Tuesday, January 31, 2017

UK judge denies access to kids for ex-Haredi man now living as woman

A father of five who left Manchester’s ultra-Orthodox community in 2015 to start life as a woman was denied access to her children by a court on Monday.

The woman, whose name is being kept under court seal, asked Manchester Family Court that she be “sensitively re-introduced” to her family. Her former spouse, the children’s mother, countered that the children would be ostracized by their friends and community if they had contact with their parent.

The judge ruled that there was a very real chance that allowing her access to her children — a boy aged 12, 8-year-old twins, a boy and girl, a boy aged 5 and a 2-year-old girl — could lead to “the children and their mother being marginalized or excluded by the ultra‐Orthodox community.”

Justice Peter Jackson wrote that his ruling was “not a failure to uphold transgender rights, still less a ‘win’ for the community, but the upholding of the rights of the children to have the least harmful outcome in a situation not of their making.” [...]

The petitioner asked that her children “be helped to understand her new way of life and allowed to enjoy regular and significant contact with her outside the community.”

The mother countered that “direct contact of any kind during their childhoods… will lead to the children and herself being ostracized by the community to the extent that they may have to leave it.”[...]

The Anna Freud Centre told the judge after psychological assessment of the children and with “evident reluctance that the benefits to the children of resuming contact with their father would be outweighed by the harmful community reaction that would be visited upon the family.” [...]

n his decision, Jackson wrote that “weighing up the profound consequences for the children’s welfare of ordering or not ordering direct contact with their father I have reached the unwelcome conclusion that the likelihood of the children and their mother being marginalized or excluded by the ultra‐orthodox community is so real, and the consequences so great, that this one factor, despite its many disadvantages, must prevail over the many advantages of contact.

“I therefore conclude with real regret, knowing the pain that it must cause, that the father’s application for direct contact must be refused,” he wrote.

However, Jackson said that the children could have indirect contact with their father, through letters and cards.

“I see no reason why this should not take place four times a year for each child, perhaps coinciding with their birthdays, and with Pesach, Sukkot and Hanukkah,” he ruled in his judgment.

The judge took a shot at the community, writing that “children are goodhearted and adaptable and, given sensitive support, I am sure that these children could adapt considerably to the changes in their father. The truth is that for the children to see their father would be too much for the adults.

Maharal - because women are on a lower spiritual level they don't observe all the mitzvos like men

Maharal (Makkos 23b): And He gave him 365 Negative Commandments corresponding to his body and his matter so that he should not do that which was not proper. Because doing something improper applies only to the physical body of man. Therefore the Negative Commandments are 365 corresponding to the days of the year. That is because man from the aspect of his body has the level of the sun which has 365 days. It states in Bava Basra (58a), “I looked at Adam’s two heels and they are like the ball of the sun.” The explanation of this is that it comes to say that Adam was created in the image of G-d (tzelem). He in particular had this divine level completely. And the gemora is saying that Adam’s heels which are the end of the level of image (tzelem) are joined with the body which is like the image of the ball of the sun.

There is no doubt that the image (tzelem) of the face has a level which is more distinguished. That is because the face has the name of image (tzelem) more and therefore it was impossible to look at it. However it was possible to stare at Adam’s heels which are the end of the level of image (tzelem). That is because the end of the level of image (tzelem) has a connection to matter which is the body and it doesn't have such a distinguished level. Nevertheless the heels which are the end of image (tzelem) are like the ball of the sun because the end of image (tzelem) of man is joined with the body. Therefore its level is like the sun whose light is material. Consequently the Negative Commandments which are from the aspect of material which man received and which is below the image (tzelem) – have the same number as the days of the year because it is also below the level of image (tzelem) of man. I already explained this in Avos regarding “beloved is man who was created in the image (tzelem)” . It is important ot understand these great things.

And now we can understand that woman who is material is obligated to observe the Negative Commandments but is not obligated in all the Positive Commandments. That is because the spiritual level of women does not reach to the highest level - which is the level of the Positive Commandments that a woman would function fully - because she is material. She only has the level of image (tzelem) which is relevant to the Negative Commandments. You should also understand why Positive Commandments displace Negative Commandments – because they are on a higher level then Negative Commandments.

Trump lies again when he tries blaming Obama for his latest immigration fiasco

With major airports in chaos over the weekend, President Trump sought to deflect blame the same way Republicans have been doing for eight years: By blaming President Obama.

At some point, that’s going to stop working even for the GOP. But then, Obama spent years blaming President George W. Bush for the country’s ills, so….

Anyway, as the protests grew and the heat on the administration intensified Sunday, Trump issued a statement claiming that he was effectively repeating steps taken by his predecessor.

“My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months,” Trump asserted. “The seven countries named in the executive order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror.”

But Trump, for whom policy details seem as welcome as an extra helping of haggis, glossed over key differences between what Obama did and what he unleashed Friday.

First, the Obama administration’s actions in 2011 came in response to a specific weakness in the vetting of a specific group of immigrants. The background checks on Iraqi refugees didn’t cross-reference a database of fingerprints gathered from fragments of explosive devices that had targeted U.S. soldiers in Iraq. When the FBI did those checks, it found matches to two Iraqis who’d been allowed to resettle in the United States in 2009. That prompted Obama to act. Trump’s action came in response to a campaign promise.

Second, rather than canceling existing visas and harming people who’d already sold their homes and started moving to the United States, as Trump did, the Obama administration stopped processing new applications from Iraq for refugee status or Special Immigrant Visas (e.g., for Iraqis who worked as translators for the U.S. military) while also conducting new background checks on current ones. No one was detained at an airport, pulled off of a plane or ordered back to the country he or she had just fled. And refugees from Iraq continued to be admitted throughout that period, according to Foreign Policy magazine, just in far smaller numbers.

Third, the Obama administration made no public announcements about the change in policy. Instead, it came to light two years later, when ABC News apparently broke the story. That’s a sharp contrast to the Trump approach of alienating people around the world by publicly shutting the door on seven countries’ immigrants, visitors and refugees.

And fourth, Obama didn’t make exceptions based on the applicant’s religion. Trump’s order gives non-Muslim refugees priority over Muslims after the ban on entry is lifted.

It’s odd to blame Obama for picking those seven countries. According to the Wall Street Journal, Congress rolled back the special access to the United States that citizens of four of those countries had been granted, ensuring that anyone from there or who had traveled there recently obtained a visa before coming here. The Obama administration later added the other three to the visa requirement.

Nor, as the Journal piece points out, have those countries been the major sources of people who commit terrorist acts in the United States: “Of 180 people charged with jihadist terrorism-related crimes or who died before being charged, 11 were identified as being from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Sudan or Somalia, the countries specified in Mr. Trump’s order, according to an analysis of data on the attacks by the Wall Street Journal. None of the 11 were identified as coming from either Syria, Libya or Sudan, and none of the 11 were involved in any major U.S. plot resulting in the deaths of Americans, including the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.” Instead, the largest source by far is the United States itself, followed by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the Journal reported.

But hey, what do details matter to a man of action?

Monday, January 30, 2017

Former intel official: Trump immigration ban makes Americans less safe

A former intelligence official said President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning refugees and also blocking travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries will actually make Americans less safe at home and abroad by serving as a recruitment boon for ISIS, and he warned that the Trump administration needs to “start making policy like adults.”

Michael Morell, a former deputy director and acting director of the CIA, told “CBS This Morning” that, contrary to making America safer, the Trump executive order “is going to make the threat worse. It is going to make us less safe.”

Morell said the policy misses its mark. “First of all, the biggest problem we face is homegrown terrorism. Of the roughly 100 people who have been indicted by the FBI for ISIS-related crimes over the last three years, 85 percent were American citizens. This doesn’t get at that at all,” he said.

Morell also noted that none of the attacks in the U.S. since and including 9/11 would have been affected by this travel ban. None of the 9/11 terrorists came from countries on this list, and the gunmen in more recent attacks in San Bernardino, Orlando and Fort Hood were all born in the United States.

What is more, he said, the Trump immigration order will make Americans less safe both at home and abroad by serving as a recruitment tool and an enhancement to ISIS propaganda, Morell said.

“It’s playing right into the ISIS narrative. ISIS has not said anything about this yet, but people around ISIS who amplify its message are talking about it, and they are saying, ‘See? We told you, this is a war against Islam.’ So this is going to be a recruitment boon for ISIS.”

On “Face the Nation” yesterday, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus defended the travel ban, saying that the seven Muslim-majority countries on the list — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — had been identified by the Obama administration as “sources of terror.”

“The Trump administration keeps on pointing to the seven countries saying these countries are on Obama’s list, right?” Morell said. “This was actually part of a program to enhance the security of the visa waiver program for people traveling from European countries. So they enhanced it. They already enhanced it. There was no evidence that there’s any weakness to it.”

Morell was also asked about a new development within the president’s National Security Council. On Saturday, Steve Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief political strategist and the former head of Breitbart News, was named to the group, while both the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence were removed from the council’s Principals Committee. In memo issued over the weekend, Mr. Trump said they would only be invited when “issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed.”

Morell described the move as “unprecedented, both putting a political adviser on, and unprecedented taking off the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the DNI. I have never been to a principals’ meeting where the views of the DNI and the views of the Chairman are not relevant.

“Every principals’ meeting starts with an intelligence briefing by the DNI. And having somebody like Bannon in the room brings politics into a room where there should be no politics.” [...]

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein: Women should not drive cars

BHOL  [Update סערת-נהיגת-הנשים-הרב-בלוי-הוא-מבין-כמו-תרנגול-לפני-כפרות.html]
רבה של רמת אלחנן בבני ברק וחבר מועצת גדולי התורה של דגל התורה טוען כי אחת הסיבות לתאונות הדרכים היא העובדה שנשים נוהגות - למרות "שאין זה דרכן"

בחוברת ליקוט שיעורים וחידושים של הגאון רבי יצחק זילברשטיין רבה של רמת אלחנן בבני ברק וחבר מועצת גדולי התורה, מתפרסמת שאלה ותשובה המעוררת שיח רב בימים אלו.אברך פנה בשאלה אל הרב, האם אשתו יכולה לנהוג ברכב, והסתמך על מה שנראה לו הגיוני מבחינת צניעות. הוא אף פירט את תחושותיו שהובילו אותו למחשבה זו, ביניהן העובדה שנסיעה באוטובוס או במונית, מהוות בעיה מבחינת צניעות, ייחוד ועוד. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Trump's cruel, illegal refugee executive order

The new refugee policy announced by President Trump on Friday is unconstitutional and inhumane. It is also completely unnecessary.

Trump’s executive order suspends the entry of refugees into the United States for 120 days. The order also indefinitely stops the admission of Syrian refugees and for 90 days bars individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Possibly due to poor drafting, the Department of Homeland Security said the order applies to green card holders reentering the United States. It has already resulted in chaos as travelers have been kept off flights to the United States or stranded at airports.

On Saturday night, a federal judge in New York issued a temporary stay, allowing green card or visa holders detained at airports to enter the country. The judge declared that the challengers have a “strong likelihood” of prevailing in showing that the Trump order violates due process and equal protection.

Trump’s action, determining one’s ability to enter the country based on nationality and place of residence, is illegal. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 explicitly says that no person can be “discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth or place of residence.” This act was adopted to eliminate the prior practice of immigration quotas from specific countries. Indeed, in signing the legislation, President Lyndon Johnson said that “the harsh injustice” of the national-origins quota system had been “abolished.”

Absent a specific authorization by Congress, the government cannot discriminate based on nationality or place of residence, which is exactly what Trump ordered.

Moreover, the Trump policy is unconstitutional discrimination based on religion. The Supreme Court repeatedly has said that above all, the 1st Amendment’s religion clauses forbid the government from favoring one religion over others. Although Trump’s executive order does not expressly exclude Muslims, that is obviously its purpose and its effect as it bans refugees from predominantly Muslim countries. It also instructs Homeland Security, after the 120-day period, to prioritize refugee claims “made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.” (Emphasis mine.)

What does that mean? Trump told Christian Broadcast News that he intended to give priority to Christians. The Constitution does not allow such religious discrimination or permit the government to assume that a person is more likely to be dangerous because of his or her religion, national origin or race.

Barring individuals fleeing persecution from entering the United States is simply inhumane. Adding irony to injury, Trump’s executive order was issued on Holocaust Remembrance Day, which should have been an occasion to atone for turning away refugees during the 1930s — some of whom later died in concentration camps. For example, in 1939, the United States turned away the St. Louis, a boat filled with refugees, many of them German Jews. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 254 passengers from the St. Louis died in the Holocaust.

Like many American Jews, I had relatives die in the Holocaust because they could not get out of Nazi-occupied Europe and no other country would take them.

One of the most astounding aspects of Trump’s executive order is that he seems to have singled out countries where he has no business interests, while giving a reprieve to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among others, where the Trump Organization is active.

The order is also nonsensical in that foreigners from the seven listed nations killed exactly zero Americans in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and the end of 2015, according to the Cato Institute. None of the terrorists from the 9/11 attacks or the Boston Marathon bombing or the San Bernardino shooting or the Orlando, Fla., massacre came from the seven countries listed. The home countries of those responsible were not included.[...]

Trump's Holocaust message deliberately ignores that Jews were targeted - "to be more inclusive"

Facing growing criticism for failing to mention Jews in a statement marking the Holocaust, the Trump administration on Sunday doubled down on the controversial decision.

In a statement on Friday, President Trump broke with the bipartisan practice of past presidents by failing to include any mention of the anti-Semitic views that fueled the Holocaust and left 6 million Jews and millions of others dead.

“I don’t regret the words,” said White House chief of staff Reince Priebus when asked to defend the statement on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

“Everyone’s suffering [in] the Holocaust including obviously all of the Jewish people affected and miserable genocide that occurs — it’s something that we consider to be extraordinarily sad,” Priebus added.

Trump’s 117-word statement was issued on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Trump remembered “the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust” without specifically mentioning Jewish people. [...]

On Sunday, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) sharply criticized the White House for deploying a well-known tactic of Holocaust deniers.

“This is what Holocaust denial is,” Kaine said on NBC. “It’s either to deny that it happened or many Holocaust deniers acknowledge, ‘Oh yeah people were killed, but it was a lot of innocent people; Jews weren’t targets.’ ”

Conservative commentator John Podhoretz slammed the White House’s defense of its actions in a column on Saturday, noting that Nazi ideology rested on the aim of exterminating Jewish people from the face of earth.

“The Nazis killed an astonishing number of people in monstrous ways and targeted certain groups — Gypsies, the mentally challenged, and open homosexuals, among others,” Podhoretz wrote. “But the Final Solution was aimed solely at the Jews. The Holocaust was about the Jews.

“There is no ‘proud’ way to offer a remembrance of the Holocaust that does not reflect that simple, awful, world-historical fact,” he added. “To universalize it to ‘all those who suffered’ is to scrub the Holocaust of its meaning.” [...]

n a speech on Friday in Washington, the Israeli ambassador to the United States warned against separating the history of the Holocaust from the Jewish people.

“For many, the Holocaust is primarily a universal story about man’s inhumanity to man, about the evils of racism and xenophobia, about how even the most enlightened societies can descend into darkness and barbarism,” said Ambassador Ron Dermer. “But if this noble universal vision is not firmly rooted in an appreciation that the Holocaust is first and foremost a Jewish story, it can become not only dangerous but even immoral.”

The tactic of minimizing the impact of the Holocaust on Jewish people is also closely associated with nationalist movements in Europe, including the far-right National Front Party in France now led by Marine Le Pen, whose father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was fined for Holocaust denial.[...]

Mishpacha Magazine -Trump's victory by the unconnected class also has a message for our community

The following is an excerpt from an article written by Yisrael Besser in this week's Mishpacha Magazine. It is not that it is a great chiddush or such a profound insight. The amazing thing is that it was published at all.

The Trump victory wasn't just a crushing defeat to Democrats and a stinging denunciation of pollsters and the media. It was a resounding message to one particular class.

Newsweek quoted a Pennsylvania construction worker who explained Trump’s appeal. It was, he said, a revolt against the “connected class. The Washington types. Republican or Democrat, who don’t seem to care about people like me. It’s like we had no voice before Donald ran. No one heard us.”

If people feel disenfranchised for long enough, they will eventually find a way to speak up.

If people can’t get their kids into school because there are no spots, and space suddenly opens for the child of a wealthy person, then there’s a connected class.

If we have organizations or mosdos where a few make decisions for the many, then we have a connected class.

If access to gedolei Yisrael is controlled, with some people allowed to receive their brachah and others kept out in the cold, then we've created a connected class.

And then, because you can’t have one without the other, we've created an unconnected class too. And they are angry – perhaps with reason.

And after enough time, if enough hurt piles up, then they too can find a voice. You don’t need money or protektziya to find a voice on social media. The internet is to rage what a credit card is to debt. Visa or Amex don’t create debt, but they do allow it to spiral out of control.

Trump’s victory was a response and we’d do well to contemplate what that means. For someone to win, someone else has to lose – and that’s something we can’t afford in our camp.

The one’s who run schools or mosdos are, for the most part, remarkably selfless people, fueled by responsibility and compassion. Rabbi Mordechai Miller once received and irate letter form a gentleman whose granddaughter had been rejected by the Gateshead Teacher’s Seminary. Being a person of humility, Rabbi Miller considered apologizing, but was advised that the issues was his, but the accuser’s. He had done the correct thing.

Nevertheless Rabbi Miller kept the letter in his desk drawer, because he wanted the reminder of how much pain rejection can cause. This way, he felt, he’d be more sensitive in the future.

The unconnected class is out there and they’re angry. They've just written quite the letter. But instead of reading it, the media wonders how they managed to mail it correctly.

It’s one worth reading.

Embryos that are human-pig hybrids offer hope for patients who need organ transplants

 In a bid to make organs for patients in need of transplants, scientists have created embryos that were hybrids of humans and pigs and grown them until they were on the verge of developing the body parts that might one day save lives.
Researchers reported Thursday in the journal Cell that they injected pig embryos with human stem cells that were capable of developing into a wide range of tissues. Those composite embryos were then transferred into the wombs of mother pigs.
By the time the scientists harvested the embryos after four weeks, the human stem cells had established beachheads throughout the developing pigs. As a blob of fetal pig tissue reached the cusp of developing into a cluster of distinct organs, human cells appeared throughout the tiny organism, ready to contribute to the generation of organs.
Each of these embryos held the promise of becoming a true chimera: a creature half-human, half-beast that has inspired myths and science fiction fantasies through the ages.
In a future that is now a bit closer, such chimeric creatures could become incubators for replacement organs that are in seriously short supply. Each day in the United States, 22 people who need a new heart, lung, kidney or liver die while waiting for a suitable organ to become available. [...]

The domestic pig has long been seen as animal that could incubate replacement organs for humans. They are fellow mammals whose organs grow to about the same size as those of an adult human in the span of about two years.
But if the human immune system is to be tricked into accepting a pig’s organ, scientists know that human cells — in fact, cells specific to the transplant recipient — would need to be well represented in that organ.
Making that happen seemed like a science-fiction dream only four years ago, when the Cell study began, said developmental biologist Jun Wu, the paper’s lead author.
But human stem cell technology has advanced to the point that scientists can turn back the clock on mature skin cells and render them capable of becoming any one of a wide range of specialized tissues. And scientists have a better understanding of the processes by which such stem cells begin to differentiate and become distinct tissues.[...]
In future research, Wu said, Salk scientists will explore how to increase the concentration of human cells in certain organs (such as the heart). They also want to glean assurances that human cells are not going to organs, such as the brain and gonads, that raise deep concerns among ethicists.
The concerns are two-fold, said Arizona State University bioethicist Jason Robert
If human cells enter the gonadal tissue of pigs, they could introduce profound genetic changes that would be passed on to future generations. And if human cells enter the pig’s brain tissue, there is the remote but very frightening prospect of “endowing the resulting creature with some kind of humanesque brain or cognitive capacity,” he said.
With both concerns in mind, the National Institutes of Health have placed strict limits on the creation of chimeric organisms involving human cells. (In recent months, NIH officials have proposed loosening some of those limits.)
The findings in Cell are somewhat reassuring on that front. Wu and Belmonte report that, at least at the early stage of fetal development they studied, human cells had not made their way into the pigs’ gonadal or brain tissue, although they were found in peripheral nervous system tissue
Robert suggested that future research might introduce human cells into the embryonic tissue of even higher-order animals, including primates. If so, the bioethical debates could be fierce.
But for now, he said, scientists and ethicists have time to wrestle with the issues raised by chimeric organisms. Though the accomplishment reported is dramatic, he said, it offers “a very technically competent illustration that we’ve got a long way to go” before truly chimeric creatures are a reality.[...]

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Trump is the front runner to be the biggest presidential liar in U.S. history

NY Times      As a businessman, Donald J. Trump was a serial fabulist whose biggest-best boasts about everything he touched routinely crumbled under the slightest scrutiny. As a candidate, Mr. Trump was a magical realist who made fantastical claims punctuated by his favorite verbal tic: “Believe me.”

Yet even jaded connoisseurs of Oval Office dissembling were astonished over the past week by the torrent of bogus claims that gushed from President Trump during his first days in office.

“We’ve never seen anything this bizarre in our lifetimes, where up is down and down is up and everything is in question and nothing is real,” said Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity and the author of “935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity,” a book about presidential deception.

It was not just Mr. Trump’s debunked claim about how many people attended his inauguration, or his insistence (contradicted by his own Twitter posts) that he had not feuded with the intelligence community, or his audacious and evidence-free claim that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote only because millions of people voted for her illegally.

All week long, news organizations chased down one Trump tall tale after another. PolitiFact, a website devoted to checking the veracity of claims by public officials, published 12 “of the most misleading claims” Mr. Trump made during his first White House interview. The Chicago Tribune found that Mr. Trump was incorrect when he claimed two people were shot and killed in Chicago the very hour President Barack Obama was there delivering his farewell address. (There were no shootings, police records showed.) The Philadelphia Inquirer found that Mr. Trump was incorrect when he said the city’s murder rate was “terribly increasing.” (The murder rate has steadily declined over the last decade.) The indefatigable fact checkers at The Washington Post cataloged 24 false or misleading statements made by the president during his first seven days in office.

But for students of Mr. Trump’s long business career, there was much about President Trump’s truth-mangling ways that was familiar: the mystifying false statements about seemingly trivial details, the rewriting of history to airbrush unwanted facts, the branding as liars those who point out his untruths, the deft conversion of demonstrably false claims into a semantic mush of unverifiable “beliefs.”

Mr. Trump’s falsehoods have long been viewed as a reflexive extension of his vanity, or as his method of compensating for deep-seated insecurities. But throughout his business career, Mr. Trump’s most noteworthy deceptions often did double duty, serving not just his ego but also important strategic goals. Mr. Trump’s habitually inflated claims about his wealth, for example, fed his self-proclaimed image of a business genius even as they attracted lucrative licensing deals built around the Trump brand.

Nearly 30 years ago, in his best-selling book “The Art of the Deal,” Mr. Trump memorably extolled the advantages of “truthful hyperbole,” which he described as “an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.” It is one thing when the hyperbole comes from a reality TV star exaggerating his ratings to a roomful of television critics. The stakes are infinitely higher when it comes from the leader of the free world, and this reality is provoking alarm from many across the political spectrum.[...]

“In a democratic government, there must be truth in order to hold elected officials accountable to their sovereign, which is the people,” Mr. Schmidt said. “All authoritarian societies are built on a foundation of lies and alternative facts, and what is true is what the leader believes, or what is best for the state.”

Mr. Lewis argued that the president’s untruths were a deliberate strategy to position the nation’s leading news organizations as the enemy of his administration. “Fact-checking becomes an act of war by the media,” he said.

Indeed, last Saturday, on Day 2 of his administration, Mr. Trump told hundreds of C.I.A. employees that he had “a running war with the media” and called journalists “among the most dishonest human beings on earth.” The next day, his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, accused the news media of trying to “delegitimize” the new president and promised, “We are not going to sit around and let it happen.” By Wednesday, Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief White House strategist, was referring to the news media as “the opposition party” during an interview with The New York Times.

“It feels like this was part of the plan all along,” Mr. Lewis said.[...]

PolitiFact, for example, has scrutinized 356 specific claims by Mr. Trump and found that more than two-thirds of the claims were “mostly false,” “false” or, in 62 cases, “Pants on Fire” false.

“Trump is a different kind of figure than we’ve ever seen before in our 10 years of fact-checking,” Bill Adair, the creator of PolitiFact and a journalism professor at Duke University, said in an interview. “No one has come close to Trump in the high percentage of falsehoods.” [...]

Friday, January 27, 2017

What makes people reject science - despite being exposed to the facts

A lot happened in 2016, but one of the biggest cultural shifts was the rise of fake news - where claims with no evidence behind them (e.g. the world is flat) get shared as fact alongside evidence-based, peer-reviewed findings (e.g. climate change is happening).

Researchers have coined this trend the 'anti-enlightenment movement', and there's been a lot of frustration and finger-pointing over who or what's to blame. But a team of psychologists has identified some of the key factors that can cause people to reject science - and it has nothing to do with how educated or intelligent they are.

In fact, the researchers found that people who reject scientific consensus on topics such as climate change, vaccine safety, and evolution are generally just as interested in science and as well-educated as the rest of us.

The issue is that when it comes to facts, people think more like lawyers than scientists, which means they 'cherry pick' the facts and studies that back up what they already believe to be true.

So if someone doesn't think humans are causing climate change, they will ignore the hundreds of studies that support that conclusion, but latch onto the one study they can find that casts doubt on this view. This is also known as cognitive bias.

"We find that people will take a flight from facts to protect all kinds of belief including their religious belief, their political beliefs, and even simple personal beliefs such as whether they are good at choosing a web browser," said one of the researchers, Troy Campbell from the University of Oregon.

"People treat facts as relevant more when the facts tend to support their opinions. When the facts are against their opinions, they don't necessarily deny the facts, but they say the facts are less relevant."

This conclusion was based on a series of new interviews, as well as a meta-analysis of the research that's been published on the topic, and was presented in a symposium called over the weekend as part of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual convention in San Antonio.

The goal was to figure out what's going wrong with science communication in 2017, and what we can do to fix it.

The research has yet to be published, so isn't conclusive, but the results suggest that simply focussing on the evidence and data isn't enough to change someone's mind about a particular topic, seeing as they'll most likely have their own 'facts' to fire back at you.

"Where there is conflict over societal risks - from climate change to nuclear-power safety to impacts of gun control laws, both sides invoke the mantel of science," said one of the team, Dan Kahan from Yale University.

Instead, the researchers recommend looking into the 'roots' of people's unwillingness to accept scientific consensus, and try to find common ground to introduce new ideas.

So where is this denial of science coming from? A big part of the problem, the researchers found, is that people associate scientific conclusions with political or social affiliations.

New research conducted by Kahan showed that people have actually always cherry picked facts when it comes to science - that's nothing new. But it hasn't been such a big problem in the past, because scientific conclusions were usually agreed on by political and cultural leaders, and promoted as being in the public's best interests.

Now, scientific facts are being wielded like weapons in a struggle for cultural supremacy, Kahan told Melissa Healy over at the LA Times, and the result is a "polluted science communication environment". [...]

Hornsey told the LA Times that the stakes are too high to continue to ignore the 'anti-enlightenment movement'.

"Anti-vaccination movements cost lives," said Hornsey. "Climate change skepticism slows the global response to the greatest social, economic and ecological threat of our time."

"We grew up in an era when it was just presumed that reason and evidence were the ways to understand important issues; not fear, vested interests, tradition or faith," he added.

"But the rise of climate skepticism and the anti-vaccination movement made us realise that these enlightenment values are under attack."

Trump's lies and inability to acknowledge widely agreed upon facts that don't flatter his ego- Why we should be concerned

Guest post by Yehoshua

Sorry for the speech, but...

Many here have poo-poo’d Trump’s habit of stating falsehoods with a claim along the lines of “all politicians lie.” I would like to explain why the issue is a qualitatively different one here than with past presidents.

Let us contrast Trump’s reaction to two different claims: One, that the Russians interfered in the election on his behalf, and two, that there was overwhelming voter fraud in the election. With regard to the first claim, there is a fair amount of evidence that it is true. The intelligence agencies all agree that Russia did interfere in the elections, with the hacking and release of the DNC emails, as well as in other ways. There does seem to be some level of disagreement as to what degree of confidence there is that the interference was specifically to get Trump elected, rather than just undermining public confidence in democracy in general. Yet, even with regard to the unanimously agreed-upon assessment that Russia did intervene, Trump repeatedly refused to accept it as true. He famously said, several times, that it could have been China, or, as he said on another occasion, “some 400 pound guy in his parents’ basement” (forgive me if the quote is not exact.

Concerning the voter fraud claims, there is, in short, absolutely no evidence that there was any large-scale fraud in the election of 2016. There was a Pew report from years past showing that there is a lack of modernization of the voter rolls, which lead to deceased people not being purged as soon as they should be, or people being registered in two different states (Trump’s daughter being one example of that). But there was no suggestion that those inefficiencies have led to actual voter fraud, and certainly not on the scale that Trump is suggesting. Elections in the U.S. are run on a local level. Even in a Democratic-leaning state such as California, many many counties have Republicans on the local election boards, who are the ones to administer the elections. Not one of them (as far as I know) has suggested that there has been significant voter fraud, certainly not one the scale of “millions of votes.”

So why would Trump refuse to believe the reports of Russian intervention despite the great deal of evidence to it being true, yet believe in the voter fraud l=claim, despite there being no evidence for it being true?

There is a concept in psychology called “motivated reasoning.” From Wikipedia: “The processes of motivated reasoning are a type of inferred justification strategy which is used to mitigate cognitive dissonance. When people form and cling to false beliefs despite overwhelming evidence, the phenomenon is labeled "motivated reasoning." In other words, "rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief, people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe.”

Trump seems to be subject to this fault as much as one can imagine.

Trump won the election. There is no question about that. Both campaigns ran their campaigns according to the rule that the Electoral College results are what matters. For Trump, this is not enough. He feels the need to believe that not only did he win, but that he is fabulously popular. Thus, his assertion that it was “a landslide,” when in fact, historically, it was a relatively close election. His need to believe that he is popular resulted in the ridiculous claims about how many people came to witness his inauguration, and that only through selectively changing the camera angles did the photos look like there had been more people there in 2009 (not true). Or that this was the first time that the grass was covered with a white covering, making it look emptier, (not true). Or that the Secret Service instituted new security measures, keeping people from attending (not true). Or that more people rode the Metro to downtown than in '09 and '13 (not true).

Presidents enter the office with certain beliefs. All do. It is inevitable that over the four years they serves, there will be times that the facts on the ground do not accord with their beliefs. When that happens, it is crucial that those surrounding the president inform him of the facts, and that the president be able to assimilate that information to change and act accordingly.

The first week of the Trump presidency has demonstrated that neither of those necessary elements are present here. Those who surround him are unable to convince him to stop claiming that there was widespread fraud in the election. This is despite his own lawyers stating as much in their briefs in the recount cases. His press secretary admits that he does not believe it, but that Trump believes what he wants to believe.

While the question of whose inaugural was better attended is a trivial one, and the ridiculous claims of voter fraud can be laughed off as well, the question is: What will happen when there is a similar challenge to Trump’s beliefs on issues of major importance? What if his rosy perspective on Russia is challenged by now aggression in Europe on the part of Putin? What if his economic team realizes that the tariff policy he wants to institute will lead to a recession? By all indications, it is difficult to believe that anything could change his views.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

How Trump's twisted mind justified the claim that 3-5 million illegal votes were cast for Clinton

update: Bernhard Langer says he saw no voting fraud and never talked to Trump

Gathered with the top leaders of Congress, President Trump on Monday apparently relayed the story in all seriousness: pro golfer Bernhard Langer had told him a story that really stuck with him.
ontinue reading the main story
As Mr. Trump relayed it, Mr. Langer had been in line to vote in Florida when he was told by an official that he could not cast a ballot. But people all around him who looked far more suspect — Mr. Trump tossed out the names of Latin American countries that the voters might have come from — were allowed to draw up provisional ballots.
There was a problem with the story: Mr. Langer is a German citizen.
Now Mr. Langer says he never talked to Mr. Trump, that he was told the story by a friend, then told the story to a friend who told it to someone with ties to the White House — who apparently told it to Mr. Trump. He certainly never tried to vote in Florida.

So, if the anecdote was important to Mr. Trump’s erroneous belief that millions of illegal immigrants gave Hillary Clinton her 2.8 million-ballot win in the popular vote, it was based on fourth-hand information.

On Monday, President Trump gathered House and Senate leaders in the State Dining Room for a get-to-know-you reception, served them tiny meatballs and pigs-in-a-blanket, and quickly launched into a story meant to illustrate what he believes to be rampant, unchecked voter fraud.

Mr. Trump kicked off the meeting, participants said, by retelling his debunked claim that he would have won the popular vote if not for the three million to five million ballots cast by “illegals.” He followed it up with a Twitter post early Wednesday calling for a major investigation into voter fraud.

When one of the Democrats protested, Mr. Trump said he was told a story by “the very famous golfer, Bernhard Langer,” whom he described as a friend, according to three staff members who were in the room for the meeting.

In the emerging Trump era, the story was a memorable example, for the legislators and the country, of how an off-the-cuff yarn — unverifiable and of confusing origin — became a prime policy mover for a president whose fact-gathering owes more to the oral tradition than the written word. [...]

The witnesses described the story this way: Mr. Langer, a 59-year-old native of Bavaria, Germany — a winner of the Masters twice and of more than 100 events on major professional golf tours around the world — was standing in line at a polling place near his home in Florida on Election Day, the president explained, when an official informed Mr. Langer he would not be able to vote.

Ahead of and behind Mr. Langer were voters who did not look as if they should be allowed to vote, Mr. Trump said, according to the staff members — but they were nonetheless permitted to cast provisional ballots. The president threw out the names of Latin American countries that the voters might have come from.

Mr. Langer, whom he described as a supporter, left feeling frustrated, according to a version of events later contradicted by a White House official.

The anecdote, the aides said, was greeted with silence, and Mr. Trump was prodded to change the subject by Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, and Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas.

Just one problem: Mr. Langer, who lives in Boca Raton, Fla., is a German citizen with permanent residence status in the United States who is, by law, barred from voting, according to Mr. Langer’s daughter Christina.

“He is a citizen of Germany,” she said, when reached on her father’s cellphone. “He is not a friend of President Trump’s, and I don’t know why he would talk about him.” [...]

The story, the aide added, had made a big impression on Mr. Trump.

Trump lies to support his previous lies: Trump’s absurd claim the 2012 Pew report researcher was ‘groveling’

The Pinocchio Test

It is remarkable that the president of the United States continues makes a false claim with no support, then finds a five-year-old report that doesn’t support his claim, then attacks the researcher of the study when confronted with the fact that the report does not support his false claim.

Trump says Becker was “groveling” when he claimed his 2012 Pew study did not find evidence of voter fraud. Yet since the report was first released, and in contemporaneous news coverage, it is clear that Becker has consistently said his research did not find evidence of voter fraud.

We have given many four–Pinocchio ratings to Trump and his staff for his talking point. We award four more Pinocchios.
“Then he’s groveling again. You know I always talk about the reporters that grovel when they want to write something that you want to hear but not necessarily millions of people want to hear or have to hear.”
— President Trump, interview with ABC News, Jan. 25, 2017

For the first time since taking office, President Trump addressed the 2012 Pew Center on the States report that he and his staff have repeatedly — and unsuccessfully — used to support his claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election.

Trump once again referred to a 2012 Pew report as evidence of widespread voter fraud. When David Muir of ABC News noted the study’s author said he found no evidence of voter fraud, Trump said: “Excuse me, then why did he write the report?”

Then Trump claimed the author was “groveling.” Really?

The Facts


David Becker, who directed the research for the Pew report, has said since the report’s release in February 2012 that there was no evidence of fraud from his findings.

The report, instead, found problems with inaccurate voter registrations, people who registered in more than one state (which could happen if the voter moves and registers in the new state without telling the former state) and deceased voters whose information was still on the voter rolls. Trump did reference these other findings correctly in the interview — but then claimed these findings are evidence of fraud.

In a February 2012 Q&A about the study’s findings, Becker specifically said researchers did not find evidence of voter fraud:

Q. Are these problems leading either to fraud or to efforts to keep eligible people from voting?
A. We have not seen evidence of that. These problems really are the result of an antiquated system — one that relies almost exclusively on 19th and 20th century technologies (paper and mail) to serve a 21st century, highly mobile society. About one in eight Americans moved during each of the 2008 and 2010 election years. Some Americans — including those serving in the military, young people and those living in communities affected by the economic downturn — are even more mobile.
One in four voters assumes that election officials or the U.S. Postal Service updates registrations automatically with each move, even though that is almost never the case, and about half of all voters don’t know they can update their registration at a motor vehicles office.
Election offices often are flooded with millions of paper registration applications from third-party voter registration drives right before Election Day, at a time when their resources are stretched the most.

Contemporaneous news coverage shows that Becker consistently said the research did not show evidence of fraud. Here are a few examples: [...]

In response to Trump’s comments on ABC News, Becker reiterated to The Fact Checker that the scope of his report did not address voter fraud.

“It’s all about the voter list. It was not about fraud at all,” Becker said.

Becker added that many improvements have been made since 2012 to make voter rolls more accurate and up-to-date.

“It’s a five-year-old report,” he said. “So many election officials from across the aisle and around the country have worked to leverage technology and data to make sure the voter lists are serving the voters. I don’t know that I would feel comfortable saying the estimates we reached in February of 2012 would be the same estimates that we would reach today, given the substantial improvements that have occurred in the last five years.”

The White House did not respond to our inquiry.