A Blog on Politics, Principles, and Uncovering the Narrative

Month: January 2017

Bringing a Gun to an Unarmed Protest

Last Friday, a protester was shot at a protest outside a speech made by alt-right Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos. It appears that the man who shot the protester is alt-right himself—according to his Facebook page, a Trump supporter, a Yiannopoulos supporter, and a member of the NRA.

Right now the details are not all in yet, but reportedly the shooter claims, via a Facebook message to Yiannopoulos himself, that he was “sucker-punched,” apparently not so hard as he referred to the alleged assailant as “limp-wristed,” and lost his “Make America Great Again” cap. Reportedly this happened about an hour before the shooting event.

The victim was Josh Dukes, a Wobbly who is anti-racist and anti-fascist; reportedly his function at the event was to de-escalate any potential violence.

Video of the event taken from a slight distance shows the two separated; the shooter takes several steps forward, looking intently at someone. Dukes strides towards the man and just before he arrives, still not looking at Dukes, the man raises his hand, in which he is holding a cloth or something covered with a cloth. Dukes arrives in time to push away the shooter’s hand, and they enter into a struggle. Between eight and ten seconds later, Dukes is shot by the man, who then flees the scene.

When the shooting occurred, the speech indoors was temprarily halted; when Yiannopoulos retook the stage, one report has him saying, “If I stopped my event now, we are sending a clear message that they can stop our events by killing people. I am not prepared to do that.” The alt-right crowd rose and cheered. Yiannopoulos, styling himself as a journalist, apparently knows much less about collecting facts and making statements of fact than he does about jumping to conclusions and blaming the opposition as a knee-jerk reaction.

Here’s the element that many people, surprisingly many of them self-identifying as gun enthusiasts, appear not to understand about carrying firearms in public: if you bring a gun to a situation, you have a heightened level of responsibility. When armed with a weapon designed to kill someone, it is up to you to avoid confrontation that rises to the level where the gun is necessary.

But here, the gunman brought his weapon to a highly-charged situation, one which he approached and then strode into. That violates a primary rule of any citizen carrying a loaded weapon in public: avoid conflict at all costs. This man, carrying a loaded gun, went directly into one. Indeed, by his own claims, he had already been assaulted, and then, armed, waded back into the fray.

That alone makes him more responsible for what happened than almost anything else. It made George Zimmerman more responsible when, against strict instructions by police, he approached Trayvon Martin with his gun, and it made Rodney Peairs more responsible when he left his home to confront two youths with a gun, shooting one of them dead.

One thing made clear in the video: the gunman was never in danger of life or limb. He was in a struggle, and possibly could have gotten hurt, but serious injury or death was highly unlikely.

Either way, whoever this shooter is, he bears the highest level of responsibility in the shooting.

The victim was in critical condition after the shooting, but his status was changed to “satisfactory” and he is now recovering. The shooter reportedly turned himself in to police several hours later; The police released him and did not charge him with a crime.

Slamming Shut the Golden Door

It has long been the policy of this nation to open its doors to those in the world who have needed it most. This has been one of our highest principles, one of our greatest strengths, one of our noblest qualities.

I exist because of this policy. When fascists took over Spain in the 1930’s, and my grandfather was jailed and to be killed for having a voice of opposition, he escaped and made his way to the United States, where he was welcomed. My father, a baby at the time, followed soon after in his mother’s arms.

It has not been our pride or strength or security to deny entry; it has only been our shame. Many Jews who came to America fleeing the Nazi Holocaust were turned away, and many died later because of it.

Now Trump and his Republican allies, in the name of fear and hate, turn away Syrians whose only crime was to be Muslim in a country where other Muslims tried to kill them. They turn away Muslims from all over in the name of security, when every fact screams that what they are doing will do no good. Far from making us secure, this will only embolden our enemies, weaken our principles, and anger many who will later be turned against us. Like the Iraq War started by Republicans, this ban will stop no terrorists, but it will create a great many.

So now we are shamed. Shamed even by Canada, not by their condemnation, but by their compassion, when their leader says that they will take all of those that we turn away.

And for what? So we can pretend to be safe? So we can cower in fear behind closed doors?

We’re supposed to believe that this is going to make America “great” again?

We were great.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Voter Fraud

In an attempt to back up his claim that 3 million people voted illegally, thus explaining Hillary’s popular vote win, Trump attempted to define “voter fraud” expansively:

This, of course, is not accurate; double registration is not “voter fraud.” It’s a bookkeeping error. Double voting is fraud, submitting a false address so you can vote in a district where you do not live is voter fraud—but not double registration. Double registration usually happens when someone moves and registers in a new state, but neglects to cancel their registration in their former state.

However, you can see why Trump wants to claim it is: roughly 2.7 million people in the U.S. are registered to vote in two states. That brings you really close to that magic 3 million number.

Just one problem: Trump’s top advisor, Steve Bannon (the white supremacist), is registered to vote in two states. And it turns out that Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s Treasury Secretary nominee, is double-registered as well. And now it turns out that Tiffany Trump, Trump’s daughter, is double-listed too.

Hopefully, Trump will move quickly to prosecute and jail these unpatriotic lawbreakers.

Trump and Republicans Plot to Kill 44,000 Americans

Every year.

And no, I am not making that up. A study by researchers at Harvard made the rather conservative estimate that if having health care saves one life out of every 455, and repealing Obamacare without a workable alternative will kick as many as 20 million people off of health insurance, then the death toll on an annual basis will come out to 43,956 people.

Remember the lifelong conservative who stood up before Paul Ryan and told him, point blank, that Obamacare saved his life? He’s just one example. This is not a theory. These are actual people living, and under the Republican plan, dying.

It’s not as if Trump and Ryan are loading guns or getting killer drones ready, but if their actions result in the deaths of that many people a year, the drones might be a more merciful killing.

Is it really defensible if you kill people with a pen instead of with an airplane, especially if it is equivalent to 15 times the death toll of 9/11 on a yearly basis?

If you think paying for health insurance hurts, try not doing it.

The First Order of Business: Screw the Middle Class

On Trump’s first day in office, he immediately signed two executive orders which made life harder for Americans in the middle class.

First, he cancelled a rate cut for middle-class home owners with mortgages. The rate cut would have saved millions of home owners hundreds of dollars a year on their payments.

Second, he signed another executive order which signaled his desire to destroy the Affordable Care Act, cutting vitally-needed health insurance for as many as 18 million Americans over the next few years, following Republican moves in Congress to do the same. This move, equated to tossing a bomb into the already fragile health insurance markets, would devastate millions of families, and essentially lead to the deaths of an unknown but sizable number of middle-class Americans—and the financial ruin of countless others.

Because, as he put it in his inaugural address, “For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.”

So as his first acts, he screwed over millions of middle-class and poor Americans so that Republicans could score some political victories, above all else denying President Obama his legacy of helping Americans.

feature image by Brad

The First Casualty

The Trump administration must be at war, because—fittingly enough—truth was its first casualty, when Trump and his aides lied about the size of the inaugural audience.

Lying is nothing new regarding Trump, and this particular reaction was fully predictable; after all, there had been a movement for weeks to deny Trump a large audience, given his obsession with relative size and his agitation when anything else is even suggested. People knew it would cheese him off, and they knew he would react this way.

And sure enough, the Trump inauguration was poorly attended and not as viewed as many inaugurations past. The inaugural “parade” had few if any attendees at all; stands were empty, and the route was almost deserted. The inauguration ceremony itself was crowded only at the front; the massive throngs from Obama’s first inauguration dwarfed Trump’s, famously shown in comparison images. The New York Times even showed that the 2017 Women’s March just days earlier beat the inauguration in crowd size.

Trump only did halfway decently in terms of his Neilsen ratings, which he made much of on Twitter—but a quick reference to the Neilsen site shows that Trump’s inauguration rated only 5th in recent history, behind Reagan, Obama, Carter, and Nixon, in that order. Trump had to resort to comparing his numbers favorably to the numbers of Obama’s second inauguration, events for which recent presidents enjoyed only half of the numbers of their first inaugural.

So, Trump blustered about his numbers. So what? The man is obsessed with comparative size, nothing new there. So what’s the fuss?

The problem comes up when you factor in the official administration response to the issue, and—more importantly—to the tone set by the administration’s first press conference.

When Sean Spicer, Trump’s brand-new press secretary, held his very first conference on the first full day of the Trump presidency, he greeted the press corps with a pack of lies.

That also may be nothing new, but there is a big distinction: the Trump administration’s lies were blatant. And by “blatant,” I don’t mean the normally blatant lies where you know they’re lying but they could present the thinnest-veiled attempt to make it seem like there is some small kernel of truth involved somewhere.

No, by “blatant” I mean that Spicer made claims that were easily proven as wholly contrary to obvious fact. So obviously false that the media, which almost never calls what politicians say “false,” began pointing out the lie immediately; the New York Times, for example, published the shockingly blunt headline, With False Claims, Trump Attacks Media on Turnout and Intelligence Rift.

Spicer claimed that “420,000 people used the D.C. Metro public transit” on the day of the inauguration, relative to 317,000 for Obama in 2013. That was verifiably false; D.C. Metro had reported that ridership in 2013 had been 317,000 by 11:00 am—and that the figures for Trump’s day by the same time was only 193,000. Full-day figures for Trump were only 571,000, compared to 1.1 million for Obama in 2009 and 782,000 in 2013.

Spicer made many other provably false claims, but you get the idea. The lies were so transparent that even Fox News called them out on the lie. Fox is normally the perpetrator of exactly that kind of lie; when they call you a liar, you know you’ve been schooled.

This comes after several weeks of Trump sparring with the media, calling any outlets he doesn’t like “fake news,” and—after an abortive attempt to move the press corps out of the White House—even hinting that future press conferences will deny entry to some news organizations or reporters.

The situation was not made any better when Kellyanne Conway, when challenged with Spicer’s fake numbers, retorted, “You’re saying it’s a falsehood and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.

And there’s the headline: “Alternative Facts.” It pretty much crystallizes not just the Trump administration’s approach to the truth, but the approach by much if not most of conservative politics over the past several decades.

Newt Gingrich made this clear when being interviewed on CNN during the GOP convention. When he claimed that the crime rate was up, CNN reporter Alisyn Camerota pointed out that his statement was wrong:

CAMEROTA: But violent crime across the country is down.

GINGRICH: The average American, I will bet you this morning, does not think crime is down, does not think they are safer.

CAMEROTA: But it is. We are safer and it is down.

GINGRICH: No, that’s just your view.

CAMEROTA: It’s a fact. These are the national FBI facts.

GINGRICH: But what I said is also a fact. … The current view is that liberals have a whole set of statistics that theoretically may be right, but it’s not where human beings are.

CAMEROTA: But what you’re saying is, but hold on Mr. Speaker because you’re saying liberals use these numbers, they use this sort of magic math. These are the FBI statistics. They’re not a liberal organization. They’re a crime-fighting organization.

GINGRICH: No, but what I said is equally true. People feel more threatened.

CAMEROTA: Feel it, yes. They feel it, but the facts don’t support it.

GINGRICH: As a political candidate, I’ll go with how people feel and I’ll let you go with the theoriticians.

See? Alternative Facts. Some people were startled by this at the time, but this is actually very much unsurprising to anyone who has been paying attention to something called “The Narrative.”

The Narrative is a neoconservative strategy to lead public opinion where they want. It is, in short, the string of lies told by conservatives to create a sense of reality that serves conservative interests. It’s nothing new; it even predates Ronald Reagan’s infamously mythical Welfare Queen. It’s what both Bush administrations used to create a false sense that Iraq was just months away from creating nuclear weapons, and what was used to make so many believe that we actually did find WMD in Iraq, or that Saddam Hussein was in bed with al Qaeda. It’s what conservatives used to make so many of their number believe that Obama is a Muslim, a communist, and Kenyan-born. It made 47% of Republicans believe that Obamacare “death panels” actually existed, and made 49% of them believe that ACORN stole the 2012 election for Obama despite the fact that ACORN no longer even existed. And, thanks to the strongly negative reaction to Sanders’ treatment in the Democratic primaries, it even spilled over into liberal territory regarding The Narrative’s long history of smears against Hillary Clinton.

The Narrative is incredibly effective. Even if it does not convince everyone, it convinces a very large number of people—mostly conservatives, but a lot of independents, and even some liberals—and makes a huge difference in the political realities reflected in how government works.

The new shift in The Narrative is not that we’re somehow just beginning to hear blatant lies—but that’s been going on for years. Reagan’s Welfare Queen was an out-and-out lie. However, Reagan’s lies were not so easily proven to be lies. Reagan never named the woman he spoke about, leaving just enough deniability to cover him with the press. Bush 43 never specifically stated that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11—he made the implication crystal clear, but never in a way that anyone could point to and claim that Bush had made a definitive statement.

The press has always been extremely cautious in its wording regarding this. Even with the outright lies Trump has been spewing, you will note that the word “lie” is not used, not by the mainstream press. The reason is that the word “lie” implies that Trump knows it’s a lie—and we can’t be 100% sure that he doesn’t in fact believe it. So they stick to the word “false.”

What’s new, really, is that the Trump administration is lying in a way that can easily be shown up. They produce numbers which are easily checked, and then call them “alternative facts.”

What has not been determined yet is whether this in fact makes a difference. After all, it was perfectly clear that Obama was not born in Kenya—but still, millions of people believe otherwise.

In addition, with so much distrust generated by conservatives over the accuracy of the media, it would not be surprising at all if the bare-faced nature of the Trump administration’s lies made no difference at all.

In the NBC interview, Conway not only called Spicer’s words “alternative facts,” but initially swatted away the accusation of falsehood by making a big deal about the fact that one reporter tweeted that Trump had MLK’s bust removed from the West Wing. It was not a lie—the bust had been moved and was hidden from view by people standing in front of it, and the reporter soon retracted the tweet—but Conway used that one claim to create a false equivalency, apparently somehow an excuse which relieved the Trump administration press secretary from any responsibility for reporting the truth.

And while that argument was as paper-thin as it was childish, it nevertheless likely resonated with Trump’s audience, and may have actually worked to a great degree.

Time will tell as to how Trump’s new approach to The Narrative works.

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