Sunday, December 13, 2020

The value of primary sources -- and of hearing both sides -- applied to the current political mess

My next entry in the Trinity series is scheduled to post at 10pm tonight. This post is more about current events, which I'll occasionally write about when it seems warranted or simply decent to do that. 

Anyone who is familiar with this blog will know that I have a strong, long-standing preference for primary sources. Why should I get information from a middleman if I can get information from the same place that they got it? I can skip the delay and the filter/bias risks that comes with a middleman. When I use secondary sources, it's typically for the purpose of identifying primary sources.

Likewise, anyone familiar with this blog will know that I have a strong, long-standing distrust of commercial news outlets, and not only because of their role as middleman. Is there any major commercial news outlet that has never promoted possibly-doubtful stories or hidden possibly-important stories by editorial choice? Beyond that, it often comes with a certain amount of emotional manipulation, or cultivating biases that will perpetuate themselves once established. My ideal news outlet would make a point to avoid biases, not cultivate them.

For those on the right, consider: How much have you heard about Trump's tax returns on any Team(R) news outlets? How about any potential financial complications about things he's done while in office? For those on the left, consider: Remember in October when all the Team(D) outlets were saying that the Biden family was not involved in any shady business deals, and in fact the whole story was Russian disinformation? Recently, since the election, there's been a quick reversal to acknowledge that at least one is in fact under federal investigation for shady business deals and has been for a long time. There are some news outlets that prey on their viewers' distrust of the other side to avoid accountability for what looks like intentional dishonesty with a political motive. For stories like these, I usually take a Schrodinger's-cat view unless I have a way to get to the underlying information (or unless one side reverses its story so that now everyone is in much closer agreement). What people believe generally falls under "The first to present his case seems right, until another comes forward with questions." The first person that someone hears is generally the side that treats them with respect rather than contempt. We are so polarized that we tend to miss that step where we hear the other side of the story. And I think it's not always intentional on the part of news consumers; it takes some serious intention to get the other side, and the result is often less clarity (if more empathy). 

With the current question about "Was there large-scale election fraud in 2020?" I made a firm decision basically from Day 1 that I would not to take the word of any news outlet, all resolutely partisan as they are. Instead I have studied charts and tracked what underlying data that I could; as time went by I read some court filings where claims are backed by sworn affidavits, and (more recently, as they become available) I have read hundreds of pages of affidavits as my primary sources. I've listened to some video statements of witnesses with direct knowledge. And as an IT professional, I have also spent some time analyzing the election results data that is publicly available for download, focusing on some specific cases where the data is more readily available and the nature of the claim is easier to fact-check.

So among the literally hundreds of pages of affidavits that I've read so far, some are more relevant than others. For the lower-impact ones, I want my time back. (I am not doubting that the person is making a true report, but not all the complaints are at the same level of relevance. The stack of affidavits could benefit from some culling.) For others, I found them an excellent sleep aid regardless of the hour when they were read. But to my surprise, among them I found a series of affidavits that were specific, well-documented, and on a scale that would clearly have affected the outcome in the affected states. For those affidavits that are well-documented, verifiable, and on a significant scale, I think it is a disservice to the public to bury the affidavits rather than respond to them. I think the general position has been that acknowledging the complaints and responding to them would leave a cloud over the election. After reading the statements (good and bad alike), I find that there are several where I believe that failing to respond will leave a cloud over the election, where the claims are so well-documented that they should be easily verifiable (or falsifiable). If they can be refuted, it would definitely be a public service to do so. If no response is made to specific, well-documented claims of that scale, it will inevitably leave doubt. 

The reader may notice that I have described the claims as "well-documented" and left aside the question of whether any given claim is "credible" because that is a subjective measure. All of the large-scale claims -- and there are several different ones -- are disturbing (subjectively). It would be tempting to dismiss them if they weren't well-documented.

Where does that leave me? Back to my touchstone: "The first to present his case seems right, until another comes forward with questions." I'm aware that the hundreds of pages of affidavits tell only one side of the story and so it is still possible that there might be answers, even if we have not yet heard them. Ethically, I see a procedural obligation to get those answers. It disturbs me that well-documented, sworn affidavits are getting the brush-off rather than a proper response. That reinforces certain groups in their perception that they will not be given a fair hearing, or accorded due process and equal protection. For the record, I believe the perception of equal protection is ultimately the problem that lost Hillary the election 4 years ago: her "deplorables" speech was hostile and callous toward a rather large group of American citizens and left many people reeling, firmly of the belief that they would not be accorded equal protection under the law if she were in charge. Four years later Hillary is not on the political stage much but her legacy lives on: many in the DNC have added "deplorables" to their talking points, and there was an uneasy amount of politically-motivated violence against "deplorables" even before the election. According to some public figures who are heavily involved in the lawsuits, one of the witnesses who came forward was physically attacked, seriously injured, and had to be hospitalized as a result; I don't have the primary source for that specific claim so I put it in the "Schrodinger" stack in my mind. That is not a situation that inspires confidence in the system. To restore my own confidence in the elections, I want to see answers to the well-documented affidavits that are of a scale that they would affect the outcome of the states in question. To restore my confidence in equal protection, I would need to see far deeper changes than those.

To end on a lighter note, I'd like to leave you with my thoughts as they stood before the election, my private assessment of the likelihood of fraud as I saw it at the time. My premise focuses on Antifa and its involvement in the coordinated riots in many of our large cities this year, which left me in no doubt that there was widespread coordination among anti-Trump groups who were willing to break the law. My thoughts ran: "If they can find hundreds of people willing to attack other human beings, if they can find thousands of people willing to destroy property, how many do you think would be willing to stuff a ballot box? There's probably a wait list." 

My basic position is: Check the facts. Hear the facts. Address the well-documented claims regardless of who is bringing them. Too many people have lost faith in the integrity of the elections, and mocking or ignoring well-documented affidavits actively makes the situation worse. Seriously, wherever there is an honest answer, it would be a public service to provide it. 

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