As President a Trump creates fake news with his lies, he tries to gain political advantage by denouncing accurate news reporting. This is straight from the totalitarianism playbook. I once met an older man in LA who had moved to the US in 2003 from Spain. He said “I spent most of my life (under Franco) digging for the truth, fighting through the ubiquitous state media which polluted everyone’s heads with lies. Now that I have arrived here I find that a form of Pravda (Fox News) has begun to infect people’s heads with lies and people are happy to watch!”
Is this split in the media a cause or an effect of our national political divides?
Some historians like to tell us how our political divisions were just as bad during the Vietnam war. There are differences that make the comparison useless. The political split in the 60’s was essentially a generational one – baby boomers with “modern” values vs their parents who were holding on to (largely) out of date beliefs.
Today’s divisions are more heterogeneous. The problems of the 60’s evaporated as baby boomers aged and got jobs. They became more conservative and much of their once-radical agenda – women’s rights, civil rights, greater government transparency, became accepted as indisputable truths. This time the split is based on irreconcilable views about the purpose and role of government, immigration, and income distribution. There is no demographic shift that will settle (or explain) these issues.
The severity of these divisions has led us to such a polarized state that there are almost no swing voters left. We have no authorized media that pull us together like say Walter Cronkite once did. Don’t tell me I’m mired in the past. Most other countries still have a government assisted TV station that the citizenry watch and trust. England has the BBC, France has RFI, and Germany has ARD. A modern national voice need not have a political view but it would help settle issues using facts like:
- Climate change is real.
- Russia really did interfere in our election.
- The massacre in Newtown CT was real.
- Al Quaeda was solely responsible for the destruction of the twin towers.
- Barak Obama was born in the United States.
Wouldn’t it be nice if such things were indisputable? A common sense fact-based national voice would push InfoWars et al to political irrelevance. It could also provide the people with a common entertainment experience. It’s part of being French to listen to RFI. The BBC has comedy shows, human interest stories, international coverage and economic reports. It’s the first choice of news searchers in the UK.
Americans don’t share a common set of facts and this a huge problem. We’ve lost all our 60 Minutes heavyweights who spoke with authority. NPR is denounced as socialist. We desperately need a new Walter Cronkite – not the staid dull one, the one that denounced the Vietnam war after visiting the front. Opinions can and must be changed by new knowledge. Myths and conspiracy theories now take up as much space as the truth. Who would have thought that in an internet world so many lies could survive? Media leadership (and commonality) is desperately needed. Most other democracies have such national voices. We suffer every day by not having any.
Google alone isn’t getting the job done.
President Trump proposed the idea that in order to stop North Korea we should stop enabling it by trading with any country that trades with it. This is necessary because US sanctions are worthless since we don’t trade with Nort Korea. The biggest impact would be on China since they are N. Korea’s biggest (only) trading partner and a large part of the Chinese economy depends on western (US) buyers so we have leverage.
We can argue about the efficacy of such a policy. If Europe doesn’t go along then China could just reroute exports to other countries which are not being sanctioned. We can worry about the time it would take to replace critical imports with locally produced substitutes. There are some goods that would become more expensive since you can’t really replace a billion peasant laborers. Inflation would rise as would wages. Finally, we could discuss the impact on raw material suppliers (to China) that would lose business by virtue of a big decline in Chinese economic activity.
What I hear instead is a lot of contempt and outrage over the idea simply because it would affect our supply of cheap stuff. The idea that we would use a powerful stick like trade as an incentive to get countries to behave appalls people. Is it not reasonable to ask: Why do we trade with Russia (or Turkey or Azerbaijan or…) at all? These are totalitarian states engaged in global crime, sometimes devoted to wrecking our elections. How many more reasons do you need to cut them off?
China keeps North Korea functioning and North Korea is considering nuking Los Angeles!
We have seemed to reach the ultimate victory of consumerism over sovereignty and safety. How many tainted elections can you accept to keep Russian oil flowing? How many lives are you willing to spend in LA to keep your iPhone below $35/month? The one weapon we wield is the power of the US consumer to buy foreign stuff. Every country in the world sets policy and obsesses over us. Yet when we need something, they are utterly indifferent. Their nerve makes me crazy. When our own press and corporate lobby facilitate it, we become our own worst enemy.
The artificiality of social media tells us that such real, bad things, can’t actually occur – not at least while we’re taking a selfie with our beautiful dinner salad. What’s real is Facebook updates, Twitter attacks, and Instagram bikinis. In that world, a real nuclear attack is only something you might see on an old youtube video. Politicians don’t want to disturb those people from their virtual world…
It would be bad for business.
I particularly enjoy political satire especially the Malcolm Gladwell type where there is a bite. I prefer Jon Stewart to Trevor Noah. I like the edginess of John Oliver compared to the softer lighter style of the network late night shows. I don’t want it to be unclear who we are laughing at and who should be offended. If someone’s not offended then why bother? Trump’s presidency produces daily fodder for the likes of Bill Maher like manna from heaven. He can mock his hair, the moronic behavior of Sean Spicer, the infighting, the Russia scandal, the lies about voter fraud, inauguration crowds etc. I can and do laugh at all of it but there are some subjects that are simply not funny.
- Trump’s desire to destroy Obamacare and remove health care from 17-33 million people is just not amusing in any way. The Senate’s failure to repeal and Trump’s continued demands for it to get back and vote some more, are scary and (potentially) massively injurious.
- This week Trump has been taunting a crazed dictator asking him to “make my day”. Our quick descent to the verge of nuclear war is, to me, not funny at all. Stephen Colbert uses it in his nightly monologue and tries to laugh at Trump’s spontaneous outburst. If his bit had been about Trump calling the White House a dump – then that could be funny. If it’s an outburst that could destroy Los Angeles, I can’t find anything to laugh at.
Sometimes a satirist must stop making jokes and soberly express his outrage and sadness over a situation. They do this after a national tragedy. They should do it before a prospective national tragedy too.
Friends of mine from Arizona recently made a coherent argument to me as to why they are registered independents. When I lived there, I too was an independent. Their argument is: We are pro-choice, we believe in science over superstition and we don’t want to destroy Medicare … but the Democratic party candidate was an idiot. We met her and she was completely uninformed about the issues. In fact, some of her positions were crazy!
I get it. Let’s stay in AZ for a minute. Jeff Flake sounds like a reasonable man. He has a new book out where he talks at length about how Repubs must work with Dems to pass good laws. He thinks Trump is a buffoon. He is in favor of “free” trade and more immigration. Many Dems would see this well-mannered man as a better Senator than the Democratic party alternative.
Jeff Flake wins and off he goes to Washington and … Does he vote as an independent thinker? Does he question the leadership and work with Dems to write new bills? Not even close. Flake votes with Trump and Mitch McConnell every time (97%). Yes, I understand that there is a lot of party pressure on all politicians and there are of course many demanding donors but what about the views of the candidate? Their views may get them “primaried” but with regard to their performance in Washington –
They don’t matter.
This new partisan world has set up loyalty as mandatory and the only people who can veer off the path are the famous senior party leaders or independents. Frankly, the opinions and intelligence of your senator or congressman mean absolutely nothing. Your moronic Democratic member in the house will always vote for the ACA. Your Republican renaissance man will vote against expanding the debt ceiling if Ryan tells him to. Unless the world changes dramatically, there is no role for the informed voter to cross over party lines and vote for someone in the other party. Do you believe in climate change and evolution? If you do then you don’t have the luxury of picking the smart Republican candidate, unless you want Texas style school books where Intelligent Design is given equal time.
Every politician has become a silent player on a team – following orders. The only direction he can go is further to the right (if he is a Repub) or to the left to join Bernie (if he is a Dem). Reasonableness and intelligence that bring someone to the center are features to be stripped away by Rush Limbaugh or the Freedom Caucus. You can be a maverick but you’ll only last one term.
Studying candidates carefully – expecting them to vote rationally and independently is a way to empower the leadership of the other party.
I haven’t posted much lately because it’s hard to say something original about the mess in Washington. Who needs another voice of outrage. All I can do is express confusion about a few things:
- How is a vote for ACA repeal going to be helpful for Republican political prospects when the only people who will be happy are those from the hard core base? They were going to vote for them anyway and 80% of the electorate is against repeal. If the Repubs primary you out for voting against repeal then they will have an even tougher time holding on to seats versus pro-ACA Democrats. Every Repub (especially. Trump) should be kissing John McCain on the mouth for taking a (fake) bullet for the party.
- Trump wants revenge against congressional adversaries like Lisa Murkowski and Jeff Flake. His instrument would be the fanatical pro-Trump wing of the Republican party. Is there such a wing? What on earth do they stand for?
- Court intrigue is a feature of every monarchy. Advisors fight for influence and the winners are usually the best sycophants. They argue over loyalty, not policy. They denounce and backstab and it never ends. If the king is a classic moronic narcissist then you can’t appeal to him through good advice. A single purge of R. Priebus will not be the end.
- After the court decision regarding asylum seekers in Austria, it’s become painfully clear that the only way to reduce immigration into Europe is to pick up all those boat people off the coast of Libya and politely return them to Libyan beaches. If Italy doesn’t, then it’s essentially running a ferry service.
- As almost every country puts up barriers against those immigrants, has Britain noticed that they are all coming around to the same position as Leave voters? If the U.K. can put up walls at its borders like Hungary, Austria and France then those in favor of Brexit have lost one of their big reasons for going. Revote!
- is it too harsh to see justice in the death of The Great Barrier Reef because it resides right next to a climate change denying, coal exporting country. AT least they, in particular, are paying a heavy price for their anti-science malevolence.
Everyone is asking how we got here. Is America more stupid or corrupt than it was ten or twenty years ago? We thought we had a country that was progressing, intellectually. After all, the internet delivered the widespread availability of information which can and should crush superstition and absurd conspiracy theories. Why have we gone the other way?
A new medium started out in the 90’s – conservative talk radio. Its primary message had to be – “Don’t believe or listen to TV news, we’ll tell you what’s really going on.” Then they offered content loaded with entertaining what-you-want-to hear half-truths and fiction. They were successful beyond their wildest dreams. Even when Rush was discovered to be a hypocritical drug addict and Michael Savage made unconscionable statements about gay men, their audience returned every day because the shows were entertaining. Flaws and errors all became forgivable. There is only one thing that is never acceptable – dullness. That’s why Trump has been invincible.
The audience is primarily male and old so these entertainers fed them a healthy dose of racist and homophobic diatribes. Denouncing Washington came next because people find it hard to connect what happens there with their day-to-day lives. Politicians are easy pickings. It turned out that radio hosts’ success changed a political party and directly contributed to political dysfunction. But the one unexpected outcome was that a politician would embrace their tactics and use them to win the Presidency.
Who would have thought that old tech (AM radio) could defeat new tech (the internet)?
The question at hand has become – how do you ruin the ratings of Rush Limbaugh or Alex Jones? Trump’s stupidity will continue to be interesting and it will get ratings. His sexist rants and ill-informed opinions are all forgivable by his followers as long as he is provocative and on their side, repeating well-known tropes about evil politicians, dysfunctional government, immigrant criminals and the lying media who fact check him.
This works for AM radio and it has worked so far for Trump but now that he is in office he becomes part of the problem. He must deliver huge changes or claim that his ineffectiveness is not his fault. So we move into phase 2 – the blame game. It would be better for him if no health care bill were passed so he could denounce both parties as losers who can’t get anything done. If a tax bill stalls because it would create a $2 trillion budget deficit then he can say he tried and then move on. His followers won’t blame an entertainer for getting nothing done in evil Washington DC.
The Dems must fight fire with fire. They must out-entertain the crazy right. A great speaker, joke teller or provocateur must appear who can play their game but with facts. Policy wonks need not apply unless they can deliver scathing satire. Their first job is to offer biting mockery. The opponent is a buffoon and if you can’t expose him as such (especially) to his own rabid base then the Democratic party can’t use you. You must entertain the mob like a good episode of The Kardashians.
Go hard and Go left.
The candidate must then offer some policy bait to the working poor (and even white) population in the middle of the country. (Start with trade.) Trump is failing to deliver on every populist policy he promised so the Dems have lots to steal from.
Mockery and (policy) theft – sounds like a job for Stuart Smalley:
It is pretty clear that Donald Trump has abandoned all his promises, including those he made about keeping jobs in America. He has eaten chocolate cake with the President of China, now they’re in love. The Prime Minister of Japan was the first to get a deal after he supplicated himself. Is Trump canceling NAFTA? – not as far as I can tell. He has even come out against a border tax in the next budget – something that Paul Ryan was going to put in.
His one touchstone (promised) policy that resonated with (almost) everyone (especially me) has been abandoned completely. That means the Democrats can grab it and grab it, they must. Forget all this identity politics and globalism nonsense. They desperately need an economic program that will resonate with laborers even if they’re white. They can dump the elitist nauseating position of the Clinton’s and get back to where they are supposed to be – right next to Bernie Sanders. Sorry, Joe, speeches about your love for the LGBT community won’t win elections.
This needs to happen immediately as it is becoming clear that time is running out. About five years ago I wrote about how China wasn’t looking to just steal low wage jobs, it wants everything. The two biggest value added industries we have are cars and airplanes. We need to protect those with our lives. The New York times recently wrote about how Ford is going to produce their next flagship compact car in China. My nightmare is coming true.
If the Dems stand up, their losses could be limited to the 2016 election and they would grab back their brand. They let it be stolen by a fake billionaire with no conviction about anything. Al Franken – are you listening? You should put this issue right next to Medicare-for-all and hit the road.
This is your time.
Do you remember why the Seinfeld cast were put on trial in the final episode? They watched someone get robbed and did nothing (in fact Kramer filmed it). They all decided that a person in distress wasn’t their responsibility. The cast were arrested for violating the Good Samaritan laws of Massachusetts. Normally Such laws protect you from liability in case you injure the perpetrator of the crime.
In England the laws are more aggressive (Seinfeld style):
“In instances where there has been an assumption of responsibility by the bystander, a dangerous situation was created by them, or there is a contractual or statutory duty to act, criminal liability would be imposed on the bystander for their failure to take action.”
England already has the solution to terrorism!
All they have to do is enforce this law with new vigor. Anyone with knowledge of a person’s plans or desire to kill innocent people would be guilty as an accessory to murder. Yes, that would include girlfriends, Imams, parents, and roommates. If you don’t inform on suicide bombers then their sentence will also be yours. One of the men in the last British attack was in a video about the glories of Jihad. All the people who were in the movie with him and the director should be arrested. Call it aiding and abetting, or involuntary manslaughter if you like. We want every citizen to be an informant.
If a girl can be put in jail in the US for involuntary manslaughter because she told her boyfriend to kill himself, then an Imam can certainly put be put in jail for telling people to wage Jihad. He would have to be very sure that no one in the crowd would ever do anything violent.
It’s very hard to prepare to commit suicide while killing as many people as you can and stay totally silent during the planning (or contemplation) stage. We don’t need to find accomplices we just have to put the fear of God into the perpetrator’s friends and family. This could trigger a lot of false positives but it would also produce a lot of serious conversations with the prospective Jihadist about how he is putting all his friends and family in jeopardy. People would have to choose their friends carefully.
You may say this is too extreme and would create a society overloaded with informers like in East Germany during the cold war. The test question to ask is – If you knew someone who told you he was planning such an attack would you keep quiet? I wouldn’t.
So why can’t I demand the same level of civic duty from every citizen?
Do you remember the scene in Casino Royale when James Bond runs through a courtyard in Venice. An expert marksman with a machine gun manages to miss him completely. A piece of you thought: that is ridiculous, but most of you said – let it go, after all he is James Bond. Such movies consistently test our willingness to accept absurd outcomes so that our hero can survive. We are left to reconcile (and ignore) what we know about physics and human biology [death] with what appears on the screen. Cognitive dissonance is the effort to think consistently. It’s OK for James Bond to be special but it’s not OK for him to be superhuman.
Apparently cognitive dissonance occurs less often among extroverts. Perhaps their higher level of emotion prevents them from appropriate introspection. Are all Donald Trump voters extroverts? Are Republicans less inclined to reconcile inconsistent facts then Democrats? The first question is impossible to answer but the second one is not. Republicans are more tribal simply because they come from a more homogenous demographic group than Dems. It is hard to break the bonds of tribalism. Even when clear evidence is presented to show that their beliefs are flawed or based on fiction, they feel the obligation to band together and fight back for group survival. Scientology still exists in spite of the exposure of fraud and criminal behavior within the sect.
Paul Krugman marvels at the inability of West Virginians to see that every part of the AHCA and the new Trump budget will hurt them. Tribalism guarantees that these believers won’t abandon their faith until their healthcare is completely gone. They won’t believe that Trump and his cronies are criminals until they are actually in jail.
There is one source of hope: People’s love of scandalous news. What would you do if you worked at Fox or Breitbart News and your guy offered a healthcare bill that destroyed health care, or a budget that blew up the deficit and included a huge adding mistake. Should they mention that Trump’s son in law felt a need for secret talks with the Russians? We know the answer: Bury the story or wave it off as absurd. Both reactions guarantee that neither outlet is where anyone would go to hear about these stories. The result – ratings implosion. Breitbart has gone from a website ranking around 63 last year to #284 now. Fox News ranks below CNN and MSNBC for the first time in 17 years. Trump believers are either changing the channel or turning the TV off.
There is another big problem for these media outlets. For decades their listeners have been programmed to believe in conspiracy theories. We thought the Glenn Beck had taken it to ridiculous extremes but now Alex Jones is out doing him. These talking heads play into a fundamental human weakness. Everybody is fascinated by the idea that powerful people are conspiring against us. What secrets are not being revealed? We are now being offered some of the best conspiracy stories we’ve ever seen from the presidency and there will be more. Trump is so stupid and so devoted to his business and ego over the office that he will have special private discussions and plots. There will be leaks. Everyone will want to hear the news and speculate about what it all means. If Fox and Rush and Drudge refuse to give credence to the stories by investigating them then their rabid listeners will go to CNN. Then the Repubs have a huge problem – tribalism depends on solidarity. They must stay together and constantly reinforce their mythology with rhetoric and rituals.
Belief will wither and die in direct proportion to the number of words heard from Anderson Cooper’s mouth.
I’m going to make a solid effort here to understand the reasoning behind the repeal of Obamacare. I’ll try my best to withhold my shock and depression over this issue, at least for a few minutes. Let’s make a list of all the reasons why repeal makes sense to those voters who will continue to support their congressmen (or senator) after he votes for the AHCA:
- It was President Obama’s signature piece of legislation and Obama is the devil. He is a black, Muslim, Kenyan, socialist who nearly destroyed the country. We must destroy his legacy. By definition, if he was in favor of such a program, it must have been profoundly damaging to the American economy.
- As a libertarian, I detest any Government interference in the economy. I believe in free markets and the ability of price to effectively allocate resources. Everything will be better if the government gets out of the way. I’d be in favor of getting rid of Social Security and Medicare as well.
- The obesity epidemic in this country has shown us that people must be responsible for their own health. If they are sick then it’s their fault. Why should I have to pay any taxes towards their healthcare? Why should my premiums be higher to average out an insurance pool. I have no pre-existing conditions.
- I am fabulously rich and perfectly able to buy as much health coverage as I want. If you have failed to make a lot of money like me then you must accept the consequences.
- I am on Medicare or have fabulous coverage through my employer so this is not really important to me. If people die from this repeal then that’s not my problem. I’d just like to see my taxes go down, and Roe vs Wade revoked.
- How did the government raise taxes on capital gains or force me to buy healthcare insurance when I don’t want to. That’s an infringement on my liberty!
Obamacare is just made up of two things: a restriction on charging people more for their pre-existing conditions, and a series of subsidies for poor people [Medicaid, high risk, and older people). That’s it. So if you hate it you have only a few things to get angry about. You must hate sick people, poor people or you must make a ton of money from capital gains. You must not know anybody who is between the ages of 50 and 65 who have been sick or might get sick. (Is that possible?)
The other option, of course, is that you think that Obamacare is a much more intrusive system which tells doctors how to do their jobs. It doesn’t. Ask the AMA what they think. Maybe you believe that subsidies are the same as socialism. If everyone gets healthcare they’ll become lazy economic leeches.
In this debate, there is sort of a sweet spot – around the age of 45. When you’re that age your parents are old enough for Medicare so they are not affected by any of this. You’ve been healthy all your life and your insurance rates before Obamacare were reasonable, or you got your insurance through your employer. You’re too old to have more children so prenatal care or child delivery coverage is irrelevant. Such a person may not realize that cancer can hit somebody younger than 65. They are on the edge of a cliff, premium wise. Simply being 55 is a preexisting condition in and of itself. Ageism makes it very hard to get a new corporate job if you get laid off. These “nearly old” are unemployable and uninsurable. 45 year-olds don’t realize how close they are.
In the end, it comes down to compassion versus a tax cut. It’s a matter of recognizing that the state has a logical role when it comes to establishing insurance pools. Every actuary and every other country in the world understand this. As with climate change we are unique in that we have a significant (vocal) minority who prefer not to have a plan when it comes to long-term complicated issues. They simply hope that supply and demand will take care of things since they (and their donors) can’t or won’t. Consequently, CO2 emissions are not taxed to pay for negative externalities [secondary spinoff effects]. Similarly, prices do not allocate healthcare resources effectively. There there is no “elasticity”. Simply put, demand does not decline if price rises. That’s why the United States free market version of healthcare is so spectacularly less efficient than every other socialized system in the world. We pay more but receive the same services as any Dutchman or German. There is no state monopsony.
It’s hard to admit when free markets, don’t work. When you read Ayn Rand at the age of 16 you completely bought into her depiction of government as evil. How can you recant or explain to other true believers that there seem to be a few holes in the storyline? Will someone call Milton Friedman? You decide it’s better to ignore these glaring exceptions so you can reduce regulation and government corruption. Voters don’t want to hear about complexity anyway. So in the name of your God – Free Markets you declare:
If 24 million uninsured people must die in the gutter or go bankrupt to pay for hospital care then – so be it!