Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sunday Reading

To Tell The Truth — Timothy L. O’Brien in Bloomberg about Trump under oath.

Trump held an impromptu press briefing in the White House early Wednesday evening, popping into a meeting of reporters and his chief of staff and telling the group that he’s “looking forward” to speaking “under oath” with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

That’s the Robert Mueller who is overseeing a Justice Department investigation into whether Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with the Kremlin to tilt the 2016 election in his favor. That’s the Robert Mueller who is examining whether Trump and others in his orbit obstructed law-enforcement efforts to examine that matter. And that’s the Robert Mueller scouring the president’s businesses and finances. He’s already indicted four former Trump insiders for a variety of crimes, including lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Yet the president mustered the bravado to tell reporters last night that he “would love to” sit down with Mueller in two or three weeks.

Sometimes love is blind.

Whether he realizes it or not, Trump is in a perilous position. He presides over a chaotic White House stocked with competing interests and egos, he’s mired in a complex investigation and he’s advised and protected by a relatively scanty phalanx of private attorneys. If the president goes mano-a-mano with Mueller, the outcome of that encounter is likely to hinge on how careful, credible and capable he is under oath.

Speaking from experience, I think the president’s attorneys should grab their worry beads. Trump sued me for libel in 2006 for a biography I wrote, “TrumpNation,” alleging that the book misrepresented his business record and understated his wealth. Trump lost the suit in 2011, but during the litigation my lawyers deposed him under oath for two days in 2007. We had the opportunity to ask Trump about his business and banking practices, his taxes, his personal finances and his professional relationships.

Trump’s attorney then was Marc Kasowitz, who also briefly represented the president when the Justice Department investigation first got rolling in Washington. My attorney was Mary Jo White, a former federal prosecutor steeped in many of the same legal traditions and courtroom experiences as Mueller. It didn’t go well for the future president.

Hammered by White and her deputies, Trump ultimately had to admit 30 times that he had lied over the years about all sorts of stuff: how much of a big Manhattan real estate project he owned; the price of one of his golf club memberships; the size of the Trump Organization; his wealth; his speaking fees; how many condos he had sold; his debts, and whether he borrowed money from his family to avoid going personally bankrupt. He also lied during the deposition about his business dealings with career criminals.

Trump’s poor performance stemmed in part from the fact that he was being interrogated by shrewd attorneys wielding his own business and financial records against him. But there were lots of other things that went wrong as well.

Trump is impatient and has never been an avid or dedicated reader. That’s OK if you’d rather play golf, but it’s not OK when you need to absorb abundant or complex details. Lawyers typically prepare binders full of documents for their clients to pore over prior to a deposition, hoping to steel them for an intense grilling. My lawyers did that prior to my own deposition in the Trump lawsuit. But Trump didn’t appear to be well prepared when we deposed him, a weakness that my lawyers exploited (and that Mueller surely would as well).

Trump, for example, had submitted a document to the court from his accountant outlining his assets and liabilities. He was proud of the document’s glowing conclusions but hadn’t seemed to have read most of it prior to sitting down with my lawyers – including a section that said that the report wasn’t a reliable gauge of his wealth. Trump seemed surprised when my lawyers pointed that out.

Trump also has a well-known inability to stick to the facts and a tendency to dissemble and improvise. While under oath, he’ll try to avoid saying that he’s lied in the past until he’s presented with documentation proving otherwise.

“How do you differentiate between exaggeration and a lie?” one of my lawyers, Andrew Ceresney, asked when discussing inflated sales figures Trump had used to promote a property.

“You want to put the best spin on a property,” Trump replied. “No different than any other real estate developer, no different than any other businessman, no different than any politician.”

Ceresney pointed out that there was a difference, though: the actual sales figures for the property being discussed, which Ceresney possessed. This is relevant today, because Trump probably doesn’t know which documents Mueller has collected. If the president sits down under oath and lies, it’s likely that Mueller will have a raft of paperwork on hand to document that fact.

Trump has also courted the spotlight for so long that there’s an ample public record going back decades of statements he’s made on a wide array of subjects. That’s not true of most people sitting for a deposition, but it’s true for Trump and it’s a problem for him. My lawyers unearthed wildly conflicting statements Trump had made about his wealth over the years, for example, but they only had media and books to rely on. Mueller can dig into the president’s ill-considered and possibly damaging Twitter rants about what he calls the Russia “witch hunt,” the FBI and his life in the Oval Office.

Trump’s campaign and White House aides may have done any number of problematic things without Trump knowing about them, and that could protect him from being charged with setting illegal things in motion (like obstructing a federal investigation, for example). But another Trump weakness is that he basks in the perception that he’s the man in charge and everyone else follows his orders.

At moments during his deposition in my libel case, Trump would have been well served to acknowledge that others in his organization – like his chief financial officer – had independently decided to gather and report certain problematic financial information. But Trump couldn’t resist saying that his minions at the Trump Organization and elsewhere were just following his orders, a boast that also raised the legal stakes for himself (even if he didn’t realize that’s what he was doing).

Trump’s enthusiasm for a get-together with Mueller clearly freaked out his lawyers, who scrambled to roll back the president’s statements shortly after he made them. His lead lawyer, Ty Cobb, said that the president was speaking off the cuff and that a more considered approach to Mueller and his team might be taken.

“He’s ready to meet with them, but he’ll be guided by the advice of his personal counsel,” Mr. Cobb said of the president.

I’m not so sure. Cobb’s client hasn’t often been guided by advice from anyone. He’s probably not going to start now.

Unfriend This — Ethan Zuckerberg on Facebook’s self-service.

Facebook’s crushing blow to independent media arrived last fall in Slovakia, Cambodia, Guatemala, and three other nations.The social giant removed stories by these publishers from users’ news feeds, hiding them in a new, hard-to-find stream. These independent publishers reported that they lost as much as 80 percent of their audience during this experiment.

Facebook doesn’t care. At least, it usually seems that way.

Despite angry pushback in the six countries affected by Facebook’s algorithmic tinkering, the company is now going ahead with similar changes to its news feed globally. These changes will likely de-prioritize stories from professional publishers, and instead favor dispatches published by a user’s friends and family. Many American news organizations will see the sharp traffic declines their brethren in other nations experienced last year—unless they pay Facebook to include their stories in readers’ feeds.

At the heart of this change is Facebook’s attempt to be seen not as a news publisher, but as a neutral platform for interactions between friends. Facing sharp criticism for its role in spreading misinformation, and possibly in tipping elections in the United States and in the United Kingdom, Facebook is anxious to limit its exposure by limiting its role. It has long been this way.This rebalancing means different things for the company’s many stakeholders—for publishers, it means they’re almost certainly going to be punished for their reliance on a platform that’s never been a wholly reliable partner. Facebook didn’t talk to publishers in Slovakia because publishers are less important than other stakeholders in this next incarnation of Facebook. But more broadly, Facebook doesn’t talk to you because Facebook already knows what you want.

Facebook collects information on a person’s every interaction with the site—and many other actions online—so Facebook knows a great deal about what we pay attention to. People say they’re interested in a broad range of news from different political preferences, but Facebook knows they really want angry, outraged articles that confirm political prejudices.

Publishers in Slovakia and in the United States may warn of damage to democracy if Facebook readers receive less news, but Facebook knows people will be perfectly happy—perfectly engaged—with more posts from friends and families instead.

For Facebook, our revealed preferences—discovered by analyzing our behavior—speak volumes. The words we say, on the other hand, are often best ignored. (Keep this in mind when taking Facebook’s two question survey on what media brands you trust.)Tristan Harris, a fierce and persuasive critic of the ad-supported internet, recently offered me an analogy to explain a problem with revealed preferences. I pledge to go to the gym more in 2018, but every morning when I wake up, my partner presents me with a plate of donuts and urges me to stay in bed and eat them. My revealed preferences show that I’m more interested in eating donuts than in exercising. But it’s pretty perverse that my partner is working to give me what I really crave, ignoring what I’ve clearly stated I aspire to.

Facebook’s upcoming newsfeed change won’t eliminate fake news… at least, it didn’t in Slovakia. People share sensational or shocking news, while more reliable news tends not to go viral. When people choose to subscribe to reliable news sources, they’re asking to go to the gym. With these newsfeed changes, Facebook threw out your gym shoes and subscribed you to a donut delivery service. Why do 2 billion people put up with a service that patronizingly reminds them that it’s designed for their well being, while it studiously ignores our stated preferences? Many people feel like they don’t have a choice. Facebook is the only social network, for example, where I overlap with some of my friends, especially those from my childhood and from high school.

I don’t want Facebook to go away—I want it to get better. But increasingly, I think the only way Facebook will listen to people’s expressed preferences is if people start building better alternatives. Right now, Facebook chooses what stories should top your news feed, optimizing for “engagement” and “time well spent.” Don’t like the choices Facebook is making? Too bad. You can temporarily set Facebook to give you a chronological feed, but when you close your browser window, you’ll be returned to Facebook’s paternalistic algorithm.This fall, my colleagues and I released, a customizable news aggregator. Gobo presents you with posts from your friends, but also gives you a set of sliders that govern what news you see and what’s hidden from you. Want more serious news, less humor? Move a slider. Need to hear more female voices? Adjust the gender slider, or press the “mute all men” button for a much quieter internet. Gobo currently includes half a dozen ways to tune your news feed, with more to come. (It’s open source software, so you can write your own filters, too.) Gobo is a provocation, not a product. While it’s a good tool for reading Twitter, Facebook only allows us to show you Facebook Pages (the pages that are being deprioritized in the news feed changes), not posts from your friends, crippling its functionality as a social network aggregator. Our goal is not to persuade you to read your social media through Gobo (though you’re certainly welcome to try!), but to encourage platforms like Facebook to give their users more control over what they see.

If you want to use Facebook to follow the news, you should be able to, even if Facebook’s algorithms know what really captures your attention. There’s a robust debate about how Facebook should present news to its readers. Should it filter out fake news? Prioritize high quality news? Focus on friends and family instead of politics? Facebook’s decision to steer away from news is an attempt to evade this challenging debate altogether. And perhaps we were wrong to invite Facebook to this debate in the first place.Instead of telling Facebook what it should do, people should build tools that let them view the world the way they choose. If regulators force Facebook and other platforms to police news quality, they’ll give more control to a platform that’s already demonstrated its disinterest editorial judgment. A better path would be to force all platforms to adopt two simple rules:

  1. Users own their own data, including the content they create and the web of relationships they’ve built online. And they can take this data with them from one platform to another, or delete it from an existing platform.
  2. Users can view platforms like Facebook through an aggregator, a tool that lets you read social media through your own filters, like Gobo.

The first rule helps solve the problem that Facebook alternatives like Diaspora and Mastodon have faced. People have a great deal of time and emotional energy invested in their online communities. Asking them to throw these connections out and more to another network is a non-starter. If we can move our data between platforms, there’s the possibility that some of Facebook’s 2 billion users will choose a social network where they have more control over what they read and write. The second rule allows developers to build real customizable aggregators, not toys like Gobo, which would let people control what they read on online platforms—helping them live up to their aspirations, not down to their preferences.

Obviously, Facebook is filled with people who care deeply about these issues. Some are my friends and my former students. But Facebook suffers from a problem of its own success. It has grown so central to our mediated understanding of the world that it either needs to learn to listen to its users stated desires, or it needs to make room for platforms that do.

An Appreciation of Ursula K. Le Guin — John Wray on the writer who defied categorization.

Four years ago, on a midsummer Sunday, I rang the doorbell of an unassuming Victorian perched on the north slope of the Forest Park neighborhood of Portland, Ore., and waited for Ursula Kroeber Le Guin to come to the door. I’d grown up with — and in no small part, because of — her writing, from “Earthsea” to “The Left Hand of Darkness” to “The Dispossessed” to “Lavinia,” and the moment felt appropriately otherworldly. Not everyone is lucky enough to find himself ringing the doorbell of one of his literary heroes, let alone with a decent chance of being let in, and I was somewhat dumbstruck at the privilege. My host, when she came to the door, was decidedly less solemn.

“Come on in, Wray,” she said. “You get here all right? Good. Watch out for that [expletive] cat. He’s a terrorist.”

(Ms. Le Guin’s vernacular, I’d soon discover, was saltier than might be anticipated from an 84-year-old with a pixie cut. From here on, let the reader insert invectives into our dialogue at will.)

Fittingly for a writer of speculative fiction, Ms. Le Guin’s house seemed larger on the inside than it was on the outside. I entered cautiously, and not only because of the cat. I was there to spend a long weekend conducting an interview with her for The Paris Review, the highbrow literary journal known for its in-depth conversations on the craft of fiction, and I’d had to lobby the editor for a month to get him to consider featuring a writer whose work was so tinged with genre. Ms. Le Guin, however, was distinctly beyond caring what literary New York thought of her — if the thought, in fact, had ever crossed her mind.

“Where I can get prickly, Wray, is if I’m just called a sci-fi writer,” she said. “I’m not. I’m a novelist and a poet. Don’t shove me into your pigeonhole, where I don’t fit, because I’m all over. My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions.”

My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions. If there’s ever been a better description of Ms. Le Guin’s astonishingly diverse and adventurous body of work, I’ve yet to come across it. She’ll doubtlessly be remembered for her sophisticated, nuanced and profoundly humanistic speculative fiction, and of course for her series of magical coming-of-age novels, the Earthsea series, without which the Harry Potter megafranchise could scarcely be imagined. But she was more than a sci-fi or fantasy writer, much more. She was more than her identity as a trailblazer in the overwhelmingly male (and chauvinistic) field of 1960s and ’70s science fiction, as well, and more than an iconoclastic thinker on gender, or on ethics, or on the material world. The much-discussed fluidity of gender in her most famous novel, “The Left Hand of Darkness,” could serve as a metaphor for Ms. Le Guin’s entire approach to living, thinking and creating: She reserved the right to think, and write, and react as she saw fit — and to inhabit a completely different role as the occasion, or the project, demanded.

Ms. Le Guin cared passionately about many things, as is clear to any reader of her books: the rights of indigenous peoples, the search for alternatives to our pitiless economic scheme, the myth of innate gender difference, our slow collective murder of the planet. But what she cared about above all, it seems to me, was the paramount freedom — if not obligation — of all thinking individuals to define their personal enterprise strictly for, and by, themselves. By the time I came to know her, Ms. Le Guin had made peace with the nature of her legacy, and with the reductive effects of the passage of time. But it was, to the end, an anarchist’s peace.

I learned many things from Ms. Le Guin in the course of that first day, which we spent drinking tea and chatting on her slightly vertiginous veranda, with its glorious view of the snowy cone of Mount St. Helens. We talked about the usefulness of whispering one’s writing aloud when revising, and how it somehow functioned better than reading at a normal volume, when trying to get the music of a sentence right. We talked about the advantages an interest in ethnography can give to writers interested in imagining entire societies, if not whole worlds. We talked about the mysterious power of artists in the last stages of their creative lives, when they were writing to please no one but themselves.

I was working on a science fiction novel of my own at the time — my first — and I confessed to her that it seemed to be turning into something too complex, perhaps even convoluted, for the rollicking page-turner I’d hoped for. Her response shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did.

Entertaining them is all well and good, Wray, but does it make them think?”

I answered, a bit defensively, that I thought my book did — maybe more so than most readers might be looking for. That snort came again.

“We don’t know what we’re looking for when we pick up a book, no matter how clear-cut the genre,” she said. “We think we do, but we don’t. Don’t ever give people the thing they expect just because they expect it. Our job is to surprise them, to shake them — to turn their expectations on their heads. And do you know why, Wray?”

Why, I managed to mumble.

“Because that’s when the MRI of their brain lights up, and they begin to see.”

Don’t try to fit Ms. Le Guin into your pigeonhole, posterity — or even into two, or three, or half a dozen. Her tentacles are coming out in all directions.

Doonesbury — Advice for the road.

Monday, May 22, 2017

He Can Read And Talk At The Same Time

Microsoft Word 2016 has a nice feature called Speak.  You highlight a portion of text, click an icon, and a voice that sounds like the machine that Stephen Hawking uses reads the passage out loud.  Depending on your computer settings, it can be male or female.

Its purpose is to be an aid for the visually-challenged.  It’s not always 100%.  It seems to have trouble with interjections such as “Uh” and “Um” that show up in written dialogue — it sound out each letter — and it confuses the pronunciation of the adjective “nice” with the city in France if it is capitalized, but by and large it does a good job.  (And I am sure that any number of people have been amused by hearing it read porn.  C’mon, admit it, you were thinking that too.)

Apparently this ability to read and speak a written language is not limited to software.  Based on the reception of Trump’s speech on Islam in Saudi Arabia, he’s the next Great Communicator.

Reacting to President Trump‘s big speech in Saudi Arabia today, Bob Schieffer said on CNN that Trump “sounded like a president” today.

“He actually sounded presidential. You may agree or disagree with what he said, but he sounded like a president… It was a much different kind of presentation.”

He took note of how Trump delivered this “dignified speech” and hasn’t tweeted out anything needlessly provocative recently.

Schieffer added, “He didn’t sound like the guy at the end of the bar popping off. He sounded like someone who had actually thought he was going to say before he said it.”

Hear that, folks?  He actually thought about what he was going to say before he said it!  For that we’re letting him run the country.

We have set the bar so low for sounding presidential that you need ground-penetrating radar to find it.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

I May Vomit

From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, sharply defended his rationale for notifying Congress about new emails related to the Hillary Clinton investigation less than two weeks before Election Day, saying Wednesday that any suggestion he affected the vote’s outcome made him “mildly nauseous.”

Mr. Comey’s comments at a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing were his first public explanation for his actions, which roiled the presidential campaign in its final days and cast a harsh spotlight on the F.B.I. director.

Mr. Comey said he went public on Oct. 28 because he believed that the emails found by his agents might provide insight into Mrs. Clinton’s reasons for using a private server as secretary of state and might change the outcome of the investigation. Failing to inform Congress, Mr. Comey said, would have a required an “act of concealment.”

“Concealment, in my view, would have been catastrophic,” he said, adding later that he knew the decision would be “disastrous for me personally.”

What Mr. Comey viewed as concealing, Justice Department officials viewed simply as following the rules. The F.B.I. does not normally confirm ongoing investigations. Senior Justice Department officials urged him not to send a letter to Congress informing them that the bureau was examining the new emails.

“Mildly nauseous”?  What he did was basically hand the election to Trump.  He knew it, too.  So while he may feel queasy about it, the rest of us have to live with four years of power-barf.

And if that doesn’t make you blow chunks, perhaps the conclusion by Nate Silver that the mainstream media let Comey slide will.

Hillary Clinton would probably be president if FBI Director James Comey had not sent a letter to Congress on Oct. 28. The letter, which said the FBI had “learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” into the private email server that Clinton used as secretary of state, upended the news cycle and soon halved Clinton’s lead in the polls, imperiling her position in the Electoral College.

The letter isn’t the only reason that Clinton lost. It does not excuse every decision the Clinton campaign made. Other factors may have played a larger role in her defeat, and it’s up to Democrats to examine those as they choose their strategy for 2018 and 2020.


And yet, from almost the moment that Trump won the White House, many mainstream journalists have been in denial about the impact of Comey’s letter. The article that led The New York Times’s website the morning after the election did not mention Comey or “FBI” even once — a bizarre development considering the dramatic headlines that the Times had given to the letter while the campaign was underway. Books on the campaign have treated Comey’s letter as an incidental factor, meanwhile. And even though Clinton herself has repeatedly brought up the letter — including in comments she made at an event in New York on Tuesday — many pundits have preferred to change the conversation when the letter comes up, waving it away instead of debating the merits of the case.

The motivation for this seems fairly clear: If Comey’s letter altered the outcome of the election, the media may have some responsibility for the result. The story dominated news coverage for the better part of a week, drowning out other headlines, whether they were negative for Clinton (such as the news about impending Obamacare premium hikes) or problematic for Trump (such as his alleged ties to Russia). And yet, the story didn’t have a punchline: Two days before the election, Comey disclosed that the emails hadn’t turned up anything new.

One can believe that the Comey letter cost Clinton the election without thinking that the media cost her the election — it was an urgent story that any newsroom had to cover. But if the Comey letter had a decisive effect and the story was mishandled by the press — given a disproportionate amount of attention relative to its substantive importance, often with coverage that jumped to conclusions before the facts of the case were clear — the media needs to grapple with how it approached the story. More sober coverage of the story might have yielded a milder voter reaction.

What, and miss out on all those rating points and the money they bring in as they spread BREAKING NEWS across the screen because Hillary Clinton tripped over a curb?

And to top it all off, now the press is trying to soberly figure out how Trump became president.  Feh.

(Bonus points if you can identify the source of the title.)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Low Bar

The Very Serious Pundits are all giving Trump golf claps because, after five weeks in office and with the help of Speechwriting for Dummies, he sounded “presidential” in his speech before Congress.

If the bar was any lower, they’d have to find it with ground penetrating radar.

PS: Veterans were not pleased with Trump’s exploitation of the death of Navy Seal William “Ryan” Owens.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Moving Right Along

Here’s a shot of what’s on a local TV station’s news site concerning the shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport last Friday that killed five people:

FLL Shooting Stories WTVJ 01-12-17

Well, I’m glad the little girl got her teddy back after dropping it in the chaos, and it was poor judgment on the part of the Broward Sheriffs Office deputy to post the video.  But the shrug about the shooting suspect’s “mental issues” is just another way of saying, “Well, shit happens.”

I suppose, in the world of tweeting autocrats and instant news feeds on phones, we should now be accustomed to the idea of moving on, leaving the mourning and the legal issues to others.  So don’t expect any in-depth investigation into why a man who recognized he was so tortured by his illness that he went to the FBI and basically said “Stop me before I kill someone,” then went out and did it.

No, we can’t arrest someone for a crime they haven’t yet committed, and yes, there are people among us who sincerely believe that someone who is suffering from obvious violent thoughts is still entitled to his Second Amendment rights.  All we have to do is just wait for the next news cycle to move on.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

In The Tank

If Hillary Clinton loses, blame the media.

Thomas Patterson in the Los Angeles Times:

My analysis of media coverage in the four weeks surrounding both parties’ national conventions found that her use of a private email server while secretary of State and other alleged scandal references accounted for 11% of Clinton’s news coverage in the top five television networks and six major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. Excluding neutral reports, 91% of the email-related news reports were negative in tone. Then, there were the references to her character and personal life, which accounted for 4% of the coverage; that was 92% negative.

While Trump declared open warfare on the mainstream media — and of late they have cautiously responded in kind — it has been Clinton who has suffered substantially more negative news coverage throughout nearly the whole campaign.

Few presidential candidates have been more fully prepared to assume the duties of the presidency than is Clinton. Yet, her many accomplishments as first lady, U.S. senator, and secretary of State barely surfaced in the news coverage of her candidacy at any point in the campaign. She may as well as have spent those years baking cookies.

How about her foreign, defense, social or economic policies? Don’t bother looking. Not a single one of Clinton’s policy proposals accounted for even 1% of her convention-period coverage; collectively, her policy stands accounted for a mere 4% of it. But she might be thankful for that: News reports about her stances were 71% negative to 29% positive in tone. Trump was quoted more often about her policies than she was. Trump’s claim that Clinton “created ISIS,” for example, got more news attention than her announcement of how she would handle Islamic State.

I also looked at the year before the 2016 primaries began, and even then Clinton had a 2-to-1 ratio of bad press to good press. There was only one month in the whole of 2015 where the tone of her coverage on balance was not in the red — and even then it barely touched positive territory.

During the primaries, her coverage was again in negative territory and again less positive than Trump’s. After the conventions got underway and Trump got embroiled in a testy exchange with the parents of a slain Muslim U.S. soldier, the tone of his coverage nosedived and her coverage looked rosy by comparison. But even then it was not glowing. Her convention-period news coverage was 56% negative to 44% positive.


Judging from their stories, journalists rate the emails as being a highly important and very serious issue. They cover it heavily and with damning tone. When 90% or more of the coverage of a subject is negative, the verdict is in. Even good news gets turned to her disadvantage. For example, when the FBI announced that her emails did not violate the law, the Los Angeles Times ran a story focused on Trump’s response, quoting him as saying, “This is one of the most crooked politicians in history…. We have a rigged system, folks.”

In today’s hypercompetitive media environment, journalists find it difficult to resist controversies. Political scientist W. Lance Bennett explored this phenomenon around Trump’s 2011 allegation that President Obama was not a native-born American. Trump’s “birther” statements were seized upon by cable outlets and stayed in the headlines and on newscasts for days. Veteran CNN correspondent Candy Crowley even interviewed Trump, who was then not a political figure at all. She justified it by saying on air: “There comes a point where you can’t ignore something, not because it’s entertaining …. The question was, ‘Is he driving the conversation?’ And he was.” In truth, the news media were driving the conversation, as they have with Clinton’s emails.

Decades ago, the Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the Press concluded that reporters routinely fail to provide a “comprehensive and intelligent account of the day’s events in the context that gives them some meaning.” Whatever else might be concluded about the coverage of Clinton’s emails, context has been largely missing. Some stories spelled out how the merging of private and official emails by government officials was common practice. There were also some, though fewer, that tried to assess the harm, if any, that resulted from her use of a private server. As for Clinton’s policy proposals and presidential qualifications, they’ve been completely lost in the glare of damaging headlines and sound bites.

So if we end up with a president who is vaingloriously proud of his ignorance and treats the Constitution like one of his contractors, it will be in large part because the media was far more interested in getting a story that boosted ratings so they could charge more for ads for boner pills.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Just One Day

Via Digby, here’s the Toronto Star reviewing the packs of lies put out by Donald Trump in just one day.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump delivered two speeches on Saturday.

The first was to The Remembrance Project, a group for the family members of people killed by illegal immigrants. The second was to a rally in Colorado Springs.

He made 12 false statements. Here’s a fact check:

Speech on immigration to The Remembrance Project

  • Falsely said, “Her plan calls for…ignoring visa overstays, closing detention centres.” (Clinton is not calling to ignore visa overstays. She wants to close only privately owned detention centres, not all detention centres.)
  • Falsely said, “Hillary Clinton is the first person to ever run for the presidency of a country effectively proposing to abolish the borders around the country that she’s supposed to be representing.”
  • Falsely said, “According to the federal government’s own data, there are more than 2 million convicted-criminal illegal immigrants inside the United States right now.” (That figure – 1.9 million – refers to the number of non-citizens, illegal AND legal, with convictions. The number of illegal immigrants with convictions is much smaller.)
  • Falsely said, “The government knows a lot about the people that did it, but they don’t go after them. They’ve killed people, they don’t go after them.”
  • Falsely said, “Hundreds of individuals who have been given visas and refugee – think of this, they’ve been given, they’re refugee admissions into this country, subsequently were charged with terrorism, and nobody does anything about it.” (This figure is incorrect. “I have seen no evidence that there are ‘scores’ of recent migrants charged with terrorism,” Rand Corp’s Seth Jones told the Washington Post.
  • Falsely said, “We’re admitting people here with no idea who they are.” (Refugees undergo extensive screening.)

Speech to rally in Colorado Springs

  • Falsely said, “We’re going to have a massive tax reduction, big league tax reduction, for working and middle-class families.” (Trump’s bracket changes would give middle-class families an income boost of 0.5 per cent or less, according to the conservative Tax Foundation.)
  • Falsely said, “Destroyed her phones – and think of this: with a hammer! Boom. Thirteen of them.” (Two of Clinton’s phones were destroyed with a hammer.)
  • Falsely accused Clinton of selling “government favours and access.” (There is no evidence of this.)
  • Falsely said, “Since President Obama came into office, another 2 million Hispanic Americans have fallen into poverty.” (This figure begins the count during George W. Bush’s last year; when the count begins in 2009, the figure is less than 1 million. It is also highly misleading to use a raw number; the poverty rate for Hispanics has fallen.)
  • Falsely said, “Hillary Clinton is going to raise your taxes very, very substantially.” (Clinton’s tax hike only applies to the top 1 per cent of earners.)
  • Falsely said, “We have a trade deficit of $800 billion a year.” (The trade deficit in goods alone $763 billion – but there was a trade surplus in services of $227 billion, putting the total deficit well below $600 billion.)
  • Misleadingly said, “58 per cent of African-American youth are not employed.” (This figure counts millions of 16-to-19-year-olds who are not looking for work, including high school students and the children of black millionaires.)

And yet Hillary Clinton is the untrustworthy one.

Why do we have to rely on the media from another country to do the job of the press in this country?

By the way, the language Mr. Trump has been using is regressing from middle-school tween taunts to elementary school neener-neener:

trump-dopey-tweet-09-19-16Since when do adults refer to one another as “Dopey” unless you’re talking about the Disney character?

Friday, September 16, 2016

Monday, July 25, 2016

Equal Time

I’m pretty sure that our liberal media will make a big deal out of some leaked e-mails from low-level DNC staffers and forget all about the back-to-Nuremberg festival they just left in Cleveland the same way they made a huge deal out of Hillary Clinton’s server and totally spaced the Bush administration’s 22 million e-mails deleted off the RNC servers.

Because both sides do it.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Sucking Up

This is a real ad from MSNBC’s new campaign to win over an audience:

MSNBC leaning-right-print-ad-final 06-02-16

Uh, yeah.  The rogues gallery of their conservative contributors: Mike Murphy, Nicole Wallace, Hugh Hewitt, Steve Schmidt, Michael Steele, and Ben Ginsberg.

I don’t want MSNBC to be the left-wing version of Fox News; an echo chamber of the DNC, but c’mon.  This is like the nerd who sucks up to the football jocks so they won’t stuff him into his locker on a regular basis.  How craven can you get?

MSNBC BothSidesDoIt Tweet 06-02-16If it wasn’t for Rachel Maddow, it wouldn’t be worth remembering the channel number.

Friday, April 8, 2016

No Time For That

Steve M dissects Zeke Miller’s interview with Sen. Ted Cruz in Time magazine — did I say interview?  I meant slobber-job — and reminds me why I happily let my subscription to that once-relevant weekly expire.

The whole point of the cover story and the interview is to introduce Mr. Cruz to America and brace us for the possibility that he could be the eventual Republican nominee.  They do it without grilling him on his hard-right views, his disastrous shut-down of the government, or even his inability to use Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” as a lesson about learning.

It sounds more like they’re trying to pass off a warthog as a Labrador Retriever.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Pizza With Everything

Stories like this are why people across the political spectrum would rather watch reruns of Castle than the news.

During a stop at a pizza joint in New York on Wednesday, John Kasich drew the mock ire of locals and reporters on Twitter as he used a fork.

On Thursday, Kasich explained himself.

“Look, look, the pizza came scalding hot, OK? And so I use a little fork,” the governor of Ohio told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “You know what? My wife who is on spring break with my daughters said, ’I’m proud of you. You finally learned how to use a utensil properly.’ But I mean — not only did I eat the pizza, I had the hot sausage. It was fantastic.”

Kasich, apparently recognizing his error, finished up using his hands, although he did not fold over the slice, as is customary.

Oh my, how cute: a human interest story about a candidate to make him seem more appealing to the public and perhaps draw our attention away from his stinko record as governor of Ohio where he tried to wipe out the public sector unions, did everything he could to restrict the right to choose abortion or family planning, stood in the way of marriage equality to the point of cruelty, and reduced funding for public education.

But apparently it’s more important to know how he eats pizza.  That is the breaking news and that’s what gets bloggers like me to post stories like that.  Then I can also tell you about his hard-core record.  He’s not a whole lot different than Ted Cruz.  Gotcha.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sunday Reading

Devolution — Neal Gabler on how the Republican Party has turned into the party of ignorance and hate.  Why won’t the media cover that?

Ah, the crescendo of complaint! The Republican establishment and the mainstream media, working hand in hand in their unprecedented, non-stop assault on the “short-fingered vulgarian” named Donald Trump, would have you believe that Trump augurs the destruction of the Republican Party. Former Reagan speechwriter and now Wall Street Journal/CBS pundit Peggy Noonan expressed the general sentiment of both camps when she said on Super Tuesday that “we’re seeing a great political party shatter before our eyes.”

But here is what no one in the GOP establishment wants you to know, and no one in the media wants to admit: Donald Trump isn’t the destruction of the Republican Party; he is the fulfillment of everything the party has been saying and doing for decades. He is just saying it louder and more plainly than his predecessors and intra-party rivals.

The media have been acting as if the Trump debacle were the biggest political story to come down the pike in some time. But the real story – one the popularity of Trump’s candidacy has revealed and inarguably the biggest political story of the last 50 years — is the decades-long transformation of Republicanism from a business-centered, small town, white Protestant set of beliefs into quite possibly America’s primary institutional force of bigotry, intellectual dishonesty, ignorance, warmongering, intractability and cruelty against the vulnerable and powerless.

It is a story you didn’t read, hear or see in the mainstream media, only in lefty journals like The Nation and Rolling Stone, on websites like People for the American Way, and in columns like Paul Krugman’s. And it wasn’t exactly because the MSM in its myopia missed the story. It was because they chose not to tell it – to pretend it wasn’t happening. They are still pretending.

It is hardly a surprise that the GOP establishment and their enablers in the media are acting as if Trump, the Republican frontrunner, is a break from the party’s supposedly genteel past. Like Captain Renault in Casablanca, who was “shocked, shocked,” to find gambling in Rick’s establishment, the GOP solons profess to be “shocked, shocked” by Trump’s demagogic racism and nativism. Their protestations remind me of an old gambit of comedian Milton Berle. When the audience was applauding him, he would shush them demonstratively with one hand while encouraging them gently with the other.

Neither is it a surprise that the conservative media have been doing the same thing — decrying Trump while giving us Trump Lite. Indeed, even less blatant partisans who ought to know better, like every “thinking man’s” favorite conservative David Brooks, deliver the same hypocrisy.

No, Brooks isn’t too keen on Trump (or Cruz for that matter), but he is very keen on some mythological Republican Party that exudes decency. On the PBS NewsHour last week he said with great earnestness, “For almost a century-and-a-half, the Republican Party has stood for a certain free market version of America – an America that’s about openness, that’s about markets and opportunity, and a definition of what this country is.”

Free markets? That’s what he thinks defines America? Let me rephrase what I said earlier: Trump hasn’t just fulfilled the Republican Party’s purpose; he has exposed it. And he also has exposed the media’s indifference to what the party has become.

Obviously, I am not saying that the transmogrification of the Republican Party happened surreptitiously. It happened in plain sight, and it was extensively chronicled — but not by the MSM. The sainted Reagan blew his party’s cover when to kick off his general election campaign in 1980 he spoke at the Neshoba County Fair, just outside Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers had been brutally murdered in 1964. He wasn’t there to demonstrate his sympathy to the civil rights movement, but to demonstrate his sympathy to those who opposed it. This was an ugly moment, and it didn’t go entirely unnoticed in the media. In fact, David Brooks would later be moved to defend the speech, which invoked the not-so-subtle buzz words “states’ rights,” and to act as if Reagan had been slandered by those who called him out on it.

But if some in the media did call out Reagan on his disgusting curtsy to George Wallace voters, the press seemed to lose its nerve once Reagan became president and the Republican Party lurched not just rightward, but extremist-ward. Do you remember these headlines: “Republicans Oppose Civil Rights”; “Republicans Work to Defeat Expansion of Health Insurance”; “Republicans Torpedo Extension of Unemployment Benefits”; “Republicans Demonize Homosexuals and Deny Them Rights”; “Republicans Call Climate Change a Hoax and Refuse to Stop Greenhouse Gases”? No, you don’t remember, because no MSM paper printed them and no MSM network broadcast them. Instead, the media behaved as if extremism were business as usual.

I don’t think the media would deny their indifference. They would say they don’t take sides. They’re neutral. They just report. Partisanship is for Fox News and MSNBC….

The White Party — Kelly J. Baker in The Atlantic on the history of the KKK.

Last weekend, Saturday Night Live produced a mock “Voters for Trump” ad, in which everyday “real Americans” gently describe why they support Donald Trump for president—before they are all revealed to be white supremacists, Klan members, and Nazis. Trump, of course, not only received former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s support for his candidacy, but also declined to disavow the Ku Klux Klan on CNN.

This has happened before. As The Atlantic’s Yoni Appelbaum pointed out, the Republican front-runner’s refusal to repudiate white supremacists’ support as well as the bombast in his campaign are both echoes of the Ku Klux Klan. As a historian of the 1920s Klan, I noticed the resonances, too. Trump’s “Make America great again” language is just like the rhetoric of the Klan, with their emphasis on virulent patriotism and restrictive immigration. But maybe Trump doesn’t know much about the second incarnation of the order and what Klansmen and Klanswomen stood for. Maybe the echoes are coincidence, not strategy to win the support of white supremacists. Maybe Trump just needs a quick historical primer on the 1920s Klan—and their vision for making America great again.

In 1915, William J. Simmons, an ex-minister and self-described joiner of fraternities, created a new Ku Klux Klan dedicated to “100 percent Americanism” and white Protestantism. He wanted to evoke the previous Reconstruction Klan (1866-1871) but refashion it as a new order—stripped of vigilantism and dressed in Christian virtue and patriotic pride. Simmons’s Klan was to be the savior of a nation in peril, a means to reestablish the cultural dominance of white people. Immigration and the enfranchisement of African Americans, according to the Klan, eroded this dominance and meant that America was no longer great. Simmons, the first imperial wizard of the Klan, and his successor, H.W. Evans, wanted Klansmen to return the nation to its former glory. Their messages of white supremacy, Protestant Christianity, and hypernationalism found an eager audience. By 1924, the Klan claimed 4 million members; they wore robes, lit crosses on fire, read Klan newspapers, and participated in political campaigns on the local and national levels.

To save the nation, the Klan focused on accomplishing a series of goals. A 1924 Klan cartoon, “Under the Fiery Cross,” illustrated those goals: restricted immigration, militant Protestantism, better government, clean politics, “back to the Constitution,” law enforcement, and “greater allegiance to the flag.” Along with the emphases on government and nationalism, the order also mobilized under the banners of vulnerable white womanhood and white superiority more generally. Nativism, writes historian Matthew Frye Jacobson in Whiteness of a Different Color, is a crisis about the boundaries of whiteness and who exactly can be considered white. It is a reaction to a shift in demographics, which confuses the dominant group’s understanding of race. For the KKK, Americans were supposed to be only white and Protestant. They championed white supremacy to keep the nation white, ignoring that citizenry was not constrained to their whims.

The Klan was facing a crisis because the culture was changing around them, and nativism was their reaction. Demographic shifts, including immigration, urbanization, and the migrations of African Americans from the South to the North gave urgency and legitimacy to the Klan’s fears that the nation was in danger. From 1890 to 1914, more than 16 million immigrants arrived in the United States, and a large majority were Catholics from Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Poland. Around 10 percent were Jewish. The Klan described the influx of immigrants as a “menace” that threatened “true Americanism,” “devotion to the nation and its government,” and, worst of all, America as a civilization. Evans claimed that “aliens” (immigrants) challenged and attacked white Americans instead of doing the right thing—and joining the Klan’s cause. (Yes, strangely, he expected immigrants’ support even though the Klan limited membership to white Protestant men and women. Of course, it’s also strange that Trump expects Latino support.) Writing in the Klan newspaper The Imperial Night-Hawk in 1923, Evans declared that immigrants were “mostly scum,” a dangerous “horde.”

Unsurprisingly, the 1920s Klan supported legislation to restrict immigration to preferred countries with Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian roots. The order championed the Immigration Act of 1924, which limited immigration visas to 2 percent or 3 percent of the population of each nationality from the 1890 census. When President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill into law, the Klan celebrated the continued protection of the “purity” of American citizenship. A white Protestant citizenry and the desire to maintain their dominance culturally and politically, then, defined 100 percent Americanism….

It’s In The Cards — Daniel Victor in The New York Times on the treasures among our trash.

The unattended bag found while cleaning out a great-grandparent’s home looked like trash, and it was nearly discarded. But someone decided to root through the pile of postcards and paper products, and was rewarded by finding seven baseball cards from 1909 to 1911 featuring the Hall of Fame player Ty Cobb.

Those cards, it turned out, may be worth more than $1 million, according to Joe Orlando, who authenticated them. The family, which he said wished to remain anonymous, had stumbled upon the kind of revelation that’s increasingly rare but consistently exciting for the flailing card industry.

“They are becoming more and more uncommon as time goes on, but until every attic is searched and every old box or bag examined, these finds represent the hope that all collectors dream about,” Mr. Orlando wrote.

The find, one of the industry’s most notable discoveries in years, could fuel the dreams of every longtime collector with eyes on a distant payday while boxes of cards continue to take up room in storage. But it also highlighted how much the industry has changed.

The mind-set that playing cards could represent not just a space-consuming hobby but also wise financial planning led to a boom in production and collecting in the 1980s and ’90s, as children were drawn to cheap packs they could trade among friends and adults saw financial opportunity. Parents, especially, could teach their children to see the hobby as an investment: Save these cards until you’re old and they’ll be worth a lot of money, the thinking went.

For the most part, that promise has fallen short as the value of modern cards has plummeted. If you held onto a 1984 Topps Darryl Strawberry rookie card, worth $15 in 1990, you perhaps should have sold it then: It’s down to $3 now, according to Beckett price guides. More bad news: Your 1986 Donruss Jose Canseco rookie card, worth $48 in 1990, is worth $15 today.

The cards’ popularity ultimately contributed to their own downfall. Companies printed more to keep up with demand and made the supply too abundant, said Brian Fleischer, senior market analyst for Beckett Media.

And collectors’ own seemingly savvy behavior fed the problem, said Dave Jamieson, 37, the author of “Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an America Obsession.” Since a generation of young collectors grew up thinking of their cards as investments, they’ve held on to them, shuffling them from one home to the next.

“The cards we grew up with never had a chance to become scarce because we kept them,” he said. “It became a better lesson in economics than any of our parents thought it would be.”

The cards Mr. Jamieson saved from his youth ended up being just about worthless, he said. When he finally decided to get rid of them, he couldn’t find anyone to buy, and no one would take them as donations. “These cards aren’t even worth a penny apiece,” he said.

The industry’s drop-off began around 1994, Mr. Jamieson said. Since then, most brick-and-mortar card shops have closed, shows are less frequent and more sales are happening via the Internet.

Jim Ryan, co-founder of JP’s Sports & Rock Solid Promotions, said cards remain a draw at memorabilia shows and autograph signings the company stages in the tristate area, but not like they were in the ’80s and ’90s. Children are still drawn by the chance to meet a player at an autograph signing, while adults are more likely to make a big-money purchase after physically seeing the cards.

Cards and collectibles for current players are like the stock market, rising and falling based on performance, he said. But the older cards tend to have safer values, he said.

“Mickey Mantle isn’t going to have a bad year,” he said. “His card’s always going to be worth money.”

Mr. Mantle’s cards are worth more than they used to be, reflective of a market for vintage cards that has not just remained strong, but has grown since the industry’s heyday.

The Yankee slugger’s 1952 Topps rookie card, worth $1,400 in November 1984, is now up to $30,000, according to Beckett price guides. A 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan rookie card, worth $33 in 1984, could now fetch $500.

The cards, which as far back as the 1880s were found in tobacco packs and later with bubble gum, weren’t always considered something to save, which is why children would sometimes bend them into bike spokes. The Ty Cobb find was exciting to collectors, Mr. Fleischer said, because it suggested such rare discoveries are still possible.

“There are still finds out there to be found,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Doonesbury — Lighting up.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Joe and Mika In The Trump Tank

Tell me again how MSNBC is nothing but liberals and prison movies.

The comedian and radio show host Harry Shearer has audio of what sure sounds like a casual off-the-air exchange between Donald Trump and Morning Joe co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. “You had me almost as a legendary figure,” Trump says at one point, apparently referring to a segment on that day’s show.

The recording comes at an uncomfortable moment for Joe and Mika, who are facing criticism for an allegedly cozy relationship with the Republican front-runner. CNN’s Dylan Byers reported that some NBC employees are disconcerted about the apparent friendship, and the visibly agitated hosts defended themselves on-air last week.


According to Shearer, the recording was taken during an off-the-air segment of Scarborough and Brzezinski’s “town hall” interview with Trump in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 17.

“I tell you what, the Bloomberg poll—all the polls out today look great in South Carolina,” Scarborough says at the beginning of the clip, likely referring to numbers which showed Trump in a large lead over his competitors in the state. (Trump went on to win the South Carolina primary.) Trump then asks the hosts if negative campaign ads against him are catching on, and both answer “no.”

Later, Brzezinski remarks that a clip from a rally that was played on that day’s Morning Joe was a “real wow moment,” and Trump makes the “legendary figure” comment in response.

The clip that Ms. Brzezinski refers to is a moment at a rally in South Carolina where Mr. Trump brought up two shills from the audience to testify for him.  It looks for all the world like a press conference at a White Power convention.  “Powerful stuff,” according to Joe.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Self-Fulfilling Press Coverage

Josh Marshall really nails down the nuttiness of the press coverage of this election and the paroxysms the reporters get themselves into just to get people to read what they write.

Here’s the reality. Who knows what we will learn in the future? And this has nothing to do with the political impact of the “emails controversy”. But as a legal matter, the chances of Hillary Clinton facing any kind of indictment are very, very low.

Start with the fact that as far as we know, she is not actually even being investigated for anything, let alone facing a looming indictment. The simple facts, as we know them, just don’t put her in line for an indictment. The first reason is the facts, which rest heavily on intent and reckless negligence. The second is tradition and DOJ regulations which make professional prosecutors very leery of issuing indictments that might be perceived or in fact influence an election. This was my thinking. But as the press coverage has become increasingly heated, I started trying to figure out if there was something I was missing – some fact I didn’t know, some blindspot in my perception. So I’ve spoken to a number of law profs and former federal prosecutors – based on the facts we know now even from the most aggressive reporting. Not like, is this theoretically possible? Not, what the penalties would be if it happened. But is an indictment at all likely or is this whole idea very far-fetched. To a person, very far-fetched.

So why the press coverage? I think it’s a combination of reasons. The most irreducible and perhaps most significant is simply prestige reporter derp and general ignorance of the legal system. Second is journalists’ perennial inability to resist a process story. And third, let’s be honest, wingnut page views.

As I’ve said, the political calculus and potential political damage is a different matter altogether. There is little doubt that this whole on-going controversy, along with stuff in the background about the Clinton Foundation, have hurt Clinton badly on public estimations of her honesty and trustworthiness. But again, on the possibility of an indictment, most of this chatter is just plain ridiculous – a mix of ignorance and tendentiousness.


… a huge amount of the campaign discussion is based on demonstrable nonsense – only there’s little part of the press process which involves stepping back, applying some basic factual explanation and deductive reasoning which would identify it as such.

Read the rest of this, including the breathless coverage of how Canada represents a real threat to the security of the U.S.  Seriously.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Let’s All Over-React

The Iran/U.S. Navy “crisis” lasted about twenty minutes.  Here, according to John Cole at Balloon Juice, is what happened:

Navy: Derp.

Iran: Hey guys, whatcha doing?

Navy: Umm, uhh, fishing?

Iran: No, you’re not.

Navy: Ok. You got us.

Iran: Alright, come on now.

And then the sailors got to hang out for a while until our guy called their guy and they had a little chat and then everyone got to go on with their business.  The end.

To hear the nutsery tell it, it was Pearl Harbor, D-Day, and the Cuban missile crisis all in one, and IT WAS ALL OBAMA’S FAULT!

Charlie Pierce:

Sometimes, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, it is better to let the news cycle play out and be thought a fool than to tweet and remove all doubt.

Secretary of State John Kerry thanked the Iranians “for their cooperation in swiftly resolving this matter” and suggested that the quick resolution of the issue was a product of the nearly daily back-and-forth that now takes place between Washington and Tehran, after three decades of hostility and stony silence. “That this issue was resolved peacefully and efficiently is a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure and strong,” he said in a statement Wednesday morning.

We got our people back and, this time, we didn’t even have to send them missiles! It’s a new era!

(And may I just say, those are some nice rugs there. They really tie the room together.)

Of course, this all happened in the middle of the night in the eastern United States, so a lot of the usual suspects had a full 12 hours to decide how far off the diving board they really wanted to go. They did not disappoint. They rarely do.

Wouldn’t it be a hoot if we found out that President Obama and Iran plotted this all out just in time for the SOTU speech so that he could make the Villagers and the nutsery look like the idiots that they are?  That would have been perfect.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Troll’s Bane

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate has some thoughts on why it is not a wise policy to ignore the outrages of people like Ann Coulter, the jesus-freakery of Kim Davis, and the big-footing of Donald Trump.

Right or wrong, our current media are driven almost entirely by isolated umbrage explosions. Last week it was the Texas school that called the police on a Muslim kid for making a clock, and Carly Fiorina, who invented a memory of a Planned Parenthood sting tape and went uncorrected at the GOP debate. The second wave after the umbrage—the Fury 2.0—was that the Texas student was garnering all this grotesque liberal attention and Fiorina was soaring in the GOP polls. “Shut them off!” was the cry from both sides. Pretend it didn’t happen.

This week it will be someone else. But the burgeoning response from both sides is: shut it down, don’t listen, don’t give them any more attention. That response is likely to engender a news media that is disengaged and polarized between my (serious) side and all the trivial people on the other side whose very existence I decline to recognize.

Don’t misunderstand me: The high ground is an attractive place to want to live, and if I never have to think about the Coulters of the world again, I will not be impoverished in any way. But the aggregate effect of persisting in thinking that we are too sophisticated and intelligent to even acknowledge arguments and characters on the other side is always going to be even more isolation and vilification. And I can’t bring myself to believe that this will yield anything positive in the long run.

Look: The media is absurd. It’s driven by extreme personalities and momentary outrage. The impulse to starve those personalities of their media oxygen is not wrongheaded. But those personalities and outrages are very real to half of this nation, and we need to engage and debate, even when they say hateful things, and not shame one another for feeding the trolls. So I am going to go ahead and write about people who may not seem real or serious or important. Because they speak to other people who are real and serious and important, and ignoring our way to a better discourse does not seem to be a recipe for meaningful political engagement; it’s its own form of solipsism, and we have quite enough of that already.

I think it is a worthy choice to hold them up as examples of just what passes for serious discourse about the problems we all face in our world, be it local or national, and how we look down — or up — upon them.

Exposing trolls to the clear light of day does not always magnify them.  It often has the opposite effect; much like sunlight has on the trolls of mythology, it turns them to stone.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Short Takes

Republicans move the goalposts on the Iran deal vote.

Australia joins the air war against ISIS.

The Kremlin tries to organize a “peace” conference for Ukraine.

Apple unveils new products.

Kickback: TV camera person fired for kicking running refugees in Hungary.

Fox and National Geographic announce a joint venture.

Tropical Update: Grace is dissipating; TS Henri is curving out to sea.

The Tigers lost in an 8-0 shutout by the Rays.