Subject: Social Media
March 16, 2018. T Rex is extinct in international affairs, The House intel committee claimed no collusion then walked it back, Stormy wants to return her payoff so she can dish to Anderson Cooper, and our president is planning to fight the galactic empire with a proposed “space force” – hang on to your diapies, babies, I’m the Barbour and this is the Beta Files…
Welcome to round two of our grand little experiment. On this week’s show, we’ll dive into the wonderful world of your prototypical beautiful wall, discuss the pros and cons of a death star, and try to break down the enigma that is the House Intelligence Committee – does it live up to its name?
Dr. J will stop by to discuss William Faulkner and Quinton Compson, and I want to discuss the value of Social Media in our current culture – is facebook good, evil, or the first step to singularity?
Before we go any further, I want to give a shout out to all those rule-breaking kids that walked out on Tuesday. For the adults whose attention you didn’t already have, you have it now, and March 24 should be a more impressive statement just based on what I have seen so far. The coolest moment of protest that I personally noted was that of a California High School where the students participated in a “Die-in” spelling the word Enough across their football field while a gong was banged 17 times.
Another notable from Tuesday was a young second grader from San Jose named Leonardo Aguilar who, being the only student from his elementary school to walk out, joined the high school students across the way to show his support. In the photo I viewed of the young protester, he is wearing a sign that simply says “Guns are cruel, not cool.”
Kudos to Leonardo, and all of the young men and women who took a step forward this past Tuesday. Keep fighting, your voices are gaining volume.
And now – HEADLINES…(soundbite)
Monday saw a flurry of heavy activity from Washington as our favorite storm of a pornstar announced that she would gladly return all $130,000 she received in order to let it all hang out, including photos and possible videos (I just threw up in my mouth a little bit).
This is in anticipation of a 60 minutes interview with America’s favorite gay snowman Anderson Cooper where it can be assumed that she will dish all about her former lover / possible client. By Wednesday, new revelations shared that there was a second lawyer involved with the payoff, adding more intrigue into the story that would normally end a presidency, but of course nothing about this current admin is normal.
The house intelligence committee rushed out a report on Monday that noted that they could “not find sufficient evidence that there was collusion” between Trump and the Russians. Democrats immediately came out fighting, noting that they did not support the report, and pointed to the many flaws that the report has along with the implications that cannot be substantiated as evidence was not sufficiently gathered.
That did not stop Trump and state media FoxNews from declaring victory as if the other investigations still in play don’t exist. Trump’s immediate tweet on the matter was written in all caps, a point that FoxNews had to explain to their AARP audience (basically the entire audience) that the all caps meant that he was yelling, in which the correspondent (FoxNews Barbie #3) then read in a loud voice for effect.
It was ineffective.
By Tuesday evening, however, the New York Times was running a story noting how several of the committee’s Republicans were already back stepping to make sure the public understood that only that committee could not find enough evidence, to which Adam Schiff, the leading Democrat on the committee, noted “No shit, Sherlock.” He pointed to the very few witnesses the committee called, and the brazen reluctance by Nunes and his cadre to follow up their questions with those few who came before the committee. Leading many to wonder just what is the combined IQ of the Republican members of the intelligence committee. I’m betting it’s a small fraction of the Koch Brother’s paycheck.
The biggest news of the week came crashing down like an earth killing asteroid on Tuesday, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson got the Trump dump through, not surprisingly, a tweet. Rumors abound that Chief of Staff Kelly warned Rex, and whether that’s true or not, we’ll never know. What we do know is that in the immediate post-tweet moments, undersecretary Steve Goldstein came out with a story that didn’t mesh with the white house by-line, and received his own pink slip. Heather Nauert, of Fox and Friends fame, will replace him (of course she will – she’s blonde, she’s young, and she’s from Fox and Friends. The math isn’t hard to do).
CIA director Mike Pompeo will replace Rex, and Mistress of the dark Gina Haspel has been nominated to replace Pompeo as the first female CIA director. However, several in the Senate question the pick over her ties to torture and questionable actions in the past. John McCain and Rand Paul have both been vocal about her pick, and plan to vet her thoroughly during her hearings.
There was another shocker in the oval office trap door lottery when Trump’s personal aide was fired for shifty financial matters that kept him from obtaining permanent security clearance. What made me chuckle a little was when Kasie Hunt of MSNBC quickly noted that it had nothing to do with any of the financial investigations into Trump or the Trump campaign – meaning that Paul Manefort is not the only person tied to Trump who did shady business deals outside of a Trump property…
Hang tight, we’re not done with Tuesday yet…
Trump flew out to California to view prototypes of his “big beautiful wall,” feeding the press corps taco bowls on the flight out, insulting the Governor as soon as he landed, and telling a group from the marine corps (spelled core per POTUS) that he was contemplating the creation of a space force – like an airforce, but in space, because we all know that those pesky Kling-ons and Romulans have been interfering with our weather satellites and Direct TV signal.
For those of you either scratching your head, or laughing, or both, yes, this is true. He actually said he wants to create a space force to fight in space. What we will fight is anyone’s guess, but that petition for a Death Star a few years ago may actually get traction again.
Late Tuesday night / early Wednesday morning brought news of a Pennsylvania coup by the Democrats as Rick Saccone, pornstache and all, lost his bid to Conor Lamb to represent a district that will no longer be a district once lines are redrawn to fix the blatantly gerrymandered map drawn by State Republicans. The biggest story from the upset – that a Democrat beat a Republican in a district that is undeniably gerrymandered for the Republican party. Trump’s bump turned out to be more of a bump down for Saccone as pundits are largely pointing to the possible rejection nationwide of the Republican party come November. It is the latest in a string of victories by the Democratic party, but it all leads to the question of how badly the Dems are gonna screw this up by November.
Just like the Republican party that seems to be shrugging their shoulders over which way to go in the current environment, the Democrats are just as confused and befuddled as to which way to point the ship. Identity politics are on the slide down, while economic and social welfare is on the slide up. Health care is still hanging out there, and with the Me Too movement, Parkland high schoolers, and the tax cut fiasco, the Democrats are staring at a no-lose situation. But if history teaches us anything, unless there is another Barack Obama waiting to land in their laps, this party will blunder the opportunity, making November look more and more interesting.
Wednesday kept the news crawl going at warp speed when late in the afternoon, the FBI Disciplinary office announced that (based on recommendations by the Department of Justice and the Inspector General) Andrew McCabe, the former Deputy head of the FBI, and interim director following the firing of James Comey, violated policy and authorized the disclosure of sensitive materials to reporters, then lied about it to investigators. McCabe allowed two high ranking officials from the FBI to sit down with the Wall Street Journal and disclose information pertaining to an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s family foundation before the investigation was complete, violating FBI rules that state information regarding a current investigation cannot be given out until the investigation is considered complete.
The news breaks just days before McCabe is set to retire, which means that if they pull the trigger before March 18, McCabe will lose all of his retirement benefits, something several reporters have noted would be seen as a vindictive shot by the current administration as our commander in chief has done little to hide his disdain for McCabe. It doesn’t take much to figure out why Trump can’t stand McCabe, but I’ll give you a hint any way: it rhymes with Fillary Benton.
If they don’t pull the trigger, pundits point out that it would look like Sessions is playing against Trump by not heeding to the Presidents long time wishes of removing McCabe permanently. Either way, the story has presented an interesting catch-22 for all involved.
The Senate passed legislation that rolled back a lot of the regulations tied to Dodd-Frank on Wednesday, clearing the way for, as they sold it, smaller banks to be able to more easily maneuver in the market place, but garnering opposition that noted the actions taken by the legislation could lead to another massive financial crisis like the 2008 crash that led to the regulations in the first place. Time will tell…
Larry Kudlow was named as Trump’s new Economic Advisor. The CNBC analyst has been hammered in numerous op-eds as being not only unfit for the job, but possibly the worst economist without a degree in economics Trump could have chosen. The Washington Post went so far as to call him out in a piece titled, “Larry Kudlow may have been more wrong about the economy than anyone alive” when they pointed out that back in December 2008, he was the sole commentator screaming no bubble burst, and promoting a “Bush” economy that was on its way up while the stock market crashed all around him. So, hey – if you’re gonna have a tycoon who is a master in bankruptcy run the country, why not have an economic advisor who knows nothing about economic downturns as the economy crashes and burns. Sounds like a helluva team to me.
Finally, last weekend Trump went campaigning for the aforementioned Rick Saccone when he mentioned Chuck Todd in one of his famous put downs, calling Todd a “sleeping sonuvabitch” in the middle of telling a story about his visit to Meet the Press in 1999 with Tim Russert. He noted, without any provocation, that the show was now hosted by “sleepy eyed Chuck Todd, he’s a sleeping sonuvabitch, I’ll tell ya.” In defense of one of my personal favorite TV personalities, I will simply note that maybe Chuck looks so sleepy because it has been so hard to keep up with this administration and all the mess on capital hill piled on top of it. I think if we are going to point out Chuck’s exhausted look, we need to go back to the moment when this administration launched its attack on his sleeping habits: (Kelly Anne clip)
You be the judge…
And that’s the headlines, or some of them, for this week…(exit soundbite)
Dr J Segment:
Ok –it is time to welcome my dear friend and colleague Dr. J. who is here to join me in a short discussion on an author we both enjoy, the master of the whiskey binge writing purge, commander of stream of conscious writing, and son of a mythical confederacy he loved to hate while lusting for its ugliness, William Faulkner. What’s up, man?
Finally, our spotlight segment this week focuses on Social Media. About a month ago, Wired ran a cover story on Facebook which detailed what happened before, during, and after the 2016 election, and dove in-depth into what Zuckerberg is doing in the aftermath. Since the company publicly accepted some (though not all) responsibility for the Russian campaign through Facebook to undermind and sway our election, the digital giant has instilled numerous new algorithms in the news feed, added more security in the form of actual human beings watching the activity on the site, and opened the door for mainstream media outlets to option subscriptions to Facebook users for legitimate news.
But a bi-product of the overhauls made by Zuckerberg and his team has been the handful of former employees who were either let go or quit during and after the calamity. These few good men and women have been critical of not just Facebook and Twitter in playing the vital roles that they played, but have also pointed to how social media as a whole has aided in the continued polarization of our country.
Don’t take this as a “we need to get rid of social media because it is making us dumber and less social” kind of argument. Instead, before we can get to that point of contention, we need to take a look at the actual positives social media does afford us. I’ll use Twitter as an example, specifically my feed.
I follow numerous news sites and op-ed sites, both liberal and conservative. My favorites, however, are The Washington Post and New York Times, so most of the news I am exposed to has a liberal slant. Not to the degree that conservative sites would have you believe, but a slant none the less. The same goes for the conservative sites I follow – The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Times, and though they have a conservative slant, they are not to the extreme that most of the harder left sites would have you believe.
It’s because of these slants that I follow these sources. I know, for example, that if Trump does something ignorant, The Times and the Post are going to be much harder on him than the other two. But it is through the other two sources that I can see and understand pieces of the conservative point of view, and get a better, little more rational idea of how the story itself will play out in the overall national narrative. What makes Twitter unique and key to this is the fact that all four sources are contained within the same space, easily accessible, and readily available for debate among multiple voices from different backgrounds, regions, nationalities. When used constructively, this presents an opportunity for us as a culture, and species, to grow intellectually and socially in ways that can be positive and understanding.
But let’s look at reality – this doesn’t happen. What does happen is a lack of empathy followed by name calling, trolling, insults, threats, fear, anger, hate, darkside, Deathstar.
This is how we interact with social media – we defend our turf, and destroy any one who questions our turf without regard that there may just be more than one opinion to be had.
I am just as guilty of this as anyone else, so don’t count me a saint.
What scares me is how easy it is to fall down that hole, to let the anger take over the keyboard, and get lost in a thread of comments that goes from debate to virtual bar room brawl.
Social media is not to blame for those moments. Those moments are fueled by something else, and social media has simply become the vehicle from which we travel down those dark paths. What is to blame can be traced back, I would contend, to the 1994 midterm elections where Republicans retook congress during the Clinton administration, otherwise known as the “Republican Revolution.”
I’m not blaming the Republicans for the deep divide that we see now, but the 1994 midterm elections were the beginning of a divide in Washington that would slowly grow over the next 20 plus years. The Democrats are compliant with this divide, as During GW’s administration, the Democrats pissed away ample opportunities simply based on their detesting the President and his policies, while the Republican congress under Obama did exactly the same thing.
And now, we have a congress that refuses to work across aisles, would rather blame each other without finding solutions, and frankly gets nothing done.
These divisions, which have reverberated through the electorate, have become the norm rather than a temporary moment. A norm that has been amplified through social media, ironically a platform built to bring us closer but has instead only been used to drive us further apart.
Note the word choice I used there – been used. While we so desperately want to blame social media for our social anxiety and awkward behaviors with other human beings, the reality is that social media does nothing but allow us to create, manipulate, and sustain our own world view. Social media doesn’t determine our world view, it simply gives us what we want.
We don’t blame a toaster or microwave when it gives us exactly what we want, nor do we blame Wendy’s or McDonalds for giving us French fries we pay for.
Yet, we are quick to blame social media for our own corruption. The divide in our culture can be cured rather rapidly using social media, but it is the public media (news papers, gossip columns, reality TV, etc) that continues to promote division. For example: one of my favorite shows right now is the action comedy Lethal Weapon on Fox. It’s a funny show, but the reality is that it is fiction – not because the stunts are unreal, or that the situations are unbelievable, but because it promotes a good verses evil, black and white idea of the world. This is not an accurate representation of our actual world. Our world is not black or white. Our world is multi-colored with numerous options and opinions. Believe it or not, social media can be made to represent those multiple colors, multiple options. We choose not to use it that way.
Which brings me to my point: we don’t need to rethink social media, we need to rethink how we use social media. Zuckerberg can create a million and one algorithms that specialize your newsfeed, but if you are only reading those stories that interest you, then you are continuing to perpetuate your world view. Facebook is simply giving you what you want. If we want real change, and we want to see the divide shrink, then we need to change what we see. Not what social media shows.
And that’s the show for this week. Next week, we’ll have another fun look at the headlines from the week, Dr J will join me in discussing smart phones in the classroom, and so much more. For Dr J, I am The Barbour, thank you for coming by. Make it a great day, and always remember, as long as the sun rises there is opportunity.
This has been the Beta Files.