The hypocrisy of “shut up” culture: Kanye West edition

By Michael d’Oliveira

The hypocrisy of “shut up culture” reached new highs (well, lows actually) this week with Kanye West’s Oval Office meeting with President Donald Trump.

The newly crowned leader of “shut up culture” is Candace Owens. A conservative pundit, Owens has gotten a lot of attention lately – from conservatives and liberals.

Not too long ago, Owens did a whole video on that now classic conservative saying: celebrities should shut up.

In the video, Owens says, “Here’s the thing, famous ladies and gents: Nobody cares what you think. Nobody.”

And nothing says “nobody cares what celebrities think” than devoting a three-minute video to talking about how nobody cares what celebrities think. Truly not caring would involve just ignoring the thing you claim to not care about.

Fast forward to this week and Owens is smiling from ear to ear and talking to everyone about how great it is that Kanye, who, in case you’ve forgotten, is a celebrity, has spoken out against the Democrats and everyone else who is anti-Trump.

On Fox & Friends, she said Kanye was “Bold enough to move the ball forward and start speaking about these things publicly.”

Quite the turnaround.

Of course, this naked hypocrisy of telling one group of Americans they can’t be part of the political conversation while praising another for the exact same thing is nothing new. It was written about on this website earlier this year.

This hypocrisy and these double standards represent one of the big problems with our public discourse: some of us would just rather shout at people we disagree with.

It’s certainly everyone’s right to disagree with anything anyone says. If some actor or musician tells you Trump sucks, you don’t have to agree. You can even reply that liberal celebrities are the ones who suck.

But it rings very hallow to tell some celebrities they shouldn’t be involved in politics while telling others they are great for doing so.

And Owens is probably the last person who should be telling celebrities to shut up. She’s basically a celebrity herself. She’s certainly treated like one by many conservatives who like what she has to say.

Before the internet, most people couldn’t have their political opinions disseminated to the entire world. That kind of widespread exposure was really only reserved for celebrities, people in the media and politicians.

But in the age of social media, literally anyone can say or write something and the whole world will pay attention. It doesn’t matter if you are an expert in what you’re talking about or you have many years of experience, you can become famous just by expressing the right opinion at the right moment.

The game has changed, and we’ve become a society where everyone’s opinions can suddenly drive the public discourse. The time of telling others to not use the platforms they have access to are over.

There’s no time limit on public accusations of sexual assault

By Michael d’Oliveira

When Christine Blasey Ford made her allegations against now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, it produced the usual questions that come with accusations of sexual assault: Why would a woman wait 40 years to come out with her story?

Why would she stay quiet while the man who allegedly assaulted her was nominated for other judgeships or positions of power?

Why didn’t she say something sooner?

There are a lot of stories about why women stay silent, and the two main reasons they give are shame and a belief that telling their story won’t matter.

As for when a woman should reveal her accusations against powerful men, the answer is simple: when she decides. It’s not for anyone, especially men who have no idea what it’s like to be raped or harassed, to assign a time table for women who claim they are the victims of such behavior.

Ford may or may not be telling the truth. But she’s not subject to anyone else’s judgement as to when she should have come out with her story.

Human beings are complicated. They don’t react in the neat and tidy little ways you want them to. Sexual assault is an emotionally scarring experience. Beyond the physical trauma, the victim is left emotionally devastated with huge self-esteem and image issues.

You can’t expect someone still dealing with the impact of sexual assault to have the courage or clear-mindedness to be able to take on everything that comes along with going public with their story.

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), an anti-sexual violence organization, sexual assault can cause PTSD, depression and flashbacks. “After a traumatic event, it is typical to have feelings of anxiety, stress, or fear, making it difficult to adjust or cope for some time afterwards,” states RAINN’s website.

There is a huge cost to accusing a Supreme Court nominee of attempted rape.

There are death threats, huge amounts of public ridicule and the uncomfortable saga of having to reveal possibly the worst moment of your life to the world.

It’s very reasonable to think someone would want to avoid that. It’s also reasonable that when Kavanaugh was nominated for his previous positions, Ford decided that maybe telling her story wasn’t worth the trouble.

But there are few positions of power and influence that compare to being a Supreme Court Justice. She may have finally decided she couldn’t see this man rise any higher.

Our decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. There are repercussions for those who accuse powerful men of unseemly actions, especially if there are powerful interests invested in his success.

When women do come forward, we should keep an open mind and be cognizant that speaking about sexual assault is no easy thing.

A picture can be worth a thousand lies

By Michael d’Oliveira

Stop trusting photographs.

Seeing is not always believing, especially when politics is involved.

On her verified Instagram account, Lynne Patton, an official with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, shared a meme of CNN anchor Anderson Cooper.

The meme reads, “If the media will lie about this what else are they lying about?”

If you go just by the photo, it might look as though Cooper was trying to make the water look deeper than it actually was. He wasn’t.

Cooper defended himself and his reporting and debunked the meme by playing a video of his coverage – from Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Cooper clearly wasn’t trying to make things seem worse than they were.

“The good news here is the water is subsiding,” he says in the video. The whole point of having the camera crew on the road and Cooper just a few feet away was to demonstrate how deep the water can suddenly get and why people should be cautious and stay on the road if possible.

So, Cooper basically did the opposite of what the meme claimed he did.

If anyone is lying here, it’s the person who made the meme.

There’s also a good chance that they just saw the photo and assumed they knew the whole story. Jumping to conclusions seems to have become the national pastime.

That’s why you can’t trust photographs. They can be taken out of context or even photoshopped.

One recent meme (posted below) claims that a group of baseball players, in what looks like the 1950s, kneeled during the National Anthem in protest of black lynching’s.

By the way the men are standing, it’s clearly a team photo with no political agenda behind it. But the crowd behind the men also offers a clue: many of the people seem to be sitting. Something most people don’t do during the National Anthem. Either way, there’s no proof the players were protesting in the photo. So there’s no reason you should just believe they were just because someone slapped a few words on a photo.

If the American experiment is going to survive, Americans, as a whole, are going to have to become a lot more skeptical about what we read, hear, and see. As Hunter S. Thompson said, “In a democracy, you have to be a player.” Was he talking about “fake news”? I doubt it. But, in today’s democracy, being a player means being good at not letting false information fool you.

Don’t overuse the term white privilege

By Michael d’Oliveira

White privilege exists.

But not everything can be blamed on white privilege.

Not everything distasteful a white person does is because of white privilege. Sometimes, white people act like assholes because they’re assholes. It has nothing to do with skin color.

After first hearing the term, I grew accustomed to seeing it applied to situations such as white people wearing black face or dressing up like Nazis at Halloween parties. There’s certainly a case that can be made there for an example of white privilege.

But white privilege is an important issue that needs to be discussed. There are fundamental flaws that won’t ever be fixed unless we face them – all of us, including white people.

But if you overuse white privilege, you’re going to wear it out and make people sick of hearing it. In fact, they’re already sick of hearing it when it’s used legitimately.

But don’t wear it out for no good reason.

Like saying a white guy taking a baseball from a child is white privilege. Such as what happened at a recent Chicago Cubs game.

“America’s favorite pastime: white privilege,” wrote one Facebook user.

As a video from Inside Edition further explores, the man in question gave away every ball he got to other kids. The initial video looks worse than it actually is.

But even if this guy was taking baseballs from little kids instead of giving them to little kids, it’s quite a quick jump to blame it on white privilege.

Is every bad thing a white person does because of their skin color?

Can’t white people acting poorly just be explained, at least some of the time, on the fact that they aren’t good people or make poor decisions?

Why is it okay to paint white people with a broad brush?

Isn’t that the definition of racism and bigotry? Blaming a person’s actions on their skin color?

Words can be very useful. They can bring people together and help each other come to a greater understanding of how other people think and feel.

Or they can be used to divide people and create anger and animosity.

If every time a white person does something controversial and it gets blamed on white privilege, how are other white people going to feel about that? Is it going to make them want to make an effort to confront real white privilege or is it going to make them feel singled out?

Conversations only happen when two people participate.

Yes, white people need to join in the conversation about white privilege.

But they’re only going to do that if they don’t think it’s just another way of calling them racist.

Don’t be a hypocrite; support Jerry Jones

By Michael d’Oliveira

If you didn’t like it when the NFL players were told they shouldn’t be allowed to kneel during the National Anthem, you should defend Jerry Jones in the same way.

According to the Star-Telegram, the NFL has ordered Jones, who owns the Dallas Cowboys, to stop talking about the National Anthem.

“Four days after seemingly defying the NFL and letting the world know about his team’s zero-tolerance policy regarding standing for the national anthem, Jones is now not talking about the issue because he has been told not to by the league,” reads the article.

As much as I disagree with what Jones has said about the players, I don’t like seeing anyone told they have to shut up about something. And everyone else who has taken the side of the players on this issue (one that doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon) should also take the side of Jones on this.

Don’t be a hypocrite, even though Jones has certainly been one on this issue.

Dallas WFAA sportscaster Dale Hansen called Jones out on his hypocrisy when Jones wore a hat during the National Anthem at a Cowboys practice; taking your hat off during the Anthem is a sign of respect.

“Jones loves and respects the National Anthem so much that when it was being played before the start of practice Saturday, he left his cap on. And when he was told about the mistake he was making, he still left his cap on. He who makes the rules apparently doesn’t have to follow them,” said Hansen.

If you don’t like Jones or what he’s said about the National Anthem, this is the perfect chance to show that you are better than him.

Speak out against the NFL trying to restrict Jones the same way you spoke out against the NFL trying to restrict players.

Stand up and be consistent for the principal, even if you aren’t a fan of the person. That’s how you beat people like him.

And if you’re in favor of telling the players they have to stand for the National Anthem, maybe this incident with Jones will finally make you understand something important: It’s not a good thing when people are told they have to shut up if someone doesn’t like what they are saying.

But another important thing to understand is that this episode with the players kneeling is not a free speech issue. Not really. Neither is Jones being ordered by the NFL to stop talking about the players kneeling.

Although they have different roles, Jones and the players are both part of the NFL organization. Just like the players have a contractual obligation to adhere to certain behaviors while in uniform, Jones also has a contractual obligation to the NFL not to speak on internal matters impacting the organization.

This was a sensitive business decision made by the league and they have every legal right to tell Jones not to talk about it in public. Just like Jones has a right to tell his players they can’t kneel while they are working for him. Just like any other job, you have to behave a certain way (within reason) while you’re at work. Free speech does not really apply at work.

Calling out people who disrespect veterans can’t be based on politics

By Michael d’Oliveira

When President Donald Trump criticized Senator John McCain’s war record in 2015, many prominent Republicans chose not to criticize him publicly. That list includes Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska. When Trump said of McCain, “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured,” Palin’s response was to say McCain and Trump were both great in their own way.

But this week, Palin has heavily criticized comedian Sacha Baron Cohen for an “interview” he did with her for his new show “Who Is America?” Palin accused Baron Cohen of disrespecting the military because he pretended to be a disabled veteran.

This is part of her Facebook post, “The disrespect of our US military and middle-class Americans via Cohen’s foreign commentaries under the guise of interview questions was perverse. Here is my challenge, shallow Sacha boy: go ahead – air the footage. Experience tells us it will be heavily edited, not pretty, and intended to humiliate. The challenge is to Cohen, CBS and Showtime: donate all proceeds to a charitable group that actually respects and supports American Vets. Mock politicians and innocent public personalities all you want, if that lets you sleep at night, but HOW DARE YOU mock those who have fought and served our country.”

Trump clearly mocked McCain, and, by extension, many other POWS, by belittling McCain’s status as a war hero. McCain isn’t a war hero just because he was captured. He’s a war hero because of how he conducted himself during his imprisonment.

Even Trump, two years after his McCain comments, said POWs were heroes. “NEVER forget our HEROES held prisoner or who have gone missing in action while serving their country,” he wrote on Twitter. No apology to McCain has come though.

Respecting the men and women of our military, past and present, is a value that all Americans should believe in.

And how we respond to those who fail to respect our military shouldn’t be predicated on who they are or what political party they belong to. Like all things, our response should be about what was said or done, not who said or did it.

Palin is just the latest example of how what should be the rule is the exception. Both parties can be hypocritical on many issues, including how veterans are treated. They’ve both certainly failed, either by incompetence or apathy, to provide everything veterans are entitled to.

As for Palin’s opinion of how Baron Cohen treated veterans, until the video of what happened surfaces, it’s impossible to really form an opinion. Maybe he did “mock” veterans, as Palin accused him of doing. The thing with Baron Cohen though is that he plays a character to get a reaction. He’s not giving his real opinion.

In a 2006 interview with Rolling Stone, he explained how he uses Borat to tell a bigger story and reveal how there are still many people with bigoted views – views they might otherwise not reveal. 

“Borat essentially works as a tool. By himself being anti-Semitic, he lets people lower their guard and expose their own prejudice, whether it’s anti-Semitism or an acceptance of anti-Semitism. ‘Throw the Jew Down the Well’ [a song performed at a country & western bar during Da Ali G Show] was a very controversial sketch, and some members of the Jewish community thought that it was actually going to encourage anti-Semitism. But to me it revealed something about that bar in Tucson. And the question is: Did it reveal that they were anti-Semitic? Perhaps. But maybe it just revealed that they were indifferent to anti-Semitism.”

Fireworks and reaffirming our commitment to the real values of America

By Michael d’Oliveira

Throughout history, revolutions have either ended in failure or betrayal of the ideals they claimed to cherish. Time and time again, once people have successfully deposed their oppressive rulers, more oppressive rulers took their place.

China, Russia, Cuba, all of these revolutions ended in the creation of dictators or system of dictators. Even the French Revolution ended with Napoleon declaring himself emperor. The French Revolution sewed the seeds of modern France, but its ideals didn’t fully materialize for decades. 

The American colonists rebelled against Great Britain because they felt their rights as English subjects were under assault from the government. After they won their independence, the Founding Fathers created the Constitution to ensure that government was prevented from violating the rights of its citizens.  That’s what makes America such an historically-unique place and the Fourth of July such a special holiday – a time for fireworks and for reaffirming our commitment to the real values of America.

The leaders of the new nation could have given themselves unlimited power. Instead, they chose to follow through with the ideals they espoused during the war. George Washington even gave up serving a third term as president, a tradition that all presidents until FDR voluntarily adhered to. America is certainly not without her problems, past or present. The Founding Fathers were not without their faults. They preserved slavery and left its abolishment up to future generations. Slavery is still and will always be a stain on the founding of America. There’s no way around it.

But just as we should recognize our shortcomings, we should also recognize what makes everything good possible – the type of government our Founding Fathers created.

As Christopher Hitchens told C-Span, the American form of government was quite revolutionary for its time. America has never had a despotic ruler precisely because the Founders created co-equal branches of government. Congress has to the power to reign in the power of the president and the judiciary has the power to rule on both.

“The American Revolution, the one that says, build your Republic on individual rights, not group rights. Have a bill of rights that inscribes these and then makes them available and legible to everybody. Separate the church from the state, separate the executive, the judicial and the political branch. Do all these things. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s really a very revolutionary idea. There is hardly a country in the world that wouldn’t benefit from adopting those principles,” said Hitchens.

America and what it stands for are worth celebrating. But we have to understand why America is so special and, as David Frum wrote in May, we have to defend American values and Western culture.

“The Western culture of personal autonomy and equal dignity is a precious thing precisely because it is not universal. Those who participate in that culture and enjoy its benefits may hope—do hope—that it may someday become universal. They may hope that their culture will shape the shared future of all humanity. But it is not a universal inheritance, and it is not the universal contemporary practice. If anything, that culture is at present in retreat, challenged and assailed both at home and abroad. It needs defending, and to be defended effectively it is vital to understand precisely how non-universal it is.”

Soda companies don’t make people drink too much soda

By Michael d’Oliveira

America has always been a place where individuality and self-determination has to be balanced with the greater good of society. California’s recent prohibition on cities enacting new taxes on soda is the latest chapter in that debate.

But this isn’t an article about why governments should or shouldn’t place additional taxes on unhealthy food and beverage items. They shouldn’t. But that’s another argument for another time. Proponents of soda taxes claim that they decrease demand and contribute to an improvement in health. I don’t have any reason to disbelieve that. But, again, this isn’t an article about that.

This is an article about why we should take responsibility for our own choices and not pretend like we’re victims of some company when we’re really the victims of our own bad choices.

In an opinion piece in The Hill, Larry Cohen wrote, “At the California State Capitol last Thursday, teenage health advocates from Stockton urged lawmakers to stand with communities like theirs and put people’s health over corporate profits.” 

I’m not blind to the fact that corporations often prioritize profits over people’s health and safety. Not all corporations are like that, but some corporations definitely are. But let’s stop framing this “big soda” argument as if we’re all powerless children at the mercy of some corporation. We all have the ability to choose what goes into our own bodies. No adult is a victim here.

There’s also probably a lot of hypocrisy to be found in the people who want soda taxed. I wonder how many of them eat too much red meat. Would they be okay with the government levying additional taxes on their cheeseburgers? Maybe. Maybe not. But if you support one tax on unhealthy items, you logically have to tax the rest. We’re talking greasy pizzas, alcohol, candy bars, pretty much all fast food, and more.

Either way, corporations don’t magically make people want to drink a 50 ounce Big Gulp every day. People choose to do that because they like how it tastes. Unfortunately, the only thing we really should drink, water, is boring.

Does the soda industry know this? Of course? Are they responsible people who have diabetes because they drank too much soda? No. Many people get diabetes because of poor diet choices. And this isn’t smoking in the 50s, when nobody knew cigarettes were bad for them. We’ve had years of scientists and doctors telling us too much sugar causes health problems. There are no more excuses. Part of making good choices is having access to good information. And we have that.

But this isn’t a brush-off of how hard it is to stop drinking too much soda. It’s very hard. Soda is delicious and very convenient. But just because something is hard, doesn’t make it any less of a choice. We love the convenience of soda and other junk food. But we also love the convenience of blaming others for our own problems.

Free speech does not include the right to be a cartoonist

By Michael d’Oliveira

Cartoonist Rob Rogers was recently fired by the publisher of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for his political cartoons which were heavily anti-Trump and his policies.

But despite what some liberals and others who are anti-Trump have said, Rogers’ firing is not a violation of free speech. It’s an exercise in editorial control on the part of the publisher.

In a Facebook post, former Labor Department secretary Robert Reich wrote, “Rob Rogers, editorial cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, was fired Thursday because the publisher is pro-Trump and Rogers had been submitting cartoons critical of Trump. Memo to publisher: Freedom of speech and of the press includes cartooning. Memo to the good people of Pittsburgh: Cancel your subscriptions.”

Free speech does not entitle you to be a cartoonist. Just like free speech did not entitle Roseanne to have a television show. Nor does free speech entitle you to be a football player. Free speech protects you from the government punishing you for the ideas you express. It does not protect you from being fired by your employer. We all still have to deal with the consequences of what we say.

In fact, the publisher’s decision to fire the cartoonist is an example of freedom of the press. He had every right to fire Rogers over the editorial direction of his cartoons. He owns the newspaper and he gets to decide what kind of content is published within its pages.

The conversation we should be focused on is the one where we debate whether or not The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is a quality publication that provides a venue for all sides of the debate.

The publisher gets to decide for himself what kind of newspaper he wants to own. Publisher John Block, a Trump supporter, can even turn his publication into a completely pro-Trump or anti-liberal platform. That’s his right.

But just as he has the right to publish what he wants, we have the right to criticize or ignore it. We get to decide for ourselves what we think about it and whether or not we want to support that newspaper with the money we pay for a subscription.

The freedom to choose is a sacred right and responsibility. We have the right to choose but that means we have to take responsibility for those choices.

It also means, to a certain extent, we have to live with the consequences of what we and others choose. Our freedom to express ourselves means we have to accept other people’s right to express themselves, even in ways that we don’t approve of.

The publisher’s decision to fire the cartoonist is an expression of the editorial direction he wants his newspaper to take. We don’t have to like it. We do have to acknowledge it.

But we can also exercise our own rights by no longer reading, buying, or subscribing to the paper in question. Business owners can pull their advertising. We can even hold rallies calling for the cartoonist to be reinstated.

In a free society, we can expect our right to offend to be protected, but we can’t expect to be protected from other people’s ideas.

No, the NRA did not suggest curtailing the First Amendment

By Michael d’Oliveira

People on social media and at least several media outlets have misrepresented what NRA spokesman Colion Noir said about the First Amendment.

On May 24, NRA TV posted a video of Noir that appeared to have him calling for Congress to place restrictions on media outlets that repeatedly highlight the identity of mass shooters.

“It’s time to put an end to this glorification of carnage in pursuit of ratings because it’s killing our kids. It’s time for Congress to step up and pass legislation putting common sense limitations on #MSM’s ability to report on these school shootings,” said Noir.

But that was only the first part of what Noir said. The second half was Noir explaining that he was only trying to make a point and he didn’t actually believe in any restrictions to the First Amendment.

“You know that feeling of anxiety that shot through your body when I said the government should pass laws to limit the media’s ability to exercise their First Amendment rights? That’s the same feeling gun owners get when they hear people say the same thing about the Second Amendment. Hearing me advocate for the government’s ability to limit anyone’s First Amendment rights, including the media, should anger all of you watching this video. The same way it should anger you when anyone tries to use the same limitations on the Second Amendment.”

Noir went on to say the media should police itself more to prevent the glorification of violence that “inspires” shooters. “However, I vehemently disagree with the government infringing on the media’s First Amendment’s rights, the same way I don’t believe the government should infringe on anyone’s Second Amendment rights.”

The New York Daily News, Vice News, and Alternet all had misleading headlines which labeled Noir and the NRA as genuinely wanting to put restrictions on the First Amendment

On the plus side, The Washington Post published a story about the video with an accurate headline.

There is certainly a lot about the NRA that is left to be desired. The organization has its own problems telling the truth and one of their spokeswomen, Dana Loesch, puts out incendiary and paranoid rhetoric that only serves to ratchet-up the toxic discourse.

But the way to debate and defy the NRA is not to lie or mischaracterize what they say or do. The people who mischaracterized what Noir said have handed the NRA an easy propaganda victory. Now, the NRA can point to this incident and reinforce the idea that everyone in the media is out to get them, even though only a few media outlets did this. It won’t matter. The NRA had its broad “the media is evil” brush out and it’s ready to use it.

A better line of criticism of the NRA would have been to go after the fact that they are wrongly equating the First and Second Amendments. As the Washington Post pointed out, “But equating the First and Second Amendments, which have different legal histories and significance, has been a talking point for some gun proponents.”

It’s even possible that this was intentionally-designed by the NRA to get the media and liberals on social media to react the way they did. The NRA understands how social media works today. Most people don’t watch the entire video. They see a headline or hear just one soundbite and they automatically react.

In its Twitter post, the NRA took Noir out of context – “It’s time for Congress to step up and pass legislation putting common sense limitations on #MSM’s ability to report on these school shootings.” That post seems tailor-made to get liberals and anti-NRA people riled-up. And it worked.

This is why context matters and you should always get the full story before you react, even when it’s about the NRA.