How the documentary Hoaxed manipulated Black Lives Matter.

The film Hoaxed claims to be a documentary that tells the truth about the media and fake news. One part of the film looks at how the media covers racial violence. The directors and Mr Cernovich, though, want to look at how the news distorts coverage since the media focuses on violence by whites on blacks and they argue the media under report violence of blacks against whites. To demonstrate this claim, they enlist the help of Hawk Newsome the President of the Black Lives Movement of greater New York.

We see him in the trailer so his part in the movie, which is from 1h44 to 1h55 is central to the film. The film appears to treat Mr Newsome sympathetically as he has time to explain why Black Lives Matters is important and he could reach a wider audience. A wider audience that is not filtered by traditional media reporting. However, the film used Mr Newsome’s appearance and edited a key sequence of the film for their purposes.

In the trailer Mr Newsome is surprised by a story that he has never heard of. To understand that scene and his surprise we need more context than the film provides. In this the film violates an important rule of documentaries because it edits the scene to fit the film maker’s agenda instead of letting the character or the topic explain itself.

The scene, in question, occurs at 1h50. Mr Newsome raises the point that when you hear about a black victim they are villainized as you hear about their criminal record, or if they were an alcoholic or had a drug problem. By contrast, he argues that a white victim is described as victimized.

“The first thing you hear when a cop kills someone of color, is their criminal history, if they alcoholic, they were a woman beater, they were who knows. When a black person is killed, they’re villainized. And when a white person is killed, they are victimized. Villainized an victimized and that is the media.”

At this point in the scene, the cameraman hands him a mobile phone and asks:

“Did you hear the inverse situation of the complaints against the media in terms of interracial crimes like the Dylan Root Shooting in Charleston and then there was the shooting in Tennessee that was like a black man shot up a church and so people were saying oh that the Charleston shooting got this big media coverage, that shooting got nothing because it was the inverse.”

“How do you respond to that?”

On the screen we see what appears to be an image, a screenshot, of a news story but the source is not identified.[i]

Mr Newsome is being presented something for the first time. He knows about the Charleston shooting but he is unaware of the Tennessee shooting. The film plants the idea that the Charleston shooting had more coverage than the Tennessee shooting because it was white on black violence.

Mr Newsome reacts as we would expect; he has not heard of it and cannot understand why he has not heard of it despite having three to four thousand Facebook friends who might have drawn his attention to it.

“I don’t understand why I have heard of this. Like, what’s unbelievable. I don’t understand why I never heard of that story. And what’s more amazing to me is I have over, I don’t know three to four thousand friends on Facebook. I have never seen that story published. It is interesting to me.”

What is unstated is that white on black violence is prioritised over black on white violence. The film suggests that these events are equivalent and worthy of the same coverage. Moreover, it suggests that the Tennessee Church shooting had less coverage because it does not fit the preferred media narrative of white on black violence.

Mr. Newsome reads from the phone and an image of what he is reading appears on the screen. It says that the initial report of the event shows that the shooter, Mr. Sampson did attend the church on occasion, but that is not mentioned in the film nor does Mr Newsome notice it.

“And church members told investigators that Samson had attended services a year or two ago. “1hr51m22s

Instead, he and the film makers focus on the sentence that reads

“All of the victims in Nashville were white, but it is not clear whether Samson specifically targeted them based on their race.”

Mr Newsome is surprised as would anyone else who is unaware of the context for each shooting. The film would convince an uninformed audience that the Tennessee shooting was not covered because of the black on white violence and the shootings are similar. However, the context and outcome for each shooting explains the difference in coverage and the film does not explore that difference because that would undermine its narrative which is more important than the truth. In this manipulative scene, the film does exactly what it accuses the media of doing. It distorts the issue, creates a false equivalence, and leads the viewer to the wrong conclusion about black on white violence. The only thing that links the shootings is that they were at a church and the second shooting was in response to the first. After that, the comparisons fade.

Here is a comparison chart that explains why they had different coverage.

  Charleston[ii] Tennessee[iii] Notes
Shooter Dylan Storm Root Emanuel Kidega Samson  
Location

/congregation

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church/ African American Church Burnette Chapel shooting/ Mixed Congregation The Charleston Church is a symbol of the civil rights movement including the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Known to victim or location No Yes. He had attended the church few times but had not attended for over a year.  
Casualties 9 Dead

1 Injured

1 Dead

9 injured

Charleston was the largest Church Shooting ever to occur up to that date.
Affiliation or ideology Online manifesto/statement White supremacist Some interest in black supremacist figures and groups like  
Reason White Supremacism and desire to kill black people and start a race war. Revenge for Charleston Shooting  
Context No mass shootings in the month before or after with a high death toll or higher profile target location.[iv] One week after this shooting the largest mass shooting and murder in US history occurs in Las Vegas with 59 people killed and 869 injured with 413 by gunfire.

A month later the largest church shooting occurs in Texas with the Sutherland Springs church shooting where 27 are killed including shooter and unborn child and 20 are wounded.[v]

 

 

At the time the article was written Samson’s motive was unknown so it would have been irresponsible to speculate. By contrast, Root was explicit in his motive before, during, and after the shooting. He was a white supremacist who wanted to start a race war by killing African Americans. He was attacking African Americans at a place symbolic of the Civil Rights movement, a target with a significant political and racial profile. At that point, the Charleston Church Shooting was the deadliest church shooting in the country’s history. To put it mildly, it was an unprecedented event. Unprecedented events against a high-profile target for a racist motive will gain a lot of attention and there was no other event before or after it to dilute the coverage.

By contrast, the Tennessee shooting’s target, context, or outcome would not draw the same attention. The shooter attended the church, the church is not a political or racial symbol in the community or the nation. The shooter did not want to start a race war, but he wanted revenge. In all aspects it is not an unprecedented event as it is does not eclipse the Charleston shooting in deaths or in the wider context of racial politics. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, one week later it is overshadowed by the largest mass murder in American history as the Las Vegas shooting claims 59 lives and leaves 869 people injured. The mass murder story gets global attention for weeks. Then a month after the Burnette Chapel shooting, the worst church shooting in American history occurs in Sutherland Springs and draws national attention for weeks.[vi] Yet this context is not provided by Mr Cernovich or the movie and it is not given to Mr Newsome so he can understand why he has not heard of the Burnette Chapel shooting.

What makes this particularly manipulative is what happens next.

The documentary shifts to Mr. Cernovich who claims that the media will not report it because it would mean that whites might start to think they “Hey, this could happen to me” that they might get shot by a black person and therefore they might sit down with black people to find common cause with them. Mr Cernovich then claims the media do not want that as the media do not care about white lives or black lives, they just want the show to go on, which is ironic given that is exactly what his documentary is doing with this scene.

“Now, in my view, the media doesn’t want to give attention to white people who are shot because white people might say, oh that could happen to me too. Maybe I ought to talk to these Black Lives Matters people. Maybe we can find common cause. The media does not care about black lives. They don’t care about white lives. They care about the show. And a Black Lives Matter leader who was reasonable and nuanced, and wanted to talk about both rights and responsibilities, would resonate with the people. And that would be very frustration for the media. They don’t want people to resonate.”

Except none of what he says is true nor does he provide any evidence. He wants his audience to believe that the reason why there is disparity between whites and blacks or why African Americans continue to struggle for their civil rights is because of the media. He does this without evidence that black on white violence occurs as often or to the same intensity as white on black violence. He has no evidence for his claims except for his beliefs about the media. The reality that white on black violence is much more common than black on white violence. They are not equivalent. Moreover, the media do report on groups who seek to reduce violence and create racial harmony, but that doesn’t suit his narrative. Instead, he wants to push the narrative that the media wants whites and blacks to kill each other. In this, he acts in bad faith.

Mr Newsome, however, is acting in good faith. He acts in the belief that the film will show the Black Lives Matters movement to a larger audience. What is not clear is whether he would have been aware that he would be used as a foil for the film to claim that black on white violence is not covered as much as white on black violence. Moreover, it is not clear whether he understood that the filmmakers were linking Black Lives Matters message to the Alt-Right movement. The film uses his surprise, which features in the trailer, as an important hook for the film, just as they use him, and by extension, the Black Lives Matter movement to create a false narrative about the media, about media coverage of black on white violence. When they equate the Burnette Chapel shooting with the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting, we find that the film makers and Mr Cernovich have created a fake news narrative to achieve their goal which is to indoctrinate not document and to deceive not to discern.

If Mr Cernovich and the directors were interested in the Black Lives Message, why did they manipulate them in this way?

 

[i] The source appears to be the Associated Press as several outlets carried this texted and many carried variations on it with some editing it for emphasis or adding extra details. See for example,

https://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/u-s-world/note-in-tennessee-church-shooting-refers-to-revenge-for-dylan-roof-massacre-ap-sources (retrieved 16 May 2020)  See also https://www.foxnews.com/us/ap-sources-note-in-church-shooting-refers-to-roof-shooting (retrieved 16 May 2020)

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charleston_church_shooting (retrieved 16 May 2020)

[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burnette_Chapel_shooting (retrieved 16 May 2020)

[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mass_shootings_in_the_United_States#2015 (retrieved 16 May 2020)

[v] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mass_shootings_in_the_United_States#2017 (retrieved 16 May 2020)

[vi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sutherland_Springs_church_shooting (retrieved 16 May 2020)

Posted in education, Government, justice, public opinion | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Initial review or thoughts on the documentary Hoaxed.

Arrogant, resentful people believe deception works.

–Jordan Peterson, minute 94, Hoaxed (2019).

Know thyself.

–Delphic Oracle

“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”

―Soren Kierkegaard

The documentary Hoaxed is not worth your time or your money. It is more a 128-minute work to whitewash Mike Cernovich’s reputation as an Alt-Right member[i], troll and bad faith actor than it is to document fake news as a media phenomenon. What I found was that it was in part disingenuous, incomplete, and seriously flawed as a documentary since it provided no insight nor new understanding as its rehashed events to gaslight an unsuspecting or credulous audience about Mr Cernovich and the alt-right.

These are my initial thoughts to be followed by a more detailed commentary in a few days.

First, it fails as a documentary from a technical point as well as from intent because it does not tell us anything new. It rehashes things from two or three years ago without offering insight, analysis or an alternative view, which for a controversial topic like “fake news”, is a bare minimum for a decent or honest documentary. Without some attempt to provide a context or insight into the topic beyond the preferred view of the speakers, it becomes a self-indulgent exercise akin to a video diary where the speakers just provide their own views unopposed or without any context which would suggest that there is a different understanding to the reality it describes. What we get is perhaps a film that offers higher production values than the usual Mike Cernovich podcast or YouTube offering with the added benefit of a few academics as guests who seem out of place. The academics, unsurprisingly, are the most coherent, cogent, and thoughtful of the many speakers throughout the documentary in large part because they speak from expertise grounded in research and training, which gives them a sense of self-awareness.

Second, Mr Cernovich and most of the other speakers lack the self-awareness born of having to test their thoughts against a research literature and an informed community. To a surprising degree, most of the speakers lack self-knowledge for what they are saying within the context of the documentary. Moreover, those with self-knowledge, the academics and the leader of Black Lives Matters movement, do so because they act in good faith with the film and how they understand the world. The other speakers don’t.

Third, there were many assertions that relied on bald unsubstantiated claims that are never tested even when there is clear evidence to the contrary. For example, Mr Cernovich makes the following egregious claim around the film’s 95 to 96-minute mark.

The context is coverage of the 2017 Congressional baseball shooting, which occurred on 14 June 2017

Mr Cernovich says the following:

“There was a shooting by a Bernie Sanders supporter and pro antifa person at a congressional baseball practice. Called the Scalise shooting now.[ii] And the mainstream media acted like they really care. Oh, they really cared. No, the people know. The people watch them laugh when they were asked about violence. They know the media wants more shootings.

They want people to get shot because they act as a propaganda arm for antifa, which is a domestic terrorist group, under investigation by the FBI, and they laugh at violence against people they don’t agree with politically.”

It is a bald, unsubstantiated claim to say the media want people to get shot, that they laugh at violence, and they are a propaganda arm for antifa. Mr Cernovich offered no evidence for this claim.

It seems horrific for Mr Cernovich to claim that American media wants American politicians to get shot and does not care about shootings. More to the point, he claims “they laugh at violence against people they don’t agree with politically.” Such a claim is clearly one from a bad faith actor because it is a view so out of touch with reality as to appear to be from someone with a warped sense of the world, politics, media, and America.

The reason it is a bad faith claim is that Mr Cernovich has not considered that his claim must include himself since, as a self- professed journalist he too is part of the media just as Fox News is. Once Mr Cernovich begins to qualify his remarks, which he will once he has to explain them or defend them, his equivocations will show he was not acting in good faith.

In the film, the directors and Mr Cernovich attempt to contextualise his outrageous claims with an earlier scene that covers Mr Cernovich’s video from his visit to the White House Press Briefing Room on 1 May 2017. This is before the Congressional Baseball Shooting. In minutes 91 and 92 of the film, he presents this visit[iii] and claims that the media present laughed at his demands that they cover antifa violence as much as they cover violence by Trump supporters and that they demand that Democrat politicians, like Bernie Sanders, be required to disavow antifa violence in the way that President Trump had been asked to disavow violence by his supporters. In minute 92, he then claims in the film that they laughed at him which is what he wanted them to do.

Mr Cernovich’s claims when investigated are not substantiated.

On the surface, it appears that what he claims has merit because there is laughter at the beginning of his video. However, if you look at footage of the event from other sources, such as CSPAN or other outlets[iv], it does not appear to be as he claims. First, it is not clear that the laughter at the start is aimed at him or another person who shouted a question. Second, it is not clear whether they are laughing at him and the sound of his voice, which some commentators have described as whiny and lispy[v], or simply his appearance at the White House Press briefing. It does not appear that they were laughing at his questions since the laughter was before his questions could be heard clearly as most people tended to ignore him. One person did engage him which seemed to be something garbled but sounded like they were saying they were there to question the Republican President and not the Democrats so until one of them is President it would not make sense.[vi]

Basic research reveals that what Mr Cernovich described is not accurate.

Leaving these points aside, which are enough to call into question his claim that they were laughing at his demands that they condemn violence and condemn the antifa, his substantive point which is an attempt to equivalate President Trump supporters and antifa with the Democratic Party is not sustainable. First, antifa is an anticapitalistic, socialist, anti-fascist group, that does not organise public events nor are they affiliated with any political party nor do they have the patronage of the Democratic Party or a Democrat in an elected office. Second, the White House Press Corp focuses on the President and the White House so a fringe group like antifa, even though important to Mr Cernovich, are not going to attract their attention unless President Trump or the White House focus on it. To expect them to do otherwise is specious if not dishonest in that their job is the White House and President Trump not the Democrats or a fringe political group.[vii] Third, the White House Press Corp are not the media, they are a subset of a subset within the media at best since there is a small number of reporters across world who are part of the White House Press Corps. Fourth, the people present are under no obligation to explain themselves or their organisation’s editorial policies to Mr Cernovich especially in that location and under those circumstances. To believe they should be borders on juvenile or sophomoric behaviour. Fifth, after Charlottesville in August 2017, the media has condemned antifa violence as much as they have condemned Neo-Nazi violence.[viii] Sixth, the Democrats including Bernie Sanders have condemned antifa violence.[ix] Senator Sanders condemned violence[x] on 24 April 2017 a week before Mr Cernovich’s question at the White House Press briefing, thus, disproving his claim that Senator Sanders had not disavowed violence. However, Mr Cernovich at the time nor in the film prepared a year later, considers these points or the alternative meaning of the event which suggests he lacks self-knowledge or the willingness and perhaps the ability to reflect on events. It appears he believes there can be only way to understand an event, his way, and no other. In this, he is acting in bad faith as a person and as a documentarian.

Was this a documentary or was it something else?

As you can see, this is one of the many unsubstantiated or disputable claims in the documentary which rob it of having any chance of providing an insight into fake news since it only present a partial or biased view. There is no balance in the film. You get the queasy feeling that you are watching an indoctrination film designed to groom the audience. A documentary would have had a narrator to provide context or balance failing that regular comments by media academics or media professionals who could explain how the media works would have indicated it was a documentary. A basic understanding of the media starts with the challenge that any news organisation must prioritize coverage, based on available resources, within severe time constraints against a hyper competitive media market. Most importantly, it has deal with the public attention which is limited as well as changing hourly. Without these limited interventions, it fails as a documentary.

What we find, instead, is that Hoaxed is a resentful screed which covers the same tired topics of any fringe group resentful, disgruntled, and disappointed with the status quo. The targets are the same: the left, the media, the lack of coverage for topics they believe the media should cover or don’t cover enough, the unfairness of what they do and so forth.

Mr Molyneux does not understand Plato.

In a strange twist, the film ends with a bizarre attempt to suggest that the film was some sort of educational project or attempt to enlighten the audience as if they have been brought the truth. Stefan Molyneux an avowed white nationalist talks about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Mr Molyneux has a clumsy, crude, and confused understanding of Plato and the allegory. He wants us to believe this film leads us on a path to enlightenment and thinking. It doesn’t. Mr Molyneux does not understand Plato and his account provides an incorrect analysis that the Cave represents the City since it misses out essential issues or basic points for anyone who has read the passage in Plato. For example, it leaves out the puppet masters[xi] who create the shadows and who have access to the sun or knowledge of the Good yet remain in the cave. He leaves out the difference between the fire and the sun, as well as ignoring the central point that there are no politics in the cave as it is not a political community nor it a simulacrum of one. Finally, the philosopher does not return for political reasons. To put it bluntly, Mr Molyneux is not supported by any serious Plato scholar or any honest reading of Plato’s Republic so he is misleading his audience.

Plato’s cave is about the philosopher and not the city.

The Allegory of the Cave is about the philosopher’s soul, it does not have a political message since the philosopher rejects politics and the people chained in the cave are not in a political environment, but you would not get that as Mr Molyneux, speaking in a theatrical voice, attempts to present himself as letting the audience in on some deep truth that will liberate them. In near hushed tones, he ends the film by invoking the claim that the truth has been revealed to them so they can begin thinking. Mr Molyneux says in minutes 121 to 122 regarding the philosopher who has seen the sun and understands the Good.

“He says, I must share this with the people below, with my friends, my companions, my compatriots chained in the cave. So, he takes a last look to drink the glory of everything that he sees and then with excitement, with joy, with anticipation, he turns back down into the cave.”

This is simply wrong. Plato does not write this. No one is a friend in the cave as they are chained facing forward unable to turn their heads and unaware of anyone else.[xii] There is no dialogue in the cave and therefore no community and without a community there is no politics. The philosopher must be compelled to return to the cave just as he was compelled to leave it[xiii] so we find compulsion central to the Allegory of the Cave. The philosopher does not return to the cave with excitement, joy or anticipation. Instead, he would do anything to avoid returning to the cave.

“I think that he would choose to endure anything rather than such a life.”[xiv] Plato’s Republic 516e

Mr Molyneux is misinforming his audience and distorting Plato’s work to serve his purposes. He also leaves out that when the returning philosopher tries to tell the chained inhabitants of their predicament that they would, if they were not chained, kill him.

And if it were possible to lay hands on and to kill the man who tried to release them and lead them up, would they not kill him2?” “They certainly would,” he said. 517a Plato’s Republic [xv]

He also leaves out that when the philosopher does return to the cave, he is blinded by the darkness[xvi] just as he was blinded by the light on the exit and it takes the philosopher a long time to adjust his eyes to the cave which leaves him appearing ridiculous to the inhabitants. Instead, he suggest that the cave is the reality manufactured by the media to tell you what to think and he suggests that the main speakers within the documentary, Alex Jones, Anthony Scaramucci, Cassie Jaye, James O’Keefe, Mike Cernovich, Scott Adams, an anonymous internet troll named “Myron Gaines” to name a few, are the philosophers who have come back to the cave to wrestle the lies from the minds of those stuck in the cave. This is a nonsensical reading of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

A philosopher as described by Plato’s Socrates is as rare as hen’s teeth.

The path by which one becomes a philosopher is not started by watching this video or buying some self-help book from Mr Cernovich or Mr Molyneux. A philosopher will have a lifetime of study dedicated to the Good and the pursuit of wisdom done through dialogue and conversation, not political goals such as those promoted by Mr Cernovich or Mr Molyneux, for them to make the journey in their soul. A philosopher lives for discussion and dialogues within individuals they do not participate in harangues or speeches to an unresponsive audience. To put it bluntly, the philosopher begins or lives in a state of wonder or bewilderment always asking questions search for the truth.

None of the people in this film are philosophers or are even close to being philosophers. At best, one of them, Professor Peterson might speak philosophically and have a sense of what the Good means but that does not make him a philosopher returning to the cave to liberate us. Instead, they are people like Mr Molyneux or Mr Cernovich who believe they know what the truth is and they will force you to listen to it.

To a credulous or uninformed audience Molyneux’s analysis might appear revolutionary, insightful, or empowering like “Wow, man, I have learned so much that it all makes sense that I have freed my mind and now I can think and fight to free others.” However, Professor Peterson disabuses anyone of that belief when he says in minute 98.

“You live out the falsifications and, uh, the world hits you.”

If you follow Mr Molyneux or Mr Cernovich, you will be living out a falsification and reality will bite you the ass.

Save your time and money and avoid this movie.

Save your money, by a decent copy of Plato’s Gorgias, Phaedrus, and Sophist as well as Cicero’s Orator and Aristotle’s Rhetoric to understand what rhetoric is, how it works, and what it relates to the truth in a political setting. You will be better served by that education than anything you would learn from this film. You will not find any education or enlightenment in this film and you will have wasted two hours watching as you become less informed. In the end, you are in the dark wondering why you or anyone else listens to the bad faith clowns on the screen.

[i] This article explores how Mr Cernovich has been trying to distance himself from the alt-Right even as he continues to parrot their views. https://www.mediamatters.org/maga-trolls/new-right-brought-you-former-allies-alt-right However, he has worked with alt-Right figures such as Charles C Johnson and in this film with Stefan Molyneux. https://www.thedailybeast.com/mike-cernovich-chuck-johnson-alt-right-hyped-anti-schumer-forgery-that-plagiarized-conyers-complaint

[ii] It is referred to as the 2017 Congressional baseball shooting because Rep Scalise was not the target as the shooter targeted Republicans not him specifically on the baseball field.  By contrast Gabby Giffords the representative from Arizona was shot in an attempted assassination to which Mr Cernovich is silent and which demonstrates the hollowness of his claims about the media or Democrats. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Tucson_shooting

[iii] https://twitter.com/Cernovich/status/1055220427100803072?s=20

[iv] See for example this footage of the incident from Media Matters. https://www.mediamatters.org/maga-trolls/heres-what-happened-when-trump-white-house-gave-alt-right-troll-access-press-room here is one that shows the laughter comes before his questions are understood. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2QySs3CNu8

[v] https://theslot.jezebel.com/mike-cernovich-has-a-whiny-dork-voice-1794814445 see also https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/10/31/trolls-for-trump

[vi] Here is the incident as captured by CSPAN. https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4868564/user-clip-cernovich-clip

[vii] If we track the term antifa it does not rank very high on the Google search which also suggests that it is not high in the public’s consciousness except for specific events when it does enter the public domain. https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?cat=16&date=2016-04-11%202017-12-12&geo=US&q=antifa

[viii] https://fair.org/home/in-month-after-charlottesville-papers-spent-as-much-time-condemning-anti-nazis-as-nazis/

[ix] In August 2017 Nancy Pelosi condemned antifa violence. https://www.denverpost.com/2017/08/30/nancy-pelosi-denver-violent-antifa-activists-should-be-prosecuted-dont-represent-democrats/  See also https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2017/08/30/pelosi-condemns-violent-actions-of-antifa-protesters/  In 2016 Bernie Sanders condemned political violence aimed at Donald Trump. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/bernie-sanders-condemns-violent-protests-san-jose/story?id=39602627

[x] https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/apr/24/bernie-sanders-slams-berkeley-activists-attempts-t/

[xi] See Plato’s Republic 514e http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D7%3Asection%3D514b

[xii] See 515a and515b. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D7%3Asection%3D515a

[xiii] See 515c “When one was freed from his fetters and compelled to stand up suddenly and turn his head around and walk and to lift up his eyes to the light…” http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D7%3Asection%3D515c   See also 515e “And if,” said I, “someone should drag him thence by force up the ascent1 which is rough and steep, and not let him go before he had drawn him out into the light of the sun,…” http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D7%3Asection%3D515e

[xiv] http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D7%3Asection%3D516e

[xv] http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D7%3Asection%3D517a

[xvi] See 516e “ “And consider this also,” said I, “if such a one should go down again and take his old place would he not get his eyes full1 of darkness, thus suddenly coming out of the sunlight?” “He would indeed……” http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D7%3Asection%3D516e

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Was 9/11 a state and local issue? Asking for a Coronavirus — Media Meditations

The President and Jared Kushner have indicated that any shortages in ventilators or medical equipment is the fault and responsibility of state and local authorities.[1] They want the public to believe that it is not their fault that there is a shortage. Kushner has gone so far as to say that the federal stockpile is […]

via Was 9/11 a state and local issue? Asking for a Coronavirus — Media Meditations

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America is not ready for what’s coming with the Covid-19.

First, America lacks the tests to understand the scale, scope or severity of the outbreak. The incubation period is up to 14 days which means it has spread widely in America. News reports indicate that 35 states have infected residents. Beyond the spread of the disease, America still does not know its severity or its scope so that even if the testing starts this week, it will be months before enough people get tested to understand whether the outbreak has stabilized.

Second, most adult Americans have underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to Covid-19. Many Americans are obese[i]. Many suffer from high blood pressure.[ii] A large percentage have some sort of cardiovascular disease.[iii] Beyond those conditions, we find that many Americans have diabetes or have a combination of all the above and more. We can see this medical vulnerability in the fact that 66% of adult Americans take some sort of prescription medicine for a chronic condition[iv]. The consequences are that nearly all adult Americans are at a higher risk of mortality from Covid-19 based on available evidence regarding mortality.[v]

Third, Americans have poor diets.[vi] Despite having some of the best farmland in the world and some of the most advanced agriculture, Americans eat a poor diet of highly processed food that is high in salt, saturated fats and a variety of chemical and pharmaceutical additives. Americans eat a lot of meat that is fed steroids[vii] and antibiotics.[viii] Although the steroids and antibiotics used in animal feed are not considered a threat to human health, only China and the United States use them to such a large degree.[ix]

Fourth, it appears that the American healthcare system, at a bureaucratic level, is not well designed for pandemics or epidemics. The early stages show that the CDC limited the testing and where testing was to be done it had to be approved by a doctor. The testing system meant that there was a bottleneck as people had to go to a doctor to get tested and the tests were not available. Even with the roll out of more tests, it will be weeks before enough people can be tested to know the outbreak’s scale, scope and severity. By that time, it will have spread farther and deeper into communities.

A related issue is how Americans use their healthcare system which really means how they use health insurance. Many people will not seek treatment for two main reasons. First, they fear that they cannot take time off for work as many do not have paid sick leave or fear that taking medical leave will put their job at risk.[x] If they must self-isolate, they will worry they may not have a job when they come back or that they cannot afford to go that long without paid work especially if they work in the “gig economy”. Americans who do get symptoms may not go for treatment for fear that they cannot afford it. People will have seen the stories that a private Covid-19 test cost $3000 so they will balk at the possible expense. Even if they have health insurance, they know that they will have to pay the “co-pay” and that may vary depending on the plan and the coverage.[xi] this will influence their premiums and eligibility. By contrast, people in other countries with national health care systems can seek treatment or have treatment come to them without fear of the costs so they are less likely to hide their illness or avoid being tested.

A final problem for Americans is the misinformation that is promoted within social media. Many Americans believe that it is no worse than regular flu. Others believe that a vaccine will soon arrive. For some, they believe that it is a disease that only affects the elderly and the infirm. What America needs are leaders who will face reality, describe that reality, and respond to that reality no matter the effect on their ego, their election chances, or the financial markets. Such leaders will provide a consistent and clear message from all levels of the government. They would also demonstrate and explain why the country needs to listen to and follow expert advice. Yet, those are two areas where Americans are least prepared. They have become habituated to the discordant messages from Washington DC and they have been encouraged to distrust experts.

America is reaping what it has sown.

The grim reality is that America is not ready for Covid-19. The scale of what is already present suggests that it will soon surpass Italy and Iran for the most cases and deaths. If we consider that the disease is already in 35 states before any meaningful testing has occurred, it is likely that once America starts to test it will find it has over 10,000 cases and 1000 deaths. I would not be surprised to see those numbers before the end of March.

America could have been ready for this outbreak, but it lacked the leader with the vision to act decisively. Instead, it had a leader and a government focused on appearances and symbolic acts. America does not need a better medical system; it needs better leaders who will put the public interest before their personal interests and put the common good before the financial good. If you survive Covid-19 you can vote to change who leads this country.

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obesity_in_the_United_States

[ii] https://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@sop/@smd/documents/downloadable/ucm_319587.pdf

[iii] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/01/190131084238.htm

[iv] https://hpi.georgetown.edu/rxdrugs/

[v] https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/coronavirus-age-sex-demographics/

[vi] https://consumer.healthday.com/encyclopedia/weight-control-39/obesity-health-news-505/what-s-wrong-with-the-american-diet-644659.html

[vii] https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/product-safety-information/steroid-hormone-implants-used-growth-food-producing-animals It is worth considering that many countries ban American foods for steroids and other additives. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/these-american-meat-produ_b_5153275?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAMZqtEFa6-FJPBJ_sxLM5l2RtzYDZ6EuC05namwa5kZCziLQb9ySGoMVSMAZAuf4WFk7KRsNf8YjGTCNV4J7TwnGw3QLvKrIOkp99HQYtq09KGoZG29Hf2L7tlM249r0MBLW8pFrduZL3iO85VFh34nbUNao4cxtOIXbJROt7vBA

[viii] https://article.images.consumerreports.org/prod/content/dam/CRO%20Images%202019/Health/10October/Chain_Reaction_V_Report_October_2019

[ix] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323639

[x] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-37353742

[xi] https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/09/what-you-need-to-know-about-coronavirus-and-your-health-insurance.html

Posted in Uncategorized

Has Donald Trump’s Thabo Mbeki moment arrived?

Donald Trump comments about coronavirus have sowed doubt and confusion within the public. He has suggested that there are mild cases and that people could return to work in such a condition or recover from it without realising that they had it. He has also suggested that a vaccine will be developed soon as well as suggested that the outbreak will disappear with the warm weather.

His comments run counter to the scientific evidence which informs the public health statements from his advisers as well as the government institutions, like Center for Disease Control. In this manner, Trump has been politicising the coronavirus issue by suggesting that it is a hoax promoted by the Democratic Party to weaken his presidency. Yet, the issue is whether his leadership, expressed by his comments, is undermining the response to the coronavirus outbreak by distorting the pandemic’s scale, scope, and severity within the United States and the world.

His statesmanship bears an uncanny resemblance to Thabo Mbeki’s approach to the AIDS crisis when his leadership exacerbated the AIDS crisis in South Africa. Mbeki rejected scientific evidence that showed the AIDS virus was not responsible for AIDS but that a weakened immune system brought on by poverty and malnourishment was the cause. Mbeki rejected the scientific evidence for political reasons as he had politicized the AIDS crisis for his own purposes. In a similar way, we see Trump politicizing the coronavirus. The federal government could take a decisive lead on the issue with blunt appraisals regarding the pandemic’s scale, scope and severity, but that would require the President to put public safety before politics. Instead, Trump has sown doubt, confusion, and uncertainty. In doing so, he has made the crisis worse because the public are unprepared to understand that the pandemic will get much worse before it gets better.

Were the president to show decisive leadership he would explain why the test kits are not available, when they will be available as they are the first step in understanding the outbreak’s scale, scope, and severity. Instead, he has focused on the Democrats, his own hunches about the cases as well as the disease’s morality rate, which serve his purposes but not the public’s. However, this would require Trump to display talents and characteristics he has never shown previously.

South Africa’s leaders politicized the AIDS crisis and made it worse. It appears Trump is doing the same withe coronavirus. Americans deserve better leadership in a crisis, but it will not get it so long as Trump is president.

Posted in Government, statesmanship | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Did Sarah Sanders lie to the Special Counsel?

To serve Trump, Sarah Sanders lied repeatedly about James Comey having lost the confidence of the rank and file FBI. Despite her claim that it was a “slip of the tongue” utter in the “heat of the moment”, it was, in fact, a lie she repeated on successive days *even though she knew it has no basis in fact*. She might have believed that she could never be caught in her lie because she believed that only she would be able to verify it. What she failed to understand was that severity of her lie, a direct attack on the FBI’s integrity by the White House’s Deputy Press Secretary, would guarantee that someone would take the time to verify her claim. Before we consider whether she lied to the Special Counsel, we need to understand what she said.

When Sarah Sanders claimed on more than one occasion that Comey had lost the confidence of the rank and file FBI agents, she probably thought no one could verify her claims. She also believed that her claim, it was a “slip of the tongue” would be an acceptable defence.  The first “slip of the tongue” occurred on 10 May 2017. (I’ve emphasized key passages.)

Q    What gives you such confidence that the rank and file within the Bureau lost faith in the FBI Director?  There’s a special agent who is inside, who wrote us, who said:  “The vast majority of the Bureau is in favor of Director Comey.  This is a total shock.  This is not supposed to happen.  The real losers here are 20,000 front-line people in the organization because they lost the only guy working here in the past 15 years who actually cared about them.”

So what’s your response to these rank-and-file FBI agents who disagree with your contention that they lost faith in Director Comey?

SANDERS:  Look, we’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things.  In fact, the President will be meeting with Acting Director McCabe later today to discuss that very thing — the morale at the FBI — as well as make an offer to go directly to the FBI if he feels that that’s necessary and appropriate.  And we’ll certainly provide further information on that meeting for you guys. [Emphasis added] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/daily-press-briefing-principal-deputy-press-secretary-sarah-sanders-051017/

The section on Andrew McCabe is highlighted because the following day 11 May 2017 we find that Andrew McCabe had not confirmed the President’s claim nor Sarah Sanders’ claim.

On 11 May 2017 she repeated the claim about countless FBI members which undermines her statement that it was a “slip of the tongue” said in the “heat of the moment”. Unless her tongue slips daily and she has heats of the moment daily? The next day, knowing that her first comment was a “slip of the tongue”, she must have known that it had no basis in fact so she expanded on the lie.

Q    Sarah, you said from the podium yesterday that Director Comey had lost the confidence of the rank and file of the FBI.  On Capitol Hill today, the Acting Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe directly contradicted that.  What led you and the White House to believe that he had lost the confidence of the rank and file of the FBI when the Acting Director says it’s exactly the opposite? [Emphasis added].

    1. SANDERS: Well, I can speak to my own personal experience. I’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the President’s decision.  And I think that we may have to agree to disagree.  I’m sure that there are some people that are disappointed, but I certainly heard from a large number of individuals — and that’s just myself — and I don’t even know that many people in the FBI.

And in response to a follow up question, which mentions the previous day’s claims.

Q    And one last question, just to follow up on the FBI thing.  And I’m not trying to be overly combative here, but you said now today, and I think you said again yesterday, that you personally have talked to countless FBI officials, employees, since this happened.

SANDERS: Correct.

Q    I mean, really?  So are we talking —

SANDERS: Between like email, text messages — absolutely.

Q    Like 50?

SANDERS: Yes.

Q    Sixty, seventy?

SANDERS: Look, we’re not going to get into a numbers game. I mean, I have heard from a large number of individuals that work at the FBI that said that they’re very happy with the President’s decision.  I mean, I don’t know what I else I can say. [Emphasis added.]

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/press-briefing-principal-deputy-press-secretary-sarah-sanders-homeland-security-advisor-tom-bossert-051117/

What is clear from the statements is the only thing true about the above is that she does not know many people in the FBI. If she did, she would know that as a rule they are discrete because their jobs rely on their ability to be discrete, professional, dispassionate, and above all honest. J. Edgar Hoover may have had his flaws but he ensured his agents acted with utmost integrity and probity. The contrast with the Trump Administration could not be greater. The two institutions are the antithesis of each other.

For the White House’s Deputy Press Secretary to claim that “countless” or at least 50 FBI employees through email and text messages told her they were unhappy or that they had lost confidence in Director Comey was a direct attack on the FBI’s integrity. By her public statement, she was undermining the FBI’s integrity. Her lie was attacking the country’s preeminent law enforcement agency and the key agency for investigating Federal crimes such as those that might have been committed by the Trump Administration and its “friends”.

She obviously did not know many FBI employees or understand the Agency since her claim was going to draw intense scrutiny within the FBI. Aside from the attack on the FBI’s integrity, it would raise alarm bells. Why? First, there are very few FBI agents who are going to be in contact, occasional contact, or even social contact with the Deputy Press Secretary. The two institutions do not mingle and FBI agents, while not avoiding the White House, know to keep it at an arm’s length because the ease with which they can become politicized no matter who is in the White House. Second, FBI agents are discrete. They are not going to be sending emails and text messages to Sarah Sanders bitching and moaning about the Director *even if they are not happy*. There might be one, but “countless” or at least “50” is bordering on the impossible.

When she made that claim, she ensured it would guarantee a forensic analysis to determine its veracity. It would guarantee a forensic analysis because it was the one part of her claim that could be verified. That opportunity arose in the Special Counsel’s investigation.

Had Sarah Sanders left her claim vague, she might have gotten away with it. Even then it would be doubtful because the Special Counsel would ask her to verify the claims by naming the FBI agents or producing the evidence for her claim. At that point, she could either refuse to name them or claim she forgot who they were. Instead, she did something that ensured she would be caught in her lie, which showed she had no understanding of how the FBI works or how damaging he lie was and why it would be taken so seriously. She claimed she had received emails and text messages showing that FBI employees had lost confidence in Director Comey. When she did this, she had said something that could be verified.

The Special Counsel would be able to scan her electronic communications and those of the FBI to see if there had been any emails between her and any FBI agent. If someone had sent her an email or a text message, it would have been found either on the White House system or the FBI system. From a basic records management perspective various federal laws ensure that email and text messages within the White House and the FBI are retained.[1] Even if Trump White House staffers may believe those laws do not apply to them[2], the FBI employees know their communications are subject to these laws and the additional monitoring by FBI counter intelligence surveillance as well as the FBI’s internal audit functions.

When the Special Counsel’s investigators interviewed Sarah Sanders, they probably had verified her claims. They knew they were false because there was no evidence for them. Under the penalty of the law, she told the truth—her statements had no basis in fact.

“Sanders told this office that her reference to hearing from ‘countless members of the FBI’ was a ‘slip of the tongue.’ She also recalled that her statement in a separate press interview that rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey was a comment she made ‘in the heat of the moment’ that was not founded on anything.” (Vol. II, page 72) https://viewfromll2.files.wordpress.com/2019/04/mueller-report.pdf

Curiously, the Special Counsel’s report is based on her May 10th statement and does not mention the May 11th Press Briefing where she repeated the claim about FBI employees contacting her and expanded it to say at least 50 FBI employees had contacted her. If her first statement was a slip of the tongue, then to repeat it and expand on it, knowing that the previous day was a “slip of the tongue” means that the second day could not be a “slip of the tongue” said in the “heat of the moment.” If that was the case she could have simply said “I stand by what I said yesterday, we need to move on” or even what she did say too late “I mean, I don’t know what I else I can say”. Instead, she repeated it and expanded on it.

Perhaps, the Special Counsel will revisit her statement regarding her claim that it was a “slip of the tongue” said in the “heat of the moment” to see if she is eligible for a perjury charge. If it was really a slip of the tongue on the 10th of May then why did she expand on it on the 11th of May insisting that at least 50 FBI employees had contacted her by email and text? She intended her claim that at least 50 FBI employees had contacted and was not an intended statement not said in the “heat of the moment” or a “slip of the tongue.”

What is clear is that Sarah Sanders lied to the Press. She attacked the integrity of the FBI. Above all, she lied to the Public. What remains to be seen is whether the Special Counsel decides if she lied to his investigators. If she has, then she could face something worse than having to resign. She could face a criminal sanction for perjury.

[1] https://www.archives.gov/records-mgmt/toolkit/fbi/rma-current-state.html and https://www.voanews.com/a/us-justice-department-suggests-fbi-text-message-retention-improvements/4783420.html and https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/02/white-house-secret-messages/516792/

[2] https://people.com/politics/white-house-aides-tape-documents-trump-rips-up/ and https://www.politico.com/story/2018/06/10/trump-papers-filing-system-635164 and https://splinternews.com/the-white-house-made-an-entire-office-tape-trumps-paper-1826720913

Posted in Government, justice, public sector, transparency | Tagged , , , ,

Trump and Judgement at Nuremberg

The film Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) is a powerful historical courtroom drama based loosely on the trial of the Nazi Judges. The film focuses on Spencer Tracy as Judge Dan Haywood a rock-ribbed Republican who, while not the first choice for the job, is determined to do his duty and deliver justice in the trial of four German judges. Even though the trials are set in 1948 and the prominent Nazi leaders have been executed, they are on trial for crimes against humanity and for supporting the Nazi regime’s atrocity. In their role, they aided and abetted the regime.

Although this is a fictionalized account, it presents a compelling story of the Nuremberg trials and provides lessons for how we understand America and the Trump administration in the wake of the Mueller report. On a superficial level we can say that Mueller is like Judge Haywood diligently doing his duty despite the potential temptations and pitfalls that await (Marlene Dietrich plays her role wonderfully) as well as the various political pressures that emerge during the trial. At a critical point, the geopolitical tensions of the time come to the surface as the Berlin Blockade causes Haywood’s superiors and some colleagues to suggest that it would be expedient to show leniency to the defendants as the Germans are needed in the conflict that would become the Cold War.

The judges are defended by a brilliant defence attorney Rolfe played by Maximillian Schnell. For Trump, that role would not be played by one person (sorry Rudy Giuliani) instead it would fall on the whole constellation of defenders. In many ways, there is a strong parallel to how Trump and his defenders behaved and Rolfe’s defence tactics and methods. Rolfe explains that whatever the Nazis did about racism and eugenics, the Americans had done similar terrible things. In this we can hear echoes of Trump’s defence of Putin (“You think our country’s so innocent….”).  What is particularly poignant, especially in the age where Trump supporters enjoy how he mocks the weak, vulnerable, and the defenceless, is when Rolfe neutralizes the testimony of a feeble-minded man, Rudolph Petersen played brilliantly by Montgomery Clift (cast against type), who was testifying to being sterilized. One can almost hear the Trump supporters respond “Womp, Womp” or “Fuck your Feelings” when Petersen leaves the witness chair.

The main lesson, though, to draw from the film regarding Trump, his administration, and America is the final scene. In that scene, one of the judges, played by Burt Lancaster seeks to find some common ground with judge Haywood after he sentenced all the defendants to life in prison.

Lancaster says “By all that is right in this world, your verdict was a just one.” He then tries to avoid responsibility for the Holocaust by saying “I never knew that it would come to that.” Haywood response is perhaps the best summary for the Trump supporters. “Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.”

We might think this is the moment we waited for when the Nazi judges were sentenced and justice served. In an important sense, justice was served and we can feel vindicated by the judgement and the movie. Yet, the scene, and the film, like Trump and his administration with the Mueller report, does not end there. Instead, as Haywood walks down the prison corridor away from Lancaster’s cell, we see text on the screen. It explains that even though 99 defendants were sentenced to prison terms at the Nuremberg trials that took place in the American Zone, all were freed by the time the film was released in 1961.

Despite having been found guilty of crimes against humanity, these men were free within a few years. Now one can argue that the key Nazis were all dead so justice had been served. The same could be said for the Mueller report. There are people in prison for crimes and what the Mueller report did not do is indict the president. In this, the Mueller report may have rendered an important judgement yet, it remains to be seen whether there are any meaningful consequences and whether those consequences are long lasting. In the end, the question of consequences and whether they can be escaped or must be endured are not legal questions but political questions. As political questions, they come back to the power of the pardon as well as what the public are willing to tolerate. What we have seen so far suggests that the public are wiling to endure and accept a lot more than the political pundits, commentators thought they would or should tolerate or accept.

The Mueller Report like the Judgement at Nuremberg forces us to consider what price is to be paid for decent politics and whether that price is worth paying. That is the open question for both works.

 

 

 

Posted in Government | Tagged , , , ,

Why Trump does not understand James Comey

Trump fired Comey in part because he did not understand him and in part because of who or what Trump is. What has been less explored is why or how Trump did not understand Comey.

On the surface, one view of why Trump fired him was that Trump saw him as a king maker like J. Edgar Hoover. In this approach Trump understands Comey’s reopening of the investigation into Hillary’s emails as an attempt to swing the election towards him to gain an advantage over Trump. Even if Comey did not intend this, his deed created the appearance, if not the reality, that Comey would have something over Trump. For Roy Cohn, who tutored Trump, this view would make political sense. Roy Cohn, who was a notoriously vicious man well practiced in exploiting other people and situations to his advantage, would do this so it is not surprising that his protégé would see Comey and what Comey had done in this light. What Comey appeared to do is exactly what Trump would have done or what Roy Cohn taught him to do.

On the surface this sounds plausible since Trump lives and dies by appearances as he works assiduously to manage his public persona, his reputation, as a dealmaker, a self-made billionaire, and an astute political operator. Trump’s understanding of Comey would be reinforced rather than dispelled by the Steele Dossier briefing. Even if Comey wanted to do his duty, his briefing would appear to reinforce rather than dispel Trump’s fear or suspicion of what Comey was doing. Again, even if this is not what Comey intended, it created the appearance, if not the reality, that Comey had something on Trump. Yet, this only remains on the surface, it does not explain why Trump understood Comey in this way. We can excuse this or explain it by blaming Roy Cohn as this explains why Trump fired Comey. However, that would only be half the story. The other half is the context within which Trump lives. Here we see something different since he could not understand Comey as Comey understood himself. By all accounts, Comey appears to be a decent man, but Trump has never met a decent man.

Trump surrounds himself with the unjust, the incontinent, and the slavish. In a word, these are men and women who are malleable, who can be bent to his will, who have a transactional relationship with him. The unjust do not wish to be found out for what they have done so they will keep Trump’s secrets for fear their own will be disclosed. The incontinent are easily controlled so long as they can indulge their desires. For some this is easier access to sexual partners. For others, it is the opportunity to hurt their political enemies. Finally, the slavish simply want to be in power since that is better than being out of power, which means they are willing to subordinate themselves to Trump to obtain some status. The slavish will serve Trump to hold onto that power. For each, the unjust, the incontinent, and the slavish, Trump knows how to control them, exploit them, and if that does not work, how to bribe them.

These are the types of people Trump has known his entire life. Within his entourage Trump has never known a decent man. He has only worked with and surrounded himself with corrupt, venal, men and women. His relationship with them is purely transactional so he knows they have a price. This price is either the cost of the non-disclosure agreements that are covered by a “position on his campaign” or the salary, status, and position that come with working for him. He knows how to buy people, he knows their breaking point or their price point. Those he cannot buy he will intimidate either with threats from such men like Cohen or Schiller. If he cannot intimidate them, he can bind them up with legal claims such as those used by Roy Cohn to thwart anyone attempting to hold Trump to account. Those who cannot be intimidated, he bypasses them either directly or finding someone who has leverage over them who is venal either for money, status, or reputation. In most cases, this would be turning to politicians to gain leverage over people. Since, politicians can be seen to be particularly venal because they require public support and will exchange things in return for financial or public support, Trump will view politicians and those senior civil servants in this way.

We know what type of people work for Trump, but what is a decent man? How would we recognize him? A decent man or woman is someone who can meet more than one of the following.

  • Being honest
  • Being just by paying what he promised.
  • Being faithful to their spouse
  • Being a good parent
  • Being respectful to women
  • Being compassionate to the weak, the immigrant, the poor, the vulnerable.

For all appearances, especially based on what Benjamin Wittes wrote about him, Comey appears to meet many of these characteristics. However, these are mainly personal traits, they don’t address the public or professional appearance especially for a political man such as Comey. Here we can see why Trump would overlook Comey’s personal traits since he only wants to know about his professional or public behaviour. To anyone familiar with the politics in Washington DC and within the Federal Bureau of Investigations, people don’t rise to the top of any institution because they are nice people. They may not be dishonest, venal, or corrupt, but they understand how to exercise power and how to climb the ladder. To succeed, such men may have made decisions to serve the powerful or those that can benefit them. Even if they have not behaved in this way, Trump, and others, would assume that this is how politics works, since that is how they understand politics, and this is how Comey and others have succeeded. James Comey did not rise to the top of the FBI because he was a nice guy. He did not survive in DC by being unable to defend himself politically or bureaucratically. To put it colloquially he knows how to take out people at the knees.

Trump though does not know or trust decent men. In Trump’s mind, a decent man is weak because he is unwilling or unable to take advantage of the vulnerable, to press his advantage, exploit others, or treat them unjustly. What would be central to Trump’s view is that he believes that no one weak, no one decent, reaches the top of the FBI or succeeds in the FBI without some injustice.

For Trump Willie Stark’s wisdom is a personal truth.

Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something.[1]

When Comey came to Trump with the Steele dossier, he would have seen this in a different light than the average person. He would have viewed this as Comey showing him what he had on Trump with the implied message that he, Trump, owed Comey or that Comey was showing him that he had leverage over him. In other words, Comey had swung the election and had the dossier which would mean that he could control whether Trump was a legitimate president. Behind the scenes only Trump and Comey would know what Comey had on Trump and what Trump “owed” him. He would have seen this as Comey saying something between the lines “I have this on you and I can make it worse for you so better behave.” He might have even though that Comey was coming to him with evidence or something that he would use as a chip in the game or simply leverage over Trump. Trump has never had an employee who had something over him so he felt he had to fire him.

At the same time, he might have seen Comey as expecting something in return for having tipped the election Trump’s way. Therefore, he asks for loyalty. Is Comey working for Trump or does Comey expect Trump to work for him? He would want to know what Comey wants. Comey cannot be a decent man so he must want something as no one does this because they believe in the law, they all have a price.

In this sense, Trump is correct. Washington is a swamp. Those who live there know this and they know that some form of corruption is part and parcel of what they do. No, this does not mean that politics is corrupt or that the law is a sham. Instead, it shows that what Trump believes and how he behaves displays what is implicit within Washington. It is a city that is built on political power, influence and corruption. The political power can be both clean and dirty. Institutional power is often the cleanest power yet it is personal power, the dirtiest, that is the most important since it is what can make men act contrary to their institutional responsibilities. The problem is that we cannot achieve clean power without having recourse to dirty power because people are elected, which has been shown to be the least corrupt method to select people to wield institutional power. Until we understand power is both clean and dirty and why it is clean and dirty, we will be unable to understand Trump, Trump’s appeal, and most importantly how or why Trump misunderstood Comey. Or did Trump understand Comey better than Comey understands himself?

[1] https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/All_the_King%27s_Men Emphasis added.

Posted in Uncategorized

Trump and Miller are too timid about immigration.

Dear Readers,

I am honored to have a guest blog by the world famous scholar Joanne Swift. She has taken time out from her busy schedule to provide a short proposal on how Trump and Miller should deal with the national security threat from immigration. Her biographical information is at the end of the post.

A policy proposal

by

Dr Joanne Swift

President Trump told us that immigration was a national security issue.[1] If it is, and who is to disagree when he says that it is, then we need to treat it appropriately.

Trump has rightfully focused on foreign countries, the “shit hole” countries that send us their worst people to flood our great country with criminals, racists, and those who would kneel during the National Anthem. What Trump has not done, yet, is to link the supply side to the demand side. We need to stop people coming to this country and remove the reasons, the demand, for why they come to America. Therefore, I propose that Trump and Miller initiate Operation SHITHOLE immediately so that we can stop the illegal immigrants before it is too late.

What is to be done?

My proposal has two related parts. The first is domestic (demand) and the second is foreign (supply).

Domestic

We need a zero tolerance for anyone who hires an illegal immigrant. If your business is within 1000 miles of any border and you employ an illegal or allow them to volunteer, then your business and property will be confiscated.

If you are Apple or Amazon, and especially Amazon, and you have an illegal, be it from Mexico, India, China, anyone who is in this country illegally in any way, even if it is one day over their visa, then the business is shut. The power of civil asset forfeiture will be applied to all cases involving illegals.[2] This is where Trump can show Kim Jong-un how serious he is as he unleashes the Trump juche because Americans will sacrifice to show the world they are in charge. This will help America in its trade wars because America will not want to import anything because it is all here in America.

To show their resolve, Trump and Miller will immediately strip all naturalized citizens of their American citizenship. They are really immigrants who came and stole citizenship from true Americans. Men like Seb Gorka and Rupert Murdoch, who became a citizen so he could take American jobs, seize American papers, and publish lies about Trump, will be deported. Mr Murdoch’s assets will be seized, his papers and television shows shut down, and he will be placed on America’s global sanctions list. If we have people who think they can come to this country, take American citizenship, take American jobs, take American newspapers, television stations, and film studios, then they need to be shown that this will NOT stand! We have rules and they will be followed! We must stop illegal immigration and there is no price to high, no sacrifice too great for that goal. Mr Murdoch will understand since he supported Trump and knows that what is best for Trump is best for America and ultimately best for Mr Murdoch.

If you have a sanctuary city, then Trump will take a page from Assad and start barrel bombing it. If the cities will not cooperate after the barrel bombing, then it is time to start the strategic bombing and missile strikes. Trump and Miller need to send a message and nothing shows those illegals who is boss than barrel bombing your own cities and carpet bombing your own people. Critics will note that no one wants to immigrate to Syria and that is because Assad knows how to deal with illegal immigrants.

If a politician has an illegal who volunteers on their campaign or in their office, then they will be stripped of their office immediately. As Stephen Miller said “The powers of the President will NOT be questioned!”[3] If someone employs an illegal as a nanny, a housekeeper, or a tutor their homes, property, and business will be seized and they will be arrested. No one is above the law. Of concern will be religious institutions, especially evangelical Christian churches that might harbour or support illegals. They will be closed, their assets seized and pastors and parishioners will be imprisoned. Trump has sacrificed too much, shown too much support, and given too much to the Christian evangelicals and they have offered nothing in return. If Romans 13 is to mean anything, they will willingly surrender themselves to Trump and Miller.[4] If the Christian evangelicals had shown more faith, support, and a willingness to work for Trump then this problem probably would never have existed. The same will be done to the Catholic Church, Synagogues, Mosques, and Jedi Temples. No one is above the law and Romans 13 will be the theological law while Trump’s word is the law of the land.

If you are a farmer or even a landowner within 1000 miles of any border and an illegal sets foot on your property then it will be confiscated. If you resist, and I am looking at Clive Bundy, the 1%ers the 3%ers and all the other “sovereign citizens”, we will not send a hapless BLM agent to serve papers. We will send a Hellfire missile up your ass with a drone strike. If we are taking out Al-Qaeda supporters, another national security threat, and illegals are going to be Al-Qaeda supporters, then those who harbour them are also targets. This is set out clearly in Authorisation of Military Force. AUMF Public Law 107-40[5] gives the President the power to wage war against those who supported Al Qaeda and those who harbour illegals or let them use their property are supporting Al Qaeda.

If the Hellfire missiles are not effective, then we will send in SEAL teams and other SOF to sort out the survivors. As this is a national security issue, no mercy can be shown to the enemy or their family or supporters. If you resist and you are captured, then you will be tortured. As Trump has said, if their family supports terrorists, and anyone opposing the rule of law is a terrorist on par with ISIS, then the Hellfire missile needs to take out the family supporters[6].

The threat to Al Qaeda inspired illegals brings us to foreign realm.

Foreign

Trump needs to invoke Article 5 of NATO and withdraw all US troops from Europe and send them to the border. He will withdraw troops immediately from South Korea, as he now has Kim Jong-un’s signature and Xi’s understanding about the Korean peninsula. At the same time, America will withdraw from Okinawa so that America can be defended properly. To balance this out, Trump will immediately arm Japan with nuclear weapons. Xi will understand and explain to the Chinese people that Japan has suffered too long from immigration and they have shown too much ingenuity in keeping out foreigners to be abandoned.

To balance out America leaving Europe and NATO, Trump will encourage Putin to take control of Poland so that they don’t harbour any illegal immigrants. And because Merkel cannot handle her own illegal immigrants, he will provide them with nuclear weapons so that they can deal with immigrants once and for all. At the same time, Trump will also provide Ukraine with nuclear weapons. History does not matter because all that matters is America defeats illegal immigrants. Otherwise, what kind of message is sending to the world if he cannot fight illegal immigration at home?

In the Middle East, Trump must withdraw all economic and military support from Israel. What better way to demonstrate America is against illegal immigrants than rejecting history’s most famous illegal immigrants and leave them to their fate at the hands of their enemies. Trump tells us that we must put America first so that means Israel will have to suffer what it must at the hands of its enemies because America needs to defend itself against the national security threat of illegal immigration. Prime Minister Netanyahu will understand why America needs to fight illegal immigrants at Israel’s expense. America first means America first.

With the troops back from Europe, Okinawa and Korea, Trump and Miller can now go to the source of the problem-the shithole countries. America will launch simultaneous invasions of South America, Central America, India, Australia, and New Zealand. America will use all of its carrier task forces, ballistic missile systems and strategic bombing, to defeat any regime that allows illegal immigrants to come to America. The leadership will be replaced with anyone who promises to stop the illegal immigration. America will demonstrate to the world that no one wants to come to America.

How do we define success?

Success occurs once Trump has turned America into a shit hole. At that point, no one will want to immigrate legally or illegally. Trump will reverse Regan’s claim that America was the world’s last refuge.[7] Instead, the world and America will be so bad that no one will ever come here again and most importantly, his enemies will want to leave. Now, where will they go?

This is where Trump’s political genius[8] is demonstrated. The only country that will be untouched will be Canada. Trump will leave Canada unscathed so that Justin Trudeau must deal with all the refugees and immigrants. Trump will kill America to own Canada! FTW!

Dr Swift is a visiting scholar at the Haford School of International Migration National Security. She writes extensively on terrorism, immigration, public administration, and occasionally on Morris Dancing. She is also a distant relative of Dr Jonathan Swift. She is an accomplished contact origami artist with works displayed at Amsterdam’s Gersfhfugel Museum as well as Toyko’s famed Mitsuzshumni Art Institute. She has a BA from Mulebridge College, an MA from Stalford University and a Phd from Bordurian University.

The views expressed in this proposal do not reflect the views of any institution she is associated with.

[1] https://www.nbcnews.com/dateline/video/trump-affirms-immigration-security-is-national-security-768810051724

[2] https://www.cato.org/events/policing-profit-abuse-civil-asset-forfeiture

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ljz8y2qX1f4

[4] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+13&version=NIV

[5] https://www.congress.gov/107/plaws/publ40/PLAW-107publ40.pdf

[6] http://time.com/4132368/donald-trump-isis-bombing/

[7] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPvuYxUxEto

[8] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/07/stephen-miller-backs-trump-as-genius-and-gets-kicked-off-cnn.html

Posted in justice, statesmanship, transparency | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Addicted America: Why Facebook, Apple and Amazon thrive

America is addicted. We see this everyday as 100s of Americans die from drug overdoses. The opioid crisis is a national emergency yet the government’s response is insubstantial in comparison to the problem with their most substantial act to declare and reaffirming the national emergency. Critics would suggest it was a media strategy to manage appearances rather than an attempt to change the reality of the crisis.

Americans are addicted to opioids because it provides welcome relief from the chronic pain, both physical and spiritual, that they experience. Life in America has become harder and harder but not simply materially. Many Americans live a life of comparative luxury with a prosperity that is often the envy of the world. Yet, American life is harder because the gap between rich and poor, haves and have nots has widened both in a relative and absolute sense. What is different is that social media magnifies the gap to make it visible and ever present.

The opioid crisis could be treated; but it will take more than Trump’s media strategy to deal with it. Claims of a national emergency and wanting to execute drug dealers sound good and get the Twitter trends that Trump craves, but it does not change anything. For Trump this does not matter since to appear to have acted so he can claim success for his response and blame any failure on those who oppose his preferred option. Unless he plans to start killing pharmaceutical executives and physicians, executing drug dealers will not have an appreciable effect on addiction rates or overdose rates. However, none of that is important so long as he can gain headlines and *appear* to be doing something *tough* and *unpopular* with those his base dislike.

Trump’s concern with appearances brings us to Facebook, Apple, and Amazon. These companies are part of the FANG group of stocks (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google) that makes up almost 10% of S&P500[1] and therefor a sizable part of the US economy. Trump has famously become “obsessed” with Amazon because its founder and CEO is a critic.[2] He is a critic with a difference since he wields great economic power and owns a major newspaper, the Washington Post. Trump makes public statements about Amazon’s tax advantages and the way they use the US postal service and these have an impact on Amazon’s share price. However, they have no content since there is little that Trump can do about Amazon’s dominance. Even though he wants the appearance that he is doing something and cares for the small retailers, perhaps to tap into the economic populism that Bernie Sanders champions, he has done nothing of substance nor can he do something of substance. Why? America is addicted to these companies.

Amazon

Americans pay for Prime membership so they can get their purchases faster. They already arrive within a few days, but now the average consumer *pays* for the privilege to get them faster. One would imagine that the average person lives with a “just in time” logistical existence so that as soon as their cereal runs low they can replenish it immediately.[3] Except people don’t need to live this way, instead they have been conditioned to live this way by Amazon as if their lives were less worthwhile or enjoyable before Amazon Prime made it easier. What Amazon understands about consumer psychology is that the consumer is addicted to the immediate gratification or satisfaction of their purchase and that is reinforced by quick delivery after the purchase.

Amazon reinforces the customer’s satisfaction by subtle or not so subtle prompts that encourage further purchases. They have tapped into the social satisfaction loop with the following prompts.

  • Others have bought the following items.
  • Only one remains in stock.
  • The price of the product you looked at has dropped or risen.
  • If you order more you can get free delivery or faster delivery.

In time, Amazon will link these prompts to celebrity endorsements so that the consumer can satisfy their status anxiety by buying what their preferred celebrity has just purchased or looked at. If shopping is a drug, consumers have their supplier and they know where they can get their fix.

The Facebook

The Facebook succeeds by its ability to exploit its users. In return, it “connects” its users and creates a “community” that further enhances the Facebook’s ability to exploit them. The more connected the users, the more they believe that their life is enhanced with greater convenience. For most people, once connected, they have no alternative to the Facebook since it becomes their main or exclusive platform. In time, the user becomes dependent on it both for their news and their “connection”. Although, the Facebook has an age limit of 13 it is also keen to take a share of the education market.[4]

What the users do not know and the Facebook does not mention is that social media is designed to be addictive.[5] Moreover, if you leave the Facebook, you leave your “community” and that would mean that the average person will have the dreaded social isolation that they all platforms implicitly warn against through push notifications. Want your next fix, just wait you will have another notification to prompt you to “connect” by telling you who has just updated their profile and who has posted a new link. All of this is sold as a greater convenience and if you do leave the Facebook, you will suffer withdrawal symptoms.[6]

Apple

They have customers addicted to their products and with Apple vertical and horizontal integration within the Apple ecosystem. Your music is on Apple Music which you manage through iTunes. Your iPhone is Apple, you need AirPods, you need an Apple Watch.

Most importantly, and this is how Jobs outdid Coke and Pepsi at selling sugar water because despite their success as status symbols they had an insurmountable barrier. They could not sell the next generation of Coke or Pepsi. Apple, through the iPhone and the iPad can renew *the* status symbol with each generation. You must have the next upgrade because your current iPhone which was much better than the last one needs to be upgraded. If only Coke, Pepsi, or Tobacco had that process. Moreover, Apple just doesn’t sell you an iPhone, you must buy the accessories as you can’t buy one from another supplier.[7] Not only that, if you have your iPhone repaired by anyone else, Apple can stop your phone from working with the next software update. In turn, that requires you to send your phone to them to be repaired.

Apple like other companies and industries relies on planned obsolescence,[8] but they presented it as a feature not a bug.[9] After the issue surfaced, they fixed it.[10] However, based on brand loyalty and the addicted docility, it is unlikely to have an impact.[11] At the same time, they offer a good product that does something more because it provides a status symbol which for a status conscious population, constantly checking their social media feedback loop, this is an important comparative advantage?

Children

What is noticeable about each of these companies is their focus on younger consumers. In their own way, each tap into the market for younger consumers. Apple is trying to catch up with Microsoft in the education market. Google and Amazon have voice assistants that can cater to the children’s market in several ways. Facebook focuses on children as well with 13 being that entry age. Perhaps this is to be expected as the desire for future consumers as revenue streams is important to their success. Even if they avoid breaking any laws, they seek to prepare the ground for younger consumers to become adult consumers. They prepare the soil so they can harvest the seeds they plant by their marketing and educational outreach programmes.

What we find, though, is that these companies and their products do not enhance the common good. They enhance private goods, especially those of their shareholders and the executives, but it is not the common good that benefits. From an economic perspective one might argue that they provide jobs and taxes to Americans so they are important to the common good. To be sure, they do provide jobs and taxes. Yet, the common good is more than jobs and taxes. Each of these services take people way from the physical public domain where their communities exist and the common good manifests. As an Amazon customer you never need to go to a shop or to the mall and see other people or interact with them. You can do all your shopping through Amazon without leaving your home. With Facebook you can “connect” to anyone in the world and never leave your home. All of this is at the expense of meeting people in person and enjoying the serendipity of the public domain. No matter your connectivity through Facebook, you are not physically present. To be sure each company will claim that they make life more “convenient” so that the consumer citizen can enjoy other parts of their lives. Is it their fault if the consumer does not prioritize the public domain?

History has shown that it takes two generations for a Republic to be corrupted. Any change can be resisted if it is identified and remedial action is taken. If it is not taken in the first generation, it is harder for the next generation to resist or even remember what life was like before the change. After two generations, the change is irreversible.

We have one generation to change. The question is whether we can pull ourselves away from our digital opioids and recover our virtue. Perhaps it is too late as citizens we surrender ourselves to the corporate harvesters that exploit us for profit in return for convenience as a better life. As these ills are self-inflicted, we have a chance, but it means a different way of life. Are you ready to make the change?

[1] Apple, Amazon and Alphabet make up 10% of the S&P 500 with a combined market capitalization market cap of $2.3tn. Add Microsoft and Facebook, with a combined market value of $1.1tn, and the big five make up 15% of the index.

 

Overall, technology makes up 25% of the S&P. If tech pops, the thinking goes, so pops the market. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/apr/01/big-tech-touble-amazon-facebook

[2] http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/leaders/why-trump-is-attacking-amazon/news-story/f3a32ee5d0e34c3488cffe3febabfc9a

[3] https://www.economist.com/node/13976392

[4] https://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/28/microsoft-google-and-facebook-see-billions-in-future-of-education.html

[5] See for example Sean Parker’s statement. http://adage.com/article/digital/sean-parker-worries-facebook-rotting-children-s-brains/311238/ Facebook shares this trait with all other successful social media companies. They want their users to be addicted to their services. https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/vv5jkb/the-secret-ways-social-media-is-built-for-addiction

See also http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2017/12/29/facebook-cocaine-opioids-how-addictive-is-social-network.html Further reinforced in the design: http://www.tristanharris.com/essays/ That is people have designed their systems to exploit their fellow man. They design systems that will exploit their vulnerabilities not to help them but for profit.

[6] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/social-media/9986950/Twitter-and-Facebook-addicts-suffer-withdrawal-symptoms.html

[7] https://www.forbes.com/sites/gordonkelly/2018/03/06/apple-iphone-x-price-cost-upgrade-iphone-x-plus-new-iphone/#4d695b6b6f66

[8] Apple is not the only one. https://www.forbes.com/sites/adamsarhan/2017/12/22/planned-obsolescence-apple-is-not-the-only-culprit/2/#cc6e91440d1f

[9] https://www.forbes.com/sites/gordonkelly/2017/12/21/apple-iphone-battery-life-slow-iphone-performance-ios11-battery/#1e7cbfbb674b

[10] https://www.forbes.com/sites/gordonkelly/2018/01/18/apple-ios-11-3-release-upgrade-iphone-shutdown-iphone-battery-problem/#5f4ca2c84423

[11]““The reputation damage from secretly slowing down old iPhones, regardless of the reason, will likely linger for a decade,” argues popular podcaster Marco Arment in a tweet. He’s right and it should.”  https://www.forbes.com/sites/gordonkelly/2017/12/21/apple-iphone-battery-life-slow-iphone-performance-ios11-battery/#1e7cbfbb674b

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