Little Small Man

This was written just after Trump's tweets took us by firestorm - no, not the North Korea firestorm tweets. Just took a while to get posted. 

My head has been spinning for the past few weeks - more so than usual since January. Puerto Rico is reeling from Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island. What's left of the trees we see in news footage reminds me of the truffula trees from the Dr. Seuss story, The Lorax, only stripped of all leaves. At least the truffula had brightly colored, though small, "leaf" canopies. There are lines hundreds of cars long waiting for gas. People spend all day in lines for food and water. People have died for simple lack of fuel for generators to keep their life support systems going. And while it may be that their fates would not ultimately have been different in the absence of the hurricane, it is frankly unconscionable to consider this - or anything that has been happening in Puerto Rico so far - as a "good news" story. At some point I certainly hope it is, but not yet.

It seems inevitable, apparently, that the ability of the U.S. Government to respond to a disaster or other emergency becomes politicized; it is seen as a measure of how well an Administration functions, of how well a President is able to fulfill his (or her) responsibilities. Political supporters use it to say, "See, he's a good President." Political opponents use it to continue making the case that "their candidate" would have been better; that an Administration - and by extension, the President - is inept. Both are acceptable within the bounds of polite discourse about an Administration; some emergencies are better handled than others and it behooves us to know why. The main reason for contrasting and comparing the government's emergency responses is not about political kudos for or criticism of any single President or Administration. Rather, it is about improving government systems and processes for the next emergency because there will surely be one - or more. 

So, what are we to think when our President ridicules the Mayor of San Juan for her pleas for help? When he tells the world that Puerto Ricans are essentially cry-babies; as a community they should be able to figure this all out, without help from anyone else? Trump is simply a small man. Small in heart, small in thought, small in empathy. 


The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has not been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump. Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help.
— Trump tweet

What would provoke anyone to tweet something like Trump did about the Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, after she said the U.S. response wasn't enough and begged for help from whoever might be listening? Very few people, if anyone, would expose themselves as so small-minded, self-centered, and downright mean in public, let alone on the world stage. Then again, Trump has consistently shown himself to be just that. A man of no stature. A man with no leadership skills nor interest in leadership. A small man. Indeed, a little small man.

There is everything wrong with his response. First, it is simply mean-spirited. It is a personal attack on the mayor rather than attempting to address the disaster or relief efforts. It certainly offers no solace or comfort to those whose lives have been turned upside-down. Nor does it offer reassurance that help is on its way, regardless of how logistically challenging that may be, given that Puerto Rico is an island surrounded by "big water" and all. His is a simple world apparently; he does not understand why Ms. Cruz might be critical after having been "complimentary". Except, of course, because the Democrats are conspiring with the mayor on how best to gig Trump. Like Ms. Cruz has politics on her mind in the wake of the hurricane. 

They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.
— Trump tweet

Trump's tweets say much more about him than about Ms. Cruz, the tragedy in Puerto Rico, or the relief effort. And like him, they are void of substance. Trump is not presidential, he simply occupies the office of president. And in that, he is a little small man.

Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are....

The recent events in Charlottesville have opened a national wound that has been festering for, well, since the Civil War. The national response and dialog has been reassuring, though it’s a tragedy it took a heinous act of violence and murder to get us talking so openly at a national level. The swift action to remove Confederate statues is eye-opening, at least for someone like me. I have never lived in the South, nor ever really experienced the overt – as well as more nuanced – expressions of racism and slavery that Confederate statues represent for both the oppressed and the oppressors. 

The Civil War, which was a fight to ensure a future for slavery, is not a part of our history that we should relegate to the back corners of the closet. But the legacy is not one of celebration and its symbols should not be venerated, paraded, or in any way honored now. How many memorials in Germany – or other countries who suffered under the Nazis – sell Nazi pins, flags, or other paraphernalia? Sure, they can be purchased somewhere, but they’re not sold as tourist items at memorials, killing fields, or concentration camps. The swastika does not wave on flag poles at county, state, or federal government buildings.

In fact, a large number of the Confederate statues were installed in the early 1900s, during what is referred to as the Jim Crow era - the time between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and the Civil Rights era in the 1950s when laws enforced racial segregation in parks, restaurants, buses, schools, theaters, drinking fountains, etc. Based on the Supreme  Court's "separate but equal" ruling, Jim Crow laws were meant to prevent any contact between blacks and whites. The Supreme Court reversed itself in 1954, ruling that the laws were unconstitutional. It is hard to dismiss the timing of the dramatic rise in monuments "honoring the Confederacy" during the Jim Crow era as insignificant. They were meant as visible reminders of the "rightful" place of African Americans, regardless of the outcome of the war.  

In all the controversy, it has been interesting to learn a bit about Robert E. Lee, and the possibility he may have been somewhat conflicted over slavery. He may have been a “nice person” and may not even have been keen to go to war, but he did. He – and others – fought to divide the United States, to destroy it as a single nation, so that the Confederacy could maintain its ownership over a distinct and captive group of people. So, unless you feel that it’s right for whites to own other people, there is no reason to honor the Confederacy – or anyone in it – with a statue, plaque, or other visible means of glorification.

Does that mean existing memorials to Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and others should be destroyed? No. They should be placed where they can help interpret the war for what it was, an act of sedition and treason by individuals who thought it was not only o.k. to own slaves, but their right to do so. And they were unsuccessful. This is what is forgotten with the prominent display of Confederate statues, this is the history the Lost Cause is trying to rewrite. Lee and others were not American heroes, they were American traitors – regardless of whether they were also “nice people”.

Don't Believe Everything You Read

Even though "news" is by definition simply a reporting of the facts, you just can't believe everything you read or hear. Wise words to live by. So is the adage that 'if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.' Both are good to remember when dealing with the news.

People make mistakes. Journalists make mistakes. People mislead other people. People (i.e., sources) mislead journalists. And then there's the "telephone game" phenomenon that can produce a very different ending story than the original one, as people filter or forget information they pass along to others. Again, it can be either unintentional or intentional. Regardless, no one should believe everything that they read or hear in the news.

So how do we know if a news story can be believed or not? The only real way to know would be to do your own research. And I suspect that this is the real goal of a good "news" story; to get people to think and question, prompting them to find out more on their own. To search for the truth. True news outlets do not necessarily try to convince you one way or another about a piece of news they report but rather try to generate enough interest so that you - the people - become curious and follow up. 

Before the internet, you would likely have gone to the library where you could access any number of different sources - books, newspapers, magazines, microfiche (does anyone know what that is anymore?), and even the librarian. In today's world, you can just Google it. But the ease with which we can now find information does nothing to help us determine what information we can trust.

In fact, we know there is a lot of misinformation floating through cyberspace, just waiting to be found and consumed. Just ask the Russians. But they are not the only ones engaged in internet misinformation campaigns. Take a look at the bias ratings of media outlets from AllSides, whose mission is to "free people from filter bubbles so they can better understand the world and each other." I haven't even heard of many of these sources, nor do I necessarily agree in all cases with their ratings. But it provides a good place to start in terms of trying to get an unbiased - or at least less biased - perspective on the news.  

No News is Fake News

According to a number of different dictionaries, “news” is the reporting of information, facts, or an event. 

definitions of "news"

  1. Information or reports about recent events. (Cambridge English Dictionary)
  2. Information about a recently changed situation or a recent event; information about recent events in the country or world or in a particular area of activity. (Harper-Collins English Dictionary)
  3. New information or a report about something that has happened recently. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Thus, no news is fake news. At least not according to our general understanding and accepted definitions of the word "news". It is simply reporting on something that happened, some event, some piece of information (like a fact). It is certainly the case that the way a news story is presented can influence how one interprets the news. Leaving out important pieces of the story can bias perceptions or understanding, leading to the wrong conclusion. This can be unintentional or intentional. Unintentionally biasing a news story is just bad reporting. Intentionally biasing a news story just makes it propaganda.  

definitions of "propaganda"

  1. Ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause; ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
  2. Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view. (Oxford English Dictionary)
  3. Information, ideas, opinions, or images, often only giving one part of an argument; information or ideas that are spread by an organized group or government to influence people's opinions, especially by not giving all the facts or by secretly emphasizing only one way of looking at the facts. (Cambridge Dictionary)
  4. Any systematic, widespread dissemination or promotion of particular ideas, doctrines, practices, etc. to further ones' own cause or to damage an opposing one. (Harper-Collins English Dictionary)
  5. A message designed to persuade its intended audience to think and behave in a certain manner; specifically, institutionalized and systematic spreading of information and/or disinformation, usually to promote a narrow political or religious viewpoint. (Business Dictionary)

Although the definitions seem fairly straightforward, it is not always easy to distinguish between fact and fiction when scrolling through what are supposed to be news stories. But with only a little bit of thought and perspective, it may not be as difficult as it seems. 

For example, consider news stories about the use of executive orders as a way of exercising presidential power. According to the government documents archival entity, The American Presidency Project, during the first 100 days as President, Trump signed 32 executive orders, Obama signed 19, George W. Bush signed 11, and Bill Clinton signed 13. As a presentation of factual numbers, this news is uncontroversial - and is based on the actual number of bills each president signed through an executive order within his first 100 days in office. They are dated and easy to count - to verify.

But now consider that during the 2016 campaign, Trump often said that, "Obama was abusing his power by signing so many executive orders" (Reference). Clearly, this statement is not based on the facts but is instead "designed to persuade its intended audience to think and behave in a certain manner" (see No. 5 above). Or to "influence people's opinions, especially by not giving all the facts or by [secretly] emphasizing only one way of looking at the facts" (see No. 3 above). See any of the above and it's quite easy to pick out the news from the propaganda especially when considering that Trump signed more executive orders during his first 200 days (42) than Obama averaged in a year (35) (Reference). 

Probably the best example of a real "fake news" story is Trump's promotion of the idea that President Obama was born in Kenya. His birth certificate clearly shows the place of his birth as Hawaii. There is nothing left - or right - leaning about the birth certificate; it includes the names of his father and mother, time of birth, address, and all the other routine pieces of information that birth certificates record. But because it did not further Trump's agenda - nor that of the Republican Party - for undercutting President Obama's legitimacy, there was a lot of effort put into trying to "shame" media outlets who rebutted the Kenya ruse as "the liberal media".

Likewise, the on-going reporting of the Russia probe is not "fake news". In fact, reporting on new developments in the case - whatever their ultimate relevance - is a text-book example of "news" as defined by Cambridge, Merriam-Webster, and Harper-Collins dictionaries. Each time another revelation is exposed, it is - and should be - reported as news.

So, you undoubtedly have a preferred news source or two. I know I do. And try as I might, I have a very hard time listening to some stations. A friend of mine recently told me she and her husband (who tended toward the New York Times for news) were going to start watching some Fox News because they thought perhaps they could get a less left-only perspective by listening to both left and right leaning media sources. And while I definitely applaud their efforts, I also wonder if the so-called "liberal" media outlets are not so much reporting with a liberal bias per se (opinion pieces, definitely), but that their news stories are perceived as leaning left simply because they do not overtly lean right. "Facts" are neither liberal nor conservative. So, when a news story is not considered conservation, it can only be liberal.....or so we are being brainwashed to believe.

original use of propaganda 

Originally, “propaganda” referred to the Roman Catholic Church and its Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. According to some sources, it was not until the 20th century when it acquired a more negative connotation, stemming primarily from its use by totalitarian regimes (e.g., Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy) to distort facts and spread falsehoods. 

License to Kill

This was written prior to the Charlottesville tragedy. I wonder if using a vehicle for manslaughter is the sort of thing the framers had in mind when they crafted the "right to kill" legislation in North Dakota ....

Over the first six months of the Trump presidency, a number of states have put forth laws restricting people's right to protest. According to an article by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 20 state legislatures drafted bills to do so. That's just under one-half of all states that have set about trying to restrict people's right to protest their government - or at least to criminalize such activity. As of the end of June this year (2017), 12 bills had died, 3 were still under consideration, and 4 had passed (North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Tennessee). 

According to our Constitution, we the people have the right to peaceably protest our government. And there are plenty of existing laws on the books giving local governments the ability to arrest people for obstructing cars or pedestrians, as well as for trespassing on private property. So, there doesn't seem to be an urgent need for more laws to help law enforcement do their job.

Prohibits Congress from making any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.
— First Amendment to the US Constitution

I can see how people in North Dakota might be tired of the massive protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline, and of the disruption it causes to their lives. But are legal protections for drivers who "accidentally" injure, hit, or kill a protestor really the answer? How can you not be "guilty of an offense" if you drive your car into someone in a road, regardless of what they are doing there? 

In Arizona, participating in - or organizing - a legal protest that turns into a “riot” would have become a criminal racketeering offense and would have allowed for seizing the assets of anyone involved in the protest, even if not involved in the riot. 

Since the election, there have been quite a number of protests across the country. Unfortunately, the main response by Republican legislators has simply been to try and limit people's ability to protest, rather than try to help find a solution to the issue at hand. Or at the very least, to find ways of making it safer for people to use their constitutionally protected right to protest that also minimizes the inconvenience to those living in the pathway. It's the tendency of Republicans to try and clamp down, to somehow restrict people, that is so troubling. After all, our government is supposed to be working for the people, not against the people.

In the beginning

I don’t know about you, but since November 8, 2016, I have felt depressed, defeated, unsafe, concerned, aghast, incredulous, scared shitless, angry, enraged, dumbfounded, speechless, and pissed off. I go through phases of watching a little national news but only last a few days before I just need a break again. It’s relentless. A bombardment of insanity. Of absurdity. And yet, it’s not just that the antics playing out in Washington, D.C. are absurd, it’s absurd that we are witnessing the potential demise of our democracy. What the hell happened to the grand experiment in democracy that is the American experience? Will American ideals of democracy fail? After all, the USSR's experiment with communism failed.  

Make no mistake, I am vehemently opposed to Trump. To everything about him – as the President and even more so as a person. I do believe the American people need to have some open and honest discussions about issues his belligerent and in-your-face style has brought to the fore (e.g., immigration, both legal and illegal) but I do not find either his approach or potential "solutions" to be appropriate. Despicable is a good word to describe him and his minions. However, he is but a small player in the much darker and more dangerous endgame that the Republican Party elites have been engaging in for decades.

The endgame is power. They are greedy for it. So greedy they have turned a blind eye to morality, ethics, civility, and apparently the rule of law in order to systematically undermine and corrupt our democratic processes and institutions. And they have been doing it for years – trying to ensure a “permanent Republican majority” in US politics. You can even Google “permanent Republican majority” and get all kinds of articles about Karl Rove’s dream, and now Steve Bannon’s newer version of that dream.

While Trump, his family, administration and followers might be despicable, the lapse in judgment by the Republican Party (and in particular Republicans currently in Congress) of putting their party before country makes them even more deplorable. John McCain and Jeff Flake do not deserve special kudos for "speaking out" recently. Where was their indignation over the last seven years? Surely they are not just now realizing what they've been complicit in all along? Rather, I think perhaps this is just another political move on their part. Oh, the words and sentiment are long overdue, but instead of simply admitting that the Republican Party has gone astray, they both tried to blame Democrats as well! Not buying it. Sure, Democrats can play the politics game. But they have not engaged in a decades-long systematic process to undermine our democracy or Constitutional rights. Any political party who engages in such tactics does not deserve the confidence, trust, or vote of the American people.