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The Morning Grumpy – November 21st

21 Nov

Good morning! For those of you unfamiliar with who I am, my name is Chris Smith and I’ve been blogging about Buffalo and WNY since 2005 on WNYMedia.net. The editors and instigators at Artvoice have deemed me worthy of promotion to this fine publication and I intend to abuse their hospitality.

How about a little backstory before I get started? I moved home to Buffalo in 2005 after a tour in the military and professional stops in Boston and Chicago and several points in between. I’m a husband and father of two great kids and I can engage in long comparative discussions on the cultural impact of Bob The Builder and Dora The Explorer. I’m also a godless humanist liberal with a predilection for snarky distillations on politics, economics, and media. I studied political science, but I’m employed as a systems engineer and now as a web journalist.

I have a voracious appetite for internet memes, video, podcasts, news, and analysis. Each morning I’ll share several links that you can consume during your “morning grumpy”.

1.  A whisper campaign is a method of persuasion using rumor or innuendo to create false impressions about a political candidate while not being detected spreading them. For example, did you hear that President Obama is really Kenyan? Or that Hillary Clinton might soon sign a UN treaty which would subject Americans to international gun control laws? Grassroots whisper campaigns via email are an incredible tool in both political campaigns and in the daily ideological struggle of America. Email and social media have only made these tactics “stickier” as the message is speedily passed by “trusted sources”, whose credibility is based on the relationship between sender and receiver. Uncle Ned wouldn’t pass on false information, now would he?

Turns out that most of these whisper campaigns source from the right wing and these persistent narratives are getting more difficult to debunk as even Presidential candidates discuss them in public.

Most of the time, Democrats (or liberals) are the ones under attack.  The majority of the junk comes from the right, aimed at the left.

Nonpartisan debunkers such as FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, PolitiFact.com, Emery and The Washington Post’s Fact Checker have been chasing down these tales and dousing them like three-alarm fires for years. (There’s even a chain e-mail that paints Snopes as a liberal cover-up for the White House.) It’s often difficult for these myth-busters to say with certainty where a falsehood began. But the numbers are clear.

Of the 79 chain e-mails about national politics deemed false by PolitiFact since 2007, only four were aimed at Republicans. Almost all of the rest concern Obama or other Democrats. The claims range from daffy (the White House renaming Christmas trees as “holiday trees”) to serious (the health-care law granting all illegal immigrants free care).

Snopes turned up 46 viral e-mails regarding Bush during his eight years in office. By contrast, in just four years as a candidate and as president, Obama has been the subject of 100 such chain e-mails. The difference is not just in number but in kind: Twenty of the 46 Bush e-mails checked by Snopes turned out to be true, and many of these flattered or praised him. Only 10 e-mails about Obama have been true, and almost every one of them has been negative.

Emery estimates that more than 80 percent of the political e-mails that he’s vetted over the past decade were written from a conservative point of view. “The use of forwarded e-mail to spread [false information] around is overwhelmingly a right-wing phenomenon,” he said.

Gee, all this makes one consider that this type of thing might be coordinated…

2. Last week, Ezra Klein of the Washington Post linked to a fascinating paper by six political scientists called “A Theory Of Parties“. A few key quotes from the paper (which is well worth a full read):

As we theorize, parties no longer compete to win elections by giving voters the policies voters want. Rather, as coalitions of intense policy demanders, they have their own agendas and aim to get voters to go along.

Most citizens pay little enough attention to general elections and even less to nominations. The few who vote in primaries lack the anchoring cue of candidate partisanship, rendering them open to persuasion. Media coverage of primaries is also generally less than in general elections, further increasing the expected impact of small amounts of paid communication.

To explain the substantial autonomy we believe parties enjoy, we posit an ‘electoral blind spot’ within which voters do not monitor party behavior.” Through various institutional devices, like complex party rules and procedural votes that no one understands, the major parties “seek to exploit lapses in voter attentiveness” and “keep the electoral blind spot as large as possible

The problem I find in our national politics is that as the parties work to increase that “electoral blind spot”, the media work to assist them. It ought be the goal of media professionals to explain away those electoral blind spots, but too often, they find themselves in the unenviable position of offering “He Said/She Said” platitudes in the interest of equal time and “objectivity”.  Why it is that reporters adopt the “View From Nowhere” and horse race style coverage rather than investigating and fact checking is beyond me.

3. Want to know one of the secrets to moving more families back into the City of Buffalo and reducing sprawl? Figuring out a solution to the public school/charter school registration/lottery nightmare would be an excellent start.

The vast majority of students are placed through a computerized lottery process. (Programs that have some criterion for admission, like City Honors or Olmsted, work differently. You can find info on those admissions processes on Page 3 of the pdf.)

(For those of you who are wondering: This application is only for schools in the Buffalo Public Schools with a deadline of November 28th. Charter schools have a completely separate application process. Each charter school runs its own admissions lottery. Their deadlines are generally in early April. That will be the subject of another blog post down the road.)

This process is a common sense abortion and works to drive families to suburban districts where registration is simple and neighborhood schools the norm. By the way, I like that some of the best journalism being committed by The Buffalo News is happening on the School Zone Blog by Mary Pasciak and seems to be primarily motivated by her near pathological disdain for former Buffalo Rising editor and current BPS spokeswoman Elena Cala. Grudge journalism!

4. The banality of evil in our new police state.

5. This is a topic I’ll be writing about in-depth over the next couple of weeks, the Protect IP Act or “SOPA”. To get us started, I recommend you watch this explainer video on the topic. You should care about this, really.

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