originally written 11/25/2016

Putting out massive amounts of fake news online and attempting to intimidate the press into publishing exactly what he wants are not the only ways the Trump team plans to control the media message about his administration. The fact is, Trump doesn’t need media publications to print outright lies. As long as they interpret what he says in the most positive way possible, and use headlines that portray things in the most positive light despite nuance that implies otherwise, they can transmit exactly the message he wants and still try to claim truthfulness and objectivity.

Look at the recent coverage of some of Trump’s remarks during his sit-down with the NY Times staff on Tuesday. During this sit-down, Trump let loose with a barrage of gaslighting and bullshitting so expansive that I could spend all weekend breaking down various points, but I’m going to focus on his remarks about climate change so we can see how much that sort of twist and spin drove the immediate coverage of the story. Look and see how important it is to read beyond the headlines, beyond the spin, to look for quotes without editorializing and interpretation by the writer, and most of all, to look for actual policy, and to the policies that have been advanced in the past by the people he is stocking his administration with, in order to see what is really happening. Most of all, learn to listen to what the President-elect actually says, rather than what the media and those around him say he said.

 

After the sit-down between members of their editorial staff and the President-elect, the NY Times ran a story about the meeting written by three of the people who had been there. The story had the headline, “Trump, In Interview, Moderates Views But Defies Convention.” The story included this paragraph:

On climate change, Mr. Trump refused to repeat his promise to abandon the international climate accord reached last year in Paris, saying, “I’m looking at it very closely.” Despite the recent appointment to his transition team of a fierce critic of the Paris accords, Mr. Trump said that “I have an open mind to it” and that clean air and “crystal clear water” were vitally important.

After this story hit the streets, multiple media outlets ran with this interpretation. Newsweek ran a headline blaring that Trump had “softened” on climate change and ran this quote in their story:

Trump told the Times he thinks there is “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change, reporter Mike Grynbaum tweeted. “It depends on how much,” the reporter quoted Trump as saying. Asked whether the United States will withdraw from climate change accords, Trump said: “I’m looking at it very closely. I have an open mind to it,” the reporter tweeted.

Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, also said on Tuesday he was thinking about climate change and American competitiveness and “how much it will cost our companies,” the reporter said, without elaborating.

The headline on Reuters stated that Trump was keeping an “open mind” on climate change and quotes him as saying “clean air is vitally important.”

Business Insider went with the “some connectivity” quote in their headline, and they editorialized his comments down to this:

Trump seemed to suggest at least an openness to engaging with science and policy issues regarding the climate. He also suggested he might not pull out of the Paris Agreement, though he didn’t lend any specifics or details.”

The LA Times headline proclaimed a “shift” in Trump’s thinking on climate change, and more editorializing and interpretation of his comments as follows:

The president-elect, who had branded climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese and dismissed efforts to fight it as a massive, politically motivated waste of time and money, now said that perhaps action was needed, and that he might follow through with America’s commitments in the international climate agreement that he repeatedly vowed during the campaign to disregard.

The positive spin was so ubiquitous that even the Center for Climate Protection ran a headline for a blurb on climateprotection.org on the interview that said “Donald Trump’s Interview With The New York Times Offers Hope On Climate.” The story quoted the paragraph from the NY Times story as well.

Here’s the problem with all that reassurance: other than the key buzzwords and phrases, Trump didn’t actually say anything positive about climate change in the interview. In fact, reading Trump’s full comments on climate change as given to the NY Times during that interview should actually scare the hell out of anyone that believes in the science surrounding climate change. Let’s look at them verbatim.

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, opinion columnist: Mr. President-elect, can I ask a question? One of the issues that you actually were very careful not to speak about during the campaign, and haven’t spoken about yet, is one very near and dear to my heart, the whole issue of climate change, the Paris agreement, how you’ll approach it. You own some of the most beautiful links golf courses in the world …

[laughter, cross talk]

TRUMP: [laughing] I read your article. Some will be even better because actually like Doral is a little bit off … so it’ll be perfect. [inaudible] He doesn’t say that. He just says that the ones that are near the water will be gone, but Doral will be in great shape.

[laughter]

Here we see that Trump’s first instinct concerning climate change is to make jokes about how climate change might actually improve some of his golf course locations, making them closer to the coast. Right off the bat, the implication is not that he is serious about this matter.

FRIEDMAN: But it’s really important to me, and I think to a lot of our readers, to know where you’re going to go with this. I don’t think anyone objects to, you know, doing all forms of energy. But are you going to take America out of the world’s lead of confronting climate change?

TRUMP: I’m looking at it very closely, Tom. I’ll tell you what. I have an open mind to it. We’re going to look very carefully. It’s one issue that’s interesting because there are few things where there’s more division than climate change. You don’t tend to hear this, but there are people on the other side of that issue who are, think, don’t even …

SULZBERGER: We do hear it.

FRIEDMAN: I was on ‘Squawk Box’ with Joe Kernen this morning, so I got an earful of it.

[laughter]

TRUMP: Joe is one of them. But a lot of smart people disagree with you. I have a very open mind. And I’m going to study a lot of the things that happened on it and we’re going to look at it very carefully. But I have an open mind.

Above is his use of the phrase “We’re looking at it very closely” and his first use of the NY Times quoted comment “I have an open mind to it.” Notice that he is not being asked about the Paris climate accord at all when he says these things, and read this paragraph from the NY Times story recapping the meeting again:

On climate change, Mr. Trump refused to repeat his promise to abandon the international climate accord reached last year in Paris, saying, “I’m looking at it very closely.” Despite the recent appointment to his transition team of a fierce critic of the Paris accords, Mr. Trump said that “I have an open mind to it” and that clean air and “crystal clear water” were vitally important.

As noted, many news outlets have been using this interpretation to spin his “open mind” comments to indicate that Trump has an “open mind” to climate solutions, but it’s clear reading the comments that’s not what he said at all. Immediately after saying he has an open mind, he indicates that the people he is listening to with that open mind are climate change deniers. He says, “there are few things where there’s more division than climate change. You don’t tend to hear this…

You don’t tend to hear it because it’s wrong. In fact, there are few things in science where there is more consensus than climate change. The vast majority of scientists believe it is happening, it is manmade, and that we need to immediately work to prevent it from worsening.

Remember the phrase “I have an open mind,” this will be a recurring thing. It’s obviously the message he wants to send, despite all indications being to the contrary.

SULZBERGER: Well, since we’re living on an island, sir, I want to thank you for having an open mind. We saw what these storms are now doing, right? We’ve seen it personally. Straight up.

FRIEDMAN: But you have an open mind on this?

TRUMP: I do have an open mind. And we’ve had storms always, Arthur.

Note, again, the “open mind” comment followed IMMEDIATELY by  denial that anything new or different is occurring. It’s only possible for someone who believes in climate change to find this reassuring when “open mind” is taken completely out of context, something a disturbing amount of media outlets were willing to do for some reason.

SULZBERGER: Not like this.

TRUMP: You know the hottest day ever was in 1890-something, 98. You know, you can make lots of cases for different views. I have a totally open mind.

Again with the open mind, this time following an outright lie. The highest temperature ever recorded on earth for one day was in Kuwait in July 2016. NASA has shown that 2016 will be the hottest year on record.

My uncle was for 35 years a professor at M.I.T. He was a great engineer, scientist. He was a great guy. And he was … a long time ago, he had feelings — this was a long time ago — he had feelings on this subject. It’s a very complex subject.

The uncle he speaks of is his uncle John Trump. Donald brings him up often as proof that the Trumps are genetically superior to normal humans. (from The New Yorker, April 2016: “I had a father who was successful,” Trump told CNN, in 2010. “And, you know, I have a certain gene. I’m a gene believer. Hey, when you connect two race horses, you usually end up with a fast horse.” In South Carolina, earlier this year, he noted, “Dr. John Trump at M.I.T.; good genes, very good genes, O.K., very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart.” (Donald Trump was at Wharton as an undergraduate, after transferring from Fordham.) To the Boston Globe: “My father’s brother was a brilliant man . . . We have very good genetics.” And then on NBC, after telling Lester Holt that his uncle was a professor at M.I.T.: “I mean it’s a good gene pool right there”—he pointed to his head—“I have to do what I have to do.”)

It’s true that John Trump appears to have been a brilliant scientist, but since his field was in defense, working on x-ray technology and other machinery, it’s not clear how much, if any, work he did on climate change. Further, even though he brings him up, Trump doesn’t actually say what his uncle’s feelings on the subject of climate change actually WERE, just that he had some. His main purpose in bringing up his uncle, as usual, seems to be because he feels that it beefs up his own intellectual credentials to name drop an MIT scientist in the family.

TRUMP: I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know. I know we have, they say they have science on one side but then they also have those horrible emails that were sent between the scientists. Where was that, in Geneva or wherever five years ago? Terrible. Where they got caught, you know, so you see that and you say, what’s this all about. I absolutely have an open mind.

At this point, it becomes clear that he intends to sneak “open mind” into every answer whether it’s in context or not. But no matter how many times he says it, all he does in this interview is to express skepticism. The email controversy he speaks about is evidence that scientist can disagree while reaching a consensus but it did not change the research or the overriding conclusions of the majority of scientists. It’s clear that Trump has an open mind to the climate change skeptics. It’s not clear he’s open to the science of it. After all, the expression, “I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know,” almost always indicates that the person speaking has in fact closed their mind to further evidence and input.

TRUMP: I will tell you this: Clean air is vitally important. Clean water, crystal clean water is vitally important. Safety is vitally important.

Whenever someone says “I will tell you this,” be prepared to be underwhelmed by the glaringly obvious. I will note that it’s fine to think clean air, water and safety are important, but if you don’t think pollution is a threat to those things, I don’t have any confidence in you guaranteeing their safety.

TRUMP: And you know, you mentioned a lot of the courses. I have some great, great, very successful golf courses. I’ve received so many environmental awards for the way I’ve done, you know. I’ve done a tremendous amount of work where I’ve received tremendous numbers. Sometimes I’ll say I’m actually an environmentalist and people will smile in some cases and other people that know me understand that’s true. Open mind.

The President-elect certainly loves to pimp his golf courses and hotels during interviews, which is just lovely. As far as anyone can tell, “so many environmental awards” is actually “one” environmental award, for a bird sanctuary at his Bedminster Golf Club in 2007. Despite that award, nobody has ever actually said he’s an environmentalist; even the Bedminster club has been cited for a string of violations from the NJ EPA, and his environmental record at his developments in general is incredibly spotty, as reported in the Washington Post: “He likes to pretend he’s an environmentalist because of the landscaping on his golf courses, but at the end of the day, it seems he’s the only one that actually believes that,” said Heather Taylor-Miesle, the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Action Fund. “His brand of environmentalism is only for the wealthy and elite.”

Also regarding that last answer, it’s literally like he got to the end of his statement and then realized he had not said the words “open mind” in his answer at all and just blurted it out at the end. I thought of Abbott and Costello both yelling, “Third base!”

JAMES BENNET, editorial page editor: When you say an open mind, you mean you’re just not sure whether human activity causes climate change? Do you think human activity is or isn’t connected?

TRUMP: I think right now … well, I think there is some connectivity. There is some, something. It depends on how much. It also depends on how much it’s going to cost our companies. You have to understand, our companies are noncompetitive right now.

They’re really largely noncompetitive. About four weeks ago, I started adding a certain little sentence into a lot of my speeches, that we’ve lost 70,000 factories since W. Bush. 70,000. When I first looked at the number, I said: ‘That must be a typo. It can’t be 70, you can’t have 70,000, you wouldn’t think you have 70,000 factories here.’ And it wasn’t a typo, it’s right. We’ve lost 70,000 factories.

We’re not a competitive nation with other nations anymore. We have to make ourselves competitive. We’re not competitive for a lot of reasons.

That’s becoming more and more of the reason. Because a lot of these countries that we do business with, they make deals with our president, or whoever, and then they don’t adhere to the deals, you know that. And it’s much less expensive for their companies to produce products. So I’m going to be studying that very hard, and I think I have a very big voice in it. And I think my voice is listened to, especially by people that don’t believe in it. And we’ll let you know.

The NYT tries to nail Trump down here on whether he actually thinks humans cause climate change. Note that out of everything Trump says in the answer, “some connectivity” is the phrase overwhelmingly quoted in all the positive coverage about him. But Trump spends most of this answer talking about whether it’s worth it to combat climate change EVEN IF YOU THINK THERE IS A CONNECTION TO HUMAN ACTIVITY. The entire response is about a loss of factories and the need to “compete”.

So, out of the entirety of his responses to the NYT about climate change, Trump makes a joke, says plenty of smart people disagree that it’s a problem (arguable), that we’ve always had storms, that the hottest day ever was almost 120 years ago (incorrect). He says his uncle was a scientist that had an opinion on this but doesn’t say what it was, says we’ll probably never know for sure if it is a problem (we know already that it is), and brings up an email “controversy” that was ultimately irrelevant (probably out of force of habit.) He closes by talking about how successful he is again, brags about a great environmental record that doesn’t exist, then tacks on some of his talking points meant to talk up his trade policies. He closes with another joke:

FRIEDMAN: I’d hate to see Royal Aberdeen underwater.

TRUMP: The North Sea, that could be, that’s a good one, right?

Of course, to people who live and work along the coast, to fisherman who have come from a generations-long tradition to working along the coast to families who have safeguarded their properties there to pass them along to their children, paying higher property taxes and insurance and praying against catastrophic storms, the idea of the American coasts sinking into the water isn’t as funny as it is to a billionaire who owns some golf courses nearby.

Later on, one more question is asked on climate:

SHEAR: Just one quick clarification on the climate change, do you intend to, as you said, pull out of the Paris Climate …

TRUMP: I’m going to take a look at it.

SHEAR [interrupts]: And if the reaction from foreign leaders is to slap tariffs on American goods to offset the carbon that the United States had pledged to reduce, is that O.K. with you? And then the second question is on your sort of mixing of your global business interests and the presidency. There’s already, even just in the 10, two weeks you’ve been president-elect, instances where you’ve met with your Indian business partners …

TRUMP: Sure.

It’s unclear whether or not the “Sure” is in response to the question on the tariffs from foreign leaders, but it seems obvious Trump isn’t concerned about that. Certainly he gives no indication that he is planning on reconsidering pulling out of the climate accord and, even though he used the phrase “open mind” over a half-dozen times earlier in the interview, he chooses not to say it here. Yet in the NY Times story about this meeting, this paragraph, which we opened by looking at, pretty much states he did:

On climate change, Mr. Trump refused to repeat his promise to abandon the international climate accord reached last year in Paris, saying, “I’m looking at it very closely.” Despite the recent appointment to his transition team of a fierce critic of the Paris accords, Mr. Trump said that “I have an open mind to it” and that clean air and “crystal clear water” were vitally important.

Now that you’ve read the transcript yourself, think of how much the writers of this story had to twist Trump’s own words that they just listened to in order to get to that paragraph. Ask yourself why they would do that. Again, see how much that sort of twist and spin drove the immediate coverage of the story. Remember to look beyond all that, to be immediately skeptical of editorialized paragraphs that only use a few words of a person’s actual statement, and to never assume that what is written in the headline is what is written in the story. After all, this was portrayed in headline after headline as a “softening” or a “shift” on climate change by the President-elect. Story after story included paragraphs about how the President-elect’s words offered “hope” to climate change activists that he had an “open mind” on the subject and was willing to consider action. But other than him tacking the phrase “I have an open mind” onto almost every answer on the subject, it’s clear that the only ideas he has an open mind to are being advanced by climate change deniers and skeptics, who finally see the chance to undo all the good work on climate that has been done in the last 20 years.

This sort of thing is ALL OVER THE PLACE. Please pay attention.

See you soon

Originally written 12/6/2016

Thanks to everyone who read my last bit about taking Trump seriously and not literally. That was mainly about interpretation, but I wrote a bit in there about the danger his administration represents to voting rights for Americans. This threat is not “imminent”. It is already being carried out at the state level, now further emboldened by Trump’s accusations of voter fraud.

“Gerrymandering”, or the practice of drawing a congressional district in such a way as to ensure a majority of voters from one party or another, is a pretty common word these days in political circles, because the practice is pervasive. In North Carolina and Wisconsin, courts have found that the gerrymandering of certain districts was unconstitutional. Both cases are likely to go to the Supreme Court for a ruling, and their decision could set precedent on these matters indefinitely and have an effect on many cases yet to be heard.

How many cases? It will be many more than there were before. Their decision in Shelby County Vs Holder enabled state governments to attack voting rights at will. The spirit has always been willing in GOP-led states, but since their attacks are always based on specious claims of widespread in-person voter fraud which have always been easily discredited in the past, they’ve been especially emboldened by the President-elect’s attack on the fairness of our elections. As reported today in The Nation, GOP lawmakers in Michigan have filed a new voter-ID law, even before they have finished counting the votes from the last election.

“Donald Trump tweeted that millions had voted illegally and 48 hours later this bill popped up out of nowhere,” says Dan Korobkin, deputy legal director for the Michigan ACLU. “That’s either a giant coincidence or a very concerted effort to disenfranchise people at the state and local level based on lies.”

Already, Trump’s discredited lie that “millions” voted illegally in 2016 seems to be impacting Republican actions. “A multitude of candidates have raised the concerns about the integrity of elections,” said GOP Representative Lisa Lyons, who sponsored the bill. “We need to respond to those questions. We are going to make sure that we’re protecting you—all voters—and the integrity of the election.”

It’s worth noting that despite alleging concerns about the integrity of their elections while sponsoring voter ID laws, MI GOP lawmakers are suing to block Jill Stein’s attempt to have their Presdential vote recounted because, “she cited no evidence of fraud or mistake in the canvass of votes.” So the MI GOP believes that you need evidence to count votes again, but not to disenfranchise voters.

In addition to the ongoing battles in NC and WI, the Nation references a new voter ID law being proposed by newly elected NH Governor Chris Sununu, and Texas’ ongoing attempt to revive a voter ID law struck down as unconstitutional 10 years ago.

These voter ID laws are discriminatory, but even if you are not a minority, you should be opposed to them. According to the ACLU, they also hinder students, the elderly, and disabled voters, who are among the groups that may not have a valid driver’s license in state or other required ID.

Voter ID laws also cost you money. They represent a tax on every citizen for the right to vote, for which no American should have to pay.

Requiring voters to obtain an ID in order to vote is tantamount to a poll tax. Although some states issue IDs for free, the birth certificates, passports, or other documents required to obtain a government-issued ID cost money, and many Americans simply cannot afford to pay for them

In addition, states incur sizable costs when providing IDs to voters who do not have them. Given the financial strain many states already are experiencing, this is an unnecessary allocation of taxpayer dollars.

What’s at stake? Well, Republicans control 33 state legislatures right now. If they get to 34 they will have the amount they need to force a Constitutional convention in order to attempt to amend the Constitution. If they get to 38 they will be able to ratify amendments on their own. Then the GOP, which right now is under the spell and control of a con man, his white supremacist chief strategist, his Islamophobic conspiracy-minded National Security Adviser, and a host of opportunistic power brokers with the ethics of a crocodile and empathy to match will have the power to shift and shape our laws to their liking. It should go without saying that protecting voting rights is important. Right now, it’s crucial.

Please pay attention!

Thanks for reading – see you soon.

Originally written on 11/29/2016

Yesterday a column was posted on CNN.com by a fellow named Brad Todd, titled “Dear journalists: Stop Taking Trump Literally”.  Mr. Todd says that while journalists take Trump literally, his voters take him seriously and that’s what matters. I read the piece and thought it was bad. After all, I had just a few days ago written a very long post on my own websiteabout journalists doing the exact opposite, taking Trump seriously when he said he had an open mind to climate change and putting words in his mouth to indicate that he did have an open mind, rather than just taking a literal reading of what he said. I also thought the CNN article was written from the wrong perspective, an advertising man advising journalists to look at news as a for-profit industry, the reader as “customer,” and the important customers as Trump voters, and to stop trying to provide as much information possible in as complete a way as is necessary to tell the whole story to as many readers as may find it relevant. “This is seriously a bad take, and I mean that literally,” I said.

But yesterday, a twitter user named @ezlusztig posted a series of tweets that made me rethink the whole idea of taking Donald Trump seriously and not literally. Elliott Lusztig refers to a book by Hannah Arendt called “The Origin of Totalitarianism”, published in 1949, I have not read the book so I rely on his interpretation. He says Ms. Arendt noted how “decent liberals in 1930s Germany would ‘fact check’ the Nazis’ bizarre claims about Jews” failing to understand that the Nazis were not stating fact but intent, “not describing what was true, but what would have to be true to justify what they planned to do next.” Another user quotes Jean-Paul Sartre, from his 1944 book “Anti-Semite and Jew” as follows:

Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play.

They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.

Lusztig concludes by referring to Trump’s tweeted falsehood about 3 million illegals voting in this context, which many mainstream news sources rushed to fact-check in its immediate aftermath:

What Trump is saying is not that 3m illegals voted. What he’s saying is: I’m going to steal the voting rights of millions of Americans.

I still think the main points of Todd’s piece are off base and many of his conclusions are wrong (at the very least it’s more relevant to cable-type news than factual reporting), but his ad-man sloganeering can be applied to many Trump’s statements in the context of seeing them as statements of intent rather than literal fact.

So when Trump tells you he thinks 3 million illegal immigrants voted, don’t take him literally and scream, “No they didn’t!” Take it seriously as a threat to take voting rights away from Americans. Often you can find corroboration of his “statement of intent”, like in his pick for Jeff Sessions for AG. Sessions has a 30-year “record of hostility” toward minority voting rights. The Justice Department has been involved in a number of lawsuits in recent years against states seen by the DoJ to be in violation of voting rights laws. This will likely end under Sessions, who cheered the 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court. Or look at his pick of Steve Bannon as chief strategist. Bannon once said he thought only property owners should be allowed to vote, which leaves out large groups of minorities, young people (especially students), people who live in population centers, and, of course, poor people.

When Trump tells you he thinks that protesters are acting in bad faith, or that he believes flag burners ought to be put in jail or denaturalized, don’t take him literally and start talking about whether the public supports a ban on flag burning or argue about whether protesters are right to protest. Take it seriously as a threat to free speech and the right to protest, from a man who as shown over and over again that he can’t stand being criticized and has repeatedly expressed his admiration for totalitarian states that jail dissidents. Look for corroboration in his own history of disdain toward free expression, like when he proposed fighting ISIS in America by closing down our mosques and even threatening to restrict our internet speech like North Korea and other totalitarian states, saying, “Somebody will say, ‘Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people.

When Trump tells you he thinks this media outlet or that reporter treats him unfairly, don’t take him literally and examine whether the treatment was indeed correct and fair. Take it seriously as a threat to curb freedom of the press and subject it to heavy government interference by a man who has expressed a desire to “open up the libel laws” to make it easier to sue the press for writing about him, and who has first-hand experience in how much fake propaganda (no matter who it comes from) and control of the news cycle can help or hurt someone in the eyes of the American people.

Trump often speaks in an obfuscating manner, and reporters have a hard time getting him to state a position clearly. Trump’s surrogates – and one has to assume this will be true of a White House Press Secretary as well, as far as one exists in a Trump administration – often don’t bother to try to interpret or clarify his statements, deferring back to him or making light of his off-the-cuff way of speaking. When they do provide a “clarification” it will often be an outright lie itself. So reporters interpret Trump’s words for themselves and hack up his quotes to make it seem he said things they would like him to have said. This will continue to be a problem. But making sense of Trump’s nonsense will not be as simple as just listening to exactly what he says. Behind a literal statement that seems so outrageous and obviously incorrect that it must be just a pretext for controversy lies a serious threat feeling its way out into the public discourse, looking for approval from Trump’s followers while providing a cover of plausible deniability to the people making the threat.

So the next time you hear Trump or one of his surrogates say something outrageous, don’t take it as a literal statement. Take it as a serious threat.

Please pay attention!

See you soon.

originally written on 12/23/2016

Since it’s beginning to look a lot like our new President-elect has no problem allowing Vladimir Putin to use him as a pawn in his quest to start a nuclear war with China and achieve Russian world dominance, my sincere wish for Xmas this year is that we get to have another few Xmases in the future.

Yesterday, both Trump and Putin announced (in similar terms, less than 24 hours apart, and get used to them being in lockstep with the goosestepping) their intentions to reawaken the arms race and begin to stockpile more nuclear weapons. Sarah Kendzior has a great breakdown of the ramifications of this announcement from a global and nuclear standpoint here. I recommend reading it.  This interview from 1987 shows that for 30 years now at least, Trump has had it in his mind that the US and Russia can dominate the world together through nukes, bullying, and thuggish intimidation. But Putin doesn’t want a partner, he wants a puppet. Trump is a spoiled rich kid to whom we gave our lives as a toy. Putin will play him like a fiddle.

This is Trump in 1987:

“Most of those [pre-nuclear] countries are in one form or another dominated by the U.S. and the Soviet Union,” Trump says. “Between those two nations you have the power to dominate any of those countries. So we should use our power of economic retaliation and they use their powers of retaliation and between the two of us we will prevent the problem from happening. It would have been better having done something five years ago,” he says. “But I believe even a country such as Pakistan would have to do something now. Five years from now they’ll laugh.”

[interviewer] “You think Pakistan would just fold? We wouldn’t have to offer them anything in return?”

[Trump again] “Maybe we should offer them something. I’m saying you start off as nicely as possible. You apply as much pressure as necessary until you achieve the goal. You start off telling them, ‘Let’s get rid of it.’ If that doesn’t work you then start cutting off aid. And more aid and then more. You do whatever is necessary so these people will have riots in the street, so they can’t get water. So they can’t get Band-Aids, so they can’t get food. Because that’s the only thing that’s going to do it—the people, the riots.”

That last part is important. The idea that riots and total civil collapse are necessary before real change can happen is central to Trump’s worldview, at home and abroad. Here he is, more than 25 years later, on Fox and Friends in 2014 talking about economic problems here in the US:

“You know what solves it? When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell, and everything is a disaster, then you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be, when we were great.”

When you realize that the first step in making us great again is getting us to total hell, with disaster and riots, the administration’s antagonistic stance toward its critics, nightmarish appointees and hires in its ranks, and general air of disregard toward the people it claims to represent make all that much more sense. Among and possibly chief of those nightmarish appointees is Steve Bannon, White Supremacist…er, I mean, Chief Strategist. Lots of people like to call Bannon a populist or a nationalist, but those words don’t really mean anything anymore. What’s more, Bannon’s rejected them in the past. Here he is in 2013 being interviewed on his own worldview. See if this sounds familiar.

Then we had a long talk about his approach to politics. He never called himself a “populist” or an “American nationalist,” as so many think of him today. “I’m a Leninist,” Bannon proudly proclaimed.

 

Shocked, I asked him what he meant.

“Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

So if it starts to look to you (as it will if you pay attention) like the Trump administration is actively trying to screw the country up so badly as to cause economic collapse, societal breakdown, and civil war, it might not be (just) total ignorance and incompetence on the part of the President-elect and his staff. They’ll blame it on liberals, protesters, and terrorism, but it won’t be because of that either. It might be because the destruction of society is their goal. Trump has stated this before, been consistent on it over decades. His Chief Strategist has espoused the same idea. Why not take them at their word?

Please pay attention. Happy holidays.

On November 29th, after being brutally bullied and harassed online for months by her peers, 18-year-old Texan Brandy Vela shot and killed herself in front of terrified members of her family. In the wake of her tragic, terrible death, her father has said that he hopes this incident will spark changes in the way bullying is handled, and her school has vowed “to make sure that there will be no more online harassment and use this as a learning lesson.” These are noble ideas, but they are facing an uphill climb against American culture. After all, bullying is abuse, Brandy Vela was a woman, and the abuse of women has already been accepted as normal in this country to a horrifying degree.

On November 27th, April Peck was shot and murdered by her boyfriend, Terrell Walker. There has been no outcry about the horrors of domestic assault, no vow to change things to end the endless cycle of abuse and murder of women by men. It’s likely the case would have gotten no national coverage at all except for the fact that Walker also shot and injured 17-year-old Daniel Wesley, a Good Samaritan who stopped to try to help April Peck while she lay dying in the street. The press regarded that as newsworthy because Good Samaritans rarely get shot but violence and abuse toward women by their partners is so commonplace as to be regarded as normal; a 2010 CDC report states that more than 1 in 3 women in the US “have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.” In Louisiana, where April Peck lived and was murdered, the rate of women murdered by men per capita is second only to Alaska. 94% of those women knew their murderer. 73% knew their murderer as a husband, boyfriend or an ex.

The deaths of Brandy Vela and April Peck are equally awful, yet are perceived in different ways by the press and the public at large. The death of Brandy Vela is seen as senselessly, needlessly tragic, and people want to know why it was allowed to happen and how it can be prevented in the future. This is the right reaction.

But the death of April Peck is treated as tragic but unavoidable. Many media accounts treat her death as the precursor to the events of violence that would come afterwards, events that would become the focus in many stories about April Peck’s murder. The media seemed to believe the shooting of Wesley deserved attention because it was obviously senseless and unjust, and that the police killing of Walker later in a shootout deserved attention because it was heroic and exciting. April Peck was a footnote in her own murder accounts. Because she knew her abuser and murderer, which is also true of 93% of all the women murdered by men nationwide, no one asks why her senseless death was allowed to happen and no one asks how this can be prevented in the future. But despite the vast gulf in the perception of these crimes of abuse by the media and the general public, there are many things about their deaths that are the same.

Brandy Vela was tormented and victimized over a long period of time. She told the police, she told her family, she told her school, she changed her phone number. She died anyway.

April Peck was tormented and victimized over a long period of time. She told the police, she told her family, she told coworkers and friends, she threw her abuser out of her house. She died anyway.

Police say they were unable to take action against Brandy Vela’s abusers because they did not know who those abusers were, thanks to an untraceable app they used in their online harassment. That may be true, but it seems unlikely that knowing who the abusers were would have fully stopped the abuse. After all, police knew that April Peck’s abuser was Terrell Walker, and they knew he was a danger to women.

Walker was arrested in 1992 and charged with first degree murder. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter and received 10 1/2 years in prison. He was arrested again in 2006 for stalking with a dangerous weapon. He pleaded guilty to a reduced weapons charge and received 2 1/2 years in prison. His ex-wife told police, “on multiple occasions that he physically abused her and threatened to kill her. Over several months, Walker allegedly broke into her home, implied over the phone he would kill her and, on one occasion, chased her down the street and dragged her into a car.” Relatives, friends and co-workers of April Peck all knew that Walker was jealous, abusive and violent.

On November 15th, not even two weeks before Walker killed April Peck, he was arrested for beating her up. The police report said he choked her and “stepped on her face” because he believed she was cheating on him, something her sister said was both a common accusation for him to make, and untrue. He was let out on bail three days later with an order by the judge to not see April Peck anymore. Barely more than a week later, they were both dead.

Much is made of the fact that although Brandy Vela called the police and told her family and changed her number, she could still not stop the abuse being heaped on her. Obviously, nobody blamed her for the actions of her abusers. This is the right reaction.

But April Peck also talked to the police, and told her family and friends. When Walker came home after making bail for assaulting her, she kicked him out of the house. Yet only April Peck is implicitly blamed for allowing her own abuse to continue, and so also for her failure to stop Walker from murdering her. In story after story, Peck is accused of “continuing to see” Walker after his release, even though, like most women caught in an abusive relationship, she was not in a position to decide whether or not to let her abuser keep abusing her.

In stories about Brandy Vela, officials from her school and the police department are made to answer questions about what they did to prevent her abuse, what they could have done, and what they will do in the future. No such questions are asked about the fate of April Peck. Not of the courts or the police or of our culture. We have apparently given up on our system and its power to protect someone like April Peck, and so we have allowed our system to give up on April Peck.

Cyberstalking, harassment and abuse (let’s stop calling it “bullying” which makes it sound like juvenile child’s play) has been an ongoing problem for women online for years now. It is real, it is heinous, and it should be fought and exposed whenever possible. But it is not a separate issue from the systemic harassment and abuse of women perpetrated in our culture since our culture began.  In polite society, we like to think this abuse hides in dirty little corners, out of the light of day, but as more and more of our lives become exposed by social media new social norms, the abuse becomes more open, more pervasive, and tragically, more accepted, even celebrated. Our new President-elect has bragged on tape about abusing and sexually assaulting women, and been accused of assault publicly by several women. His words were brushed off by millions of Americans as harmless, the women who came forward accused of being liars and opportunistic charlatans. His chief strategist runs a website that ran an editorial by a misogynist titled “The Solution To Online ‘Harassment’ Is Simple: Women Should Just Log Off.”

The message is clear. The people who will soon run this country, and many of the people who populate it, will be fine with harassment and abuse online as long as it is directed toward women, just as they are fine with that type of abuse offline.

Brandy Vela’s death is senseless, tragic and sad. Above all it should never have been made to happen, should never have been allowed to happen. And unfortunately, it will probably do very little to stop the same tragic, senseless thing from happening to another beautiful young woman who deserves better from our society. And in all those respects, the deaths of Brandy Vela and April Peck are, heartbreakingly, exactly the same.

If you or someone you know is being abused, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224 (TDD). For more info, go here. Call 911 whenever there is immediate danger.

If you or someone you know is being harassed or abused online, contact your local authorities, and report them to the social media and online service providers involved. Check here for more info.

In all cases, don’t be afraid to talk about it, with everyone you can. Stigma breeds ignorance, and ignorance of abuse by those who don’t practice it is a big part of the problem. Don’t be ashamed. Be angry. Don’t feel like you deserve it. Insist you deserve better.

Thanks for reading. See you soon.

(April Peck’s sister is running a gofundme drive for April’s children.)

originally written 1/3/2017

Throughout his campaign, we were told Donald Trump was a “populist,” someone who wanted to Make America Great Again for the rank and file workers who have seen America constructed from their blood, sweat, and tears only to be ignored when it came time to share in the American Dream. Being one of these workers, I’d love if that really came to pass. But it’s clear that Donald Trump’s idea for Making America Great Again is not making a better America for workers, but making America more attractive – more profitable – for their employers. It’s time the American worker asked what price they’ll have to pay, what sacrifices they’ll have to make on the altar of Great America – For Corporations. It’s a cost every American worker – even those who right now feel they are secure – will bear.

Since the election, Trump has taken credit for decisions by both Carrier Corp and Ford Motors to retain or create some jobs in the USA rather than in Mexico. Neither company actually made a deal with Donald Trump or the Federal Government – Carrier received $7 million in tax breaks from Indiana while Ford stated decreased demand for the Ford Focus compact car drove their decision making – but both companies cited confidence in the new administration’s ability to create a more business-friendly environment through “pro-growth policies” “corporate tax overhaul” and “tax and regulatory reforms,” thus creating a more profitable environment for their corporations.

That sounds harmless enough, especially if you buy what the GOP has been selling for years – that high corporate taxes and onerous regulations are hurting corporations and therefore hurting workers, and that increased corporate profits eventually “trickle down” to workers. But it’s been obvious for years that, when given the choice, corporations would rather pocket money than hand it to an employee, every time. You can ask anyone that’s ever worked for one.

That’s why CEO pay has gone through the roof while the average worker has seen their pay decline, their benefits reduced, their rights and protections eroded, almost eradicated. That’s why, during the recovery, corporate profits grew while middle class wages declined. Money that should have gone to the worker in the recession went instead to big business, shareholder profits, foreign investors, and, through shady backdoor real estate and development deals like the kind our President-elect has engaged in on a regular basis, into the pockets of grifters and charlatans.

This article demonstrates how, since the mid-70s, wages have dropped about 7% while corporate profits have increased 7%. This gap has grown faster and become much more pronounced since 2000.

Increased corporate profits have never meant increased worker profits or a better environment for workers. And the Obama administration and, to a larger degree, our Congress deserves criticism for allowing those profits from the recovery stimulus and growth to be consumed by the corporate class and the top 1%.

Trump was supposed to change all that and make this an economy for the workers instead of Wall Street. But none of his policy proposals translate to better jobs or better compensation for us American workers. In fact, most of them will cost us. We should be looking at how – and how much.

What will we have to pay for? Trump has said multiple times we can’t remain competitive with other countries because “our taxes are too high, our wages are too high.” He’s promised to create an environment where companies can be competitive with companies in other countries. How will this Greatness be achieved?

Obviously, the high taxes will be dealt with by lowering corporate taxes, handing out tax breaks. But how much ground can be made up there? Even though Trump constantly claims we have the highest corporate tax rate in the world, we don’t. At 35%, it’s not even that much higher than Mexico’s, which is 30%. How many tax breaks can we give? Ford Motors already receives Billions of dollars in tax breaks in the US. Besides $2.3 Billion from the state of MI, they get hundreds of millions from IL, KY, MO, etc. They are already not paying close to that 35%, tax money that could be going to reform our VA, feed our hungry kids, improve our health care and education systems. How much more can we cut their taxes before we’re just handing them money straight out of Joe Workingman’s pocket in the name of Greater profits?

Trump said in addition to taxes being too high, wages are too high. Again, he has said it multiple times, and I imagine every chairman and CEO feels the same way. The average worker in the US makes 10x more than the average worker in Mexico. Ford pays its Mexican manufacturing employees $3 an hour.

That’s an awful lot of space to make up to get “competitive.” How would that be done? For starters, look at how it’s already started. Through reduction in benefits, paid time off, sick leave, maternity leave, paid holidays and overtime, and the systematic decimation of our unions. For years, corporations have used the recession as an excuse to depress wages. This continued with the implied blessing of the Obama administration, but the Trump administration, led by his cabinet of Wall Street financial kingpins, will be complicit in the theft, direct accomplices, ringleaders, even. In the Trump administration, it will be considered patriotic for the average American to work for less money so the corporate machine can have a Great deal more. All our wages will continue to stagnate. Your health benefits, retirement benefits, vacation and sick packages will all continue to decline in quality and your employers will tell you it’s so “we can remain competitive.”

But even this group of robber barons will have trouble depressing wages and compensation far enough to satisfy the folks who watch the bottom line for Corporation USA. So the Trump administration will ask, for us, without asking us: “How else can they, the American people, pad your pocketbooks enough so that you might deign to employ some of them when you obviously don’t really feel they’re worth it?”

Ford and Carrier both named regulatory reform as being part of what they expect from the Trump administration to make it worth their while to keep some (not all) of their jobs in the US. This “reform” will surely include the destruction of regulations at the state and federal level dealing with worker protections against harassment, persecution, and discrimination. Safety protections in the workplace will be severely relaxed, and employer liability will be severely reduced.

Other regulations you can expect to come under attack in the name of Making America Great Again are regulations that have to do with the amount of pollutants a manufacturer can dump into the atmosphere and water table, costing us our children’s health and well-being. Look to the poisoned water of Flint, MI to see an early symptom of America’s future Greatness. No doubt Ford Motors is looking forward to relaxed standards for fuel economy and emissions, leading to higher costs at the gas pumps for the American consumer, and more carcinogens in their air supply, as they lose their health insurance, which their employer probably doesn’t have to provide anymore. I know Carrier expects a relaxation of the energy saving technology required on their appliances, which will allow them to make them cheaper, but will also cause the American consumer to pay more in electricity costs for the privilege of owning one.

So it won’t just be the employees of these corporations themselves that pay the price, in reduced wages, benefits, and protections. At least those people will grateful to still have a job. But even those that have what they consider to be a secure job already will pay through the general stagnation of wages, destruction of benefits packages, and erosion of workplace protections that will result in a worse work environment for all of us. Even those that don’t work will pay the cost through the deterioration of their environment and higher energy costs due to reduced controls on emissions and efficiency, and less safety for ourselves and our families due to lower standards in the manufacturing of our cars and appliances.

All these costs to pay, and all right from Joe Workingman’s hand directly to Corporate USA’s pocket. Trump asks nothing from Corporate USA. He threatens tariffs on imports and on companies that move jobs overseas but since Carrier is still moving over 1,000 jobs to Mexico and getting a $7mil tax break from the state of Indiana for the trouble, it’s been made clear to Corporate USA that those threats are not genuine. In fact, they’re a sign that the Government is sitting there waiting to hand out a big tax break and who knows what backdoor promises in order to get a nice press release where they can claim to have saved a small number of jobs they didn’t actually “save” while not securing anything in the way of a better wage or work environment or guarantee of worker security past what next quarter’s profit margin dictates. In exchange for a few hundred jobs at a swipe, the Trump administration is eroding the wages, rights, and protection of everyone in this country.

Nothing in this world is free, and the government welfare Trump is promising these already profitable corporations has to be paid for by someone. As always, that someone will be the rank and file worker and the middle and lower class taxpayers. Even if you voted for him, you’ll be asked to pay. And if people get angry, thinking the country is looking too much like the countries we’re trying to remain “competitive” with? Maybe we’ll get those riots that Donald Trump and Steve Bannon think the country really needs. The ones that Trump said will get us “back to where we used to be, when we were Great.”

See You Soon