defrog: (Default)
2017-06-10 11:45 am

COMEY ON DOWN

I considered writing something about the UK elections, but what is there to say that hasn’t already been said here?


That article was written before the election, but it’s great explanation as to where it all went wrong for Theresa May. Or, if it’s tl;dr for you, there’s always this tweet:




Speaking of tweets, there’s the James Comey mini-series that everyone’s been talking about, which can also be summed up in a tweet:


I didn’t watch, of course. The highlights are good enough for me.

The big question for everyone is, of course, what will the outcome be? A lot of people are hoping the answer will be “IMPEACH THE F***ER!”

Ha ha. No. Not with Paul “Hey, go easy on the new guy” Ryan leading the House. And not with all those GOP senators apparently more interested in Loretta Lynch and the Hillary Clinton email case than what Trump may or may not have said about Russia and obstruction of justice blah blah blah.

As I’ve said, impeachment is about politics, not law and order, and the GOP is simply not going to impeach one of its own. Sure, it won’t cost them the White House – Mike Pence will get the job – but that’s not the point. No party wants it on record that one of their guys was a bad enough POTUS that impeachment was the only option. And Trump has been proving over and over the old political axiom that when YOUR guy does it, it’s at worst an honest mistake that’s being overblown in the press, and when the OTHER guy does it, it’s basically treason. “Obstruction of justice? C’mon, he didn’t order Comey to do anything, he made a simple request and he didn’t know it might be taken as inappropriate, I mean he’s only been President for a few months, you can’t expect him to know everything …”

Put bluntly, the GOP ain't impeaching Trump until he's hurting their reelection chances. And we're not there yet. 

So was Comey’s testimony a complete waste of time?

It depends. If your sole desired outcome was locking Trump and his entire family away in Gitmo forever (or deported to Siberia), then yes, probably.

For me, I think it’s good to have on the official Congressional record that Trump actively tried to convince Comey to back off on the Russia investigation – whether he has something to hide or he simply can’t stand people thinking that the only reason he won is because Russia gamed the election on his behalf (or quite likely both). It may also spell trouble for General Jeff Sessions, who has his own Russia problems, and who at this stage seems far more likely to leave the stage than Trump.

Result!

Of course, all this assumes that (1) Comey told the truth and (2) you believe what he says. And if yr a Trump apologist, you probably don’t. But that’s where we are now – completely separate politically defined alternate realities. Everyone I know – liberals and conservatives – is convinced that Comey’s testimony absolutely vindicated their side and decimated the opposition.

Which may not make Comey’s testimony pointless, but it probably makes this whole post pointless. But the same could be said for this entire blog, so I’ve learned not to worry too much about that.

Testify,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
2017-06-04 03:42 pm

I LOVE PARIS IN THE SUMMER WHEN IT SIZZLES

As you know, D.Trump is pulling the US out of the Paris Accord.

Official reason: he wants to renegotiate a better deal that suits America’s interests and protects Americans.

Unofficial reason: climate change is a Chinese hoax and admitting anything else would be tantamount to admitting that Al Gore was right about something, and frankly most of the GOP would rather let the world roast than do that.

(Okay, I may have made some of that up. Except for the part about the Chinese hoax, although Nikki Haley claims Trump doesn’t really believe that, like that’s supposed to make me feel better about him.)

So I have thoughts, sure. And I have links for most of them.

1. The best starting place, for my money, is the basic fact that almost everything Trump said to justify his decision is inaccurate, misleading (intentionally or otherwise) and just plain wrong.

2. The renegotiation angle is typical of Trump, who basically views the world in terms of business deals – not the kinds of deals where both sides get what they want, but where the other side gets what they think they want while your side gets the far better end of the deal and basically just screwed the other guy and he’s too stupid to know it, ha ha loser. Which is also why Trump and some of his staffers – like the head of the EPA, for example – are convinced the only reason the rest of the world applauded when the US joined the Paris Accord was because it gives them an economic advantage over us.

3. That said, I suspect Trump cares a lot more about the political act of withdrawing from the accord than he does about renegotiating better terms. In his own words: “We will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. If we can’t, that’s fine.”

Which suggests to me that Trump doesn’t really care one way or the other what happens because he figures the US is better off out of the accord anyway, so if he can’t have it his way, who cares? It’s not like we need those other losers. The US – as leader of the free world – is the center of the universe and the rest of the world can accomplish nothing without our participation.

4. He’s wrong about that, too. Trump and the GOP may think climate change is bogus. The rest of the world doesn’t see it that way, and is determined to get together and do something about climate change, and if they have to do it without the US, so be it. Many have already resigned themselves to the fact that the Trump admin is going to treat them at best like business rivals in a zero-sum game rather than allies and partners, and more are deciding that it’s better to keep working together without the US than play the game Trump’s way – not least because his policy decisions are based on how he thinks the world works as opposed to how it actually works.

5. Some people are responding with the usual hyperbole: OMG THE PLANET IS FUCKED NOW! Well, no, not really. By many accounts, the US dropping out of the Paris Accord won’t make a huge difference in terms of the overall effort to reduce greenhouse gases and keep the Earth’s temperature from rising, etc. It won’t help, but it won’t make the accord completely pointless, either.

What it could do is put the US at a tremendous disadvantage as the rest of the world invests in clean, renewable green energy technologies that are going to be the future of the global energy industry. Europe and Asia – and in particular China – are going to be leading that growth wave, while the US under Trump will still be futzing around with coal mines and Arctic drilling.

6. On the other hand, it seems we unexpectedly have a Plan B – namely, all these US states and cities stepping up to say, “We’ll back the Paris Accord ourselves” – to include, amusingly, the mayor of Pittsburgh.

That’s an interesting aspect in itself – the idea that states and cities will uphold an accord that the federal govt has rejected. It’s not unanimous, of course, but maybe that’s the antidote to all of Trump’s antics. I love the idea of state and municipal governments deciding that if the federal govt is going to reject progress in favor of some alt-reality, there’s no reason why they have to go along with it. States Rights, indeed!

7. Another bright side is that, legally, the US can’t actually start the withdrawal process officially until 2019, and it will take until 2020 to complete the withdrawal. So it’s reversible – at least for now.

But yes, overall, it’s the latest in a distressingly long list of terrible and badly informed decisions by this admin.

8. One other point worth mentioning – one of the long-standing criticisms of the Paris Accord from Trump and the GOP is that it won’t work anyway. All it does is punish the US economically and we won’t even get cleaner air or climate stability in return.

I smirk at such statements, not least because they’re basically criticizing the accord for failing to fix a problem that they firmly deny exists in the first place. And it’s hard to take that criticism seriously when conservatives not only have no alternative plan to tackle climate change, but have shown zero interest in proposing one (again, because that would contradict the talking point that there is no problem to fix).

Is it hot in here or is it just me,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
2017-05-20 09:51 pm

I COME IMPEACH

Well I was going to post something about the revelation that Your POTUS apparently decided on the fly to declassify some intelligence to Russian officials and whether it would increase his impeachment chances, but it seems like we’re getting news bombshells about Trump practically every 12 hours now, and that’s a bloggery pace I can’t keep up, because I’m busy and I’m not as young as I used to be.

John Scalzi knows how I feel.

Anyway, since gambling sites are now taking bets on if and when Trump will be impeached, here’s a few things to keep in mind whenever talk of impeachment comes up:

1. Only Congress can impeach Trump, which means it’s an act of political will. And historically, no POTUS has ever faced impeachment while his own party controlled Congress.

Certainly Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have made it fairly clear they’ll put up with Trump for as long as it takes for them to repeal Obamacare, cut taxes for rich people and whatever other GOP wet dreams they weren’t able to get past Obama. My guess is that once Obama’s legacy has been erased to their satisfaction, then – and only then – they might consider dealing with Trump. But not before then – unless Trump finally does something so unbelievably stupid and/or dangerous that it endangers their ability to retain control of Congress. If they DO lose control of Congress in 2018, then yr more likely to see some action. Maybe.

2. Most Trump supporters – like Trump himself, and much of the GOP at this stage – will reject the idea of impeachment because they don’t think he’s done anything wrong. And that’s because their perception of the sociopolitical universe is completely different from the rest of us. They’re getting their information almost exclusively from the likes of Fox News, Breitbart, Infowars and conservative Facebook memes, all of which are spinning the basic narrative that Trump is doing a great job and anyone who says otherwise is fake news.

I’ve talked about this elsewhere – the idea that the Left and Right are so caught up in their own hyperpartisan media echo chambers that their perceptions of political reality are literally alternate worlds. This is why Trump gets away with so much among his fan base – they all occupy the same reality in which Obama was the Worst President Ever, America is in the absolute worst shape it’s ever been exclusively because of him, Hillary Clinton is a criminal mastermind, Trump is doing a great job and the Mainstream Liberal Fake News Media is actively lying about it because they’re all out to get him because he called them on their fake news and they don't like it.

Most if not all of that isn’t true in the universe I happen to occupy. But they don’t know that.

Donald Trump and his supporters are essentially a more paranoid and demented version of Cliff Clavin from Cheers – someone who considers himself knowledgeable about everything and is keen to share his knowledge with anyone who will listen, even though most of his knowledge is apocryphal (which he is blissfully unaware of), and if he doesn't know anything about a particular topic, he’ll bluff his way through it by applying his worldview and/or folk logic (“Why do squirrels eat nuts? At a guess I’d say it keeps their teeth from getting too sharp so they don’t bite their own tongues off in their sleep when they hibernate – seems reasonable”) because he figures if his audience doesn’t know the answer either, he won’t get called on it.

That’s fine if yr an otherwise genial postal worker in a bar. It’s less than fine if yr the leader of the biggest superpower in the world and have access to nuclear launch codes.

Anyway, between these two factors, I think a Trump impeachment is a long shot – it only seems like a slam dunk to people who already hate him.

Of course, I’m not saying it’s impossible, either. And based on the current trajectory, it seems every day is just bringing something new to add to the Trump Dumpster Fire, and it’s fair to speculate that eventually, somehow, someone’s going to produce a memo or tape or video or SOMETHING that is finally going to break through that reality schism so even his supporters will say, “Okay, fine, let’s try Pence.”

And then of course there’s the appointment of Robert Mueller as special prosecutor, which is fun. Personally I predict a repeat of the Starr/Clinton investigation – it’ll go on for a few years and if they come up with anything before he leaves office, it will be for something completely unrelated to the Russia thing.

But even if he’s impeached by the House, he could be acquitted in the Senate, which has also been the result of every successful impeachment (both of them).

So yeah. I think the only way Trump doesn’t finish his term will be if he resigns, or if his health fails, or if something horrible happens.

That said, I guess the one comfort to be had is that he’s likely going to be a one-term president. I doubt he’d want to run again, and I doubt the GOP wants him to.

Common ground!

As for a Pence presidency … well, have you noticed how absolutely invisible he’s managed to make himself? I’m sure he’s doing his best to make sure he doesn’t get any Trump on him in case he does have to step up.

Will it help? No idea. Will he be better than Trump? I think so, in the sense that he won’t be a completely unqualified egotistical man-child who seems to see the White House as a ticket to enrich his business, employ his family and punish his enemies. Other than that, I don’t have high hopes for the guy, but I’m reasonably sure that he could get us to 2020 without a tactical nuclear conflict.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We got a long way to go here.

Impeachy keen,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
2017-05-13 12:17 pm

CELEBRITY APPRENTICE EPISODE 7: JAMES COMEY IS VOTED OFF THE ISLAND


Or, “Comey Don’t Play That”

Poor old James Comey.

I know it’s not socially acceptable to say this in any given political circle, but I’ve always felt a little sorry for Comey. I get that people are upset with him because he essentially contributed to Hillary losing the election and now look who we’re stuck with, etc.

On the other hand, I can appreciate the basic political dilemma he was in. If he tells everyone he’s investigating Hillary’s emails in the middle of the election – and that new potential evidence has arisen just a few days before the election – he’ll be accused of trying to influence the election in favor of Trump. If he doesn’t go public – and if Hillary wins, and then it turns out the FBI finds she did break the law – he’ll be accused of covering up for Crooked Hillary to help her win. No matter what he did, he was going to get pilloried as the villain in this election.

So on that score, I’ve never really blamed him for going public with it. Even if the outcome of a close and crucial POTUS election hangs in the balance, if the choice is transparency vs cover-up, I think transparency is the better option.

Now, if yr talking about how Comey handled that transparency, that’s another matter. It’s fair to say he didn’t handle it properly, and it’s also fair to say that – wittingly or not – he contributed to Hillary’s loss (although as Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight points out, he had help from the way the media chose to cover the story – and to be clear, it’s not the only reason she lost).

But then all of this is academic, because that’s not why he was fired, was it?

Sure, it’s the official reason. Unless you ask Trump, who now says it was because of Comey’s investigation into ties between Russia and Trump’s campaign – not that there’s anything to investigate because it’s a totally made up fake news story, so why not fire the guy in charge of the investigation that would actually prove it was made up if that is in fact the case? I mean, who in their right mind would mistake that for a cover-up?

Of everything Trump has done so far, this is by far the most serious and the most politically stupid, although some have pointed out that it’s not necessarily a major political miscalculation if yr factoring in the likelihood that the current GOP-led Congress will back Trump on this like they have almost everything else he’s done after the usual modicum of protest, plus the likelihood that the Demos won’t bother doing anything because they don’t have the votes anyway so why bother?

Put another way, for all the comparisons to Nixon and Watergate – and for once, they’re pretty decent comparisons – I would be very surprised if anyone made a move to impeach Trump over this.

I’d be equally surprised if Congress appointed a special prosecutor. Even if they do, I’m a bit wary of that because of what we went through with Ken Starr. I don’t really want an independent counsel with an open-ended mandate to keep digging until they find something to hang the guy with.

On the other hand, when you have a situation where the POTUS fires the guy who happens to be in charge of an investigation into his campaign over ties to a foreign power, what else can you do? Especially when the POTUS’ Attorney General not only has similar ties bit lied about them under oath? What are we to think? And what if, as Matthew Yglesias has suggested, the real motive was that Trump was afraid Comey might uncover something completely unrelated? 

We don't know, of course. But that's really the point.

As much as I hate to resort to alternate timelines as an argument, think of it this way – if Obama had fired Comey when Hillary’s emails were first under investigation last year, the GOP would have gone absolutely ballistic – and understandably so.

Then again, the Demos (and probably a lot of Obama’s fans) would have made excuses for it. It all really comes down to the same tired old line – it’s only a felony when the opposition does it. Or, as Hunter Thompson put it, “He may be a swine, but he’s OUR swine!”

We’ll see what happens. But the bottom line is that it’s ultimately up to the GOP-led Congress to investigate Trump or begin impeachment proceedings. I don’t see this Congress doing that – not even if the payoff is President Pence – until they have absolutely no choice. Because it is ultimately a political decision, not a law-and-order decision, and at this rate it’s going to take a smoking gun (perhaps literally) to convince them that Trump is a bigger political liability to them than doing something that would please Democrats (which is arguably the only reason they continue to back Trump).

Developing …

You can’t fire me I quit,

This is dF
defrog: (mooseburgers)
2017-03-18 02:06 pm

THE ONLY ART THAT MATTERS IN AMERICA IS THE ART OF THE DEAL, AMIRITE?

Undoubtedly you know by now that Presidente Trump has proposed his first budget – and the NEA, the NEH and CPB ain’t on it.

The usual freakout has ensued, which I will now pointlessly attempt to calm with numbered comments.

1. Nothing has been defunded yet. It’s just a budget proposal (and a “skinny” one at that, which means it’s vague on details), and Congress still has to approve it.

2. The GOP has issues with this budget. The actual budget is expected to look much different by the time Congress gets through with it, and Trump won’t have the option of vetoing the budget they do pass. So even with the current balance of power, I wouldn’t say it’s a fait accompli just yet.

3. One key thing missing from all the ZOMG meme rhetoric is actual consideration and evaluation of the argument in favor of defunding the NEA, NEH and CPB that conservatives have usually advanced over the last 20+ years.

This piece in the NYT runs through them, and interestingly, it’s not ALL about Alleged Liberal Bias. There are also questions about why the federal govt should be funding arts, humanities and public broadcasting in the first place; the potential politicization of art funded with govt money; the quality of the art produced (political biases notwithstanding); and whether or not Middle America is getting as much bang for their buck as the art hubs in New York and California, say.

4. That said, let's not pretend that liberal bias isn’t the main motivation for conservatives. The NEA, NEH and CPB are easy low-hanging fruit for conservatives who whine about how unfair it is that artists use tax dollars to pick on them exclusively. If PBS and NPR were churning out stuff that Fox News churns out now, I seriously doubt funding them would be an issue for conservatives (though it almost certainly would be for liberals). Sure, they also claim it’s about wasteful govt spending, Small Govt® and budget deficits, but come on, even conservatives know that as a percentage of the budget, it’s chump change. 

5. The big question, of course, is what would happen to art and public broadcasting if Trump gets his wish? Can the free market preserve the status quo as effectively?

My own take: it’s probably worse news for public broadcasting than art.

Art is something artists are generally compelled to do, regardless of whether they can quit their day job or not. And there will always be people willing to fund art, whether it’s via Bill Gates or a Kickstarter-type model. Not everyone could find a patron, but that’s true now.

Public broadcasting could also turn to a Kickstarter model, perhaps – the problem is that running a TV station is a lot more expensive than the average art project. Without the CPB, a lot of smaller PBS affiliates will likely have to shut down. Or join The CW or something.

I suppose an argument could be made that in an age where the internet makes both funding and distribution easier than ever, YouTube and Vimeo are just as likely to create the next Sesame Street as PBS – so maybe CPB mattered more when there were just three TV networks on the air. Then again, most of the good programming is behind a paywall.

6. All of this raises the even bigger question framing the issue: is there a compelling government interest in subsidizing art and non-commercial broadcasting?

It’s an old debate, but I tend to side with the argument that culture, society and even the economy benefits from a thriving art community that isn’t purely driven solely by popular taste, the mass market, and what sells. I think that’s even more true for public broadcasting. It’s worth having television and radio programming that doesn’t have to concern itself with ratings or offending potential sponsors. When you listen to the homogenized formatted commercial radio landscape in America these days, the need for a non-commercial option seems pretty obvious to me.

And I don’t have a problem with tax money contributing to that effort, even if it results in art or TV shows I may not care for (or may never even see). It’s silly to defund the NEA just because artists are producing stuff you don't like or can’t use, just like it’s silly for me to demand that the government defund the entire military because I think Iraq War 2 was stupid, useless and counterproductive.

7. Which brings me to this article from FiveThirtyEight about the Trump budget, which points out that the proposal isn’t a solid blueprint of what the government will spend money on in the coming years – it’s more like a wish-list at this stage. Consequently, it’s a useful indicator of Trump’s priorities as POTUS.

Put simply, his priorities are hard power, a big-ass military and The Wall.

So if the budget is a reflection of what a given govt considers to be important foundational elements and values for the country, then in Trump’s America, the values that truly matter are bigoted xenophobic immigration policies and the ability to kick the ass of every single other country in the world combined with minimum conversation or negotiation. And not much else.

Artful dodger,

This is dF
defrog: (onoes)
2017-02-25 01:16 pm

NO PRESS BRIEFING FOR YOU


And of course right after I post about Trump’s War On Media, he goes and escalates by having Sean Spicer cancel a scheduled press briefing and replace it with an informal off-camera briefing – for select media only. Among the not-invited: CNN, the New York Times, Politico, Buzzfeed and the BBC.

And of course everyone’s freaking out about the 1A and free press and democracy, and as usual the reaction – while understandable – seems overblown to me.

This Vox article has a good explanation of what’s going on here – namely, there’s a definite strategy in play here, but it may not be the one you think.

To sum up:

1. Informal off-camera press briefings with select media is nothing new.

2. Furthermore, while access is important, what those media outlets are mainly missing out on is an hour of Spiceworld spinning answers and saying something ridiculous. It’s not exactly the same thing as putting journalists in jail for reporting bad things about you (which is what actual dictators do).

3. That said, you don’t usually change from an official briefing to an informal one at the last minute – unless perhaps yr trying to make a point. Which is what Trump seems to be doing.

4. Trump’s war on the media is motivated by a number of things, starting with the vast number of leaks in his own admin. NO POTUS likes things leaking – President Obama didn’t like it either, and he was pretty harsh on whistleblowers – but Trump is taking it personally, and instead of blaming the leakers, he’s blaming the media – partly to discredit negative stories (or as Spicer calls them, “false narratives”), but also because he thrives on fighting with the media anyway. His fans eat it up and he enjoys giving them what they want. He needs a punching bag, red meat for the base, a distraction from his admin’s problems and someone to blame for them.

5. As Vox points out, the real problem with this strategy is that while it might help Trump please the fans, it won’t help him get anything done:

Picking random fights with the media won’t help the White House get anything through Congress. It won’t make FBI investigations go away. And it won’t help the administration’s arguments in the courts.

Another problem is that if the administration destroys its own credibility by waging a war on the press, it could have a hard time getting its message out later when it truly needs to — say, during a major crisis of some kind.

6. One thing I’d add is this: if the strategy of barring certain media outlets is intended to stop the “false narratives” and “fake news” that upset Trump, it’s kind of a stupid strategy. Those stories are already being written outside of the official-briefing context. Put another way, if these stories literally were “fake news”, then banning media outlets wouldn’t matter because they could just stay home and make up whatever crap they want – which he has already accused them of doing.

7. For all the dithering of this being the beginnings of dictatorship, I think that’s going to depend on what happens next. As I’ve said before, lack of govt transparency with the media has been a problem for a long, long time, and access to a spin-doctoring govt official isn't the same thing as access to the truth. And there’s no actual legal requirement for the POTUS to talk to the press. The real problems will begin if the Trump Dynasty starts actively pressuring media outlets not to run stories, or puts them in jail for doing so. The latter is a grey area when it comes to publishing classified material, but the former is a direct violation of the 1A. 

And sure, we don't want to wait until it comes to that, so it’s good to put pressure on the White House and warn people of where this could lead. I just think it’s important to explain the situation factually rather than resort to OMG hysterics. That’s just me.

I hear you knockin’ but you can’t come in,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
2017-02-24 04:05 pm

THE RETURN OF THE VERTEBRATE PRESS

I can safely say that I have never seen a POTUS call up a press conference for the sole apparent purpose of telling the press that they suck.

Until now.

Anyway, between that, Sean Spicer’s debut briefing, the hilariously deranged online poll and Trump’s opening rally for his re-election campaign in Florida, it’s pretty clear to me what's going on here:

1. Trump’s criteria for “fake news”, apparently, is “any media report that criticizes him or anyone who works for him, or asks any question that he doesn’t want to be asked, or corrects him when he or someone in his admin says something that turns out to be not true”. In other words, any news story that doesn’t stick to the script or alternate reality in his head.

2. Trump is basically throwing red meat to the base that got him elected, because he knows they have the same criteria as he does for “fake news”, and that they hate the Biased LameStream Media as much as he does. I’m sure Trump fans absolutely love the spectacle of gathering all the media in one place just to have a go at them because they would totally do the same thing if they had that kind of power.

3. Trump has decided that if the media is just going to “lie” about him (even if that means reporting what he actually says and does, and correcting him when he says things that are false), then he’s going to do a workaround and talk to the American People™ directly without relying on the media as a go-between.

This one is actually kind of understandable in the sense that he’s not the first POTUS to prefer direct communication to get his ideas out to them, especially in the age of mass media. Sometimes Presidents want to get in front of the people and talk unedited, especially for major policy announcements, whether it’s a live TV broadcast, fireside chats, or town-hall meetings. Trump’s preferred communications media just happens to be 3am batshit tweetstorms and ego-fueled campaign rallies.

4. But it’s pretty clear there’s more to this than Trump wanting people to hear what he has to say without reading/seeing it second hand in the news. Trump’s real beef with the media is that he has no control over them and what they write about him, and it’s clearly driving him crazy – partly because his ego can’t stand it, and (I suspect) partly because – like his supporters (and, to be fair, a lot of his detractors) – he is convinced that his worldview is well-informed and correct and therefore only he knows The Truth About Everything, and therefore anything that deviates from that viewpoint is not only “fake”, but maliciously so.

Which might be less of a problem if Trump didn’t consider Fox & Friends, Hannity, Breitbart and Infowars to be good examples of objective and factual reporting –because of course they support his worldview rather than question it. Which is what he wants.

5. In a way, on a subconscious macro level, this is a public debate on the role of media in a democracy. Is it supposed to be the Fourth Estate – an unofficial extra set of checks and balances that curbs government power and corruption by exposing, questioning and criticizing government policies? Or is it meant to be a glorified steno pool that reports whatever politicians say without question?

Personally, I think it’s the former. There are people (like Trump, at the moment) who will argue the latter – that “objective” media should report the facts in front of you and nothing else. But I’ve noticed the people who support this view only tend to do so when it’s their party in control of the govt.

It doesn’t mean the media isn't above criticism when it does a bad job, and Trump fans may argue that Trump is doing exactly that. I could take that argument seriously if Trump was up there pointing out specific examples of where a news report outright made up a story or quote and then pointed out exactly why they’re false. But so far, all he’s really done is whine about how everyone is obsessed with unimportant off-message distractions – like Michael Flynn, other alleged Russia connections, the presence of Steve Bannon and his relations with white nationalist/supremacist/anti-Semitic groups, Trump’s tax returns, possible conflicts of interest involving his business dealings, Kellyanne Conway pimping Ivanka products, etc.

If Trump et al want to make the case that media is fake news, they need a better argument than “If they were doing their job, they wouldn’t report negative things about us, they would just report what we say” – especially when “what we say” tends to include things that literally did not happen (see: Bowling Green, Sweden).

6. But again, I don't think Trump is trying to make a case. He’s just saying what he thinks and playing to the base that already buys into both his “alternative facts” worldview and the Mainstream (i.e. Liberal) Media Lies About Everything meme in general – the same base that got him elected.

7. As for that rally in Florida, I’m sure Trump thought the purpose was to bypass the media and go direct to the people. But I’m also sure another purpose is so Trump can finally be in a room full of tens of thousands of people who love him and agree with everything he says. It’s pretty obvious he enjoys running for POTUS more than actually being POTUS – not least since part of the POTUS gig involves putting up with the media.

8. Speaking of which, it’s noteworthy that the major media outlets – NYT, WaPo, CNN, etc – have noticeably gone out of their way to call Trump on false statements in their ledes and even their headlines. Which is arguably what they should be doing as part of that role as the Fourth Estate.

That said, I think one reason it’s noticeable is because they haven’t done it for a very long time. I’m convinced that one of the reasons Jon Stewart became a more trustworthy source of news than actual news media was because part of his act was pointing out when politicians and “expert” media pundits were lying, passing on false information or contradicting their own statements. He did that primarily for comedy purposes, but the point was clear: the news media should be doing this (and was certainly capable of it – if a team of comedy writers had the resources to fact-check statements and dig out video clips to back up the jokes, surely CNN does), but isn’t.

Well, they’re doing it now. Here’s hoping they keep doing it long after Trump leaves office in just 47 more months.

Found my spine,

This is dF
defrog: (mooseburgers)
2017-02-05 04:37 pm

THE GREAT BOWLING GREEN MASSACREE OF 2011 THAT ONLY KELLYANNE CONWAY KNOWS

I grew up in Nashville, TN. As a result, I tend to associate Bowling Green, KY with either drag racing or Government Cheese.

Now I get to associate it with Kellyanne Conway.

It’s almost too obvious a thing to do a blog post on, and the jokes pretty much write themselves. But it’s one of those things that is simply breathtaking on so many levels. I mean, consider that there are two possible explanations for Conway defending a policy with an example that is blatantly untrue in every respect:

1. She made up an alternative fact off the top of her head for the single purpose of justifying her argument, and without really caring whether or not anyone would bother to verify it.

2. She made an honest mistake like she says, which would then mean that she honestly thinks the words “massacre” and terrorists” mean exactly the same thing to the point that they're practically interchangeable. Either that, or she was thinking of a haunted house and got her wires crossed.

(There’s also a third possibility being offered by Trump fans – she intentionally phrased it that way because her media strategy is not unlike 5D chess – she wants to trick the mainstream media into fact-checking the BGM so that they would report the story she really wanted them to tell – i.e. Obama let terrorists move to Bowling Green). I’m pretty sure we can safely discount that one.)

Option 1 seems the most likely to me, if only because her boss has the same tendency. But it’s also the least comforting explanation, because she didn't just make up a fictional terrorist attack – she also qualified that comment that if you’ve never heard of the Bowling Green Massacre, it’s because the media never reported it.

(Yes, because if there’s one thing the mainstream cable TV news channels always refuse to cover 24/7, it’s a major terrorist attack on US soil.)

Still, it's consistent with the Team Trump mantra that the media is a pack of biased lying liars who report fake news, which means (1) if we say something you’ve never heard about, it’s because the media refused to report it, and (2) if we say something untrue and the media reports what we said, then the media is the one guilty of lying to you, not us, because it’s their job to fact-check us. (Seriously: Conway actually criticized an NBC journalist for not asking her to clarify her BGM statement before reporting it – a slight variation on Trump’s mantra of “The media lies because it reports what I said, not what I meant to say,”)

Remarkable.

They can do this, of course, because trust in the media on both sides of the aisle isn’t that high right now. Team Trump seem keen to milk that.

It also seems to be something the media is keen to correct. I’ve noticed a considerably different tone in newspaper reporting since Trump took office – at least for the natonals. NYT, WaPo and others are now going to great pains to point out when Trump or any member of his admin says something that isn’t true or contradicts something they said earlier. 

Which is of course what they should be doing. I just wish they’d done that over the last 20 years or so – and not just with the POTUS, but every politician in America. Sure, we had Jon Stewart for that. But he only stepped up because the people who were supposed to be doing it weren't.

NOTE: Not every newspaper is keen to fact-check Trump. The ones owned by Rupert Murdoch, for example. 

Keep me honest,

This is dF
defrog: (onoes)
2017-01-31 04:23 pm

TRUMP DYNASTY, WEEK 1: COUP COUP KACHOO!

And so we’re one week into the Trump Dynasty and everyone is still basically freaking out.

Granted, Trump has given them a lot to freak out about. You can follow the action at FiveThirtyEight’s TrumpBeat, but a basic overview could be summed up thusly:

All that batshit stuff he promised to do that we were hoping was just campaign rhetoric to rally the rubes? Turns out he wasn’t kidding.

Anyway, his actions of the past week has created an awful lot of batshit across my social media newsfeeds about how Trump is literally Hitler and literally a dictator. Which he isn’t – not in the sense that Hitler was, anyway. To be that kind of dictator, you need a totalitarian government – and America is nowhere close to that point. Take it from me – I live a one-hour train ride from an honest-to-God totalitarian one-party state. If America was a dictatorship right now, those protesters wouldn’t be on the streets – they’d be in jail, a detention camp or a mass grave. And the press would uniformly be praising Trump’s actions and denouncing the protesters as traitors.

Meanwhile, this article on Medium is making the rounds, suggesting that Trump may be orchestrating an actual coup de tat of the US govt. The basic argument is this: Trump’s immigration order was stayed by a federal judge, but the DHS and CBP have apparently opted to ignore it and obey Trump’s order. Meanwhile, Trump has reportedly purged most of the State Department and is consolidating power within a tight inner circle that will tell the various departments what to do. And he put two loyalists on the National Security Council and promoted them above the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

Yonatan Zunger’s argument is that Team Trump is making a trial run for a coup, to see how far they can push the legal boundaries without breaking them. He’s vague on who might be responsible for this coup – maybe Trump, maybe Russia, who knows?

I don’t buy it. Here’s why:

1. First of all, on a semantic level this makes no sense. A coup is typically conducted by people who don't control the government and want to take over. Trump and the GOP already control all of it at the moment. But let’s go along with the terminology to smooth things along here.

2. I’ve heard this one before. Every POTUS from Clinton to Trump has been accused by fringe opponents and conspiracy theorists of planning a coup to take over America. It has never happened. It’s never even been attempted.

3. For the obvious response of “But Trump is different! We have EVIDENCE!” – well, no, we don’t, really. We mostly have a lot of unanswered questions (not least because of Trump’s lack of transparency in his business dealings, tax returns, etc) and suppositions. When you actually start trying to connect dots, it’s more suspicions and guesswork that actual smoking-gun evidence. These are questions we need answers to, but until we have them there’s no sense in panicking over what we don’t know.

4. I mention Russia because there’s a vague implication here that Russia is somehow connected with Trump in ways we don’t know about yet. That said, while it’s fairly certain Russia wants influence in how the US conducts its international affairs and isn’t above meddling in elections, I don’t know that Vlad Putin is interested in literally overthrowing the US govt. I’m sure he’d be happy to have a puppet installed, but I don’t think he’d want that puppet doing blatantly obvious stuff like turning the US into Russia.

5. Many of Trump’s actions can be explained as easily by gross incompetence and a failure to think things through rather than an actual plan for a coup.

6. On a related note, a coup of the kind this article suggests requires incredible attention to detail and relies on everything going exactly as planned and people responding exactly as planned. The more complex the plan, the more likely it is to fail. (And the more likely it is to leak to the media.) I seriously doubt Trump/Bannon/Giuliani/whoever et al have the intellectual chops to come up with such a plan, much less execute it. Team Putin might, but again, we have no solid evidence that Putin has anything to do with Trump’s actions.

7. As such, even if they WERE actually trying to plot a coup, odds are it will fail for the reasons given above. There’s just too many ways it could go wrong.

8. None of this means that a coup is impossible. Of course it is. The point is that it’s really, really hard to do in a country like the US, whether because of government structure, geography, ubiquitous media coverage (including social) and the simple fact that far too many people are invested in capitalism to see some yahoo billionaire come along and wreck it.

9. Also, none of this means Trump is not a bad president with bad ideas. He is. But I don’t see a coup – I see a doofus POTUS who lives in an alternate reality, has no idea what he’s doing or the consequences. He’s an authoritarian who seems to think he can run America the same way he runs his businesses – with a tightly controlled, loyal board of directors who will do whatever he says, and he can do anything he wants because he’s the CEO.

10. We had a POTUS like that once. His name was Richard Nixon. It didn’t work out so good for him in the end. I suspect Trump will meet a similar end if he keeps this up. If his admin is going to insist on defying the courts to enforce an order that is potentially illegal, sooner or later that’s going to backfire on him and he may just get himself impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. And if it comes to that, there are suggestions that the GOP establishment won’t lift a finger to help him because who do you think they’d rather have as POTUS – Trump or Mike Pence?

11. Having said all that, the bigger worry for me isn't Trump but his hardcore fan base who have decided that everyone who disagrees with them is an enemy of the state – they won't take a Trump impeachment well. Which is no reason not to do it, but the fact remains. Equally worrisome is the fact that this is happening on the other side of the political spectrum as well. My worry is that we are headed for a point where the two-party system will become an either-or proposition with zero compromise and intolerance of dissenting views to the point that we won’t argue with people we disagree with anymore, we’ll just punch them in the face until they shut the fuck up. Take that far enough, and many people would welcome a coup – so long as it’s in their favor.

So basically, at this stage I’m not worried about a Trump coup because (1) I don’t think he’s planning one, (2) I don’t think he’s smart enough to plan one that would actually work, and (3) if it did work, it would only be because enough people in America would welcome it, in which case America’s days as a democracy were already numbered anyway.

Again, I don’t think we’re at that point yet. But we are headed there.

Talk about yr hostile takeovers,

This is dF