Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Are We Stronger Together?


By George Templeton
Rim Country Gazette Columnist

The Individual     
What has happened to our moral leadership?  Imprisoning innocent children to deter immigration is wicked.  We should not use people as a means to an end.  Individuals know instinctively that it is cruel.  Republicans cannot tolerate 1,000 undocumented children, though there are 11.3 million illegal immigrants already living here, of which 1.8 million are innocent DACA children.  Republicans want “no amnesty”.  What is it that changes individuals in their group?  Is it that they become less responsible because they rely on others in the group?
Philippa Foot’s trolley problem gives us further insight into the transition from individual behavior to group behavior.  In it, you are allowed to divert a run-away trolley from a track where five workers would be killed, onto a track where only one would die.  Many people would do this.  But when there are asked if they would push a fat man off a bridge that the trolley travels under, into the path of the trolley, to stop it and save the five, they would not.
Our president claims that America has been treated unfairly, laughed at instead of admired.  His Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, explained that our Tariffs are intended to increase free trade.  Trump tweeted that “Tariffs are the greatest”, but is there something deeper, more fundamental, that should not be ignored?
In evenhanded negotiations everyone comes out a winner.  In the trolley example everyone loses.  Five people die, or one person dies, and another may suffer guilt.  What is just?  For you to win, do others have to lose?  When Trump explained, during the 2016 campaign, that the police were great dealmakers, he was trying to identify himself as the “law and order” candidate.  He sees a world filled with tough, vicious people, which he personally loves to win against.  He is always on the offense, attacking without regard to nuances.
Uncooperative trading partners develop a bad reputation.  We choose to trade with those we like.  Goodwill is beyond tangible assets.   It can take years of hard work to build, but is destroyed by a moment’s disrespect.  Lost customers are hard to win back.
We can extrapolate, using commerce numbers, but they can’t predict our interactions with one another.  Expectations can have far greater consequences than tariffs predict.  An apprehensive world where everyone is out to take advantage of us is not one with the dream, trust, hope, and security that prosperity requires.
Group delusion fed by a charismatic leader influences behavior.  The 1962 electric shock experiment, by Stanley Milgram, showed that individuals would obey authority instead of their conscience.  Bias that accepts confirming information while ignoring or rationalizing disconfirming information strengthens group identity.  There is nothing more convoluted than human consciousness.  Our brain networks contain more than 100 trillion connections.  They dynamically change depending on our life experiences.  It is no wonder that we cannot understand ourselves.
A mousetrap catches mice.  The approach that scientists use to understand the mind is based on how the brain functions, just like how the mousetrap does.  Inputs to the brain are at the computational level.  They include sight, smell, hearing, and touch.  The algorithmic level deals with strategies and comprehension.  The implementation level is analogous to the components in an electronic circuit that are purposely selected to provide an output or action.  Given this, computers could become intelligent.  
Computers follow the rules set by programmers who are at the whim of their business bosses.  You may have found a situation where your success, or even your life, required you to break the rules.  So what is at stake is the balance between the individual and the group.
Humanity is complex.  In science, we are concerned about simplifying things so we can see them.  Easy things explode into long equations when there are interactions between variables.  That is why it is important to reduce things to their simplest form. 
Stable Groups
Groups evolve toward stable equilibrium.  It is like the drop of cream in your morning coffee that spreads throughout.  It exists when each individual in a group makes his best possible decision while taking into account the decisions of the others in the group.  It is a consequence of the interaction with the other decision makers in the group.  Behavior cannot be predicted by the analysis of how isolated individual decisions might be made.  One must ask what each individual would do, taking into account the decisions of the other group members.  Of course, thinking about how others are thinking adds complexity and requires empathy.  It illustrates how stable groups make self-defeating decisions or conversely how unstable policies that are best for a group might not be good for individuals.
Loyalists to Donald Trump are self-interested individuals.  Assume Mueller has two isolated co-conspirators in custody.  He simultaneously offers an identical deal to both.  Both individuals are aware of the deal.  They have to make the best decision for themselves based on what they think the other conspirator will do.
If both prisoners remain quiet, and keep their facts from Mueller, they will get one year in prison.  If either one of them betrays the other by squealing, he will be set free, but the quiet prisoner will be held in custody for life.  Who knows what he is hiding?  If the prisoners betray each other, each will get ten years in prison.  What is the decision that will lead to group equilibrium?
It is never a good idea to remain silent.  If your friend remains silent as you do, you will both get a year in prison.  But your friend might not care that you will get life in prison, if he gets off free.  The only stable equilibrium is when both squeal and get ten years in prison.  Mueller gets his wish, (ignoring the House Freedom Caucus Resolution to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein).
From the viewpoint of their group, the best decision is for both conspirators to remain silent.  But it is not up to the group to decide.  That is for the individuals.  This is for only two individuals, but it can be extended to any number of people. 
Unstable Groups
Tulips became popular in 17th century Holland.  At the top of the craze, a single tulip was worth one’s life savings.  But then people discovered the truth.  The price of a tulip became the same as the price of an onion.
Imagine that you are the CEO of company “A”, but you can’t see that your employees are crooks because you hired them and know that they are “good” people.  Dishonesty is profitable.  Likewise, the CEOs of competitor companies can’t see that their employees are cheating, but they think they can see if you are.  They are envious.  It is only themselves that they are blind to.  Assume that there are twenty companies.  No company can prove that any other is crooked.   They would implicate themselves.  Besides, they respect the CEOs of the other companies.  It would be disloyal to squeal.  So, nobody knows that anything is wrong and it is business as usual, even though the ethics policy of your industry requires that CEOs must immediately fire all proven cheaters.
Suppose that a credible third party informs everyone that at least one company has employees that are breaking the law.  This piece of information turns the mutual knowledge, the interaction between individual companies, into common knowledge possessed by the group.  But it requires a trusted independent authority.
Imagine that there are only two companies, A and B and only A is cheating.  Being smart, company A realizes that it would know if B was cheating, so it concludes from the new information that its own employees must be guilty and it fires them immediately.
Now suppose that both A and B cheat.  Company A knows only about B’s cheating. Likewise company B knows only about A’s cheating.  Neither knows about itself.  Company A learns nothing from the independent authority’s announcement, but when company B fails to immediately fire its cheaters, company A can see that there must be a second cheater, themselves.  The same holds for company B, who infers from A’s failure to fire its cheaters on the first day that it must also fire its cheaters.  Both companies fire their cheaters on the second day.
Now suppose there are 3 cheaters A, B, and C.   They would each infer from the inaction of the other two that they were also guilty and so they would fire their crooks on the third day.  If there were twenty cheating companies, none of them would be able to prove guilt until the twentieth day, when they would all simultaneously fire their employees.  This shows the velocity of propagation of the truth within a group.  It is the way a group comes to a new stable operating point.
Could Muller’s Russia meddling investigation work like this?
Paranoid Groups
Assume that there is one terrorist in ten million people.  It is probably less than this, given population sizes.  Assume that vetting is 90% accurate, a figure that would not be possible even with lie detectors, brain scans and psychological tests.  Out of ten million people, one million would be identified as terrorists, but only one person would be one.  We would slander a million people in order to identify one bad guy.
Suppose the police, notified to be on the watch for a terrorist, have arrested a man having a beard, brown skin, a copy of the Quran, and an instruction manual for bomb making.  What is the probability that an innocent man would meet this description?  What is the probability that a man who looks like this is innocent?
Assume there are four million people in your city, and one guilty one.  Also assume that there are only 10 people including the terrorist with these things.  The probability that an innocent man would be like this is 9/4,000,000 or about 1/400,000.  How could someone who looks so guilty be innocent?  The probability that our innocent man has these things is 9/10.   People are different.  They could be studying violent fundamentalism.
Looks matter.  Groups matter.
 World Groups
Why do some countries become wealthy while others fail?  Stability, peace, and affluence go hand in hand.  We know that free markets are helpful, but they are not the whole story.  There are many countries, rich in natural resources, which are not prosperous.  The most important thing is that governments, politics, institutions, and economies must be inclusive, and not greedily extractive. 
Combined, groups are anarchy, because their self-interested rules are within themselves.  There is no universal global rule, and rules are harder to agree upon than interests, but most people feel that institutions help to ensure stability.  Their force comes from knowledge, expertise, and respect.  Important groups include the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, EU, G20, UN, and NATO.  There are twenty free trade agreements (FTAs) such as NAFTA and the TPP.  Can our “stable genius” force his will on the world?  The truth is that tariffs are never for economic advantage.  They are always political.  It is as James Madison wrote, “… You must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next step oblige it to control its self.”

Monday, July 30, 2018

We already know the Trump voters and the truth is they only care about themselves

Democrats get constantly told these days that their problem is that really don’t understand the Trump voters in fly-over country, far from the coasts. We just don’t understand the heartland, their values, and their perspective. If we would just reach out more, listen more, give them more of a voice—certainly things would be better and we’d come to some type of understanding. Right?

But the reality is that even regular conservatives are finding the Trumpsters impossible to deal with just as Tom Nichols, a conservative professor from the Naval War College, recently discovered after a nasty encounter with hardcore Trump fans after a lecture at Harvard University.
The women, who were immigrants from India and a post-Soviet region, asked to debate Nichols afterward, and asked if he had called them “willfully evil” — and he said they sputtered after he corrected them and said they were “willfully ignorant.” [...]
The women listed “phantom Trump successes” and insisted Trump was taking jobs away from foreign workers and giving them back to Americans, and Nichols tried to correct them.
“Look, what you believe to be true is false,” he told them. “The things you think are facts are not facts. We can’t go further here.”
In the end, Nichols discovered there was nothing to talk about because these women simply didn’t live within the same reality as Nichols or anyone else not part of the Trump cult.

H/T to the inspiration for this diary’s title:

Nevertheless, they persisted.

“These two people will never, ever change their minds,” Nichols said.
“They are not accessible to reason. They demand agreement and respect, even when they don’t give it and are themselves unreasonable. This is the cohort that neither the GOP post-Trump nor Dems will ever reach.” [...]
“These types of Trumpers are just lost,” he said. “They’re not going to climb down, change their minds, listen to new information. Trump really could shoot them on Fifth Avenue. There’s no point in discussion, because they don’t *discuss*, they *preach*.”
“No rational or fact-based politics will reach these folks,” Nichols added. “I hate to say that, because I believe in the power of reason and facts. But they’re gone. Some of them are nice people, but dumb. Some of them are just bad people. But rationality isn’t going to change much here.”
So if the supposed goal that Democrats need to accomplish is to further reach this demographic, they’re being sent on a fool’s errand. These people are fully indoctrinated, fully invested. They willfully, even with glee, believe each and every factual or logical distortion that Trump offers up.

They’re fully invested in the “Witch Hunt,” that Hillary Clinton pretty much got away with murder—I mean literally they think, in the case of Seth Rich—that Obama was Muslim Kenyan who never had the interests of America at heart or accomplished anything, and that only Trump can set things “right.”  They believe the Deep State and the Mainstream (Jew) Media are hellbent on an anti-Trump vendetta to get him at all costs and will make up any outrageous “Fake News” story to accomplish that aim be it “Russia,” or the “collusion delusion,” or possible “Money Laundering” or “Wire Fraud” or “Stormy McDougal-Pork-a-Porn-Playmate-Gate” or whatever. They don’t care about what he says on an audio tape, what he says or does to reporters, whether he throws migrant children into cages and ignores a court order to return them to their parents who’ve he’s already deported without an asylum hearing in violation of international law. They don’t care whether he retaliates against his critics by threatening their security clearances or whether any of that screams “fascist authoritarian dictator” at all. They don’t care about any of it.

And Trump makes this fairly easy for them because he tells them exactly what it is that they want to hear, which is that everything that bothers them, everything that troubles them is someone else’s fault. The ungrateful unpatriotic blacks, the uppity women who demand they be provided birth control, the gheys and the trans who shouldn’t be in the military, the terrorist Muslims and the rapist Mexicans, the thieving, cheating Chinese, and those greedy Europeans are all the bad guys, while they are the good guys and Trump is their single, solitary champion.

He tells them that they are the good people, the neglected ones, the “forgotten man” and they love it. Why shouldn’t they love that? They’re very happy.

And they really think, honestly, that we should all be happy too and just ignore all those “problems” out there. This was recently noted in a seminal dairy this week by FaithGardner in her open letter to an “unwashed conservative” Trumpster.

Why not relax and enjoy the results Trump has accomplished in less than two years? An exploding economy, lowest black and hispanic unemployment in history, 7 TRILLION appreciation in the stock market where anyone - rich or poor with any savings or pension for retirement is benefiting, a not-yet accomplished task of securing our southern border from drug dealers, human traffic smugglers and rapists, etc?

Seriously, it is unfortunate you have swallowed and believe the "resist" propaganda -- and actually contribute to it. Consider that your view might actually be wrong and holding it makes you bitter and depressed.
Why not sit back, relax and enjoy everything? Seriously?
Faith managed, I think, to really hit the crux of the matter in this section of her response.

Your letter perfectly illustrates the blinders at work in the conservative mind. Pathologically shortsighted, you look at your life and think, “I’m doing well, so this is fine.” There’s no deeper thinking than that. Your vision doesn’t reach beyond your damn self. It’s juvenile. It’s a fundamental inability to empathize with other people who might not have it so well under this administration. Yes, I’m doing well, you’re doing well.
Some people do quite well under dictators and fascists. But at the cost to whom? Do we not have human hearts that enable us to imagine what some of these policies are like for other people? For kids in detention camps, with no parents to fight for them? For people who are targets of hate crimes brought on by hateful rhetoric? For baby fucking bears? I’m not a migrant kid in a cell, I’ve never been bullied, and I’m not a baby fucking bear, but you know what? I can imagine. And that, my friend, makes me liberal.  
Empathy.  That’s what’s missing, basic human empathy.

They argue about how great things are—or they think they are—for them, but it really doesn’t register how bad things have become for just about everyone else because they just don’t fucking care about that. In fact, again, they like it that way. They think all the people that Trump is screwing over deserve to be screwed over because they’re fully invested in the idea that they’re all criminals, and rapists, and terrorists, and whiners and are stealing away good jobs for “real” Americans.

So this is where we get #PermitPatty calling the police on people having a bbq in the park, or a kid selling lemonade in front of his house, or on an eight year old selling water, or on two guys trying to use the bathroom at Starbucks just two minutes after they arrive while waiting for a friend. And of course, they always deny that what they did was “racial” even though all appearances are that that is exactly what it is.

Roseanne, in her own defense of her comparing Valerie Jarrett to the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes, has denied the racism of her statement by saying 1) “I thought the bitch was white” and also 2) “Islam is not a race.” Neither of which is anywhere near the point of trying to reduce someone to a subhuman status because they are an “other” to yourself.

These persons refuse to consider the ignorant bigotry behind the views and the policies they support, that they have joined in a complete common cause with alt-right, neo-Nazi, white nationalist forces. They swear that they aren't racists—or bigots, or homophobes, or Islamophobes, or women-haters, or gun nuts—even when it’s stunningly clear that they really, seriously are.

According to WHDH, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed a complaint on Wednesday against Hicham Ali Hassan, owner of high-end clothing story The Tannery.
The lawsuit alleges that Hassan violated Massachusetts’ Public Accommodations Law and Consumer Protection Act “by denying service to an African-American man and a Middle Eastern woman shopping in the store,” WHDH said.
In one December 2017 incident, a black man tried to enter the store 20 minutes before closing but Hassan prevented him.
“What’s up brother man?” Hassan was quoting as saying.
The complaint claims that Hassan told the defendant that “he did not want [his] kind in [the] store” and implied that the man was too poor to shop there.
“I love Trump! I am glad he is going to get rid of all the immigrants,” Hassan is said to have told her. As the woman was leaving the store, the owner allegedly shouted that he didn’t “trust [her] people.”
All the immigrants? I thought it was only supposed to be the undocumented “illegal” immigrants?

Let me digress for a moment about this immigration issue. It becomes quite obvious that it’s not about who abides by the law when they kidnap the children of migrants who are following the asylum laws by legally surrendering after they enter because that law doesn’t require that they only surrender at a “point of entry.”

Domestic law is grounded in widely-accepted international standards, starting with Article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 27 of the 1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and continuing with the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
As stated by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees ‘‘refugees should not be penalized for their illegal entry or stay… the seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules. Prohibited penalties might include being charged with immigration or criminal offences relating to the seeking of asylum, or being arbitrarily detained purely on the basis of seeking asylum.’’
Under 8 U.S.C. §1325, anyone who enters the country at an ‘‘[i]mproper time or place’’ can be sentenced to six months in jail and a fine of up to $250 (repeat offenders can be jailed for up to two years and fined up to $500).
There is a bona fide argument that entering the U.S. without documents to seek asylum is never entering at an improper time or place — especially considering that CBP has been turning asylum seekers away at the bridge so many people have no other option but to cross without documents. To the extent that the illegal entry statute may conflict with our asylum law, the asylum law trumps the illegal entry statute due both to its long-standing and widespread acceptance, and that the illegal entry statute was never intended to prevent people from seeking asylum.
So, in short, if you’re legitimately seeking asylum legally it doesn’t matter how or where you entered.

If they were really concerned with just “criminals” why have they increased deportations of non-criminals by about 173 percent, but improved the deportation of actual criminals by only 12 percent over the previous year, while overall deportations are actually down by 10 percent over Obama's final year and down 45 percent from his deportation peak in 2012 of 409,000 people?

In FY2016 DHS had a total of 240,255 deportations which went down to 226,119 in FY2017 despite the Trump administration claims that they are making the border “safer”.  Why?  Because arrests at the border by CBP are down massively from 67,493 in FY2016 to just 59,540 in FY2017, which is a 10 percent drop. [...]
While that’s been going on DHS has indeed increased their deportation of “criminal aliens” by about 12% they also increased their deportation of those who may be undocumented but have no criminal record by 173% going from 5,014 to 13,744.
The priority here is not criminals.
If they want more legal immigrants why have they closed the program for people to seek asylum from their home country?

Update: On Nov. 9, 2017, the Department of State stopped accepting new applications for the Central American Minors (CAM) refugee program. USCIS will stop interviewing CAM cases on Jan. 31, 2018. After that date, individuals with pending applications who have not been interviewed will receive a notice with further instructions.
The decision to terminate the CAM refugee program was made as part of the U.S. government review of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for FY 2018.
The CAM program was established in 2014 to provide certain minors in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras the opportunity to be considered, while still in their home country, for refugee resettlement in the United States. Individuals who were determined to be ineligible for refugee status were then considered by USCIS for the possibility of entering the United States under parole. The parole portion of the CAM program was terminated in August 2017.
If it’s about whether they enter “legally” why do they want to modify the family reunification program—which is perfectly legal—to end so-called “chain migration” where a citizen or green card holder has the ability to sponsor an immediate relative? Why do they want to end the visa lottery program which only includes potential migrants who've already been fully legally vetted?

Simple answer: because it's not about "criminals"—it's about immigrants. It's about people who are different, not the right religion, not the right race, not the right values, not white and right-wing enough. It's because they just don't care about "those people."

And if we can't reach members of the Trump-cult with facts, or reason, or logic or reality—what are we to do?  Well, the news isn't all bad. As Nate Silver has pointed out the number of people who self-identify as Republicans in the age of Trump is dramatically shrinking, while their approval of him seems to be improving. These two factors appear to be linked.

A widely held tenet of the current conventional wisdom is that while President Trump might not be popular overall, he has a high floor on his support. Trump’s sizable and enthusiastic base — perhaps 35 to 40 percent of the country — won’t abandon him any time soon, the theory goes, and they don’t necessarily care about some of the controversies that the “mainstream media” treats as game-changing developments. [...]
But the theory isn’t supported by the evidence. To the contrary, Trump’s base seems to be eroding. There’s been a considerable decline in the number of Americans who strongly approve of Trump, from a peak of around 30 percent in February to just 21 or 22 percent of the electorate now. (The decline in Trump’s strong approval ratings is larger than the overall decline in his approval ratings, in fact.) Far from having unconditional love from his base, Trump has already lost almost a third of his strong support. And voters who strongly disapprove of Trump outnumber those who strongly approve of him by about a 2-to-1 ratio, which could presage an “enthusiasm gap” that works against Trump at the midterms. The data suggests, in particular, that the GOP’s initial attempt (and failure) in March to pass its unpopular health care bill may have cost Trump with his core supporters. […]
But 20 to 25 percent isn’t all that large a base — obviously not enough to win general elections on its own. Instead, Trump won the White House because most Republicans who initially supported another GOP candidate in the primary wound up backing him in the November election. Trump has always had his share of reluctant supporters, and their ranks have been growing as the number of strong supporters has decreased. If those reluctant Trump supporters shift to being reluctant opponents instead, he’ll be in a lot of trouble,3 with consequences ranging from a midterm wave against Republicans to an increased likelihood of impeachment.
GOP support for Trump remains high at 89 percent approval but if that's 89 percent of just 25 percent of the population it's really only 22 percent of the potential electorate. We’re not reaching those people, but roughly 8-10 percent of GOP voters who've become disillusioned with Trump and have consequently left the Republican party are people we can reach.

These would be people like Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, John McCain, Tara Setmayer, Ana Navarro, Max Boot, Steve Schmidt, Nicole Wallace, Bill Kristol, George Will, Judge Anthony Napolitano and the late Charles Krauthammer, staunch long-time rock-ribbed conservatives who’ve managed to find the intestinal fortitude to defy the hostage status that has taken over most of the GOP and disavow Trump to varying degrees.

Or people like the father and mother-in-law of Letty Stegall, a 41-year-old mother who is married to a U.S. citizen, her husband Steve, but was still deported supposedly because of a misdemeanor DUI charge six years ago.

Many in the bar this night, including Steve's parents, gave their vote to Trump. They liked his promise to bring jobs back to the U.S. and the vow to make trade with China fairer. And they supported him when he said criminal immigrants would be deported. They just didn't consider Stegall one, even if she came to the country illegally.
"I've always been proud to be an American," says Shirley Stegall, Steve's mom. "But now I'm ashamed."
Jerry Rosetti, sipping scotch and water near the box of letters to Stegall, doesn't think she should have been targeted and calls the situation "a raw deal." But he still supports the president and still thinks illegal immigration is wrong.
"I would trade places with her in a minute," he says. "She shouldn't be in Mexico. She should be right here, right now."
The dichotomy angers Steve. When someone balances compassion for his wife with support for Trump, he's confounded.
"He's destroying American lives," Steve says of the president. "How can you do this? How can you do this to your own American people?"
He’s doing it because he can. He’s doing it because that's exactly what his base wants. Because his supporters don't really care about "those people" until they happen to become one of those people, or someone who has a close friend or a relative in the cross-fire. That’s when their strategically missing empathy will return when they themselves become the target and victim of these policies.  When one of their family gets deported, when Trump’s tariff games destroy their business, when Trump’s newly empowered and deregulated electrical and chemical plants dump some toxic sludge into their rivers and streams, and when they start contracting black lung again (which they already are) they’ll slowly start to see why they shouldn't be so “happy” about all this.

Even if you ignore his own numerous personal failings, Trump's policies are a horror show that already have destroyed thousands upon thousands of American and immigrant families and lives.  All of that is only going to get worse, Democrats don't need to tie ourselves into knots trying to figure out how to convince his faithful base of this. If they're even capable of recognizing the reality of the situation, they eventually will regardless of anything we tell them and in fact probably in spite of our efforts.

For those with empathy deficit disorder if they ever figure it out, it’ll be the hard way.

From bitter personal experience.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Now Alex Jones is goading violence against Russia investigator—and Facebook still will not act

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is currently in the middle of an effort to goad one of his viewers into killing Russia investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Like the "Pizzagate" claims that would eventually send an armed and unstable nut to a pizza restaurant, these new claims also revolve around Alex Jones claiming his newly declared enemy is part of a pedophile ring that exists simply because this money-grubbing little shit says so; it includes Alex Jones pantomiming shooting Mueller.
The word is he doesn't have sex with kids, he just controls it all. Can you imagine being a monster like that? God. [...] It's not a joke. It's not a game. It's the real world. Politically. You're going to get it, or I'm going to die trying, bitch.
It's not a joke, and it's not a game; this is how Alex Jones operates. He goads his audience of America's dumbest people into taking action against whichever person Jones announces as their new enemy. He claims the children who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School were merely actors, resulting in a wave of followers harassing, mocking and belittling the parents of murder victims for years. He claims that there is a child sex dungeon in the basement of a pizza restaurant that has no basement, and a man with a rifle enters the building and begins shooting in an attempt to uncover the "secret," nonexistent basement.

His current effort seeks to goad one of his viewers into doing violence to Russia investigators under the exact same pretense as before: something something child sex ring. And after reviewing Jones's acts, Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook once again says that this is Jones's thinly veiled call for terrorism is an acceptable use of their platform.
[O]n Tuesday morning, a Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that Jones' comments do not violate the company's community standards as they are not a credible statement of intent to commit violence.
But that is not the criteria by which Jones's statements should be judged, and Facebook already knows that. Jones's pattern is to promote insanity-laced slanders about his enemies that encourage others to engage in violence. His false statements are intended to so demonize his target of the moment that “patriots” who watch Jones repeat them feel not just enabled, but obligated to take whatever action is necessary to “stop” their monstrous supposed acts.

Jones is an eager propagandist. He had every reason to suspect, when waging war against a pizza restaurant because the owner was a Hillary Clinton supporter, that peddling false claims about imaginary children in immediate danger in a nonexistent basement would lead one of his many, many viewing idiots to attempt an armed "rescue" of those children. He knows full well that a campaign of hate-filled rants against the parents of murdered children will result in hate-filled attacks on those parents from his viewers; that is the point.

And even if he did not know those things beforehand, he most certainly knows them now. His very latest campaign was to claim a pizza restaurant was a secret pedophilia ring: It resulted in violence. Now he is claiming a specific, named government worker is the head of a similar or identical secret pedophilia ring: there is no possible way he does not expect similar or identical results.

Facebook knows this too, because they have affirmed they have reviewed Jones's past actions and found his slander-filled suggestions that somebody do something about his enemies to be an acceptable use for their platform. They claim that it is Jones’s right to slander his critics in self-evidently false ways; they claim they cannot suss out the difference between mere opinion-having, in the “news” cycle, and the intentional, repeated peddling of absolutely false statements. This is their right—but it also ties them to future violence from Jones in a way that they were not tied, before they reviewed and accepted his methods of operation. Facebook could claim, before the Comet pizza restaurant shooting, that they did not know Jones's outrageous and willful slanders would result in violence. They cannot claim that now. Jones's program has a history of encouraging unstable actors to act based on his fevered claims against named citizens. He knows it, and Facebook knows it.

If anything happens to one of Jones's "enemies" in the future, Facebook shares blame. They would not share blame if they did not know of his methods: On the contrary, they have explicitly announced that they have reviewed those acts. They would not share blame if they had a policy of banning no hateful speech: they in fact have reviewed past accounts and removed them, thus stripping that particular protection.

Facebook cannot claim not to know, just as they cannot claim they are unaware their platform is being used for foreign state-sponsored efforts against our democracy. If one of Alex Jones's followers is riled to violence yet again, after seeing his new effort declaring that the enemies of Donald Trump are secretly "controlling" a secret society of pedophiles, promoted by Facebook and protected by Facebook, it will be on Mark Zuckerberg's head.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

If Cohen Is Telling Truth, That Ought to Be Ballgame

Michael Cohen. (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Michael Cohen. (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

By Charles Pierce, Esquire
28 July 18

We now stand at a yes-or-no moment in this country's history.

e are now at one of those points. With the revelation on CNN Thursday night that, according to the network’s sources, Michael Cohen is ready to testify that the president* knew in advance of the now-legendary meeting in June of 2016 at which individuals connected to the Russian government offered to ratfck Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign for him, we stand as a self-governing republic at a stark, unclouded moment—either you believe the president* of the United States is utterly illegitimate, having conspired with a hostile power to gain the office he now holds, and that every act he has taken in that office, up to an including swearing the oath of office, is equally illegitimate, or you do not. It is now a binary. If Cohen is willing to testify to that effect, then the president* conspired with the regime of Vladimir Putin in order to gain control over the executive branch of government in this country—which includes not only the military, but the law-enforcement and intelligence apparatus as well. We are now at yes-or-no. From CNN:

The June 2016 meeting was arranged after a publicist who knew Trump Jr. told him in emails -- in no uncertain terms -- that a senior Russian official "offered to provide the Trump campaign" with damaging information about Clinton, and that the outreach was "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." At the time, the Russian operation to covertly boost Trump's candidacy wasn't publicly known. Trump. Jr. responded, "if it's what you say, I love it," and started to arrange the meeting. At the meeting, Trump Jr. was joined by his brother-in-law Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, who was Trump's campaign chairman at the time. There were four Russians in the room, including a lawyer with Kremlin ties, a businessman who worked for an oligarch and a lobbyist with old KGB connections.

At which point, if Cohen is willing to testify to that which CNN says he’s willing to testify, the deluge of lies began.

After news of the meeting broke in July 2017, the Trump team offered misleading explanations and changed their story several times. But one claim stayed consistent: that Trump had no knowledge of the meeting beforehand, wasn't told about it afterward and first learned about it one year later. Those denials were repeatedly issued by Trump, his attorney Jay Sekulow, Trump Jr., Futerfas and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. Those people denied that Trump had contemporaneous knowledge of the meeting on more than 15 occasions, according to CNN's analysis. Trump said on July 12, 2017, that he "only heard about it two or three days ago." One week later, Trump repeated that he "didn't know anything about the meeting" because "nobody told me" about it. Around that same time, CNN's Jake Tapper asked Sekulow to confirm Trump's claims that he only recently learned about the controversial meeting.
Sekulow's response: "Yes, I swear." But perhaps the highest-stakes denial was given by Trump Jr. in his testimony last year to the Senate Judiciary Committee. "He wasn't aware of it," Trump Jr. told lawmakers, referring to his father's knowledge of the meeting. "And, frankly, by the time anyone was aware of it, which was summer of this year, as I stated earlier, I wouldn't have wanted to get him involved in it because it had nothing to do with him."

Lawyer up, junior. There’s still room under the bus.

Return with us, for a moment, to July 24, 1974. The Supreme Court has just ruled, by an 8-0 majority, that the White House had to surrender certain tape recordings to the Watergate special prosecution force. One of these tapes contained a conversation between President Richard Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, from June 23, 1972, six days after four burglars in the employ of Nixon’s re-election campaign had been arrested in the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate office complex. It was the first time the president and his top advisor had met since the botched burglary.

It had been Nixon’s position all along that he had not learned the facts about Watergate until a meeting with White House counsel John Dean in March of 1973. As recently as May of 1974, the president had said that the meeting with Haldeman had not had any political purpose but, rather, that they had discussed how to keep the FBI investigation of Watergate from revealing any ongoing covert CIA operations. A matter of national security, the president had said. A White House lawyer named J. Fred Buzhardt cued up the tape of June 23, 1972. This is part of what Buzhardt heard.

Nixon: When you get in these people when you…get these people in, say: “Look, the problem is that this will open the whole, the whole Bay of Pigs thing, and the President just feels that” ah, without going into the details… don’t, don’t lie to them to the extent to say there is no involvement, but just say this is sort of a comedy of errors, bizarre, without getting into it, “the President believes that it is going to open the whole Bay of Pigs thing up again. And, ah because these people are plugging for, for keeps and that they should call the FBI in and say that we wish for the country, don’t go any further into this case”, period!

Haldeman: OK.

According to The Final Days, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s account of the Watergate denouement, Buzhardt went to then-chief of staff Alexander Haig.

“Well, we’ve found the smoking pistol,” he began. His voice was calm and emotionless.

“Are you sure?” Haig asked.

“Yes, it’s the ballgame. Bob [Haldeman] told him a lot that day.”

That was their yes-or-no moment. Two years of ducking and weaving. Two years of legal rope-a-dope. Two years of increasingly implausible alibis as half the White House staff either were convicted or pled themselves into jail. It all came to this. It wasn’t easy. (Woodward and Bernstein point out that Buzhardt at first had the devil’s own time getting anyone to agree with him about the June 23 tape.) But, by August, there was a new president of the United States because, ultimately, people stood at the yes-or-no moment and did what was best for the country.

That’s where we are today, if CNN’s reporting is accurate and if Cohen is telling the truth. This isn’t the smoking gun. It’s just the latest smoking gun. There are smoking guns and there are smoking guns, and then there’s this administration*, which looks like the Union line on Cemetery Ridge just as what was left of Pickett’s division arrived. I have no faith at all that enough people will do what needs to be done about this compromised and dangerous man. My first reaction to this news was that it would get folded into some nonsense that pops on the Friday news cycle—a barely coherent rage-tweet, or something stupid from the House of Representatives. But this is the yes-or-no moment. If CNN is right, and if Cohen is telling the truth, then, in the immortal words of J. Fred Buzhardt, that’s the ballgame.

Or ought to be.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The NRA Is Awfully Quiet About Maria Butina

Maria Butina poses with NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre. (photo: Twitter)
Maria Butina poses with NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre. (photo: Twitter)

By Jamil Smith, Rolling Stone
23 July 18

Why won’t the NRA comment on the arrest of the gun rights activist and accused Russian agent?

t typically takes a mass shooting to keep the National Rifle Association this quiet.

As of this writing, the NRA has issued no public comment about this week’s arrest and indictment of Maria Butina, a 29-year-old Russian gun rights activist who had spent years ingratiating herself with the NRA, as well as Republican politicians and conservative notables. Butina is suspected of conspiracy to act as an unauthorized agent of the Russian Federation within the United States without the authorization of the Attorney General.

And yet all we hear from the notoriously outspoken group is crickets.

The NRA contributed $30 million to help elect Donald Trump in 2016. The FBI has been investigating whether some or all of that cash may have been supplied by Russia. Rolling Stone reported in April that the Russian central banker Alexander Torshin, along with Butina, had deeper ties to the NRA than previously known. The NRA even flew a delegation to Moscow in 2015 to meet with Kremlin officials, including one freshly sanctioned by the Obama administration.

One member of that delegation, disgraced former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, filed an ethics report in February 2016 showing that $6,000 of his trip expenses were paid for by Butina’s group, The Right to Bear Arms. The recently departed NRA president, Pete Brownell, covered $14,000 of Clarke’s airfare and visa expenses. The details continue to trickle out.

And yet, the NRA hasn’t said one word either in Butina’s defense or to distance itself from her and Torshin, Butina’s alleged handler who has also been hit by U.S. sanctions. On Wednesday, a new court filing alleged that Butina was sexually involved with an American connected to the NRA, which media reports have identified as veteran Republican operative Paul Erickson. More importantly, the court memo alleged that Butina had been in contact with the Russian intelligence agency FSB, which replaced the more infamous KGB. As Rolling Stone reported in April, Torshin received a medal from the FSB in 2016.

Butina pleaded not guilty, and her attorneys even tried to argue that she wasn’t a flight risk because she remained in the United States following the publication of Rolling Stone’s investigation. The judge didn’t buy it, and Butina will be jailed until her trial.

In late June, NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch attempted a deflection, repeating Trump’s false accusation that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took $145 million from Russia and later herself colluded with the Kremlin. Two months ago, NRATV host Dan Bongino called reports of NRA-Russia ties a “fairy tale.”

Most fairy tales don’t end with orange jumpsuits and jail time. 

Rolling Stone reached out to the NRA on Thursday, via phone and email, to request official comment on the Butina case — as well as the prior words of some of its employees.

As you may have guessed, the NRA has not responded to Rolling Stone’s request, nor has the organization commented to any other outlet as of this time. If and when we receive a comment, we will update this post.