defrog: (Default)
I don’t watch cable TV news, and I don’t spend much time on social media, so I do miss out on certain trends that are all the rage in American sociopolitical discourse.

Like the sudden popularity of the word “snowflake”.

Which – as most of you probably know, but it’s news to me – doesn’t refer to actual snow, but people who are emotionally sensitive and/or easily offended.

In other words: liberals, PC enforcers, SJWs, and other labels that conservatives – particularly Trump supporters – like to slap on anyone who says D.Trump is kind of a jerk, or that nuclear war isn't such a great idea.

The Guardian has a good write-up here on the emergence of the “snowflake” trend.

But while the article describes it as a recent thing that has sprung up during this particular election year, to me it’s really just another variation on a long-running conservative theme – that it’s a virtue to be tough, manly and invulnerable to insult.

Pansy, pussy, sissy, candy-ass, bleeding-heart, libtard, snowflake – it’s all the same, really.

Ironically, I do happen to agree – to a point – that political correctness and safe spaces are ultimately detrimental to both personal development and free speech. You can't really say you have an informed opinion about anything if you can’t rationally evaluate other points of view – and that means having to listen to them. It’s not enough to be able to say (for example), “racism is wrong”. You have to be able to explain why it’s wrong. And you have to be able to do that because actual racists have a long list of reasons why they believe their views are right. Screaming at them that they are evil stupid people may make you feel better, but it doesn't make the case against racism or solve the problem of racism. Neither does pretending they don’t exist, or denying racists a platform to speak.

The current furor over Milo Yiannopoulos and his upcoming new book is a good microcosmic example of how zero tolerance for the kind of stuff Yiannopoulos says all too easily leads to censorship and stifling of debate – and also tends to work in favor of the person being censored.

That said, however, the “snowflake” mentality isn't really about that. Conservatives who whip out the “political correctness” or “snowflake” label to defend what they say aren't interested in opening debate – they just want the right to offend people (intentionally or otherwise) without being criticized for it. It’s kind of the reverse mentality of the PC groups but with the same basic result: I get to say what I want, and you have no right to contradict me.

If a “snowflake” is someone so thin-skinned that they can’t take criticism or even a joke, then Donald Trump is President of the Snowflakes. Trump and his fans are basically arguing for the right to insult and mock groups of people they hate without getting crap for it.

Also, as this column points out, the term “snowflake” – much like the term “politically correct” – has already become so overused as to become meaningless. It started out as a specific reference to certain people who demand the right to not be offended – now it’s a catch-all term for anyone who criticizes Trump et al on any point whatsoever.

So the term is already both hypocritical and pointless name-calling.

But that’s how we debate things in 2017 I guess – say whatever you want and scream down anyone else who says things you disagree with.

(NOTE: Given what I’ve written previously about Yiannopoulos and his Twitter behavior, I should mention that I see a difference between abusive behavior on Twitter and expressing unpopular and/or offensive ideas. I realize that tends to be a fine line with Yiannopoulos and people like him, but Twitter is a different venue from writing a book or giving a speech. There are different rules of engagement in play. It's the difference between me writing a book about my political opinions and me coming up to you and screaming them in yr face and harrassing you for not agreeing with me until you cry.)

Let it snow,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
Way back in the early 90s, I read Philip K Dick’s The Man In The High Castle, his classic alternative history that imagines what life in America would be like if the Axis had won WW2.

Nowadays, it seems a lot of people are taking a sudden interest in the book – or at least the TV adaptation of it – in part because they think it's a preview of the Trump admin.

While I remember liking the book, I didn't remember much about the story. So I decided to re-read it to see if it really is a vision of what Trump’s America will be like.

In a word, no. Here’s why.

1. For a start, of course, the America in TMitHC has been split up between Germany (east coast) and Japan (west coast) as a result of winning WW2. So it’s not the same scenario as a POTUS rising to power and implementing a nationwide fascist regime identical to Nazi Germany.

2. Also, the story takes place in either the Japan-run West Coast or the neutral buffer zone in the Rocky Mountain states. So it’s more of a depiction of life in those areas rather than the Nazi-controlled East Coast and the South.

3. The book does mention what life in the Nazi section is like, and it is what you’d expect – no Jews, no blacks (apart from slaves, as slavery is back in style, much to the delight of the South), secret police, banned books, totalitarian fascism in general, etc. It also mentions some of the atrocities the Nazis have committed with their insane ideology (such as literally wiping out every black person in Africa).

4. However, I seriously doubt that any of these things will come to pass under a Trump admin. The fact that actual Nazis (who would love to see these things implemented) voted for Trump doesn’t count. Whatever you think about Trump’s proposed policies regarding Muslims and immigrants, and whatever fascist tendencies he may have regarding the media, law enforcement, violence at rallies, people who criticize him, etc, I really don’t think that life in America under his command is going to become the fascist totalitarian state that Nazi Germany was and that the east coast of TMitHC’s America is said to be. It won’t even be close.

5. Sure, a Trump admin is not likely to be pleasant, especially for Muslims, LGBTs, racial minorities, etc. In fact, one slightly accurate comparison is that in TMitHC, some American characters express sympathy with the Nazis in terms of anti-Semitism, racism, establishment of public order, etc. Those attitudes aren’t as prevalent today as they were in 1962 when the book was published, but they do still exist, even though the targets of bigotry may have shifted.

But as I’ve said elsewhere, (1) Trump is no Hitler, (2) an authoritarian leader does not equal an authoritarian state and (3) the majority of the country did not vote for him, and doesn’t support his most extreme policy ideas. Granted, many people may be indifferent to them, but I think that’s in part because they didn’t take his rhetoric seriously in the first place.

6. So overall, no, TMitHC isn't what Trump’s America will be like. It’s a lazy comparison by people who think Trump is literally a Nazi (or at least actual Nazis voted for him, which apparently is the exact same thing).

7. I should add that I have not seen the TV version of TMitHC, so I don’t know to what extent they run with the “life under Nazis” aspect. I mention this because I suspect some people referencing TMitHC as a Trump preview may be thinking of the show, not the book.

Stranger than fiction,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
And so 2016 is done.

Here’s how a lot of people feel about it.







Here’s how I personally feel about it:

1. I do think that on some kind of objective or non-partisan level, 2016 wasn’t a great year, particularly for the West. After all, it was the year of a particularly noxious US election – easily the most soul-sucking and joyless of any election I’ve ever followed – bookended by the deaths of major cultural icons like David Bowie and Carrie Fisher, and punctuated by hate-fueled mass shootings, terrorism, and a deterioration of race relations, among other things. And it was a year where politicians successfully exploited fear, loathing and xenophobia to gain power, stoking higher and higher levels of fear and distrust between groups of people.

2. However, it’s fair to say a lot of this was artificially amplified by hyperpartisan broadcast media, blog sites and social media feeds packed with hyperbolic batshit negativity memes (which in itself is an objective indicator that 2016 was a drag).

3. So it’s weirdly appropriate that the “Fuck You 2016” meme shooting around the internet is itself a hyperbolic batshit negativity meme – for far too many people, that was their default setting in terms of media consumption and online interaction.

4. But it is hyperbole. This article from NPR and this article from WaPo make a good case for this. Also, this article from the Smithsonian provides historical perspective on the “worst year ever” meme. 

5. Granted, the extent to which it is hyperbole will depend on yr specific circumstances. For example, if yr just sad that yr candidate lost the POTUS election, that's just post-election blues amplified by the emo/fear aspects of this specific election. However, if you live in Flint, MI, or if yr an African-American whose family member was killed by police despite being unarmed, or if yr a Muslim who just watched a guy win the presidency by promising to treat you as an enemy of the state, or if yr hometown is Aleppo – etc and so on – then absolutely you’ve earned the right to say that 2016 was a terrible year. 

(On the flip side, if yr a Trump fan, a member of the KKK and/or a Wall Street player – or if you were simply someone who was not directly impacted by any of the above trends and/or don't really care about those who were – then 2016 may have been good year for you, barring any personal circumstances.)

6. In terms of historical perspective, 2016 was lightweight compared to – say – the years that contained political assassinations, the Holocaust, the Inquisition or the Black Plague. And as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, in terms of pure statistics, 2016 actually showed promise in a lot of areas. So like the NPR article mentions above, a lot of the dithering over 2016 is more about perception than reality.

7. Others have pointed out – and I agree – that calendars are artificial constructs for tracking the passage of time, so it’s kind of silly to treat 2016 as a bad year that we need to get out of the way. It doesn't work that way.

8. On a related note, people made a lot of hay about 2016 being a bad year for celebrity icons. I think that’s a combination of the relevance of specific icons and also the age at which some of them passed on – Gene Wilder and Leonard Cohen (both in their 80s) were sad but not too surprising, compared to relatively younger people like Prince, Carrie Fisher, George Michael and possibly even Bowie.

But sorry to say, we’re going to see more of that in 2017 and every year from here on in. The actors, musicians, artists and other heroes whose work meant something to us when we were kids are mortal like everyone else, and sooner or later, it’s time for them to go. Knowing this doesn’t make it less painful when they do go, obviously. The point is that 2016 wasn’t some cursed year – it just seemed that way in the context of all the other crappy things going on.

9. By the way, for the people who have been joking that they hope 2017 is the year that Death stops killing the good celebrities and starts targeting people who “deserve it” (Trump being on the top of the list, followed by Ted Nugent, Scott Baio, Mike Pence, Ann Coulter, etc): not funny. Not to me.

Bring it on,

This is dF
defrog: (Mocata)
We have a new type of rule now. Not one man rule or rule of aristocracy or plutocracy, but of small groups elevated to positions of absolute power by random pressures and subject to political and economic factors that leave little room for decisions. They are representatives of abstract forces who have reached power through surrender of self. The iron-willed dictator is a thing of the past. There will be no more Stalins, no more Hitlers. The rulers of this most insecure of all worlds are rulers by accident; inept, frightened pilots at the controls of a vast machine that they cannot understand, calling in experts to tell them which button to push." – William S Burroughs, Interzone

Well, not so fast there, Bill.

It’s not clear when William Burroughs wrote that – it appeared in Interzone in 1989, but that book includes a lot of earlier work by Burroughs, so it could have been written any time between the late 50s and ’89.

Anyway, it’s a quote that’s stuck with me over the years – partly because he recorded it for Dead City Radio, and also because it struck me as the perfect description of how the US govt and Western democracy work. It helped that a college history professor I greatly admired gave a similar assessment – that the real power in Washington lies with the vast bureaucratic mechanism of government itself overseen by career politicians and experts who understand how it works. The President is really just a figurehead who surrounds himself with the experts who understand how the machine runs and how it will process whatever decisions are made. That doesn’t mean the POTUS has no power – just very limited power compared to a Stalin or Hitler. (Whether this is a good thing depends of course on how concerned you are about the balance of power between the elected POTUS and the appointed bureaucrats, the transparency of the process, etc.)

Anyway, it was this quote I found myself remembering when I came across this article on Quartz (written in March before Trump’s nomination, BTW) about the return of authoritarianism – not just in America, where D.Trump has risen to power on a strikingly authoritarian platform, but in other countries that have elected leaders with similar authoritarian qualities in recent years.

Theresa May (UK), Vladimir Putin (Russia) and Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines) are the obvious ones that you hear about the most because of (respectively) Brexit, Trump and Duterte’s policy that if you see someone dealing drugs, you have permission to execute them on the spot. But there’s also Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Turkey), Shinzo Abe (Japan), Narendra Modi (India) and Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel). Meanwhile, in France, Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front has moved from the fringe to the mainstream,emboldened by Brexit and Trump’s victory. The same goes for Geert Wilders and his far-right PVV (Party For Freedom) in the Netherlands.

And even in countries where far-right populist parties aren’t leading the polls, their support is growing.  All of them are pushing the populist line that essentially aims to galvanize nationalist sentiment, kick out the foreigners (by which they mostly mean Muslims), selectively curtail civil liberties (particularly for their critics), and Make [Insert Country Name Here] Great Again.

It’s like Trump opened a franchise, although that would be giving him too much credit. Much of this – even the sentiments that his campaign successfully exploited – has been brewing for years and years. These politicians didn’t just show up out of nowhere and con people into buying xenophobic claptrap they didn’t know they needed. Those sentiments were already there.

The obvious question is: why? And the answer is a lot of complex and nuanced guesswork. You can read the Quartz article, this WaPo piece and this article here for an idea.

Personally, I would add that a lot of it comes down to the rise of fear, uncertainty and instability that many people feel as the world changes at a faster rate than people are prepared to deal with. There are specific things you can point to, like the wealth inequality gap, education quality, social upheavals of institutional norms that people haven't had time to process (gay marriage, transgender washrooms, etc), and the ability of both broadcast and social media to amplify all of these issues to wildly disproportionate levels of hysteria.

But on a macro level, I think it’s really down to people feeling afraid and uncertain about the future. I think this is also why we’re seeing a rise in fundamentalist ideologies – not just of the religious kind (Christian and Muslim), but also sociopolitical beliefs. Fundamentalism by definition does not tolerate any idea or opinion that contradicts its worldview. And I’ve written before about how this election more than any other in my lifetime has been characterized by political debates in which people on the other side of the sociopolitical aisle are branded not just misguided or wrong, but evil and dangerous criminals and traitors who will destroy the country and society as we know it unless they are stopped (preferably at the polls, although if that doesn’t work, well …).

In that kind of environment, it’s no wonder more voters are seeking some kind of strongman (at least a symbolic one) in charge to put everything in order the way they think it ought to be put (i.e. in their favor).

Having said that, I don’t think this necessarily signifies the return of Stalins and Hitlers – at least not to those extremes. As I’ve said before, Trump is no Hitler – at least not yet, and not as long as he stays confined by the constitutional framework, economic infrastructure and diverse media outlets that he has no control over. (Those of you tempted to bring up conspiracy theories about the corporate media being a willing tool of the Republican Wall street fat cat evil bastards who really run America, you go right ahead, but I will shake my head sadly at you and move on.)

If it helps, here are two things to keep in mind for perspective:

1. There’s a difference between an authoritarian state and a totalitarian state – both are dictatorships but the latter is the more extreme version where every aspect of society is controlled by the dictating power (see: Stalin, Hitler, Kim Jong-Un, etc).

2. Authoritarian leadership doesn’t equal an authoritarian state. The latter is a monopoly of political power that can be maintained even in a system that allows some form of democracy. So unless (and until) Trump restructures the political system to prevent anyone other than Trump (or the GOP) from controlling every branch of government (to include state level) permanently, the US cannot be called an authoritarian state. The same goes for other countries where authoritarian politicians have power or are closer to acquiring it.

So to come back to that Burroughs quote up there, I think it's true that there will be no more Stalins or Hitlers – in the traditional sense. Perhaps what we’re seeing now is a mutation of sorts – a new breed of iron-willed dictator who is able to dictate within the constitutional confines of a democratic system with a functional (if inefficient) bureaucracy without radically altering its structure. They don’t need to understand how the machine works – they just need to figure out how to get the machine to do what they want it to do without breaking it. It helps that in the last 50 years (or longer), the machine has already been stress-tested in terms of how far you can quietly erode freedoms and civil liberties (in the name of national security) within the constitutional parameters under which it operates.

Which, again, is probably giving Trump too much credit – it’s reasonably clear he’s in this for the ego boost rather than any actual power, and had no real plan for anything apart from winning the election. And I would argue that Trump isn’t an iron-willed dictator so much as a thin-skinned egotistical blowhard control freak.

Is there a difference? I think so, in the sense that the former generally wants ultimate power to transform the country to his/her ideological vision of purity and will do whatever it takes to achieve it. The latter wants power mainly to stroke his/her ego and make his/her life as easy as possible – if they can institute their policies without breaking the system, then great. If not, then it becomes a question of tradeoffs (as in: will abolishing Congress impact my stock options?).

I may be way off here, of course. I’m guessing like everyone else, and I’m drastically oversimplifying all this. My overall point is that I don’t think the rise of authoritarian leaders means that traditional dictators (i.e. Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, etc) are coming back into style.

What we may be seeing is a shift towards a quasi-authoritarian democracy under which people decide who gets to be dictator for the next term. Given the increased polarization and fundamentalist attitude of political parties, I think we're already at a point where a significant number of people will settle for nothing less than their favored political party achieving solid control over all three branches of govt and refusing to compromise an inch on any given policy idea or legislation. In short, they want a dictatorial govt that works in their favor – but they also want the mechanism in place to change dictators without resorting to a coup de tat (which would mean hard work and sacrifice).

To be sure, I’m reasonably certain those people who want an authoritarian version of democracy don’t think of it in those specific terms. And they are in the minority – for now. But their numbers are growing, and people like Trump are taking advantage of that. Put another way, the problem may not be Trump (or May, Erdoğan, Abe, Modi, Benjamin Netanyahu et al) so much as the voters that put them into positions of power in the first place.

Where this will lead to is anyone’s guess – again, I’m not convinced it will lead to Trump literally doing what Hitler did. But we are seeing a weakening of support for a loyal opposition that is essential for making democracy work. When you rebrand the loyal opposition en masse as the enemy of the state, yr asking for authoritarians to step in and fix them but good – maybe not in terms of purges and concentration camps, but certainly in terms of permanent disempowerment.

In which case perhaps democracy really will be a case of the winners getting the government they deserve – at the expense of everyone else.

We have met the enemy and he is us,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
I was out traveling the world last week, so I didn’t have time to comment on the news that D. Trump managed to create at least two diplomatic incidents with nuclear powers in one week – one with India and the other with China – and he’s not even actually POTUS yet.

I have time now. So:

I’ve been mildly amused by comments from people – even people who hate Trump – who don’t get what the big deal is over Trump phoning up Taiwan as though they were an independent sovereign country and not a part of China.

I’ve been hearing this one for years from Americans who don’t understand the One China Policy primarily because, for all intents and appearances, Taiwan is functionally separate from China – it has its own govt, its own economic system, its own army. It’s a separate damn country, why not just say so? Why are we appeasing a Damn Commie dictatorship by pretending something is real when it’s clearly not? Call a spade a spade! GIMME THE STRAIGHT TALK! POLITICAL CORRECTNESS SUCKS! AND BY THE WAY I’LL CALL ANYONE I DAMN WELL WANNA CALL AND WHO THE FUCK IS CHINA TO TELL ME WHO I CAN AND CAN’T TALK ON THE PHONE WITH WHENEVER I WANT THIS IS A FREE FUCKING COUNTRY AND CHINA CAN GO FUCK ITSELF IF IT DOESN’T LIKE IT AND WANTS TO LIVE IN ITS LITTLE PRETEND WORLD – 

I’m paraphrasing. More or less. But that’s the general gist.

And of course, all of this is technically true. The extent to which it matters depends on to the extent you think that diplomacy is an important component of international relations.  

You can argue that China lives in a little fantasy world where Taiwan never actually left China. One could also argue that the people who think we should call China openly on its bullshit live in their own fantasy world where there are no consequences for breaching established diplomatic protocols in a global economy – especially when dealing with countries who own nukes and who you owe $1.1 trillion.

For those of us who live in the real world, yes, diplomacy does matter in foreign relations – at least if you want to get anywhere near a negotiating table. Trump can talk all he wants about using the One China policy as a bargaining chip for a better trade deal – it won't do him much good if China refuses to talk to him out of sheer spite. 

This is not to say that the One China policy is sustainable, by the way. Foreign policy experts have been saying for awhile now that while the One China policy made diplomatic sense in 1979 (at which time the pro-China KMT party – which has always supported the idea that Taiwan is still technically part of China – had a solid and consistent grip on power), the democratic situation in Taiwan has shifted significantly enough that it’s becoming more and more difficult for everyone – even China – to maintain that particular fiction.

Foreign Policy has a good write-up on this. I recommend reading it. It was written before Trump was a nominee, but it illustrates the problem clearly. It’s a long-term play that will take creative diplomacy and finesse to pull off so that everyone benefits without losing face.

And that’s the problem, of course: Trump does not do finesse. He’s demonstrated repeatedly that the word arguably does not exist in his emotional vocabulary. He evidently plans to run America the way he runs his companies on TV – like a flamboyant tough-talking businessman. It’s possible he made/took the call with President Tsai without understanding the diplomatic brouhaha it would cause. It’s possible he didn’t care. Either way, he’s managed to antagonize the one country that rivals America as a superpower through sheer thoughtlessness and/or idiocy.  

And he’s not even actually POTUS yet.

FUN FACT: For the record, Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, is chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Party (which also took control of parliament in the election that she won). That’s the opposition party to the KMT that – very much unlike the KMT – has typically advocated stronger independence for Taiwan. Beijing, as you can imagine, HATES the DPP with a vengeance. So you can imagine how they felt about Trump having a friendly phoner with Tsai, regardless of who called who.

Hold the line,

This is dF 

defrog: (Default)
If there’s one thing that America learned in this election, it’s this: a lot of information on the internet isn’t that accurate.

Granted, for many people, “inaccurate” means “this doesn’t fit the narrow hyperpartisan narrative in my brain”. Even now, media companies are getting a lot of flak from some liberals over their inaccurate and dishonest coverage of Donald Trump because they refer to him as “President-Elect Trump” and not “Fucking White Supremacist Nazi Batshit Insane Fascist Motherfucker Who Lost The Fucking Popular Vote Fake Fucking Not My President Trump”.

Anyway, now we’re hearing a lot about “fake news” on social media – especially Facebook –and to what extent this may have influenced the election.

Mark Zuckerberg hilariously tried to pretend the whole thing was overblown, since “fake news” accounts for a tiny percentage of what pops up on Facebook newsfeeds. Then Buzzfeed demonstrated that it’s not about percentages – it’s about eyeballs, and fake news stories on FB got plenty more of them than real news did.

The problem is also likely underestimated in terms of what counts as “fake news”.

Many people point to that kid in Macedonia working for Wikileaks or Vlad Putin, etc. But how about The Onion (which is satire, I know, but you’d be surprised how many people don’ know that)? Or how about stories from hyperpartisan sites like Breitbart or Addicting Info that are so blatantly one-sided that they might as well be fake? Or conspiracy/rumor sites like Infowars and Drudge? And are we including all those political meme graphics with info that usually is at best misleading and at worst completely false (making them the FB/Twitter equivalent of chain emails)?

And so on.

Once you factor all of that in – as well as the statistic that 62% of Americans get their news from social media (to include Facebook, Twitter and Reddit) – then I would argue that “fake news” was indeed a fairly big factor in this election. 

That said, I would add further that I don’t think it influenced the actual outcome. Or at least there’s no evidence of this yet. I do think that at a minimum, it served to reinforce the batshit reality bubbles that the hardcore left/right bases tend to live in already.

Which does raise a valid question: if fake news is the problem, is it the fault of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit etc for not doing enough to flag it, or is it the fault of the gullible and narrow-minded people who believe this tripe and can’t be bothered to fact-check it?

Either way, people are demanding the social media sites do something about it. M. Zuckerberg says he’s working on it.

Interestingly, four university kids claim to have solved the whole problem with a Chrome browser extension called “News Feed authenticity checker” which they whacked together in about 36 hours, according to Business Insider:
 
"It classifies every post, be it pictures (Twitter snapshots), adult content pictures, fake links, malware links, fake news links as verified or non-verified using artificial intelligence.

"For links, we take into account the website's reputation, also query it against malware and phishing websites database and also take the content, search it on Google/Bing, retrieve searches with high confidence and summarize that link and show to the user. For pictures like Twitter snapshots, we convert the image to text, use the usernames mentioned in the tweet, to get all tweets of the user and check if current tweet was ever posted by the user."

The plug-in even adds a tag saying whether the story is verified. The students have released the extension as an open-source project for other developers to tweak.

Certainly Facebook should be able to think of an algorithm-based solution – Google did something similar to deal with webspam content farms. But as this Vox article argues, it’s not a choice between algorithms or humans to vet fake news – you’ll probably need both.

On a side note, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft have agreed to create a shared database that allows them to ID and flag extremist content.

By “extremist” they mainly mean Islamic State and its supporters, but I suppose it could also be applied to, say, white supremacist/anti-Semitic groups who seem to be enjoying themselves at the moment. I wonder how far they’ll take that – does Trump count as an extremist? Does #NotMyPresident count? Will any stories reporting what Trump says be flagged as extremist?

Big fun.

BONUS TRACK:
I wrote a song about political memes being as bad as fake news, you know. Go like this:


Lie to me,

This is dF
defrog: (license to il)
I should probably post something about Fidel Castro, if only for posterity.

Obviously a lot of people are assessing his legacy via their own narrow political filters. For some people on the Left he was a symbolic hero with good intentions who gave Conservative Self-Righteous America the finger for decades – oh, and great healthcare system. For some people on the Right he was an evil, ruthless murderous Commie dictator (just like Obama) and not at all like (say) Vlad Putin (admirable) or Saddam Hussein (not a Commie, great terrorist killer).   

I think it's fair to say that Castro was all of these things. For me, however, Castro was mostly a cartoon character in American pop culture.

For context, I was born in 1965, well after the Communist Revolution in Cuba and the Bay Of Pigs incident. By the time I was aware of “the news” and the existence of geopolitics in the mid-70s, Castro was more a comedy staple than Terrifying Communist Menace On America’s Doorstep. Even with the Cold War still raging, Castro wasn’t an actual threat to America so much as an irritant for right-wingers annoyed that anyone could get away with setting up a Damn Commie regime just 90 miles off the coast of this great nation, etc.

So by the time I was aware of who Castro was, my image of him was more like this.

 

 

 

Of course, as I got older, I learned about the details of his regime, which are far more nuanced and complex than either side cares to admit. But really Castro has always kind of remained a television news character – like Reagan, Yasser Arafat, Mikael Gorbachev and others. So I didn’t take him all that seriously.

Which is probably why by the 1990s – like a lot of people – I thought the US ban on trade and travel with Cuba to be anachronistic and pointless. Sure, dictatorships are bad, and life under Castro was pretty bad for a lot of people.

On the other hand, by then I was very aware that the US govt has always been selective about which dictatorships are bad. And frankly by the 90s it was pretty clear that the US sanctions that were meant to isolate Castro and hasten the demise of his revolution simply weren’t working. At all. They weren’t working all the way up to the time that Obama put an end to them.

I guess that’s why on a purely objective level, it’s hard not to be impressed with Castro a little. He was a genuine cult of personality who started his own banana republic and defied the world’s biggest superpower right up to the end of his long natural life. The US couldn’t kill him (and don’t think they didn’t try). They couldn’t squeeze him economically. Nothing worked. (The going joke now is that the CIA finally got him by getting him to die of old age.)  

Still, yes, murderous dictator, etc. For all of the US’s hapless failings regarding its foreign policy on Cuba, no one should be glossing over the fact that Castro was pretty ruthless and heavy-handed as dictators go. You could argue that his predecessor Batista was worse, but let’s not pretend Castro’s opposition got off light.

Anyway, he’s gone, and now many Cubans are hoping that, with reformist brother Raul in charge, the country can move forward somehow and join the 21st century.

There is one hitch, of course.

Cuba libre,

This is dF 

defrog: (onoes)

A few other random observations about the 2016 election:

1. This is probably the first election in my lifetime where it seemed people went to the polls with virtually no idea what either candidate actually planned to do if elected.

Yes, they knew where Trump and Hillary stood on various issues and each other. But that’s not the same thing as offering details on an actual plan for acting on those positions. Trump went to the wire offering close to zero concrete details on his big plans for the country (“Build The Wall™ and make Mexico pay for it” does not count – that’s a catch phrase, not a plan), while Hillary had detailed plans but no one was talking about them. Everyone was talking about her emails, her pneumonia and her vast global criminal organization that only conservatives can see. If it ever came up during the debates (and I admit I didn’t watch them), the media highlights never mentioned them.

I don’t remember ever encountering this before. I know lots of people who vote for trivial and self-centered reasons and don't pay attention to policy details, but at least some of them usually talk about the issues and what their candidate plans to do about them in detail, especially regarding the economy. Not this year.

2. Another strange detail about Trump’s victory is that he won in part (or perhaps mostly) because he and his supporters are under the impression that America is in the worst shape it’s ever been – or at the very least, it’s worse than it was before Obama took over the dump.

The thing is, by just about every traditional metric we typically use to judge the health of the country under a given administration, the US has actually done okay under Obama, especially when you consider the shape it was in when he first took office (i.e. two wars, an economic meltdown, double-digit unemployment and an escalating national deficit, among other things).

Almost eight years later, the economy is going well, Wall Street is thriving, unemployment is at historic lows, and annual deficits are declining. Even the crime rate is way down. To be sure, the national debt is up 121% since 2009. On the other hand, did anyone even talk about the debt this election?

Anyway, the point is that by the numbers, the country is in relatively good shape, and better than it was in January 2009 – and yet at street level, almost half the country seems convinced that it’s actually worse. That was the whole point of Trump’s MAGA campaign – America has become the worst place ever under Obama, and only Trump can fix it.

There’s a couple of conclusions to draw from this: (1) Trump supporters are completely delusional and living in an alternate reality America – which is possible if they get their new solely from Fox News, Infowars and World Net Daily – or (2) the traditional metrics don’t reflect the reality on the ground for ordinary people – which is also possible (regardless of which reality they inhabit). So it's possible the old metrics don't mean as much to voters as they used to. Someone should do a tl;dr research paper on this, maybe.

3. I mentioned this before, but one interesting fallout of the Trump win is that the GOP has finally given up all claims of being the Wholesome Family Values party.

Which was never a very credulous claim to begin with, I know. I only mention it because I came of voting age at a time when the Moral Majority – and after them, the Christian Coalition – emerged as a heavy right-wing political force in the GOP. Which meant that pretty much every POTUS candidate had to pass a CC litmus test. Consequently, from the mid-80s up to now the political wisdom was that it was impossible for anyone to be a GOP candidate unless they were a devout Christian who not only openly supported Wholesome Family Values (i.e. Christian heterosexual nuclear family with 2.4 kids, no divorces and no fornicating before or outside of marriage), but also lived them.

Donald Trump is of course damn near the opposite of that model. Most evangelicals voted for him anyway, and for a variety of reasons – one being that many seem convinced that there’s a difference between Loud Outrageous Angry Pussy Grab Trump and President Trump. One was just an act, the other is the “real” Trump, or at least a changed Trump.

Another, of course, is that social conservatives in general have not fared well in the culture wars, and with a SCOTUS seat up for grabs, some see Trump at their only shot at regaining lost legal ground, because they’re certainly not going to get that from Hillary.

Anyway, I think that from this point on, the GOP going to have a very hard time supporting Trump and criticizing every Demo candidate after this for not being a clean living Christian monogamist still married to his first wife (who is not a foreigner).

Or maybe not. Never underestimate the ability of politicians and their supporters to harp on the opposition’s shortcomings no matter how many of them they may have in common, and no matter how blindingly obvious this is to everyone outside of their hyperpartisan reality bubble.

4. For people wondering if the results would be different if Gary Johnson and Jill Stein had minded their own business, well, we may never know. The Wall Street Journal says probably not, though of course it depends on how Libertarian/Green voters would have voted in a strictly two-party race (with the caveat that they may well have voted for no one at all).

I would argue that at the very least they kept either from achieving an outright majority, which just muddies the waters further.

5. Also, for people wondering just how Hillary could have blown it against someone as clearly unqualified as Trump, well, everyone has an opinion on that. These stories from Politico and The Atlantic are as good a guess as any.

Of course, some people will tell you she lost because she wasn't Bernie Sanders (and by “some people” I mean “people who voted for Sanders in the primaries and know for a fact he would have won because OBVIOUSLY”).

Yeah. One reason they’re saying that is because polls back before the convention had Bernie at a higher spread over Trump than Clinton did. The thing is, I was never convinced that meant anything. For one thing, the spread wasn’t that big – just a few points more. That might have helped in an election this close, but the other thing is that Bernie was running mainly against Clinton. The GOP barely paid attention to him because they assumed he wouldn’t be their opponent in the general election. If he’d won, you can bet they (and Trump) would have trained their guns on him and let rip, starting with his Socialist Agenda.

Still, maybe he would have overcome that. By traditional metrics, Trump should have lost before the primaries, so maybe that would have worked in Sanders’ favor too. We’ll never know. But since I never really felt the Bern, I can afford to assume that Trump would still be POTUS.

6. Amusingly (or not), Donald Trump is so annoyed at the recount clamor that he’s taken the trouble to tell everyone via Twitter (where else?) that in fact he did win the popular vote – all those extra votes Hillary got were the result of illegal voters.

He didn’t mention how he happens to know this, but by a wild coincidence Infowars – of whom Trump is a fan – ran a story claiming that 3 million people who voted were noncitizens. Their source: one guy who said so without providing any evidence backing up his claim. WaPo has a good wrap-up of how bogus this claim is.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice the unintentional irony of Trump alleging voter fraud on a scale that you’d think would justify the very recount he’s annoyed with.

Okay, I'm done.

An explanation for everything,

This is dF
defrog: (onoes)

Perhaps inevitably, we’re back in recount territory. Between Hillary’s pop vote lead now exceeding 2 million, and the fact that the polls all showed her in the lead (albeit barely) – and also supposedly Russians and/or Julian Assange hacked voting machines, maybe – HRC fans are desperately demanding a recount in key states. Even Jill Stein is doing it, and has been raising money to fund recounts in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the latter of which is now underway.

Personally, I’d rather they didn’t, because it’s really just asking for trouble the same way that asking the Electoral College to switch their votes is asking for trouble.

For one thing, it always comes across as sour grapes when the losing side demands a recount and accuses the other side of cheating or hacking voting machines or whatever because HOW COULD WE HAVE POSSIBLY LOST OTHERWISE?

Sure, Stein and others are arguing that it’s not about changing the results so much as proving the results are accurate so that we can all trust the system. On the other hand, if the situation were reversed and Hillary won in the same manner, would Stein and her supporters care nearly as much about the integrity of the result? (And I ask that knowing full well that Stein and many of her supporters never liked HRC in the first place – but I’ll bet many of the people contributing to her fundraiser would much rather see HRC in the White House than Trump and are more interested in proving Hillary really did win the electoral vote and that the GOP cheated.)

To be sure, it’s probably time we had an audit of some kind on the electoral process, and I don’t mind if it uncovers some real issues that need fixing. We’ve been talking about this since at least 2000, but once the election’s over, everyone loses interest and moves on. If we're seriously going to audit the voting process, now is as good a time as any to do it. 

On the other hand, there’s no real evidence that any significant fraud took place, or that voting machines were tampered with – not to the extent that it would change the results. And we already know it’s mathematically possible to lose the pop vote but win the electoral vote without the other side cheating or gaming the system. So it’s hard to know what Stein is really trying to accomplish apart from giving HRC one last shot at the White House.

It should be noted too that the one person not calling for a recount is Hillary – which is probably political savviness on her part. She’s already conceded and resigned herself, and instructed her fans to do likewise – only an idiot would actively demand a recount after that. So I’m sure she knows what she’s in for if she demands a recount and wins (or still loses).

Anyway, it comes back to what I said before – at some point you just have to accept that you lost and move on, because the alternative is an endless cycle of distrust and retribution where both sides become less and less willing to accept the transition of power. And whatever Stein’s personal motives might be, I think support for a recount is mainly from people who want Hillary to be declared the winner – and I will bet good money they won’t accept the recount results if Trump still wins.

Also, if the recount does somehow hand it back to Hillary, you can’t expect Trump and his supporters to take that calmly. Because would you?

Here we go again,

This is dF
defrog: (onoes)
Regarding the #NotMyPresident protests that Fox News is complaining about in the same way they didn’t complain about the “Obama is not legitimate” conspiracy theories:

Personally I’m not very critical of the anti-Trump protests in and of themselves, because I see them largely for what they are – a massive release of the fear, loathing and rage that has characterized this entire sad stupid election. It’s been a savagely emotional two years for everyone involved, and to lose when the polls all said otherwise (more or less) – and to do so yet again in a way where they won the pop vote but lost the electoral vote – is a hard pill for anyone to swallow.

And let’s be clear – Trump supporters aren’t really in a position to criticize the protests when (1) many of them refused to recognize Obama as POTUS because he’s gay Muslim foreigner, and (2) their own candidate said he would refuse to recognize the results if he lost. So let's not pretend that Trump fans would take an HRC victory calmly and agree to move on and unite the country instead of (say) grabbing their muskets, because they literally said they wouldn’t before the voting even started.

Also, it’s important to understand that a lot of this is driven by fear of what Trump and his fan base will or will not do to LGBTs, Muslims, immigrants and every other non-white-Christian-male demographic in America.

I get that. When I was a kid, I got bullied at school all the time (at one point it was for being gay, which I wasn’t, but people said I was, which was close enough for them). I had to go to school every day wondering what kind of shit I was going to be handed, if I was going to get teased or mocked or roughed up, or whatever. Some days were better than others, but that fear was constantly hanging over my head – not knowing what was coming or when or from who, but knowing that I would be forced to deal with it, that I wouldn’t like it, and that no one would back me up. And I had to go to school every day and face that.

That, I imagine, is how a lot of minorities in the US feel right now, only more so. The PEOTUS has given bullies a license to express themselves however they like – and they have been doing just that, and in the manner you’ve come to expect. So I can’t really fault anti-Trump protesters for taking to the streets to reject that philosophy. And it's a good sign that they are.

Having said that, I do think at some point they need to just accept the fact that Trump will be POTUS and prepare to deal with him and his minions on those terms.

Again, I get why that’s hard for them to do. At best they face a much more uncertain future than The Straight White Guys Of America – living in dread of what the Trump admin is going to try to do to them, or what their neighbors/work colleagues/strangers in food courts will do to make their lives sad and terrible.

But while I understand the emotional context of #NotMyPresident, I don’t support it in practice. For me, it’s very simple – the whole point of democracy is to create a peaceful transition of power. If you refuse to accept that transition, then yr headed down a road that leads to one coup de tat after another.

Note that there’s a major difference between refusing to accept the legitimacy of a POTUS and refusing to support any bad or dangerous ideas that POTUS may enact. You can both accept that Trump won AND oppose him on policy. What you can’t do is force him out and put Hillary in just because you want her there, no matter how dangerous you may sincerely think he’ll be.

Well, okay, technically yes you can, which is where people start talking about Hillary winning the pop vote and how the electoral college sucks and the electors should do their duty, become faithless electors and change their votes for Hillary.

Yes, legally they can do that. That doesn’t make it a good idea. Here are couple of reasons why:

1. If you were one of those people who criticized Trump and his posse for saying they would refuse to accept the legitimacy of a HRC victory, then it’s kind of hypocritical to refuse to accept a Trump win to the point of actively trying to change the official result in your favor.

2. Given how Trump supporters were convinced that Hillary would win by cheating – and were prepared to take action to save America – I’m pretty sure they’ll feel twice as strongly about that if the electors actively deny Trump the White House at this stage. If you think the pro-Trump racist groups act like violent jerks when they win, imagine what they’ll be like when they have their POTUS taken away from them.

For that matter, imagine the situation being reversed, where Hillary won the electoral vote only to have the electors give it to Trump.

So sooner or later, I think the Left is going to have to just bite the bullet and prepare to challenge the Trump admin enough to keep damage to a minimum. It will suck, yes. A raging civil war with street violence and possibly endless coups will suck a lot worse.

If it makes you feel any better, we’re already seeing hints that Trump was never serious about a lot of what he said, and only said it to exploit the far-right. He’s already denounced the so-called “alt-right” movement (notice the timing) and said he’s not going to bother putting Hillary in jail.

And suddenly every racist kook in America is starting to get the feeling they’ve just been played.

So there is that.

As I said in the last post, none of this necessarily means Trump will be a good POTUS after all. He’s still likely to do dumb and terrible things, and if he doesn’t personally, his appointees might, and certainly some of his supporters will (and already are). But if we’re lucky, Trump will turn out to be the ultimate huckster who – intentionally or otherwise – actually did us the favor of demonstrating to everyone that America still has a serious racism/bigotry problem that (it turns out) can’t be fixed by pretending that it doesn’t exist.

Interesting times, eh Jim?

The man who sold the world,

This is dF
defrog: (onoes)
Well. Talk about a twist ending.

And yet one I had a strange feeling we were going to see. When the nominees were selected, I called the election for Trump. I was kind of joking, and yet I never really wrote him off because he was never supposed to make it past the silly season last year.

Consider the traditional litmus test that the GOP usually applies to its candidates: ideologically pure, conservative Christian, family values, 100% American, etc. Which means that it should have been impossible for a womanizing atheist playboy with several divorces under his belt (and is currently married to a foreigner) to get the Republican nomination, let alone one who also managed to alienate every minority voting bloc in the country and bragged about being able to see beauty contestants naked (and grab them by the pussy, perhaps) just because he could.

Yet here we are.

And a significant portion of America – i.e. every liberal in the country and not a few Republican establishment people (not to mention Tea Party conservatives aghast that the anti-establishment candidate they wanted isn’t a “real” conservative) – is duly freaking out.

There’s really nothing I can say to them, because no one listens to anything anymore that isn’t authorized by their hyperpartisan echo chamber. Reason is useless (otherwise we wouldn’t be in this mess).

So really I’m just typing this for my own peace of mind. If it resonates or helps you in any way, great. Also, I’ll split these up for what passes for clarity around here.

Given the general fear that America has suddenly become one big KKK/Nazi rally, let’s start with some perspective of just what happened.

1. As you no doubt know, Trump actually lost the pop vote – by something like 1.3 million votes.

2. Voter turnout was around 52% – which is apparently the lowest since 2000.

3. Trump got about 47% of the vote from that pool, which means – according to my bad math – only about 25% of eligible voter voted for him and his agenda. (And again, that number is around 1.3 million votes lower than what Hillary Clinton got.)

4. Of the people who voted for Trump, many voted for reasons that had little or nothing to do with Trump’s extreme views, especially the ones that the KKK are very fond of. Because, believe it or not, lots of people really will vote for a candidate for one personal pet reason and ignore everything else. I know lots of people who do exactly that. I know people who voted for Trump solely because their insurance premiums went up under Obamacare, or because they liked Mike Pence saying he supports the police (and they liked it mainly because one or more family members are in law enforcement). I also know people who don’t believe Trump is a racist sexist anti-Semitic xenophobe because they think the media makes it all up.

We can argue all day about whether a vote for Trump is a vote for racism whether you intended it to be or not. (John Scalzi argues that it is, though his point is not that voting for Trump proves yr a racist sexist anti-Semitic homophobe – it means that you voted for someone with arguably racist sexist anti-Semitic homophobic views and has the express approval of people who actually are racist sexist homophobes, and is installing at least some of them in his admin, and if they enact any racist sexist anti-Semitic homophobic policies, you have to own that because you enabled it by voting Trump.)

The point is that at the end of the day, Trump’s victory is not the racist sexist anti-Semitic homophobic mandate that liberals fear it is, or that the white nationalists hope it is.

Put another way, 75% of eligible American voters did NOT vote for Trump. Which means that, worst-case, only a quarter of the population actively supports his most extreme ideas. My off-the-cuff guess is that it’s actually far lower.

That ain’t a mandate, not even if you assume that the 48% who didn’t vote stayed home out of disinterest to what happens to minority groups.

And it’s potentially a way to keep Trump and the GOP in check. Trump may not do focus groups – but the GOP does. And for all the dithering over the GOP having rubber-stamp powers come January, even Mitch McConnell has already said that Trump may not necessarily get everything on his wish list. Remember they were expecting to deal with President Jeb or maybe President Rubio, not some reality-TV blowhard conspiracy theorist. (Remember also that GW Bush had a rubber-stamp Congress at his disposal too – and for all the damage that he did, the GOP somehow failed to turn America into the Nazi Christian Theocracy Dictatorship my liberal friends were convinced they would.)

None of this is to say Trump won't try to do (and succeed at doing) terrible and dumb things. At the very least, if he doesn't personally do them, his proposed cabinet might.

And none of this is to say that there’s no institutional racism problem in America. More than anyone, Trump has proven that there is. And that’s not to say that minorities targeted by Trump and his minions will be unaffected.

What I’m saying is that – mathematically, at least – the vast majority of the country is not on board with his batshit. I think that will matter in the coming months when policies start to get enacted, because Trump is not a dictator. His policies may please people who are racist sexist anti-Semitic xenophobes, but he can't force you to be one. You do have the ability to oppose and resist such policies, and the numbers are on yr side.

“But dEFROG!” you may shout, “Trump is a fascist! He’ll scrap the Constitution, make himself dictator and turn America into Nazi Germany! Literally!”

He might. It’s not impossible. I seriously doubt that he will, because – as I say – he doesn't have the numbers, and to be honest, I don’t think he’s that interested in it. A lot of his campaign platform is the bog-standard far-right wish list that, nasty as it is, is still designed to work within the structure of a constitutional capitalist democracy.

(Also, I feel I should point out that many of my liberal friends have said that about every Republican president since Reagan. So far, I’d say their fears of a literal fascist dictatorship are misplaced.)

I'll add that I fully realize I have the luxury of saying all this as a straight white guy who doesn’t even live in the US (though I do have friends and family there, so it’s not like I have no skin in the game, so to speak). But I think it’s important for racial and sexual minorities to know that the whole country hasn't turned against them suddenly – the bullies have temporarily taken control, and that’s not good, but it’s not as hopeless as it looks.

Not yet, anyway.

Hang in there,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)


More later – I’m going to let the details settle into place before I post anything else.

DISCLAIMER: I'd planned to post this regardless of who won. It's not about who wins so much as how we react to it. And right now we're living in a state of constant polarized rage. 

A house divided,

This is dF
defrog: (onoes)
Well, we’re getting close to the end now. And it’s looking likely that Hillary is going to win this by an electoral landslide, if not a pop-vote one.

Which is good news for Hillary fans, certainly. And it’s arguably good news for America in the sense that the White House will be occupied by someone who is not an egotistical vindictive blowhard / dream candidate for every racist sexist xenophobe organization in the country.

There’s just one catch: it won't be the end of all the ugly savage batshit animosity we’ve endured in this election. Whether Trump wins or loses, his influence is going to continue long after November 8.

Consider:

On average, just over 43% of the voting public is still supporting Trump, regardless of every outrageous thing he’s said so far, let alone the fact that he has offered no real concrete plan to execute any of his ideas.

To an extent, that’s because they either think the media is making up or exaggerating his statements, or they hate Hillary so much that the only thing Trump could do to put them off at this stage is be caught on tape actually having sex with Hillary backstage at one of the debates. (And they’d still probably assume it was fake.) But I think it’s also because many Trump supporters see him as a champion of glorious political incorrectness who is vindicating every non-PC thought that crosses their minds. They have similar worldviews regarding Muslims, immigrants, black people and fat chix, and they wish they could get away with saying stuff like that at work without being shouted down by the office gay feminazi agenda task force or whoever.

I would also add that this is happening in the broader context of America devolving into a cynical “fuck everyone and everything” outlook that is pervasive in American pop culture today. It’s not ubiquitous, but I encounter it all the time in TV shows and Facebook memes – this worldview that everything is generally terrible and stupid except for “my” clique of people, who are “normal” and okay – everyone else can get fucked, fuck those motherfuckers, get the fuck away from me.

The parameters can be defined many different ways – maybe that ire is targeted at fat people, or handicapped people, or stupid people, or religious people, or poor people, or rich people, or hipsters, or people who shop at Wal-mart, or guys with man-buns, or whatever. But it basically comes down to dividing everyone into people you like or don’t like, and then saying it’s okay to pick on and make fun of the latter group because fuck ‘em, really.

This isn’t defined strictly by where you sit on the political spectrum – some liberals do this too, they just have different targets. It’s a human nature thing, really, not a political thing.

That said, it’s fair to say that the GOP has made it a point to exploit that worldview for political purposes and incorporate it into its platform (albeit more nicely worded). Trump has taken that basic strategy and dialed it up to 11, and the results speak for themselves. Many Trump supporters love his anti-PC schtick because they find it empowering and liberating. They want to be able to establish their superiority by expressing their hatred and disdain for people they look down on – fat girls and retards and foreigners and people who Don’t Belong, etc. They want a society where they can mock and bully the undesirables and have social mores back them up – just like the old days when America was "great".

Put simply, they want the right to act like a dick. (Or am I being divisive here?)

To be clear, I’m not saying this is why they’re voting for Trump. I’m saying it’s why his politically incorrect schtick isn't costing him the support he already has. Intentionally or not, Trump has successfully tapped into that mentality.

And here's the thing: that mentality won’t magically vanish if he loses. Those divisions will remain, in no small part because those divisions already existed. I would argue that Trump hasn’t divided America so much as amplified those divisions by ripping off the mask of civility we’ve used to either ignore them or at least keep them from becoming insurmountable barriers to moving forward as a country and a civilization. (And to be fair, Trump didn’t set this garbage fire all by himself – the GOP wrote the instruction manual and Fox News. Breitbart and Rush Limbaugh etc supplied the fuel.)

So with all that in mind, it’s easy to understand why some people are worried that Trump has been talking about this massive global conspiracy to keep him from winning, that the election is totally rigged and he will not accept a loss under those conditions, however imaginary.

Personally, I’m not sure Trump is really serious about that. I think he’s just salving his ego and creating a pre-emptive excuse if he does lose so he can say, “Hey, not my fault.” For all his talk about “I’ll decide at the time”, I think when the results are in he’ll shift the blame, make his excuses and go on to start his new TV channel or whatever. According to some people that’s been his exit strategy for awhile now. Maybe that was his plan all along. Who knows for sure?

The question is whether his base is going to leave it at that. If they’ve really bought into The Donald’s Grand Global Conspiracy meme that the Gawdamn World Liberal Media Crime League has rigged the system and the media against “real” Americans, how likely are they to simply accept a Hillary presidency?

Not likely at all.

Mind you, I doubt we will see full-scale pitchforks-and-torches riots across the country (to say nothing of muskets). We’re more likely see some outbreaks of personalized, opportunistic vandalism and violence directed at Trump’s enemies list, or another one of the Bundy Boys’ armed-standoff stunts (because hey, it’s not like you can go to jail for that).

All of which will be awful and wrong, but it’ll be nothing even close to a full-scale revolution or general breakdown of law and order that some people imagine.

But we will see extremely loud, hysterical resistance to an Imaginary Hillary Dictatorship. Hillary’s reward for winning the election will be the chance to govern a country where 43% of the population is convinced she’s an evil criminal mastermind backed by a global conspiracy who stole the election and should be in jail for crimes only they know for a fact she has committed.

And it’s a fair bet that the GOP opposition in Congress (whether they hold control of the House and Senate or not) will milk that sentiment for everything it’s worth because why wouldn't they? They’ve been milking the Evil Hillary meme for 30-odd years – why stop now when most of their base is doing the same thing?

That’s what we have to look forward to for the next eight years. That’s the best case scenario. Even if Hillary wins, Donald Trump will continue to encourage America to rip itself apart in a fury of paranoia of distrust and impeachment hearings and racist sexist bullying – he’ll just do it from the studios of Trump TV instead of the White House. We can only hope that the marks don't take it so seriously that a few of them decide to do a McVeigh. 

BONUS TRACK: See this interesting BBC take on Trump’s rigged election meme. One takeaway: it wouldn’t be the first time a POTUS has been declared an illegitimate winner. But every POTUS since at least Bill Clinton has been accused by the opposition of being a fraudulent POTUS. Makes me wonder if we will ever return to a point where the losing party will gracefully accept the results and move on.

Things fall apart,

This is dF


defrog: (Default)
I’ve been failing in my blogging duties, I realize. I have good reasons. One of them is a lack of time – it’s been a busy and transitional month at work, and family time has also been busier than usual.

Also, I find I don’t have much to say about the hot button issues I might normally blog about, if only because I’ve already made similar comments elsewhere and I find I’m just repeating myself. Either that or my response just seems so obvious that it doesn’t seem worth the effort to post anything about it.

Burkini bans in France? Stupid and bigoted.

Taco trucks on every corner? Best pro-immigration argument EVER. (I’ll bet good money Marco Gutiérrez wishes he’d used a different example – like “rape trucks” or something.)

Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the national anthem? Good for him because guess what – you get to do that in a free country.

Hillary’s “basket of deplorables”? Apparently it's okay to say what everyone is thinking if yr Trump but not if yr HRC.

Whatever Donald Trump said this week? Of course it’s ludicrous, but what else could I add to it? I’ve already endorsed Hillary Clinton – it’s not like I need additional “evidence” at this stage to prove Trump isn’t qualified to be POTUS.

Okay, there is The Donald’s Birther Reversal, which is about as stunning a display of CHOOTZ-spa as you could ask for in a presidential election. But there’s not a whole lot to say there, since it’s essentially another example of the constantly shifting alternate reality Trump entertains in his head. It takes a special kind of mentality for someone to go on national television and claim he personally solved that mystery for America five years ago, and by the way yr welcome, when he’s actually been milking the birther conspiracy with the old “I don’t know, nobody knows, why don’t we know?” routine for those last five years (and it’s not like we don’t have documented evidence of him doing this), and expect everyone to believe him.

Which is why for my money, it’s really just more proof that Trump and other conservative politicians and pundits never seriously cared about Obama’s birth certificate – it was just another handful of rhetorical mud to give The American People™ to throw. It didn’t matter if it stuck – it just mattered that you could get the rubes to throw it at him.

So … that’s me caught up, I think.

We blog econo,

This is dF
defrog: (devo mouse)
Speaking of Gary Johnson, he took a lot of flak for his Aleppo moment a few days ago.

It’s not hard to see why, but some people have said, well that’s it for Johnson, no one’s going to elect a guy who blanks on a question like that.

Personally, I don’t think it will hurt him that much, for a few reasons:

1. George W Bush couldn’t name three out of four foreign leaders he would be dealing with when he ran for POTUS the first time. He went on to serve two terms.

2. D. Trump knows less than Bush, or at least what he knows comes from an alternate universe. He won a major party nomination and he’s only a few points behind Hillary Clinton at the moment.

3. Johnson’s chances weren’t that great to begin with, although I understand he’s the first third-party candidate since Ross Perot to make the ballot in all 50 states. And one good thing about Aleppo is that a lot more people now know who Gary Johnson is. Any publicity is good publicity, they say.

But yeah, I don’t think it’s going to cost him an election he has a very slim chance of winning anyway. And most of his support is coming from people who hate Hillary and Donald so much that I doubt they care if he blanks on the occasional question. If there's one thing I've learned from past elections, it's that anything your candidate does or says is excusable, explainable or overblown by the biased media. 

Ask me something,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
One thing Donald Trump and Bernie Bros have in common is their unshakable belief that the election is rigged against them. This is one of the great unsung traditions of democracy, of course – when yr candidate loses, accuse the other side of cheating because WHAT OTHER EXPLANATION COULD THERE POSSIBLY BE?

However, it’s one thing when voters do it. It’s another when the candidate does it. The former has the luxury of being sore losers. The latter doesn’t. And it’s another thing again when a candidate does it well ahead of the actual election, effectively warning his supporters, “If I lose, it’ll be because the election was rigged against me.”

Which D. Trump did.

And it’s comments like this – as well as the adamant belief of some Bernie Sanders fans that Hillary literally stole the nomination and thus is not a legitimate candidate – that get me to wonder if we’re not seeing the end of democracy as we know it.

To explain:

American democracy has always generally been a model for a peaceful transition of power. That’s actually kind of the point. You may hate that the opposition won, but yr not going to try and change the result with a coup de tat like they do in other parts of the world. Even in 2000 when George W Bush was effectively handed the election by the Supreme Court, as angry as liberals were about that, they weren’t furious enough to resort to violence as a remedy.

Occasionally some idiot resorts to assassination to eliminate a specific POTUS or candidate, but that doesn’t result in a handover of power from one party to another. (Put simply, assassinating President Obama results in President Biden, not President Romney.)

So generally, we accept the results of a given election, as much as we may hate them. The question is how much longer we will continue to do so.

Consider the following:
  • Trump’s campaign hinges on milking anger and frustration and providing scapegoats in the form of foreigners, Muslims and – notably – the liberal opposition
  • Some of his supporters have a tendency to express that anger and frustration in the form of opportunistic violence (a tendency that Trump hasn't exactly gone out of his way to discourage)
  • Others who stick to verbal expressions have expressed their feelings about Hillary Clinton in the form of chants such as “hang the bitch” and “kill the bitch” – to include his own advisors (albeit without using the “B” word)
  • Many Republicans – even ones that don’t support Trump specifically – are already convinced that voter fraud is a widespread problem that favors Democrats, which is why they’ve been pushing voter ID laws in as many states as possible
  • A number of those laws were recently weakened or overturned in court decisions.
So with all of those factors currently in play, it’s only natural to wonder how the Trump Mob is going to react if Hillary wins – especially given Trump’s recent Second Amendment crack.

A couple of quick points:

1. I feel obligated to point out at this stage that lots of people assumed the Republican convention would be a bloodbath thanks to the Trump Mob. It wasn’t.

2. I also think the 2A “joke” has been blown out of proportion in the sense that I don’t believe Trump was actively or intentionally calling for someone to shoot his opponent.

Similarly, on the rigged-election meme, I don’t think Trump is intentionally calling for revolution, assassination or any kind of violent remedy should he lose. I think he’s more interested in making sure everyone understands the only possible way he can lose is if Hillary cheats, because DONALD TRUMP NEVER LOSES.

However, as this article at The Atlantic points out, it’s not about what Trump meant, it’s about what his fans thought he meant – especially in the context described above – how much they take it to heart, and how far they’re prepared to run with it.

(I'll also add that while I doubt Trump gives a second thought about how his rhetoric is being processed, I do think whatever violence breaks out will be on him, no matter what his intentions were. He may have no control over the mob he’s created, but that doesn’t absolve him of responsibility for its actions.) 

That’s just the Trump camp. Elsewhere, we are seeing that a growing number of voters are becoming polarized to the point where they believe the opposition has become clear and present danger to the country, making compromise or possibly even co-existence impossible. I hear this from conservatives and liberals alike, and boy are they angry about it.

To be clear, most of them aren’t talking about armed revolution, and the ones who are don’t have the numbers to come anywhere close to succeeding. But it seems to me we are heading in a direction where people eventually decide, “What the hell is the point of democracy if my side doesn't win?”

It may take us decades to get to that point. It might take until November. I don’t know. But it’s clear there’s a serious breakdown of trust in the current electoral process – it’s not rigged, but people think it is because they don’t understand how it works. Everyone thinks it’s a simple matter of whoever gets the most votes wins – it’s not, and hasn’t been for a very long time. But people don’t know that. And making matters worse is the process that does exist is starting to buckle under the strain of political polarization among the voting public.

If something isn’t done to correct this – either by reforming the process, simplifying it or even just educating people on how and why it works the way it does – the problem is going to get worse. Democracy works when people trust the system. When that trust is replaced with sufficient anger, suspicion and paranoia … well, at the very least you get D. Trump as a POTUS nominee telling his Very Very Angry supporters to assume a Hillary victory is illegitimate – and refuse to let her get away with it.

If we’re lucky, D. Trump’s numbers will keep dwindling until all he has left is a handful of die-hards. On the other hand, in a room full of dynamite it only takes one dingbat with a match to set it off.

Revolution ballroom,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
Well, we’re down to the final two for POTUS 2016, and the election so far has gone exactly as I predicted … except that Donald Trump actually won the GOP nomination and Bernie Sanders made Hillary break a sweat.

Apart from that, I totally nailed it.

It’s amusing to think many of us thought this election would be predictable, and that we had another Bush/Clinton fight to look forward to, and how boring is that, it’s the same old thing, would it kill them to mix it up a little or find someone who isn’t a member of a political family dynasty to run, etc.

Like the man said: be careful what you wish for.

Anyway. Here we are.

And now everyone wants to know who I’ll be voting for because almost everyone I know is unhappy with either choice and seems convinced that no matter who wins America is doomed doomed doomed because their guy didn’t survive the primaries.

As usual, I’m incapable of giving a straight answer without overexplaining my viewpoint, so I’m going to write this in a tl;dr Q&A format. Sorry.

Blah blah blah oh you probably know already ... )

Anyway, I’ll revisit this question in a few months. In the meantime …

I’m with her,

This is dF
defrog: (mooseburgers)


By now you know that Donald Trump responded to Khizr Khan’s DNC speech in the usual Trump way: by attacking his wife and implying she wasn’t allowed to speak. Because, you know, that’s what radical Muslims do. Not saying he is one. Radical, I mean. I’m just saying, etc.

This in itself isn’t that notable – Trump has said worse thing about various people throughout this campaign with no noticeable negative effects on his popularity. For all the dithering from GOP players over this and the general notion that American combat veterans are the one sacred cow in the political arena you never ever go after, the fact is that Trump’s constituents don’t care

And if you think Trump is awful, you should see the people who speak on his behalf. Like these people who responded to Khan’s speech by circulating a conspiracy theory that Khizr Khan is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and that his son, U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, was a double agent for al-Qaeda.

(Note that they’re not saying he is, they're just saying he COULD be and someone should investigate this because HELLO, MUSLIM.) 

And those who aren’t going for full-on conspiracies are taking Khan to task for not using his speech time to denounce the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS. Which translates to many conservative ears as: “ISN’T IT INTERESTING YOU CHOSE NOT TO DO THAT? IF YOU ARE NOT WITH THE BROTHERHOOD WHY DID YOU NOT DENOUNCE THEM WHEN THE REAL ENEMY OF AMERICA IS ISLAM OF WHICH YOU ARE ONE?”

So no, I don't think this is going to damage him all that much as far as his support base is concerned. 

What’s more interesting is this: 

The job of POTUS generally involves a lot of public criticism – some of it fair, much of it not. It’s part of the job description. Trump does it to Obama all the time. But Trump’s response to Khizr Khan indicates that he won’t put up with any criticism he deems unfair (which so far seems to be all of it) and if he can’t discredit yr argument, he’ll discredit you and yr family. We don’t have to imagine how this might play with someone who will have the NSA, CIA and FBI at his disposal. After all, Trump wouldn't be the first paranoid, vindictive POTUS with an enemies list (which includes the press) and zero tolerance for criticism. 

So, you know, there's that to look forward to.

On my list,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
At least to Democrats who did not #FeelTheBern. For the Bernie die-hards and Republicans, not so much.

But I think even on a reasonably objective level, the Democratic Party has established itself as the official party of patriotic hope and aspirations – as sappy and unrealistic as those may be – compared to the GOP Doom Train that Donald Trump is currently driving. Indeed, it’s probably the success of the Donald Trump/GOP hate machine that inspired the DNC to take the “Yes We Can” optimist meme and dial it to 11.

And why not? Conventions aren’t about reality – they’re grand political spectacles for the party faithful with two basic goals: (1) nominate a POTUS candidate, and (2) motivate the party to get behind that candidate with a true sense of purpose. And the contrast between the two conventions couldn’t be more obvious.

Just ask conservatives who watched the DNC convention and said, “Holy crap, we just got our collective ass handed to us.”

That happens when yr party has basically sucked itself into a downward spiral of fear and loathing to the point where its base went with a nominee whose main message to America is: “This would be a much greater country if it wasn’t for THOSE people over there!”

Okay, sure, Democrats are essentially saying the same thing about the GOP. But they’re not proposing to deport or jail them – or at least none of the convention speakers did. (I confess I know a few people who would love to do to the GOP what Trump wants to do to the Mexicans, Muslims and ISIS – or so they say on Facebook. They may be kidding. If so, they’re kidding very loudly and angrily. But they’re not in charge of anything, so okay.)

And true, the Demo convention wasn’t all unity and free hugs – some Bernie fans just can’t let it go. But they didn't manage to derail the overall narrative of the convention – whatever you think is wrong with America, we have to work together to fix it.

Is it all horsepoop? Oh sure, probably. But it’s arguably more inspiring than “Build the wall!” and “Lock her up!”

Of course it helps too that Hillary Clinton has made history as the first female POTUS nominee, which is pretty inspiring in itself. It’s not a reason to vote for her, necessarily. But it’s a hell of a hook.

Will it make a difference in the outcome? No idea. It’s true that any swing voter looking at the two party options that have been presented to them the last couple of weeks will see one party that has its act together, and one that doesn’t. But the sad truth is that a large chunk of the voting public supports Trump’s Xenophobic Angry White Guy schtick to the point where he can insult the parents of a dead war hero and get away with it just because they’re Muslim.

Anyway, these days inspirational visions and solid ideas only get you so far in a POTUS election – it usually comes down to personality and performance. This year the choice is between an experienced grown-up and a buffoonish reality-TV insult comic – and both have a fairly equal shot at winning this thing.

Let’s just ponder that for a moment.

Together we’re heavy,

This is dF
defrog: (onoes)
At least I hope so. This is one of those stories where it pays to wait and see what happens next before drawing conclusions from it. So naturally everyone is jumping to the conclusions they want for maximum political impact. Put another way, at this stage the leaked emails prove whatever conspiracy theory you want them to prove, and no future research into their contents is going to change yr conclusions.

So feel free to ignore the rest of this post, because what the hell do I know?

1. The going conspiracy theory is that Vlad Putin is somehow behind this with the goal of helping Trump win (i.e. the emails were allegedly stolen by Russian hackers, Donald Trump and Putin are BFFs, COINCIDENCE?!).

That theory is big on speculation and light on hard evidence (at least for now) – which isn’t stopping Hillary from running with it, and why not? It’s a great hook, especially during convention week, although personally, every time Hillary mentions Russia now I can't help thinking of Burn After Reading.

However, we do know that (1) the DNC’s email servers were in fact hacked, and (2) the evidence is piling up that Russian intelligence agencies were behind that.

What we don’t know for sure yet is whether the leaked emails acquired by Wikileaks from “Guccifer 2.0” came from that specific hack – or how reliable the documents are (for example, if it IS a Russian intel operation, could some of the juicier files have been edited or planted?). It’s already been suggested that Guccifer 2.0 himself may be a false flag to throw cyber-detectives off the scent.

What fun!

And we also don’t know for sure if Vlad Putin personally ordered the hack, or even knew about it. We probably never will.

2. Whether or not Wikileaks has been weaponized by Putin to sabotage Hillary’s campaign, we know for a fact that the timing was intentional because Julian Assange wants Hillary stopped in her corrupt Wall-Street-stained tracks. He’s made it no secret how he feels about her, and that he’s partly motivated by the fact that Hillary wants him arrested.

3. In any case, all the shock/horror of the DNC’s apparent attitude towards Sanders is so much shadenfreude to me. To paraphrase Rick Wilson: A political party playing political tricks against a candidate who is not a party member? INCONCEIVABLE!

For my money, the emails are an interesting look under the hood of a major political party that illustrates the truth that politics is a “whatever it takes” business and politicos play dirty to win. Believe it or not, this is how political parties work (to include the RNC, and yr kidding yrself if you think it doesn’t).

Yes, it IS sleazy and dishonest. Unfortunately, that’s how this game is played. And sorry, but at least some Sanders fans aren’t really in a position to take the high road on civilized, honest conduct in a presidential campaign.

4. While the emails do indicate that the head of the DNC was taking sides, there’s no evidence that some of their more nefarious plans (exploiting Sanders’ alleged atheism, for example) were ever executed, or that the DNC actively rigged votes or cheated, or otherwise had a definitive influence in the results. That doesn’t excuse the intent, of course. But so far I haven’t seen any particular smoking gun proving the DNC actively rigged anything (based on my definition of “smoking gun” and “rigged”, anyway). That may change later. But it’s been a few days now, and so far, all it really shows is that the DNC was not happy about a non-Democrat using the DNC to compete against an actual Democratic Party member and looked for ways to mitigate that – which, again, shouldn’t surprise anyone.

5. Of course Bernie Bros are using this bombshell to prove Hillary cheated and stole the election, therefore … what? She should quit and give it to Bernie? We should all vote for Trump who may be the most dangerous nominee to ever run for office but hey at least he’s honest about it?

I don’t blame Bernie fans for seeing it as one last chance to dump Hillary in favor of Sanders. But even Sanders said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Guys, drop it unless you'd rather have Donald Trump turn the country into a batshit xenophobic trash fire than let Hillary be in charge of it, in which case yr all idiots.”

So at this stage, I suspect at least some Bernie fans are at the same emotional space that birthers were after Obama was elected (and later re-elected): they no longer care about the election results, they just want everyone to admit that they were right about Hillary all along and would it kill you to say that in front of everyone and apologize to me?

6. So in the end, I’m a lot less concerned about the alleged conduct of the DNC (which is sleazy politics as usual and no reason to either drop Hillary or support Trump) and way more concerned by the possibility that a foreign govt (with the possibly unwitting help of Julian Assange) is engaging in a form of cyberwarfare to actively influence the outcome of a US presidential election. That’s the far bigger story here.

And while Trump might benefit from it, I doubt he or his alleged Russian business connections had anything directly to do with it.

On the other hand, if Hillary’s 30,000 missing emails suddenly turn up on Wikileaks, well yeah, you can say there’s a connection there.

You’ve got mail,

This is dF

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