Sunday, December 20, 2020

Words: What Do They Mean? Why Do We Use Them?



By A.J. Liebling
Meta-Content Generator

Our nation is writhing in agony.  Over 3,000 new deaths a day from COVID-19, most of which could have been prevented by effective government.  The consequent economic collapse threatens millions with ruin, hunger, homelessness.

The good news: there's an inexhaustible supply of resources available to provide aid and succor.

The bad news: Republicans are blocking all such efforts.  This condition is known by all media as “gridlock” (more on that below).   What's the “snag” (as The New York Times likes to call it)?  There are a couple of them, but let's focus on the “snag”that has blocked aid since May.

About 100 years ago, in May 2020, the House of Representatives passed a comprehensive $3.3 trillion pandemic relief package.  It didn't even get a debate on the floor of the Republican Senate.  Why?

A liability shield seems like a good thing.
Mr. McConnell, who said he hoped to release a final version of his measure in the coming days, doubled down on his insistence that the package include liability protections for businesses, medical workers and schools — a proposal that Democrats fiercely oppose. 

“Liability protection?”  What's that?  And how can I get some?  We all want to be protected.  And who wants to be liable?  That's not good.  So why can't those Democrats get behind protecting us from all that terrible nasty liability that's floating around out there?

It turns out that what Republicans, led by Moscow Mitch McConnell, mean by “liability protection” isn't as comforting as it sounds:

Gee, when you put it like that, it doesn't sound too terrific.

And it's not as if the fears of workers are exactly theoretical:

Today, a little more than a month after the study came out, the federal government is finally responding: a bipartisan group of Senate and House lawmakers have announced legislation to shield corporations from lawsuits when their lax safety standards kill more workers.

In practice, the legislation, which is being tucked into a larger Covid relief package, is a holiday-season gift for corporate donors: it would strip frontline workers of their last remaining legal tool to protect themselves in the workplace – at the same time the unemployment system is designed to financially punish those workers if they refuse to return to unsafe workplaces during the pandemic.

The legislation comes not only as workers continue to die, but also as roughly 7- 9% of the total Covid-19 death count are “take home” infections traced to employees unwittingly spreading the disease to their families and friends. 

So a better way to describe the proposal to repeal ordinary legal rules protecting workers would be “work-or-die.”  Maybe that will catch on instead.  Or at the very least a journalist could use an expression like “limiting workers' rights,” which is hardly even debatable.

Let's see how the media are covering this latest effort to let corporate plutocracy endanger the lives of workers and their families:

Here's CBS News:

The Washington Post:

NPR (filed under Business, because protecting the lives of workers and their families isn't personal, it's just business):


You catch the drift.

But with coverage like this, what consumers of supposedly reality-based media catch is that Republicans are seeking something benign and those corrupt selfish Democrats are standing in the way.  Don't believe anyone would be stupid enough to fall for this crap?  Moral Mountain David Brooks, come on down:

two thorny issues: aid to the states and liability protection, which should, on the merits, be in the law.  This is how democracy is supposed to work! Partisans stake out positions, and then dealmakers reach a compromise.

As usual, ethical paragon David Brooks is wrong.  On the merits, businesses should not be free to endanger their customers, workers, and innocent third parties without taking reasonable measures to protect all of the above from a lethal virus.  We know these fears aren't preventing reopening because businesses are open to the full extent permitted by state law.  

So why should businesses, who are in the best position to protect their workers and the public, and have an economic incentive to purchase insurance against any residual liability, get to send their powerless workers back to the kill floor to chop up hogs until they sicken and die without accepting the consequences of their actions?

You don't have to climb to the top of the moral mountain or roger your research assistant to conclude that there's no valid economic or ethical reason to take away our rights.  

Of course, the use of the tendentious phrase “liability protection” is not the only abuse of English that redounds to the benefit of Republicans.  The accompanying narrative about the inexcusably delayed pandemic relief aid heavily stresses not the true cause of the delay – Republican obstruction – but rather the facially neutral (but untrue) term “gridlock.”

We don't need to hold forth at length about this verbal obfuscation because Mr. Eric Boehlert has kindly done the work for us:

A much-needed Covid-19 economic relief bill hasn't been passed in Congress for the simple reason that Republicans don't want to pass one. That clear-cut fact should define news coverage surrounding the ongoing inaction on Capitol Hill.

“It's just liability protection,
sweetie, don't worry your pretty
little head about it”
Instead, anxious for a Both Side story line, the press has spent months bungling the story, portraying Democrats, and specifically Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, as standing in the way of stimulus relief checks being sent out to struggling Americans. . . .

Leaning into a "gridlock" and "dysfunction" narrative, the Beltway media have botched the story for most of this year. Last summer, journalists claimed "Congress" was to blame for weekly $600 relief checks being cut off. Wrong — the payments ended because Republicans forced them to end. That kind of Both Side coverage has given Americans a skewed understanding of why the federal government under Trump isn't functioning properly in a time of national crisis.  

The point is that words matter. And the wrong words could persuade just enough adorable white suburban women in Georgia that there's no problem voting for Sen. Fembot and Sen. Finagler because they weren't mindlessly obstructing lifesaving pandemic aid.  Rather, the two crooked extremist hatemongers were simply seeking jolly “liability protection” for all of us but were victimized by "gridlock."

But the hungry, unvaccinated, evicted, and exploited will die if pandemic aid is not passed and powerless workers are forced to work in dangerous slaughterhouses without virus protection.

If you don't think words don't kill, stop by any ICU in America and see what happened after nine months of words that have buried the truth about the coronavirus pandemic and our country's non-response.

Spoiler alert:

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