The “Neighboring States” Game

OASASinfostats02-02New York has a heroin problem.  A bad one.  In the county I live in, the heroin problem is so big and so prevalent that first responders are being trained on Narcan usage, and in some areas it’s as required to carry as anything else in a standard police, fire, or EMS kit.  The kit has saved dozens of lives.  On a regular basis, stories can be found in the local papers talking about how Narcan is a savior, and praising programs to get it in the hands of first responders.

This is a good thing.

Narcan would not be necessary if heroin wasn’t a growing problem.  In Rockland County, Narcan training is now something the average citizen can get at various locations throughout the area and people are encouraged to get the training because it could potentially save a life.

The interesting part of this all isn’t that local governments have finally figured something out that might help people rather than tax them or put them in cages, although that’s a nice side effect.  The interesting part is that heroin is illegal in New York State.  In spite of that illegality, usage is not only constant, but growing.  As the graphic above notes, admissions for treatment (which only counts people who are seeking treatment, not the overall number of people using) has spiked in the past decade in spite of its illegality.

The penalties for heroin possession are stiff, as are the penalties for its sale.  There is no legal market for heroin in the state.

Above are two maps side by side.  On the left, New York.  On the right?  States that border New York.  Do you know what the green states and the red states have in common?  In all of them, heroin is 100% unequivocally illegal.  In all of them, heroin is a growing problem.

The heroin is coming from somewhere, but nobody knows where.  And it’s coming into states that have harsh penalties in a country with harsh penalties and no one can seem to stop it.  Sounds like a real problem, doesn’t it?

In spite of the fact that the heroin is coming from somewhere, you never hear a politician talk about “heroin trafficking.”

Now compare that to guns.

New York has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, and New York City’s laws are even stricter, and yet day after day we hear about shootings in the city.  Strangely, New York City manages to be proud of being a very safe city (admittedly, it is) and at the same time, gun crime rarely raises an eyebrow.  Shootings don’t even make the front page of either of the two local papers any more.  They’re not, by any measure, a thing.

And yet when politicians do talk about gun laws in New York, they still talk about how they need to “enhance” them.  Or “strengthen” them.  Or “close” loopholes.  When you point out that there isn’t much more room to make things tougher, that’s when you get hit with the old common refrain.

“New York has strong gun laws, but surrounding states don’t, and they’re all coming from there.”

It’s a terrible argument, but gungrabbers will use it as if it trumps all other arguments.  In fact, just literally yesterday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo begged the federal government to help him keep guns out of New York using that same specious argument.

Rather than securing the country’s borders to keep Mexicans out, Gov. Cuomo on Tuesday called on the federal government to protect the state’s borders by keeping firearms from entering New York.

“I’m not worried about Mexicans coming over my border. I’m worried about assault weapons coming over my border,” Cuomo said during an appearance on WNYC radio’s “The Brian Lehrer Show.”

“If you want to protect borders, start by protecting the borders of states and respect their gun laws, which this federal government and the (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) have been all but wholly absent on.”

Cuomo said despite New York passing its own gun control law in 2013 in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn., illegal weapons continue to flow from other states like Virginia and South Carolina.

“By definition this is an issue a state can’t do on its own,” the governor said. “That’s why the federal government has to act.

So what Cuomo is essentially arguing is that his pride and joy, the New York SAFE Act is not effective, and that without more laws, New York can’t be truly safe.

That argument, of course, is complete crap for many reasons.

Firstly, it’s established that the federal government cannot control any border anywhere ever.  Just ask anyone in any border town in Texas, California, Arizona or New Mexico.  People flout the border on a regular basis and, at best, it’s a symbolic border mostly patrolled on the honor system.

Secondly, trafficking guns is already a crime.  Buying a gun in any state and transporting it across another state’s border is a crime.  There are some exceptions, but few.  If I buy a gun in Virginia and bring it into New York, I’ve already violated the law (oddly, Virginia does not neighbor New York; which means I have to cross multiple states on my way in, nearly all of which prohibit the transport of guns in from out of state except in special circumstances).

Thirdly, buying a gun legally (which, by the way, most of these guns that are transported aren’t in the first place) with the intention of selling it in another state or in some other way giving it to someone else is a strawman sale.  That’s illegal.  Just ask Gabby Giffords’ activist husband how that works.  He caught a lot of crap after purchasing an AR-15 to try and sell to someone else.  Only after the furor over his actions did his story change, but the dealer put the squash on the sale within the waiting period (yep, the waiting period) because of Giffords’ activist views knowing the gun was being purchased to make a political point.

But let’s get to the heart of the matter.

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If the argument that the gun problem in New York is due to the lax regulation of the states surrounding it, why is the heroin problem not discussed in the same manner?  I’d argue that the heroin problem, while growing, is more out of control than the gun problem, and yet heroin is not legal in any surrounding states and unless you’re living under a rock, you know that not all heroin in New York is locally made.  Transporting it in any way, locally or across state lines, is a crime.  There are federal, state, and local penalties for possession and for sale.  Heroin is highly regulated in the entire country.

And yet in New York, a state with the most draconian drug laws in the country, we have a heroin problem.

And in New York, a state with some of the most ridiculous gun laws in the country, we have a gun problem.

And in New York City, a city where a law-abiding citizen has essentially been law’ed out of owning a gun at all, there is still a gun crime problem.

What does this tell you?  Two things.

One: That both the drug war and the gungrabber movements simply do not work.

Two: Banning “things,” whatever they are, does nothing to stop them from getting into the hands of people and only turns average people into criminals.

In my next post, we’re going to talk about an interesting thought exercise that Adam Curry recently proposed on the No Agenda Podcast.  You won’t want to miss that.

US Propaganda Arm: The Hospital That Bombed Itself

I’ll bet you didn’t know the US bombed a hospital in Afghanistan over the weekend.  It could be because you were getting your news from CNN or the New York Times, the most reliable branches of the US propaganda machine.

Here’s how CNN presented the story Sunday

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Notice the language.  “Air attack.”  “US investigating.”  A preponderance of vagueries.  CNN even mentions that there were US bombing operations running in the area at the time but never even bothers to point out that the bomb that dropped was a US bomb.  They then “enhance” the story by pointing out that it was out of the area, and so on.  They didn’t know who did it, didn’t report on it, but just in case it was “us” they’re already out to make sure it’s downplayed.

The New York Times contorted the English language even further.  Eventually the story was modified to include possible US involvement:

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This “airstrike,” however, was known.  The “insurgents” don’t have planes.  At least the Wall Street Journal had the stomach to call the obvious what it was; a US bombing of a hospital.  Mistake or otherwise, the perpetrators of this “mistake” were not hidden from our eyes.

It’s very troubling when you see the propaganda machine in action.  It’s even more troubling when you take into account the subtlety with which it’s employed and the “trusted” figures it comes from.

Earlier we spoke a lot about what the new propaganda machine looks like and its subtlety.  I laid out a few examples of how the media has become a rubber stamp to the people in power, and how little they really care about getting to the truth of a story.  We all like to believe that in the “old” days this was the main reason for journalistic enterprises, but it’s becoming clearer and clearer with each passing day that the only thing that drives the media now is the agenda of the day.  Which social justice cause?  Which conflict?  Which -ism can they attach to someone to make the story hum?

Then there’s the part that has devoted its existence to protecting the powerful.  If you ever wanted to see what that side looked like and how much it pays to be the “right kind” of “leader” for the talking heads and flittering keys, you only need look at the presidency we’re living under right now.  One of the memes that keeps recurring with regards to the President is that he “ended two wars.”  If that’s the case, he has some explaining to do as to why the US military blew a hospital up in Afghanistan when the “war” was over.

A friend of mine recently related the story of a friend of hers.  One of her Facebook friends was arguing about what a great President Barack Obama has been and specifically mentioned that “things are so much better” and he “ended two wars” and “fixed the economy.”

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He ended a war?

He isn’t getting that idea on his own, someone is telling him that.  Who?  The folks who have successfully managed to keep, almost entirely, armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan off the front pages.  The last we heard about them was that there was a draw-down and that the troops were “withdrawing.”  People were coming “home.”  Victory is ours!  Then, to make the point stronger, people like John McCain (who I have no love for in any fashion) were quoted regularly as being upset at the “retreat” and how we were “leaving too early.”  His over-outrage about “leaving” made the claims that the war was ending appear even more valid and yet right now, in spite of what you may have heard about the war being over, there are 3,500 troops in Iraq (give or take a few) and 9,800 troops in Afghanistan.

That’s the “end?”

But the media is careful in how they refer to these troops.  This isn’t the “War in Iraq” or the “War in Afghanistan” any more.  That was only what it was called under George W. Bush, particularly after his “Mission Accomplished” speech.

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Ironically, in that speech he talked about the end of “major combat operations” specifically, not an end to all armed conflict in Iraq.  He was mocked mercilessly for that (deservedly, in my opinion) but if you think about it, a few years later, President Obama has coasted along as if the wars in the two countries were over, and yet here we are with over 13,000 troops between the two countries.

If the war is over, why are they still there?  Why are hospitals being bombed?  Why are soldiers still dying?  What in God’s name are we doing there at all?

The answer is that the war isn’t over.  It’s no more over now than it was when President Bush stood on an aircraft carrier deck and said major combat operations were over, but the allies in the media want you to believe it is because their guy is responsible now.

The voice of the opposition has been silenced.  The anti-war movement, in spite of the continuous conflicts going on, has shut down.  There is no anti-war movement.  The Nobel-winning President has involved us in conflicts around the world, drone bombed every country he could at any point he felt like it, and failed to extricate us from the two he inherited and at the same time we’re being told he’s the “peace” President.  A thinker.  An academic.  He’s not some crazy lunatic neocon like the last guy.  He’s different.

He is different in one way: his wars are protected, minimized, covered up, and justified at every turn.  He can do no wrong in the eyes of his media guardians.

We Have An Active Propaganda Department in the United States and No One Seems To Care

When we think of “propaganda,” there are definitely some connotations to it.  We think, usually, of World War II Germany or Soviet Russia where propaganda was not even called that, it was just “news.”  In Germany, propaganda was such an effective tool for shaping the minds of people that the allies actually employed similar propaganda tools.  In the United States, for example, posters imploring people to buy war bonds, grow “victory gardens,” conserve metal for the production of weapons, and so on.

WWII Propaganda Poster

It was an all-out war, being fought in the newspapers, on radio, and in official posters and the war was all around you.  The government couldn’t get away with it for long, though, as people grew wise to it, and eventually the outright rah rah propaganda fell out of favor in exchange for a more subtle form of propaganda: planted news.

While it has a rich and storied history, planted stories are not unique to the past.  In fact, we’ve come to learn in recent years that the government is not only still doing it, but is doing it in such a way that it’s barely discernible from real actual hard news.  Often you’ll see it as the alphabet networks will refer to the same story using the same terms.  Recently, the federal government under George W. Bush was very big on “Video News Releases.”  They were so reviled that a bill was authored in 2005 to try and counteract the practice of pre-packaging news stories for the news networks by the federal government.  Unsurprisingly, that legislation died in committee and never made it to a vote.

What made people so angry about Video News Releases was that they reeked of “propaganda.”  It was a scary word!  We shouldn’t do that sort of thing!  Even the GAO believed that Video News Releases were propaganda unless disclosure statements came along with them.  In 2004 and 2005, the government knew that they were setting themselves up for trouble.  In reality all that happened was that the propaganda went from covert to more covert.

Sometimes it’s a photo op where all the cameras for all the networks just happened to be in the same place at the same time and just happened to catch a politician doing something to humanize them (like the First Lady “surprising” a Target by going in to buy just a few things).

The First Lady at Target

The news media never cops to this, either.  This sort of thing is what they call “news,” now.  It’s newsworthy that the First Lady showed up at Target “unexpectedly” and “surprised” everyone.  No one knew she was coming except for one of the largest news organizations in the world, The Associated Press, (ABC and CBS ran the story into the ground) who, like good little lapdogs immediately snapped photos and shared her shopping trip as a human interest story.

This is the sort of thing that those who are “in the know” refer to as “soft news.”  It isn’t really “news,” in any sense of the word.  There’s no pressing issue, story worthy of note, or narrative that affects all of us.  In this case, it was just a human interest story, but it happened to coincide with an opposing narrative that Michelle Obama is cold and out of touch with every day people.  Her shopping like the regular commoners happened at a time when she was receiving very heavy flak for her anti-obesity campaign, which was soundly ridiculed by nearly everyone including students at schools who found the new “compliant” lunch menus to be inedible and unappealing.

The AP, however, made sure that they were there to show everyone just how in touch she was, and how she shopped at Target just like the rest of us.

Thanks, AP.

While this is mostly an innocuous example of the kind of propaganda we face on a regular basis, it isn’t always.  What if the motive is much more sinister?  More deceptive?

Let’s talk, for a bit, about the Benghazi attacks of 2012.  Within moments of the embassy attack, the media outlets in the United States had the motive clear.  It was retaliation for a YouTube video.  Without exception, every major news outlet ran with the story.  MSNBC (and by extension NBC News) not only went with that explanation but ran wall to wall coverage on just how bad that video actually was.  MSNBC stuck with that explanation for years until leaked documents proved the exact opposite.  Not only did the State Department know that the YouTube video had nothing to do with the attack on the US embassy, but was in fact planned ten days in advance of the attack.

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To this day, people still insist that the YouTube video sparked the attack.  Why?  Because the news that it was planned well in advance never made it to the mainstream media until long after it was surpassed by other stories.  When it was combined with the poor handling of security at the embassy, Hillary Clinton called Benghazi “old news,” and like good soldiers, the media fell in line and dropped the subject entirely.  It was over.  Why?  Because Hillary Clinton said it was “old news,” and that was good enough for them.

But what if it wasn’t just the media following along on the “message” that the government was trying to put out?  What if agents inside the US government were actually influencing reporters and their reporting from outside the newsroom?  And even worse, what if the media were actively complying with it?

Now is where we really get into the meat and potatoes of the issue.  On October 1st of this year, an email was leaked from Phillip Crowley at the State Department.  It was addressed to “H,” (Hillary Clinton) and her inner circle at State.  Here’s what was said:

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CBS has said that the emails weren’t true and Crowley was just trying to score points with Clinton.  Assuming that’s true (which, frankly, I don’t believe it is), why didn’t CBS run with that story?  If someone from State was trying to influence the reporting of a story and an interview with someone as high-profile as Julian Assange, isn’t that a story in itself?  Even if you completely buy the official CBS explanation of what Crowley intended, isn’t his action worthy of a story?

I sure think it is.  I imagine most Americans would think it is.  CBS, however, did not.  Were it not for a leak, we never would’ve seen this email.  That’s frightening.

Sometimes, though, we don’t even get to hide behind the backroom dealings.  In some cases, the propaganda machine is blatant, obvious, and overtly troubling.  Consider the President’s remarks after the shooting at Umpqua Community College.  In his feigned exasperation, the President exhibited what some could call some cocky arrogance as he smugly told the media…

“I would ask news organizations, because I won’t put these facts forward — have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks in the last decade, and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side by side on your news reports.  This won’t be information coming from me, it will be coming from you.”

Instead of the mainstream media reminding the President that he is not, in fact, a news director, they leaped to his side to help him make his case.  In what could only be called the most blatant example of the media going to bat for the President in our lifetime, they ran the stories (and most of the outlets that did didn’t even bother to provide any kind of critical analysis).

CNN was the least critical, providing a laundry list of Presidential talking points in their piece as fact.  There is not a critical word to be found in the entire piece.  The numbers are taken from the CDC, not broken down in any meaningful way, and a helpful graph is available which, CNN was so proud of, that they ran on their Facebook page.

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Essentially their caption amounts to “We were asked, and we complied.  Yay us.”

The Washington Post was somewhat skeptical of the political point of the statement, but still did the research and tossed out a piece of flaming propaganda for all to enjoy.  In its piece, they added even more spin to the statement, including any strengthening they could of the numbers.  They even added extra credit to their homework by digging back further into older stats to buttress their point.  While they earn points for being skeptical in a token way, they lose many for the fact that they not only did the assignment as asked without question, but then did further research to make the point stronger (even with the skepticism added in).

In spite of the fact that The Washington Post does nothing to explain what “gun violence” is (whether it’s one on one crime, self defense, police shootings, suicide, etc.) they arrive at a conclusion that, unsurprisingly, is right in line with the teacher’s:

There are a lot of other factors that can be overlaid here to add some gray space: preventability, trends, definitions. Regardless, it’s clear that terrorism holds an outsized role in political debate for the demonstrated threat it poses to American citizens. It’s less clear, using solely the metric of annual deaths, that gun violence should then necessarily be the first priority.

Yeah it’s less clear, but we all know what you’re saying.  While you’re making a nice point about the specifics of the gun number, you’re at the same time downplaying terrorism.  If you move a see saw by making one side lighter or one side heavier, you’re still moving the see saw in your desired direction.

Then there’s Vox Media.  Liberal to the bitter end, and largely considered to be the next big media outlet.  Reliably in the back pocket of the President since its inception, Vox has no qualms about doing their homework.

Presented as a news story and linked to from his Twitter account, Zack Beauchamp bragged about doing his assignment.

In it, after gushing about the President’s “impassioned” speech, he made sure to praise the President for his statement:

“The point Obama is making is clear: We spend huge amounts of money every year fighting terrorism, yet are unwilling, at the national level, to take even minor steps (like requiring background checks on all gun sales nationally) to stop gun violence.”

The narrative that we don’t address gun violence is a common refrain, and it’s still untrue.  For instance, Beauchamp here calls for background checks completely ignoring the fact that there was nothing in this man’s history that would’ve set one off, his guns were all purchased legally, they were purchased from a federally licensed firearms dealer (which was how they were found to be purchased legally in the first place) and none of the guns violated any laws.

Even though he went to bat swinging at every pitch and got everything wrong aside from the raw numbers, his homework assignment and the thoroughness with which he completed it, earned him a Tweet.

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I’m sorry, but if you’re in the media and the President is thanking you for the way in which you framed a story that he told you to write, shouldn’t you be horrified?  A real journalist would be.  Then again, a real journalist probably wouldn’t have done the assignment to begin with.

But a propagandist would!

The time is now and more than ever to pay all media stories the skeptical eye they deserve.  We are being spun, and it’s happening with reckless disregard for the truth or journalistic integrity.  When the White House can plant a story and mainstream media outlets not only run with it but work to make the point stronger, there is a serious integrity issue that should immediately turn us away from what we’re reading.

It’s become cliche to say you shouldn’t trust the mainstream media, but if recent incidents are any indication, that’s a cliche I’ll be more than happy to take into my heart and make a way of life.