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Silly Season Comes To Town: The Semantics of Collusion

My ears feel a little battered.  I’m hearing some really creative contentions to explain away the Trumpian predilection for working with Russians.

“The story isn’t important because the American people are more concerned with jobs and employment.”

Whether the Russian assault on American democracy is important or not isn’t a popularity contest.   For example, just because Gallup polling indicates that only 1% of US respondents cite income inequality as a major issue in the United States this doesn’t mean the issue isn’t important or that it doesn’t have economic ramifications far beyond the current ‘click level’of interest.

The story isn’t important because it’s just about opposition research and everyone does that.

Please.  The rejoinder to this should be what Mom said when we tried to explain why we engaged in some ridiculous junior high prank that went south immediately: “Just because they did it doesn’t make it right for you to do it.”  Additionally,  campaigns DO NOT enlist the support of foreign nations, much less adversarial foreign nations, to assist with opposition research.  But, but, but, sputter the surrogates, what about Clinton and Ukraine!?  That’s been debunked.  One of my favorite surrogate sputters is to enunciate a list of Presidents who have “colluded” without offering any explanation or specifics whatsoever.  It’s meaningless drivel of the first water.

Yes, everyone’s campaign does opposition research, and if the campaign is run professionally the first order of business is to do opposition research on your own candidate on the theory that it’s always better to know what’s out there before the charges come flying at the campaign.  Secondly,  opposition research requires careful screening for toxic plants (stories which if repeated by the candidate will turn out to be false and the candidate looks like a dupe) and Tin Foil Hat Territory Residents (I saw candidate X’s campaign person at the airport feeding the geese so they would fly into jet engines and kill people.)  These need to be screened out immediately.

So, if candidate Y says, “I don’t see anything wrong with taking opposition research from a foreign adversary, everyone does it,” then what that person is saying is “I have NO scruples about accepting help from absolutely anyone if it will help me get elected.” Michael Gerson’s point is on target: “faith that makes losing a sin will make cheating a sacrament.”  I’d prefer to vote for a candidate who at least professes to have a few scruples.

“There was no collusion.” Or, There was a meeting but it wasnt’ collusion. Or, there was collusion but there was no conspiracy. Or, there was a meeting but nothing came of it.”

Spare me the moving goal posts. I’m waiting for the day when some surrogate states with all due profundity that while there might have been a series of meetings and assistance was offered and received, it didn’t meet the elements of 18 US Code 1030 on fraud and related activities in connection with computers.

“I don’t know why the media is spending so much time on this when we have issues like tax reform, infrastructure investments, and…. which are of greater importance.”

The last time I looked the American public was perfectly capable of multi-tasking.  Not only can we “walk and chew gum,” I have seen professional basketball players making some noteworthy plays on the court while chewing on their mouth guards.  Besides which, is there some story of more significance than that of a foreign adversary attacking the very foundations of our democratic processes?  Maybe we aren’t spending enough time talking about whether or not our state and local election officials have the technology and personnel they need to ward off such nefarious assaults in our next elections?  Do we have enough public knowledge of exactly how many states and localities were “hacked” in some way,  and how they have reacted to the assaults?  Do we have enough information about “disinformation” campaigns and how social media might have been used to target groups of voters?  The focus of this story will need to expand to incorporate not only how a particular campaign may have utilized foreign incursions, but also the nature and elements of election interference which may have taken place, and how disinformation and misinformation were ‘weaponized.’ In short, we actually need more information about this topic, and definitely not less.

We all just need to wait until the Mueller investigation report is made public.

No, we can talk about the general subject well before the investigation is completed, especially as it concerns the last two subtopics mentioned above.  The Mueller probe is focused retrospectively — what happened in 2016?  However, as noted previously there are some policy decisions to be considered, and the sooner the better. (1) How and with what technology will we conduct our elections?  (2) How and with what level of scrutiny will we analyze and evaluate the use of media, and social media, in our political processes?

What’s all the fuss about? There are important things we should do in conjunction with Russia?

Like fighting “terrorism?” What’s “un-terroristic” about one nation attacking the political institutions of another?  One of the more blatant semantic blunders from the Surrogati came in the suggestion that there are ways we can “collaborate” with the Russians.  There’s nothing quite like revisiting a term closely associated with the ill-fated British government under Neville Chamberlain in the context of this topic. No, the Nazis weren’t going to be happy with just the Sudetenland any more than the Russians will be satisfied with initial poking around in our lists of registered voters?

Meanwhile, we should be demanding MORE information not less, and more discussion of policy related matters not merely the explication of singular strands of Russian assaults on our politics and institutions.

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Civility

No, it’s not Okay to punch reporters.  I have some thoughts (best unexpressed) about reporters and pundits who couldn’t seem to move past the Benghazi Bamboozle and Ultimate Emails and give voice to reasonable opposition.  I have some thoughts about cable news outlets which prize confrontation above discussion, and who repeatedly request the services of Talking Point Bubble Heads (also best unexpressed.)  However, it is never appropriate to vilify The Press.  After all is said and said again, the Press is the only vocation protected by our Constitution. There’s a reason for that.

No, the press is not the enemy of the state.  To make this statement with any sincerity is to contend that the State should be (1) immune from criticism, (2) enabled to declare its own truth, and (3) able to defend its singular version of ‘reality’ against all comers.  This is not the basis for a democratic society.

No, the function of the press is not to make anyone feel comfortable.  Am I uncomfortable with some of the criticisms of the Affordable Care Act, yes, I am, but I am also willing to admit that the law needs some revision to deal with problems in the individual health insurance market.  I don’t need to be comfortable, I need to be informed.  I need information about options, such as a “public option,” or “single payer,” structures.  What I need is more light with less heat.  I would like to hear or read an explication of the problems associated market issues in the insurance business.  The function of the Press is to provide the informed discussion about those options.

No, punching out a reporter, and then cheering the assailant isn’t manly.  It’s cowardly.  It’s “Junior High.”  Or, it’s messaging for people who may be long gone from the creaking lockers of the ‘old high school now the junior high’ chronologically, but not so far removed in social and emotional immaturity.  It’s the bravado of the bar room.  It’s the bombast of the insecure.  It’s the reflection of the dark place in which to offer arguments against a political, or ideological sentiment isn’t differentiated from a personal assault.

No, physically attacking (or indulging in rancid verbal attacks) isn’t the new normal.  Such things are socially unacceptable.  They make the news broadcasts, as do highway accidents, gun fights, and public brawls — but that doesn’t make them “normal.”  Attaching the word “normal” to instances of brutality, incivility, and immature rancor is to demean the efforts of every parent on the planet advising children to behave themselves in both public and private places.  Norms are standards of social behavior, to be considered typical and expected.  We don’t expect people to indulge in emotional outbursts of undisciplined aggression.  That would violate our Norms.  As in “normal” behavior.

We could do with a bit more normality these days.

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Patterns in Politics from Congress to the Promised Press Conferences

That didn’t take long.  A mere 12 hours ago the Republicans in the House of Representatives wanted to put the OCE under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee; disallow the OCE from accepting anonymous tips from whistleblowers; stop investigating anything if the House Ethics Committee wanted the investigation stopped; not investigate anything that might have happened before January 3, 2011; not discuss its findings or even hire a spokesperson; and, not investigate any criminal cases or turn allegations of corruption over to law enforcement agencies. [BuzzFeed]   Then came the questions, perhaps the best of which was: When has anyone accused Congress of being TOO ethical?  Now the House Republicans have scrapped the plan. [The Hill]

However, watch for a pattern here.  This “jurisdictional” issue has been raised before, in the case of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  [HFSC 2013] [MPA 2016] Here’s a prediction for 2017 – the House Republicans will try to “reform” financial regulations by placing the CFPB (the outfit that caught Wells Fargo manipulating its staff and customers) under Congressional control.  What about a Republican controlled Congress having jurisdiction over mortgage lending practices and pay-day lenders could possibly go wrong?  Oh, well, there was that mess back in 2007-2008…

One thing about which there doesn’t seem to be much controversy: The Russians hacked the Democrats. (Except if you ask Trumpster Flack Kellyanne Conway, The Trumpster, or Vladimir Putin.) The geeks were on to this back in July 2016 when Motherboard posted this article.  The New York Times has a compilation of reports on Russian hacking.  In the face of all this actual evidence we have the Trumpster’s contention that “he knows things,” [CompWorld] and Conway’s advice that we should be listening to Julian Assange…[cnbc].  The Trumpster will have more to say, promise the flack, later this week.  We should add those comments to:

1. The April 2011 Trumpster comments that his investigators “couldn’t believe what they were finding in Hawaii” (about the President’s birth certificate.)  Trumpster told Meredith Vieira he had investigators there; however, there’s still no evidence he actually sent investigators to Hawaii. [HuffPo 2016]

2. On April 27, 2011 the Trumpster vowed to release his federal income tax returns.  We’ve not seen hide nor hair of these to date.

3. August 9, 2016:  the Trumpster says that his wife Melania will have a press conference to settle details about her immigration to this country. [Hill]  No press conference yet.

4.  September 9, 2016: The Trumpster vowed to release more detailed medical records. [BloombergNews]  Nothing released to date.

5. December 12, 2016: The Trumpster postpones his press conference on his business conflicts of interest for “a month.” He had told reporters on November 30th there would be a press conference on December 15th.  [MMA/Bloomberg]

I’d not advise anyone to hang by their hair or hold their breath waiting for the Trumpster to divulge any information on any of these topics much less on the hacking.

And, again, there’s a pattern.  One of the things that an overwhelming amount of scientific investigation and analysis tells us is that global climate change is very real. Faced with this, the energy industry fought back with attempts – not to attack the science itself – to sow doubt, and to promote those “doubts” in popular media. [guardian] This play goes back to the Tobacco campaigns of an era past.   Now, it’s “hacking.”

17 United States security and law enforcement agencies report that the Russians hacked the Democratic Party, and election efforts.  That’s 17 out of 17. There’s no doubt here.  Except – backers of the Trumpster using popular media to sow doubt.  We’ve seen this pattern before, and before, and before. The media keeps falling for it.

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Lewis Carroll 1876 and 2016 American Media

Hunting Snark Quote

The fake news issue is very serious, and should be addressed in a serious way.   No, the Pope did NOT endorse the Republican candidate for the Presidency. No, the Clinton Foundation doesn’t rake off 80% of the donations… No, No, and No.  Information is power, and power needs to be exercised with judgment.

Normally we think that organizations with a lot of power have an obligation to use that power responsibly. But the leaders of the largest technology companies have resisted thinking of themselves in those terms. They like to think of their sites as neutral platforms that help users share information with each other — without the company making value judgments of its own.

But this isn’t how power works. When an authority figure turns a blind eye to a problem that’s happening under his watch, the problem doesn’t go away. It festers, often becoming an even bigger problem over time. [Vox]

Perhaps the most chilling argument is that we can’t restrain fake news because it will have a devastating impact on conservative communications.  Nor are more traditional media outlets immune from fake or distorted “news.” Hypothetically:

Mr. X Tweets, “New proof emerges of deliberate attempt to have all guns registered in the U.S.”  The message is retweeted .  No one questions the source of the information, no one checks to see if the links are valid. No one checks – anything.  The retweets continue until some news organization picks up the “story” because “people are interested in it.”  Now, the headline becomes: “Is there a movement to register all guns in America?”  Followed by some generalized arguments from proponents and opponents of the idea. Followed by more “interest” in the “story,” which no one has checked in the first place.

This isn’t journalism.  It’s the old Telephone Game we played as children, seeing how garbled the message became after passing through several repetitions.   It’s dangerous because:

1. It plays into the hands of those who would diminish the credibility of reporting.  Several right wing radio personalities have used this platform: You’ll only get the Truth from Me.  A statement which isn’t true and never has been.

2. It ultimately destroys the legitimacy of reporting.  How is the average consumer supposed to know that the “Denver Guardian” isn’t a real newspaper?  How is the average news consumer supposed to know that what appears to be an online news organization is simply a fictional page of fantasy and filibuster for a right wing neo-Nazi organization?

There are enough problems with media today (chasing shiny objects while ignoring major issues) without adding pure fiction to the mix.  Someone, somewhere needs to be the Adult In The Room.

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Resist: The Ugly Face of Trump’s America

Modified Niemoller

Please pardon the replication of Reverend Niemoller’s famous short poem, but at this point there is a need to face down the ugly and demeaning actions of the Trump supporters and their Dear Leader.  

Resist: I’ve already called for support for progressive and liberal organizations that provide the research, and I’ll do it repeatedly.  We need an informational infrastructure to help fuel the resistance to Trumpism.  If your budget can stand it, pick at least one, or possibly two organizations of your choice and make a donation towards their efforts.  We cannot depend on the corporate media to make issues known, and to provide the data necessary to inform the public.  I’ve called it #2-4-2018, a way to call attention to the importance of the mid-term elections.  We can’t blame these organization for not publicizing and promoting our issues if we haven’t given them the funds to do so.

Resist: Support media outlets that promote tolerance, liberty, and equality.  There are a multitude out there, some examples are the Talking Points Memo, Crooks and Liars, Politicususa, and Think Progress, as aggregators these are outstanding, and you probably know of more.  There are research based publications like Pro Publica, which is also deserving of our attention and support.  There’s also the CBPP, and the EPI, also deserving of support. And, no list would be complete without the Center for American Progress.  Make your own list of your favorites and share it with family and friends if you have not already done so.

Resist: Call your Congressional Representatives and public officials.  Let them know quickly and surely that American do NOT support criminalizing public protests, such as the legislation proposed in Iowa and Washington state. [Root]  It’s never too soon to hold the media accountable – no, Steve Bannon is not “alt-right,” that’s just a euphemism for White Supremacist.  No amount of cleansing will ever make his bigoted views “normal.” He’s not the “new normal,” he’s just the old abnormal.

Resist: There’s no need to call for boycotts, simply vote with your eyes and wallet.  Unimpressed with the news coverage by major corporate media outlets?  Why watch? Lord knows, they are sensitive to their ratings. Why give them any.  Watching and being appalled at their ‘coverage?’ There are addresses for sending civil and polite expressions of our displeasure:

CBS Evening News.  524 West 57th St.
New York, NY 10019

ABC News 147 Columbus Ave.  New York, NY 10023

NBC News  30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, N.Y. 10112

CNN, One CNN Center, Atlanta, GA, 30303

MSNBC, One MSNBC Plaza Secaucus, NJ 07094

Resist: Get involved at your local level. Find your local organizations and local political committees, and to the extent that you can get involved in their activities.  Get up, get out, and get involved.

Thank you.

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To the Corporate Media: This paragraph sums it up

“6. All our media friends. Thank you for preserving reportorial balance. You balanced Donald Trump’s proposal that the military execute the innocent families of terrorists, against Hillary’s emails. You balanced pot-stirring racist lies about President Obama’s birth, against Hillary’s emails. You balanced a religious test at our borders, torture by our military, jokes about assassination, unfounded claims of a rigged election, boasts about groping and paradoxical threats to sue anyone who confirmed the boasts, against Hillary’s emails. You balanced endorsement of nuclear proliferation, against Hillary’s emails. You balanced tirelessly, indefatigably; you balanced, you balanced, and then you balanced some more. And for that — we thank you. And thank you all for following Les Moonves’s principled lead when he said Donald Trump “may not be good for America, but he’s damn good for CBS.”  [NYT OpEd]

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Passion and Politics: Playing Loose with the Truth

Lincoln Cartoon “George Templeton Strong, a prominent New York lawyer and diarist, wrote that Lincoln was “a barbarian, Scythian, yahoo, or gorilla.” Henry Ward Beecher, the Connecticut-born preacher and abolitionist, often ridiculed Lincoln in his newspaper, The Independent (New York), rebuking him for his lack of refinement and calling him “an unshapely man.” Other Northern newspapers openly called for his assassination long before John Wilkes Booth pulled the trigger. He was called a coward, “an idiot,” and “the original gorilla” by none other than the commanding general of his armies, George McClellan.” [Atlantic]

The descendents of those who passionately vilified Lincoln are with us today.   They become particularly noticeable during times when U.S. politics are polarized, polemicized, and full of more propaganda than factual content.  

Case in point: Those “30,000 missing emails” on Secretary Clinton’s server. There are, as we speak, some Internet trolls repeating the claim that Clinton ‘lost’ 30,000 emails during her tenure in the State Department. They’ve got the story bass-ackwards.

“So in 2014, Clinton’s lawyers combed through the private server and turned over about 30,000 work-related emails to the State Department and deleted the rest, which Clinton said were about personal matters.” [Politifact]

The rest of the FBI investigation?

Of the tens of thousands of emails investigators reviewed, 113 contained classified information, and three of those had classification markers. FBI Director James Comey has said Clinton should have known that some of the 113 were classified, but others she might have understandably missed.

Comey said the Justice Department shouldn’t prosecute Clinton because there isn’t enough evidence that she intentionally mishandled classified information. FBI investigators didn’t find vast quantities of exposed classified material, and they also did not turn up evidence that Clinton intended to be disloyal to the United States or that she intended to obstruct justice.  [Politifact]

So, the entire “scandal” doesn’t concern 30,000 emails, those were handed over early in the game; and, it boils down to 3 emails which can’t be shown to have been intentionally mishandled.  Anyone who has been paying attention knows that the investigations were entirely political, entirely overblown, and total malarkey but that’s not the point.  No matter how often the story is fact checked [MMA] [MMA] [Slate] [Star Telegram] [MJ] [WaPo] it is still being pumped by the passionate.

Those in that Basket of Deplorables doing the arm-work to keep the air in that story intended to cause “distrust” of Secretary Clinton are committed to their version – no matter how untrue, no matter how politicized because it’s their version.  Long advised by right wing radio hosts to distrust the media, distrust the ‘establishment,’ and to distrust anything other than the version of events as dispensed by the hosts, they will now easily slip into dismissing any explication which doesn’t fit their personal narrative.  In simpler terms, they don’t care if a statement isn’t true – they’ll find a way to make it that way.

We could add another ten links in the paragraph above to articles debunking the email story (or any other tale for that matter) and the emotional voter will dismiss all as “liberal media.”  Not that they have any idea what the ‘liberal media’ might be – it’s just that they identify as conservative, and the media isn’t enabling their narratives garnered from right wing sources.  Therefore, the media (having been described as liberal on AM radio) must be so. 

If a cavalier dismissal of conflicting information isn’t sufficient, there’s always the conspiratorial element – the ‘liberal’ media must be discredited because “they” are always “hiding something from us.”    Both the Distrust Element and the Conspiratorial Element make up a portion of that Basket of Deplorables – the racists, the misogynists, the bigots, the Islamophobes, the intolerant – which drive some of the support for Trump’s candidacy.

It doesn’t matter how many times the New York Times, or the Washington Post, or any other major news outlet debunks and fact checks Trump’s characterizations of people and events.  These people just aren’t into facts.

Another factor is the capacity of people to filter what they are hearing.  Did Donald Trump say that President Barack Obama was born in the U.S. and is therefore a legitimate president?  Well, they may say slyly, that’s what he said because he had to say it, he just doesn’t really truly mean it.  Interesting that this analysis comes from people who like Trump because “he tells it like it is.”

This isn’t of course to argue that Trump’s 40% support is coming solely from the Deplorables and the Deniers – Secretary Clinton herself acknowledged that there are those for whom our economic system isn’t working.  They’re frustrated, fearful, and in need of assistance not forthcoming from our current political systems.   They’ll vote “against the establishment” whatever that might be (such as Bush, Kasich, etc.) because they want some form of change.

Nor should we forget that there are those who will vote for anyone on the top of the ticket with an R.  There are yellow dog Republicans as well as Democrats.

Hence, this election in 2016 will come down to TURNOUT. Good old fashioned door knocking, phone calling, rides to the polls, TURNOUT.  We can be assured that the Deplorable element will be there, as they were for the mid-terms, and the disaffected will arrive.  It’s a matter of no small importance that Democrats make the same effort to GET OUT THE VOTE.

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