The Fake SEAL Pastor and His Enabler

Can we fit three of the most poisonous things wrong with our society into a single incident?  YES:

A Pastor fabricated his past as a Navy SEAL (emphasis mine):

Several former SEALs wrote into The Patriot-News casting doubt on the reverend’s account of his service.

“We deal with these guys all the time, especially the clergy. It’s amazing how many of the clergy are involved in those lies to build that flock up,” said retired SEAL Don Shipley. Shipley also speculated the waterboarding and kitchen details came from the action depicted in “Under Siege.”

One could write a library’s worth of books about the propensity to lie in order to convert, or that sticky mix of patriotism and bloodlust that so fully consumes the national discourse on war.

The paper’s response upon finding out about this falsehood takes the cake (emphasis mine):

The paper, meanwhile, is unapologetic for printing Moats’ prevarications.

“The Patriot-News regularly interviews veterans to tell their stories. We do not regularly ask those we interview for proof of their service, believing these men and women would not lie and dishonor those who have fought bravely defending our country,” the paper said in a special note to readers about the incident.

A newspaper that eschews proof in favor of faith is worthless.

So there we have it.  A pastor who lies and the newspaper that enabled him and refuses to apologize for taking the information it gathers at face value, and the underlying obsession with our warrior class simmering underneath it all.  If you have any question as to how we find ourselves continually suffering as a nation, look directly at this fact: That we glorify violence and avoid the truth.

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Japan’s Radiation and Trusting the Experts

Japan’s radiation problem keeps getting worse.  Radioactive Iodine and Cesium and pouring into the Pacific Ocean, and while experts are trying to be reassuring they are going about it in a decidedly worrying fashion.

Take this AP Article for instance:

Very close to the nuclear plant — less than half a mile or so — sea creatures might be in danger of problems like genetic mutations if the dumping goes on a long time, he said. But there shouldn’t be any serious hazard farther away “unless this escalates into something much, much larger than it has so far,” he said.

No fishing is allowed in the vicinity of the complex.

And yet:

He agreed that animals near the plant may be affected. It’s not clear in what way, because the level of radiation isn’t well known, he said. In any case, fish would probably escape such an effect because unlike immobile species such as oysters, they move around and so would not get a continuous exposure, he said.

How can they say the fish nearby will be protected “because they move” and then only prohibit fishing in the area affected?  If the fish are safe, why prohibit fishing at all?  If not, why limit it to the area around the plant (rather than institute radiation testing).  Actually, that is just what they are planning on doing next.  Setting radiation safety levels for seafood:

Experts agree that radiation dissipates quickly in the vast Pacific

And yet:

He added that seawater may be diluting the iodine, which decays quickly, but the leak also contains long-lasting cesium-137, which can build up in fish over time. Both can build up in fish, though iodine’s short half-life means it does not stay there for very long. The long-term effects of cesium, however, will need to be studied, he said.

They really have no idea what the long term effects of this will be.  They don’t know the range of impact either: Fish Migrate.

Meanwhile their plans involve trying desperately to find the leak, and making increasingly desperate and risky decisions:

The government on Monday gave the go-ahead to pump more than 3 million gallons of less-contaminated water into the sea — in addition to what is leaking — to make room at a plant storage facility to contain more highly radioactive water.

What happens when that storage facility fills up again?  Given the constantly shifting truths about just what is leaking, and what its long term impact might be – how do we know what to believe?

The Liars That Get Away

Professional liars like James O’Keefe are able to successfully manipulate the media into damaging their targets.  Amanda Marcotte writes:

At this point, he releases a video, everyone knows up front that he’s a liar, and everyone will just pretend that he’s not for the 12-24 hours it takes for the video to ruin someone’s life.  And he’ll basically gloat in public by releasing the full video, as if to say, “Hey, we all know I’m lying, but no one seems to give a flying fuck!”And on that, he’s right.

How do you fight against that?

This folds nicely into a larger question of how we fight a range of falsehoods perpetuated and popularized by the media.  New organizations (or companies purporting to be news organizations such as Fox News) can all too easily put false info out there, at which point it becomes “effective truth” (Digby):

This is why O’Keefe is able to keep going. The Village really believes that it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not once it’s “out there”. O’Keefe and the Brietbartians know this and since they get oxygen from the fact that liberals flail around trying to prove them wrong

This is a dire strategic problem for our country.  Without the proper facts we cannot make the proper decisions, and one party is content with governing based on wild falsehoods:

MAHER: New Rule – Fantasies are for sex, not public policy. When you go down the list of useless distractions that make up the Republican Party agenda; public unions and Sharia law, anchor babies and a mosque at ground zero, ACORN and National Public Radio, the war on Christmas, the New Black Panthers, Planned Parenthood, Michelle Obama’s war on desserts…

…you realize that one reason nothing gets done in America is that one of the political parties puts so much more into fantasy problems. Governing this country with Republicans is like rooming with a meth addict.

You want to address real life problems like when the rent is due and they’re saying “How can you even think of that stuff when there’s police scanner voices coming out of the air conditioning unit?”

This creates a massive power imbalance favoring lie-based politicians and pundits, and leads to policy decisions with very real effects.

So what can we do to counter?  A few things:

  1. Support non profit journalism (via Miguel Bloomfontosis)
  2. Build a website to document lies, sources, and media acceptance in a way that makes said data easy to digest and use.
  3. Hit the pocketbooks of media organizations that go along with falsehoods (via Olive)
  4. Proof by Prank – If we are going to drive home how toxic this is, we need to use the media’s willingness to publish anything buzz worthy coupled with their love of navel gazing to our own advantage.
  5. Cultivate brave and perceptive public figures who can – when a new lie hits – see it for what it is and step in to counter it.
  6. Break up the monopolies.

1.  Any support that gives real journalism a chance to live and thrive outside the bounds of a profit motive will serve us in this battle, and in many more to come.

2.  With intelligent data we can identify trends and bolster arguments.  Do some organizations fall more readily for these kind of lies?  How often do they repeat them?  How long does it take to issue retractions?  How frequently do they repeat those retractions?  Are the retractions made through the same media as the lie(is a tv mistake retracted only on the website)?  Etc.  What we need here are dedicated volunteers to gather data, verify data, and a web application that can transform that data into a story laypeople can quickly grasp.

3. Armed with #2 we will know who to go after.  Is CNN especially susceptible?  Then we need a campaign to go after their advertisers.

4. Using your opponent’s strengths and weakness alike against them is essential when fighting a more powerful foe.  The media’s strength is that it can take any story and disseminate it quickly to a large number of people.  Their weaknesses are a willingness to forgo diligence in order to snag a potentially juicy story, and a love of gazing inwards.  This gives us the opportunity for a real one-two punch.  Our first strike takes advantage of their strength and willingness to accept “evidence” at face value.  A false video of our own could gain wide play before it gets outed.  At which point we engage in the essential step two – claiming responsibility and using the prank as an opportunity to drive home repeatedly the problem the media has with accepting stories like this uncritically (and dearth of critical reporting in general).

5. Once someone like James O’Keefe let’s the cat out of the bag – we know.  The instant a known liar puts forth a ridiculous story we need people in high places to go on the news shows and tear down both the lies of people like O’Keefe, and to criticize the media directly for accepting them.

6. Media companies have become large corporations that collude on coverage.  As such when it comes to the product (news articles) – we are unable to get the product we need from the companies that utterly dominate the market.  This impacts what gets covered (blogs may be able to expose cracks here and there, and if we pretend wikileaks isn’t being politically prosecuted we can imagine viable alternatives to getting the truth out – but largely investigative journalism happens at the pleasure of these large media companies).  For a country that votes a functioning news service is a public utility.  If private companies want in on the game that’s fine, but there needs to be a greater responsibility to provide accurate news – even if that responsibility only comes from societal pressure.  At the very least though – we need to break them up.  Large multinationals are simply too powerful to respond to pressure in a way that makes them truly accountable.

With each of these initiatives in place we could make sizable headway towards changing the way our media functions.

Republicans: Democrats Shouldn’t Be Able to Fund Campaigns

The Republican attack on unions is best viewed in concert with the Citizens United decision, which has grossly impacted elections in the favor of the right wing and the corporate status quo that rules both parties.  For them its not about balancing budgets, its about taking a crack at the financial ability of Democrats to mount competitive campaigns.  With a tilted playing field, a corporate media that either leans right or is an outright propaganda organ for conservatives – where is this country headed politically?

Open Letter to CS Monitor – Tea Party Coverage

Please stop referring to the Tea Party as “grassroots” or “populist”.

The Tea Party exploits populist sentiments – to a degree – and is otherwise the plaything of very wealthy and powerful conservative men.

Writing like this piece by Patrick Johnson at the otherwise excellent CS Monitor is simply negligent:

But the tea party phenomenon teeters at a critical point in its rags-to-riches two-year history.

The Tea Party never had a “rags” moment in its history.

The AP and Soft Support of Theocracy

Lightning struck down a giant statue placed alongside a public highway in Ohio.

No author is listed for this piece, which is just as well.  It is an embarrassment.  It softly offers up uncritical support for the religious statue (emphasis mine):

Travelers on Interstate 75 often were startled to come upon the huge statue by the roadside, but many said America needs more symbols like it. So many people stopped at the church campus that church officials had to build a walkway to accommodate them.

Oh?  Many said they want more Jesus statues in public?  How many, dear anonymous AP writer?  10?  50?  1 in 10 people surveyed out of 6,000?  Or 3 of the 10 people you called on the phone but didn’t bother to source?

In the very next sentence the reporter is at it again, uncritically mentioning that church official had to build a walkway, on account of so many people stopping.  How many is so many?  Was the walkway built do to a massive outpouring of support for Jesus and the church?  Was it built to accommodate the few people who did stop?  Was it built later on regardless of the number of people coming, simply as a wise addition to the church?  No answers are provided, just the presumed word of church officials without a hint of sourcing, evidence or what lay people might call proof.

The 4,000-member, nondenominational church was founded by former horse trader Lawrence Bishop and his wife. Bishop said in 2004 he was trying to help people, not impress them, with the statue. He said his wife proposed the Jesus figure as a beacon of hope and salvation, and they spent about $250,000 to finance it.

Are statues built to either help or impress?  How about persuade?  The clear evangelistic angle of the statue looming over a public highway is left entirely out of the equation.  Surprising since earlier in the same article the church is referred to as the “evangelical Solid Rock Church”.  (As of this writing their website is currently down).

The article makes it seem as though the giant Jesus statue intruding into public life was either a surprising curiosity or a welcome reminder of religion, which enjoyed wide support.  Perhaps appropriate for an article concerning religion, no proof was offered.

Stupid Headline: How the New Wealth Taxes Won’t Hit You

Let’s say I wanted to write an article about how a local tax in a South Carolina town might effect local residents.  I wouldn’t give that article a sweeping title implying residents of Massachusetts or Texas might face the task.  Well, I’m not a writer nor an editor for the Wall Street Journal.

In an article by the Wall Street Journal’s Laura Sanders, she writes “How the New Wealth Taxes Will Hit You“.  That would be a pretty short article.  The answer is, they don’t.  She’s talking about families raking in more than a quarter of a million dollars annually (or laughably, families whose only income comes from stocks!  Yeah this is certainly geared towards the common man).

The language used in the headline plays into a couple conservative myths:

  • Obama is raising taxes – Not for the majority of the population, in fact they are lower.
  • Taxes on the wealthy will somehow impact the average voter.  Nope.

Using slick tricks like this to spread conservative propaganda shows how compromised the Wall Street Journal’s journalistic integrity is, and how weak the conservative economic platform is.  It just won’t sell without a dollop of snake oil.