A Blog on Politics, Principles, and Uncovering the Narrative

Month: February 2017

Trump’s “Fake News” Claims are a Genuine Threat to Our Democracy

Trump’s Neo-Nazi “Fake News” tactic is modeled on the “lugenpresse” claims of WWII Germany. The Nazis adopted the term to promote their propaganda against the Jewish, communist, and later the foreign press. Any other free press that was not the voice of the Nazi Party was denounced as “false” and “biased.”

With this in mind, let’s tell our Alt-Right “so-called President” that he does not have the power to dictate what the free press can or cannot publish; let’s embrace the role of an independent press as an integral and essential part of a functioning democracy.

If the President wants better opinions of himself expressed in the media, he needs to start making policies that actually benefit us as a nation, and not just his wealthy campaign donors. Here are a few pointers:

  1. Start embracing the media, instead of shouting them down. The press can be a very powerful political ally when they are given the respect they deserve (and when you are not constantly criticizing them for offering new objectivity or a different perspective).
  1. Start building bridges, not walls. Walls indicate general paranoia and a sense of cultural superiority. As a nation of immigrants, the building of a wall is the height of hypocrisy, and is considered completely impractical by many experts. Moreover, targeting/restricting travel between seven specific nations (ALL of which are primarily Muslim, coincidentally!) will only serve to create more enemies in a region where we need more allies. Anyone can build a wall, but building friendships requires taking a much broader world view and applying patience and diplomatic skills, skills that our current president is sorely lacking.
  1. Learn the difference between facts and alternative facts. (A real challenge for our current Liar-in Chief, I know…). It seems everyone in the world has caught on except for the man in the Oval Office. His lies have become increasingly frequent and apparent, thanks, mostly, to the courage of our free press to research and investigate.
  1. Start saving Education, Social Security, Affordable Health Care, and Consumer/Environmental Protections, rather than decimating them. When taxpayers put their hard-earned money into these government programs, they expect you to improve/expand them by appointing the best and brightest to manage these agencies. Trump’s obvious cronies have failed almost every test of intellectual competence and genuine engagement. His choice of Cabinet members and agency leaders indicates his lack of respect for those agencies and the “common folk” that they are designed to serve.

These four points are the “Core Values” of our democracy, which is currently struggling to maintain its integrity (in spite of a self-serving president who takes daily steps to dismantle it). Let’s make sure that these attempts to butcher our democracy fail as an increasing number of us watch, learn, and see what is actually taking place in this country.


How to Make Numbers Lie: 14 Million Democrats Did Not “Leave the Party”

There is a meme going around discussions amongst liberals lately: 14 million people have left the Democratic Party since the nomination of Hillary Clinton. It is chiefly being used by those who want to split off and form a new party, feeling that the DNC is so corrupt as to be absolutely irredeemable.

Is the number real? And where did it come from?

The answers to those questions are, “No,” and, “From someone’s ass.”

Okay, contempt for those who don’t respect logic aside, the actual answers to those questions are, “The number is ‘real’ in the sense that it exists, but not in that it is accurate or meaningful,” and, “It came from a dishonest misreading of a Gallup poll.”

The poll is a Gallup tracking poll which measures party affiliation by asking respondents, “In politics, as of today, do you consider yourself a Republican, a Democrat or an independent?”

The 14 million number comes from taking the poll results for those who responded “Democratic” from October 5-9 2016 (32%), and then from the same result for January 4-8, 2017 (25%). October was a temporary peak, January a low dip. The difference between the two is 7%.

A recent tally of registered voters came up with the number 200,000,000. 7% of 200 million is 14 million. Presto!

The conclusion: People are disgusted with the Democratic Party. Hillary was such a toxic candidate, party numbers are at an all-time low. We should form a new party!

Well, isn’t that accurate? It’s a Gallup poll—they’re respectable. The 200 million figure is reliable. Why shouldn’t the conclusion be accurate?

This is an excellent example of the old saying, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” Let me explain.

Here’s a graphic representation of the numbers that were used:

Looks pretty clear-cut, right? However, let’s also look at the numbers from the same poll, this time between December 2012, after Obama won re-election, and November of 2013, almost a year later:

Wow! Obama was toxic, too! After he was re-elected, party affiliation dropped from 38% down to 28%! That’s an even bigger drop than now! A whole 20 million people fled the party in a massive exodus, disgusted by Obama and the Democrats!

You remember that, right? The mass exodus of 20 million Democrats in 2012? It was like Moses and the Hebrews leaving Egypt! Huge masses bringing all that they could carry or put onto the backs of camels, and all that. Let our people go!

No, of course you don’t remember that, because it didn’t happen.

Nor did 12 million Democrats flee the party after Obama was elected in 2008. Nor did 14 million flee after Democrats retook Congress in the 2006 midterms. Nor did 18 million flee after Kerry lost in 2004. And yet, I could show similar charts taken from that same poll which show exactly that happening.

So, if I can show charts which have a grand total of 78 million people leaving the party, how is it that the Democratic Party has anyone left in it at all?

The answer: the same way climate change deniers claimed that there was a “pause” in global temperature increases. That is to say, by reading the numbers dishonestly.

Here’s the whole chart, from 2004 to 2017. Note that time each tick is a new poll, but not an equal measure of time, to the time axis is a little distorted:

As you can see, the chart is packed with peaks and valleys. The red line at the end is the data from which the 14 million number comes from. There is a trendline in green, but the ends are distorted by the data being cut off; the actual trend leading to the present is truthfully unknown, as we don’t know where the next number is, and the final low result prejudices the trend.

If I take a 2-, 4-, or 6-month excerpt from anywhere the chart, moving from a peak to a valley, or a valley to a peak, I could make any claim I damn wanted. Obama brings tens of millions to the party! Tens of millions depart the Democrats in disgust at Obama! Hillary is a party hero! She’s a monster! People love the DNC! People hate the DNC!

This is what the climate change deniers did: they selectively cherry-picked a high peak, and then a low that cam years later, and—voila!—no climate change! Same thing. Liars figure.

Hell, the margin of error on polls like the one Gallup takes is usually about +/-3%—meaning that the margin of error is potentially 12 million people!

So, if the Draft Bernie/Splinter Party crowd were to state the facts honestly, this would be their claim:

If we ignore the larger trend and selectively pick our data, we can claim that 14 million people left the party, with a margin of error of 12 million people. Except that most of those people will likely “return” in the next issue of the poll numbers.

See, that doesn’t have the right zing to it. Better to just lie:

14 million people left the Democratic Party! The Democratic Party is dead!

So, what’s the real takeaway from the poll? Well, first of all, people tend to get excited about the party before elections, and less so afterwards, so a dip is expected. The most recent number is a bigger drop than normal—though not unprecedented—but the real story will be told over the next few years, as enough data comes in to make a reliable assessment over time.

Hell, considering that the latest data point came before Trump’s inauguration, considering that since Trump took office there has been massive protests by liberals, and that Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren have been putting up a very public fight… it is not inconceivable that the next poll could show an unusually high surge.

But we can’t say yet. The data is not in. Until it is, the short-term numbers are simply meaningless.

As is the claim that 14 million people “left” the party.

Playing the Ref: Power Version

Trump accused the media of intentionally not reporting terror attacks:

It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.

When the press very rightly scoffed at the idea, the Trump administration released a list of terror attacks it said were “not sufficiently covered.”

Included on the list: the terror attacks in San Bernadino, Orlando, and Paris. All attacks which received boundless coverage here and all over the world.

Not included on the list: Dylan Roof, clearly a terrorist. But he was a white supremacist, and we don’t want to hurt Steve Bannon’s feelings, do we? Essentially, all instances of right-wing terrorism were not on Trump’s list. Similarly, Robert Dear, the terrorist who shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic was not included. In effect, Trump is under-reporting terrorism in the very document he accuses media of doing so.

True, the list covers other attacks not covered as much, but, as it turns out, for good reason: in some cases, no one was hurt; in others, the link to “terrorism” was incidental, like some nut case wounding someone and saying he was “inspired” by ISIS and nothing more. Some incidents on Trump’s list were not even terror attacks at all, but just gruesome murders.

But does Trump have a point? Should there be days of huge headlines every time a police officer is stabbed by someone in Perth who says he watched ISIS videos on YouTube?

The question kind of answers itself, doesn’t it? Of course they shouldn’t—but Trump would love it if they did. Why? Because Trump feeds on free-floating terror, anger, hatred, and doubt caused not only by terrorism, but by all manner of reporting in the right-wing media.

Trump grabbed on to this fear from the start, talking about Mexican rapists and murderers coming up here, stealing our jobs and causing mayhem. He got instant attention, normally the kind that kills a candidacy—but so many millions of right-wingers had been so conditioned to believe and fear that exact message—a message they had been told was being suppressed by godawful PC moguls in the Liberal Media—that they welcomed such a frank expression of the fears they had for so long been harboring.

That’s Trump’s rocket fuel: make people afraid, make them hate, then ride that all the way to the bank.

So, of course Trump wants to goad the media into sensationalizing every such violent act as terrorism with the same breathless panic headlines we saw on 9/11; it can only help him, and by saying they’re holding back, he gets to both add to the general sense of fear and accuse the media of a grand conspiracy. It’s the same kind of tactic the right wing has executed for decades now: playing the ref. Loudly accuse the media of favoring the left or doing other things they don’t like, knowing that the media, wanting to avoid appearing biased, will change their coverage to be more favorable for them.

It has worked in the past. Now? Trump’s a little bit too ham-handed; I have the feeling that the media will ignore his criticisms. But not completely.

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Bad People, Bad Intentions

I know he’ll never read it. Few people ever will.

Still, it was fun.

The Slow-Burning Fire

Many people are worrying about an impending coup. If you have been having that feeling, then it’s time to re-orient yourself.

The coup is already happening; in fact, it started a few decades ago, and has been moving along like a slow-burning Reichstag fire. Trump may simply be hurrying its pace somewhat, making the mythical frog in boiling water a little more aware of what’s happening. But the point that many are missing is that Trump is not the threat; he’s trying to ride the threat, but the real danger is the ongoing conservative redefinition of our country. If we allow conservatives to hold Trump as separate and at a distance rather than recognizing that he is simply taking control of their vehicle, we invite even more disaster.

This has been happening in the Supreme Court, as the right wing of that establishment has been slowly rewriting the constitution and the standards for legal reinterpretation. The Second Amendment is now legally something completely different from what it was originally intended; corporations are now enshrined constitutionally as super-citizens, their money granted the exalted status of “free speech.” In the name of “Originalism,” the original shape of the constitution is being rewritten. The standards for that reshaping have been defined by Scalia and his fellow travelers as nothing less than the camel’s nose under the tent; for example, Scalia established that all one needs to deny the existence of the separation of church and state is to point out that it has been done on a regular basis, so the original intent is no longer relevant. For a new legal precedent to be set, all you need to do is point to a violation of an existing principle. Every time this happens, the context and details are too complex for popular consumption, so it just gets normalized that much more easily.

This has been happening in the Executive, which over the years has eroded from a bastion of leadership to little more than a figurehead, with the real power being behind the throne—all while the office gains more and more power. It’s not who gets elected as much as who is pulling the levers; do you think that Trump is writing any of those executive orders and memoranda? People like Bannon are the real power, like Cheney and Rumsfeld were for Bush, as they and a similar crowd were for Reagan. An actor, a dunce, and a carnival madman—the precedent has been set that the office holder doesn’t even need to be smart, just likable. Meanwhile, the powers behind him move to make the office all the more powerful, presiding over an ever more dominant intelligence establishment that bows to their rule, and a military grown to gross proportions.

This has been happening in Congress, where conservatives have made hyper-partisanship, obstruction, control by monied interests, and disdain for facts the new normal. Having moved in virtual lockstep, Republicans have shown that as long as they are in power, the other party is irrelevant and to be ignored, while as long as they are out of power, monolithic obstructionism is the norm. They openly flagellate themselves before powerful billionaires for favor and backing. More significantly, democracy itself has been reshaped; through radical redistricting and pervasive voter suppression have allowed a smaller and smaller minority to maintain power and control over the legislatures at the federal and most state levels. Not just in the presidency, but also in Congress, almost as a norm now, Democrats get more votes, but Republicans win the elections. Over the past 25 years, both Republican presidents lost the popular vote, and for some time now, Republicans in the House have gained fewer votes than Democrats, despite maintaining a lock on the majority in power.

This has been happening in the media, as we slowly saw the likes of Murrow, Cronkite, Woodward & Bernstein, and so many other legends fall into distant memory. The change started with the rise of the angry popular punditry, which gave way to the advent of Fox News, which in turn presided over the rise of Internet right-wing media empire, which defines for so many what is “real.” All have, for decades now, eschewed the principles of objectivity and even adherence to fact, and have normalized the practice of calling bias and propaganda “news.” The now-prevalent “fake news” is hardly new. In the 80’s, the conservative economic media somehow allowed the bizarrely nonsensical “Laffer Curve” to somehow gain respect; back in the 90’s, Rush Limbaugh made everyone believe that trickle-down worked because Reagan cut taxes and doubled revenues (neither one fully true, and the implied conclusion absolutely false). Such myths and misnomers started to become the norm. The conservative Narrative now holds sway over “truthiness.” Anti-war liberals became soldier-haters, spitting on returning vets, despite nothing of the sort ever having happened; the Narrative is so powerful, it creates whole episodes and events that never happened and the people remember it as if they saw it happen themselves, like crowds of Muslim immigrants cheering 9/11 on rooftops in New Jersey. We have new definitions of classes: the wealthy are job creators, while unions are corrupt; Christians, whites, and men are persecuted, while minorities, gays, and women demand “special privileges” forced by political correctness. Late-term abortions, Feminazis, welfare queens, violently rampaging immigrants stealing our jobs—all mythical, but all now accepted by most as either fact, or something close to it.

This has been happening in education, with a public education under attack by those who favor privatization, greater reach of religious schools, and who despise the concept of critical thinking. A colleague at my university was shocked the other day when an American student proclaimed that college was overblown because “we need more workers, not thinkers.” Remember back when Rick Santorum called Obama a “snob” for wanting everyone to have a shot at higher education? He said the same thing—we need more people who work with their hands, more garbage collectors and carpenters. Critical thinking, he told us, is just something that erodes our religious solidarity. We’re slowly being deprived of a solid educational system, as fewer and fewer of our citizens are even capable of critical thinking.

This has been happening in our bedrock principles, as we see them torn down one by one. The freedom of the press is under particular fire now, after having been weakened by a sustained cultural assault over the decades. We now accept the doctrine of First Strike, which was once unthinkable. We accept the policy of torture more and more. We know that the government routinely violates our Fourth Amendment rights, monitoring us and reading our correspondence, and we simply accept it as a given. Walls against religious establishment crumble, removing the only institutional protection we have against actual, not imagined persecution of religious and philosophical minorities, as we see our Muslim citizens slowly becoming second-class citizens or worse. We see less and less the principles of Democracy practiced, fewer and fewer of the true concerns of the founders respected.

This has been happening in politics in general, as money has shamelessly come to control every aspect of government, and not only corruption but even foreign intervention has become normalized—every time it happens and is not quashed, it becomes something that we just accept and live with.

Trump and those behind him did not start this. All they did was step on the gas. So much so that the whole ungainly structure is rocking and buckling somewhat, but nevertheless is rushing along in another surge, not quite as radical as the one following 9/11, but radical nonetheless.

The path to dictatorship has been slowly blazed over the last generation, as a new reality takes form. The question is not whether it is happening, but rather whether we will recognize it, like the mythical frog in boiling water, and have the power to overcome the sheer force of all of those who have been sold on the idea that it’s what makes America great again.

Perhaps Trump is a blessing in disguise; it’s possible that he’ll make it far more clear how far our system has been compromised.

However, it is just as likely that conservatives will use Trump as a way to claim that since the system is broken, it must be reshaped even more, pushing us even closer to a real dictatorship, just one that we are even less aware of.

And that is the real take-away: Trump may be vying for the position of dictator, but he’s not the real threat. The patiently constructed conservative push to reshape our country, led by the Republican Party, pushed by the right-wing media, directed via the Narrative—that’s the threat. Not Trump.

The greatest blunder we could make would be to fail to tie what Trump is doing directly and irrevocably to the Republican Party and the conservative movement in general.

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