Sunday, October 14, 2018

Ignore High and Low

There seems to be some confusion lately about civility, and Michelle Obama’s 2016-ish idea that “When they go low, we go high.” Some prominent liberals — Hillary Clinton, Eric Holder, Michael Avenatti, among them — are having second thoughts about this lofty-sounding idea, which is, intrinsically, a losing strategy. When they hit us below the belt we are going to be nice back to them, uh huh. The problem arises when you think there are only two options, that is, we “go high” by turning the other cheek or we “go low,” like conservatives do.

Going low would mean lying, using dirty tricks such as voter suppression, manipulating the press, falsely associating your opponent with negative groups. Well, liberals could do that, we could go low. There is nothing inherently wrong with working the system to further a higher cause, except for one thing. When your cause is reason, fairness, and kindness, and the other side’s cause is to gain power for power’s sake, guess what — the power-seekers are gonna win. Winning power is conservatives' whole goal and they will be dedicated to it: winning at any cost. There is no belief system behind that, they don’t have a plan for what to do once they’ve won power, they just mean to win. Lying and manipulating people is inconsistent with liberals’ goals, and it wouldn’t work for us, anyway. So, as far as I can tell, “going low” is not a liberal option. A liberal who goes low is, technically, a "conservative." BTW, the concern with looking like hypocrites affects only one side of the national debate.

Another option is to fight back. But you can hardly do that. Here’s a term for you: Gish Gallop. Wikipedia explains:
The Gish gallop is a technique used during debating that focuses on overwhelming an opponent with as many arguments as possible, without regard for accuracy or strength of the arguments. The term was coined by Eugenie C. Scott and named after the creationist Duane T. Gish, who used the technique frequently against proponents of evolution.
You cannot “fight back” against the Gish Gallop. Trump is a troll supported by an army of trolls, and this is what they do: the Gish Gallop. They throw out accusations and ridiculous falsehoods too fast to keep up with. Trump’s lies have accelerated lately, almost every statement he utters contains a falsehood, and you simply cannot find the facts and refute every lie as fast as he can generate new ones. Never mind his supporters. The lies come so fast that you cannot in a lifetime disprove all of them. Fighting back is futile. There is also a tactical advantage for the person who makes a statement, relative to the person who counters it. So don't bother.

Oh, you could “go high.” WTF does that mean? You could talk in calm tones, stick with facts, make reasonable statements and follow through with them. Uh huh. You could bore people to death. The media will treat you like you don’t exist, people will ignore you. Picture Hillary in the debates, “going high” against Trump, talking about policies and decisions she would implement if elected, with him snorting and pawing behind her, stalking and distracting. In today’s attention economy, nobody cares about the high road. It should work, we should be able to discuss issues rationally, but in the current environment this is simply a losing tactic. You can take the high road all day if you want, to a room full of empty chairs.

Here’s a crazy idea — how about playing good, positive, assertive offense? What if liberals went out and talked about what they actually stand for. Don’t bother saying, “Tax fairness isn’t socialism,” or “My brother-in-law did not work for such-and-such borderline controversial group” or “I do not support crime,” or “I do not want an unregulated border…” or whatever. What do you stand for? A decent minimum wage? International relations? Climate issues? Gender equity? Making clear, un-watered-down progressive assertions will be controversial enough, the cameras will follow you. Wolf Blitzer's eyeballs may pop out, but they will pop out on national television and it will draw a great audience.

Say what you say, and ignore what the authoritarians say you say.

Liberal politicians, and liberal voters for that matter, should deliver their message, clearly and loudly. Act like the ridiculous accusations don’t exist. If somebody is so stupid that they think, say, that Eric Holder is literally going to kick a Republican, then they are a lost case anyway. Make a joke if you must address the issue, and move on to your own talking points. This isn’t “going high,” and it isn’t “going low.” The media will pay attention to you if you make bold and clear statements of your beliefs and your intentions as a candidate.

The truth is, most Americans hold progressive values; you might find thirty percent are haters, the rest are good, reasonable, caring people. A liberal candidate may advocate a single-payer healthcare system, and another may recommend another way to enact coverage for everyone — let that be our debate. Almost all Americans would want to have their health needs taken care of without cost, there is nothing controversial about that idea. The question should be, what approach will we take? What is the best way to do it? Who cares if pharmacy and insurance lobbyists are freaking out? Not our problem. Let them figure out what their role is in America’s better future — I am confident they will figure out how to rake a buck off the top.

Similarly, most Americans are not racists, or sexists, they may hold traditional values and stereotypes that bias their attitudes but they do not mean to block women from being successful and do not approve of rape and harassment, they do not believe that Hispanics and black people are inferior and less deserving that white people; they might not understand gay people but they don’t really have anything against them. Fairness and equality are not radical ideas, you don’t have to “go high” to say out loud that discrimination needs to be eliminated, and that there need to be programs that lend a hand up. Most people believe that. It is a winning argument. Just say it. Abortion, too. Most people know that sometimes a woman needs an abortion. If one American woman in three has had one, then that means everybody knows a woman who has had an abortion. It is your wife, your sister, your neighbor. It is legal, it is medical care, and it needs to be protected; everybody knows that. Don’t pussyfoot around, don’t let the nuts define the topic, just say what is obvious. It’s not “going low” and it’s not “going high” to say that decisions about a necessary medical procedure need to be made by a patient and her doctor, not some religious terrorists. It is saying what needs to be said.

It may seem to be a little rude sometimes to refuse to go along with the topic that the authoritarian right and their media pundits believe we should be discussing, well we can be nice about it, but firm. We don’t need to talk about giving guns to teachers — it’s a dumb idea, we don’t even have to argue why it’s dumb, the idea is not realistic and it was only suggested to throw reasonable debate out the window. People do not want to take little kids away from the parents and lock them up or put them up for adoption, there is nothing "bold" about opposing that. Nobody in America actually wants lower taxes for rich people — we all hate having to give our money to the government, but we do it because we all know we are going in together on the costs of services that only government can provide. So why are America’s oligarchs getting away with paying nothing? Liberals should not have to argue about whether they are socialists or not when they oppose tax cuts for the rich, it’s a stupid criticism and we should ignore it. Anybody who thinks it is “socialist” to expect the rich to pay taxes is a goner already anyway.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Minorities See It

If there was a movie, Brett Kavanaugh would be the bad guy. He is somebody you can't identify with, a puffy-faced drunk with an impotent whiny temper and no respect for women, he's moody and defensive and paranoid and not very smart. He would be the "spoiled rich guy" in the movie, the ex-boyfriend, and at some point the streetwise hero would punch him out and the audience would cheer. He is a creep.

But Republican Senators think he is a fine specimen, a regular guy. He's one of them. He likes beer a lot but never blacks out -- just ask him -- and so when he says he doesn't remember trying to rape this particular Holton Hosebag, it means it never happened. Not that it matters, because the Senators didn't believe her, or, really, care. They hired somebody to talk to her so they wouldn't have to, and at the end of the day it didn't matter. Kavanaugh is one of them, and now he will determine how the Constitution will be interpreted for all of us.

The Root is an online magazine with a black readership, and they make a great point, regarding a recent poll.
...what virtually no mainstream coverage of that poll mentioned, despite Quinnipiac highlighting it in their own summary of the data—is that there were steep racial divides in how people viewed Kavanaugh.

Those results would reveal that 83 percent of black and 66 percent of Latinx voters believe Blasey Ford, compared to a mere 40 percent of white voters. And that 80 percent of black and 69 percent of Latinx voters considered her honest compared to just 54 percent of white voters.

This gap persists even when you isolate out white women, a demographic some pundits believed would be outraged at how Blasey Ford was treated by Senate Republicans (her testimony—deemed “credible” by Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee—was essentially thrown out once Kavanaugh began rage-crying).

According to the Quinnipiac poll, nearly half (47 percent) of white women considered Kavanaugh to be honest. The numbers for black and Latinx voters? Just 7 percent and 34 percent, respectively. A plurality of white women did believe Blasey Ford (46 percent)—but it was nowhere near the majority, as was the case with black and Latinx voters. ‘People’ Aren’t Divided on Kavanaugh’s Confirmation. White People Are.
Black and Hispanic Americans believed the victim and saw the creep as a creep.

Trump rose to power on a message of white supremacy, and here you see how it works.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Dear FBI: Check July 1 At Timmy's House

Yesterday's hearings were remarkable. The Republicans want a conservative on the court, they want to get him (and it will be a "him") appointed while they have the majority to do it, and they don't care if he is a low-life criminal pig.

A woman claimed she had been sexually assaulted by their alcoholic nominee. Oddly, I mean, bizarrely -- there is not a word that expresses how weird and out-of-normal this was -- Republican Senators decided not to question the assault victim themselves, but brought in Rachel Mitchell, a prosecutor from Arizona who specializes in sex crimes. The questioning of the assault victim went in five-minute turns; a Republican represented by the prosecutor, then a Democrat speaking for himself or herself, and so on.

A prosecutor's job is to convict the bad guy. They want the criminal to confess on the stand, or they want to box him in logically until it is obvious to judge and jury that he did it. It is not the prosecutor's job to show that the victim is lying or otherwise make the defendant look innocent, which is what the Republicans wanted in this case. And, actually, the prosecutor's questioning did not cast any doubt on the victim Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's story. Ford was an extremely believable witness, in fact, nobody could listen to her testimony and decide she was lying. She is not a political person, she is a meek professor who has carried a terrible secret around for thirty-six years. She is very sure Kavanaugh is the assailant, and you knew, listening to her, watching her, that she is telling the truth. He did it.

This happened.

The prosecutor was not so flattering with Kavanaugh. He had brought some calendars he kept from his high school days, hoping to show that he was too busy with wholesome things to have assaulted a girl at a party. But, you know, that's not how prosecutors work.

Dr. Ford had said that she had been at a small party with Kavanaugh, his friend Mark Judge, someone named "PJ," and another boy, plus her friend Leland. There may have been others, but it was a small gathering, more of a get-together than a party.

From The Post:
Rachel Mitchell, hired by the Republican majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee to navigate the questioning of Kavanaugh and Ford, pointed to one particular calendar entry that got some attention after the calendars came out. It read:

Tobin’s House — Workout / Go to Timmy’s for Skis w/ Judge, Tom, PJ, Bernie, Squi

The reference to “skis” is apparently to “brewskis,” or beers. The entry was July 1, a Thursday. Mitchell asked him about it.
MITCHELL: The entry says, and I quote, go to ‘Timmy’s for skis with Judge, Tom, P.J. Bernie and ... Squi?’

KAVANAUGH: Squi. It’s a nickname.

MITCHELL: To what does this refer, and to whom?

KAVANAUGH: [after explaining the “Tobin’s House” part] It looks like we went over to Timmy’s. You want to know their last names, too? I’m happy to do it.

MITCHELL: If you could just identify: Is ‘Judge’ Mark Judge?

KAVANAUGH: It is. It’s Tim Gaudette, Mark Judge, Tom Kaine, P.J. Smyth, Bernie McCarthy, Chris Garrett.
Notice two things here. First, that “Squi” was in attendance at the party — someone who, we learned thanks to Mitchell’s questioning of Ford, was going out with Ford over the course of that summer. Second, notice those two other attendees, one of whom Mitchell highlighted: Mark Judge and P.J. Smyth.

Mitchell’s questioning continued.
MITCHELL: Did you in your calendar routinely document social gatherings like house parties or gatherings of friends in your calendar?

KAVANAUGH: Yes, it certainly appears that way, that’s what I was doing in the summer of 1982. You can see that reflected on several of the-- several of the entries.

MITCHELL: If a gathering like Dr. Ford has described had occurred, would you have documented that?

KAVANAUGH: Yes, because I documented everything, those kinds of events, even small get-togethers. August 7 is another good example where I documented a small get-together that summer. So yes.
During her testimony, Ford made clear that the event at which she says she was assaulted was a casual get-together before the others (who were older than her and had a later curfew) went to other, bigger parties. Kavanaugh says that the gathering at Timmy’s on July 1 was essentially that.
Immediately after that exchange, the Republican committee chair called a break, and the prosecutor was fired. She sat in her chair but did not ask any more questions.

Like many people in the country, I followed along on Twitter as I watched the hearings, getting reactions, seeing what people noticed that I might have missed. When the committee came back and the Republicans began handling their own interrogations, a lawyer who uses the handle "@emptywheel" tweeted: "I conclude from the GOP firing the sex crimes prosecutor that on July 1 Ford was sexually assaulted." I will note that I follow @emptywheel because she is usually right.

One question that came up during Ford's testimony regarded the timing of the incident. She thought it was the summer of 1982, because she did not drive yet, but she did not have a way to be sure. The one thing she remembered was that she saw Mark Judge working at the Potomac Safeway six to eight eight weeks later. So, as she noted, if we could find out when Judge worked there, we could identify the approximate date of the attack. IRS records and employment records were suggested.

Again, from another article in The Post:
There’s a better source, as it turns out: Judge’s book, “Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk,” published in 1997.

In one passage, beginning on Page 92, Judge describes his time working at a grocery store in the context of his drinking problem. Emphasis added.
It was the summer before senior year, and by now, even though I wasn’t drinking every day, I was completely hooked. Going a week without getting drunk was unthinkable. I was spending between four and seven nights with the gang, either at a party or at O’Rourke’s.
Elsewhere in the book, Judge describes one of his acquaintances at the time, someone named “Bart O’Kavanaugh,” who vomited in a car after a party.

Judge continues. Emphasis again added.
Of course, alcoholics also get into all kinds of trouble because of their drinking. When they supersede their own tolerance, they suffer catastrophic hangovers. These can make getting through the day an Olympic event. This was never more evident to me than when, to raise money for football camp, I spent a few weeks working as a bag boy at the local supermarket.

My job was simple. People would leave their grocery baskets against a rail in front of the store, then pull their cars around. I would then sling their groceries in the car, sometimes get a small tip, and then wait for the next car...
Judge graduated in 1983, so this would be the summer of 1982. The Post shows Kavanaugh's August 1982 calendar with "FOOTBALL CAMP" running from August 22nd into September. Judge was working at the grocery store six to eight weeks after July 1, consistent with Ford's testimony and Kavanaugh's own calendar.

So a person trying to figure out what happened would easily form a hypothesis that Bret Kavanaugh sexually attacked Christine Blasey Ford at Timmy Gaudette's house on July 1, 1982. People present who could be interviewed about the crime include "PJ," "Squi," and Mark Judge, plus others mentioned on the calendar who seemed to stay in the background. Ford's friend Leland says she does not remember that particular party, but she believes Ford. There seem to be other issues with Leland, health issues. She has not said the assault didn't happen, or that the charges are false, as Kavanaugh repeatedly stated in the hearing. She just doesn't remember that one night when nothing unusual happened to her.

Since there was no commotion except in one upstairs bedroom, it is likely that nobody who was at that party remembers anything about it, especially those who were blackout drunk. But you can ask. Maybe somebody remembers something. It seems possible that Kavanaugh and Mark Judge remember something and will lie about it. Hopefully FBI interrogators have ways to deal with that. But as drunk as they were it is possible the boys didn't even remember the incident an hour later. This is an old case but sometimes good investigating solves those, along with good luck.

The prosecutor followed her nose to that July 1 date, and then Kavanaugh tried to lead her to an August date -- he read off all the names, all girls it sounded like -- and then there was a break. And then the Republicans decided not to use her any more. There was no explanation, no discussion about it, they just let the prosecutor sit there while they asked their own questions. This was a bizarre change of strategy but they pulled it off without attracting much comment, making sure that their preferred nominee was not literally prosecuted on the stand by the literal prosecutor they themselves had literally chosen to handle the questioning. Good ol' boy back-slapping was the order of the day.

Let's make it clear. Kavanaugh is a drunk, and has been since he was a teenager. He drinks too much and if he says he never forgets anything that happened he is either deluded or is lying. That doesn't make him an unusually bad guy but it is not what we want on the Supreme Court.

The most generous interpretation of the facts as we have them now is that Kavanaugh and Judge were drunk beyond the point of having good judgment, and perhaps beyond the point of remembering later. They dragged Ford into the bedroom and assaulted her, perhaps thinking it was a "game" or that it was funny, and when she got away they forgot what had happened, they rejoined the party, she quietly said she had to leave, and nobody paid any attention. From her point of view, she was nearly raped and nearly killed -- she felt that that was a possibility when Kavanaugh covered her mouth and nose. To the drunk boys it was just a prank, they were just having fun, but the girl was terrorized. They forgot about it, but it was a turning point for her that had consequences through her whole life.

I will not pontificate about white privilege, sexism, sexual violence, or even alcohol, here. You will see plenty of that. Kavanaugh is a pig. He is everything men in our society should not be, I don't need to explain that.

To me, the really shocking thing is the complicity of the Republican Senators. One by one they went around the dais sympathizing with this poor guy and complaining about the Democrats. Did you see Lindsey Graham's emotional outbreak? Wow. Not one of them doubted the assault victim's testimony, oh they complained about the timing of it and some gaps in her memory but there was no real question about it -- she was telling the truth. And if she was telling the truth, then he was lying. Maybe he doesn't remember, but that doesn't make him innocent. I do not think the "I was too drunk to remember" defense is really what we want in a Supreme Court justice, is it? Kavanaugh is a pig. You know it and I know it. But he's their man and they will stand behind him, no matter what. And you know what that makes them.

The Republicans want a win here. They denied Obama's nominee a hearing, because they want to stack the Court with conservatives. A guy Kavanaugh's age could serve for thirty or forty years if his liver holds out. And to get the win they would let this criminal go without an investigation, they would protect him in order to see that their so-called values are over-represented on the Court -- and this hearing gives you a very good idea what those values are.

And don't forget, other women have stories to tell. Julie Swetnick's is especially horrifying.

Will they get away with this? Probably. Looks now like the FBI will have a week to look into the accusation. You can't be optimistic about finding new facts thirty-six years later, but it's better than nothing.

It is hard to post on this topic because the news is breaking every few minutes. The Judiciary Committee has made a decision but as I post this the President has not yet given the FBI their assignment. No details are very clear about how this will proceed but I think the post as written above will continue to prove accurate even if things change.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Bladensburg Peace Cross

Occasionally we come to a point where you have to ask yourself whether you really do support the Constitution of the United States of America, or whether you think it just introduces a bunch of rules and head-in-the-clouds ideas that should be ignored or undermined.

And so we have the Bladensburg Peace Cross, a very large cross commemorating the sacrifices of forty-nine Prince George's County men who gave their lives in World War I. The forty-foot high cross was erected in 1925 and is a local landmark; it sits on a third of an acre of land owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, in the median of the intersection of Bladensburg Road and Baltimore Avenue in the suburb of Bladensburg, northeast of DC in PG County, near Hyattsville.

The Post oversimplifies a bit, but ... here's the problem:
A federal appeals court ruling on a challenge brought by atheists has said the Peace Cross is an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion and told a state commission that maintains the cross on public land to remove it, reshape or reassign its ownership. A World War I cross under siege
In 2015 a federal court ruled that because the purpose of the cross was not fundamentally religious, it did not violate the Constitutional provision that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The American Humanist Association appealed the ruling, and this week the Supreme Court will decide whether to take on the case.

It is not quite correct to call the American Humanist Association "atheists." The group's web site describes humanism as encompassing a "variety of nontheistic views (atheism, agnosticism, rationalism, naturalism, secularism, and so forth) while adding the important element of a comprehensive worldview and set of ethical values -- values that are grounded in the philosophy of the Enlightenment, informed by scientific knowledge, and driven by a desire to meet the needs of people in the here and now."

While many of them might not specifically call themselves "humanists," surveys show that about a fifth to a third of the American population do not have a religious affiliation. This proportion has been growing steadily since the 1990's. Most of these people believe in a higher power or spiritual force, they just don't accept the teachings of any particular religion. On the other hand, about three-fourths of Americans identify themselves as Christian with less than two-thirds belonging to a church congregation.

A symbol such as the Peace Cross creates a sort of dilemma for patriotic Christians; while they themselves may find the symbol to be consistent with their personal beliefs, their commitment to the Constitution and to the comon good of the country leads them to conclude that such a symbol should not be placed on government-owned land. As the humanists point out in their complaint, "[One of the plaintiffs ] believes that the Bladensburg Cross associates a Christian religious symbol with the State and gives the impression that the State supports and approves of Christianity, as opposed to other religions, and that the state may even prefer Christians and Christianity over other religions."

This is of course obvious.

It would be easy, though intellectually dishonest, to typify this dispute as if one side was less patriotic or less spiritual than the other, or as if one side values the sacrifices of fallen soldiers more than another. I don't see anything on the humanists' web site that says they are pacifists, or are opposed to traditional American values in any way, there is nothing here about honoring servicemen. The situation brings into focus a very specific violation of a very specific requirement of the Constitution, which is the founding document of the principles and laws upon which our civil society depends. The question is simple: do you support the Constitution, or not?

There can be no question that a forty-foot cross on government land in the middle of a busy intersection is a violation of the Establishment Clause, and I doubt that anyone is going to try to argue that. The cross is a Christian symbol, it has Christian wording on it and Christian services have been held there. I don't recall that the New Testament has any special comment about the mortality of soldiers, but the symbol of the cross suggests that the citizens hope that the soldiers who died in war will go to heaven and enjoy a Christian afterlife. There is no argument to be made that the humanists have misinterpreted this.

The question simply forces a choice. Are we as a nation committed to following the framework of the Constitution, or are we not? The Establishment Clause, and its counterpart the Free Exercise Clause, are clearly the result of some hard thinking and debate by the Framers. Though most of them went to church on Sunday and many would be described as Christians, they realized the danger that religion could have if it were able to insinuate itself into the processes of government. When they added a Bill of Rights to the Constitution, this was put into the very first amendment. There are lots of countries where religion is central to the government, and while it might work here and there it is intentionally and explicitly not the way we do it here. The ideal we call "freedom" or "liberty" is at the core of our understanding of what it means to be Americans. Our freedom is constantly under threat, and that threat almost always comes from within our borders.

Seems like there are two obvious solutions to this problem with the Bladensburg Peace Cross. They could knock it down, or they could transfer its ownership away from the state. There have been some legal ambiguities in the past about who actually owned that land, settled in 1960 with a judgment that the state of Maryland owned it. The cross was conceived and implemented by the American Legion, and they still have an interest in it. Why not give it to them, sell it for a dollar or something? I'm sure volunteers could work to keep the monument in good shape.

The humanists are not complaining because there is a cross. Clearly there are religious symbols everywhere you go, and religious expression is protected by the Constitution -- just not religious expression by government. Humanists don't care if people are religious. They are complaining because the state of Maryland is making a statement that favors one particular religion, in violation of the First Amendment.

There is a uniquely poignant irony in commemorating the lives of men who died to preserve our freedom as written into the Constitution by erecting a monument that violates that freedom.

No facts are under dispute. The cross is just what the Constitution forbids. Until now people have been willing to look the other way, but now the court will almost certainly be forced to rule that the law is being violated. Because it is.

I am hoping the American people are smart enough to work out a solution here. Everybody supports a monument honoring fallen soldiers. And even humanists can live with a big cross in the median, it doesn't hurt them in any way. The Constitution is a good idea and should not be treated like an imposition or an obstacle. The First Amendment is truly a cornerstone of our society which has offered Americans the freedom that makes this country what it is. You don't want to blow it off here.

I am hoping that the state and the citizens figure out a way to sell that little patch of land to a private investor. This cross is a prominent feature of the local landscape, with deep significance in respecting those who have lost their lives in service to their country. But it does violate the Constitution, when it is owned by the state.

This could become another polarizing moment in our turbulent time, and it probably will. Or it could become an occasion for people to work together, to see if there isn't a way we can make a small adjustment that lets the people of Bladensburg keep their monument.

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.