Slice of Life #8: Super Majority SuperPAC

Idea: SuperPACs more or less seem to focus narrowly on pushing an agenda focused upon a particular interest or theme of policy goals. How about one that’s purpose is pushing for passage of legislation and executive action that polls show a supermajority (say at least 75%) of citizens support and built upon policy ideas supported by objective data and common sense.

For instance:


Only 35% of Nightly News Election Coverage Covered Real Election News

Speaking of an ignorant electorate,

A study conducted by Media Matters revealed that in the network news coverage of the midterm elections from September 1 – November 3, only 35 percent of segments mentioned key policy issues. Media Matters looked for discussions of issues including the economy, federal deficit, health care, climate change, foreign policy, immigration, same sex marriage, reproductive health, gun safety, campaign finance, voting rights, and equal pay for women…


Bloomberg finds American’s not quite as ignorant as Italians

It’s quiz time, people. Let’s start with an easy one: What percentage of working-age Americans are unemployed and looking for work?

If you guessed about 6 percent, give yourself a pat on the back. You have a pretty good understanding of the unemployment rate, one of the basic measures of economic well-being. If, on the other hand, you guessed 32 percent — which would rank America among the most desperate nations on Earth — then you guessed just like the average American!

That’s one of the findings of a survey released this week by U.K. pollster Ipsos Mori, which interviewed 11,527 people. In the 14-country Index of Ignorance (Ipsos Mori’s name, but we approve), Americans are second only to Italians in how little we understand some of the stats that track the most basic contours of our society.

How can democracy work when at least a third of the electorate is using completely different “facts” than what is reality? Whose fault is this?


✁ Eric Schmidt thinks we’re stupid

Last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook penned an open letter regarding customer’s data privacy and security.

A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.

Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.

Yesterday, Executive Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, actually said this said this to CNN Money in response to this letter.

All the things [Cook] implied we’re doing, we don’t do.

Except that’s 100%, absolutely, without a question what Google does. And Schmidt admitted it in the next sentence.

Besides from the fact that we show ads in Gmail…and we use that information for nothing, all the other things that he implied we were doing, we don’t do.

From Gmail’s support page (emphasis added),

Google does not rent, sell or share information that personally identifies you for marketing purposes without your express permission. No email content or other personally identifiable information is provided to advertisers.

Schmidt is purposely obfuscating here. So Gmail collects information from your profile that “it does nothing with”. Yet it is in the business of selling advertisements that seem bizarrely tailored to you. While Google may not be selling the profile or email content, or web browsing habits, it certainly is collecting it in order to sell you more targeted ads. Imagine if the government said we’re tapping your phone calls, but we’re not listening to them.

And all of this assumes we should believe what Schmidt has to say. You know, the guy who says things like:

Eric Schmidt has such little respect for our intelligence, he can’t even tell us the truth about Google’s business model.


The problem with the media

After the declassification of the Benghazi report by the House Intelligence Committee late last month, the only politician to speak to the contents of the report turned out to be a minority member of the committee, Democratic Representative Mike Thompson. He was quoted as saying the report “confirms that no one was deliberately misled, no military assets were withheld and no stand-down order (to U.S. forces) was given.”

There was not a single mention of the decision to declassify the report from Republicans, despite thousands of accusations that the Obama Administration had acted purposely or with malicious intent to create more of a situation there and were acting in a coordinated effort to cover up their actions. Talking Points Memo, for instance, reports that Fox News has mentioned Benghazi over 1,100 times in the past year. Yet elected Republicans included no mention of it on their official website, were unavailable for quotes to the media, and made no statements from the committee dais or House floor.

But oddly, there has been little to no reporting on Thompson’s statement, presumably because media outlets weren’t able to provide a comment from the right to respond to the potentially biased statement made from the democratic member. And there lies the exact problem. When breaking news transpires, the media condones reporting that is the equivalent of “shoot first, ask questions later”, but when it comes to investigations, analysis of events, determining causes, and other time consuming tasks, the media is reluctant to report without providing flavors of that report from both sides of the story. Yet, logic would tend to suggest that as a story is unfolding you’d want balanced reporting, but after the fact, the media should play referee and make decisions about the credibility, accuracy, and reliability of conclusions. There’s no point to value to be gained in spin after the facts are laid out.

Yet that’s exactly what the media does. I’ve read numerous reports suggesting that Thompson’s quote should be taken lightly, considering we do not yet have the report, despite the obvious fact that republicans have refused to make a comment on Benghazi for the first time since the events transpired in 2012. But news outlets reported republican accusations of wrong-doing since then, permitting unfounded rhetoric with obvious electoral implications to flow freely on the airwaves. And House Republicans have determined to not release this report until after another series of investigations by other committees (many whom have already done initial investigations that have failed to reveal any startling conclusions that fit Republican talking points). Why? Because these investigations will conveniently continue until after the November election so that the issue can still be used to sway some voters and then released at a time when it will have zero impact on elections by the time 2016 rolls around (assuming they don’t now try to spin this as a State Department Hillary Clinton conspiracy).

The point is that in today’s environment, the media treats most viewpoints equally, despite the fact that doing so creates a false equivalence and gives respect, legitimacy, and consideration to unreasonable points of view. Instead of looking to measurable or demonstrable metrics to craft a news story, the media instead values opinions and rhetoric that can be abused in exactly the same way as it has been in the Benghazi story. It also has the potential for even more extreme consequences. While this style may build a reliable audience that tunes in regularly, it likely shrinks the total market as more Americans become cynical of news reports and choose to become less engaged in current events.

It seems the major difficulty with how the media presents news today has to do with the types of journalists that exist in the world. Journalists are typically rewarded (in terms of reputation, not necessarily tangible accolades) for two (often times opposing) achievements. The first type of reporting focuses on being the quickest and fastest to break news, which is messy, noisy, and often inaccurate. In order to be first, you sometimes report incomplete or misleading news, but being the first to break a huge story has a way of forgiving being wrong on another.

The second type of journalist focuses primarily on quality of reporting, taking a bit more time to ensure that facts are accurate, editorial content is minimal, and the scoop is trustworthy. Surely, this is more along the lines of what journalists should strive to be, but there seems to be a huge hole in between these two types that is, for the most part, not being filled and creating a less informed electorate.

Ironically, this journalism hole seems to be filled only by comedians that feel very uncomfortable referring to themselves as journalists at all. The likes of John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, and John Stewart produce shows that take viewers on a narrative journey, explaining the various moving pieces of a story rather than focusing solely on breaking news and punditry after the story breaks. Last Week Tonight, the Colbert Report, and the Daily Show provide background on a given story, providing context for those vast majority who likely missed one or two chapters. And by doing so allow for obvious conclusions to be parsed without taking major partisan editorial views. This is because these comedians get that drawing a conclusion does not have to be partisan because certain conclusions are beyond debate. Taking the example above, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to conclude that perhaps Representative Thompson has a point when eight Congressional Committee findings before the latest have failed to find wrong-doing.

But until the media drastically changes their model, choosing instead to focus on a narrative based and analytical approach to the news, we will continue lacking an essential piece to our democracy. That’s both sad and a bit scary.


Hobby Lobby, 1st Amendment hypocrite

By now, the Monday morning quarterbacking in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby has died down and we are left, instead with more substantive analyses of the case. There are quite a few good ones.

But I saw this yesterday and thought, is this for real? Well turns out, Allen won her appeal after being denied unemployment benefits, so it’s not simply a case of a random person in the news trying making unsubstantiated claims just to have their 15 minutes (as is all too often permitted in the news these days). A court of law determined that, in fact, Hobby Lobby wrongfully denied benefits to her. Shameful considering their supposed religious beliefs.

When a very pregnant Felicia Allen applied for medical leave from her job at Hobby Lobby three years ago, one might think that the company best known for denying its employees insurance coverage of certain contraceptives—on the false grounds that they cause abortions—would show equal concern for helping one of its employees when she learned she was pregnant.

Instead, Allen says the self-professed evangelical Christian arts-and-crafts chain fired her and then tried to prevent her from accessing unemployment benefits.

It gets better though (if by better I mean worse). When Allen tried to sue for wrongful termination based upon her being let go because she is pregnant, she couldn’t.

Though the multibillion-dollar, nearly 600-store chain took its legal claim against the federal government all the way to the Supreme Court when it didn’t want to honor the health insurance requirements of the Affordable Care Act, the company forbids its employees from seeking justice in the court of law.

Allen had signed a binding arbitration agreement upon taking the job, though she says she doesn’t remember doing so. The agreement, which all Hobby Lobby employees are required to sign, forces employees to resolve legal disputes outside of court through a process known as arbitration.

It’s insane that such contract clauses are even legal in this country. Yet it’s collective bargaining and unions that are destroying this country…

This story is exactly why claims of religious freedom in Burwell are completely ridiculous. There’s no requirement that 1st Amendment religious beliefs be consistent, truthful, or even logical for the Supreme Court to offer 1st Amendment protections. Hobby Lobby here demonstrates that axiom perfectly by objecting to paying for contraception (using a pre textual explanation of being religiously pro-life), while also objecting to paying for leave due to pregnancy (using the explanation of something, something, hey look, a bird!) or showing a complete lack of regard for the future of an unborn child being born into a family with an unemployed mother (because, they can’t be sued for denying others the same rights they enjoy). Disgraceful.


Personal memory is untrustworthy—we do not know the color of the ink with which it was written—and thus one should view the depiction of the following encounters as inexact and partly fictitious, though no more so than any other type of biographical writing.

Shlomo Sand

Governor Christie on ammo limit veto

I rarely comment on New Jersey politics here, because I try not to write about the industry I work in, but Christie’s argument here is just so unbelievably ridiculous that I can’t help myself.

Check out his video explaining why he vetoed a NJ bill that would legally reduce the size of a gun magazine from 15 to 10 rounds.

Transcript:

Governor Christie: Michael, I’ve heard the argument and so are we saying then that the 10 children, on the clip that they advocate for, that their lives are less valuable? If you take the logical conclusion of their argument, you go to zero because every life is valuable. And so why 10? Why not six? Why not two? Why not one? Why not zero? Why not just ban guns completely? I mean, you know so the logical conclusion of their argument is that you get to zero eventually. So I understand their argument. I feel extraordinary sympathy for them and the other families and all of the families across America who are the victims of gun violence including the young man who was killed in West Orange a couple of weeks ago, not with an automatic weapon, not with a clip. You know wanton gun violence is bad no matter how it’s conducted and I understand their argument. I’ve heard their argument. I don’t agree with their argument. We have a fundamental disagreement about the effectiveness of what they’re advocating for. And I’ve listened to them. I’ve met with them. I heard their arguments directly and personally. I’ve read a lot on this issue and I made the decision that I made.

1. If every life is valuable, you can’t rationally argue that we should let murderers murder their intended number of victims because getting involved would mean that certain “lives are less valuable”.

2. The slippery slope argument he puts forth ignores the very groups that he is defending here: those gun rights advocates who continually argue that guns have other purposes besides mass murder (e.g. self defense, hunting, deterrence, etc.). If Christie is really saying that guns have no other purpose, there is truly no reason to stop at ten, or six, or two, or one, or zero. If he’s not, and there are other reasons, then there is logic to limiting to 10, since…uh… last time I checked, you can still hunt with a ten round magazine.

3. What exactly does Christie have a fundamental disagreement over? The effectiveness of smaller magazines on reducing gun casualties? Or that there’s anything the government can do to protect human life in instances of gun violence? This question is mostly rhetorical, because Christie seems to have sloppily conceded that larger magazine sizes have no purpose other than mass murder and doesn’t seem to disagree that reducing to ten, or six, or two, or one, or zero might help. It seems he only fundamentally disagrees with even trying because, well, we can’t save them all. I suppose the government really has no business in making laws that try to protect our citizens if this is what you believe.

Look, the reason gun control advocates seek to lower magazine sizes is that (even though our government refuses to collect data on or study the effects and statistics surrounding firearms in the US) one doesn’t need data to conclude that maybe forcing more frequent reloads would force some mass shooters into more frequent pauses that could possibly give potential victims a chance at survival. Surely speed limit laws, or seatbelt laws, or drug laws, or labeling laws, or medication warning laws, can’t prevent all casualties or abusers, but they do prevent some.

Why do we allow this willfully stupid logic fester in the public sphere?


Teachers

Erin, and all the other public school teachers in America, goes through hell and back every single day in order to enrich the lives of America’s future. She puts up with more bullshit than any one human should have to. Erin does so for a pittance of a salary, no thanks from parents, and often times without the support of her administration.

Why does she do this? Why waste her time?

Because she knows what all of us like to forget: that teaching is arguably the most important job in the entire world. That teaching is an investment in our future. Not just our children, but ourselves. It’s a promise we make today to our future selves. It’s a way to ensure that our future is bright.


The media is making us stupider

Real story from Politico. Not The Onion.

What an embarrassment.