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Michael Cohen case shines light on Sean Hannity’s property empire

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Jon Swaine reports in the Guardian:

When Sean Hannity was named in court this week as a client of Donald Trump’s embattled legal fixer Michael Cohen, the Fox News host insisted their discussions had been limited to the subject of buying property.

“I’ve said many times on my radio show: I hate the stock market, I prefer real estate. Michael knows real estate,” Hannity said on television, a few hours after the dramatic hearing in Manhattan, where Cohen is under criminal investigation.

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2018 at 5:12 pm

Do all Republicans make specious arguments (as does Robert Samuelson)?

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David Leonhardt writes in the NY Times:

The Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson did not like my latest column, “The Democrats Are the Party of Fiscal Responsibility.” He called it “a real hash” that came to “a partisan conclusion based on meager and selective evidence.” If you’re interested in the subject, I encourage you to read his piece and decide for yourself.

Here’s what I consider to be the tell in his argument: In his rebuttal points, the most recent presidencies that he mentions are from the 1960s. (He chides John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson for increasing the deficit.)

That means Samuelson neglects to mention all of the major pieces of federal policy passed in the last 50 years. One such law was Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut, which increased the deficit. Two others were George W. Bush’s 2001 tax cut and 2003 Medicare drug plan — both of which increased the deficit. President Trump’s recent tax cut, of course, increased it too.

Among the most significant Democratic laws of the last 50 years: Bill Clinton’s 1993 budget bill, which had deficit reduction as its central goal — and which passed without a single Republican vote. More recently, there was Obamacare. Like Bush’s Medicare expansion, it spent a lot of money to increase access to medical care. Unlike Bush’s plan, Obamacare included enough tax increases and spending cuts to reduce the deficit.

These aren’t a random selection of laws. They are the top legislative priorities of recent presidents. And the pattern is pretty obvious: Republican presidents have pursued policies that increased the deficit. Democrats have emphasized deficit reduction, sometimes to the disappointment of their own base.

Obviously, the complete story of the federal deficit has nuances. It involves decisions made by both parties and forces beyond their control, like economic downturns and foreign affairs. But to say that the story is nuanced is quite different than insisting on the unlikely conclusion that the parties are equally culpable. There is now a half-century’s worth of evidence to the contrary.

Related: The budget expert and deficit hawk Ben Ritz did a more detailed analysis of the deficit that also took into account congressional control. His conclusion was that “Democrats have generally been the more fiscally responsible party since the Carter administration.”

Written by LeisureGuy

20 April 2018 at 11:16 am

The mainstream media seem to be doing a pretty good job

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Read this list of Pulitizer Prize winners and the reasons they won.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 April 2018 at 2:20 pm

Posted in Media

Trump supporters do not follow the news

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We always suspected it, but Politico‘s Shawn Musgrave and Matthew Nussbaum back it up with this fascinating chart:

Take a minute to examine the chart. There are more counties toward the left and also lower circulation rates primarily because of population density: there are a great many sparsely populated counties, which is how Trump won an enormous number of counties—the great majority, represented in the chart by small red disks; the counties Clinton won are represented by small blue disks. But Clinton received over 2 million more votes than Trump: she won many fewer counties, but the counties had much greater population.

Their article begins:

President Donald Trump’s attacks on the mainstream media may be rooted in statistical reality: An extensive review of subscription data and election results shows that Trump outperformed the previous Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, in counties with the lowest numbers of news subscribers, but didn’t do nearly as well in areas with heavier circulation.

POLITICO’s findings — which put Trump’s escalating attacks on the media in a new context — were drawn from a comparison of election results and subscription information from the Alliance for Audited Media, an industry group that verifies print and digital circulation for advertisers. The findings cover more than 1,000 mainstream news publications in more than 2,900 counties out of 3,100 nationwide from every state except Alaska, which does not hold elections at the county level.

The results show a clear correlation between low subscription rates and Trump’s success in the 2016 election, both against Hillary Clinton and when compared to Romney in 2012. Those links were statistically significant even when accounting for other factors that likely influenced voter choices, such as college education and employment, suggesting that the decline of local media sources by itself may have played a role in the election results.

That gives new force to the widely voiced concerns of news-industry professionals and academicians about Trump’s ability to make bold assertions about crime rates, unemployment and other verifiable facts without any independent checks. Those concerns, which initially were raised during the campaign, were largely based on anecdotes and observations. POLITICO’s analysis suggests that Trump did, indeed, do worse overall in places where independent media could check his claims.

The White House declined to comment for this story, but Trump and his campaign officials have made no secret of their preference for partisan national outlets and social media to mainstream outlets of all types. When dealing with local media, Trump sometimes opted for local TV and radio stations owned by conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcasting. Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, has said Sinclair agreed to have their stations broadcast interviews with Trump without commentary — which includes fact checks. (Sinclair has said it offered the same deal to Clinton, but she didn’t do any interviews.)

Now, as president, Trump is openly touting Sinclair, even though his own Federal Communications Commission is wrestling with whether to approve its effort to vastly expand its reach by buying Tribune Broadcasting. And in praising Sinclair, as in many other areas of policy and politics, Trump is utilizing social media rather than speaking directly to reporters, a method of communication that Trump considers essential to his success.

“I doubt I would be here if it weren’t for social media, to be honest with you,” Trump told Fox Business Network in October. Without it, he said at the time, he “would never … get the word out.”

POLITICO’s analysis shows how he succeeded in avoiding mainstream outlets, and turned that into a winning strategy: Voters in so-called news deserts — places with minimal newspaper subscriptions, print or online — went for him in higher-than-expected numbers. In tight races with Clinton in states like Wisconsin, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, the decline in local media could have made a decisive difference.

To assess how the decline in news subscriptions might have affected the presidential race, POLITICO made a county-by-county comparison of data from AAM. Almost all daily newspapers report their subscription numbers, print and online, to AAM for verification in order to sell to advertisers. (Some of the smallest outlets do not, though, including weekly publications.) After ranking the counties on subscription rates, POLITICO compared election results between counties with high and low subscription rates, and used regression analysis to determine the correlation between news circulation and election results.

Among the findings:

• Trump did better than Romney in areas with fewer households subscribing to news outlets but worse in areas with higher subscription rates: In counties where Trump’s vote margin was greater than Romney’s in 2012, the average subscription rate was only about two-thirds the size of that in counties where Trump did worse than Romney.

• Trump struggled against Clinton in places with more news subscribers: Counties in the top 10 percent of subscription rates were twice as likely to go for Clinton as those in the lowest 10 percent. Clinton was also more than 3.7 times as likely to beat former President Barack Obama’s 2012 performance in counties in the top 10 percent compared to those in the lowest 10 percent — the driest of the so-called news deserts.

• Trump’s share of the vote tended to drop in accordance with the amount of homes with news subscriptions: For every 10 percent of households in a county that subscribed to a news outlet, Trump’s vote share dropped by an average of 0.5 percentage points.

To many news professionals and academics who’ve studied the flow of political information, there’s no doubt that a lack of trusted local media created a void that was filled by social media and partisan national outlets.

“Without having the newspaper as kind of ‘true north’ to point you to issues, you are left to look for other sources,” said Penny Abernathy, a University of North Carolina professor who has closely studied the decline of local media. “And because of the dramatic rise in social media, that ends up being your Facebook friends.”

Rick Tyler, who served as communications director for Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) presidential campaign, had a front-row seat for the rise of Trump, and noted that for many Trump supporters, the candidate himself was the most trusted source of news.

“What he’s doing is he is becoming the source and they believe him,” Tyler said. “It doesn’t matter if the people they don’t believe say he’s not telling the truth. Trump’s breakthrough is that he’s unencumbered by the truth.”

Trump himself communicates directly to about 50 million followers on Twitter, and during the presidential primaries,his Twitter following was larger than the total number of votes he received in becoming the Republican Party nominee. His number of Twitter followers far exceeds the number of subscribers for all news outlets, print and digital, in the country — 35 million for weekday and 38 million on Sundays as of 2016, according to AAM figures.

In late December, Trump wrote on Twitter: “I use Social Media not because I like to, but because it is the only way to fight a VERY dishonest and unfair ‘press,’ now often referred to as Fake News Media. Phony and non-existent ‘sources’ are being used more often than ever. Many stories & reports a pure fiction!”


Starting in the 1970s, when the control of the nominating process shifted from party elites to primary-election voters, a common sight at rallies, conventions and debates was small groups of journalists, men and women, most of them having traveled in from Washington, gathering to compare observations. Together, they would decide what news had been made — which candidate handled himself better, which exchanges were the most relevant, which assertions were the most questionable.

In the days before the Internet, about a dozen news outlets dominated national political coverage. They included the major television networks, weekly news magazines, The Associated Press, and about a half-dozen newspapers. Wire services such as The New York Times News Service and The Washington Post-Los Angeles Times service sent out their articles to smaller papers across the country, guaranteeing vastly wider circulation for their stories.

Top columnists and political writers would therefore appear in hundreds of newspapers, reaching tens of millions of homes. The families in those homes might have had little awareness of where the articles originated, but were reassured by knowing that trusted local editors had chosen those pieces for publication. And the local newspapers themselves engendered a strong, often fierce loyalty: They were part of families’ lives from birth to death, offering everything from holiday recipes to obituaries. They were where Mom and Dad’s wedding photo was published, and where yellowing clippings of long-ago heroics on the high-school gridiron were saved for posterity.

The editors lived in the communities they served, and went to the same churches and parent-teacher meetings that their readers attended. So when they decided to publish a story about national politics, it had a local stamp of approval: The local newspaper editor — and, in a similar way, the local TV anchor — were validators for national political coverage by reporters thousands of miles away.

By the start of the 2016 election campaign, newspapers had endured a quarter century of sharp declines in subscriptions — a loss of about 40 percent of their readers — and local TV and radio had lost much of their economic base, as well. And the rate of decline was increasing.

Between 2015 and 2016 alone, print and digital subscription rates dropped 8 percent, according to AAM. Between the 2012 election, in which Barack Obama squared off against Romney, and the 2016 Trump-Clinton clash, weekday subscriptions dropped 19 percent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that between 2004 and 2015. the newspaper industry lost 37 percent of its workers, leaving empty desks in newsrooms where reporters used to work. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2018 at 9:28 am

Lawsuit against the US government over paywalled immigration data

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David Yanofsky reports in Quartz:

Above the forwarded email I sent to my editor in March 2015 were the following remarks: “FYI, FOIAing two databases because they charge $13,000 a piece per year to access them.” Three years later, a federal district court judge says I’m entitled to that data—the only near-comprehensive records of people coming to the US—for the same fees afforded any other Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Between these two moments, the government missed administrative and court deadlines, and even changed its reason for denying my request. We’ve learned that there are few, if any, buyers of the data I’m seeking, yet staffers of the office who maintain the data say it generates revenue essential to their operation, and that governments officials couldn’t understand why a media company would want it. In that time, three more years of data have also been released, with the most recent year’s priced at $16,770.

The databases I seek are maintained by The US Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA). They don’t just tally US visitors by their origin, but also by age, residency, port of entry, visa type, and initial destination.

In a new ruling from the US District Court for the District of Columbia filed on March 30, judge Ketanji Brown Jackson agreed with my lawyers from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Commerce had no legal basis to charge me exorbitant fees to access government data. My lawyers are representing me in this case pro bono.

Commerce argued that the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961 and the Appropriations Act of 2016 taken together constitute a statute that can preempt the FOIA. At its core, Jackson says, the laws that Commerce points to “cannot plausibly be read” to contain the two requirements needed to supersede FOIA rules on charging for government records. They do not contain language about setting fees or mention the specific data I requested.

The case is not without a silver lining for the agency and the government. In a more technical part of the decision, Jackson ruled that what I and my lawyers characterized as an unallowable change of reasoning by the government between the administrative and judicial stages is—in fact—allowable. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2018 at 9:24 am

Why Devin Nunes and His Local Paper Suddenly Can’t Stand Each Other

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Bryan Schatz reports in Mother Jones:

For nearly two decades, Rep. Devin Nunes had enjoyed an amiable relationship with the Fresno Bee, the largest local paper near his district in California’s Central Valley. That ended on January 25, when the Bee’s editorial board published an eviscerating editorial about the veteran Republican congressman. Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, had been accusing the FBI of allegedly abusing a secret surveillance program in order to target the Trump campaign and undermine his presidency. Democrats said Nunes was attempting to discredit his own committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Nunes claimed that a soon-to-be declassified four-page memo he’d written would prove everything.

The Bee‘s editorial board wasn’t buying it. Its piece titled “Rep. Devin Nunes, Trump’s Stooge, Attacks FBI” opened with this no-holds-barred lead:

What, pray tell, does Rep. Devin Nunes think he’s doing by waving around a secret memo attacking the FBI, the nation’s premier law enforcement agency? He certainly isn’t representing his Central Valley constituents or Californians, who care much more about health care, jobs and, yes, protecting Dreamers than about the latest conspiracy theory. Instead, he’s doing dirty work for House Republican leaders trying to protect President Donald Trump in the Russia investigation.

It was the first public rift between the Bee‘s editorial board and the veteran Tulare County Republican. The Bee‘s editorial page had stayed silent eight months earlier when Nunes made headlines with his “midnight run” to the White House, when he purportedly read classified documents and then held a solo press conference the next morning to repeat the Trump administration’s claims that the Obama administration may have illegally spied on its transition team. The much-hyped Nunes memo, however, marked a turning point. “This was not something we took lightly. It was very seriously thought out,” says Gail Marshall, the Bee‘s editorial page editor. “We wanted to get his attention and the attention of the people on this direction he’s going. And I think it succeeded in that.”

In response, Nunes has lashed out at the Bee—including the reporters whose work is separate from its editorial page. In an interview with Bee reporter Rory Appleton on February 22, Nunes called the paper “a joke” and a “left-wing rag.” Nunes fumed when Appleton asked him if he would be holding any public forums or town halls during the 2018 election cycle. “You know—it’s actually sad,” he said. “I actually feel bad for the people who work at the Bee.”

National outlets reported on the unexpectedly harsh January editorial, and emails, letters, and phone calls from around the country started pouring into the Bee. “We expected a lot of pushback,” says Marshall, but the overwhelming majority, she says, blasted Nunes, not the paper. A few days after Nunes went public with his memo, the Bee published a 13-letter sample of what they’d been receiving. Eric Hanson of Minneapolis asked, “Is Devin Nunes really as stupid as he is behaving?” In an appeal to voters in the district, John Mapes of Eugene, Oregon, wrote, “You elected Nunes and you need to fix this mess.”

The few critical letters the Bee received didn’t support Nunes so much as they railed against his perceived enemies, Marshall says. Targets included “the media, the Democrats, the evil dark state—always going back to some other evil villain, but not jumping up and saying, ‘Here’s my experience with Congressman Nunes. Here’s how he helped us.’”

Since its first critical editorial ran, the Bee‘s editorial page has continued to call outNunes not only for his role in gumming up the Trump-Russia investigation, but also for his lackluster record. Nunes is considered a champion of water rights in his heavily agricultural district, but he has delivered few tangible results. Since 2013, only two of his bills have become law, and neither was related to water. In his interview with Appleton, he struggled to detail any major accomplishments during his 15 years in office. “We’re still talking about needing storage, needing to move water. By now, we should have dams with his name on them,” says Marshall. “He’s been at this a long time. I and a lot of other people don’t see a lot of great results coming from it.”

Marshall thinks that Nunes is increasingly “afraid of talking to his constituent press, his constituents, and of meeting with people.” He reportedly hasn’t held a town hall since 2010. His constituents, Marshall says, “wanted to talk to their congressman, and he was having none of it. He was getting more and more distant from us, more and more partisan, and more and more allied to his Washington duties, and less interested in us,” Marshall says.

Nunes and the Bee didn’t always have such a combative relationship. For more than 20 years, the Bee‘s reporting on him has been straightforward and its editorial board has recommended him for reelection “time after time,” says Marshall. In 1996, at just 23 years old, Nunes unseated a long-time incumbent on a community college board. “Who doesn’t love a young upstart college student who is eager to get into politics and have his voice heard?” notes Marshall. In 1998, Nunes tried to run for Congress, but the elections office said he was too young. He challenged the decision, and a judge ruled in his favor after he noted that he would be 25 by election day. (He lost in the primary.) In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed him to be California’s director of rural development for the Department of Agriculture. He was elected to Congress in 2003 and quickly gained a reputation as an up-and-coming young Republican. In the early years, Marshall says, Nunes was “very personable, very willing to talk to everybody; he was visible in the district. He gave us no reason to be very upset with him.”

The relationship first started to sour in 2010 when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2018 at 9:19 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP, Media

Lt Col Ralph Peters’ resignation letter

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Here it is in full:

On March 1st, I informed Fox that I would not renew my contract. The purpose of this message to all of you is twofold:

First, I must thank each of you for the cooperation and support you’ve shown me over the years. Those working off-camera, the bookers and producers, don’t often get the recognition you deserve, but I want you to know that I have always appreciated the challenges you face and the skill with which you master them.

Second, I feel compelled to explain why I have to leave. Four decades ago, I took an oath as a newly commissioned officer. I swore to “support and defend the Constitution,” and that oath did not expire when I took off my uniform. Today, I feel that Fox News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers. Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed.

In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration. When prime-time hosts–who have never served our country in any capacity–dismiss facts and empirical reality to launch profoundly dishonest assaults on the FBI, the Justice Department, the courts, the intelligence community (in which I served) and, not least, a model public servant and genuine war hero such as Robert Mueller–all the while scaremongering with lurid warnings of “deep-state” machinations– I cannot be part of the same organization, even at a remove. To me, Fox News is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit.

As a Russia analyst for many years, it also has appalled me that hosts who made their reputations as super-patriots and who, justifiably, savaged President Obama for his duplicitous folly with Putin, now advance Putin’s agenda by making light of Russian penetration of our elections and the Trump campaign. Despite increasingly pathetic denials, it turns out that the “nothing-burger” has been covered with Russian dressing all along. And by the way: As an intelligence professional, I can tell you that the Steele dossier rings true–that’s how the Russians do things.. The result is that we have an American president who is terrified of his counterpart in Moscow.

I do not apply the above criticisms in full to Fox Business, where numerous hosts retain a respect for facts and maintain a measure of integrity (nor is every host at Fox News a propaganda mouthpiece–some have shown courage). I have enjoyed and valued my relationship with Fox Business, and I will miss a number of hosts and staff members. You’re the grown-ups.

Also, I deeply respect the hard-news reporters at Fox, who continue to do their best as talented professionals in a poisoned environment. These are some of the best men and women in the business..

So, to all of you: Thanks, and, as our president’s favorite world leader would say, “Das vidanya.”

Kevin Drum comments:

Note that Peters didn’t quit when Tucker Carlson gave a platform to a congressman who thought ISIS was behind the Las Vegas shooting. He didn’t quit when Fox was reporting sympathetically about Trump’s response to white supremacists in Charlottesville. He didn’t quit over Benghazi. He didn’t quit over the birther conspiracty theories. He didn’t quit when Sean Hannity was peddling lies about the DNC murdering Seth Rich. He didn’t quit when Megyn Kelly and other were pushing racial hysteria over the New Black Panthers. He didn’t quit over the Shirley Sherrod affair.

I could go on, but that would be boring. The point is this: He didn’t care about all that other stuff. After all, lying about liberals is fine. It’s only when Fox started lying about the FBI and Vladimir Putin that he got upset.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2018 at 9:38 am

Posted in Media

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