Alternative facts and transparency

Would you believe that I am a 25 year old self-made millionaire and spend my life travelling around the world — only if I can fly in an Etihad A380 equipped with “The Residence” three room suite (only plebs travel First Class apparently!). I also have bankers beating a path to my door to lend me money for my latest development proposal — after all anything I touch turns to a platinum - plated investment opportunity. 

You’re right, the statements above are overblown and you could make the claim they are alternative facts (aka completely made up fantasies). The bio listed here is far more accurate, although the alternative facts I have presented sound far more appealing than getting on the bus most mornings to go to work. Rest assured that if I need to borrow money from a bank, I am the one approaching them, cap in hand and demonstrating that they have a better than equal chance of getting their money back one day. For some funny reason, banks seem to want you to prove that you are who you are and, more importantly, have the capacity to repay your debts. In case you’re interested, my credit card limit precludes me from even dreaming about Etihad’s ‘The Residence’ class travel.

Kellyanne Conway must live in that rarefied space where banks don’t look for evidence of a capacity to repay, airlines happily allow you to travel ‘at the pointy end’ and the facts are variable dependent on the message you want to give, regardless of the consequences. Conway is the ‘councillor’ to President Trump who defended some overblown claims by Trump’s Press Secretary (Sean Spicer) by commenting that Spicer’s defence of the claim that more people attended the Trump inauguration than anyone else’s were merely ‘alternative facts’.

If it wasn’t so serious, it would be funny. Spicer was clearly wrong as the photos of Obama’s 2009 inauguration (above, on the left) and Trump’s 2017 version (on the right) demonstrate. As NBC (America) reported:
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer gathered the press to deliver a five-minute statement Saturday in which he issued multiple falsehoods, declaring erroneously the number of people who used the D.C. metro on Friday, that there was a change in security measures this year and that "this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe."

"These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong," Spicer said Saturday.

Asked on "Meet the Press" why Spicer used his first appearance before the press to dispute a minimal issue like the inauguration crowd size, and why he used falsehoods to do so, Conway pushed back.

"You're saying it's a falsehood and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that," she told NBC's Chuck Todd.

She then went on to echo Spicer's claim on Saturday that it wasn't possible to count the crowd, despite Trump's team's accompanying insistence that it was the "largest audience".
The problem is, as reported by NBC:
Conway also suggested that Todd's insistence on asking why Spicer delivered a demonstrably false statement could affect the White House's treatment of the media.

"If we're going to keep referring to the press secretary in those types of terms I think we're going to have to rethink our relationship here," she said.
Trump’s ‘counsellor’, Conway, is suggesting that if an NBC reporter doesn’t ‘toe the line’ and report what he is told to report, NBC may have difficulties in gaining access to the US President’s press conferences. It might be that limited or no access is actually a good thing as it would demonstrate that at least one US based news organisation didn’t (wasn’t permitted to) drink the same Kool-Aid as the rest of the press pack that surrounds Washington DC.

It’s probably a bit hard to ‘toe the line’ when a week later, Conway cited the ‘Bowling Green massacre’ when defending Trump’s 90 day ban on any immigration from certain middle eastern countries.

There was no massacre in Bowling Green USA:
Conway was referring to the case of two Iraqi citizens living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, who were arrested in 2011 and later convicted of attempting to send weapons, explosives and money to al Qaeda in Iraq for the purpose of killing American soldiers.

"Neither person is charged with plotting any attacks on American soil," David Hale, then U.S. attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, said at the time. "These charges relate to activities that occurred when they were in Iraq, first of all. Secondly, they relate to conspiracy to aid al Qaeda in Iraq."

The men, Mohanad Shareef Hammadi and Waad Ramadan Alwan, admitted to using explosive devices against U.S. soldiers in Iraq in the past, but there were no deaths connected to the plot they were involved in while living in Bowling Green.
When the (in this case inconvenient) truth was pointed out to Conway, she claimed that she was referring to the ‘Bowling Green terrorists’, and that Obama had also tightened immigration requirements for people coming from Iraq and what Trump was doing was no different.

Not only was the ban ‘stayed’ by a (US) federal judge in Seattle, as the judge agreed with the argument that the ban was unconstitutional, the ban does not affect all middle eastern countries. It’s entirely co-incidental of course that the ban doesn’t include countries where Trump has business interests. This is in spite of Saudi Arabian and Egyptian nationals being almost entirely responsible for the 9/11 attack in the US — which caused the death of over 3000 people.

Of course we don’t know for sure that Trump personally still has business dealings with Saudi Arabia and Egypt as he has yet to release his financial affairs — which is ironic as he was one of those screaming for the release of Obama’s birth certificate claiming that, as Obama was born outside the USA, he could not be President. (Obama was born in Hawaii.) Others however have gone into Trump’s business empire with some rigour. Published on The Guardian’s website, Aryeh Neier comments:
In identifying Muslim-majority countries from which refugees and visas will be blocked because of concerns about terrorism, Trump left out Saudi Arabia. Yet most of those who hijacked airliners to attack New York and Washington DC on 9/11, the deadliest terrorist episode in history, were Saudis.

Does Trump shy away from offending Saudi Arabia because he has business dealings with wealthy Saudis? Or because he expects them to curry favor by patronizing his new hotel in Washington? We don’t know. By refusing to release his tax returns and by refusing to divest himself of his businesses, he raises such questions.

Another country left off the list is Egypt. Yet the leader of the 9/11 hijackers was Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian. Was Egypt omitted because Trump is developing a warm relationship with the country’s brutal dictator, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi? Again, we don’t know
Trump has domestic problems as well with his less than transparent business dealings where Trump is the ultimate owner of a number of buildings and facilities that have leases in place with the US government. For a start, one of Trump’s companies has a lease over an old building owned by the US Post Office. His company has turned it into an expensive hotel. The property lease has a clause that specifically prohibits any ‘elected official of the government of the United States’ from holding ‘any share of part of this Lease’. While Trump has nominally handed his business interests over to his family to run, Trump can revoke the trust, which was amended three days before his inauguration, at any time according to The Guardian.

While the embellishments of the Trump Presidency in Washington DC really are not that important in Australia, there are some similarities with Australian politicians. The most notable of this ‘select’ group is former Prime Minister Abbott who led an opposition and government that promised $100 lamb roasts should the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme come into effect; a faster and more affordable NBN which clearly isn’t the case — fibre to the premises as originally promised by the ALP can cope with 100mbps or better — and a mature and stable federal government.

After refusing to discuss his donations to the Liberal Party prior to the 2016 election, Malcolm Turnbull (or President Trumbull if you believe the Trump administration) finally revealed that he donated a staggering $1.75million in the current financial year which means that his largesse did not have to be reported until sometime in 2018. Given the most recent election was on July 2, 2016, Turnbull must have made the donation on election eve or soon after the election to help pay his party’s election debts. Given that $1.75 million is a sum of money of far larger value than the majority of the Australian population will ever be in a position to give away, you would have to wonder about the state of the Liberal Party’s balance sheet and what influence the donation gets Turnbull over the workings of the Liberal Party and by association the Australian government.

Not that the Liberals are the only ones that construct alternative facts and hide relevant information. Pauline Hanson, who bills her ‘One Nation’ party as the party of non-politicians, was first elected to a political office as a councillor for the City of Ipswich in Queensland in 1994. She entered federal parliament in 1996. Twenty-one years later, Hanson is in parliament again after failing to be elected on a number of occasions over the past two decades. Nearly a quarter of a century in most professions would suggest that you are making a living from the profession. The only real change to Hanson’s divisiveness and negativity is that the Asians who were going to ‘swamp Australia’ in 1996 were replaced by Africans in 2006 and by 2016 they too had been replaced by the Muslims, still going to ‘swamp Australia’. Of course, Hanson has never had to actually demonstrate how she would implement her policies.

Trump is innately conservative and obviously has people around him who believe they can say anything and get away with it. He also seems to have a lack of understanding about the need for transparency and compliance with rules that have been developed to protect both the elected leaders of the USA and the people of the USA. Abbott, Turnbull and Hanson clearly believe in similar theories, as some of their actions demonstrate.

The issue for all of us is that people like this selling of simple naive political concepts, that translate well to media, diminish the standard and quality of political discourse for all of us — as it seems the only way to get the attention of those listening to the populism is to disappear down the same rabbit hole. So instead of having a rational debate over something as critical as efforts to mitigate climate change, we were treated to the then alternative prime minister of this country, Tony Abbott, running around the countryside in a hi-viz vest shouting no new taxes. While he did eliminate that particular ‘tax’ once he convinced some of the Senate crossbenchers to support the move (which took some time), he increased and implemented other taxes. Our current political leader is supporting a failed process that is scamming those in our community who have accessed social security benefits while supporting reductions in taxes paid by business.

Australia thankfully is not the USA. Australia can do better than a political leader who clearly doesn’t see a problem in being xenophobic, economical with the truth while brooking no discussion on issues that are relevant. How about we ask our politicians to treat us as adults and have a discussion, rather than repeat populist claptrap?

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How many umbrellas are there if I start with two and take 2 away?