Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Because it works

One of the things the nasty guy tweeted today was complaint that fake news would never be satisfied. That meant no matter what he said in condemnation of white supremacists (which was very little) his critics would want more.

After the nasty guy gave his second speech on the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, Melissa McEwan of Shakesville tweeted a prediction (alas, I don’t have a link) that the nasty guy would grumble about the press not being satisfied.

So McEwan ran a series of tweets about why she was able to make an accurate prediction.
Because white supremacy is a system replicated with observable patterns. This is how generation after generation is taught white supremacy (every bigotry). Effective patterns of oppression are infinitely repeated. The patterns include both the language that transmits the bigotry, and the language used to push back on the people trying to dismantle it. A powerful white supremacist who insufficiently disavows white supremacy will ALWAYS accuse critics of never being satisfied. It’s like clockwork. It’s as predictable as the sunrise. Why? Because IT WORKS.
McEwan notes that moderates are already saying the nasty guy has issued his condemnation, so move along now, nothing more to see here.

She adds in the post where she collected the tweets:
The entire reason that he is predictable to me is because he adheres unerringly to the patterns of white supremacy. That is telling.

Yesterday I wrote about Christian Picciolini and his group Life After Hate. Today I heard a bit of news about Picciolini and his organization.

Back in January, just before Obama left office, the Department of Homeland Security awarded Life After Hate a $400,000 grant. It was part of the DHS program Countering Violent Extremism. It was the only selected group that focused exclusively on fighting white supremacy. The grant money was not immediately disbursed.

Then the nasty guy took over. And the DHS grants were reevaluated. And repurposed to fight “radical Islamic terrorism.” When the updated list of grants was made public a few weeks ago Life After Hate was no longer on the list.

Gosh, why would we want to spend money to fight white supremacy?

Monday, August 14, 2017

More bang for the loonie

Egberto Willies of Daily Kos notes:
We are disadvantaged because of an ideologically-driven, willful gullibility that allows us to consent to politicians screwing us. [This analysis] should make most poor and middle class American re-examine their tolerance for electing politicians who not only lie to them, but who materially hurt their survival—literally and figuratively.
The analysis is a comparison of American and Canadian tax systems and what the citizens get for their money. The analysis was done because the nasty guy has repeatedly said we have the highest taxes in the world. Not even close. Considering income, local, sales, and other taxes, we pay a little below average of the countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Back to Canada. Surely, they pay more taxes than Americans! Yeah, a bit. But they get more bang for their loonie. A working universal heath care system for about half the price Americans pay, 18 months of subsidized parental leave, access to high-quality education for children across the income spectrum, and many other things. Middle-income Canadians enjoy public services worth about 63% of their income.

And the American tax system?

Willies says, “Our tax system is nothing more than a way to transfer wealth from the masses to the wealthy few.”

I add that our system is designed to make sure those people are unable to challenge those at the top.

We spend a lot on the military – which subsidizes private corporations in the military industrial complex. We spend a lot on healthcare – the taxpayer pays for research and the drug company keeps all the jacked-up profit.

Americans grumble about high taxes and feel we’re paying more than everyone else, and we do that because we get so little in exchange.

Willies offers suggestions:

* Tax investment income at a higher rate than work income.

* Drug companies must share profits of all drugs developed with taxpayer dollars.

* Every student with a good GPA should be offered pay-it-forward tuition-free college.

* Medicare for all.

* Corporations should not profit from fossil fuels or minerals. They did not put it there. All Americans should have a right to the country’s natural resources. You can profit from what you do with the minerals, but not to the minerals themselves.

Identity, community, and sense of purpose

Stacey Vanek Smith of NPR did an eight minute interview with Christian Picciolini. He was a lost and lonely teenager and was recruited into a white supremacist group. He soon became a recruiter. He renounced ties at age 22 when his first child was born. He co-founded the group Life After Hate to help people disengage from these extremist groups. He wrote the book “Romantic Violence: Memoirs Of An American Skinhead.” Excerpts of his words:
I think ultimately, people become extremists not necessarily because of the ideology. I think that the ideology is simply a vehicle to be violent. I believe that people become radicalized or extremists because they're searching for three very fundamental human needs - identity, community and a sense of purpose. If underneath that fundamental search is something that's broken - I call them potholes. Is there abuse or trauma or mental illness or addiction? In my case many years ago, it was abandonment. I felt abandoned, and that led me to this community.

But what happens is because there are so many marginalized young people, so many disenfranchised young people today with not a lot to believe in, with not a lot of hope, they tend to search for very simple black and white answers. Because of the Internet, we now have this propaganda machine that is flooding the Internet with conspiracy theory propaganda from the far-right, disinformation. And when a young person who feels disenchanted or disaffected goes online, where most of them live, they're able to find that identity online.

They're able to find that community, and they're able to find that purpose that's being fed to them by savvy recruiters who understand how to target vulnerable young people. And they go for this solution because, frankly, it promises paradise. And it requires very little work except for dedicating your life to that purpose. But I can say that they're all being fooled because the people at the very top have an agenda, and it's a broken ideology that can never work, that, in fact, is destroying people's lives more than the promise that they were given of helping the world or saving the white race.
What people need to understand is that since 9/11, more Americans have been killed on U.S. soil by white supremacists than by any other foreign or domestic terrorist group combined by a factor of two. Yet we don't really talk about that, nor do we even call these instances of the shooting in Charleston or what happened in Oak Creek, Wis., at the Sikh temple or even what happened in Charlottesville this weekend as terrorism.
When working with people who have been associated with supremacist groups:
I listen more than I speak. And when I listen for is the potholes, the ones that I mentioned before. You know, were they abused? Is there addiction? Is there a mental health issue? Are they just simply disconnected and have never had the time to have a meaningful interaction with somebody they claim to hate? But as I listen, then I start to fill in those potholes with services, whether it's mental health therapy. But to challenge the ideology.

What I do after working on the person, on the human, to make them more resilient and more whole so that they don't have to blame the other, is I'll immerse them in situations that challenge their narrative, so I may introduce a Holocaust denier to a Holocaust survivor or an Islamophobe to an imam or a Muslim family for dinner or somebody who is homophobic to an LGBTQ couple. And oftentimes, what happens is they are able to humanize these people that they once had this idea of them being a monster or a parasite in their head.

And because they've made that humanizing connection, they typically can't justify the prejudice or reconcile the hate any longer. And 9 times out of 10, this is the first time that the hater has had a meaningful interaction with the person they feel they hate. And when they receive compassion from the people they least deserve it from, when they least deserve it, that, to me, is the most transformative process. And I've seen that happen hundreds and hundreds of times, including to myself personally.

I’ll believe you

Still lots of commentary out there about the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville looks at the statement the nasty guy finally gave today. On the surface it sounds like what a president is supposed to say in this situation (and getting praise from news media), but McEwan notes the nasty guy gave himself some loopholes.

The nasty guy said:
Racism is evil — and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.
McEwan interprets:
The president very carefully indicated that racism is only a problem if you commit visible acts of public violence because of racist views.

Racism is a problem long before it reaches the point of public violence. Like, for example, housing discrimination or appointing a racist to oversee the Department of Justice.
The emphasis on "including" is doing a lot of work. Especially given "Black Lives Matter is a hate group" is and long has been a major talking point among white supremacists.

Because this was the nasty guy’s second run at the issue the supremacists are saying that condemnation was for the viewing audience. He’s already said what he really feels.

And the overall impression:
Most of the political press appears to have lost sight of why we expect presidents to condemn acts of white supremacist violence: It's to communicate to *the people who commit them* that their beliefs and behaviors are intolerable; and to communicate to *the people whom they target* that their country cares about their safety.

Trump did neither.
McEwan included a quote from Yesha Callahan of the Root:
James Baldwin once said, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced." The violence that erupted in Charlottesville over the last 48 hours has been the face of America since the beginning of time.
A frequent comment and response from the last few days: “America is not like that!” Actually, we are, always have been. And it won’t change until we face it.

McEwan also links to Jana Winter at Foreign Policy:
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security in May warned that white supremacist groups had already carried out more attacks than any other domestic extremist group over the past 16 years and were likely to carry out more attacks over the next year, according to an intelligence bulletin obtained by Foreign Policy. Even as Trump continues to resist calling out white supremacists for violence, federal law enforcement has made clear that it sees these types of domestic extremists as a severe threat. The report, dated May 10, says the FBI and DHS believe that members of the white supremacist movement 'likely will continue to pose a threat of lethal violence over the next year.

In a series of tweets Sarah Kendzior wrote:
I don’t want to hear one person say he’s “presidential.” Being presidential is not having to be *convinced* to condemn neo-Nazis and the KKK. Being presidential is not putting Nazis and white supremacists into top White House positions and having them translate bigotry into policy. Being presidential is not being beaten to the punch in your condemnation of a Nazi murderer by a tiki torch company.

Yesterday I wrote that the GOP outrage at the violence in Charlottesville sounded hollow. Rev. William Barber, creator of Moral Mondays in North Carolina, goes further. He noted that Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, and other prominent Republicans said they oppose the white supremacy on display in Charlottesville. In response, Barber quotes from the Bible: Matthew 7:5, “Hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye; and then you shall see clearly to remove the mote from your brother’s eye.”

Barber lists several things that show the GOP as being hypocritical. I’ll rephrase it:

I’ll believe you when you say you oppose white supremacy when you challenge the race driven policies of the White House and in your own agenda.

I’ll believe you when you say you oppose white supremacy when you fully reinstate the voting rights act and stop racist voter suppression and gerrymandering.

I’ll believe you when you acknowledge racist voter suppression in 2016.

I’ll believe you when you stop racializing Obamacare and claiming that everything Obama did was bad.

I’ll believe you when you stop racist attacks on immigrants.

I’ll believe you when you challenge the Attorney General as he tries to end affirmative action.

I’ll believe you when you increase federal investigation of unarmed blacks killed by police.

Barber ends:
To say you are against white supremacy without standing up against the policies that embolden white supremacists is hypocrisy.

Leah Daughtry wrote it a tweet: “Dear White Politicians, do not go to black churches today & tell us how much you hate racism. Go to white churches and tell them.”

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Bathroom backfire

A couple bits of good news. Both bits are about transgender bigotry.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called the state legislature into a special summer session to pass a “bathroom bill” to regulate which bathroom transgender people could use. But the bill is stuck and probably won’t come up for a vote. It is strongly opposed by progressives, law enforcement, big business (46 corporations from the Fortune 500 list, 20 of which have headquarters in Texas), Dallas Stars (professional hockey), and even business oriented GOP leaders.

In Iowa Democrat Phil Miller had served on a school board and voted to keep a policy that allowed transgender students use the bathroom of their choice. Miller ran for the state House from a rural district in a special election. Attack ads noted Miller’s transgender vote and declared he and his liberal policies were out of touch.

Miller won.

Hollow outrage

There was a demonstration by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday. It was met by a counter-protest. Things got a little heated. A car, driven by a supremacist, plowed into the crowd, killing 1 and injuring 19.

The violence was swiftly condemned by both Democrats and Republicans (though the response from the nasty guy was lame – not a surprise since he is a white supremacist).

But the GOP outrage sounds hollow.

There is lots of discussion on conservative sites featuring such ideas as, “Nobody cares about your protest. Keep your ass out of the road,” and other slogans fantasizing about running over protesters. And GOP lawmakers are listening. They’re claiming protesters in roads are a lethal menace because they could obstruct emergency vehicles (though they can’t point to a case where that has happened). They’re also proposing such bills as banning protesting in streets, declaring protesters guilty of the new crime of “economic terrorism” (sorry, the terrorist is the one behind the wheel), and preventing protesters from suing drivers who hit them.

It seems the GOP is getting very good at hollow outrage.

This will make you wink

Radiolab did a fascinating 50 minute episode about new technology. Adobe Corp., known for PDF files and Photoshop, wanted a Photoshop for sound, a tool to make movie sound editing, especially speech editing, easier. They developed a program to break an actor’s speech down into its component sounds. Then using a text editor they could edit what the actor said and the program would create the actor’s voice saying the new words. They were able to insert words into the text that the actor had not spoken, as long as the actor had spoken all the component sounds.

Another development was by a team at the University of Southern California. They could focus the camera on a person and using that as a guide in real time manipulate the facial features of an image of a person. Whatever the human did – grimace, raise eyebrows, whatever – the image copied. It is like controlling a puppet. This allows a company to make a commercial featuring a famous actor and send it overseas. In the new country, perhaps China, this program would allow moving the lips so it looked like the famous actor was speaking Mandarin. Couple the lips with the first program and the Mandarin would be in the actor’s voice.

Pretty cool!

Now consider the voice that was broken down and recreated and the image being manipulated belonged to President Obama. And the people writing the text and pulling the puppet strings are purveyors of fake news. It now becomes easy for the perpetrators to produce a video showing Obama saying all kinds of nasty things. Those who study manipulated images would probably be able to identify that the video was fake.

But the common man would not, and probably wouldn’t hear about the fakery until after the video had done its damage.

So what is true? We are leaving a difficult problem for the next generation to solve.