Monday, September 30, 2019

I Wanna Know, Have You Ever Seen Ukraine...

…Comin’ down on Donny’s Day?”

(Sorry... Weird Al's job is safe from the likes of me.)

When you think of all the things or places that could bring down the presidency, who had Ukraine in the pool? I mean, you would have thought Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Iran, Scotland, or a host of shit-hole countries would be the logical choices.

But boy, did he step in it here. This has all the hallmarks of a good scandal: Personal gain, underhandedness, and a cover-up.

It’s funny how the rest of the Republicans are still pushing the Biden “scandal.” This was an issued that had been debunked ages ago. There is literally nothing there.

I can’t believe Republicans are even interested in this kind of scandal. I mean, how would they like to see a survey of where their kids work? At how many corporate boards are their offspring currently sitting? How much scrutiny about political favors and no-bid contracts can they withstand? I can’t believe they even let the subject come up.

Nevertheless, we now have Republicans pushing a “scandal” on their opponents which has zero proof and denying the president’s scandal that has loads of proof, including self-admitted! They’re not just morally and ethically bankrupt; now they’re actually believing their own bullshit.

This meme on it amused me for its sheer lameness:

Someone, please explain to these guys that it’s not hearsay if the material has been corroborated multiple times by people for whom it was NOT hearsay… people who heard the call themselves. That’s what the Inspector General said in the “Whistleblower Report.”

Plus, there is the “not-a-transcript” that the White House released which confirms everything that was alleged about the conversation. This meme-ster needs to pull his head from the dark place in which it’s lodged.

Did you hear about the Trump supporters in Congress fretting about how he shouldn’t have released the not-a-transcript? They’re not concerned with the mafia shakedown, they’re just upset it got out. There’s the modern Republican party right there. Better to bury the crime rather than admit it. From the Washington Post, one Republican senator said:

The transcript’s release was a “huge mistake” that the GOP now has to confront and defend — while the party argues at the same time that House Democrats are overreaching with their impeachment inquiry of Trump.”

That’s too bad… this pesky transcript contradicts the talking points they’re supposed to follow. How can they deny the facts that the White House just admitted? Golly, what a pickle. It’s made it hard to follow the usual playbook:

Again, it’s too bad their default position is to alibi for the president rather than confront his illegal behavior. Remember, laws are just for Democrats to follow! They’re only the party of Law and Order when they’re not holding power.

Other Republican senators have been quoted as saying they’d for impeachment if the vote was secret.

Well isn’t that the very definition of superior ethics and backbone? Spineless weasels! They’re more than happy to let terrible precedents be set while the democracy swirls down the toilet, just as long as they get re-elected.

What these Republicans AND wobbly Democrats from purple states need to do, in my humble opinion, is own the vote and lean into it. Come out and say, “No one is above the law, including the president. His own transcript showed he sought election help from a foreign government at the exact time he was holding up millions in military aid. That’s not the way this country is supposed to function. This is a matter of national security and I’ll defend that every time.”

Then, if Republican, throw support behind Pence. Hell, he’s practically the same, only substitute oily religious piety for obnoxiousness.

The other juicy angle on this whole affair is how Trump’s handlers diverted the actual transcript onto an ultra-secure server, which can only be accessed by those with top clearance. Or essentially, tossed into a black hole.

At this point, the hypocrisy factor goes off the charts.

I need Republicans to start explaining how Hillary’s server problems were different or more dangerous to the country than this one.

That, right there, is a 5-alarm, no-doubt-about-it, cover-up. That server was designed for national security secrets… troop maneuvers, battle plans, weapon design… serious stuff. It was not meant to be a dumpster for politically damaging conversations. By all accounts, there were no national security implications in that conversation with the Ukraine president. It was a puff call; just something to welcome the new guy to the table. Until Trump sent it off the rails, that is.

Another thing about the not-a-transcript… Was President Zelensky trying to join the GOP 2020 ticket? I haven’t heard such toadying since the last cabinet meeting at which Pence spoke. Looks like the book is out on how to curry favor with the American president.

Now what’s the outcome going to be for this impeachment process? That’s anyone’s guess. I think the House will impeach, for sure. The Senate is where the questions come in.

Mitch McConnell says he’s required to hold a hearing, but we all know what a dog and pony show that can be. The verdict will not be decided until the Koch Brother says it is. He’ll tell Mitch what to do and Mitch will make it so, one way or another.

It wouldn’t totally surprise me if he allowed the impeachment of the president. The fossil fuel guys know that Pence is one of them. He’s been in lockstep with them ever since he’s been in office… any office. The only variable is whether they can get such a wet blanket elected in 2020. We all know they have enough money to throw at the problem. Maybe they’ll figure he’ll do whatever they want to, like Trump does, only Pence won’t step on his dick every week while doing it.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Debunkery - The Patriotic Edition

I usually prowl through Facebook once or twice a day and because I have a number of conservative friends, I get to see a lot of conservative propaganda and memes. You’ve probably seen me debunk these here before; it’s something I enjoy. I do this because I prefer to use Facebook as a way to keep up with friends and family I have all over the country, and not argue politics. (That’s what the blog is for.)

So as much as I’d like to get into a four-alarm flamer over some of these ridiculous claims, I really don’t want to fight with friends. I know I’ll ring a bell that can’t be unrung. Maybe one day soon, or in a time a long way off, I may reverse that position. I may decide I don’t really need quite so many friends or I may hit the breaking point on what I consider to be violations of the minimum of human decency and come out with my keyboard blazing. That will be a big day in family lore.

But for now, I tuck them away for days like today, when I can give them the attention they deserve.

It’s funny though, because there are several scenarios with these memes. Sometimes I see them and I have the gist of my response written in my head in a moment or two. These are usually ones with a glaring logical fallacy or something missing right on the surface. These make up most of the ones I find. Like this one:

I think memes like this say more about the shallowness of the poster than any essay or speech ever will.

It says, “I like my patriotism simple, like me.”

This is really about Easy Patriotism. It’s easy to parade the flag around and claim to be US Patriot Number One. It’s a lot harder to stand up for what the flag symbolizes… a free country where people can speak truth to power and pursue happiness in their own ways.

Conservatives give lip service to that idea, so we’re free to pursue collecting lethal military hardware, until our heart’s content. Who cares if that hobby has the potential to kill tens or hundreds of innocent people?

But pursue a same-sex relationship or marriage and you’re outta luck, despite that it has no practical effect on other people’s lives even a little bit. This “liberty” only extends to being allowed to use one’s religion to harass or deny service to people who make them feel icky. (Or unnaturally warm inside… sometimes it’s hard to tell.)

And believe me, if the stage was draped with flags, they’d complain that the candidates weren’t wearing flag lapel pins. And if they were wearing the pins, they’d complain that they weren’t wearing red, white and blue boater hats, or socks or ties. It’s always something. There is always some arbitrary standard that Republicans think Democrats are supposed to meet.

It’s also noteworthy how they set up “Socialists” as ones who oppose the flag. It’s always the fault of “Socialists,” whenever someone wants to better the situation for the average person. That’s because the rich continue to pump out this message, through Fox “News” bot farms, Breitbart, and other disinformation sources, so that they can keep the status quo going long enough to leave their ill-gotten riches to their offspring, without those pesky capital gains and estate taxes.

Anyway, I’ve probably given this meme too much attention already, considering the featherweight gravity it entails.

Another kind of meme is one where it takes a moment to figure out what their point really is.

Is it anti-college? Anti-celebrity? Anti-immigration? And where are illegal immigrants getting free college? There’s no such program out there…

Then it hit me… They’re talking about the various universal free college proposals from the Democratic debates. Ahhhhhhhhh, there it is.

Here’s another way of phrasing it: “We’d rather saddle our kids (or ourselves) with a lifetime of debt and have nobody get a free college education rather than to let any illegal immigrants get them too.”

That is some industrial-strength racism, right there.

And that’s not even accounting for the favored excuse they’re only against undocumented immigration because “it’s illegal,” yet Republicans keep making it harder and harder to immigrate legally. Unless you’re from one of the white countries, that is. Then you just have to be able to sign your name, and rub your belly and pat your head at the same time. That gets you an “Einstein” visa.

Also, let’s compare and contrast. So far, getting caught cheating to get your kid into college results in a 2-week jail sentence in a minimum-security facility. Contrast that with what happens to anyone trying to immigrate across the southern border, legally or not. Family separation with sketchy odds of reunification (because they don’t bother to keep track of whose kid goes where), indefinite detention in crowded cages, no soap, shampoo or baths, minimum of food and water, and eventual redepositing back in Mexico. Are these really equitable scenarios?

And who are they even trying to kid? Republicans don’t want higher education for anyone, except white guys getting business degrees. They want the population pliable, not educated. They want us to have enough skill to do menial labor and be grateful for the crumbs we get in return. They certainly don’t want us to be smart enough to pick up on their master plans.
(Note: This meme is to illustrate my last point, and is not something that I'm debunking. You can't debunk what's true!)

So let me get this straight… they’re saying, “We don’t want free college if brown immigrants get it too. That way, we get to keep all the money we cheat out of the system and no one is the wiser.” Got it.

Sometimes, and this is rare, I’ll see a meme that I can’t discount on sight, like this one.

When I first saw it, I thought, “Wow that sounds bad. How could that happen?”

But I’ve learned you have to take it a step further and ask: “Is this even true? These things are never this simple. There’s always something omitted.”

Three minutes worth of research told me that was correct. (And two and a half of those minutes were spent reading the article.) Thank to you, who was right on it.

Snopes said that there was such a plea deal with this person, but neither Obama nor the justice department had anything to do with it. The plea deal was produced by the defendant’s attorney and approved by a federal judge, a George HW Bush appointee, to boot.

So, to summarize, this was a raging half-truth. There was such a guy who copped such a plea but the “blaming” portion of it was entirely made up, probably by the NRA, who look like they’re trying to get out from under a mountain of righteous, well-deserved blame.

This is how the Russians (and other untrustworthy social forces) win. They know that if they produce something that sounds true, the people who want to believe it will buy it completely and pass it on.

The last thing they want is for people to check on these memes with Snopes, Politifact, or any other independent fact-checking organization. Knowledge and tenacity are the only ways we beat industrial-strength persuasion tactics of these enemies of the state.

Opinions and arguments are subjective. They can be debated and called out for errors of logic. Memes like this last one are the easiest to debunk because they allege facts and facts can be looked up.

I think I may go back to Facebook and drop that Snopes link into the timeline of the person who posted that last meme. Seems I just talked myself into it.

If you see smoke coming from the internet, please send help.

Monday, September 16, 2019

A 45 Caliber Noise from a BB Gun Argument

Beto went and did it; he gave the gun nuts the sound byte they’ve been looking for when at the last debate he said, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15 and AK-47.”

He continued, “We're not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore... If the high-impact, high-velocity round, when it hits your body, shreds everything inside of your body because it was designed to do that so that you would bleed to death on a battlefield ... when we see that being used against children.

Sounds rational, right? Here’s a typical nutter response I found on Facebook:

There’s much to disassemble about that argument.

First of all, and this goes to the very basis of this house of cards, no one is being disarmed. Even if they confiscate or buy back every semi-automatic weapon in the country, we will still have the most heavily armed populace in the world, with handguns, shotguns and non-semi-automatic rifles. US citizens will by no definition be “disarmed.”

They say something is happening but it’s not. That essentially ends the argument.

But why stop there?

Another glaring problem is found in the first three words: “The only reason…”

Excuse me but the second paragraph of this post provides another wholly sensible reason, which comes down to this: there is no valid purpose to a civilian population owning this kind of military hardware.

None. Zero. Nada.

Every “yeah but” can be answered with “Use a different gun.” (And if you’re not a good enough shot to hit your target with anything else, that’s another damned good reason not to have a semi-automatic rifle!)

I mean, seriously? The Democrats, who are not in power, are currently hatching nefarious plans that would be only be thwarted by civilians armed with AR-15s? This is foil hat territory.

And like I often say, ask the Taliban how owning lots of semi-automatic rifles helped them fight off the US military. Who got forcibly moved out of their territory and who did the forcing? They and their AK-47s were hiding among the women and children, trying to get away.

You want another reason? Fine. Look at the dip in mass shootings (in which 6 or more were killed in public, non-gang-related incidents) before, during and after the assault weapons ban that we already had (and Republicans let expire).

And the source comes from the conservative outlet the National Review.

We’ve already done this before, and there was no massive government erosion of privacy or civil rights. Granted, this was only a half-measure because there was no forced buy-back or confiscation. But just outlawing the active sales of these weapons curtailed the number of mass shooting fatalities. It worked.

But the gun people won’t acknowledge that. They know that rational arguments are not on their side, so instead, they pursue fantastical arguments, like the one above, that get people all riled up, despite the fact they are 100% untrue.

If we outlaw these killing machines, with buy-backs or not, and couple it with a high-capacity clip ban, the number of killings will decrease. We saw it. The numbers show it. It won’t stop every killing but when it comes to our nation’s innocent men, women and children, isn’t less killing better than more?

We don’t HAVE to make it so damned easy to kill a multitude.

And lastly, the grammarians among us would be upset if I failed to point out that the last sentence should end, “something for which you would shoot them.”

Speaking of loss of life, it was with great regret that I saw the obituary for Rik Ocasek, former singer, guitarist, and songwriter for The Cars.

When I think of The Cars, I think of summer, sunshine, good times and parties. The Cars were on the soundtrack for every party we ever threw, back when I was in college. Whenever we had a Barn Party, (and they were plentiful during the early 80s), “Let the Good Times Roll” was always the first song we played, usually while tapping the keg.

That came from their debut album, which was one of the finest ever, a practically perfect pop-rock album. Each of the first three songs on Side 1 was radio-ready gems, each timing in at 3:44. I don’t know how many copies of that cassette tape I wore out while driving to school and back.

Their second album, “Candy-O,” was another classic. I loved the big hit from that album, “Let’s Go.” It wasn’t until a good while later that I started to really dig the 3-song blend that ended Side 1, “Double Life,” Shoo-be-Doo,” and “Candy-O.” "Shoo-be-Doo" is a weird little song but I especially liked the hard transition into "Candy-O." If you’ve ever heard it, you’ll know what I mean. If not, check it out. The transition comes at 1:48.

Yes, I am easily amused.

Their next albums, “Panorama” and “Shake It Up” each had a couple of good songs, but nearly weren’t as solid as their first two albums. And then “Heartbeat City,” released during MTV’s peak, brought them back to relevance and acclaim with five Top 40 singles.

I’m glad they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year, while Ocasek was still there to accept the honors and to play a set. Granted, they were never exactly live showmen, but the songs spoke for themselves.

At one time, someone tacked a magazine ad for the first album up on one of the barn roofing beams, and it stayed there for years. I still remember the slogan on it, which perfectly encapsulated The Cars’ role in that era:

Top-down music for a hardtop world.”

Rest in peace, Mr. Ocasek. You will be missed.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Weather Balloons

We all know the story by now. In what may be a new low for this clown-shoes presidency, the Current Occupant tweeted out erroneous information on where hurricane Dorian was forecasted to go and then, surprising no one, refused to retract or acknowledge his mistake and insisted that Dorian was likely to hit a swath of Alabama.

I remember thinking how President GW Bush was the epitome of intransigence when he insisted, years into his presidency, and after 9/11 and after scores of American lives were lost in an erroneously-based Iraq War, that there was nothing he felt he could have done better.

That was nothing. This guy could trip on his shoelaces and fall flat on his pointed hair and then insist he wanted to take a closer look at the soil composition. This Alabama thing was like “covfefe” revisited, only with lives at stake.

Now, whether the report he was talking about in the unfortunate tweet was accurate or not is largely moot.

I saw that map too and examined it carefully. My parents live in the western Florida panhandle, so I was keenly aware that the direction suggested by the last two data points said that the storm could come across the peninsula, enter the Gulf, then cross the panhandle, of which Alabama wraps around the western end.

BUT… I know that the last two data points were projected and were five days out from where the eye of the storm was located. They don’t call it the “Cone of Uncertainty” for nothing. That’s why the end of the cone widens… there is a huge possible range to where the storm might go.

So I knew it was something to keep an eye on but nothing to act on yet. By that, I mean I would look at later editions of the map, which are updated on the NOAA website several times per day, and form conclusions once there was a reliable projection.

As we all know, the next iterations of the map showed a northward bend, taking the Gulf and panhandle out of play.

What Trump did was make a shaky assumption based incomplete data and then compound it by distributing the old map, long after it was updated.

Or maybe he was told the Gulf was a target during an initial briefing and then wrongly assumed that wouldn’t change in the ensuing days. Either way, he didn’t seem to know that these storm tracks can change greatly over time. Which, you’d think, as a property owner in a hurricane zone, he’d knowhow hurricane forecasts work. Maybe he already fired his toady in charge of weather.

Whichever way he came in contact with the map, it was obsolete by the time he sent it out, because hurricanes change track. That is an undeniable fact.

What a normal person does at a time like that is apologize for the confusion and then send out the correct information. But in another sign of the deranged times in which we live, he insisted that he was right, everyone else was wrong, and we owed him an apology. (Especially CNN.)

Breaking out the infamous “Sharpie Map” was just a gift to comedians and meme-sters. Did he really think the Sharpie Addendum made his assertions more “official?” All he really had to do was preface his remarks by saying, “I hereby…”

At first, the weather professionals at National Weather Service acted the part by correcting his misinformation within 20 minutes. Boy, did that get Trump riled up. The boss doesn’t like to be contradicted by anyone, experts included.

Then I suppose he found out that NOAA is a government agency so he put the screws to the figurehead in charge, who then showed the spine of a true bureaucrat and issued a statement that no one within the agency is to contradict the president again.

What’s next, public lashings when it rains on his golfing days?

This kind of interference should scare the hell out of everyone. Does the weather really need to be politicized? Weather forecasting comes with a high enough margin of error, we don’t need it compounded by trying to shield the feelings of our unclothed emperor.

And where are all the conservative believers in freedom and liberty? Probably at home, wrapped in a blanket, repeating to themselves, “Tax cuts and conservative judges… tax cuts and conservative judges…” 
That he botched what should have been an easy piece of safety PR and then defended it is just another piece of Business as Usual. But demanding a government agency validate incorrect information (that carries life and death consequences) is what happens in dictatorships and dystopian novels about 1984.

9/10/19 Update
As "luck" would have it, there was a report today that cabinet official Wilbur Ross personally threatened the leaders of NOAA if they didn't retract their (correct) statement about the storm hitting Alabama.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

What Next, Call Off Veterans' Day?

I really don’t understand the point of last week’s Presidential Incomprehensible Move of the Week, regarding children of US military personnel, born out of the country.

 What is it that the Trump administration hopes to gain by placing this hurdle in front of active-duty servicemen and women, who are, you know, actively serving our country?

Short of an official announcement of motive, I can only figure they think it’s a first step to ending birthright citizenship. This is an action that can be done via executive order, but birthright citizenship is specified in the US Constitution, so it would take an amendment to pass and be confirmed in ¾ of the states, (which will never happen. We couldn’t even get equal rights for women past that hurdle and women make up 51% of the country.)

Maybe Stephen Miller put a bug in the president’s ear about plugging loopholes in immigration policy that non-whites may be using. Or ending further “dilution” of the white gene pool from servicemen taking foreign, non-Caucasian spouses.

So now our servicemen and women who are risking their life and safety in the service of their country now have to “apply” to have their kids become citizens?

Since when has applying for anything through the government been a simple, no-hassle experience? It’s all they can do to get healthcare through the V.A. when they get out, and now they have to stress about making sure their kids aren’t deported?

This is how we thank them, by giving them more hoops to jump through and red tape to untangle?

Yes, “thank you for your service,” my ass.

We also have to wonder, what are the criteria they’re looking for in order to grant citizenship in such cases, and who is making the decisions? I haven’t seen any guidance published so that our military people can make informed decisions about it. Won’t the government have to express what it is they’re trying to weed out? I bet the tip-off will show in the paperwork if we can ever see a copy leaked.

Or are they just going to go by pictures and a color chart?

If I’m wrong, please tell me. What else does the Administration have to gain by enacting this policy?

Know what else I’m wondering about?

Where the hell is the outcry from all those people who go all dewy-eyed over the military? Where are all of those who post graphics on Facebook about how we can’t possibly help anyone while we have homeless, unemployed, or drug-addicted veterans? (But never call out their own tribe for not doing a damned thing for veterans while they have the chance.)

And that’s because these people are only interested in veterans as a club to use to keep anyone who’s not in their own demographic from getting help. (As I’ve said many times before.)

Where are the Congressmen, who take every opportunity to be photographed and associated with US military personnel and our most powerful war machinery, but dare not contradict the president?

Where are all the military apologists, who cover and alibi for every war crime ever committed, as long as they were committed in the name of the U-S-of-A? It’s like they’re saying, “We’ll help you out with slaughtering villages of women and children, but if you knock up a foreigner, you’re on your own.”

This administration is telling active service members that despite their service to our country, if their kids are born outside our border, even on US military bases, even if both parents are in the military, they’re not worthy of citizenship, and all I hear are crickets.

It just goes to show, they’re more interested in a whiter America than a just one.

Otherwise, there would be a significant public outcry coming from Fox, Sinclair, InfoWars, Breitbart, and the rest of the military fetishists and chicken-hawks.