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?