The Politically-Motivated Scold: “He’s a Liar”

Apparently one of the worst things you can call someone is a ‘liar.’ That accusation is thrown around repeatedly by President Trump’s critics and opponents. But it’s not only said of Trump. When Brent Kavanaugh wouldn’t confess to operating a gang rape fest in college, he was accused by many of lying despite no evidence backing the accusation.

Accusing someone of being a liar is a cheap way of attacking them. The accusation is taken as proof––no evidence needed. It is assumed the accusation must be true; it’s too serious to be levied on a whim.

Let’s look at the accusation that Donald Trump is an inveterate liar.

Differences of Opinon

A large number of the lies attributed to Donald Trump are differences in opinion, not fact. If he says his administration passed the largest tax cut in the country’s history, is it a lie if someone claims the numbers don’t back his claim? First, one has to establish that Trump is wrong; second that he knew he was wrong when he made the claim. But what if discrepancy between the fact checker’s calculation comes down to a difference in what is being measured? Changes in the tax code affect people differently depending on tax bracket. Thus, it’s easy to cherry pick numbers and accuse your opponent of lying about the facts. This technique of calling a difference of opinion a lie is politically motivated. It’s not designed to get at the “truth.” The goal is to skewer your opponent.

Hyperbole

The President uses hyperbole as a rhetorical devise. To some critics, his exagerations are lies, but it’s not that simple. If someone consciously exagerates to make a point, is that a lie or simply a means the speaker is using to get his point across? The speaker might admit he exagerated a point, assuming the listener is smart enough to distinguish between hyperbole and an intent to deceive.

When the president says his administration has accomplished more in two and a half years than any other president is that something that can be disproved? It can be challenged, but it’s a matter of opinion, not fact.

Can Someone Lie without Intent?

A core problem with accusing someone of lying the accuser should be able to prove that the accused knew his facts were wrong when he made the offending statement. Trump has been accused of having lied about the size of his inauguration crowd versus Obama’s, but can you prove he knew the facts and intentionally lied about it? What’s his obligation in terms of obtaining the facts? What if someone gave him the incorrect information? What is his obligation in terms of correcting an error? Doesn’t it depend on the issue. Since the size of a crowd has little bearing on anything of import, can it be held against Trump for not issuing an apology if indeed he was wrong?

Does Context Matter?

Does whether someone can be accused of lying depend on the context? If a reporter button-holes a politician with a question, does his answer demand the same level of accuracy as testimony in court or when submitting prepared remarks? President Trump likes to play games with the media. He says things to get their goat. One of the examples of how his opponents have tried to make him out to have colluded with Russia in 2016 was his remark that someone should ask the Russians if they know the whereabouts of the missing emails from Hillary’s server. Is it his fault that his tease was taken seriously and used as justification for his being investigated as a traitor?

The Problem That Comes from Accusing Someone of Lying

The danger of accusing someone of lying when you aren’t distinguishing between rhetoric and fact is that it provides a justification in the mind of those who buy the accusation to ignore evidence to the contrary. If you think someone lies all day long, you probably believe everything that person says is a lie. Then you stop listening and paying attention to what that person does, which in the end is the goal of the accuser. The accuser wants you to buy their lies and stop using your reasoning powers to make judgements based on facts. Sadly this technique seems to be working on a lot of people.

Permission to Carry a Gun May Not Be Granted in Maryland

Has the future of gun ownership arrived? In Maryland, a Handgun Permit Review Board  denied the application of a Washington, D.C. resident to be able to carry a handgun when he travels into Maryland. They rejected his rationale that he is in potential danger of hostile encounters due to the fact that he is a Republican congressional staffer.

Did you know that you need a special permit in Maryland if you wish to carry a gun you legally possess outside your home? To do so, you must file an application with the State Police, pass a criminal background check, take a handgun-training course, and provide a “good and substantial reason” why the application should be approved.

The D.C. resident’s application was denied, as was his appeal. The Handgun Review Board ruled that he provided no evidence of threats that would justify approval. That is despite recent attacks on Republicans, including the shooting at the Republicans softball practice that nearly killed Congressman Steve Scalise. The applicant is now in front of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals hoping for a reversal of the Review Board’s decision.

Not to get too legalistic here, but you should know that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that Maryland has the right to require this justification procedure. Perhaps they failed to consider that an applicant’s politics might one day become one of the criteria for denial. Are we looking at a future where members of only one party will be granted carry rights? That’s not a preposterous possibility given that the state Review Board is currently made up of political appointees. But should such a procedure even exist?

The D.C. applicant, who is being represented by a group entitled Maryland Shall Issue (www.marylandshallissue.org), wants the state court to grant the application. While the state court can do so, it cannot overturn the 4th Circuit. That can only be done by the U.S.Supreme Court, which is where this and similar cases are heading.

The president of Maryland Shall Issue rightfully argues that the U.S. Constitution provides equal rights to all of its citizens––not just members of a special class. How the Supreme Court will rule will determine whether states can decide which citizens who legally possess handguns are permitted to carry them for protection outside their homes and which may not. Stay tuned.

Socialism: The Impossible Dream. A review of Bernard K. Johnpoll’s 1981 study, subtitled, “The Rise and Demise of the American Left*”

I was fortunate to have taken a class with Professor Johnpoll in the 1970s when I was a graduate student at the University at Albany. He was sui generis––a cigar smoking, iconoclastic, child of Communists who admired people who flirted with the Left while despite concluding that their dreams can never be achieved.

Why never? The conundrum socialists have been unable to solve for two hundred years is how to get from present circumstances to the “cooperative commonwealth.” Further, they have not and never will reach a consensus on what the cooperative commonwealth looks like. Each person has his own vision of utopia, which makes it easy for the leaders of the Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutions to get away with calling their un-cooperative societies socialism and imposing their totalitarian rule on their subjects.

In The Impossible Dream, Johnpoll dissects the history of the socialist leaders, movements, and organizations in the U.S. from the early nineteenth century to the 1970s. Based on extensive use of primary and secondary sources, he documents his thesis that these organizations and movements were bound to fail despite their high ideals.

The Long History of Protesting Capitalism

In the early days of industrial capitalism in England and the United States people chafed at the negative side effects of the “industrial revolution”––the lack of restraints on working conditions that chewed up people in the name of profit.

Not that pre-industrial societies lacked poverty or suffering, but what prevented the rise of reform movements in that era was an absence of a clear path to a better world. Once technology, starting with steam engines, introduced the possibility of a world where you were not tied to your previous station in life, reformers and reform movements sprouted like dandelions.

The primary critics of early capitalism were craftsmen whose skills were becoming irrelevant in the face of a new competitive environment where products could be produced in large numbers and sold for less than hand-crafted items. Combining religious images like the golden rule with visions of how industry could be re-organized, Robert Owen and others preached the coming of a society built around cooperative communities. Although the model communities Owen and others set up invariably failed––and did so very quickly by the way, they planted seeds which others sowed in the fertile fields created by early capitalism’s destructive excesses.

The goal of socialism––whether Marxian, Christian, or communitarian, is to take over ownership of the “means of production” and put it in the hands of the workers. The problem socialists have never solved, according to Johnpoll, is how one gets there. Nowhere was that more evident in the reformers’ dealings with the working class.

Labor Unions versus Socialism

In the nineteenth century, while reformers were preaching their individual variants of the total reformation of society, workers who couldn’t wait for the arrival of the cooperative commonwealth, began to form labor unions. For a time the interests of socialists and unionists were allied because owners backed by the police and legal system of the state resisted––often by force––all efforts of workers to organize.

Once the unionists demands began to be translated into law, however, their leaders broke with the socialists. When he expelled the socialists from his American Federation of Labor in 1903, Gompers said, “I want to tell you, Socialists, that I have studied your philosophy; read your works upon economics, and . . . I have heard your orators and watched the work of your movement the world over . . . Economically you are unsound, socially you are wrong, industrially you are an impossibility.”

For Gompers and others, socialists wanted to revolutionize all of society, while unionists were satisfied with improving the present-day lot of their members. This caused huge problems for socialists––some eschewed ameliorative gains while others saw reforms as the path to God’s kingdom on earth. Either way they failed again and again to win over the working class.

Socialist leaders, most of whom did not come from the working class, had an even harder time when it came to the problem of whether or not to participate in the electoral process. Some felt socialism could be brought about democratically, while others felt the owning class would never allow that to happen and only through an uprising by the working people of the world could a revolution that overthrew capitalism be accomplished.

Throw in conflicts born of ethnic differences and leaders personalities and you have a history of organizations being formed, making temporary gains, and then failing apart. It happened over and over again. Each generation of leaders thought this time will be different: this time the workers will vote for us or respond to our call for a general strike or join our socialist labor union. When that didn’t happen, they always had fellow socialists to blame.

Johnpoll clearly admires the reformers of the nineteenth century more than those of the twentieth with a few exceptions. Early reformers didn’t have experience to guide them and they paved the way for positive changes in society once social opinion or historical circumstance convinced the political party in power to implement reforms. They didn’t achieve their dream, but we take for granted many of the reforms they called for, from an end to child labor to unemployment insurance, from compulsory education to the right to collective bargaining.

Are Today’s Democrats advocating Socialism?

In recent years, the rhetoric in the Democratic Party in favor of some form of socialism has escalated. Bernie Sanders came close to winning the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2016 and remains one of the favorites in the 2020 race. This time around nearly the entire cast of presidential candidates is advocating one or more programs that amount to increased governmental control over various aspects of the production and distribution of goods and services. Health care and the environment are the most prominent areas where socialistic policies have won favor with the Party’s activist base, but except for Sanders none of the others seem willing to go full bore and denounce capitalism.

From a historical perspective what the Democrats are moving towards is more like the system that ruled the Soviet Union than the cooperative commonwealth envisioned by nineteenth century social philosophers––including Karl Marx. The Soviet Union was a totally statist society in which the state apparatus controlled everything, including personal choices in many areas. (There was nothing communistic about it.) We’re not there yet, but that’s the direction we’re heading in––namely, the sacrifice of personal liberties on behalf of the “common good.”

The problem is who defines what’s good and proper. In the Soviet Union, it was the Communist Party. In the US today, the federal bureaucracy has assumed the responsibility for defining specifics of vaguely wording legislation, often going against the will of the current chief executive.

The fact that we still elect the president is a critical difference between the U.S. and the Soviet Union because it offers the possibility that the power of the state can be restrained. Yet, to the average citizen, there’s little difference when waiting to get an appointment with the VA hospital in the U.S. or the poor quality of socialized medicine in the former USSR.

Ultimately, most reformers are totalitarians. They don’t like conditions in the present. Fine. They see a better world. Fine. They want to impose their vision of a better world on everyone else. Not so fine. We only have to look at Russia, China, and Cuba to understand what happens to the individual when reformers grab the power of the state. The individual becomes acted upon, not an actor. That’s the danger we’re facing in the U.S. in 2019. Reading Johnpoll’s Impossible Dream can help elucidate why the future world painted by today’s reformers is impossible to achieve no matter how appealing the picture.

Coda: Marx’s scientific socialism predicted the most advanced capitalist societies would be the first to undergo a conversion to socialism. Clearly that prediction was wrong. Lack of economic development where the elements of a capitalist system are non-existent or weak, is often coupled with a non-democratic political system, while in the US, where democracy while not perfect, is nevertheless deeply embedded, capitalism has raised the standard of living of the entire society even under the restraints of social legislation. Like democracy, capitalism is the best option available on a list of imperfect choices.

* An earlier version of this review was posted on Amazon and Goodreads in 2014.

 

What journalists do: My thoughts

Rex Smith, editor of the Albany Times Union, informs us “a journalist who just passes along what is said is a fancy stenographer, failing at the task of truth telling.” That in a nutshell describes where journalism has gone off the rails and why it’s audience represents only one segment of society.

When I was a cub reporter with the Oberlin College student newspaper, my first assignment was to cover a talk by the poet Stephen Spender. I was asked to take notes so that people not able to attend would get an accurate idea of what he said. I certainly was not expected to judge or evaluate Spender’s presentation.

Later I became a sports editor. The closest I came to “truth telling” was writing a headline that told readers the extent of the victory or defeat. The story itself was a recapitulation of the events of the game or match told without editorial input. Today sports stories rarely report on the game itself; instead they purport to tell us what the victory or defeat means, taking away our pleasure as fans coming to our own conclusions.

When it comes to politics, journalism today is agenda driven. What that means is that the newspaper’s point of view on all major topics is pre-determined. All a reporter needs to do is fill in the details that support the paper’s view. If that’s truth telling, my name is Bill Clinton.

If you need evidence, consider the revelations that discredit the New York Times from being an objective source of information on the issues of the day.

With the election of Donald Trump, the Times resolved to focus on the assumption that he stole the election with help from Russia. “We built our newsroom to cover one story, and we did it truly well,” said Dean Baquet, the Times’ current executive editor. I would question that conclusion. There was no collusion, but the Times reportedly gained 600,000 digital subscriptions telling its readers daily for more than two years that the evidence was mounting. Mission accomplished.
Today, Baquet has decided to shift to another story: racism. His goal is to reframe the entire history of this country to make it a function of slavery. They want us to believe that the history of the United States of America began with the arrival of the first African slaves at Jamestown in 1619. Slavery taints all and cannot be erased. Not even reparations will satisfy.

It’s easy to see how this game plan accomplishes the Times’ current political agenda. It not only appeals to the descendants of slavery, but it enables the Times to undermine black support for President Trump, which could be a factor in the outcome of the 2020 election.

What should newspapers do?

In its long history on this continent, newspapers evolved from being a voice for owners to express their views on the issues of the day ala Ben Franklin to becoming a platform for political parties, which meant tarring opponents with whatever calumny was handy. In the early 20th century reformers sought to hold papers to a set of principles that included separating news stories from opinion. That was the prevailing ethic until Watergate—the expose of President Nixon’s involvement in trying to undermine George McGovern’s campaign by planting false evidence in a Democrat campaign office.

After that, the big newspapers got swelled heads, feeling their job was not just to report on, but once more to influence the outcome of the issues of the day. If that means reporters inserting their views in news stories, so be it. If that means having an agenda which all stories on a topic such as climate change or tariffs have to adhere to a set position, so be it.

Professional journalists should not just be stenographers, but neither should they couch a news story to follow a political agenda failing to report facts that conflict with those that support the company’s view.

Jill Abramson, Baquet’s predecessor at the Times, wrote a book, Merchants of Truth, in which she argued that newspapers are kowtowing to advertisers in the face of declining revenues. What has turned things around economically for some has fast news distribution via social media, using Twitter for example, to release partial stories ahead of print publication. The danger she sees is a lack of oversight and a rush to judgment. That is exacerbated when the paper has an admitted agenda.

In a democracy, readers ought to be given adequate information to make up their own minds. Newspapers should provide a balanced coverage of the issues, such that reporters tell us what people say on both sides of an issue without editorializing. If they want to express their own opinions on the issues, save it for their personal Twitter account. The arrogance of those who think they are in possession of the truth contributes to the public’s distrust of the media. Fox has it right: their job is to report; ours is to decide.

Wake Up People: Stop Fear Being Called a Racist

A self-defined Black caller to a national talk show today made a point I’ve been trying to make for a long time––namely, that the term racist has become bastardized to the point where it is meaningless. Still many people fear being called a racist, and as long as people act stupid to avoid that label, there are those who will bring it out and slap it on.

Race to start is an artificial category. It came into use centuries ago by those who wanted to oppress others on the basis of artificial distinctions, such as religion (used by Christians to define non-Christians as heathens), use of language (non-English speakers were considered inferior) and oh, yes, skin pigmentation. Over time, the effectiveness of that practice came to be diminished as overwhelming evidence showed that not all Jews are money-grubbers, not all Irish are drunkards, and not all people of African origins are incapable of higher learning.

That there are still a tiny number of idiots who buy into the notion that there are groups of people all of whom share certain negative physical traits is unfortunate, but their number is infesimal and they are powerless as a group.

Now, let’s examine why some people still throw the term racist around at their political enemies. First, they do it because the media will report it without questioning it the way they would question they would if someone accused a political opponent of being a satan worshiper. Second, it elevates the accusers in their own eyes, justifying their willingness to by-pass traditional rules for discourse on the floor of the House of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi), and to their willingness to make accusations without feeling obligated to provide evidence or answer questions explaining the basis of their charges (Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar).

The mainstream media plays a sad role in this spectacle. For instance, when President Trump criticized four female Congresswomen for their anti-Israel and anti-American rhetoric, he was accused of being a racist even though he didn’t refer to the women’s race or even mention them by name.

On a side note, it’s interesting how it’s possible today to self-define yourself as a person of color. Rashida Tlaib comes from an Arab background. Arabs don’t normally define themselves as people of color, and what about Ocasio-Cortez? Her parents are from Puerto Rico, but does that make her a person of color? Is everyone with a Hispanic surname a person of color? Yet both claimed they were victims of Trump’s racism. Again, the media seems to fear being called a racist since they never challenge anything these women say––not matter how absurd.

The only way to put a stop to the irresponsible use of the term racist is to stop being afraid of being called one. That doesn’t mean you have to have been pure of thought throughout your entire life. It doesn’t mean you can’t ever have used the “N” word or had a momentary negative thought about a whole group of people on the basis of their religion, national origins or eating habits. You’re not a racist if you don’t believe that there are groups of people who share negative physical characteristics that justify their being treated as second-class citizens. Pure and simple.

Once people stop being afraid of the term, those who love to use it will find their power diminished and they’ll move on to something else. Meat-eater perhaps?!

 

The Wall: Another Take

How does one explain the fact that prominent Democrat politicians not so long ago advocated the very same policies sought by the Trump administration with respect to the southern border and Central American migration crisis, but won’t back those policies as long as he is president?

Here are the facts:

When campaigning, Obama told migrants to leave their children at home. He also built the detention centers where children by law are kept separate from their parents when the parents are required to remain in custody. At one point, Pelosi and Schumer favored constructing a wall, knowing a partial wall has made southern California safer.

A wall makes sense to cut down on the dangerous and, as we saw recently, the often fatal efforts of people to cross into our country illegally. To oppose it is to advocate the idiotic position that there should be no borders and that anyone who wants to come here should be able to do so.

Having a policy of not screening would-be immigrants for health problems can’t be defended logically. Why do people who apply for the right to immigrate have to undergo medical tests when those who cross our southern border illegally do not? Do we really want to welcome those carrying contagious diseases? Do we really want to provide free health care to all of Central America?

What about dealing with criminal behavior by illegals above and beyond their coming into the country illegally? Why are Democrat politicians protecting people who commit serious crimes, as well as interfering with efforts to detain and deport them?

The answer to the above questions is simple. The Democrats would rather play politics, counting on the naiveté of the voting public. It is absurd to deny that an open border is an invitation to those who would smuggle guns and drugs into the country. It is absurd to give carte blanche to ‘coyotes’ who make false promises to would-be migrants and then abandon them in dangerous situations. It is absurd to allow those who kidnap the children of poor families to use as a ruse to get into the country.

Has the voting public considered the cost of having a million undocumented illegals enter the country each year? Have people looked at the cost of all those free programs from free health care to free higher education? Doesn’t playing compassionate savior mean tax money that should be helping American citizens attend college without having to take out loans won’t be available?

The problem comes back to the decision the Democrats made not to allow Trump to accomplish what he promised during his campaign. By labeling his motives racist they think they can pull the wool over the eyes of the voters, getting them to endorse policies that are harmful to the country and to many of them personally.

Here’s my question for you, dear reader. Even if Trump’s motives were impure––which I don’t believe­­­­­––is that sufficient reason to obstruct policies that are necessary, reasonable and rational? Is giving him a “victory” so unthinkable that the Democrats will continue to jeopardize the safety and well-being of our citizenry?

The migrants too are victims of the Democrats game. They suffer, not the politicians. Will their dreams be realized? It is unlikely. Some may land in communities where they can get off-the-books jobs mowing grass and harvesting fruit, but many will resort to crime––to prostitution, to drug and gun smuggling, and who knows what else in order to survive. That’s the reality.

Is the U.S. responsible for the conditions in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua? Marxists will say yes because they blame private property, free enterprise and the rule of law for all of the world’s problems. Is that where the Democrat Party wants to live? Hopefully, the American people will take a look at life under communism and “democratic” socialists countries before they endorse that solution. A better choice for the rest of the world––one that is working in many countries––is to adopt our system as a model.

Legalizing Pot = Legalizing Trouble

Those championing the legalization of marijuana are selling phony stories invented by pr firms in the employ of governments seeking tax revenue and would-be pot entrepreneurs. They falsely claim pot is not a gateway to harder drugs; that legal pot will be safer; and that legalization will help those suffering from pain. Let’s look at the facts.

The notion that pot reduces the pain of physically ill is in doubt as a result of a recent study in Australia. What about pot as a gateway? A recent American Journal of Psychiatry paper reported cannabis users three times as likely to graduate to opiates. What about safety? Legal pot is more than ten times stronger than the pot smoked in the 1960s and 1970s. Eleven percent of psychosis cases in emergency rooms in one study were heavy pot users. But the least-known danger is the connection between cannabis and violence.

The voices of mental health professionals who have seen the connection between marijuana, mental illness and violent crime has been largely ignored. Overseas studies support the connection. A Swiss study, for example, found young men with psychosis who use pot had a 50 percent greater likelihood of becoming violent. An Australian study re-enforces that connection.

In the U.S., one only needs to look to Colorado. Earlier this year, USA Today reported “Pot is sending more people to the hospital in Colorado with extreme vomiting, psychosis” backing up an earlier analysis reported in the Denver Post which found pot use linked to increased crime and driving fatalities.

We’ve heard and ignored all the glowing promises for other solutions to social ills. Legalized gambling is supposed to stop illegal gambling. All it’s done has increased the number of problem gamblers while illegal gambling has not been shut down. The truth is that those dreaming of big profits and big tax revenues are selling America a bill of goods. They will get rich while the average citizen and health community deals with the fall out.

It’s fools’ gold to think regular use of an addictive substance doesn’t have negative social and familial consequences for those who use it. Who’s going to come out on top––those who want the money or those who care about their children and their community?