Zuckerberg unbound

A curious item from a story about Mark Zuckerberg’s recent appearance before Congress:

[Rep. Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez went on to ask [Zuckerberg] about Facebook’s policy on exempting political advertising from fact-checking, asking if she could pay to advertise an incorrect election date to people in a primarily black zip code, for example.

Zuckerberg said Facebook does support removing content in cases of violence or of census or voter suppression. He did not answer whether the company would take down outright lies if they were in political advertisements.

I asked Swamp Rabbit for his two-cents worth. Is Zuckerberg a closet right-winger or is he merely sucking up to conservatives to avoid the wrath of Donald Trump, who has accused Facebook of censoring conservative viewpoints?

“AOC asked if he’d take down lies from Facebook, yes or no,” he said. “There weren’t no wiggle room. He didn’t say yes.”

The rabbit mentioned the Cambridge Analytica data-dumping scandal and its effect on the 2016 elections. He noted that Zuckerberg is hosting dinner parties for Trump flunkies — Lindsey Graham, Tucker Carlson, and so on — who presumably want to be reassured that right-wingers can continue to use Facebook and other big tech companies to lie and slander with impunity.

“The Zuck must have got the message,” Swamp Rabbit added. “If he don’t play ball and spread Republican misinformation, Trump will sue Facebook for being biased against him.”

“But that’s crazy,” I replied. “Screening out lies and other inaccuracies isn’t the same thing as being biased.”

“It is if you’re the Zuck,” Swamp Rabbit said. “He thinks lying is covered by free speech laws. He ain’t just a billionaire, he’s an expert on free speech.”

He thinks he is. In a recent speech, Zuckerberg argued that so-called social media are “the fifth estate,” exempt from the same rules that govern the fourth estate — the news media. He pretty much ignores the harm that can be done by powerful information sources that aren’t legally bound to refrain from overt lying.

He apparently thinks his money and power make him a sage, too enlightened to abide by the same imperfect rules that keep the news media from becoming totally untrustworthy. But he’s still young, maybe he’ll reconsider his apparent willingness to side with the Trumps of the world. Maybe he’ll crack a few books and realize how stupid his arguments are.

“Don’t count on it.” Swamp Rabbit said. “Them techie entrepreneurs don’t read, not unless it’s a book about how to make more money.”

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If your bottom line is big money…

Swamp Rabbit was desolate. His favorite basketball player, LeBron James, had let him down by criticizing Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey for tweeting something supportive of anti-China protesters in Hong Kong:

Yes, we do have freedom of speech, but at times there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you are not thinking about others and only thinking about yourself. I don’t want to get in a word sentence feud with Daryl Morey, but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand, and he spoke. And so many people could have been harmed, not only financially, but physically, emotionally, spiritually.

“I don’t understand what LeBron is saying,” I said.

“Yes you do,” Swamp Rabbit replied. “He’s saying Morey did a mean thing when he posted that tweet — ‘Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.’ He’s saying Morey didn’t consider how all them millionaire players would feel if them Chinese honchos decided to block the NBA from making money off them hundreds of millions of Chinese fans.”

“Put yourself in LeBron’s sneakers,” I said, playing devil’s advocate. “How would you feel if some management dweeb posted a tweet that endangered your multi-million-dollar Nike deal in China? This is a very sensitive issue.”

I told him he was being unfair to LeBron, who has spoken out against Donald Trump’s bigotry and against trigger-happy cops who kill black kids, and has funded initiatives to help the poor in Akron, OH, his hometown.

But Swamp Rabbit wasn’t having any of it. He said people who let their conduct be determined by financial considerations are slaves to the powers that be, whether at home or in China. They can’t pretend to champion human rights if they ignore China’s campaigns to wipe out Tibetan culture, brainwash a million imprisoned Uighurs and negate the rights supposedly guaranteed to Hong Kong residents when Britain agreed to give their former colony back to mainland China.

“What about those bloodless Silicon Valley tycoons who run Apple and so on?” I said. “The masters of the universe who grovel to please the Chinese? They’re worse than the NBA, but you’re not saying anything against them.”

“I ain’t defending them,” he said. “Alls I’m saying is if your bottom line is big money, then keep your mouth shut about human rights. Get it?”

I smiled. “Sure I get it. But what about the ramifications?”

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Isn’t it obvious? He’s become a god

My friend Swamp Rabbit read the tweet aloud and said, “You see that? What I tell ya?”

We’d been arguing about whether Trump’s tweets will become more delusional as his impeachment becomes more likely. Some people think he’ll blame his loyalists for not saving him from House Democrats and abruptly resign. Others say this is only the beginning, the would-be dictator will do anything to hang on to power so long as he thinks his base and Senate Republicans are still with him.

Swamp Rabbit thinks the Unmatchable One sees himself not as a dictator but rather as an emperor, skimming money from a worldwide network of Trump-branded properties like Trump Towers Istanbul. Are Trump’s business ties to Turkey the main reason he gave his blessing to Turkish forces that have attacked areas run by Syrian Kurds, who did most of the fighting against ISIS and assumed Trump was their ally?

“That’s too deep in the woods for me,” Swamp Rabbit said. “All’s I know is a hog monster like Trump ain’t gonna stop feeding at the trough, not without a fight.”

I grudgingly admitted that Swamp Rabbit was at least half-right. The time is out of joint, as Hamlet said, and it’s not clear who will set it right. But I told him to keep the faith, this isn’t the first time the world’s leading power was ruled by a monster. Is it likely Trump is more unhinged than Caligula, the murderous Roman emperor who, if certain historians are to be believed, tried to appoint his horse to a consulship in order to humiliate Roman senators?

“Trump wouldn’t do that,” Swamp Rabbit said. “He don’t like horses. He don’t like any animals.”

Footnote: In the novel I, Claudius, Robert Graves depicts Caligula as a madman for the ages who imagines himself having a “metamorphosis” that lifts him above all laws. “Isn’t it obvious?” he asks Claudius, his uncle, in the TV adaptation. Claudius, afraid for his life, guesses the right response: “You’ve become a god!”

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How about a moat? And toss in some alligators

Swamp Rabbit and I were drinking coffee from tin cups, listening to a Jimmie Rodgers album and reading a surreal story in Guardian UK:

Donald Trump discussed shooting migrants in the legs to slow them down, after ordering advisers to shut down the entire US-Mexico border, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

The president also suggested electrifying the border wall and fortifying it with spikes, and deterring migrants with a moat stocked with snakes or alligators, according to the Times…

Guardian UK noted that The Times story came from interviews with White House insiders who witnessed “a frantic week of presidential rages” last March, when Trump snapped at advisers who cautioned him against using illegal tactics to keep migrants from crossing the US-Mexico border.

“I’ll bet he ain’t worried about them migrants no more,” Swamp Rabbit said. “He’s too busy worrying about Democrats.”

No doubt about it. The liar-in-chief managed to dodge possible impeachment and criminal charges despite Robert Mueller’s two-year probe into whether he colluded with Russians to sabotage the 2016 election. But his dumb luck ran out last week, thanks to news of a phone call in which he pressured Ukrainian President and comedian Volodymyr Zelensky to get dirt on Joe Biden, his main political rival.

“An impeachable offense,” Swamp Rabbit said as he spiked his coffee with whiskey from his beat-up flask. “Ain’t no way he can bluff his way around this one.”

Everybody can sense the change. Timid congressional Democrats are suddenly fired up. Trump flunkies are running for the exits to avoid answering reporters’ questions as Rudy Guiliani, Mike Pompeo and William Barr — the hog monster’s main henchmen — frantically try to fabricate a counter-narrative in which Dems are the bad guys. What’s next, I wondered.

“Maybe Trump will build a moat around the White House,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Fill it with alligators. Order the Secret Service to shoot them nosy reporters in the legs.”

“Too late,” I said. “He just hopped on the impeachment express. It might move to a House vote and then trial in the Senate. If he survives that, there’s the election, which he would lose. After that, who knows?”

We stopped jabbering and listened to more Jimmie Rodgers, who seemed to have heard my question. He was singing “In the Jailhouse Now.”

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Thunberg’s warning to Earthlings

Swamp Rabbit couldn’t get over it.

First the 16-year-old, internationally famous environmental activist Greta Thunberg delivered her save-the-planet message to tens of thousands of protesters in Battery Park. Then she went to the United Nations and made a similar speech, but in a more accusatory style, to so-called world leaders who aren’t doing enough to slow global warming.

Climate change deniers on Fox News hit back — hacks like Laura Ingraham and some guy named Michael Knowles, who referred to Thunberg as “mentally ill” because she has Asperger syndrome.

“‘Mentally ill compared to who?” Swamp Rabbit said as we watched the clip from Fox. “Donald Trump? Trump’s boy Rudy? She ain’t sayin’ nothin’ that ain’t true.”

Here’s part of what Thunberg said to the U.N. crowd:

People are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are at the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!

To call Thunberg rude would be an understatement, but so what? This is no time to be polite, because the powers-that-be — especially in the three worst-polluting countries, the U.S, China and India — keep pretending half-measures will solve the climate problem.

“She’s like Joan of Arc,” Swamp Rabbit said. “I’ll bet Joanie had Asperger’s, too.”

She is not like Joan of Arc, I told him. She’s like the humanoid visitor from outer space in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), a classic sci-fi movie that seems to get better with each passing year.

The humanoid’s name is Klaatu, as most movie fans know. He looks like he could have been David Bowie’s father. At the end of the movie, he warns a bunch of world leaders that “Earth will be eliminated” unless humans start behaving themselves and don’t try to wreck the rest of the universe with their nukes and other weapons.

But Thunberg’s concern isn’t about protecting outer space from humans; it’s about saving humans from themselves. More accurately, about saving young people and future generations from the generation that’s in charge now. She speaks to the Trumps of the world as if they are a separate, hostile species, intent on destroying the world even as they pay lip service to the idea of cleaning it up.

“Just like I said,” Swamp Rabbit said, interrupting my lecture. “She ain’t sayin’ nothin’ that ain’t true.”

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Half-cocked and loaded

We were talking about Trump and Twitter. Swamp Rabbit noted that making threats is a dangerous habit for a president who has no self-control and isn’t on good terms with the English language. “Take a look at these here tweets,” he said.

The first tweet was from June:

“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights [sic] when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. — Donald Trump, June 21

The second was from last week:

Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed! — Donald Trump, Sept. 15

“So is he cocked and loaded or locked and loaded?” Swamp Rabbit asked. “What’s the difference? Is this porn movie talk?”

I did some research. It looks like Trump was thinking of handguns in old Western movies when he said “cocked and loaded,” which refers to pulling back the hammer of a revolver so that it will discharge a bullet faster when you press the trigger. Someone must have told him that the more contemporary term is “locked and loaded,” which can refer to locking a magazine in place on an AR-15-type assault rifle, the weapon of choice for Trump fans who try to kill as many people as possible in crowded public places.

“The problem is that Trump is talking about missiles, not rifles,” I said. “Missiles could start World War III.”

“True dat,” Swamp Rabbit replied. “On the other hand, he’s a punk at heart. He does most of his dirty work through them flunkies he hires and fires. He won’t start no shootin’ war.”

Never assume, I told him. What if another jackass like John Bolton starts pushing Trump’s buttons? And what happens when he can no longer wangle his way out of facing criminal charges, or if the polls say he can’t get re-elected?

“He might go off half-cocked,” I concluded.

Swamp Rabbit wanted to know what “half-cocked” meant. I opened the online dictionary and showed him that going off half-cocked means rushing to get something done without considering the possible consequences.

“It’s like shooting a musket after you forget to pull the hammer all the way back,” I explained. “The musket will go off in your face.”

Swamp Rabbit, obviously tired of the subject, signaled for me to shut up. He said, “I still think Trump picked up them phrases from a porn movie.”

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Out with the old knave, in with the new

“John Bolton’s ouster makes the world safer,” according to a headline in The Nation, but the analysis that followed was unpersuasive. Yes, the mustachioed loony is gone but not his boss, who has launched a misguided trade war against China, trashed the nuclear deal with Iran, threatened to nuke North Korea, and encouraged Boris Johnson to destabilize the EU and destroy what’s left of the United Kingdom. How is the world safer?

“Why do you read that crap?” said Swamp Rabbit, who was looking over my shoulder at the story. “Why don’t you feed the cats, or pull up them weeds over there by the tomato patch?”

I told him it’s important to follow the mainstream news analysts. They usually reach the wrong conclusions from the facts they gather, but careful readers can use the same facts to piece together conclusions that make more sense.

“I’m gonna piece together some lunch from that pork roll I swiped at the SuperFridge today,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Stop by my shack if you want a sandwich.”

I told him no thanks, I had some Triscuits, I was reading up on who might be chosen to replace Bolton. Politico said Trump was looking at more than a dozen “generally conservative” candidates, some of whom have ties to Bolton or Fox News or the George W. Bush administration. The pick will be a “yes person,” according to an insider quoted in the article.

But we already knew all that, didn’t we? We knew that the new national security adviser is likely to be as despicable as Bolton (one of the liars who helped start the disastrous war in Iraq by falsely claiming Saddam had WMD) though possibly not as overtly kooky. That he or she will be an unapologetic neocon who will obey all orders from Trump, no matter how vile or stupid, and will not publicly disagree with him.

In the end it won’t matter who’s chosen. No one Trump hires or fires could possibly be any more impulsive and vindictive than he is, and he has the final say on policy. The world will be no more or less safe.

I should have waded over to Swamp Rabbit’s place for that sandwich.

Footnote: Imagine a just world in which government officials and their toadies are held responsible for their roles in debacles like Iraq and Afghanistan, where hundreds of thousands of people died for nothing and trillions of dollars were wasted. All the Boltons would have been banished years ago. A lot of them would be in jail.

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