Is this one of the nation’s worst fire seasons?

It has been a bad fire year but some mainstream reporting is getting ahead of itself and seems more intent on providing a propaganda message. In fact, its the worst fire season since … 2015!

Propaganda:

Note the reference to “in one of the nation’s worst fire seasons”.

And:

“worst fire seasons we’ve ever seen”?

Some news writers confused record spending with record wildfires. While there is a linkage, it is not an accurate 1:1 correlation nor is the spending inflation adjusted.

Data:

  • As of September 15th, 2 of the last 10 years burned more acres, and 4 of the last 10 years had more total fires – to date per the National Interagency Fire Center (screen snapshot taken on September 15th, 2017).

It has been a bad fire year, but 2 of the past 10 years were worse – to date – and 4 of the past 10 years had more total fires – to date. And in the context of the last 100 years, it is not unusual and not even close to being “one of the nation’s worst fire seasons”.

Reporting

Many news reports correctly note questions on how the nation has funded (or not funded) wildfire suppression and management. My state’s US Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has been pushing since 2013 for more funding and pro-active management of forests, saying fuels have grown precipitously during a time that fires (a natural process in the west) have been aggressively suppressed.

Oregon Public Broadcasting has a good and lengthy explanation of the issues related to western wildland fires. If you would like to learn more, read it!

It is not fake news to say this is a bad wildland fire year, but the stories slide in that direction when marking it as one of the nation’s worst fire years. That claim is false, based on the data, above, from official government sources.

It is unfortunate that news reporters were unable to spend a few moments with Google in order to add context to their reporting.

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Disaster Propaganda

This might be the first of more than one post. I have been collecting, when possible, social media propaganda items regarding recent natural and unnatural disasters (such as local arson caused wildland fires).

  • First, many people use unusual events as a platform for propaganda messaging to persuade others of their own agenda.
  • Second, much of this propaganda messaging takes the form of asserting claims that when examined in context of historical data, are not true or are weakly partially true (which is why this form of propaganda is often effective).
  • Third, most of us lack context to recognize false claims. Virtually none of us will seek out data to confirm or deny the assertions. Remember, we employ System 1 emotional thinking rather than System 2 rational thinking, and quickly agree with a propaganda messaging that fits our pre-determined world view. (Disclosure: For extremely good personal reasons, based on extensive experience, my own world view is today to be highly skeptical of everyone’s claims.)

Examples

  • As Hurricane Harvey was impacting Texas, reporters wrote news articles saying this weather event is proof of catastrophic anthropocentric climate change (or sometimes called “warming” and hence CAGW).
  • Social  media’s “culture of perpetual outrage” spread this and linked in western wildfires (including those started by arson after a wet cold winter) as definitive proof of CAGW.
  • The news media writes that Hurricane Irma is so powerful it is sensed by seismometers with the unstated assertion this is novel and for the first time – but it is not unique.
  • The media loves hype – and will often hype predictions and forecasts in advance of events that turn out to be different than forecast (Oregon’s Eclipse Armageddon that-did-not-happen being a prime example). But readers and viewers will remember the emotional and scary predictions versus the reality.
  • Actors participate in propaganda messaging – actress Jennifer Lawrence seems to imply that if Hilary Clinton had been elected President, these hurricanes would not have occurred.

Validating the Claims

Some assertions, like the last one, fail the test of logic. Many assertions can be checked against past history – there is actual data and historical context.

Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr, a professor of environmental policy at the University of Colorado and one of the world’s experts on disasters, has summarized the historical context of hurricanes and disaster damages in series of Tweets sourced to peer reviewed literature and IPCC documents.

Per Pielke’s summary, many of the claims asserted in the media and social media are not true.

Being told what to think by propaganda messaging is easy – and is our default System 1 thinking style. Learning to think for yourself – and employing System 2 thinking style – is hard work.

Do your best to be aware of propaganda methods and attempts to leverage current events for propaganda messaging. Set your B.S. detector to “sensitive mode”!

Remember

Not everything you see on social media is real, although I am certain this is genuine:

Disclaimer

This post is about using events (in this case, disasters) as the basis of propaganda messaging. Nothing in this post is about climate change promotion or denial and should not be construed as such.

Related

 

Eating too much protein will kill you? No, but it grabs the emotions and gets shared on #socialmedia!

Eating too much protein will kill you? That’s the message left by hundreds of headlines and news stories earlier this week. But the statement was misleading at best and untrue in regards to the individual who died. Yet most stories ran with quotes like this:

Meegan Hefford, a mother of two and bodybuilder, died after an overconsumption of protein shakes, supplements and protein-rich foods.

Source: Bodybuilder mom dies from too much protein before competition | New York Post

or “That Extra Scoop of Protein in Your Shake Might Actually Kill You

The family is calling for government regulation of “protein shakes or supplements”, presumably to require a doctor’s prescription and be dispensed at a pharmacy.

Many news stories about this event imply that eating too much protein will kill you. Which it can, if you too suffer from a rare medical disorder. She had a genetic disorder that caused her body to fail to remove ammonia from the blood stream. That’s what killed her.

The disorder is “urea cycle disorder“:

is a genetic disorder caused by a mutation that results in a deficiency of one of the six enzymes in the urea cycle. These enzymes are responsible for removing ammonia from the blood stream. The urea cycle involves a series of biochemical steps in which nitrogen, a waste product of protein metabolism, is removed from the blood and converted to a compound called urea in the blood. Normally, the urea is transferred into the urine and removed from the body. In urea cycle disorders, the nitrogen accumulates in the form of ammonia, a highly toxic substance, resulting in hyperammonemia (elevated blood ammonia). Ammonia then reaches the brain through the blood, where it can cause irreversible brain damage, coma and/or death.

Men’s Health got the story correct. Days later some of the other headlines morphed into the accurate “Australian mom with rare disorder dies eating high-protein diet“.

The media spun this into a viral fiction suitable for sharing on social media. When push comes to ad revenue, the media pays lip service to accurate reporting: It’s about the clicks and the social media shares. One writer says the media was straight up lying about this story to sell ads (I agree).

To make this work for them, the media down played or censored the rare disorder aspect of the story (censorship, cherry picking). If it is mentioned, it is mentioned in passing or at the end of the article. As shown on our blog, most people only read the headlines (especially those shared on social media) – the headline is the story.

The report – which comes from Australia and has no importance to people in the United States – became a focus because of multiple hooks:

  1. “eating too much protein” puts fear into everyone that this could happen to them (use of fear)
  2. Story involves a 25 year old Mom of two kids (stories about Mom’s with young kids target an emotional response),
  3. The victim was a 25 year old blonde fitness fanatic (she’s cute). You may have noticed that CNN and FOX generally *only* cover “cute lost white chicks”, sometimes for days and weeks on end – yet nearly a million people go missing every year and most are eventually found. But unless the missing are cute or have some other emotional hook attached, there is no news coverage and certainly no national news coverage. The subject’s cuteness is a prime reason for the story to run in the United States (every version of the story I checked had at least one and sometimes many photos of the victim). Heck, this one, with its outrageous fiction headline has five photos of the cute victim! And to further prove the point, the 12 year old story of missing Natalee Holloway is back to “Breaking” and “Developing” news reports today because … she’s cute. Remember, over 2,300 people go missing every day but only the missing cute white chicks get covered by the “news” services with saturation coverage for years.

In short, this story used multiple methods of propaganda for the purpose of selling eyeballs to advertisers. The hooks encouraged the sharing of the story on social media, thereby enlarging the potential ad audience.

 

 

CBS publishes fake fact in first paragraph

As a result, dozens of counties throughout the country have been left with only one or no insurance choice on their exchange.

Source: Anatomy of a suddenly sick Obamacare insurer – CBS News

Actual number is currently 1,332 counties with 1 or less ACA insurers in 2018, or more than 2 orders of magnitude different than what CBS has reported. The media keeps digging itself into a fiction news hole. In this case, CBS is likely – and intentionally – diminishing the actual problem.

Update to Oregon Health Authority Propaganda Story from yesterday: Director fired today

Propaganda, propaganda, propaganda:

Oregon Health Authority Lynne Saxton has resigned in the wake of news of her involvement in a plan to plant negative and misleading news about a local nonprofit health provider to influence lawmakers.

Source: Pamplin Media Group – Oregon Health Authority Director Lynne Saxton resigns in the wake of planted news coverage

OHA has a long track record of incompetence and poor management and leadership and public relations staff that tell lies.

 

This is not even physically possible: Yahoo News fictional headline

Yahoo News goes full on stupid with this fiction news headline, which links, in turn to a news report having nothing to do with the headline. Remember, they have layers and layers of fact checkers. The fictional news just never ends, does it?

This headline has been live for at least 4+ hours without correction. Unfortunately, on today’s online and social media world, the headline is the message that sticks. Most people only read headlines, unfortunately.

This works as propaganda by using the primary method of “fear” and the secondary method of “appeal to authority” because “Study:” says something. This sort of nonsensical headline is often shared on social media – and may gradually become a “fact” as it spreads widely and for a long enough duration.

Fact checking USA Today’s ACA news report

Some major players, such as Anthem, plan to no longer offer coverage in many places next year in part because of uncertainty about federal policy. But Centene, another insurer, is expanding its coverage areas.

So its not really a problem?

Facts:

In two more years, there will be no Individual Market Health Insurers in the United States! Draw the trend line yourself!

For 2018, about 55% of counties have zero to two insurers. Dozens of counties, including almost the entire state of Nevada have zero insurance companies now. The ACA requires all individuals to buy insurance but it did not require that insurance companies actually sell insurance. By law, residents in areas without any available insurance must pay the “shared responsibility tax penalty” fee for not having insurance that is not available to them. Seriously.

USA Today spins the loss of insurance companies as “not a problem” and merely a pesky detail that, well, is not a problem. This is an example of media propaganda.

Source: Obamacare repeal is dead for now. What could that mean for you?

USA Today goes on with the following meme which is not the root cause problem, as they imply it is:

The pool of people using the exchanges has been sicker and older than anticipated, which leads to higher premiums and fewer insurance companies willing to participate. One reason there aren’t more younger, healthier people buying insurance on the exchange is because of one of the ACA’s most popular provision: the requirement that insurers let young adults stay on their parents’ plans until age 26. The Obama administration also allowed people to keep their pre-ACA plans longer than originally anticipated, which kept some healthier people from moving to the marketplace. And insurers complain that the ACA’s penalties for not having coverage are too lenient, and that it’s too easy for people to enroll only when they anticipate needing care.

All of the above statements are true – but the “young, healthy” people components line is a fake argument adopted as fact by the fiction news media.This is called an “error of omission”. It is not lying, it is just leaving out important details.

It is true that fewer “young, healthy” people signed up for ACA plans than were forecast by the original models. But that is not the reason “the pool of people using the exchanges has been sicker and older than anticipated”.

The reason was by DESIGN: By specific design of the ACA, very large numbers of very sick people were dumped into the small individual market risk pool. Their costs are now shared exclusively with other members of the small individual risk pool, causing all individual market insurance premiums to sky rocket.

No one wants to admit that the ACA contains this fatal design defect. Fatal? Yes. 2017 has fewer ACA enrollees than 2016. (In fact, 2017 has less than half the number of enrollees that were forecast for 2017.) As premiums sky rocketed, fewer people  enrolled, resulting in the risk pool becoming more sick and more expensive. This is the “death spiral”.

Why did this happen?

High Risk and Pre-Existing Condition Patients

  • Prior to the ACA, 35 states ran their own high risk insurance pools for people with very expensive health conditions. Post ACA, all but one of these state pools was merged into the ACA individual market. Literally, a large group of sick and expensive patients was dumped into the individual market risk pool. (New Mexico has not forced their high risk patients into the ACA individual market for fears that it will cause insurance premiums to sky rocket for everyone else.)
  • How expensive are these patients? While these high risk patients made up just 2% of all the individual market, the average of the top half of claims in 2012 was $225,000 per person. The only people who pay for these highly expensive patients are the members of the individual market risk pool.
  • Pre-ACA, an estimated 25% of the uninsured had pre-existing conditions. A primary purpose of the ACA was that pre-existing condition exclusions would go away. By definition, a pre-existing condition is a higher risk patient having higher costs. Where did these people end up? They and their high costs were dumped into the individual market risk pool.

The ACA turned the individual market into a bigger high risk, high cost insurance pool with average premium hikes of more than 100% from 2014 to 2017 (according to the US Department of Health and Human Services) with 3 states seeing hikes of more than 200%.

Thus, the ACA dumped a large group of very expensive patients into the individual market risk pool. Who pays for these high costs? As of 2017, ONLY THE OTHER MEMBERS OF THE INDIVIDUAL RISK POOL. There are not enough young people to offset these costs and young people pay far less in premiums than those over age 43. Thus, the “young and healthy” meme is largely bogus. Reporters support the ACA and do not want their readers to know the ACA contains serious defects. Therefore, they wave their hands and blame a lack of young people enrolled.

About half of those in the pool get government subsidies that hide all rate increases (taxpayers pick up the tab). The other half have to absorb all of the costs of covering these high risk patients, hence 100% to 200% price hikes in 3 years. (The actual number of unsubsidized is far greater than half – a subject for another post.)

(Full details and references are here.)

If Democrats and Republicans want to improve the marketplaces, what could they do?

Besides ending the dispute over the cost-sharing subsidies, lawmakers could also continue one of the other industry supports which was only supposed to be temporary. That program essentially subsidies the cost of the sickest customers, which would reduce premiums. Experts have proposed many other changes including expanding premium subsidies, giving insurers incentives to sell plans in counties that would otherwise lack coverage, and making families eligible for premium subsides if plans offered by an employer aren’t affordable.

Good God. The only way to make the ACA work is to subsidize insurance companies and subsidize more people? That is the definition of a failed market and a failed government program.

These problems are solvable without mass subsidies. To learn more, read my paper.

Unfortunately, since 2009, there have been close to zero complete and honest news reports about the ACA, which contributes greatly to why we are now in this mess of tens of millions either not having insurance or not being able to afford health insurance. (About 10 million unsubsidized individual market consumers, 6.5 million paying the “shared responsibility tax penalty” and 21.5  million who are still uninsured and not paying the tax penalty – that’s 38 million people. But that’s a trifling little number that we don’t need to worry about says USA Today! CNBC published the same nonsense this past week – hinting this was a “planted” PR story. I will address that story another day.)

USA Today has so many errors and logical fallacies going on that they have morphed into a fiction news service. Is their fiction writing due to propaganda or simply incompetence? We have no idea.

Sadly, no one gives a shit except for the tens of millions who have been screwed. And which the media intentionally ignore.

Snopes rips the media for fake news stories

An in-depth analysis of the false allegations and misleading claims made against the 45th President since his inauguration.

Source: The Lies of Donald Trump’s Critics, and How They Shape His Many Personas

Read it, please.

I am not a fan of President Trump, did not support him and I am not involved with either the Democrat or Republican parties. I have watched with disbelief, however, as the full power of propaganda messaging has been brought to play by “professional journalists”. There are many, many, many negative things that can be reported accurately and get the point across – but as Snopes documents, reporters have crossed a line into fantasy writing, as if it is their intent to interfere with democracy itself. I have not previously written about this specific topic – propaganda versus Trump – because the topic is overwhelming in scope.

Thankfully, Snopes does an excellent job addressing the absurd levels to which propaganda messaging has become the default position and concludes:

It has to be acknowledged that since January, many of Trump’s opponents, and even lukewarm supporters, have found considerable fault with his policies and behavior, based on accurate facts. There have been many occasions when Trump himself, undistorted and unfiltered, contributed mightily to the four personas we have outlined.

….

[but regarding poorly produced news stories] these sorts of massive exaggerations and gross distortions are even more corrosive and destructive than fake news about diarrhea on the golf course, because they bear some distant relationship with the truth.

Which is precisely how the best propaganda operates – it has at least some link to truth, but bends and distorts that truth to motivate the target to adopt and agenda or take action.

Years ago, I observed the use and power of propaganda to persuade others to adopt someone’s agenda. That led to much study on the subject and to the creation of this blog and Facebook page.

Politics is a minefield of propaganda messaging not only from politicians but also from their fanatical devotees on social media plus their friends in the mainstream media whose bad reporting is shared on social media as confirmation of allegations.

In the linked post, Snopes eviscerates the credibility of professional media (and some of the professional fake news web sites, especially those on social media) due to the media’s having morphed into a full time propaganda operation. In the future (which could be next week), when the Media screams “Wolf!”, few people will believe them anymore.

Remember, there are many, many issues regarding Trump that can be reported accurately and are quite negative for Trump or his policies. There is plenty to bash by just sticking to facts and policies. But the media, as Snopes documents, has become a giant propaganda messaging operation. Discerning truth from such overwhelming propaganda firepower is difficult.

We worry about allegations of foreign nations interfering in our elections but ignore media actually doing so through lies, distortions and inaccurate reporting.

14 year old electrocuted by cell phone? Amazon’s Alexa calls 9-1-1?

Something is missing from this story (and other versions of it that are all over the media) – a 14 year old taking a bath, reached for her cell phone that was connected to a charger, and this caused her death by electrocution.

A cell phone charger outputs 5 volts, typically at less than 1.0 amps (newer chargers may go up to 2.0 amps). This low voltage and power level is not going to kill anyone, in a bath tub or not.

If this is a true story (and we have no way of knowing that) it is likely she attempted to plug the charger in to a wall outlet and made contact with 110 volt AC power, which is often lethal. (Update: Newer reports note this involved a charger plugged into an AC electrical extension cord.) The cell phone part of the story creates the novelty that translates into clicks, eyeballs for advertisers, and social media sharing.

Texas teen electrocuted after cell phone incident in bathtub

A search on Facebook shows untrue claims such as “Remember your phone is an electrical device that will electrocute you when plugged in and near water.”

At this point, a lot of people are going to believe that you can be electrocuted by your cell phone, which is nonsense.

Similarly, a widely spread news report claimed Amazon’s Alexa called 911 during a domestic violence situation. Amazon says this is impossible.

Taken together, consider how these two relatively unimportant stories are translated into popular lore. Many people will vaguely remember these stories, which then become “facts”, even though neither is true. Most of what we think we know comes from the media and social media (and perhaps personal conversations). Unfortunately, most of the items promoted by media and social media are designed to hook our emotions and shut down our brains. News reporters intentionally use methods defined for propaganda to generate clicks to their stories – and you won’t believe what happened next!

Media bias / fact check “media bias resource” web site

QUESTIONABLE SOURCE A questionable source exhibits any of the following: extreme bias, overt propaganda, poor or no sourcing to credible information and/or is fake news.

Source: Media Bias/Fact Checking

Ran across this web site inadvertently. You can look up a very large number of publishers, news services, social media fake news websites and more, and see where they score in their bias.