Trump and the Dangers of Toadyism

President Trump does not like, cannot tolerate, dissent. Trump has filled his administration with “yes” men and women, who do not oppose even his most undemocratic wishes but rather help him find creative ways to get his wishes fulfilled, no matter how damaging they might be to the form of government we inherited from the nation’s founders. Now the President wants a whole nation full of only affirmation of his every whim, full of “yes”. When has any leader had this kind of support from a nation without using the fear of death to inspire it?

Whenever the media, in any form, criticizes Trump, which thank goodness it still does, Trump lets us all see that if he had his way he would ruin that particular media outlet or make life so existentially difficult for them that they would have to get in line and praise his “very stable genius” every day and in every article. That would be fun, wouldn’t it? (sarcasm) But he is already doing this. If you read our newspapers or watch TV, news media outlets have moderated their speech to escape the President’s wrath.  How many media outlets could survive total abject toadyism? We would only need one state newspaper, one TV station, etc. We would be Russia.

Every book I have ever read about how to succeed in business warns against the danger of surrounding yourself with only those who agree with you (or pretend to). Eventually your ideas will become stagnant and there will be no infusion of new energy and you’ll begin to lose your market share to companies that encourage more diversity and fresher ideas. This can happen to countries also. Once again look to the example of Russia which seems to exist on a sort of perpetual mobius strip, going forward and yet doomed to go backward in an endless loop. So not only are Trump’s tendencies unconstitutional in a republic such as ours, but to require the constant stroking, and the absolute acceptance that he alone knows what is best for America, is also counterproductive. 

What Trump intends is to punish social media for allowing people (e.g. Representatives in the House) to dissent. He wants to claim victimhood, again. “The media is mean to me.” He wants social media to create algorithms that will send comments that say negative things about Trump and his policies to the trash and to take membership on social media away from individuals who post dissenting opinions. 

Although he should be trying to be sure there is no foreign meddling in the 2020 election and that fake accounts, bots, and memes that are offering false information do not get into the social feed, that was not his main concern in the media summit he held recently. Instead he whined about the unfair coverage he gets, this time from some of the American people, and he thanked and gave his endorsement to any social media that has supported him, however far they wander from our norms. 

Free speech is a difficult thing. When, if ever, does free speech step over a line? Is using a bot a free speech right or, in the case of elections, is it a cheat? Do we really want hidden foreign intervention in our elections? Aren’t we producing enough home-grown propaganda? The issue of what constitutes free speech on social media is complex and it will be on-going because as one clever attempt is banned, new techniques, cleverer ones, will pop up. Can we ever “clean” the web the way Panera says it cleans food? What will we lose if we are able to stop bad actors from abusing social media? Will good things be lost also? Will the whole world find free speech curtailed to the detriment of what we hoped would be the spread of freedom everywhere? A lot of people are very concerned about the answers to those questions. 

The world seems to have devalued democracy these days and “illiberal” democracies (dictatorships) seem all the rage. Will America throw away 243 years of relative freedom to join the ranks of those who put their trust in one person only. If we follow where Trump seems to lead and where the GOP functions as his wing man then we will find our freedoms disappearing one by one. Trump sees the media as the enemy and thinks he can kill all media opposition to his authoritarian style and his racist policies; his style that uses lies and distractions to manipulate the media and the people until it sounds like he rules, oops, governs by affirmation. Then he will be the most popular President ever – or else! 

Social online media is replacing print media and is currently in a position of power. We are in the midst of trying to figure out what brakes should be put on speech on the internet. People who are not liberal at all are using free speech arguments to justify lies, propaganda, and conspiracy theory in order to distort reality and bring about some pretty fascist outcomes. When messages are posted to sites skewed in a way that can be easily identified, it is easy to avoid those sites. But when they show up on social media they may be deliberately hiding their lack of bona fides and masquerading as factual sources. We saw this in the 2016 election when Russian bots adopted the personas of American citizens. To even create brakes that will consistently work may be impossible. What to do? What to do? What to do with the issue of a President who twists the concept of free speech until it means free speech only for him and his supporters.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Esquire

“Spanking” Social Media: Donald Calls a Summit

From a Google Image Search – The Daily Beast – Known invitees to Summit

Spanking Social Media: Wrong President, Wrong Reasons

A conference/investigation/summit is being convened at President Trump’s request to accuse social media of being biased against him and his peeps. This is patently ridiculous. Although there are a number of issues to discuss about the unexpected outcomes of having free speech on social media platforms that are open to global participation, this President will not explore any of these valid topics. That is why no major social media representatives are invited to this summit, only Conservatives. Even some Trump allies on the right are excluded from the list of invitees. 

President Trump does not like, cannot tolerate, dissent. Trump has filled his administration with “yes” men and women, who do not oppose even his most undemocratic wishes but rather help him find creative ways to get his wishes fulfilled, no matter how damaging they might be to the form of government we inherited from the nation’s founders. Now the President wants a nation full of only affirmation of his every whim, full of “yes”. When has any leader had this kind of support from a nation without using the fear of death to inspire it?

Whenever the media, in any form, criticizes Trump, which thank goodness it still does, Trump lets us all see that if he had his druthers he would ruin that particular media outlet or make life so existentially difficult for them that they would have to get in line and praise his “very stable genius” every day and in every article. That would be fun, wouldn’t it. (I am sticking my finger down my throat in that don’t make me puke gesture.) How many media outlets could survive such toadyism? We would only need one state newspaper, one TV station, etc. We would be Russia.

Every book I have ever read about how to succeed in business warns against the danger of surrounding yourself with only those who agree with you (or pretend to). Eventually your ideas will become stagnant and there will be no infusion of new energy and you begin to lose your market share to companies that encourage more diversity and fresher ideas. This can happen to countries also. Once again look to the example of Russia which seems to exist on a sort of perpetual mobius strip, going forward and yet doomed to go backward in an endless loop. So not only are Trump’s tendencies unconstitutional in a republic such as ours, but to require the constant stroking, and the absolute acceptance that he alone knows what is best for America, is also counterproductive. 

What Trump intends is to punish social media for allowing people to dissent. He wants to claim victimhood again. He wants social media to create algorithms that will send comments that say negative things about Trump and his policies to the trash and to take membership on social media away from individuals who post dissenting opinions. 

Although he should be trying to be sure there is no foreign meddling in the 2020 election and that fake accounts, bots, and memes that are offering false information do not get into the social feed, that is not his main concern in this meeting. Instead he is whining about the unfair coverage he gets, this time from some of the American people, and he is blaming social media for letting this happen. 

Free speech is a difficult thing. When, if ever, does free speech step over a line? Is using a bot a free speech right or, in the case of elections, is it a cheat? Do we really want hidden foreign intervention in our elections? Aren’t we producing enough home-grown propaganda? The issue of what constitutes free speech on social media is complex and it will be on-going because as one clever attempt is banned, new techniques, cleverer ones, will pop up. Can we ever “clean” the web the way Panera says it cleans food? What will we lose if we are able to stop bad actors from abusing social media? Will good things be lost also? Will the whole world find free speech curtailed to the detriment of the thing many call “the liberal world order”. A lot of people are very concerned about the answers to those questions. 

The world seems to have devalued democracy these days and “illiberal” democracies (dictatorships) seem all the rage. Will America throw away 243 years of relative freedom to join the ranks of those who put their trust in one person only. If we follow where Trump seems to lead and where the GOP functions as his wing man then we will find our freedoms disappearing one by one. Trump sees the media as the enemy and thinks he can kill all media opposition to his authoritarian style and his thuggish policies, his style that uses lies and distractions to manipulate the media and the people until it sounds like he rules, oops, governs by affirmation. Then he will be the most popular President ever – or else! Social online media is replacing print media and is currently in a position of power. It probably will not be so easily “spanked”.

Conservative Creep

From mediamatters.org

February 18, 2018,

To my Governor, Andrew Cuomo, my fellow New Yorkers and all Americans:

 

Conservatives Drive Up the Cost of Local Elections and Ad Campaigns – Fair Elections are Essential in a Democracy

 

I am very concerned with the “Conservative creep” into central New York east of Lake Ontario. I realize that Syracuse has always had a bent towards Republicans, but candidates, until recently, have not documented the huge expenditures that we have seen in the most recent House elections. In 2016 Washington, DC came to Syracuse and fought the election out on our turf. Both parties spent lots of money. In the 24th District 7 million dollars was spent on the Katko/Deacon contest.

 

https://www.opensecrets.org/races/summary?cycle=2016&id=NY24

 

Total Raised and Spent

 Download .csv file

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on Hand Last Report
John Katko (R) • Incumbent • Winner $2,656,070 $2,384,152 $285,701 12/31/2016
Colleen Deacon (D) $1,483,168 $1,478,639 $4,519 12/31/2016

 

From Center For Responsive Politics

 

https://www.opensecrets.org/races/outside-spending?cycle=2016&id=NY24

 

Candidates Opposed/Supported

Candidate Supported Opposed All 2016 Total
(Supported and Opposed)
Deacon, Colleen (D) $33,206 $1,985,810 $2,019,016
Katko, John (R) $680,653 $1,204,137 $1,884,790
Kingson, Eric (D) $21,174 $0 $21,174

Outside Groups Spending Money in this Race

Click group name to see on which candidates they have spent money supporting/opposing.

Committee Type All 2016 Total
American Hospital Assn PAC $200,091
American Unity PAC SuperPAC $93,501
Blue America PAC IE Cmte SuperPAC $14,312
ClearPath Action SuperPAC $111,347
Congressional Leadership Fund SuperPAC $772,007
Democratic Congressional Campaign Cmte PAC $919,238
House Majority PAC SuperPAC $314,010
National Assn of Realtors 501c $3,151
National Nurses United SuperPAC $6,862
National Republican Congressional Cmte PAC $1,458,053
NRA Institute for Legislative Action 501c $26,644
NRA Institute for Legislative Action 501c $1,669
Planned Parenthood of Rochester/Syracuse Region 501c $1,288
Sierra Club 501c $2,797
Sierra Club PAC $10
·       Money spent in support of a candidate

 

·       Money spent in opposition

 

·       Neither in support nor opposition/neutral

 

That’s a lot of money spent in a small city like Syracuse. Notice the big difference in the amounts spent on support ads.

 

If you look at the 22nd district where Elise Stefanik was elected you see that Republicans can keep driving up the cost of elections and that Democrats must follow suit, and then the Republicans just spend more and they win.

 

https://www.opensecrets.org/races/outside-spending?cycle=2016&id=NY21

 

Candidates Opposed/Supported

Candidate Supported Opposed All 2016 Total
(Supported and Opposed)
Derrick, Mike (D) $10 $379,697 $379,707
Stefanik, Elise (R) $233,268 $0 $233,268

Outside Groups Spending Money in this Race

Click group name to see on which candidates they have spent money supporting/opposing.

Committee Type All 2016 Total
Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions 501c $65,897
ClearPath Action SuperPAC $159,325
Congressional Leadership Fund SuperPAC $379,697
Conserv America Building a Brighter Future PAC $1,000
Humane Society Legislative Fund 501c $4,867
NRA Institute for Legislative Action 501c $2,179
Sierra Club PAC $10
·       Money spent in support of a candidate

 

·       Money spent in opposition

 

·       Neither in support nor opposition/neutral

 

Notice the money spent to oppose and support each candidate. This only represents outside spending. This district includes many rural towns and has Watertown, NY as its largest city. Check out poor Mike Derrick. Do you think he had a chance?

 

In the 21st district an astonishing 12 million dollars was spent to elect Republican Claudia Tenney

 

https://www.opensecrets.org/races/outside-spending?cycle=2016&id=NY22

 

Candidates Opposed/Supported

Candidate Supported Opposed All 2016 Total
(Supported and Opposed)
Tenney, Claudia (R) $507,404 $3,311,654 $3,819,058
Myers, Kim (D) $487,955 $1,936,834 $2,424,789
Babinec, Martin (3) $49,734 $1,625,344 $1,675,078
Wells, Steven M (R) $78,294 $0 $78,294
Phillips, George (R) $1,198 $0 $1,198

 

 

Outside Groups Spending Money in this Race

Click group name to see on which candidates they have spent money supporting/opposing.

Committee Type All 2016 Total
Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions 501c $65,897
ClearPath Action SuperPAC $159,325
Congressional Leadership Fund SuperPAC $379,697
Conserv America Building a Brighter Future PAC $1,000
Humane Society Legislative Fund 501c $4,867
NRA Institute for Legislative Action 501c $2,179
Sierra Club PAC $10
·       Money spent in support of a candidate

 

·       Money spent in opposition

 

·       Neither in support nor opposition/neutral

 

These are insane amounts of money to spend on local elections and it would not be possible or necessary if the Republicans had not made sure to win the Citizen’s United decision in the Supreme Court (which was ostensibly about an anti-Hillary movie). In this way, via the courts, Conservatives have been able to up the financial ante on local elections and this probably explains, in part, why the GOP has collected 30 states (I see this as the way the Koch brothers have collected 30 states.) These people, once elected, vote with their Conservative overlords almost all the time. They know who butters their bread.

So, Governor Cuomo, now these Conservatives are trying to collect our state, and they have a good head start on at least a part of the state. They may never be able to turn New York City red, but they won’t have to worry much about that when they will have bought and paid for such a big slice of New York State west of New York City.

 

Conservatives Buying Local News Outlets – Free Press Essential to Democracy

 

Besides creeping into local elections, Conservatives have been buying up local media. Syracuse has a big university which usually signals a place with more liberal values, but the large and influential Newhouse School of communications (media) carries the name of the Conservative Newhouse family and, although Syracuse also is home to Lemoyne College, this Roman Catholic school is also quite Conservative. Still local news channels have never been a national Conservative target until now. Sinclair Broadcasting now owns NBC and CBS local news broadcasts. Sinclair is so Conservative that it has been inserting Fox “fake” news about national politics (Trump) into our local news broadcasts. They were not subtle at all at first, employing commenters like Sebastian Gorka, but recently they have been using lesser known news readers.

Naïvely, I had believed, that ABC had been left as our one local news source, but that is not so. ABC local news is owned by Nextstar, a close ally of Sinclair, out of Texas. These Conservative media companies have Ajit Pai of the FCC helping them buy even more local stations. You know him from his recent decision against net neutrality. Sinclair has requested that news managers at the stations it owns contribute a set amount to Sinclair’s PAC. If you actually think this is only a “request”, you are dreaming; this is extortion. They reason that it is fine, they say, is because it is not a request for actual TV journalists (news people) to “contribute”, so it does not constitute undue influence. (Very droll, the very fact that  they are here is already undue influence).

http://feixingren.com/comics/%22?lifestyle/style/sinclair-broadcast-group-solicits-its-news-directors-for-its-political-fundraising-efforts/2018/02/10/0e3d8a08-0c54-11e8-8b0d-891602206fb7_story.html

See the end of this post for more articles on Sinclair and Nexstar. You will note that, in fact, Nexstar has already accepted $5000 contributions from news managers at the stations it owns.

 

Implications

 

This is the way dictators take over governments, although they may be more explosive and less stealthy about it. They buy elections. They say fiercely negative things about opposition candidates. These days they do this in professionally produced TV ads. They take over the media so that it cannot be used against them. As far as I know they have only bought our national politicians. Our local government seems to be, for the time being, local. This could change if Conservatives decide they have enough leverage in New York to overturn the ban on fracking or the Safe Act. Turning America Conservative is the full time hobby of the Koch brothers and the web of Conservative organizations they have created. As far as I know Conservatives have not taken over the military or the police, but they may be working on it.

 

What are your ideas Governor Cuomo? New Yorkers?

 

You may dismiss me as paranoid or just plain wrong and, since this is just one person putting together clues, I can certainly understand that. But you know there is no love lost between New York and 45, or New York and the Conservatives. You have been standing strong against the onslaught. However, you may not think things are as bad as I do. But it might be good to think about what could be done to get our local elections and local media outlets back from the right-wing, which seems to be waging a slow-mo coup against America’s two-party system. Of course, Central New York is not a thriving part of the state at the moment and there is no way that this geographic region has the financial resources to compete with the Koch brothers and big Washington politics if it becomes all-out war. And I doubt if Albany is wealthy enough to beat wealthy Conservative donors at their own game either. We would have to be quite creative and make them play a new game. Is there another game? What can be done to wean the people of Central New York, from more suburban and rural areas far from the influences of NYC, from FOX “fake” News? Don’t you think it might be worth our while to try to make our hinterlands feel less neglected?

 

More Sinclair and Nexstar articles:

Sinclair Tribune deal bad for America

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/this-sinclair-tribune-merger-is-a-rotten-deal-for-america_us_59b0587ce4b0c50640cd643d

Sinclair and Nexstar

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/sinclair-broadcast-and-nexstar-media-announce-agreement-on-market-transition-from-atsc-10-to-atsc-30-nextgen-services-300491754.html

https://www.fiercecable.com/broadcasting/sinclair-and-nexstar-take-a-big-step-toward-next-generation-tv

 

My own recent posts on the subject of the Sinclair takeover:

 

http://thearmchairobserver.com/keep-eye-media-takeover/

http://thearmchairobserver.com/sinclair-we-heart-free-speech/

http://thearmchairobserver.com/sinclair-broadcasting-immigration/

 

 

Call to Action:  Sign My Petition

 

I also started to circulate a Move On petition entitled Conservative Creep. Please sign if you can support this and share it.

https://petitions.moveon.org/sign/conservative-creep

 

 

 

 

Is Violence Speech?

Well, here we are, back at our discussion of free speech. Free speech that is emotional, that expresses ideas we are invested in, whether they are socially acceptable ideas or anti-social ideas, may lead us to feel that words are not enough. After all, we still have some pretty primitive hard-wiring. Our physicality might be called into play. Thus free speech can lead to violence as it did this weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. Is free speech paired with violence the kind of speech we are guaranteed in the First Amendment?

Our forefathers were not very peaceful. They were revolutionaries. They backed their arguments with their fists, and guns. They fought duels. But our forefathers knew nothing of Henry David Thoreau’s essay on “Civil Disobedience”. They predated Gandhi. They did not know what Martin Luther King knew about peaceful resistance. Sometimes when innocents sacrifice their lives for a cause it is even more powerful than when combatants sacrifice theirs for a cause.

America has tried to move away from violence. Ideologically, we abhor it. We have advocated for peaceful coexistence around the globe. We know how violence destroys societies, or nations, or even civilizations. We have never truly put behind us the violence of brother against brother of our own Civil War. The recent demonstrations in Virginia which descended into violence were ostensibly about the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

The entire world was appalled by Hitler, at least they were once they realized that Hitler did not deserve anyone’s adulation. Once people realized he was insane and committing genocide on a scale and in ways most of us had never thought of, just about the whole world pitched in to destroy him.

So I say, despite our roots and our contentious forefathers, we are not a nation that believes free speech should have a violent physical dimension. We have wrapped ourselves in our “exceptionalism”. How is that looking now? Should haters have free speech? These folks don’t hate ideas, they hate people, people who are different from them. They honestly believe white people are superior, that Europeans rule by “divine right”. They were not around when other cultures and people had their moments on the world stage – Chinese dynasties, Byzantium, the Mongols and more, so they do not know that power has been owned by people who were not Europeans, not Westerners.

So because we, the “exceptionalists,” have not all yet learned how to handle diverse peoples, skin colors, or religions, these people, these neo-Nazis, these white supremacists, seem to think that punching shooting, running over everyone is free speech. However many of us believe that our planet is so small, so endangered, so overpopulated that we must at least try to forge common bonds.

Speech that comes with violence is not free speech – we know better here at the beginning of the 21st century. And we all have DNA made from the exact same chemical molecules even if they are assembled with infinite variety. The alt-right or the white supremacists, whatever they want to be called, should crawl back under the rocks that they came from if the only speech they want to be free with is hate speech. We must do better. We may be at the edge of apocalypse.

Sinclair We Heart Free Speech

Our free press is one of America’s greatest strengths. This is one of the “campaigns” of Mr. Trump that I find most disgraceful; his attacks on the media. He assaults the very best of our media and venerates all of the worst of it. He calls the media that tries to honestly report the events of the day “fake news” and he relies on all of the media which the rest of think of as “fake news”. Since our print media is already struggling to stay alive in these days of the internet, I am worried that Donald’s constant barrage of insults against the free press will leave us with only news that leans to the right, and made-up news.

Much of our pride in America is tied up in our free speech. We feel a bit superior to a nation like Russia or China with only state-sponsored news. Even so, we have lost some of our freedom because money is now speech and we don’t have enough money to buy as much “speech” as some Americans are able to these days. Even worse, now we have a “strong man” in charge who is trying to kill off sources of free speech. The best sources of news refuse to print unearned praise of the current occupant of the White House, so 45 is trying to suppress all our nation’s leading news sources.

Other powerful and wealthy men like the Koch brothers are trying to subvert media sources from within by buying them and then forcing them to print news stories they like or even ones they invent. I am very worried that the Conservative push to control America is going to take away the freedom of speech we have always enjoyed in our media.

History has taught us one way dictators destroy the free press is to make us begin to question which stories are factual and which stories are not. There used to be a fairly clear divide between commentary and news. Those lines are now being blurred. Before the 2016 election we all saw stories on Facebook that seemed extremely biased and some which struck us as too ridiculous to even bother to read. There were stories we had to hide so we wouldn’t ever have to see them again. Perhaps we attributed these stories to devotees of Fox News and never guessed that powerful people were deliberately planting “fake news”, or propaganda, on Facebook. But there were plenty of people on Facebook who would bury you in troll-speak if you dared express an opinion, in a comment, opposite to the “fake news”

I don’t like the Conservative agenda of today’s Republican Party and I make no secret of this. I do not believe that anything these folks want will be good for America, except perhaps training programs for workers and infrastructure investments (not pipelines). But Conservatives have been very effective at bamboozling, lying to, propagandizing, and convincing many Americas to believe that they have good ideas and that the Democrats don’t. If we are not careful the right – the GOP – will not just control the government and 30+ state governments, they might just become the only political power in America. What will we hear on our media then?

Well, I know where you can get a foretaste. Recently John Oliver outed the business plans of the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, a Conservative media group that owns local TV news stations in 81 local markets and that is trying to double the number of stations under its influence through a merger. In my mid-size city Sinclair bought three TV local news programs on different networks and two of those stations are the most popular stations for local news, the news broadcasts people listen to every day and every night. Syracuse, NY was cited by name by John Oliver on this national network (HBO) and this is a rare thing indeed unless the news is about snowstorms.

So far the most noticeable feature of the “takeover” is that these stations are obligated to air commentary a number of times each week by a Trump supporter named Boris Epshteyn, “Bottom Line with Boris”. Katy Waldman at Slate.com in her article with the title “News. Traffic. Weather. Trump” begins her article like this: “the face of Boris Epshteyn, chief political analyst for the behemoth Sinclair Broadcast Group, is glowing like an oversized egg about to hatch the world’s most affable chicken. ‘Let’s take a look at the White House press briefing,” he suggests genially, the corners of his mouth lifting. ‘What it is, what it represents, and how it serves the American people.”

Here’s a little sample of Boris in action.

I’m unsure that there is any path right now that would put news in Syracuse back with an owner who wants to offer segments that fairly present both sides of an issue or that take a brave stand when called for. But the word about Sinclair Broadcasting Group invading my local news is a depressing development and another sad step away from free speech. When will our politics, which has moved so far to the right, make a move back towards the center or to the left? That is difficult to predict. It could take many years to change US policy now that we have let Conservatives take over our politics, and have allowed them to be so invasive in our media dialogue and government. Will we lose our free speech rights? Will we become afraid to speak out if we disagree with laws or approaches to future crises that are sure to arise? Government-approved media could happen here. There is, as they say, “a slippery slope.”

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2017/07/how_boris_epshteyn_and_sinclair_bring_trump_propaganda_to_local_news.html

http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2017/07/john_oliver_sinclair_broadcast_group_cny_central_syracuse.html

http://www.syracuse.com/business-news/index.ssf/2017/05/sinclair_broadcast_group_tribune_media_fox.html

http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2013/11/syracuse_tv_stations_sold_ownership_sinclair_broadcast_group.html