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 and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

NFL replacement refs: A matter of life and death?

Posted by James McPherson on September 25, 2012

I’m a Seattle Seahawks fan, but I don’t feel good about the results of last night’s “win” against the Green Bay Packers. Even if you’re not a football fan, you’ve no doubt heard that that officials blew the call–actually a couple of calls–on the final play of the game. Talking heads are going nuts about it, and not just on the sports channels. Even Paul Ryan used it to take a shot at Barack Obama today, while anti-union Gov. Scott Walker urged National Football League owners to give the regular union refs what they want.

On the other hand, the game had been officiated poorly throughout–had the officials not prolonged a Packer drive with two questionable calls, the Seahawks might have been ahead, anyway. Green Bay offensive guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sutton took to Twitter to blame the loss on the officials, but those two guys and their cohorts on the offensive line had managed to give up a near-record eight sacks in the first half. The replacement refs weren’t any more pitiful than the Packers’ pass blocking.

Still, fans and commentators are calling the officiating of NFL replacement refs (which goes beyond Monday night’s game) and the outcome of the game a tragedy. Abhorant. Appalling. Atrocious. Awful. Deplorable. Devastating. A disasterDisgusting. Dreadful. Hideous. Horrendous. HorrifyingInsane. MoronicPitiful. Stupid. Terrible. Unbelievable. Unfair.

Those people are understandably upset, but they’re also wrong. For better definitions of the words listed above, click on the links embedded in them. Then take a breath and count your blessings, if your life is secure enough that you can invest more emotion in a football game than in any of those issues (or many others that might have been included). Better yet, write a letter or a check that might help real victims–none of which played on Monday Night Football.

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

Steele again suffers from inadvertent truth-telling

Posted by James McPherson on July 3, 2010

In a turnaround so quick that you’d think he had insulted Rush Limbaugh, Michael Steele is now trying to explain away his latest gaffe: calling U.S. involvement in Afghanistan “a war of Obama’s choosing… not something the United States actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.”

Republicans are more up in arms over Steele’s comments than Democrats (who no doubt are enjoying the show), with neocon loony Bill Kristol and the GOP version of the Bride of Frankenstein among those calling for Steele’s resignation.

The interesting thing is, as when he made derogatory comments about Limbaugh, in this case Steele was somewhat accurate.  Under George W. Bush, the Afghanistan war “not something the United States actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in,” because the Bush administration was far more interested in figuring out how to falsely tie Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks. Unfortunately for the Bushies, Afghanistan is where 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden chose to hide, providing a brief diversion from Iraq.

The end result was two stupid mismanaged wars for the price of … well the price, now over a trillion dollars, may end up being a hundred times the original estimated cost of one war. 

In addition, though it wasn’t his war to start with, Barack Obama has ramped up U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan(perhaps the only thing he’s done that neocons like), increasing troop numbers and the usage of killing-from-home drone attacks. Interestingly, though predator drone operators may sit in a room outside of Las Vegas, they wear flight suits as if they were fighter pilots in jets fighters, or perhaps George W. Bush action figures.

By the way, what is it about the GOP and it’s attempts to appeal to African Americans? It’s answer to Thurgood Marshall, one of the best Supreme Court justices of all time (and perhaps the least conservative, though the two don’t necessarily go together) was Clarence Thomas, perhaps the dumbest and most conservative. Then Republicans responded to the election of America’s first African American president by choosing Steele as their leader. At least, unlike Steele, Thomas is quietly stupid.

On an unrelated but timely matter: Have a great Fourth of July. Be patriotic by not wearing an American flag, though you may want to burn one.

Posted in History, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Poll puts Obama lower than Oslo’s temperature

Posted by James McPherson on December 9, 2009

Though often I wish that CNN would avoid editorializing and the sort of programming that I most disdain about Fox News and MSNBC (the departure of Lou Dobbs was a good step; if Nancy Grace and perhaps Jack Cafferty would follow Dobbs out the door I’d be even happier), I admit that I still appreciated the irony of this CNN lead today: “President Obama–fighting wars in two countries–will arrive in Norway on Thursday to accept the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009.”

The story also reminds us, “Nominations for the prize had to be postmarked by February 1, only 12 days after Obama took office. The committee sent out its solicitation for nominations last September, two months before Obama was elected president.” After last week, and especially since the number of Americans who think Obama deserves the prize has dropped below 20 percent, I wonder if the Nobel Committee would like a recount.

By the way, the expected low temperature for tomorrow in Oslo, where Obama will pick up the prize, is 26 degrees. The expected high is 32 degrees (right at freezing, though not as chilly as the reception he might get from former supporters when he campaigns for re-election). Come to think of it, many Americans may be thinking of traveling to Norway to warm up.

On the other hand, another 35 percent of those surveyed think it likely that Obama will eventually do enough to deserve the prize. Based on that thinking, with this semester nearing an end, perhaps I should assign final grades based on what I think students will someday achieve. But I can’t, since I keep telling them that actual performance matters and that actions have consequences.

Obama and the Democrats who let us think that poor Americans wouldn’t have to risk getting shot in Afghanistan to get a job or decent health care may find out in 2010 and 2012 just how much their actions matter.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

‘Oh-bomb-a-nation’: Another chickenhawk president ‘Extenze’ a war

Posted by James McPherson on December 1, 2009

American commanders-in-chief apparently tend to have extremely small penises. I’m obviously in no position to know for sure (though perhaps Michaele Salahi is), but how else can you explain presidents’ unending need to prove their manhood through meaningless and ultimately counterproductive warfare?

Maybe it’s guilt, since recent presidents also have been “men” who managed to avoid military service themselves. Or maybe they feel shame because of their common inability to produce male offspring who might carry on the family name (or, in the case of George H. W. Bush, shame because of the males who will carry it on).

Whatever the reason, presidents do love their toy soldiers. And those soldiers generally remain willing to risk life, limb and marriage, guided by a combination of patriotism, presidential lies, and a lack of economic options (thanks in part to an economy hampered by war spending).

Instead of pulling his (Lyndon) Johnson, so to speak, to turn Afghanistan into another Vietnam, Obama should be pulling troops out of that unwinnable conflict. Through withdrawal he could be the first president since Jimmy Carter not to go out of his way to kill people to prove he’s a tough guy, and maybe in the process avoid being a one-term president. Of course we all know what a wuss Amy’s dad was.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Obama saves turkey, not soldiers or landmine victims

Posted by James McPherson on November 25, 2009

Some 34,000 troops face the prospect of celebrating their last Thanksgiving at home–or their last Thanksgiving, ever–as President Obama will apparently announce a plan Tuesday to send them to the bottomless pit of Afghanistan.

Naturally right-wing wackos such as Glenn Beck and Dick Cheney (aka Glenn the Weeper and the Grim Reaper) say that sending more troops into harm’s way earlier would actually be a way to support the military. (I haven’t linked to the info about Cheney, because frankly I wish he’d just shut up and crawl back into whatever hole he was hiding in during most of his vice presidency).

Of course American soldiers and Afghans won’t be the only ones who will be blown up during this holiday season (though one turkey has been saved). Millions of people–many of them in countries no longer at war (unlike the U.S., which is virtually always at war, though few of its citizens suffer beyond economics as a result)–face the possibility of being among the thousands killed each year by landmines scattered in fields throughout the world.

More than 150 countries have signed on to an international convention that bans the production, stockpiling and use of land mines. International organizations expressed concern last summer about the fact that Iraq (a signer of the ban) had an estimated 20 million mines (and 2.66 million kid-killing cluster bomblets, an American specialty) spread throughout various parts of the country. Iraq’s mines that will take decades to clear.

So who hasn’t signed on to the landmine ban? The U.S., of course. The Obama administration announced yesterday that it would not change George W. Bush’s policy because “we would not be able to meet our national defense needs nor our security commitments to our friends and allies if we signed this convention” without mines and cluster bombs. Apparently Obama likes Tuesdays for announcing decisions about propagating of mass murder.

To be fair, the U.S. isn’t the only nation refusing to sign onto the treaty–others include the enlightened nations of China, Russia, Pakistan and Myanmar. And India, which saw its prime minister and Obama proclaim their “growing partnership” at a black-tie state dinner last night. Wearing black seems appropriate (though in India the traditional mourning color is white).

The dinner came almost exactly a year after deadly attacks in Mumbai–perhaps the last time that Twitter actually provided a useful service (though apparently it also helped terrorists track down victims, as discussed tonight on the PBS program “Secrets of the Dead“). Sadly, the current presidential administration seems dedicated to pursuing the kinds of policies produced by its predecessor, guaranteeing an increasing number of those kinds of “secrets.”

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Kill ’em now or kill ’em later: Fort Hood’s more than 500 dead–and counting

Posted by James McPherson on November 6, 2009

Obviously yesterday’s killings at Fort Hood were a tragedy, with at least 13 people dead, so far. Still, I can’t help but think about the fact that if the dozen soldiers killed (one victim was a civilian) had died a couple of weeks from now–after they were in Iraq–the deaths would barely be a blip on the media screen.

One thing they have in common with their fallen comrades abroad is that they’ll now pass through Dover Air Force Base. I wonder if President Barack Obama will show up to “honor” their deaths.

Keep in mind that Fort Hood has lost more than 500–again, that’s more than five hundred–of its soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, with some about to be deployed for the fourth time. That’s in addition at least a dozen “suspicious deaths” at the base in recent months.

So yes, the latest deaths are tragic–but just a small part of an ongoing larger tragedy that will continue to play out for years to come.

Same-day follow-up: A student reminded me this morning (thanks, John) that as Rolling Stone reports, Fort Hood isn’t the only American military base with similar problems.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Freedom Tower goes way of freedom, making room for Chinese

Posted by James McPherson on March 28, 2009

Remember that “Freedom Tower” being built in New York where the World Trade Center once stood? It’s still going up, but don’t call it that. You wouldn’t want to confuse the Chinese tenants.

After a slow start, the building is now about one-eleventh of the way toward its eventual 108-story height. But the Port Authority, which owns the land, has announced that the name of the structure will be “One World Trade Center.” Is that to remind us that there will be “one” tall building where there used to be two?

Also announced was the first tenant of the tower: a Chinese corporation that will occupy more than five floors of the new building after it is completed in 2013. Somehow that seems appropriate.

After all, the Bush/Cheney administration lied us into an unending war in Iraq, and kept warning us about Iran, but continued warm relations with the equally nasty Saudi kingdom–where most of the 9/11 hijackers and money actually originated.

Then, to “get back” at the terrorists even as the economy was headed toward a cliff, Bush told us to “go shopping.” That was a great boost for the Chinese, who produce most of the stuff we buy. In the meantime, the administration (aided, of course, by gutless and clueless of Congress) spent the next few years doing all it could to strip us of freedom at home.

Now Barack Obama tells us the fate of the world rests in Afghanistan, and maybe we ought to worry about those crazy drug lords on our southern border. But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first overseas trip was to China, the nation that will be–if it hasn’t already–the one that replaces us at the top of the heap in terms of world power.

Clinton went to plead with the Chinese to please, please, please don’t let us go bankrupt. Hey, soon perhaps freedom will return: After all, in the words written by Kris Kristofferson and famously sung by another Texan, Janis Joplin, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”

You can hear the full song below, by both artists:

Posted in History, Music, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Saving the world in Afghanistan, killing the media at home

Posted by James McPherson on March 27, 2009

Barack Obama apparently can’t decide if he’s George W. Bush or one of several former leaders of the former Soviet Union, declaring that we must win in Afghanistan to “save the world.”

Despite worries about those other dangerous folks on our southern border, apparently Afghanistan seems small enough to win (chances are Obama won’t be the first leader to be wrong about that) and far enough away that we can be inspired to worry enough to fund operations there and think Democrats are strong on defense–but not be too scared to pour money into other things.

Americans know they should worry about Obama-the-Conservative’s plan when Fox News and David Brooks both are quick to approve. In the meantime, of course, there’s less reason to believe even fewer Americans will be informed about that issue or any other, as news media continue to die.

Interestingly, CNN highlighted financial costs in the headline and lead of a story about job cuts at the New York Times and Washington Post yesterday–at the same time it was featuring a clueless “iReport” feature titled “Let newspapers go”–holding the fact that the Times cut 100 jobs and would slash the salaries of other workers until the second paragraph. The third paragraph mentions that buyouts will be offered at the Post, which “could not rule out laying off staff.”

Contrast that with a story the same day about Google, for which both the headline and the lead highlight almost 200 lost jobs–leaving the company with 20,000 employees–or about five times as many people as we’ll add to our “world saving” force in Afghanistan.

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Civil disobedience might bring national redemption

Posted by James McPherson on February 8, 2009

I love the United States and feel extremely blessed to have been born here, and to have worked as a journalist and an educator in a nation that offers so many freedoms. Though we progressives have been denigrated as America-haters or the “blame-America-first crowd,” in fact the National Anthem can make me weepy, I have a very large American flag on the wall of my office, and I know the U.S. Flag Code better than most of the self-described “patriots” who disagree with me on many things.

Elwin Wilson probably would have described himself as one of those patriots at the time he beat a young black man into a bloody mess in a South Carolina bus station. But the case of Wilson, who, seeking redemption, recently sought the forgiveness of his victim–now-Congressman John Lewis–helps illustrate why this country could use more civil disobedience, and why the American press should start doing a better job of covering the people and issues involved with such disobedience.

In fact, civil disobedience has never all that popular in this country, even during Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement. The vast majority of us have always stayed on the sidelines, aware of the protests only if we happen to drive by them or catch images on the evening news. Unfortunately those images, however striking, generally have been too rare because journalists have been among those who do the most to marginalize nonviolent protest.

Worse, the ideas of the protestors also have initially been marginalized in favor of mainstream (and often bureacratic institutional) views, slowing the consideration and eventual implementation of what in many cases would become mainstream ideals–the abolition of slavery, labor laws, civil rights, women’s rights and the environmental movement among them.

More recently, had the media paid more attention to the widespread protests against the Iraq War (including exploring the claims and beliefs of the protesters), and the resulting arrests, perhaps members of Congress wouldn’t have been in such a hurry to join George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in their soon-to-be trillion-dollar rush (what–you thought only an economic stimulus could cost nearly that much?) to war and ignominy. They might also keep Barack Obama from his apparent determination to repeat Bush’s folly in Afghanistan.

Friday night’s episode of “Bill Moyer Journal,” with guests Jay Rosen and Glenn Greenwald, discussed the problem briefly.

Moyers:

On my computer upstairs, I have a lot of photographs from around the world this week, of protests, demonstrations of people who feel desperate in the midst of economic collapse and calamity. And they’re taking to the streets. We don’t see that in this country. Will Washington ever get the message unless they feel the pulse of people who are saying we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more?

Greenwald’s response:

I think the idea of street demonstrations is probably the most stigmatized idea in our political process. There were huge marches, for instance, prior to the Iraq war, against the war. There were hundreds of thousands of people, millions of people throughout Europe marching in the streets against the war.

And yet, the media virtually excluded those demonstrations from the narrative, because they’re threatening, and because they’re considered to be the act of unserious radicals and people who are on the fringe, and I think that in some sense, that’s reflective of the fact that that level of agitation is probably the most threatening to the people who have a vested in having the system continue unchanged.

Some areas of American life are particularly ready for civil disobedience. Democracy Now! has reported on the prospect of homeowners who might refuse to leave their foreclosed-upon houses and on how creative protest foiled wilderness land sales.

I think that teachers and students (and their parents)  who have been forced by education funding inequities to deal with crumbling schools should consider marching into and “taking over” nicer suburban schools.  Sick people who cannot afford health care might “sit in” in medical facilities until they get the care they need. The hungry might move, in large groups, into supermarkets–not necessarily eating anything (and therefore facing theft charges), but drawing attention to the fact that we live in a nation where too many don’t get enough to eat.

Workers laid off from companies where  managers (or mismanagers) are getting bonuses might just refuse to leave. The workers of Republic Window and Doors showed that protest can be effective. But as anyone in a 12-step program (or who has seen a portrayal of one on television) knows, the first step to solving a problem is recognizing that the problem exists.

It would be helpful if the news media would look to protests as a meanings of helping society recognize concerns before they become full-blown crises. But for that to happen, protests might need to become as popular here as they are in some other nations–where, by the way, citizens also love their countries.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

A ‘stimulating’ Limbaugh lesson, and battles in Afghanistan and Tampa

Posted by James McPherson on February 1, 2009

Normally I have about the same respect for James Carville that I do for Rush Limbaugh. But sometimes it is interesting to watch a contest in which you wish both sides could lose, such as when a skinny bald blowhard gives the pompous drug-addicted blowhard a lesson about history and government.

Carville is making fun of Limbaugh’s supposed call for bipartisanship regarding the stimulus bill being considered by Congress. In the meantime, in a true show of Senate bipartisanship, Maine Republican Susan Collins (whom some Republicans think should be a Democrat) and Colorado Democrat Ben Nelson (whom some Dems think should join the GOP) are working to create a stimulus package that majorities in both parties could support. Mostly what they’re trying to do is “slash what they call wasteful spending from the bill.”

Republicans, many of whom consider almost any spending not related to killing someone to be wasteful, continue to call for the least effective means of stimulus (tax breaks) while rejecting the most effective (programs for poor people). Regardless of the outcome, a big stimulus package will be passed and much will be spent on infrastructure–a good thing except for the fact that too much of it will go to reinforcing a car-centric culture and not enough to mass transit (the benefits of which I greatly enjoyed last month in New York and Washington, D.C.).

Related to the economy, the stupidist spending under the George W. Bush adminstration was, and continues to be, expensed related to the Iraq War. While I am encouraged that President Barack Obama will likely reduce our presence there, I am troubled that he may be aiming toward creating his own Vietnam/Iraq-style quagmire in Afghanistan.

Obama probably will double the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, which might have been a good idea seven years ago. But keeping in mind that the current U.S. presence is smaller than the number of police deemed necessary to patrol friendly, celebratory crowds without guns in our nation’s capital on Inauguration Day, Obama’s plan seems mostly like a way to temporarily look semi-strong on defense while accomplishing no clear goals. Among those continuing to pay the price will be American soldiers and their orphaned children, and American taxpayers and their bewildered grandchildren.

Incidentally, Senators Collins and Nelson and I do have something in common, if the two really are working through the weekend to fix the stimulus package–we’ll be among that distinct minority of Americans not watching today’s Super Bowl. I’ve skipped viewing most Super Bowls, often other matchups in which I hope both sides lose, though I did hang on every second of the Seattle Seahawks’ 2005 loss to the Steelers (part of why today I’m rooting for the Cardinals–another area in which I disagree with Obama).

While I like football (I played in college, and still prefer the college game), with a few obvious exceptions the Super Bowl generally is not a particularly good game. With every key play to be shown endlessly in coming days, the halftime show a watered-down performance by a popular star provided with poor sound, and (thanks to YouTube) every commercial worth watching available anytime after the game, there is little reason to tune in.

I also don’t think the game will be close. My prediction: 34-13, Steelers. I figure today might be the perfect time to finally brave the mall and exchange the shirts I got for Christmas, since there will be few other guys there.

Same day update: So much for my career as a sports prognosticator. I walked into the house and flipped on the TV just in time to see the last play of the first half–the longest play in Super Bowl history. I then watched Bruce Springsteen in a halftime show that was every bit as weak as I expected, and then turned the TV back off until just before the Steelers gave up a safety to let the Cardinals get within four points.

To my credit, I did then have enough sense to watch the rest of the game, which the Steelers probably deserved to lose–after all, how do you NOT cover Larry Fitzgerald closely enough to prevent the last Cardinal touchdown? On the other hand, can you cover Santonio Holmes any better than he was covered on Pittburgh’s last TD? Who knows, after the last couple of years, I may have to start watching Super Bowls again.

Posted in History, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »