Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bitter, Nasty & Vindictive: That’s our JOHN MCCAIN

Before you get too far into this, let me just warn you: The theme today is “Bah Humbug,” and playing the part of Scrooge is John McCain. And as much as I’d love to be able to say that he’s just old and crotchety and lovable, the best I can offer is old and crotchety. I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to think it is time for McCain to hang it up. Way back in 1986 the U.S. eliminated a mandatory retirement age, so as I see it, John McCain could keep playing Senator for another 20 years, depending on longevity. After all, he is 77. I do not think that should be allowed to happen.

Last Saturday, the most significant piece of civil rights legislation in decades was passed by the U.S. Senate. All of the years of gay people honorably serving their country, but dishonorably being forced to hide who they were came to an end. By the day before Christmas Eve, President Obama had signed it into law. The bigotry that clearly defined the U.S. military was voted down, not just by the Democratic majority, but by several Republicans, as well. Before the vote, here is what McCain had to say about the “danger” of allowing gay Americans to serve openly in the U.S. military:

Without trying to play dime-store psychologist, it is not difficult to see the anger that boils just below the McCain surface. Maybe the anger has justifiable roots. After all, this is a guy who is well known for having spent five years in a Vietnamese prison camp. Much of that time he was in solitary confinement. It is widely reported that he was routinely beaten while held prisoner, causing permanent disabilities. He cannot, for example, raise his arms above his head. In his later life he has battled repeated bouts with skin cancer. Just this is enough to cause a guy to feel lifelong anger.

But then there is his political career. Although he has served in elective office for decades now, he ran twice for President of the U.S. and never quite made the cut. First, he was defeated by George W. Bush in 2000. Then he was defeated by Barack Obama in 2008. His campaign speeches were described by supporters as “fiery,” and his self-labeled persona was “maverick.” If you take the time to look back at his rhetoric and his demeanor, it is better described simply as angry.

Maybe it is just that anger that has driven McCain to make some very extreme moves, and to make some rather ill-advised statements. When the Senate was about to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, McCain called it a “very sad day.” He mentioned that the American people did not support this move, even though the last poll that was done before the Senate vote, by the Washington Post and ABC revealed that 77% of Americans favored the repeal. So, for whom was that a sad day? There was an obvious disconnect between McCain’s manipulative rhetoric about marines with no limbs in veterans hospitals, and the will of the American public.

It is not the first time that McCain has demonstrated how out of touch he is with contemporary American thought. It is also not the first time he has reversed himself on major issues. In 2006, in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, McCain said, “…I‘ve had these debates and discussions, but the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, Senator, we ought to change the policy, then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to.” In early 2010, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen both publicly supported the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. McCain’s reaction was to publicly denounce both of the senior officials for supporting the repeal.

McCain appears to support that which is most convenient for him in the moment. For example, I am not the first one to bring up his hypocrisy as it relates to military rules. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (Article 125) makes it clear that sodomy is cause for dismissal from the U.S. Military. Since it widely assumed that sodomy is part of homosexuality, the UCMJ essentially outlaws homosexuality. But article 134 outlaws adultery, specifically sexual intercourse with someone who is married. When McCain returned from Vietnam, his then wife had been in an accident and was partly disabled. Shortly thereafter he took up with his current wife, while he was still married. Would McCain support a military that discharged him for violation of the UCMJ 134? If not, how does he justify the discharge of others who violated article 125?

I could cite many other examples of McCain’s reversal on key issues, and examples of McCain’s selective use of military and U.S. policy, when it suits him (e.g. in 2003 and again in 2006 McCain publicly supported pathways to U.S. citizenship for U.S. immigrants, but last week he voted against the Dream Act, which would enable young people already in the country to stay and ultimately achieve citizenship). Instead, let me just say this: There is a difference between being politically conservative and being out of touch with contemporary societal mores. McCain’s view of gays in the military is an outdated display of ignorance. His ill-concealed anger only serves to show that his emotions are dictating his political moves. Is 77 to old to serve in the U.S. Senate? I think not. However, a Senator of any age who fails to keep up with the morals and cultural progress of his constituency is not fit for the office he holds.

My observation is that the American people ultimately see their elected officials for what they are, and McCain, having repeatedly compromised his credibility is now the emperor with no clothes. It is not John McCain’s age that will do him in. Rather, it is his rigid inability to recognize the true will of his own constituency. John McCain was clearly positioned to be a senior statesman in the highest levels of the most powerful government in the free world. Instead, he has morphed into an angry old man, embittered by a series of bad breaks in his life. It is that persona that will sully his legacy and ultimately result in his own obscurity.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Back in 2008, the United States Air Force quietly instituted a new rule banning troops from visiting any web site with the word “blog” in its URL. So, for example, if you enlisted in the Air Force, you would no longer be allowed to bring up on your computer. This was not highly publicized, but it was enforced. The Air Force published this statement at the time: "The idea isn’t to keep airmen in the dark — they can still access news sources that are primary, official-use sources. Basically … if it’s a place like The New York Times, an established, reputable media outlet, then it’s fairly cut and dry that that’s a good source, an authorized source.”

That changed this week when the Air Force revealed it has blocked 25 news and information sites from its troops. The purpose, it explains, is to make sure that troops do not have access to classified documents leaked by WikiLeaks. One of the sites blocked by the Air Force is none other than The New York Times. Somehow, between 2008 and yesterday, the New York Times is no longer deemed “an established, reputable media outlet.” So far, the Army and Navy have not followed suit. Foreseeing a possible PR fallout, the Department of Defense (DOD) was quick to issue a statement that makes it clear this was not ordered from the DOD. Access to the 25 sites is denied on all official Air Force computers, which means troops can still access anything they want to see on their home computers, but they are reportedly being discouraged from doing so.

So, what’s going on here? One could conjure thoughts of censorship, right? Right. The Air Force has made a largely symbolic move which only furthers its image as an operation that seeks to control the flow of information to American citizens. Those citizens happen to be the very ones who voluntarily signed up to serve their country – a country that thrives on its First Amendment rights. Where’s the logic? I agree with CNN’s legal analyst, Jeffrey Tubin, who responded to the news this way: "This seems like a rather pointless protest. Our enemies can see the documents, but not those whom we trust to defend our country."

The predictable outcome here is a wave of resentment among enlisted personnel, and under-informed masses of troops. The last thing we need is to have our own U.S. military not be allowed to access news and information about the very country they defend. As of today, the Air Force has not even released a full list of the 25 sites it has blocked. We do know that the New York Times is the only U.S. newspaper on the list. Will some activist enlistees go to court based on a denial of the First Amendment rights? Will the complex Freedom of Information Act be cited in protest to the ban? Too soon to tell, but I trust there are bright, thoughtful people in the enlisted ranks who will not take this lightly.

Meanwhile, in a related story, one of the incoming Congressional Tea Party-elects. Allen West (R-FL) is calling for American news companies to be censored for running stories based on the recent WikiLeaks cable dump. He refers to the publishing of information about the whole WikiLeaks debacle as “aiding and abetting of a serious crime.” Listen to what West had to say:

Let’s review: Here is the key part of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution that West seems unfamiliar with: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” I rest my case. Note to Mr. West: In the unlikely event that news organizations were to be censored, have you given thought to who would decide what can and cannot be reported, and who would set these standards? I think not. And even if you could somehow circumvent the First Amendment, who are you to decide what information is inappropriate for me?

In defending the Times’ decision to run the WikiLeaks information, Public Editor Arthur Brisbane wrote this on December 5:
“What if The New York Times in 1964 had possessed a document showing that L.B.J.’s intent to strike against North Vietnam after the Gulf of Tonkin incident was based on false information? Should it have published the material?
What if The Times had possessed documentary evidence showing that the Bush administration’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were unfounded? Should it have published the material?”
When government officials or military organizations start making noises about limiting the free flow of information, everybody loses. They lose respect and credibility because they are then perceived as practicing censorship. Citizens lose their most vital links to information that directly affects their lives. The U.S. loses the respect of other world powers because suddenly everything our country was built on is being compromised.

Brisbane summed it up best: “The Times, like other serious news organizations in democracies, exists to ferret out and publish information — most especially information that government, business and other power centers prefer to conceal. Arming readers with knowledge is what it’s about, and journalists are motivated to pursue that end.”

Friday, December 10, 2010


Love her or hate her, Sarah Palin is a larger than life character that emerged seemingly from nowhere to become a national force of nature. I am fascinated by her rapid and turbo-charged ascent, so I paid special attention to her movements in 2010. Here’s what I saw:

JANUARY: FOX proudly announces Palin has signed a multi-year contract “to offer her political commentary and analysis across all Fox News platforms, including Fox Business Channel, and Fox News Radio.” Soon after, Fox announced Palin would host a special called “Real American Stories,” which finally aired in April to dismal reviews and ratings. Prior to airing, Fox announced LL Cool J and Toby Keith would be Palin’s interview subjects. Both went public to say it was totally untrue and they had no plans to be on the show. It was an effort for Palin to gain street cred (LL) and a middle-American following (Keith) that went awry. We haven’t heard of any further Palin specials on Fox.

FEBRUARY: The term “Hillbilly Palm Pilot” enters the American lexicon after Palin uses the palm of her hand as a sort of “hand-o-prompter.” In images from a speech she delivered to an early Tea Party Convention, her crib notes are clearly visible on the palm of her left hand. This was also the month Palin defended Rush Limbaugh’s use of the word “retard.”

MARCH: Palin, an aggressive campaigner against Obama’s healthcare plan, reveals that when she was a child her family used to go to Canada to take advantage of their universal healthcare plan. "Believe it or not -- this was in the '60s,” she said. “We used to hustle on over the border for healthcare that we would receive in Whitehorse. I remember my brother, he burned his ankle in some little kid accident thing, and my parents had to put him on a train and rush him over to Whitehorse and I think, isn't that kind of ironic now. Zooming over the border, getting healthcare from Canada?" In reporting the story on March 9, the L.A. Times put it this way: “Sarah Palin could see Canada's healthcare from her window.”

APRIL: After Evangelical minister Franklin Graham says the God of Islam is not the same as his God, and that the Islam is “a very evil and wicked religion,” the Pentagon disinvites him from their National Day of Prayer event. Palin defends Graham: "Are we really so hyper-politically correct that we can't abide a Christian minister who expresses his views on matters of faith?” she asks. “What a shame.”

MAY: After Arizona enacted legislation that would authorize/encourage law enforcement officers to use racial and ethnic profiling, Palin travelled to the state to stand in solidarity with its governor. At the rally, Palin claimed that Arizona’s new law simply “mirrored federal law.” And then she added, “We’re all Arizonans now.”

: Palin, who had amassed a couple dozen ethics complaints while Governor of Alaska, got into a little legal scuffle in June. Seems her legal defense fund collected some of its money while she was still Governor, which is not kosher. A judge ruled that she had to give $386,856 back to donors. No worries though. By this time, Palin had made millions from her best selling books.

JULY: Palin invents the word “refudiate,” but…you knew that already. Did you know that same month she praised Ronald Regan for attending Eureka College in California? But, see…Reagan went to Eureka College in Illinois. Oh, and lest we forget July was the one year anniversary of Palin’s resignation as Governor of Alaska, in the middle of her term, without much explanation.

AUGUST: Back in February, Palin got mad when Rahm Emanuel used the word “retard.” She said how appalled we would all be if someone in his position used the word “nigger.” But when radio talk show host Laura Schlesinger said “nigger, nigger, nigger” on her radio show, Palin expressed her outrage at Schlesinger being “forced off the radio” for using the word. Her message to Dr. Laura: “Don’t retreat – reload!”

SEPTEMBER: The audience at ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars” booed when Palin was introduced. She was there to see her daughter – “Bristol the Pistol” -- dance. That same month Palin teamed with Glenn Beck to hold a commemorative event for 9/11 in Anchorage, Alaska. Why Anchorage? Nobody knows. But the real news is that tickets for the solemn occasion ran from $65 to $115, depending on whether you wanted to sit in a “dry” section or a “wet” section where alcohol will be served. Seriously.

: By Fall, Palin was busy endorsing candidates, right and left…er, uh..well…right. Our favorite? Sharon Angle in NV. You remember Sharon don’t you? She’s the one who told a group of Hispanic school kids they looked Asian. She’s the one who said a girl who is raped by her father and gets pregnant needs to “make lemonade out of lemons.” Sarah somehow saw real potential there.

NOVEMBER: Former First Lady Barbara Bush revealed she thinks Sarah is pretty, but she hopes she stays in Alaska. Sarah’s new TV show debuted… “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.” Big ratings the first week would plunge deep in the following weeks. When Sarah shoots a moose, all hell breaks loose among animal rights activists. But the best is yet to come: Sarah invites Kate Gosselin and her eight kids to go camping with the Palins. Oy.

DECEMBER: Donald Trump is so freaked out about Palin he starts making noises about running for President in 2012. Rumors swirl that Todd Palin, an unemployed guy with time on his hands, may be on “Dancing With The Stars.” Comedienne Margaret Cho claims Sarah forced Bristol to do “Dancing With The Stars.” Palin claims WikiLeaks supporters hacked her computer. LA Governor Bobby Jindal claims Palin is “absolutely electable” in 2012. Sarah announces a “humanitarian” trip to Haiti with…wait for it…Franklin Graham.

That’s an awful lot of drama, if not a lot of substance, to pack in to one calendar year. Gosh, what will the new year bring? More dancing? More shooting? More support of the use of the word “nigger?” More bonding with BFF Kate Gosselin? More trips to the doc in Canada? I, for one, am on the edge of my seat.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


You have heard of the DREAM ACT, and you know it has to do with illegal “aliens.” But a quick, highly NON-scientific poll of my co-workers and friends tells me that the average American is not paying much attention to this highly controversial piece of legislation. The House of Representatives approved it and the Senate is iffy about it at best. So far, the Senate has only delayed its discussion of it until next week sometime.

In brief, here is what the DREAM ACT is about: DREAM stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors. Essentially, if you are a kid who is not in the U.S. legally, you may be able to gain permanent residency if you have been here for five years before the ACT is passed, and if you serve two years in the military and go to college at a four-year institution for at least two years. All of that nets you a six year pass to stay in the U.S. Within those six years you must either earn a bachelor’s degree or receive an honorable discharge from the U.S. military. If you do not meet the requirements, the U.S. government has the option to return you to the immigration status you had before the ACT was passed.

Critics come from all directions. First, they say, if someone is here illegally, why did they not go through the necessary process to become a U.S. citizen, if they planned all along to stay? Further, some critics argue that forcing people from other countries into the U.S. military makes no sense because once they get there many
of them will not feel a strong commitment to protecting the U.S. When a version of this bill was first introduced nine years ago, our all-volunteer army was in big trouble finding enough people to serve. That is not exactly true right now, so critics see no justification. Others point to a stipulation in the bill that requires you to be “of good moral character.” According to whom, they ask? What if my interpretation of “good moral character” is more or less stringent than yours? Somebody needs to define this, they argue.

Well, the truth is it is defined by our immigration laws, but the definition only refers to what the immigrant cannot do or be. For example, they cannot be involved in prostitution, money laundering, illicit traffic of controlled substances or passport fraud. The list is very long. No felonies, no gambling, no tax evasion or alien smuggling and definitely no child pornography or polygamy, and that’s just for starters. By my count, there are three dozen such stipulations. I’m left to wonder how many born-in-the-USA 18-year-olds could measure up to all of the requirements. After all, one thing that can keep you out is “being a habitual drunkard.” How do you define “drunkard,” and would our college campuses be pretty empty if that were a requirement for 18-year-old Americans? Just asking.
Listen to the two sides make their case:

At the risk of sounding like Pollyanna, I would point out that in the early 1900s when the great immigration movement was happening and thousands were coming through Ellis Island,(below, right) our country saw this as an issue of humanity, rather than one of politics. Immigrants largely left their countries to escape persecution, racial prejudice and religious intolerance, among other issues. The U.S., which was founded and nurtured by immigrants, welcomed them. We were a destination and a source of hope. The best of multiple cultures contributed to the culture that we are today.

Evidently a century can rewire our civic brains. Today a great number of Americans are afraid of illegal immigrants. Political ads from the recent election showed thugs breaking through fences in the dark of night, suggesting that this is the true profile of every person who comes into the U.S. Critics ask – and rightfully so – why shouldn’t we enforce immigration laws as they stand right now? Agreed, but if an 18-year-old kid grew up here with his parents who came in illegally, and is therefore classified as an illegal alien, whose fault is that?
Not his or hers. It is the fault of the parents and a government who was lax on enforcing existing laws. What the DREAM ACT says, in essence, is that we get that. It says that we know you did not create this situation, and we’re giving you an opportunity to stay here lawfully, but you have to meet some tough criteria. In other words, you can have your freedom, but you must earn it. That sounds pretty American to me.

I suggest we need to get over this extreme paranoia about human beings who were not born within our borders. Being born in Tijuana or Toronto or Brasil or Guatamala does not mean one is a degenerate person. Being in the country illegally at age 18 does not mean one is here simply to take advantage of government assistance, welfare or free health care. We were a reasonable nation with strong values about the sanctity of human welfare. We were highly respected as such. We are not terribly respected globally at this moment. Denying people from other nations a chance to live freely and productively and explore their own potential will do nothing to enhance our worldwide reputation.

In my book, humanity trumps politics, but it is politicians who will make this decision for all of us. So, I suggest you speak up and let your voice be heard. It’s up to the Senate now, and you need to call your senators and stand up for humanity. Not sure how to reach him or her? Click here and then click on “State” to find full contact information for your senator(s). Do it now and you could contribute to enhancing or even saving countless lives.

Friday, December 3, 2010


I am continually telling journalism students that we are still in the “pioneer days” of online communication. Most of us first got online in the mid to late 1990s, when the Internet seemed very 'space agee' to us. Today, although the Internet is a significant player in all of our lives, we are nonetheless still establishing its societal standards of use. That brings me to one Julius Genachowski, the current chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Genachowski evidently does not approve of how you and I are handling the Internet. Instead, he wants the FCC to regulate Internet broadband providers, much like it exerts control over network television and telephone companies. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like it.

Genachowski, (below, right) to his credit, wants to keep Internet providers from banning legal content. Some providers feel they can decide what is okay or not okay for us to view online. So, that part of what the chairman proposes seems to ensure our continued freedom of information. But there’s more: Genachowski on Wednesday proposed that service providers should charge customers who use the Internet more heavily than others, more for the service. He’s not real clear on why he wants to do this, but in fairness, new online movie services like Netflix are reportedly clogging up the Internet. Movies take a lot of bandwidth. In his current proposal, Genachowski calls these enterprises “problematic services,” and in his perfect world apparently providers would be able to limit how much a user can use certain services. It makes me wonder what ever happened to the free enterprise system. Do we really need the FCC to tell us how often we can use the Internet and for what? I don’t think so.

I think if there is one part our culture the government should keep its regulatory paws off of it is communication. That is why I also have some concerns about something that FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps (below, left) said this week in an interview with the BBC. He said, “It’s a pretty serious situation that we’re in. I think American media has a bad case of substance abuse right now. We are not producing the body of news and information that democracy needs to conduct its civic dialogue, we’re not producing as much news as we did five years, 10 years, 15 years ago and we have to reverse that trend or I think we are going to be pretty close to denying our citizens the essential news and information that they need to have in order to make intelligent decisions about the future direction of their country.”

Really, Mr. Copps? That’s odd, because I am a news junkie, and I can tell you unequivocally that the American dialogue right now is more vigorous than it has ever been, simply because the average citizen has a voice in it. When all we had were Walter Cronkite, Huntley & Brinkley and John Chancellor, the news simply came “at” us. Now we are actually part of the process, and it feels good. Also, now we have countless outlets for information, which allows us access to multiple perspectives. Then it is up to each individual to assimilate this wealth of information. What we now have, Mr. Copps, is a mix of ideas, rather than three news directors telling us what they believe we need to know. Sounds better to me. How about you?

If I have any concern, it is simply this: A government agency that limits, controls or regulates the flow of information is not my choice as a citizen. I want the choice of news sources. I want the free flow of information. I am smart enough to determine which information is not credible. And if I have doubts about credibility, I will find more sources until I figure it out. It’s not rocket science. It’s surfing. The problem is simply that Genachowski, although academically impressive (undergrad in history and J.D. from Harvard Law) seems to be trying to impose his opinion about online information on the rest of us. I believe your opinion and my opinion are of equal importance to his. What he is promoting is commonly known as “net neutrality.” But his version of it is a clear attempt to create an online hierarchy. One might say it’s dangerous.

As for Copps? Well, Copps (who was acting FCC chairman before Genachowski) is on record throughout the last decade in opposing deregulation of media organizations. His position has been that everything possible needs to be done to prevent communications monopolies, such as one company owning multiple news and broadcast entities in the same city. I agree with him on that. But with his background in history and academics, he is not in a position to decide what is news and what is not news. He is certainly not the arbiter of information for the American citizenry, and by making statements like the one he made to the BBC, he demonstrates his lack of understanding of the proliferation of news and information available online and via other media. He showed his cards in that regard when he said out loud that we are not producing as much news as we did 15 years ago.

I would also point out to both gentlemen that there is no turning back. The proliferation of news, information and entertainment, and the inevitable blurring of lines among all three is simply what is. No amount of regulation or enforcement is going to alter that. It would be better, I believe, to allow the free market system to determine how this all plays out, and to trust in the collective wisdom of the citizenry to determine what works and what doesn’t. Two FCC officials do not a citizenry make.