Well, it’s been about 8 days since Donald Trump officially became President.  Here are some facts that have jumped out to me about his administration:

1. Trump is influenced heavily by what he sees on TV, especially CNN and Fox News.

Starting with the crowd size kerfuffle, it’s clear that image matters a lot to President Trump.  He was upset when he saw reports on CNN comparing his smaller crowd with the one at the Inauguration of President Obama in 2009. He was so incensed that he sent his newly-minted spokesman out to argue with the Press Corps about it. This was widely seen as a huge disaster, since it was done in such haste and with such lack of preparation, and was ultimately a losing argument anyway.

That has been a pattern throughout the week: Trump reacts to what he sees on television. Perhaps the most striking example was this:

Bottom line: Trump watches the news, and responds to what he sees. This is interesting because it inadvertently makes Fox News and CNN way more powerful than they already were, since they are clearly influencing the opinions of the most powerful man in the world.

If I were an executive at either network, I’d be delighted by this. It means that their reports now carry unprecedented weight. This could be used to shape the President’s agenda in a variety of ways.

2. Stephen Bannon is the driving force behind the administration’s actions.

Not really a surprise, but good to have it confirmed.  Bannon’s hand was obvious in Trump’s inaugural address, and all subsequent actions have conformed to Bannon’s pro-nationalist, anti-globalist philosophy.

Clearly, Bannon is the main guy Trump listens to.  What is not yet clear is whether Trump’s other advisors are ok with this, or if they are disagreeing with Bannon and being overruled. I suspect, based on the leaks that have occurred so far, that at least some of them are not satisfied with this state of affairs.

There appear to be two distinct lines of command that go as follows:

trump-org-chart

Note which one of these branches is tasked with crafting substantive action, and which one was used for a pointless and unwinnable argument with the press.

I’ve always liked Bill O’Reilly–which is weird, because I don’t agree with the majority of his political views at all.  His bombastic style is definitely not “real journalism”, but I’ve always found it entertaining–a lot like John McLaughlin.  People say he’s a bully, and I can’t really disagree, but his manner reminds me of my Irish family members–they’ll yell and swear and browbeat somebody in an argument, and then afterwards shake hands and say “great to see you”.

Yeah, I guess I’m probably in a tiny minority as a liberal who likes O’Reilly and can’t stand Olbermann.  I like to be different.  I once read that Robert Frost said “A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.”

Anyway, so O’Reilly has been caught misrepresenting his role in various events–saying he was present in “a war zone” during the Falklands conflict, when in fact he was not; saying he was knocking at George de Mohrenschildt‘s door as de Mohrenschildt committed suicide, when O’Reilly was not even in the state at the time.  Coming so soon on the heels of the Brian Williams scandal, people are calling on Fox News to suspend him, just as NBC suspended Williams. Of course, Fox has not done that.

The reason for this discrepancy is that O’Reilly is an entertainer, whereas Brian Williams is a news reporter.  People who watched Williams expected to get factual information, and when he didn’t deliver, they got mad.  People who watch O’Reilly just want to be entertained.  Some love him, some hate him, but they all just want to see what he’s going to do next.  Whether any of it resembles truth is not relevant. This was proven quite conclusively when O’Reilly totally screwed up the history of the Malmedy massacre, saying the Americans committed the atrocity against the German SS prisoners, when actually it was the Germans committing it against the Americans. That’s a pretty pathetic error to  make.

But who cares if O’Reilly doesn’t know history?  He’s an entertainer.  Hence the comparison to McLaughlin–no one knows what he’s talking about half the time, even the other panelists, but it’s fun to watch, by golly!

That’s why NBC had to punish Williams, but Fox doesn’t need to punish O’Reilly: they’re not really in the same business.  In NBC’s business, credibility matters.

They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes. And if you don’t understand, those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it’s going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.–Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) June 28, 2006.

I’ve heard a lot over the past few weeks about how the government’s new health care site doesn’t work, how the rollout was “botched”, and so on.  What I haven’t heard–and I admit, I haven’t followed the story closely–is what actually is wrong with it.

So far, I have only found one concrete account with screenshots showing a problem definitively: Rob Nikolewski at the New Mexico Watchdog shows that the security question boxes don’t work. Besides that, the only thing I have heard is that “it’s slow”. Well, of course. Lots of people are using it. Glitches like this happen when launching something that will have a lot of users–look at some famous Massively-Multiplayer Online games, for example.

To me, it’s unfortunate that this happened, but its also far from unprecedented or even unexpected.  The Republicans are acting like it’s a massive scandal.  Personally, I think everyone is overreacting to it.  I wonder if, because many politicians tend to be less-than-web-savvy types, it seems like a bigger problem to them.

Let’s check up on Greek politics again, shall we? Things have played out about like I’d expect from the last time I wrote about them.

So, it seems that the failure of the austerity policies in Greece has led to the people who implemented it suffering huge losses at the polls. Well, that’s only to be expected. A nationalist party, known as the “Golden Dawn”, has made significant gains. Their leader, Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, appears to have modeled himself after Mussolini to an alarming degree.

Why are they so popular? Well, they are anti-austerity. They also are anti-immigrant. Perhaps the most troubling thing I’ve read about them comes from this article in the Miami Herald:

Golden Dawn toughs maintain a security watch in parts of central Athens and, upon request, provide escorts to people going to shop or retrieve their pension checks. If immigrants are squatting in an apartment owned by a Greek, Golden Dawn volunteers will clear them out and fix up the dwelling.

After a Greek man was killed in May 2011, reputedly by Afghan immigrants, Golden Dawn militants stopped traffic every afternoon for weeks, and hauled immigrants off public transport and beat them up, according to Marina Vichou, formerly a journalist with the BBC Greek service, who lives near scene and witnessed some of the incidents. ‘The police did nothing but protect Golden Dawn,’ she said.

As if that by itself weren’t disturbing enough, there is the historical parallel it evokes. Quoting from Wikipedia:

The First World War (1914–18) inflated Italy’s economy with great debts, unemployment (aggravated by thousands of demobilised soldiers), social discontent featuring strikes, organised crime,and anarchist, Socialist, and Communist insurrections. When the elected Italian Liberal Party Government could not control Italy, the Revolutionary Fascist Party (Partito Fascista Rivoluzionario, PFR) Leader Benito Mussolini took matters in hand, combating those societal ills with the Blackshirts, paramilitary squads of First World War veterans and ex-socialists; Prime Ministers such as Giovanni Giolitti allowed the Fascists taking the law in hand.

Some people wonder how the Fascists got to be so popular, when they were all obviously a bunch of bullies. That’s the answer: the government was so weak that people liked having a bunch of bullies to turn to who could provide a primitive kind of order. However, I don’t want to be hasty and assume that the worst things being said about the Golden Dawn are true; I’m just saying it is extremely troubling if true.

Historical similarities aside, though, this is where alliances between cosmopolitan (or “multicultural”) factions and the business interests tend to collapse: when the free market, microeconomic thinking of the businessmen wrecks the macroeconomy, allowing the nationalistic faction to take power.

David Wong, writing in Cracked, lists “5 ways to spot a B.S. Political Story”. He highlights certain words that appear in political headlines, and what they often signify. It would be easy to blame this on lazy journalists; however, it’s really very easy to find yourself repeating the same phrases that are familiar to you. And it’s a huge hindrance to writing about politics. George Orwell famously advised in his essay Politics and the English Language:

Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

Great advice, and so naturally very difficult to heed. I’ve probably fallen back on time-worn phrases countless times in writing this blog. As people acquire language largely through imitation, it’s only natural that we fall easily into imitation when using it.

Wong also laments how stories often couch everything purely in terms of political points scored. He writes of the headline “Slowdown in U.S. jobs growth deals a blow to Obama.”:

How about the millions of people who are out of work? Hey, guys, I don’t know if you realize this, but the world actually exists. Those numbers on the screen represent actual humans who are actually suffering. No, really! It’s not a video game!

The reason the press has to couch everything in this manner is simple: otherwise, they get called for political bias. Wong talks about stories that treat, for example, the healthcare law as merely a political “horse-race” issue, but the poor writers have only two other options:

  1. Write headlines like “Supreme Court to render millions uninsured”–a headline which would cause all the Republicans to gripe even more than usual about “liberal bias”, and whine that this was “value-laden language”.
  2. Capitulate to the Republicans entirely and write headlines like “Supreme Court to free millions from yoke of socialism”.

The first thing will never happen, because hell hath no fury like a Republican who is mad at the press. The second thing is out at every news source that has some interest in the truth. So, all that’s left is the horse-race approach. After all, no one can complain that it’s biased.