Tag: #AlternativeFact

Alternative Fact: Ignorance of the Law

Alternative Fact: According to Paul Ryan (R-WI), it’s OK if Trump asked the FBI Director to end the investigation of Michael Flynn and then fired the Director in an attempt to change the direction of the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Real Fact: Ignorance of the law does not exonerate a person. “I’m new here” might work when you violate a corporate norm in your first week at work — I didn’t know we didn’t brew a new pot of coffee after 4PM. I didn’t know the boss sits in the middle seat along the window wall at meetings. Yeah, someone will notice your transgression and let you know. I didn’t know that we don’t embezzle money … that’s on you to know, and you are fired. Possibly facing criminal charges too.

Possible bonus real fact: Trump did not realize that some branches of the government are actually meant to be independent of the White House. Seriously – that’s the implication behind Ryan’s “he is new at this” defence.

Alternative Fact: What Constitutes Privilege

Alternative Fact: James Comey “unilaterally and surreptitiously made unauthorized disclosures to the press of privileged communications” – Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, in a public statement.

Real Facts: I was a little surprised to hear that Comey himself leaked the meeting notes, but it makes sense in the broader context. And someone with vast legal knowledge and experience in law enforcement will know if something is illegal (i.e. request immunity before testifying to the fact) or not (i.e. announce it in widely broadcast Congressional testimony). He specifically wrote the memo to be unclassified, so the White House could not claim disclosure of classified information.

So they went with “privileged”. Trump does not understand that FBI lawyers are not actually his legal council (bit of a frightening proposition)? They certainly aren’t his spouse or clergy (although I believe both spouse and clergy can unilaterally waive privilege under the Federal Rules of Evidence).

Alternately, Trump wants to assert executive privilege. Equally nonsensical. Executive privilege could have prevented Comey’s testimony in the first place. Or can be used when refusing to disclose information/evidence to legal or legislative bodies. Executive privilege does not protect information from the Executive branch from being disclosed to media outlets. Or subsequently published. And even so, Executive privilege can be denied if the information is deemed critical to the case (i.e. if a Congressional investigation is meant to determine if Trump obstructed justice in pressuring the FBI director to end an investigation … testimony from the FBI Director regarding Trump’s requests to conclude the investigation are central to the investigation. Which, I assume, is why the White House did not even try to claim privilege and prevent Comey’s testimony.).

Bonus Real Facts: Oh, Marc Kasowitz’s statement following James Comey’s testimony. Where to start? Saying it would be good to find out if some peripherally related individual is found to be guilty of collusion isn’t actually support of an investigation. It could also be interpreted in the full context of the conversation as “it would be good if this whole investigation got closed up quickly. Here’s how you do it: find some stooge from my campaign and pin it all on him.”.

Not being investigated does not mean anything — the original scope of a case may be an individual. The initial investigation implicates a few more who then become part of the investigation. The new targets yield evidence that implicates new people and so on. This is the fact behind Comey saying he did not want to publicly state that Trump was not under investigation for collusion with the Russian government — if something comes up that brings into question Trump’s actions, he will be under investigation. At which point, the ‘duty to correct’ means the FBI would need to announce that Trump is under investigation … substantively meaningless as many people are investigated without being guilty.

I was investigated for bribery in negotiations with China – not because I even knew my company had negotiations with China but because I was involved in the internal corporate investigation and participated in evidence gathering (i.e. they were investigating if the evidence “gathering” was more of an evidence purging activity). I had properly collected the evidence and turned it over to inside council, end of investigation. At the outset of the investigation, though, an announcement that “Lisa is under investigation as part of our inquest into international bribery” sounds bad.

Worse, though … Nixon didn’t personally break into the Watergate hotel, but covering it up after the fact and obstructing justice was illegal. Reagan didn’t personally ring up the Ayatollah to delay the release of Iranian hostages – but having a campaign adviser speaking to a cleric representing the Ayatollah … sounds illegal to me even if the investigation got curtailed in sympathy for a man with cognitive decline. Bill Clinton’s impeachment was over testimony regarding an extramarital affair — also nothing to do with the original investigation. When someone is determining if your actions constitute obstruction of justice, proclaiming your innocence in the initial matter is a complete red herring. Normally, yeah, innocent people don’t intentionally obstruct justice. Letting the Chinese bribery investigation run its course served me well — no personal harm, no professional harm. Just a few wasted hours of paid time.

But the investigation is hampering Trump’s agenda, and getting rid of the investigation might leave him clear to pursue legislative initiatives. The investigation, regardless of guilt, is causing harm. Which makes obstruction … well, not outside the realm of possibilities.

 

Alternative Facts: NATO

Alternative Fact: NATO countries owe money for defence expenditures the US has made.

Real Fact: The target was for member nations to devote 2% of GDP to defence spending. A target is not a guarantee. Not meeting a target may be disappointing, but it doesn’t mean you owe someone money. If your target is to donate 5% of your net income to charity … but at the end of the year have only managed 3%, it does not mean you owe charities 2% of your net income! It means you didn’t meet your goal. Consistently missing goals can also be a clue that the goal is not realistic. Take, for instance, someone whose goal is to donate 80% of their net income to charity. But they also pay their rent/mortgage, buy some food, turn the lights on occasionally. And don’t have 80% of their net income available after covering essentials. The person can commit to the goal and evaluate their other spending (move into a smaller residence, buy cheaper food, conserve on utilities) or they can change their goal to meet the 10% of their net income that is actually discretionary.

Another real fact? NATO countries, by and large, fund their own military. One might make the argument that the US would have been able to scale back the military budget if only other partners increased their expenditures. *But* that’s disingenuous from someone seeking an enormous increase in the military budget whilst questioning the nation’s continued commitment to NATO. But even if the ‘target’ was actually a contractual obligation … it would be to NATO and not the US.

Alternative Fact: Those Who Do Not Know History Are Doomed To Sound Foolish

Alternative Fact: Trump, speaking at the US Coast Guard Academy commencement, claimed “No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly“. Had he gone with ‘and’ instead of ‘or’, the assertion would be subjective. But NO politician in HISTORY has been treated WORSE?!?

Real Fact: Real assassination — literally killing a person — is worse than character assassination. Robespierre – both large numbers of politicians during his reign of terror and his eventual demise – worse. Defenestration of Prague (both 1 and 2) – worse. But let us be generous: place in scope only politicians during Trump’s adult lifetime. Anwar Sadat – worse. No one is a better friend to Israel than Trump (and with friends like this …), so how can he forget Rabin – worse. John F Kennedy – worse.

History of South East Asia

Alternative Fact: “I felt pretty strongly that they (China) had a tremendous power over North Korea. But it’s not what you would think.” (Donald Trump in the Wall Street Journal)

Real Fact: No, it is exactly what I thought. I had a dual major in University: history and theoretical physics. So, yeah, I may have more knowledge of South East Asian history than the average American. I’ve specifically studied the history of the region as it relates to the war in Vietnam. I don’t believe Korea had quite the animosity toward China that fomented over hundreds of years in Việt Nam — a country whose name means Southern Bách Việt (an area of Southern China) … but that’s not saying much. There’s economic dependency, but coupling economic dependency with pre-existing resentment is not a recipe for harmonious relations.

My concern is not that a firm grasp of international history is not the norm world-wide (that sucks too, but probably been the way of things since language was developed). My concern is not that Trump has changed is opinion as new facts come to light — shocked, but quite heartened that the man eventually figured out that China was propping up its currency for a couple of years now. What concerns me is that the leader of China has to convey this history lesson to the US President. Because the dude refuses to let anyone else clue him into reality. None of his campaign advisers (both the currency manipulation & they can sort North Korea claims were made prior to him becoming president), none of the guys from State, no military adviser (including those who report directly to Trump) could bring real facts into this administration. In *this* instance, the leader of another country managed to hold Trump’s attention long enough to convey his version of reality (dangerous since our president is now operating under a view that doesn’t skew our country’s way … do we support Chinese expansion into the South China Sea now? I’m sure the Chinese president has a decent rational for that move as well).

But what happens when a situation arrives where the other country’s highest ranking individuals are not on hand to brief the US president??

Alternative Fact: Incidental Intercept

Alternative Fact: The Obama administration has “wiretapped” (now in quotes, which evidently means intercepted some type of communication using any number of means) Trump. Or his associates.

Real Fact: If an investigative agency has legitimate orders permitting them to intercept communications of a specific individual or location and they happen to pick you up because you are communicating with that individual or location, *you* are not being spied on.

The Russian Ambassador in DC was being spied on – but I’m sure Kislyak knew that a decade or so before when he took the role so this isn’t exactly earth shattering news as much as “standard operating procedure”. If it makes you feel better, I’m sure the Russians surveil Spaso House. And anyone who happens to ring that number gets their communication intercepted too. Hell, I would bet that Ambassadors.

If you really want to think about it, all sorts of people are probably picked up in incidental intercepts. Why is that? Start reading the actual laws that supposedly allow surveiling foreigners without impugning the rights of American citizens. And how poorly those protections actually protect our rights. Actually read the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Too long, at least read up on Section 702 surveillance. In a bit of extra irony, it was Nunes who was called out for misrepresenting the risk of ‘backdoor’ searches where American citizens have communications intercepted under these “save us all from the terrorists” laws. Before getting a warrant for *you* specifically (well, provided you’re doing something dodgy), I’m certain law enforcement queries their database of collected information to see if they’ve already got something on you. So basically Nunes is sure the existing laws protect us, ordinary citizens … but the exact same laws were horribly abused to spy on Trump. Basically it’s fine for everyone else, but this law shouldn’t apply to ME.

 

Alternative Facts: Maths Edition

Alternative Fact: From Mick Mulvaney (Director of the Office of Management and Budget) on CNN:

“But you could have a long conversation, when you have got a numerator and a denominator, how to arrive at a percentage.”

Real Fact: When you have a numerator (call it X) and a denominator (call it Y), you arrive at a percentage using the formula:

( (X/Y) * 100) %

If this involves a *long conversation*, either you are teaching someone a new concept or they are screwing with you (let’s debate the pros and cons of Excel, long division on paper, the calculator on my phone).

Budgeting

There is an incredible amount of money spent on the American military. Trump thinks NATO countries should be spending more on their militaries … and when I first heard this, I assumed it meant he wanted the US to reduce its military spending. Now that some details of his first proposed budget are floating around, it seems he wants to increase American military spending. INCREASE!?! So we’re lowering taxes, increasing military spending, and not touching entitlements (at least not for the elderly, maybe he’ll completely get rid of services for the poor to make up for spending increases and tax cuts?). Basic math fail. I get that Republicans have an odd belief that reducing taxes increases income so much that it offsets the tax reduction … but that’s a gamble (an odd governing methodology for a group claiming to be ‘conservative’). You might get lucky and hit the lottery if you sink next month’s mortgage/rent payment into lottery tickets too … but few will have any sympathy for you when the likely outcome occurs.

My Latest Conspiracy Theory (Movie)

There is a logical extrapolation to a world with facts and ‘alternative facts’ — why would alternative facts just be used to refute a report? They can just as easily make a story of their own. Trump has made a lot of outlandish campaign promises — ones that require significant money, legal maneuvering, and time to complete. But why bother completing them at all? You can just say it is done.

So they declare the wall built. Then there’s a whole conspiracy theory about it not actually having been built, people trekking down to Southern Texas and to get pictures of the not.a.wall down there. Government press releases with this huge, aesthetically pleasing, immigration stopping wall. How do you know which is the fact and which is the alternative fact (i.e. an obvious lie).

The problem with lying is you’ve either got to have people sufficiently willing to believe you to overlook the missing logical consequences of whatever you lied about OR you’ve got to create the same conditions either way. There are a lot of people willing to believe Trump *now* … but if they don’t start seeing results, either his wall was a complete waste (yeah, it was – I still say a massive fleet of drones could actually stop human traffic across unauthorized checkpoints for FAR less money — not saying I think the stopping human traffic is a good thing or not, but if we’re hell bent on DOING it, at least DO IT) or illegal immigrants were not the cause of unemployment and huge government spending on entitlements (yeah, they weren’t).

A priori assumption: an insufficient number of people are willing to believe the lie as evidence against it mounts to sustain a re-election campaign. Now they need to recreate their predicted result … government assassins offing some percent of people on public assistance (so they can declare reducing illegal immigration eliminated this money we’ve been wasting) and maybe even offing a random percent of the gainfully employed population (to open up jobs now that illegal immigrants aren’t “stealing our jobs”).

Just need some out there hippy type in an old VW bus cruising around the country trying to stop this murderous conspiracy.