Sunday, July 16, 2017

HAVE THEY PULLED IT OFF?


Donald Trump is President, and the latest poll shows that 36% of Americans are happy about that.  I don’t know about the rest of the 64%, but I’m really not pleased that the election was taken from Hillary Clinton, in three separate ways.   

Two of the three ways that Trump unfairly won the election were due to his own actions.  The third was when the head of the FBI, James Comey, announced – just a few days before the election – that he had found new evidence about Clinton’s email case, and that it might be something negative.  Clinton’s numbers, which had been going up as the election got closer, did an about-face and fell.  Instead of being ahead of Trump by about 4%, she dropped to being ahead by only about 1 or 2% and was still losing altitude. 

Right before the election, the FBI announced that in fact, they had found nothing incriminating in the latest evidence about Ms. Clinton.  But it was too late; Clinton’s upward momentum had reversed because of the earlier FBI report, and her popularity was heading south going into Election Day.  Clinton beat Trump anyway, by 2.9 million votes.  But as we all know, the President is elected by the Electoral College, and there Donald Trump’s great campaigning strategies paid off; Trump beat Clinton, winning the Presidency 304 electoral votes to 277.

The FBI stole Ms. Clinton’s Presidency from her; at the very least, a reasonable person understands that their interference helped cause her late polls decline.   And the thing is – it has become clear that the FBI went against its own rules by interfering the way they did.  The FBI specifically does not want sensitive information coming out during a presidential election, in order to avoid influencing people’s voting decisions.  But Comey did it anyway.  So Ms. Clinton got robbed by the FBI, made worse by the fact that the FBI was acting contrary to its own directives!

But the FBI got some help in taking the election from Ms. Clinton by a lot of very shady things that Donald Trump and his supporters did.  Obviously, the recent news about Trump’s son eagerly trying to score dirt on Clinton that was coming from the Russian government is on people’s minds now.  There are different opinions about how much – if at all – the Trump campaign cooperated with the Russians. 

But even if Donald Trump and his team had nothing at all to do with the Russian hacking (which seems improbable now), the fact is that he benefited from it.  The Russian hacking and releasing of information hurt Clinton’s numbers and helped Trump’s; no doubt.  How much?  This is impossible to determine.  But anyone who followed the election felt the impact of some of the bigger email leaks – they were tough blows for Ms. Clinton. 

So a reasonable person would be pretty sure that the Russian help, over a period of weeks, was responsible for dropping Clinton’s numbers.  Probably by something like 2-5 percentage points; maybe more.  Wouldn’t you think?  Even the low side of that would almost certainly have won her the needed Electoral College votes, considering one analysis that concluded a mere 107,000 more votes in three key states would have done the trick.

But finally, there is this huge, diverse category of nasty things – blatant lies and insults, mostly – that Trump and his people did throughout the entire campaign.  They were responsible for a lot of popularity that Trump had, and they hurt Ms. Clinton’s chances. 

Donald Trump would say the things people wanted to hear.  Hey – that really makes sense!  I like what Trump’s saying,” – was a common reaction from many voters during 2016.  The problem is – and it is an enormous problem – much of what Trump was saying was untrue.  Trump would tell small lies, he’d tell big lies; he might think the lies were actually true, or he might intentionally say things he knew to be untrue.  Actually, evidence suggests that Trump doesn’t really even care if something is true or not.  If it sounds good, if it’s what people want to hear, then it’s true enough for him – regardless of the facts.  

But whatever the case, Trump would tell lies ALL THE TIME.  Every day.  At press conferences, at meetings, being interviewed for the news, in his many tweets – it doesn’t matter.  Lies all day, all night, all year, to push people into his camp and keep them there. 

Again, some of Trump’s lies are unintentional.  Not to be mean, but the fact is that Donald Trump is fairly ignorant about a great many things: history, political science, government, current affairs, and economics being among them.  Those just happen to be crucial for a President to know, and Trump definitely does not.  Rumor has it that he has read only one book after finishing college, and that was his autobiography.  True or not, we have a very clear idea that Trump is not an intellectually curious guy, and that he has a great many gaps in his knowledge.

Example: He stated that his sister “could make laws” because she was a judge.  Our government doesn’t work that way.  Another example was when he was asked his opinion about Brexit a few weeks before the UK’s vote on the matter.  Trump didn’t know what Brexit, the most important European issue of the year, even was; so the reporter had to explain it to him.  

So when Trump says things like bad trade deals are almost solely responsible for the loss of good American jobs, we’re not sure whether he actually believes that out of ignorance, or is just lying because that’s what most Americans want to hear.  You see, economists know that only about 15% of American jobs lost were due to trade agreements; most of the rest were due to improvements in technology and robotics.  What about his claim that we need to start vetting Muslims coming into the US?  Does he not know that we’ve been doing that since the 1980s?  Or is he just playing to his base’s anti-Muslim beliefs?

Then there are the blatant, nasty lies and insults that ingratiated him even more to his base: those folks being mostly white, mostly under-educated, mostly middle-to-low income, conservative, anti-big government, Fox News viewers, often Fundamentalist Christian, often anti-immigrant, often rural.  The key demographic for my point is that they tended to be poorly educated.  They held opinions about economics issues without understanding economics, and about historical, and political, and current affairs issues the same way.  Knowing little or nothing about big issues, they were easy victims for Trump’ lies, and Fox News’ modus operandi of propaganda masquerading as news.  They cast their votes based on issues that they had no understanding of, trusting Trump and Fox for the truth.

But back to Trump’s blatant, nasty lies.  They started with the whole “birther” movement, a denial of Barack Obama’s US citizenship that Trump pushed starting in 2011.  This movement, based on a racist lie that Obama proved wrong by releasing the long-form of his birth certificate in that same year, endeared Trump to the millions of people (described above) who hated Obama and desperately wanted an “anti-Obama” to replace him.  Trump’s popularity with this conservative, under-educated “base” traces back to this nasty lie about Obama – Trump’s original sin, as it were.

Trump’s blatant lies and insults stretched on from there.  The “thousands of muslims” in New Jersey who cheered the 9/11 attacks.  How he knows more about the war in Iraq “than all the generals.”  That “nobody has more respect for women” than he does, even as he’s grabbing their pussies.  “If I run for President, of course I’ll release my tax returns.”  Megyn Kelly “bleeding from her wherever.” Ted Cruz’s ugly wife.  Mocking the disabled reporter.   On and on.  Feeding his base as the outsider, the tough guy, the “only one who can get it done!”  

Trump’s own lies and attacks were aided by his supporters who created the REAL fake news operations, feeding outlandish lies to social media and elsewhere, disguised as real news.  Such as LifeZette.com, run by Trump friend Floyd Brown, and Liftable Media, run by a Kellyanne Conway associate.  They put out crap like the PizzaGate lies, and the laughable claim that the Pope had endorsed Trump.  I remember that one in particular, as the Pope had previously made it clear how much he disliked Trump.  And I remember my friends on Facebook commenting that they believed the story, and how it only made them want to vote for him more.  Ignorant, ignorant Americans, spoon-fed ridiculous lies by Trump’s machine – and loving it!  Pathetic.

What do you think all of that was worth to Trump?  All of the lies, the insults, the attacks – on his part, on his supporters’ part, month after month, all divorced from the truth and aimed at his base’s desires, prejudices, and above all - gullibility.  Would he have done even half as well without all this which, let’s be honest – simply cannot be compared to the occasional falsehoods and spin efforts of all of the other candidates, which were in a totally different universe from what Trump was doing?  I doubt he would’ve gotten more than 20% of the vote if his campaign had been on an equivalent level of truthfulness as other candidates. 

In a world that was perfectly fair (and which we all understand is not the case), Trump’s massive lying, the Russians’ interference, and the FBI’s violation of their own rules would have negated the results of the election.  Hillary Clinton would belatedly be awarded the presidency, while Trump and his team would be unceremoniously kicked out of office in disgrace.  We know this is something that greatly worries the President.  During all the months of this Russia mess and increased evidence they interfered with our election process, Trump never once asked his aides how to counter the Russians.  Instead, he has ceaselessly fretted about how it might delegitimize his November win. 

In any case, there is no way to quantify how many votes Clinton lost to these three modes of unfair practices, thus no absolute proof that she deserved to win the electoral college voting.  Besides, there is no absolute proof of Trump’s illegal collusion with the Russians (yet).  And while it is shocking beyond belief, the fact that so many Americans are ignorant and gullible enough to fall for Trump’s many false narratives isn’t a crime.  

But what if it turns out that the Donald Trump and his minions are proven to have colluded with the Russians in the election?  Those are extremely serious crimes and could (should) result in Trump’s impeachment, along with possible prison time.  Additionally, that would strengthen the case that Clinton was indeed the one who should have been elected – not Trump.  The fair thing to do, the thing that represents the will of the majority, would be to let her assume the presidency to which she is clearly entitled, not Pence or any of the rest of Trump’s administration.  I’m afraid that is extremely unlikely, however, even if Trump is thrown out for cheating in the election.

I’m not a constitutional expert, but I don’t think there is any precedent or mechanism for doing such a thing.  Perhaps a bigger problem is the massive amount of confusion and disarray that switching administrations, mid-administration, would cause.  Can you imagine telling Hillary Clinton – “OK, you guys are in.  Get your team of thousands of people in place, and quickly,” months after everyone had moved on in their lives and their careers?  Meanwhile, just how much mischief and mayhem could the current administration create, in retribution, before they’re all gone?   So I don’t think we’d see this, even if it were the appropriate action given an illegally stolen election.

Another solution for Trump being found criminally guilty of election tampering would be calling a new election.  This November, or half-way through his term, or whatever.  That would give Americans the choice between going forward with Pence as President, assuming he survives any criminal charges, or going with Clinton and her choice for VP.  That seems pretty reasonable, although I’ve no idea if there is much precedent for doing this sort of thing, and I imagine it would also be pretty unlikely.   

By far the most likely result is that the Trump administration remains in control, even if Trump himself gets removed.  And that represents a huge victory for the Republicans and for people like Steve Bannon, whose stated objective is to “deconstruct” America’s government and society.  One way or another, the Republicans will have succeeded in stealing the choice of Supreme Court Justice replacement.  As you recall, Antonin Scalia died in February, 2016, with more than 11 months remaining in Barack Obama’s presidency.  According to the Constitution, Obama had the right and obligation to name Scalia’s replacement, subject to the Senate’s approval. 

He did; Obama named Merrick Garland in March, with 10 months remaining in his presidency.  But the Republican-controlled Senate refused, time and again, to give Garland a confirmation hearing.  How they were able to thwart the President’s constitutional right to appoint a Supreme Court Justice, I’ll never understand.  But they did, and Garland never even got a hearing.  Then Trump was “elected”, and the Republicans approved Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch, with little difficulty. 

We’re already seeing the result in the Court’s most recent decisions, where Gorsuch is turning out to be the even more conservative than Scalia was.  So instead of a moderate liberal, which was Obama’s constitutional right, we have a strong conservative, leaving the Court with a 5 to 4 conservative edge that will color its decisions for years to come.  Yet the Court could become even more conservative.  Politically centrist Justice Kennedy, 80 years old, is expected to retire in the next year or two; liberal Justice Ginsberg is 84, and also may retire soon.  

That would give Trump and the Republicans the chance to name one or two more conservative Justices to the Court, which would change the laws of the land and the way society operates in significant ways for many years to come.  This can’t be emphasized too much: Instead of the moderate liberals that Clinton and the majority of Americans want according to a fair election, we’ll have years or decades of laws determined by conservatives that were put in place because of a stolen election.  This is huge; a huge win for the right, for Bannon; likely a big loss of personal liberties, and unfair rulings for the rest of us, the majority.  For years to come, regardless of who’s in the White House down the road.  But there’s more.

The Trump administration has so far been unable to pass any significant legislation.  What it HAS done is screw up the State Department and a number of others by not filling thousands of positions – part of their “drain the swamp” and “deconstruction” strategies.  Another factor is the unqualified, at times antagonistic Cabinet department leaders, e.g. Rick Perry, who alternately wanted to get rid of, and forgot about, the Energy department he heads; or space-child brain surgeon Dr. Ben Carson leading - HUD?, or EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) head Scott Pruitt, who wants to eliminate environmental protections.  How easy will it be reversing the damage done to these departments of our government? 

Also accomplished is Trump’s use of executive powers to rush the deregulation of big banks, carbon-based energy businesses, pharmaceuticals, firearms, the Internet, and other areas.  Did I mention slashing environmental protections?  These are a big reason the stock market has soared since Trump’s election; businesses expect to greatly benefit from deregulations of all types.  The trade-off, of course, is that consumers and the Earth will tend to be the losers from this.  How easy will it be to reverse these efforts at deregulation, which the administration is rushing to implement as quickly as possible?  Say – before anybody gets kicked out or thrown in jail. 

Wall Street has eagerly been awaiting the flip side of deregulation, which are the promised big tax cuts.  Tied up with healthcare changes and the Russian chaos, Congress so far hasn’t been able to pass those tax changes we’ve all read about that will hugely benefit businesses and the wealthy, at a big cost to the rest of us.  Chances are – Congress will get those through, regardless of what ends up happening to Trump et al with the collusion and obstruction charges he faces.   And then they’re the law; how soon could they be reversed?

Opting out of the Paris climate accord, pulling out of the TPP trade agreement, and Trump’s other efforts to generally just piss off our traditional allies (Mexico, Canada, Britain, France, and Germany), while ingratiating himself with our biggest adversary – Russia?  How long will it take to fix the damage done, mend those fences, rebuild the trust? 

What about all the new immigrant restrictions, prosecutions, persecutions?  Trying to get voters’ personal information, as part of Trump’s asinine contention that millions voted illegally in 2016?  States, courts, and numerous organizations are fighting against these and other Trump administration actions that smack of authoritarian government more than democracy.  How long will it take to roll these back, convince needed immigrants that they’re welcome in the US, rebuild our own citizens’ trust in their government?

To all of the above questions: Probably a long time.  And it may be that a lot of permanent damage (“deconstruction,” people like Steve Bannon hope) will have been done.  Even if Trump were to be removed tomorrow.  Yet we know that in the best of likely scenarios, it would probably take months to get Trump out of office.  How much further damage can he and the minions cause in that additional time?


So that, finally, may be the answer to a question that has puzzled me for months: Trump is a lying, incompetent President.  He’s doing significant damage to the country, things that are likely to backfire in a big way at some point.  So why, then, has Wall Street reacted so positively, sending stock prices almost straight up?  The stock market, we know, incorporates all of the best information known by the smartest people; it almost always knows more, understands the situation better, than any single smartest person.  And it likes what it sees!  I just don’t get it.  Unless……

The actions taken and changes made are enough to give business a big edge, for the foreseeable future.  For months, and more likely - years ahead.  In the case of the Supreme Court and how it can shape business and society – perhaps even for decades.  Is that what Wall Street is looking at – the really big picture?  That even if Trump is a huge disaster, he and his administration will have changed the landscape sufficiently, and for a long enough time, that it’s a big win for business.  And maybe it’s the same from where Steve Bannon sits; maybe enough damage will have been done to mainstream government and society to make it all worthwhile.  Damage that, he hopes, sends us permanently down another path far enough that coming back will be really difficult.  

In that case, then they actually pulled it off.  They hijacked the election and our federal government, and Humpty Dumpty-like, putting it back together again may be possible only over many years.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

FRUSTRATION: Seeking peace in Trumpist times



FRUSTRATION:
Seeking peace in Trumpist times
A very short story based on real conversations with friends since the election.

I was talking with a friend right after Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Accord; she’s a big outdoors enthusiast, but also a Trump supporter.  So I asked her what she thought.

Me: So what about your boy pulling out of the Paris thing?
Her: He did the right thing.  It’s a bad deal, and we get stuck with all the costs.  Plus the whole climate change thing is pretty shaky.

Me: Well I don’t know: 100% of the world’s national science academies say climate change is real, is caused by man, and we’re really screwed if we don’t make some drastic changes.  Every single nation’s group of scientists, including the US.  That doesn’t sound shaky to me.  And where’d you get this “we get stuck with all the costs” line?
Her: Everybody says so.  Carson Tucker.  Judge Jeanine.  Sean Hannity.  It’s all a big scam by the One World Order to line their pockets and keep America down!

Me: Wait a minute – those are all Fox News people.  Fox isn’t a credible source.  You can’t seriously believe the shit they say!
Her:  Bullshit; they tell it like it is.  And besides, I read the same thing on Breitbart news.

Me: Fuck you!  Breitbart’s even worse!  Look, Fox’s leader (Roger Ailes, RIP) admitted he’s not in the news business; his goal is entertainment and propaganda, and he admitted he doesn’t care about the facts, just twisting people’s opinions!  And Breitbart is worse – it comes in far to the right of Fox News on all the non-partisan surveys.
Her: Fuck me?  Fuck ME?  Fuck YOU, Jon Strebler and fuck your liberal surveys and your “facts”.  They’re all fake.  Fake news, Jon!

Me: Oh, I figured we’d get there.  “Fake news” is just Trump’s way of fighting back against all of HIS lies.  He knows the best defense is a good offense, so he does this stupid thing of calling verifiable facts, information that has been carefully vetted, “fake news” – and you guys fall for it.  What the hell?
Her: Verified by who?  You know how biased the mainstream media is.  I don’t trust a thing they say.  They’re all lying liberals trying to bring our president down.

Me: I know what you mean about the bias.  But the thing is, that doesn’t have anything to do with most of Trump’s lies.  I mean, all you have to do is read his own words, watch videos of what comes out of his own mouth.  No opinions, no bias, no libtarding – just the dude’s own words!  I’ll give you an example: “If I run for president, I’ll release my taxes.”  Bam – that simple.  He said it, not the media.  He broke his own word – period.  And I can give you a hundred examples; the motherfucker just lies constantly, and there’s no two ways about it.  How can you back a guy like that?
Her: I don’t care.  America first!   He’s our president; why do you have to bring him down?  Sure, Trump’s not perfect, but he cares about us and he’s a godly man.  He’s trying to do good things to make America great, and I trust that God is guiding him!
Me: Trump’s a godly man?  You’re kidding, right?  He’s a serial liar, he’s greedy, selfish, he insults people constantly, he disrespects women, he totally lacks humility.  What religion would back a person like that?
Her: He IS humble.  After meeting the Pope, Trump tweeted how they were both humble.  And you know what, the Pope endorsed him before the election last year – said Trump would make a great president!

Me: Oh my god!  That was one of Trump’s fake news plants on social media!  The Pope hates Trump; don’t you remember their spat a few months earlier?  And did you see the Pope’s face during their meeting?  It was obvious he didn’t want to be around the guy.  But back to that phony story – there’s tons of evidence that Trump and his buddies planted all kinds of bullshit stories on social media during the campaign, all kinds of lies that suckers like you actually took for real news.
Her: Oh – so now I’m a sucker, and we’re into name calling?  Nice Jon, real nice.  You know, you can be a real dick sometimes, and a big know it all.  How do YOU know that story was phony?

Me: Well part of it is just common sense.  Popes don’t endorse candidates, and this Pope certainly didn’t like Trump.  You can also usually tell from the way a story or a meme is presented, the language of it.  You know how there are so many memes that say how this or that ABSOLUTELY DESTROYS this person or that person?  There’s tons of those these days from both sides, and that’s a big clue that the thing is biased or just total bullshit.  But there’s also Snopes and FactCheck; they’re websites that will tell you if something is legit or BS.
Her: You can’t trust those websites – they’re all run by liberals!  They’re part of the liberal mainstream media that Trump says is our enemy.  And I trust Trump; he’s draining the swamp and looking out for average Americans like me.

Me: How can you trust someone who’s been proven over and over again to be a liar?  The people running those websites – look into them.  They’re highly educated in what they’re doing, and they use unbiased techniques to determine if something is legit or not.
Her: Yeah, I know about all those “educated” people.  They went to college, where all they got was a liberal brainwashing, and they think they’re so much better than the rest of us.  The educated elite – those are the assholes that have gotten this country in such a mess.  They’re the ones holding us back; they’re the problem!

Me: I see.  So we can’t trust the educated media, we can’t trust scientists because they have a good education, and it sounds like anyone with a college education is the enemy – libtards all! 
Her: Basically.  All you smart liberals, you don’t have any real world common sense, just ivory tower book learning.  And we’re sick of you telling real Americans how things are.  Look at the huge mess we’re in because of Obama and all his educated idiots!

Me: Yeah, I dunno.  I mean, the US has one of the highest standards of living in the world.  Nobody’s starving, everyone gets an education, has a place to live, a chance to be successful.  And our economy – it’s been the world’s strongest for the last 5 years!  Things don’t seem too screwed up to me.
Her: Maybe so, Mr. Economics genius, but a lot of us aren’t seeing it.  The rich get richer and all the good jobs go to China, and people like me can’t keep up.  We’re never gonna be able to pay our house off, and the kids – I don’t think they’ll ever be able to own their own home.  Somebody’s gotta do something for regular Americans, and Trump’s doing it!

Me: You mean regular WHITE Americans, right?  Trump just wants to turn the clock back to 1960 when every high school dropout could support a family of 4 on a factory job – if he was white, anyway.  But those jobs are gone, coal is dying and his pathetic efforts won’t change that.  It’s really clear to economists who follow this kind of stuff: We haven’t lost jobs to trade, we’ve lost them to technology, and that clock won’t turn backwards.  Besides, how can you think a selfish billionaire like Trump, with his billionaire Cabinet, is going to help the little guy?
Her: You don’t know everything, Jon Strebler, so stop acting like you do!  Trump cares about us and he’ll get us a fairer deal with those other countries, get our jobs back.  And what’s wrong with kicking out a bunch of illegal Mexicans so white people can have a fair chance anyway?  This is America, we speak English, and all those Spanish speakers and Muslims don’t need to be here messing things up for the real Americans.

Me: Yeah, I don’t know everything, but at least I know some basic stuff.  The guy is SO ignorant – about government, about economics, about history.  He’s always saying something stupid, showing his ignorance.  “The unemployment rate is 42%”  “We don’t vet people coming into the US”  “Judges make the laws”  “Frederick Douglass is an up and coming black leader”  How can you guys not see what a moron he is?  Do you think being a moron is a good thing in a President?
Her: Why do you have to be so negative?  And mean?  Nobody’s perfect; so Trump makes a few mistakes; so what?  He’s trying to make America great again, and what’s wrong with that?  But you liberals, you’re always looking for things to attack him on; you’re so unfair.

Me: You know, I’m tired of hearing this “you liberals” bullshit.  I’ve never been a liberal; voted for Nixon, voted for Reagan.  There are millions and millions of independents who oppose Trump because he’s a lying, dangerous idiot.  Colin Powell – who was a top general and Secretary of State under Bush, and is a Republican and certainly not a “libtard” – he said it best:  Trump is a “national disgrace and an international pariah!”  And he’s not the only one.  Millions and millions of Republicans don’t like Trump and have spoken out about it.  It’s not a Trump vs. liberals thing; it’s Trump against anyone who has a clue, anyone who wants a president that knows what he’s doing, speaks the truth, and REALLY wants what’s best for America. 
Her: I don’t care what you say.  I don’t care about your facts or your Colin Powell or any of it.  Trump is my guy and Trump is our president, and God bless America!

Me: Well yeah – he is our president, but he didn’t really win the election as far as I’m concerned.  At least not fair and square.  I’m not a big Hillary fan, but she’s the one who should be in the White House now, not that sneaky, snaky Trump.
Her: Oh no – not the Russia thing!  I mean seriously – all of these phony charges, from anonymous sources.  Nothing’s been proved, and it’s just a huge witch hunt to keep the president from giving Americans the changes he promised.  You liberals should be ashamed of yourself!

Me: I’m telling you: stop with the liberals crap!  I’m no frickin liberal, and neither are all of the Republicans who want to know what Trump and his crew have been up to.  But look, it’s not just about Russia.  First, there was Trump’s campaign with all the fake social media stories that people like you fell for.  How many votes do you think he got because of roping in dopes like you early in the campaign, votes he didn’t deserve and wouldn’t have gotten if he and his people hadn’t lied like dogs?  Then there was the FBI disaster.  10 days before the election, Hillary was several points ahead and trending upward, all set to lock it up.  Comey comes out with his bullshit announcement that we now know was based on fake info (and he knew that at the time!) about Hillary’s email account.  Bam!  Her numbers start dropping.  And the Russians, who even Trump admits were interfering in our election on his behalf all along, they step it up even more.  Hillary wins the popular vote, but Trump ekes out a win in the electoral college to become president.  It’s just wrong!
Her: Hey, whatever.  Trump won and Hillary lost.  Waaaah - get over it!  Besides, there’s no way to know if those things affected people’s voting or not, and Trump didn’t “eke out” an electoral college vote.  He creamed Hillary!

Me: You know, you’re right.  We can’t know for sure how much these things affected peoples’ voting.  But I think a reasonable, open-minded person would conclude that each of those 3 things helped Trump somewhat; taken together, probably quite a bit.  The way Trump won the electoral vote, just a very small number of votes cast the other way would have won key states for Hillary instead of Trump.  If those 3 things hadn’t happened, those key states would almost certainly have gone her way and we’d have our first woman president instead of this lying idiot.  Either way, it’s my belief that he cheated, and so I don’t consider him to legitimately be our president.
Her: Oh great!  So then what are you going to do?  Hold a cry-in or something?  Don’t be such a weenie.  Trump is in and that’s that, and he’s making America great again.  Look – I’m done here; gotta run.  Tell Lori hi.  Love ya.
Me: Love ya too.  Drive safely!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

AN EXISTENTIAL THREAT



There’s an existential threat to the United States of America, one that can change the country’s path forever – and not in a good way.  No, it’s not the new President, Donald Trump.  Nor is it the rebirth of radical liberalism.  This frightening new threat is the growing belief that facts are fluid things, that whatever one person believes about what happened is just as valid as anyone else’s beliefs on the matter, and that there is no such thing as “truth” since we can never be clear on the facts.  Others have written and spoken about this before, but here is my take on the problem.

Let me clarify a few things first:  I am not a political conservative.  I am not a political liberal.  As my Facebook page claims, I am “excessively centrist.”  Over the decades, I have voted for Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians in about equal amounts. 

So I’m not a “libtard” or “snowflake” or any of that, although that fact won’t keep the less thoughtful of readers from believing I am.  Which only goes back to the problem: Facts don’t matter so much these days. 

What matters instead of facts, we are learning, is how one “feels” about an issue or a person.  Another way to say this is that emotions are overtaking facts in determining what people believe.  

So if I feel that the water off of Imperial Beach is polluted and too dangerous to be in, then I’m going to look for and believe news stories, signs, and anecdotal evidence supporting that view.  I’m going to hang more with people who believe the same thing, and we’ll share what we know about the problem.  I won’t be searching out evidence of the water being safe, and I’ll find fault with anything that implies that it’s not bad.  The same goes for people on the other side of the issue – those who believe the water isn’t all that polluted.  The end result is each side reinforcing their own beliefs, “feeling” even stronger that they are right and the other guys are wrong.

THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD
Scientists use the “scientific method” to determine what is true or not true in the worlds of physics, biology, oceanography, and so forth.  That entails extensive testing of hypotheses, with results that can be, and are, duplicated by other scientists.  In the world of legitimate science, what a person “feels” about an issue – pollution levels, global warming, evolution, etc. – plays no real role.  Importantly, when new information or facts call into question earlier conclusions, scientists test those and, if valid, they change their views of what is true and not true.  A good scientist doesn’t stick with beliefs that have been disproved by verifiable testing and peer review.

We should all accept this philosophy of knowing what is true, even as we acknowledge exceptions to it, notably in the area of religion.  Religions are largely faith-based; we can’t prove there is a God using the scientific method, for example, but we can nevertheless have faith that he/she/it exists.  The Christian Church, at least up until the 16th century, and to a lesser degree well into the 19th century, taught that science and Christianity dealt with two different worlds.  Whenever science disagreed with the Bible on matters of science, Church leaders actually deferred to the scientists and accepted their wisdom.  That is still the case today with most Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, and Muslim leaders, although notable and powerful forces (fundamentalists) sadly choose to see science and religion as opposing one another.

REASONABLE DOUBT
Since it is difficult to be absolutely, 100% certain - especially in the social sciences, where certainty is even harder to achieve, we rely on probabilities.  For most people, in most cases, we don’t literally calculate probabilities of something happening or not happening, being true or not true.  Mostly, we just sort of informally figure out if something is really likely, sort of likely, probably untrue, etc.  What we should ideally shoot for is something like the standard in criminal court cases: Beyond a reasonable doubt.  That more or less translates into a 95% probability of being correct. 

So when we say something is or is not true, we “should” know it beyond a reasonable doubt, even though it doesn’t seem that many people follow that standard.   What we hear more and more, unfortunately, is people throwing out claims and facts that they haven’t vetted.  They read or heard it elsewhere – probably from someone or some source that feels the same way they do on the topic.  And at that point, then the whole idea of true beyond a reasonable doubt kind of goes out the window.

We’ve experienced much more of this in recent years, and especially during and after the last Presidential election.  Things that should have been laughable, e.g. the Pope just endorsed Donald Trump for President, were taken as truth by millions of Americans.  I say “laughable” because Popes do not endorse candidates, and in fact there was extensive media coverage of this particular Pope expressing his dismay with Trump’s policies.   Why did people fall for this obvious falsehood?  Well, partly because many are so woefully unaware of what’s actually going on in the world around them; they don’t read and watch legitimate news sources.  But even more so, because they heard it from sources they liked and it was a message that was in tune with their own feelings.

This was an egregious example of the new phenomenon (not new, actually, but just much more prevalent and powerful than before) of fake news.  This is different from merely cherry-picking which stories to print, or tweaking the way the stories are presented to favor one point of view or another.  Instead, fake news is something that never even happened, presented as being real and truthful.  Other recent examples are the claims about Obama not being born in the US, and the “Pizzagate” story about Hillary Clinton.  These were totally false stories, or at least in the case of Obama, claims that were quickly shown to be false, intentionally sold to the public as truth. 

BOTH SIDES NOT EQUALLY GUILTY
There are now a number of organizations that make good money creating fake news stories to sell to a gullible public.  Two of them, LifeZette.com and a number of sites owned by Floyd Brown (Liftable Media) are run by friends of the President or his special Counselor, Kellyanne Conway.  Liberals used a few stories written by Jestin Coler’s company, Disinfomedia during the election, but it seems clear that fake news stories were vastly more utilized by right-wing sources who were promoting Trump’s candidacy.  And it’s easy to imagine Trump himself as being behind some of these stories.

The President has been an unquestionable promoter of fake news stories, none more blatant than his claim to have really won the popular vote, except for the “3 million to 5 million illegal votes” cast by immigrants.  When pressed for evidence of this, and despite every other source denying any such thing happened (including leaders of his own party), Trump continued to insist on his fantasy.  To date, no evidence whatsoever has appeared to back the President’s “long-standing belief.”  The same is true with his claims that many more people attended his inauguration than the evidence shows.

President Trump has a long history of saying whatever he believes or feels, regardless of its accuracy.  A study from about a year ago showed that only 9% of the public comments he made were “true or mostly true.”  This compares to 51% for Hillary Clinton.  How ironic that “Rotten Hillary” Clinton was actually truthful more than five times as often as Trump.  While much of the country was outraged by Clinton’ lies on her email server and events in Benghazi, Trump was broadcasting egregious lie after lie, non-stop.  Trump’s level of lying was (is, actually) totally unprecedented, and can in no way be compared to what Clinton or any other politician in the country’s history has done.

This last point is worth repeating.  Trump supporters often claim that all politicians lie, so what’s the big deal?  NO.  You cannot compare his pathological level of lying with Clinton or Obama or Cruz or anyone else.  Even some ultra-conservative Fox News reporters are finally seeing this.  Check out this video of Fox commentator Shep Smith saying, among other things, that: “This President keeps telling untrue things, and he does it every single time he’s in front of the microphone; it’s demonstrable – I can re-rack the tape for you. https://www.facebook.com/OccupyDemocrats/videos/1430873363672380/  
Sure, the video comes from an anti-Trump source, but as the man says – all of these things are demonstrable, meaning they can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

While the alt-right has been by far guiltier in using fake news business, liberals are now starting to play the same game, as they’ve learned how viciously effective it can be. According to the Christian Science Monitor, judged to be one of the least biased major media sources, liberals are shocked at how successfully Trump and his handlers used fake new to ultimately help put him in office.  They’re taking pages from the same playbook, such as showing Trump’s parents both dressed in KKK outfits.  So now we have both sides using this unethical technique!         

LYING ABOUT LYING
But now we also have this new thing of calling legitimate news stories, presented with some form of bias, as fake news.  They are not the same thing.  The media has always chosen which stories they want to cover, and how to present them to the public.  And it’s not uncommon for some bias to appear in their coverage.  Knowledgeable Americans expect that, and discount what the news sources print or say – at least, they should. 

So if MSNBC covers the women’s march on DC, estimating 200,000 attendees and focusing more on the positives of the march than the negatives in their 5 minute story, while FOX News estimates the crowd at 100,000 and focuses on the march’s negatives in their 2 minute story – well, nobody should be too surprised.  That is spinning the news, cherry-picking what to present, and showing each organization’s bias.  But it’s not fake news; it’s not denying the march took place, or claiming that it was funded by Russia, or whatever that would make it a fake story. 

Yet this is what the President and his team are now claiming.  They have chosen to claim that fake news is everywhere, that CNN and CBS and all the rest are fake news because their coverage doesn’t favor him and therefore should be completely ignored.  Every time a media source says something that Trump doesn’t like, he Tweets: “FAKE NEWS”, more and more driving that concept into the subconscious of his base.

When you look at what the legitimate media sources present, they are largely based on verifiable facts, facts that news organizations around the world agree on with very few exceptions.  They are confirmed by relatively unbiased sources such as Snopes.com and almost totally unbiased sources such as The Christian Science Monitor.  For the most part, they fit our earlier definition of being accurate beyond a reasonable doubt.  Yet the Trump team, led by Steve Bannon, wants people to think that stories from CBS are in the same category as totally fake stories from places like LifeZette.com.  This strategy has intentionally muddied the water of what is true, not true, biased, or fake.

By the way, there’s another disturbing trend lately.  Remember the Fox News reporter who took Trump to task for always lying?  Shep Smith was widely attacked by Fox viewers as being unpatriotic, as belonging on CNN for not supporting our President.  Not – “his statements are false, this reporter is lying.”  No; they don’t challenge the truth of what he says, and instead attack him for not following the false party line.  I’ve read and heard this a lot lately; the only measure of truth for them is whether it supports the President or does not support him.

GASLIGHTING, ZYKLON GAS?
Gaslighting is a term that means to bombard people with contradictory “evidence” in the form of fake news and other means, in order to get them so confused that they don’t know what to believe.  And in doing so, it makes people question their own judgment, and even their own sanity, as in:  “I KNOW I saw Joe Politician get a pile of cash from a shady-looking character who was surrounded by several bodyguards.  But everyone else is telling me that there was no pile of cash and no bodyguards; the two men merely talked pleasantly for a few minutes, and then parted company.”  When this kind of thing happens over and over, you start thinking maybe you saw/heard it wrong.  Before long you don’t know what to believe, so you just start ignoring the events around you. 

Or simply trusting in the President!  That’s a clear goal of Trump and Bannon – to get people thinking there are no truths and lies, no up or down, and whatever one person says is as likely to be true as what anyone else says.  The President is our leader, he swears that only he knows the real truth about how to protect America and make it great again, and he has told us he will never ever let us down.  Why not just go with what he says, instead of doing the hard work of trying to figure out who’s lying and who’s truthing? 
 
Steve Bannon is President Trump’s Chief Strategist, and he has clearly become one of, if not the, most influential member of the President’s team.  He previously led Breitbart News, which is generally accepted as being an “ultra-conservative” media organization sympathetic to alt-right views, including white supremacists.   Bannon has a particularly dark view of where the country needs to go, based on his theory of inevitable, cyclical disasters. 

Bannon has said that he’d like to help “bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment,” as a necessary step before rebuilding a stronger nation base on Western European, Christian values.  www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/steve-bannon-will-lead-trumps-white-house   Part of the process, Bannon says, is a “global existential war” between the West and radical Islam, in addition to a separate likely war with “expansionist China”.  As the word “existential” implies, he sees these wars as being a life or death matter for the United States.  Bannon thinks the US’s “fourth great crisis in our history, with a new and greater war” than the last great crisis – WWII – is basically inevitable, and he seems to promote the idea of: let’s get it on; the sooner the better!

To repeat: Steve Bannon is probably the President’s closest and most powerful aide; a number of sources claim that he is actually the true policy maker, and that Trump merely does what Bannon tells him to do.  Bannon is the one who has urged Trump to “be Trump” all along – telling bald-faced lie after lie, insulting anyone who disagrees, taking controversial steps like the recent Muslim ban, etc.  This is a very dangerous man, given his worldview and his general nastiness.

            WHAT ABOUT THAT EXISTENTIAL THREAT?
But let’s get back to where this started.  The existential threat I refer to here is not Bannon’s “fight to the death” with Islam and China.   It is, instead, the threat upon Americans’ ability to know truth, to be able to tell fact from fiction.  To distinguish between facts being presented with some bias (the legitimate media), and totally made-up falsehoods (fake news), along with bald-faced lies that bombard the public day after day.

This threat has to do with an intentional strategy by Trump, Bannon, et al. to reverse the two; to convince the American public that the legitimate media is fake news, and that the only source of truth is the President and his team.  The ultimate goal, of course, is to drown out the truth and let Trump do whatever he wants, regardless of its merits and legality.  As key Trump adviser Stephen Miller recently said on national television: ”the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.” 

The latter part of the quote is shocking, reminiscent more of a brutal dictator than the leader of the free world.  As a result, it’s clear that President Trump believes the executive branch of our government should be more powerful than the judicial branch.  This could be the beginning of an attack on the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land. 

A concerted attack on the Constitution probably won’t happen.  But even if only the current situation continues, the country is in a dire position.  Those whose go-to response is "FAKE NEWS!" seem to have neither the intellectual skills (familiarity with concepts such as logic, evidence, probabilities, reasonable doubt) nor interest in seeing the light.  It’s hard to see their views changing.  As a consequence, the fate of our sadly divided nation rests on what is essentially a war between those folks and the rest of us, because neither side will go down gently.
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.