Sunday, April 16, 2017

Ruski Business, Part 2 of TBD

But What Do I Know, I'm Just a Cow

In the mold of his other appointments (e.g. most outspoken critic of any agency to head that agency), it appears Trump has found a replacement for Nunes on the House committee investigating Team Trump's manifold Russia connections.

unhappy cow says moo hoo

Trump spokesperson, campaign contributor, and lead investigator Bovine McBeevesface when asked "Is there anything suspicious here?"


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Ruski Business, Part 1 of TBD

Here are some dots, do what you like with them. If you connect them in just the right order, you draw a bear wearing a ushanka with 'MAGA' written on it!

  • It seems like only yesterday Russia was our greatest enemy. Because, it was yesterday (and still is today). They regularly use their Security Council veto to thwart our efforts in the UN, and are on opposite sides of the fence from us in actual (Syria, where both the US and Russia have troops on the ground and in the air) and proxy (Iran, Afghanistan) wars and conflicts (Cuba, Korea). They DO hack our systems on a regular basis: commercial, governmental, and civilian (that includes the Yahoo hacks ... out of 1B accounts, which includes passwords re-used on multiple sites, there has to be at least one lever into some government system or individual they want access to). They fund a network of agitprop trolls which have warped the universe of reality, not only creating entire fake news ecosystems, but pulling real news -- the kind that fights autocracies -- down into the mud with them. Their press has been completely co-opted, and typically spews anti-American invective. NATO basically exists to oppose Russia ... that's the greatest military alliance in the history of the world on one side of the fence, and just one country on the other. They recently seized territory in two sovereign nations, by force. It is in no way a free country; their response to FIFA when asked about gay tourists at the Russian World Cup was to suggest they stay home if they don't want to get thrown in jail or worse. They almost certainly scored that World Cup with bribery, blackmail and shenanigans, and their Olympic doping scandal makes MLB look like a NA meeting. Please remember, these are not the good guys, and while North Korea may be more comic-book villian-ous, they're largely ineffective, and while China is dangerous and not our friend, at least we can talk things out with them, at least for now. Russia is a unique combination of powerful, expansionist, and virulently anti-American. In short, we have met the enemy, and they write in Cyrillic.

  • There are so many threads to this story that it would take forever just to synopsize ... there's even the chance this story will move faster than it can be documented; it certainly shows no sign of slowing down in spite of the Benghazi Brigade showing little appetite for looking into a foreign power influencing our elections, which should completely freak out anyone who cares about free and fair elections (i.e. Democracy), which this crowd clearly does not. So, I'll try to focus on the under-reported stories, with just a soup├žon of speculation. Let's start with the Donald and one of his more obvious "tells": he doesn't wait until he gets caught doing something wrong to start spinning the story -- should it eventually come out -- in his favor. And the Republicant Talking Points Parrots and the Fox & Friends & Friends echo chamber has no issue with beating this spin into Alt-Truth on his behalf (for their benefit, I hope that vengeful deity they claim to believe in doesn't exist, cause they're building some significant karmic debt by selling out their principals for short-term gains). So, how is Russia being spun domestically, in order to mitigate damage should the truth come to light?

  • Trump refuses to bad-mouth Putin (who is a killer:
    Voronenkov was no crook but an investigator who was deadly dangerous for the Russian siloviki [security services]) and frequently heaps praise on him.

  • This may be the primary reason that Putin's favorability among Republicans had risen 20 points in just two years, as any question about one's opinion of Russia can now become a proxy for your opinion of Trump (and everyone seems to be OK with that, even hard-line Republic hawks, which in of itself is mind-blowing).
    In fact, on the issue of Russia cyber-meddling in the U.S. elections, Republican public opinion more closely resembles public opinion in Russia than overall opinion in the United States.

    50% of Republicans, 73% of young Republicans see Russia as an "ally" or "friendly":
  • But it's more likely that the Talking Points Parade has been trying to soften the urgency of looking into collusion with what may the closest thing we have to a "hot war" enemy. It would be as if the US funded Saddam Hussein then sold him chemical weapons to be used on his own people, or provided arms to the Taliban or warlords aligned with Al Qaida in Afghanistan, or armed Iranians with guns bought with drugs sold by Central American warlords we armed and trained, or placed fascist killers in offices previously won in democratic elections in allied nations. OK, bad examples ... but why this isn't being treated like Benedict Arnold got elected president is inconceivable (and yes, that word means what I think it means). The difference between this collusion and all the other manifold examples of impeachable, aiding-and-abetting the enemy kinds of behavior we've practiced was that the previous offenses were sat on or considered part of "American Exceptionalism" ... how Trump gets to basically say "well, we're killers too" -- in a government where forgetting to wear your flag pin is headline news -- is beyond my powers of understanding.

  • Of course, the existential (threat) question is: What is Donny Hiding? I don't believe in first principals as a rule; you could say it's raining because the moisture content of the air is higher than the air can support, but you also need to have air, gravity, moisture, something like water that's vaguely ionic and bondy, something akin to a Big Bang, etc. So, Trump is someone who realizes that it's Russian-sourced false stories that he was able to drag into the mainstream by way of Alt Right media that fueled his populism. Praising a tyrant aids his goals of being a tyrant, and he's vain enough that he'll take praise from anywhere, and Putin is Machiavellian enough to use a tool as trivial as praise on any fool it works on. We can't forget Trump is a businessman, as he insists on reminding us, and that a huge chunk of his money comes from Russians, and that he has an eye on expanding into Russia; or that his regulatory policies show that externalizing costs (in the form of normalizing the kleptocracy in the Kremlin, with all the world-wide blow-back that will bring) in exchange for a profit is business-as-usual for Herr Drumpf. His buddies all made tons off of Russia, or hope to, and like Bush enabling Halliburton, Trump will award windfalls to those that promise unyielding fealty (I expect Sean Spicer to retire a man far more wealthy than his abilities would indicate). Russia may even have coordinated electoral strategies -- using their operatives, techniques and stolen data -- and certainly selectively leaked -- if not selectively hacked -- information to help Trump win. I suspect the Comey information-free October- and November-surprise was sourced from a Russian hack or faked leak (just like Donny asked the Russians to do on national TV), and this was just one of many things that handed Trump an unlikely election. There are so many possible "primary reasons" that Trump is becoming the kind of person that kept Joe McCarthy up at night that we can't ever know the most significant one, but I'll go with the most controversial and least reported one: a KGB-mentality government with a country full of very talented hackers decided on a multi-pronged approach to "restore the balance of power" and put Russia back in a world leadership position, and that strategy included getting everything you could use to compromise those that might oppose you. It's basically the Realpolitik you'd get here if CIA and NSA alums started running the USA, and somewhere along the line the Ruskis got their hands on enough info against Trump to make him compliant. I think we could agree that this would be the most powerful lever for getting the president of the USA to turn into a pinko, so the burden becomes to demonstrate that it's not tinfoil-hattery.

    Is Trump Blackmailable?

  • I don't think most would argue that the thin-skinned baby we have elected president has enough self-interest that should someone have something on him, he'd gladly sell the entire country down the river to cover his own ass. And no one (reasonable) wants to take the "piss tapes" seriously without some evidence (although if someone started this rumor out of the blue about Hillary I'm sure it would get some serious Echo Chamber time). But how dismissable (as in, we're confident it's NOT true) are these claims that in total the Russians have enough info to get Donny on board with their agenda?

  • Well, the person who put together the dossier on Trump and Russia from which we get much of this info is anything but a whack job. He used to be a spy at MI6, has a very good reputation in the intel community, and has never publicly released info and been proven wrong (i.e. doesn't have a history of making wild accusations). He now co-runs a very successful for-hire investigation agency.

  • He was previously hired by the FBI to gather the evidence on FIFA (the uber-corrupt governing body for world soccer, which is basically an ATM for the morally bankrupt), and if you know how deeply crooked but untouchable that organization was, that's saying something. Hundreds of kleptocrats from dozens of countries got jailed, fined, fired, deported, or simply called out, in a complex (and well masked) tangle of illegal handshake deals with almost no paper trails. For much of the world, the fact that "we" took down Sepp Blatter and FIFA is more scary than drone strikes and radar-invisible airplanes: we touched the untouchables, and that's power.

  • No fewer than four Russians involved with this dossier have died under suspicious circumstances.
    The most likely source of the Trump-Russia intel is Oleg Erovinkin. Erovinkin, a former general in the KGB and its successor the FSB, was found dead in the back of his car in Moscow on Boxing Day in mysterious circumstances. [ ] Putin is former KGB, and present hitman-in-chief, and would have no problem covering a leak with a corpse.

    Erovinkin was a key aide to Igor Sechin, a former deputy prime minister and now head of Rosneft (more later on Rosneft), the state-owned oil company, who is repeatedly named in the dossier. [ ]
  • I personally believe Trump vindictive enough to want to see someone pee on the Obama's bed ... after all, Obama did wiretap Trump in his home. [As previously mentioned, another of Trump's "tells" is to pre-emptively blame someone for something that he's worried about others finding out about him. Saying "someone wiretapped me to make me look bad" in advance of the imminent release of info divulged by a wiretap would be an example. As would using that claim as a cover for wiretapping members of the prior administration. One thing the FBI is saying for sure, in spite of hemming and hawing on other topics, is that there's nothing to support President Turnip's claim, in spite of Nunes' traitorous (i.e. undermining the intelligence/security process for political gain) spin on the whole thing.] But all asides aside, that titillating (mictating) detail has little to do with the bigger picture of collusion and possible illegal funding, manipulation, hacking, etc. (unless that's the blackmail lever itself) and it's important to keep the clickbait parts of the story separate from the Enemy-Is-Undermining-All-Democracy moments.

    Is There Real Intel About Any Of This?

  • James Comey is believed by many people to have thrown the election to Trump, so it's not like this is the standard witch hunt (which is really more of a Republicant thing than a Donkey Thing, in any case). The folks at 538 figured the Comey disclosures alone were enough to swing the popular vote enough for Clinton to go from a near-lock to a loser. The FBI directorship is a 10 year appointment, not subject to removal by a president, so that he can maintain his independence. Comey seems to have a clear desire for the spotlight, but it's not obvious (yet) that he's partisan, and if he is it would appear to be pro-Republicant, so when he says "there's nothing to the wiretap claim, but there is plenty to investigate with Russia and the elections" we ought to (for now) take that statement at face value.

  • NSA can legally tap US conversations if they are with foreign citizens (even someone they're only 51% sure is foreign, using really weak-tea metrics to make that determination). That's legally. They've shown little care for the law on matters surveillant, or disclosure when the do violate the law ("revealing the name of an American swept up inadvertently in a wiretapping would damage national security and future surveillance programs") so we'll never know the full extent, but pretty much everything they've claimed they don't do has been demonstrably false. So I think we should assume that just about any e-communications between Team Trump and Russia have been tapped, filtered and reviewed, so when the intel community (which, again, Trump-tell: repeatedly dis the intel community before they reveal compromising info, so you can go all Ad Hominem on their ass later when they turn you out) says there's not nothing there, assume there's not nothing there.

    But not only are these people under investigation not idiots, they also regularly meet face-to-face, and the powerful and wealthy are often exempt from the kind of 4th Amendment violations the rest of us have to deal with (do you remember Feinstein having no difficulty with anything the NSA was doing or the CIA was lying about until they looked at her staff's computers, at which point she nearly anuerism'd out?). So, I wouldn't consider absence of evidence evidence of absence, but I fully believe we'll be back to this piece of the story soon. For now, future installments will cover the unbelievable number of players and interactions with our new frenemy Russia. On the off chance you're still reading, check back soon!
  • Monday, April 3, 2017

    Danny Elfman, Prophet

    I recently heard this song for the first time since Donny T took the national stage. I don't know if it's aimed more at Trump or Pence, but boy, does this feel prescient for me ... sorry I can't add the 3-piece marimba section here without the DMCA police busting my ass.

    Insanity - Oingo Boingo

    I am the virus, are you the cure?
    I am a disease and I am unclean
    I am not part of God's well oiled machine
    Christian nation, assimilate me
    Take me in your arms and set me free
    I am part of a degenerate elite
    Dragging our society into the street -yeah-
    Into the abyss and to the sewer don't you see
    The man just told me, he told me on TV

    And the alcoholic bastard waved his finger at me
    And his voice was filled with evangelical glee
    Sipping down his gin & tonics
    While preaching about the evils of narcotics
    And the evils of sex, and the wages of sin
    While he mentally fondles his next of kin

    Do you think you're better than me?
    Do you want to kill me, or befriend me?

    Christian sons, Christian daughters
    Lead me along like a lamb to the slaughter
    Purify my brain and hose down my soul
    White perfection, perfection is my goal

    Christian nation, make us alright
    Put us through the filter and make us pure and white 'cause
    My mind has wandered away from me
    And the flock has wandered, away from me

    Let's talk of family values while we sit and watch the slaughter
    Hypothetical abortions on imaginary daughters
    The white folks think they're at the top, ask any proud white male chump
    A million years of evolution, we get Danny Quayle Donny Trump

    Saturday, March 25, 2017

    True That

    You want to know how to stop the next whistleblower? Stop breaking the damn law.

        -- Ed Snowden

    Thursday, March 16, 2017

    Vivisecting, uh ... I mean, Dissecting … Mr. Trump

    I have a very smart friend (VSF) who appears to be buying into the right-wing talking point that the “mainstream media” is the enemy of the people — or at a minimum, simultaneously incompetent but somehow manipulative and with a powerful axe to grind against the administration — but that some other publications — for example, ones that might called the failed Somali state a “Jihadist Government” when no functioning government even exists — can then be trusted enough to site as sources when providing evidence of the NYT’s “treasonous” actions (in the word of the Parmesan Putin). Recently, VSF & I had a mini-debate about the “last night in Sweden” call-out during a very high-profile speech by the prez (i.e. one where he knows his words will be carefully reviewed), with my VSF buying (what I’m pretty sure is) the alt-media’s “alt-truth” claim that this was a simple mis-step, and me (with no doubts in my mind) seeing the fnord for what it (quite clearly to me) was: a multi-tiered attempt by Trump to shift the focus and the argument onto an unlevel playing field, in a now all-too-common fashion, in pursuit of a specious and dangerous agenda.

    The problem with fighting dirty, as the Republicants and this administration are all-too-willing to do, is that it usually gives an unfair advantage, one that can only be offset by also doing something reprehensible. And Trump’s rhetoric — and to a lesser but still severe degree the rhetorical strategies of the right in recent years — is decidedly dirty. Manufacturing BS is so much easier (and entertaining) than unpacking it that even if you could give a full accounting, in an irrefutable manner, to convincing divulge the inner workings of a manipulative (other-deluding) and narcissistic (self-deluding) mind, it would take more words than anyone would read, and by the time you unpack the whole bolus, there’s so much new malarkey to unpack that you could never keep up. In this respect, I consider Il Douchy a savant: I’m not even sure he knows how well he packs his phrases (I’m guessing he does), given how ham-fisted many of his day-to-day conversational gambits are (“all the best words”), and but like any good Rorschach test, how his words are taken tell us more about the individual hearing them than the person saying them, and he paints BS on a canvas with that in mind.

    would you hire this man to be your proctologist? or your president?
    What follows is an attempt to dissect why he said the Swedish thing and what it really means, proving my point that any convincing explanation is going to be too wordy and tedious for anyone to keep up with, assuming I even have the chops to unpack this (my failure to convince not being proof of my error). I’m not saying an alternative interpretation of Trump’s words is stupid or evil, I’m saying that cognitive bias is so invisible that if you’re being manipulated in the “right way” (as most of the confederate- and don’t-tread-on-me-flag-wavers are), then it’s almost impossible to spot that in yourself. I’m also not saying that anything that aligns with your interest is necessarily false, but I’m highly suspicious of any belief system that benefits the group doing the believing. Being a white, straight, wealthy, non-immigrant, gentile male with corporate-provide insurance and buying into a “religious freedom”, “tax reform”, “there’s too much PC”, anti-immigrant, pussy-grabbing, privatize-everything administrative platform/lifestyle/reading list in any way should make one at least pause for a self-interest check. I know that people who read my blog are bright, beautiful and billionaires (and if they aren’t, it’s ‘cause they’re being held down by the ‘opposition’ press and whomever you didn’t vote for) … but you shouldn’t just take my word for it.

    Anyway. The exact quote (which you should ideally watch a video of, in order to get tone as well as verbatim context) was “You look at what's happening last night in Sweden! Sweden! Who would believe this, Sweden!” One possible (and to me the pretty-much-only) interpretation of this at face value is that something occurred in Sweden the previous night, but I admit these words are ambiguous … which is one of their strengths, from a manipulation standpoint.

    My VSF said “Swedish disbelief is still front page NYTime's fake news. Where has their integrity gone and do they think we're stupid?”  This is itself is a pretty typical (and powerful) alt-media paragraph: it discredits the source (permanently, long after the current debate subsides), implies that possibly the most editorially conservative (in terms of when/what to publish — not from a political standpoint — although if I left this appositive out, using “editorially conservative” to describe the NYT would be a great manipulative ploy along the lines of what we’re discussing) paper in the country may be mis-reporting on Swedish disbelief (implying the Swedes would agree with President Turnip), that the media have an axe to grind by not reporting on other “more important” stories (and I would agree there’s a whole lot of news not being beaten to death that ought to be, but probably different news than what VSF would want to see), that even if you once considered the NYT the “great grey lady” of American press that you just haven’t been paying attention to where their integrity went, and that anyone who buys into the “narrative” of reporting on what people said, instead of what they later claimed they meant, is stupid. That’s a lot of messaging packed into 20 words, and I’m starting to suspect that, like all language, the rhetorical techniques used in right-leaning media and internet comment threads are rewiring some brains, creating an inherent (and not always conscious) ability to make and win arguments at the expense of other cognitive skills.

    Here is just some of what “look what happened last night in Sweden” tells us about the story, the story teller, and the audience:

    1. Ambiguous language: allowing both plausible deniability and interpretation after the fact (or after the polls, if you prefer), Trump mixes tenses, say “… is happening last night.” Either (and this infinite branching is where we can start heading down rabbit holes we might never pull out of) you believe DJ DT has “all the best words” and that this is intentional — in which case it appears he is trying to get across a (false) sense of immediacy, urgency and ‘nowness’ to this scourge, scaring us into acting against our best interests — or you believe he just isn’t that clear, precise or goodly with words, in which case you need to take the scalpel to his retraction as well, and then we’re back down the ever-branching rabbit hole.

    2. Confabulating anecdote and data: if you take his words at face value, which you are likely to do while he’s talking and more words keep coming and you don’t have time to sit down and deconstruct every twist of language and jeezum christ this whole problem of churning out words while writing about the problem of keeping up with a churn of words and all their ramifications is recursively naval gazing and makes one realize how hopeless the problem really is, you would believe that “even Sweden has (a) problem(s)”. If the whitest, safest, least objectionable country on earth is being overrun with dangerous immigrants, imagine what could happen here.  Plus, Purity of Essence … even Sweden (Sweden?!) isn’t white anymore … can you imagine what our country will look like if we don’t start massive deportation, denial of transit visas, rejection of orphaned children and widowed women, religious tests at the borders, racial profiling, maybe an internment camp or two … just until this war on terrorism is over … well, the slippery slope leads to a literal ethnic melting pot, with cauldrons provided by Trump-Haliburton Industries.

    3. Point scored - accepting refugees is bad:
    Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Pussy also said:
    They took in large numbers — they're having problems like they never thought possible….We have to keep our country safe
    In other words, tiny Sweden does this once-morally-necessary thing far more than us, and they’re paying the colored-rabble price for it … part and parcel of this argument is blurring the distinction between immigrant (voluntary, and generally with an option to safely stay at home) and refugee (involuntary, often in life-threatening need, held in camps for years during heavy vetting, with no say in which country they get placed). In short, we should take what used to be a source of our moral authority in the world — that we care for the downtrodden, and will provide life, liberty and opportunity to people denied that elsewhere — and turn it into a public health hazard to be avoided at all costs. It’s dizzying when you think about it: the Republicants have taken a group of voters that believe jihadists hate us because they hate our freedoms, and convinced them that repealing freedom is the way to fight jihad.

    4. Assume that “his people” will look exactly as far as they need to in order to get the confirmation bias they are looking for.
    VSF: “When i heard trumps words, in light of the fact that nothing had happened in sweden, i reasonably concluded the words were botched talking off the top of the butthead speech, and that he was referring to issues around immigration in Sweden. Is it unreasonable of me to expect the press to make that same reasonable leap?

    The presumption is that you’d bother to learn that nothing happened. That requires fact-checking everything Trump says, which isn’t temporally possible, and isn’t even of interest to those with a cognitive bias in favor of their team, or them that really never had interest in facts, science, education, research … all the traits that get lumped into the now-derogatory term “elitist”. You have to discover that nothing happened in Sweden. And if you’re one of the just-large-enough plurality (given a combination of the Southern Strategy and organized disenfranchisement coupled with unlimited political power to corporations) to elect Republicants, you’ll stop when you get to a publication that’s willing to say what it has to to maintain access to the administration, rather than one of those “liberal” rags that has seen enough of this mendacity to know you need to do some digging, maybe over a period of days, to unpack what the Chorizo-in-Chief was getting at, and then the reader has to do some impartial reading and consider nuance and contingency, which just isn’t happening in those states with poor public education (i.e. largely red states).

    5. Make sure you have an “out”, preferably one in your favor.

    If/when the press challenges the statement, for those who are still paying attention, you can then point them to a news story on Fox (aka Pravda West). Having already convinced a large swath of the country that Fox & Friends is real journalism, while any established news organization is fake, you can then use this controversy to get people to read a story (full of further errors and falsehoods) that reinforces your point, one that they otherwise would have overlooked. Heck, even just getting people to talk about a non-thing makes it a thing.

    Making any citation also sounds like the kind of thing that smart people who care about references would do — it’s like adding footnotes to your off-the-cuff white supremacist rant — reinforcing the fear with “facts” and “sources” (even, or especially, if people don’t check those references, which is largely a given, unless those people are the Press, which is why you must vilify anyone who calls you on your shite).

    Trump also uses the “people are saying” defense, once he gets people saying things, to make it sound like (a) he can’t be responsible for being wrong because he only knows what he reads (ignoring that he doesn’t really read) and (b) this must be a thing, or so many people wouldn’t talk about it (even if it’s just one person talking plus a whole lot of echoes).

    Here is a classic Mr. Trump tactic: discrediting (in advance) any source that has/might accuse, and accusing others of doing exactly what he’s trying to get away with (i.e. misrepresent). Now you can also make the press look bad for pressing a president on their words, which is pretty much all a president is, no matter how unpresidential he (always “he”) may act. That Trump managed to shift this whole discussion from analyzing his words to berating the press is evidence of his (one?) genius.

    And this was no mistake, either:
    The decision by Trump’s administration to restrict access to the press for Spicer’s briefing prompted at least some seasoned reporters to observe that the White House had successfully changed the topic:
    "And now, the topic of the evening is the media outlets excluded, not the Priebus interactions w FBI + question of open investigation."
    - Maggie Haberman, New York Times

    Ironically, all these techniques are well-known (i.e. we shouldn’t be so susceptible to them) and are commonly used by the Russians (coincidence, I’m sure). This is really helpful reading if you want to learn about how manipulation works … it should sound eerily familiar by now:

    6. Attack truthiness itself.

    From creating web pages for a living, I know your average web reader has the attention span of an ADD ferret on meth. So they will never get as far as discovering that there in fact is no problem with accepting refugees as far as danger is concerned
    (not even my VSF, who implied that he’d do the digging to discover nothing happened in Sweden, but probably stop there):

    Data (see also below) shows immigrants to the US are LESS likely on average to commit crimes than existing US citizens. Although I can’t find data, I assume refugees are even less likely than your average immigrant to bite the hand that literally feeds them. In the same way you’re more likely to get killed by a citizen in Baltimore than a terrorist in Beirut, or a home-grown (likely white & Christian) terrorist than an immigrant/refugee terrorist domestically, the people you should worry about are the people who are already here and bitter (and heavily armed), rather than a grateful newcomer. Given a choice between a white, male, semi-educated, 9th-generation American who is Trump’s biggest supporter and believes the 2nd amendment is inviolable but the document that contains it is shreddable and that white Christian males are intrinsically more valuable (and aggrieved) than other humans, and a random Muslim refugee from Syria: if you have to invite one into your home and you’re worried about getting shot or raped, and Trump’s Sweden rant doesn’t immediately raise your hackles, you’re probably worrying about the wrong individual.

    7. Fear and Anger, Fear and Anger, Fear and Anger, Fear and Anger, Fear and Anger

    Anything that primes the limbic system gets a response. Fear creates obedience (“please save us”). Anger creates many of the same chemicals as more positive emotions … our reward system is triggered by anger, even if there’s a price to pay down the road. Clinton discusses policy, showing she’s able to do the job. Trump riles people up and plays on their emotions, showing he’s able to get the job.

    8. Collateral cognitive damage

    Even after I’ve upped my bullshit detector to max, and convinced myself that this is a manipulation designed to steer us towards an ultra-nationalist society with too many powers handed to the executive branch (see also Russia), a country where populists will keep the current party in power even if it’s not in their best financial interest (the very interest that appears to be pandered to) … if I hear these phrases enough, they start to add up. The Republicants are very good at a few things, and one of them is consistency and redundancy of talking points. Repetition is learning, no matter how wrong the repeated phrase is (and if you don’t believe that, have an otherwise bright Scientologist explain Xenu to you, or a well-schooled Mormon explain the magic underwear). The mere fact that we are no longer outraged by what the president says or does, or that Tweeting is a form of policy making, or that the bar to being presidential is now set at “don’t grab your crotch during the State of the Union” tells us you can normalize anything through repetition. Keep it up long enough, and even the sanest of people will have some doubts about global warming, WMDs, the benefits of regulation, the dangers of immigration, yada yada yada. And the less sane or dubious will start to take these claims as gospel. Then once the gospel says “well, people have doubts about evolution as well as creationism, so why don’t we teach both, that’s only fair?” or “those libtards doubt both of these things, and won’t let us teach both, violating your rights of religion, so let’s elect a demagogue” (to name just one of dozens of topics subject to similar manipulations) … well, Sweden looks like a pretty safe and sane alternative to the Greatest Country on Earth Again(tm).

    So, repeating a mis-truth often enough carries weight (Hillary must be guilty of something, since she’s been the subject of so many investigations, never mind that they never reached any conclusions of nefariousness), but even more significant, telling a lie and then retracting it STILL changes the minds of the most rational of humans (because we aren’t the most rational of creatures). Example (from the link above about propaganda/methods of mass manipulation):

    Participants in a study within this paradigm are told that there was a fire in a warehouse and that there were flammable chemicals in the warehouse that were improperly stored. When hearing these pieces of information in succession, people typically make a causal link between the two facts and infer that the fire was caused in some way by the flammable chemicals. Some subjects are then told that there were no flammable chemicals in the warehouse. Subjects who have received this corrective information may correctly answer that there were no flammable chemicals in the warehouse and separately incorrectly answer that flammable chemicals caused the fire. This seeming contradiction can be explained by the fact that people update the factual information about the presence of flammable chemicals without also updating the causal inferences that followed from the incorrect information they initially received.

    So, what’s the problem? 

    Aside from the real damage to the country that will be caused by pushing through these policies, even for those who independently desired these policies, e.g.:
    and the fact that this just really isn’t American (or a land-of-the-brave or home-of-the-free kind of) policy, I can’t believe that the president of the US is both well informed and making these “mistakes” by accident … I just can’t tell which deficiency is demonstrating itself at any given time. It’s sort of like the George W years, when you couldn’t tell if any decision was Bush’s (stupid) or Cheney’s (evil), and so couldn’t pin down why it was wrong while still knowing it was wrong. I personally believe the Prez knows exactly what he’s saying, for the most part, and is intentionally using the oldest political tactic in the book (scare the populace into compliance) in order to get what he wants. 

    I believe he knows that the story he is referencing about Sweden is FALSE:

    and that here in the US, immigrants commit LESS crime than 2nd-generation (or longer) citizens:

    and there aren’t really too many ways to spin this:
      during the period 1990-2013, the number of unauthorized immigrants grew from 3.5 million to 11.2 million. Over that same period, FBI data shows that violent crime rates fell by 48% and property crimes declined by 41%.

    [This is, incidentally, the group that Trump most derides, more than the vetted and visa’d people we’re actually discussing denying entry to, who, presumably, aren’t as dangerous as those who’d break the law to come here.]

    So Trump has intentionally made an assertion that is false but that advances his agenda, that sticks in spite of its falsehood (how many people have seen the data in this post, in spite of the NYT keeping this story on the front page for “too long”), and that somehow became a referendum on the legitimacy of reportage (aka his detractors, if you consider quoting someone a detraction) rather than his truthiness.

    And that leads to this:
    On page one of any political science textbook it will say that democracy relies on people being informed about the issues so they can have a debate and make a decision,” says Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist at the University of Bristol in the UK, who studies the persistence and spread of misinformation. “Having a large number of people in a society who are misinformed and have their own set of facts is absolutely devastating and extremely difficult to cope with.

    The alternative theory (and we can branch these arguments until hell freezes over, but we can never keep up with the rate of BS manufacture, which is why this rhetorical technique has worked so well for Trump) is that he is so self-unaware and self-interested that he believes what he wants to believe over the truth … in which case he is unqualified for the job, instead of too much of an ass-hat to hold the job.

    So, what do I do about all this?

    Ignoring everything else in here (which we will, sadly, do), we have no moral basis for denying refugee (different than immigrant) status to widows & orphans from parts of the world we’ve destabilized through military adventurism (Isis/Al Qaeda), shadow-cold-wars (Taliban), and funding and befriending our frenemies (Pakistan, Iraq, etc. etc.). Why refugees have a longer ban (120 days) than immigrants and tourists (90 days) would seem to be worth discussing, but again, if you can keep the churn rate high enough on your misspeaks, many important conversations have to get skipped or glossed over. But if you take away just one point, remember: immigrants and refugees are two different groups of people, as are legal and illegal immigrants, and if you can’t make and keep those distinctions, you have no business discussing (never mind setting) policy on this subject.

    You can also start insulating yourself from these rhetorical techniques by being dubious by default … and don’t just apply your skepticism to “the other side.” The link I mentioned above:
    talks extensively about the techniques you could use to persuade-beyond-reason. Becoming aware of those techniques will partially immunize against those techniques. Knowing that you can only have partial immunity should increase your skepticism even further.

    There’s a whole internet full of info on bad logic, propaganda, manipulation, etc. (as well as actual bad logic, propaganda, manipulation, etc.) Here’s another possible starting point:

    While a bit awkward in places, this entire series:
    presents methodologies for immunizing yourself against bias and doing your own fact checking … the amount of work involved is exactly why the president can get away with this crap, but it’s also why we’ve farmed this job out to the press (which is falling down on the job quite a bit, but not in the direction that the alt-right thinks, but rather by erring in the direction of click-bait and sensationalism and cat stories over content ... we are largely at fault for being a cheap-ass and not very discerning audience). Similarly, the job of governing is so complex that our democracy (which is ALSO a Republic, before any of you alt-right ultra-nationalist shite-heads decide to chime in), that we’ve farmed it out to politicians. It’s important that someone keep an eye on that job, and discrediting the ACLU and the NYT puts that final check on power in jeopardy. You do so at your own peril, but also mine, so please stop supporting this behavior.

    Watch the “Obama wiretapped my house” discussion unfold in the manner described above, as a sanity-check on my claims. Safe prediction: nowhere in that discussion will Trump say “clearly, a president should not have these capabilities because the risk of abuse is both obvious and proven.”