Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Three Topics For Tuesday, 11/28/2017: US As An Oligarchy, the Hillarization of Elizabeth Warren and Fake Information As Warfare

1.  I still can't fathom if the Republicans truly see what their tax plans are going to do to this country.  Income and wealth is already very concentrated in the hands of the richest, a situation which last prevailed right before the Great Depression, but the Republicans think it's a good idea to make it even worse.

A very unequal country will look like a banana republic.  The more money the small group of the super-wealthy will hold on the top of the distribution, the more political power they will have.

It's a vicious cycle.  The rich donors have bought the Republican Party (and to some extent the Democratic Party), and as part of what they have bought they get the tax reform!  That, in turn, will give them even more money, even more power.  The rest of us are given the promises of many more similar tax "reforms" in the future, much less government spending (on anything but on defense and on those parts of the legal system which protect the wealth of the rich), less health care, less old-age security and more suffering*.

Ultimately all this will create the kind of a country where even the rich don't really want to live, because they need personal police forces to guard their private enclaves against the hordes of have-nots.

2.  Trump is the gift that keeps on giving.  Most recently, this:

During the White House event designed to honor Native Americans who risked their lives for or gave their lives to the United States during World War II, Trump could not help himself as he talked about “how special” the Native Americans were.
He told the veterans at the ceremony: "You were here long before any of us were here. Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas."
The silence was deafening. Even those who thought they could not be surprised by Trump were. Why? Why would he bring that insulting, racist, snooty remark into the solemnity of an event honoring some of our most treasured veterans who happen to be Native Americans?
Why?  Because he can't help himself, though the millions who voted for him could have helped themselves to a slightly less bigoted and insulting dictator.

Trump was, of course, referring to Elizabeth Warren, a female Democratic Senator from Massachusetts,  in that "Pocahontas" comment.  Warren has been a vocal critic of Trump. Trump can't take criticism and particularly dislikes being "dissed" by women, so it's not surprising that he would take this opportunity to attack Warren, even at the cost of thereby also insulting the Native Americans in the room.

The "Pocahontas" message about Senator Warren is an excellent example of the Hillarization of female politicians, especially the Hillarization of Democratic women by conservatives.

I coined that term to describe a system where male and female politicians are held to different standards, where minor mistakes** by women are deemed worse and more serious than giant blunders by men.  The "Pocahontas" story is a textbook example of that, especially in the way it is repeated.  And repeated.  And repeated.  That repetition is one specific form of Hillarization***.

The final impact of successful Hillarization is to make political life more difficult for women, especially Democratic female politicians, given that the American right excels at this practice.

3.  The Washington Post has decided to go public with a failed sting*** *operation by the Project Veritas :

A woman who falsely claimed to The Washington Post that Roy Moore, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama, impregnated her as a teenager appears to work with an organization that uses deceptive tactics to secretly record conversations in an effort to embarrass its targets.

In a series of interviews over two weeks, the woman shared a dramatic story about an alleged sexual relationship with Moore in 1992 that led to an abortion when she was 15. During the interviews, she repeatedly pressed Post reporters to give their opinions on the effects that her claims could have on Moore’s candidacy if she went public.

The Post did not publish an article based on her unsubstantiated account. When Post reporters confronted her with inconsistencies in her story and an Internet posting that raised doubts about her motivations, she insisted that she was not working with any organization that targets journalists.

But on Monday morning, Post reporters saw her walking into the New York offices of Project Veritas, an organization that targets the mainstream news media and left-leaning groups. The organization sets up undercover “stings” that involve using false cover stories and covert video recordings meant to expose what the group says is media bias.

James O’Keefe, the Project Veritas founder who was convicted of a misdemeanor in 2010 for using a fake identity to enter a federal building during a previous sting, declined to answer questions about the woman outside the organization’s offices on Monday morning shortly after the woman walked inside.

Oh my.  It's war, my friends, but then O'Keefe has waged a war against groups such as Planned Parenthood and Acorn for years.  The only difference is that now the other side is fighting back.

Jonathan Chait notes that O'Keefe's sting operation was aimed to show that the Washington Post really IS fake news, but it rather showed the opposite:  That the Post doesn't publish stories without prior scrutiny.

This debacle has three worrisome implications.  The first one is that we currently lack any universally accepted rules about how relative "truth" in reporting can be established, because the American right has decided to refuse the use of statistical evidence, scientific studies, multiple witness accounts, multiple expert statements or similar mundane truth-determining devices.

This has led to a world where the right-wing president, Donald Trump, interprets any news he doesn't like as fake news.  The same trend is visible inside the right-wing information bubble.

The second troubling aspect is the use of false information as a form of warfare.  Vladimir Putin employs it extensively and so does the American right.  It's not that propaganda wars are novel, of course.  But the internet amplifies them and also creates a cacophony of diverging opinions without any frameworks to interpret them.  One result of that is the disappearance of properly researched arguments in the sea of irrelevancies.

The third implication of this debacle is perhaps the direst of all:  O'Keefe, as a warrior in this fake information warfare,  doesn't care about the collateral victims his victory would have caused had the Washington Post fallen in his trap:

All the women who have come forward to accuse Roy Moore of stalking and of grooming underage girls.  One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel of apples,  and one clearly false accusation makes all the others look suspicious, given the world we live in where the basic assumption for many seems to be that women alleging sexual harassment or violence are probably lying.


*  The following information was added later.  The table below shows the impact of the Republican tax plan for selected years, together with the impact of the cuts in public spending financing that tax plan necessitate.  A minus-sign in the table means that the people earning the corresponding amounts on that row of the table will be gaining from the combination of reduced taxes and reduced spending in a particular year, the lack of a minus-sign means that the people earning the corresponding amounts on that row in the table will be losing in a particular year.

Note that the wealthier taxpayers gain in all years, i.e., pay less in taxes.  The lowest earners lose so much because of cuts in government subsidies for health care spending.

**  You can read the history of this slur here.  To put it into perspective, try to find some other repeated criticisms about Elizabeth Warren.  This is really the only thing that has ever been used against her (well, except for her "stridency"), but it is used repeatedly, which both makes it stick in people's minds and makes it grow into a giant monster problem.

***  I'm trying to create a proper theory of this.  So far I have come up with only a few aspects of it, one being the nonstop repetition.  Note that things Hillary Clinton said in the early 1990s are still repeated.

Other aspects include the general use of sexist evaluations when they have nothing to do with the criticized politician except for her sex, and the use of different benchmarks when critics decide what kind of behavior or politics is bad for male and female politicians.

****  Do you know what?  I have been subjected to a couple of attempts of this kind, too, over the long years of blogging!  Though I suspect that architects of those attempts were just solitary online trolls.