Saturday, March 4, 2017

Is This Animal Farm?

Threat Against Democracy (TAD).  I just reread Animal Farm by George Orwell.  I know a lot of people are talking about his book 1984, but I thought I’d start with Animal Farm.  

If you’re not familiar with the story or have forgotten, here’s some of what happens.  The animals overthrow their human owner and take over the farm establishing total equality for all animals.  Two pigs, Napoleon and Snowball, become the thought leaders.  Using threats and thugs Napoleon runs Snowball off and becomes the totalitarian leader of the farm.  Pigs get special treatment and impose harsh conditions on the other animals.  Napoleon has another Pig, Squealer, who acts as his apologist, twisting the facts to try to hide the oppression of the other animals and the truth that the farm is failing.   Squealer makes up false crop reports and lies about Napoleon’s actions.  Dissent is dealt with brutally.  Snowball is blamed for all problems and lies are told about him trying to undermine Napoleon and the farm.  Life gets worse and worse for the animals while the pigs cozy up to their sworn enemies, the humans.  You get the idea.

Much of what we’re seeing today is frighteningly similar to the descriptions in Animal Farm.  To name just a few: Michael Flynn’s and Jeff Sessions’ attempts to deny the fact about their contacts with Russia and all the other Russia-Trump intrigue and cover-up.  Napoleon Trump blaming Obama, Hillary, Democrats in general, the judiciary, and the press for his problems. Trying to make it appear that Obama personally ordered wiretapping of the Trump Tower.  Squealer Spicer making demonstrably false statement after demonstrably false statement.  Administration officials contradicting one another.  Claims that vandalism of Jewish cemeteries could be false flag operations.

I was very concerned that the Nixon White House was a threat to the very foundations of our democracy.  I’m much more concerned about the Trump cabal.  Way more than just a TAD.

Animal Farm.  Read it.

Please share if you are concerned, too.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Buzzing Flies and Cow Patties

Threat Against Democracy (TAD).  I like to tell a story about the risks one takes when walking through a cow pasture.  There are at least two – buzzing flies are everywhere and there are cow patties on the ground.  If you don’t keep your priorities straight, you can get so engrossed batting the flies away that you don’t watch where you’re stepping and you find yourself standing in cow dung.

That’s kind of what it’s been like watching the Trump administration since the inauguration.  
Take, for example, Kellyanne Conway’s response when she was called out about the so-called Bowling Green Massacre.  “Honest mistakes abound” she said.  She didn’t say “I made a mistake” though.  
Or the disconnect between administration officials comments about our relationship with Mexico and the Trump’s own statements.  
The scary information that Reince Priebus attempted to influence the FBI, while still being debated, is a troubling part of the pattern.  
Watching Propaganda Secretary Spicer try to explain away Trump’s description of immigration actions as military wasn’t pretty either.  But his actions to keep mainstream media out of a press gaggle were worse.  
Steve Bannon’s statement about the deconstruction of the administrative state was additional evidence of the intentions of the administration. 
And there are so many more.  

Are these individual incidents cow dung or flies?  Whether you swat at them individually or take them all together, it’s clear what we’re standing in.

Are our form of government and our basic liberties at risk?  Yes, and more than just a TAD.

Please share if you are concerned, too.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Lies or Falsehoods?

Threat Against Democracy (TAD). Last week NPR had a segment in which it explained why it is referring to administration statements as falsehoods rather than lies. The rationale is simple.  The word “lies” implies intent to deceive whereas Falsehood leaves open the possibility that the speaker does not know that what is being said is wrong.  Seems simple enough, right? 

Let’s take a look at one of last week’s controversies through the lens of falsehood or lie.

Kelllyanne Conway, counselor to Trump, made headlines this week when she claimed that (1) there was a massacre in Bowling Green, (2) it was masterminded by two radicalized Iraqis and (3) that President Obama instituted a six month ban on the Iraqi refugee program as a result.  We all know that none of these things happened.  Lies or Falsehoods?  Conway seems to say they were the latter.  Her explanation was that “mistakes abound.”  What does that mean?  Is it a reference to the abundance of untrue statements not only from her, but also from others in the administration or is she just saying “everyone makes mistakes sometimes?”

It matters.  If she really made an honest mistake, she has an obligation not just to admit it, but also to take steps to keep such mistakes from happening in the future.  Lots of people make lots of mistakes, but Kellyanne and the rest of the administration have a different responsibility to ensure their statements aren’t false.  Their honest mistakes can result in great harm to individuals, organizations, this country and others, and can lead to economic disarray and even war.  If she made an honest mistake, she has a responsibility to understand where the misinformation came from, why it wasn’t verified before she repeated it in public and what she’s going to do to ensure that additional errors don’t occur in the future. So does everyone in the administration  And we have a responsibility to demand that they do that and explain the new procedures in public.

And what if she and others in the administration are lying?  Well, the consequences to individuals and others here and around the world are similar to those I listed above.  However, the likelihood of their occurrence might be higher since there is some motive behind the lies.  They may not intend those outcomes, but the seeds are being sown nonetheless.

I understand the distinction NPR was making, but it seems to me that, in many ways, it’s a distinction without a difference.  What’s worse, an administration that has a policy of lying to attain its goals at all costs or one that is so bent on attaining those goals regardless of the cost that it is unable to distinguish between truth and falsehood? 

Either way it’s a TAD.

Do you think this topic is important?  If so, please share.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Add It Up: It's not a Pretty Picture.

Threat Against Democracy (TAD). On January 25th I wrote about alternate facts and the threat they pose if the people don't believe the administration if there comes a time when they are actually telling the truth.  And this week the administration made claims that Iran is violating UN rules.  Most people don't believe it.  Those people are probably right.  After all, the UN hasn't confirmed it.  So, this probably isn't one of those times. But it does make the point.  Mark one against Mike Flynn.  At least a little TAD from him.

A few other recent events that I consider TADs:
Steve Bannon tells the press to shut up and calls the press outrage over propaganda secretary Sean Spicer's lying "a badge of honor."

Kellyanne Conway uses the Bowling Green massacre as an example to underscore her point - a massacre that never occurred.

Public access to climate change data is removed from government web sites.  If you don't like the data, deny it and hide it.

Betsy DeVos knows little about education, but it appears she knows that data about charter school performance don't support their effectiveness.  Why else would she want to exempt them from the accountability standards public schools are measured against?  Next week, Pence will cast his first tie-breaking vote in the Senate to confirm her despite the clear evidence that she doesn't understand the issues, appears to have serious conflicts of interest, and plagiarized part of her confirmation testimony.

It really is sad that we got to a place in this country where we actually needed a rule to tell financial advisors they had to put their clients interests above their own.  It's even sadder when the administration decides not to implement the rule.  It may not be a direct TAD, but it's certainly an attack on the core values upon which our country was founded.  So, yeah, it's a TAD.

The big one, of course, is the not so thinly veiled discrimination against Muslims embodied in the immigration ban.  Whether this is a headshake designed to allow retreat to a still unacceptable, but less extreme position remains to be seen.  What is clear to me is that it's a huge TAD and an attack on the Bill of Rights.  It's a hopeful sign though to see the continuing protests against the ban.

On a side note, did you hear that the administration will include checking social media as part of its extreme vetting program?  Of course, that's been part of the current vetting process for a long time.  Checking social media posts isn't a TAD.  But saying it's a new procedure is.

The examples vary in their impact and I don't mean to treat them all as equal.  But, when you add them all up, it's not a pretty picture.  A lot more than just a TAD.

What are your thoughts about these events?  Do you agree that they are TADs?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Alternative Facts

Threat Against Democracy (TAD).  The events of this past weekend were so amazing that they deserve comment.  The high point, of course, was the women’s march.  What an amazing display of peaceful demonstration and the power of coordinated action.  It was a global event and I found it inspiring.  And, did you happen to watch SNL?  The opening monologue was thoughtful, responsible, and captivating.  Then there was the inauguration and the subsequent reaction by the administration. It started with Trump’s unbelievable statements to the CIA.  Then, on his very first appearance in the White House Propaganda Room the Chief Disinformation Officer, Sean Spicer, flat out lied over a trivial matter – how many people attended the inauguration.  Next, on Sunday, Kellyanne Conway suggested that she would need to rethink her “relationship” with Chuck Todd if he kept asking hard questions. Then the quote of the weekend about “alternative facts.”  Social media loved it with posts such as “I’m not gay - I’m alternative straight.” and “It didn’t rain on the inauguration - That was alternative sunshine.”  Fun, but there is something very serious here.  There will undoubtedly come a time when some situation occurs and the administration will need the full support of the American people.  They won’t get it though because they will have so thoroughly ruined their own credibility that they won’t be believed.  And that’s a huge TAD.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Trump Card

Threat Against Democracy (TAD).  I watched the inaugural speech on January 20th.  I was prepared to be disappointed, but it was much more disappointing than I had even expected.  Of course, what I took away are my perceptions and I could be wrong.  His statements about America first and protectionism sounded to me like he wants us to step away from our role as the leaders of the free world. 

He said protectionism will lead to prosperity.  That seems counter-intuitive to me.  Also, I’m not sure what it means to recognize the right of all nations to put their interests first.  If Russia thinks it’s in their interest to retake Ukraine, is that all right?  What about China and Taiwan?  

Whether you believe America is great or not, we’d probably all like it to be even greater, right?  But what does that mean?  Well, from his speech and prior statements, I think it might mean less unemployment, job growth, economic growth, reduction in trade deficits and low inflation.  So, to try track whether America is getting greater, I’m developing what I call the Trump Card.  It will probably change over time, but for now I’m going to compare the following statistics from the last 8 years (where available) with how they perform under Trump.

Unemployment: It went from 9.1% in January 2009 to 4.9% (Estimated) in November of 2016 (the most recent I could find).
Years of GDP Growth 2009-2015: 6 out of 7 (2016 isn’t available yet)
Average Rate of Inflation: 1.375
Average Annual Trade Deficit: (2009-2015) $488M
Monthly Jobs Growth: Positive 79 out of 96 months (including the last 74)
Are there other stats you think I should include?

As for the rest of the speech, did I find it concerning?  Oh yes, a TAD.          

Sunday, January 15, 2017

State Sponsored Intimidation of the Press?

Threat Against Democracy (TAD). Fake news is an insidious and dangerous thing.  When a man takes a weapon to a pizza shop and fires because he believes a fake news story claiming there was a child sex ring operating there we should all be concerned.  But, when the president-elect attacks the main stream media with assertions of fake news over stories that depict him poorly, it is much more serious.  That begins to look like state-sponsored propaganda aimed at intimidating and undermining the press and even the right to free speech.  This should cause all of us to take notice.  More than just a TAD.