Sunday, September 09, 2018

Trolls All the Way Down

Trump is a troll. Everybody understands that. He doesn't stand for anything, he just wants attention. His followers are trolls. They don't have constructive ideas, they criticize decent things and support mean and stupid things, all with the intent of getting attention by offending liberals. Their philosophy, their system of beliefs, is "owning the libs," period. It's like a two-year-old with his tantrums, where the whole point is to get attention without earning it.

Running a country is, actually, hard. There are a lot of details to keep straight, promises to keep, deals to negotiate, allies to cooperate with and enemies to oppose and no clear distinction between them. There is no set of rules for new situations, and almost nothing will be universally agreeable. When you run a country you have to consider the facts and your goals, get advice from experts, weigh the advice against your own principles, you have to consider short-term effects as well as building a strategy into the future. It is just hard, that's all there is to it. It requires rigor.

On the other hand, complaining about how someone else runs the country is super-easy. Anytime the leader does something, your reaction can be that what he or she did was wrong. There is always -- not figuratively, but literally, always -- another way to do things, and you can always make the alternative sound like the better way. Especially if you only talk to people who agree with you.

Most people don't have what it takes to deal with the details, the compromises, the short- and long-term views of a decision. It is too hard. There are very few people with the brains, willpower, and charisma to run a country. It is not a criticism of anyone, to say that running a country is too hard for them -- I sure couldn't do it.

But amazingly there are millions of people who think it is easy to run a country. They don't just have opinions, they actually believe that their ideas are better than those of people who have all the details and understand the implications of every choice option. Their wisdom is never put to the test, so it cannot be validated or disproven. You can say, "We should blow the crap out of ISIS and get it over with," and nobody can prove you wrong, especially when they have no idea what groups are involved, how paramilitary forces are integrated with civilian populations, what local public opinion is in the Middle East, which groups are on our side and which oppose us. You can say, "This president is a coward who is afraid to hurt ISIS's feelings by bombing a few of them," and nobody can prove you wrong. You can say, "This president is actually a Muslim who is on the side of the terrorists against the USA." Nobody else sitting at the bar knows if that is true or not; they are a bunch of losers, too, and don't know how to look something up. So -- maybe it is true.

When Obama was president, Trump criticized him for everything. Great example -- he complained on Twitter about Obama playing golf twenty-seven times. Well, Obama did play golf sometimes, and, once it was pointed out, it might look like he was goofing off instead of working for the taxpayers. Something like Twitter is perfect for this because you can just post a statement without elaboration or explanation. Typical Obama-era Trump tweet: "@BarackObama plays golf to escape work while America goes down the drain." It was easy to say that Obama should get off the golf course and get back to work, and hard to prove that Trump was wrong. Of course the president should work harder and play less.

But obviously Trump cannot live up to this standard. He golfs a lot more than Obama ever did. He has made many objectively terrible policy choices, has offended friends and romanced those who would harm us, appointed the worst people to important positions, profits unapologetically from his position in government. It is a lefty Twitter cliche, whenever Trump does something, to bring back the tweet where he criticized Obama for doing exactly the same thing. I mean: exactly the same thing. But he will tell you, he is doing a great job. And he even still has some Republican fans who agree with that. Lindsey Graham, for one.

Liberals are annoying because they believe that governing is complex and they believe that you have to follow orderly, if sometimes inefficient, processes to reach big goals. Conservatives believe that you should "just do it," a conclusion that follows from the belief that running a government is easier than it looks (this is why they love to talk about "small government"). Liberals are also annoying because of their fancy head-in-the-clouds ideas about equality and fairness and following the Constitution, which only make sense when you realize that liberals hate America. Also they tend not to like ignorant people. Therefore the highest form of pleasure is to annoy liberals.

The easiest way to annoy liberals is to say something stupid and act like you're serious. Say, "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." Suggest that there should be more guns in schools. Pretend the Second Amendment is the most important part of the Constitution, and that the flag has blue stripes. Assert that immigrants bring an increase in crime. The stupider the better. And act like you're serious about it.

The great thing about this is that it's so easy. You don't even have to read the news or find out the facts. You already believe that government is rigged and politicians are bought off, and so it doesn't matter how stupid your ideas are, government is just going to do what it's going to do anyway. And the media are in on it, so you don't know what to believe. Conservative troll behavior is based on impotence, on nihilism, they know that nothing they do matters so for kicks they do the dumbest stuff they can think of. Then they can laugh at those suckers who take things seriously.

This all went off the rails in 2016. When Obama was president, and when Hillary was running, the trolls started making up stupid stuff like never before. Even Democrats felt that Hillary might be "untrustworthy," because of ... well there were just a lot of questions. Maybe she had not committed a few of those murders, but still... there were so many. And those emails. And she coughed, see, she's dying. Obama was dignified, poised, intelligent, all the things that conservatives hate in a black person, and so it became a sort of game to make up the craziest stories about him and pretend you believed them. And then you realized other people actually did believe them, and you started believing them yourself.

Next thing you know, enough people believed enough crazy stuff and the US elected a troll for president. It was supposed to be a joke but at the last minute the states stayed red and Trump won. All he knew how to do was complain. He was totally unprepared to govern, and did not have any interest in it.

So he has turned his presidency into the grandest trolling operation ever. He offends liberals every day, enriching himself and his friends, breaking the law left and right and then just not enforcing it. He treats our government like reality TV, which liberals don't even watch and don't understand -- they find it annoying: perfect. (Literally, Kardashians in the White House.)

Trolls are losers, by definition, they are the ones that the world has left behind. They have no power because they don't have any ideas of their own. Their deepest motivation is to feel sorry for themselves, and they try to get even with the world by offending people who are not losers. They call liberals "the elite," and love to suck them into a nonsensical argument, because the troll has no commitment to facts or logic. It is fun to offend liberals, because they think they are better than conservatives, because they foolishly do believe that government is important and also they naively rely on, you know, facts and logic.

But this only works if the trolls are losers. Once they win, they are the ones who get criticized, they are the ones who have to come up with the ideas, and they are not capable of that. A lot of people are going to spend a lot of time in prison at this rate, they are simply in over their heads.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Biasing Google

Trump is on the front page today alleging that Google searches are biased against him and against conservatism in general. This tears the scab off the deeper wound, which has to do with "fake news" and rightwing conspiracy theories.

Consider Pizzagate. Conservatives by the millions believed that Hillary Clinton was running a pedophile ring out of a DC pizza joint. They had a list of clues and a cast of characters that involved every prominent liberal you can think of. Plus murders by the dozen -- they were sure the Clintons were killing people right and left. Well, they still believe that.

Pizzagate hit a brick wall when a guy started shooting up the pizza place and discovered there were no children hidden there, but it morphed into the even-more-unlikely QAnon conspiracy theory, where Trump is actually secretly running the Mueller investigation in order to convict Hillary and others of pedophilia-related crimes. This is mainstream conservative stuff -- Trump has even invited leading QAnon proponents to have their pictures taken with him in the Oval Office.

So, to be clear, stories about Hillary Clinton's pedophilia ring are fake news. There is no evidence for the belief. Someone has imagined the worst thing they can think of, and then they pretend it is real. It doesn't really matter if Russian bots are involved or not. A certain kind of people think the stories are true, and they forward them to one another. CNN, the Washington Post, are not fake news: they are "news." They can be wrong, and they can even be biased, but at the end of the day they are accountable for accuracy, that is, what they print has to reflect objective reality or they will lose their readership.

Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, without the Internet. The newspapers are not going to print Pizzagate and QAnon stories because they are false. Without the Internet some rightwing AM radio shows might talk about it, a few extremely nutty people might fixate on it but they would not be invited into the White House.

The Internet has several big hubs -- Google, Facebook, YouTube, and a couple others -- and each of these hubs has to filter and prioritize information for users. Google can't give you everything at once, it has to put something first. That's what makes it useful, when you ask about a subject it gives you the information you want. Google puts a lot of effort into figuring out how to do that. The problem is not "the Internet," which contains all kinds of stuff, the problem, if there is one, lies with these companies, which select items for the user.

Now these companies face an ethical issue. For example, if you ask Google "How old is the earth?" it comes back with the answer "4.543 billion years." That is the right answer, or as close as science can figure, and for sensible people that is the actual answer. Then it gives you some links to web sites that talk about the earth and how old it is.

But if you looked at a conservative web site, Conservapedia, for instance, you would read that "All verifiable evidence indicates that the Earth is about 6,000 years old." This is what conservatives believe. This belief is not correct, but they have convinced one another that it is, and as far as they are concerned the Internet should reflect their views, not the liberal opinion. Conservatives believe the big companies like Google and YouTube should place their false belief on equal priority with the scientific one, or give it higher priority.

Oddly we now live in a world with two competing realities. The liberal reality encompasses an objective world that can be understood by scientific methods, and the conservative reality is formed out of beliefs that are consistent with one another and are vaguely connected to biblical theology.

Trump is complaining because Google searches return negative information about him. That is because he lies all the time and is a racist and does not know how to run a government -- relying on "Fox and Friends," for instance, rather than his own intelligence agencies. There is not really much good to say about him, and so when you Google you get some current news stories, which are almost certainly about some stupid thing he has done; you get his latest tweets, which are almost certainly idiotic; and you get some videos which are mostly of stupid things he has done. True, the results are negative, and that is because most people hold a negative view of him, most of the things he does look bad -- he is a great reality-TV personality but he does not look good in a neutral search for information.

So should Google wait until Trump learns how to use the speakerphone, and then post that video at the top of the page, instead of the one that is there now, where Trump is pushing buttons and saying "Hello?" to nobody, with cameras clicking? Should they wait for him to say something intelligent, or to make a policy decision that is not hateful or ignorant? I don't see how Google can provide the service they do, giving people the information they want, if they let themselves become a rightwing propaganda machine.

Just as he has taken the phrase "fake news" and turned it around to mean real news, Trump is accusing Google of bias against him, and he wants to force them to introduce a bias in his favor. White House people are thinking about "regulating" Google, so that search results are more favorable to Trump -- that is a chilling thought. It almost certainly violates the First Amendment, for one thing, and it is a step toward dictatorship that Americans should not permit.

What they should do is set up their own "Conservoogle," a search engine that will provide the user with conservatively-biased results. And then, just like Conservapedia, nobody would use it. Because it would be wrong.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Hate Is Not Anger


Tomorrow some racists will have a rally near the White House. It's a year since their greatest moment in Charlottesville and they want to make a statement. DC only expects a few hundred of them but they are taking extraordinary precautions to protect them, shutting down traffic, flooding the area with police -- in a face-off last week in Portland between nazis and anti-fascists, the police attacked the anti-fascists, so this could go any way. WMATA was going to give the white supremacists their own private Metro cars to get to and from the demonstration, but the Metro employees' union pretty much made that a non-starter. It would have been hilarious though to see them get stuck in a sweltering tunnel somewhere. Schedule adjustment, moving momentarily, suckers.

I think we have difficulty with the word, and the concept, of hate. To a kid, hate is related to anger; you are so angry at someone that you can't stand them, don't want to be around them, you think they are a bad person because they did something that made you so mad. But as adults the concept becomes more in-the-head, the temperature comes down a bit. Grown-up hate is not necessarily personal, it is more likely applied to groups of people, especially people you don't know. I do not think kids have this in their lives; they hate when they're angry and then get over it. Adults rationalize their hate. They treat their judgments as facts.

We reveal it by attribution, by assigning qualities to a group. You may say that a certain kind of people are evil, or stupid, or lazy. Greedy, whatever, often the attributed qualities are related to a group stereotype that is spread by innuendo and even direct instruction at times -- friends pick it up from friends, parents teach it to children. Anger is not a visible component of this grown-up hate, it is conceived and presented as thought only, as if these beliefs were conclusions inferred from some knowledge about a group. And so you often see dangerous bigots responding in surprise when the word "hate" is used, like, me? I don't hate anybody -- my beliefs are just common sense.

Perfect example: on Fox News this week Laura Ingraham seemed to think she was stating facts as she talked about how "Massive demographic changes have been foisted on the American people, and they are changes that none of us ever voted for, and most of us don't like." First, her use of the pronoun "us" suggests that there is some group who feels this way, collectively. Clearly, "us" refers to white people, the kind who watch Fox, because this doesn't make sense to anyone else. It would have ruined her message to define the term, if instead of "none of us ever voted for," she had said, "no white people who watch Fox ever voted for" these demographic changes. It would wreck it. The vague first-person plural pronoun lets Fox viewers imagine that they are in with the in crowd, that "people like us" are reasonable and never voted for these changes, and don't like them.

And as for the demographic changes that have been "foisted on the American people?" See, there are "the American people" and then there are those "demographic changes," which are not real American people. Okay, sure, well white people are losing their majority status in this country, and that is about all you have to know to understand the whole Trump, alt-right, authoritarian phenomenon that has poisoned these historical times. Some people feel it is important for someone of their own racial type to have the privilege of making all the important decisions. All you need to know, right there.

And why in the world would there ever be a vote on demographic changes? (If there is going to be one you'd better hurry up, or somebody else will win it!) And what is it that we "don't like" about it? It would never occur to most of us -- and here I mean "us" patriotically, I mean the totality of people living in this country -- to dislike the diversity of America. Only certain people are predisposed to seeing it that way, and that predisposition is what we call hate. If you support democracy then you believe that all the people should be invited to participate in it, not just the pale ones -- if only a selected subset gets a vote then it is not democracy, it is something else. And if you do not support democracy, I would recommend picking a nice country on some other continent and moving to it, something with a strong dictator and the military enforcing his will. There are lots of those. America is not one of them, we are a democracy.

It feels odd to have to make a statement explaining why I oppose racism. If you think of human beings as some kind of apes living in groups and warring with rival groups, then yeah that is just the way it is. Once the species has developed language and the ability to agree about the reality of the objective environment, once we are able to distinguish truth and falsehood and are able to use scientific techniques to know truths with high certainty, once we are able to empathize and to articulate feelings of empathy -- once we figured out the profound practicality of the Golden Rule -- it seems to me the rival-ape-group perspective becomes background noise: now we can be civilized. We can have things like respect, fairness, kindness. The human species has much more interesting things to do than fight about whose ancestors came from the best continent. But there are those among us who believe that the ape-groups are the most important thing. They are now running our country, and tomorrow they will wave their flags and chant their slogans in the heart of the nation's capital.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Full Moebius Irony

Katy Tur lit up the rightwing media today when she corrected a guest who referred to Daily Caller writers as "journalists." Honestly, that site is somethin' else. Anytime I have been suckered into clicking one of their links it has been bizarre. It must be a new site, right? I never heard of them until recently. Oh I see, Tucker Carlson is behind it.

But I have to admit that the conservative site has done something right this time. They have accomplished Full Moebius Irony, a rare rhetorical feat where a statement so purely mocks itself that it becomes logically inverted and comes out where it started -- proving that in reality there is only One Side.

They sent a writer to a rally in St. Louis where the successful and popular progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke in support of Democratic congressional candidate Cori Bush. The writer's shock is wonderful.

Direct quote, for real:
But then Ocasio-Cortez spoke, followed by Bush, and I saw something truly terrifying. I saw just how easy it would be, were I less involved and less certain of our nation’s founding and its history, to fall for the populist lines they were shouting from that stage.
  • I saw how easy it would be, as a parent, to accept the idea that my children deserve healthcare and education.
  • I saw how easy it would be, as someone who has struggled to make ends meet, to accept the idea that a “living wage” was a human right.
  • Above all, I saw how easy it would be to accept the notion that it was the government’s job to make sure that those things were provided.
I watched as both Ocasio-Cortez and Bush deftly chopped America up into demographics, pointed out how those demographics had been victimized under the current system, and then promised to be the voice for those demographics. The movement, Ocasio-Cortez shouted, “knows no zip code. It knows no state. It knows no race. It knows no gender. It knows no documented status.” I’M A CONSERVATIVE, AND I WENT TO AN ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ RALLY
Yes, I know, this is clearly terrifying to a rational person. Luckily the writer is more involved and more certain of our nation's founding and its history, or she could have fallen for this socialist propaganda.
Bush, after saying her piece, noted that she had been careful to allow speakers from across all demographics to make it clear that she was not running to represent just one particular group, but all. I left the rally with a photo — in part to remind myself of that time I crashed a rally headlined by a socialist, but also in part to remind myself that there, but for the grace of God, go I.
At the top of the page is a nice picture of the writer, we assume, smiling, and a smiling Octavia-Cortez.

So... it is just mind-boggling to think what these people tell their kids, sitting around the breakfast table. And when the kids reach their teens and rebel, what are they going to do, empathize with people? Maybe there is hope.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Civility as a Prop for the Status Quo

The "Trump voter" is not something new. There have always been people in the small towns and backwaters who believe that their way of life is God's plan and everything else is just plain wrong. This happens when a community is isolated and their social reality goes unchallenged, untested; customs and norms become facts, strangers are strange and frightening.

You could see the proto-Trump supporter nearly fifty years ago, in the end of Easy Rider. Warning: violence.

When that movie came out in 1969 -- and everybody saw it -- there was no discussion about this scene. Nobody asked, "Why did those guys in the pickup truck do that?" The concept of "owning the libs" did not exist yet but this sort of thing was well established and well understood. No one at all was surprised when they pulled the shotgun down from the gun rack and had a little fun with them city boys.

A tribe understands that other tribes have different norms. A basic universal part of being human: belonging to a group and realizing that there are other groups. The hard part is when various groups have to share resources. Maybe two tribes hunt in the same woods or row in the same river. Maybe two groups live in the same neighborhood, city, country, planet. Then they have to work things out.

When we talk about civility we mean that people speak to one another with respect. You consider the other as equal to yourself. Our tribe recognizes that your tribe has needs, and we can try to work out a way for both of us to have what we need. Civility requires effort, it requires a bit of sacrifice and concession. Civility is recognition that the world does not revolve around you, which is an attitude you have to learn -- since your eyes always literally see the world from your own point of view.

Civility is the implementation of the Golden Rule.

Let's be clear: the Trump platform was incivility and incivility is the guiding principle of his presidency. He ran on his rudeness, he was offensive, mean, petty, he lied and insulted people, and that is what his followers like about him. Incivility did not start last week.

An outside observer would be totally amused by the outrage over the Virginia restaurant owner who eighty-sixed Sarah Huckabee Sanders last week. By all accounts she was polite about it, took SHS outside to discuss it quietly after her employees had taken a vote on the matter. And woo, the press freaked out about this! Also, two other administration officials trying to order Mexican food were publicly shamed and had to leave restaurants. Another having a binto box in DC, a mom with her two-year-old asks him to please resign and spells out the reasons why. Never mind poor Alan Dershowitz, snubbed by his so-called "friends" on Martha's Vinyard. Liberals are not being passive, and suddenly democracy is in crisis.

Here is how the Washington Post summarized the state of the "incivility" debate:
The debate over civility kicked into high gear after a Virginia restaurant asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave because employees didn’t want to serve her. That followed the outright heckling of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as she ate at a Mexican restaurant in the District. Some people, such as Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), have called for more such confrontations with Trump administration officials. Others warn of a race to the bottom and plea for an end to the boorishness.
In other word, all the name-calling and provocations to violence by Trump and his people since the start of the campaign were nothing. A whole campaign was based on incivility, that was the message and that was the point -- but that was just some rednecks havin' them some fun. One liberal restaurant owner judges a customer by her character and we have a debate kicking into high gear.

I do not have to remind you of the rhetoric during the past presidential campaign. Violence was encouraged at Republican rallies, not just rudeness, not just disrespect, but actual "second amendment" activities, violence against protesters and political opponents. It was funny, people laughed. Outsiders were mocked, called names, criticized for made-up offenses. Innocent people were described as "criminals." Conservatives feel this is their right, they can say anything they want about someone. This offensiveness, the assumption that their way is the only way, is what defines conservatism. The taxes, defense, small-government, economy stuff was just window dressing, they don't even bother saying those things any more. When we say Republicans are racist we mean that they feel that their own way of life should set the standard for all Americans.

Why did the lefties accept the incivility all those years? Well, for one thing, you figured it was a kind of price you paid for standing up for what you believed in. Opposing the war in the sixties was a risky deal, you could end up with a baseball bat upside the head at any moment, they could pick your lifeless body up off a campus sidewalk. But the war was wrong, and thousands of people expressed their opposition to it, and in the long run the war had to end. The civil rights movement was a risky deal, people were literally murdered for acting on liberal principles and the government, from J. Edgar Hoover on down, let it happen. Standing up for peace and freedom has always been a dangerous thing.

Traditionally if you were identifiably gay in public, or black in a white neighborhood, you could expect to be beaten up and harassed by conservatives on the street, if not arrested. Women who need to have an abortion are met with gangs of jeering conservatives threatening them and calling them terrible names -- this has long been accepted behavior in America. This is how conservatism works, it is a movement of people enforcing their own group's norms. The concept of "political correctness" is a force conservatives hate, because it means that people expect -- wait for it -- civility. No, sorry, you can't beat up gays and minorities any more, just for being different. Against the law. Sucks, don't it? Hence, MAGA.

Today's conservatives are breaking up immigrant families, abusing and harassing women, cops are killing innocent black people, they are destroying the economy and our web of international alliances, and the administration -- including liberal-incivility victims such as Sarah Sanders, Kristjen Nielson, Steve Miller, and Scott Pruitt -- routinely lies and manipulates the system to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor and dispossessed. We don't have to be nice to them. Listen to Sarah Sanders lie about the immigration policy, about the president's dalliances and payoffs, about chaos in the White House -- if that was your neighbor lying to you, you would not be nice to them. If a family member was hurtful and lied like that you would not invite them to dinner. These are people who are systematically destroying what is great about our country, they say whatever it takes to make life better for them and worse for us, and we don't have to be nice to them.

Look at the balance here. One restaurant owner called an undesirable customer outside and quietly expained to her that she would not be served. On the other hand, the freakin' PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA went on the Internet and tried to ruin the restaurant's reputation and business forever with a string of lies.
Do you think the press is going to publish stories about how tacky and incivil it is for the President of the USA to try to destroy a small business in Lexington, Virginia, pop. 7,045? For some reason, this is normal but a restaurant owner politely asking an undesirable person to leave is "liberals going too far." Conservatives act like they are afraid of violence now, big scary liberals are going to do mean and nasty things to them -- though terrorists inspired by nationalist and rightwing ideology have killed about ten times as many people as left wing terrorists since 1992. Look at this, Sarah Sanders now has a Secret Service detail. What, so she can go where she is not wanted? Is that a right now, liars are a protected class?

You see it everywhere. The "debate about civility" is nothing more than a way to prop up the status quo and shut up liberals. Maxine Waters said, "If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they're not welcome anymore, anywhere" The President responded on Twitter, "Congresswoman Maxine Waters, an extraordinarily low IQ person..." You may or may not agree with Waters' idea, but it's just an idea, expressed in temperate and firm tones, she is urging liberals to assert themselves in protest against morally corrupt public figures. She is not insulting anyone personally, as the President is -- but guess who will be accused of violating the code of civility.

We can thank the owner of the Red Hen Restaurant for bringing this to the front page, for making the media come right out and say that they don't think liberals should be able to act on their beliefs.




Friday, June 22, 2018

No Hugging

It is amazing to see how far our country has sunk, essentially overnight. Where we recently opposed totalitarian states and the dictators who led them, we now find our leaders congratulating and flattering them, and doing them special favors. We have made enemies of our friends and friends of our enemies. The freedom that we once boasted of, that we were so proud of, is now just a joke -- the rule of law that preserved our freedom is reduced to whims and mob rule and bends to serve the greed of the privileged.

The story on the Mexican border is unbelievable. People coming for asylum, coming to the border and having their children taken away, families jailed. Crying babies, weeping mothers, the tragedy is unthinkable -- there is nothing more fundamental than the bond between child and mother. The President calls them animals and says they are going to "infest" our country, he implies that they are criminals, which justifies imprisoning them for wanting to come here. Now he has signed an executive order keeping families together in their cages, but nobody even knows where thousands of children are who have already been separated. These are people hoping to come into the United States for their safety, mostly, fleeing Central American countries that are madhouses of violence -- it doesn't even make the news here, crowded off the front pages by our domestic lies and depravity. The inhumanity of it all is unbelievable.

Here's what the President said last night, on Twitter:
We have to maintain strong borders or we will no longer have a country that we can be proud of – and if we show any weakness, millions of people will journey into our country.
This is a perverse way to look at the United States of America, a sad and dangerous perspective to take: this is un-American. We can be proud of a country with all kinds of people in it. Offering help to those who need it is not weakness. And this is not the worst of what he has said, not by a long shot.

But as people keep saying, the President is not the problem. The problem is that millions of Americans think this the way it should be. American Evangelical Christians are lovin' this, it is their dream come true, we are finally implementing the teachings of Jesus here on earth. Many Americans feel that those who seek to come to our promised land are some kind of vermin, not human beings, that those people deserve to have their children taken away, they deserve to live in cages. And while immigration dominates the news this week, the billionaires are pilfering the treasury in Washington, sweeping more money toward themselves, neglecting and undermining democracy with their state-sponsored white-collar crime.

I have often wondered, what is the "immigration problem," anyway? There's plenty of room, what is the problem?

I am apparently not the only one who fails to see a problem. Gallup yesterday released a poll showing that three-quarters of Americans think immigration is a good thing. That includes 65% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.

Gallup: "Just 19% of the public considers immigration a bad thing."

I am not going to comment on any specific news story today because they are coming too fast. Congress is full of Republican-on-Republican crime, they can't do anything so they blame the Democrats, and in the meantime Cabinet members are getting booed out of Mexican restaurants and why in the world are they there in the first place, fer cryin out loud? Is it a joke? Ordinary citizens cannot understand it. Are they trying to own the libs by eating Mexican food, or what? And who cares what Melania doesn't care about? It's coming too fast.

We are in the middle of a wide-spectrum multidimensional assault on decency and you cannot pick one thing and talk about it. While we were freaking out about immigrant children being shipped to human traffickers (big question: where are the girls?), Trump rescinded Obama's policy that protected the oceans, opening them up to more "industrial" uses and pollution. You can't keep up with it. Evil has taken hold and it is spreading like a wildfire on all sides. The American governing philosophy is that you're a sucker if you don't take all you can get. And ninety-nine percent of us are the suckers.

Oh, and Trump's approval rating is higher than it's been since he was first elected.

You know what ripped it for me? The no-hugging policy. Not only did you take children away from their mothers, which is -- you would think -- about the cruelest thing you can do to both of them. But the official policy was that adult caregivers were not allowed to hug the children, and that children were not allowed to hug one another.

There is nothing more basic than a hug. A hug does not actually solve your problems but it connects you with another living person, you can feel the life in their body and know that you are not alone in this godforsaken dystopia. And the Trump administration would not allow the one simple, free thing that would make a child feel better. That tells you what motivates them; it is not fear of terrorism or crime, it is the fear that these people who are coming to our border are real human beings and not insects, not animals. And more than anything, it is fear of appearing weak.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Betrayal

The Trump scandal has grown weirder and more dangerous than any of us could have imagined. At the time of the election we thought we were just getting incompetence and ignorant arrogance, but it has turned out we elected a gang of criminals who are getting rich by treating our government as a resource for their businesses. Everything you hate about corporate greed -- you got it. It is so clear and yet so hard to put your finger on, because every day the crisis has morphed into some new form of crazy emergency. The simple technique Trump uses is to drown the truly important information in details that demand our attention.

David Corn has an important article at Mother Jones that makes this point. I will just feature one paragraph from his piece, the core point:
In 2016, Vladimir Putin’s regime mounted information warfare against the United States, in part to help Trump become president. While this attack was underway, the Trump crew tried to collude covertly with Moscow, sought to set up a secret communications channel with Putin’s office, and repeatedly denied in public that this assault was happening, providing cover to the Russian operation. Trump and his lieutenants aligned themselves with and assisted a foreign adversary, as it was attacking the United States. The evidence is rock-solid: They committed a profound act of betrayal. That is the scandal. Donald Trump Is Getting Away With the Biggest Scandal in American History
Each day we can argue over football players kneeling or Cabinet members abusing their positions, who's playing who in the North Korea talks, whether Sessions should have recused himself or not, the horror in Flint or Puerto Rico or Raqqa, people without security clearances handling classified information and negotiating with foreign leaders, families broken up in heartbreaking scenes, school shootings and the greedy cynicism of the NRA, nepotism and the entanglement of personal business with government activities, why the guy can't spell, what has happened to Melania or what were the real reasons for dropping the ZTE sanctions -- several things every single day -- and the chaos keeps us from seeing the real story. Many of these things, taken separately, would be crises in another presidency, these would be historical controversies; it even works on the legal level, no one has the time to investigate these multitudes of daily crimes and press charges. By the sheer volume of distraction Trump keeps the public from understanding what is going on; the real story is in Corn's paragraph quoted above.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Animals

The President epitomizes exactly the thinking that we oppose.
"You wouldn't believe how bad these people are. These aren't people. These are animals."

USA Today
This is what we call evil.

The particular statement refers to people who are trying to immigrate to the United States from foreign countries. But whenever you view other human beings in this way, when you deny their actual humanity whether because of their race, religion, their sexuality, poverty, or any other reason, then you are the one who has lost your humanity. Love and empathy for one another is all we have.

It will play well with the base, no doubt. God help us.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Some Good News for America

The Washington Times ended the work-week with a feel-good story that should keep you smiling all the way to Monday again.
Half of all Americans now live in ‘sanctuaries’ protecting immigrants

Study finds surge in those jurisdictions

About half of all Americans now live under sanctuary policies that shield illegal immigrants from law enforcement, according to the latest tally of jurisdictions that the Federation for American Immigration Reform is releasing Thursday.

FAIR calculates there were 564 states and municipalities that refuse some level of cooperation with federal immigration authorities as of April 1, up more than 200 since President Trump took office and up more than 500 compared with a decade ago. There were just 40 sanctuaries when President Obama took office.

Entire states such as California, Illinois and New York are now sanctuaries, as well as major cities and counties such as Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and the District of Columbia in the capital region, according to the list.

Combined, the sanctuaries on FAIR’s list cover 49 percent of the country’s population, The Washington Times calculated.

“This is just an astounding and a dramatic surge of sanctuary jurisdictions,” said Bob Dane, executive director at FAIR. “They’ve doubled in just two years, and if you game that out, if the exponential growth continues, it’s not going to be long before it’s accurate to say the U.S. is a sanctuary country.”

While there is no official definition of sanctuaries, FAIR counted any jurisdiction that bans police or other officials from asking about immigration status, forbids communication with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or refuses to hold likely deportees for pickup by ICE.

The organization scoured local government policies, looked at press reports and used ICE’s own set of reports last year listing jurisdictions that refused to honor “detainer” requests to hold illegal immigrants.

FAIR’s numbers are higher than other counts, such as the Ohio Jobs and Justice Political Action Committee, which has been tracking sanctuaries for years, or the ICE detainer list, which was started then quickly discontinued last year.
This is great news for people who would like to see the federal government butt out of people's lives. The present administration believes in breaking up families, destroying international alliances, separating children from their parents, and making it harder to get get good crabs, and even though I would like to see a kinder and more sensible federal government it is not bad to see local jurisdictions take matters into their own hands.

Enjoy your weekend.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Who Created This Monster

Woo -- Michelle Wolf ruffled a few feathers at the White House Correspondents Dinner last night.

It didn't matter that she made fun of Sarah Sanders and Kellyanne Conway, c'mon, that's what it's all about. Here's the reason journalists are complaining -- she nailed them right on the head:
You guys are obsessed with Trump. Did you use to date him? Because you pretend like you hate him, but I think you love him. I think what no one in this room wants to admit is that Trump has helped all of you. He couldn’t sell steaks or vodka or water or college or ties or Eric. But he has helped you. He’s helped you sell your papers and your books and your TV. You helped create this monster and now you’re profiting off of him. And if you’re going to profit off of Trump, you should at least give him some money because he doesn’t have any.
Donald Trump is a reality TV actor, a small-time New York mobster, competely undeserving of the Presidency of the United States of America. Everybody knows that -- it's the basis of his appeal. He is ridiculously unqualified. His mind is shallow, he has no values, he is a big fake but it doesn't matter because it's all only a television show. He's easy to understand, holds your attention as he jumps from one topic to another, he waves his arms a lot and makes lots of facial expressions. He is ultimate TV.

The networks love Trump. When he's on you can't help watching, it's a trainwreck but you can't click the remote. He is everything that television loves, as intellectually vapid as any sitcom, as engaging as any TV personality.

Just to remind you, from March 2016, well before the election:

This is how he got elected in the first place. They gave him free advertising. SNL made him a host. Jimmy Fallon patted his hair. Every cable channel showed nothing but Trump for months leading up to the election. You could not find a channel that discussed the Democrats' policies or plans, all you saw was outrageous, uninformed, shooting-off-his-mouth clips of Trump, one after the other.

When the history of this era is told, it will be about the media.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Dystopia Realized

It seems like this really got going with Sarah Palin talking about the "lamestream media," and conservatives found there was a lot of power in attacking journalists. The problem was that they would say or do something stupid and then the newspapers would publish it, which was embarrassing. Trump picked up this anti-media theme and developed it to the point where his followers have given up believing that objective truth exists. The news media cannot be counted on to publish the kind of news the rightwingers want, for instance they are occasionally sympathetic to the victim when the cops kill an unarmed black guy, or when a well-respected, loving immigrant family is broken up by ICE in the middle of the night, or when the President lies sometimes the news will point out the incongruity between what he said and reality. These lapses of gullibility must be denounced as bias. Fake news.

I have often written on this blog that the history of our time will be a history of the media and how they have influenced public opinion. Journalists are human beings who have to depend on their perceptions, and have to transform what they learn into words for their audience. Whatever they say is necessarily a human communication, not a mathematical formula, these are stories and will have some interpretative aspect to them. The result is that we get news with the rough edges whittled off and the shadows deepened, so the bad guys and good guys stand simplified and a little more starkly contrasted. A sophisticated media consumer reads sceptically and reviews multiple sources when the news matters.

The authoritarian point of view does not accommodate the concept of objective truth, and sees facts as opinions that are for or against itself. If a young protester tears up a shooting-range target in order to make the point that children should not be targets of firearms, the authoritarian right will photoshop that image and show her tearing up the Constitution (as if they themselves supported the Constitution). It does not matter that she tore up a target, they want to see her tearing up the Constitution, and so that is what they circulate among themselves, with henhouse clucks of outrage and indignity.

This week we saw one of the most bizarre instances of this. It still makes my skin crawl.

Sinclair Communications is a huge conservative media company that has been quietly buying up local television outlets. With no fanfare their central office has been sending out pro-Trump news propaganda scripts, and forcing news anchors to read these things verbatim on the air. You as the local viewer do not realize that your familiar news-team has been taken over, these look like any other news story. There are rumors that some of the anchors are resentful or have a negative attitude about this, but they read it obediently, beaming the official party message into millions of unwary American households.

That's bad, right? We can all agree on that, some central corporate office putting words in journalists' mouths, having them parrot the party line. The polite word for this is "dystopian;" nightmare works, too.

But wait. There's more.

This week an amazing video came out -- actually two similar videos -- showing a lot of these Sinclair-backed news people reading the same script, all over the country. Each has their characteristic gestures and intonations, each one projects their well-disciplined charisma as they read this stupid thing about "fake news" and how bad it is.



That is creepy. But it gets even worse.

To you and me, this is an indictment of a rightwing propaganda campaign that is poisoning American democracy by presenting political messaging as news. Sinclair is the largest owner of television stations in the U.S. -- in the DC area if you are watching WJLA ABC7 or NewsChannel 8 you are watching Sinclair programming.

The message among the rightwing Internet has been entirely different. They do not see this as "their side" taking over local news and destroying it. They see this as an indictment of all media. For instance, the unreliable but reliably-conservative Gateway Pundit reports that "Paul Joseph Watson has created another incredible video showing mainstream media outlets talking about fake news in a concerted fake news report." Their takeaway: "Fake news talking about how they are not fake news is fake news."

And this is something else -- Paul Joseph Watson is an Infowars blogger, embedded deeply in the conspiracy-theory world of the delusional right. There is no evidence at all that he created this video -- these guys will just say anything.

Most writers agree the video first appeared on a blog at Deadspin, which is a Univision-owned sports site that, if anything, leans in the liberal direction. The original post from 3:45PM on March 31st gives no source for the video, or explanation.

ThinkProgress posted a similar video the day before, at 3:16PM on March 30th. Both these are based on a script that Sinclair gave its affiliates, and which was run in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Wonkette doesn't think Watson produced it, but does screenshot a lot of crazy reactions to this video, which obviously proves that George Soros is manipulating the media.

The New York Times, says Deadspin made the video:
Timothy Burke, the video director at Deadspin, had read a report last month from CNN, which quoted local station anchors who were uncomfortable with the speech.

Mr. Burke tracked down the Sinclair affiliates and found when they had aired what he called a “forced read.”

Then he stitched together the various broadcasts to create a supercut of anchors from Seattle to Phoenix to Washington eerily echoing the same lines...

You have to watch this thing, it is unbelievable, it has been taken up by both those who believe in objective truth and those who do not believe objective truth exists, to support their own point of view.

The liberal side sees that the rightwing propaganda machine, in the form of Sinclair Broadcast Group, has taken over hundreds of television channels and is brainwashing the public with conservative garbage. The conservative side sees proof that the media are being run by some central cabal that is putting fake news into news anchors' mouths so the sheeple will obediently fall in line and obey their overlords.

Of course, not that it matters, but the President weighed in on the matter this morning on Twitter -- he l-u-u-r-r-r-ves Sinclair. He tweeted: "So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased. Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke." Of course, Sinclair owns a lot of NBC channels, but ...

The Post added some details:
The controversy comes at a critical time for Sinclair. The company is awaiting federal approval for its proposed $3.9 billion buyout of Tribune Media, a deal that would add Tribune’s 42 TV stations to Sinclair’s portfolio. The deal requires the blessing of the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department, both of which are dominated by Trump loyalists. Opponents of the deal say it would give Sinclair too much power over local broadcast markets.

The question is whether a huge rightwing coroporation can execute a perfect self-fulfilling prophecy by undermining the free press to the point where none of us can believe any of it any more. I don't think they can exterminate truth entirely or erase it from our political discourse, but certainly this kind of subtle and sophisticated propaganda machine is going to affect a lot of people who are sitting in their living rooms innocently watching the television, and make it hard to rationally discuss anything with them.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Two Numbers

Today I am thinking about two numbers that the President has used since yesterday.

Yesterday Donald Trump gave a talk where he said:
Women! Women, we love you. We love you.

Hey, didn’t we surprise them with women during the election? Remember? ‘Women won’t like Donald Trump.’ I said, ‘Have I really had that kind of a problem? I don‘t think so.’ But: ‘Women won’t like Donald Trump. It will be a rough night for Donald Trump because the women won’t come out.’ We got 52 percent. Right? Fifty-two.

And I’m running against a woman! You know it’s not that easy.

Trump celebrates winning 52 percent of women in 2016 — which is only how he did among whites

And then this morning, on Twitter, the President said this:

[Rasmussen and others have my approval ratings at around 50%, which is higher than Obama, and yet the political pundits love saying my approval ratings are “somewhat low.” They know they are lying when they say it. Turn off the show - FAKE NEWS!]

In the first case, as The Washington Post points out, Trump actually got 41 percent of the vote from women. He got 52% from white women, and maybe he really does think that's all that counts. But overall he only got 41% of the women's vote.

So ... this is the President of the United States speaking. He has people to do numbers for him -- the federal government has eleven statistical agencies. He is wrong.

Q: is he lying?

You could say that maybe he doesn't know better. Maybe as he spoke it seemed to him that he got something like fifty-two percent of the women's vote, and so he said it. So then, if that was the case, does this count as a lie?

A: Yes.

Listen, imagine you and I are sitting on the front porch sipping sweet tea and watching the world go by, and we are discussing politics and one of us says, "Y'know, women voted for Trump too -- I heard that fifty-two percent of them voted for him." I wouldn't call that a lie. It's true that one of us could go inside and Google the number, but it doesn't matter. We aren't experts or authorities and if we're wrong there is no consequence.

But ... not to be redundant, this is the President of the United States speaking. He has people to do numbers for him -- the federal government has eleven statistical agencies. He is the leader of one of the greatest countries on the planet. Every word he utters is news. He determines policy and guides our country through the turbulent waters of domestic and international turmoil. If he didn't know, he should have kept his mouth shut.

Now the other thing, Rasmussen. I am looking at the Rasmussen Presidential Tracking Poll. Imagine that -- a company has a whole team that does nothing but measure the President's ratings. Here is what they say today:
Friday, March 09, 2018

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Friday shows that 44% of Likely U.S. Voters approve of President Trump’s job performance. Fifty-four percent (54%) disapprove.

The president’s overall job approval ratings have been trending down at week’s end.

Daily Presidential Tracking Poll
Note that Rasmussen is considered unreliably biased in Trump's favor and almost always rates him as more favorable than the other polls.

This isn't about the numbers -- of course most people don't like him, that has not changed since before the election.

It is about his statement: "Rasmussen and others have my approval ratings at around 50%, which is higher than Obama." Looking at Rasmussen's Obama Approval Index - Month to Month, it seems that Obama only fell as low as 44 percent approval twice in eight years of his administration -- in August and October 2011 he was rated at 44 percent.

So again, Trump is wrong. His approval rating is not fifty percent, it is not "near fifty percent," it is not "higher than Obama" at any point in his presidency.

Q: is he lying?

A: Yes he is lying. He has obviously seen the poll. He is sitting there with his phone, he sees the poll figures, and he decides to tweet a brag. He is not talking off the top of his head. He has time to look it up if he's not sure.

This is the President of the United States speaking. He has people to do numbers for him -- the federal government has eleven statistical agencies. Sitting there on the toilet, he could have held his phone up to some high-paid Secretary of Some Department and said, "Hey, is this right?" And they would say, "Let me check that, chief," and come back and say, "No, it's not right."

There is no excuse for a mistake of this magnitude.

These are two lies about easily-checked numbers within a twenty-four hour period.

Let me tell you, Trump's followers are not going to know. They are not going to read the fake-news Washington Post and Fox isn't going to tell them, or Breitbart. Trump's followers are only going to see more evidence that the world is against him, and against them, and the news is all fake.

This is a kind of fire drill, if you ask me. He is seeing how far he can push it. Can he tell obvious, easily caught lies on the national stage without any blowback at all?

The answer is yes, of course he can lie with impunity. He lied all through the campaign and he lies now. He is doing it for sport. He is doing because he can. He is doing it because he and his policies have no grounding in objective reality and he wants to make sure the rest of us feel the humiliation of losing to him. There is nothing we can do about it. Welcome to America.

Friday, February 02, 2018

How Do They Feel Now?

Several months ago -- November 6, 2017, to be accurate -- a news story broke on the Internet. I am looking at the version on LinkedIn:
Bombshell: Hillary Clinton ‘Pedophile Sex Tape’ About to Be Released ?.

Career criminal Hillary Clinton and Benghazi, Email-Server scandal, busted for Treasonous Uranium One deal with Russia, and now this... ?
...
The New York Police Department (NYPD) has confirmed that a “sickening” pedophile sex tape featuring Hillary Clinton is about to be released to the public...
The story was written by "Dr. Jorge Mata Torres, International Univeristy Professor." In it he relays the blockbuster fact that a videotape was found on Anthony Weiner's computer showing Hillary Clinton and her aide Huma Abedin engaging in some kind of sexual behavior with an underage girl. You can find this story all over the Internet.

The videotape was going to be released in November. Now it is February, and still no tape.

The thing that I want to know is, how do the people who believed that story feel, now that there is still no video? I see on the Internet that they still believe that Hillary is part of a Satanic child-molesting and human-trafficking ring, but does it bother them at all that the evidence keeps not appearing?

A skeptical lefty such as myself might start to think that maybe there is no such video. Maybe, just maybe, Hillary Clinton is actually not a Satanic pedophile human-trafficker. I mean, where's the tape? Somehow the conclusion persists rock-solid, but the proof seems to have gone out for a drink and never came back.

Or -- here's another example, closer to home. A few years ago a group right here in our little suburban county put out a statement (well they put out lots of statements, but here is one) that said:
If someone chooses to identify themselves as of different genders on different days, our local government, in its infinite wisdom, thinks that is a group that needs special protection in every workplace, in all public areas, like theatres, and, seemingly, even in their choice of which bathroom to use. A "get out of jail free" card for sexual predators who are caught in the wrong public bathroom or public shower.
The county had passed a gender-identity nondiscrimination bill and these people wanted a referendum to relegalize discrimination. They had petitions and stood at shopping centers and churches all around the county, telling people that a Montgomery County gender identity nondiscrimination bill was going to make it legal for predators and pedophiles to lurk in the ladies rooms, molesting our wives and daughters with impunity by claiming to be women and using this new law as a "get out of jail free card."

The thing that I want to know is, how do these people feel about the fact that, in the ten years since the bill passed, there has not been one single case of any man going into any ladies room in our county, doing anything prurient, and claiming to be transgender?

Why were they so sure that would happen? What kind of mind latches onto a hateful falsehood like that and leaves the house, day after day, to stand in a parking lot with petitions, frightening strangers with their lurid fantasies?

Those are good psychological questions, but they are not, to me, the most interesting ones: I want to know how those people feel now.

The Citizens for a Responsible Whatever rallied the masses, whipped up countywide fear that perverted men would dress as women and lurk in ladies rooms if the bill passed, and it passed, and they did not lurk. They had tens of thousands of signatures, including thousands of illegal ones that caused the referendum to be thrown out -- they had a lot of people upset. Dozens of churches collected signatures in Jesus' name to allow good Christians to discriminate against our county's transgender citizens. It was a pretty big deal at the time. We were one of the first "bathroom bill" regions, with shower-nuts stopping random citizens to tell them that men would be walking right into the women's bathroom and claiming to be women while they leered at innocent wives and daughters and grabbed them and who-knows-what-horrible-thing.

It didn't happen here, and it didn't happen in any of those other places, either. It was a totally fabricated story, a lie based on prejudice, intended to stir up discrimination.

It is possible that those people sit at home in the evening now shaking their heads, ashamed, staring vacantly at the TV and muttering, "Wow, we sure were wrong that time." Maybe in order to make up for their error they have organized a new "tolerance" group that passes out flyers in parking lots promoting tolerance for people who are different from themselves. Not just gay and trans people, but also immigrants and refugees, black people and Muslims, the homeless, fair pay for women, clean the Bay and other wholesome and positive things. Maybe those same people, who swore the county would become an attraction for pedophiles and predators who would hide in the womens' bathrooms and showers, have thought about it and realized they were wrong, and now are trying to atone for their previous bigotry by doing good things, being kind and loving and helping others.

They were not just "kinda" wrong, they didn't just misunderstand or make a mistake, they spent a lot of intentional energy on making life harder and more dangerous for transgender people. They spread malicious lies, provable lies. None of what they predicted happened and now I wonder how they feel about that.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Carlinian Divide

I keep coming back to the quote by George Carlin: "Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that."

There is an important message there for a democracy.

First of all, Carlin seems to confuse median and mean, but in a symmetric distribution it doesn't matter. The median of stupidity is defined as the point where half the people are stupider and half are smarter; the median splits the population in half. The "average" or mean would be where you added up everybody's stupidity and divided by the number of people. These are often not the same. Hopefully now I have eliminated readers from the bottom half and we can talk freely among ourselves.

Here is a point that I have not heard articulated clearly enough. If everybody voted, then the outcome of an election would be determined by summing the top-half voters and bottom-half voters together, and giving the win to the person who got the most votes. To win, you'd have to get some votes from both halves.

But it is not true that everybody votes. In actuality, nine-tenths of an election campaign involves getting people to get out of the EZ-chair and go to the poll. So there are two stages to winning an election: motivating people to vote, and getting people to vote for you. I would say that in our most recent presidential election, Hillary Clinton was undercut and badmouthed by Republicans and Democrats alike, so that even if you agreed with her positions you still had doubts, and many people who would have preferred her on principle simply did not vote.

Back to Carlin. Because everybody does not vote, you can win an election by appealing to the top half (now offhandedly referred to as "the elites") or bottom half of the stupid distribution. You don't need both. If a third of the stupid half votes, and a quarter of the smart half, the stupid half will get their way. For me there are two takeaways from this observation: those having to do with Trump, and the rest of them.

Trump clearly shot for the bottom of the barrel. Where his opponent had encyclopedic knowledge and crisp clear policies in mind for issues foreign and domestic, Trump ran by calling her "Crooked Hillary" and chanting "Lock Her Up!" at his rallies. He still doesn't know one shithole country from another and doesn't like any of them, after a year of being President. He watches Fox & Friends for his policy advice, even when he has the best sources in the world. He appealed to the half of them that are "stupider than that," and he is giving them what they want.

Interestingly, he did not do that by fooling them into thinking he is one of them. He really is one of them. He isn't a crafty manipulator, making carefully-worded statements to keep the faithful in line; he just says whatever comes off the top of his head, and it's stupid. In some ways this is the biggest disappointment of his Presidency.

The irrelevance of the total electorate is a major structural problem with democracy. Especially once people get cynical and don't see the point in voting, the voting population falls well below a hundred percent; you can split the electorate into Carlinian halves (I hope that term sticks) and a candidate can win by appealing to one half or the other. As we have seen, if you can rally the stupid people you have a good chance of winning.

Also, the rest of them. I had always privately assumed that those blue-suited, silver-haired lions of government had risen to the top because of their ability to keep track of dozens of complex policy controversies simultaneously and to read the electorate and say exactly the perfect thing at the right time to make people retain faith in them. So if they said something stupid there was probably a good reason for it, positioning themselves in advance of the next election, perhaps, or appealing to some subgroup that I was unaware of. Maybe I am old-fashioned, I can't explain it, I knew Congress passed some dumb bills but I always figured there was some philosophical or inner-sanctum wisdom behind it that we would understand in the long run.

Now we have this front-page story where in a meeting the President said "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?" He was referring to Haiti and the entire continent of Africa. The President of the United States was saying he did not want black people coming to the United States.

Chattering conservatives jumped in line saying that Haiti and all of Africa are indeed shitholes, etc. They enjoy that sort of thing and it is to be expected and doesn't matter.

The President was referring to the home nations of more than a billion people, and they were not happy about the comment. Further, the USA, of which the President is president, includes nearly forty million people whose ancestors came from Haiti and Africa.

The statement was like a pressure valve that released a cloud of public statements that the President is a racist. Until this moment in his term you could only infer it from under-the-breath comments and from things he had said and done in the past, but here he clearly and openly articulated that he did not want black people moving to the US. This is a significant moment in clarifying the dialog in America about race. "Racist" can be something you call someone who seems prejudiced, or it can describe a belief system, and the President's statement was an expression of the belief that black people are inferior.

But then -- how do the Stupid Half politicians deal with this? Do they argue about incomes and education levels, AIDS and Ebola, contributions to society and the need to protect people whose lives are in danger?

No, of course not. Their defense of the President was: "He didn't say that."

And they didn't mean, "He didn't say he didn't like black people." They meant, "He said shithouse and not shithole."

Look, I'm not making this up. Open the newspaper.

We have seen a lot of politicians line up behind Trump's stupidity over the past year. They go around the table praising him like something out of Orwell. And it has become obvious that they are not just conducting some highly-skillful political maneuver -- they are actually as dumb as he is.

To the lower Carlinian half, the controversy is that the President said the word "shit." You will see the terms "vulgar" and "vulgarity" in a lot of headlines. Sorry, let me tell you, Presidents talk just like the rest of us. They clean it up for a speech in public, but among themselves the political in-group talks just like anybody else. I wouldn't expend the effort, but I'll bet you could go back and find at least one instance of every President saying the word "shit" somewhere, at least since the days when people took notes.

No, the issue is not that the President used a vulgarity in a meeting.

The lower Carlinian half is also being bombarded with the message that the Fake News reported something wrong. He didn't call them "shithole countries," the rightwing propaganda outlets are saying, the Fake News is just saying that to turn you against him. And if you are kinda dumb, this makes sense. If they can't tell the difference between "shithole" and "shithouse", who knows what else they got wrong? It's just one tiny step from there to covering up Hillary's human-trafficking ring.

And now a fascinating new sort of meta-issue has arisen. A number of famous-name-brand journalists have begun referring to Trump's racism out loud, in clear terms, on major news shows. So now there is, at least, a debate about whether and when you can refer to a person as a racist. Trump's statement has greatly strengthened the point of view that, yes, sometimes a person is actually a racist, and the news people can say so. It is weird to think, but "talking about racism" is a big breakthrough for our media.

Trump himself denies being a racist, though I think this is in that category with "shooting someone on Fifth Avenue," things that wouldn't hurt him any. People elected him to be a racist. But we used to be able to talk about it without using the word itself. Politicians could talk about "thugs" or "welfare queens" and the message would be clear enough. They didn't actually say out loud, "We don't want black people here." But now that cat's out of the bag.

The good news is that Carlin focused on the glass-half-empty, because he's a comedian and stupid people are funnier. Truth is, half the people are smarter than average, too. And now I think we come to a battle over the media. I just watched a video of George Stephanopoulos seriously asking a Very Important Senator in a blue suit to make a bold and clear statement about whether the President said "shithole" or "shithouse." To his viewers that's what matters. If the audience wants that, the news networks will provide it. Half the people are that stupid, and the networks can make money off stupid people.

But we have also seen a good number of news anchors look into the camera and discuss the President's overt racism as a news story, which it is. America has always struggled -- it's not always pretty but we agreed on the goal -- to provide a welcome to all kinds of people. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of the USA's idealism and hope, it projects our magnanimity to those arriving from across the Atlantic. The great tidal movement over the several hundred years of our history has been toward inclusiveness, and the xenophobic reversal of this by the Trump Presidency is one of the historical stories of our time.

The upper Carlinian half is fed up with the news. Sure, they want to see what crazy thing Trump is going to do next, but for instance in the previous election they also wanted to know what the candidates felt the US can do to support stability in the Middle East, cool down our relationship with North Korea, build our economy, reduce mass murders and gun killings, combat global warming. Calling somebody "Crooked Hillary" didn't work for the top half, it did not answer any of the questions that intelligent voters based their choices on. But deplorable ignorance day after day resonated with stupid people and the commercial media profited well.

So the next question is how to redesign media to inform the upper half of the Carlinian dichotomy. "The elites" are smart enough to double-check their information on the Internet, to get news from good sources and treat it with skepticism, but we don't get to plop down in the EZ-chair after a hard day at work and listen to intelligent analyses of the issues. The elites buy stuff, media could advertise to smart people; somehow the top half is going to have to impress on corporate wheeler-dealers that there is a market for accurate, intelligent news. It can still be colorful, funny, controversial, we can handle both sides. Maybe Trump's racism will be the thing that finally allows the smart half to participate in the national media culture.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Gallup: Most Admired Man and Woman

Christmas Eve we learned that President Trump is eliminating fines for nursing homes that abuse and neglect their patients. They call this "deregulating," and to Trump and his supporters it is obvious why this sort of thing is good for the country. America is just getting better and better.

Why did America make this terrible choice for President? The answer seems to have to do with racism, mainly, or what they like to call "identity politics," since that sounds nicer and you can blame "both sides" for it, which is important these days. Apparently most white people were freaked out by having a black President, and wanted to un-do all the things the previous administration had accomplished, like preventing nursing homes from abusing patients. And minorities did not turn out to vote in sufficient numbers to refute them. And so now we have world-class laziness in the White House, sexual harassment and hypocrisy, nepotism, a ring of criminals, a family profiting like crazy on the back of the US government, the one percent rewarding themselves freely at the treasury, never mind treason and subservience to Russia. The President is inarticulate, poorly-informed, illiterate, boorish.

People, it's depressing, am I right?

Will America make this kind of stupid choice again? This is a harder question. The Trump administration is undermining American education and Republicans are implementing voter-suppression laws wherever they can to make sure their stupid people get elected again. The Republican party is lining up behind Trump's authoritarian positions and the news media are still afraid to call a lie a lie. Lying about everything and calling the media "fake news" is The American Way of Life now, and the longer it goes on, the longer people hear it, the less they feel the will to fight it. Kids are growing up in this climate, thinking this is normal, and they are reaching voting age.

So it was heartening to get some good news this week from Gallup:
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans once again are most likely to name Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as the man and woman living anywhere in the world they admire most, as they have for the past 10 years. The pair retain their titles this year, although by much narrower margins than in the past. Obama edges out Donald Trump, 17% to 14%, while Clinton edges out Michelle Obama, 9% to 7%. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton Retain Most Admired Titles
This isn't good news because I agree with Obama and Clinton politically. Actually, I barely do. They are much more centrist and accommodating than I would prefer.

It makes me happy to know that Americans still overall admire somebody who can behave with dignity, who can express a complex thought with humor and clarity, somebody who can consider the other person's point of view as well as their own. Americans actually still appreciate somebody who is informed with facts and surrounded by experts, who can make tough decisions and then hold the line, somebody who has a set of principles that guide their decision-making process and can also negotiate and compromise to get their principles implemented in policy.

Gallup says:
Trump's unpopularity is holding him back from winning the most admired distinction. The incumbent president is the usual winner, since he is arguably the most prominent figure in the country -- but when the president is unpopular, other well-known and well-liked men have been able to finish first.
Maybe next time we choose leaders we will elect someone we actually admire. Let's elect better people next time, okay?

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Trump Administration Censors Government Medical Researchers

I sometimes wonder what it is that Trump and his followers want. They want to get rid of anything that reminds them of Obama, of course, and they want to "lock her up." But besides that, is there something they stand for?

Now we know.

The Trump administration has issued a list of banned terms for the Centers for Disease Control, which makes it clear what they want. The Post:
The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in any official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.” CDC gets list of forbidden words: fetus, transgender, diversity
Naturally, the Post reporter jumps on the "hot" news words -- fetus, transgender -- we are not surprised to see a retreat to the Dark Ages there, but it is beyond comprehension to see that "evidence-based" and "science-based" are verboten. Oh, fine, I see "magic" and "potion" are still okay. Can you imagine the executive committee that decided the CDC's research should not be evidence-based or science-based? What a bunch of geniuses that must have been.
In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of “science-based” or ­“evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered.
There's your conservative philosophy in a nutshell. It doesn't much matter what science finds, what matters is what your ordinary person thinks or wishes were true. Never mind all that algebra and all that college education, anybody can see what's going on. Everybody knows how they wish it was, and that is how it shall be.

"Vulnerable?" Can you imagine studying disease and epidemics without consideration of who is vulnerable?

And I'm sorry, but if you're looking at an epidemic, diversity is a major factor, diversity among the vulnerable population as well as genetic diversity in a pathogen. Any statistical prediction needs to account for variance, which is just another word for diversity -- that is how statisticians are able to assess the certainty of a prediction.

According to the article, the rank-and-file scientists at the CDC have not learned of these changes yet. But as one analyst said, “Our subject matter experts will not lay down quietly."

This sort of enforced ignorance has become a hallmark of the Trump administration. Still, it is jaw-dropping to see the list, to see that someone thought it was a good idea to dumb down the CDC and turn medical research into something that conforms with community wishes.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Lock Him Up

Former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has turned himself in to the FBI and is expected to plead guilty to lying to them.

Just to remind you how we got where we are today:



They are having so much fun in this video, reveling in the idea that Hillary Clinton is an evil cartoon character. Note: Clinton has never been charged with a crime.

Flynn lied to the FBI about deals he made with the Russians as US National Security Adviser. If you think this Russian investigation is not going to go right through the heart of the Presidency, think again. There is a big plea deal in action here, and Flynn is obviously talking.

Note that President Trump has still not implemented the Russian sanctions, as Flynn promised them.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Education Makes Liberals

The Washington Post this week had a front page, above-the-fold story with the headline Elitists, 'Crybabies,' and Junky degrees. The "problem" is that college tends to turn young people into liberals. A recent poll found that 58 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents believe colleges and universities have a negative effect “on the way things are going in the country.” This article represents the tip of the iceberg of the attack on education by conservatives, which has gone on for decades and is the movement's most pointed spearhead.

It is a hard point of view to explain without sounding stupid; well, they are advocating ignorance. The Post was able to find a local politician from Dragoon, Arizona, who would provide some quotes to a reporter.

I can remember as a young man sitting in an Anthropology lecture hall at Arizona State University, learning about the concept of ethnocentrism. If you are going to study another culture (which anthropologists do), you have to try to shake off your own society's assumptions and understand the target culture as the people see themselves. It is difficult but necessary to try to understand why they do the things they do, and believe what they believe. Having grown up in the (back then) small town of Phoenix, this whole concept was new to me. People have different ways of living. They aren't stupid, they're just different.

I didn't realize it at the time, but that moment of epiphany made me a liberal.

My studies taught me to see the different social groups of the world, including groups within my own country, as having ways of life that made sense from some point of view, even if I did not intuitively and instantly understand them. The concept did not only apply to exotic groups like !Kung bushmen and Australian aborigines, but to European and Mexican immigrants, local Indian tribes, jocks and hippies. I switched from thinking of out-groups as laughable and dumb to realizing they had their own kind of sense and reasons for being. My culture was one of many. I didn't appreciate it any less but the scientific perspective made it impossible to believe that our particular group had been singled out to be uniquely superior to all others. So there you have it: college made me a liberal.

And that is not to single out anthro. Any science has that effect on you, any study of the literature, religion, philosophy, or knowledge of other peoples. The student learns to stop seeing himself or herself and their own "way of life" at the center of the universe.

That is why conservatives don't like education. To be a conservative means to believe their own group's norms are truly better, realer, and more moral than other groups. No matter what kind of people they are -- defined by religion, ethnic group or anything else -- conservatism is the belief that their own way of life is special and good. It doesn't mean they try to change other groups, necessarily, but they regard them as something strange, ignorant, they assume other groups' beliefs are wrong and their intentions are bad. And education undermines that way of thinking. As you learn, as you become educated, you come to see your own place in the universe in a different and humbling way. You sometimes see the aphorism, "Truth has a liberal bias," and well, it's not a joke, that's just how it is. Education will make you a liberal.

You and I think of education as a good thing. People learn facts, they learn critical thinking, and they can make better decisions, do better things, accomplish more, they understand more things. The effect of education on our society has been amazing, just look around at the technology we have, the institutions that people have made, this is all based on the ability to reason objectively about the real world. But not everybody sees that as a plus; these same skills are a threat to traditional, tribal, parochial norms.

We have a President Trump because a lot of people are not educated and do not value knowledge. His presidency is defined by ethnocentrism, that is the concept that sums up his appeal and his decision-making; he stands for white Americans and that's that. There is no regard for higher values of ethics, reasoning, no respect for facts. When you let education slide this is what you get, the once-great United States of America is now like some third-world country, dysfunctional and petty. Trump's election is a consequence of bad education and his Presidency will ensure that American education in the future is even worse.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Anchor

To take just a couple of paragraphs from a typical article this week, this one from The Post:
A year ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, Republicans are increasingly uncertain about keeping their majorities on Capitol Hill and are worried about how damaging Trump’s jagged brand of politics may become to the party.

“Donald Trump is an anchor for the GOP,” said veteran party strategist Mike Murphy, a Trump critic. “We got that message in loud volume in Virginia. The ­canary in the coal mine didn’t just pass out; its head exploded.” ‘Canary in the coal mine’: Republicans fear Democratic wins mean more losses to come
Funny, in another time and place, an "anchor" would be a good thing. And in fact the meaning doesn't change. An anchor is something weighty that you can tie your vessel to, to ensure that you have a steady position and don't drift.

In this case, the Republicans have tied their vessel to the most corrupt, lyingest, slimiest politician in modern American history, and suddenly they are "increasingly uncertain." Like, what, they didn't think people would notice? Did they think this was going to work? Now that anchor is holding them in place while the tide turns.

The only aim of today's Anchor President is to oppose everything and anything having to do with the black guy and the shrill woman. Ridiculous Secretaries are driving corrupt, self-serving Departments into the ground. Bizarre judges are getting appointed without a fight by the well-anchored legislature. We used to say, "Wait till there is a real disaster," and now there have been real disasters and the Trump administration was worse than useless. The guy actually picked fights with local officials who were wading chest-deep in floodwaters trying to save people. They sent Skittles, Cheez-its, and beef jerky to the starving island of Puerto Rico and sent a Cabinet Secretary's buddy's company with two employees to restore the electrical grid there. He thinks it's funny to call the crazy leader of a nuclear-armed country silly names.

Did you read about President Trump's visit with the American Indian leaders? This is amazing. Axios has the story. It happened last June, they have two first-person accounts and the White House does not dispute the story.

A group of tribal leaders met with the President to talk about the regulatory barriers to mining on the reservation. They had their Powerpoint ready to go; Trump waved it off.
He asked the tribal leaders what they needed and how he could help them. The tribal leaders told the president they couldn't get to the resources they needed quickly enough.

Trump interjected: "Why?"

They explained there were government regulatory barriers preventing them.

Trump replied:
"But now it's me. The government's different now. Obama's gone; and we're doing things differently here... So what I'm saying is, just do it."
There was a pause in the room and the tribal leaders looked at each other. One of them started to try to walk back through the barriers to accessing the energy; and Trump cut in again. "No. You've got to just do it. Just do it."

"Chief, chief," Trump continued, addressing one of the tribal leaders, "what are they going to do? Once you get it out of the ground are they going to make you put it back in there? I mean, once it's out of the ground it can't go back in there. You've just got to do it. I'm telling you, chief, you've just got to do it."
Of course everybody can relate to that. You don't try to figure out all the complicated rules, just cut through the crap and do what you have to do. This is why Trump supporters supported him, because he brushes the red tape aside and gets down to business.

Right?

Except for the nagging fact that he is the President of a country with a Constitution and laws. He is telling these community leaders to ignore the law, to break it, because now that he's in charge the government won't be able to do anything about it.

On the surface of it, this is anarchy. The President has no regard for the law -- if you don't like the laws just ignore them.

But it's worse than that, this is privileged anarchy. When you and I see something we want we can't just take it. But these tribal leaders have every reason to believe they are protected by all the weight of the office of the President of the United States of America. If they are hauled into court they can swear honestly that the highest authority in the land told them it was all right.

That's just how it is now, Trump is loading the government with criminals who are using it for their own profit while the principle of law is ignored when it is inconvenient. The Republicans have stood together in support of this guy. And wow, here was election day, and the anchor turns out to be an albatross: Republicans are increasingly uncertain.