We are drowning in misinformation and half-truths masquerading as facts and history. Politicians whose policies are at odds with large majorities of the American public attempt to confuse and obfuscate in order to stay in power. A large percentage of the leadership and members of one of our political parties has supported overthrowing a lawfully elected government. That party is working overtime to institute minority rule across the country. In this setting, words take on Orwellian meaning.
In wading through the sea of malarky, I find myself looking for analysts who cut through the laziness and both-siderisms of too many corporate-funded mainstream pundits. I want to see what’s possible once you push away the irrelevant “noise.” I have found at least one answer, and I want to pass along those suggestions to you. (*)
Online newsletters are becoming an important source for independent thought and information
Except for the occasional op-ed (such as the one below from The Hill) I don’t see the types of stories and analyses I’m searching for in the always escalating battle over money, clicks, and eyeballs. To compensate, I find myself turning more and more to newsletters published by a group of thoughtful journalists, historians, and other observers on the Substack platform, where writers can share their works for free or for the price of a subscription.
To pass along what I’ve found of interest on Substack for this edition of the Weekly Reader, I want to highlight a few of the writers I regularly read to expand my perspectives (and not always around the news).
But first, let’s consider the challenge that arises when corporate-funded media does not focus on the key news of the day
Over and over again I find that what I am given by the mainstream media misses what’s truly important in people’s lives. The new Inflation Reduction Act, just signed into law by President Biden, represents a generational investment in climate and healthcare.
(Unfortunately) “only 41% of Americans are even “moderately aware” of the provisions of the bill. But when asked about specific provisions of the IRA, Americans overwhelmingly support the specific programs included in the bill. For example, per Ipsos, Americans support authorizing Medicare to negotiate drug prices by 71%, support renewable energy initiatives by 65%, and support extending subsidies for ACA by 64%.
Here’s another example. I happen to think that the grandson of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, along with other descendants of the leaders of the New Deal, are on to something that’s being missed in all the hoopla over the misdeeds (which are very serious) of the former president.
Democrats are on the verge of a huge legislative accomplishment, to significantly reduce energy and health care costs and tax inequality. This moment reminds us of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the historic 1934 midterm elections. There, the Democrats saw electoral gains instead of losses — generally a rare occurrence for the party in power.
We, the descendants of FDR and his New Deal cabinet, believe FDR and Democrats in Congress saw gains in 1934 in large part because they weren’t afraid to propose and pass ambitious pieces of legislation known collectively as the New Deal. In 1933 and 1934, FDR and the 73rd Congress enacted a slew of historic legislation that stabilized the economy by providing jobs for millions of unemployed, rescued the banking system, held major corporations and the wealthiest more accountable, and invested heavily in basic infrastructure and the sustainability of our natural resources. […]
We think FDR would be mightily impressed — but also hyper-vigilant about the risks still lying ahead — from the health of our economy to our basic freedoms to our democracy.
President Biden and the Democrats are having an exceptional term in office delivering for the American people, a fact which is almost totally missed by a media focused on horse race politics, reliance on past norms, escalation of conflict, and the interests of their billionaire-backed owners.
UPDATE: Almost on cue, the New York Times ran an article with the headline “Even on Biden’s Big Day, He’s Still in Trump’s Long Shadow.” Veteran journalist James Fallows (see list below) immediately pointed out that the story is “framed” by the author and editor in a way that diminishes Biden’s accomplishments while:
- presenting as neutral, observable fact what is in reality the writer’s or editor’s judgment and assessment;
- using a “news analysis” of why Trump gets so much attention, thus giving him more attention; and
- relying on the instinctive reduction of public life to politics, which most reporters find fascinating, as opposed to the way public decisions affect households and communities, which most people care about much more.
The New York Times is one of the worst at framing news to meet the interests of their corporate backers, editors, and reporters without owning that fact and recognizing their role in shaping public opinion with what should be factual news stories. To recognize the problem, the author and editor of this particular article need to look in the mirror.
In terms of the newsletters I read, it will be no surprise who tops the list
At least once a week I quote historian Heather Cox Richardson and her Substack newsletter Letters from an American. These insightful writings show up in my email inbox (usually around 2:30 a.m.!) six days a week. Her pieces, often taking the news of the day and placing it in a broader historical context, are must-reading for me.
As an example of what you will find, check out her August 13, 2022, letter on the importance of Social Security:
By the time most of you will read this, it will be August 14, and on this day in 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. While FDR’s New Deal had put in place new measures to regulate business and banking and had provided temporary work relief to combat the Depression, this law permanently changed the nature of the American government.
The Social Security Act is known for its payments to older Americans, but it did far more than that. It established unemployment insurance; aid to homeless, dependent, and neglected children; funds to promote maternal and child welfare; and public health services. It was a sweeping reworking of the relationship between the government and its citizens, using the power of taxation to pool funds to provide a basic social safety net.
The driving force behind the law was FDR’s Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins.
It is a compelling piece of scholarship as well as a great piece of biography on the nation’s first female cabinet member. Richardson reminds us of how far we’ve come as a nation, and how much we have to lose if Social Security is ended, as proposed by the current crop of billionaire-funded Republicans in Congress.
Because this is a long list, let me simply share the names and links of the other writers I read on a regular basis, with one or two sentences of explanation
Here’s some of what is currently on my Substack Library list in alphabetical order (I’ve left off a few that are probably only of interest to me):
- Breaking the News — James Fallows — posts and photos by the long-time reporter and writer, including a surprisingly clear-eyed look at the legacy of Dick Cheney, which I have to swallow hard to accept.
- The Hartmann Report — Thom Hartman — where the progressive writer and radio host posts relatively long pieces (my kind of writer!) on the absurdity of our life in America today. He calls them as he sees them.
- Imperfect Union — Lindsay Chervinsky — essays that explore the cabinet, the presidency, the Constitution with explanations of the history behind their relevance and happenings today.
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — the former basketball star and longtime civil rights activist hooked me in with his remembrance of Bill Russell and has kept me reading with quirky pieces such as his thoughts on the day’s front page of the New York Times or Washington Post.
- Life in the Real World — Karen Davis — a newsletter full of photos and reflections on what nature teaches the author about beauty, wonder and living in the world. Davis works to create a “place that is grounding, meditative, sometimes illuminating and full of genuine curiosity about this strange thing we call Life.”
- One Sentence — Ben Dolnick — looking at writers, books, and the writing process, one great sentence at a time.
- Popular Information — Judd Legum — some of the best investigative journalism around, from my perspective. Legum believes in the old adage “follow the money”. When a corporation says they support one thing, but their political contributions show where their true beliefs lie, Legum will find them!
- Robert Reich — talk, from the former Secretary of Labor, “about our economic system that’s now run less by free markets than by the moneyed interests, and our political system that’s run less by the people than by the powerful.”
- Take Another Little Piece of My Heart Now — Roy Blount, Jr. — folksy humor, from the well-known writer, humorist, and observer.
- Thinking About — Timothy Snyder — newsletter of the Yale historian of the Holocaust who notes, “(T)his newsletter is for the best thoughts, the homeless ones. I comment on the news, but not all the time. When I do, I try to introduce concepts that will help clarify the discussion.”
- Today’s Edition Newsletter — Robert Hubbell — an attorney, Hubbell started this newsletter as his effort to provide hope and perspective to his family after the unexpected results of the 2016 election. Over time, the email was shared and now goes out to a community of like-minded citizens devoted to preserving American democracy.
- You Think Too Much — Robyn Ryle — I started following Robyn after meeting her a number of years ago at a National Main Street conference where she was a keynote speaker. This writer, sociologist, and lover of places has a great intro to her “about” page: “Has anyone ever said to you, ‘I think you’re reading too much into that?’ Or, ‘It’s not that complicated!’ Does it make you feel like you might be crazy? You’re not crazy, my friend. You just believe the world is more complex than most people want to believe. Come embrace that complexity. Let’s think too much together.” If you’ve thought about questions the internet can’t answer, Robyn’s newsletter may be what you’ve been looking for.
I encourage you to check them out…and to send me recommendations on Substack newsletters you enjoy.
And now for the humor
Apropos of nothing in the post above, I wanted to share two bits of humor: one a political cartoon and the other a comment from an internet site.
The cartoon — by the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Mike Luckovich — is the best I’ve seen about how Trump supposedly “declassified” everything that left the Oval Office.
This second is a comment on the same topic made by an anonymous (to me) commentator:
Declassifying is what Trump does every time he walks into a room.
More to come…
*Thus, I’m “declassifying” my list for all to see. The use of the word is just a little joke with no Orwellian meaning intended.
This Weekly Reader features links to recent articles, blog posts, or books that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy. I hope you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry.