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Media oversight

terroristThe days since the Paris attacks have been as disgracefully vile in American politics and American media as anything I’ve ever seen. A couple of items of particular interest.

It was well documented that during the run-up to the Iraq war there was tremendous pressure coming from the executive suite of the news networks to cheerlead for the administration. Those who resisted were marginalized and fired if they refused to go along. It’s unlikely that the word went forth on Saturday that reporters should get on a war footing and issue demands that the president use “the greatest military in the world” to “take out these bastards.” But they don’t have to say it explicitly do they? Everyone knows the drill.
There is no doubt the Republicans are getting ready to launch a full blown campaign of paranoid bloodlust which, if successful, would have devastating consequences. The media were willing recruits in their cause fifteen years ago. Let’s hope they gather their wits about them before they take us down that dangerous road again.

Billions of dollars have been spent and hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the global war on terror. At every step of the way, Western governments played directly into the hands of Islamic extremists, falling for their ploys and fueling their ambitions. As Osama Bin Laden tauntingly proclaimed back in 2004, “All that we have to do is to send two mujahadin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written Al-Qaeda, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies.”
For the handful of ideologues guiding the forever war, those personal and political benefits justified the price of failure. After the latest assault on Paris, it’s not surprising to see them clamoring for more force, more surveillance, more silence from progressives and more airtime for themselves. As they occupy the political center, the grayzone fades to black.

Comment below fold.


clown carThe next GOP presidential debate starts tonight at 8PM central time. Yes, once again I’m skipping the “undercard” debate because it just doesn’t matter. This debate is on Fox Business, which will be the first time that channel has been watched by pretty much anyone. Fox Business: because the Wall Street shills on CNBC just aren’t conservative enough! So I’ll be simultaneously noting what the candidates say, doing some instant fact checking (no time for linking, so your own fact checking of my fact checking is advised), and maybe even providing some instant yet clever commentary.
So click the “read more” link if you’re reading this on the home page, and hit your browser reload button once in a while. Feel free to comment, but do understand that I may not have time to get it posted right away. Please excuse me if I miss something visual, because my eyes are on the editing page, which means essentially the debate is radio for me.


The myth of the liberal media gets a new boost

by Dan Burns on November 6, 2015 · 0 comments

mediaThe farcical gaggle of delusional, egomaniacal lunatics that is the GOP presidential field have recently been pimping the myth of the “liberal media’ even more stridently than wingnuts generally do. From reality-based articles:

Media Matters’ Brendan Karet had a good catch today on how fake news enters the media food chain. His example started with Fox News‘ Sean Hannity telling Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush that “the president said he’s going to bring in 250,000 refugees into this country.” The next day, Hannity gave the same statistic to candidate Donald Trump:

This president has committed to nearly 250,000 coming to America. That tells me we’re—we have a pre-9/11 mindset again.

What was Hannity’s source for this remarkable claim? PolitiFact looked into it, and could find only one possible source: the joke website Real News Right Now, which featured that story in September, along with reports like “Vatican City Conducts ‘Successful’ Nuclear Test” and “Joe the Plumber Caught Trying to Enter North Korea.”
…It’s a problem when presidential candidates from a major political party are getting their information about the world from a news outlet that evidently can’t tell the difference between a sub-Onion hoax site and actual news. It’s an even bigger problem when those candidates bring those bogus claims onto supposedly reputable network TV—and the real journalists aren’t able to recognize that the politicians they’re interviewing are parroting garbage factoids from Fox‘s land of make-believe.

This next article is mostly about “mainstream” media’s drooling love affair with House Speaker Paul “Lyin” Ryan (R-WI), and should be clicked on and read in its entirety. I’m just blockquoting the last paragraph, which is more general in scope.


In what is shaping up to be a year of setbacks for the Republican Party’s far right, last Friday’s budget deal can only be seen as yet another defeat.


Senator Ted Cruz labeled the deal “a slap in the face to conservatives.” Thus conservatives on Capitol Hill and elsewhere will now have to come to terms with developments that are diametrically opposed to their long term goals. Sequester spending caps will be exceeded for both defense and social programs and overall government spending caps will move higher. The bi-partisan effort that affected the budget deal also resurrected the Export – Import Bank, long a target of the far right. Meanwhile the big winners coming out of the budget deal are among the far right’s most hated foes: President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and the entitlement programs of Medicare and Social Security. Another winner in the process is incoming Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.


Outside conservative think tanks were clearly losers as well: “It was a rough stretch for outside conservative groups that have frequently worked to flex muscle in the Capitol. Heritage Action and Club for Growth joined forces to blast the budget accord as it drifted away from spending caps — and put lawmakers on notice that they were watching the vote. But it ultimately was for naught.”



clown carI’ll be live blogging tonight’s presidential debate, so refresh the page and look at the bottom for the most recent updates. If you’re seeing this on the home page, click the “read more” link. I’ll fact check to the degree I can on the spot, but that will mean from memory so your own check of my check is advised. Or just follow along for the instant snark. All I guarantee is not knowing what they’ll say means I don’t already know what I’ll say, so it will be truly instant. Side note: “snark” was not recognized by the spell checker. Stupid Republican spell checker!
The debate starts at 7. No, I’m not watching the “undercard” debate. None of those candidates have a chance to win. There is one update to which GOP candidates are worth our attention, besides the ones who dropped out. I created buckets and dropped Bobby Jindal into the bucket of candidates who won’t win, but are worth attention because they’re either in office or likely to run again. I’ve since learned just how toxic Jindal has become in Louisiana, down to “Chris Christie in New Jersey” levels. I put Christie in the bucket of candidates to be ignored, and his term still has two years left, so I can’t justify giving time to Jindal who is done in two months. The only “undercard” candidate to watch is Lindsey Graham, and that’s purely because he has five more years in his Senate term and he’s likely to run again. We can always hope a strong challenger appears next time. Why, South Carolina, why? Of course, that last link begs the same question of CNN.
About to start. By the way, the state DFL will be live tweeting at and the hashtag #MNDFL



No, black income didn’t plunge 14% in the last year

by Eric Ferguson on September 21, 2015 · 3 comments

Politicians I almost always support, and a bunch of people on my side of the political spectrum are making hay out of the Star Tribune’s report on recent census data saying black household income plunged 14% from 2013 to 2014, and the poverty rate rose form 33% to 38%. This doesn’t seem odd for one year? You know how we rag on conservatives for repeating claims that aren’t facts, but are too politically convenient to not use? Why can’t they just exercise some skepticism? In this case, hate to say it, now we’re doing it, repeating what’s convenient without giving it a close look. Black poverty and the racial income gap is our issue, and a big jump like is so handy for making our case. Too bad it makes no sense. To cut to the chase, the only explanation for the big increase that does make sense is statistical noise from a small sample size.
Just to be clear, I’m not accusing the Star Tribune reporters of lying. I think they tried to get this right. I’m likewise not accusing the Census Bureau of lying. I don’t doubt they’re just reporting what they found. The paragraph that should have clued us in that something was funky, even before thinking things through, was this:

The American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, with questions on a variety of topics such as income, race, employment, educational attainment, commuting to work and housing. The survey goes out each year to about 3.5 million households nationwide (about 100,000 in Minnesota), with a response rate of about 97 percent. Data estimates generated from these surveys have a degree of uncertainty associated with them, called sampling error. In general, the larger the sample, the smaller the level of sampling error.

So how big was the sample? The Star Tribune didn’t say. How big is big enough? I don’t claim to know. What I did notice was that in seeking an explanation for the plunge in income, there wasn’t another one that held up to even cursory scrutiny. And other statistics don’t fit. Let’s think this through.


There are Democrats running for president, really

by Eric Ferguson on July 31, 2015 · 2 comments

Usually when only one party’s nomination process is getting covered, it’s because it has such a big advantage in the district in question that the other party has no realistic chance. Pick, for example, any one of roughly 90% of congressional districts. So it’s kind of strange that the Republicans are getting all the attention in the presidential race since the election is probably a toss-up and if it isn’t, it’s because the odds favor Democrats a bit. However, Democrats just can’t match the Republicans for entertainment value. Not even close. Much as the media wants to pretend Bernie Sanders is somehow equivalent to Donald Trump (he called Mexican immigrants rapists, but you called yourself a democratic socialist, and isn’t that just as crazy?), and as much as we’re learning the phrase “Clinton rules” regarding how any unproven allegation will be treated very seriously, the truth is no Democrat has the headline grabbing crazy to compete with Republican candidate … hard to pick out just one. And so many. Figuring out how many they have was faster by multiplication than addition, at least until Jim Gilmore became the 17th and made it a prime number.
Anyway, there really are Democrats running. Here’s a bit of Hillary and Bernie. This first video is an interview Bernie gave Vox (Vox not Fox, that’s not a typo). You might notice something that makes him a stronger candidate than the media generally give him credit for. He’s able to give a straight answer to a question in a few words, and then he can elaborate if given time (which he is here) to show he knows what he’s talking about. I’m guessing that comes from being a frequent guest on liberal talk radio, which may have a puny audience (liberals, did you even know we have our own talk radio?) but taking calls gave Bernie a lot of practice answering questions within commercial radio’s time limits from the sort of people who vote in Democratic primaries.

This video is a clip of Hillary speaking to the National Urban League. TPM found this the newsworthy bit as she went after Jeb Bush, but I listened to the whole speech and thought another part was more interesting. Alas, unlike someone at TPM, I couldn’t work out how to clip and embed the part I wanted. C-SPAN, why must you make embedding so difficult? So I give you this link to the whole program. The part I recommend starts at 49:20 and goes to 55:15. She eloquently talked about how we need to change our attitudes on race, and particularly how those of us who haven’t had to live with discrimination have to start listening to those who have, and stop assuming our experience is the same as everyone else’s. Her whole speech goes from 41:00 to 1:05:00. This is TPM’s clip:

Comments below fold.



political-manipulation“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable.”

                                               George Orwell


As many times as I’ve wondered how some GOP pols and pundits can stand to look at themselves in the mirror, I’ve also wondered how they maintain such disciplined messaging. Do they get paid? Is it the discipline of the paycheck? Do the internet trolls, who comment on every political news story in the Strib by slamming Dems and excusing Pugs, get paid by someone? If not, how do they manage to stay on message so relentlessly?


Respect. If Dems could stay on message the way Pugs do, we’d own state government for the next ten generations. The problem for Dems, of course, is that so much of GOP messaging is factory-made and based on lies. A lot of our liberal friends in elected office have a tough time telling Lies-by-Design. Which is much to their credit, ethics-wise, but it puts Democratic candidates at a real disadvantage with the broader electorate when you consider that half the population has below average intelligence, hence are more easily misled than smarter folks. I don’t mean that in a mean way: it’s just a statement of fact. A significant portion of the population is more easily convinced of things that are untrue because they lack the cognitive and perceptual abilities that smarter people have. In how it frames it’s messaging, the GOP media machine utterly depends on that simple truth for the party’s continued existence.


Admittedly, it’s a lot easier for the GOP to keep churning out mass-produced mendacity like a Chinese plastics factory when spineless news anchors and chickensh*t political reporters are only willing to serve up softball questions to candidates and pundits. The accounting department long ago took over control of policy in the newsroom and the watchword ever since has been Revenue-Revenue-Revenue. Keep it light, guys. Don’t make enemies. Don’t offend anybody. We need to keep the ratings up to make goal each quarter. Your bonus depends on your cooperation. Your jobs depend on annual growth.


Take, for example, the remarks that MN Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt made earlier this year about Minnesota’s improving economy, covered by MNPP here:

“Part of this economic confidence,” Daudt told reporters with a straight face, “is there is balance restored in state government.”

To her credit, Pioneer Press Capitol Bureau Chief and political reporter Rachel Stassen-Berger challenged Daudt on that one and made him own the lie by forcing him to double-down on his BS. That’s what real political reporters do. The news media, after all, is not supposed to be a handy conveyance for politicians and pundits to drop trou and squeeze out some verbal dookie. That’s what concession speeches are for. Rather, it’s supposed to be an information forum where readers and audiences go to learn something as close to the truth as can be discovered and published. Political reporters aren’t doing human interest stories: there should be an apparent bias and overt partiality for the truth, regardless of which political party offers it up. Any impartiality the news media sustains should be to ensure that all offenders of truth are equally vilified, not that all lies are given equal ink and air time. As Churchill once said, “I refuse to remain impartial between the fire brigade and the fire.”


Which just gets to the nut of why Republicans complain so bitterly about media bias. The fact is they get exposed as liars and frauds more often than Democrats do simply because they tell a lot more lies. They have to. Their policies are founded on lies. Trickle-down economics for example was one of the biggest B-F-L’s ever perpetrated on the American people. So was WMD’s.


But I digress. Returning to the subject at hand, now some months later, we see the very same BS message that Herr Daudt was disparaged for last March surfacing again in our political discourse, when Cathy Wurzer put this question to their political panel on the July 10 broadcast of Almanac (~44:58) —

Wurzer: “The state forecast just came out — [another] $500 million to the good. What does that mean? Do you think we’re collecting too much in taxes … just a better economy … what do you all think?”

I’ll assign that question a rating of Four Softballs [@@@@] …

More Below the Fold


The Far Greater Threat of Domestic Terror

by SJGulitti on June 24, 2015 · 0 comments

After obsessing for the past year, or more, about whether or not the Obama administration will ever bring itself to utter the words “Islamic Terror” or “Radical Islam” one can only wonder when conservatives will wake up to the greater threat, that once again, is seen to be emanating from the far right. To wit: “In a survey we conducted with the Police Executive Research Forum last year of 382 law enforcement agencies, 74 percent reported anti-government extremism as one of the top three terrorist threats in their jurisdiction; 39 percent listed extremism connected with Al Qaeda or like-minded terrorist organizations. And only 3 percent identified the threat from Muslim extremists as severe, compared with 7 percent for anti-government and other forms of extremism.”


The recent racially driven terror shootings in Charleston once again bring to the fore the threat that I detailed below in “Coming Unhinged on the Far Right”. The Charleston tragedy shows that the underlying issues outlined in 2010 are still salient, relevant and no less dangerous today.


What is most interesting in the aftermath of Charleston is that even though folks on the far right, like Bill O’Rielly, admit that it was an act of terror, they cannot resist using the tragedy to promote an ongoing anti-progressive political agenda. The aftermath of the Charleston terror attack is seen by the talking heads on the far right as an opportunity for the “America haters” and “race hustlers” to launch a new round of attacks against our country. They ignore the fact that many of the alleged “America haters” and “race hustlers are merely pointing out the enduring shortcomings of race in American society and all the problems resulting there from.



After reading Star Tribune columnist D.J. Tice’s column on the collapse of the 35W bridge it’s apparent he gets the concept of motivated reasoning, but not to the point of recognizing when he’s engaging in it. He takes one fact, that the gusset plates were built too thin, and weaves a whole narrative of an unavoidable accident that absolves the Pawlenty administration, were it true. His convenient cherrypicking of facts ignores the inconvenient fact that bridge inspectors had warned of potential failure of fracture critical components, and recommended structural work to include the gussets.
From the MPR link:

The recommendation made in the November 2006 report was rejected, but one expert in the sound-based monitoring technology said even the suggestion that so-called “fracture critical” sections of the bridge were susceptible for cracking should have sent up a warning flare.
“For somebody to be looking for cracks to initiate in a fracture critical member begs the question, why?” said John Duke, a professor of engineering science and mechanics at Virginia Tech who’s researched acoustic emission monitoring.

“When a fracture critical member is discovered to have a crack, that bridge should have been shut down yesterday,” he said.

It may not have been certain that such work would have found and fixed the gusset issue, but it was at least likely, and doing the work definitely would have made it impossible to blame the collapse on lack of maintenance. However, the decision was to go cheap and just resurface. After all, proper repairs would have cost more money, and nothing was more important than avoiding the tax increase that would be unavoidable if we were to really fix our infrastructure.
Even after Minnesotans looked at our roads and bridges and realized deferred maintenance had resulted in a deteriorated condition, Tim Pawlenty was so determined to please the taxophobic poobahs of the Republican Party that he vetoed a small and insufficient gas tax increase. It was passed over his veto by legislative supermajorities that included some brave Republican legislators who paid a high price for defying the anti-tax crowd that thinks infrastructure is free.
I wonder if Tice is warming up to argue that a thin gusset on the 35W bridge proves we don’t really need to raise the gas tax to fix our roads and bridges. Would we rather pay a little more for gas, or always wonder if the “fracture critical” parts were found and fixed? Or maybe it’s just normal that a Republican wants to help politicians of his party who are still dodging responsibility for the bridge. I’m willing to grant that 100% avoidance of all screw-ups is impossible, or at least so close to impossible as to be unreasonable. The real question then is the willingness to figure out how you screwed up, and Republicans, apparently, are nowhere near such willingness. Maybe that’s why they want to repeat the mistake, deferring infrastructure repairs to avoid a tax increase. Call it the fingers-crossed approach to maintaining old infrastructure.
Sure, we don’t have to raise taxes, because we have another option. We can just let our roads and bridges keep rotting; not a great option, but yes, an option.