Tag: #AlternativeFact

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).


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.

Real and Alternative Facts

Alternative Fact: Mexico will pay for Trump’s crazy wall through a 20% tariff on goods imported from Mexico to the USAs

Real Fact: Umm, that’s Americans who will be paying … anything they buy from Mexico will cost 20% more. Or they’ll purchase goods imported from some other country to avoid paying the import duty and still end up paying for the wall (plus interest on the wall) because that’s how floated debt works in the real world.

A Lie Is A Lie

A friend of mine started a thread on Facebook about why the media doesn’t call out Trump’s lies, using the example of his claim that the Lincoln Memorial is never/rarely used for inauguration events. And how his representatives can call these lies “alternative facts” with any seriousness. Trump lies so often and about so many ridiculous things (DC is sold out of dresses, really??). The thing is, media outlets do call him out(https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/donald-trump-says…/… or http://time.com/4640346/donald-trump-lincoln-memorial/ for the Lincoln Memorial example).

Why don’t these become big stories? Why is the constant flood of lies not a big story?

Trump supporters that I know tell me it’s hyperbole (what *is* the difference between hyperbole and lying?) and negotiating positions (I remember being a sixteen year old kid asking for a tattoo as a negotiating position when I wanted Manic Panic hair coloring … not sure what it says that our new President’s negotiating tactics and teenage kids differ only in scale) and I shouldn’t take everything he says so seriously.

I’m still not sure how to take that argument. I use rhetorical hyperbole too. I haven’t literally told Anya a million times to clean up her toys – that would be 650 times a day each day of her life. I try to be careful to say “It *SEEMS* like I’ve told you a million times to get the books on the bookshelf”. But it doesn’t seem harmful when I say “dude, I’ve told you a million times. Seriously, pick up the books!”.

I am willing to believe that people don’t mind being lied to by Trump … what I cannot figure out, then, is why they considered Clinton to be offensively dishonest. It’s a different type of lying — using technicalities. When I would do it, my mother called it lying by omission — you make a statement that is technically true because of some technically valid meaning of a word  and/or some incorrect assumption the other party makes about your statement. Consider Bill Clinton’s “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” statement — there is a difference between present and past tenses. If you ask me if I’m driving a Jetta, I can accurately say no because *right this second* I am sitting on the sofa typing … you assume I sold my Jetta, which from the perspective of a legal proceeding really is the interrogating attorney’s fault, but when you’re fifteen … you don’t get far telling your mom it’s her fault for not being specific enough or making erroneous assumptions 🙂

And maybe this is why I get so offended by Trump’s lies but don’t mind Clinton’s — I enjoy studying law and the challenge language adds to legal proceedings. To me, someone answering a present tense question ignoring past facts is clever (and highlights a flaw in the line of questioning). Essentially I don’t feel like I was lied to, I feel like someone outmaneuvered me. On the other hand, someone making an outright stupid provably untrue statement insults me.

I could see someone making an inverse conclusion, though. That uppity lawyer thinks he’s smarter than me, the LIAR! But is any amount of hyperbolic lying acceptable just because it’s a rhetorical technique most use occasionally. Do people condone it because they do it? Or the liar is seen as a ‘real’ person because he engages in the same rhetorical techniques they use?