Media Bias Against Chavez

Hugo ChavezQuestion: How many US newspapers does it take to predict the Venezuelan presidential election?

Answer: Predict it wrong? All of them!

Maybe it’s just because I’m some godless socialist, but I think Hugo Chavez has been pretty good for Venezuela. There is no subject on which the mainstream media are more clearly biased. I get the impression we’re supposed to think that Chavez is some evil despot like Saddam Hussein or Charles Taylor. But to me, he seems like a democratic socialist.

Hogo Chavez’s Constitutional Referendum

I was most struck by this when Chavez tried to get a constitutional amendment to eliminate the presidential term limit. The US media reported that the amendment was to make him “president for life.” Amazing. But then, when the amendment failed by a really small number of votes, Chavez was asked if he would contest the results. He replied that he wouldn’t because he didn’t want the constitution amended unless the country was really behind it. How did the media respond? He must have some evil socialist plot!

Contrast this to President Bush, who at that time had the 50 percent plus one vote strategy—the idea being that the narrowest of margins gave him a mandate to screw roughly half the nation. In this case, who seems like the statesman: Bush or Chavez? I realize that Bush doesn’t set the bar very high. But Bush is always treated with respect by the mainstream media. The same cannot be said about Chavez.

Afterword: Keep Your Ignorant Comments to Yourself

Before anyone starts yelling at me that Chavez did this or that: stop! I don’t doubt that Chavez is imperfect. I remember his infamous “Bush is Satan” speech at the UN. But that is not what the US media coverage of him is about. Chavez is a socialist. But that isn’t it either. He’s an advocate of the working class. But that isn’t it either. He’s nationalized industries and that has hurt profits for various corporations. Bingo!

Further, I really don’t want to hear from people who know Chavez only through US media coverage. It is clearly biased. No pretense is made at objectivity. If anyone can send me even to typical he said/she said coverage of Chavez, I will be grateful. And surprised.

Update (7 October 2012 9:05 pm)

Via Corey Robin, Business Week writes:

Under Chavez, poverty fell to 31.6 percent at the end of 2011 from about 50 percent when he first took office. Extreme poverty declined to 8.5 percent from about 20 percent over the same period. Venezuela has the lowest level of inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the United Nations.

But coming from Business Week, this is probably meant as an indictment.

Update (7 October 2012 9:13 pm)

Yes! Mark Weisbrot writing in The Guardian, Why the US demonises Venezuela’s democracy. The subtitle is, “Venezuela is about to hold impeccably free and fair elections. Yet the US treats it as a dictatorship.” Go read it. It’s good.

Update (8 October 2012 8:28 pm)

Keane Bhatt has a great article at the North American Congress of Latin America website, A Hall of Shame for Venezuelan Elections Coverage. Here’s a bit of it, but you should read the whole article (it’s pretty short):

Hugo Chávez, as a number of us expected, won the Venezuelan presidential election in yet another landslide yesterday: 55.1 percent to his opponent Henrique Capriles’s 44.2 percent.

To understand why Chávez’s electoral victory would be apparent beforehand, consider that from 1980 to 1998, Venezuela’s per capita GDP declined by 14 percent, whereas since 2004, after the Chávez administration gained control over the nation’s oil revenues, the country’s GDP growth per person has averaged 2.5 percent each year.

At the same time, income inequality was reduced to the lowest in Latin America, and a combination of broadly shared growth and government programs cut poverty in half and reduced absolute poverty by 70 percent — and that’s before accounting for vastly expanded access to health, education, and housing.

Update (9 October 2012 11:26 am)

Mark Weisbrot of one of our favorite places on the net, CEPR, has a really good OpEd in today’s issue of The New York Times, Why Chávez Was Re-elected. Must reading.

Update (10 October 2012 9:37 am)

Peter Hart has a good article over at FAIR, What Are Enemies For?: Iran Sham Helps PBS Smear Chavez. I saw another article (Can’t find link!) where the author claimed that Chavez only getting half the vote should make him humble. That’s amazing — it shows a writer not letting the facts get in the way of the argument he wants to make. Chavez won by 10 percentage points, or as we say here in the United States: a landslide.

Time Weighs the News

FAIRPeter Hart over at the excellent Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) has an amazing catch. In the most recent Time magazine, Michael Scherer present a cover story that is supposed to get past the campaign lies, Blue Truth, Red Truth. But it is, of course, just another exceptional example of he said/she said reporting.

Hart notes that the article came just to the edge of calling out the lying Romney campaign—if in the most gentle words imaginable:

To find out who shaded the truth most, Time asked each campaign for a list of its rival’s worst deceptions. After examining those claims and consulting independent factchecking websites, we selected some of the most prominent falsehoods and prevarications of the 2012 campaign—at least so far. Compared with the Obama campaign’s, the Romney operation’s misstatements are frequently more brazen.

Not nearly as bad as we’ve come to expect. But (following last week’s CounterSpin), the paragraph continues:

But sometimes the most effective lie is the one that is closest to the truth, and Obama’s team has often outdone Romney’s in the dark art of subtle distortion.

Just to unpack this: Obama is a worse liar because he doesn’t lie as much as Romney. Balance!

Overall, the Time article blames the public for not “demanding” politicians be honest. But it does allow that it would be better if journalists were more aggressive in calling out politicians. Then it notes that the partisan news sources are more aggressive. Thus, all the public need do is go to Fox for information about Obama and MSNBC for information about Romney:

The pundits on MSNBC, the Huffington Post and the editorial page of the New York Times do a fine job of calling out the deceptions of Romney, but if you want to hear where Obama is going wrong, you might be better served on the Drudge Report, Fox News or the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

This is bad in so many ways. It is wrong to say that MSNBC is the liberal version of Fox. It’s true that MSNBC does go a little softer on Democrats than Republicans. But it is not at all the same. Fox News is rightly referred to as “GOP TV.” Fox isn’t so much conservative as Republican. It is explicitly partisan and can in no way be considered a traditional news source. MSNBC can.

Another problem I have with this is equating the New York Times editorial page with the Wall Street Journal’s. The New York Times is very slightly left of center. The Wall Street Journal is just loony.

Finally, the Drudge Report is shown to be wrong a few times each day. It would make more sense to tell people to go to the National Enquirer. Actually, the National Enquirer is a far more dependable news source. Really.

This Time article is an embarrassment. It is one thing if they want to publish articles filled with false equivalence. It is quite another to write a story that claims to get to the bottom of partisan claims but then weasels its way out of any real reporting. Time should be ashamed. But then, they should have been ashamed these last 90 years.

Raw Food and the Secret of Fire

AnthropologyAnthropologists the world over are trying to figure out when man discovered the secret of fire. Now by the secret of fire, we don’t mean, “Lightning therefore: fire!” We mean the Boy Scout (or any other fascist youth organization) idea of creating fire by rubbing sticks together, or otherwise creating a spark. It appears that long before this secret was learned, men would “harvest fire” from those that naturally occurred. And then they would try to keep the fire going for as long as possible because it was a major new technology. Imagine if every time there was a storm, iPhones rained down on us and we could use them until we (Inevitably!) dropped them in the toilet. You get the idea.

There are three camps of anthropologists when it comes to this issue. First, there are those who think that fire was discovered very early: 1.8 years ago by H. erectus. Or it could have been later: 400,000 years ago by the Neanderthals. This would mean that we humans stole it from them, patent protection being very weak in Europe at that time. But others think that the secret of fire came about quite recently: about 12,000 years ago—basically when we started farming.

The reason fire is so important is that we couldn’t live without it. At some point, we evolved bodies that need meat to be cooked. We just don’t have very good digestive systems. This probably has something to do with the ridiculous amount of energy that our over sized brains require. This fact probably shows the way forward, because this question of when we were able to harness fire will likely never be answered by anthropologist.

Eventually, geneticists will figure out when we evolved to require cooked food. And there’s only one way for us to have changed in this way: by eating all of our meat cooked. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have evolved this way. So the time when we only could survive on cooked meat must be sometime after we cooked most of our meat.

And as for all of you raw food buffs out there: fuck off!

Winner-Take-All Politics

Winner-Take-All PoliticsIn a lot of discussions of income inequality, people note that the huge rise in inequality over the last 35 years happened in both before and after tax income. Thus, like Estragon in Waiting for Godot, they claim, “Nothing to be done!” Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson in Winner-Take-All Politics discus income inequality entirely from a political standpoint. And this is the right way to look at it.

We already know that money makes money. If you have a bank, it does not take great skill to borrow money from the Fed for nothing and loan it out for more. Similarly, having lots of money is often a prerequisite for investing in the best opportunities. The Facebook IPO was for suckers with their hundreds and thousands of dollars. If you had tens of millions, like Bono, then you could have invested in Facebook a couple years earlier and made a billion.

So the question is how the government makes the rich even richer, so that they will have an even bigger advantage to collect even more. Winner-Take-All Politics describes it like this:

What if the modern economy looks less like an open sea, where rising water lifts all boats, and more like a system of locks, where those who don’t get through the gates are left behind? Yachts are rising, but dinghies are largely staying put, locked out (so to speak) from higher waters. Indeed, in this alternative scenario, there is reason to suspect that the dinghies are staying put in part because the yachts are rising—that the rich are closing the locks behind them to capture resources that would otherwise have enhanced the living standards of everyone else.

The authors talk in great depth about the two powers that balance a democracy: the wealthy trying to enrich themselves and the poor passing laws to redistribute wealth. In general, through its history, the United States oscillated with the waxing and waning of these forces. But over the last 35 years, we have seen our political system tip far toward the wealthy. They note that the decline in union power is most disturbing because unions provide the only real organized counterbalance to the power of rich corporate interests.

They also note that this idea is nothing new:

Since the first stirrings of democracy, virtually all its greatest theorists have recognized this. From Aristotle to Alexis de Tocqueville, from Plato to Thomas Paine, those who have contemplated what makes democracy tick have invariably expressed concern about its coexistence with sizable gaps in economic standing. The Roman priest Plutarch set the tone when he noted, “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” Charles de Montesquieu, whose The Spirit of the Laws was a central text for many of our nation’s Founders, identified “real equality” as “the very soul of democracy,” though he conceded that in practice democratic republics could only “fix the differences to a certain point.”

There is too much in this book to discuss. Whenever I read any book, I book dart interesting parts. My copy has over 100 book darts in it. I’m sure I’ll come back to it. In fact, this is not the first time I’ve written about the book. But if nothing else, we should all listen to the broad argument of Winner-Take-All Politics.

The rich have gotten very organized and the poorer classes simply cannot compete. That is, unless we organize. And it is in this way that Hacker and Pierson take a sobering book and pull off an inspiring ending. I’m not much a joiner, but I’ve decided that I need to join Common Cause. At least. And I think all of you should too.

Empathic Captcha Likely as Useless as Regular Ones

Kimber Streams at The Verge has written about, New Captcha system uses empathy to distinguish humans from bots. Instead of a highly distorted set of letters to be parroted back, this captcha asks a question like this:

<%image(20121007-empathycaptcha.jpg|427|251|Empathy Captcha)%>

This is a nice idea. Unfortunately, what I’ve found with any captcha system is that they do no good. The only spam that gets through my automated systems is that which is done by hand. And there is a lot of that!

My understanding is that people get paid ridiculously small amounts of money to spam me—perhaps a penny per spam or less. But no spam gets through. Why do they continue? Even at this cost, it does no good. Shouldn’t they move on to other more fruitful sites?

It isn’t hard to spot spam. Most of it has a user name that is obvious: “adult film” or “liquid diet for weight loss” or “Free Games Directory.” And then, the spam comments are all the same 10 or so canned bits. One of my favorites is this, “hello there and thanks for your info ?” Note the space before the question mark? It is always there.

The one good thing about using a captcha is that it would slow the spammers down a bit. Of course, it also slows down users. I’ll have to think about it.

Insulting Will Cain on Twitter

Will CainI created a Twitter account this last week and I’ve learned quite a lot. Just this morning, I learned that every Twitter address you include in your message gets a copy of your tweet. Last night, after watching Real Time with Bill Maher, I was really annoyed with one of his guests, Will Cain, a conservative from Glenn Beck’s The Blaze.

Right out of the gate, Cain claimed that the counter to charges of racism was that we have a black president. There are so many things wrong with claim, it makes me feel bad just to think about it. On the most basic level, Obama only got roughly half of the vote—that leaves a lot of room for racism. Furthermore, racism takes many forms that are less obvious than the desire to form a lynching party. One of the most compelling arguments for why Obama was so low key at the debate was that he was fighting against the “angry black man” stereotype. I don’t know if that’s true, but this is certainly something that has shaped Obama’s tenure as President.

Anyway, the evening didn’t get better with Mr. Cain. And when the topic changed to global warming, he showed himself to be nothing more than a guy who uses all of his intellect to massage right wing talking points into simulacra of thoughtful arguments. Bill Maher asked him why it was that conservatives in every other country accepted global warming. Cain didn’t even think about it: there is real scientific controversy about global warming. Well, no. In fact, there wasn’t even controversy about it among the public 10 years ago. But the full court press of disinformation from the likes of Will Cain have made vast swaths of Americans think there are major questions or even a conspiracy.

Afterwards, I tweeted:

@billmaher Affirmative action for conservatives: @willcain on Real Time. Stereotypical libertarian nonsense. No surprises. Boring.

I thought this was pretty clear. I’ve been arguing this for a long time. One doesn’t have to be that smart or knowledgeable or creative to be a right wing commentator. My tweet is a specific example of this. If Will Cain were a liberal, he might have risen to the heights of blogger at Daily KOS, but there’s no way that he would be on Real Time. The show wants to book people with different ideas; it would be boring if they all agreed. So the producers have to find conservatives. Unfortunately, the pickings are slim. What are they going to do, invite Pat Robertson? Of course not. Instead, they bring on light weights like Will Cain, who was out debated by Kerry Washington for Christ’s sake!

I did not intend for this tweet to go to Will Cain. I don’t think much of him as a commentator, but I have nothing against him as a person. It isn’t my intent to hurt him—or even appear to. I put in his Twitter address because I’ve seen other people doing this and I’m trying to fit it. (The writing on this site is not that much like my “real” writing, although it is rather a lot like I talk—minus the ums and uhs.) But I don’t think Cain much cared. I’m sure he’s used to be shouted at my liberals. I mean, I’m used to be shouted at by conservatives.

However, Will Cain replied to my tweet:

@CuriousFrankly well which is it?

I have no idea what he’s talking about. He was spouting stereotypical libertarian nonsense. There were no surprises. He was boring. This is a case of affirmative action for conservatives. Everything is consistent. Where’s the problem?

All I can think is that he has a problem with my referring to him as both conservative and libertarian. When I was a libertarian, I hated it when people referred to my beliefs as “conservative.” Then again, I was an unusual libertarian. I came at it from socialist thought. I was aggressively pro-union. I was concerned about government and corporate coercion. But even still, I understood that libertarianism was a form of conservatism. And Cain should too. After all, social conservatives don’t claim they aren’t conservatives.

Anyway, I am sorry for tweeting that message to Will Cain. If people come looking for insults, fine. But sending out unrequested insults is just rude. What’s more, Cain is not boring; he’s just annoying. But then, I’m sure Glenn Beck wouldn’t have it any other way.

Afterword

You might want to follow me on Twitter. The main thing is that new articles here get tweeted out so you will never again miss another brilliant insight into Don Quixote, Lope de Vega, or even stuff that happened this century:

Even more aggravating than Will Cain, the Twitter handle @FranklyCurious is owned by a guy who goes under the name “Surya Sanjiv.” And he could have used @SuryaSanjiv, because it is available. So I used @CuriousFrankly, although in retrospect, I see I should have used @iFranklyCurious. Live and learn.

Update (Immediate)

I just occurred to me that in the fast paced Twitter world, maybe Cain misread “libertarian” as “liberal.” That would make more sense.