Enabling the Crazy: Republicans and the right wing need to be held accountable for their dishonesty

Until Republicans police their own and use honest arguments, they cannot be trusted.

Rush Limbaugh

Over the last forty years, Republicans have developed some very bad habits. False equivalencies, out and out lying (such as claiming that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction), hypocritical stances (such as denying Merrick Garland a hearing for a position on the Supreme Court), accepting of lies for political expediency, and accusing the opposition of the very sins they commit are only some of the tactics that Republican base has grown to accept through networks such as Fox News and numerous zany online hysteria sites.

After a Berkman study found study (among many others) demonstrated that right wing media does not hold itself to account, and that Facebook is far more right wing than Twitter, Facebook began to take steps to address false reports. This led to criticism of social networks by President Trump, and a business opportunity for other purveyors of falsehoods. That is because Republicans can no longer survive without the falsehoods. A few people have noticed this danger, one of them being the founder of the founding online editor of the Washington Examiner and NewsBusters, Matthew Sheffield. In his own words:

I eventually realized that most people who run right-dominated media outlets see it as their DUTY to be unfair and to favor Republicans because doing so would some how counteract perceived liberal bias.

While I was enmeshed in the conservative media tradition, I viewed lefty media thinkers like @jayrosen_nyu as arguing that journalism was supposed to be liberally biased. I was wrong. I realized later that I didn’t understand that journalism is supposed to portray reality.

Mr. Sheffield wasn’t the only one to notice this problem. Last week Charles Koch put it quite simply: “Boy, did we screw up!” He did so by funding the Tea Party that fed on propaganda, not journalism.

The news echo chamber in which right wing people live live is not a threat to democracy, but is a threat to good, sound government, and to the health and welfare of the public. Donald Trump’s lies about the Corona Virus are merely the logical conclusion of a concerted attack that began with Rush Limbaugh in the 1980s, intensified with Fox News, and has led to such hate sites as InfoWars. Although Senator McConnell is smart enough not to peddle conspiracies, he has no problem profiting from them. He therefore does nothing to correct them, putting party before country. And so what do we get? Failure to recognize the risks of climate change, improper preparation for what became a pandemic that has led to economic destruction and chaos, and breeding of bigotry and violence.

Moral equivalences to justify some of Donald Trump’s more egregious acts seem to be a favorite. Previously we heard how, because cages were built under the Obama administration to house children for periods of up to 72 hours when they had no other place to go, it was therefore okay for the Trump administration to target migrant families for separation.

The latest claim from my friends on the right, led by people such as Representative Steve Scalise, has been that Donald Trump has the same right to use the courts to make whatever challenges he will, just as Al Gore did when he lost to George Bush in 2001. It is true that Al Gore did use the courts to attempt require a recount in certain districts. In that case, Gore and his legal team made very specific claims, and had evidence to advance them. They were these:

(1) The rejection of 215 net votes for Gore identified in a manual count by the Palm Beach Canvassing Board as reflecting the clear intent of the voters;

(2) The rejection of 168 net votes for Gore, identified in the partial recount by the Miami-Dade County Canvassing Board.

(3) The receipt and certification after Thanksgiving of the election night returns from Nassau County, instead of the statutorily mandated machine recount tabulation, in violation of section 102.14, Florida Statutes, resulting in an additional 51 net votes for Bush.

(4) The rejection of an additional 3300 votes in Palm Beach County, most of which Democrat observers identified as votes for Gore but which were not included in the Canvassing Board’s certified results;  and

(5) The refusal to review approximately 9000 Miami-Dade ballots, which the counting machine registered as non-votes and which have never been manually reviewed.

Gore v. Harris, Florida Supreme Court, SC00-2431, December, 2000.

Each of these claims were specific, backed up by facts that were not in dispute, and raised substantial questions of procedure, as demonstrated by the ruling of the Florida Supreme Court. The point here is not to re-litigate an election that took place 20 years ago, but rather to highlight how Mr. Gore used the courts in good faith, even if he lost in the end.

In this case, the Trump campaign has put forward wild claims that have not been backed by evidence or law. While President Trump and his cronies have whined about fraud to the press and to the American people, when they have gone to court, their tune has been very different.

In Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan, and Nevada, when asked if they were arguing that fraud had occurred, the answer was “No”. In Michigan or Wisconsin, where the best they could come up with were what they called statistical irregularities. In 2016, those same “irregularities” occurred in districts Trump won, and yet there was no complaint at the time. That’s because there was no actual evidence or testimony of any wrong doing. Mr. Trump is a sore loser. He has thrown spaghetti at a wall to see what would stick. He and his clown, Rudolph Giuliani, have wasted the time of the courts, and have attempted to undermine the very institutions he swore to uphold. In computing we would call this a Denial of Service (DoS) attack, in which the resources of courts and opponents are wasted by suits filed in bad faith. In Williamsport, Pennsylvania, US District Judge Matthew W. Brann, a lifelong Republican, castigated Mr. Giuliani for his buffoonish arguments, writing:

… this Court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence.

In Georgia, Trump and his fellow loons have attacked the Republican Secretary of State for having followed the law and performed his duties. One of his loons, Russell J. Ramsland Jr., filed an affidavit that raised concerns about alleged incidents that didn’t even take place in the state. They have attacked various government officials in Nevada as well.

In the meantime, Republican senators and governors largely sat silent, allowing this travesty to continue. With one exception, the only people who dared to stand up to Mr. Trump were those who were retiring, or those who had just been reelected. That required no courage or leadership whatsoever. These people have been swayed by Trump’s media madness, worrying that they might not get re-elected, or thinking they might develop a political advantage when Biden is sworn in. Winning, not their oaths to their country, is all that matters to them.

Some will say that Democrats are no better, that Democrats obstructed Mr. Trump from the moment he came into office. Maybe there is some truth to this, but at least in the Democrat’s case, they used legal means and the stark truth to support their positions. Not so with the Right Republicans in Congress, and enablers such as Senator Collins.

There can be no reconciliation, nor can their be trust in their role in government, until Republicans police their own, starting with taking responsibility for not having stood up to a liar and bully, who harmed a great many people.

I have hope and gratitude, thanks to medical research and the Internet.

I am grateful to medical researchers, those on the front line, and those who are keeping us from going crazy in our homes.

I write this to you today from my house, and you probably read this note from your house or apartment. Our lives are disrupted. We cannot go to the movies or restaurants, we cannot get our hair cut, we cannot go to weddings or baby showers, and many of us cannot go to our offices or to visit our customers or partners. We cannot go to conferences, and our kids cannot go to schools.

We are doing all of this for fear that we or people we love will die of this awful illness. We are reading horror stories from Italy of their healthcare system being overwhelmed. As I write this to you I worry that the same thing will happen in Switzerland and elsewhere. I worry for my family.

This disease spread so quickly across the planet because of the ability of humanity to scale its transportation systems to efficiently move anyone from anywhere to anywhere, whether that’s by train, plain, ship, or automobile. This was largely not the case during the Spanish Flu of 1917. We need to practice “social distancing” even more so now than then, because the world is a lot smaller and more social place than it was, thanks to all of this capability.

That same human desire to innovate is what is going to save us now. It started early on in the medical community, who have been our first responders in this crisis. They have worked to identify the genetic sequence of the virus itself, to understand its transmission vectors, and to provide the world with initial advice on how to cope with this threat. Even as early as January, researchers across the globe were attempting to develop a vaccine. In the last few days, researchers have reported four types of immunity response cells to look for as people begin to recover. There are two studies that detail how Malaria medication may both improve recoveries and reduce the virus’ infectiousness.

By dint of necessity, we are virtualizing a great many of our activities. We are all learning how to use WebEx Teams or Microsoft Teams or Zoom or Google Hangouts. We are using FaceTime and other remote collaboration tools like never before. One of my friends is planning to virtualize his Passover Seder, and asked for advice on how to do this with Webex. He dubbed this SederEx. We are planning a virtual baby shower with a cousin. I have encouraged my old Kabuki-West crowd to have a virtual Wednesday night dinner together.

The first uses of the Internet were envisioned by its funders to have been military. That’s why the Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) funded the activity. It was clear from those early days and even before then that electronic communication would continue to reshape how we socialize in the world.

That’s because remote communication didn’t start with the Internet. The invention of the telephone let us “reach out and touch someone”. And that worked great for one-on-one communications. EMail gave us the ability to communicate in near real time with those around us. Instant messaging meant that people could hold several disconnected real time text conversations at once.

Today, however, we can all see each other, present to each other for work, not only hear but also see people’s reactions. In the face of this plague, people are having virtual baby showers, virtual drinks, and even virtual Passover Seders. You have to provide the non-virtual parts yourself, of course, but we are able to still be together, even when circumstances dictate that we be apart.

For those of us who have family who are a great distance away, this also represents a rare opportunity to participate in these sorts of events on an equal footing, without having the phone passed around for brief moments, simply to say hello. We are all in the same boat, this time.

The Internet is helping us remain social, as is in our nature to be. Social networks, which in the last few years could not be spoken of in public without some sort of derision, are a big part of the solution. When all of this is over, we will still need to sift through all of the negativity and nastiness that they engender, but let us give them their due as they help us stay connected to one another, as I am connecting to you today.

While we are not indebted in the same way to Internet engineers as we are to medical first responders and those who have to work through this crisis, like grocery store cashiers and police officers, let us also give Internet engineers a pat on the back for helping people self-isolate physically, without having to self-isolate socially.

And by the way, those medical research results I mentioned earlier are being shared by researchers with other researchers in a very timely fashion thanks to the Internet.

Thanksgiving and How We Got Here

Today I remember a different Guthrie song from a different Guthrie.

It has become a tradition for many to play Arlo Guthrie’s Alyce’s Restaurant on this day, but I have another song in mind.

Men at Lunch

Today, as Americans give thanks for all that we have, we are thanking those who helped us along the way. That includes native Americans, and those generations of Americans who opened their doors to immigrants from China, Japan, Poland, Russia, Italy, Ireland, Ukraine, the Viet Nam, India, El Salvador, and a great many other places. Almost nobody who lives in America can say that they are in some way native, and nobody can say that America hasn’t benefited from those to whom we opened our doors. I am the great-grandson of a woman who came here as a 14 year old girl, fleeing horrible conditions in Eastern Europe. Good people found her clean lodging and got her a basic education, such that she was one of the only ones in her family to have survived the Holocaust. Her story, my heritage, is far from unique, and it is the reason that the Statue of Liberty is not incongruous with the American Century.

It horrifies me that our government knew that it had no means to track the thousands of immigrant children who are in our care. I encourage my friends to give a thought to these children, and their welfare.

Throughout the 20th century, isolationist bigoted forces always needlessly feared immigrants, whether it was the numbers of Chinese who had completed the railways, or Japanese Americans who were imprisoned. Always there has been some fear of our brothers and sisters south of the border. Somehow, until recently, we always knew that our relationship to Central Americans was one that we all valued, both culturally and economically. That our laws didn’t take this into account has been a singularly unjust abuse of the our brothers and sisters. Even as I write this, President Trump wants to declare Mexican gangs terrorist organizations, not to keep us safe, but to instill more fear of immigrants.

Please accept YouTube cookies to play this video. 

I don’t track you.  In fact, I don’t care who you are.  But because Youtube might, I have to ask.

YouTube privacy policy

I commemorate today not with a song by Arlo Guthrie but with one written by his father Woody in 1948. To borrow a statement from someone else, it is an absolute travesty that the song Deportee is still relevant today. While Guthrie wrote it, a great many people have sung it, including Arlo, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan. These people have served as the conscience of America.

And so as we are enjoying our feasts, let’s remember those we have cast out.

Shining City Upon a Hill

9/11 has harmed our values. We need to return to them.

I have been struggling with 9/11 for a great many years.

While I lost a cousin, we were not close. I stand in support of my family who were devastated, and who I love, and with my country who was attacked, and who I love. I’m glad we went after OBL and the Taliban in response. But for me to claim that I was a victim of this attack seems a form of self-aggrandizing that is disrespectful to those people who really did suffer. I do not need to light a johrzeit candle for someone who died on that day, but to support those who do.

But I have suffered a loss.

The terrorists who do not deserve naming killed 2,977 people on that day. Another 6,000 were injured. That’s a lot of people to lose in one day to a hateful act. and it required a response. But those criminals cannot be held responsible for harming our ideals. Only we can do that. And so we have done.

A great many of my friends see the attack as victims in such a personal way that it has allowed them to justify acts in our name by our government, without any sense of proportion.

They say, “Never Forget!”

That phrase is holy to me. It means that we should remember the loss of
6 million Jews who died at the hands of a society who accepted hatred and bigotry as an excuse for genocide, and that we should understand the causes of the deaths of those people, and never ever allow it to happen again. To me, it is blasphemous to use the expression in any other context.

In this context, it has been used as an excuse to harm our ideals, the best modern expression of which were said some 30 years ago:

I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.

Ronald Reagan, January 11, 1989

Since 2001, the wars in which we engaged have taken the lives of anywhere from 200,000 and 1 million people, and Afghanistan is not much better off than when we went in. But that is nothing to me compared to the mentality that we have taken on, in which we act out of fear, spite, and vengeance, and that we have lost our compassion for those beyond our borders. That so many are scared of the people who come here with nothing but the shirts on their backs shows just how far we have fallen from grace.

On September 13, 2001, I wrote that I saw my lot in life not to be a victim, but to support the victims, to keep calm and carry on. I wanted to do what I could to preserve the shining city on the hill. I still believe all of that, only now, sadly, the goal is restoration.

Most of us are not victims and we have to stop acting like victims. And we have to stop using a victimization mentality as an excuse for vengeful, uncharitable, and bullying behavior.

My hope is that as we approach the 20th anniversary of the attacks, we can begin as a society to reclaim our American ideals, so that we can once again be that Shining City On the Hill.

Internet Balkanization is here already, Mr. Schmidt.


In the technical community we like to say that the Internet is a network of networks, and that each network is independently operated and controlled. That may be true in some technical sense, but it far from the pragmatic truth.

By ProjectManhattan – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39714913

Today’s New York Times contains an editorial that supports former Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s view that the Internet will balkanize into two – one centered around US/Western values and one around values of China, and indeed it goes farther, to state that there will be three large Internets, where Europe has its own center.

The fact is that this is the world in which we already live.  It is well known that China already has its own Internet, in which all applications can be spied by the government.  With the advent of the GDPR, those of us in Europe have been cut off from a number of non-European web sites because they refuse to comply with Europe’s privacy regulations.  For example, I cannot read the Los Angeles Times from Switzerland.  I get this lovely message:

Unfortunately, our website is currently unavailable in most European countries. We are engaged on the issue and committed to looking at options that support our full range of digital offerings to the EU market. We continue to identify technical compliance solutions that will provide all readers with our award-winning journalism.

And then there are other mini-Internets, such as that of Iran, in which they have attempted to establish their own borders, not only to preserve their culture, but also their security, at least in their view, thanks to such attacks as Stuxnet.

If China can make its own rules, and Europe can establish its own rules, and the U.S. has its own rules, and Iran has its own rules, can we really say that there is a single Internet today?  And how many more Internets will there be tomorrow?

The trend is troubling. 

We Internet geeks also like to highlight The Network Effect, in which the value of the network to each individual increases based on the number of network participants, an effect first observed with telephone networks.  There is a risk that it can operate in reverse: each time the network bifurcates, its value to each participant decreases because of the loss of the participants who are now on separate networks.

Ironically, the capabilities found in China’s network may be very appealing to other countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, just as shared values around the needs of law enforcement had previously meant that a single set of lawful intercept capabilities exists in most telecommunications equipment.  This latter example reflected shared societal values of the time.

If you believe that the Internet is a good thing on the whole, then a single Internet is therefore preferable to many bifurcated Internets.  But that value is, at least for the moment, losing to the divergent views that we see reflected in the isolationist policies of the United States, the unilateral policies of Europe, BREXIT, and of course China.  Unless and until the economic effects of the Reverse Network Effect are felt, there is no economic incentive for governments to change their direction.

But be careful.  A new consensus may be forming that some might not like: a number of countries seemingly led by Australia are seeking ways to gain access to personal devices such as iPhones for purposes of law enforcement, with or without strong technical protections.  Do you want to be on that Internet, and perhaps as  importantly, will you have a choice?   Perhaps there will eventually be one Internet, and we may not like it.

One thing is certain: I probably won’t be reading the LA Times any time soon.

My views do not necessarily represent those of my employer.