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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.

Incurable,

This is dF
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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.

Unclenched,

This is dF
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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
defrog: (onoes)

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:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/03/barack-obama-president-legacy-policy-issues-wins-fights

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/09/opinions/obama-legacy-opinion-roundup/

http://time.com/4632190/historians-obamas-legacy/

http://reason.com/blog/2017/01/12/obamas-foreign-policy-legacy-an-embrace

http://www.economist.com/news/christmas-specials/21712062-barack-obamas-presidency-lurched-between-idealism-and-acrimony-some-his

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,”)

Remarkable.

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

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

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

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

Keep me honest,

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big fun.

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


Lie to me,

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is one hitch, of course.

Cuba libre,

This is dF 

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

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

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

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

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

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

What fun!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ve got mail,

This is dF
defrog: (devo mouse)
As you may or may not know, the Chilcot Report – the official UK investigation into the decision made by Tony Blair to help George W Bush invade Iraq – is out. It’s very long. And it basically concludes what some of us figured out a long time ago – the war was unnecessary and based on a complete sham, and Blair knew it.

A lot is being written about this, and given how much material there is to go through, there may be even more written in the next couple of weeks. Most of it will be hyperpartisan nonsense. But here’s a few worthwhile links for now:

1. This BBC report covers the main findings quite well, as well as responses from Blair and Bush. Notice that Blair issued his directly and at length, while Bush had a spokesperson issue a very short statement that basically said, “I’m busy, but we did the right thing and Tony is a stand-up guy, now let’s forget the past, unite and fight terrorism together!”

2. Regarding Blair’s statement, he basically apologized for everything except the actual decision to invade Iraq, which he still says was the right thing to do, regardless of whether the WMDs were real or the intelligence was wrong, cherry-picked, fake, or whatever. Which is really another way of saying that the US has the right to invade any country it wants and instigate regime change so long as it provides a good reason, whether that reason is based on facts or not.

Blair also said the report proves he didn’t knowingly mislead anyone about Hussein’s WMDs. However, this story from The Intercept notes that in fact Blair knew early on that Bush had already decided to get rid of Saddam on pretenses of WMDs and terrorism – and that he didn’t have the evidence to justify either of them.

3. According to this BBC story, some of the “evidence” that MI6 eventually came up with that Saddam had an active biochem weapons program turned out to be not only made up by the agent who provided it, but may have actually been cribbed from a Michael Bay film. Moreover, it was clear by September 2002 that the agent was lying, but his reports were still being circulated as actionable intelligence until well after the war had started, the apparent reasoning being: just because he was lying doesn’t mean it’s not true.

4. This Vox article points out that The Chilcot Report isn’t just about Tony Blair’s failures – it’s also a detailed chronicle of how the Bush Posse not only made up their case for war, but also how incompetently they planned for the aftermath, despite being told by British intelligence officials that taking Saddam out of power would result in a quagmire of unmanageable civil war that would make the terrorism problem worse instead of better – which of course is more or less exactly what happened.

5. If you were hoping the Chilcot Report would be instrumental in putting the architects of Iraq War 2 on trial for war crimes – sorry, but that’s never going to happen. The report doesn’t explicitly say that Blair outright lied or did anything technically illegal, so regardless of the revelations in the report, no one is going to go jail over it apart those who already have (i.e. a couple of overenthusiastic soldiers and private security contractors).

But I’m willing to settle for a documented and detailed historical record of how the Bush Posse – with Blair playing the Tonto to Bush’s Lone Ranger – invaded Iraq on false pretences and with complete disregard of the consequences that they were told multiple times would happen. Let history books record George W Bush’s “legacy” as a disastrous, expensive and failed foreign policy coupled with a blatant disregard for civil liberties and human rights in pursuit of terrorism, and the impact of both on America, the UK and the world.

Not that it matters, since many people in 2016 live in alternate realities with decidedly different interpretations of history that no amount of fact-checking by experts will ever correct. After all, what the hell do experts know?

Write that down,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
danskjavlarna: “ “Books cannot be killed by fire.” ”

[Via Gotankgo]

Choice of weapons,

This is dF
defrog: (mooseburgers)
ITEM: The Washington Post has become the latest in an ever-growing line of news media barred from attending Donald Trump’s rallies and press conferences after the paper gave him "incredibly inaccurate" coverage.

GLOSSARY: “Inaccurate” = “reporting what Trump said, not what he meant to say”.

Or something. It’s hard to know, exactly. It probably changes according to whatever mood Trump happens to be in at the time. Also, this is the same guy who claimed in his WaPo statement that WaPo is a propaganda tool for Amazon to protect its monopoly and avoid taxes. So, you know, accuracy is relative.

This isn’t the first time Trump has kicked reporters out of his campaign events or his press pool. It probably won’t be the last. The real question is whether it matters. And the answer probably depends on how far Trump would take this if he wins.

That depends who you ask, of course. The liberals are predicting apocalyptic visions of Nazi AmeriKKKa, though I suspect they’d be doing that if Jeb! was the nominee like he was supposed to be. Trump apologists – and in fact Trump himself – insist that Trump The POTUS will act differently from Trump The Candidate, so don’t worry, he’ll curb his more extreme side once he’s in office.

The latter opinion seems plausible when you remember that Trump is knowingly playing to a base that’s been built up on a rabid distrust of both Establishment politicians and the mainstream media. Banning reporters could just be a part of that schtick, and it’s always possible he’ll drop that shtick once he wins. He’s already said as much.

On the other hand, he has expressed an interest in amending libel laws making it easier to sue the hell out of newspapers who write “inaccurate” things about him. So who knows, really?

Supposing he does continue his media blacklist as POTUS, this raises an interesting question: is it really necessary to be in Trump’s physical presence in order to report what he says and does?

I mean, his speeches are already widely covered. I could probably “cover” his campaign from here in HK if I wanted to. The same would arguably true of President Trump’s career unless he imposes a full media blackout, which seems unlikely.

Also, I recall what Ana Marie Cox pointed out seven years ago: the White House Press Corps is arguably little more than a glorified steno pool who report whatever spin the POTUS or his media-trained Press Secretary hurls at their questions. No matter how much access they have to Trump, he’s not going to give them anything he doesn’t want to give. So why show up at all?

Still, I would agree that all this is beside the point. A POTUS who only grants access to media who doesn’t write “inaccurate” things about him (especially one whose definition of “inaccurate” seems pretty broad and arbitrary) isn’t exactly in the spirit of the First Amendment of the Constitution. And we already know what happens if you take Trump’s current attitude and run off the end of the Earth with it.

I don’t think Trump wants to take it nearly that far, mind you. But it’s clear he’s become frustrated that the media isn’t as credulous as it was when he started his campaign. That’s likely because (1) he’s no longer the loudest buffoon in a crowded field, but an actual presumptive nominee, and (2) journalists have finally gotten a handle on his interview style, so he’s no longer able to baffle them with his reality-TV bebop, as Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a communications scholar at the Annenberg Public Policy Center, told the LA Times:

“When the candidate’s style is a Joycean stream of consciousness, a reporter has trouble finding an anchor point to stop and interrogate him,” she told me. “But by now, they’ve begun to figure him out. They’ve worked out strategies to hold him accountable. They’re now deciding: I’m going to get an answer to one important question, no matter how long it takes.”

In other words, Trump can’t get away with just being “good television” anymore.

The honeymoon is over,

This is dF
defrog: (mooseburgers)
I don’t usually respond to political memes, because it’s the equivalent of arguing with a mentally ill brick wall.

But I’ve come across a couple that are currently making the rounds that I feel are worthy of a response, because they try to make intelligent points – or what they imagine are intelligent points. So okay.

1. Conservatives are grown-ups (unlike “takers”)



This is a variation on an old favorite in conservative circles: personal responsibility. Paying yr own way is a virtue. Relying on govt programs is not, because people who use govt programs are “takers”: lazy irresponsible children who demand everything be handed to them by the nanny state.

Which is really just another way of saying: “I resent the fact that other people can take my tax money and buy stuff I have to pay for myself.”

As you might imagine, I don’t agree with this, partly because I personally don’t mind if my tax money is used to fund public services, but mainly because I think it’s based on a false premise: namely, that all people who use govt programs are freeloaders who aren’t willing to work and the equivalent of irresponsible children. Yes, some of them are. Many of them are not. So I think it’s unfair, unrealistic and mean to yank their safety net out from under them just because some people in the same net are loafers. Characterizing them as irresponsible children is oversimplistic and, well, lazy.

I also don't really buy into the libertarian fantasy that participation in society should be based solely on your ability to pay for basic necessities, and that if you can’t afford birth control, food, a mortgage, college education or a cell phone, yr not entitled to have them. We can argue over whether things like college and cell phones count as necessities, perhaps. But that’s a different argument from whether people who can’t afford to pay for them on their own are lazy irresponsible children. That’s just an excuse to pretend that people who can’t make ends meet or keep up with the rest of society only have themselves to blame, and therefore are not yr problem.

2. If you don’t vote, Trump happens



This is usually forwarded by left-leaning people worried that voter apathy leads to people like Trump winning the the White House – or worse, Bernie Sanders losing the Demo nomination to Hillary Clinton.

I’m all for voter participation, but I have a problem with the argument that if everyone votes, then good candidates will win (and by “good” they usually mean “the specific candidate I’ve been supporting with every other meme that I post here”). Actually there’s no guarantee that a higher turnout will swing a particular result, except in retrospect, when you can point to examples where, say, your party had only 25% voter turnout while the opposition party had 45% voter turnout. But the party base usually only accounts for about 30% of the electorate. The remaining unaffiliated 40% could go either way depending on all kinds of factors. So if you have 100% voter turnout, the opposition candidate could still win.

Put another way, if you have 100% turnout and yr candidate still loses, is that better than if they lost with only (say) 40% turnout? And would you be more accepting of the result?

Also, people who forward memes like this tend to believe there is a stark difference between the two parties. Well, sure, if you believe every fool meme that pops up on yr Facebook feed catering to yr specific political bias. But many people don’t see all that much difference. To some people (including me to a point), the GOP and the Democratic Party suck in different ways, perhaps, but they still basically suck. I don’t belong to either party, and I haven’t been that happy with the POTUS choices offered to me since at least 1996. This year is a little different in the sense that both parties’ candidates are being pulled closer to the ideological fringe. But political polarization has made change even less likely, so I can’t blame people for thinking it doesn’t really matter who wins, we’re screwed anyway, so why bother?

BONUS TRACK: On a side note, I’ll add a comment about a related meme complaining about the Democratic use of superdelegates, which at the moment is favoring Hillary. Sanders supporters are complaining this subverts the will of the people and that it's a plot by the DNC to steal the election for Hillary.

I’ve heard this one before back when people were complaining about the electoral college in 2000, where Al Gore won the pop vote but lost the electoral vote (Florida’s hanging chads notwithstanding.) I think that’s a valid discussion, but regarding the way the current superdelegate argument is being framed, I just have a few things to say about it:

1. Many of the people complaining about superdelegates don’t seem to understand how the process works (or how political parties work, for that matter).

2. Even of they do, I will bet good money that if the superdelegates were backing Sanders instead of Clinton, the Sanders supporters would not have a single bad thing to say about the superdelegate system.

3. If the GOP had a superdelegate system, it’s possible that the current frontrunners in the delegate count would not be Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

Of course I realize that Sanders fans are delighted at having Trump or Cruz as the GOP nominee, because they’re pretty sure America as a whole won’t vote for the crazy guy. But think of it this way: one of the purposes of the electoral college is to give political parties the ability to prevent The American Voters from electing any dangerous demagogue yahoo who knows how to work the rubes. (The superdelegate system serves a similar purpose.) So if you want the pop vote to determine all election outcomes, that’s fine – just remember that sometimes the population doesn’t always make the smartest decisions about who would make a good POTUS.

Trump and Cruz are getting closer and closer to proving that.

It can’t happen here,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
Via The Daily Beast:

More than 120 criminal complaints have been filed by women in Cologne who say they were subjected to public sexual assault or robbery, including at least two alleged street rapes, all in one night. The 400 men accused of being behind this mass attack formed coordinated rings around the women. They have been universally described as being of North African and Arab appearance. Police are examining Internet forums and chat groups on the working assumption that it is unlikely 400 men just met by accident.

Though this all occurred on New Year’s Eve, the absolute scandal is that we only found out about it five days later. Amid accusations that it deliberately covered the incident up in order not to spark panic, the public broadcaster ZDF was forced to issue an apology for failing to include the assaults in its main evening news broadcast. It appears that, as the authorities and the media were choosing between stirring up racial tension and these women’s rights, we were faced with a conspiracy of silence.

I recommend reading the whole article, because this is a pretty big deal – not least because certain politicians and media pundits ate going to use this story (if they haven’t already – I haven't bothered to Google it) to exploit fear, racism and xenophobia to whip up support for Draconian immigration policies, especially regarding Syrian refugees, Muslims in general and probably Mexicans.

Which is likely why the German media avoided the story initially (according to the article), and why more left-leaning politicians and pundits are trying not to make a big deal about it, despite being the political faction that usually takes a stand for rape victims.

It’s easy to see why: no one wants Donald Trump to be right about anything, let alone something like this.

But I don't think this story "proves" his claim about immigrants being dangerous rapists or whatever. My response to Trump fans or any anti-immigrant Islamophobic faction making hay of this is pretty simple: “If you get to say this proves that all Syrian refugees are dangerous and should be turned away, then I get to say that Robert Dear represents all gun owners and Christians, and we should treat them as dangerous lunatics.”

There are any number of variations on that, but it all comes down to this: it’s easy to blame an entire group for the actions of a few. People do this all the time. That doesn’t make it accurate. Or right. But what happened in Cologne has to be addressed openly and honestly. Because I can guarantee you that whether the Left says anything about it or not, the Right will twist this story for maximum impact and political points (to include the fact that the Left is saying nothing about it).

NOTE: My info may be outdated. I haven't Googled anything about this since I saw it a few days ago, so maybe the Left has its act together on this. But I thought the article was worth passing on. 

If you see something say something,

This is dF


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