Category Archives: Politics

Why the Facebook Problem Matters

facebook-cambridge-analyticaMost of us know the basics of the Facebook scandal involving the political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, which has close ties with Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer. Cambridge Analytica obtained massive amounts of Facebook user data through an outside researcher in violation of that person’s usage agreement with Facebook. This data included not only public information, but private data as well as detailed “metadata” about user behavior. Cambridge Analytica analyzed this “big data” to perform “psychographic profiling” in order to conduct “psychological warfare” and “influence operations” to benefit the campaign of Donald Trump.

When you speak with people about this Facebook controversy, many of them will respond by saying that they don’t feel like it’s a very big deal. After all, when users sign up for Facebook, what do they expect? Of course their information is public. This is really a generational problem because people are far too promiscuous in exposing all of their private and personal information. It’s just the world we live in today. And anyway, Cambridge Analytica may have talked big but really had very little impact in the scheme of things. Of course Facebook shares data with advertisers and that benefits us all!

The thing is though, what is actually going on isn’t necessarily benign and it isn’t at all what Facebook users did or should have expected. Analysts keep saying that Facebook “shared” the data. Facebook doesn’t “share” user data. They sell it. They either profit from it directly or leverage it as tangible value to attract their lucrative partner relationships. The profit motive does not in itself corrupt the relationship, but it does potentially shift it from wholesome sharing toward unsavory exploitation.

And they don’t just sell your public postings. They sell subtle usage metrics that go way beyond what you intended to make public and what any one individual could ever see just by looking at your Facebook page. They sell deep metadata that can give insight into how you think and respond and thereby how to manipulate you. They create data sets that contain not only details about your behavior but they can link that behavior in real time to a huge number of other user behaviors and to events going on at that exact moment in the world and in the web of public consciousness.

Given the amount of data they accumulate, sophisticated programs can deduce things about you that you did not intend to make public. You posted that you had zucchini for lunch and like pandas? You might have just divulged your sexual orientation to these sophisticated big data systems. The amount of detail recorded and our ability to analyze, predict, and even modify behaviors based on that data is difficult for most of us to comprehend. What can be done goes way beyond just picking who to target with Cialis or Trump campaign ads. It includes detailed information that provides insight into your deepest psychology, how you think, how you respond, and how you can be manipulated.

Further, this deep metadata isn’t merely sold to well-meaning researcher or advertisers, but it can make its way into the hands of unscrupulous and nefarious players like Cambridge Analytica. They can analyze all this data to determine things about you that you did not intend to make public. They can then use that information to influence how you think about critical matters like elections. If you are important enough, such organizations can even use private information extracted from your public activities to smear, discredit, or even blackmail you.

So the concern about the relationship between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica is not just a matter of silly people being too indiscreet with their postings. Concerns about the kind of activities exposed by the nexus between big data analysis and political activity are far more disturbing and potentially consequential. The ability to acquire massive amounts of metadata not intended to be public and to analyze that big data along side other external events to produce individualized predictive algorithms,  moves innocent Facebook postings into the dark and scary region of mass undercover surveillance and psychological manipulation. Even if Cambridge Analtyica came nowhere near achieving their ambitious goals in the Trump campaign, make no mistake, the ability to assure elections is their business objective.

Facebook is not the only company profiting from massive information gathering. Google, Amazon and others are also sweeping up data that could be exploited by unscrupulous players like Cambridge Analytica. We need to take this seriously and take steps to ensure that big data works to empower and inform us, not to manipulate us. We need to push back now, and strongly, to ensure that this infant monster born of the information age is controlled before it grows into something powerful enough to ensure its own existence.

 

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We Can Transform Our Gun Culture

GunCultureI was inspired and encouraged by our local “March For Our Lives” event in Tacoma, and by those held concurrently around the world. A number of speakers conveyed their passionate optimism regarding our prospects for implementing “sensible gun laws.” Some cited our eventual acceptance of seat belt laws, despite tremendous initial resistance, as one example of how important change can and does happen.

And there is an even more compelling precedent for optimism. I grew up in the 1960’s. At that time smoking was epidemic. Every indoor space was visibly thick with noxious, stifling smoke. Every tabletop was marred by ashes and burns. Beaches, park lawns, and other public spaces were strewn with disgusting butts. Workplaces and restaurants were more like Marakesh hookah bars than the clean, safe, and wholesome places they are today. Smokers could not be persuaded to change their behavior regardless of the cost to themselves let alone to others. Their right to enjoy unrestricted smoking was fueled by a powerful tobacco industry and protected by a complicit government. The result was that no one, even non-smokers, could find safety from the horrific health toll that this unrestricted smoking claimed. And certainly, few people believed there was any realistic chance to challenge the seemingly unassailable right and all-powerful compulsion of so many to smoke anywhere and everywhere they pleased.

Their arguments and excuses were much the same as those used in our current gun debate. But all those who said that significant changes in our smoking culture were impossible… were wrong. And they are wrong today about the hopelessness of achieving significant gun control.

But the relatively smoke and butt free world we enjoy today, that younger people thankfully take for granted, did not come about naturally or by accident. It came about because people fought for it. It came about because some ignored all those who maintained that smoking was too ingrained in our culture, that smokers could never be persuaded to curtail their habit to any extent whatsoever, and that in any case big tobacco was far too powerful to fight.

Big tobacco, as invincible and all-powerful as they seemed, lost that war. Smokers, as uncaring to suffering as their addiction made them, did eventually accept dramatic restrictions of their previously unrestricted right to smoke. And once the culture shifted under them, dramatic and fundamental change did not take long.

So don’t let anyone tell you that the NRA is too powerful. Don’t let anyone tell you guns are not the problem. Don’t let anyone tell you that gun owners will only allow their guns to be pried from their “cold dead hands.” Don’t let anyone convince you that the world will not be a far safer place with fewer guns. And don’t accept that our goals must be limited to “sensible gun restrictions,” because by taking this very meek approach we implicitly concede that guns are good and reasonable things to own – except for say crazy people or known criminals.

Rather than enumerating who cannot own guns, we should enumerate who can own them. The right to own guns should require proof of exceptional need. Such exceptions allowing ownership can include authorized facilities who “loan out” guns for controlled sporting or hunting activities, for guns held in secure armories for the use by “well regulated” militia groups, and for people with exceptional security needs.

Lest you think that such ambitious goals are impossible, consider that New York City has largely accomplished them. A little over a year ago we moved from New York City to Washington State. Despite the far greater population density, we frankly felt safer there. This is partly due to their very restrictive gun control laws. You are not allowed to own guns in NYC unless you can demonstrate an exceptional circumstance. Their laws effectively make gun ownership the exception. This has arguably contributed greatly to reducing gun violence, unarguably made us feel safer, has been accepted by the population, and has survived Constitutionality challenges in the courts. If such significant restrictions can work there, then there is no reason to accept any less nationwide.

As with seat belts, and more dramatically as with smoking, change can happen. New York City shows us that such change can be more transformative than we may believe – even when it comes to guns. The rallies and marches today give me a new sense of optimism that meaningful and significant change, akin to our transformative changes in smoking behavior, may be on the way for our insane gun culture. We just have to keep working to make it happen.

For other blog posts on our gun epidemic, click on the Guns category on the right!

 

The Supreme Court Must Ultimately Save Us From Second Amendment Genocide

gunlawsWe are trapped in a nightmarish, escalating civil war in which gun nuts, bolstered by the otherwise sensible people who support them in this national insanity, battle against those who recognize that we can we never hope to acceptably reduce gun violence until gun ownership is dramatically reduced.

Yes legislative action can blunt the damage a bit. We could and should prohibit semi-automatic weapons, as well as deadly ammunition and large capacity magazines. We could and should improve our mental health testing and strengthen background checks. We should stop shielding gun manufacturers from liability. But honestly, even all of these would not do nearly enough. These sort of legislative actions are merely the band aids we apply since we know we have no chance to obtain the life-saving cure we desperately need. In the case of our gun epidemic, that panacea is a radical gun-ectomy to remove all cancerous firearms from private hands.

Some think that repeal of the Second Amendment is a cure. But the reality is that we are so collectively obsessed with guns that we will never repeal our Second Amendment, no matter what the cost in lives. We could parade piles of bullet-ridden corpses down every American street every day and we would still stubbornly insist that no cost is too high to ensure our god-given right to bear arms. And even if we did, removing this right would do nothing affirmative to limit guns. States would only be free to pass their own similar gun-protection amendments.

But I think there is one slim hope that we are not sufficiently considering. That hope is the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, with the stroke of one landmark decision, could reinterpret the Second Amendment so as to not only open up legislative options but to force legislators to enact them. Keeping a sensibly interpreted Second Amendment in place would be far more valuable than simply repealing it.

To refresh your memory, the Second Amendment states that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This is an extremely vague statement. Our forefathers made much of their writing intentionally vague so that future courts could reinterpret them in the context of their changing times.

Certainly times have changed with respect to guns. Since this amendment was ratified in 1791, guns have obviously grown in destructive power like the growth of a fire-cracker into a nuclear weapon. The population and our proximity to each other have also grown dramatically. The days of hunting as a necessity are long past. And the number of guns, as well as their destructive power, has grown millions of times over.

Yes, I know that just back in 2008 the Supreme Court ruling in Columbia v. Heller tremendously strengthened Second Amendment protections. Although that ruling was actually very narrow, it has been extended to justify the most generous interpretation. It can be argued that this ruling was as indirectly disastrous for sane gun reform as Citizen’s United was for campaign reform.

But the Supreme Court can, should, and does evolve on important, deeply held issues. It seemed that the Supreme Court had spoken clearly against civil rights in Dred Scott v. Standford and Plessy v. Ferguson. But they did eventually do the right thing in Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia.

If our system is to work at all, we must not give up on the Supreme Court. We must hope eternal that at least one conservative member, in light of our exponentially deteriorating situation with regard to guns, might be willing to agree to subtle but dramatically consequential changes in our interpretation of the Second Amendment.

For example, the Supreme Court could rule that the phrase “a well regulated militia” is key and that it requires a far more limited distribution of weaponry. They could rule that the definition of “arms” must be far more restricted than our current interpretation. They could rule that “infringement” does not mean anything close to the current carte blanche in place now. They could clarify that their ruling in Heller does not justify extreme gun protections nor does it speak against sensible gun control.

Is this likely? Of course not. Is it possible? It certainly is and the impact of such a ruling could be huge. What we must do is not give up on this avenue even as we simultaneously pursue others. We must find justifications to bring a never-ending stream of cases before the Supreme Court to give them opportunities to put forth a modern, ethical, and rational interpretation of the Second Amendment. We could ask them, for example, to rule whether our current lack of gun control might actually violate our Second Amendment right to a well-regulated militia. We could ask them to rule whether it is consistent with the Second Amendment to allow certain weapons to be available for sport purposes only when provided at an approved facility.

Who knows, there may be a Justice right now who might now be willing to bend on this issue, if only given one more opportunity to make such a ruling. In any case, the reality is that until they do our Second Amendment genocide will continue to worsen.

Reinterpreting, not repealing, the Second Amendment is our best way out of this gun crisis that we have brought upon ourselves. Neither voters nor the repeal of the Second Amendment will force lawmakers to control gun proliferation. Just as with slavery and segregation, only a Supreme Court ruling can both allow and force them to do so.

 

WA State Toying With Theocracy

Adapted from the version originally printed in the News Tribune (see here).

The Washington State legislature is currently considering joint Resolution 8205 to amend the state constitution with language to “protect” religious freedom (see here). While protecting any group of people always seems like a good thing, there is a lot about this amendment that sounds like the ominous drumbeat of theocracy on the march.

It starts out by declaring that the rights of people to worship are “guaranteed” and no one shall be “molested or disturbed” on account of their religious belief. That seems innocuous enough but such protections already exist and there is no reason to codify them further in the state constitution. We don’t need to clutter up our constitution with reassurances for every group that merely wants double extra emphasis of their rights.

Next the authors added language to “not forbid” religious organizations from receiving state public money. This is yet another of the incessant attacks by religious organizations to undermine our American tradition of separation of church and state. There are sound arguments why our separation exists and tremendous care should be taken to protect it against the continual efforts by religious organizations to dismantle it.

The next section provides a constitutional guarantee that religious beliefs cannot be considered in any evaluation of a person’s qualifications and fitness for any job. We have seen too many cases in which public officials have refused to carry out their essential functions in office because it conflicts with their religious belief. Other times, in adherence to their beliefs, they have been seen to interpret their responsibilities and focus their attention in a way that is not in the public good or faithful to their office. Religious people are proud that their beliefs influence their public behavior. To nevertheless exclude those beliefs from consideration in making personnel decisions is reckless and denies the reality of how real people behave.

In similar fashion, the new language guarantees that religious belief shall not be considered in jury selection or in consideration of legal testimonies. Again, this is reckless and denies the glaringly obvious fact that religious belief can impact the impartiality of a juror or the credibility of a witness. The capacity of a person to believe religious nonsense can and should be a part of the picture in evaluating their credibility on other issues.

I know that some might think that these protections are evidence of an enlightened nation that seeks to protect all points of view. I submit that such absolute protections are far more indicative of repressive theocratic regimes that end up with a religious ruling class that can never be questioned, challenged, or held accountable for the beliefs and the resultant public policies that they impose on others. They want their cake and eat it too; to believe whatever crazy thing they want, enact it publicly, and bear no risk of adverse consequences or repercussions.

Many religious advocates have long argued that homosexual individuals are not deserving of status as a protected class because they [falsely] claim that their behavior is a choice. Religious belief certainly is a choice, and by their own logic does not deserve extraordinary constitutional protections. If we allow religious advocates to codify these kind of absolute protections into our constitutions, make no mistake, it is not hyperbole to say that we are not moving toward liberal enlightenment but toward repressive conservative theocracy.

MilosciaState Senator Mark Miloscia (see here) is a primary driving force behind this legislation. I have no doubt that Senator Miloscia would love a constitutional amendment to expand his own Christian mission into the public sphere and to elevate his personal beliefs above public scrutiny. But this attempt to insert his religious beliefs into public policy is the best possible example of why his resolution is so very dangerous and must be resisted with all possible vigor.

Shame on Baumgartner, O’Ban, Becker, Bailey, and Warnick for co-sponsoring this regressive amendment with Senator Miloscia. I urge you to withdraw your support.

 

Trumpsizing Government

cutbacksAs an official self-proclaimed spokesperson for the White House, I’d like to set the record straight regarding certain misconceptions about President Trump’s vision for our government. Many people believe that he cares about nothing except getting a “win,” regardless of how good or bad the underlying legislation or policy may be. Others fear that he has been Svengali’d by Steve Bannon into a project to “deconstruct the administrative state,” destroying all that is good and noble about our nation. Still others conclude that he has no agenda at all and is simply flailing around with logic that only his sick, twisted psyche could possibly comprehend.

None of these are true – well not exactly completely true…

In fact, the President does have a very definite agenda, goal, and vision for our nation and it is not merely downsizing government. Trump’s goal is to “rightsize” America. He wants to “Trumpsize It” if you will.

What does Trumpsizing mean? It means reinventing government so that it works for Donald Trump and only Donald Trump. A truly Trumpsized government is smaller in some places and bigger in other places, depending on whether those particular functions serve Donald Trump. In fact, that’s why Donald Trump became President, to reshape government into one that better works for him, Donald Trump. That’s Trumpsizing!

How is Trumpsizing achieved in practice? Well you have to start by cutting, cutting, cutting. You need to cut out all agencies and services that may pose annoyances to Donald Trump. These would include for example a Justice Department that might launch pesky investigations into illegal Trump activities, Ethical Boards that might question shady Trump dealings, and Regulatory Agencies that might think that they can restrict or restrain his personal business dealings or his Presidential excesses. And of course you also downsize government services that simply do not help Mr. Trump personally and therefore have no purpose. These include wasteful spending like social service programs or environmental protection.

If you cannot control certain agencies as much as you would like, you recruit a team of really, really incompetent heads who will ensure that the particular agencies they run cannot function effectively. But you cannot stop there. Since these departmental leaders are by design so incompetent, they are probably not competent enough to adequately sabotage all effective operations. So you need to cut or gag all remaining staff members who might possibly continue performing their job functions competently.

Once you have dismantled or otherwise neutralized any agencies that could restrain Donald Trump, as well as those wasteful programs that don’t help him personally, then you have the clean slate required to advance to stage two of Trumpsizing. Now you start increasing the size of the government to serve Donald Trump. You can for example create a huge state run “news” organization to promote the Trump brand. You can build up the State Department so that it can pave the way for Trump deals globally. You also beef up your law enforcement division so that it can sniff out and prosecute any Trump dissidents in the population, and of course greatly expand your military so that it can better support your totalitarian allies and cower your democratic rivals into submission.

So you see? The President truly does have an ambitious agenda. It is essential that we help him to succeed in this truly transformation moment, because as we are always told, if the President succeeds, America succeeds! And if you think this is ambitious, just wait until a second term. If “elected” again, Donald Trump will most certainly advance this agenda with a bold new program to “consolidate and streamline” government so that all other branches of government report directly to him and then to the heirs of the Trump line of succession. It just makes good business sense.

That’s Trumpsizing. Barely one year in and so far, it’s going great, fantastic, right on schedule, best hostile takeover of a democratic government ever!

 

State Deductions are Unfair!

So I flipped my car radio to the Michael Medved show the other day and managed to catch him between commercials for performance enhancement, income tax settlement, incredible investment opportunities, and patriotic booze. As conservative talk show hosts go, Michael is far more objective and fair-minded than the vile blowhards that dominate right-wing talk. In fact, he typically sounds amazingly reasonable, fair-minded, and well-informed. Well, at least until you shake yourself out of the thrall of his sincere, heart-felt admonitions and seemingly irrefutable logic.

Take for example the other day. He was going on about the Republican plan to end federal deductions for state and local taxes and why removing this deduction actually corrects a terrible unfairness. He argued that it is “obviously unfair” that this deduction in effect forces fiscally responsible Red states to subsidize the big tax-and-spend programs of those liberal Blue states. With great rhetorical fervor he asked his audience, how is that fair that some [Blue] states get to enjoy these deductions while some [Red] states do not?

I admit that the “logic” of his impassioned appeal to fairness did sway me for a while. Then I mentally bonked myself on the head when I realized that of course his argument is completely fallacious.

What Michael did there was to employ a rhetorical and logical trick that we must all be alert for when hearing such arguments. Knowingly or unknowingly, he used the persuasive tactic of getting the other party to accept a framing of the issue in relative isolation without considering the full picture.

In this case, many of these “responsible” Red states can only get away with charging little or no state tax because they receive so much federal assistance. These Red states have the very worst standards of living, rates of poverty, and require far more humanitarian assistance from the federal government. On net, these “fiscally responsible” Red states are the takers. Who are the largest givers? A disproportionate amount comes from those terrible tax-and-spend Blue states.

When you consider all forms of spending and taxation, there is no evidence that there is any benefit to living in a state with no income tax  (see here), but the article points out that there are tremendous benefits to living in a high tax state, particularly if you are poor. And I would argue that how a state treats its poor should be seen as a good thing to all people of conscious, particularly Christians. How we treat the least among us, not merely through charity but through government policy and yes redistribution, should be seen as the greatest measure of the character of a people and their state.

FedAidtoStates

Yet Republicans, largely dominated by Evangelical Christians in states like Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas, offer the fewest services to their people while devouring disproportionate federal aid. And all the while they complain about those liberal states like New York and California who not only take better care of their own people, but send their dollars to the poor victims of their own fiscally-heartless Red states.

The Red states are takers and the Blue states are givers in our nation. This is not a particularly contestable analysis. It has been shown innumerable times, including the analysis and conclusion presented in “Which States are Givers and Which are Takers” published in The Atlantic (see here).

[W]ho really benefits from government spending? If you listen to Rush Limbaugh, you might think it was those blue states, packed with damn hippie socialist liberals, sipping their lattes and providing free abortions for bored, horny teenagers. …

As it turns out, it is red states that are overwhelmingly the Welfare Queen States. Yes, that’s right. Red States—the ones governed by folks who think government is too big and spending needs to be cut—are a net drain on the economy, taking in more federal spending than they pay out in federal taxes. They talk a good game, but stick Blue States with the bill.

So, returning to the rant by Michael Medved, while in isolation it may seem unfair that Blue states generally get a tax benefit not available to some Red states, it is actually quite fair if you look at the entire cash flow picture. Blue states not only provide their own residents a higher quality of life, they are net givers to Red states who impoverish and abandon their populations while consuming vast federal support to provide the essential health and social services that those states refuse to offer.

If anything, when you look at the full picture, it is even more unfair that Blue states not only have to take care of their own residents but also the residents of your callous Red states. Perhaps, Michael, if you feel so strongly that Blue states should stop receiving this state tax deduction, you must likewise then feel just as strongly that no money should flow from Blue states into Red ones to provide basic services for their desperate and hurting people. In accordance with your ethical logic, it seems unfair that inland states should be forced to send any of their money, through FEMA, to those irresponsible southern states that build homes continually ravaged by hurricanes.

Fortunately, liberals are not this petty and selfish. They understand that it takes a village and that the health and well-being of each of us is best served by caring about the health and well-being of all of us. Liberals in Blue states do not actually complain about helping under-served populations in your Red states, even as you complain about the terrible unfairness of tax deductions that help allow Blue states to help you.

Don’t let conservatives focus you on the “obvious common sense” bits of truth that distract you from the big truth. Learn to watch for and recognize this subtle but detectable form of deceit and manipulation.

News Has Become a Geico Commercial

cavemanGreat advertising works because the advertisers uncannily understand the psychological dynamics of the moment even before it is commonly recognized. Take for example the “Great Answer” series of Geico commercials. In these commercials, a person is put in an impossibly tough spot to which they reply that Geico can save you 15% or more on insurance. This is comically accepted by everyone as a “great answer.”

In “Objection,” faced with insurmountable evidence against him in a courtroom, a thief defends himself with the line (see here).

And in “Undercover Agent” an inept undercover agent avoids certain death at the hands of the mob using a similar line (see here).

Then in “He-Man vs Skeletor” the villain escapes amid gleeful laughter after delivering the punch line (see here).

Finally in “Meteor Crash,” when faced with the imminent destruction of the Earth, the General in charge proclaims that Geico is the answer (see here).

Silly as these are, I sometimes I feel like I’m living in a Geico commercial. When we watch news interviews, we essentially see an unending stream of farcical Geico  commercials. The Geico advertising team gets this at some level. That’s why these commercials are not merely funny but they relate, they resonate, they ring true.

Except being subjected to an endless stream of Geico-esque answers to real, important questions that affect our lives and affect the planet is not funny.

When watching news interviews during the day, the nightly news shows, or shows like Meet the Press or Face the Nation over the weekend, the hosts try to ask meaningful and important questions. But the guests invariably reply with “Geico can save you 15% or more” type answers.

Host: Given all the incontrovertible evidence that your tax plan is designed only to benefit the rich, how can you justify it?

Paul Ryan: We are giving the middle class a huge tax cut.

Host: Every independent analysis concludes that your tax plan will explode the deficit which you claimed is the biggest threat to our nation. How do you respond?

Kevin McCarthy: We are giving the middle class a huge tax cut.

Host: You claim that by giving huge tax breaks to big business and ultra-rich individuals, your tax plan will create jobs and increase wages. Yet this promise has been made many times before and it has never proved true. Why should it work this time?

Sarah Sanders: We are giving the middle class a huge tax cut.

Some people would simply call this “good messaging.” But at some point, good messaging becomes formal or informal collusion in a campaign of misinformation. We are way past the point of innocent and healthy message discipline now. We are moving into carefully crafted propaganda territory.

Here’s the thing. If the person you are interviewing has no shame, no compunction about misrepresenting and “spinning” to absurd extremes, no trace of integrity with regard to facts or truth, then you really cannot and should not talk to them. It used to be that most politicians had some baseline of integrity and self-respect, some desire to be truthful, and some capacity to be embarrassed or ashamed. But no more. While this lack of intellectual and moral integrity has been growing for a long time, particularly on the Right, Donald Trump has normalized this to such an extreme that even the most disingenuous scripted politicians can rationalize they are being relatively forthright and reasoned.

Today we are confronted by immediate and immensely important threats like climate change, wealth inequality, automation, and guns. Yet just like the General in “The Meteor” commercial, even when faced by existential challenges, all that our politicians are willing to respond with is the equivalent of “Geico can save you 15% or more.”

My message to Chuck Todd, John Dickerson, and all the rest of you news interviewers is … just give up already. Your guests have just gotten too good at avoiding answering anything fully or honestly. You are wasting your time and our time. You won’t catch them in a candid moment or a self-contradiction any more. I appreciate that you cannot push harder than you do, so you should just focus on reporting facts and providing independent analysis. Yes, independent analysis may not rate as high as partisan vollyball matches in which canned messages get knocked back and forth. Nonpartisan analysts may not draw the audiences of big-name politicians and spokespersons who cackle like Skeletor as they deflect your questions. But at least you would be using that otherwise wasted airtime with real reporting with real value for the nation and the world.

Or you can just continue to serve as the straight-men and women for those “Geico will save you 15% or more” punch lines. Just know that we are not laughing.