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(David Bythewood) #581

I’ve been wanting to write this for a while now, and it recently came together in my head. It’s both about what is going on with the Trump regime’s pogrom against immigrants, and where we go once we take back the government.

(David Bythewood) #582

‘Family Fire’: These two words take gun tragedies in the home head on

Campaign from Brady Center and Ad Council hopes new terminology can affect behavior

I put the video up here to watch and share more easily:

Kids Find Everything


This misinformation and pitting factions one upon the other is the ultimate goal for the hostile foreign power primarily Russia’s task.

In a follow-up report, Mr. Watts described the Kremlin’s 2020 strategy as “simple, straightforward and openly available for all to see: Secure the base, split the opposition .” Part of splitting the opposition, he wrote, is sowing division “by pitting populists against the establishment.”

Mission accomplished.

As Wired’s Brian Barrett wrote last week, it appears “no one has learned anything since 2016.” Yes, fake news, disinformation and “meddling” are again top of mind in politics, but few seem to understand the complicated dynamics of propaganda and how to engage in the information war without becoming unwitting participants themselves. The first mistake many make is to assume that foreign interference is wholly separate from domestic propaganda and partisan news.

Renée DiResta, who studies networked propaganda as the technical research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, has tracked foreign efforts to manipulate voters online. Recently she cautioned in a long Twitter thread about 2016 election interference that “most material was drawn directly from real pain points, then repeatedly reinforced. And that is why when we look at foreign influence operations, we do have to recognize that the overwhelming majority of the narratives do not come from outside — they are just exacerbated by outsiders who intentionally build communities to reinforce insecurity and distrust,” she wrote.

A great deal of the Russian troll farm content in 2016, especially the content directed at black voters, wasn’t even directly related to an election candidate. Instead, foreign actors created social justice Facebook groups like “Black Matters US,” “Blacktivist” and “Don’t Shoot Us” to try to amplify existing tensions.

As the KGB defector Yuri Alexandrovich Bezmenov said in an interview all the way back in 1984, the end goal of meddling is to demoralize citizens so that “exposure to true information does not matter anymore.”

The author Peter Pomerantsev offered an updated explanation last year, writing that Russian propaganda seeks to seed “doubt and confusion, evoking a world so full of endlessly intricate conspiracies that you, the little guy, had no chance to work out or change.” Foreign interference, then — to the extent that we can quantify it — is less a battering ram than it is a chisel meticulously aimed at pre-existing cracks in a weakened facade.

The effect of such interference is, in large part, determined by our response to it. Unfortunately, many of the systems we rely on (intelligence leaks, amplification via social platforms and cable news, electoral politics) seem out of step with the current moment. When news leaks from intelligence sources, the press arguably has an obligation to report such things, even if the motivation of the leaks is unclear or political in nature. But news reports without many details leave an information vacuum. And in our platform-powered misinformation universe, that vacuum is naturally filled by media incentivized to amplify the controversy, jaded party leaders attempting to score political points and bad-faith trolls. It helps deepen divisions and sows chaos.

I can’t claim to have a lot of easy answers, especially on an internet that incentivizes engagement and rewards controversy. Asking the press or politicians to ignore such news is arguably wrong and certainly unrealistic. But we can ask that they not provide ideal conditions for division and misinformation to grow.
That might mean expecting leaders of the intelligence community to find ways to publicly disclose and declassify information on election interference so that citizens have a realistic understanding of the threats facing their democracy. It might mean developing a more precise vocabulary that moves away from vague, ominous-sounding terms like “meddling” and “interference” toward specific terminology (some online propaganda accounts are created to build audience and content, and others are purely about dissemination). For the press, it might mean listing all the information we don’t know up front and urging caution when reporting on partial leaks.

If we don’t adapt to this information war, our panic over election meddling could become self-fulfilling. And we will become useful idiots in the undermining of our own electoral legitimacy.

That, more than electing any one leader, is the true goal of Russian interference.

(David Bythewood) #584

This is a very solid article, worth reading, that explains how the GOP has been stripping down our government since Reagan.

It appears we are in the chaos that churns in between more stable eras.

The coronavirus is grabbing the headlines, and it is a huge story in its own right, but it also lays bare the rot in the Republican Party that has put Trump in the White House. The coronavirus is a pandemic now, meaning it is a disease that has appeared on a number of continents, and it is killing people, although the numbers of infections and the death rate is so premature that I would not draw any conclusions yet. We know it’s not good, but just how not good it might turn out to be is still unclear.

But the coronavirus and the subsequent selling-off in the stock market of the last several days reveals what feels to me like an endpoint of a political era.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan won the White House by arguing that the activist government of the New Deal, the laws that regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and promoted infrastructure, were destroying American liberty. “Government is not the solution to our problem;” Reagan said in his inaugural address, “government is the problem.”

After 1981, America entered a period when we turned for solutions not to educated experts informing government policy, but rather to individuals who claimed to be outside that sphere of government expertise: men of the people. As we celebrated those “self-made” individualists—usually men-- Congress cut taxes and regulation to free them to run their businesses as they saw fit. After 1981, wealth began to move upward, and yet the Republican Party continued to howl about socialism and insist that we would not have true freedom until all regulations, all taxes, and most government programs were abolished. In their place we would have businessmen who had proven their worth by creating successful businesses. They would run our country in the best way for all of us.

That this system worked well for everyone was a fiction, of course. Republican leaders stayed in power not because a majority of voters agreed with their ideology, but because as their policies moved wealth upward and hurt most Americans, they blamed those economic hardships on people of color, women, and other minorities: “special interests” who were demanding government policies paid for by the taxes of hardworking white men. They also increasingly jiggered the political system to make sure they stayed in power. They disenfranchised Democratic voters and carved up districts so that in 2012, for example, Democrats won a majority of 1.4 million votes for candidates to the House of Representatives, and yet Republicans came away with a 33-seat majority.

The election of Donald Trump to the White House in 2016 was the high water mark of this political mindset. He was an outsider who posed as a successful businessman, disdainful of politics, who promised to gut government bureaucrats—the swamp-- and put into office only the best people, people known for their business acumen or their family connections to others with that skill. Expertise and loyalty to the American government was unimportant—even undesirable. What mattered was the ability to make money and be loyal to the president.

Following in his predecessors’ footsteps, Trump slashed regulations, opened up resources to businessmen, and passed a huge tax cut for the wealthy, a tax cut which was supposed to stimulate investment in the economy and promote economic growth. In the midst of growing administration scandals, Trump banked on the fact that a strong economy would keep him in office for a second term and insisted that those opposing his administration, regardless of party, were hostile Democrats who wanted big government “socialism.”

Now, a virus from China is exposing the hollowness of a generation of relying on businessmen to manage our government. The administration’s response to the coronavirus has been shockingly bad. In 2018, it got rid of the government leadership for handling a pandemic, so we have no one in charge who is trained to handle such a crisis. Then, when the virus broke out, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention insisted on developing its own test, rather than using the guidelines established by the World Health Organization. Their test didn’t work, making health officials unable to test people in danger before they got sick. Then, over the advice of the CDC, administration officials decided to evacuate 14 infected patients who had been stranded on a cruise ship in Japan along with healthy travelers. We learned today from a whistleblower that, once landed in the U.S., workers came and went from the facility that housed the patients with no precautions. Now, we have our first case of the coronavirus that appears to have appeared here on its own, and it happened in the same place where these workers came and went (although it is too early to say if there is definitely a connection).

Trump has excused his dismissal of all the experts by saying that they were easy to rehire when necessary, but it has not turned out to be that easy. Today, he appointed a third person to be in charge of the response in addition to the two others he has already named, and, angry at the CDC official who warned Americans that the virus would arrive here sooner or later, he arranged for all statements about the disease to be cleared through Vice President Mike Pence’s office. He also revealed his key interest in protecting the stock markets today when he named two new members to the coronavirus task force: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow, who has insisted on television that the virus is “contained.”

In a moment that perfectly encapsulated the problem of handling a public health crisis of this magnitude when you are equipped only to promote business, today Secretary of Health and Human Services Alexander Azar, a former drug company executive and pharmaceutical lobbyist, told Congress that when scientists manage to make a vaccine for the coronavirus (12 to 18 months out, by all accounts), not everyone will be able to afford it. “We would want to ensure that we work to make it affordable, but we can’t control that price, because we need the private sector to invest. Price controls won’t get us there.”

This is the modern Republican Party laid bare. Profits before lives, because only businessmen, not government policy, can manage the country.

This moment makes it really clear what happens when the Republicans’ ideology comes up against reality. While GOP leaders over the years, and Trump of late, have managed to silence opponents by calling them socialists or making sure they cannot vote, the virus is not going to stop simply by changing the narrative or the body politic. Investors know this, and the dropping stock market shows their realization that you cannot shut down entire countries and keep supply chains and consumer goods moving. The stock market has fallen 11.13% in the past four days, erasing a third of the gains it has made since Trump was elected. We are facing an economic downturn, one that will strain an economy that was excellent indeed for those at the very top, but not good for those who now will be vital to keep consumption levels up… but those very people will be hard pressed to come up with extra income in an economic downturn. It is a problem that the markets are acknowledging with their biggest drops since the 2008 crisis.

This is a crisis that demands expertise and coordinated government health programs, but we no longer have those things. Instead, Trump and his surrogates on the Fox News Channel are falling back on the old arguments that have worked so well for GOP leaders in the past: Democrats are hyping the coronavirus and spooking the markets to hurt the president.

Trump, and Americans in general, are about to discover that there comes a point when image can no longer override reality. We are in the churn of that chaos now. But on the other side of it, we have the potential to rebuild a government that operates in reality, and that works for all of us.

(M A Croft) #585

Image result for regan trickle down economics cartoon
Image result for trickle down economics cartoon

(David Bythewood) #586

I am not surprised that perception does not match reality. An interesting read.

Democrats Are Wrong About Republicans. Republicans Are Wrong About Democrats.


Sad commentary on the amount of death and despair in the working class. Barack Obama sends a message that more can be done.

Case and Deaton — a married couple who are both economists at Princeton — try to explain the causes in a new book, “Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism.” Their basic answer is that working-class life in the United States is more difficult than it is in any other high-income country. “European countries have faced the same kind of technological change we have, and they’re not seeing the people killing themselves with guns or drugs or alcohol,” Case says. “There is something unique about the way the U.S. is handling this.”


This op-ed nails why Trump is not the leader we need during a crisis. At the same time, it offers hope that there is a host of Americans like Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson who are willing to set aside their personal interests for the common good.

The coronavirus pandemic will challenge our country in ways we haven’t seen in our lifetimes. And we are culturally unprepared.

It’s not that America hasn’t faced public health crises before. A century ago, America confronted the far more deadly Spanish influenza epidemic, which killed an estimated 50 million people around the world, including members of my family. We confronted the polio epidemic, which crippled hundreds of thousands of people, including, many believe, an American president. And when a cure for polio was found, Dr. Jonas Salk gave away the patent for free to help as many people as fast as possible.

Thankfully our scientific expertise has improved dramatically since those days. But in recent decades, we have lost our muscle memory in terms of something that is just as important in times of crisis: the balance between individualism and community.

We have become accustomed to pursuing our individual self-interest at the expense of the common good. We are unaccustomed to shared sacrifice. During World War II, Americans gave up creature comforts to aid the war effort. After the attacks of 9/11, we were told to go shopping.

Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson: What we know

Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson: What we know

Donald Trump is a reflection of our culture. He is a symbol of self-interest. He rose in the 1980s as an avatar of greed-is-good excess, finding further fame in the superficial celebrity of reality TV. His narcissistic self-promotional instincts have been the key to his success but they come at the expense of any fidelity to the truth or confronting hard facts.

That’s a killer when it comes to his credibility in times of crisis. The President’s long pattern of misinformation, often contradicting his administration’s health experts, has added to the confusion. And the fact that his instincts lead him to wield fear as a political weapon to corral people in his own party while saying Democrats and “the deep state” hate our country, make him uniquely unsuited to being a uniting father figure to the nation no matter what words comes out of his mouth now.

But while Donald Trump is our president, he does not define our culture completely. And ironically, one of the most high-profile celebrity victims of coronavirus to date is beloved because he represents an older American tradition where character counts above all.

I’m talking about Tom Hanks, who announced Wednesday that he and his wife, Rita Wilson, are infected with the virus. A palpable sense of decency, self-deprecating humor and personal honor suffuse his roles in films from Forrest Gump to Saving Private Ryan. It’s evident whether he’s playing Ben Bradlee in “The Post” or his most recent turn as Mr. Rogers in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

Now, what we see on screen doesn’t always reflect the real person, but by all accounts Tom Hanks is a genuinely good human, kind to people not in positions of power and generous to charity. This is a simple virtue we don’t always celebrate but it’s essential to the creation of a culture of trust. And his popularity speaks to a deeper longing in our country for a time when kindness counted and character was destiny.

America’s historic success depends on striking the right balance between individual ambition and the common good. This is something that even the rugged individualists of the western frontier instructively understood. We aren’t truly safe and secure unless we look out for each other. This isn’t soft or socialistic or communitarian. It’s common sense and enlightened self-interest.

Fear is not our friend. Panic doesn’t solve problems. But we need to find the right balance between individualism and the community again as we aim to overcome this challenge together.

(David Bythewood) #589

The New York Times has compiled more than two dozen pieces of journalism in “Answers to Your Coronavirus Questions,” which is available to download for free.