Saturday, March 31, 2018

A VERY TRUMP EASTER


- Mark

THE GOOD 'OL DAYS ...

These sexist vintage ads really paint a picture of life in America before the civil rights and feminist movements. In many ways, our world was pretty much a non-stop Mad Men episode. No wonder white male conservatives want to return to the past, and embrace Donald Trump today. There was a time when colored folk knew their place, and women made the sandwiches, and liked it [cough**cough].





There's actually a lot more of these. For a look into the "good 'ol days" that conservatives like to wax nostalgic about, click here.

- Mark

Friday, March 30, 2018

TRUMP'S TAX CUTS DON'T TRICKLE DOWN ... They Stay in the Same Corporate Swamp


America's largest corporations and America's top richest 1% got a tremendous gift when the GOP and Donald Trump gifted them a tax program that was supposed to fix everything in our economic world. Instead, we're now looking at trillion dollar budget deficits, again, and just borrowed almost $300 billion in one day to fill in our financial cracks.

Impressive.

So, what did our corporate and financial elite do with their tax rebate windfall? Did they invest to boost production (like they said they would)? No. Is there a sudden hiring spree going on? No. Did they give raises to the rank and file? No. Did they give bonuses (even 'one time' bonuses) to the rank and file? No. Did they ... well, you get the point.

Instead of doing anything that would help the long term interests of America's working class, the aristocrats of corporate America decided they would make themselves richer with stock buybacks. Robert Reich explains how this happens ...




- Mark

THE DISCUSSION ABOUT TERRORISM AMERICA SHOULD BE HAVING

Check out the headline posted below. Then take a look at the quotes under the post, along with the bar graphs. It you have an open mind and want to understand the "terrorist" discussion we should be having in America, click here.
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"... According to a DHS-funded survey published in 2014 by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), law enforcement agencies considered sovereign citizen extremists the most dangerous terror threats in the United States — ahead of foreign Islamic extremists."



"... Al Qaeda killed almost 3,000 people on 9/11. The United States' subsequent military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq — and more limited counterterrorism operations in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen — have meant the US public has spent over a decade imagining the enemy to be a foreign Muslim man with an AK-47 or a suicide vest. Combine that with a 24-hour news cycle that privileges simple narratives over nuance, and with policymakers who have too often shown a lack of knowledge about the history, politics, and cultures of the places where the US wages war and sees threats — and you're looking at some entrenched, perpetually reinforced stereotypes about Muslims, Islam, and terrorism."  


"... the New York Police Department worked with the FBI and CIA to create a secret “Demographics Unit” tasked with monitoring and infiltrating mosques, spying on Muslim students and collecting data on Muslims living in the city. There was no probable cause, no reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. This was profiling, pure and simple. After six years, the NYPD closed the unit. It had never produced a lead or an arrest. "

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- Mark

Thursday, March 29, 2018

THE FOR-PROFIT PRISON INDUSTRY IS A CANCER ON AMERICA'S POLITICAL SOUL


For-profit prisons have become one of the largest lobbying groups in the nation, and should be considered a cancer on our nation's political soul. The prison industry's impact, in a time of declining crime (like murder), has been nothing short of scandalous. Think about it. There are now more people under "correctional supervision" in America (more than six million) than Josef Stalin ever had in Russia's Gulag.

This is due, in part, to our nation's for-profit prison industry's lobbying efforts, which helped double the private prison population between 2000 and 2010. Disproportionate drug sentencing laws, zero tolerance policing, and mandatory-sentencing laws all feed the bottom line. Today the for-profit prison industry earns well over $3.3 billion a year. Currently, "tough on crime" candidates and promoting harsh immigration and deportation policies are just part of what the industry looks to help increase profits (though the industry publicly denies they support either).

The real coup of the private prison industry - and a big part of the industry's growth projections today - is immigration detention. Over the past decade the industry has gotten the federal government to send nearly half of the nation's immigration detainees to their facilities.

This helps explain why part of the for-profit industry's "growth strategy" includes lobbying Congress to increase funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As well, because holding detainees for longer and longer periods is a good thing for the industry, congressional inaction on immigration means more profits. The industry's financial future is bolstered every day xenophobism, anti-immigrant posturing and racial scapegoating that currently divides our nation continues.

Because incarceration is their product, hate and fear feed the bottom line. Donald Trump has been a godsend for the industry.

Among the worst aspects of the for-profit prison industry is how it has been able to get Americans to support a series of policies that now place incarceration in the same league as colleges and universities when it comes to spending. In fact, over the past two decades "the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education."


While there is much more to this topic, what I want you to remember is how the for-profit prison industry is growing in a time of declining crime.

A second point to remember is that the industry will continue to thrive every day our nation is divided while Congress drags its collective feet on the "illegal immigration" issue.

Both of these developments are a cancer on America's political soul.

- Mark


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

REPUBLICAN JESUS STRIKES ORANGE COUNTY; THIS IS TRUMP'S AMERICA

Here's a little known fact many don't know about California's "sanctuary law" (SB-54). It allows local law enforcement to communicate with ICE and other federal agencies. It also allows local enforcement to communicate with ICE about the release dates of undocumented law breakers who have committed serious or violent crimes, and are about to be released to the general public.

The goal of SB-54 is to prevent local law enforcement from unnecessarily using or wasting local resources to aid in the blanket transfer of detainees who have non-violent offenses, like traffic tickets or unpaid fines, to ICE. The idea is to allow undocumented populations who have not committed serious or violent crimes to breathe easier while Congress - who've been bungling the immigration issue for years - tries to get its act together.

Recognizing that immigrants in America have become unfair political targets because of the far rights xenophobism, and the inability of our Republican-led Congress to do the right thing, the state of California is simply trying to impose a degree of humanity in a very ugly national political moment. This is what makes Orange County's action yesterday so difficult to understand.
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Orange County's elected officials, who oppose California's sanctuary law, just announced they will release the names of all detainees who will be released to the general population, regardless of the infractions they may have committed.

Think about what this means. Orange County, in spite of being able to communicate with ICE about violent offenders who they are about to release, think it's their duty to reveal the names of everyone they have in custody, regardless of the status of their offenses. Failure to pay child support? Check. Warrants for fix-it tickets? Check. Unlawful assembly? Check.

The point to emphasize here is Orange County doesn't have to share the names of non-violent offenders they are holding and are about to release. But they will.


Orange County officials don't seem to care that Congress has dropped the ball on the immigration issue, which has made it easier to vilify people who look like me, or that SB-54 allows them to communicate with ICE (and other federal agencies) about pending release dates of violent offenders. Simply put, Orange County seems bent on contributing to our national climate of fear, which disproportionately impacts the weakest and most vulnerable populations in America.

It's as if Orange County, which claims a good deal of spirituality and Christianity as part of its political and social fabric, has lost all sense of what their faith means when it comes to justice and the treatment of foreigners.



It doesn't matter that immigrants have become political pawns in our ugly national political game.

It doesn't matter that local law enforcement can communicate with ICE in California.

It doesn't matter what the spirit of the law (SB-54) is in the immediate term.

Orange County, like many of America's ignorant bigots, has decided their unwarranted paranoia and fears justify punishing the foreigners congressional incompetence has helped turn into a suspect class.

Welcome to Trump's America, brought to you by Republican Jesus.

- Mark


For the record, Matthew 25:35 reads: "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in ...".

Also, for your Republican friends, you might want to remind them that Reagan had a few things to say about immigration as well ...

AS A REMINDER ...


- Mark

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

MORE WINNING ... THE U.S. BORROWS ALMOST $300 BILLION THIS WEEK


Due mostly to the Republicans reckless tax giveaway to the rich, the U.S. government is short on revenue. A lot of it. To help pay the growing monthly bills the United States government needs to borrow almost $300 billion this week. This is the most we've had to come up with since the 2008 market collapse, when the Bush administration (i.e. the Federal Reserve) had to find $1 trillion in one week to help keep the banks and Wall Street afloat.

So, are we tired of all that winning yet?

- Mark


KERN COUNTY'S REDISTRICTING BATTLE OFFERS A PEEK INTO AMERICA'S LONG AND CONTENTIOUS HISTORY WITH VOTING, REPRESENTATION AND CIVIL RIGHTS

Last month U.S. District Court Judge Dale A. Drozd found that the supervisor districts in Kern County, California violated the Voting Rights Act. Specifically, Judge Drozd found that districts drawn up in 2011 illegally diluted the voting power of Latinos, and ordered the map be redrawn. Judge Drozd then ordered the county and the plaintiffs, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF), get together and create a suitable county map by the end of March. 

Kern County, California. A two-hour drive, north of Los Angeles, but political worlds apart. 
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Kern County, California, with current supervisorial districts, as drawn in 2011.

The fact that Kern County is being forced to redraw its supervisorial district map puts it right in the middle of America's longer history of trying to get democracy right. It also offers us an opportunity to peek into our checkered history of redistricting, voting, and the broader struggle for civil rights in America. What follows below begins with a brief lesson in redistricting, then takes a look at the broader struggle for representation and the right to vote in America.
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In 1961 a Republican mayor in Tennessee, Charles Baker, sued the state, arguing Tennessee’s legislative and congressional districts had not been redrawn since 1901. The failure to redraw districts created a numerical imbalance between districts since, as Baker argued, many more people had moved from the countryside to the cities, which put far more people in some districts. 

Baker also argued this imbalance violated his equal protection rights (14th amendment), so he sued Tennessee’s Secretary of State, Joe Carr.

The Warren Court and Baker v. Carr
On March 26, 1962 – 56 years ago – with Bakersfield native Earl Warren presiding, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Charles Baker’s favor. The Warren Court argued that a “citizen’s right to a vote free of arbitrary impairment by state action has been judicially recognized as a right secured by the Constitution.” The Warren Court ruled this is especially the case when the right to vote has been undermined by a “false tally” caused by faulty or unrepresentative district lines. 

Warren would later add that we vote for people "not rocks and trees." 

The Warren Court, 1962. Earl Warren is sitting, center.

Understanding the Baker v. Carr decision, which Chief Justice Earl Warren said was the most important court decision of his life, is crucial for interpreting last months Kern County redistricting decision made by U.S. District Court Judge Dale Drozd.

In a few words, Judge Drozd struck down the Kern County Board of Supervisors 2011 redistricting map, arguing the district lines failed to create a county election system “equally open to participation by Latino voters” as mandated by the 1965 Voting Rights Act. 

In effect, Judge Drozd said that Kern County had created supervisor districts that represented a false tally, and told Kern County to come back with another, more representative, plan.

To understand the importance of Judge Drozd’s ruling, and how it fits into our country's long and contentious history with getting democracy right, it's necessary to recall the divisive political battles and hard fought legal decisions that are an integral part of America’s evolving democratic experiment.

America's Evolving Experiment in Democracy
As we all learned in grade school, the concept of one man one vote wasn't always embraced in our nation’s history. Originally, only white male landowners were granted the franchise. This would be changed later to allow all white males the right to vote.

It would take a civil war and the Civil Rights Amendments (the 13th14th and the 15th amendments) to win African-American males the right to vote. Unfortunately, as we know, Jim Crow, the KKK, and the Black Codes in the south turned the right to vote for African-Americans into a cruel joke.

Jump forward to 1920, and women finally got the right vote with the 19th amendment. Thirty-five years later, with Martin Luther King, Jr. leading the way, the civil rights movement of the 20th century would take off, and the cruel fa├žade of representation for African-Americans would finally begin to lift. 

After Baker v. Carr compelled southern states to take redistricting seriously, the passing of the Voting Rights Act would force states to remove “tests” and other hurdles (like poll taxes) to voting, which helped make the American voting experience more representative and democratic.

When 18-year-olds, who had been fighting and dying in Vietnam without the right to vote, were finally granted the franchise in 1971 (26th amendment), the American experiment in democracy had finally been squared.

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To get an idea of how important the 15th, 19th and 26th amendments are to the idea of representation and democracy in America, below is a map of how the 2012 presidential election would have turned out without African-Americans, women, and 18-year olds voting. Simply put, it's Romney in a landslide.

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Concluding Thoughts
Expanding the franchise, and fixing past wrongs, has always been part of the American political experience. While bringing more people into our democratic tent hasn’t always been pretty, nor accepted by those with economic clout or in positions of political authority, this is the way our system of checks and balances is supposed to work.

In this light, Judge Drozd’s decision (MALDEF v. Kern County Board of Supervisors), falls squarely in line with America’s long and contentious history of correcting past electoral imperfections. Specifically, Judge Drozd’s ruling forces Kern County’s Board of Supervisors to redraw supervisor boundaries to account for our changing demographics, and should be viewed as a significant contribution to the larger “arc of justice” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of during his life.

Between today and tomorrow, Kern County’s Board of Supervisors are supposed to come out with a new county supervisor map, as mandated by Judge Drozd's decision. With only one supervisor, Leticia Perez, clearly committed to abiding by Judge Drozd's ruling, we'll soon find out whether Kern County becomes yet another symbol of all that is wrong with politics in America, or whether we're finally stepping into the 21st century

- Mark


Two of the Kern County district supervisor maps proposed by MALDEF, and the Dolores Huerta Foundation.


Thursday, March 22, 2018

PRESIDENT "STABLE GENIUS" DOES IT AGAIN ... MORE TARIFFS, THIS TIME ON CHINA

Because this is such a serious topic, let's start with this ...

It was June 1930. One of the partners at J.P Morgan, Thomas Lamont, is speaking with President Hoover, and is very agitated. The issue at hand was the fate of the Smoot-Hawley tariff legislation that President Hoover had on his desk. Fearing the global impact the tariff act would have, Lamont said: "I almost went down on my knees to beg Herbert Hoover to veto the asinine Hawley-Smoot [sic] Tariff."

Hoover ignored Lamont's arguments and signed the tariff bill. Import duties (i.e. taxes) were imposed on nearly 900 products which, as Lamont noted, "intensified nationalism all over the world."

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act - sponsored by Rep. Willis Hawley (Oregon) and Sen. Reed Smoot (Utah) - kicked off a round of competitive tariffs and counter tariff measures that made an already bad economic situation worse. Global trade would collapse by two-thirds between 1929 and 1933, from almost $3 billion to just $992 million.


Incredibly things would go beyond competitive tariffs, and get even worse. Nation-states attempted to one up each other in the currency game with competitive devaluations (which would make their products cheaper abroad).

With the world in depression mode, competitive tariffs and competitive devaluations created an ugly international environment that would get uglier as the serpents of Nazism came out of the woodwork, and rose to power in Germany.


I'm bringing all of this up because Donald Trump just announced that he's going to raise tariffs on China because of their balance of trade surplus with the United States. The Chinese have made it clear they will retaliate. This means counter tariff measures on goods coming from the United States.

This comes off the heels of Trump raising tariffs on steel and aluminum, which he's already started to walk back by exempting several allies. China, Russia, Japan, India and Taiwan are not on the exempted list.


Here's the point. Donald Trump is embarking on a path that does little to enhance the prospects of commercial stability, let alone free trade. What he's doing only serves to isolate and antagonize nation-states that will ignite confrontational policies in other areas.

What we need to remember is that the U.S. is no longer in the position to push trade policies that are rooted in bluster and bullying. The dollar is already under scrutiny because of continued deficit spending. Our allies are suspicious of Trump's motives, and his stability. And the Chinese and Russians are looking for any crack to push the U.S. and its allies further apart.

When the market crashes (and it will) pushing tariffs like Trump is doing has the potential to lead to an economic unraveling that niether Trump, nor any other nation-state will be able to control. Then there's the Russian and Chinese angle, both of whom gain when the U.S. loses.

So, yeah, there's more to this story that's yet to come.

For the moment, though, all we have to deal with is yet another drop in the stock market after Trump's tariff announcement. And that's the good news.

Stay tuned.

- Mark

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

AND WE WONDER WHY THEY HATE US ...

What Chalmers Johnson called blowback certainly applies in Iraq. The unintended consequences of events that we kept hidden from the American people has certainly blown up in our face when we look at the festering disaster in the Middle East today. The invasion of Iraq was never about Saddam Hussein being one of the perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attack, as the Bush administration claimed. It was never about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) program, which he didn't have. And it certainly wasn't about the oh so scary "nuclear hand off" to Osama bin Laden. No, George W. Bush and the GOP were trying to play master of the universe in the Middle East, lied to the American public about it, and then screwed up the aftermath, big time.

What's happened in Iraq since we invaded the country 15 years ago today is a tragedy, and outlined in the NY Times op-ed below.
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When I was 12, Saddam Hussein, vice president of Iraq at the time, carried out a huge purge and officially usurped total power. I was living in Baghdad then, and I developed an intuitive, visceral hatred for the dictator early on. That feeling only intensified and matured as I did. In the late 1990s, I wrote my first novel, "I'jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody," about daily life under Saddam's authoritarian regime. Furat, the narrator, was a young college student studying English literature at Baghdad University, as I had. He ends up in prison for cracking a joke about the dictator. Furat hallucinates and imagines Saddam's fall, just as I often did. I hoped I would witness that moment, whether in Iraq or from afar. 

I left Iraq a few months after the 1991 Gulf War and went to graduate school in the United States, where I’ve been ever since. In 2002, when the cheerleading for the Iraq war started, I was vehemently against the proposed invasion. The United States had consistently supported dictators in the Arab world and was not in the business of exporting democracy, irrespective of the Bush administration’s slogans. I recalled sitting in my family’s living room with my aunt when I was a teenager, watching Iraqi television and seeing Donald Rumsfeld visiting Baghdad as an emissary from Ronald Reagan and shaking hands with Saddam

That memory made Mr. Rumsfeld’s words in 2002 about freedom and democracy for Iraqis seem hollow. Moreover, having lived through two previous wars (the Iran-Iraq war of 1980 to 1988 and the Gulf War of 1991), I knew that the actual objectives of war were always camouflaged by well-designed lies that exploit collective fear and perpetuate national myths.

I was one of about 500 Iraqis in the diaspora — of various ethnic and political backgrounds, many of whom were dissidents and victims of Saddam’s regime — who signed a petition: “No to war on Iraq. No to dictatorship.” While condemning Saddam’s reign of terror, we were against a “war that would cause more death and suffering” for innocent Iraqis and one that threatened to push the entire region into violent chaos. Our voices were not welcomed in mainstream media in the United States, which preferred the pro-war Iraqi-American who promised cheering crowds that would welcome invaders with “sweets and flowers.” There were none.

The petition didn’t make much of an impact. Fifteen years ago today, the invasion of Iraq began.

Three months later, I returned to Iraq for the first time since 1991 as part of a collective to film a documentary about Iraqis in a post-Saddam Iraq. We wanted to show my countrymen as three-dimensional beings, beyond the binary of Saddam versus the United States. In American media, Iraqis had been reduced to either victims of Saddam who longed for occupation or supporters and defenders of dictatorship who opposed the war. We wanted Iraqis to speak for themselves. For two weeks, we drove around Baghdad and spoke to many of its residents. Some were still hopeful, despite being drained by years of sanctions and dictatorship. But many were furious and worried about what was to come. The signs were already there: the typical arrogance and violence of a colonial occupying power.

My short visit only confirmed my conviction and fear that the invasion would spell disaster for Iraqis. Removing Saddam was just a byproduct of another objective: dismantling the Iraqi state and its institutions. That state was replaced with a dysfunctional and corrupt semi-state. We were still filming in Baghdad when L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, announced the formation of the so-called Governing Council in July 2003. The names of its members were each followed by their sect and ethnicity. Many of the Iraqis we spoke to on that day were upset with institutionalization of an ethno-sectarian quota system. Ethnic and sectarian tensions already existed, but their translation into political currency was toxic. Those unsavory characters on the governing council, most of whom were allies of the United States from the preceding decade, went on to loot the country, making it one of the most corrupt in the world.


We were fortunate to have been able to shoot our film in that brief period during which there was relative public security. Shortly after our visit, Iraq descended into violence; suicide bombings became the norm. The invasion made my country a magnet for terrorists (“We’ll fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here,” President George W. Bush had said), and Iraq later descended into a sectarian civil war that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands more, irrevocably changing the country’s demography.

The next time I returned to Baghdad was in 2013. The American tanks were gone, but the effects of the occupation were everywhere. I had low expectations, but I was still disheartened by the ugliness of the city where I had grown up and horrified by how dysfunctional, difficult and dangerous daily life had become for the great majority of Iraqis.

My last visit was in April 2017. I flew from New York, where I now live, to Kuwait, where I was giving a lecture. An Iraqi friend and I crossed the border by land. I was going to the city of Basra, in the south of Iraq. Basra was the only major Iraqi city I had not visited before. I was going to sign my books at the Friday book market of al-Farahidi Street, a weekly gathering for bibliophiles modeled after the famous Mutanabbi Street book market in Baghdad. I was driven around by friends. I didn’t expect the beautiful Basra I’d seen on 1970s postcards. That city had long disappeared. But the Basra I saw was so exhausted and polluted. The city had suffered a great deal during the Iran-Iraq war, and its decline accelerated after 2003. Basra was pale, dilapidated and chaotic thanks to the rampant corruption. Its rivers are polluted and ebbing. Nonetheless, I made a pilgrimage to the famous statue of Iraq’s greatest poet, Badr Shakir al-Sayyab.

One of the few sources of joy for me during these short visits were the encounters with Iraqis who had read my novels and were moved by them. These were novels I had written from afar, and through them, I tried to grapple with the painful disintegration of an entire country and the destruction of its social fabric. These texts are haunted by the ghosts of the dead, just as their author is. No one knows for certain how many Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion 15 years ago. Some credible estimates put the number at more than one million. You can read that sentence again. The invasion of Iraq is often spoken of in the United States as a “blunder,” or even a “colossal mistake.” 

It was a crime. 

Those who perpetrated it are still at large. Some of them have even been rehabilitated thanks to the horrors of Trumpism and a mostly amnesiac citizenry. (A year ago, I watched Mr. Bush on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” dancing and talking about his paintings.) The pundits and “experts” who sold us the war still go on doing what they do. I never thought that Iraq could ever be worse than it was during Saddam’s reign, but that is what America’s war achieved and bequeathed to Iraqis.


THE COMPLETE TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE

The good people at Moyers & company have put together a rather interesting interactive timeline on the Trump-Russia connection. You can go through it by dates, or by clicking on individuals who have been part of the Trump-Russia drama.
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You can access the timeline by clicking here.
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- Mark





Tuesday, March 20, 2018

TRUMP CONGRATULATES PUTIN. SERIOUSLY?

Donald Trump called Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on his sham electoral victory in Russia. 


Next up, Trump's going to call Paris Hilton and congratulate her on inheriting a fortune.

- Mark

MADE IN AMERICA? NOT TRUMP'S STUFF

Jimmy Kimmel takes Donald Trump to task for (what else?) his colossal hypocrisy.


- Mark

Monday, March 19, 2018

FAKE NEWS BEING CALLED OUT BY FAKE NEWS?



The Bakersfield Californian's Robert Price lays out what's happening at the local level with Sinclair-affiliated stations KBAK/KBFX. Specifically, Trump friendly Sinclair Broadcasting Group's local stations, channels 29 and 58, will be taking their "fake news" cues from their corporate overords when it comes to reporting.

As you can imagine, since KBAK/KBFX is supposed to be a local or regional news reporting institution, being told what and how to report by their corporate bosses does little to instill confidence in their journalistic integrity, or independence. This is especially the case since Donald Trump and his supporters - which includes Sinclair Broadcasting - seem to believe everything they don't like is fake news.

The funniest (worst?) part is how Sinclair is requiring their on-air personalities in 193 stations, in over 100 markets, to read the same prepared speech about "fake news" - which they're against, of course. Because they'll imply that everyone but themselves have fallen into the "fake news" trap, this speaks more to agenda setting than it does to guarding journalistic integrity. Local reporting and regional angles, of course, will likely be sacrificed at Donald Trump's Fake News alter.

Bob Price's article is below ...

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Quick! Name the most influential conservative-leaning media company in America. If you said Fox, you're right, of course. But you get extra credit if you knew that the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest owner of local news stations in the country, is right there in the mix — and is by some measures considerably more consequential.
Sinclair owns and/or operates 193 stations in more than 100 markets, including Bakersfield, and is in the process of acquiring 42 more — in a $3.9 billion deal with Tribune Media Co. that would put its combined stations in nearly three-quarters of American households.
The merger with Tribune, if approved by the Justice Department’s antitrust division, will have been made possible by the Trump administration's move to relax regulations on broadcast ownership.
Now the Trump-friendly media company wants you to know how it feels about that scourge of modern society, "fake news."
It's against it.
And it has commissioned some friendly, familiar faces to tell its Bakersfield viewers: the charming and vibrant Aaron Perlman, Erin Briscoe, Rachelle Murcia and Dave Gonzales of KBAK/KBFX.
That's because Sinclair has decreed that the news anchors at all its stations across the country will read from a corporate-office-prepared script that criticizes media for reporting “fake news” stories. In Bakersfield, that message will be delivered by KBAK.
It can't be a coincidence that the term "fake news" entered the popular lexicon at about the time Donald Trump became a serious contender for the White House.
A Washington Post analysis of Sinclair’s 2016 presidential election coverage found that its stations were uniformly favorable toward Trump and negative toward Hillary Clinton. One example from The Post's evidence: Sinclair conducted not a single interview with Clinton during the campaign, but boasted of its 15 "exclusive" ones with Trump. Most of those interviews aired in critical swing states in the final months of the election — and without the thorough fact-checking commentary the then-candidate generally seemed to require.
An early version of the script, leaked to CNN and reported by that network on March 7, went like this: 
“The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, national media outlets are publishing these same fake stories without checking facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’ ... This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”
A later version of the script eliminated the word "national" from "national media."
Perlman, Briscoe, Murcia and Gonzales recorded their 90-second spots this past week, according to Teresa Burgess, vice president and general manager of KBAK/KBFX. She said their identical commentaries would start airing March 23. 
Feel free to tell your favorite KBAK personalities what you think of their recorded spots, but be advised that all of Sinclair's local stations have been informed that “corporate will monitor the comments and send replies to your audience on your behalf,” according to CNN.
Burgess confirmed that will be the way viewers' comments are handled, but added that those comments will be shared with her anchors.
She also criticized the CNN story. "There are some basic things in there that are not true," she said, noting, too, that she had seen only one version of the Sinclair script — the one her anchors taped that excluded the word "national."
"Basically, what the statement does is call out the fact that we do have this issue with fake news, especially in social media, and (addresses) the concern that it creates (a disservice) for our viewers," Burgess said. 
"I mean stories like Pizzagate or the fake stories that the pope endorsed President Trump. We're calling out unfactual content because it affects all members of the media in terms of credibility."
She's right about that. But the problem with a script that refers to "fake news" is that the term can describe two very different things.
It can describe the straight-up false stories that pop up in social media and on disreputable websites — such as the alleged pedophilia dungeon beneath a Washington, D.C., pizza joint, frequented by Hillary Clinton. In December 2016, an armed man burst into the restaurant so he could rescue the slave children imprisoned in the basement. No shots were fired and no dungeon discovered.
It can also describe the invariably factual stories that President Trump finds damaging or uncomfortable and then tries to discredit.
Alluding to both in the same statement conflates the two; now we've got trusted hometown celebrities warning us about journalists "using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda" by presenting readers/viewers with phony and occasionally bizarre stories we all can agree are fake. If journalists are willing to feed us patently false "fake news" stories, President Trump must correct when he calls their legitimate reporting "fake" too. Right?
Some anchors around the country privately told CNN that they are bothered by the parent company's requirement of participation in the scripted campaign. One anchor said it was "like a POW recording a message” to Americans back home.
But a KBAK employee I talked to said the script was not offensive in any sense.
"I don't personally see anything wrong with it," said the employee, who asked for anonymity. "There's nothing (in the script that) makes me feel like there's an agenda. It's speaking to what journalists want, and that is to (deliver) the best unbiased story that they can. I didn't see anything unfair."
Is it true that media outlets have published "fake stories (from social media) without checking facts first," as the Sinclair script alleges? It happens from time to time, no question. Competition among media organizations to be first, combined with an increasing deluge over the past few years of expertly composed, knowingly false stories, has created challenges.
“Reporters and editors have to be more careful than ever before," Margaret Sullivan, The New York Times’ public editor, wrote in a 2016 commentary. "As hoaxers get more sophisticated and more numerous, it’s extremely important to be skeptical and to use every verification method available before publication.”
But national media (and some local, too, including this column) have campaigned hard to educate news consumers about ways to discern legitimate, reliable news reports from the more dubious stuff. The ability and willingness to evaluate the legitimacy of a story is as essential for readers and viewers as it is for journalists.
One of the best ways to discern a message's truthfulness is to identify and vet the source. That practice would well serve local television viewers who, starting Friday, will be seeing some of their favorite on-air news personalities reading a statement that the public might otherwise assume represents the personally held beliefs of those newscasters.
The statement might in fact represent the beliefs of some of Sinclair's TV journalists, but we can never really be sure, can we? Who's going to step up and challenge the corporate monolith that signs everyone's check?
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You can read the article, and access the Sinclair commentary by clicking here.

- Mark

SCIENCE vs. RELIGION: YOUNG SHELDON ASKS WHETHER IT'S BIG BANG OR 'KABOOM'?

This is funny. Whatever your position on religion, this Sheldon vs. Religion clip is entertaining.


If you want to watch the second part, where Young Sheldon goes after Pastor Jeff by asking about the Big Bang click here (go to 1:30 in the clip).

Then we have other "age-old" arguments to think about ...


- Mark

Saturday, March 17, 2018

SAINT PATRICK'S DAY AND THE IRISH-AMERICAN LINKS WITH MEXICO


Some time during this Saint Patrick's Day weekend, if you can find it, you might want to watch One Man's Hero, starring Tom Berenger. It's a film about the hundreds of Irish Americans who left the U.S. Army to fight for Mexico at the beginning of the Mexican-American War, 1846-48.

While the reasons for Irish-Americans to leave the U.S. Army are many - brutal treatment of the Irish at the hands of U.S. military officers, economic incentives from Mexico, etc. - the broadly accepted rationale is that many Irish felt strongly about fighting against other Catholics (though, there are also stories of many Irish-American U.S. soldiers attending Catholic mass in Mexico when war was declared, which made them automatic deserters in the eyes of their commanding officers).

Whatever the reason for deciding to fight for Mexico, the San Patricio battalion story is a fascinating one, and now serves as a point of mutual admiration and respect between Mexico and Ireland. Mexico even has plaques and memorials honoring the San Patricios who fought alongside Mexicans as the nation fought against the "unjust North American invasion of 1847."

 
Below are a couple of links that help explain the San Patricio story, and one that explains the historical and cultural affinity between Mexicans and the Irish in the United States.
On Saint Patrick's Day, Mexico remembers the Irishmen who fought with them against the U.S. (PRI).

The soldiers of Saint Patrick (Latino Rebels).

The Irish were the original bad hombres (Chicago Tribune).

Then we have this 2017 clip, courtesy of Ireland's Prime Minister, Enda Kenny.




- Mark

Friday, March 16, 2018

FROM RUSSIA, WITH LOVE


Below are several Russian-related stories we should be thinking or talking about ...

State Department was granted $120 million to fight Russian meddling. It has spent $0 (NY Times).

Mueller gathers evidence that 2017 Seychelles meeting was effort to establish back channel to Kremlin (Washington Post). 
Russia is already warmed up for a massive attack on U.S. energy grid (The Hill). 
It's OK to say it, Democrats: Russian interference helped Donald Trump (Salon). 
Russia says U.S. no longer rules the world as tensions mount in Middle East, Europe and space (Newsweek).
The Russians pretended to be Texans - and the Texans believed them (Washington Post).

Russian trolls are flooding social media with messages meant to increase tensions in the U.S. (NPR).

How Russian trolls operate ....


- Mark

A REMINDER OF THE SHAMELESS IGNORANCE AND STUPIDITY AT FOX NEWS


- Mark

Thursday, March 15, 2018

MORE WINNING ... RUSSIA THREATENS TO RETALIATE MILITARILY IF THE U.S. HITS SYRIA AGAIN

From Reuters, more winning from the Trump administration ...
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So, yeah, Russia is now threatening to attack the United State's military if Donald Trump orders or allows the U.S. military to strike Syria, again.

If you're keeping score at home, this means the U.S. during the Trump administration has been checkmated by China in the South China Sea, is on the outside looking in when it comes to trade agreements, is viewed with ridicule in Europe, and is now a paper tiger in Syria. Throw in the fact that our State Department is depleted and just saw the Secretary of State canned for calling Russia out for poisoning someone that's considered a threat to Putin in Britain, and we have a U.S. foreign policy environment that's entirely in disarray.

So much winning.

- Mark

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

THE SHALLOW STATE ... ONE YEAR IN AND IT'S WRECKING AMERICA

Last year, just as the Trump administration was settling into the White House, David Rothkopf wrote in Foreign Policy about "The Shallow State." The message was clear. We should move past social media-fed Deep State conspiracy theories. We have something far more dangerous in front of us. And it isn't the Deep State monster that right-wing Twitter and blog experts like to speak spookily about because they like to believe they've cracked some kind of mysterious code (which only they could have uncovered, of course).

In fact, let me kill the drama on this one. The Deep State is basically made up of career bureaucrats, doing their job, who essentially keep the trains running on time (as it were). I know, kind of boring, huh? (Let me add, just because you don't understand bureaucracies, or the concept of checks and balances, doesn't mean your conspiracy nightmares and inflated sense of your analytical skills have to be taken seriously.)

So, instead of indulging the tin foil hat crowd, and the many Deep Staters who are part of this group, Foreign Policy's Rothkopf argues convincingly we need to worry about the growing power of an arrogant but ignorant group of people who both disdain expertise they don't understand, and willfully walk away from evidence they don't want to hear. On this, Rothkopf writes that the Shallow State is made up of people who:

... not only actively eschews experience, knowledge, relationships, insight, craft, special skills, tradition, and shared values but [they instead celebrate their] ignorance of and disdain for those things. Donald Trump, champion and avatar of the shallow state, has won power because his supporters are threatened by what they don’t understand, and what they don’t understand is almost everything. Indeed, from evolution to data about our economy to the science of vaccines to the threats we face in the world, they reject vast subjects rooted in fact in order to have reality conform to their worldviews. They don’t dig for truth; they skim the media for anything that makes them feel better about themselves. To many of them, knowledge is not a useful tool but a cunning barrier elites have created to keep power from the average man and woman. The same is true for experience, skills, and know-how. These things require time and work and study and often challenge our systems of belief. Truth is hard; shallowness is easy.

Think about it. In little over a year since Donald Trump took the oath of office, and we see the following political disasters unfolding in front of America's eyes:

* WESTERN ALLIANCE FRAYED: A fractured western alliance, and collapsed confidence in America's capacity to lead around the world. 
* FRACTURED TRADE: America's withdrawal from - and failure to negotiate - commercial agreements, with no talks of replacement. 
* LAW ENFORCEMENT UNDER ATTACK: Both the Trump administration and Republican leaders are attacking the FBI, a national law enforcement icon, for no other reason than to protect their Russian flank. 
* TARIFF STUPIDITY: Donald Trump wants to childishly impose tariffs, in spite of a wall of history telling him that it's a phenomenally stupid idea. 
* TRADE DEFICITS: The U.S. now has a trade deficit that's more than double what it was before Trump entered office. 
* TRILLION $ BUDGET DEFICITS: We have trillion dollar budget deficits, again, even though there was no national emergency like the 2008 market crash to induce the spending spree. 
* DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: Murders by white supremacists have doubled, while anti-Semitic crimes have also increased. 
* FAILED LEADERSHIP: The U.S. has seen its position eroded in Asia (to China), the Middle East (Syria and Iran are now looking to Moscow,), Eastern Europe (to Mother Russia), Africa (the shithole countries were listening), and Mexico (no explanation necessary here). 

All of these developments, in just one year, require some serious incompetence. But wait, it gets better (or is that worse?).

We now have a president who's doing Vladimir Putin's bidding. Think about it. In Putin's wildest dreams he could never have expected an American president to refuse to impose bipartisan authorized sanctions against Russia, then impose tariffs that drives a wedge between the U.S. and its allies and then, for good measure, continue to say and do things that divide America along racial and class lines.


But with Trump, and his legion of Shallow State supporters, Vladimir Putin has gotten all three. And all for what? Because Trump owes Russian oligarchs a few bucks? Because Putin has incriminating or embarrassing evidence on him? Because our modern GOP is more interested in getting their Ayn Rand (who was a Russian immigrant) inspired agenda accomplished? Pick your poison. Either way, the damage Donald Trump and his Shallow State legion of sycophants is doing is real. Very real.

So let's forget about the conspiracies and what the Deep State is supposed to have done. It's the reality behind the idiots currently running the Shallow State who we should be worried about.

- Mark