Thursday, March 30, 2017

ANS -- UW professor: The information war is real, and we’re losing it

Here's a short thing on the media wars.  We need a solution.  Too many people are being taken in.  


UW professor: The information war is real, and we're losing it

A University of Washington professor started studying social networks to help people respond to disasters. But she got dragged down a rabbit hole of twitter-boosted conspiracy theories, and ended up mapping our political moment.


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It started with the Boston marathon bombing, four years ago. University of Washington professor Kate Starbird was sifting through thousands of tweets sent in the aftermath and noticed something strange.

Too strange for a university professor to take seriously.

"There was a significant volume of social-media traffic that blamed the Navy SEALs for the bombing," Starbird told me the other day in her office. "It was real tinfoil-hat stuff. So we ignored it."

Same thing after the mass shooting that killed nine at Umpqua Community College in Oregon: a burst of social-media activity calling the massacre a fake, a stage play by "crisis actors" for political purposes.

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"After every mass shooting, dozens of them, there would be these strange clusters of activity," Starbird says. "It was so fringe we kind of laughed at it.

"That was a terrible mistake. We should have been studying it."

Starbird is in the field of "crisis informatics," or how information flows after a disaster. She got into it to see how social media might be used for the public good, such as to aid emergency responders.

Instead she's gone down a dark rabbit hole, one that wends through the back warrens of the web and all the way up to the White House.

Starbird argues in a new paper, set to be presented at a computational social-science conference in May, that these "strange clusters" of wild conspiracy talk, when mapped, point to an emerging alternative media ecosystem on the web of surprising power and reach.

It features sites such as, hosted by informal President Donald Trump adviser Alex Jones, which has pushed a range of conspiracies, including that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a staged fake.


There are dozens of other conspiracy-propagating websites such as, and Starbird cataloged 81 of them, linked through a huge community of interest connected by shared followers on Twitter, with many of the tweets replicated by automated bots. alone is roughly equivalent in visitors and page views to the Chicago Tribune, according to, the web-traffic analysis firm.

"More people are dipping into this stuff than I ever imagined," Starbird says.

Starbird is in the UW's Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering — the study of the ways people and technology interact. Her team analyzed 58 million tweets sent after mass shootings during a 10-month period. They searched for terms such as "false flag" and "crisis actor," web slang meaning a shooting is not what the government or the traditional media is reporting it to be.

It happens after every mass shooting or attack. If you search for "false flag" and "Westminster," you'll find thousands of results theorizing that last week's attack outside British Parliament was staged (presumably to bring down Brexit, which makes no sense, but making sense is not a prerequisite).

Starbird's insight was to map the digital connections between all this buzzing on Twitter with a conglomeration of websites. Then she analyzed the content of each site to try to answer the question: Just what is this alternative media ecosystem saying?

It isn't a traditional left-right political axis, she found. There are right-wing sites like Danger & Play and left-wing sensationalizers such as The Free Thought Project. Some appear to be just trying to make money, while others are aggressively pushing political agendas.

The true common denominator, she found, is anti-globalism — deep suspicion of free trade, multinational business and global institutions.

"To be antiglobalist often included being anti-mainstream media, anti-immigration, anti-science, anti-U.S. government, and anti-European Union," Starbird says.

So it was like the mind of Stephen Bannon, chief adviser to Trump, spilled across the back channels of the web.

Much of it was strangely pro-Russian, too — perhaps due to Russian twitter bots that bombarded social channels during the presidential campaign (a phenomenon that's now part of the FBI investigation into the election, McClatchy reported last week).

The mainstream press periodically waded into this swamp, but it only backfired. Its occasional fact checks got circulated as further evidence: If the media is trying to debunk it, then the conspiracy must be true.

Starbird is publishing her paper as a sort of warning. The information networks we've built are almost perfectly designed to exploit psychological vulnerabilities to rumor.

"Your brain tells you 'Hey, I got this from three different sources,' " she says. "But you don't realize it all traces back to the same place, and might have even reached you via bots posing as real people. If we think of this as a virus, I wouldn't know how to vaccinate for it."

Starbird says she's concluded, provocatively, that we may be headed toward "the menace of unreality — which is that nobody believes anything anymore." Alex Jones, she says, is "a kind of prophet. There really is an information war for your mind. And we're losing it."

I sat dumbfounded for a time as she spooled through tweets in her database: an archive of endless, baseless speculation that nevertheless is evidence of a political revolution. It should be unnecessary to say, but real humans died in these shootings. How disgustingly cruel it is to the survivors to have the stories of those deaths altered and twisted for commercial or ideological ends.

Starbird sighed. "I used to be a techno-utopian. Now I can't believe that I'm sitting here talking to you about all this."

ANS -- Primary Care Doctor Explains: “The Problem Isn’t Obamacare…It’s The Insurance Companies”

This is a short piece by a medical doctor who says the problem with medical care is the insurance companies.  It's interesting, not exactly what I expected, and not all that well written.  I tried to remove the ads and it messed up the formatting a bit.  


Primary Care Doctor Explains: "The Problem Isn't Obamacare…It's The Insurance Companies"

With premiums increasing for those with coverage through the ACA marketplace, a lot of people are criticizing Obamacare. But many doctors and healthcare professionals are saying that isn't really the problem.

Cathleen London is a primary care physician in Milbridge, a rural town in Maine. She claims the problem isn't Obamacare itself, but rather, the entire health insurance system and insurance companies are to blame.

It's takes an ambulance about 20 minutes to get to her clinic and specialist care about 2 hours away, so Dr. London is trained to handle about 90 percent of medical problems.Writing for the Portland Press Herald, London explains she is a a primary care physician who is on the front lines every single day, as  her town is very remote, which means it takes 30 to 40 minutes to get to the emergency room, which is why her office operates as an urgent care facility as well as a family medical practice.  

One evening I was almost home after a full day's work. Around 7:30, I got a call on the emergency line regarding an 82-year-old man who had fallen and split his head open. His wife wanted to know if I could see him, even though he was not a patient of mine.

Instead of sending them to the ER, I went back to the office. I spent 90 minutes evaluating him, suturing his wound and making sure that nothing more sinister had occurred than a loss of footing by a man who has mild dementia. When I was sure that the man would be safe, I let them go.

I billed a total of $789 for the visit, repair, after-hours and emergency care costs. Stating that the after-hours and emergency services had been billed incorrectly, Martin's Point Health Care threw out the claims and reimbursed me $105, which does not even cover the suture and other materials I used.

I called them about their decision, said that it was not right and let them know they'd lose me if they reimbursed this as a routine patient visit. They replied, "Go ahead and send your termination letter" – which I did.

The same day, Anthem Blue Cross kept me on the phone for 45 minutes regarding a breast MRI recommended by radiologists on a woman whose mother and sister had died of breast cancer. She'd had five months of breast discharge that wasn't traceable to anything benign (and it turns out the MRI is highly suspicious for cancer).

Anthem did not want to approve the MRI unless it was to localize a lesion for biopsy, even though the mammogram had been inconclusive! This should have been a slam-dunk fast track to approval; instead, dealing with Anthem wasted a good part of my day.

Then Aetna told me there is no way to negotiate fees in Maine. I was somewhat flabbergasted. I do more here than I did in either Brookline, Massachusetts, or New York. The rates should be higher given the level of care I am providing. I have chosen not to participate with them. This only hurts patients; however, I cannot keep losing money on visits.

I do lose money on MaineCare – their reimbursement is below what it costs me to see a patient. For now, that is a decision that I am living with.

I had thought those losses would be offset by private insurance companies, but their cost shifting to patients is obscene. I pay half of my employees' health insurance, though I'm not required to by law – I just think it is the right thing to do.

My personal policy costs close to $900 a month for me and my sons (all healthy), and each of us has a $6,000 deductible. This means I am paying rack rate for a policy that provides only bare-bones coverage.

Something is wrong with the system. In one day, I encountered everything wrong with insurance. I am not trying to scam the system. I am literally trying to survive. I am trying to give care in an underserved area.

This is not the fault of Obamacare, which stopped the most egregious problems with insurance companies. Remember lifetime caps? Remember denials for pre-existing conditions? Remember the retroactive cancellation of insurance policies? Returning to that is not an option.

Indeed it is not an option, Dr. London.  If Republicans get their way eventually by repealing Obamacare, it may be where we end up again. If Republicans really get their way, it'll be even worse than it was before.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

ANS -- Republicans for Single-Payer Health Care

Here's a hopeful piece on the future of medial insurance -- but no matter how hopeful, we must still be vigilant!

Without a viable health care agenda of their own, Republicans now face a choice between two options: Obamacare and a gradual shift toward a single-payer system. The early signs suggest they will choose single payer.

That would be the height of political irony, of course. Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and Tom Price may succeed where left-wing dreamers have long failed and move the country toward socialized medicine. And they would do it unwittingly, by undermining the most conservative health care system that Americans are willing to accept.

You've no doubt heard of that conservative system. It's called Obamacare.

Let me take a step back to explain how we got here and how the politics of health care will most likely play out after last week's Republican crackup.

Passing major social legislation is fantastically difficult. It tends to involve taking something from influential interest groups — taxing the rich, for example (as Obamacare did), or reducing some companies' profits or hurting professional guilds. Those groups can often persuade voters that the status quo is less scary than change.

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But when big social legislation does pass, and improves lives, it becomes even harder to undo than it was to create. Americans are generally not willing to go backward on matters of basic economic decency. Child labor isn't coming back, and the minimum wage, Social Security and Medicare aren't going away. Add Obamacare to the list. "Americans now think government should help guarantee coverage for just about everyone," as Jennifer Rubin, a conservative, wrote.

Trump seemed to understand this during the campaign and came out in favor of universal coverage. Once elected, though, he reversed himself. He turned over health care to Price, a surgeon and Georgia congressman with an amazing record, and not in a good way.

Price had spent years proposing bills to take away people's insurance. He also had a habit of buying the stocks of drug companies that benefited from policies he was pushing. Preet Bharara, the federal prosecutor, was investigating Price when Trump fired Bharara this month, ProPublica reported.

Price and Ryan were the main architects of the Republican health bill. They tried to persuade the country to return to a more laissez-faire system in which if you didn't have insurance, it was your problem. They failed, spectacularly. Again, Americans weren't willing to abandon basic economic decency.

But Price may not be finished. This weekend, Trump tweeted that "ObamaCare will explode," and Price, now Trump's secretary of health and human services, has the authority to undermine parts of the law. Here's where the irony begins: He can more easily hurt the conservative parts than the liberal parts.

Obamacare increased coverage in two main ways. The more liberal way expanded a government program, Medicaid, to cover the near-poor. The more conservative way created private insurance markets where middle-class and affluent people could buy subsidized coverage.

The Medicaid expansion isn't completely protected from Price. He can give states some flexibility to deny coverage. But Medicaid is mostly protected. On Friday, after the Republican bill failed, Andy Slavitt, who ran Medicaid and Medicare for Obama, was talking on the phone to a former colleague. "Virtually the only words either of us could say," Slavitt relayed, "were 'Medicaid is safe.' "

Tom Price, secretary of Health and Human Services, on Capitol Hill to discuss the American Health Care Act.CreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

The private markets are less safe. They have already had more problems than the Medicaid expansion. Price could try to fix those problems, and I hope he does. Or he could set out to aggravate the problems, which he has taken initial steps to do. Above all, he could make changes that discourage healthy people from signing up, causing prices to rise and insurers to flee.

Now, think about the political message this would send to Democrats: It's not worth expanding health coverage in a conservative-friendly way, because Republican leaders won't support it anyway.

Politics aside, private markets in many areas of the economy have substantive advantages over a government program. They create competition, which leads to innovation and lower prices. But private markets in medical care tend to be more complicated and less successful.

And government health care programs turn out to be very popular, among both Democratic and Republican voters. Medicare is a huge success. Medicaid also works well, and some Republicans have defended it in recent weeks.

So if voters like government-provided health care and Republicans are going to undermine private markets, what should Democrats do? When they are next in charge, they should expand government health care.

They should expand Medicaid further into the working class. They should open Medicare to people in their early 60s. They should add a so-called public option to the private markets. They should push the United States closer to single-payer health insurance. It will take time and involve setbacks, but they are likely to succeed in the long run.

Until then, the future of socialized medicine is in the hands of Dr. Tom Price.

Monday, March 27, 2017

ANS -- Paul Krugman: There’s A Much Bigger Con Man In American Politics Than Donald Trump

Here's a very short article about who's worse than Trump (it's Ryan!).  

Paul Krugman: There's A Much Bigger Con Man In American Politics Than Donald Trump

By Andrew Bradford on March 26, 2017

Categories: Economy, Healthcare, Republican Watch


Sponsored by Revcontent

You can certainly be forgiven if you think Donald Trump is the most blatant liar and con man in Washington, D.C., a city which is known for political double-talk and broken promises. Virtually every word that leaves Trump's mouth is a blatant fabrication, but Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman says the healthcare debate proved there is a bigger con man on Capitol Hill: House Speaker Paul Ryan.

In a column he wrote for the New York Times, Krugman lit into Ryan for his lies about Obamacare and the Trump/Ryan replacement, which was not even brought to the floor of the House for a vote:

"He claims that it would lower premiums; it would actually increase them. He claims that it would end the Obamacare death spiral; there isn't a death spiral, and his plan would be more, not less, vulnerable to a vicious circle of rising premiums and falling enrollment. He claims that it would lead to 'patient-centered care'; whatever that is supposed to mean, it would actually do nothing to increase choice."

Kruman also notes that Ryan's plans for the federal budget are also nothing but a plan to cut taxes for the ultrarich:

"The alleged deficit reduction came entirely from 'magic asterisks': claims about huge savings to be achieved by cutting unspecified government spending, huge revenue increases to be achieved by closing unspecified government spending, huge revenue increases to be achieved by closing unspecified tax loopholes. It was a con job all the way."

Why in the hell would anyone take anything Ryan says the least bit seriously? Krugman asks. And then he answers the question:

"This false symmetry — downplaying the awfulness of some candidates, vastly exaggerating the flaws of their opponents — isn't the only reason America is in the mess it's in. But it's an important part of the story. And now we're all about to pay the price."

Krugman can drop the mic now. He just explained exactly why the 2016 election could wind up being a disaster for this country and our future. We had a woman who would have made an excellent president, but instead we elected a buffoon who owes his soul to Putin and lets Paul Ryan write all the draconian policies.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

ANS -- The Media Have Finally Figured Out How to Cover Trump’s Lies

They are finally dealing with Trump as a liar, rather than with individual lies.  At least read the last paragraph.  Short ish article.  

The Media Have Finally Figured Out How to Cover Trump's Lies

Not just falsehood by falsehood, but as the defining feature of his presidency.

U.S. President Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus Executive Committee on Wednesday in Washington.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Donald Trump is not on the cover of Time this week, and that must gall him. The president is the subject of the magazine's cover story, the promise of which apparently persuaded him to grant it an exclusive interview. But instead of Trump's visage, the cover features a single three-word question in bold red type: "Is Truth Dead?"


Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer. Email him at or follow him on Twitter.

It's a callback to Time's famous 1966 cover—"Is God Dead?"—and as such, it's an eye-catcher. Time isn't what it once was, but it still has a prominent perch on newsstands across the country. And this week, its top story highlights a side of Trump that much of the mainstream media have until recently failed, or neglected, to properly convey: his fundamental dishonesty.

The question on the magazine's cover refers to Trump's apparent ability to lie, dissemble, and distract from the truth—and to not only get away with it but to ride those lies to the world's most powerful office. The story within by Time's Washington bureau chief, Michael Scherer, rightly takes Trump's dishonesty as its premise, then asks: How exactly does it work, and why, and can it possibly keep working now that he's president? It's a good story, thoughtful and—though Trump would never admit it—fair in the sense that it examines its subject's penchant for prevarication without exaggerating, distorting, or moralizing.


More revealing still is the full interview transcript, which finds Trump inadvertently proving the story's premise at every turn. The money quote, which is also the cover story's kicker, is Trump in microcosm. Caught in a contradiction over his wiretapping claims, the president throws up one red herring after another, like a panicked homeowner hurling kitchen appliances at an intruder, before resorting finally to this: "Hey look … I can't be doing so badly, because I'm president, and you're not."

This is as clear a distillation of Trump's epistemology as you could hope for. Simply put: Might makes right.

Time is not the only mainstream publication to belatedly shine its light full-blast on Trump's mendacity. The Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial board got there this week, too, making Trump's credibility the subject of a scathing column that likened the president to a drunk clinging to a gin bottle. The implication: He's addicted to lying.

Even Fox News has begun to set boundaries around the degree of pro-Trump dishonesty it will tolerate: This week it suspended one of its top legal commentators over false claims about wiretapping, which the White House had subsequently latched onto.

On a superficial level, it's remarkable that middle-of-the-road and even conservative journalistic outlets are now breaking with their own conventions to, essentially, label the president of the United States an inveterate liar. But on a deeper level, what's remarkable is that it took them this long.


That Trump is a professional peddler of smears and conspiracies has been clear from the outset. After all, we're talking about a man who built his political name around the nakedly racist and utterly false claim that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya. And yet he ran a whole campaign, was elected president, and spent more than two months spouting whoppers from the White House before some of the nation's largest media outlets began to call him for what he is. And he did it all while branding his opponent as "crooked Hillary," a ploy by which he manipulated much of the media and the public into minimizing his own misdeeds by mentioning hers in the same breath. (To be fair, some major news organizations, including the New York TimesWashington Post, and Los Angeles Times, have been duly documenting and highlighting Trump's dishonesty since long before he was elected. That they've often been reticent to apply the "L-word" speaks not so much to cowardice as to the high bar they've set for deploying such a freighted term. Hearteningly, these publications have become much better about not letting Trump's false claims stand unchallenged, even in headlines.)

It isn't that Time, the Wall Street Journal, and others haven't confronted Trump on specific claims. They have, of course. But they've failed until now to recognize that his untruths amount to something much more than a series of claims to be evaluated and debunked just as the claims of any politician must be. Trump's reliance on dishonesty is not incidental to his character, or his appeal, or his approach to politics. It is his defining feature, shaping everything from how he talks, to the views he holds, to the way he conducts business and politics. If that sounds like an exaggeration, just go read the Time interview again and chase it with the Washington Post's fact-check.

Trump's lies are, and have long deserved to be, a top story in their own right. That the mainstream media have largely failed to treat them as such reveals the depth of its entrenched conventions around journalistic balance and respect for the presidency. Too many reporters and editors allow those conventions to constrain what should always be their core mission, which is to tell the public what they know to be true, no matter whom it offends or embarrasses.

The focus on Trump's credibility may be late in coming, but it's welcome nonetheless. In a way, Time—and the Wall Street Journal, and even in its way Fox News—has helped to answer that cover story's three-word question through its own actions this week. So have the members of the public who have recently withdrawn their support of Trump, plunging his approval rating to historic lows. The truth isn't dead: It's down, and Trump is kicking it. But this week, at last, it's kicking back.