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Four ways to celebrate Veteran’s Day, after the parades

11 November 2014

Summary: After the parades, here are four other ways to celebrate Veterans’ Day.

Veterans' Day

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Contents

  1. Why Veterans’ Day?
  2. Four ways to celebrate Veterans’ Day
  3. Other posts about Veterans
  4. Video: History of Veterans’ Day

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(1) Why Veterans’ Day?

Veterans’ Day originally celebrated the service and sacrifices in the first of the modern era’s mad wars. Started by miscalculations by leaders on all sides. Waged due to their unwillingness to admit mistake, and lies to justify what happened and continuing folly. Four years of incompetence: “Lions led by donkeys.

WWI holds special poignancy for us, as we’re in another such period. The War on Terror, a bizarre formulation (“terror” is a tactic, not a foe) Fought without plan, consisting of serial failures from which we learn nothing, against an every-changing poorly defined enemy, with no end visible. A mad forever war, like our War on Drugs.

We ask our men and women in uniform to fight for us. The right or wrong of the conflicts, the responsibility for them, lies on us — the citizens at home who elect our leaders — not on those who carry out our orders. So on this day we celebrate their service, without which the Republic would not have survived.

(2) Four ways to celebrate Veterans’ Day

(a) Support our troops, active and retired

Flowers on graves are nice. But donations or volunteering show your support for our troops in a more useful way. Here are three organizations that provide valuable support to our troops.

  1. Support the Blue Star Mothers of America
  2. Support the USO
  3. Volunteer at the Veterans Administration

(b) Force Congress to better fund care for Veterans

Veterans Administration

There is no excuse for underfunding care for veterans. Even during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans’ care has been a problem — well reported in the news for a decade. It’s in the news again. Unless we speak out it will be in the news again next year.

Our military leaders have proven that they care about funding for things — like the malfunctioning, insanely expensive F-35 — more than the people who fights our wars. We need not follow their example. Fix it now.

Read more…

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Fury: the big screen display of America’s love of war, & inability to understand it

9 November 2014

Summary:  Today we have another guest post by film critic Locke Peterseim, reviewing Fury. He discusses how Fury displays what we’ve learned about the nature of war after 13 years of continuous fighting. Oddly, we seem to be able to see war only through the frame of WW2, a war quite unlike those we fight now. It’s a timely film, as we confront our returning veterans — and see one aspect of the tolls of war. Post your comments about the film — and this review!

Fury: poster

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Fury: The War Rages On

By Locke Peterseim

Posted at the film blog of Open Letters Monthly
26 October 2014

Reposted here with his generous permission

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Let’s start at the end.

Stylistically and thematically, the closing credits of writer-director David Ayer’s WWII tank film, Fury, starring Brad Pitt, are some of the most fascinatingly jarring of recent years.

The proceeding film is an often brutal, gruesome look at the psychological cost of war, namely the anger — yes, the fury — that some long-time soldiers eventually fill themselves with to physically and emotionally survive and keep fighting, even in a war that’s almost won. Well-constructed with visual drive and inward determination, Fury is exciting and moving but most often mournful over the loss of not just life but innocence that war — even a “Good War” — demands.

But Fury’s end titles are a grating, shocking montage of WWII scenes; of humans fighting and dying in battle, the jumble-hacked screen drenched in a blood-red tint. They feel like horror-film credits — the sort of glaring, gash of dread ferocity you’d find following a teen slasher flick. And that has to be intentional on Ayers’ part.

While his movie does its best to deconstruct and subvert the more hollow “honor” and “glory” of too many war films, it still stars our beloved Brad Pitt, and even as the film works to snuff any sense of celebration or entertainment thrill from its very exciting battle scenes, it still can’t avoid a few war-movie clichés, including noble speeches and heroic deaths.

The credits are, however, an impressive slap in the face just as the film ends, reminding us of Ayers’ operating thesis amid the film’s gripping entertainment value and gritty faux-realism: War is a true horror show that can, out of necessity, turn even the most good-hearted and best-intentioned of humans into monsters.

Read more…

The hidden truth about job growth, lost amidst the statistical noise & optimists’ hopes

8 November 2014

Summary: The key thing to know about the latest job report is the same thing to know about all 2014′s job reports: there has been no change to the trend. No sign of the acceleration so confidently forecast by so many. This confirms the other economic indicators, amidst the slowing world economy. Leave the analysis of the minutia to specialists; the big picture is important and easy to see. Because the expansion grows old, and the next recession approaches (especially with the Fed determined, for good reason, to normalize interests beginning next year).

“Significant monetary stimulus, the end of fiscal austerity, a booming housing market, a cheap dollar, record corporate cash balances — if the US economy does not significantly accelerate in the coming quarters, it never will. We assume it will …”

— Michael Hartnett (Chief Strategist, Bank of America), 12 September 2013 (red emphasis added)

Slow Economic Growth

The core economic statistics for the US are jobs and wages (these are coincident indicators, showing where we were in the last few months). As I (and others) have reported, the predictions of optimists and pessimists alike have been wrong during the past 5 years. The US has grown steadily by most metrics at roughly 2% per year. Slow, especially with the gains going largely to the 1% (hence the GOP wins, bringing them control of most elements of the US Federal and State government machinery).

Here is the monthly nonfarm jobs growth (SA). Do you see a boom in 2014? The second half of 2014 (after an unexpected winter slowed Q1 growth)? This month’s “strong” report resulted from “America’s Sudden Fascination With Hiring Young Women” as waitresses.
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Non-farm jobs, SA.

Let’s smooth out those wiggles. Here is the same data, but the year-over-year changes, NSA, during the past 10 years. Looks like we’re at peak job growth. Is that good or bad?

Read more…

Good news about Ebola and its terrifying mortality rate

5 November 2014

Summary: We’re in the 12th month of this Ebola epidemic, in the 4th month since it escaped from Africa. While it still burns in 3 African nations, we have enough data to tentatively assess the predictions of the fear-mongerers about our vulnerability. Wrong, yet again. Seldom in history have the people of a great nation been so easily reduced to panic by such phantasmagoric warnings. We can learn and do better in the future. We must if we hope to prosper.

“Maybe it will all work out ok, but if you catch Ebola just remember your nice article calling anyone concerned chicken little as your lungs fill with fluid, and your shitting and vomiting blood.”
By Sam, October 14. One of the many terrified commenters, fruit of conservatives’ fear-mongering

“Note also that there are significant illegal immigrant flows from West Africa into Europe. This is bound to spread the disease, first to Europe and ultimately to us. “
Another comment confidently forecasting doom, another triumph for the fear-mongers, October 20

Ebola

Ebola: it’s coming for you!

Contents

  1. Scorecard: Ebola in the West
  2. About that epidemic in the West
  3. The real epidemic in America: Fear
  4. The really bad news: West Africa
  5. Other posts about Ebola

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The best estimate of the index case for this epidemic is December 2013, in Guinea.  As of  WHO’s 31 October 2014 report, roughly 13,567 cases of Ebola have been reported, with 4,591 deaths, in 8 countries. Three countries have widespread and intense transmission: Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

Now for the good news (ignoring for the moment our deplorable lack of assistance to the African nations afflicted). Four nations with infections are now free of Ebola (USA, Spain, Nigeria, and Senegal). And the confident predictions of 50 – 90% mortality in the developed nations have proven false, as some experts predicted. Such as Paul Farmer (Prof of Global Health, Harvard) in the October 23 London Review of Books:

“Here’s my assertion as an infectious disease specialist: if patients are promptly diagnosed and receive aggressive supportive care – including fluid resuscitation, electrolyte replacement and blood products – the great majority, as many as 90%, should survive.”

Here are the results so far, assembled from various news sources (hence might not reflect the latest news):

  • Nine people have been treated in the US. On 15 September 2014 Thomas Duncan contracted Ebola in Liberia, dying in America on October 8. Six additional cases came to the US from Africa for treatment; five recovered and one (Craig Spencer) remain under care. Two nurses in Dallas contracted Ebola; both recovered.
  • Three doctors were evacuated to Germany. Two from Sierra Leone: a Senegalese WHO epidemiologist who recovered and a Ugandan pediatrician who remains under treatment. One from Liberia, who died.
  • Three have been treated in Spain. Two people came from Africa; both died. One nurse in Madrid contracted Ebola; she recovered.
  • Two Dutch doctors were evacuated from Sierra Leone back to the Netherlands. Both recovered.
  • A nurse was evacuated from Liberia to Paris. She recovered.
  • A nurse, William Pooley, was evacuated from Sierra Leone to London. He recovered.
  • Silje Lehne, a Norwegian, health care worker, was evacuated from Sierra Leone to Norway — and recovered.

Read more…

Return of the COIN-istas (the zombies of military theory)

4 November 2014

Summary: John Quiggin writes about zombie economics, theories false but too politically useful to die. COIN is an example of zombie military theory. In the 60 years since Mao brought 4GW to maturity, foreign armies of every type have employed it against local insurgents, with an almost uniform record of failure. America’s COIN-istas — brilliant, experienced sirens — lured us to defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now they’re trying for a third FAILure. Will they succeed? Give your forecast in the comments.

Knife Fights

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Revenge of the COIN Doctrine

John Nagl’s counterinsurgency failed its way to popularity before,
and is now trying to make a comeback.

By Kelley Vlahos
The American Conservative, 31 October 2014
Reprinted with their generous permission

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“Your table manners are a cryin’ shame. You’re playing with your food this ain’t some kind of game. Now if you starve to death you’ll just have yourself to blame. So eat it, just eat it.”
-– Weird Al Yankovic

In his first book, counterinsurgency advocate Ret. (Lt. Col.) John Nagl told us how to Eat Soup with a Knife. It turned out that it really was easier to eat soup with a spoon, or frankly, not to eat it at all. Today, after two failed interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, Nagl has written a follow-up, but it has nothing to do with eating humble pie.

In Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice, Nagl has abandoned the dining motif along with the format. The book is a memoir in which he tries to cast himself as both a inside player and a outside rebel, one who had to struggle to bring a new counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy to losing battlefields in Iraq in 2007, then Afghanistan in 2009.

Thus, the knife depicted on the cover of the book, which was released this month, is no table utensil, but a hunting knife. That might be fitting, considering the many ducks, blinds, and decoys he presents throughout. But like everything else Nagl has promoted over the years, it’s all just a bit difficult to swallow.

Simply put, Nagl, once called the “Johnny Appleseed of COIN,” uses his memoir to

  • a) paper over the huge failures of counterinsurgency in both Iraq and Afghanistan by saying the best we can hope for now are “unsatisfying but not catastrophic outcomes”;
  • b) to distance himself — and COIN — from defeat by blaming everything but the strategy for why it didn’t work as promised in the field; and
  • c) burnish his own resume — which takes up much of the book — for a possible return to a Democratic administration in 2016.

Read more…

An insightful review of “Catching Fire” (if only our spirits were so ignitable)

2 November 2014

Summary:  Today we have a guest post by film critic Jonathan McCalmont, another review of “Catching Fire” that uses it as a mirror to our culture — a reflection showing how we want to see ourselves. He shows how this film, like so many others these days, reflects our ambivalence about authority (starting with parental authority), and our loss of confidence in our ability to work together — to be anything but children to our leaders (a belief shared by our leaders).  The last third of this is essential reading as an extraordinary clear statement of the Republic’s core problem. Share your thoughts about this in the comments.

Catching Fire poster

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Review of
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

By Jonathan McCalmont

Posted at VideoVista
March 2014

Reposted here with their generous permission

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It would appear that we have reached a point in our cultural development where popular culture is incapable of addressing any issue other than that of parental authority.

Last summer’s Star Trek Into Darkness continued the series’ rolling reboot by steering the venerable franchise away from stories about competent people making difficult grown-up decisions and towards stories about overgrown teenagers trying to cope with layer after layer of impacted daddy issues. This theme was also evident in Zack Snyder’s lamentable Man Of Steel, which burdened the DC Comics powerhouse with not just two separate fathers but a third quasi-adoptive father figure whose presence in the film allowed Superman to work through his tedious man-pain by devastating a city and killing tens of thousands of people. When did we become so terrified of our parents? Why do we require so many $100 million cinematic therapy sessions? Whatever the answers to these questions may be, chances are that they also explain the ever-increasing popularity of ‘young adult’ literature.

Despite drawing on images from a wide array of literary genres and historical periods, successful YA fiction seldom refrains from addressing issues of parental authority. For example, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books have an endearingly old-fashioned tendency to depict grown-ups as people deeply invested in passing their skills and values on to the next generation. Yes, some of these adult characters may be good and others evil, but both Voldemort and Dumbledore spend the bulk of their time recruiting kids and helping them to become as competent as they can possibly be.

While the Harry Potter books and films are primarily about the relationship between children and parental authority figures, they also contain characters that lack the authority of parents but possess more skill and knowledge than the protagonists by virtue of having spent more time on the margins of the grown-up world. These ‘adolescent’ older sibling characters dominate the landscape of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novels, and Bella’s desire to become a vampire can be read as a yearning to progress past childhood and assume an adolescent identity in much the same way as Harry Potter’s ability to wield magic allows him to participate in the grown-up world.

Read more…

Members of the Deep State exchange high-fives, celebrating our passivity

1 November 2014

Summary:  On 6 June 2013 the Guardian and Washington Post published the first in the latest round of revelations about the NSA’s surveillance programs. Amidst the outpouring of brave rhetoric about the need to change, I predicted that nothing would happen. Rather, our passivity would encourage the leaders of the national security state (aka the Deep State). After 17 months it’s clear I was right. As explained in today’s guest post by the Michael Brenner (Professor of International Affairs, U Pittsburgh).

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NSA Octopus: NROL-39

“The CIA in Texas”
by Michael Brenner (bio below)
Posted with his generous permission

A review of the Deep State’s staff exchanging high-fives at

Intelligence Reform and Counterterrorism after a Decade:
Are We Smarter and Safer?

Conference at the University of Texas at Austin
16 – 18 October 2014

The United States Intelligence Community was in Austin last week for their second visit of 2014. In May it was primarily an NSA show.  This time a combined National Intelligence/CIA show with a dash of the Pentagon – but no DIA. Led by General James Clapper, who gave the keynote speech, the all-star cast included several prominent figures from the post 9/11 era.  That was appropriate since the occasion was the anniversary of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004′s passage. As a result the meeting had something of an alumni reunion flavor.

There was much serious reflection about institutional issues and methods; very little about concrete security problems (IS got 47 seconds by my watch) and nothing about civil liberties issues. No critics or skeptics were among the participants.  That omission added to the eerie sensation that this was a conclave of the “deep state.”

Clapper set the tone with a smug exposition of how the IC had mastered its GWOT brief.  It was patronizing to absent critics – including Congress – supremely self-satisfied, and righteous. He had the air of a winner who had earned a deserved triumph.  Clapper had reason to be confident. As he confided to the audience, the move to rein in the NSA’s electronic spying had run out of steam.  Personally, he had escaped unscathed despite perjuring himself.

That’s all true. Legislation proposed to tinker with data collection procedures, already watered down, is lost in the maze of Congressional election year maneuvering; the president is exposed as an active collaborator  with his aggressive intelligence agencies – including the campaign to bury the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA mendacity and failings; and the media have shied away from any follow-up reporting.

Read more…

Prof Botkin gives us good news about our changing climate

30 October 2014

Summary: Is the climate growing hostile? Daniel B. Botkin, professor Emeritus in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology at University of California Santa Barbara, doesn’t believe so. Here he gives a fact-rich rebuttal to the conclusions reached by the Union of Concerned Scientists in their recent report. It’s long, but gets rolling in the middle. Read and learn things in the major climate datasets seldom mentioned by journalists. See his bio at the end.

Good news!

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Climate Is Changing, And Some Parks Are Endangered,
But Humans Aren’t The Cause

By Daniel B. Botkin

National Parks Traveler, 26 October 2014

Posted with their generous permission

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For those of us who love our national parks and are confronted daily with media, politicians, and pundits warning us of a coming global-warming disaster, it’s only natural to ask what that warming will mean for our national parks. This is exactly what the well-known Union of Concerned Scientists discuss in their recent report, National Landmarks at Risk: How Rising Seas, Floods, and Wildfires Are Threatening the United States’ Most Cherished Historic Sites.

I’ve done research since 1968 on the possibility of human-caused global warming and its possible ecological effects, and have published widely on this topic, discussing possible effects on biodiversity and on specific endangered species as well as on forests, cities, and historical evidence of Arctic sea ice change. I’ve also been involved in the development of some aspects of some climate models, and having developed a computer model of forests that is one of the principal methods used to forecast global warming effects on vegetation, I sought out the UCS report with great interest.

Powering the Future

The approach the Union has taken is to have the report written by four staff members: Debra Holtz, a journalist; Kate Cell, a fund-raiser for the organization; Adam Markham, with a B.S. in zoology, who was the founder of Clean Air-Cool Planet, a nonprofit organization “to promote innovative community-based solutions to climate change in the Northeast”; and Brenda Ekwurzel, the Union’s Senior Climate Scientist. She is the only author with research experience on the subject, has a Ph.D. in isotope geochemistry from the Department of Earth Sciences at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and has been on the faculty of the University of Arizona Department of Hydrology and Water Resources.

These four authors took the standard reports from such organizations as the United National Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, treating them as accurate and true, and then discussed the implications for 16 American historic sites. As shown in the accompanying table, they write that 11 of the sites are threatened by rising sea levels and their consequences (coastal erosion and flooding); two by inland flooding; two by wildfires; and one by “extreme heat and drought” (table 1).

The report opens with a bold assertion: “Many of the United States’ iconic landmarks and heritage sites are at risk as never before. Sea level rise, coastal erosion, increased flooding, heavy rains, and more frequent large wildfires are damaging archaeological resources, historic buildings, and cultural landscapes across the nation.” The report later goes on to add, “All of the case studies in this report draw on observations of impacts that are either consistent with, or attributable to, human-induced climate change based on multiple lines of scientific evidence.” To which the authors add, “This report sounds a wake-up call: as the impacts of climate change continue, we must protect these sites and reduce the risks.”

The point of the report, its opening theme and its major conclusion, is that these historic places are in trouble and it’s our fault, we have been the bad guys interfering with nature and therefore damaging places we value. This is consistent with the IPCC 2014 report and the 2014 White House Climate Change Assessment, for both of which I acted as an expert reviewer and testified before the House and Senate about.

Read more…

The truth emerges about Afghanistan, an indictment of our war. Now comes the hard part: learning from failure.

22 October 2014

Summary: Today’s must read is a retrospective on our expedition to Afghanistan, now that the cloud of lies slowly dissipates. Since Vietnam we’ve masked our failures by myths, short-circuiting our ability to learn. A hegemonic power can substitute power for smarts. The coming multi-polar world will prove more challenging, so that weaknesses become terminal flaws.

Afghanistan war

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Opening from “Afghanistan: ‘A Shocking Indictment’
by Rory Stewart
New York Review of Books, 6 November 2014

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Review of No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes
by Anand Gopal

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Ashraf Ghani, who has just become the president of Afghanistan, once drafted a document for Hamid Karzai that began:

There is a consensus in Afghan society: violence…must end. National reconciliation and respect for fundamental human rights will form the path to lasting peace and stability across the country. The people’s aspirations must be represented in an accountable, broad-based, gender-sensitive, multi-ethnic, representative government that delivers daily value.

That was 12 years ago. No one speaks like that now — not even the new president. The best case now is presented as political accommodation with the Taliban, the worst as civil war.

Western policymakers still argue, however, that something has been achieved: counterterrorist operations succeeded in destroying al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, there has been progress in health care and education, and even Afghan government has its strengths at the most local level. This is not much, given that the US-led coalition spent $1 trillion and deployed one million soldiers and civilians over 13 years. But it is better than nothing; and it is tempting to think that everything has now been said: after all, such conclusions are now reflected in thousands of studies by aid agencies, multilateral organizations, foreign ministries, intelligence agencies, universities, and departments of defense.

But Anand Gopal’s  shows that everything has not been said. His new and shocking indictment demonstrates that the failures of the intervention were worse than even the most cynical believed. Gopal, a Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor reporter, investigates, for example, a US counterterrorist operation in January 2002. US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, had identified two sites as likely “al-Qaeda compounds.” It sent in a Special Forces team by helicopter; the commander, Master Sergeant Anthony Pryor, was attacked by an unknown assailant, broke his neck as they fought and then killed him with his pistol; he used his weapon to shoot further adversaries, seized prisoners, and flew out again, like a Hollywood hero.

Read more…

We awake from fears of an Ebola pandemic in America. Now let’s ask who’s responsible…

21 October 2014

Summary: The initial infection in America has burned out. Nina Pham is in “fair” condition; Amber Vinson’s condition private at the family’s request. Many of those exposed, including the deceased man’s (Thomas Duncan) fiancée, have cleared quarantine. Some who contracted the disease in West Africa but received modern treatment have recovered (nurse William Pooley and an unnamed doctor treated at Emory U). The US health care system is rapidly learning and mobilizing. There is progress even in West Africa, with defeat of Ebola in Nigeria. The assurances of the experts appear, so far at least, to have been (again) proven correct.

It’s time to begin analysis of the hysteria that briefly gripped much of America. Who caused it? Why? Most importantly, what will we learn from this? Greater threats lie ahead for America.

I recently visited someone who has an African violet in their house. Should I stay home from work for three weeks?
— David Waldman of the Daily Kos (@KagroX) 20 October 2014

Educate Together

Contents

  1. Conservatives screaming “fire” at a tiny flame
  2. It’s a plan!
  3. Some on Fox News fight the narrative, speak the truth
  4. Guessing about the after game festivities
  5. Looking at the big picture
  6. Other posts about Ebola
  7. Examples of conservatives’ fear-mongering about Ebola

(1)  Conservatives screaming “fire” at a tiny flame

By now even journalists are emboldened to say the obvious: “Ebola hysteria: An epic, epidemic overreaction“, CNN, 20 October 2014. But they’re not so brave as to discuss how this happened. The public did not just panic. People incited panic for political gain. Mostly of them were conservatives. Some moderates and liberals have joined the chorus of fear-mongers, but relatively few. I have a long — and sadly only partial — list at the end of this post. A roll of dishonor, because they make an effective public policy response to Ebola more difficult.

(2)  It’s a plan!

Conservatives exploit our fear about Ebola (and terrorism, etc) for the same reason Liberals do so about climate (super-typhoon Vongfong “was the strongest storm on earth since Haiyan last year“): it works. When we grow stronger it will no longer work, and they’ll stop. Meanwhile …

  1. Campaign strategy: “Cry of G.O.P. in Campaign: All Is Dismal“, New York Times, 9 October 2014
  2. Mission accomplished: “Poll shows Alarm, anxiety as election looms“, POLITICO, 20 October 2014 — “An overwhelming majority of voters in the most competitive 2014 elections say it feels as if events in the U.S. are “out of control” and expressed mounting alarm about terrorism, anxiety about Ebola …”

(3)  Some on Fox News fight the narrative, speak the truth

Let’s congratulate Fox News for having a few people who debunk the conservative party line. That’s a rare thing in our increasingly partisan media, on either Right or Left.

Read more…

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