Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The beginning of the end of the Post-Truth era?

After the first 60 days of Trump’s presidency there’s been a change in the balance of power between the White House, and the media. During the campaign, he was in the ascendancy, regularly accusing the media of creating fake news stories when they reported anything unfavourable to him.  

In his first week in office he was signing executive orders; and diverting attention away from anything that reflected badly on him by making up his own fantastic tweets. Right from the start he tried to change the reality of even trivial matters like the size of the crowd at his inauguration day; or more seriously the number of fraudulent votes cast.

But federal court judges declared his first travel ban on people from some Muslim countries unconstitutional, and then did so once again to the revised order because, in their published judgement, they took his own statements during the campaign, concerning excluding Muslims from entering the US, at face value. This was the first collision between Trump’s habitual lying and the real world. When you're President of the USA, words matter and can no longer be treated as fleeting statements made in campaign speeches, easily said, often repeated, and then forgotten.

Trump is also facing a multi-organisational investigation into links between him, his campaign team and Russia.  Why would Flynn deny meeting the Russian ambassador for discussions about sanctions only to resign when called to account for his lying. 

In addition, why would Sessions not disclose to the Senate confirmation hearing that he had met the Russian ambassador twice during the campaign, and then withdraw himself from the investigation. Everyone thinks there’s a smoking gun somewhere, which sooner or later will be found!

Trump, in his attempt to abolish Obamacare, has a grass roots revolt on his hands over the hardships that would be created for many of his own supporters in terms of removing or reducing their health care cover; so he has used his familiar distraction tactics and accused Obama and the UK of “wiretapping” him. This should have been a good tactic, because normally the policy of the intelligence agencies is neither to confirm or deny such matters, but this time the lie was such a whopper that even the Director of GCHQ condemned it outright, as did the FBI and the NSA. Fox News his favourite TV channel has now dropped the journalist who started the rumour. I think that’s as strong a statement on the matter as anyone else has made so far.

Trump’s popularity is the lowest of any newly elected President at  37% but he so much needs approval and adulation that his response has been to organize campaign style rallies in Florida and Nashville  to bolster his ego.  In the Florida rally he once again blamed the media for all his troubles but, protected by the first amendment, they are doing their job and exposing the untruths wherever they can.

Trump’s a better campaigner than he is a President and he’s mobilised a lot of discontented people to support him, but his ignorance, and his disregard for both the truth, and the institutions which exist in democracies to limit the power of the executive, are catching up with him.  The fight back is underway in the US mainly because Trump has overreached himself very quickly, made numerous mis-steps and is now on the back foot.  I hope that we are seeing the beginning of the end of the Post-Truth era in politics.

Now we need to apply the same degree of scrutiny and resistance to spin and untruths over the Brexit negotiations, although with the predominantly foreign owned, right wing, UK press that will be difficult.

Theresa May wasn’t part of the team of liars who led the leave campaign, but she has now firmly allied herself with them. By prioritising immigration control over trade and the economy she’s on the way to confirming the UKIP/Daily Mail lies making immigrants the scapegoats for all of the economic and social woes of the UK.  In the period when Osborne’s cuts to central government and local authority budgets are beginning to really bite hard and affect the NHS and social care that is a gigantic lie! 

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Crane migration over the Lot

Yesterday evening the cranes were flying right over the village.  There was skein after skein of them for more than half an hour at dusk. I would estimate that several thousand were going north.  They call to each other as they fly and often change their position in the V-shaped formations. It was quite a spectacle!
It can be a matter of luck whether you see them or not. Some years they fly above the clouds and you just hear their calls, other times they fly over at night. They usually co-ordinate their northward migration to a particular day so if you're not there you've missed them!  

This video from Peter Erl shows the migration very well.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Post Truth Politics Rules!

No French politicians keep their promises, and no one expects them to do so, but the ideas of Benoit Hamon, the newly elected leader of the French Socialists, are in a different league from the others.  He says that he wants to pay everyone 750 Euros/month by 2020 regardless of their income or resources. Before then all young people between the ages of 18 – 25 will be given 600 Euros/month without pre-conditions. He also intends to reduce the working week from 35 to 32 hours.

Let’s not bother with discussing how this might affect an already ailing French economy, or what is likely to happen to the generation of young people who don’t have any need to work or contribute to society.

There seems to be little concern about how this will be financed and the 1 Euro socialists don’t care!  They paid this token amount and signed an online statement saying that they shared socialist values and were immediately eligible to vote in the socialist primaries!  So once again an attempt to open up important decisions to the democratic process has backfired.

Democracy only works when voters act responsibly and can distinguish between truth and lies.  First we had the £3 Labour Party voters who have chosen an un-electable and ineffective leader; then we had the Brexit vote, led by unscrupulous lying politicians like Johnson and Gove; then we had the election of Trump, who can’t open his mouth without lying; and finally (for the moment at least) Benoit Hamon, who is promising policies which are impossible to deliver.  Once again post-truth politics rules!

It was crazy to decide about the complex subject of the European Union by referendum and it’s equally crazy to allow people to choose political leaders in primary elections without the voters having paid their full membership dues and having been party members for at least a year! In my view such things shouldn’t be up to the Party to decide, but should be regulated under electoral law.

It’s unlikely that M. Hamon will get through to the second round of voting in the French Presidential election but he will split the left wing vote and allow Marine LePen, the National Front candidate to get through easily. In the past everyone has always united against the NF for the second round.  Recent events in the feverish world of post-truth politics suggest that we shouldn’t count on that happening this time!

Friday, 27 January 2017

Trump moves to bury the science of climate change

Alongside his flurry of executive orders (see below) Trump has also moved to curtail the freedom for US Agencies dealing with the science of climate change to announce their findings on their websites without “PoliticalReview” 
So you can expect their website information pages to be buried where you can’t find them and any new evidence to be similarly interred. I think that you can also expect their funding to be withdrawn unless it proves that climate change is not anthropogenic.
Spokespeople like Sean Spicer will soon be announcing that media reporting of climate change facts is biased and disloyal. He’ll almost certainly find some scientists who have been paid by the fossil fuel industry to muddy the waters with false statements to back him up.  If you can lie about the size of an inauguration crowd, rubbishing complicated science will be easy! 

Six journalists have already been arrested and charged with being in the area of the inauguration day riots.  We are at the beginning of George Orwell’s 1984 and the Ministry Of Truth.

In case you haven’t kept up here is a list of the executive orders signed by Trump in his first week of office as compiled by Fox News. My! Hasn’t he been busy!

•  Multi-pronged orders on border security and immigration enforcement including: the authorization of a U.S.-Mexico border wall; the stripping of federal grant money to sanctuary cities; hiring 5,000 more Border Patrol agents; ending “catch-and-release” policies for illegal immigrants; and reinstating local and state immigration enforcement partnerships.

•  Two orders reviving the Keystone XL pipeline and Dakota Access pipelines. He also signed three other related orders that would: expedite the environmental permitting process for infrastructure projects related to the pipelines; direct the Commerce Department to streamline the manufacturing permitting process; and give the Commerce Department 180 days to maximize the use of U.S. steel in the pipeline.

•  An order to reinstate the so-called "Mexico City Policy" – a ban on federal funds to international groups that perform abortions or lobby to legalize or promote abortion. The policy was instituted in 1984 by President Reagan, but has gone into and out of effect depending on the party in power in the White House.

•  He signed a notice that the U.S. will begin withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Trump called the order "a great thing for the American worker."

•  An order imposing a hiring freeze for some federal government workers as a way to shrink the size of government. This excludes the military, as Trump noted at the signing.

•  An order that directs federal agencies to ease the “regulatory burdens” of ObamaCare. It orders agencies to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement” of ObamaCare that imposes a “fiscal burden on any State or a cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on individuals, families, healthcare providers, health insurers, patients, recipients of healthcare services, purchasers of health insurance, or makers of medical devices, products, or medications.”

What a loathsome man he is!

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Lies or Self Deception - Trump’s Inauguration Day 2017

Trump has started his presidency in the same way as he ran his campaign. He has claimed that there were record crowds when the evidence is the opposite.

An Associated Press combination of photos shows a view of the crowd on the National Mall at the inaugurations of President Barack Obama, top, on 20 January 2009, and President Donald Trump, bottom, on 20 January 2017. The Associated Press said both were shot shortly before noon from the top of the Washington Monument. Photograph: AP

I don’t know whether he lives in his own reality, and really believes what he says, or he’s still functioning in post-truth mode. Does he think that you can change reality by lying about it or is he deceiving himself?

Neither is a good attribute for the President of the most powerful nation on earth!

If he's prepared to lie about such easily verifiable facts how can anyone ever believe what he says about things that are less cut and dried. This leads to and feeds the distrust that many people feel concerning their politicians. It will rebound on Trump eventually, but it will also affect politics in general, making people more likely to drop out of the democratic process and support emotionally more appealing extremist groups.

But perhaps he’s chasing the ratings for his new reality TV show “Spot the biggest Trump lie”.

He’s so thin skinned that he can’t allow any criticism to pass without responding with an attacking tweet. Assuming that they haven’t taken away his smart phone, here’s a strategy for preventing him from harming us all.  Why don’t we all say what we think about him online? He would be so busy answering all the adverse comments with aggressive responses that he wouldn’t have time to start a war with China or Iran.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Challenge the Post-Truth Politicians

Michael Gove had plenty of air time this morning on the  BBC's Radio 4 to rehabilitate himself and try to appear more reasonable. His message during the brexit campaign could be summed up -"We don't need experts, they always get it wrong, forget the experts and just believe what I tell you and everything will be fine". 

Today he tried to qualify his rejection of expert opinion by saying that we shouldn't accept what experts say without question and what he wanted was fact based discussion in which experts could justify themselves by presenting their evidence. So I wonder why this was not how the campaign was conducted? Gove knows very well that any attempt to present complex evidence was rejected by him and his colleagues during the campaign in favour of the lies that were so much easier to promote. Evidence and facts went out of the window. The Today Programme presenter chose not to challenge him robustly and repeatedly on this point, like they usually do with politicians on this programme, why not?

I'm sure that Gove would be happy to accept the advice of medical experts, or even a plumber, should he have need of such trained and experienced people, but not "experts" who provide opinions which inconveniently contradict his own political beliefs. It's so much easier to rubbish the expert's advice, like he did during the brexit campaign, than to counter it with facts and expertise; but beware of following Gove down that road or you will end up in a morass of lies propagated by people like the brexiteers and Donald Trump. 

Go a little further in that direction and you will find yourself with autocratic leaders quite prepared to set up fake news websites, commit voting fraud, arrest journalists, judges and opposition politicians, or change the constitution to keep themselves permanently in power.

If you don't want that to happen, challenge every lie or sweeping statement that unscrupulous politicians of the post-truth generation, like Michael Gove, make when they rubbish people who disagree with them. Don't let them get away with a shrug of the shoulders or a humorous quip as a response.

This is the new front line in the fight to preserve western democratic values and if you think that I'm overstating the case look at the story of Turkey and its slide into dictatorship over the last fifteen years.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Yes You Can - Lie Your Way to Power

During his campaign Trump lied every time he opened his mouth but in the world of post-truth politics none of his supporters care!

He has insulted, Mexicans, muslims, blacks, latinos and women. He has incited violence from the gun lobby at his rallies, he cast doubt on the electoral process, saying that he would not accept the result if he lost, and he repeatedly accused Hillary Clinton of being a crook. He sacked his campaign managers when they tried to advise him. He has promised things that will never happen and probably not said what he really wants to do.  But his supporters don’t care!

What he has succeeded in doing is to ride a wave of anti-establishment discontent among the poorer paid resulting from their declining wealth due to globalisation and the closing of traditional industries.  So in protest they have elected an unscrupulous billionaire to represent them who will cut taxes for businesses and the rich, do nothing for the lower paid and dismantle healthcare reforms.  

This is just like Brexit, where labour voters in the north of England voted for the "Leave" liars because they could see their real incomes falling and public services disappearing. In a master stroke of populism the brexiteers blamed this on immigrants instead of Tory austerity policies. So traditional Labour voters will now live under the most right wing government since Thatcher, which will cut public services even more and will also allow wages to stagnate, because after Brexit they'll have lower growth, less corporate taxes and very limited choices. Meanwhile inflation will rise cutting real incomes still further.

One of the brexit lies
There no longer appears to be a place in the politics of the English speaking world for reasoned discussion and debate. You can lie your way to power either with false promises or by creating false scare stories. I fear that we appear to be witnessing some sort of revolution in which voters no longer question, or even need to believe, what candidates say so long as they confirm their supporters’ prejudices at every opportunity. Nothing good ever came from revolutions unless, of course, you like and approve of the violence and the inevitable authoritarian rule which follows. 

It’s impossible to know what Trump will do in office, but I’m sure that he’s more dangerous than bumbling, lying Boris Johnson. The media and politicians appear to have accepted that post-truth "Trumpism" is the new normal and seem prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. We will have to wait and see how he handles the inevitable crises that will soon come, particularly from the East and his friend Putin. Expect some sabre rattling on the borders of the Baltic States.

Hillary Clinton won 1.5 million more votes than Trump in the popular vote, but due to the USA's electoral college system she lost the election. I can't help thinking that if she had won, Trump and his supporters would be claiming the result was fixed, screaming for a McCarthy style witch hunt and dreaming up grounds for impeachment. Liberal minded Democrats don't do that, but perhaps they should learn quickly how to fight loud and dirty! 

Meanwhile the only thing that reasonable and rational people can do is to challenge every lie that you hear from whatever source!