Monday, January 2, 2017

For the Record

During the first Gulf War, US troops overwhelmed Iraq’s military and were set to attack Baghdad in order to seal the deal.  NO! came the cry from all over the world, including the US.  Iraq is defeated, and attacking Baghdad is unnecessary; it will only result in tens of thousands of innocent civilian deaths, not to mention many more US military deaths.  And besides, Saddam Hussein will become so impotent when we get done with him that he’ll never be a threat to anyone again.  Well, President Bush listened, and the world sighed in relief as he ordered US troops not to invade the city.  Bush was seen as a humanitarian hero back in 1991!

Fast forward ten years, when Saddam Hussein was causing all kinds of trouble for the West and for his own people.  Bush blew it, everyone said.  Why didn’t he finish Hussein off by taking over Baghdad when we had the chance?  Moron!

Wait, what?  What just happened?  Don’t people remember what they said a few years earlier?  Don’t they remember urging Bush to be the bigger man, to do the humane thing?  No – no they don’t.  People have short memories, and are quick to find fault with others, while forgetting what they themselves believed in the past.  

I’m writing this because it will happen again.  I fear that already people are forgetting why more than half of American voters were appalled at the Republican candidate for President, Donald J. Trump.  It’s not that I “can’t get over it”.  It’s just that I want a written record of what actually happened, something we can refer to later, after memories get wobbly.  And it matters; this is a really important issue, because…..

I say it is beyond dispute that much of the support for Donald Trump in the presidential election was a result of misinformation.  Another way to put it is that his supporters believed a lot of things that he and his camp said, even though they were demonstrably (could be proven) wrong.  Many of these things were demonstrably false at the time to anyone who bothered to do a quick check; others were proven wrong at a later time.  Trump and his campaign intentionally put things out there that they simply had to know were wrong; this is in addition to a number of pronouncements that they may genuinely have believed, but wrongly so.  Taken together, they foisted false information on the voting public on a massive, never before seen scale. 

My claim is a fact that will be proven here.  It leads to another claim that cannot be undeniably proven, but is almost certainly true: if Trump’s campaign had not used misinformation on an unprecedented scale, Hillary Clinton would have been elected President. 

We know that a great many Trump supporters hated Clinton and Obama; they hated Establishment politicians of both parties; they wanted a more isolated and self-interested US; they wanted more and better blue-collar jobs.  For those millions of American voters, a better understanding of the truth vs. misinformation probably wouldn’t have made much difference.  They wanted Trump as president, no matter what.  But for many other voters, it seems likely that they wouldn’t have voted for Trump if they had known the truth about his claims.  Clinton did win a clear victory in the popular vote; it’s reasonable to think that only small changes in voting patterns would have done the same for her in the Electoral College vote.

Trump constantly referred to his opponent as “Crooked Hillary” and a “world-class liar”, when it was Trump himself who was involved in numerous lawsuits regarding his own sketchy deals.  And a report that analyzed his statements found that only 9% were true or mostly true.  “Crooked” Hillary’s statements, by contrast, were true or mostly true 51% of the time.  But as his supporters always point out, that 9% number came from a “liberal” source.  Fine – but that doesn’t mean it is wrong. 

Here are some of the more notable examples of the systematic misinformation that characterized Trump’s campaign, making him probably the least honest of any US politician ever:

·       Barack Obama isn’t an American citizen (Trump finally admitted he was wrong in September, 2016)
·       Obama is a Muslim (there was never any credible evidence to support this)
·       Mexicans are rapists and criminals (a very few are; the vast majority are hard-working and honest)
·       “I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”  (Mexico has vowed that it would never do such a thing, and now such a wall is seen as very unlikely)
·       China manipulates its currency to keep it artificially low (it hasn’t done so for nearly 3 years, and its currency is now overvalued, not undervalued as Trump claimed)
·       Bad trade deals have cost the US millions of good jobs (by far most job losses are due to technology and communication improvements, not trade.  A Ball University study released on 12/27/2016 says only 13% of US manufacturing job losses came from trade deals)
·       NAFTA has been a disaster for the US (a Wharton School of Business study in 2014 concluded that NAFTA has overall had a modest positive impact on the US)
·       Speaking of the prestigious Wharton School, Trump claimed to have graduated first in his class of 1968.  In fact, he only went to Wharton for 2 years, and his name is not shown at all on the list of students who graduated with honors from Wharton.
-    The election was “absolutely rigged” against him (17 US agencies confirm that Russia intervened in the election in order to help Trump win)
·       Trump claimed “serious voter fraud” and “millions of illegal votes for Clinton” in the election (his own party confirmed only a handful of questionable voter incidents nationwide)
·       The Clinton family played a role in the plane crash death of John F. Kennedy, Jr., as well as the deaths of various friends and Democrats (originated by LifeZette, a fake news organization run by a Trump crony; totally baseless)
·       Muslims were ordered to vote for Hillary (originated by a fake news outlet run by Floyd Brown – a close ally of Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway; totally baseless)
·       Global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese (the national science foundation of EVERY developed country in the world has signed a statement that global warming is real, and caused by man; there is no evidence that the Chinese are behind a “hoax”)
·       There is no system to vet refugees from the Middle East (vetting of refugees has existed here since 1980)
·       His sister, a US judge, can pass laws (the Constitution only allows Congress to make laws)
·       The actual unemployment rate is as high as 42% (the rate at the time was 4.9% and even economists who use alternative measures don’t cite anything higher than 16.2% )
·       The US is the highest taxed nation in the world (in fact, we fall in the low-to-middle area compared to other countries)
·       The Pope endorsed Trump for President (the Pope has publicly scolded Trump for some of his ideas, and definitely did not endorse him; from another one of his fake news sources)
·       Trump promised to lock Hillary up when he became President (he has upset many supporters by now saying he won’t, adding: “We owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country”)
·       Trump promised to “drain the swamp” of corrupt establishment figures (his appointments so far are mostly former lobbyists, business cronies, and billionaires, and feature people with no qualifications for their new job, e.g. Dr. Ben Carson for HUD Secretary)
·       Only liberals opposed Trump (many top Republicans opposed him, including the last two Presidential candidates, the current Speaker of the House, governors, Cabinet officers, and members of Congress – Republicans all)

And remember - apart from all of these lies, there were all the other reprehensible things Trump said and did.  Here are just a few:
·       - As of a January of last year, Trump was documented as having insulted 289 people, places, and things.  Last October, the NY Times used two full pages to list all of his public insults. 
·       - Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever” during a primary debate 
·       - He disrespected our military heroes, and especially John McCain, saying “he’s not a hero; I like people who weren’t captured.” 
·      -  He made fun of a disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski in what some people consider his worst offense of the whole campaign, by doing an impression of Serge’s spasms 
·      - He bragged about forcing himself on unwilling women, including his classy line about “grab them by the pussy!”  Subsequently, 11 women came forward to claim that it wasn’t just “locker talk”, and that Trump had grabbed and/or sexually harassed them. 
·      -  Trump claimed that he knew more about ISIS than all the generals.  In fact, Trump has made the    ridiculous, narcissistic claim that he knew more than anyone else in the world about: 
              America's domestic and international problems - "I alone can fix it." - July, 2016
              Taxes – “Nobody knows more about taxes” May, 2016  
              Renewables – “I know more about renewables than any human being on Earth." April, 2016 
              Debt "Nobody knows more about debt.” – May, 2016 
              Banking - "Nobody knows banking better than I do" — February 2016
              U.S. system of government - "Nobody knows the system better than I do."  April, 2016 
              Politicians - "Nobody knows politicians better than Donald Trump." – February, 2016                 
              Trade - "Nobody knows more about trade than me." – March, 2016 
              Jobs – “Nobody knows jobs like I do!” – January, 2016 
              Infrastructure - "Nobody in the history of this country has ever known so much about infrastructure as Donald Trump." – July, 2016 
              The visa system – “Nobody knows it better than me." – March, 2016 
              Nuclear horrors - "There is nobody who understands the horror of nuclear more than me."–June, 2016
              Respect for women - Here's a laugher, which just followed his "locker room" banter about grabbing women's pussies:  "Nobody has more respect for women than I do" - October, 2016
More despicable stuff from The Donald and Co.:
     "I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” 
·       “My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.” 
·       “My IQ is one of the highest — and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure; it’s not your fault.  I know words, I have the best words. I have the best, but there is no better word than stupid.”

"    Refused to release his tax returns, unlike every other Presidential candidate for decades.  Later, we found out he paid no federal taxes for 9 year, due to business losses from the one who knows banking and debt better than anyone else.

      Wife Melania delivers speech to the Republican convention with entire sections stolen word for word from Michelle Obama's speech to the 2008 Democratic convention.
·       And the latest: Trump doesn’t believe our intelligence agencies about Russian election hacking because he has “information that nobody else has.”

No one can know how Trump’s four (or eight?) years will turn out.  He has some good ideas, and may in some ways “Make America Great” again.  But he also has some very bad ideas, and they could be disastrous for the country.  So we’ll just have to see how it all works out.

But whatever happens, we know that the country has elected someone with no moral compass, who will say and do anything with no concern for the facts.  He never admits he was wrong (Obama birth being so far the sole exception, and even there, he followed with the preposterous claim that Clinton actually started the birther movement).  And he never apologizes, not even with the Obama thing. 

A big question in my own mind:  Which is better for the country – A person with no moral compass, but who (let’s just say) does improve the country materially? Or a decent, moral person who doesn’t have so much success (such as Republican John Kasich)?  The country chose the former in November.  I wonder if it will do the same thing in 2020? 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Drowning in a sea of political correctness

I grew up 3 miles from the border, where half the kids were Mexicans (that’s what they called and still call themselves – not “Mexican Americans”).  They were the friends I went to school with, played Little League with, ate with at their homes, and dated.  I’m fairly fluent in Spanish, understand and like the Mexican people and culture, and every year at least one student asks if I’m part Mexican.  No, I’m not.  But kind of.

My best friend for many years at school is African-American; he’s always been a strong advocate of civil rights and black empowerment.  We socialize together outside of school, as well as work closely together in school.  I’m proud that some of my nicest letters of thanks over the years, and postings of support recently, have come from black students and former students.

I’m a big fan of native-American history and culture.  My sister’s husband (RIP) was half Lakota Sioux.  He was the only real brother I ever had, and we were great friends.  And one of my greatest honors ever was being able to hunt buffalo with the Blackfeet Nation a few years ago.

My mom’s mom was Jewish, which makes me Jewish according to Israeli law.  All of her relatives in Austria and Poland were killed by the frickin Nazis.  In the late-1990s, I formally studied Judaism (at Temple Beth Israel, on Laurel St.).  Eventually I decided it wasn’t for me, but do feel that Judaism comes closest to what I value in a formal religion. So I'm not Jewish.  But kind of.

I have been married to the same wonderful woman for 37 years.  I also have a daughter and a granddaughter, not to mention a sister, a mom, and several cousins whom I love dearly, including one who’s been on the national board of NOW for decades.  I’ve worked closely with two female principals and many female teachers over the years, and have had no problem with any of them.  I like women and consider them my equals. 

My wife and I have had gay friends for many years, and we love getting together with them.  I have two gay nephews, whom I love dearly.  One of them recently married a transgender person who physically changed her sex.  That’s kind of tough for people my age to wrap our minds around, but nevertheless we were the only aunt and uncle who accepted their wedding invitation. 

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *         
These facts don't describe a person who is racist, misogynist, or homophobic/transphobic.  So if that’s the case, then how do we explain comments that people interpret otherwise?  Well – some people will ignore my claims and stay with those ugly labels.  Others believe that I have no social filter and just say whatever comes to mind.  But there are better explanations.

First off, many people misunderstand and misuse terms like racism, and I decided years ago to actively fight against this.  (There are actually two earlier blogs on this topic, the first of which appeared here in 2008.)  If you look it up in the dictionary, racism refers to the idea that people’s race is the primary determinant of who they are and what they can do.  It also implies the superiority of one race over another.  It does not apply to mentioning that someone is black or Jewish or whatever, or that their skin is darker or lighter, their culture tends to stress education more than other cultures, etc.  Unless there is some hint that the race or ethnic group is inferior or superior, as long as there is no intent to put someone or their group down – then this is not racism.  The same general idea applies to sexism and similar–isms. 

I enjoy learning about the differences among people and find them fascinating.  What a horrible waste to pretend that we’re all alike!  Yet our world has moved sharply in the direction of political correctness, to the point where people consider virtually any mention of race or ethnicity or sex or whatever to represent prejudice.  I believe this is unfortunate and misguided.  As a result, I make it a point to regularly talk about races and cultures and sexual preferences and whatnot in non-judgmental ways in an attempt to counter the ban on those things that students get elsewhere.  I’ll present various points of view, and sometimes even throw out controversial statements about racial/ethnic/sexual stereotypes in order to elicit critical responses from students.  Most students understand that these are not my personal opinions, although not all students get this point all the time. 

Then there is the humor connection.  I happen to think that a big sense of humor makes the world a better place. The reality is that my Mexican and Jewish and gay friends and I joke around a lot with one another about our ethnicities and sexual preferences and all.  Nobody’s trying to put anyone else down.  This is part of how normal, healthy adults relate to one another and show friendship.  So guess what?  Sometimes that real world adult attitude slips into my classroom.  Most of the kids get it and find it refreshing; some misunderstand what’s going on.

This relates to the cover of TIME Magazine last year, which featured the very popular (and black) comedians Key and Peele.  Their opinion piece argued for comedy that makes fun of everyone.  To do otherwise, they wrote, is to assume that a group isn’t smart enough to understand humor or strong enough to roll with it.  We’re drowning in a sea of political correctness”, they wrote, in a piece that surely everyone won’t agree with.    

But I do.  I think gentle, open humor serves a larger purpose of bringing us together, able to be honest with and relate to one another better.  Some people either don’t understand that or just don’t agree with it, and they are offended.  That’s unfortunate, and in those cases apologies may be appropriate. 

There was an incident in my classroom this year that illustrates some of these themes.  The boys competed against the girls in a review game of Jeopardy.  In my mind, this is no different than one side of the class competing against another side, as in either case, neither side has an unfair advantage or expectation based on their sex.  The girls totally trounced the boys, after which I jokingly announced that I was switching sides, going to get a sex change operation and become a girl!  This was purely an over-the-top way to rub it in to the boys for getting creamed, and as a compliment to the girls for doing such a good job; that is all that was intended.  Making fun of people who get sex reassignment operations was the furthest thing from my mind at the time.  But I found out later that some people took it that way, and I regret that. 

People sometimes take exception to things I say because they misunderstand the motivations behind them or disagree with my methods.  But racism/sexism/homophobia, if we use those words correctly, is not the issue,
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