Nov 062018
 
 November 6, 2018  Posted by at 2:06 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Elio Ciol Via Portica, Assisi 1958

 

Pollsters were so wrong in 2016 you’d think they would have changed jobs by now. Yeah, sure. We remember the 97% prediction for a Hillary win, right? And the 92% from the New York Times? Happy days. Now we have the same suspects plying their usual trade again. As if nothing has changed. And that’s a bit of an issue. It would be beneficial if pollsters asked themselves why they got 2016 so wrong, but since there’s been little to no consequence for their livelihoods, they haven’t.

Because of the frenzy whipped out over today’s midterms, with almost everyone declaring this the most important midterms, if not elections, of their lifetimes, more people have participated in early voting, and far more than usual have expressed their intention to go vote.

And so the pollsters look at that and apply their age-old models to it. More people voting is good for the Democrats, as is more early voting, according to them, and so is more young people voting. Ditto for black people, Hispanics. Because that’s how it’s always been. And it’s easier that way than to actually go talk to people about their votes, and the reasons behind these votes.

But it’s as if Trump never happened in 2016, when his performance made that entire polling industry look like useless fools. How about if Trump’s rallies and tweets are a major reason why more Americans, and more young Americans, will go and vote? Certainly doesn’t sound crazy.

Update: after I wrote the above last night, first thing in the morning came this graph from NBC. I feel at least partly vindicated.

 

 

The Democrats and their media allies have a bit of a Catch-22 going on. They want to sound enthusiastic and confident about the midterms, but not so much that it will make potential voters stay away. It doesn’t seem to work: they again sound like they got it in the bag.

Moreover, their entire schtick is based on one thing only: Trump. Not being Trump is supposed to be their ticket to ride. They don’t actually have programs or policies, at least not on a national level. They’re simply betting on being able to whip up enough hatred of the Donald.

In a nation as polarized as America is these days, that is both extremely easy and extremely hard. Easy, because the one half of Americans who already despise the man read and see that part of the media that cultivates that hatred from dusk till dawn every single day.

Hard, because there are very few people left who are either on the fence or don’t hate the man, whose opinions could be changed by more of the same kind of ‘reporting’. The chips are down, the lines have been drawn.

If only the MSM could report on terrible economic numbers on top of labeling Trump a racist, misogynist, aniti-Semite, fascist. But the economy -on the surface- is doing fine, and it’s that, stupid. For many Americans, including fence-sitters, that’s what it’s all about.

One of the first things I read yesterday was a headline that said Hillary is still the Democrats’ best bet for 2020. I’m going to have to doubt that there’s a better illustration of what’s ailing the Democrats.

Even as there’s the issue of Schumer, Pelosi, Feinstein, Wasserman-Schultz and Waters still leading that party, while their only challengers insist on calling themselves ‘socialists’, which is to one’s election chances in America what a wooden stake is to a vampire’s odds of survival.

 

And they would still win by a wide margin if not for Trump. Because the Republicans have the exact same issues. They too are ruled by a bunch of sociopath pensioners who can’t and won’t let go of the thrill of power and the millions slipped to them under the table by banks and insurers and gunmakers.

There’s only one way for the nation to prevent being run by the cast of Cocoon, and that is Trump, and he’s 72 himself. A president has two terms, even if he’s under 50 years old, but Senators can stay forever even if they live to be 100. And changes to that are subject to decisions by that very same crew. It’s a bankrupt system in which voters can and do go bankrupt and politicians are all millionaires.

And yet the systems rolls out all it’s got to protect itself. But it’s gone overboard with that. There has been so much in the way of smear and allegations against Trump that turned out not be based on anything, that the MSM has muzzled itself, prevented itself from reaching anyone other than those who are already in their camp.

That’s what you get for confusing news and opinion. Of course it’s tempting, because it attracted so many viewers and readers, and so much money, but in the end, the WaPo, NYT and CNN have voluntarily given up access to half of America, and with them the Democrats have too. Down the line, that will prove to be a very costly ‘business model’.

 

In 2015 I predicted Trump would win the presidential elections. not based on his qualities so much, but the lack of qualities on Hillary’s side. This time I don’t want to predict the outcome of the midterms, but I just can’t see the Democrats win, let alone bigly, because they have nothing to offer other than not being the man responsible for more jobs and -so far- slightly, slowly higher wages.

If the Democrats do take the House, they can be expected to go after Trump and his administration, with more investigations in the vein of the Mueller one, endlessly protracted innuendo that doesn’t go anywhere. The polarization might well make America a de facto ungovernable country. If they take the Senate as well, Trump may be a lame duck, and impeachment talk will rear its ugly head again.

If the Republicans maintain control of both House and Senate, they will demand thorough investigations of the Mueller files and much more, like the Kavanaugh accusations. Not a highly desirable thing either, because it will lead to even more polarization. But how much deeper can they dig themselves into their trenches?

Both the Democrats and the MSM have painted themselves into a tight corner. They should engage in a dialogue with Trump, but how do you do that after publicly bashing someone 24/7 for 2 years and change?

That all said, it’s obvious that it truly will be an important day today. The only good outcome, regardless of the vote, would be for everyone to sit down and talk to each other. But what are the odds of that?

 

 

Sep 252018
 
 September 25, 2018  Posted by at 12:55 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali Galatea of the Spheres 1952

 

Axios reporter Jonathan Swan “broke” the story yesterday morning that Rod Rosenstein was going to resign before he would be fired, and he was on his way to the White House for that. Just about every would-be journalist in the US followed suit with speculation and ‘updates’ by anonymous sources either close to the White House or to Rosenstein.

Through the day it became clear that Swan’s entire story was pure speculation (though he just published an alleged resignation letter), and at the end of the day Rosenstein is still the Deputy AG, scheduled for a talk with Trump on the entire matter on Thursday. In short, Jonathan Swan dented Axios’ credibility by more than he will admit. So who has any credibility left by now? It’s not a long list anymore. Where can you get your news? Not where you used to.

Several voices volunteered that the White House had pumped the Rosenstein story in order to deflect attention from the Kavanaugh narrative. That made little sense: why would they do that? There may be some who think that Kavanaugh means a whole lot of trouble from Trump, but are they really paying attention, or merely thinking wishfully?

Kavanaugh himself didn’t look all that destroyed in his interview last night. And he made a very bold move: he said he was a virgin until well past high school. All it would take to break down that claim is one woman to step forward and say she had sex with him. And if he did have consensual sex even just once, nothing to do with assault, he’d still be exposed as a liar, so why make such a claim unless it’s true?

All this puts the allegations made against him in an eery light. Christine Blasey Ford’s story looked shaky from the start, because of all the things she said she couldn’t remember, but many people were granting her the benefit of the doubt. Then Deborah Ramirez added an allegation that if anything looked even less coherent. Even the New York Times could find no-one to corroborate her story, and she herself couldn’t, either.

Now, for all we know Kavanaugh may have been an adolescent monster, but we would still need proof of that before we nail him to a cross, or, worse still, keep him off the Supreme Court. Which is, obviously, what got the whole circus started.

 

Thursday will be yet another eventful day in the guaranteed to be always entertaining presidency of Donald Trump, and we wonder in eager anticipation how Axios and all the other news outlets will cover the events. Their Kavanaugh narrative looks shot right now, but we’d expect another woman, or two, or ten, to pop up with inflammatory tales.

Look for the one about consensual sex, that would seem to have a better chance than another assault with a penis chapter, and he set it up himself last night by his virgin declaration. Also, look for desperate attempts to smear the judge. There are still many people in Washington and beyond who really really don’t want him confirmed.

But then, everything they tried so far has backfired, even if that’s not what they see. That same thing may well happen in the Rosenstein saga. It’s no secret, never has been, that Trump has different opinions than Rosenstein, or for that matter Jeff Sessions, have on several matters. But they’re both still in their jobs.

Trump appointed Rosenstein, and he appointed Sessions, who turned around and recused himself from the Russian collusion case, putting Rosenstein in charge of that. Rosenstein appointed former FBI chief Robert Mueller as Special Counsel, though it was obvious from miles away that the FBI was heavily involved in the case.

Now, after all the Strzok/Page mails and the Andrew McCabe bumbling, we know that Robert Mueller, after almost two years, still hasn’t found any proof of collusion. We know this because he hasn’t presented any, which he would have been obliged to do if he had any, simply because the allegation of working with a foreign government to undermine the US is so serious; you can’t hold back that sort of information.

 

That all said, is it so strange that Trump has perhaps had enough of this? That he might like an actual Attorney General who actually takes charge of the case, and a Deputy AG who has some distance from Mueller and asks him to finish up the investigation which hasn’t produced anything but tax evasion charges for Manafort and 14 days in jail for Papadopoulos, who presumably pled guilty because, like Michael Flynn, he couldn’t afford to defend himself?

There are times one gets the impression the whole thing only continues because newspapers and TV channels make so much money off of painting Trump as the modern Antichrist. And while the man undoubtedly is full of flaws, that’s not what they’re all aiming for. They go for Russiagate, because it sells to have an archenemy to talk about, and they go for Stormy Daniels and Kavanaugh’s penis, because sex sells more than anything.

Along with all the anti-Trump rhetoric, there is a running story about a Blue Wave that will hand the Democrats back control over the House and perhaps the Senate. But while I think it might be good to restore some balance in Washington, if only so people must actually talk, I also think that Blue Wave thing is perhaps the biggest mistake America’s formerly left can make.

Because the Democrats, no matter how they see themselves, have no identity. Other than they’re not Trump and they hate the man. We saw that loud and clear the other day when they helped the GOP push a record military budget through the House. They’re merely a flipside of a coin. They have nothing of their own.

Yes, there’s Ocasio-Cortez and a handful others who try to define something different, but surely they must know that when you call yourself Socialist in America you’re tying an arm and a leg behind your back. Kudos for trying, but that’s not going to work. Bernie Sanders is done after allowing Hillary’s DNC to push him aside; people remember such things.

That leaves the usual suspects, Schumer, Pelosi, Feinstein, calcifying in their seats, with Hillary in the wings for a glorious return to viability in 2020. And they think that combo will make them win elections, and win them big, just because voters are so sick of Trump? Methinks perhaps they have started to believe their own stories, while neglecting those of their one-time voters.

 

But sure, let’s see what happens on Thursday, and before, with Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh’s testimonies, and with Rosenstein’s friendly chat with the President. I’m thinking there’s nothing so bizarre I would count it out, but I may have to rethink that. Maybe Robert Mueller will resign tomorrow before Rosenstein can be fired -assuming Trump would want to-, maybe Kavanaugh had sex with an entire boys’ choir twice a week, leaving him technically still a virgin.

Our fantasy is just about endless. But that’s the exact biggest problem with everything about this: there’s far too much fantasy involved, far too many allegations that remain unproven but leave traces left and right, far too many accusations that nobody is made to own up to.

One last thing: if it turns out Christine Blasey Ford can prove none of her accusations vs Kavanaugh, and he’s been telling the truth all along, what does that mean for all the women who’ve told their stories of rape and assault under the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag? How betrayed will they feel, how tricked? Or will they continue to insist that he must be guilty even if there is zero proof?

And no, it’s not Just the Democrats, it’s Washington as a whole, egged on by despairing media who see their revenues and credibility plunge and resort to cheap tricks. The Republicans with their inane plans to re-open the hunt on grizzlies are just as bad. Want to Make America Great Again? Start with protecting the grizzlies and manatees and moose and eagles. They are what makes the country rich. There won’t be anything great about a barren desert land devoid of life.

But the urgent question in Washington right at this moment is, in light of Rosenstein and Kavanaugh: how deeply can you divide a country, for political ends, before it bursts? And what will it take, what can still be done today, to pull it away from the looming abyss?

 

 

Sep 212018
 
 September 21, 2018  Posted by at 1:35 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher The Tower of Babel 1928

 

Two thirds of Americans get at least some of their news on social media. Google and Facebook receive well over 70% of US digital advertising revenues. The average daily time spent on social media is 2 hours. Just a few factoids that have at least one thing in common: nothing like them was around 10 years ago, let alone 20. And they depict a change, or set of changes, in our world that will take a long time yet to understand and absorb. Some things just move too fast for us to keep track of, let alone process.

Those of us who were alive before the meteoric rise of the hardware and software of ‘social’ media may be able to relate a little more and better than those who were not, but even that is not a given. There are plenty people over 20, over 30, that make one think: what did you do before you had that magic machine? When you walk down the street talking to some friend, or looking at what your friends wrote on Facebook, do you ever think about what you did in such situations before the machine came into your life?

 


From 10% to 75% in 10 years

 

We’re not going to know what the hardware and software of ‘social’ media will have done to our lives, individually and socially, for a very long time. But in the meantime, their influence will continue to shape our lives. They change our societies, the way we interact with each other, in very profound ways; we just don’t know how profound, or how, period. There can be little question that they change us as individuals too; they change how we communicate, and in such a way that there is no way they don’t also change our very brain structures in the process.

Someone who walks down a street talking to someone else 10, 100, 1000 miles away, or sees messages from such a person come in in virtual real time, experiences things that were not available ever in human history. Our brains must adapt to these changes, or we will be left behind. And while for the over-20, over-30 crowd this takes actual adaptation, for those younger than that it comes quasi pre-cooked: they’ve never known anything else. Still, their brains were formed in completely different times too. Think hunter-gatherers. And that’s just the human part of the brain.

There are too many aspects to this development to cover here. One day someone will write a book, or rather, many someones will write many books, and they will all be different. Some will focus on people’s lives being saved because their smartphones allow them to either receive or send out distress signals. Others will tell stories of teenagers committing suicide after being heckled on ‘social’ media. With yin comes yang. Millions feel better with new-found ‘friends’, and millions suffer from abuse even if they don’t kill themselves.

 

With new media, especially when it goes from 1 to 100 in no time flat, it should be no surprise that the news it delivers changes too. We went from a few dozen TV- and radio stations and newspapers to a few hundred million potential opinions in the US alone. The media are no longer a one-way street. The first effect that has had is that the chasm between news and opinion has narrowed spectacularly. If their readers post their views of what they read and see, journalists feel they have the right to vent their opinions too.

And then these opinions increasingly replace the news itself. The medium is again the message, in a way, a novel kind of way. A hundred million people write things without being restricted by due diligence or other journalistic standards, and we see journalists do that too. They will come up with lies, half-truths, innuendo, false accusations, and moreover will not retract or correct them, except when really hard-pressed. After all, who has the time when you post a hundred+ tweets a day and need to update your Facebook pages too?

Obviously, Donald Trump is an excellent example of the changing media environment. His use of Twitter was a major factor in his election victory. And then his detractors took to Twitter to launch a huge campaign accusing him of collusion with Russia to achieve that victory. They did this moving in lockstep with Bob Mueller’s investigation of that collusion accusation. But almost two years after the election, neither Mueller not the media have provided any evidence of collusion.

That, ironically, is the only thing that is actually true about the entire narrative at this point. Sure, Mueller may still have something left in his back pocket, but if he had solid proof he would have been obliged to present it. Collusion with a foreign government is too serious not to reveal evidence of. Therefore, it’s safe to conclude that in September 2018, Mueller has no such evidence. But what about the thousands of printed articles and the millions of Tweets and Facebook posts claiming collusion that were presented as true?

Funny you asked. What they prove is not collusion, but the changing media landscape. The anti-Trump echo-chamber that I’ve written about many times has been going strong for two years and shows no signs of abating. There are still lots of people posting a hundred (re-)tweets etc. daily who are being read by many others, all of them confirming their biases in a never fulfilled feeding frenzy.

This is not about Trump. And I’m not a Trump supporter. This is instead about the media, and the humongous difference interactivity has made. And about the fact that it hasn’t just added a hundred million voices, it has also altered the way traditional media report the news, in an effort to keep up with those hundred million.

 

The thing here that is about Trump, is that he’s everybody’s favorite meal ticket. He confirms everyone’s opinion, whether for or against him, by the way he uses media. And most importantly, they all make a lot of money off of him. The New York Times and WaPo and MSNBC would be in deep financial trouble without Trump. Like they were before he came along. Polarization of opinions saved them. Well, not the WaPo, Jeff Bezos can afford to run 1000 papers like that and lose money hand over fist. But for the NYT and many others a Trump impeachment would be disastrous. Funny, right?

Another thing that is obvious is that one thing still sells above all others: sex. The smear campaign against Julian Assange has been successful in one way only, and it’s been a smash hit: the rape allegations. Completely false, entirely made up, dragged out as long as possible, and turning millions, especially women, against him.

The accusations against Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh haven’t been around long enough to be discredited. Maybe they will be, maybe they won’t. But read through newspaper articles, watch TV shows, follow Twitter, and you see countless voices already convinced ‘he did it’. And that ‘it’ is often labeled ‘rape’, though that’s not the accusation.

But it’s part of the Anti-Trump train, and the echo-chamber has gone into overdrive once again. Even if everyone understands that a 36-year old accusation must be handled with care. The accusing woman’s lawyer says the FBI must investigate, and everyone says: FBI! FBI!. Conveniently forgetting that the FBI has been far from impartial with regards to Trump, and the White House is not exactly waiting for another FBI role.

What’s wrong with waiting till you know the facts? Why judge a situation you know nothing about other than a woman accuses a man of assault 36 years ago, and doesn’t remember time, location etc.?

 

And that’s the thing all along, isn’t it? That people, both readers and journalists, all 200 million Americans of them, think they have acquired the right to judge any person, any situation they read a few lines about, just because they have purchased a smartphone. A faulty notion fed on a daily basis by the fact there are millions who think just like them.

We may want to rethink the terms ‘social’ media and ‘smart’ phone. They sound good, but they don’t cover the true nature of either. It’s hard to say where all this is going, but the sharply increasing polarization of society is certainly not a good sign. People feeling they have the right to accuse others without knowing facts, people building a Russiagate narrative without evidence, these are not things a society should welcome, whether they’re profitable or not.

Meanwhile, there are two people (there are many more, of course) who were banned from the platforms so many others use to draw baseless conclusions and spout empty accusations. And we miss them both, or we should: Alex Jones and Julian Assange. Have they really used ‘social’ media in worse ways than those 200 million Americans? Or were they banned because millions of Americans were following and reading their non-mainstream views?

We better get a grip on this, and on ourselves, or we won’t get another chance. What we have seen so far is that it’s not that hard to shape people’s opinions in a world with information overload. And that process is about to get a whole lot more intense. Until all you’re left with is the illusion that your opinion is actually your own.