Monthly Archives: February 2017

Biologists Warn Half of All Species to Face Extinction by 2100, as GOP Pushes to Destroy Protections

Days after Republican lawmakers speechified about dismantling the Endangered Species Act, biologists ring alarm bells about global mass extinction

By Nika Knight, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 2-27-2017

The endangered black-footed ferret is one of many species afforded protections under the 1973 Endangered Species Act. (Photo: J. Michael Lockhart/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/flickr/cc)

Today, 20 percent of all species are at risk of being wiped out, scientists at a Vatican conference on biodiversity warn, and that number may rise to nearly 50 percent by the end of the century.

“The living fabric of the world […] is slipping through our fingers without our showing much sign of caring,” warned the conference organizers.

Biologists, ecologists, and economists traveled to Rome from around the world for the workshop titled “How to Save the Natural World on Which We Depend,” which begins Monday, to strategize together on how to limit the mass extinction event caused by rampant over-development, climate change, overpopulation, and unsustainable agricultural practices. Continue reading

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The FBI’s New FOIA Policy Is a Big Step Backward

By Fiona Morgan. Published 2-26-2017 by Free Press

Dust off your fax machine. The FBI is planning to take a big step backward for government transparency.

As of March 1, the Bureau will no longer accept Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests via email. Anyone seeking public records from the FBI will have to use a new online portal — or send requests via fax or snail mail.

Online FOIA portals may seem like a good idea in theory, but government agencies make them difficult to use — with way too many burdensome requirements.

Continue reading

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How Norway Avoided Becoming a Fascist State

Instead of falling to the Nazi party, Norway broke through to a social democracy. Their history shows us polarization is nothing to despair over.

By . Published 2-16-2017 by YES! Magazine

Josef Terboven, Reichskommissar for Norway during the Nazi occupation from 1940 to 1945. Photo courtesy of The National Archives of Norway / Flickr.

Donald Trump’s obvious affection for authoritarians is prompting worried comparisons of our polarized country to the polarized Germany of the 1920s and ’30s. Since I’m known to see in polarization both crisis and opportunity, my friends are asking me these days about Hitler, the worst-case scenario.

I grant the possibility of the United States going fascist, but argue that will not happen if we choose the practical steps taken by progressive Nordic social movements when they faced dangerous polarization. Consider the Norwegians, who experienced extreme polarization at the same time as the Germans did. Continue reading

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Leaked Draft of ACA Replacement Reveals Massive Cuts to Subsidies, Medicaid

Just as polls reveal Obamacare and Medicaid expansion are more popular than ever, GOP moves closer to slashing subsidies and raising taxpayer costs—adding fuel to brewing protests nationwide

By Nika Knight, staff writer for Common Dreams. Publisjhed 2-24-2017

A protest sign at the Women’s March in Los Angeles on January 21, 2017. (Photo: Larissa Puro/flickr/cc)

A leaked draft of a House bill to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was published Friday by Politico, and it reveals that Republicans are moving towards slashing subsidies and ending the Medicaid expansion—moves that are vastly out of step with the opinions of the American public.

The draft (pdf) reveals that Republicans are hoping to “take down the foundation of Obamacare, including the unpopular individual mandate, subsidies based on people’s income, and all of the law’s taxes. It would significantly roll back Medicaid spending and give states money to create high risk pools for some people with pre-existing conditions. Some elements would be effective right away; others not until 2020,” per Politico‘s Paul Demko. Continue reading

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You are the new gatekeeper of the news

Aly Colón, Washington and Lee University

News consumers today face a flood of fake news and information. Distinguishing between fact and fiction has become increasingly challenging.

In the past, news organizations sifted through information to try to determine its validity and veracity. Being trusted for what they reported became an important part of journalists’ reputations.

But that was then.

You are part of the problem

Journalists like Walter Cronkite used to be gatekeepers of the news. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cronkitejfkdeath.gif#filelinks

Now the gatekeeping role that the legacy media newspapers and network television news once played falls to all of us. Today, everyone assumes the position of publisher. Technology has democratized the process of making, or making up, news.

Journalists no longer decide what goes public. Information flows unimpeded and unchecked through the internet, filling a multitude of websites, blogs and tweets.

All of it flows through social media streams and into our laptops, tablets and smartphones. Everyone who posts, or reshares, a news story on Facebook or retweets a link takes on a role once held by only a powerful few media executives. The problem that emerges today stems from the fact that most social media “publishers” fail to consider the responsibility for what they post.

It’s not that fake news is new. Thomas Jefferson complained in 1807, “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper.” Jefferson’s comment represents just one of many views regarding news not only in the U.S. but in Europe. Fake news can be traced back Italy in 1475 when a priest made a false claim about a child’s disappearance. Even the political battle between Marc Antony and Octavian to succeed the murdered Julius Caesar engaged the use of fake news. Octavian’s use of fake news enabled him to succeed Caesar.

And it’s not that the old gatekeepers were infallible or consistently apolitical. But in today’s technological world, we’re in the midst of an informational perfect storm. The equation I might offer would be: Velocity + Volume = Volatility. All the news on the internet moves so fast, and assaults us with so much, that the outcome becomes unpredictably dangerous.

Some people who use social media check what they publish. Others repost or retweet information without reading it carefully, much less doing any due diligence for accuracy. That plays into what those who produce fake news hope to accomplish. While some believe they hope to deceive people, press critic Tom Rosenstiel asserts, “The goal of fake news is not to make people believe the lie. It is to make them doubt all news.”

Some may think that young people, with their social media savvy, might be better able to assess the information they consume.

A Stanford University study found it shocking that many of them couldn’t “evaluate the credibility of that information.” The study noted that more than 80 percent of middle schoolers saw “sponsored content” as actual news. High school students didn’t verify photos. Most college students failed to suspect potential bias in an activist group’s tweet.

Step up your game

So what are news consumers to do? How can they act as their own gatekeepers, intent on vigilance and verification like the best journalists and publishers of old?

Here’s how to begin.

#1. Check out the source. This may seem basic, but it’s easy to read headlines without paying attention to who wrote it. Writers and websites operate with their own perspective. Some want to offer a balanced view. Some advocate a point of view. Others hope to deceive you.

Know the “who” or the “what” of the source. Is the source, website, Twitter handle or blog familiar to you? Have you read them before? Read other work they have done. See if writers you trust link to them.

Read the “About” section of the writer/website. Use search engines to track the name. Sometimes such sites as Linkedin or Facebook turn up basic background information. The key is to know where they are coming from.

#2. Check out the information. Do other sources corroborate what you’re reading, viewing or hearing? Have you used verification sites such as Snopes, Politifact and FactCheck.org?

Snopes, for example, reported that some of the “2017 inauguration photos” tweeted out of Trump’s inauguration were taken weeks or years earlier. One was a photo of the Kansas Royals baseball team rally. Politifact pointed out President Donald Trump’s press secretary’s assertion the inauguration had the largest audience – period – was disputed by other measurements. And FactCheck.org noted that former President Barack Obama “falsely claimed that a treaty he signed with Russia in 2011 ‘has substantially reduced our nuclear stockpiles, both Russia and the United States.‘”

Dick Grefe, a senior reference librarian at Washington and Lee University, alerted me that two professors at the University of Washington have proposed teaching a course “Calling Bullshit: In the Age of Big Data.” The course would “focus on bullshit that comes clad in the trappings of scholarly discourse.” What’s fake isn’t limited to news.

#3. Be aware of your biases. Remember that we tend to read, listen to and watch news with our own built-in prejudices. We evaluate information based on whether it supports what we already believe. It can be easy to discount that which upsets or challenges our worldview. Reports about “confirmation bias” abound. As studies and writers have noted, we basically believe what we want to believe.

The concern journalists feel about how misleading and confusing the news can be has prompted a number of them to offer their own guides to approaching biases and fake news. Journalist and media expert Alicia Shepard offers her suggestions on how to avoid being duped. Alan Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who founded the News Literacy Project, grapples with confirmation bias head on. Steve Inskeep at NPR provides a guide to facts.

Battle your own confirmation bias by expanding the sources of information you seek. Be open to thinking about different points of view. Read widely. Read counterpoints. Watch for innovations from the media. For example, one recent study published on MarketWatch placed different news sources on the “truthiness” scale. Another, older piece on businessinsider.com could help you identify the ideology underlining your favorite source of news.

There’s no need to close the gate, but be sure you know what’s flowing in. It matters.

The Conversation

Aly Colón, Knight Professor of Journalism Ethics, Washington and Lee University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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The Manchurian President

A classic Hollywood political thriller may tell us more about what’s happening in America than any history book.

By Neal Gabler. Published 2-22-2017 by BillMoyers.com

Opening scene from The Manchurian Candidate. Photo: YouTube

As the Trump presidency unravels, unraveling the country along with it, there is no real political antecedent, no lessons from American history on which to draw and provide guidance. We are in entirely uncharted waters.

But there is an antecedent in our popular culture that provides a prism through which to view the contemporary calamity, especially the alleged collusion between Trump’s henchmen and Russian intelligence to deny Hillary Clinton the presidency. I am not the first observer who has noted the relevance of the movie The Manchurian Candidate. But the relevance is more than skin or celluloid deep. It goes to the very heart of this bizarre and frightening political moment. Continue reading

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Silence from world press as purges in Turkey continue ongoing genocide

Written by Carol Benedict.

Today, a press release was issued which has gone largely ignored by western media. No one wants to talk “bad” about a NATO ally and “friend” to the US.

Turkey has taken the position that all who oppose President Erdogan are enemies to nationalism in that country, and with a referendum vote coming in April that would grant Erdogan unprecedented and complete power, a long-fought for goal of his. By naming all opposition as “terrorists” he believes the international community will allow him to act with impunity.

Meanwhile, reports of Kurdish civilians, including women and children, are surfacing that indicate a barbaric turn in the Turkish regime’s treatment of its minority population. Since last July, a failed coup became the catalyst for the surge in attacks on HDP members, intellectuals, media and ethnicity.

To date, purges across Turkey have targeted specific individuals based on that person’s heritage of being Kurdish or individuals who oppose Erdogan’s ideology. “Turkey Purge” is a website that tracks these human rights abuses. At press time, this is the status, which does NOT include deaths the regime will not acknowledge. All their victims, they claim, are terrorists.

Does NOT include deaths perpetrated by the Turkish government.

Without international intervention, this violence and genocide will be allowed to escalate and thousands, if not millions, will perish in the course of its fulfillment.

At the end of WWII, the entire world took a pledge to not allow genocide to continue. The world closed it mouth during the Armenian genocide, with the United Staes still refusing to this day to officially acknowledge it as a genocide at the behest of Turkey.

Each of us needs to act as citizens of humanity and demand these actions be stopped. Write, call and insist that your government acknowledge and condemn these actions and require access to these regions of southeast Turkey by humanitarian organizations.

Following is the press release, in its entirety:

As Turkey’s constitutional referendum is approaching, we are, once again, witnessing an intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey. For more than a week, there has been no communication with the people of Xerabê Bava (Koruköy), a village in Mardin-Nusaybin. The village is under round-the-clock military curfew and there have been claims that villagers are being tortured and executed. Visitors, including journalists, MPs and human rights observers were denied entry to the village.

We are concerned that what is going on in Xerabê Bava might be a harbinger of approaching larger scale state violence against the Kurdish population and other minority populations in Turkey. Since the violence exercised on Kurdish population has become a strategy for the government in order to consolidate a nationalistic support for the referendum, it is crucial to raise an urgent reaction to this violence at its very beginning. We, therefore, urge international human rights organizations, journalists, and peace coalitions to pay attention to Xerabê Bava and take the necessary steps to investigate the allegations of rights violations in the village.

Academics for Peace- Germany
Academics for Peace- UK
Academics for Peace- France
Academics for Peace- Switzerland

About the Author:
Carol Benedict is an indépendant researcher and human rights activist. She is also an independent Journalist and a professional member of the US Press Association.

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Media Ignoring Damning Leaks from Syrian War

By . Published 2-20-2017 by The Anti-Media

This photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center (AMC), shows a damaged school that was hit by a Syrian government air strike in Aleppo, Syria, Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (Photo via Twitter/Aleppo Media Center AMC)

When a magician is showing you a magic trick with his or her right hand, you should always watch what the left hand is doing. When it comes to times of war, one should always be skeptical of a government beating the war drum against another government or entity. Ask yourself: Why now, why this entity, and what is at stake?

A good example of this can be seen in Africa. Since 1998, close to 6 million people have been killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to fighting over mineral resources, many of which are used in cell phones around the world. This barely receives a mention in the corporate news. In contrast, we were told that Libya, the country with the highest standard of living out of any country in Africa, needed to be bombed in a “humanitarian intervention” to prevent a massacre that may or may not have ever occurred. Although there are clear differences in the style of conflict that besieged the two nations, the fact is the U.S government and media prioritized one over the other based on geopolitical concerns. Continue reading

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Press Freedom Accountability Survey

 

By Carol Benedict

On Saturday, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) voiced concern over President Donald Trump lashing out at press reporters, agencies and bureaus that reported news not to his liking,  “at one point declaring it “the enemy of the American People!”, According to a report. McCain further stated on NBC News in an interview set to air Sunday, that was “how dictators get started.”

After witnessing 8 years of press coverage claiming that 2nd Amendment rights were being threatened under the Obama Administration, we saw gun and ammo sales skyrocket across the nation. After passing the first sensible gun law in decades following the horrific tragedy of Sandy Hook, the Trump Administration has already stripped that back, allowing those gains to be lost after the majority of Americans approved of those particular regulations.

We wonder where those same people are now, to defend the 1st Amendment rights that have not only been decried by a President who has sworn to uphold the Constitution to which those Rights are part and parcel.

All of which leads to the subject of this post. On Thursday, the Trump campaign put up something called the “Mainstream Media Accountability Survey,”  with questions that looked as if they were left over from the runup to the election. Evidently, they didn’t like the results of that one, for they put up a new one on Friday, appearing on both the Donald Trump and main RNC websites.  The spin given by the Trump organization was that “liberals had skewed the responses.”

The original survey’s source code didn’t have any collection mechanism for the survey’s answers, according to some IT pros we know. Instead, it worked as an email collection/fundraising gimmick; after you completed the survey, you had to enter your email. Once you did this, you were redirected to a donation page. The email collecting and donation page sections did have the appropriate source code needed to populate a database with that info; the survey itself didn’t. And, the fundraising’s legal; Trump filed paperwork for his 2020 run five hours after his inauguration. Hence, this comes under campaign financing laws; in other words, superPACs and unlimited anonymous donating to said entities.

In response to his second survey, we have created this survey to compare question-for-question, asking the American people from every walk of life their views on the 1st Amendment and a free press in America. We are guessing you will easily recognize which survey is which.

This survey is not collecting responses. It is intended for educational purposes.

Press Accountability polls

Do you believe that the press has reported fairly on the new Trump Administration?
Yes
No
No opinion
Do you believe that the mainstream media has reported unfairly on our movement?
Yes
No
No opinion
Do you trust the free press to report fairly on the Trump Adminitration?
Yes
No
No opinion
Do you trust MSNBC to report fairly on Trump's presidency?
Yes
No
No opinion
Do you trust the Trump Administration to report accurately on its own actions?
Yes
No
No opinion
Do you trust CNN to report fairly on Trump's presidency?
Yes
No
No opinion
Do you believe the free press is part of the accountability necessary in a democracy?
Yes
No
No opinion
Do you trust Fox News to report fairly on Trump's presidency?
Yes
No
No opinion
Do you believe the 1st Amendment's wording that "abridging" the freedom of the press means that the press must not be associated with any political party, hold bias, or report unverified information?
Yes
No
No opinion
On which issues does the mainstream media do the worst job of representing Republicans? (Select as many that apply.)
Immigration
Economics
Pro-life values
Religion
Individual liberty
Conservatism
Foreign policy
Second Amendment rights
What source do you primarily get your news from?
Television/Cable news
Print or online news publications
Online journals/blogs
Other (please specify):
Which television source do you primarily get your news from?
Fox News
CNN
MSNBC
Local news
How do you know if the source you use is credible?Do you use a source not listed above?


Do you trust the press to report accurately on the activities of the Congress?
Yes
No
No opinion
Which online source do you use the most?


Do you trust the press to report accurately on the activities of the Courts?
Yes
No
No opinion
Do you trust the mainstream media to tell the truth about the Republican Party’s positions and actions?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, and Kellyanne Conway, do due diligence fact checking before discussing stories the free press can not verify as actually having happened?
Yes
No
No opinion
Do you believe that the mainstream media does not do their due diligence fact-checking before publishing stories on the Trump administration?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

What do you believe the executive order regarding people from Muslim countries was targeted to do?
Prevent Muslims from entering the US
Prevent terrorists from entering the US
Punish businesses that associate with or hire Muslims
Punish students and families of American Muslims
Other (please specify):
Do you believe that the media unfairly reported on President Trump’s executive order temporarily restricting people entering our country from nations compromised by radical Islamic terrorism?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe the Court was justified in taking action and temporarily banning the order from being enforced?
Yes
No
No Opinion
Were you aware that a poll was released revealing that a majority of Americans actually supported President Trump's temporary restriction executive order?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe that radical terrorists acting in this country are primarily not from the seven countries named in the executive order?
Yes
No
No Opinion
Do you believe that political correctness has created biased news coverage on both illegal immigration and radical Islamic terrorism?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe that President Trump has substantial powers that can not be questioned?
Yes
No
No Opinion
Do you believe that contrary to what the media says, raising taxes does not create jobs?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe that people of non-Christian faiths have been unfairly characterized by the Trump Adminstration?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:
Do you believe that people of faith have been unfairly characterized by the media?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe that the 1st Amendment is as equally fundamental and important as the 2nd Amendment?
Yes
No
No Opinion
Do you believe that the media wrongly attributes gun violence to Second Amendment rights?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you support this Administration's and Congress's decisions to abolish the Endangered Species Act, The Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency and other Departments?
Yes
No
Other (Please specify):
Do you believe that the media has been far too quick to spread false stories about our movement?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe the press should pursue reports of Russian interference in US politics before, during and since the 2016 election?
Yes
No
Other (please specify):
Do you believe that the media uses slurs rather than facts to attack conservative stances on issues like border control, religious liberties, and ObamaCare?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe the US Intelligence community has a responsibility to the American people to investigate and vett officials within the Administration?
Yes
No
Other (Please specify):
Do you believe that the media purposely tries to divide Republicans against each other in order to help elect Democrats?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe the President was elected by the people, and therefore is accountable to them, or that the President can act without accountability after taking office?
Operate with accountability to the people
Operate without accountability to the people
Other (Explain):
Do you believe that the media creates false feuds within our Party in order to make us seem divided?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Are you concerned about the international community and the potential for nuclear war more of less since President Trump took office?
More concerned
Less concerned
Was never concerned
Concern did not change
Do you believe that the mainstream media has been too eager to jump to conclusions about rumored stories?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you support the Administration's intention to build a wall across the border with Mexico and continue escalation of deportations of illegal immigrants without further review of the executive orders?
Yes
No
Review is needed similar to a review of the travel ban
Other (Please specify):
Do you believe that if Republicans were obstructing Obama like Democrats are doing to President Trump, the mainstream media would attack Republicans?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you support the Administration being quietly run by top advisor Steve Bannon and family members of President Trump?
Yes
No
Other (Please specify):
Do you agree with the President’s decision to break with tradition by giving lesser known reporters and bloggers the chance to ask the White House Press Secretary questions?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe President Trump should have launched his 2020 Presidential Campaign with only 3 weeks in office?
Yes
No, it is too soon
No, he won't last 1 term
No opinion
Do you agree with President Trump’s media strategy to cut through the media’s noise and deliver our message straight to the people?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe the American taxpayer should be footing the bill for the First Lady's separate lodging in New York, the White House weekends in Mar-a-Lago Club and the business trips of Ivanka Trump?
Yes
No
Other (please explain):
Do you believe that our Party should spend more time and resources holding the mainstream media accountable?
Yes
No
No opinion

About the Author:
Carol Benedict is an indépendant researcher and human rights activist. She is also an independent Journalist and a professional member of the US Press Association.

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Lawmakers Feel the Heat as Resistance Shows Up in Droves to Town Halls

Overflow crowds and tough questions marked Saturday’s Congressional recess events around the country

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 2-18-2017

“This is what the resistance looks like,” Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan wrote Saturday on Twitter. (Photo: Rep. Mark Pocan/Twitter)

Energized crowds in New York, South Carolina, and Wisconsin on Saturday morning gave lawmakers a hint of what awaits them in their home districts during the upcoming Congressional recess.

The Buffalo News reported that “[h]uge crowds of raucous progressives and quieter conservatives overwhelmed [Republican] Rep. Tom Reed’s town hall meetings in Ashville and Cherry Creek Saturday morning, with the progressives repeatedly interrupting and shouting down the congressman’s comments as he tried to defend Republican plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.”

In Ashville, N.Y., so many people showed up that the meeting had to be moved outside to a parking lot.  Continue reading

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