backlog of disability benefit applications in a year if it hires nearly 400 more people. The number of pending applications for benefits reached almost 50,000 by the end of March, up from about 21,000 in March 2017 and almost half the applications were considered complete and were waiting only for decisions by the department.
The Correctional Service of Canada is suspending visits to its institutions in Quebec to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 in federal prisons and community correctional centres. The agency said it is also stopping inmate work releases and temporary absences except for medical and compassionate reasons and the rules apply to 16 facilities in the province of Quebec.
Warren Fernandez (contributed to The Globe and Mail)on why real news matters amid the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and fake news: “At a time when so much has been turned on its head, this much has become clear: Real news matters. The truth matters. Objectivity matters. Balance and fairness matter. In short, quality journalism matters.”
Dr. Stephen Hwang (contributed to The Globe and Mail) on why it is possible to end chronic homelessness if we act now: “The pandemic has forced us to confront the consequences of having allowed homelessness to persist in our cities for far too long. Canadians living on low incomes in crowded conditions have been disproportionally affected by COVID-19. In Toronto alone, more than 500 people experiencing homelessness have been infected with the coronavirus. As case numbers rise and the colder months move us indoors, adequate shelter is more important than ever.”
David Shribman (contributed to The Globe and Mail) on why the presidential debate won’t be a game changer: “They will clash on Washington’s response to the coronavirus. They will battle over tax rates. They will scuffle over health care, climate change, federal regulation, race, the Supreme Court and the fate of the American middle class. They will trade barbs over whether one is a business-hating socialist and the other a power-loving tyrant. But don’t expect Tuesday’s debate between the two men running for the U.S. presidency – Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden – to make much of a difference to the election outcome.”
The Globe Editorial Board on why the carbon tax is on trial at the Supreme Court, with the Trudeau government’s green plans at stake: “As a matter of science, greenhouse gases are clearly a national concern. But as a matter of constitutional law, a federal victory at the Supreme Court is far from assured. Our Constitution, and more particularly the way it has been interpreted over 153 years by the courts, has created a highly decentralized federation.”
Colby Cosh (The National Post) on the B.C. NDP and federal Greens showing sharp contrast in styles: “We have the B.C. NDP, who showed little bashfulness in perpetrating what any New Democrat would call racial and sexual discrimination in any other context, and the Greens, who are dedicated enough to democratic principles and written rules that they immediately repaired a mistaken application of them.”
New EU Asylum Rules: Even the Bare Minimum Will Require Radical Politics – World – ReliefWeb
For the past five years, European Union leaders have tried but failed to reform the block’s rules on asylum. The main bone of contention was the Dublin Regulation, in particular the rule of first entry, which specifies that the first EU member state that an asylum seeker enters is responsible for hosting them and processing their asylum claim. Because of fundamental disagreements on how to reform “Dublin”, all other reform proposals have gathered dust on shelves in Brussels. Meanwhile, thousands of asylum seekers still languish in dangerous camps at Europe’s borders.
On Wednesday, the EU Commission finally unveiled the Union’s new reform ideas. On responsibility for asylum applications, they aim to replace the rules of the Dublin Regulation by – drumroll – the rules of the Dublin Regulation. In other words, the basic rules will continue to apply, with some tweaks like member state cooperation in the event of numerous asylum seekers arriving at one member’s borders at the same time. Fundamentally, the proposal cements the sad truth that the EU’s asylum policy has become a sinister race to the bottom on who manages to host the least asylum seekers. Even this lackluster proposal on distributing responsibility was met with immediate and fierce opposition in some member states – including by Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who declared it dead on arrival.
But the EU has few alternatives to reform. In 2015 and 2016, when the numbers of asylum applications spiked, illiberal political parties all over Europe were swift to exploit them for political gain. And they will do so again if member states fail to break the deadlock and sensibly reform the Dublin Regulation. Indeed, the current system leads to frustration everywhere: the EU’s border states like Greece will repeat their mantra of being left overburdened, while others like France or Poland will complain that most asylum seekers who end up further north should have been accommodated in the countries of their first arrival.
Given this protracted situation, the upcoming negotiations on the proposed new laws will have to address two questions: What is the bare minimum that would make a reform better than no reform? And how can the champions of this bare minimum mobilize a majority for it? We think that, above all, a new governance would have to stand the test of being a more solidary system. But reaching – and salvaging – such a compromise will require radical political action.
Call the bluff with a different resettlement option. The EU Commission proposes that states who are unwilling to host asylum seekers as part of a relocation effort “in times of crisis” can instead contribute to collective effort by organizing returns of asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected (“return sponsorships”). This idea could prove a slippery slope into a situation where virtually every member state wiggles out of a commitment to admit asylum seekers – a recipe for more disasters and human rights violations like the ones the world is currently witnessing in Moria, Greece. To prevent this, the EU should cap the total number of such “return sponsorships” to 10 percent of all asylum seekers who are being relocated in the EU. Member states that still refuse to accommodate asylum seekers could be offered the alternative to accept the equivalent of their share of recognized refugees from outside the EU. Refugees are recognized as such by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, so that this compromise would call the bluff on the argument that redistribution creates a “pull factor”, as well as popular claims that only the most resourceful people manage to reach the EU.
Push through a low threshold for mutual support. The pact is vague on the criteria that would trigger any new mechanism in support of an overburdened EU state. For instance, it does not define the kind of “crisis” that would oblige member states to support each other. To address this flaw, the EU should set a threshold for each member state, depending on its economic power. This would send a signal of serious intentions to the states at the EU’s external borders. In addition, any mechanism for mutual support would have to kick in automatically. Anything else would be an invitation for anti-EU governments to blame the European Union once the numbers of asylum seekers go up.
Up the stakes for spoilers. The single most important leverage the EU has over its member states is its budget. EU leaders have just adopted a new budget for the next seven years, following a 90 hour-long summit. The ball is now in the European Parliament’s court – MEPs have yet to accept the carefully hatched proposal. One of the main points of contention is budget conditionality: many parliamentarians want the EU to be able to withhold funds when a member state does not comply with the principles of democratic rule of law. The EU parliament should explicitly include systematic violations of the rights of foreigners under EU jurisdiction – including during returns procedures – as part of its definition of democratic rule of law. This would finally give the EU leverage when a member state undercuts its minimum standards on asylum. It would also help to address the perverse incentive structure of the current system in which member states are “rewarded” for sub-standard asylum systems, because such systems bar the returns of asylum seekers who have traveled onward to other EU states.
Hammer home the message of international credibility. The EU’s current treatment of asylum seekers is harming its international standing when advocating for principles like cooperation on migration policy, democratic rule of law and human rights. In several African states, EU officials have had to deal with rebuttals and accusations of hypocrisy when trying to argue for upholding the human rights of migrants. In private, German Chancellor Merkel has shared how China’s President Xi – of all people – has also confronted her with the failings of EU migration policy. A new, more humane compromise on asylum policy is a crucial step for the EU to regain some of its credibility on the international stage.
The chances are slim that the “pact’s” proposal on the Dublin Regulation will lead to concrete reforms worth fighting for. But the moment is more promising than it has been for a long time. The numbers of asylum applications in the EU have shrunk by almost 50 percent when compared to their peak in 2015. Since then, governments should have learned that the EU cannot afford a perpetual political crisis on asylum – and asylum seekers even less so.
Politics and relationships – Newsroom
Podcast: The Detail
Can you date, marry, or even just be friends with someone who holds the opposite political views to you? In the US that’s generally a hard ‘no’ – here, it’s a bit different
An Auckland political psychologist says New Zealand’s become more polarised in the Covid-19 era.
We’re not quite as divided along blue-red lines as the pro and anti-Trump brigades in the US but Danny Osborne says the tone of the debate has definitely intensified.
Osborne was born into a poor, Republican-voting family in a right wing city in California.
But when he discovered punk music as a teenager he switched politics.
It’s made for some awkward meals.
“You’re basically born into a party in the US,” says Osborne, associate professor at the University of Auckland’s school of psychology. “I’m a black sheep.”
He’s been in New Zealand for nine years, teaches political psychology, and is part of the team working on the 20-year-old Attitudes and Values study of 60,000 New Zealanders.
“Politics are all about identities,” he says. “So people are National supporters, they’re Labour supporters, they’re Green supporters. Same thing with the US which is an exponentially more polarised environment.”
Osborne talks to The Detail‘s Sharon Brettkelly about the growing polarisation of politics, what happens to families and friends when politics becomes more divisive, and the impact of the pandemic on attitudes.
The latest Attitudes and Values research, looking at political segmentation in the last 10 years shows that until 2018 there was very little polarisation, says Osborne.
But there are signs of Covid’s impact on peoples’ attitudes.
“Everything from managed isolation, to how we’re dealing with debt etc, it has really taken on a partisan flavour that I haven’t seen since I’ve been in New Zealand,” Osborne says.
“I think what the Trump election in 2016 shows us is that democracy is incredibly fragile and you know within the period of four years you can just completely change your way of thinking.
“We used to view the US as this paragon of democracy and in one administration that’s all changed. So I think the same thing can happen in New Zealand, we can very much see these issues start to polarise.”
Studies show that families tend to stick with the same party, says Osborne, though he fits with the small percentage who break the mould. His own close family members are Trump voters and Osborne says he was “a bit of an outcast” growing up in right wing towns in California. Any visits home to the family avoid political discussion.
Osborne cites a study published after the 2016 election which looked at cell phone data from people over the Thanksgiving holiday. It showed that people who had voted for Hilary Clinton, who were returning home to see family in Trump-voting counties, spent on average an hour less at the family home before they headed back to the “blue” counties.
He says as a general trend people are uncomfortable with cross-party conversations but he urges voters to keep having them to keep the debate alive.
Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.
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