2017/04/29

Fake News and the sites I use


I posted a link to a Daily Kos piece that praised the NY Times for doing a really good job with a piece that examined Syria’s actions in the chemical attack that President Trump felt obliged to respond to with an attack by 59 drones. Then, I posted a piece from Crooks and Liars that took the NY Times to task as the paper was now supporting a climate change denier. A commenter said: “The NY Times does not promote climate denial.“ and “Do not believe everything you read, especially if the source is a sleazy tabloid like this one.”
I read the piece that C&L criticized and am unimpressed. The author starts off by suggesting that the Hillary Clinton campaign somehow misread or didn’t fully grasp the poll numbers and so was blindsided by the 2016 election results.
But that’s not true. Clinton was maintaining a small, but steady lead over Trump. Trump was trying very hard, but couldn’t bridge that gap. The real problem was that FBI Director Comey came out of the blue with supposedly new emails that he hadn’t yet examined himself. That threw a giant monkey wrench into the campaign and pushed Trump over the top.
From there our author goes on to call into question the authority of climate science and suggests that we should be much more cautious about claims that sound too certain.
My own view on certainty is that if you feel someone is wrong, it’s up to you to show where and how the person is wrong. If you’re simply saying “don’t be too certain,” then you’re just trying to create doubt and confusion and yes, you count as a denier. And yes, back in late 2002, early 2003, the NY Times ran some editorials that were skeptical of the Iraq War, but they also published Judith Miller’s “OMG! Saddam Hussein’s got WMDs!!!” stories on their front pages. So yes, on balance, their promotion of the Judith Miller pieces outweighed their cautious editorials and they promoted the war.

Okay, so how do we properly judge news sources? I regularly check a number of sources that have weird names, Balloon Juice, Hullabaloo, Informed Comment and Talking Points Memo. I once told a right-winger that some information I was presenting came from the magazine called Mother Jones. He thought that was a stupid name and so therefore, my information must not have been any good.
If we say that we can’t tell how good or bad the reporting on a blog is by the name of the blog, in other words, if a quickie, surface examination is insufficient, how are we to tell how reliable a source is?
One major criteria of mine is whether the blog gives you a way to verify what they say. If the blog regularly provides links to their sources and quotes their sources accurately, that’s a very good start. If the blog sometimes just quotes the terribly provocative thing that was said without even bothering to add editorial comments, even better. Media Matters is especially good on this. They’ll frequently just allow the provocative comment to stand by itself without any further editorial comments from them.
Modest editorial language is a plus, but sometimes the provocation really calls for some serious cussing. If a blog generally shows restraint, but occasionally lets loose (Balloon Juice does this) with Not Safe For Work (NSFW) language, then that’s a pretty good sign their information is reliable.
And of course, there’s the matter of track record. Dean Baker was an economist that I became familiar with in the late 1990s. He decided in 2002 that the US had a housing bubble (the bubble had actually started in the late 1990s, it took Baker a while to figure it out). The NY Times columnist Paul Krugman agreed with him. These two became rather tiresome with their constant warnings that when the bubble burst, it was going to be awful. Well, sure enough. It burst in late 2007 and the result was indeed awful. So yeah, I give these two lots and lots of credibility.

There’s no such thing as a source that’s always right. So developing a list of reliable sources is a waste of time. Even the lefty sources that I like and regularly check can be wrong. There are many tests that one can apply to news stories to see whether they’re credible or not. The NY Times is often right, but they can be wrong as well and we can run tests to see whether they’re right or not. I’ve mentioned a few such tests. I’m sure that I regularly apply a few others that I can’t recall at the moment.

2017/02/17

Suggestion that we intervene in Syria against ISIS



My major problem with it is of course that it would be an utter quagmire as the US has no natural allies in Syria, except perhaps the Kurds and they’re only in the Northern part of that country. We’d get bogged down again even worse than we were in Iraq. But, an even worse problem is that the Daesh/ISIS problem is largely solved anyway.

Let’s put this in terms of World War II analogies. Everyone knows about the battles of Stalingrad (Nazi Wehrmacht vs the Soviet Union), Midway (Imperial Japanese Navy vs the US) and El Alamein (The Nazi Afrika Corps against the British), where the German/Japanese advances were stopped. Then there were three battles where the Axis powers might possibly have been able to stop the Allies and reversed the course of the war, but didn’t and victory for the Allies was never really in doubt afterwards. These were Kursk (In the Soviet Union), Guadalcanal (In the Pacific) and the Normandy Landings (France).

The situation with Daesh right now is comfortable after the Kursk/Guadalcanal/Normandy stage. Daesh has lost a great deal of land and people. They’re hanging onto a part of the city of Mosul, the Western part, but they’ve lost much else of their Iraqi territory. There’s even talk of their leaving Raqqa, their capitol in Syria.

Are there further battles the US may wish to fight in the region?

The main conflict in Syria’s civil war pits President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, Iran and Shi’ite militias, against an array of rebel groups aiming to oust him, including some that have been backed by the United States, Turkey and Gulf monarchies.

This is a battle the the US really doesn’t want to get into, even though we’re obviously involved to some degree anyway. It’s really not clear that we wouldn’t be better off by simply abandoning the region. The main thing keeping us there is the oil supplied by the Gulf monarchies and global warming/climate change is a strong motivation to get ourselves off of fossil fuels anyway. The Saudi Arabians see the writing on the wall and have determined to get themselves out of the oil-supplying business during the 2020s.

No, we don’t need to send troops into the Mideast. We don’t need to throw US troops into a war against Daesh that Daesh has largely lost anyway and we really don’t want to “gin up” a conflict against Russian/Iranian forces.

2016/07/26

My LTE to the WaPo

So the Washington Post (WaPo) published "Appeals court says Texas voter-ID law discriminates against minorities." The Philadelphia Inquirer changed the title a bit to "U.S. court orders fixes in Texas voter-ID law." I wrote a Letter To The Editor (LTE) in response, sent it to the Inky and decided that as the piece originally came from the WaPo, I'd send my LTE to them, too. To my surprise, the WaPo go back to me, saying they wanted to publish it. They wanted an assurance though, that the LTE wouldn't be copied to anyone else. I said sure and sent an email off to the Inky, asking them to confirm they weren't going to print it. To my further surprise, they requested to be able to print it! I regretfully told them no. So the WaPo told me that it would be printed in their Sunday (July 24th) edition.
Problem: The LTE is not online. The Horsham Library doesn't carry the WaPo, neither does the Norristown Library. I checked with Temple University and they used to carry it, but not anymore. The Reference Librarian checked more thoroughly than I had, but he couldn't find it online, either. The Abington Library carries the WaPo, but they only have the 17th as of the 26th.
So, I guess it'll be available in Abington next week. When I copy the full wording to my blog, I'll re-run this post. 

2016/06/07

Democrats vs Republicans, any real difference?

Okay, so I was challenged to come up with a list of differences between the two major parties so as to prove they’re not just one party with two names. Here’s the opposing list of where there’s not much difference between the parties:

War

Brutal sanctions preceded the Iraq War, but Democrats left the actual military invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan up to Bush. Yes, Obama reinforced the Iraq War and then carried out the Bush plan to pull out by the end of 2011. In contrast to Republican charges that came out after Daesh (ISIS) appeared, the Obama Administration tried very hard to remain in Iraq longer, but neither the Iraqi nor the American public wanted any such thing to take place. 

the Democrats' support for NAFTA, TPP
Formally and officially, Hillary Clinton opposes TPP, but a major criticism of NAFTA was that labor and environmental groups were heard from as an after-thought. If Clinton had truly learned from NAFTA criticism, those groups would have been in on the ground floor for TPP.
 
bank deregulation

True, but Dodd-Frank has had a modest effect on restraining “too big to fail” financial institutions. Not a major effect and not right away, but “what is clear is that Dodd-Frank sent notice to banks and other financial institutions that they couldn’t continue with as little scrutiny and oversight as they had in the past.”

welfare "reform"

Yes, a very bad move on Bill Clinton’s part.

social security "reform"

Bill Clinton was planning on major “reform” but thanks to Monica Lewinsky, he wasn’t able to. The Simpson-Bowles “Cat Food Commission” certainly tried to “reform” SS, but Rep. Paul Ryan thought it wasn’t destructive enough and Rep. Jan Schakowsky thought it went too far, so there was no consensus report, just the recommendations of Simpson and Bowles to gut SS. So not really sure what’s meant by that.

NSA spying

Yep, definitely a bipartisan thing.

corporate welfare for the insurance industry - aka Obamacare (originally a right wing thinktank policy first implemented in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney)
Actually, many people have interpreted that as a clever move by Obama. By going as far to the right as was possible and still having a workable system, that left the Republicans with nothing to recommend in its place. The new Governor of Kentucky ran on dismantling the ACA/Obamacare, but found that he had no way to do so without throwing 300,000 citizens off of their health plans and thereby directly causing 300,000 people to become loyal, committed Democrats, so he backed off on that.
Also, the Democrats did have a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, but they had to keep right-wingers like Senator Joe Lieberman and others aboard, so the set-up had to be kept modest. We can’t blame the right-wing Democrats entirely. there’s evidence Obama wanted to blame Lieberman for his dropping the public option and that Lieberman agreed to be the scapegoat, but that Obama was really the one that wanted to drop it. 

bailing out the banks in 2009 but not Main Street

Yeah, Obama wasn’t in office yet, but he signed off on that.

refusal to fight for serious campaign finance reform
Another bipartisan thing.

refusal to tax the rich
Obama raised taxes on the wealthy a bit, but yeah, we could return to the Kennedy-era 70% rate without damaging the economy at all.
 
or cut the military budget
I’m personally disappointed Star Wars/SDI/Missile Defense is still being researched. Complete boondoggle. The A-10 “Warthog” attack plane simply doesn’t need replacing. Nor does the B-52, for that matter. Both planes are extremely well-designed for their function. The F-35 is another complete boondoggle that’s good for putting money into defense contractor pockets  and not much else. From 2011 to 2014, that is, from the pull-out from Iraq to the appearance of Daesh, US military spending went down a few hundred billion (it went back up again), but yes, way too much being spent.
 
refusal to prosecute makers of illegal wars and torture
Again, yup. Obama made a deliberate decision not to prosecute.

So what can we list as being real differences between the two parties?

Legislation. Enacted laws went from 460 during the last term under G.W. Bush, to 385 under a period of Democratic control of both the House and Senate, but also when Republicans got more and more filibuster-happy. Was at 284 and 296, then crashed to 165 (so far as of June 2016) when the GOP took over the Senate. Speaker Paul Ryan, formerly the Republican Budget Director, can’t seem to pass a Budget Resolution that’s, by the way, required by law. There’s no filibuster in the House and Republicans have a solid majority, so Democrats get zero blame for that. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell regards a Trade Promotion Authority bill (One of those bipartisan things listed above) and a bill concerning the Obama Administration deal with Iran as his two biggest accomplishments of the current Senate. Not really sure what the latter bill did as it would have canceled the deal with enough votes, but they didn’t get those votes and it’s not at all clear that the critics of the deal got anything else out of the bill. 

Republicans just don’t seem to like passing legislation as much as Democrats do.

Zika. After sitting around for two months and essentially twiddling their thumbs, the House finally decided to take money out of the response to Ebola and put it into Zika. Problem is, the fight against Ebola isn’t over. Neither Congress nor the Senate has voted on a bill that gives the Administration the full amount it’s requesting. And Congress left town in late May without doing anything to fix the problem. “Dozens of Democrats staged a media event on the steps of Capitol to decry the Republicans who control the House and Senate for leaving for the week-long break with what Democrats argued was so much unfinished business.”  How serious is Zika? Very!

Republicans just don’t seem to like fixing problems.

Abortion. One of the effects of Zika is that it affects babies in the womb, causing them to be born with microcephaly. That is, their brain is much smaller than normal because it hasn’t developed properly. One would think that, being allegedly very, very deeply concerned about babies in the womb, that anti-choicers would be all over this issue. They aren’t. Problem is, Zika and the called-for response contradicts the anti-choicer crusade against Planned Parenthood that was kicked off by a series of highly edited, misleading videotapes released by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). Studying fetal tissue could help combat the effects of Zika, but the issue of women who have abortions and then donating fetal tissue is what’s at the heart of the CMP videos. A fourth federal committee was established (a dozen states had already investigated Planned Parenthood and exonerated them in every case) to further investigate Planned Parenthood to “find the truth.” As of June 2016, the committee has turned up zip. 

Conducting ideological crusades appears to take priority over solving real-world problems.

Holding up nominations. The Supreme Court nominee blockade, the blocking of any person nominated by the current president to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia is utterly and absolutely unprecedented in American history. Just as an example of the grossly excessive blocking of legitimate nominations, Senator “Tehran” Tom Cotton put a block on “Obama's ambassadorial nominations in order to pressure him to do something about the leaks coming out of the Secret Service. Eventually, that issue was resolved, and Cotton lifted all of the holds except [Cassandra] Butts'. When she met with him to ask why the hold remained on her nomination, Cotton told her "that he knew that she was a close friend of Obama’s — the two first encountered each other on a line for financial-aid forms at Harvard Law School, where they were classmates — and that blocking her was a way to inflict special pain on the president."

Shorter Senator Cotton: “I’m holding up a legitimate appointee because, fuck you, that’s why!”

Priorities.  Senate Majority Leader McConnell was asked about Donald Trump’s racist attack on a judge and responded “I think the Party of Lincoln wants to win the White House.” In other words, yeah, yeah, attacking a judge strictly for his ethnicity is, y’know, maybe not so great, but hey, winning is all that matters!

Winning is more important than maintaining basic decency.


No, I’m sorry, the two parties are not as different as I’d like them to be, but they are indeed different. It does make a difference whether you vote or whether you blow off the voting booth. It does make a difference whether you vote for the Democrats or for a third party.

2016/04/23

How's the political opposition doing these days?

What John Kasich reveals here is where his head is at. He's asked about voting rights, a subject one would think would call forth an American, inclusive response that everyone could get behind. Instead, he shows us, just as Senate Majority Leader McConnelll did a few weeks back*, that he's thinking entirely in narrow, partisan terms. He wants less voting because if there was more voting, those extra votes might go to Democrats.

*Asked about the Senate perhaps becoming, y'know, er, productive, the Majority Leader responded thusly:

As proof of the Republican Congress’ “incredible” productivity, McConnell quickly pointed to the Keystone XL pipeline, which was vetoed by President Obama. The Senate Majority Leader immediately added, “We put the repeal of Obamacare on his desk. We put defund Planned Parenthood on his desk*.” Neither became law.

In other words, McConnell was asked about how inclusive and bipartisan his Senate was being and he responded by talking about efforts that were designed to stick it to the President and the Democrats and to raise the middle finger of Senate Republicans to them. Is there any hope for the two sides to get along and for both of them to focus upon the needs of the American people? Sure, but not with the current mind-set that prevails on that side of the aisle these days.

So how's the other Republican-run branch of the US Government, the House of Representatves, doing? Yeesh!

"I think I do it better," the House speaker told CNN during an interview this week, adding that his leadership style is different than his predecessor, whose resignation last year shocked Washington. "Not to knock John [Boehner], but I spend more time with all of our members on a continual basis."

[...]
Republicans say the speaker’s agenda project — the product of several task forces and dozens of meetings among rank-and-file House members — will provide specifics, and perhaps even draft legislation, on key issues of importance to conservatives, including health care, taxes and national security.

Ri-i-i-ight! Well, Ryan sure makes it sound as though the House were a beehive of activity with people accomplishing great things left and right. How does the reality look? Well, there's the rather important fact that Ryan couldn't make the mandated budget deadline of April 15th. Ryan should have produced a detailed budget document by that date and that document is nowhere in sight because of deep disagreements between those who wish to carry out the agreement that Boehner arranged before he left the Speaker's office and those who wish to make even deeper spending cuts than anybody outside the Freedom Caucus has signed onto.

Boehner managed to make the budget deadline every year he wa Speaker and remembe, Ryan used to be the Chairman of the House Budget Committee. So much for all that “I spend more time with all of our members” guff. What good does it do to spend more time with members if you can't get your most basic, fundamental job done? As the saying goes: “You had one job...”

As for getting out a health care alternatve to Obamacare, “Why, that’s something the Republicans have been working on so long that … exactly no one is still waiting for them to provide a solution.”

But hey, we can still provide imaginary solutions to problems that we've already made rat progress on! Ryan tells us: “College and heath care keep getting more expensive. ISIS continues to spread.” As far as I know, college costs continue to rise, but the cost of health care? Politifact points out that “On average, premiums have risen by about 5.8 percent a year since Obama took office, compared to 13.2 percent in the nine years before Obama.” So actually, there has been a substantial slowdown in the rise of health care costs. How are we doing on Daesh (ISIS)? Daesh is not doing as well as they'd have everyone believe.

Even in Syria and Iraq, Daesh holds territory only because the states have collapsed. I remember people would do this with al-Qaeda, saying it had branches in 64 countries. But for the most part it was 4 guys in each of those countries. This kind of octopus imagery is taken advantage of by Daesh to make itself seem important, but we shouldn’t fall for it.

No, Daesh does not have an air force or a navy and just about every target that is identified as important to Daesh gets bombed (In January, the US located ther Treasury building and bombed it, leaving their soldiers in a tough spot for a while), so it's not the succesor to Nazi Germany and will never have the capacity to become a world power.


So, not surprisinly, Speaker Ryan, who used to be regarded as a golden boy wonk who could do no wrong, is taking some really serious hits to his image. 

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Other items: Back in the old days, people could rely on the magazine Foreign Affairs because it was rigorously fact-checked. Unfortinatey, that's not the case anymore. Their latest piece on global warming is complete mess. To survive past the year 2100, we don't need to come up with awesome new inventions, we need to deploy what we have. We need to be constructing windmills and installing solar panels as quickly as possible. Of course we should work on both developing new technology and on improving what we already have, but we're not doomed because we don't have new tools and inventions. We just need to get cracking and to speed up deploying the stuff that we already know works.


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Yeah, 120,000 voters were improperly purged from the voting rolls for the primary on April 17th, but did the pro-Hillary people cheat in Brooklyn? That's not at all clear and it's really not clear that Bernie would have won without the voter purge. Bernie suporters would be well-advised not to throw around wild accusations.   

2016/03/12

Mess-cranking


Back in the Navy, my rate/rank designation was PN3 (Pronounced pe-en-three, we always fully spelled out our designations). That stands for Personnelman (My rate or specialty) and Petty Officer Third Class (My rank, it was equivalent to being an Army Corporal). During our first term of four years, we served four months on the mess decks (food storage, preparation, serving and eating area) where we, for all intents and purposes, lost our rate designation and became just Petty Officer Third Class or Seaman or whatever our rank was.
One of our duties was Pier Sweeper. I was sent out to the pier with instructions to clean up any trash that I saw. I went out and saw one piece, then another, then another. Pretty soon, I was dragging a big, formerly empty box full off trash back to the dumpster close to where the beginning of the pier was. Finished, I went back up to the Quarterdeck to report to the Officer Of the Deck that I was finished and was headed back to the mess decks. The OOD returned my salute and said how impressed he was.
I had been taking so long, he figured I had just gone back onto the ship by the other entrance (That would have been the Midships Brow) and so he was pretty impressed to see me dragging such a large load. I indicated that my actions were all in a day's work and not a problem and headed down below.
A month later, an announcement came out over the 1MC that another ship of the same function as the one I was on was coming into port, would load up and head right back out again to get to Miami, which had just suffered a hurricane (Hurricane Andrew in 1992). They wanted to take a few volunteers from our crew down with them. I was initially depressed and discouraged and wished I could go with them. Then I thought about my situation and realized that there was no reason I couldn't. I asked my immediate supervisor, who gave his okay and then went to the group that was assembling.
Guess who was in charge of the volunteers? Yup, it was the OOD who was impressed by my Pier Sweepers performance a month earlier! He very cheerfully approved me for the trip and I was on my way! I packed a few things into my duffel bag and walked over with the other 20 or so sailors who were approved for the trip. We tossed off our duffel bags at our assigned racks (Our sleeping areas that contain a bed, a under-the-bed storage area and a small stand-up locker for shoes and hanging shirts and pants) and went back up to help load a food shipment onto the ship's mess decks.
The next day, I introduced myself to a female Petty Officer First Class (Two ranks above me). and she said she remembered me and noted approvingly that I was a hard worker. We had gotten off on the right foot!
The trip to Miami was good. I got a Letter of Commendation out of it. We didn't get ashore much, but I got into town on our last day there.

2016/02/21

Can we speak ill of the dead now?


I presume that the desire to not speak ill of the dead comes with a time limit after which it's perfectly okay. In updating prawnworks, I came across this piece from early this January. The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia advocated an absolutely dreadful idea, that government should take the side of religion over non-religion. 

Sorry, but I see a very short, steep and slippery slope between religion vs non-religion and, say, Roman Catholic vs Baptist. People might recall that, back in the old days, being declared a heretic, a non-Christian, someone who was Christian, but believed the wrong things, or was a witch, led to many people being burned at the stake and executed in many other ways.