The Smoke Eater for Jan. 20, 2020

The 2020 Women's March, a depressing Davos, and a heart full of neutrality.

Good morning, this is The Smoke Eater for Monday, January 20, 2020, and I'm a dirty neutral.

Quick Hit

* The 2020 Women's March * Trump sets another tremendous record * Jared's piece in the Middle East * Gun nuts and white supremacists slither to Virginia * An inconvenient truth at Davos * A new facial recognition company * Do not disturb John Oliver's phone * Endorsing no endorsements *

: The Smoker Eater is ad-free and supported by super awesome readers. If you want to be super awesome, tip me on Ko-Fi, or subscribe to my Patreon!

The Weather In Trumplandia

Today is the three year anniversary of Donald Trump's presidency, and over the weekend activists in major cities across the country marched for the 2020 Women's March. While crowd sizes were not as large as previous years, people still turned out in the thousands. Some of the themes this year included voting rights, climate justice, and gun control. In a related story, the National Archives has apologized for censoring photos of the 2017 Women's March march that showed signs critical of Donald Trump. Check out some of my photos of the Chicago march, and if you're a Patreon supporter, make sure you check the super secret special post for a bunch of exclusive shots!

FACT CHCK: Donald Trump has made 16, 241 "false or misleading claims" in his first three years in office, according to The Washington Post. The Post notes Trump's biggest lies (let's not mince words) come when he tries to defend and/or deflect against election interference scandal for which he's been impeached, and his boasts about the success of the US economy -- which often include shitposts about immigration.

Someone gabbed to Jonathan Swan that the Trump administration is considering restrictions on so-called "birth tourism." The practice of abusing the 14th Amendment has been criticized, and is often utilized by wealthy people in autocratic regimes, like Russia and China, but my gut tells me the administration is making another "anchor babies" argument rather than attacking shady "pay to play" immigration schemes.

Axios gossips the Trump administration is likely to decide within the next few days when to release Jared Kushner's mythical plan for peace Middle East. The decision -- which has the potential to affect the outcome of upcoming Israeli elections -- won't come until after Jared schmoozes actual rich people at Davos, and meets with both the embattled conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his more centrist rival, Benny Gantz. Bibi is said to be hoping the plan is released before the elections to take some of the funk off his corruption indictment.

U.S. and Them.

Dave Weigel has some amazing reporting about Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar. Cuellar is a unapologetic right-leaning pro-life Democrat who thinks gun control is an icky pipe dream hailed by his more liberal colleagues. Cuellar's has remarkably pro-Trump voting record and lots of cash from private prisons, the NRA and the Koch Industries' PAC. Progressives have called him a DINO, but Cuellar argues he's simply holding out his ten-gallon hat for all his constituents in the Lone Star state.

Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet is the guy running to make politics boring again. You might remember him from one of the (very) early debates last year, but since then he's been running an obscure presidential campaign focusing on New Hampshire. Bennet may be running near the bottom of the 2020 polls, writes Politico's Meridith McGraw, be he's given stump speeches devoid of the bombast, bullshit and gimmicks that are as animated as they are goofy.

A bunch of pro-gun nuts are descending on Virginia's capitol in opposition to gun-control measures supported by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam. Fearing a repeat of the Charlottesville massacre, Northam ordered a state of emergency and banned guns from the state's Capitol Square, while local and state police have been coordinating their efforts to keep things from spiraling out of control. In addition, Robert Evans writes in Bellingcat that one of those cops may be giving white supremacists inside info in an attempt to encourage mass violence.

The Rest Of The World

The world's super rich and powerful are all heading to Davos, Switzerland for the 50th annual World Economic Forum. With so much prestige concentrated in such a small area, security is as high as all the criticism coming from left and right politicos the world over. Without a hint of irony, one of this years themes will be climate justice even though most attendees will be flying in. Trump is expected deliver one of his teleprompter speeches tomorrow, right around the same time the U.S. Senate begins it's impeachment trial. [WEC Risk Outlook]

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has published a new cache of documents they're calling Luanda Leaks. The documents reveal how the daughter of Angola's former president, Isabel dos Santos, stole hundreds of millions of dollars and hid the money in maze of offshore shell companies to become one of the wealthiest people in Africa. The ICIJ shared some of the documents with The New York Times, revealing how dos Santos was gifted wealth through presidential decrees, taking lucrative stakes in the country's diamond, banking, mobile phone, construction and energy industries, then used US firms to build a sprawling empire wealth in 400 countries. [Luanda Leaks / Video Summary]

I Spy With My Robot Eye

Clearview AI is a secretive tech company that created a facial recognition system to scrape data from across the web, then share it with law enforcement agencies and security companies. According to an investigation by The New York Times, the system Clearview created could be used to identify activists at protests, including who they are, where they live, whom they're associated with, and what they did.

John Oliver posted a quick video ripping useless push notifications for being clickbait distractions that follow you into the real world.

One More Thing...

The New York Times Editorial Board endorsed senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar for the Democratic presidential primary. In making its decision, The Times editorial board says the rush to the left created similarities between many current and former Democratic presidential candidates, but argues Klobuchar's moderate centrism and Warren's progressive populism make them the two most likely standard-bearers of the party. The board makes a point of saying neither candidate is perfect -- with Warren likely facing legislative trench warfare, and Klobuchar dodging horror stories from former staffers -- but concludes, "The current president ... is a threat to democracy," adding, "May the best woman win."

In the wake of so-called Old Grey Lady's refusal to endorse a single candidate (or, for that matter, centrism vs. progressivism) many in the Twitterati have taken this as a validation and/or criticism of their own politics, and are criticizing the paper as a whole without acknowledging the difference between a newsroom and an editorial board.

Newspaper editorial boards are not the sum of a newspaper, it's a group of assholes who get paid to spout off; these endorsements don't really mean anything. I stand firmly in the camp of journalists arguing editorial boards shouldn't endorse politicians.

There's certainly a benefit to newspapers endorsing politicians. Readers can assume a trusted institution of journalism to have combed over all available data sets, scoured archives for inconsistencies, conducted lengthy and in depth interviews that attempt to clarify a candidate's claims to being a walking, talking, morally conscious human being. This is a primary reason people subscribe to newspapers (or, newsletters), and The Times has gone out of its way to show this process.

But today many people seem incapable of differentiating a newsroom from an editorial board. Honest journalists and reporters strive to achieve ethical standards in objective reporting. A newsroom is where under-slept wretches hack together eye-witness reports. It's where you'll find a disheveled soul working a greasy phone to corroborate tips; where professional skeptics validate their cynicism. Newsrooms are where coffee machines go to die.

Editorial boards and their opinion writers aren't necessarily bound by the same ethics as journalists. They can exist as figures of a punditocracy that feels comfortable hiding behind a vaulted masthead. While many editorial boards and op-ed pages are filled with people who've earned their positions through years of dogged reporting and tireless work, there still exists an aristocracy that feels it has an absolute right to flaunt its views by utilizing wealth and status. As a result, newsrooms are often blamed for poor decisions made by editorial boards as if the newsroom has some form of control over what spews forth from an entirely separate division of the outlet.

This type of media illiteracy -- an inability to comprehend that an opinion piece is not the same as an article -- is a problem that has plagued democratic institutions and the media business for some time. Today's hyper-partisan politics have only exacerbated this by over-saturating the media market with ill-informed hot takes and shitposts. The public should be overly cautious when taking taking advice from failed actors and lounge singers, just as it should from TV talking heads, and remember to apply basic scrutiny to those opinions.

OK, now here's a warm and fuzzy critter video!

Follow Dominic on Twitter and Instagram.

The Smoke Eater is ad-free and relies on your tips and subscriptions. It takes a lot of time and energy to put each issue together, so consider tipping me on Ko-Fi, or subscribing to my Patreon.

Questions? Comments? Shoot me an email!