The Manipulators and the Manipulated


Why must summer always go by so quickly?  In two days it will be August, and then the rest of the year will race away before we can blink. I’m not ready to think about Christmas yet!

Politically, the planet just keeps getting hotter, as does the climate. As a kid, we looked forward to summer as a time when we could shrug off the shackles of school and teachers, kick back with our buddies and maybe find someone to snuggle with until it was time to “see you in September.”

But not this year. This year, no one is allowed to relax – ever! Even if you are not paying attention to the lout down south, Ontarians are dealing with a newly elected premier who is a wannabe tin pot dictator, hell-bent on giving Toronto a serious thrashing for not electing him mayor when they had the chance.

beach coffinWhether you follow regional, national, or world politics, what’s going on is a constant demand for attention from political bad actors. It’s like a painful IV transfusion, filled with acid and bile, that drips poison into our veins and our minds, and turns us against each other. And these egotistical blowhards are taking our summer from us with their narcissistic need to be constantly in the spotlight.

But I have not come here to bury Caesar .. or Trump or Ford … no, I have my rifle sights set – oh yes, again! – on the media.

I won’t go into my rant on the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine again – I’ve done that twice, and it still hasn’t been put back into place. (It’s like the Supreme Court are not even listening to me! Bastards!)

No, what is stuck in my craw is what repealing the Fairness Doctrine has wrought. It’s not just the crazies at FOX and Friends who treat the news like reality is debatable. It’s also the ‘usual suspects’ in the mainstream media.

It’s making me crazy – and it’s making us stupid.
Stormy and Trump 2
In One Year, MSNBC Covered Stormy Daniels 455 Times, War in Yemen 0

While we’d like to think that it’s the grownups in the room that present the news at CNN or MSNBC, the truth is that ALL of the channels, no matter how lofty the stated platform and mandate, have to pay the bills to keep the lights on. Like all entertainers, they’re playing to the audience.

The media is fixated on the news that is either sexy, or that can be spun as sexy. And that means that an awful lot of actual news never gets discussed.

At any given moment, there are events happening around the planet that impact millions. But, unless there is something interesting that North Americans can relate to, those moments will pass unnoticed. We need SEX! We need BLING! We need TRAGEDY!

Who would have ever thought we’d be so interested in the fates of the Thai soccer team? Why could we not stop watching the drama?

We are bears of little brain, it seems, with the attention spans of hummingbirds or goldfish. We constantly need to be tantalized, to have the glittery keys dangled before our eyes, or off we go, on to something that fires more neurons in our neural cortices.

There’s such a lot of spurious dealings going on in the States and in Canada, events that should be taking our full attention, and that, logically, should have citizens up in arms and marching in the streets … but that are instead being met with a collective sigh, and a sad little turning away from what is going on right before our eyes.

The kids in cages at the border; Kim Jung Un backing out of whatever the heck he and Trump had decided upon on nuclear disarmament; the U.S. president’s treasonous capitulation at Helsinki and whatever the heck he and Putin had decided upon for the fate of the planet; the consequences of Trump’s ridiculous trade war; Ford‘s assault on democracy in Ontario; all of these are stories that SHOULD be lighting real fires under our asses.

pay no attentionBut … look at Stormy! Listen to Avenatti! Laugh at Giuliani’s double talking defenses! And whatever you do .. pay no attention to the man behind the curtain …

Most of us are only just beginning to realize how manipulated we have been by not only those in power, but the one’s behind the curtain, that have put them there, by a media that ensured that some politicians received more attention than others. This gambit almost guaranteed that theirs was the name on the ballot that seemed the most familiar, and therefore, possibly the most reputable.

dont shoot the messengerBut instead of getting out the torches and pitchforks to roast the bad guys, we’d rather shoot the messengers who try to draw our attention to the manipulation going on in the background. It seems that most of us would rather pretend not to know how very helpless we are in the face of those who make and break the rules for their own benefit. It’s just so much more convenient and easier to go along with the crowd.

In the United States, which has spent the last two years dealing with an overt corruption and greed beyond their wildest dreams, we have seen an emergence of new, democratic voices, and there is hope that a midterm Blue Wave will overturn the stranglehold that the Trump administration has had on democracy to date.

With any luck, America may be able to place new and driven people, brimming with innovative ideas, into the White House. It would be good to see a move toward term limits as well, to ensure that elected representatives are truly representative of their constituencies. It’s time to turf out politicians who spend their time in office primarily in the getting, consolidation, and keeping of their power, rather than in working for the people who elected them.

Canada will undergo it’s own trial by fire in the next few years, with the election of Doug Ford. We can only hope that we’ve learned, from watching the rampant abuse of power down South, that giving power to bullies only encourages apathy and a destructive divisiveness in our most precious resource – our people.

 

 

American Monkey Court as Must See TV?


Who knew a Judiciary Committee could become Must See TV?

Is there any way the House Judiciary Committee attempting to publicly lynch FBI director Peter Strzok can take their act on the road? It’s not every day the world gets to see a complete institutional meltdown in Washington, DC.  goodlatte judiciary

The Committee were weighing in on Strzok, who was part of both the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, and the possibility of Russian interference in the Trump presidential campaign in 2016. Like any sane person, Strzok believed that Americans would see through Trump’s obvious flaws, and vote for Clinton.

Unlike anyone thinking straight, he shared some of his thoughts about both matters with his mistress, by texting them to her on his work phone. And there’s the rub.

While his sentiments were echoed by a goodly portion of the Republican party themselves during the campaign, (“Trump is a f**king idiot. What the hell happened to our country?”) the party line since Trump’s ascension to the throne has always been that these personal, and basically pillow talk texts between Strzok and his lover, were proof of a deep conspiracy within the FBI to stop Donald Trump from being elected president.

Apparently the need to keep this conspiracy a secret was so dire that the FBI then let Trump get elected to the presidency. Now THAT is sneaky!

Chair of the committee Bob Goodlatte and Jerrold Nadler battled it out over what questions could be answered. The bellowings of  ‘point of order!” “your point of order not taken, sir!”  bounced from side to side like the bouncing ball that once led moviegoers into a rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and just when you thought they would come to blows, someone brought up how Steve Bannon had stonewalled the committee on Russian interference, and maybe he should be brought back and made to tell the truth. A very long and boring vote then took place, that lead us nicely into Rep Louis Gohmert leading a pearl-clutching chorus of ‘have you no SHAME, sir!” over Strzok’s pornographic texts to his mistress,  while Rep Bonnie Watson Coleman yelled at Gohmert, “You need your medication,” and then back into Trey Gowdy’s only apparent point – that Strzok had gone straight from disliking Trump to wanting him impeached before he’d actually gotten the presidential gig.

Strozk is an american heroStrzok acquitted himself extremely well, and was able to shoot a few truth grenades into the obviously partisan Monkey Court. “The proposition that [bias] is going on and that might occur anywhere in the FBI deeply corrodes what the FBI is in American society, the effectiveness of their mission, and it is deeply destructive.”

As late night comedian Stephen Colbert put it, “it was like ‘A Few Good Men,’ but with even fewer good men.”

Not THAT is Must See TV.

Meanwhile, at the NATO Summit in Brussels, Trump lay on the floor and tantrumed.  One pundit remarked that it was, “the usual Trump; a stream of incoherent sentences. The allies looked the other way as when the old uncle gets nuts.”

And then, as usual, he held a press conference where he declared that the problem he had created had just been solved … by him.

trump emperor no clothes russian secretsIt was a moment when the world watched the Emperor parade before the planet without a stitch of clothing.

During Trump’s official visit to England, an inflammatory radio interview he had given kicking sand in Theresa May’s face before driving a knife into her back was released as he and his entourage were dining in state, at her estate.

As The Guardian reported, ” Donald Trump hailed Boris Johnson as a future prime minister, accused the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, of doing “a bad job” on terrorism and said there had been too much immigration in Europe in an incendiary interview that raised questions about the decision to invite him to Britain.

A day before the US president was due to have bilateral talks with Theresa May, Trump used an interview with the Rupert Murdoch owned Sun, to endorse her principal Tory rival just days after he resigned from the cdabinet in protest at her Brexit policy.

Trump described Johnson as “a very talented guy” for whom he had “a lot of respect”. He claimed he was not trying to pit Johnson against his host, but added: “I am just saying I think he would be a great prime minister. I think he’s got what it takes.”

Awkward!

Predictably, once he had to defend his trash talk in May’s face, he backtracked on every word, calling it ‘fake news.’  Pity the whole thing is audio taped, and we can judge his words for ourselves.

While the baby Trump blimp sails over London’s streets, he and his entourage prepare to take the Trump Too Outrageous! Tour on to Scotland, before what is sure to be a sickeningly ingratiating secret meeting with Russia’s Putin.

Let’s just hope he doesn’t give away any of the ‘good’ American states, as he puppy dog wriggles in the joy of grovelling at his Master’s feet.

 

WhatAboutery and the Innocents of Bowling Green


It’s become ubiquitous, since January 2017. Every time another horror is unleashed upon the American nation, in the name of the president of little brain and less compassion, his faithful attendants dutifully beat history’s bushes to find something similar that they can throw out as a stumbling block to sanity.

“You dare to say it’s wrong to separate children from their parents at the border? Well, what about when American citizens break the law? They don’t get to see their kids either!”

And then they poke each other in the arm and giggle, thinking that they are terribly clever, and have stopped all further discussion in it’s tracks.

Tu-Quoque WhatAboutProblem is – the explanation they are using – the ‘what about’ – is a variant of something called the tu quoque, a well known logical fallacy. It is the proverbial ‘red herring,’ the ‘pot calling the kettle black, ‘ a strategy of false moral equivalences”. It is the defending of the indefensible. This tactic is meant to discredit an opponent and an argument, by basically saying that their complaint is hypocritical. It is used to derail a point while making it appear that the one defending the atrocity is the more knowledgeable, and the one purer of heart.

illegal whataboutismAnother tactic of ‘whataboutery‘ is to defend doing nothing whatsoever, and maintain the status quo, is by implying that there’s no point in – say, strengthening environmental protections, because some other country has no regulations at all in regards to polluting the environment.

Whataboutism says a wrong can’t be a wrong, because somewhere, at some time, another wrong occurred, and that, therefore, the two wrongs combined, make a right. If nothing can be deemed wrong, as long as we can think of examples of things that are worse, then there is no point in ever correcting any negative actions or impulses

So where did this type of argumentative defence come from? Well, it is actually used primarily for propaganda purposes, and was honed and perfected by Russian operatives during the Cold War, in order to confuse and ‘turn’ American operatives.

russian propaganda 101“When criticisms were leveled at the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the Soviet response would be “What about…” followed by an event in the Western World. … The tactic saw a resurgence in post-Soviet Russia, relating to human rights violations committed by, and criticisms of, the Russian government. The technique received new attention during Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Ukraine. Usage of the tactic extended to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov. (wikipedia)

It’s by no means that recent of a development. As long as you’ve had people with power harming people, you’ve had apologists defending those people’s actions.

It’s just rather alarming that the Trump administration has made it such an integral part of rationalizing actions that would be clearly considered human rights violations and treasonous actions under any other president.

This need for the Trump administration to defend the indefensible has lead many a pseudo intellectual to follow the same path, essentially tearing the fabric of reality apart in an attempt to make it fit within the parameters they have now been given.

KellyAnne Conway is probably the best example of someone who has so mastered this concept and defence that she almost … ALMOST … sounds like she has a rational and verifiable point every now and again. The trouble is, a picking apart of her sped up excuses and misdirection generally exposes the myriad of holes in her argument.

bowling green massacreConsider one of the earliest examples of her flim flamming baffle gab, the famous “Bowling Green Massacre” allusion, said with a straight face in February of 2017, with the full power of the government behind her.

When Conway defended the president’s travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries, she told MSNBC that two Iraqis who came to the US and had been radicalized “were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green Massacre.”

While she eventually admitted that she ‘misspoke’ in alluding to a non-existent event, on two more occasions she alluded again to a massacre that never actually happened. Her intent was to stir up fear and paranoia, with the end goal being an attempt to scare American citizens into an acceptance of a Muslim travel ban.

 

” On 29 January, speaking to Cosmopolitan.com, she was even more specific about the non-existent event: “[T]wo Iraqi nationals came to this country, joined Isis, traveled back to the Middle East to get trained and refine their terrorism skills, and come back here, and were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre of taking innocent soldiers’ lives away.”

And on the same day, Conway was captured on video telling TMZThere were two Iraqis who came here, got radicalized, joined Isis, and then were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green attack on our brave soldiers.”

Conway and Trump stragegist Stephen Miller are most likely the masterminds behind the promulgation of this typically Soviet response to criticism. it is hardly likely that the entire House, Congress, and president suddenly and spontaneously seized upon this very Russian form of talking point without having been carefully coached in how to use it to their best (Republican) advantage.

The ‘what about-ers’ are sneaky; they want to take the spotlight off the problem at hand, and change the obvious villain in the piece to someone other than the one they are championing, and in the process, make themselves look not only terribly clever for connecting some little known or potentially false dots, but also to appear virtuous and pious for directing your attention to some lesser known atrocity.

That the massacre/slavery/explosion may have happened a hundred years ago, and under entirely different circumstances is immaterial, because they’ve resurrected that moment and are demanding you defend it now, today – or give up your criticism of their actions .. now, today..

Acting like dealing with a current problem just adds to the enormous stack of problems needing to be dealt with is, at the core, just a way of saying that one is too busy to get involved in this new problem being addressed. It’s an attempt to find a way to avoid getting involved, due to already being overloaded with too many other philosophical problems.

moral failure of AmericaSadly, the end result of whataboutery as a tactic highlighting the misdeeds of others, is, in the end, an admission of complete moral failure, or as Cardinal Cahal Daly noted, “one of the commonest forms of evasion of personal moral responsibility.” It’s a highlighting of the truth that only people who know themselves to be guilty of something “can find comfort in finding others to be just as bad or worse. ” (Merold Westphal, philosopher)

It also has to be noted that there can be a terrible backlash for those who can always find a way to defend the offences of others, as those excuses may actually be used to discredit one’s own actions.

“No American politician in living memory has advanced the idea that the entire world, including the United States, was rotten to the core.” Masha Gessen, The New York Times.

In one of the most shocking moments of the U.S. presidential campaign in 2016, then candidate Trump responded to a question about his feelings on the treatment of journalists, teachers and dissidents by Turkish President Erdogan by saying that the United States had a lot of problems dealing with it’s own civil liberties, and so, had little right to be a ‘good messenger’ to other countries. And in one of his many defences of Russia’s Putin, Trump said,

For Trump and his minions … America is just another shit hole in a world of shit holes where everyone is potentially a murdering criminal to be feared.

I’m not really sure how that belief or attitude is supposed to make America that ‘great’ of a country, now or ever.

whataboutism poster

 

 

The End of History?


I wrote this column just days after the election, but was so dispirited that I never published it on Frustrated Boomers. Two weeks into the Trump presidency, it bears repeating.

This morning, Neil Postman‘s son, Andrew, wrote something along the same lines. It is worth reading.

quote: “Our public discourse has become so trivialized, it’s astounding that we still cling to the word “debates” for what our presidential candidates do onstage when facing each other. Really? Who can be shocked by the rise of a reality TV star, a man given to loud, inflammatory statements, many of which are spectacularly untrue but virtually all of which make for what used to be called “good television”?

Who can be appalled when the coin of the realm in public discourse is not experience, thoughtfulness or diplomacy but the ability to amuse – no matter how maddening or revolting the amusement?

…. For all the ways one can define fascism (and there are many), one essential trait is its allegiance to no idea of right but its own: it is, in short, ideological narcissism. It creates a myth that is irrefutable (much in the way that an image’s “truth” cannot be disproved), in perpetuity, because of its authoritarian, unrestrained nature.

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/feb/02/amusing-ourselves-to-death-neil-postman-trump-orwell-huxley?CMP=share_btn_fb

And here is my column, originally published on November 27th, on Bob Segarini‘s wonderful site, “Don’t Believe A Word I Say.”

.***********.

When we’re confused by where we are, it’s important to look at where we’ve been.

Confusion, uncertainty, masked as fear, pride, or hubris, reigns in all of us in these last days of 2016. What a year! I’m tempted to ride out the last bit hiding under my bed with my cats.

I don’t think Trump could have been elected in any other year but 2016. Not only has it been a year where we’ve lost so many of those whom we respected and loved, but a year where the horrific has become commonplace, whats-aleppowhere democracy is shoved aside as unfriendly to business,  where opinion (literally) trumped logic,  and the slaughter of millions of innocents barely raises an eyebrow.

“What is Aleppo?”  Gary Johnson asked “What is Aleppo,” while seeking the office of President of the United States. America … you have much to answer for.

We have to understand that we would never have come to this moment in history without a lot of groundwork being laid. George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, amongst others, foretold days like these; it’s been in the works for quite some time. huxley-vs-orwellPerhaps Huxley, in Brave New World, understood our impressionability more than Orwell did in 1984 … it’s not that we are being denied books or access to information, it’s that we prefer entertainment to knowledge.

From the foreword to Neil Postman‘s Amusing Ourselves to Death, 1986, Penguin edition:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distraction.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”

It’s not being a conspiracy theorist to understand that there are market forces, globally, that need certain conditions to occur, in order to sustain capitalism, and that those forces will do whatever is necessary to create and sustain those conditions. However capitalism, of necessity, must eventually eat itself, since it is based on continual growth.

Before we move into the next era, post capitalism, we have to deal with the mess that capitalism has made, not just to the planet, but to our thinking. We have to understand that we have been willing lambs to the slaughter of intelligence and sober thought, distracted by shiny things that hold our limited attention for seconds before our constant craving for the next sensation propels us on to the next shiny thing.

north-korea-bomb“The world’s nuclear clock  sits at one second to midnight .. but first, a word from our sponsor.”    

We have to come to grips with a constant rage that bubbles beneath the surface of our collective consciousness, a rage that has no real focus, but seizes on whatever temporarily irritates or annoys us, that compels an acting out far beyond what the situation warrants.

We have to accept that we have been lied to, in the name of business, as our resources have been seized and ruined for future generations, as species become extinct due to their habitats being stolen from them. Human greed and human need have made the chances of your great-grandchildren ever seeing a real live elephant, slim.

politicians-before-and-afterAnd, in what I consider truly tragic, we still have to somehow find a sense of trust in those we elect to lead us into this uncertain future, and I don’t know if we can suspend that much disbelief any more.  There comes a point at which we simply can’t deny that each successive political  ‘saviour’ is just a new mask on an old face of treachery, bought and paid for by market forces.

Billions of our hard earned tax dollars have been frittered away on projects benefiting commerce, not the people. In Ontario alone, before privatization of Hydro One,  it was run by one president, one vice-president, one department head, and so on. The president’s annual salary was around $420,000. Today, in Ontario ‘s Hydro (between the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), Hydro One and the Ontario Power Generation (OPG) (all three Public Sector Agencies)), the president reportedly earns around $4million annually, and there are 11,879 employees who make more than $100,000/year. These top earners draw combined annual earnings of over 1.6 billion dollars. 626 in management positions are making more than $200,000/year…

… while many Ontarions are having to decide whether they can afford heating or eating this winter, because they can’t come up with the money for both.

And yet, this week we’ve heard that our Prime Minister has been making the rounds, intent on privatizing yet more of the country’s assets, despite economical and historical data proving that privatization of assets can add a minimum of a third of the costs to taxpayers, when internal positions are outsourced.

Canadians on a government pension of $12 to $14K a year can only pretend for so long that the enormous government wages and pensions of civil servants and politicians make any sort of logical or humane sense.

well-dressed-lobstersDespite no recent Prime Minister having been elected with a clear majority or mandate, sweeping changes that will affect Canadians for generations have been put into place over the last few decades, with barely a whimper.  Or, if a whimper was murmured, it was simply ignored. At best, we changed lobsters and continued the dance.

And we can only look on from afar and pray for American’s who are, like it or not, about to have their historical clock turned back to the ‘good ol’ days’ of segregation, back alley abortions, internment camps, and increasing civil unrest.

Many think we’re at a pivotal moment in time, although  the events of 2016 may pale in light of other ‘really terrible years,’ like 1347-50, when the Black Death took a third of Europe’s population;  1492, when the indigenous people of America invited the wrong people to dinner;  Ireland’s Potato Famine of 1845; or  Europe in 1943, when the Holocaust deaths were at their height. Certainly, Syrians will name 2016th as their country’s nadir.

franz-ferdinand-1914From History Today, ” If I was forced to name the worst year, it would probably be 1914. In July of that year, a European order that had brought peace, prosperity and extraordinary artistic and scientific progress, began to unravel. The vast conflict that followed led directly to the Russian Revolution, Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, the atomic bomb, the Cold War and the mess that is the modern Middle East. Only in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, did we enter a relatively stable period – the ‘End of History’ – before it came crashing down on September 11th, 2001. ”

So – we’ve been here before. However I don’t think there’s precedent for this year of Syria and Iraq; unparalleled devastation creating a flood of refugees fleeing for their lives; Europe’s epidemic of terrorism, Brexit,  the Zika outbreak, horrific civil unrest in Turkey, growing racial tension in the United States; famine in northern Nigeria,  American peaceful protests being met with aggressive military engagement; and possibly worst of all, the unholy alliance of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin … these are this year’s trials. homeless-world-cup-2016

What comes after the “End of History?” Whatever happens next, it is certainly a time when the decisions and actions we – as a people – take now, will determine where we go from here, and will define not just North America’s future, but the entire planet’s.