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Category: Media and Journalism

Time to Bury It: Journalism, RIP

Time to Bury It: Journalism, RIP

Just when you thought the state of journalism in this country couldn’t sink any lower, along comes a week like this past one. I’ve been trying not to say this, trying hard for a very long time, but I think it’s become inescapable. It’s time, I’m afraid, to declare journalism dead, and to give it a burial, decent or not.

This is coming from a recovering journalist. I was a practicing journalist for many years, got a hard-earned masters degree in the field, and later went on to teach journalism at the university level. But that was a different journalism. It was before its untimely demise, back in an age when facts and fairness and accuracy and balance all actually mattered. When a journalist’s ethics and credibility went hand-in-hand. Sadly, it seems these things no longer count in this post-journalism era, otherwise known as the Age of Fake News, we find ourselves in.

I’ll concede there are outposts of journalism that still live. But they have become few and far between. If the profession is twitching in those places, it’s certainly not kicking more generally.

There are some things that went down this past week that top all the general level of noise we’ve become accustomed to. Two stories in particular lead me to, at last, pronounce the profession dead. But beyond those stories, I think it’s more the result of a feeling I’ve had in my heart, a heaviness of spirit, that has become inescapable when I see or read most of what passes for journalism today. A chronic feeling has turned acute.

The thing that first put my hand to signing the death certificate was the report carried by BuzzFeed – BuzzFeed! – late last Thursday, Jan. 17, in which it was stated unequivocally, based on unnamed sources, that the President had directed his attorney, the now discredited and sentenced Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress. It would be a pretty big story, I suppose, if only it were true. Which, as it turns out, it apparently isn’t. It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last, that a journalist gets something wrong. But that’s not even the thing about this story and how it was treated by others in the so-called profession that initially grabbed my attention and caused me to become so despondent about the state of journalism.

The first thing that struck me was the source of this story. I mean, really, BuzzFeed? We’re supposed to take this to be a serious source for news? That seems ludicrous to me, and then, to my shock and dismay, here were other ostensibly serious journalists quoting the BuzzFeed story as if it were real journalism. One big nail in the profession’s coffin.

In case you can’t tell, I don’t take pop feeds like BuzzFeed seriously. Maybe every now and then a source like that, such as, for instance, the National Enquirer, gets things right, more or less the way a broken clock is right by default twice a day. But overall, this is not a serious source for news. We used to make fun of my grandmother for reading the Enquirer and the Globe, but here were national journalists actually copping to following BuzzFeed and treating it seriously. I think that said as much about the state of journalism as anything.

To prove my point, I took a look at the lead stories on BuzzFeed – just a random sample, mind you, but typical. Here is what they were, in descending order:

  • “If You Grew Up Listening To These 24 Songs Then You Are 100% Gay Now”
  • “29 Useful Kitchen Gadgets That People Actually Swear By”
  • “People Can’t Even With the Announcement Of This Gender Reveal Lasagna” (No, I don’t have a clue what it means, either, but that was the actual headline)
  • “Everything You Need To Know About The Drama Surrounding The British Royal Family Making Headlines in New Zealand” (Silly me, I heretofore didn’t think there was anything I needed to know about any drama or anything else concerning the British Royal Family, much less that merits headlines in New Zealand)
  • “Trending” – trending, mind you! – “The Entire World Is Obsessed That Americans Drink Out Of These”
  • “Get 3/10 On This Quiz And You Know More Than Most About Immuno-Oncology” (That sounded at least a little serious, until I noticed it was “Promoted by Bristol-Meyers Squibb” – that is, paid advertising by the pharma giant, stuck in among the headlines)
  • “Congress Wants To Know Whether Matthew Whitaker Talked To The White House About The Special Counsel’s Response To A BuzzFeed News Report”

Now if you look at that last headline and you’re astute enough to decipher it, you’ll see that the story is essentially political propaganda masquerading as news. Dissecting, briefly, the etymology of it, BuzzFeed, relying on unnamed sources, published a story saying something concerning the Special Counsel, the Special Counsel immediately said the story wasn’t true, BuzzFeed stuck by the reporters’ story (more on that in a sec) despite the Special Counsel’s denial, and then the Dems in Congress (portrayed in the headline as “Congress”) jumped on the false story told by BuzzFeed to further their political agenda, and that is what this story is about. Therefore, the translation of that headline is: “Our Sources Weren’t So Hot After All, But It’s Bad For Trump, So We’re Sticking By It, And So Are the Dems In Congress.”

Okay, I know what some of you are going to say. BuzzFeed News is a separate part of the operation and is a serious (sic) news organization. Putting aside for the moment that it was BuzzFeed News that broke what is likely to turn out to be a bogus story but won’t retract it, here were the headlines when I looked on this serious “news” side of the house:

  • “President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project” (Yup, there it is, the story the Special Counsel has said isn’t true, right there at the top of BuzzFeed News’s “news” feed. Even The New York Times has the decency to publish retractions and corrections, albeit buried inside the body of the paper.)
  • “Transgender Soldiers Are Terrified And Disappointed After The Supreme Court’s Ruling On Trump’s Ban”
  • “Cardi B Clapped Back Against Accusations That Her ‘Twerk’ Video Doesn’t Empower Women In the #MeToo Era” (Pardon my ignorance, but who the hell is Cardi B? And in what obscure way is this news?)
  • “The Biggest Surprises From This Year’s Oscar Nominations” (Not among them, I am sure, is that even fewer people will watch the Oscars this year than last, and the one before that, and the one before that, and . . . )
  • “The Campaign For A People’s Vote On Brexit Has Descended Into Infighting And Splits” (News Flash: And there is coal in Newcastle!)
  • “The Big Design Change For 2020: An Explosion Of Colors Beyond Red And Blue!” (A cross between more thinly veiled propaganda for Dems and a big bunch of “who cares?”)

Okay, now let’s look at the reporters – and one in particular, Jason Leopold – who produced this journalistic masterpiece that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has denied. Leopold, billed as a senior investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and based in Los Angeles, has a checkered past that includes previous false reports, making stuff up as he went along, and even plagiarism (about the worst crime a writer can commit). Salon, after an extended series of unsuccessful attempts to get Leopold to document claims contained in a 2002 story about Navy Secretary Thomas White when he formerly was Vice Chairman of Enron Energy Services, wound up pulling the story and apologizing to readers. I won’t detail the lengths Salon went to to get Leopold to document his reporting, but you can read all about it on the New Zealand site Scoop. Leopold’s rebuttal, which reads like a petulant and self-justifying denial of the facts, is there, too. That, incidentally, also was the story where Leopold was credibly accused of plagiarizing several paragraphs from a Financial Times story.

That wasn’t the end of Jason Leopold’s missteps, either. In 2006, Leopold, again relying on unnamed sources, reported on Truthout.org that Presidential Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove was being indicted on charges related to the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. The only problem with the story, since taken down by the site, was that it wasn’t true. Columbia Journalism Review called the story “Leopold’s latest addition to his application for membership in the Stephen Glass school of journalism,” a reference to The New Republic writer who just made things up in his stories written over a three-year period with the publication. Further, Leopold’s history includes being fired by The Los Angeles Times for creating a newsroom fracas with a colleague, and the would-be publisher of Leopold’s first memoir, Off the Record, canceling the publication after being threatened with a lawsuit for alleged misstatements made in the book.

Now if the Special Counsel’s denials weren’t enough, and Leopold’s questionable track record didn’t raise questions, public disagreement between the two authors of Thursday’s story about whether they actually viewed the evidence corroborating the allegations cited in the article might have put up red flags. While co-author Anthony Cormier – formerly of The Tampa Bay Times – told both CNN and NPR he had not actually seen the evidence, Leopold later insisted that they had in fact seen the evidence. Is this some minor point that might have been mis-remembered by the co-authors? Not likely. But as startling is what Cormier told NPR’s Steve Inskeep. After insisting in his CNN interview that he was “rock solid” on the story, Cormier told Inskeep, “This is a crime, if it’s true. And our reporting suggests that it is.” What? Full stop. “This is a crime, if it’s true.” If it’s true? What the hell kind of reporting insists something is true when there remains an “if” involved? I don’t know if that would cut it at The Tampa Bay Times, but apparently it does at BuzzFeed. Big nail number two in the coffin.

As if they’re all in an echo chamber, which apparently they are, a slew of Dems in Congress, in tweets and statements, picked up not only on the BuzzFeed piece but on Cormier’s very words, “if it’s true,” and ran with that making assorted threats of impeachment against the President. Quelle surprise!

Wouldn’t all this give an editor cause for concern? Apparently not BuzzFeed’s editors. BuzzFeed stood by the story, and its Editor-in-Chief, Ben Smith, later tweeted on Friday: “In response to the statement tonight from the Special Counsel’s spokesman: We stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it, and we urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he’s disputing.”

Okay. That was one of the two stories this past week that led me to declare journalism dead. The other is the story, such as it is, of the standoff between the kid from Covington, Kentucky, and the Native American guy originally from Nebraska. The incident actually took place last Friday, Jan. 18, but it was only after a video of the standoff went viral that the story took off, and the reportage (again, sic) this week has been rabid.

When I first heard this story at the beginning of the week, my initial reaction was, “Why are we supposed to care about this?” If this had happened anywhere else except in Washington, D.C., and in any time other than the one in which we live, it probably wouldn’t even have made the local news. I was gratified to hear someone else – I regret that I don’t recall who – on the radio ask the same question, “Who cares?”

Well, apparently lots of people cared. Not enough to actually get the facts straight, and that includes most in the national media, but they cared. After all, the story – at least as it was perceived – had all the hallmarks of what I’m afraid has come to make stories considered newsworthy in this age of post-journalism: Racism, angry confrontation, demonstrations, and – more than anything – Trumpism v. anti-Trumpism. The media was all over the story: Angry kids wearing MAGA – “Make America Great Again,” the Trump motto – hats confront Native American elder near the Lincoln Memorial. They are in his face, ready to tear him apart, a bunch of racists who hated blacks, Native Americans, anyone except white Americans. They came to Washington to oppose abortion (labeled, in PC terms, “a woman’s right to choose”), and now they were spreading their racism by getting in the face of this poor Vietnam vet.

The only problem with the story was . . . it wasn’t true. But that didn’t stop a maelstrom of national debate, name calling, accusations, death threats, and who knows how many millions of dollars of air time from being dedicated to it. And, as much as we might wish it would just go away, we’re probably going to be hearing about this story for days, even weeks, until something more scintillating comes along to displace it. And then it will just disappear.

Even in an age of biased media, this story stands out for how one-sided the media coverage of it has been. Whether it is CNN, MSNBC, or just about every other news outlet, the only side of the story that was told for days was that of Nathan Phillips, the Native American man. It was as if there was no other version of events. Even CNN’s URL for the interview with Nathan Phillips – still up as of this writing – gives a hint of the bias:

https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/21/us/nathan-phillips-maga-teens-interview/index.html

I was especially distraught to see stories carried in USA TODAY, written by reporters with Gannett’s Cincinnati Enquirer local newspaper, that were entirely single-source stories, quoting only Phillips, without even an apparent attempt to contact Nick Sandmann, the Covington Catholic High student facing off against Phillips in the actual incident. I used to work for Gannett at the paper, TODAY, now FLORIDA TODAY, that served as the model for USA TODAY, and even though Gannett, even then in the 1980s, was not the paradigm of journalism, I don’t think single-source stories on such a controversial topic would have been acceptable to my editors. But today they are. And the whole country gets to read them.

If you haven’t been in a coma the past few days you know of the death threats made against Sandmann and the other students involved. You know how they have been accused of being racists, how Sandmann “got in the face” of Phillips, how the students chanted “the wall, the wall,” how everyone from members of Congress to state representatives to the usual gaggle of Hollywood celebrities put out terribly nasty tweets critical of Sandmann. One so-called journalist wished the kids would die (he got fired). It didn’t help that the Catholic Diocese of Covington piled on with criticism and threats against the Covington students before they had the facts, either. That’s the kind of age we live in, being first counting more than being right, with the kind of moral righteousness that might otherwise be seen as the less-than-desirable quality of being holier-than-thou.

But if you watched the full video of what went down, you would have seen that the account given by Phillips wasn’t at all accurate. You would have seen Sandmann, smiling silently, facing a man banging a drum in his face, and periodically signaling to this classmates to cool their antics, and those same classmates, most just kids, not even old enough to grow facial hair, being, well, kids.

And if you just paid attention to the national media, you also might not know that the Native American group, some 50 individuals led by Phillips and his drum, attempted to disrupt a mass being held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington on Sunday night. Or that Nathan Phillips has a violent criminal record, including assault and jail break, or that he never served in Vietnam (a fact you might have picked up on by his carefully nuanced statements about his service, but not by the banners run across the screens of CNN or the questions of TV interviewers). And you certainly can be excused for not knowing about the group that may be the real racists involved in the subject incident, the Black Hebrew Israelites, whom the students said were shouting hateful things at them before the incident involving Phillips took place. Though, if you follow TMZ – another prime example of the state of journalism in 2019 – you might have learned that the venerable Phillips has turned down Sandmann’s invitation to meet and talk things out. Oh, and if you want to see that it’s not just journalism but the state of the readership that has gone down the toilet, just read the comments on that piece. I mean, why bother? All in all, a third nail in the coffin of journalism.

Thus ends a helluva week and, with it, a formerly venerable profession. RIP.

Illiberal Liberals

Illiberal Liberals

I’m increasingly reminded how very illiberal many liberals are. This used to be a relatively rare occurrence, but in the age of Trump, and with the liberal affliction of Trump Derangement Syndrome, or TDS, reaching epidemic proportions, it’s happening pretty much all the time now.

There are unmistakable signs of this illiberal bent in all sorts of places, but every so often it takes on a personal dimension. Yesterday was one of those occasions. As many of you know, I regularly post my pieces on Medium, a site that supposedly promotes propagation and discussion of all different viewpoints. I say “supposedly,” because like most of social media, like Facebook and Twitter, if your views are liberal they get pushed, and if they’re not, they get buried, banned, shadow banned, or just ignored. I’ve read utter drivel on a variety of subjects, but with a liberal perspective, on Medium that get lauded (approvals are registered by “claps” by readers) with thousands and thousands of claps. Other posters and pieces – and I know this sounds like sour milk, but I do my best to base my postings on actual facts and not just figments of my paranoia or imagination – such as myself and my postings, not of a liberal tilt, are lucky to even get any readers. In general, if Medium promotes a piece, it gets exposure. If it doesn’t get promoted, one might as well throw a piece down a well, and it doesn’t matter how much sense it makes or how well informed it is.

Which takes me back to my story about the personal dimension of liberal illiberality I encountered yesterday. One of Medium’s promo emails, which list several postings site editors view as especially worthy of promotion, included a link that tied back to some piece of (I use the term loosely) poetry that, in less than subtle terms, accused the President of treason for some connection with Putin, which it seems the poster took as fact. It was, I don’t know, about five lines long, and wasn’t even good poetry. Never mind that it contained no evidence or even theory for what would normally qualify as a slanderous allegation, it was enough that this “poet” believed it. And, of course, in true Medium form, he had all sorts of sycophantic clappers. Yea! Great work! Right. Well, not being terribly judicious, I had to say something, so I posted a very simple response, which I think was in keeping with the style and depth of the original posting. What I said was, “Seriously? I mean, seriously???”

Well, next thing I know the poster did what liberals often do when confronted with something they don’t like. He blocked me. He didn’t argue against me. He didn’t ask my reason for posting what I did. He didn’t call me a nasty name, which at least would have been an honest thing to do. He just did the cowardly thing and blocked me, like I was some sort of stalker (believe me, I’m not) or threat to his life or safety (as many so called “liberals” actually are with those with whom they disagree). I’ve been online since the early days of the Internet, and even being the direct and sometimes controversial person I tend to be, I make a point of being reasoned and not engage in ad hominum attacks, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been blocked. And even most of those few times have been by disgruntled former girlfriends. But there you have it – this über-liberal and would-be poet couldn’t handle just four words of dissent with his ill-founded views.

I mean, me, I welcome disagreement. Of course, I love it when someone agrees with me, but I’d rather have someone disagree and say why then just ignore what I say, or do something gutless like blocking me. I’m not afraid of argument or dissent, and I have the facts to back up my positions. I’m even willing to admit when I’m wrong, which happens on rare occasions. Which I guess is part of liberals’ cowardice, because they often don’t base their positions on fact and simply can’t admit when they are wrong.

What happened yesterday isn’t an aberration, either. I have found almost universally it is so-called liberals who are quick to cut off contact when one utters something that diverges from their orthodoxy. This all began for me a few years ago when my oldest friend in the world, a besty since high school in the 1960s, decided I wasn’t liberal enough for him and he cut off contact after more than a half-century of friendship, 50-plus years of putting up with each other’s idiosyncrasies. In doing so, he accused me of having “changed“ in my views over the years. Funny that, which doesn’t seem like a crime to me, but funnier because it was said to someone who doesn’t really believe most people can or do change, not much. But not being afraid of dialogue, I wrote back and recounted all the key beliefs I held in high school – how I valued the individual and individual freedom, being paramount among them – and how I still was true to them. I also pointed out to him, inter alia, how he supported bombing the North Vietnamese back to the Stone Age, a not terribly liberal view, in those days. That aside, the point I was trying to make was, while we might disagree in our views, our values, I thought, were pretty similar.

Notice the distinction that I made between “views” and “values.” Views come and go. Values endure. That’s how I see it, anyway. Well, there were two values I guess we didn’t share – engaging in reasoned argument, and the value of friendship – because he never responded. Not then. Not since. After all, he’s a liberal, right, and I’m some sort of lesser person because I’m not. Speak of a holier-than-thou attitude, the hallmark of a hypocrite.

If truth be told, even during the many years when I was sympathetic to supposedly liberal causes and beliefs, I’ve always detested the word liberal. The reason was that it seemed to be a cop out, and people who claimed to be liberals were usually half-assed and didn’t really live by liberal values. I’d rather an honest radical – in some respects, I’m closer to that, radical, than liberal – than a wishy-washy liberal.

So now we’re seeing these self-styled liberals showing their true colors. If the facts don’t comport with their world view, they just change them, or make them up. If they don’t like someone, it’s easier to call them a name than look at their own hatreds and prejudices. The inconsistencies and downright fraud perpetrated on them by their appointed heroes doesn’t seem to phase them, but if someone they don’t like, or are told not to like, is the least bit inconsistent or less than honest, they’re all over him or her like a rash.

This tendency, of course, is most evident when it comes to the President and TDS. These so-called liberals, led by the liberal stoolies in the mass media, are like a pack of rabid jackals. It’s gotten to the point where school kids are bullied for just having the name Trump, so much that they’re driven to want to change their name. And what do they get back? A bunch of ineffectual (though undoubtedly liberal) coping techniques from someone who, if thinly disguised, clearly shares the same view of the President that has led to this hapless kid being bullied (I’m somewhat qualified to comment on what does or doesn’t work with bullies, by the way, having been bullied relentlessly in grade school and even after).

I actually heard someone in the media today say that not only is Trump bad, but anyone who voted for him is equally bad. This is the kind of intolerance, not to mention ignorance, that is gaining traction in so-called liberal quarters.

I’m not so doctrinaire or limited in my view to accuse all liberals of this illiberal behavior, and I do recognize there still are some reasonable liberals with whom one can have a civil disagreement or discussion. That said, in my experience and observation, they are increasingly in the minority. They certainly are not the ones who are in a position to control either social or mass media. And they are not at all on the ascendancy.

If this were an earlier century, I have no doubt that many of these illiberal liberals would be happy to put anyone who disagreed with them into the village stocks and have the general populous hurl rotten vegetables at them. Or worse. Much worse. Now, we get ridiculed or bullied or blocked, as I was by that would-be poet on Medium, or by my erstwhile friend. But as is said, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I do wonder what these illiberal liberals would do if they were to get absolute power. Given all the signs, it’s not encouraging.

The Pretense Is Over

The Pretense Is Over

We had an election this week but it would be hard to recognize that. Whether in the media or in the streets, in the halls of Congress or even in the counting rooms of electoral officials, one side seems unable to swallow the results of the voting, which didn’t turn out as it had hoped and been promised. And now, in the aftermath, the pretense of civility, as thin as it might have been, has been cast aside and the true colors of the left are out in the open for all to see.

The left had been expecting a blue wave, a massive Democratic renunciation of the current administration and all that it stands for, and instead the voters returned what, at best, might be termed a blue ripple. While the Dems took control of the House of Representatives – which the party out of the White House does more often than not in off-year elections – it was by a much thinner margin than they had been expecting. Meanwhile, the Republicans deepened their control of the Senate, something that historically has happened only a handful of times in off-year elections, and which in real political terms is far more significant than control of the House.

Even more galling to the Dems was that Republican candidates who had embraced and been embraced by the President did better than the ones who didn’t, to the point where voters cast out such Democratic stalwarts as Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Joe Donnelly in Indiana in favor of Trump-backed candidates. While it wasn’t a big surprise that Heidi Heitkamp, who had angered North Dakota voters by her vote against the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, was soundly defeated – just as fellow Democrat Joe Manchin, who had voted in favor of Kavanaugh, was returned to the Senate in West Virginia – the loss of Missouri and Indiana came as a bigger shock.

Apparently, though, it wasn’t enough to simply respect the will of the people and lick one’s wounds and wait for the next election year. Instead, Dems are resorting to some of their old, tried-and-true ways, in places as diverse as Florida, Arizona, and Georgia. The idea, unspoken but obvious by the tactics being employed, is if you can’t win an election you do your best to steal it. We’ll get to that a little later in this piece, but there are more egregious assaults on our democracy under way at present I think need to be discussed first.

Antifa, that group of anarchists that bills itself as anti-fascist but actually embodies and practices fascist tactics, has escalated its violent and confrontational actions to target commentators and journalists it doesn’t approve of. On Wednesday night, an Antifa mob descended on the Washington home of Fox News personality Tucker Carlson. They threatened Carlson and his wife – fortunately their four children were not in the house at the time – vandalized their home and car, blocked off streets, and yelled about pipe bombs.

Tucker Carlson, we will fight. We know where you sleep at night!” the mob chanted.

The group’s Twitter feed – which Twitter has yet to take down – carries the same threat in a sticky post, and the group used a practice known as “doxxing” to publish the addresses of conservative commentators Carlson, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and others. Meanwhile, left-wing commentators refuse to concede that the attack on Carlson’s home was staged by a “mob,” calling it instead a “protest.” Some protest. Meanwhile, this kind of threatening behavior has become a commonplace as so-called “protesters” drive public figures from restaurants and other public places, egged on by no less than members of Congress, most notably California Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

Building on the neo-fascist theme, if you weren’t locked in a bank vault all day today, you heard the phrase, “This was a glass-breaking moment,” or some version thereof, repeated over and over, ad nauseum, by the parrots of the mainstream media, as well as by some politicians. Ostensibly what they were referring to was the President’s decision to replace Jeff Sessions as Attorney General with Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff, who will be filling the post on an acting basis. Never mind that the ones using this expression are the same people who criticized Sessions and his initial appointment as AG. Apparently consistency has nothing to do with it when politics are concerned (I already discussed the whole issue of hypocrisy among the Dems, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of it).

The real issue, though, isn’t consistency or its lack. The real issue concerns the utterly and irretrievably disgusting use of that phrase, “glass-breaking moment,” on the exact 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht – Crystal Night or, as it is otherwise known, the Night of Broken Glass, one of the darkest times in all of recorded human history. It was the night of November 9-10, 1938, when German paramilitary forces and civilians launched a massive pogrom against Jews in Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland. The exact number killed is not known, though it is estimated in the hundreds, and 267 synagogues were destroyed along with 7,000 Jewish-owned businesses that were damaged or destroyed. Additionally, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Kristallnacht, that Night of Broken Glass, is marked as the beginning of the Holocaust. And it is to this monumental atrocity that these despicable excuses for human beings compare the firing of Jeff Sessions. Given the lockstep lack of originality among most in the media, one has to assume that this choice of phrase was carefully chosen on this specific day. The inescapable question is, now, who are the real anti-Semites?

And just when we thought it was impossible to stoop any lower, Senator Richard Blumenthal, that notorious liar from Connecticut, himself said that this was a glass-breaking moment, this action that is every bit the right of any President, to change members of his cabinet. Let’s not for even the scintilla of a second forget that Blumenthal is Jewish, and Blumenthal’s father fled Nazi Germany for the United States when he was 17 to protect his very life from the evil that had taken over Germany. And now his son was reducing all that to a glib political sound bite. Again, do we have to ask who the real anti-Semites are?

It’s hard to swallow my disgust over all this, but I will hold it down so we can get back to the electoral shenanigans I mentioned higher up in the piece. I saved these for last since, as bad as they are, I think the other things mentioned are even more serious and, as newer developments, pose an even bigger threat to our democratic institutions and way of life. Not that the integrity of our elections isn’t important, since it is, but the threat to electoral integrity is part of our history, considering how many dead Democrats have come out of their graves to vote over the years in various parts of the realm.

Anyway, in my own state of Florida, Congressman Ron DeSantis came out on top Tuesday over his radical opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, in what can only be described as a squeaker of a vote tally in the governor’s race, with less than 1 percent separating them. And Governor Rick Scott defeated long-time Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson by an even more narrow margin in the senatorial contest, within the half a percent needed to trigger a machine recount in the Sunshine State. While Scott declared victory late on election night, even without Nelson’s concession, Gillum later actually conceded to DeSantis. Well, that was until those trusty stalwarts of Democratic electoral shenanigans, the Broward and Palm Beach county elections supervisors, took over. And their actions have thrown both key races into turmoil.

Most people in the country above the age of 21 remember the hanging-chad controversy of Palm Beach County that held up results of the 2000 presidential election for weeks. While those events predated the current elections supervisor, Susan Bucher, Bucher seems to be prepared to continue the tradition. And not to be outdone, Broward Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes has a long history of issues going back through her 14 years in the position. Delayed counts, misplaced and missent ballots, and misprinted and destroyed ballots have been chronic issues and have led to several law suits filed against her over the years.

The most recent law suit, filed by Scott against Snipes since Tuesday’s election, has in just the past couple of hours gone against Snipes. Broward Circuit Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips found in Scott’s favor, saying in her ruling, “This court finds once again Broward County is under the microscope and being viewed by the entire nation. Hearing argument, this court finds that there has been a violation of the Florida Constitution, the Florida statute public records act and pursuant to the applicable case law.”

The question is whether the problems afflicting the count in Broward and Palm Beach are the result of corruption or incompetence. As the other Florida Senator, Marco Rubio, noted, the kindest judgment would be to say they are the result of incompetence. But after years of repetitive issues, that judgment might be far more kind than is justified. Even incompetents can show some sign of a learning curve.

Meanwhile, counting issues persist in the U.S. senatorial contest in Arizona between Republican Martha McSally and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. You might recall that Sinema was telling people it was okay to join the Taliban while McSally was fighting combat missions over, among other places, Afghanistan, and also successfully suing the Defense Department over its policy requiring U.S. servicewomen while stationed in Saudi Arabia to wear the abaya when off-duty. In any case, three days after the polls closed Tuesday, some 600,000 ballots remain to be counted, mainly in Maricopa and Pima counties, home of Phoenix and Tuscon, respectively, both Democratic strongholds. And ballots continue to turn up in unlikely places. How can this be, one asks? Incompetence, or corruption? There is that great choice again.

In yet another hotly contested race, the Georgia governor’s race — you will remember this as the race that Oprah weighed in on, in support of Democrat Stacy Abrams — votes continue to be counted, too (are we seeing a repetitive common thread here?), and those pesky missing votes continue to show up. So far Republican Brian Kemp holds a narrow lead over Abrams, and if Kemp’s tally stays above 50% he will avoid a run-off election as called for by Georgia law. But days after polls closed, the counting (and vote finding) goes on. And now CNN has come out with a piece by Van Jones (now there‘s an impartial observer) urging Abrams not to let Kemp steal the election. So much for journalistic balance. But that’s a whole other subject.

We keep hearing from the Dems how they want every vote to count, but it seems the votes they want to count are those favoring their candidates. Disenfranchisement through extralegal and illegal means doesn’t seem to matter to them, except when its their candidates affected. As Nelson’s chosen attorney, Marc Elias – the attorney who retained Fusion GPS on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign to produce the infamous and largely bogus “dossier” that had Trump peeing on a bed in Moscow – said, he didn’t come to Florida for a recount but rather to see Nelson elected.

With all this going on, one has to ask who needs Russians to meddle in our elections when Americans are doing a perfectly respectable job of mucking things up on their own?

I don’t know about you, gentle reader, but all this continues to leave me deeply troubled, and things stay on course in a very negative direction. Negative, and scary.

Historical Footnote and Disclaimer: I know Bill Nelson personally from when I was a reporter in Brevard County, Fla., in the 1980s and he was a congressman, and I can’t imagine how anyone in their right mind could vote for this guy. There, I said it.

 

Removing All Doubt: There Is Something Wrong With James Comey

Removing All Doubt: There Is Something Wrong With James Comey

There is an old adage that says it is better to remain silent and appear the fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt. It is an adage that former FBI Director James Comey would be well advised to heed.

For some time now, I’ve been convinced there were grounds to believe something was wrong with Comey. Having listened to the troubled and troubling blather coming out of this man’s mouth, I’ve wondered about how grounded in reality he is. But after listening to all or part of several more interviews he’s given in the past couple of weeks, generated to promote Comey’s recently released memoir, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, I now believe it is irrefutable that there is something intrinsically wrong with this man.

I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist, so this is not any kind of clinical diagnosis. It’s just my own observations and the non-professional conclusions they lead me to. That said, I do base a large part of my conclusions on my background of having been a U.S. Government employee, a Foreign Service officer, who served in a range of circumstances and who also was entrusted with high-level security clearances over the years of my service.

One just has to listen to the words, and observe the demeanor, of Comey to realize he’s gone off the rails. But in his apparent eagerness to let the rest of us know what a true mensch he is and sell some copies of his book in the process, he also tells us all the idiotic, cowardly, and even illegal things he himself did along the way. As has been asked more than once, what lawyer would allow his or her client to go public with some of this stuff, as Comey has?

Comey is highly critical of President Donald Trump, but he prefers to damn through innuendo and inference and petty comments rather than having the courage to state his beliefs, whether correct or not, plainly. He whines his way through interview after interview, sounding more like a teenage girl (with all due respect for teenage girls) dealing with the emotional angst of adolescence than like a former FBI director.

Asked if he thinks the Russians have anything on Donald Trump, Comey says (with strategic hesitations), “I think it’s possible. I don’t know. These are more words I never thought I’d utter about a president of the United States, but it’s possible.”

Comey, in his book, belittles the President’s looks, his hair, his skin color, the size of his hands. In doing so, he comes across as petty, if not downright childish. But his intents are transparent, and he cites a widely discredited dossier – now known as the Steele Dossier, named after the British ex-spy, Christopher Steele, who compiled it – as the basis for his belief that there might have been collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. But Comey still says he doesn’t know that the dossier was commissioned and funded by the Democratic Party. It was this same unsubstantiated, politically motivated dossier that now-disgraced former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe – hand-picked by Comey himself – presented before a FISA court to obtain a warrant to spy on the Trump presidential campaign.

Comey, again in his whiny way, prefaced with those same “I never thought I’d ever have to say this” words, claims the President is morally unfit to hold the office. But what can be said of Comey, who defends these swarmy tactics and who invented new legal definitions to protect then-candidate Hillary Clinton from the prosecution she certainly was due after her blatant abuse of national security interests?

Some of what Comey says would be comical, were it not for the position with which he had been entrusted. I mean, it takes a special kind of idiot to believe one could blend into blue curtains in the White House and thus become invisible to the President, as Comey has described in interview after interview. But even that idiocy is surpassed when Comey says he thought this was a “brilliant” strategy. Along with the moronic nature of this comment comes a clear sense of what a coward this man truly is. He held a high government post and it behooved him to represent that post firmly and with dignity, regardless of his personal feelings about the President. Instead, he thought to try to blend into the curtains. I wonder what some of the agents working under him, facing the real possibility of lethal danger on a daily basis as they go about performing their duties, think of this.

Time and again Comey refers to his wife and even his daughters to explain something or other he did or said. But Comey’s wife and daughters – avowed Clinton supporters, as if that should even matter – were not appointed FBI director. Comey was, and his spouse or offspring should have had absolutely no bearing on how he conducted himself in office. In pulling them into his battles he again shows how unfit he was to hold the office he did.

Comey invents new legal and political defenses to protect himself as well as Hillary Clinton. He has the audacity to say that, prior to his July 2016 announcement letting Clinton go scot-free for the crimes she committed, that he knew whatever he decided would make one side or the other unhappy. Why on earth should such a concern even have entered into his calculations? The FBI’s job is to investigate crimes and present the results of its investigations to the Justice Department and prosecutors to determine how they should be handled. The FBI director is not supposed to be a political figure, and pleasing or displeasing any constituency shouldn’t ever be a consideration. Clearly Comey didn’t, and still doesn’t, understand this.

Again he says that when new evidence came to light in October 2016 that thousands of Hillary Clinton’s official emails wound up on the unsecured computer of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, the husband of Clinton aide and confidante Huma Abedin, and convicted of sexting to an underage girl, Comey says he had to consider what the protocol was for releasing such information in the run-up to a national election. What protocol? What on earth is he talking about? And once more, why should this even have entered into Comey’s calculations? Well, he himself admits that he expected Clinton to win the election and thus didn’t want her to start her presidency under a cloud of illegitimacy.

“I don’t remember spelling it out, but it had to have been, that she’s going to be elected president and if I hide this from the American people, she’ll be illegitimate the moment she’s elected, the moment this comes out,” Comey told George Stephanopoulis in his initial interview just prior to publication of his book.

And there is your explanation, such as it is.

Once more, Comey shows himself to be a political actor and not the properly dispassionate director of the nation’s top law-enforcement agency. Aside from that, one has to ask, does not the American public have the right to know whether a presidential candidate has broken the law and their trust? Even worse, why would an FBI director make a political calculation about whether or not to release something damning of one of the candidates? It is clear that Comey has had no compunction about casting a cloud over the Trump Administration. It was only because he thought Trump had no chance to win and he wanted to prevent this “cloud” from casting a shadow on a newly elected Hillary Clinton that he went public about the emails found on Weiner’s computer in what has since become known as “the October Surprise.”

As I pointed out in my piece of last June, Comey openly admitted to breaking the law in his testimony before Congress at that time. He admitted to leaking — if not classified, highly confidential information – he had gathered in his official capacity to a university professor with the express expectation that it would subsequently would be leaked to The New York Times. And in open testimony he admitted, in violation of 18 U.S. Code Section 4, that he had failed to report his suspicions that President Trump might have been trying to influence the course of an investigation while at the same time dismissing the words of former Attorney General Loretta Lynch urging him to call the FBI’s inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s email offenses “a matter” as opposed to “an investigation.” And he continues to make these admissions in his book-pushing interviews.

Now Comey comes along and says that Hillary Clinton was never “a target” of the FBI’s investigation. This ostensibly is how he can justify never having her questioned under oath and exonerating her even before the interview the FBI did conduct with her. This is especially outrageous to me, having held the same clearances, signed the same papers, and bearing the same responsibilities as then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did. Without a scintilla of doubt, had I done even a fraction of what Clinton did, I would not only have been a target of an FBI investigation, but I’d almost certainly be languishing in a federal prison as a result of it.

It is unprecedented that an FBI director would usurp the normal role of the Justice Department in deciding on the matter of a prosecution based on the results of an FBI investigation, but Comey didn’t stop there. He went on to invent new legal grounds that let Clinton off the hook for the clear and blatant mishandling of highly classified national security information, as even Comey admitted she had done. And as part of the bigger political plot, Lynch let it all go by, never interceding to assert her authority as AG. Her little meeting on the tarmac in Phoenix with Hillary-husband Bill Clinton just prior to the Comey announcement had clearly made its point. Meanwhile, more recently, as Comey has become such a blabber mouth of all that went down, Lynch has taken some action to cover her own ass in the matter.

Other than I think he should have done it at the beginning of his tenure as President, I don’t fault President Trump for firing Comey which, lest we forget, came at the recommendation of Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein. As Rosenstein wrote in his memo to AG Jeff Sessions recommending Comey’s termination, “Almost everyone agrees that the Director [Comey] made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives. The way the Director handled the conclusion of the email investigation [of Hillary Clinton’s private email server] was wrong. As a result, the FBI is unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a Director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them.”

While the inaction of Lynch’s DOJ against Clinton is no surprise, it is something of a surprise that current AG Jeff Sessions has been so slow to pursue his own actions against her or others involved in protecting her and leaking information to the media. Sadly, what comes as less of a surprise to me is how most in the media fawn and idealize Comey. This all started with the initial “set-up” interview on April 15 by (for lack of a kinder term) “journalistic” whore George Stephanopoulos, former Bill Clinton Communications Director and Clinton sycophant. And it has repeated itself through obsequious interview after obsequious interview, where the same questions and responses are repeated, verbatim or virtually so, ad nauseum, while little-to-no attention is paid to the crimes of Hillary Clinton and Comey’s role in exonerating her.

One interview, though, stands out, which is the interview that Fox News Chief Political Anchor Brett Baier did with Comey on April 26. What is most notable about this interview, aside from the questions Baier asked which did probe Comey’s response to the things overlooked or glossed over in the “softball” interviews conducted by others, was that Comey showed up 15 minutes late for it. He had texted that he was “stuck in traffic” to explain his tardiness. Now one has to ask, is it possible for any single human being to be that stupid? Especially for one who had been spending so much time giving on-the-air interviews as Comey was, surely he knew the importance of allowing more than enough time to get to the studio on time. There is the alternative question, too, which is whether Comey was deliberately late because he wished to cut short the interview time and limit the amount of post-interview discussion among Fox analysts? So again we’re faced with this great choice: Comey is an idiot, or Comey is a coward. My call? He’s both.

A more hopeful view of things is that there might be some real action to come out of all this after all. At long last we’re getting criminal referrals, from Congress to the DOJ, of Comey, his deputy McCabe, Loretta Lynch, and even Hillary Clinton, among others involved in this twisted frustration of justice, and AG Sessions says investigations are under way. But as I said before, and I’ll say again, I really don’t expect any prosecutions to evolve, other than perhaps of some very low-level actors, if that. I’d be happy to be proven wrong, but I think there are two distinctly different forms of “justice” in this country – the one for us ordinary shlubs, and the one for the likes of the Clintons and Comeys and Lynches of the world. They get away with things as a matter of course for which the rest of us would be put behind bars.

That doesn’t change my view that something is seriously wrong with James Comey. It just goes to show that one can open one’s mouth and remove all doubt that one is a fool, and most in the media won’t even notice. And if you’re in the right political class, you can openly admit to having committed crimes and no one will do a thing about it.

Let there be no doubt about either of these things.

 

Photo of James Comey by AP – used under fair use provision

Going Off the Rails With No Way Back

Going Off the Rails With No Way Back

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon once again, there are some things that need to be said. If I’m a curmudgeon — I don’t think I am — so be it.

What brought this sudden bout of curmudeonness on, you ask? It began Saturday morning with telephone conversations with two different bankers in Maryland. I’d written two checks to a friend of mine visiting from Albania, repayment of an old debt. She took the checks to a local branch of Wells Fargo Bank (I’m naming names this time), the bank on which the checks were drawn, and someone from the branch called me to verify the checks’ legitimacy. Okay, I can see the point of that, though I wonder if they would have done the same if my friend was American or had, say, a British or Canadian passport and not an Albanian one. I also have questions about the need for a call given that Wells Fargo seems to have policies in place that deliberately make it as difficult as possible for customers to access their own funds. But that is a whole other story.

In any case, one of the checks was for $2,000.00, and the other one was for $9,000.06. I put the numerical amount as I always do, $2,000.00/100 for the first check, and $9,000.06/100 for the second one. And then I wrote out the amount in the proper format, the one I’ve been using for some 50 years virtually without incident: Two Thousand and No Hundreths Dollars, and Nine Thousand and Six Hundreths Dollars. Okay, granted, the proper spelling is hundredths, but close enough for government work since the words spell out what the numerals already show, and in my haste I dropped the “d.” But that wasn’t the issue.

Now, I don’t know, but I think anyone from about the age of 5 should know that a hundredth of a dollar is a cent. A penny. One hundredth of a dollar is one cent, six hundredths of a dollar is six cents. Even misspelled, I’d bet most 5 year olds can figure that out. But apparently this fine point is lost on Wells Fargo bankers, and I had to explain to two different genius bankers that Nine Thousand and Six Hundreths (sic) Dollars was not $9,600, but $9,000.06. The first banker said their branch policy was not to accept checks with the cents expressed that way. That made no sense to me, but finally he conceded and said they’d cash the checks. All good, right?

Not quite. A few minutes later another banker, the first one’s manager, called me, and after a few unnecessary and unwanted pleasantries, she repeated that the branch didn’t normally accept checks where the cents were expressed as they were on my check. She had me read off the amount of the check, and confirm the intended amount. I was rapidly losing my patience with this whole thing, and I told her I’d been writing checks like this for 50 years, it was the proper way to write a check, and what exactly didn’t she understand? She then feigned a brief reconsideration of the matter, and finally confirmed that they would accept the check. Hurrah. I got to tell a banker what should have been obvious to her by reading the check as it had been written. Duh.

Now I have better ways of spending my Saturday mornings than explaining the obvious to bankers, but this whole affair served to remind me the extent to which this country is going to hell in a hand basket. The signs are increasingly everywhere, how far off the rails we’re going, this just being the most recent one. It seems people, and the country as a whole, just get stupider and stupider by the day.

I’ve railed against the madness in the direction we’re headed before, but it’s time to do it again, drilling down a bit this time.

In the course of a typical day, I get messages – obviously written on a phone with a run-away spell corrector – that are virtually incomprehensible. I’m asked questions that I already answered, sometimes multiple times. And I get abbreviated messages that fail to respond to issues I raised. In short, I can almost always tell when someone is writing me from a phone, and the communication is seriously impaired as a result. This is a significant matter, since communication should be primary, not to mention I don’t understand how people don’t go crazy typing and reading on a small screen. Well, maybe they do, and we just don’t have a name yet for this mental illness.

If you’re a parent in this country, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you that your little darlings are no longer expected to learn cursive writing. At one point, some 45 states and the District of Columbia had dropped the requirement to teach cursive writing, and the dreaded Common Core was at least in large part responsible for that since Common Core doesn’t require cursive as part of the curriculum. Now blaming Common Cause for stupidity is a bit like blaming phones for errors. It’s the people behind Common Core who are exhibiting their ignorance, and the curriculum is just the symptomatic outcome of that.

There has been some retrenchment in a handful of states that realized the folly of dropping cursive writing from the curriculum, but overall this country is on the verge of entering a new Dark Ages where kids can’t even sign their own names. The idea is that they can do everything on a keyboard, but somehow that seems equivalent to saying they don’t need to learn to walk since they can get driven around everywhere by their parents.

Additionally, as studies confirm, the ability to write, and not just type, promotes some cognitive and motor skills that typing does not. Writing is not the same as typing, and while both skills might be worthwhile, school districts and states don’t want to spend the money teaching both. So out goes cursive writing, and with it one of the traits of an educated person. And people wonder why I’d never put any child of mine in a public, and probably most private, schools.

While this has been going on in more recent years, another long term trend – grade inflation in the nation’s colleges and universities – has been underway for more than half a century. It’s true that a degree of grade inflation began during the Vietnam War years, Recent GPA Trendswhen I was in college. Some attribute this to the desire on the part of many professors to keep students out of the draft, which worked for awhile, but based on my own experience it also probably had to do with the proliferation of pass-fail grading during the turmoil of years of sit-ins, walk-outs, and student strikes that closed some institutions, including the one I attended, for nearly entire semesters. But the grade inflation of that period pales to what has been going on since the 1980s, when grade-point averages have been rising an average of 0.1 points a decade, and the percentage of A grades given has gone up 5 to 6 percentage points a decade.

Since the 1990s, the A grade is the most common grade given in four-year colleges, and As are now three times more common than they were in 1960. At that time Cs were most common, and in my own era, Bs were most common. Now if they don’t get an A, students are at the professor’s throat as if the failing rests with the prof and not with their own performance. If you believe that is because college students have gotten that much smarter since 1960, I have a nice athletic building on a fine campus I’d like to sell you. Very good price. Just sign right here. Oh, wait, you can’t sign, because you never learned cursive. Okay, put your “X” on the line there.

Having been a college professor, I can tell you there is a strong tendency toward treating what are supposed to be young (and sometimes not so young) adults as 50 Years Rise of A Gradechildren. There is a stress on not offending the students, sandwiching any critical remarks in between praise, not being unduly harsh in comments even in the face of abject and repeated refusal on the part of the student to follow guidance. This is called the Student as Consumer Era, and it is indicative of schools that need to cultivate their students to stay enrolled and to pay the exorbitant tuitions and fees charged them and their parents. And instead of challenging their minds and belief systems, these educational institutions allow students to retreat to so-called “safe spaces” and to drive speakers with views divergent from their own off campus, allowing a new form of Fascism and sheltered closed-mindedness to run rampant on college campuses.

Moving from the swamp of so-called education, we have cars that stop themselves or keep themselves in their own lanes, ostensibly so their owners (“drivers” is too strong a word for them) can text and talk on the phone. Things seem increasingly geared toward the lazy and the ignorant. My own car turns its own lights on and off, doesn’t have a key, and tells me how many miles I can go before I run out of fuel. Thank goodness it doesn’t stop itself or do that lane thing, which would be way beyond what I would tolerate of my car. It does open its own trunk, though, for unknown reasons and at very inconvenient times, sometimes multiple times in a row. I guess taunting its owner is part of the deal. I can almost hear it laugh when it does this.

In the course of all these trends, we continue to lose human contact at an almost alarming rate. My most recent two forays into paying entry fees – one at a movie theater, the other at a major conference I attended – were done at terminals. Gone were the friendly ticket girl and the helpful conference gatekeeper, replaced by screens and credit card readers and keyboards. That may all be more efficient, but it’s a bit disconcerting, too. My local Walmart has installed all sorts of self-check-out equipment, but I have never found self-check-out to be faster or more efficient than dealing with a human cashier, and it’s also a tad insulting, I think. If the store wants my money, it should at least have a sufficient number of humans on hand to take it. So, unless I have just one or two items and am in a major hurry, I won’t use the self-check-out.

Meanwhile, the medical profession – one area that might benefit from more, rather than less, technology in enabling improved communication between physicians and patients – remains mired back a century or two. If anyone is able to email their doctor, or even their doctor’s office, I’d love to hear about it. And our prescription drug system seems designed to breed frustration and inefficiency, and we wonder why healthcare costs continue to escalate. I’ve written on these things before, and on the inherent inequities and inefficiencies of the medical system, and the most I’ve gotten in response from doctors is a smile and a laugh, as if I were proposing absurdities.

Call me a curmudgeon if you like, but somehow this all feels like we’re headed off the rails with no way back. Maybe, as the illustration says, you’ll get it eventually, but by then it might be — probably will be — too late. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am. Am I only the only one who feels this way? I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this, regardless which side of things you come down on.

Charts from http://www.gradeinflation.com