James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Archive for the ‘Legal issues’ Category

Conservative quackery and Santa Claus

Posted by James McPherson on December 20, 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone. I hope your appreciation of the season hasn’t been dampened by recent controversy involving those wildly popular but oft-misunderstood bearded guys.

No, I’m not talking about “Daddy Duck” Phil Robertson and the other guys of “reality” television’s “Duck Dynastyclan, as I see no need to join the discussion over whether clan leader Phil Robertson is a homophobic racist or just a committed Christian (other than to point out that those who claim that Robertson’s free speech rights are being violated are clueless about the First Amendment).

I’m more interested in the controversy involving those other bearded guys — Santa Claus and Jesus — whom a defensive and “very, very blonde” professional spokesmodel Megyn Kelly brought into Fox News’ annual weird, wacky, hypocritical and ultimately pointless (except to fire up viewers and drive up ratings) “war on the war on Christmas” by insisting that both were white guys.

Not surprisingly, Kelly was wrong about both Jesus and the inspiration for Santa. (Incidentally, Bill O’Reilly has now declared the war over, making himself the commanding general in a Christian victory, and the “war on Christmas” is just a subset of the equally ludicrous (at least in this country) “Christians are persecuted” meme, anyway.)

The “white Santa/white Jesus” discussion continued over several days (not much real news before the holidays, apparently), and I actually heard someone on television question whether we even know Santa’s gender. I’m not making that up, though I wasn’t in front of the TV and so don’t know who said it.

Thinking more about it though, it occurred to me that since I am all for gender equality, I should examine the evidence. I then posted my findings on Facebook, but thought I’d share them here, too:

  1. Santa is beloved, despite his obvious weight problem — in fact, people leave Claus milk and cookies, rather than leaving an obnoxious note saying, “Lose some weight, fatso!”
  2. Santa spends a lot of time in a “workshop,” and apparently has a thing for toys.
  3. Santa needs a Rudolph Guidance System to make it through the fog and finds every house — despite no record of having ever asked anyone for directions.
  4. Mommy was spotted kissing Santa Claus.
  5. Santa stays out all night on the night before a holiday.
  6. Claus apparently hasn’t had a wardrobe update for decades.
  7. Santa has been accused of being a “peeping Tom,” spying on people while they’re sleeping.
  8. Santa prefers to do things the hard way — i.e., going down the chimney rather than simply using the spare key hidden near the door.
  9. Santa postpones delivery of gifts until the last possible moment — and then frequently gives you something that someone who really knew you would never give.
  10. Many people write to Santa, but he never writes back.

I report; you decide.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Personal, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments »

Riding, writing and resting

Posted by James McPherson on November 25, 2013

For the past six months, politics has been relatively low on my list of concerns. Call it burnout, or simple disgust with almost everyone in politics (including those in the media who cover it), but after my sabbatical began at the end of May I probably watched and read less about contemporary politics (especially from cable news) for the next several months than during any similar period in perhaps a decade. I have to admit that I didn’t miss it.

Nor have I missed most things about my “real job” as a professor. Someone asked me a while back the most important thing I’d learned during my sabbatical. My answer: “That I probably won’t have any trouble adjusting to retirement in 12 to 15 years.” I love being in the classroom and interacting with students, but certainly haven’t missed grading, course prep or meetings.

During my sabbatical I added a regular Wednesday “guys’ breakfast” and a regular Thursday golf game to my Tuesday and Friday morning basketball games. I’ve read more — and more for fun — than usual. I worked in the yard and garden. I spent time with parents, siblings, kids and a grandchild.

Most importantly, I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my wife of almost 33 years, especially during a 25-day 5,700-mile drive that included visits to various family members and the cities of Boise, Tucson, Santa Fe, New Orleans and Natchez — the lovely Mississippi city (with the troubling history) in which my wife was born. The cities of Las Vegas, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and Salt Lake City we passed through quickly, but not too quickly to be reminded of the sprawling corporate sameness that scars the Great American Landscape (though perhaps not for much longer, if my brother and other “doomers” are correct about the fate of the world).

More directly related to my profession, while in New Orleans I attended the annual convention of the American Journalism Historians Association. The convention was held in the beautiful historic Hotel Monteleone, where, despite a steep discount, the nightly rate was more than I paid for my first car, and where it cost more to park my pickup each night than I’ve paid for a room in some motels.

Back home, I attended a breakfast at which I chatted with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and then (at her request) sent her a copy a book I wrote. (Unlike a similar event with George Will a year earlier, I didn’t notice any errors worthy of correction here.) Later that month I helped out with a high school journalism workshop.

In terms of writing, I have revised a book chapter, chipped away at a novel, compiled notes and done research for a new academic book, and written more than 90 posts for an ongoing blog project. Today I even started our annual Christmas letter, having put up and decorated the tree a couple of days ago. And naturally I’ve been writing on the most pervasive medium in America today: Facebook.

Yes, I’ve devoted too much time to one form of anti-social media, though I’ve managed to forego Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler, Pinterest and Alltherest. I don’t tweet, or even text, and I definitely don’t twerk, Thanks to modern media, sometimes I twitch.

What I’ve written on Facebook  was typically far less important than what I “shared” from elsewhere (the same sorts of things that have no doubt prompted some “friends” to hide me from their feeds). And in retrospect, at least some of what I took the time to share via Facebook also seems worth sharing here. Some examples follow, though for space reasons I obviously can’t include oh-s0-witty-and/or-insightful comments I offered with each post.

The eclectic mix includes: an 1812 test for eighth-graders that few of us today could pass; a professional football coach (who knocked me out in practice when we were on the same college team);  the discovery of a new dinosaur; police brutality in New Mexico; empathetic high school football players; a revised “U.S. map” based on watersheds; Boeing’s anti-union efforts; Richard Cohen’s racism and sexism; how some of Apple’s overseas employees end up as virtual slaves; “15 Ways The United States Is The Best (At Being The Worst)”; the highest-paid employees in each state; a lesson on being quick to judge; some bragging about my workplace; and “the incredible story of Marion Stokes,” an obsessive librarian who taped — on VHS videocassettes — 35 years of television news.

Related to media, I posted items about the dangers of texting while driving and  sexist cyber-bullying by football fans. I explained why my local newspaper screwed up, placing a beautiful photo of a Native American mother and child next to an unrelated headline stating, “Child porn cases result in prison.” I pointed out that a widely quoted ESPN piece about NFL hazing used faulty math and therefore probably drew erroneous conclusions. I made fun of a local television station for misusing a word during a hostage crisis. And I shared a funny piece about a newspaper that retracted its criticism of the Gettysburg Address as “silly remarks” worthy of “a veil of oblivion.”

As a feminist who sometimes teaches a class on women and media (while serving on the board for a local nonprofit devoted to media literacy), I shared various items related to women’s issues: a story about “how we teach our kids that women are liars“;  a piece about sexist treatment of Janet Yellen; how women like working for women; and one about the Bechtel test for movies. I also addressed males, sharing “Five Things Every Self-Respecting Man Over 30 Needs.”

I shared some items about religion, including mega-churches and the fact that the region of the country most opposed to government health care is the Bible Belt. Naturally I couldn’t avoid mention of the Affordable Care Act. Posts compared: Al Jazeera America’s coverage of Typhoon Haiyan and Obamacare with the coverage by CNN, Fox News and MSNBC; how journalists were fact-checking other journalists; Sean Hannity’s lies;

I didn’t managed to ignore other politics entirely, either, discussing such issues as Barack Obama’s judicial nominations; Senate filibusters and the “nuclear option”; nutjobs who advocate killing Obama; National Security Agency wiretapping; Texas textbooks and evolution (a subject of this blog in 2009 and 2010); George W. Bush addressing the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute; some loony Sarah Palin fiscal hypocrisy; Chris Christie’s flip-flop on immigration; and Rand Paul’s plagiarism. What, you expected me to go six months without criticizing a few conservatives?

Most of those Facebook comments came during the past month and a half, suggesting that I’m being sucked back into caring more about politics than may be healthy. Too bad; I’ll have to keep working on that for the couple of months that remain on my sabbatical. Perhaps I’ll report back after that.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Personal, Politics, Religion, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , | 14 Comments »

Comparing Obama to other presidents — and to mermaids

Posted by James McPherson on May 31, 2013

mermaidAfter watching an Animal Planet program about mermaids the other night, I realized that the sea creatures and President Barack Obama have some things in common. Perhaps the comparison is inevitable, considering that the Weekly World News, a “news source” at least as reliable as World Net Daily, assures me that Obama has met with mermaids. Less surprising is that the article tells us that the mermaids are being “kept at an undisclosed aquarium.” Perhaps in Cuba?

And yes, I know the show was fiction, even if many people have apparently been fooled by the “documentary” style and the lengths the network went through to trick viewers. The fact that folks were duped isn’t a big surprise, though one might hope they would check things out before buying into the latest version of “Alien Autopsy.” I am a bit disappointed to find that Animal Planet is apparently now as much about animals as the History Channel is about history and the Arts & Entertainment network is about the arts.

In part, though, people believe in mermaids (check out some of the claims and a bad poem about mermaids and sonar in the comments section here), for some of the same reasons they believed–and in some cases, continue to believe–that Barack Obama is liberal, anti-war, anti-business, Muslim, a gun-grabber, Kenyan-born, a supporter of economic regulation, deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize, a socialist, or the second coming of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In fact, because both were relatively unknown and perhaps unknowable, mermaids and Obama became defined by how others want to see them. (We often elect “outsiders” for that reason.) But just for fun, here are some other comparisons:

  • Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid was translated into dozens of languages and led to an animated movie; Obama’s Dreams from My Father was translated into dozens of languages and led to an unanimated presidency.
  • Mermaids are famous for melodious singing that mesmerized sailors; Obama is famous for melodious speeches that mesmerized Democratic voters.
  • Mermaids hang out with fish; Obama also has been accused of having some fishy compatriots.
  • In some cultures, mermaids are thought to be seeking souls; Obama brought soul to the White House.
  • Mermaids can be found all over the world; Obama also has made appearances all over the globe.
  • Mermaids never appear on television without the help of CGI; Obama rarely appears without the aid of a teleprompter.
  • And perhaps most significantly, mermaids are thought to be half human, half fish; Obama seems to be half Democrat, half Republican.

In fact, Obama is pretty much like most other presidents, and that’s the problem. He’s certainly no liberal; like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama is a politically practical neo-conservative who relies on a combination of charm and corporate money for his power. Like FDRHarry Truman and Bush, he’ll freely kill civilians abroad to look politically strong while reducing American military casualties (for example, more Americans have been killed by guns in this country just since the Newtown massacre than were killed in the entire Iraq War). Like Bush and Roosevelt, Obama will overlook civil liberties to lock up potential “enemies.” Like Nixon and Bush, he is secretive. Also like Nixon and Bush, Obama is willing to let the government be intrusive, if not abusive.

I’ve noted previously the similarities between Obama and Ronald Reagan, and have become increasingly troubled by some of the current president’s similarities to Richard Nixon. (I agree with Bob Dole’s recent statement that neither Reagan nor Nixon could be elected as Republicans, though I think either might have a shot as a modern-day Democrat. After all, both Reagan and Nixon were more liberal in many respects than Obama.)

Obama is not particularly brave, nor especially effective in accomplishing his goals. He has accomplished some good things while doing some bad ones. He seems to be more reflective than Bush, but who isn’t? The one thing that liberals and conservatives might agree on in regard to Obama is that he has been … a disappointment.

Obama’s new support for a federal shield law and his nomination of James B. Comey as FBI director might seem to be encouraging notes in a presidency that has otherwise been marked by its obstruction and intimidation of the press and a general lack of once-promised transparency. But it’s worth noting that Obama previously helped kill the shield law (which probably would prove largely meaningless, and may actually make things worse for journalists, anyway) and the drone warrior’s latest “transparency” promise lasted all of about a week. And, of course, Comey may have had the gumption to bust Martha Stewart and WorldCom execs, but he also is another demonstration of how the president is continuing the work of George W. Bush, even if Comey proved to be a thorn in Bush’s side.

Obama’s attorney general apologized for the administration’s treatment of the press, but I wonder why he felt the need to offer the apology in an “off-the-record” meeting. (I’m also troubled by the fact that three of the five editors who attended the meeting promptly violated the terms to which they had apparently agreed; they should have done what most media organizations did and boycotted the meeting.)

So while it is true that some of Obama’s recent words sound good, we’ve heard false promises in the past. Until I see more evidence, I’m not putting a lot of faith in either Obama or mermaids.

Sunday follow-up: Slate offers some more perspective on the Animal Planet’s mermaid tales, and five things the channel could better be focusing in regard to the world’s suffering oceans. Related to#4 of the list, today I bought a tie covered with pictures of a dozen kinds of sharks. Maybe they ate the mermaids.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

Should football players be raped more often?

Posted by James McPherson on March 20, 2013

rape cultureObviously the question in the headline above is a stupid one. No one should be raped.

Repeat: NO ONE should be raped. Ever. It doesn’t matter what s/he was wearing or drinking or smoking or saying. Or where. Or when. Or how old or “experienced” s/he is. I use the “s/he” advisedly until now, as victims include men and boys. But of course most are women.

And yet we now live in a rape culture. We don’t just objectify and ridicule women, we revel in that objectification, with all sorts of media (including those pretending to complain about the objectification) using it to draw an audience — as if that doesn’t cheapen whatever else the publication or site has to offer.

The degree to which we have become a rape culture meant that my planned media criticism class for the day went out the window. Instead, we critiqued some news coverage of the Steubenville rape convictions and of rape in the military. And being immersed in the issue — and thinking about the tangentially related issue of how much we value athletes and athletics over many, many more important aspects of life — has prompted me to avoid filling out a March Madness bracket for the first time in years.

Rape occurs seemingly everywhere, not just in those scary foreign places where it has become a weapon of choice for intimidation and social control. Incidentally, even in those places, at least one study suggests “that the most common perpetrators of sexual violence in wartime are husbands, partners or other family members — reminding us to wonder again why spousal rape wasn’t outlawed in all 50 states until 1993 (yes, 20 years ago, probably after you were born) and why some conservatives think we should return to those “good ol’ days.

Rape happens here. On college campuses, even Christian college campuses. At high schools, in churches, and sometimes even on the street (though not as often there as the media might lead you to believe).

And rape happens in incredibly alarming numbers among those whom we trust to defend us in the U.S. military — where one in four women can expect to be raped by her male colleagues, and where a victim is more likely to be raped multiple times than is a non-military rape victim — and among those we idolize for their faux war skills on a football field (also here and here) or basketball court. Some statistics suggest that one-third of campus rapes are committed by athletes. (And regardless of the exact numbers, we never seem to see the band geeks or the academic scholarship winners accused of such crimes).

And what do we do about it? Too often we look to blame people other than the perpetrators. Interesting context comes from an academic report from about five years ago, citing a University of Nebraska policy manual for student athletes:

The paragraph dealing with rape appeared to not so subtly place blame on the potential victim:
“Be careful, especially if you have been drinking, (sic) that you do not misread signals. Trouble has often occurred when a woman has remained alone with several men after a drinking party. While some may feel that this shows poor judgment on the woman’s part, it certainly does not justify rape (The University of Nebraska, 2000, pg.2.)”
The handbook author may not have officially intended to endorse drinking and blame the woman who might be raped, but athletes may have seen this paragraph as containing a hidden message. This message reflects the process of objectification of groupies as deceivers who deserve the rape. In addition, an athlete, in rationalizing his behavior, may feel unfairly persecuted by individuals outside the athletic culture.

Of course it’s not hard to figure out why athletes might feel “unfairly persecuted,” considering that their fans are all too willing to blame the accusers, both before and after the facts of a case become known. The Steubenville rape case showed us that (along with some of the best and worst of what social media have to offer), but so have many other cases — including another one, reported just one day after the Steubenville verdict, this one involving a 13-year-old alleged victim.

But then we already knew years ago that fans were willing to attack alleged victims, from the cases involving Ben Roethlisberger, Kobe Bryant and Jake Plummer (the first two of whom exemplify why I will likely cheer against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Los Angeles Lakers for the rest of my life).

But we expect fans to be morons. More troubling to me is the fact that if athletes are involved, too often media concern seems to be on the athlete — the famous or semi-famous or seemingly pitiful person that for some reason we want to believe the best about — and too few news people ask the question posed this week by Time: “What about the victim?” An leading example this week was provided by CNN, with the video below. Another troubling example from the same case is that all three of the major cable news networks saw fit to air the name of the 16-year-old rape victim.

A Jezebel article last November concluded with: “Can legendary college athletes also be rapists? Of course they can. Can they be ever be convicted rapists? That’s less clear.” Maybe now they will be, more often, after Steubenville (or maybe on-campus rapes will decrease). Maybe this will be “rape culture’s Abu Ghraib moment,” but I’m no more confident of that than I am that another gun massacre will lead to meaningful firearm regulations.

In fact, the only thing that I’m convinced would make most of America care about the frequency with which its young men commit rape would be if star athletes themselves were the victims — if some star football player or basketball player were held down, brutalized, urinated on, videotaped and cast aside.

And, sadly, even that might matter only if it were star male athletes.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 44 Comments »

Gun-loving morons rush to buy guns & ammo before dead kids’ funerals

Posted by James McPherson on December 17, 2012

Nothing like the slaughter of twenty children to “fire up” the morons, who think discussion of gun control is anathema. Not that most of them would understand the last word of that sentence. After all, they’re morons.

After every incident of mass violence, gun sales increase,” says a Maine Gun Owners Association spokesman. “It’s a reminder that it’s a rather violent society.” Those impulse buyers need reminders? Oh, yeah; they’re morons.

This tragedy is pushing sales through the roof,” said a dealer in North Carolina. “It’s like putting gasoline on a fire.” Or a funeral pyre.

On one conservative blog, a conservative gunslinger (I won’t bother linking to the post where the comment occurred) listed the 10 most-common murder weapons, suggesting that we might call for bans on all of them.  Of course he ignored the fact that if we added all those nine together, the total is barely over one-third the number killed by firearms. Morons really aren’t all that into math.

Some blogging morons have compared a knife attack in China–in which a man slashed 22 children on the same day as the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre–to the Connecticut killings. Predictably, those morons almost always neglect to mention that all 22 of the Chinese children survived, while 26 Newtown residents won’t be there to unwrap their Christmas presents a week from tomorrow.

Sadly some of the gun-loving morons (such as Dick Cheney) would likely favor legalization of armor-piercing bullets, hand grenades, plastic guns that could be carried on planes, land mines, and perhaps chemical and biological weapons before they’d favor any restriction on guns–at a time when it’s already easier to buy an assault rifle than a handgun. Of course, being morons, they also think Obama has been tough on guns, even though as I’ve noted previously, it’s easier to own a gun today and you can carry one in more places than before Obama took office, while conservative “hero” Ronald Reagan actually supported stricter gun laws than we have today, or than have been supported by any so-called liberal president since.

Some buyers say they need more guns–and thousands of rounds of ammunition–before tighter gun restrictions are passed. Like that will ever happen, despite those who now suggest otherwise. But hey, if the morons hurry, they can get those assault rifles under their trees before mourners start shopping again and clogging up store aisles.

Still, if you want to cling to a bit of hope, there is this:

Posted in Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 17 Comments »

Texas lullabye-bye: Sadly, secession just a dream

Posted by James McPherson on November 13, 2012

So a bunch of Texas nimrods, apparently unhappy with the outcome of the presidential election in which about half of them probably didn’t bother to vote (something that might get you killed in Arizona), think they want to split from the Union. Of course, a Dallas Cowboys loss to the Washington Redskins is enough excuse for many Texans to favor secession. And many others need no excuse at all.

But of course Texas won’t secede, even if 80,000 Texans and probably at least that many non-Texans would like to see it happen. Hey, I’d buy a bumper sticker myself, if I thought it would help. Adios, amigos. But it won’t, as even Gov. Rick Perry has acknowledged. Too bad–without the 38 Texas electoral votes virtually guaranteed to the GOP, Republicans might never win another presidential election.

After all, 80,000 might seem like a lot (assuming it were actually 80,000 different people), but that’s fewer people than turn out for a Texas Longhorns football game. It’s far fewer, in fact, than half the number who have signed a petition to stop Target from starting “Black Friday” Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving Day. And it’s not like most folks–outside of some numerically-challenged GOP partisans–should have been surprised by the predictable outcome. Nate Silver and others told us all what was coming.

Besides, even if half the people in Texas wanted their state to leave the Union, perhaps letting Puerto Rico take its place, they’d need to convince their own state legislature to secede. They’re petitioning the wrong government, in other words. Shall we feign surprise?

Along with the Texas petition, also doomed to fail are similar efforts from Alabama, Alaska, ArkansasArizonaCalifornia, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, IdahoIllinois, Indiana, KansasLouisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, NevadaNew Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South DakotaUtah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

The spate of copy-and-paste secession petitions–many with the types of spelling errors one would expect from folks more accustomed to sharing their temper tantrums on conservative blogs–demonstrate far less creativity than a few other petitions now gathering signatures on the same White House website. One of those calls for the government to “Deport Everyone That Signed A Petition To Withdraw Their State From The United States Of America.” Another asks that President Obama “please sign an executive order such that each American citizen who signed a petition from any state to secede from the USA shall have their citizenship stripped and be peacefully deported.” A third wants the city of Austin to be allowed “to withdraw from the state of Texas & remain part of the United States.”

In fact, about the only thing the secession movement has done is to make far more people (including comedian Duncan Trussell) aware of the White House website for petitions–an ingenious device that lets people feel like they’re “particpating” in government just by logging in and supporting or opposing something. And all they need is a first name and last initial to “sign” a petition, so they do so as many times as they want and can remain as anonymous as most of the clueless responders on blogs–at least until the government uses their login info to track them down and toss them in the black helicopters to be hauled off to the Denver airport.

Other than that, of course, the petitions are harmless–and meaningless. If the “signers” really are concerned about the state of America, they’re free to leave. But they won’t. Or they could work to change the system, rather than pouting about it. Chances are, they won’t do that, either, so they can get worked up all over again when the next presidential election goes against them, too.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 24 Comments »

Republican platform: gallows for GOP suicide?

Posted by James McPherson on August 25, 2012

It has seemed for some time as if the Republican Party is suicidal, and determined to make sure that Barack Obama wins re-election. Maybe Republicans just want to prove that a couple of professors who forecast a Mitt Romney win aren’t so smart. Because the schedule proposed platform for next week’s GOP national convention provide new evidence that Republicans either cluelessly think that they will win easily–perhaps by voter suppression in key states–or have simply decided that they can’t win and so might as well be entertaining as they go down in flames.

A positive sign for Romney is the fact that various media are now helping him do what he and his campaign have generally been unable to do–look more human. Though he was unfairly bashed for a ride on a personal watercraft, yesterday two major media sources–the New York Times and MSNBC–have produced largely flattering portrayals of the GOP nominee. OK, it may be stretching it to call MSNBC a major media source, but it is a generally liberal-leaning cable network that could help portray Romney as more moderate than his campaign has been. Both stories include what Times writer Sheryl Gay Stolberg calls a “crisis” narrative, details about Ann Romney’s multiple sclerosis and Mitt Romney’s auto accident in France (a head-on collision apparently caused by a priest who may have been drunk, killing a passenger in Romney’s car).

There also are signs that Romney is ready to reveal more about his faith (even if he won’t say the “M-word”), as demonstrated by a laudatory Bloomberg piece on Thursday, a Tuesday Seattle Times story picked up via the Associated Press by newspapers around the country, and the fact that the invocation for one night of the GOP convention will be given by a fellow Mormon. MSNBC has also taken advantage of Romney’s religion to do a “Rock Center” program about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on Thursday. Not that the religious aspects may matter much. As I’ve mentioned previously (demonstrating the decreasing influence of the Religious Right) it seems a bit ironic that if the Christian Right gets its way in November, for the first time ever there won’t be a single Protestant among the president, vice president and entire Supreme Court. But anyone on the far right will be voting against Obama, even if not for Romney–or, as some fruitcakes might phrase it, will favor the Mormon over the Muslim.

Bigger problems than religion come from the fact that Romney has run to the right to represent a party that is already “akin‘,” with controversies about”legitimate rape” (more evidence of the need for better science education) and a judge who suggests that Obama’s re-election could lead to “civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war” (considering that he’s a Texan, though, his stupidity may not be particularly surprising). Still, it might be moderately surprising that Republicans will apparently repeat their Sharron Angle/Christine O’Donnell/Joe Miller/Ken Buck Tea Party debacle of two years ago with a new round of questionable candidates–Todd Akin, Ted Cruz, Richard Mourdock, Deb Fischer and  Josh Mandel–who (along with repeat loser Linda McMahon) will likely keep them from gaining control of the Senate.

Still, it would be nice if voters would cast ballots based on the actual positions of the candidates. So while party platforms rarely matter much, I would recommend that everyone check out this year’s GOP draft version (thanks Politico)–just to affirm how thoroughly the party has given up on attracting the number of women, gays and people of color that it needs to win the presidential election in November. Some of the key points of the platform would:

Admittedly, all we have so far is a draft document. But it is a draft that the New York Times accurately depicts as “more aggressive in its opposition to women’s reproductive rights and to gay rights than any in memory.” Not a good sign, for a party scrambling to come from behind. A blogger for the Guardian compares it to a useless body part: “Like party platforms, the appendix’s role is a mystery to most people: it may be a useful harbour for bacteria but can also rupture, causing pain and misery.”

Speaking of misery, in fact, Republicans may want to start praying that Hurricane Isaac will reduce Americans’ exposure to official GOP ideas, just as Hurricane Gustov disrupted the GOP convention four years ago. If that does happen, perhaps Pat Robertson and other loonies will point out that Republicans must have offended God in some way (maybe, considering the male names of the hurricanes, with the party’s official anti-gay stance). On the other hand, if this election does drive off enough Americans to lead to the death of the Republican Party–or at least to generate a future GOP “crisis narrative”–perhaps Romney can baptize it after its demise.

P.S.: Just after I posted this, the GOP announced that Isaac will indeed cancel the first day of the convention.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics, Religion, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 45 Comments »

Who is more evil–Obama or Romney?

Posted by James McPherson on August 17, 2012

It has long been a truism that people in presidential elections vote for “the lesser of two evils.” In fact, if you Google “2012 election ‘lesser of two evils'” you’ll get 384,000 hits, including a Rasmussen poll stating that’s how almost half of Americans will vote. Others using the term include writers for Time magazine, the Washington PostFox Business, NPR twice, Alternet, the Huffington PostRenew America, Politics365, the Arizona Republic, the Baltimore Sun and WorldNutsDaily. All that, despite the fact that folks such as union activist Shamus Cooke, magician Penn Jillette and late folk singer Utah Phillips have pointed out that the lesser of two evils is still evil.

Others from both the left and the right claim there is no meaningful difference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. In fact, they are both neoconservative pro-business chickenhawks. Neither has been acting particularly presidential in this campaign, with both using record amounts of campaign money to sling mud and lie about their opponents. One important difference, though: Romney’s his Supreme Court choices would likely make the most conservative Supreme Court in history even worse.

The lack of a great choice is why I wouldn’t bother to vote for either the Democratic or the Republican ticket unless I lived in a swing state. Maybe I’ll vote for one of the candidates you’ve never heard of–though probably not birther radio host Laurie Roth, time traveler Warren Ashe, or repeat candidate Jack Fellure (against “the New World Order,” alcohol, homosexuality and gun control). Nor will I vote for anti-abortion loony Randall Terry or batcrap-crazy Terry Jones, though both are apparently running. Maybe Rosanne Barr, whose platform and vice presidential pick I like more than her singing (though the latter apparently has improved). After all, it’s not like my presidential vote will matter.

Still, most voters will cast ballots for Obama or Romney, and many will do so with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. So for those folks, the question becomes, which offers the “lesser evil”? Folks such as Michael Savage and nutty bloggers (also here) might argue that Obama is our “most evil president,” but I find that sort of hyperbole to be silly and simplistic. I’d rank Richard Nixon, Andrew Jackson, Harry Truman, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, among others, as much nastier, though I’m also willing to admit that most may have been acting with good intent–that their “evil” was more a factor of their being human than of any satanic infuence. After all, God was on their side (also see video above).

Regardless of your definitions of evil, there is much to dislike about both candidates in this race. Obama’s case may be the more complex simply because we know more about him (or at least we should, if we’ve been paying attention). It’s tougher to categorize Romney’s “accomplishments” because he is seemingly unwilling to claim credit for his success as a governor and doesn’t want to talk about his time as a businessman–though he will claim credit for something he didn’t do. In a probable act of desperation that doesn’t seem to be paying off, he has has now tied himself to Paul Ryan (making him at least the third consecutive GOP candidate whose VP pick was more interesting than the guy at the head of the ticket). For better or worse, other folks who come with Romney include John Bolton, Robert Bork and Sheldon Adelson.

Obama’s accomplishments are many and varied; the Washington Post came up with a top 50, and there are several other lists. PolitiFact keeps a running meter of Obama promises kept. But that’s where we get back to the idea of evil. As others have pointed out, half of a Democratic Hub list of the dishonest, super-secretive and vindictive Obama administration’s accomplishments is made up of people he has killed (though crazy Republicans who like killing people just as much now claim that Obama gets too much credit). Obama’s homicide-by-drone victims include American citizens and the 16-year-old son of one American.

So, to get back to the original question: Which is the greater evil? Should we re-elect a president who has decided he has the right to kill you now, or choose the one that will be happy to simply let you die while he pays less than 1 percent in income taxes and appoints Supreme Court justices that will guarantee corporate rule throughout your lifetime–which, especially with conservative views of climate change and the environment, may not be all that long, anyway? Swing-state voters, you get to decide. The rest of us just get to live (or not) with your decision.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 21 Comments »

Batcrap craziness

Posted by James McPherson on July 20, 2012

Batman: “No guns.” (In keeping with the superhero’s longtime no-gun rule.”)

Catwoman: “What fun is that?”

I guess we could ask the folks who attended the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado, huh?

As I’ve written in what became my most-read post, I generally avoid using profanity. But one reason I generally oppose it it because its overuse has made appropriate use almost meaningless. Almost. And today is one of the exceptions, because there has perhaps never been a more appropriate day or week for the term “batshit crazy.”

This week gave us Rush Limbaugh suggesting that the name of a movie character (a name that originated in a 1993 comic book) was a liberal plot against Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Then, of course, Rush lied about it the next day.

Next we had John McCain–the McCain we used to remember before he sold his soul to try to win the last presidential election–chastize Michele Bachmann for her latest Muslim plot nonsense. But we know that Bachmann is as batty as Limbaugh.

And though we all know that the blogosphere has become a nutty and nasty place, it was surprising that a negative review of the latest Batman movie would inspire batshit-crazy fans of a comic book character to make death threats against “Rotten Tomatoes” reviewers.

But all of that pales in comparison to today’s news about a costumed gunman killing at least a dozen people at a midnight opening of the latest Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.” It didn’t take long for ABC to commit the first stupid reporting error, and of course the shooting has dominated the cable news networks all day. (It’s probably not such big news in Syria, where having a dozen killed by violence would be considered a good day.)

And so now we’ll have another few days of liberals pointing out the obvious, that easy access to guns in America makes these events far too common here and that conservative talking heads such as “shoot-them-in-the-head” Glenn Beck (however well he may cry about it afterward) and Rush Limbaugh, along with batshit-crazy extremist groups promote violence. Some conservatives will blame mass murder on gay marriage. If all else fails, blame it on violent movies or video games. It’s all so predictable, and too few will acknowledge that many factors are involved.

Perhaps less predictably, truly batshit-crazy NRA types, which Colorado has, may suggest that the carnage would have been reduced if other people in the theater were armed. Oh, wait–batshit-crazy Malkin  and batshit-crazy Texas Congressman Louis Gohmert have already done that. Gohmert also blamed the attacks on “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs”–as did the American Family Association, despite the fact that the killer reportedly was a “brilliant student” from a “church-going family.” Shades of Pat Robertson; life is just too scary when we realize what our demons have in common with the rest of us, I guess.

So, how long until someone (other than a batshit-crazy blogger or two) suggests that the killer is an Obama operative trying to help the president push through gun control, even though we know that it’s now easier to buy a gun and you can carry it in more places than before Obama was elected? Besides, we Americans love our guns. We really love our guns. If the shooting of a Congresswoman and the killing a a cute white girl or the slaughter of college students won’t spur a serious debate about American gun laws, this certainly won’t.

In fact, perhaps part of the “The Dark Knight Rises” should be rewritten.

Batman: “No guns.”

Catwoman: “In America? That’s batshit crazy!”

Next-day addendum: Above I asked how long it would take someone to suggest that the shootings were a government plot to help promote control. Not long at all, as it turned out, thanks to 9/11 “truther” Alex Jones, perhaps the most bat-shit crazy conspiracy theorist in America.

Sunday addendum: Batshit-crazy Truth in Action Ministries spokesman Jerry Newcombe chose today to go on the radio and “remind” listeners that some of the dead shooting victims were bound for hell. Say hello when you get there, Jerry.

Also, a question for any who care to answer: Why do so many conservatives apparently think it should be easier to carry a gun than to cast a ballot?

Tuesday addendum: Batshit-crazy Larry Pratt, executive director of the Gun Owners of America, has also suggested that the Aurora killings are part of a gun-control plot, bringing familiar bogeyman, the United Nations, into it.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments »

Do you know what you’re investing in, and where?

Posted by James McPherson on July 11, 2012

The question above may be trickier than it looks, but since many right-wing media have decided that their readers are clueless about how investment funds work. Maybe they’re right–they’d know their audiences better than I do–but, regardless, the question in the headline seems worth asking today.

The Weekly Standard yesterday offered a post critical of Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who while in enemy territory on Sunday commented about Mitt Romney and the millions of dollars he has apparently stashed in banks in offshore accounts in Switzerland, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, “Americans need to ask themselves, why does an American businessman need a Swiss bank account and secretive investments like that?”

The Standard post notes, “But disclosure forms reveal that in 2010, Wasserman Schultz invested between $1,001-$15,000 in a 401k retirement fund run by Davis Financial Fund. As the fund discloses, it is invested in the Julius Baer Group Ltd. and the State Bank of India GDR Ltd., as well as other financial, insurance, bank institutions.” Predicatably, the post was then picked up by Fox News, Human EventsNewsmax, examiner.com, Twitchy, and their conservative acolytes. You can see mostly identical examples here, here, hereherehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here. (And no, I don’t expect anyone to go to all of the links; I simply wanted to partially demonstrate how far and fast ignorance can be repeated).

Some of the posts–like this one, which is actually kind of funny, if you overlook the inaccuracy–actually outrightly lie, saying that Wasserman Schultz “had her own Swiss bank account.” Keep in mind that I’m not defending the hypocracy or lying that run rampant in politics on both sides of the political aisle. But pretending that Wasserman Schultz’s foreign investments–and perhaps yours–are the moral equivalent of Romney’s is a major stretch. The two have almost nothing in common.

For one thing, the Congresswoman ISN’T RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT. Even if she were, her investments were public (declared on her financial disclosure form), pretty small (less than $15,000) and occurred years ago. Any idea how much Romney still has stashed abroad today? Most importantly, the investments–which, again, were far different from “overseas accounts”–were made by the manager of her retirement fund, not directly by her. For an embarrassing example of why that matters, I’ll share a brief story:

A few years ago, using an IRS Form 990, one of my students found out that the Christian university where I work was unknowingly investing in Abercrombie & Fitch–a company popular with many college students, but not one most Christian institutions would choose to affiliate with. The investments were made by a financial manager, of course, and the student’s story led to a change in investment policy by the university’s board of trustees. In fact, chances are that if you have a retirement fund you have no idea which companies your money is supporting at any given moment. (For the record, my own retirement fund is set up to avoid certain industries, based on my own politics, but the many individual companies that get small pieces of my money vary widely and change with time.)

Oh, speaking of money: Americans paid record-low amounts of federal income taxes during Barack Obama’s first year as president. I wonder if the Weekly Substandard will get a conservative meme going about that.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

 
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