2019/06/18

Dealing with Fake News

"Baby boomers share nearly 7 times as many 'fake news' articles on Facebook as adults under 30, new study finds"

Wow! That's pretty sad. Here's my mini-solution to verifying information.

I've had people tell me to check all the sources on a regular basis. Good advice, but too general for me.

I'm currently composing a piece on our march to support Venezuela. Venezuela has a serious problem with its economy. The left-leaning Guardian said that the former president Hugo Chavez imposed price controls on basic food items like flour and that Venezuelan bakers had no economic incentive to produce flour because they couldn't sell flour products at a profit.

I said to myself "Did Venezuela subsidize the production of flour or did they simply slap price controls on it?" I ran a search on "venezuela flour" and checked the right-wing Libertarian website Mises and the more middle-of-the-road NPR. Neither of them mentioned subsidies. NPR provided a good quote from a baker in Caracas where he said something to the effect of "I'd love to produce the more nutritious bread, but I gotta pay workers, gotta pay rent, etc., so I need to produce brownies and cookies that I can sell at a higher price."

So I looked at a good variety of sources and concluded that Venezuela is shooting itself in the foot by imposing price controls without subsidizing the production of basic goods. I search, but in a more organized fashion than to just randomly reading what everybody says about everything.

2019/05/25

Jon Voight and the President's record

The actor Jon Voight has a very high opinion of President Trump: "our country is stronger [&] safer... because our president has made his every move correct."

Stronger? Since 1976, views on pregnancy/abortion haven't changed much. The pro-choicers have consistently outnumbered anti-choicers by about 2 to 1, yet anti-choicers have been strengthened by this President (and by Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader who saw to it that the Supreme Court was not turned liberal by preventing the seating of Judge Merrick Garland) to the point where there are "soaring incidents of trespassing, disruption, and intimidation at abortion clinics." The President has gone all-in on supporting anti-choicers. How is this sort of divisive political action making us stronger?

Safer? Looking at a public opinion poll that examined international attitudes towards the US, there are only three countries that view the US in a more favorable light than they did at the end of the Obama Presidency, Israel, Kenya and Russia. The rest of the world, including long-time allies, view us less favorably.
Also, the US has an intelligence-sharing program with four other countries, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, that is now endangered by the President giving Attorney General William Barr complete authority to investigate how the Mueller Report originated.
How on Earth does any of this count as making us any safer?!?!?!

"Trump claims he is hard at work during ‘Executive Time’"

Hmm. Let's examine the evidence, shall we?

President claims the US was in awful shape before he took office. He lists all the problems and "improvements" he's made.

*Depleted Military
    - No, the military was in fine shape.

*Endless Wars
    -What exactly has he done about those? He's tried to abruptly pull out of Syria, but his lack of real preparation for doing so has led people to believe that he's headed for disaster. ISIS is doing very poorly, but it was doing poorly before January 2017.

*a potential War with North Korea
     - the President did far more to heat up the situation with North Korea than the previous president did. Things were relatively peaceful and stable under Obama.

*V.A.
    - Has anything about the VA been fixed under this president?

*High Taxes
    - Taxes are now higher for those with modest incomes. For the wealthy, taxes are more satisfactory.

*too many Regulations
    - remember the problems with Romaine Lettuce? Caused by insufficient regulations.

*Border, Immigration
     - In 2013, the Senate passed a bill they were reasonably satisfied with. When it got to the House, it was filed away and forgotten. Nothing has been done to revive that earlier deal.

*HealthCare
    - The Republican-run Senate tried to pass a grossly inferior bill. Citizen outrage and a few courageous Republican senators stopped it.

Nah, he can't justify all of his unstructured "executive time."




2018/12/06

Objective vs partisan news


Lots of anti-democratic actions taken by legislatures in Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Curiously, my local paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, wasn’t covering any of this. I looked through their paper edition of December 5th and checked their news, politics and opinion sections online. Nada. No mention of what was going on in any of these states. The Inquirer published a piece on the 6th, looking at Wisconsin. This was where the newly-elected governor announced that he’d try and seek an audience with the governor who had lost the election to not destroy democracy in his state.

I was very curious about a paragraph in the Inquirer story:

The session unfolded a month after Republicans were battered in the midterm election. They lost all statewide races amid strong Democratic turnout. But they retained legislative majorities thanks to what Democrats say are gerrymandered districts that tilt the map.

"what Democrats say"? Why is the fact of gerrymandering in Wisconsin treated as though it was somehow controversial for anyone to say this? Why is it treated as though only partisans would agree that Wisconsin's House is very highly gerrymandered?

GQ Magazine says SB 884 passed the State Senate by the very close margin of 17-16, but in the State House, the same bill was passed by 56-27. There were similar margins for SB 886. How can this possibly be explained other than by politicians choosing their voters?

The new legislation tries to protect some of the GOP's achievements in recent years.

Obviously, if the citizens of Wisconsin felt that it was an "achievement" for state health care to have a work requirement, then all of the statewide offices other than the Republican State House majority would have been retained and not tossed out in the November election. There is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for Wisconsin Republicans to seek to retain what the the citizens of Wisconsin have plainly rejected.

What this piece does is that it seeks to prettify and make noncontroversial what is plainly a power grab by legislators who've properly and fairly had their legislative program rejected by the voters of Wisconsin. But the Inquirer seems to feel that it must cove everything so that it's always a matter of legitimate debate between reasonable people.

A partisan publication like Daily Kos has no use for the appearance of being objective and non-partisan and so can simply relate what’s happening in Wisconsin and other states without seeking to try and make both sides appear to be equally honest and aboveboard.

Fairness is always good and always appropriate and partisan publications don’t always do that, so partisan publications aren’t always the best way to learn what’s going on. There are plenty of times when more objective, even-handed publications are better at getting across the facts of the case. But when the facts of a case are heavily skewed in just one direction, when one side is plainly guilty and the other side innocent, then a partisan publication is better for understanding what’s going on. Naturally, this means that a good citizen will check out the other side on at least an occasional basis.

No, sorry, there is no “one-stop shopping” when it comes to understanding political issues and events. Citizens who wish to understand what’s going on have to check out multiple sources to get the truth.

2018/11/24

Rush Limbaugh makes an interesting plea for us to sympathize with President Trump

Radio talker Rush Limbaugh presents the President as a “happy warrior” who “may be the greatest president of our lifetimes” being sorely vexed, harassed and inconvenienced by all of this liberal and Democratic dissent from his generous and benevolent rule. While reading Limbaugh’s case, I agreed with the blogger who reminds us of what Limbaugh snidely referred to as Saudi Arabia “supposedly killing the so-called Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.” There was another right-wing talker who has also took the position of dissing Khashoggi, so I guess it’s a thing now that, as far as the right wing is concerned, murdering journalists is okay.

Also, “120 days past federal judge's deadline, migrant kids remain separated from parents.” Children were separated from their parents and until there was a public outcry, the Trump Administration didn’t have any sort of plan for getting the children back together with their parents, thereby effectively kidnapping the children. Back during June, the Trump Administration’s supposed, alleged, “self-avowed advocate of women and children” Ivanka Trump, had nothing to say about the children who had been kidnapped under her father’s family separation policy, but apparently felt it was perfectly okay to post pictures of her happy and attractive family.  

Also, the President appears to feel that it’s within his authority to request that the Supreme Court take up a case that was argued in October, but that the 9th US Circuit Court hasn’t ruled on yet. This is right after the President has been feuding with John Roberts, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, because how dare the Chief Justice take exception to the President referring to a judge as an “Obama judge.” Judges are all supposed to be equally legitimate as they’re all approved by the Senate. There is certainly some justification for drawing distinctions based on who the appointing president was, but that chips away at the legitimacy of all judges when a politician makes distinctions based on that.

So yeah, when Limbaugh says:

This stuff just never ends. You know the great thing? It never seems to get Trump down. He doubles down on this stuff still.
He revs up and he rams it back down their throat every time. 


I just have a really hard time seeing the President in any sort of positive light. I don’t see his energetic defense of his policies as anything to cheer about.

2018/11/14

NY Times makes major screw-up


On the 21st of September, the New York Times published a story suggesting that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had seriously proposed wearing a wire in meetings with the President. Criticism of the story was so swift and severe that by the end of the day, Matthew Rosenberg (he covers intelligence and national security for the Times) said: “Enough already: @adamgoldmanNYT & @nytmike broke an important story that advances our understanding of a crucial moment. It’s no plot by pro-Trump forces. It’s good reporting.”

Actually, it’s hard to imagine how the story ever got off the ground when:

Rosenstein disputed this account.
“The New York Times’s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect,” he said in a statement.

Now, when someone denies a story in which they are accused of taking an action, it hardly means they're innocent. But it does mean that the story needs to be backed up with serious evidence. If the news source doesn't have that stronger evidence, the story needs to stay in the reporter's desk drawer or computer to await the day when better evidence is available.

But the story was based on second-hand, hearsay sources. When the story says of their sources:“The people were briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by F.B.I. officials...” then that means that nobody who was quoted was actually in the room when Rosenstein said what he allegedly said. That means that Rosenstein's word trumps anything the paper's sources said.

Was the story “important?” Good Heavens, if the story can’t even be substantiated as accurate, then no. By definition, it isn’t important.
Also, it’s not as though a story about hate and discontent and chaos in the early days of the Trump Administration is “news” in any meaningful sense of the word . People generally knew that. No, nothing was “advanced.”

Good reporting? Hardly. This fails Journalism 101.

Was the story consequential? Unfortunately, yes it was. The President immediately accused Rosenstein of having been “hired” by the Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

ThinkProgress reports that:

The news story has Washington on edge, amid fears that the report may push the mercurial president to fire Rosenstein — an action he has long been rumored to be considering. Such a move would have knock on effects on the ongoing Justice Department probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, an investigation being led by former FBI chief Robert Mueller.

And Sean Hannity of Fox News said that Rosenstein was "leading a silent coup against Trump."

Liberals and conservatives evaluate news differently. A conservative commenting in my local paper dismissed a piece of evidence I produced because it came from a magazine called “Mother Jones.” Obviously, he thought, nothing serious could come out of a news source with such a silly name.
Liberals have little use for knowing where a news item came from. It’s not completely irrelevant, but it’s not among the top five pieces of evidence we need to evaluate a story. In addition to whether a story follows the rules of just plain good journalism as we saw in the story I just cited, then if it's accurate, it will be re-published by several different sources as each of those sources will be expected to do their due diligence to verify the story. Also, if the story is accurate, the other sources are likely to add other details to it.

If a story is crap, it won't go anywhere. The host of Infowars, Alex Jones, came up with the bizarre notion of humanoids, who are “like 80 percent gorilla and 80 percent pig and they're talking." Never heard of this story? Exactly. If the story had any credibility, it would have been re-published by other sources. As it was, it didn't survive getting outside the “hothouse” of Infowars.

2018/09/13

US Democratic vs Nazi platforms

Dinesh D'Souza made a film that Don Jr. saw and clearly, that was Don Jrs. only exposure to the material because he swallowed D'Souza's propaganda wholesale.

"Don Trump Jr. Calls Democratic Party 'The Real Nazis' After Watching D'Souza's Mess"

Okay, so let's look at what the Nazi Party platform of 1920 was:
  1. Unification of Greater Germany (Austria + Germany)
  2. Land + expansion
  3. Anti-Versailles - abrogation of the Treaty.
  4. Land and territory - lebensraum.
  5. Only a "member of the race" can be a citizen.
  6. Anti-semitism - No Jew can be a member of the race.
  7. Anti-foreigner - only citizens can live in Germany.
  8. No immigration - ref. to Jews fleeing pograms.
  9. Everyone must work.
  10. Abolition of unearned income - "no rent-slavery".
  11. Nationalisation of industry
  12. Divison of profits
  13. Extension of old age welfare.
  14. Land reform
  15. Death to all criminals
  16. German law, not Roman law (anti- French Rev.)
  17. Education to teach "the German Way"
  18. Education of gifted children
  19. Protection of mother and child by outlawing child labour.
  20. Encouraging gymnastics and swimming
  21. Formation a national army.
  22. Duty of the state to provide for its volk.
  23. Duty of individuals to the state 
Points 1 through 4, 16 and 21 are specific to Germany's concerns at the time.
Points 5 through 8, 15, 17 and 23 sound just like the Trump Administration today.
9 through 14, 18 to 20 and 22 okay, these sound like items Democrats could agree with. Not so sure about point 11, though. Some nationalization would be good, but lots of Democrats are strong believers in capitalism. 22 is also pretty much straight socialsm. Not really sure either 10 or 12 survived very long then or would survive under Democrats today. Michelle Obama would especially approve of 20.
It's a pretty mixed bag. Certainly Democrats would agree with some of the values expressed, but Don Jr. sounds as though he's citing a very one-sided version and doesn't have enough historical knowledge to really make careful distinctions.

2018/09/07

Iran invasion


I first looked into the idea of invading Iran back in 2003, after Baghdad fell, in response to neocons saying "Real men go to Tehran." Situation hasn't changed much. The pressure on the moderate president Hassan Rouhani is certainly having a political impact, and international business is being forced away from doing business in Iran, but as Rouhani gets less popular, it’s the anti-American hard-liners in Iran that politically benefit.

I said at the time that the US needed a "Colonial Corps" to successfully occupy Iraq. What we urgently needed at the time and what we’ll need to occupy Iran is a large group of paramilitary administrators to run things at the municipal level. A piece from the Modern War Institute says: "Right now the US military does not have personnel with deep specialization in conducting or overseeing the type of occupation that Karle argues is an unfortunate necessity of being prepared for all possibilities."

Also, US air operations have been ongoing for the past 25 years, meaning that tool has gotten pretty worn and dull. But as in Iraq, battlefield success is only the first step. Iranians are trained, organized and ready to undertake extended guerrilla war.

First, if I were to invade Iran, there are a couple of possibilities we can eliminate. Strike from Afghanistan? That country isn't really secured as the Taliban is alive and well and there have been battles around Farah, right about where a US invasion of Iran would jump off from. 

Strike from Pakistan? The country puts up with our using them as a supply dump for Afghanistan and even that has caused friction in the past.

Strike from Iraq? The country is modernizing under it’s newly elected leader Muqtada al-Sadr, but there are definitely troubles there. A large American presence in the country could be disastrous. It would a big risk to our supply lines.

Strike past the Strait of Hormuz and from the Persian Gulf? American military people believe the US Navy would prevail, but clearly, for the Navy to launch an attack from the Gulf would require some extensive fighting beforehand. It’s possible Iran would block it off and leave our naval forces stranded in the Gulf with no re-supply able to get in. Even a temporary cut-off would be a humiliation.

If I were in charge, I'd hit their beaches right above the Gulf of Oman, the town of Chabahar appears to be a good landing spot. Kerman is a substantial city that's well short of Tehran and there are nuclear plants North and West of there. That's about 600 miles from Chabahar, some of the terrain fairly smooth, some rocky and fairly elevated. Our supply lines would be getting attacks long before our forces reached Kerman. Our Army may make it over a thousand miles more, all the way to Tehran, (about 1,800 miles from Chabahar).

But we'd need to guard every mile of that supply line or, at the very least, to deliver all supplies in armed convoys. What would be the consequences of an insufficient force to cover supply lines? The Iraqi ammunition dump of Al Qaqaa was looted after the Army passed by and left too small a detachment to guard it. To get the necessary troops to guard the supply line, we'd need to institute a draft. That would be hugely unpopular!