Author: Mitchell Blatt (Page 1 of 25)

Free speech ≠ forced speech; Facebook can and should control its own platform

Conservatives are playing victim once again and whining about yet another instance of some supposed anti-“conservative” bias by a company. Now it’s Facebook apparently limiting the reach of “Diamond and Silk” on Facebook’s own network. It is important to put “conservative” in quote marks here. Diamond and Silk are a pair of Trump surrogates, named Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, who speak at Trump campaign rallies, sell Trump merchandise, appear on racist white supremacist radio shows, and make pro-Trump videos. Like many of the pro-Trump social media genre, they don’t talk about conservative policies or appear to have any considered beliefs. They can hardly be called conservatives.

I quote a brief excerpt just to illustrate:

<

blockquote>”This week’s bowl of stupid goes to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Both of these here two morons exhibiting moronic behavior. Now, this one right here, Chuck Schumer done shut down the government because he is trying to tie DACA to the government spending bill. Now we gotta fund the government. Now what he want to do is he want to not fund the government and he want to fight for these DACA [inaudible] that’s illegal aliens that’s in our country and not fight for the American People.

Really, high-brow stuff. Intellect on level with the president of the United States. If this is what American Senators (Ted Cruz) are spending official time asking Mark Zuckerberg about during Congressional testimony, we must fear for our republic.

Editors need to control what they publish in their papers, and platforms need to control what they publish and broadcast just the same. Facebook is a private company with its own network and its own algorithms, and somehow people think that they should have full control over someone else’s platform. One week ago, an extreme lunatic shot up the YouTube offices because she was upset that her ad revenue declined after an algorithm change. Ben Shapiro is moaning that Facebook’s apparent algorithm changes to improve the quality of its feed are supposedly impacting him and other low-quality viral conservative pages.

“Toleration implies the existence of a distinctive procedure for testing ideas… It has nothing to do with a cacophony of screaming fakers marketing political nostrums in the public square.” – Barrington Moore

What these entitled outrage-mongers forget is that it’s Facebook’s network in the first place! How did they think their websites were getting so much traffic? Facebook created an algorithm in the first place that favored low-quality clickbait bullshit. They benefited from it and molded their websites and their social presences to leverage it. Now they talk about Facebook trying to “control” what we read; Facebook already was controlling what was showing up in our feeds. The 2016 election showed just how destructive this kind of viral garbage, partisan hackery, and outright lies and conspiracy theories can be to the quality of our public discourse.

Read More

Read Ralph Peters’ letter disavowing Fox News as a Trump’s propaganda arm

Ralph Peters was a long-time defense analyst for Fox News. Now he has decided to part with the network over its unprincipled efforts to push Trump’s agenda.

His email to colleagues was published by Buzzfeed. Here’s a juicy excerpt:

Four decades ago, I took an oath as a newly commissioned officer. I swore to “support and defend the Constitution,” and that oath did not expire when I took off my uniform. Today, I feel that Fox News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers. Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed.

In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration. When prime-time hosts–who have never served our country in any capacity–dismiss facts and empirical reality to launch profoundly dishonest assaults on the FBI, the Justice Department, the courts, the intelligence community (in which I served) and, not least, a model public servant and genuine war hero such as Robert Mueller–all the while scaremongering with lurid warnings of “deep-state” machinations– I cannot be part of the same organization, even at a remove. To me, Fox News is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit.

As a Russia analyst for many years, it also has appalled me that hosts who made their reputations as super-patriots and who, justifiably, savaged President Obama for his duplicitous folly with Putin, now advance Putin’s agenda by making light of Russian penetration of our elections and the Trump campaign. Despite increasingly pathetic denials, it turns out that the “nothing-burger” has been covered with Russian dressing all along. And by the way: As an intelligence professional, I can tell you that the Steele dossier rings true–that’s how the Russians do things.. The result is that we have an American president who is terrified of his counterpart in Moscow.

Read it in full at Buzzfeed: An “Ashamed” Fox News Commentator Just Quit The “Propaganda Machine”

Does Xi’s constitutional amendment mark the end of the “China Model”?

Daniel Bell has been one of the proponents of the argument that China’s model of enlightened authoritarianism can be successful and represent a challenge to the Western consensus. Educated leaders, who are promoted through a meritocratic process on the basis of their achievements at lower levels, could set a long term path for the world’s most populous country more effectively without having to pander to the masses and the interest groups, the argument went.

In a 2015 article published in The Atlantic adapted from Bell’s book The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy, Bell wrote:

The top of the China model is characterized by political meritocracy—the idea that high-level officials should be selected and promoted on the basis of ability and virtue. The ideal was institutionalized in imperial China by means of an elaborate examination system that dates to the Sui dynasty in the sixth and seventh centuries. … Top leaders must also accumulate decades of diverse administrative experience, with only a tiny proportion reaching the commanding heights of government. For example, Xi’s four-decade-long ascent to the presidency involved 16 major promotions through county, city, and province levels, and then the Central Committee, the Politburo, and the top spot in the Standing Committee of the Politburo, with reviews at each stage to assess his leadership abilities. Arguably, the Chinese political system is the most competitive in the world today.

Once leaders reach the pinnacle of political power, they can plan for the long term and make decisions that take into account the interests of all relevant stakeholders, including future generations and people living outside the country; leaders serve 10-year terms and assume (and do their best to guarantee) that the same party will be in power decades into the future. Collective leadership, in the form of the Politburo’s seven-member Standing Committee, ensures that no one leader with outlandish and uninformed views can set wrongheaded policies (such as the disastrous Great Leap Forward when Mao, and only Mao, decided on national policies).

But will China’s political system remain so competitive once Xi takes action to stay in power for five more years or longer? The specter of such a power grab had long been projected by some journalists in papers like the Wall Street Journal. Now the gears are moving for it to happen. The CCP Central Committee has proposed a constitutional amendment (among others) to do away with the limit of two consecutive terms for the presidency.

Does this change overturn the argument for the China Model?

Read More

State of the Union highlights: Trump’s unpatriotic appropriation of the flag

Donald Trump attacked free speech in his first State of the Union address (and second speech to Congress) on January 30. As usual, he tried to claim the mantle of patriotism by referencing acts and words of others whose values he himself doesn’t appear to share.

In one case, he returned to one of his greatest hits tracks: the national anthem and attacking those NFL players who have been taking a knee to protest.

Preston’s [referring to a 12-year-old boy, Preston Sharp, who put flags in front of veterans’ graves] reverence for those who have served our nation…

It is worth noting here, that reverence for veterans is not something Trump shares with Preston. Trump has diminished the sacrifices of veterans, referring to John McCain as a “loser” for having served something larger than himself, and saying of prisoners of war, “I like people who weren’t captured.”

Trump doesn’t understand why anyone would be an official, because he doesn’t understand serving the public

…reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.

Context and subtext are inseparable from meaning. That’s why Trump can say, “It’s big enough. Believe me,” and people know what he’s meaning without him saying it directly. Communication would be an impossible task if people didn’t include context and subtext in their analysis of meaning. (And, indeed, Trump’s speechwriters and supporters do so, too, even if they feign otherwise when it suits them.)

In this case, the context is clear. Trump has been attacking Colin Kaepernick and other football players who have been taking a knee to protest, both in support of #BlackLivesMatter and, later, in protest to Trump’s attacks on free speech. Trump lashed out and called for the firing of any player who takes a knee. He has also issued words of support for criminalizing burning the flag with punishments up to loss of citizenship.

In this case, by proclaiming “stand[ing] for the national anthem” as something “we” do, he is saying anyone who does otherwise is deviantly violating the rules and norms of our society. In fact, the vast majority of people already do stand, and it wouldn’t even be an issue in the NFL anymore if Trump hadn’t made it an issue (the number of players kneeling in solidarity increased hugely after his attacks), and anyone who kneels isn’t actually disrespecting veterans or causing any material harm. (The only potential harm they might be causing is offending—or annoying—people who are offended by words and speech, and Trump says he is against political correctness.)

Trump doesn’t have to say he’s specifically attacking those who protest, nor does he need to issue the threat, which he has already made clear in the past, any more than a triad collector needs to spell out what happens if you don’t pay your protection fee.

Of course the Republicans gave Trump a standing ovation for this bit of low brow refuge-seeking.

Even divorcing the words from all context, they are empty drivel not worthy of applause, much less ovation. Any president and any politician and the vast majority spectators do the ceremonial standing at the sound of the anthem. It doesn’t require any sacrifice. It doesn’t help the soldiers injured in Iraq and those still serving in Afghanistan and elsewhere. At best it is a symbolic gesture, and at worst, as in Trump’s State of the Union, it is a manipulative appropriation of a symbol of patriotism used to prop up a man who values the flag only for what political value it might bring him.

Feature photo by Shealah Craighead, official White House photographer. Public domain.

Trump doesn’t understand why anyone would be an official, because he doesn’t understand serving the public

DOJ staffers who don’t support Trump agenda are “Trump women”, officials earning six figures are dismissed as poor

In Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff reveals Donald Trump’s fascination and confusion over bureaucratic professionals. The out-of-touch president is amazed that anyone would work for such a pittance as three or four times the average US salary.

In chapter 7, commenting on Trump’s antagonism towards Sally Yates and other Department of Justice career officials, Wolff wrote:

Here was an elemental divide between Trump and career governmental employees. He could understand politicians. But he was finding it hard to get a hand on these bureaucrat types, their temperament and motives. He couldn’t grasp what they wanted. Why would they, or anyone, be a permanent government employee. ‘They max out at what, 200 grand, tops?’ he said, expressing something like wonder.

Trump can only understand power and use of power to enrich oneself. “He could understand politicians.” Politicians get to be courted. They get to go on the Sunday shows. They get to write themselves tax cuts and trade their votes for personal benefits.

But career professionals just get to keep the country running and maintain the institutions of democracy. They aren’t even dedicated to pursuing an ideological agenda. For Trump, it is literally inconceivable how anyone could care about serving the public. Particularly when the salary they take is a pittance compared to what could be made conning white working class aspirers into enrolling in threadbare “real estate courses.”

His view, on that point, is also at odds with a long-held view of conservative Republicans that government employees are paid too much. As someone cooped up in a blindingly gaudy 1980’s apartment, Trump has no clue how ordinary Americans live.

The chapter also reveals the Trump administration’s contemptuous sexism towards women in power. Trump staffers already hated Yates from the start due to stereotypes about “Obama women” and “Hillary women.”

Read More

Responding to Daniel Kim: What he gets wrong about Trump and immigration

This past month and a half, Bombs + Dollars has published an immigration-related argument by our Korea analyst Daniel Kim. The topic of immigration has been in the news since Donald Trump referred to some countries as “shitholes” and called for cutting down on immigration in a meeting with senators. I have discussed my views with Kim and now join the discussion in a response piece.

I find myself sympathetic to Kim’s argument that it should be made easier for foreign students to stay and work in America after graduating and for qualified foreigners in general to be able to obtain work visas in the United States. Unfortunately, those positions run exactly counter to the narrative and policies put forth by the Trump administration. Kim’s biggest mistake, in my view, is mischaracterizing the Trump position to be more pro-immigration than it actually is.

Kim starts his article by telling us, “Trump has been called an ‘anti-immigrant’ extremist, but I’m telling you, as a Korean aspiring to immigrate to the United States, that is simply not true.” He simply wants to change America to a completely merit-based system that tries to attract talent with high levels of education and skills. There are valid arguments for and against such a system.

First and foremost, however, I believe this interpretation of Trump’s and the Republican Party’s position is misleading, or at least incomplete. The bill that Republican Senator Tom Cotton introduced and that Trump supports, the “Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act”, would not only introduce a points-based system (at a time when there is already a system in place for employers to sponsor those immigrants who possess necessary skills for their jobs), it would also cut the number of green cards in half. And it would require that applicants for immigration calculate the points their spouse would score, despite the fact that the person immigrating would already have to have a job that pays well more than enough to take care of a family. At the same time, it would cut refugee admissions and cap them at 50,000, end the visa diversity lottery, and make it harder for extended family members to immigrate.

Taken as a whole, the Cotton immigration bill is a restrictionist measure. Even if one agreed with changing the criteria for acceptance of immigrants, this bill does much more than that. In fact, the Cotton bill would decrease the number of spots open for skilled immigrants. It would cut the number of H-1B visas by 500,000.

The bill and the rhetoric surrounding it is nothing more than a push to cut legal immigration while dressing it up in innocuous language. For all the talk from the anti-immigration right about enforcing America’s immigration laws, they actually want to change the laws themselves, to restrict the flow of immigration. They are not just opposed to illegal immigration but to legal immigration, too. Trump had in fact called on the campaign trail for an indefinite end to all green cards.

Kim talked about how hard it is for companies to hire qualified workers who happen to be of different nationalities. Trump wants to make it harder. He has campaigned for a “hire Americans” policy and pushed it in his inaugural address, too. He proposed raising the prevailing wage for workers to qualify for H-1B visas, making it more expensive and burdensome to hire them. In fact, the NY Times reports that even without any new immigration measures having been passed by Congress, issuance of work visas has slowed down and hit road blocks, suggesting a possible administrative push by the Trump administration to decrease immigration.

So Kim might be right about making it easier for foreign nationals to work in America, but he’s assuredly not right that Trump or Trump’s policies would help with that. Just the opposite.

One note, also, about Kim’s opposition to any kind of amnesty or in-state tuition measures for illegal immigrants: The amnesty plans and in-state tuition plans all have some kinds of merit-based qualifications attached. For example, in Texas, illegal immigrants must have resided in Texas for attended at least 3 years of high school in Texas (so it’s not like they have no connection to the state), same as in Colorado, California, New Jersey, Nebraska, Maryland, Minnesota, and Illinois. Most of these people are going to be living in America for the rest of their lives—even Trump doesn’t have the political capital nor ability to deport 12 million people—so wouldn’t it be better for America to encourage those who would be in America to get an education and become legalized?

Maybe it is a question about fairness versus pragmatism.

James Damore plays race card, files “discrimination” suit

If there are two things Americans love, it’s filing lawsuits and claiming victim status.

Now ex-Google employee James Damore is doing both. Damore, who was fired in August for sending a memo that went viral, is suing Google claiming discrimination on the basis of his race, gender and politics (culturally conservative). Or, what is often referred to in conservative circles as playing the race card.

Look, here’s a Wall Street Journal writer accusing Barack Obama of playing the race card.

Ann Coulter says that criticizing Republicans for racism is “playing the race card.”

Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano attacks Al Sharpton for “playing the race card.”

Ben Carson says Jesse Jackson was playing the race card when he criticized the police shooting of a resident of Ferguson, Missouri.

Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee’s claims of racism were dismissed by the NY Post as “playing the race card.”

So now we see whenever anyone raises the issue of possible racism, even when it might have some merit, it is shot down as “playing the race card.”

How about James Damore? Does he seriously think white people face egregious discrimination in the tech industry, an industry whose owners, investors, managers, and employees they constitute the vast majority of? He says Google is putting extra effort into hiring women (in order to correct for perceived discrimination against and/or lack of women in tech). In fact, even in a natural state, there wouldn’t be 50-50 gender parity in most vocations or hobbies. Nonetheless, even if hiring an extra woman here or there makes results in one less qualified man being hired, is that policy that Google, a private company chose, an illegal infringement on men’s rights? It’s a drop in the bucket.

Damore wasn’t fired for his race or gender, anyway. He wasn’t even fired for his politics. We don’t know, from his memo, or much of his public statements, where he stands on political issues like taxes, welfare, healthcare, drug policy, gay marriage, or many others. He was fired for sending a long-winded memo opposing Google’s policy towards diversity.

One can argue against Google’s policy on gender diversity or its policy towards firing people simply for publicly disagreeing with its policy. It may very well have been stupid of Google. It may also have been stupid of Damore to send the memo. It was almost certainly an overreaction by social media hordes who don’t even work at Google spreading his memo along and acting offended. But doing “stupid” things is all well within our rights as individuals or companies.

Even if one were to be fired for holding a political position, political viewpoints are not a “protected class”, in the legal sense, afforded the same protections as people discriminated against for innate characteristics of their identity.

On this day, Kim Jong-un was born (and Zhou En-lai died)

The megalomaniacal dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, was born today either in 1982, 1983, or 1984, depending on whether you take North Korean, South Korean, or American records as the most reliable.

Kim’s aunt, who is living in exile in the United States, says it was 1984,

They can reveal, for example, that Kim Jong Un was born in 1984 – not 1982 or 1983, as has been widely believed. The reason they’re certain? It was the same year that their first son was born. “He and my son were playmates from birth. I changed both of their diapers”, Ko said with a laugh.

Kim likes to celebrate with extravagant public celebrations, like basketball games, using money that could feed the starving populace. Here’s Dennis Rodman singing “Happy Birthday” to him in 2014:

Also on this day a few years before Kim’s birth, China’s long-time diplomat and official Zhou En-lai, who was instrumental in shepherding China’s opening with the United States, died in 1976. Zhou served as Premier of the PRC from its founding until the day of his death. He negotiated and did rice wine shots with Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon.

The Iran protests and American journalistic hackery

Before new years and continuing until the present, Iranians have taken to the streets to demand political and economic reforms. Over 400 protesters have been reportedly arrested and 20 killed. Having cracked down violently on protests in 2009, too, the Iranian government appears to face a crisis of legitimacy.

Much of the commentary from the political right, however, launders the protesters’ real grievances to make partisan political points. Take Fox News opinion columnist Stephen L. Miller (@RedSteeze on Twitter). Yesterday evening (US time), he had published a garden variety “Why aren’t liberal feminists supporting Muslim women in the Middle East?” article.

In this case, the specific language was: “Women are leading in Iran. Where is their voice of support from the left?”

So the question must be asked: Where are the women’s movement supporters in the United States and Europe, which gathered en masse to protest a newly inaugurated American president last year?

The question presumes that a protest in America against Iran’s government would have much influence in toppling Iran’s government. It presumes Americans shouldn’t care about the actions of their own government–or at least shouldn’t care any more about their own government’s actions than they do about those of foreign governments. After all, why should Americans protest bad governance and abuses of power in America if they don’t protest about foreign countries?

The question could be asked about anything. Why hasn’t Stephen L. Miller written anything about North Korea’s human rights abuses lately? Why hasn’t he written about democratic backsliding in Poland and Hungary governments?

Hell, Miller was outraged about the IRS reportedly scrutinizing tax exemption applications from Tea Party groups. Even if a conspiracy against the Tea Party existed (and it didn’t–liberal groups applying for tax exempt status were scrutinized, too, according to an audit conducted years later), would it really be as bad as South African leader Jacob Zuma’s hundreds of crimes of corruption?

One can imagine the story framed in Miller’s terms:
So the question must be asked: Where are the conservatives and Tea Partiers in the United States, which gathered en masse to protest a newly inaugurated American president on Tax Day?

Another cliché gaining being pushed on Iran is the typical: “Why isn’t the media covering this story that I read about in the media?” Stephen Miller wrote on December 30:

Read More

4 words that should be banned in 2018

This month, it was reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had decided to “ban” seven words like “fetus” and “transgender” for fear they might offend the fragile minds of conservatives, keeping the CDC in line with universities affraid that words will offend liberals and “vulnerable” people.

I would like to jump into this word-banning game as Editor and Publisher of Bombs + Dollars, and I have the power, too, at least on my small corner of the internet. The following are words (in some cases, “words”) that I will never allow to be published at B+D going forward. Tongue-in-cheek, of course; the real problem with the following words is not that they are offensive, but that they just don’t make for good and clear writing.

Bodies, when used in place of “people”

Read More

Page 1 of 25

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Get the most important and interesting articles right at your inbox. Sign up for B+D periodic emails.