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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Consequences of Fear-Mongering: Bombs Sent To Dems

The Daily Escape:

Autumn in Maine -October 2018 photo by toph4er

The short version of Trump’s mid-term message is: “Be afraid”. Think about their messages: The Caravan. Terrorists crossing the southern border. Socialism. Democrat mobs. Soros.

The Daily Beast says why Republicans think the migrant caravan is a winner:

For Republicans, the sharp turn toward immigration fears, and those related to the caravan in particular, has been viewed a clear political winner, even as some acknowledge that the rhetoric from the president and others – including [that]….George Soros was funding the caravan – has been overblown.

The caravan is politically useful because it resonates with precisely the voters that the GOP needed to turnout in the next two weeks. The Republican worry has been turnout, and illegal immigrants motivate Trump’s base.

Trump supporters have seized on an image of Hondurans burning an American flag with a swastika drawn on it, calling them the “caravan protesters”, and implying that they were members of the caravan. In reality, those Hondurans were protesting in front of the US Embassy in Honduras.

For Democrats, the past few days have to be reminiscent of 2014. James Poniewozik in the NYT reviewed GOP scare tactics in the 2014 midterms:

In the fall of 2014, with the midterms approaching, Fox and other conservative media went in overdrive on the “border crisis” and ISIS — two issues that Republicans were using to suggest that the Obama administration was failing to protect America from teeming hordes.

According to the GOP, terrorist organizations were poised on the Mexican border to sneak into the US. Representative Duncan Hunter, (R-CA), claimed on Fox that 10 ISIS operatives had been apprehended crossing the border. On Oct. 8th 2014, Donald Trump amplified Hunter’s bogus claim, tweeting:

‘At least’ 10 ISIS have been caught crossing the Mexico border…

So, back to the future. We are weeks away from another midterm election, and immigration and terror are back in heavy rotation by the GOP. On Monday’s “Fox & Friends”, co-host Pete Hegseth said:

They caught over 100 ISIS fighters in Guatemala trying to use this caravan.

Hegseth was wrong. He mischaracterized a comment by president Morales of Guatemala about past terrorist apprehensions: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Morales told Guatemala’s Prensa Libre that his country had cooperated with the security forces of neighboring countries to halt the movement of terrorists. The individuals had been “intercepted, detained, processed and returned to their country of origin,” according to Guatemalan security officials. Some of these arrests, including the arrests of several Syrians, occurred in 2016.

Facts don’t support GOP fear-mongering on the border. From the NYT:

Of the more than 300,000 people apprehended at the southern border in the last fiscal year, 61, or 0.02 percent, were from countries the State Department deems the Middle East or Near East. Of those, 14 were citizens of the four Middle Eastern countries — Libya, Iran, Syria and Yemen — included in Mr. Trump’s travel ban.

What’s a political animal to do when you want to win, but you have very few ideas to sell? If you’re Trump, you sell what put you in the White House in 2016: Fear, lies, and apocalyptic visions of what America will become if Democrats win.

Selling fear is pathetic and morally vacant, but it works with casual news consumers. They simply hear “caravan” and “border” and “terrorism” and that creates a sense of looming danger.

Today, another fear-mongering Fox News segment about ‘left-wing mobs’ and ‘incivility’ toward Mitch McConnell was interrupted by breaking news coverage of a string of bombs sent to Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. A bomb treat was issued for the Time Warner building in NYC. An improvised explosive device was found at George Soros’s Westchester, NY home.

Other suspicious packages were sent to Sen. Kamala Harris’s state office, to Eric Holder, and to Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

There are consequences when the president and his party tout lies, embrace conspiracy theories, demonize political opponents, and applaud violence against reporters. They have been doing this since at least 2014.

We don’t know what impact these bomb threats will have on the mid-term election, who will be angered, and therefore more energized to turn out and vote.

We have no idea who is responsible for sending the bombs. Republicans will say it’s an attempt to make them look bad. But, it’s more likely that they were sent by someone who was radicalized by overheated right-wing rhetoric.

Rhetoric that has been pounded home by Trump.

Finally, we have no idea if there are any more bombs are out there. We can only hope that all will be intercepted.

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 29, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Spricherstadt, Hamburg Germany. Spricherstadt is the warehouse district in Hamburg – 2018 photo by Brotherside

Events move so quickly in Trumpworld, there is little time to consider the full implications of them. By last Friday, few remembered that on Monday, the three-day government shutdown ended. It was just another crisis reconfirming that our political system doesn’t work. The crisis was solved by the Democrats caving on the DACA fix, for a promise that DACA would be considered again soon.

Trump then went to Davos. That could have been disastrous, but Trump toned it down by saying nearly nothing. That led the heads of the world’s largest corporations and banks to conclude that Trump isn’t so dangerous. Some actually liked him, because he didn’t berate the Davos crowds with faux populism.

Everyone seems to agree that was a good thing, and that it could have been worse.

Meanwhile back in the US, on Thursday, the NYT reported that Trump ordered the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller last July, only to be dissuaded by White House lawyer Don McGahn. Mueller is still on the job, so, Constitutional crisis avoided.

It’s a lot to process.

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, the authors of “How Democracies Die,” wrote about just how fragile our democracy is in the Sunday NYT. They say that two unwritten norms undergird our Republic that has endured various political and economic crises for two and a half centuries: (emphasis by Wrongo)

The first is mutual toleration, according to which politicians accept their opponents as legitimate. When mutual toleration exists, we recognize that our partisan rivals are loyal citizens who love our country just as we do.

The second norm is forbearance, or self-restraint in the exercise of power. Forbearance is the act of not exercising a legal right. In politics, it means not deploying one’s institutional prerogatives to the hilt, even if it’s legal to do so.

But now, Trump and other politicians push up to the edge of legality. They occasionally have stepped over the line delineating these “norms”. They have dared adversaries (or the courts) to force them back. When there is little pushback, a new norm appears.

This is America today.

In this environment, politicians willingly leverage their power to win at all costs, norms and principles be damned. Last week, Tony Perkins, leader of the evangelical Family Research Council, said in response to allegations that Trump had an affair with a fuckedtube porn star four months after the birth of his son Barron:

We kind of gave him — All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here.

We are in an Orwellian moment. The President and party politicians stand before the nation and swear that up is down, black is white, truths are lies, and wrong is right.

Time to wake up America! We are on a precipice, staring down into the void. The country isn’t going to auto-correct, like your emails. And it can get much, much worse unless people understand the threats to our democracy, and move sharply to stop our downhill slide.

That means understanding the issues. It means voting in off-year elections, starting with your town council, and your state representatives and yes, your House and Senate candidates. It means working to get the word out to your neighbors. It means financial support for local candidates.

It means getting off the sidelines.

To help you wake up, here is The Record Company with their tune, “Off the Ground” from their 2016 album “Give It Back to You”. It reached #1 on the US Billboard Adult Alternative Songs chart:

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

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Did Fake News Swing the Election?

This from Paul Horner:

I think Donald Trump is in the White House because of me.

Who is Paul Horner? He is the leader of a fake news empire, including his ABCnews.com.co site that The WaPo wrote about today:

Paul Horner, the 38-year-old impresario of a Facebook fake-news empire, has made his living off viral news hoaxes for several years. He has twice convinced the Internet that he’s British graffiti artist Banksy; he also published the very viral, very fake news of a Yelp vs. “South Park” lawsuit last year.

But he really hit his stride in the 2016 presidential election. From WaPo:

In March, Donald Trump’s son Eric and his then-campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, tweeted links to one of Horner’s faux-articles. His stories have also appeared as news on Google:

faux-news-google

He also pushed a story that Trump protesters were paid by Democrats. Even Trump on the campaign trail, said it was true. Here is the story behind the story by Horner:

My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time. I think Trump is in the White House because of me. His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything. His campaign manager posted my story about a protester getting paid $3,500 as fact. Like, I made that up. I posted a fake ad on Craigslist.

Horner is correct. Here is (then) Trump Campaign Manager Lewandowski tweeting it:

lewandowski-retweets

WaPo asks Horner, why do his stories go so viral?

Honestly, people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s real scary. I’ve never seen anything like it

Real news is so boring. Fake news is so compelling.

Despite Horner’s “dumber people” comments, satire should not need to be fact- checked by the reader to determine that it is satire, not false news. When Horner writes a purported news story reporting that a protester was paid thousands to protest at a Trump rally, that story presented itself as news, not satire. It also generates revenue for him while providing ammunition for Trump supporters.

NPR reported yesterday on how Facebook reviews news sites that post on their platform. They said that FB:

Turned to the consulting firm Accenture to put together a dedicated team of subcontractors. Sources say the team is now several thousand people, with some of the largest offices in Manila…and Warsaw.

Ok, outsourcing isn’t necessarily good or evil, but NPR also reported that:

Current and former employees of Facebook say that they’ve observed these subcontractors in action; that they are told to go fast — very fast; that they’re evaluated on speed; and that on average, a worker makes a decision about a piece of flagged content once every 10 seconds.

The 10 second rule means that a worker on an eight-hour shift, at the rate of one post per 10 seconds, means that they’re clearing 2,880 posts a day per person. How do you evaluate something as fake news in 10 seconds, particularly when you don’t even live in the US?

There’s another huge barrier: The subcontractors typically don’t get to see the full story, because the messages are truncated. Therefore, no one can really evaluate a particular story’s context.

This is America in the 21st Century. How can people develop good bullshit detectors, when the platform that 1.7 billion people worldwide subscribe to, can’t be serious about checking to see if something posted is true?

We are in an era where facts are increasingly irrelevant.

The solution is to fund independent social media organizations that really fact check BS statements. And then, reach out to counter the faux that easily-manipulated individuals want to believe. Their fact-checking will have to be part of social media, since that is what people who live mostly on social media understand. Next, treat them with respect, and work hard to relieve their underlying anxieties.

Consider Obama’s last press conference: He treated the reporters well, and they were respectful of him. He paid homage to the death of the respected newsperson, Gwen Ifill, including thanking her for holding his feet to the fire.

That’s the kind of presidential temperament we need.

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The Lyin’ Game

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was, and never will be.”Thomas Jefferson

We received quite a few emails about the column “Lie to Me – It’s a Post-Truth World.” In it, Wrongo called for a means of rebutting lies as they emerge and crawl across our political landscape. Citizens who otherwise lead commonsensical lives cannot seem to hold on to facts when in a political argument.

Let’s start by taking a closer look at how things work in the Lyin’ Game. Charlie Pierce’s 2009 book, Idiot America, lays out what he calls the Three Great Premises that explain how lies take the form of truth:

1. Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or moves units.
2. Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough.
3. Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is measured by how fervently they believe it.

It seems that the 2016 election is confirmation of Dr. Pierce’s diagnosis. The prognosis is not necessarily fatal, though left untreated, it surely could be. Here is a quote from his book:

In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a scientist, or a preacher, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.

So, it’s not just that we are fact free, it’s that we, the people, are unable or unwilling to learn the facts.

Susan Jacoby also wrote about the risks of a fact-free society about the same time as Pierce, the 2008 presidential election. In her book, “The Age of Unreason,” she made a great point about FDR and his relationship with citizens and the truth. In FDR’s radio fireside chats, he would ask the people listening out there to spread a map of the world out in front of them so that as he talked about the battles that were going on, they would understand what he was saying about the places, the geography, and the strategy of what was happening. Doris Kearns Goodwin said in a lecture at Kansas State University that one of her favorite fireside chats was the “map speech,” delivered in February, 1942. Millions of Americans went out and bought maps, and they sat by the radio and followed what FDR was talking about.

And FDR wasn’t on the radio every week as presidents are today. He only delivered two or three of these fireside chats a year, deliberately holding himself back for the moment when the country needed to hear from their president. He understood something that we have lost, that less can be more.

In 2009, Pierce offered a prescription about how to get out of the “perception is reality” paradigm: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

I’ve given that a lot of thought and the best answer I can give is that we, as citizens, simply have to do better at self-government. We have to distinguish between entertainment and information. Our powers of discernment have to be sharpened…Any journalist who accepts “perception is reality” as axiomatic is committing professional malpractice. Our job is to hammer the reality home until the perception conforms to it.

When our journalists accept “perception is fact” there is no hope for truth.

Jacoby says that the spread of ignorance and the acceptance of non-truth as fact is caused in part by the absence of national education standards, combined with the anti-intellectualism that we see everywhere. America’s insistence on local control of schools means that children in the poorest areas of the country have the worst school facilities and teachers with the worst training.

Among OECD nations, only in the US, Israel and Turkey do disadvantaged schools have lower teacher/student ratios than in those serving more privileged students.

This gives us an America in which anti-intellectualism is not only tolerated, but celebrated by many politicians and the media. Meanwhile, 25% of Texas high-school biology teachers believe that human beings and dinosaurs shared the earth, and more than a third of Americans can’t name a single First Amendment right.

Facts don’t matter, because more and more Americans cannot recognize facts as true. Jacoby says:

This level of scientific illiteracy provides fertile soil for political appeals based on sheer ignorance.

Our 2016 presidential campaign has clarified what’s wrong with us as a nation. Yet, we’ve proven to willingly to put up with it.

Instead of putting up with what’s wrong, how about fixing it?

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Lie to Me: It’s a Post-Truth World

Trump’s approach to lying is new, and it’s on a totally higher level. The essence is to undermine the concept of truth itself, to confuse and persuade and convince. From the Economist:

Mr. Trump is the leading exponent of “post-truth” politics − a reliance on assertions that “feel true” but have no basis in fact. His brazenness is not punished, but taken as evidence of his willingness to stand up to elite power.

When someone is for Trump, it doesn’t matter if he comes out with some outrageous statement because either a) the media is blowing it out of proportion or b) he’s just telling it like it is or c) he’s just being Trump. Below is a fact-checking by David Leonhardt of the NYT published the morning after the second debate:

He lied about a sex tape.

He lied about his lies about ‘birtherism.’

He lied about the growth rate of the American economy.

He lied about the state of the job market.

He lied about the trade deficit.

He lied about tax rates.

He lied about his own position on the Iraq War, again.

He lied about ISIS.

He lied about the Benghazi attack.

He lied about the war in Syria.

He lied about Syrian refugees.

He lied about Russia’s hacking.

He lied about the San Bernardino terrorist attack.

He lied about Hillary Clinton’s tax plan.

He lied about her health care plan.

He lied about her immigration plan.

He lied about her email deletion.

He lied about Obamacare, more than once.

He lied about the rape of a 12-year-old girl.

He lied about his history of groping women without their consent.

Dishonesty in politics is nothing new. Remember Nixon? Lyndon Johnson lied about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, thus getting the country into a war in Vietnam. In 1986, Ronald Reagan insisted that his administration did not trade weapons for hostages with Iran, before having to admit a few months later that:

 My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not…

Reagan’s words point to what is different. Political lies used to imply that there was a truth. Evidence, consistency and scholarship had enough political power to make Nixon resign.

Today, many voters, a few politicians like Trump, and some pundits simply no longer care:

  • They deal in insinuation (“A lot of people are saying…” is one of Mr. Trump’s favorite phrases) and question the provenance, rather than accuracy, of anything that goes against them (“They would say that, wouldn’t they?”).
  • And when the distance between what “feels” true and what the facts say grows too great, it can always be bridged by trotting out a conspiracy theory.

But the manner (and frequency) of Trump’s lies, are different, and more worrisome. When you are a Trump-like chameleon, you can be all things to (most) people.

The magnitude of this information change is greater than any since Gutenberg started printing pamphlets. People who are bombarded with new information do not know what/who to trust. Old media that used to be trusted sources of information have been destroyed or forced to change by the new technology.

There is no source of authority which is not intensely disputed. As an example, there is hardly an article in the old media which a few commenters do not challenge, often calling into question the integrity of the writer, the editor, or the owners; this was not true in 2000. The net result is a lessening of trust, which has many serious implications.

We need a language/methodology for rebuttal. People have suggested real-time fact checking, but in a divided post-truth society, who can be a non-biased fact-checker? And in a divided society, some, like televangelists  Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell Jr. won’t even accept that the Pant Load committed sexual assault when there is video evidence. What is it that Donald Trump has to offer that these preachers will sell their souls and misquote scripture to support him?

It could take us a few generations to decide who to trust. In the meantime, a few populists will become leaders, a few wars may be started, more young people will be inspired to express their political beliefs through terrorism, and some young people will opt out of our political process.

It will remain very difficult to have a reasoned conversation with anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the same version of the truth as you do.

Donald Trump’s statements are only true or mostly true 15% of the time. He has largely rejected reality and entered a delusional realm where what “feels right” is fed to a portion of the public that wants to believe his lies.

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