Thursday, January 02, 2020

On Second Thought....

I was going to post the following interpretation of a portion of a video from a campaign appearance made by Joe Biden last March or April until I realized I discovered that I was missing the point. My argument is still valid- but fairly insignificant given the larger context. To wit:

Former Vice-President Joe Biden was talking extensively about sexual harassment of women, then pivoted slightly to the particular problem encountered by women on college campuses, stating (beginning at 11:15 of the video below)

But we eventually got a lot passed through with the Secretary of Education, a great guy I worked with, and others, under Title IX. Then along came Betsy DeVos.

No, I'm serious- and ended it; ended it. Folks,this is about changing the culture; our culture; our culture.  It's not imported from some African nation or some Asian nation. It's our English jurisprudential culture; our European culture that says it's alright. I'll end with this....

It would be simpler if Joe Biden merely stated "I was wrong about  Anita Hill and the manner in which I conducted hearings into her charges of the sexual harassment directed against her by Clarence Thomas. But that was 30 years ago and as my record makes clear, I've changed and grown a lot since then."

He won't, of course, because no one is pressing the issue against Biden, which is odd considering the right-wing record amassed since that time by Justice Thomas. Also, he won't because compensating for his ghastly behavior as chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee by portraying European culture as horrid  is intrinsic to what Joe Biden has become. If he can't be progressive on critical economic issues, he can, at least, pander to primary voters on "culture; culture."

The video has become very controversial because of an edited- nineteen seconds!- version of it showed up on Twitter.  Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent has a different take on this, and one I didn't notice until he wrote

It’s beyond the scope of this blog post to check Biden’s depiction of English common law in the Middle Ages. But what’s clear beyond any doubt from the full remarks is that in this particular reference to English or European culture, Biden — whether right or wrong — was talking primarily about our legal inheritance from English common law and its lingering impact on efforts to legally combat violence against women.

Biden did not recommend any specific changes to law and his emphasis on "culture" partially relieves responsibility for illegal or obviously immoral behavior and/or speech from the individual committing it. His derogatory reference to English common law and reminder that neither Africa nor Asia is responsible are reminders that no one, least of all in a Democratic primary, ever lost a vote by contrasting the wickedness of Europe to that of Asia or Africa. (No doubt rape and sexual harassment are unknown outside of Europe or the USA.)

However, Sargent accurately notes that the video (to which he understandably refuses to link) is dangerously misleading. It is posted by a self-described "exclusive 'weird twitter' posting collective operated by an anonymous rotating cast of your favorite online personalities & podcast hosts." I don't know who is behind the item, nor does Sargent claim to know. Nonetheless, he understands the larger narrative and significance (which I initially did not) and explains

Let’s review. Since 2016, the special counsel’s investigation and two Senate Intelligence Committee reports have spelled out in great detail that Russian disinformation warfare against the 2016 election was extraordinarily concerted, insidious, broad in scope and deliberately crafted to divide the country along racial and social lines. Numerous top intelligence officials have warned that Russia and other outside actors will strike again.

The entire Ukraine scandal, for which Trump has been impeached, is largely about disinformation. Trump extorted Ukraine to get it to announce public statements that would smear Biden with disinformation and help validate conspiracy theories that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in 2016.

In effect, Trump was trying to pressure a foreign power to help manufacture more disinformation to help mislead U.S. voters about a domestic political opponent and absolve Russia of its original disinformation warfare campaign against this country.

Trump has retweeted accounts from the far-right conspiracy theorist QAnon. What’s more, Trump and his prominent supporters have played an active role in spreading disinformation against Democrats. After a conspiracy theory falsely connected former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke to the recent Texas mass murderer, shadowy but prominent Trump allies amplified the claim.

Trump himself recently retweeted a tweet from one of his favorite conspiracy theorists — whose work he has promoted in the past — that falsely created the impression that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) partied on the anniversary of 9/11. And remember that distorted video of Nancy Pelosi slowed down to make her look drunk?

All this is a sign of what the Democratic nominee could face. It’s no wonder that some Democrats are worried we might even see “deepfake” media manipulations. Imagine such ultra-sophisticated video distortions of Biden’s rambles, retweeted by Trump, and perhaps even by reporters.

Trump views disinformation not as a scourge to be combated in the name of protecting our democracy, but as an ally. In this particular case, Trump has not retweeted the video of Biden — yet. But let’s try to learn from this.

One of the things we can learn from this is that Republicans did it previously and they're doing it again. The GOP can play by the rules of the game or they can make up their own rules, inviting misinformation and disinformation from home and abroad. It's already clear which they're choosing.

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This  is a reasonable question. If going to a predominantly Jewish neighborhood to harass and intimidate Jewish people at a synagogue is no...