Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Fake News on the Loose

By Bob Ferris

I am sure that most are amazed at the amount of false or fake news flying around the internet at this point.  Having looked at it, I am also amazed at the amount of denial regarding this huge problem.  Obviously those sites that find themselves on a list or two are denying that they deserve to be there.  There are also those who are faithful to those sites who are up in arms as well.  The end result of this backlash is criticism of these lists in general. Some of which that is valid but certainly not all.  And we cannot afford to ignore this issue because some find it objectionable or even tricky.

The problem with succinctly defining all this is that it is wholly a matter defined by degrees.  There are sites that are biased.  There are also sites that are really, really fake but not visited often enough to make all lists because their impact is minor or they offended fewer.  These are imperfect analyses, but we must start somewhere and then continue to refine and improve these lists.

My approach below was to look at the eight attempts at listing problem sites and then look for agreement between those lists. What are the sites that more than a few find problematic (yellow), half find fault with (orange) and those sites that are on most lists (red)?    There are more than three hundred sites listed below garnered from this initial set of lists, but this is likely only the tip of the iceberg.

Column Codes
A = ProporNot
B = The Daily Dot
C = Wikipedia
D = Fake News Watch
E = Patheos Blog
F = Assistant Professor of Journalism at Merrimack
G = Snopes
H = US News

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Distibution Devil and the Swing State Ding Dongs

By Bob Ferris

One percent is not huge.  On some level that percentage is really quite insignificant.  But let’s think about that for a moment—particularly in light of folks talking about this election and criticizing the DNC and Hillary Clinton for losing the election because “they” lost sight of the importance of the Electoral College.

There are 365 days in a year and 24 hours in a day.  That means that there are 8760 hours in a year.  One percent of that is 87.6 hours.  Try not breathing for 87.6 hours, 8.7 hours or even 52 minutes and you will start to understand that the distribution of that percent or even a tenth or hundredth of that percentage can be extremely critical or even fatal.  Breathing and elections, particularly with the Electoral College involved, share some of the same characteristics.

Noam Chomsky, Bernie Sanders and others recognized the diabolical destructiveness of distribution in this election and warned those who supported Dr. Stein or the ascendancy of the Green Party to vote for Hillary rather than a third party candidate if they lived in swing states (1.2,3).  It is hard to tell how many in this cohort listened to that plea, but unfortunately enough didn’t that we now have President-elect Trump.

Dr. Stein’s response to Chomsky’s caution was to call him a “coward” which he is certainly not (1,2,).  She was also critical of Senator Sanders and offered herself up as a Sanders surrogate which she was certainly not in terms of electability, experience or grasp of governance.

So now Dr. Stein is calling for audits in three states.  This is commendable and appreciated.  But it should be pointed out that those three states are all important swing states where in at least two of them votes cast for Dr. Stein significantly harmed Secretary Clinton’s prospects and helped Trump.   In the other it was a combination of third party votes.  Somehow this brief sense of affection for Dr. Stein feels similar to what we feel for Glenn Beck after his recent admissions that he might have been on an errant track and caused some damage.  In essence, you want to embrace the person but it is more ceremonial than heart-felt.

The embracement hesitation above is reinforced by Dr. Stein’s current rhetoric and how she unremorsefully slips back into her “two equivalent evils” oratory which seems so indicative of someone who has not absorbed any lessons from this dreadful experience.  In regards to this, the unkind part of me thinks that she should contact Carly Simon and see if the singer is willing to let Dr. Stein use her song “You’re So Vain” in any upcoming campaigns.

Is the above a cheap shot?  Maybe, but for two things.  The first is that Dr. Stein has climbed onto the publicity wagon of this recount and is bathing in the attention that she appears to think is about her.  My sense is that she needs to remember that she raised more money for the recount in a handful of days than she raised during her entire presidential campaign.  Since Dr. Stein or the Green Party can gain nothing material from the recount, perhaps this isn’t about her per se but really about that other “her?”

Moreover, throughout this campaign Dr. Stein has enjoyed considerable support from a certain element of the media.  Some of this was ultra-liberal and some ultra-conservative with quite a bit of foreign mischief thrown in for good measure.  When looking at many of these pieces and sources this was much less about trying to forward an inexperienced and un-electable candidate and much more about the #JillNotHill thrust of Dr. Stein’s campaign.  If you want to argue against this and claim that those elements were four-square behind Dr. Stein rather than simply anti-Hillary, then why are so many of those same sources now attacking Dr. Stein for this recount effort (1,2,3,4)?

Although it is easy to lay blame on Hillary or the DNC in this “loss,” I am not sure that is absolutely warranted or deserved.  Secretary Clinton won all the debates handily and earned endorsements from nearly every major newspaper in the nation.  She also won the popular vote by a substantial and growing margin.  She wasn’t a “lazy” candidate as some have characterized her and it should be remembered that she did all of this while burdened by the unfortunate baggage of her gender, a misinformation campaign of massive proportions, active voter suppression, and an adversary who won hearts with lies and well-fertilized fears.  And Hillary had little control over those acting on misinformation or unbalanced reporting in critical swing states, but Dr. Stein did and should have taken steps before the fact rather than just after.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Electoral College, NFL Referees and the Harry Potter Solution

By Bob Ferris

I had a thought while watching football this week: Why cannot the Electoral College do their voting a little like NFL referees moderate a game?  I come to this line of reasoning because there have been so, so many political fouls in this election that the Electoral College should be able to throw a few penalty flags.  How so?

Maybe Red State Republicans should get a penalty flag for voter suppression in their states.  What would be the call?  Perhaps this would be Roughing the Constitution.  And since it was open and notorious let’s take a million votes from the Republicans in Red States as a penalty.  Seems fair.

That is not to say that the Democrats were without sins.  There probably should be flag thrown for how the DNC dealt with Bernie.  Let’s call that one Process Interference and penalize them a million votes spread across the Democratic side in the Blues States.

There was also the whole Hillary e-mail thing which really was handled poorly.  That might be viewed as Intentional Floundering.   But then we have the second FBI Director Comey announcement which clearly was Unsportsmanlike Communication after the play.  So we have offsetting penalties.

Dr. Jill Stein and LT General Flynn (Trump's candidate for National Security Adviser) dining with Vladimir Putin at the dinner celebrating the 10th Anniversary of RT (Russia Today) the Russian state-owned TV network.
Then there is the whole "Russian" thing from the DNC hacks and WikiLeaks to paid internet trolls and the likelihood of hidden Russian financial ties to the Trump Empire.  This one is hard to categorize as it seems a hybrid of too many men on the field and fans coming down from the stands and acting like players during a goal-line stance.  So here the flag flies for Illegal Intrusion.

Then there is all the fake news.  Which seemed to have been more widely shared on social networks like Facebook than real news.  This functioned much like a cadre of folks blowing air-horns every time the opposing team tried to call a play.  In the NFL this can draw a Delay of Game flag with the Electoral College this should result in a Political Interference flag.  Thrown and thrown again.

Stir into this mix penalty flags for bald-faced lying and flying yellow for un-American behavior and you start to understand that our election process, while always messy has unlikely been this stained from so many quarters in recent memory.  I can on some level understand the need for the Electoral College and can get over the disproportional per capita representation both in the Senate and less so in the House, but you cannot have those leveling factors and allow these other manipulations to stand or not be accounted for somehow in the resulting Electoral College voting when we are for the second time in this generation represented by someone who did not win the popular vote and most voted against.  And this understanding does not absolutely depend on whether or not you see us as a democracy, republic or some hybrid of the two.

I hope that the Electoral College collectively incorporates some of the above in their decisions.  Yes that would be an abnormal occurrence and would take some courage, but then they should have a strong inkling about this being about their own future as well as the future of this country.  Hopefully this body will make the right decision based upon fairness and a love of our country.  My sense is that while some will have unhappy faces if they do, most Americans would applaud a corrective decision.  And if you need some inspiration about how that would feel watch the below and the compare that to the mood in America now.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Jersey Shore meets Dallas and Moves to DC

By Bob Ferris

I have been wrestling with a lot lately.  All of us have.  This morning I am trying to wrap my mind around the idea that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner delayed the work of the Transition Team to have a territorial fight with Chris Christie—the New Jersey governor whose staff (and maybe he) blocked bridge traffic as political payback.  Jared’s animosity towards Christie stems from Chris’ efforts to put Jared’s father in prison for among other things hiring a prostitute to have sex with a witness and then filming her work product to create leverage during his trial for campaign finance violations and other charges.  Amazing.  Thanks for bringing this to White House.

It is sad that Mr. Kushner is picking this fight at a time when this country so needs leadership and hope.  It is interesting in this that he is advising an administration led by the grandson of a man who was kicked out of his native Germany for dodging the draft and there is evidence that the grandfather made an element of his fortune through the labors of prostitutes.  Weirder still is the fact that the grandson was put in office, in part, because he was the “golden boy” of Evangelical Christians who spread massive lies in order for their candidate to win.  How all this gets sorted out in the irony and hypocrisy spectrum is anyone's guess.

So now in addition to having a presidential candidate talk about the size of his member on national TV, we have an administration that is not even in office, yet seems like a hybrid from the mating of a soap opera and a reality TV show (i.e., Dallas meeting Jersey Shore).  All this while thinking and compassionate Americans watch the popular vote ticker indicate that their candidate earned something like a million more votes than the person showing no leadership but still tweeting during this ugly and acrimonious transition.

Put this all this in a pot that is liberally seasoned with voter suppression (1,2,3), fake news (1,2,3, 4,5), voter intimidation (1,2,3), and foreign intervention (1,2,3) that is all stirred by an Electoral College system that gives more power to some voters while taking it away from others and one has a hard time arguing that those marching in cities across America are unjustified.  In fact they are righteously pissed and scared all at the same time and they should be.

And while some mock the idea that California would want to make their own way separate from the US (Calexit), critics should understand that president votes in the state are about .85 (2008 figures) as powerful as the national average because of the Electoral College (see above math problem where Y equals the Electoral College).  So in addition to sending more tax money to DC and getting less back, their votes are discounted as well.

Certainly if you are in Montana where your vote weight is more than twice California’s (175%) and you get about $1.50 back for every dollar sent to DC you might see this as silly.  And Wyoming has a similar tax return but their votes count three times the national average (318%).  Essentially it takes nearly four liberal Californians to balance out a conservative from Wyoming in a presidential battle.  Seems fair, but I would urge my conservative friends in Montana and Wyoming to take a deep breath and walk in California’s flip-flops for a few steps as you might see visions of the Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill or Valley Forge appear before your eyes and you might understand the anger of a populace that is increasingly seeing their government move farther and farther away from what they believe and their core values.

During an election season we see a lot of flags and there is much talk about liberty and justice.  And there should be.  But right now we have a situation where a minority of folks far removed from the will of the people or even the true character of America are plotting a course that will make us poorer and sicker as well as damaging the quality of our lives and our world reputation.  These bad things will happen to the “normal” white people in America, but for those who are different in any manner the impact will be much, much worse.

The Electoral College can right this wrong but they might choose to avoid this responsibility because it has risks.  That is probably correct, but how long can a country last—particularly one that promotes democratic principles—when most of its citizens are watching a regime that they do not support or they voted against?  This growing disconnect between the populace and the government can be maintained for a time but it is not sustainable and fixing it later will likely be much more painful.  But that is really the essence of leadership: Weighing the facts and making a decision for the long-term good of the country.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What Just Happened to the US

By Bob Ferris

I am tired, angry and disappointed.  But I also wanted to get something out this morning by way of analysis and a catalyst for thinking.

First, we now have a president who most of us did not elect and who will be placed in office instead of a woman who got more votes.  Not a lot more, but one has to also consider the stream she was swimming against and the hurdles set for her.  Part of me wants to add the "not-a-perfect-candidate" caveat, but I realize that even that response is likely a product of what we have been programmed to think in this awful, awful election.

I do not really feel like writing today, but I think it is important to look at what contributed to this result.  A Trump presidency is a symptom rather than a root cause and we have to look at the systematic failures in order to solve this problem.  Unfortunately, most of our normal tools and avenues are lost and our last remaining bulwark is in jeopardy as the process starts in terms of the Supreme Court.

Below is my quick, back-of-the-envelope listing of problems we need to address.  Certainly others will add to this list or criticize some of my selections, but if we figure out solutions to these issues we might be able to put the "progress train" back on the tracks it was derailed from so forcefully.