defrog: (Default)
I’ve seen all the dithering about Rep Ilhan Omar (D-MN), her apparent tendency to say things about Israel that play into anti-Semitic tropes, and the subsequent House resolution to condemn anti-Semitic speech, which eventually blossomed into a more generic anti-hate speech resolution.

Aaaaaand you know, blog.

1. Having read Omar’s comments, I’m inclined to believe that she’s genuinely trying to raise legitimate questions or criticisms of Israeli government policies and the lobbying influence of groups like AIPIC, but has a tendency to express them in ways that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic dog whistles.

That in itself is something I think needs to be discussed a lot more than it is, for a couple of reasons.

One: the thing about dog-whistles is that by nature they have double meanings – they allow you to say racist/anti-Semitic things without actually explicitly saying them. The obvious problem is that they often tend to be terms or phrases that people often say with no racist intention whatsoever. Which means if someone says them, it is entirely possible the person said it without knowing it could be taken in a racist way.

I know this because I’ve seen a lot of comments blasted as racist and anti-Semitic that I had no idea had that kind of connotation. As an easy example, I had no idea that “sleepy-eyed” was a slur against Jews until Trump described Chuck Schumer that way. So I can see why Omar could easily fall into that trap.

Two: If we’re basically saying that we have to be very careful about how we talk about Israel because it might accidentally conform to some anti-Semitic conspiracy trope, we are in essence allowing the anti-Zionist conspiracy kooks to direct the conversation. We are allowing them to dictate how we talk about it and what we can and cannot say, which is making it extremely difficult to have conversations about legitimate issues because if we say the wrong word – regardless of the intention of the speaker – we’ll be handing ammo to the Nazis or playing into their rhetorical hands.

That last bit may be true. And I do believe that words have power, so it’s good practice to use them carefully in any situation, especially when it comes to public discourse, although not to the point of crafting bland sentences that say nothing, convey no emotion whatsoever and offend no one.

I’m just troubled by the notion that anti-Zionist conspiracy kooks have successfully turned any discussion about the Israel-Palestine issue into a verbal minefield. It gives them power that I’d rather not be giving them, if you see what I’m saying.

2. I’m not really impressed with the Republicans jumping all over Omar on this because they clearly only seem to care about anti-Semitism when Democrats do it. Right-wing anti-Semitism is a far more frequent and bigger problem – not least because it has actually resulted in people getting killed. Most Republicans haven’t had a thing to say about that, and when they do it’s usually some half-assed “both sides” trope.

Also, given recent history and the fact that a lot of conservatives are still warning about Sharia Law as if they actually know what it is and how it works (they don’t), I’m reasonably sure their sudden interest in condemning anti-Semitic rhetoric has a lot more to do with the fact that (1) it’s coming from both a Muslim and an upstart freshman who they associate with the dreaded AOC squad, and (2) it’s a political opportunity to get Demos to either throw one of their hot riding stars under the bus or make excuses for her, which enables Republicans to keep turning a blind eye to their own anti-Zionist wing. Honestly they’d be fine with either outcome.

3. Anyway, the Demo house resolution has been passed, and they managed to do it without calling out Omar specifically. But it's unlikely that the issue will go away, even if Omar manages to express herself more carefully.

Which doesn't seem likely – not because she’s uninterested in avoiding anti-Semitic word traps (I think she is) but because (1) Omar tends to speak honestly from the heart – which is admirable, but the heart can get us in trouble sometimes when we let emotion control our tongues (especially on Twitter), (2) politics has always been about twisting yr opponent’s words around and pretending they said something that they didn’t, even if your twist makes no sense whatsoever, and (3) it’s 2019 – this is the age of manufactured outrage. Omar could tweet something about a bad experience with Wal-mart’s exchange policy and every pundit on Fox would spend three hours each on how outrageous it is that Omar is harassing and terrorizing hard-working Americans in an all-American company like Wal-mart. Or something.

Freedom of speech (just watch what you say),

This is dF
defrog: (Default)

Trump has declared his national emergency over the wall (or lack thereof), and I only just now have found some time to blog it, but luckily this may be the easiest blog post ever, so it won’t take much of your time.

1. There of course is no emergency except for the one that exists in Trump’s empty little head. And there are no reliable facts or statistics to back that up except for the super-secret ones Trump makes up in that same head. Which says a lot, because he could only get away with this in a time where people have conned themselves into believing that any fact that contradicts their worldview or their POTUS is fake news.

2. Obviously this raises some issues over the ability of a POTUS to use otherwise legal national-emergency powers to circumvent Congress when it doesn’t give him what he wants. That said, I am generally not impressed with the modicum of Republican handwringing over this. We’ve seen this before – Trump does/says something radical/insane, some Republicans say, “Well, I don’t really agree …” then they eventually back him.

Some people have tried the “Look, if you allow this, the next Democratic POTUS will have the same powers and the precedent to use them for, say, banning assault rifles, and it’ll be all yr fault” argument. Unfortunately, we tried that back when when Bush Jr was President – he started wars all over the Middle East after 9/11 and gave himself wartime powers to curtail liberties, set up torture camps , etc to “fight” terrorism, and Demos made the same argument – “You realize if Hillary becomes President, she’ll have all these powers too, right?” Repubs didn't care then, and when Obama became POTUS they just complained about Presidential overreach as if it was never a problem until Obama took office.

The message is clear: only presidents in the Opposition Party have too much power. Presidents from your own party never ever do, even when they have the exact same powers. And they will never see the dissonance between these statements no matter how much time you take to explain it to them.

3. I don’t know what the outcome of the lawsuits will be, but I will say I don’t think it matters from a political POV because, as some have already pointed out, Trump – ironically – doesn't really want a wall that badly. He wants to be seen by his base demanding that wall and scrapping with libtards to get it so he can get cheap pops at his ego rallies. It doesn't matter if the courts rule against him, because he can simply blame the libtards, the activist judges and the fake news media. And his base will accept that.

Over the wall,

This is dF
defrog: (onoes)
As you may know, Tumblr is banning all “adult content” from its site as of December 17th.

Industry experts reckon there are at least two reasons:

1. Apple booted Tumblr’s app from the App Store last month following reports that people were posting child porn.

2. The FOSTA-SESTA Act, which was signed into law in April, goes into effect in January. The stated objective of FOSTA-SESTA is to target and stop online sex trafficking. One way it purports to do this is by holding sites like Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, etc legally responsible for any posts that could be construed as solicitation for sex. Before FOSTA-SESTA, website providers were shielded from liability under Section 230 (“safe harbour”) of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. Thanks to FOSTA-SESTA, that’s no longer the case. And thanks to the law’s predictably vague wording, the definition of what counts as solicitation for sex is wide open to interpretation.

So between that and the Apple Store – as well as the fact that Tumblr has been nervous about all the porn on its platform after Yahoo bought it (because of its advertisers) – evidently Tumblr decided the nuclear option was the most expedient path to compliance with both the App Store and FOSTA-SESTA.

The onset of FOSTA-SESTA is also why Facebook just updated its policies on sexual solicitation – and while it’s not the ban on LGBTs that some people have made it out to be, it does potentially make it a lot more difficult to talk about sex in any way at all – especially since Facebook’s track record of accuracy in spotting and flagging content that violates its policies is about as good as Tumblr’s (which is to say, not very good at all).

The whole saga is just dripping with irony on so many levels. For a start, I remember when the CDA was passed in 1996, it was widely castigated as the death of free speech on the internet because it used kiddie porn and “obscenity” as a canard for the GOP Morality Police to censor anything even remotely sexual.

Obviously, that didn’t happen, thanks in large part to Section 230. It’s possible it might still not happen, and the predictions about FOSTA-SESTA are overblown. After all, the internet is a big place, and it’s not like porn is hard to find.

On the other hand, one key difference between 1996 and 2018 is that the most widely used platforms for internet content are controlled by a handful of big companies that are no longer shielded by Section 230. At the risk of oversimplifying, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Apple, Google and Amazon effectively ARE the internet now in terms of how most people experience it and discover content. The amount of gatekeeper control these companies have over content is staggeringly huge, as is the number of people affected by their content policies.

Up to now, characters like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Twitter have always put the early internet’s free speech ideology at the core of their business model – which was great until they ended up having to defend the 1A right of KKK Nazis to go around Nazi-ing all over yr feed.

But now with Facebook in so much trouble over its content policies regarding fake news, election meddling, data collection practices and so forth, they’ve got such a huge red bullseye painted on their back that the last thing they need is to become the first FOSTA-SESTA test case – or worse, lose advertising business over it. Given all that, it’s not surprising that adult content is a hill they’re not willing to die upon.

Apple made that decision years ago with the App Store. Tumblr made that decision last week. I suspect others will do the same. It won't mean the end of online porn, but it will make it difficult to find. More to the point, it will probably also make it harder for sex workers, sex assault victims and sexual minorities to build communities of support on social media that, by many accounts, have been helpful to such people.

The other big irony here is that back in the day, we all thought that censorship of sexual content and mass surveillance of online activities would be carried out by the government. Turns out it’s the very Internet companies that advocated free internet speech in the first place.

All of which might be an acceptable trade-off if FOSTA-SESTA was actually effective at stopping online sex trafficking, or at least made sex workers safer. As this Vox explainer on FOSTA-SESTA points out, it actually doesn’t do any of that.

Coming back to Tumblr, BoingBoing predicts that the new policy will pretty much kill it off for good – or at least doom it to be the next MySpace. I agree with that. I think at the very least Tumblr is going to experience a simultaneous purge/exodus, and whatever happens next will depend on how many users it has left. Which, again, is ultimately up to its new owner, Verizon. My prediction is they’ll just let it die – Tumblr wasn’t a moneymaker when Yahoo bought it, and Yahoo didn’t change that. I suspect Verizon/Oath would be happy to just shut it down than waste money trying to revive something that wasn’t profitable in the first place.

This doesn't affect me personally – I closed my Tumblr account a couple of months ago for various reasons. But I do know a lot of people who are affected. And it’s a shame because Tumblr is actually well designed for microblogging, and much better (and safer) than Twitter. You may have received the Dreamwidth email trying to encourage Tumblrs to give them a try, but I can tell you that with all due respect to DW, it’s a poor substitute – Tumblr is far easier to use, especially in terms of sharing images, GIFs, music and videos.

And the walls came Tumbling down,

This is dF
defrog: (life is offensive)
I recently came across a post on Macrolit – a tumblog specializes in classic literature and used books – in which someone complained that the site owner reblogged a photoset of books by Simone de Beauvoir:

In the wake of all the recent Hollywood sexual assault allegations I would appreciate if you would hold off on reposting a serial child molester.

Macrolit didn't delete the post, but it did acknowledge the complaint and the subsequent issue raised, and – given how many other classic authors were guilty of immoral or criminal behavior (William Golding, William Burroughs, JD Salinger, etc) – posed this question to its followers:
Do we ignore important works by these authors because of the lives they lived and the things they did? Does the fact that most of these authors are now dead make a difference? Does de Beauvoir’s actions negate her important feminist work The Second Sex? Or should we continue to read them but with mental asterisks in our minds?

For me, this is a variation on similar questions raised in the past regarding filmmakers like Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, and also regarding authors and actors who have been known for saying things that were racist, anti-Semitic or homophobic – can we separate the art from the artist? Should we? And if not, how far do we want to take that?

Obviously, there’s no easy or universal answer to these questions. This Vox article posed them to literary critics, and the results – while inconclusive – make interesting reading in terms of the history of separating the art from the artist (which wasn’t a thing until the 20th century) in art criticism.

Having thought about this a lot, it occurs to me that there are two levels to this issue – personal and cultural.

The personal level is pretty easy for me. Some people can separate the art from the artist, and some can’t – especially people who are victims of racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexual assault et al. So my baseline standard is if you’d rather not read, hear, look at or consume art produced by offensive people – even if the art itself does not expressly convey their offensive views – then by all means don’t. If you want to boycott authors and other artists for moral reasons, then by all means do.

The cultural level is trickier, because some people who cannot separate the art from the artist – and again, that’s a perfectly valid position to hold –also insist that all art created by offensive or immoral people (or includes them – any film with Johnny Depp in it, for example) be banished and stricken from the cultural record, on the grounds that anything short of that is a de facto endorsement or celebration of the artist’s offenses or viewpoints.

That’s the gist of the complaint by the Macrolit reader – it’s not enough for him/her to avoid Simone de Beauvoir’s works, he/she also prefers that Macrolit delete the post and never post anything about de Beauvoir again.

As you might imagine, I’m not cool with this. It’s an absolutist zero-tolerance policy, which is almost never a good idea. And when applied retroactively to art and culture, the result is a sort of moral cleansing of our cultural history to the point where we’d be pretending we were never racist sexist homophobic misogynist jerks in the first place. This is not only dishonest, but dangerous. Even the people at Looney Tunes understand this.

That said, I don’t think the artist’s personal life or terrible deeds are necessarily irrelevant to assessing their art today in a different cultural context, nor do they have to be. I like the “mental asterisks” idea suggested by Macrolit – it’s healthy to assess art both in the context in which it was produced and the context of modern mores and attitudes, if only to provide a benchmark of how far we’ve come (or fallen, as the case may be).

Moreover, this creates an opportunity for education and discussion about sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, etc. In literature classes, for example, we could teach those books in the context of the times and societies in which they were written, discuss how our values have changed (for better or worse), and where we go from here. We could also counter those books with other books with differing perspectives. If nothing else, it could be the springboard for raising awareness of the fact that racial, religious and sexual minorities see such works much differently than (say) straight white guys.

Which is idealistic, simplistic and naïve in these hyper-polarized times. But then so is deleting every piece of art associated with anyone who ever did or said anything bad ever – you simply can’t rid the world of evil by pretending it doesn't exist, especially on the pretext that acknowledging its existence is the same thing as condoning it, which is demonstrably not true. I don’t have the answer, obviously, but I’m pretty sure censorship and revisionist history ain’t it.

Suffering for my art,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
A few final thoughts about Brett “Beer Likes Me” Kavanaugh and his successful job interview:

1. I’m not surprised. I mentioned before that I didn’t really think the GOP was going to give up on Kavanaugh – partly because they clearly want him to overturn Roe Wade (Steve King is already bragging about it) and partly just to trigger the libs, I imagine. They have tended to follow Trump’s lead when confronted with criticism or protests from the left and essentially double down just to see the looks on their faces. Anyway, it seemed pretty obvious to me where all this was going.

2. Regarding the FBI “investigation”, German Lopez minces words here, but he’s on point – the only reason Flake demanded an FBI investigation (and the only reason Trump agreed to it) was so that GOP senators could say to the Demos, “Look, you wanted an FBI investigation, you got an investigation, what more do you want us to do?” That’s all. It’s obvious too that Trump limited the scope as much as possible to make sure the FBI didn’t come up with anything, but honestly I don't think it wouldn’t have mattered in they came up with actual video of Kavanaugh sexually assaulting Ford or anyone else – Kavanaugh is their boy and he’s going on that bench if they have to staple him there.

3. For me personally, what’s truly horrifying and infuriating about all this isn’t so much Kavanaugh’s past or political views – it’s the sight of the President of the United States of America openly mocking Dr Ford and essentially establishing the axiom that the real victims of sexual assault are men.

And really, that in itself isn't so horrifying and infuriating as the sight of all the people in that rally laughing and cheering him on. I’m hardly the first person to say this, but it’s true – the reason so many women don’t report sexual harassment, assault and rape is EXACTLY because of what just happened in the Kavanaugh/Ford saga.

Also, look at all these headlines here of men who actually committed sexual assault getting off light.

So yeah, the message from POTUS, his rally fans and the GOP is clear – if yr a woman who has been sexually assaulted or molested, it’s probably yr own fault so shut up and walk it off, because you might ruin the guy’s career and we wouldn’t want that, would we?

4. I also wouldn’t bank on that costing Republicans the women vote, because there are plenty of women in his crowds who either don’t believe Dr Ford or don't care, because (1) they like Kavanaugh and (2) Ford only has herself to blame for what happened. Which is depressing, but there it is. So it's probably a good idea to get out there and vote in the midterms on the assumption that the last two years do not add up to a slamdunk Blue Wave. 

5. Trevor Noah has a good riff here on Trump’s weaponization of victimhood, which of course Trump did not invent, but he uses it effectively, and men and women alike buy into it.

6. As for Kavanaugh joining the Supremes, all I can say is what I said before – his presence doesn’t automatically guarantee Roe v Wade being overturned, or giving Trump cover from prosecution or whatever. I’m not saying that won’t happen, I’m saying there’s always the chance that it won’t.

If it helps, this article from FiveThirtyEight points out that SCOTUS has a long proud history of tailoring their opinions to prevailing public sentiment – willingly or otherwise. And at the moment, public sentiment is very much on the side of protecting Roe v Wade.

That will undoubtedly upset conservatives who like to complain about activist judges who don’t stick to literal interpretations of constitutional text, but then we all know by now that those same conservatives generally as rule only really care about that when SCOTUS rules against their side, so I don’t take their complaints too seriously.

Court is adjourned,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
Following the testimony of Dr Christine Blasey Ford (which I didn’t watch, no) and the subsequent reactions, I do have a few things to add.

1. I believe her.

2. I’m not sure it matters, because the (male) GOP senators have made perfectly clear that they don’t care whether she’s telling the truth or not.

If they care about anything, it’s the terrifying prospect that their entire careers could be ended by any woman who decides to accuse them of sexual misconduct no matter how long ago it may have happened. And I’m sure the rise of #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport has made them all too aware of the fact that women are more likely to be believed these days if they do step forward – which is a change from the good old days when you could just slut-shame them into silence and men could get on with their productive lives.

Kavanaugh’s statement pretty much encapsulates all of that. He’s not just proclaiming his innocence (which would be understandable and natural, whether it’s true or not). He’s trying to rally all men everywhere to his defense with the dire warning that if we let Blasey Ford get away with this, none of us are safe. We will all become unemployable at the mere hint of an allegation. And it will be all the fault of Democrats.

3. So, to summarize Points 1 and 2, the basic message the GOP is pushing here is: (1) we don't care what Kavanaugh did in his past or who got hurt, we want him on the SCOTUS bench and that’s all we care about, (2) a man’s career is far, far more important than the trauma of any woman he has sexually victimized, and (3) if we believe Dr Blasey Ford, we have to believe all women who make such allegations, and we all know where that leads – all men will be unemployed or in prison, and you can thank the f***ing femi-Nazi Democrats for that.

All of which is hard to take seriously, given that the GOP is perfectly credulous when it comes to allegations of sexual assault/harassment against people like, say, Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner and Al Franken. And honestly, the notion that all of this is a plot by Democrats to keep Kavanaugh off the bench doesn’t hold up when you remember that the number of women materializing out of nowhere to accuse Neil Gorsuch of sexual assault/harassment is [checks notes] zero.

4. The other GOP message here is, of course, “boys will be boys”. And it’s a message that at least some teenage girls are hearing loud and clear.

5. Trump has (finally) instructed the FBI to investigate, which is perhaps telling, given how Trump generally seems to think the job of the FBI is to put his personal enemies in jail. Maybe he’s hoping they’ll put Dr Blasey Ford in jail for lying to Congress? Or they’ll find out Hillary Clinton put her up to all this and put HER in jail? Or maybe he wants to know what boofing is so he can know if he’s done that yet? I don’t know.

6. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that no matter what the FBI finds, Kavanaugh is going to be confirmed, simply because that’s just how the current GOP leadership works. As long as you’re onboard with their ideology, they don't care if yr a gibbering idiot, a pathological liar who pals around with ruthless dictators, or a serial philanderer who pays his mistresses hush money and brags about being rich enough to get away with pussy-grabbing at will – so long as you get results.

I dunno. It’s hard to imagine the GOP dropping Kavanaugh now, and I’m not convinced holdouts like Flake, Murkowski and Collins will vote against him when push comes to shove. At this stage, I’m afraid the only way Kavanaugh isn’t getting confirmed is if he decides it’s not worth it and withdraws.

I’ll be more than happy to be proven wrong. But, you know, given how this admin has a history of hiring the most unqualified people possible to fill job positions, I’m not optimistic.

Getting away with it,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
ITEM: D.Trump has issued a decree executive order putting an end to the policy of separating child immigrants from their families at the border – this being the policy that he and his staff have simultaneously said was (1) not his policy, (2) totally legal, (3) entirely the fault of Democrats, (4) Biblically justified, (5) intended as a deterrent to illegal immigrants, (6) upholding the law of the land, (6) something that only an act of Congress could stop and (7) non-existent.

(NOTE: To be clear, the policy wasn’t specifically to separate families. The policy was to arrest everyone and try the adults as criminals – which resulted in families being separated. And baby jails tender age shelters.)

As you may know, the good news is ICE won’t be separating families anymore. The bad news: kids will still be put in jail (albeit together with their parents), and most of the kids who have already been separated are probably going to stay that way for awhile, because nothing in the EO provides for it.

This Vox explainer and this article from New Republic covers the basics of what the EO does and doesn’t do. A few extra comments from me for bloggery purposes:

1. It’s important to understand that that what Trump actually wants is the ability to arrest every single illegal immigrant (regardless of age), prosecute them as criminals and keep them jail together for as long as it takes to process and deport them. The Flores Settlement apparently prevents that, and Trump wants to get rid of Flores so that he can detain immigrants indefinitely. In fact, as I understand it, the EO is essentially designed to ensure a court case to challenge Flores, provided Congress doesn’t overrule it first.

So the EO isn’t really about reuniting families or ending a barbaric practice – it’s about giving the Trump admin legal powers of indefinite detention for illegal immigrants.

2. That’s important to remember because let's never forget that the Trump admin does not care one bit about kids being ripped from their families, and doesn't see that as a bad or immoral thing in itself.

I feel confident in saying this because they were perfectly fine with it until it turned out to be a political liability that even Fox News couldn’t mitigate. And since this admin typically doubles down on unpopular statements and decisions (not least because Trump’s MAGA base loves his hardline – womp womp), I’m assuming they’re only changing gears now because (1) Trump wants to force the aforementioned legal battle, and (2) they realized quickly it was too expensive and troublesome to build tent cities or find places to put all those kids. Put simply, for TrumpCo, this is not about doing the right thing – it's about the cold logistical fact it's cheaper and easier to keep families together.

3. Which is another thing – apart from the policy being morally vile, it was also badly planned and incompetently executed. Apparently it never occurred to anyone in TrumpCo to work out the logistics of arresting literally every illegal they caught, the caseload involved, and just where they would keep these people in the interim. It seems pretty obvious no one in charge of this bothered to think beyond “arrest ‘em and deport ‘em”.

4. In any case, the EO does not excuse in any way what TrumpCo has done to these families so far, why they’re doing it, and how they’ve sold it to the MAGA base. They still own that, and they will continue to do so long after these families are reunited (if they ever are – and it doesn’t look so good right now).

5. As for Melania Trump’s jacket … I think the only reason to pay any attention to it at all is to point out that it was intended as a sideshow distraction. Because let’s stop to think for a moment of just who in the POTUS/FLOTUS ecosystem thought that jacket was a good idea, and why.

I mean, seriously – yr sending FLOTUS to the Texas border to visit the separated families that the left are making so much noise about. And she has this jacket that she is going to be seen wearing in plain sight in the midst of all that fury. It’s inconceivable to me that it never occurred to anyone involved that the jacket might be controversial or send an unintended message.

Which is why I’m assuming that was the entire point.

I do wonder just where Melania fits into this – did it ever occur to her wearing that jacket at this time would be a bad idea? What did she think people would say about it? What did she want them to think? Did Trump make her wear it? Did she wear it to gaslight Donald?

I don’t know. And the answers aren't important right now in the context of the bigger issue at hand. But I don’t believe for a second it was an unfortunate coincidence. And I don’t believe for a second it’s a comment on “fake news”.

We care a lot,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
We need to talk about DJ Trump and Jeff Bo Sessions and their zero tolerance immigration policy.

Because, damn.

1. The first thing to understand is that the legal situation and the process involved – and US immigration policy in general – is a lot more complicated than a lot of media reports make out. I recommend this Vox explainer and this NYT article for a reasonably detailed rundown of the nature and the history of the current policy.

The upshot: (1) This is an extension of a problem that’s been ongoing since at least the Bush II admin, (2) while there isn’t literally a policy instructing ICE to separate families at the border, there is a policy that treats all immigrants without papers as criminals, which is resulting in having their kids taken away (because you can’t keep yr kids with you in federal jail), and (3) the US govt isn’t set up to handle the logistics issues that this policy creates, which is a reason why they’re now looking at concentration camps tent cities. (More on that last point here.)

2. History aside, obviously it’s a monstrous policy for a couple of reasons: (1) obviously it's traumatic for the families, especially the children, and (2) it shows a distinct lack of empathy and humanity on the part of the Trump admin. They’re treating these people as (at best) statistics on a chart and (at worst) subhuman criminals who might as well be honorary members of MS-13 or whatever. It’s the kind of policy you'd expect from a guy who has been spewing rhetoric for the last few years about immigrants being terrorists, rapists, drug lords and animals.

3. Even if it’s just rhetoric to Trump, it’s practically gospel to his fan base who defend his policy as a law and order issue only – literally, if you happen to be Jeff Sessions, who can’t seem to keep a grin off his face when he talks about the admin’s current immigration crackdown. All I have to say about his Romans 13:1 crack has already been covered by Stephen Colbert. (Also, as others have pointed out, Romans 13:1 is irrelevant in a country that’s supposed to separate church and state.)

The whole law and order thing, for me, is mostly people trying to win an argument on a technicality – the law is the law, and if you don’t want to suffer the consequences, don’t break the law, what could be simpler? As if the “consequences” are justified no matter how extreme. All that says to me is these people see having yr kids taken away from you as just punishment for having the gall to take a shortcut in seeking a better life in the USA – and they’ve given no thought to what this actually involves doing to other human beings.

(I’ll add too that many people who deploy the “law and order” argument are also using it mainly because they do see immigrants as terrorists, rapists, drug lords and animals.)

4. For people whose fallback position is, “Look, like it or not, illegal immigration is a real problem and we need to fix how we deal with it," my response is this:

Yes, illegal immigration is a real problem (though not to the extremes that Trump Co claim), and the US needs to reform its policy to deal with it. The Big Question is how you deal with that problem, and the lengths (or in this case, depths) yr willing to go to “fix” it.

As it stands, our “fix” seems to require a certain amount of cruelty (see here, here and here) to carry out. And that means the people who carry it out – or support it – have to be okay with that level of cruelty. Whether cruelty is the intention or simply a consequence of zero-tolerance – or, even more cynically, an unfortunate but necessary political bargaining chip – it means these people think it’s okay to do this to illegal immigrants and their children. Trump can go on all he likes about having no choice because the law won’t let him keep families together – the prospect of separating them didn’t stop him from okaying the policy that is resulting in cruelty.

5. Also, regarding Trump’s claim that this is all the Democrats’ fault – that’s horseshit. What he’s saying is, “I wouldn’t have to do this if you’d give me an immigration reform bill that overturns the Flores Settlement, makes it harder to apply for asylum, allows indefinite detention and gives me my Wall™ money.”

Which is basically the same mentality as the average movie bad guy who takes people hostage and tells the hero, “Give me what I want and no one has to die – and if they do, it’s yr fault, not mine.”

It’s even more incredulous given that (1) the Democrats don’t control any branch of the govt, and (2) the current MO of the GOP is to slap together bills with no Demo input at all and force a vote (preferably in the middle of the night). And in any case, it’s insane to force Demos to vote for a bill they otherwise wouldn’t support simply to end Trump’s own cruel practice (which, by the way, it wouldn’t).

So, yeah – the situation is more complex than it looks, but regardless, Trump’s zero-tolerance policy is cruel political theater rooted in xenophobia and enabled by populist fear and racism that relies on denigrating the victims to sub-human status to justify it. It’s not just about the policy itself – it’s about the fact that too many people (from the Trump admin to its fan base and most if not all of the GOP) either don’t care about the consequences of that policy on real humans, or think that’s a small price to pay to achieve the fulfillment of their political ideology.

Theatre of cruelty,

This is dF
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And while I was typing the last post, Samantha Bee is in trouble for calling Ivanka Trump the c-word. And naturally conservatives want TBS to fire her and cancel her show – allegedly in the name of fairness since Rosanne Barr was sacked by ABC for doing the same thing.

Also bloggable!

1. It’s not the same thing at all. Barr’s tweet was not only offensive, but also racist, which is bad enough on its own terms, and worse in the context of the times – racism is ascending in power with the aim of disenfranchising everyone who isn’t a white Christian male. Bee’s rant wasn’t racist or sexist, and didn’t contribute to Ivanka’s (or anyone’s) disenfranchisement in any way. It was just rude and offensive.

2. Assuming Bee keeps her job, it’s only a double standard if the “standard” being applied is civility and decorum. Which it’s not – we know this because (1) their favorite POTUS insults their political enemies almost daily and they love it, and (2) my Facebook/Twitter feeds are full of conservative memes about Obama being an ape, Michelle Obama being a man (and an ape), Chelsea Clinton being ugly, Rosie O’Donnell being fat, and libtards being stupid, little easily-offended snowflakes who can't take a joke.

So all this conservative handwringing about Samantha Bee is so much schadenfreude to me. They don't care about Bee’s use of the c-word – they only care who she said it about. If Bee had said it about Hillary Clinton, she’d be getting a White House invite by now.

(To be fair, too, I think a lot of liberals don’t really care about double standards either – I know plenty who loved what Bee said and think she has nothing to apologize for. Same old story – it’s truthful when I say it about yr side, and an offensive smear when you say it about my side, blah blah blah.)

4. All that aside, should Bee have said it? Probably not – partly because political discourse is toxic enough as it is, but mainly because it provided the perfect excuse for everyone to ignore the overall point Bee was trying to make regarding the insensitive obliviousness of Ivanka Trump posting a sweet photo of herself and her child when ICE is busy forcibly separating immigrant kids from their parents. Bee herself has said as much.

5. Some sponsors are boycotting Full Frontal as a result – and, you know, fair is fair.

6. I’ve seen people claim that Trump demanding that TBS fire Bee is a clear First Amendment violation because it’s the government ordering a show off the air – which is something the 1A explicitly forbids.

Personally, I don’t agree with that evaluation (yet) because Trump doesn’t have any actual power to force TBS to cancel the show. It would only be a 1A violation if he actually succeeded in enforcing his demand with government power. For example, if he directly targets TBS with blackmail or an executive order, or has Bee or TBS’ head of programming arrested, then yes, that would be an egregious 1A violation.

If he uses the White House as a bully pulpit to actively encourage advertisers to boycott the show – or to encourage his fan base to boycott the advertisers – that’s a grey area, but I don’t know if it would pass muster in a constitutional court case.

Anyway, until any of that happens, it’s just more of Trump’s usual autocratic bluster.

To Bee or not to Bee,

This is dF
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She had a sitcom. Now she doesn’t. Blog topic acquired!

1. I should say upfront I never watched either of her sitcoms, and that I never found her 80s standup to be all that funny.

2. Conservatives are of course getting themselves into a lather over Roseanne being “silenced” for exercising her 1A rights, etc. Tra la la.

I think what I said before about Kevin Williamson and the Intellectual Dark Web applies here: (1) yr 1A rights don’t entitle you to a TV show, or talk radio show, or NYT column section or any mass media platform, and (2) saying offensive things invites pushback and has consequences.

In mass media in particular, if you cross a line, the people who gave you that platform can take it away. We can argue all day about where the line should be – but that’s a non-starter these days, since most people tend to argue that wherever “the line” is, it should be in your favor and not your political opposition.

3. Some argue that ABC's move was Draconian because it dropped Barr for what she said on her personal Twitter account, not what she said on the show.

That's a fair point – it does seem unfair and alarming that you can be sacked for speaking yr mind on yr own time. On the other hand, we do live in a world now where if you are employed by a company and you suddenly become a Twitter sensation by – oh, let's say – being videotaped screaming at Spanish-speaking people in a restaurant, you’re not doing your company any favors by suddenly making them The Company That Employs Racist Jerks. If you become a liability to your company’s ability to do business, the company is going to sack you. Which is what happened with ABC – Roseanne’s tweet was toxic enough that ABC decided she was a liability to ratings and advertisers.

It's also worth pointing out that Rosanne Barr isn't just a clueless private employee whose racist comment happened to go viral – she's a famous person with a big fan base who has made a career out of saying outrageous things in public and on purpose. 

4. While ABC’s decision to drop the show completely may be extreme, it’s worth remembering the context in which all this is happening. Barr made a tasteless racist joke at a time when America is seeing a resurgence of white supremacists and neo-Nazis emboldened by the apparent backing of both the current presidential admin and its biggest megaphone, Fox News (which also just happens to be the most-watched TV news outlet in the country) – which understandably is alarming and infuriating to all the ethnic and religious minorities those groups want to oppress.

Consequently, when you make ape jokes about black people, you’re helping to legitimize and empower the white supremacist cause – especially when you’re someone who has Barr’s level of influence as a reasonably famous celebrity. Barr may or may not have intended that, but that’s the context in which ABC has to decide what to do about it.

5. As for Roseanne’s Ambien excuse, sorry, but no. I’ve heard that one before – “it wasn’t me saying that, it was the alcohol/drugs”. No, it was you. Alcohol and drugs don’t put those thoughts in yr head or yr heart – they release what’s already in there.

That joke isn’t funny anymore,

This is dF
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The internet is aflame over Trump’s latest race-baiting immigrant comment – namely that he called immigrants “animals”.

Or did he?

Which is the main takeaway of this Vox explainer about the whole thing, which is worth reading, because it makes a few very important points regarding the state of political discourse in the Trump era:

1. Context matters
2. People are basically talking past each other to make political points
3. Trump is a babbling idiot who doesn’t know what he’s saying half the time.

Okay, the article doesn’t say that last one explicitly – but it does make the point that a major problem with divining what Trump supposedly intended to say vs what we all heard him say is that he has a tendency to veer off on tangents that perhaps only make sense in his own head.

Have you ever had a conversation where the other person switched topics in their head but didn’t signal this to you, and so you think they’re still talking about what you were talking about previously but they’re actually talking about or referring to something else?

Trump is basically like that. Anything he says doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the immediate topic, or indeed the previous sentence. Which is why, when you review the conversation in which he made his “animals” comment, it’s in no way obvious that he is talking about MS-13 gang members exclusively. Even if he thought in his head that’s who he was referring to, you can’t tell that from the transcript.

And this is a problem because, of course, he’s the POTUS. What the POTUS says matters. And when you have no idea what he means when he says something, you invite misinterpretation on both sides to the point that it can become a distraction from real issues – such as the fact that Trump’s aggressive immigration policy is not as focused on “the worst of the worst” like he claims. (Or the fact that statistically, the Obama admin deported more non-criminal immigrants than the Trump admin has, although Trump is certainly trying to beat that record.)

So if there’s a takeaway worth remembering, it’s that the current head of the USA – and the person currently and enthusiastically backed by the GOP – is an inarticulate boob who says whatever pops into his head as if it’s true (which it frequently isn’t), and real policies are being carried out based on this.

For example, Trump may have been referring only to MS-13, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some ICE agents are trying to justify arrests of DACA kids by pretending they’re gang members. Which is not to say Trump specifically ordered them to do so – I think the more racist ICE agents are hearing what he says and interpreting it to mean that as far as Trump is concerned, they’re all potential gang members, so why not use that as a pretense?

It’s like all the racists and Nazis and alt-right characters who feel that Trump has their back, even though he’s never really specifically said that he does, and has never explicitly said pro-racist/Nazi things. But it sure can be interpreted that way. (Yes, I’m aware that Trump allegedly uses coded language, but that only works if you KNOW it’s coded language, and I swear at least 60% of the ‘code words’ racists use to say racist things without sounding racist are things I had no idea were code words in the first place – so it’s plausible to me that Trump doesn't know them either.)

And of course all of this is why it's so easy to conclude that Trump meant all (non-white) immigrants are animals, because it's not like he doesn't have a history of saying things like that.

What’d I say,

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It’s so hard to be a conservative in Trump’s America. Apparently.

Exhibit A: This NPR piece on how despite having complete control of the US govt, which they've always wanted, conservatives feel so unloved because they can’t watch a TV show or go to the movies without seeing someone criticizing them or mocking them, and they can’t say anything on Twitter without being mobbed with haters screaming at them.

Exhibit B: This NYT piece about how terrible it is that we are punishing celebrities like poor old Kanye West, Shania Twain, Rosanne Barr etc for having The Wrong Opinion.

Exhibit C: Michelle Wolf’s dinner comedy.

And, you know, I have thoughts.

1. I’m a celebrity get me outta here

I don’t feel bad for Kanye or these other celebs being “deleted”, whatever that means. In terms of their careers, I think they’ll be fine. John Scalzi makes that case in 140 characters or less.

2. It's just a joke, man

I haven’t seen/heard Wolf’s routine apart from a couple of clips, but it sounds to me the conservative outrage over it is the usual schadenfreude, for a couple of reasons.

First, a lot of the same people seem to find the current POTUS quite amusing when he insults women for their looks or does impressions of disabled people or makes "jokes" about police brutality and treason. So when you rally behind a POTUS whose entire schtick is insulting people he openly hates, and who distinguishes himself by phoning up Fox & Friends to rant for 30 minutes about his enemies, you don’t really have the high ground to lecture the rest of us on cruel humor and decorum.

Second, whether yr conservative or liberal, you know what yr getting with a WHCA dinner. Or I assume you do – apparently the WHCA didn’t. Which is odd since they’re the ones who booked Wolf. So I don’t know what kinds of jokes they were expecting. when you hire edgy political comedians, you tend to get edgy political humor, so let's not pretend to be shocked that Wolf went over the line. That’s what she was there to do. The entire point of good political comedy is to “punch up” (as they say) and speak truth to power –or at least mock it. And the truth about the current power isn't all that pretty for a lot of people, which tends to give political comedy more of an edge. Besides, is it Wolf’s fault a minority of voters elected a POTUS who said “grab them by the pussy” on tape?

Bottom line: if you don’t want comedians making fun of you, hire David Blaine or someone.

Also, Margaret Talev can talk all she wants about civility – and that’s something the press should always aspire to, but not to the point of being deferential to the Powers That Be. The thing is, comedy is even less constrained by civility, especially when it comes to politics. It has to be. People who say Wolf blurred the lines between roasting and bullying don’t really understand the concept of either. As someone pointed out somewhere, the difference between Wolf and Trump when it comes to making fun of people is this: (1) Wolf is mostly just kidding – Trump is not, and (2) Wolf has no real power over the people she makes jokes about – Trump does.

3. What did I do to deserve this?

As for conservatives feeling persecuted … well, look, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that Internet lynch mobs are a major social problem, and that it’s stressful getting piled on by trolls, Russian bots and other people who don’t like yr politics to the point of reducing you to an Evil Cartoon Villain. We need to address and fix that, and soon.

On the other hand – and I know I’m not the first person to point this out – but to continue the riff in the above section, I’m reasonably sure the problem has to do with the fact that the modern conservative movement – and specifically the ones that have wholeheartedly supported Trump – has built its political platform on anger, xenophobia and hate directed at basically anyone who isn’t an angry conservative straight white gun-owning evangelical Christian native-born American. They support white-identity marches and tell us that blacks are the real racists, they defend men accused of sexual assault (as long as they're Republicans), they turn away war refugees, they pick on teenage mass shooting survivors – the list goes on.

To be clear, there are conservatives who don’t do these things, but many of them seem willing to turn a blind eye to it all as long as rich people get a tax cut and Obamacare is repealed because ideology.

And now they’re like, “We’re such nice people, why does everyone pick on us?”


You shall know them by their fruits,

This is dF
defrog: (onoes)
So as you may know, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg upset a lot of liberals by hiring Kevin Williamson (the conservative pundit, not the guy who spawned the Scream movie franchise) – and then he upset a lot of conservatives by dropping Williamson, supposedly as a result of said liberal outrage.

And look – I have something bloggable to blog now!

1. Unsurprisingly, conservatives like Erik Erickson are using this to fuel their cute little conspiracy theories about how liberals want to silence conservative voices forever so they can have a monopoly on the public square.

Which is both melodramatic and just stupid.

In the first place, no one owes Williamson or anyone else a paid job to express any opinion of any kind – firing or not hiring Williamson is not suppression of speech. Second, media companies get to pick and choose who gets to speak on their platform. That’s how this works. It’s how Williamson got the Atlantic gig in the first place, until Goldberg realized he wasn’t kidding about hanging women who get abortions. And third, Williamson is established enough that he should have no problem getting work at Fox News, Breitbart or any other media outlet that welcomes his opinions – they’ll probably do it just to spite Jeffrey Goldberg. Indeed, while I was editing this, Commentary magazine announced it will publish Williamson’s next article.

So yeah, his voice will be heard just fine.

2. Erickson has a lot of nerve to complain about alleged liberal media monopolies when conservatives literally dominate the talk radio market, Fox News is the highest-rated cable TV news channel in the country and Sinclair Broadcast Media – the biggest owner of local TV stations – is instructing those stations to run exclusively conservative commentaries and special packages.

3. It’s hard to believe Erickson cares about media companies like The Atlantic giving equal access to conservative voices when Fox News, Breitbart and other conservative media outlets don’t do the same for liberal commentators.

4. This does raise a point – to what extent are media companies obliged to feature a diversity of viewpoints?

Legally, of course, they’re not obligated at all. The closest we’ve had to that is the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine, which wasn’t a law so much as a policy that could result in a fine or having your broadcast license revoked, although the FCC rarely did either. That policy was dropped in 1987, and of course only applied to broadcasters. There’s never been any legal requirement for other media to provide diversity of viewpoints.

5. Which raises another question – SHOULD they be required legally to feature a diversity of op/ed viewpoints?

Personally, my answer is ‘no’, provided that there’s no shortage of media channels for different voices to be heard. Put another way, diversity of voices should come from the totality of the media landscape, not from each individual newspaper, broadcast channel or whatever. If the media landscape can’t support that, then by all means we need to look at that. But until then, I think it’s better to leave such decisions to editors, not the govt.

6. Many media outlets already choose to offer diverse voices – presumably from a sense of traditional ideals of journalistic objectivity, fairness, and the recognition that there are always at least two sides to a given issue, and intellectual debate requires both sides to be considered. Or it could be just to boost their circulation numbers – why sell subscriptions to Democrats OR Republicans when you can do both? Anyway, I assume this is why national outlets like NYT, WaPo and CNN do it.

7. Meanwhile, I’ve noticed that some people don't WANT a diversity of voices in a single publication or channel – in recent months, I’ve seen NYT, WaPo and CNN get hammered by liberals constantly for giving a platform to conservative pundits.

To be fair, we’re talking about those conservative pundits who trade in liberal conspiracy theories, climate change denial, xenophobia, Trump defense, various levels of white supremacy, and/or other topics that used to be a lot further out on the conservative fringe than they are now.

And herein lies the dilemma for media outlets keen to present both sides: what happens when one of those sides has an increasing tendency to spout toxic batshit – like, for example, women who have abortions should be hanged, or Democrats should be shot like Coyotes, or the solution to the immigration problem is to shoot a few immigrants at the border to make examples of them. The list goes on.

8. Personally, I don’t think batshit should be banned outright. I think it’s useful to know that people are saying these things and x number of people support what they said – better to keep them in the open where we can see them and criticize their views rather than sweep it under the rug and pretend these people don’t exist. On the other hand, as someone who makes editorial decisions for a living, I wouldn't want them on my website, either. 

Anyway, as I said above, no media outlet owes them (or anyone) a soapbox and a microphone. And for the publications or channels who want to provide diverse views, they have every right to set editorial guidelines and standards, and they have the right to reject anyone who can’t meet them. If yr views are too extreme for mainstream media, well, maybe the problem is you.

Take it away,

This is dF
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Man, this is turning into a series.

Yesterday I mentioned the Laura Ingraham boycott that kicked off after she tweeted about David Hogg being rejected by four universities and that’s why we shouldn’t have gun control. Or something.

One of the inevitable results of the boycott is that some conservatives are wringing their hands over free speech and “dangerous precedents” – Laura Ingraham is being punished for expressing a right-wing opinion, conservative Americans being bullied into silence by the likes of David Hogg, whose agenda (and the agenda of the Liberal Elite Deep State Media in general that gives Hogg an unlimited platform) is clear: criticize anything David Hogg says and you will be punished.

Yeah, well. About that:

1. We went through this with Bill O’Reilly and Sean “Smash Yr Keurig” Hannity last year, and Glenn Beck before him seven years ago. Granted, in O’Reilly’s case the boycott was inspired by his offscreen treatment of women, not anything he said on air (although of course any Fox fan will tell you of COURSE it was about what he said because liberals lie about everything the end). But Beck’s case was certainly speech-related, as was Hannity’s.

In all of those cases, the same argument came up – boycotts are a violation of the 1A in spirit if not in law, and are being used to shut up opposing voices.

2. On the other hand, that didn’t stop Hannity fans from boycotting Keurig for boycotting Hannity, of course. (There’s an interesting dynamic there – liberals tell Keurig, “We’ll boycott you if you keep sponsoring this show,” and conservatives are telling Keurig, “We’ll boycott you if you STOP sponsoring this show.” Wheeee!)

In fact, conservatives tend to rather enjoy boycotting companies and people for supporting political positions they disagree with or (lately) criticizing Trump in any way whatsoever. Amazon, Starbucks, Nordstrom’s, Target, Kellogg’s, the NFL, Beyoncé, the Dixie Chicks, etc and so on.

So it’s disingenuous for conservatives to complain that the Ingraham boycott punishes free speech when their own boycotts seek a similar objective.

3. In any case, I don’t see David Hogg’s boycott in and of itself as a “dangerous precedent” – that precedent has existed for a long time. If there’s a danger at all, it’s the use of internet mob justice that social media has basically normalized. That’s a discussion we need to have, but it goes well beyond targeting companies or commentators for speech offenses.

4. Having said that, in this specific case, I don’t particularly blame him, given the context in which it happened. Remember that he didn’t call for an ad boycott because of Ingraham’s opinions about guns or because she disagrees with his. He did it because she participated in slandering him with a personal attack that had nothing to do with those issues, and she did that in the context of other conservative pundits, websites and politicians (to include the White House) also attacking him, Emma Gonzales and others on a personal level to discredit, intimidate and bully them. So I can't really fault him for pushing back.

5. As for the conservative dithering over the free speech implications – i.e. we’re not allowed to criticize David Hogg – the problem with that argument is that by “free speech” they mean “the freedom to say whatever the hell I want without consequences of any kind at all, to include criticizing what I say”. Which isn’t how the 1A works. It’s not even really how speech works.

Speech always has consequences, even if the consequence is criticism (constructive or otherwise). This is especially true when that speech is provocative, offensive, controversial, slanderous or libelous. Ingraham has made a good living being provocative, offensive, controversial, and generally using her show as a bully pulpit to express anger and outrage at the opposition. She has a 1A right to do that, but she and her fans can’t reasonably expect the targets of her outrage to not respond, especially if they think what she’s saying is uncivil, untrue or unfair. And it’s not censorship for them to do so, no matter what Bill O'Reilly says.

No one’s right to free speech entitles them to sponsorship or employment in a media organization. (We all have a right to free speech, but we don’t have the right to a newspaper column or a one-hour slot on cable TV news.) Also, the sponsors aren’t there to support her right to say what she says. They’re there to sell stuff – if they think her speech is hampering that goal, or making them look bad to the other people they're trying to sell stuff to, they’re going to bail.

6. Here’s something to consider too – these corporations would rather sell stuff to both sides, but they’ve also got brands and reputations to maintain, and evidently many of them have realized they can’t be neutral in their sponsorship decisions for these kinds of situations. They’ve got to choose a side, and the smart decision is to pick the side that’s winning, at least in the polls. Given how major advertisers have bailed on the NRA and some high-profile conservative demagogues, you can perhaps get an idea of who they think is winning that particular culture war.

Is that censorship? Maybe it used to be. Advertisers have always voted with their feet in broadcast media if a program was too controversial or offensive, and fear of such a walkout usually ensured that networks kept the programming bland. That was a big deal when we only had three TV networks. Now that we have so many other outlets and platforms for people to speak their mind, it’s less of an issue, although of course we could get into a whole sidebar here about how too much choice actually censors voices by denying them a centralized audience, etc.

7. Anyway, all the dithering about David Hogg’s Ingraham boycott as a danger to free speech doesn’t really wash with me. A boycott doesn't mean you’ll lose yr job (see: Hannity), and Hogg, Gonzales et al never said yr not allowed to express support for guns or the NRA or whatever. They’re saying, “We will not put up with personal attacks that distract from this debate, and if you can’t play by that simple rule, we’re going to push back.”

Boycott that,

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Facebook no one can hear you scream,

This is dF
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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
defrog: (Default)

As some of you know, I don’t really buy into the meme that Donald Trump is a fascist dictator. However, I’ll admit he – or at least the people he surrounds himself with – has a tendency to hand a lot of free ammo to people trying to make the case that he is.

Two recent examples:

1. The DOJ – headed by General Jeff Sessions – prosecuted Code Pink activist Desiree Fairooz for laughing at Jeff Sessions (or, more accurately, laughing at an introductory description about Sessions during his confirmation hearing while he was in the room).

2. The FCC is pondering an obscenity charge against CBS after Stephen Colbert said “cock holster” on air in reference to President Trump and Vladimir Putin.

FCC obscenity law is one of my pet hobbies, and I find this one the least worrying of the two – pending a result, at least – for a couple of reasons.

One: I don’t think there’s any direct evidence the FCC opened the investigation because of who Colbert was talking about. The FCC generally will investigate obscenity if enough people file complaints – and between conservatives who are furious that Colbert said that about the President (an office for which they demand everyone respect as long as there’s a conservative holding the office) and liberals who are furious that Colbert said something they consider homophobic, I’m sure the FCC got enough of an earful over it that it decided to check it out. I seriously doubt Ajit Pai got a phone call from Trump telling him, “Get Colbert.”

Two: I also seriously doubt the FCC will be able to put together a case. The FCC’s own rules make obscenity very hard to prove. They might have a stronger case for indecency, except that the broadcast in question happened during safe harbor hours (under which indecency is allowed), and CBS bleeped out the offending word.

So under normal FCC procedures, I would be very surprised if the FCC found a case for obscenity. Granted, these are not normal times, and this particular FCC could potentially come up with an off-the-cuff interpretation of what counts as obscenity that suits the purpose of penalizing Colbert via CBS. But again, I think it's more likely that the FCC will decide there’s no case.

The Sessions/Fairooz case is more troublesome.

It’s worth stating a few facts about the case up front:
  • Fairooz was officially charged with disorderly conduct and “parading or demonstrating on Capitol grounds”
  • That included the laughing bit, as well as her allegedly shouting a few slogans and holding up a sign while she was being escorted out by the police
  • Fairooz was convicted, but not for laughing – a couple of jurors have said anonymously that they did not accept the argument that her laughing constituted disorderly conduct. But as she was charged with the other actions as well, they had little choice but to convict her.
So technically, if Fairooz goes to jail (and she hasn’t been sentenced yet), it won’t be for laughing at Sessions.

However, the fact remains that it was her laughing that got her arrested in the first place – and the prosecutor argued that the laugh counted as disorderly conduct, even though by most accounts (including actual video of the hearing) her laugh didn’t interrupt or disrupt the hearing in any meaningful way. So she may not have been convicted for laughing, but she was certainly arrested for it. And rather than just settling for escorting her out of the room – which essentially solved the alleged disruption problem – the DOJ opted to spend taxpayer money charging and prosecuting her to the fullest extent of the law.

Just think of it.

Of course, we don’t know for a fact to what extent Sessions personally had to do with any of this. We know he didn’t have her arrested because he wasn’t AG at the time. We don’t know whose idea it was to prosecute her, but clearly by then Sessions was AG, and surely he at least was aware of the case. If so, he could have ordered the case dropped, if only because any idiot could see that prosecuting a case like this wouldn’t look good. Maybe he figured the law is the law and we can’t let politics or appearances influence how we carry out law and order. And he’d technically be right. Or maybe he knew who Fairooz was – and her political activities – and decided to make an example of pinko protesters who hate America, and if it takes the equivalent of jailing Al Capone for spitting on the sidewalk, then so be it.

I don’t know.

Still, the fact remains that Fairooz is facing a jail sentence because she LOLed at a speech praising the guy who was about to become AG.

Which is perhaps a significant development in the context of a POTUS administration that is reportedly looking at ways to alter libel laws as a way to deal with “fake news”and holding media accountable for reporting fake news. Let’s remember that libel laws already protect public figures from false statements about them – the problem is that you have to prove they’re false, which presents a problem for Trump since his operational definition of “fake news” is “anything that questions anything Trump says or makes Trump, his cabinet, his family and friends look bad in any way whatsoever”.  Also, Trump tends to make all kinds of accusations without offering a shred of evidence to back it up. That's not going to cut it in a libel suit. 

Some people will tell you that all this is evidence that the fascist crackdown on dissent has begun. But most of the same people have been saying that since Trump won – heck, some have been saying that since Reagan won – so I don’t take them too seriously. I don’t think the Colbert case is that serious (yet), and the Fairooz case may be a one-off. It’s not like we’re seeing liberals rounded up and stuck in re-education camps or anything. As Reason points out, whatever designs Team Trump may have on the 1A, there’s a huge (YUGE) gap between WANTING to alter/abolish the 1A and actually doing it. It’s not a unilateral action, and the courts have already demonstrated in no uncertain terms that they will not stand for the POTUS telling them what they can and cannot decide.

And, as Reason also points out, the desire to unilaterally decide what counts as free speech and enforcing it with laws, constitutional amendments, overturning court decisions or – in extreme cases – a sucker punch to the face isn't exclusive to right-wing fascists (see: Citizens United, hate speech, whistleblowers, speaking gigs at UC Berkeley, Richard Spencer, etc).

In fact, coming back to Colbert, the cock-holster joke is an interesting example of both conservatives and liberals getting bent out of shape over the same speech for entirely different self-serving reasons: liberals think Colbert should lose his job because he said something homophobic (which is debatable, but I’m running out of space here), and conservatives think he should lose it because he disrespected the President (also debatable, not to mention disingenuous given the respect many of the same conservatives afforded Obama).

Of course, criticism is not censorship, no matter how often Fox News commentators claim it is. But when the criticism includes the proposition that you should not be legally allowed to say what you just said, then yr basically endorsing the same principle that Team Trump is pushing with the whole fake news/libel laws meme – you just have different criteria.

So while I don't think Trump ordered the FCC to punish Colbert, there are an awful lot of people who would fully support such a notion. That’s important. One of the biggest dangers to the legal concept of free speech isn't chumps like Trump who want to change the law so they can suppress speech they don’t like, but ordinary schmoes who cheerfully support such efforts under the delusion that it will only be used against their enemies and not themselves.

One other point – it’s interesting that both the Colbert/Fairooz cases have one key element in common: humor.

So maybe Patton Oswalt was right.

Don’t make me laugh,

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

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

So, how’d he do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To summarize all this into some convenient oversimplified bullet points:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Done and dusted,

This is dF


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