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January 30 2018


Help shape the future of fact-checking during the State of the Union address

On January 9, 2018, less than year after being sworn in as president of the United States, Donald Trump told his 2,000th lie.

When we started this project, originally aimed at the president’s first 100 days, he averaged 4.9 claims a day… There are now nearly 70 claims that he has repeated three or more times. Indeed, he crossed the 2,000 threshold during his one-hour discussion on Jan. 9 with lawmakers about immigration…

What if you could see a real-time assessment of a politician’s speech?

That’s the premise behind FactStream, a second-screen app for fact-checking political events in real time. As PolitiFact founder Bill Adair noted last year:

Politicians don’t stop lying on Election Day.

Adair now runs the Duke Reporters’ Lab and Duke’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy. FactStream is product of the Duke Reporters’ Lab.

Although FactStream currently relies on a bevy of human fact-checkers, the project goal is automated detection using AI to match claims against published fact-checks.

The team is looking for beta-testers for the State of the Union address. (Here’s what could go wrong)


How does it work?

The FactStream application provides a schedule of upcoming political events slated for live fact-checks. (The State of the Union is the only scheduled event at this time.)

Interested in an event? Let FactStream send you a reminder.

reminder set

FactStream can remind you of an upcoming event, if you allow notifications.

FactStream event pane

FactStream event pane currently has only one event.


Mockup of FactStream

This mockup screen illustrates how a fact-check might appear on your screen.

During an event, FactStream will launch a pop-up to alert users of either previously published fact-checks or real-time analyses of claims.

Want to know more? Then tap the pop-up to read a fact-check, share the fact-check or opt-in to receive additional context about Trump’s statements.


The app makes it easy to share to your favorite digital network:

FactStream Share to Facebook

Share to Facebook

FactStream Share to Twitter

Share to Twitter

Beta testers wanted

The Duke Reporters’ Lab has partnered with FactCheck.org, PolitiFact and the Washington Post to provide real-time fact-checking of President Trump’s State of the Union address on January 30.

The team needs beta testers who use either an iPhone or an iPad.

(1) Download FactStream from the App Store. Be sure to enable notifications if you want the app to remind you of tonight’s speech!

(2) During President Trump’s speech (Jan. 30 at 9 p.m. ET), test the app’s various screens and share some fact-checks.

(3) After the speech is over, send feedback through this Google Form.


It’s important to call out lies

“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”*, is a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels. Among psychologists something like this known as the “illusion of truth” effect.

In 2016, the BBC explored the power of repeated falsehoods (aka “lies”). Researchers from Vanderbilt University found that prior knowledge doesn’t prevent repetition from swaying our judgements on non-emotionally charged statements such as “The Atlantic Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth.” This falsehood has a very limited emotional component and most people learned this in geography. Nevertheless, repetition sowed doubt.

Related to the need to shine a spotlight on lies is the challenge presented by confirmation bias. In other words, after we form an opinion, “we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it.” This is an example of fast-thinking; confirmation bias is cognitively less taxing than actively seeking out information that might challenge our beliefs.

In 2006, researchers in Colorado discovered that after being in discussion with mostly like-minded people, discussing controversial (i.e., emotional) topics, liberals became more liberal in their views and conservatives, more conservative.

The challenge is that those most inclined to believe a politician’s statements (whether liberal or conservative) are those least inclined to use a tool like FactStream. This is a systemic, long-term problem that must be addressed in K-12 with a renewed (as well as “new”) approach to civics and media literacy.


Efforts like FactStream are important for democracy

In 1846, five New York City newspapers banded together to communicate the news about the Mexican–American War. Publishers recognized a long time ago that news gathering is an expensive proposition with economic benefits from sharing costs.

In December 1892, the Associated Press incorporated in Illinois. With a checkered history like most monopolistic organizations, however, AP eventually landed in court. In 1945, the U.S. Supreme Court found that AP had been violating the Sherman Antitrust Act (Associated Press v. United States).

Although AP members exercised undue economic hardship on rivals, the economic rationale for collaborative reporting remains true today; it may be even more true today.

News organizations, especially newspapers, did not anticipate how disruptive digital technology would be to entrenched local monopolies. Consolidation of ownership (across newspapers, radio and television) and loss of traditional advertisers (department stores have disappeared/consolidated, too) have meant newsrooms are shedding reporters and as well as photographers.

Fact-checking is one of those areas where collaboration is truly valuable, both to news organizations and society. We don’t need a dozen different organizations to point out that when someone says the blue sky is, instead, orange. Or when a politician claims he has not said “xyz” … when there is a video of said politician saying “xyz.”

In December, Duke reported that the year began with 51 active U.S. fact checkers (35 local; 16 national). As 2017 came to a close, seven of the local fact checkers had closed their doors. [See a map of fact-checking sites around the world.]


Democracy thrives on transparency

“Democracies die behind closed doors. The 1st Amendment, through a free press, protects the people’s right to know that their government acts fairly, lawfully and accurately in deportation proceedings. When the government begins closing doors, it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people. Selective information is misinformation.”
~ Judge Damon J. Keith, 2002

In a pre-Watergate era court case, Judge Damon J. Keith, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, ruled “that the government couldn’t wiretap individuals without a warrant.” The case (United States v. Sinclair) would make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. [Note: Keith does not write that “democracy dies in the dark” in this ruling, despite claims that he did so. It is possible that he uttered these words separate from the ruling, but they do not appear in the ruling.]

In what has become known as “the Keith case” (United States v. United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division), the Supreme Court concurred with Keith, ruling that “Fourth Amendment freedoms cannot properly be guaranteed if domestic security surveillance may be conducted solely within the discretion of the Executive Branch.”

President Jimmy Carter would appoint Keith to U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in 1977.

In 2002, Judge Keith would reprise his role as judicial brake on executive over-reach. In that three-judge unanimous opinion, Keith found that the Bush administration had unlawfully held “hundreds of deportation hearings in secret based only on the government’s assertion that the people involved may have links to terrorism.”

Help the students and developers at Duke shine light on democracy tonight as they channel Judge Keith’s commitment to government transparency.



Cross-posted at The Moderate Voice.

* There is no reliable source for this claim; Wikiquote authors hypothesize that the punchy phrase is a variation of what Goebbels said about the “big lie”, a concept which originated with Adolf Hitler.

All this was inspired by the principle—which is quite true within itself—that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.

It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X 




The post Help shape the future of fact-checking during the State of the Union address appeared first on WiredPen.

January 29 2018


The origins of Trump’s slogan, “America First”

Before plastering the slogan “America First” across his budget request documents, in his inaugural address last year Donald Trump asserted:

From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first.

It was not the first time Trump had used the phrase to describe his policy positions.

I’m not isolationist, but I am “America First.” So I like the expression. I’m “America First.”

The inaugural address was “at least in part written by Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, two of Trump’s senior advisers” who are infamous for their anti-immigration, nativist viewpoints. Bannon is out but Miller is most very definitely still driving policy.


Where did those viewpoints originate?

KKK March NY 1920s

These women marched in upstate New York in the 1920s, carrying a flag emblazoned with “America First; One God; One Country; One Flag.” The slogan sounds eerily familiar, almost 100 years later. [GettyImages has an original of this editorial image; the march was in Binghamton, NY.]

According to a 2015 NPR article, the KKK was not a shadow organization in the 1920s.

In the 1920s, membership in the KKK reached several million people — almost exclusively white, native-born, Protestant women and men.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reminds us that the Ku Klux Klan had as its genesis the Civil War. The war ended in May 1865; the KKK was formed in December 1865.

And it’s never gone away.

KKK groups from SPL

Chart from Southern Poverty Law Center shows KKK groups from 2000-2016.


The KKK revival in the 1920s coincided with opposition to immigration, primarily Catholics and Jews. (Hence the “One God” assertion in the flag.) Membership in 1925 was about 4 million; total US population was 116 million.

In the 1960s, the KKK returned to its Civil War roots, opposing the civil rights movement and equal opportunity for black Americans.

In this context, “America First” is not a position of trade and economics; it’s one of social class and bigotry.


The KKK has no monopoly on the phrase

Although the roots of “America First” clearly lie with the KKK, it’s not the only organization to trumpet nativism. Another isolationist group channeled the phrase in 1940:

The America First Committee actually began at Yale University, where Douglas Stuart Jr., the son of a vice president of Quaker Oats, began organizing his fellow students in spring 1940. He and Gerald Ford, the future American president, and Potter Stewart, the future Supreme Court justice, drafted a petition stating, “We demand that Congress refrain from war, even if England is on the verge of defeat.”

Hitler had invaded Poland the prior year.

When it formed in 1940, the America First Committee (AFC) “was the most powerful isolationist group in America.” Within a year the organization had 450 local chapters and almost 1 million members.  From The Atlantic last year:

It [AFC] was funded by the families who owned Sears-Roebuck and the Chicago Tribune, but also counted among its ranks prominent anti-Semites of the day.

In this context, “America First” was isolationist: let the rest of the world deal with its problems because they don’t affect us. This was not the first time America touted isolationist tendencies, nor would it be the last.


Trump’s inconsistencies

In 1999, Pat Buchanan used “America First” as his presidential campaign slogan for his bid to be the Reform Party’s presidential candidate in 2000. Buchanan has called World War II an “unnecessary war,” which is a position hard to reconcile with human rights.

Trump called Buchanan “a Hitler lover” after resigning as a member of the Republican Party; he was publicly considering a run for the Reform Party’s presidential nomination.

Yet today “America First” — and all that it symbolizes — is at the fulcrum of his presidency. The phrase now encompasses both of those prior meanings: economic isolation and bigotry.

For example, in the 1920s, the KKK supported restricting immigration to countries with Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian roots which was codified with the Immigration Act of 1924.

When President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill into law, the Klan celebrated the continued protection of the “purity” of American citizenship. A white Protestant citizenry and the desire to maintain their dominance culturally and politically, then, defined 100 percent Americanism.

Sound familiar? It should:

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to [immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries]. Trump then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries such as Norway.


As the NY Times reported this past week on the eve of the World Economic Forum:

Thirty-five new bilateral and regional trade pacts are under consideration around the world, according to the World Trade Organization. The United States is party to just one of them, with the European Union, and that negotiation has gone dormant. The United States is also threatening to withdraw from one of its existing multilateral agreements — the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada — if it cannot be renegotiated in the United States’ favor.

Trump’s own words have empowered the nation’s bigots:

This is a presidency of divisiveness, not unity; a presidency that longs for a very imperfect past rather than a future resting on social and economic justice.





The post The origins of Trump’s slogan, “America First” appeared first on WiredPen.

January 07 2018


Watergate Redux: TIME’s man of the year is Judge John Sirica

January 7, 1974

For his role in unraveling the truth about the Watergate break-in, TIME named Judge John Sirica its 1973 Man of the Year.

TIME Man of the Year The Watergate Judge

Judge John Joseph Sirica

On June 17, 1972, four men broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate office building. This “third-rate burglary” was orchestrated by the White House. It would, two years later, bring down President Richard M. Nixon.

When the Watergate burglary came before the DC court, Judge Sirica assigned the case to himself. In so doing, he became “the Watergate judge.”

In October 1972, the Washington Post story “FBI Finds Nixon Aides Sabotaged Democrats” placed the responsibility for the Watergate burglary at the hands of aides to President Nixon.

James McCord, one of the burglars (known as the “plumbers”), wrote a letter to Judge Sirica in March 1973. He claimed that the burglars were being pressured to plead guilty and keep quiet. Judge Sirica read the letter aloud in his courtroom.

Four months later, Alexander Butterfield revealed that Nixon secretly recorded phone conversations. Butterfield is referred to in news reports as Federal Aviation Administration chief as well as a Nixon aide.

Concurrent with Judge Sirica’s court, Congress was also investigating the Watergate break-in. So was the Department of Justice. On October 20, 1973, Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox.

Richardson refused, choosing instead to resign. Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus also refused and resigned. Nixon persuaded next-in-succession Solicitor General Robert Bork (who President Ronald Reagan would unsuccessfully nominate to the Supreme Court) to can Cox. These events became known as the Saturday Night Massacre. The Department of Justice appointed Leon Jaworski as the new special prosecutor on November 1.

Tapes confirmed Watergate link to White House

Judge Sirica would order President Nixon to give prosecutors the tape recordings of White House conversations about the Watergate break-in.

The tapes revealed that Nixon had approved plans for the Watergate coverup six days after the break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate complex by men who were working for the Committee to Reelect the President.

The tapes, with their infamous missing 18 1/2 minutes, contributed to Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

As the NYTimes reported in Judge Sirica’s obituary:

The two times Judge Sirica ordered Mr. Nixon to turn over his tapes, first for tapes of 9 conversations, then for tapes of 64, the United States Court of Appeals affirmed. The second time the President took the case to the United States Supreme Court, which affirmed Judge Sirica’s ruling as well, in a landmark decision that the President was subject to the orders of the High Court (emphasis added).

Judge Sirica’s suspicions proved solid: 19 officials of the Nixon administration and reelection campaign, including attorney general John Mitchell and two of Nixon’s closest aides (John D. Ehrlichman and H.R. Bob Haldeman), went to jail.* In total, 40 government officials were indicted or jailed.

Facing impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, Nixon – the 37th president of the United States – resigned on August 9, 1974. It was seven months and two days after TIME’s man of the year cover.

Nixon was the first President to resign his office. Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s vice president, had been convicted of tax fraud in Maryland and forced to resign but his departure had nothing to do with Watergate. Congress appointed Gerald Ford as vice president in his stead.

Sirica, chief judge for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, was a Republican. President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed him to the Court on February 25, 1957. In 1971, by virtue of seniority, he became chief judge. Judge Sirica died in 1992 at age 88, after retiring from the bench in 1986.

And Sirica was the son of an immigrant: his father emigrated in 1887 from a village near Naples, Italy.

Watergate preceded by 1972 burglary

Although the focus of the Nixon resignation is on Watergate, the White House plumbers had burglarized psychiatrist Lewis Fielding’s office a year earlier.

Their target? Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers. The resulting exposes by the New York Times and Washington Post embarrassed the Nixon White House and its predecessors. They revealed that American’s military and presidents had known for years that Vietnam was an unwinnable war.

Responses to The Times‘s publication of the Pentagon Papers and the case that followed reflected the degree to which the nation was divided over the war. Opponents of the war, such as Representative Edward I. Koch, of New York, and Prof. Hans Morgenthau, of the University of Chicago, strongly favored publication. Supporters of the war, ranging from Ronald Reagan to Jimmy Carter, were harsh in their criticism of The Times.

Those exposes also led to a showdown with the Supreme Court and a ruling re-enforcing the first amendment.

* These men were convicted of Watergate-related offenses

  1. Bernard L. Barker, burglar
  2. Charles Colson, special counsel to Nixon
  3. Dwight L. Chapin, deputy assistant to Nixon
  4. E. Howard Hunt, former CIA agent and consultant
  5. Egil Krogh, Jr., headed the White House Special Investigations Unit known as “the Plumbers”
  6. Eugenio Martinez, burglar
  7. Frank Sturgis, burglar
  8. Frederick C. LaRue, the bagman
  9. G. Gordon Liddy, chief operative in the White House Special Investigations Unit known as “the Plumbers”
  10. H.R. Bob Haldeman, White House chief of staff
  11. Herbert L. Porter, aide to the Committee to Re-elect the President
  12. Herbert W. Kalmbach, Nixon lawyer
  13. James W. McCord, Jr., former CIA employee and burglar
  14. Jeb Stuart Magruder, deputy campaign director
  15. John D. Ehrlichman, supervised the covert actions of the White House Special Investigations Unit known as “the Plumbers”
  16. John Dean, White House counsel
  17. John Mitchell, Nixon campaign director and U.S. attorney general under Nixon
  18. Richard G. Kleindienst, U.S. attorney general (one month sentence suspended)
  19. Robert C. Mardian, U.S. assistant attorney general
  20. Virgilio Gonzalez, burglar

Sources: NPRNYT, New York Daily News, and Wikipedia where linked above

The post Watergate Redux: TIME’s man of the year is Judge John Sirica appeared first on WiredPen.

December 28 2017


Trump falls far short of Eisenhower’s first-year legislative record

On Wednesday, President Trump played golf in Florida at one of his golf courses.

Then he told a whopper to West Palm Beach firefighters and paramedics.

“We have signed more legislation than anybody. We have more legislation passed, including — the record was Harry Truman a long time ago, and we broke that record, so we got a lot done.”

Trump is the fifth Republican president since Dwight D. Eisenhower assumed office in 1953.

President Eisenhower is the only other modern Republican president to have both houses of Congress under his party’s control during his first year in office. Working with Congress, Ike signed more than five times as many bills as Trump did during his first year in office.

The other four Republican presidents since Eisenhower faced either a divided Congress or one in direct opposition, yet they each signed more bills into law than Trump.

But even with Congress and the White House under the control of the same party, Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan could not surpass the record of Presidents Richard M. Nixon and George H.W. Bush (41) who had to work with a Democratic Congress. Each moved more than twice as many bills into law as Trump.

Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush (43) each worked with a divided Congress to be achieve greater legislative success than Trump.

Take a look at that chart again; data are from GovTrack and WiredPen.

bills passed first year

The four Democratic presidents since 1953 each had a unified Congress during his first year in office. All four succeeded in signing more bills into law than Trump.

Congressional action has changed since the 1950s and 1960s: bills are broader, longer and more complex. Bipartisanship has vanished, as each Congress has become more polarized.

Once again, Trump lied to America.






The post Trump falls far short of Eisenhower’s first-year legislative record appeared first on WiredPen.

December 04 2017


Curiouser and curiouser: Trump’s tweet about Flynn and the FBI

On Saturday, the @RealDonaldTrump twitter account published a tweet about Michael Flynn that shook the Twitter-verse and launched lawyers’ keyboards into warp speed:

trump tweet about flynn

As most things tweeted by Trump, the issue raised is far more complex than 140 or 280 characters can address. In this case, there’s the “obstruction of justice” story, the “he didn’t do it” story, and jarring rejection of social media best practices.

Initial reaction

Was Trump admitting obstruction of justice?

The timing is an issue: did Trump know that Flynn had lied to the FBI when he tried to convince then-FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating Flynn? If yes, that’s obstruction of justice.

Former federal government ethics director Walter Shaub was blunt:

Next, the too-crazy-to-be-believed explanation

After Twitter went into overdrive, Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, claimed he sent the tweet.

According to Mike Allen at Axios, Dowd drafted the tweet and gave it to White House social media director Dan Scavino. We’ll get back to this in a moment.

According to Dowd, in his conversation with Allen, this is what happened:

When acting attorney general Sally Yates (later fired by Trump) went to the White House on Jan. 26, she told White House Counsel Don McGahn that Flynn had “given the agents the same story he gave the Vice President” about his interactions with Russians.

There’s one thing wrong with this claim: Yates told Congress, UNDER OATH, that she did not do this. From the Yates transcript before Congress:

We began our meeting [with White House counsel Don McGahn] telling him that there had been press accounts of statements from the vice president and others that related conduct that Mr. Flynn had been involved in that we knew not to be the truth.

Yates explained the importance of alerting the White House:

We felt like it was critical that we get this information to the White House in part because the vice president was unknowingly making false statements to the public and because we believed that General Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians.

In other words, Yates was advising the White House that Flynn was lying to the Vice President because she did not think Pence was knowingly misleading the public.

Sen. Blumenthal pointed out that “the meeting that the FBI conducted [with Flynn] on January 24th preceded by one day, approximately, your first meeting with Donald McGahn.”

He then asked: “Isn’t it a fact that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI?”

Yates replied: “I can’t reveal the internal FBI investigation, Senator.”

Blumenthal followed up: “Did you tell Donald McGahn that then-National Security Adviser Flynn told the truth to the FBI?”

Yates was clear: “No, he [McGhan] asked me how he [Flynn] had done in the interview, and I specifically declined to answer that… I was intentionally not letting him know how the interview had gone.

But Dowd is claiming the opposite: that Yates said that Flynn told the FBI “the same story” that he told the Vice President.

Moreover, Dowd is Trump’s personal lawyer. Why would he be weighing in on official White House communications?

Who do you believe, Yates or Dowd?

What else is wrong with this picture?

Setting aside the political and legal ramifications of the tweet, there are three additional things wrong with this picture.

First, Dowd indirectly claims that he drafted a tweet that was sent not by Trump but by the White House social media director.

The very name of the account, @realDonaldTrump, is at odds with such a claim. On the other hand, Trump leases his name to so many things that he may treat the Twitter account like one of “his” buildings around the world.

Second, normally accounts of politicians and celebrities carry an identifier when tweets are not composed by the named author. This is a social media best practice, and if Trump’s account is being run by anyone other than Trump, this practice should become SOP post haste, especially when tweets appear to be setting foreign policy.

Evidence suggests Scavino is responsible for publishing some of Trump’s tweets — without our knowing if he also writes them.

Wired published some “tells” in October when trying to determine if a tweet originates with Scavino or Trump.

  • If the tweet consists of nothing but words and the occasional @-mention, Donald Trump probably did the tweet. CHECK.
  • If it’s text-only and sent between 6 pm and 10 am, Donald Trump probably published the tweet. NOPE – however, this does not rule out his having dictated it. Was he playing golf on Saturday at noon?

Third, publicly-available meta-data show that the Tweet was sent by an iPhone: just like the tweets before and after it and all of Trump’s tweets since earlier in the year when he had to give up his Android phone.

If the tweet was sent by staff, not Trump, in a normal environment the tweet would be sent via a service like Hootsuite that makes it easy to compose tweets in advance and schedule the time of publishing. But this one was sent by an iPhone, which means someone other than Trump would have the password to set up the account on their own phone.

Yet another example of how the Trump Administration deliberately dissembles and obfuscates the truth.

This story is far from over.




The post Curiouser and curiouser: Trump’s tweet about Flynn and the FBI appeared first on WiredPen.

October 29 2017


Scrape the web: using Google Sheets to import data

When web pages are properly formatted, you can easily use Google spreadsheets to import (“scrape”) their data. Here’s how.

I wanted to rank National Cancer Institute research expenditures by cancer type; on the website, the data are presented alphabetically.

NCI data


How to scape data into your spreadsheet for analysis

Log in to Google Drive and pick create new spreadsheet.

In cell A1 (upper-left hand corner), paste this:

=IMPORTHTML(“https://www.cancer.gov/about-nci/budget/fact-book/data/research-funding”,”table”, 1)

Wait a moment, and you should see something that looks like this:

scrape with google sheets import


Now that you have the data, you can make the comparisons – and charts – that interest you.

Be sure to freeze the header row before you begin sorting data:

  • Highlight the row (click on the row number, in this case, it’s 1)
  • Tap “View” and then select “Freeze”
  • I chose “2 rows” so that the total budget would remain fixed at the top

scrape data then freeze row google


How do you scrape data off a page that you’re interested in?

You need three things:

  • The page URL
  • The HTML container that holds the data (in this example, “table”)
  • And a number reflecting which table you want (in this example, it’s the first table)

To identify the HTML container, you can use the “inspect element” feature of your browser (Chrome, Safari*) by right-clicking the page near the title of the data. In well-formatted HTML, the container will be a table.

To identify which table (or div) contains the information I’m looking for, I copy

  • the page source HTML;
  • paste it into BBEdit;
  • then search for the HTML tag (in this case, I used <table — I don’t close the tag on search because sometimes there are CSS rules included in the tag space).

Here are additional resources:


How to enable “inspect element” in Safari

  1. Go to Safari > Preferences > Advanced
  2. Ensure that Show Develop menu in menu bar is enabled

    Safari Advanced Preferences

    Safari Advanced Preferences

  3. You now have a new menu tab and an advanced set of tools at your disposal.

    Safari's developer tools

    Safari’s developer tools

  4. Inspect element by right-clicking in the page

    inspect element

    Right-click to launch the inspect element dialog

  5. Move up or down the page to see the element you’re interested in.
    inspect element code




The post Scrape the web: using Google Sheets to import data appeared first on WiredPen.

September 11 2017


This date is a different anniversary for me than for most.

Sixteen years ago, Mike woke me to tell me about the towers. My mind jumped immediately to my best friend from high school, Rebecca, who worked on Wall Street.

But once we got past the initial shock, and knew she was OK, our minds shifted. To me. And the reason I was still in bed when Mike came home to tell me about the towers. On 9/12, we would drive into Seattle for my complete hysterectomy.

Life felt so crazy, however, that I called Virginia Mason to make sure my surgery would go ahead as planned. Because I had to start drinking a vile concoction to clear my bowels for abdominal surgery. And who wants to endure that torture if it’s not needed?


I had gotten sick on our summer motorcycle trip in Europe and spent 10 days in the hospital in southern France with peritonitis accompanied by an ovary the size of an orange. Infection returned as soon as we got back to the States. My DES-christened, malfunctioning, female organs had to go.

In retrospect, the surgery was a blessing. Not only did it give me focus outside of the horror show that was the east coast, I legally self-medicated with opiates (via a PCA pump) for several days. Not enough synapses working properly to concentrate to read. Not enough to watch TV. Unplugged, I was.

So that time, for me, is a blur. I hold a few distinct images, of course. But I didn’t have to watch the planes crash and the towers die, over-and-over-and-over.


The country changed that day, from one of optimism to fear. From one that mouthed “turn the other cheek” to one that fully embraced the vengeful “eye for an eye” God of the Old Testament.

Despite surgery that, in hindsight, was the first step in erasing the essence of my femininity, I allowed myself to be loved. I allowed myself to ask for help. I truly let Mike into my life, an act for which I will be forever grateful.

So today is a bittersweet anniversary. Just as I healed from those abdominal scars and lost hormones, and will heal from the mastectomy scars of last month and the chemo to come, we as a nation need to heal.

I don’t know what route that will take. We pick at the scab of 9–11 because it’s profitable to politicians (and lots of businesses) to keep the wound festering.

How do we honor those who died on 9–11 while acknowledging our catalytic actions that led to that day?

How do we honor those who have lost homes, pets, jobs, friends to Harvey and Irma, while acknowledging our catalytic inaction that exacerbated the events of August and September 2017?

How do we soberly reflect on our collective lives and then commit to change?

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Change we must.

We cannot afford unlimited vengeance.

We have an obiligation to those not yet born to clean up the mess we are making of the world.

We need another charismatic socialist to remind us that we are our brother’s keeper, we should venerate forgiveness, and our lives are richer when lived with kindness and compassion than with distrust and greed.

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June 09 2017


Comey testimony: “I don’t think I can talk about that in an open setting”

There are lots of highlights of the James Comey testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

But what I am interested in were the questions he didn’t answer.


The winner, in terms of clear questions, was former Democratic California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Silence in this case suggests wrong-doing.

  • Are you aware of any meetings between the Trump administration officials and Russian officials during the campaign that have not been acknowledged by those officials in the White House?
  • Are you aware of any questions by Trump campaign officials or associates of the campaign to hide their communications with Russia officials through encrypted means?
  • In the course of the FBI’s investigation, did you ever come across anything that suggested that communication, records, documents or other evidence had been destroyed?
  • And are you aware of any potential efforts to conceal between campaign officials and Russian officials?
  • As the attorney general recused himself from the investigation, do you believe it was appropriate for him to be involved in the firing of the chief investigator of that case that had Russia interference?

The winner in terms of creating soundbites for conservative media was Republican Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

  • Do you believe Trump colluded with Russia?
  • Did you or any FBI agent ever sense that Mr. Flynn attempted to deceive you, or made false statements to an FBI agent?
  • Did you ever come close to closing investigation on Mr. Flynn?


Other questions that stand alone:

  • Heinrich (D-NM): Do you find it odd that the president seemed unconcerned by Russia’s actions in our election?
  • King (D-ME):
    • Does that mean that the [president’s] dossier is not being reviewed or investigated or followed up on in any way?
    • Is it not true that Mr. Flynn was and is a central figure in this entire investigation of the relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russians?
    • Certainly, Mr. Flynn was part of the so-called Russian investigation? Can you answer that question?
    • What do you know about the Russian bank, VEB?
  • McCain (R-AZ): Are you aware of anything that would lead you to believe that information exists that could coerce members of the administration or blackmail the administration?


And the long-winded ones:

  • Burr (R-NC): Multiple questions about the January Christopher Steele story
  • Cotton (R-AR), Heinrich (D-NM), and Riech (R-ID): Questions about the 14 February NY Times story regarding intercepted communications
  • Cotton (R-AR): Flynn’s pre-auguration conversations with Russia
  • Wyden (D-OR): Questions about AG Sessions (D)


Transcript excerpts

And here they are, from the NY Times (I subscribe) transcript. Also included: “I can’t answer.” Remember, Comey is speaking under oath.


Richard Burr (R-NC), Chair

BURR: At the time of your departure from the FBI, was the FBI able to confirm any criminal allegations contained in the Steele document?

COMEY: Mr. Chairman, I don’t think that’s a question I can answer in an open setting because it goes into the details of the investigation…

The “Steele document” is the expose from former MI6 spy Christopher Steele that suggested Donald Trump might be susceptible to Russian blackmail. It hit the press in January prior to the inauguration.

COMEY: Yes. If the FBI receives a credible allegation that there is some effort to co-opt, coerce, direct, employ covertly an American on behalf of the foreign power, that’s the basis on which a counterintelligence investigation is opened.

BURR: And when you read the dossier, what was your reaction, given that it was 100 percent directed at the president-elect?

COMEY: Not a question I can answer in an open setting, Mr. Chairman.

Comey’s second refusal was also related to the Steele expose.

James Risch (R-ID)

RISCH: On — I remember, you — you talked with us shortly after February 14th, when the New York Times wrote an article that suggested that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians. You remember reading that article when it first came out?

COMEY: I do. It was about allegedly extensive electronic surveillance…

RISCH: Correct.


COMEY: … communications. Yes, sir.

RISCH: And — and that upset you to the point where you actually went out and surveyed the intelligence community to see whether — whether you were missing something in that. Is that correct?

COMEY: That’s correct. I want to be careful in open setting. But…

RISCH: I — I’m — I’m not going to any further than that with it.


On 14 February, the New York Times published this story: Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence. It credited “four current and former American officials.”

Also on 14 February (coincidence?), Trump invited Comey to dinner.

This was Comey’s third refusal to answer or continue answering.

Ron Wyden (D-OR)

WYDEN: Let me turn to the Attorney General. In your statement, you said that you and the FBI leadership team decided not to discuss the president’s actions with Attorney General Sessions, even though he had not recused himself.

What was it about the Attorney General’s own interactions with the Russians, or his behavior with regard to the investigation, that would have led the entire leadership of the FBI to make this decision?

COMEY: Our judgment, as I recall, was that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.

And so we were — we were convinced — and, in fact, I think we had already heard that the career people were recommending that he recuse himself — that he was not going to be in contact with Russia- related matters much longer, and that turned out to be the case.

WYDEN: How would you characterize Attorney General Sessions’s adherence to his recusal? In particular, with regard to his involvement in your firing, which the president has acknowledged was because of the Russian investigation.

COMEY: That’s a question I can’t answer. I think it is a reasonable question. If, as the president said, I was fired because of the Russia investigation, why was the attorney general involved in that chain? I don’t know. So I don’t have an answer for the question.

AG Sessions was part of the Trump campaign apparatus.

Martin Heinrich (D-NM)

HEINRICH: Do you find it odd that the president seemed unconcerned by Russia’s actions in our election?

COMEY: I can’t answer that because I don’t know what other conversations he had with other advisers or other intelligence community leaders. I just don’t know sitting here…

HEINRICH: So there are reports that the incoming Trump administration, either during the transition and/or after the inauguration, attempted to set up a sort of back-door communication channel with the Russian government using their infrastructure, their devices or facilities.

What would be the risks particularly for a transition, someone not actually in the office of the president yet, to setting up unauthorized channels with a hostile foreign government, especially if they were to evade our own American intelligence services?

COMEY: I’m not going to comment on whether that happened in an open setting. But the risk is — primary risk is obvious: you spare the Russians the cost and effort of having to break into our communications channels by using theirs.

And so you make it a whole lot easier for them to capture all of your conversations, and then to use those to the benefit of Russia against the United States.

The claim Heinrich references relates to the alleged request for a secret communications channel that Jared Kushner and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn made to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in Trump Tower.

Angus King (D-ME)

KING: Thank you.

With regard to the question of him being under personal — personally under investigation, does that mean that the dossier is not being reviewed or investigated or followed up on in any way?

COMEY: I obviously can’t — I can’t comment either way. I can’t talk in an open setting about the investigation as it was when I was the head of the FBI. And obviously it’s — it’s Director Mueller’s — Bob Mueller’s responsibility now, so I just — I don’t know.

Republicans asked several times if Comey had told Trump that he was not personally under investigation.

KING: Now, on the Flynn investigation, is it not true that Mr. Flynn was and is a central figure in this entire investigation of the relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russians?

COMEY: I can’t answer that in an open setting, sir.

KING: Certainly, Mr. Flynn was part of the so-called Russian investigation? Can you answer that question?

COMEY: I have to give you the same answer.

King is unable to score points for liberal pundits.

KING: I was just going to quote that. In 1170, December 29, Henry II said, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” and then, the next day, he was killed — Thomas Becket. That’s exactly the same situation. You’re — we’re thinking along the same lines.

Several other questions, and these are a little bit more detailed. What do you know about the Russian bank, VEB?

COMEY: Nothing that I can talk about in an open setting. I mean, I know it…


KING: Well, that takes care of my next three questions.

COMEY: I know it exists. Yes, sir.

Tom Cotton (R-AR)

COTTON: Let’s turn our attention to the underlying activity at issue here: Russia’s hacking into those e-mails and releasing them, and the allegations of collusion. Do you believe Donald Trump colluded with Russia?

COMEY: That’s a question I don’t think I should answer in an open setting. As I said, that — we didn’t — that (ph) when I left, we did not have an investigation focused on President Trump. But that’s a question that’ll be answered by the investigation, I think.

Blunt and to the point; Cotton is asking Comey if he’s willing to conjecture, knowing that the answer will be “no.” Provides good headlines/talking points for conservative media.

COTTON: Let me turn to a couple of statements by one of my colleagues, Senator Feinstein [regarding collusion between Trump associates and Russia]…

COMEY: I don’t doubt that Senator Feinstein was saying what — what she understood. I just don’t want to go down that path, first of all, because I’m not in the government anymore, and answering in the negative, I just worry, leads me deeper and deeper into talking about the investigation in an open setting…

COTTON: Do you have — at the time the story [referenced above, NYT on 14 February] was published, any indication of any contact between Trump people and Russians, intelligence officers, other government officials or close associates of the Russian government?

COMEY: That’s one I can’t answer sitting here

COTTON: Would it be improper for an incoming national security adviser to have a conversation with a foreign ambassador?

COMEY: In my — in my experience, no.

COTTON: But you can’t confirm or deny that the conversation happened, and we would need to know the contents of that conversation to know if it was, in fact, improper?

COMEY: Yeah, I don’t think I can talk about that in an open setting. And again, I’ve been out of government, now, a month, so I don’t — I also don’t want to talk about things when it’s now somebody’s — else’s responsibility. But maybe in the — in the classified setting, we can talk more about that.

Cotton’s questions are focusing on pre-augural allegations. Very strategic for headlines.

COTTON: You stated earlier that there wasn’t an open investigation of Mr. Flynn in (ph) the FBI. Did you or any FBI agent ever sense that Mr. Flynn attempted to deceive you, or made false statements to an FBI agent?

COMEY: I don’t want to go too far. That was the subject of the criminal inquiry.

COTTON: Did you ever come close to closing investigation on Mr. Flynn?

COMEY: I don’t think I can talk about that in an open setting, either.

Kamala Harris (D-CA)

HARRIS: I have a series of questions to ask you, and — and they’re going to start with, are you aware of any meetings between the Trump administration officials and Russian officials during the campaign that have not been acknowledged by those officials in the White House?

COMEY: That’s not a — even if I remember clearly, that’s a not a question I can answer in an open setting.

HARRIS: Are you aware of any questions by Trump campaign officials or associates of the campaign to hide their communications with Russia officials through encrypted means?

COMEY: I have to give you the same answer.

HARRIS: In the course of the FBI’s investigation did you ever come across anything that suggested that communication, records, documents or other evidence had been destroyed?

COMEY: I think I’ve got to give you the same answer because it would touch on investigative matters.

HARRIS: And are you a wear of any potential efforts to conceal between campaign officials and Russian officials?

COMEY: I have to give you the same answer…

HARRIS: And the attorney general recused himself from the investigation, do you believe it was appropriate for him to be involved in the firing of the chief investigator of that case that had Russia interference?

COMEY: It’s something that I can’t answer sitting here. It’s a reasonable question. It would depend on a lot of things I don’t know, like did he know, what was he told, did he realize the investigation, things like that. I just don’t know the answer.

John McCain (R-AZ), ex officio member

McCAIN: Are you aware of anything that would lead you to believe that information exists that could coerce members of the administration or blackmail the administration?

COMEY: That’s not a question I can answer, senator.


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June 08 2017


How to watch Comey’s Senate Intelligence Committee testimony

Former FBI Director James B. Comey will testify publicly on Thursday June 8 before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The hearing begins at 10 am Eastern (7 a.m. Pacific) at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. After the public hearing, Comey will testify in a non-television closed session starting around 1 pm Eastern. ABC, CBS and NBC as well as FOX will broadcast live, an unusual move for network television.

President Trump fired Comey on May 8. His testimony is widely anticipated. Read his opening statement (pdf); pre-release gives the White House a chance to prepare a response.

Bloomberg is livestreaming on Twitter:

Watch via your favorite online channel

Specifics on the network coverage:

  • ABC News is being anchored by George Stephanopoulos.
  • CBS This Morning co-hosts Norah O’Donnell, Gayle King and Charlie Rose are anchoring the CBS coverage. They will be joined by “Face the Nation” anchor and chief Washington correspondent John Dickerson and chief legal correspondent Jan Crawford.
  • CNN is streaming live and broadcasting.
  • FOX News plans pre-hearing coverage with Bill Hemmer and Shannon Bream; they will be joined by Bret Baier, Chris Wallace and Dana Perino.
  • NBC News chief legal correspondent Savannah Guthrie is anchoring from Washington, D.C.  with Lester Holt, Guthrie and Chuck Todd co-anchoring the NBC coverage from Washington, D.C. Matt Lauer is anchoring from New York.



Reactions to the pre-released statement and hearing


Specific call-outs from Lawfare

From Benjamin Wittes, who has written previously about Comey’s comments on Trump’s behavior

The first broad theme I want to highlight here is the effort on the part of the President to engage his FBI director in a relationship of patronage and the overwhelming discomfort this effort caused Comey. This is a theme I wrote about based on my own contemporaneous conversations with Comey, but to see it fleshed out across a number of different incidents is nevertheless jarring.

And Jack Goldsmith:

Trump does not remotely understand his role, status, and duties as President and Chief Executive, and this failure infects or undermines just about everything he does.   It is an amazing state of affairs: A President of the United States who does not at all grasp the Office he occupies, and who thus entirely lacks the proper situation sense, or contextual knowledge, in which a President should exercise judgment or act.  Let that sink in, and then imagine all of the decisions a President must make, all that he is responsible for.  This reflection is the main reason why I have come to believe that the President does not deserve a presumption of regularity in his actions—not just by courts with respect to the immigration executive orders, but by the public more generally with respect to “everything the Executive does that touches, however lightly, the President.”

Featured image/Flickr CC

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May 14 2017


Newswriting 101: deconstructing an AP story

Sloppy reporting does the republic no favors.

There’s plenty of fodder for teeth gnashing in DC, but what set mine on edge today was how the Associated Press reported on a list of possible FBI directors. Moreover, this AP story (pdf) which I encountered about an hour after it went live on the AP website, provides fodder for anyone who thinks that “the press” is “out to get” the president.

James R. Clapper Jr. has served director of various national intelligence agencies under Presidents George H.W. Bush (1991-1995), George Bush (2001-2006) and Barack Obama (2007-2017). He spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper on Sunday. You won’t learn his full name, anything about his bi-partisan service, or where he made his comments in the AP story.

I have marked it up as I would have had it been turned in as a college class assignment.

There are no links in the AP story. None. I don’t know if this is a fault of the AP content management system, the reporter, or the editor. But it does the reader — as well as the Associated Press and the news organizations obliquely referenced — a disservice.

What do you think? Am I too harsh? Not harsh enough?

Clapper: US govt ‘under assault’ by Trump after Comey firing

WASHINGTON (AP) — American democracy is separately “under assault” from President Donald Trump and Russia, the former U.S. intelligence chief warned Sunday, expressing dismay over the abrupt firing of FBI director James Comey amid a probe into Moscow’s meddling in U.S. elections and possible ties with the Trump campaign.
Who? The lede requires that the reader know and hold the headline in her head. And the sentence is far too long: almost 50 words. That’s a long breath.
As Trump works to fast-track Comey’s successor, lawmakers from both parties urged him to steer clear of any politicians for the job and say he must “clean up the mess that he mostly created.”
Which lawmakers? Whose words are in quotes? Links are your friend.
“I think, in many ways, our institutions are under assault, both externally — and that’s the big news here, is the Russian interference in our election system,” said James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence. “I think as well our institutions are under assault internally.”
When? Under what president? What has he done since? What is James Clapper’s full name?
When he was asked, “Internally, from the president?” Clapper said, “Exactly.”
When? Where? By whom? Passive tense.
Clapper spoke following Trump’s sudden firing of Comey last week, which drew sharp criticism because it came amid the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Clapper said America’s founding fathers had created three co-equal branches of government with checks and balances, but with Trump as president, that was now under assault and “eroding.”
When? Where? Trump fired Comey on Tuesday. Today is Sunday. Context needed.
The White House had no immediate comment on Clapper’s remarks on a morning in which no White House aide appeared on the Sunday news shows to discuss Trump’s firing.
Who said? How do you know? But UN Ambassador Nikki Haley was on the same CNN show as Clapper. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared on NBC.
Lawmakers from both parties reprimanded Trump’s actions last week, which included shifting explanations from the White House for Comey’s dismissal and an ominous tweet by Trump that warned Comey against leaks to the press because he may have “tapes” of their conversations. The lawmakers urged Trump to select a new FBI director without any political background and said the president would need to hand over to Congress any taped conversations with Comey, if they exist.
Sweeping generalization. Only three are quoted in this story. Links are your friend.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said promoting an FBI agent to lead the agency would allow the nation to “reset.” He dismissed as less desirable at least two of the 14 candidates under consideration by Trump, former Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, explaining that “these are not normal circumstances.”

Standard protocol is to include state information, either as narrative or in parens: (S.C.) This is particularly important if the Senator is going to be referenced later by his state, as in this story. Also, tell us when/where/to whom Graham said this. Putting that information in the last graph of a story this long (20+ paragraphs) is not sufficient.

Rogers, an ex-FBI agent and former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has drawn the backing of the FBI Agents Association. Cornyn is the No. 2 Republican in the Senate.
Organizations don’t speak. People do. Who says?
“It’s now time to pick somebody who comes from within the ranks, or has such a reputation that has no political background at all that can go into the job on Day 1,” the South Carolina Republican said. Asked whether it was the right time to have someone such as Rogers or Cornyn, Graham flatly said, “no.”
Graham has not been IDed as a South Carolina senator. Who asked the question?
“The president has a chance to clean up the mess he mostly created,” Graham said, adding, “I have no evidence that the president colluded with the Russians at all … but we don’t know all the evidence yet.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the new FBI director should certainly be someone “not of partisan background” with “great experience” and “courage.” He left open the possibility that Democrats might try and withdraw support for a new FBI director unless the Justice Department names a special prosecutor. Under rules of the Senate, Republicans could still confirm an FBI director with 51 votes. Republicans hold 52 seats in the chamber to Democrats’ 48.
Same points as above regarding when/where/to whom
Calling Trump’s remarks about possible taped conversations “outrageous,” Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said his panel or another congressional committee would “absolutely” subpoena the tapes.
Same points as above regarding when/where/to whom
“We have got to make sure that these tapes, if they exist, don’t mysteriously disappear,” he said.
This would be an appropriate time to reference Watergate.
Warner also said he hopes to have Comey testify in a public hearing before his committee. Comey earlier declined an invitation this week to testify in a closed hearing.
Links are your friend and answer the “who said” comment that this sentence generates.
Less than a week after Trump fired Comey, the administration has interviewed at least eight candidates to be FBI director, and Trump has said a decision could come before he leaves Friday on his first overseas trip as president.
Who said?
Trump abruptly fired Comey on Tuesday and later said Comey was a “showboat” and “grandstander” who was not doing a good job, drawing a firestorm of criticism. Trump said in an interview with NBC that the Russia investigation factored into his decision to fire Comey. The changing rationales the White House offered added an element of chaos to the president’s action.
Links are your friend. When did he say the words in quotes? Link to NBC interview (when? with whom?) Link to changing rationales. Who said there is “chaos”?
The FBI director serves a 10-year term but can be replaced by the president.
So far 14 people — lawmakers, attorneys and law enforcement officials among them — have emerged as candidates. Eight met at the Justice Department on Saturday with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein.
Who says?
The first candidate to arrive for interviews was Alice Fisher, a high-ranking Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration.
Who says?
Also interviewed were:
Who says? Also, best practice is no colon as this is constructed. Add “the following” and then use the colon.
—Adam Lee, special agent in charge of the FBI’s office in Richmond, Virginia.
— Andrew McCabe, the acting FBI director.
—Michael J. Garcia, a former prosecutor and associate judge on New York’s highest court.
—Cornyn, a former Texas attorney general.
—U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, a Bush appointee who struck down the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s health care law in 2010.
—Frances Townsend, a former Bush homeland security and counterterrorism adviser.
—Rogers. The FBI Agents Association says it believes his diverse background makes him the best choice.
Organizations don’t speak. People do. Who says?
Sessions has faced questions over whether his involvement in Comey’s firing violates his pledge to recuse himself from investigations into Russian interference in the election.
Who has asked questions? When did he recuse himself? Links are your friend.
Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said Sessions and Rosenstein were involved in the interviews because the FBI director reports to them as attorney general and deputy attorney general.
She said this when? Where? To whom? And this explanatory paragraph fits more appropriately above, where Sessions and Rosenstein were first mentioned. 
Clapper and Schumer made their comments on CNN’s “State of the Union”; Graham spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press”; and Warner appeared on ABC’s “This Week” and “Fox News Sunday.”
Tucking this in at the end of the story is lazy sourcing.
Associated Press writers Sadie Gurman and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

The AP story is copyrighted; this is an educational “fair use” instance. Featured image: Flickr CC

Addendum: I started writing as 12:42 pm Pacific, three hours ago. At that time, AP said the story was one hour old. AP still shows the news story as being published “one hour ago”. It is the lead politics story, which says it was published two hours ago.


Top politics news screen grab at 3:40 pm Pacific. I saw the story on the AP website at about 12:30 pm Pacific; at that time, the time stamp on the story said it had been published an hour earlier.


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May 01 2017


Bret Stephens and the manufacture of doubt

The NYTimes added to its stable of conservative op-ed columnists by hiring Bret Stephens, a former Wall Street Journal columnist with a Pulitzer for commentary.

His inaugural column, Climate of Complete Certainty, was meet with vociferous pushback.

From the Washington Post:

On Friday, Bennet’s new hire published “Climate of Complete Certainty,” a dreadfully argued piece contending that … well, the point is buried in false starts, bogus reasoning and imprecise writing… As this blog noted on Friday, speaking of climate change as a future problem shortchanges the entire issue. It’s already inundating people, as the New York Times itself has reported on the other side of its news-opinion firewall.

From Slate:

[T]he column reinforces the idea that [people who are skeptical about climate change] might have a point. The New York Times push notification that went out Friday afternoon about the column said as much—“reasonable people can be skeptical about the dangers of climate change,” it read. That is not actually true, and nothing that Stephens writes makes a case for why it might be true. This column is … a dog whistle to people who feel confused about climate change. It’s nothing more than textbook denialism.

And from TheWrap:

The crux of Stephens’ piece is that normal citizens shouldn’t accept the evidence released by scientists and political activists, and that’s why the current debate is a struggle.


The response on Twitter was pointed

Some NY Times reporters took issue with the column:


Scientists got into the act 

Analysis of the argument

Let’s start with the headline: “Climate of Complete Certainty”.

Science does not argue “complete certainty.” With this beginning – which he revisits in the column – Stephens rests his case on a strawman, a common rhetorical fallacy.

Claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong.

Dr. Joe Romm, the founding editor of Climate Progress writes:

In reality, pretty much every aspect of science has some aspect of uncertainty, error bars, or ranges of outcomes — including essentially every medical course of treatment you were ever recommended and every science policy recommendation ever offered by the scientific community to policymakers.

Ken Caldeira, Carnegie Institution for Science, is blunt:

No working scientist claims 100% certainty about anything.

Stephens is arguing with a ghost, something that doesn’t exist. 

His essay begins with four paragraphs about the Clinton campaign, then this:

There’s a lesson here. We live in a world in which data convey authority. But authority has a way of descending to certitude, and certitude begets hubris. From Robert McNamara to Lehman Brothers to Stronger Together, cautionary tales abound.

Yes, Stephens is setting up a column about climate change — what most of us call hard science — with anecdotes about political polls (which were correct, by the way — you know, margin of error) and memorable non-scientific decisions.

Is there anyone who truly thinks that public opinion research has the same degree of rigor as climatology?

He begins his specific criticism of climate science with a Pew Research Center report about public opinion:

Just 36 percent of Americans care “a great deal” about the subject.

How can that be, he asks.

Pew points out that “liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans see climate-related matters through vastly different lenses.” But despite this partisan difference, only 1-in-4 Americans care very little (‘not at all’, 8%; ‘not too much’, 18%) about climate change.

Just like big tobacco,  industry seeks to manufacture doubt.

In its report, Pew points out that Democrats assess science differently than Republicans:

To the extent that science knowledge influences people’s judgments related to climate change and trust in climate scientists, it does so among Democrats, but not Republicans.

Consequently, the detail that Stephens skips in his “36%” quote:

This group is composed primarily of Democrats (72%), but roughly a quarter (24%) is Republican.

Despite industry efforts to create doubt, most Americans (67%) believe climate scientists should “have a major role” in climate policy. Only 1-in-10 think they should have no role. 

Stephens presents one scientific claim, and it’s wrong

Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change knows that, while the modest (0.85 degrees Celsius, or about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warming of the Northern Hemisphere since 1880 is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities.

But that claim is … broken.

  • The 0.85°C is not ‘modest’,” according to Romm. Instead, “[i]t is roughly the same as the entire variation the Earth experienced during the several thousand years of stable climate that enabled the development of modern civilization.”
  • The 0.85°C number is presented in the report as a range – 0.65 to 1.06 °C – because these reports are the antithesis of black-and-white thinking.
  • The 0.85°C number is global, not North America. The Northern Hemisphere is warming more quickly than Southern (we have more land): ~1.5°C.

Climate scientists speak and write in probabilistic terms, even when discussing human influence on warming. “Indisputable” claims do not appear in the IPCC reports. From the Pew study Stephens cites:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which reflects scientific opinion on the topic, stated in the forward to its 2013 report, “the science now shows with 95 percent certainty that human activity is the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century.” (emphasis added)

Stephens ducks ideology in his column, but Pew does not:

Politics is the central factor shaping people’s beliefs about the effects of climate change, ways to address warming, trust in climate scientists.

Columns like this one aid and abet that doubt.

Image: Lynnwood Wa sunset, 2012

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April 24 2017


US media as scaremonger

“If it bleeds, it leads” is a classic media trope.

Not for the first time, that urge for sales (newspapers), viewers (TV and cable) and clicks (all things web) have elevated fear over truth. In the process, the fourth estate shirks its role in helping voters make informed choices.

It’s easier to be killed by a terrorist than it is to find a husband over the age of 40.

That quote comes from Sleepless in Seattle. But its root was a June 1986 cover story in Newsweek, a story that has been debunked and retracted, 20 years later.

Fear sells, even when it’s false.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a news release chastising nine jurisdictions that are colloquially known as “sanctuary cities.” These cities are, according to the DOJ, “crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime.” Notice how crime is being linked with immigration?

That linkage is made believable to the casual reader because of how media report violent crime.

When there’s a Muslim link, the media spotlight is brighter

In the United States, when a violent attack by an extremist group has an Islamic component, it gets about five times (449%) more coverage than a similar attack by a domestic group.

Three researchers at Georgia State University show that “the perpetrator’s identity alone is a significant predictor of media coverage.”

Whether the disproportionate coverage is a conscious decision on the part of journalists or not, this stereotyping reinforces cultural narratives about what and who should be feared. By covering terrorist attacks by Muslims dramatically more than other incidents, media frame this type of event as more prevalent.

Their data covers the period 2011-2015 and shows that almost one-fifth of the media coverage on terrorism was the Boston Marathon. That explosion killed three civilians and injured dozens.

Wade Michael Page’s attack on the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin killed 6 people and it only received 3.81% of the total coverage. Frazier Glenn Miller’s attack on a synagogue in Kansas killed 3 people and it only received 3.27% of the coverage. Dylann Roof killed 9 people in an African-American church in Charleston and received 7.42% of the coverage. These attacks have three things in common: the perpetrator was a white man and the targets were both religious and minority groups. These instances highlight disparity in media coverage of terrorism (emphasis added).

Yet far-right groups mount more deadly attacks than Islamic ones

Data from the GAO reflect a related disparity: most extremist attacks that result in death in the U.S. originate with far right groups.

From 12 September 2001 to 31 December 2016, there were 62 attacks by far right extremists that resulted in deaths. There were 23 such attacks that GAO label “radical Islamist.” Score: 73% for far right extremists, that’s about 3-in-4.

However, 16 of the 23 “radical Islamic” attacks (70%) were undertaken by John Allen Muhammad (then aged 42) and Lee Boyd Malvo (then 17). They killed 17 people over the course of eight months, with 10 over a three-week period in October 2002. Their link to Islamic terrorism was weak.

Only two of the 62 far right affiliated perpetrators had multiple attacks (two each).

The Southern Poverty Law Center reported:

West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center reported in 2013 that right-wing violence during the period surpassed that of the 1990s by a factor of four. The attacks included the 2012 massacre of six Sikhs at a Wisconsin temple by neo-Nazi Wade Page.

From 2015 to 2016, the number of anti-Muslim hate groups tripled, increasing from 34 to 101.

These far right, mostly white, groups are attacking people of color. Through their choice of coverage, U.S. media are tacitly saying that white deaths matter more than people of color.

We are lousy at assessing risk

Lewis & Clark College president Barry Glassner, author of The Culture of Feartold Rolling Stone magazine last fall:

[W]e are living in the most fear mongering time in human history. And the main reason for this is that there’s a lot of power and money available to individuals and organizations who can perpetuate these fears.

Chapman University studies “fear” (or anxiety). In 2016, the top fear in the U.S. was corrupt government officials. Coming in second: a terrorist attack.

The risk of dying in a terrorist attack: about 1 in 20 million each year. Being struck by lightning: about 1 in 700,000. Dying in a car accident: about 1 in 47,700.

In 2008, Psychology Today took a stab at explaining why our brains stumble when it comes to risk assessment:

Though the odds of dying in a terror attack like 9/11 or contracting Ebola are infinitesimal, the effects of chronic stress caused by constant fear are significant. Studies have found that the more people were exposed to media portrayals of the 2001 attacks, the more anxious and depressed they were. Chronically elevated stress harms our physiology, says [David] Ropeik. “It interferes with the formation of bone, lowers immune response, increases the likelihood of clinical depression and diabetes, impairs our memory and our fertility, and contributes to long-term cardiovascular damage and high blood pressure.”

No wonder Pope Francis admonished journalists not to “foment fear before events like forced migration from war or from hunger” or use their craft as  a “weapon of destruction against persons and even entire peoples.”

Media can do better.

Christopher Bader, one of the architects of the Chapman survey, told Rolling Stone that certainty is what demagogues have on offer, a tantalizing “psychological relief for the anxiety created by uncertainty.”

Stir up fear and then provide the solution?

Media must do better: the nature of our society and government depend on it.





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April 18 2017


Ballmer spends $10M to pull government data into one site

Government data visualization on steroids.

Courtesy of … Steve Ballmer?

USAFacts was inspired by a conversation Steve Ballmer had with his wife. She wanted him to get more involved in philanthropic work. He thought it made sense to first find out what government does with the money it raises. Where does the money come from and where is it spent? Whom does it serve? And most importantly, what are the outcomes?

But don’t hold your breath if you actually want to use the data. Because closed environment mindsets die hard:

[Ballmer] hopes to open it up so that individuals and companies can build on top of it and pull out customized reports.

You gotta be kidding me.

If you need to see another disconnect between 0.01%ers like Ballmer and normal people, here’s one. The NYT provides it, stenographic-like, with no commentary:

“Most of the not-for-profits we work with would be 50 to 90 percent government funded,” Mr. Ballmer said, referring to various efforts to fight poverty that he has supported. “I mean it’s funny, but I didn’t realize all these not-for-profits were in a sense almost like government contractors.”

Pardon my second WTF? Ballmer didn’t know that NFPs rely on government grants, especially those dealing with poverty and health? And he gets to influence government more than most, because, money?

What is USAFacts?

It’s Ballmer’s attempt to provide a website that consolidates public data from all levels of government: federal, state, local. The U.S. Constitution lays out four goals for government, and Ballmer’s team used those goals to provide a framework for the data.

USA Facts Mission


There’s a LOT of data, some of it in infographics, much in tables. But it’s far more than is possible to review on day one.

Here’s one data point, a commentary on current political rhetoric, pulled from a table in the slides:



One of the reports being lauded in the press is what Ballmer calls “the equivalent of a 10-K for government.” Public companies provide a 10-K report to the SEC each year; they are written in finance-speak. From Recode:

It’s a 316-page, chart-heavy filing that [Ballmer] acknowledges is geared toward the business set.

As for the risk factors outlined in the 10-K report?

But Ballmer doesn’t peg government — or its hyper-partisanship — as a risk to itself. The 10-K doesn’t highlight the quirks of the U.S. Congress that render it difficult to pass legislation, the slow-moving nature of the rest of Washington, or the role of corporate executives — Ballmer included — to fund political candidates for those very offices. And, most obviously, it doesn’t mention Trump or his administration, which is often faulted for deviations from fact.


Finally from Seattle-based GeekWire, an interview:

But is there really a paucity of data?

From Recode:

[The site rests on] a belief that voters and regulators alike could make better decisions if only they had unbiased, unpolluted information at their fingertips…. From simple Google and Wikipedia searches to deeper number-crunching work published by nonprofits like the Sunlight Foundation, there’s an existing wealth of scannable data about U.S. tax dollars and how, and on whom, they’re spent.


What do you think?


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April 14 2017


United Airlines does not have a “PR” problem

It’s been a long week for United Airlines, with no end in sight.

In his initial response to Sunday’s deplorable corporate behavior on United Flight 3411, Oscar Munoz, United’s CEO, talked about “re-accommodating” customers and characterized the event — a passenger being dragged off a United airplane by his arms and legs — as a consequence of “overbooking” [1].

On Thursday, the attorney for the man dragged from the plane, Dr. David Dao, 69, told the world that his client suffered a concussion, a sinus injury, and a broken nose. The Chicago officers who dragged him off the plane also knocked out two of Dao’s teeth.

Attorney Thomas Demetrio said that United employees asked Dao’s wife to leave the plane after he was forcibly removed. In at least one of the consumer videos of Sunday’s brutality, you can see a woman exit the plane at the end of the video.

Spin zone: overbooking

Airlines routinely overbook flights in order to fly with as few empty seats as possible. Anyone who has traveled a bit knows this. Thus United’s characterization was an adroit “PR” move in the disparaging/spin sense of the phrase.

Media, pundits and politicians swallowed “overbookingwhole and unthinkingly; they prattled it back to us, stenography-style. Even though it was clear, from the beginning, that the passenger had boarded the plane.

The former CEO of Continental Airlines (maybe this explains the ‘former’ part) asserted on Monday that the situation was “an oversale obviously” (it wasn’t). He contended that it was the customer being forced from his seat who was acting in an “immature” manner. That’s pretty much what Munoz also said on Monday in his letter to employees. Can you get a better example of CEO privilege on display?

News media repeated United’s “overbooking” explanation, ad nauseam, despite United’s confirmation that seats were needed for four crew members. Not a routine “oversold” problem. Four employees needed to get from O’Hare to Louisville, and according to Munoz, they didn’t approach the gate until after the flight was fully boarded. You know. Late.

Ethically, the decision to pull four paying customers from their seats was wrong.

Legally, it’s questionable as well.

On Tuesday, the company admitted that the flight was not overbooked.

United spokesman Jonathan Guerin said Tuesday that all 70 seats on United Express Flight 3411 were filled, but the plane was not overbooked as the airline previously reported. Instead, United and regional affiliate Republic Airlines, which operated the flight, selected four passengers to be removed to accommodate crew members needed in Louisville the next day.

Assume for a moment that all of this had happened before passengers were boarded. United’s “denial of boarding” contract provisions apply only to flights that have been oversold.

Oversold Flight means a flight where there are more Passengers holding valid confirmed Tickets that check-in for the flight within the prescribed check-in time than there are available seats.

United, according to its own policies, had no right to deny anyone boarding so that employees could fly. Especially employees who showed up late to the gate.

However, what took place on Sunday was not denial of boarding.

It was refusal of transport. And United’s Contract of Carriage 21 details the circumstances in which the airline can remove a passenger from one of its planes.  Surprise! So employees can get to work is not on the list. [Screen caps: 1, 2, 3]

Even now, after United stated publicly that the flight was NOT overbooked, news stories are still talking about “overbooked” flights.

Score: United, 1: News media, 0

Missed opportunities for news organizations

No national news report that I have seen has examined United’s contract of carriage, which details the reasons that it can remove a passenger from the plane after (in this case) he has been seated. I know, I know, this would mean that they would have to retract headlines like this one.

No national news report that I have seen has examined why these crew members were trying to take the last flight of the day or why they were late. Had the crew been suddenly assigned a flight out of Kentucky? Do they live (or were they visiting) in Chicago and Louisville was their home base?

This was a crisis communications opportunity…

On Tuesday, Munoz issued a second apology.

Wednesday, Munoz: “this will never happen again.”

If your company does not have a crisis communications plan in place for when (not if, when) a video of something “bad” happening on your watch makes its way to Twitter and Facebook, and you’re the chief communications officer, you need to resign or be fired.

United is the world’s largest airline, in terms of number of destinations served. And it clearly had no such plan in place, despite the infamous leggings incident (a mere two weeks ago).


… which resulted in a huge image problem



However, screwed up communications about a disaster and a CEO with foot-and-mouth (just trust the lawyers to craft the statement) disease is not the problem.



Saying United has a “PR problem” suggests the “solution” is akin to putting some lipstick on that pig.

Modifying external appearance (we might call that sleight of hand) does nothing to change the fact that the pig is still a pig.

United’s problem is not skin-deep. It’s soul deep.

United’s heavy-handed, “you lose your seat” behavior isn’t confined to the midwest or east coast or low-budget tickets. From the LATimes, here’s an incident last week in Hawaii. Geoff Fearns, 59, president of TriPacific Capital Advisors, had a full-fare, first-class ticket on United from Kauai to LA. He boarded and had his complimentary beverage. And then:

… they told me they needed the seat for somebody more important who came at the last minute,” Fearns said. “They said they have a priority list and this other person was higher on the list than me…. they didn’t say anything at the gate. I was already in the seat. And now they were telling me I had no choice. They said they’d put me in cuffs if they had to.”

As others have pointed out, the federal government has allowed airline consolidation to occur, unabated. And, apparently, relatively unregulated, in terms of consumer protection.

In 2014, Tim Wu pointed out that the airline industry – at least in America – is predicated on calculated misery and the profits that ensue from our wish to avoid suffering. It’s not your imagination that seats have gotten smaller and the space between rows, narrower (2014):

The roomiest economy seats you can book on the nation’s four largest airlines are narrower than the tightest economy seats offered in the 1990s. The worst seats today measure either 17 or 17.2 inches, when about 19 was as tight as it got through the 1990s. In fact, even the widest seats for sale in economy today—from 17 to 18.5 inches —would not have been offered several years ago. For comparison, up in the front of the cabin, premium class seating on the Big Three usually measures 21 inches.

I don’t agree with this industry expert, who blames the victim (we with little choice and no bargaining power). Henry H. Harteveldt, the president of the Atmosphere Research Group, told the NYTimes:

Consumers have shown that they’re willing to put up with an awful lot, including lack of legroom, lack of amenities, mediocre or worse customer service, dirty airplanes and more to save money.

Sometimes, you need to fly. Funerals. Family emergencies. In a country with abysmal vacation policies relative to Europe, for example, flying is the only way to “vacation” on the other coast. So you take what’s available. That doesn’t mean you like it.

And those decisions about seat configuration on new planes? They’re made years in advance. Years.

Today, airlines make a substantial chunk of their income by selling services (credit card alliances) and charging fees for everything from checked baggage to a “better” seat (which, as USA Today noted in 2014, is worse than an average seat 20 years ago).

In 2014, Delta and United each made $1 billion on rebooking/change fees alone. Last year, the LATimes reported that 10 of the world’s largest airlines each brought in more than $1 billion solely from fees for things like checked luggage, reserved seats, food, Internet connectivity, and upgrades to more-leg-room in coach. In 2008, only American, Delta and United sucked up more than $1 billion in fees and “ancillary revenue.”

Don’t expect Wall Street to force a change in corporate behavior. UAL closed higher on Thursday 13 April (69.07) than it did the Monday after the leggings incident (68.37).

Airline policies on overbooking, involuntary denial of boarding, and “refusal of transport” (which is what happened in this case) need to be transparent and uniform across airlines.


“PR” can’t “fix” United’s problem.

Neither can that favorite whipping boy, “customer service.”

The only thing that can “fix” United is an introspective examination of organization purpose, which is not to “enhance shareholder value.” (Hint, that’s an outcome, not a purpose.)

The only thing that can “fix” the greed that underlies Sunday’s shocking behavior is a widespread public discussion of realistic returns on investment, the appropriate balance between human dignity and capital. United’s greed is a symptom of a systemic problem, a philosophy not limited to the airline industry.

The only thing that can “fix” the missing balance of power between customers and airlines is a regulatory system (FAA and DOJ) that realizes its mission is to serve the public interest not the capitalist interest. (Not likely in the current Administration, I know, but it was missing from the former one as well, they approved the Continental-United merger. What does that tell you about systemic issues?)

Fundamentally, the fix lies with the collective “us” pushing back in a world that is becoming increasingly undemocratic and grossly unequal.

Stay woke.



Postscript: A tweet storm




[1] The Chicago Police Department went even further in dissembling, saying that a passenger “fell.” All three have been placed on leave.


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April 10 2017


Trump visits his golf clubs 17 times in 11 weeks

I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to go play golf. ~ Donald Trump, August 2016

The President routinely brings attention and money to his own businesses in Florida, Virginia and the District of Columbia through his regular forays to his golf clubs, hotels and restaurants.

On Sunday, March 26, Trump made his 13th trip to a golf course bearing his name. It had been nine weeks since he assumed office on January 20.

On Sunday, April 9, he made his 17th trip to one of his own golf clubs. It’s been 11 weeks since he was sworn in.


As president, he is routinely spotlighting his own businesses.


Moreover, he is also routinely visiting properties with challenging security issues:

Former Secret Service agents said the setup at Mar-a-Lago and the president’s other regular clubs presents challenges that their agency wasn’t built to deal with. The Service’s main job is to protect the president from physical threats and monitoring for wiretaps and other listening devices — but not from the kinds of counterespionage challenges presented by the president’s choice to eat, sleep and work at a club accessible to anyone who can get a member to invite them in.

You and I know that his businesses aren’t forced to shut down when he visits. (We have seen the pix on social media.)

That’s not the case when he flies into Florida.

Lantana Airport, a Palm Beach County facility, is about six miles southwest of Mar-a-Lago. It loses business every time Trump goes to Mar-a-Lago because the Secret Service closes down the airport. So all of its clients also lose business. However, “tenants are unlikely to receive any concessions” or compensation from the federal government.


He is also playing a game of “ignore what I said.”

On 26 occasions, he complained on Twitter about Obama golfing too much.

In February, Politico noted:

President Barack Obama made it four months into his presidency before his first golf outing as commander in chief. George W. Bush made it even longer, first hitting the links as president about 5 ½ months into his first term.

Donald Trump made it two weeks before heading to the golf course.

In December, he played with Tiger Woods.


An earlier version of this post ran on March 26.
Also, see my Golf Outing Tracker

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April 09 2017


A dead bat in a package of salad. What’s missing from this story?

Twitter is one of my news feeds, and Sunday it did not disappoint:


By tradition, news stories are supposed to answer the questions who, what, when, where, why and how. We call it the 5 Ws and 1 H. Or the six Ws (yeah, I know).

Using that formula, here’s what we can learn about the bat story by reading The Guardian, NPR, a company news release, and the Centers for Disease Control news release. (There’s another story in that string, but not for today.)

  • Who: Walmart and Fresh Express; two unnamed consumers; government agencies: the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Florida Department of Health
  • What: a package of Fresh Express Organic Marketside Spring Mix was allegedly contaminated with the remains of a dead bat
  • When: Saturday
  • Where: This event occurred at a Walmart in an unnamed city in Florida. Affected: Walmarts in the southeast (states not named / update: Miami Herald has the answer. AL, GA, LA, MS, NC, SC, VA).
  • Why – not touched upon
  • How – not touched upon

But there are additional questions a story might trigger in the mind of a reader or listener.

small bat

Photo: Georgia Bat Control

Here’s what’s missing for me:

  1. Who owns the Fresh Express brand?
    Chiquita, and it’s headquartered in Orlando, FL.
  2. What steps would be required to contaminate a bag of lettuce in an automated packaging facility?
    Fresh Express missed an opportunity here. Surely they have video documenting health and safety in production. Put that in the news release.
  3. What states are part of the “southeast” in the context of this recall?
    Because there is no universally accepted definition of what “southeast” means.
  4. When was the package purchased?
    If I live in the “southeast” and buy organic salad at Walmart, this detail would help me decide if I need to check my fridge.
  5. Where was this lot of Fresh Express Organic salads assembled?
    The company website shows five manufacturing locations. The closest facility to Florida is in Morrow, GA. Others are located in Grand Prairie, TX; Harrisburg, PA; Salinas, CA; and Steamwood, IL.
  6. Where are the greens grown?
    The company website shows 13 farming locations. It’s not obvious which ones use organic growing processes. Are greens shipped across the country to other processing plants or are they packaged in the plant closest to the farm? There is a farm in south Georgia and one in southeast Florida.
  7. Where are bats common in the United States? Are they common near the packaging facility (Q3)?
    Georgia is home to 16 species of bat but each does not live in every county.
  8. Why might anyone do this deliberately? Has the company been involved in labor disputes recently?
    “Who benefits” is a fundamental question when seeking an answer to “why.” Deliberate food adulteration is probably not happening in a vacuum.
  9. Why are the consumers unnamed?
    They may have asked to remain anonymous, which would merit a note. Agency officials may have asked that their names not be released, which might be a policy if there was any possibility of a hoax (removing perverse “credit”).
  10. How big are bats?
    Bats account for 25% of all mammals, and their size can range from that of a penny to a six-foot wing span. The most common bat in Georgia that lives in artificial surroundings (buildings) is about 3″ in length.
  11. How did the customers contact Florida health officials?
    An opportunity for the agencies involved to promote their consumer help pages/apps/phones.
  12. How might an assembly line be tampered with to create an adulterated product?
    Opportunity for general food safety missed by all.
  13. How might a production facility (farm) wind up with a dead bat in its product?
    Bats eat insects; as such, they are an important part of an organic farming operation. That’s called organic insect pest management. Last month, Atlanta’s WSB-TV reported that bats in the state are “dying at an alarming rate.” If the produce came from a Georgia or Florida farm, it’s possible that the dead bat entered the manufacturing cycle at the farm, either accidentally or intentionally. Again, missed opportunity for Fresh Express to highlight food safety.
  14. How do officials determine if claims like this one are hoaxes?
    I have a background in food production (milk/butter) and have toured a lot of food processing facilities, both domestically and abroad. I’m having a hard time visualizing how a bat accidentally entered the manufacturing line.

What’s missing for you?


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April 01 2017


Cats request treats by ringing a bell

Who knew kitties could act so … dog-like? This video (Japanese, Order side by side) is a sensation!

Who shot the video? What’s the back story of the cats? All we know is what we see in the tweet. Quick video critique: good framing (not symmetrical); nice optics (high gloss table); good use of the rule of thirds; nice neutral but textured background. Having two different ring tones is an inspired touch, as well.

You may see the video reproduced on major websites (e.g., Food&Wine, TheMirror) but you won’t learn anything new.

Google Translate, while rudimentary, sheds light some light, as does the Twitter profile imagery:

Twitter Kitty

  • It’s clear that the cat on the left is the star
  • The profile title: Neko Navi Editorial Department @ VR Movie is being released
  • The cats may be named Buruuru & Teruuri
  • There’s an earlier VR clip (smartphones only, per a tweet)


The two cats can also be seen on YouTube in a video licensed by JukinMedia in January.

And they made a hit on Twitter last year, too, but with far less refined production techniques:


Like all things YouTube, piracy is rampant. Google could do something about this, if they wanted to. But they don’t. Here are the latest video (side by side) pirates:


Although these Japanese kitties might be this weekend’s sensation, by no means are they the first cats to ring a bell for treats. (Who knew?)

This YouTube compilation (yet more piracy) is from 2015. It looks like it may feature our black-and-white kitty:


Just say NO to video piracy! Take a few moments and find the original. Shame the others.

One day, it might be you who is in the right place at the right time for a scoop.

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March 27 2017


Trump visits his own businesses about one-day-in-three

On Sunday, March 26, President Trump made his 13th trip to a golf course bearing his name in the nine weeks since he assumed office on January 20. This time, he went to Trump National Golf Club in Virginia.

All of his golf outings are to properties that he owns.

But here’s the more staggering fact:

On 21 of the 66 days he has been president, he has visited a property that bears his name.

Eight weekends in a row, since the inauguration, he has visited a Trump-owned property.

As president, he is routinely spotlighting his own businesses.


Moreover, he is also routinely visiting properties with challenging security issues:

Former Secret Service agents said the setup at Mar-a-Lago and the president’s other regular clubs presents challenges that their agency wasn’t built to deal with. The Service’s main job is to protect the president from physical threats and monitoring for wiretaps and other listening devices — but not from the kinds of counterespionage challenges presented by the president’s choice to eat, sleep and work at a club accessible to anyone who can get a member to invite them in.

You and I know that his businesses aren’t forced to shut down when he visits. (We have seen the pix on social media.)

That’s not the case when he flies into Florida.

Lantana Airport, a Palm Beach County facility, is about six miles southwest of Mar-a-Lago. It loses business every time Trump goes to Mar-a-Lago because the Secret Service closes down the airport. So all of its clients also lose business. However, “tenants are unlikely to receive any concessions” or compensation from the federal government.

Acts of hypocrisy

Before becoming president, Donald Trump used Twitter to criticize President Obama for playing golf.



Hypocrisy is one justifiable reason to document the trips and outings.

Another is his campaign promise: “I’m not going to have time to go play golf.”

And then there’s the cost to taxpayers

Besides security, hypocrisy, and broken promises, those visits, especially the out-of-state ones, cost bundles of taxpayer money.

The Mar-a-Lago trips impose huge costs on Florida businesses and taxpayers. In February, CBS Miami reported overtime costs for the sheriff’s office at $1.5 million.

According to analysis by Politico, a trip to Mar-a-Lago costs you and me $3 million a pop.

This isn’t chump change:

How many trips has he made to Florida? A lot.

When Air Force One left Florida on March 5:

Trump’s presidency was 1,060 hours old and he had spent approximately 241¾ of those hours in Florida — or 22.8 percent of his time in office. Palm Beach County is already seeking $1.7 million in extra security costs incurred by his visits.


This WaPo analysis from March 17 provides an illustrated view of his visits to his own properties:

Trump trips


An updated illustration on March 26 documents all visits to

  • Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida
  • Trump International Golf Club, West Palm Beach, Florida
  • Trump International Hotel,  Washington, D.C.
  • Trump National Golf Club, Potomac Falls, Virginia

And the Secret Service has to pay Trump’s clubs to rent golf carts.

Finally, zippo transparency

One difference between Trump and Obama’s presidency on matters of the green: transparency.

Obama did not golf with world leaders or members of Congress on a regular or even semiregular basis, preferring to surround himself with close friends, pro athletes and celebrities or White House aides. But the Obama White House regularly disclosed to the press corps when the president was playing golf, on weekends and even on vacation.

Trump’s aides have not done so.


Which is the worst sin?

Documenting the presidency: Trump’s golf outings

Featured image: Pinterest/Trump

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March 25 2017


News/analysis wrap-up: TrumpCare implosion

A lot of ink (so to speak) and air time (ditto) has been devoted to Beltway politics this week, due to the on-again, off-again vote on #TrumpCare (AKA repeal of ObamaCare).

This post contains the best stories/analysis on Friday’s implosion … ready-set-go!

1. ‘Hello, Bob’: President Trump called my cellphone to say that the health-care bill was dead

First up: Trump called this Washington Post reporter to tell him the bill was dead. Look who Trump blames for its defeat.

“We couldn’t get one Democratic vote, and we were a little bit shy, very little, but it was still a little bit shy, so we pulled it,” Trump said.

Trump would also use this deflection with the NY Times:

“Look, we got no Democratic votes. We got none, zero,” Mr. Trump said in a telephone interview he initiated with The New York Times.

2. “Moving from an opposition party to a governing party comes with some growing pains”

This quote from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) may have given me the most heartburn of any that I read.

Why is that? Because

  1. The GOP has controlled the House of Representatives 18 of the past 22 years. The prior two years (2015-2016), the GOP controlled BOTH the Senate and the House.
  2. For half of Bush’s presidency, the GOP controlled the House and the Senate. That was NOT very long ago. And the folks in Congress? They leave, in the main, when they decide to retire or do something else. Our “re-election” rate is on par with countries that hold faux elections.
    average tenure congress

    Average Service Tenure, Senators and Representatives, FAS

    Reelection rate, OpenSecrets

  3. Had the GOP actually wanted to govern — that is, move the country forward — it would have been working with the minority party in the House the past six years. Instead, it saw a black man in the White House and said, in effect, “Hell no.”

Moreover, a year ago, the Republican-controlled House and Senate sent an American Health Act (ACA/ObamaCare) repeal bill to the President for his veto, safe in the knowledge that it would be vetoed. This is not governing. This is pitching a hissy fit designed for photo-ops and reelection soundbites.

Groundhog Day references will likely be inevitable when the House votes once again Tuesday, Feb. 2, on legislation to repeal ObamaCare.

The House has voted more than 60 times since Republicans took over the majority in 2011 to undo the healthcare law. Tuesday’s vote, however, will be the first attempt to override President Obama’s veto of a measure to overturn his signature legislative accomplishment.

Consideration of the repeal measure – the first to pass both the House and Senate – is expected to stall after this week’s vote. Republicans are not expected to secure the necessary two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto.

3. The Republican Waterloo

Whether or not you agree with him, David Frum usually provides something to chew on in his essays. This 23 March essay fits that bill and provides important historical context. Plus, it reinforces #2 (above).

It seemed to me that Obama’s adoption of ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s—and then enacted into state law in Massachusetts by Governor Mitt Romney—offered the best near-term hope to control the federal health-care spending that would otherwise devour the defense budget and force taxes upward. I suggested that universal coverage was a worthy goal, and one that would hugely relieve the anxieties of working-class and middle-class Americans who had suffered so much in the Great Recession. And I predicted that the Democrats remembered the catastrophe that befell them in 1994 when they promised health-care reform and failed to deliver. They had the votes this time to pass something. They surely would do so—and so the practical question facing Republicans was whether it would not be better to negotiate to shape that “something” in ways that would be less expensive, less regulatory, and less redistributive.

4. “The GOP right blows up its best chance to reform government.”

This is an unsigned op-ed from the Wall Street Journal (paywall), but worth finding a copy to read (see below on how to do that, legallly).

House Republicans pulled their health-care bill shortly before a vote on Friday, and for once the media dirge is right about a GOP defeat. This is a major blow to the Trump Presidency, the GOP majority in Congress, and especially to the cause of reforming and limiting government… Republicans have campaigned for more than seven years on repealing and replacing ObamaCare, and they finally have a President ready to sign it. In the clutch they choked….

Republicans run the government and that means they are responsible for what happens in health care. Messrs. Trump and Ryan are right that the ObamaCare markets are imploding, and prices will rise and choices will shrink again next year on present trends. Republicans can try to blame Democrats, but they’re in charge….

This failure also reveals the unfortunate skills gap between Democrats and modern Republicans in practical legislative politics. Democrats have their Bernie Sanders faction, which claimed to “oppose” ObamaCare in 2009-10 for lacking a government-run public insurance option. But the far left voted for the bill anyway because they concluded, rightly, that a new entitlement was a great leap toward single-payer national health care….

An ideal free health-care market is never going to happen in one sweeping bill. The American political system is designed to make change slow and difficult, thank goodness. Republicans have to build their vision piece by piece…

But much of the current conservative establishment profits from fanning resentments, not governing. Legislative compromises don’t help Heritage Action raise money for its perpetual outrage machine. An earlier generation of leaders at Heritage understood that the goal of winning elections was to achieve something. The current leaders seem happy with failure.

The WSJ editorial board has been increasingly vocal in its unhappiness with this Administration.

[For greater Seattle-area residents, login to SPL; go to the newspaper database reference page; then click “National Newspapers” to access ProQuest; the WSJ and NYT database links are on this page. If you live in the greater metro area (Thurston – Snohomish) and do not have a Seattle Public Library card, talk to me!]

5. Making an “enemies” list

I tweeted Friday that one disappointment from pulling the bill was that GOP representatives got a “pass” from having their “yes” votes on the record. (A vote is more powerful than a statement that someone plans to vote one way or another. Rubber meets road.)

I wasn’t alone, it seems, but in reverse. From the NYT:

One Hill Republican aide who was involved in the last-minute negotiations said Mr. Bannon and Mr. Short were seeking to compile an enemies list.

And let’s not forget the ultimatum.

White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon told a group of House conservatives they had no choice but to back the GOP’s ObamaCare repeal bill days before the bill was pulled… “Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill,” Bannon reportedly said.


Two final notes, for the record. A potential “no” vote does not mean that the Representative thinks ACA should be retained. And what was it that they didn’t vote on, anyway?

What stories of note did you read?

Talk to me on Facebook

The post News/analysis wrap-up: TrumpCare implosion appeared first on WiredPen.

March 24 2017


FoldIt, an example of social gaming

Gamification is one of those off-putting words that sounds like nails on a blackboard*.

But it was front-and-center (no pun intended) on this week’s FullFrontal with Samantha Bee. And gamification — introducing gaming elements into things that aren’t games — has helped scientists solve problems related to AIDS and Alzheimer’s as well as explore new drug design.

In a segment on challenges faced by local news, Sam interviewed Canadian Gabe Zichermann. He explained that gamification makes things we should do, but don’t, more fun. And thus more likely that we’ll do them.

As an example, he gave a shout-out to FoldIt, a University of Washington crowdsourcing computer game that lets average folks contribute to scientific research:

After about 20 minutes of training, people feel like they’re playing a video game but are actually mouse-clicking in the name of medical science…

The game looks like a 21st-century version of Tetris, with multicolored geometric snakes filling the screen. A team that includes a half-dozen UW graduate and undergraduate students spent more than a year figuring out how to make the game both accurate and engaging.

Zichermann told Sam that FoldIt helped scientists solve a problem related to HIV. After 15 years of traditional science failing to find a solution, more than 40,000 people playing FoldIt produced an accurate 3D model in 10 days. Those findings appeared in the September 18, 2011 issue of Nature.

The UW project is ongoing and is available for Windows, Mac and Linux computers (not smartphones or tablets). Anyone can play, but there are also tools for educators to incorporate FoldIt into their classrooms.

Want to know more about gamification? The University of Pennyslvania has developed an online course on gamification. There’s a body of research.

Back in 2011, I expressed my view about the hype around gamification on Google+ where I shared Tim’ O’Reilly’s response to this review of Zichermann’s Gamification by Design:

In the course of but one year, “gamification”, the use of game design elements in non-game contexts, has managed to grow from a self-description used by some vendors and proponents to a placement on the Gartner hype cycle – and in the IT business, it doesn’t get much more ‘official’ than that. Yet the term still stirs hot debate. On one side, game designers and scholars despise the whole notion as an “inadvertent con” (Margaret Robertson). On the other, proponents counter that gamification already ‘delivers’ (in terms of numbers), yet is still in its infancy. Hence it would be premature to call foul on something so young, with no time to learn from failure and sort wheat from chaff. So who’s right, who’s wrong?


Watch the FullFrontal episode

Check out FoldIt

* For any youngsters reading this, blackboards were a mainstay of the 20th century classroom (and date to the 16th century). They were made of thin sheets of black or dark grey slate. You wrote on them with chalk, and if your nails scratched the board, they made a screeching sound. Eventually, blackboards would be replaced by chalkboards (green paint) and then white boards (which use colored markers).

The post FoldIt, an example of social gaming appeared first on WiredPen.

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