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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Gray States

The Omnivore was invited to a Facebook page that is devoted to having anyone from across the political spectrum air their views in a mature, respectful fashion that is intended to be devoid of personal attacks or trolling--and is supposed to foster not only debate--but actual thought--possibly with the intention towards changing minds through a rational respectful process.

The Omnivore is sad to report that this is doomed.

Oh--It's A Good Idea . . .

The idea of "purple states" (the name of the FB Page, as well) is that if we can just come together--talk seriously about our issues and perspectives--then maybe we can sort out our differences--our country's growing partisan divide.

This sounds like a good idea--and would be one The Omnivore supports.

But it's doomed.

The problem is that the partisan divide isn't based on policy or politics or any of the stuff that you could sit down and talk out. No--the core of Trumpism--which has taken over the right, like a virus (a media virus, to be precise, spread through, originally, Fox News--but with new and more virulent strains like OANN and NRA TV) is not based on policy or politics.

It's based on a platform of revenge--redress for the cultural humiliation that Trumpians believe they have experienced at the hands of "elites" and "journalists" and "lefties, socialists, or academics."

What do you manage to "sort out" or "come together on" when what the other person wants is you to be humiliated in the same way "they were."

This is an especially hard question when the original wrong-doing was more or less invented by people trying to grift their targets for viewers, votes, and profits.

The Right-Wing Victimization Machine

If there was an original sin, it was the media refusing to tell the Republican side of the story--after--well after--the Republican side of the story had drifted far enough from "a reasonable take" and into "heavy duty spin and propaganda."

This split, which The Omnivore will place around the Gingrich years (although you can trace backwards and forwards as necessary for your counter-argument) resulted in the creation and rise of Fox News. It was explicitly willing to carry water for Republicans--and, as such adopted a captive audience that grew more and more entrenched over time.

It also turned on the feelings of victimization and being bullied by The Left. In Fox-World the noble conservative is derided as a bigoted idiot--a millstone around the neck of America--by the actually-evil powers that be (closet communist, out and proud socialists, champions of North Korea, etc.).

This, it turned out, was very good for viewership. It was good for profits. It was great for the political connections between Fox and the GOP. It created some superstars like Hannity and Glenn Beck--on cable where, before the medium was AM Talk Radio.

When Obama was elected--and especially after his second election--Fox (and its growing cohort of explicitly political right-wing media sites) exploited its viewers unease, latent (or, in many cases, overt--see Fox News Comments) racism, and a sense of loss of place that they felt seeing a person who they had been told was a crypto-Muslim-anti-Patriot in the Oval Office.

Fox and the Republicans played up a massive list of "scandals" which they continuously tried to pin on the administration--and which, each of them, failed entirely to be the silver-bullet that would take Obama down.

The lack of traction these scandals got in the rest of the media was seen as proof positive that The Press was in league with The Left--and thus the divide in trust of the media grew larger and larger (we see the reverse with the very real scandals that Trump has and the right-wing's press refusal to engage them on any serious level).

By this time, conservatives were told--and because of their previous media-capture, were convinced--that "the rest of the world was out to get them." This, along with embedded messages of disdain and disgust that "Liberals allegedly felt" (and, of course, as racist messages were played up and played upon, became more and more legitimate) created a sense of humiliation that deeply hurt the conservatives who felt that they were the underdogs in America--the picked on minority--the scapegoats.

Now, well, now it's their turn.

They're in charge--and, of course, they're making a mess of everything because instead of being the noble patriots, by this time, their governing philosophy is based of incoherent lies (see the "much better replacement for Obamacare" that Trump promised), inexplicable xenophobia (see: illegal immigration is at a historic low and this is considered a multi-billion-dollar crisis for which Trump must seize the government or else lose the country), and pandering to aggrieved racists (see Steve King, "very fine people on both sides," and the rise of the alt-right).

So What Does Dialog Achieve?

So about this Facebook Page--what is supposed to happen? What happens with the Trumpian sits down with the non-Trumpian and they really talk . . . and really listen? Well, you find out that the Trumpian has got some . . . ideas. What are they? Oh--let's see.

  • America First: The suffering / trauma of children is meaningless--because they are not Americans (as such, if we can blame their parents for bringing them here, it is just fine to traumatize them).
  • America Alone: It is great to seek closer relationships with Russia--even though they are geopolitical enemies of us--because it upsets the smug liberal elites. America and Russia will not work together to make the world a better place--they will not defend American interests--but we should court them because for too long have we been in alliances where the American right was not well respected.
  • America Is A White Nation: In this view it is completely acceptable to be actually scared about the expansion of non-white people in America.  The reasons for this abound (and have "NOTHING TO DO WITH RACISM")--but we can see the pervasive unease in demographic changes.
  • Truth Is Lies: In this world, the statements of military experts (including General Mattis) that the Iran anti-nuclear deal was working are just liberal lies. North Korea is on its way to disarming. ISIS is completely defeated! In this world the media is a scheming communist/socialist combine designed only to present propaganda. Nothing can be trusted. Everything is suspect.
  • Conspiracy Theory Is Truth: The adjunct to this is that if the media is made of lies then under the surface may lurk dark currents of malevolence. The FBI is run by a cabal of Clintonites that register (and serve for years as) Republicans--but then become a praetorian guard when, finally, True Conservatives reach the White House. Dissenters are assassinated (Seth Rich), and so on. The degree of penetration of these lies varies (was Trump wiretapped? "Wiretapped," illegally unmasked, legitimately unmasked--but with nefarious political overtones, etc.?) but the vein of conspiratorial thinking remains--and is pervasive through the right-wing media and the administration itself.
A Conclusion

When you encounter these--even if they are dressed up in a nice suit and a smiling face, what are you supposed to do? Where do you compromise or seek unity? When you find out that, in the right-wing constellation, everyone who is not for Trump is against conservatives, what do you do? 

What does this dialog and openness show you and achieve? When the emotional engine behind Trumpism (and, to varying degrees, people who still find themselves aligned with the GOP for various internal tribal reasons) is seeking redress for imagined humiliation, where are you going to end up?

That's an exercise The Omnivore leaves to the reader.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Looming Second Shutdown

Prognostication is a mug's game. As a realist once noted: "The market can stay crazy longer than you can stay solvent." Even if you happen to be right about everything, things don't always turn out the way the facts suggest they should. The Omnivore knows better.

Which is why The Omnivore isn't predicting another government shutdown in 3 weeks. But the odds, sayeth The Omnivore, the odds are higher than you think.

What Trumpers Think Is Happening

Remember that the dedicated Trumpaloo--bless their tiny hearts--lives in a reality distortion field wherein Trump has taken his boot off the liberal-democrat's throat--to let them breathe a little--to come to their senses. He has given them 3 weeks to get their act together and agree to The Wall (Steel Slats!). If they fail, he will then lower the hammer of national emergency and seize the government by force.

Remember--the emotional foundation of the Trumpaloo is the need to win at any cost. The driving engine behind the support of Trump isn't about policy or logic or outcomes--no--it's about redress of a cultural humiliation they have internalized because it has been fed into their veins by Fox News.

Trump just suffered humiliation at the hands of no less than Nancy Pelosi--the head demoness after the removal of the Arch-Hillary. Pelosi has been hated a lot--for a very, very long time--and to see her come in and "win a pissing contest" with The Great Man? It will not stand. It cannot stand.

It won't.

But--But--But, You Say

If Trump really wanted to fight this out capitulating as he did is the absolute worst strategy. If the Dem-Ranks really were getting nervous then this will remove all doubts. If he felt he could weaken the Pelosi-Schumer alliance? He's just shored it up entirely. If he thought the public could be swayed to his side? Well, he just gave up that fight.

So it makes no sense that he'd plunge back into a shutdown three weeks after losing one badly with nothing changed except his odds of success being worse. Right? It makes zero sense. Right?

The shutdown we just went through made zero sense. McConnell had turtled his way around all the obstacles--he had arranged things to avoid the shutdown. The Dems, the Repubs, and the White House were all in agreement.

What failed was Fox--talking heads, led by another female antagonist, Ann Coulter, pounced on Trump as weak--a blow from a woman straight to his tiny testicles (and, thus, symbolically, the tiny testicles of every Trumpaloo out in Foxlandia--which is to say, all of them). McConnell couldn't control that.

So we got the illogical--a shutdown with no end--and it played out the way everyone thought it would: Trump caved when air-travel faltered (remember the sequester? That got a quick fix from congress too).

If a second-shutdown is even more illogical? Well, sure--but that's a point in favor of it happening. Not the other way around.

How It Happens

If it happens, this is how it plays out.

  1. Trump gets together with Pelosi and says "okay, you had your victory--now I get mine. 5-bill for the wall. I opened the government for you. Now it's your turn."
  2. Pelosi says "Nawp." 
  3. Trump flummoxed and infuriated has a choice--shutdown the government or declare a national emergency and plunge into the courts. Which does he choose?
The obvious choice is the National Emergency one--after all, Trump thinks "everyone can just shrug--say it's Trump-being-Trump, it gets a court challenge and, eh? Who cares--I fought. No one can say I didn't."

That's what we're all expecting. The Omnivore, though, isn't quite so sure.

Why not?

Well, two basic reasons, and one minor third. 

Reason 1: Trump is Wounded and 2020 Looms

The National Emergency route is really disliked by one group of people: Senators (and, specifically, Senatorial Republicans). Yes, they want Trump to be successful. Yes, they need the base--but this is a strict congressional over-ride and Senators are generally smart enough to know there will be consequences for it--bad ones. If Trump gets his emergency order shut down by the courts, they suffer all of the damage (becoming a lesser branch of government in fact as well as action) without any benefit.

Secondly, as Trump is already hurt by his first capitulation, some of them may find that they are motivated to move against him. The RNC is worried about a primary challenge and this will exacerbate things along the wrong axis.

Reason 2: The House Always Wins

Baby Trump grew up in a world where The House was shamelessly controlled by Devin Nunes and Paul Ryan. He never had to face the fury of a Speaker Scorned. That's no longer the case. It's true that Pelosi could hurt herself by overplaying her hand--right? If she looks like she won't cooperate or is too eager to impeach, investigate, or insult she risks blowback.

The National Emergency scenario, though, gives her virtually weapons-free clearance to engage however she wants. He's going after the constitutional power-of-the-purse on the flimsiest possible platform (a "national emergency" for which the solution will take years to build--even without challenges to the authority to start it in the first place). This is a war Trump doesn't want.

Reason 3: Mueller Bombs Incoming

We don't know what evil lurks in the heart of the Mueller Final Report--but The Omnivore thinks Trump can guess and that it--collusion or no--isn't good. When that report lands, Trump will need all his strength and all his allies to try to worm his way out of it. Between the House in Democratic hands and Barr being a long-time personal friend of Mueller, Trump can't rely on his personal juice to shut it down. Depending on how bad it is, he will want to have the full and united support of his media, Republican Senators, and the more liminal parts of his base. Doing the National Emergency Shuffle jeopardizes all of these.

So What Happens?

You gotta wait it out with the rest of us--but if Trump, in three weeks, gets dog-walked again by Nancy Pelosi, The Omnivore predicts a -Popcorn Level Event.- Be sure to tune in!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Toxicology of #GamerGate

Despite the (loads) of analysis, claims, and counter-claims, The Omnivore had had, to this point, relatively little interaction with flag-flying #GamerGaters (if you don't know what that is, the Wikipedia entry is good). The Omnivore, of course, had questions.  If you have read any of this blog, you know that The Omnivore distinguishes ruthlessly between why someone says they are doing what they are doing--and where the emotional energy for what they are doing really seems to come from (Example: "I really care about Saving The Whales!" vs. "I am going out with GreenPeace to piss off my father!")

How did these things line up--were there justifications? Was there a particular spark of emotion that lit the whole fire? Conspiracy theory? What. After several days (and this interaction never really ends--it's part of the charm) of talking with the GG'ers, The Omnivore has some observations--a sort of "Toxicology Report" on the emotional framework of #GamerGate.

The Toxicology Report appears as follows:

  • The initial wound was the "Gamers Are Dead" set of articles which upset a set of hard-core overly entitled, often bigoted (or at least using various slurs) gamers as a demographic that was shrinking in the Video Games markets.
  • Being stung by the description (which, again, was not applied to any one person specifically) the GG'ers needed to both avenge themselves but also not validate the accusations. This led to:
    • The Just Asking Questions approach also known as sea-lioning and
    • Attempts to dismiss any accusations of bad behavior as fakes, lies, false-flags, etc.


We Didn't Start The Fire

Discussions with the GG'ers should not be used to over-generalize--but The Omnivore wants to be clear: he came into this exercise with a partial view of "stated goals" vs. "actual goals" that GG'ers seemed to exhibit.  A place to start is with the genesis of #GamerGate. The foundational wound was a set of articles referred to as the "Gamers Are Dead" articles (they don't say that--but that's how they are referenced).

The Omnivore had known about these before, of course--but had not been able to talk to the GG'ers about their reactions to them. For the most part, they simply felt insulted--but there was a claim that was called out by  few that seemed to "hit home." This was the accusation that Gamers were entitled (Overly entitled, to be specific).

The Omnivore is here to tell you: for this sample size, man oh man is that right. The dimensions of Gamer Entitlement are wide and varied (see 'Taking it personally that Diablo 4 was released as a Mobile Game' to 'All these critically acclaimed Walking Simulators will destroy our hobby!') but essentially the Gamers were told they were behaving like unpleasant brats . . . and they were. So they took it, as they say, personally.

The Shape of #GamerGate Argumentation

The evolving #GamerGate movement, springing from this wound, had some operational constraints built in: If you were accused of being overly entitled jerks--and you took it personally--how did you defend yourself without being . . . an overly entitled jerk?

The answer was obvious: Use Absolute Deniability as your shield and use "Just Asking Questions" as your sword. These are metaphors--but basically: hound people to debate with you about your bad-behavior--do it relentlessly and persistently--and complain if the mob is auto-blocked because "that's not fair"--it also means that all action that could be considered "over the line" must religiously be attributed to someone else. If these two things seem strange, well, they are. Let's look at each separately.

Just Asking Questions (Sea-Lioning)

The wonderful Wondermark Comic hit the nail on the head with the (now infamous) sea-lioning cartoon. This cartoon illustrates how the sea-lion (the #GamerGater) plies his trade by continuously and relentlessly asking questions. Is he doing it in bad faith? Who can say--but it certainly seems like it. How would we tell? Well, The Omnivore tried (a) telling people that they would receive no more answers on a topic and (b) that he had already answered the question several times (which he had) and (c) ignoring the persistent asker. Of course, predictably, none of that worked.

One of the Sea Lions, despite not receiving a response for a while, followed around, trying to get other people to take up his "unanswered" questions. *

Furthermore, in addition to working up a lather of justified sea-lioning, there is also the wide-spread #GamerGate belief that, to reference a well known piece of nonsense, 'The Sea lion Did Nothing Wrong." The excuses for this are just as tortured: the Sea Lion is only (on Twitter) pursuing their targets in a public place (Twitter--but the sea lion is upset if he is placed on a block-list--because block-lists are inefficient! uh-huh).

In any event, the sea lion is in the right--he's been wronged--and he's being polite. In this case, the act of sea-lioning, which is defined explicitly as harassing--is said by the GG'ers not to be harassing (note: GGers in The Omnivore's interaction got upset when they felt they were being asked questions in a relentless fashion. The Omnivore weeps for the lost irony).

The other pillar of #GamerGate argumentation is . . .

Absolute Deniability

A religious article of faith of #GamerGate is, necessarily, that they--the collective-they, in their movement has done nothing wrong. It's a consumer revolt of angels. Coming from the chan environments, this is prima facie bullshit--but it's also intricate. How does this work?

1. No One (But Us) Was Harassed. The first claim--and the most astonishing--is that no one was actually harassed. This means (a) SWATTING reports are likely fake (as though the local PD would not know) (b) what was reported as harassment was just, you know, snow-flakes being unable to take the heat, and, since no charges were filed, nothing "fitting harassment" by a legal-eagle definition happened--so clearly it's all lies!

Of course the documents make it clear that the #GamerGate targets did receive threatening and repeated phone calls, SWATTING attacks, doxing, and so on--but if you start by deciding that All Media Always Lies and The FBI Report Only Counts If They Pressed Charges (they didn't) then you can get most of the way there with your true believers.

2. They Did It To Themselves / Had It Coming. The next circle of #GamerGate hell is the "They did it to themselves" theory. In this one numerous critics all got together to fake harassment so they could get sweet, sweet, pateron dollars in donations. A part of this also is that the targets were so objectionable that of course some harassment may have happened--but it was just natural and unrelated to #GG.

The False Flag theory is nonsense (the evidence of it: No Evidence!) and there are serious structural issues (would these people all come up with the same plan? Would families and such who were relocated go along with it? Would all major media outlets be in on it? (Yes! It's a Conspiracy!). And so on.

3. Okay, Maybe Someone Was Harassed--but Not By #GamerGate. One GG'er tried hard to get The Omnivore into a discussion of the SWATTING of one of the targets (referenced in the FBI report). The GG'er, after refusing to back off on repeated questions when asked to, finally wanted The Omnivore to go into the report and tell him Where This Allegation Of SWATTing Was!

The Omnivore assured him it was in there--and that he could go check. It was, of course--but that wasn't what the #GG'er wanted to verify. What the #GamerGater wanted to do was take a specific SWATTing incident (which definitely happened) and use the link to the archived /baphomet/ doxing/swatting page where gleeful anons wait for a pro-SWATTER to rain down misery or perhaps even death on a target and have chosen one who is disliked by #GamerGate so "#GamerGate will take the blame!"

Of course the target herself was identified by #GamerGate and they cast their ire at her--without them, she would not have been a SWATTing target whatsoever. Even if we grant that the posters on /baphomet (the board where the SWATTING was driven from) were serious about 'not being part of #GamerGate . . . how could we possibly know/) it is very, very hard to argue against the understanding #GamerGate picked the target and /baphomet pulled the trigger.

This (The Omnivore avers) wasn't the conversation the GG'er wanted to have. He wanted to trick The Omnivore into claiming that #GamerGate itself had definitely doxed and SWATTed the target--but all The Omnivore had ever claimed was that the people disliked by #GameGate got harassed (a claim numerous #GGer's also disputed--but with far less convincing evidence).

4. Okay--But It Was A Tiny Number. The final fallback position is that, sure--some people who affiliated themselves with #GamerGate might've done something--okay--but most of us didn't! This would make a certain amount of sense until you realize that it is basically just a protective convention. The #GamerGaters were certainly interested in making sure their targets suffered. They felt wronged--personally insulted--attacked--vilified.

Their organization is designed so that anyone and no one might actually belong (how do you know? There is no structure). The nature of the Internet message boards they flourished on (and were commonly kicked off of) are places set up to allow anonymous bad behavior. Yes, they also have My Little Pony and cooking channels--but those weren't relentlessly kicked off of one platform after another after another. #GamerGate and other bad-behavior movements (child pornography posting) did get groups evicted from 4chan, for example).

Conclusions

The Omnivore's takeaway from this is that #GamerGate is every bit the result of an ego-wound that the participants were eager to be a part of. They recognized their bad-behavior in the articles, justified it, and then attached themselves to the idea that they, personally were accused of any-and-all bad things. Armed with this justification to go-forth and sea-lion, they did so . . . and thus cemented their reputation in every major examination.**


NOTE: The GG'er in question rationalized his persistence (sea lioning--even when this was pointed out to him) by claiming that he, personally had been accused of SWATTING people (this was clearly untrue--he used a set of logical hoops to try to construct the personal wronging). Thus, as he was personally wronged, he decided he was justified in seeking sea-lion-justice as his rightful redress.

Of course he also persisted after being told not to in asking questions relentlessly about a meme The Omnivore referenced (this was dropped from his later claims to others as it would undermine his I-was-wronged stance--but it was very clearly not about thinking he'd been wrongly accused of SWATTING).

** NOTE: Something that is notable--but out of scope for this article--is that #GamerGaters have a very strong inclination to "defend freedom of speech." This is presented as a high-minded idea. It's really a justification as to how they can't / shouldn't be banned from various boards, twitter, etc. for speaking their minds over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. As with the nazis (lowercase 'n') who "defend free speech" because they are going to use racial slurs, the #GGers are also pretty well versed in using racial slurs (even if many claim they 'wouldn't do it personally.')

Anyone going into a #GamerGate space may see slurs used (or be called one) and then, if they take offense, they are dubbed a censor--and an enemy of free speech. This is double ironic as the #GamerGaters were offended for far less (having a group they chose to belong to referred to as "entitled") and they didn't waste time defending the article's author's freedom from the consequences of their speech.

Someone should call Alanis Morisette.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

About That Trump-Russia Data Strategy . . .

So we've learned a few things recently.

  1. Manafort's lawyers say that Mueller says that Manafort lied about his (Manafort's) hand-over of Trump insider polling data to a Russian. 
  2. Phillip Bump of WaPo notes that, even though this is collusion (it may or may not be conspiracy--the criminal charge) there isn't any resounding evidence of a tip-top data targeting campaign by Russia. After all, he says, THIS is one of the most successful ads that ran in Michigan (and other places) just before the election.
He notes "Not exactly a strong exhortation to vote for Trump."

Or is it? Today we revisit THIS story:
Yes, a Texas county has an appointed long-time Republican, stand-up-guy doctor who was appointed vice chairman--and the county is holding a vote to remove him--because--and only because (explicitly) he is a Muslim.

It is possible that Team Trump know something (obvious) about the Trump-curious electorate that more refined pallets like Phillip Bump can't really allow themselves to know. 

Remember all the kerfuffle over Obama saying the words "Radical Islam"? Conservatives complained that we could not defeat that which we could not name! This, of course, was bullshit. Obama didn't say it because an American president invoking Islam--of any type--was a problem both abroad where Americans (and especially American presidents) are not trusted--and at home where . . .

Wait for it . . .

A certain segment of the population is darn certain that any Islam is Radical Islam. So when these guys see the graphic, how do they respond? 

"We don't want those terrorists coming in from those countries!" This was the genesis of Trump's shambolic Muslim-Ban (whatever it was, Rudy called it a Muslim Ban, so anyone who wants to quibble can call Rudy and do it with him). 

In other words? Not only was this an ad for Trump--for people in the target demographic--it was a brilliant one.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Another Brick In The Wall


The Omnivore wonders if the Trumpers still think the wall is being built and going up just fine? We are now in a government shutdown which is projected to last through Christmas because the Senate has adjourned until the 27th.

It's not clear what will change after the 27th though--so, hey.

The Facts About The Shutdown

As far as The Omnivore knows, these are the facts about the Shutdown.

  1. The Senate passed a unanimous (bi-partisan bill) to send to the House. The President said he would sign it. It had 1.6bn for border security)
  2. The President changed his mind and refused to sign it--so the House cobbled together a vote and sent it to the Senate (with 5+bn for The Wall).
  3. The Senate was unable to come up with 51 votes to pass it--so it floundered and failed. NOTE: this means Republican votes were also lacking (in addition to Democratic votes).
  4. The president bragged on live TV that he would take responsibility for the shutdown.
  5. Illegal Immigration peaked 11 years ago and is at a low-point.
Did The Omnivore miss anything?

What Now?

On Jan 3rd the Democrats will take control of the House, pass a budget sans-wall, send it to the Senate. There:
  • It will likely pass the Senate--or, if it does not, it will be because of Republican votes (or Mitch McConnell refusing to bring it to a vote).
  • If it passes the Senate then Trump will have to veto it.
  • If Trump vetoes it then the Senate will have to override the veto (which, at least in theory from the first vote, they have the votes to do).
Who Owns The Shutdown?

The owner of a shutdown is based on the following:
  • Who caused it?
  • Who could stop it?
In this case the shutdown was caused by Trump changing his mind about signing the bill. The bill passed the Senate by 100-0 and would have easily passed the House.

Worse, the bill did not get filibustered in the Senate--meaning that the Democrats would have some fingerprints on the failure to advance the bill. It failed for bi-partisan reasons. Essentially a "push." 

Who could stop it? Well, McConnell could have stopped it with the Nuclear Option if the bill had 51 votes in the Senate but it didn't--so he couldn't literally advance the bill (it is not clear he could have successfully invoked the nuclear option--and would have been amazingly foolish for this bill anyway). 

Only Trump can stop it--but signaling he will sign a bill that has enough votes--or a 2/3rd majority in the Senate can stop it in the future if he vetoes a bill they manage to pass.

In other words, it's Trump's shutdown.

Okay--So, How Does This Play Out?

This is a bad time for Trump to go to war with Congress. Firstly the Democrats will take control of the House and, it appears, Pelosi is going to be highly disciplined in going after Trump. If she does not overplay her hand she can do a lot of damage to him with investigations, passing bills that are popular in the Senate (DACA? Re-Open the government, etc.) and forcing him and McConnell to stand them down.

Secondly, it is unclear that the issue is even resonate with most voters. The midterms were a mess despite relying on an immigration message. There isn't a great factual argument in favor of the The Wall--it's symbolic and The Omnivore thinks more people are starting to realize that. Furthermore, outside the Right Wing news bubble, stories about DHS people not getting paid (having horrible Christmases?) are going to dominate the media.

That doesn't sound like a winning position. Finally, with several high-profile resignations happening the news is not going to be able to focus on what the President wants the message to be (illegals, MS-13, etc.). It's going to have to cover a bunch of other things (ISIS . . . again?) which is going to weaken him.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Mainstream Conspiracy Theory on the Far Right

Yesterday we saw a collision of the mainstream right-wing Conspiracy Theory with a court of law. It wasn't pretty.

What Happened?

Michael Flynn got his sentencing day in court--which was primed to go well for him. He had uber-cooperated with the FBI--had been the first-to-cooperate--which means he got the big prize: a suggestion of no jail time from the prosecutors.

However, in his brief, he suggested he'd been set-up by the FBI. Furthermore, the judge requested to see the "original 302s" which were the subject of much speculation--that there was evidence of FBI wrongdoing in them that would come out.

These theories were not (just) fringe beliefs--or the mark of a few Internet randos--no--they were promoted by Fox, National Review Online, and other big-name, mainstream news sources.

When the judge asked to see--and then release the 302s (records of the initial interview)--it became clear that there was nothing exonerating in there--in fact--it looked worse for Flynn than before. Before the judge, Flynn was asked if he wanted to stand by his "I'm-a-victim" narrative--and, wisely, he disavowed all of it. He now has a chance to super-duper cooperate or he'll face jail time despite what the prosecutors asked for.

What Is The Conspiracy Theory?

 What mainstream voices (the Wall Street Journal, Fox, Andrew McCarthy, etc.) all seem to believe is, in fact, a version of what QAnon believes (without the satanic baby-eating that QAnon believes in)--that there is a cabal of Obama people (Republicans) who broke the law repeatedly in their pursuit of Trump for purely political reasons.

They believed that McCabe had altered the interview reports to entrap Flynn and had used unusual and misleading tactics to illegally induce him to lie to them. This was all clearly nonsense. He lied. He knew he lied. He knew it was wrong--and he copped to it.

In fact the "Secret Cabal" theory is one which has no basis in fact or visible evidence. It's just a big-conspiracy-theory that tries to explain why there is all this smoke (lying, criminal behavior, cover-ups) without any fire.The problem isn't that crazy people believe it--the problem is that most Republicans seem to believe it.


Now, to be fair, the GOP has had a problem with conspiracy-theory (helped along by Russia) for quite some time--but it has now, apparently, metastasized to the point where even Flynn's (reasonably good?) lawyers fell into the trap of trying to advocate for their client using an excuse that plays well on TV--but everyone involved with the legal system knows is bunk.

Ken White (former federal prosecutor now defense lawyer) writes today in The Atlantic:

What Is Going On Here?

It's a bunch of things--conspiracy theory in America isn't limited to the right--but the specific case here is that Donald Trump--to whom loyalty is absolutely required on the right--has embraced a conspiracy theory that the Department of Justice is secretly against him.

If you contradict that position then you are not-loyal and are #fakenews--so you have to come up with explanations that keep you in Trump's camp. It turns out: there's no shortage--the fringe is a conspiracy-theory machine. It churns out nonsense and rabid theories effectively A/B testing them in 4chan and on Reddit and VOAT before they bubble up to the Internet influencers (like Cernovich) who then distribute them to a wider audience.

These are effectively milled for maximal penetration and they provide a basis--a backdrop--for mainstream organizations like Fox to ingest and then redistribute.

Today Flynn ran into the wall of normal reality--most people don't believe the FBI is run by secret-Obama-masters. They don't think that Trump was illegally surveilled by an angry Hillary-partisan government--no, it looks like Russia interfered with the election, Trump knew about it, and at very least did nothing.

At very least.


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Russian 'Conspiracy Theory'

The Omnivore was sent a link to an NY Post article where an Iranian takes Democrats to task for believing conspiracy theory.
Across the Atlantic, there is the Russian “collusion” narrative that has gripped Democrats ever since Election Day 2016. President Trump didn’t help with some of his gross rhetoric and refusal to criticize Vladimir Putin. But as a matter of policy, he has proved far tougher on Moscow than President Barack Obama. Trump has armed Ukraine, bombed Russian operatives in Syria and squeezed Putin’s clients in Tehran, among other things.
Yes, Russian operatives flooded social media with misleading (and often comically amateurish) posts, as a Senate Intelligence Committee report this week reaffirmed. But it takes a deeply cynical view of voters in places like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to think they cast their ballots for Trump because of online memes — rather than, say, because he spoke to their anxieties over immigration and working-class jobs and wages.
This was a person who had been breathlessly following the right's reporting that Michael Flynn's 302s (the FBI interview report) would, if the original ones were released, show intentional meddling by the FBI to make it look like Flynn was lying--when he was not.

This belief--promulgated by Internet instigator Mike Cernovich--came to a head last night when, in a blaze of excitement, the judge sentencing Flynn ordered the original 302 reports released and it turned out? Nothing. Well, there was something--they showed pretty conclusively that Flynn was lying on behalf of Trump.

Considering that Mueller really wants Trump to answer some more questions, there is likely a reason he didn't want those out in the open.

What does this tell us?

The NY Post Author Does Not Understand Conspiracy Theory

The NY Post writer makes a pretty basic "mistake"--it's actually a rhetorical slight-of-hand switch where he goes from "of course the Russians did what the Democrats (and the FBI, CIA, NSA, etc.) said they did--but the conspiracy theory is believing it had any impact."

That's not what a Conspiracy Theory is. The reason social media--all of which was targeted by a reasonably sophisticated campaign of disinformation--is free is because millions of people--advertisers--believe that if they can reach you with their message you will buy their product.

Is it conspiratorial to think that voters believe things they've seen online--things that are obviously not true? Well, The Omnivore is something of an expert in Fake News. Here are some things voters believe--because they saw them online.

  • Obama was getting ready to take over Texas and was moving in UN troops through secret tunnels under Walmarts.
  • Hillary and her pollster, the Beneson Group was planning to stage a fake alien invasion--to try to swing the 2016 election.
  • Democrats were running a child-trafficking ring out of a (non-existent) basement in a pizza parlor.
  • Obama was arresting or removing generals who wouldn't "command fire" on Americans so he could cement his take-over plans.
  • Hillary has killed everyone who has ever been set to testify against her.
  • The earth is flat.
Even the idea--which the NY Post author suggests--that Trump has been "harder on Russian than Obama ever was" is false.  Obama implemented the Magnitsky sanctions--which Putin hates. And he responded to to Russia's information warfare (and real warfare in Ukraine) pretty strongly--Trump comparatively? Has done everything in his power not to act against Russia.


The Omnivore made a Greatest Hits graphic.

Information War

It is worth remembering too that Russia invests quite a lot in its propaganda / disinformation operations. They consider this, correctly, a strategic advantage--one they use not just against us--but against Western Europe and countries they wish to run real operations in. It is safe to say that the Post author is not an expert on propaganda (remember: armies have utilized propaganda for a very, very long time)--or on information war--or on fake news.

No--he ignores a real history of successful propaganda ops in favor of trying to defend the GOP for not taking actions against Russia which, obviously, should have been taken.

That, in itself, is a kind of #fakenews.