Tag Archives: Truth

‘1984’ sales soar after Trump claims, ‘alternative facts’

After incorrect or unprovable statements made by Republican President Donald Trump and some White House aides, one truth is undeniable: Sales of George Orwell’s 1984 are soaring.

First published in 1949, Orwell’s classic dystopian tale of a society in which facts are distorted and suppressed in a cloud of “newspeak” topped the best-seller list of Amazon.com as of Jan. 24.

The sales bump comes after the Trump administration’s assertions his inauguration had record attendance and his unfounded allegation that millions of illegal votes were cast against him last fall.

Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway coined an instant catchphrase when she called his claims about crowd size “alternative facts,” bringing comparisons on social media to 1984.

Orwell’s book isn’t the only cautionary tale on the Amazon list.

Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel about the election of an authoritarian president, It Can’t Happen Here, was at No. 46. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was at No. 71.

Sales also were up for Hannah Arendt’s seminal nonfiction analysis The Origins of Totalitarianism.

RESISTANCE: Scientists go rogue on Twitter in defiance of Trump

Employees from more than a dozen U.S. government agencies have established a network of unofficial “rogue” Twitter feeds in defiance of what they see as attempts by President Donald Trump to muzzle federal climate change research and other science.

Seizing on Trump’s favorite mode of discourse, scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA and other bureaus have privately launched Twitter accounts — borrowing names and logos of their agencies — to protest restrictions they view as censorship and provide unfettered platforms for information the new administration has curtailed.

“Can’t wait for President Trump to call us FAKE NEWS,” one anonymous National Park Service employee posted on the newly opened Twitter account @AltNatParkService.

“You can take our official twitter, but you’ll never take our free time!”

The @RogueNASA account displayed an introductory disclaimer describing it as “The unofficial ‘Resistance’ team of NASA. Not an official NASA account.”

It beckoned readers to follow its feed “for science and climate news and facts. REAL NEWS, REAL FACTS.”

The swift proliferation of such tweets by government rank-and-file followed internal directives several agencies involved in environmental issues have received since Trump’s inauguration requiring them to curb their dissemination of information to the public.

Last week, Interior Department staff were told to stop posting on Twitter after an employee re-tweeted posts about relatively low attendance at Trump’s swearing-in, and about how material on climate change and civil rights had disappeared from the official White House website.

Employees at the EPA and the departments of Interior, Agriculture and Health and Human Services have since confirmed seeing notices from the new administration either instructing them to remove web pages or limit how they communicate to the public, including through social media.

The restrictions have reinforced concerns that Trump, a climate change skeptic, is out to squelch federally backed research showing that emissions from fossil fuel combustion and other human activities are contributing to global warming.

The resistance movement gained steam on Tuesday when a series of climate change-related tweets were posted to the official Twitter account of Badlands National Park in South Dakota, administered under the Interior Department, but were soon deleted.

A Park Service official later said those tweets came from a former employee no longer authorized to use the official account and that the agency was being encouraged to use Twitter to post public safety and park information only, and to avoid national policy issues.

Within hours, unofficial “resistance” or “rogue” Twitter accounts began sprouting up, emblazoned with the government logos of the agencies where they worked, the list growing to at least 14 such sites by Wednesday afternoon.

An account dubbed @ungaggedEPA invited followers to visit its feeds of “ungagged news, links, tips and conversation that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is unable to tell you,” adding that it was “Not directly affiliated with @EPA.”

U.S. environmental employees were soon joined by similar “alternative” Twitter accounts originating from various science and health agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Weather Service.

Many of their messages carried Twitter hashtags #resist or #resistance.

An unofficial Badlands National Park account called @BadHombreNPS also emerged (a reference to one of Trump’s more memorable campaign remarks about Mexican immigrants) to post material that had been scrubbed from the official site earlier.

Because the Twitter feeds were set up and posted to anonymously as private accounts, they are beyond the control of the government.

(By Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Trump stands by baseless claim millions voted illegally, vows investigation

President Donald Trump stands by his belief that millions of people voted illegally in the U.S. election, the White House said, despite widespread evidence to the contrary.

“The president does believe that,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters.

On Jan. 25, his Twitter account said Trump is ordering a “major investigation” into voter fraud, specifically his belief that people voted in more than one state or “those who are illegal and … even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time).”

Officials in charge of the Nov. 8 election have said they found no evidence of widespread voter fraud and there is no history of it in U.S. elections.

Even House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the most senior Republican in Congress, said he has seen no evidence to back up Trump’s claims.

Trump won the Electoral College that decides the presidency and gives smaller states more clout in the outcome, but he lost the popular vote to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by about 2.9 million.

Trump has repeatedly said he would have won the popular vote, too, but for voter fraud. He has never substantiated his claim.

Also, Trump’s attorneys dismissed claims of voter fraud in a legal filing responding to Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s demand for a recount in Michigan last year. “On what basis does Stein seek to disenfranchise Michigan citizens? None really, save for speculation,” the attorneys wrote. “All available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.”

Secretaries of state across the country also have dismissed Trump’s voter fraud claims as baseless.

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said invented claims such as Trump’s are used to undermine the advancement and enforcement of voting rights laws.

“The White House is bashing immigrants, undermining voting rights, and playing to bigotry all at once,” Henderson said. “Sen. Jeff Sessions once made up fraud charges to wrongly prosecute voting rights activists and the White House appears to be using the same anti-civil rights playbook. Peddling these lies just drives this administration farther from reality and from the people it claims to govern.”

Henderson added, “This conspiracy theory raises serious doubts about whether our new president can be trusted on anything.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Timothy Ahmann; editing by Grant McCool)

Making a phenomenon: Netflix series shines spotlight on Steve Avery murder case

“Did he just reference the O.J. Simpson case?” the armchair juror asked, looking sideways at her co-juror, sunk deep into the couch after hours of binge-watching Making a Murderer, the Netflix series about Wisconsin’s prosecution of Steven Avery for a rape he did not commit and the murder of a woman for which he is serving a life sentence.

The 10-part series, a runaway hit that debuted on the streaming service in mid-December, has Netflix subscribers taking on the roles of juror and judge, prosecutor and defense attorney, cop and criminologist in the State of Wisconsin’s cases against Avery for the rape of a Manitowoc woman in 1985 and the murder of a Calumet County woman in 2005. Avery’s nephew, Brendan Dassey, also was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 2005 murder of 25-year-old freelance photographer Teresa Halbach at the Avery’s 40-acre property and salvage yard near Mishicot.

The reference to the Simpson case is apt because, like the televised proceedings in that trial, Making a Murderer leads the audience into deep, disturbing debates about guilt and innocence while questioning the integrity of the criminal justice system. Since the series launched, more than 250,000 people have signed petitions urging the president to pardon Avery and Dassey, which is not even an option in state cases.

The story may be new to Netflix’s audience, but Steven Avery’s trials and tribulations are familiar to Wisconsinites. He’s been known in the state as a small-time thief, a defendant, a convicted rapist, a prison inmate, an exoneree, a freed man, an advocate for the innocence project and, finally, as a convicted killer — as “evil incarnate.”

But now, once again, Avery is becoming known as the possible victim of a corrupt legal system, as a repeat non-offender. On Jan. 11, he filed a new appeal. He claims that prosecutors went after him to retaliate for the $36 million lawsuit he filed against Manitowoc officials.

The case recently settled for $400,000.

Avery, despite having alibi witnesses, was convicted of raping a woman jogging along Lake Michigan in Manitowoc in 1985. He served 18 years, exhausting many appeals, before his release from prison on Sept. 11, 2003, after the Wisconsin Innocence Project proved, using DNA testing, that another man committed the crime.

Avery’s wrongful conviction led Wisconsin lawmakers to champion new legislation meant to help the exonerated.

Still, Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, in an investigation of how Avery ended up in prison, did not find cause to bring criminal charges or ethics violations against the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department, which arrested Avery and ignored information that should have led to the arrest of the actual rapist, or against the Manitowoc District Attorney’s Office. In October 2004, Avery filed a federal suit for his wrongful conviction, seeking $36 million in compensation.

A year later, and shortly after several key players in the 1985 case were deposed in the lawsuit, Avery was arrested for the murder of Halbach. In her professional capacity, she had visited the Avery property on Halloween. Her burned remains were found behind Avery’s trailer. Her SUV was found in the Avery salvage yard. And the key to that vehicle eventually was found in Avery’s bedroom.

Months later, investigators obtained a confession from Dassey, 16 at the time, who said he participated in the rape and murder.

It was DNA evidence, which led to Avery’s exoneration in the 1985 crime, that sent Avery back to prison in the 2005 homicide.

Making a Murderer makes a compelling case that Avery was framed by at least two officers at the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department, who allegedly planted Avery’s blood and other evidence. The series also contends that Dassey was coerced and tricked into making the confessions he later recanted.

The filmmakers, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, say the 10-part series took nearly 10 years to complete and is solid.

Wisconsin authorities say the series is slanted. They warn that viewers are seeing just 10 hours of film about a story that spans 30 years. They point out that testimony in Avery’s murder trial lasted 19 days, with more than 50 witnesses taking the stand.

Manitowoc County Sheriff Robert Hermann, who said justice was served in the Avery murder case, called Making a Murderer “a film. It’s missing a lot of important pieces of evidence.”

But for many viewers, the evidence trail isn’t ending with the conclusion of the series. Old news stories and clips are recirculating on the Internet as fans-turned-investigators are creating reddit and wiki pages.

In the first week of January, the Manitowoc County Clerk of Courts office announced a flood of requests for transcripts, exhibits and other records that fill six banker boxes. One Australian woman requested copies of the entire Avery trial transcript, which cost her $6,000.

‘MAKING A MURDERER,’ MAKING A HIT …

WHAT DOES THE SERIES CLAIM?

The documentary strongly suggests the possibility that Manitowoc County sheriff’s deputies planted evidence against Steven Avery, including a key found in his bedroom and blood found in the vehicle of homicide victim Teresa Halbach.

 

WHAT ABOUT THE VICTIMS?

Teresa Halbach’s brother Mike declined comment since releasing a statement from the family before the documentary became public. “Having just passed the 10-year anniversary of the death of our daughter and sister, Teresa, we are saddened to learn that individuals and corporations continue to create entertainment and to seek profit from our loss,” the statement read. “We continue to hope that the story of Teresa’s life brings goodness to the world.” Other relatives have claimed the series is one-sided.

 

WHAT HAS THE REACTION BEEN LIKE?

It’s been all over the map. Celebrities have tweeted about how into the series they are, late night talk show host Seth Meyers spoofed it and fake Twitter accounts have been set up for some of the main players in the case. However, Manitowoc County sheriff’s officers have received threats in emails and voicemails.

Dan Auerbach, lead singer of the rock bands The Black Keys and The Arcs, posted a song on The Arcs’ website inspired by the documentary series. Proceeds from the sale of the song will go to the Innocence Project, a legal organization that uses DNA evidence to exonerate prisoners. The song, called “Lake Superior,” includes several lyrics that reference the case, such as: “Your alibi will never do when the whole town’s got it out for you.”

 

WHAT ABOUT AVERY?

Steven Avery filed an appeal to overturn his conviction on Jan. 11. His attorney is confident that the appeal will succeed based on new evidence.

 

 

— from AP and WiG reports

 

Law against political falsehoods sets high bar for prosecution

Dan Robinson is not claiming that a false statement made about him in a mailing to voters last fall cost him the election. But still, he thinks it was possibly a crime.

“This is why people lose faith in politicians and our system of government,” he says.

Robinson, a Democrat, handily lost his bid for an open state Assembly seat to fellow De Pere resident John Macco, a Republican. During the campaign the Jobs First Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group that backs Republican candidates, mailed out four “issue ad” fliers attacking Robinson.

All of these mailings contained statements Robinson considers obnoxious and unfair, like suggesting he favors sexual predators over kids. But the one flier he is most incensed about made a claim that is demonstrably false: “While Dan Robinson was hiking up your tax bill, he was giving himself and other politicians a raise.”

In fact, Robinson’s January 2013 vote as a member of the De Pere Common Council to raise salaries by 2 percent did not and could not benefit himself. Two weeks earlier he had filed a notification of non-candidacy for re-election. The modest pay hike goes into effect May 2015.

“You can’t outright lie to throw an election,” says Robinson, a longtime administrator at St. Norbert College. “If you do, there needs to be a penalty.” There is: State statute 12.05 provides for up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail for those who “knowingly make or publish” a false representation about a candidate to sway an election.

This law is occasionally enforced, as in a 2008 case against Republican Assembly candidate Dan Knodl for listing people who had not endorsed him as supporters. Knodl, who remains in office, said this was a mistake owing to carelessness. He pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of non-criminal disorderly conduct and paid a $250 fine.

In other cases, people making false political claims have faced criminal defamation charges. In a 2001 case, two people received short jail sentences for anonymous mailings that accused a village president, among other things, of involvement in lynchings. But a 2012 article in the Wisconsin Lawyer by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee journalism professor David Pritchard argued that these and other claims were so outlandish they likely deserved protection as parody.

To run afoul of the law, it seems, a statement made during a political campaign must be both apparently credible and knowingly untrue.

Robinson thinks the Jobs First Coalition mailing may meet this standard. He has asked Brown County District Attorney David Lasee to look into possible criminal charges. Lasee says he has not decided whether to pursue the case.

Bob Reddin, executive director of the Jobs First Coalition, says he first learned of the concern regarding Robinson’s vote when contacted for comment on this column. He agrees his group’s representation was inaccurate and should not have been made but avails himself of the parachute in the law, calling it an “inadvertent error.”

Robinson says Reddin’s explanation “doesn’t prove anything one way or the other” and still wants an investigation. “The person in charge of the group should have known whether or not I voted myself a raise,” he says. “If they’re going to engage in political discourse, they need to do their homework. The public deserves that.”

Candidate Macco proved it was possible to rip Robinson’s acts without misstating facts in a mailing that said his rival “voted to give pay raises to politicians” — not himself but politicians, that loathsome bunch. Macco did not respond to an invitation to comment on the Jobs First Coalition mailing.

Interestingly, Reddin is himself an elected official, a member of the Brookfield Common Council. In January 2008, he was among a council minority who voted for a failed attempt to raise alderpersons’ pay — which would have benefited himself. Reddin now calls this vote “short-sighted,” saying his position on the issue has evolved.

Good answer.

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org). The Center produces the project in partnership with MapLight. The Center collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.


Sacrificing common-sense for ideology

Gov. Scott Walker’s brazen attempt to delete “truth” and “public service” from the Wisconsin Idea tells us everything we need to know about Walker, his administration, the GOP Legislature, their fat cat donors and their own perverted ideas for Wisconsin.

Since his first state budget in 2011, Walker has targeted public education. Hundreds of millions have been cut from K-12 schools, technical colleges and the university system. This attack is part of a decades-long campaign to defund public education through budget cuts, tuition freezes and transfers of tax dollars to vouchers for private schools, many of them religious.

The $300-million cut to the UW system will damage lives and communities. Jobs will be lost. Classes will be canceled. Education will be disrupted and delayed. Good professors will leave the system. Research will be curtailed and business ideas and startups will be hampered. 

It used to be a no-brainer that investment in education pays off, especially in our competitive, globalized economy. But common sense is being sacrificed to an all-encompassing ideology of “starving the beast” — shrinking government “to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub” in the infamous words of right-wing strategist Grover Norquist.

Despite the dreams of free market purists, the public sector has been the most stable part of our economy. Dismantling it is accelerating the destruction of the middle class. Where will we be when government is rendered impotent and we are all forced to rely solely on the instabilities and chicanery of private industry?

Other Walker proposals show clearly where we’re headed. His budget cuts 18.4 scientific positions from the Department of Natural Resources. These are the scientists who conduct the vital field research used to shape Wisconsin’s environmental, land and wildlife management policies. 

Science in the public interest be damned! The age of de-regulation has arrived. Let the land grabs and abuse of our environment commence!

Meanwhile, Ashley Furniture, which faces millions in federal fines for workplace safety violations, is poised to get $6.7 million in tax credits from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. WEDC, a public-private hybrid that replaced the state Commerce Department, is supposed to create new jobs in Wisconsin. But audits reveal that WEDC does not account for the millions it disburses to private companies and fails to record the number of jobs created.

Ashley, responsible for more than 1,000 work-related injuries — over 1,000! — at its plant in Trempealeau County, is getting a real sweetheart deal. For the $6.7 million in corporate welfare, it doesn’t even have to create any new jobs.

All of this gives credence to the idea that corporate tycoons, aided by their political and media hit men, are destroying public oversight and education to consolidate wealth and property and to create a more compliant population that will shut up and take orders. 

It is encouraging that some business owners joined with academics and students to protest Walker’s cuts to the UW system. Yet, I wonder where all these people were during the 2014 election. It was pretty obvious then what radical moves the governor was committed to taking.

I guess the threat doesn’t seem real until it’s you and your livelihood or education being attacked. We need to start feeling greater solidarity with others and asserting ourselves through political action if we are to stop what amounts to a corporate coup in our formerly progressive state.

Cher to perform from new album at NYC Pride’s Dance on the Pier

Last night, Cher performed “Woman’s World,” the first single from her upcoming album “Truth,” on the television competition program “The Voice.”

On June 30, Cher will cap off LGBT Pride Month by performing the song again when she headlines NYC Pride’s annual Dance on the Pier.

“NYC Pride is thrilled to welcome Cher to the stage of this year’s Dance on the Pier! Her performance will be one of the most memorable in the history of this world-class party,” said Chris Frederick, managing director of NYC Pride, in an email statement. “Now in its 27th year, the Dance on the Pier continues a proud tradition of partnering with all-star talent to create a high-quality event that raises funds to support local LGBT non-profits and New York City’s annual Pride festivities.”

“Truth” is Cher’s first album of all-new material since “Living Proof” in 2002. It features collaborations with Lady Gaga and Pink.