Archive for May 2009
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Fri, 05/29/2009 – 1:45pm
Coverage of the speech from FOX 28, WSJV, Elkhart/South Bend, Indiana.
“George W. Bush” and “Benton Harbor, Michigan” are phrases you would never expect to see in the same sentence. But the media outlets dutifully reported that Bush was in that city, giving a speech — his first major speech on U.S. soil after he left the White House.
Well, Bush likely never visited the city limits of Benton Harbor, not a small significance. The actual speech was out at the local junior college with a mailing address of “Benton Harbor” but nowhere near the actual city. And as you may know, this reporter has a long history with this area, and has written about it several times for BuzzFlash.
If Bush came in from South Bend, Indiana and came up the relatively new US-31 bypass, and if he were paying attention to anything outside his window, he would not have seen any urban blight. And besides giving a speech and being scheduled to take only pre-selected questions, isn’t that what Bush and his team wanted?
Keeping Bush away from blighted areas, especially Benton Harbor, preserves the integrity of the bubble, so that he never can see any clue as to the destruction on his watch.
When Bush gave his first post-presidential speech, he actually traveled in a tunnel from the hotel to the site of the speech as to avoid any sense of protests. And this was in one of the few cities outside of Texas in North America that might have shown him a little bit of love — Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Now news accounts from the event say that Bush took nine questions from the audience, but of course, reporters were not allowed into the event.
One of those nine questions dealt with what he thought about his legacy. And that was likely the toughest of the questions.
You might think that maybe we’re being hasty. Maybe Bush had a tough question to answer, and the MSM was afraid to say what that might be. But here are some notes about the area you might want to consider.
While Michigan has gone blue for the last 20 years in presidential races, Southwestern Michigan — where Benton Harbor is located — is deeply red.
To give you an idea of the fellow speakers that the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan has had in the last few years, here’s a sample list (since 2002): Rudy Giuliani, “Dr.” Laura Schlessinger, Karen Hughes, Bill O’Reilly, Steve Forbes, L. Paul Bremer, George Tenet, Cal Thomas, John Ashcroft, Tom Ridge, Carly Fiorina, John McCain, Bill Frist, Jeb Bush, and Charles Krauthammer. Let’s not forget Bush’s fellow speakers from this past year: Karl Rove, Mike Huckabee, and Condoleezza Rice.
One respondent told WSJM-AM’s Christine Sagar that “I really appreciate the fact that he took real questions from the audience.” (Full disclosure: I worked at WSJM from 1987-1991.)
But that doesn’t take into account that the audience was going to be Bush-friendly to start with, regardless of whether he might take questions. And again, reporters weren’t allowed. To say Bush took “real questions” is more than likely imprecise.
The Bush Bubble tour continues — once again — north of the border. Tonight, Bush will headline along with former President Bill Clinton in Toronto. Unlike the Calgary experience, Toronto will be much less friendly to Bush.
The ticket response for this event isn’t as intense as the promoters would like, so there are still tickets available.
The bubble also works in that the effects of the Bush era don’t penetrate either.
“I made the decision, within the law, to get information so I can say to myself, ‘I’ve done what it takes to do my duty to protect the American people.’ I can tell you that the information we got saved lives,” Bush said in last night’s speech. “I vowed to take whatever steps that were necessary to protect you.”
Whether you think Bush isn’t that bright, he should have been bright enough to know that the Geneva Convention is law, upheld by the Constitution, and that under said convention, torture is illegal, no matter what scrupulous behavior the underlings do. Bush tried to get us to think of him in a Truman-esque light. Yet, Truman’s famous slogan “The Buck Stops Here” is something that Bush still hasn’t understood.
If Bush really thought he was Truman, he would have broken that bubble a long time ago. But the bubble is one of the many reasons why Bush will never come to the level of Truman.
So how does a man living in a bubble see what happened in the last eight years? The answer to the legacy question, one of the “real questions” Bush took last night.
“Well, I hope it is this: The man showed up with a set of principles, and he was unwilling to compromise his soul for the sake of popularity.”
Nothing is going to get through that bubble anytime soon.
Originally published on MediaPutz.com on May 28, 2009
We like to joke about many different things, even if some of those topics are tasteless. We’ll make jokes about death, “yo mama” jokes, and of course, ethnic jokes.
But torture is one of the few topics where joking about it takes on a new low. And if anyone knows low, it’s Sean Hannity.
Hannity had Charles Grodin on his show on April 22. The topic of waterboarding came up and Hannity offered to be waterboarded, and suggested Grodin do so. Grodin said he wouldn’t do the waterboarding but offered Hannity a towel when he was done.
GRODIN: You’re for torture.
HANNITY: I am for enhanced interrogation.
GRODIN: You don’t believe it’s torture. Have you ever been waterboarded?
HANNITY: No, but Ollie North has.
GRODIN: Would you consent to be waterboarded? We can waterboard you?
GRODIN: Are you busy on Sunday?
HANNITY: I’ll do it for charity. I’ll let you do it. I’ll do it for the troops’ families.
The challenge seemed tempting. After all, Hannity said he would agree to be waterboarded. And if Hannity was a man of his word, then conservatives might figure out, finally, that waterboarding is torture. If somehow Hannity could do well under the procedure, then he might be able to prove his argument that it isn’t torture.
Keith Olbermann jumped on the bandwagon, and offered $1,000 a second to a veterans group — $2,000 per second if Hannity would admit that he was wrong. Whatever he might think of Olbermann, Hannity couldn’t pass up a chance to show Olbermann that ultimately, he was right on this issue.
Day by day trickled by, and still no Hannity waterboarding. Was Hannity serious about being waterboarded, or was he joking? Certainly, even Sean Hannity wouldn’t joke about waterboarding.
Oh, who are we kidding. He’s Sean Hannity; he could sink that low to joke about waterboarding. Even as Olbermann would do a running countdown (pun intended) on how many days it had been since Hannity agreed to be waterboarded, Hannity remained mute on the subject.
Finally, Olbermann called off the deal on Friday because conservative talk-show host Erich “Mancow” Muller of WLS Chicago finally had the courage to do what Hannity failed to do: get waterboarded to show that the procedure wasn’t torture.
Under Olbermann’s clock, Mancow earned $6,000 toward a veterans group for lasting 6 seconds. And Mancow admitted he was wrong about torture. The $10,000 number was arrived upon (though Mancow wasn’t part of the original deal), which Olbermann gave in the name of VeteransofValor.org. And Mancow appeared on “Countdown” because Olbermann was writing that check.
As if the humiliation for Hannity couldn’t get worse, Mancow shared with the MSNBC audience part of a phone conversation with Hannity.
“First of all, Sean Hannity called me and said, “It’s still not torture.” I said, “Sean” — he is a friend of mine — “it is torture.”
So Hannity is still talking trash about waterboarding not being torture, after his friend Mancow did it and said it was “absolutely torture,” and after he agreed to be waterboarded, then chickened out.
Given that Mancow, who seems in better shape than Hannity, lasted 6 seconds, Hannity might have felt that he wouldn’t be able to last even that long, and that the video proof would be ever a shame upon his “reputation.”
What Hannity doesn’t get — and likely never will — is that there isn’t shame in not wanting to be waterboarded. Waterboarding is torture, and no one typically likes to be tortured.
But if you feel that way, there are two things you should never do: don’t say waterboarding isn’t torture and don’t jokingly promise that you will be waterboarded when you have no intention of going through it. When you do both of those things, the shame comes down upon you like water in a waterboarding, rushing through your nose and mouth while you lie there helpless, with people screaming at you in a language you likely don’t understand.
For joking about being waterboarded when he’s too chicken to go through with it, and for thinking torture is a joking matter, Sean Hannity wins this week’s Media Putz.
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Tue, 05/26/2009 – 2:22pm
The decision was expected to go the way it did. Legal issues of constitutionality were at stake, whether or not a constitutional revision was at stake, and whether or not marriage was an inalienable right. The human factor was taken out of the equation — the ruling didn’t take into account the extensive rally in San Francisco this morning, gathering to await the decision. The interest in this particular ruling was enough to make it difficult to reach the official Web site that displayed the verdict.
The California Supreme Court in a 6-1 decision upheld Proposition 8 in a much-anticipated decision this morning. The court ruled that the 18,000 gay and lesbian couples who got married before the measure went into effect remain married.
Those who felt that Proposition 8 was the right thing to do will find plenty to celebrate in California today. The ruling said that stripping rights away from citizens could be done by a majority vote at the polls. But this group lost out on its key provision — the sentence that Proposition 8 introduced into the California state constitution — “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
Oh, the sentence is in the state constitution, and the court kept it in there with this decision. But there are 18,000 couples in the state who get to keep that sentence from ever being completely valid.
And what those people may find out is that those same rights can be placed back into law by a simple majority vote at the polls, which would sharply add on to the 18,000 couples left standing.
Equality California is already vowing to restore marriage via the Ballot Box in 2010.
Those who were against Proposition 8 were understandably angry and sad at today’s court ruling. They strongly disagree with the court’s findings that as Justice Ronald M. George, writing for the majority, put it that Proposition 8 did “not entirely repeal or abrogate” same-sex couples’ right to privacy and due process or the “constitutional right of same-sex couples to ‘choose one’s life partner and enter with that person into a committed, officially recognized, and protected family relationship.’
As for whether rights can be voted away, the court felt marriage wasn’t a sufficient enough right.
The court’s only Democratic appointee, Justice Carlos R. Moreno, said in the lone dissent, that “It weakens the status of our state Constitution as a bulwark of fundamental rights for minorities protected from the will of the majority.”
The 6-1 decision could be seen as a defeat for gay marriage. But the legal nuances aren’t even close to how things were 5, 10, 20, or 30 years ago. The snowball is headed down the mountain. Decisions such as this are more like trees that can slow down the momentum, but can’t stop it.
We have seen legislators and courts in a strictly neutral situation decide that equality did mean allowing for gay marriage. California’s setup is a little unusual, yet the voters of that state know full well that if they pass a law nullifying the impact of Proposition 8, the law will be completely upheld by this same Supreme Court. This may not be the progress that some want right this second, but it is progress toward a more equal union.
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Sat, 05/23/2009 – 7:10am
We finally got video proof from a conservative that waterboarding is torture. Erich “Mancow” Muller consented to being waterboarded in what can be described as ideal circumstances. And he lasted 6 seconds.
Now, the right-wing faction will come up with lame excuses as to why this didn’t count. This site talks about how they don’t think waterboarding is torture because torture is subjective.
The other fear is that Mancow will be somehow labeled as “not conservative.” Yes, he’s appeared on the Fox “News” Channel. But if you don’t know that much about him, anyone can paint him as being whatever they want.
But in Chicago, we know better. Because Mancow has been spewing his conservative rhetoric in Chicago for years before he ever appeared on FNC.
Sometime in the mid 1990s, shortly after I had moved back to Chicago, a friend recommended that I try listening to Mancow’s morning show on heavy rock station WWBZ-FM “The Blaze.” I had not heard good things about his show, but my friend convinced me to try the program out.
I listened to about 15-20 minutes. It wasn’t entertaining, but the last straw was when he compared to Bill Clinton to Adolf Hitler, and he wasn’t joking. I didn’t get the feeling that this was an isolated incident.
Mancow has claimed in the past to be a libertarian, but his schtick has always come across more like false populism. After all, if he was labeled as conservative, his alternative music fans (later when he moved to alternative WKQX-FM) might not embrace him that well.
But shortly before he lost that morning show gig, he branched out to the Fox News Channel, then went on to syndicated radio, and the 2-hour show he does on conservative talk radio station WLS in Chicago. (Full disclosure, I worked briefly part-time at WLS radio 16 years ago under previous management.)
There are many more examples of his “open mouth, insert foot” conservative moments, too many to be listed here, though the Howard Dean tirade and the local interview with the FOX-owned station in Chicago are particularly horrible. To quote from Wikipedia:
Howard Dean tirade
On December 6, 2005, Muller drew controversy when he vilified Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean on Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends, referring to Dean as “vile,” “bloodthirsty” and “evil.” Muller also commented on Dean’s negative opinions on the War in Iraq, calling Dean a traitor that, “ought to be kicked out of America,” and, “tried for treason.”
local interview with the FOX-owned station in Chicago
On Monday June 2, 2008, Mancow made a special appearance on an early morning news program of WFLD the Chicago affiliate of FOX. Mancow was asked to give his opinions on the Democratic Primary, in particular on then-presidential candidate Barack Obama. Mancow claimed that Obama is a closet Muslim and Hillary Clinton had secret information about a video tape showing Michelle Obama in a racist tirade. Mancow insisted this was why Hillary Clinton was remaining in the race, as the alleged video tape would presumably harm Barack Obama’s candidacy. Mancow went on to claim that he was going to meet the Pope, in November 2008, and that he was going to visit to Israel as an official guest of the Israeli government. According to him, his meeting with the Pope was arranged by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin (Cardinal Bernardin died in 1996). After this, the news anchors tried to end the interview.
And Mancow fully admits that he was biased going into the procedure. “I wanted to prove it wasn’t torture,” Mancow said in his explanation on Friday. “They cut off our heads, we put water on their face.”
In a room where there was people he knew, and a comforting voice in his native language set him up, conservative tough guy Mancow Muller lasted 6 whole seconds.
What was the verdict? “It was instantaneous… and I don’t want to say this: absolutely torture.”
This doesn’t mean the right-wing pro-torture element won’t try to discredit Mancow’s efforts. But given Mancow’s conservative track record, this will be a Herculean task, even for them.
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Fri, 05/22/2009 – 2:24pm
Michael Pollan at the book signing Monday night in Chicago. Picture from me.
For those in the colder regions of the world who struggle to eat local because, well, it’s been cold out there, this is your season to rejoice. After all, if you can’t enjoy the literal fruits of the harvest now, this just won’t work out for you.
If you haven’t been paying attention, eating local is one of the newest food trends, reducing your carbon footprint. It’s about finding a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) arrangement to get locally grown fruits and vegetables or hitting the farmers market so often they start to know you by name.
You could do worse than follow Michael Pollan’s advice to “avoid any foods that you’ve seen advertised.” Pollan was in Chicago earlier this week on a book signing tour for “In Defense of Food,” his follow-up to the highly acclaimed “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”
Pollan spoke out about the need to re-regionalize food, to have fresher, less processed food that is also more climate friendly.
“You can’t make money with simple foods,” Pollan said. Marketers aren’t giving up so fast, being on the offensive so quickly you might not remember they were on the defensive.
After Pollan had suggested to not buy food with more than 5 ingredients, you started to see products limiting themselves to 5 ingredients. Pollan cited Haagen-Dazs’ five as an example of how marketers try to squeeze in to new expectations, even though it’s not a health food since it’s still ice cream.
Eating better in the summertime is easier no matter where you live, but there is burgeoning hope for the colder climates to have more options come wintertime. Pollan said there is progress in growing food in unheated greenhouses, citing one in Milwaukee, WI that uses hot compost and another in Maine where plastic is used to protect the crops.
He also suggests canning and freezing to supplement foods in places where winter makes an impact. But greenhouses will only go so far. “We feel entitled to have foods year-round,” said Pollan. “Certain foods should be seasonal.”
Pollan did observe that meat is the exception, given that the cost and carbon footprint savings just aren’t there, noting that grass-fed beef could be gathered from different parts of the country, depending on where grass is best for that time of year.
What government can do
Government plays a role in the quality of our food supply. We subsidize corn to the max while keeping sugar prices artificially high. Moderator Bill Kurtis, owner of a grass-fed beef company in his native Kansas, pointed out that the system is set up against the small farmer, and how while corn farmers get lots of subsidies, grass farmers don’t get subsidies.
Pollan did praise President Obama as a great dot-connector, noting that reforming food can help both the health care crisis and the climate crisis. Pollan noted that of the $2 trillion spent on health care, $1.5 trillion of that is spent on chronic diseases.
Another place where the Obama influence might be felt is the upcoming 2010 nutrition guidelines issued by the government. The 5-year checkup is required, and 2010 is the next time, the first under the Obama Administration.
Nutrient adequacy was a key issue in the last update in 2005, how we are moving from a nutrient-based science to a food-based recommendation, according to Dr. Eric J. Hentges, former executive director of the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion for developing the launch of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines. Instead of focusing on calcium or Vitamin D, recommendations will gear more toward specific foods.
Pollan pointed out how the food industry loves talks in terms of Vitamin D and calcium, so the processed food can be re-engineered. So a shift toward foods instead of nutrients will do wonders to promote eating whole foods instead of processed, fortified foods.
Dr. Hentges noted that there would likely be a study on the independent metabolic activity of sugars, comparing glucose, fructose, sucrose, and the infamous high-fructose corn syrup.
Pollan said to avoid products that contain high-fructose corn syrup because it’s a sign in processed foods that there’s sweetness than otherwise might not be there, bread for example.
When asked whether politics or the importance of science placed by an administration had influenced the standards of science, Dr. Hentges said they never felt shorted, but pointed out that the results “should be what the science says.” The process “will be open and transparent.”
Ultimately it’s up to us
While the governmental attitude toward food has turned significantly under President Obama (see Obama, Michelle re: organic garden on the White House grounds), we do control our destiny to eat in a way that takes the world and our own health into account.
Kurtis suggested consumers should vote with your pocketbook. Pollan said vote with your fork. Waiting for government to turn around huge issues concerning our food supply will be a long time in coming, especially with the latest e-coli problem. We do need to push the government, but ultimately, we need to push ourselves.
Originally published on MediaPutz.com on May 21, 2009
The Huffington Post
The Huffington Post has produced some fine progressive content, some of it being purely original, presented in an effort to inform and entertain. Which is all the more reason why we wonder why it needs to slither in depths well beneath its otherwise decent standards into the depths of sticky, gooey tarpits.
Three words: fake celebrity boobs.
Three more words: What The F—!
When you read a story on The Huffington Post, you get a running list of the top read stories on the site — “Popular Stories on HuffPost.” So you can’t get the legitimate information you want without being tempted by this week’s top story “Guess The Celebrity Breast Implants (PHOTOS).”
The “challenge” is simple: see a cropped picture, sans face, of fake breasts, complete with cleavage, and guess to which celebrity the fake breasts belong.
The “inspiration” for the story stems from the breast implants from the current reigning Miss California, Carrie Prejean. But instead of having a discussion about whether breast implants are truly necessary, and why the pageant felt it necessary to buy them for a contestant, we are “treated” to gratuitous photos.
And the photos, other than Prejean (and that’s a stretch even for her situation), have no news value at all.
In the segment, the celebrities are identified with little more than their name. But occasionally, there is a brief explanation. For one of the pseudo-celebrities, “America’s Next Top Model” winner Adrianne Curry, best known for being married to the guy who played Peter Brady on TV two generations ago, says she got implants to correct unevenness.
Now, if there was an informative statement that pointed out that most breasts naturally aren’t exactly identical in size, then we would have learned something. But we couldn’t even get that much from the exhibit.
The only possible good from this story is by showing how horrible they look, they might inspire young women to have second thoughts about having plastic surgery. But that isn’t even a direct message from the photo essay, and it’s not worth the journalistic price paid by running this piece.
And if you weren’t sufficiently thrown off by that story, there is the natural follow-up, currently the #2 popular story on HuffPost: BETTER WETTER? Who’s Hotter When Soaking Wet? (PHOTOS, POLL).
The Internet provides a challenge to draw in eyeballs to a site. Serious news outlets might joke that their numbers would go up if only they could run porn, side-by-side. But it’s not a serious suggestion.
And the news industry certainly accepts the prospect of cheap images as long as there is a news angle. The Associated Press is one of many media outlets that has written or broadcast a story about how women are turning to being strippers in tough economic times. Of course, we need to see video footage inside a strip joint to amplify the story, but again, it has a “news angle” so it’s “okay.”
Even in that case, there never was a follow-up. For example, why women might be suffering worse in these economic times, or if men are suffering worse because they don’t have these “opportunities,” such as they are. But that would be more news than cheap attention.
But newsgathering organizations have to rely on credibility and legitimacy. Articles on fake celebrity boobs with no news value destroy both. As of this writing, this photo essay has received 1,158,595 views — a lot of hits — but at what price?
The Huffington Post has been portrayed as a progressive news Web site run by a woman, yet the site is filled with celebrity misogynist content, none more egregious than the fake celebrity breasts photo essay.
For resorting to cheap, tasteless, non-news value, sexually titillating exploits to get eyeballs to a legitimate news site, we hand out the Media Putz to The Huffington Post, an outlet that should know be a model of progressiveness, not slithering in the gutter of a teasing tabloid.
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Tue, 05/19/2009 – 10:16am
For progressives, the Jed Bartlet perspective of verses from Leviticus and Exodus is more of what we need to see.
It speaks to the true part of humanity that misinterpretation of words is so easy to do in an innocent fashion. But when words are deliberately misinterpreted, we don’t have nearly as much patience.
Donald Rumsfeld’s cover sheets for George W. Bush, quoting Biblical verses out of context, should be the last straw for those on the right who see that the precious words of the Bible — those that they consider to be written by God — can be misinterpreted by humans for less-than-ideal circumstances. But when words are misinterpreted in our favor, we are often blind to those actions.
When those on the right claim that the Bible is literally the word of God, what they never understand is that a literal interpretation can be a misinterpretation.
As Keith Olbermann noted last night on “Countdown,” “The Bible might be the most quoted, least clearly understood book of this time.”
Whatever you might think of the source of the words in the Bible or the Koran or any other religious book, they are still subject to human interpretation and misinterpretation. But hopefully, when they are used to justify an unjustifiable war, we can all agree that this is the wrong way to go.
Of course, this wouldn’t have been true hundreds of years ago — when humanity fought wars in the name of religion. Then again, Catholics fought Protestants in the 20th century. But for those who have learned that fighting in the name of religion is futile, watching Bush and his rhetoric was unsettling. To find out that Bush was further manipulated in that rhetoric is unconscionable.
But it does speak to the dangers of literal interpretation, Biblical or otherwise. Words have context, whether we quote Lincoln, FDR, or letters to Timothy.
And the more broad perspective we entertain to past words, the more likely we are not to twist them to fit some offboard purpose.
Sometimes, it’s not just words that should influence us. As Olbermann’s guest last night, Interfaith Alliance President and Baptist minister C. Welton Gaddy, put it so well, “If you want to be religious, you go not just to quoting Scripture, you act like the Scripture tells you to act.” In Iraq, we did not do that.
If we had known that Bush might be influenced by Biblical verses in such a blasphemous fashion, we could have sent President Bartlet or someone equivalent to try and set him straight. But progressives need to assume that those who appear to live by literal interpretation can eagerly manipulate words to do things they otherwise wouldn’t seem capable of doing.
We may still have not learned the lessons of having wars over religion, but we sure can work to make sure religious words aren’t misinterpreted to be part of the battle cry.
Video link to Rachel Maddow’s interview with Robert Draper of GQ, who put together this amazing story.