Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Pardoning Dinesh

Let me be up front about something.  I am no expert on politics.  Most of politics seems to me to be arguing about things that are either (1) so impossibly convoluted that a reasonable solution is practically impossible, like peace in the Middle East, or (2) so blitheringly obvious (to me, at least) that I can't fathom why it's an issue in the first place, like whether LGBT people should have the same rights as cis/hetero people.

Even through my admittedly inexpert eyes, though, this administration has reached levels of corruption, cronyism, graft, and dishonesty that it makes the Teapot Dome Scandal look like a bunch of grade-school posers.  And in the latest evidence of this, we found out yesterday that Donald Trump intends to grant a full presidential pardon to Dinesh D'Souza.

D'Souza, in case you don't know about him, is a conservative commentator who, to put it bluntly, appears to be off his rocker.  Here are a few of his claims to fame:
  • A vitriolic anti-Obama "documentary" called 2016: Obama's America, based on his 2010 book The Roots of Obama's Rage.
  • Another 2016 "documentary," Hillary's America, since he evidently wasn't sure which of them actually owned America.
  • A 2007 book in which he blamed "the cultural left" for 9/11.
  • An anti-feminist polemic in which he called feminism "a terrible and unjust devaluation of women who work at home."
  • A screed against same-sex marriage in which he stated, "Marriage does not civilize men.  Women do."  Whatever that means.
  • A bizarre claim, made in various debates and articles, that theoretical physics proves the existence of God and the reality of heaven.
  • A statement that the torture at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq in 2003 was caused by the "sexual immodesty of liberal America," but at the same time, the conditions the prisoners were experiencing were "comparable to the accommodations in mid-level Middle Eastern hotels."
  • Mocking comments about the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre. When their initial attempts to bring gun control legislation onto the floor of the Florida Senate was voted down, D'Souza sneered, "The worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs."
  • Statements that Rosa Parks was an "overrated Democrat," that slavery "wasn’t a racist institution" and "the American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well."
  • A statement that Hitler was "not anti-gay."
  • A statement that the Charlottesville white-supremacist rally was "a staged event to make the right look bad."
And so forth.  Suffice it to say that he has a screw loose.  But there's also the fact that he's a convicted felon, having pleaded guilty in 2014 to charges of campaign finance offenses, more specifically making a $20,000 contribution to the New York Senate campaign of his pal Wendy Long, and then lying about it.  He was sentenced to five years' probation and a $30,000 fine.

Except that now Donald Trump is pardoning him, saying he was "treated very unfairly by our government."

Now, hang on a moment.

D'Souza confessed.  He voluntarily pleaded guilty.  And he was given a sentence that was, honestly, pretty lightweight.  How is this being "treated very unfairly?"

Dinesh D'Souza [Image licensed under the Creative Commons Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America, Dinesh D'Souza (25266922259), CC BY-SA 2.0]

The fact is that D'Souza is a rabid right-winger and loves Trump, so Trump is rewarding him by clearing his record.  It has nothing to do with unfair treatment; it has everything to do with benefiting directly from kissing Trump's ass.

Yes, I know the president can pardon anyone he wants, so it was entirely within his prerogative to pardon D'Souza.  But it sends a message -- you can break laws to your heart's content, and as long as you're a faithful toady, you won't have to face consequences.  You think this won't change the geometry of the cases against Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen?

More than one person has said that Trump is stupid.  In terms of information about world issues, and even about issues within the United States, that appears to be true.  But in terms of pure cunning, and doing what it takes to consolidate and retain power, the man is a genius.  Dismissing him as a "fucking moron" (to quote ex-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson) is to underestimate the man dangerously.  And until we have a Congress that's willing to stand up to his L'état, c'est moi approach, there's not a damn thing we can do about it except for such dubiously useful responses as writing outraged blog posts and hoping that a few people will wake up.

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This week's recommended book is one that blew me away when I first read it, upon the urging of a student.  By groundbreaking neuroscientist David Eagleman, Incognito is a brilliant and often astonishing analysis of how our brains work.  In clear, lucid prose, Eagleman probes the innermost workings of our nervous systems -- and you'll learn not only how sophisticated it is, but how easy it can be to fool.






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