Fear by Bob Woodward – Book

Bob Woodward (of Watergate fame) recently published his exposé of the chaos in the early days of the Trump White House called simply, Fear: Trump in the White House.If you have been paying attention to the news (not Fox) then what you are reading in this book is hardly surprising. You see Steve Bannon come and go. The James Comey drama is in there. You see the contributions of people who played a role in those early days but are now gone, like Hope Hicks and Rob Porter. Tillerson and Trump disagree about foreign policy and Tillerson is replaced by Pompeo. Some of Trump’s fears about the Mueller investigation are covered.

There was a recent article in the NYT’s written by an anonymous source who told us that Trump’s West Wing staff are so worried about Trump’s orders telling them to design documents that will solidify bad policies, orders to place those documents on his desk to be signed, that they delay producing the papers and even remove the documents if they appear on Trump’s desk. They know that Trump’s mind jumps around from one idea to the next and that if the policy document is not placed in front of him he will forget about it (for a while). This is all covered in Woodward’s book. Woodward was there so it helps us feel like we are actually in the Oval Office, flies on the wall, experiencing staff fears in real time.

One of the greatest of all the fears is the one that shows us that someone who formed his policy ideas in some earlier decade, someone as inflexible as Trump, someone unwilling to learn about in-depth intelligence and to apply it to his fondly-held theories, someone unwilling to evolve, to revise old dogma, to encompass new data controls the nuclear codes. People in former administrations did not lightly make nuclear threats in hopes that going nuclear will turn enemies into friends. We don’t usually brag that our nuclear capabilities are greater than those of our enemies although we believe that it is basically understood. Nuclear boasting might backfire and the consequences could be devastating. Sometimes threatening documents, once produced, were removed from presidential proximity before he could sign them, but the fear that surrounds any casual treatment of nuclear weapons is always there.

Bob Woodward is not just making us aware that Trump’s staff lives in fear of Trump inadequacies and belligerent nature; he is telling us that we need to be fearful of a man who is filling a position he does not understand. We need to know that he is running America on ego, calcified opinions, and praise elicited by implied threats (fear). We need to follow Bob Woodward into those rooms in our nation’s White House and watch the slapdash way that business is now conducted daily in America. His account is very readable and the actual meat of the book ends well before the pages do. What follows is a section of photos, some pretty useful end notes, and a detailed index. If you have been paying attention to an in-depth news station like MSNBC it will all be very familiar. What will be different is that this time you are “in the room where it happens”.

The children in this Rainbow Room video offer revealing and very brief reviews of Bob Woodward’s book, reviews that sum things up very well.

https://mashable.com/video/stephen-colbert-reading-rainbow-woodward-trump/#FGlobArRcZqb

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Washington Times

Facebook Community Standards – Censorship?

 

Background

I have a Facebook account which is a public account, but only my friends, family, Facebook, and advertisers can post on my timeline. I keep my politics separate from my main Facebook account. I do have a second Facebook account for my blog, The Armchair Observer.com but it is walled off from the account for family and friends. I found this perfectly acceptable because politics is such a hot button issue right now and I don’t want to have to block family and friends or be blocked by them. My blogs are not automatically published to my timeline so family and friends do not have to read or even see them. It’s a bit sad when you can’t share what you do with family but it works and I am OK with it.

Facebook likes to make money from its business sites (which is how they categorize a blog site). They will push my blog posts out to a target audience for a fee to help me “sell” more. Sometimes I use this feature to try to find more readers. I find that most people only look at the title and the pictures and then either like a post or not. I have slowly increased my number of followers, very slowly. For the most part, the most active responders are “pod” people, right wingers who like to label my posts as “fake news” and then try to sway me with their brilliant Fox-generated arguments. I engage for a while to try to convince them to see another point of view but it is too frustrating, and will continue indefinitely because they always need to have the last word. The Facebook “sales” model doesn’t work as well when you are selling words (ideas, opinions). I feel that I base my opinions on facts, but of course right wingers have their own facts. I don’t feel quite right selling my opinions and I don’t have enough readers to make it profitable so I haven’t tried to monetize my blog.

Facebook has been under pressure from the Trump administration to track down “fake news”, trolling behaviors such as hate speech, and phony posts representing foreign meddling in American politics. Due to government pressure Facebook has been posting new rules. For example, the folks at Facebook ask lots of questions on my timeline about my privacy settings. I usually post inane things on my timeline such as images I think family members will enjoy, mostly of nature, florals, and gardens, birds and music/dance videos. I comment on the posts of the grandchildren and the great grandchildren and enjoy keeping in touch with distant family members. Once in a while, I post a glimpse of my personal life, but rarely.

Why I am Worried About Facebook Community Standards

Recently Facebook posted (on my timeline) their new Community Standards and these standards leave lots of room for subjective judgements made, I assume, by algorithms and/or people at some undisclosed location. Hopefully the policies will be applied to the most egregious offenders, but only future practice will reveal whether this will be a useful information sorting tool or arbitrary censorship. Offenders can be suspended from using Facebook, which I suppose is not the end of the world. Facebook sent me one of those memories they like to post on your timeline from something I posted a year ago. My niece sent out a plug for her travel website and I reposted it. So, when the memory (I imagine generated by Facebook) appeared I shared it again, since her website is still up and running.Facebook sent me a return message asking if my post was spam. Are they using a form of entrapment? IDK

Although I am mystified by my inability to grasp the intricacies of the privacy policy that Facebook keeps posting on my timeline, I more leery of their Community Standards. A lot can go awry when algorithms are used to attempt to make judgement calls by parsing complex content using code and mathematical methodologies. Even if there is an employee panel somewhere that is also involved in these judgements Facebook is likely to face personal pushback and, perhaps, legal issues. Depending on the stringency with which the standards are applied, free expression by sincere Facebook users may be censored along with posts by abusers.

You can find the Facebook Community Standards here: https://www.facebook.com/communitystandards

The most problematic section of the standards says:

“Our mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. Every day, people come to Facebook to share their stories, see the world through the eyes of others and connect with friends and causes. The conversations that happen on Facebook reflect the diversity of a community of more than two billion people.

We want people to feel safe when using Facebook. For that reason, we’ve developed a set of Community Standards, outlined below. These policies will help you understand what type of sharing is allowed on Facebook, and what type of content may be reported to us and removed. Sometimes we will allow content if newsworthy, significant or important to the public interest – even if it might otherwise violate our standards. Because of the diversity of our global community, please keep in mind that something that may be disagreeable or disturbing to you may not violate our Community Standards.

We remove content, disable accounts, and work with law enforcement when we believe there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety. Learn more about how Facebook handles abusive content.

 

  • Overview
  • Direct Threats
  • Self-Injury
  • Dangerous Organizations
  • Bullying and Harassment
  • Attacks on Public Figures
  • Criminal Activity
  • Sexual Violence and Exploitation
  • Regulated Goods”

There is more to the Standards and you can follow the link above to see the entire document including instructions for reporting material that you think breaks the rules. I guess that most of this does not apply to me except the “attacks one public figures” standard. It is unclear what is meant by an attack on a public figure. Does this include writing that is critical of the decisions, behaviors, or actions of a public figure. If I push out a blog post and a right winger objects can they file a report about my post? How close to the censorship line is Facebook likely to walk? Could this possibly squelch legitimate free speech? I do not believe that Facebook would have to make such a set of standards if our politics were not so fraught. I am interested to see how this plays out. Will I feel the sting if I am suspended by Facebook? Will I try to fight it? Will I just let it go? I do have some sympathy for Mark Zuckerberg, caught between a rock and hard place.And I would miss Messenger the most because it allows a far flung family to stay in close touch with each other, especially in times of family events or family crises.