Thursday, December 31, 2015

Good news from 2015

Back in October of this year, I began to label some of my blogs "Good news."   Realizing that I was focusing so much on what's wrong with the world, and specifically with our country, and even more specifically with the Republican politicians, I wanted to shift that balance at least a little.    So in just these three months, I have posted 18 good news stories that caught my attention.

There were others throughout the year, before I started labeling them, that could also be put in that category.    Of course, a huge one would be the Supreme Court decision that made marriage equality the law of the 50 states.   Another major SCOTUS decision was upholding the legality of President Obama's subsidies that make the Affordable Care Act possible.

Not a SCOTUS decision, but another very important story was the response by South Carolina's governor and legislature to take down the Confederate Flag that flew over the capitol in response to the mass shooting of members of a black church by a white supremacist.   One of the ones killed was a member of the state legislature.   Fittingly, Paul Thurman, the son of former arch-segregationist Sen. Strom Thurman and himself a member of the state legislature, was one of the supporters of that bill in South Carolina.   As S. C. Gov. Nicki Haley said, "history has changed."

So as the year ends, I though I'd like to collect a summary of those 18 good news stories to share.    The year 2015 has been a difficult year:   the Middle East wars, police shootings at home, ugly rancor in Washington, mass shootings and one major terrorist attack, and the ridiculous and maddening Republican primary.   So let's finish the year looking at some bright spots -- and hope for a better 2016.
Happy New Year to all and thanks for reading ShrinRap.

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#1.   World poverty declines.  The World Bank has forecast that less than 10% of the world's population will be living in extreme poverty by the end of 2015, a decline from 37% in 1990.   The U.N. has set the goal of eliminating extreme poverty by 2030.

#2.  Global child death rates decline, and other improvements.   In 1990 12 million children died before age 3;  that has been cut in half.   In 1980 only half of girls in developing countries completed elementary schoolnow 80% do.  Specific diseases have been sharply curtailed.   Birth rates have been diminished.    

#3.  Australia conquers gun violence.    We needed this natural experiment to be able to demonstrate that gun control can work.   It did in Australia.   Following one of the worst mass shootings ever (35 dead and 23 injured), people said "Never again" and they meant it.  Parliament banned semi-automatic weapons and imposed rigid licensing.   A buy back program gleaned and destroyed nearly 1 million guns.   Licensing now requires background checks that can take months, and they have strict gun storage requirements.   In the decade since, firearm homicide rate fell by 59% and firearm suicide rate fell by 65% without a concomitqnt increas in other forms of suicide.  And no mass shootings since.

#4.  Prison debate team beats Harvard debate team.   Bard College sponsors a program for selected prison inmates that leads to a college degree.   One feature of the program is that the Bard debate coach also works with inmate-students on their own debate team.   Their hard work paid off to show what they could do -- and, it happens, to show what such a program can do.   In a debate match up with the Harvard team, the team from Eastern New York Correctional Facility won.   Probably the Harvard team thought they could win without preparing much;   but the ENYCF team were both prepared and sharp thinkers on their feet as well.

#5.   No more drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean.   After all the fighting to preserve the arctic ocean from effects of oil drilling, no more drilling permits will be issued and no existing permits will be renewed.   At least as long as Obama is president -- and probably as long as oil prices are so low.

#6.  U,S, budget deficit at an 8 year low,   Another success for Democratic strategy.   Under Obama as president, the deficit has shrunk by over $1 trillion dollars.   Yet, because of Republican rhetoric, 73% of the public believes that the deficit has gotten bigger.   It was actually under President George W. Bush that the huge deficit explosion occurred.  Starting a war and cutting taxes, instead of paying for the war, was completely irresponsible.

#7.  Potential good news:    If only Georgia's governor and legislators would expand Medicaid, here's what would be good news:   300,000 more Georgians with health care;  $33 billion in federal tax dollars coming into the state;  80,000 new jobs;  rural hospitals would not have to close.    Wouldn't you think they would want to be responsible for such good news for Georgia?    But they would rather stick to the Republican line of defeating Obama.   So none of those things are happening.  Saddest words in the English language:   "if only . . . "

#8.  Publix gorcery chain is employee-owned.   I had been buying groceries at Publix for years and didn't know that the chain is owned by its employees, from CEO to bag boys.   Each employee becomes a stockholder, and there are no owners not involved in the retail success of the stores.

#9.   National unemployment reached a new low of 5% in the 3rd quarter of 2015, with better than expected job growth.   Mitt Romney had run in 2012 on the promise to get it down to 6% by the end of 2017.   Good thing we didn't elect him president.    Proves once again that the economy does better with Democrats in the White House.

#10.  Hysteria over "refugee terrorists" did not sway Lousiana governor's election.  Republican candidate David Vitter devoted the last week of his campaign to demagoguing the issue in a desperate effort to save his failing campaign.   It didn't work.   He lost by 12% points.

#11.  Generosity begets generosity.   When 7 year old Jack Swanson gave $20 from his savings to a community mosque that had been defaced during a Muslim hate crime, his generosity was rewarded by some members of the mosque.   They found out he had been saving his money to buy an iPad, and they bought him one.   This story has one caveat, in my opinion.   I hope it doesn't turn a pure act of generosity into an expectation that one gets it back in spades.

#12.  Unfathomable wealth and generosity.  Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Pricella Chan commemorated the birth of their first child with a promise to give 99% of their Facebook share (currently about $45 billion) to their charitable foundation  to help make a better world for their daughter's generaton to live in.

#13.   Minnesota economic success proves Democrats correct.   Democratic governor Mark Dayton, by increasing taxes on the wealthy, raising the minimum wage, and guaranteeing women equal pay has reversed a budget deficit to a $2 billion surplus and lowered unemployment.   Exactly the opposite of what Republicans said would happen.   In contrast, Kansas went the route of austerity and tax cuts, with disastrous results for their economy, for schools, and employment.

#14.  Bernie Sanders rejects Super PAC money.   Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is running a grass-roots funded campaign.   He has compiled over a million individual donors and has turned down offers to set up a SuperPAC for him -- proving that a billionaire sugar-daddy is not necessary if the people like what you're saying.

 #15.   Climate agreement in Paris.   186 nations meeting in Paris have agreed to speak with one voice on the necessity of acting to reverse the effects of climate change.   The significance of this major achievement is that this many nations have begun to act together to save our planet and human civilization.

#16.  Murder rate lowest in 50 years.   Contrary to what most people think, the U. S. gun murder rate is now lower than it has been in at least 50 years.   A Gallop poll found that 56% thought it had gone up and only 12% said it had gone down.

#17.  Congress passed a bipartisan budget bill that was, of course, a compromise in which both sides had to give up some of what they wanted and accepted some things they didn't want.    But, according to Elizabeth Warren, there was not a single provision to materially weaken the rules on Wall Street.

#18.  Success in retaking Iraq.   Iraqi forces, with the help of Americans, have retaken about 40% of the territory in Iraq that was conquered by ISIS last year.   This includes regaining control of most of the major city of Ramadi.

The year 2015 doesn't sound quite so bad when you look at all these good news stories. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Good news #18. Success against ISIS in Iraq.

Success in retaking Iraq.   Iraqi forces, with the help of Americans advisers and air power, have retaken about 40% of the territory in Iraq that was conquered by ISIS last year.   This includes regaining control of most of the major city of Ramadi, an important victory.

Once upon a time, there were Republicans like this

Once upon a time, there were Republicans I might disagree with but were worthy of respect.  Do you wonder, as I do, where they are hiding now?   Here's something that Andy Katz wrote for DailyKos about his father:

"Ten Things My Conservative Father Believed"
". . . [D]uring this season of political insanity, I often consider what my Father would think about about today’s Republican party and its race for its presidential nomination.  You see, my Father was a proud Republican, “Goldwater conservative.”  As an owner of a small business, my Father was a true believer in limited government, low taxes, the free market system and the profit motive as a force for good.  Yet, I can easily think of 10 things my Father believed that are considered blasphemous in the Republican Party today.
"1.  My father believed that Americans should respect the office of the President of the United States and its occupant regardless of his or her political party.  

"2.  My Father believed that racism is wrong. 

"3.  My Father believed that politicians should not lie.

"4.  My Father believed that immigration is good for our country because immigrants come to the US in search of a better life, work hard when they get here and want nothing more than to have their children enjoy the benefit our society offers its citizens.

"5.  My Father believed that the First Amendment protected the religious rights of minority faiths and opposed all religious discrimination.

"6.  My father believed in limited government and also believed that that concept should be applied to the regulation of personal behavior.  In short, my father was pro-choice.

"7.  My Father believed that the government had a role in protecting the environment. 

"8.  My Father believed in reasonable gun control. 

"9.  My Father believed in equality between the sexes.

"10.  My Father believed that right and wrong did not change depending on the party affiliation of the actor whose conduct is in question."
*     *     *
Andy Katz is right.    Those ten beliefs weren't the way we defined the differences between Democrats and Republicans.   Those used to be non-partisan beliefs.

I suppose, if candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination were saying things comparably outrageous to what we hear from the Republican politicians, I too would be hiding.    But isn't there some courageous proud Republican of the old persuasion who will speak up for those people who -- in my opinion -- might be wrong about some things but not on these issues that are basic to American values?


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

No, of course the police rookie who shot Tamir Rice was not indicted.

Yes, I thought this one might actually be different.    A rookie policeman, who had a badly flawed training record, including failure of several training tests and one trainer's assessment that he did not have the temperament for a police officer.   Yet he had recently been hired by a neighboring police department that didn't bother to check his records.

There's more.  A 12 year old boy playing in the park with his toy gun.    A surveillance video that contradicted the rookie's story by showing him firing at Tamir Rice even before the squad car came to a halt -- proving that his claim to have repeatedly warned him to drop his gun was a lie.    And no attempt to give first aid to the fatally wounded boy lying on the ground -- and brutally throwing his distraught sister into the back of the squad car without an iota of compassion.

Yes, I thought a grand jury might find all this worthy of some further investigation under an indictment.    But that presumes that the grand jury heard what I just wrote above.   Instead, a sympathetic prosecutor presented the case to them in his own version, explaining the rookie policeman's fear that he was facing "a man with a gun" pointed at him.   The police rookie was allowed to give his story, without cross-examinationNo one spoke for the victim.

That is the grand jury system we have.  Yes, I understand that a grand jury is not a trial.  It is only to determine if there should be a trial.  But if there is no indictment, there will be no trial -- and the family of the victim will never have a change to question the shooter or to testify.   Instead, the prosecutor called it "a perfect storm of errors, mistakes and mis-communication" -- whitewashing the injustice rampant when our police confront black males.


Monday, December 28, 2015

Why President Obama doesn't say "radical Islamic"

President Barack Obama and presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton avoid using the phrase "radical Islamic" in speaking of terrorists.  Some Republican candidates and conservative pundits try to portray that as a sign of weakness in the fight against ISIS.

Both Donald Trump and Chris Christie derided Obama's lack of using the term, claiming that it is "political correctness," and implying that not using that term somehow means we are not fully engaged in the kind of war they think we should be fighting.

But it was a Republican president, George W. Bush, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 who -- to his great credit -- spoke boldly to the nation, saying that "We are not at war with Islam."

In a New York Times Magazine article on 12/20/15, Emily Bazelon wrote that many Muslim's themselves reject the term "radical Islam."   She continues:  "They say that ISIS's reading of the Quran and other texts is so selective as to be unrecognizable as Muslim at all."

Bazelon quotes John McWhorter, a Columbia University linguist, as dismissing the president's critics on this as "childish," given the way it would be heard and distorted by anti-Muslim groups.    He explains that, when one hears a sentence like "We must eradicate radical Islam," people don't hear that as saying there is a radical fringe group who claim to be Islamic that must be defeated because of their radical violence.   One tends to hear "We must eradicate Islam."

McWhorter continues:
"The terms 'radical Christian' and 'radical Jew'  have little purchase, not because there aren't people who commit violence in the name of Christianity or Judaism but because they don't loom large in the public consciousness and threaten to swallow a religion's whole identity."

The man who killed three people at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic was described by his own wife as an "extremely evangelical Christian";   and the man who killed Kansas abortion provider, Dr. George Tiller, testified that his Christian faith  and his views about abortion went "hand in hand."    Yet there has been little written about "radical Christianity" being the culprit in the abortion debate.

As Bazelon concludes, "We assume that these men are outliers -- not exemplars."    Why can we not do the same for the billion Muslims who do not endorse violence?    I would like to think that this difference is a matter of ignorance on the part of most Westerners about the Muslim faith and the Muslim people.    But I'm afraid it's much more complex than that, and it has much more to do with a general fear and distrust of "the other" -- distressingly encouraged and exploited by the rhetoric of most Republican presidential candidates and the right wing media.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Krugman: Obama is "one of the most successful presidents in American history."

Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize economist and New York Times liberal columnist, who has often been critical of President Obama, nevertheless wrote several weeks ago that President Obama is "one of the most effective . . . successful presidents in American history."   He cited health care reform, financial reform, and economic management as being less than perfect but much more effective than many people think.

Others have added to the list of really significant accomplishments of the Obama administration that will go down in history as the Obama legacy.   They include:

1.  The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.   Far from perfect, but many millions more people now have health care coverage.

2.  The recent Paris global agreement to tackle climate change.   Far more significant than the details it actually requires is the simple fact that 186 nations of the world came together and reached an agreement to begin to work seriously to halt the devastation to our planet.

3.   Unemployment is down to 5% national average;  and we have had 69 straight months of private-sector job growth.

4.  The Iran nuclear agreement.   Again, far from perfect but undoubtedly better than any alternative.   Without strong U.S. leadership from President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, it would not have been possible.

5.  The opening to renewed relations with Cuba, again due to strong leadership from President Obama.

6.   Although the Supreme Court did it, President Obama helped accelerate the rapid social attitude change that led to their decision to make marriage equality the law of the entire land.   For example, he provided real leadership in getting rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, supported repeal of DOMA, used regulatory power to require equal treatment of LGBT people in government contracts.

Others would include the Trans-Pacific trade agreement, modifications in immigration enforcement within limits of executive authority, and numerous other important achievements.
There are real major accomplishments here;  and they were  achieved despite maximum resistence from a Republican Congress that was determined to see that this president failed.   It fact, Mitch McConnell, himself, said so at the beginning of the 2009 Obama administration:   The main goal will be to see that Barack Obama is a one-term president.

Perhaps, with such determined sabotage from the opposition, the simple fact that Obama won a second term should be listed as a major accomplishment. 


Saturday, December 26, 2015

If you want the truth, listen to the comedians

Jon Stewart's replacement on "The Daily Show," Trevor Noah, nailed it on Donald Trump's call to ban all Muslims from the country.   Trump didn't back down, but he later modified that statement by adding:   "until we can figure out what is going on."   Still . . .

Here's Trevor Noah's response:
"Take a second to think about what he said here. Republican presidential frontrunner Donald J. Trump wants to ban every single person from the world's second largest religion from entering the United States of America.   Every doctor, every scientist, and even Zayn Malik. You really want to piss off One Direction fans?  You want a real insurgency on your hands?  [For those who don't know, One Direction is a wildly popular boy band.] 

"Here's the thing about Donald Trump: Everybody has the right to be crazy. What worries me is that people are following the crazy. . . .  The worst part about this whole situation is that Donald Trump is a problem, but he's not the problem. There are people who already hold these views . . . .  Donald Trump, the frontrunner of a major political party, has basically given them permission to shed their shame and say these things out loud."
In the effective way of making the point by satire, Noah then brought in his "senior political correspondent," comedian Hasan Minhaj, who satirically agreed with Trump about banning Muslim's from the U.S.  But his reasoning was that we should not admit Muslims, because "the United States is not a safe place for Muslims right now. . . .  "One-third of a major political party in America is backing a racist maniac. This place is scary right now."
*     *     *
How right they are.   Trump -- and the mentality he gives a giant megaphone to -- are making American unsafe for Muslims.   They are also making America unsafe from the radical terrorists who use Trump's anti-Muslim words as a recruiting tool.

And he increasingly looks like the likely nominee for the Republican presidential nomination.  How can this be?


Friday, December 25, 2015

The Christmas Truce of 1914: Unthinkable today?

Last year, on the 100th anniversary of the "Christmas Truce of 1914," Time magazine published a story about that World War I pause in fighting.   Reflecting on the state of the world today, one wonders if such a thing could happen now.

From Time magazne, Dec. 24, 2014: "Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce of 1914," by Naina Baiekal: 
"On a crisp, clear morning 100 years ago, thousands of British, Belgian and French soldiers put down their rifles, stepped out of their trenches and spent Christmas mingling with their German enemies along the Western front. In the hundred years since, the event has been seen as a kind of miracle, a rare moment of peace just a few months into a war that would eventually claim over 15 million lives. . . ."
The idea had been suggested by the pope, but it was officially rejected by the commanders.   Yet, somehow, the troops themselves initiated the truce on their own. 
"To this day historians continue to disagree over the specifics: no one knows where it began or how it spread . . . .  [S]ome two-thirds of troopsabout 100,000 people are believed to have participated in the legendary truce. 

"Most accounts suggest the truce began with carol singing [by German soldiers] from the trenches on Christmas Eve . . . .  The next morning . . . .  allied soldiers came out warily to greet them. . . .  Over the course of the day, troops exchanged gifts of cigarettes, food, buttons and hats. The Christmas truce also allowed both sides to finally bury their dead comrades, whose bodies had lain for weeks on 'no man’s land,' the ground between opposing trenches. . . . 

"And of course, it was only ever a truce, not peace. Hostilities returned . . . . for many at the time, the story of the Christmas truce was not an example of chivalry in the depths of war, but rather a tale of subversion: when the men on the ground decided they were not fighting the same war as their superiors. . . .  Indeed, one British soldier, speaking in 1930, said:  '. . . if we had been left to ourselves, there would never have been another shot fired."
*     *     *
This 1914 story reminds me of the poetry of Wilfred Owen, the British poet who was killed in battle in France one week before the 1918 armistice.   Unlike poets who glorified the heroes, Owen wrote of "the pity of war" and the tragedy of such human loss.  His poetry was immortalized in Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem," one of the most poignant arias being a duet between tenor and baritone soloists, representing a British and a German soldier who meet in the afterlife and sing, together, of their battle, ending with:  "I am the enemy you killed, my friend. . . ."   And then the consoling, beatific line that is repeated, again and again, shifting back and forth between tenor and baritone:  "Let us sleep now . . . let us sleep now."

This Christmas Truce occurred in 1914, before the United States entered the war;   so we were not part of that Christmas Truce.   War today, 100 years later, is very different.    It's unlikely such a thing could happen at the ground level.    But let us take heart.    It has mostly been flying under the news radar, but high level talks are being held now about a cease fire in Syria.

It's too complex a geopolitical situation for the simplistic answers being brayed about by Republican candidates, any of whom would only make a terrible situation even worse with their febrile apocalypticism, to use Josh Marshall's felicitous phrase.

With a heavy heart lacking much optimism, my Christmas wish this year would be for a lasting truce and, eventually, peace.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Denmark's democratic socialism works, and people are happy -- because they trust each other

This DailyKos article, about what it's like to live in Denmark with its democratic socialist government, was written by Nancy Graham Holm, an American who has lived there since 1991.   It's an informative piece for those who think Bernie Sanders' democratic socialism is more radical than it actually is.

Holm acknowledges that a small homogenous nation like Denmark is very different from our sprawling mega-country with 50 times as many people of diverse ethnic, religious, and economic status.   But she tells us why she likes it and feels fortunate to live there.

"First, I like Danish egalitarianism. . . . "  [As Jonathan Haidt writes in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2013)] ". . . liberals need to feel equal to everybody while conservatives need to feel superior to at least a few. This makes Denmark a perfect fit for American social liberals and a frustrating - even exasperating - experience for Americans who identify as conservative.

"Personally, I like how Danes value work and workers. They seem to understand that nothing is produced or accomplished in society without labor and they honor rank and file workers just as much as managers. . . .  

"Union membership is not compulsory in Denmark yet 80% of people with jobs . . . are members of a labor union . . . [C]ollective bargaining . . . is the heart and soul of their economic egalitarianism.   Without government interference, it is the employees and employers that negotiate salary, vacation, sick leave and maternity/paternity leave. Women cannot lose their jobs because of pregnancy and all pregnant women are entitled to paid-leave one month prior to giving birth and up to one year afterward. Professional childcare exists so that women can participate in the economy. All children are guaranteed a place in a nursery until elementary school, subsidized through taxation.

"Everybody – skilled and unskilled – is formally trained in Denmark. There seems to be an 'education' for just about everything, including the execution of retail sales in department stores. Workers are entitled to upgrade their skills through courses . . . [often] on company time.  If you lose your job, unemployment insurance protects you, giving you enough to stay inside the economic system; enough to keep you from losing your home to the bank; enough to buy groceries and prescription medicines; enough to live with dignity while you search for a new job. Losing your job in Denmark is inconvenient but not a disaster.

"Work/play balance is a Danish value and people who excessively work are not admired but considered anti-social and unhealthy. Normally, everybody works 37 hours a week and gets 5-6 weeks of paid vacation in a calendar year. If you change employers, you are entitled to carry your vacation time with you.

"Health care is pre-paid through taxation. . . . [People can] pick their own physician . . . .  [D]iagnostic tests, treatments and surgery are free of extra charge and the costs of medicines are subsidized to make them affordable. . . .

"Democratic socialism is not communism. It is merely a pooling of resources to share the nation’s wealth among its citizens. Democratic socialism means that the decision makers are democratic; transparent; accessible . . . .

"Members of Parliament are not professional politicians but ordinary people: librarians, teachers, dentists, building contractors, accountants, journalists, etc. . . .  What impresses me most about Danish political campaigns is the prohibition of television ads . . . .  [T]he campaign period is short, not years but a matter of weeks.

"Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Danish democracy is that registering to vote is not necessary. All citizens over the age of 18 automatically receive a ballot through the postal service at their home address. Voting is not compulsory, but in national elections close to 80% of all elligible voters do.

"As an American, I know Denmark’s system is not applicable to the USA. Democratic socialism could only happen in Denmark because the population was homogenous with a high concentration of trust. America was founded by immigrants...from all over... folks who’ve had trust issues with ”government” from the beginning. . . .  Danes do not see 'the government' as an adversary but as a mirror. The Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches are fellow citizens working on their behalf.

"This is what makes Denmark (and Scandinavia) different. People trust one another. The challenge is to retain this trust in a society that is no longer homogenous."
*     *     *
Egalitarianism, trust, cooperation.    What a contrast to what we're hearing in our political debates.    Of course, all these benefits mean high taxes;   but the people could change it if they wanted to -- and apparently they like it this way.    Denmark is regularly listed as one of the countries where people are the happiest.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Why don't we worry about our young men being "radicalized" by our culture of gun violence?

Jeff Lahm, in a letter to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, raises a good question concerning "radicalization," prompted by early reports that the male San Bernadino shooter had been radicalized during a visit to Saudi Arabia.   Of course, later evidence obtained from phone and computer records showed that he had been well along into the process before he made that trip.

But the question for us Americans remains, as Jeff Lahm wrote:
"If we believe that people can be radicalized by a few months in the Middle East, then we must believe that our own children can become radicalized to gun violence by watching television shows and movies that glamorize guns and shooting people.

"Our children and disillusioned youth spend their entire lives learning via television that brandishing guns and shooting people is sexy, fun and a legitimate method of problem solving.   Some normal looking young white man will likely commit the next non-terrorist related mass murder.   In the aftermath, I hope Americans will demand to know how he was radicalized to gun violence, and not just where he found the gun."


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Top hawk drops out

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who never got above 3% in the polls and has hovered at 1% or less for a while now, has dropped out of the Republican primary race.

This crowded field has lost its most ardent military hawk -- and, otherwise, one of the moderates, especially on immigration reform.


Who lies the most among presidential candidates?

A while back the New York Times ran an article from PolitiFact's Angie Drobnic Holan on the fact-checked record of presidential candidates, plus a few other politicians.   PolitiFact had compiled statistics of the statements they had checked since 2007 and rated according to True, Mostly True, Half True/Half False, Mostly False, False, and Pants on Fire -- the latter category reserved for a particularly egregious or pernicious lie.

For this article Holan provided a summary score and ranking, as follows.   The numbers are the percent of each person's controversial answers that PolitiFact rated Mostly False or worse . . . i.e. a measure of that person's "dishonesty" -- or perhaps ignorance, in some cases.  It does not include last week's debates.  To be clear, and fair, PolitiFact does not check every statement a candidate makes -- just ones that are questioned.   Nevertheless, the ranking is very telling.

84%   Ben Carson
76%   Donald Trump
66%   Ted Cruz
59%   Dick Cheney
55%   Rick Santorum
50%   Carly Fiorino
40%   Marco Rubio
34%   Lindsey Graham
32%   Chris Christie
32%   Rand Paul
32%   Joe Biden
32%   Jeb Bush
28%   Bernie Sanders
28%   Hillary Clinton
26%   Barack Obama
25%   Martin O'Malley
24%   Bill Clinton

I took it a step further and calculated the average scores according to political party affiliation.   Republicans 50.9, Democrats 27.1.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Shutting down reader-comment section -- for now

To readers of ShrinkRap:
     On a temporary basis, this blog will no longer be accepting comments in an effort to deal with a spam problem that is generating hundreds of generic "comments," apparently trolling for responses to build up their own blog traffic.    To those who might have a genuine comment about something I have written, I apologize.   This will not affect anyone's ability to read the blog, and I will put up a note when I am able to reopen the comments section. 


Fact-checking debate moderator on health costs

Martha Raddatz, one of the moderators for the Democratic debate Saturday night, is a very savvy foreign correspondent and has spent a lot of time in the Middle East.   So I'll give her a slight pass on not being up to par on health care costs.   But her question had a false premise that implied Obamacare was responsible for rising health care costs.   And that simply is not true.   Here's her question: 
"Secretary Clinton, the Department of Health and Human Services says more than 17 million Americans who were not insured now have health coverage because of Obamacare. But for Americans who already had health insurance the cost has gone up 27 percent in the last five years while deductibles are up 67 percent, health care costs are rising faster than many Americans can manage.She then asked how Clinton would fix the law. 
Let's bring a little reality here.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Democratic debate #3.

First, let me join the chorus of complaints against the Democratic National Committee for scheduling a debate on Saturday night before Christmas.   So I taped the debate and will be watching -- and commenting -- later.   But I did spot this quote from Josh Marshall of TPM, who was live-blogging the debate:

"The debate over foreign policy in this debate is bracingly, frighteningly substantive. The contrast between this conversation and that from the Republican debate is simply amazing. It's not even a matter of thinking the Democratic approaches are better than the Republicans' (though obviously I believe they are); but here you have a conversation based more on factual information than a kind of febrile apocalypticism."

So, is this what the DNC is trying to hide from the public?    How does this help the Democratic party, by hiding such a superior level of debate on a Saturday night?


[Added after watching my recording of the debate:   Not much to add to Josh Marshall's succinct summary above.   There are some significant differences among the three, but they all seem minor in contrast to the Republicans' . . . I can't think of a better term than "febrile apocalypticism."]

Good news #17: Spending bill, good compromise

From Elizabeth Warren:

"With a must-pass spending bill on the table, the Wall Street banks came at us in full force but we fought them back!  Yesterday, Congress passed another spending bill without a single provision to materially weaken the rules on Wall Street. No gutting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. No tying the hands of the cops who police the big banks. No delay of a new conflict-of-interest rule for retirement advisers.

"And we did it while permanently expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit to keep more than 50 million Americans – including 25 million children – from seeing sharp cuts in their income, and preventing many of them from falling into poverty. That’s an enormous victory for opportunity in America.  (And we got an extra $2 billion for NIH – a down payment on a healthier future.)

"Don’t get me wrong – this budget deal was a compromise, and it’s got some really nasty stuff in it. I strongly oppose lifting the ban on exporting crude oil. I’m deeply concerned that the cybersecurity language threatens key privacy protections for Americans. And I gag when I think about the billions of dollars in tax breaks going to giant corporations.

"But I’m a realist: With a Republican-controlled Senate, a Republican-controlled House, and an army of Wall Street lobbyists spending zillions of dollars to target Dodd-Frank and the Consumer Agency, stopping these guys from rolling back financial reform is a big deal. . . .

"Sure, this isn’t over. The Wall Street banks will be back, and they will swing a lot of weight. And now we’ve got more work to do on climate change, privacy, and corporate taxes. But when naysayers claim that it’s impossible to change Washington and that we can’t beat powerful lobbyists, remember what you accomplished this week. We’ve proven that when we stand up and fight for America’s values, we can win."
*     *     *
Brava! to Elizabeth Warren and other liberals in congress who were able to get this pretty-good bipartisan, compromise spending bill through a Republican-controlled congress.  President Obama is reportedly satisfied and will sign it -- so that we won't be faced with shutting down the government again until next fall.

I also want to say that Paul Ryan seems to have brought in a little more cooperative atmosphere and some genuine bipartisanship.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

New York Times gets it wrong -- with repercussions

Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor for the New York Times, whose job is to monitor and explain faults in the Times' journalistic integrity and accuracy in reporting.    Yesterday, she published an extensive expose and correction of their reporting mistake that should not have happened.

Last Sunday, a Times article reported that "the U.S. government had missed something that was right out there in the open: the jihadist social-media posts by one of the San Bernardino killers. Its initial paragraphs read as follows:

"Tashfeen Malik, who with her husband carried out the massacre in San Bernardino, Calif., passed three background checks by American immigration officials as she moved to the United States from Pakistan. None uncovered what Ms. Malik had made little effort to hide — that she talked openly on social media about her views on violent jihad.  She said she supported it. And she said she wanted to be a part of it."

Ms. Sullivan continued:

"It was certainly damning – and it was wrong. On Wednesday, the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey [stated that] , Ms. Malik had not posted 'openly' on social media. She had written emails; she had written private messages, not visible to the public; and she had written on a dating site.

"In other words, the story’s clear implication that those who vetted Ms. Malik’s visa had missed the boat . . . was based on a false premise."
She goes on to explain that the error was the result of relying on "anonymous sources" that were wrong.  Unfortunately, "such falsehoods and their repercussions live on long after the stories have been corrected or disputed."    Further harm is done, as Erik Wemple of The Washington Post wrote, because the story "set fire to the news system.   All sorts of follow-up reports surfaced.  And straight into the political arena it went. . . .  Ted Cruz was using it to bash Democrats."

These were the same two reporters who falsely claimed, again using "anonymous sources," that Hillary Clinton was about to undergo a criminal investigation by the Justice Department because of her email server problem.   That was not true. 

Ms. Sullivan then described the steps being taken by the Times to ensure that this respected "newspaper of record" was taking to avoid future mistakes like this.  The editor who had checked the article admitted that it "was a really big mistake" and that they should have pushed harder for confirmation before publishing it.

The Times will be putting a new system in place that reduces such overreliance on anonymous sources.   All of their editors agreed that the process needs to be slowed down.   The competitive pressure to be the first to publish a story can lead to cutting corners on confirmation and fact-checking.

For anyone interested in the reporting process and in journalistic integrity, as I am, I highly recommend the TV series that last for just two seasons, "Newsoom," starring Jeff Daniels as a television news anchor.    It's a fascinating look behind the scenes in the (fictionalized) world of broadcast journalism, where integrity is often pitted against being first with a breaking story.    Some of the episodes are about just this:   waiting to air the story until they have three reliable sources -- and often having to withstand the pressure from the station owner, whose concern about ratings does battles with the idealistic news team who would rather be right than first.

The New York Times has long been considered the best.   I applaud them for having a Public tEditor exposing their own mistakes instead of trying to cover them up.   At the same time, it seems that the Times has been slipping up more frequently lately.   I hope this one will be a lesson.

It was an important story, and this mistake and its repercussions probably contributed to an increase in fear and anti-Muslim feeling in this country.   There's enough already, and the Republican candidates are just making it worse.   We don't need our best liberal newspaper piling on.