Tuesday Reads: Trump’s Most Insane, Out of Control Meltdown Yet

Good Morning!!

Yesterday Trump had an epic meltdown at his “coronavirus briefing,” Yes, I know he has meltdowns all the time, but this was the worst one yet. It included screaming, yelling, attacks on the press, a North Korea style propaganda video, and claims of dictatorial power. There was almost no mention of a federal response to the pandemic.

He began the performance by bringing Dr. Anthony Fauci to the podium to explain why what he said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday wasn’t a criticism of Trump. USA Today: Anthony Fauci says he used a ‘poor choice of words’ in discussing Trump administration’s coronavirus response.

Anthony Fauci, the health care policy expert under fire from allies of  President Donald Trump, said Monday he used a “poor choice of words” when he suggested lives could have been saved had the Trump administration put in place coronavirus restrictions earlier in the year.

“Hypothetical questions sometimes can get you into some difficulty,” Fauci said during a unique statement delivered amid reports that Trump was thinking of firing him.

In an interview Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Fauci was asked if lives could have been saved had social distancing been imposed during the third week of February instead of mid-March. Fauci said, “It’s very difficult to go back and say that. I mean, obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously, no one is going to deny that.”

Fauci said, “What goes into those kinds of decisions is – is complicated. But you’re right. I mean, obviously, if we had, right from the very beginning, shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different. But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then.”

Trump, who on Sunday re-tweeted a supporters’ statement that Fauci should be fired, called the epidemic expert to the podium early in the briefing, an unusual move.

A reporter asked Fauci if he had been forced to make the statement, and he claimed it was “voluntary.” Raise your had if you believe him. It looks like Fauci has become just another Trump sycophant. We. are. so. fucked.

Ashley Parker at The Washington Post: The Me President: Trump uses pandemic briefing to focus on himself.

President Trump stepped to the lectern Monday on a day when the coronavirus death toll in the United States ticked up past 23,000. He addressed the nation at a time when unemployment claims have shot past 15 million and lines at food banks stretch toward the horizon.

Yet in the middle of this deadly pandemic that shows no obvious signs of abating, the president made clear that the paramount concern for Trump is Trump — his self-image, his media coverage, his supplicants and his opponents, both real and imagined.

“Everything we did was right,” Trump said, during a sometimes hostile 2½ -hour news conference in which he offered a live version of an enemies list, brooking no criticism and repeatedly snapping at reporters who dared to challenge his version of events.

Trump has always had a me-me-me ethos, an uncanny ability to insert himself into the center of just about any situation. But Monday’s coronavirus briefing offered a particularly stark portrait of a president seeming unable to grasp the magnitude of the crisis — and saying little to address the suffering across the country he was elected to lead.

At one point — after praising himself for implementing travel restrictions on China at the end of January and griping about being “brutalized” by the press — Trump paused to boast with a half-smirk, “But I guess I’m doing okay because, to the best of my knowledge, I’m the president of the United States, despite the things that are said.”

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted that he and he alone–not governors of states–has the authority to “reopen” their economies.

Then during the briefing, Trump claimed that he and he alone has the power to open businesses, etc. in individual states. He has no understanding of the Constitution, much less the Tenth Amendment, which reserves police powers for the states.

Rick Wilson at The Daily Beast: Trump the Narcissistic Authoritarian Statist Declares He Has ‘Total’ Authority.

If you watched President Donald Trump’s daily press briefing Monday, you know that even by his abysmal standards this was the loudest siren yet, a warning that the man occupying the Oval Office is more suited to a very long, involuntary stay in an inpatient mental-health facility than the presidency of the United States.

It wasn’t presidential leadership. It wasn’t executive power made manifest. It wasn’t a grown-ass adult facing a serious crisis. It was an angry, needy man not looking outward to the needs of a nation in crisis but inward, and downward.

Anyone—and I mean anyone—who tells you Monday’s presser was anything other than a complete meltdown shitshow on the top of the dumpster fire at the peak of Burning-Tire Mountain is a liar.

It was a manic, gibbering, squint-eyed ragefest by America’s Worst President, a petty display by a failed man who long ago passed the limits of his competence and knowledge. It left little to cling to for even his most fervent lackeys but the grunting media animus that replaced conservatism as the motivating force of the Republican Party.

There was no there there when it came to facing the most consequential national crisis in generations. Even the parts about actions by the government were just mummery to frame his desperate desire for more stroking of his delicate feels. Everything is incidental to his delicate feelings and ego. Everything—and, more importantly, everyone else—is incidental.

Trump just gave the nation a performance that was so manic, so furious, and so utterly unhinged that anyone watching it walked away thinking the 25th Amendment has been too long unexercised and the proof is behind the podium every damn day.

Even John Yoo, the torture advocate says Trump can’t force states to “reopen.”

Our elected leaders confront the difficult decision on when to start lifting the lockdowns, even at the risk of a faster spread of COVID-19. Presiding Trump claims that he has the right to determine when businesses open their doors, employees return to work, and consumers shop again. “For the purpose of creating conflict and confusion, some in the Fake News Media are saying that it is the Governors decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government,” he tweeted earlier today. “Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect . . . It is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons.”

But the federal government does not have that power. The Constitution’s grant of limited, enumerated powers to the national government does not include the right to regulate either public health or all business in the land. Congress enjoys the authority to “regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States.” This gives Washington, D.C. an important, yet supporting, role in confronting the pandemic. It can bar those who might be infected from entering the United States or traveling across interstate borders, reduce air and road traffic, and even isolate whole states.

But our federal system reserves the leading role over public health to state governors. States possess the “police power” to regulate virtually all activity within their borders. As the Supreme Court has recognized, safeguarding public health and safety presents the most compelling use of state power. Only the states can impose quarantines, close institutions and businesses, and limit intra-state travel. Democratic governors Gavin Newsom in California, Andrew Cuomo in New York, and J.B. Pritzker Illinois imposed their states’ lockdowns, and only they will decide when the draconian policies will end.

Read more at The National Review.

NBC News: Cuomo warns of constitutional crisis ‘like you haven’t seen in decades’ if Trump tries to reopen New York.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned Tuesday that President Donald Trump should not try to reopen the state against his wishes, saying it would create “a constitutional crisis like you haven’t seen in decades” and could result in a dramatic increase in coronavirus cases.

“The only ways this situation gets worse is if the president creates a constitutional crisis,” Cuomo said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“If he says to me, ‘I declare it open,’ and that is a public health risk or it’s reckless with the welfare of the people of my state, I will oppose it,” he said. “And then we will have a constitutional crisis like you haven’t seen in decades, where states tell the federal government, ‘We’re not going to follow your order.’ It would be terrible for this country. It would be terrible for this president.”

This morning Trump responded with another insane tweet.

Finally, there was the insane campaign ad that Trump forced the press and his science advisers to watch during the “briefing.”

The Daily Beast: Trump Uses Coronavirus Briefing to Play Batshit Campaign Ad Attacking Press.

President Donald Trump took over Monday’s White House task force briefing to lash out at critics and the press with a bizarre video that amounted to a campaign ad, before later declaring his authority is “total” if governors disagree with him during the coronavirus pandemic.

Monday’s unprecedented press briefing began to go off the rails with the video, but before the end, the president was falsely trumpeting definitive authority during the health-care crisis that has already led to the deaths of more than 23,000 Americans.

The briefing almost immediately devolved into the president airing widespread grievances against his critics, from his likely 2020 general election opponent Joe Biden to governors and reporters who have dared to call his virus response into question over the last few weeks as American life has ground to a halt during the pandemic.

In a mash up of clips and audio that amounted to a campaign ad, Trump lashed out at critics and returned to his favorite pastime of going after reporters. The video began with a white screen saying “the media minimized the risk from the start.” At one point, it showed news clips of different governors giving kind remarks about the president’s response to the pandemic.

An agitated and indignant president pointed at the seated press corps, telling them that while he’d answer some questions after airing his montage of coronavirus praise that maybe “I’ll ask you some questions because you’re so guilty.”

Both CNN and MSNBC, which have wavered between airing the increasingly antagonistic briefings, both cut away during the multi-minute campaign ad. The networks, however, came back to broadcast the performance after a short break.

The highlight of the show was questioning from CBS correspondent Paul Reid. BBC News:

CBS White House correspondent Paula Reid was met with a fiery response when she challenged President Trump during a coronavirus briefing.

Mr Trump touted his ban on travel from China at the end of January as an example of his administration taking decisive action. However, he did not declare a national emergency until 13 March – and public health experts have criticised the response to the outbreak, including early testing failures and a shortage of protective equipment.

The reporter asked Mr Trump what his administration had done in February, “with the time you bought with your travel ban”.

So . . . another crazy day has dawned in America. Will we survive? What stories are you following?


Tuesday Reads: Follow the Money

Marguerite Thompson Zoorach, 1887-1968, The Picnic, 1920s

Good Morning!!

Just as I suspected, Trump has financial motives for pushing an unproven drug with dangerous side effects during a global pandemic.

The New York Times reported yesterday:

If hydroxychloroquine becomes an accepted treatment, several pharmaceutical companies stand to profit, including shareholders and senior executives with connections to the president. Mr. Trump himself has a small personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine….

Some associates of Mr. Trump’s have financial interests in the issue. Sanofi’s largest shareholders include Fisher Asset Management, the investment company run by Ken Fisher, a major donor to Republicans, including Mr. Trump. A spokesman for Mr. Fisher declined to comment.

Claude Monet. Luncheon on the Grass

Another investor in both Sanofi and Mylan, another pharmaceutical firm, is Invesco, the fund previously run by Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary. Mr. Ross said in a statement Monday that he “was not aware that Invesco has any investments in companies producing” the drug, “nor do I have any involvement in the decision to explore this as a treatment.”

As of last year, Mr. Trump reported that his three family trusts each had investments in a Dodge & Cox mutual fund, whose largest holding was in Sanofi.

Ashleigh Koss, a Sanofi spokeswoman, said the company no longer sells or distributes Plaquenil in the United States, although it does sell it internationally.

And of course Jared is involved. I wonder if he stands to gain financial from this drug pushing?

Several generic drugmakers are gearing up to produce hydroxychloroquine pills, including Amneal Pharmaceuticals, whose co-founder Chirag Patel is a member of Trump National Golf Course Bedminster in New Jersey and has golfed with Mr. Trump at least twice since he became president, according to a person who saw them.

Mr. Patel, whose company is based in Bridgewater, N.J., did not respond to a request for comment. Amneal announced last month that it would increase production of the drug and donate millions of pills to New York and other states. Other generic drugmakers are ramping up production, including Mylan and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.

Roberto Mignone, a Teva board member, reached out to the team of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, through Nitin Saigal, who used to work for Mr. Mignone and is a friend of Mr. Kushner’s, according to people informed about the discussions.

Luncheon on the Grass, Pablo Picasso

Mr. Kushner’s team referred him to the White House task force and Mr. Mignone asked for help getting India to ease export restrictions, which have since been relaxed, allowing Teva to bring more pills into the United States. Mr. Mignone, who is also a vice chairman of NYU Langone Health, which is running a clinical study of hydroxychloroquine, confirmed on Monday that he has spoken with the administration about getting more medicine into the country.

Yesterday we also learned that Peter Navarro, Trump’s wacky trade adviser was warning about a pandemic back in January. Axios: Navarro memos warning of mass coronavirus death circulated in January.

In late January, President Trump’s economic adviser Peter Navarro warned his White House colleagues the novel coronavirus could take more than half a million American lives and cost close to $6 trillion, according to memos obtained by Axios.
The state of play: By late February, Navarro was even more alarmed, and he warned his colleagues, in another memo, that up to two million Americans could die of the virus.

Navarro’s grim estimates are set out in two memos — one dated Jan. 29 and addressed to the National Security Council, the other dated Feb. 23 and addressed to the president. The NSC circulated both memos around the White House and multiple agencies.

In the first memo, which the New York Times was first to report on, Navarro makes his case for “an immediate travel ban on China.”

The second lays the groundwork for supplemental requests from Congress, with the warning: “This is NOT a time for penny-pinching or horse trading on the Hill.”

Why it matters: The president quickly restricted travel from China, moved to delay re-entry of American travelers who could be infected, and dispatched his team to work with Congress on stimulus funds.

But Trump was far slower to publicly acknowledge the sort of scenarios Navarro had put in writing.

A couple of interesting psychological analyses of Trump catastrophic performance:

At the New York Times, Jennifer Senior writes: This Is What Happens When a Narcissist Runs a Crisis.

Picnic (1989), Fernando Botero

Since the early days of the Trump administration, an impassioned group of mental health professionals have warned the public about the president’s cramped and disordered mind, a darkened attic of fluttering bats. Their assessments have been controversial. The American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics expressly forbids its members from diagnosing a public figure from afar.

Enough is enough. As I’ve argued before, an in-person analysis of Donald J. Trump would not reveal any hidden depths — his internal sonar could barely fathom the bottom of a sink — and these are exceptional, urgent times. Back in October, George T. Conway III, the conservative lawyer and husband of Kellyanne, wrote a long, devastating essay for The Atlantic, noting that Trump has all the hallmarks of narcissistic personality disorder. That disorder was dangerous enough during times of prosperity, jeopardizing the moral and institutional foundations of our country.

But now we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. The president’s pathology is endangering not just institutions, but lives.

Head over to the NYT to read the rest.

Alternet: Leading psychologists explain how Trump’s self-delusions and narcissism make him uniquely effective at predatory deception.

In practicing the art of lying while retaining a hold on the allegiance of his base, Trump utilizes a propaganda principle—the Big Lie—best explained by Hitler.  Now, please note that we are not equating Trump and Hitler; they are very different people.  However, like Hitler, Trump is involved in the business of selling himself as an angry, righteous savior to the masses, resulting in a growing number of cultic devotees.  So, it may behoove us to consider Hitler’s explanation of why the Big Lie is more successful than mere untruths. Here’s his explanation of the principle in Mein Kampf:

Francisco de Goya’s Picnic En La Ribera Del Manzanares (Picnic on the Banks of the Manzanares), 1776

[I]n the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.

Consider just two of many possible examples of the Big Lie:  Trump’s bizarre claim that the military was out of ammunition when he took office and his equally bizarre claim that the father of Ted Cruz was involved with the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald, adding, “It’s horrible.”  It is the outrageousness of the Big Lie that a listener normally expects would create self-conscious awkwardness in the liar.  In turn, this results in a need for a great liar to hide any nervousness that might give away the fact that he is attempting to deceive his audience.  In poker, the failure to hide completely the lie inherent in a bluff is called a “tell,” the subtle behavior unwittingly exhibited when bluffing.

Click the link to read the rest. It’s a really interesting piece.

Republicans in Wisconsin have been working overtime to undermine democracy, and yesterday the Supreme Court gave them a big assist.

Slate: By a 5–4 Vote, SCOTUS L.ets Wisconsin Throw Out Tens of Thousands of Ballots.

On Monday, by a 5–4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court approved one of the most brazen acts of voter suppression in modern history. The court will nullify the votes of citizens who mailed in their ballots late—not because they forgot, but because they did not receive ballots until after Election Day due to the coronavirus pandemic. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in dissent, the court’s order “will result in massive disenfranchisement.” The conservative majority claimed that its decision would help protect “the integrity of the election process.” In reality, it calls into question the legitimacy of the election itself.

Still Life with Peonies and Seven Lovely Ladies by David Elsea – 2018

Wisconsin has long been scheduled to hold an election on April 7. There are more than 3,800 seats on the ballot, and a crucial state Supreme Court race. But the state’s ability to conduct in-person voting is imperiled by COVID-19. Thousands of poll workers have dropped out for fear of contracting the virus, forcing cities to shutter dozens of polling places. Milwaukee, for example, consolidated its polling locations from 182 to five, while Green Bay consolidated its polling locations from 31 to two. Gov. Tony Evers asked the Republican-controlled legislature to postpone the election, but it refused. So he tried to delay it himself in an executive order on Monday. But the Republican-dominated state Supreme Court reinstated the election, thereby forcing voters to choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to vote.

Because voters are rightfully afraid of COVID-19, Wisconsin has been caught off guard by a surge in requests for absentee ballots. Election officials simply do not have time, resources, or staff to process all those requests. As a result, a large number of voters—at least tens of thousands—won’t get their ballot until after Election Day. And Wisconsin law disqualifies ballots received after that date. In response, last Thursday, a federal district court ordered the state to extend the absentee ballot deadline. It directed officials to count votes mailed after Election Day so long as they were returned by April 13. A conservative appeals court upheld his decision.

Now the Supreme Court has reversed that order. It allowed Wisconsin to throw out ballots postmarked and received after Election Day, even if voters were entirely blameless for the delay. (Thankfully, ballots postmarked by Election Day but received by April 13 still count, because the legislature didn’t challenge that extension.) In an unsigned opinion, the majority cited the Purcell principle, which cautions courts against altering voting laws shortly before an election. It criticized the district court for “fundamentally alter[ing] the nature of the election by permitting voting for six additional days after the election.” And it insisted that the plaintiffs did not actually request that relief—which, as Ginsburg notes in her dissent, is simply false.

Read more:

Vox: The Supreme Court’s disturbing order to effectively disenfranchise thousands of Wisconsin voters.

PoliticusUSA: Brett Kavanaugh Leads Conservative SCOTUS Majority In Blocking Extended Voting In Wisconsin.

According to the Roberts court, voters should have to choose between voting and possibly dying and protecting their health. And of course the Republican primary is meaningless, so only Democrats have to worry about that.

That’s all I have for you today. What stories are you following?


Monday Reads: Fairness, Awareness and the death of the Fairness Doctrine

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

I often wonder how different our political, economic, and science discourse would be if the Fairness Doctrine were still in place.  This reflection seems more relevant than ever given the appalling number of voters that fell for ‘fake news’, lies, and promises of virtually impossible policy outcomes.  Both the tariffs and tax bill inflicted on this economy are going to send us to very dark places quite rapidly. All those crazies in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and the rest of Farm country are about to see an Agricultural Crisis as we relearn the Great Depression lesson, once again, of how every one loses Trade Wars. (It’s already sending the markets down as China retaliates big time.)  Craziness is also ensuing as Trump and Bernie Sanders both demonize Amazon with either personal or no reason.  Amazon stocks are taking off–after an initial plunge after Trump’s Tax threats–while it appears that Trump’s net worth crash is partially due to the successful business model built by Bezos.  Property in the Manhattan shopping districts isn’t doing so well.

All you have to do is sort the media in to “normal” vs. right wing propaganda and you see what’s what.  Still, it’s hard to understand how even “normal” media does what it does in the age of false equivalence of facts. But,how about this little blurb in the local in Hutchison, Kansas where small is still sometimes best?  

Consider federal deficits, which are now at a trillion dollars a year and headed still higher. The big reason are GOP tax cuts, although new spending, mostly for the U.S. military, also is adding red ink.

As the tax cuts were being proposed, Congress was warned by its own staff that they would not, as Trump claimed, pay for themselves by fueling additional economic growth.

Not even the White House believes that anymore. A year ago, White House officials vowed their tax cuts would create such energy that the country’s GDP would grow by 4 percent in 2018. A few days ago, the White House announced that it expects 3 percent growth this year.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve predicts the U.S. GDP to grow by 2.5 percent this year.

It’s also worth noting that the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has argued that tax cuts – of any kind – won’t create even a 0.4 percent difference in economic growth.

The story is much the same on other issues: Changing goals, squishy principles and lots of finger-pointing substitute for achievement.

The latest spending bill pushed through late at night with little debate illustrates the lack of sound reason or policy.

NY Mag has a feature up on Trump’s record of  massive corruption. It’s a must read.  The Presidential Pig is on the cover snout and all.

Since Trump took office, his pledge to ignore his own interests has been almost forgotten, lost in a disorienting hurricane of endless news. It is not just a morbid joke but a legitimate problem for the opposition that all the bad news about Trump keeps getting obscured by other bad news about Trump. Perhaps the extraordinary civic unrest his presidency has provoked will be enough to give Democrats a historic win in the midterms this fall, but it is easy to be worried.

Trump’s approval rating hovers in the low 40s: lower than the average of any other president, yes, but seemingly impervious to an onslaught of scandals that would have sunk any other president, and within spitting range of reelectability.

“Why shouldn’t the president surround himself with successful people?” argued Larry Kudlow, now Trump’s primary economic adviser, in 2016. “Wealthy folks have no need to steal or engage in corruption.” The administration seems to have set out to refute this generous assumption. The sheer breadth of direct self-enrichment Trump has unleashed in office defies the most cynical predictions. It may not be a surprise that he continues to hold on to his business empire and uses his power in office to direct profits its way, from overseas building deals down to printing the presidential seal on golf markers at the course near Mar-a-Lago. It is certainly not a surprise that Trump has refused to disclose his tax returns. What’s truly shocking is how much petty graft has sprung up across his administration. Trump’s Cabinet members and other senior officials have been living in style at taxpayer expense, indulging in lavish travel for personal reasons (including a trip to Fort Knox to witness the solar eclipse) and designing their offices with $31,000 dining sets and $139,000 doors. Not since the Harding administration, and probably the Gilded Age, has the presidency conducted itself in so venal a fashion.

It is hardly a coincidence that so many greedy people have filled the administration’s ranks. Trump’s ostentatious crudeness and misogyny are a kind of human-resources strategy. Radiating personal and professional sleaze lets him quickly and easily identify individuals who have any kind of public ethics and to sort them out. (James Comey’s accounts of his interactions with the president depict Trump probing for some vein of corruptibility in the FBI director; when he came up empty, he fired him.) Trump is legitimately excellent at cultivating an inner circle unburdened by legal or moral scruples. These are the only kind of people who want to work for Trump, and the only kind Trump wants to work for him.

Paul Waldman–writing for the American Prospect–believes US voters will essentially toss the lot of them because of a sense of fairness.  This assumes a lot.

At this point, it’s unlikely to change. People are already getting whatever tax cut they’re going to get, and it’s hard to imagine that six months from now many workers will say, “Wait a minute—I am getting more take-home pay! Thanks, Republicans!” Not only that, recent polling shows the tax bill to be a wash at best, with about the same number of people saying they approve of it as disapprove of it, with more usually in the latter camp.

Even if you do approve of it, are you going to rush to the polls to express your gratitude to President Trump and the Republican Congress? If you’re getting another 20 bucks a week, it seems unlikely, especially if you know how much corporations and the wealthy got.

That isn’t to say that the alternative to this bill wouldn’t have been worse for the GOP. When it passed, they breathed a gigantic sigh of relief, knowing that despite the chaos of the Trump presidency and their lack of meaningful accomplishments in this period of one-party rule, at least they could go home to the voters and tell them that they got something done.

But it’s hard to convince people that you just changed their lives for the better with a tax cut if they aren’t seeing the rewards—and they know who is. According to a new reportfrom the Tax Policy Center, people in the lowest income quintile will average a $40 tax cut from the law, or $1.54 per two-week pay period, just like Paul Ryan’s lucky secretary. Those in the middle quintile will average $800, or about $30 per paycheck. And those in the top 1 percent? Their average cut is almost $33,000.

Which is about what everyone expects from a Republican tax plan. And when you play right into people’s expectations, it doesn’t take much to convince them that you have in fact done exactly what they expected you to.

That’s not to mention the fact that if they were looking to win people’s approval for a change to the tax system, they would have done exactly the opposite of what they did. For years, polls have consistently found that what bothered people the most isn’t the amount they have to pay in taxes, even if everyone might like to pay less. The chief complaint voters have long had is that the corporations and the wealthy don’t pay their fair share. So Republicans lowered taxes on corporations and the wealthy, making the system even less fair than it was before.

So, let me just say that all this. All good news coverage and analysis depends on its availability. The idea of understanding all this unfairness assumes that Dear Reader isn’t reading crap put out by Russian Troll Farms or propaganda broadcast by certain news outlets.  It also assumes journalists do due diligence with their sources.  What good is an interview with a Senator if it’s just a lot of lies and nonsense?  Shouldn’t you fact check them all on the spot?

Earlier this month, CNN’s Brian Stelter broke the news that Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner or operator of nearly 200 television stations in the U.S., would be forcing its news anchors to record a promo about “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.” The script, which parrots Donald Trump’s oft-declarations of developments negative to his presidency as “fake news,” brought upheaval to newsrooms already dismayed with Sinclair’s consistent interference to bring right-wing propaganda to local television broadcasts.

You might remember Sinclair from its having been featured on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight last year, or from its requiring in 2004 of affiliates to air anti-John Kerry propaganda, or perhaps because it’s your own local affiliate running inflammatory “Terrorism Alerts” or required editorials from former Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn, he of the famed Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that failed to mention Jewish people. (Sinclair also owns Ring of Honor wrestling, Tennis magazine, and the Tennis Channel.)

The net result of the company’s current mandate is dozens upon dozens of local news anchors looking like hostages in proof-of-life videos, trying their hardest to spit out words attacking the industry they’d chosen as a life vocation.

Now, let’s look at something most Fox watchers have probably no awareness about.  Monmouth University has a polling institute. It provides opinions and analysis. This is the one today: “‘Fake News’ Threat to Media; Editorial Decisions, Outside Actors at Fault”.

The news about “fake news” is not good, according to the Monmouth University Poll. Large majorities of the American public believe that traditional media outlets engage in reporting fake news and that outside sources are actively trying to plant fake stories in the mainstream media. When it comes to the meaning of “fake news,” a majority believe that it involves editorial decisions as well as inaccurate reporting. The public feels that social media platforms are partly to blame for the spread of fake news and are not doing enough to stop it. The poll also finds that Pres. Trump continues to be less trusted than the major cable news outlets as an information source.

More than 3-in-4 Americans believe that traditional major TV and newspaper media outlets report “fake news,” including 31% who believe this happens regularly and 46% who say it happens occasionally. The 77% who believe fake news reporting happens at least occasionally has increased significantly from 63% of the public who felt that way last year.

Just 25% say the term “fake news” applies only to stories where the facts are wrong. Most Americans (65%), on the other hand, say that “fake news” also applies to how news outlets make editorial decisions about what they choose to report.

“These findings are troubling, no matter how you define ‘fake news.’ Confidence in an independent fourth estate is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy. Ours appears to be headed for the intensive care unit,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

The belief that major media outlets disseminate fake news at least occasionally has increased among every partisan group over the past year, including Republicans (89% up from 79% in 2017), independents (82% up from 66%), and Democrats (61% up from 43%). In addition to the fact that a clear majority of Democrats now believe that traditional media outlets report fake news at least occasionally, the poll also finds that a majority of Republicans (53%) feel this happens on a regular basis (up from 37% in 2017).

A plurality of the public (42%) say that traditional news media sources report fake news on purpose in order to push an agenda. Fewer Americans (26%) believe that major media sources tend to report these stories only by accident or due to poor fact checking. Another 7% feel both reasons are equally prevalent. The remainder are either not sure or do not feel that fake news is reported by traditional media outlets. The number who believe this type of false reporting is done on purpose has not changed much from a year ago when it stood at 39%. The number who say it is done accidentally has increased from 17% a year ago as more people feel that the traditional media engages in reporting fake news stories.

Fully 83% of Americans believe that outside groups or agents are actively trying to plant fake stories in the mainstream media. Two-thirds (66%) say this is a serious problem – including 74% of Republicans, 68% of independents, and 59% of Democrats.

And about the Death of the Fairness Doctrine:

The Fairness Doctrine sustained a number of challenges over the years. A lawsuit challenging the doctrine on First Amendment grounds, Red Lion Broadcasting Co., Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission , reached the Supreme Court in 1969. The Court ruled unanimously that while broadcasters have First Amendment speech rights, the fact that the spectrum is owned by the government and merely leased to broadcasters gives the FCC the right to regulate news content. However, First Amendment jurisprudence after Red Lion started to allow more speech rights to broadcasters, and put the constitutionality of the Fairness Doctrine in question.

In response, the FCC began to reconsider the rule in the mid-80s, and ultimately revoked itin 1987, after Congress passed a resolution instructing the commission to study the issue. The decision has been credited with the explosion of conservative talk radio in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. While the FCC has not enforced the rule in nearly a quarter century, it remains technically on the books. As a part of the Obama administration’s broader efforts to overhaul federal regulation, the FCC is finally scrapping the rule once and for all.

This was in August, 2011.  This is from Salon: “From the Fairness Doctrine to fake news: The deregulation of media has proved anathema to democracy”.

The 1990s’ deregulation of media illustrates the effectiveness of the Antidemocracy Movement in convincing Republicans and Democrats alike that a narrow, market-driven, anti-government approach was imperative, even if it led to oligopoly.

As the media became a multibillion-dollar industry, a frenzy of mergers continued, wiping out hundreds of competitors. So today most of what Americans watch and see is controlled by just a handful of companies—all preoccupied with their shareholders’ wealth, not our society’s health. The result is a downward spiral of programming. One telling narrative? By 2000, the average length of presidential candidates’ soundbites on the network nightly news had shrunk to seven seconds, less than a fifth of their length in the 1968 presidential election.

As Craig Aaron, president and CEO of the media-focused public interest group Free Press, explained to us:

Years of rubber-stamping merger deals plus the removal of and raising of ownership limits in the 1996 Act did tremendous damage to the media landscape.

Next to no issue coverage means a bigger microphone for Donald Trump.

The undermining of media as a public good and its parallel consolidation helped take us to the election of Donald Trump. A narrow focus on profitability led to this shocking finding by longtime news analyst Andrew Tyndall: In 2016, from the first of January through October 26, the three major television networks’ evening newscasts together “devoted just 32 minutes to issues coverage.” That’s roughly one-seventh of what it was in 2008. What did they cover instead? Heading into the primary season, sensational Trump stories were all but ubiquitous. By March of 2016, he had received nearly $2 billion in free media coverage. But virtually none of it touched on the serious issues our country faces.

Moreover, our hunch is that many of Trump’s lies were never seriously challenged simply because digging might have interrupted the “excitement” of the election, dimming media’s profits from political advertising. In 2012 such profits accounted for about 20 percent of TV station revenues, as much as four times the share of ten years earlier. Another reason: As online news outlets and social media have taken off, newspaper journalism—long entrusted with investigating in the public interest—has taken a big hit, with its workforce shrinking by 39 percent in 20 years. So even if many outlets wanted to expose Trump’s lies, they had little staff to investigate.

Concurrently, more Americans are choosing self-reinforcing news sources, from blogs to websites—creating an echo chamber that alternative narratives can’t penetrate. As Wired (11/18/16) warned, “We develop tunnel vision [and] eventually become victims to our own biases.” So too has talk radio become increasingly polarized, insular, and narrow-minded, and abetted, unsurprisingly, by essential players in the Anti-Democracy Movement. From 2008 to 2012, the Heritage Foundation, the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity and related groups provided approximately $22 million in sponsorships to extreme right-wing talking heads, including Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin. Many of these radio figures, especially Beck—and the local radio hosts they inspire—were critical in stirring up resentment and providing guidance to Tea Party activists from 2009 onward, as chronicled by journalist Will Bunch in his book The Backlash.

Let’s end with another of the little guys.  This an editorial out of Greensborough.

Fake news!

Sometimes you hear this label applied to news reports that are clearly false and meant to mislead. But other times you hear the cry “fake news” just because the person reading facts does not like what he/she reads.

So with actual as well as perceived “fake news” around, what constitutes real news, news that’s reliable, trustworthy journalism? And how have we gotten to the point of needing to debate whether news is real or not anyway?

Speaking at the Bryan Lecture Series a few weeks ago, Ted Koppel, former ABC News anchor and former host of “Nightline,” gave us a quick history lesson about American journalism. For many years our journalism was kept relatively trustworthy by “gatekeepers,” such as noted TV anchors and well-known editors and publishers.

The FCC wielded more influence through its “Fairness Doctrine,” which, as Dylan Matthews explains, “required that TV and radio stations holding FCC-issued broadcast licenses to (a) devote some of their programming to controversial issues of public importance and (b) allow the airing of opposing views on those issues.”

With the relaxing of Fairness Doctrine enforcement in 1969 and its repeal in 1987, the floodgates were opened for unapologetically biased news and talk shows. Now we find ourselves in a time when factual news is being replaced with more and more opinion writing and greater focus on entertainment. Americans are losing access to hard facts and careful reporting.

How can we begin to get ourselves out of this fix?

You can go read the suggestions along with the rest of today’s linky goodness!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 


Friday Reads

Good Morning!

I thought I’d try to get off the topic of the midterm elections specifically and get on to some general things about why the U.S. Political System seems so completely screwed up right now.  What exactly has led us to the point where the Republicans seem to be a combination of the John Birch banksy-dreams_00349040Society and Theocrats and the Democratic Party sits idly by and twiddles its thumbs hoping the process works like it used to?

William Pfaff has a few things to say about this in an article titled “How Ronald Reagan and the Supreme Court Turned American Politics Into a Cesspool”.   One of the things that does completely amaze me is how the entire Reagan Presidency has turned into a narrative that’s more saga and drama than reality.  There’s some really interesting points here.  How did this election get so removed from reality in that people voted for one set of priorities when it came to issues like marijuana legalization and the minimum wage but then sent people to the District diametrically opposed to these policies?

The second significance of this election has been the debasement of debate to a level of vulgarity, misinformation and ignorance that, while not unprecedented in American political history, certainly attained new depths and extent.

This disastrous state of affairs is the product of two Supreme Court decisions and before that, of the repeal under the Reagan Administration, of the provision in the Federal Communications Act of 1934, stipulating the public service obligations of radio (and subsequently, of television) broadcasters in exchange for the government’s concession to them of free use in their businesses of the public airways.

These rules required broadcasters to provide “public interest” programming, including the coverage of electoral campaigns for public office and the independent examination of public issues. The termination of these requirements made possible the wave of demagogic and partisan right-wing “talk radio” that since has plagued American broadcasting and muddied American electoral politics.

Those readers old enough to remember the radio and early television broadcasting of pre-Reagan America will recall the non-partisan news reports and summaries provided by the national networks and by local stations in the United States. There were, of course, popular news commentators professing strong or idiosyncratic views as well, but the industry assured that a variety of responsible opinions were expressed, and that blatant falsehood was banned or corrected.

The two Supreme Court decisions were “Buckley v. Valeo” in 1976 and “Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission” in 2010. Jointly, they have transformed the nature of the American political campaign, and indeed the nature of American national politics. This resulted from the nature and characteristics of mass communications in the United States and the fact that broadcasting has from the beginning been all but totally a commercial undertaking (unlike the state broadcasters in Canada and Britain, and nearly all of Europe).

The two decisions turned political contests into competitions in campaign advertising expenditure on television and radio. The election just ended caused every American linked to the internet to be bombarded by thousands (or what seemed tens of thousands) of political messages pleading for campaign money and listing the enormous (naturally) sums pouring into the coffers of the enemy.

Previously the American campaign first concerned the candidate and the nature of his or her political platform. Friends and supporters could, of course, contribute to campaign funds and expenditures, but these contributions were limited by law in scale and nature. No overt connection was allowed between businesses or industries and major political candidates, since this would have implied that the candidate represented “special interests” rather than the general interest.

The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission verdict is well known and remains highly controversial since it rendered impossible the imposition of legal limits on political campaign spending, ruling that electoral spending is an exercise in constitutionally-protected free speech. Moreover, it adjudged commercial corporations as legal citizens, in electoral matters the equivalent of persons.

BanksyCleaningUpWhat role has Citizen’s United played in our elections? 

Don’t think Citizens United made a difference for the GOP in Tuesday’s midterms? The plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case thinks so.

Citizens United, our Supreme Court case, leveled the playing field, and we’re very proud of the impact that had in last night’s election,” said David Bossie, chairman of the conservative advocacy organization.

He complained that Democratic lawmakers were trying to “gut the First Amendment” with their proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 ruling, reported Right Wing Watch, which allowed corporations to pour cash into campaigns without disclosing their contributions.

Bossie said this so-called “dark money” was crucial to Republicans gaining control of the U.S. Senate and strengthening their grip on the U.S. House of Representatives.

“A robust conversation, which is what a level playing field allows, really creates an opportunity for the American people to get information and make good decisions,” Bossie said.

Besides the role of dark money, the number of states that will continue to enact voter suppression measures between now and 2016 is expected to increase.

Voters across the country trying to cast votes in Tuesday’s elections ran into hurdles erected by Republican legislatures, governors and secretaries of state. Along with mechanical glitches and human error — which occurred in states with leaders on both sides of the political spectrum — voters faced new laws and policies that made it harder to vote.

In Alabama, a last-minute decision by the attorney general barred people from using public housing IDs to vote. Voter ID laws in North Carolina and Texas sowed confusion. Georgia lost 40,000 voter registrations, mostly from minorities. In all, the group Election Protection reported receiving 18,000 calls on Election Day, many of them having to do with voter ID laws. The group noted that the flurry of calls represented “a nearly 40 percent increase from 13,000 calls received in 2010.”

In the presidential election year of 2016, it looks unlikely that those problems will subside — especially if Congress fails to restore the Voting Rights Act. The two states that had the closest vote tallies in the last presidential election — Florida and Ohio — will go into the presidential election year with Republicans controlling the offices of governor and secretary of state and holding majorities in their state legislatures.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who won reelection yesterday, will be able to appoint a secretary of state and will enjoy the support of a veto-proof Republican majority in the state House.

In Ohio, controversial Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted won reelection on Tuesday, along with Gov. John Kasich. They’ll be able to work with a strengthened GOP majority in the state legislature.

In North Carolina, where a Republican legislature and governor have cracked down on voting rights, the GOP held onto its majority. Republican secretary of state candidates in the swing states of Colorado, Iowa and Nevada also won elections yesterday.

Two influential elections for voting rights also took place in states unlikely to be presidential swing states. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a national ringleader for advocates of restrictive voting laws, won reelection. In Arizona, which has been working with Kansas to defend their states’ respective tough voting requirements, Republican candidate Michele Reagan also won her contest.

Suppression of voting rights and purposeful spread of lies, propaganda, and disinformation are likely to continue as the 2016 Presidential Political season begins.Will the Democratic Party learn anything from the last two disastrous mid term elections? banksy-w1200

This fall, Democrats ran like they were afraid of losing. Consider the issues that most Democrats think really matter: Climate change, which a United Nations report just warned will have “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” across the globe. The expansion of Medicaid, so millions of poor families have health coverage. Our immoral and incoherent immigration system. Our epidemic of gun violence, which produces a mini-Sandy Hook every few weeks. The rigging of America’s political and economic system by the 1 percent.

For the most part, Democratic candidates shied away from these issues because they were too controversial. Instead they stuck to topics that were safe, familiar, and broadly popular: the minimum wage, outsourcing, and the “war on women.” The result, for the most part, was homogenized, inauthentic, forgettable campaigns. Think about the Democrats who ran in contested seats Tuesday night: Grimes, Nunn, Hagan, Pryor, Hagan, Shaheen, Landrieu, Braley, Udall, Begich, Warner. During the entire campaign, did a single one of them have what Joe Klein once called a “Turnip Day moment”—a bold, spontaneous outbreak of genuine conviction? Did a single one unfetter himself or herself from the consultants and take a political risk to support something he or she passionately believed was right?

I’m not claiming that such displays would have changed the outcome. Given President Obama’s unpopularity, Democratic victories, especially in red states, may have been impossible.

But there is a crucial lesson here for 2016. In recent years, some Democrats have convinced themselves they can turn out African Americans, Latinos, single women, the poor, and the young merely by employing fancy computer systems and exploiting Republican extremism. But technologically, Republicans are catching up, and they’re getting shrewder about blunting, or at least masking, the harshness of their views.

We saw the consequences on Tuesday. According to exit polls, voters under 30 constituted only 13 percent of the electorate, down from 19 percent in 2012. In Florida, the Latino share of the electorate dropped from 17 to 13 percent. In North Carolina, the African-American share dropped from 23 to 21 percent.

If Hillary Clinton wants to reverse those numbers, she’s going to have to inspire people—people who, more than their Republican counterparts, are inclined toward disconnection and despair. And her gender alone won’t be enough. She lost to Obama in 2008 in part because she could not overcome her penchant for ultra-cautious, hyper-sanitized, consultant-speak. Yet on the stump this year, she was as deadening as the candidates she campaigned for. As Molly Ball put it in September, “Everywhere Hillary Clinton goes, a thousand cameras follow. Then she opens her mouth, and nothing happens.”

Then, there is this: Former Republican Committeemen Claim Election Judges Coerced Into Voting GOP. banksy-wallpaper-tumblr-12-wide

A day after the election, officials are still counting ballots and the investigation into who made robocalls that allegedly persuaded many judges not to show up Tuesday is heating up.

Two former Republican committeemen are telling 2 Investigator Pam Zekman they were removed because they objected to those tactics.

Judges of election are appointed by their respective parties and they look at a judge’s primary voting records as part of the vetting process. But in these cases the former committeemen we talked to said that vetting crossed a line when judges were told who they had to vote for in the Tuesdays’ election.

One says it happened at a temporary campaign headquarters at 8140 S. Western Ave, which we’ve confirmed it was rented by the Republican Party where election judges reported they were falsely told they had to appear for additional training.

And a former 7th ward committeewoman says she witnessed the same thing at 511. E. 79th Street campaign workers calling judges to come in for additional training. She says there wasn’t any training.

“They were calling election judges, telling them to come in so they could get specific orders to vote for the Republican Party,” said Charon Bryson.

She says she is a Republican but objected to the tactic used on the judges.

“They should not be be pressured or coerced into voting for someone to get a job, or to get an appointment,” said Bryson.

Bryson says she thinks it is like “buying a vote.”

“If you don’t vote Republican you will not be an Republican judge, which pays $170,” she said.

The Board of Elections is now investigating whether calls to judges assigned citywide resulted in a shortage that infuriated the mayor.

“What happened with the robocalls was intentional. As far as we can tell somebody got a list, a list with names and numbers, called them, not to educate, not to promote the democratic process, but to sew confusion,” Emanuel said.

imagesScared by polls that show that people do not want Republican policies and by changes in demographics, Republicans have been pulling out the stops to turn back the tide.  However, none of these fundamentals seem to be driving voting trends or turnout.  WTF is wrong with people?  As a member of the White Women Constituency who seem to be one of the groups that continues to vote against their own interest, I can agree that we should all get our acts together now.  Nowhere was this more evident than in the Wendy Davis campaign.

Once more, with feeling: Greg Abbott and the Republican Party did not win women. They won white women. Time and time again, people of color have stood up for reproductive rights, for affordable health care, for immigrant communities while white folks vote a straight “I got mine” party ticket—even when they haven’t, really, gotten theirs.

The trend is echoed in national politics; we saw it play out across the country last night. To be sure, there are many factors that contributed to America’s rightward dive over the cliff: In a post-Citizens United electoral landscape, racist gerrymandering and voter ID laws appear to have had their intended effects of dividing and disenfranchising already marginalized voters.

But there’s another factor at play that Democrats fail to grapple with, and the Republican Party capitalizes on, time and time again: the historical crisis of empathy in the white community, one much older than gerrymandered congressional districts or poll taxes.

Let’s talk about what a vote for Wendy Davis meant: It meant a vote for strong public school funding, for Texas Medicaid expansion, for affordable family planning care, for environmental reforms, for access to a full spectrum of reproductive health-care options.

On the flip side, a vote for Greg Abbott meant a vote for the status quo, for empowering big industry and big political donors, for cutting public school funds and dismantling the Affordable Care Act, for overturning Roe v. Wade.

White women chose Greg Abbott Tuesday night. We did not choose empathy. Texas has been red for two decades. We do not choose empathy. We choose the fact that our children will always have access to education, that our daughters will always be able to fly to California or New York for abortion care, that our mothers will always be able to get that crucial Pap smear.

We chose a future where maternal mortality—but not our maternal mortality—rates will rise. We chose a future where preventable deaths from cervical cancer—but not our deaths—will rise. We chose a future where deaths from illegal, back-alley abortions—but not our illegal, back-alley abortions—will rise. We chose ourselves, and only ourselves.

Is white privilege such an enticing thing to us that we’ll sell ourselves out just to protect what scraps we’re thrown?

Anyway, between dark money, voter suppression, and the number of voters willing to vote against their policy beliefs and interests, we’re in trouble as a nation.  The Democratic Party just bailed on Mary Landrieu and I’m about to get a Senator that wants to raise Social Security eligibility to age 70, privatize Medicare with vouchers,  and defund student loans.  This doesn’t even count that he voted no to hurricane relief for his own constituents after Hurricane Isaac. At this rate, every white person in the country should get a tube of astrolube with their ballot.  Bend over folks, cause you’ve done it to yourselves!

What’s on your reading and blogging list?


Wednesday Reads: China, North Korea, France and Solomon Islands

Waterman-Ideal-Fountain-Pen-Giclee-Good Morning

Last night a strong earthquake hit the Solomon Islands, triggering a tsunami.  This is the latest information at the time of this writing, according to the Sydney Morning Herald the tsunami warning was cancelled:

Tsunami Fear After Quake Off Solomons

Residents of islands from the South Pacific to Australia were preparing Wednesday for the possible effects of a tsunami set off by an 8.0-magnitude earthquake off the Solomon Islands, according to scientists and news reports from the area.

“Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated,” the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said on its Web site.

The earthquake struck around 11 a.m. Australian time in the Santa Cruz Islands, part of the Solomon chain.The center said the tsunami warning was limited to the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, Kosrae, Fiji, Kiribati, Wallis and Futuna.

Earthquake near Solomon Islands, Tsunami Alert Cancelled

A major earthquake registering at magnitude 8 has hit near the Solomon Islands, with early reports of villages destroyed.

A tsunami measuring 91 centimetres in height was recorded at Lata Wharf in Santa Cruz Islands, near the epicenter, and an 11-centimetre wave was recorded in Luganville, Vanuatu.

[…]

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said the tsunami may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake centre.

The quake struck at a depth of 5.8km at 11.07am AEDT on Wednesday, near the Santa Cruz Islands, which are part of the Solomon Islands nation.

The director at Lata Hospital on the main Santa Cruz island of Ndende said it was believed villages had been destroyed by the quake.

“The information we are getting is that some villages west and south of Lata along the coast have been destroyed, although we cannot confirm this yet,’’ the director said.

I will post updates in the comments.
There has been some wild news out of North Korea, check out the latest propoganda, which was posted on Youtube: North Korea video shows city resembling New York under missile attack
The video is shot as a dream sequence, with a young man seeing himself on board a North Korean space shuttle launched into orbit by the same type of rocket Pyongyang successfully tested in December.As the shuttle circles the globe — to the tune of “We Are the World” — the video zooms in on countries below, including a joyfully re-unified Korea.In contrast, the focus then switches to a city — shrouded in the US flag — under apparent missile attack with its skyscrapers, including what appears to be the Empire State Building, either on fire or in ruins.“Somewhere in the United States, black clouds of smoke are billowing,” runs the caption across the screen.“It seems that the nest of wickedness is ablaze with the fire started by itself,” it added.The video ends with the young man concluding that his dream will “surely come true”.

“Despite all kinds of attempts by imperialists to isolate and crush us… never will anyone be able to stop the people marching toward a final victory,” it said.

Video is at the link.

There are more calls from the UN regarding investigations of human rights in North Korea: UN Official Urges Human Rights Probe of North Korea

A report by a special U.N. investigator is calling for the United Nations to open an inquiry into North Korea for possible crimes against humanity.

In his report Tuesday, U.N. special rapporteur Marzuki Darusmanwants the Human Rights Council to authorize a probe into North Korea’s “grave, widespread and systematic” human rights violations.

He said an inquiry by the Geneva-based body should examine the responsibility of government and individuals in alleged abuses.

North Korea denounced the report before it was made public.

Meanwhile, a court decision is making headlines, this time a ruling in a Chinese Court that has granted an American woman a divorce….In China, a victory for women’s rights and the power of social media

Kim Lee, an American woman who used social media to go public with accusations of domestic violence against her wealthy and famous husband, Li Yang, has just scored a major victory for women’s rights and the rule of law in China.

As reported by Didi Kirsten Tatlow at the New York Times, Lee made history this weekend after a Beijing court granted her divorce on the grounds of abuse and issued a three-month protection order against her ex-husband, a first in the nation’s capital.

“It’s a very important case. All of society was paying attention,” Guo Jianmei, a lawyer, told the Times. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”

And although censorship remains widespread in China, Lee’s court victory is also a testament to the growing power of social media to share information and avoid direct control by government censors. After Lee posted photos and an account of her experience of domestic violence on Sina Weibo, a microblogging service similar to Twitter, it quickly went viral.

Sticking with world news a bit longer, BBC news is reporting: France: Hundreds of Islamist militants killed in Mali

“Several hundred” Islamist militants have been killed since France launched an offensive in Mali last month, the French defence minister has said.

Jean-Yves Le Drian said they had been killed in airstrikes and direct combat with French troops.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said that France may begin pulling out of Mali as early as March.

Back in the US, Anti-Abortion Ideology Trumped Science In Weld County Decision To Stop Providing ‘Morning After’ Pill

When Weld County commissioners decided to stop providing emergency contraception to county patients, concerns rooted in anti-abortion politics trumped scientific facts and testimony provided by the county’s medical chief, according to documents obtained by The Colorado Independent.

Board meeting minutes from the summer of 2010 detail how members led by Commissioner William Garcia were concerned that the popular “Plan B” contraception drugs dispensed at the county’s low-income Title X family-planning clinics prevented pregnancy by destroying fertilized eggs, or inducing abortions, as they put it. Garcia cited reports he found on the Internet to bolster his case and, echoing rhetoric made popular over the last four years by abortion opponents battling health-care reform, he said the board should eliminate Plan B from the county’s services because the law of the land bars tax funding for abortions.

Same old crap…yes? “Reports on the internet.”

Dr. Mark Wallace, who directs the county’s health department, explained to commissioners on at least three separate occasions that summer that Plan B contraception can not abort a fertilized egg. He recommended Weld County continue to dispense Plan B, and he objected to Garcia’s proposal to include any language in the county’s Title X contract that would suggest Plan B was an abortion drug.

“Dr Wallace stated he has a strong professional opinion that Plan B does not disrupt established pregnancies,” the record of the July 12 meeting reads (pdf). “[Wallace] stated the language placed in the agreement regarding Plan B should be medically accurate and should not refer to [PlanB] as an abortive agent.”

Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer–the only woman on the five-member board–was concerned that Garcia’s proposals would put funding at risk and bring popular county family-planning services to an end.

Here it comes…

An anti-abortion Republican, Kirkmeyer was sympathetic to her colleagues’ concerns, but she felt the research cited to support Garcia’s proposals was unproven.

“Plan B is basically a high-dose birth control pill,” she argued, according to the minutes from a May 24 meeting (pdf). “Why is there concern with [Plan B] and not standard forms [of birth control]?

“A lot of women have and will benefit from this type of counseling,” she said.

Despite Wallace’s testimony and initial pushback from Commissioner Kirkmeyer, Garcia’s motion carried unanimously. After roughly a decade providing emergency contraception, Weld County’s clinics stopped dispensing Plan B pills. Conservative Weld and El Paso are the only two counties in Colorado where official policy is to not offer Plan B. Instead, the counties refer patients asking for emergency contraception to other low-cost providers, mainly to Planned Parenthood.

Then the next step is to defund Planned Parenthood, as they have in Texas.

MoJo has an article about the mass shootings of late, What We Still Don’t Know About Mass Shootings

Late last week Megan McArdle of the Daily Beast posted an online interview she did with criminologist James Alan Fox, in part taking issue with our mass shootings investigation at Mother Jones. I was glad to see McArdle continue the conversation with Fox; as he and I agreed in a recent exchange, mass shootings deserve continuing inquiry.

Give that a read.

A new study is out, Mentally Ill Smoke 30% of All Cigarettes.

Federal survey results indicate that smoking intensities as well as smoking rates are dramatically higher in the mentally ill compared with other Americans, officials said Tuesday.

A joint “Vital Signs” report from the CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicated that, among adults who reported symptoms consistent with a recognized mental illness, 36.1% were current smokers, compared with 21.4% of the rest of the population.

The report, based on data from the 2009-2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, also found that 30.9% of all cigarettes consumed in the U.S. were smoked by the mentally ill. In part, this disproportion reflects heavier smoking in the mentally ill, with an average of 331 cigarettes per month compared with 310 in the rest of the smoking population.

Individuals classified as mentally ill in the study represented 19.9% of the sample surveyed after weighing to reflect the general population’s demographics.

I wonder if the subject of this next and last article link would be able to smell a smoker from 100 feet. Evidence moles can smell in stereo

Most mammals, including humans, see in stereo and hear in stereo. But whether they can also smell in stereo is the subject of a long-standing scientific controversy.

Now, a new study shows definitively that the common mole (Scalopus aquaticus) – the same critter that disrupts the lawns and gardens of homeowners throughout the eastern United States, Canada and Mexico – relies on stereo sniffing to locate its prey. The paper that describes this research, “Stereo and Serial Sniffing Guide Navigation to an Odor Source in a Mammals,” was published on Feb. 5 in the journal Nature Communications.

“I came at this as a skeptic. I thought the moles’ nostrils were too close together to effectively detect odor gradients,” said Kenneth Catania, the Stevenson Professor of Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University, who conducted the research.

What he found turned his assumptions upside down and opened new areas for potential future research. “The fact that moles use stereo odor cues to locate food suggests other mammals that rely heavily on their sense of smell, like dogs and pigs might also have this ability,” Catania said.

Catania describes how he did it…

He created a radial arena with food wells spaced around a 180-degree circle with the entrance for the mole located at the center. He then ran a number of trials with the food (pieces of earthworm) placed randomly in different wells. The chamber was temporarily sealed so he could detect each time the mole sniffed by the change in air pressure.

“It was amazing. They found the food in less than five seconds and went directly to the right food well almost every time,” Catania said. “They have a hyper-sensitive sense of smell.”

That is a good start for this Wednesday morning, what are you up to today?