Weekly Vent

March for Science logo, Earth Day 2017

The Weekly Vent: #Resist

[This post first appeared on Bill Moyers & Company on April 17, 2017.] Editor’s Note Donald Trump may be a racist, misogynist, sexual predator, liar and bully, but he is still president of the United States, and we underestimate him at the nation’s peril. Viewed in isolation, his policies seem idiosyncratic and incoherent. Viewed in context, they […]

via 100 DAYS OF DECONSTRUCTION — PART ONE — The Belly of the Beast

This is no time to become discouraged, as the lunacy continues to unfold in this administration and White House. There is a March for Science this Saturday, April 22, in conjunction with Earth Day. There are hundreds of satellite marches around the US and even the world. I’ll be at one in my city! No, I’m not a scientist. This is not primarily a march by scientists. It is a march by and for all of us who know that facts matter. Words matter. Truth matters. Education and expertise matter. SCIENCE MATTERS.

I am sick and tired of ignoramuses insisting loudly that their half-baked prejudices are as valid as scientific research and data, and the kleptocrats who egg them on so they can continue to profit from polluting industries. We ignore this to our detriment. So get out there and march!

The Weekly Vent: Money Talks

President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, seated next to him, at dinner at Mar-a-Lago on Feb. 10, shortly before they had to scramble to react to a North Korean missile launch. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) With each of President Donald Trump’s trips to the Mar-a-Lago Club — and there have been four in…

via More than Mar-a-Lago: Members of all Trump clubs could have access to the president — OpenSecrets Blog

The Weekly Vent: Hypocrisy

Conservative Christians have crawled out of the church pew woodwork to rend their garments and beat their breasts, at word that Disney’s live action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast will feature an openly gay character. They’ve loudly promised to boycott the film and Disney itself in spiritual protest. This news alone is of little……

via The Naked Hypocrisy of a Christian Disney Boycott — john pavlovitz

John Pavlovitz gets it right again. The cognitive dissonance these folks must experience takes my breath away. I keep hearing Godspell’s “Alas For You” echoing in my mind. Ugh.

The Weekly Vent: Grifters on Campus

Since his inauguration, Donald Trump has dominated news cycles with chaos. It was easy to miss his new task force charged with deregulating higher education. The leader is Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University. “The goal is to pare it back and give colleges and their accrediting agencies more leeway in governing their affairs,” […]

via JERRY FALWELL’S NEW ASSIGNMENT — The Belly of the Beast

Trump limo, empty stands, on Inauguration Day 2017

The Gaslight Zone: “The Camera Cannot Lie” — Or Can It?

Quartz Media has published a short guide to understanding what news photographs do and don’t tell us about the true situation: Want To Resist the Post-Truth Age? . The example it uses is that of Inauguration Day, when some published photos were taken at an angle and with tight cropping that showed a smiling Trump family and Pence family walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, waving to the crowd. Except that there wasn’t much of a crowd. Wider angle shots like the one above, published by The Atlantic, showed mostly empty viewing stands. There are many other similar published images.

I remember when President Ronald Reagan’s White House manipulated images in this way. When he would arrive at a location, there were actually barriers that kept the press at a far distance. So in order to have any kind of publishable photo, they would use powerful zoom lenses to get close-ups. Here is the kind of intimate photo that resulted:

President Reagan boarding helicopter

President Reagan boarding helicopter

Looks like the photographer was right next to him, doesn’t it? And see how the image focuses on Reagan’s cheery smile, his jaunty salute? It makes you feel as if you know him. Creating a sense of that kind of intimacy was Reagan’s specialty as a politician and public figure, starting from his TV days as an ad spokesman for General Electric.

But in reality, even the press pool photographers who were assigned to cover Reagan routinely were kept at an unprecedented distance from him, as documented by The New York Times in 1981, his first year in office:

One effect of many of the security steps has been to establish a physical distance between Mr. Reagan and the reporters who directly accompany him in a small representative group, or pool. For example, reporters at the airport at South Bend were kept too far away from the President to ask questions, which is a normal feature of airport arrivals and departures.

The rationale given by the White House was the then-recent 1981 attempt on Reagan’s life. Okay, that seems legitimate — except the attempt on his life happened on a city street. It had nothing to do with scheduled, controlled airport locations on tightly controlled, limited-access tarmac. The effect was to insulate a President who was known to make misstatements from pesky press questions, while creating a situation where they were almost forced to generate falsely intimate images.

It will be even more essential for us all to develop better skills in media literacy and critical thinking, given the propagandists who now occupy our White House. Good night, and good luck.

 

The Weekly Vent: We’ve entered The Gaslight Zone

Remember the TV show The Twilight Zone? If you’re middle-aged, you probably do. It was famous for its unsettling introduction by narrator/creator Rod Serling, which always ended with the dark words: “You’ve entered … The Twilight Zone.” And thus would begin another episode of warped reality, almost like science fiction but set in the quotidian, humdrum, familiar environments of American homes, small towns, cities.

It has become ever more clear that with the election of Donald Trump, we are entering uncharted territory: the most powerful nation on earth is now led by a malignant narcissist with a tenuous grasp on the truth, a lot of hatred in his heart, and many unsavory supporters. I call him President Donald Cobblepot:  “Only I Can Protect You…” . The coming years will severely test our culture and our democracy. Do you think “it can’t happen here”? Yes, it can. In fact, there’s a Twilight Zone episode about that very possibility: “He’s Alive”.

“Portrait of a bush-league Fuehrer named Peter Vollmer, a sparse little man who feeds off his self-delusions and finds himself perpetually hungry for want of greatness in his diet. And like some goose-stepping predecessors, he searches for something to explain his hunger, and to rationalize why a world passes him by without saluting. The something he looks for and finds is in a sewer. In his own twisted and distorted lexicon, he calls it faith, strength, truth.” Sound familiar?

And so in honor of Rod Serling, I am naming this era “The Gaslight Zone.” We have entered The Gaslight Zone. Donald Trump’s favorite method of communication, like abusive spouses and bosses, and tyrants everywhere, is the tactic known as “gaslighting.”  He makes statements that are recorded, then baldly denies having made them. He sends outrageous “tweets” to distract the press and the public from his actions. He lies, then doubles down on his lies when caught. He attacks people and groups who correctly describe his statements and activities: from a teenager, to CNN, to individual journalists and Hollywood stars, to the BBC. He is a modern version of an American fascist, and he has fanatic followers whose chants at his rallies, pre and post-election, are eerily reminiscent of German brownshirts and whose “alt-right” neo-Nazi activities are clearly inspired by 1930s Germany: American Nazis Rising as Trump’s Armed Brownshirts to Target Jews.

Trump’s campaign included many “dog-whistles” to white supremacists and neo-Nazis. He has barely commented that they should “stop” when pressed on that point, and he has appointed one of the “alt-right”‘s chief spokesmen, enablers and promoters, Steve Bannon, to be one of his closest advisers in the White House. OUR White House. The house of the American people.

We must all work against the hatred and gaslighting that this administration will constantly inject into our government and politics. Check facts. Call out lies. Demand accountability from Trump and the GOP. Go to work at the grass-roots of democracy. Try to counter the tide. We cannot let this man take our country and the world down this road. We’ve been there before. It’s not a good place.

 

 

Weekly Vent and Daily Prompt: Folly

via Daily Prompt: Folly

Every morning when I read a headline about another of Trump’s proposed appointments, folly is one word that comes to mind — that, plus “disaster”.

I could see a rational President-elect making a couple of seriously controversial appointments, plus some others that push the party platform and naturally draw disagreement from the opposite party. That is democracy. But this man is making appointments that are almost all seriously controversial and will generate much serious conflict, here and abroad, which is very foolish for the leadership of a nuclear superpower.

He does not have a mandate to upend eight years of public policy, let alone eighty. Contrary to the outright lies spread by him and his supporters in the most shameless way, he did not win the popular vote. He did not win by a “landslide.” A wiser man would feel his way toward the center of this country’s political beliefs, which is why a wiser President-elect would not make almost every single major appointment a lightning rod by picking someone who represents an extreme position. Ronald Reagan was very conservative, and he didn’t do that. He made some controversial appointments, not all controversial appointments.

The radicalism of Trump’s proposed appointments is unprecedented. It is making our allies and our antagonists around the globe very antsy, and antsy is not a good thing when we’re talking about countries with nuclear weapons. Some see advantage to themselves and will try to exploit it through aggression. Some see danger and will try to deflect it through aggressive, pre-emptive action. This is the kind of uncertainty and instability that can lead to war. War that is not confined to, say, the Middle East. War that is global. World war.

And in a nuclear age, global war is folly.

The Weekly Vent: Fact or Fiction?

Before the election, I wrote about my sense that Donald Trump was portraying our country as the dark, dysfunctional Gotham City of Batman Returns, claiming “Only I Can Protect You…”. And I was optimistic that American voters would recognize that no, we don’t live in a failed Gotham City and we don’t need to elect Oswald Cobblepot, that sleazy, lying groper.

And then we — or some of us — did.

Not most of us, contrary to the claims of a “landslide.” In fact, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by the largest margin in U.S. history for a candidate who did not win the election: 2.5 million votes. But here we are, stuck with Donald Cobblepot as our President-elect.

And President-elect Cobblepot is now on a “victory tour” of rallies like the ones he used to whip up angry crowds before the election, calling for deeds like deporting millions of people, building a wall between us and Mexico, and “locking up” the former First Lady and Secretary of State who was his political opponent. Scary stuff, and it scared me.

But hey, now some of his handlers are making the rounds, claiming that there are no such things as actual facts any more — all that matters is how many people believe whatever lies the President-elect and his advisers spread in their “post-truth world”. Including the leader of the white supremacist platform Breitbart “News”, the President-elect’s senior adviser Steve Bannon. Sure sounds like propaganda to me, in the mold of the Big Lie — and apparently the libertarian magazine Reason agrees. Trump’s former campaign manager says the press takes “too literally” what the President-elect says and has said. Shucks, he doesn’t really mean any of those things! And yet he continues to repeat them, now, after the election, at the rallies that he so enjoys, with an ugly, triumphal tone that is as far as one can get from being a gracious victor.

And isn’t it weird that he is holding these “victory tour” rallies? Is that customary for U.S. President-elects? Well, no, it’s not. In fact, it’s not customary or normal for most elected leaders of Western democracies. The last Western leader who held post-election rallies like this, full of fire-breathing threats against vanquished enemies, was Adolf Hitler. No, that’s not hyperbole. Kurt Eichenwald of Newsweek did the research.

I am really horrified by the spectacle of a President-elect whipping up the faithful into an angry frenzy when he should be learning the job he has so little training to do. His lack of training, or knowledge, or understanding, or even intelligence, has been amply demonstrated by his amateur meddling in foreign affairs and his disorganized communications with foreign governments. So far, he has: seized opportunities to discuss his business priorities with them and ask for favors; included his adult children, who will run the family’s global empire, with foreign leaders like the Prime Minister of Japan; offended the governments of China and the U.K.; undermined the credibility of NATO; and, apparently, endorsed the murders of thousands of Filipinos under the out-of-control president of the Philippines, Duterte. Yes, the one who called President Obama “son of a whore” for having raised concerns about those illegal killings of civilians without any legal process. They had a nice chat on the phone. The chat included the topic of Trump’s major real estate investments and development plans in the Philippines. But, we are told, there are no conflicts of interest between the incoming administration and public policy. Richard Painter, former head of the White House ethics office of President George W. Bush, begs to differ, calling those conflicts of interest real, unethical, and dangerous.

So what next? I hope that the few rational beings who have been named to the incoming Cabinet will be able to keep Trump from conflagrating worldwide conflict. Retired General Mattis seems both sensible and clear on the deference our military owes to the Constitution and civilian control. And I am looking to President Obama for help, though he certainly doesn’t owe this country anything after eight long years of service and having saved the world from another Great Depression. I believe he will do what he can, while he can, to put as many safeguards in place as are available for public lands and waters, voting rights, etc. And I am praying that he will deploy his considerable skills as a constitutional lawyer, community organizer, Senator, President and communicator to help rally organized, lawful opposition to the Cobblepot who will soon move into OUR White House. Let’s not forget that it belongs to us — and he works for US, not the other way ’round.

 

Weekly Vent — from Rage Against the Minivan

This is an article by a mother of four kids, two of whom are adopted black children. She blogs about parenting. If we don’t step up and start demanding adherence to decent social norms from people like the President-elect and his “White House senior adviser”, Steve Bannon, we are on a steep, slippery slope toward chaos. They have got to disavow these extremists.

If you care about me and my family, I hope you will read this. As many of you know, this year my family was targeted and harassed by a white-supremacy group known as the “alt-right” for having adopted black children. Their attack was brutal and relentless. They inundated all of my social media sites with racist…

via The alt-right movement harassed my family for having black children, and Trump is considering their leader for Chief of Staff — Rage Against the Minivan