Monday, April 02, 2018

Dystopia Realized

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

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

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

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

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

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

But wait. There's more.

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



That is creepy. But it gets even worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Two Numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: is he lying?

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

A: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: is he lying?

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

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

There is no excuse for a mistake of this magnitude.

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 02, 2018

How Do They Feel Now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Carlinian Divide

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

There is an important message there for a democracy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Gallup: Most Admired Man and Woman

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

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

People, it's depressing, am I right?

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Trump Administration Censors Government Medical Researchers

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

Now we know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 01, 2017

Lock Him Up

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

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



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

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

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Education Makes Liberals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Anchor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump interjected: "Why?"

They explained there were government regulatory barriers preventing them.

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

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

Right?

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Deleting Trolls and Bots

This blog has always been known as a place for open discussion, allowing conservatives and liberals to exchange views since 2004. Some on our side think we have been too permissive, and there have been a couple of times over the years when I have had to block people who were slanderous or were just spamming inarticulately -- sometimes conservatives, sometimes liberals. Usually I warn them a few times then block the IP. After a few weeks I usually unblock it and give them a chance to behave themselves, and that has usually worked okay.

Lately there has been a new kind of problem. Trump supporters are putting all their eggs in the "lock her up" basket. Though it has been a full year since the election, they are still ratcheting up the hate for Hillary Clinton. Having started the campaign of personal annihilation in the 1990s the vast rightwing conspiracy has a good start; almost everyone has a "bad feeling" about the woman after decades of fruitless hearings and accusations, the feeling there must be "something wrong" or people wouldn't keep saying those things. Nobody really knows what exactly might be wrong, but there must be something, y'know?

Repetition does not make a statement true. People are focusing on Hillary because their life is a pitiful comic book and the nuances of reality are too much for them. They paint her as a serial murderer, child molestor, embezzler, traitor, criminal, liar, everyone associated with her gets their reputation slimed. It is bizarre to see that people are unable to manage their intellect in an educated country, but there you go, there are lots of dumb and unhappy people out there.

It is good for group cohesiveness to have a common enemy, and Hillary has been consigned to serve in that function. The whole thing is just weird to watch. It has nothing to do with her, herself, she is just a name for Republicans to direct their hate toward.

The Internet allows everyone to have a public voice, and there are two problems with that. One is that the anonymity of the net lets people express fantasies and opinions they would never say out loud if they were going to be held accountable. Hence: trolls. These thousands of losers live to undermine serious discussion and offend for the sake of offending. The second problem is bots. It turns out it is easier to program a troll-bot than a bot that will assemble valid facts and link them together to produce a valid argument. So bots turn out to be trolls, too, except they are not human, they are just programs that generate hateful text and post it in public forums.

This blog has been overrun lately by trolls and/or bots. Our comments section is overflowing with hundreds of posts that simply copy-and-paste rightwing propaganda or string together phrases like "Clinton crime syndicate" and "shocking new scandal" and try to link ridiculous accusations to the Democrat candidate from last year's election.

The Republican Party does not have an identity of its own now. They used to be clever at implying they had an economic theory, a diplomatic strategy, a moral compass, but the rise of Trump and the subservience of the GOP to his depravity has torn the cover off all that. Now all they have left is to rally behind their mob-mentality hatred for Hillary Clinton. It is sad to see American history come down to this, but times change and I suppose it was inevitable. The Democrats have challenges too but the Republicans have both houses of Congress and the Presidency and all they can do is investigate Hillary some more.

It turns out they have no plan for governing. Literally the only thing Trump has done is to reverse anything associated with Obama. But he has to do it with executive orders, because the Republicans in Congress are unable to pass any bills. And then half the time the courts throw out his executive orders because they are unconsitutional. The Republicans really don't have a vision, an agenda other than opposing the black guy and the shrill woman; they are living in a dream world -- today Corey Lewandowski said on Fox News, "What we should be focusing on is the continued lies of the Clinton administration." And that's the Republicans' plan. No really, that's what he said.

That does not mean that this blog has to be part of it. I am going to start deleting stuff. If you are conservative and want to make a point you are welcome to talk here. If you are just flame-throwing I am not going to tolerate it. As the indictments start to flow I expect the fake news will intensify, and we are going to brace ourselves and start blocking the nonsense. I don't want to spend every minute of my day deleting posts and if a troll or bot (it is hard to tell the difference) keeps being a problem I will block them altogether.

If you want to express a conversative viewpoint we don't mind that but please keep to something believable. I do not have any set of "rules," I am just going to delete what I don't like. It might not be fair but hee hee hoo haw hee hee ho ho... If that bothers you then go somewhere else. I will start with the previous post.