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Archive for February 4th, 2017

Why Nobody Cares the President Is Lying

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In the NY Times Charles Sykes explains how he and others worked hard to ensure that people like Trump (and Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway and many others) can simply repeat outright lies with no real penalty:

If President Trump’s first tumultuous weeks have done nothing else, at least they have again made us a nation of readers.

As Americans grapple with the unreality of the new administration, George Orwell’s “1984” has enjoyed a resurgence of interest, becoming a surprise best seller and an invaluable guide to our post-factual world.

On his first full day in office Mr. Trump insisted that his inaugural crowd was the largest ever, a baseless boast that will likely set a pattern for his relationship both to the media and to the truth.

At an event marking Black History Month last week, the president took a detour from a discussion of Frederick Douglass — he described the abolitionist as “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more” — to talk about the press. “A lot of the media is actually the opposition party — they’re so biased,” he said. “So much of the media is the opposition party and knowingly saying incorrect things.”

Continue reading the main story

Mr. Trump understands that attacking the media is the reddest of meat for his base, which has been conditioned to reject reporting from news sites outside of the conservative media ecosystem.

For years, as a conservative radio talk show host, I played a role in that conditioning by hammering the mainstream media for its bias and double standards. But the price turned out to be far higher than I imagined. The cumulative effect of the attacks was to delegitimize those outlets and essentially destroy much of the right’s immunity to false information. We thought we were creating a savvier, more skeptical audience. Instead, we opened the door for President Trump, who found an audience that could be easily misled.

The news media’s spectacular failure to get the election right has made it only easier for many conservatives to ignore anything that happens outside the right’s bubble and for the Trump White House to fabricate facts with little fear of alienating its base.

Unfortunately, that also means that the more the fact-based media tries to debunk the president’s falsehoods, the further it will entrench the battle lines.

During his first week in office, Mr. Trump reiterated the unfounded charge that millions of people had voted illegally. When challenged on the evident falsehood, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, seemed to argue that Mr. Trump’s belief that something was true qualified as evidence. The press secretary also declined to answer a straightforward question about the unemployment rate, suggesting that the number will henceforth be whatever the Trump administration wants it to be.

He can do this because members of the Trump administration feel confident that the alternative-reality media will provide air cover, even if they are caught fabricating facts or twisting words (like claiming that the “ban” on Muslim immigrants wasn’t really a “ban”). Indeed, they believe they have shifted the paradigm of media coverage, replacing the traditional media with their own.

In a stunning demonstration of the power and resiliency of our new post-factual political culture, Mr. Trump and his allies in the right media have already turned the term “fake news” against its critics, essentially draining it of any meaning. During the campaign, actual “fake news” — deliberate hoaxes — polluted political discourse and clogged social media timelines.

Some outlets opened the door, by helping spread conspiracy theories and indulging the paranoia of the fever swamps. For years, the widely read Drudge Report has linked to the bizarre conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who believes that both the attacks of Sept. 11 and the Sandy Hook shootings were government-inspired “false flag” operations.

For conservatives, this should have made it clear that something was badly amiss in their media ecosystem. But now any news deemed to be biased, annoying or negative can be labeled “fake news.” Erroneous reports that the bust of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from the Oval Office or misleading reports that sanctions against Russia had been lifted will be seized on by Mr. Trump’s White House to reinforce his indictment.

Even as he continues to attack the “dishonest media,” Mr. Trump and his allies are empowering this alt-reality media, providing White House access to Breitbart and other post-factual outlets that are already morphing into fierce defenders of the administration.

The relationship appears to be symbiotic, as Mr. Trump often seems to pick up on talking points from Fox News and has tweeted out links from websites notorious for their casual relationship to the truth, including sites like Gateway Pundit, a hoax-peddling site that announced, shortly after the inauguration, that it would have a White House correspondent.

By now, it ought to be evident that enemies are important to this administration, whether they are foreigners, refugees, international bankers or the press.

But discrediting independent sources of information also has two major advantages for Mr. Trump: It helps insulate him from criticism and it allows him to create his own narratives, metrics and “alternative facts.”

All administrations lie, but what we are seeing here is an attack on credibility itself.

The Russian dissident and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov drew upon long familiarity with that process when he tweeted: “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”

Mr. Kasparov grasps that the real threat is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2017 at 10:21 pm

Making butter in France

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Fascinating video from a report at Refinery29. The report is well worth reading, and here’s the video:

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2017 at 9:58 pm

Posted in Business, Food

The FCC is stopping 9 companies from providing federally subsidized Internet to the poor

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The government seems to be moving toward serving only the wealthy by smoothing the path to their getting even more wealth and transferring money as rapidly as possible from individuals into the coffers of corporations. Brian Fung reports in the Washington Post:

Regulators are telling nine companies they won’t be allowed to participate in a federal program meant to help them provide affordable Internet access to low-income consumers — weeks after those companies had been given the green light.

The move, announced Friday by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, reverses a decision by his Democratic predecessor, Tom Wheeler, and undercuts the companies’ ability to provide low-cost Internet access to poorer Americans. In a statement, Pai called the initial decisions a form of “midnight regulation.”

“These last-minute actions, which did not enjoy the support of the majority of commissioners at the time they were taken, should not bind us going forward,” he said.

The program, known as Lifeline, provides registered households with a $9.25-a-month credit, which can then be used to buy home Internet service. As many as 13 million Americans may be eligible for Lifeline that do not have broadband service at home, the FCC has found. Roughly 900 service providers participate in the Lifeline program.

For Kajeet Inc., one of the companies that was initially granted permission to provide service through Lifeline, the news comes as a blow.

“I’m most concerned about the children we serve,” said Kajeet founder Daniel Neal. “We partner with school districts — 41 states and the District of Columbia — to provide educational broadband so that poor kids can do their homework.”

Since becoming chairman last month, Pai has made closing the digital divide a central axis of his policy agenda. Although the vast majority of Americans have access to Internet service, there remain distinct gaps in U.S. broadband penetration, particularly among seniors, minorities and the poor. In his first address to FCC staff, Pai singled out the digital divide as one of the signature issues he hoped to address.

But Friday’s move cuts against those remarks, according to some consumer advocates who argue the decision will make it harder for low-income Americans to access the Web.

“The most obvious fact in our society is that high-speed Internet is astronomically expensive for the middle-class and down,” said Gene Kimmelman, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge. “So in any way limiting the Lifeline program, at this moment in time, exacerbates the digital divide. It doesn’t address it in any positive way.”

As many as eight other companies are also subject to the FCC’s reversal, according to the text of the decision. The agency can freely reconsider decisions it’s made on the matter within 30 days of making them. Four of the nine approvals were revoked in response to a complaint, while the remaining five were revoked within the 30-day window.

Until last year, Lifeline recipients could only apply their federal benefit toward landline and mobile voice service. Significant changes to the program under Wheeler let beneficiaries, for the first time, use their credits to purchase broadband. The expansion was opposed by Pai and other Republican officials, who argued that the measure did not do enough to rein in potential costs or to control waste, fraud and abuse. (Democrats claimed that recent reforms to the program had helped cut down on the latter.) . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2017 at 7:22 pm

And so what can YOU do

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This comes from a Facebook post, and it makes sense:

Please heed this guidance from a high-level staffer for a Senator: You should NOT be bothering with online petitions or emailing. Online contact basically gets immediately ignored, and letters pretty much get thrown in the trash unless you have a particularly strong emotional story – but even then it’s not worth the time it took you to craft that letter.

There are 2 things that you should be doing all the time right now, and they’re by far the most important things:

1. The best thing you can do to be heard and get your congressperson to pay attention is to have face-to-face time – if they have townhalls, go to them. Go to their local offices. If you’re in DC, try to find a way to go to an event of theirs. Go to the “mobile offices” that their staff hold periodically (all these times are located on each congressperson’s website). When you go, ask questions. A lot of them. And push for answers. The louder and more vocal and present you can be at those the better.

2. But, those in-person events don’t happen every day. So, the absolute most important thing that people should be doing every day is calling.

Make 6 calls a day (yup: SIX), 2 each (DC office and your local office) to your 2 Senators & your 1 Representative.

Calls are what all the congresspeople pay attention to. Every single day, the Senior Staff and the Senator get a report of the 3 most-called-about topics for that day at each of their offices (in DC and local offices), and exactly how many people said what about each of those topics.

They’re also sorted by zip code and area code.

And this is IMPORTANT: She said Republican callers generally outnumber Democrat callers 4-1, and when it’s a particular issue that single-issue-voters pay attention to (like gun control, or planned parenthood funding, etc…), it’s often closer to 11-1, and that has recently pushed Republican Congressfolks on the fence to vote with the Republicans. In the last 8 years, Republicans have called, and Democrats have not.


A) When calling the DC office, ask for the Staff member in charge of whatever you’re calling about (“Hi, I’d like to speak with the staffer in charge of Healthcare, please”). Local offices won’t always have specific ones, but they might. If you get transferred to that person, awesome. If you don’t, that’s ok – ask for their name, and then just keep talking to whoever answered the phone. Don’t leave a message (unless the office doesn’t pick up at all – then you can…but it’s better to talk to the staffer who first answered than leave a message for the specific staffer in charge of your topic).

B) Give them your zip code. They won’t always ask for it, but make sure you give it to them, so they can mark it down. Extra points if you live in a zip code that traditionally votes for them, since they’ll want to make sure they get/keep your vote.

C) If you can make it personal, make it personal. “I voted for you in the last election and I’m worried/happy/whatever” or “I’m a teacher, and I am appalled by Betsy DeVos,” or “as a single mother” or “as a white, middle class woman,” or whatever.

D) Pick 1-2 specific things per day to focus on. Don’t go down a whole list – they’re figuring out what 1-2 topics to mark you down for on their lists, so, focus on 1-2 per day. Ideally something that will be voted on/taken up in the next few days, but it doesn’t really matter…even if there’s not a vote coming up in the next week, call anyway. It’s important that they just keep getting calls.

E) Be clear on what you want – “I’m disappointed that the Senator…” or “I want to thank the Senator for their vote on…” or “I want the Senator to know that voting in _____ way is the wrong decision for our state because…” Don’t leave any ambiguity.

F) They may get to know your voice/get sick of you – it doesn’t matter. The people answering the phones generally turn over every 6 weeks anyway, so even if they’re really sick of you, they’ll be gone in 6 weeks.

From experience since the election: If you hate being on the phone & feel awkward, don’t worry…there are a bunch of scripts (Indivisible has some). After a few days of calling, it starts to feel a lot more natural. Put the 6 numbers in your phone all under Politician, which makes it really easy to tap down the list each day!

Now go get ’em!

When you try anything new, it will at first feel awkward and you have that uneasy feeling that you don’t really know what you’re doing (as in one’s first shave with a DE razor). But if you expect that, and focus at first on progress from call to call rather than on the outcome of any particular call, you’ll find progress is actually quite rapid. By the end of the first week you’ll feel comfortable and you’ll have a routine.

Let’s do it.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2017 at 7:10 pm

Posted in Congress, Daily life

Stephen Bannon is hard at work doing what he said he would do: Destroy the government

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Scary analysis from David Troy, posted on Facebook: The Battle Ahead

I have come to the conclusion that there is a major conflict looming for western democracies; it will likely devolve into world war. It could come in a matter of days or weeks; or perhaps, if we are lucky, growing awareness of the path we are on could forestall it. Regardless, the consequences are significant and it will affect everyone.

This will be disturbing to read and you may be tempted to discard it; I encourage you to give it a chance.

Since the end of World War II, the west has settled into an ossified and brittle peace. The conventional wisdom is that a mix of democracy, technology, trade, tolerance, capitalism, a social safety net, and open borders are a sure-fire recipe for sustained economic growth and continuous improvement of society.

In broad measures, this has been true: the world is safer, and the number of people living in poverty keeps dropping. We have managed to build a world that is more connected and open than ever before, and arguably civilization has achieved a peak that could only have been dreamed of 100 or 150 years ago.

But there are serious problems that have festered, mostly unchecked:

1. Crony capitalism has created enormous wealth for a few, but at the expense of many. Using asymmetric information, capitalism has been rendered “risk free” for the well connected: privatizing upside gains while socializing downside risk.

2. Inequality is a major problem. We have built structural racism and white supremacy into our institutions. Instead of slavery or Jim Crow, we now enslave people through economics. Whether you want to cite high price cell phones targeted at the underbanked, or bail bonds, or the unfair lending practices, many black, brown and other minorities are unfairly targeted by an unlevel playing field, day after day.

3. Our politics has become arrogant, ossified, and stale. The fact that we just conducted a presidential election with a few dozen dull primary contenders, and finished it up with a battle between three relics from the culture wars gives a good sense that we have run out of new blood. Our parties are in disarray, and really, don’t know what they are actually about anymore.

So onto this stage of general progress, but diminished, weakened political culture walks Stephen Bannon.

Bannon’s background is well documented. But the most important thing to know about Bannon is his penchant for drama — and his obsession with the book “The Fourth Turning.”

Written in 1997 by the historians Strauss and Howe, it aims to describe the cyclical nature of generational history. They posit that there are “turns” of roughly 20 years that define all of modern human history. They have studied it in detail, and their observations largely ring true.

Whether or not you believe their theory, it is important to know that Bannon does. And he seems to be taking it as a kind of literal gospel, enacting its prognostications with Biblical zeal.

He appears to believe that he is a historical figure charged to take on the task of provoking the “Fourth Turning” that the book predicts — but which largely has not taken place, though arguably some early signs are present.

But Bannon has asserted that the Fourth Turning has begun. And, in this, Bannon is perhaps quantitatively right: Western democracies have been signaling that something is very wrong, with about 50% of voters selecting candidates and platforms platforms that represent a sharp break from our incremental, progressive past.

But here’s the thing: Strauss and Howe suggest that this “Crisis” phase of the Fourth Turning will almost certainly result in authoritarian, absolutist rule — as the outcome of a total, decisive war. They suggest that minorities will be targeted and demonized. And that dissent will not be tolerated.

That may be an observation one can make about generational cycles in the past, but it is in on the wrong side of modern history and the enlightenment, whose arc does bend toward justice.

So it would seem that Bannon, who is a provocateur, a showman, a horrible white nationalist, and an all around Rasputin-like figure, is using the book as a kind of historical “excuse” to pursue his agenda: “it will happen anyway,” he might argue. He’s just here to provoke the inevitable.

And in one thing he is right: our brittle, ossified Western democracies are due for a reset and a good kick in the pants. We need to get serious about fixing the serious structural flaws that people very rightly are concerned about. We need to plan for what a world without work might look like.

And fixing this could even be violent, depending on what forces are unleashed.

But no matter what, this entry can never be an excuse for Steve Bannon (along with his backers, Robert and Rebekah Mercer) to pursue a white nationalist and authoritarian agenda for the world’s most powerful democracy.

With each passing day, he is enacting measures that aggravate (a term used in Fourth Turning) society’s fault lines and push it closer to the brink of collapse. Installing members of his network (DeVos) in cabinet posts; the travel ban (affecting at least 100,000 people in its first days); giving banks more leverage by undoing Dodd-Frank; we could go on and on, and we’re only two weeks in.

His intentions are not what they seem on the surface; his true intention is to push a fragile, interconnected, and complex society to actually collapse — so that it can be rebuilt in *his* image. I ask simply: is this what you want? Did you vote for this? Did anyone vote for *this*?

So now, the challenge: there are three options.

1) either the forces of conflict are already unleashed, and we will fall into a brutal nonlinear war where Bannon’s darkest fantasies are fulfilled, or

2) the forces of conflict are already unleashed, and we take responsibility for the failings of democracy, and fight to preserve our values of openness, tolerance, and free speech, even in the face of brutal conflict, or

3) we have not yet hit the point of no return, and can still use our institutions to flush out the threat that Bannon poses, while seriously addressing the vulnerability he aimed to exploit.

There is no workable alternative. We each must choose whether we will protect the values this country was founded on, and we must do so now.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2017 at 7:03 pm

Trump increases risks for U.S. troops in Iraq

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Trump is incompetent. He acts on impulse, he doesn’t think things through, and he fails to consult with competent advisers (and shows bad judgment in picking his closest advisers: Michael Flynn, Stephen Bannon, Stephen Miller, Kellyanne Conway, and so on, including the White House lawyer who though it would be a good idea to fire all the Inspectors General in the Federal government and replace them with Trump stooges.

David Zucchino reports in the NY Times:

Capt. Ahmed Adnan al-Musawe had survived another day battling Islamic State fighters in Mosul last weekend when he heard startling news: The new American president had temporarily barred Iraqis from entering the United States and wanted tougher vetting.

Captain Musawe, who commands an infantry unit of the Iraqi Army’s elite counterterrorism force, considers himself already fully vetted: He has been trained by American officers in Iraq and in Jordan. And backed by American advisers, he has fought the Islamic State in three Iraqi cities, including three months of brutal street combat in Mosul.

“If America doesn’t want Iraqis because we are all terrorists, then America should send its sons back to Iraq to fight the terrorists themselves,” Captain Musawe told a New York Times reporter who was with him this week at his barricaded position inside Mosul.

President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order has driven a wedge between many Iraqi soldiers and their American allies. Officers and enlisted men interviewed on the front lines in Mosul said they interpreted the order as an affront — not only to them but also to fellow soldiers who have died in the battle for Mosul.

Continue reading the main story

“An insult to their dignity,” said Capt. Abdul Saami al-Azzi, another officer with the counterterrorism force in Mosul. He said he was hurt and disappointed by a nation he had considered a respectful partner. “It is really embarrassing.”

The American and Iraqi militaries have negotiated an often tenuous and strained relationship over the years. But few episodes have so blindsided the current generation of Iraqi soldiers, who are accustomed to viewing the United States as their partner in a shared struggle to defeat insurgents and build a viable nation.

The timing of the order hit the Iraqi military in Mosul like an incoming rocket. Iraqi forces have reached a pivotal moment, seizing half of Mosul and preparing to assault the remaining half — supported by American advisers, Special Operations forces and airstrikes by the United States-led coalition.

Why, some soldiers asked, had Mr. Trump chosen this moment to lump together all Iraqis as mortal threats to America — soldiers, civilians and terrorists alike?

“This decision by Trump blows up our liberation efforts of cooperation and coordination with American forces,” said Brig. Gen. Mizhir Khalid al-Mashhadani, a counterterrorism force commander in Mosul.

Astounded by the announcement, General Mashhadani, who speaks English, said he asked his American counterparts about the president’s order. He said several told him they considered the decision hasty and its consequences poorly considered.

The travel ban was all the more perplexing to those Iraqi troops who had heard Mr. Trump vow as a candidate to wipe out the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh. Some also heard the president promise, when issuing the order, to keep “radical Islamic terrorists” out of the United States.

For some soldiers, those comments seemed to equate Iraqi soldiers — by virtue of their nationality and religion — with the very terrorists they were fighting. . .

Continue reading. There’s more and it’s bad.

Trump should be removed from office.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2017 at 6:46 pm

Did Kellyanne Conway Lie on Hardball? Absolutely

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2017 at 4:47 pm

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