Concern trolling – the new face of journalism

Over the past five years, our local paper, the Central Virginian has been following their parent companies commitment to low cost journalism using their stable of “free” writers for most of their guest editorials.

And its a brand of commentary that has “evolved” over the years; starting with the opinions of: Rich Lowery,  the editor of the National Review, and  Tony Perkins the President of the Family Research Council in 2012 – 2013.

Over these past two years, the tone of these syndicated pieces has shifted slightly with commentary from; “Dr.” Glenn Mollette, a Christian radio talk show host, and Lee Hamilton a former congressman, and current director of The Center on Congress at Indiana University.

While most of the CV’s readers would have little reason to recall any of these pieces, it should be noted that the CV’s disclosure of these writers’ affiliations has often left much to be desired.

Particularly in the case of Mr. Hamilton, whose pivotal role in the whitewashing of the Iran-Contra, and the 9/11 commission reports is never mentioned.

Based on his past history, it would be fair to say that these are the views of someone who believes that getting along to go along is more important than arriving at the “truth,” or even understanding the causes of the problem.

So it should come as little surprise to learn that most of his recent “editorials” were peppered with misleading and disingenuous claims, as were Mr. Mollette’s.

Commentaries that were never about addressing any problems; but rather designed to distract their readers away from any serious discussion, and they represent a novel form of journalistic trolling that pushes mixed messages onto uninformed readers.

It is a brand of journalism that is apparently not limited to reprinting King syndicate pieces. Their latest November 26th effort was a verbatim reprint of a 1,300 + word blog by Khalil Pfaff, about the Syrian refugee crisis.

And while this piece by this former resident of Bumpass was well written and insightful, judging by the content of many LTE’s and opinion pieces in other local papers, it is one of the few islands of sanity in an otherwise stormy sea.

Like Jim Hogan’s LTE the week before, where he expresses his concern by characterizing these same refugees as “… known to be terrorists by their actions,” along with the President “…trying to pit “D’s” against “R’s,” because he “…is sympathetic to the Muslim population.” 

Given that bit of local flavor, one does have to ask if whether the CV’s motivation for printing this “rebuttal” represents anything other than a ham fisted attempt to preclude any further embarrassing commentary on this topic?

Something that will become much clearer over the course of the next few weeks as the CV hits the newsstands.

While the use of the term “concern troll” can be construed as using emotionally charged language to denigrate and demonize others who hold contrasting points of view. That is not always the case; not everyone with a concern is a concern troll – and  not every concern is unreasonable

In environments where genuine groupthink dominates, such as; Red State applying the concern troll label serves to enforce conformity and punishing (or silencing) dissent. And even without group think in play, many find that dismissing an argument much quicker and easier than evaluating it.

The term “concern troll” focuses not on what the person is actually saying, but on some alleged agenda. And when misused, it is the perfect refuge for someone who has no counter to actual arguments: they simply ignore the points being made, allege some other position, and then accuse the other person of lying if they deny that that is what they’re really saying.

It’s done by using a combination of derogatory labels known as Snarl Words,  that are used to dismiss any opposing point of view as having little importance or worth, without the slightest trace of guilt or even responsibility for their actions.

And it is how Hakuna Matata has become a nationwide problem free philosophy which seems to disproportionately affect conservatives.

The website, Rational Wiki describes how U.S. Senator Al Franken back in the days when he was a liberal comedian and pundit detailed the “Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy“‘s use of snarl words and other forms of emotional appeal in his book

Where he specifically cites Newt Gingrich, Frank Luntz, along with Lee Atwater‘s political activities and conservative pressure groups’ reliance on their tactics to rush the 1994 Contract With America through Congress.

And it’s an idea which coincidentally, the House Freedom Caucus , is now trying to resurrect, where our Congressman, Dave Brat, one of 36 members of this group is presumably hard at work drafting a Son-of -Contract-With-America for the 2016 campaign.

Thus far their proposal for a new Contract on America consists of the following points:

  1. require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply to Congress;
  2. select a major, independent auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse;
  3. cut the number of House committees, and cut committee staff by one-third;
  4. limit the terms of all committee chairs;
  5. ban the casting of proxy votes in committee;
  6. require committee meetings to be open to the public;
  7. require a three-fifths majority vote to pass a tax increase;
  8. guarantee an honest accounting of the Federal Budget by implementing zero base-line budgeting.

And like the original Contract, it will feature many straw man and ad hominem attacks, that more or less revolve around simply making up something (or someone) to attack, going out of their way to ignore any and all contrasting points on the basis that since those points were made by someone acting in bad faith, they need not be addressed

inflated legacies

And with the House Freedom Caucus determined to bring their problem free philosophy to Congress, what could possibly go wrong?

Jon Taylor

Are Bio solids the real issue?

You might have recently read several recent letters about bio solids, or recycled municipal and industrial waste in our local paper, the Central Virginian. There are several key points from those letters which bear repeating:

  • They contain many chemical additives including “heavy” metals, only a few of which are tested for by the producer of this sludge, the only entity in the entire chain of responsibility who actually does any testing.
  • Currently neither the DEQ nor the county performs testing of any kind, and are completely dependent on the vendor, Synagro to provide them with this vital public safety information. And even though there is funding mechanism which allows the county to do so, they have chosen not to.
  • Despite growing  evidence that the continued application of bio solids contributes to an assortment of health issues, contaminates the soil and eventually the water supply, with virtually everything about the entire bio solids process being left to the “…mercy of chance.”

Some other things to consider:

  • Most of the members of our Board of Supervisors were not far off the mark with their claims that they lack sufficient knowledge about toxic pollution particularly the science behind bio solids, along with the local and state regulations necessary to make informed decisions.

Which raises the question; will they will take their usual path of least resistance, and defer to the politically connected … I mean “experts” and kick this issue down the road like they did with Broadband?

  • Several official (and unofficial) parties involved in these decisions have undisclosed conflicts of interests on this and apparently other issues.
  • There is virtually NO public involvement or participation in these hearings and in most county meetings.

Take Bill Small’s recent letter of October 29th where he described walking into hearing for the approval of bio solids permits in the county, only to discover they had already been approved.

Another example of how a rigged process leads to a predetermined outcome.

More importantly, this is exactly the kind of problem which has been plaguing the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission for years, and whose decisions often get reported well after the fact by our local paper.

If pertinent information about these conflicts of interest, along with competing economic priorities like the development of the IDA industrial park vs. Purcell’s … I mean Dominion’s solar facility, were reported in a timelier manner, then perhaps people attending these meetings might have more to say.

It should be noted that most of these letters about bio solids in the CV are coming from tea party members and this “issue” was the subject of several of their recent meetings.

And coincidentally, there just happens to be a bill sitting in the General Assembly, HB 17  introduced by Republican Delegate Lee Ware (65th) about “sludge,” and is scheduled to be heard during next years General Assembly spring session.

In a nutshell, it is only concerned with “requiring the owner of land upon which industrial waste or sludge has been stored or applied to disclose such information to a prospective purchaser or lessee prior to acceptance of a contract for the sale or lease of the subject land, or be held liable for “damages,” with nary a mention of public safety.

So are their concerns more about violations of individual property rights, than for public safety, or even quaint notions of any common good?

Should it stem from the latter, then one can reasonably expect to see them talking about other local issues in the future. Issues like; high speed internet, funding for the Central Virginia Regional Jail and the James River pipeline.

Only time will tell if this letter writing campaign was indeed a heartfelt expression of local concerns, or another opportunity to steer local conversations about this issue in a predetermined direction, while keeping their true agenda buried as openly as the stench of bio solids.

As for that other foul odor, it remains to be seen if our local officials are even listening, or willing to do their duty.

Jon Taylor

Neither Party Represents Me

Now that this year’s statewide elections are safely in the rear view mirror of history, it’s time to discuss about what they mean for the 2016 Federal and 2017 State elections.

Over the past decade, participation in Virginia’s state and local elections particularly in off year and mid-term elections has been hovering around the 40’s, with the biggest drop offs coming in the years just before the presidential elections (2003, 2007, and 2011) where voter participation fell to 30 % or less.

Like much of the country, Virginia has been trending towards decreased voter participation at virtually every level and point in the election cycle. Over the past three decades, voting in the Commonwealth has dropped by ~ 10% in presidential elections, and anywhere between ~ 20 to 30 % in state and local elections.

Some of the biggest reasons for this trend have to do with obvious structural barriers like the gerrymandering of voting districts into permanent “safety zones” for incumbents of either party. Coupled with what appears to be widespread voter sentiment that their vote “won’t make any difference.”

And beyond stating the obvious, there’s another factor which heavily influences the outcome of elections.

The fact that the Republicans have decisively won the culture and messaging wars they started nearly five decades ago during the Nixon era. And especially since the 2008 presidential election which saw the nation’s first African-American become president, voters throughout the country have become more and more Republican.

Who will apparently vote for any candidate with an “R” behind them, regardless of their shortcomings. And here in the rural hinterlands of Central Virginia, Democrats and progressives have become the minority, not the confederate-flag-waving-racist-anti-woman-fundamentalist-take back our country types.

While there may be considerable truth to the observation that many of these folks are indeed country bumpkins who proudly wear their ignorance like a badge of honor.

Such casual observations make it easy to overlook the fact that as a group they turn out at the polls in disproportionate numbers. Or that their votes and  “opinions” are heavily influenced by the propaganda coming from FOX news, along with the rest of our milquetoast and  incurious MSM media.

For them;  the words Democratic Party have become synonymous with big “Guvment,” one that is determined to take away their guns, give out free abortions, let gay’s marry, or whatever the hot button social issue of the day happens to be.

Perceptions which persist despite the fact that none of them have proven to be remotely accurate or even true.

The only facts which matter for these overwhelmingly older and white voters is  that they will never ever have to change their minds . Choosing to live in a self imposed bubble where their personal beliefs  trump any set of “facts”.

And it is an arrangement which suits the Republican establishment just fine. The fewer people who actually vote, the better their chances are of winning, especially when their candidates and supporters hold extreme views.

On the other side of the coin; even among their supporters, Democrats have become a party that finds themselves forever “Waiting for Godot.” Waiting for the next big social change, the next inspirational and transformative figure to alter the political landscape, and have effectively become captives of their own kind of “faith based” reality.

An unwarranted faith in “Hope and Change” which allows them to ignore the fact that conservatives are turning out in large numbers at the polls.

Nor is it any secret that since the days of Bill Clinton, that the Democratic Party has gone out of their way to raise money from the same companies and wealthy individuals who have traditionally supported Republicans. Contorting themselves like pretzels in their endless quest for money, while increasingly adopting a business at any cost agenda.

To say that it has been a deal with the devil, one which has effectively crippled Democrats ability to convey any kind of progressive or even populist messaging lest they risk alienating their donors is an serious understatement.

Since the 90’s the Democratic Party has attempted to portray themselves as the “good cop” to the Republicans, “bad cop,” when in fact both parties have been more or less working towards the same goals.

With the Democrats becoming the opposite side of the Republican’s “Head I, win tails you lose” coin which continues to support unbridled capitalism, regardless of the cost.

It’s a third way of neo-liberal thinking that lead to President Clinton’s signing the NAFTA, and CAFTA “free trade” agreements along with repealing the Glass-Stegall banking regulations. Even today, our current carpetbagger, I mean Governor, Terry McAuliffe has shown himself to be textbook example of just how much donor money talks, and all else walks.

Passing several decidedly pro Dominion bills earlier this year, and his decision to support just 3 State Senate elections, when control of the Senate and his entire legislative agenda stood in the balance are just a few of the things that he will never be called to account for.

It’s a way of thinking that lead to the Party doing almost nothing in over two decades to change the public perception that they can deliver on their promises, or are capable of leadership.

And who have with rare exceptions, in election after election demonstrated their unwillingness to take any risks. Who are apparently constitutionally incapable of telling the voters anything other than carefully triangulated talking points designed to offend none.

Which is all well and good, but it doesn’t change the the fact that on the other side of the aisle, more and more Americans are obtaining their view of “reality” from FOX News and talk radio. Nor does it appear that either of these dynamics will be changing anytime soon.

Especially since the Republican Party figured out long ago that if you gin up people with enough fear, hatred, and paranoia that they will find a way to make it to the ballot box.

And it’s an observation which has gained more currency since President Obama was first elected in 2008. And it is one that most pollsters and pundits have been unable to grasp; seemingly unwilling to acknowledge just how much deep seated hate and anger there is out there.

Unable to conceptualize the lengths that voters, particularly conservatives ones will go to mask their true and often socially unacceptable beliefs, at least until the moment they step into the voting booth.

Meanwhile, many of these same pundits continue to tell us that this year’s insane clown posse of Republican presidential candidates shows just how disorganized the Republican Party really is.

And from all appearances it is a viewpoint shared by most Democrats who remain convinced that the results of the 2016 presidential elections will be very similar to the 2008 and 2012 elections.

That it is an belief which is only accurate “… from a certain point of view,” as the fictional character Obi Wan Kenobi, from Star Wars movies, once remarked appears to be beside the point.

For conservatives and liberals alike, it allows them to ignore another possibility; that all of this Sturm und Drang by the Republican presidential candidates is nothing more than an elaborately staged Kabuki Theater.

One intended to distract the masses away from just how horrible their candidates are, and more importantly, what is and continues to happen to this country at the State level.

A journey that starts with the 2010 mid terms that saw the Republicans retake the House, and the 2012 and 2014 elections which saw more and more Republicans elected as our State Legislators, to the Governors’ mansion and to local offices.

To where Republicans now completely control the legislative bodies of 31 States, and have partial control of another 8 states.

And in those states where they have total control of state governments, Republicans have taken their brand of extremism to levels that this nation has never seen before.

And they have managed to hide this “inconvenient truth” in plain sight, in states like; Kansas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, along with most of the Southern states, where they have passed a number of radical, undemocratic, and unconstitutional laws.

Beyond passing most of these laws for the benefit of their wealthy benefactors like Dominion Power here in Virginia, and plutocrats like Art Pope in North Carolina, along with national figures like the Koch Brothers, is the fact that Republicans monolithic control of so many states legislative mechanisms will allow them to control the 2020 redistricting of state and congressional legislative boundaries.

Effectively rendering any short terms gains made by Democrats or any other party during the 2016 through 2020 elections into electoral obsolescence.

With the exception of a handful of national figures like Elizabeth Warren, Alan Grayson, and even Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Party has failed to convey to the American people just how successful Republicans have been in implementing their radical agendas.

Or that their constitutients futures will likely be far less secure because of these misdeeds.

Thus far, about the only ray of sunshine in this otherwise bleak picture is that the fact that the Republican Party revolves around greed. Where even their recent infighting in Congress over who will be the next Speaker of the House, took a backseat to their game of “griftopia,” where they are hard at work trying to out maneuver each other in their a never ending quest to enrich themselves.

So despite having control of the House since 2010 and having retaken control of the Senate in 2014, Republicans have found themselves unable to turn Congress into a mirror image of Republican controlled States.

Something hasn’t escaped the attention of Fox News. Who will likely find a way to turn their failure to “change Washington” into one the biggest “issues” of the 2016 election.

Because virtually all of this has taken place with almost no commentary from our media, and hardly a peep from their constitutients, the bottom line is that the Democratic Party has much to be alarmed about during next year’s elections

Along with their chances for electoral success in the subsequent 2017, 2018, and 2019 elections up and down the ballot.

Personally, I don’t see the Democratic Party making any fundamental changes until after they have been handed a series of ass-whoopings at the state and local levels between now and 2020.

Until they are willing to change their messaging and tactics there is very chance they will start winning elections, and with few exceptions, there is little to recommend about them other than holding one’s nose at the polls and voting for the alleged lesser of two evils.

But by then it just might be too late to prevent this country from becoming a single party corporate dominated and controlled nation.

Anyone who remembers their history will recall just how well the last time such a widespread “… merger of corporate and government interests” worked out for the human race.

Jon Taylor