Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Facebook: the monster destroying civilization

January 13, 2019

First it was Facebook as an addictive time sink; substituting for life in the actual world; even ruining marriages. But all that was in a more innocent time. Now there are bigger issues.

PBS’s Frontline recently ran an eye-popping two-part report on Facebook. The mantra of Facebook and its creator/boss Mark Zuckerberg is “open and connected.” It’s the idealism of improving the world by bringing people together and empowering them. The 2011 Egyptian revolution was organized largely via Facebook.

But Facebook, as Reinhold Niebuhr said of religion, is a good thing for good people and a bad thing for bad people. And while most people are good, unfortunately not all are. Containing bad people’s badness is civilization’s age-old problem. Bad people have had a field day exploiting Facebook’s idealistic concept for their own malign purposes, and Facebook has failed abysmally in dealing with this.

Facebook makes its money by using its algorithms to target ads to people likely to be receptive. The Russians utilized this to subvert the 2016 election (with the connivance if not collusion of the Trump campaign); a well-financed and well-organized attack on America and its democracy by the Internet Research Agency operating under the Kremlin’s aegis. The IRA launched a tsunami of Facebook ads. But it did much more, also flooding Facebook with trolls pretending to be Americans posting content, including establishment of innumerable Facebook groups that attracted millions of followers.

And the Kremlin’s aim was not only Trump’s election (which they didn’t actually expect) but, more broadly, to undermine American society itself by sowing division. They did this through content advocating both sides of hot-button issues, like abortion, immigration, and guns — made as extremist as possible, to enflame partisanship and get Americans to hate one another. (Seems it was pretty successful.)

While all this was happening during 2016 — and happening massively— Facebook’s management was oblivious. Literally unaware how its platform was being so horrendously abused. Only afterward, once the stench finally reached their nostrils, did they start to investigate. And Facebook was shocked, shocked, to discover what had happened.

But things didn’t really blow up in Facebook’s face till the Cambridge Analytica story broke. Cambridge’s business is targeting people with content (not necessarily truthful) that will sway their opinions. Facebook had always sworn to protect users’ privacy and personal information, but sold some to Cambridge, and their controls proved to be so lax that Cambridge winkled out the data for many millions more.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Frontline also showed how Facebook is used to whip up ethnic hatreds and violence in Myanmar, and “weaponized” by backers of Philippine President Duterte to crush critics of his policy of dealing with drugs by murdering thousands. These are just examples of a global problem.

Part of it is that people aren’t mis-using Facebook just to promote political or social agendas. They do it for money. Creating “click bait” content that attracts a lot of eyeballs enables one to sell ads (on top of those Facebook itself sells). I heard a radio interview with one guy who unashamedly told how he’d made thousands by concocting a fake “report” about Hillary vote fraud.

Frontline interviewed a bunch of top Facebook people about all this. Every one sounded downright lame. All acknowledged that Facebook was “slow” to address these problems, but were vague about remedies. The problems at issue don’t much affect Facebook’s profitability; whereas quashing them might.

One thing Facebook is doing pro-actively, though, is trying to dig up dirt to smear its critics.

Zuckerberg appeared frequently in Frontline’s report. He came across as a dewy-eyed robotic snowflake totally out of his depth. Never appreciating the magnitude and seriousness of what’s at issue.

Facebook has always insisted it is a technology company, not a media or content company. And there is a principle, enshrined in legislation, exempting internet platforms from liability for stuff other people put up on them.

But not so fast. Facebook’s “News Feed” has become its most prominent feature. For a vast number of people, it is their primary (if not sole) source of news. Fine and dandy if it’s news like Walter Cronkhite used to broadcast. But this is totally different. This too is governed by algorithms tailored to showing users stuff they are most apt to like and respond to —whether true or not. (The purpose again is selling ads.)

The traditional role of a news purveyor is to exercise editorial responsibility. Recognizing that recipients of their product have an interest in getting accurate news; and, indeed, that this is vital for a society, especially a democratic one. But Facebook exercises no editorial responsibility whatsoever. Doesn’t even recognize that the concept applies to them.

This might not be terrible if Facebook were just another news outlet. But Facebook is now by far the world’s biggest disseminator of “news.” It has a stranglehold monopoly in the “social network” sphere, becoming indeed an integral part of the very fabric of life, throughout the globe. This gives Facebook truly immense power. But it refuses to shoulder any real responsibility.

Zuckerberg on Frontline said he assumes Facebook users are not so naive as to believe everything they see there. How naive is he to believe that? On what planet does he live?

If you’re a bad guy and you throw something up on the web that’s outrageously false but incendiary and calculated to push certain people’s buttons, that’s exactly what it will do, thanks to Facebook, whose algorithms will give it “News Feed” prominence for precisely that reason. Much more prominence than (unexciting) genuine news. It’s a form of Gresham’s law — bad (fake) news drives good (true) news out of circulation. In fact, many people today have less trust in traditional news sources. They refuse to believe CNN yet wallow in Facebook’s “News Feed” — which is really a crap feed.

This is insanity. No wonder we have the president we have.

What is the solution? It is long past time to hope that Zuckerberg and Facebook will suddenly wake up and (somehow) grasp the nettle. Meantime, while I am a believer in free market capitalism, Facebook is not just another standard type of business enterprise. It is, again, certainly a monopoly, and it’s in a class by itself, in terms of its immense societal role. This could be seen as an antitrust matter; but I don’t know that there’s an antitrust solution, along the lines of breaking up the company, that would make any sense.

My professional career was spent in the public regulation of monopoly utilities. The deal was that government would license them as monopolies, in exchange for their agreeing to being subject to regulation, including rate regulation. I would suggest designating Facebook a public utility. Rate regulation would be irrelevant here, but there needs to be regulation of how Facebook operates. At a minimum, the “News Feed” should be subjected to public oversight so that if it continues to exist at all, it must be limited to what is generally recognized as legitimate actual news.

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Witch hunt watch

December 31, 2018

1. Trump’s charitable foundation has been described as “a personal piggy bank for his businesses, legal bills and presidential campaign.” (Albany Times-Union, 12/19) Why should we care? Because donations to a charitable foundation are tax deductible. Using that money to benefit him personally, rather than for any philanthropic purpose, enabled Trump to illegally deduct those dollars from his income tax, as “charitable contributions.” A fraud upon the government and a theft from taxpayers.

Examples of disbursements by this so-called “charity” included $100,000 to settle a claim against Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort and $158,000 to settle one against the Trump National Golf Club. I have no details about those claims — likely they involved more of the fraudulent rip-offs that were Trump’s stock in trade. So he settled those frauds by means of a further fraud.

The “charity” was also suborned by Trump’s presidential campaign to make at least five $100,000 grants to Iowa groups in the days before the political caucuses there. Political contributions or expenditures are not tax-deductible, and not allowed for a charitable foundation. (This scam additionally violated campaign finance laws.)

Due to these abuses, Trump’s “charity” is being shut down, with Trump and his sons barred from serving on any charitable boards.

We already knew the 2016 election was subverted by Russian hacking and disinformation. This criminal mis-use of Trump’s charitable foundation is one more way in which he corrupted the election and procured the presidency by fraud.

A footnote: The Washington Post reported that the foundation’s remaining assets include a football helmet signed by Tim Tebow, bought for $12,000, and two paintings of the business genius Trump that cost $30,000; “the three items are now valued at $975.”

2. The New York Times recently ran an extensive report on Trump’s business history, littered with lies, cheating, frauds, and rip-offs. The Times detailed, in particular, how his family cheated the government out of hundreds of millions of dollars in estate tax on his father’s fortune. How exactly? Fred Trump ran a real estate firm owning many properties. Donald set up a fake company supposedly in the business of providing services (like maintenance, accounting, etc) for such properties — and falsely billing the father’s firm for those supposed services. The real aim was to move money from Fred’s empire into Donald’s pocket, improperly avoiding the estate taxes that would have been due if Fred had just left him the money.* This was actually a double fraud, because Fred’s business could deduct these payments from its own tax returns, as though they were legitimate business outlays.

A footnote: Trump lied in insisting he got nothing from his father except a small loan that was repaid. (It was not.)

3. Michael Cohen, at Trump’s direction and using Trump’s money, bribed two women to bury their stories of adulterous affairs with Trump. Trump originally lied that he knew nothing about it. Now he admits otherwise, yet he insists it was merely a private matter and not illegal. But the Justice Department thought differently, and Cohen is going to prison for these crimes.

Here’s why: the payments were made shortly before the election for the obvious purpose of affecting its outcome. The idea that it was to spare his wife is preposterous; as if Trump cared; and Melania knew what she was marrying. No, these were plainly political expenditures, coming under the purview of federal election law. Which limits such contributions and requires their reporting. Trump’s secret payments were a serious crime.

This too corrupted the 2016 election which Trump won by fraud.

A footnote: Rudy Giuliani dismissed the significance of these crimes by saying nobody died. This was immediately followed, on the radio news, by a report on the death of a seven-year-old Guatemalan girl, Jakelin Caal, in the custody of ICE, resulting from the inhuman policy of this fraudulently elected president.

The foregoing is by no means a full list of Trump’s misdeeds. There’s also, for example, the Trump University fraud, which he paid $25 million to settle. And now the corruption of his inaugural budget is under investigation. And of course also the Mueller stuff. Some will doubtless say, “They all do it.” No sir; not like this. (Anything the Clintons may have done pales in comparison.) In all the annals of U.S. political history, Trump’s record of pervasive criminal fraud is utterly without precedent. But the really shocking thing is that 40+% of Americans still view him favorably.

Drain the swamp.

Lock him up.

Make America great again.

* Living parents can give children gifts, free of tax, but above $15,000 annually they incur a gift tax; this is to prevent avoiding the estate tax via gifts.

Democrats and anti-democrats

December 26, 2018

Democracy is great . . . until you elect people who don’t believe in it. Like in Venezuela, where a criminal gang got power, and now can’t be voted out while looting the country.

And like Wisconsin and Michigan. Republicans were voted out of the governorships and other statewide offices. But though also outvoted for state legislative seats, they kept majorities through extreme gerrymandering. And, Venezuela-like, used that legislative control to strip the incoming governors and other officials of key powers, grabbing those powers for themselves.

Politics is a hardball game. But this is something new — shredding the rules of the game as they’ve long been understood in democracies. A key element of democratic culture is honoring voter sovereignty, pluralism, and the legitimacy of opposition. When you lose an election, you accept it, bow out, and let the other side have its day.

But Republicans no longer believe in democracy. They only believe in their own power. They executed their power grabs in Michigan and Wisconsin, with hardly a fig leaf of justification, because they could. Likewise when they abused their U.S. Senate majority to steal a Supreme Court seat, something unprecedented in our history.

Republicans’ rejection of democratic culture has long been clear too from their voter suppression tactics. Instead of trying to attract opposing voters, they aim to stop their voting.

Blacks are primary targets. A lot of Republican election wins have actually been achieved by preventing many blacks (and members of other demographic groups) from voting. This was certainly true of Georgia’s gubernatorial election; maybe the 2016 presidential election too.

Despite these shameful tactics, most blacks in America still can vote. And what mystifies me is why their turnout is not virtually 100%.

We’re endlessly told how racist America is; that “black lives matter” must be fought for. Well, the most powerful weapon in combating all that is the vote. We’re also endlessly told that the system is rigged and voting is pointless, it doesn’t matter. Yet while a single vote may not change anything, millions of votes do. Money may rule, but only if it can buy votes. People can refuse to be fooled. And at the end of the day, it’s votes that rule.

Look again at 2016 and tell me voting doesn’t matter. America would be a completely different country today if all blacks able to vote in 2016 had done so. Probably if just 5% more had done so.

Racism? Don’t talk to me about racism if you don’t vote.

No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus

December 22, 2018

We gave our daughter the middle name Verity, which actually means truth, and tried to raise her accordingly.

About the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, she wised up pretty early, as a toddler. About Santa, she was skeptical, but brought scientific reason to bear. A big unwieldy rocking horse she doubted could have gotten into the house without Santa’s help. So that convinced her — for a while at least.

Recently a first grade teacher was fired for telling students there is no Santa (nor any other kind of magic). This reality dunk was considered a kind of child abuse; puncturing their illusions deemed cruel; plenty of time for that when they grow up. However, the problem is that a lot of people never do get with reality. As comedian Neal Brennan said (On The Daily Show), belief in Santa Claus may be harmless but is a “gateway drug” to other more consequential delusions.

People do usually give up belief in Santa. But not astrology, UFOs, and, of course (the big ones) God and Heaven. The only thing making those illusions seemingly more credible than Santa Claus is the fact that so many people still cling to them.

America is indeed mired in a pervasive culture of magical beliefs, not just with religion, but infecting the whole public sphere. Like the “Good guy with a gun” theory. Like climate change denial. And of course over 40% still believe the world’s worst liar is somehow “making America great again.” (History shows even the rottenest leaders always attract plenty of followers.)

Liberals are not immune. Beliefs about vaccines and GM foods being harmful are scientifically bunk. In fact it’s those beliefs that do harm.

I’ve written repeatedly about the importance of confirmation bias — how we love information that seemingly supports our beliefs and shun anything contrary. The Economist recently reported on a fascinating study, where people had to choose whether to read and respond to eight arguments supporting their own views on gay marriage, or eight against. But choosing the former could cost them money. Yet almost two-thirds of Americans (on both sides of the issue) actually still opted against exposure to unwelcome advocacy! In another study, nearly half of voters made to hear why others backed the opposing presidential candidate likened the experience to having a tooth pulled.

And being smarter actually doesn’t help. In fact, smarter people are better at coming up with rationalizations for their beliefs and for dismissing countervailing information.

Yet a further study reported by The Economist used an MRI to scan people’s brains while they read statements for or against their beliefs. Based on what brain regions lit up, the study concluded that major beliefs are an integral part of one’s sense of personal identity. No wonder they’re so impervious to reality.

Remarkably, given the shitstorm so totally perverting the Republican party, not a single Republican member of Congress has renounced it.

The Economist ended by saying “accurate information does not always seem to have much of an effect (but we will keep trying anyway).”

So will I.

Fear and Loathing in France and Britain

December 11, 2018

France is having a meltdown; a toddler’s screaming tantrum, pounding its fists and kicking its legs. Convulsed with truly scary violence around protests against Emmanuel Macron’s presidency.

I used to be contemptuous of France and its politics (here’s an example). Then in 2017 they had a fit of seeming sense, electing an actually good president, with 66% of the vote no less — a landslide of proportions unheard of in America. After that, his brand-new party swept parliamentary elections too. But this revolution wasn’t all it seemed. In the presidential contest’s first round, Macron got only 24%, just enough to make the runoff, which he won only because the other candidate was utterly beyond the pale. (Though just such a candidate was elected in America.) Macron’s new party romped because the French had lost all faith in the old ones.

Still, Macron did win with pledges of long-overdue reforms to juice France’s anemic economy. (Unemployment is 9%, due in good part to an over-regulated labor market.) But the French are like St. Augustine who said, “God, make me chaste, but not yet.” So France has a repetitive history of presidents rolling out reforms, followed by eruption in the streets, followed by presidential capitulation. Macron vowed this would not be his story too.

Then the streets duly erupted. The immediate issue was a fuel tax, but the deeper complaint is the idea that Macron is out-of-touch and his reforms benefit the rich. Those actually protesting may be a small minority, but most French citizens back them. Contrary to his brave vow, Macron folded on the fuel tax. However, that’s seen as too little, too late, and the violence continues. On Monday he made a speech offering more concessions. It doesn’t seem to be working.

Meantime in Great Britain —

I wrote in August recapping the Brexit picture. Parliament was supposed to vote Tuesday on Prime Minister Theresa May’s exit deal with the European Union. But she cancelled the vote because it was clear she’d lose, badly. Brexit voters in the 2016 referendum were delusional in imagining Britain could keep the benefits of the EU while freeing itself of the drawbacks. It turns out to be the reverse. The best deal May could get is clearly worse, all around, than the status quo. The Europeans are unbudging. But Brexiteers, still unable to face up to the hard reality, are screaming “betrayal” at May.

How can this mess be resolved? Britain should have a new referendum question — accept the deal on offer or stay in the EU. The latter would likely win. But Brexit zealots probably won’t allow such a vote. The deadline is March 29, and Britain now seems headed for crashing out of the EU without any deal — an economic nightmare. Meantime May’s hold on power hangs by a thread, within her own Conservative party. While waiting to take over is the opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. A very bad man whose accession would consummate Britain’s national suicide.

What do the French and British situations have in common? Citizen bloody-mindedness. Unreasonableness. Irresponsibility. Wanting what they want without regard to sense and reality.

The French overwhelmingly elected a government but refuse to let it govern. The Brits still refuse to give up the utter folly of Brexit.

And what about America? Trump has jeered at Macron’s poll ratings; elected with 66%, he’s now fallen to an abysmal 20%, while Trump remains at 40%. Is Macron really worse than Trump?! But if the French are fickle, America has the opposite problem. Trump’s steady poll numbers, in the face of his presidency’s total train-wreck, bespeaks a different and worse pathology. At least the French are reacting (if wrongly) to what they see is happening. The 40% of Americans backing Trump refuse to see what’s happening.

Here is the problem of democracy (which the Chinese regime smugly points to). Democracy’s weakness is not politicians behaving badly, it’s voters behaving badly. Politicians only march to voters’ tunes. In all three countries — France, Britain, America — and, alas, many others — voters have been behaving very badly indeed.

Why? A big subject. But read this past blog post for part of the answer; a review of a book titled The Death of Expertise. In a nutshell, today’s culture encourages the narcissism of thinking your opinions are as good as anyone’s.

Well (sigh), democracy is still better than authoritarian regimes (like China’s) with government not accountable to citizens at all.

George H. W. Bush

December 3, 2018

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” That was a novel’s famous first line. George H.W. Bush was president in just such a foreign country.

It is hard to imagine a major political candidate in today’s America who isn’t some kind of ideological/cultural warrior. That wasn’t Bush. In his foreign country, it was all about just doing the job. You know, “public service,” remember that quaint concept? Bush was a capable man; a serious man; who took his responsibilities seriously. A thoughtful man of honor and integrity, who spoke and acted carefully, and whose word could be trusted. A thoroughly decent human being.

Of course you know where this is going.

Gary Hart

Another candidate in the 1988 election, that Bush won, was Gary Hart, and there’s a new movie out about him, The Front Runner. Hart’s campaign was ended by his adultery. In a different country.

Our president now not only had extramarital affairs — with porn actresses no less — but paid them hush money to cover it up — and lied about that. (And smeared his own “fixer” who revealed his lies.) And even bragged about committing sexual assaults, too.

Meantime he paid $25 million to settle the “Trump University” fraud case. And the New York Times ran a huge analysis of how his whole business history was one big lie; built on cheating, fraud, and tax evasion. His “charitable foundation” has been exposed as a fraud too.

None of it seems to matter. But just look at him, listen to him. Anyone with half a brain can see he’s totally full of shit. Is a total piece of shit. Yet we elected him president — and his poll ratings have hardly budged since.

I often talk about human evolutionary history, being shaped by our living in social groups, where cooperation and mutual trust was central. Thus we evolved highly tuned lie detectors, and instincts to punish those who violate behavioral norms. But now we’re a different species, inhabiting a different kind of society.

I heard an interview with one of the makers of The Front Runner. He commented that Trump is not being judged as a politician or public official would once have been (and as Hart was), but instead as a celebrity. And that Trump is not an aberration; rather, the new normal. He doubted we’ll ever go back to the old model, with leaders of the George H. W. Bush type. Now celebrity culture rules.

The President of the United States

The 2006 movie Idiocracy depicted a future where intelligent Americans have few children while nitwits breed like rabbits. Result: a nation of nitwits. Unsurprisingly, its president is a flamboyant performance buffoon. The film was a comedy.

Our reality is a tragedy.

Republicans, and the hole in America’s moral soul

November 27, 2018

“Republicans must stand up to Trump,” declared the heading on a recent Michael Gerson column.

“How fatuous,” I thought.

Gerson

Gerson is a former Bush 43 speechwriter and member of that endangered species, “principled conservative.” Usually clear-eyed about the gulf between those principles and Trumpism.

This column was about prospects for a Republican running against Trump in 2020. Gerson cites a poll saying 16% of Republicans prefer Trump to be a one-term president. “At least a place to start,” he says.

Good luck. The other 84% of Republicans are a red wall for Trump. Undaunted, Gerson muses that could change with “a particularly damaging new administration scandal,” or Mueller developments that “destabilize Trump’s personality in new and disturbing ways.” As if nothing so far has been damaging or disturbing enough. (Here’s a list.)

Yet Gerson does suggest the Trump cesspool is already stinky enough for a Republican challenger to pose the question: “why not conservative policy AND public character?”

Actually, Republicans now get neither; this ain’t “conservative.” But Trumpism is not mainly about ideology anyway. Instead it’s psychology; tribal and personal social identity. I increasingly think that deep down, many Republicans back Trump not in spite of his horribleness but because of it. Like women attracted to “bad boys;” like moths to a flame. It’s a fat middle finger shoved in the eye of a society which, Trumpeters feel, deserves it.

These are the people who spout about America’s “moral decline.” Mainly focused on homosexuality and other sex-related stuff. As though gays marrying, people changing gender, etc., is somehow immoral. They also feel the browning of our population somehow represents moral decline.

Yet it is true we’re in a national moral tailspin. Not because of tolerating gays but tolerating Trump. These people so full of moralistic blather sent to the White House the worst moral creep ever — and continue backing him, and his war against America’s values and ideals. Here we see the real hole that has opened up in our country’s moral soul.

“Republicans must stand up to Trump?” That horse left the barn long ago. What responsible Republicans must do is leave this degraded party (as I have).

I used to call myself, like Gerson, “conservative;” the odd man out in my social milieu full of liberals. My political principles haven’t changed, but have been superseded by more fundamental concerns, about the very character of our society. I and my liberal friends are together in opposing what’s happening. Yet I still feel somewhat alone in my grasp of just how bad it is, and what it portends for the whole world’s future.

I’ve made a lifelong effort to understand the world. It culminated in my 2009 book, The Case for Rational Optimism, where I tried to bring it all together. A comprehensive global picture, justifying a positive outlook.

Martin Luther King said the moral arc of the Universe is long but bends toward justice. However, there is no force out there, no deity or law of nature, that so bends it. Only we humans, with our actions, can. My book argued that, in the great sweep of history, we’d been doing better and better.

The Enlightenment began three centuries ago, putting us on a path of progress through increasing rationality. Plagued at every step by fools dancing around bonfires of Enlightenment values. Today those flames are getting out of control, threatening to engulf us all.

If Trump is defeated in 2020, maybe the fire can be contained. If he’s re-elected, maybe my book should be thrown into it.

“REALLY SCARY !!!”

November 18, 2018

That was the all-caps heading on a blast email, to me and some others, from a Texan acquaintance. He’s pro-Trump and always saying Democrats are commie criminals. This one had the attached “quotes” from three leading Democratic senators, saying the Constitution is an obstacle to be disregarded. He called this flabbergasting, showing why Democrats opposed Kavanaugh.

THIS IS SATIRE. DO NOT FORWARD

The quotes looked obviously fake. Googling, I quickly traced them to “The Babylon Bee,” which appeared to be a crazy-Christian website. But then I saw at the bottom: “Your trusted source for Christian news satire.” Another article quoted Hillary Clinton saying her only crime was stealing America’s heart! And another reported she’s gotten a large cash advance for What Happened 2, a book to explain her 2020 election loss!

Well, maybe not as funny as The Onion. But my Texas friend was not the only one suckered. I also found this article (from “Punditfact”) reporting how the Babylon Bee satire went viral and spread across the internet as though the quotes were real.

What is really scary is how messed up America’s politics has become, when people can’t tell the difference not just between real and fake news, but between real and joke news. Babylon Bee was trying to make fun of those who believe extreme nonsense. It’s an irony that the joke was on Bablyon Bee, when its satire got recycled as reality. But it’s no joke when this sort of thing warps political ideas and influences votes.

A lot of people are so unsophisticated in their thinking, so lacking in civic education and understanding of our political landscape, and so ready to believe anything bad about the other side, that they didn’t question the authenticity of these preposterous quotes.

Creating what Babylon Bee did is child’s play. Photoshop enables photos to be manipulated. There’s even technology to make fake audio, with people seeming to say things they never said. How are we to navigate through this house-of-mirrors? You have to use your brain — primed with knowledge about the real world. That seems to be a problem for a lot of people, full of beliefs about a god in the sky, life after death, UFOs, ESP, and other such nonsense.

In the halcyon days when the internet was first flourishing, we imagined this would be great for making people better informed. Alas the opposite is happening; the web is poisoning our whole information pool. Incentives go the wrong way. People have found how easy it is to advance their agendas by simply spreading lies. Indeed, it’s even profitable. I recall a radio interview during the 2016 campaign with a guy who made up a phony report about pro-Hillary vote manipulation, tailored to be click-bait for Hillary-haters. And it got clicks galore — netting the guy tens of thousands in profit.

Worse yet when foreign enemies too are in the game. And, in fact, when the President of the United States himself actively promotes this destruction of rational and informed political discourse. How can this be overcome? Will we allow a blizzard of disinformation and lies to decide the next election?

Postscript: A Facebook commenter linked to this Washington Post article that makes what I wrote seem tame. Worth reading!!

Impeach or not impeach: that is the question

November 10, 2018

No president — probably no public official — has ever merited impeachment more than Trump. That’s even before Mueller’s report.

If our civic system were working properly, he would be impeached and removed, almost unanimously. If it were working properly, no such monster of depravity would have been elected. There’s the problem.

Removing a president takes 67 Senate votes. Nixon was forced to resign when told responsible Republican senators would vote with Democrats to remove him. Today there are almost no such responsible Republican senators. They are hostages to their voting base of implacable Trump tribalists. Not just in primaries; on Tuesday they didn’t come out for Republicans of insufficient Trumpist faith, many of whom lost (as Trump himself so nastily crowed).

We keep hearing the words “Constitutional crisis.” Trump’s actions vis-a-vis the Justice Department and Mueller investigation may indeed become so egregious as to make impeachment almost inescapable. But without Republican support it would backfire. Just intensifying the scorched-earth political climate, while in the end actually handing Trump a win, with Republican senators cravenly voting against his removal. Even making it seem as though he’s finally been acquitted, exonerated, the slate of all his misdeeds wiped clean.

The verdict should come not from compromised senators, but from citizens. Democrats should forswear impeachment, instead relying on voters in 2020, summoning the better angels of our nature. And if it’s our worst demons that prevail, then we will know America is lost.

What the election means

November 7, 2018

Jones

CNN commentator Van Jones said you’d think America’s “antibodies would kick in,” against the disgusting onslaught of lies, hate, bigotry, divisiveness and fear that was Trump’s campaign. But it worked, at least to a sad degree. This vile virus incurably infects a big chunk of America’s electorate. At best we can hope to quarantine them.

So Trump is undaunted; he’s even claiming victory. And there were a lot of disappointments. But at least there is some limit to the creepiness even Republicans can stomach; as in the case of Roy Moore; this time it was Kris Kobach losing the governorship in deep-red Kansas. (Kobach was the epicenter of the Republican “vote fraud” fraud.) Yet, another major creep, Brian Kemp, probably succeeded in stealing Georgia’s governorship.

Republicans did gain in the Senate. But that was largely thanks to the happenstance that the great majority of seats coming up this year were defended by Democrats. And the Senate battle took place largely in Trump country. Whereas the battle for the House of Representatives was nationwide.

And there Democrats did do thumpingly well, overcoming the stacked deck of Republican gerrymandering, to gain a substantial majority. That was the one superveningly important thing at stake, to break total Republican control and subject the Trump administration to some accountability. To literally save the country from it. And it shows this is, overall, a Democratic country. They were more than nine percentage points ahead of Republicans nationally. That’s a blue “wave.”

Antonio Delgado, victor over Faso

I pumped my fist last night when hearing of Congressman Faso’s defeat. I used to think so highly of him. But his campaign was a racist disgrace. And Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Russia) lost too.

** MAJOR PROJECTION: Republicans will never again control the House.

Even if Trump wins in 2020, it won’t be by much, and won’t flip the House back. After that, a lot of Republican gerrymandering will be undone. Several states passed referenda doing so, while Democrats gained at least seven governorships, and hundreds of state legislative seats. They will also roll back some Republican vote suppression. Furthermore, demographic trends will inexorably erode white nationalism.

And the Republican party is now basically, totally, just a white nationalist party. It was the least Trumpy Republicans who left the House or were beaten*; while in the Senate, the increased Republican majority renders irrelevant so-called moderates like Susan Collins, their votes no longer needed.

Republicans will also never again control any legislative house in New York. They lost the Senate and will be gerrymandered out of existence. New York is now a one-party state. That’s bad, but Republicans had ceased to be a legitimate opposition.

The Democratic House majority will be heavily flavored by female military vets. Kind of ironic when Trump (who never served) and the Republicans (mostly ditto) are the ones who drool over the military.

Can the House Democrats now, finally, get hold of Trump’s tax returns? Really amazing he’s managed to keep them from scrutiny this long. Not that anything in them, no matter how slimy, will shake the faith of Republicans. The NY Times recently ran a huge in-depth factual report on how Trump totally lied about how he built his business empire, it was really through massive cheating and tax fraud. Did that move any Republicans? Nope. You can’t fight tribal religion with facts.

Trump will spend the next 18 months demonizing Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats. If they were smart they’d ditch her. She’s a great insider operator, but useless at countering Trump’s shitstorm.

A big lesson from the election is that the idea of Democrats going whole-hog “progressive” was a failure. Never mind Ocasio-Cortez in her ethnic New York City enclave. Look at Florida, where the ideological Andrew Gillum unexpectedly won the gubernatorial primary, and then proceeded to lose an election Democrats really ought to have won. It was a similar story elsewhere. There simply is not a majority in this country for hard left ideology. Democrats who won did so by appealing to the mushy middle, where elections are usually decided.

Landrieu

In 2020 the presidency will be decided by whether Democrats take back Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. And they can: all three elected Democratic governors. A candidate like Mitch Landrieu, Joe Biden, or Chris Murphy will win. One like Elizabeth Warren will not. Democrats must rein in their leftwing romanticism and pick a nominee pragmatically, to end the Trumpist nightmare before it totally ruins the country.

But there’s a difference between being hard left and hard anti-Trump. Democrats must stand clearly and forthrightly for a return to the fundamental American values Trump trashes. That must be the issue of 2020.

A frequent commenter on the Times-Union version of my blog constantly belabors that my words are just MY opinion, as if I’m smarter than everyone else and even seek to impose my views on them. Well, Albert, I am smarter than you. I can see reality; the difference between truth and lies; and know right from wrong. Unlike Republican Christians.

*UPDATE 12:12 PM — Trump in his “victory” speech named and sneered nastily at Republicans who didn’t “embrace” him and lost. How gracious.