Thursday, March 09, 2017

Stay Sober While Reading Russia

So, just some place holders here on stuff that matters to me.

Did a US candidate for President collude with Russia in exchange for well-timed leaks of hacked information that would damage the opposition candidate?

If you watch Rachel Maddow, you might be easily convinced. Don't be.

Read Matt Taibbi and proceed with caution, realising that making outlandish accusations prior to having evidence destroys credibility. Trump is destroying credibility without anyone's help.

Konstantin Kilimnik is an interesting character.

So is JD Gordon.

The Financial Times makes one confident that this isn't being invented out of thing air.

Politico tells you it's unfolding as we get about our day jobs.

In your free time, read stuff by Masha Gessen (and here and especially here) and the reporting in The New Yorker, which makes one more sober in navigating the intoxicating headlines.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Xenophobia Is Xenophobia

This new travel ban does nothing to make me safer. Zero. It's just as xenophobic as the last one, but carefully re-written to acknowledge and avoid all the valid legal arguments that got it shot down on the first attempt.

But even with the re-writing, the new effort is still based on several absurd assumptions. First, and like the previous order, that there is no vetting, which is silly. Go ahead! If you don't believe me.
Given that there is vetting, why is the administration not talking about what is wrong with vetting we now have in place? I'll posit a guess. Because that assumption is bullshit. Anyone read any case studies about what went wrong in San Bernardino or Orlando that justify this approach? Me neither. FiveThirtyEight makes this point, among many others that highlight why the rationale for this whole thing is baseless.
...by narrowing the order so that current visa holders are not affected, the administration undermines its argument that the ban is needed because existing vetting procedures are insufficient to protect national security. Courts could interpret the decision to exempt current visa holders from the new restrictions as an admission that the status quo visa vetting procedures are adequate. “Leaving in current visa holders also undermines the argument that these nationals per se pose a unique threat, and that the current vetting process is inadequate to deal with this threat, which is their whole argument,” [David] Bier said (immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute).
The second assumption is that this is "vital" according to the Secretary of State. Why!?! Where is the threat coming from? Somalia, Iran, Libya, Syria, Sudan and Yemen? No, it isn't. Check. Or check the source of the data from the Cato Institute.

So why? Why is this so important for keeping me and my family safe? There is no answer. The policy is just taking advantage of six countries, most very poor and suffering from the most tragic recent history imaginable. They, unlike Iraq, won't put up a very strong fight. That's all. Just a meaningless piece of policy that sounds tough while doing nothing to address the real issue.

Also, all that huffing and puffing by the POTUS about how the first ban was so well done and correct is basically forgotten in this new version. (I guess we won't SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAGE!) The new version seems to be written by calculating hyper-partisans whose only real goal is to save face from their first effort. I'd leave it at that and assume that the whole thing will pass in four months, but I suspect that what they are really doing is pushing the lines of acceptability even further. Get this one through based on flawed assumptions and push even harder next time. For the life of me, I can see who that serves in the long-term.

The most concise rationale against the new executive order is by Amy Davidson in The New Yorker, Trumps Decisive New Travel Ban. She asks: "How much power does President Trump have to divide people, and how willing are Americans to play along?"

All to be seen. 

Nothing Is True Everything Is Possible

Well, first, everything would be a bit more true if Trump would release his tax returns, but that's not the main point of this post.

"Nothing is true and everything is possible" seems to be the tweeter-in-chief's ruling strategy, fuelled by Mark Levin and cheered on by everyone's favourite Fox News cheerleader for Trump. (It's also the title of a book by Peter Pomerantsev, whose written some good articles in the London Review of Books, including Putin's Rasputin, very relevant to all of this. But that gets a bit too off my clear preference to discuss Fox News).



I know it's a stupid question, but how the fuck does Hannity get away with this...again and again. Raving and ranting with no check or concern for presenting the enormous shadow of a doubt surrounding all of these issues.

"Russia is bullshit", or so I've heard many times over recent weeks from social media. A story invented out of thin air to deflect from an embarrassing loss by the Democrats.

Now, I am going to admit, there is no way to be sure that Obama did not illegally tap phones in Trump Tower. I cannot prove that Ted Cruz's father didn't kill Kennedy. I can't prove that something bad did not happen in Sweden last night. I will also admit that I cannot prove that 3-5 million people did not vote in the election, handing Clinton the popular vote. If pressed,  I also couldn't really prove that Obama was born in Hawaii, especially if trying to speak to someone who watches Infowars (Don't watch the video, just know that it exists -- Can you imagine that the POTUS calls the NYT "fake news" and tells Alex Jones "Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down"?)

And I will admit that if you look long enough and close enough, as it appears Stephen Hayes has done in The Weekly Standard, you can find some reasonable questions that deserve an answer.

But, let's focus on why Hayes thinks "March 4, 2017, will end up being a rather consequential day in the presidency of Donald Trump".

He points out that either:
  1. The president used thinly sourced media reports to float a conspiracy theory about his predecessor and he was wrong; or 
  2. Citing thinly sourced media reports, he overstated the details of an actual investigation into his activities or the activities of those around him, alleging presidential involvement without evidence; or
  3. Citing thinly sourced media reports, he accurately accused the former president of doing something highly illegal and accidentally uncovered what would surely be one of the biggest scandals in U.S. history. 
I think the two critical points are the repetition of the phrase "thinly sourced media reports" and that this is all in the "context" of a person who has, to put it as mildly as humanly possible, often states and tweets things that are untrue.

And, going back to everyone's favourite Fox News cheerleader for Trump, he seems to assume, like the President, that there are facts when there are none. The fact is there are questions. Which leads back to the really galling thing about this, Trump's tweet: "Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!"

It now appears, watching the rhetorical gymnastics of of the WH Press Secretary, that he didn't "just find out" anything. He read some thinly source media reports and accused Obama of McCarthyism. That's the only fact I can see verified in all this.

It's hard to pick a quote from this column, The Vertigo Presidency, in the Wall Street Journal, but here's a sample on the outcome of presidential tweet dumps:
Repeat these convulsions at the current rate of two or three a month, and the result could be a Seinfeld presidency—a show about nothing, only this time devoid of wit and sweetness.
If this is their take in that left wing rag, I ask again, how the fuck does Hannity get away with raving and ranting with no check or concern for facts, which he doesn't have.

I think Max Boot got at the heart of the issue in Foreign Policy, Trump Knows the Feds Are Closing In on Him:
It’s possible that Trump aides were wiretapped as part of a broader FBI probe into the connections between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin or were simply recorded, as had been the case with former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, during the routine monitoring of Russian officials. But there is no reason to think that Trump himself had been a target of the wiretapping, nor that Obama interfered in the lawful workings of the FBI.
...
There is a good reason why Trump and his partisans are so apoplectic about the prospect of a special counsel, and it is precisely why it is imperative to appoint one: because otherwise we will never know the full story of the Kremlin’s tampering with our elections and of the Kremlin’s connections with the president of the United States. As evidenced by his desperate attempts to change the subject, Trump appears petrified of what such a probe would reveal. Wonder why?
John Dean, Richard Nixon’s White House counsel in a The New Yorker podcast had some interesting comparisons with other scandals:
“If there’s any lesson from Watergate, or from Iran-Contra, or the Lewinsky affair,” he says, “it is that if you don’t have a problem, what you truly do is you say to the F.B.I. or whomever, ‘Come in and talk to my staff.’ ” He says that this is not how Trump officials are currently behaving. “Rather, they’re trying to knock down press reports that are getting the various whiffs of these investigations and putting them out there. That’s just not the way innocent people deal with these issues. I’m sorry!”
Let's all agree. I need to stop watching Hannity. Hayes is right that March 4, 2017 is a pretty consequential day. And only those who think Rafael Cruz killed Kennedy would put their money on the scenario that Trump accidentally uncovered one of the biggest scandals in US history.

Friday, February 24, 2017

"Enemy Of The People"

Terri Gross asked the most important question on Wednesday in her interview with Mark Mazzetti, the Washington investigations editor for The New York Times. The full interview is great, but it's the last question that really touched a nerve for me.
TG: ...My impression is because things have gotten so charged between President Trump and the press, because the president has made so many accusations that the press, including the failing New York Times, is - they're really purveyors of fake news, that the leakers are criminals, that this is all a terrible thing, I feel like I hear an extra note of caution in your voice in trying to be so fair and so trying to be exemplary and not offering anything that's opinion that goes beyond fact that you can document in a really neutral way. So I'm wondering - I guess my question is what impact is President Trump's accusations about the press having on you personally in your life as a reporter? 
How flipping true is that?! I'm not anything more than a concerned citizen, yet I feel that pressure Gross observes when Mazzetti speaks. I am really careful to check sources and try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I rarely believe anything unless I can read it on some generally right-of-centre media outlet. I'm asking myself: "Is this just left wing hyperbole?" This is exactly what the administration wants. Does he say a word about Info Wars or Breitbart? He openly insists that we watch Fox and Friends! Their not the enemy of the people, just everyone else.

Horse shit. Thank you for making the observation, Terri.

I thought about linking to one of Info Wars recent videos, but it makes me sick to hear it. I don't wish him on you.

Here is Mazzetti's answer to the question.
MM: I mean, you can't deny that the atmosphere now is, as you said, very, very charged where it's combative so quickly to such a great level that it's hard to know, you know, where it leads with the president, you know, citing individual news organizations as purveyors of fake news. You know, investigative reporting involves, you know, exposing things that are either exposing wrong doing or just shedding light on things that for various reasons powerful people have tried to keep secret. That creates tension. And so I guess what I'm saying is that the - you can't ignore that we are in this unprecedented climate now where the White House and the president himself actively questions the role of the press and has declared them enemies. That is the truth. But what I'm saying is we have to figure out - we have to respond the right way. And in my mind, it's continuing to do stories even if it's things that he might not like or the administration might not like.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Sweden, Rape And Fear Mongering

The issue of the "Sweden attack" should be taken seriously, as this article in The Guardian one year ago tries to do, with a warning about how mis-steps and cover ups will be used. What should not be taken seriously is a leader who is looking for any example he can find to justify his xenophobia.

Read this analysis on Slate, watch the film (on the previous link) and the Fox hyperbole, which is the apparent source of Trump's statements on Sunday. The President is way, way out of line if this is how he's going to rile up the crowd. Notice that the article featured at the sensationalised intro -- Sweden's rape rate under the spotlight --  to the film is about Julian Assange and rape culture, not about Muslims or immigration. Ah, details, right?! That article from 2012 (!!!) actually talks about a whole range of other issues that influence the rise in rapes, few of which are mentioned in the fear mongering short film.

I hope most people would agree that there is a big, big, big difference between what happened "last night in Sweden" and what I saw last night on Fox News about Sweden. It is extremely disturbing to feel, yet again, like Trump greatly welcomes bad news, just like in the recent Paris incident where nobody was hurt, in order to further stoke the fears of people about "a new radical islamist terrorist". Actually, it was a tourist from Egypt, and so far with no ties to other groups that I can see.

Ah, details, right?! 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Will The Real Shepard Smith Please Stand Up!

So, I get this video from a friend on Trump's press conference. I listen...

I am surprised! I wonder if this is really on www.foxnews.com. Yeah, it is, with a very different headline: "Trump slams press reports of 'chaos' in the White House". Same talking heads, different message. We call it good editing.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Crushing Empathy

On the basis of totally distorted information from the newly elected leader and his administration, we are crushing the very concept of empathy. On the basis of no proof that the US will be safer, we are -- it feels to me -- driving a knife through the heart of tolerance for people who have waited years, followed rules, in some cases risked their lives, and who are guilty of no other crime other than being born in certain jurisdiction.

Please listen to this week's story on This American Life and just try to convince me that "It’s Working Out Very Nicely". To hear this series of stories and then say were putting "America First" is gaspingly cruel.

From Act Four:
I don't believe that the stated purpose is the real purpose of this executive order. In the rationale pursuit of security objectives, you don't marginalise your expert security agencies and fail to vet your ideas through a normal interagency process. You don't target the wrong people in nutty ways when you are rationally pursuing real security objectives. When do you do these things? You do these things when you are elevating the symbolic politics of bashing Islam over any actual security interest. This will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do. 
It is a hard day when you find yourself wishing that this whole string of events stems only from gross incompetence.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Biased, Incorrect, Fake and Hate News

In my opinion, nothing matters more right now than getting rationale adults to speak with more discipline about these critical concepts. Failing to make a distinction is extremely dangerous, as I tried to explain before. But this problem seems to be getting worse.

Biased news: The New York Times has a bias. The Wall Street Journal has a bias. Examples are not needed as you can clearly see their bias on a daily basis on their Editorial pages. If you want to understand different sides, read both papers. But please do not conflate bias with "incorrect" or "fake".

Incorrect news: Journalists get it wrong, even in the NYT an WSJ. That's the point of a "Corrections" section in print media and why many online articles will have italic text at the bottom or an article that explain how and when an article was corrected. When you get it wrong, you correct the error and apologise. Example: Reporting that the bust of Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from Oval Office. One might argue that this was a reporter with bias also making a mistake. Not good at all, but pretty common. If one writes a lot of incorrect news, they usually don't last very long at the NYT or WSJ.

Fake news: The intentional effort to write or say something one knows is false. Recent examples include the story that a pizza restaurant was a den of child abuse run by Hillary Clinton. Another example is the story that Barack Obama was not born in the US. Another more recent example is that 3-5 million people voted illegally in the election. Chilling aspects of Fake news relate to the current White House not understanding any of these terms and dubbing anything it dislikes as "fake".

Hate news:  When a news outlet or person on social media continues to perpetuate incorrect information that by all appearances seems to promote xenophobic ideas. Recent examples, Fox tweeting that the suspect in Quebec murders of innocent people praying led to the arrest of a Moroccan man when the actual article linked to the tweet stated that the only suspect was a French Canadian who harboured right wing bias.

The tweet by @FoxNews:
The article linked to that tweet, which itself rightly identifies the "lone suspect":

What happens on social media as a result of Hate News:

And yes, several days on, this post remains available to the 132,000 followers of Cloyd Rivers.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Are We More Racist?

Meaningful discussion is hard to come by these days. We are invalidated before we open our mouths.

In a quest for more thoughtful tools, I've thought back to the Revisionist History podcast called The Lady Vanishes, which was broadcast long before the election. This is more about the concept of moral licensing in the context of women artists and leaders, but it is more relevant to me in thinking about Obama, race and what I consider jaw-dropping xenophobia coming out of the new President.

This blog post gives more resources on the topic: Masculinity, Inequality, And The 2016 Presidential Election.

Concise summary of moral licensing from the blog post:
...when people are presented with the opportunity to demonstrate that they are good, moral people, they are more apt to follow that opportunity by expressing support for inequalities that they might otherwise not be willing to admit to. That is, given the opportunity to demonstrate that we are “good” people, we’re more likely to engage in “bad” behavior. Social psychological research discovered that, for instance, we’re more likely to support racially prejudiced views after having been primed with an opportunity to say that we’d be willing to vote for a Black presidential candidate. When we demonstrate “good” moral qualities publicly, we feel more justified in supporting systems of inequality in public ways, too.
I think about this every time I read something on race these days.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Transparency Matters!

No, no, no! Absolutely no way in hell can she say the Trump campaign "litigated this all through the election, people didn't care". I want to see Trump's taxes! Words matter and conflicts of interest matter and if this becomes a partisan issue, we are absolutely a entering a world of no accountability. Transparency is needed to demonstrate that there are no serious conflicts of interest.

What he said many, many times is that they would be released once the audit is through. I am a patient man and, while I disagreed with his logic during the campaign, I have to accept that people voted for him without needing to see these prior to voting. But at no point did I hear anyone say that the election was meant to decide if people wanted to see them.

I am heartened to see that it has three times the signatures required in four days to get a response. Your Voice in the White House to let your opinion be heard.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Working With Trump?

The New Yorker Politics and More Podcast continues to have great discussion. This is a great exchange, particularly the discussion on whether to resist Trump in The Power of "No" (@08:24).

Jelani Cobb: One of the things that has been notable to me is that when Chuck Schumer talked about the areas that Democrats could work with Trump...

Dorothy Wickenden: And Sanders too, has indicated this to the rage of many of his followers...

JC: ...I think if was a little bit alarming because, in the kind of ethic of saying "everyone should be given a chance" -- that seems to function as if this is a normal political situation and I think it is anything but that. And finding areas in which you can work with the Trump administration, it seems almost as if you would reward bad behaviour and thereby possibly make it more entrenched.

DW: Democrats were outraged by Senator Mitch McConnell's successful plot to thwart Obama's legislative agenda from 2009 on. It just work in the House and the Senate. Should Democrats become the party of "No"? 

JC: I don't think it is so much the Party of No, because I don't think that Barak Obama and Donald Trump are analogous. I think we are look at something that is of its own kind and there is a real kind of concern -- Do you work with someone who has flouted the norms of releasing your tax returns? Someone who has politically mainstreamed white nationalism? Someone who has spoken in really troublesome and problematic ways about women and has a slate of really questionable views? I don't think that winds up being the same thing as obstructionism.