HEART(S) OF DUMBNESS: Hess observes liberal fans in the wild!

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 8, 2019

Our own heart of dumbness:
We have no doubt that Monica Potts is a good, decent person.

Potts graduated from Bryn Mawr in the class of 2002. That said, she grew up in Van Buren County, Arkansas, and she didn't grow up as one of the swells.

A decade ago, she described her upbringing in a post at Tapped, the group blog of the American Prospect. Youngsters were discussing the question of who gets favored in elite college admissions. As part of a thoughtful longer statement, Potts offered this profile of her rural Arkansas youth:
POTTS (7/21/10): My family was fairly poor when I was young but by the time I was applying to college, had worked its way to tenuous working-class status. I was raised in a town of 2,000 in rural Arkansas, and though I wasn't a member of [Future Farmers of America], I took an agriculture and shop class in middle school, learned how to shoot a rifle (though not very well), and was vice president of Future Homemakers of America (hey, everyone should learn to cook). I had decided at a very young age that I wanted to go to Harvard, but by the time my feminism was ignited as a high schooler, I was applying to the former Seven Sisters schools instead. I admit I identified as liberal, but I'm not sure how that would have come out in the application process, while I can tell you for sure that the fact that I started and ran a church youth group did...
In our view, that sounds like part of a fascinating American and human story. In a nation of 330 million souls, there are quite a few such stories, all of which should perhaps be treated with something resembling respect.

Potts has done good work as a journalist in the past. We thought she displayed shaky but highly familiar judgment in her high-profile essay in last weekend's Sunday Review, an essay in which she described her return to her rural home town to write a book about low-income women.

In the course of her essay, Potts smacked the minions of her old hometown—Clinton, Arkansas—pretty dadblamed good. In a novelized form as old as humanity, she seemed to say that the yokels in question are just amazingly dumb, and dad-gummed venal too.

As she noted in her essay, Potts has now spent twenty years living on the East Coast. Most recently, she said she's been living in Washington, where she's been a kept person of the multimillion-dollar think tank, New America.

Right from the start of Sunday's essay, Potts battered her former and once-again neighbors real good. Essentially, she said they're too dumb to come in out of the rain—and that they even oppose the idea of helping others:
POTTS (10/6/19): Since coming back, I’ve realized that it is true that people here think life here has taken a turn for the worse. What’s also true, though, is that many here seem determined to get rid of the last institutions trying to help them, to keep people with educations out, and to retreat from community life and concentrate on taking care of themselves and their own families. It’s an attitude that is against taxes, immigrants and government, but also against helping your neighbors.
These Arkies today! They won't even let us brighter people tell them what to think and do!

They're against immigrants, Potts explained, citing no particular evidence. But they're also "against helping your neighbors!" Yes, they're really that bad!

Are Potts' neighbors really that dumb and that venal? For ourselves, we've never been to Clinton, but we'll examine the strength of Potts' claims before the week is through.

For ourselves, we don't think the evidence Potts provides supports the "Them So Dumb, Us So Smart" line of pseudo-analysis which has long ruled our human world. But that isn't the question we're going to track down today.

Are Arkies too dumb to come out of the rain? We'll guess that, on balance, they aren't. That said, we thought Potts' portrait of Those Hopeless Rubes was especially striking in Sunday's Times, given the portrait Amanda Hess drew of some of Us Geniuses Here on The Coasts in that same Sunday edition.

Potts' portrait of today's rural Arky was the featured, front-page piece in the high-profile Sunday Review. Hess wrote the featured essay in that same day's Sunday Magazine.

Hess wrote a profile of Rachel Maddow, concerning whom, we're forced to to say, Hess seemed to have little to say. But good lord! After reading Potts go after the pitiful dumbness of the Arkies, we couldn't help noting the portrait Hess drew of a certain class of bicoastal Maddow supporters.

These fans don't hail from the heart of dumbness known as Van Buren County. Rather plainly, they reside in the finer, smarter locales—in our well-educated cities, or on one of our two major coasts.

These are the giants of perception in whose midst Potts had lived for twenty years. But how strange! Hess' portrait of these "typical fans" started off like this:
HESS (10/6/19): Maddow’s typical fan has been branded (by Kat Stoeffel in The New York Times) as the “MSNBC Mom,” a woman who feels that the election has radicalized her; even if she has not moved to the left politically, her liberal sympathies and news consumption have swelled into a suddenly central part of her identity. (The network has monetized this lightly condescending label with a set of MSNBC Mom tote bags and latte mugs.) Molly Jong-Fast, a former novelist who once described her pre-Trump self as “completely selfish and disinterested in politics” and who is now a liberal Twitter influencer and columnist for the Never Trump site The Bulwark, told me that Maddow “made wonkiness cool.”
Stating the obvious, there's nothing wrong with being an "MSNBC Mom." To read Kat Stoeffel's portrait of such people, you can just click here.

There's nothing wrong with being an "MSNBC Mom" or a Maddow fan. We do return to the concept of condescension as Hess describes the network's attempt to sell these people latte mugs and the occasional tote bag.

In fairness, the network has to find some way to pay Maddow's giant salary, whose size goes unreported by Hess. In a typical part of upper-end culture, we learn the salary of Clinton's librarian in the course of reading Sunday's essays, but we don't learn how much Maddow is paid to assemble a long list of fans, or how much Potts is being paid by her billionaire-funded think tank.

To purchase one of those tote bags, you can just click here. As for Jong-Fast, who Hess describes as a "liberal influencer," she grew up with every coastal advantage—she's the daughter of novelist Erica Jong—but she says she was “completely selfish and disinterested in politics” until Donald J. Trump came to power in 2016!

We'll assume that Jong-Fast is being too hard on herself, if in a hackneyed way. That said, the lazy disinterest and lack of perception of such upper-end players has long been a distinguishing characteristic of the superficial, unintelligent liberal cult which clowned and snored and stared into space until our dumbness and disinterest ended with Trump in the White House.

Our most erudite "liberal influencers" had told us that Donald J. Trump couldn't possibly win that election, and we tended to believe these tribal sachems. Today, we send our agents into the wild to let us know how amazingly stupid Those Other People are!

Is Jong-Fast a "liberal Twitter influencer" in any significant way? For ourselves, we have no idea, but we clicked the link provided by Hess to check on her liberal tweets.

Having done so, we'll only say this—having little or nothing to say on some subject isn't a moral shortcoming. But in her recent tweets, Jong-Fast seems to have little to say about opposition to Trump which isn't completely conventional. She's largely reciting tribal dogma, much as Potts could be said to have done in her familiar account of How Dumb The Others Are.

Are people in Clinton unusually dumb? We feel certain there's room for improvement! That said, our own tribe has been marked by spectacular dumbness over the course of the past thirty-odd years, a point we'll explore in more detail before the week is done.

Today, people like Potts take foundation swag to journey to a heart of dumbness and tell us about the pitiful dumbness of Others. But what are we liberals actually like, Over Here in Genius Land?

Below, you see the way Hess continued as she described that "typical fan." We're withholding the name of the good, decent person in question, though not of the high-IQ liberal realm within which she brilliantly dwells:
HESS (continuing directly): Recently, I went to dinner at the home of [Name Withheld], a preschool principal in San Francisco who turned to Maddow in her depression and confusion over the 2016 election. I brought a bottle of rosé, and she poured it into glasses decorated with charms that featured Russia-investigation figures on one side and characters from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” on the other. I sipped from the Hope Hicks/Beverly Crusher glass, and we watched Maddow’s show over veggie enchiladas. “I think of her as a news doula: You know the news is going to be painful no matter what, so we might as well have someone who helps us survive it,” [Name Withheld] told me. Last year, [she] had a Maddow-themed birthday party, at which her friends and her two young sons put on big black glasses and slicked their hair to the side. Also in attendance was a life-size cardboard cutout of Maddow, which is now in storage so as not to startle guests.
We'll admit that we had to look "doula" up. But why can't those numbnuts in Clinton, Arkansas be more like this typical fan?

Later, Hess returned to this particular fan, who or may not be "typical" of our admittedly brilliant tribe:
HESS: After [Name Withheld] bought her Maddow cardboard cutout, she got a Robert Mueller one, too. For a time she would sit him in her front window, posing him near speech bubbles that she wrote herself. But after the real Mueller filed his report and failed to step into the role she had imagined for him, she tucked him away in the closet with Maddow. Now her car is decorated with Elizabeth Warren bumper stickers.
Is this the typical Maddow/Warren fan? The typical modern liberal?

It would be our thought that, in a vast nation, it's hard to come up with a "typical" person. That would be our thought about Maddow fans, and about the pitiful hayseeds described in the Potts travelogue.

Having said that, we'll also say this:

As with Jong-Fast, so too here. Like Jong-Fast, this San Franciscan was shocked, just shocked, when Donald Trump won that election. Our geniuses told her it couldn't happen, and she believed what she heard.

In the next day or two, we'll run through some of the episodes we liberals slept through in the decades leading to that election defeat.

Our persistent indolence and our lack of perception didn't necessarily make us "dumb." But these traits did and do make us human, like the people whose candidate won. There's room for improvement in Van Buren County, but also perhaps Over Here.

Is Name Withheld a typical fan? Not necessarily, no.

Is Jong-Fast a typical liberal? We'll suggest there's no such thing.

That said, while Name Withheld is a regular person, Jong-Fast is now an influencer, and she says that she was lazy and dumb right through 2016! Meanwhile, at the top of the heap, the New Yorker once published a crazy profile of Maddow by Janet Malcolm, who is often hailed as the greatest magazine writer of the past several decades.

Malcolm hails from the top of the coastal elite. Her account of her own devotion to Maddow came straight from the loony-tunes bin.

In Sunday morning's New York Times, readers were told about a typical liberal fan. She'd had a Mueller cutout in her window, and she'd posted speech bubbles of what the great man was saying.

We wouldn't call that person typical, nor would we call her dumb. But sure enough! In that same edition, subscribers got to read about how venal and stupid The Others are. They won't even let giants like us tell them how much they should pay the local librarian!

According to major anthropologists, the tendency to function this way is as old as the human brain. The human brain is wired for tribe, or so the top experts say.

That said, how strong was the logic of Potts' assessments? Not enormously strong, we'd suggest.

We're sure there's room for vast improvement among the burghers of Van Buren County. But have you ever looked around within our own upper-end liberal tents?

Tomorrow: "And turns his back on me..."

41 comments:

  1. Somerby -- you don't call someone an Arkie when they live in Arkansas. You call them that when they emigrate to somewhere else (e.g., California).

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  2. No one says dadblamed and dadgummed except Walter Brennan.

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  3. Oh dear. One more unfortunate woman brought into your zombie cult, dear Bob. Minus one. Sad.

    "Is this the typical Maddow/Warren fan? The typical modern liberal?"

    Yes. Brainwashed, dumbed-down, zombified.

    And it's not just typical, dear Bob; this is, sadly, the only possible trajectory...

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    1. Somerby says nothing about Warren. How did her name get in there?

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    2. It's a quote from the post, dembot. Don't they teach you, in the dembot school, how to search on the page?

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    3. Mao,
      Leave us alone and marry the Establishment already. We're tired of having to read your love letters on TDH.

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    4. mao mao * 你真是个混蛋

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  4. Potts doesn't want the people of Clinton to become Maddow fans. She wants them to fund their public library.

    It doesn't make Potts a genius when she complains that her former small town doesn't care about basic services that permit its citizens to have better lives. Somerby keeps using that mocking term "genius" in order to contrast it with the oddness of women who drink wine while watching Maddow in collector glasses. They do seem idiotic, but they are two people who were no doubt featured because of their fan oddity.

    It IS self defeating when people vote against services necessary to their communities. They vote against school bonds and transportation bills too, and they think austerity helps recovery (it doesn't).

    Maddow is an entertainer and some people like to watch her. The people who do are not dumb, nor are they "geniuses". Potts is a journalist, not a Maddow fan. Conflating Potts with Hess or with Maddow is unfair.

    I'll bet that Potts suffered as much ridicule from her classmates in Clinton as Somerby no doubt suffered at Harvard (else why would he have such a hard-on for academics). It is hard to see how anyone would have encouraged her ambitions given the quoted attitudes toward higher education. Now she wants a do-over and she perhaps hoped that things had changed, when they obviously haven't.

    Somerby tries his tricks. He wants us to think that Potts get paid a lot because her foundation gets some large donations (we have to take his word for that). I doubt she does, except by Clinton standards. Potts appears to want to tell us how hard it is to be poor and female in the small-town South. I see little harm in that.

    But Somerby also wants us to think that stupid women support Maddow, who is herself a stupid woman (despite having enough education to prove the contrary), because liberals are the mommy party (in Lakoff's terms) and worthy of nothing but ridicule for thinking well of themselves (are they "virtue signaling" again).

    Exactly the kind of thing a liberal would write? Of course not. This is the kind of thing a lazy Limbaugh would write and it is so full of hate it is hard to find traces of Malala anywhere in it.

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  5. What would you expect from a fan but enthusiasm?

    We have no idea how many such fans exist or whether they are all voting for Warren or whether they even all drink wine.

    So what exactly is the point of this except to call Maddow, Potts and Hess stupid-heads?

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    1. I think the idea of putting life-size cutouts in your window with speech bubbles sounds like fun!

      I once painted an ant-farm on my front window and gave the ants speech bubbles. It was fun watching the reactions of passers-by who noticed it.

      We need more fun in the world and no one who seeks it out should be mocked, in my opinion. Today's post drips with contempt and it is beyond ugly to read something like this. I liked the women who were described as Maddow fans and I hope Elizabeth Warren attracts lots of them and that they all vote against bros like Somerby.

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  6. Gosh, do you suppose it is a coincidence that all the writers Somerby hates on today are women?

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    1. Somerby is a clueless, lying Trumptard, so no coincidence.

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  7. “Are Arkies too dumb to come out of the rain?”

    The previous Democratic governor took advantage of the ACA to expand Medicaid, giving an additional 250,000 citizens access to health insurance who had had none before. (Total population of the state is about 3 million). After that, with the advent of Total Republicanism in 2016, the voters of Van Buren County (where Potts lives and where a large percentage of the population benefits from the program) and elsewhere around the state chose to vote for Republican opponents of the ACA to send to the state house. Even though the new Republican governor fought to keep the program in place, it has passed with razor-thin margins and is constantly in danger of being revoked, since it has to be periodically renewed. As a sop to his GOP party, the governor implemented a work requirement for Medicaid, by which tens of thousands of people have now lost their coverage.

    Also, in 2016, the voters approved an increase in the minimum wage, and then voted for Republicans who, you guessed it, oppose it. Some Republican legislators recently tried to pass a law that would have exempted most businesses from having to raise wages, thus negating the voter-approved law.

    I live here, and I would say that these actions, and others, qualify as stupid.

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  8. Somerby finds Potts to be condescending. Then he shares Hess’ Maddow story, from which he quotes a couple of descriptions of Maddow fans. Now, he asks “Is this the typical Maddow/Warren fan? The typical modern liberal?” And after suggesting (why not state rather than merely suggest) that “there's no such thing” as a “typical liberal”, the reader is left wondering why Somerby has shared these Maddow fan portraits, if it isn’t to suggest that liberals are stupid.

    Missing from Somerby’s analysis is the question of why Hess chose to profile these specific Maddow fans. Is it because they are typical, or because they are silly or quirky?

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    1. it is because they are typical. They are introduced in a paragraph that starts by speaking about the typical Maddow fan.

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    2. @3:14
      “They are typical.”

      And yet, that is a form of branding:
      “Maddow’s typical fan has been branded (by Kat Stoeffel in The New York Times) as the “MSNBC Mom,”

      And Hess seeks out specific quirky examples of fans.

      These people are “typical” because you are being told they are, not because there is necessarily any truth to that. You shouldn’t accept what you read uncritically.

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    3. 'the reader is left wondering why Somerby has shared these Maddow fan portraits, if it isn’t to suggest that liberals are stupid. '

      Somerby hates Maddow because Somerby is a clueless, lying Trumptard, and he also hates Maddow watchers because he wants liberals to lose elections.

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    4. 350 I meant to say they are meant to be shown as typical as opposed to quirky. In The way It was written. She introduces the paragraph by talking about typical Maddow viewers, and never says anything about quirky or whatever.

      They are meant to represent typical Maddow viewers and we're not distinguished as anything other.

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    5. "is left wondering why Somerby has shared these Maddow fan portraits, if it isn’t to suggest that liberals are stupid."

      He says in his post "We wouldn't call that person typical, nor would we call her dumb."

      I think he is trying to say they represent the group of liberals that was clueless before Trump was elected and ignored certain episodes that led to, ultimately, the election of Donald Trump.

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    6. I think he's just trying to point out that liberals could be more self-critical. That we could acknowledge our own shortcomings that led to Trump.

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    7. 'I think he's just trying to point out that liberals could be more self-critical. That we could acknowledge our own shortcomings that led to Trump. '

      One of them being assuming that concern trolls like Somerby are liberals rather than the Trumptards that they are

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    8. @5:11
      Of course Somerby says “We wouldn't call that person typical, nor would we call her dumb." But then he asks the very leading question: “Is this the typical Maddow/Warren fan? The typical modern liberal?” Why ask that if he actually believes they aren’t typical or dumb?

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    9. Because typical was the word introduced by the writer? He says he believes there's no such thing as a typical liberal in today's post. Is the point not that these women in San Francisco are not typical liberals? That no one group that big can be painted with the same broad brush? And therefore we should not think of a large group of people like the ones in Clinton Arkansas in the same way? Not paint them with the same broad brush as being against their neighbors, for instance. The first article mentioned here describes all of the people in that town as being "against their neighbors." And do we not mistakenly apply that same broad brush to people outside of our liberal camp?

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    10. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    11. @5:45
      “Is the point not that these women in San Francisco are not typical liberals? That no one group that big can be painted with the same broad brush?”

      The word “typical” in the Hess article refers to Maddow fans. Somerby is the one who wonders/not wonders if these are typical *liberals*. And I invite you to read how hesitant Somerby is to paint an entire group with the same broad brush:

      “We liberals are the problem now too! We’re lazy and we aren’t very smart. We exude a moral squalor.

      We’re lazy and dumb and our morals are bad. There’s little reason for people to like us. Presumably, nobody does.”

      (“THE PROBLEM IS US: As we the liberals emerge!

      TUESDAY, JANUARY 6, 2014”)

      You can argue that Potts is unfairly characterizing the residents of Van Buren County, Arkansas. But a couple of commenters have shown how much the ACA has benefited the residents of that county, and how the Republican voters there keep electing Republicans who want to get rid of the program that has provided their friends and neighbors with health care for the first time in their lives, seemingly proving Potts’ point.

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    12. “Hess wrote a profile of Rachel Maddow, concerning whom, we're forced to say, Hess seemed to have little to say.’

      Sorry, but that’s pure gold. Though I prefer Reposado.

      “That said, the lazy disinterest and lack of perception of such upper-end players has long been a distinguishing characteristic of the superficial, unintelligent liberal cult which clowned and snored and stared into space until our dumbness and disinterest ended with Trump in the White House.”

      That’s great too, since it incenses the posters in this comment section who excoriate this type of comment from Bob. It cracks me up, since they hardly seem to understand what "Liberalism really means, as its generally understood, with its embrace of Capitalism.

      “Liberals also ended mercantilist policies, royal monopolies and other barriers to trade, instead promoting free markets.” Well, we know what “free markets” means nowadays.

      Now, if he started dissing Progressivism as it’s generally understood, I would take issue. Maybe intelligently, but you never can tell. From the generally understood definition:

      “In the late 19th century, a political view rose in popularity in the Western world that progress was being stifled by vast economic inequality between the rich and the poor, minimally regulated laissez-faire capitalism with out-of-control monopolistic corporations, intense and often violent conflict between workers and capitalists and a need for measures to address these problems.”

      Progressivism has moved a bit beyond Liberalism, I think. And anyway, the word “liberal” has already been so sufficiently smeared by conservative media, in “opposition” to “liberal” media, that perhaps the actual left might consider abandoning the word altogether, and redefine themselves.

      Hm. Nope, not going to happen. Not as long as you’re a millionaire pundit, fighting the “good fight.”

      Leroy

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    13. Okay, sounds good. I don't speak for him so I don't know exactly what he means. He has called liberals stupid and thinks that the problem is us, using a broad brush.

      I think he's just trying to point out that liberals could be more self-critical. That it would be healthy to acknowledge our own shortcomings that led to Trump.

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    14. “Our own shortcomings that led to Trump”

      Are you kidding? Republicans and right wing propaganda led to Trump. Period, end of story. Any other “theory” is rank bullshit.

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    15. 8:40 is correct. Somerby's assessment on the situation is, frankly, dumb.

      Somerby's "liberals" in the past have included Sanders, Warren, AOC, and other progressives - so no he is not limiting his criticisms to neoliberals, indeed he expresses admiration for them, being a fan of the Clintons.

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    16. All groups and all people have shortcomings. All political efforts have shortcomings and the Democrats in 2016 were no exception.

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    17. The Democratic party is split between the big donor, Clinton types and lots of people that are totally turned off by what that establishment has brought them which is a situation of overwhelming income inequality and a sense of a lack of true representation.

      Democrats have been blind to how most of the population has truly fared since 2008 in particular. These are major shortcomings that cost them the election in 2016. They lost because they left the giant spread of low wage labor and income gap totally unadressed which just doesn't sit well with voters. And we are talking about amounts of voters that far exceed the margin by which Trump won. It's simply crazy to have the disparities of income we have. The system has become heavily dysfunctional and people know it and boilerplate bromides from Clinton and other Democrats that may have worked in the 90s and still work for some of their rank-and-file, like the commenters you see here, simply don't cut the mustard for a huge portion of the population.

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    18. "Income inequality" is a crafty zombie-cult framing, just like the so-called "pay gap".

      'Gap', 'inequality' - does it mean some people should be paid less and then everything will be fine?

      The problem is not 'inequality' per se, the problem is that American workers have to compete with the wages paid in Bangladesh. And the banksters and their lackeys (primarily liberal politicians) make a killing off the one 'gap' that matters: between the third-world wages and the first world prices...

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    19. "And the banksters and their lackeys (primarily liberal politicians)..."

      Donald J. Trump, Liberal political, may be 100% true, based on Mao's definition, but Donald J. Trump, Russian Asset, is true based on reality.

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  9. Somerby sees Potts as condescending. She grew up in Van Buren County, Arkansas, and has now moved back. That suggests a lack of condescension, a willingness to live amongst and converse with the actual people she is writing about.

    Unlike Bob Somerby. Exactly what interaction has he had with people in Van Buren County or similar areas? Would he be willing to visit or even move from his comfortable Baltimore digs and live in darkest Arkansas? The answer is clearly “no.” And yet, he has formed an opinion about Ms Potts’ reporting which tells him she must be full of liberal condescension, and those rural Arkansas voters surely aren’t as she depicts them.

    Is Somerby willing to put his views to a test?

    Nah. He prefers his ivory tower.

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    1. Somerby won't even read his comments section.

      I was in Little Rock a few months ago and it was beautiful!

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    2. Haha. Bob Somerby is is in these comments all the time, but he goes by his alter-ego Mao Cheng Asshole, screaming about libtards and Dembots, and no coincidence Mao is ALWAYS the first to comment. Mao is Somerby's sock puppet trying to stir things up.

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  10. 'That said, our own tribe has been marked by spectacular dumbness over the course of the past thirty-odd years, a point we'll explore in more detail before the week is don'

    You mean your tribe of clueless, lying Trumptards ?

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  11. Somerby sounds snarky describing Potts proposed book about poor Southern women in her home town of Clinton, Arkansas.

    But today Kevin Drum shows why that kind of in-depth study might be a good idea. He points out that the increase in white deaths is mostly due to a large increase only in the South, among middle aged white women. Drum doesn't say that these deaths of despair occur among poor women, but it seems likely that poverty aggravates whatever is happening with white women in the South.

    In this context, Somerby's mockery of Potts' desire to study poor Southern white women strikes me as callous. I assume he didn't know yet about Drum's post, but why would he mock study of any group? Because it is a woman doing the studying, because women are studied, or because he thinks studying anything at all is lame? Or all of the above?

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    1. … Somerby's mockery of Potts' desire to study poor Southern white women strikes me as callous.

      He’s not mocking the desire to study a poor southern community. Indeed he says of Pott’s description of her background,

      In our view, that sounds like part of a fascinating American and human story. In a nation of 330 million souls, there are quite a few such stories, all of which should perhaps be treated with something resembling respect.

      TDH takes issue with how she’s reported, not the topic that she chose to report about.

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    2. 'why would he mock study of any group?'

      Because he prefers that everyone remain ignorant, since that is the essence of Trumptardism.

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