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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – October 20, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Fall near Halifax, Nova Scotia – October 2018 photo by zenox

Trump visited Montana on Thursday, where he praised Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) for assaulting a reporter in his bid for Congress last year:

Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of – he’s my guy… By the way, never wrestle him…

He said that even though the US is hip-deep in the Jamal Khashoggi mess.

Gianforte pleaded guilty to assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs during the final days of Gianforte’s special election race in May 2017. When Jacobs tried to interview him about the GOP health-care plan, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs, threw him to the ground and punched him. Gianforte won the special election, and later pleaded guilty, receiving a six-month deferred sentence.

There was way more Trumpiness at his rally in Missoula, Montana. Trump framed the midterms as:

An election of Kavanaugh, the caravan, law and order, and common sense. That’s what it’s going to be. It’s going to be an election of those things: law and order, Kavanaugh, remember common sense and remember that it’s going to be an election of the caravan, you know what I’m talking about…

And Trump debuted a new campaign slogan:

Democrats create mobs. Republicans create jobs.

Then he pivoted to the caravan.

Facing a sharp increase in unauthorized immigration, President Trump on Thursday lashed out at Democrats and the leaders of Latin American nations, seeking to deflect blame and mitigate political damage by riling up his base just weeks before the midterm elections.

Trump signaled with zero proof, that Democrats are somehow behind the caravan of immigrants moving toward the US:

But a lot of money has been passing to people to come up and try and get to the border by Election Day, because they think that’s a negative for us. Number one, they’re being stopped. And number two, regardless, that’s our issue.

He has also tweeted that he might summon the military to guard the southern border, cut off aid to Central American nations and upend the new trade deal with Mexico if those governments fail to stop a caravan of migrants from Honduras making its way toward the US.

He wants to use the military to mow them down at the border.

Stop in the name of your sanity! It’s time for a Saturday Soothing. Fall is upon us, and yard work beckons, but let’s take a few minutes to unplug from the mid-terms and focus on…quiet.

Start by brewing up a tall cup of Esmeralda Estate Porton Geisha Natural ($75/8oz.) It’s expensive, but you donate more than that to candidates who have zero chance of winning two weeks from now. So why not treat yourself? It’s from Dragonfly Coffee, a Boulder, Colorado-based micro-roaster that also supports worthy causes.

Now, move outside with your coffee, put on a pair of Bluetooth headphones, and listen to Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”, played in the original version by the Dover Quartet. Barber finished the arrangement in 1936. In January 1938, Barber sent an orchestrated version of the Adagio for Strings to Arturo Toscanini. The conductor returned the score without comment, which annoyed Barber.

Toscanini later sent word that he was planning to perform the piece, and had returned it simply because he had already memorized it! It was performed for the first time by Toscanini in November, 1938. Here is the quartet version of “Adagio for Strings”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Why Did Elizabeth Warren Release Her DNA Info Now?

The Daily Escape:

Sunset at Oxbow Bend, Grand Tetons, WY – photo by Shaun Peterson

From the Washington Post:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had said she would not “sit quietly” as President Trump made claims about her ancestry that she called racist. On Monday morning, she released a DNA test that suggested she did have a distant Native American ancestor, and by the evening, she was using the ensuing dust-up to attack Trump.

Warren took Trump’s gambit. He delights in calling her “Pocahontas” because she has claimed Native American heritage. Not that she used it as a basis for getting a job, or for career advancement. Her family is from Oklahoma, and many in the Sooner State claim Indian heritage. About 8.7% of Oklahomans are Native American.

Part of her received history includes a story handed down about how white parents of a family member disapproved of a marriage to someone of Indian descent.

In July, Trump told supporters at a Montana rally that he would donate $1 million to charity if Elizabeth Warren would take a DNA test to prove her Native American heritage. And she took the DNA test. It showed some Native American heritage, so he owes her one million dollars.

Trump then said he never said anything like that. But all the news shows aired the clip of him saying just that. It led to a tweet-war between Trump and Warren. Depending on the party you identify with, you think either Warren or Trump won a battle in a political war that will continue until 2020.

This raises so many questions.

It’s important to understand that the immediate question isn’t whether or not Sen. Warren has Native American ancestry, or whether Trump really said he’d give a million dollars to her favorite charity and then reneged on what everyone can clearly see on video anywhere on the internet.

The question is have we gotten to the point where the future of the country and its leadership comes down to which one wins a spitting contest? Sen. Warren spits in a test tube to prove her point, and Trump spits in the eye of the American people, lying about what he said.

These aren’t normal times. American politics has always had the capacity to be a freak show, but questioning the racial heritage of a candidate shows we really haven’t gotten past the point where E Pluribus Unum isn’t what we mean.

Republicans are always asking “Are THEY one of US?

So, why did Sen. Warren announce this now, three weeks before the mid-terms?

Some Democrats argue that the timing of her announcement distracts from the messages of other Democratic candidates, particularly those in close races who really need media attention in order to compete. There’s a chance that media attention will now be sucked up by this Warren/Trump sideshow.

From Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 campaign manager:

Argue the substance all you want, but why 22 days before a crucial election where we MUST win house and senate to save America, why did @SenWarren have to do her announcement now? Why can’t Dems ever stay focused???

Others think Warren’s decision to take on Trump so far ahead of a general election is unnecessary. It takes away from Trump and FEMA’s uneven response to Hurricane Michael, and Trump’s unintelligible response to Saudi Arabia’s denials of complicity in the Khashoggi mystery.

But Warren showing that she won’t back down from Trump was probably her number one reason for the announcement. We should interpret this as clear evidence that she plans to run for the presidency.

She got support from her family. The video Warren released includes footage of her three brothers, and other relatives who still live in her native Oklahoma. They are Republicans. They call the president’s belittling nickname “ridiculous” and “silly.”

Warren seems prepared to fight Trump’s full-tilt racist demagoguery. She hopes to blunt that part of his game, a job that may be more difficult for possible candidates Kamala Harris, or Cory Booker.

The real DNA issue isn’t Warren’s. Who belongs in America is deep in the GOP’s DNA.

They’re always asking who belongs. It didn’t start with GW Bush spreading rumors about John McCain’s adopted daughter. It didn’t end with Obama’s birth certificate, it continued to Trump happily deporting people who have Green Cards.

Now, Trump and the GOP will take on Sen. Warren by questioning her Oklahoma roots.

What we are seeing is the first, but not the last “pitooi” in the 2020 fight for the White House.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 14, 2018

Last week was dominated by an emerging Republican narrative about Democrats: Dems are socialists. They are an angry mob. They frighten ordinary people. The framing by Trump is that the mid-term election is “patriots vs. socialists”.

And Trump said this on Friday night in Cincinnati:

A vote for a Republican is a vote to reject the Democratic politics of hatred, anger and division.

The Democrats’ closing argument for the mid-terms is considerably more nuanced, and it may not be heard clearly. They are against Trump, and all that he and his party stand for, but they talk about wanting a chance to provide a “check and balance” against Trump’s (and the GOP’s) worst instincts.

Sure, some will vote for that, but will enough turn out to vote for it to take the House?

The Democrats haven’t recovered from the public’s disapproval of their demonstrations against Kavanaugh after his swearing in. A reasonable minority of Dems don’t understand that most Americans are uncomfortable with demonstrations. Amy Chua has an astute observation in her book, “Political Tribes” where she quotes a South Carolina student:

I think protesting is almost a status symbol for elites. That’s why they always post pictures on Facebook, so all their friends know they’re protesting. When elites protest on behalf of us poor people, it’s not just that we see them as unhelpful; it seems that they are turning us…into the next ‘meme’. We don’t like being used for someone else’s self-validation.

On one side, we have the GOP, who can apparently say anything, offer insults and tell lies. On the other side, we have the Democrats who can’t do much of that without the mainstream media taking umbrage. Dems allow the media and the Right to write their story. The GOP and the media have made the Democrats the party of identity politics, the PC party, one that is so busy protecting the big tent that it’s unable to govern.

Trump’s Traveling Nuremberg Rallies will continue until the mid-terms, and Dems must decide what messaging will be successful in 2018. It’s going to be tough, because since the dawn of time, no one has truly figured out how to deal effectively (and conclusively) with authoritarian and anti-democratic ideas.

But, Dems have to do just that, or else remain a fringe party.

In American politics, it seems like it’s always 1968. Republicans are the law-and-order party. Democrats are the party affiliated with the demonstrators in the streets of Chicago, even though those demonstrators were radicals, not Democrats. The demonstrators were furious at the Vietnam War, which was led then by Democrats. And today, that viewpoint persists.

Both parties think the other is appalling, so you don’t have to like your own party, you just have to hate the other one. And one thing the Kavanaugh mess has done, it’s made both sides feel the other is appalling.

How it all turns out 22 days from now is anyone’s guess. Let’s hope the Democrats fight hard for the issues that really matter. On to cartoons.

It’s football and election seasons, and it’s always tough to pick the winners:

It’s laughable to think back to the days when the US sent observers to other countries to ensure fair elections:

Nikki Haley resigned. Kanye went to the White House. What to expect next:

Hurricanes have become like school shootings, so many of them, and all so devastating. We treat these events the same, with thought and prayers, but no plan to deal with the causes:

What Trump and Fox want the campaign trail to look like:

Trump sprang into action after Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance. He said we shouldn’t jeopardize our arms sales to Saudi Arabia:

 

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Russia and Kavanaugh

The Daily Escape:

Moscow supermarket – October 2018 photo by Wrongo

The two topics in the headline are not related.

Wrongo and Ms. Right are back in the US, jet-lagged, and at home in the Mansion of Wrong. Our Russia trip was an eye-opener. In St. Petersburg and Moscow at least, Russia seems to be a wealthy country by global standards. People seem to be well-informed about their history, and about the current geopolitical climate in the west. They are consummate consumers.

We saw quite a few churches, but the Russians we spoke with didn’t seem to put much emphasis on their faith. Increasing their income and getting ahead in a career sense seemed to be the primary thing that interested them. “Pragmatic” best describes the people we met. They are strivers, and hope that their government won’t screw up what the citizens finally have going for them.

Mostly, we were struck by how similar the Russians we met are to the average American. We had lunch with a couple in Uglich, a poor town of about 30k residents that is about 125 miles north of Moscow. The town hasn’t benefited from the 18-year economic expansion in the Russian Federation, and has unemployment in the 25% range. It also has a declining population, and crumbling infrastructure.

The couple we met had both lost their jobs in the 1985 Perestroika period under Gorbachev. Thirty-three years later, the husband has a part-time government job, the wife is unemployed. They grow most of their food in their ¼ acre garden. Their refrigerator is covered with pictures of the grandkids, who visit every few weeks.

Their message to us was that people everywhere have the same hopes and dreams, but the politicians always want to demonize the outsiders.

We returned to American just in time to start calling Brett Kavanaugh “Mr. Justice Kavanaugh”.

It’s not worth dwelling on his confirmation process, or repeating stale arguments. It is time to gather ourselves, to register non-voters, and turn out all the votes we can on November 6.

It also isn’t the time to overthink the closing arguments for November, despite polls that show Republicans being energized by the Kavanaugh confirmation. But, it is important to understand GOP messaging for the midterms. From the WaPo’s article, ‘An angry mob’: Republicans work to recast Democratic protests as out-of-control anarchy:

Weeks ahead of the midterm elections, Republicans have cast the Trump resistance movement as “an angry mob,” a term used by many of them to describe a faceless amalgamation of forces that they say threaten the country’s order and, they hope, energize their voters.

Think back to the Tea Party protestors who disrupted town hall meetings in 2009. From today’s GOP viewpoint, they were just good citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. And all those people who chant “Lock her up!” at the encouragement of their dear leader? They really don’t mean anything by that, they’re also exercising their right to free speech.

But when a few liberals pound on the doors of the Supreme Court, that’s mob behavior, and it can’t be tolerated. In Trump World, crowds of marching alt-right men with tiki torches = some very fine people.

And crowds of protesting women in Washington = angry mob.

We should remember that the American Revolution wasn’t a polite discussion; it involved mobs making a point, too.

Democrats are on the edge of winning the House. Before Kavanaugh, they had a long-shot chance at taking the Senate. Right now, Dems need to be smart. Richard Nixon won because he scared Middle America with pictures of immoral hippies who were demonstrating against the Vietnam War.

Let’s assume that those of us who are already energized to vote can work to figure out how to reach those who are only half paying attention, or who plan to stay on the fence all the way until Election Day.

It is clear that accusations of the type made by Dr. Ford don’t resonate with GOP voters. Roy Moore’s near-pedophilia didn’t seem to change any Republican minds in Georgia. Whenever a Republican is under attack by the liberals, it’s always the time for the rest of them to circle the wagons.

There is no single, lock-step message that Dems should use to take both Houses in November. The best antidote for those “Energized by Kavanaugh” Republicans is for the rest of us to get, or stay, more energized.

There is zero to be complacent about. The Dems could remain in the minority in both Houses after the mid-terms if they fail to turn out their voters in November.

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Letter From Russia – Part IV

The Daily Escape:

Moscow’s International Business Center

We have all sorts of prejudices about foreign countries, most of which we learn from our media and history texts. An example is our views of Mikhail Gorbachev, who was president of Soviet Union from 1985 – 1991, and Vladimir Putin, the current president of the Russian Federation.

Americans like Gorbachev, and Russians detest him.

We like him because he won the Nobel Peace Prize, and negotiated a nuclear weapons reduction with Ronald Reagan. We remember his policy of Glasnost, or openness, which moved the Russian state toward becoming a freer society, in part by allowing criticism of Stalin, and other Russian leaders.

We also remember Perestroika, Gorbachev’s policy of political and economic reforms meant to kick start the Soviet Union into a market economy.

Russians detest Gorbachev because Perestroika was catastrophic, both economically and socially. Many lost jobs at state-owned companies. Gorbachev closed the heavy industrial firms that had been an engine of Russian economic growth and employed millions, in favor of light manufacturing of consumer goods. But the light industries failed, in part because jobless people couldn’t afford new consumer goods. He closed the collective farms that Stalin had instituted, but the state-owned food stores remained. Without a source, food shortages appeared immediately, and WWII-style rationing returned. There was little product in the state shops, but lots of product in private shops that few could afford.

The budget deficit grew. Foreign debt grew, and the death rate exceeded the birth rate, a grim statistic that only recently has returned to equilibrium. Nearly 700,000 children were abandoned by their parents who couldn’t afford to take care of them. The average lifespan of men dropped to 59 years.

The terrible economy nearly broke the back of Russian society. It didn’t help that oil prices fell from about $60/bbl. when Gorbachev took office, to about $30/bbl. when he was succeeded by Yeltsin in 1991. At the time, oil accounted for about 65% of exports.

Fast forward to today: Americans hate Vladimir Putin, while Russians love Putin.

Americans hate Putin because he annexed Crimea in 2014. The US and Europe responded with economic sanctions. And many believe that Russia hacked the US presidential election in 2016, gifting the presidency to Donald Trump.

So, Americans have reasons to dislike Putin.

People in Russia love Putin. He was just reelected with more than 70% of the vote. The primary reason is a steadily improving economy. Russian GDP has averaged 3.01% from 1996 until 2018, but it took until 2008 for GDP to return to its pre-Gorbachev levels.

Putin increased tax revenues by implementing a 13% flat tax, a value-added tax on purchases, and a 6% corporate tax on gross revenues. Real estate taxes on the average person’s apartment are negligible.

Today, Moscow looks like any major western European city. There are high rise apartment buildings everywhere, the population is 15 million, and there are 5 million cars. Again, a key success factor in Putin’s economic record was rising oil prices. When Putin took over, oil was $25/bbl. Today, the price for Russian oil is about $82/bbl. Here is the famous GUM department store decorated for fall:

2018 iPhone photo by Wrongo

Americans believe that Putin’s annexing of Crimea was illegal. But the Russians draw a distinction between what’s legal, and what’s justified. It may have been illegal to annex Crimea, but Russians think that when Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine in 1954, he shouldn’t have. And nobody asked the people of Crimea.

So, when Russia annexed Crimea, Russians saw it as a justified return of lands that were rightly theirs. When the people of Crimea soon overwhelmingly voted to approve returning to Russia, it gave a veneer of legality to a perceived act of justice.

Americans also differentiate between what’s legal and what’s just, as the Brett Kavanaugh appointment shows. Those who support Dr. Ford feel deeply that justice must be done in order to right a wrong that had occurred years ago.

Those who support Kavanaugh say that there is no evidence that supports her claim of attempted rape, so he should be appointed. They’ve always been strict constructionists of the law.

The age-old conflict between people who narrowly read what is legal, and those who broadly interpret what justice requires, again divides us.

But actions have consequences, regardless of which side you are on. No one knows what the political outcome of this emotional moment in American life will be. Deep fissures have been opened, and they may take a long time to heal.

Are we at a tipping point? Everyone thinks one is coming, but no one knows which way we’ll tip.

The Senate is showing that they believe half of Americans are second-class citizens.

It’s likely that those second-class citizens think justice matters.

And it’s likely that they won’t forget.

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Will Nike/Kaepernick Adverts Change The Discussion?

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Grand Teton NP – 2018 photo by BrandonUlp

“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” That’s the tag line in a new Nike advertising campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick.

Branding is about identity. Successful branding requires authenticity. The spokesperson must represent the brand authentically, and vice-versa. What Kaepernick and Nike have done is create a truly authentic campaign defined by who Kaepernick is, and what he stands for.

For readers who do not follow either Trump or sports, Colin Kaepernick is the football quarterback who refused to stand for the National Anthem. Trump has used the failure of professional athletes to stand to try to destroy their image, and that of the National Football League, unless/until there is zero expression of dissent during the National Anthem.

There couldn’t be a better campaign to elevate Kaepernick’s legacy in America’s consciousness. Sticking to his beliefs has cost him his job in sports. He hasn’t worked as a professional quarterback since 2016. In fact, he has a lawsuit underway accusing the NFL of collusion, since he received no job offers in 2018. That lawsuit will be going forward after the arbitrator appointed by the NFL and NFL Players Association rejected the NFL’s attempt to have Kaepernick’s case dismissed.

Nike and Kaepernick have taken the essence of a particular player, in this case, his dissent, empowerment, and integrity, and created a brand. It serves as a lesson every athlete needs to learn: You should be more than the game. Professional basketball players already know this, and are on social media celebrating their viewpoints all the time.

Despite not having played in the league in two years, Kaepernick is among the most recognizable names and faces in the NFL. His football jersey is among the top 50 sellers.

The Holy Week of McCain showed us that we remain chronically short of heroes.

We want leaders, we’re yearning for inspiration. We don’t consider most celebrities who hawk goods to be our heroes; they seem clearly in it for the money. Then, there’s Colin Kaepernick. A man of color standing up for what he believes, a straight arrow who has not been featured in the tabloids for mistakes of character. He’s a man who’s risked his career, and his salary for an idea.

Could he be the hero we’re looking for? Highly unlikely, but he’s one of the few willing to challenge the system.

We’re living in a time when stepping out of line seems very risky. There’s groupthink everywhere, and everyone’s afraid of negative social media repercussions, especially corporations. While a few giant corporations have stood up to the Orange Overlord, the NFL has zero desire to challenge him. They fear viewer backlash in an already challenged TV ratings environment.

So Nike weighs in. Nike isn’t simply calling the NFL’s bluff. It’s calling Donald Trump’s as well.

Change starts with the actions of a few individuals. Kaepernick is trying to change professional football’s mentality, which argues that the players are interchangeable, that only the coach, and the owners matter. Their pitch is that you’ve got to sacrifice your identity for the team.

Trump plays on that. He berates the NFL owners, and re-frames the protest by Kaepernick and others against police brutality, saying its about patriotism and support of “the troops”. But, those who refuse to stand for the Anthem will tell you that their message has nothing to do with the flag or the military. Trump’s choosing to make it about the flag and the military, and as usual, many Americans are buying Trump’s pitch.

The story on Kaepernick’s side is of freedom of speech, of fair treatment for African-American men and boys. Which will prevail should be clear, despite the anti-Nike and anti-Kaepernick thoughts on social media today.

We have 62 days until America votes whether to take the House away from the Republicans, or, to leave them in charge. Believe it or not, that fight will be helped by one guy and a company who decided they’d refuse to bend to Trump’s rabble-rousing.

The Trumpists say they’ll refuse to watch the NFL. They’ll say they refuse to buy Nike gear. But, they’re sure to do both in massive numbers.

Nike has made a business move, not a social move. Here is what Nike’s first ad looks like:

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Trump Says Google Is Against Him

(Wrongo is taking off for the rest of the week. So unless SHTF, the next post will be a Wake-Up Call on Tuesday after Labor Day. We all need a break, and late August is usually pretty slow as far as news goes. Try to enjoy the heat wave, or whatever your weather brings.)

The Daily Escape:

Detail from above the doors of Strasbourg Cathedral, Strasbourg, FR – 2008 photo by Wrongo. Strasbourg is one of Wrongo’s favorite European cities.

Remember the dog in the movie “Up” who was constantly distracted, yelling “Squirrel!, all the time? That’s the media when Trump tweets.

When he was first elected, we had the daily squirrel. Now we’ve achieved hourly squirrel. The WaPo reports that:

Early on Tuesday morning, President Trump accused Google of rigging search results for “Trump News” against “Republican/Conservative & Fair Media,” and wondered, “Illegal?” Then, he promised that the situation would be “addressed.”

This is today’s Conservatism in action: A constant search for new conspiracy theories to advance their agenda of victimhood. Trump was repeating a claim that first appeared in the conservative news site, PJ Media, which published a piece with the headline, “96% of Google Search Results for ‘Trump’ News Are from Liberal Media Outlets.”

Google, naturally, denied Trump’s accusation. According to Google, the rankings are supposed “to promote original journalism, as well as to expose users to diverse perspectives.”

Google News results are ranked on a variety of factors, and the results are personalized to an extent. Many factors contribute to their results, including the “freshness” of content, and the extent to which it contains original reporting, as opposed to commentary on the news.

Wrongo’s experience with Google shows that they constantly down rank sites by changing their algorithms.  Last year, there was a big dust-up when Google changed its algorithms to promote main stream media and demote independent outlets. “Deemed to be leftie” sites like the Wrongologist have taken traffic hits due to Google’s downgrading non-MSM sites in their search rankings.

But, Trump isn’t completely wrong.

Facebook has a partnership with the Atlantic Council to help FB work on deleting what they call “inauthentic content”. The Atlantic Council is a NATO-backed think tank. Its board includes people like Henry Kissinger, Michael Morrell, the former acting CIA Director, and Gen. Michael Hayden. It is funded by the UAE, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Corporation, Chevron, and a long list of other corporations.

If you use Facebook, do you really want this cast of characters controlling what you see, or do not see? Do you trust them with creating your news feed?

But it could mean much more than that. No one is sure what methodology FB is using. And that could have serious First Amendment implications.

There is a lot here to argue about on both the right and the left. We’ve tumbled to the fact that in the US, companies can do much more than the government regarding censorship. Is this a strength or a weakness?

The First Amendment was originally an Anti-federalist addition to the Constitution designed to contain federal power, giving an equal chance to citizens to organize and publicize resistance to an autocratic regime.

It’s more worrisome that Facebook is working with the Atlantic Council to develop rules about what is false news than if the Atlantic Council was working with the US Government to do the same thing. Why? Because every four years, the government is subject to recall by voters.

The big question: Is the Atlantic Council/Facebook agreement a permitted form of private/government censorship? Is it a way to circumvent the First Amendment?

After all, these are private sector organizations. They can take any political perspective they want, just like FoxNews, and its parent, the News Corporation do every day. Since Citizens United, we call that the right of a corporation to Constitutionally-protected free speech.

There’s an ongoing petition at White House.gov to replace Facebook, Google, and Twitter’s “community standards” with First Amendment protections. No worries, nothing will come of that.

One way to look at this is: If you don’t like Google because you think it’s “biased”, then don’t use it. And if Trump and his fellow travelers what a search engine that always places them first, why don’t they simply build one, and see if the “market” makes it a success?

At the end of the day, the important question is how to ensure that the public cannot be forced by both private as well as public interests to find and read information from only a short list of approved providers.

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Monday Wake Up Call – McCain Edition

The Daily Escape:

Sedona AZ, view from Airport Mesa. Sedona is one of the most beautiful places in America – via Silver Spur Tours

Sen. John McCain died in Sedona, AZ on Saturday. He is remembered as a prisoner of war who suffered greatly, and then went on to a long career as a politician. Most media and politicians are paying tribute to him as a hero and a “giant of the Senate”.

Wrongo is of two minds about McCain: First, he lived a full life, he served his country for decades. As a prisoner of war, he suffered as no human being should ever have to suffer. In the end, we need to see that he was flawed, and made some terrible decisions that hurt the country he loved.

Yet, he deserves our sympathy for his losing fight with brain cancer. His family deserves our sympathy in their time of loss and grief.

Wrongo doesn’t want to kick his corpse, but here are a few things to reflect upon in his political life. From The Guardian:

Wednesday marks the 10th anniversary of McCain unveiling Sarah Palin, a say-anything, gun-toting political neophyte, as his running mate in the 2008….It was an act of political desperation that left Washington aghast. It delivered a short-term boost in the polls. But it also opened the Pandora’s Box of populism.

The Guardian quotes David Brooks about the Palin nomination:

I don’t think he could have known it at the time, but he took a disease that was running through the Republican Party – anti-intellectualism, disrespect for facts – and he put it right at the center of the party…

The Guardian reminds us that, a month later, in September 2008, McCain held a four-point lead over Barack Obama, and had a pretty good shot at winning the White House, which slipped from his grasp.

Today, McCain is respected more by Democrats than by Republicans. A Fox News poll shows that McCain has a 60% favorable (29% unfavorable) rating among Dems, and a 41% favorable (48% unfavorable) rating among Republicans.

This is largely due to one moment from the campaign, now seen everywhere, where McCain is seen admonishing a supporter who refers to Obama as an “Arab”. McCain shakes his head, takes the microphone and says: (brackets by Wrongo)

No ma’am. He’s a decent family man, [a] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign is all about.

The crowd applauded. Yet, later at the same rally, a supporter says he is “scared” by the prospect of an Obama presidency. Again, McCain replies with integrity:

He is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared as president of the United States.

But, on this occasion, the crowd boos and jeers in what we now hear at any Trump event.

And on election night, while conceding to Obama, McCain said that he had called Obama to offer congratulations, the crowd booed, and McCain begs: “Please.”

Moments later, when he referred to Obama leading the country for the next four years, there were more boos and another entreaty of “Please, please”. More from The Guardian: (emphasis by Wrongo)

From the vantage point of 2018, it looks and sounds like a member of the old guard fighting to hold back the populist tide – a tide that would eventually overwhelm both his party and nation.

That tide was amplified by the selection of Palin as nominee for vice-president. Although viewed from Trumplandia, her gaffes now seem quaint.

Subsequently, we saw the Republican’s anti-Obama obstructionism, the rise of the Tea Party to political power, and the emergence of a growing and toxic mix of cultural and economic resentment. What seemed to be angry but marginal voices at those McCain campaign events, now occupy center stage in the Republican Party. The Guardian concludes with:

And yet, future historians seeking to understand the man and his time will surely revisit that when McCain forced a smile and introduced ‘the next vice-president of the United States, Governor Sarah Palin of the great state of Alaska’.

They will consider what it foretold, and ponder why a man of decency and honor opened the door to demagoguery in America.

McCain didn’t “open the door to demagoguery”, but he held it open for Republicans at a critical point in our politics.

For all his lapses of judgement, Wrongo will miss McCain’s occasional appeals to American values, American principles, and duty to the public good. McCain could, and did, speak to this better vision, even if he didn’t always vote for it.

Let’s remember him as a veteran, and as a senator who saw his party fall into the abyss, knowing that, given his position in the Party, he was more than a little bit responsible.

So Wake up America! There’s no need to make saints of sinners. McCain wasn’t a saint.

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Trump’s “Willie Horton” Moment

The Daily Escape:

The Bulgle Bungles, Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Lost in the news this week was the discovery of the body of missing Iowa college student, Mollie Tibbetts. An undocumented immigrant, Cristhian Rivera guided police to her body, and he is now being held for her murder.

And the much-publicized search for yet another white co-ed comes to a tragic end.

But for Donald Trump, it was a beginning. Trump and other conservatives quickly cited Rivera, who worked on a farm owned by a prominent Republican family, as proof of the flawed immigration system and lax border security the president has long warned about. Here’s Trump on CNN:

You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in very sadly from Mexico. And you saw what happened to that incredible beautiful young woman. Should have never happened. Illegally in our country…We’ve had a huge impact but the laws are so bad, the immigration laws are such a disgrace. We’re getting it changed but we have to get more Republicans.

Iowa’s Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, released a statement saying she was:

Angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community.

Fox News led with the story. After all, why would they voluntarily be talking about Manafort and Cohen?

A side note, Rivera’s employer, Yarrabee Farms, a company that operates dairy farms in Iowa, said that Rivera had been an employee in good standing for four years. They said initially that they had checked his immigrant status with the Fed’s eVerify system. Use of the eVerify system is not mandatory. In fact, the White House dropped its call for mandatory E-Verify in February when trying to reach a DACA deal.

Later, Yarrabee admitted that they hadn’t used eVerify, but had used another verification system. The company is owned by the family of Craig Lang, a prominent Republican who previously served as president of the Iowa Farm Bureau.

We should note that many undocumented workers are hired – often knowingly – by employers, particularly in agriculture. And typically the employers suffer few consequences when ICE raids, and takes their illegal employees away.

Trump and the GOP will try to turn this into a “Willie Horton” moment in the mid-term elections. Willie Horton was serving a life sentence for murder, but was released by Massachusetts for weekend furlough. He never returned, and committed rape, assault and armed robbery before being recaptured. This happened on the watch of Democratic governor, Michael Dukakis. The GOP then used the Horton case very successfully against Dukakis, who lost the presidential election in 1988.

And the Mollie Tibbetts murder is another example of Republicans using fear to scare the electorate. Facts never seem to matter, here are a few: (emphasis by Wrongo)

The CDC analyzed the murders of women in 18 states from 2003 to 2014, finding a total of 10,018 deaths. Of those, 55% were intimate partner violence-related, meaning they occurred at the hands of a former or current partner or the partner’s family or friends. In 93% of those cases, the culprit was a current or former romantic partner. The report also bucks the strangers-in-dark-alleys narrative common to televised crime dramas: Strangers perpetrated just 16% of all female homicides, fewer than acquaintances and just slightly more than parents.

If you say none of that matters to Mollie Tibbetts, or her family, you would be wrong. Sam Lucas, a cousin of Mollie’s, tweeted a response to Candace Owens, a representative of a right-wing student organization:

Hey I’m a member of Mollie’s family and we are not so fucking small-minded that we generalize a whole population based on some bad individuals….stop using my cousin’s death as political propaganda…. https://t.co/xxZNBF0Uv9

— sam (@samlucasss) August 22, 2018

Our hearts should break for Mollie and her family. But why then, is the GOP dragging out the old Horton playbook to whip up racism? Trump wouldn’t have made any mention about her murder if it had involved one of the many white men who rape and murder women (of any race) in our country, every day.

This is an entire political party dedicated to promulgating fear of the “other”, and a huge swath of the media are dedicated to blasting it out to their audience of (apparently) timid white people.

Where the killer comes from shouldn’t have anything to do with the publicity any crime receives. Except in Trumpworld, where it has everything to do with why they pay attention.

Their strategy is: Find one bad apple and then say no one should eat applesauce.

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Cohen, Manafort and Facebook

The Daily Escape:

The Moses Bridge, Netherlands – photo via @archpics. The bridge, which crosses a moat, is made from waterproof wood.

We’re all busy trying to figure out what the twin “guilty” findings about Manafort and Cohen really mean, but Steve Breen nailed it:

Michael Cohen clearly put Trump in trouble by saying that Cohen had worked in coordination with Trump to silence the two women that Trump had affairs with, in order to influence the 2016 election.

Republicans say that finding two of Trump’s inner circle guilty has nothing to do with Russia, or with Trump, and Wrongo remains skeptical about what Mueller will actually prove.

OTOH, Cohen worked on a Trump Tower project that was supposed to be built in Moscow. He worked on that project during the 2016 presidential campaign. You may remember that in 2017, Trump said that no such relationship with Russia ever existed.

Manafort was convicted of tax evasion. The taxes Manafort didn’t pay were on income from Russian proxies, one of whom, the president, was running Ukraine for the Kremlin. Manafort’s conviction on bank fraud was related to bank loans he tried to get at least in part, to pay back $20 million he owed to a buddy of Vladimir Putin. His business also employed a Russian intelligence officer for years, and once Manafort was the Trump Campaign Manager, he offered that intelligence officer private briefings on the Trump campaign.

So, there are links to Russia for both men. But, the big ugly shoe to drop is whether Michael Cohen can corroborate what McClatchy journalists Peter Stone and Greg Gordon said a few months ago:

The Justice Department special counsel has evidence that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign…

No real proof has emerged that ties Cohen to a visit to Prague, or to meeting Russians. Cohen could tell Mueller whether the trip took place, and if Cohen strategized while there with Russians about the Kremlin’s playing a role in the US election.

Wrongo is again, skeptical. He doubts that the Trump organization would have Cohen undertake such a mission. But, if true, It would prove that the Trump campaign and the Kremlin worked together to help Trump win the White House.

Let’s turn briefly to a related idea: Facebook’s role as a platform for the spread of both disinformation, and as a rallying site for angry groups. In under the radar item at the NYT, a landmark study about violence against refugees in Germany shows that the most significant variable among towns with instances of violence was use of Facebook.

The work by Karsten Müller and Carlo Schwarz, researchers at the University of Warwick, shows:

Their reams of data converged on a breathtaking statistic: Wherever per-person Facebook use rose to one standard deviation above the national average, attacks on refugees increased by about 50 percent.

The researchers scrutinized every anti-refugee attack in Germany, 3,335 in all, over a two-year span. In each case, they analyzed the local community by all relevant variables. One thing stuck out. Towns where Facebook use was higher than average reliably experienced more attacks on refugees.

That held true in virtually any sort of community — big city or small town; affluent or struggling; liberal haven or far-right stronghold — suggesting that the link applies universally. From the NYT:

The uptick in violence did not correlate with general web use or other related factors; this was not about the internet as an open platform for mobilization or communication. It was particular to Facebook.

This has huge implications: Does social media scramble users’ perceptions of outsiders, of reality, even of right and wrong?

We all believe that Facebook has had an impact on amplifying division in our society. We all are dimly aware that Facebook uses algorithms to determine what appears in each user’s newsfeed. That algorithm’s mission is to present content that maximizes user engagement.

Posts that tap into primal emotions, like anger or fear, perform best, studies have found, and so proliferate. Wrongo said this a few days ago:

…fake news spread on social media has been proven to have a bigger impact, and to spread further and faster than real news.

There are two powerful forces within Facebook’s algorithms: A combination of fear of social change, and the “us-versus-them” rallying cries. Everybody knows that they are common on Facebook.

What should we as society, do about it?

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