Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Two thrilling stories? OR NOT! Maybe?

Brain scans reveal what you've seen
Story Highlights
Researchers are trying to extract the images people see in their brains

Using fMRI machines, researchers try to guess what's in someone's head

Scientist: Tech could be used "to build a functional brain-reading device"

Such brain communication likely will not be available for decades
By Brandon Keim

(WIRED) -- Scientists are one step closer to knowing what you've seen by reading your mind.

Having modeled how images are represented in the brain, the researchers translated recorded patterns of neural activity into pictures of what test subjects had seen.

Though practical applications are decades away, the research could someday lead to dream-readers and thought-controlled computers.

"It's what you would actually use if you were going to build a functional brain-reading device," said Jack Gallant, a University of California, Berkeley neuroscientist.

The research, led by Gallant and Berkeley postdoctoral researcher Thomas Naselaris, builds on earlier work in which they used neural patterns to identify pictures from within a limited set of options.

The current approach, described this week in Neuron, uses a more complete view of the brain's visual centers. Its results are closer to reconstruction than identification, which Gallant likened to "the magician's card trick where you pick a card from a deck, and he guesses which card you picked. The magician knows all the cards you could have seen."

In the latest study, "the card could be a photograph of anything in the universe. The magician has to figure it out without ever seeing it," said Gallant.

To construct their model, the researchers used an fMRI machine, which measures blood flow through the brain, to track neural activity in three people as they looked at pictures of everyday settings and objects.

As in the earlier study, they looked at parts of the brain linked to the shape of objects. Unlike before, they looked at regions whose activity correlates with general classifications, such as "buildings" or "small groups of people."

Once the model was calibrated, the test subjects looked at another set of pictures. After interpreting the resulting neural patterns, the researchers' program plucked corresponding pictures from a database of 6 million images.

Frank Tong, a Vanderbilt University neuroscientist who studies how thoughts are manifested in the brain, said the Neuron study wasn't quite a pure, draw-from-scratch reconstruction. But it was impressive nonetheless, especially for the detail it gathered from measurements that are still extremely coarse.

The researchers' fMRI readings bundled the output of millions of neurons into single output blocks. "At the finer level, there is a ton of information. We just don't have a way to tap into that without opening the skull and accessing it directly," said Tong.

Gallant hopes to develop methods of interpreting other types of brain activity measurement, such as optical laser scans or EEG readings.

He mentioned medical communication devices as a possible application, and computer programs for which visual thinking makes sense -- CAD-CAM or Photoshop, straight from the brain.

Such applications are decades away, but "you could use algorithms like this to decode other things than vision," said Gallant. "In theory, you could analyze internal speech. You could have someone talk to themselves, and have it come out in a machine

Microsoft researcher converts his brain into 'e-memory'
Story Highlights
Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell argues we will soon have searchable memories

Bell details his ideas in a new co-authored book called "Total Recall"

Bell has been recording almost every detail of his life digitally for a decade
By John D. Sutter
(CNN) -- For the past decade, Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell has been moving the data from his brain onto computers -- where he knows it will be safe.

Sure, you could say all of us do this to some extent. We save digital pictures from family events and keep tons of e-mail.

But Bell, who is 75 years old, takes the idea of digital memory to a sci-fi-esque extreme. He carries around video equipment, cameras and audio recorders to capture his conversations, commutes, trips and experiences. Microsoft is working on a SenseCam that would hang around a person's neck and automatically capture every detail of life in photo form. Bell has given that a whirl. He also saves everything -- from restaurant receipts (he takes pictures of them) to correspondence, bills and medical records. He makes PDF files out of every Web page he views.

In sum, this mountain of data -- more than 350 gigabytes worth, not including the streaming audio and video -- is a replica of Bell's biological memory. It's actually better, he says, because, if you back up your data in enough places, this digitized "e-memory" never forgets. It's like having a multimedia transcript of your life.

By about 2020, he says, our entire life histories will be online and searchable. Location-aware smartphones and inexpensive digital memory storage in the "cloud" of the Internet make the transition possible and inevitable. No one will have to fret about storing the details of their lives in their heads anymore. We'll have computers for that. And this revolution will "change what it means to be human," he writes.

Bell, who, along with fellow researcher Jim Gemmell, is the author of a new book called "Total Recall," talked with CNN about the advantages and drawbacks of recording one's life in painstaking digital detail. The following is an edited transcript.

CNN: What have you learned about yourself through this process?

That's been a really hard question to answer. ... The main driver of the recall turns out to be a [computer] screensaver or something where I go looking for [a digital memory] and I find something else. I guess it's the rich set of connections and people that I've been involved with.

CNN: What do you use to record your memories?

In a way, most of what happens during the day is sort of routine -- what you've done before. So I carry the SenseCam only when I think there's an episode or a sequence or a certain set of events that I want to capture and have automatically photographed. But I tend to always carry a camera with me. I live next to a fire station and I've got lots of photos of the hook and ladder coming out of the house. And I like food so I tend to photograph wonderfully presented food all the time. To me those are very pleasant memories.

CNN: If we rely on computers instead of our brains, will humans become mentally sluggish?

That's certainly one of the concerns. I tend to counter that theory. To me, I feel a lot freer. In a way I feel like I still remember all that stuff, but I generally remember that [the computer is] remembering something for me so I can find it.

People have no memory of phone numbers now because of the cell phone -- their address book is in a cell phone. So I don't think they're getting any worse or any less facile about that. What an e-memory does, to me, is gives me a really wonderful free feeling.

CNN: If we all record audio of our lives, do you think conversations will become stilted and fake?

I think there will be a lot of court cases and lawyering around all of that. I'm personally less hung up about that. Certainly, people my age and Baby Boomers are. But the current X-Generation, [they think] this is pretty natural.

CNN: Are you on Facebook and Twitter?

Yeah, I'm on Facebook and Twitter and occasionally I will tweet something. Somehow my problem is that I don't think I have anything interesting to tweet about.

CNN: Should all of our memories and observations be public?

Absolutely not. Our own memories are our own private thing, and how much you choose to have on Facebook or blogs, that's your thing.

CNN: What does your family think about your effort to record everything?

Gradually, everybody is getting this idea. ... Think of it: You are a librarian for your life. Somebody has to be the family librarian.

CNN: Are you worried about losing your memory?

... Forgetting is not a feature, it's a flaw. I don't think forgetting is an important feature of human memory. I think it's important to be able to remember things accurately.

CNN: Are there any memories you deleted?

No. When we were scanning stuff I had written a memo about a company, an unpleasant company -- probably the only company I was ever ashamed to be a part of. ...

I put a note on that file that said, "Don't ever scan or copy this!" My assistant who was doing the scanning ran across this and said, "What do you want me to do with this?" And I said, "Well, gee. This is my life." I said, "It's OK, just go ahead." So it's all there.

CNN: Do you think it's possible for people to turn away from new technologies? Or are advances like "Total Recall" inevitable?

I think it's inevitable because so much content is being created. Virtually everything is coming in digitally -- everything from your photos to your videos to your music. ... I will love that day when the world is just bits. It's the ultimate in green, by the way.

'world's worst lovers' Germans!

German men are 'world's worst lovers' with English men in second place
German men have been voted the world's worst lovers, narrowly beating English men to the unwanted title.

A poll of 15,000 women found that Germans are considered "too smelly".

English lovers came second because they are so lazy, while men from Sweden were branded "too quick to finish" and came third.

Related Articles

Younger men dating older women makes perfect sense
Women from Newcastle voted sexiest in Britain

Spanish men topped the table as the best lovers, followed by Brazilians and Italians.

The poll, carried out by global research site, asked women from 20 countries to rate nations on their ability in bed and give reasons for their answers.

Germans were deemed to have bad body odour, Englishmen were accused of letting women do all the work, whilst Swedes were a bit too quick to finish.

Men from Holland were "too rough" between the bed covers and Americans were accused of being "too dominating" in the bedroom.

Greek men were said to be a bit too soppy.

Other countries who didn't fare well in the poll were Scotland (too loud), Turkey (too sweaty) and Wales (too selfish).

Russian men crept in at tenth place amid accusations they are too hairy for the average woman.

A spokesperson for added: ''These results are an eye-opener for thousands of men around the world and female travellers might judge potential new lovers by looking at these results.''


1. Germany (too smelly)

2. England (too lazy)

3. Sweden (too quick)

4. Holland (too dominating)

5. America (too rough)

6. Greece (too lovey-dovey)

7. Wales (too selfish)

8. Scotland (too loud)

9. Turkey (too sweaty)

10. Russia (too hairy)


1. Spain

2. Brazil

3. Italy

4. France

5. Ireland

6. South Africa

7. Australia

8. New Zealand

9. Denmark

10. Canada

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Why Would We Let Them Rig the Game?

Dylan Ratigan MSNBC/Huffington Post

Why is health insurance the only business that has an exemption from the Sherman Anti-Trust Act other than Major League Baseball? If the delivery of taxpayer trillions by our politicians to the banks to support their fraudulently paid bonuses hasn't shown you what our current government's values are, check this link out.

Through the governmental negligence that we as voters allowed, a health care system was created in which a single health care company controls at least 30 percent of the insurance market in 95% of the country, including states like the following:

Maine, where Wellpoint controls 71% of the market.

North Dakota, where Blue Cross controls 90% of the market.

Arkansas, where Blue Cross Blue Shield controls 75% of the market.

Alabama, where Blue Cross Blue Shield controls 83% of the market.

This monopoly, combined with the misaligned incentives that trap people in employer-based health care, is causing the skyrocketing health care costs that are hurtling our nation towards bankruptcy.

I don't know what's worse: that most Republicans seem to be against ending this unfair legal protection for an entrenched industry that is ruining our country with their non-competitive practices, or that most Democrats seem to be threatening this arrangement only as a bargaining chip to push for a meaningless public option that wouldn't be accessible to almost 85% of the population?

Instead of improving our country, through creating and enforcing free and fair markets, our politicians are currently engaging in backroom deals, most of which protect the very companies who profit the most from these disastrous outdated systems -- industries like health insurance and big Pharma.

While we clearly have the ability as a group of 305 million to update the system that is American Health Care and move our country into the 21st century in the process, it's becoming clear that we may not have the leaders to do it.

Instead of seeking answers to the problem of paying for and providing medicine, we are doing the exact opposite. Taxpayers' money is being played with by politicians who are desperately trying to protect the competition-stifling, false security of the monopolistic employer-based health care system and its outdated, over-charging, under-delivering ways. Given the least consideration are those affected the most -- the patients and the doctors who care for them.

This country's founders built an ingenious system of checks and balances for a reason: to ensure that no special interest or group could use government power to commandeer the creative and economic wealth of our nation to their own ends. How much longer must we live in a country where the citizens are subservient to the banks, health insurance companies and any other special interest able to control our government at the expense of our the most basic principles of fairness, our future as a nation and, as a result, our freedom?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Media Matters UPDATE on the 'WACKOs'

Media Matters: Move over, Drudge, there's a new sheriff in town

It used to be common knowledge that Matt Drudge ruled the media's world. These days, Drudge must be jealous. If the past few months have shown us anything, it's that Drudge's position as the media's assignment editor is now filled by Fox News' Glenn Beck.

Beck has made no bones about his desire to shape the media's agenda. He's Fox News' Czar War commander in chief, lead ACORN crusher, resident conspiracy theorist, and favored "rodeo clown," all wrapped into one.

One would think that the mainstream media would be wary of covering stories promoted by a man who, while role-playing as President Obama, pretended to pour gasoline on the "average American" and asked Obama, "[W]hy don't you just set us on fire?" But one would be wrong.

Beck brought to us the 9-12 Project, which served as the inspiration for the 9-12 "March on Washington," when Americans tearfully came together as we did "the day after 9-11" ... to protest taxes, health care reform, government spending, and an African-American who has taken over the White House. Did the media sit out the story of tens of thousands of Beck and Fox News fans invading D.C. to protest these things? Nope. While Fox News claimed that media outlets "missed" the story of the 9-12 protests, as noted, "those other networks were there" at the 9-12 protests. As Howard Kurtz wrote in The Washington Post, "[T]he other networks indeed covered the protest, which -- like similar demonstrations across the country -- were heavily promoted by Fox, especially talk show host Glenn Beck."

The media have paid equal attention to Beck and Fox News' war on Obama's "czars." Beck led the charge in attacking White House green jobs adviser Van Jones, accusing him of all manner of sins. After -- a group co-founded by Jones -- initiated a campaign against Beck for calling Obama a "racist," Beck amped up his attacks on Jones. But instead of pointing out the potential motive behind Beck's relentless assault, the media merely credited Beck for keeping the Jones story alive. Now that Beck has shifted his sights to other Obama "czars," the media have dutifully followed, increasing their coverage of FCC chief diversity officer Mark Lloyd and Cass Sunstein, who was confirmed to head the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Beck has also repeatedly promoted allegations -- originally made on Beck favorite Andrew Breitbart's -- that the National Endowment for the Arts and its former spokesman Yosi Sergant were "creating a propaganda machine for the president of the United States." Once again, the media were right behind Beck. On the September 22 edition of his CNN program, Lou Dobbs advanced attacks on the White House, stating that there are "[n]ew concerns tonight that the Obama administration may be politicizing the arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, encouraging groups to produce art work promoting the president's agenda." George Will wrote in his September 17 Washington Post column that the controversy shows "the Obama administration's incontinent lust to politicize everything." The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Politico, and ABC News? Each covered the White House's issuing of new guidelines that, as The New York Times wrote, "instructed government agencies to keep politics away from the awarding of federal grants."

Beck's been busy. In addition to making plans to hijack the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, September 22 brought us the release of Beck's second book of 2009, the ironically titled Arguing with Idiots. In it, Beck is engaged in an ongoing argument with "the idiot," who comes armed with some truly idiotic statements, such as, "They may not be perfect, but France is doing socialism right -- we should be more like them," and, "Private schools aren't beholden to unions, but they should be closed because they're only for the rich." Beck fearlessly tears down these strawmen throughout the 300-page book.

Beck attacks "Nanny State-ism" by criticizing drunken-driving laws, writing, "The Nanny State approach is to use the police department to set up roadblocks and spot-checks," and stating that since "[t]he largest percentage of vehicular deaths related to alcohol are from repeat offenders," the "commonsense solution is that you lose your license after a second DUI. Forever. Problem solved." Beck never says whether he felt the same way when he was reportedly arrested for "speeding in his DeLorean with one of the car's gull-wing doors wide open," after which a former colleague said Beck was "completely out of it."

Beck's book has also raised the question of whether Beck supports the slave trade. While purporting to explain to an "idiot" the Founding Fathers' true intentions, Beck praises an obsolete provision of the U.S. Constitution that prohibited Congress from outlawing the slave trade before 1808 and capped taxes on the slave trade at $10 per slave. In explaining the provision, Beck doesn't mention slavery, saying instead that the provision means that the Founders apparently "felt like there was a value to being able to live here" and lamenting: "Not anymore. These days we can't ask anything of immigrants -- including that they abide by our laws." Umm ...

If one were yearning for some good ol' fashioned racial stereotyping, Beck doesn't disappoint! His attack on the 14th Amendment, which guarantees that "[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States ... are citizens of the United States," comes complete with illustrations of a man and baby wearing sombreros. Yes, his book has illustrations. In fact, the entire book is designed to look as though it were printed on antiqued, dog-eared paper. You know, like the Constitution.

Beck also subtitled a section of his book "The chapter Americans just won't write," which is little more than 18 pages of Mexico-bashing lined with text insets that parody NBC's "The More You Know" public service announcements. In these insets, the familiar shooting star of the NBC graphic has been replaced with a cartoon sombrero, and the slogan "The More You Know" has been changed to "The Less You Know." The chapter features cartoonish Mexicans wearing sombreros and absurdly thick mustaches, and a cartoon of a Chinese takeout container that's meant to represent -- you guessed it -- Chinese immigrants.

In his chapter titled "U.S. Presidents: A Steady Progression of Progressives," Beck treats us to his list of the "Top Ten Bastards of All Time." The occupants of that list, in ascending order, are Pol Pot, Robert Mugabe, Teddy Roosevelt, Bernie Madoff, Adolf Hitler, Keith Olbermann, Pontius Pilate, FDR, Tiger Woods, and Woodrow Wilson. That's right, in Beck's book, mass slaughter of millions of innocents makes you a less reprehensible person than the presidents who won both World Wars for the United States.

Because with Beck, regardless of their actual ideology, these people are all progressive, with the exception of Tiger Woods, who appeared to make the list because he has "a Swedish-supermodel wife, a gazillion dollars, and ... plays golf for a living ... bastard!" In Beck's world, any progressive is an enemy, and any enemy is progressive.

Beck's conspiracy-addled mind treated us this week to hysterical rantings about how Obama, the SEIU, ACORN, the Tides Foundation, and other unnamed unions will "set wage[s]" in this country by dictating "maximum wage" to redistribute wealth. Beck viewed a video of schoolchildren "singing a song for Barack Obama" as an "indoctrination" linked to Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, the NEA, the Tides Foundation, and Jones. If one were to tune into Beck's television show, one would likely find Beck furiously scribbling on a chalkboard, desperately trying to illustrate the elaborate progressive conspiracy to overthrow the republic. On September 22, Beck laughably denied being a "conspiracy theorist" to CBS News' Katie Couric, but the next day, he admitted his conspiracy theories sometimes make him "feel like Russell Crowe from A Beautiful Mind."

No one should be surprised by Beck's behavior. As Salon's Alexander Zaitchik reported, "In his 2003 book, 'Real America,' Beck refers to himself as a borderline schizophrenic." Zaitchik also documented Beck's rise as a broadcaster, which was marked by cruel attacks and "racial hang-ups." According to Zaitchik, after a rival radio host's wife had a miscarriage, " 'Beck called her live on the air and says, "We hear you had a miscarriage," remembers Brad Miller, a former Y95 DJ and Clear Channel programmer. 'When Terry [Kelly, wife of Beck's rival] said, "Yes," Beck proceeded to joke about how Bruce [Kelly, the rival DJ] apparently can't do anything right -- about he can't even have a baby.' " Racial hang ups? Vicious personal assaults? Over-the-top childishness? Sounds familiar.

Other major stories this week
Does Lou Dobbs think he works for Fox News?

Speaking of Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs has recently pushed a number of the same right-wing narratives that have been aggressively championed by Beck and Fox News, in addition to defending Beck's remarks calling Obama a "racist" with a "deep-seated hatred for white people." In recent weeks, Dobbs -- like Beck and many others on Fox -- has called for a "vigorous investigation" of ACORN and said that unless there is a "full-blown FBI investigation," then it will amount to "a sham." He's pushed the conservative attack that the NEA is "politicizing the arts" and has decried as "propaganda" an educational video.

On the September 22 broadcast of his radio show, Dobbs referred to ACORN's decision to appoint former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger to lead an internal inquiry into the organization as "such a sham" and called for "a full, and, I mean, absolutely righteous, vigorous, investigation of everyone running that organization, everything it's tried to do," and "its relationship to the Obama administration." Dobbs added: "I truly believe, unless there is that full-blown FBI investigation that you've asked for of ACORN, that -- you know, that is, to me, prima facie evidence that this Justice Department, under Attorney General Eric Holder, has been absolutely politicized to the point that it is not functioning and serving the interests of the American people or this country." Beck expressed similar opinions during his September 15 Fox News show.

On his September 22 CNN television show, Dobbs hyped a story favored by Beck and Fox News, reporting that there were "[n]ew concerns tonight that the Obama administration may be politicizing the arts. The National Endowment for the Arts encouraging groups to produce artwork promoting the president's agenda." As mentioned earlier, Beck was at the forefront of promoting and advancing these allegations, interviewing the artist who secretly taped the NEA conference call on September 1 and claiming that the "people involved in a conference call, including the White House, knew that this was on the fence, if not outright illegal. They knew for sure that this would outrage you if it would ever get out."

Hours after Beck decried as "propaganda" an educational video called The Story of Stuff, Dobbs, too, took to the television to warn of "more evidence of left-wing propaganda in our schools: An outrageous new video has surfaced -- this video being shown in classrooms all across the country. It is The Story of Stuff, as it's called, blatantly making false accusations against capitalism and the effects of human consumption on the environment."

This week's ACORN update

The conservative media's feeding frenzy on all things ACORN has continued, resulting in more ethically questionable actions on behalf the videographers involved and the right-wing press fighting for scraps. In a recent "exclusive" report, editor-in-chief Erick Erickson analyzed "a list of [ACORN CEO] Bertha Lewis's contacts" that "just showed up one day unsolicited" from "a credible source who is no fan of ACORN" and claimed, "We did not ask for it. We did not expect to get it. But now that we have it, we should see who is in there." However, the private contact list was apparently obtained without Lewis' knowledge or permission, raising the question of whether RedState's "exclusive" was the result of theft. Not surprisingly, the questionable nature of how this information was obtained didn't stop Sean Hannity or Beck from promoting it.

Incidentally, on September 23, Los Angeles Times media critic James Rainey reported that ACORN official Lavelle Stewart "told me this week" that when the videographers, James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, came to Stewart's ACORN office in Los Angeles disguised as a pimp and prostitute, Stewart "tried to get the 'prostitute,' who claimed she had been beaten by her pimp, to go to a women's center." This report is further evidence undermining O'Keefe's and Giles' repeated claims that they were never rebuffed at any of the ACORN offices they visited. Also, in a September 22 article, the Associated Press reported that California police said an ACORN worker contacted them about "possible human smuggling," reportedly as a result of O'Keefe and Giles' visit to a San Diego ACORN office. As you might recall, word broke last week that O'Keefe and Giles were indeed rebuffed at the Philadelphia ACORN office they visited; the employees there went so far as to file a police report, which you can view here. The conservative activists have yet to release video from the Philadelphia and Los Angeles encounters.

Also, O'Keefe's claims to have been "completely independent" were undermined by a report that O'Keefe had received thousands, possibly even tens of thousands, of dollars from a wealthy conservative donor.

Nonetheless, this week also birthed a new right-wing talking point: that Attorney General Eric Holder should appoint an independent special prosecutor to investigate ACORN. You know, because Holder can't be trusted to remain impartial. Better get Ken Starr on the phone pronto!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sin No More People!

5 Myths We Need to Can About Soda Taxes

By Katherine Mangu-Ward
Sunday, September 27, 2009

Like bears to honey or zombies to brains, politicians find something irresistible about soda taxes. President Obama recently told Men's Health magazine that he thinks a "sin tax" on soda is "an idea that we should be exploring." San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom moved to impose a fee on stores for selling sugary drinks, only to admit that his plan was probably illegal. In December, New York Gov. David Paterson proposed a 18 percent tax on full-sugar soda to help cover a budget shortfall. After a public outcry, he claimed he was just raising awareness about childhood obesity. But he was also rehashing the same old myths about how taxing soda will save us all:

1. Sin taxes are for our own good.

The basic idea sounds reasonable enough. Why not have the government nudge citizens along the path to righteousness by making bad choices more expensive? But even the most avid proponents of sin taxes concede that none of the nickel-and-dime proposals on the table is large enough to discourage soda drinking. And they're not really intended to. Soda taxes, like most sin taxes, aren't primarily designed to reduce consumption -- they're designed to raise revenue. Tap water is already virtually free. Adding a few cents in tax to a $1.29 soda bottle isn't going to send cost-conscious Coke-guzzlers swarming to the nearest water fountain. Forty states currently take a bite out of sales of soda or junk food -- if anyone's addicted to soda, it's state legislatures. In the Men's Health interview, Obama focused on childhood obesity. But the Senate Finance Committee's interest in soda taxes at a hearing this spring wasn't about keeping American spawn slim; health-care reformers were salivating over the projected $24 billion in revenue that a 3-cent tax would generate over the next four years.

2. Soda is causing the obesity epidemic.

It's true that, on the whole, fat people drink more soda than skinny people. They also consume more calories overall and exercise less. So soda does help people pack on the pounds. But so does absolutely everything everyone eats. No news story about soda is complete without the scolding phrase "empty calories," yet soda consumption per capita has remained steady over the past two decades as obesity numbers have continued to rise. Weight gain is a function of calories in minus calories out. A food calorie is 4.2 kilojoules of energy, whether it comes from a bottle of orange juice, a latte or an ice-cold Coke. Cola calories are not uniquely "empty." They are not bleak, hollow shells of calories, staging tiny productions of "Waiting for Godot" in your love handles. A calorie is a calorie.

3. Soda taxes help everyone.

Even advocates of soda taxes admit that the costs will be borne disproportionately by the poor, who spend a larger percentage of their income on soda than other groups. Nonetheless, politicians continue the long tradition of taxing the wazoo out of a can of Coke while leaving upscale beverages and luxury foods sin-tax-free. Eight ounces of Naked's Mighty Mango juice ($3.79 a bottle at Whole Foods) contains slightly more sugar than the same serving of cola, while diet soft drinks have the same calorie count as water. But nationwide, fancy juices and venti mocha Frappuccinos remain almost completely untouched by sin surcharges, while a bodega bottle of Sprite brings down the wrath of the taxman. It's the silly, sugary equivalent of the distinction between the harsh sentencing guidelines for people caught with crack vs. the lenient sentencing for possessors of cocaine, its high-class cousin.

4. High-fructose corn syrup is extremely hazardous to your health.

It's the stuff that makes soda sticky sweet -- and the reason many justify a soda tax. Florida state Rep. Juan Zapata called it the "crack of sweeteners" and tried to ban it in schools in 2006. At the popular blog Slashfood, it's known as "the devil's additive." High-fructose corn syrup has been treated as the fall guy for America's obesity problem. But the hazards of cheap corn sweetener are the stuff of pseudo-scientific legend. New York University nutritionist Marion Nestle, a major proponent of soda taxes, has said of corn syrup: "It's basically no different from table sugar. . . . The body can't tell them apart." Even the head of the self-proclaimed "food police" has denounced high-fructose fear-mongering. Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest tore into a 2004 scientific research report that kicked off anti-corn-syrup hysteria, saying, "The authors of this paper misunderstood chemistry, draw erroneous conclusions and have done a disservice to the public in generating this controversy."

5. Obesity is driving health-care costs up. A soda tax is just a user fee.

Should we consider soda taxes an advance payment for all those diabetes tests and emergency room visits down the road -- not to mention the cost of buying the inevitably necessary super-size MRI machines? A group of academics, state health commissioners and others take exactly that line in the pages of the New England Journal of Medicine this month, writing, "Escalating health care costs and the rising burden of diseases related to poor diet create an urgent need for solutions, thus justifying government's right to recoup costs." But there is a dangerous precedent at the root of this argument: that government can and should tax any behavior that hurts the budget's bottom line. That logic sends us down a strange road. It's just a slouch, sink and a slump to taxing remote controls, thus encouraging the fat and lazy to get a little exercise by standing up to change the channel.

All kinds of private decisions -- good and bad -- affect government spending. That doesn't give politicians the right to use taxes to push people around.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

NBA Player Taking a Shot at Fatherhood

Ex-NBA Player Anderson Taking Another Shot at Fatherhood

By Dave Sheinin Washington Post

He ran the production like a former point guard, which Kenny Anderson is, and as if his life depended on it, which, in a way, it did. He lined up the consents of five women -- the mothers of his seven kids, some of them more amenable to the idea than others -- and coordinated the kids' flights, same days, same arrival times, so as to minimize the waiting-around time at the airport. There was no time to waste. He was finally getting his kids together.

They came in two waves -- the boys first, 11-year-old Kenneth and 8-year-old Devin, in from New Jersey for a three-week stay with their dad. Then, after they left, the four girls: Danielle, 19, flew in from Georgia. Christy, 17, had the longest flight, all the way from L.A. Lyric, 14, and Jazz, 12, who, unlike the others, had never traveled alone to visit their father, came in from New Jersey.

Meeting them all at the door of Anderson's house were 8-year-old Kenny Jr., of whom Anderson has full custody, and 8-year-old Tiana, Anderson's stepdaughter. Hugs, kisses, smiles. Whatever awkwardness there might have been among the various Anderson kids, some of whom had never spent time around the others, it soon melted away.

From the comfort of his home, Anderson, who didn't know his own father until his early 30s, contemplated the blessings of fatherhood and beamed. In the faces of his kids, he could see the evidence of his own past mistakes -- the womanizing, the failed marriages, the hollow attempts at fatherhood he made during a 14-year NBA career that ended in 2005.

But over the course of those few amazing, late-summer weeks, he could also see the seeds of his new beginning, a new chapter for Kenny Anderson -- now a 38-year-old, full-time, stay-at-home father to Kenny Jr. and Tiana, and an aspiring college basketball coach who wants nothing more than to distance himself from those past failures as a father, as a husband, as a man.

The magnitude of the moment absolutely blew him away.

"It was awesome," Anderson says. "Now they could all see how their daddy really is. They can see for themselves. . . . I'm involved in their lives, all of them, but this was the first time I got all of them together.

"My mother, she'd be rolling over in her grave, she'd be so happy."

* * *

The transformation began with trauma -- the threefold explosions of career exile, maternal death and financial ruin.

In March 2005, Anderson, the former No. 2 overall pick of the New Jersey Nets in 1991, was waived by the Los Angeles Clippers, his ninth team, effectively ending his NBA career after 14 seasons, 10,789 points and 5,196 assists and one all-star team (1993-94).

In October of that same year, Anderson lost his beloved mother, Joan, who had raised him alone in poverty in the sprawling Lefrak City housing complex of Queens, N.Y., and whose comfort and happiness in her later years provided Anderson his primary motivation to succeed.

That same month, mounting financial woes, much of it the result of child-support issues, forced Anderson, who earned more than $63 million in the NBA, to file for bankruptcy. To many of those around him, it was inevitable -- and it was necessary.

"I believe he had to be at the very bottom to be able to say, 'Wow, things are different,' " says Natasha Anderson, Kenny's third wife, a clinical social worker at a psychiatric hospital in Miami. "He had to do this."

Thank God for Tasha, say those who are closest to Kenny Anderson.

They met during the 2004 NBA playoffs in Miami: Kenny in street clothes, injured, on the Indiana Pacers' bench. Natasha, beautiful and bubbly, a graduate student in social work, sitting courtside in the seats of her best friend's father.

"He asked for my number," Natasha says, laughing, "and it's history from there."

Within a few months, they were a serious enough item that Anderson was ready to introduce Natasha to his mother. It was a step he always dreaded, because Joan was hard to please.

But this time, when Kenny showed up with Natasha at his mother's ranch house in Glen Cove, Long Island -- which Anderson had bought for her within a week of signing his first NBA contract -- she leaned close to Kenny's ear, he recalls, and said: "You've got something here, son. You gotta keep that woman right there.'"

"Me and my wife -- that's unconditional love there," Anderson says. "My other wives: infatuation. It wasn't love. It was just something to do."

Natasha, to be sure, was unlike any other woman Anderson had had in his life. She was salt-of-the-earth. She was strong. She "held Kenny accountable for Kenny," as she puts it.

"She just loves Kenny," says Dick Gilbert, Anderson's longtime mentor and friend. "Some of the other ones didn't love Kenny. They loved what Kenny could bring."

"Meeting Tasha," says Irwin Levy, Anderson's longtime attorney and friend, "was huge."

For as long as he has been on this planet, Anderson has had one strong woman in his life, and for a short while he had two. But then Joan passed away of a heart attack within a year of her meeting Natasha -- leaving Anderson, according to Gilbert, "inconsolable" -- and he was back down to one.

Yes, thank God for Tasha.

"I loved Kenny unconditionally," she says. "The only other woman who's ever done that was his mother. And I think he first saw that after he realized he wasn't making millions anymore, and he didn't have all the cars and the houses -- and I didn't turn my back on him. We were going to do it together. If you fell, I fell.

"I think that's really what it was -- having that one person who loves him just like his mother did."

* * *

The money came in fast, and went out faster. Salaries that peaked at $9.2 million in 2002-03. But also: Houses. Cars. Monthly expenses of $41,000, as claimed in Anderson's 2005 bankruptcy filing.

"The thing people don't understand is, it sounds like a lot of money -- 60 million -- but there's Uncle Sam," Anderson says. "There's agent's fees, financial advisers, houses, allowances for family members who don't even work."

Anderson signed his first pro contract with the New Jersey Nets on Nov. 7, 1991: five years, $14.5 million. He had just turned 21.

"He was too young," says Gilbert. "He was single. And when you have that kind of money coming in every month, I don't know too many kids who could fight that off for very long."

He soon became known around the league as a big spender, someone who liked bling, pretty women and, especially, fancy cars. At one time, he had 10 or 11 of them, he says now. He shakes his head when he says it.

"It was my fetish," he says. "It was ignorant. My accountant and my people told me -- and I should've listened -- like, 'Yo, you only need two cars.' But I was a kid."

Meantime, around the neighborhood back in Queens, and around his extended family, Anderson became known as someone you could turn to, someone who would "loan" you -- which is to say, give you -- three or four grand to dig you out of some hole of your own foolish making.

"I was generous," Anderson says. "I didn't say no. I used to have it bad, people calling me, crying. I used to be like, 'Aw, damn, man.' They were struggling. It's hard. My accountants, they were like: 'No!' I'd be like, 'But they're getting ready to get thrown out of their house!' So I helped."

Levy, the attorney, used to warn Anderson that if he continued to spend indiscriminately, he was going to wind up bankrupt. But Anderson wouldn't listen.

"It [was] frustrating from my vantage point because we wanted to make arrangements so that his children and grandchildren would never have to worry about financial matters -- if he would just follow the guidelines we set for him," Levy says. "But he was so ridiculously generous. He learned, but he learned after the horse had left the barn."

Gilbert adds: "He was just too young. I couldn't reach him. I tried."

Anderson wants to be careful how he says this: He's doing just fine financially. Better than fine. But there's only so much he can say. "I don't want to get in any trouble," he says with a laugh. But this much is observable: He drives a Cadillac Escalade. He and his family live in a modest, three-bedroom house purchased in 2005, according to real estate records, for $415,000.

"I ain't no millionaire like I used to be, but I'm well off," he says. "I did some foolish things, but I'm blessed to be in the situation I'm in. My house is paid for. I'm in a nice neighborhood. I'm good. I'm the same old Kenny. I haven't changed, money or no money."

Natasha says: "He'll be the first to tell you, he's the happiest he's ever been. No, he doesn't live in a mansion. But his home is a home. He had mansions, and he was never in them. He never spent time with his family there. We have our vehicles, but we don't have five or six of them. He's comfortable."

Here's one other thing about the money: Anderson doesn't seem to miss the days when it was plentiful.

"Money didn't make me," he says. "Did I spend a lot of money? Yes, I did. Foolishly? Yes, at times. I helped a lot of people, donated a lot of things. I ran a Kenny Anderson basketball tournament in Lefrak City for 10 years straight. No sponsors, no nothing. That's out of my pocket -- like, 30-, 40 grand a summer. Did anybody say anything? No, it don't matter.

"You know what? All that stuff? Everything that's gone, and everything I've got now? It'll all come back to me. I just know it. You can always get money. You can work. But my character, my integrity -- they're not going anywhere."

* * *

It's a beautiful life Kenny Anderson leads these days, beautiful in its simplicity and its structure.

He gets a call every morning, between 6 and 7 a.m., from Al Taylor, his pastor back home, whom Anderson has known since junior high, and who married him and Natasha back in July 2007.

"Sometimes we talk about Scripture, but sometimes there's something else in his heart, and I just wind up listening to Kenny," Taylor says. "Sometimes, Kenny is going deep."

Next, Anderson drives Kenny Jr. and Tiana -- Natasha's daughter -- to their public elementary school and finds something to do until it's time to pick them up again at 2:15. He's a prolific Twitterer, particularly between, say, 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.

"My life," Anderson says, "is so simple now."

Anderson says nothing woke him up to the realities of his new, post-basketball life quite like seeking custody of Kenny four years ago, just as his own career wound down.

"That was the turning point in my life," he says. "He was a big savior. He changed me. I'd never had custody of any of my kids. I was like: 'All right, I got my son. This is real here. I gotta teach him how to be a man, how to be better than me.' Every time I look at him, I look at stability."

Like the majority of successful athletes, Anderson struggled with the transition into retirement -- perhaps more so because his transition involved a wife finishing up her degree and preparing for her own career, and two kids who were suddenly his full-time responsibility.

"I was still being selfish," he says. "I said, 'I have to be home with them all day?' It sounds crazy, but I'm just being honest. I love my kids, but I was like: 'I gotta be with them all day? I don't know how to do this.' But I learned."

Natasha says, "Coming down off that pedestal is hard. When you're an athlete who has been glorified for your entire life, and then it's gone overnight, it's like, 'Now what?' You're grasping and struggling. It took almost a whole year for Kenny to be like: 'Oh, wait. I've gotta wake up. I've gotta get motivated.' "

He found his motivation, ultimately, in the quest for a college coaching job.

He had been poking around the edges of the coaching profession for a couple of years, coaching one year in the now-defunct CBA, plus one season coaching a team, the Hombres, in "Slamball" -- a made-for-TV spectacle in which telegenic maniacs propel themselves off trampolines to perform one outrageous dunk after another.

Anderson's efforts to work his NBA and college contacts for jobs led to one conclusion: Without a degree, he was unlikely to go anywhere. So Anderson, who left Georgia Tech after two years in 1991 to turn pro, signed up for online courses at Miami's St. Thomas University, from which he is scheduled to earn his degree in May.

"I'm like: 'I'm young. I got my second chapter to go now. So I'm going to hit that like I wanted to make the league,' " he says. "That's how I approached that -- driven. Like: 'Yo, this NBA thing is over. I've got my whole life ahead. You gotta provide. And you gotta live.' "

But for now, Kenny Anderson is a coach without a team, a venue or a schedule.

He lends his time, giving an occasional clinic to a high school team whose coach he has befriended, and he hires himself out for personalized, one-on-one workouts with local high school players. But his home court is a local park near his house, which leaves him subject to the volatile South Florida weather. If it rains, the session is canceled.

"I just need the opportunity," Anderson says. "I'll work my butt off. I love to be in the gym. And I think I can reach these kids. The biggest thing for me would be to get a call five years down the road from a kid who just says, 'Kenny, thank you.' "

* * *

A story in the New York Post, dated Aug. 6, 2006, begins: "Former NBA All-Star Kenny Anderson is a deadbeat dad -- stiffing at least five of his seven children since exiting from the league last year, three women with whom he has kids confirm."

Sitting at a Starbucks near his home last month, Anderson seemed to be expecting the question.

"People are going to say, 'Deadbeat dad, deadbeat dad,' " he says. "But how am I a deadbeat dad when these women got millions of dollars? I've got houses for them to live in with my kids. Now, three or four years out, their money drops. That's a deadbeat? Then I'll be a deadbeat. Enough is enough. These women, they just want attention. People are tired of hearing about that. Deadbeat? Come on, man."

Levy is more specific in his defense. "He's never been a deadbeat dad as far as I'm concerned," he says. "When Kenny's financial affairs fell down, sometimes he was a little slow in getting downward modifications [on child support payments] based on the decline of income. When he had money, he paid. It's unfair to characterize him [in a deadbeat] way."

Anderson's specific failures are not uncommon among athletes, particularly those who came from humble backgrounds and who struck it rich at an early age. Out-of-wedlock children, divorces, bankruptcies -- they are so common in the NBA as to be almost a clich?. And anytime another story is written, Anderson's name appears in it.

"Kenny, like probably most basketball players -- they're surrounded by so many yes people and sycophants and admirers, they retain too many childlike qualities," Levy says. " He's a completely different person now. He grew up, is what it boiled down to. The bankruptcy was a very bad thing for him to have to go through, but in a way it was almost something he needed to have."

To Anderson's backers, his failures were the product of youth. Youth and money. Youth and money and fame. Youth and money and fame and a soul that wanted to do right but didn't necessarily possess the experience necessary to do so.

"I know all the stories," Natasha says. "Anyone can Google him and see the history. But that doesn't affect me because I know what he brings to the table now as a father. It's just incredible. It was always in him. He just needed the opportunity. He has a great heart, [but] only in the last five years has Kenny sat back and worked on him, without all the nonsense.

Anderson says: "I was selfish then. I'm not selfish anymore. This is a new life, new direction -- bottom line. I want people to know: This is what I'm doing now. If you want to go into my past, you can. But that's not me now. My kids know what kind of father I am. My wife knows. The few people I let into my life, they know.

"Those other people reading Kenny Anderson articles, in Washington and all these cities that don't know me -- sometimes perceptions are hard to get rid of. If you're going to crucify me for making mistakes when I was 20 years old, 22 years old, well, I don't know what to tell you."

* * *

Together at last after all these years, the Andersons hit the beach, the aspiring coach and his crew. Other days, they strolled around the mall, went to the movies, talked their dad into springing for ice cream. But mostly, they just hung out and talked, lingering at the dinner table, filling every couch and love seat in the living room.

They knew how important this was to their father.

"For our first time together, it was just like, 'Let's spend some time together,' " Anderson says. "We talked about things. It was just an eye opener for Jazz and Lyric, because they'd never been around us all. They were like, 'Whoa, this is my dad? It's not like everything we heard.' Before they left, they said, 'Oh, we're definitely going to do this again.' "

Finally, at the end of girls' visit, before their old man loaded up his team for the drive back to the airport, he pulled aside his oldest -- Danielle, born while Anderson was still at Georgia Tech, is herself a college freshman now -- and asked her to be honest with him:

"How am I doing as a father now?"

He held his breath as he awaited Danielle's answer.

"You're getting better," she told him. "Yeah, Dad, you're really getting to be a good father."

Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity

The conservative media has a hit list, and, as you know, ACORN is its most recent target. Right-wing talkers like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity aren't going to give up on their own. That's why we have to fight them at every turn, exposing the profound hypocrisy and total lack of journalistic standards that define their so-called reporting. We need your support to keep up the fight:

In a new study released yesterday, Media Matters for America methodically exposes how both Beck and Hannity have spent years obsessively attacking ACORN under the guise of exposing corruption at an organization that receives government funding. Consider the following staggering numbers:

On Beck's and Hannity's respective television programs combined, ACORN was mentioned 1,502 times between May 8, 2006, and September 18, 2009. More than 1,500 times. Remember that ACORN has not been charged with any wrongdoing. Not only that, but the organization has been awarded just $53 million in federal funding over the past 15 years -- an average of $3.5 million per year.

Compare that to the coverage Beck and Hannity gave to Jack Abramoff, former Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), Blackwater, Halliburton, and Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR) -- stories of well-documented political scandals and of corruption by companies that have received thousands of times more money from the government than ACORN has in the past 15 years. Abramoff and Ney were involved in influence peddling corruption that reached the highest levels of the Bush administration and Republican-controlled Congress. The aforementioned military contractors have all been involved in major controversies and scandals, some of which reportedly contributed to the deaths of U.S. troops, contractors, and Iraqi civilians alike. Combined, these contractors have been awarded at least $25 billion in contracts since 2001.

So how many times were these names mentioned on Beck's and Hannity's programs?

Abramoff and Ney: 62 times
Blackwater/Xe: four times
Halliburton/KBR: 43 times

In other words, Beck's and Hannity's programs combined were approximately 35 times more likely to discuss ACORN than any of the military contractors. They were also 24 times more likely to discuss ACORN than Abramoff and Ney.

Beck and Hannity have been willing to run with any story that accuses ACORN of corruption, even if the accusations remain unproven and the details were gathered using ethically and legally questionable tactics. But as we show in our study, these two hosts didn't lift a finger to report on the massive cases of corruption involving prominent military contractors and Republicans in Congress. This is agenda-driven journalism of the most transparent sort, and we need to continue to fight back by exposing their hypocrisy with hard facts

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Obama on Letterman 'Late Night'

'Top Ten Reasons Why President Obama Agreed To Appear On The Show

10. Heard the lady with the heart-shaped potato was gonna be here.
9. Thought it would be fun to watch someone ELSE get heckled.
8. Something to do with that whole Cash for Clunkers deal.
7. Every president since Teddy Roosevelt has done it.
6. Someone offers you 600 bucks, you take it, ladies and gentlemen.
5. We told him Megan Fox would be here.
4. Needed some time to hang out before check-in time at his hotel.
3. I have no idea.
2. Said yes, without thinking, like Bush did with Iraq.
1. Wanted to congratulate Dave on the big Emmy win. (Of course, it was Comedy Central's Jon Stewart who won the Emmy.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Media Matters: Fox News' incomplete, misleading ACORN coverage is just nuts

If you get your news from right-wing talk radio and Fox News, you probably think America is being overrun by a hyper-corrupt organized prostitution ring headquartered in the White House.

In case you missed this story: Two conservative activists, Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe, visited a host of ACORN offices around the country posing as a pimp and prostitute. They asked for help establishing a brothel, and even stated that underage girls would be working for them. They had a surveillance camera and recorded at least four interactions with ACORN employees and claimed these employees provided them with assistance. All of the employees implicated have now been fired, and federal aid to ACORN has been cut off.

Still, the story at this point really has a lot more to do with Fox News and conservative media activism than with ACORN. The undercover videos first appeared on The link appears to be going to the domain, but is really going to the domain, founded by Andrew Breitbart, a protégé of Matt Drudge and a conservative with a long record of highly partisan and inflammatory statements. Giles, daughter of conservative blogger Doug Giles, attended the National Journalism Center in Washington, one of the many right-wing institutions conservatives have established to flood the field with young, motivated, and rabidly partisan "reporters." For his part, O'Keefe has been a far-right activist since college.

Breitbart has developed a direct line to Glenn Beck, and so it wasn't long before the videos were being presented breathlessly on his TV and radio programs. This week, following his 9/12 rally, Beck escalated the attacks over ACORN. "But good God almighty, what is wrong with us," he said on Tuesday, "that we don't right now get into the cars and drive back to Washington, and surround the Capitol and say, 'What the hell is wrong with you people? Are you soulless? Are you dead inside?' "

It was just the beginning. "Obama is Van Jones, Obama is ACORN," right-wing pundit Monica Crowley said on Wednesday. "Just as he is ACORN, just as he is Van Jones, he is racism," Rush Limbaugh parroted the sentiment on Thursday. Radio host Jim Quinn said that we were all living in the "United States of ACORN," and Fox News' Megyn Kelly had Karl Rove on to talk about the tapes exposing what was now a "remarkable criminal enterprise." The stakes couldn't be higher. ACORN, after all, was on tap to receive "eight and a half trillion dollars of stimulus money," according to Sean Hannity -- a number that was a thousand times greater than the equally fictitious billions that Beck had accorded to the organization on behalf of the government. ACORN had suddenly ballooned from an organization which had received $53 million in federal funds over 15 years to representing 67 percent of America's gross domestic product.

Fox was running so wild with the story that they were willing to lower their already dubious standards. The first problem was one of logic. Four videos were being promoted as unimpeachable proof that all of ACORN is equally corrupt -- all 1,200 chapters and hundreds of ACORN employees. It was the opposite of how a credible investigation is supposed to function, in which conclusions are withheld until after all the facts are in. By comparison, here, the conservative media had a few isolated facts but were willing to extrapolate an entire thesis from them.

More important, Fox News failed to vet the tapes. This was made painfully clear with the case of the San Bernardino ACORN office, which was featured in the fourth video to be released. In the footage, ACORN employee Tresa Kaelke claimed that she had murdered her former husband following a period of domestic abuse. On September 15, Beck and Sean Hannity both broadcast Kaelke's assertion. Beck, who had reported on the supposed confession during his radio program, added on Fox, "She never spanked her kids, but she did shoot her husband dead." Later that night, Hannity played the same clip, and in a rare moment of intellectual curiosity, asked about the veracity of the murder claim. "We're working on it," Giles said, which was enough for Hannity. The following morning, on September 16, Fox News' Gretchen Carlson repeated the allegation, saying, "She killed somebody? Despite this, some lawmakers want to keep funding the group."

But Kaelke's ex-husbands are alive. The San Bernardino Police Department confirmed this simple fact on September 15, releasing a statement that read: "Investigators have been in contact with the involved party's known former husbands, who are alive and well." (Kaelke was soon quoted in an ACORN press release saying that she had made the claim because she was seeking to mislead the undercover videographers, whom she was suspicious of.) In spite of these developments, the next day, Hannity was still treating the San Bernardino tape as fully credible. He even hosted Giles again but failed to ask her about her own investigation into the truth of the claim. (Here's a full timeline of the attention the San Bernardino video received.)

In the meantime, another pivotal hole in the story began to present itself. During interviews, Breitbart, Giles, and O'Keefe had all asserted that the undercover team had never been kicked out of an ACORN office. Bertha Lewis, ACORN's CEO and chief organizer, had already said this was a falsehood by the time a Philadelphia ACORN employee, Katherine Conway Russell, publicly claimed to have done just that, adding that she had filed a police report after a visit from the conservative pair. The police report was soon produced, raising further serious questions about the credibility of the entire ACORN exposé. It was another major side of the story that Fox News simply hadn't cared to look into.

On the offense, Breitbart has lashed out at the mainstream media for supposedly burying the story. "The behavior of Jonathan Klein, the president of CNN," he said on Friday, "has been despicable during this." Many mainstream reporters were indeed worthy of criticism, but for the opposite reason that Breitbart cited. Their real failure was discussing the ACORN issue on Fox News' terms and ignoring the network's role in pushing the smears.

The New York Times covered up conservatives' well-documented ACORN obsession in its reporting. In their reports, all three network evening news broadcasts -- ABC's World News, NBC's Nightly News, and the CBS Evening News -- left out substantive facts about the incidents that mitigate the accusations, exonerate ACORN employees, or undermine the credibility of the filmmakers. Moreover, none reported that Fox News, in its aggressive promotion of this story, had made false accusations.

On MSNBC, Chris Matthews was content to report that the right had simply "claimed another victim," as if the campaign had been entirely legitimate. "They know what they are doing because they are getting an audience from this," he added, uncritically. And MSNBC's Dylan Rattigan allowed conservative activist Carter Clews of Americans for Limited Government to ask Bertha Lewis, "How much money did Barack Obama funnel to you ... with his buddy-boy Bill Ayers?" David Shuster and Juan Williams provided some of the week's few media bright spots by focusing on Fox News itself and providing the story with some perspective.

Fox News is already teasing its next round of ACORN attacks. If credible journalists don't stand up for their craft, then Fox News will keep enjoying its position in the driver's seat.

Other major stories this week:

Dropping Lou Dobbs

After years of Lou Dobbs using his CNN platform to promote the work of hate groups, spread racially charged conspiracy theories, and engage in hate speech, Media Matters joined more than 15 national organizations (including NDN, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the National Council of La Raza, among others) this week in launching the Drop Dobbs campaign.

The coalition also launched The link appears to be going to the domain, but is really going to the domain, a new website that demonstrates Dobbs' history of xenophobia and nativism and will monitor his misinformation in the days and weeks to come. Those visiting the site are encouraged to take action by signing a petition telling Dobbs' advertisers to stop sponsoring his hate.

Watch this compelling video to learn more about why dropping Dobbs is so important.

Dobbs obviously isn't taking news of the campaign well. He went on the attack this week by targeting many of the groups in the coalition, calling Media Matters "fleas" and claiming that "Hispanic activist groups" "brand" him a "racist" because he "opposes illegal immigration." Dobbs also slammed various groups for "denigrating the United States for not being sufficiently welcoming" to undocumented immigrants and told what he characterized as a "pretty good joke": that calling him a racist "would make you likely a member of La Raza."

On September 15 and 16, Dobbs appeared at the "Hold Their Feet to the Fire" rally and legislative advocacy event in the nation's capital held by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) -- an organization labeled a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center. More on FAIR, its racist founder, its ties to eugenicists, and the racially charged comments of some of its staff can be found here.

Media Matters' Eric Burns sent an open letter to Klein, the CNN president, noting, "Mr. Dobbs represents an ongoing threat to CNN's credibility as a serious news organization, in no small part because of his polemical coverage of immigration issues and his continued use of his CNN show to lend prominence to groups such as FAIR. The attention and legitimacy he gave to the 'birther' movement -- and CNN's condoning of his actions -- did real damage to that credibility. His participation in the upcoming FAIR rally would do further, serious damage."

In the end, Dobbs promoted a "very special broadcast" from the FAIR event, going so far as to thank the anti-immigrant organization for hosting a "great town hall event" on "amnesty." During his broadcast from the FAIR event, Dobbs embraced discredited birther Jerome Corsi, whom he called a "pretty good guy to talk to" about immigration. He also hosted KHOW's Peter Boyles, a man who once said of a Hispanic accused rapist: "It's, you know, jobs Americans won't do." During his stint as Dobbs' guest, Boyles said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "looks like Lady Macbeth."

Though Dobbs claimed that "CNN has no role" at FAIR, "it's me, it's this radio show," he and CNN correspondent Lisa Sylvester discussed the FAIR rally on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight -- of course, they made no mention of Dobbs' involvement in the event. After Media Matters pointed out their lack of disclosure, Dobbs suggested that Media Matters was a "hate group" for calling attention to his FAIR ties.

While Dobbs remains a serious problem, Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, had some fun at the CNN host's expense, claiming that he'd lost to Dobbs in his bid to set the "record for the most insults to Mexico in a single nightly news broadcast."

First the "birthers," now the "czar-ers"?

Media conservatives, particularly the folks at Fox News, have been on a crusade of late to rid the Obama administration of czars. You know, because the term sounds foreign ... perhaps Russian ... definitely commie. Of course, in order to fall in line behind their logic, one has to ignore the fact that Republican and Democratic presidents have used the term to identify top advisers for decades. As we noted last week, "In fact, 'czars' were such a non-issue at Fox News during the Bush years that Bill O'Reilly called for the appointment of several new 'czars' to handle immigration, charities, and disaster relief, and not once was he denounced by his colleagues for advocating a 'shadow government' with 'unchecked power.' "

Well, this week was no different. The czar hysteria continued.

Fox News actually set out to explain to viewers why Obama's use of czars was so much worse than President Bush's. The conservative network falsely claimed that The Washington Post reported that Bush had 16 "czars" and that Obama has "twice as many." In fact, in the article Fox News cited, the Post reported, "By one count, Bush had 36 czar positions filled by 46 people during his eight years as president."

Taking a page from the Fox News book, Dobbs also downplayed Bush's use of czars, stating that prior to the Obama administration, "the highest number of czars that we were able to document in our own reporting ... was during the Clinton administration, and he had only 10 czars." I guess Dobbs and his researchers don't read The Washington Post.

Dobbs' report did net the conspiracy-minded CNN host a new nickname, however. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann dubbed Dobbs a "czar-er" in designating him the "Worst Person in the World" for downplaying Bush's use of czars.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Media Matters: The tea party teapot tempest rages on

It's fitting that a week that began with conservatives warning about the president indoctrinating schoolchildren would end with those same conservatives acting like schoolchildren in the face of perceived indoctrination. Leading up to President Obama's September 8 back-to-school address to our nation's students, the conservative media loudly voiced their opposition to the speech, insisting that the president was recruiting children to his political goals and conscripting them into his civilian army. Of course, when none of that happened and Obama delivered the speech he intended to deliver, conservatives still managed to declare victory, claiming -- with an admitted lack of evidence and an implied lack of sense -- that the White House had secretly changed the speech in response to their heroic exposé of Obama's attempt to corrupt the minds of the youth.

But conservatives wouldn't have to wait long for some genuine "indoctrination," as the president took to the dais of the House of Representatives on September 9 to restate the case for health care reform. And they reacted in true playground fashion. "You lie," screamed Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) in the middle of Obama's address, much to the shock and chagrin of the assembled legislature. While Wilson's Republican colleagues upbraided him in public and private and Wilson himself apologized, the conservative media got busy enshrining a new hero. Rush Limbaugh "was ecstatic when he heard" Wilson's shout and wished he hadn't apologized. "Joe Wilson simply articulated what millions of Americans were saying," said Limbaugh. Hot Air blogger Allahpundit responded by calling the president a "jackass." Obama wasn't the only "jackass" of the evening, as Red State's Erick Erickson, in the midst of lauding Wilson "a great American hero," called Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) a "jackass" for "clap[ing] when Barack Obama bashed Sarah Palin over the death panels."

Slightly less maddening than the sophomoric reaction from the right was the phony equivalence put forth by media outlets seeking to downplay Wilson's outburst. Fox & Friends doggedly tried to convince their viewers that Nancy Pelosi's criticisms of the CIA were no different from Wilson's heckling of the president on the House floor. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank balanced Wilson's verbal attack on the president with Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), who "insisted on making a victory sign with his hand and waving it at Obama." It's a wonder Milbank didn't lump in all those boorish members of Congress who kept banging the palms of their hands together at various times throughout the speech.

And let's not forget that Wilson was wrong. Very wrong. Demonstrably wrong. And yet, that simple fact seemed conspicuously absent from much of the reporting on Wilson's outburst. Viewed through a broader lens, Wilson's two-word interjection during the president's address to Congress is a distillation of the right's approach to the health care debate thus far - short on substance, but long on spectacle. You saw the same scenario play out all last month as town hall after town hall was disrupted by loud protesters shouting about "socialism" and making nonsensical demands that the government keep its hands off Medicare. Their views were fringe, and they were often in direct contradiction to the facts, but the video of angry town hall protesters dominated the cable news channels because they made great TV.

It's a symptom of a broken media culture that a small group of fringe conservatives can scream insults and falsehoods at the president or their representatives in Congress, bring no facts to bear in support of their allegations, and still be treated as major players in a policy debate.

Other major stories this week
What speech did they hear?

While not turning Rep. Wilson into a latter-day Spartacus, the conservative media turned their critical eyes on President Obama's health care speech, leaving many to wonder whether they heard the same speech the rest of the world did. Sean Hannity proclaimed that Obama "said tonight that insurance executives are bad people." In reality, the president said the exact opposite: "Insurance executives don't [treat their customers badly] because they're bad people; they do it because it's profitable." Joseph Curl of The Washington Times reported that Obama "cut out" from the speech a line about bringing "both parties together" in health care debate. In fact, the president delivered that line exactly as prepared -- a fact noted by a separate Washington Times article.

Noted paragon of accuracy and credibility Karl Rove appeared on Fox News to attack the president's alleged "series of very glaring misstatements or distortions," all the while advancing health care falsehoods and distortions of his very own. It should be noted that Rove was just one of the many Fox News partisans to inveigh against President Obama's speech and his health reform proposals. And it's no surprise that Fox News would function as the epicenter of media opposition to Democratic health care reform. The self-proclaimed "voice of the opposition" has taken a contrary position to the White House and the Democratic Congress on just about every issue, frequently engaging in political activism by advocating the tea party protests, the town hall disrupters, and Glenn Beck's cult -- er, 9-12 Project.

Fox News on the hunt for "czars"

Watching Fox News these days you'd think we were in the midst of the October Revolution, such is their newfound distaste for "czars" -- special advisers to President Obama whom the network's commentators have pledged to take down. Seizing upon past statements Obama's "czars" have made, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck have falsely attacked several of the president's advisers, claiming that they are too controversial or unfit for their jobs, all the while ignoring these advisers' credentials or actual job performance. Hannity proclaimed that his "job" is "to get rid of every other ['czar']," and got things rolling by falsely claiming that White House science and technology adviser John Holdren "advocated compulsory abortion," and arguing against the evidence that State Department legal adviser Harold Koh "advocates the use Sharia law in America." Meanwhile, Beck led the charge against former "green jobs czar" Van Jones, using Jones' past statements to inexplicably reassert the connection between Obama and Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

As noted above, however, the anti-"czar" fervor at Fox News is something of a new development, arising -- coincidentally, no doubt -- with the transition from the Bush to Obama presidencies. In fact, "czars" were such a non-issue at Fox News during the Bush years that Bill O'Reilly called for the appointment of several new "czars" to handle immigration, charities, and disaster relief, and not once was he denounced by his colleagues for advocating a "shadow government" with "unchecked power."

7 months, 22 days, 2 hours, 16 minutes

If that was your pick in the "How long will it take for Rush Limbaugh to demand that President Obama resign?" pool, step forward and claim your prize.