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When I first saw the Twitters light up about the “Intellectual Dark Web”, I thought they were talking about the “dark net” – the fabled part of the internet where hackers and child pornographers and 409 scammers and the like all hang out. (Not that the internet works that way, but why ruin a good metaphor?)

Turns out it’s not that. It’s a collective of pundits whose main mission in life appears to be coming up with extreme ways to make liberals hopping mad by proposing non-PC ideas and opinions: Sam Harris, Dave Rubin, Jordan Peterson, Christina Hoff Sommers, Ben Shapiro, Milo Whasisname, etc and so on. Whether they really believe their own schtick or not, they’re basically “professional controversialists” (as The Guardian puts it) who make a living promoting conservative/libertarian views about race, gender, religion and other sensitive topics that appear practically designed to offend liberals.

Which is nothing new, of course. What is new is that they’ve somehow united under this “Intellectual Dark Web” concept, which is basically: intellectuals who have been oppressed and silenced by liberals and their mainstream media for the crime of saying non-PC things.

And, you know. LOL?

I don’t take them seriously, of course, for a couple of reasons:

1. As mentioned above, these people are being intentionally provocative. Or at the very least they know what they’re saying is provocative, and they seem to thrive on it. So does their fanbase, which is considerable. Which brings us to:

2. For people who have been “oppressed” and “silenced” by the liberal mainstream whatever, they sure seem to have a huge audience.

So to me, this whole IDW thing looks like market positioning where one of the selling points is “the liberals are out to silence us all!” It’s an incorporation of the Bill O’Reilly Free Speech Defense, in which criticism of speech is exactly the same as denying yr right to free speech.

It’s also from the same branch as this whole conservative victim mentality that everyone hates them, mocks them and insults them for simply speaking their mind – which happens to involve hating, mocking and insulting everyone who isn’t a Trump fan with the knowledge that every branch of govt will pretty much back them up, which I already covered here.

The latest version of this: simply wearing a MAGA hat is like being openly gay in 1950. Which just goes to show how much MAGA hat wearers know about the LGBT experience in America all the way up to (checks notes) now.

Anyway. Ha ha. No.

The “Intellectual Dark Web” is a marketing stunt and nothing more. Not a single one of these people are being denied the right to say what they want, and none of them are having trouble finding an audience to hear what they have to say, or making a living by saying it.

As for the PC liberals shouting at them for saying provocative and offensive things … well, look. When you say provocative and offensive things, they tend to provoke and offend people. It kind of goes with the territory. You can’t reasonably expect provoked and offended people to not call you on that. Because would you?

I know some IDWs say: “Of course I want a response, but I want them to debate my idea intellectually, not scream at me that I’m evil.”

Which is fair. On the other hand, there’s not a lot to debate about when when yr intellectual proposition is that women should be hanged for having abortions, or that black people chose slavery and are intellectually inferior, or that the Holocaust didn’t happen (or wasn’t as bad as the Jews make out), or that liberals should literally be arrested and tried for treason, or the way to deal with incel violence is to redistribute sex so these guys can get laid, etc and so on.

To be clear, I do think one of the problems with PC culture is that too often it’s a kneejerk response with no debate at all. I still believe that if yr against racism, sexism, homophobia, etc, you need to be prepared to articulate why, because there will always be people who don’t understand what racism is and why it’s a bad thing – and if they’re being courted by the IDW or other demagogues, it’s good to be able to effectively counter their arguments. 

Then again, it’s admittedly a pointless exercise, since the IDW has a whole alt-reality information bubble to fall back on to make its case – things that are not true but they choose to believe are true. You can’t effectively debate someone when you can’t even agree on the basic sociopolitical reality in which you live. So why waste the energy? 

I’m not going to debate you, Jerry,

This is dF
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Until about a week ago, not a lot of people knew who Sinclair Broadcast Media was. Well, they know now, I guess.

As someone who majored in Mass Comms and used to work in broadcasting (albeit radio, not TV, but I know quite a few people who do, though none work at a Sinclair joint), I feel like I have a little skin in this particular game. So:

1. The story is much, much bigger than that creepy script. This explainer from Vox gives a pretty good rundown of Sinclair’s activities and why it should be a big deal.

2. A few aspects of this story aren’t new. For example, concentrated station ownership has been an industry issue for several decades now, and critics have long warned of the negative implications of putting content in the control of fewer and fewer companies. Well, now we know what happens when one of those companies decides to feed its political opinions into local TV news.

3. Another aspect that isn’t new is local TV news stations running external content as if it were locally produced. Remember those “video news releases” – PR video segments produced by the government (or by corporations or other groups) to look like a TV news story – that local stations were running as legit news stories without telling their viewers where they came from?

That said, for the most part that was more from laziness, sloppiness, expedience and aesthetics than any specific pro-Bush/GOP/conservative agenda. The Sinclair “must-runs” are decidedly more agenda-driven.

4. You do wonder why Sinclair thought no one would notice the scripts in this age of social media and Daily News type shows that actually keep track of this stuff. Then again, this is the age where the default conservative defense is Fake News. Which is ironic, given the topic of the script.

5. Speaking of which, Sinclair’s Scott Livingston has defended the script – or at least the message – saying that its sole purpose is to address the very real problem of fake news cluttering up social media (that does sometimes get reported by some media outlets as fact), and to assure local viewers that the station they’re watching will never run fake or false news stories (with the disclaimer that hey, we make mistakes like anyone else) and be fair and “in the middle” in their news broadcasts.

Which is fine, as far as it goes. But there are a few problems here, such as what counts as “in the middle” – even Breitbart and Addicting Info think they’re being truthful and objective in their reporting.

There’s also the question of what counts as “fake news”. Livingston says it’s stuff like Pizzagate. Which, again, is fine as far as it goes. But in the context of Sinclair’s inclination for “must-run” commentaries that skew primarily to the right and in support of Trump – and Trump’s own personal definition of “fake news” (i.e. any news that criticizes him or even mentions the Russia investigation) – one can be forgiven for wondering just what Sinclair meant by “fake news” and “false reporting”, or whether they classify a Russia investigation story in the same category as Pizzagate. (Livingston seems to hint that he would consider a lot of reports about the Sinclair script in that category. Funny, that.)

So really, the spiel is dressed up like a pledge to fair and balanced news, but it’s also telling viewers: “You can trust anything we report – unlike those other guys …”

6. While we’re at it, Livingston’s defense of the must-run commentaries is a bit weak too. He basically says, “We clearly label it commentary and we clearly say Boris Epshteyn used to be a Trump advisor, so what’s the problem?” Well, the problem is that (as far as I know) Sinclair produces no commentaries representing other views, and it requires its stations to run them. And again, this has to be taken in the context of Sinclair being run by vocally conservative people who have been forcing commentaries, political ads, special reports, “terrorism news alerts” and other content with an exclusively conservative slant. It may not take up very much of the news broadcast, but opinion pieces that take only one side shape the context in which the other local stories are presented.

7. Now that this is a big news story, will it make a difference?

Probably not. And this piece from Slate saves me a lot of typing in explaining why. The short version: Sinclair thinks it has nothing to apologize for, it has Trump on their side, and most viewers won’t care, won’t understand, or will just assume it’s more Liberal Fake News making hay out of nothing, or whatever.

And ultimately, we know there’s a big and monetizable audience for conservative-slanted TV news. Sinclair execs know that too. Trust me on this – whatever their political ideologies, they wouldn't be doing this if they thought it would hurt their bottom line.

Which is why I do wonder about all those other media conglomerates – how many of them also do this sort of thing? And if they don’t, will they rethink their business model? Maybe they’ll see a business model in NOT doing what Sinclair does, and promote editorial independence as a selling point. Or (more likely) they may do an MSNBC and create a liberal anti-Sinclair alternative to cash in on that other echo-chamber dollar.

8. Anyway, I’ve felt for awhile that TV news in general has been in decline for decades as the emphasis has shifted from straight news and information to entertainment – often, it seems, at the expense of substance and objectivity. But Sinclair is making it worse by using its stations to locally promote uniform and specific political views that happen to be favorable to one political party in general and this specific POTUS in particular. It’s not quite “state media” in the traditional sense (I live next door to China, so my idea of state media is based on that model). But it’s not fair, balanced and independent, either.

The best possible spin I can put on it is that it’s going to make the current hyperpartisan echo-chamber problem even worse than it already is. And it’s already pretty bad.

News you can use,

This is dF
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And I for one think it’s pretty cool.

The NRA and Fox News of course thinks it’s a bunch of dumb kids paid by George Soros and coached by George Clooney or whoever to wave a bunch of signs.

Well, they have to, don’t they? The old arguments are no longer working, the sponsors are fleeing, and ever since the Parkland kids decided enough was enough, various state and local governments have started enacting new gun legislation. Which is hilarious in the sense that one of the NRA’s standby arguments has been that if we have to have gun laws, they should be left to states, not the federal govt – who knew states would actually try it?

I don’t have much to say about the gun debate itself I haven’t already said. But I do find it striking that when it comes to each side making their case, the kids come off looking a lot better than the NRA and Fox News do.

The kids have a very clear message and objective – they want to minimize/stop gun violence in general and mass shootings in particular, and they refuse to accept that nothing can be done about this, or that MOAR GUNZ is an acceptable remedy. Their basic idea: (1) reinstate the assault rifle ban, (2) make guns harder for dangerous people to get, and (3) vote out politicians who refuse to do either, or indeed to do anything about the problem, whether its gun regs, mental health funding something else.


I’m paraphrasing, obviously. But that’s really kind of it – and that’s pretty much the tone in which it’s being delivered. 

Mind you, I’m not saying there are no good arguments against what #MarchForOurLives is demanding. There are several. I’m just saying no one at the NRA or Fox News or Breitbart et al is making those arguments. Probably because they don’t work like they used to.

To be fair, I have seen some conservatives try to get creative in coming up with new arguments, or at least witty ripostes. Among the ones I’ve seen:

1. The problem isn't guns, the problem is we don’t discipline our kids enough and don't let schools do it for us. Which is apparently Obama’s fault.

I don’t even know how to respond to this – it’s like saying the reason so many people die of cancer is because we don’t teach kids enough about biology. But I guess it’s in line with the whole authoritarian line the NRA and Fox are pushing – there’s no problem in America that can’t be solved with fear of severe and (if necessary) violent punishment.

2. How come no one’s marching for bomb control after what happened in Austin? The point being, it’s illegal to make or own a bomb but someone still managed to go on a bombing spree, so what makes you think banning AR-15s will stop mass shootings?

This is a variant on the old “if guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns” meme. But it’s not a good analogy. First off, statistically bombings are extremely rare compared to mass shootings. Second, the reason for that is not just because bombs are already illegal – it’s also a lot harder to make a bomb that works than it is to buy an assault rifle and pull the trigger. 

We don't really know for sure whether reinstating the assault weapons ban would stop mass shootings. It might reduce them, which would be nice. Or maybe mass shooters will switch to Desert Eagles. But it seems silly to argue that we shouldn't make something illegal because criminals will just break the law anyway. By that logic, every law on the books is pointless. 

3. These kids are unfairly demonizing the NRA and all gun owners.

The NRA and its fans have been trying to frame #MarchForOurLives as a direct attack on the NRA itself, and by association its members, with the express purpose of stigmatizing gun owners to the point that owning a gun is socially unacceptable.

Okay, well, I think that’s probably fair as far as the NRA itself goes. I think it’s less true for gun owners (by association) since the Left regularly describes the NRA as representing the interests of gun manufacturers over gun owners.

Still, I’m sure some gun owners feel mighty defensive right now. I get that – we all feel that way right now. It’s impossible to post an opinion on social media without getting piled on by crazy people (or bots) who call you all kinds of mean nasty ugly things just for disagreeing with them. It’s no fun for anyone.

On the other hand, it’s kind of rich for the NRA to complain about stigmatization when their current president, spokesperson and TV channel routinely and systematically portray any attempt to regulate guns in any way whatsoever as part of the Antifa Radical Left agenda – aided by the Liberal Media Elite – to destroy America from within, and who has specifically stated that #MarchForOurLives is “backed by radicals with a history of violent threats, language and actions”.

So, you know, who’s demonizing who?

4. Paul McCartney is a hypocrite for participating in #MarchForOurLives because he has armed bodyguards.

This is one of those factoid nuggets that some pro-NRA people tend to just throw out there as if it has anything to do with whether we need gun regulations. It’s like saying, “This person supporting yr argument is a hypocrite, therefore I win.”

In any case, I think it’s fair to say Sir Paul could be labeled a hypocrite IF he was demanding all guns be banned. Which he’s not. (Neither is #MarchForOurLives, no matter what Marco Rubio says.) I think it’s fair to say he’s in favor of guns being handled by trained and responsible professionals, and less in favor of people like Nicholas Cruz or (and I’m just pulling an example out of the air here, really) Mark David Chapman getting a hold of one.

Well. This list could go on. Just like the gun debate itself.

Anyway, good on the Parkland kids for standing up for what they believe and not being afraid to say it on national television. The NRA/Fox/Breitbart triumvirate has been trying to intimidate them from Day 1. It’s nice to see it’s not working. 

Wild in the streets,

This is dF
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As you may know, Mike Pence went to the opening of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. As you may also know, it got a bit awkward. More than once. Several times, actually.

Most of the awkwardness, of course, had to do with North Korea – both the fact that the North and South Korean teams came together for the event, and the fact that Kim Jong Un’s mystery sister was at the same function as Pence – and even sat in the same booth with him.

Which is kind of awkward when both yr leaders are bragging about the size of their imaginary nuclear launch buttons on their desks.

Then again, it may not be that awkward for Pence, who is clearly under orders from Headquarters to make sure everyone understands that North Korea is an evil, terrible country with an evil, terrible leader and don’t let all this Olympic unity crap fool you for one minute.

Which is technically true, of course. But it’s a hard sell when (1) the President of South Korea – who arguably has a much bigger stake in the NK standoff than the US does – is over there shaking hands and making nice, and (2) the Olympics are supposed to be the one place besides maybe Christmas and the World Cup where nations can put aside their political differences just for a few days and just hang out and not be dicks to each other.

Okay, sure, in practice the Olympics have probably never been nearly as free of politics as we like to pretend they are or should be. Still, Pence does come off looking like a jerk since he’s basically the only official doing the snubbing.

Again, Pence probably doesn't care, and neither do Trump fans who equate basic politeness with appeasement of your enemies, and would just as soon Trump push that imaginary button and wipe every North Korean off the face of the earth. Cos they likes them some hardline.

For non-fans like me, it’s just another blatant Pence publicity stunt. It wouldn't be the first time he went out of his way to attend a sports event for the singular and explicit purpose of Being Seen making a political statement on behalf of his boss.

But this is a potentially bigger deal. Pence walking out on NFL players taking a knee didn’t help race relations in the US, but I don’t think that action alone made them any worse than they already were. His behavior at the Winter Olympics could have far greater ramifications because if we’re serious about war being a last resort, we need to do better at the first resort (diplomacy). And historically, one of the hardest things about diplomacy with NK is actually getting them to the damn table in the first place.

And so here we have major govt dignitaries from both NK and the US literally in the same room for what is ostensibly meant to be a peacemaking event – the diplomatic opportunity of a lifetime – and Pence blew it.

I’m not saying they could maybe have hammered out a peace deal during the curling event or anything. But the first step to diplomacy is getting face to face and seeing that they’re basically human beings like you and it’s everyone’s best interest to try and work something out – at least as a stopgap. If you can’t even do that at a freaking global sports ceremony, then how in the world are you going to get them to a real negotiating table?

Yes, I know, we tried that before and NK reneged, etc and so on. And it’s certainly true that while the South and the North are making nice for the Olympics, it will mostly likely be back to business as usual once the event is over. And I’m sure it’s true that NK is playing nice as a calculated ploy to make Kim Jong Un look like not such a bad guy after all.

Which is why I think it would be smarter strategically for Pence to play nice as well, or at least be polite – at the very least, there’s nothing to lose by doing so. But then the Trump admin isn’t interested in playing the diplomacy game. It’s more interested in the Talk Loud, Carry A Big Stick And Convince Everyone You’ll Use It If You Don't Get What You Want game.

Personally, I suspect Trump has not only decided that diplomacy is for suckers and weaklings, but also wants to use NK to show everyone how big his cock is. The more paranoid side of my brain suspects that he fully intends to kick NK’s ass, but is just waiting for the most politically opportune time – an FBI indictment, say, or at least solid proof that he knew about Russia helping his campaign and accepted. I could be wrong. But at this stage, nothing seems implausible now, does it?

One other aspect of Pence’s Olympics shenanigans: while he may be acting at Trump’s direction, I think it also provides a glimpse of what he’d be like as POTUS. Which isn’t especially comforting. My general feeling about Pence is that yes, he’d be a better POTUS than Trump – but then the same could be said of George W Bush. And Bush, let’s remember, was a terrible POTUS. Based on what I’ve seen so far (and also looking at his record as Indiana governor) Pence would probably be a repeat of Dubya – that’s probably the best we could hope for. 

What a time to be alive, eh?

Diplomatically immune,

This is dF
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When Trump gave his SOTU address, some news media inevitably tried to rate it in terms of “Was it Presidential?” Which in this case means, “Did Trump give a reasonably coherent speech that focused on problems and solutions instead of his usual shambling improv performances where he spends most of the time praising himself, insulting his enemies and making up alt-facts as he goes along?”

Some of us were thinking, “It doesn’t matter – he’ll do what he always does when he seems to do something that seems remotely ‘Presidential’: his next speech will be a return to form.”

Sure enough:

In between testimonials from Ohioans about the benefits of the tax reform law, Trump went way off script, unleashing a series of complaints about Democrats’ chilly reaction to his recent State of the Union speech (“Can we call that treason? Why not?”) […]
And so much for his alleged call to unity.

Predictably Sarah Huckabee Sanders and other Trump fans are deploying the old “It’s just a joke, man! Lighten up, snowflake!” defense. And I’ll admit, when I heard it I got the impression that he probably meant it in the same way that Ted Nugent meant that crack about Hillary Clinton giving his AR-15 a blowjob: a throwaway comment to entertain the base. I don’t think he wants to put all the Demos in jail for it any more than Nugent literally wanted to shoot Hillary in the face. It’s basically a cheap pop for the fans, and I doubt seriously he put any thought into it beyond that.


1. As much as I hate alt-universe arguments, let’s admit that the same people defending him would be having a conniption fit if (say) President Hillary made the same “joke”.

2. They would be right to do so because the POTUS doesn't get to make “jokes” like that. When you hold the highest position of authority in one of the major superpowers on the planet, people tend to take what you say seriously. That can have consequences. Think of it this way: if you think the US is supposed to be championing values like freedom and democracy and The American Way, then defining treason as everyone who didn’t applaud yr speech (even as a joke) is the opposite of that. There are dictators worldwide who actually DO put the opposition in jail for treason (whatever that may mean) who may now be thinking, “See? Even the US has our back on this.”

3. Context also matters. When you have a tendency to embrace authoritarian ideas and say authoritarian things, making jokes about “treason” isn’t all that funny – except maybe to Trump fans who actually wouldn’t mind seeing Trump’s long list of political enemies locked up for treason.

The fact that most of Trump’s authoritarian leanings haven’t managed to subvert democracy very much (so far) – as well as the fact that even if he was serious about the treason comment, he either wouldn’t act on it or would try and fail – is beside the point. The point is that words matter – words have power, and when they’re backed with authority, they have even more power to the point that even if the speaker is only kidding, there’s no guarantee his followers will take it as such.

4. Which is kind of the real issue here – the problem isn’t so much what Trump personally meant by it (or thought he meant) as what his hardcore legions of fans think he meant.

Fans like this guy.

Or this guy.

Or these guys.

Or these guys.

Or … well, you get the idea.

These people may not comprise the majority of the population, but they comprise enough of the population to make life harder for the non-white non-straight/non-cis people who have to deal with Trumpers (or the mere possibility of Trumper abuse) on a daily basis (to say nothing of the ones who are also immigrants).

And I have little doubt that at least some of them already see liberals as “traitors” to America, and would love to see them all locked up in Gitmo or deported to Mexico or whatever. Just ask Trump’s favorite radio personality Alex Jones. Or Dana Loesch and her Clenched Fist Of Truth™. Or Ann Whatshername.

5. Caveat: I suspect many of them think “treason”, “un-American” and “unpatriotic” mean the exact same thing, which of course they don’t. I suspect this because some conservatives have rolled out “whataboutism” arguments about how some Democrat politicians have accused Republicans of being “un-American” and “unpatriotic”, so why can’t Trump joke about treason?

Well, because most of them weren’t POTUS when they said it, and because – unlike actual treason – being “un-American” and “unpatriotic” aren’t crimes. They’re bog-standard clichéd political insults.

And in any case, whataboutism is a stupid defense – it’s basically saying, “Your guy did it so it’s okay of my guy does it.”

Then again, you go with what works, I guess.

You can’t say that on television,

This is dF
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I didn’t watch it, no.

Although that’s not a political statement in itself. Many liberals were calling for a boycott to lower Trump’s ratings, which is as fine a goal as any. But the thing is that I generally don’t watch SOTU speeches anyway. I’m happy to wait for the highlights reel and executive summary from various news outlets. And they’re really more for the base – sort of like how business press releases aren’t for the press, they’re for the shareholders.

And anyway, it doesn’t matter how low Trump’s first SOTU ratings were because Trump lives in TrumpWorld where his ratings are always the highest of any POTUS ever, and anyone who says otherwise is fake news.

(On the subject of ratings, the numbers do indicate that Trump’s first SOTU ratings were pretty low, but as some have pointed out, those numbers doesn’t include streaming video. So maybe if you factor those in, he might rank higher. The point is, Trump doesn't know that, he just assumes his ratings are the highest ever because why wouldn’t they be?)

Also, as I understand it, Trump’s speech went pretty much the way I expected it to go – he spent most of the time talking about himself, how great his Presidency is, and how America’s only serious problems are ISIS, North Korea and immigrants. Most of what he said about all of the above was inaccurate, exaggerated or flat-out fiction. And he didn’t offer any concrete plans to solve any of those problems.

Ho hum.

It basically sounds like any other Big Speech Trump has made, except that he managed to stay mostly on script and didn’t spend most of it bashing Hillary and CNN. Which I guess is an accomplishment by Trump standards, but in the context of everything else (Russia, Nazis, the FBI, Puerto Rico, golf, porn star payoffs, 3am Twitter rants, the list goes on) it doesn't really count for much.

Not with me, anyway. I’m sure plenty of Republicans feel otherwise. That’s to be expected.

And that’s why I didn't watch the SOTU. The end.

Switched off,

This is dF
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I linked to this article in the previous post, but I thought it was worth highlighting in a separate post because I think it really best sums up the problem I’ve tried to describe regarding how social media, blogs and the internet in general has resulted in alt-reality bubbles for people on different sides of the political fence – one consequence of which is that not everyone is exposed to the same kinds of information.

In essence, the article argues that if censorship is defined as the practice of preventing speech from being disseminated, the democratization of speech via social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc has actually resulted in more censorship, not less. Yes, everyone can say what they want online, through one channel or other. But will anyone hear it? And will enough people hear it? And for the people who do hear it, can they trust it – i.e. can you be sure it’s not a hoax? Can you be sure the person saying it isn’t a guerilla marketer or a Russian spambot?

Relevant to the previous post regarding the notion that people who defend Trump are knowingly defending racism because we have all seen more than enough evidence by now that he is, this implies we have all seen the same evidence equally. But this isn't how it works today:

… all this online speech is no longer public in any traditional sense. Sure, Facebook and Twitter sometimes feel like places where masses of people experience things together simultaneously. But in reality, posts are targeted and delivered privately, screen by screen by screen. Today’s phantom public sphere has been fragmented and submerged into billions of individual capillaries. Yes, mass discourse has become far easier for everyone to participate in—but it has simultaneously become a set of private conversations happening behind your back. Behind everyone’s backs.

An example:
During the 2016 presidential election, as Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg reported for Bloomberg, the Trump campaign used so-called dark posts—nonpublic posts targeted at a specific audience—to discourage African Americans from voting in battleground states. The Clinton campaign could scarcely even monitor these messages, let alone directly counter them. Even if Hillary Clinton herself had taken to the evening news, that would not have been a way to reach the affected audience. Because only the Trump campaign and Facebook knew who the audience was.

I highly recommend reading the whole thing. For those of us who idealize the First Amendment and free speech, we need to understand that the old mechanisms for ensuring free speech no longer work and that the new platforms are already being manipulated by authoritiarians and totalitarians in ways that don’t look like traditional censorship but accomplish the same thing. We also have to realize that it’s not simply up to Mark Zuckerberg to fix this by changing the News Feed or employing better algorithms to spot fake news, etc. The problem is much bigger than that.

On Facebook no one can hear you scream,

This is dF
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Donald Trump’s “shithole countries” comment about other countries that are not Norway appears to have been the last straw for the NYT, who has finally declared in a couple of op-eds that Donald Trump really is, yes, a racist.

I agree with that statement.

Some people believe that this description also applies to everyone who either defends Trump or doesn’t actively denounce his comments from this point on (if not previously).

I personally don't agree with that – not unconditionally, anyway.

This is gonna take awhile ... )

The white zone is for loading and unloading only,

This is dF
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Well, maybe not the only post. It depends if anything else worthy of comment develops, since there’s a lot we don’t know yet, but I may just go ahead and update this post rather than create a new one.

1. Obviously this changes nothing about the gun control debate, with the exception that the NRA has actually said, “Okay, maybe bump stocks are a little over the line for us, we’re not sure, but we’re open to discussion, maybe.”

Does it mean anything? Not really. Mass shootings will continue. And I guess if you follow Tomi Lahren’s logic, criminals and psychos won’t care if bump stocks are illegal anyway, so it won’t matter if you ban them. You can even go a step further and take the Tucker Carlson line that bump stocks actually save lives because if Stephen Paddock hadn’t used one, he might have killed a lot more people.

Anyway, it’s hard to take anything the NRA seriously when their current marketing campaign involves Dana Loesch shaking her Clenched Fist Of Truth™ at America’s two greatest enemies (i.e. liberals and the mainstream media).

2. That said, I think it’s worth passing on these two articles that add some good context to the gun debate: this one at FiveThirtyEight and this one from WaPo.

Both make points that have been made before but don’t get a lot of attention, especially in the wake of the latest record-setting mass shooting. In essence: America’s gun problem isn’t just a gun problem, it’s a series of problems (mental health, suicide, domestic violence, etc) requiring separate solutions for each.

3. One point of contention: many people I know are furious that the police and the media aren't describing it as a terrorist attack and are criticizing it as a double standard, evidence of white privilege, etc.

I disagree for a simple reason: to qualify as terrorism, an attack must have a political motivation and must be intended to create a state of fear in either the general population or the group being targeted. As far as we know, Paddock doesn’t fit that description. At least not yet.

I understand why these people are demanding it be classified as such – it’s mainly an extension of their frustration that past attacks by white American guys that actually do fit the description of terrorism weren’t initially treated as such precisely because the perps were white American guys and therefore couldn’t possibly be terrorists because as we all know terrorists are brown foreigners in turbans with funny names. Etc.

The problem is that we’ve reached a point where basically any attack even remotely like this is considered a terrorist attack. Granted, that’s in part because actual terrorists have lowered the bar to the point where you can't have a multiple-car collision without people wondering if it was terrorism-related.

I guess I’m experiencing cognitive dissonance because I grew up at a time when mass shootings were almost never motivated by political ideology – more often than not it was a guy with mental problems or a disgruntled ex-employee.

Then again, that was also a time when terrorism was still considered a crime to be prosecuted under the standard judicial system. The GW Bush admin changed that when it reclassified terrorism as a literal act of war (and therefore no different from Japan attacking Pearl Harbor) rather than a crime – which for their purposes meant you could torture them, kill them with drones or jail them without charge basically forever.

So I’m not comfortable with people redefining terrorism to fit their particular political viewpoint.

It is what it is,

This is dF 

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So we all know by now about Colin Kaepernick, what he’s been doing and why, and what happened on Sunday after the President of the United States publicly called him a son of a bitch for doing it.

Much is being said about it, most of it off-point and dumb enough to inspire me to post something on it.

1. I’m pretty sure this is the first time in my lifetime – and possibly ever – I’ve ever heard the President of The United States use what Decent Society would call foul language in a public speech (as opposed to doing it on a secret surveillance tape or a mike he didn’t know was hot). It doesn’t bother me – it’s just another example of how Trump just keeps managing to break every single rule of decorum that politicians have generally been expected to follow.

2. #TakeAKnee does not offend me in the least. Kaepernick (and indeed anyone else) has a right to do so. Granted, I also support the point he’s trying to make. Even if I didn’t, I’d support his right to take a knee, or even burn the flag of if came to that.

3. Speaking of which, most of the conservative commentary about Kaepernick is exactly the same kind of thing such people used to make about flag burners – my country right or wrong, love it or leave it, respect the flag or else, yada yada yada. It’s the usual patriotic chest-beating, and it bores me.

4. It’s also irrelevant. Kaepernick isn’t protesting the flag or the national anthem – he’s protesting institutional racism and white police brutality against unarmed black people that the country represented by that flag and anthem seems unable or unwilling to address. The fact that conservative critics (many of whom hate #BlackLivesMatters) are trying to change the topic of conversation to the flag and patriotism proves his point.

5. Trump has said his comments are not about racism. That might be true, in the sense that lots of people who fancy themselves Real American Patriots™ tend to have kneejerk reactions to people who are not sufficiently and superficially patriotic to their taste – which is often just as much about showing off how patriotic they are by shaking their fists and screaming at the non-patriotic. People like that tend not to care too much about the racial background of the commie scumbag (which is another way of saying that, as a white dude AND an Army veteran, I’ve had my patriotism questioned plenty of times, like whenever I said that war was not a good thing).

Having said that, I have my doubts that Trump really cares all that much about the flag or the anthem, if only because there’s no meaningful evidence of it. Some reports suggest he’s intentionally milking it to throw easy red jingoist meat to his support base, which is likely true.

However, we’re also talking about the same base that has no problem with white cops shooting unarmed black people because Law & Order, Blue Lives Matter, and the only racism racism problem in America is all the minorities claiming there is one. Which is, you know, divisive.

Or, as Trump once called them, “very fine people”.

So … while Trump may not have had any specific racist intent in calling Kaepernick an SOB, the fact that he couldn’t bring himself to say the same thing about Nazis and the KKK give a good indication where his priorities lie – the best possible interpretation is that taking a knee during the national anthem is far more offensive to him than actual Nazis marching under a Nazi flag on US soil and killing a woman by running her over with a car.

6. A few conservatives I know have criticized #TakeAKnee for being a pointless form of protest because it has the inherent flaw of getting people to talk about The Wrong Thing (see Point 3).

Normally I would agree with this. On the other hand: (1) as I said, many critics know full well what the real issue is and are deliberately avoiding it by playing the patriot card, and (2) the same people have said similar things about #BlackLivesMatters protests on the streets, peaceful or otherwise. So … what, they’d perhaps prefer that #BLM, Kaepernick et al just stay home and post inaccurate Facebook memes like everyone else?

There’s a good quote from Barbara Jean Orton making the rounds that sums it up better than anything I could say:

"I know there are people who don't like the idea of protesting during the national anthem. But if you're going to protest, it seems to me that kneeling is literally THE most respectful, dignified, non-disruptive, and humble gesture you could choose. Historically, people knelt to beseech a favor from the crown. They still kneel, sometimes, to ask for someone's hand. But mostly they kneel to pray. To pray for some kind of change. Like, for instance, a change in the way our nation values black bodies and black lives.

I've heard people complain about boycotts, about public disruptions, about peaceful protesters blocking traffic. But I think if you're going to complain about kneeling silently, you need to admit that there is literally no form of protest you will accept."

Drop the mike,

This is dF
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Here we go again.

The GOP is giving the Big Repeal another go with the Graham-Cassidy bill, and by most reliable accounts it’s even worse than the last few.

Which is saying something.

As usual, most people are only interested in the hyperpartisan batshit rhetoric that supports their side. For the rest of you, here’s a couple of possibly useful links:

A good summation of what the bill is trying to accomplish (as opposed to what will actually happen if it passes).

Another good summation of why the GOP is desperate to repeal Obamacare.

A fine collection of GOP senators trying to explain why the Graham-Cassidy bill is great, and generally failing.

All I can add is:

1. It’s stunning just how bad the GOP is at this, not least because they don’t seem to have learned anything from their previous experience. It’s as if they think the problem with badly written healthcare bills and rushing them through by any chicanery necessary before anyone has a chance to evaluate or debate them is that they weren’t fast enough.

Little wonder their bills are so unpopular. You’d think the message to Congress was blindingly obvious: “Look, if you really think Obamacare is so awful (and there’s no convincing evidence that it is, but let’s say there is) that you need to get rid of it, okay, but replace it with something as good or better. It’s complicated, so take all the time you need, vet it, debate it, and come up with something solid and workable.”

The fact that they’re doing the OPPOSITE of that suggests strongly to me that they don’t have a better idea for doing what Obamacare does, apart from “leave it to the states and the free market and it’ll be fine”. Which by all accounts it won’t be – not under this bill, anyway.

Not that it matters, since I’m reasonably sure many Republicans want to ditch Obamacare for the same reason Trump does – it’s a product of the Obama admin. They’re made it clear they are far more interested in repealing than replacing.

2. It’s kind of amusing that most of the debate about Graham-Cassidy is being led by late-night talk-show hosts.

Naturally conservatives are trotting out the old “celebrities shouldn’t express political opinions, they should stick to entertainment” meme. Which is disingenuous, considering how many of them voted for the current POTUS. See also: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ted Nugent, Chuck Norris, James Woods, Kid Rock, etc. So I can’t take people who pull the “stay in your lane” argument seriously – let’s admit, they only object to celebrity political opinions when they disagree with them.

Anyway, I don’t have a problem with Jimmy Kimmel making an issue of it. Given his family situation, I don’t blame him.

3. Bernie Sanders is using this as an opportunity to revive his single-payer universal healthcare idea – which of course has zero chance of passing now, but I assume he’s warming it up now in case the Democrats take back Congress in 2018, in which case it still won’t pass because Trump will veto it. Unless Bernie is also banking on Trump getting impeached by then, but I don’t see President Pence being any more willing to sign something I’m sure he feels is probably the only thing worse than Obamacare.

Anyway, you can read the details here, but if you felt the Bern last year, odds are you already know what he has in mind. For me, the chief problem with Berniecare – then and now – is that it’s really difficult and expensive to implement, and Bernie tends to get really vague on the details on just how we would go about funding Berniecare apart from “we’ll tax the rich enough until it’s paid for”. Which personally I don’t find particularly convincing.


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A few bits and bobs in the aftermath of the Charlottesville Massacree:

1. I enjoyed Tina Fey’s sheetcaking bit. I especially enjoyed it because it offended conservatives (because you know, Teh Liberal Hollywoods) and liberals who thought she was giving bad advice by telling people to respond to Evil Conservative Fascism by staying home and binge-eating cake.

My own thought is: it wasn’t advice, it was a comedy sketch.

Yes, racism is terrible and Nazis suck, but it’s not Tina Fey’s job to tell us that or to mobilize us all into action to fight Nazis. It’s her job to use comedy as a satirical commentary of current events, ideally to provoke discussion of the topic in question. You could easily interpret the bit as a satire of people who respond to the spectacle of Charlottesville by eating cake – there’s so much metaphor to work with there. Or you can interpret it the way I did – a humorous way of expressing the frustration we all feel that the NaziS and KKK etc feel empowered by the current POTUS and most of us hate to be put in position where we have to scream and yell at such people. And I think that’s a valid a thing to say because believe it or not, some of are just sick of people screaming and yelling at each other in lieu of rational discussion with no end in sight.

You can argue that her message is an example of white-girl privilege, being able to opt out of a debate that non-whites can’t because they have more at stake, etc. That’s a valid point, and look – it’s now a discussion point thanks to Tina Fey and her comedy sheetcake!

Which is fine by me, because political comedy has always been better at provoking discussion and getting people to question things than it is at providing answers to the questions it raises.

2. That said, sometimes comedy can be a solution in itself, or at least a tool. As this article points out, if you are going to show up at the Alt.Right™ Nazi KKKoalition rally, yr best weapon is humor and satire – it's arguably way more effective than punching Nazis or getting into a pointless atavistic screaming match. A lot of the Nazi KKK guys welcome violence and screaming – they’d be more than pleased for you to start something (though yes, many of them apparently welcome it more when they outnumber you and Open Carry is legal). Make fun of them and refuse to take them seriously, and they will go ballistic. And they’ll come away looking far worse than you.

3. On the bright side, the Boston protests were a lot more peaceful than Charlottesville, and evidently more effective – not only were the Alt.Right™ embarrassingly outnumbered, the same organizers decided to cancel 67 planned rallies in 36 states and take them online instead.

Result! Chalk one for the “you gotta show up” camp.

4. Naturally, the Alt.Right™ and people who defend them are complaining that their free speech rights were violated by all the counterprotesters raining on their parade. I don’t see how. No one prevented them from having their rally or saying whatever they wanted to say. I suppose you can argue an intimidation factor, but that seems to be more the product of the Alt.Right™ apparently buying the meme that all counterprotesters are literally violent ISIS terrorists out to beat them up. Which is of course not true (mostly).

5. Regarding all the dithering over Confederate statues, I think it’s mostly a debate recycled from the same dithering over flying Confederate flags.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, most of these statues were only erected in the 20th Century, and it wasn’t just about celebrating Southern heritage. Unless by “heritage” you mean “slavery” and “racism”.

Which, to be fair, many Confederate flag/statue defenders don’t mean, because they don’t know their own history that they claim to celebrate. A lot of people still roll out the old chestnut that the Civil War was about economics and states’ rights. Sorry, but it wasn’t. It was about preserving slavery and – in the event that more states joined the CFA – forcing new member states to drop abolition laws. The CFA constitution was pretty explicit about that.

So many of today’s Confederate flag/statue defenders may not be pro-slavery racists in the strictest sense, but they’re arguably ignorant about their own “heritage”. The problem, as I’ve said before, is that their current reality bubble allows them to dismiss any facts contrary to their beliefs as Fake News.

Some people argue the statues should stay up as a reminder that a bunch of states committed treason against the US over slavery. Maybe. I like the idea from one person that we take down the statues but leave the pedestals.

Otherwise there’s no real reason to keep them up. And the argument that taking them down is revising or erasing history is nonsense – as if we would have no idea there was ever such a thing as slavery in America or a Civil War fought over it unless there was a statue of Robert E Lee in the local city park.

Then again, some people still believe the Earth is flat, so what do I know?

And so on,

This is dF
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I’d meant to post something about that NRA ad where Dana Loesch shakes her Clenched Fist Of Truth™ at America’s most dangerous adversary ever (libtards!). But I was in the midst moving house at the time, and by the time the dust settled it was old news.

But now Loesch is back in the headlines thanks to a new NRA ad in which she shakes her Clenched Fist Fisk Of Truth™ specifically at The New York Times.

Good gravy. Where to begin?

1. Vox has a good explanation as any as to what’s going on here – the NRA needs a bogeyman to sell moar gunz. Obama and his Big Fat Liberal Agenda To Pry Your Guns From Your Cold Dead Fingers served that purpose, but with Obama gone and the GOP controlling every major branch of govt (and many states), there’s zero chance of anyone passing gun-control laws for the foreseeable future. So the NRA is (evidently) going with the next best thing: carefully worded paranoid conspiracy theories about the Obama Deep State in cahoots with Fake News Media (formerly known as Liberal Media, LameStream Media™, etc and so on) and professional liberal anarchist protesters to destroy democracy somehow, and the only people who can stop them are Real Americans (i.e. conservatives and only conservatives) armed to the f***ing teeth with superior firepower.

2. Not that the NRA endorses violence. It never does, explicitly, if only because it’s illegal to do so even under the 1A. But the language and the tone are unmistakably (and intentionally) angry, militant and confrontational, and designed to portray anyone to the left of the NRA as dangerous anarchist creeps spoiling for a fight and out to smear Decent Honest Conservative Americans as evil racist homophobic Nazis.

3. The irony –and believe me I take no pleasure in typing this – is that Loesch isn't 100% wrong on that. There are plenty of far-left mouthpieces (some official, some just trolls) who routinely label everyone to the right of them as literal Nazis out to exterminate all non-white poor people and make The Handmaid’s Tale a reality, and who say the most effective way to counter conservative arguments is to punch them in the face and never allow them to speak in public ever. I don’t think that such people represent the majority of left-wingers (just as I don't think that Loesch represents most Republicans) – but they have the loudest megaphones, and they like to use them. And they’re essentially fueling Loesch and the NRA’s paranoid fantasy that The Left is out to silence them permanently.

4. That said, Loesch and the NRA are clearly either living in the same alternate reality as Trump, or exploiting it for personal gain. Or maybe both. It’s possible Loesch actually thinks what she’s saying is true. It’s also possible that she’s serious when she says the ads aren’t intended to be violent or threatening and she sees no possible way anyone could conclude that they are (unless they’re Fake News reporters, and see what she did there?). Sure – it’s like the Open Carry characters who can’t for the life of them understand why a group of guys walking into a Chipotles with AR-15s slung on their shoulders would make the customers nervous.

5. Regardless of sincerity, the Loesch ads are essentially dumb angry propaganda out to warn you of a reality that doesn’t really exist – and get you to do something about it (even if it's just buy lots more guns and give the NRA your money).

Will the ads encourage gun violence against “they”? Sooner or later, yes, although I think such incidents will be rare. We’re lucky that most conservatives who talk angry and loud tend not to escalate to physical violence (I assume this is because it's a lot easier to talk trash on radio or on Twitter than to someone’s face). 

That said, I’m less concerned about the prospect of violence as I am about the fact that (1) these ads are based on fundamentally false premises, (2) the choir they’re preaching to already believes those premises are true, and (3) there’s literally no way to convince them otherwise because one of those premises is that if the media (or anyone) says something that contradicts your sociopolitical worldview, you can rest assured they are deliberately lying as part of a conspiracy to advance their agenda against Decent Patriotic Americans like yourself.

I just don't see an upside to any of this. Maybe because I’m part of the conspiracy, I guess? I don’t know. But I’ve been watching the Professionally Angry Conservative Outrage Circus Train peddle its schtick for the better part of 25 years, and, well, look who’s POTUS now.


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By now you know the GOP House finally came up with a bill to replace Obamacare, and everyone freaked out over it. Then the Senate came up with its own version, and now everyone is freaking out about that.

I’m hesitant to even post anything about it because Holy Cats, no one wants to have a rational conversation about healthcare in America. No one is interested in facts. I know this because even the fact-checkers are taking a beating from people on both sides for trying to put the AHCA and the BRCA in perspective. No one wants perspective – if yr not describing either bill as either the biggest most evil disaster ever or the end to the national nightmare known as Obamacare, FAKE NEWS!

Also, I’m not an expert on healthcare, and I generally don’t like to comment on things I don’t know that much about. But I do know a little about Congress and bills (thank you, Schoolhouse Rock), and I know a bit more about political grandstanding. So I do have a few thoughts on those.

1. Both the AHCA and BCRA are pretty clear evidence that the GOP has basically lost its collective shit over Obamacare to the point that they don’t really care what they replace it with, so long as it’s replaced. Secret drafts, fast votes, no CBO vetting – “There’s yr stupid bill, now vote! Don’t read it, YR WASTING TIME!”

I’m exaggerating, of course. But not by much. And it speaks volumes when yr party leadership is so eager to pass a bill that they don’t even care that they literally have no idea if it will work as promised or even improve the healthcare situation.

2. However, the more I think about it, the more this approach makes sense – especially now that we know the details of the BCRA/AHCA bills and their projected impact. It doesn’t matter if they’ll improve the healthcare system because they’re not designed to improve the healthcare system or make it affordable – they're designed to dump Obamacare, slash Medicaid, cut taxes on the wealthy and leave as much as possible to the free market. Any possible benefit to healthcare costs is incidental.

That’s not too surprising to me, because the GOP never really wanted federal healthcare reform in the first place, unless by “reform” you meant “dumping Medicaid altogether”. It wasn’t until Obama made healthcare a major issue in his 2008 campaign that they sort of felt compelled to come up with a serious alternative plan. Meanwhile, the GOP has always wanted to ditch Medicaid and other federal entitlement programs for strictly ideological reasons (welfare state, givers and takers, austerity, etc). The only reason they haven’t gutted it already – not even in the 90s when they took control of Congress and in the early 2000s when they controlled all of Congress AND the White House – is because entitlement programs are so entrenched that voters get very angry when you try to take them away. Repubs always talked a big game but in the end, no one had the political nerve to touch Medicaid.

3. The fact that they’re doing it now suggests that either the political tide has turned in their favor, or Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan think it has, whether because of Trump or gerrymandering or they spend too much time watching Fox News or whatever. There’s the small matter that the BCRA/AHCA bills are massively unpopular in the polls – and the CBO score won’t fix that – but, you know, fake news? Or it’s not Obamacare and that’s really the important thing, right?

Or maybe McConnell knows full well that he’s taking a major political risk with BCRA but has decided, the hell with it, this is the best chance we’re going to get and it will not get this good again. It might also be that he intentionally put the worst, most extreme bill possible out there to make the subsequent compromise look like a good deal.

Or maybe it really is mass psychosis fuelled by insane visceral and irrational hatred of all things Obama, encouraged by Trump’s apparent mission to literally undo and erase every single thing that Obama ever did in office – especially his signature accomplishment.

Honestly, I don’t know what McConnell and Ryan are thinking. But I can say with certainty that the GOP would not be writing these cockamamie bills if they believed there was any serious risk of losing power.

4. One thing I’m pretty sure they are NOT thinking is, “Ha ha ha, this bill will kill millions of poor people!” Many critics on the Left would have me believe otherwise. Sorry, no. I’m sure that’s easy to believe when you’ve already bought the meme that the GOP are literally one-dimensional evil Nazis. But I don’t think it’s true.

That doesn’t mean the bills won’t result in people losing insurance they currently have and potentially dying as a result of being unable to afford either healthcare or insurance. But it doesn’t mean the GOP intentionally wrote the bills to specifically ensure that poor people will die – which is clearly what those memes are meant to imply. Like I said, the bills aren’t really about healthcare at all. GOP legislators have their eyes on the prize of ditching Obamacare and implementing ideological austerity measures (tax and entitlement cuts) in its place. That’s it.

The worst you can say is they don’t care about negative impacts like people losing healthcare and dying. And even then, they’ll just trot out the old “personal responsibility” meme (which sounds more noble than “every crumb for himself”). Or, if yr a Fox News contributor, you can deploy the old “c’mon, we all die someday” line (in which case let's just close all the hospitals, because why bother getting well when yr just gonna die eventually?).

That said, it’s kind of funny to see Repubs complain about liberals talking up that angle when the GOP and the Tea Party ran so hard with the “death panels” meme back when Obamacare was being crafted.

5. Anyway, we’ll see where this goes. The Senate vote has been delayed – undoubtedly to give McConnell some breathing room to put his vote-whipping skills to good use. And we may see some amendments to the current draft, although it’s possible they could make the bills even worse (like Mitch’s recent addition that if you don't buy the insurance you can no longer afford thanks to this bill, we get to penalize you for that).

But as far as I can tell, the BCRA and the AHCA are two sides of a terrible and stupid coin that create more problems than they solve.

6. But again, I don’t know much about healthcare, so I could be wrong.

7. In the interest of fairness (which no one cares about, but hey, whose blog is this?), here’s an interesting interview with conservative health care expert Avik Roy who is very much in love with the BCRA and explains why it’s a good idea. Basically, it comes down to whether the healthcare markets work the way pro-ACA people think or the pro-BCRA people think.

I’m not saying he’s right or wrong (and I do think he’s wrong on things like dismissing the polls) – and many of his fellow conservative wonks don't agree with him (mostly because they think it's just another version of Obamacare and not the full-on repeal they wanted) – but it’s a far better-worded defense of BCRA than any of the Senators or Fox News creatures actively pushing it.

It’s certainly better than the one I usually hear, which is usually “Obamacare is a disaster!”, followed by the explanation that the “disaster” is that it personally inconveniences them in some way – which is kind of the same as saying, “I don’t care how many people it helps – it’s not helping me, so I say we dump it entirely!”, which kind of makes them sound dickish.

I’m just saying.

Call the doctor,

This is dF
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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
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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: (Default)
I’ve had a project in mind for awhile now to rank the presidents – specifically, the US Presidents that have served during my lifetime (which in my case would be from Lyndon Johnson up to Barack Obama). But of course I had to wait until Obama’s terms were up before I could add him to the list, which has given me a great excuse to procrastinate. So yr not going to see that list anytime soon, is what I’m saying.

But now that Barack Obama has left the building, I can at least get his entry out of the way and address the burning and traditional question every POTUS faces after leaving office:

So, how’d he do?

That’s not an easy question to answer – partly because most people rate POTUS performance along party lines and pet issues. And in these days of hyperpartisan polarization, too many people have emotionally invested themselves a particular extreme political narrative. For most liberals I know, Obama was the best President ever. For most conservatives I know, he was absolutely unequivocally the worst, most inept, dishonest and tyrannical POTUS ever, and probably not even an American, and pretty much wrecked the entire country so badly that they actually trust Trump to try and fix it.

As you might imagine, neither opinion holds much water with me. The liberal rating tends to be primarily based on select accomplishments (Obamacare and legal same-sex marriage, and Obama arguably should only get credit for the former) and the fact that Obama was charismatic and likeable (as was his whole family). Conservative assessments of Obama are generally based on vitriolic party-line batshit conspiracy nonsense.

Of course, my own assessment isn't necessarily objective either, so if you happen to fall into the above two camps, there’s no reason to take this post seriously.

For my money, rating Obama’s overall performance should take into account a few important caveats:

1. He inherited a terrible mess – the worst recession in decades and two foreign policy quagmires that made the Middle East in particular even harder to deal with than it already was. In terms of difficulty levels, Obama entered office with the bar raised considerably high.

2. He also faced one of the most obstructionist Congresses in history. Republicans simply hated him and refused to cooperate with him on just about every major issue. They blame that on him, because of course they do. But no, it’s pretty clear to me that the GOP demonstrated a public and unabashed determination to ensure that Obama got as little cooperation from them as possible.

3. The metrics of success shifted considerably before or during his presidency. On paper America’s economy is far stronger than it was when he took office, and yet almost half of voters seem convinced that it’s far worse. I suspect it's at least in part because the metrics don’t reflect the reality on the ground for many people. It’s great the unemployment rate is down, but if yr working three part-time jobs to make ends meet and you still can’t save money, you may not feel as though things are getting better. At a guess, this might be one of the consequences of the growing wealth inequality gap – those metrics tend to be better news for the rich than for everyone else who has to work for a living. Or it just might be the consequence of everyone being more poorly informed by hyperpartisan media bubbles. Point being, this has an influence on how Obama’s legacy will be assessed by many people.

4. Given that many liberals I know complained quite a bit about some of Obama’s decisions over his two terms (note: contrary to GOP propaganda, he was NEVER the socialist liberal that actual socialist liberals desperately wanted him to be, and they made that clear by channeling that disappointment into supporting Bernie Sanders), I’m reasonably sure that the people glowing over Obama’s legacy are being partly influenced by the horrific contrast of his successor. Next to the Trump Batshit Reality Show, even George W Bush looks reasonably good, so of course Obama is going to come off looking awesome.

So … given all that, I would rate the Obama admin thusly:

Overall I think Obama did okay with what he had to work with. But it is something of a mixed bag.

I don't have the time or space to go into the details, so you can read some good assessments at these links:

To summarize all this into some convenient oversimplified bullet points:

1. Obama’s economic policies generally worked, at least by traditional metrics. Even his unorthodox remedies (i.e. the temp auto industry takeover that Republicans offered as proof of his radical socialist agenda to destroy capitalism) ended up working. But that didn’t seem to translate into economic and employment security at street level, though I’m not sure how much of that is directly Obama’s fault. Either way, the growing wealth-inequality gap widened considerably under his watch, and that’s arguably at the root of some of the discontent.

2. Obamacare was a nice try, but it was also a long-term play, so if the GOP finally gets its wish to repeal and (maybe kinda who knows) replace, we'll never know if it was ultimately workable or not. I don't know enough about the healthcare sector to rate it fairly, though I can say I’ve heard healthcare professionals on both sides of the aisle say good and bad things about it.

3. Obama’s big weak spot has been foreign policy. He did have some successes – his dealings with Iran and Cuba, getting us out of Iraq, etc, and generally making the world not hate America as much as it did under GW Bush. He was less successful with Syria, Libya, ISIS, et al. And while he did end combat ops in Iraq and Afghanistan, he replaced them with drone warfare that isn't necessarily more ethical than boots on the ground (though I guess it is cheaper and ensures that only non-Americans die, so … great?). Again, though, I think his realistic options for action were limited to an extent by the policies of his predecessor.

4. Where Obama really went wrong for me was his failure (or unwillingness) to fix the civil liberties violations institutionalized under the Bush admin. Okay, he got rid of torture, and he only failed to close down Gitmo because Congress wouldn't let him. But in terms of mass surveillance, indefinite detentions, assassinations, etc, Obama turned out to be not so progressive. And I don’t think he should get a free pass on that, partly because I think they're important issues that speak to the core values that America is supposed to stand for, but also because look who has the same powers at his disposal now.

5. In terms of character, he was a pretty inspiring as a leader (at least for the choir – conservatives kept bringing up Lenin, and we all know about him) – he was smart, charismatic, gave great speech, and was a dedicated family man. Republicans will claim he was divisive, but given their outspoken unwillingness to cooperate with Demos under an Obama admin, I don’t take that claim seriously. He also got through eight years without a single major personal or political scandal, which is impressive. (If yr going to bring up Hillary’s emails and Benghazi, save yr breath – those are only Obama scandals in the alternate universe that Trump conservatives seem to live in.)

So yeah, overall I would rank Obama as one of the better presidents in my lifetime – again, within the context of the caveats stated above (and relative to the competition – when you look at the POTUS roster of the last 50 years, you’ve basically got three strong contenders, after which there’s a pretty big dropoff in quality). He didn’t get everything right, but then no POTUS ever has. But what he got wrong is also serious enough to overshadow a lot of what he did get right.

If nothing else, I’d say he was probably one of the most “presidential” presidents of my lifetime – someone who looked confident in the leadership role, put serious thought into his policies, and did his best to inspire.

Usually the key question in assessing any POTUS is: is America better off now than eight years ago? In some ways we are – in some ways we aren’t. But most of the latter has to do with the hyperpartisan Batshit Reality Schism and the general breakdown of civility in political discourse. And honestly that’s not on Obama. That’s on the American People™.

Done and dusted,

This is dF
defrog: (mooseburgers)
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,”)


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: (Default)
So this happened:
  • Trump is inaugurated.
  • Not a lot of people turn out for it.
  • People post tweets showing photos of empty stands during the parade and comparing the National Mall crowd to Obama’s 2009 inauguration.
  • The media report this.
  • Press Secretary Sean Spicer spends the first White House press conference scolding the media for reporting fake news on purpose, because in actual fact it was the biggest turnout in inauguration history, period, and why are you reporting divisive fake news like this when you could have been reporting Trump’s address to the CIA, and storms off without taking a single question.
Welcome to Trumpville, losers.

A few comments from the bullpen:

1. To be totally fair, when I saw the photos of empty stands on my Twitter feed, I took them with a grain of salt, because I’m aware that the anti-Trump crowd has a tendency to latch onto any meme that makes Trump look bad and/or evil and tweet the hell out of it as though it’s undeniable fact, even when it’s not. And let’s admit, it’s more than possible to take photos out of context and claim they represent something they don’t. And there’s always Photoshop.

2. However, the real issue isn’t whether the photos were faked – it's that this is what Trump decided to open with during the first-ever White House press conference: not with policy matters or plans or what he’s done with his first 24 hours in office (such as his executive orders regarding Obamacare), but with his PressSec slamming the media for reporting the lie that Trump isn’t that popular and then refusing to answer questions.

3. Which is as well since the first question (hopefully) would have been: “Do you have any evidence you can show us that the turnout was record setting? Perhaps actual photos showing stands packed with people at the parade or a photo of the National Mall jam-packed with supporters?”

All Spicer offered were some Metro stats that were debunked in less time than it took for Spicer to deliver his speech. Also, it’s amusing that he complained that the press should have focused on the CIA speech when Trump spent most of his speech saying what Spicer had just said.

4. All up, Spicer’s first press conference did seem designed to send the media a message – don't expect us to play ball if yr not going to cover us the way we want you to cover us.

5. People are already making comparisons to Goebbels, but I think that's both ridiculous and lazy, starting with the fact that Trump – like everyone else in the world – is under no legal obligation whatsoever to talk to the press if he doesn't want to. It might be politically inadvisable, but it’s not illegal, and it’s doesn't mean yr a fascist. Not talking to the press is not the same thing as literally controlling it and telling them what they can and cannot write.

Also, as I’ve said before, the WHPC is in many ways a glorified steno pool that reports whatever the POTUS or the press secretary say, to include their spin-doctored answers to questions. You get only what the POTUS wants you to get. I highly recommend this tl;dr article explaining how WH pressers work, and how some presidents dislike them because they prefer direct communication with the people (fireside chats, town hall meetings, talk shows, etc) over having the WHPC as a filter. The latter is interesting because Trump clearly prefers rallies and Twitter as his direct channel, for better or worse.

So honestly, I’m not too concerned over Trump’s refusal to play ball with the media on their terms. Even if Trump allowed CNN to ask questions at his press conferences, the answer he’d give would be the same self-aggrandizing bigly bebop blather he’s been spouting for the whole campaign (and really for much of his life as a public figure).

6. It’s also worth mentioning that despite my remark above that it’s politically advisable not to antagonize the media, Trump currently has no political incentive to heed that advice. His base is probably loving the sight of the LameStream Liberal Media having their ass handed to them, and they probably assume that the inauguration photos are all faked anyway. I get the feeling we’re going to be seeing a lot of this in the next four years, if only because it suits the Trump narrative that the mainstream media is all a bunch of biased lying liars who lie. Trump is already crowing over how he totally caught them lying and called them on it publicly, and his fans are eating that up.

7. That said, the real issue with the Spicer incident isn’t how Trump feels about the media, it’s how he’s reacting to it and why. The fact that he’s going to war with them over something relatively minor (and something that is also basically true, unless he can produce credible evidence to the contrary, which he hasn’t) speaks volumes about his motivations. So does Spicer’s performance.

Overall, the whole thing comes across to me as a thin-skinned egotistical blowhard who can't take criticism sending his press secretary out to throw a tantrum for him.

Looking forward to the next WH presser, in which Spicer will claim that the Women’s Marches were fake and only attended by a dozen lesbians. Ugly lesbians. Not the kind you’d fantasize a threesome with. Sad!

Beat the press,

This is dF

EDITED TO ADD [same day]: After writing that, I saw that Kellyanne Conway has introduced to us the concept of alternative facts. As in facts from the alternate world that Team Trump live in, I suppose?
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)

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