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 ‘Howard Dean’

No surprise; Obama picks second-best to lead HHS

Posted by James McPherson on February 28, 2009

Barack Obama has tabbed Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as the new director of Health and Human Services. That’s no surprise, of course: It would have been more surprising at this point if he had chosen the best person for the job.

I suspect Sebelius will do a decent job, and she has a credible health care-related background. She also adds a bit more diversity to the Cabinet.

Still, I am sorry that Obama and his advisors weren’t willing to overcome their dislike of the man perhaps most responsible for Obama’s election, and the one probably most qualified to head HHS–Howard Dean.

Next-day update: Dean, who admits that he would have liked to have led HHS, on Sebelius: “I think she will be very good. She is a very nice person and I think she will be fine.”

Uh-oh–if a buddy gave you an endorsement like that about a prospective blind date, you’d run away.

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

Gregg not sold on Commerce; public not stimulated by discussion, anyway

Posted by James McPherson on February 13, 2009

Apparently Senator Judd Gregg finally got around to watching some of Barack Obama’s old speeches on YouTube, and suddenly realized, “Hey, he’s not a Republican–how did he get elected president?” Gregg then promptly withdrew his nomination as Commerce secretary. It’s just as well–apparently Obama hadn’t yet gotten around to reading that Gregg once voted to abolish the very department he would have been leading as the third Republican member of Obama’s cabinet.

Gregg is the second nominee, after Bill Richardson, to accept and then reject the commerce position. Tax problems have derailed nominees for two other positions. Yet while embarrassing–prompting Obama’s unnecessary “I screwed up” statement–the missteps will matter little in the long run. For one thing, people don’t really care about cabinet positions even under the best of conditions.

And these are far from the best of conditions, of course. People care far more about is the economy, and with Congress about to passa stimulus bill today, Obama again proved successful on that front. The success or failure of the stimulus plan will have a far bigger effect on the chances of re-election for the president and his fellow Democrats than does any flap over cabinet nominees.

If you need an illustration of how little they matter, ask the people sitting next to how many of Obama’s picks they can name. I’d be surprised if they get three, even counting Timothy Geithner and Hillary Clinton. And for the record, a dozen cabinet nominees have already been confirmed.

In the meantime, Alexander Zaitchik of Alternet has joined the list of people and publications asking why Howard Dean, the guy perhaps most responsible for Obama reaching the White House, hasn’t been tabbed for a cabinet post. Good question, especially with that Health and Human Services position still open.

Thursday update: While Dean is forced to turn to the Huffington Post to get someone to listen to him about health care, it appears that Obama has decided on Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius for HHS chief. She’s not the best choice but probably not a bad one, assuming she pays her taxes.

Posted in Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Clift note keeping hope alive: Dr. Dean gaining steam for HHS?

Posted by James McPherson on February 7, 2009

Writing for Newsweek, Eleanor Clift notes that the obvious choice to replace Tom Daschle as the nominee to head Health and Human Services is none other than Howard Dean. Clift, perhaps better known as the token liberal of “The McLaughlin Group” on the supposedly liberal PBS network, joins The Nation and a number of bloggers in recommending Dean, as I did back on Jan. 31 and Feb. 3.

Unfortunately Clift also notes, in more detailed terms than I used previously, that the doctor is unlikely to make a White House call:

Dean’s nomination probably won’t happen because he crossed swords with Rahm Emanuel over the allocation of resources during the lead-up to the congressional elections of ’06. Dean was the Democratic Party chairman and focused on implementing his brainchild, a 50-state strategy for a party that had narrowed its electoral base to 16 states. Emanuel was leading the Democratic effort in the House to regain the majority. He wanted money targeted to districts where Democrats had a real chance to win while Dean, despite being the brunt of several shouting matches, stuck to his script of spreading money and staff around even into states Democrats wouldn’t win in the short term.

The fact that Dean’s 50-state strategy proved to be the best one–and, I argue, is one of the reasons Barack Obama later was elected president–probably won’t matter, especially since Dean has a habit of appealing to the common man while insulting the monied interests that run American politics. Still Clift leaves room for hope: “Obama prides himself on how magnanimous he is, so you can’t rule out that he might reward someone who like him was an early and consistent opponent of the Iraq War, who helped lead the party out of the wilderness and who many Democrats think has been badly treated.”

Speaking of ‘hope,’ you may also have noticed that Obama’s nominees aren’t the only ones having legal problems: Shepard Fairey, the artist who produced perhaps the most popular image of the new president, has been arrested as a vandal. He also will have to cough up some dough to the Associated Press for basing his painting–which appeared as a Time magazine cover–on an AP photo. You can see both versions below:

obama-hope

Posted in History, Journalism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Daschle and Killefer tax patience with Obama selection process

Posted by James McPherson on February 3, 2009

Citing the age-old excuse that the fight for his confirmation would be “a distraction,” Tom Daschle has “withdrawn” from consideration as secretary of Health and Human Services. Daschle became the second Barack Obama nominee to jump ship in a matter of hours. The first, chief performance officer nominee Nancy Killefer withdrew earlier today, citing unspecified tax issues and, of course, the potential “distraction” issue.

I’m inclined to agree with my Republican friends who see irony in the fact that so many Dems have so many people providing “personal services” for them, and seem to have more trouble paying their own taxes than raising the taxes of others (Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, you’ll remember, was approved despite his own tax problems). I agree with most progressives that the tax rate should be higher than it is, and that a far lower percentage of it should go to military contracts and no-bid contracts, but Barack, in case you’re looking for help in your administration, I pay my taxes and have never had a nanny, driver or gardener.

Of course a better choice, would be Howard Dean, as I wrote a few days ago.

Same day update #1: I had missed this earlier, but Daschle’s withdrawal probably became inevitable after the New York Times editorialized yesterday that he should do so.

Same day update #2: Obama admits he “screwed up” by selecting Daschle. If he doesn’t choose Dean, in my view he’ll probably be screwing up again.

Posted in Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Why Obama should dump Daschle and draft Dean

Posted by James McPherson on January 31, 2009

Tom Daschle’s tax issues are causing problems with his nomination to be Barack Obama’s health czar and secretary of Health and Human Services. Yet while I am constantly amazed that prominent politicians don’t have enough sense to pay (or hire competent  accountants  to pay) taxes on the kinds of “human services” that most of us can only dream about–drivers, maids, nannies, gardeners–frankly I’m more troubled by Daschle’s connections with the industry he would be seeking to reform.

So far, Daschle has mostly said the right things about the problems with health care (unlike Obama, who lately has gone silent on the issue). But as Kenneth P. Vogel reported yesterday for Politico, Daschle has made almost a quarter of a million dollars in just the past two years by giving speeches. “many of them to outfits that stand to gain or lose millions of dollars from the work he would do once confirmed as secretary of Health and Human Services.”

In addition to the speeches, there’s the whole lobbyist issue that Obama promised he’d avoid, and which he is finding to be virtually unavoidable in the search for qualified people. Daschle went to work for a lobbyist (though he managed to avoid the title himself) after leaving the Senate, and as the Washington Post reported back in November, “He serves on the boards of Prime BioSolutions and the Mayo Clinic, among others, and his law firm lobbies for a number of industry clients, including CVS Caremark, the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, Abbott Laboratories and HealthSouth.” In addition, Daschle’s former beauty queen wife still is a lobbyist–who has worked for clients in the health care industry.

I’ve been a fan of Tom Daschle much of the time, and thought he did a good job of balancing his somewhat progressive leanings with the interests of his conservative state. I also still believe (one of my few departures into conspiracy theories) that the anthrax that was mailed to his office in 2001 came from a source interested in scaring Daschle into supporting the hastily-passed USA-PATRIOT Act.  The Bush administration tried to link the anthrax attacks to al Qaeda for the same reason, and, regardless of the reasons, Daschle unfortunately did support the faulty fear-inspired bill.

I also thought (and believe even more strongly today) that the Republican campaign to replace him with John Thune (a male version of Sarah Palin) in 2004 was politically smart (from a power-seeking position) for the party and its corporate benefactors in the short run, and bad for Congress and the country in the long run–pretty much like a lot of other GOP moves in recent years, particularly any involving Bill Frist, who traveled to South Dakota to campaign against Daschle.

Obama hasn’t made many mistakes since starting his run for the presidency, but Daschle was not the best choice for HHS secretary. The best option, as The Nation suggests in the issue that hit my mailbox yesterday, may have been the forgotten man who may be the one most responsible(yes, even more than Oprah) for Obama’s win–Dr. Howard Dean.

As governor of Vermont, Dean oversaw balanced budgets, income tax cutsand expansion of a universal health care system for children and pregnant women. He also happens to be married to another doctor, Judith Steinberg. Perhaps they even pay all their taxes.

Unfortunately Dean apparently made an enemy of Obama buddy Rahm Emanuel–who ironically is now chief of staff for a president who would not have been elected had Obama followed Emanuel’s favored Clintonesque key-state party-building strategy instead of Dean’s 50-state strategy.

Admittedly Dean may not as easy to like as Obama or Daschle (though he is at least as likable as Emanuel). But this administration isn’t supposed to be about who we’d like to have a beer with. It’s supposed to be about competence. The selection of Daschle somewhat calls that competence into question.

Sunday update: Today Glenn Greenwald offers an even more disturbing picture of Daschle.

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

On-the-mark election predictions, and why Obama won

Posted by James McPherson on November 5, 2008

Back in August, when the national polls had the presidential race as close as it got (Zogby gave John McCain the lead), I predicted that in spite of minor irritations offered by GOP mudslinging and PUMAs (who now are noteworthy only because they’re among the few people in America who have ended up on the wrong side in three consecutive presidential elections), Barack Obama would win by a substantial margin: “by the widest margin seen since at least Bill Clinton’s 379-159 victory over Bob Dole in 1996, and maybe since Ronald Reagan slaughtered Walter ‘I-won-my-home-state-of-Minnesota-and-the District-of Columbia’ Mondale 525-13 in 1984.”

With 26 electoral votes (Indiana and North Carolina) still undecided at this point, Obama now has 349 wrapped up, and as CNN notes, has “redrawn the electoral map.” The redrawing, by the way, is something I suggested would be important in my recent book (in which I also suggested that Obama might do well because of similarities to Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan): “The question also remains whether any Democrat from outside the South can win the White House. If so, the party’s next-best option might seem to be still in the Sunbelt region but farther west. A logical choice might be a governor from a state such as Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, California, or even Colorado.”

New Mexico and Colorado went Democratic in this election (as California long has), but I was somewhat surprised that a candidate from the Midwest–though one that managed to draw a heavy Hispanic vote–was the one who turned those states from red to blue. The Midwestern connection also helped Obama win the traditionally red state of Indiana.

More surprising to me was the popular vote margin, with Obama getting 52 percent of the tally at this point. Electoral votes are what count, of course, but a candidate who gets a majority  of the popular vote (something Bill Clinton didn’t do with either of his victories, nor did George W. Bush in 2000) can argue that he has more of a mandate for change. Combined with a heavily Democratic Congress and a nationwide eagerness for change, Obama might actually be able to accomplish some goals.

Perhaps. But I also recognize that Obama is a pragmatic politician, and that perhaps the Democrats have learned from the Republican excesses of 2000-2006. As a result, my fear is that Obama and Congressional Dems will govern so cautiously for the next two years that they keep a majority in 2010–and so cautiously that, because not enough progress will have been achieved, they lose that majority and perhaps the presidency in 2012.

As for the election, some people blame McCain’s margin of defeat on the failing economy, and there’s some truth to that. But Americans realized they had serious economic problems even before the “collapse” of a few weeks ago, and if the economy hadn’t taken center stage, I’m convinced that the fact that the Iraqis want us out of Iraq would have numbed the Iraq War surge argument that McCain kept trying to push.

Some blame the McCain campaign for being too negative, or not negative enough, but he was in a tough spot. Trailing candidates most need to bring down their opponents through negative ads, and Republicans have used those ads to help depress turnout in the past. But in times of trouble the voters like optimists–like Obama, and like Reagan and Clinton before him.

Some blame Sarah Palin, who was badly misused by her GOP handlers and who proved to be at least as big a hindrance as a help. But the fact is that she gave McCain a serious boost when he needed it most (why I and some others recommended her selection before most people had ever heard of her). She probably kept the race from getting away from McCain earlier than it did.

I suspect that we haven’t heard the last of Palin, though I’m not as optimistic as some about her future chances. For one thing, this election seemed to prove that negative campaigning–one of the major jobs of a vice presidential candidate–by a woman is viewed as less acceptable than the same language coming from a man. It’s an old story for strong women: Men are viewed as forceful, while women who do the same thing are viewed as bitchy. Ironically, a woman might have better luck at the top of the ticket than as the VP nominee.

In fact, however, the biggest reasons for the Obama landslide were the incredible 50-state campaign strategy put together by Obama and the oft-maligned Howard Dean, the campaign’s use of the Internet for organizing events and fundraising, and the fact that real problems–problems created and compounded largely by the Bush administration and its Congressional lackeys–made this a year in which Republicans were almost guaranteed to lose.

McCain might have been the only Republican with a chance to win this year, and conditions would have had to be nearly perfect for him to do so. On the plus side, McCain got his Bob Dole moment in the sun (let’s hope he spares us from commercials for erectile dysfunction and Pepsi). It is sad that McCain sunk so low in his negative campaigning, but he gave a gracious and moving concession speech. The national political scene being what it is, he will find his way back into the good graces of the Senate and the national media (unlike “Joe the Turncoat” Lieberman, perhaps–a two-time loser of an “ally” that I predict no presidential candidate from either party will want in the future).

All in all, thank God it’s over. Now Obama’s real work begins, and Iowa can start gearing up for visits by possible 2012 candidates. With any luck, PUMAs, Obama Girl, and Joe the Plumber will fade away. Regardless, the GOP will be back, even if we (and they) don’t yet know when or in what form.

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

The last word on vice presidential choices–for now

Posted by James McPherson on August 4, 2008

Blogger Bil Browning predicts Barack Obama will name Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh as his running mate on Wednesday, while John McCain’s staffers apparently are saying that McCain will wait to name his own pick until after hearing Obama’s choice (and no doubt until the GOP smear machine gets fired up against whomever the Democratic choice may be).

I don’t think Bayh is a terrible choice, though I’d favor someone else. I also thought Obama should have named his pick a few weeks ago, as I wrote some time back. McCain also seems unlikely to pick the woman I thought would be his best choice, though I did suggest that he should wait to name her until Aug. 24, the day before the Democratic Convention begins. I now think McCain will name his running mate within about a week of whenever Obama makes his choice.

If neither candidate names his choice within the next couple of days, I predict they’ll wait a couple more weeks until the Olympics are over–though I disagree with many pundits and think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to name a running mate during the Olympics. After all, the VP choice isn’t supposed to overshadow the nominee, anyway, though I suspect that will be more of a potential problem for the apparently stuck-in-the-mud McCain campaign than for Obama.

My kind of town, Chicago is–this week, anyway

I’m spending much of this week in Chicago for the annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication–the largest organization to which I belong, and the one with the bulkiest title. After the convention and a bit of vacation, I’ll be back in about a week. In the meantime, especially if you’re new to the site, you might want to check out some of my previous posts. Here in no particular order are a “top 20” of my favorites:

Burn a flag for the Fourth

Begging to differ

The Democrats’ best VP choice–and when Obama should name him

McCain’s best VP choice–and when he should name her

Have you ever heard of the “world’s most famous journalist”?

 PUMAs stalk political relevance–and irony

Ignorance and the electorate

The New Yorker’s Obama cover

“Act now”: a new way for candidates to reach the electorate

WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents

Family values

Speaking for the poor

Rush Limbaugh and Operation Chaos

Curiosity and journalism

Pogo’s enemy, revisited

Democratic self-mutilation

Howard Dean and convention bloggers

Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali, Mos Def, Zalmay Khalilzad & Keith Ellison: Which doesn’t belong?

Utah Phillips and other dead patriots

Why Obama’s success is no surprise, and why McCain may be in trouble

Have a great week!

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Howard Dean and convention bloggers

Posted by James McPherson on May 15, 2008

The Democratic National Committee has announced 55 bloggers who will cover this year’s Democratic Convention, in what DNC chair Howard Dean calls the party’s “commitment to engaging a broad spectrum of audiences … using new technology and other creative means.” The announcement notes that Dean notified the bloggers of their selection via an online video message.

The 55 blogs represent each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia,  Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and “Democrats abroad.” With names ranging from Hummingbirdminds to HorsesAss (with, not surprisingly lots of “blue”), they were chosen from more than 400 applicants. The announcement also notes: “Some of the blogs selected for the State Corps are full-time, professional endeavors while others are the work of individuals, who through their own efforts have become recognized authorities on state and local politics.  Bloggers had to submit daily audience information and provide examples of posts that made their blogs stand out as an effective online organizing tool or agent of change, a demonstration of both the reach and impact blogs have had and will continue to have on the 2008 election.  The program recognizes the growth of more localized blogs and is in line with Governor Dean’s 50-state strategy.”

It remains to be seen what effect, if any, the addition of the bloggers will have on the convention and its coverage, and unless the Obama-Clinton battle unexpectedly continues through the convention, the happenings in Denver will provide little news. But the inclusive move provides a reminder of two things the often-criticized Dean has done to permanently change the face of Democratic and national politics.

The first of those was the 50-state strategy mentioned above. Against the wishes of the Clintons and other party regulars, Dean scrapped the tradional Democratic approach of focusing on supposed key states to try to build up the party in every state. The resulting structure (which as I’ve noted elsewhere mirrored some of the early party-building activities that brought Republicans to power in the 1990s) is a primary reason that Democrats did so well in the 2006 Congressional elections, surprising virtually everyone by winning a majority in both houses.

Dean’s other significant contribution was in showing Barack Obama how to run a successful campaign. Dean had used an unprecedented Internet campaign to gain the support of young voters, labor unions and others for his own presidential bid. Yet because Dean’s campaign dramatically flamed out, and because the 2004 elections ended up being pretty much decided by the same traditional blocks of voters as in previous elections, most 2008 candidates–and most notably Hillary Clinton’s campaign–overlooked or ignored the promise of Dean’s methods. But Obama’s campaign has used and refined those methods to generate mind-boggling amounts of money and to fire up the voters who would turn out for state caucuses. Perhaps the new voters will fade as the election gets closer and the campaign becomes inevitably nastier, and Obama may lose to McCain in the general election. Still, you can bet that the leading candidates from both sides in 2012 will be using Obama’s–and Dean’s–methods.

The Democratic use of the Internet also recalls how conservatives effectively use alternative media, especially direct mail, in building their own coalition. As I point out in my most recent book, “Particularly important from a media standpoint, direct mail gave sponsoring organizations a means to get out their message in an unfiltered, emotional, one-sided way–without drawing the attention of the mainstream media or political opponents.”

I have to admit that I’ve never heard of, let alone read, most of the 55 blogs selected, but will make it a point to sample them all during the next couple of weeks. In case you’d like to do so, the complete list is as follows:

ALASKA – Celtic Diva’s Blue Oasis – http://divasblueoasis.blogspot.com

ALABAMA- Doc’s Political Parlor – http://www.politicalparlor.net

ARKANSAS- Under The Dome.com – http://www.underthedome.com

ARIZONA – Ted Prezelski – Rum, Romanism and Rebellion – http://www.rumromanismrebellion.net

CALIFORNIA – Calitics- http://Calitics.com

COLORADO -SquareState.net – http://squarestate.net

CONNECTICUT -My Left Nutmeg – http://myleftnutmeg.com

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA- DCist.com – http://dcist.com

DELAWARE – TommyWonk – http://tommywonk.blogspot.com/

DEMOCRATS Abroad – Democrats Abroad Argentina – http://www.yanquimike.com.ar

FLORIDA – Florida Progressive Coalition – http://flaprogressives.org

GEORGIA- Tondee’s Tavern – http://www.tondeestavern.com

GUAM – No Rest for the Awake – Minagahet Chamorro – http://minagahet.blogspot.com

HAWAII – iLind.net: Ian Lind Online – http://www.ilind.net

IOWA – The Iowa Independent – http://iowaindependent.com

IDAHO – 43rdStateBlues.com – http://www.43rdstateblues.com

ILLINOIS- Prairie State Blue – http://www.PrairieStateBlue.com

INDIANA- Blue Indiana – http://www.blueindiana.net

KANSAS – EverydayCitizen.com – http://everydaycitizen.com

KENTUCKY – BlueGrassRoots – http://www.bluegrassroots.org

LOUISIANA – Daily Kingfish – http://www.dailykingfish.com

MASSACHUSETTS – Blue Mass. Group – http://www.bluemassgroup.com

MARYLAND – The Center for Emerging Media – http://www.centerforemergingmedia.com

MAINE – Turn Maine Blue – http://www.turnmaineblue.com

MICHIGAN – Blogging For Michigan – http://bloggingformichigan.com

MINNESOTA – Minnesota Monitor – http://minnesotamonitor.com

MISSISSIPPI – The Natchez Blog – http://natchezms.blogspot.com

MISSOURI – Fired Up! LLC – http://www.firedupmissouri.com

MONTANA – Left in the West – http://www.leftinthewest.com

NORTH CAROLINA – BlueNC.com – http://bluenc.com

NORTH DAKOTA – NorthDecoder.com – http://www.northdecoder.com

NEBRASKA – New Nebraska Network – http://www.NewNebraska.net

NEW HAMPSHIRE – Blue Hampshire – http://www.bluehampshire.com

NEW JERSEY – PolitickerNJ.com – http://www.politickernj.com

NEW MEXICO – Democracy for New Mexico – http://www.DemocracyForNewMexico.com

NEVADA – Las Vegas Gleaner – http://www.lasvegasgleaner.com

NEW YORK – Room 8 – http://www.r8ny.com

OHIO – Ohio Daily Blog – http://www.ohiodailyblog.com

OKLAHOMA – DemoOkie – http://www.DemoOkie.com

OREGON – BlueOregon (blog) – http://www.blueoregon.com

PENNSYLVANIA – Keystone Politics – http://www.keystonepolitics.com

PUERTO RICO – Jusiper – http://jusiper.blogspot.com

RHODE ISLAND – Rhode Island’s Future – http://www.rifuture.org

SOUTH CAROLINA – CracktheBell.com – http://www.crackthebell.com

SOUTH DAKOTA – Badlands Blue – http://www.badlandsblue.com

TENNESSEE – KnoxViews/TennViews – http://www.knoxviews.com

TEXAS – Burnt Orange Report – http://www.BurntOrangeReport.com

UTAH – The Utah Amicus – http://utahamicus.com

VIRGINIA – Raising Kaine – http://www.raisingkaine.com

VIRGIN ISLANDS – Democratic Party of the US Virgin Islands – http://groups.yahoo.com/group/democratvi

VERMONT – Green Mountain Daily – http://greenmountaindaily.com

WASHINGTON – HorsesAss.org – http://www.horsesass.org

WISCONSIN – Uppity Wisconsin – http://www.uppitywis.org

WEST VIRGINIA – West Virginia Blue – http://www.wvablue.com

WYOMING – Hummingbirdminds blog – http://hummingbirdminds.blogspot.com

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »