Damanpreet Singh / Flickr World News White House is said...
Damanpreet Singh / Flickr

Earlier this week, researchers from MIT confirmed what we knew to be true … about falsity. False stories not only spread faster than real news, they spread farther, they reach deeper. False stories are more likely to be retweeted, re-used, linked to, and liked than actual stories. I wrote about this study at length in an article that ran yesterday, but nothing I said brings it home quite so well as this.

Leonard Pitts and the man who doesn’t believe in shootings.

Sutherland Springs is not the only massacre Ussery denies. His website, whose name you won’t read here, also describes as “drills using crisis actors” dozens of other mass casualty events, including the shootings in Parkland, Las Vegas, Charleston, Orlando and Newtown, the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris and the concert bombing in Manchester.

“NO DEAD, NO WOUNDED,” the website crows. Actually, 219 people died in the attacks listed above.

The “crisis actor” meme is one of the foulest, most disheartening forms of false story. It has relatives. The “violent immigrants” story and the “welfare queen” story are stories of “othering,” ones that say “It’s all right to hate these people, because they’re not like you.” But I’d argue that the crisis actor story is still awful to a different degree. It’s Advanced Othering. A story that turns dead children into things. And … what do we do about it?

The question arises from a recent online discussion with readers after a study that reported that 42 percent of Republicans and 17 percent of Democrats regard as “fake news” information they know to be accurate if they don’t like what it says. In a column on media distrust, I wrote that I have no interest in being trusted by that large cohort of us from whom facts command no respect and for whom truth is just a speed bump on the road to crazy town.

The issue is not ideology. Rather, it is America’s vanishing ability — and willingness — to reason. And that raises a question: What is the obligation of thinking, moral people in a nation and news cycle increasingly dominated by the demented and controlled by the conspiracist? How do you reason with those who can’t or won’t? Should you even try?

There’s your question for the morning. If false stories spread faster, further, and deeper than the truth … how do you run a democracy when more than half the country admits they dismiss any story that runs against what they already believe?

Come on in. Let’s read more pundits.

Truth vs Lies

David Von Drehle views the fight against lies as necessary, but hopeless.

No one asked for this. We didn’t seek personal responsibility for the quality of civic discourse and the reliability of shared information.

Yet here we are. The massive computational power of our shared platforms, of Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and all the others, is fine-tuned to harvest our whims almost before we’re aware of them. Aggregating and reinforcing those whims, the platforms create the weather systems — the squalls and tempests — of our shared society. To an extent unimagined by past generations, mass communication has become a direct, immediate reflection of millions of individual impulses.

I have a horrible feeling about how this is going to go in the short term. There’s going to be some kind of ‘ratings system’ that Twitter, Facebook, and others agree to follow. Sites that are rated highly will get better, and more frequent placement. And sites that are rated highly are going to be traditional media, from the New York Times to MSNBC. Left out of this “most trusted” rating will be, with rare exceptions, online sites. Then social media platforms will smile. Traditional media will smile (and collect more ad revenue). While sites that are primarily online, including this site, will be treated as pariahs. That not one bit of that system will be accepted those people who already hate the New York Times, and MSNBC, and all that comes in between, won’t stop hating or accept the rating. So this rating system will do significant harm, and very little good.

Okay, packing away the old crystal ball. What does Von Drehle have to say about it?

[The MIT study] is a profound blow to idealists of the marketplace of ideas. From Adam Smith to Friedrich Hayek to James Surowiecki, the author of “The Wisdom of Crowds,” wise thinkers have emphasized the positive economic effects of dispersed power. A great many people, free to pursue the wisdom of their experiences and the perspectives from their vantage points, will arrive — as if moved by an invisible hand — at better results than any single mind or central planning bureaucracy could achieve.

But it turns out that the crowd is wise only when it is asking the right questions. A crowd determined to get the best value on flat-screen televisions will soon discover the proper price; but a crowd swept up by tulips or cryptocurrency may find itself pricing euphoria instead of value.

Labor / Unions

Jeff Biggers on why West Virginia teachers are the real resistance.

Taking to the streets, picketing on the sidewalks, and charging into the Capitol itself, the strike turned the public commons into a counter space for “we the people.” …

This is why strikes, more than one-day protests, often bring lasting victories. It took an uncompromising walk-out to get West Virginia lawmakers to recognize that our inability to commit to a living wage and decent health benefits for our teachers mirrors our negligence in investing in classrooms for our children.

It’s also a pretty good model for what has to happen should Republicans decide no amount of evidence is sufficient to begin any charges against Trump, or Trump decides that the easiest way to end the investigation is to simply end the investigation.

With an estimated 10% of the American workforce reportedly in a union, the legacy of striking might have become a lost tactic to some. As the son of a union teacher and the grandson of a union coal miner, I believe the West Virginia teachers have renewed a strategic call for other movements engaged in what we have called a “resistance” against the onslaught of policies decisions and regulatory rollbacks by the Trump administration.

Though the phrase has often seemed laughable in the past, take the words “general strike” and begin turning them over your mind. Think about what it means to you. What kind of planning would be needed. Who it would impact, and how to avoid inadvertent harm without lessening the impact. Work on those ideas. Discuss them with others. They may be needed.


Karen Tumulty asks if unions are still a factor in American politics.

The surprisingly close special election to fill a vacant House seat in this Pittsburgh-area district is shaping up to be a test of whether organized labor can regain its relevance — in electoral politics, and with its own declining membership.

Unions have gone all-in for charismatic Democratic newcomer Conor Lamb, a 33-year-old former Marine officer and federal prosecutor, who has been running roughly even in the polls. Pennsylvania’s 18th District has not been held by a Democrat since 2002 and went for Donald Trump by nearly 20 points in 2016.

West Virginia just showed how much unions still matter. Other states, including Oklahoma, may soon follow, That Lamb is closer in Pennsylvania already shows the impact of union organizing and effort. Lamb’s race, like every race this year, is certainly a referendum on Trump, but it’s less clear that voters are going past that primary motivation.

And there are certainly other factors at play.

To make up for Saccone’s deficiencies, Republicans are trying to bury Lamb with outside money. One super PAC alone — the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is affiliated with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) — has spent $3.5 million, and put 50 full-time staffers on the ground.

Trade / Tariffs

James Galbraith on Trump’s steel tariffs.

On Thursday, Donald Trump announced a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum, likely excepting Canada and Mexico – and perhaps America’s strategic partner Australia in due course. It was, of course, a shocking thing.

When was the last time a US president did such a shocking thing? Well, actually it was in the first week of March 2002, at exactly the same point in a presidential first term. The president was George W Bush, of the Republican party, and the steel tariff he imposed was 30%. And before that? Ronald Reagan, with his “voluntary export restraints”.

Those big tariffs boosted the steel industry, and created American jobs, and all kinds of good stuff … in their dreams.

The practical effect of the tariffs will be small. The steel industry has about 150,000 employees in total; the aluminum industry claims about the same amount. No producer will commit the billions required to expand capacity, knowing that tariffs come and go; the Bush tariffs were taken off after only two years. If there is spare capacity that can be brought into service under the tariff barrier, that will show mainly as increased productivity rather than many new jobs.

And now to tie this story to the one just above …

So why did Trump do it? …

There is a special election in western Pennsylvania on Tuesday, and it’s widely believed that the Republican candidate is weak, in a district Trump carried by 20 points. The tariff announcement can’t hurt with that one.


Dana Milbank was on hand for those earlier tries at saving steel with tariffs.

The steel industry, shedding workers, shutting plants and bleeding red ink, pleaded with the federal government for tariffs on imports. As the government obliged, a young reporter on the steel beat for the Wall Street Journal cautioned that tariffs could “ultimately do the industry more harm than good” because the real threat to big steel wasn’t foreign competition but changing technology.

That was 1992. The administration that imposed the trade barriers was George H.W. Bush’s. And the young steel reporter was me.

But though all evidence that 1) steel is not in trouble because of imports, 2) tariffs have not boosted the industry in the past, and 3) Trump’s tariffs are so poorly thought through that they seem laughable, it seems like we’re tariff bound. In 2002, in the midst of a recession and with the steel industry engaged in a mess series of buyouts and bankruptcy, it might be argued that the tariffs bought a little breathing room to consolidate with less drama — though the industry actually shed jobs in the process. This time around, there seems to be absolutely no reason for these tariffs. Much more to lose, much less prospect of a win. ‘

What has changed is that Americans consume far less steel — little more than half as much per capita compared with in the 1970s — as improved technology means automobiles and other applications require less of it. At the same time, improved steelmaking productivity means the industry requires dramatically less labor. Steel production is down by a third since the 1970s, but employment is down by about three-quarters.

The steel jobs went to where the coal jobs went — declining need and increasing automation. The tariffs could be ten thousand percent, and it wouldn’t change that. There’s also the little matter of steel and aluminum coming in hundreds of different forms and alloys that provide greater strength, or weathering, or some other factor. The biggest reason for importing steel in the United States, is that the kind of steel needed isn’t made in the United States. And isn’t likely to be.

Trump White House

John Feeley on why he left the State Department.

Shortly after the Charlottesville riots last August, I made the private decision to step down as President Trump’s personal representative and ambassador to the government of Panama. The president’s failure to condemn the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who provoked the violence made me realize that my values were not his values. I never meant for my decision to resign to be a public political statement. Sadly, it became one.

The details of how that happened are less important than the demoralizing take-away: When career public servants take an oath to communicate dissent only in protected channels, Trump administration officials do not protect that promise of privacy.

Diplomats used to dealing in decorum, met Trumpites who don’t know what the word means. It’s genuinely hard to think who Trump is going to send out to these posts.

Now that I am no longer oath-bound to support the president and his policies, several points warrant clarification. I did not resign over any policy decisions regarding my remit in Panama, or — as was incorrectly alleged in the media — due to the president’s denigrating comments about countries that participate in the visa diversity lottery.

I resigned because the traditional core values of the United States, as manifested in the president’s National Security Strategy and his foreign policies, have been warped and betrayed. I could no longer represent him personally and remain faithful to my beliefs about what makes America truly great.


David Smith on the echoing halls of the White House.

There has never been such a rapid turnover of personnel in a US administration in modern times. If anything, the stampede to the exits appears to be accelerating, raising fears of a “brain drain” that will leave key jobs unfilled and make it ever harder to recruit new talent.

That exact idea has been the plan at agencies like the EPA and State Department. Flush out enough of the knowledgeable people, and you can’t operate. Which makes it much easier to claim that government is poorly operated  and ineffective.

“One of the problems here is the White House is getting hollowed out and the number of people capable of doing things, of doing real things whether you agree or disagree ideologically, is getting smaller and smaller,” Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader in the Senate, told reporters. “So the mess-ups we’ve seen this past week, I think we’re going to see over and over and over again.”

That’s not quite true. We’re going to see bigger screw-ups.

Immigration

Louis Mancheno on why the United States is off the destination list for many immigrants.

I am a refugee living in the United States and I know what it means to escape death. Still, I warn others not to come – they won’t be safe or welcome here

Don’t come here. If you are afraid for your life and you have no place to go, don’t pick this country. It is not safe for you here any more.

That, is impossibly sad.

Russia

Simon Tisdale on the poisoning of Sergei Skipal.

The brazen nature and public execution of the plot to kill Skripal is disturbing for many reasons. It suggests respect for Britain, its values and its law enforcement capabilities is so diminished that it is seen as an easy venue for score-settling.

Or was the plot intended, at least in part, to deliberately discredit and humiliate the British government? A handful of countries might have cause to do that. But only one or two possess the rare nerve agent, the sheer malice and the ruthless audacity evident in this case.

It’s tempting to draw some connection between Skripal’s arrival at the hospital and Sam Nunberg’s breakdown the following day.

The people who attacked Skripal may calculate the response now will be similarly weak-kneed. They may also assume that, as with Litvinenko, Britain will again feebly shy away from open confrontation and hope the problem fades from view.

Don’t expect Donald Trump to provide assistance.

Election 2018

Kathleen Parker admits that things are looking a little less than optimal for Republicans.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic — or downright giddy — 2018 promises to be as significant, if not more so given the stakes, as 2010, when Republicans wrested the House of Representatives from Democrats amid tea party turbulence and early chants of “repeal and replace.”

Whether November will produce a blue wave crashing down on a crimson tide — or an estrogen rout of the testosterone swamp — remains to be seen. But early signs suggest that Republicans will have to scratch and fight to keep their dwindling majorities (41 have left or aren’t seeking reelection) in the House and Senate.

A reminder here that Parker is a Republican.

In 2010, Republicans hailed their triumphant sweep as a referendum on President Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act. Tuesday’s election may not foretell the future — and the Lamb/Saccone match is, indeed, a special circumstance — but any Republican loss now would give Democrats a lift and create momentum for races to come.

Foreign Policy

Nicholas Eberstadt on how Trump should approach talks with North Korea.

Pyongyang’s path into the select global club of declared nuclear powers was paved by — indeed, contingent upon — shrewd and successful “engagement” with an international community unremittingly opposed to the advances North Korea managed to achieve. Looking back on the past few decades of diplomatic maneuvering, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the North Koreans outclassed their counterparts, and they have the nukes to prove it.

We might want to brush up on that history now that President Trump has agreed to meet with the Dear Respected Leader before the end of May. Ignorance of the past could lead to major miscalculations.

I’d like to think that discussions might end with Rex Tillerson going to NK to meet his norht of the DMZ equivalent. But it looks to be Kim and Trump, which means photo-ops, chocolate cake, and not much else.

For good or ill, the Kim regime’s strategic objectives remain essentially unchanged since 1950, when Kim Il Sung (Kim Jong Un’s grandfather) launched the surprise attack against the South that triggered the Korean War. To this day, North Korean ideology posits the unconditional reunification of the Korean people under an “independent socialist state” — and this presupposes the eradication of the existing government in South Korea.

Given South Korea’s extraordinary economic accomplishments and democratic progress, the North’s quest for unconditional absorption of the South could only begin to seem even remotely plausible if the U.S.-South Korea alliance were disbanded, U.S. troops sent home, and Washington’s nuclear guarantee withdrawn. And this is exactly where the North’s long-range nuclear missile program figures in.

l’affaire de Trump

Colbert King on the imporant part of the Stormy Daniels story — or at least, the important part of what know so far.

I couldn’t care less whether in 2006 Donald Trump had a sexual affair with pornographic film actress Stephanie Clifford — known professionally as Stormy Daniels — only months after his wife, Melania, gave birth to their son, Barron.

Which puts King in a group with America’s evangelicals, who suddenly have no problem on cheating on a wife who just got home from the hospital with a baby in her arms.

I do care, however, if within one month of the presidential election, Republican candidate Trump’s personal lawyer Michael D. Cohen paid hush money to Clifford/Daniels to keep the affair secret. True, the porn star is not, at least to the best of my knowledge, a public official. She has no public or legal duties to discharge. A payment of hush money to her, therefore, is unlikely to be illegal.

i’d like to renew my prediction that Trump is just as likely to leave office over something connected to sexual misconduct, as he is to go over an issue with Russia.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Othering is one of the most pernicious attributes of constrained minds. Liberated minds may not have othering as ingrained in our personalities but we try to recognize it when it affects our thinking. The opposite of othering is inclusion.

    On my facebook page, I’m engaging 5000 of my closest friends (lol) in a conversation about food insecurity in a rural community. Without describing the ethnic makeup of this community I found that constrained minds assumed that the people affected are minorities and also suggested that food insecurity isn’t a problem because of it. Some liberated minds also assumed the community consisted of minorities but thought it was a mitzvah to address the problem. It was only a few liberated minds that didn’t assume anything other than there should always be a need to address food insecurity in any community, without asking about the racial makeup of the individuals who live there.

    So, the shock and shutdown engendered from constrained minds when I informed everyone in the discussion that 99% of the community is white and poorly educated while having access to education, jobs, plenty of food and community resources was obvious. If constrained minds couldn’t say “do nothing” because the community is black or Latino then they had nothing further to add. The default response is “do nothing” because everybody is “other” and that’s what conservatives fear the most–the other. That leaves 60% of the liberated minds actively adding to the discussion.

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