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This was the week America lost the war on misinformation

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Margaret Sullivan was the only good Public Editor the NY Times had. (The Times has since abolished the post, presumably because it kept pointing out errors and misjudgments by the Times.) She writes in the Washington Post:

You may have heard about the viral video featuring a group of fringe doctors spouting dangerous falsehoods about hydroxychloroquine as a covid-19 wonder cure.

In fact, it’s very possible you saw the video since it was shared on social media tens of millions of times — partly thanks to President Trump who retweeted it more than once, and who described the group’s Stella Immanuel, also known for promoting wacky notions about demon sperm and alien DNA, as “very impressive” and even “spectacular.”

Given this and a few other hideous developments, it’s time to acknowledge the painfully obvious: America has waved the white flag and surrendered.

With nearly 150,000 dead from covid-19, we’ve not only lost the public-health war, we’ve lost the war for truth. Misinformation and lies have captured the castle.

And the bad guys’ most powerful weapon? Social media — in particular, Facebook.

Some new research, out just this morning from Pew, tells us in painstaking numerical form exactly what’s going on, and it’s not pretty: Americans who rely on social media as their pathway to news are more ignorant and more misinformed than those who come to news through print, a news app on their phones or network TV.

And that group is growing.

The report’s language may be formal and restrained, but the meaning is utterly clear — and while not surprising, it’s downright scary in its implications.

“Even as Americans who primarily turn to social media for political news are less aware and knowledgeable about a wide range of events and issues in the news, they are more likely than other Americans to have heard about a number of false or unproven claims.”

Media coverage of the 2016 campaign was disastrous. Now’s the last chance to get 2020 right.

Specifically, they’ve been far more exposed to the conspiracy theory that powerful people intentionally planned the pandemic. Yet this group, says Pew, is also less concerned about the impact of made-up news like this than the rest of the U.S. population.

They’re absorbing fake news, but they don’t see it as a problem. In a society that depends on an informed citizenry to make reasonably intelligent decisions about self-governance, this is the worst kind of trouble.

And the president — who knows exactly what he is doing — is making it far, far worse. His war on the nation’s traditional press is a part of the same scheme: information warfare, meant to mess with reality and sow as much confusion as possible.

Will Sommer of the Daily Beast took a deeper look this week into the beliefs of Stella Immanuel — the Houston doctor whom Trump has termed “very impressive” and “spectacular.”

“She has often claimed that gynecological problems like cysts and endometriosis are in fact caused by people having sex in their dreams with demons and witches,” Sommer wrote. “She alleges alien DNA is currently used in medical treatments, and that scientists are cooking up a vaccine to prevent people from being religious. And, despite appearing in Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress on Monday, she has said that the government is run in part not by humans but by ‘reptilians’ and other aliens.”

Immanuel said in a recent speech in Washington that the power of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment means that protective face masks aren’t necessary. None of this has a basis in fact — but try telling that to the tens of millions who have not only seen it but been urged to believe it.

The video featuring Immanuel and others eventually was taken down by Facebook. But as usual, it was far too late.

And Donald Trump Jr., who tweeted it out calling it a “must watch,” got his hand slapped by Twitter — briefly losing his right to sully the truth and jam the gears of reality. . . .

Continue reading. There’s even more. The US is becoming a basket case.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2020 at 11:59 am

Political Correctness Is Destroying America! (Just Not How You Think.)

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Jon Schwarz has an interesting piece in the Intercept:

AMERICA TODAY faces a terrifying danger: political correctness. It is an existential threat not just to the United States, but all of human civilization.

By this, obviously, I mean right-wing political correctness.

Maybe you’re surprised to hear this. In the U.S. media, there’s no shortage of lamentations about political correctness and how it chills debate — but they’re almost always about the threat of left-wing PC.

In reality, political correctness, or cancel culture, or whatever it’s called, is not a phenomenon of the left, right, or center. It’s a phenomenon of human nature. All humanity’s infinite tribes are prone to groupthink and punishing heretics. That’s why the principle of free thought has to be defended: It is, unfortunately, a weird and unnatural fit for humans.

There absolutely are examples of ugly political correctness from the U.S. “left,” whatever that means in a country that, by historical standards, doesn’t have a left. But the vast, vast majority of political correctness in America is conservative. Conservative PC is so powerful in the U.S. that much of it is adopted by both political parties and all of the corporate media. Indeed, right-wing political correctness is so dominant that it’s politically incorrect to refer to it as political correctness. Instead, we call it things like “patriotism,” or simply don’t notice its existence.

A full examination of America’s conservative PC culture would take the rest of your life to read. So let’s limit this to four areas where the right’s PC causes some of the most harm: religion, foreign policy, the Republican Party, and police.

Religion

It probably doesn’t surprise you that exactly zero U.S. presidents have been open atheists. But since Congress first convened in 1789, it’s only had one openly atheist member: Pete Stark of California. Stark retired in 2013, so there are currently none.

According to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, 23 percent of Americans identify as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.” This means, Pew says, that “by far the largest difference between the U.S. public and Congress is in the share who are unaffiliated with a religious group.”

So there are likely many members of Congress right now who are “in the closet” when it comes to not believing in God. The only explanation? They’re all too cowed by PC to come out.

This isn’t surprising, since the U.S. still demonstrates informal and formal discrimination against atheists. A recent poll found that 96 percent of Americans said they’d vote for a Black candidate for president; 95 percent for a Catholic; and 66 percent for a Muslim. Only 60 percent said they’d vote for an atheist. While it’s unenforceable, the constitutions of eight states actually prohibit atheists from holding office. This includes Maryland, one of the most liberal states, whose constitution also declares that “it is the duty of every man to worship God.” (Maryland women are seemingly free to putter around ignoring the Almighty.)

Pro-religion PC is practiced on both sides of the aisle. In one of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails published by WikiLeaks in 2016, the DNC chief financial officer suggested forcing Bernie Sanders to go on the record about whether he believes in God. “He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage,” the CFO argued. “My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”

Even if, someday, a few national politicians screw up enough courage to admit that they’re atheists, it’s impossible to imagine any announcing that they’re actively anti-theistic. No member of the House is going to go on the CBS morning show and say, “I think all religion is pernicious, it’s a gross form of brainwashing children, and every religious leader is a con artist, including the Pope.”

No one on this plane of existence can say whether or not atheism is correct. What we can be sure of is right-wing PC has sharply limited free political speech in this area, and that’s made us less skeptical and more prone to authoritarianism.

Foreign Policy

America’s ironclad political correctness on religion plays into another aspect of our PC: The ferocious conservative restrictions on discussions of U.S. foreign policy. Since 9/11, many powerful Americans have demonstrated openness, perhaps even eagerness, for war between Christianity and Islam. Before the invasion of Iraq, then-President George W. Bush told French President Jacques Chirac that he saw “Gog and Magog at work” in the Middle East. President Donald Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon has spoken about “the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam.” When the Christian Broadcasting Network asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo whether God sent Trump “just like Queen Esther to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace,” Pompeo responded, “I certainly believe that’s possible.” The right’s yearning to mix religion and violence is incredibly dangerous, yet is a staple of our daily political diet. Few politicians or powerful figures notice, much less attack this.

But our conservative PC on foreign policy goes much further. Everyone in the foreign policy establishment is aware that 9/11 and almost all Islamist terrorism is direct blowback from U.S. actions overseas. As a Defense Department report explained, “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom’” — i.e., what Bush claimed in front of Congress on September 20, 2001 — “but rather, they hate our policies.” The problem from the establishment’s perspective is that they like those policies, and don’t want to change them just because they get Americans killed. Top members of the military apparently say in private that our deaths are “a small price to pay for being a superpower.”

Yet perhaps the only national-level politician who’s spoken clearly and openly about this is former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. In 2004, a senior Bush administration official was willing to say that without U.S. actions in the Middle East, “bin Laden might still be redecorating mosques and boring friends with stories of his mujahideen days in the Khyber Pass” — but without his or her name attached. The 9/11 Commission’s report makes glancing reference to reality, but as one member later wrote, “The commissioners believed that American foreign policy was too controversial to be discussed except in recommendations written in the future tense. Here we compromised our commitment to set forth the full story.”

As with the conservative PC about God, Democrats also obey the conservative political correctness about foreign policy. For instance, in then-President Barack Obama’s famous 2009 speech in Cairo, he was too PC to tell the truth. Instead, he mumbled that “tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims,” whatever that means exactly. In 2010, when Obama’s then-counterterrorism adviser John Brennan was asked why Al Qaeda was so determined to attack the U.S., he responded, “I think this is a, uh, long issue.” He did not elaborate.

The PC line on foreign policy extends far beyond terrorism. Israel is one of the most powerful examples. Every American politician who cares to know is aware that of Israel’s dozen or so wars, it was clearly the aggressor in all but two — the 1948 War of Independence and the 1973 Yom Kippur War — and even those are arguable. They also understand that Israel has rejected numerous offers to create a just, two-state solution with the Palestinians. In private, U.S. officials say that Israel has constructed “apartheid” in the West Bank. While a minor glasnost on this subject is currently in progress, this clear reality remains inexpressible by U.S. politicians.

And what about the media, that hotbed of freethinking radicalism? Even rich, famous TV hosts who deviate from the right’s PC line must issue groveling apologies or get canceled, literally. Sometimes they issue groveling apologies and get canceled. After Bush called the 9/11 hijackers “cowards,” Bill Maher took issue on his old ABC show “Politically Incorrect.” “We have been the cowards,” Maher said, “lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away.” Maher immediately said he was sorry, but it was too late: His show lost big advertisers and was taken off the air the next year. In other words, the moment “Politically Incorrect” was genuinely politically incorrect, Maher was yanked off-stage.

Next, in February 2003 just before the invasion of Iraq, Phil Donohue’s MSNBC show got the ax. It had the highest ratings on the network, but as executives fretted in an internal memo, it could become “a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.” In other words, since all of the rest of American TV was ultra-PC, and they had to be too. The same channel soon signed Jesse Ventura to a three-year contract for a new show but then found out he was anti-war and so paid him to do nothing.

Other TV figures made sure not to suffer similar fates. “I remember,” Katie Couric later said, “this inevitable march towards war and kind of feeling like, ‘Will anybody put the brakes on this? And is this really being properly challenged by the right people? … Anyone who questioned the administration was considered unpatriotic and it was a very difficult position to be in.” At the time, when it actually mattered, Couric chirped on “The Today Show” that “Navy SEALs rock!”

Then there’s Chris Hayes, another MSNBC host. In a broadcast just before Memorial Day 2012, Hayes expressed exactly the kind of sentiment you’d expect to hear in an honest debate on war: “It is, I think, very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor. … I feel uncomfortable about the word ‘hero’ because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. And I obviously don’t want to desecrate or disrespect the memory of anyone that’s fallen. … But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic.” The freakout from the right was so intense that Hayes immediately said he was “deeply sorry” because “it’s very easy for me, a TV host, to opine about people who fight our wars, having never dodged a bullet or guarded a post or walked a mile in their boots.”

Even opinions on events from a lifetime ago must be politically correct. After Jon Stewart said on “The Daily Show” that he believed Harry Truman was a “war criminal” for using atomic weapons on Japan, he came under immediate attack, and quickly came crawling for forgiveness. “I walk that back because it was in my estimation a stupid thing to say,” Stewart pleaded in a tone recognizable from any of history’s struggle sessions. “You ever do that, where you’re saying something, and as it’s coming out you’re like, ‘What the fuck?’ And it just sat in there for a couple of days, just sitting going, ‘No, no, [Truman] wasn’t, and you should really say that out loud on the show.’”

With no critiques about specifics permissible, a broad discussion about U.S. foreign policy is light years away. There won’t be any politicians or TV hosts anytime soon who’ll consistently emphasize Martin Luther King Jr.’s position that America is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

No one knows what foreign policy Americans would choose after an open debate. But it’s manifestly true that the current one, shaped overwhelmingly by right-wing PC, has caused gigantic damage to the U.S. and the world.

The Republican Party

Today’s GOP often enforces internal ideological purity more strictly than the Chinese Communist Party. This matters because the U.S. political system is so sclerotic it requires some buy-in from the opposition party for almost anything to change. So as long as Republicans stay in lockstep with each other, nothing will happen.

The GOP’s PC has been particularly disastrous with the climate crisis. The Republican president of the United States constantly calls it a “hoax.” For a decade, GOP politicians and the party’s apparat have almost all refused to acknowledge that it even exists. Newt Gingrich said in 2008 that “our country must take action to address climate change” — but when GOP PC changed, so did he. When Gingrich ran for president in 2012, Rush Limbaugh horrified listeners by telling them of a rumored chapter in a forthcoming Gingrich book that addressed global warming honestly. Gingrich obediently cut it. Then he began posting pictures on Instagram with captions like “More evidence of global warming, the Potomac iced over last night.”

Things are slowly shifting now as younger Republicans begin to understand the frightening future staring them in the face. Currently the party’s split between a faction that wants to continue denying reality, and one which wants to stop denying reality while doing nothing effective about it.

The GOP’s political correctness on climate change flows from a broader rejection of Enlightenment methods of figuring out reality. Limbaugh, whom Trump recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, has famously proclaimed that science is one of the “corners of deceit” used by liberals to create “The Universe of Lies.” No prominent Republican politician has ever disavowed Limbaugh’s view.

Beyond this is further rigid GOP political correctness on almost all issues. A Republican politician must publicly profess belief in American exceptionalism. Cutting taxes causes government revenue to go up. Any increase in taxes on the rich and corporations will cause economic devastation. Evolution is a lie. Abortion is a titanic moral evil. Trump is a super-duper president. They have a great idea for bringing low-cost, high-quality health care to every citizen but don’t want to mention it right now and ruin the secret.

But facts don’t care about conservatives’ feelings. Our Republican-led coronavirus carnage is a preview of what’s coming with the climate crisis.

Police

With millions of people turning out in demonstrations against police brutality, there are some obvious questions we should be asking ourselves: Why are cops acting this way? Why are the so-called bad apples never removed? No politicians or TV hosts are providing the simple answer: political correctness.

Police officers will almost never report another officer mistreating a civilian. This is understandable, since the best case for these “snitches” is usually having their careers destroyed. Some, such as the NYPD’s Adrian Schoolcraft, fare even worse. In 2009, after Schoolcraft found that his supervisors were manipulating crime statistics, his fellow cops broke into his apartment, abducted him, and committed him to a psychiatric hospital. Whatever you want to say about Oberlin’s student council, they’re not doing that.

Police department PC has been enabled by another layer of conservative political correctness on top of it. Until recently,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2020 at 9:55 am

Science by press release: When the story gets ahead of the science

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Dr. Sanjay Gupta writes at CNN:

A little more than three months after the World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic, it has become evident that both the research cycle and the news cycle have accelerated to levels never seen before in our lifetime.

According to the Milken Institute, there are at least 254 treatments and 172 vaccines currently in development to fight Covid-19. I’ve reported on many of them. Some of them are just being developed, like PAC-MAN, a new anti-viral treatment that uses the gene therapy technology CRISPR. Others are drugs finding a new life, like remdesivir, which initially showed effectiveness in treating animals with SARS and MERS, and was even trialed unsuccessfully for Ebola.

The media’s coverage of these developments has also been at “breakneck speed” — because finding any way to stall the spread of this disease is so imperative. For example, several scientists recently called me both on and off the record to relay their optimism that a vaccine could be available by the beginning of next year. It would be a remarkably fast process, given that vaccine development is typically measured in years or decades, not months. So this past week, I took a step back to dig deeper into the studies and look into the source of this optimism. I was surprised at how thin the available data actually is in peer-reviewed medical journals.

Truth is, most of what we have seen so far has come in the form of press releases or pre-print reports that have not undergone the scientific scrutiny of independent review. In fact, despite all the enthusiasm around vaccines, there is only one published study of a vaccine trialed in humans — from the Chinese company CanSino Biologics.

There is no question that in this environment, speed is of the essence. Scientists are scrambling to learn about the virus, the disease and how to keep people from dying. Health officials are working hard to put sound public health measures in place that don’t overburden society or shut down the economy. And journalists are running ragged trying to cover it all.

But there are also growing concerns — on the part of scientists and journalists — that the studies being offered up and showcased are not ready for “prime time.” In fact, many are not studies at all, but subjective conclusions based on data, and methods that remain hidden and thus difficult to validate. Never before has full and immediate transparency been so important, and never before has the scientific picture around Covid-19 been so opaque.

What difference does the source make?

Press releases, pre-print papers and published papers all serve different purposes, and carry different weight for both scientists and journalists.

A press release “is there to make your institution, your client, your big name researcher, your product, your drug company and its products, look as good as can be, hoping that that press release will convince journalists to write about it,” Gary Schwitzer explained to CNN. Schwitzer is a longtime health journalist and publisher, and the founder of HealthNewsReview.org. Because it’s written by whoever is promoting the product, it’s almost never negative, Schwitzer said.

Traditionally, pre-print papers have been articles that researchers and academics put out on pre-print servers to get feedback from their peers before they submit their study to a journal. During this pandemic, the profiles of at least two of them — medRxiv (pronounced med-archive), for health sciences, and bioRxiv (pronounced bio-archive), for biology — have been greatly elevated. “Pre-print servers are much, much more important than they ever have been in Covid-related areas — in other words, in life sciences, in clinical medicine. They just weren’t a player before this,” Dr. Ivan Oransky told us. Oransky is the co-founder of RetractionWatch.org, Vice President of Editorial at Medscape, and a medical journalism professor at New York University.<

A study published in a credible scientific journal is — in theory — the final, complete version. To get published here, a study has to undergo a process called peer review. Kate Grabowski, an assistant professor in the department of pathology at Johns Hopkins University, calls the peer-review process “multiple, independent sets of eyes” on a paper. While peer review is by no means fool-proof, it typically reflects the expertise of many people in a particular field who don’t necessarily have a “dog in the race.”

“I think it’s just so valuable to picking up potential errors that are largely unintentional, and also just making the science better. Usually when we submit papers, they’re like rough drafts, and then may get refined [several times] until they’re much better,” Grabowski said. She described the process, to us, as “iterative.”

But the past few months have highlighted that the road to solid science can be full of potholes, speed bumps, blind spots and hairpin turns. If you are not careful, sometimes that road can lead you straight off a cliff.

Here are several recent examples of the story getting ahead of the science: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 July 2020 at 12:45 pm

The Police Have Been Spying on Black Reporters and Activists for Years.

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American police departments seem too often to be armed enclaves of racism — certainly not always, but disturbingly often, and police culture is to a certain extent sealed off from the general culture and is strongly enforced by threats and violence (cf. Serpico). Thus encysted, it has proved immune to normal social pressure. And the degree to which some police departments — including some large police departments — have grown rogue is increasingly clear. These departments take direct and aggressive action against anyone who would attempt to rein them in (cf. this post — two cops blatantly and without provocation shoved the 75-year-old man to the pavement (who was hospitalized after striking his head on the pavement), then lied about it (saying he tripped), and then were suspended whereupon 57 cops resigned from the unit in a petulant but aggressive statement: “We will not be subject to control!”).

Lord Acton observed that power corrupts, and the greater the power, the greater the corrupting effect. Police departments have a lot of power, and I fear that it’s gone to their head.

Wendi C. Thomas reports in ProPublica:

On Aug. 20, 2018, the first day of a federal police surveillance trial, I discovered that the Memphis Police Department was spying on me.

The ACLU of Tennessee had sued the MPD, alleging that the department was in violation of a 1978 consent decree barring surveillance of residents for political purposes.

I’m pretty sure I wore my pink gingham jacket — it’s my summer go-to when I want to look professional. I know I sat on the right side of the courtroom, not far from a former colleague at the city’s daily newspaper. I’d long suspected that I was on law enforcement’s radar, simply because my work tends to center on the most marginalized communities, not institutions with the most power.

One of the first witnesses called to the stand: Sgt. Timothy Reynolds, who is white. To get intel on activists and organizers, including those in the Black Lives Matter movement, he’d posed on Facebook as a “man of color,” befriending people and trying to infiltrate closed circles.

Projected onto a giant screen in the courtroom was a screenshot of people Reynolds followed on Facebook.

My head was bent as I wrote in my reporter’s notebook. “What does this entry indicate?” ACLU attorney Amanda Strickland Floyd asked.

“I was following Wendi Thomas,” Reynolds replied. “Wendi C. Thomas.”

I sat up.

“And who is Wendi Thomas?” Floyd asked.

She, he replied, used to write for The Commercial Appeal. In 2014, I left the paper after being a columnist for 11 years.

It’s been more than a year since a judge ruled against the city, and I’ve never gotten a clear answer on why the MPD was monitoring me. Law enforcement also was keeping tabs on three other journalists whose names came out during the trial. Reynolds testified he used the fake account to monitor protest activity and follow current events connected to Black Lives Matter.

My sin, as best I can figure, was having good sources who were local organizers and activists, including some of the original plaintiffs in the ACLU’s lawsuit against the city.

In the days since cellphone video captured white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin squeezing the life out of George Floyd, a black man, residents in dozens of cities across the country have exercised their First Amendment rights to protest police brutality.

Here in Memphis, where two-thirds of the population is black and 1 in 4 lives below the poverty line, demonstrators have chanted, “No justice, no peace, no racist police!”

The most recent protests were sparked by the killings of Floyd and of Breonna Taylor, a black woman gunned down in her home by Louisville, Kentucky, police in March. But in Memphis, like elsewhere, the seeds of distrust between activists and police were planted decades ago. And law enforcement has nurtured these seeds ever since.

A Long History of Spying

In the mid-1960s, the MPD launched a domestic intelligence unit to spy not just on activists, but also on teachers’ meetings, a college black student union and labor organizers. That included Martin Luther King Jr., who came to Memphis in the spring of 1968 to stand in solidarity with underpaid and mistreated black city sanitation workers.

The police surveillance wasn’t conducted just with wiretaps and long lenses, but with snitches planted within local organizations, including spies planted by then-Mayor Henry Loeb, an anti-union segregationist, among sanitation workers who wanted to join a union.

In the iconic photo taken just moments after a gunman shot King on the Lorraine Motel balcony, several people are seen pointing in the direction from which the bullet came. Crouched over King’s body is a man holding a towel to the gaping wound on King’s face. The man, rarely identified in photos, is Marrell “Mac” McCollough, a Memphis cop who was assigned to infiltrate a militant activist group hated by Memphis police. There’s no evidence he was involved with King’s assassination.

Some, including members of King’s family, have long speculated that the assassination was not the work of a lone gunman but orchestrated by federal law enforcement agencies (the FBI famously monitored and harassed King). Both a U.S. House committee independent review in 1979 and a Department of Justice review in 2000 found no basis for this. Still, in 2002, the National Civil Rights Museum, which sits where the motel was, added to its permanent exhibits “Lingering Questions,” which contains hundreds of pieces of evidence, including the bullet plucked from King’s body. One of the questions (that the exhibit does not definitively answer): “Was the Memphis Police Department part of the conspiracy?”

In 1976, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 June 2020 at 12:10 pm

Finally: Newspaper editorial board tells Trump to ‘resign now’

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As the MSNBC report by Steve Benen notes,

According to one count, in 1998, the editorial boards of 115 newspapers called on then-President Bill Clinton to resign. The Democrat was, of course, caught up in a sex scandal, which led to his impeachment, and major dailies — including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution — said Clinton was so tarnished by his personal misconduct that he needed to vacate the Oval Office. The then-president ignored the advice and finished his term.

Bene’s report continues:

More than two decades later, another president, who was also impeached, has found himself embroiled in a series of far more serious scandals. Today, the editorial board of the Portland Press Herald said it’s seen enough. The headline reads, “To President Trump: You should resign now.”

[A]sk yourself – can this country take five more months like the last five? You are a president supported by a minority of the people, and your only path to victory in November is to further divide the nation. This campaign could do even more lasting damage than you have done already. We know that you are not much of a student of history, but you recently said that you “learned a lot from Richard Nixon.” That’s good, because he set the historical precedent for what you should do now.

The editorial coincides with Trump’s visit to Maine today. (Gov. Janet Mills raised concerns about the trip, which the president ignored. Sen. Susan Collins, facing a tough re-election fight this year, announced this week that she’s busy and won’t travel with the president to her own home state.)

The Press Herald‘s argument is compelling, though one of the most striking aspects of it is the larger context: why is it that we’ve seen so few editorials like this? . . .

Benen takes a guess at the answer, but it is puzzling.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2020 at 8:50 am

The direction the US is going: The Messengers

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Maddy Crowell writes in the Virginia Quarterly Review:

The offices of Caravan, a small but influential Indian monthly magazine, are housed on the third floor of a Soviet-style building in New Delhi. For a long time, Vinod Jose, the magazine’s executive editor, didn’t give much thought to the view outside his window: a budding thicket of gulmohar trees where, down below, smokers convened in small circles on their lunch break. But then, a few years ago, the view began to change. The netted steel cage of a new building began to rise out of the foliage, piquing Jose’s interest: It would be, he soon found out, the New Delhi headquarters for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), India’s most powerful right-wing Hindu-nationalist organization, and a longtime fixation of Jose’s journalistic career.

“A colleague once told me that if he were writing a profile of me, that this would be the opening scene,” Jose said, gesturing to his view of the RSS headquarters, when we met in April 2019. Jose, who is forty and speaks in tranquil bursts, carries himself with a calm authority that can often feel out of place in Delhi’s cacophony. He crossed his office, passing precariously stacked books and locked filing cabinets with labels such as “The Gujarat Files” and “Amit Shah,” then fell into a worn swivel chair. For Jose—one of India’s more subversive journalists, and my former boss when I was an intern at Caravan six years ago—pointing out a good opening scene was no different than providing me with the weather forecast for the day. His life and his journalism are practically inseparable.

He was right: The scene was, indeed, a good metaphor. Caravan and the RSS are intimate adversaries in the Indian public sphere. Founded in 1925, the RSS has long advocated for India to abandon its pluralistic ambitions and become an entirely Hindu nation—an idea that has only gained strength since Narendra Modi, an early protégé of the group, was first elected prime minister in 2014 through the RSS’s unofficial political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Caravan, meanwhile, has embraced a mission of protecting India’s tradition of democracy and religious pluralism, more often than not through exhaustive investigations into the RSS and its affiliates.

For the most part, confrontations between the magazine and the nationalist organization have remained in the courts and online. This should go without saying in just about any democracy, but lately there has been concern that a story could lead to actual violence. In one incident, a few months before Modi’s election, Caravan published an explosive cover story based on a series of interviews with Swami Aseemanand, a right-wing Hindu monk who claimed that the RSS had been aware of his plans to bomb multiple venues targeting Muslims from 2006 to 2008, attacks that left more than a hundred dead. The day the story was published, around one hundred RSS protestors gathered outside Caravan’s offices, waving the party’s saffron flags and carrying signs reading ban anti-hindu caravan as they set fire to copies of the magazine. That morning, Jose received dozens of calls, to both his office and cell phone, from anonymous numbers: “We are coming for you,” several callers told him; another screamed “motherfucker” and threatened, vaguely, to “stop” the magazine. Police and private security arrived to prevent protesters from entering the building, while television reporters covered the chaos outside. Since the protests, menace toward the magazine has persisted in the shadowy, nebulous way that most journalists are pressured these days: online trolls, breaches of its computer network, and, in Caravan’s case, a handful of defamation lawsuits.

Living under a constant, simmering threat is, for Jose, evidence that he’s doing something right as a journalist. Nearly every day, he receives ominous online messages that accuse him of being “rabidly anti-Hindu” or “anti-national” or a “Christian bigot” or “DEEP STATE JOURNALIST VINOD K JOSE…FROM COMMIE COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY.” Jose is almost certain that his cell phone is bugged, not to mention the entire Caravan office. Six months after Modi first became prime minister, Jose fired his personal driver, who had been acting suspiciously; friends, meanwhile, began warning him to take different routes to work each day, just in case.

As tense as the atmosphere was for India’s free press following Modi’s first election, things have only worsened since. A number of editors claim to have been bullied by Modi loyalists seeking to remove online coverage that was critical of the BJP; newspapers that have published negative stories have been penalized financially, often through the loss of government-funded advertisements. At the same time, journalists at mainstream outlets have become ever more explicit, if not boastful, about their political connections. When Arun Jaitley, the BJP’s finance minister, died in August 2019, a reporter from one of India’s largest television channels, Times Now, tweeted: “I’ve lost my Guiding Light my mentor. Who will I call every morning now?”

Most sinister of all, the censorship of Modi’s critics has escalated into violence. Since he first came into office, twelve journalists have been killed because of their work, and at least nine have been imprisoned. In 2017, the prominent journalist and editor Gauri Lankesh was gunned down in the early evening in front of her estate in Bangalore. Lankesh, an outspoken feminist and human-rights activist famous for her left-wing tabloidesque attacks on Hindu-nationalist figures, was a close friend of Jose’s—the two had worked together covering contentious riots in Goa in 2005. Her death confirmed the seriousness of what Indian journalists were up against under the new regime. Not long after, a right-wing nationalist followed by Modi on Twitter posted: “One bitch dies a dog’s death all the puppies cry in the same tune.”

After Lankesh’s murder, Jose began implementing protocols for Caravan’s staff to follow: All communications are now handled on encrypted channels, such as ProtonMail or Signal (WhatsApp, he believes, is compromised in India), and reporters working on sensitive stories are instructed to be especially vigilant in protecting their sources. And yet, like almost everyone else I spoke with at Caravan, Jose wasn’t all that interested in talking about the government’s intimidation. “You . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it shows what can happen.

Later in the article:

. . . One of the best known of those features was written by Jose in 2012—an eighteen-thousand-word profile of Modi, a star of the BJP who was rumored to be considering a run for prime minister. The article traces Modi’s political evolution, beginning at age eight, when he volunteered to join an RSS training camp in his hometown in Gujarat, to his ascent as one of the BJP’s leading figures. At the same time, the story exposed the inner workings of one of the most powerful political machines in India’s modern history. “The story of Narendra Modi,” Jose wrote, “is also the story of a series of organizations under which he was nurtured and trained,” the most important of which, he argued, was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

According to Jose, to understand Modi’s rise is to understand a history nearly one hundred years in the making—one that begins with the birth of the Hindu-nationalist movement in 1925, when an Indian doctor named K. B. Hedgewar founded the RSS. Hedgewar was concerned that the Hindu identity—which he saw not just as a religion but as an entire race—needed to be protected, purified, and preserved from other religions, and believed India’s Muslims and Christians were actually descendants of Hindus who had been converted to their respective religions by force.

A self-proclaimed admirer of European fascists, Hedgewar soon established military training camps in his hometown of Nagpur, in central India, in order to tutor young Hindus in combat techniques using swords, trishuls (three-pronged spears often seen in Hindu mythology), explosives, and gas cylinders. After Hedgewar died, in 1940, the group’s new “supreme director,” Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, maintained the RSS’s extremist views, writing glowingly of Nazi Germany in his popular manifesto, We, or Our Nationhood Defined. “To keep up the purity of the Race and its culture,” Golwalkar wrote, “Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic Races—the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by.” To Golwalkar, India was not a pluralistic, religiously diverse country but “Hindusthan”: To him, Muslims and Christians were godless “invaders.”  . ..

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2020 at 2:11 pm

“Police Blinded Me in One Eye. I Can Still See Why My Country’s on Fire.”

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Linda Tirado writes in The New Republic:

I have been weeping since Friday night, because that is the night I was shot in the face. I have, since then, begun to piece together what happened to me: It wasn’t a rubber bullet, it was a foam bullet. I was standing near Minneapolis’s Third Police Precinct. I will not regain sight in my left eye. I will need more surgeries. But I have not been crying for my lost vision; rather, it feels as though my body is reacting to what is happening to my country.

This has been coming for years; anyone with wisdom has felt it in their bones. You cannot elevate to leadership the most base elements of humanity, the most amoral and reckless and cruel, and think that things will go well for the nation. Back in 2016, a week or so before the presidential election, I wrote a piece about how Donald Trump’s campaign speeches were openly fascist, how they spiked fear in those parts of my soul that remember being raised as a nativist. Back then, you couldn’t say Trumpism was a form of fascism—it was considered a bit hysterical.

That remained true in mainstream consensus throughout 2017 and 2018. Sometime last year, more people started to realize that the norms were shattering, and they weren’t reassembling by way of any magnetic properties of self-healing constitutionalism. It was after we put migrant kids in camps and after the president started encouraging people to batter the press and after impeachment, but before the current stage of authoritarian collapse, which has us gassing clergy and desecrating churches for photo ops. Fascism is always a slow slide into routinized mayhem, noticeable to most people only in retrospect.

Since I was shot, I have been worldwide front-page news: China is using my bloodied face as propaganda, for instance. Hundreds, if not thousands, of interview requests have flooded in. All anyone wants to talk about is freedom of the press, if I am angry, what I will do next. I think that I am angry—but no more than I was this time last week, when I was watching America burn for the pleasure of our vainglorious leader. I lost an eye; George Floyd lost his life. What right do I have to rage on my own behalf?

I rage instead on behalf of my country, for the hundreds of millions of people who were appalled when Trump administration officials tried to change the words of Emma Lazarus into a brief for white resentment. I rage for the irony of the line “yearning to breathe free,” because we would not have our cities ablaze had our leadership cared an instant for the freedom or breath of those it considers its opposition, which is to say the citizenry.

If we must talk about press freedom, we must also talk about the First Amendment’s absolute guarantee of freedom of peaceable assembly—and the fact that it is the police, not some mythic rogue formation of antifa saboteurs, who are escalating conflicts. We know this because journalists keep documenting it, and because any person in a demonstration can become a momentary journalist if they have a cell phone and a data connection. We have seen the violent thugs in their stormtrooper uniforms joyfully unleashing violence, spitting on citizens during a pandemic, running civilians over with their SUVs, saying fuck your rights—and worse, fuck your life.

I have lost half of my vision, but I lack no clarity: There can be no peace without justice, and no justice without full-throated, damningly righteous anger. I am asked over and over again why are people burning and looting, and I wonder what anyone thinks they would do if they spent their whole lives being told they were lesser than and not equal, and then one day they woke up to a police state.

We saw this six years ago in Ferguson, Missouri, where I was embedded for weeks in the protest zone, sleeping in a tent with a group of youths who called themselves Lost Voices. It’s important to remember that the designated protest zone was about five blocks of a street called Florissant—and that people lived in cul-de-sacs off that street. That meant they had to drive through the tear gas and chaos to take their children home safely. Once police gassed the children, mothers broke down the glass door of the McDonald’s trying to get milk for their babies’ eyes. Employees were throwing milk to them, rushing to the back cooler to get more because tear gas is self-evidently bad for children. None of this got mentioned in the next day’s reporting from the mainstream press, which simply recited that the McDonald’s was looted.

A few days after that, I was taking photos on the highway where protesters were blocking traffic. Media were behind concrete barriers, clearly working as press rather than participants. An officer dressed all in black with plastic shin guards and elbow pads, dangling zip ties from his belt, pepper-sprayed me point-blank in the face. I have a picture of him somewhere, three feet away from me, shot when my camera was staring down the muzzle of his chemical weapon, and the hatred and glee twisting his face still gives me nightmares.

I am thinking about him a lot in recent days, as I watch footage of TV crews being arrested on live air and police spraying what they call “less lethal” rounds into crowds indiscriminately. I am thinking about him as I scroll Twitter, where brave men hide behind burner accounts to tell me “play stupid games win stupid prizes”—alt-right shorthand for calling me a traitor, to either the country or my race. In their discursive world, good white ladies are not supposed to scream that Black lives matter or point out the bigotry inherent in a system of law enforcement that started with slave patrols. White women, to those kinds of men, are not supposed to do much of anything except be quiescent until it is time to have babies or furnish a sexual pretext for some good old-fashioned racism. We are certainly not supposed to refuse to learn our lesson, even after we have been punished by having an eye put out.

Perhaps my best and worst quality is my defiance: I am . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 June 2020 at 3:48 pm

Mark Zuckerberg spoke with civil rights leaders about Trump’s posts. It didn’t go well.

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Mark Zuckerberg is a problem, and apparently a problem that will not go away and is not open to change. Cat Zakrzewski writes in the Washington Post:

Top Facebook executives, including Mark Zuckerberg, spoke with civil rights leaders last night as the company confronts a wave of backlash over its decision not to moderate President Trump’s controversial posts.

But the roughly hour-long call, intended to show the company takes concerns from the black community seriously, only further inflamed tensions.

Color of Change President Rashad Robinson, NAACP Legal Defense Fund president Sherrilyn Ifil and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights chief executive Vanita Gupta immediately blasted Zuckerberg in a statement following the call.

Robinson told me the meeting was “disappointing.”

What was clear coming out of that meeting is Mark has no real understanding of the history or current impact of voter suppression, racism or discrimination. He lives in a bubble, and he defended every decision that he’s made,” Robinson said in a phone interview.

The attendees discussed Facebook’s decision not to label or remove several of Trump’s posts last week, including one that appeared to incite violence against demonstrators that said “when the looting starts the shooting starts.” By contrast, the posts drew a warning from Twitter for violating its platform’s rules about “glorifying violence.”

“Mark is setting a very dangerous precedent for other voices who would say similar harmful things on Facebook,” the civil rights leaders said in the joint statement. The meeting also covered Trump’s post that made misleading claims about mail-in voting, which Twitter labeled but Facebook did not.

Facebook’s poor track record on civil rights issues could come under greater scrutiny as controversy mounts.

The Trump posts are the latest flashpoint in years-long tensions between Facebook and civil rights activists, especially since Russian actors leveraged Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram to broadcast posts aimed at suppressing the black vote in the 2016 election.

The activists say Facebook’s hands-off approach to Trump’s rhetoric underscores that it’s promises to support and work with the black community are empty.

“This is just another reminder that companies will say black lives matter, and then do a whole bunch of things to make it clear that they could care less about black lives,” Robinson said. “Those are two very powerful statements that Facebook is making – making it harder for us to vote and making us more unsafe from a hostile, violence-inciting president.”

Robinson said that Zuckerberg was trying to make the case that it wasn’t inciting necessarily violence, as much as it was promoting the law.

Zuckerberg, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and Facebook vice president of global affairs Nick Clegg spoke on the call, Robinson told me. Joel Kaplan, an executive who has become a lightning rod of criticism both internally and externally for promoting conservative positions in Facebook’s leadership, was also on the call but did not speak, Robinson said.

Just days before, Zuckerberg had a phone call with Trump about the decision not to moderate his posts.

The president had been mounting an aggressive campaign to pressure social media companies not to label or otherwise moderate his posts in the wake of Twitter’s unprecedented decision to label a pair of his tweets that made false claims about mail-in voting. The president signed an executive order last week that would prompt federal regulators to review the scope of Section 230, a legal provision that shields tech companies from lawsuits for the posts and photos on their services.

“It’s clear that the president and potential regulation from the president is in Facebook’s head,” Robinson said.

Twitter, meanwhile, is doubling down on its stand. The company restricted a tweet from Rep. Matt Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), which the company said violated its policies on glorification of violence, according to The Verge. “Now that we clearly see Antifa as terrorists, can we hunt them down like we do those in the Middle East?” the tweet read, before it was hidden from Gaetz’s profile and likes, retweets, and replies were disabled.

Facebook responded by thanking the civil rights leaders for their time.

“We’re grateful that leaders in the civil rights community took the time to share candid, honest feedback with Mark and Sheryl. It is an important moment to listen, and we look forward to continuing these conversations,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement.

Employees expressed disappointment with the leadership’s handling of the call on Twitter.

Brandon Dail, an engineer at Facebook, called the meeting “another half-measure”:

Hundreds of employees yesterday staged a “virtual walkout” in protest of the company’s handling of the Trump posts. Employees at Facebook and Instagram refused to work on Monday in solidarity with protests across the country over the death of George Floyd. They openly expressed their anger with Facebook’s decision not to moderate Trump’s post, largely taking to rival social network Twitter.

The civil rights leaders shared solidarity with the employees’ efforts. 

“I want the employees to know that we see them, and we appreciate them, and we appreciate their speaking up and standing up and pushing back,” Robinson told me in an interview. “That is part of how every bit of change has happened in this country, when people on the inside and people on the outside speak up. And I hope that they accept nothing less than real change — not platitudes, not empathy, but actual real change.”

Zuckerberg is expected to field questions from Facebook employees today. The company moved up its all-hands meeting that was originally scheduled for Thursday as internal backlash against Zuckerberg’s decision mounts.

The walkout marked a rare display of employee rebellion at the social network.

Facebook’s highly in-demand engineers, developers and employees are uniquely positioned to drive policy changes at the company. But until now, they rarely exercised that power as frequently as their peers at other tech companies, such as Google.

But Zuckerberg’s decision could be a turning point. Employees largely did not speak out — and certainly not in as coordinated or large numbers — when the company was embroiled in other high-profile controversies, such as the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal or the fallout from Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Many employees changed their profile pictures and shared messages of dissent on rival social network Twitter with the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #TakeAction. From Katie Zhu, who says on LinkedIn that she is a product manager for Instagram: . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the column:

Zuckerberg may face an uphill battle in addressing employee concerns.

Zuckerberg already had a chance to try to convince them his decision not to moderate Trump’s tweets was justified in an employee during a meeting on Friday.

The chief executive said Facebook would re-examine its policies around politicians discussing the use of state force on the service, Casey Newton reports for The Verge. That process could take weeks.

Zuckerberg also told employees he was unhappy with Trump’s remarks on the platform. “My first reaction … was just disgust,” he said, according to audio that Casey obtained of the meeting. “This is not how I think we want our leaders to show up during this time. This is a moment that calls for unity and calmness and empathy for people who are struggling.”

Facebook attempted to strike a supportive tone in its statement on the employee activism. The company also said it did not require employees who skipped work to use their paid time off to do so.

“We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our Black community,” Stone, the Facebook spokesman, told me. “We encourage employees to speak openly when they disagree with leadership. As we face additional difficult decisions around content ahead, we’ll continue seeking their honest feedback.”

Business partners and advertisers could be the next to challenge Facebook’s policies.

Talkspace, a company that provides therapy online, yesterday said it would pull out of talks for a six-figure deal with Facebook following the company’s decision. The deal was a content partnership, that would also involve Facebook leveraging the mental health app to provide therapy to certain audiences, such as students, CNBC reported.

Though such a deal is a drop in the bucket for a company with the scope and scale of Facebook, it is notable to see a start-up chief executive speak out against a company that many rely on as a key distribution channel. From Talkspace chief executive Oren Frank:

Written by LeisureGuy

2 June 2020 at 9:21 am

Is it Game Over for the US?

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It may be. Members of the press are now being attacked and arrested by the government (via law enforcement, including state police). Read this and see if you recognize the US.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 June 2020 at 12:35 pm

Useful checklist for critical thinking

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2020 at 9:46 am

Even Sean Hannity has blood on his hands

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2020 at 12:40 pm

Putin’s Long War Against American Science

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William J. Broad writes in the NY Times:

On Feb. 3, soon after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus to be a global health emergency, an obscure Twitter account in Moscow began retweeting an American blog. It said the pathogen was a germ weapon designed to incapacitate and kill. The headline called the evidence “irrefutable” even though top scientists had already debunked that claim and declared the novel virus to be natural.

As the pandemic has swept the globe, it has been accompanied by a dangerous surge of false information — an “infodemic,” according to the World Health Organization. Analysts say that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has played a principal role in the spread of false information as part of his wider effort to discredit the West and destroy his enemies from within.

The House, the Senate and the nation’s intelligence agencies have typically focused on election meddling in their examinations of Mr. Putin’s long campaign. But the repercussions are wider. An investigation by The New York Times — involving scores of interviews as well as a review of scholarly papers, news reports, and Russian documents, tweets and TV shows — found that Mr. Putin has spread misinformation on issues of personal health for more than a decade.

His agents have repeatedly planted and spread the idea that viral epidemics — including flu outbreaks, Ebola and now the coronavirus — were sown by American scientists. The disinformers have also sought to undermine faith in the safety of vaccines, a triumph of public health that Mr. Putin himself promotes at home.

Moscow’s aim, experts say, is to portray American officials as downplaying the health alarms and thus posing serious threats to public safety.

“It’s all about seeding lack of trust in government institutions,” Peter Pomerantsev, author of “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible,” a 2014 book on Kremlin disinformation, said in an interview.

The Russian president has waged his long campaign by means of open media, secretive trolls and shadowy blogs that regularly cast American health officials as patronizing frauds. Of late, new stealth and sophistication have made his handiwork harder to see, track and fight.

Even so, the State Department recently accused Russia of using thousands of social media accounts to spread coronavirus misinformation — including a conspiracy theory that the United States engineered the deadly pandemic.

The Kremlin’s audience for open disinformation is surprisingly large. The YouTube videos of RT, Russia’s global television network, average one million views per day, “the highest among news outlets,” according to a U.S. intelligence report.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2020 at 10:36 am

Why don’t they just walk out?

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Jay Rosen writes at Press Think:

Last week Maggie Haberman of the New York Times observed about Donald Trump’s daily briefings, “As long as he’s fighting with reporters, he can attempt to shift focus from where the government has lagged in its response.” 

Which raises the question, “why stick around for that?” As Mehdi Hasan of The Intercept put it

So why are the reporters, and the networks they work for, allowing him to do it? Being his punchbags on live TV *every single day*? Playing their role in his TV production? Why not ditch these ‘briefings’ and focus on the failed response? Relentlessly, forensically, passionately?

On social media people ask me this question a lot. Why don’t they just walk out?  There is no simple answer to that. I have no elegant explanation. What I have instead is a list of factors that might help you understand why the walk out doesn’t happen. But I want to be clear: I think it should happen. Here’s the way I have put it when people ask me what I would do: 

If I ran a newsroom I would not broadcast Trump’s Covid-19 briefings live. I would not send reporters so he can waste their time and use them as his hate objects. I would instruct them to watch it on CSPAN, and report any news that emerges. If he makes a factual claim it has to be verified or no go.

A few months ago this would have been an unthinkable stance for journalists who report on politics. But that is changing. Ron Fournier is a former White House reporter and Washington bureau chief for the AP. You cannot get more establishment than that:

So why do newsrooms keep sending their people to the briefings? Here is my list of factors, which, again, is a long way from an explanation. I’m not defending these propositions. But I am proposing that the answer to the question is some combination of items 1-13 here. 

1. What the president says is news. This was a wrong turn taken long ago in American journalism. It’s a kind of bug in the code for how to report on national politics. As a writer for the New York Times said in 1976, “Journalism has long been caught up in the particular tautology that runs, news is what the President says, so what the President says is news.” This never made a lot of sense. For one thing, it effectively hands over editorial control to the president. Another: what the president does is news, what the president says may or may not be. Third: journalists are always working with limited time or limited space. They cannot treat everything the president says as news. Nonetheless, the tautology remains. Trump has weaponized it. And if you think this way — what the president says is news — you’re going to want to be there when he says it. 

2. There is enormous prestige in being the president’s official interlocutor because it means you are effectively part of the presidency. This is not something journalists think to mention, but to me it is major. There is glamour in being at the White House every working day. It means you’re important. If you’re not in the actual room where history happens, you’re pretty damn close. That’s seductive. One occasion on which you can feel this is an official prime time press conference in the East Room of the White HouseQuitting that is hard if you want to feel important— and close to power. 

3. It’s part of our franchise, a thing we are able to do that others are not. This is a prestige factor, as well, but more for the executive suite. Having a seat in the briefing room means your brand has made it to the big time. You are now part of the national press. And if you have been big time forever, like CBS News, that’s not something you relinquish. It’s one of the advantages of media incumbency. 

4. We fought for this space in the White House, it’s valuable, we protect it, and we’re not going to give it up. This is how the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) thinks. Its agenda can be summed up in one word: access to the president and his aides. It’s not only about the briefing room, but work spaces in the White House and the ability to ask questions of the president’s communicatons staff, and perhaps develop valuable relationships. 

5. The American press tends to be a “herd of independent minds.” Meaning: it often moves as a pack, but each individual believes in his or her autonomous decision-making. Which means it . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s interesting.

He notes in concluding:

One last note: The New York Times does not send anyone to the coronavirus briefings. They walked out. 

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2020 at 10:21 am

Coronavirus spreads rapidly and kills more than the flu

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A cluster(f-k) of right-wing politicians and pundits — including Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump — repeatedly have stated (and, unfortunately, have been believed by some) that the cornonavirus is no worse than the common flu. Indeed, Limbaugh said is was simply the common cold. This chart, from a Philip Bump article in the Washington Post, exposes them for the lying vile blackguards that they are.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2020 at 10:53 am

Posted in GOP, Media, Medical

Unintended outcomes: The Hate Store: Amazon’s Self-Publishing Arm Is a Haven for White Supremacists

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Ava Kofman, Francis Tseng, and Moira Weigel report on how unmonitored media are exploited by hate groups (cf. various subreddits), in this case Amazon’s CreateSpace.

“Give me, a white man, a reason to live,” a user posted to the anonymous message board 4chan in the summer of 2017. “Should I get a hobby. What interests can I pursue to save myself from total despair. How do you go on living.”

A fellow user had a suggestion: “Please write a concise book of only factual indisputable information exposing the Jews,” focusing on “their selling of our high tech secrets to China/Russia” and “their long track record of pedophilia and perversion etc.”

The man seeking advice was intrigued. “And who would publish it and who would put it in their bookstores that would make it worth the trouble,” he asked.

The answer came a few minutes later. “Self-publish to Amazon,” his interlocutor replied.

“Kindle will publish anything,” a third user chimed in.

They were basically right. It takes just a couple of minutes to upload one’s work to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Amazon’s self-publishing arm; the e-book then shows up in the world’s largest bookstore within half a day, typically with minimal oversight. Since its founding more than a decade ago, KDP has democratized the publishing industry and earned praise for giving authors shut out of traditional channels the chance to reach an audience that would have been previously unimaginable.

It has also afforded the same opportunity to white supremacists and neo-Nazis, an investigation by ProPublica and The Atlantic has found. Releases include “Anschluss: The Politics of Vesica Piscis,” a polemic that praises the “grossly underappreciated” massacre of 77 people by the Norwegian neo-Nazi Anders Breivik in 2011, and “The White Rabbit Handbook,” a manifesto linked to an Illinois-based militia group facing federal hate-crime charges for firebombing a mosque. (Amazon removed the latter last week following questions from ProPublica.) About 200 of the 1,500 books recommended by the Colchester Collection, an online reading room run by and for white nationalists, were self-published through Amazon. And new KDP acolytes are born every day: Members of fringe groups on 4chan, Discord and Telegram regularly tout the platform’s convenience, according to our analysis of thousands of conversations on those message boards. There are “literally zero hoops,” one user in 4chan’s /pol/ forum told another in 2015. “Just sign up for Kindle Direct Publishing and publish away. It’s shocking how simple it is, actually.” Even Breivik, at the start of the 1,500-page manifesto that accompanied his terrorist attacks, suggested that his followers use KDP’s paperback service, among others, to publicize his message.

That these books are widely available on Amazon does not seem to be an accident but the inevitable consequence of the company’s business strategy. Interviews with more than two dozen former Amazon employees suggest that the company’s drive for market share and philosophical aversion to gatekeepers have incubated an anything-goes approach to content: Virtually no idea is too inflammatory, and no author is off-limits. As major social networks and other publishing platforms have worked to ban extremists, Amazon has emerged as their safe space, a haven from which they can spread their message into mainstream American culture with little more than a few clicks.

“There is a lot of extremist content on Amazon,” said J. M. Berger, who studies such works as a fellow with the E.U.-funded VOX-Pol research network. “The platform has gone largely overlooked because, understandably, we think of books differently than other content. But these products are for sale and they’re being algorithmically pushed.” We tested the recommendations for many far-right texts and discovered several that could lead users down a hate-filled rabbit hole, where the suggested books reinforce a white nationalist worldview. For e-books that retail between $2.99 and $9.99, authors keep 70% of the profits and Amazon takes the rest. (Amazon doesn’t break out revenue for book sales or its self-publishing arm.)

“As a bookseller, we believe that providing access to the written word is important,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. “That includes books that some may find objectionable, though we have policies governing which books can be listed for sale. We invest significant time and resources to ensure our guidelines are followed, and remove products that do not adhere to our guidelines. We also promptly investigate any book when a concern is raised.”

The growing influence of social networks on political life has prompted a national debate about what should stay up on these platforms, what should come down, who’s to blame and who decides. Following the deadly far-right violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and PayPal cracked down on the activities of white supremacists and hate groups on their platforms. In recent years, Amazon has barred several high-profile white supremacist authors, including former Klan leader David Duke, from its bookstore. It does occasionally pull extremist books from KDP, sometimes months or years after publication, and often in secret, without providing any explanation to authors or readers. But these removals appear to be the exception. KDP’s terse policies do not address hate speech, racism or incitements to violence, though Amazon reserves the right to remove any items from its store, including “content that disappoints our customers” or fails to “provide an enjoyable reading experience.” By and large, Amazon, which in the United States controls around half of the market for all books, and close to 90% for e-books, has become a gateway for white supremacists to reach the American reading public.


The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Billy Roper “the uncensored voice of violent neo-Nazism”; Roper calls himself “the most widely read living fiction author in the white nationalist movement.” For several decades, he has led . . .

Continue reading.

Full disclosure: My own book on shaving is published through CreateSpace, but the only object of hatred is bad shave experience.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2020 at 10:39 am

And yet people believe

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Watch this video:

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2020 at 8:20 pm

Posted in Media, Medical

The Malicious Irresponsibility of Rush Limbaugh

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Jonathan V. Last writes in the Bulwark:

1. The Reckoning

On March 31, over a 24 hour period, 1,049 Americans died from COVID-19.

That’s the official number for now—as we’re seeing in Italy, the real number may be higher, because it’s not clear that deaths are being tabulated as caused by COVID-19 unless there is either pre- or post-mortem testing for the virus.

But let’s just pretend that the 1,049 number is right. Put in context, that makes it one of the deadliest single days in U.S. history. But put it in another context and you’ll see that this isn’t some crazy one-off, like most of the other bloodiest days in American history—it’s part of a trend that is increasing.

This is the geometric progression I kept shouting about weeks ago: The number of deaths per day doubles roughly every three of four days.

Doubling. That’s the key to understanding how virality functions. We will soon be at 2,000 deaths per day.

Just try to get your head around that.

This New York Times piece does a nice job trying to hold to account some of the people from Conservatism Inc. who worked to prevent Americans from taking COVID-19 seriously. But honestly, it’s not enough. When this is all over, there should be a reckoning—a very real, very thorough reckoning—for all of the people who made this pandemic worse by pushing disinformation and lies in the service of making it harder for the country to quickly respond to the crisis.

But why wait? Let’s talk about Rush Limbaugh, because what this man has said over the last month ought to mark him for the rest of his life.

  • February 24: “Folks, this coronavirus thing, I want to try to put this in perspective for you. It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump. Now, I want to tell you the truth about the coronavirus. You think I’m wrong about this? You think I’m missing it by saying that’s — Yeah, I’m dead right on this. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.”
  • February 25: “Why couldn’t the coronavirus get Donald Trump reelected? What if the United States comes up with a dramatically great policy to deal with it—and the number of cases in the United States dwindles, goes down, or does not expand like the cases around the world? Then why wouldn’t that be beneficial to Trump? Notice: Here we are in February, and they’ve already got this virus ruining the economy by November, in time to take out Trump. This is proof they’ve got nothing. They know they can’t beat the guy, folks…. Donald Trump has survived every coup attempt, every assault on him, that has been made up and now the coronavirus, they’re trying to lay it at his feet and make him responsible for it and they’re doing irresponsible news reports claiming that the coronavirus is gonna destroy the US economy by when? November! Isn’t it magical? The coronavirus is the new Russians…”
  • March 9: “Democrats out the wazoo are showing up at Trump rallies. This is why they want these rallies stopped. This is why — it’s not because of public safety, not because of public health.”
  • March 11: “This coronavirus, they’re just — all of this panic is just not warranted. This, I’m telling you, when I tell you — when I’ve told you that this virus is the common cold. When I said that, it was based on the number of cases. It’s also based on the kind of virus this is. Why do you think this is “COVID-19”? This is the 19th coronavirus. They’re not uncommon. Coronaviruses are respiratory cold and flu viruses. There is nothing about this, except where it came from, and the itinerant media panic…”
  • March 13: “We’re shutting down our country because of the — the cold virus, which is what coronaviruses are. This is COVID-19, the 19th version of the coronavirus. We’re shutting it — can you imagine our enemies watching this? You think the Chinese are not laughing themselves silly over how easy this has been?”
  • March 27: “We didn’t elect a president to defer to a bunch of health experts that we don’t know. And how do we know they’re even health experts? Well, they wear white lab coats, and they’ve been in the job for a while, and they’re at the CDC and they’re at the NIH, and they’re up, well — yeah, they’ve been there, and they are there. But has there been any job assessment for them? They’re just assumed to be the best because they’re in government. But, these are all kinds of things that I’ve been questioning.”

There was another moment on March 11 where Limbaugh claimed that “medical professionals” weren’t overly concerned and then did a little rant against the very idea of suppression and mitigation protocols: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Limbaugh is one of the reasons conservatives are so misinformed.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2020 at 8:44 pm

Fox News does a 180º turn overnight

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2020 at 1:48 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Media, Video

Increase in obituary pages of a local Italian newspaper

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This compares a typical obituary section of a local newspaper in Bergamo Italy from February to the obituary section now.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 March 2020 at 1:26 pm

Media Struggles with the Rise of Bernie

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Carl Quesnel has an interesting post at The Simple Serial:

It’s been interesting watching the mass media lately as they contemplate what they should do about Bernie Sanders. The panic and desperation are palpable. Do we assume that he’s vulnerable enough that we should continue attacking him relentlessly to try to make sure he doesn’t get elected? Or do we pretend “we knew it all along” [that he could win] and try to “get ahead of this thing” by running positive stories about him?

At times it’s hard to tell the difference, but in general MSNBC leans a little more toward the right than CNN. While MSNBC maintains its penchant for reactionaries like Joe Scarborough and Chris Matthews, CNN has brought in more diverse voices like Van Jones and, more recently, Andrew Yang. Both of those gentlemen are friendly to the Sanders cause, at least more so than the folks at MSNBC. On the other hand, in the debates with CNN moderators, Bernie has endured nonstop accusations from the likes of Wolf Blitzer and Chuck Todd, who only seem to know how to ask “Given that your plan is likely to destroy the country, tell us why we should believe you when you say it won’t.”

Now I definitely can’t say I’m an expert on the national news media. Because MSNBC and CNN are only for those willing to pay astronomical cable bills, I only see their coverage through what free clips are available. And I don’t usually watch network TV because I don’t like cop shows or reality TV series. However, the media are so ever-present and pervasive that one accidentally consumes all sorts of content from many different sources without even realizing it. Also, I have watched almost all of the debates, and it’s rare that I miss any story about Bernie, be it positive or negative.

So whether it’s through osmosis or intentional consumption, I have actually noticed a subtle shift in coverage of the Sanders campaign. Up until recently, it was rare to see any positive stories from any news outlet that was less edgy than Rolling Stone, or Mother Jones, or Grist. (Yes, I know, calling those sources edgy is stretching the definition of the word.) But recently I’ve seen positive stories from USA Today, and even CNN just released one of the most touching articles about Bernie supporters that I’ve seen (‘He understands us’: Why his supporters are loyal to Bernie Sanders).

I think there’s evidence, too, that . . .

Continue reading.

I’m not really following the horse-race aspect of the campaign. On the whole, I currently favor Elizabeth Warren, possibly with Amy Klobuchar as VP. I am unimpressed with Joe Biden. Bernie’s refusal release his medical records — after explicitly promising that he would — shows the degree to which we can rely on his word. (Note that he completely controls whether those records are released or not — it’s not as though he is “unable” to release them. He is simply reneging on his promise.) If Bernie is nominated, the VP slot will be very important.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2020 at 8:33 am

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