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Archive for the ‘Washington Post’ Category

The Clinton Foundation and the Merchants of Doubt

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The Washington Post had a major story that was presented as a scandal, but it included (in the fifth paragraph of the story):

There is no evidence that Laureate received special favors from the State Department in direct exchange for hiring Bill Clinton, but the Baltimore-based company had much to gain from an association with a globally connected ex-president and, indirectly, the United States’ chief diplomat.

I added emphasis. The story is written as though the fact that Laureate received no special favors is diappoionting, and the story seems to be saying that even though nothing bad happened, it still might have happened, and that’s bad. In other words, it’s a story simply slinging mud on the basis of what it admits is “no evidence.”

And the the 26th paragraph:

Clinton’s contract with Laureate was approved by the State Department’s ethics office….An ethics official wrote that he saw “no conflict of interest with Laureate or any of their partners,” according to a letter recently released by the conservative group Citizens United, which received it through a public-records request.

So again: nothing wrong was done, but that doesn’t stop the Washington Post from ringing bells of alarm.

Compare the very mild treatment the Post gave Donald Trump’s relationship with the Florida Attorney General. Kevin Drum summarizes what happened in 2013:

Late August: Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi calls Donald Trump to ask for a donation to her reelection campaign.

September 10: In an unusual show of interest in a down-ballot race in Florida, Ivanka Trump donates $500 to Bondi. Apparently that’s insultingly small.

September 13: Bondi tells the Orlando Sentinel that her office is “currently reviewing the allegations” that Trump University has defrauded its students.

September 17: The Trump Foundation makes a $25,000 contribution to a PAC backing Bondi.

October 15: The Florida Attorney General’s office backtracks, telling the Orlando Sentinel there was never any consideration of joining the lawsuit against Trump U because they had received only one complaint during the time Bondi was in office. This was untrue: the AG’s office had received a couple dozen complaints, but had weeded them out so they could say there was only one.

As Kevin Drum notes:

There have been an endless number of stories about “clouds” and “suspicions” and “questions raised” regarding donations to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. So far, though, there’s nothing even close to a smoking gun. Quite the opposite: the evidence so far suggests very strongly that nobody ever got anything for contributing to the Foundation.

But here we have a case that’s a mere hair’s breadth away from a smoking gun. There’s only the slightest wiggle room for believing that the events in Florida are all just a big coincidence. Maybe they deserve a little bit more front-page attention?

So what’s going on? Nancy LeTourneau writes about this kind of action in the Washington Monthly:

Do you remember that time when Jim Inhofe brought a snowball onto the Senate floor in February as “proof” that climate change is a hoax? He was being what we might call a “merchant of doubt.” Never mind that the scientific community has been studying the rise in global temperatures for quite a while. One snowfall in Washington raises doubts about what they’ve found.

The truth is that when scientists study things like global temperatures, they don’t assume that they need to look at the temperature of every single location on the planet every single day. Instead, they do a statistical analysis based on the number of locations/dates that prove to be significant as a way to measure the phenomenon. This is common practice in the scientific community and applies to everything from the study of climate change to political polling.

It is interesting to use this same method to study what we’ve learned lately about the Clinton Foundation. Any scientific inquiry must start with a hypothesis to test or questions to answer. In his interview on Democracy Now, Paul Glastris identified what the two questions are in this inquiry.

  1. Did Clinton Foundation donors get special access to the Secretary of State because of their donations?
  2. If they got special access, did they get anything in return for their donation?

To answer those questions from the perspective of scientific inquiry, we don’t need access to every single piece of data that it is possible to collect about the 4 years Hillary Clinton spent as Secretary of State. What we need is a statistically significant portion of that data. Tallying what that number would be is impossible because we don’t know the actual number of data points that exist (i.e., the denominator). But we can be fairly certain that when it comes to meetings/phone calls and emails, we have now gotten access to considerably more than a statistically significant number of them via the 171 emails released by Judicial Watch (in addition to what has already been released) and the 84 foundation donors studied by the Associated Press.

As has been pointed out here and elsewhere, based on a review of all of that data, what we have seen is that in every single instance, Sec. of State Clinton and her staff have consistently made the right choice. And yet, even the New York Times editorial board still insist on writing this:

Does the new batch of previously undisclosed State Department emails prove that big-money donors to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation got special favors from Mrs. Clinton while she was secretary of state?

Not so far, but that the question arises yet again points to a need for major changes at the foundation now, before the November election.

Can I suggest that, much as the “question” about Benghazi continues in the fevered minds of some (after even multiple Republican Congressional inquiries have produced nothing), “the question that arises yet again” is as dispositive as Inhofe’s snowball in February. We are, at this point, dealing with nothing more than merchants of doubt.

Some will suggest that the issue here is the “appearance of corruption.” But once data has been presented to disprove that appearance, it is time to stop making that accusation and move on. As Matt Yglesias points out so well today, the reason this continues is more aptly described as the “assumption of corruption” when it comes to Hillary Clinton. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 September 2016 at 11:13 am

“We Need to Talk About Huma Abedin Differently”

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2016 at 3:59 pm

How Donald Trump’s bizarre voter-watch effort could get the GOP in trouble

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I think it is highly likely that Trump is echoing from a perhaps dim memory the New Jersey intimidation campaign: it’s the sort of thing that would strike him as clever and showy, and he certainly would have heard of it: New Jersey is right there.

Philip Bump reports in the Washington Post, making it perfectly clear that Trump is way in over his head:

After telling an audience in Altoona, Pa., that he would seek their help in policing the polls in November to root out voter fraud — something thateven the state of Pennsylvania has noted doesn’t exist in any meaningful way — Donald Trump’s campaign nationalized the effort on Saturday morning. Now eager Trump backers can go to Trump’s website and sign up to be “a Trump Election Observer.” Do so, and you get an email thanking you for volunteering and assuring you that the campaign will “do everything we are legally allowed to do to stop crooked Hillary from rigging this election.”

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There are any number of problems with this, again starting with the fact that the frequency of in-person voter fraud in elections is lower than getting five numbers right in the Powerball. But there’s a potentially bigger legal problem noted by election law expert Rick Hasen of the University of California at Irvine: Trump’s unnecessary effort could be violating a prohibition against voter intimidation that applies to the Republican Party.

In 1981, the Republican Party rolled out a voter-integrity effort in New Jersey that mirrors what Trump demanded in Altoona. As described in a legal ruling about the prohibition:

The RNC allegedly created a voter challenge list by mailing sample ballots to individuals in precincts with a high percentage of racial or ethnic minority registered voters and, then, including individuals whose postcards were returned as undeliverable on a list of voters to challenge at the polls. The RNC also allegedly enlisted the help of off-duty sheriffs and police officers to intimidate voters by standing at polling places in minority precincts during voting with “National Ballot Security Task Force” armbands. Some of the officers allegedly wore firearms in a visible manner.

(Trump in Altoona: “We have to call up law enforcement. And we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching. … The only way they can beat it in my opinion — and I mean this 100 percent — if in certain sections of the state they cheat, okay?”)

The Democrats sued, and in 1982, the two parties agreed to a system under which the Republican National Committee agreed to refrain from a number of tactics that could be used to intimidate voters. That consent decree, as it is called, has been modified a number of times, often in response to efforts to challenge the ability of Democratic voters to vote, occasionally targeting black voters specifically.

In his blog post, Hasen points specifically to the fifth prohibition in the decree, Part E, which keeps the party from “undertaking any ballot security activities in polling places or election districts where the racial or ethnic composition of such districts is a factor in the decision to conduct, or the actual conduct of, such activities there and where a purpose or significant effect of such activities is to deter qualified voters from voting.” Trump’s pointed reference to how voters in “certain sections of the state” were likely to cheat was almost certainly a reference to a debunked claimthat the vote was rigged in predominantly black parts of Philadelphia.

We spoke with Hasen by phone on Saturday morning, and he . . .

Continue reading.

I bet there are buckets of flop sweat pouring not from Trump, but from those supporting him, who gave up a lot in hopes of a payoff whose chances drop with every utterance Trump makes. Like today’s Tweet, blogged earlier today. The man simply has no awareness of the content, which to him seems beside the point: it’s all in the rhythm and the flow of attacks and headlines and stupid denial with more headlines, and then complete denial with more headlines. I think he’s taken it out as many as four iterations, as in the Obama and Clinton founded ISIS thing: utter crap when he said it, but journalismed to death. And Katrina Pierson’s bland statement that the US was not in Afghanistan until Obama invaded: Obama took the US into Afghanistan.

And it’s a great meme, since it almost compels one to repeat it, as I just did. If you look as this election as a meme struggle in a jungle of memes, all evolving to beat the band, this sort of tactic makes sense: it is a strongly reproducing meme, since it is so absolutely, outrageously false: a complete, utter, baldfaced lie.

So like looky-loos, people write about it, and in describing it, perpetuates it: rapid-fire meme reproduction. In action, right here.

Still, it is an amazing statement, isn’t it? From the spokesperson of a man who might actually become president. Don’t you get a sense that there is something deeply wrong with the US that this is happening? That would make sense: Trump as a symptom showing that somewhere along the way we got off track. Just thinking in meme terms.

UPDATE: Though meme evolution does give an interesting way of looking at what is happening before our very eyes, and it can also be observed in other contexts, my recommendation would be that, if you’ve not talked about it, don’t. It’s a neat idea that provides a “least-causes” explanation for what we see, but until you’ve chewed the idea over for a while and looked for (and found) instances, it does sound wacky: like a kind of cartoon science. But I think he was really onto something, and he gave convincing reasons (Darwinian first principles) for what what happens should hape according to meme evolution. But you see what I mean about wacky.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 August 2016 at 2:36 pm

Oil Lobby Paid Washington Post and Atlantic to Host Climate-Change Deniers at RNC

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Corporate control of US government is moving to corporate control of media messaging. Alex Emmons reports in The Intercept:

AT THE AWARD-WINNING seafood restaurant in downtown Cleveland thatThe Atlantic rented out for the entire four-day Republican National Convention, GOP Rep. Bill Johnson turned to me and explained that solar panels are not a viable energy source because “the sun goes down.”

Johnson had just stepped off the stage where he was one the two featured guests speaking at The Atlantic’scocktail caucus,” where restaurant staff served complimentary wine, cocktails, and “seafood towers” of shrimp, crab cakes, oysters, and mussels to delegates, guests, reporters and, of course, the people paying the bills.

The event was sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying arm of fossil fuel giants like ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhilips.

Johnson, a climate denier and influential member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, spoke of a future when American scientists “solve these big problems” and “figure out how to harness the sun’s energy, and store it up, so that we can put it out over time.” His hypothetical invention, of course, is called a battery, and was invented over 200 years ago.

Instead of balancing Johnson with an environmentalist or a climate scientist,The Atlantic paired Johnson with another notorious climate denier: Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who is an energy adviser to Donald Trump. Cramer hascalled global warming “fraudulent science by the EPA,” and once told a radio audience in 2012 that “we know the globe is cooling.”

Both congressmen went nearly unchallenged by the moderator, The Atlantic’sWashington Editor Steve Clemons, who said he wasn’t able to find an opposing speaker, but went ahead with the event anyway.

Lewis Finkel, a top lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute gave the opening remarks. “We are pushing forward for a robust energy discussion during this election cycle,” he said.

Evidence of human-made climate change is so conclusive that it’s wrong for journalists to treat its denial like a reasonable point of view. But it is a new low for major media groups to sell their brand to lobbyists and let climate truthers go unchallenged.

And The Atlantic was hardly alone. At the Republican National Convention, the American Petroleum Institute also paid the Washington Post and Politico to host panel conversations where API literature was distributed, API representatives gave opening remarks, and not one speaker was an environmentalist, climate expert, scientists, or Democrat.

At The Atlantic‘s event, Cramer and Johnson both downplayed concerns about climate science. “The 97 percent of the scientists who believe its real, don’t all believe the exact same level,” said Cramer. “Whose fault it is, what’s going to stop it, … there’s a wide range in that spectrum.”

Johnson told the audience “climate change is probably not in most American’s top 10, top 20 issues.”

Clemons offered only limited pushback. When Johnson argued that alternative energy should not receive federal subsidies, Clemons pointed out that “the natural gas and the oil industry and the fossil fuel sector also have massive subsidies built into them,” and asked Johnson, “Would you remove all of those? How do you have that discussion?”

Johnson replied with a non-answer: “You let the energy market drive the innovation. I am not against incentives … for companies trying to pursue energy-efficient projects.” Clemons did not press him on the point. . .

Continue reading. Video at the link.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, James Fallows has to say about this.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2016 at 6:35 pm

What’s Really Behind the Washington Post’s Efforts to Marginalize Bernie Sanders?

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An interesting column in Wall Street on Parade, by Pam Martens and Russ Martens:

An article in the Washington Post yesterday continued the paper’s unrelenting efforts to marginalize Senator Bernie Sanders and his effort to press forward on his call for a political revolution in America.  The Post article brandished its most preposterous cudgel yet: the cost of Senator Sanders’ continuing protection by the Secret Service, which it suggested was a drain on taxpayers. Calling Sanders the “now-vanquished Democratic presidential candidate,” the Post’s John Wagoner laments that even though “Hillary Clinton has clinched the party’s nomination,” Sanders is still receiving Secret Service protection which could be costing taxpayers more than $38,000 a day.

In fact, Clinton hasn’t clinched anything until there is an official vote taken at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 25-28, no matter how muchcorporate media might wish otherwise. And since there has never been a Presidential candidate like Clinton, who is under an active criminal FBI investigation for violating State Department policy and transmitting classified material over a private server in her home, anything is possible before the July convention — or thereafter.

To put that $38,000 a day Secret Service cost into perspective, in a report released this past February by the non-partisan investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office, the U.S. government flunked its audit for 2015 because “34 percent of the federal government’s reported total assets as of September 30, 2015” could not be reconciled. That 34 percent represents $1.08 trillion – perhaps a larger worry than spending $38,000 a day to safeguard a man now regarded as a national treasure and the only Presidential contender with any hope of restoring the confidence of young people in their government and the political process.

What was particularly outrageous about the Post writer raising the cost issue of a security detail is that it came at the end of a week when an elected member of the British Parliament, Jo Cox, was brutally murdered over her political beliefs and at a time in the U.S. when attacks by assault-weapon toting mass murderers are becoming a regular occurrence.

If this was an isolated smack down of Sanders at the Washington Post, it wouldn’t trigger speculation about an underlying agenda. But it comes on the heels of an endless series of efforts to marginalize Bernie Sanders at the newspaper.

On March 8, the media watchdog, FAIR, reported that in “what has to be some kind of record,” the Washington Post had published “16 negative stories on Bernie Sanders in 16 hours,” a period which included the “crucial Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan.”

The FAIR report noted that billionaire Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, the online retailer, had purchased the Washington Post in 2013. It called attention to reasons Bezos might wish to send another establishment candidate to the White House:

. . . Bezos has enjoyed friendly ties with both the Obama administration and the CIA. As Michael Oman-Reagan notes, Amazon was awarded a $16.5 million contract with the State Department the last year Clinton ran it. Amazon also has over $600 million in contracts with the Central Intelligence Agency, an organization Sanders said he wanted to abolish in 1974, and still says he “had a lot of problems with. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 June 2016 at 12:46 pm

How to Cover Donald Trump Fairly: A Style Guide

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Alexandra Petri offers helpful guidance in the Washington Post (whose press credentials Donald Trump just revoked because they ran a true report about him):

This Style Guide to Covering Trump Honestly and Fairly is too late for me, since I work at The Post, which has had its credentials revoked by the Trump campaign.

But it may not be too late for you, other members of the media! Please read and implement!

The Pillars of Covering Trump:

1. Donald Trump is never wrong.

Donald Trump is infallible — like the pope but with more raw sexual charisma. If Donald Trump appears to be wrong in a story, either because of a statement or an action, or some combination of the two, it should be rewritten so that he is not wrong. A good baseline for what is fair and honest coverage is that fair and honest coverage depicts Donald Trump as the shining, golden god he is, envied of men and beloved of women. Unfair, dishonest coverage does not depict Donald Trump this way.

2. Style is as important as substance. A good post about Donald Trump includes at least one of the following words: “huge,” “great,” “manly,” “terrific,” “incredible,” “fantastic,” “remarkable,” “big”/”bigly,” “immense,” “girthy,” “magisterial,” “gargantuan,” “tumescent.” Ideally, this word would be in the headline. A bad post about Donald Trump includes the words or phrases “puny,” “dangerous,” “Godwin’s law,” “cocktail shrimp in a toupee,” “husk of dead skin and hyperbole,” “garbage fart,” “what results if you accidentally leave Guy Fieri in a microwave.”

3. Does Donald Trump contradict himself? Very well; he contradicts himself. Donald Trump is large. Donald Trump contains multitudes.

4. Who among us has not been in the position where what he means to say is something wise and temperate and what actually comes out of his mouth is a garbage fart? Equipped with this knowledge, it is often best to take into account what Donald Trump should have said and to report that instead of what he actually did say. (The great historian Thucydides used to do this, which is why Pericles’s Funeral Oration is so lovely.)

5. Remember the transitive property of Trump: Whenever Donald Trump loves something, it loves him back. Donald Trump loves women. Therefore, women love Donald Trump. Donald Trump loves Hispanics. Therefore, Hispanics love Donald Trump. Any polls that obscure these truths should be disregarded.

6. Donald Trump’s hair is real. Well, no. “Real” is putting it too mildly. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2016 at 3:28 pm

All the President’s Men is still an excellent movie

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Free on Amazon Prime, All the President’s Men (1976) pulls you right in. Really extremely well done. One thing people watching now may not immediately realize: the Committee for the Re-Election of the President had an acronym, CRP, that was pronounced “creep.”

I doubt that young adults know will know the name John Mitchell or what a thoroughly unsavory man he was. He was Attorney General, of all things, then director of CRP. He eventually went to prison for his role in the Watergate break-in, serving 19 months.

A movie that won 4 Oscars (including Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Jason Robards, as Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post) and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (William Goldman, who—among many other things—wrote the novel and the screenplay The Princess Bride). It was nominated for 4 other Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Worth checking out if you have Amazon Prime. Even if you’ve seen it before. I have, and it pulled me right in.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2016 at 9:24 pm

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