Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fake News and Our Media Landscape

When I was a kid, pre-Internet, every guy I knew had heard a story about Rod Stewart and semen. No need for me to go into the details of it because it was a lie, but what is amazing is that if I talk to someone my age who is from the West Coast, they heard the same story as well. Since we didn't have the Internet, how did this happen? In the 19th century, Mark Twain said that "A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." In the Internet era, truth doesn't have a chance ... truth hasn't even thought about putting on its shoes while the lies has done global laps. Another good example is Mikey from the Life commercials died from ingesting pop rocks.  Everyone from coast to coast heard this and it wasn't true. If we couldn't fight fake news before the Internet, how can we do it now? When Bill Clinton was president, I knew a few people who had a video tape of "The Clinton Chronicles." 300,000 copies of this tape existed and were even stocked on the shelves of some video rental stores. It was a bizarre "documentary" that portrayed the Clintons as murderous drug dealers. I watched this with someone who believed it completely. A co-worker of mine handed me the tape and told me I needed to watch it.  We don't need the Internet for this nonsense. 

In case you didn't notice both of the links in the prior paragraph are from Snopes.com. This is one of the first web sites I ever visited. The first time I was on it, I was connecting with 2400 baud modem using a dumb terminal. It was text only, no graphics. Their web site hasn't changed all that much. It is content over color. It is still my go-to source for all things bullshit but it takes time for them to actually fact check, so it isn't always on top of things. You might have to wait a few days to get an answer. They started off just tackling urban legends, but now, in this political environment, a lot of it is current events. Another good resource is Politifact.com, but it is strictly politics.

It did not occur to me how big of a problem fake news was until the results of the 2016 election came in. People believe crazy shit. Hillary is a murderer, she is running pedophilia ring out of a pizza joint, Obama is a secret Muslim, Elvis is alive, the Earth is flat .... I could go on. But a lot of the fake news isn't obvious. I've fallen for them as well. Some of their websites are very convincing.  A friend of mine posted the John Birch Society's web site on Facebook telling all his friends "to get informed." He still doesn't believe me when I tell him what an awful source of "info" these people are, but their web site is quite convincing regardless of how paranoid and conniving they are. Another friend posted a story from the Washington Times. I told her that this publication was founded by the "moonies" (the Unification Church) and she shouldn't confuse it with the New York Times or the Washington Post. That didn't go over well either. Even though you might piss off your friends, shouldn't you still point out that they are posting bullshit? Yes, I say, but of course, I thrive on this shit. Conflict is my friend.

It actually should be easier to figure out what is fake news now that we have the Internet. More of it exists, sure, but we have more tools at our disposal to weed out the crap.  All you have to do is take a few minutes to verify a story and certainly, you need to verify it if you plan on sharing a story on social media. The traditional sources are still the best, however imperfect, they at least attempt to get things correct.  Sources like the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Boston Globe and Chicago Tribune, at least have editors and fact checkers. They are not perfect and are leaner than ever thanks to the Internet, but they still catch most of the nonsense. In the era of the 24 hour news cycle, there is a race for the scoop. Some complain these publications are more liberal or conservative for their like. This is only true if you reading the editorials or Op Eds. If you are simply reading the news, these are great resources. Their political leanings don't come through in the actual news articles. If you read something really wacky on the net, first thing you should do is check these sources. If it is true, they might not have the story yet because they are verifying the story. Getting it right is worth the wait.  NPR's On the Media created a breaking news handbook to assist people with this problem. I suggest you check it out the next time a breaking story hits the airwaves like a shooting or a terrorist attack.

Many lists of fake news outlets have been published recently. The one on Wikipedia is a good one. One obvious way notice that you are on a fake news site is that their addresses look like those of the legit news web sites. ACBnew.com.co ... don't go here, but notice the "co" at the end of the address.  Or notice bloomberg.ma ... again, not .com, but .ma.  What isn't on this list is what is commonly called clickbait. Clickbait web sites have sensationalist and spurious headlines to get you to click on them. They usually sell advertising based on clicks so the articles themselves are usually not as bad as the headlines but since most people don't read entire articles, but headlines, they don't have to be. The most notorious of these are Occupy Democrats, USUncut, Infowars and Unworthy. I see these in my Facebook feed and I cringe. Don't click on these regardless of how outrageous the headline. They make money every time you do.  

I aslo avoid television news, especially Fox News and MSNBC. They are both incredibly bias, Fox News more so but they are both awful. PBS is the only one I will give any time to mostly because they are probably the least sensational and more concerned about reporting the truth. They actually have an ombudsman who does internal criticism and auditing to make sure they maintain their balance. I've yet to find any other television news network provide a name of their ombudsman. I've read vague references but nothing solid. Fox News does make reference to occasional "mistakes" but it does seem odd how all their "mistakes" are mistakes that make Democrats look bad.

I get most of my news from newspapers. I have an electronic subscription to the New York Times and my wife does to the Washington Post. I listen to a lot of podcasts and to NPR (National Public Radio). Like PBS, NPR has an ombudsman that keeps them in check. It does lean towards liberal but mostly in tone and not in content. Consistently they had more Republicans on the air than Democrats and are quite fair when they are on.  I also like Slate.com, but they are biased on the left and they make no effort to hide this. They are not a news site, but mostly editorial. For print magazines, I occasionally read The Economist and Harper's Magazine.

The Pew Research Center published this graph that is a pretty good visual for the landscape of American news: 


I would put Fox News further to the right closer to Drudge, but they do have some reasonable programs like Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday so that might push them closer to the center. Also, I'd take Breitbart off because they aren't even news ... at least move them over to #10. This graph is also a little old. The Colbert Report no longer exists and since Buzzfeed published the Trump urine story a few weeks ago, I would think they would be dropped from this list. 

Reader beware ... you are the ultimate arbiter of truth. If you doubt its truth, then don't share it. It can stop with you. It doesn't matter if you believe with the sentiment or wish it to be truth, if it isn't true, then don't share and stop reading it. Just stop. 


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Longest Tax Audit in History: Trump log #19

The amount of lying and lack of transparency of the President is making this very incompetent administration seem a lot worse than they actually are ... if that is possible. If there is nothing wrong with his tax returns, then he should release them. Our only assumption, we can make without seeing them is that he has something to hide.  We will only assume the worse. What assumptions will we make? Massive cash flow from Russian interests, lack of charitable giving, Congressmen being bought, etc. I am guessing the biggest concern that this egomaniac has is that we'll all find out how bad and unethical of a business man he really is. This is the assumption I will go with until I hear otherwise.

Trump log for week of 3/21/17:
3/21/17 - The President's daughter, Ivanka, will be getting a White House office. Because she is not officially an employee, the ethics rules are a little murky. (Source: Politico)

3/20/17 - In an act of absolute paranoia, Trump has appointed his surrogates as spies in the each of his cabinet departments. (Source:Washington Post)

3/19/17 - Rural America elected Trump, yet they are the most badly affected by his policies. One of these ways: doctors having VISA problems.  (Source: New York Times)

3/18/17 - Trump's gutting of the EPA has far and long reaching affects not just upon the US, but our neighbors as well.  Canadians are concerned as well.  (Source: New York Times)

3/17/17 - Another aide to the president, Sebastian Gorka, has connections to anti-Semitic groups. (Source: Slate)

3/16/17 - A few pages of Trump's 2005 tax returns have been obtained and examined on national television. No big surprises on it.  The bulk of his taxes were due to the alternative minimum tax which, surprisingly, is one of the taxes that he wants to abolish. (Source: New York Times)

3/15/17 - Trumpcare doesn't only affect people without insurance. According to the CBO, you could lose your insurance if you get your insurance through your employer.  Seven million such people could lose their insurance under this plan.  (Source: Boston Globe)

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Prior Trump Logs:
Issue # 1 - posted November 15th, 2016
Issue # 2 - posted November 22nd, 2016
Issue # 3 - posted November 29th, 2016
Issue # 4 - posted December 6, 2016
Issue # 5 - posted December 12, 2016
Issue # 6 - posted December 19, 2016
Issue # 7 - posted December 26, 2016
Issue # 8 - posted January 3, 2017
Issue # 9 - posted January 10, 2017
Issue #10 - posted January 17, 2017
Issue #11 - posted January 24, 2017
Issue #12 - posted January 31, 2017
Issue #13 - posted February 7, 2017
Issue #14 - posted February 14, 2017
Issue #15 - posted February 21, 2017
Issue #16 - posted February 28, 2017
Issue #17 - posted March 7, 2017
Issue #18 - posted March 14, 2017

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Tяump log #18

Fifty days into President Obama's administration, he had already passed major legislation, the stimulus bill. The same amount of time into Trump's, we have nothing close to this. His administration is badly lagging behind all other administration in regards to hiring key positions. 20 high ranking State Department jobs have yet to be filled and have no sign of them ever being filled. Republicans show us again and again, how government is ineffective ... when they are in charge. 

3/14/17 - The Congress Business Office, a non-partisan watchdog group, has published a report stating that Trumpcare, over time, will results in 24 million Americans without health insurance. As expected, Trump has responded by calling them liars. (Source: New York Times)

3/13/17 - The man who claimed he had a plan, obviously has no plan to defeat ISIS. If anything, he's made things worse with his Muslim ban which is being used as a recruiting tool by radical groups.  (Source: New York Times)

3/12/17 - Trump orders 46 holdover prosecutors from the Obama to resign immediately. It doesn't matter if they are working on a major investigation, just leave. (Source: New York Times)

3/11/17 - The Energy Star program is the perfect government program. It is voluntary, it is a low cost to the tax payer, it saves consumer's money and cuts emissions of greenhouse gases. Everyone is a winner, yet Trump and his awful EPA head, Pruitt, are cutting it. The next time you buy an appliance, good luck determining if it is energy efficient. (Source: Washington Post)

3/10/17 - The only reason autocratic governments, like China, tolerate the presence of America media is because they have the power of the US government's state department behind them.  Since Trump is so anti-press, it is getting increasingly unsafe to be a foreign correspondent. (Source: Washington Post)

3/9/17 - Trump proposes cutting HUD by $6 billion, mostly affecting building maintenance and development projects. So if you are in assisted housing and the building is falling apart ... too bad. The US government has some weapons they'd rather be making. (Source: Washington Post)

3/8/17 - Trump proposes funding the building of his bullshit Mexican border wall by cutting the budgets of some vital security organizations like the US Coast Guard, TSA and FEMA.  (Source: Washington Post)

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Prior Trump Logs:
Issue # 1 - posted November 15th, 2016
Issue # 2 - posted November 22nd, 2016
Issue # 3 - posted November 29th, 2016
Issue # 4 - posted December 6, 2016
Issue # 5 - posted December 12, 2016
Issue # 6 - posted December 19, 2016
Issue # 7 - posted December 26, 2016
Issue # 8 - posted January 3, 2017
Issue # 9 - posted January 10, 2017
Issue #10 - posted January 17, 2017
Issue #11 - posted January 24, 2017
Issue #12 - posted January 31, 2017
Issue #13 - posted February 7, 2017
Issue #14 - posted February 14, 2017
Issue #15 - posted February 21, 2017
Issue #16 - posted February 28, 2017
Issue #17 - posted March 7, 2017

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Logan Act

Doctor George Logan was a Quaker and deeply moral man. As a Quaker, he was morally opposed to war.  Disturbed by President Adams' quasi-war with France, Logan took a trip to France in 1790 at his own expense with an letter of introduction from Thomas Jefferson (the Vice President) to speak to their new government. He met with their brief revolutionary government, particularly with the Maquis de Talleyrand, the French foreign minister at the time. The US was allied with France during the Revolutionary War. If not for France, we never would have won. They were our greatest ally, but when that government was toppled by the French Revolution, the question was ... did we still owe them money because this was a new regime.  The US (the Adams administration) said "of course not" and France said "pourquoi pas!" They continued to sink our merchant ships throughout the Caribbean, particularly because we were trading with their enemy Great Britain, and we couldn't stop them because we had no navy at the time. It was this quasi-war that motivated the US to revitalize our navy and create the Marine Corp.

Logan carried with him the message that most Americans were eager for peace. He convinced Talleyrand that the crisis could be overcome by forbearance and he agreed to meet with Adams' delegates if he chose to send them.  Logan was even able to come home with released prisoners. All of this he did without the President knowing it. He met with Adams with the message that France was cautious yet would like to meet to discuss a diplomatic resolution. President Adams was intrigue. He seized the opportunity and sent three envoys to meet with France: Eldridge Gerry, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and John Marshall. The peace agreement that ensued was called the Convention of 1800, also known as the Treaty of Mortefontaine.

This pissed off quite a few people, those who wanted war. Secretary of War Pickering and Alexander Hamilton, who was merely a very powerful citizen at this point. They wanted to attack France once their navy had been replenished. They had so much influence that they convinced Congress to pass the Logan Act, a law forbidding private citizens from interfering in government business. Only the president had the power to discuss treaties and such. Things haven't changed that much, they mostly passed this law for personal reason because Logan succeeded where they had failed. Logan solved the problem of war. He was never found guilty of anything. The people of Pennsylvania later rewarded him by electing him Senator, but the law still remains.

Should this law even exist? No one has ever been prosecuted under the act, one person indicted and no one ever went to trial. The one person that was indicted, just four years after the bill was written, was a farmer that wrote a newspaper column suggesting that the Western portion of the country become a new country and ally itself with France. It never went to trial. Many have been mentioned in regards to the act, most recently General Michal Flynn, Trump's ex-National Security Adviser, who met with a Russian delegation during the election. If Flynn is indicted, it will most likely not be under the Logan Act.

President Reagan invoked it twice. In 1984, he went after Reverend Jesse Jackson for his trips to Cuba and Nicaragua and then in 1987, when House Speaker Jim Wright interfered in the negotiations between Nicaragua's Sandinistas and the Contra rebels. Threats to other people, like George McGovern and "Hanoi" Jane Fonda, were made but never followed through with.

The most egregious example of someone that should have been prosecuted and jailed over the Logan Act is when presidential candidate Richard Nixon urged his friend, Anna Chennault, to sabotage President Johnson's peace talks between the belligerent parties in the Vietnam War in 1968. Chennault told the South Vietnamese government not to accept the peace deal because when Nixon became president, they'd get a better deal. Nixon wanted the war to end during his administration. If it ended during Johnson's, Nixon might not have won the election. So the war went on for several more years, over 21,000 more people died and when peace finally came, South Vietnam got the same deal that they would have gotten under Johnson earlier. When this came out about Nixon, during his administration, he should have been impeached and both him and Chennault should have faced criminal charges.  But we don't impeach over such things in America. We impeach Presidents over blow jobs and hotel break-ins but not for 21,000 people needlessly dying.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Oh This Again - Tяump log #17

One of the things I fear the most about Trump is that he will become normal. His lies may just become so familiar to us that we stop noticing. His supporters are hopeless, I am not talking about them. I am talking about everyone else. Will the smoke screen of lies become so common place that we'll just become tired and apathetic. Feeling so hopeless, we'll lose energy and feel demoralized. It is easy to become a doormat and to escape into the wonders of our Netflix queue.

Robert Reich, President Clinton's ex-Labor Secretary, posted an excellent video recently putting Trump's lies in perspective. I suggest you watch it, often.  


It will remind you what is going on and will help you fight it. Media needs to be held accountable along with our government. They need to do their job and to call a lie, a lie. And we need to stop being so polite to his supporters so spread his dribble.

3/7/17 - Backing out of the Paris Agreement would have a negative impact on how the US is perceived internationally. If agreements are not honored across administrations, why would countries make any agreements with us. Trump's administration is split on the subject with his most trusted adviser, Bannon, and Trump leaning towards dropping out of the agreement. (Source: Washington Post)

3/6/17 - All else aside, the most terrifying part of Trump's presidency is this unstable man's access to nuclear weapons. But to extend this a bit further, he will be renegotiating the New Start Treaty with Russia. This is a treaty, negotiated in 2011 by President Obama, limiting the size of our arsenals that was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate and unanimously by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but was called "just another bad deal" by Trump after he looked at it for a few seconds. (Source: New York Times)

3/5/17 - We have more bullshit, more lies coming out of Trump's mouth. This time it is about ex-president Obama wire tapping him. Does he believe this stuff and is he just that paranoid? There is so much that he could be working on, but instead he'd rather play games and release smoke screens that are hiding the fact that he is getting nothing done, nothing worth doing at least. (Source: New York Times)

3/4/17 - Trump claims he wants to create jobs, but none of those are government jobs though. Of the top 1,000 officials needed to run the government, he has only filled less than three dozen. We'll see if the government can work without it, but in the meantime, those people who would fill those government will be competing with the rest of us in the job pool.  (Source: New York Times)

3/3/17 - Trump's 2016 campaign was mostly funded by himself. This was because most big donors didn't take him seriously. He started fund raising for 2020 almost immediately and he won't have to use his own money this time. If he is still around for 2020, expect his campaign to be well funded. (Source: Politico)

3/2/17 - Jeff Session's, Trump's Attorney General, lied to congress during his confirmation hearings. He met with Russian officials twice during the election. He has recused himself because the department he runs, the Justice Department, is in charge investigating Russia's rule in US election hacking. Others, like myself, just want him to resign. (Source: Washington Post)

3/1/17 - Trump's first official address to the nation was, as expected, full of inaccuracies to make himself look better.  A lot of his old favorites were there exaggerating positive number in his favor and sometimes taking credit for decisions that were made before he took office. (Source: Washington Post)

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Prior Trump Logs:
Issue # 1 - posted November 15th, 2016
Issue # 2 - posted November 22nd, 2016
Issue # 3 - posted November 29th, 2016
Issue # 4 - posted December 6, 2016
Issue # 5 - posted December 12, 2016
Issue # 6 - posted December 19, 2016
Issue # 7 - posted December 26, 2016
Issue # 8 - posted January 3, 2017
Issue # 9 - posted January 10, 2017
Issue #10 - posted January 17, 2017
Issue #11 - posted January 24, 2017
Issue #12 - posted January 31, 2017
Issue #13 - posted February 7, 2017
Issue #14 - posted February 14, 2017
Issue #15 - posted February 21, 2017
Issue #16 - posted February 28, 2017

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Anti-Presidency - Tяump log #16

I thought my anger toward Trump supporters/voters would subsided by now. In actuality, it has only gotten stronger. Each time the scab starts to grow over the wound, I read another headline and I rip off the scab to keep it fresh. I hear some say, "they didn't know how bad he was going to be" and I simply "Really?" ... and what about his campaign didn't make them believe he was going to be this bad? For those who have buyer's remorse and regret voting for him, I add pity to my derision. I only hope their regret remains until mid-term elections.

I don't consider myself a one issue voter, but for a while now, I have made the environment my top priority as a voter. This fact has put me solid in the blue column. The most recent Bush administration had such a bad environmental record, I made an anti-Republican pledge to not vote for a Republican on any level of government. I suggest you do the same. If there were a Republican running for dog catcher, I'd vote against them. My wife tells me often that not all Republicans are disgusting and I usually respond, "if they weren't, they would have left this party by now."  Not to sound smug, but this Trump administration has proven me correct on this one. I am no lover of the Democrats. The D's have their problems, but I will choose one of them or any other party before I choose an R, until they change. If you are wonder why, you need not go any further than this week's Trump log.

2/28/17  - Trump instructs the EPA and Army Corp of Engineers to roll back an Obama regulation called the Waters of the United States Rule. Rolling back this rule would make it easy for agricultural and development concerns to drain wetlands. (Source: Washington Post)

2/27/17 - Trump's budget dramatically increases defense spending and decreases spending on domestic agencies, especially the EPA. It ignores infrastructure. It is the opposite of what we actually need. (Source: New York Times

2/26/17 - Trump's nominee for Secretary of Commerce's, Wilbur Ross, approach to trade is the exact opposite to the approached that Trump spoke of during his campaign. He has made millions off of free trade.  (Source: New York Times)

2/25/17 - Trump bans some media outlets who were critical to his administration (CNN, Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Politico) from press briefing. This is an assault on the freedom of the press. Assault on the press is usually one of the first step of any autocratic regime. (Source: Washington Post)

2/24/17 - International travel to the US is down significantly since Trump became president. This is very bad news to regions (like my own) that rely on tourism. (Source: Frommers)

2/23/17 - As expected, our Mexican border wall is probably not going to be a wall, but a fence. Not unlike what we already have but just a little bit longer.  (Source: The Guardian)

2/23/17 - Trump's loosening of regulation on coal mining's waste dumping will not create a lot of jobs, if any. It will only damage the mountain streams. (Source: New York Times)

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Prior Trump Logs:
Issue # 1 - posted November 15th, 2016
Issue # 2 - posted November 22nd, 2016
Issue # 3 - posted November 29th, 2016
Issue # 4 - posted December 6, 2016
Issue # 5 - posted December 12, 2016
Issue # 6 - posted December 19, 2016
Issue # 7 - posted December 26, 2016
Issue # 8 - posted January 3, 2017
Issue # 9 - posted January 10, 2017
Issue #10 - posted January 17, 2017
Issue #11 - posted January 24, 2017
Issue #12 - posted January 31, 2017
Issue #13 - posted February 7, 2017
Issue #14 - posted February 14, 2017
Issue #15 - posted February 21, 2017

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The President Who Cried Wolf - Tяump log #15

Trump and his minions tell so many lies, you cannot respond to all of them. It is seems to act like a smoke screen. You are so busy fighting the lies that you have little time and energy to do anything else. They lie about everything big and small: the crowd size at the inauguration, crime stats, voter fraud, media coverage and terrorist attacks. Autocrats attack truth because they don't want to be accountable. If you cannot trust anyone, then you might as well trust the one in charge.

This is terrifying because at some point, we will have to trust him. Something big will happen, like a terrorist attack or a disease outbreak, and we will all have difficulty believing him.

2/21/17 - Trump's anti-science outlook is emboldening the anti-vaccine movement which is threat to public health. (Source: Washington Post)

2/20/17 - Trump's recent comments about Sweden only show that he gets his information from really bad sources ... like his followers. Is he a liar or is he is simply out of touch with reality? (Source: Washington Post)

2/19/17 - Much of Trump's deputy cabinet positions have gone unfilled because he refuses to hire anyone that has ever said anything negative about him. This severely limits the pool of qualified people. (Source: New York Times)

2/18/17 - Trump's budget could axe some very popular government programs that really don't cost a lot. They include Public Broadcasting, National Endowment for the Arts and ArmeriCorps among others. (Source: New York Times)

2/17/17 - During the 2.5 years prior to the election, Trump retweeted white supremacists 75 times. He now has a white supremacist as a top advisor. He also has ties to an organization called ACT for America, a group categorized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. (Source: Washington Post)

2/16/17 - Trump's nominee for Labor Secretary, Andrew Puzder, steps down due to the fact that his nomination was going to be rejected by the Senate. He had a ton of problems like a history of domestic violence, having an illegal alien as a maid and ... oh ya ... the fact that he hates labor. (Source: Washington Post)

2/15/17 - Trump campaign aides were in contact with Russia a year before the election. This amidst the fact the allegations that Russia hacked the DNC around the same time is very troubling.  Meanwhile Russia tests a land missile violating an international treaty and the White House is quiet about it.  His buddy, Putin, can do no wrong. (Source: New York Times)

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Prior Trump Logs:
Issue # 1 - posted November 15th, 2016
Issue # 2 - posted November 22nd, 2016
Issue # 3 - posted November 29th, 2016
Issue # 4 - posted December 6, 2016
Issue # 5 - posted December 12, 2016
Issue # 6 - posted December 19, 2016
Issue # 7 - posted December 26, 2016
Issue # 8 - posted January 3, 2017
Issue # 9 - posted January 10, 2017
Issue #10 - posted January 17, 2017
Issue #11 - posted January 24, 2017
Issue #12 - posted January 31, 2017
Issue #13 - posted February 7, 2017
Issue #14 - posted February 14, 2017