Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, September 11, 2019 9:40 pm

If you have to cheat to win, your ideas suck, Part 8,264

So this morning, on the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Democrats in the N.C. General Assembly went to a 9/11 memorial. While they were doing that, the Republicans who control the General Assembly, having told the Democrats that no substantive votes would take place this morning, voted anyway to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the GOP’s state budget.

It is important to note that the Republicans could not have won on this issue without cheating. Republicans had sought for weeks to get Democrats to join them in voting to override by offering pork-barrel spending for their districts. Even that dishonesty failed to get them the necessary majority, so they simply cheated.

One of the biggest lessons of this decade’s low, deceitful politics has been that norms and customs are meaningless unless they are codified into criminal law with harsh penalties. That has been true at the federal level, with everything from the GOP theft of a Supreme Court seat to serial contempt of Congress, and it obviously is now true at the state level as well. Henceforth, here in North Carolina, deceiving the legislative minority about when substantive votes will occur must be treated as a capital crime, because apparently being hanged on the steps of the Old Capitol Building is the only deterrent that will keep Republicans from cheating.

And the thing about cheating? If you have to cheat to win, your ideas suck, which is relevant not only in this case but also in the case of the special election for U.S. House District 9, held on Tuesday. Republican Dan Bishop appears to have pulled out a very narrow win in a district Trump carried by 12 points in 2016, but here’s the thing: Anyone who knows jack about Robeson County politics knows that this massive shift among Native American voters from pro-Democratic in 2018 to pro-Republican in 2019 is simply inexplicable. I’m not saying that this proves election theft, but I am saying that we badly need a thorough election audit, and that that audit should start from the defensible presumption that the statistical odds against such a pro-GOP shift in Native precincts in just eight months are astronomical.

One last lesson for Dems and unaffiliated voters: You can never, ever, EVER again, in your lifetimes, assume the honesty of Republicans, not in Washington and not in Raleigh. Just assume that they are lying. About everything.

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“For Thou art with us …”

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 7:35 am
Tags: ,

As is my custom on this day, I’m going back to read Sarah “Sars” Bunting’s post-9/11 essay, “For Thou Art With Us,” and I strongly urge you to do the same.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019 7:30 pm

UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media: $25 million — for a mission or a mess of pottage?

I’m not going to lie: The naming gift of $25 million to my alma mater, the University of North Carolina’s journalism school, got my attention. Even for UNC, this is a big gift, something to celebrate, and so much more so for the j-school, with its invaluable mission of public service. Dean Susan King and the faculty, staff, students and alumni should be very proud. The school will be known henceforth as the Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

Before today I had never heard of the donor, Walter Hussman Jr., chairman of WEHCO Media Inc., which owns newspapers, cable television systems, and magazines in a number of states. I had, however, heard of the work of some of the WEHCO newspapers, notably the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the Chattanooga Times Free Press. To my knowledge and that of some friends in those markets, those papers have tried to maintain credible news coverage at a time when creditors and banksters have been forcing a lot of other papers to eat their seed corn and worse. So, maybe he really understands the value of aggressive accountability journalism and its indispensability in a constitutional republic and intends to help the j-school better teach students how to carry out that mission.

He says his top goal is “restoring the bond of trust between media and the public,” and he says he believes that the way to do that is to abide by the “core values” that undergird, and are printed daily in, his newspapers. They are:

Impartiality means reporting, editing, and delivering the news honestly, fairly, objectively, and without personal opinion or bias.

Credibility is the greatest asset of any news medium, and impartiality is the greatest source of credibility.

To provide the most complete report, a news organization must not just cover the news, but uncover it. It must follow the story wherever it leads, regardless of any preconceived ideas on what might be most newsworthy.

The pursuit of truth is a noble goal of journalism. But the truth is not always apparent or known immediately. Journalists’ role is therefore not to determine what they believe at that time to be the truth and reveal only that to their readers, but rather to report as completely and impartially as possible all verifiable facts so that readers can, based on their own knowledge and experience, determine what they believe to be the truth.

When a newspaper delivers both news and opinions, the impartiality and credibility of the news organization can be questioned. To minimize this as much as possible there needs to be a sharp and clear distinction between news and opinion, both to those providing and consuming the news.

Sounds nice, right? Well, as always, the devil is in the details.

Devil the first: “Objectivity” is a myth; true objectivity is rarer than true love. The best a journalist can do is to be aware of his/her own biases and test them whenever possible.

Devil the second: “Impartiality” has remained, for decades too long, an imperfect goal because in so many cases “impartiality” has been interpreted as the need to provide a platform for nonsense. Pointing out that gravity is “only a theory,” while true, isn’t impartial: If you step off the ledge, you’re going to fall to your death no matter what you think of that theory. Pointing that out not only does not make one partial; it fulfills the journalist’s duty to the reader not only to produce accurate journalism but also to filter out dangerous bullshit. (This Twitter thread, which I just happened upon today, is a fine example of the latter.)

Accordingly, devil the third: Impartiality is NOT the greatest source of credibility. Truth-telling, without fear and particularly in the face of hostile opposition, is the greatest source of credibility. When your reporting accurately reflects people’s lived, experienced realities, that is when you are seen as credible. This is particularly crucial for journalists who report on the communities in which they live; if they get something wrong, they’re  likely to hear about it, quite possibly live and in concert.

Which brings us to devil the fourth: Hussman says that truth is “not always apparent or immediately known.” Two responses to that: 1) Yeah, sometimes it is. Frequently, it is. It only seems like it isn’t because this era is rife with grifters who will blithely say to journalists and the public alike, “Who you gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?” Journalists must not ever allow themselves to be misled or intimidated by them. 2) A good journalist will always tell readers not only what he/she knows but also what he/she does not know but needs, or has tried unsuccessfully, to find out. He/she might even enlist the public’s help in getting it.

Devil the fifth: Hussman says, “Journalists’ role is therefore not to determine what they believe at that time to be the truth and reveal only that to their readers, but rather to report as completely and impartially as possible all verifiable facts so that readers can, based on their own knowledge and experience, determine what they believe to be the truth.” Well, no; not all possible verifiable facts are relevant. But grifters have spent decades convincing the American public, and way too large a segment of American journalism, that they are; thus the rise of the tu quoque logical fallacy known as “whataboutism.”  Journalists do not owe their readers all the facts; rather, they owe their readers contextual accuracy and must ensure not only that their facts are accurate and complete but also that the context in which they place those facts accurately reflects the conditions in which those facts occur.

Devil the sixth: Hussman insists on keeping a sharp and clear distinction at all times between news and opinion, “both to those providing and consuming the news.” In general that is true, but it is not a universal truth. Indeed, it ignores the strong tradition in the past half-century or so of advocacy journalism. For just one example, no one ever will accuse the late Hunter S. Thompson of keeping a sharp and clear distinction at all times between news and opinion, but Nixon scholars still read Thompson 50 years after Nixon took office and will still be reading Thompson 100 years after Nixon died. Such journalism is hard to pull off well, particularly for new journalists, but as long as journalists are forthcoming with their readers about their sources, methods, and motivations, readers of good will will find their reports credible even if they don’t agree with the message. (And for readers who lack good will? Nothing a journalist can do will ever be enough to convince them. Give up on them.)

Which brings us to devil the last: Perhaps I am wrong, but I fear it is but a short step from Hussman’s “core values” to the kind of journalistic silence that is ethically insupportable. If the First Amendment means anything, it means that the people — and not just working journalists, but all of us — are to use our powers of expression to hold the powerful to account for their actions. But for too many people in and outside of journalism, objectivity too often means silence, even when silence is assent. Any news outlet that remains silent in the face of attempts to deny human beings their human rights, to convert our country to fascism, to lead us down the road to genocide, to ignore the apocalyptic climate change that likely will destroy much of civilization, is intellectually exhausted, morally bankrupt, and unworthy of the freedoms and powers granted it by the Framers.

If Hussman has given a second’s thought to the media ecosystem in which we now live — one that blurs news and entertainment, one that skews heavily toward the perspectives of the wealthy, one in which politicians and media figures alike happily work to destroy the notion of objective reality in which Hussman places such value, one in which news-media officers are perfectly happy to mislead the public to rob that same public and damage our democratic underpinnings — his values do not reflect it. Sure, pointing a live TV camera at a Donald Trump and letting him rant for an hour is “impartial” and “objective,” but it’s awful journalism. Recall what CBS CEO Les Moonves said in 2016 of his network’s coverage of then-presidential candidate Trump, which ran long on live shots of Trump’s racist, fact-free ravings without any sort of challenge or attempt to contextualize: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

We live in an era in which our own intelligence services believe that the Oval Office is occupied by an agent of a hostile foreign power. We live in an era in which $27 trillion in proven carbon resources remain in the ground, with industry bribing the government to be able to monetize every last bit and lying to the public without consequences about the likely damages. We live in an era in which actual Holocaust survivors, as well as Ben Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor from the Nuremberg war-crimes trials, and most Holocaust experts, believe that not only are we on the same road Nazi Germany traveled, we are farther down it than most people understand. Our journalism has a constitutional duty to be more than equal to those challenges.

Does Hussman intend to see to it that the journalists and academicians he employs and the students his money helps train will not only be truthful, fair and accurate, but also be morally and ethically upright — and that they will push their respective bosses, instructors, students, and institutions to be as well?

If so, then his $25 million gift will end up being worth far more than that. But as they say, if your mother says she loves you, check it out.

 

 

 

Sunday, September 8, 2019 5:45 pm

Rams 30, Panthers 27

This game was nowhere near as close as the score indicates. It was a winnable game that the Panthers gave away.

Christian McCaffrey ran 19 times for 128 yards and 2 TDs. Credit is due both to him and the greatly improved run-blocking of the O-line. He also had 10 catches on 11 targets for 81 yards.

But after a great-looking opening drive that was strangled by a lost D.J. Moore fumble in the red zone, the passing game never really got going. Cam Newton finished just 25 of 38 for 239 yards, no TDs and two turnovers, a pick and a lost fumble. He completed only four of nine targets to the guy who’s normally his favorite target, tight end Gregg Olsen, throwing off his back foot and over Olsen’s head twice on consecutive plays. The O-line allowed three sacks against a Rams D that didn’t blitz much.

As for the Panthers’ D, after the team finished 28th in sacks in 2018, the much ballyhooed, remade front seven had zero sacks and only three tackles for loss. (Corner James Bradberry had the fourth, to go with a pick.) First-round edge rusher Brian Burns had one tackle for a loss, and although it was impressive, it was his only tackle of the game.

This team was built to win it all this year, but today’s game made clear that this not a Super Bowl team. It’s hard to say what the Bucs will do, but if the Falcons get their awful defense to be even a little better, the 2019 Panthers might not even be a wild-card team. And if they’re not, the reckoning that will follow, and the losses during rebuilding that will follow that, will be so ugly that this team might not make the playoffs again for another few years.

Monday, September 2, 2019 11:07 am

911 says you can’t call them anymore

Brock Long, who served as Dolt 45’s head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency from June 2017 to May of this year, says FEMA can’t do its job and that it’s up to us:

“we have to refocus the training” to better equip citizens in terms of disaster preparedness, including emphasizing that “insurance is the first line of defense.”

“Until Congress starts to incentivize putting building codes in place and land use planning in place, incentivizing states and locals for ensuring their public infrastructure, FEMA’s job is impossible,” Long said.

“We have to set realistic expectations for the agency and really bolster the capability from neighbor helping neighbor all the way to the Federal Emergency Management Agency,” he added.

Insurance is the first line of defense against a Cat 5 hurricane? Brock, son, you’re gonna have to ‘splain that to me. Use small words, because it sounds a lot to me like sending Paul Revere out after the British have already landed, burned our farms and slaughtered our livestock.

See, FEMA has a history — an uneven history that has varied significantly depending upon who was in the White House and which party controlled Congress. FEMA sucked under Bush I (cf. Hurricane Andrew in 1992), got dramatically better under Clinton, got lousy again under Bush II (cf. Katrina in 2005), got better again under Obama, and is being sabotaged once again by Dolt 45, as residents of Puerto Rico and southeastern North Carolina know all too well.

This is part of a larger trend by post-Nixon Republicans: They tell Americans that government is the problem rather than the solution, and when they get power, they work very hard to turn that statement into reality by under-funding agencies, staffing them with incompetent administrators hostile to the agencies’ missions, and, in the case of Trump, forcing key agency personnel to leave in droves by planning on short notice to move agencies’ work a long distance for no reason.

Currently, FEMA is incompetent and has no interest in becoming competent, and this “president” not only has no interest in their being competent, he just stole $155 million from FEMA to try to spend it on his war on immigrants at the Mexican border,  and everyone, including FEMA, just stood around and let him do it.

Rather than fixing FEMA, Dolt 45, Congressional Republicans and FEMA itself tell us that we must adjust our expectations downward instead. Well, hell, no. This is one of the most basic tasks of government: People’s LIVES are at stake. Yes, building codes should be improved to face the stronger storms that global warming will bring, although developers and the construction industry will scream bloody murder about that and probably bribe Congress and state legislatures to keep it from happening. Yes, people should prepare for hurricanes. But not everyone can; moreover, some disasters, like tornadoes, allow little or no time for prep.

FEMA indeed DOES have to be kind of like 911, and a competent FEMA is only one of many factors people should think about when choosing a president and deciding which party should control Congress.

Sunday, September 1, 2019 4:22 pm

Your occasional bit of Shakespeare

News (OK, satire) item: “Endangered polar bear demands face-to-face meeting with Trump.”

Global warming is killing the planet.
But Trump said, “I really don’t care.”
And yet it’s not nice
to kill Mother Nature.
Exit, pursued by a bear.

Hit ’em with the chair

When I was a kid in Charlotte in the 1960s, my brothers, my friends and I watched a lot of pro wrestling on TV, which fact is essential context for what I’m about to say next: In this era, pleas for civility are the last refuge of people who desperately need to be hit with the chair.

As the journalist Eve Fairbanks points out in The Washington Post, conservatives, almost as if they’d all been sent the same list of talking points, have been on and on lately about being “reasonable” and “civil.” She links to many, many examples, almost all of which are premised on a fundamental misunderstanding about what’s actually going on in our society. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Fairbanks, as a senior at Yale, wrote a thesis on the rhetoric of Abraham Lincoln and his political rivals on both sides of the issue of slavery. And today’s conservative rhetoric sounded so familiar to her that she thought she must have heard it somewhere before. Sure enough, there it was in her old research: The language of conservatives in 2019 is almost identical to that of antebellum defenders of slavery. She lays it out in her Post column.

I see another parallel: Both before the Civil War and today, the people defending the indefensible are the ones most insistent upon civility and reason and are trying very hard to cast their opponents as unreasonable and uncivil. In both instances, the people defending the indefensible are able to do so as the result of having amassed great power, much of it unmerited and obtained through dubious, if not evil, means.

The slavery example is self-evident. But what about today?

For the past 40 years, American conservatives, though a minority, have used their greater wealth to get even more money and more power, often at the expense of everyone else. They got the Supreme Court, in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) to declare that money is speech, a category error that likely will be the downfall of the Republic if climate disaster or the Sweet Meteor of Death don’t get us first. They bought themselves congresscritters and legislators who have passed a number of huge tax cuts primarily benefiting the wealthy. The effect of those tax cuts has been the greatest upward transfer and concentration of wealth in history and the greatest income inequality in U.S. history. They have raped the planet, privatizing the profits while socializing the costs and making damn sure they had bought themselves a government that would let them do that, in search of more wealth — there’s roughly $27 trillion of proven carbon reserves still in the ground, and they will be damned if they’ll just write it off, just as slave owners insisted they were entitled not to write off the value of their slaves. They have insisted that health care is not a human right, but rather a consumer good on which they can profit as on few others. In what can only be called modern-day slavery, they are profiting off our correctional systems. They have sought to roll back the civil-rights advances we finally won a century after the 14th and 15th Amendments were ratified. And on and on. All of THAT is “unreasonable.” All of THAT is “uncivil.”

The people who opposed antebellum slavery were portrayed as radical, and indeed some of them were. But they weren’t wrong. And given the horrors of slavery, complaining about their incivility and lack of reason displayed nothing but moral stillbirth.

And so it is today.

Conservatives are pursuing policies that literally threaten the lives of me, my family, and more than 100 million other Americans who have pre-existing conditions and/or are people of color and/or are LGBTQ. And yet they want us to be reasonable and civil.

Screw that noise sideways. Pleas for civility are the last refuge of someone who desperately needs to be hit with the chair. Moreover, any Republican who thinks we need more civility needs to take it up with Newt Gingrich, whose GOPAC began the trend of instructing Republican political candidates to publicly characterize their unremarkable Democratic opponents as “extremist,” “sick” and “un-American.”

Moreover, as Fairbanks points out, conservative writer Ben Shapiro, to name just one example, likely knows and certainly doesn’t care that “ascrib(ing) right-wing anger to unwise left-wing provocation,” as Fairbanks says he does, is the blame-the-victim language of the domestic abuser.

(A note on that: Conservatives are trying to smear those who oppose white nationalists as “antifa,” which they believe to be an organized and violent movement. “Antifa” is simply short for “antifascist,” and the term encompasses everyone from the first wave at Omaha Beach to any American today who opposes the joined forces of fascism and white supremacy. You will seen the term thrown around even by journalists who should know better, but you can safely dismiss anyone who uses it in that way as at best a propagandist and at worst a fascist, particularly if that person works for the Trump administration.)

I’ve said for a long time that anyone doubting the existence of eternity need only ponder the capacity of conservatives for playing the victim. Indeed, I’ve thought for a long time that that might be the most important, and is certainly the most enduring, dynamic of postwar American politics.

I was wrong. Fairbanks’s column shows that it’s the most enduring dynamic of American politics, period. She doesn’t remark on it in her column, but it’s visible throughout so many of the sources she cites (and in fairness, she may have thought it was so obvious she didn’t even need to mention it) — an overweaning mentality of victimhood among conservative antebellum “thinkers” and modern-day conservatives alike.

And why do they feel that way? The answer is in the old saying, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” That’s the fundamental misunderstanding I referred to up at the top of the post. They do it because they can feel their privilege slipping and/or because they can hear and feel the rest of us coming for it. And on some level they’re terrified that we’re going to treat them the way they have treated us. I have no intention of doing this, but given the outrages they have foisted upon us in the past 40 years, from destroying the middle class to sacrificing our children to the Baal of the NRA to lighting the planet on actual fire, I can offer no guarantee regarding anyone else.

And at this point nothing would surprise me. Because when you call things like decent, affordable health care and a strong public education system “socialism” long enough, eventually socialism starts to sound like a good idea. And when you work your ass off for a lifetime and still can’t manage to obtain adequate food, clothing, shelter, and education for your family and equal treatment in society because of every way the system has been rigged by conservatives in the past 40 years, so does “eat the rich.”

UPDATE, 9/1: This was posted before I became aware that Democratic presidential Beto O’Rourke had been quoted as saying, “Yes, this is fucked up,” talking about the federal government’s inaction on mass shootings such as the one Saturday in Odessa, Texas, that claimed eight lives. When the inevitable criticism came, he had the perfect response:

 

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