Fake News and a Field Guide to Lies

fake-newsNew Orleans You have to love headline news about fake news.  Usually fake news is in the stories, not the headlines.  We all have to appreciate the irony contained in articles in almost any newspaper, especially opinion pieces, about fake news when there is no disclosure of inherent biases contained in any of them.  Nonetheless, it is a real and ageless problem.  What do we do about outright lies that take on lives of their own and move public opinion and often become impossible to ever pry loose?

            Admittedly, I’m jaded about this.  For all of the journalists and columnists now trying to act high and mighty because of their fears about the Trump ascension and the host of different tribes in his movement, it seems a case of “whose ox is being gored.”  Don’t make me go into the total fakery involved in contentions around voter fraud versus voter registration errors once again.  Finally, most commentators have sorted this out, but for conservatives in the USA, it’s too little, too late, since so much of this has seeped into the ideological fabric of the right, when it was always a lie, just never called out in a timely fashion, and without defenders when ACORN and others were attacked and decimated.

            Nonetheless, let’s swallow our bitterness hard, and say, better late than never.  Facebook thus far seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth without a real plan that they are willing to throw money and muscle at, as they vacillate between concerns about free speech and the damage of fake news.  Studies indicate that Facebook is a much louder microphone for all of this than Twitter, but they are all swimming in the same stew of privileging eyeballs and advertising regardless of adverse impacts and real harm to millions.

            But, even if they make progress in some directions, ferreting out the facts in all of the news may be harder than any are willing to admit.  Reading neuroscientist Daniel Levitin’s A Field Guide to Lies:  Critical Thinking in the Information Age was a fascinating look at both how easy in our fast moving world it is easy to be fooled if we’re not paying close attention, as well as how determined many of the actors in business and politics are to fool us, and I’m not talking about basement hackers in Russia or scammers in Nigeria.   Some of the bits on advanced math and reasoning might not be helpful to the average bear, but his points on how we are often manipulated by fake facts hidden in preposterous math or deceptive charts and graphs lacking any qualifications or context were excellent and sound a solid cautionary note about how difficult separating facts from fiction may be for many.

            Once again though we have to confront the fact that power plays with fact and fiction.  We do not yet have an accurate count on the number of people who were effectively disenfranchised by the wave of Republican-led voter suppression laws state by state in the recent election, but we know it is in the millions.  We have to weigh all of those unjustly deprived of their votes, particularly among low-and-moderate income and minority families against the right’s argument that even if there are only a handful of actual, proven cases of voter fraud in the US annually they still justify the barriers to voting even if they rob millions of their right to vote.

            Let’s hope the search for truth is not a temporary project or a finger pointing exercise but a real and objective effort to level the playing field with facts rather than fiction.

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The Voting Numbers Say We Must Organize our Communities Now!

latinovotersNew Orleans   The post-mortem on the US election continues but as more data and information becomes available some of the early guesstimates are not as compelling as they were the morning after. It’s not that they were completely wrong, but they are not right enough to point the directions forward. Over and over again it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Clinton loss does not just fall heavily on her shoulders because she was such a flawed candidate, especially since Trump was even more flawed, but points to a massive failure of organization, and not just hers, but all of ours.

Karl Rove, the political mastermind behind George W. Bush, is not a go-to nonpartisan, objective analyst on this or any election, but as a columnist for The Wall Street Journal he’s always worth a read to understand not only what Republicans are thinking, but also as a reality check that we are not drinking our own Kool-Aid. A couple of days ago he made several interesting points based on a pretty deep review of exit polls, admittedly from Fox News, but whatever.

Among them were the following:

 

· “Both candidates this year won fewer white votes – Mr. Trump 1.6 million and Mrs. Clinton 2.3 million – than four years ago.”
· “…Trump didn’t win because he greatly expanded the GOP….”
· “…Clinton lost a significant chunk of the Obama Coalition. Compared with 2012 she dropped 1.8 million African-Americans, one-million voters age 18-29, 1.8 million voters aged 30-44, 2.6 million Catholics, and nearly 4.5 million voters with family incomes of $30,000 or less.”
· “…Clinton received nearly 9.4 million Latino votes, up 180,000 from Mr. Obama’s total in 2012. But because Mr. Trump won 29% of Hispanics, up from Mr. Romney’s 27%, the president-elect won 4.2 million Latino votes, roughly 690,000 more than Mr. Romney.”
· “Only 18% of voters had a high school education or less, down from 24% last time….Trump received 12 million votes from them, 2.2 million fewer than Mr. Romney, Mrs. Clinton got 10.6 million votes, 5.8 million fewer than Mr. Obama.”
· “…Trump’s advantage among voters with some college outweighed Mrs. Clinton’s among people with four-year degrees.”

 

You get the picture. This election was won and lost among low-and-moderate income families. These are our families and the heart of base. This election was also lost by our inability to convert Trump’s blatantly racist and anti-Latino campaign into actual voter turnout in our communities. Before the election I thought that if Clinton won she owed her victory to black and brown voters. In the same way she may owe her defeat to her inability to inspire these votes and our collective failure to build effective organization.

If progressives want to win, we have to go on the offense on issues and actions. The numbers also say that even more importantly we have to go back to the neighborhoods and barrios of our communities and organize people at the grassroots in the kind of organizing that has been the hallmark of ACORN. To the degree that is not happening as broadly and deeply in the United States as it needs to in white, black, and brown communities, these families are grist for the conservative mill, and not only voting against their interest, but more powerfully not voting at all. 43% of the electorate didn’t vote in 2016 with their feet but with their butts, and just sat this one out.

Rove makes one more interesting point which is a warning to Trump and should be a wakeup call to all of us. The numbers say it wasn’t globalization and trade, but the economy, stupid, and the lack of distribution and trickle down to our base.

This is call to go into our communities and rebuild effective organization or this crisis won’t be about the next four years but an entire generation or as long as it takes for us to get back to the streets and do the work.

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Looking for the Kindness of Strangers – Think France!

business-aviation-operations-for-france-customs-immigration-agricultureNew Orleans   Over the last two years with an emerging affiliate in France, I’ve now been on the ground working in Grenoble or Paris there a bunch of times, well for me a bunch anyway, like five or six times over two years approximately. My comrades and colleagues there are wonderful people of course, but that’s true of all the people with whom I organize, but on the train the other night from Paris to Amsterdam to fly home, I found myself reflecting on the reputation the French have for being unfriendly to strangers. It’s a bum rap!

I’ll pass over the common courtesy and generosity of our organizers and their friends when I’m passing through who are constantly offering tea or coffee or in many cases surrendering their beds and bunks to an unexpected American squatter. Within the organizing culture that’s pretty standard and to the degree “birds of a feather flock together,” it shouldn’t be a surprise that it rubs off on their friends and supporters.

My brief for a new and friendlier France is not because this has been a big push from the tourism industry or the government, both of which are true, and both of which are undoubtedly totally ignored by the French people, but is based on my experience in the endlessly confusing Metro and train stations, particularly in Paris. On several trips, I’ve been flummoxed by the problems of getting Metro tickets from the machines. Several times I’ve been helped through a tough spot when someone employed by the metro system or the state railway came to save the day, but I started counting the times it was just random situations where I was bailed out by complete strangers passing by when it was obvious I was clueless who wordlessly stepped in to save me.

In the giant Paris Nord on this very trip, I had jumped off a bus and had gone in the first door to the station with the crowd to catch my train and somehow had ended up in the Metro complex rather than the city to city train station. I followed folks through the turnstiles, but then I was caught going through successfully, but not getting my bags through that were stuck on the other side. While wrestling with the situation a man coming through the other way saw me, and without saying a word, walked over and waved his pass across the scanner so the gates opened allowing me to go through. Having found out from an information officer how to get to the train station, the ticket from the bus, which should have worked, but didn’t, I was stranded in between another set of turnstiles unable to move forward or backwards. A woman, her baby in a carriage and a friend saved me there. I wish I could say these were isolated examples, but I’m afraid they weren’t. I could easily cite another three or four times when total strangers have stepped forward and gotten me on my way, as I thanked them profusely in English, as they politely waved me off and walked away.

The one common denominator in all of these situations has been that virtually every one of the folks. epitomizing the kindness of strangers, have almost all originally been strangers themselves at one time. They have almost all uniformly been Afro-Caribbean or Afro-French or possibly just Africans and presumably as foreign to all of this in the past as I often am now.

I don’t want to extrapolate past the point of all reason, but just maybe this kind of empathy with the lost, confused, and foreign by others who have been in the same boat will be one of the saving graces of not only French civility and manners, but also the same in the United States and other countries. Utah will invariably not end up in the Clinton column, but the fact that many citizens there thought about it because their foreign experience was such that they were unwilling to join the Trump anti-immigrant call, might offer us hope here as well. The French like the English, Americans, and other countries are all dealing with waves of anti-immigrant feeling, but it may be the empathy of those who choose our countries, rather than many of the natives who want to return to some foggy, archaic times in the past by forgetting about their own experience in order to adopt a bankrupt and false ideology, that end up saving all of us at the end of the day.

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Leaders Talk Politics and the Need to Hunker Down

DSCN1367-1Baton Rouge   The last session of the Local 100 annual leadership conference looked at politics. The Local 100 leadership from Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas is largely African-American and Hispanic and numbers more women than men. Eleven of the more than thirty in attendance were over sixty-years old. Talking to members about how they had voted in their state primaries, there weren’t any Trumpeteers in this bunch. The vast majority had ended up pulling the lever for Hillary Clinton, but Bernie Sanders had significant support as well, and the Clinton voters were sympathetic to those voters and tended to argue a more realpolitik rationale in troubled times. There was little enthusiasm or passion. Most saw it as a job to be done, and they had done their duty.

On the other hand, as the conversation tilted to November and showdown, there was deep conviction and some real excitement, not so much about Hillary, as about beating Donald Trump. They thought there was work to do and the task was unambiguous. There was no talk of “sitting it out,” but only commitments that they were “all in.” Trump had put the fear of God in the union leaders, and it translated into battle cries.

Admittedly, this is hardly a random survey. These are all leaders with long experience fighting for their rights on the job, so none hesitate when faced with another fight in another forum.

It was interesting how closely people were already following the race and the polls. Part of their motivation was to see if there was a way to pile up the score sufficiently around the country to flip the Senate and provide some margin for getting some real work done and some change from the Supreme Court to the Congress. One impact of the Senate’s refusal to hold hearings on the nomination particularly, as judged by these African-America union leaders, is that it was seen as unprecedented and therefore arguably just the latest example of a racial insult only happening because there was a black President. Who could say otherwise? The outcome of the Senate Republicans’ refusal seems to be labeling the Supreme Court as partisan as Congress, rather than a neutral administration of justice. The legacy of these actions will cast deep shadows over the future.

A chance to flip some seats in the Senate in the telling of most was less about payback and more about the chance to actually make change. In looking at the intersection of worker and community issues, the leaders had discussed their campaigns to eliminate lead in the schools and pry loose more dollars from tax exempt hospitals to fill the gap that has been created by Texas refusal to expand Medicaid and tight-fisted employers providing insurance with deductibles ranging in Local 100 companies from $3500 to $6500. A different Senate might mean real relief, and that’s also a big incentive for hard work on big turnout for November.

Not than any of the candidates are campaigning on these kinds of fundamental meat-and-potatoes issues, but people have had enough of the gridlock and stalemate. They’re swallowing hard to see if they can send a message in November and make a difference, regardless of the candidates.

workshops for stewards involved spirited participation

workshops for stewards involved spirited participation

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Hillary Says, “If it’s Broke, I’ll Fix it”

51Wc+ZfNTSLNew Orleans    Hillary Clinton in a one-two punch has now laid out her prescription for the United States economy. She says it’s not about one-liners or fancy slogans, but her slogan seems to be: “If it’s broke, I’ll fix it.” She is positioning herself not exactly as the leader-of-the-free world but as the Maytag repairman, a modern day Rosie Riveter with a tool belt strapped around her waist.

She’s not making the mistake of over promising in her campaign pledges, and in fact it was hard to pick through the reports of her economic speech and find many promises at all.

Reportedly, she might try to get more people overtime, but that’s an Obama policy and DOL rule that is still being absorbed by workers and businesses. What would that be exactly? Something over $50,000 rather than the current mid-$40000 number? No revolution there. Another bone she threw out to workers is that she will do more to police and enforce wage and hour rules to curtail wage theft. Sounds good, but I’m pretty sure that would involve some serious beefing up of the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division and its personnel, and given how badly this area has atrophied over the last 30 odd years, amen to that. I’m also pretty sure it would take a Congressional appropriation that would actually give the DOL money to finally do that job, and I’m not sure there are many Republican Congressman in the majority that are looking to muscle up on small and medium sized businesses.

She says she’ll renegotiate some of the trade pacts. As most of us know by now anything that has to do with trade negotiations takes forever, so she might be messing with that assignment deep into a second term, if she were able to win one. No holding our breath on that either.

She says there are fix-it-quick deals she can make that would perk up the economy with massive infrastructure investments. That’s a well-traveled road from the Obama Administration as well, and sounds good, but it’s hard to believe there’s a real deal there with Congress either, other than the usual, “when we say, infrastructure, they say, pork.” Oh, she also says she’ll get something going on immigration reform. I’m hearing Trump’s hateration as the soundtrack on this one which, win or lose, is likely to continue to make a lot of conservative Congressmen timid here on real reform, unless this is just a sop she’s throwing to Silicon Valley and its special pleading to bring in more foreign engineers to play with computers and code.

Ok, so this is thin soup so far. She’s saying she’s “feeling your pain” and grabbing her tool belt, but she’s still talking about fulfilling pretty small work orders. She adds, according to the New York Times, that’s not a problem though because, “… she will campaign and govern with a five-point plan, drawn up by subject-area experts, incorporating the full range of potential legislative and administrative tools available to the next president.”

Wow! I’d like to meet the person who takes either comfort or inspiration from a future “five-point plan, drawn up by subject-area experts.” There’s leading from behind, but I’m not sure that American workers and wannabe workers are ready to be happy with her being this far behind.

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