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.
Talk to us
Democrats Navigate Sensitive Gender Politics as Voting Nears – The New York Times
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Bernie Sanders made a comparison Sunday between the challenges women face in politics today and his running for president at the age of 78 as the Democratic presidential candidate continues to face questions over his recent feud with Elizabeth Warren on sexism in politics.
During an hourlong appearance on New Hampshire Public Radio, Sanders was asked if he thinks female candidates have a different experience as presidential candidates than him and whether gender is still an obstacle for female politicians. Sanders answered yes.
“But I think everybody has their own sets of problems,” the Vermont senator said. “I’m 78 years of age. That’s a problem.”
He then went on to note that age concerns could also be a challenge for 38-year-old former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, saying “if you’re looking at Buttigieg, he’s a young guy.”
“And people will say, well he’s too young to be president. You look at this one, she’s a woman,” Sanders said. “So everybody brings some negatives if you’d like. I would just hope very much that the American people look at the totality of a candidate, not at their gender, not at their sexuality, not at their age, but at everything. Nobody is perfect. There ain’t no perfect candidate out there.”
Asked after a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa, on Sunday to comment on Sanders’ statement and if being a woman was a problem, Warren said only, “I have no further comment on this.”
Division among Sanders and Warren became fierce last week after the two progressives had largely left the other unscathed for much of the 2020 race. Warren and Sanders disagreement comes over a private 2018 meeting.
Warren contends then that Sanders told her he didn’t think a woman could win the White House. Sanders has vocally disputed that claim, but on Sunday tried to avoid talking about the meeting.
“I really don’t want to get into what was a private conversation,” Sanders said on the public radio program. “But to answer your question, let me just say this, it is hard for me to imagine how anybody in the year 2020 could not believe that a woman could become president of the United States. And if you check my record, I’ve been saying that for 30 years.”
Associated Press writer Will Weissert in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report
Politics still dominating – ING Think
The clock is ticking
With barely ten months to go until the next US Presidential Election, we hope our US colleagues will forgive us from ruminating on that event and its implications for Asia form time to time over the coming months. We are, after all, at one end of what has been a very nasty trade war, and what happens in the US and to the USD, does have very great ramifications for our region.
A story I picked up from the newswires this morning ran with the theme that the recent trade deal would go some way to offsetting any political damage to President Trump due to the impeachment process currently underway. I’m not sure I buy this view on a number of levels.
For one, I’m not sure that the trade truce, or whatever you want to call it, has done all that much to lift President Trump’s national approval. I took a quick look at Nate Silver’s excellent FiveThirty-eight site this morning, which for amateur punters like myself, provides a quick insight into a political system that can otherwise be quite opaque. I can’t see much of a trade deal spike. But neither do I believe the impeachment trial will do much to harm the President’s approval ratings either. Depending on your politics, you will either accept all the evidence as damning, or conclude that this really is just a witch-hunt, and move along. So the conjecture of the article I referred to seemed a bit like an idea in search of a story.
One thing that does still bear watching, however, is the state of the economy.
James Knightley sums up the state of the economy in the colour “Beige”, the same colour as the Fed’s regional survey of the economy. I can’t add much if anything to this, but two US data points that came out late Friday Asia time and caught my attention this morning are the strong spike in new home starts (possibly weather related – this is not home building season, so perhaps a seasonal aberration?), and, maybe more worrying, the continued slackening in the JOLTS job openings.
With the labour market likely one of the key factors to weigh on household confidence, any weakening here might have more damaging consequences than any political developments. For completeness, I should add, other labour market data is available, and some of it (the last jobs report) in contrast has been quite strong. It’s worth following the JOLTS numbers though.
What's the political price of honesty? – BBC News
Someone wise, or at least successful, once said: “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
That immortal advice has been variously attributed to the great Groucho Marx, to the 1940s US comedian George Burns, to the French diplomat and writer Jean Giraudoux but never – ever – to the Labour MP and leadership contender Jess Phillips.
Speaking to me on my BBC 5 live programme Pienaar’s Politics, the Birmingham Yardley MP seemed wholly unscripted.
She seemed wary of upsetting party members, but still managed, I’m guessing, to upset and perhaps infuriate thousands of them.
In an age of cynicism and spin, Jess Phillips was authentic and frank in a way which illustrated perfectly why she seems to have little or no chance of becoming Labour’s next leader.
Jess Phillips answered my first question, “Should a party leader tell members what they don’t want to hear?”, with a rapid and sincere “absolutely”.
For a moment, conventional political judgement seemed to kick in. She became a little hesitant and evasive about which policies she’d like to erase from Labour’s failed election manifesto.
A moment later, she was in full flow. The promise of free broadband was “rubbish,” mass renationalisation of utilities, including water, should not be a priority “while there are still homeless people on the street and still, you know, young lads getting murdered on most streets in most cities.”
In other words, she was saying, forget about these totemic ideologically driven pledges. There are many, much more important things to do.
It’s safe to say this is the sort of thinking which wholly alienates the pure-blood socialists who flocked to Jeremy Corbyn’s banner.
It is also the very last thing you can expect to hear from Sir Keir Starmer, the frontrunner who’s considered not just a Labour centrist, but one who’d be completely at home in any past Blair or Brown cabinet.
Sir Keir is most unlikely to describe himself in that way at any point in the contest. He also has a very good chance of being elected. The two things are related.
Rebecca Long-Bailey may well endorse Labour’s last manifesto, and she could win too, which says a lot about the party membership, and helps to explains Sir Keir’s caution.
Too much honesty?
We like authenticity and lack of guile in our politicians – or say we do. Except when they’re honestly saying things we don’t want to hear, or seem artless.
Honesty may have become a dwindling asset in politics. In any event, too much of it can be a liability.
By contrast, International Development Secretary Alok Sharma, who also joined me on air, managed to speak at considerable length about his sensitive and vitally important role without saying anything very controversial at all.
As the UK carves out a new role in the world, Boris Johnson has spoken about the need for “smarter” use of overseas aid.
Priti Patel, the former international development secretary – now promoted to the Home Office – said the UK needed to target aid spending in a way which better served the UK’s economic needs and global influence.
So did this mean less money for purely humanitarian help? Was this a significant change of policy? Not at all, according to the minister.
“We are…I mean, we just want to be clear that there’s not been a change,” he told me.
“We have been doing this. Economic development has been something that the department has been doing for a long time.”
I was left none the wiser. Which, I couldn’t help feeling, was the point.
Mr Sharma joined me to talk about the Africa summit which the UK is hosting, and we did.
He also put on a convincing display of why he is one of the few ministers sufficiently trusted by Downing Street to pop up to be interviewed in radio and television studios on a Sunday.
Of course, the prime minister sometimes manages things in his own unique way. He says what he likes, or what best serves his purpose at any given moment.
If a statement or pledge turns out to be problematic or wrong, Mr Johnson seems perfectly comfortable saying something else.
Take the example of the PM’s talk of making Big Ben bong to mark the UK’s exit from the EU, or past promises on the conduct of Brexit. Can anyone say today a prime ministerial pronouncement should always be considered wholly trustworthy?
Can anyone say it’s a question which has done the PM or his government any political harm?
Judging by the latest opinion poll which gives the Conservatives a whopping 17-point lead, the answer is surely no. Well, not yet, anyway.
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