Be the media

When I was growing up, there was a local radio DJ who used to say, “If you don’t like the news, go out an make some of your own.”  I suppose he meant it as a joke, but the idea stuck with me.

It’s an odd system, the “news” industry.  I think it works like this:  Someone does something or something happens; someone else records the event and reports it to some central clearing house like Reuters or the Associated Press; various news outlets get their copy of the report, maybe put their spin on it, and send it to their editors for review; the editor decides which stories are “important” and posts those; finally, we  (the readers) passively consume the content and consider ourselves sufficiently informed for the day.

We might prefer to go to a single information outlet (such as the New York Times or Fox News) or use an aggregator (like Google News).  Either way, we’re held captive to someone else’s interpretation of what news is important for that day, even if the content is clearly drivel.  Of course, if you don’t like the drivel offered, you can go searching through several news outlets to find out for yourself what’s important.  But, that can take a lot of time.

After thinking about this a bit, I went searching for a better way to collect news items.  I found News API.  Then, I figured out how to make it give me daily headlines that interested me (like this).  Maybe there’s something better available, but this is what I found.  Now, I have curated daily news headlines and an archive of past headlines.  I also added an email subscription feature, so you can get these headlines, too, if you’re into that sort of thing.  You can subscribe here.

I’ve configured the headlines according to three filter categories (news outlets I’m particularly interested in following, no filter, and a topical focus).  This works for me, but I’m open to suggestion.  If you would like to subscribe to the headlines and want to suggest a new filter, please do (you can send me an email).  Maybe I’ll adjust them.

Also, if you’d like to, you can create headlines like this yourself–I’ve tried to make the instructions clear.  After all, if you don’t like the news you’re getting, why not go out and collect some of your own?

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A Trump economy?

I’ve been listening recently to claimed accomplishments of the current U.S. administration.  Most of these claims come directly from the current U.S. administration (i.e., “I blow Ronald Reagan away” (Fox News, Washington Examiner))(whitehouse.gov), but there are other sources of breathless adoration as well, for those who care to find it (Washington ExaminerSky NewsGateway Pundit, MAGAPILL).  The challenges I have with all of these list are the conflations of occurrences and responses and of benefits and features.  In other words, there seems to be a lack of interest in arguing that ‘this policy led to this outcome that benefited these people in this way.’  They mostly seem to point to favorable trends or occurrences and assume the president deserves credit for them.

For example, a claim like “Almost 4 million jobs created since election” sounds like a clear victory.  But, how many jobs would have been created without any Trump policies?  How many jobs were created in a comparable time period before the election?  What is the argument for causality?  Upon what basis can we expect that this accomplishment was a response, and not just an occurrence?  In fact, how do we argue that it didn’t occur despite Trump policies?

 

Also, claims such as “Record number of regulations eliminated” or “Moved U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem” might be benefits or they might be simply features–it really depends upon whether one considers regulations to be bad or Jerusalem to be a good place for an embassy.  It would be more useful to describe who benefited and who suffered from such initiatives.
To be sure, the U.S. economy is indeed doing well (CNN, CNS News, MAGAPILL, AP).  However, it seems (based upon indicators such as employment, GDP, and the stock market) to be continuing the favorable trend it has been on since the end of the last recession (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (employment and unemployment for the last ten years), CNN, Vox, FactCheck.org).  (Mining and logging jobs, in particular, seem to be increasing faster than jobs in other sectors (CNBC, Quartz).)  While it’s a good economy, it’s unclear whether this has anything to do with tax cuts, incentives, or any other recent policy changes (Forbes).  It’s difficult to know what the argument would be, then, that the current economic success (as seen, for example, in the chart below) belongs to the current president any more than to the former.  I can see the turnaround that happened in 2009, but what, exactly, turned around in 2017?  Fortunately, it seems, not much.

Climate Change

The president of the United States has been wondering what happened to global warming (twitter).  Perhaps he feels that he left it behind in California.  And, with the Camp fire in California is now fully contained (Reuters, CBC), he may feel that even that manifestation of global warming is behind him.

Unfortunately for the president, his administration has just released a new report on climate change.  The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)’s Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) report (Volume I and Volume II) provides detailed information outlining both the environmental and financial costs that the United States can expect to suffer due to global warming.  For example, according to the new report, the damage from global warming could reduce the U.S. economy by ten percent by the end of the century (NYT, The Washington Times).  The report also calls the human cause of global warming “unambiguous” (NYT).

President Trump has weighed in on his feelings about the report (BBC):

“I don’t believe it.”

(Noah Berger/Associated Press)

Paradise Lost

California is experiencing its deadliest wildfire on record (Los Angeles Times).

Feather River, California (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The so-called Camp fire began on November 8 and has been burning since.  At the moment, it is only 75% contained (The Mercury News).

(Swetha Kannan / Los Angeles Times)

Fortunately, rain is finally on the way, though this may bring dangers of flooding and mudslides, especially in burned-out areas that have lost ground cover.

From Weather Underground

While this fire may have been spectacular in its destructiveness, it seems to represent a trend rather than an aberration.   There now seems to be a recurring fire season in the Pacific Northwest that is qualitatively different from fire seasons of recent past decades.  It feels as if something has changed–as if this is somehow the new normal.

Is it climate change (NYT)?  Are we not cutting down enough trees?  Are we building too close to natural burn areas?  And, anyway, what should we do about it?  How do we solve it?  Should we do more to design buildings to survive wildfires?  Should we force people who want to live in wildfire-prone areas to live in super fire-resistant homes?

Fran Collin

Maybe we could incentivize land-owners to cut down more of their trees (Santa Cruz Sentinel).  Still, it seems you can’t cut all the trees down.  And, the cost of living in California is now so outrageous that people trying to escape the economic burden of the major metropolitan regions may have few options other than to head for the hills and hope for the best.  But, where will they go when the hills are on fire?

What do you think?  I have no take on this one, at least not yet.  Do you?  Leave a comment and maybe we can figure it out.

They looking back, all th’ Eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late thir happie seat,
Wav’d over by that flaming Brand, the Gate
With dreadful Faces throng’d and fierie Armes:

–John Milton, Paradise Lost

By Thomas Cole – Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Public Domain, Link

Lean out

On Wednesday, The New York Times reported some of the darker secrets lurking within the inner workings of the social media company Facebook (NYT).  While the article was wide-ranging, including issues such as executive tolerance of election meddling, fake news, and privacy violation (The Hill), the biggest point of contention was Facebook’s use of the opposition research (FiveThirtyEight, recode) firm, Definers Public Affairs (techcrunch).  According to the company’s website, Definers will “distill and strategically deploy public information to build and influence media narratives, move public opinion and provide powerful ammunition for your public relations and government affairs efforts.”  In other words, they provide propaganda.

One of Definers’ projects is the NTK Network, an entity that a former Definers employee described as their “in-house fake news shop” (The Verge).  The role of NTK was to invent news items that made Facebook look good and its competitors look bad.  These “news” items would often then propagate to news outlets like Breitbart (The New Yorker).  NTK, as one might imagine, denies all of this (NTK).  Facebook, it seems, also felt the need to offer a rebuttal (facebook), and announced that it had fired Definers (NYT).

While some may not find any of this particularly shocking, the recent exposure seems to have caused enough of a stir to make Facebook executives uncomfortable.  Still, my guess is the whole thing will blow over quickly and quietly.  The kind of people who would feel betrayed by Facebook are likely not keeping up with these developments.  They’re probably on Facebook.  Has Facebook somehow devolved from a benevolent company into something darker?  Or, has it always been “just another normal sleazy American company run by normal sleazy executives, engaged in normal sleazy lobbying and corporate propaganda” (Slate)?  Somehow, horribly, that idea is perversely comforting.

So, is it time to #DeleteFacebook?

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on September 5, 2018. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Birthright citizenship

United States president Donald Trump has recently stated that he wants to revoke the constitutional provision of birthright citizenship (Axios), a legal standing that grants citizenship to anyone born on U.S. soil, even if their parents are not legal citizens or residents.  He plans to do this by executive order, or, failing that, by way of the Supreme Court (Vox).

Some argue that neither option is legally possible (Intelligencer).  Others argue that, not only might such a revocation be legal, but that it would comport with constitutional intent, national security interests, and international standards (relatively few (about 30) countries offer birthright citizenship (USA Today, Newsweek)).  One practice that ending birthright citizenship might curb is “birth tourism,” in which pregnant women travel to the U.S. solely for the purpose of gaining citizenship for their newborns (USA Today).

The provision for birthright citizenship is based upon the fourteenth amendment of the United States Constitution.  The Fourteenth Amendment begins as follows:

“1: All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its  jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Trump claims that birthright citizenship is not guaranteed by the constitution (Reuters).  Others claim that it is (Time).  While the above clause seems clear enough at first read, there has actually been much debate around the meaning of the term “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” (CNN, USA Today).  In fact, ambiguity around the meaning and intent of the fourteenth amendment has engendered many congressional discussions and debates (1, 2, 3)

According to legislative attorney Margaret Mikyung Lee (4),

Citizenship by birth in the United States was not defined in the original Constitution or in the early federal statutes.  The states and courts in the United States apparently adopted the jus soli doctrine followed by traditional English common-law, under which persons born within the dominions of and with allegiance to the English sovereign are subjects of the sovereign regardless of the alienage status of their parents.

Prominent legal precedents that have influenced how courts interpret the fourteenth amendment have included Elk v. Wilkins and United States v. Wong Kim Ark.  Still, many issues of U.S. citizenship remain unresolved.  For example, what is the status of children born to U.S. citizens on foreign soil?  The answer is not always clear (5).

It’s also unclear how intent the president is on carrying though with this Constitutional amendment amendment (or whether an amendment would be required to remove the birthright citizenship provision).  It may well be that bringing the issue up at all is simply meant to rally his base.  Irrespective of any constitutional changes, raising any immigration-related issue ahead of the mid-term elections (AP) provides yet another point of political division (Politico), a strategy that has consistently served Trump better than most analysts predicted.

Footnotes:

#MAGABomber

Today, the most prominent Trump-inspired domestic terror suspect to date was arrested in connection with a series of bombs sent to prominent targets of the president of the United States’ vitriol (Fox News, NYT, The State, New York Post, New York Post, Daily Beast, Reuters, The Hill, Independent, USA Today, The New Yorker, CBS).  It is noteworthy that all of these enemies of the president live within the United States.  The president (NBC) and others (Washington Examiner) have been quick to paint the president himself as the real victim of this terrorism.   Trump has also tried to distance himself (and his rhetoric) from the suspect, ardent Trump supporter Cesar Altieri Sayoc, claiming, “I heard he was a person that preferred me over others but I did not see that.” (CBS)  A former attorney for Sayoc has described him as intellectually limited, noting,

“I believe he has issues comprehending concepts.  He is like a little boy in a man’s body.”  (NPR)

It seems he found a hero that he could truly relate to.

cesar sayoc