To defeat bullies, punch them in the nose with facts

With the proliferation of social media, it has never been easier to lie, misinform and disinform. To autocrats like Vladimir Putin, who was trained as a KGB agent on disinformation, it is like shooting fish in a barrel. People might say Putin is not such, as he stands for election, but jailing your opponents and controlling the airwaves, does not lend itself to a fair election. This is disinformation in its own right.

The only way to beat bullies who lie, misinform and disinform, is to not believe them and do our homework. Folks like Trump, Kim, Xi, Cuomo, Morrison, Johnson, Nunes, Gosar, Taylor-Greene, Cawthorn, Gohmert, DeSantis, Abbott, et al, do not want to be questioned on facts. They do not handle it very well.

I have many favorite stories about the last former US president not being aware of details, but when one reporter questioned him after the umpteenth time he had said he passed a bill, she pointed out the bill had been passed in 2014 and he was not president until 2017. He was clueless that he did not sign the bill. It is harder to argue when you just don’t know.

If you read Kim’s bio, he is God-like with super-human powers. Really? I expect people like Xi, Putin, and Kim to control the narrative. That is what they do. The uptick in right wing extremism is correlated to Putin’s hackers and trolls controlling the narrative in other countries. He has succeeded in making the west more unruly, due to his shenanigans. My guess is even Putin is amazed at how easy it has been. Common sense is not all that common, Mark Twain is alleged to have said.

What frustrates me is how gullible Americans, Brits, and Australians have been to elect people who overtly lie and bully people to submission. The fact they do this is not newsworthy. The fact that people elected these folks is. Here in the states, we could very well reelect a person who is trying his best to mask evidence that he betrayed his country on top of trying to “burn it all down” as his niece put it, because his shallow ego cannot take losing.

Johnson, who would daily thank his lucky stars for Trump, as he looked better in comparison to the US president, is ironically Prime Minister during the sluggardly Brexit execution as his selected blindness to facts helped precipitate the leave vote. Of course, seeing Johnson get elected was stunning to me, but pales in comparison that we Americans elected a person who has a measurable track record of being untruthful and cheating people as did Trump.

So, what do we do? Read and watch several credible sources of information. What is credible? First, they are not opinion shows. Second, the decibel level is lower with less screaming and yelling and more civil debate. This is a reason I like NPR as one of my sources – thoughtful people sharing news and their opinions whether you fully agree with them or not. Third, the amount of namecalling and labeling is less. Fourth, they will disclose conflicts of interest and provide errata when they get something wrong.

People used to be upset when they found out they were fooled. Now, when fooled by misinformation, they just go back to the source to confirm the facts are not real. The last former US president will have many legacies which will go down in infamy, but the one which may be the worst legacy is calling criticism “fake news.” This term is now used worldwide.

Here is a person who has lost about 64 out of 65 court cases (I lost count above sixty), saying the election was stolen from him and lost every audit and review of election results, and his fans still believe him. That is an unfathomable track record of losing, yet it is fake news according to the former president. Those followers may want to ask why his attorneys are forking out $175,000 in court costs for frivolous cases in Michigan, announced last week. And, one attorney of his has been suspended in two locations (DC and New York) and another is facing disbarment.

Facts. Details. Questions. An untruthful and bullying person’s worst fears.

My browser seems like a gossip column with the tribal BS – where is the news?

With all of the tribal BS going on, the folks who are supposed to report on the news seem to spend a lot of time correcting others. It has grown commonplace for very biased sources to make things up and watch the more legitimate news sources report on the lack of veracity of the biased source. To be honest,, news reports of the lack of veracity of some opinion hosts is not really news to me.

It should be noted this is all by design, as it gets people talking about nothing important overlooking the fact that things are not getting done. The other unfortunate objective is to discredit the whole news process. If sources with lots of followers lie often, and more reputable news sources get caught in a lie, it defames the news credibility. We just witnessed almost six years of a former candidate and president routinely claim that all negative news about him was “fake news.” Just because he said it was fake, did not necessarily mean it was not true.

But, this also impacts other politicians. As a group, politicians are not known for their truthfulness. And, some are well known for not being consistently truthful. This former candidate called an opponent “Lyin’ Ted” and was not far from the truth, yet he failed to look in the mirror when he made the accusation. Sadly, if a politican says something, check other sources. The body politic has earned this requirement.

So, if I see things in my browser that are he said/ she said stuff, I pass. Nowadays, if I see a picture of the former president who is not known for his veracity, I pass. The same goes for certain opinion hosts and politicians, as their words are usually less than truthful, so I pass.

Mid-week musings

Ever the news junkie, I have seriously dialed back my news intake. It has made my life much easier, as I need not worry as much about who said what about whom. Mind you, those stories seep in as I see my browser headlines, but knowing the lack of veracity of many of those reporting or being reported on, I need not bother reading what the latest gossip is. And, truth be told, a lot of what comes out of some mouths or fingers is gossip.

I did see where former Republican president George W. Bush has joined former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner in lamenting the nationalistic and untruthful bents of their party. Both are doing book tours, which give reporters the opportunity to ask questions about the overt inanity going on in their party. People may not recall that Boehner resigned as Speaker as he was tired of herding cats to get legislation passed. And, Bush has turned out to be a better artist than first envisioned, and is helping paint what American immigrants look like.

I am delighted Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd. It would have been a travesty of justice if he had not, since his crime was overt and recorded. Those who have made this issue tribal need to look at the footage and testimony to see how good a case was made. Also, we need elected leaders to avoid commenting on trials until they are finished. The best thing they can do is wish the jurors well with their jurisprudence. Their comments could be cited as undue jury influence if made before sequestering.

Speaking of veracity, I am long weary of politicians, spin doctors and opinion hosts masquerading as news people trying to re-write history, even very recent history to support their tribe.. I fully realize how easy it is to do with social media and US citizenry more keen on entertainment news. There is an conscious effort to sand away the former president’s role in the insurrection on January 6. This followed and is still following a conscious effort to say the election was fraudulent, when proof continues to be elusive.

If you are getting your news from an opinion host, my strong suggestion is to find another source. Many of these folks are mere entertainers telling you what you want to hear. It matters not if people with names like Carlson, Hannity, Maddow, Rivera, O’Donnell, Ingraham, etc. like or dislike something, as they are only sharing their opinion. And, some of opinions are less informed than their smugness conveys.

Likewise, if you are getting your news from legislators, that is unfortunately a dubious source, as well. .And, they brought it on themselves. The sad part is they don’t seem to care if caught in lie. The last president’s worst legacy is not his rampant untruthfulness, it is how he showed people to deflect scrutiny from his lies. If it is bad, it is “fake news.” One hundred years from now, when “fake news” is looked up, it should have a picture of the most recent former president in its definition.

So, take a deep breath. Stop watching entertainers tell you what to think and read and watch better sources of news. And, if a legislator says something, take it with a grain of salt. Better yet, confirm it with another source.

We are all fixer uppers

In the age of the rise in social media and decline in truth, an underlying theme is overlooked. We are all fixer uppers. There are no perfect people, leaders, institutions, organizations, or companies.

Yet, being critical of other people and entities is increasing. I am not saying being critical is not warranted, but the volume and venom seemed to be turned higher than it should be.

When I see or hear hyper-critical commentary, I have a few thoughta running through my mind.

– The person doing the criticism is not perfect either. A good retort is “you are no day at the beach either.”

– The venom sometimes is mismatched with the accusation. The venom equates with someone who has killed your mother, when the accused transgression is much milder.

– The accusation sometimes is based on spurious information. The claim is so outlandish, people think where did you get that? Fake news permeates social media because it is like shooting fish in a barrel. This is a key reason the president deploys it so often.

– Even more reputable sources write evocative things. A retired editor once said the media is biased toward conflict. This is a key reason bad news gets far more airplay, when the frequency is by far reversed.

Yet, if you take away only one thing, please take away the following – give like you want to get. It is OK to say I do not agree with those points or find that criticism unfair. But, we do not need to take someone’s head off in so doing.

“Truth is not the goal”

After media pressure, Facebook closed down a fake news site in North Carolina. As reported in The Charlotte Observer in an article called “Facebook takes down NC Facebook page with fake news” by Zachary Eanes, after a few months of publishing fake news and garnering 50,000 followers, the site was closed. A person contacted by the reporter said the following in response:

“‘Truth is not the goal’ behind the stories shared. ‘Getting Trump reelected is the ultimate goal.'”

That line is worth rereading. In essence, the truth does not matter. I have been echoing the premise the Republican party can no longer claim to be the “law and order” party as too many of its leaders have aided and abetted the corrupt and deceitful actions of the president. And, it can no longer claim to be a party of truth, the decline in truthfulness having started long ago, but made worse by the deceitful actions and words of the president.

It should be noted the site included a number of articles pushed by Russian disinformation sources. This is on top of a radio station in Iowa, which appears legitimate, but is using the Russian sputnik radio feeds for sources of disinformation. There is a reason Trump and Russia want you to believe Ukraine did all the election meddling. Trump wants Russia’s help again.

Let me be brutally frank. The biggest purveyor of fake news is the guy who says those words the most. His name is Donald Trump. Taking the president at his word is a fool’s errand.

A tribute to Jim Lehrer

One of my main sources for televised news is the PBS Newshour. It is an even-handed news report, that offers expert commentary in a civilized way. This approach traces itself to initial and long-time host, Jim Lehrer, who died on Thursday. He began the show with Robert MacNeil, primarily covering the Watergate impeachment hearings. It is apropos he died during the current impeachment trial.

From a CBS News report, the following is an excerpt about Lehrer.

“Over a career that spanned 50 years, Lehrer moderated a total of 12 presidential debates, more than anyone in history, including all the ones held in 1996 and 2000. He also wrote 20 novels, three memoirs and several plays and earned dozens of journalism awards and honorary degrees. Former President Clinton bestowed the National Humanities Medal on Lehrer in 1999. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences elected him a fellow and, alongside Robert MacNeil, Lehrer was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1999.

Mr. Clinton honored Lehrer in a tweet on Thursday, writing ‘I liked and admired Jim Lehrer. He believed news is a public good, not a commodity. And he was always completely on the level in reporting, interviewing, and moderating debates. His life was a gift that strengthened our democracy.'”

Key themes of the news he broadcast included rules like:
– don’t make the story about you
– keep news clearly separated from editorial opinion
– assume there is more than one side to a story
– respect those being interviewed and covered
– ask simple questions and let the interviewee provide the answers
– guests must be civil to each other and the hosts and vice-versa

To many do not follow these simple rules. Last month, he noted the challenge that news broadcasts have now. In a news world of division, it is difficult to report when the news includes lying, so as to avoid being called divisive. He said we are not there yet. But, we must try.

Join me in honoring an honest and informed newscaster. David Brooks said tonight, “Jim had a moral ecology” which is similar to what MacNeil said saying “Jim had a moral intelligence.” He sought the truth and did it with a civil demeanor. Well done, Jim Lehrer.

Check your sources

The following is a condensed version of earlier posts. I have forwarded it to my local and hometown newspapers. Feel free to adapt and use.
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When Lt. Col. Ralph Peters resigned from Fox as its military advisor, he was critical of the opinion hosts, while holding the news group in higher regard. Too many of us are treating editorial opinion as news, be it Fox or MSNBC. Further Sinclair Broadcasting owns about 1/3 of the local TV stations requiring each to read verbatim, corporate prepared editorial pieces at the end of each show. There are many good news outlets who try to get it right, but check more than one source. And, be very careful of social media, as it is easy to pass misinformation along, and that includes the US president.

From where I sit

The following is a letter I forwarded to my local newspaper. The timing is due to yet one more letter I read which portrays critics of the US president as just not liking him or Democrats who want to change the outcome of the election.
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As an independent and former Republican, it troubles me how easily the US president convinces people that his critics just don’t like him, are Democrats or both. From where I sit, Trump’s worst enemy looks back from the mirror when he shaves. It is not his critics who are regularly untruthful, bully people, denigrate media and opponents, and believe they are above the law. It is not his critics who consistently lie about who pays the tariffs (it is importers not China), nor who invents stories like India asking him to broker a discussion with Pakistan over Kashmir, which was denied by India within an hour. From where I sit, the biggest purveyor of fake news, by far, is the one who tweets so much.
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In the latest Trump episode involving a whistleblower who has “credibly” raised an issue per the Inspector General’s office, Trump tweeted how could someone think he would say something improper to a world leader? The answer is because you have done it several times before – think siding with Putin over his intelligence leaders in Helsinki, think lying to the Australian PM, think repeating the same comment to the German Chancellor eleven times before realizing what she had been saying.

Please feel free to use the above letter, modifying it as you see fit.

Plausible sensationalism creates the illusion

In follow-up to a satire post inspired by The Onion, back and forth comments with Linda and Jill noted a sad truth. There is so much fake news created by, for and passed along by this President, it may be putting The Onion’s satire on the back burner. What used to play as satire is being covered by pseudo-news/ entertainers on various shows as news or plausible speculation. And, some pseudo-news outlets have a mission of putting forth conspiracy theories or false stories.

Democracy requires an informed electorate. On NPR, I heard a news reporter who has been victimized in a cruel way by fake news, state that in Europe, they are used to Russian propaganda. One of the top rated shows on Sunday night in one of the Baltic States is to highlight fake news that has been planted by Russian agents that week. Whereas we watch some faux-reality show here in the US, they are debunking myths presented as news. In the US, it has been proven we will believe just about anything.

The key is for the fake story to have “plausible sensationalism.” To create a saleable illusion it has to be sensational. Yet, it cannot be off the boards crazy, as it will not be believed. It has to have some grounding or plausibility. The plausibility could be a person who is painted as untrustworthy or it could be related to a fact. The news reporter speaking on NPR noted the Russians under Putin have done this for years and often will surround a fake story with three or four true ones. So, the reader or watcher will be fooled in believing each story is true.

InfoWars does this quite often, which is a reason they offend and are often sued. The lead storyteller, Alex Jones, will say the mass shooting at Sandy Hook was staged, for example. Or, he may claim that Hillary Clinton is raising money by running a child pornography ring from a pizza parlor in Washington. The first story relies on the NRA and their avid members to make the story plausible. The second one relies on the built-over-time mistrust of Clinton coupled with a pizza parlor for plausibility.

Recently, we had Geraldo Rivera and others on Fox claim the story of the bombs being sent to fourteen Democrats was a “false flag” operation. Per these pseudo-news/ entertainers, the bombs were not real and being sent by a Democrat plant. The purpose of the operation is to influence the election. The false story got so much airplay and social media use, it had to be debunked by the US Justice Department.

The same goes with the President who is the biggest purveyor of fake news in America. He watches these shows or hears of the stories and passes them along. Then they get reported on Fox or mainstream news, and then he repeats them saying “people are saying.” All they have done is repeated the lie the President said. It is akin to validating your own rumor when it circles back to you. The President will often say things without proof or make up parts of conversations as he did with the Finnish President when he said they rake the forests to prevent forest fires in Finland.

Whether he is saying there our middle eastern terrorists among a slow-moving caravan of many women and children which justify the cost of sending troops to our border or claiming rampant voter or election fraud, there is enough plausible sensationalism to make people believe his BS. On the first one, why would terrorists spend months in a caravan to infiltrate the US, when they have such a good track record of recruiting people online? On the latter one, his party has been claiming greater voter fraud than exists to pass voter suppression laws.

So, what do we do about this? Please check your sources. If you are getting your news from InfoWars, Breitbart, Donald Trump, the MSNBC or Fox pseudo-news shows after their real news efforts go off the air, please stop or take it with a huge grain of salt. If you quote Alex Jones or Sean Hannity to someone, then be prepared for pushback that you should get. If you cite the President, be similarly prepared as he is more untruthful than he is not, as measured by Politifacts and judged by people who know him well.

A final rule of thumb. Sensational stories are not necessarily false, but be skeptical and ask questions. There are two well-known sensational ones underway right under our noses. Did Mohammed bin Salmon order the execution of the Khashoggi? The Keystone Kops storytelling by the Saudis imply something is amiss and our own CIA said he did. The other is the inadvertent or planned collusion with Russia to influence our 2016 election. The fact the Russians did is pretty much accepted, even begrudgingly by the President. But, we must get to the bottom of the bigger question.

Should we be skeptical? Of course, but consider the sources and nature of those involved. And, consider the degree and magnitude of changing stories that has gone with each. One thing for certain in my book – neither one is a witch hunt.

Monday, Monday again

Using a wonderful song from The Mamas and Papas, happy Monday everyone. Our friend Jill enjoys (and eventually laments) it when I place these songs in her head.

A few random thoughts for the start of the week are as follows:

Facebook is apologizing and saying they will do better at protecting your information. Yet, what they fail to tell you is sharing your information is their business model. Unless they are prepared to go to a subscription model, do not expect any major changes. Tailored ads based on your data and search history is revenue.

The biggest news from the Stormy Daniels’ revelations is not the tryst with Donald Trump. It is the illegal election contribution made by the attorney who has boxed himself in with his own revelations. By admitting he did not get reimbursed by Trump, he blocked a possible exit ramp that may have mitigated his guilt. I will say the creepiest thing about the Daniels’ revelation is when she said Trump told her she reminded him of his daughter. Ick.

Trump keeps saying articles about things he will be doing are fake news. Yet, when it happens anyway, does that make it fake? Mind you, he has delayed decisions mentioned in these articles, so as to punish the media with this fake brand. But, when he eventually fires the person or signs a wretched executive order, it verifies the earlier assertion does it not? He did fire Tillerson, McMaster, e.g. even though he said he would not do so after the press reported it.

With the passing of the US spending bill on top of the tax law change, it is apparent that Congress and the President do not care about resolving our deficit and debt issues. These laws make them worse rather than better. It should be pointed out that China is talking about buying fewer US Treasuries bills, notes and bonds. That is how we get cash and is a trade threat the US cannot reciprocate.

A final shout out to the teens who are advocating for better gun governance. You are an inspiration. The lawmakers need to pay attention as they may have awakened a sleeping giant.