A fake news case study

Imagine if CNN was reporting on the latest ramblings of Iran’s Islamist leaders, and used the chyron “Iranian President Says United States is The Great Satan.”

Most of us, I assume, would realize that the network was reporting on what the Iranian President said, and wasn’t trying to open a debate on whether the United States is indeed the Great Satan.

However, the network is now facing a public-relations nightmare because of a similarly worded chyron, used during a segment about antisemitic comments made by “alt-right” leader Richard Spencer during a speech in Washington:

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Twitter users began screaming their outrage, and other media outlets quickly followed:

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Here’s the problem: CNN was not in fact debating whether Jews are human beings.  On the contrary, the complete segment makes it clear that the network was actually doing its job.

Host Jim Sciutto began the segment by describing Spencer’s comments as antisemitic, hateful garbage, and then interviewed two journalists about how President-elect Trump (a week later, I still can’t believe I have to write that) should respond.

Spencer was not actually interviewed during the segment, nor was any other “alt-right” figure who has enthusiastically welcomed Trump’s shocking election victory.  CNN was not debating Spencer’s proposition, but reporting on it.  That is their job.  In the age of Trump, that is what we need CNN and other media outlets to do.

Some people are attacking CNN for using the term “alt-right” instead of “white supremacist” or “neo-Nazi.”  That’s a fair criticism, though I’d counter that this CNN chyron actually illustrates how the term is just a new wrapping for the same old poison.  But the most serious accusation leveled at CNN – that they’re somehow “legitimizing” a discussion about whether Jews are human beings  – is flat-out wrong.

We’ve heard a lot about “fake news” lately, and how partisan lies spread on Facebook contributed to Trump’s election victory.  It spreads so quickly partly because people want their biases confirmed, and partly because, on some level, people want to be outraged.  We don’t want to believe the other side may have points worth considering or real concerns which should be addressed.  We want to believe the other side are monsters who must be defeated without mercy.

Richard Spencer and his brethren, as it happens, really are monsters who must be defeated without mercy.  But if media outlets are going to be savaged for accurately reporting on them, they may decide it’s just not worth the trouble.  And we will all lose.

Nobody knows anything

“Nobody knows anything…… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.” – William Goldman, Hollywood screenwriter

***

1964: Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, tarred as a terrifying, warmongering radical, suffers an overwhelming defeat at the hands of Lyndon Johnson. People say the GOP may never recover.

1968: Johnson – under fire from his own party because of the Vietnam War – declines to run again.  His likely Democratic successor Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated, and George Wallace’s independent run for President causes further chaos. Republican Richard Nixon – the same Nixon who lost in 1960 and couldn’t get elected Governor of California two years later – is elected President.

1972: Democrat George McGovern is overwhelmingly beaten by Nixon in the Presidential election, following a disastrous campaign in which McGovern goes through two running mates and much of his own party abandons him.  He doesn’t even carry his home state. All of this comes after Nixon, a devout anti-communist, shocks the world by re-opening relations with Mao’s China. People say the Democratic Party may never recover.

1976: Watergate brings down Nixon, and takes down many Congressional Republicans with him.  Successor Gerald Ford holds off a primary challenge from Ronald Reagan, and the media has a field day with his high-profile gaffes.  Americans send Democrat Jimmy Carter to the White House. People say the Republican Party may never recover.

1980: Reagan is elected President, and the GOP takes back the Senate, after Carter struggles with the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, economic stagnation and Ted Kennedy’s primary challenge. People say the Democratic Party, tainted with the malaise of the seventies, may never recover.

1982: The Democrats make big gains in the midterm elections, and the Reagan Administration struggles with a gruelling recession and increasing international tensions.  Half the world is convinced “Raygun” might start a nuclear war at any minute.  People say Reagan may never recover.

1984: Reagan wins re-election in a 49-state landslide, establishes a productive working relationship with Soviet premier Gorbachev, and the Cold War begins to thaw.  People say the Democratic Party may never recover.  Two years later, the Democrats win back complete control of Congress, and the Iran-Contra scandal damages Reagan’s Presidency – but not quite enough to keep his Vice-President, George Bush, from succeeding him in 1988.

And then a year later, the freaking Berlin Wall comes down.

1991: after triumphing in the first Gulf War and deftly handling the collapse of Communism – including the literal dissolution of the mighty Soviet Union – President Bush attains previously unimaginable levels of popularity.  Prominent Democrats decline to seek their party’s Presidential nomination, fearing another blowout.  People say the Democratic Party may never recover.

1992: After Bush is hit with a recession, a primary challenge from Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot’s third-party bid for the White House, Democrat Bill Clinton – the Governor of Arkansas – wins the Presidency.  People say the old and tired Republican Party may never recover.  Two years later the GOP takes over Congress in an electoral earthquake from which people say Clinton may never recover.  Two years after that, Clinton is re-elected in a landslide.

2001: After the 9/11 attacks, Americans rally around Republican President George W. Bush, whose popularity soars.  The GOP takes control of Congress in the 2002 mid-terms, the United States invades Iraq and takes down longtime foe Saddam Hussein, and Bush is re-elected in 2004.  People say the demoralised Democratic Party may never recover.  Two years later, after Iraq succumbs to sectarian violence and Hurricane Katrina devastates New Orleans, Democrats control Congress again.

2008: something once thought unthinkable happens – a little-known but exceptionally gifted and charismatic African-American Democrat named Barack Hussain Obama beats out the heavily favored Hillary Clinton to win his party’s nomination, and defeats respected GOP Senator John McCain in the general election.  The Republican Party is tied to a brutal recession and an unpopular war in Iraq, and McCain’s polarizing running-mate Sarah Palin – loved by the party base, a laughingstock to many more – creates further turmoil.  People say the Republican Party may never recover.

2010: the GOP storms back to life, sweeping both Houses of Congress and openly proclaiming their intent to make Obama a one-term President.  People say Obama may never recover.  Then 9/11 mastermind Obama bin Laden is found and killed on his watch, Obama is re-elected in 2012, and people say demographic trends mean the Republican Party may never recover.

2016: you know what just happened, and people are saying the Democratic Party – and the United States itself – may never recover.

2018, 2020 and beyond: that’s up to you, Americans.

In politics, just like the movie business, nobody knows anything.

So what just happened, and what do we do now?

(originally posted to my Facebook page)

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Did Trump beat Clinton because of racism and sexism? In many cases, undoubtedly so. For those of us inclined to think Americans are mostly good people, it’s depressing to see how many backed Trump’s blatantly xenophobic campaign.

But the overall picture is more complicated, and I think left-wingers will make a big mistake in simply writing off 48-49% of their fellow Americans as irredeemable bigots.

South Carolina went for Trump. Not surprising for a southern state, right? But they also reelected an African-American Senator (Tim Scott) and are governed by an Indian-American female Governor (Nikki Haley). They’re both Republicans – and presumably many of that state’s Trump supporters voted for them.

(Update: it also looks like the people of North Carolina voted for Trump but also ousted Governor Pat McCrory, of bathroom-bill infamy.)

Trump won the election because of his strong showing in the “rust belt” states – Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin. The traditional manufacturing areas that have been hit hard by gloablization. I am unabashedly pro-market and pro-free-trade, which is one of many reasons a Trump victory horrifies me, but even I can’t deny that some parts of America have lost out. Trump promised to restore their former glory.

The thing is, these states all went for Obama in 2008 and 2012. And many blue-collar workers who backed him then went on to back Trump. Did they somehow become more racist since then, or was economic anxiety (now a clichéd, heavily mocked phrase) the reason?

It’s easy to forget in the black-and-while world of social media, but most things have more than one cause. The left says bigotry got Trump elected, Trump voters say it was the economy, and #NeverTrump conservatives like me say Hillary Clinton’s deficiencies as a candidate (notwithstanding her gender) caused it. The truth is undoubetdly a blend of all these factors, and more.

I want Trump to be a one-term President. I want the Democrats to take back Congress in 2018. But if we’re going to dismiss and insult all of his voters, Trump could be around for two terms.

At least.

The day after

I said he wouldn’t actually run for President. I was wrong.

I said he had no chance of getting the nomination. I was wrong.

I said there’s no way he’d be on the ballot for November. I was wrong.

I said there’s no way he can possibly be elected President of the United States. I was wrong.

I think he will he a catastrophically bad President.

I hope and pray I’m wrong.

Don’t panic. She’s got this.

Not long ago, after the Access Hollywood tape came out, I pondered the possibility of Hillary Clinton winning every single state in Tuesday’s presidential election.

Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.

But even in this week of closing polls, FBI anti-Clinton leaks and Republican voters supposedly “coming home” to their party’s candidate, I still think Hillary Clinton is going to win the election – and it won’t even be close. In fact, by 11PM Eastern time on Tuesday, I think we’ll be wondering what we were so worried about. 

Behold my map:


Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

The reason? Turnout. Even if Trump is even in the polls, that doesn’t mean anything if his supporters don’t get out and vote.

Donald Trump is a genius at using the mass media to get his message out, but compared to Clinton, his ground operation is sorely lacking.  The Democrats are spending more money, and using many more people, to make sure that their supporters make it to the polls.

Plus, Trump’s conspiracist message – that the system is rigged and the election itself might be fixed – can work against him.  If you’re a Trump supporter and you know that the fix is in, why bother taking the time to vote in the first place?

Finally, Hillary Clinton is acting like a candidate playing for the win, not just holding her gains. She is spending much of this weekend in Ohio, a state where Trump has consistently led in the polls. Team Hillary is still trying to expand its map, not just fight over battleground states like Florida.

Never mind the must-win purple states like where Trump has to run the table: if he loses Ohio he is finished.

When the dust settles I’m predicting a decisive win for Clinton, including the close but traditionally Republican-supporting states of Arizona and Georgia. Trump is ahead in these states, but not enough to overcome the Democrats’ ground advantage.

One last thought: if you really, legitimately believe Trump would be better for the country, by all means, vote for him. I won’t hold that against you.

But if you know Trump is dangerously unqualified but support him anyway, out of pure partisan spite…that will be neither forgotten nor forgiven.

Should a sperm donor pay child support?

Sixteen years ago, an Ontario man agreed to donate sperm to a medical school classmate so she could conceive his child.  Now, she’s coming after him for child support:

…in 2000 she called on him to fulfil a decades-old promise: donate his sperm so she could undergo IVF and become a mother. Eventually, she would have two babies using those embryos, both of whom are now teenagers.

Ranson’s legal team say he agreed to be a “spuncle” — fertility law slang for known sperm donors who stay involved in their offspring’s lives. As a gay man, he had no intention of having his own children but was happy to help his old friend, and to remain in contact with the kids as a member of their extended family.

“The problem is he never would have donated if had he known she was seeking any financial support from him,” said Kelly Jordan of Jordan Battista LLP and Levitan’s co-counsel.

(Prediction: a sitcom called “Spuncle” will air for half a season on ABC within the next decade.)

A curious wrinkle to this case is that the sperm donor actually remained very active in the lives of his biological children.  It will be interesting to see if the court compares this to an in loco parentis situation, where a person who is not a biological parent nonetheless takes on a parenting role, imposing upon him an obligation to pay child support.

Cullimore, in her application first filed in 2015 in an Ontario court seeking child support, claims Ranson has acted the part of the father the teens’ whole lives. (Cullimore’s lawyer responded to a request for comment by telling the National Post not to publish the story and did not address an emailed series of questions.)

His parents acted as grandparents; the teens met Ranson’s extended family on holidays. Ranson paid for trips for the children to visit him in Europe, or to take them to Disneyland. In 2011, he gave Cullimore $22,000 to help out with costs, a chunk of which is now in Registered Education Savings Plans to pay for the teens’ pending post-secondary education.

After the second child was born in 2002, the pair signed an agreement giving her full custody, as well as power over education and health care. It said she “would not look to (Ranson) for any financial support.”

But now she’s arguing he has acted as a father all along.

“They clearly view him as their ‘dad,’” the application states, adding the teens exchange emails with him, he signs them “dad” and as recently as 2015 they spent a week with him and his partner in Italy. “The Applicant Mother has tried to pay for all activities, including ongoing child-care costs of over $800 per month as she works 24-hour shifts (as a medical doctor), but she can no longer afford to do so.”

[…]

If Cullimore is successful in her case, Ranson will be on the hook for four years of retroactive child support, since 2012, as well as other expenses, including post-secondary education. His contributions would be “significant” and based on a grid used to determine child support payments, his lawyers said.

“He feels like now he’s being punished for having been a good spuncle,” Jordan said. “How does he maintain a good relationship with these kids now?

“This is not something he signed on for.”

In Nova Scotia and many other jurisdictions, the courts view child support as the right of the child, not something easily signed away by the parent.  If the parents come to an agreement that no child support will be paid (or even if the support amount deviates from the amount specified for the payor’s income in the Child Support Guidelines)  the Judge will want a reasonable explanation before issuing a consent order or registering a separation agreement.

In other words, even if the parties in an assisted-reproduction case had a signed agreement that the mother wouldn’t seek child support, the court may not uphold its provisions.  And that’s why anyone who steps forward as a sperm donor should bear in mind that he may find himself taking on a very large financial burden.

 

In the future, everyone will be a hatemonger for 15 minutes

Attacking Muslims and criticizing the Islamic faith are not the same thing.  The former is bigotry; the latter is subjecting a set of ideals and religious tenets to the same test that every other religion – including my own – should be subjected to.

That distinction is lost on many of the far-right professional anti-Muslims listed in a “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists” published by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Unfortunately, it looks like the distinction is also lost on the SPLC itself.

Alongside such deserving targets as Frank Gaffney and Pam Gellar (the latter of whom once pushed the theory that Malcolm X was Barack Obama’s real father) the SPLC savages Daniel Pipes for such crimes as wrongly suggesting that the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was carried out by Islamists – an unfortunate error, but understandable a mere two years after the original World Trade Center bombing.  Also – you might want to sit down for this one – he says the Islamic State is Islamic in nature:

In a Sept. 10, 2014, article in The National Review, Pipes reacted furiously to President Obama’s “preposterous claim” that the Islamic State was “not Islamic” in nature. Contrary to Obama’s “idiocy,” he said, the infamous terrorist organization is “100 percent Islamic … profoundly Islamic.”

Only a radical would believe that ISIS represents all Muslims. Pipes is deemed a radical for saying that ISIS are Muslims in the first place.

The SPLC report also takes a shot at atheist ex-Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but the most despicable inclusion is that of practicing Muslim Maajid Nawiz, who has written consistently and clearly about how he believes elements of his religion should be reformed.   Apparently he got a lap dance once, so checkmate.  Also, this:

According to a Jan. 24, 2014, report in The Guardian, Nawaz tweeted out a cartoon of Jesus and Muhammad — despite the fact that many Muslims see it as blasphemous to draw Muhammad. He said that he wanted “to carve out a space to be heard without constantly fearing the blasphemy charge.”

The SPLC, it would appear, thinks tweeting a cartoon of Muhammad is an act of bigotry, because many Muslims see it as a blasphemous act.

In other words, they’re letting the most devout, illiberal members of the faith set the rules for everyone else, Muslim or not.  It’s like saying eating shellfish is an anti-semitic act, or using birth control is anti-Catholic bigotry.

Anti-Islam bigots like Gellar say that there’s no such thing as “moderate Islam,” and that the extremists are in fact accurately representing their faith.  Turns out that the storied Southern Poverty Law Center, in its own way, is saying the exact same thing.