Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Art of the Lie

Josh Marshall presented an interesting timeline that merges the Comey dinner with Trump at the White House Jan. 27th into the Yates warning timeline:

But who asked for the dinner? From the transcript:

Trump, with his typical elusiveness, begins with the statement that Comey asked for the dinner, but when forced to confront whether or not that is true, Trump backpeddles to "a dinner was arranged". Typical Trump pivot to the passive voice.

Trump follow the typical patterns followed by inveterate liars and this is one example.

Start with a deliberate patent lie, but bury it in a statement about something else- why Trump made the statement in Comey's dismissal that Comey told him three times he is not under investigation. (Three times? There is that Trump pattern of repetition for emphasis. In Trump's case, lying all the time, how do you make yourself convincing? It happened not once, not twice, but three times ladies and gentlemen!".

Trump: Uh. I had a dinner with him. He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on. We had a very nice dinner at the White House.

Holt: He asked for the dinner?

Trump: A dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner. And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head. And I said I'll you know consider and we'll see what happens. But we had a very nice dinner. And at the time he told me you are not under investigation.

Now the timeline and commentary from TPM:

January 20th: Trump inaugurated as the 45th President.

January 24th: Michael Flynn interviewed by the FBI at the White House, reportedly with no lawyer present.

January 25th: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates briefed by the FBI on interview with Michael Flynn.

January 26th: Yates visits the White House to give White House Counsel Donald McGahn a ‘heads up’ about concerns that Flynn had been compromised by his dealings with and deceptions about contacts with Russian government officials.

January 27th: Yates returns to the White House for further discussions with McGahn.

January 27th: Trump has private dinner with James Comey at the White House.

An additional detail is that various published reports, in addition to statements by Sean Spicer, say that McGann briefed Trump about the Yates’ discussion shortly after he met with her. That would appear to be on January 26th, though I’m not sure we know for a certainty that it was within hours of the first meeting rather than the second.

We need a lot more information. The most immediate question is: what had the President been told when he sat down with Comey for the loyalty dinner? Assuming Comey’s version is accurate and Trump requested the dinner, when did the request come? Did he contact Comey on the 26th or 27th or earlier?

It seems highly probable that Trump went into the dinner with Comey having just learned about the DOJ warnings about Flynn, indeed that the FBI was investigating Flynn. We can’t know for sure. But it seems possible that the dinner request came after Trump learned of these things and may indeed have been triggered by that new information.

There are many questions.

Following this TPM post, Comey associates came forward to say that the dinner was a "last minute thing." We can assume the dinner was all about the loyalty question. Some commentators have tried to distinguish between small lies and big lies recently because there are some big damaging lies and some lies seem small. But with this administration, we have the big liar at the top and the enablers within the White House advisers who join in by lying on behalf of the president and thus become a part of the conspiracy of lying. In this environment and with this crew holding power, there is no such thing as a small lie.

The press had a responsibility during the 2016 campaign to be much tougher on Trump's constant lying and fell short, partly due to  their understanding of "fair and balanced" reporting, but also because they had no rule book that covers this situation. They are great when bombs are falling all around them in a war zone, but when one side in a political campaign is dropping lies all around them, they don't know what to do.

Shouldn't a member of the White House pool of correspondents be willing to take the hit by asking Spicer or Huckabee Saunders the question: "The president has been caught in many lies that have been well documented. Does the president believe he can continue to lie constantly throughout his term? Or would that just fall flat?

Unfortunately, history tells a sad story. In 2008, AP reporter Glen Johnson challenged candidate Mitt Romney on the campaign trail in the middle of a lie. The contentious (though not all that heated) exchange was the big campaign news of the day. Columbia Journalism Review found that there was No Need to Apologize.

Unlike Trump, Romney mixed lies into his campaign narrative the way a mother mixes bitter medicine into apple sauce for her toddler. The apple sauce is awful, but it still tastes like apple sauce and you can legitimately call it apple sauce. In other words, Romney was not all about the lies the way Trump is all about the lies. But, as I argued throughout 2016, the Trump phenomenon is a logical result of Republican presidential campaign tactics and strategy.

In that 2008 exchange Romney is interrupted before he can finish his statement, but he is saying "I don’t have lobbyists running my campaign. I don’t have lobbyists that are tied to my- " when AP writer Glen Johnson interrupted. Romney pivots during the argument with Johnson to back away from the unfinished "I don't have lobbyists tied to my [campaign]" to the firmer, but still shaky ground "I don't have lobbyists running my campaign" for which he had at least plausible, though not necessarily credible argument.

The point is that Trump was able to emerge from the field of 17 Republicans because he was the most able and willing to take underhanded, but not unheard of Republican tactics to the extreme. Today our democracy suffers as a result.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Party of Trump 2017 Version

Krugman hits the mark with today's piece on Republican complicity in the destruction of democracy.

As he has noted in the past, the Republican party today holds power in part by making allies of the wealthy and mostly white working class citizens. The interests of the two groups diverge on major issues like health care, which has required a pattern of lies and obfuscation in Republican campaigns and government. Trump won in 2016 by carrying the obfuscation to an extreme combined with demonization of his opponent. We are witnessing the continued lying tactics to maintain power. Are you being "too pessimistic"? Sean Hannity's "Question of the Day" today is "Should the FBI reopen its investigation into Hillary Clinton's private server?". Doubling down just like it's 2016. After that seed is planted in Trump's head, with his continued consolidation of power through firings, threats, and intimidation, the only independent prosecutor or independent investigation we can expect is of Hillary Clinton. Because that is what they do.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The New York Times with Gloves On

The New York Times has a relatively new feature "Right and Left: Partisan Writing You Shouldn't Miss" introduced with this tag:
"The political news cycle is fast, and keeping up can be overwhelming. Trying to find differing perspectives worth your time is even harder. That’s why we have scoured the internet for political writing from the right and the left that you might not have seen."
NYT has sought more feedback on this feature than is normally their custom, so here goes.

Most of us do our own curating of articles from around the internet - much of that comes from Twitter suggestions from pundits we like.  This NYT feature could introduce us to new and valuable sources.  What could be wrong with that?

Well, nothing really, but I wonder about the perspective that prompted this.
Is this another case of both sidesism?

The logic of both sidesism:

1. Objective journalism is the goal.
2. To be objective, journalism must be fair and balanced.
3. Based on 1 and 2, every issue in politics has two equal and opposite sides deserving of equal amounts of respect. Similarly, the Democrat and the Republican in a campaign deserve equal treatment.
4. Balance in a political news article about a campaign requires that any story that suggests a negative conclusion about one candidate must cite similar observations that can be made about the opposing candidate.

Proper context gets lost in that environment. Underhanded political tactics and lies (what NYT sometimes called "Mr. Trump's mischief") are left to thrive.

The biggest problem with journalistic false balance/false equivalence is that Republican strategists are expert at using these journalistic shortcomings to their advantage.

The strategy of deny/deflect/distract/accuse was finally widely recognized following the 2016 election campaign because Trump was such an extreme case, but his methods were merely an extension of existing Republican strategy.

Virtually every statement by Trump and any House Republican about the health care law now needlessly repeats the refrain "Obamacare is such a disaster". Spicer's stand-in today, Huckabee Saunders did the same thing. This art of repetition of a campaign slogan as if it were an objective statement of fact,  left unchallenged - or even when challenged --- leaves lasting subliminal effects on the willing listener and distracts from the specific goals of the legislation. Republicans never have to talk about their goals for health care if they can just repeat that refrain.

One reason these lies and distractions are subjected to only minor challenge on-the-spot is the journalists clinging to their "objectivity" based on the "fair and balanced" approach.

So I am left wondering if the NYT curating articles for us comes from a perspective of - "We, the NYT, know that you are probably intensely partisan in these polarized times, but here are articles from "the other side" that may help you to learn about what others think and maybe change your mind on some issues. "

The Times feature includes articles from "the Center". Under this framework, "the Center" (not to be confused with "the Center" to which the Soviet spies on "The Americans" report) represents a position that is granted a leg up on credibility by not being either demonstrably left or right -- but that is not how truth and understanding work.

I have written previously on this, as in Normal Times and For Propaganda 101 we need Journalism 2.0. and "Waiter There's False Balance In My Soup" and "To Boldly Go Where No Journalist Has Gone Before".

My first reaction to this "Partisan Writing You Shouldn't Miss" is not that it is a bad thing. But it is an exercise in avoidance. Long ago, in the early 2000's Fox News showed itself to be a major force on the political scene. Posing as a straight news source, Fox functioned during the Bush administration as an instrument of the State and, during the Obama administration, as an opponent, in both cases, willing to promote a point of view with lies and distortions. That was a big news story with implications for American politics that the Times avoided to confront directly in context in order to bend over backward to sustain the appearance of objectivity. Gloves off would have been better.

Monday, May 1, 2017

More Chess than Checkers

Fact Checkers Can't Keep Up With Trump Lies recounts the Washington Post lie count for DJT since inauguration day. But as we said in In a Sane World, it's not enough to say"When the journalist conducting the interview fails to challenge him[Trump] on his lies, they subtly validate the claims Trump makes in their reporting." True, but the man is a proven pathological liar who has leveraged the power of lying to enormous political advantage. Fact checking is a necessary, but insufficient tool of journalism - insufficient because of the necessary delays required which permit the liar to control the narrative and move on to the next fabricated story - the next big lie.

Devotion to the truth means that every statement DJT makes that the journalist does not know immediately with certainty to be true is fair game to be challenged as questionable at best. No journalist can be expected to recognize every Trump lie immediately. Only then can the playing field in the battle between truth and lies be leveled. One method would be to do an immediate internet search during the interview. Sure that slows down the discussion, but is there an alternative?

If DJT (or Spicer, his enabler in WH briefings) objects, another approach is for the journalist to walk out of the room in disgust, rather than letting the lies just sit there.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Springtime for Spicer

Spicer's indefensible Hitler analogy -- to paraphrase "even Hitler was not this bad..." was the clear result of reverse engineering - "What can we possibly say to explain the complete US policy backflip on Syrian intervention that occurred within a matter of days?" Well, Assad has shown himself over a period of years to be an unbelievably horrible mass murderer, so what changed? Bombing a hospital? No, as horrible as it is, that is not new. Dropping chemical weapons - OK, let's go with that one, but, as awful at that is, how is that so much worse than the preceding horrors perpetrated by Assad?  We need to say this is much worse, so let's say Assad is even worse than Hitler. Sometimes, when Spicer bumbles in his responses, one gets the impression he is uncomfortable in this role - lying and exaggerating, but pretending he has no awareness of his own behavior.  The problem here is that we have a president who has relied exclusively on tactics to gain advantage throughout his working lifetime and who has no relevant knowledge and no interest in the requirements of his job and is determined to avoid hiring people who know what they are doing. We can expect continued reliance on tactics without a strategy.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Nuclear Option

Today we are seeing the ability to filibuster Supreme Court justices in the Senate disappear, the so-called "nuclear option". That was easy. Actually, the decision by Mitch McConnell last February not to allow the Senate to consider any nominee of President Obama, no matter how moderate, was the real nuclear option, in terms of momentousness, but the name was already taken.

Given the continued erosion of the comity of the Senate over recent decades, we are better off dispensing with the supermajority requirement and possibly other Senate prerogatives (judicial holds) which only function well within a spirit of cooperation. The sooner the system falls under its own weight, the sooner we may be able to achieve comprehensive reform of the federal government, including electoral reform. That can only happen if Democrats gain substantial power at the national level, which only happens if there is strong negative reaction to Trump and the Republicans because for Republicans, the current system is working just fine, thank you.

It's Not Me, It's You

With the ascendance of Donald Trump and Republicans in power in Congress, we are nevertheless experiencing a rash of tactics denying personal responsibility, which is fascinating given the party's emphasis of personal responsibility as a talking point on government policy.

Trump famously denies responsibility and deflects attention with a lie. A lie can more powerfully distract from reasonable discourse than a true statement. True statements lead to meaningful discussion, which is a place Trump shuns. Blaming Obama is his favorite sport.

McConnell blames Democrats for the his failure to permit the Senate to consider any Obama Supreme Court appointee in 2016, saying, to paraphrase - "Does anyone believe he Democrats would have done anything differently if the roles had been reversed?". Actually, yes, I believe they would have held hearings on the appointee of a Republican president, but there is no way to prove what would have happened in that alternate universe. McConnell's tactic distracts from meaningful discussion. No one in the press seems to ask him whether he is concerned about the destructive effect of his actions. His claim amounts to - "The Democrats are bad and I am just as bad.". Seems to merit more discussion of where that leads for a society. And for some reason, what the Democrats would have done in the imaginary world is ripe for discussion, but just before the November 8th election which HRC was expected to win, Republican leaders -Cruz and McCain - were talking about maintaining a Supreme Court of eight justices, or even fewer, if Hillary Clinton became president.

Finally we have Devin Nunes recusing himself from the House Intelligence Committee investigation following a series of shenanigans, but is he responsible for his own bizarre and compromising actions? No, he bears no accountability and blames anyone but himself:

“Several leftwing activist groups have filed accusations against me with the Office of Congressional Ethics. The charges are entirely false and politically motivated, and are being leveled just as the American people are beginning to learn the truth about the improper unmasking of the identities of U.S. citizens and other abuses of power."

Nunes scores a double, or maybe a triple or quadruple there - (1) blaming 'leftwing activist groups', not his own suspicious activities AND (2) deflecting attention to the "unmasking" issue, which (3)  is itself a concocted distraction from the Trump tweet on 'wiretapping' which (4) is itself a distraction from the Trump team's extensive ties to the country formerly known as the Soviet Union.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Is a Statement a Lie if It is Deliberately Misleading?

Republican strategists understand the power of narrative and the importance of controlling the narrative. The investigation of Russian ties to Trump and the Trump campaign demand a counternarrative. Simply challenging the developing narrative of Trump's strong and longstanding ties to Russia is not enough. That would put Republicans on the defensive, like Hillary Clinton and Democrats in the Benghazi hearings. Like Hillary Clinton  and her email server.

No, despite the Russian attack on American democracy in 2016, Republican members are asserting their authority in Congressional hearings today by pursuing the narrative that leaks of classified information are the crime worth investigating - that somehow the constant stream of lies by the president are 'OK', but the leaks are politically motivated to create a false narrative about the current regime (accuse your opponent of the underhanded tactics that you yourself are employing)

And so, as USA Today reports,  Trey Gowdy presented Comey with a list of individuals including Obama and former members of his administration and asked one-by-one whether they "had access" to the information that was leaked. Comey dutifully answered "Yes" to each one.

Shortly thereafter, Sean Spicer opened his press briefing with the announcement that Comey said that prominent officials in the Obama administration could have leaked the information about Russian ties. But Spicer's statement strongly implies Comey offered up a statement to this effect, not that Comey responded "Yes" in general terms based on the office of each named individual. So, yes, deliberately misleading statements are lies.

Once again, the Republicans demonstrate their ability to control the narrative with a pattern of:

Deny - deny the Russian connection to Trump
Deflect - deflect attention to various members of the Obama administration
Distract - distract by raising a different issue that is completely irrelevant, in this case leaks of information
Accuse - accuse the persons to whom the spotlight is deflected of the wrongdoing concocted as a distraction.

Deny, deflect, distract, accuse. It works every time! The accusation against a yet to be determined high-ranking Obama official creates a false equivalence between the Obama administration and the Trump administration - you see, these are all just unproven allegations.

Feel better now?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Normal Times

In "Sexist Political Criticism Finds a New Target: KellyAnne Conway" the NYT makes an interesting editorial decision - placement of this piece in the straight news section rather than as opinion. Yet the piece reads as an opinion piece with its strongly expressed views of good and bad behavior. '
The Times rates this article News because, in their view, Times readers are mostly pro-Hillary and anti-sexism as is the Times. So if they go against the grain of their own usual thinking and that of their readers in a piece, it qualifies as news rather than opinion. The piece is a hit job on "the liberals" - really men, who are misbehaving. Sort of a "you are not as liberal as you think you are" or "you are no better than they are."
So what is so bad about this?
The Times has set formulas for news articles in the realm of politics. The standard formula is, in order to prove that you are not being unfair, you need to balance pros and cons of one "side" with equal and opposite pros and cons of the other "side". You are not a reporter. You are not even an arbiter. You are more like a mother being fair to all of her children, no matter what, seeking balance at all times.
But forced balance is not a path to objective depiction of reality. Forced balance leads only to balance, not understanding. If opposing sides are not equal, that is, different in some important way, it leads to drawing false equivalence and distraction from meaningful context - what is really happening.

Forced balance would have meant looking for the good in Hitler, to take an extreme example.

The striking thing about the KellyAnne Conway/Hillary Clinton equation article is just how strongly the NYT adheres to its balance formula for the News section.  "Misogyny, it seems, remains a bipartisan exercise." is one line in the article that screams out - OK, this is news, because we are being balanced.
The arguments in the article become strained and twisted several times, usually in a moment seeking balance.

"But she noted that while Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, is portrayed as an “evil genius” who cannily promotes images of an America at risk from immigrants and foreign competitors, Ms. Conway is depicted as “crazy” for devising and promoting similar messages."

Why in the world are we comparing Bannon and Conway, who have played different roles?  Bannon is almost exclusively the strategist behind the scenes and Conway frequently a spokesperson (until recent weeks). Bannon never needing to justify the actions of this administration, but Conway on the spot, answering tough questions like "Why does the president lie all the time?" similar to Spicer (until recently).  And who exactly has been calling Breitbart "an evil genius"? For that matter, who has been calling KAC a "slut" as the article states. How about naming those sources instead of generalizing in the passive voice. Poor editing. And KAC is called "crazy" for promoting "alternative facts". Isn't that reason enough?

Maybe a more on-point article would say that Conway invites contempt to the point that her critics find themselves behaving in ways they would normally find contemptible. "But these are not normal times." as the Times likes to say in a throw-away line that leaves a better explanation up to you, the reader.

Ultimately, in order to accurately report the news in context, the NYT will need to adjust their standard formulas for reporting so that the News section (this one is in the U.S. subsection) permits fair, accurate, objective reporting which, when politics is involved, does not require forced balance as the definition of objectivity.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Trumpian Way

The Trumpian Way dictates a single approach to questions about possible wrongdoing. Never clear the air. Always obfuscate thus:

If called on to investigate, react with indignation.
DENY any possible wrongdoing.
DEFLECT negative attention to a different person.
DISTRACT attention by raising an irrelevant issue.
ACCUSE someone who is an opponent or even an impartial judge of wrongdoing, preferably by tying the person on whom you deflected attention to the issue or action which you raised as a distraction.

Trump's accusation that President Obama had him wiretapped falls into this category along with two added benefits. Backed into a corner, Trump is lashing out using false victimization and the big lie. His accusation is so extreme - in the category of "if it is true, then President Obama did something illegal and horrible." That serves to distract from - what a second, you are just changing the subject away from yourself. Always blaming others when things go wrong, but happy to take credit you do not deserve.

Somehow, the argument is that Obama, no longer president, and the Democrats, need to be investigated over and over again based on an unsubstantiated charge that they may have done something illegal and there is somehow urgency, despite Democrats holding no measurable power in the federal government. But the possibility that Trump and his team are corrupt and beholden to Russia now and on a continuing basis, potentially a grave crisis for American democracy, should not be investigated with any urgency. Just trust us. Why? Well because we are always ready with accusations against anyone who says we need to be investigated because the evidence is compelling.

We also have:

Trump's technique makes use of false equivalence. An investigation of those out of power can never be as urgent as an investigation of those holding all the power.

An urgently required investigation of the current administration - urgent exactly because they are the current administration is made to appear at least equal in urgency to a proposed investigation of the prior administration who no longer hold any power. And the accusation functions as intimidation.

Intimidate the press by berating them in the daily briefing. Intimidate the press by freezing out organizations who are defined as "unfriendly" because they are not overtly friendly like Breitbart and Fox. Intimidate individual companies by singling them out for criticism.


Members of the administration including Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions delayed coming forward about lies until events forced their hand. Stories are vague and changing. Memories are foggy, even of events a few months ago.

The president and his administration behave like they are guilty of major wrongdoing that they want to conceal. This permanent campaign against American values and national interest can only succeed if Republican leaders continue to facilitate the destruction of our democratic institutions.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Substance Free

Republicans have long used investigations as a political tactic. The subject of the investigation automatically appears guilty or at least compromised. The original matter of investigation may yield absolutely nothing, but enough information is uncovered to start up a new investigation. New investigation, but same person is the target. Ask anyone named Clinton.
With Republicans in absolute power, the tables are turned. The preferred target of investigation remains HRC, but a miasma of concerns surrounds DJT. What to do? Double down on HRC? That was the plan if she had been elected, but now, maybe too transparent a tactic.
If you are a Republican in Congress thrilled with finally possessing power to dismantle the federal government - "see, we told you the federal government does not work, except for the military" - you avoid investigating DJT.
Any investigation of DJT, once started, makes him look guilty. Any information uncovered may make him look guilty. 
Republicans don't want that. Republicans in Congress will seek to water down any investigation and try to distract from what they are doing. Ironically, policy discussion, which they avoid during election campaigns with ad hominem attacks on opponents, may be used to distract from substantive accusations against the White House. But don't worry, discussion will focus on how important their proposals are for the financial survival of the nation. 
Don't expect a sudden shift to substantive treatment of the issues any time soon.

Always Be Denying

Republican strategy is always about winning. Trump takes this to an extreme, but he is still the ultimate example of that strategy. When victory requires lying to a segment of your supporters about who you are and what you will do, then intelligent discussion is avoided at all costs. Bottom line: there can be no accountability ---ever.
The GWB administration began firing US attorneys after election day in 2006 clearly hoping that no one would notice. But a pattern emerged. Republican attorneys who had failed to prosecute "voter fraud" cases were fired. Their replacements would presumably toe the line. Thus are the institutions of a progressive democracy chipped away.
When GWB stood accuse of hiring hacks to replace these attorneys, the example of Bill Clinton firing attorneys when he became president was raised as a defense, ignoring the obvious difference between a president of one party being replaced by a president of the opposing party and the same president continuing in office. Deny/Deflect/Distract and use False Equivalence. The explanation offered was plausible - it gives the true believers an argument they can latch onto, but it was
not believable.
We hear explanations for the Trump/Russia connection that fall into this category - amid ample evidence of strong connections between 'businessman' politician Trump and the Kremlin kleptocracy that have spilled over to lurch American foreign policy to a pro-Putin posture as the State Department is eviscerated.
The more damning the evidence, the more vociferous the denials that an independent investigation is needed to determine if we have a mole in the White House...or many moles. Deny/Deflect/Distract and yes, Accuse. Accuse the Obama administration.
This will not end well.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Liberal Majority

As we head into the second month of a Trump presidency, the New York Times editorial policy continues to adjust to the new reality. NYT, who struggle to call a lie a lie, now must wonder - how to cover a fierce opposition to the Muslim ban, anti-science agenda, and closeness to Russia, all from a man who labeled his opponent a crook and a liar, but whose counsel belittled the emoluments clause.
The Constitution matters, except when we say it doesn't. And, oh, by the way, the press is the opposition party and an enemy of the American people.

As an objective reporter, how do you refer to large groups of people who do not hate Obama (a majority), who favor the continuation of the healthcare law, who would like the intelligence agencies who fear the president is a crook and may be a mole to continue with full investigations? Call them the pro-science crowd? Pro-diversity? Pro-reason? Just call them the rational majority?

No, the NYT must always go with balance, with the appearance of objectivity as if arriving from another planet.

We can not call them Democrats, because they may not be Democrats. So call them "liberals" because they oppose Trump. Now, for the NYT, anyone who opposes Trump is a "liberal"

So, in "With Coverage in Peril and Obama Gone, Health Law's Critics Go Quiet", the NYT states
'As liberals overwhelm congressional town hall-style meetings and deluge the Capitol phone system with pleas to protect the health law, there is no similar clamor for dismantling it, Mr. Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment.'
But does that reporter know these people are all so-called liberals? Are all those individuals coming forward in the town halls to say that 'Obamacare" saved them liberals? Do conservatives with that experience stay mum?

And so it is with "Liberals are Still Angry, But Merrick Garland has Reached Acceptance". Up until this past week, that would have been "Democrats are Still Angry...".

And "Are Liberals Helping Trump?" Talk about blaming the victim.

Look for NYT to continue to balance opposing sides by calling all opposition to Trump "Liberals", in their never-ending search for balance, even when that balance distorts reality and diminishes the numbers, quality, and meaning of that fierce opposition.

Somehow, to the Times, the pathological lying and obfuscation is something to fact check and then move on, which equates to ignoring it and the damaging impact on society.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Tactic of the Day: In a coverup, answer a Question that was not asked

From the White House briefing today:
Jonathan Karl's question and Sean Spicer's answer today. Karl asks about Flynn contacts with the Russians before the election, quite clearly, but Spicer pivots to talk only about the time after the election - because he does not want to address the period of the campaign contacts with Russia. Then, upon followup, Spicer garbles his gobbedlygook into a nonsense answer that was left unchallenged. The clear implication is that no one at the White House wants to talk about their contacts with Russia during the campaign.

"Q Back in January, the President said that nobody in his campaign had been in touch with the Russians. Now, today, can you still say definitively that nobody on the Trump campaign, not even General Flynn, had any contact with the Russians before the election?

MR. SPICER: My understanding is that what General Flynn has now expressed is that during the transition period -- well, we were very clear that during the transition period, he did speak with the ambassador --

Q I’m talking about during the campaign.

MR. SPICER: I don’t have any -- there’s nothing that would conclude me -- that anything different has changed with respect to that time period."

What is that supposed to mean? It was a Yes or No question.

Blaming Obama

Only a couple of weeks ago Sean Spicer blamed Obama for the Muslim ban (not a ban, not a ban...).

For Trump and Republican strategists the goal is to avoid accountability for your own actions by framing them as events similar to events that occurred during a Democratic administration. If something bad happens, it is always the fault of Democrats. If something good happens, Republicans take credit.

Republicans are adamant that Michael Flynn should not be investigated further. The ties to Russia need not be investigated, despite the resignation of kremlinophile Paul Manafort mid-campaign and now this.

Spicer's deflection away from Flynn today included the obligatory, blaming Obama:

As Politico reports “The irony of this entire situation is that the president has been incredibly tough on Russia,” Spicer said. “He continues to raise the issue of Crimea, which the previous administration allowed to be seized by Russia. His ambassador to the United Nations, stood before the U.N. Security Council on her first day and strongly denounced the Russian occupation of Crimea.”

OK, nice claim, and we will see how toughness on Russia plays out on the world stage, but blaming Obama for Crimea does not answer the many legitimate questions about Flynn's closeness to Russia, and Manafort, and Rex Tillerson and what all this may have to do with the release of Democrats' hacked emails by Putin's Russia. Excuse me, "allegedly" by Putin's Russia. DDDA. Deny, deflect, distract, accuse.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

False Equivalence in His Hands

We have criticized the New York Times and other mainstream outlets of perpetrating false balance through the error of false equivalence (here and more generally here) , especially throughout election campaigns - bending over backwards trying to be fair, but ultimately being unfair in the process. Sure, they "speak truth to power" when the more aggressive candidate is elected, but at that point, it's too late.
The deny, distract, deflect, accuse tactic can be used to impose false equivalence to remove logic and therefore meaning from any discussion.
The O'Reilly (if a Republican president can't trust Fox news, who can he trust?) interview with DJT - O'Reilly told Trump that Putin is a killer. Trump's reply: 'You think our country is so innocent?' employs three tactics:
1. Rhetorical question. A rhetorical question is not a statement. A rhetorical question can be misleading, calculated to distract and confuse the issue, but is never, ever false. This highlights one more problem with fact checking as a solution to the failure of news media to professionally and faithfully report political news. DJT could choose to only speak in questions. Unfactcheckable. What do you do? Shrug your shoulders? No. You do this. The Twittersphere erupted with varying interpretations of the Trumpian intent, but that's the point. A feature, not a bug.
2. False Equivalence. DJT thus vaguely equates Putin and Putin's Russia with the U.S. The details are left to the listener, but the implication is clear. The specifics - Putin's brutal murder of journalists and political opponents, including cruel and cynical poison murders -  is turned into a more general, open-ended and vague comparison. He is like us in some way. But the important differences between Putin and U.S. presidents, at least prior to 2017, is removed by this rhetorical trick from further discussion.
3. Pivot from the specific to the general. Watch carefully how often a specific topic (Putin kills people) is turned into a generality by the Trump White House in support of the deny/deflect stage of the rhetorical strategy. Wait a second...I thought we were talking about Putin? Watch how vigorously Trump deflects discussion when the subject turns to Putin. I am guessing he has his reasons.

What is the problem with following the rule of journalism that stipulates the practice of false balance?
False balance/false equivalence knocks the wind out of the sails of valid criticism of a politician during a campaign or of a political leader once elected. Suppose we live in a world where Republican presidential candidates have followed a pattern of increasing tendency to
(1) avoid direct discussion of issues, instead
(2) speak in code, and, when elected
(3) hollow out cabinet departments by turning the original mission of the department on its head.

By comparing DJT actions at every turn with Obama actions, such an increasing pattern would be impossible to deduce and criticism is neutered. Once you have framed DJT actions as "just like Obama", which you can achieve on every action if you try hard enough, you have pre-defined your narrative to be "all politicians are alike", which is one more yellow brick on the road to post-truth, post-reality America.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Bowling Green Massacre

George Lakoff, the cognitive linguist, argues for an applied taxonomy to explain Trump Tweets.

This taxonomy aligns closely with our previous discussion of Trump's key tactic when questioned by reporters --- deny, deflect, distract, accuse (DDDA). The perfect example was the sinister birtherism lie .
Our mainstream press allows the more aggressive candidate or officeholder establish the frame. Hillary Clinton was not aggressive, so a questioner like Matt Lauer or Chris Wallace could easily establish the frame, to paraphrase, "How could someone as terrible as you consider yourself qualified to be president?". Trump would follow the DDDA pattern or just swat the question away - "I don't talk about that anymore."
Lakoff's recent interview in Salon hits the nail on the head. Speaking of the Enlightenment reasoning of Descartes:
"So what he [Descartes] said, basically, was that there are no frames, no embodiment, no metaphor — none of the things people really use to reason. Moreover if we think logically and we all have the same reasoning, if you just tell people the facts, they should reason to the same correct conclusion. And that just isn’t true. And that keeps not being true, and liberals keep making the same mistake year after year after year. So that’s a very important thing."

In that interview, he proceeds to identify the Trump success on the level of metaphor and to explain what progressives need to do to frame issues.

But, at least in this discussion, Lakoff does not identify what mainstream journalists need to stop doing. They need to stop fact checking. That's right. Fact checking is playing into hand of the speaker who controls the narrative and who cares not at all about whether a statement is true or false or nuanced. Each fact check by a journalist sends the media down into the mine of data. The award of Pinocchios is ignored by everyone. And then there is another statement to fact check.

In a way, the strategy of sending journalists into fact checking mode and falsely accusing an opponent like HRC so that journalists pepper her with questions about the accusation - accepting the frame - is the true massacre of 2016. The massacre of truth. The Real Bowling Green Massacre.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Statistics Watch

The American Statistical Association  warns in "ASA, with Statistical Community, Watching Carefully for the Integrity of Federal Statistical Data" about the imminent danger.
"Known and trusted as objective, federal statistical data form the backbone of policymaking and decisionmaking in the public and private sector." 
The competition between informed decisions and misinformed decisions sure has heated up.
The ASA post lists many articles of interest in other publications.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Foreign Or Domestic Threat

So scary that any person or group working to destabilize the U.S., whether foreign or domestic, would, as an integral part of a carefully conceived plan of attack, want to ensure that Donald Trump remains in office as president of the U.S. after such an attack is launched.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Full Court Press

In "Democrats 'Strategic Choice: How Aggressive to be on Gorsuch?" the headline is off the mark. This is about a stolen seat, not the particular nominee. McConnell, ever the tactician,  understood how to manage the narrative. Hold no hearings. When you employ the stall on the Supreme Court nomination, people get tired of trying to focus on the same issue over long periods of time and back down.  People get tired of feeling anger and resentment. Just as the McConnell stall on legislation throughout Obama's two terms worked. The only major exception was the Affordable Care Act - effectively demonized as "Obamacare", itself a middle-of-the-road compromise between alternatives.
Republicans will now deflect attention away from principle to the nominee - Gorsuch. Republicans deflected attention away from the nominee - Garland to their fabricated and specious principle - "let's let the American people decide the next nominee."
Deflecting the narrative is a favorite tactic of Republican legislators - "'Senator Schumer is about to tell Americans that Judge Gorsuch kicks puppies and heckles piano recitals,' Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska said in a statement Tuesday evening. “That’s hogwash.”'
Excuse me Senator, but that misses the point...intentionally, I might add.
Supreme Court Nominations and Scalia Successor highlight the importance of viewing this issue in game theory terms.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Up Really Is Down, But Not How the Times Means It

In a stunning twist, the New York Times in a NEWS column,  today ceased their longstanding hold on the truth about Donald Trump. In 'Up is Down': Trump's Unreality Show Echoes His Business Past", the NYT admits what they knew along - that Trump lies endlessly and shamelessly. Now that DJT is not running in a campaign, now that he is safely ensconced as the president of the U.S., the truth about him can be reported fully and faithfully and without mentioning Hillary Clinton in a false equivalence narrative.
In the NYT upside down world, Trump the businessman was presumed harmless, a "serial fabulist", whose "biggest best boasts about everything he touched crumbled under the slightest scrutiny". But they go on:
"But for students of Mr. Trump’s long business career, there was much about President Trump’s truth-mangling ways that was familiar: the mystifying false statements about seemingly trivial details, the rewriting of history to airbrush unwanted facts, the branding as liars those who point out his untruths, the deft conversion of demonstrably false claims into a semantic mush of unverifiable “beliefs.”
Mr. Trump’s falsehoods have long been viewed as a reflexive extension of his vanity, or as his method of compensating for deep-seated insecurities. But throughout his business career, Mr. Trump’s most noteworthy deceptions often did double duty, serving not just his ego but also important strategic goals."
So the NYT is telling us now, after they struggled all campaign until it was too late, when they decided that a really big lie can be called a lie, that they knew all along this man is a big fat liar, but could not write that as news because...WHY? They do not say. But they quote Steve Schmidt, the Republican strategist, who says:
'In a democratic government, there must be truth in order to hold elected officials accountable to their sovereign, which is the people,” Mr. Schmidt said. “All authoritarian societies are built on a foundation of lies and alternative facts, and what is true is what the leader believes, or what is best for the state.'

The implication is clear. The NYT believes they had no obligation to report the truth - no obligation of fairness, no obligation to the nation or the world. Amazing. The NYT was Falling Short and now the world suffers.

Lying In Plain Sight

In A Sane World questions the presumption of truthfulness that DJT enjoys by virtue of...actually it is not entirely clear why DJT was presumed to be telling the truth, subject to onerous and cautious "fact checking" while his Democratic opponent was made subject to endless wild accusations that needed to be put under the microscope, with the zealous enthusiasm of Fox News and the for-profit fabricated stories online.
In Philadelphia, DJT overuled his teleprompter in a garbled statement "Here in Philadelphia, the murder rate has been steady - I mean - just terribly increasing". Of course, statistics show that the murder rate has been steady. Trump thus demonstrates his affinity for lying - he starts with a lie, because it works to his advantage. And when presented with the facts - even by his loyal staff - he quickly pushes the lie instead. He prefers lying.

Loyalty Tests

As we witness the rapid emergence of an autocratic regime we should expect tests of loyalty to be used as a tool of intimidation, likely within weeks if not days. Loyalty oaths in the U.S. predate the McCarthy era of the 1950s, but they became
The "populist" Trump administration executive orders double down on unpopular policies as their claims abound to a mandate based on falsifying evidence of crowd size and vote totals. The new president already uses intimidation tactics against individual companies to bring other companies in line. But the Republican party counts on the support of big business.  Big companies with a national presence have been socially liberal for a long time, though they have maintained tolerance for Republican social policy as a necessary price for favorable tax and trade policy. What happens now when individual industries, not companies, are singled out for harsh treatment. Actions to eradicate portions of the Affordable Care Act already threaten the stability of the insurance industry. Actions on trade threaten companies whose imports will become noncompetitive due to punitive tariffs.

We should not expect the Trump administration to back away from their policies. They will continue to disrupt the peace and economy of a country that is actually doing pretty well. We are about to face a test of just how strongly voters felt about the emails, about Benghazi, about all those conspiracy theories they wanted to believe had some merit.

The next logic approach to doubling down will be to question the loyalty of the opposition - the popular majority who happen to live in the major cities of the U.S. Popular protests by marches or other means will escalate. The Trump administration will question their loyalty as an appeal to their base who believe in an autocratic leader who should not be questioned. Protesters may be met with violence. And we may see demands for loyalty oaths which are designed to intimidate and subdue opponents. We already have the example of Nikki Haley approved as U.N. ambassador telling other nations that they better get in line and follow the U.S., not because we are the beacon of the world, but because we have a laser focus on them - "taking names" of those who choose not to follow us.
"Taking names" rings in the ear as the shrill echo of the McCarthy era "naming names". Bring in the witness from Hollywood or academia, ask the witness under oath whether or not they were ever a "Communist" and than ask for the names of people the witness knew to be Communists. This approach strains each witness, pitting self preservation of career and family against basic loyalty to friends and colleagues as well as sense of meaning of good citizenship and American values.

Whether taking names of countries deemed to be unfriendly or forcing the witness to name names for the committee, the Trump administration and their (so far) unflinching henchmen in Congress will double down on tactics to appeal to their base in rural American and try to define American values as loyalty to them rather than loyalty to traditional American ideals and values. These new autocrats will cause enormous disruption in American life. Whether or not they fail, sooner or later, will depend in large part on how quickly companies that are not in the oil industry react with vigor. Loyalty to party - the Republican Party - is now stronger, much stronger,  than loyalty to the United States of American.

History will look back at this time and discuss the mistakes of the "Muslim Scare", like the "Red Scare" of the 1950s. We can only hope that this era is short lived.

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Sane World

In A Dubious Vote-Fraud Claim Gets the Trump Seal of Approval, the NYT, yet again, debunks a Trump claim and demonstrates that the source of the claim lacks any credibility whatsoever.
But in a sane world, should not the burden of proof shift?

At this point, should not every statement of Donald J. Trump, President of the U.S., be presumed false, unless he produces irrefutable evidence to the contrary? In fact, his statements should have been presumed false early in the election campaign, based on the history.
The benefit of the doubt lapsed long ago, believe me. Bigly.

When a Lie is a Shield

A pattern of obfuscation, lies, vague claims, distractions, exaggerations, frequent use of superlatives and so on is an obvious shield which represents an effort by a speaker to avoid having to face the truth. News organizations that sift through statements to determine which individual statements are false or who measure degrees of falsity with Pinocchios are completely missing the point. Reporters need to look at the pattern, not the individual statements.
The pattern of lies viewed in its totality is a shield that Trump employs. What is he hiding? The number of possibilities is quite limited.
1. He is not really a billionaire after all. This was an accusation made during the campaign. Does this matter? Not really. If his assets and liabilities are both large, the difference between the two can easily be rationalized away with arguments that are not entirely specious. His most ardent supporters would not be swayed if DJT is not really a billionaire.
2. He is not really a businessman. At least not in the normal sense of the term. He is more of a shakedown artist who refuses to pay contractors for completed work and uses lawsuits as an instrument of intimidation and control. All evidence points in this direction. Yet this does not explain his behavior. He can rationalize this away.
3. He runs a criminal enterprise and/or he has committed criminal acts. This would be a good reason to hide his tax returns if investigative reporting of those returns would yield information of fraudulent or other criminal behavior.
4. He is the functional equivalent of a mole for a foreign power, Russia. Many individual details point in this direction based on his outward behavior. In fact, the only reason to infer that DJT is not a mole is that he has openly behaved like a Russian spy. Logically, what Russian spy would act like one? Paradoxically, this means that the best cover for a Russian spy would be to act like a spy. One variation on this #4 is not that he is a spy per se, but that he is willing to trade American policy decisions by the president for personal financial gains to his personal business interests in Russia, all of which is being kept secret based on an argument that nothing he is doing is forbidden by law.

What are the chances that #4 is true? Is it 1%? Less than 100%? 

Calling a Lie a Lie

NPR is the latest news organization struggling with the challenge of truthful objective reporting. The NYT halfway came to their senses in August 2016 deciding to call a lie a lie due to the extremity of the Trump phenomenon, but it was really too late. Now NPR tells us they will not call a lie a lie. And this is the big problem. This is the reason Trump was able to garner the necessary popular votes to be president.
Facts without context are just flotsam in an open sea. Objective reporting requires critical thinking to place those facts in context, recognizing patterns. For all political reporting, our liberal news outlets define objectivity as reporting facts and letting others define the context for themselves. Ironically, for liberals in press rooms, when true statements supported by facts align with their political beliefs -they back away from the truth - for fear of appearing biased. Conservative propagandists love to exploit this weakness.
Conservatives define themselves for America. Conservatives define others. Bannon's rant about the NYT "The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States." tells all we need to know  - and should have figured out long ago. He might have added that the media is a weak opposition party. They try to help their readership get to the truth, but refuse to put facts in context.
So conservative strategist renamed a party once known as the "Democratic Party" the "Democrat Party" (lest anyone recognize which of the two political parties supports democratic principles of majority rule, free and fair elections, and working together in the legislature for all of the people.
Conservative strategists succeeded in renaming the Affordable Care Act "Obamacare", making it look like the work of one man, rather than the Congress with him, and deflecting attention from the benefits of the law to the object of their hatred.
Conservative strategists recast the frame away from the actual policy issues, where they stand on weak ground due to the unpopularity of those policies, toward distractions.
Another renaming that recently succeeded is the recasting of "Neo-Nazis" to the "Alt-Right". With Breitbart in the White House and a president of German extraction (which the Trump family originally concealed by claiming they were Swedish) any appearance of similarity to the Nazis needed to be swept away.
Once again conservatives play to win and do not hesitate to lie to support a deeper truth, of sorts, if the lie supports their worldview. Liberals in the mainstream press hesitate to call a lie a lie even when the fact of lying is the truth. So, in order to avoid any possible appearance of unfairness, they refuse to call a lie a lie. But isn't that lying?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The 1% Doctrine

Ten years ago Dick Cheney's calculus on assessing and reacting to terrorist threats was immortalized in Ron Suskind's book The One Percent Doctrine. According to Cheney, who wielded enormous power in development and implementation of the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policy,
"If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response."

We look forward to hearing Dick Cheney's take on the recent arrests of high level operatives in Russia's security service, the FSB. According to sources cited by TPM, Sergei Mikhailov was a U.S. asset who tipped off U.S. officials: 
"to information about Vladimir Fomenko and his server rental company “King Servers,” which the American cybersecurity company ThreatConnect identified last September as “an information nexus” that was used by hackers suspected of working for Russian state security in cyberattacks."

Josh Marshall asks the right questions about this affair:
"But this immediately poses the question: if Mikhailov was a US asset, how was he compromised? Did the information put out by US intelligence somehow lead to his exposure? Without putting too fine a point on it, a number of close advisors to President Trump are being scrutinized for ties to Russia. Some of them participated in the intelligence briefings the President receives.

Do we have a very big problem?"

The big problem is, as I posted Jan. 10th without any other content,  It's Not Illegal if a Republican president does it.  Is the dire possibility that Russia has a high-placed mole in the White House greater than 1%?

Is it lower than 100%?

What does conservative mean in 2017? Does it mean compromising our intelligence agencies and national security and the heart of our government, just so that terrible 'scourge' of 'Obamacare' can be eviscerated? You know, that terrible law that increased taxes on investment income over $200,000 so that lower income people in the U.S. can afford insurance coverage, and all Americans who fall through the cracks can be covered even if they have preexisting medical conditions.

Unfortunately, "when tactics become policy" means that Republicans are simply unwilling to compromise their current dominance in the federal government. They would rather tolerate severely compromised national security - when the Kremlin is on their side.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Coalition of the Willing

Let's step back and discuss where we are right now in terms of the principles that drive our politics.    
Winning is Everything. For Trump, the only way to assuage the emptiness of his soul is to win. But actual winning is not enough without the validation bestowed with the appearance of winning.  Thus the importance of (i) his inaugural crowds being higher than Obama's and the Women's March and (ii) winning the popular vote total. No policy goals matter toTrump  in any real sense, except that optics matter - he must always appear great and powerful.
Winning is Everything. For McConnell/Ryan, passing the legislation they want is all that matters. If the president signs their legislation, they are happy. Letting Trump maintain his business interests does not conflict with their goals. They just don't care. If the Trump family profits to the tune of, say, $50 billion over four years, why would that matter compared with $20,000 billion annual federal spending over four years.

So the ruling coalition is almost perfectly in sync. McConnell/Ryan and the Republican majority in Congress are poised to allow Trump to do anything and say anything he wants to avoid provoking him.  Republican leaders are counting on Trump's handlers to control his impulses.

Dilemma for Democrats. Democrats like Obama and Clinton have maintained that "we are all on the same team". In game theory terms, Democrats see the structure of the federal government as a cooperative game. The functioning of Congress depends on compromise between and among factions who disagree on policy, but agree on the ultimate goal of a functioning national government. But Republicans are playing a different game. At the Inauguration Day luncheon at the Capitol, Ryan described the difference between the House and the Senate as "We play rugby. They play golf.", but he might as well have been describing the difference between Republicans and Democrats.

Democrats are now considering adjusting their tactics in Congress and elections. Simultaneously, traditional journalists are adjusting their strategy, showing a willingness to call a lie "a lie". But this may be too little too late. Both the Democrats and the journalists are late to understand the reality of the sandbox they are each playing in.

Democrats have been treating government as a cooperative game, seeking compromise. Republicans have long played a more aggressive non-cooperative game. If Democrats continue to play a cooperative game, they simply lose. If they recognize they are in a non-cooperative game, they will discover it is too late to adapt now that Republicans hold all the cards, at least in the near term. Democrats in the Senate took away the filibuster on judgeships out of frustration with the extreme recalcitrance of Republican Senators, but left the filibuster on Supreme Court justices. Republicans now hold those cards, able to eliminate the filibuster if Democrats obstruct the choice of Trump. All this in the context of the Republican shutdown of Supreme Court nominees in the last year of the Obama presidency, making this issue extremely bitter. So for democrats, they lose if they cooperate, but if they retaliate, they can not win either. If the system of federal government breaks down, Republicans score a 'W" for themselves. More background here.
The Problem for Journalists
Traditional journalists have rigid standards of reporting news that requires viewing politicians as "all the same". "Both sides do it" is taken as a given. "All politicians lie" is a given. The durability of the system of representative government is taken as a given during an election race. Statements by politicians that threaten to undermine democracy - whether or not the politician wins or loses - as Trump has done, are treated tentatively as bad, but not as an existential threat.

Just as the Republican strategy to up the ante in order to win has blindsided Democrats in government and pushed them into a no-win position, the existence of Fox News as an accepted source of "real" news by many citizens and driver of the narrative, has pushed traditional journalists into a no-win position when reporting on politics. Reporting the behavior of the president accurately and fairly could appear biased. Fact checking instead of reporting in context was always a weak response by journalists which has now led to alternative facts.
Road to Confederation
The goal for Republicans is a federal government that operates more like a confederation than a federation, while maintaining a common currency and, unlike Europe, common fiscal authority. Republican proposals to tear apart the structure of the Affordable Care Act that allow states to adopt different versions of the ACA do just that. If we can not have an explicit confederation, then the back-up plan is a virtual confederation. After all, the U.S. was originally a confederation. And the core of the modern Republican party, the Southern states, originally organized as the Confederate States of America. Despite their agreement on many issues, those states chose a confederation, not a federation.

We are seeing a shift in the balance of power in the world consistent with these trends. Trump's strong affinity to Putin which is based on a fellowship of autocrats actually plays well with the traditional Republican affinity to shift the U.S. to a confederation model.

2015 World
1. U.S. is federation. Global leader of progressive democracies. Globalization is progressing.
2. China is emerging economic power and modest, but growing military power. China is major trading partner with U.S. U.S. is leader in Asia, projecting great economic and military power as builder of alliances.
3. Russia is autocratic regime that functions as a kleptocracy. Russian economy is relatively small and relies heavily on oil, but Russian leadership has expansionary goals.
4. Europe is united as a trading zone and currency zone with minor exceptions. Europe is allied with U.S. for defense in NATO.

2017 World Outlook
1. U.S. is federation that may morph into confederation. Together with trade and military alliance posture, the America First position means that NATO weakens as an alliance across the Atlantic and will revert to those European countries that remain united with Germany as the leader. French elections will determine where France stands. U.S. role and influence as a progressive democracy will diminish. U.S. may break away from NATO.
2. U.S. and England post-Brexit, post-Trump, could become an English speaking alliance of trading partners and former great powers. The global influence of these partners will be diminished, but U.S. and Britain may realign as a military alliance.
3. Russia will remain an autocratic, repressive kleptocracy. New "friendship" with U.S., though entirely opportunistic for Putin, will dictate policy. Russia will test the waters of expansionism, possibly by "invading" Latvia using "volunteer freedom fighters". Russia will deny these are Russian soldiers using the Crimean adventure tactic. Fact checkers will find physical evidence these are actually Russian soldiers. Some will be captured and admit they are Russian soldiers. Putin will deny they are Russian soldiers. Trump will support Putin.
4. Europe will reconstitute NATO as an alliance of the Continental powers.

The 2017 elections in France and Germany will be pivotal to the continuing alignment of European powers. Electoral victories by the far right would undermine the European project and atomize Europe.

Dilemma for Republicans. Sorry, but there is no dilemma for Republicans. The extreme tactics worked. Tactically, a President Trump is better than a Cruz or Rubio and much better than a Romney or Kasich because Republicans in Congress only need to reach an agreement among themselves. Those other presidents would have had a political agenda. As it stands now, the U.S. is incapable of holding free and fair democratic elections for president where an informed citizenry chooses between candidates with understanding of the implications of either candidate winning. Republican tactics in electoral campaigns accompanied by the "stall" in Congress when out of power, have been validated as successful. In 2017, Republicans learned that they had not carried those tactics far enough in the past. The message is clear. Find the weakness in your opponent and attack early and often. Repeat phrases hypnotically. And when you win, continue to treat your Democratic opponents as the enemy.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Spicer Grills

Today's lie, the Big Lie, serves several purposes. The lie that claims HRC did not win the popular vote in the U. S.
1. Attack the Democrats where they are strong. Make a strength into a weakness. Democratic strategists have been latching on to "The Minority President" as a theme and meme for the coming resistance. The idea is that the difference in policy post-Nov. 8th between a Trump and Clinton presidency is like night and day on every single issue. Therefore, in a real sense,  we have minority rule in the U.S. and must not forget that. American government is putting new policies into place that are opposed by a majority.
2. Restrict voting rights. In order to maintain power, Republicans will double down on the "voter fraud" pretext and put even more restrictive voting rules in place for 2018 and 2020 using today's false claim as a cover.
3. Establish supreme power of the White House to define reality. Lest we forget, the White House briefing is now the province of the Ministry of Truth. "We decide, you report what we say." We do not care about the truth. We are all about power. You who care about the truth are all weak. These are the alt-facts of the alt-right.
Every Big Lie has a paradoxical element. The Lie is a falsehood, which means there must be some associated statement which, if true would raise other issues that should not be ignored.
If millions voted illegally, don't they need to be prosecuted? (If there were millions, we should be able to find them.) Also, if millions voted illegally, does that not call into question the election that resulted in a President Trump? No, we are told, the electoral college picked Trump, so it is all good. Uhm, but that makes no sense without further elaboration. Sorry, we need to move on.

We also get some of the statement shaving that liars do, the vagueness, as always. "Millions voted illegally" occasionally morphs into "Millions could have voted illegally". Does a good journalist go after "could have voted?"  or "did vote"? It does not matter. The damage is done. The true believers have heard all they need.

Of course, no credible evidence was presented. Evidence was mentioned which has been debunked, but here we go again, into fact-checking mode, which is really besides the point, per #3 above.

Sean Spicer lies when he wants and expects to be able to lie with impunity as a servant of Trump. Nothing could be more similar to Soviet era propaganda.

The lying will catch up to this cabal, but the cabal will not go lightly. We will see more marches and greater division, but make no mistake about it, The division is not Republican vs. Democrat. The division is between the emerging regime and the people. The groups happen to be housed in the two parties for the moment, but that is a balance of power that is unstable and can not persist in a democracy. Either the liars tumble down or the democracy falls.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Enemy of the State

The Trump visit to the CIA must be watched in its entirety to be believed.The transcript is revealing, but the video really captures the moment.
Viewers can judge for themselves. Immediately after the live performance, CNN presented a panel with commentary in their usual heavily staffed format. Jim Sciutto had the most extensive commentary on the offensiveness and fact-defying remarks by the president.
The CNN report is scathing - sort of. But any objective viewer who understands the context - the president rushing to the CIA headquarters, to the wall that commemorates those who gave their lives, who must remain anonymous for security reasons - ostensibly to make things right with the intelligence community - ends up talking about himself - his youthfulness, how smart he is. And more. Huh?
This man had me searching the internet for the definition of "narcissistic personality disorder". Not to accuse, but to understand. One actually feels relief that even though this man is incredibly unusual, he is not necessarily unique (other than having been elected president) if we can allow ourselves to think in these terms. We can think of this as a collection of associated traits that we have all witnessed over a period of months that can help understand behavior that would usually be considered antisocial.

The grandiosity and complete self-absorption. Lack of any empathy, the willingness to exploit others. Placing no value on open exchanges, the ability to pile lie upon lie. Care only for the most inner circle of family members, and not necessarily all of them.

One can not watch all 15 minutes of the Trump speech without thinking "This is a very sick man."

The failure of the mainstream press to properly cover the Trump campaign has led to a general awkwardness among reporters. Reporters know in their hearts that if they cover him effectively now, he will use that as an excuse to shut them out of asking questions or even gaining access. Realistically, without a doubt, mainstream press is about to be shunted aside, likely within a matter of days.

Sean Spicer read reporters the riot act Saturday. The crime? Reporting the actual numbers of attendees at the inauguration. And the report on the bust of MLK missing that was quickly corrected. Still a crime. Still taken as a huge personal offense.So everybody outside the inner circle is to be treated as an enemy. Not a surprise for a narcissist. And the focus on minutia - not a surprise.

Local news faced a challenge with their reporting. A half hour show needs to compile a brief segments using excerpts from the DJT CIA speech, Spicer attack on the press, the offense taken by John Brennan. Our local NBC station report chose to cut DJT down to those few comments that sounded perfectly sane stating his strong support for the CIA (which lacked credibility in context). That editorial decision left the Brennan criticism sounding inappropriate and the complete report disjointed.

As a society, we must face the fact of Trump's deep narcissism. The Billy Bush excerpt - "and they let you do it" (because they are so shocked),  taken in this context, becomes perfectly understandable - . The narcissists are often professionally successful and can be charming, but leave others upset by their behavior.

DJT is clearly functioning on the extreme end of the spectrum of this antisocial behavior which has persisted over decades. Someone like this does not change. The challenge is whether the mainstream media can possibly change to be more responsible - not to try harder, but to do a better job under changed circumstances. And will the Republicans who control Congress even care? Or do they see this as their golden opportunity? Only three Republican U.S. Senators who understand the grave threat will be needed to thwart damaging American democracy and therefore, the republic, beyond repair.

If a few Republican Senators join Democrats, then we, the people, may stand a chance in this battle even if all of us who choose to exercise our democratic rights are considered enemies of the state by  the new regime.

'Really Unpredictable' or ...Unpredictable? Really?

Note: this was written Jan. 19 with minor update to add closing line.

In As Trump Era Arrives a Sense of Uncertainty Grips the World Steven Erlanger recently wrote that "Mr. Trump's unpredictability is perhaps his most predictable characteristic." That's a catchy line, but false. In his political campaigns, like business before that, Mr. Trump's behavior has been incredibly consistent, given the enormous differences between those two realms. He has treated anyone outside his most inner circle of family and loyalists as nothing but pawns. He shows no sense of moral imperative of any kind whatsoever. Systems, norms, and processes exist only to be exploited. Anyone who dares to criticize him is immediately attacked on an immediate ad hominem basis. He celebrates strength, measured solely on the basis of winning at any cost and ridicules compromise as weakness. He hides his lack of expertise, even the most basic knowledge with his boorish behavior and ridicule of opponents. He is about to take office with a majority having voted against him with horror at the prospect of his presidency and an additional possibly significant number having voted for him with revulsion. No person in the history of the republic has won election with so many opposed to and horrified by his ascension to office or with so many reasons for believing the republic is in peril. And so on.
When so many fear so much, one wonders if the signs of an imminent downward slide are often so apparent. What do the warnings look like?
The NYT front page headlines and stories of March 22, 1933 provide clues.

"Berlin inquiry ordered. Washington responds to plea of American Jewish Congress. Emphasizes anxiety here. State Department calls on consuls to report on Nazi mistreatment of Jews. Haven for some is seen. Rabbi Wise urges removal of immigration curb barring relatives of citizens."

"Reich to put Nazi Swastika on Black-White-Red as flag."

"Hitler denies war guilt. Says he wants peace, but will render harmless any who would harm nation."

"Christian leaders protest Hitler. Smith, Davis, Manning among 35 voicing profound dismay for attacks on Jews. More meetings planned. 20,000 expected at Garden Monday."

But Hitler had other ideas. From the NYT front page:

"The new Reichstag was consecrated in the Garrison Church in Potsdam today and with this ceremony the dustbin received the remnants of the Weimar democracy. In its place a new structure is being reared in Germany. Just what it will be like when it is finished no one can yet say,[BOLD added] but the circumstances that its builders chose Potsdam for laying the cornerstone has an unmistakable meaning. Potsdam, long associated with the Hohenzollern monarchy, because it is spiritually the diametrically opposite of Weimar, and the Garrison Church was designated because it is the core of the Potsdam spirit."

And so it goes. Out with the old regime. Out with the 'old' ways...the losing ways.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Congressman and a Senator

In "Why are no senators boycotting the inauguration? National ambition is part of it." Paul Kane misses the point of this action by House members. First of all, it's not really a boycott. Traditionally, a boycott as defined by Wikipedia is "an act of voluntarily abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with a person, organization, or country as an expression of protest, usually for social or political reasons." A boycott generally connotes application of some economic leverage - using buying power to try to effect some action.
This is more of a "sit-out". Like a sit-in, a sit-out is an attempt by those with little power to garner attention to their cause, but in this case -- by their absence. The sit-out follows logically from the sit-in last summer by House minority members, also led by Lewis,  as protest against the failure of the House to take up gun legislation. House Democratic members have virtually no remaining power to influence legislation.

Democratic Senators continue to hold some power. The 52-48 Senate is more closely divided than the House and several Senators are more likely to join the minority on some issues. As long as the filibuster remains in force, the Democratic Senators at least have some power. For Senate Democrats, showing up at the Inauguration is of critical importance. Showing up is a strong statement that from their point of view, "we have not lost our government".

Paul Kane may know this - hence the wishy-washy subtitle "National ambition is part of it." But the real story is not the ambition of certain senators - it's the big difference between a Senator in the minority and a House member in the minority and now, just how weak the House minority is.
We can expect to see activist House members continue to seek alternative venues and methods to call attention to their causes because they can have little if any direct impact on legislation.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


Trump has gone out of his way in recent years to undermine our democracy. He questioned the legitimacy of President Obama, which was a long running campaign tactic to ensure his primacy with the white underclass. Then he sent a clear signal to his supporters that he would honor the results of the 2016 election only if he won, in the process sending a clear signal to the citizen militias.
Suppose Trump is impeached in the House and convicted in the Senate. Would the man with the nuclear codes and command of the military honor that process? Why would he? He could declare martial law at any stage in the process and keep the Congress from meeting on the impeachment, insisting that martial law is a necessary security measure. He could claim the U.S. is subject to an unspecified security threat that is classified. The 25th amendment to the Constitution provides special powers to the cabinet and Vice President to declare the President unfit for office, but if the President challenges their decision, Congress makes the decision and the President could use his military command to stop them from meeting.
We really have no foolproof method to stop a president who thinks only of himself and his personal aggrandizement.